I just fixed WoW, you’re welcome Blizzard

August 6, 2015

As I wrote over at TAGN, what the next expansion should be, but won’t because this is New Blizzard, is an expansion of garrisons, with Blizzard taking one of the current most successful games (Clash of Clans) and doing what Blizzard did best; copy/paste + apply Blizzard coat of paint.

Garrisons should be expanded to be used in the same way a base is used in CoC. You set up its layout to defend, and your followers become your troops that attack. Via questing, crafting, raiding, and battlegrounds, you can collect resources to upgrade both your defenses and followers, and your overall garrison has an ‘iLvl’ like your character.

You would initiate a search for a base to attack, be able to skip to another until you find one you want to hit, and then the attack would play out much like it does in CoC; you can’t directly control your followers but they have different AI with different focuses (some target defenses, others resources, etc). Since WoW is focused around a character, you can also use your character in the fight as a kind of super-minion, with customizable AI.

Add in a ranked mode, along with guild vs guild wars, and you have something that ties a lot of the existing WoW content into this new ‘end-game’ feature, allows you easy expansion (more defenses, more followers, more skins for garrisons/followers) without having to create new zones, more character levels, or dungeons/raids that would go stale once someone has the items they want.

But knowing New Blizzard, the expansion will just be more orcs or something equally dumb.

New Blizzard investor call ‘highlights’

August 5, 2015

Items that jumped out at me from the Activision Blizzard investor call:

“Destiny now has over 20 million registered players, with an average of about 100 hours of game play each”

First, the statement that the average gameplay length from 20 million people is 100 hours is pretty incredible. It would be interesting to see the number of people who didn’t like the game (under 5 hours let’s say) and the number who fiend on it (1000+ hours or so), but either way that 100 hour average is impressive.

Also it caught my eye that they call users ‘registered players’, because that can be dismissed as ‘registered account’ in the F2P world, but you can’t register in Destiny without buying the game, so those ‘registered players’ are in fact paying customers. First FFXIV, and now Destiny, is ‘registered players’ some legal-driven term or what?

On to Blizzard.

“In Q2, the average MAU across Blizzard games was up more than 50% year over year, achieving its highest level ever.”

It’s almost as if allowing people to create free accounts, and allowing the same person to create multiple free accounts on different devices, results in more accounts than ever. Go figure, and a really strong number to LEAD OFF with.

Bet he gets into the real numbers shortly…

“Engagement for Hearthstone, which was already very strong, nearly doubled year over year in terms of active players and time spent.”

Is this a “how many free accounts do you have now?” or an earnings call?

“This year alone, the community has already held more than 1,300 Fireside Gatherings globally.”

Oh. Well ok then. Nothing of real substance was provided about HS, and (I haven’t seen it myself yet) I guess they lump HS with Destiny in the actual numbers again?

The HoTS part had as much depth as the game itself. My guess is every analyst on the call at this point was making a wanking motion and praying for something of substance to be said.

Then D3 was talked about and, because that game is doing well in China, financial numbers were given. Funny how that works.

On to the Q&A.

First question was about Hearthstone revenue. The answer given?

“We saw almost double the amount of active players and times spent year over year, and an increase in more than 50% quarter over quarter. Revenue on the new platforms appear to be incremental to PC.”

So when asked about revenue, the first answer is to talk about free accounts still being played, and then tossing out that maybe, perhaps, it could be possible that mobile is helping revenue along with PC sales. Solid answer Mike, really solid. Quick follow-up question though, how much of a factor is a title barely in the top 20 for revenue in the app store on iPhone (can’t find it on the iPad, fingers got too tired)? Is that a rounding error or a blip? Just wondering…

Skipping down to the HotS question:

“I was hoping you could discuss where you are with the players, and more specifically, the paying players for Heroes of the Storm”

Part of the answer, the rest was wank-motion nothingness:

“I think if you look at other games in the genre, they all had more gradual growth of their player base, so that is what we would expect to see with Heroes of the Storm.”

Translation: HotS numbers are in the toilet, but hopefully they turn around, because hey MOBAs need time to grow? I mean sure, LoL didn’t start with tens of millions, nor did DOTA2, but neither of those games are kiddie-pool shallow, nor did either of those games come with other major product tie-ins or as massive a marketing push as HotS. You weren’t watching LoL or DOTA2 commercials on TV when those games launched, were you now? Did you get a free mount or whatever in WoW when you signed up for LoL/DoTA2? But yea no, HotS is totally going to be saved by its eSport performance. That’s totally going to work out, hopefully as well as it did for Hearthstone last year, right?

New Blizzard just doing its thing yet again, good job all around everyone. Is there another China you could launch D3 in next quarter?

ARK Survival Evolve quick thoughts

August 3, 2015

I picked up ARK Survival Evolved because a few people have bugged me to get it, and also because it was on a small Steam sale. I’ve only spend a few hours with it, and currently all of my characters are bugged, stuck in some kind of permanent spectator mode where I can’t do anything, including dying or creating a new character. Have an email into support, hopefully will hear back ‘soon’.

Anyway, assuming that issue does get resolved, here are some quick thoughts on ARK. For starters, its a Unity engine game, and feels like it. While Unity has been used to make a million games, the style used in ARK is the same used in Rust and many other games, and while the theme and details of these games are all different, the just feel like the same game. If you told me ARK was a fan mod for Rust, I’d believe you.

That said, it would still be a pretty cool mod. Lets be honest, dinosaurs are cool, as is the idea of taming them and using them in combat, or fighting them when they attack you in the wild. Put that together with the usual ‘gather resources, build a base, go blow up other people’ gameplay with these type of games, and ARK is interesting for sure.

ARK also has a good character progression model, where every level you not only pick a stat to increase, but get some points to spend on unlocking new crafting blueprints. You can also find blueprints, but it’s nice that as you play more, you character is able to craft more, and also gets a bit stronger.

The downside of ARK is if you played Rust or games like it to death recently, not enough is new to get you hyped IMO. Like I said, the main object of the game is still the same, just with dinos and other details changed up. Plus from a software maturity perspective, Rust is much further along, so if dinos aren’t a make-or-break for you, I’m not sure why you would go with ARK over Rust, or start up ARK if you are already playing Rust.

HS: What’s the problem again?

July 28, 2015

So rumor has it tournament Hearthstone games are being decided by a coin flip.

What a minute…

What HS game isn’t decided by a coin flip?

Time Warp – Fallout: New Vegas

July 28, 2015

Time Warp hits post #2, making it the most successful ‘theme’ since Friday Blog Wars (oh how I miss you FBW) here at syncaine.com. This time let’s talk about Fallout: New Vegas.

Brief random history first: I never purchased NV when it first came out, even though I loved Fallout 3. I don’t remember exactly why, but I think part of it was I thought NV was a stand-alone expansion rather than a full game, and for whatever reason I had this idea that Vegas would be a really crappy, really cheesy setting for Fallout. I also don’t remember when I eventually did buy it (some Steam sale maybe?), but it was the original version, not the ultimate with all the DLC. The Ultimate I just bought a few days ago. Weird stuff all around.

Anyway, F:NV is a good game, you should play it. Done, thanks for reading.

Kidding. Please keep reading.

After finishing a mostly full playthrough of Fallout 3 recently, including loading up a lot of mods, I figured I’d do something similar with NV. Much to my surprise, I think NV has better mod support than F3. Maybe NV came with better mod tools? Or modders simply prefer it over F3? Either way, NV goes from good to still freaking great with mods. For starters, load up a bunch of the graphic enhancer ones, which will give you great textures for everything. Add some lighting stuff, character overhauls, weather effects, and NV can be made to look as good as something released in 2015.

Next grab some content mods. Right now I’m loving the “New Bison Steve Hotel and Lucky Casino”, which allows you to restore the casino located in Primm through a series of quests. The voice acting is pretty solid, the quest chain sends you all over, and the evolution of the casino space is very cool to see. I’m near the end, but haven’t finished yet to see the final payoff of the casino coming back to life.

The one companion mod I’m currently using is Willow, which so far has really impressed me. For starters, Willow comes with her own full set of gear, a unique look, and a very long quest chain to get to know her. Her voice work is also very solid, and seeing her interact with other companions is great. However the most impressive part is how Willow comments on the standard quests in the base game, including the main chain. She does and says more than the base companions in the game, and really enhancing a playthrough.

I’m looking forward to trying out some of the other major content mods, but right now the above are keeping me plenty entertained.

To briefly touch on an old topic, I do think F:NV is the better game overall compared to F3, just in that it feels more tied together. F3 is a more open sandbox (it would be nice if NV didn’t box you in so much at the very start), and has some great stuff, but NV feels like one area, with everyone aware of what is happening and caring about it (mostly the NCR vs Legion stuff, but also the general “we are in/around Vegas” thing).

My ‘gamer plan’ is to finish NV prior to the release of Blood Bowl 2, then take a good break with that game, and be nice and ready for Fallout 4 in Nov, while still having the events and general feel of F3 and NV fresh in my mind.

Finally MMO genre is free of Smed, at least for now

July 27, 2015

Back from vacation, and this reentry Monday is ROUGH. After every vacation I question whether actually going on vacation is ‘worth it’, because coming back to 500+ emails to dig through isn’t a lot of fun, especially then all 500+ can be summed up as “we held off doing anything until you got back, but now every deliverable is overdue, enjoy!”

While I was away we had a little bit of SOE being SOE, or more specifically, Smed being Smed. Only here it’s Smed (likely temporarily) going away, in about the timeframe that someone predicted. Being constantly right is the cross I bear, and yes, its heavy.

Now before I get into the meat of the post today, let me get this here first. I don’t have a personal issue with Smed. I’ve only talked to him once or twice in person, and interacted with him a few more times on the web, all of which was cordial. I also don’t support or feel good about the harassment stuff he has dealt with; there is a certain price for fame, but having your plane delayed and some of the other stuff is way over the top. Now, with that out of the way…

Smed ‘moving on’ is a good thing for the MMO genre, and as an MMO dev, I think Smed is about as overrated as you can get. I also hate seeing this ‘Smed was a gamer dev’ notion, because while true (Smed does play games), it didn’t help other MMO gamers one bit.

Smed was and will forever be tied to SOE, so how much of this is Smed’s fault vs just general SOE is up for debate, but when you are the figurehead, you eat the blame.

SOE sucks. Did when they were officially SOE, still do as Daybreak. If you take away EQ1 (and if EQ1 never happens, maybe we don’t spend a decade mired in clone-world themeparks, eh?), SOE has nothing. Planetside, perhaps the only other somewhat successful product they made, was meh at best, and PS2 is a joke. EQ2 was a disaster. Their entire “F2P, ALL THE WAY” push was a disaster that didn’t work out, but sure helped mire the genre once again. They have shut down numerous terrible games, if it wasn’t for EQ1 being such a major cash cow, they perhaps don’t survive past the EQ2 launch.

If Smed is such a gamer, why allow so much of the above to happen? After SOE ruined SWG, why dump a truckload of salt by calling H1Z1 ‘home’ for SWG players prior to it’s release? Hell, why as an MMO gamer are you releasing a DayZ clone years after the DayZ fad has passed, and then releasing something as putrid as H1Z1, and having the gall to call it an MMO? And if the response is “it wasn’t Smed’s call”, then what kind of CEO are you, and what exactly were you doing besides collecting a paycheck, posting on reddit, and tweeting?

What are you doing with Landmark? Again, why are you jumping on the Minecraft bandwagon so late, and bringing nothing to the table? When Trion’s Minecraft clone is ‘better’ (Trove), you know you have hit absolute rock bottom (get it?). And what kind of ‘gamer’ dupes your core audience into forking over $150 for access to Landmark when you know its not going to amount to anything? Just how long as Smed been cashing out at the expense of core SOE/EQ fans?

I could go on, but really just look at the Daybreak wiki page and the list of games and the story writes itself. SOE dying was a good thing. Smed leaving is also a good thing. The MMO genre is better off with both gone, just like it would have been much better off without them originally.

Legends of Eisenwald Review

July 18, 2015

A few days back I had written about whether Early Access on Steam was working or not, and today I want to give one example where it worked perfectly.

Legends of Eisenwald is a game that likely never gets made without Early Access. Its an RPG that plays somewhat like Heroes of Might and Magic, with perhaps the biggest difference being that you don’t start or even generally own a castle. The main focus is on your character and their story, rather than building a town and fighting just to clear the map.

As my friend Obmar put it, its also very German. There is a big emphasis on legends and tales, some of which are pure fluff text, while others are clues into how a quest can be completed. The writing isn’t bad (I’m very much enjoying the main story), but a lot of the names look like someone randomly smashed the keyboard until a 20+ character ‘word’ came out, and there are a lot of references to real-world folk tales that are mostly only known in Europe.

I think the biggest point of interest for me with Legends is just how different it plays from any other RPG. Again, its sorta like HoMM, but not really. Combat for example is on a grid, but movement isn’t limited by how far someone can travel, but rather restricted to the nearest target. In other words, if your infantry is standing next to an enemy, they have to attack that unit. If there are two units of equal distance from you, you can pick who to attack. On paper that sounds very simple, but once fights get larger it really creates some very tactical situations, and again feels different from other games.

Quests are another example of the game being familiar but different enough to be interesting. From talking to various NPCs around the map and in taverns or inns, you can pick up a good deal of side quests, and how to complete those side quests isn’t always obvious. Sometimes completion requires being at a certain spot at a certain time of day (the game has a nice night/day cycle), others require already having spoken to someone or having an item to open a dialog option, while sometimes you just need to discover a location on the map, and the only way to do that is to travel off the beaten path. You start knowing the major locations on a map, but the smaller ones must be discovered. There are no ‘!’ markers here, and the quest journal doesn’t hold your hand either.

I bought Legends a while ago (maybe over a year ago?), and back then it was fairly rough, with only the first few maps (chapters) available, quests that would bug out and cause you to restart, and graphics/sound/animations that, while they had potential, really weren’t great. Today, in its fully released form, Legends is solid. There are still some odd bits, like archers who shoot but no arrows come out, but I haven’t run into any bugs or broken quests, and the full campaign is in.

I think without Early Access and the funding it brought it, Legends doesn’t get finished. I certainly don’t think any major publisher would support it, so without Steam we never see it. And while I doubt it will be a major seller, I hope it sells enough to justify the effort, because it is both a unique and quality game in a sea of clones, rehashes, and titles that disappoint.

If you are a fan of RPG games, and are looking for something a bit different, pick up Legends of Eisenwald, it’s well worth your time and money.


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