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“Dastardly Diablo 3 Drama” or “Ostensibly (and Sensibly) Online”

August 5, 2011 Leave a comment

There seems to be a lot of drama over DRM. Ubisoft, of course, took it a step further by saying that their persistently online DRM solution was a stellar success, leaving a lot of confused fans in this statement’s wake.

Blizzard recently also announced that their upcoming Diablo III will also require players to be consistently online to be able to play, but this resulted in a very odd backlash, particularly from my peers in the MMO blogging community. I can understand people who primarily play single-player games to be upset about this. After all, they just pop the DVD in, and online or not, they can play to their heart’s content.

Blizzard in their defense, offers the following points:

  • A persistent friends list (debatable, especially if you like playing solo).
  • Cross-game chat via the RealID system (again debatable).
  • Persistent characters that are stored server-side (no more having to play online once every 90 days, nor item duplication cheats) (valid, it does ensure almost no client-side hacks or item-duping. I say almost because every time you make a system hacker-proof, groups like Lulsec and Anonymous feel a disturbance in the force).
  • Persistent party system (debatable).
  • Player-versus-player and public game matchmaking (valid, you would need to be online for PvP).
  • Dynamic drop-in/out for co-op (valid, if you have friends playing with you, it would be stellar if you could drop in an out of a friend’s game world as needed, much like Borderlands).
  • Larger item stash that gets shared among all of your characters (at the moment, up to 10) (nonsensical, they could easily increase offline storage, this is more of a ploy to justify the DRM).
  • The auction house (valid, you would need to be online to play the Auction House with potentially hundreds of thousands of other sellers/buyers).
  • The Achievement system and detailed stat-tracking, both of which feed into the final point (valid):
  • The Banner system, a visual way to display your prowess in the game. Banners start out like emblems, where you can choose from an array of symbols, patterns, and overall shape/design. Then, you can tweak its appearance through Achievements and other accomplishments. Examples Pardo cites include whether the character is in Hardcore mode, how many Achievements have been earned, how many PVP victories, and so forth. Additionally, the Banners also have gameplay features; in-game, rather than use Town Portal, you can click on a player’s Banner to instantly teleport over to said player (debatable if you don’t play with others, limited use if you do).

As an MMO player and a Star Craft II player (which also requires you to be online for achievement tracking and, of course, PvP), these seem like perfectly valid reasons.

My point is that as MMO players, for years now, we are used to playing persistent worlds that require a highly stable and reliable connections. In fact, our favorite genre of gaming would not exist without the ability to stay online consistently. Yet there is this angst over ‘being made to’ stay online to play the single-player version. In principle, I do feel that if you are a player who enjoys playing solo, you shouldn’t have to worry about a consistent online connection. But at least the MMO players should have no issue with this. We do this on a daily basis, with the dozens of MMOs that grace our screens for hours on end.

Thoughts?

Categories: Diablo 3, DRM

“Se7en Favorite Games of 2010” or “Sheppard Plants Assassins Northrend Explosions Protoss Bada-Bing-Bada-Boom!”

January 3, 2011 3 comments

Note: Sorry this is a day late, I got caught up in some work stuff / my cat swallowed a hairball / my dog ate my blog post.

2010, much like everything else in life, had it’s ups and downs. The gaming industry continues to grow, and with growth comes more variety and better quality games. On the flip-side terrible games also stick out like sore thumbs when juxtaposed against lauded AAA titles. All in all, I had a blast in 2010 playing video games, and despite some fairly horrid titles, botched reboot attempts, and sub-par production values in some otherwise solid titles, I was quite pleased with what the industry had to offer.

I didn’t play as many MMOs in 2010 as I did in the years prior. I quit Eve Online. I finally said goodbye to World of Warcrft, despite a stellar new expansion (I was in the beta). I started dabbling into LOTRO and realized it was a completionist’s wet-dream, and I have been having a blast on my novice Elf Hunter (yes, I know that race/class combo is real original). I tried out Perpetuum and was turned off by how similar it was to Eve Online in terms of systems, UI and looks, and how much it paled in comparison in actual execution. I also tried my hands at World of Tanks, a game that really took a lot to get used to, and so far it hasn’t been entirely disappointing. SynCaine’s ramblings finally made me cave in to Darkfall and I have been getting my ass kicked ever since. But all things considered, I spent the least amount of time with MMOs in 2010, especially when you contrast that against 2-6 hour daily sessions with World of Warcraft and EvE Online in prior years.

At any rate, the following are my favorite games of 2010, in no particular order:

Mass Effect 2

What a stellar experience this game was. I found myself thinking of the game weeks after I finished it, always intrigued by what could have happened if I had played a particular fight with another set of allies using different tactics. Mass Effect 2, of all the games I have played in 2010, had the most powerful ending I have experienced in a video game, despite a terrible “final boss” fight and holes in the story regarding the final set pieces. Mass Effect 2 gave me goosebumps, and I am ever thankful to BioWare for making such a fantastic title. It speaks volume for a title that has quite a few flaws, but those flaws completely pale in comparison to the rest of the package.

Related posts:

Starcraft II

This game is the primary reason my MMO habits suffered so greatly in 2010. (The other reason being a lack of interesting MMOs to play in 2010 – just my opinion, disagree all you want). Twelve years in the making, this title had the kind of hype that eventually leads to inflated expectations, which, inevitably deflate with rancid disappointment because no title can live up to such high hopes. Starcraft 2, however, shocked fans and critics alike when it launched, not only meeting, but in some cases exceeding expectations. Couple this with the fact that the title shipped with no LAN support despite resounding disagreement from the core fan base, and that this is only a third of a trilogy that will be released over several years, and still the title did so well both commercially and critically. The single player campaign was phenomenal, and there was a hardly a mission where I felt like I was playing an RTS. It was immersive, innovative, the missions were varied and featured a plethora of objectives for you to accomplish and the production values were incredible. It took me nearly 40 hours to get through the single-player portion of the game. But the multiplayer is where I find myself losing hours on a daily basis: 386 hours to be exact (that’s over 16 days in real-time – sheesh!). I love the 1v1 match-ups and a friend and I have been tearing through the 2v2 rankings for several weeks now. This is a game I will be surely playing well into 2010.

Related posts:

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Talking about completionists’ wet-dreams, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood hit the (digital) shelves in November. I have already shared my thoughts on the title, so I will spare you the re-iteration, but suffice it to say AC:B was hours upon hours of fun, featuring huge improvements over the previous titles, and kept me happily occupied for days.

Related posts:

Split/Second

A racing game? Yes, I was surprised as well. A colleague at work first recommended this title and then demanded that I play it. I have never been a big racing sim fan, so I was a little skeptic. But then I lost a bet the following week to the same colleague and my “punishment” was playing this title. God I wish all punishments could be like this. Expecting a racing sim with questionable production values and a botched, convoluted “career mode”, I was completely blown away (pun-intended) by what I saw. One of the most satisfying games I have ever played, Split/Second is a fictional reality TV show in the ‘near future’, where drivers compete on tracks laden with explosives and traps. These obstacles can be triggered by any of the drivers as long as they have power, which is earned through air time, drafting and drifting. There was no major car customization, no excessively ‘real-time’ mode, just the directional pad, an accelerator, a brake and two buttons for small and large explosions respectively. It is deceptively simple and shockingly involved and deep. You can win/lose in the final few moments, and the music is so well done, it actually gets your adrenaline pumping for those final precious few seconds of a hard-fought race. Check it out if you haven’t yet, and look on YouTube for some of the soundtrack.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

My love-hate relationship with WoW continued to grow/dwindle in 2010, but finally fizzled out towards the end. Despite the fact that I am no longer playing it, I had a lot of fun playing WoW casually in 2010. I learned what it was like not to raid for 4 hours a night, 4-5 days a week. I learned the fun in creating and pursuing your own little goals, such as going after a particularly elusive reputation, or earning the Chef’s Hat. I ran heroics with strangers and 10-mans with old friends and guildies, and I had a blast. I was also in the Cataclysm Beta from quite early on and played it for nearly three months. I experienced most of the new content and enough of the revamped world to know what Cataclysm had to offer. Eventually I realized it wasn’t enough to keep me around, but I had a great time nonetheless. And who knows, maybe I will find a reason to go back at some point in the future.

Related Posts:

Plants vs. Zombies

PopCap hit gold with this title. This game seems so simple on the surface, but as the levels progress and the various types of zombies and plants unlock, it turns into one of the most complex, strategic and exhilirating titles I have had the pleasure of playing in recent memory. I was initially skeptic of the title, Bejeweled and Peggle (the other smash hits from the developer) aren’t exactly what you would call my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when I played the game and realized what an incredible experience it was. Not that the title needed any additional critical acclaim, but it has now been immortalized in WoW as a series of quests in the Hillsbrad Foothils starting with Brazie the Botanist.

Mafia II

And finally, we have the crime drama. The game didn’t get very high reviews from most gaming authorities, getting an average rating around the mid-70s. I am not disagreeing, I don’t think it was as good as it could have been. But the original Mafia, a game I played start to end three times, holds a special place in my heart. And even though the characters didn’t have much cross-over between the two games, I loved every minute of Mafia II, even the abysmal driving controls and the long rides between mission points. Mafia II didn’t live up to its predecessor, but it was a hell of a ride, and I am glad for it.

Honorable Mentions

  • Metro 2033: Great game, supremely atmospheric. Horrendous AI that breaks the game in my opinion.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops: Excellent single-player campaign, especially when juxtaposed against MoH. Awful PC multiplayer ruined my experience.
  • Borderlands: Released in 2009, I kn0w, played it well into 2010, lots of good DLC content, had a blast.
  • Darkfall: SynCaine was right, it is difficult to go back to WoW after experiencing Darkfall in all it’s brutal, unforgiving glory, still learning, still trying to wrap my head around it.
  • Machinarium: Actually can I have eight favorites of 2010? Yes, it’s that good.

Article of the Day: “The Evolution of Gaming” or “Demands Evolution Complexity”

June 21, 2010 1 comment

The article of the day was this incredibly insightful look into the mind of John Riccitiello, CEO of one of the biggest powerhouse gaming companies of the contemporary gaming age: Electronic Arts. Add to that equation some very powerful writing by the great Stephen Tolito, and you got a fascinating read. The article is difficult to sum up because in typical Tolito style, it touches upon so many different points. But there are a two things that stand out, and I will try to summarize those here.

The most important point in the article is that fact that most gaming CEO’s actually don’t play video games at all. That is the practical equivalent of the President of World Bank utterly disinterested in global economies and the international monetary status quo, or if Micheal Dell was actually a cyberphobe. It makes little to no sense that someone who is responsible for a gaming behemoth have such little interest in playing said games himself, like when Activision’s Bobby Kotick told a gathering of developers that he doesn’t play video games. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, that is like if Steve Jobs kept promoting the iPhone, but used a BlackBerry instead. It’s retarded to realize that some of the biggest minds in the industry are merely driving the companies towards financial success, and they have no actual idea of what makes a game memorable, or, at the very least, fun.

Another point was somewhat along the lines of what Gordon said a couple of days ago about returning to some of his favorite MMOs, only to find them bland, almost prehistoric by today’s standards, and in some cases plain irritating:

“It’s not just Everquest that I’ve had this experience with either. Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot were the same. I adored them when they first came out but when I briefly tried each of them again a couple of years ago, I just couldn’t get past how terrible they looked, how frustrating their UIs were and annoying the grind was.”

– Gordon, The Point Of No Returning To MMOs

Riccitiello resonates these view in his own way:

“When I played games a decade ago or 15 years ago, I was a lot more forgiving,” he told me during our interview this month. “Part of it was, if you could sort of simulate [something] in software, almost anything, it was the first time you saw it. If you could just pull off the technology and engineering, you didn’t necessarily need the same artful insight, and you certainly didn’t need the polish. A lot of it, if you remember games going back to like GoldenEye on the N64, is that we remember them as a lot better than they are.

Stephen Tolito, The Unexpected Gamer Who Runs EA

Both viewpoints essentially cover the same debate. Video games have evolved in every facet, from gameplay, to technology, art direction, sound design, graphics and so on. The change has been so markedly drastic in the last decade, that if we were to go back to our favorite games from just ten years ago, we would be sorely disappointed because our sense of what makes a game memorable and fun and exciting has metamorphosed over the course of time.

I have one recent example. With the imminent release of StarCraft II, I decided to load up my StarCraft I Battlechest and replay the campaigns for the original game and its expansion, so I am fully in tune with the events leading up to the second game. What I found instead was a dated game with bland graphics, poor level design and cookie-cutter units with predictable gameplay. Bear in mind that the game was truly revolutionary when it first game out, so much so in fact that it is played competitively to this day. But I was turned off. After about an hour into the Terran campaign, I was typing in cheat codes to skip missions themselves just so I could relive the story without trudging through the trouble of actually playing the game.

The bottom line is that what was the norm yesterday is no longer true today. What once excited us about a game visually is no longer acceptable. If we see clipping errors or graphical glitches in a game like Crysis, which, until 15 years ago, was an unimaginable technological feat, we immediately feel turned off by the ‘lazy’ developers. We take things for granted. We nitpick. We comment on the most anal aspects of gaming, that until a few years ago, didn’t even exist. Are we being too harsh? Maybe, but that is the price of evolution.

We are at a stage in video gaming history where titles are visually richer, the stories are intricate and complicated, the gameplay is revolutionary and complex, and the bar is being perpetually raised higher. It is a time of great innovation and inevitable letdowns. And as the evolution shapes and morphs our experience and expectations, so must our criticisms evolve to better guide the ebb and flow of contemporary video game development.

They Said Whaaat?: “My DRM is Better Than Your DRM” or “Amen to That Brother!”

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

“[DRM is] a losing battle for us. We need our development teams focused on content and cool features, not anti-piracy technology.”

– Frank Pearce, Producer, StarCraft II (Source).

Categories: They said whaaaat?

“Shouldn’t Customer Loyalty Warrant Beta Spots?” or “Wisdom From Milamber”

May 8, 2010 6 comments

A close friend of mine recently got invited to the StarCraft II Beta. He is a Blizzard fan to an extent, but does not hold the developer in a particularly high regard or another. He believes they make good video games, and enjoys their work as much as the next guy. He used to play World of Warcraft up until 2005, and it is currently the only game he own on his Battle.Net account.

Let me rephrase. A guy who has owned only one of Blizzard’s many fine products, which he last subscribed to five years ago, got a beta invite to StarCraft II.

I know players, including myself, who have played WoW for nearly six years now, paid our dues, and bought out every game and expansion pack Blizzard has released since Orcs & Humans. Yet none of us have ever received a beta invite, and then there is this guy, no interest in anything Blizzard currently has to offer, and he gets to boast about his shiny new StarCraft II Beta invite key.

Milamber, a guildmate of almost 6 years, also remarked on the trend. He has been playing WoW, without taking a break in subscription, since November 2004. It is now May 2010. He has yet to get into a Blizzard beta. I understand his exasperation, and quite frankly I sympathize with it. It is utterly ridiculous that some who has paid $50 for the original game, than $40 each for the two subsequent expansions, and then yet another $15 x 65 months, for a whopping total of $1,105 can’t even get a beta key thrown in his general direction.

The way I feel, if you have had a continuous subscription for over 5 years of WoW, you should get some sort of incentive for being such a loyal customer. Not too mention if they have also purchased SC1 (and will buy SC2), Diablo 1 and 2, and regular Warcraft.

I really like when companies give stuff to older customer, like in TF2 I have a platinum medal for preordering and playing from the start. It doesn’t give me an unfair advantage, it’s just there to show how long I’ve played.

And shouldn’t those who have been around the longest play beta? I more than anyone know how this game functions and I think I’d be a very helpful tester.

– Milamber

His opinion on the subject has a lot of merit, not only from the point of view of incentivizing games for loyal customers, but also in that players who have been playing your games the longest are likely to be their best critics. Why Blizzard doesn’t have a policy in place for giving betas to their oldest, most loyal customers, is quite franly beyond me.

“StarCraft II Beta Bastardary” or “I Have Sympathy Emotional Pain!”

April 9, 2010 4 comments

Ouch. That’s all I gotta say. Ouch.

Categories: StarCraft II