Indie Devs Are Kind of Assholes

Let’s play a game called “In what context would this ever be a good idea for developers to write on internet forums?” First up, Lead Engine developer for a recently Kickstarted 16-bit action-RPG Elysian Shadows:

You know, half of what you said was actually fairly useful, but then the other half went into opinionated, biased, tangential bullshit, and you lost me entirely. Bump mapping? Have you LOOKED at our Kickstarter? Our sprites are CLEARLY bump mapped, and they’re also specularly highlighted. There’s even a section clearly describing that. Our later screenshots are also all billboarded and are entirely aligned to camera-space. Your divine wisdom would have been appreciated considerably more if you had refrained from being a total douche in the end… I was actually going to ask for your email and talk development with you… But instead I think I’ll just head on back to Kickstarter and watch the money roll in for this abomination of an indie RPG coming to a Dreamcast near you! Funny, considering the majority of the backers are coming for the Dreamcast, then OUYA is doubling our funds from $150k to $300k. ;)

The correct answer is: none. I don’t even care that the actual context was a bitter vet dev expressing frustration that his/her own game went nowhere and even went on so far as to say “[...] your entire Kickstarter is everything I hate about “indie retro 16-bit RPGs [...].” That basically anonymous poster the dev was responding to? Nobody gives two shits about them thirty seconds after closing the tab. But the dev? I’m walking away from the comment exchange thinking to myself “hey, that Falco Girgis dude is an asshole – I sort of hope his game crashes and fails.”

Maybe that sentiment says more about me than anything else.

Regardless, what the dev gave up here was an opportunity to sell another copy of the game, perhaps demonstrate the competency of the team, and, you know, not be another asshole on the internet. We’re full up, dude, we don’t need any more.

But congrats on the game, or whatever. Maybe I’ll check it out in an Humble Bundle in which I allocate zero dollars to your team.

[Civ5] Starting to See

Okay, okay. I’m starting to see why everyone is all “one… more… turn” when it comes to Civ 5.

After I wrote the post on Wednesday, I sat down to what ended up being an unintentional marathon gaming session. On reflection though, I am not even entirely sure why. I mean, yeah, “one more turn.” But that was sort of because A) I did nothing of any meaning the last four turns, and B) something was actually occurring. I suddenly sat up in my chair, pointed at the screen, and said “No you fucking didn’t!”

He totally did.

He totally did.

Whoops, that’s actually a screenshot I took because I had no idea what was going on. Good on the Civ team for going the extra, multicultural mile there, but I’ve been playing against these computers for nearly 4000 years and I still couldn’t tell you who Harun al-Rashid or Haile Selassie are, where Addis Ababa is located, how a trade route even gets plundered, or why I should really care when I can make another Caravan in 2 turns.

It is sort of funny because I ended up in the same position I remember being in way back in Civ 2: running out of things to build and just clicking End Turn until the next technology is unlocked. Pretty early in the game my capital ended up being a Wonder Farm, pumping out colossus statues and Big Bens every 5 turns until that well went dry. Then I seemed to have missed the religion boat entirely, at least until the Missionaries started pouring in from the North, giving my cities ecclesiastical whiplash every few turns.

And then… goddamn Brazil ruined everything. Or more specifically my hopes of a cultural victory.

Fine.

There was blood.

There was blood.

It’s funny how a little unprovoked continental warfare suddenly increases your average Decisions-Per-Turn. I wasn’t able to muster enough forces to crush the last city – 107 Defense power, what? – but that’s fine. I got the time… until nukes.

Just a few more turns…

Civ Mistake

As you may know, I have an embargo of sorts on buying brand new games. Not only are new games more expensive, but there rarely is any benefit to buying it early – assuming you are physically capable of waiting for a week or two, you will have a lot more information about whether a given game lives up to your expectations or not. And even if you’re sure that it will be everything you dream it to be, it’s possible the game will be a bug-ridden, unplayable mess those first few days/weeks. Remember Fallout: New Vegas? Or basically any Bethesda game, I suppose.

So anyway, I pre-purchased Civilization: Beyond Earth.

In my defense, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri was a seminal classic that still occupies a lot of my mindspace decades after the fact. Those quotes, man, those quotes. I still have a .TXT file on my computer that is full of profound nuggets of wisdom, many of which were transcribed from that game. Sure, most are real-world quotes that the game simply appropriated, but this was the means by which I was introduced to them for the first time. It sort of reminds me of how much Magic: the Gathering expanded my vocabulary and the fact that I experienced Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven for the first time in that bizarre intestinal parasite level in Earthworm Jim 2.

In any case, Beyond Earth was selling for $12.50 off on GreenManGaming. So… savings!

After re-watching some of the coverage for the game, it occurred to me that it looks a lot like Civ 5, which I have owned for months without ever having booted it up. And now that I have booted it up, I am beginning to sweat my decision a bit. Because, so far, my experience with Civ 5 is mirroring my experience with Crusader Kings 2 – namely as games that other people seem to enjoy way more than it seems likely or even possible.

Full disclosure: aside from Alpha Centauri, the only other Civ game I have played was Civ 2… on the Super Nintendo. I played the hell out of it and Alpha Centauri both, but these games aren’t my wheelhouse per se.

I did a sort of beginner’s match in Civ 5 and just started a second game on normal difficulty/Civ spread. With things approaching 1000 AD, I am sort of wondering when the fun starts. The problem from my perspective is that I don’t seem to actually be making any decisions very often. I’m perfectly fine playing the “long game” in strategy titles, but I’m not particularly fine with spam-clicking Next Turn for 200 years. Moving a War Chariot around looking for Barbarians isn’t exactly cutting it.

What I cannot quite figure out is whether this whether this is a sign of A) me doing something wrong, B) Civ 5 being a departure from prior games, or C) my own evolving tastes. I mean, I think it used to be that having a dozen cities was par for the course in older Civ titles, yes? Now I’m in the Classical age and just founded my 3rd city after some hemming and hawing. The beginner match I played was basically me rolling over my opponents militarily – with numerous interesting decisions to make each turn – but the warnings I kept getting every time I annexed a city and the penalties are leading me to believe that offensive units are only useful against Barbarians and Gandhi.

So, Civ 5 fans, am I doing it wrong? If it matters, I have all the DLC loaded already.

End of Justice, Valor in Warlords

I cannot imagine this is breaking news, but it certainly came to a shock to me:

Honor and Conquest definitely are not going away, just to clarify a misconception – you’ll still be earning those currencies through PvP and using them to buy your PvP gear.

What will be going away is Justice and Valor. Over time, they’ve moved away from their original purpose, and given how widely available they’d become (awarded from quests, scenarios, dungeons, raids, etc.), we’d rather return to the original universal currency: gold. The final values aren’t hooked up yet, but the old Valor rewards for completing your daily random dungeon or an LFR wing will be replaced with a hefty sum of gold, which should make something like the gold turn-in for a bonus roll seem far more attainable even for players who currently don’t have much gold.

Watcher went on to clarify:

Just to clarify, I’m not saying that players should expect to see a vendor with a full set of endgame gear for gold as a one-to-one replacement for the Valor vendors from Mists. For the initial Warlords content, Apexis Crystals will largely fill that role, and you can see most of that structure already in place in the Beta today.

I honestly don’t know what the hell Blizzard imagines they are doing.

The original thought I had was that Blizzard was going to remove all Justice/Valor points and related vendors, and then heavily lean on the Bonus Roll mechanics they introduced in Mists. Gold is indeed one of the methods you can use to get a Bonus Roll, but it is one of… five I think, and you can use a particular method once per week with 3 Bonus Rolls being the limit. It sorta makes sense from a design perspective insofar as the current Justice/Valor system has an awkward down-leveling that occurs every patch, with Valor turning into Justice, Justice items going down in price, issues with people banking dungeon currency, and so on.

The issue I have with this change is one of motivation. In a world where you are running dungeons for specific gear, what motivation do you have to run said dungeon after you have gotten your gear? There isn’t any. And… maybe that’s a good thing? Back in the day though, I would routinely farm dungeons on my tank characters (instant queues) specifically because I could earn currency to get raid-level upgrades that would help guild progression later. Without that carrot, I would queue for nothing, and the LFD system itself would that much worse off. Alternatively, perhaps it means that LFD would be stocked with people specifically farming for gear, e.g. the intended audience for the content, so maybe people would be more accepting of lower-geared strangers.

Then I remembered that Blizzard is still using alternative currencies: Apexis Crystals. So… they do have the equivalent to Valor points, but you don’t earn them in dungeon/raid content. Was this their solution to reputation grinds? I don’t know, I’m not in the beta. But all I can think of is: Frost Badges. You know, back in Wrath when there was a different raid currency for every tier. Because we sure as hell aren’t likely to be using Apexis Crystals for Tier N+1 vendor gear.

So now I’m back to having no idea what Blizzard imagines they are doing. I actually liked the Valor system, and I liked it all the way back when it was Badges of Justice in your inventory. Granted, it led to some targeted farming behavior like running Heroic Mechanar every day and weekly Kara farms, but at least it got everyone in groups out in the world. As someone would more gold than I would know what to do with, I’m not entirely sure what I would be doing in Warlords other than perhaps farming Apexis Crystals. Which is like farming Valor, except much easier to do by myself.

Nostalgia Level: Star Ocean 2

Just doing my nightly Kotaku crawl when I came across a Let’s Talk About Star Ocean 2 article. Holy nostalgia, man.

Okay, I don't remember this part.

Okay, I don’t remember this part.

The article itself was really talking about how bad the dialog/localization was in the original game (apparently remedied a bit by the non-digital, PSP-only re-release) which, like most things in 1999, I don’t remember being much of an issue. What I mainly remember is: sci-fi JRPG, action combat, 60+ hour campaign, Private Actions (a pretty novel method of character-building at the time), and 80+ endings. And those Skills. Good lord, those skills.

There was even an in-game Iron Chef sequence.

There was even an in-game Iron Chef sequence.

I keep thinking that if I had infinite time, that I would replay all these PS1 games, even if the experience itself would not quite be the same. It’s hard going back though. As the sidebar indicates, I’m sorta-maybe playing FF4 for the first time (started due to the Japan trip) and it’s tough getting past the “X and Y were bad game design decisions” sort of mentality. I can’t even imagine the field day I’d have with games like Star Ocean 2.

Still, I have some rather pleasant memories of that whole gaming era, which landed straight in my formative high school years. Star Ocean 2 doesn’t really come close to FF7 or Xenogears, but it ranks up there with the LUNAR series as being an unexpected delight.

Subscriptions Are Dead; Long Live Subscriptions

Tobold has a post up talking about the fate of the subscription model. Namely, that while TESO and Wildstar devs are heroically trying to swim against the F2P current, the hard numbers and future MMO releases paint a different, more bleak picture. As somewhat hilariously pointed out by commenter Mike Andrade in that post, this sort of subscription analysis appears to be a Tobold yearly August tradition, but nevermind.

Both Gevlon in the comments and SynCaine in a post come out of the gate with a rather blistering one-two retort: 1) maybe recent sub games are floundering because the games themselves are bad, and 2) where are all the F2P successes then?

Granted, SynCaine moved the goal-posts a bit by specifying “day-1 F2P,” when the facts of the matter are (likely) that subscription games that have made the F2P transition are only still online because of said transition. In other words, SWTOR and LOTRO and Aion and DDO and STO and TSW (etc) are perfectly valid examples of F2P success stories by virtue of those games still being online and profitable. That all of them would prefer the giant piles of initial subscriber cash isn’t really saying anything about the long-term sustainability of the model itself. Why would any of them start off F2P if it’s possible to not leave that money on the table?

But if we’re looking ahead, I suppose ArchAge and SOE’s flagship EverQuest Next being F2P might be potential candidates day-1 F2P success (however that ends up being defined).

The subscription counter-example a lot of people have been using is FF14, which frankly shocked me in terms of subscriber numbers. Apparently there are 2 million of them? If legitimate, that would rocket it past all non-WoW MMOs to be one of the most successful subscription games of all time. Of course, it sells for $15 on Steam every three weeks, there’s a sizable console market for the game (something not many MMOs can achieve), and it technically got a do-over that allowed it to “launch” with years of content instead of the normal zero. But still! That’s impressive.

Okay, actually FF14 has two million “registered accounts,” which is sort of like subscribers in the same way F2P games are “free to play.” Still, subscriptions! 500,000 people log on at least once per day! For now, anyway.

Ultimately, I think a lot of the subscription game musing is sort of missing the point. While there are subtle pressures involved when you look at a subscription game – worrying about getting your money’s worth even if $15/month is pocket change normally – I agree with people like SynCaine that say if a game is worth it, you’ll pay the money… to a point. Because when you are talking about MMOs, the quality of the content itself is almost a tertiary concern to retention. Don’t believe me? Then tell me how a game like WoW can get away with having zero new content from September 2013 to today and “only” lose around ~10.5% of its population. It’s the people, stupid. Yeah, there’s an underlying game space that needs to be entertaining enough to collect everyone in one spot and having fun during downtime, but how long is anyone really subscribing to a single-player game? You can have the most entertaining base game in the world, but if nobody is making those sticky social connections – perhaps because they already have social networks elsewhere – then they are just going to leave in three months anyway.

Frankly, the biggest issue with subscriptions are companies whom vastly overestimate their own popularity, and otherwise set themselves up for failure. If you budget your MMO such that you need 500,000 people paying $15/month just to survive, you’re going to have a bad time. The lower that floor is, the more space you will have to grow the audience later. Or, hell, just maintain the people you have currently.

So while I do not believe the subscription model itself is going anywhere, I do think that it’s only going to be particularly sustainable to those games which have tightly-wounded social pockets. Creating said pockets out of thin air is incredibly tough, but that’s not going to stop games like TESO and Wildstar from at least capitalizing on 6-12 months of bonus revenue they would not have otherwise had if they went with B2P and/or F2P.

Blizzard News Recap

So, hey, how about that. Leave the country for just two weeks and look what happens.

Blizzard Q2 2014 Investor Call

The big news, of course, is the fact that WoW has dropped 800k subs and is down to 6.8 million from Q1. MMO-Champion has a rather interesting interactive graph on the linked page, but let’s go ahead and take a screenshot for posterity:

Presumably there will be a soft landing at some point.

Presumably there will be a soft landing at some point.

Honestly, it is hard to add anything to that; the graph really speaks for itself. I guess it is interesting to note that we are now well below the numbers of vanilla WoW at this point. It is also interesting to note that the number of subscribers WoW lost in the last few months is larger than the total reported subs for The Elder Scrolls Online. Or Wildstar + EVE. So anytime someone happens to discount WoW as a fluke and/or “not representative of the genre as a whole,” just remember that this is a fluke on scale with the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.

There are bigger games, of course, like League of Legends. There still ain’t any bigger MMOs. And let’s face it: there isn’t likely to ever be any.

Back to that investor call, and the unintentionally hilarious corporate doublespeak:

Starting off with World of Warcraft. The franchise remains healthy with revenues up year-over-year. This is due in part to ongoing interest in Warlords of Draenor presales, which now exceed 1.5 million, and the character boost, which suggests strong support for the expansion by the community.

Yeah, sure, I can see it that way, Mike Morhaime. Someone who purchases a(n additional) character boost is likely a person preparing to use said boosted character in the next expansion. At the same time, is a boosted character not also a vote of no confidence of all the content that it was boosted past? Shit, the expansion is not out for another three months, and this is a report of player behavior from earlier in the year anyway. I’m not one of those guys who cry over planned obsolescence, but c’mon man, this is a sword with two edges. Be careful where you pick it up.

In looking over the rest of the call transcript, most of it had to do with Destiny and Call of Duty questions. Hearthstone was a surprise darling, but we sort of knew that already.

Warloads of Draenor

Release date of November 13th. And there’s a video!

I pretty much agree with the prevailing blogging opinion that the Warlords trailer is excellent on a technical level and somewhat of a horrible trainwreck on grokkable level. Are we supposed to know who these orcs are? It might be a little racist, but I can barely tell any of them apart. And then you get the confused sympathy going on, which results in you thinking the final boss of the expansion is actually a good guy. I mean, we just saw him kill a demon and everything! To the average person watching this thing, they aren’t going to know that the final scene is meant to imply the “good guys” will soon be invading an alternate timeline in which they don’t exist, only to be pushed back into their own world again and beaten silly by 10 or 25 kleptomaniacs in silly costumes.

And when I put it like that, I still almost feel bad for them.

Then I remember that alternate timelines and time travel in general is literally the worst narrative gimmick in literature (and all mediums, really), possibly tied with “it was all a dream.” It is always total bullshit because nobody ever treats it seriously, least of all the authors themselves. Bioshock Infinite, anyone? Warlords is all just another Metzen Horde masturbation fantasy that plumbs the shockingly shallow depths of the Warcraft RTS plot in search of remaining nuggets (or crumbs thereof) which can be squeezed and bled before the swan song of an Emerald Dream expansion.

In my attempt at researching the possibility that the Warlords narrative could be saved by Naaru somehow, I stumbled upon this blog post which does a good job at asserting the fact that we might be battling high lieutenants of the Burning Legion by the end. Up to and including Sargeras. I like the research supporting that position, but again, it all highlights for me the reason why time travel is stupid everywhere. Because now there is an infinite number Sargerases, and Titans, and McGuffins such that the likelihood of the “original” world existing at all is vanishingly small. Maybe the Bronze Dragonflight are supposed to keep all that shit on lockdown, but all it takes is a single “he/she went insane” and suddenly they are attacking every reality.

…which is sort of how the Burning Legion are described. Hmm.

Nah. The writers over there aren’t that clever.

Quote of the Time Interval

 People are here to play, and being playful is good. Your steampunk goggles and bronze rocket pack get admiring looks, not confused stares and laughs. The weirdos are the Colts fans who arrived in their thousands for the game last night; why wear a blue and white jersey when you could have a fez and/or chainmail?

-Zubon

GenCon: Day Three (final)

Last day of GenCon… and all I can really think is “thank god.”

RPG: Coldsteel Warriors

I basically signed up to play with a good friend from college who successfully Kickstarted his own pen & paper RPG system. Unfortunately, I was the only one of the five people who signed up to the event to show, so we shot the shit instead. He ended up giving me a copy of the game rules to take a look at, which I shall before plugging the game itself more than I am right now.

I guess I should mention that the setting is in the Iron Age of comics, so everything is basically Watchmen minus the actual Watchmen. And everything is d10s, so it sorta feels like Arkham Horror with the success dice mechanic.

Panel: Evening with RA Salvatore

To be completely honest, I really only know RA Salvatore via the Kingdoms of Amalur debacle. I mean, I’m aware of the fact that he wrote the Sephiroth of D&D (before there was a Sephiroth), but I have read a grand total of zero of those books. Maybe I should have before getting a ticket to his panel, but too late for that.

The panel itself was just pure Q&A with himself and about 30 of us. While he talked about a number of things – including some indulgent questions regarding some characters in his books – there were a few parts that stood out to me.

First, while he was making a love letter to the original EverQuest up on the stage, he sort of reiterated one of my prior points regarding long boat rides. Specifically: “we didn’t care about the waiting times because that time was our Facebook before Facebook.” He went on to acknowledge that people are less tolerant of those sort of waits because if they want to talk to people, they’ll just tab out to Facebook.

Contrary to my sage wisdom though, Salvatore lamented that “all the grief is gone” from MMOs. Back during the 38 Studios days, he was in the conference room every day fighting for EverQuest-style penalties and such. He personally attributes that thought process to devs who have a background in customer service (which is where most designers start out at), and them thusly being afraid of complaints on forums. “Corpse runs make for the best stories.” And so on.

After that gaming interlude, he launched on a deeply compeling rant on Unreliable Narrators. I’m not going to recreate the entire conversation, but the topic stemmed from an earlier point on how the rules of English 101 are not at all similar to what’s taught in English 1001. Specifically, how the readers of today parse information is much different from how the readers of 1970 parse, and the readers of 1930, 1830, and so on. The “rules” state that you should never have to write “‘Great job,’ Bob said sarcastically” because you as the author should have made Bob’s sarcasm obvious from his personality, the scene setup, etc. Hell, you shouldn’t even have to specify that Bob was even the one who said the line; it should be clear from the cadence of the dialog.

The trouble is, according to Salvatore, that people nowadays read things in terms of messages boards, e.g. all “dialog” is attributed by default. Plus, without the in-person element, we have a much harder time interpreting sarcasm in text. He stressed that he is not criticizing the generation, he’s just pointing out that if you want to write something that speaks to the audience of today, you have to speak in a way that they can understand.

The problem is that the present environment is pretty hostile to the Unreliable Narrator element. And after some thought, I agree. I don’t quite agree with Salvatore’s ultimate concern that the lack of Unreliable Narrators means that people are slowing becoming incapable of seeing/questioning the world from another person’s perspective, but yeah, the mechanic itself is pretty tough to pull off “correctly” these days. I think the problem is that it ends up feeling like a cheap trick most of the time, an easy way to introduce a twist without needing to foreshadow anything.

Anyway, that as that. 

GenCon: Day Two

The second day was considerably less busy than the first.

Panel: Freelancing for Fun and Profit

Hosted by the “teach truck-drivers the art of cussing like a sailor” John Adamus, and cohosted by Brianna Reid. It ended up being a 2-hour panel, which I was not expecting, but the general information was pretty good. Some standard stuff like “don’t do unpaid work, ever” but they did have some specific advice for people who had questions. For example, one guy asked what he should say to people when offering his services considering his talent set is rather diverse. Answer: context of the event matters… but go nuts on your business card.

Just as with the panels the previous day, some grimaces were had by the hosts when someone asked how applicable the advice is to videogames. The resounding answer seems to be that “there is no money in videogames” insofar as freelancers/writers are concerned. I mean, it’s pretty bad when someone who entirely makes a living as a freelancer tells you that the videogame industry is all unpredictable work.

Also: the general payment rule for writing is 1-2 cents/word, creating logos should be $300, and websites should be anywhere from $1000 to $15,000 depending on the scope. Don’t work for “exposure” and don’t work for points. If anyone gives you lip, just repeat “fuck you, pay me.” …and that was basically that entire panel.

Concert: the Doubleclicks

Not much to say here; you either like these girls or you don’t. Personally, I enjoyed the songs and I have to give mad props to the lead singer for her stage presence and audience interaction.

Terrible Idea: Friday Night Live

Holy fucking shit, you guys. This was literally the worst thing I have ever sat through. Bad on us for not really researching the thing ahead of time – we kinda thought it would be similar to Saturday Night Live – but we could not be more horribly wrong. It was basically medieval comedy songs by people with zero sense of humor and/or musical talent. We snuck out after about 45 minutes (of the 2 hour show).

Other

We ended up playing some card games at the end of the night, but I think I’m going to save my impressions of them for a separate post.