Time Management

So… I may have more or less played WoW constantly this past weekend week.

While I’m sure that I will, like everyone else, grow bored with the feature eventually, I want it on the record (a year late) that what Blizzard did with the Garrison is just shy of amazing. For players like me, anyway.

See, I had every intention of abandoning my Paladin and making my (sigh) level 89 Rogue my new main. Before doing so though, I wanted to get my Garrison decently situated with a few level 2 buildings and Followers manning the profession stations. Which means I needed to do a few Outpost quest chains. And hey, may as well do the other Outpost quest chains so that I can save 750g-1000g on the blueprints. Oh look, I can get some more Followers pretty easily by just going here and doing one or two more quests.

Azuriel is now 25% into level 99.

Granted, all my characters are now in full heirloom gear that scales to level 100, minus the weapon because fuck that 5000g price tag. I even have the Dread Pirate Ring from back in the day, so the full percentage is +50% XP. In fact, I pretty much out-level a zone the minute I finish the Outpost quests. I could probably be a bit more concerned about that than I am, considering that as a non-raider, non-dungeon runner, questing is likely to be the only real content for me (outside BGs). But in a sense, Dragon Age: Inquisition broke the final thread tying filler quests with zero plot development and whatever fucks I had left to give. It’s not that I find killing X mobs tedious, I find killing X mobs for no reason tedious. I need some kind of narrative here.

Killing X mobs for a Follower, on the other hand…

My current plan of action is to go ahead and hit 100 on Azuriel, then get level 2 plans for my DK and Warrior (both of whom are 92) so that I get Inscription, Blacksmithing, and Enchanting professions going. As for my new Rogue “main” I’ll get around to her eventually. And by “eventually,” I mean those 5-10 minutes in-between Follower missions being completed across 3+ characters.

The irony is not lost on me that nearly four years ago I quit WoW the first time because of games like Tiny Tower, and now I’m back because it more closely resembles all those time management games. Time truly is a flat circle.

SSD Failure

Yeah, so, my main SSD up and died earlier tonight. You know, the one with Windows installed on it. And the one with the extra Windows partition, to make reinstalling easier. Just a quick BSOD followed by the BIOS no longer recognizing the drive. No other warning whatsoever.

While I did manage to make a frantic trip out to Best Buy to get another SSD in some insane fantasy that’d I’d be able to play videogames tonight, I was instead presented with the cruelest of ironies: you can reinstall Windows from the disk, but not the driver necessary to get on the Internet. I can’t even begin to imagine how that makes sense. Nor why it’s so goddamn difficult to have single, centralized place to download said driver (from another computer, if course). “Check your computer manufacturer.” Uh, it was custom-built; not like I can go to Dell or Apple’s website here. I did manage to figure it out, inexplicably, and shall henceforth seed my house with USB sticks with said drivers upon them.

The silver lining here is that the original SSD was only 64gb, mainly used for the OS, and thus my 500gb data drive remained intact. The new SSD is 480gb because why the fuck not, so once I preform the necessary blood rituals getting evening reinstalled, I might just migrate my Steam folder over.

In any case, here is your monthly reminder to back up your files. And your drivers.

That Old Pair of Shoes

Well, I bought Warlords of Draenor this weekend. And, as previously reported, I have 9 now 8 WoW Tokens. So I must conclude that I am playing WoW again.

Surprised there hasn't been a poop quest yet.

Surprised there hasn’t been a poop quest yet.

I was about to use “that old pair of jeans” phrase in the title, but the thing about old jeans is that they’re comfortable. WoW, right now, feels like an old pair of shoes instead: soles are a bit thin, rubber peeling off the sides, and they’re inexplicably damp. They still work, and are a better choice when it comes to doing chores like mowing your lawn, but they make everything feel ever so slightly off.

My namesake paladin just hit level 93 yesterday and I have little desire to play Azuriel again. The Retribution rotation doesn’t seem meaningfully different from what I remember, but the great ability pruning of 6.0 means that you have to especially enjoy your particular class because what you have is all you get. And what Retribution gets is Avenging Wrath and… a bunch of defensive cooldowns. Every time I was stymied by an entirely superfluous mountain and/or gentle slope in the no-fly zone that is Draenor, all I could think about was how my rogue could have Shadowstepped their way past the obstacle. Or warrior charged. Or DK Deathgrip the mob down the hill. Or anything.

All of which is fine, right? Just switch mains. Except my rogue is level 86. Which isn’t much of a problem with heirlooms – and what a wonderful goldsink that is, what with the upgrading them to scale to level 100 – but it’s still a speedbump. And there is just something ever-so-slightly distasteful about the fact that I need to switch mains at all. This is the “damp” part of the shoe metaphor.

Alright, Blizzard, take your point and enjoy it.

Alright, Blizzard, take your point and enjoy it.

In terms of good things, there are a few. The Garrison has more or less supplanted my irrational desire to log into Clash of Clans every hour, in the time-management department. I just finished the Prophet Velen questline and felt immersed in the battle in a way I haven’t since… Wrathgate? Not as good as Wrathgate, but in the same parking lot of the ballpark. The music this expansion is extremely good too.

Before I pulled the trigger on the WoD purchase though, I was about this close to purchasing FF14 instead. In all likelihood I still will at some point, during the next $10 sale on the original box. If you are going to jump back into the MMO pool and relearn to swim, it may as well be a new pool, right? I only stuck with WoW because of the WoW Token shenanigans, which required me to use the 10-day free trial, which got me into Draenor and annoyed that I was capped at 1 XP less than level 92, and hey the 25% off sale was expiring that weekend, and… yeah.

Sometimes you just go without whatever is currently in your closet.

I Asked For This

If you have been reading this site for a while, you probably know I have an aversion to paying full retail price for videogames. So much so that I created it as a tag: Day 1 Embargo. Why pay $60 for something when it will be half off (or more) three months from now? It’s not like we don’t have 50+ games in our Steam backlogs anyway, right? Better to avoid the hype and save money.

Oh, hey, what’s this:

In the gibberish language of Twitch, let me say: H Y P E B O Y S.

Adam “I didn’t ask for this” Jensen is back. Michael “holy shit this music is amazing” McCann is back. Out of all the game worlds I have experienced in the last few years, the one presented in Deus Ex: Human Revolution has been the most authentic and immersive. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to state that there is something about Deus Ex in general that presses all the right buttons for me. Cyberpunk morality all day, erryday.

Seriously, have you seen the “movie” trailer for Human Revolution? Still gives me chills.

So, yeah. I shall be preemptively lifting my standard embargo on new games for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, whenever it is that it finally gets released. Because I want to believe. I want to believe so bad it hurts. Hurts like Neuropozyne withdraw.

As the WoW Token Turns

You probably heard about the WoW Token already, and might even be aware it was finally implemented yesterday. What you might not know is that it does strange things to people.

Strange, terrible things.

Damn, so close to 2 years.

Damn, so close to 2 years.

What I knew going into this is that I wanted to jump on the opportunity the WoW Token represents, which is: a gold sink for the AH goblin that has (had) everything. Shit man, back in the day I was experimenting with selling stuff like Vial of the Sands, which was a crafted mount that required an extraordinary sunk gold cost right at the start. If it was not profitable, I would move on with the next bit of expensive AH R&D. It wasn’t millions of gold (Glyph spamming the AH was boring), but I was making gold just to make gold, you know? I couldn’t really bring myself to actually spend it on anything as I knew most things would be irrelevant by the next patch anyway; I wasn’t raiding, so who cares?

Queue my slight anxiety at the following error message:

Been down this road before.

Been down this road before.

Was I hacked? Had my sizable stockpile been removed? I mean, I can clearly see my fully-dressed namesake there in the background, so I wasn’t stripped bare. Plus, the Authenticator was still humming along, not to mention my frequent bouts in Hearthstone, which I assume might have been in jeopardy had my characters in WoW been banned. Then again, maybe not. Whatever the case, I wasn’t able to purchase WoW Tokens from the character select screen.

And the story might have begun and ended there. Purchasing game time so I could log in and purchase more game time kinda defeats the purpose of WoW Tokens, yeah? If you’ll notice in the first screenshot though, I was still able to redeem my free 10-day trial of Warlords and take full stock of the situation.

Where I logged off two years ago.

Where I logged off two years ago.

Observations:

  1. Damn, the default interface is still really terrible.
  2. I’m glad I set up the Curse Client all those years ago to manage my addons.
  3. Oh hey, the Curse Client updates addons but doesn’t save any of the settings.
  4. Recreating an interface I actually want to use is going to be an all-night project.
  5. I’d rather be playing Dead Island: Riptide.
  6. Oh, right, WoW Tokens.

I ended up purchasing four WoW Tokens at around 31,000g apiece. Before I logged off, I poked around the AH some to see the general prices of things. Even though I’ve only been back for a hot minute, my mind already sees the dollar signs creeping in:

It has begun.

I can’t turn that part of my brain off.

It’s just a matter of time until someone writes a tiny add-on that projects these prices in-game.

But will it actually matter in the scheme of things? It’s hard to tell. I ended up buying nine (9!) WoW Tokens before calling it a night. The limit is supposedly ten tokens per month, and I might end up shuffling gold around to do just that. You know, to say that I did.

But then it hit me: I now have nine months of WoW subscription. Assuming I play the game at all, that means pretty much any gold I generate between now and the next expansion will be pure bonus. So while I can still see those dollar signs in a general sense, what they represent (i.e. additional game time) is not nearly as valuable as before I had nine tokens.

By the way, between the time I originally bought four tokens and the last five, the price had dropped to 26,000g.

Now the fun (?) begins.

Now the fun (?) begins.

It shall be an interesting dynamic, yeah? On the one hand, I find it hard to believe that enough people have spent $20 on tokens to sell in the ~2 hours between the first batch I purchased and the second. On the other hand, Blizzard has so warped the playerbase over the years that $60 boosts and $25 character transfers have long ceased raising eyebrows. I personally know a few people who have transferred characters a half-dozen times (or more) following a migrating guild or chasing progression. In that sense, what’s another $20 here and there for gold?

The alternative theory is a bit more grim. Perhaps instead of there being too many extra sellers, maybe there aren’t enough buyers? If there is indeed an account-level limit of 10 tokens, there can’t be a mass-dumping of gold into the economy as even AH barons cap themselves out. We also know that the vast majority of MMO players are poor. So the actual market for these tokens will just be a narrow wedge of players who can make gold easily and don’t care about raiding, else they would be chasing the BoE epics that give them 5% better stats. And as I mentioned before, even these players will likely tap themselves out before too long – once you go past 3-4 months of paid time, what’s a fifth month really worth?

It will be an interesting year for WoW, that’s for sure. And if for some reason it isn’t… well, I’ll just let the account lapse and then revive it once it gets interesting again. For free. Forever.

Age of the MOBA

According to EEDAR, by the end of 2015 MOBAs will generate more revenue than (F2P) MMORPGs in the North American market:

"Meteoric" pretty much covers it.

“Meteoric” pretty much covers it.

The difference is small – $501m vs $499m – but it’s impressive nonetheless for a genre that didn’t (formally) exist five years ago.

One thing is for certain though: MOBAs are the “new” hotness and are poised to overtake F2P MMOs either this year, or Soon™ in any case. Which is a fascinating turn of events for someone who really has less than zero interest in MOBAs specifically. Indeed, nearly every mechanic that make MOBAs “deep” are the same mechanics that make many MMOs terrible. For example, the whole Last Hit mechanic. Or having over a hundred different characters, many of whom are direct counters to others, requiring one to memorize a truly voluminous amount of minutia to succeed. You thought the whole Raid Dance memorization was dumb? Just wait until you spend time researching dozens of characters who don’t even get picked. Oh, and hey, I heard you like 40+ minute LFG fights were you (ideally) lose 50% of the time.

On the other hand, in the Venn Diagram for MOBA and MMO I wonder how much overlap there really is. Did some people leave WoW for League of Legends? What did they find on the one end that they did not on the other? Perhaps nothing, and the audiences are from two entirely different sources. Which really doesn’t answer the question of where the MOBA audience came from. Is this an entirely different generation of gamer coming to age during the rise of MOBAs? Or was this a deep pool of potential players who hitherto weren’t being serviced by existing products?

Maybe the answer is less complicated than I am making it out to be: MOBA players seemingly sprang from the earth because it’s all F2P. Easy to get into, easy to get hooked, and then easy to get monetized. As revenues approach half a billion dollars in NA alone though, this clearly is not a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon. Despite the MOBA saturation, revenue still increase almost 20% last year, according to the chart. You will undoubtedly have winners and losers in the market, but MOBAs are here to stay.

Which is… well, good for them. I’m going to play something else.

Impressions: Blackrock Mountain

That was a fun 20 minutes. See you next week, I guess!

I think I actually cackled.

I think I actually cackled.

Yep, beat even all three bosses on Heroic. Or should I say “beat them on Gimmick?”

In the above screenshot, I went with Freeze mage against the 2nd heroic encounter and won on the back of a single card. Literally, the same card, as it got traded back and forth every turn by the AI’s Lorewalker Cho. The plan was to wait to kill the AI via Fatigue damage, but I got bored halfway through and decided I had enough removal plus Mirror Entity up. I clear the opponent’s board with some Explosive Sheep and watch it play Deathwing. Oh lordy. I get a copy of the 12/12 creature, the opposing Deathwing gets BGH’d, I drop another Mirror Entity in the off-chance of some top-deck shenanigans, then sail home to victory.

I enjoy this sort of content, but I feel there’s not really a good way to go about it in card games. The adventures in Hearthstone are one-and-done content, for example. Hex has at least part of its PvE content up and running, and yet that is more focused on grinding low drop-rate rewards, from what I hear. I suppose in the latter case there is at least a reason to continue reusing the AI content.

Hmm. Yeah, it’s a tough design to crack. Even if you faced a sort of “random enemy” opponent that didn’t have a gimmick to play around (e.g. just a bot), what’s stopping you from just playing your tournament netdeck every game and likely wiping the floor with them? Random decklists for players too could be fun – the Mage class challenge in Blackrock Mountain was amazing – although it might be tough to stay motivated if you keep losing because the deck you were assigned was garbage.

Lasting card game content may just be other players only.

Blackrock Mountain Cards

First off, April Fools day is one of the dumbest “holidays” ever conceived, and I think less of anyone who participates. Remember when pinching people not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day was a thing? Think you could get away with that kind of shit today? My earnest hope is that sometime in the future April 1st will no longer be Dead News Day, or a celebration of deception and trolling. The self-deprecating Blizzard was okay last year, but most everyone else misses the mark.

Anyway, the 31 new cards of the Blackrock Mountain Adventure for Hearthstone were revealed on Monday:

For the most part, the internet seems to be fawning over Emperor Thaurissan and Chromaggus the most, with a dash of “Fireguard Destroyer makes Shaman viable!” All of those are very good cards, mind you, and sure to see some play upon release. The problem is that none of them really do anything to stop Face Hunter¹, as pointed out in this reddit comment or this one. Face Hunter doesn’t care about your board position or how cheap your spells get, assuming you are even still alive by turn six to play those cards – taunts or healing or GG.

In a sense, it’s a bit unfair to dismiss all the enthusiastic theorycrafting with a Reductio ad Aggro as not every match is Face Hunter. However, it is an unfortunate reality that net decking requires you to entertain the possibility that you will face a much better-tuned engine of destruction. When I look at the revealed cards, the first ones I gravitate towards are the “meat & potatoes” cards like Imp Gang Boss and Hungry Dragon and even Axe Flinger. As fancy and clever as some decks can get, I find the more unassuming albeit blunt instruments like even the vanilla 4/5 Chillwind Yeti to be the most comforting. They might not win games by themselves (although they sometimes can), but forcing your opponent to spend two cards taking out your one usually puts you on the path to victory.

Speaking of Axe Flinger, am I the only one (still) excited about this 12-damage wombo-combo?

Never see it coming. Well, they'll see part of it coming.

Never see it coming. Well, they’ll see part of it coming.

Play Axe Flinger. Next turn, attack for 2, then play Bouncing Blade, which should trigger Axe Flinger 5 times. This combo requires a lot – no enemy minions on turn 5 (or turn 4 with coin), no damage to Axe Flinger – but it would get massive style points from me. In fact, I’m incredibly tempted to try it myself, as I always thought Bouncing Blade was an underrated card considering it automatically kills any minion if it is alone on the board.

But, alas. The powergamer in me can’t help but ask which cards from the currently successful decks can be cut to make room for the fun ones, and if I’m not running a net deck myself, then how do I expect to win against those that are packing tournament-worthy deck-lists? Metas naturally ebb and flow – witness the meteoric rise of Demonlock and Oil Rogue – but the end result is efficient, predictable wins. In this regard, Hearthstone is exactly like Magic: the Gathering, and why I am sometimes loathe to boot up the game even to do dailies. Arena bypassed the blues for a while, but the introduction of the GvG expansion feels like it diluted the card base too much with crappy commons.

Still, I have been surprised by Hearthstone and the meta-bending deck wizards on more than one occasion. Here’s hoping I eventually find a deck or archetype to call home.

¹ Face Hunter is an aggressive Hunter deck which basically ignores everything the opponent does (with a few exceptions) and simply attacks face every turn. It is depressingly effective.

System Shock 2: That 90s Feeling

System Shock 2 (hereafter SS2) is a game I’ve heard about a lot, but up to this point didn’t have much of an interest to play. I mean, I immensely enjoyed Bioshock and all, but I have found by experience that “spiritual successors” tend to make their source material difficult to play. Which makes total sense, considering a game is a spiritual successor if it emulates and expands upon all the good things about the prior title while discarding the rest.

Plus, you know, 1999 was a long time ago. There is a whole swath of games that are more or less forever unplayable by me simply because I can’t get over the terrible (by today’s standards) graphics. Watching the intro to SS2 did not inspire much confidence:

I'm trying to remember a time when this looked amazing.

I’m trying to remember a time when this looked amazing.

Luckily for everyone, there is a wide selection of mods out there that more or less brings the game to at least 2004.

I was actually somewhat impressed.

I was actually somewhat impressed.

At this point, I am roughly 10 or so hours into the game and I must admit that SS2 still has value to give. For example: it’s pretty damn scary, but not in the way you might be used to. FEAR has some great moments, Silent Hill definitely gets the horror angle correct, and Resident Evil does “crash through the window” better than most. None of those really capture the unique (as far as I know) dread that is hearing the “whisk” sound of a spaceship door opening behind you. In fact, I find myself developing somewhat of a complex with these doors, as evidenced by nearly jumping out of my chair from the sound of one door – that I had just activated – closing behind me.

Aside from the evil doors, I want to spend a moment and praise the overall sound design of the game in general. For the most part, you can hear nearly every enemy before you actually see them. Which, now that I think about it, is not as common a gaming trope as it should be. What this allows SS2 to do is make the various types of enemies resistant or vulnerable to specific weapons without the player feeling cheated. If you hear a robot walking around nearby and aren’t switching to your energy weapons in anticipation, it’s your own damn fault.

Another thing I can appreciate about SS2’s design is the overall upgrade mechanic. Your character has like four tabs worth of various stats and abilities you can upgrade/purchase with Cybernetic Modules. While you do receive some periodically as “quest” rewards, the vast majority of Cybernetic Modules are stuck in desks, on dead bodies, and sometimes hidden in plain sight on the floor. Combined with a traditional (the de facto back then) non-regenerating health system and the necessity to collect currency for ammo/hacking/etc purposes, Cybernetic Modules provide an immense incentive to explore every inch of the ship. Contrast this with, say, Bioshock Infinite which has painstakingly-designed nooks and crannies without any reason at all to search them.

As an aside, I can understand why some games might not go that route. If you hide a bunch of upgrade currency throughout your game, you are then faced with a dilemma: either that upgrade currency is necessary to realistically defeat the final boss, or it isn’t. If it is necessary, you are forcing everybody to comb your game for supplies, including the people who find that sort of thing tedious. If all the upgrades aren’t necessary, the people who enjoy looting all the things are “rewarded” with trivial encounters for the rest of the game. It is much easier to control your game’s pacing by directly tying upgrades to specific plot points, so no one is ahead or behind. That does make your game more boring and empty however. Hence, dilemma.

In any case, I am likely closing in on the System Shock 2 endgame and should be done in the next day or two. While I do not consider it to be as groundbreaking as something like the original Deus Ex, it is at least in the same parking lot as the ballpark. If you picked it up as part of one of any number of bundles in the last two years, go ahead and spend the 20 minutes or so it takes to set up all the mods and give it a whirl. Part Deus Ex, part Half-Life, and extremely atmospheric.

On Randomness, Again

A little over a year ago, I talked about randomness in Hearthstone. Since that time, the amount of RNG cards has only increased. In fact, the Goblin vs Gnomes expansion added a full 24 cards with the word “random” on it, some of which have gone on to be staple cards in many decks:

The one of the left is an auto-include in every deck.

The one of the left is an auto-include in every deck.

At the time of the article, I mentioned that Blizzard’s stance on RNG was possibly at a turning point given how Hearthstone’s nascent e-Sports scene was starting to take off, much to the surprise of Blizzard itself. As we well know today however, Blizzard has stuck with their RNGuns and doubled-down on wild board swings.

And… I think I can appreciate what they’re doing.

The downsides to randomness are rather apparent to most people, insofar as you can go from winning to losing by virtue of a coin-flip. Watching Pro Players losing tournaments on the back of a 1% chance (or even less) of bad luck makes the game look like amateur hour sometimes.

On the flip side (har har), an element of randomness allows one to stage surprising comebacks. Top-decking just the right card to win a game has always been a staple of even the highest levels of the Magic: the Gathering professional scene. Since Hearthstone has less than half as many cards as Magic (and no land cards to gum up the works), Hearthstone arguably needs the extra randomness just to be less deterministic. Nobody likes playing unwinnable matches.

The real upside to Hearthstone’s randomness though? The stories.

If you were the other guy playing this match, you would probably be justifiably upset about how utterly screwed you got from that Piloted Shredder outcome. Or would you be justified? As I mentioned before, randomness is just another consideration that skilled players need to account for in their strategies. Getting Lorewalker Cho out of a Piloted Shredder as Oil Rogue is bad, but there was always a 1.5% chance of it happening in every game; if you don’t want to sometimes lose to the randomness of your own card, take it out of your deck. About 70% of the time, Piloted Shredder summons a better-than-expected minion, which is why so many people run it.

But as I was saying, that match went from “just another video demonstrating a deck” to “high-class entertainment” in my eyes. You can see the gears whirling in the streamer’s head as soon as Cho hit the board; it was unexpected, and the unexpected is much more fun for the viewers at home. Even if I were playing that game though, I think I’d be alright with it. Nobody really cares that you won yet another game as Oil Rogue or whatever is Flavor of the Week. Winning in spite of Cho? That would be epic. And even though the other rogue loss due to Cho, he/she now has the option to mentally blame bad luck instead of being outplayed. That attitude can prevent new players from improving of course, but it can also prevent new players from simply giving up in the face of veterans.

The next Hearthstone Adventure set, Blackrock Mountain, is due to be released sometimes in April. We haven’t seen nearly all the cards yet, but we already know about a reverse-Shredder card called Hungry Dragon, which summons a random 1-mana minion for your opponent. So at this point, I believe it safe to say that randomness is here to stay. Time will tell if Hearthstone in general does the same.

(I give it a 92% chance.)