Category Archives: Commentary
So, I have been and will continue to be on vacation at the beach with family until the end of the week. The internet service down here is absolutely abysmal – we’re talking 5 Mbps shared across 40 rooms – which is why I have not been on top of the comments and general news. I suppose that might sound bad, caring about frivolous internet things while at the beach. But honestly, if I knew it was going to be vacation back to 1994, I might have passed. Also, the ocean seems saltier this year and there was a fly in my soup.
That said, how ’bout that PS4 news?
- No new restrictions on used game sales.
- No internet connection required.
- $399 vs Xbox One’s $499
It wasn’t all good news – a Playstation Plus membership is required for all multiplayer, just like Xbox Live today – but it was a fantastic PR coup for Sony to have been quiet all this time before launching into these consumer-friendly revelations.
A couple Apologists skeptics from around the web have tried to paint Sony with the Xbox One brush over the used games quote though:
“The DRM decision is going to have to be in the hands of the third parties. That’s not something that we’re going to dictate or mandate or control or implement.”
“Aha!” the Apologists cried. “Same thing as Xbox!”
Not really. In fact, not at all. The key point here is that Sony’s strategy is unchanged from the current generation. Remember Online Passes? Those were 3rd party attempts at mitigating secondary game sales, all of which happened in this generation. If EA suddenly changes their mind vis-a-vis reintroducing Online Passes, Sony isn’t going to stop them, but at least it isn’t turned on by default as it is in the Xbox One scenario. As Destructoid put it:
The major difference between PS4 and Xbox One, of course, is that Sony hasn’t made it easier for corporations to control the behavior of their customers, because the PS4 doesn’t tie your copies to your accounts, or initiate checks to scrub traded game data off your system. Basically, Microsoft designed the Xbox One to make it as easy as flipping a switch to eradicate any possibility of sharing your games, while Sony is maintaining its policy of this current generation.
Or you can go with the Game Front article for even further clarification:
“The Online Pass program for PlayStation first-party games will not continue on PlayStation 4. Similar to PS3, we will not dictate the online used game strategy (the ability to play used games online) of its publishing partners. As announced last night, PS4 will not have any gating restrictions for used disc-based games. When a gamer buys a PS4 disc they have right to use that copy of the game, so they can trade-in the game at retail, sell it to another person, lend it to a friend, or keep it forever.”
This is good news for gamers, indeed. In a nutshell, you can buy a used single-player game for the PS4 and play it all you want. If you want to go online with it, you may have to deal with some sort of publisher-determined DRM, be it an Online Pass or whatever.
Not that I’m going to buy one anytime soon – I just bought a PS3 last Christmas. But it’s nice to know that whenever I do hop aboard the next console generation, I will have the opportunity to catch up on all the games I’ve missed by hitting up Amazon or some local place and not be paying full MSRP out the ass for 2+ year old games.
I started playing Torchlight 2 a few weeks ago, and I am having some issues. Now, I did not like the original game all that much, but picking up the sequel for $5 during one of those crazy Steam sales seemed safe enough. And so far, I am not experiencing the same acute symptoms of frustration as in the first game. Except… now I kinda am.
My biggest gripe with the original game was that the loot system was broken. Specifically, there was no real sense of gear progression in a hack-n-slash Diablo-clone genre that is based entirely on gear progression – I used the same “legendary” level 3 necklace all the way into the endgame, never finding an upgrade. While I have not ran into this problem as much in Torchlight 2, the contours of the issue remain in place. For example, I ran into this gearing decision the other day:
Maybe “higher level = better” is too simplistic a progression design, but… is it really?
The more pressing concern in Torchlight 2 though, is how a lot of things that should be rewarding are really not. Each main area map has a Locked Golden Chest which contains, as you might imagine, a lot of loot. The key to this chest can drop randomly from any mob on that particular map, or from a specific fairy mob 100% of the time.
Compelling design, right? It would be, if these chests dropped something more than vendor trash.
Random loot is random, but after spending more time than strictly necessary opening these chests up and walking away with nothing of any value, I am finding myself souring on game in general. Indeed, even the extra-large treasure chests at the end of boss encounters reveals greys and greens more often than not. Why should I be fighting bosses when smashing pottery is clearly the more profitable activity?
In Torchlight 2′s case though, there is a “solution”: mods. In fact, the #1 highest-rated mod in the Steam Workshop is one that tweaks Golden Chests (and boss chests) to always drop a Unique item. That’s not as broken as it sounds – items are still random, scaled to your level, and sometimes class-specifc – and does a lot to fix what I otherwise consider a problem. There are mods for all sorts of things, in fact, including Skill tweaks, doubling the amount of gold drops, Respec potions (base game only allows reshuffling of last 3 Skills), improving game textures, increasing view distance, and even additional whole classes. Indeed, one of the big selling points of Torchlight 2 was its modability in comparison to Diablo 3.
Thing is, I don’t like using mods on my initial play-through of a game. Hell, I usually don’t even like loading in DLC that affects the core game, even when I’m playing the Game of the Year version that bundles it all together.
My situation is a bit unique (and self-inflicted) insofar as I fancy myself a game reviewer. But even before this website, I preferred going in vanilla and raw. Not all my friends had the extra spending money for the expansions and whatnot, so telling them Diablo 2 was better with Lords of Chaos installed really just means “the base game is deficient.” Well, perhaps not deficient in D2′s case, but you understand my meaning.
Good game design is supposed to be good out of the box. If developers are stumbling around for the first several months from release, that stumbling needs to remain part of the overall narrative. I failed to mention in my Fallout: New Vegas review that the game was literally unplayable for the first two weeks without downloading a crack that fixed the DirectX issues; it’s an important detail to know for when the next Fallout game is released, lest it too require Day 0 patching from players to fix what the devs rushed to production.
I suppose some of this harkens back to that debate over whether MMOs (etc) are toys vs games. There is no wrong way to play with a toy, no real rules to govern your interaction with them. In this sense, mods are sort of like adding salt to your meal – some chefs might see that as an insult, but perhaps your individual taste skews more salty than the others sharing the meal. Ergo, developers letting mods fix any subjective “problem” only makes sense. Keep the vanilla pure, and let players add the chocolate and sprinkles as they wish.
Personally though, I am much more interested in the game portion of things, or more specifically: experiences. Show me the genius of your rulesets, the compelling nature of your narratives, the excellence of your craft. Anyone can imagine a stick into a lightsaber, just as anyone can turn a crappy game good with tweaks. I am interested in what you can do, Mr(s) Game Man Person, not mod developer XYZ. I want to be excited that you are releasing another game, not that the modding community has another opportunity to fix a deficient product. And besides, only one of those two parties is getting paid. Hint: it’s not the person/people improving the game.
It may not be entirely rational, but there it is. Odds are that I will keep trucking along in vanilla Torchlight 2 so that I can give an accurate report on its (so far) many failings. It is worth noting that while you can import your vanilla save into the “game + mods” version of the game, you cannot thereafter go back – neither your character nor your gear will appear under the default game any more. While that probably has little meaning beyond the people interested in Steam achievements, it sort of highlights how even the developers believe a segregation between the two ought to exist.
In which case, I shall play their game and complain about it, rather than fix things myself.
The Xbox One reveal reminded me, forcibly, that Microsoft is the company behind the console. I mean, obviously, right? But between Windows 7 and Bill Gates building better condoms, I temporarily forgot about Games for Windows Live, Windows 8, and all the markedly cynical shit the Redmond company pulls as it endeavors to further erode all consumer surplus and out-EA EA.
Remember the always-online brouhaha? Well, the new Xbox doesn’t require an always-online internet connection. Except when you play a game for the first time. Or if the game company feels like pulling a Maxis and “off-loading computations to the cloud.” And just kidding, your Xbox needs an internet connection to phone home once every 24 hours or it presumably bricks itself until you do.
So how often does it check your connection? “Depends on the experience,” Harrison said.
“For single-player games that don’t require connectivity to Xbox Live, you should be able to play those without interruption should your Internet connection go down. Blu-ray movies and other downloaded entertainment should be accessible when your Internet connection may be interrupted. But the device is fundamentally designed to be expanded and extended by the Internet as many devices are today.”
Oh, how nice of them that your Blu-ray movies “should” be accessible when your internet connection is interrupted.
In return for all of these restrictions, you get to opportunity to… pay full MSRP for all your games! There are no used games for Xbox One, there are simply game disks which will prompt you to pay a “fee” of the full price of the game to play it. Remember when we thought EA eliminating the Online Pass was a gesture of contrition and good will? Surprise! It was cynical bullshit because Microsoft is handling the Online Passes now and adding them to 100% of all future Xbox games.
A lot of the Xbox Apologists have pointed at Steam in making their arguments that things are not so bad. In fact, there is talk that you may be able to sell your used games game licenses to other people on the Xbox Marketplace, in a sort of virtual GameStop setup. Okay… details? If it is true, and assuming you can set your own price, and assuming there isn’t exorbitant fees, then great! We just had to give up renting games, letting your friend borrow your games, and in the case of Steam comparisons, getting 50% discounts on brand new games released just three months ago.
I am not an Xbox customer; I neither bought any of the prior consoles nor plan to purchase this new one. But this sort of shit will affect every one of us. We already see DLC for our PC games delayed because of “Xbox exclusives.” Ports of future Microsoft games could be pulled from Steam just like EA pulled theirs, ostensively so we can have the privilege of paying more money for no conceivable consumer gain. What we see today is what we can expect more of tomorrow – not just from companies like Microsoft, but from everyone who thinks they can get away with it.
And that sucks.
Is it just me, or does the word “followup” just look weird after a while?
…anyway. Here are some relevant Q&A straight from the forums regarding the now-funded Hex:
Q: Any chance this might be headed to IOS as well?
A: Our immediate launch plans are PC and Mac, but the tech has built from the ground up for mobile.
Q: I would also like to know about the card rotation plan. Will there be standard and unlimited formats, or will all cards be legal to play forever?
A: Right now we’re planned for a 2 block format, as well as an everything format. That is the current plan. We might revisit it after 2 years of data.
Q: The estimated delivery sep 2013 is that for the full game or the beta stages ?
A: September is the estimated delivery for the beta, which will have all of the PvP content and some of the PvE content.
Q: Will the game require a big internet connection? I’m currently working 6 month a year in a inuit village with Satellite internet connection and wireless modems and I get a 5000 ping in online games like Path of Exile here. Wondering if the game will be playable in those condition (Drop out, Lags, ect).
A: The internet overhead of the game is very, very low. The amount of data that goes back and forth to the server is minimal, and we have a 3 minute reconnect timer, that if you lose connection during a game, you have 3 minutes to log back in and you will be automatically rejoined to that game. Any single player experience just uses save states, so you can actually rejoin almost any time after disconnecting.
Okay… hold up a sec. “Working 6 months a year in a inuit village”? You know what, nevermind.
Q: Weird question i know, but any plans of a post beta wipe, getting packs and such back?
A: We will not do a post-beta wipe. Once we give you something, we won’t take it away in even the most seemingly kind way (eg, by refunding packs.) If you open a super rare awesome card it’s yours until you decide to trade it.
Q: So there is currently no other way to get cards for PVP except through initial pledge and buying $2 each?
A: The only way to get PvP packs is through the KS rewards, at $2 each, or as rewards for playing in drafts/constructed tournaments. We will also have an auction house, and I’d expect that PvP commons can be easily picked up off there at budget prices.
So it’s official: you cannot earn booster packs in PvE content. In other words, the only way anyone is playing Limited/Draft formats is for them to have bought, traded for, or won boosters themselves. Based on other questions, it appears the first set is 350 PvP cards that only come from boosters, and 300 PvE cards that are only earned in PvE and cannot be used in normal PvP games (but there might be “anything goes” formats for fun). Now, it is likely you will be able to sell a particularly nice rare you got in a Draft (that you otherwise lost) to help purchase boosters to try your luck again, but otherwise these games are going to cost you $6 a pop for less than an hour of play.
By the way, the stretch goal for $540,000?
540K - Add Primal Packs
Primal Packs are “god packs” that will drop for lucky players when buying HEX booster packs. It is not a separate item in the HEX Store. Every card in this booster is a Rare or Legendary! In addition, each Primal Pack will contain a Legendary Treasure Chest that will hold some truly incredible items, which you can open or trade in the Auction House. Speaking of which, should you be lucky enough to get one of Primal Packs, they are tradable and can be given or put in the Auction House for others just like any other pack. To maintain balance in a tournament setting, you cannot get a Primal Pack during a draft.
“Yo dawg, I heard you like gamble boxes. So we put gamble boxes in your gamble boxes [...]“
If it sounds like I am being unduly harsh, it’s simply because I know the effect these sort of games have on me. Drafting is addicting: you get to see 24 boosters being opened, passed around, and picked apart, plus the 30 minutes of frantic deck-building, plus the very-real pressure of best-out-of-three duels with the prize being enough boosters to join another draft for free. That’s a sex, drugs, and rock & roll combo of endorphins right there.
But you’re going to pay. A lot. Unless you’re good, I suppose, in which case the poor players will be subsidizing your gameplay.
Just screwing around in 1v1 Standard duels is fun and all, but you won’t be getting any new cards; there is no progression without pay. Then again, I suppose that is what the whole PvE side of the game will be about. Will it be enough? You cannot use your PvE cards in PvP. Then again, PvE cards do not “expire” and yet there will be additional PvE sets in the future, presumably along with additional monsters/dungeons/raids, so… yeah. Maybe Cryptozoic will be able to shore up the one weakness Magic Online has.
I suppose we’ll see in September, once the Beta is released.
In the event that you didn’t read last Friday’s Penny Arcade, they talked about the Cryptozoic Kickstarter for a “MMO-TCG” called Hex. Basically, Hex is Magic Online meets WoW TCG meets cards that can get socketed gems, equip gear, gain XP, earn achievements that expand artwork and upgrade cards to foil versions. Also, there will be PvE, apparently including dungeons and raids. And all of this is Free to Play.
Of course, just like with Hearthstone, calling a TCG “F2P” is criminally misleading.
I have some concerns with Hex. First, while I am frankly excited about the unique opportunities involved with an all-digital TCG – cards that buff your creatures do so for the rest of the match, you can put tokens on cards that get shuffled into your library, and all sorts of crazy nonsense that physical card games couldn’t pull off – this game skews so heavily towards Magic Online that I’m surprised Wizards of the Coast hasn’t issued a takedown notice.
Seriously, look at this video:
I’m not talking about Apple’s “rounded corners” copyright bullshit, I’m talking about Grand Theft Mechanics. Creatures have summoning sickness, there is First Strike, Haste, seven cards in the opening hand, 20 life per player, four copy limit on individual cards, 60 cards per deck, land cards, instants, discrete turn phases (Draw phase, main phase, declaring attackers/blockers/combat damage, end step), and even the goddamn Stack.
That’s not even really my concern here though. My concern is what occurs about 200 times in the bottom right corner of that video: spamming of the Pass Priority button.
This is alpha footage, things can change, etc etc etc… but not really. Magic is an incredibly nuanced card game with thousands of pages of technical rules that few follow to the letter in non-tournament settings; friends usually don’t ask each other if there is any response to their Draw Phase, unless one of them was packing a relevant card in their deck. My initial few weeks with Magic Online was a brilliant experience because the game reminded you of all the sort of routine Upkeep triggers and the like that can bog down/derail completely a physical game when you forget one. Trouble is, Magic Online is going to ask you every damn time because it has to. You can manually change your settings to ignore certain steps if you want, but again, Magic is an incredibly complex beast – if you aren’t careful about when you cast a spell or use an ability, you can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in an (cough) instant.
So that’s concern number one: the Pass Priority button is going to simultaneously be annoying as hell and be the reason you lost a perfectly winnable match. It’s also incredibly high-brow for as much as Hex is being marketed as “easy to get into.” I was a tad disappointed at first when I watched the Hearthstone duels and realized that there would be no “in response I play X!” back and forth. But seeing Hex and being reminded about how cerebral Magic can get… I think the Blizzard folks are on the right track, at least for a casual audience.
Concern number two? You’re going to spend probably $100-$200 a month playing this F2P game.
Look at this paragraph from the official website regarding the above card Extinction:
Every last troop in sight bites the dust. This card will be a crucial staple of many control decks in any tournament format for a long time to come. In other words, in addition to being awesome, these will be quite valuable to all types of players. If you’re dungeon crawling instead of tournament crawling, you can even keep troops off the board for another two turns while you finish your master plan, with the all-powerful equipment Grips of the Unfortunate!
Translation: everyone will be paying out of the ass for this “crucial staple” of a card.
Even if you don’t see yourself competing in the sort of obvious P2W Constructed deck format (or presumably high-end PvE raiding), you will still probably be spending many times the average monthly subscription if you are remotely interested in the game. It is all right there in the Kickstarter page:
For experienced TCG players, we have designed the card set around Booster Draft and Limited play. We have engineered the card sets to launch three times a year, like a standard TCG.
In Magic Online, a Booster Draft = eight players buy three booster packs apiece. Open pack, take one card, pass remaining to the left, repeat. Build deck. Limited = buy six booster packs, open them, build deck. Booster packs in Hex will cost $2 for 15 random cards, which is half of what WotC charges. Magic Online rewards the winners of these mini-tournaments with extra booster packs, such that those coming in 1st and 2nd place can generally leave with a profit of a few packs; I assume Hex will reward similarly. Everyone keeps the cards they play with, so you don’t leave empty-handed if you lose, but… well. Suffice it to say, I finally overcame my game subscription aversion when I realized I spent $24 in the course of a one hour in Magic Online. Suddenly, a mere $15/month seemed like a total steal. Cue WoW purchase.
Frankly, Booster Drafts and Limited are the best Magic tournament formats to play in because there is no Pay 2 Win pressure – everyone starts with the same random chance to get good/bad cards, and skill plays an exceedingly strong role thereafter. But, again, in Hex you are looking at dropping $6-$12 to participate in “content” that evaporates after an hour, if you’re lucky. This is to say nothing about the fact that new sets will come out three times a year, which means most of your cards will be unplayable in Standard settings (which is the big set and its two smaller components in Magic). You can still play older cards in Magic, but only in Extended formats where most people are still packing the overpowered cards of 5 years ago, not the leftover garbage from your Limited games that just became old news.
If you haven’t noticed, I am extrapolating a lot about Hex from how Magic Online worked, but Cryptozoic has already stolen so much shit I feel safe that they will keep the theme going here. Perhaps Hex will feel a little different since it will have a PvE aspect, where some of your “outdated” cards might find a long-term home. Perhaps you could even earn boosters from said PvE – that would at least make the F2P claim less of a bald-faced lie. But make no mistake here: Hex, like any TCG (digital or no), will contain the two worst components of consumer-gouging videogame design: Pay 2 Win and gamble boxes.
And goddamn it if I’m still reacting like an ex-junkie, credit card in shaking hand.
As reported by MMO-Champion, the subscriber total was 8.3 million at the end of the quarter, a loss of 1.3 million subs since Q4 (which had its own 400k loss). For those keeping track at home, Blizzard had 9.1 million subs back on August 3rd, 2012, during an eight-month lull of zero content at the end of Cataclysm, i.e. pre-Mists of Pandaria. That is a net loss of 800k this expansion – with a 1.5 million sub rollercoaster in the middle – and the lowest subscriber count WoW has had since 2007.
By the way, RIP to MMOData.net, which has not made an update in nearly nine months now. How can we pontificate without graphs? Sigh.
I went and signed up to listen to the investor report as there was not a transcript available, wondering where MMO-Champ got the rest of those bullet points. Plus, you know, Press™:
To save yourself 38 minutes, just trust me when I confirm MMO-Champ got all the relevant information.
What did interest me though was hearing how ultra-conservative Activision Blizzard is. I mean, that sort of thing isn’t a particular trade secret, but when Bobby Kotick explained that the company wasn’t interested in the mobile sphere because the Top 10 titles change every year, I cocked an eyebrow. Call of Duty and WoW still have a lot of viable milking years ahead of them, but this is the same company that gushed about their $1 billion Skylanders franchise that didn’t even exist two years ago. If CoD: Ghost ends up pulling a Warfighter along with the further expected losses (their words) in WoW subs, you can almost imagine a scenario in which they conserve themselves right off a cliff by the end of this year.
But, alas, the money machines continue unabated.
Finally, I sort of chuckled at this part of the WoW presentation:
- There has been less engagement by casual players.
Well… yeah. What did they imagine would happen when you release
one of the most alt-unfriendly expansion in the history of the game? And then proceed to put everything behind a triple-gate of dailies and rep, all but remove leveling dungeons (only to put them back), and then essentially stop all production of 5m dungeons for the rest of the expansion? Oh, and don’t get me started on the continued embarrassment of no-pop servers languishing.
At this point, all I’m really interested in is Hearthstone (as hopefully a cheaper Magic: Online) and maybe Bungie’s new game; Titan has been too much of a cocktease for too long to even get a rise out of me anymore. Otherwise Activision-Blizzard might join the ranks of EA as a big-budget publisher who only produces one title that I am remotely interested in, with all the “risky” indie ventures soaking up the money I leave on the table.
And as Doone points out, that’s probably the best thing for everyone involved.
Tobold put up a rather cringe-inducing critique of Mass Effect 3 the other day, prefaced by the Sid Meier quote of “good games are a series of interesting choices.” From there, Tobold argued that ME3 was not a good game, because the story choices being presented did not lead to gameplay changes. Indeed, he goes so far as to say in the comments:
My point is that this is supposed to be a GAME, and not just some interactive story. Choices that only affect the story, but change nothing in gameplay shouldn’t be in a game. Otherwise I might as well wait for “Mass Effect – The Movie”, and not bother playing at all.
First, that argument is so absurdly cliche that I started questioning whether he was simply trolling us at that point.
Secondly, in point of fact, you could not simply wait for Mass Effect: the Movie because any such film could not encompass the varied plot choices you can make over the course of the game. Characters can die in Mass Effect 1 & 2 and thus not show up in Mass Effect 3, cutting out entire swaths of character arcs. Who makes it through the Suicide Mission? Would the film feature a male Shepard or FemShep? Would the choices be primarily Paragon or Renegade? Which races get the shaft? Would the conclusion be the Red, Blue, or Green Cupcake?
Third, I believe Tobold’s stance is exceedingly pernicious to the maturation of gaming as a medium. It simply boggles my mind that a self-professed lover of D&D would twist “interactive story” into a pejorative; are non-interactive stories supposed to be preferable?
Individual agency has a way of submerging players into a narrative in a way that traditional storytelling does not. Just look at the mind-bending (at the time) twist in the original Bioshock and the narrative arc in Far Cry 2. Even if you were not particularly impressed with the depth of these narratives, those story mechanisms simply cannot be replicated in book or movie form. Reducing games to their mere mechanical components would be an incredible tragedy of potential.
What the exchange highlighted to me though, was how squishy the venerable Sid Meier quote actually is.¹ To me, the choice between curing the Krogan genophage or deciding not to was interesting. In fact, I spent ten minutes or so agonizing over it when the dialog wheel was presented. Was it fair of us to cripple an entire species because we feared their hardiness and breeding speed? At first, I was worried about that hypothetical. Once the Reapers were gone, who is to say that the Krogans don’t simply out-breed and out-muscle the rest of us out of the universe? Then I thought: wait a minute, is this not the same sort of argument used against inter-racial marriages in the past, and even concerns about Islam today?
In contrast, Tobold simply picked whatever gave him the most War Assets.
I do agree that a good game is full of interesting choices. But what should be obvious to anyone spending more than a minute thinking about it, is that what is interesting to one person can be boring/irrelevant/pointless to someone else. “Interesting” is not an objective term; Sid Meier may as well quipped “Good games are full of fun” for all the sage wisdom it contains.
¹ The full quote is actually: “According to Sid Meier, a [good] game is a series of interesting choices. In an interesting choice, no single option is clearly better than the other options, the options are not equally attractive, and the player must be able to make an informed choice.” (Rollings & Morris 2000, p. 38.) This does not meaningfully change my objections, as whether an option is “clearly better” and/or “equally attractive” is necessarily subjective. For example, I almost always prefer passive abilities to active ones, to the point that most of the WoW talent tree levels have only a single rational (to me) option.