Category Archives: Commentary
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
So hey, there is another sale on Origin right now – pretty much the entire EA catalog (all six games) is reduced by 50% or more. Know what isn’t reduced in price though? Goddamn Mass Effect DLC:
That’s right, you can buy the entire Mass Effect franchise for $15. If you want to get all the canon DLC though, that will be an additional $64. For a 2+ year old game. For DLC that has never been on sale.
At this point I can no longer tell if Bioware is just stupid, or evil, or what. Is the nefarious plan to rope in new players at the $15 price-point and then squeeze the $64 out of the few who become super-enamored with the game? Or is the marketing department asleep at the wheel (or fired) and they just never got around to running the numbers on having a Bioware point sale? Or, you know, migrating from the goddamn ridiculous point system like every other game company?
I suppose the good news is that Casey Hudson, project director for KOTOR and the entire Mass Effect series, left Bioware last week. While I still have some sour grapes (more like sour raisins at this point) over the ME3 ending debacle, the fleshed-out endings went a long way in regaining my trust. I do not idolize content creators as a rule – individual works are the only thing that deserves respect – but this move makes it more likely that Bioware will be left with games I won’t be compelled to play, thereby making it easier to both hate them and not give them money simultaneously.
But seriously, Bioware, put that goddamn Mass Effect DLC on sale and I will buy it.
Almost exactly two years ago, I asked “Where are all the bodies?” in terms of a trend of flight from MMOs. Last week, Wilhelm presented the SuperData Research group’s June report. The two slides of note are below:
As pointed out in the comments over on TAGN, the accuracy of numbers and legitimacy of the research company itself might be in question. For one thing, neither FFXI nor FFXIV are even on that list. The absence of Guild Wars 2 makes a little sense given the criteria for inclusion (subscription option), but the others? I dunno. Perhaps they are being implied in the missing 26% of market share. Which, incidentally, covers $756 million of the total revenue on the chart.
In an attempt to compare the subscription revenue graph to the last update from MMOData.net, I got the following result:
My methodology was to squish the one graph until the years lined up. Regardless, I have a hard time imagining the precipitous drop in subscription revenue on their chart is correlated in reality. There is a very real decline in overall MMO population – we have reached the same population levels from mid-2008 at this point – but revenue can’t be that bad. Can it?
What is sorta interesting though is in the small text below the graph, which states the data was pulled from “36.9 million digital gamers.” If you take that figure and multiply it by the market share, you get 13,284,000 as the WoW population. Of course, WoW did not have 13+ million subscribers in 2013. Discrepancy! Or is it? If you assume a 5% churn rate each month, at the end of the year you are left with 7,178,143. That is somewhat close to the estimated 7.6 million from this year. In other words, it’s entirely possible that 13+ million players played WoW at some point during the year and 6 million of them cycled out.
On the other hand, when you plug EVE into that same equation, you get 1,107,000 players throughout 2013. So… maybe it’s all bullshit.
Accuracy aside, I think the takeaway from all this is twofold. First, the MMO market has clearly peaked and we are transitioning into a much lower (presumed) equilibrium. Second, it’s still surprising how money there is in the genre. I mean, look at SWTOR there. $165 million in revenue last year? It actually took this Forbes article to kind of shock me into the realization (emphasis added):
And what may be a surprise to many is that Star Wars: The Old Republic is actually #4 on the list, bringing in $165M in revenue last year. While much of the game went free-to-play after a disappointing debut, there’s still a subscription model that has made the MMO profitable for EA. Often SWTOR is regarded as a cautionary tale in the industry in terms of bloated budgets, over-ambition and emulating competitors, but looking at the numbers, the game has evolved into a profitable enterprise for EA, and has made even its massive budget back at this point.
I don’t even know if that is true for sure, but remember, SWTOR budget was somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million. So… are we still allowed to call the game a “failure?” The criteria gets a little goofy when you are making ~44% more than the paragon of subscription growth¹, EVE. We can maybe say that it could/should have earned more, but (presumably) profitable businesses really speak for themselves.
As always, I believe key to success is keeping realistic expectations and budgeting around that. If you need 500,000 or 1 million subscriptions to stay afloat, maybe you should calm your shit, Icarus. The entire market is like 18 million subs, and more than a third of those are locked down in Blizzard HQ. If you can get by with 50k or 100k, you should have no problems capturing a least a portion of the 500k+ people that seem to appear on MMO release days and leave a month later. Now more than any other time, you need to start small and work your way up.
¹ Which is more historical fact than current event. As far as I’m aware, EVE has lost subs at this point like all mortal MMO endeavors.
So my PSX problems from the other day were mostly solved by stumbling across an emulator website that specifically had a PSX-2-PSP section that already did the heavy lifting for you in terms of format conversion. From there, I simply had to choose any of their 1301 offerings
on sale to download.
And therein lies the rub: what would I actually play?
This September, I will be 31-years old. Holy shit, right? I grew up on the crest of the videogame revolution and rode it rather thoroughly until the end of the PS2. I was there to play games like A Link to the Past and Chrono Trigger and FF6 and Super Metroid while they were current. I still remember, with perfect clarity, unwrapping the Playstation for Christmas and popping in FF7 for the first time. When Tifa and Barret appeared onscreen together in the 7th Heaven Bar, my father walked by and quipped “Wow, that’s pretty progressive of them to include interracial dating.” This was in 1997, mind you. After that, I made sure to never play RPGs when other people were around.
Point being, the original Playstation era was one of unparallelled nostalgia for me. These were prime gaming years in my prime (14-17 years old). I still remember the shivers I felt when watching the promo video for Xenogears that was included in the packaging for Parasite Eve. In fact, I just spent 30 minutes trying to find that video, and I felt those same shivers sixteen years later.
Nevertheless, I sat looking at the PSX game list for a good ten minutes without selecting anything. Believe me, I understand the intoxicating effects of nostalgia and the risk one takes in replaying old games generally; not only is the game unlikely to hold up, you risk souring your memories by subjecting yourself to downright primitive graphics and design. But all of that was not actually my concern. My concern was: I still remember all these games.
For example, I was looking pretty intensely at SaGa Frontier 2 for a bit, as I remember it being a fun game with a beautiful art direction. But… I still remember the strategies I used to defeat the game, the places where I got stuck, and the end result of the progression. I’m pretty sure I remember crafting a pistol that shot rockets in Parasite Eve – and that awful final boss encounter. I have talked about Novelty being the essence of fun before, and my particular problem is that the intervening decades have not diminished my memory of the experience of these games. “Something something riding bikes,” in other words.
There were some exceptions in the list. I let out an audible squeal when I saw Tactics Ogre. That and Final Fantasy Tactics seemed perfect for this little PSP experiment of mine, as they remain games I still somehow consider fun despite knowing everything about their systems. Maybe it is because a tactical game has many more possible permutations than your average RPG battle system? I felt no hesitation with Xenogears either, nor Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, although I’m going to hold off on FF7 until I play it via Steam.
For the rest of the list, I think what I’ll end up doing is actually picking titles I haven’t played. Enough people have talked about Legend of Dragoon to overcome my memories of renting the game and setting it down 15 minutes later. Suikoden 2 has been hyped beyond all reason, so that’s another easy one to test. Beyond that though? I dunno. I would solicit answers from you, dear readers, but I fear it would just be a bunch of “already played that” replies.
So allow me to turn the tables a bit: what PSX games would you actually play? Is there a title you would like to play again, or perhaps one you’d like to check off your bucket list? Would you even play any at all?
[Fake Edit]: The PSX-2-PSP website didn’t actually solve anything; all the PSX come up as “corrupted files” even though they are fine on my computer. It’s almost enough to drive a man to legitimacy.
Okay, seriously, last time I abuse a (this) misleading title.
Two items of interest today. First, Blizzard finally took a step to address BG faction imbalance (read: queue times) in WoW… by opening free Horde –> Alliance transfers on a single realm:
We consistently watch queue times for all areas of the game to try to identify problem areas where we can step in and make an improvement. Battleground queue times specifically tend to be a direct result of how many people are entering the queue at any given time from both the Horde and Alliance, within an entire region. While a number of factors can lead to longer queue times, faction interest in queuing for PvP tends to be the primary influence. For that reason we’re going to be trying something new. For a limited time, and only for select realms (for this first test just a single realm), we’ll be opening faction changes for Horde characters to change to Alliance for free.
While time will tell how much this works in solving queue times, I have been watching Blizzard dance around this issue with considerable amusement. Because honestly, the solution that actually works is the one the devs are least willing to implement: same-faction BGs. Bam! Faction imbalance solved. Instead, Blizzard is treating random BGs as some sacrosanct, final line in the sand:
Faction imbalance is definitely something that’s contributing to the lengthy queue times. That said, we agree that allowing Horde vs Horde and Alliance vs Alliance Random BG’s isn’t a great answer. We’ll do it if it’s absolutely necessary (Rated BG’s allow for same-faction battles for exactly this reason), but we’re going to look at all other options first.
Honestly, even if we can’t find another good answer, we’re not sure queue times are so bad, at least at the moment, that same-faction Random BG’s would be worth it. Horde vs Alliance, Orcs vs Humans, Elves vs Trolls etc. has long been a strong core of the Warcraft universe. We want queue times to be faster for everyone, but we also don’t want to lose that.
Err… guys? It’s a goddamn random BG. Nobody cares. Horde have been battling Horde in Arena and Rated Battlegrounds (gasp!) for years. It would not be at all difficult to provide lore-based justifications for this combat. I mean, the Horde is fighting the “Iron Horde” in the next expansion, for god’s sake. One team is Horde, the other consists of “Twilight Cultists.” One team is Alliance, the other is “Scarlet Crusaders.” There are literally dozens of viable factions introduced in each expansion that could make these fights make sense, if anyone at all really cared about the “strong core of the Warcraft universe” nearly 11 years since the release of Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne. And it’s not like they could not get that same Horde vs Alliance kick from, I dunno, the actual story as told by quests and such. World PvP could still be whatever.
There are few things worse in any game than having to wait out timers. Sure, some people pine for the days of 30-minute boat rides in EverQuest and such, but you could theoretically chalk that up to “immersion.” There really isn’t anything that can be said for BG queue timers; the whole thing is arbitrary from the start. I’d like to believe that we will see same-faction BGs from Blizzard sooner rather than later, but the hills people choose to die on are varied and nonsensical on the whole.
Second item: fun with “Peace-decs” in EVE. While technically recycled, the article is interesting to me because it turns the traditional EVE “PvP sandbox” thinking on its ear.
For the uninitiated (which technically includes me as well), EVE has three security zones: hi-sec, low-sec, and null-sec. If you are out mining in high-sec, anyone who shoots you will get killed by space police within a few seconds. One way to get around that is for a PvP guild to “war-dec” your guild, which gives them the ability to shoot you without repercussion for as long as they pay the upkeep to the war-dec. What can you do? Nothing. Technically, you can quit the guild that has been war-dec’d or join an NPC guild or perhaps just not log on at all until the whole thing blows over. The developers likely hope that you either fight them or hire mercenaries to kill them or something of that nature. Or maybe they don’t particularly care.
This hypothetical “peace-dec” is the opposite of the war-dec: your guild pays a sum of money + upkeep costs to prevent another guild from being able to fire on you in hi-sec. Sounds fair, right? Holy shit though, watch the PvPers freak the hell out at the suggestion. For the inherent symmetry of the peace-dec thought experiment highlights how much of a non-sandbox the EVE universe might happen to be. I mean, is a sandbox a sandbox if other players dictate how you can play? It’s an interesting question. It’s also interesting seeing PvPers get mad at being threatened with the inability to play the game how they want to, when the existence of war-decs necessarily prevents PvE players from doing so. Why is turnabout not fair play?
In any case, the idea of a peace-dec is really growing on me, even for other games. For one thing, imagine the money-sink capability. Even if there were only a 5% chance of dying from a ganker, I’d imagine that 90%+ of the players would consider X amount of their earnings a worthwhile sacrifice for the peace of mind. Then, as you get more comfortable in your PvP ability, you can stop paying the upkeep and gain a greater profit for your skill, even if you are farming the same area. Plus, you could have instanced PvP for those who want fights they don’t have to look for. Who loses under this scheme, and why do we care about them?
Not really. Well… maybe. I mostly wanted to keep the title convention going.
I was discussing with a friend the other day about whether I think the Oculus Rift and VR in general is going to be the next big thing. Before I present my thoughts on the matter, let me preface with two items. First, I have not ever worn an Oculus Rift. I was an iPod and smartphone holdout through some extremely prime college years up until the moment I wasn’t, at which point I was slightly embarrassed for how needlessly I went without a piece of technology that otherwise made my life better. So, having not ever used this latest generation of VR headgear, it’s always possible that it will be wildly better (or worse) than I imagine. I did go to the Epcot Center back in the late 90s, which had some very primitive VR machines, and it went okay.
Second, Nintendo released this in 1995:Yeah, sure, it wasn’t really VR as we know it; at most, it could probably be called a predecessor to the 3DS. Still, just file this away for now.
The answer I gave to my friend was: “Yes… eventually, in the remote future.”
I have a few issues with VR conceptually. First, what problem is it trying to solve? Maybe it doesn’t need to solve anything. Maybe it is simply another tool in increasing immersion. The issues I have with that are the non-monetary costs involved. I am talking about having to wear headgear that shuts out the outside world. For the moment, I will assume that it’s weight is negligible, that it will be comfortable for long play sessions even for those who wear glasses (such as myself), that there will be no issues with fogging up glasses, and so on. But… does the Oculus not preclude the use of keyboards? Perhaps the most obvious usage of VR would be in MMOs, but I’m not entirely convinced that going into 100% proximity voice or Vent/etc channels to interact is a step the community is willing to make. To say nothing about the more mundane concerns like, I dunno, reaching for your drink.
Second, what is it really adding to the gameplay experience? There have been a lot of FPS demos out there heralding the ability to glance side-to-side, or even full-scale treadmill-esque setups that would simulate you actually running around. That sort of thing makes for some comical Youtube videos, but in practice? I’m not convinced that limiting my PlanetSide 2 abilities to my physical endurance is a positive outside of exercise scenarios. And what real good is peripheral vision in an FPS when I would still be required to turn my character (with a controller!) in that direction to shoot the enemy?
One thing I was actually looking forward to was the ability to essentially never have to purchase a TV again. “Is a 40″ TV big enough for my apartment, or should I upgrade to 50″?” I’m already at the point where I believe that I would be better off with a projector, but what amounts to an infinite-screen TV is very tempting. At least it was, up until the moment I realized that VR is an extremely personal experience. If you have someone over, you both can’t share the same headset, so that “frugal” TV-replacement purchase suddenly balloons up with another Oculus purchase or Oculus + the TV you were going to buy anyway. Plus, you have the same issues as with the computer (e.g. find your drink) with an added bonus of precluding things like mid-movie make-outs… at least not without taking off the headgear.
Don’t get me wrong though, VR definitely has some potential. As the maker of Omni (the treadmill thing) mentioned, it can/will be used to train military units, it could help in physical therapy, I can see it being utilized for “traveling,” seeing museums, national parks, house shopping, etc, etc, etc. I’m not entirely sure what Facebook will be using it for, but maybe they think (VR) chatrooms will make a comeback. But for right now? I don’t know what I was use it for. I feel the exact same way about augmented reality tech like Google Glass as well – other than the fantastic advertising opportunities, what use would it have? Each time I’ve read a Zubon post about Ingress, I become further convinced that I am at risk of slipping into “old man” territory, railing against the incomprehensible “Nintendos” of the younger generation.
So… yeah. VR is probably the future, at some point. Not sure if it’ll ever be my future though.
In a move that should not have been so surprising in retrospect, Wizards of the Coast – makers of Magic: the Gathering – are suing Cryptozoic‘s Hex for copyright and patent infringement. Browsing through the actual complaint is actually fairly eye-opening. For example, if you turn to page 14, paragraph 30, lines 18-21:
Other users in the gaming community were confused because of the near identicality of the two games. On Cryptozoic’s own forum a registered user, on December 1, 2013, stated, “I have played a lot of CCGs [Collectible Card Games], and for the most part, CCGs are very similar to each other. However, I’ve never seen a CCG that is as similar to another as Hex is to Magic.”
Think about that for a second. Some random comment of yours on a forum from a year ago could be cited in a copyright/patent lawsuit used to bankrupt a multimillion dollar company.
Going back over my Hex posts, I just realized that I practically wrote the complaint myself a year ago (bolded for prophesy):
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.
Indeed, Wizards has a table outlining all those same similarities and more starting on page 16, paragraph 34. What ultimately got me the most though, were the excessively blatant clonings. “Flying” vs “Flight” is like, you know, whatever. Coming across the following card comparisons though?
Okay, maybe you can overlook the 7-mana casting cost, the fact that you become a dragon, can only be attacked by flying creatures, and so on. Maybe the Hex version doesn’t put you at 5 HP. Also, one is an Enchantment that can be removed, whereas the other is a spell that’s otherwise permanent. I can see giving this a pass. But then…
It’s like they weren’t even trying. There are literally dozens of these sorts of cards floating around.
If you’re interested, I came across a Magic-playing lawyer’s blog post examining the lawsuit in plain language. In short, Wizards is bullshitting in some respects, reaching in others, but likely has a pretty solid case overall. Also, Richard Garfield’s patent on tapping cards, e.g. turning them sideways, expires in June 2014. That seems almost like someone patenting gaining XP and leveling up, but hey, someone had to invent intermittent windshield wipers; sometimes there is no more elegant a solution to a problem than the first one.
In any case, I might spend some time this weekend reinstalling the Hex beta and playing around a bit while I still can. Given how I
wasted $85 paid $85 for an expensive lesson on the wisdom of Kickstarting pre-alpha projects, it’s the least I can do. Or I could watch other people play Hearthstone on Twitch, which I am sadly starting to find more entertaining than Hearthstone itself, at least in this metagame.
In the midterm period inbetween steady access to the internet, I decided now was as good a time as any to actually get around to playing some of the PlayStation games I own but never bothered turn on. My first choice? As the title suggests: Final Fantasy XII.
All I can say is… yikes.
To say that I was a Squaresoft fanboy growing up is an understatement of the decade(s). Indeed, Final Fantasy 7 remains my #2 game of all time – and that is despite having first played FF6 on the SNES when it came out. While the “back to the roots” FF9 nearly derailed my fanboism outright, FFX quickly set things back on the right track. Sadly, when I heard that FFXI was going to be an online-only MMO, I pretty much cut ties with the company; I stayed long enough to pick up FFX-2, but that had the dubious distinction of being the only FF game I ever sold back to a video game shop for store credit (after beating it, of course). Looking back, I think my lack of engagement with the series had more to do with college and life changes than feelings of “betrayal,” but regardless FFX-2 was the last FF game I played.
Now, I’m not saying anything necessarily about the gameplay of FFXII. To be honest, in the 30 minutes I’ve been “playing” I haven’t seen all that much of it. And if I recall correctly, FFXII was widely criticized as being non-interactive. But a more pressing concern right now is how awful the game looks on my TV. The default view is double-letterboxed such that it easily loses 15″ off the TV screen. And even then the pixelation is horrendous.
I technically bought FF7 on a Steam sale a while back (because, you know, FF7) and it’s entirely possible I will encounter similar graphical issues. But to an extent I almost see this as an existential threat to older games. Or, rather, older games that were straddling the cutting-edge for their time. Things that seemed ground-breaking for its time in comparison to more sprite-based games have looped around into barely-playable nonsense graphics in less than 10 years.
It kinda makes you wonder though, whether or not this will be a recurring issue as time goes by or if it was a specific moment in computer graphics history. Personally, I’m leaning towards the latter. After all, the original Crysis has held up exceptionally well and even the original Far Cry wasn’t that bad. But have you tried playing KotOR lately? I muscled through that a few years ago, and it left me sore with the effort. It wasn’t even the graphics really, but little things like not being able to pan the camera upwards. It’s Star Wars and you got huge alien cities and you can’t look much farther than the main character’s low-polygon ass.