Category Archives: Commentary

Coastal Wizards Indict Cryptic Hex

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?

Err... totally an homage, guys.

Err… totally an homage, guys.

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…

Uh oh.

Uh oh.

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.

FFXII

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.

Dust, Draenor, Destiny

The one bit of news out of CCP’s Fanfest 2014 that peaked my interest was Project Legion. Which is, for all intents and purposes, a rebooting of Dust 514 on the platform it should have been released on in the first place: the PC. I’m not actually sure a sandbox PvP/PvE hybrid shooter MMO is what I’m looking for anymore, but given I have continued to grudgingly slink back to PlanetSide 2 for my FPS urges, let’s just say that I’m not exactly opposed to new experiences. It should be noted that in that article, CCP basically states that Dust still has 100,000 active daily players, which is around 100k more than it seemed to have any reason to have last time I played.

Incidentally, NoizyGamer believes that this year or the last one might have marked the last year of consecutive EVE subscriber growth. That’s noteworthy specifically because the ~10 consecutive years of growth itself was noteworthy. And rather annoying to argue against with my MMO market saturation theories.

Speaking of bodies, WoW lost another 200k of them since last quarter, bringing the total to a mere 7.6 million. I’m not really sure what to think about this sort of thing anymore; at the moment, I’m leaning towards simple incredulity that there are 7.6 million people paying a subscription to a game that will be going on a full year without any new content. I mean, I too was that guy years ago, but that sort of shit doesn’t fly with me these days.

Speaking of questionable Activision Blizzard moves, the console-only FPS MMO Destiny is reportedly going to cost $500 million:

To put some perspective on this, the money being spent on Destiny is more than twice the amount EA reportedly spent on Star Wars: The Old Republic and a little less than double the $265,000,000 Rockstar paid to get GTA V made. The Reuters article cites analysts saying that Destiny will have to sell 15-16 million copies at $60 to break even. So, the final game has to make a very, very good first impression.

For reference, Borderlands 2 cost ~$35 million and sold 8.5 million copies as of February 2014. It’s worth noting that the first link estimates Destiny at $140 million, so it’s entirely possible that the $500 million is in reference to the entire 10-year franchise run that Activision Blizzard purchased from Bungie rather than the BorderHaloLands game we have on display.

Still… goddamn. This doesn’t even seem like the same ultra-conservative game company of a year ago, who didn’t want to branch out into the mobile space simply because the Top 10 games change every year. I’d like to imagine those executives with a fat Hearthstone egg on their face, but great handfuls of money make for surprisingly effective yolk removal.

Destiny Unfulfilled

Remember BorderHaloLands, more commonly known as Destiny? You might recall I have mentioned it before. Well, yesterday was the first day of a press junket and the overarching narrative is… not good, with Kotaku and Destructoid basically calling it boring. They also called it rather amazingly detailed and lush and beautiful. And barren. And lifeless. And populated with level 2 mobs with health bars that you shoot to power your rechargable super-skills. Yeeeeaaahh.

There is a mega-thread on Reddit if you want more sources and commentary.

What’s kinda funny to me are the understated dangers of game design, at least when you let the hype train roll along just a tad too long and it misses it’s station. In just about every article I’ve read on Destiny, unfavorable comparisons are being drawn between Destiny and Titanfall. And why not? Both are next-gen sci-fi shooters trying to establish new IPs. The problem is that, like it or not, Titanfall pretty much ate Destiny’s lunch before he even got to the cashier. Just look at these developer quotes in the Polygon article:

 “The way we like to think about it, is not everybody is going to want to play Destiny, but everybody is going to be able to play Destiny if they want to,” Parsons added. “We’ve made significant improvements to the way players are going to play. People are surprised at how quickly they master the controls and get up to speed and having a great time.”

“It might not feel new compared to some of the other things that have come out recently, like Titanfall,” said design lead Lars Bakken, who added that there are changes, like free-floating double-jumps that can last for a long time. “But we’ve been prototyping for a long time and we’ve created experiences that you’ve never been able to experience before in the previous games that we’ve made, especially because it’s inherent to your character.”

I mean, I laughed at the design lead sheepishly trying to draw a parallel between the now-genre-defining wall-running parkour of Titanfall and his own game’s “long-lasting double jumps.” And then I felt sad for them. Because how were they supposed to know? As I mention in the comments yesterday, I was all gung-ho for Hex to the tune of an $85 Kickstarter pledge right up until Hearthstone came out of nowhere – 3 short months later – and pretty much flipped the proverbial design table. Now I feel like anyone coming out with a digital TCG that requires you to spam-click “Pass Priority” a dozen times a turn is basically Dead On Arrival. Hex has moved on to beta recently, but I’m not even sure I have the alpha client still installed. Why bother?

In any case, the word on the street is still that there won’t be any PC version of Destiny. The reason?

Parsons also said creating and releasing a PC version of Bungie’s shared world shooter would not be as easy as many believe, because all versions of the game connect to the same persistent video game world, which itself extends to multiple platforms.

“It is not nearly as simple as you think,” he said. “It is one central world no matter what the platform, and so that requires lots of intensive thought.

Err… okay. It sorta sounds like they’re implying that people on a Xbone can play with people on a PS4, but I’m relatively certain that that’s not actually going to happen. Just like the chances of me considering a purchase of this game. But good luck, Bungie, all the same. You’re going to need it in this new environment, especially considering you’ve already got the next 10 years of this IP all planned out. If Destiny 2 doesn’t have wall-running, you’re going to be in for a bad time.

Payment Model Perspective

I was browsing Kotaku the other day, and came across an article/review of a mobile game called Wayward Souls. Truthfully, I only read it because the byline mentioned Secret of Mana, which is relevant to my interests; it is, incidentally, probably my second-most played game of all time right behind A Link to the Past. Did you realize that SoM came out in the US 20 years ago this past October? Two decades.

Anyway, Wayward Souls is whatever – doesn’t seem to capture much of SoM’s magic beyond the pixel and music style based on the video alone. What was interesting to me though, was when they mentioned in the video that they’re going with the MineCraftian business model, e.g. selling it for $5 at first, and increasing the cost as time goes by. To me, this raises a number of interesting questions. First… is there a term for this payment model? I use MineCraft as perhaps the most well-known example, but surely it was tried beforehand.

Second, does it feel bad to anyone else?

I mean, I understand the logic behind it. Traditionally, game companies are going to want to charge full MSRP at release to capture the dollars of whom we now term “whales,” e.g. the people who would have paid $100 for the game, if they had charged that much. As time goes by, the price comes down via sales and whatnot to capture the players who would have bought it for less than MSRP. The MineCraft model seems like it should never work, but actually makes a lot of sense when you realize that the traditional model relies on a well-informed and excited playerbase for your game – in an ocean of crappy mobile games, you’re not going to have the whales spending money out of the game. This alternative model lets you build buzz somewhat organically, and then try and capture the big spenders as you ride the wave home. Plus, it sort of short-circuits the “wait until the Humble Bundle sale” strategy insofar as it will supposedly be more expensive the longer you wait (which ironically sorta is how Humble Bundles work).

Like I mentioned though, the MineCraft model doesn’t particularly work for me. It grates, like a piano out of tune. But I can’t fully articulate why though, especially when you consider nearly all games do this via cheaper preorders. Damn near everything is 20% off on GreenManGaming before it comes out. Sometimes a game will drop in price within the first three months (and sometimes faster these days, if they miss the forecasts), but it’s usually quite some time before it drops below the preorder price. So… what’s the difference, really? I can’t even claim that it’s because of psychological manipulation, because that’s pretty much behind all sales strategy. It just feels… bad, somehow. And causes me to mentally dig my heels in and wait for the Humble Bundle because screw you for defying the natural order of things. Or something.

Alpha Centauri 2

News out of PAX: Firaxis is working on a new Civilization game… in space.

Honestly, Alpha Centauri is basically one of those infinite-nostalgia games for me. My prior exposure to the Civilization games was actually Civ 2 for the SNES (yes, really), so you can imagine how blown away I was after installing those Alpha Centauri discs back in high school. Hell, I haven’t even played a Civ game since then – I have Civ 5 in my Steam library, but I was always a bit leery of getting sucked back in.

The thing that impressed me the most in Alpha Centauri though were the quotes that came with every technological advancement. You can read the big list of them if you’d like, but here are a few of my favorites:

Resources exist to be consumed. And consumed they will be, if not by this generation then by some future. By what right does this forgotten future seek to deny us our birthright? None I say! Let us take what is ours, chew and eat our fill.

  • CEO Nwabudike Morgan “The Ethics of Greed”

This was one of the first times I encountered a thought turned on its ear.

We are all aware that the senses can be deceived, the eyes fooled. But how can we be sure our senses are not being deceived at any particular time, or even all the time? Might I just be a brain in a tank somewhere, tricked all my life into believing in the events of this world by some insane computer? And does my life gain or lose meaning based on my reaction to such solipsism?

  • Project PYRRHO, Specimen 46, Vat 7. Activity recorded M.Y. 2302.22467. (TERMINATION OF SPECIMEN ADVISED)

I laughed. And still do at the meta-humor.

Man’s unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me. We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist.

  • Academician Prokhor Zakharov

(Heard after researching Intellectual Integrity)

This was likely my first formal introduction to the Just-world hypothesis/fallacy. From a videogame! And beyond the above quotes, Alpha Centauri fielded a lot of more classical, real-world quotes from Plato and Aristotle which, combined with the coolness of the game itself, instilled a sense of wonder and wanting to know more. I definitely doubt I would have read The Republic without having played Alpha Centauri.

I don’t have any great expectations that Civ: BE will be better than my crystallized childhood memories of AC, but I remained cautiously optimistic nonetheless.

So far, it looks like the tentative release date is Fall 2014.

H1Z1-fit

As you may or may not have heard, SOE is coming out with a zombie apocalypse MMO called DayZ Online H1Z1. This was, in fact, what Smedley was talking about vis-a-vis the MMO that SWG veterans “could come home to.” Because… crafting? Whatever.

By the way, I’m with Syp on pronouncing H1Z1 as “hizzy.” Because just with the Xbone before it, these companies need to take a little more thought with how they name their products.

The details of the game are sketchy. Not in the ambiguous sense, but rather in the “there’s no possible way that will work” sense. Right off the top, this is a F2P full-loot FFA PvP game. In fact, the Tweets (sigh) are suggesting that the current design is permadeath, but I have a hard time imagining rerolling an entirely new character each time. I mean, if your character’s facial features and other customizations are somehow saved, is that really permadeath? Another feature is player housing that exists in the world, and people can set it on fire, presumably even while you are offline. That sounds totally reasonable, amirite? There will also be “trading,” which I understand as a euphemism for looting things off the corpses of traders. There are also no levels, which combined with the F2P aspect, seems to indicate the potential for an infinite firebombing army to reduce all player-owned structures to cinder at 4am.

Now, conceivably, these are solvable problems. Smedley has mentioned the existence of different server types, some of which will likely be PvZ-only. Some might even offer player housing protection on by default ala Minecraft. I have little doubt that we’ll also see housing immunity (or at least insurance) for 2000 Station Cash. The question mark is whether they’ll sell items directly, which could become problematic with a full-loot PvP system. “Hah, I totally ganked that dude and stole his $10 golden revolver.” [Fake edit: you keep your customization]

As a PS2 player, I wouldn't put this past them.

As a PlanetSide 2 player, I wouldn’t put this past them.

Speaking of monetization, Smedley has a Reddit thread up right now asking for ideas. No, seriously, he does. Currently, he seems pretty adamant that A) they will not be selling weapons at all, and B) they have a “preference” to not selling anything that helps with survival. Everything else is conceivably on the table… other than just asking for a goddamn subscription or box purchase. Many of the ideas so far revolve around pets, animations, clothing, and in-game advertisements ala Battlefield 2142. To his credit, Smedley shot down that last one, although ironically that would be something that made complete sense in the context of the game.

As far as the map size goes, well, here is Smedley:

I’ve seen a bunch of people asking questions about the Map size. Forgelight is built to handle arbitrarily sized worlds. Our plan is simple – we’re building the core of “anywhere USA”. When we first open it up to users the map will be huge, but nowhere near as big as it’s going to be in short order. Our Map Editing system allows us to quickly add massive areas. We want to make sure we clearly understand how the players are playing the game before we do that. On Planetside 2 we made a mistake by making multiple continents before we had a strong enough idea of what worked and what didn’t. This game is different. We’re doing it smarter. [...]

So not to worry. Zombie Apocalypse isn’t going to be any fun if it’s like Disneyland on Spring Break and super crowded. We want remote.. haunting… being scared when you see someone. Your first instinct needs to be to hide. If there are 20 players in your view it’s not a very convincing Apocalypse :)

Ah. So… an MMO where actively avoiding other people is the only sane way to play. Hey, at least I already have a lot of practice doing just that.

This is the part of the post where I balance the negativity of the preceding paragraphs with some halfhearted praise. So… uh… well. I liked State of Decay? Using the PlanetSide 2 engine means they will have a quick development cycle, although it also means there won’t be any actual physics. The “play as a zombie” mode sounds like it could be fun. And… yeah. I feel kinda bad for The Forest guys, although maybe I shouldn’t – at least The Forest doesn’t feature full-loot PvP.

H1Z1 will be up on Steam’s Early Release program in 4-6 weeks for $20. Why are we paying money for the privledge of alpha-testing free-to-play games? Because fuck you, that’s why.

#TitanFail

I don’t think I have ever had something like matchmaking so completely and totally ruin a game for me. I mean, queuing up as Alliance for BGs in WoW was pretty bad towards the end, but Titanfall? Holy Jesus, it’s bad. So bad that I started an Imgur album to detail it. Examples:

dH1uOGK

Balance.

More balance.

More balance.

This matchmaking is so terrible it cannot possibly be random chance. I mean, I can understand a little bit of snowballing – god knows that if I see a veteran on my team, I play it out until I get sick of the game – but this sort of shit is just stupid. All Titanfall has is it’s moment-to-moment gameplay, so for you to face an entire 10 minute match with your nose in the carpet the entire goddamn time is worse than the most banal daily quest in any MMO. I’d rather be grinding Golden Lotus rep – at least at the end of the day, I’d have something to show for my blood, sweat, and ample tears.

I tried to play some PlanetSide 2 to wash the taste out of my mouth, but the game crashed to desktop after about 20 minutes.

Remember when I said I never buy games near their release days and/or at full MSRP? This is why. If I could resell Titanfall or get a refund, I would; then maybe come back when the developers got their shit together.

Anti-Patch Notes

I didn’t think it was possible to get excited for an expansion of a game I haven’t played in over a year, but damn. I got to about here:

Druid

  • Innervate has been removed. Mana costs for Druids have been adjusted accordingly.

…before I realized the devs were serious about the pruning of cooldowns thing. I mean, Jesus, they even removed Mana Gem.

Blink and you'd miss it. Wait... Blink is still around, right?

Blink and you’d miss it. Wait… Blink is still around, right?

Paladins were about the one class that seemed to come out ahead after the ability decimation; losing Wings on non-Ret specs makes me shed a nostalgic tear, but in return no more Divine Plea or Inquisition? That’s practically a bonus! Plus, Lay on Hands and Divine Shield survived. Blinding Light didn’t, but we only had that for what, one expansion? It looks like Seal Twisting is making a come-back, but hopefully it won’t be powerful enough to be mandatory.

Man, look at this:

Priest

  •     Binding Heal is no longer available to Shadow Priests.
  •     Hymn of Hope has been removed.
  •     Heal has been removed.
  •     Greater Heal has been renamed Heal.
  •     Inner Focus no longer provides any mana cost reduction.
  •     Rapture has been removed.
  •     Renew is now available only to Holy Priests.
  •     Shadow Word: Death is now available only to Shadow Priests.
  •     Void Shift has been removed.
  •     Inner Fire has been removed.
  •     Inner Will has been removed.

That’s all of the Priest notes. Well, more or less, there’s some additional explanation at the bottom. Still, there is 109 instances of the word “removed” across 34 pages of notes. The end result will likely be a tighter game experience, but damn, all these simultaneous band-aid removals took some hair with them.

As for the new level 100 Talents, some of them are jokes that won’t pass the AV test. What’s that? It’s simple: just imagine someone (or 40 someones) using the ability in an AV match. Seriously, they’re giving Death Knights Defile. Defile. I hope your CPU is water-cooled next time you’re slumming it up in Drek/Vann’s room because otherwise your machine might well burst into flame. Necrotic Plague alone will pad all the meters, and combined with Chilblains? You can single-handedly stop an entire mounted charge.

That’s basically what I’ll be doing in BGs all expansion long: being annoying. Did it when Death Knights first came out with Death Grip and/or Chains of Ice; did it when Paladins could Seal of Justice mounted players from 40 yards away; did it with portal shenanigans via the Warlock; did it old-school just Sapping people and watching their reactions from stealth as the Rogue. If your goal is to be annoying, it’s damn hard to lose in WoW. And now it’ll be 100% easier in the next expansion!

Who Beats Games These Days? (2014)

Way back in August 2011, I wrote about a CNN article that stated only 10-20% of people who play a videogame end up finishing it. Some of the industry experts interviewed stated that this metric was behind the rise of shorter campaigns, a heavier focus on DLC, and so on. After all, if it takes 100 developers a year and a half to produce six hours of gameplay, why would they spend even more time/money on extending that out when 80%+ of their customers aren’t going to see it anyway?

Almost three years later, the completion rate has increased to about 30%.

Too bad those stats didn't apply to a better game...

And the other 47.4% did not miss a single thing.

There are caveats galore, of course. First, that series of infographics is damn ugly. Second, the research methodology is simply looking at Steam achievements, so it’s tough to say whether or not it’s representative of gamers as a whole (not that it’s claiming to be).

Third, and most amusingly, this research looks at and includes people who own the game and have yet to turn it on even once. It’s amusing because this isn’t as crazy as it sounds given Steam sales (and Humble Bundle, etc). But it’s still rather surprising for some games when you actually dig into Steam achievements on your own. For example:

And I thought that first achievement was a good joke...

And I thought that first achievement was a good joke…

I know Borderlands 2 was a part of a good Steam sale a few months back, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t end up on any bundle sites. In which case 24% of the people who own the game haven’t completed the very first quest, which is literally pressing E twice.

Of course, when I ran my Steam ID through this website, it indicated that out of the 385 games I own, I haven’t played 63% of them. In my defense… err… uh… I buy a lot of Humble Bundle-esque sales. And Steam didn’t track stats for some of those games I did play a long while ago, like Half-Life and Counter-Strike.

Incidentally, this is a major reason why I hate purchasing things at full MSRP. It is not really that $59.99 is some kind of insurmountable obstacle, but the reality for me is that I have enough games on Steam to last me until the heat death of the universe, and thus it’s difficult to justify purchasing more when I can reasonably wait for a price drop. And even when it’s something cheaper like Banished ($19.99) or Starbound ($14.99), it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me; I can just work on the backlog and save a few bucks later.

In any case, it’s heartening to know that the nightmare scenario of three years ago hasn’t occurred (yet?), and that it appears as though the indie side of things can prop up a lot of the longer-game space AAA has vacated. Still, as someone who endeavors to finish every game that I start even beyond the point of fun, this infographic is a sobering example that I might be well out of my mind.