As mentioned in previous episodes, I shall be attending Gen Con in approximately… a few dozen hours. Indianapolis is only a few hours drive away, so it’s mainly a question of which city’s rush-hour traffic I want to be sitting in. The ideal would be none of them, but I also would prefer getting to the hotel sometime before 8pm.
Although it is much too late at this point, I kinda wish I printed off some In An Age business cards. Because networking. Or something.
I have eight events I’m scheduled to see, and roughly $20 in generic tickets to spend around the show. If you have been to a Gen Con before and have some recommendations, I am all ears. Otherwise you can fully expect a meandering and completely irreverent (daily?) report about board and card games I am unlikely to ever purchase.
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.
Usagi Drop is a straight-forward, endearing, and deeply compelling slice-of-life manga. It follows the travails of a 30-year old man named Daikichi whom notices a 6-year old girl wandering around his grandfather’s funeral. After asking family members, it appears that the girl, Rin, is actually his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter by an unknown mother, whom has all but abandoned Rin. As the relatives discuss putting Rin in foster care, Daikichi decides (almost on a whim) to take care of Rin himself.
As I mentioned above, this manga is slice-of-life and mainly focuses on the sort everyday considerations a 30-year old bachelor has to make in the context of raising a child. However, the scenes and scenarios presented are not being done solely for comedic effect or to evoke sympathy for Daikichi’s lost carefree lifestyle. Rather they are all the sort of mundane miracles of parenthood and self-discovery. And for any person interested in Japanese culture, Usagi Drop becomes an exceedingly intimate glimpse into everyday life over there (or at least an example thereof).
It is actually difficult for me to express exactly how amazing I feel Usagi Drop is. Perhaps it is because I am also a 30-year old bachelor without children that I identify so well with the primary character. But I feel like there is an undercurrent of brilliance to this manga that simply needs to be experienced. There is an inherent progression to the relationships amongst the characters, and as they grow up, you feel yourself grow up with them. I really cannot describe it any better than that.
Simply put, if you ever find yourself in need of an example of a manga to prove to someone that these aren’t all simply childish (or perverted) comic books, Usagi Drop is one that you should immediately feel comfortable offering.
I have successfully returned from my Japan vacation. Before returning to your normal programming – which will be interrupted with GenCon coverage soon enough – I figured I would go ahead and collate a few of my travel tips. I am not some travel guru by any means, but nevertheless these are some bullet points I wish I knew ahead of time:
- Technology is a lie. Don’t think that just because it’s 2014 that you will just be able to sail through the ridiculously convoluted air travel process. Despite “checking in” online weeks before the flight, I was specifically called out of line over the intercom (both leaving and returning) so they could verify my credit card; I’m not sure if this was just an American Express thing or what, but it could have been easily resolved by “checking in” at the front desk.
- Don’t rely on your smart phone. Related to the above, the airlines emailed me a boarding pass that was basically one of those QR Codes. Easy, right? Wrong. Sure, my phone was all charged up, but I didn’t anticipate the QR Code to go all 404 and not load in the airport. Thanks, Gmail.
- Google is pretty good at airplane tickets though. In addition to Kayak, Priceline, and whatever other plane ticket aggregate site you use, load up google.com/flights. If your vacation planning is a little flexible, the calendar feature will show you how to save literally hundreds of dollars by booking the flight for Tuesday instead of Monday (etc).
- Pick an aisle seat. You know how everyone always picks top bunk for ridiculous reasons whereas bottom bunk is objectively superior? Window seats are the top bunks of airplanes. Unless you want to ask a stranger permission to get out of your seat half a dozen times (even to just stretch your legs), pick the aisle. Besides, everyone is going to be closing the windows two hours into that 12+ hour flight anyway.
- The JR Pass might not be worth it. In a nation of highly advanced rail technology such that a large percentage of the population doesn’t even feel the need to own cars, how could an unlimited rail pass not be worth it? Well, pretty easily, actually. I didn’t research my routes correctly (friend I stayed with lived near Tokyo Metro, not a JR line) and I ended up having to purchase roughly $60 worth of train tickets out of pocket. Although I got “free” bullet train tickets to Kyoto, a round-trip would have been $260. So even if all my train needs were covered, it still wouldn’t have added up to the 14-day pass price of $464. A second round-trip somewhere in there would have saved me money, but my point is that you likely will already know how many bullet trains you will be needing to take.
- Holy Jesus are Japanese summers hot. If you are an average American living North of the Mason-Dixon line, you might only be aware of the biological process known as “sweating” from an academic standpoint. In the summer months in Japan, the process is more akin to weeping. From every pore. I recommend packing a suitcase full of moisture-wicking clothing (such as a Stillsuit), or failing that, clothes you feel comfortable swimming in all the time.
- Buy your Ghibli Museum tickets before your airplane tickets. Otherwise, you ain’t going there.
- Everything is at least $10. Just accept it.
- Paper towels have yet to be invented in Japan. Seriously, you aren’t going to find any; even napkins, which exist only in fast food restaurants, are more like tissue paper than anything else. Incidentally, this means that you will need to bring your own towel to public restrooms if you intend to wash your hands and not dry them on your pants.
And that, my friends, is that.
I have played two games of Arkham Horror in the past few days, and the experience has been interesting.
The first thing I learned was, yes, “Arkham” is a Lovecraftian reference that Batman utilized for Arkham Asylum. The second thing I learned is that the game is definitely in the Axis & Allies level of board game setup. Well, maybe not that long, but it still requires a dozen or so stacks of cards and such.
I do like how physical the game feels. For example, each character gets X number of dollars, and said money is represented by little rectangular pieces. Characters have their own sort of character “sheet,” but they also have cardboard character pieces that are placed on the board standing up; monsters have the same sort of thing.
The gameplay flow is… kind weird. The premise of the game is to basically close gates (to other dimensions) before the Eldar God wakes up. Alternatively, you can try and shoot the Eldar God in the face, generally with predictable results. Having played twice and looked through the various cards/abilities, I was struck with a sense that the game is remarkably balanced – nearly every system in the game has an “Eldar God wakes up” failsafe built in. On the other hand, the second game I played ended up with the Big Bad waking up on like turn 6. We actually ended up beating said god through unique circumstances – the Lurker Beyond the Threshold and a crowbar/carbine combo was da real MVP – but it was a close thing, with 2 of the 4 characters being devoured.
As I was saying though, the gameplay decisions end up being a bit weird. Outside of a few character abilities there are very few ways of regenerating health and sanity. The success system is basically rolling 5-6 on a standard six-sided die, so the odds are generally that each encounter with leave you bleeding a bit. This means that most characters can’t undergo more than two encounters before having to make pit stops in either the hospital or Asylum to recharge, and since closing gates requires you to get hit with special “other world” encounters (which can be anything, but could be nasty monsters), most of the time it feels like there is never enough time to do anything.
Which is a good thing, I suppose, when you are trying to simulate the urgency of people running around stopping an Eldar God from awakening. Still, I kinda felt like that it put an absurd dependence on A) the characters you picked to play as at the beginning (we did a shuffle, deal 3, pick 1 deal), and B) what random items you were dealt. Everyone have a weapon? Awesome. Everyone get some bullshit tomes? Welp, maybe it’s worth starting over.
Beyond all that, I can see it being a good game to play with a group of friends, if you all have 2-4 hours to kill. One of the best aspects of the game is that it is entirely cooperative, which I think is fairly unique in terms of board games. Getting straight-up devoured isn’t even Game Over either, as there are rules for you grabbing a new Investigator to play as, assuming the game isn’t over via Eldar God thrashing yet. There are numerous expansions to the game, including literal expansions to the game board, so between that and the games themselves not lasting long (in terms of not using all the card text) the sense of the unknown is preserved pretty well.
On a final note, this is absolutely one of those games that I feel could be 100% digitized with little lost. I mean, I supposed by definition most board games could be digitized with little lost, but at least here with Arkham Horror there isn’t much interaction with the vast majority of the cards in a vast majority of the decks, such that a computer spitting out outcomes wouldn’t remove much of anything. And even if everything but direct player interaction was removed, the game itself would still take an hour or two.
So… yeah. Arkham Horror. Played it in Japan, and now I might see if there are any open spots at GenCon.
So, I have been playing through Eador: Masters of the Broken World
recently a month or so ago. While sitting through the opening cinematic describing the fight between immortal Masters over control of floating islands, I had a particularly strong negative reaction once it started to specify that these Masters were in reality fighting the forces of Chaos by bringing Order to the blah blah blah.
Why explain the narrative any further? Immortal god-like beings fighting over possession of floating islands is more than enough. That’s pretty cool! The fighting Chaos with Order bit? Not so much.
I’m a narrative guy – I love stories, lore, and world-building. But between a half-assed story and a no-assed story, it’s much better to go with no-ass every time. Own your wacky premise!
Nobody is sitting around getting excited about stopping the forces of evil for the millionth time just because… evil. Keep your cliche, overarching theme if you must, but just don’t try explain it right away. If I’m not interested in becoming a more powerful god by capturing floating islands in goddamn space, facing the forces of Chaos isn’t going to move the needle either.
I went to the thrift store over the weekend in an effort to get some “sweat my balls off in Tokyo August heat” clothes. While browsing, I stumbled upon this treasure and literally Mackelmoored a “shit, it was 99 cents” out loud:
It actually took me a minute to wrap my head around what I was looking at. Fortunately, the back cleared things up:
In taking the photo, my Google Goggle app notified me that there is a Facebook page dedicated to this… thing which, while obvious in retrospect (who would make one custom shirt?), docked the coolness factor a bit. Then again, I’m about as fashion unconscious as you can get without being declared clinically deceased, so maybe there was never any coolness. Or any coolness to a 30-year old wearing graphic tees.
Be that as it may, if I can’t wear a
dorky awesome FF7 T-shirt everyday one day at Gen Con, then when can I wear it? The answer is anytime I goddamn want because I’m an adult. So am I detained, or am I free to go, Fashion Police?
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, have an uncharacteristic amount of shenanigans going on soon.
First, a week from now I will be in Japan for ~14 days. The last time I was over there was back in 2005 during a college exchange program, so this will be quite interesting going back. I would not expect a lot of updates for those two weeks, but you never know. Beyond the normal touristy schtick around Tokyo, I do plan on stopping by things like the Ghibli Museum. If you have recommendations of similar attractions that might be interesting given the scope of this site, feel free to let me know.
Second, and possibly more relevant to our mutual interests, I will be at Gen Con 2014 this August. I’ll actually be hanging with my ex-WoW crew the majority of the time, but if you are going and would like to share an awkward greeting IRL, I’m game. And speaking of games, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to Gen Con; the event registration page is about the most unfriendly UI I have ever seen. So if you know of interesting panels or whatever that I should check out, let me know. Seriously, ain’t nobody got time to manually browse 1558 board game events.
Oh, and I guess Blizzard is releasing the Naxx expansion to Hearthstone two days before my flight. Fun times.