Seat of Pants Design

[Blaugust Day 12]

During the past few days of combing the internet for Hearthstone tidbits, I came across and interview from back in May which illuminates the… bold way Blizzard is approaching Hearthstone design. Basically, flying by the seat of their pants:

[…] We always try to add a little bit of craziness to the game and let people discover it. When we put Grim Patron in we didn’t know exactly how good it was going to be. We had a good idea, because we played it a lot. We knew there was going to be some variance once people figured out what the best version was, and what the meta was going to be. I think we’re going to keep making some crazy cards in every set that are dangerous and hopefully going to work out.

This was not the only time they said something like this. Here is an interview from last Saturday:

Several high-level players were recruited to join the team. What effect has this had on your game design?

The balance team makes sure cards are clear, well-designed, and well-balanced. We recently hired people from the tournament circuit to make sure things are more balanced, but we also try to make risky cards that push the limits and scare us. Lock and Load is a good example of a card that is risky and could be unbalanced.

There is something to be said about not being too conservative in these sort of endeavors. All the really cool cards in most CCGs – the ones that set your mind on fire about the possibilities – are typically the least balanced ones. “If I just had this one card, I would turn the game around.” You just never get that sense with cards that, you know, aren’t capable of turning around games by themselves.

Should I play Dr Boom? Is it turn 7? Then yes.

“Should I play Dr Boom?” Is it turn 7? Then yes.

On the other hand, I feel like Blizzard is having their cake and eating it too. Dr. Balanced, aka Dr. Boom, is a joke precisely because of how long it has survived unscathed from a tuning pass. Is Dr Boom warping the metagame? Not necessary. Is Dr Boom far and away one of the most absurdly powerful cards in the game to the point he’s in ~37% of all decks? Yes.

Many point out that that’s only because the other 7-drop creatures are so bad. Well, okay. Now imagine how much stronger the card that replaces (or even just matches) him is going to have to be.

Of course, the cynical part of me realizes that deliberately creating “chase rares” in a CCG is nothing new. Like most everything in this genre, Magic: the Gathering invented it. Chase rares sell packs, which in turn creates every incentive for designers to create more. “This new card is probably completely broken and going to push a million packs.” Yeah, totally scary. Especially when you can ignore the problem and watch players fall all over themselves stuffing their decks with Epic/Legendary cards to counter the shit you just left steaming on the table.

…I might be a little bit bitter.

That aside, it kinda makes me wonder whether Hearthstone is the only place this design philosophy rules. Certainly when I look at some of the WoW design changes in Warlords, I see a team of devs running riot past everything that was remotely successful about all their previous expansions. Look at the raids, and see how it’s all a perfectly linear evolution of what came before. Then look at flying, reputations, crafting, Garrisons, resource gathering, gear rewards, PvP balance, class design. I’m not even sure if those devs were flying with pants on.

Nevertheless, I kinda get it. Being bold is how Blizzard (or anyone for that matter) got anywhere in the first place. Even if that boldness is straight-up stealing all the good shit from everyone around you. Like I said earlier, the craziness is what gets the juices flowing.

So… I’m conflicted.

Or maybe things are a lot simpler than I’m making it out to be. Flying by the seat of your pants is exciting and better than the alternative… provided you stick the landing at the end.

No 6.3

[Blaugust Day 11]

From the latest round of Legion interviews:

Q: Will we be seeing an interstitial patch or dungeon after Fury of Hellfire, like how the Ruby Sanctum bridged Wrath and Cataclysm? Basically, how will the event, of the Legion, be introduced to us?

A: Tom Chilton: So, the legion will be introduced to us by an Event that takes place before the expansion launches, it will be the largest invasion of Azeroth we’ve seen. And in addition to that there will be a patch before that, that adds the flying that we are doing for Warlords, so as far as wrapping up Warlords content, there is the patch with flying and the mercenary mode; but then to introduce the next expansion and make that transition we have the Legion Invasion of the world.

In short, I hope you liked Patch 6.2, because that’s basically it.

In the scheme of things, this probably makes the most sense. Sunk Cost Fallacy, and all that. Blizzard clearly doesn’t have any content ready to go, so they would need to take dev time away from the new expansion to whip something up.

The real question is what this is going to look like on the Q3 and Q4 (and Q1 2016) reports. While it elicits the most schadenfreude, it’s not actually that likely WoW’s population is going to continue down the slope until it hits zero. The more likely scenario is that it will drop until it hits a baseline level of congealed gamers for which WoW is more social platform than game. You know, the time capsuleers still playing EQ1 and FFXI and DAoC and, shit, even Ultima Online. It’s always a tiny fraction of the total population, but a “tiny fraction” of WoW is still larger than most other games ever get. It will be interesting to see exactly what that baseline level consists of, regardless.

 

Hearthstone Balance

[Blaugust Day 10]

One of the most dominating decks out there in Hearthstone in the current metagame is Patron Warrior. This is a wombo-combo deck that can pull off such insane, come-from-behind wins that even Magic: the Gathering veterans of Extended would feel at home. In a game that is derided for being decided by coin flips, the deck itself doesn’t really feature any RNG beyond the standard that comes with drawing cards. Almost everything about the deck is mechanically perfect and efficient.

And it needs to die.

The question of the hour is how to do it. Or whether to nerf it at all. This Reddit thread got 1300+ comments in 8 hours and the opinions run the gamut. But before I get to that, let me briefly explain the cards and mechanics involved. Here is the lineup:

The usual suspects.

The usual suspects.

The strength of Patron Warrior are the sort of dual win conditions. The name of the deck comes from Grim Patron, there in the upper-right, and the sort of shenanigans that occur when you summon one with a Warsong Commander on the board. If you play both, you basically get a 3/X minion for every minion your opponent controls that has less than 3 attack – your first Grim Patron Charges into, say, a 2/2, summons a new 3/3 Grim Patron who gets Charge from the Warsong Commander and then attacks into another creature, etc etc etc.

You do not technically need your opponent to have creatures for things to get out of control, of course, as your deck is also filled with effects like Whirlwind that end up dealing 1 damage to all creatures. One Grim Patron becomes two, two becomes four, and so on (there is a 7-creature limit thankfully).

The win condition everyone hates though is that of Frothing Berserker. Warsong Commander will give Frothing Berserker Charge when it comes into play, and even if your opponent has zero creatures, a Frothing can balloon up to an 8/1 with three Whirlwind effects (since itself and the Commander are creatures taking damage). If your opponent has a single creature out with at least three health though? Now it’s an 11/1. Add in Grim Patron shenanigans and suddenly you start seeing OTK (one turn kill) screenshots like this one:

From empty board to overkill 2x.

From empty board to overkill 2x.

If you want a more in-depth guide from a Top-10 player, here you go.

It isn’t difficult to nerf Patron Warrior. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to do so in all sorts of ways. The design trick here is to do so in such a way that either A) reduces the effectiveness of the deck without killing it entirely, or if that’s not possible or wanted, then B) killing the deck with as little collateral damage as possible.

For example, Warsong Commander could be changed to read “Your other minions with 3 or less attack have Charge.” The idea being that while you can still have crazy powerful Frothing Berserkers, they would lose Charge the moment their attack got above 3. It’s not even all that intuitive that the summoned creatures retain the Charge ability granted from the Commander after their attack goes up in the first place, but that’s what happens. And in case you didn’t know, Warsong Commander has a history of enabling OTK combos, especially back in the day when it simply gave all your minions charge no matter their attack power. Hell, it was even changed again fairly recently to allow the Charge to apply to summoned minions, e.g. Grim Patrons, instead of just affecting creatures played from the hand.

Is nerfing Warsong Commander the right choice though?

Consider some alternatives. For example, a lot of the OTK shenanigans are only enabled from the use of Emperor Thaurissan permanently reducing card costs. Getting one trigger from Thaurissan can grant you the ability to play Warsong Commander, Grim Patron, and Frothing Berserker all on the same turn, possibly even turn 8. And if you had a Whirlwind in hand during the Thaurissan trigger? Suddenly you’re dealing with 11 Charge damage to the face. Or 21 Charge damage if you have a 2nd Whirlwind-like effect. Or even more depending on what your opponent’s board looks like. So another nerf avenue would be to tweak Thaurissan’s effect to, say, be unable to reduce card costs below 1. Or only reduce spells, or something.

Or perhaps we should zero-in on the OTK culprit himself: Frothing Berserker. One way is to change the trigger to key off only friendly minions taking damage. Or only enemy minions. Or even the nuclear option of “+1 attack for each damaged minion,” with the attack bonus going up and down as minions are killed or healed to full.

Some people in the Reddit thread think it’d be better to nerf the sort of card draw engine that Patron Warrior has access to. This isn’t a particularly viable avenue in my opinion, as the only real Warrior-specific draw card they could nerf is Battle Rage, which was already nerfed twice from before (it used to trigger off of all damaged minions, then all damaged characters with a cost of 3). How would you nerf it anyway? Make it a 50% chance to draw a card? It is absolutely true that Patron Warrior includes a lot of card draw to assemble its combo pieces, but a similar amount of drawing is available to most other decks.

My personal opinion is to change Frothing Berserker. Some have suggested a different approach to the nerf, such as changing its health to 3 so there are less opportunities for it to balloon out of control with Whirlwind effects. I’m not so sure that that is A) enough, or B) worth breaking the symmetry. Not all classes have a class-specific 2/4 for 3 with an ability yet, but that is clearly a theme:

Paladin card is from the new set.

Paladin card is from the new set.

I’m not saying they’re all equally powerful or useful – Flamewaker in particular can make for some huge tempo plays – but Frothing Berserker in particular seems to scale wildly higher than the others and is more open-ended. I know that I hate, hate, hate seeing that card on turn 2 in Arena because it basically means I must kill it immediately or simply be crushed under the weight of value.

So there it is. I am not entirely sure that the dev team actually are going to nerf any part of Patron Warrior, especially this close to the next expansion release (by the end of August). On the other hand, expansions are pretty much perfect times to nerf things, and we’ve seen them nerf cards at these times before. That being said… I’m not sure I want to see the metagame come The Grand Tournament if it spawns a deck that can destroy Patron Warrior without nerfs. It’s like swimming with something that consistently eats Great White Sharks.

Review: Dead Rising 2

[Blaugust Day 9]

Game: Dead Rising 2
Recommended price: bundle
Metacritic Score: 78
Completion Time: ~17 hours
Buy If You Like: GTA Zombies, Frustrating mechanics, Improvised weapons

A very serious game for very serious people.

A very serious game for very serious people.

For the record, Dead Rising 2 is the only entry in this series that I played. Coming into this entry, my expectations were fairly minimal, and I knew only that the game featured wacky weapons and… that was it. What I discovered was a title that both exceeded my expectations wildly, and one that almost immediately squandered all the goodwill it generated.

The premise of the game is that you play as Chuck Greene, a father desperately trying to make ends meet and pay for his daughter’s Zombrex, the toxic daily prescription drug that is the only thing standing between her and undeath. Unlike many other titles in this genre, the setting takes the zombie apocalypse as a given – Chuck participates in a televised gameshow with prize money being awarded to whomever is able to kill the most zombies with their chainsaw-motorcycles. After the latest Live event, someone dressed as Chuck manages to frame him for terrorism when they release said zombies into the greater Fortune City casino area.

What follows is perhaps one of the most, if not “authentic,” certainly the most interesting takes on the zombie apocalypse. There are zombies everywhere, hundreds of them. Frankly, there are so many zombies on screen at a time that I’m honestly surprised that the devs were able to pull it off.

Submitted without comment.

Submitted without comment.

Despite said zombies being of the shuffling variety, they always feel like a threat by sheer numbers alone. At the same time… it’s difficult to describe, but the zombies felt like understandable obstacles. By the midpoint of the game, I found myself not just capable of weaving through dense crowds of them without stopping or even taking damage, but it feeling correct for this to happen. In other words, it wasn’t that the zombie AI was dumb or that I “exploited” their behavior, but rather that the zombies followed natural rules in terms of range of motion and the like. If you approach a zombie from behind, for example, it had to turn to its left before it could attempt to lunge, and thus you could escape by passing on the right. And even more than that, said swiveling zombie would act as an obstacle to the zombies that were following behind you.

Another great aspect of the game was the refreshing take on narrative. The game is structured around the inexorable passing of time – your daughter needs Zombrex every 24 hours at a minimum, and your window of opportunity in clearing your name similarly closes with each passing hour. Inbetween the big events, you will get notifications about trapped survivors and such, most of whom will be dead soon without assistance. You might be having fun crafting weapons and collecting cash on one end of the Strip, for example, but unless you book it to the other side in a hurry, those survivors will be zombies themselves right quick. The clock creates a subtle tension throughout the game, without (usually) being too overwhelming.

The problem with Dead Rising 2 are the Psychopaths, e.g. boss fights. Along with survivor quests, you will occasionally get vague quests to head over to a specific location. Once there, some random survivor will have snapped from the stress and be out for human blood. Generally speaking, these fights are total gimmicks and stupidly, inexplicably deadly. Whereas you might be able to sustain 20+ zombie bites across a period of time, Psychopaths will kill you in a few hits or less, especially if you don’t immediately understand the gimmick.

Some weapons are more effective than others.

Some weapons are more effective than others.

Compounding the problem, the Save Game structure of Dead Rising 2 is that progress is ONLY saved when you go to the bathroom. Psychopath on the other side of the Strip across four screens of zombies and nary a Porta Potty in sight? Guess what you’ll be replaying over and over? This isn’t even taking into consideration that Psychopath fights are scripted to occur at specific locations at specific times, which means you can suddenly find yourself in the middle of one while you were trying to escort some abysmally dumb survivors across a sea of zombies.

Indeed, I remember one Psychopath battle in particular as it was the most god-awful situation I have experienced in videogames. Basically, this encounter was with four redneck snipers who decide to take residence in the central open area of the game. You know, the place with the most zombies per capita? That you had to routinely cross through all the goddamn time? And they never left, even after the end of the proper game. What the literal shit, Capcom? Those snipers hounded me the rest of the game, on into the epilogue, and by that point I did not have the time or ammo to take them out.

The bottom line was that Dead Rising 2 felt and played as an innovative zombie game, with enough cool things going on to make one horribly disappointed with the superfluous bullshit tacked on for no good reason. From what I gather, Dead Rising 2 is actually uncharacteristically serious compared to the other titles in the series – a sort of Saint’s Row to, say, Dead Island’s GTA – and that’s certainly interesting trivia. I didn’t play the other games, and based on my experiences with this game, I probably never will. If you can snag the game on the cheap though, I think it’s worth trying out if only for the first ~5 hours or so, as you steep in the goodness that is a freeform zombie apocalypse.

Legion Thoughts, follow-up

[Blaugust Day 8]

As pointed out by MaximGtB in the comments yesterday, there is a follow-up interview from Blizzard that answers some more questions, including the weapon one:

  • You obtain your Artifact early on in the Legion experience. This is the weapon you will use throughout the expansion. You will not get weapon drops in Legion. Something that wasn’t mentioned during the reveal is that each Artifact has a number of Relic slots, which will determine its raw item stats (DPS, ilvl, etc.) and modifiers to the traits you’ve chosen, so the Artifact’s stats will still improve as you defeat bosses.

This almost raises more questions than answers, honestly. Will these relics be like class armor tokens, e.g. a raid boss dropping the equivalent of a +Spirit relic that the healers roll on? Will the loot system be further taken over by Personal Loot instead?

Of course, there is also an elephant in the room: what about alts? Hell, what about off-specs?

If the Artifact system is the heart of the next expansion – and there is every reason to believe that it is intended to be – shit starts getting a bit ridiculous. If you are a DPS and a tank, are you going to be walking around with two Artifacts? Clearly yes, right? It wouldn’t make much sense for the Artifacts to share progression, so… do you need to split your Artifact Power? Relics? If we get Artifact Power from questing, does that mean someone can get screwed by funneling the Power into the spec they don’t end up being by the end of the level cap? What about healers who level as DPS?

I’m actually starting to wonder if the Artifacts won’t as big a deal as I’m thinking they’re supposed to be. By which I mean, the whole Artifact progression system is standing in for the leveling bonuses we got from hitting even-numbered levels in Warlords. Considering that classes are being redesigned again (melee hunters!), I’m not sure we would even notice the ability shuffle on top of the goodies the Artifact provides.

Anyway, while they’re mucking around with abilities, here’s to hoping that Ion and crew finally realize that making rotations boring on purpose is a really dumb idea.

Legion Thoughts

[Blaugust Day 7]

And the award for easiest Blaugust prompt goes to… WoW’s next expansion, Legion.

Rather than talk about the entire expansion concept as a whole, I wanted to talk about two things that, admittedly, we don’t have enough information about to make informed opinions on.

The first is Artifacts:

Well played, Blizzard.

Unintentional spoiler about Magni, Blizzard?

There are a whole lot of incidental questions regarding the introduction of Artifacts. Like… 36 of them, really? Also, does this not strongly imply that there is a rather sweeping, Game of Thrones-esque purge of all these weapons’ prior owners? I’m almost imagining a reverse Warlords scenario in which all the story heroes land on the beach, a portal opens up, and the hand of Sargeras comes flying out and grabs them all. Certainly there’s no other explanation possible for why every level 100 paladin will be running around the Ashbringer out of the gate.

This brings me to my primary concern: will there be other weapons this expansion? I can see Blizzard simply not releasing any weapons, as why would you ever not use your spec Artifact? Even if the event that leads us to looting Ashbringer from Tirion’s cold, dead hands renders the weapon “drained of power” or whatever, it’s hard to imagine it feeling good to carry an Artifact around in your back pocket while you equip the first green drop from the second Felboar you kill.

Plus, it makes no sense to introduce a pseudo talent tree in a weapon you won’t be using 24/7:

Path of Titans 2.0

Path of Titans 2.0

So here’s my wild speculation: you’ll be using your Artifact all the time, and Artifact Power is the new Valor points. There is a chance that perhaps we’ll be able to disenchant gear into Artifact Power, thus preserving normal gear progression, but I find it difficult to believe that such a system won’t be gamed hardcore. Having raid bosses drop epic weapons whose sole purpose is to be turned into Artifact points sounds really dumb.

Which, of course, means there’s a 50/50 chance that actually happens.

My second concern is the new direction they are taking WoW PvP. Because unless I’m mistaken, it sounds like they’re removing PvP gear entirely.

You can watch the section yourself starting at 3:52:14 in the Youtube video.

We really want to dial back the effect that gear has. […] It’s just not that fun to have players running around with that huge level of power disparity. So we felt like we needed a new system that addresses that, so that while gear plays a role, it plays almost no role in terms of how powerful you are. […] Essentially what [Honor v3] is, is a PvP talent system.

That sort of quote, along with the description of how Honor v2 was basically a currency-based system “that introduced PvP gear,” leads me to believe that we may see PvP gear just go away. Which… is not the worst scenario ever. I’m not sure how popular Guild Wars 2 BGs are, but they feature vendors that hand out unlimited amounts of free PvP gear to level the playing field. The whole Prestige system also sounds fine, but I don’t know how motivating it will be in practice.

The core gameplay loop in WoW is gear progression. That’s basically it. Even if you “don’t care” about gear, the only reason people grind through raids more than once or twice total is precisely because there is a reason to, e.g. to get better equipped to make the next raid less difficult. PvP is absolutely no fun when you’re sitting in starter gear with 1/3rd less HP than the guy about to ruin your day, yes. It is also absolutely true that the participation pittance you receive after being facerolled in a BG makes said BG worth getting facerolled in. Maybe there are people out there sitting on the Honor cap and raring to go into another Isle of Conquest loss. For me personally though, the moment I reach that gear plateau is the same moment I find more constructive uses of my gaming time.

It’s possible that there will still be PvP gear to be earned despite the direction things are leaning. I’m not entirely sure how that would work if Honor is no longer a currency, but the alternative is Blizzard pushing PvP players back into “raid or die” scenarios. What else would PvPers wear? Or maybe Blizzard would go full GW2 and have vendors standing around. No matter the outcome, it is quite the sea change in Legion.

By the way, this PvP slide raised my eyebrow:

Every Race for Themselves.

Every Race for Themselves.

For those that may not know immediately, Gladiator’s Medallion is the namesake trinket, i.e. what you press to get out of stuns, etc. So unless the description of the baseline PvP talent is something incredibly clunky like “your trinket’s cooldown is reduced by 30 seconds” or something, I must assume that everyone is getting a PvP trinket baseline. In which case, we’re either going to see the Human racial be completely redesigned again, or… maybe we’ll see the end of racials in PvP altogether. Hell, in the latter scenario, Humans could keep their trinket racial since the PvP talents are only activated in BGs and Arena.

Undoubtedly we’ll be getting more information soon.

Hearthstone Data Points

[Blaugust Day 6]

It has been yet another Blizzard Investor Report in which Hearthstone metrics have been bundled or otherwise obscured, but this latest report added a few more variables with which to solve for X.

One of the juicier parts was this bit (provided by TheStreet):

Note that this quarter was an important inflection point for Blizzard. In spite of World of Warcraft subscriber declines, which were more concentrated in the East and partly affected by the success of Diablo III in China, Blizzard grew its Q2 revenues 29% year over year at constant FX.

This performance was driven by the strong performances of Diablo, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm, which in Q2 made up the majority of Blizzard revenues. The franchise diversification inside Blizzard is happening rapidly, and even more importantly, the aggregate Blizzard community is healthy and growing.

In order to fill in some blanks, we now have to turn to the Activision Blizzard website. According to the slides (PDF) and press release (PDF), we get some more data points:

  • Destiny, Hearthstone, & Heroes of the Storm: >70M players & >$1.25B non-GAAP* revenues, LTD
  • Destiny: >20 million registered players have played about 100 hours each since launch
  • Diablo III has sold-through over 30 million units to date globally
  • Hearthstone: Key engagement metrics nearly doubled year over year, largely on account of the new content/platforms.
  • Overall Q2 net revenue GAAP = $1.044 billion, non-GAAP = $759 million.
  • WoW specific GAAP revenue for Q2 = $221 million; non-GAAP $157 million.
  • Asia Pacific net revenue for entire company: GAAP $105 million, non-GAAP $131 million.
  • Blizzard specific revenue for Q2: $385 million.

That last data point was not specific in whether it was GAAP or non-GAAP, but I’m assuming it is the latter as otherwise WoW couldn’t be less than half of the Blizzard total, which is what was stated in in the investor report. So here are a few of rudimentary calculations we can draw:

  1. Blizzard’s non-WoW revenue for Q2 = $228 million (385 – 157).
  2. Hearthstone + Heroes of the Storm registered players = ~50 million
  3. Hearthstone = 30+ million registered players as of 6/5/15.
  4. Ergo, Heroes of the Storm has ~20 million registered players (70 = 20 + 30 + X).
  5. Destiny + Hearthstone brought in $850 million in 2014.
  6. The Q1 2015 report (PDF) stated Destiny + Hearthstone had $1 billion non-GAAP revenue LTD.
  7. Destiny + Hearthstone + Heroes of the Storm = ~$250 million combined in Q2 (1.25b – 1b).
  8. Diablo 3 sold 20 million copies as of August 2014. Thus sold another 10 million copies in last year.

So… yeah. Still feels like we’re missing too much information to draw any major conclusions.

That said, we can deduce that Hearthstone made less than $250 million in Q2, and less than $150 million in Q1. How much less remains to be seen. Also, while a lot of noise was made about the (F2P!) success of Diablo 3 in China, it bears mentioning that all franchises in both Activision and Blizzard (including WoW) totaled $131 million in revenue in China. In other words, it isn’t as though Chinese Diablo 3 is going to claim the lion’s share of the non-WoW pie.

As always, if you see an error or otherwise have put enough skill points in Language (Economics) to make better sense of the Investor Report numbers, by all means correct me in the comments below. If I had to guess, I’d peg Hearthstone at around $75-$100 million per quarter.

WoW Down to 5.6 Million Subs

[Blaugust Day 5]

Holy shit. WoW is down 1.5 million subs in three months.

Decade boomerang.

Decade boomerang.

As the graph from MMO-Champion indicates, the last time WoW had 5.6 million subs was back in December 2005. While there are quite a few people out there saying the expansion spike into Warlords “shouldn’t count” due to hype trains and such, it bears repeating that WoW had 10 million subscriptions six months ago. Four point four million subscriptions is a fucking genre’s worth of tourists.

Assuming you can still call the 1.5 million people who left between months 3 and 6 “tourists.”

For the record, Cataclysm dropped from 12 million at its height down to 9.1 million at the end, a 24% loss. Mists started at 10 million, and ended around 7.4 million, a 26% loss. Even if we completely disregard Warlords’ spike in subs for no reason, going from 7.4 million to 5.6 million is a – drumroll please – 24% loss. And the year is only half over. And the final raid has already been released more than a month ago.

When Blizzard said they wanted to speed up expansion cycles, I didn’t think they meant cramming in two years’ worth of losses into half a year.

I went ahead and listened to the conference call myself, but the MMO-Champ summary is pretty much spot on. The only thing I wanted to mention was how early on in the call they pointed to Hearthstone specifically as being one of the largest drivers of revenue in Q2. Which, of course it is, everyone knows that. Additionally, at some point during the call Blizzard admitted that Hearthstone, Diablo 3, and Heroes of the Storm combined made up the majority of Blizzard revenue in Q2. As in, at least 50% + 1. Who would have saw that coming 3-4 years ago?

Some questions remain. While I have no doubt WoW Tokens are included in revenue stream, whether they count as subscriptions in of themselves is a question mark. Sure, a redeemed one should count as a one-month subscription just like a game card. But what about my eight Tokens sitting on an inactive account? Am I “subscribed?” This remains to be seen.

In any case, if this upcoming expansion announcement isn’t literally the best thing in the world, I think we can expect to see some more timely exits from Blizzard staff and players alike in the coming months.

Impression: Craft the World, pt 2

[Blaugust Day 4]

In the time since I wrote yesterday’s post (over the weekend) and today, I’ve “beat” the first campaign level and spent a total of ~18 hours in Craft the World. For the curious, you completing a campaign world involves finding the portal room, and then defeating the guardians in that and in five other rooms before reconstructing the the portal and getting out.

Across the hours, I believe I have figured out why I don’t like the game: the tech tree. Not the idea of a tech tree – which exists as a tutorial mechanism – but simply how poorly it is paced. For example, here is the beginning part:

Seriously guys?

Seriously guys?

Early on, you get the ability to craft wooden armor. Great! For that, you need rope. Which requires wool. Which requires sheep. Which might not be anywhere near your spawning location. In my first world, the sheep were all located beyond a goblin camp, which are a group of extremely tough mobs that you can’t hope to defeat without, you know, some armor. It was only later that I realized that the Portal spell you get at the beginning of the game could be used at any distance, but still.

Another example: wooden doors. One of the first “quests” you receive is to construct a shelter for your dwarves. Like most games, a shelter is only a shelter when the walls (including the background ones) are filled in, with the exception of any doors. You can make a wooden hatch pretty early on, which implies the ole Minecraft shelter approach of just digging a hole. However, your Stash is immovably placed on the surface. Thus, right from the start, you experience the uncomfortable dissonance of either A) building a shelter underground, leaving your Stash exposed, or B) crafting an incomplete shelter around your Stash and waiting possibly hours before unlocking “wooden door” technology.

What is almost worse than this clunkiness is how intentionally bad or misleading the entire scenario appears to be. Creating a Shelter requires you to place a Totem, whose description specifically says:

Creates an aura around the house that protects from monsters.

First, I have never seen it actually “scare off” the ghosts that come each night, so either that functionality doesn’t exist, or it requires the Totem to be closer to the Stockpile and not just within the Shelter, which is unintuitive. Second, for the Totem to even be closer to the Stockpile, you either need Wooden Doors or to construct a goofy system of vertical Wooden Hatches, severely slowing down your dwarves’ harvesting of trees/ground-level resources. Or maybe going even further into the Minecraft approach of boxing yourself in at night, then breaking the walls down in the morning?

Regardless, the Tech Tree is poorly designed and badly paced. I still remember getting about halfway through – which requires a ton of useless crafting – and then… suddenly, inexplicably having fun. Like a lot of fun. I was crafting Mine Carts and Elevators and using Scaffolding to reconstruct the terrible Shelter I had been enduring previously. Instead of creating useless items over and over, I was progressing naturally through the Tech Tree. Things faltered a bit more later, but by that point I still had more than enough things to do to keep me busy as I gathered more resources.

Technically speaking, the Tech Tree is only relevant in Campaign mode; if you enter the Sandbox mode, you can ignore the Tech Tree entirely. But it is one of those things that hold back the entire game with its terribleness. After beating the first Campaign world, I unlocked the next, which is an Ice World. I’ve played about 1-2 hours into that world, but everything that was bad originally is still bad now. Do I seriously want to spend another 5+ hours until I get Scaffolding? Or, you know, make heroic efforts tracking down Sheep in order to get Rope? Nope.

The bottom line here is that Craft the World is servicable if you especially like this genre of games, but only if you have already played the much better titles to death.

Impression: Craft the World

[Note: Day 3 Blaugust]

The aesthetics work really well, actually.

The aesthetics work really well, actually.

Craft the World is a game billed as “a unique sandbox strategy game, the mix of Dungeon Keeper, Terraria and Dwarf Fortress.” What initially attracted me to the game was the comparison to Dwarf Fortress, which is one of those mythical games that someone you know spent 6000 hours playing, but you didn’t even bother looking at after seeing the screenshots. I am led to believe there are texture packs for Dwarf Fortress, but considering I can’t even bring myself to play FF12 due to graphics alone, I figure I’ll wait until some fan recreates the entire thing in an actual watchable format.

In the meantime… well, Craft the World.

Right now the game still feels like it’s in beta. I am playing in the “Campaign” mode, which I understand to be an extended tutorial. The problem is that I have no idea how to “beat” the campaign. There’s a 40-60 minute timer which dictates when a monster portal opens, and I have been defeating said monters each time they appear. I think I read something about defeating a boss, who will then drop the portal for the next campaign world. Or something about completing all the “tech trees” to unlock it. Or something.

The actual gameplay is both interesting and somewhat vapid. Instead of controlling an actual character, you are the disembodied cursor simply marking which squares you want dug/built/collected/attacked. If a dwarf is available and feels like it, he will go over and start working the squares. So the gameplay cadence is queuing up a lot of work, spending time in the crafting menu, and then watching your dwarves (hopefully) carry it out. Resources are only collected two items at a time, and said items are only actually available once the dwarf makes it back to your Stash. So the end result for me was usually watching the dwarves go about their business, eyes glazed, and then realize 5 minutes later that they were all standing around idle.

Technically, you can control a dwarf directly at any time if you want to get more hands-on. In fact, you pretty much have to to get any sort of reasonable construction project going. Not only do you have an increased object placement range (uncontrolled dwarves can only reach 2 squares instead of 3), but your controlled dwarf has full access to your entire inventory. Otherwise, yep, the dwarves have to carry over the supplies two items at a time; not a whole lot of fun when you’re trying to get them to build a ladder down a mineshaft.

As I mentioned in the beginning though, the game feels Beta-ish. The controls have clearly been designed around an eventual tablet version, as hotkeys are limited and damn near everything revolves around left-click. There are quests/tasks in the Campaign mode which are either broke, or frustratingly vague. For example, one quest was to start a farm by planting Wheat. I actually had some Wheat, but nothing I did seemed to work in terms of getting it planted. Then I thought perhaps I needed “Grain” first, e.g. seeds, but no amount of Wild Wheat harvesting produced any. And, you know, the quest clearly says to plant Wheat, not Grain. I eventually completed the quest after collecting enough Wild Wheat, which shouldn’t have worked based on the description, but whatever.

In the meantime, I’m willing to give it a little bit more time to get more interesting. I can’t help but feel like there is something there, some nugget of fun waiting to be uncovered. At the same time, I also kinda feel like the devs missed everything that was actually fun about the games they were inspired by. Terraria this ain’t, that’s for damn sure.

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