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Hearthstone’s Expansion

Goblin vs Gnomes (GvG), Hearthstone’s first expansion will supposed go Live later tonight. You can see the cards here.

I have not talked about Hearthstone in a while, primarily because I had stopped playing for a while. The Naxx Adventure mode (e.g. mini-expansion) brought me back for a bit, but once the PvE content was finished I once again retreated to getting my Hearthstone fix via Twitch.

It is not so much that the game stopped being fun to play, rather it became… well, a bit more prescriptive. An aggressive deck hits its curve? GG. The opponent plays a card you cannot immediately deal with next turn? GG. Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to dig yourself out of certain holes. The means of doing so are completely known though, which means the opponent can either play around it or know when they are safe not to.

Looking at GvG, I am not entirely sure anything will change.

Nevertheless, I have been knocking out daily quests these past two weeks or so. And, surprisingly, been enjoying it. Indeed, I might even show an uncharacteristic break in willpower and straight-up purchase some GvG packs this week.

Some of this interest might be due to the shake-up of the metagame, some due to an ipso facto renewed interest from buckling down and playing Hearthstone some more. Hmm. You know, it might simply be because the marginal value of in-game gold has increased due to the upcoming expansion. After all, once you own 95% of the cards you want, the sense of progression from gold pretty much evaporates as each additional pack/arena run is likely to result in nothing but disenchanting materials. Which is is still useful, of course, but much less exciting. Getting 2-3 brand new cards per pack though? Super exciting.

I suppose we’ll see what happens with GvG tomorrow and in the days ahead.

Resisting Draenor

I will not be playing Warlords of Draenor… today. Or tomorrow, most likely.

As someone inbetween games and experiencing some ennui besides, the pull of an expansion to an MMO I actually enjoyed playing is quite strong. This is despite, or perhaps in spite of, the fact I do not believe I have any interest in learning the songs and dances of new dungeons/raids. I do not want to force strangers to carry me through boss fights and I don’t want to spend time watching videos beforehand, so… yeah. Bit of a Catch-22 there.

I do miss WoW PvP something fierce though. As an Alliance character I really shouldn’t, but as I may have mentioned before, I can derive pleasure from even a brutal loss as long as I get the opportunity to be annoying to the enemy for X amount of time. There was one WSG match I still remember in which two guys chased my shaman healer across the map for the entire 15 minute duration; this was sometime around when Ghost Wolf was changed so shaman couldn’t be snared below 100%, I believe. We lost 0-3, but they couldn’t kill me so I felt like a winner anyway.

In any case, my present gameplan is to bide my time with a mountain of readily available distractions and wait for the first Warlords price drop. It seems rather unlikely to occur over Black Friday, but stranger things have happened.

A friend even offered to buy me the box, but that isn’t the point here. “It’s not about the money, it’s about sending a message” and all that. Or it’s simply some kind of personal neurosis that expresses itself in wanting to avoid full retail price at all costs. Either/or.

On Clones

Let’s talk about Overwatch for a second.

A lot of the Overwatch reactions that I have been reading on blogs basically revolves around the “TF2 clone” observation. And it’s true: Overwatch does kinda sorta maybe look like TF2 when you squint at it. But I get the feeling from many of the posts that “being a clone” is somehow being considered a value judgment against the game.

Which is a little weird considering WoW was a clone of EQ, LoL was a clone of DotA, and so on. In other words, being a clone of something has very little to do with the merit of the final product. Unless the gameplay was directly cut and paste from the source material, it’s entirely possible for one or two (or more) key tweaks to change the overall feeling of a game. And if you don’t believe that, you haven’t been playing MMOs for very long.

As for myself, I remain mostly ambivalent towards Overwatch. I have played a grand total of about an hour of TF2, which was long enough for me to realize I have little interest in diving into seven years of accumulated competitive minutia; learning the maps, the weapons, the classes, and strategies of each while playing against hardened veterans isn’t exactly my idea of fun. Even if it were a total TF2 clone, Overwatch acts as a rather convenient “reset” of sorts that levels the playing field between vets and newbs, at least for a time. So in that sense, I am interested in playing it and seeing if it’s fun.

At the same time, my experience with Titanfall is giving me pause about the 6v6 format. I have long stated that Titanfall is an amazing game, but the smaller team size means a lot of pressure is put on the skill level of your best and worst players. In other words, a big fish on the enemy team can crowd out the pond. Which is the way things are “suppose to be,” but I’m not particularly inclined to play games in which I spend the majority of the time on the respawn screen. I much prefer larger games like Battlefield and PlanetSide in that gaming gods can rule some minor fiefdom (typically the air game) while everyone else is pounding the ground and having fun.

I don’t necessarily need to win to have fun playing something, but do 6v6 maps give the necessary space to have fun? Typically not, in my experience. We’ll see.

Quote of the Time Interval

Carson63000’s response to SynCaine’s cynicism of Blizzard’s recently announced Overwatch:

It’s a cruel burden to know just how many people like stuff that you don’t like.

It is, isn’t it?

Titan Felled

I spent about 10 minutes coming up with various clever variations on Titanfall and Attack on Titan, but alas.

Blizzard has killed Project Titan after seven years in development. That Polygon article is overflowing with choice quotes.

“We had created World of Warcraft, and we felt really confident that we knew how to make MMOs,” Morhaime said. “So we set out to make the most ambitious thing that you could possibly imagine. And it didn’t come together.

“We didn’t find the fun,” Morhaime continued. “We didn’t find the passion. We talked about how we put it through a reevaluation period, and actually, what we reevaluated is whether that’s the game we really wanted to be making. The answer is no.”

Some would certainly argue that Titan isn’t the only project they can no longer find the fun/passion for.

“Are we the MMORPG company?” he added later, in conclusion to that line of questioning.

Morhaime answered that last rhetorical question quite simply: “We don’t want to identify ourselves with a particular genre. We just want to make great games every time.”

Like… wow. (Err… no pun intended) That has “exit strategy” written all over it. And speaking of that:

Throughout the interview, Metzen and Morhaime suggested that the recent trend of smaller-scale Blizzard releases like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm has played a part in the company moving away from Titan. […]

He explained that Hearthstone had helped the studio realize that they don’t need to fit themselves into the box of only making products of a certain scale.

I didn’t get the chance to mention it earlier, but Hearthstone hit 20 million players. Or “players,” whatever. It is still 10 million more than they had in March. While it’s tough to actually come to any sort of definitive conclusions about the significance of those numbers given how it’s a F2P game that is hitting mobile devices, it is clear that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan. If this analyst from CinemaBlend.com (…err) can be believed, Hearthstone could pull in $30 million in revenue this year… which is basically 14% of what WoW brings in yearly. Not bad for a team of 12-15 people.

Back to Titan though, being cynical is easy and mostly safe. However, I am beginning to agree with Gazimoff of Mana Obscura in that this might be the death of the super-genre MMO. “We won’t see another heavyweight MMORPG released by a major studio in the next two years.” I was going to say that EverQuest Next sort of proves that wrong, but that is probably a bit more than two years out, and who knows if it even gets released at all; Landmark might just cannibalize it, if it doesn’t cannibalize itself first. But surely there is something else… oh. Maybe not.

Whether you are celebrating the news – perhaps hoping that more tightly-focused niche MMOs will spring up in the vacuum “as they should be” – or lamenting the loss of AAA tourism, I do want to take a moment to mark the occasion. Because it is an end of an era, or another sign of it at the least. And while we can sit back and suggest that WoW “ruined” “real” virtual worlds like Ultima Online or Everquest or whatever, I do feel a bit sad to think that what we have is it. Specialization is great and all, but when I look at the ex-WoW guild member friends I have made, I see a group of people whom I have never consistently played any other games with. The “super-genre” WoW was pretty much the extent of our shared gaming interests; there is some tiny overlap here and there, but getting the hardcore Civ, the Team Fortress 2, and The Sims players all together as an officer core for a 5-year old guild was goddamn magic.

Titan was unlikely to have rekindled things for my disparate, dispersed cohorts, true. Sometimes things just reach their natural conclusions. And maybe there is something to be said about making friends with more similar interests in the first place. Still… I can’t help but feel a loss, somehow.

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.

Them Blizzard April Fools

I despise April Fools, but I will admit that a surprising number of chuckles (and groans) were had over the fake WoW patch notes posted on Tuesday. Some of the highlights:

  • Dogecoin is now accepted as a form of payment, but no one really knows how it works.
  • [Hunter]: For safety, all Hunters must now wear bright orange vests at all times.
  • [Monk]: Blackout Kick now causes the victim to wake up the next day and question their life choices.
  • [Paladin]: New Ability: Renounce. When cast, Renounce permanently changes the Paladin into a Warrior.
  • [Shaman]: Rockbiter Totem now transforms the Shaman into a large stone elemental that cannot save their friends, despite having such big, strong hands.
  • [Warlock]: All spells and abilities have been significantly revamped. Again. You’ll figure it out.
  • [Warlock]: Warlocks are now overpowered. This will be addressed in a future expansion.
  • [Warrior]: Warriors have been nerfed because reasons.
  • [Raids, Dungeons, Scenarios]: Due to recent acquisitions, The Oculus is temporarily inaccessible.

You should probably just give the whole thing a once-over. The Warrior one concerning Charge in particular was extra amusing if you have been following patch notes for the last, oh, several years.

I’m pretty far removed from the game at this point, but I’ll also admit that my eye started twitching a bit at the female draenei joke revamp.

Wut

Wut

“What have they done… oh, right. Ha. Ha.” Some might say that it was too obvious, but after seeing what Michael Bay is doing in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, I don’t know what to believe anymore. I mean, have you seen this:

I need an adult.

I need an adult.

While pretty much everyone else have been riding the nostalgia train with reboots this past decade, TMNT is pretty much my only non-Toonami stop. Well, them and ExoSquad. And maybe Gargoyles.

Hearthstone is Released, Weirdly Balanced

So the blues weren’t kidding about Hearthstone being released Soon™… because it came out today. Surprise!

Speaking of surprises, the patch notes were somewhat full of them. Or rather, not full of them, which itself is surprising. The most obvious changes were to two Legendary cards I talked about last month: Nat Pagle and Tinkmaster Overspark. Pagle’s nerf was brilliantly subtle, taking the form of moving the card-draw coin-flip from the end of your turn to the beginning. It almost doesn’t feel like a nerf at all, but the reality is that Pagle isn’t likely to be haunting the upper echelons of tournaments any longer; that one extra turn of being able to deal with Pagle before the draw engine full gets started is actually pretty huge.

In contrast, the Tinkmaster nerf has all the subtlety of Jay “And double it!” Wilson game design. Which may as well have been the case, since the card was “fixed” (in the veterinarian sense) by doubling the RNG.

From hero to zero.

From hero to zero.

Where things get interesting is the peek into the Hearthstone card balance logic when the blues explained the Tink nerf:

Tinkmaster is a neutral card that silences and often shrinks big creatures. This reduces the amount of big, fun creatures in the environment. We think this change will increase the amount fun creatures in the environment, and bring him more in-line with his cost and overall power. Tinkmaster should still show up in certain types of decks, but will no longer be appearing in every high level deck.

While they did talk about cost and overall power at the end, the main concern was how Tink was “reducing the amount of big, fun creatures in the environment,” e.g. other Legendaries, presumably. Cards like Ragnaros and Ysera are win conditions in of themselves, and have pretty much gone unchanged since they were introduced; people who were holding out hope that perhaps these Legendaries would get the Pagle treatment seem out of luck. Hearthstone is not Magic: the Gathering, of course, but it appears this fact will need to be repeated a few more times before it fully sinks in.

And speak of the devil:

Secrets can now only activate on your opponent’s turn.

  • Activating your own secrets feels a little strange, but mostly, the ability to do this was preventing us from creating new and powerful secrets that trigger off of events you can easily control (like a minion dying).  They end up functioning just like spells, instead of trying to bait your opponent into a bad play.  This change keeps secrets working like traps you lay for your opponent, instead of spells that you cast and use on your own turn.

I would characterize this Secret change as a huge Paladin nerf, but Paladins are pretty much nonexistent at high levels of play, and their Secrets are gimmicky at best. However, this change turns those gimmicks into Disenchant material. For example, Redemption is a Paladin Secret that says the next minion of yours that dies, gets brought back to life at 1 HP. Pair that with a value creature with Charge like Argent Commander, and you can suicide into a minion and come back to deal some extra damage. Or, of course, you could use Redemption with a Legendary for some serious card advantage.

Well, not anymore.

In any case, Hearthstone is out, it’s fun, and it’s F2P for US audiences… and merely Free-to-Download, In-App Purchases Optional (F2DIAPO) for those in the EU. Blizzard is offering a WoW mount for those willing to get rolled by beta veterans until three wins are grinded out, so there’s that too.

Hearthstone and other Game News

According to the Blues, Blizzard’s F2P “Free to download, optional in-game purchases” Hearthstone will be released for real in a matter of weeks:

How close to the end of the beta are we? Don’t need an exact date, because I know that would be horrendous, but is this a matter of days or weeks or months?
I can’t say exactly, but it is soon. Not months.

Although there are a number of annoying bugs still kicking around, I have largely considered the game to be ready for Prime Time since the closed beta. The level of polish when it comes to sound effects, the implied physicality of the game pieces, and everything else is pretty astounding considering the size of the development team. For a while there were rumors floating around that the game wouldn’t be released until the iPad version was up, but it seems like that might be referring to the planned single-player Adventure Mode.

Whatever the case, I am very much looking forward to the release and any potential card tweaks that might go along with it. To an extent, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and call the release of new card sets/expansions as “greedy,” but goddamn does it get annoying after a while when you see the same dozen cards get played in game after game. The metagame is in a healthy state of flux, but the core staples of most every deck do not.

In news that I likely care about more than any possible reader, apparently there is a 4th (5th?) entry in the Deception series called Deception IV: Blood Ties and it’s being released this month. While it is obscure as hell, the Deception series was a set of rather groundbreaking PS1 games that were the precursor to games like Orcs Must Die. Essentially, you set up a number of nefarious traps in a mansion and then must lure trespassers to their doom by controlling an otherwise unarmed Gothic lady.

Here’s a video from Kagero: Deception 2, which is the sort of foundation of the series:

The graphics were pretty hideous even by the time the 3rd game was released, and the plot was Japanese nonsense, but the gameplay? Equal parts brilliant and hilarious. A large part of the game revolved around chaining trap combos, both because traps had cooldowns and because getting the bonus currency was required to unlock more traps/upgrade existing ones (and there was no farming). A fairly simple chain would go like this:

  • Bear Trap at bottom of stairs.
  • Giant Boulder crashes down stairs, knocks target into back wall.
  • Push Wall knocks target back onto Bear Trap.
  • Repeat.

Sounds quaint, right? Well, it should, considering Deception started doing it in 1996 and Kagero in 1998. Those were good years – FF7 was 1997, FFT was 1998 as was Xenogears.

…all of which happened almost 20 years ago. Sigh.

Blizzard’s Q4 2013 Report

If you have not already heard the news, WoW has lost gained 200k subscribers in the last quarter, edging back up to 7.8 million subs. This is quite a reversal from last May, when they hemorrhaged 1.3 million in three months.

In a fit of investigative journalism, I went ahead and looked at the investor report. Here are some choice quotes:

In particular, free-to-play games have achieved scale that should now allow us to realize great returns from the investments that we’ve been making in this area. Over the next few years, we plan to introduce at least three potential groundbreaking franchises operating on our free-to-play transaction systems designed to appeal to players across numerous platforms and in numerous geographies. These games including Hearthstone, Heroes of Warcraft, Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm and Call of Duty online, all have enormous potential.

Personally, this is the first time I’ve heard about a Call of Duty online, but I confess that I don’t follow CoD news generally. Apparently, it is going to be released in China first, but… actually, I don’t know. Surely there will be mainstream releases of the regular CoD franchise every year (even if they go to a 3-year cycle), so perhaps this will be China-only.

When the call got to Mike Morhaime, there were a series of amusing transcription errors. Like this one:

We should use the strength in Q4 for a few factors. The excitement from BlizzCon, seasonality from the holidays and a refresh of the recruit of final program which offer special test inbound to players to bring revenue into World of Warcraft.

…and…

We think that this is a great feature that will make it easier for friends to play together in World of Warcraft. It’s also attractive for veteran players, who have already experienced the level and process multiple times and wants to quickly raise a new character to deal ending combats.

…and…

Entry into a special game mode called Arena can also be purchased with Indian gold or real currency.

So when you face your special inbound test, make sure to use real currency instead of Indian gold to deal ending combats.

The rest of the call was uneventful beyond one final item, of particular note to the skeptics of Blizzard’s “stabilization”:

Okay. And the other part of the question was on the East-West split. So, in Q4 we were slightly down in the East and slightly up in the West.

So in other words, a lot of the gain came from NA/EU rather than the people paying pocket change in China.

And that’s basically it. Morhaime mentioned that he’s expecting some weaker numbers in Q1 2014 given how they won’t have the BlizzCon boost anymore nor any new content, but is otherwise hopeful that the level 90 boost will drive some ex-player engagement. It doesn’t do anything in particular for me though, at least right now, but we’ll see.