Category Archives: Diablo

The Pulitzer Prize for Videogame Narrative Goes to…

…Diablo 3, of course.

Super Meat Boy had just pulled ahead with the judges, until this narrative bomb dropped:

Technically, I guess this constitutes a spoiler…?

Do not let that last line wash over you; let it sink in. “Auriel, archangel of Hope, has been captured by Rakanoth, the Lord of Despair.” Hope had been captured by Despair! Is there a word to describe a metaphor so superficial and goddamn literal that it becomes a mockery unto itself?

All I can think of is “nadir.”

Neither the Diablo series¹ nor the hack-n-slash genre is exactly known for their compelling narratives, and that is fine. Campiness has its place, and that is fine too. But the shit Diablo 3 attempts to pull with a completely straight face is simply ridiculous, bordering on insulting. It feels like placeholder plot, especially in a severely truncated Act IV.

Take, for example, the exchange I posted above. Scroll of Fate? What does it add to this story that such a thing exists, or that the character is outside of it? I am not talking about the idea of a Scroll of Fate and an unbounded main character – that is perfectly fine as a story device, such as in Kingdoms of Amalur, etc – but the Diablo series has never been about that. Remove that bit of dialog (please), and nothing materially changes about the narrative. Maybe there is a tie-in between the prophesy at the beginning of the game and this Scroll of Fate, but that link is so tenuous that the writer is either being too subtle by half, or in wont of an editor with a backbone.

And then there is the Enchantress, whom is introduced as a character by being a wizard kept in stasis for 1,500 years to aid the hero in his/her prophesied time of need. While there was apparently a legitimate attempt to have this add something to the story, I could not help but think that maybe the Prophet should have let the Archangel of Fate look at his crib notes since the hero was apparently featured in them.

It could be that all of this is a setup to an expansion (or two) in which we explore all the random, seemingly banal things the companions said. But, again, that would necessitate a level of subtlety on the part of the writer(s) that is simply incongruent with the John Madden-ning the Prime Evils do throughout every step of Acts II-IV. “What’s that, Diablo? I will never close your portals to Hell? I will never close your other portal to Hell? I will never make it past your lieutenant? I will never make it to you in time? I will never actually read in-game text that is not magic item properties after this and all subsequent playthroughs?”

Damn, you’re good.

¹ I realize that this is actually an arguable point. As one forum poster described, the narrative was much more poetic and Biblical throughout (most of) D2 at a minimum. The Moldy Tome, for instance.

The Diablo 3 AH is Dumb

The Auction House in Diablo 3 is stupid. By which I mean dumb. Idiotic, even. Both Auction House and whoever designed it. And not because of what it may or may not do to the entire balance of the game, but because it is poorly designed period.

You can sort by Buyout price, but not Bid price. Presumably the latter is disabled because the Bid mechanic itself is broken. Much like eBay, you specify your top bid amount and then things are auto-bidded up until someone has the new highest bid. Except the Bid price is not updated in the main auction pane, nor is it reliably updated when you hit refresh. The only true method of discerning the new high bid is to bid once so that it goes to your Auctions page and looking at it there.

By the way, you cannot sort by Time Left either. At first, I thought Blizzard was doing this for our own sakes so as to not recreate the eBay-esque last-second sniper fields. But it occurs to me that the sellers actually win when people do last-second bid wars; the losers would be Blizzard themselves when they get 100,000 people spamming the Refresh button and eating up all their bandwidth.

The AH has a 46-page limit. It is thus possible that if you are searching for any old magic weapon in your level range, sorting by lowest buyout price may leave you with no auctions with buyout prices at all since “null = lowest.” If you want to ONLY look at auctions with buyout prices, you will need to specify a maximum price. Put something cheeky in there like 10,000,000g or whatever, and then sort from there.

Want to sort by weapon DPS? Good luck.

Because that makes sense.

Apparently the “Sort by DPS” script only looks at at the vanilla weapon DPS without factoring in any bonuses, such as +damage or +weapon speed. Which would be one thing, if some secondary script did not compute that exact thing in the DPS column. So if you are using this method to look for weapon upgrades, make sure you check several pages in to be sure some errant +10% weapon damage stat doesn’t outclass all of the items on the first two pages. And, of course, don’t forget how your class’s primary stat will likely further affect things.

Also, big props for the Blizzard designer who thought it would be a keen idea to have the Repair All button not apply to items in your Stash. Since you cannot sell items on the AH with durability damage, it becomes a fun Hide-n-Seek mouse-over minigame (or a Memory one, I suppose) each time you are forced back into the game when the item you want to sell has 48/49 durability.

In other news, I beat the game on Normal with the Monk. Because, hey, Barbarian was fun but I have played the first Act nearly a dozen times already. The pop-up after the final boss reminded me of something though…

Must have been brothers from another mother.

My current time /played says 14 hours and 5 minutes, but that includes however long it took to breeze through Skeleton King in Nightmare. I remember the very first zombie in Diablo 2 kicking my Necromancer’s ass in Nightmare – the weakness of any skeleton army build is needing unused skeletons – but perhaps my ill-gotten AH goods have been keeping me ahead of the curve. Or perhaps the difficulty wall is down the road.

Regardless, I will probably keep playing the Monk until I’m forced to kite as a melee character, at which point I either see if I can stomach another character through the campaign or simply play something else more deserving of my time, as the case may be.

In Fairness

If it appears as though I am being unduly harsh towards Diablo 3, it is probably because I am juggling at least two other extremely fun games simultaneously: Tribes Ascend and Battlefield 3. My normal M.O. is to focus on one game to the exclusion of all others until completion, perhaps for this very reason, e.g. I start making unfair comparisons. Do I really want to gain 7 levels on the Witch Doctor to get a summon that won’t die instantly to mob packs, or do I want to charge through a photo-realistic shooter and knife that cocky sniper right in his camping throat?

Also, explosions.

This sort of thing just happens.

So what has been going on lately is a division my time between those three games. And since I have already covered my Diablo 3 experiences, it seems only fair to talk about the other two.

Tribes Ascend Impressions

I never played any of the prior Tribes titles, although I know of them by reputation. After many weeks of suggestion, a friend of mine finally convinced me to download this ostensively F2P title. I cannot speak of the fidelity of the experience as compared to the past games, but I do find it quite enjoyable.

The biggest thing I want to mention though, is how HiRez handles the F2P side of the game.

It is, in a word, insidious.

Right up front, they tell you that if you become a VIP member, i.e. spend any amount of money, you will get a permanent 50% boost to XP gains. While I am typically inoculated to the sort of XP boosters that are common in F2P-land, the knowledge that for every match that I waffled on the issue would be half a match’s worth of XP lost got under my skin right away. Indeed, considering that you can unlock classes/upgrades/weapons with either XP or gold (RMT), it felt like a decision between a double whammy or double rainbow. And the $10 minimum buy-in? Seemed reasonable anyway.

And that’s when the thumbscrews come out.

First, there is a “deal of the day” that discounts anything from a weapon to a class to anything inbetween by 25-50% gold. Then, you get a +1200 XP bonus from your first win of the day. So already it is giving me the same vibe I get from Steam, wherein I feel like I need to at least log on for a few minutes to see what’s what. Getting that first win is not always forthcoming, and while you are stewing on an embarrassing loss, you get to thinking about that 240 gold (~$3 at the worst exchange) or 100,000 XP (~29 VIP matches or 45 free ones) weapon that would wildly change the nature of whatever class you like. Or whether you should go ahead and splurge a few thousand XP and upgrade your current gear to get extra grenades or armor or whatever.

The game is still fun, and it is great that you can go check it out for yourself to see if it’s your own cup of tea, but I vastly prefer these F2P game companies to NOT have my number down to the second decimal place. For my own protection.

Battlefield 3 Impressions

Meanwhile, BF3 can have all my digits, if you know what I’m saying.

Now that I think about it, things are oddly coincidental. Freshman year of college, I came to the dorms with my big bulky Gateway computer loaded with Diablo 2. Then I was introduced to Battlefield 2 my Junior year and played it with a depth of intensity that rivaled even my most solipsistic WoW days. And now the circle is complete.

In any case, there were some concessions made in BF3 to the CoD movement – the removal of the Commander role being the largest – but trying to sneak around the backside of a tank to plant some C4 while jets dog-fight in the air above you is exactly the same. Indeed, what has been the most difficult part of the acclimation process is training yourself to ignore the wildly amazing graphics and actually find the dudes you are supposed to shoot at.

Also, you die really fast. Bullets are OP. Until you are shooting them, then it sometimes feels like you’re shooting a Terminator.

That guy won’t be back.

Technically BF3 has the same sort of unlocking mechanism Tribes does – complete with “shortcut bundle packs” for a whopping $40 – although it feels in no way necessary. As much fun as I will have once I finally unlock Claymores, I am having plenty fun already with the “base” classes.

One of the things I have always loved in BF2 that is back in full force is the incentivising of teamwork. Killing a guy results in 100 XP, with headshots adding +10 XP. If you notify your team about a hostile soldier’s location (i.e. look at them and press Q) and someone else kills them, you get 10 XP. Shoot at a dude in cover, while your teammate circles around back and kills him? 50 XP. Help cap a flag? 200-250 XP for making the flag neutral, and another 200-250 XP for capturing it. Giving your teammates ammo or health packs is 10-20 XP per tick. If a member of your 4-person squad chooses to spawn at your location instead of a normal spawn point, you get 10 XP. Reviving a teammate as the medic ahem, “Assault” class is 100 XP. And so on.

In a very real sense, this is exactly the genius of the series. You do not have to be a pro-shooter with lightning reflexes to A) have the most points, or B) make a difference. You can lead the boards by going 0-10 and simply playing support to those with better shooting skills than yourself. More importantly, matches are not All or Nothing, zero-sum affairs. You can lose and still come out with more XP than most of the players on the winning side. This is the way I wish more MMOs were. Things would need to be tweaked, of course, but what exactly is the point of the winners walking away with three times the Honor of the losers? I join a lost-cause match in BF3 and you know what? I fight exactly the same as if we had a chance, because that is what’s fun and I won’t be punished for “wasting” my time.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see if I feel the same a month down the line, as I acknowledge that my spiritual experiences with Battlefield 2 might be overwhelming the rational centers of my brain concerning the sequel.

So far, very good.

Design Notes I Like to See

From the latest Dev Blog:

That said, we also wanted to let you know we’re keeping a close eye on Inferno. The intent of incoming damage is that it should be a very consistent drain on your health, and mitigating that drain is a major part of what makes Inferno mode difficult. Right now, there’s a lot more damage “spikiness” occurring than feels right, and that’s one major area we’re looking to adjust in patch 1.0.3. While we don’t have any specifics yet, our design goals are to support and promote build diversity; continue to ensure that a mix of champion packs, rare packs, and boss fights are the most efficient way to acquire the best items in the game; and ensure that all classes are viable in Inferno.


We’ve also seen some people saying our intention with Inferno is just one-shot you to make it difficult. While damage is a bit spikier than we’d like, we’re actually seeing a pretty significant number of people attempting Inferno without sufficient gear. There’s a good chance that returning to the previous Act to farm upgrades will do the most to help you survive. That said, we’d like to shift some of the focus away from survival and more toward using a variety of offensive tactics to succeed. Survival will still be important, but finding ways to maximize your damage while staying alive is more exciting. We’re not particularly concerned with whether or not a boss is “beatable,” though it should feel epic and challenging to defeat it. We’re more concerned with ensuring that acquiring 5 stacks of Nephalem Valor and taking on as many Champions and Rares as you can remains the most challenging and rewarding way to play.

And then there is this bit about the crafting:

Other areas of concern have been both the gem combination system and Blacksmith leveling and crafting costs. The intent, especially with the Blacksmith, is that he’s leveling with you, you’re able to use him as an alternate source for upgrades. Our design goal is that once you get to level 60, his recipes are actually good enough to help fill a character’s potential itemization gaps. To correct these issues, we’re looking to adjust the Blacksmith costs for training (gold and pages) and crafting from levels 1-59, and reduce the cost of combining gems so that it only requires two gems instead of three (up to Flawless Square). Both of these changes are scheduled for patch 1.0.3.

I had been avoiding crafting altogether because A) what’s the point when you have access to the AH, and B) what’s the point when vendoring magic items is more profitable than Salvaging them? Then again, the Commodities portion of the AH has been down since launch (I believe) and I am somewhat convinced it was precisely to get people to do their own crafting/salvaging.

In any case, after hearing the news that maybe the endgame isn’t supposed to be about endlessly kiting mobs around, I leveled up the Monk up to 17 to get Seven-Sided Strike. Decently fun ability. While I was moving talents around, I decided to give Crippling Wave another try as my left-click ability now that I unlocked a Rune for it. As soon as I did this, I ran into a pack of the flying wasp creatures and proceeded to get kited the fuck around. I cannot imagine a worse feeling than getting kited around by a mob in a hack-n-slash game.

So I logged back onto the Witch Doctor, looking for that cave with the first piece of the sword. As I was walking around, I encountered one of those bull-like creatures with the charge attack. That one move by an otherwise unremarkable mob one-shot my Zombie Dogs.

All of them.

Translation: Fuck this game.

While on the level 6 Wizard, it occurred to me that I have no particular desire to kite things. If a bunch of zombie torsos leap (!) out of the bushes, I do not want my first instinct to be to Frost Nova and left-click myself away. Nor do I want to wait for however many levels it takes to get the spells necessary to actually deal what feels like some legitimate damage.

So I did the only thing left of me. I uninstalled rolled Barbarian.

Two Lords A-Leaping~

Now, this? This feels good.

P.S. And this doesn’t look bad either.

Baby WoW

I am about five hours into Diablo 3, and I think I am done with the game.

What’s wrong? Two words: “baby WoW.”

Issue 3: “Baby WoW”

As I was playing co-op with an ex-WoW friend, he uttered “baby WoW” as the description of what these sort of games made him feel like he was playing. And you know what? I’m starting to feel the same. That is kind of the whole schtick of hack-n-slash, of course, the mowing down of corridors of mobs while you mop up the loot debris field in the wake of your passing. It is also tough to criticize spam-clicking in a world of rote ability rotations and the common “strategy” you develop for the execution of the average MMO mob.

At the same time, while I was going through Diablo 3 I could not help but feel somewhat patronized. This Skinner Box lever is completely unadorned. Of course, if you prefer yours fast and loose, then get ready to go to town; I may just turn in for the night instead, if its all the same to you.

That was written about a month ago in my Diablo 3 Beta preview. I am not sure what exactly I was expecting to be different between then and now… perhaps that my perspective would change? As I mentioned in that article, I am a storied veteran of the hack-n-slash genre, so my present disposition towards the gameplay is somewhat surprising. Or maybe it shouldn’t be surprising, given that the bulk of my H&S resume was pre-MMO.

What really drove the point home though, was when I decided to look into the crystal ball and see what my level 16 monk had to look forward to in Inferno difficulty. First, came the forum posts which lamented a blunt non-viability. Then came the Youtube videos.


Part 2 (of 4) Monk killing one elite pack in Act 4. It takes him over 10 minutes of kiting.

Witch Doctor in Act 2. Sure looks fun.

Wizard in Act 2.

The reoccurring theme here is kiting. Lots and lots of kiting. Now, I am not here to denigrate the skill it takes to kite properly. I am simply saying: kiting is not my idea of compelling gameplay. Kiting to allow your abilities to come off cooldown is worse. Kiting in a game where by default left-clicking an area could root you in place and attack the very mob you are trying to get away from is worse still. Diablo 3 is not a movement game. This is not an MMO like Guild Wars 2 or (presumably) TERA wherein you have Dodge buttons and position is important.

There appears to be only two distances in Diablo 3: Immune in Melee or Running Away.

You may rightly ask “Why let this bother you?” After all, I just zoned into Act II and am only level 16. It could very well be that I beat Normal mode once and then uninstall. And the answer I would give would be “I’m not having fun right now.” The abilities so far on the Monk are boring to me. Fists of Thunder + Thunderclap Rune was great when I got it… at level 6. Since that time, I am still waiting for something new to “change” my gameplay in a comparable way. And it is looking as though if such a skill exists, I won’t be getting it until well past the end of the game.

So… yeah.

For now, I started a Witch Doctor in the hopes I will have enough fun summoning zombie dogs and spiders and such to last me until the end of the game. I would have started out with the Witch Doctor originally, but when the Skeleton King one-shot my 60 second cooldown in the Beta, I sort of figured that that play-style would not be viable later on. If that is still the case, well, I will be jumping off that bridge when I get to it.


As you slaughter more skeletons and zombies than should technically exist based on historical human population levels, remember this:

Diablo Annual Pass Challenge


I never ended up pulling the trigger on the Annual Pass, and the RMAH fees Blizzard settled on are completely ridiculous, but hey. Give it the old college try, and let’s see what happens.

On the Other (Cloven) Hand

First, a correction. I have been informed in the comments of my previous post that one can turn on Elective Mode in the option menu to turn Diablo 3’s talent system into what I had envisioned previously. Namely, pooling all your abilities together and picking out any combination of 6 at your discretion.

If accurate, that is the system I can (and want to) get behind.

I saw in the Witch Doctor the ability to recreate my nostalgic Necromancer of twelve years ago – spiders from jars and zombie dogs replacing skeletons and golems – but felt stymied by my apparent inability to drop skills I never intended to use with any regularity for the ones I would. It seemed as though I had to choose between maximizing my voodoo army and being able to actually destroy barrels on demand; the bottled arachnids cared not for my entropic war with all material things, and I’d be damned if I could find a way to actually use whatever random weapon I happened to be carrying around at the time.

It is thus possible that my entire original impression was colored by my ignorance of the Elective Mode feature¹. I might suggest it is partially Blizzard’s fault for hiding the light under a bushel in the first place, but nevermind.

What I wanted to mention today that I did not before, is Diablo 3’s Auction House and the effects on the game proper. Simply put, I think Blizzard is riding the very cusp between brilliance and disaster.

It took me a while to even find the Auction House interface at all, and as a result I did not use it until my second playthrough – it requires you to be logged out of any individual character, which I suppose saves Blizzard the bandwidth of people idling in-game. Between vendors who sell random magic items for ~1500g, the normal sort of loot hauls from furious clicking, and the Artisans (e.g. Blacksmith) allowing you to break down magic items to craft new ones, I cannot say that I felt especially deficient in my solo gearing. I suppose that is not especially praiseworthy, seeing as how screwing that up would defeat the entire purpose of this sub-genre, but there it is.

Once you taste the AH though, there is no going back. Unfortunately.

Oh my.

There are a couple things going on in that picture worth noting. The weapon on the right was the one that my Barbarian killed the Skeleton King with after ~2 hours of play. The one on the left is so ludicrously overpowered in contrast, it is difficult to put into words. What really stands out though is the +6 Health per kill bonus. As Sullus experienced, that singular stat bonus completely erases all semblance of difficulty from the beta by itself; surprisingly, you end up killing quite a few monsters in Diablo 3, such that a bonus like that amounts to probably six times its value in passive HP regeneration.

The problem is just beginning, though. This rare weapon, which I would have been flipping out about had it dropped for me, can be equipped at level 4. You thought mobs were already discorporating blazingly fast? You haven’t seen anything yet. But wait… there’s more! If you call within the next 30 minutes Since magic items are not Bind on Equip, this clearly ridiculous weapon is something you will be able to use on all of your starting alts moving forward. If you run out of alts, you can simply resell it on the AH or give it to a friend or whatever.

All of this is somewhat Old News, of course. But here is the thing.

I feel a stirring in my gilded loins.

I bought the rare sword on the AH for 1000g. In contrast, the vendors will typically try and hawk a +2 Mace of Sucking for nearly twice that amount. Sometimes you can luck out and get some nice items from said vendors, Sullas’s “+HP on kill” rings being a notable example, and sometimes you will find good shit right off the ground. However, even if I concede that this rare weapon was underpriced or a lucky find, my concern is that I am no longer dependent on RNG monster drops. And that puts me right back into Torchlight territory wherein I went 20+ hours without upgrading my weapon. Without the food pellet, or one worth munching on, I have little interest in continuing pressing the lever.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed having the AH because I enjoy doing AH things in any game. But I can also clearly see a possible future in which the AH amounts to “cheat codes” that bypasses all the fun limitations of the game proper. And, unfortunately, I do not possess the personality that is capable of handicapping myself when a more efficient strategy is discovered. If I can get all my upgrades from the AH, I will get them all from the AH. Perhaps it won’t matter in the aggregate as long as I am experiencing some kind of gear progression (which Torchlight lacked). I dunno.

So… we will see how this shakes out on the 15th and the weeks following.

¹ Of course, the “baby WoW” criticism is still both applicable and concerning.

Rethinking Diablo’s Day 1 Purchase

[Edit: Impressions below were highly colored by my incorrect assumptions about D3’s talent system. See comments or my follow-up post for more info.]

Looking back, I am not sure exactly what I expected when it came to the Diablo 3 beta.

All I know is that this wasn’t it.

Am I blinking through tears of nostalgia, or is shit really this blurry?

Let me give a quick preface here. Over the course of this weekend, I defeated the Skeleton King (e.g. beat the beta) as a Witch Doctor, Monk, Wizard (co-op), and Barbarian; I only got the Demon Hunter to level 7 before I could not stomach it (both the class and beta) any more. I have played both the original Diablo and Diablo 2 several times, racking up probably around 300+ hours in the latter. I have played and beaten Torchlight, even though I hated its loot system with a passion. Basically, I enjoy hack-n-slash action RPGs as much as the next person.

I was completely underwhelmed by the Diablo 3 beta.

It is difficult for me to enunciate precisely why. Was I expecting too much? Do rose-colored glasses only work in one direction? Have I “grown out” of this particular sub-genre? It is tough to say. Although these specific issues did jump out at me in the ~10 hours of beta gameplay:

Issue 1: Pointless Weapons

After you hit level 2, the type of weapon you choose to equip is 100% irrelevant (with the very glaring exception of Demon Hunters). And I do not mean in a “daggers strike faster than swords but both amount to similar DPS” sort of way. I mean that in a “you will never attack with your weapon again” sort of way.

My Witch Doctor started with a dagger, got a mace, and then a bow, but my left-click was always a blow dart and my right-click an AoE snare. There is never even an option to attack with the pointy or blunt object you are going to be very visually carrying around for the next hundred hours. If the weapon has a higher DPS, you equip it, no questions asked.

You could replace your generic attack button in Diablo 2 with a spell, of course. The trivializing of weapons in Diablo 3 though, is a sign of a deeper, systemic design shift. It reduces the weapon slot to just another generic item slot – reduction to a “stat stick” – and homogenizes all weapon drops into simply “can equip” and “can’t equip” categories. Should I dual-wield or carry around a 2H sword? It is an utterly meaningless distinction in Diablo 3; if weapon speed does impact ability use in some way, perhaps making it hit faster, it does so in a completely oblique fashion.

For me, this also led to a visual dissonance that I was not quite able to shake. Seeing a Barbarian Cleave with a dagger simply looks dumb. Likewise for a monk running around with two glowing swords infused with holy power… that teleport to her back/hips each time an ability fires. And when I see a Wizard running around with a completely non-magical 2H broadsword simply because it somehow makes Magic Missile hit harder than a magic wand…

Oh. Carry on, then.

…nevermind, that looks pretty badass, actually.

Issue 2: “Talents”

I take back every nice thing I said about Diablo 3’s talent system.

In my defense, the last word I had heard was that unlocked abilities were going to go into a “pool,” from which you could select any combination to fit in your available slots. That sounded amazing, nuanced, hitting all the right customization buttons without falling into any design traps. What we got instead is the goddamn Fischer-Price of talent systems, which somehow manages to suck all the fun out of selecting abilities and laughs, laughs, at those wanting to plan ahead.

Essentially, you have six buttons: 1-4 and left/right-click. Your left-click is always going to be one of a handful of abilities. Now, there is “customization” in selecting Runes, which are like the sprinkles that go on your vanilla ice cream cone: they either straight-up buff the given ability or change its nature in subtle or overt ways. But as I was unlocking these abilities and Runes, I always stopped, switched to the new skill for a few mobs, and made a determination of which one I liked better. And then I ceased ever caring about the choice.

To be clear, I don’t like talent trees either. Maybe if I had access to more abilities and Runes the choices would feel more meaningful. Maybe if I encountered more varied enemies/encounters it would cause me to rethink my ability load-outs. But then again… this is a Diablo game. The life expectancy of any individual mob is 0.2 seconds, so in a very real way which ability you are spam-clicking is completely irrelevant.

I dunno, it simply feels weird to look at a class like the Witch Doctor and think, “I’m never going to use Corpse Spiders as my left-click ability,” and then realize six ability unlocks are totally useless for you. I am (probably) always going to pick Zombie Dogs as my Defensive Ability, which similarly collapses 15 squares on that “600+ points of customization!” matrix.

Issue 3: “Baby WoW”

As I was playing co-op with an ex-WoW friend, he uttered “baby WoW” as the description of what these sort of games made him feel like he was playing. And you know what? I’m starting to feel the same. That is kind of the whole schtick of hack-n-slash, of course, the mowing down of corridors of mobs while you mop up the loot debris field in the wake of your passing. It is also tough to criticize spam-clicking in a world of rote ability rotations and the common “strategy” you develop for the execution of the average MMO mob.

At the same time, while I was going through Diablo 3 I could not help but feel somewhat patronized. This Skinner Box lever is completely unadorned. Of course, if you prefer yours fast and loose, then get ready to go to town; I may just turn in for the night instead, if its all the same to you.

Ultimately though, I did have some level of fun with the beta. Co-op was pretty slick with there being zero interruption when people slide in and slide out. Classes like the Monk and Wizard were genuinely fun to play. While I thought the graphics were completely underwhelming (to the point of being ass-ugly) in the first zone, the actual dungeon looked remarkably better. The physics in the game were amusing enough to keep the illusion of dynamic battles for the most part.

Bust out those 3D glasses.

The answer to the $64,000 $60 question though – is Diablo 3 still a Day 1 purchase? – is a lot more fuzzy than it was before this weekend. If I did not personally know a few people who are still getting this Day 1, people I would like to play co-op with eventually, I’d be inclined to wait a few months for the first price drop. I suppose I still have three weeks or so to mull it over.

Chances are I’m going to need all three of those weeks to decide.

Diablo 3 Open Beta

Oh snap.

We’re pleased to announce the Diablo III open beta weekend, which offers open access to all players with a valid account! Beginning this Friday everyone is invited to log in and help us put the game and servers through their paces in this three day stress test as we march toward the game’s release on May 15. You can begin downloading the Diablo III client right now!

From Friday, April 20 at 12:01 p.m. PDT (noon), until Monday, April 23 at 10:00 a.m. PDT you’ll be able to log in, team up with friends, and play each of the five heroic classes to level 13 as you fight to save the world from the impending demonic invasion.

It sort of further cements the notion that betas are marketing demos rather than for catching bugs, but that has always felt like a distinction without a difference to me anyway. What company actually relies on untrained, untested volunteers to submit bug reports? It seems to me that if betas were actually for bug testing, some resumes and portfolios would have changed hands rather than simply signing up on the forums and downloading the client.

Regardless, time to take advantage of this opportunity to test drive a Day 1 purchase before having to slap pre-purchase pre-order pre-pay pre-collect-interest-for-months-on-my-cash money down on a “limited edition” infinite digital good.

Post-Interview, and Diablo 3

The interview went… more or less okay.

For the curious, my interview in Chicago was for the JET Program; basically applying to teach English in Japan for a year (or more). I spent a semester in Japan during college, I want to go back, and we will all have to wait to see how it shakes out because results aren’t announced until April. If selected, I’d be in Japan by August. If not, it will be business as usual. In fact, considering this blog (and commenting on other blogs) is my only outlet for gaming discussion, it’d be business as usual anyway.

…okay, maybe business as usual. Let’s jump off that bridge when we come to it.

In other news, in catching up on Diablo 3 blue posts, I wanted to highlight two things:

In the near future, we’ll be implementing several changes to the posting limits and fees related to the beta version of the Diablo III auction house. Here’s a quick summary of what’s in store:

  • Listing fee is being removed.
  • Transaction fee is being increased to 1.25 Beta Bucks.
  • Minimum listing price is being raised to 1.50 Beta Bucks.
  • You will be limited to 10 active auctions per auction house.

With the removal of the listing fee, players will no longer need to worry about whether they’re going to run out of free listings for the week. In addition, introducing a limit on the number of active auctions means players won’t feel as though they should be trying to sell everything they find, potentially flooding the auction house with unwanted items. Under this new system, players will only pay an auction house fee if and when an item actually sells. This has the main advantage of allowing players to try to sell their items risk-free. In addition, because the transaction fee is already baked into the price when an item is listed (as part of the minimum listing price), it’s no longer possible to be in a situation where you don’t have enough Balance to list an item, forcing you to have to charge up your Balance just to attempt a sale. We think this will be a much cleaner process for selling items and will ultimately lead to a better experience when using the currency-based auction house. (source)

What I am finding curious is A) such fairly radical RMAH changes are being iterated on so late in development, and B) how there is now an effective floor price of (presumably) $1.50 for any given item, and C) holy shit, an 83% Blizzard cut of the profits on said floor prices. Even if you sell things at $5 or $10 a pop, that’s still 25% and 12.5% respectively.

I am beginning to wonder if these margins won’t start creating a space for the gray markets to move in – if you broker a “10 items for $10” outside the game, the customer saves $5 and the seller gets $7.50 more than they would have. Perhaps Blizzard doesn’t feel like people would bother with small sales? Easy typically trumps cheap, so who knows.

The other bit was this… unfortunate analogy by Cashiok Bashiok:

On a more serious note, I too worry that we won’t be able to meet the expectations people have built up for themselves. Part of my job is managing people’s expectations, so… eh… stop it. Stop thinking about how awesome this game could be. Just imagine it’s a new M. Night Shyamalan movie. Sure Sixth Sense was amazing and Unbreakable had it’s moments, but this right here is the sequel to The Village … or The Happening … or Signs … or any of the movies besides the two I first mentioned. So just like, lower those expectations, but still definitely buy the game please, and everything will be just fine. K? (source)

Now, there is certainly a tongue-in-cheek context to the quote and the thread it was responding to. Is Blizzard seriously trying to lower expectations as they scramble with radical 11th hour changes? I guess we will know for sure when it releases.

What is unfortunate is that I use Sixth Sense as a go-to example of why developer/director/artist worship is a bad idea. You see, Sixth Sense was a brilliant, brilliant film. It was also, based on the movies that proceeded it, a complete fluke. There simply is no reason to believe that a beloved whatever will continue creating quality content. I read bloggers casually throwing out “We will have to wait on Titan to move the genre forward” and arch an eyebrow. What makes you think Blizzard even knows why WoW was so popular? There isn’t some secret formula for quality gaming, and even if there were, what worked in 2004 doesn’t work the same in 2012.

Just ask Nintendo and the company that sold me Chess on my flip-phone for $5.99 how mobile gaming is treating them these days. Oh how things change.