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Humble Destiny

The latest Humble Monthly bundle has Destiny 2 as an early unlock. I’ve been subscribing month-to-month for a while now, and this was a no-brainer month to pay early.

Destiny-2_Farm

Graphics = good

Destiny 2 is the much maligned sequel to a game that should have been ported over to the PC the first time around. I am well aware that the endgame sucks, and that the (short?) campaign really just serves as a vehicle for expensive, disappointing DLC. Oh, and they actually removed content from the base game when the first DLC came out. Classic Activision Blizzard. Still, $12 is $12, and I wanted to see this train-wreck for myself.

You know, as a member of the Press©.

First impressions? It is a staggeringly beautiful game. Skyboxes are skyboxes, but D2’s are great. The gunplay thus far as been as good as they say as well.

Destiny-2_Titan

Actual jumping requirements? Interesting…

Once out of the immediate tutorial area, I found the sort of free-roam mechanics rather interesting. The first mission had a recommend gearscore Power level of 30, and I only had 20 at the time, so I stuck around and randomly killed enemies with other strangers until enough loot dropped to take me over the finish line. There were periodic public events, so things didn’t take too long, but it was interesting seeing this sort of MMO-ish Public Quest mechanic in a FPS. I’m sure things get significantly less interesting once you’re no longer getting upgrades, but until then… wheee!

Regardless, I am still super early in the experience – or maybe not… heard the story is like 5-6 hours? – having just unlocked the free-roam areas on Titan. Not sure that I like the rock-paper-scissor style of weapons though. Yeah, it’s fine have energy weapons be better at breaking shields than kinetic weapons. But having energy weapons deal less damage to normal mobs than basically any kinetic weapon? That means I basically only have the one weapon to use 90% of the time. Also disappointed that fun stuff like shotguns are limited to the “power weapon” slot that competes with grenade launchers and such.

Whatever.

I’m basically treating this like a non-cel-shaded Borderlands, so I’ll enjoy the ride until I don’t.

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Destiny, Bioshock Infinite, and FF6 on phones

Random news mishmash!

Bioshock Infinite

Ken Levine had an AMA on Reddit on Tuesday, in which he took some incredibly soft, er, softball questions about Bioshock Infinite and its upcoming DLC. I am not sure what exactly I expected – perhaps an apology? – but I left pretty disappointed. Actually, I sorta found myself feeling angry every time I read someone proclaiming that Infinite was their “favorite game ever.” I keep thinking: “No it’s not. The game taking place in your head bears no resemblance whatsoever to the actual game you are playing.” Yes, there is an ontological difference.

I generally have no problem with people having different favorite games than me. If you liked Zelda: Wind Waker more than anything else in the world, good for you. And, hey, now you can buy the High Definition cel-shading version with 300% more bloom! And with basically all the extremely annoying shit you had to do back in 2003 tossed right out: your sailboat can go 50% faster, you don’t have to bother with changing the wind while sailing (pretty sad how exciting that sounds in a game called Wind Waker), and there is significantly less trolling the ocean floor for maps that lead you to pieces of the pieces of the Tri-Force, i.e. what you do for 60% of the game.

See? No judgment here.

I suppose I should be more accommodating for peoples’ favorite games, given how my top-list basically came out in 1997-1998. But, seriously, if Bioshock Infinite registered anywhere higher than Top 50 for you, I’m going to need you to play some other games because damn. It looked pretty and the soundtrack was awesome, but the gunplay and story… you know, it’s not worth it anymore. I’ve said my piece.

Let’s just smother that baby and pretend these paragraphs didn’t happen. ¹

Destiny

Remember that not-Halo game Bungie was making? Me neither. Kotaku posted an article/video yesterday about how Bungie was coining the term “shared world shooter” for Destiny, and basically contrasting that with more traditional MMO player experiences. Which is actually a sort of interesting game design/philosophy argument when you think about it.

As the video points out, a game like Destiny or GTA: Online simply couldn’t work with 100s of players dicking around and causing mass mayhem. It got me thinking about how MMOs themselves manage to pull it off, and I realized that our extremely limited interaction capability is probably due to precisely this problem. The more people you put in one place, the less they are able to change or influence the environment, lest you spend your gaming hours traversing barren craters everywhere.

This is not a new subject by any means; I posted something similar way back in 2011 and the concept of TTP goes even further back (if not to cave paintings). The angle I had not considered was how ridiculous (and abusive) something like WoW would be if you could impact other players to degree you can in GTA: Online. Mount-jacking, being pushed off cliffs via collision-detection, and so on. Some sandboxes advertise these as features, of course, but I’m starting to wonder which one comes first. Like maybe you have to rely on player-driven content simply because players would just create a constant shitstorm in any sort of PvE content if they had to ability to directly grief interact with others.

Getting back to Destiny… well, I’d rather not. Once I realized that they are basically making a non-cel-shaded Borderlands, my interest level plummeted. Just watch that E3 video again. Dungeons? Check. Bosses? Check. Random loot drops? Check. Raids? Check. It can still be fun, no doubt, and maybe they will be able to do some things better than Borderlands did. But the game is “Bungie’s Borderlands” to me now, and I am very much burned out from Borderlands 2 right now.

FF6 Coming to iOS/Android

I don’t have much to add to what’s already out there. Well, other than how I think it’s amusing how much these old properties are being mined for residual income in an environment that (I assume) is dominated by ROMs. Actually, it’s probably pretty smart in that even a relatively tech-savvy person like me balks a little bit at the steps necessary to play SNES games on my phone. Hell, I’m not even sure I want to play these games on my phone in the first place; my commute is a short drive and my breaks/lunches get filled pretty quickly via Feedly and Reddit all on their own. And even if I did want to play these games, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to play them using a SNES controller overlay on the touch-screen.

Although I have perked up a few times hearing that I could play Xenogears on the PSP and Vita, I just can’t envision a scenario in which I would be playing it and not be near either my computer or television. If I’m not playing ROMs on the computer right now, why would I be doing so on a handheld? Help me out here, people: when would you be playing these classics on portable devices?

Plus, you know, Sony is still selling 32gb memory sticks for $72 like it’s goddamn 2005.

¹ That’s a Bioshock Infinite joke. If you don’t get it, be thankful.

Closer Look: Blizzard’s Q4 2011

When we last left our intrepid heroes in Q3 2011, WoW had lost 800,000 subscriptions and the following four salient points were made in the earnings call:

  • Majority of the sub loss is occurring in the East.
  • Implicitly, the difficulty of Cataclysm content was the cause of sub losses.
  • Expect some (more) “aggressive” World of Warcraft marketing.
  • Patches are more about recapturing the recently churned.

I suppose the holiday box sale and Annual Pass count as aggressive marketing, but let me not get ahead of myself. If you want to read along from home, Seeking Alpha will hook you up.

1. Is Bungie not working on Titan?

Eric Hirshberg from Activision Publishing buried this gem 25 paragraphs into vapid gushing of COD and Skylanders:

Looking further out, we continue to lay the foundation for our new universe from Bungie, one of the world’s best developers. Bungie continues to make incredible progress on what we expect to be a genre-defining new IP that will provide us with tremendous new opportunities and which remains one of our key strategic growth pillars for the future.

This may or may not seem a non sequitur, but I have always entertained the notion that the Bungie acquisition might have had something to do with Blizzard’s Titan development. Why?

Let’s look at the entrails. First, both Joe Staten and Rob Pardo have been playing it coy as recently as 2 years ago about Bungie working with Blizzard. But we also know that Bungie’s secret project “Destiny,” is slated as a sci-fi MMOFPS that is, quote, “WoW in space.” If you have a tinfoil hat handy, things can get even more bizarre when you consider that Ensemble Studios was working on a Halo MMO to directly compete with Blizzard… that was code-named Titan. And when Ensemble Studios was disbanded, several ex-members joined Blizzard. And now Bungie is here with a 10-year contract, making a brand new MMOFPS IP to be a “strategic growth pillar” for Activision Blizzard at the same time Blizzard is making a “casual” new-IP MMO that isn’t supposed to compete with WoW… that is code-named Titan.

Technically a lot of this is old news, and the earnings call did not reveal anything new either way. But in reading that paragraph under the Activision Publisher heading, it occurs to me that it is entirely possible that we could see two new, separate MMO properties out of Activision Blizzard even with WoW still sucking most of the oxygen out of the MMO room. In some respects, that outcome is crazier than Titan turning out to be a Blizzard-Bungie joint MMO.

2. Around 1 million Annual Passes sold… in the West.

Another initiative that has been very successful is the World of Warcraft Annual Pass. This program was announced at BlizzCon this past year. Under its terms, players who commit to being a World of Warcraft subscriber for 1 year will get a free copy of Diablo III, unique digital items in World of Warcraft, and other benefits. To date, we have signed up more than 1 million players in the West for the World of Warcraft Annual Pass.

The more I think about that number, the crazier it ends up being. While the Annual Pass appears to be non-binding (your access to D3 will simply go away), can you otherwise imagine another MMO who can count on 1,000,000 Western subscription accounts being locked in for 12 months? That would make SWTOR automatically profitable for an entire year.

3. Mists of Pandaria information out on March 19.

Some of you may have seen recent news about the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Last week, we began inviting global press to visit our office to get a hands-on look at the game. The press visit will take place next month, and our players will be able to read the latest news on the game on March 19. We’re looking forward to showcasing the game to our community and collecting more feedback as we prepare for the upcoming beta for Mists of Pandaria.

By the way, that means there is an automatic 1 million beta-testers for Mists, yeah?

4. Chuck Norris was super effective!

Neil A. Doshi – Citigroup Inc, Research Division

Mike, I was wondering if you could provide us a little more detail around the subs for World of Warcraft. What was the impact from some of your marketing efforts? And then how many subs did you add from Brazil? And if you have any comments on trend that you could share with us, that would be great.

Michael Morhaime

Okay. So we were very pleased with the results of the marketing initiatives in Q4. The Chuck Norris spot was very effective. We’ve got over 29 million views of the spot on YouTube. And I think, just looking at how well the subscribership held up during our most competitive quarter ever, we’re very happy with that. Engagement of the player base is very strong. We do not break down regional. We do not provide regional breakdown of subs, but we’re off to a good start in Brazil. And I don’t have any detail on churn.

Nothing to add to that.

As reported everywhere, WoW did implicitly lose another 100,000 subs in the quarter. There have been a lot of “See? Not dying!” posts over in the MMO-Champ and WoW Insider comments, but it’s worth pointing out that A) if someone unsubbed for SWTOR, then they won’t count as “missing” until January, e.g. Q1, and B) WoW launched in Brazil this quarter, as noted above. There are several more high-profile MMO launches coming this year, and let’s not forget that everyone is stuck with Dragon Soul until Mists actually launches… which could be six months from now, or more.

In any event, sub numbers really only matter to me in the context of having objective data by which we can interpret future design philosophy, and MMO player desires by extension. If Blizzard’s reaction to losing 1.8 million subs is to make the game easier, then we can assume that they believe a hard game is why people left.

It’s crude, it’s imperfect, but it is all we really have as armchair game designers.