Masses Have Opinions

By the time this post goes live, I’d expect the actual value to change – but Anthem is sitting in the low 60s right now.

Some blogs have their thoughts as well.

I did play the beta.  I found it interesting mechanically and wondering if there was an actual game present.  It was not a demo, regardless of how it was sold.  Demos are smooth.  What those two weekends presented was a game with significant bugs.  The day 1 (how is it day 1 when it’s been out for 7 days?) patch addresses a ton of those issues, but somehow managed to create others.

I have a noted dislike for early access games.  It is a very rare game that actually delivers on that promise (Slay the Spire, Grim Dawn come to mind), while others stay in garbage mode for years.  I really dislike that when we’re talking about global publishers with massive pockets.

The short of it is that Anthem just isn’t finished.  It’s an idea that’s still being incubated, and EA wants your money to help fund that effort.  How you feel about that is entirely up to you.  It’s a market trend, entirely supported by revenue.  BlackOps4 is an example of simple greed, selling a full box price, then gradually selling every possible F2P MTX possible.  I wouldn’t so much put Anthem in the MTX spot… but man does this look fishy.

Is the game fun?  When it worked for me it certainly was.  Despite it’s best efforts to put in loading screens everywhere, to slow down the fun parts with a non-interactive movie, to have more technical issues than I could possibly list.   All of that still doesn’t change the fact that combat is simply fun.

And I think that’s where things get interesting.  Destiny 1 was a really bad launch, Destiny 2 had a rough go as well.  Division 1 was garbage until nearly a year after launch.  Warframe today looks nothing like when it launched.  In the “shared world shooters at launch”, Anthem is well above the pack.  The problem is that Anthem is not competing against those games from back then – it’s competing against their current versions. Just like every themepark MMORPG fought against the current version of WoW.

While I’d certainly recommend that people not buy the game at this time, if you really need to, then the $20 monthly fee (at least for PC) is probably your best bet.  Following other games that release in this state, with this score… we’re going to see a sale within the month.  Getting this for $30, yeah, that could work.  Getting this at $60, better off waiting a couple months for the game to find its footing.  There’s a pile of potential here, here’s hoping BioWare can deliver on it before EA starts cutting away.

Gaming Laptop Redux

When I was a kid, I really dug into every PC spec I could.  I spent hours building the darn things, and from x486 until about 5 years ago, I would help other people build theirs.  It was ridiculous the amount of info required to make that work, especially in the pre-internet days.  But then again, most people had a sound card and not a video card – and here we are with the ability to link multiple cards together, and have a hard drive the size of a business card.

 

Technically, the foundations of PC builds are relatively the same.  It’s the extra flavor bits that make it interesting.  The video above is both fascinating (200fps is bonkers), and worrying in that the amount of POST/OC config options take an engineering degree.  (Side note, the RTX2080ti used in the video goes for about $1200US.  There are 2 in this box.)

I’ve mentioned the debate on PC vs laptop a few times now.  Laptop just seems the most practical way forward for my particular situation.

Honestly, 95% of this drive is because of the technical issues with Anthem.  Sure my rig isn’t brand new, but it was top of the line 3 years ago.  I’ve played most anything on ultra/high without problem.  Yet Anthem makes CPU/GPUs melt, leverages Denuvo (I think) which makes HDD melt, and pretty much makes any non PC-enthusiast rig look like garbage.  Let’s just say that the bar to entry to enjoy Anthem is at the highest I have ever seen.  Day 1 patch is trying to lower that bar, otherwise I don’t see how consoles could ever make this work.  Reddit seems to think that the patch did address this.  Maybe not perfect, but the 90s load times from the beta seem closer to 30s.

Anyways, back to specs.  As much as there are advances in the desktop space (PCIe NVMe bridges!) laptops are not that far ahead.  The good news is that it’s a simpler affair, with only a few places where it will muck up.  Let’s go over the basics.

CPU – i7 Gen 8 – 8750H

There’s very little reason to go i9 on a laptop, as you’re going to end up with a tank of a machine, for minimal value.

RAM – 16GB, DDR4

Most games will take 8GB, so having double and room to expand again is important.

Storage – 256GB SSD boot, 512GB+ NVMe M.2 PCIe

This is really interesting!  SSD for boot, I think it a given.  Sizes are all over the place, and experience says 128GB is going going to be running near 80% capacity.  Active drive is more fun.  Traditionally laptops come with a 7200rpm HDD as the 2nd drive, and maybe a 2nd drive for NVMe.  The important part here is to note that not all M.2 drives are the same – there are SATA and PCIe variants, with the latter being much faster.  GEEK ALERT – SATA3 = 0.5GB/s, while PCIe = up to 15GB/s.

GPU – GTX 1070

While RTX are available, the gains are minimal and only 1-2 games actually support ray-tracing.  The question then becomes which one in the GTX10 field.  1050s are too old.  1060s will give 1080p, which in practical terms is going to give you ~60FPS.  1070s will not reach 4K, but they will get you to the 120FPS mark.  1080s are 4K ready and real beasts.  Also cost an arm and a leg, and can cook an egg.  There are sub variants of GPUs as well here, like a MaxQ.  Just don’t.

Display- 17″ with 120Hz refresh rate

17″ screens are found in really small form factors.  They also allow for a larger battery.  15″ I find I am squinting for details.  The refresh rate is tied to the FPS.  Well, not technically but they are close enough that you can map.  60fps = 60Hz.  If you can get more than 60fps, then get a better display.  Unless you are loaded with money, a 4K laptop is out of the picture.

Networking –  Killer

Not much debate to be had here.

Ports – 2x USB 3 + USB-C/Thunderbolt

Need at least 1 port for a cooling pad (with fans) that also acts as a USB hub. Maybe could get by without.  1 port for the mouse.  You need powered USB ports!  Rest usually works itself out.  The USB-C/Thunderbolt port is gravy – massive transfer speeds and is the best way to get a docking station / external monitor to work.  This is the hardest bit to find in a laptop, you need to know the exact model you’re looking for.

Ergo/Placement/Battery – Personal

I want a trackpad on the bottom.  17″ laptops should come with a numpad.  Speakers should be on the top of the keyboard tray.  Cooling is out the back/bottom.  Thin is ok, but a “standard” size is fine too.  I’m done with the giant 10lbs bricks.  Battery life should be at least 4 hours for non-gaming.

Summary

I’ll be honest, it took nearly a month to get that shopping list complete, with daily research bits.  Finding the exact machine that has all these parts in it… I won’t lie, that is a friggin’ challenge.  Right now it looks like a GE73 Raider.  Maybe a STRIX/Zephyrus.  The Alienware boxes are just too expensive.

Time to set a product watch and wait for a decent deal

Anthem from the Outside

Anthem early release (PC only, $5 for 10 hours, $20 for unlimited per month) was last Friday, so that gives us 4 solid days (Monday was a holiday for a lot of people in NA).  Where are we?

Day 1 patch notes for starters.  Or maybe the patch highlights, since sprinting in Tarsis isn’t listed.  Some pretty important things there – in particular the items under “high level fixes” that deal with simply accessing the game.

I know in the demo my load times were absurd – 2 to 3 minutes in some spots.  Not to mention the sheer amount of loading screens.  Seems the case now too, with the general recommendation to move to SSD.  Which, you know, cool for desktops that have them.  Less so for laptops.  Not sure how that would impact console players, so I guess we’ll see how that works out after Day 1.

There are various youtubers providing their “reviews” or “impressions” of an online game that’s technically still in beta.  Plenty of blog posts.  Gaming sites have early impressions as well.  I don’t quite understand how people can comment on “end game variety” by this point, but I guess they need the clicks.  If you’re curious about the game, I’d avoid browsing Reddit – that’s for sure.

Fair to assume that those playing the game right now are the same people who were more than looking forward to the game.  Passionate I would say.  Not the streamers, I mean the players.  The next wave coming, those in the “it looks interesting” camp, that will be the real test.

Related to this are the (insanely?) dedicated players who are already at level 30 and in full legendary/masterwork gear.  Quite a few used the a “loot cave” for easy farming, and it would seem that Strongholds (dungeons) are giving great rewards just from the chests (without killing the boss).  I know the latter example existed in the 2 demos, since bosses don’t visibly drop loot and account for ~30% of the total dungeon duration.  Curious as to how all this fits into BW’s player models for content consumption.  I mean they certainly expected a portion of players to go for gold, but where do they need to find the balance?

In some previous posts on the demo, I had a couple things that I thought needed addressing.  Sure, a lot of QoL things, in particular flight/swimming controls, load screens, and the UI.  It would seem a lot of those items are being looked at on the 22nd.

I’m sure I will have a few thoughts on Monday after having a decent sit down.  For now it will be just taking in the scenery.  Fingers crossed.

Russian Doll

The setup for this Netflix series is pretty simple.  Nadia keeps dying at various points, then restarting from her most recent birthday party.  The Groundhod Day mechanic has been used mainly in sci-fi (ARQ was solid) but here we have more of a black comedy.  Well, given Natasha Lyonne’s past issues, perhaps this is more of a twisted biography.

Nadia is not a sympathetic character in the hero sense.  She’s a messed up addict, with some pretty freaky friends, and generally wants to be left alone.  She has a mouth that makes sailors blush.  She’s not even an anti-hero, since her drives are nearly entirely self-preservation.  But, and this part is what makes the series, she’s human and makes reasonable decisions.  I mentioned this in the previous post about Dragon Prince season 2, how there was no growth, and only the plot made the story move.  That is not the case here. Really solid.

natasha-lyonne-russian-doll-netflix

This picture starts every new life

Nadia certainly has a loner persona, and that this only effects her makes it all the more odd.  What’s really interesting is that if you pay attention, you start noticing details.  Those details become much more explicit as the story progresses.  More than that, and it’s spoiler territory.  Let’s just say that as much as it’s binge-worthy, you still need to pay attention.

I’d be remiss to not talk about the soundtrack.  It’s a crazy eclectic mix of genres – Beethoven, Cults, John Maus – add just the right amount of mood to the scenes.

Interesting side note is that Amy Poehler is involved as a series co-creator.  You can see the influences in the absurdist in-your-face dry humor.  Natasha Lyonne’s sarcastic wit is in every scene, and her drive to explore every relationship, multiple times, is refreshing.  Greta Lee in particular…she’s the Ned Ryerson and her delivery of the same line, multiple times, doesn’t ever seen to get under the skin.

There are plenty of things to watch on Netflix, most of them mediocre.  It’s nice to be able to find something that really does a great job all around.  Solid recommendation.  Just not with the kids.

Dragon Prince – Season 2

I rather liked the first season.  The second season was supposed to get into the lore a bit more.  It sort of did that, but I find it lost track of pretty much everything else because of it.

When season 1 ended, the egg had hatched, the baby dragon king came about with an attachment to Ezran, Callum lost the ability to cast magic, Rayla gained her arm back, Viren killed the king and sent his daughter & son to capture the princes.  That was a solid set up.

When season 2 ends we still have a baby dragon, Callum regained the ability to cast magic, you learn a bit about the queen, Viren goes off the deep end because people see through his lies… and that’s it.

I could write a long summary, but if the series is of any interest all you need to do is watch episode 9.  Absolutely nothing that happens before that provides any payoff or value.  In particular the Claudia/Soren combo who make decisions based entirely on the plot rather than like actual people.  It’s mind boggling to have a series with zero consequences.  In fact, when there are consequences, the plot somehow manages to find a way to erase them.  A mile away.

There are plenty of good series on Netflix.  This is not one of them.  DC Titans is pretty good.  Next up, Russian Doll.

 

Games as a Service – People Power

With the recent release (and success) of Apex Legends, there’s a firm footing for “games as a service” as a monetary model.  In particular where that model is not based on buying vertical power (e.g. FIFA) but instead meant on selling horizontal flavor (e.g. cosmetics).  I should add that this model only applies if you’re dramatically exceeding expectations. If you still manage to break the previous year’s profits, yet below expectations, expect people to get fired.

I would say this is the flavor of the month, but it’s really hard to argue the sheer market penetration these games are now seeing.  UO was a “huge success”, followed by EQ, then completely dwarfed by WoW.  We went nearly 10 years trying to find a WoW killer (which, as expected, ended up being WoW itself).  Fortnite makes more money in a day than WoW makes in a month (purely on subs – the game services are a whole other bag).

But similar to MMORPGs, today’s games are all competing for the same eyeballs.   And there’s only so much time in a day to be spent, and people follow the shiny.  Fortnite is on season 7 – after 1 year.  WoW in contrast is entering season 2 since the launch of BfA in August.  If there isn’t new content, new material, then sales go away and people get saturated with what’s present, moving to the next thing.

From all that I can see, Apex Legends isn’t bringing new gamers to the table, simply pulling folks from Fortnite/PUBG, and the curious few wondering what all the hubbub is about.  What this means is that it’s pulling money from a limited pool.  This is a problem if a company is directly competing against itself – but these 3 games are from different groups.  Mind you, it will take a month or two for them all to get a similar ping system.

Which brings me to Anthem.  While in terms of direct competition it’s closely linked to Warframe, Destiny 2, and Division 2.  (Quick side bar – the demo for Division 2 is getting nothing but positive press.  It would appear they learned a ton of lessons and are applying them.  Too bad Bungie didn’t do that with Destiny 2.)  If we look at “games as a service” competition then Anthem is competing with the big ones (in relative size):

  • Fortnite
  • PUBG
  • BLOPS4
  • Apex Legends
  • Rainbow 6 Siege
  • Overwatch
  • Destiny 2
  • Warframe
  • For Honor
  • Sea of Thieves
  • Monster Hunter World

Many of which have little to no barrier of entry.  Warframe and MHW are quite insane in terms of what they give for “free”.  Twitch streams are not the only metrics, but damn.

Again, this isn’t to say that Anthem won’t have success, but tempered with reality here.  It’s not like there are 6m people sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting to play only this game.  And if they do manage to get 6m eyeballs on this in the first quarter, what kind of insane release schedule is needed to keep those eyeballs?  We’re in perfect storm territory here.

And then what happens for the “next big thing”?  You have to believe that all the big companies are licking their lips looking at the insane income from this model.  But this isn’t luck, this is a huge level of effort.  There were dozens of MOBAs, only 3 left.  There are Battle Royale modes everywhere, but only 3 that really count today.  WoW’s only true competition has been FF14 – and it needed a complete rebuild to do so.

It’s really something to watch all this develop, and in such a small timeframe.  Practically impossible to keep up with the news, let alone the developers trying to play guessing game on what will or will not work.  I don’t see how this is sustainable in a glut of online games.

Fingers crossed that BioWare has the magic sauce.

Dark Clouds at Acti-Blizz

If rumors are true, then today/tomorrow will see some significant cuts at Activision-Blizzard.

The consumer in me is happy that the company is taking a hit.  That is market capitalism at work, where the consumer demand determines the health of a large company.

The human in me is upset that people are going to lose their jobs through no fault of their own.  In larger companies, the cuts are rarely in the correct places (decision makers) and instead point to the lowest level possible.  Well, perhaps a bit less in this case, since both CFOs were fired.  Bobby Kotick is still going to get his $30m+ this year, rather than taking a pay cut.  There are some good people who are going to lose their job, and I hope that they land on their feet quickly.

The gamer in me is mixed.  On one hand, this doesn’t mean that Acti-Blizz is going to actually start making games with gamers in mind – in fact I would argue the opposite.  The whole Destiny 2 roadmap since launch is textbook “how not to make a sequel”.  BfA isn’t doing too hot either – but at least you can buy a literal flying pig.

We’ve lost the battle on MTX.  Outrage for horse armor has been replaced with joy on the Carleton dance.  Most people are ok with cosmetics in the store, it’s simply the price point that is debate point.  I do not believe we’ve lost the battle on lootboxes, rather that this battle is just getting started.  Specifically on the lootboxes that are pure RNG on rewards.  With both Fortnite, PUBG, and now Apex Legends hitting like a meteor in the market, it will be very interesting to see what games currently in the dev pipe end up delivering.

Maybe this will be a wake up call to the industry in general that they need to find a different path.  That the sheer glut of gaming options means people can spend their time/money on quality rather than quantity.  Counting on the horde of locusts to buy a reskin of last year’s game… pretty sure that model is going the way of the dodo.

Best of luck to those impacted by the layoffs.