FF14 Endwalker Early Access

I would love to exalt the neat and new things that FF14 has brought out in their most recent expansion. How the new zones flow, the MSQ is better, and the music somehow continues to improve. And then how much fun it is to play the Sage and Reaper.

I would, truly.

But there are 6,977 people in the queue ahead of me. And it drops by about 100 every 2 minutes. That’s around 2.5 hours in the queue. I’ve tried just letting it stand, but error 2002 abounds. I do not have the time (or frankly the patience) to just let a queue sit and eventually work itself out.

Network Architecture

I know enough about this field but not enough about how SquareEnix has designed their authentication to provide much insight. Given the consistent queue issues since the summer, it would be foolish to assume that they have not gone to great lengths to try to change their scaling and design. Given that they have mentioned supply chain issues would infer that cloud offloading would not be a full relief valve on this problem.

I would be quite surprised if this issue gets solved anytime soon, aside from people just stopping from playing. If anything, this is likely to get worse as there aren’t many other games vying for eyeballs (SWTOR does have an expansion mind you, and there’s certainly some overlap) and we’re about to hit the holiday break.

Was this foreseeable? No question. Was this preventable? There’s no way for anyone but the devs to answer that.

In the Meantime

Time to fill with other bits. I coached a hockey tourney this weekend, so there was 3 days completely absorbed.

I gave Outriders another pass yesterday. A few recent balancing patches were applied, and I figured I’d give it another run. At the time, I was running T12 (of 15) runs, making gold time. With the exact same loadout, T12 feels as hard as prior, and the rewards don’t appear to have been improved. I guess I’d need more time to get a better idea of what the changes actually are. And get into a decent spot for the upcoming DLC. Still consider it one of the better looter/shooters, what with the complete lack of PvP.

I also finally picked up Disco Elysium on sale. I’m an hour or so in. I like the format and the story, but have a general dislike for the controls. The game part isn’t too much fun, but the actually content certainly is. Probably be giving this burst over time.

I figure I’ve got a few weeks, if not until January until FF14 is sorted out. Should be ample time to clear out some other bits in my library.

Chrono Cross

My feeds of late are chocked full of speculation that SquareEnix is working on a remake of Chrono Cross, the sequel to Chrono Trigger. Chrono Trigger is an absolutely astounding gaming achievement, one of those markers where you can see games before, and games after. When Chrono Cross came out, it had some massive shoes to fill, and didn’t really hit it all the way out of the park. It is still highly regarded, no question!

First, the art style was a whole lot different, what with it being on Playstation. The relatively seamless battles of CT, where replaced with the more FF variant of an overworld, and a battle view. There was a whole lot of RNG here, compared to CT.

Not bad for 1999

Second, the battles themselves had a somewhat complicated mechanic of chaining elemental effects. So complicated in fact, that the true ending requires you to get 7 elemental attacks in order – including the enemy attacks. The leveling an skill system also added some complexity. I loved the strategic elements, way more than in CT.

Third, the story was no longer about time travelling but travel across 2 dimensions. You still had actions in one area that impacted another, but they were harder to detect and understand. There are 2 story quirks along the path as well that can be really hard to follow when they immediately show up. You really need to play the game twice to get the full picture – not something everyone is willing to do.

Fourth, there are 45 playable characters. That’s insane. And it will take at least 3 playthroughs to get them all. Each has a specific nuance to the story and will impact a future playthrough. It’s just wild when I write this out, that I actually collected all of those multiple times.

Fifth, there are 12 endings in Chrono Cross. 12! Only 2 you can get on the first playthrough. That feels like a giant hurdle.

I have tried to play Chrono Cross over the years; I still have the disks. Unfortunately, the scaling is wonky between the game and the menu, as the latter appears hard-coded. Which is honestly a shame, since the game really is quite good. Even in the emulation scene, CC is notoriously hard to configure.

The last bit here is if this is a remaster or a remake. From a resource perspective, I don’t see how they would have a team to remake the game, in secret, while also working on FF7. Nor that the sales would ever justify that investment, unless it was a pitch to get a new entry in the series (like with Mass Effect). Remaster seems the more reasonable approach, where the interface has a simple update, and we get the overlay boosts (faster combat/travel/etc…)

It’s no secret that SquareEnix is looking to recoup some money after recent financial hurdles. Pixel remasters of 1-6 abound. FF12 Zodiac Age made mint. Given the recent re-release of FF9, it’s certainly feasible to remaster Chrono Cross for today’s PC / Switch crowd. I’d certainly give it a go.

Sales-a-palooza

There are countries where by law they cannot mark an item on sale, unless said item was actually sold at the original price for a set period of time. The concept of MSRP (suggested price) is irrelevant. If the sale price lists 20% off, then the product had to have sold at that price prior.

We’re in the middle of Black Friday, which comes with “sales” everywhere. In the dark ages (pre-interwebs), you really weren’t able to tell if it actually was a sale or not. Today, sites like camelcamelcamel give easy reference to historical price point. So that 4K streaming stick at 50% off… well that’s the actual regular price. For most physical assets, you’re actually better off buying at a different time of year – perhaps of benefit if you’re trying to close off some holiday shopping. It’s a bit like COSTCO… if you need a lot of stuff now at a good price, great option. If you are looking for better price points, then a regular grocery store sale is a much better deal.

Virtual assets aren’t a whole lot different. Nearly all stores allow you to build wishlists, and they will let you know when there’s a sale on that item. Cyberpunk2077 is on sale, but it’s also on sale every month. Disco Elysium as well – $2 cheaper than 2 weeks ago. Epic Games, Steam, GMG, GOG are all having big sales, and my library of unplayed games is feeling a bit “meh”. If history repeats, the boxing day sales, in 1 month, will be an even lower set of prices.

Tangent – I still remember the joy of being a kid and unwrapping a game for my birthday or Christmas. I will forever remember unwrapping Hero’s Quest (Quest for Glory 1) at my grandparents. Today, I can still by a virtual game as a gift and delay delivery… well on some platforms at least.

Look at this awesome box art!

The slight exception to all this is the Nintendo e-shop. There are very rarely any 1st party sales… in fact most games are still selling for brand new prices. Breath of the Wild launched in March 2017 and still sells for full price. It doesn’t help that the e-shop itself was designed by drunk monkeys in 2011, and has the least useful interface since AOL. You still can’t buy a gift for anyone on the store. In a fun time travelling twist, your best bet for a Switch game is to rummage through a sales bin, or a used games rack. If you want to buy for yourself, there are “sales” in the concept that BotW is on sale for more than the base price of Cyberpunk2077.

If you’re looking to get a bunch of stuff in a short time window, Black Friday/Cyber Monday may scratch that itch. If you’re not bound by time, you’re better off just creating a watchlist and checking other sales. And obviously, if you don’t need it, the best sales price is when you don’t actually buy it.

Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons is an iconic Canadian establishment. A village turns into a town when it gets a Tim Hortons (and then a city when it gets a Canadian Tire). It’s been around since the 60s, and currently operates in 14 countries. Roll up the Rim was a matter of parliamentary debate in terms of odds of wining (it actually changed some of our laws).

From ’67 until ’90 it remained a rather small scale operation – Canada wide for sure, but really focused on coffee & donuts. In the mid-90s it merged with Wendy’s, which main benefit was figuring out how to get hot meals into the pipeline. It was not viewed as a positive by the Canadian public. Early ’00s, Timmy’s overtook McDonalds as the fast food location of choice in Canada, split off from Wendy’s and owned 76% of baked goods and 63% of the coffee market. That’s damn big.

In 2009 Cold Stone Creamery (ice cream) was put into 50 stores. That shut down in 2014. The coffee chain continued to grow, and in 2014 was merged with Burger King, or more accurately an international conglomerate of faceless capitalists. By 2018, its reputation had fallen to 67th in terms of Canada’s most reputable companies.

Now you’re asking, what the heck does this have to do with anything? Well, it’s related to yesterday’s post about nostalgia and the feeling of friendship with a company.

Timmy’s grew on a very simple concept. Decent coffee and baked goods, served quickly, at an affordable price, and early in the morning to boot. There were certainly donut shops prior to this, as well as diners, but the sheer brand appeal of a consistent experience was the seller. I mean, that’s why brands exist in the first place, right? There aren’t too many non-franchised donut shops around, right?

The fast-food boom of the 90s was not lost on them, and the partnership with Wendy’s allowed them to integrate processes to quickly get food to customers. When I say quickly, I don’t mean the 5 minute wait at a burger joint. I mean 90sec and you are served and out. This mattered most at the drive through, where people were used to ordering, showing up at the window with all the items prepared, and simply paying. The time it took to process payment was the time it took to get food prepared for the next person. The logistics in this are impressive… but for another topic.

This worked for a very long time, as the choices made on what food items to serve fit within the service standards – at least for a while. The ice cream integration is a really good example of poor planning. DQ gives you ice cream cones in 20 seconds, soft-serve. SCC uses a mixing palette to get you ice cream, a process that takes 2-3 minutes per order. While the novelty was interesting at the start, it eventually caused massive queues in the stores that prevented the “coffee and donuts” folks from getting what they wanted. It also cost a pile to keep things cold and clean (it’s much more space than keeping things warm).

This experimental phase of adding and removing complex menu items kept going. A sandwich seems like an easy thing to manage, but when you have options and substitutes, things get complicated. The workers are doing an amazing job, given the area to work in, but it’s nearly as much effort to make a Timmys sandwich as a Subway version. At low demand, this is manageable. When someone orders 4 different sandwiches in one go… things buckle.

Further, the need to increase franchises means that the quality of ingredients has to suffer. It’s a matter of scaling… there is only so much AAA product available on the market after all. If you mix with AA or A level products, it’s still comestible but will costs WAY less. Price points are important in quick serve food joints, so those businesses need to work on volume with smaller margins to make a profit. Starbucks can sell a $9 coffee, and 4x slower speed of Tim Hortons $2 version.

The value of Tim Hortons was based on food quality, speed of delivery, and price point. As the menu and franchises expanded, the quality of the food suffered. As more complex menus abound, the speed of delivery suffered. As other companies started to offer alternative options for coffee, the price point itself became a debate. As a result, the opinion today of Tim Hortons a lot lower than it once was, and sales are down. They still do great work in the community (TimBits hockey is a sort of ritual passage), but as a company, the type of loyalty they used to command has long since moved on. There are no boycotts here… simply that people have seen alternative options that meet their needs and shopped elsewhere.

Which begs the question, would Tim Hortons have taken a different path if they opted not to enter the food market? Time travel is the only way to answer that one.

What does merit discussion is how this particular thought process, of growth for the bottom line impacted the client’s perspective of the company. They have moved from the conceptual mom and pop family friendly location to a cleaner corporate image. That has distanced people’s attachment to the company, and once trust is lost, it’s incredibly hard to regain. That particular nuance is something that we are clearly seeing in the AAA game space… Will Tim’s take a different approach here, with a return to a more customer focused experience, or stay with the corporate objectives? Will we see that in the video game industry?

FOMO Before an Expansion

We’re 2 weeks or so from Endwalker releasing, and with any new release to an existing game, there are bits that are made redundant from that launch. In really great expansions, there’s a build on the prior material so that it remains relevant – in particular with single player games. XCOM 2, Witcher 3 and similar games are super examples of this model.

MMOs can be a bit different, especially those that focus on the destination rather than the journey. Themepark MMOs often suffer from this, where the content itself is only relevant for a window of time, primarily due to the power scale problem (the carrot is bigger numbers). When the content is predicated on start and end state (e.g. you have to be between this level and this level), then there comes a point where you either make it irrelevant OR you find a way to ‘hobble’ the player to keep it relevant.

There’s the approach of ‘mandatory’ content in order to access the new stuff. Maybe you need to complete a specific quest chain or achievement. Or maybe as a crafter you need to make the stuff from content A in order to be good enough for content B. There’s a legacy cost when something like that is implemented, where you have gates that extend the experience before the larger player mass. FF14 has like 200 hours of MSQ before you get to the ‘end game’ (which is somewhat of a misnomer). WoW used to force you to go through older content simply to have your levels increase. You hit a number and then left that area. WoW’s current leveling experience is irrelevant now. You can level anywhere, and the sole goal is to hit a magic level – so people all follow the most efficient route (WoD).

Today, if you had skipped the last 3 expansions in WoW, it wouldn’t matter. Heck, it wouldn’t matter if you never played at all, your experience would be near the same as an existing player re-rolling. It’s like 2 days of playing to get to max level, which negates 8 of 9 pieces of content (Vanilla to BfA). When’s the last time someone did Wailing Caverns? The flipside to this is that content becomes irrelevant means that it’s quite hard to actually complete it. If you wanted to see any raid in BfA, good luck getting a team organized for it. When the next expansion comes out, who in their right mind is going to even set foot in Torghast as group?

FF14 is different, in that the wide majority of content is mandatory. You are going to step foot in 80% of dungeons for sure, a few raids, a bunch of trials, and every zone. Whether you do dungeon A today or wait 6 months, you will still need to do it. It’s practically impossible to miss out on something. Now, there are exceptions. Things like Eureka are not relevant at max level, and Bozja will soon follow. Crafting and gathering is still relevant, all the way through. And even once you reach max level, all the group content forces scaling on the player to keep it relevant. I still run Satasha, the first dungeon from 8 years ago.

There are other MMOs that find a middle ground. You need to go through the dance in LoTR and SWTOR of main quests, but you never really need to do group content to progress… and it doesn’t scale at the end. I really enjoyed the flashpoints at the start of SWTOR, and outgrowing them felt less fun.

I get the idea of FOMO when something new is coming, because we’ve often been trained that the stuff we are doing now won’t be relevant later. Maybe there’s a mount or some cool looking gear to pick up that just won’t be there. I guess the question then comes, “does it really matter?”, and then you kind of realize it doesn’t. So for those playing FF14, there really isn’t much FOMO to be hard. Even if you don’t complete the MSQ to 5.5 prior to launch, it doesn’t matter because all the content will still be there, still accessible to everyone. That’s a super refreshing thought.

Hot Take! Blizzard News

Quarterly results came out for ABK yesterday. No big surprises. Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 are delayed further (their leadership all left / was fired). Income is not pipeline based but MTX instead. Diablo 2 remake made some bits of money. Stocks are down ~15%. Fine enough, they are getting hit in the bottom line. Maybe something useful will come from it?

Or maybe they will get rid of their BIPOC Blizzard leader instead? Jen Oneal leaves Blizzard, and Mike Ybarra takes over leadership.

Hot take time! (brought to you through knee jerk armchair reactions!)

J Allen Brack left ~90 days ago, replaced in all but title by 2 people, which was really weird at the time. Felt more like grasping at straws with no succession plan in place prior. It was obvious something was going to shake out.

Jen Oneal ran a successful company. Vicarious Visions delivered quite a bit over the years and was good enough at their job that they were bought out by ABK. While there was hope they could stay a studio under the umbrella, the company was fully merged a few days ago. When that happened, it was pretty clear that other changes were coming.

When you’re actively being sued for discriminatory practices, by multiple fronts, perhaps it’s not good optics to lose your BIPOC leadership and go deep with the white male demographic. This isn’t to say Mike Ybarra is a poor leader, at all. But to somehow find a way to lose your first and only Blizzard female leader in 20 years gives a crazy message to the public. What kind of clown show exists where you can’t find a way to make this work? How bad of a work space is it, that you can’t keep an executive on staff?

Again, it was always clear that either Jen or Mike had to move aside to support a restructure. That the concept of a Blizzard President was all but dead, it was too corrupt and incompetent to survive under the Activision “shareholders first” approach. It’s that in all of this mess, where there’s a clear opportunity to implement a more diverse leadership structure Bobby said so: We will increase the percentage of women and non-binary people in our workforce by 50% and will invest $250 million to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent 

There’s enough piling on Blizzard’s missteps these past few weeks. It would be great if they could actually walk the talk for just a little bit. And that’s only the stuff the public gets to see, which is just the tip of the iceberg! It’s a car wreck that just won’t end, and the rubber necking will continue.

FF14 – Palace of the Dead

Am I ever late to the game!

Want a rogue-like dungeon crawler, that has increasing difficulty, some randomization, character growth, AND rewards for participation? Holy cow, coming here AFTER having experienced Torghast is an eye opener.

Palace of the Dead is 5 years old. That’s just before patch 7.1 in WoW-Legion. It’s a standalone dungeon crawler that exists outside of the rest of the game. Your level, gear, skills, consumables, and pretty much everything else doesn’t matter here. It’s 200 levels deep, with bosses and exits every 10 floors. You start floor 1 at level 1, and gain experience up to 60 (usually before floor 50). If you are level 13 outside the dungeon, you can still unlock level 60 skills inside the dungeon.

Why run it?

  • You get experience, gil, and tomes from completing floors. It’s one of the most efficient leveling methods from 1-50.
  • You can get cosmetic weapon skins
  • There are random cosmetic drops within (accursed hoards)
  • It’s a challenge!

What is it?

  • 200 floors of death
  • Around 10 enemy types per 10 floors
  • One boss per 10 floors
  • Ability to save progress every 10 floors
  • Ability to have “permanent” damage/armor increases for future runs
  • Support for solo, fixed or matchmade parties
  • Can mostly do without a healer or a tank
  • Hidden traps
  • Chests with temporary or permanent buffs
  • Mimics!
  • Heaven on High is PotD part 2, relevant from 50-60.

Lessons Learned

  • The permanent buffs (aetherpool gear) are the source of offense and defence power increments
  • The permanent buffs have a cap per floor, so even if you had +50 if you restart at floor 1, the value is closer to +15
  • All temporary items (pomanders) are removed after killing a boss. Use them.
  • Once you complete level 50, you can restart at floor 50. This should be the first goal.
  • Defence is more important than offence. Bosses in particular hit like trucks.
  • There’s no durability or gil costs
  • You cannot exceed floor 100 if you have even a single death
  • Floors 100+ require a fixed party (or solo)
  • Solo runs are quite hard, and very dependent on RNG. Red Mages have the best toolkits, followed by tanks.
  • Mimics will end your run.
  • Most group runs take 15 minutes to clear 10 floors.

Torghast Deltas

PotD is a mix of the rewards from Mage Tower and the structure of Torghast. When PotD was new, you could swap your progress for some decent gear increments – that’s not relevant today. The rest of the differences:

  • You can save every 10 levels. You don’t spend an hour+ and lose all progress.
  • All starting and progress is specific to PotD. Your ilvl before entering, or character level, have zero impact. You can’t brute force it.
  • PotD is still relevant after 5 years. Torghast stopped being relevant a long time ago.
  • The RNG for player power is capped at 30% offense, 40% defence. Torghast had simply broken RNG where you either turned into a walking god or reset a run.

Raid Trash

The idea of trash in a dungeon is not new, at all. What is more of a construct of online gaming is the idea that trash is infinite.

Way back in the Ultima Online days, which I still consider the grand-daddy, each dungeon had spawn cycles because it was all open. 500 people on a server could all be in the same location. Dungeons needed to respawn so that multiple people could participate. They were also structured in a way that there weren’t any bosses per say, you just had enemies.

EQ took the concept of open dungeons and then started adding bosses. It didn’t take very long for people to realize that bosses were not a good investment of time, at least in the leveling process – enter spawn camps. What we saw next was the concept of uber bosses at max level, which were designed for more people and focused rewards – raids. In most functional respects, they were just like dungeons, tons of regular enemies that respawned quickly. The bosses though, in order to reduce the odds of ‘farming’, they had day/week timers to respawns. If the good stuff was once a week and everything else took up space with no rewards (you didn’t need the xp), well, everything but a boss was trash to needed to wade through.

WoW’s model took the raid structure from EQ and found a middle ground with instancing. Group sizes were limited, depending on the content type. Raids were effectively just longer/harder dungeons. You had trash in both, and the trash could respawn if you took too many attempts at taking down a boss. Vanilla was really painful, like 15 minutes between dungeon respawns. That eventually got longer. Raids had a longer timer, a few hours, but also stopped certain spawns if you killed a boss.

They were still called trash, and for a reason. With very low odds, you could get a random drop upgrade while taking out trash. For some well designed areas, the events were a precursor to a new mechanic from the next boss. Otherwise, all the spawns up to a boss were just a time sink.

We’re 2021 and the top two dungeon runners have an interesting and split approach to this concept.

WoW – All dungeons are based on trash. Regular dungeons this is a time waste, while bosses are the challenge. In M+, trash is actually the hard part as you’re racing a clock. Raids have trash, and now there are spawns used to farm other items. There are a LOT of pulls of trash in raids, including patrols. The challenge here are the bosses, which can take dozens of attempts.

FF14 – All dungeons have trash, none respawn. Interestingly, you can often kill all the trash in 1 single mega pull, if you know what you are doing, dramatically speeding up the clear process. There are also trials and raids. Trials are just boss fights – no trash. Raids are quite limited (works out to 1 per expansion), and has a group of 3 parties. There’s non-respawning challenging trash (if you’re at-level), and they often represent the next boss’ attacks. Usually works out to 3-4 pulls between bosses, which is pretty quick all told.

This goes back to the fundamental understanding with players around time management. WoW still focuses on a single relevant tier at any given time, and in order to make that have some sense of value, it gets padded with as much stuff as possible. Castle Nathria is 100% irrelevant today (even less relevant than any Legion-era raid), and it’s less than year old. The Praetorium is 8 years old and groups are still running it. FF14 doesn’t have a need to pad anything, it can just offer you a seemingly endless buffet of choices. I will rightfully admit that WoW’s carrot-on-a-stick of increasing numbers by 2% is the core driver that pushes this model, and therefore has a different set of expectations that FF14’s ‘do what you want’ vibe.

I keep finding more and more example of conflicting design philosophies between these big games. You can read all about Ion explaining that he has a lot of players, with different playstyles to accommodate, and he can’t please everyone. Ok… so does every MMO, including the ones with bigger audiences than his. It’s interesting that the others have figured this out.

Metroid Dread

It’s a weird thing to play another actual 2D Metroid game again, nearly 10 years since the last one. Sure, there was a bunch of Metroid Prime games, but I was not a fan of the FPS view point. Plus, in that time there was a surge of Metroidvania games that hit the market, each one taking a slightly different approach but maintaining the 2D controls.

And that’s the kicker right. Look at all the amazing games we have had:

  • Hollow Knight
  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Axiom Verge
  • Dead Cells
  • Dust
  • Blasphemous
  • Guacamelee
  • Bloodstained

Some focus on the controls, some on rogue-like elements, others in the story or quests. Each one has a particular element that just plain shines.

So where does that leave Metroid? Being a Switch exclusive doesn’t help. Anything looks good on a tiny screen, and this game does look good, but in the dock it certainly doesn’t scale. One of those weird things were a Switch emulator is a better deal… welcome to 2021 Nintendo! (*insert thoughts on a 4K Switch being delayed*) It also has a sort of diorama experience, where Samus feels superimposed on the world, which I think works quite well. There are plenty of loading screens (15+ seconds), which is just plain dumb. No, dumb would mean that it wasn’t purposeful. Someone thought this was acceptable and designed around it.

It looks clean.

The moment to moment gameplay is good, with decent controls. They are smooth nut not responsive, with better examples in the list above. This gets more challenging the more abilities you unlock… the dash and spin attacks lack precise controls and you’ll have a lot of trail and error to get it down. The skills you do get are more about opening new parts of the map, rather than changing the particular playstyle. Your beam attack gets more powerful over time, but it’s the same point and shoot from start to end. The solution to every problem seems to be to just put more bullets into it.

The enemies are diverse and certainly require you to take different approaches as the game progresses. The difficulty is relatively low, with only a few exceptions, such as bosses. Bosses here are more akin to perfect runs. You either ace the fight or die. There’s very little wiggle room, so you’ll die repeatedly until you learn the move set of the enemy, then feel like a gaming god when you clear it with no hits taken. It never feels overly painful and does increase the sense of progress. Kraid is here for some unknown reason. I will say the last boss is a right mess to learn all the patterns. It felt extremely good to take him down.

The EMMI droids are an interesting experiment. They are restricted to specific areas and if they detect you will kill you 99% of the time. So again, this is about perfecting a run, with some randomization where the EMMI will patrol. Sometimes it just isn’t fair, and other times you wonder where the EMMI is in the zone. You can never improve your ability to survive them, so there’s no sense of progress. If they were not present, and instead replaced with mini-bosses, this would be a better experience. Or more tools to avoid capture/delay them. It doesn’t work and you’ll just brute force your way through those sections.

The metroidvania part of the game is simplified compared to pretty much all competition. Every collectible is shown on the map, so reaching 100% is quite easy. There are no side quests, no currency, no hidden bits. Backtracking is required, and not terribly intuitive – I got lost a few times on the proper next steps. Teleporting around the map is quite painful (see loading screen item above), so the sense of scale/freedom isn’t there. I will say that there are a half dozen ‘puzzles’ in the game that relate to storing a speedboost (spark) and then quickly going somewhere else to use it. Figuring out how to solve those puzzles is a LOT of fun… if only the controls were consistent enough to let you do it.

This is a quite negative review of the game, but it’s only when compared to the rest of the genre. I can sum this up in one sentence – if Metroid Dread was released 10 years ago, then it would be an extremely high bar. But it didn’t. Every game in the list above is better – better controls, better story, better exploration. This feels more like a new coat of paint on Super Metroid than an actual fresh take. It’s not a bad game, far from it. It’s good and will keep you going. But in this case, the students have far surpassed the master.

Diablo 2 Woes

Over 9 years ago, Blizzard launched Diablo 3. I was there at launch, and for over a month there was the dreaded Error 37, preventing all play. A few months after that, SimCity launched with a similar model and collapsed almost entirely under it’s own weight with the same issue. 9 years ago the interwebs were dealing with the inability to scale their servers.

This is 2021 and Diablo2 servers have been up and down for a month since launch. No skin off my back, I’m done with Blizzard for the foreseeable future, but I also don’t live in a cave to ignore a behemoth like Blizzard not figuring this stuff out. And to be clear, it’s not like Blizzard wants to disappoint players.

I did post a while back about cloud architecture, and how Blizzard runs a hybrid model to manage peak load, for non-sensitive components. Authentication is one of the sensitive bits, for a billion reasons, and not something a AAA company would want to put in a “public” cloud. There are “private” cloud offerings, which are an interesting conversation on their own. I am not a Blizzard network engineer, so this is all speculation here based on prior experience. I am not at all saying this is easy, even less so when you are trying to re-jig (*checks notes*) 21 year old-code.

And yet, this reads like more bad news on a company that can’t really seem to find much positive to report. In some alternate world I’d feel bad for kicking a company while it’s down… but this is really all self-inflicted.