E3

I guess I should put something up relating to E3.  The general lack of posts (and I will state that my blog roll is down by a  large margin) seems to be more symptomatic of the medium than just me.  Always found late spring to be a tough time to write…weather is finally nice and I want to be on the lake.

Anyways, back to E3.

In 2019, we’re in a space where there are very few surprises left.  Aside from Keanu telling everyone they are breathtaking of course.  Dev cycles are admittedly longer.  There is minimal progress to be had on the graphical front (I still recall the PS3 tech demos).  Nearly everything is a sequel to something.  The last time we saw a risky AAA game that was actually good was Horizon: Zero Dawn in 2017.  There’s a fine line between sequel and a new coat of paint (*cough*Battlefield*cough*).

From all the hoopla, there are a few games that seem interesting.

  • Baldur’s Gate 3.  BG2 is the best RPG of all time… of ALL TIME!  Larian has done a smash job on Divinity, so this seems like a reasonable fit.  Finding the balance between mechanics and exploration/story is going to be key here.
  • Outer Worlds.  I have a soft-spot for sci-fi RPGs.  Been a long time since there was a good one (sorry Isey).  And I’ve rather enjoyed the long list of games from Obsidian.
  • Evil Genius 2.  One of my all-time favorite games.  Playing bad guys for comedic effect is always entertaining.  Will be interesting to see how this applies modern game practices.
  • Cyberpunk 2077.   Both the setting and the developer hit the right notes.  As long as the story structure is similar to the Witcher, I’ll be happy.  I have a serious dislike for Witcher combat mechanics.
  • Ghostwire Tokyo.  This seems more like a serious take on Ghostbusters.  The art style & setting seem interesting.  Hard to say no to a new IP from these devs too.
  • Gods & Monsters.  Zelda but in a greek setting.  Which in that case would be Kid Icarus without wings.  I rather like exploration games.
  • Marvel’s Avengers.  Honestly, I am more confused than much else. A co-op live service?  Did we not just do this dance with Gazillion Marvel Heroes?  Pretty please, let’s not have another Anthem.  The timing here seems even more off, given that Avengers just bookended.

Random Thoughts

  • There is a lot more talk about cross play, and generally this is doable if the game is also on PC
  • 120FPS on a console is a big deal.  Which frankly, means people are going to need better TVs.
  • More streaming service.
  • Ubisoft’s play for $16/month similar to EA’s service is a heck of a stretch.  That said, curious how many people still pay EA after the Anthem fun.
  • Since all this was pre-E3 it was entirely console focused.  PC only games and mobile games come later.
  • There is a general lack of indie games making the threads, but I would say this is more due to the fact that indie is almost entirely focused on PC launches first, then console later.
  • Bethesda.  What the heck is going on over there.  Thumbs up to the ESO success story after a horrible launch, but everything else feels like throwing spaghetti on the wall hoping something sticks.
  • There’s still Nintendo to show some stuff.  Guess it will relate to Metroid and new spec on the Swtich.  Indie games already have a good foothold here… maybe we see more.
  • E3 has to compete with the 24/7 news hype cycle.  When devs are paying Twitch streamers to promote their beta games… where does E3 fit?

Classic “Bugs”

The neat thing about nostalgia is that it’s tempered by emotions.  People rarely remember the mundane, but they will remember the things that caused an emotional reaction.  And over time, people tend to ignore the bad emotions and only recall the good ones.

In Classic, you may remember taking down Ragnaros the first time, but you likely don’t remember having to herd 40 people on-line, manage a bench, and continually farm for Tranq shot just to progress.

If you stopped playing WoW altogether, then your mindset is probably locked to the type of game when you left, mixed with some older bits.  If you’re still playing today, then there are some concepts in Classic that will seem archaic.

Seems a few times a week now, Blizzard is putting up posts about things “not being a bug” but actually reflective of Classic.  I find these hilarious.  The things that people take for granted today were 8+ years away in Classic.  Single viable specs.  Weapon skills.  Trainers.  Slow mounts.  Mounts not being able to swim.  Resistances.

The more recent one is a bit more technical.  Deals with combat stats.  I played a Rogue from day 1, and Rogues needed to attack from the back or else they would get parried to death.  Combined with the penalties for dual wielding, you needed the right stats to progress (ilvl wasn’t a thing).  Misses, lower crit changes, dodge… all that stuff needed to be factored in when taking down a boss.  That’s why most bosses were tank & spank, because people needed to be in static positions for most fights – and a player afflicted with Fear was a death sentence.

Honestly, I knew this but at the same time I had put it so far out of my mind that it was more or less forgotten.  (Side note, this is why reforging was both implemented and removed.)

I’m looking at Classic from the outside and really wondering how many people truly want to live in that game vs. are simply curious.  People may think they remember Classic, but as time goes by, they are going to discover more and more things that they purposefully put in the “do not remember” box.  Should be interesting to watch.

EA Play – June 7

Anthem hasn’t had any new info since April, making their entire roadmap obsolete.  Even their twitter feed is empty.  Reddit is still a salt mine though!  Last check, there was 1(!) Twitch streamer.

Apex Legends hasn’t had any updates in weeks, and has dropped off the play list like a rock.  I’m all for them avoiding the gaming crunch nightmare of Epic/Fortnite – but they certainly need something.

Jedi: Fallen Order is a nice tease.  Due in November, a few weeks before the new Star Wars movie comes out.  Of note, it’s entirely single player – run by Respawn, who specializes in multiplayer games (Titanfall and above mentioned Apex Legends).

From the outside, it seems like Anthem and Jedi:FO should have swapped between the developers… though everyone does deserve a chance at trying something new.

June 7

EA won’t be going to E3, but will instead hold a EA Play day just before the conference.  Certainly allows them to have much more control of the event.  No more press conferences, just some live streams (yay!)  And it does allow people to “reserve” gameplay sessions, rather than hour long queues (why people do this is beyond me).

Can’t say I’m expecting anything grand here.  Nearly all the good will that existed with Anthem was burnt away by an surprisingly inept leadership team.  The issues that exist in that game will take months to sort out, if at all.  Apex Legends is in no-man’s land right now – every patch seems to bring more headaches to the player base and time spent fixing major bugs is time not spent on content generation.

Jedi: Fallen Order will not be playable.  Maybe another cinematic, or a dev stream of some content.  Quite frankly, the time period after Order 66 and A New Hope is the least interesting to me.  No matter what happens the characters all have to die, and do so leading up to events around Yavin.  Sort of like how Starkiller was very poor on applicable-lore (force pull a Star Destroyer!?), and was more of wish fulfillment to play a force user in interesting locations.

E3

Which does beg the question on E3 as a whole.  For a very long time, it was the time of year where all the big news bits dropped.  In the age of Twitter, Twitch, and Reddit, companies can get new releases out to everyone within minutes.  Game announcements can happen a few weeks before launch.  PAX is nearly on-par, at least in terms of things people want to see.

As budgets get tighter, as the walls on micro-transactions/lootboxes start closing in, I’d expect large companies to start pulling back on the media events outside of their control.  Good news is that leaves a lot of room for the smaller folk to shine…

Spring Energy

Where GoT didn’t ever have a winter that came, here in igloo-ville, winter came early and left late.  Spring is a solid 2 weeks late, and there are areas that are still experiencing record-breaking floods.  I am extremely sensitive to the weather, and my energy levels pretty much plummeted for a near month.  That has a a trickle down effect on nearly every aspect of my life… and my usual coping mechanisms aren’t sufficient.  And the cycle continues…

This past weekend was supposed to have a 90% chance of rain the entire time.  Took a chance, went to the cottage, and it turns out it was a nice time pretty much the whole weekend.  Whole bunch of various projects are lined up, and it was good to just be outside in shorts, with a pint in hand.  Had some friends over, indulged a tad too much, and felt a form of alive on the last day.

Was a good kick in the shins.  Time to get back on track.

Dauntless

The game launched on consoles and the Epic store yesterday.  The typical launch day woes apply, where servers are taking a beating (and have been for a couple weeks now).  There’s an account linking guide, which will provide cross play for everyone regardless of platform.  (The social/gaming interconnections here are a real contrast to MHW.)

I still think Dauntless is worth a shot.  There’s no need to pay a cent, everything is pretty much there for players.  If you want cosmetics, then you can use a Hunt Pass (as with all other monthly “get points to unlock” systems).  The system is structured on completing 4 weekly tasks, and most of them can be completed in 15 hunts.

The last big patch did a lot of good things to the game.  It will take a lot of hunts to get to the end of the game (shrowd/reza), and a near surreal amount of grinding specific subsets.  I will say that the grind truly forces the mindset that you need to prepare for an enemy rather than just zerg through it.

If there was a downside, it would be the maps where you perform the hunts.  They are just large arenas, with minimal interactions.  More often than not, you spend 2 minutes running around trying to find the target.  Meh.

With an investment of $0, there’s a WHOLE pile of fun to be had.

Misc Gaming

I am seeing a lot of posts about WoW classic.  It will be a meta experience for me.  I am very curious to see who sticks around in that space past a month.  I clearly remember Vanilla, I wrote a fair chunk of guides on it too. (How is that even still up?!)  I know what the investment requirements are, and even more so what the returns are.  Happy for those who enjoy that niche – but we all need to admit that it’s a niche.

Diablo 3 started season 17.  Weird theme, where you actively want to avoid sets.  Ever since 2.0 launched the game has been about sets.  And season 16 was the RRoG season – an even LARGER focus on sets.  I usually get some class to 70 and paragon 100 every other season.  Think I’ll give this a shot.

Path of Exile has a new expansion in about 2 weeks.  Good.  The last season (Synthesis) wasn’t any fun.  Betrayal was ok, and I really enjoyed Delve.  PoE is really different than D3, since you never really hit max level.  Well, I guess you can, but it would take something close to 200 hours.

Also, Lego Star Wars (1-6) has aged well.  Kids are enjoying it, and I’m still getting a kick of collecting bits.  Guess we never really grow up.

EA Financials: Nothing to See Here

In news that shouldn’t surprise many, EA’s quarterly results were slightly lower than last year.  Recall that this Q included:

  • Launch of BF5’s Battle Royale mode.  Which made waves due to its mediocrity.
  • Launch of Apex Legends.  Which broke all sorts of initial records, partly due to EA paying streamers to promote it.
    • There’s a content “drought” that makes for a moral quandary regarding development “crunch”.  Fornite is like friggin’ crack with it’s non-stop updates – a digital FOMO if ever I’ve seen one.
    • This doesn’t dismiss the quality of Apex Legends, simply re-enforces that groupthink is what makes these games popular.
  • Launch of Anthem.  Solid box sales.  A dumpster fire since then.
    • Related, the patch on Monday removed Elysian Caches (cosmetic rewards) but also removed some boss loot from Heart of Rage.  I truly feel bad for their community managers.

And to the surprise of no one, EA wants to port Apex Legends to mobile and get it in China.  Mobile, I get.  That’s a stupidly massive money pot.  PUBG and Fortnite are both making chunks of change there (and cross-platform I might add).

Breaking into China though… unless EA has pictures of someone in compromising positions, that’s not going to happen.  PUBG just got reskinned to have no blood and have people stand back up and wave when they are killed.  The draw of money though, that is a true test of morals.  Just look at Google.

Big Picture

The real question here after having seen EA and Acti-Blizz come to the table, is how are big publishers going to tackle the growing tide of developer resentment.  Rome fell because of internal problems, not because of some other power.  Epic, Rockstar, Bioware… all have made the rounds for internal drama. The “dream job” of working for a publisher doesn’t seem all that attractive anymore. Why deal with the demands of a big publisher when the entry fee to game development is so low?

We’re still going to have blockbusters like God of War, or Link/Zelda but looking at the gaming landscape… indies are rocking it fierce.  Dead Cells, Celeste, Obra Dinn, No Man’s Sky, Life is Strange, Florence, Into the Breach…all worthy of attention.

The big devs will have to do with mediocrity and internal resentment.  People who aren’t invested in a company eventually do just enough not to get fired.  As that population grows within a company, it gets harder and harder to fix.

No easy answers.  It would be foolish to assume that leadership has any idea that this is a problem (aside from the PR lip service).  That would require them to actually talk to their developers instead of their board of investors.

Heaven’s Vault

Lesser known fact, I studied ancient history in university (it’s utterly amazing how much we depend on 1 person – Cicero – for the majority of our Roman history).  Lesser, lesser known fact, when I was around 10, I went to a science fair with school and took an optional Latin class.  I am utterly fascinated by history, and how the mundane becomes extra ordinary.  I made a choice that I would stick with IT engineering, rather than ancient history – simply for the quality of life.  Ain’t a whole lot of ancient history in Canada!

That pre-amble complete, I’ve had a related fascination with puzzle games.  There’s a mystery to them that require examination of clues, extrapolation, hypothesis, and sometimes just some wild guesses that prove futile.  At some point, you get a key piece complete and a large part of the puzzle becomes clear.  And I mean puzzles with some context – not just an escape the room type thing.  Myst really hit a nerve for me.  Return of the Obra Dinn is an excellent example as well.

Lo and behold a game comes around that mixes puzzles with archaeology – Heaven’s Vault.  You play Aliya, a historian that’s exploring her nebula in search of a specific person.  That sets off a grand adventure that blends sci-fi and history to a great effect.  All of it predicated on you finding various things that have inscriptions on them.  Inscriptions in a dead language that you spend the entirety of the game deciphering.  Thankfully there is a logic to this language – the object itself is related to the text.  So a sword may be inscribed with something like “may blades cut down foes” or some such.

Collecting these clues serves two purposes.  One is to discover new areas, which are accessed from a ship that travels “rivers in space”.  The second is to discover history of the nebula, and the various fates over time.

Heaven's Vault_20190411093649

This is a simple text

As you progress, your available vocabulary expands, and texts become slightly easier to decode.  Conversely, as you progress, you need to learn new words and new contexts for those words.  This is most evident when it comes to verbs, their tense, and the adverbs that help describe a situation.  The good news is that the sentence structure follows the English language, in the typical adjective-noun-verb-adverb structure.    In that sense, you’re always in a framework you understand and you know that only specific pieces can ever fit in a given slot.  Effectively, you will deduce the proper meaning rather than outright guess – at least the majority of the time.

The art/sound is excellent.  There’s a painterly style used, and a slow methodical approach to exploration.  This isn’t a game where you are running full speed.  You are presented with large locations, and the darkest corners hide something of value.  It’s very atmospheric.

It bears note that this game would be nothing if the story/lore didn’t stand up.  I heartily applaud the writers.  To build a story that is non-sequential (you can to places in pretty much any order), and dripping with rich lore is a spectacular achievement.  To put said story in a game, and have the player empathize and relate to the characters is at another level.  And to provide meaningful choices that impact the story’s development is wonderful.  If games are truly to be seen as an art form, the level of respect given to stories is important to recognize.

The game aspects are the weakest part.  Controls are movement with keyboard and clicks with a mouse.  The language/timeline inventory keeps getting updates (miles better now), but the lack of a search/glossary makes it tough sometimes.  There are a few puzzles where you feel so close, yet the game decides you are not close enough and moves on.  Thankfully after you complete the game you can try again, and each playthrough has a randomized set of artifacts to find.  The story beats are the same, but you can make different choices and take different paths.  And while the map is quite large, there are mechanical shortcuts to speed up the process when visiting known locations.

The devs have a neat top 10 questions for those that think they have completed the game.  I want to explore a few more bits before I give it a go.

Long story short (hah!) this is a Game of the Year candidate.

Blizz Dev Pipelines

Acti-Blizz quarterly reports are out and there’s a relatively minor drop (7%).  Sure, there’s a larger drop since last quarter… but Q4 is always overly strong due to the sales in Nov/Dec.

There are two interesting bits here:

  • One pillar is about mobile growth, specifically expanding franchises to the mobile space
  • The focus on existing IP, rather than new IP

Mobile

The first point is interesting as it involves everything in Acti-Blizz… still sitting on the sidelines watching Epic & EA beat each other silly with bags of money in the Battle Royale genre.  Most feedback I’ve seen on BF5’s version of BR is that it’s not very good (aside from the fact that BF launched in a beta state on par with Anthem in the fall).

Still, I don’t think this means that we’re going to see mobile ports of games (e.g. cross-play) but more things like Diablo Immortal, targeted at a specific audience, and different mechanics.  It’s hard to argue with SuperData numbers that show mobile is blowing console/PC numbers out of the water.  Thar be gold in them hills!

Great for investors.  Great for people who like mobile.  Great for pet collectors in WoW (seriously, that’s a friggin’ bucket o’ cash that Blizz is just leaving on the table).  But I don’t see Overwatch or WoW, in the traditional sense, going to mobile.  HotS… that may work.  Starcraft would not… and would alienate the base crowd more than Diablo Immortal.  Not exactly a pile of options here.

New IP

While again generic, this makes me wonder what exactly is going on over at Blizz.  Lots of job cuts in non-dev work, lots of investment in developers.  It’s not a linear relationship to # of devs / time to deliver.  Larger teams typically require longer dev cycles since you’re herding cats – and the project manager has to be an ace to get things out on time.

I will infer that Blizzard is doubling down on their existing IP – Overwatch, WoW, Diablo, Starcraft, as well as their meta IP – Hearthstone & Heroes of the Storm.

  • Overwatch – It is fighting for eyeball space against Fortnite/Apex.  More heroes helps, as do new maps.  But each one takes time to balance properly.
  • WoW – They need a mobile pet battle simulator STAT!  Aside from that, I’d expect expansion news at Blizzcon.  BfA, while having serious positive progress since launch, is tainted with exceptionally poor initial reception.  Classic servers won’t have much effect past a single quarter, and the Warcraft 3 remake isn’t much more than a niche.
  • Diablo – Diablo Immortal should have already launched, curious as to the wait.  Guessing it’s related to the monetization model.  Diablo 4 should be announced this year.  I am extra curious on this.
  • Starcraft – Starcraft 4?  I doubt it.  The RTS genre is all but dead outside of Korea.
  • Heartstone – The continued expansions every 6 months.
  • HotS – The red-headed step child.  It’s certainly serviceable, but in terms of “accessible F2P games”… there are much better options.  Maybe a mobile tweak can get some eastern sales.

Way Forward

All of this is conjecture.  Blizz is keeping things extremely close to the chest, and aside from some niche products (Warcraft 3 and Classic) there’s only 1 known product on their roadmap – Diablo Immortal.  And that sucker needs to be golden / perfect to keep eyeballs past a months’ time.  Hundreds of mobile looters have tried… nearly all have failed.