Content Expectations

The more bits I get from the Anthem devs, the more I am both fascinated and curious.  I don’t think my expectations for a AAA game are high for 2019, but maybe I’m in the wrong.  For a multiplayer launch, I would expect:

  • Social tools
  • Player customization (non-power related)
  • Solid mechanics (with numerical balance over time)
  • A dual path for progress
    • Learning the game/story/mechanics (e.g. leveling)
    • Repeatable and engaging content (e.g. end game)
  • Build / role diversity
  • Game stability

I realize that this is quite generic, and that there are multiple ways to achieve this.

Social

Destiny has an alliance mechanic, which provides some weekly benefits.  Off your friend’s list, the top 5 provide give a score that gives extra coins at the end of the week.  Those with no friends, there’s a catch-all bucket for the randoms you play with.  That’s neat and actually better than most other games.

There are no guilds at launch, which seems like a really odd choice.

The social hub should be there, which is good.  The game really feels empty, in particular Freeplay mode where the world can fit 100+ javelins and you’re only ever 4 at max.

There’s matchmaking for everything, so that’s a serious plus.  Not being able to see other people’s loadouts beforehand is going to make the top-end content a pain to manage, pretty much forcing pre-made groups.  Will be interesting.

Customization

Javelin-wise, Anthem has this nailed.  The outlines of Javelins make them recognizable, but the attachments, colors, textures, vinyls – all of it really does add a sense of individuals.

There are no gun customizations that I can see.  Maybe the legendary drops will look a bit different.

Mechanics

I think flight works really well, adding a 3d portion to most combat.  I am extremely hopeful that the devs never add another swimming section to the game.

I think the gunplay is average at best.  It is very loose, and makes weak-spot based combat ineffective.  I also can’t seem to find a realistic difference between all the gun types.  Pick the rifle with the largest magazine.  (‘Cept the heavy weapons for colossus).

The abilities are really quite awesome.  Primers and triggers make for some interesting combos.  I like that there’s a requirement to work together, and that some targets must be flanked.

Bosses have interesting mechanics, though there’s a tad more focus on bullet sponge than deserves to be present.

I like that combat is built for offense, since there are very few defensive options present.  There’s no cover, shields are barely enough to get outta dodge, and you need to actively pay attention to succeed.

Leveling

Not sure how this will work.  From what was presented, the core storyline has more potential than delivery.  There’s just something off about Tarsis, and the way the people move/talk.

Missions do not appear to be repeatable, which seems a terrible waste of resources.  Warframe really did an amazing job on this front.

End Game

From what I understand, there are only 3 strongholds (dungeons) at launch.  We saw one in the demo (Tyrant), and that one takes about 30 minutes to clear.  What was there was enjoyable, but certainly not enough to keep attention for more than a week.

There are weekly/daily quests through contracts.  Haven’t seen how that works, so no comments.

Freeplay has random events.  The spawn rate in the demo was very low, and it looked like we could access 25% of the map.  I don’t understand how that will work at release.  3x the map and the same amount of players?

There are also game generated events, like shaper storms.  Demo spawned a large titan, which was neat to see but a bullet sponge.  Curious.

BioWare has stated plenty of times they have big plans for end game.  There’s a general lack of detail on this.  I haven’t seen any content release plans after launch, so maybe I’m just in the dark on this.

Build Diversity

In the demo, there was a lot of this.  Each javelin plays much differently than another.  Abilities make a huge difference in playstyles.  It’s a lot of fun to experiment.  There are QoL things here to provide more info on builds and options (to avoid having to reference a wiki), but that’s more than manageable.

Again on guns.  There’s not much here – they feel more like stat sticks.  That’s mid-game though, so perhaps end game has a reason to pick a 4-burst rifle vs a high ammo version.

Stability

I am not getting my hopes up for this.  Great that those issues came to light before launch.  Bad that those issues were so pervasive before launch, from a publisher (EA) that makes a living on on-line games with the Frostbyte engine.  Feels a bit like the ice cream machine always being broken at McDonalds.

There are some rather significant PC optimizations required for people to play this game.  I’ve generally been able to play any game at high or ultra, without much issue. For this, I’m running 95% CPU and peaking over 90s in temperature.

 

For now, it’s mostly conjecture until launch.  There’s a lot in the game now, a lot more than should be coming by launch, and ??? after launch.  I’m sure that next week we’ll get a view at the service roadmap, if not the week following.  It’ll be hard to get people who are on the fence to commit if what’s there now is all there is for the next few months.

Given EA’s recent report on a bad quarter, and pointing to Apex & Anthem as the next thing, it’s important to note that Anthem’s business model is nearly entirely built on box sales.  And EA wants to sell 6m of those.  Dollars to donuts, Anthem doesn’t hit that number.  Horizon: Zero Dawn sold 7m total.  God of War was 5m in a month.  Combined with Origin Access essentially giving you the game for $20 for a month’s access…the math here just isn’t going to work.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine game, but it is far from blockbuster.  This entire paragraph was an unpleasant typing experience.

Gaming on the Move

I’ve been building PCs since middle school.  Not sure why it clicked back then, but it was a pretty big deal for a long time.  And frankly, back then I could build a PC in about 30 minutes – with the OS build being the longest part.  Today?  It’s still easier than most people think, but it’s more of a science.

It’s been about 10 years since I built my last box.  I certainly enjoyed it, and the super flexibility of applying upgrades over time.  Replacing RAM or a video card is pretty simple.  Replacing a CPU… well that gets rougher.  Cooling options were starting to get a bit too complex for my tastes.  The next upgrade was a gaming laptop – a Clevo tank.  It provided all the benefits of desktop gaming, but allowed me to move around with it.

There are downsides to laptop gaming.  Replacing parts is more complicated.  Hell… just getting the parts is hard, as most video cards are only sold to resellers.  Plus, it’s not like you can get a new keyboard, or a new monitor.  It’s a complete package, and you’re going to pay a premium for it.  Plus, the thing can get hot as hell so a laptop tray is often a good call.

The last one I purchased in 2015.  Solid box at the time, with a 970M card.  The 1070M  is ~100% better, but I can’t really find one to buy.  Box currently has 8GB of RAM, which could certainly use a boost to 16GB.  CPU is an i7 but a 4th gen.   I am pretty sure I can upgrade to 7th gen, if I can find a chip, again not exactly common.  I can’t get an 8th gen (let alone 9th), that will require a new motherboard and new RAM – essentially a new laptop.  So really the only viable option here is more RAM – $50 should be able to get a new 8GB stick.

I think I’ll spend the new few weeks scoping out other options.  I like the idea of building a great gaming rig and then streaming that in the house.  Pretty sure I could build an entire super rig for ~$1500.  Another top end laptop, that’s more like $2500.   Been a while, and the rust is showing.  Still, fun to shop!

 

Holiday Break

2 weeks without work, and just some good family time.  It was a bit odd not to blog, as I use it as a mental sieve.  It was still one of the best breaks I’ve had in a very long time.

A few interesting bits to start the week, with some larger posts coming later.

  • Wife got us an NES Classic.  I picked up some wireless controllers right after, since the 3ft cables on a 50″ TV makes no sense.  Whole family has had a turn at it.  Old school controls make for some interesting frustrations.
  • Family took a trip to see the Habs play vs the Canucks.  First time the little ones got to see an NHL game, and I think the bar may be set a bit too high considering we live in Ottawa.  We’ll do it again in the future, it was a super experience.  There’s something about seeing things through a kid’s eyes that makes you appreciate things even more.  Think my wife is going to convert to a Habs fan!
  • My wife bought me some tickets to see the Habs vs Leafs in Feb with a friend.  That’s a hell of a nice gift!
  • Everyone was spoiled for the holidays.  I really have a better appreciation for the family after this holiday break.  Everyday seemed to be just great.  Putting all the work aside and just living in the moment helped.
  • I think we had 1 day off in 2 weeks, where there wasn’t a party, or hosting, or sleepovers, or just things.  That day was spent watching Harry Potter movies.  It felt good to not move.
  • Outdoor rink is being used nearly every day where it’s not raining.  Which seems to be every other day this year.  Massive temperature swings are not fun.
  • Picked up some things from the Steam sale: Celeste, Slay the Spire, FFX/X2, Frostpunk.  All will get a post.  Of them all, Celeste is the must buy.
  • Saw Aquaman with the wife.  Apparently Jason Momoa is good looking.  So I’ve been told daily.  Movie is better than expected.  It’s rare that I take issue with the soundtrack, but it made little sense here.  Felt like Indiana Jones meets Lord of the Rings.  I will say that super hero movies continue to have horrible villains.
  • Pulled my back on Jan 1st.  Got a chest cold 2 days later.  It’s been a rough few days.

 

So New Year starts and we’ll see where it goes.  Hope everyone had as good a time as I did.

RDR2 – The Great Demise

I am a firm believer in karma, rather than some arbitrary being that picks a favorite.  In that there are direct rewards for an action, and indirect rewards.  Life just finds a way to balance itself out.

*Spoilers.*

Last I left RDR2, I was heading into Saint Denis trying to find the big score so the gang could buy some land and freedom.  Well actually, I was there to rescue a kid that was taken from a mob boss.

There’s the adage of big fish, little pond that applies well to Dutch, the gang leader.  He espouses some amazing views from his pulpit, but they are just hot air.  From a player’s perspective, that seems somewhat obvious, but from the character perspective you can see the attachment.  As the game progresses, you can also see the cracks start to show.  Dutch’s plans never really work out, there’s always someone else a single step ahead.  He’s never as bright as he thinks he is.  Always trying to reach for the sun and getting burned at every step.

Every job in Saint Denis goes wrong, at different levels too.  The one that seems to go well, takes a massive nose dive when the Pinkertons show up.  You lose a lot of good people whom you’ve spent hours/days getting to know.  Things go so awry, that you end up stowing away on a ship to Cuba, get shipwrecked, lose all your money, and end up freeing a slave camp to get out of there alive.

The trip back to town… the game throws you in a semi-dream state with the only voice-song that I’ve seen so far.  (Neat effect – you see more deer if you’re honorable, you see more wolf is you’re dishonorable.  Very reflective of native mythology.)

When this finished, I just stopped for a bit and started thinking.  After all the hell that Arthur goes through, he’s still bent on finding his people and trying again.  He’s doubtful of Dutch, but still trusts in his intentions.  The entire gang really starts to question the sanity of the man, and the decisions over the past months/years.

Blackwater is the watershed moment.  It’s when all the luck runs out and the dues start being called in.  Where Dutch is focused on the micro, the world around him is just taking massive strides.  Day by day, mission my mission, each previous decision has repercussions on the next set of events.  When you find out why the bank job went south, it’s a really impressive piece of art.

I’m nearing the clear end point now.  Arthur’s journey towards the grave is assured, it’s all about the timing.  And for the walls of the house of Dutch to fall down.

Hype for Diablo

Or not.  The Diablo panel is on the main stage right after the opening ceremony, which is usually reserved for ultra amazing news.  From Blizz.

BlizzCon 2018 is almost here and we’ve seen a lot of rumors flying around about our plans for Diablo at the show. These are very exciting times—we currently have multiple teams working on different Diablo projects and we can’t wait to tell you all about them . . . when the time is right.

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We know what many of you are hoping for and we can only say that “good things come to those who wait,” but evil things often take longer. We appreciate your patience as our teams work tirelessly to create nightmarish experiences worthy of the Lord of Terror.

While we won’t be ready to announce all of our projects, we do intend to share some Diablo-related news with you at the show.

November 2 will be an especially diabolical date—not only is it the first day of BlizzCon, it’s also when Diablo III arrives on the Nintendo Switch. If you’re planning to pick up the game (the digital download will be available starting at midnight on launch day) and are joining us in Anaheim, be sure to bring your console. We’d love to slay some demons with you on the show floor.

Again, we want to thank you for your patience and support. We are eternally grateful to you and the millions of other Diablo fans around the world whose passion for this franchise inspires us and keeps our fires burning.

We’ll see you in hell . . . and at BlizzCon!

There are two ways to read this.

Downplay the Hype

Blizzard is aware of the hype for a Diablo 4 announcement and are attempting to temper expectations.  I can’t think of anyone who wants to spend an hour listening to Diablo 3 on the Switch.  Realistically, there’s no way that Blizzard would announce a new title in 45 minutes and then not have any reasonable follow up sessions.

The ol’ Switcheroo

That was a bad pun… but it could be that they are throwing water on the flames to only throw gas back on it during Blizzcon.  That would require significant META thinking, which honestly… no.  Blizzard can’t go a week without leaking a new Overwatch character, or HotS option through seedy internet means.  The Diablo team  is the least subtle of the bunch.  Really feels like the no-BS dev stream.

Other Options

Thinking about this a bit more, I find that Blizzard is oddly quiet regarding the mobile app space.  Hearthstone is manageable.  The WoW mobile app seems designed by a slow witted chimp.  Diablo, Overwatch, HotS all have zero presence.  Could D3 work with mobile controls?  There are certainly other ARPGs that make it work, and it’s not like D3 has that many buttons to press.

Even a large stretch, Diablo has enough lore built in to make some sort of large media push – maybe a Netflix series – some sort of animated one.  I can’t really see them financing a movie.  There are likely still fresh scars around the Warcraft movie.

Blizzard rarely initiates anything – they react.  Torchlight Frontiers is out next year… so maybe they are trying to get in front of that message.  Hard to argue that D3 isn’t the most accessible ARPG on the market now.  PoE seems to require a degree in spacial physics, and Grim Dawn lacks an effective end-game.  Be curious to see how that turns out.

 

Final Space & Dragon Prince

In fits and spurts, I’ve watched both Netflix series.  They only have 1 season, and they are relatively short episodes at 20 and 30 mins each.  They are both worth the watch, but for different reasons.

Final Space

This is more like 2 series in one, and that really swaps over in episode 7.  The first part is a near absurdist buddy comedy, with what amounts to verbal diarrhea.  The second part is more of a mix between Voltron and Cthulhu.

Where is lacks in consistency, it makes up for in sheer drive.  Gary Goodspeed is half bumbling idiot, half hero… and when he does go idiot, he goes full bore.  He ends up befriending some interesting folk along the way; a time travelling captain (both versions), a cat and his son, a demented robot, a lisping nutjob, and an army of cloned robots.

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The typical joke

Where the first part is more US comedy fare, and simple at that, it’s when it tries its hand at larger things that the story really splits off and has trouble holding on.  The overall arc that a bad guy is trying to open Final Space is passable, but the reasons why make little sense.  The ability to prevent it make little sense either, as it feels more like a McGuffin chase than much else.  It doesn’t take itself seriously, as much as it tries to make emotions come to the font.  I mean, there’s only so many times you can watch Gary’s dad die before it just doesn’t have any real resonance.

Side note – Fry from Futurama was is a good comparison in this.  Futurama earned those heart felt episodes, because you saw the characters develop.  Find me someone who didn’t have a tear at Jurassic Bark and I’ll show you someone who’s dead inside.

That said, the overall arc is well framed with a 1 minute countdown at the start of each episode which foreshadows the final one.  Or I guess 1-9 are each flashbacks.  Pick your poison.  It has solid pacing, and that to me is worth more than gold.  Other Netflix series all seem to want to pad an hour with nothing.  Final Space takes the 20 minutes, and fills it to the brim with forward movement.

Curious as to how season 2 will take this.  Either the galactic storyboard that was alluded, or a more episodic approach.

Dragon Prince

Lead by the same guy who brought Avatar (animated) to the screen, Dragon Prince is the story of, well, a Dragon Prince.

The backstory lasts a couple minutes, and generally revolves around nature vs man conflict.  Humans found a new type of magic, that steals life force from the other natural magic sources.  A war breaks out.  The king of dragons (feel I should capitalize that…) defends the border between humans and elves (at least 6 kinds of elves).  Humans manage to kill him, and destroy his only egg.. the aforementioned prince

Elves want revenge, plot a coup to take out the human king and prince… things go wrong.  Seems the egg wasn’t destroyed, but taken.  Who knew?

The elf assassin sees that this would stop the war, and leaves with the prince and the prince-in-law (that will be an interesting backstory I’m sure), and shenanigans occur.  Still the 3 character party + animal companion from Avatar, just no demi-god in the ranks.  Each character has strengths and flaws, hidden secrets.  The team dynamic works well, and it doesn’t take long for it to seem more like a family than a party.

The humans though… that’s a rough bit.  The king had an advisor who is an expert in the evil magic.  He appears to be his best friend… and when that friend proposes using said magic to protect the king, the king decides to go all righteous.  Where was that righteousness for the years where he was the advisor?  The king maybe dies?  I don’t know.  Then the advisor goes full evil mode for the rest of the series.

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My favorite human character.

The advisor has 2 kids, a not-too-bright knight and a smart-ass mage.  They are tasked by the advisor to kill the princes and take the egg back.  They apparently have zero moral struggles with this… but then again there’s maybe 5 minutes total across all episodes between the two.

The Dragon Prince deals with theme of loss and growth.  All good stories do.  There are hints of a much larger world, and this feels just like the initial journey of a grand adventure.  That final shot really isn’t a cliffhanger as much as an “ok, time for the real stuff to start” message from the writers.  It follows the book format of avatar, with a potential of 7 seasons of episodes (if 1 per source of magic).  Avatar was 61 episodes, so it’s pretty close.

The head team is open to audience feedback too, which is a mixed bag of risk, but certainly a novel *cough* way to pick a direction.  Should be an interesting journey.

Morally Grey

There is a big difference between and idea and the execution of that idea.  Great idea to go to the Moon but it took a very long time, and some really smart people to make it happen.

The idea of a morally grey character is a good one.  It fits in with the times of leadership trying to make the best of a bad situation.. and society’s fascination with anti-heroes.  We understand altruism and evil, but it doesn’t interest us anymore.  We need the complexity.

I’ll refer to a memorable character for me, and that’s Mark Purefoy’s portrayal of Marc Antony in HBO’s Rome.

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Smug bugger

The question of why he’s interesting is the point.  He is an anti-hero… in fact often times he’s simply a villain.  His quick to emotions, egotistical, violent, and will hit on anything that moves.  His is the embodiment of borderline control… as clearly he’s moved up the Roman ranks.  The audience can empathize with his situation in nearly all cases, if not outright support his actions.  When he does die, he does it on his terms.

His arc is known well in advance, given that there are still records of his actions from history.  It’s still an interpretation granted, and writer’s discretion does exist for some steps.  The point is that even we he makes reprehensible decisions, things that clearly will not work out in the long run (like his perpetual bender in season 2), viewers are still interested and wondering what will come next.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.

In comparison, no less well written is Augustus, who represents technocracy and lack of emotion.  He goes from petulant child, to isolated adult with world domination in mind.  By the end, he’s lost all his close allies.  Which again, is based on historic records.  He makes the same difficult decisions, and without emotion.  He cuts off his family when he believes they won’t help the longer game.  Essentially the other side of the coin to Marc Antony, who acts with this heart.

In both cases, regardless of the actions taken, they are always in the scope of their character. They may not make rational decisions based on the viewer’s set of moral/ethics, but they do may them based on their own.

It’s a real testament to the writers and to the actors that this is pulled off.

HBO Factor

No question, in the short term most HBO shows that are green lit have solid writing for the first few years.  Few can keep going past 3 seasons, arcs are generally done.  And they get a lot of pitches over the years, they have the luxury of picking the best ones and going forward.  It’s not like we’re raining Sopranos.

Blizzard

I think the downside here is the lack of consistency and direction.  Story arcs are years in the making.  They clearly knew that Teldrassil was going to burn in order to allow their CGI team time to make the video, and build an expansion around it.  They are often 2 years in the future.  It’s based on concepts.  Great!

Then you get shoddy execution.  Yrel is very good example.  She’s a freed slave to start WoD, then becomes the world leader at the end.  No idea how that actually happened, since the middle act of WoD was never released, and it seriously looks as if Blizzard is ignoring anything that came from that expansion (except Garrosh’ death).

Relating to Sylvanas and her actions, Rohan has a good point:

In my opinion, the problem is the writers’ use of emotion. Emotion must be anchored in reason. If emotion is divorced from reason, the character is irrational. And no one likes following irrational leaders. It’s especially bad for Sylvanas, who’s basic character is the cool, calculating, ruthless archetype. A night elf talks smack to Sylvanas, she gets mad, and burns the tree in a fit of anger? That’s so far out of character that it’s just senseless.

Legion had plenty of morally grey stories, along with lot of redemption.  It feels real and rational.  Suramar works in particular because of this… the story is just a bunch of bad options and people trying to make the best of it.

The bridging novel and comic have some interesting threads.  It’s a good thing that they brought Christie Golden to help with the overall story arc.  It’s jarring to have such quality provided in a consistent fashion, and then have the past few weeks of delivery that are rough.  Time will tell if that improves.