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…

Rim of the World

When homage turns to collage.

culture_rimoftheworld

Netflix has a new movie out, Rim of the World.  It’s a re-take on every single classic 80’s adventure ever produced.  To a nearly absurd level.  Just look at the picture and tell me it doesn’t look like a mash between a half dozen ideas (Red Dawn, Goonies, ET, Stand by Me are pretty evident.)

Loner/nerd kid gets sent to camp, to grow.  Makes 3 friends (female, mouthy kid, tough kid).  Aliens invade.  They need to save the world because every adult around them dies.  CGI is a wonderful pastiche of high-school attempts and purposeful stop-motion looks.  Montage included.  It’s worth a re-watch just to count the number of themes it borrows from other movies.

If Stranger Things hadn’t hit a few years ago, this would be  much easier to digest. Stranger Things uses the 80s as a backdrop to tell the story.  Here, the 80s are the story.

It’s a no-apology romp, with the hammiest of delivery, and most straightforward plot.  There are literally no surprises at all here, everything happens as it should.  Which in nostalgic terms, is certainly a plus.  People like the comfort of the familiar.  And it Netflix is any smarter about this, then we’re going to spent the next 5+ years with films in this vein.  80s/early 90s people are the main target for Netflix, so why not get those eyeballs?

It’s a solid B movie, where it doesn’t try to ever take itself seriously.

Also new on Netflix – Bash Brothers.  Now that is worth a watch, just not with the kids around!

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.

Plot vs Character

Writing is hard.  No other way to put it.  There are hundreds of thousands of writers…and they follow a bell curve of talent like any other group.  When one of them stands out, it’s fairly obvious because of the sheer amount of material with which to compare.  And writing is one of those things that people do for 2 reasons – cathartic and exposure.  I do it for the former, I have no illusions that I am some grand auteur.  But I’ve met (we all have) many a writer who thought they were the next Stephen King…

And even the best writers have off days.  Back to Mr. King.  His “best” writing period was when he was on more drugs than a rock band.   His magnum opus series of the Dark Tower took a rather significant nosedive in quality once he got clean.  I’m not saying he should not have gotten clean, but you can draw a pretty clear line in terms of quality output. Bradbury wrote 5x as much that was drivel compared to noticeable.  Asimov was all over the map, and in later years admitted he was writing more for the paycheck than the story (which is crazy if you look at all the things he did).

Then you have writers who just can’t complete their work.  Robert Jordan passed away.  GRR Martin has writers block.  TV shows / movies swap writers over the years.  Point being, initial quality is not reflective of future quality – simply higher odds.

Character vs Plot

Arguably the best writers are those that write characters first, and the plot second.  They avoid tropes, and require some forethought to resolving situations as they are restricted.  I mean if you’re talking about a woman in the 20th century, they are not all of a sudden going to find a jetpack and escape a pack of wild gorillas.  Sometimes, these writers get painted into a corner.  The plot says that they need to be in a certain spot, but the writer knows that it’s going to take some logical steps to get there.  And we end up with extra chapters/books rather than a shortcut.

Plot writers are all about story and need the people in it to make wildly differing decisions to make the story move forward in interesting ways.  Dan Brown is a perfect example.  He writes great adventures, edge of your seat.  His characters are super heroes, who suffer from continual mental lapses, and the text is full of contradictory information.  In many cases, the writing is so poor that solutions become present without the reader being able to make any logical connections.

Game of Thrones

Books first.  I’ve read them and they are primarily character driven.  They make consistent decisions based on circumstances, and the fact that main line characters die is evidence that sometimes the plot takes precedence.  It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good to read though.  The important part of the books is that while set in a fantasy setting, the story is fundamentally about the character interactions.  The Red Wedding is a much more important event as compared to the Red Witch’s powers.

The TV series followed the books, with some artistic liberties.  Those liberties were a bit over the top in some cases (the crypt scene in particular).  Still, it generally followed the book story line.  Then the books stopped and the show continued on its own path.  While there were high spots, there were quite a few low ones.  All of a sudden characters could travel at the speed of light.  They’d miraculously survive insurmountable odds multiple times.  They’d charge into certain death when a more advantageous option was present.

But people still with it, because of the potential of greatness.  These last few episodes though… they are pushed almost entirely by plot.  A “threat” since the opening act of the first episode is dealt with in a single episode.  A hugely strategic advantage (dragon) would not be used on a kamikaze run.  When an entire army is exhausted, you don’t walk them hundreds of miles against a waiting foe.   You don’t pair up an asexual character with their entirely platonic friend… over a drinking game no less.

Writing endings is notoriously difficult.  In life, there are not clear ends and even less so when you are tracking dozens of character threads.  Lost did an amazing job at proving that point.  Sopranos was the exact opposite, since it focused every bit on the family and there wasn’t final closure, simply life moving on.  Breaking Bad is another good example of a solid writing due to narrow characters.

So while GoT certainly has spectacle attached, the odds of it finding footing in 2 more episodes are pretty darn small.   Too many spinning plates, not enough time to address them.

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.