Thursday, December 6, 2018

Maximum Profit for Minimal Effort

I was skipping around on YouTube the other day, going from video to video with no particular rhyme or reason to it, when I came across this video from back in May 2018 by Falcon on Gameranx:



The TL;DR of the video is that EA doesn't understand that people want to play different types of games, and that EA is letting their own desire to promote a steady stream of monetization (via loot boxes and other items) get in the way of what might be really good games. As examples, Falcon pointed to games such as God of War --and tons of Nintendo games-- that were linear in design with a definite ending yet were also extremely popular.

The video was partially in reaction to yet another Star Wars game getting the axe after a lot of prepublication buzz, Visceral Games' untitled Star Wars game developed by Uncharted 1 through 3 Creative Director and writer Amy Henning. The idea that a linear, story based game wasn't going to "keep people coming back to it," paraphrasing EA EVP Patrick Söderlund, is what Falcon believed to be code for utilizing lootboxes and other monetization methods to keep milking the player base. And to be honest, I think he's pretty much dead on here.

The concept that a story driven, linear game wouldn't have people replaying it have honestly never played the Uncharted series, the isometric RPGs of Bioware, and the aforementioned God of War or Nintendo games. But these days, it's all about the money, because the business world is attuned to maximizing quarterly profits.

***

On the face of it, the desire from the major software houses to jack up the monetization by DLC and lootboxes (or even introducing mobile games which have tons of the "cash store" type of stuff) is amusing. After all, I do happen to know a class of video games that are pretty much tailor made for this sort of thing, and I'm betting you do too.

You know... This genre:

Ah, Thrall. Will the Green Jesus save us
with WoW Classic? (From worldofwarcraft.com)

MMOs, that subgenre which is no longer quite so hot these days, is pretty much tailor made to separate gamers from their money on a consistent basis.

MMOs, that subgenre defined by World of Warcraft and their obsessive fans*, toxic world chat, and "the game begins at max level" ethos.

MMOs, that subgenre that game studios are refusing to touch with a ten foot pole.

***

The funny thing is, you can have both a satisfying linear, story-based experience in MMOs as well as a rich, wide-ranging world where you can wander at will (and there's always people who are willing to indulge in a cash store.)

As for the drawback of MMOs, it's the development costs involved. It is much easier to code the next iteration of Call of Duty rather than World of Warcraft. Because MMOs are so all encompassing, their development costs tend to skyrocket. Not so much with the more narrowly defined yet highly profitable annual Madden release.

Cheaper to make than Battle for Azeroth.
I went with Madden 15 because I refuse
to put a Steeler or a Patriot on the cover.
From Wikipedia.
***

In it's own way, EA is confirming the basic business ethos: build cheap, sell dear.** The article I wrote the other day about Blizzard is another pointed comment about the approach of modern software development to cut costs as much as possible and maximize profits any way you can, and here is a (frequently vilified) software development house that chose to eliminate a game that might have sold well but didn't have:
  • The latest hotness in game design
  • Maximum long term profit potential
  • Maximum output for minimal effort

This movement toward a more naked attempt minimize development and maximize costs is starting to remind me a bit of the lead-up to the Great Video Game Crash of the early 80s. Back then, in the interest of cashing in on the video game market, development houses rushed games to production that were cookie cutters in design, cheap to develop, and designed to maximize profit. The market was so flooded with games (and platforms) that people stopped buying new games, creating the push that started the avalanche. While the modern game industry has avoided a similar crash so far, there becomes a point of diminishing returns, particularly when gamers are going to be asked to buy new console platforms in the next couple of years. Eventually there comes a point where people say "okay, that's enough, I'm tired of the BS", and the industry suddenly has major issues.

We're not there yet, but eventually a course correction will happen. People will eventually say --in large enough numbers-- that we're tired of the treadmill and we want something different. And immersive. And something we don't have to continuously pay money for. Nothing lasts forever, but it seems that the major development houses aren't paying attention to that credo while they're laser focused on the next quarter's results.





*Full disclosure, I am one. I may not subscribe right now, but I do like the game. And besides, that comment was fully tongue-in-cheek, because MOBAs are even worse these days.

**Yeah, it's actually "buy cheap and sell dear", but the point is to create a product as cheaply as possible and sell it as high as you can.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Remember the Days of Kill Ten Rats?

I remember playing through my first toon on SWTOR back in 2012, a Smuggler/Gunslinger, and thinking that Bioware didn't hesitate to show the grey morality of the Republic, particularly on Ord Mantell and Belsavis. SWTOR pretty much hit you over the head with that in Ord Mantell with the woman looking for her locket, and the Cathar woman stealing medical supplies for the refugees, not to mention the embedded videographer you're supposed to "rescue" from the Separatists. However, the one thing that I believe SWTOR did shy away from was the usage of tragedy to propel a story forward.

It's not that the Star Wars Universe is incapable of tragedy as a plot device --the television shows and the "Star Wars Story" films show that in spades-- it's just that the emphasis of SWTOR is more on heroism and getting to be the hero in a galaxy divided between Republic and Sith Empire. Despite all the gray, you do have moral choices to make (Light vs.Dark) that are baked into the system, and one of the choices the Bioware devs decided when working on SWTOR was to simply not use tragedy very much.*

Given the nature of the backstory, I expected more of this in Age of Conan, where in Robert E. Howard's stories the secondary (and frequently major) characters would meet untimely ends in the same way that people in H.P. Lovecraft's stories did. The Sword and Sorcery ethos of "magic = things that mankind was not meant to meddle with" pretty much demands it. On the flip side, when major players died in WoW it would frequently feel forced, and for a while most of the major deaths happened offscreen in the novels. The most notable exception for this was the Wrathgate event, which turned everything in Northrend on its head, yet the full event was so well done it felt completely organic to the situation. Anyone with a brain could see the Apothecaries were working on their own "secret projects" since Vanilla, that long game they were playing finally came to fruition two expacs later.

All that being said, The Elder Scrolls Online hasn't really hesitated into utilizing tragedy --and borrowed from a lot of Sword and Sorcery ethos-- to propel a story forward.

Having played the Main Questline through to completion, it was notably absent of much in the way of sacrifice. Yes, I'm aware of the ending, but even then it wasn't much of a sacrifice if you ask me, because I wasn't so invested in those characters. To be honest, I was more invested in their voice actors than the characters themselves. But the zone stories are an entirely different animal.

It is here that I differentiate between the Main Questline and the entire Coldharbour questline. While I suppose it might count as part of the Main Questline, it certainly has more in common with the other Zone Questlines, as the utilization of tragedy is much more common there than in the Main Questline.

I was thinking about the utilization of tragedy as a plot device last night, as I entered into Stormhaven the other day and was finishing up some quests on the western part of the zone. There I ran into yet another tragic outcome (sorry, no spoilers) which got me to thinking that the Elder Scrolls Universe has absolutely no problem utilizing tragedy, particularly when Daedra are involved to any extent. For all the Mary Sue-ism that your toon embodies, and believe me there's quite a bit of that,** the ESO zone stories temper that with things that you can't control and events you can't stop. Even when you're given a quest to make things right, events are never so simple as it seems.

Kill Ten Rats this ain't. More like "Kill Ten Rats, and oopsie, the original questgiver had that wrong, and you really need to do a Fetch and Carry, and uh-oh, maybe this is an Escort quest as well because the original questgiver decided they couldn't wait and got themselves in a crap ton of hot water (sometimes literally). Oh, and there's also a pretty decent chance that the subject of the quest is either in cahoots with the Daedra or is going to be killed by the Daedra or the Daedra had that subject's buddies killed. Rocks all; everyone dies."

ESO Rule for NPCs #1: Unless the Daedric Prince's name is Merida or Azura, don't even bother. Just don't. And if someone promises to make your problems go away, you're screwed, because it's likely a Daedra. Unless it's your toon doing the promising, of course.




*No, I don't have a pipeline to the SWTOR devs, but looking at the result shows that they did avoid tragedy. It's not like Bioware won't use tragedy as a plot device; after all, look at their other games --including KOTOR 1-- as proof otherwise.

**One questgiver says at the completion of a quest that she will erect a statue in your honor, which is more than a wee bit over the top. And really, your toon is trusted by people (commonly known as "your betters") who ordinarily have no business whatsoever trusting a random person who just happens to show up on their doorstep asking if they can help out. From my perspective, that is the laziest part of the writing in the ESO universe; I shouldn't be able to simply waltz up to a Captain of the Guard, much less nobility, and have them simply accept that I'm going to help out and do their heavy lifting. Even the Jedi get less initial traction in SWTOR than your toon does in ESO.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Farewell, Nexus

I won't be seeing this guy again.
The Caretaker zapped him along with
the rest of Nexus

I managed to get online with 5 minutes before shutdown, but my screenshots never took. I wasn't surprised, as the servers were overloaded with people trying to say goodbye.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Slow Creeping Onslaught of the Bean Counters

Jason Schreier has been busy, following up the Diablo mobile game announcement at Blizzcon 2018 with an indepth article about Diablo, and by extension, Blizzard itself.

The Past, Present, and Future of Diablo dropped on Wednesday, right before Thanksgiving in the US, so it is understandable if you happened to miss it then. But go and read it, then come back here.

I'll wait.

***

Pulling the Diablo expac from development speaks volumes to me. It tells me that upper management was feeling the pressure from the lousy D3 release, and they didn't have confidence that the first D3 expac would right the ship. That was a big departure from Blizzard's previous behavior, where they were willing to wait and work on something before it was good enough to release.

As much as Titan was considered a "failure" by many internally because they never got it across that goal line, it does provide a big peek into Blizzard's thought process. Because Blizzard had the WoW money coming in --as well as a lot of customer goodwill-- Blizzard could afford to throw money at something that ultimately became a "failure", although the release of Overwatch from the ashes of Titan proved that Blizzard could still make a fantastic game from the leftover pieces. I realize that people would argue that Blizzard could afford to do that because of the WoW money, but that ethos was baked into Blizzard's culture from the get-go. The WoW money only allowed Blizzard more space to try to make a failure work.

However, once Activision Blizzard struck out on their own, there was bound to be a culture clash from the two entities as to which vision would ultimate win out.When A-B was part of Vivendi, this sort of clash wasn't necessary because A-B was a small part of the Vivendi conglomerate. When A-B went solo, however, they couldn't afford "poor sales" like they could in the past. So how would this end up?

Well, we do have a previous merger that provides look into the dynamics of how this would work out, and ironically enough it involves two major computer companies, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard.

***

In one corner, there was Compaq; the maker of the first PC clone that challenged the IBM for dominance in the PC space. In the other was HP, which built its reputation first on lab electronics and calculators, and then later on PCs. The two were big players in the PC market, and when HP's Carly Fiorina first announced the merger the business analysts weren't so sure about how the merger would work out, suggesting that the companies didn't complement each other very well. However, in spite of a revolt led by Walter Hewlett, son of one of the two founders Bill Hewlett, Carly got her wish and the merger happened.

The two corporate cultures, however, couldn't be more different. Compaq was very much a "fly by the seat of your pants" outfit that would throw products against the wall to see what would stick and then patch things to make them work, while HP was more ingrained in a slower, methodical, make-sure-it-works-before-releasing style of development, based on openness and trust, the legendary HP Way. (Does this sound familiar?) Perhaps bruised by the revolt and stung by the criticism from analysts, Carly used the merger to throw out most of HP management and replace them with Compaq people, leading to the eventual loss of the HP corporate culture within its own company.

With Activision Blizzard, we are seeing a similar fight appearing. Activision is very much a "release every year with some changes but with a formula that doesn't vary very much" type of outfit. Blizzard works on things until it is perfect enough to release. Alas, the signs don't look good for Blizzard in the long run, as the killing off of the second D3 expac was the first unofficial sign that Blizzard's management was starting to feel the "what have you done for me this quarter?" that seems to infest publicly traded companies the past 3-4 decades. The end of the article, where Blizzard's new finance person has started talking about "cost cutting", is another ominous sign that Blizzard's management is starting to lose its battle to remain independent from direct control by Bobby Kotick's and the bean counters from the Activision side of the company.

***

In my personal opinion, I think it's time for Blizzard to spin off and become a privately held company. They may not need to do it to develop games, but if they want to develop games the way they've always done it, they'll need to be free from the influence of an alien corporate culture (Activision) and the pressure to perform by shareholders (publicly traded on the market). The freedom to fail is a powerful thing, because it leads to risk and innovation. If a company becomes risk adverse and settles for churning out products that vary little from year to year, they may make money but their dreams become smaller, concerned with focus groups and earnings per share and not rocking the boat. If Blizzard wants to continue to dream big, they need to control their own destiny.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Steam [Don't Call it] Black Friday Sale has Arrived

You know a big sale is going on when I open up my email and find a "25 Items From Your Steam Wishlist are on Sale!" message in there.
I wish the Autumn colors looked like that around
here. It was hot until way late in Fall, and then
suddenly switched over to cold weather, with the
leaves not giving much color at all.

I'm personally debating as to what to do with Steam sale; whether to wait for the Winter Sale or pounce on this one. There are a few games I'd like to nab when they're on sale, such as Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, but there are also some others that I know I'd be tempted to purchase for the mini-Reds.*
Deadfire, because chasing after a rogue
god can be fun. From GameRevolution.


There is the Pathfinder: Kingmaker game out there that I'd really like to try, but I keep saying I'm going to wait until the release is a lot more stable. It seems to be getting there, but I'll likely wait until December before moving forward with P:K.
Well, I'll have to wait a bit longer before
having Pathfinder Barbarian Iconic character
Amiri in my party. From the Kickstarter.
Then there's also a discount on ESO: Summerset, even though I'm likely not to reach there on my ESO main for quite a while.
Because you can't have an ESO expansion
without everyone's favorite Morag Tong
agent tagging along for the ride. From
playstation.com.

Or maybe I'll go purchase a game I'd purchased ages ago for a PC back in the Vista days, such as Total War: Medieval, that no longer plays on current machines because of graphics code changes.** Before you ask why I'd want to play the first version of The Creative Assembly's Medieval games, it's because Medieval 1 is a completely different design than Medieval 2. Medieval 2 follows every design after Total War: Rome and has armies roaming through the maps in fine detail --you can go across terrain and roads, for example-- while Medieval 1 is an area control game in the same way that Risk is. Sometimes you want to play one style, and sometimes you want to play the other.

Sometimes you just wanna slam down some
armies and say "Egypt is MY territory!"
From steam.com.

But you know, I realize that whatever I choose I'll have time for playing later, as we've got the Steam Winter Sale coming in about a month. And I'm fine with that.






*Well, except for the fact that they don't need distractions heading into the final weeks of the Fall semester.

**When that first arose when I'd replaced the graphics card on my old Athlon system, both NVidia and The Creative Assembly pointed fingers at each other, but it turned out that it was NVidia at fault, as they chose not to support an older graphics ruleset. The net effect was that I was no longer able to play the first Medieval: Total War (before they changed the name around) until the Steam version appeared.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The End Comes for Nirn

I finished the endgame for the original portion of The Elder Scrolls Online yesterday. While the final battle at the endgame --and afterwards, your personal story-- took about 8-10 hours of playing time* for a player experiencing it for the first time, the overall storyline for ESO from your initial starting zone through to the end was much faster than I expected. By comparison, my original toon on SWTOR** took probably about 4 months of steady play, and WoW.... Well, lets just say that WoW took considerably longer to get to L60.

But I now know the reason why the opening up of the other faction's zones was so critical to ESO's future: the original game was too short compared to other MMOs.

Believe me, I'm not a "I'm bored, there's nothing to do!!" person, because MMOs by their nature have a lot of side items such as crafting and whatnot, but when I finished the original game I thought, "Huh. That really was too short!"

The story did have a taste of Mary Sue-ness to it at the end, especially given that your character pretty much came out of nowhere to do some amazing things at the end. However, to Zenimax's credit they weren't afraid to let some NPCs die in that final assault. Oh, it wasn't George RR Martin level of bloodbath, but a couple of NPCs that I really kind of liked didn't make it at the end.***

ESO did use a heavy amount of what I'd call personal phasing --where the story provides phasing while in plain sight of other toons, who obviously can't see what you're seeing-- to make the final assault more interesting. This is a grade up from what WoW implemented in Wrath through Mists, and it really takes some virtual sleight of hand to pull this off. Kudos to the dev team for doing just that.

Choice did have a bit of an impact on who shows up in the final assault. If you chose one group over another in the Coldharbour zone, that group was the one that showed up. (Sorry, I'm not giving spoilers away.) That happened numerous times in Coldharbour, and in at least one case making the "right" choice meant a critical quest sequence went a lot more smoothly. But whether it was the right ethical/moral answer, that's a different story.

The one thing that I found most interesting, however, was the impact that the so-called "good" Daedra have on Nirn. I'm pretty much used to Molag Bal, Sheogorath, and company having an impact, but the good Daedra have a pretty large impact as well. I kept wondering just where the Aedra are, and why they're not very active. In that respect, I felt that the world of The Elder Scrolls was more akin to a Swords and Sorcery setting --such as Age of Conan-- where the gods really don't seem to give much of a crap about the Conan's world, but the demons and demon gods certainly do.

Is it worth it to play? Yes, it is, if for nothing else than the voice acting alone. I was geeking out when I heard both Kevin Michael Richardson (Sai Sahan) and Jennifer Hale (Lyris Titanborn) as companions in the same way that their characters in SWTOR were (Jace Malcom and Satele Shan, respectively).
The two in the middle....
(From elderscrolls.wikia.com)
...are the same as these two.
(From wattpad.com.)

The one thing I'm not exactly sure of is just how active the game really is. It certainly seemed active, but there's apparently only one Megaserver for North America, so I don't know how active it truly is. Besides, I'm not playing in Summerset, which is the current expac, so there's that as well.

Anyway, I'm seriously glad that Zenimax opened up the other alliance zones, because otherwise I'd find myself in an uncomfortable situation of saying "this was way too short for me".





*That also included a few extra side quests in the final battle zones --in the same zone as the vampires-- which didn't take terribly long. Maybe it was an hour combined for those side quests, as the delve was fairly straightforward, but I tend to lose track of time when doing some of these side quests.

**This was 2012ish, and that meant all the original side quests were firmly in place and pretty much a requirement if you wanted to gear up your companions.

***And in true MMO fashion, the moment you walk out of the last phased story zone, there were all the NPCs back doing what they were doing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

More Consolidation is in Order

In other CRPG news, Obsidian Entertainment agreed to be bought out by Microsoft.


I'm not sure what to think of this. On one hand, it's nice from Obsidian's standpoint to not have to worry about where the next set of paychecks is coming from, but I do wonder at the cost to independence and culture.

Obsidian's forte is the CRPG, having been involved with the genre for 20+ years*, so I'm not sure what Microsoft is expecting out of Obsidian, given that the XBoxOne's (and PS4's) forte is more heavily graphically oriented than what Obsidian works with. Don't get me wrong, an isometric CRPG can work well in a console format**, but that's more the exception than the rule for console games. And, truth be told, console gamers aren't exactly clamoring for a CRPG design style that dates back to 1998 and Baldur's Gate with the original Bioware Infinity Engine.

Still, what CRPGs like Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny have is story, and if Microsoft wants to take Obsidian's world building and storytelling, throw in some current-gen console magic, and whip up a new CRPG franchise, that's fine with me.

All I ask of Microsoft is to let Obsidian do what Obsidian wants to do also, because that independence will reap dividends in the long run. Yes, yes, I know Microsoft says that they will, and I'm sure that they'll try to at first, but the thing is that very few companies retain that independence over the long haul. By giving Obsidian the chance to fail without fear, Microsoft will be giving a software studio a chance to dare to reach even higher.

And who knows, maybe that'll provide Microsoft with the next Dragon Age or Witcher franchise.





*Obsidian was formed by former members of Black Isle, who'd created Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment, and Fallout 1 and 2.

**Just look at Blizzard's D3 port to consoles for an example.


EtA: Fixed a confusing grammar error.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Life Well Lived

The end comes for everybody, even Stan Lee.

Stan passed away today at the age of 95.

Stan with some of the X-men.
From media.comicbook.com.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Made The Big Time At Last

Watching the world go by
Surprising it goes so fast
Johnny looked around him
And said "Well I made the big time at last."
--Shooting Star by Bad Company

I was watching some college football yesterday* on ESPN. If you've ever seen a sporting event on ESPN, you'd know that a staple of ESPN's coverage is the ubiquitous ticker at the bottom of the screen that every other sportscast seems to have added to their own coverage. The ticker covers all sorts of sports, and a measure of a sport's popularity in the US is whether it gets a line on the ticker. For example, about 20 years ago you'd never have seen soccer on the ticker outside of MLS scores, but now there's coverage of the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, and Italy's Serie A.**

Even knowing this fact, I was surprised to see this on the ticker yesterday:



I know that eSports has been broadcast on ESPN and other channels in the past, but this took me by surprise. Oh, not that FNatic lost --I don't follow eSports enough to know whether FNatic had won any LoL Championships since xPeke left the team-- but that League of Legends was even on the ticker at all.

Well done, eSports. You've now made it to the big time.

And I'd love to have been in a bar somewhere watching a bunch of college football fans when THAT showed up on the ticker for the first time.





*Yes, American football. And "watch" is a relative term here, as I was cleaning and doing the laundry.

**As a measure of soccer's penetration into the US monolith, NBC broadcasts the Premier League, FOX Sports the Bundesliga, and ESPN will show the occasional Serie A and La Liga match. ESPN and FOX also share broadcast rights for MLS, and ESPN streams the second tier US league the USL over its ESPN+ service. Even the National Women's Soccer League gets airplay on ESPN, and anyone who says that the women's league doesn't have quality soccer hasn't watched a match. Quite a few players on the US, Canadian, Brazilian, and other national teams play in the NWSL. While I doubt that soccer will ever displace American football in the national consciousness, soccer is rapidly closing the gap in popularity between it and the other "big four" American sports leagues: baseball's MLB, basketball's NBA, football's NFL, and hockey's NHL.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

So, When Does Drusera Show Up?

In addition to the announcement that Her Universe will be designing clothing for Overwatch in additionto WoW, Blizz introduced another Overwatch character, Ashe.

The animated short, Reunion, I found fascinating because while there's a lot of Blizz in the short, there's also quite a bit of Wildstar. I was not expecting to get that Wildstar vibe as much as I did, but the short was a Western / SF mashup, so maybe that's it.

Regardless, here's the short:


Friday, November 2, 2018

At the Intersection of WoW and Fangirls

Ashley Eckstein, known among Star Wars fans as the voice of Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker's apprentice*, is also known for the geek clothing company Her Universe. She saw a need for clothing for fangirls, and she built Her Universe into a globally recognizable brand. Although Hot Topic now owns Her Universe, Ashley retains creative control over the brand**, and she remains its most visible champion.

As such, when this dropped on the Her Universe FB page, I sat up and took notice:

From the Her Universe FB page.

This is going to happen sometime today (November 2nd, 2018), so this should prove to be a very interesting panel discussion at BlizzCon. I may not play WoW any more, but I really love this. (Besides, I'm banking on WoW Classic to pull me back in.)

If you want to skip anything about the panel and just go check out the WoW gear Ashley and Co. have designed, go to the Her Universe website.

Oh, and Happy BlizzCon, con-goers!

Sure, stick Saurfang next to the Devil.
Because Orcs, I suppose.



*Sorry, no spoilers here.

**I'd asked her FB page about that when the buyout was announced, and she said she explicitly wanted control if Hot Topic acquired the company. She was excited about the prospect of teaming up with Hot Topic over geeky stuff going forward.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

What Was That Magic Word Again.... "XYZZY?"

A long time ago, I played a video game on a teletype machine.

During the summer after my 5th and 6th grade years, the younger brother of a neighbor would visit from New York City for a few months. While he was a year older than me, his sister was significantly older than him, as she was married with a toddler. I suppose geeks recognize each other, no matter where they're from, and he and I became fast friends. While I was reading Lord of the Rings, The Sword of Shannara, and The Belgariad, he was reading Dune and X-Men. He introduced me to the Elfquest comics, which were unlike anything I'd seen before then.* We'd often take bike rides down to the local strip mall to spend a few hours playing video games wherever they could be found, or we'd spend time playing with his brother-in-law's Atari 2600 and collection of games.

One day, I stopped by their house to find him sitting at the dining room table with what looked like an electronic typewriter in front of him. As both his sister and her husband worked --and his nephew was in daycare-- he was frequently alone for the day. But what surprised me was that he wasn't reading or playing around with the Atari**.

"Hey, you have to see this," he said as he pulled me upstairs and sat me down in front of the machine. It looked like an electronic typewriter, much fancier than the manual or IBM Selectric typewriters I'd been exposed to before now, only that it printed on rolls of thermal paper.

"It's a typewriter," I finally replied.

"No, it's a computer."

I raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, it's not a computer by itself, it connects to a computer over the phone."

"What do you do with it?"

"You can do stuff with it, like play games."

That caught my attention. "What sort of games?"

"An adventure game."

"Oh? Can you show me?"

He shuffled his feet. "It costs money to connect, so I'm only allowed to play for an hour. Okay?"

"Got it."

Reaching across me, he flipped on the power switch and typed in a command he'd written down on a pad of paper next to the machine. I heard a screeching sound, an electronic "bounce bounce", and then the machine sprang to life, printing out a "Connected" onto the roll of thermal paper.

"Now, we do this...." he typed in the command "adventure" and suddenly the following popped out:

From the wikipedia page. I finally gave up
after spending a few hours trying to find the roll
of paper I kept from that session.

Now, I have to explain that this was before my exposure to Dungeons and Dragons; this was sometime in the Summer of '81, and I was first introduced to D&D in the Fall of '81. I knew and loved the Atari 2600 game Adventure, even though the "dragons" looked a lot like ducks.***
The player, carrying a sword, having just slain
the green dragon.
From defunctgames.com.

Still, the concept of a written adventure game, where you can interact with a computer just like you were writing your own novel, was amazing to me.

I quickly discovered that what I thought were some pretty basic ideas, such as "cage bird", got me a "What do you want to do with the cage?"**** The words "kill snake" resulted in "Attacking the snake both doesn't work and is very dangerous."

"Aaargh," I grumbled. "It's not doing what I want to do! Why won't it just capture the bird?"

"Yeah, my friend replied. "I've found that a problem too."

Due to our scattershot attempts to figure out how to get the bird in the cage, bypass the snake, and then not get killed by the dwarf (trust me, this makes sense in the context of the game), that hour passed by very quickly.

My friend reached over and turned the teletype machine off.

"Oh man," I pleaded, "another five minutes?"

"Um," he began, and looked at the gigantic pile of paper that we had hanging off the machine.

"Oh. Whoops."

"Yeah," he replied. "I think I'm in trouble."

He ended up getting grounded for a few days because of all of the paper that we used up, not to mention that he'd already played for an hour before I got there, so we technically played an hour longer than he was supposed to play. But I did get to keep the roll of paper, so somewhere around the house is a record of that game session, my first true adventure game session.

***

I bring this up because I've been reading a book titled A History of Video Games in 64 Objects by Jon-Paul C. Dyson and Jeremy K. Saucier, who founded the World Video Game Hall of Fame out of The Strong Museum of Rochester, New York. The 64 objects in question stretch from the precursors of video games up through the present (yes, including Pokemon GO), but for me the objects of greatest interest were from the early days of video games.
The cover may not look
like much, but it's a fascinating
read. From Amazon.

The book didn't include Colossal Cave, but it was referenced in a couple of the articles, especially the one about Zork. Making an engaging game utilizing the 70s era tech --or, in the case of Pong, essentially 50s era tech-- was amazing. The genius behind those games, forging ahead into the unknown and creating the modern software industry along with Lotus, Oracle, IBM, and other heavyweights of IT, can often be obscured when looking at those days from our current perch: an era of smartphones, VR, and multiplayer online games. There's more power in my 4-5 year old smartphone than can be found in the cutting edge Athlon PC I had back in 1999, and the amount of computing power that these early video games consumed is infinitesimal by comparison. But what they lacked in pure computing power they made up for in cleverness and replayability.

Sure, when you finish a game like Colossal Cave or Zork, the game is over, but so many games of that era utilized randomization to an extent that no replays were ever the same again. You select the third option on Atari's Adventure, and you're never sure where all of the pieces are. Hell, you may even end up in an impossible victory condition, because the lack of computing space meant that the developers of Adventure couldn't spend precious lines checking to see if you could actually access some of the areas where the items were hidden. But far from it being merely a "feature" of the game, it meant that there were going to be times when you simply couldn't win. To a player now used to customizing D&D encounters and devs constantly tweaking raid and instance bosses in MMOs, the concept of "sometimes you just won't win" is pretty alien. And also refreshing.

I remember playing Santa Paravia --an early country simulator game-- back in 1983 on the Tandy TRS-80 Model III. While I figured out how to manage my way to victory, no two games ever started out the same. Having several years of drought early on meant years of difficult choices, while several years of plenty allowed me to splurge on beefing up troops and walls in preparation for attacking my "friendly" neighbors. The game prepared me for more advanced play with Sid Meier's Civilization series as well as team management games such as Age of Empires or Starcraft. I actually have a printout of the source code for Santa Paravia somewhere, and I occasionally thought of converting it to a language I know, but I never really did. I just enjoyed playing it too much to want to dig in and "ruin" the game by tinkering with it.

***

What do those games have that make me so nostalgic for them?

Well, not much, really. The gameplay isn't that deep, and there's nothing spectacular about the games in the same way as when I walked through the Dark Portal in WoW that first time and ended up in Outland. Sure, I played them at an impressionable age, as I did with other games such as Asteroids or Pac-Man, but no arcade game held my attention like these early computer games did. I may have loved Galaxian, but Colossal Cave made me want to program for a living. I certainly sucked at Defender, as I also did at Car Wars*****, but Car Wars held my attention that Defender never did.

Nostalgia is pretty strange in that there are no set rules as to trigger nostalgia. Things that I am definitely not nostalgic for, like parachute pants and disco music, bring people out of the woodwork. Some people --my wife for one-- love-love-love Ms. Pac-Man, while I'm kind of meh about it. But you know, that's fine. I'm nostalgic for games such as Colossal Cave because they changed the way I looked at things. Because of that day and that teletype machine, I'm sitting here typing away on a blog about gaming. I work in IT partly because of the path that began with that game. Other people may have their own lives changed because of some game that they began playing for the first time today, and I'm not being trite or melodramatic about it. This sort of thing does happen.

I remember when the oldest mini-Red was about 10 or 11, the entire family went to the symphony. We went about 4-5 times a year#, but this particular concert seemed to really catch the attention of the oldest mini-Red. After the concert ended and we were waiting for the crowd to clear out before we got up and left, she sat in her seat with a very serious look on her face. Her eyes never leaving the musicians, she said, "Someday, I'm going to be playing on that stage."

She claims she doesn't remember that moment, but I do. It was a game changing moment for her. I know, because I've been there.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm trying to not cheat and look at a FAQ on Colossal Cave while I'm trying to get that bird in the cage.




*Mainly Star Trek, The Avengers, and Spider-man.

**Or watching cable television. Being in the throes of puberty, cable was our access to what we considered "adult" entertainment. Our local cable at the time had HBO, The Movie Channel, and Cinemax and my friend's sister got all three. We disdained HBO, because they only put R rated content on in the evening, but we got to watch plenty of Mel Brooks movies and all sorts of what they called "sex comedies" or "romantic comedies" back then on the other two channels during the day. My mom in particular was very prudish, and anything not rated G (or PG that wasn't Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or whatnot) was very suspect in her eyes, so seeing all of these movies were a revelation to me.

***The mini-Reds used to call Atari's Adventure "The Ducky Game", which had "the mean ducks" in them.

****This was how I was first introduced to one of the main rules about computers: they do what you tell them to do, not what you want them to do.

*****It's not only a card game by Steve Jackson Games, but also a pencil and paper RPG and a computer game for the Commodore 64. The latter is what I played, and boy was I bad at that game.

#I still say that symphony or pops concerts' tickets are incredibly cheap for the experience, particularly if you're comparing them to rock concert tickets. Believe me, when I saw The Who in 1989, I thought paying $20 for a ticket was really expensive. How naive I was back then....

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Standing Stone Jumps on the Bandwagon

Following the lead of other MMO companies that are reliving their early days, Standing Stone is creating Legendary Servers for LOTRO.

The idea is to start with only the up to L50 --the Shadows of Angmar quests-- are unlocked, and slowly unlock new areas over time. Like Rift Prime, the Legendary Servers are only accessible by subscribers (VIP Members) or lifetime VIP members.

While some items will be old school --no PvMP play or legendary weapons (at the start), for example-- other items such as the available classes and races are current. So yes, you can play as a High Elf on the Legendary Servers. And if a zone was reworked over the course of time, the reworking remains intact. I suppose that is a good thing, because having to go back and put back in klunky zone layouts and quests (such as Mines of Moria before the reworking several years ago) would have been labor intensive.

It's not a Vanilla server in the same vein that Rift Prime or the upcoming WoW Classic were, but that's fine. Standing Stone is more interested in recreating the feel of starting fresh in LOTRO's story, without any of the temptations of zipping along and bypassing everything to get to the current state of things.

It's also a way to entice people to subscribe to experience the Legendary Servers, for a relatively low amount of personnel and server costs. Now, just as long as Standing Stone isn't on their last legs....

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

And the Gods Laughed

No more than a month ago I thought that Rift Prime was doing well enough that Trion has kept the server going for the time being. In retrospect, I should have likely not invoked the Gods of Irony, because there was some pretty eventful news surrounding Trion.

Trion, developer of MMOs such as Rift and NA publisher of ArcheAge, has been sold to the German company Gamigo. While sales or spinoffs of games and game divisions isn't unheard of in the video game world*, what is more unheard of is what happened after the sale was announced: Trion laid off almost all of its staff.

That has happened before in the game world, when boardgame company Avalon Hill --best known for games such as Diplomacy, Civilzation, Squad Leader, and other wargames-- was bought by Hasbro. Hasbro's representatives at the time expressed displeasure at the loss of the AH staff**, because they thought they were getting the entire TAHGC staff, but I chalk that up to the owners of Avalon Hill, the Dotts, being greedy asshats.***

So why Trion laid off its staff is currently an unknown, I can't imagine that Trion's staff knew that it was coming to that degree. After all, the Rift Prime server just released the Storm Legion update, and there were still livestreams scheduled even as of last week. Obviously, all of this is going to come crashing to a halt while Gamigo takes over assets, but given that Rift Prime is still in existence (as of this morning, at least) the Rift portion of Trion is still hanging in there. They even set up the Autumn Harvest event on servers as of last week, so Trion's staff was planning on being in place at least.

As for ArcheAge, Trion was the publisher, so basically Gamigo takes over the publishing portion of that arrangement.

But what portends for the ex-Trion staff? Its entirely possible that Gamigo hires them on as a third party, or they'll simply take the assets and then change direction. I perused the games that Gamigo currently has, and I don't think they have a game out there like Rift. I'm only vaguely familiar with Aura Kingdom, and most of the others seem to be MOBA, PvP, or strategy oriented games. Even the games listed as "MMORPG" don't really fit what we're used to in AAA MMO space. I raised an eyebrow when multiple game descriptions include "an engaging story" while at the same time emphasizing the eye candy in the toon pictures.

If this is the sort of game that Gamigo puts out, then I'm not sure how exactly Rift will fit in. ArcheAge will fit in much better than Rift, for certain. Even Devilian would have fit in better in Gamigo's lineup than Rift, to be honest. If Gamigo tries to change Rift to match its other game titles, I'd imagine that Rift would become unrecognizable to its current and former playerbase.

So here's wishing the best of luck to the Trion employees who were laid off.


EtA: I've done some more digging on Gamigo, and apparently they are a "maintenance company". They purchase F2P games and then amp up the cash store and P2W purchases to a level that would have made the "old" Rift P2W controversy tame by comparison. No new development, just a bit of fluff, and that's pretty much it.

About the best thing for Rift would be that some company with deep pockets and a love for the game would step in and purchase the game from Gamigo, but things look pretty grim for Rift.

As for ArcheAge, all bets are off. They do fit in with Gamigo's lineup better, and their development house is separate from Trion, but I've no idea what will happen there. I was working on a "Fun With MMOs" post on ArcheAge, but I might shelve that entirely. Or maybe I post it with the caveat that "this will likely be obsolete by the time you read this".


EtA: And here is the link to the official announcement from Gamigo AG. Here is one very pertinent part of the article: "It is expected that the Trion Worlds acquisition will add on gamigo group level revenues of at least USD 18 million in 2019." I have no idea where they're expecting those revenues to come from --outside of Trove, which according to the forums is apparently Trion's most profitable game-- without adding tons of cash shop items and P2W items. I could also see them attempting to sell some of the assets as well, or even license the game engines to other companies.





*For instance, there's Standing Stone, that was formed from ex-Turbine developers, that bought the assets to LOTRO. And even Activision-Blizzard itself was spun off from parent Vivendi into the "capable" hands of Bobby Kotick and his fellow investors.

**I can't find the reference to it, but it was in the Usenet group that followed board games, rec.games.board.

***They were arrogant enough to try to sue software developer Microprose for its release of the wildly popular Sid Meier's Civilization in the mid-90s, and they actually lost that lawsuit. The net result, however, was that both Microprose and Avalon Hill were financially weakened to the point of being sold off. Both, ironically enough, to Hasbro.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Reacquainting Myself with My Inner Min/Maxer

I suppose it doesn't come as much of a surprise that I've been focusing my attention on The Elder Scrolls Online a lot lately. I'm still working my way through the main questline, and dying quite a bit in the process.* The enemies aren't exactly that difficult per se, but I'm typically a "set the rotation and forget it" sort of player, and being forced to swap in and out different attacks in the slots is still a new thing for me to handle. Prior to ESO, the most I'd do for weapon/ability swapping would be to switch between a bow and melee on Age of Conan, and that was mainly done to aggro the mob I want to take down rather than engage close in and have several mobs jump me at once.**

After loading up on shards --and getting the skill that allows you a low percentage chance to fill empty soul shards after zapping an enemy-- I'm happily out questing for a much longer time than what'd be normal for someone who does tend to die an annoying amount of times. And that's a good thing, because it prevents all those deaths from disrupting the flow of the storyline.

I'm still not completely sold on the personal storyline, but I will give props to several of the side quests and zone quests. And I'll also give major props to what Zenimax did in The Rift --the Pact storyline, anyway-- with one of the NPCs from an earlier zone. I wasn't expecting that questline at all, to be sure, and I thought Zenimax did a good job of working that questline.***
And Sheogorath is as mad as a hatter.
But you knew that, right?
From elderscrolls.wikia.com

One thing I am having trouble with is the number of skill points I have. I'm trying to avoid spending the skill points in areas that don't directly affect my combat abilities, but I'm currently sitting on 7 unused skill points and frequently that goes over 10 until I find a few slots to use them. I'm not exactly sure where I got this embarrassment of riches, but were I not busy working on quest progression, these skill points would have found their way into non-essential slots, such as crafting.

I think I'm going to have to slow down my playing and start reading up on skill slot optimization, something I've not had to do for an MMO in, well, years. ("Hel-lo, Elitist Jerks!! I hear one of your people is now on staff at Blizzard. I guess that makes your work all the more legit, I suppose.")

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've some reading to do....





*Action oriented combat isn't my forte, especially when you play enough and your hands and wrists start to ache.

**AoC is still the only MMO I've played where I have to worry about being overwhelmed by more than one mob at once. Most other MMOs I've played may have that in spurts, particularly if you're undergeared or underleveled for the area, but you can be at the right level/gear in AoC and simply be overwhelmed by two mobs of three enemies each. And even if you manage to survive that, it's also likely that a third mob will wander in due to the overlap of aggro areas, and that's definitely the end for you. AoC was definitely designed for a lot of players in a single zone at once.

***Sorry, I'm not putting up details, because spoilers.

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Quick Friday Read

I came across this recent post from Eurogamer about how BioWare completely changed the RPG genre with Baldur's Gate, and found it too good to not share. It's full of the "we had no idea what we were getting into" moments, along with how the game was so incredibly massive for its time. Nowadays, it'd be considered fairly small, but I remember playing the game and having to constantly swap out the 5 CDs that the game came with. I got used to hearing the very specific mechanical sound of the CD player that meant "Hey, I found something relevant", and when it requested a new CD I felt the urge to cheer.

Fun fact: Dynaheir (above) was
voiced by Jennifer Hale. Yes,
Jennifer "Fem Shep" Hale.
From baldursgate.wikia.com and
BG itself.

While I do think that BG2 improved upon everything that the original BG had, were it not for that first Baldur's Gate the entire RPG industry would be completely different, and likely dominated by Final Fantasy clones.

But for me, the best part was finding out the inspiration for Minsc and Boo, which while a bit more mundane than I expected I still found amusing.

From the baldursgate.wikia.com site,
as well as Baldur's Gate itself.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

How Do They Keep Cheating the Reaper?

Age of Conan has another limited time server in place, this time with a PvP ruleset.

The Saga of Blood opened on September 27th and will run for a "limited time", with a battle royale slated for the end of the server's life for the people at the top of the PvP leaderboard.

How Funcom keeps AoC alive I've no idea, but AoC has outlasted both Marvel Heroes and Wildstar, and will likely outlast one or two other MMOs out there before finally bidding the MMO world adieu.

***

In other news, I've kept plugging away at the Elder Scrolls Online, and I've become very acquainted with respawning using soul gems as I've worked my way into Skyrim territory (playing as a Dark Elf). I think the dodging that I need to do isn't quite up to my skill set, given that my fingers ache after a long session these days.

I've not gotten down to "old man Redbeard" levels yet, but I can see that time approaching in the future. I do have to wonder, however, whether Blizz's changes to WoW to make the game easier to play have less to do with the price of entry and more to do with the aging of the player base.

Just a thought.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Fortnite's Big Break

You know that you've "made it" as a politician, celebrity, or sports figure if you're skewered on Saturday Night Live.

For the uninitiated, Saturday Night Live (or SNL) is on the US broadcast network NBC at 11:30 PM on Saturday nights and lasts until 1:00 AM Sunday morning. Yes, it's a live show, and it began in October 1975 and has been on television ever since. The cast is constantly evolving as people join the crew, stay for several years, and move on to do other things. Stars such as Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, Amy Proehler, Will Ferrell, Sarah Silverman, and many others got their big break on SNL.

Well, I knew that Fortnite was big, but not SNL type big, until tonight. Guest Host Adam Driver is the "dad" in the Fortnite skit:


At least I've never been that bad in video games, but I can attest that my own dad would have been that bad.

Between myself and Ancient, I guess we've got the "old man" aspect of video games covered....

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

As Sand Slips Through the Hourglass...

I knew this day would come, but it doesn't make the transition any easier.

One of the mini-Reds has reached 20.

Oh, she still games and does all sorts of other geeky things --she recently was one of the people who put together a D&D 5e gaming group among her band friends-- and I'm still really proud of her.

But she's no longer a mini-Red.

A mega-Red, perhaps.

Happy birthday, Kid:


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fun With MMOs: The Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls Online is one of those MMOs that was built on an existing (and wildly popular) video game property. Unlike other well known properties turned into MMOs, The Elder Scrolls franchise is strictly a video game property, as opposed to the broader scope of the properties behind MMOs such as LOTRO, SWTOR, Neverwinter, etc., etc.

But that's not a bad thing. After all, the biggest MMO out there, WoW, is a video game property. As is Final Fantasy XIV, for that matter.*

The Elder Scrolls Online was developed by Zenimax and published by Bethesda, and after a reported seven years in development was released for PC on April 4th, 2014. In June 2015, ESO released for the PS4 and XBoxOne.

And I'll freely admit that when I first heard of ESO, my first thought was "Why?"
This never gets old.
From all over the internet, really.

After the WoW-killer failure of Rift and SWTOR** as well as the tremendous success of Skyrim, it seemed very foolish to tempt the MMO gods by creating a huge MMO for the Elder Scrolls franchise. Additionally, the release date in 2014 didn't really have the same buzz for ESO that another 2014 release, Wildstar, had. Wildstar was also getting a lot of press because it was moving in the direction of "old school MMO" in a way that most major MMOs had long abandoned, such as heavy grinds, really tough raid bosses, and tons and tons of attunement. When ESO was mentioned, one of the first items that you'd typically see was "oh, it's a subscription only game, just like Wildstar". Not exactly the sort of hype you want to see in an upcoming game.

However, the year is now 2018 and ESO is still adapting and thriving, while Wildstar is about to be shut down. ESO has moved into the buy-and-play model of GW2 with a cash shop and an optional subscription, and with that move along with several critical major updates the game is chugging along quite nicely. The developers at Zenimax must be doing something right, so it's time to login to The Elder Scrolls Online and find out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

...and Even More Contraction in MMO Space

For some reason, I've not been paying too much attention to some of the other MMOs that I've tried out, but while Rift Prime seems to be doing fairly well at the moment TERA has just completed a bunch of server merges.

The TERA merges went live yesterday, and in NA (at least) the PC version of TERA is down to one PvE and one PvP server each. Prior to the merge, if you logged in you could get a boost of 20 character slots to cover your stable of toons across the servers, but naturally I was unaware of that so I lost three toons (two of which were only L1, so it's not too bad).

So all of those "TERA is doing fine, much better than [insert MMO here]!" comments I've seen on other MMOs make me wonder whether that was just wishful thinking or whether TERA isn't even close to as popular as the MMO community thought it was.

From my perspective, it seems that the MMO shakedown that began with Marvel Heroes' shutdown is continuing, and even gathering a bit of steam.

Does that mean the MMO is becoming a genre of one (WoW) with a couple of hangers on? No, but I also believe that the MMO genre is retreating to a much smaller footprint in much the same way that a fad comes and goes. MOBAs are the new hotness, and in about 5-6 years they'll fade from view as well to be replaced by something else.

I don't think TERA is on life support, but it definitely isn't doing as well as it could be.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

In Other News....

Although it was not as directly impactful to me as Wildstar shutting down, there was other MMO news last week: EVE Online developer CCP was sold to Pearl Abyss, the developer of Black Desert Online.

I found it somewhat amusing that the EVE Online fans --who play in a cutthroat open universe PvP game-- are looking askance at this buyout. After all, isn't a buyout perfectly in line with EVE Online's gameplay?


Saturday, September 8, 2018

End of the Road for another MMO -- With Updates

Age of Conan has outlasted another MMO.

After multiple years worth of speculation, Wildstar is shutting down.

When I tried the game in Beta I never thought I'd say this, but I'm gonna miss the storyline. Unfortunately for Wildstar, the subscription model coupled to a truly hardcore Vanilla WoW-esque experience wasn't a model for success in today's market.

The past 2+ years I played Wildstar I thought that Carbine had corrected their launch problems and had pivoted to growth in the future, but by then the MMO market had passed them by.

To be honest, I have no idea how Age of Conan is still going after all this time while Wildstar and Marvel Heroes are on the dustbins of history, but I do have some ideas why Wildstar and Marvel Heroes failed.

I don't believe it's an accident that both games were the only games from a development studio. There was no other source of income, and failure of any sort was catastrophic. Even back in 2004, if WoW failed after launch Blizzard had quite a few games/properties that they could use to survive and give WoW a chance to find its feet. Likewise, SWTOR and Elder Scrolls Online have well established and diversified development houses behind those games and can weather the capricious nature of the video game market. Wildstar had a good launch but then discovered that items such as truly nasty attunement turned people off, which led to people dropping subs almost immediately.*

Judging by this info alone, that would likely peg LOTRO as the next MMOs to potentially shut down. LOTRO keeps chugging along, however, and they have more items in the development pipeline, but we'll see how things look in a year from now.

Right now, I don't see the MMO market as a growth area; the MOBA and eSports movement has sucked the hardcore PvPers away, and WoW still takes up most of the oxygen even in a reduced MMO space. A game company that develops an MMO would have to recognize that WoW will be the only sub (or the primary sub) of almost all MMO gamers**, and at the same time a F2P MMO carries with it tremendous risks or being accused of monetizing the game or creating a P2W environment. B2P, like GW2 or ESO or FFXIV, is likely the best option. But even then, a development house shouldn't put all of its eggs in one basket but instead create some other games or software products first. That way, a game company doesn't have to fret quite so much if it takes a while for an MMO to find its feet.

I do have to wonder whether an MMO based in a classic style isometric RPG format might succeed where others failed, given all of the good CRPGs that have come out in that space recently.

But I'm not one for reading the tea leaves, because I'm lousy at prediction. (And I drink coffee anyway.)

I hope the people at Carbine Studios land on their feet. It's never fun to lose your job.

Thanks for the memories, Wildstar.


EtA: There is a post in the comment section of the Kotaku article by an ex-Carbine dev who worked on Wildstar, and this dev has some really cogent points about the Wildstar debacle. It's a fascinating read, and while it doesn't completely eliminate my point of having only one game being very risky for a software studio, it does highlight the extreme mismanagement at Carbine Studios itself. (And also Paragon Studios, whose title City of Heroes was shut down by NCSoft a few years ago.) Yeah, while I'd like to think mismanagement doesn't happen, I know from experience in years past that it does in software companies. And that mismanagement finally did Wildstar in.




*Blizzard has no such illusions about WoW Classic, which is why they're taking it slow and not trying to keep people's hopes up.

**I realize I'm the exception in that my sub is SWTOR, but numbers wise I think I'm pretty accurate in that statement.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Honest Trailer Time

Yes, with the release of Battle for Azeroth, Smosh Games produced a new Honest Trailer about WoW:

Yes, I was amused.

This is a companion to the (now three year old) World of Warcraft Honest Trailer:




And the trailer for Warcraft in general that came out not too long after the movie:



So go have a few laughs!!


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sadness

I knew it was going to happen sometime, but I hoped it wouldn't happen for a long time to come.

There was a mass shooting at a Madden NFL 19 tournament in Jacksonville, Florida.

Police barricading a street near the Jacksonville
Landing area, where the shooting took place.
From The Guardian.

I'm posting a link to The Guardian mainly because it doesn't have a pop up video that automatically starts.

I don't know too many details, but I knew that with the toxic environment surrounding video game chat I figured someone was going to eventually turn words into bullets. The when always bothered me, because it seemed that we as a gamer community kept tempting fate the longer our community tolerates the toxic environment in video games, but I'd hoped that we could fix things before this would actually happen. I guess I was wrong.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Pleasant Musical Surprise

Given that I play SWTOR and other Bioware games, and that I'm surrounded by musicians in this house, it's no surprise that I found this blog post from Bioware the other day fascinating:

New World, New Score: Announcing Sarah Schachner as Anthem's Composer

Hey, I'm always up for a compelling musical score, and it really looks like Schachner's compositions for Anthem certainly fit.

Sarah Schachner, who has also worked on
Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed games.
and for a link to the Soundcloud of the sample piece, Valor (Freelancer's Theme), here you go:


For me, the didgeridoos and drums really make the piece move.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Okay, Who's Using the TARDIS Again?

I kid you not.

No more than a few minutes after I posted a brief "go have fun with Battle for Azeroth!" post, THIS shows up in my INBOX:

Even down to the Redbeard part.

It keeps going and going, but you get the point.

When did Blizz start reading PC?

A Gamer's Wish

It kind of goes without saying that this is kind of a big day for WoW players.

I just wanted to wish them best of luck in playing Battle for Azeroth, because the whole point of playing is having fun.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Gamer's (Other) Pastime

I've been doing some tinkering over the past week or so on my system, because that's what a computer nerd does I suppose. The reason for these little tweaks were patches to my Radeon RX 470 graphics card that fixed the performance issues I saw after the last Windows 10 Creators Update.* I figured that if those patches did the trick, maybe this six year old PC can still pull its own weight for a few more years without needing major upgrades.
Apparently somebody is a Corsair fan.
From pocket-lint.com.

The system is what was in 2012 a top tier i7-3770 system, although with a slower hard drive, a mid-tier graphics card, and a good 1080 resolution screen. Don't get me wrong, it's light years faster than the old 2007-era 32-bit Intel Core Duo (running Vista, no less) that it replaced, but I realized that eventually the i7-3770 would be eclipsed by faster CPUs with better surrounding architecture. Honestly, I didn't think it would take this long, but I'd argue that's the state of PC development these days. Unlike my experiences at the turn of the Century where the brand new AMD Athlons were top of the line for a scant 6-8 months and totally eclipsed after 2-3 years, the i7-3770 based system has only recently been knocked off of the "recommended" specs for PC games.**
Even PC cases have come a long way
from when I started building machines.
From Gamers Nexus.

Obviously the machine still functions perfectly fine for non-gamer activites, although my wife complains a bit about the loading performance when I start it up***, so if I had to perform major component upgrades I'd be very likely to keep this system as primarily her system and just build a new one for myself instead.

However, what really caught my eye were my experiences playing games that you'd think would have major issues stressing the system but actually don't.

I figured that newer MMOs, such as ArcheAge, Wildstar, and ESO, or regular games such as the aforementioned Rise of the Tomb Raider or Mass Effect: Andromeda, would have issues with the old PC. Much to my surprise, however, none of those games --after accommodating the increased loading times-- stressed the PC much at all. A good part of that is, I believe, due to my insistence on sticking with 1080 resolution rather than trying to run on 4K; without the 4K performance sync to push the RX 470 to its limits, my PC has an easier time of it than it ordinarily would have.**** But I also think that the biggest difference between the newer and older games is the architecture behind the games.

Nope, no problems here. Go figure.
From origin.com.

Take LOTRO, for instance. At 11 years old, it is a fairly ancient MMO by today's standards, and you'd think that a top end PC whose guts are 8 years old (but a 2 year old graphics card) would be able to run this at max settings without an issue. However, the lag when you enter into graphics heavy zones with lots of toons, such as Bree, LOTRO struggles on my PC. I pulled up the Windows Resource Monitor and ran LOTRO with it in the background for a little while, just to see what the results were, and I discovered that while LOTRO wasn't stressing my CPU much (about 15-20%, so it was active on one core most likely) or the GPU, it was hitting the hard drive and network quite a bit. Some network activity is to be expected, it's an MMO after all, but the amount of activity suggested that LOTRO was busy getting data from the network servers and then either transferring it to my disk or memory. Even if it was placing the data straight into memory (and the GPU), LOTRO was referencing data on the disk to an extent that wasn't necessarily the case in other MMOs. Back in 2007, Turbine likely decided to utilize their own version of memory swap to get around the 32-bit memory limitations, and in the age of 64-bit PCs this isn't necessary. However, the old architecture remains, and you only notice it when your PC bottlenecks.

In SWTOR, released in 2012, a similar issue is the case as well. The Windows Resource Monitor showed that my GPU was pegged when I ran about Alderaan --the locale that has caused the worst performance issues outside of an Ops run for me*****-- and CPU was at 25% (likely an entire core). The thing is, the RX 470 was sitting at 1 GB of memory utilization when it had 4 GB to play with, so it was being artificially constrained. It's only when I pulled back on quite a bit of the graphics resolution that the GPU was no longer pegged, but the CPU was in a near constant state of activity. This suggests that a CPU upgrade would help a bit, but with only one core being utilized, there's only so much that motherboard/CPU upgrade can do.****** Again, SWTOR is an older game that needs to be rearchitected to spread resources around to take advantage of newer PCs' capabilities.

I was about to mention that the older machines run on DirectX9, but I don't think that's as much of an issue as at first glance. Age of Conan runs perfectly fine in either DirectX9 or DirectX10, and switching between 9 and 10 in LOTRO doesn't have an impact. And I do play GW2, which runs in DX9, and the only issues I have are loading. Once the zone or locale is loaded into memory, everything plays fine.

***

So what does all this mean? Basically it means to stop worrying and just relax. There's only so much you can do without doing a complete rebuild, so fretting over whether an 8 year old PC can handle games at highest resolution without hiccups is a bit of a fool's errand.

That doesn't mean that a guy can't dream or tweak (or whatever). It does mean that I'm likely going to have to build a PC of my own, because the Old Battleaxe isn't going to give up the ghost anytime soon, and I can't see my wife saying "Yeah, we need to upgrade the PC" either.

If anything, getting faster internet speeds is what she'd want, and in a few years that'll take care of itself with the mini-Reds all off to university. (And that will cause it's own problems.....)





*And here I thought the performance issues were long term degradation of the system. Oh well.

**Rise of the Tomb Raider had the i7-3770k as the "Recommended" setup in 2016, and I can't imagine that in 2018 that's still the case. The specs are TBA at this time, however.

***Replacing the old had drive there with a SSD or a hybrid would help out a lot, but I'm not so sure I want to do that if it means a ton of work breaking the old hard drive into a SSD for the OS and traditional hard drive for games and other applications.

****If I'd go with a 4K monitor, I'd want one big enough to really appreciate the 4K difference, such as 32" or larger. But I'm not about to blow that sort of money on a system at this time, because priorities.

*****Yes, I've been in Ops runs before, almost totally during special events. Don't look at me like that!

******I kind of expected there to be disk activity like LOTRO has, but that wasn't the case. My old Barracuda was doing a good enough job of keeping up with the system, although I did notice that when Chrome was on in the background but only when SWTOR was running I saw disk activity while I was running at around 9/12 GB of RAM. Once I killed Chrome, however, the disk activity vanished. As another test, I killed SWTOR instead of Chrome, and still the disk activity went away. Therefore, the two combined must have led to some disk swap activity.