Thursday, April 18, 2019

An Early Easter Present

Well well well....

Guess what popped into my INBOX this afternoon:

And right after my post on I Sheep Things as well.
For the record:

No, I did not request a beta key.

Really, I didn't request one.


And since I'm playing my way through from Vanilla ESO through Summerset, I certainly wasn't expecting to get to Elsweyr any time soon.

My guess is that they pulled my account out of a hat for a random key giveaway, because specifically targeting me would be an epic fail on their belief of the reach of this blog.

If anything, I was debating about taking a few extra dollars and purchasing some of the DLCs --or at least comparing the cost of purchasing DLCs versus an ESO Plus membership-- rather than jumping into Elsweyr. After all, it'd be nice to get a bit more backstory on some of the places in the DLC*.

However, I think I can swing this. I can stick to some of the non-story specific places, such as Delves and whatnot, without actually playing through the story and spoiling the expac for me. But for the record (and in a non-spoilery fashion), I'd dearly love to allow my character interactions to punch Tharn right in the face, in much the same way the Smuggler in SWTOR gets an opportunity to slug Guss Tuno in the kisser.

*I also would like to know how Cyrodilic Collections fared in Murkmire.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Mr. Stark, I Don't Feel So Good....

I was perusing some of the old Blogs in Mothballs this evening and discovered that I Sheep Things has finally vanished into the ether.

For the longest time, I Sheep Things was the domain of Rhii, although she was only one half of the blogging team. I remember her constant updates throughout WoW's Wrath heyday, and her can-do attitude was infectious. But I also recall her despair when, as Cataclysm approached, that her guild leaders decided to abandon their guild and go and hitch a ride on another guild's ICC runs to finally take down Arthas before the expac ended. She felt they were so close to beating Arthas that the guild leaders' behavior was a betrayal of the highest order.

I could only feel for her, because I wasn't a raider, but she always felt like that enthusiastic kid sister I never had and I wished I could have done something to help her out.

Not too long after that, real life began to intrude on her gaming and blogging, and she soon dropped out of sight to leave a gigantic hole in the WoW blogging community.

Aurdon, the sole remaining member of I Sheep Things, rarely posted, and compared to Rhii's manic output was practically non-existent. However, he decided to revamp the blog a bit and focus instead on non-MMO games, because he'd stopped playing MMOs a while ago. But I guess that he decided to eventually give up the domain for I Sheep Things, and now that piece of MMO Blogging history has gone to join Righteous Orbs and other blogs of that era.


At times like this, I get a bit pensive and wonder why we keep PC running when other bloggers have come and gone.

To be honest, I don't have a driving need to write my thoughts about gaming down, and at the same time I can't really give it up. We don't have a large following; in fact, our likely largest following was when I wrote the old Two Sides to a Coin posts back in 2011 that was promoted by WoW Insider (now Blizzard Watch) as one of their blog posts they liked. And as you may have guessed, I'm not enamored of some of the things that drive the current crop of Influencers in social media.*

I guess you could say that I just like blogging. It fills some hole in my psyche that I can't explain, and I feel kind of bad when I don't get a chance to pound out a blog entry at least once a week.

But I do also miss all of those who were here before PC, and those who welcomed our little blog with open arms into the wider WoW blogger community.

*Come on; someone on the far end of the 40s isn't exactly Influencer material. When your wife gets invitations to join AARP in the mail, you know that your life is about to change.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Better Than I Hoped For

I've been behind on my writing (work plus the final round of mini-Red #2's college visits plus taxes), so here's a little tidbit to throw out there:

A New Expac, Onslaught, is coming to Star Wars: The Old Republic


That actually gives me some hope for the long term health of the game, because I was afraid EA would shut down BioWare after Anthem. But maybe EA and BioWare will figure a few things out, like letting BioWare people with experience running online MMO-esque games work on the content of Anthem for a change.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

This is the New Normal

As usual Jason Schreier does a fantastic job of digging in and examining what went wrong with Anthem in a piece on Kotaku.

TL;DR: these sort of disasters are starting to demonstrate somewhat similar underpinnings:

  • Insistence on software engines not built for --or robust enough-- to handle the development process. This can be also known as the Frostbite Curse. EA's insistence on using Frostbite for all games --as a cost saving measure, among other things-- basically loses all cost savings as the difficulty in working with the engine adds time to the development process. Additionally, BioWare keeps "reinventing the wheel" with Frostbite in every large project, and never seems to settle on a "good enough" interface with the engine. The same problems that plagued Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect: Andromeda plagued Anthem. Admittedly some of those problems wouldn't have been able to be avoided unless BioWare gave Frostbite the middle finger, but others were definitely avoidable.
  • Not having a rock solid design. I'd call this the Destiny problem, as Destiny's disastrous rollout was due in no small measure to the constantly shifting aspects of basic game and story design. In Anthem's case, after the original concept went out the window, nobody could seem to decide on a story and game design; nobody seemed to know who or what Anthem really was. It was only when there was less than a year remaining until release that Anthem's design began to crystallize, but that was far far too late in the process.
  • Belief that since things had worked out in the past, it was always going to work out in the end. Crunch, that period of development when you're working insane hours trying to get the product out the door in reasonable shape, happens with all software houses. Some software houses, such as Naughty Dog, are legendary for having brutal crunch periods. BioWare is no stranger to crunch, but the crunch of Dragon Age: Inquisition was particularly bad, and the result of a DA:I that won awards in the game industry gave BioWare's management the idea that if they just crunched hard enough the old "BioWare Magic" would work wonders and they'd get a great product in the end.

    I've been in software houses that believed that sort of thing, and I'm here to tell you that crunch like that does no favors to either management or the devs. The devs get burned out, and management buys into the false belief that they can keep doing this indefinitely. Apparently, the crunch for Anthem was so bad there were fairly large numbers of people who had the equivalent of a nervous breakdown and had to simply stop showing up to work for months at a time. A lot of experienced developers and senior staff quit. And maybe, just maybe, BioWare finally learned that you can't push devs too hard or bad things happen.
  • Infighting between development staff. The Edmonton and the Austin BioWare studios were often at odds on Anthem development. Edmonton called the shots, and although Austin had a lot of experience in similar games with all of their work on SWTOR, all of their suggestions were repeatedly shot down. You'd think that when the MMO devs are telling Edmonton that "hey, we've been down this road and here's how to fix it", Edmonton would listen. But that was frequently not the case.

    Again, I have experience here, and it's never fun when you end up feeling like Cassandra right before that wooden horse is brought behind Troy's walls.
  • Interference from the Big Dog. People kind of expect this at EA owned companies, right? Only that pretty much all major development houses are doing the same thing now, from Activision Blizzard to EA to Bethesda. The decision to use Frostbite is due to the EA bigwig who is VP over the division that makes Frostbite. The decision to not budge from the March 2019 release date is because of the end of the fiscal year for EA, not because BioWare or EA thought the game was ready for release. If anything EA should have let Anthem slide into June, giving the devs and extra three months to fix bugs and add material to the game, but EA wanted the release on its balance sheet for the last fiscal year, and they got what they wanted. The entire "games as a service" model --and EA's particular disdain for single player games that you play once and you're finished-- have also had their impact on Anthem.

    But what is likely one of the worst parts of the EA interference was the time when FIFA was migrating to Frostbite, and because FIFA makes EA a metric ton of money to the tune of a couple of orders of magnitude of cash from BioWare's releases, EA sucked away all the Frostbite experts into helping FIFA get out the door, right when Anthem really could have used them the most.
I could go on, but you've got the idea. After Fallout 76 and Anthem, and the associated Bungie divorce, the major development houses aren't exactly in the good graces of gamers. But here's the thing: if gamers think that they have a say in how the dev houses are run, unfortunately they don't. The major dev houses make a lot of money on games that the hardcore gamer likely turns their nose up at: the annual Madden or FIFA releases, the latest Call of Duty iteration, or the tons of mobile games. The big dev houses don't cater to the hardcore gamer, but rather the investor first and then the type of gamer that Gevlon would call the "morons and slackers". Sure, it doesn't have to be this way, but it's only when the investors start to get antsy will things change with the major dev houses.

And frequently, those changes are not for the better.