Video Games Are Not To Blame


When I was growing up, I used to love to play Castle Wolfenstein and Doom.  While playing those games, I fired every weapon that I could get my hands on and I killed a countless number of Nazis and demons.

In real life, I have never shot anyone nor have I ever been tempted to.

Later on, I discovered the Grand Theft Auto games.  While playing those games, I’ve stolen a countless number of cars and I’ve run down a lot of people.  Most of them I didn’t mean to run down.  Everyone knows how difficult it is to go in reverse when you’re playing Grand Theft Auto.

In real life, I have never stolen car and I’ve never never run anyone over.  Nor have I ever been tempted to.

That’s because I’ve always known that video games are not real life.  Even when I was a kid, I understood that if someone died in real life, they wouldn’t just respawn and continue playing the game.  I would say that’s true of 99.9% of all gamers.  As for the .1% that doesn’t understand the difference, they have problems that started long before the played their first game.

Whenever there’s a mass shooting or any other traumatic act of public violence, people demand to know how it could have happened.  Video games are always a convenient scapegoat.  Many video games are violent and gamers are easy targets for the media to pick on.  But this idea that little Johnny was perfectly normal until he played Call of Duty or Fortnite is ludicrous and everyone knows it.  When I hear about a school shooter who spent hours playing a violent video game, I don’t care about which game he was playing.  Instead, what I want to know is where were his parents while he was doing this?  Too often video games are blamed because no one wants to admit that they either ignored all of the obvious red flags or they didn’t have the courage to confront what they knew was happening.

Video games are not to blame and neither are gamers.  Using them as a scapegoat is not going to solve a thing.  People with a propensity for violence are always going to seek out ways to be violent.  Banning video games isn’t going to make that type of person any less violent.  It’s just going to inspire him to find a new way to express whatever it is that’s going on inside his head.

Until we get serious and stop looking for easy targets to blame, the shootings like we saw this weekend are going to continue and they’re going to keep getting worse.  Solely blaming video games — as if a mass-produced game is somehow more responsible for an individual’s actions than the individual himself — is not a serious response and anyone doing it is not a serious person.

BlizzCon 2015: World of Warcraft: Legion


BlizzCon is always more exciting, for me at least, on odd numbered years, and the reason is obvious enough: it is when Blizzard have historically announced the next expansion in the World of Warcraft franchise. Not so in 2015. With a great deal of “huh?” and “did something important happen a few weeks ago?”, Warcraft gamers have been slowly coming to learn of Legion, which was announced at a convention in Germany back in August.

A bit anti-climatic to say the least, the announcement might have come early to fit the company’s time table; unlike previous expansions, Legion will be released in the middle of the year instead of at the end. I thought that Blizzard would at least, well, pretend like Legion was a secret during the opening ceremonies–they did as much years ago when they “revealed” Starcraft II after announcing it previously in Korea. So I decided to remain blissfully ignorant of World of Warcraft: Legion and wait for the meat and potatoes showcase. It didn’t quite pan out as I expected. This is the trailer they presented:

I enjoyed it. Watching Sylvanas duke it out with the demon got me fairly excited. But if this was all you had to go on, you would have approximately zero idea what Legion was about save exactly what its name implies: The Burning Legion. In that sense, the opening ceremony to BlizzCon 2015 was rather disappointing. I was expecting a broad four minute cinematic showcase of the new world that Legion would open up. Instead I got a narrow four minute cinematic showcase of Varian and Sylvanas fighting demons. Meh. Cool video; not what I was hoping for though.

But thankfully there was a World and Content Overview. (And a Q&A panel later tonight.) So here is the rundown on everything Blizzard revealed about Legion:

PLOT

Where Warlords of Draenor left off, Gul’dan had opened a portal for the Burning Legion to invade alternate-reality Draenor and the horde and alliance had stopped it, but Gul’dan escaped. In Legion, he arrives in main-timeline Azeroth and heads to the Broken Isles–a remnant of ancient Suramar which holds the tomb of Sargeras–under orders from Kil’jaeden. (Sargeras is basically the highest-tier bad guy in WoW lore–a titan who turned evil and commanded the Burning Legion. Basically, Kil’jaeden’s boss.) A portal is opened, the invasion begins, and here we are. Oh, and Illidan Stormrage is back, because why not?

It’s pretty straight-forward stuff, and for as cataclysmic as a Burning Legion invasion might be, this one is apparently isolated to the new continent. (Don’t expect anything like the terrain-changing rampage that Deathwing went on at the launch of Cataclysm.)

Illidan’s role is going to pick up from Black Temple. Blizzard are retconning the invasion of the Black Temple in Burning Crusade to say that Illidan opened a portal to a demon prison world (Mardum) and sent the future-Demon Hunter class elves on through. Inside, they infuse themselves with fel energy in a way that does not bend their will towards the Legion. (In practice it’s something akin to Death Knights–a horde/alliance aligned variant of a traditionally evil class–and they’ll begin at level 98.) The Demon Hunters return to the Black Temple just in time to be defeated by the horde/alliance and imprisoned by Maiev. Their plot line resumes in the present, where they break out of the Vault of the Wardens and choose their factions.

That was all Blizzard had to say about the main plot overview. But when they got into discussing different zones, things got interesting. Apparently, Legion is going to double up as the Emerald Dream expansion. (I’m kind of torn on that because I always hoped it would be its own independent expac.) Basically, the Emerald Dream is an alternate dimension containing the blueprints of Azeroth as it was first formed. It’s where druids derive their power, and Ysera and the green dragonflight existed to protect it. For about as long as WoW has existed, it’s been plagued by a mysterious corruption, and in Legion we finally get to engage that head on.

A third plot device that’s coming into play here is the Vrykul. Apparently a large contingent of their people came to the Lost Isles prior to the events of Wrath of the Lich King, and their lore will be explored and fleshed out in the zone known as Stormheim. From the sounds of things, Blizzard intend to push the story pretty far via quests and dungeons, possibly diminishing expansion-tier lore into a single zone. I started worrying about this at first. I began to wonder if this was going to be a slap-together “various plotlines we didn’t think we could base a whole expansion on” expansion. But when they started showing the artwork for it all, I got over myself pretty quickly. They didn’t slap a random winter zone into the middle of the continent or anything cheesy like that. The art looked really tasteful and appropriate for this expansion’s overall flavor without breaking from Vrykul standards. Hey, if the vikings could settle south in Europe they can do it in Azeroth too. (I guess we don’t technically know where in Azeroth the Lost Isles will be yet.)

LEVELING EXPERIENCE

Legion will begin with a 40-player scenario sequence (I cringed at the thought of how queues for this might work months after the launch when most players have already done it) where the alliance and horde invade the Broken Isles and establish their footholds. Blizzard showed a video of it. It looked, well, pretty damn awesome.

From there, I’m a little bit suspect of the way things will go down. There are four main questing zones surrounding the max level destination of Suramar: Azsuna, Val’sharah, Highmountain, and Stormheim:

The problem is, you don’t explore them in a set order. Blizzard got it in their heads to use the scaling technology we saw a lot of in Warlords and make all mobs scale as you level, so you can choose which order you tackle the zones in. It sounds like an absolutely terrible idea to me. First of all, so much for going back and finishing the story lines in lower level zones once you’re strong enough to speed through filler “kill 15 of x” quests. They’re now guaranteed to be a tedious waste of time no matter what your level is. Yay!

And this is going to be an absolute nightmare for pvp servers. Seriously. At least before, players 10 levels above you had to go out of their way to find you and pick a fight instead of taking on players their own size. Now a level 100 and a level 109 will routinely find themselves doing the same leveling quest. It doesn’t stop at that, either. It was later mentioned that, thanks to scaling, areas can function as both leveling zones and end-game questing areas. Uh, thanks Blizzard. There’s nothing this dwarf loves more than competing to complete a quest at level 100 against three full-conquest geared horde at level 110.

END-GAME QUESTING

Like it or not, daily quests are coming back with a vengeance. I absolutely loved command table missions in Warlords of Draenor, because you were pretty free to do whatever you wanted within the mission area and gain credit towards the same objective. Legion‘s variation didn’t sound particularly bad though. Instead of picking up dailies from a central hub, there will be daily quest regions with objectives listed on your map–presumably dozens of them–and you can pick from a huge variety throughout the continent to do whatever you’re in the mood for on a given day. Blizzard described their intention as to “overwhelm you with options”. And I like that. Part of what made Warlords of Draenor the most fun thing Blizzard has created in a long time was this sense that you never had to do the same content twice or run out of activities. I get the impression that in Legion they are taking that idea and pushing it even further.

The more significant rewards of dailies won’t be “daily” in the traditional sense, either. They will be something more like “complete six of the dozens of daily quests in a given zone this week.” So you should never feel obligated to actually play every day in order to keep up with the content. As someone who likes to be geared for raiding early in an expansion but can’t be on every day, I really like that.

RAIDS AND DUNGEONS

Blizzard announced two raids for Legion. The first is The Emerald Nightmare, which I’m really looking forward to because the Emerald Dream is an obscure bit of WoW lore that’s intrigued me for years. We’re finally getting to see it out. The Emerald Nightmare will contain 7 bosses and open a few weeks after launch, similar to Highmaul.

Inside you’ll fight, among other things, Xavius, corrupted members of the green dragonflight, and–I thought this was pretty awesome–the one and only Cenarius, fully corrupted by the Nightmare’s blight.

I’m pretty stoked. This is the raid I’ve been waiting for for a long, long time (still wish it was a full expansion), and I don’t think Blizzard are going to disappoint. The brief video they showed of the place looked amazing.

The second raid is going to be Suramar Palace. This one will be central to the expansion’s main plot, with Gul’dan as the final boss. It contains 10 bosses, and its design is pretty unique from the sounds of it. Set in the highest palace of the Nightborn Elves’ capital, it’s going to be a bright and elaborate palace, not a dark grimy catacomb. (At least, as they described it. No preview was shown.)

Additionally, Blizzard is pushing to make dungeons central to Legion–or so they say–but I’m not sure that it’s going to have a real impact. I think most of us were quite relieved to discover that dungeons were one and done in Warlords of Draenor. It made them unique and enjoyable rather than mindnumbingly repetitious grinds. Blizzard are putting a lot of effort into redesigning dungeon scaling and reward systems for challenge mode, but it frankly sounded like an excessively complicated waste of time that no one is going to bother playing anyway. (Honestly, how many people do you know who do challenge modes? Out of a maxed out realid list of 100 people I can think of approximately zero.) But if that’s your gig, it sounds like there will be additional tiers of difficulty which incorporate additional mechanics.

The only thing that worried me is I got the impression dungeons might scale up to your current gear even if you don’t want them to. I’m really hoping this isn’t the case–especially with scaling coming into play in the world zones as well. It rather defeats the purpose of seeking better gear if it never makes you any stronger…

ODDS AND ENDS

There is something that might be a new major city but probably isn’t: Suramar. Elves created a barrier to protect the ancient capital of Suramar during The Sundering 10,000 years ago, and they have been living behind it ever since, unaware that the War of the Ancients was ever won. The city was described as “one of the most ambitious projects that this team has ever done”. Blizzard explained that the leader of the city turned over to the Burning Legion, and one speaker let it slip–seemingly by accident–that Dalaran will be moving to the Lost Isles from Northrend, so I doubt there will be a traditional hub here. “The Grand Palace of Suramar” is a raid, and the city features two dungeons. Yet Blizzard mention “aiding your allies in Suramar”. I’m not sure what to make of that, and wonder if the city will be divided into a “safe-zone” hub and the occupied districts. Is Suramar City a city or just a questing zone like Shattrath in Warlords of Draenor, but with a raid and dungeons stuck in the middle? Hard to say.

One thing Blizzard definitely confirmed is that we will be able to see it. Visibility distance will be increased to three times its current level. That might honestly be the most exciting announcement about the whole expac for me, and a pretty cool reason to go re-explore the world.

There will be moose, games where you roll around in a barrel, and male banshees (manshees). All of these points received special attention because 😕 why shouldn’t they?

Blizzard made no mention of whether or not there would be level 110 flying. I think no flying had a tremendously positive impact on Warlords of Draenor. It felt like the largest expansion in the game by far–a place you could get lost in like nothing since Vanilla WoW. But the decision saw its fair share of opposition, so it’s hard to say whether they’ll repeat the process in Lost Isles.

World of Warcraft: Legion is due out in mid-2016. It looks pretty good, and has manshees.

Tactical Fantasy Concept by Eliot Min


Dungeons and Dragons meets Call of Duty is the best way I could describe “Tactical Fantasy”.  First came across the term on Eliot Min’s deviantArt page and was Wowed by the artwork/fleshed out concept.  He took the standard classes and polished them off with modern combat sensibility.  Would love to see this concept realized in a next gen video game franchise.  Hope Mr. Min expands his Hungry Hounds roster to include other D & D staples like a cleric or assassin.

The Hungry Hounds Insignia:

hungry_hounds

The Tactical Knight:

tumblr_n1yc9qmC4V1tr6k2mo1_540 tac_knight04 tac_knight_pose tac_knight_pose02

The battlefield has always needed a warrior that can physically move the line of action. The Knight determines the line of enemy contact with his presence. Brute strength and sheer determination pushes his enemies back, and with his battle hardened long sword, he is able to strike down the enemy. With his team behind him, he jumps into the fray and engages in close quarter combat. If any order is to be seen in the theatre of war, it’s thanks to the Knight being able to hold his ground.

To be victorious in C.Q.C., the Knight needs 3 things. Speed, surprise, and violence of action. To assist him, he is suited with these three goals in mind. Sand filled carbotanium armor keeps the Knight’s center mass protected, while reducing noise from what was once made from steel plates.

Cutting edge polymer plastics constitute the Knight’s tower shield. This clear polymer “riot shield” allows the knight to keep key members of his team and himself safe as he barrels through combat areas while giving him the situational awareness he needs to safely navigate the battlefield.

The Knight’s motto is to never lose his sword once drawn. But in the reality of battle, amidst the confusion and madness of a skirmish, soldiers have found it difficult to live by that motto. With the Thrdhnd™ sling system, we make that goal a little bit easier. Connected to the long sword’s ring pommel via carabiner, the Thrdhnd™ forms an unbreakable connection between the sword and its operator.

The Tactical Archer:

tactical_archer_by_niw-d7ano6k

The modern mobile assault team is said to be built around the Archer. What separates the Archer from other combat operatives is the Archer’s ability to reach high value targets from far distances. Modern tactics have been sculpted around this aspect, and typically teams are assembled with the objective of providing the Archer with a clear shot.

Because an Archer’s shot is imbued with such importance in missions, there has been continuous efforts towards maximizing the impact of the Archer’s payload. The bow string of a mil spec long range bow platform is said to have enough tensile strength to cut through soft wood. At a full draw, this high tension spider silk bow string allows the arrow to reach its target at super sonic speeds, while arrow shafts are milled from aircraft aluminum to ensure minimum mid flight flexing. But it’s most often the arrowhead that is crafted with the most exotic materials, ranging from high carbon steels to depleted uranium.

Though the main objective of the Archer is to send accurate shots to eliminate essential targets, the harsh demands of combat and ever increasing tensile strength of the bow string necessitated the development of a new hands free/ bow hand support system. Cutting edge gyro scope technology now allows the Archer to take both hands away from his primary weapon to adjust arrowheads, switch to his secondary weapon, or make quick adjustments to his bow without having to break his sight picture. This new anchor point assisting levers system, or APAL system allows the Archer not only to load his arrow to his rig and go hands free, but allows him to concentrate on observation and surveillance without having to sacrifice the time it takes to get that crucial arrow down range.

The Tactical Mage:

tactical_mage_by_niw-d79vdu1

The persistent challenge facing the modern mage is the need for a consistent mana source in an ever changing combat environment and the stealth needed for the mage to finish reciting his spells without being detected by the enemy. With the patented BakTac™ Ghillie suit system, you can carry your favorite mana rich vegetation on you at all times.

The BakTac™ system allows you to create a mini Eco-system you can pull from whenever necessary. Add high mana generating poison spiders and black adders to the mix for on the fly sacrifices needed for spell boosts when encountering pinch situations.

Paired with the TuffTome™ digital display spell book, the modern mage now boasts the most compact magic systems in history, ready for any challenge in the modern battlefield.

The Tactical Bard:

tactical_bard_by_niw-d78zeey

If there was one operative that can set the tempo for a combat situation, it would have to be the Bard. Her objective isn’t to send direct damage down range, but to manipulate battle situations through less than lethal means. Though it’s rare that a Bard will boast a high kill count, it’s thanks to her the term “psychological warfare” has been coined.

Outfitted with a high decibel tactical P.A. system, her influence on the battlefield is greatly amplified. With just her lute and voice, she sings songs that can mould the psyche of her enemies. In some cases, through singing highly classified songs, Bards have convinced enemy combatants to simply walk away from a battlefield out of home sickness.

Mobile assault teams with Bards as part of their group train rigorously together. To the point that they seem to develop their own language. This is important because if communication lines are down, the Bard is able to communicate songs of battlefield situations to just her team through her back mounted P.A. system.

In breaching missions she is invaluable. She can throw short band high fidelity wireless speakers calibrated to her throat mic into sealed rooms to sing songs of confusion before sending in the entire team to overwhelm the enemy.

Art Acknowledgements:

Everything was created by Eliot Min. His tumblr is: http://niwindustries.tumblr.com

BlizzCon 2014: Two Videos Worth Watching from Saturday


All of the meat and cheese of BlizzCon’s content is traditionally crammed into Friday. They open with a bang, throw all of the big news at you all at once, and then spend Saturday giving you some time to soak it in. Lots of Q&A panels are the norm, along with a growing collection of e-sports grand finals and a big rock concert to send you off in style. 2014 was no different, and there is certainly no major news to bring to the table, but it was nevertheless a day full of entertaining events, and I would like to share with you my two favorites.

The first is a documentary called “Looking for Group”. In celebration of the ten year anniversary of World of Warcraft, Blizzard created a one hour documentary about how the game came to be. The film leaves a lot to be desired from the players’ perspective. Blizzard took up a great deal of the time archiving fan experiences in the game–a married couple talks about first meeting in Stormwind, a teen reflects on growing up playing the game with his father, a handicapped woman remembers playing WoW to help mentally recover from her accident. It is probably incredible for a game developer to think that they made that much of an impact on peoples’ lives, but anyone who has played the game long enough has run into situations like this before. It’s nothing particularly novel or exciting for the fans. But the film also incorporates plenty of behind-the-scenes looks into how the company has operated over the years and the personalities leading the charge. I found the details on the early developmental years of the game especially interesting. If you have ever enjoyed World of Warcraft, it’s worth taking an hour to watch this:

The second video I want to share with you might take some persuasion. When your two favorite professional sports are golf and Starcraft, it is really hard to make friends. But such is my fate. Despite all of the columns I was pumping out Friday, I actually did manage to watch live all 30 matches of the Starcraft II World Championship Series Global Finals that took place at BlizzCon. MMA knocking off Bomber 3-1 might have been the biggest upset, but Classic’s rocky 3-2 finish over herO made MMA’s path to the final round feel easy. Life ultimately outclassed him 4-1 in a way that was certainly impressive but not exceptionally fun to watch. The real excitement came in the bottom bracket semi-finals. Life and TaeJa breezed their ways past San and INnoVation 3-0 and 3-1 respectively, and both players looked to be at the peak of their game rolling into the semi-finals. Life ultimately progressed to the finals 3-2 in what was surely the most intense series of the event. The video below was my favorite match of that series. It starts off with both players taking extremely aggressive and risky stances–in Life’s case one you would almost never see at this level. I’m not going to spoil who wins, but the 24 minute length of the video should tell you that both players move beyond the opening chaos. Neither player is willing to put on the breaks all game, forcing some really unconventional gameplay. With practically perfect micro on both fronts, we get to see what a top tier SC2 match ought to look like–two masterminds who can’t hope to surpass the other’s technical precision and have to bluff, gamble, and predict moves ahead of time to pull off a win.

I suppose that a lot of e-sports boil down to mind games as a sort of maximum skill level is reached. The glory of Starcraft II is that reaching that threshold is so difficult even many of the pros in the global finals succumb to error in basic techniques and strategy. That was not the case this weekend with TaeJa and Life, and that is what made this series my favorite at BlizzCon 2014.

And lastly, for those of you who were actually watching yesterday, what did you think of Metallica? I had a lot of fun on IRC during the closing ceremonies trash talking Lars, predicting what song would come next, and blabbering about metal in general. How did this band selection rank for you in the annals of BlizzCon closing ceremonies? Blizzard have offered a lot of variety in their selections over the years. From the somewhat genre-appropriate (Metallica), to the big ticket, high-budget rock sensation (Foo Fighters), to the bottom-barrel (Blind-182), to the in-house absurd (Lvl 80 Tauren Chieftain), we’ve seen a lot. Is it enough? Blizzard is all about nerd aggro. It is the heart and soul of their ethos. I’ve long thought a fantasy-oriented power metal band would be the best choice to reflect that. Even if most of the spectators had never heard of Blind Guardian before, you know they would bring the house down. Amon Amarth, Dethklok, Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, and Rhapsody of Fire were some of the other names that got dropped. Of course the most popular choice for a future BlizzCon was GWAR.

This will be my last post on BlizzCon 2014. Thanks for reading! Here are links to my previous entries:

BlizzCon 2014: Day 1 Recap, Cinematics & Gameplay

BlizzCon 2014: “Overwatch Unveiled”

BlizzCon 2014: Opening Ceremony, Overwatch Announced as New Franchise

BlizzCon 2014: Rumors and Speculations

BlizzCon 2014: Day 1 Recap, Cinematics & Gameplay


The first day of BlizzCon 2014 is coming to an end. While the Starcraft 2 stage pulls an all-nighter with live demonstrations of Archon mode from Legacy of the Void featuring such big names as MC and Polt, the rest of the Anaheim Convention Center has cleared out and gone home. Of course Overwatch was the biggest deal. What were some of the other interesting announcements?

Hearthstone will be getting a new expansion in December called Goblins vs. Gnomes. There will be 120 new cards, and the game is coming to Android.

Warcraft the movie will be released in March 2016, and it will be based on the original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans RTS.

Legacy of the Void matches will start with 12 workers, and players will not need to own either Wings of Liberty or Heart of the Swarm to play it. Lurkers are coming back, along with a whole mess of new units, and resource availability has been cut back to force faster matches. I’m not sure the last bit is good news for those of us who would rather watch the pros than play ourselves, but time will tell.

Everything was pretty quiet on the Diablo 3 front. I missed its hour slot, but considering it was on a side stage and got zero mention on the main stage, there couldn’t have been anything substantial. Heroes of the Storm got a lot of demonstration love, and Blizzard explained the rational behind a lot of the class and loot changes in Warlords of Draenor. Legacy of the Void demonstrations are still going on as I write this, and it might be the most entertaining segment we’ll see at BlizzCon. All the pros that lost in the round of 16 are going up against each other in Archon mode–shared-control team matches–messing around and showing off the new units. The commentary and in-game banter has been pretty hilariousl I’ll post up the cast of MC and HyuN’s TvZ stomp tomorrow if I can find it.

So anyway, I’ll close out the night by sharing the videos from day one that I think matter most: new cinematic trailers and gameplay videos for Overwatch and Legacy of the Void:

Overwatch Cinematic Trailer:

Legacy of the Void Cinematic Trailer:

Overwatch Gameplay Preview:

Legacy of the Void Unit Overview — Protoss:

Legacy of the Void Unit Overview — Terran:

Legacy of the Void Unit Overview — Zerg:

BlizzCon 2014: “Overwatch Unveiled”


The hidden two hour bracket following BlizzCon’s opening ceremony was of course dedicated to Overwatch. The big spin they put on it was to emphasize how the game will not depend on “putting crosshairs over targets”. They talked of making it “less lethal”, and extending the gameplay to make it more stategic. That sounds like my Blizzard. Is it going to be something like an RTS FPS? Maybe. The biggest break from traditional FPS combat will be the abilities to heal and build things. A healer, as it sounds, follows the team around to keep them alive. Builders put up strategic zone-control defenses and weaponry. I’m being told that this is a bit of a copycat of Team Fortress 2, and that may well be the case. I am not familiar with that game, but strategy over beat-em-up has always been Blizzard’s style. The combat is not really just about killing the other team. Different maps will have different objectives, and Blizzard mentioned base defenses as well as escort missions. Battles will be 6 on 6, and Blizzard highlighted a few of the classes that will be involved. Here is how they broke it down:

‘Offense’ class has abilities like blink, arial rocket boost, teleportation, and wall climbing. These characters will have low survivability and maximum mobility, functioning as scouts and creating diversions.

‘Defense’ class guards objectives, creates choke points, and sets up sniper positions. Due to the high mobility of offense classes, choke points will be hard to come by and require thorough knowledge of the map.

‘Tank’ class does what you expect. They have 50% damage reduction and abilities such as shields that defend everyone within them from all damage for a time. They also have disruption abilities that break up defensive structures in the making.

‘Support’ class includes the healers and builders Blizzard had mentioned earlier. The regenerate players’ health, lay down gun turrets, apply damage increasing debuffs, and can teleport the team around the map.

Keep in mind, of course, that no player is going to have all of these abilities at once. The game consists of a number of “Heroes”, and each hero has its own unique set of abilities. Each hero will function as one of the four classes, but with their own unique advantages and disadvantages. You will be able to swap your hero in-game each time you die, alowing for more diverse strategy, and there can be more than one of the same hero on the field at the same time. There will supposedly be substantial backstory behind the game and characters, a lot of which will be presented to the players through media outside of the game, perhaps like the video lore series Blizzard released in preparation for Warlords of Draenor. In-game story will be limited, as there will be no campaign mode and it will be strictly multi-player. Blizzard declined to comment on what exactly out-of-game character development would be in the Q&A segment.

It all sounds quite promising, and the 10 or so minute demo match they showcased looked visually stunning, but I don’t know that the gameplay I saw lived up to the level of strategic involvement Blizzard tried to sell me. The demo opened up with the focus team setting up all kinds of ‘strategic’ positioning and gun turrets and the like, and then a buffed-up tank unit from the opposition jumped in the middle and face-rolled the entire team. Within a couple seconds the whole team was alive again and it was pretty pew pew for the next eight minutes. Granted the demo was a real demo, not a contrived, pre-planned sequence of combat, I kind of got the feeling the game would have a lot of this. So-called ‘strategic’ decisions happened in a split second, and what I think I saw was a lot of the same old “putting crosshairs over targets” technique that always turned me off to FPS games. Maybe those crosshairs sent out a magic spell or sticky grenade instead of a rocket, but it felt like the same old. We only saw one map, and ten minutes is waaay too little time to pass judgment, but I can say I haven’t seen what I want to see in this game yet.

In other news, during the SC2 WCS Global Finals Pre-Show Blizzard elaborated on “Archon” mode for Legacy of the Void in a way that made it sound like classic Starcraft shared bases–something I always enjoyed. It was also mentioned in-between segments that there are currently no plans to introduce any new classes in Hearthstone. Oh, and MMA whooped Bomber 3-1 in an upset victory in the Starcraft 2 round of 8. herO and Classic are up next.

BlizzCon 2014: Opening Ceremony, Overwatch Announced as New Franchise


BlizzCon 2014’s opening ceremony just ended about 10 minutes ago, and it ran the gauntlet of new Blizzard products. Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Legacy of the Void got some attention, but the big news was about a franchise I did not expect: a brand new one!

First we got to see some Heroes of the Storm clips, and they announced Thrall, Jaina, and The Lost Vikings as playable characters. Nothing particularly “new”, unless you were already actively involved in the beta and recognized a new map or ability. The Hearthstone announcements were much more substantive. First of all, they announced that the game would be made available for Android “tablets”. I am going to assume that means it will work on my smart phone too. Hey, it’s not technically “texting” while driving. Count me in. We also found out about the next expansion, which Blizzard oddly called the “first” Hearthstone expansion. I am not sure what that makes Curse of Naxxramas, but suffice to say Hearthstone: Golbins vs. Gnomes is going to be way bigger. There will be a whopping 120 new cards, and we won’t have to wait long to see them. The game is coming in December 2014. Whaaa?

Legacy of the Void was covered next. Lurkers are coming back. Sweet. There will also be an “Archon” mode that didn’t get much of an explanation, but it was described as a mode that will allow you to see the game “the way the pros do”, giving you a grand view of everything at once. I’m not sure what that means, or whether it’s going to be more than a well-made UMS, but I’m intrigued.

That was the first half hour. Some big announcements for Hearthstone–a Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion with 120 new cards due out in only a month, and an Android edition. Heroes of the Storm and Legacy of the Void didn’t get much of a substantial update. Then on to Chris Metzen in a horde hoodie (racist!). “17 years since Blizzard opened up a new world”, he tells us. And it’s true. Everything has been Starcraft, Warcraft, or Diablo based since the mid-90s. Not anymore.

Overwatch. The cinematic opens with some kids in a museum watching anime footage of an old cyborg task force called “Overwatch”, that had once saved the world from something or other. As they walk through the museum, explaining that Overwatch has since devolved to scattered mercenary task forces, two groups of cyborg dudes including a giant gorilla in a space suit and Ghost Rider’s alter-ego bust through the ceiling and start duking it out, apparently trying to nab old Overwatch technology on display in the museum. The video revealed nothing about the game, besides gorillas in space suits, and the audience was kind of “meh” when the trailer ended. Not to be realistic, Metzen said “It looks you guys really liked that!” and introduced Jeff Kaplan to explain the game behind the cinematic.

Jeff Kaplan described Overwatch as a “team-based multi-player shooter” and kicked off the trailer to the game proper. I don’t really like first-person shooters that aren’t GoldenEye 007, so I don’t really know what I’m looking at mechanically, but the graphics were really impressive. Vibrant and colorful, we see none of the gritty realism that FPS games like to push. The game is set in Japan with an anime vibe, and the character abilities appear to be far from conventional. I saw characters cast spells, teleport through walls, fly around in the air… It’s certainly different. We don’t have to wait long to check it out either, relatively speaking. The beta will launch some time in 2015.

And that’s that. Nothing on Diablo, as I kind of expected. Warlords of Draenor will in fact be a two year expansion, as expected. Legacy of the Void should be out in a year or so, as expected. Heroes of the Storm still exists. Hearthstone is getting a major expansion in only a month, 120 new cards, and an Android edition. That’s pretty sweet. The big deal was all Overwatch. It felt a little anti-climatic to me, but hey, Blizzard have been trying to make an FPS since Starcraft: Ghost like two billion years ago. They’ve had plenty of time to figure out exactly how they want it, and this is not a company known for half-assing their products. It’s not my style, but you can bet I’ll be playing it anyway, at least for a little while.

FTL – Advanced Edition


 

When Faster Than Light first launched, in the before time, in the long long ago… the developers talked about updates. Upgrades. Expansions. For a long time, we had nothing.

But then, as good developers are wont to do… we got everything. We got FTL – Advanced Edition. It’s more than just an expansion to the amazing space-based Rogue-like that we already played. It’s more than a remake which provides tons of extra features and cosmetic improvements that would have helped the initial release. It’s both an expansion and a remake all at once. It’s a huge upgrade to the core game filled with many quality-of-life improvements combined with an expansion that introduces many new mechanics, a new cruiser, a heavy load of new weapons and augments… even a new alien race. It’s pretty good.

And before I go a step further, let me tell you about the best part: It’s free!

It’s free because you already bought Faster Than Light on my recommendation. If you didn’t… well, I feel for you. Because a great game has been out for years without your knowledge. Luckily, it’s not too late. Things haven’t changed. Even if you’re just buying now, the game is still going to cost you only $9.99 US. For everything! If you have any interest in this deep, strategic, space-based Rogue-like… this is an excellent price point. It could get better on the Steam sale… but in general, this isn’t too dear a price to pay to support an excellent indie developer who has produced an excellent product.

So what’s so good about FTL Advanced Edition? I guess everything. Let’s talk about the improvements, in no particular order.

– A new alien cruiser, provided free of charge to owners of Advanced Edition. It’s a totally unique ship. The new alien species (no surprise) mans this craft… and their special characteristic is being awesome… but also draining oxygen out of any room they’re in. Obviously, you can create an awesome ship out of these aliens alone. But that’s not guaranteed in FTL. Still, it’s brutally hard for boarders to take a ship with no oxygen. I’m sure we’ve all tried and been burned horribly by automated ships in the past!

– A new alien species! They suck oxygen, but otherwise are pretty awesome. Wait, it’s easy to turn no air to your advantage? Maybe they’re just awesome.

– Tooltips. The game has had a staggering upgrade in UI. One of the biggest and most immediately apparent differences is in UI. I think literally one zillion (technical term) tooltips have been added to the game. More or less everything now has some information associated. In some ways, you’re still flying blind, but in others… there’s a degree of transparancy which will help you decode what to do.

– Piles of new stuff. New equipment. New weapons. New events. Old events re-worked. It’s the same game, but it’s different enough. If you thought, for example, Reaper of Souls, was a very nice quality of life upgrade with some new content… this is at least that good. Only it’s free to game owners. Pretty rough, huh?

– New qualities, new hazards. Ion events in deep space. Freezing. Fire! Totally new qualities. In many ways, this is the same FTL that you already knew… except there’s a thousand more variables now. The expansiveness of the game has increased dramatically.

– Let’s talk more about those UI upgrades. Simple quality of life stuff. Making a jump on the sector map? You can now see what jumps are ‘in range’ and you can make from your destination. Ever been frustrated, being stuck in a random corner you thought you could escape, fighting Rebel cruiser after Rebel cruiser? Nah, no big deal now.

– More ship layouts. More ship access. You can now unlock any ship in the game (except for the Crystal cruiser) by beating the game. If you’re good, you’ll get access to ship after ship… and eventually, you’ll begin to gain access to C-style layouts. They include many of the new…

– New ships systems. Replace your medical healing bay with a Clone Bay that heals crew members only on jump, but also clones new copies of dead crewmates. Gain a battery backup that gives you a gigantic reactor boost for 30 seconds, giving you overwhelming power in those nebulae. Gain a hacking module which lets you close doors and cripple opposing ships. Gain the mind control module, turning opposing crewmen into your crewmen. Try deploying MC tech against the Rebel flagship, and make a winning strategy even better!

– A new sector. This exists, but I have not yet been able to produce it, through the games I’ve played. I apologize. Rumour holds that it centers around the new alien race, and their oxygen-sucking ways. It’s probably awesome.

– It bears repeating that the script has been revisited, expanded, and improved. This includes both old events and new. The overall experience is more streamlined, and more awesome, than it was before.

Do I seriously need to keep stumping for a free upgrade with bullet points?

Buy the game! Upgrade the game! Enjoy the game!

Review: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft


Like most of my b.net friends (that is: auction house junkies and achievement whores), I downloaded Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft for a free mount. What I got was an addicting breath of fresh air laced with all the appeal of nostalgia. In Blizzard Entertainment I’ve trusted since I first picked up my copy of Starcraft back in 1998, but it would be hard to argue that the company has not grown a little washed out of late. Starcraft 2, for all its glory, faces too much competition to match the popularity of its legendary predecessor; Diablo 3 was a bore to all but the most devoted series fans; and World of Warcraft is gagging on the fumes that keep it running. I thought BlizzCon 2013 was the nail in the coffin (and I still do), but Hearthstone definitely breaks from the current trend. It is the first Blizzard release since StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (2010) that felt fresh to me.

Hearthstone is an electronic card game reminiscent of Magic: The Gathering. Unlike M:tG, you’re not going to find yourself at a loss for players when your friends grow up and get “lives”. (sigh…) I’m sure plenty of online M:tG-style card games have existed in the past, but what’s significant here is that I have never played them. Hearthstone had a few things going for it pre-launch that genre competitors lack: it is free, it is Blizzard, and its launch coupled with a long over-due Battle.net meta program that makes it highly visible to current Blizzard customers. The minute you click play, you’ll find a few other perks. Peter McConnell’s soundtrack is nothing short of brilliant, the game is conceptually very simple to grasp, and the graphics strike that balance between clarity and imagination that is non-existent in modern gaming. (If you don’t know what I mean by this, consider a modern game with severely limited character development–say Mists of Pandaria–to an old-school NPC overload like Suikoden, and ask yourself which game you remember more characters in.)

Once you’ve been at it a while–I’ve been playing for all three weeks the game has been public–some obvious cons will emerge. The game is highly dependent on card acquisition, and the availability of new decks is unnecessarily limited. Playing strictly for free, a casual Hearthstone fan will accumulate roughly two card packs every three days. A pack consists of five cards, with at least one guaranteed to be rare or higher (rarities roughly parallel WoW’s system of common, uncommon, rare, epic, and legendary). Because the game is new, the total amount of cards out there is relatively low, leaving little room for creative builds that can succeed in the absence of numerous epics and legendaries. Unfortunately, Blizzard offers no easy progress through pay. Booster packs (5 cards) can be purchased at a rate of 2 for $3, 7 for $10, 15 for $20, and 40 for $50. At the outset, nothing short of the all-in $50 deal is going to guarantee you much of an upper hand, and by the time you’ve accumulated 20 or so free decks through casual play the $20 and lower options seem like too much of a gamble. So if you want to roll your way up into the higher ranks, you’re stuck paying the full retail price of a major release or else sticking it out for free over an extended period of time. There is no financial happy medium. You will likely find yourself wavering between ranks 17 and 19 for a long, long time until you’ve gotten lucky enough to build a competitive deck. I would happily pay $20 for 40 booster packs at least once, but $50 is unreasonable.

Blizzard does not currently allow cards to be traded or sold, and that makes some practical sense. (I would just roll fake accounts and trade free boosters to my main until I had the full collection in a matter of days.) What they offer instead is a “disenchant” feature, where you can permanently destroy cards and use the byproducts to craft others of your choosing. The problem with this system is that it leaves collectors in the dust early on. Until you’ve accumulated enough duplicates, you’ll be faced with the unpleasant choice between remaining in the lower ranks and abandoning rare cards.

On the plus side, extensive losing streaks are pretty uncommon. The game seems to be very well balanced to match you against players of similar skill/decks. Skill development will cap out before deck improvement, unfortunately, but the monotony can be broken by a system that allows you to play 9 different classes loosely based around their World of Warcraft parallels. My Warlock deck might cap out at rank 17, but I haven’t even touched a Druid yet. Boosters are not class-specific, so what I earn on an alt class is of equal worth to me. Whether alternate class play too will dull before higher-level decks can be built is still too soon to tell. I can say that three weeks into the public launch, Hearthstone is still sufficiently captivating to chew up an hour of my evening daily.

I love this game not only for its innate appeal, but for its status as proof that Blizzard can break from their self-imposed molds and release a game that is not dependent on a franchise model. My dreams of a World of Starcraft are still far-fetched, but I really, really hope that Hearthstone succeeds. It serves as a reminder that, before Blizzard found themselves inextricably bound to decade-old gameplay models, they were the most innovative corporation in the world of PC gaming.

Did I mention that Peter McConnell’s soundtrack is godly? Russell Bower might be at the peek of his career with Mists of Pandaria, but this is what I want to hear in a game. Two thumbs up for Hearthstone all around.

Shad#1129 on battle.net if you want to hit me up for a round or two. 🙂

2013 in Video Games


2013 was a year. And video games were released. And many of them were played by millions. Some of them were enjoyed!

This what I theoretically write about, right?

So let’s talk 2013. In video games. Unfortunately, I didn’t play many terrible games this year. I managed to nail most of my selections, and then I spent some time dealing with serious family problems that repressed my desire to game. Also, I spent a lot of time playing Final Fantasy games. But I do have some thoughts on what happened this year… I’m going to hand out a couple of awards. I’m going to do a couple of lists. Listen, guys, I’m not always great with structure.

Five Games Not Enough People Played*, In No Particular Order
1. Skulls of the Shogun. Critically acclaimed (like, really acclaimed. With good reason) I’m still the only human being I know who has actually played this game. Unless some of you have been holding out on me.
2. Space Hulk. I promise, it’s not bad. Uhh… anymore.
3. Mechwarrior Online. Somehow, the Mechwarrior franchise is not dead… just dying and gasping for air. Still, you can play a real Battletech game for the first time in like 10 years.
4. GTA V! No, but seriously guys, did you play Rogue: Legacy? It’ll make you want to remove your own brain. Or you’ll really have fun. Or, probably both.
5. Saints Row 4. I don’t care how many people played it, there are people who didn’t. And that’s a shame.
*This figure was scientifically determined by a sampling of people I know personally. They represent all of you.

The Five Games I Enjoyed Most in 2013
5. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Tomb Raider. I understand the criticisms that a) the characterization of Lara Croft is a little uneven. B) It’s uncomfortable to watch Lara become increasingly sneaky and (especially) brutal as the game goes along. No matter how much visceral pleasure one might gain from murdering crazy rapey cultists with a climbing pick. C) The puzzles which were the entire point of the series have been relegated to optional side-missions. I get all of that. I promise. This game was still really, really good, and it gave me hope that the Tomb Raider series is moving in a cool direction.
4. Grand Theft Auto V. The release of a Grand Theft Auto game is, basically, An Event. It’s not just another video game release. It’s Grand Theft Auto. It’s an institution. Everyone takes a couple days off work, buys a case of red bull/”Code Red” Mountain Dew/a couple grams of coke and a hundred hours simply disappear. Right? Well… GTA V definitely did a lot of things right. But as usual, I was left with the feeling that the game was working harder to impress me than to let me have fun. Consider me impressed. But I definitely wasn’t always having fun. And yes, I was deeply disturbed by the torture mission. And no, I’m not ignorant of the fact that it’s supposed to be biting satire.
3. Heart of the Swarm. The long (long, long, LONG) awaited sequel to StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, finally dropped this year. Only 4? 5? more years to go for the epic conclusion! Heart of the Swarm is basically a vast improvement over the original StarCraft II without really changing that much stuff. A couple new units, a very good new campaign (not that WoL’s was at all unenjoyable), and a consistent multiplayer experience. Just because I suck at the multiplayer does not mean it’s bad.
2. Payday 2. Just in terms of hours wasted, it’s hard not to rank this one #1. Or it would be, if the #1 slot wasn’t so preposterously clear that it doesn’t even merit discussion. Anyway, Payday 2 can be frustrating, still has a number of infuriating bugs, and occasionally feels like it doesn’t have nearly enough content. Plus, I’m tired of getting ‘The Jaw’ masks. Do you guys know how many ‘The Jaw’ masks I have? I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, one of the great time wasters.
1. Saints Row IV.

A Game That Somehow Didn’t Make the Above List But I Want To Discuss
To: Magic: The Gathering Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014.
Quite a mouthful. I actually think it may just be ‘Magic 2014’ this time around. I think it’s okay for me to refer to it that way. This franchise has been putting out an excellent game every year for four years. It is not a replacement for MTG: Online if you’re looking for real constructed formats. This game is its own limited format, and if you don’t want that, then don’t buy it, you’ll hate it. 2014 incorporates all of the gripes I can remember people mentioning since the first (MTG:DTP, no year the first time around!) iteration dropped: You have full control over the 80 cards (or whatever it is) that can be unlocked for each deck. You have full control over the land in each deck. You can manually select which lands tap so the AI can’t cause you to “tap out” of a colour you still need. However, 2014 can’t make the top 5 list because it has some real problems with the balance of its constructed format (the top tier decks are too top tier) and the Steam version was totally assassinated by rampant cheating in the Sealed format early on. Rough year. Still, this is a franchise people should know about.

The Bethesda Softworks Award
For: Most inexcusably buggy release that still has serious problems after a couple major patches
To: Battlefield 4
This award was originally going to go to Space Hulk until I recently revisited it. Fortunately for Space Hulk, the major patches fixed all of the problems for me, at least! Fortunately for everyone, Dice’s Battlefield 4, while incredible in its recreation of a battlefield environment that I can drive an attack boat around and kill people in… is almost hilariously bugged out. A couple of major patches have seemed to create just as many problems as they have solved. And that’s on the (relatively) stable XBox 360 release. I am told that the releases for PS4 and XBox One did not go smoothly. I don’t own either of those consoles yet, so I can’t speak personally… but I have no reason to doubt my sources (they include everyone I know who has played BF4 on a new console). This is particularly infuriating for me because I really want to play and enjoy Battlefield 4. But if I’m the only person who can play it without their bullets shooting sideways and their save data being corrupted… uhh… I guess I don’t have much reason to play at all, under those conditions. Thanks for nothing, Dice.

The Blizzard Entertainment Award
For: Wait, HOW long has that been in development again?
To: Defense of the Ancients 2
This isn’t really fair, since Dota 2 has been in beta for much of the long development cycle, and thus people have been able to play it. Still, the game had been in playable beta for over two years before it ‘dropped’. That having been said, it’s free to play on Steam, so what the hell do I care?

Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Award
For: ‘HD’ remake, ‘updated’ version, or whatever, that I randomly enjoyed
To: Age of Empires II: HD Edition
I seriously think I enjoyed it more than I did when the game first dropped. Mercifully, while this HD version is nothing (so far as I could tell) then a new coat of paint slapped on an ancient game… it was a very pretty coat of paint. And the game runs stably on my 64x OS. And it’s fun! What more could I ask for, really?

Game of the Year
For: Game of the Year
To: Saints Row IV.
C’mon. If you’ve never dipped your toes into the franchise… Saint’s Row IV concludes the story of ‘The Boss’, the nameless player-avatar protagonist who rose from being a nothing street punk to the leader of the Third Street Saints, which then became a massive media empire, to becoming elected as the President of the United States. I believe the tagline for the game on Steam is: “Gloriously Stupid” “Stupidly Fun”. That’s about right, except I don’t know how ‘stupid’ it really is. Saints Row IV is deeply referential; it pays flippant homage to essentially the entire history of gaming. Many of the references range from shrewd to brilliant, and many of them are simultaneously hysterical. It doesn’t have the size or scope of Grand Theft Auto V, but it’s every bit as much fun to play (this is a lie: it’s like 90283048x more fun to play). The absurdity of the game may not be to all tastes, I suppose, but all video games are absurd in one way or another. Give it a chance. Let it win you over. Oh, the PC version has some bugs. I didn’t find that they dampened my gameplay experience too much, but they are there, and they do suck when they crop up. Stupid ports.