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How my kids saved gaming for me

In an amazing change of normal thinking, I believe that my kids have helped my gaming.

For those who follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I haven’t had very much time to play Diablo III since it’s been launched, due to various (mostly kid-related) circumstances. At the time of writing, I have a level 26 Barbarian who is recently into Act 3, and I’m still enjoying the game to its fullest extent.

Yet when I look on Twitter, the official forums, or other blogs, I notice a trend of people saying that they’re bored with the game already and are disappointed with Blizzard for not making a game with staying power. To me, this seems very odd. However, these people are already into Inferno difficulty on multiple characters only three weeks after launch while my highest alt is only level 8 and still hasn’t killed the Skeleton King.

I never realized how much better a game could be when it’s paced out and enjoyed over time. In the past, I’ve been the kind of guy who sits down and plays as much as possible to see everything as soon as I can. The game would be finished, then I’d play again and again, then I’d stop playing after a while.

Now, because of my two young kids, I’m forced to have only a few hours spread out over the week to actually devote to my gaming. Instead of having finished the game and getting bored while replaying it with alts or higher difficulty levels, I’m still experiencing new content. It’s a very new and different experience.

That being said, I’d love to have more time to play. I’m itching to get back into the world of Sanctuary and destroy the minions of hell. Fortunately though, when I do get that time to play, I’m finding that I’m enjoying it a lot more than I have had with other games.

When Mists of Pandaria comes out, I’m sure that the situation will be very similar. Having a few hours here and there, I will most definitely not be the first person to level 90. I’ll be behind on the leveling curve, the gear-getting curve, the crafting curve, and whatever other curves there are. But when the time comes that I’m in game, I plan on enjoying it to the fullest extent.

Even though play time can be limited, being a parent comes first. I might complain about not having much time, but hearing my kids laugh and having fun with them is much more of a reward than killing Diablo on Inferno. Not even a close comparison.

BlizzCons and such

We now have confirmation that the world truly will not end in December 2012. How, you ask? Because Blizzard has told us that BlizzCon 2013 is going to happen.

This morning, it was made official that there will be no BlizzCon in 2012, predictably giving a lot of people room to complain. After five years in a row, why this year? Why not have such an amazing experience? Bashiok gave us a very good reply, which in essence said: “Well, we’re kinda busy.”

Now remember, there actually was no BlizzCon in 2006 after the first one in 2005. At the time, it was understandable as it was shortly before Burning Crusade was being launched, and there weren’t really any big announcements at the time. Since then, the conventions in 2008 and 2010 could be seen as a bit lackluster since there was no new game announcements at either. In my opinion, that is one of the reasons why they decided to forego this year.

Plus, as Bashiok said, they are busy. This year we have the possibility to see THREE games being released. We know that Diablo III is coming sometime in the early part of the year, and it’s very likely that Mists of Pandaria and Heart of the Swarm will be released later on (the current thoughts are late summer or early fall for Mists and late fall or early winter for Swarm). Because of all the things that are involved, Blizzard can only stretch their resources so thin.

Not only do they have to organize the convention in the first place, but actually setting up, running it, and taking it down takes much more time and effort than the two days that BlizzCon occurs. I’m sure that they have people devoted to events like this, but there will definitely be volunteers from other departments. Every person taken away from their desk is one more project that will take longer to complete.

In the end, I’m definitely disappointed. Once again, like every year since we went to BlizzCon 2008, my wife and I have been looking at our finances and seeing if it was possible to make it out this year. With it not happening this year, we will definitely be trying to make it out next year. After a year off, I can’t imagine how big of a party that it will be.

Meanwhile, there are other events that go on. PAX Prime and East, Nerdtacular, Dragon*Con, and a whole lot more that I don’t know about or have forgotten. Nerds shall unite and party!

Boredem and changes

Over the past while, I have to admit that I haven’t been playing much World of Warcraft. It’s not that there is nothing to do – far from it – but there just really isn’t much that can keep my attention lately. I find that I’m logging on for a random heroic or two, but after that I’m finding that I can’t keep interested.

I’ve come to realize that finally, after over seven years of playing, I’m mostly bored of WoW. There have been times where there have been some gaps where I haven’t had as much fun, but it never has been like this before. Even though there are things coming up with Mists of Pandaria that look really cool, at the very least we’re around 6-7 months away from that. When the time comes, I’ll definitely pick it up and play it, but there’s just the problem about the time from now until then.

Previously, I had a solid raid team that I would work with twice a week and work through the raid content. Not having this sort of anchor has affected me more than I ever thought, as the only person who I spend much time with when I’m playing WoW at all is my wife (not that this is a bad thing, it’s just that I would like to have more acquiantances). Even though I have joined a guild on my Death Knight that has a great number of people, unfortunately I have yet to find a suitable raid team that works with the times that I’m available.

With all of this being said, I’m playing other games and having some fun doing different things. I purchased Terraria and Portal 2 during the Steam Christmas sale last year and have started playing them again, and this year I’ve purchased Skyrim and Bastion, along with being fortunate enough to get into the Diablo III beta. Between these five games, I’m keeping myself quite occupied and not really missing WoW very much.

As I’ve said many times before, I’m a Blizzard fanboy and will continue to be one. I still really enjoy WoW, but as many other people do, I think I’ll just play it less than I have in the past. When the New Spawn comes in February, it’s quite possible that I might be doing some Archaeology at three in the morning while feeding the baby.

Maybe I’ll get lucky and get into a raid team that works for me, because I know that it will re-kindle my interest in the game. The future holds many unknown things, and what I will be doing with my spare time to have fun is most definitely one of them.

BlizzCon, a Magical Time…

Once a year, there is a time where there is a sense of peace and calmness in the air.  Enemies have meals with each other and discuss strategy.  Strangers go out of their way to help each other.  Altogether, life is pretty good for two days a year.

I’m not sure what you were thinking about, but I’m talking about BlizzCon.

Blizzard is a company that obviously values their fans, and appreciates the followings they have for their games.  Why else would they spend so much money putting on a two day festival for their games, and likely lose a lot of money in the process?  With all of the stuff that happens at the Anaheim Convention Center that is included in the ticket price, it’s well worth more than what you pay for.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to go to BlizzCon in 2008, and had an amazing time there.  More than likely, I’ll be doing some sort of a post around this time every year to reinforce the fact that it is an awesome trip, and I can just hope that everyone has the chance to go to it at least once.  Multiple times is even better!  However, we must deal with what has just happened.

BlizzCon 2011 – Mists of Pandaria and other stuff

One of the best parts came shortly into the opening ceremonies, which was the annoucement of the World of Warcraft annual pass.  This has a person commit to a one year term with WoW in return for some really great perks.  The number one perk being that you can get Diablo III for free.  Yes, free.  When the game is released, the digital download version will be provided to people who are signed up with this, as well as an in-game mount called Tyrael’s Charger.  Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.

Mists of Pandaria

Obviously, the big deal this year was the new WoW expansion: Mists of Pandaria.  We have a new expansion coming, and for the first time since Vanilla we won’t have any sort of a “main villain”.  There will be a number of enemies that will be there to smash, along with a ton of new features. The biggest things are definitely the new race of Pandarens, the new class of the Monk, and the new continent of Pandaria.  Along with that there will be a new Pet Battle system, PvE scenarios, challenge dungeon modes, a new talent system, among many other things.

When we first heard about Mists of Pandaria being trademarked earlier in the summer, I was very skeptical like many others.  Yet, after seeing all the details come forth in the various panels through the BlizzCon virtual ticket I am very pleasantly surprised at how excited I am about it.  The way that they have the lore fleshed out as well as the gameplay shown has me convinced that this could turn out to be quite good.  Of course, I’m a Blizzard fanboy, but that’s beside the point.

One thing that I think I’m really looking forward to is the Pet Battle system.  In essence, it’s Pokemon inside WoW including having a few different abilities that will be used in a turn-based battle system.  Companion pets will be account-bound for the most part and can be used to battle each other for prestige and rewards.  Basically, it’s a brand new pasttime for people to spend a great amount of time and money with.

The talent and spec system revamp looks very exciting.  Basically, talent trees will be gone and replaced with different choices to make about your abilities at certain levels.  Whereas before we were limited by what spec you were to choose your abilities at higher level, now there will be certain talents that can be taken by any spec.  As an example, Living Bomb will be able to be learned by any spec rather than just those who spec in Fire.  As time goes on and we get to see how the system fleshes out we’ll have a better idea of how it will all work.

Even though the Pandaren were once used as an April Fools’ joke, the new concept art and character models that were shown give a great look at them in-game now. They don’t look as comical as they did in the old joke posts as well as in Warcraft 3.  I’ve always enjoyed Samwise’s drawings that have surfaced over the years, and this makes them really fit in to the Asian theme that has been developed for the new continent.

Plus, the Pandaren starting zone is on the back of a turtle.  How awesome is that?

StarCraft II

I own StarCraft II and enjoy playing it, however I’m not very good at it.  Even so, I really enjoy the game and love the story.  Though more often than not I would not win the matches (PvP, I wasn’t too bad at vs AI), the game itself is very great.

At the end of Day 1 of BlizzCon, they had a match of the Global Starcraft League which is based out of South Korea.  Many people will know that the game is absolutely huge in the country, and there is a massive eSports market built around it.  Out of curiosity, my wife and I decided to tune in to it and see how the games were going… and we found that we were enjoying it much more than we thought we would.

The fight was Terran vs Terran (MMA vs MVP), two amazing players who put on a great fight.  In the end, the underdog (MMA) won the match with 4 wins to 1.  I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning to see this, since I was so enthralled by the action.  Because of this, I decided to re-install SC2 and start playing it again.  Good job BlizzCon, you did your job.

Diablo III

Thankfully, Diablo III will be coming out soon (we hope).  The biggest announcement with this game was definitely the WoW Annual Pass giving the game for free, but there was a great lore panel along with some good gameplay footage and overall cool stuff.

Diablo I and II were somewhat lacking in the overall lore, and as Chris Metzen started at the beginning of the D3 lore panel, this was the first year they’ve actually had a panel devoted just to lore of that universe.  The story has been expanded tremendously, and I’m extremely excited to see how the game turns out.

What wasn’t mentioned

We didn’t hear anything about the “Titan” project, which was said a few days before the convention started.  While this isn’t great, this is Blizzard we’re talking about – they don’t give out any details until they’re ready for it.  Personally, I would rather have something polished as opposed to something halfway done.

There are more projects being worked on within the walls of Blizzard.  Through some of the interviews that happened, as well as looking at the job postings on the Blizzard site, we know this.  As with Titan, we just won’t be given any information until they’re ready.

In the end…

As much as I wish I could have made it to Anaheim this year, unfortunately that just didn’t happen.  The virtual ticket was the next best thing that could have happened, and fortunately through that I can watch things happen after the fact.  As I write this post, I’m watching some of the panels that I missed through the days.

I have to say a huge “thank you” to Blizzard Entertainment.  BlizzCon was one of the best experiences that I’ve had, and every year I look forward to it whether or not I can actually be there.  I can’t imagine the amount of work that goes into the convention and how much money is spent, but I’d like to say that it’s totally worth it.

What is “Premium”?

This post is part of a Shared Topic on Blog Azeroth. Be sure to check out posts from other great blog authors!

After my last post was linked on WoW Insider, I saw a couple of comments on the page that made me think.  Firstly, I realized I didn’t do that great of a job explaining my position on the Premium Dungeon Finder. Secondly, I realized that there’s a lot more to this “premium” thing that should be discussed. Through the ensuing blog posts as well as Twitter conversations, I thought I’d expand my thoughts.

To begin with, it was a new and controversial move when MMOs first started charging a monthly subscription for games. Up until then, you paid your money for the game, and played as much as you want for the initial cost. Games that had vast multiplayer services like other Blizzard games (Warcraft III, StarCraft) or first-person shooter games (Counter-strike, Quake) operated on the one-time payment and provided the rest free of charge. I don’t know the economics behind this all, but I’m pretty sure that these games would have to sell a lot to be able to provide free multiplayer services.

Even to register a domain name for a website, there’s a fee. Heck, in many major cities in Canada and the US, it’s hard to find free parking at times. Behind everything, there is some sort of cost – whether it’s seen or not is the big thing.

Warcraft II: BNE & Warcraft III, Diablo and Diablo II, StarCraft and StarCraft II all offer free multiplayer through Blizzard’s Battle.net service. At any given time there are millions of people playing games on their servers, using the bandwidth they have to pay for, and ultimately costing the company. Someone has to maintain the servers to make sure they are at peak performance. Someone has to administer the people working on said servers, and the data centres that house them. Even though people playing those games only pay up front, there are real costs that Blizzard has to deal with on an ongoing basis.

Thus we have the reasoning for a monthly subscription fee for MMOs, as they are a whole new ball of wax. Rather than being separate instances of a game, they are a persistent world that also has instances within them. They must allow thousands of people to log on to a server and play the game as the company has designed and have fun doing it. If the servers crash repeatedly, nobody is having fun. The monthly fee goes to offset the likely astronomical costs of being able to maintain the server networks.

We already pay a monthly fee, why do we need to pay more for extra services?

I forget who exactly, but someone on Twitter gave this example: “I already pay for my cable, why should I pay more for the HD package?”  Similarly, it’s the same as going to a Starbucks and asking for a coffee with an extra shot of espresso but not wanting to be charged for it.  Both examples are extra services or products that are offered, but not essential.

Currently, the WoW remote package is the only Premium offering that is available.  This gives people the ability to do things outside of the game which can enhance their WoW experience, namely being able to use the Auction Houses and chat with guild members who are in-game.  Both of these services require an extra charge, likely because a lot of work went into them, and I know for a fact that it wasn’t free to create. Blizzard employees put their time and effort into these things that are not even required – not even remotely! (Yes, the pun was intended)

The Premium Dungeon Finder is something that will require Blizzard to change their network infrastructure. The servers right now are physically located at various points around the world in clusters. The Battlegroups are set up as such, and the people who group together in the Random Dungeon Finder (LFD) or battlegrounds are pulled from these server groups. Blizzard is working on making it so eventually it will be region-wide, with no extra cost for the player. By changing the LFD system to be able to pull people from your Real ID friends list specifically from servers around the region, it is a major change that was likely not planned for when things were first set up.

Finally, even though the game has been out for six and a half years, the subscription rates have not changed once. Inflation has brought many prices higher across many different industries, but we pay the exact same to log on to WoW as we did when the game first started. I’m pretty sure that there is a lot of money lost by keeping these rates the same.

In the end, I highly doubt that Blizzard will introduce something that is so game changing that it is a requirement to pay for it. If they did, they would most definitely lose a lot of subscribers, and likely myself included. I believe in getting a fair deal, and I think Blizzard has given us a good one so far.

If you want these extra features, you can pay for them. They are not necessary, but they’re helpful and useful. I personally will not be getting the WoW remote subscription or the Premium Dungeon Finder when it comes out, as both of them are not worth it for me. Everyone can choose for themselves to see if they think it’s worth the extra money for the services received.

Blizzard Entertainment: Twenty Years of Awesome

When it comes to the world of entertainment, staying power is hard to achieve. Game studios, publishers, games themselves, voice actors, along with the mainstream media like television shows – they come and go extremely quickly. Just take a look at any fall lineup of a major TV network, and it will likely be very different from what the lineup is at the end of the season. To stick around, you have to stand out and make give great quality with consistancy.

Blizzard is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, which is most definitely quite a feat. Not only the length of time that they’ve been around, but the fact that every single game that they have produced has been an excellent game and done well. Originally starting out making games for the Game Boy and NES, they broke into the limelight with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.

The Warcraft series has truly become Blizzard’s flagship. While the original game wasn’t the first real-time strategy (RTS) game that was made, it was one that set the bar for how polished it was for the time. The fact that to this day some of the fundamentals that were used in the first game are still used in StarCraft II is a great example of how if you do something right, it will stay around.  I’m sure that nobody had the slightest idea of how much the Warcraft series would grow and flourish, along with the other franchises that they have made and will continue to make.  Not only does the series have immense popularity, but it has redefined the standards that other games have to live up to – whether a RTS or MMO game.  There’s a reason why people want to be the “WoW-killer”, because they want to outdo what Blizzard has accomplished.

The Diablo series broke ground for the adventure genre.  Not only was the game a whole lot of fun, but it was incredibly easy to play.  There wasn’t the need to spend hours practicing it, in the end it was a simple point-and-click game that almost anyone could pick up and enjoy in a short period of time.  The original Diablo also introduced Battle.net, which was one of the first online multiplayer facilities out there.  Rather than relying on computer-to-computer TCP/IP games, Blizzard offered their own servers to be available free of charge to bring gamers together in a massive way.

Some might argue that StarCraft is just a re-skin of the Warcraft RTS games, set in a space setting with a different story.  If you just look at the straight specs, that is mostly correct.  Yet prior to the release of StarCraft II in July 2010, there were competetive leagues still playing the original StarCraft (with expansion) for real life cash around the world.  While Warcraft was focused more on WoW in the recent years the development team of StarCraft II were perfecting the RTS part, which is evident by the instant success and praise that the game was given upon release.  Not only were the game mechanics well done, but the storyline was one that captivated their audience.  After playing through the campaign of SC2, I truly can’t wait to get the next part of it to see what happens next.

There was a chart released not too long ago which is supposedly Blizzard’s release timetable of games for the next few years.  If there’s any sort of truth to it, I am extremely excited.  This is a company which prides itself on the quality of their games, so there is very little chance of anything less than perfect coming out with their logo stamped on it.

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