Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 23, 2014

Blizzard will go outright war into the MOBA scene

Blizzard is such a clever company. It’s rare to see a game company perform so well, so consistently, for so long. The reason due to this has to be the business guys at the top. They not only tend to be on top of technology and consumer trends, they know how to correct problems. Whatever legitimate or message forum nonsense blame Jay Wilson had with Diablo 3, the reason why he was gone is that his presence was hurting the brand. There are other decisions the company’s business side has made that have impressed me over the years, no need to go into specifics.

One thing that is clear to me is that Blizzard is set to go into outright war into the MOBA scene. Blizzard has had more to do with the creation of the fundamental gameplay of the MOBA than anyone else. It was Blizzard’s game mechanics and art that is the basis of DOTA and Aeon of Strife. They were made with Blizzard’s editors. I’ve been through the JASS code of DOTA and there really isn’t anything that is unique to DOTA. Most of the JASS is just tricking an already existing spell (which Blizzard made). All the heroes of DOTA were Blizzard heroes and characters. This isn’t like Tower Defense which adopted a very different mechanic than was in the base game. DOTA was like the first five minutes of a Warcraft 3 game surpassing an hour.

What no one is pointing out is how pissed off Blizzard is with the current MOBA scene. You know how game companies go batshit crazy over used game sales thinking all that money should go to them? Consider Blizzard’s current relation to the MOBA scene. The MOBA was made on THEIR games, using THEIR art, THEIR game mechanics, and through THEIR editors. We saw Blizzard sue the Valve Corporation over DOTA. You don’t think the business guys at the top in Blizzard aren’t pissed? You really think Heroes of the Storm is just a ‘hobby’ where Blizzard is trying to go ‘Blue Ocean’ and make ‘casual’ and ‘different’ game? Oh, ho ho ho, my friend. I see an enraged Blizzard set to intentionally create an earthquake in the MOBA area.

First off, Heroes of the Storm isn’t a ‘hobby’. It has the full RTS team on it. They aren’t making Warcraft 4. They are making Heroes. Heroes of the Storm has more priority over Warcraft 4 within Blizzard. The ‘hobby’ was Hearthstone. As I understand it, Hearthstone was Blizzard’s experiment of making a game with only a few people like back in the old days. I also hear that Hearthstone had many, many problems during its development cycle. The point is that if Heroes of the Storm was seen by Blizzard as a ‘hobby’, it would still be a map in the Starcraft 2 game instead of being given its own franchise. It is now Blizzard Franchise # 5 after Warcraft, Diablo, Starcraft, and Hearthstone.

I also think too much is being made of Heroes being ‘da casual’ in order to create growth. If you’ve played RTS games as long as I have, you would know that team gameplay is a very big reason why people play RTS games. I had to reprogram Command and Conquer to play team multiplayer games over the Internet which made me get a letter from an unhappy Westwood Studios. (Note that in the sequels and services offered afterward began to focus on team multiplayer.) Remember that Red Alert came with TWO discs which allowed two different computers to play multiplayer against each other. Also remember that Warcraft 2 and Starcraft allowed ‘spawning’ which fed right into team based multiplayer. With Warcraft 2, we had to go to Kali in order to play Internet multiplayer. Instead of writing angry letters at us, Blizzard followed the players’ lead asking us to patch 1.2 of Warcraft 2 with them and placing Kali on the Warcraft 2 disc. The MOBA growth is largely coming from the team based gameplay that fueled the RTS and MMORPG genre for so long. From Blizzard’s perspective, the current MOBA scene is a threat not only to Blizzard’s RTS games but to World of Warcraft as well. These online team multiplayer games are going against each other. Instead of seeing MOBA as a genre or MMORPG as a genre or RTS as a genre, focus on the job those genres do. One of the most important jobs they do is team multiplayer.

And team multiplayer is really where Starcraft 2 was crap. I have always played RTS games as team multiplayer. Sure, I can play 1 vs 1. But you know what? I get bored. Games end up with me just doing something a little faster or doing a better strategy than my opponent. There is no personality. With team based multiplayer, I deal with personalities instead of just strategies and mechanics. I had stopped playing Starcraft 1 a long while back, but apparently it evolved where 1 vs 1 was ‘the thing’ in Starcraft. Therefore, Starcraft 2 was designed entirely around 1 vs 1. The 3v3 or 4v4 are seen as a joke mode in Starcraft 2, and Blizzard doesn’t take balancing team multiplayer seriously.

This is also why the ‘E-Sport’ Starcraft 2 players look so confused and bored with Heroes. They have no ‘mechanics’ to master. There is no way for them to be ‘the star’ of the game. While current MOBAs have more in common with RTS in that there are four or five heroes playing as separate entities though allied as a team, Heroes seems more like World of Warcraft in that people are not separate entities but provide roles that is unified entirely as a team. If you’ve ever been a Raid Leader in WoW, you know that it is more about dealing with people’s personalities and getting people to ‘not stand in fire’ and do what they are supposed to do than mechanics and personal strategy. You don’t really see E-Sport people play MMORPGs outside of the ‘level as fast as possible’ type mode. What I’m trying to point out is that there are many RTS players who are bored and confused with Starcraft 2′s focus on 1v1 multiplayer because they prefer to play team based multiplayer. “That is the casual way to play RTS. The only real way to play is 1v1.” That is crap. And the growth of the MOBA scene shows us why it is crap. If 1v1 is so awesome to play, then why are team based multiplayer so popular including having people watch via Twitch or E-Sports?

While Heroes will attract people who aren’t interested in the current MOBAs, we have forgotten that large pool of RTS team multiplayer fans that were ignored with Starcraft 2.

While making a game more accessible grows the market of the game, it also cuts the knees from its competitors. No one imagined World of Warcraft being as popular as it became. Everquest dominated the scene. For a while, World of Warcraft and Everquest were rivals. I remember Everquest even putting in a pizza delivery into the game where you could order pizza from the game. World of Warcraft pulled ahead because new players preferred the less bullshit that WoW cleared away. WoW simply was more accessible. When we look at the MOBA scene, it isn’t so much as Heroes pulling away DOTA or LoL players as it is gobbling up all future growth.

If I was the Valve Corporation or Riot, I’d be shitting in my pants at the moment. Blizzard’s track record speaks for itself. Blizzard doesn’t make many games, but the games it does make ends up dominating the genre it is in. The only exception I can think of was during the earlier RTS days where Blizzard had to share with Westwood Studios and Ensemble. But both Westwood and Ensemble are dead. The vast graveyard of MMORPG competitors to WoW or RTS competitors to Warcraft and Starcraft show just how strong Blizzard’s sticky power is. Starcraft 2 is the current top RTS game. World of Warcraft dominates the MMORPG scene. Diablo 3, which has sold around 15 million copies, dominates the Action RPG genre despite Torchlight 2, despite Path of Exile, and despite Diablo 3′s problems. Hearthstone dominates the video game trading card scene. The idea that Heroes of the Storm is only intended to be a ‘hobby’ or ‘cute casual game like Farmville for MOBAs’ is someone who isn’t paying attention to Blizzard’s history.

I assure you that the Valve Corporation and Riot games are very, very worried. The more you think about, it’s pretty easy to see how difficult it will be for them to compete.

DOTA 2 players tend to like ‘non-change’. Most DOTA 2 players started playing DOTA with Warcraft 3 when they were young and just think that is the ‘normal’. Anything different would be ‘abnormal’. How exactly can DOTA 2 change? It can’t really change the map or anything without their fanbase going rabid. DOTA 2 can’t change the ‘last hitting’ or ten minutes of lane farming without the DOTA fanbase going apeshit. Worse, the DOTA 2 heroes are nothing more than renamed and reskinned Warcraft 3 heroes. Would you rather have a ‘wisp’ or an ‘io’?

LoL has more room to adapt. But the big thing that hurts LoL, in my opinion, is just how graphically dated LoL looks. In addition, LoL already has its system and people invested in certain game mechanics. LoL can’t do widespread changes, thought it can add more.

Every MOBA player is aware of Blizzard and the Blizzard universes. After all, many MOBA players were Warcraft 3 owners. Those that go back to Aeon of Strife were Starcraft owners. Blizzard using their franchise’s heroes is something the other MOBAs can’t really compete. You can tell Blizzard isn’t interested in using Heroes to promote their other franchises. If that were the case, Tyrael would look like the shitty version he is in Diablo 3. Instead, Tyrael looks like the awesome version he was in Diablo 2. We don’t see cleansed Kerrigan or feral Zerg Kerrigan, we see the Kerrigan of Brood War.

What is most interesting about Heroes is that we can see it being a springboard for Blizzard to introduce New Stuff. MOBA scene feels very stale.

Since the MOBA scene is very large, expect to hear much viral marketing. It’s clear the Valve Corporation does engage in a ton of viral marketing. I highly doubt the shrines and prayers to ‘Gabe’ came by the players themselves (‘Gabe’ doesn’t even make games, he is literally the personification of the ‘fat cat businessman’). I’m not sure about Riot. And Blizzard, themselves, plays in this little game as well. When I see a Twitch stream of Heroes, I ask myself, “Are the streamers playing it because it is fun or because Blizzard asked them to play?” These things go through my head (I’m very cynical).

When I see someone saying so much against the Heroes alpha, I ask myself, “Why is he protesting so much?” It is just an alpha, after all. Where was this guy back when it was called Blizzard DOTA? Blizzard DOTA wasn’t a threat then. It was using the same exact paradigm that MOBAs had used, and it wouldn’t compete for the same reason why new MOBAs can’t compete due to the years of existing content in LoL and DOTA 2. It is like a new MMORPG competing against World of Warcraft. It isn’t going to happen. But by using a different paradigm, all that massive content no longer matters because it is content of an old paradigm. Who cares how many items the MOBA has if there is a MOBA that doesn’t use items at all.

I did fall for the belief that Blizzard was doing a ‘Blue Ocean’ approach with Heroes. I think Blizzard is going full out war here. I also think people believe Blizzard is ‘transparent’ in that they know all about Heroes because of the alpha are being fools. The alpha is only what Blizzard wants tested at the moment. My gut feeling is that there are tons of components to this game being made done. I am expecting Blizzard to do some E-Sport viewing thing with it, for example. There are tons more heroes out there probably already done. But they aren’t going to flood the alpha with all those heroes. They might also be hiding heroes they suspect could be stolen by competitors. No one is going to take the iconic Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo characters because they can’t. No one is going to take the siege tank hero because that is unique only to Starcraft. They probably also have many more maps done but aren’t ready for public testing. The alpha shouldn’t be seen as measurement of Blizzard’s ambition with this title. I think the alpha’s purpose was to test out more general concepts such as the leveling up mode and buying things from the store.

As I understand how Blizzard works, alphas test general concepts. Alphas also overpower everything to absurdity. The Blizzard model is to overpower things to make everything feel VERY POWERFUL and then tweak it down. The game is broken on purpose in alphas. The general concept is that Blizzard seems interested in getting what the general feel for the game is, how it all comes to together. The reason why they want to nail this is that this must be done before the content is added. Blizzard tends to save the content for the last.

The alpha of Warcraft 3 just had your meat and potatoes units of Humans and Orcs going against each other. Alpha of Diablo 3 had the Skeleton King I believe. As much as they are missing content, I think Heroes is in that same relationship. Heroes alpha is missing all the content. Aside from a gazillion more heroes that are missing, we’re missing all the maps. They’re going to do a talent overhaul so the talents we see aren’t the full content.

Keep in mind that the people in the top positions of Blizzard today were the same ones who were competing against Sega and Nintendo during the 16-bit generation. From a competitive standpoint, DOTA 2 and LoL are nothing compared to Mario and Sonic in the 16-bit generation.

Blizzard Alphas in the Past

People kept saying that Heroes alpha looked too polished to be an alpha. I think that is because Blizzard’s art and sound studios are on steroids compared to other companies. When they do art or sound with their little finger, it is the equivalent of a released game for other game companies.

But what we can see is that Blizzard alphas in the past showcase and test general concepts. There is much change to the final product.

The above is the ALPHA for Warcraft 3. Just look at it! I think the video is from 1999.

The above is the BETA for Warcraft 3. Undead and Night Elf still aren’t working yet. While the game may ‘seem’ polished, it is still nowhere near the final product of what Warcraft 3 was when it launched.

Look at the Starcraft 2 alpha! Terrible! Very interesting to watch though.

Based on this, we have to ask ourselves what is the alpha for Heroes of the Storm? We know talents are getting revamped. We know there will be many, many more heroes and maps added. I think it may be too early to say much about Heroes at this point, both FOR or AGAINST. All we know is that Blizzard wants to evolve Heroes in a different direction than where DOTA 2 and LoL went. This is going to be a very interesting game to watch develop if the previous alphas of Blizzard are any indicator.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 20, 2014

A game you play until 4 AM

These are the games I watched that got me excited for Heroes of the Storm. It reminds me of playing Warcraft 2 or Red Alert back in the day until 4 AM.

Rockets flying all over the place, they have no idea what is going on which is part of the fun.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 20, 2014

Why Mighty No. 09 disapoints

I’ve been playing Mega Man since Mega Man 1 (NES) was new. This trailer does nothing for me.


It is because everything is still locked in a paradigm of 1987.

Why are there still eight robot masters?

Why do the robot masters still do themes such as ‘air theme’ and ‘construction theme’ as we have seen time and time again?

Why does the dashing remind me of combos from shooting games like Ikaruga? Why is the game telling me ‘good’ to ‘great’? Am I suddenly playing Oudan?

Mighty No. 9 scares me. This game feels like Inafune naval-gazing. Before we praise the underdog against the big, bad evil Capcom, what if Capcom was right to can Mega Man? We don’t need more bad Mega Man games (God knows there are enough of them out there). Inafune didn’t do Mega Man 9 or 10 right, why would he suddenly do Mighty No. 09 right?

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 20, 2014

Email: Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze Impressions

I thought about writing a “Link Between Worlds” impressions email but honestly, you’ve gotten so many and there’s really nothing I could say that would differ much from the ones you’ve already gotten. I liked the free open world exploration, Ravio is kinda lame, liked that it cut out a lot of the fat but could stand to be more challenging, blah blah blah. So how about some impressions on the new DK game? Surprsingly WiiU sales picked up slightly when this was released.

First off, when you compare this to NSMBU, you can that it had effort put into it. Retro didn’t treat this like something they had to do because Iwata said so, they wanted to make this epic. Why couldn’t NSMBU get an epic opening like this? While penguin ice Vikings is a bit silly, they at least try to make these guys seem epic and threatening. They show up with a vast armada of ships and command a giant ice dragon and essentially annex DK Island. When was the last time Bowser’s invasion felt epic? For me it was the first Mario Galaxy game. I remember the site of fire raining down as the Toads ran in horror, but after this game, now Bowser just shows up comically nabs the Princess (or fairies) and that’s it. They don’t even try with the 2D Marios. Can’t be bothered to have a nice CG intro to set the stage for an epic adventure. Also I know some wish the Kremlings would return but I honestly think Retro feels that’s Rare’s baby and would rather make their own villians. Plus all the Kremilings wanted to do was steal all the bananas where the Ice Vikings want to conquer the island. Also a side note: The Walrus Vikings look very similar to the walrus race in Northrend in the WoW:Litch King expansion.

But anyway back to DK:TF. Basically Retro reminds us what a modern 2D platformer SHOULD be. The levels feel organic and have depth as opposed to a flat, painted 2D background with sprites in the foreground. Retro used the WiiU to it’s full power as opposed to NSMBU with just used up res Wii engine graphics. Donkey Kong gets nice orchestral music and no wah wah stuff. There’s even moments when the camera switches to an almost 3D perspective to show off the level. Definitely couldn’t do that in a “New” Mario game. Also so, far the levels try not to be rehashes of the first game. DK and his pals were flung to far off islands working their way back home. Though some will probably get flashbacks to DKC3 on the SNES. You remember that one that starred Dixie and her baby cousin traveling through Canada for some reason. But the levels have rhyme and reason to them as opposed to just a bunch of levels slapped together from past concepts.

Gameplay wise, it is a lot of what we got in the Wii DKC Returns. I wish more animal buddies would get used. Rambi’s fun and all and Squawks is back if you want to find puzzle pieces but I miss Squitter, Enguard, etc. There’s swimming in this one and Enguard would’ve been awesome though at least in this one DK can attack underwater which is nice. I also think the absence of more animal buddies was to focus on the additional Kongs and their unique abilities. Diddy has his jet and peanut gun, Dixie can fly and Cranky’s Scrooge McDuck pogo is mostly useless. Honestly there’s no reason to ever play with anyone else besides Dixie. I do wish the game didn’t force player one to be DK. Player 2 can choose between the other 3 but in a weird design choice, if you want to swap out say Diddy for Dixie, you have to drop out then drop back in as a different Kong. Also rather surprised there’s no 4 player co-op which is why I thought they had 4 Kongs in this game. Once again I wish they’d let Cranky complain about modern gaming again. I could see him today “in my day console wars were about GAMES not which generic FPS ran in 1080p!”

There’s some issues though. This time around at least you can play with the gamepad or pro controller so no silly shaking to pound things or blowing on stuff though a black gamepad screen is odd. You’d think they’d just slap a progress or inventory screen on the gamepad but at least it’s not distracting. I also don’t like having to hold a button to grab vines. I died many times in the first temple stage simple because I was not holding the ZR button to grab. DK should really just auto grab vines like he did in the SNES games. Also as you heard, the game ditched the stupid “auto play” feature if you die too many times. I know Nintendo thought that was a way to make games more accessible to the casual audience but in the end, people just found it insulting. You do die a lot in this game but it never feels frustrating or cheap. Sadly though the game makes it very easy to grind lives meaning unless you’re playing co-op, you probably won’t see the Game Over screen. Banana coins are every where and you can buy all the lives the power ups you want at Funky’s shop now. Unlike DKCR you aren’t limited to a single item. You can buy enough banana juice to throw a jungle kegger if you’d like. But honestly I remember getting tons of lives was a thing in DKC on the SNES. It was Diddy’s Kong Quest that was the insanely hard one making you pay coins to save.

Also Retro takes advantage of the internet feature. Online co-op would’ve been great however instead of stupid Miiverse messaging, they have online leaderboards where players compete for the best time. Ironically in Mario 3D World, a number of players used the Miiverse feature to post how quickly they beat levels. There’s also no Miiverse messages cluttering up the map screen. You want that, go visit the Miiverse on your own.

This and Rayman Legends were the two best WiiU games I’ve played so far namely as they both felt challenging. The two recent 2D Rayman’s could be amazing if they had life systems instead of just endlessly respawning you at the last checkpoint (the hardcore love the 2D Raymans for their “art style” and not having lives). It’s easy to see why people want Retro to take on franchises like Starfox or Fzero. They did such a good job with bringing Metroid and Donkey Kong Country Returns to the modern era, they’d probably do great with just about anything. Hell, if they did make a 3D Donkey Kong, I’m sure it would be worlds better than that collectahon gone wrong Donkey Kong Country 64 (seriously even a lot of Nintendo die hards didn’t like that one). But I agree, give DK a break, let Retro make something new.

It sounds like a good game. It sounds like something I would buy or rent if I owned a Wii U. However, I feel I can just skip it like I skipped the entire N64 and Gamecube eras. I wouldn’t be surprised if I bought at discount or got used the Wii U’s best hits and played them all within a week sometime years in the future.

What is the reason for me to be an owner of Wii U TODAY? Just so I sit my ass while waiting months between releases? With the Wii, I knew I didn’t want to miss that. I also didn’t want to miss the DS. But I feel fine missing out on the 3DS and Wii U.

It feels like the great multiplayer games are missing as well as RPGs. Wii and DS were amazing multiplayer experiences. Co-op is OK, but we need more.

We’ll see how Mario Kart plays.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 20, 2014

Email: Blizzard Q/A on Heroes of the Storm

You can watch it here on twitch:

I think there will be a youtube video in the next few days.
The main reason why I link it is because of the question they answer starting at 34:30. The question asks about Heroes of the Storm being dumbed down compared to the other games in the genre. Dustin Browder quickly points to Hearthstone, then comes with this quote.
“If you look at our games, if we’re doing it correctly, they should look simple. They should look like, “Oh what? There is nothing!” That’s the way it should look. And then when you look into it you go, “Woah, woah, this looks nuts.””

The MOBA scene is dominated by younger gamers. They all think that since they play MOBAs a ton that they understand how one should be made.

Blizzard can really screw this all up by listening to the hardcore. Basing Starcraft 2′s multiplayer around ‘the hardcore’ ended up with that disaster. Basing World of Warcraft around ‘the hardcore’ gave us Cataclysm and massive drops in subscriptions. Basing Diablo 3 around ‘the hardcore’ gave us the hated Inferno mode.

If you asked your best customers of horses and wagons what they want, they would say better horses and wagons. But it was the worse customers were the ones that wanted cars.

If you asked your best customers of 1970s computers what they want, they would ask for better of more of the same. But it was the casuals that started the PC revolution. The big companies at the time saw no need for the PC.

If you asked Everquest gamers what they wanted, they would have said more stuff of the current paradigm. But it was the simplicity of World of Warcraft that unlocked a phenomenon.

I’m really worried Blizzard will give in to these people as they did in Starcraft 2, Diablo 3, and modern WoW. When those games blew up, the hardcore walks away as if they had no participation in it. “Blizzard just sucks now…” they fume. In all my days of life on this Earth, the hardcore gamer has never been blamed for any video game disaster even though we know they are the common cause for most video game disasters.

I worry that Blizzard will ‘speed up’ the game which will create a stressful experience due to APM becoming more dominant than strategy.

Look how far Heroes had come than when it was ‘Blizzard DOTA’. During that time period, Blizzard wasn’t listening to the ‘hardcore gamers’. This is why so much progress was done. Now that the hardcore are volunteering their suggestions at a disproportionate rate to the rest of gamers (because hardcore think they know everything while normal gamers don’t), I fear Heroes will go backwards.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 19, 2014

Ghostbusters is a perfect movie

Ghostbusters was released in 1984. I saw it recently. It hasn’t aged at all. Every minute of it is still extremely entertaining. The movie still feels fresh after all these years. I still can’t tell if the movie is a comedy, a horror film, or a heroic film. Perhaps it is all of them.

Ghostbusters III is going to be made, and I bet it is going to suck. They probably won’t call it Ghostbusters III but just Ghostbusters. They want to reboot it. They want to drive the original out of existence. Some say this is only for easy money purposes to cash in on nostalgia of a classic film. I’m more cynical.

There is nothing aged about Ghostbusters. It doesn’t need to be rebooted. It is extremely entertaining as it is. I was shocked at just how well made this film is. There is some commentary on the rich and poor (movie interacts with both. Keymaster gets mauled by the hell hound in front of the rich people restaurant, and they don’t care.) Religion makes an appearance which is natural since you have people coming back from the dead, walls bleeding, and an apocalypse scenario. It’s like the film mocks the cardinal’s position over the mayor but there is no condescension of religion as you typically see. Winston doesn’t come across as a ‘must-have-black-guy’ in the film. “I’ve seen things that’ll scare you white!” Winston comes across more as the common man in comparison to the egghead scientists.

There are two big things that really shocked me when seeing this movie.

1) The Ghostbusters is a story of academic eggheads who rebel against the university system to go start a private business. The university system is mocked thoroughly at the beginning of the film, and the small business of the Ghostbusters is shown struggling to survive (at first).

2) The villain in Ghostbosters is not Zule but the EPA. HOLY SHIT. Hahahahahahaha. They even pegged the EPA guy down PERFECTLY. Always quick to anger, running around with a full beard trying to be ‘sophisticated’, and correctly labeled ‘no dick’. Just watch the videos.

The idiot EPA official brings Armageddon down on New York City.

Here is ‘No Dick’ getting thrown out by the mayor. The movie catches the little man ‘trying to be the big authoritative man’ perfectly with this guy.

Ghostbusters is an iconic classic movie. Everyone knows it. Everyone loves it. But the movie does not fit the modern Hollywood narrative. When was the last movie you saw that had the university system mocked and the EPA be the primary villain? I wouldn’t be surprised if the reboot has the university system ‘provide’ for the Ghostbusters and have some big cat corporate CEO be the ‘primary villain’ shutting down the containment system.

Ghostbusters is a business movie where scientists become successful entrepreneurs. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’m afraid I never will again.

Let’s end this post with a heroic clip of Saving The Day:

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 19, 2014

Why I’m not posting your email…

It’s because I’ve been busy driving all throughout Houston. I’ll get to them soon. I have to get my Diablo 3 fix as well! :)

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 19, 2014

Email: That History page is a great idea!

Good day to you Master Malstrom,

I just wanted to let you know that that history page thing is the best idea you’ve had in quite a while!

On another note: Considering everyone must refer to you as Master Malstrom now, have you ever considered using a picture from the one and only Master: Roger Delgado, the Master from Doctor Who? Ever since you’ve insisted on being called Master Malstrom I’ve started your articles in his voice. Look him up some time.

Here is the character:

But I am not an evil entity like Dr. Who’s master is.

It may be time for the Nintendo University to grant me an honorary doctorate promoting me to Doctor Malstrom. After all, we need a Dr. Malstrom in order to revive the dying Nintendo. Mario is a doctor, how hard can it be? Hell, if Luigi can be a doctor, why can’t Malstrom!?

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 19, 2014

Email: HoTS looks “Leagues” better than DotA2

I just watched TotalBiscuits video on HoTS, and I have a huge list of things which I really like about it.

First, I feel I should cover my background with these kinds of games. First off, I’ve never played the original Dota. I’ve never even played Warcraft 3. The only RTS games I really played were Starcraft and Total Annihilation. When I was younger I tried to get WC3, but picked up 2 instead. I returned it realizing it wasn’t the game my friends were playing, and just got the Diablo Battle Chest instead. I have no regrets.

I played Dota2 recently with some friends, and it was… really confusing, and not all that interesting. I have about 15 hours in that game, and I’ve played maybe 4 matches of it so far, some of that time being devoted to the tutorial. There’s so many things which, without playing the original Dota (and thus warcraft3), make very little sense. But I’ll cover this in my list.

1: No Items – Abilities instead

The items in Dota2 were incredibly confusing. You only have 6 slots, which means you constantly have to micromanage buying and selling items, which means micromanaging a courier… or running back to base. And since the courier is controlled by everyone, it means that you have to know who is using it, or you “mess it up”. In addition to that, the items also having abilities means you have to know exactly how everything is going to play out (regarding what seems like hundreds of heroes) to make a decent descision.

In HotS, not only are the confusing items gone, but they are “abilities” which make sense regarding the character! It also means you don’t have to farm as much, but this is covered in the next point.

2: Team level

Leveling up was a tedious affair in DotA2. You had to be a certain distance from battles in order to gain experience and if you didn’t want to manage the courier you missed out. Depending on what role you play it can be pretty boring. Some characters aren’t allowed to get kills, so they have to babysit other characters while they get stronger. And leveling up is only have of your strength, the other half being items.

In HotS, I can never fall behind because I didn’t “Last Hit” enough enemies or whatever when I was supposed to. Last Hitting is such an oblique and dated idea, I can’t even think why someone would want it other than it adds “difficulty” (and keeps out “da casualz!”). Instead of potentially hindering my the team, you can only “benefit them less”. Instead I can focus on doing the objective, which thankfully changes depending on the map.

3: Different Maps

Dota2 has exactly 1 map. Save for tutorial areas and whatever boss battle thing Valve wanted to do. People say this map is “balanced” but it’s asymmetrical. The dragon thing is closer to the Dire side, and there’s other differences too. The objectives are the same, which is always to defeat the opponents base.

HotS has different maps, with different themes and objectives, as can be seen in TotalBiscuits new video. These switch things up alot, which is great. It also means that, because your game can have more than 1 map, your game can also have dynamic roles.

4: The roles are less “strict”

Because your character can gain passive powers that change the way they play, you don’t have to worry about your “team comp”. This means that, more often than not, I can play whatever character I think is cooler. This was a problem for me in DotA2, because there were some very interesting characters in that game.

But with HotS, you can modify the role with the passive abilities. Maybe in Dota2 this was possible, but I doubt it. But now you can play as whoever you want, most of the time (as long as there’s no duplicates, but most people like more than a few characters). Since they have a free character rotation like in LoL, you don’t have to worry about the character being played all the time because they can change themselves based on their team.

5: The game is FASTER

Dota2 took FOREVER. It was 20-40 minutes per game, and you absolutely had to commit to that. There’s no bot that comes in and replaces you temporarily if you lose connection.

But HotS is much faster. Tower have ammo so you can take them out quicker, without making it too easy. There are “mounts” which allow you to travel quicker but with vulnerability. No items means you don’t have to run to the nearest shop. Your character also starts with 3 of their abilities, which means you can test them out to see what they do during a warmup period, where your energy just gets refilled.

6: And most importantly… The hardcore hate it!

Or at least, I imagine they will.

TotalBiscuit is a mouthpiece for hardcores, there’s no doubt about that. But even in this newest video, he acknowledges that with his busy life, sometimes you just want to play a game that isn’t so demanding. Defending difficulty (at least that which has nothing to do with what’s actually happening in the game), is the desire for “exclusiveness”. And that’s the essence of what it means to be hardcore in the first place.

HotS looks “Leagues” ahead of Dota2 because it actually looks playable. Dota2 players call “League of Legends” causal because it lacks a few of the silly things from Dota, from what I’ve heard them say. It seems like HotS further refined the Dota game, making something that will probably be very popular.

Personally I still would rather play a game like this with a controller though. All that clicking makes me feel silly, and keyboards aren’t an intuitive thing to learn, since there’s so many buttons.

I still want to give it a try though, even if I’m not that familiar with the characters of every Blizzard game.

The controller question is interesting because Diablo 3 (on consoles) obviously is designed around the controller. However, I doubt Heroes (which I am learning is the proper nickname for Heroes of the Storm, not HotS [HotS is what we used to call Heart of the Swarm, the Starcraft 2 expansion]) will ever have a controller. Heroes is using the Starcraft 2 engine and a MOBA is a direct cousin to RTS. But then again, from what I’ve seen with the spell targeting (where it gives you a GIANT ARROW and points away from your character) it could be done with a second stick.

I did find myself constantly watching Heroes games last night. I have no idea why. I went to Twitch, typed in Heroes of the Storm, and clicked on what came up. The person I ended up watching was Hafu who I had never heard of before. All of a sudden, TotalBiscuit joins her party, and they play for a few hours (and lose every game hahahaha). These streamers are playing Heroes A TON. Now, I am suspicious that they want to please Blizzard and/or keep streaming since there are more viewers than players due to the game still being in alpha. But it very well could be that the game is very addictive.

You always want to know what the next hit game is. In the very first issue of Nintendo Power, Howard Phillips had a huge preview on Mega Man 2, and you could feel the enthusiasm bubbling forth. He was essentially screaming, “OMG, buy this game!” Looking back on it, we smile because we know he was right. Mega Man 2 was definitely a game the NES player should have bought.

Can you imagine if you could go back in time right before a hit game was going to come out and tell everyone The Good News? Before World of Warcraft came out, no one, absolutely no one, and especially not Blizzard, even imagined how big it would become.

Now imagine if you could go back in time to tell people about the Wii.

(I don’t have to imagine that scenario… heheheh)

One of the fun things about this site is trying to point to a big game incoming. I’m not a FPS type person (though I am a Doom/Quake/Unreal Tournament fan) so I can’t tell you anything about Halo, COD, Titanfall, or whatever. It’s like feeling the tremors of an earthquake. The smoke is hissing from Mount Gaming. You know the volcano is going to blow its top soon.

Heroes of the Storm will be to Dota 2/ League of Legends as World of Warcraft was to Everquest. This game is going to be *big*. (Provided Blizzard doesn’t screw it up, but everything Blizzard is doing lately makes me think *they get it*. They’re turning Diablo 3 disaster boat around. They haven’t even mentioned a word of E-Sports about Heroes (thank goodness).

Why will Heroes be HUGE? I see DOTA 2 and LoL similar to Everquest and earlier MMORPGs in that they do some things really right which are very fun but are drowned in chore-like grinding activities. The MOBA players like these ‘fun nuggets’ and see the chore and grinding as ‘part of the scene’. Blizzard is *fixing* it by removing those chores and grinding so the ‘fun nuggets’ end up being a fully saturated fun game. World of Warcraft did many changes such as rested XP, not allowing people to loot your corpse, replaced experience grinding with quests (I recall very vividly playing Vanilla WoW when it came out how everyone would keep killing raptors all day while I leveled so much faster by doing quests. I played with a Russian so it was two people going through the quests extremely fast. MMORPGers still were locked in the paradigm that one had to ‘grind’ for experience. WoW broke that with quests). WoW was so influential that no one wanted to play earlier MMORPGers anymore (hush you Ultima Online and Asheron Call fans).

Heroes will have a similar effect. It will unleash the fun that’s been bottled away in the MOBAs. It will actually make the MOBA fun.

When this occurs, it will be very interesting to watch the faces of the developers of the MOBA graveyard. All these MOBA games came out and only DOTA 2 and League of Legends survived. Everyone thinks they are so brilliant, so talented, and probably like to think Blizzard just throws money at their games or relies on their fanbase. Warren Spector once said that a video game developer needs extraordinary analytical skills. Blizzard has that. They are also not afraid to crucify their ego (for example, the Diablo 3 Auction House is shutting down today. Who would have thought Blizzard would actually do that when the game released?).

Reaper of the Souls will be good, it will be fun, just as Hearthstone and Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void will be satisfactory. But Heroes is poised to explode.

You want to know one additional reason why I think so? (Of course you do. That is why you are the reader, and I am the Malstrom.) The Lore. Games that really become phenomenons (escapist games at least) create new lore. Think of Super Mario Brothers and Mushroom Land. Think of Starcraft and its universe or Warcraft 2 and 3 and WoW with their rich world settings. One of the major weaknesses with Blizzard games is their lore. Starcraft 2 is less about creating new lore as it is about a bad soap opera. The ‘story’ is revolving around characters whereas Starcraft 1′s story revolved around empires rising and falling, seeing new planets, new environments. Diablo 3 can be described as ‘anti-lore’ where they really screw up older characters (Cain, Tyrael) and the game feels like I’ve done nothing since Diablo became nothing more than Voltron of different ‘evil’ pieces.

“But Malstrom,” you said, “Heroes is using old lore. They are using the existing Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft universes and characters. There is nothing new.”

Au contraire reader! You are mistaking Blizzard with Nintendo. After the 64-bit generation, Nintendo stopped generating new lore. Smash Brothers and Mario Kart are nothing more than the meeting place of different characters and settings. While Blizzard does have the current universes, it is generating new lore. Take that Pirate Ghost Ship. I don’t remember seeing that in WoW or Warcraft? The mines aren’t found in any of Blizzard’s games.

I think Blizzard’s artists are tired of the cages that Diablo, Warcraft, and Starcraft impose and enjoy the combinations allowing them to do Whatever The Hell They Want. The gameplay of Heroes is largely being generated by the artists at this point. I’m excited because this is how I want gameplay to be generated. Instead of the game designers getting all egghead, they see concept art or something and become passionate rockstars and follow through with something. Did you know that the original Starcraft was inspired by Starship Troopers? Vanilla World of Warcraft obviously was inspired Lord of the Rings movies.

This is the trailer of Starship Troopers. Blizzard employees left the theater howling and shouting! If THAT doesn’t remind you of Starcraft, then look at this cutscene from Brood War which is an exact parody found in Starship Troopers.

Back to Heroes, look at this:

Here, they talk about how Heroes revolves around the maps, not the heroes or items (which I swear I didn’t see this video before my prior posts). The Heroes devs even admit they had a Wii-like moment. They didn’t know how people would respond to Heroes and were just hoping everyone wouldn’t hate it. Even the company had forgotten about Heroes due to Hearthstone going public. The line to play the game just kept growing and growing until people were waiting an hour or so just to play as it wrapped around the convention (which sounds very familiar to me ;) ). In this video, they seem aware that they have a hit on their hands.

When I watching Day[9], he said something that hit me between the eyes. He said, “I love how stress free this game is.” Now I remember why I loved playing Warcraft 2 or Red Alert back in the day. The games weren’t that long, and they weren’t stressful. Bomberman multiplayer, which is the best multiplayer, is never stressful. As games got more complicated, they became more stressful. Starcraft 2 multiplayer is so stressful that it is more fun not to play multiplayer at all. It is also why Nintendo local multiplayer can be so good with Wii Sports and Mario Kart.

I’m looking forward to Heroes because I want stress-less multiplayer. The hardcore thinks ‘stress’ makes a video game more sophisticated. to the contrary, it makes it an inferior entertainment product. Would you date a hardcore woman or a pleasant one not causing you stress? There you go.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 16, 2014

Heroes of the Storm tells us where Warcraft 4 is going to go

I *love* RTS, and it is the genre that I am most passionate about. While I feel miffed about Starcraft 2′s bullshit multiplayer designed around E-Sports, I am very happy to see that not a mention of ‘E-Sports’ has been made with Heroes of the Storm. I think Blizzard designed around the ‘top players’ with the expectation that the difference between ‘top players’ and ‘lesser players’ was simply time. The ‘top players’ would do something first and the lesser players would soon follow. Diablo 3′s endgame woes also share that same idea. What happened instead is that people just bailed out entirely. Without a mass audience, no one would watch the ‘E-Sports’. The top players had no crowd to watch them.

To our pleasant surprise, Blizzard shut down the auction house and got rid of Jay Wilson. Now it seems Blizzard is doing the right things with Diablo 3. It also seems that Blizzard has learned from Starcraft 2 with Heroes of the Storm (the same RTS development team is making it). Heroes of the Storm is NOT aiming to be the ‘elitist’ or ‘most hardcore’ of all MOBAs.

What younger people don’t realize is that Blizzard’s breakout hits were never aimed at the hardcore. Warcraft 2 was mocked by the Dune 2 and Command and Conquer crowd for being ‘cartoony’ and ‘not a serious RTS’. Starcraft 1 also got hit with this as the ‘elite players’ (which I include myself as one of them) played other RTS games. Diablo 1 was mocked for being a ‘dumbed down RTS’ with a focus on ‘action’ because ‘Diablo players can’t handle a real RPG’. World of Warcraft didn’t blow the market away by appealing to the most dedicated Everquest players. To the contrary, the dedicated Everquest players despised WoW. Where are they today?

I keep wondering how Blizzard is going to make Warcraft 4. They obviously can’t do a Warcraft 4 design around ‘E-Sports’ then they get a Starcraft 2 dilemma all over again. The number of heroes and what they can do have been more fully fleshed out with the MOBAs. So what can Blizzard do with Warcraft 4?

Hearts of the Storm is focusing on the map dynamics to really flesh out the game experience. This is very interesting development to me. Most MOBAs use the same old map but focus on the heroes, on the items, or some other element.

Warcraft 4 will likely be focused on the crazy map dynamics.

“That is not proper RTS!” the reader might scream. Are you sure about that? Let’s look at the history.

Lately, the RTS team at Blizzard realized that the initial Starcraft 2 maps were all wrong. They realized they could greatly add and vary the game experience by making different maps. Instead of making the same Starcraft 1 type maps, they could freshen things up with different types of maps.

You might say, “Malstrom, we all know this.” But I don’t think so.

Look at Warcraft 2. There is a SPECTACULAR different game experience if you play on a map called Garden of War as opposed to High Seas Combat. Garden of War had the bases all close to each other, many trees, and encouraged early rushes. No water on that map. On High Seas Combat, you pretty much had to make mostly boats. In Garden of War, you can make just a bunch of grunts while in High Seas Combat, you needed to make boats to seize the oil ASAP.

What is the link between all these RTS games? What extended their life so much? It is the map editor. What made you keep coming back to Warcraft 3? Was it custom units? No. Was it custom heroes? No. It was the Custom Maps.

Why was the Warcraft 3 map editor so successful and the Starcraft 2 map editor so not successful? I found that the Starcraft 2 map editor didn’t allow you to change the map much at all. You could do a ton with the units, add in a bazillion triggers, do marvelous work on new UIs, but the map didn’t allow for much change. In Warcraft 3 map editor, you could quickly and easily make a map around RTS as well as RPG. The fantasy assets in the game allowed much that could be done. The assets in the Starcraft 2 editor didn’t encourage the imagination. There isn’t that much you can do with a roach.

What if Warcraft 4 eliminated resources? “Shocking,” you might say, “Unheard of!” another might add. We have made the assumption that the RTS design is economical. The game revolves around gaining resources to make armies to bash the other side (or prevent the other side to get resources). Starcraft 2 is extremely economically focused. Warcraft 3 had gold, lumber and added experience.

But let me ask you this: is it really resources we want or is it the map design itself? Resources are an essential part of the map design.

The MOBA players say, “There are no items or last hitting in Heroes of the Storm. Therefore, where is the strategy?” But the HotS maps are extremely differentiated and very highly charged with gameplay elements. The answer is that the strategy is in the maps. But then again, isn’t all strategy in the maps? Since most MOBAs use the same exact map, the only thing to focus on is the last hitting, the items, the hero versus hero match up, etc. Resources are part of the map design. Therefore, it is incorrect to say RTSes are about resources. Rather, RTSes are about the maps. This is removing the little picture view into a big picture view.

The direction HotS is going could hint at the direction of Warcraft 4 and the future of RTS. Warcraft 3 melee maps revolved around the placement of lumber, gold, and creeps (experience). But what if Warcraft 4 maps were as rich and diverse as the HotS maps? The map does lead the charge in the RTS gameplay. But what if we have always confused the resources for the map experience? What if with modern technology, we can have maps far more interesting than where gold and crystals are placed?

Instead of Warcraft 4, I have a gut feeling Blizzard might remake Warcraft 1. I’m fine with that as well as I enjoy demonic Orcs.

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