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Archive for the ‘Computer gaming’ Category

After a few months of inactivity, I had the urge to play Heartsone yesterday for some unexplicable reason. I had more or less missed the release of the latest expansion, Gnomes versus Goblins and wanted to knock out a few quests, buy a pack or two with the gold I’d make and see if I would get anything good.

My plan went out the window fast…

Since I had been inactive for the past few months, I was put at rank 25, the lowest rung on the ladder. While I don’t have much of the new cards, I had a most of the original set barring a few legendaries and out of the way epics and I would usually get to rank 10 or 9 most seasons which given my limited playtime felt like a good result. I like to think that I know how to play and how to make a decent deck.

Well, I got crushed yesterday, hard… In over 10 matches I barely managed to win two times and one of these was due to sheer luck. Out of all my opponents I did not meet a single newbie, something I would have expected that low on the ladder. I was facing legendaries, combo decks and other things I’m used to seeing at much lower ranks.

I eeked out my wins more out of stubbornness than fun and I kept thinking about what would a really new player think of the experience. Someone who just started playing a week ago. Probably that it’s utter crap and another pay to win game. I know yesterday I was tempted to do so and just not bother with the game ever again.

This is a problem my dear Blizzard. A big one. The low ranks are the starting point of new and returning players, of people playing once in a blue moon and people who are just not that great at card games. They need a place where they feel like they have a chance and where not having the latest cards doesn’t matter.

Right now it’s a stomping ground where bullies crush new players and where veterans farm wins. I wasn’t expecting to win all my games yesterday but I was expecting to make a few ranks before encountering the tougher opponents. It’s an horrible introductory experience.

I can also hear the justifications of the forum lurkers and experts. Hear them tell us that if you do deck X then it’s possible to win with a minimum of investment. That you need to learn how to play the game, that you should do some research, that it’s not that bad, etc… etc… I’ve heard the same arguments for years when I was working at a game store from “experts”. I lost count of how many games died because the communities were not welcoming to new players. They feel super great when they crush a newbie who just bought a starter deck 15 mins ago but chances are that newbie won’t come back next week. That is a huge problem.

Going back to Hearthstone, a new player should be able to play without having to go read forums or do research or anything. He should be able to pick his few cards, get a game going and feel like he stands a chance.

What I saw yesterday was the polar opposite and Blizzard needs to fix this asap.

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I learned that EA released a patch/DLC  for Simcity where you can get a new building that’s basically a giant advertisement for Nissan. Better yet, that building doesn’t cost you anything in-game (money, wokers, power, etc…) and improves the happiness of your city.

So, if you want to add publicity in your game, your city gets better. It’s Ads to Win and it sickens me. I guess that since EA cannot make enough money straight up anymore by making good games, they’re going to resort to selling publicity into their games…

I don’t even know where I’m at anymore with them. If any company deserves to crash and burn, it’s EA.

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Oh… EA…

If you’re one to follow gaming news, you probably know by now that the new Simcity game is suffering from a few problems. I recommend you check out this article from Rock Paper Shotgun and follow the links to get the full picture. If you’d rather have the short version, the game doesn’t have the same depth as the others, there’s queues up to 3 hours to play what really should be a single player game and there’s pay-to-win cash shop items. And look! Removing features to make the game playable!

Why is this happening? It’s real simple. EA is more interested in figuring out how to monetize their games than in actually making the game. They realize they have to give a game to get you to spend money in the first place but really it’s all a savant calculation about how best to maximise the cash intake. People love to draw parallels between the game industry and Hollywood’s film industry and it does fit well here. Studios have figured out some time ago the formula to make quick, easy, profitable movies and every summer we get a few of those movies. Lots of explosions, a bit of sex and they get our 15 dollars. By the way, the “sexy” scene is found at exactly half the movie run time and there’s something big happening from 10:00 to 15:00 so you forget to get a refund before the 15 minutes mark.

So continuing with the Hollywood comparison, there’s also a limit on how bad a big budget movie can be. The film industry history is littered with the corpse of companies that got too greedy and made one too many awful blockbuster movie. It’s a lesson I hope happens to EA. I hate to say this because there are people careers in play here but seriously… what is happening right now with Simcity is outright customer robbery and this needs to be punished. We need to show EA, and the rest of the game industry, that’s there’s a limit to how greedy they can get. That we do expect a working game at some point and that playing a game shouldn’t be about spending money all the time.

So yeah I’m ranting. But I can’t believe I’m the only one who’s outraged by how EA is conducting business at this moment.

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The other day I stumbled upon this article from the Penny-Arcade Report where the author explained to us what might be looming ahead of us in regards to companies tailoring cash shops to extort ever more money from us. It’s food for thoughts and I highly recommend you go read the article in question. To sum up, it seems some companies are thinking about displaying different prices to the user based on our buying habits.

Easy example, people in North America (more fortunate) pay more for DLC than people in more impoverished countries. By the way that is a real example. Many companies price their games differently based on where you love. Starcraft 2 for example costed around 60$ in the US, was going for less than 20$ in Asia and was even free in Korea. This is nothing new in itself…

What’s new is that there might be changes in price depending not on where you live but also your buying habits. Example, if you buy a lot of Cartel Packs, then the price of the Packs could be raised since EA knows you’ll be buying them anyway.

Some people will say that such a move would drive people away cause we would figure out what was going on and it would create customer backlash…. but companies can be creative when they need to. Let’s say an MMO drop boxes that you can loot but to open them you have to buy keys. Same prices for the keys for everyone so it’s fair right? But what if the rate at which the drop boxes dropped changed based on much keys you have bought in the past?

Instead of changing the price of item what if they made it so the more you spend the more opportunities to spend the game puts in front of you? Way more sneaky but it would have the same effect as rising the prices….

I’m not panicking yet… but it’s definitively something I’ll keep an eye on… food for thoughts…

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My quest to finish all the games in my backlog continues and I’ve only just now started playing Rage, the latest game from Id software, creators of the legendary Doom games. To be frank, I had very low expectations for this title because the reviews at the time of its launch ranged from poor to murderous. I figured it would be a mindless shooter that I’d finish rapidly and that would be it…. boy did I get a surprise.

I’ll start by addressing the critics. Yes, this game is more or less a rip-off of Borderlands with a somewhat more serious tone, I agree that the story and setting are not really original and I agree that it’s not a revolutionary game like Doom was. Hint for the critics, games like Doom come once or twice every decade so…

But if you forget about Doom and reinventing gaming for a moment, this is an awesome game where it counts. It got excellent gameplay that handles really well and the graphics/animations are a notch above what I’m used to see in shooters.

I’m not finished with it yet and maybe I’ll grow tired of it by the end but right now I’m enjoying it a lot and I feel kinda sad that I missed out on it earlier because of critics… If you ever see it on sale on Steam, do give it a shot.

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THQ was a bit of an odd duck amongst video games makers and publishers. In many ways they felt like an indie game company who made it big. They have numerous succesful titles to their name, games like Company of Heroes, Darksiders, Saints Row, Metro, Dawn of War just to name a few.

More impressive is that they took chances numerous times by experimenting on established video games tropes and came out ahead. Companie of Heroes pretty much showed everyone how squad based RTS could be made,  Dawn of War was a masterful display of how to translate a tabletop game into a video game, Darksiders mixed up Zelda-esque gameplay with Spawn-like comic book characters…. and I could go on like that. THQ was a big studio that still took chances…

… and now it’s going bankrupt and it will be sold piecemeal to various bidders. It’s a sad day when one of the last big studios who still innovated gets shut down.

What happened?

It’s not clear… despite all the articles about this I found the real reason of the bankruptcy is relatively unclear but here’s what I found out.

Since 2010 THQ has been having fiscal difficulties. They still released games and the vast majority of their titles were received favorably and sold excellent numbers when you compare them to similar titles in the industry. I’m not saying that everything was perfect but when you compared THQ to the rest of the publishers like EA and Activision they were doing pretty good with their games which means the problem is not related to the games.

Which leaves one likely explanation which is poor management and that’s where things get real muddy. I won’t speculate much on the exact cause because I could not find any definitive explanation. I found multiple theories though ranging from poor investments, projects costing too much, mishandling of money and outright fraud. I’ll leave it up to you to pick which reason you think is the best one.

Why it’s a tragedy

Beyond the loss of jobs and all the problems that go with that, we’re losing a big studio that was innovating. Worst, we’re sending the message that even if you innovate and make succesful games you can still fail. This worries me greatly because I’m afraid it will only drive companies to make more of the same. I can do without more Call of Duty clones.

I’m going to end this by saying that I hope, pray, that another company will rise to take THQ place and keep taking chances on games and innovating some.

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Holidays recap

And we are back. Sorry for the long silence but I needed my vacation time and I pretty much stopped everything to rest and do whatever the hell I felt like which turns out involved a lot of video games, playing uncle with my nephew and drinking various kind of tea.

I’ve completed my Resident Evil marathon during the holidays and will be posting the last two games as well as a recap but right away I’ll say that RE6 is not as bad as the critics would have you believed and that RE is at its best when it sticks closer to the survival horror genre like in Revelations.

Speaking of zombies I’ve also played The Walking Dead from Telltale and it has been one of the best game I’ve played in years. It’s not especially hard or challenging but it has the most gripping story I’ve seen in a long time and I was glued to my chair the entire time. More than anything it made me care about the characters and some of the choices and events did get to me. I think it was the game that got me the most emotionally involved I ever played.

I’ve got to thank Narxivias for making me play this game and it’s also a nice way for me to get you guys to check out his new blog where he put Walking Dead at the top of his best of list for 2012. So go check out his blog, now!

On that note I wish you all a great 2013.

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