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Picking My 15 Most Influential Games March 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, entertainment, EverQuest, Pokemon, TorilMUD.
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28 comments

Jackie at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom, prompted by lvling life, put up a list of her top 15 video games.

There was a methodology by which you were supposed to generate that list.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  You were not supposed to spend a lot of time with it.  And, of course, I tossed that aside.  Rather than a quick list of 15 special games, I ended up with my list of the 15 most influential video games in my gaming career so far.

And what do I mean by “influential?”

I mean that they opened up new idea, new genres, or new points of view for me when it came to video games.

Influential does not mean that they were my favorites, the games I played the most in a given genre, or even all that good in a few cases.  So, for example, I have played a LOT more World of Warcraft than EverQuest at this point in my life, and I am not really all that keen to go back to EverQuest.  But EverQuest is the more influential of the two.  Without it, there would be no WoW, and without me playing it in 1999, I might not have made it to WoW.

Anyway, on to the list.

1. Star Trek (1971) – many platforms

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

I have covered this as the first computer video game I ever played.  While incredibly simple, this game showed me the way, let me know that computers were going to be an entertainment device

2. Tank (1974) – Arcade

Tank!

Tank! In Black and white!

This was the game AFTER Pong.  Not that Pong was bad.  Pong was new and fresh when it came out, but I must admit that it did become a little dull after the first pass or two.  And then Tank showed us that man need not entertain himself with virtual paddles alone.  I wouldn’t touch Pong after a while, but Tank was always good.  You just needed somebody to play with.

3. Adventure (1979)  – Atari 2600

This Castle is Timeless!

This Castle is Timeless!

Yes, I got that Atari 2600 for Christmas way back when, but then there was a matter of what to play.  It came with the Combat cartridge, which included Tank.  And I also had Air-Sea Battle and a few others. But the problem was that these games were all unfulfilling unless played with two people.  And then came Adventure.  Not only wasn’t it the usual 27 minor variations on three two-player themes, it was specifically, unashamedly single player only.  Here, loner, good luck storming the castle!  And it had odd behaviors and minor flaws.  I tried putting that magic bridge everywhere and ended up in some strange places.  It also had a random mode, that might just set you up with an unwinnable scenario.  And there was an Easter egg in it.

It was both different and a harbinger of things to come.

4. Castle Wolfenstein (1981) – Apple II

Graphics - 1981

Graphics – 1981

This was the first game that I saw that indicated that I really, really needed to get a computer.  An Apple II specifically, because that was what Gary had.  And he also had Castle Wolfenstein.

It was not an easy game.  You lost.  A lot.  The control system left something to be desired.  You really needed a joystick to play.  And there were so many quirks and strange behaviors that somebody created a utility program a couple years after it came out that basically “fixed” a lot of the worst annoyances.  I bought it gladly.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

But this game was the prototype for many that followed.  You’re in a cell and you need to escape.  You need make your way through the castle, picking up guns, keys, ammunition, German uniforms, and grenades.   Oh, grenades were so much fun.  There were other, later games I considered for this list, but when I broke them down, I often found that Castle Wolfenstein had done it already, in its own primitive way.

5. Wizardry (1981) – Apple II

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

Apple ][+ and Wizardry

Basically, the party based dungeon crawl in computer form.  Monsters, mazes, traps, treasure, combat, and death.  Oh, so much death.  NetHack was a potential for this list, but I realized that randomness and ASCII graphics aside, Wizardry had pretty much everything it did.

And I spent hours playing.  I mapped out the whole game on graph paper, including that one level with all the squares that would turn you around.  The one with the pits of insta-death.  It also taught me the word “apostate.”

6. Stellar Emperor (1985) – Apple II

The GEnie version of MegaWars III at its inception, it was my first foray into multiplayer online games.  I have written about the game, even about winning.

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

But it was the online, playing with other people, usually the same people, making friends and enemies and having ongoing relationships that sold the game.  Again, it was primitive, even in its day, with ASCII based terminal graphics.  But there was magic in the mixture.

7. Civilization (1991) – Mac/Windows

The flat world of original Civ

The flat world of original Civ

Sid Meier was already something of a star by the time Civilization came out, but this cemented things as far as I was concerned.  I was considering putting Civilization II on the list rather than this.  Once I got Civ II, I never went back and played the original.

But that wasn’t because the original was crap.  That was because the sequel built on what was great in the original.  It was purely an evolutionary move.  But it was the original that hooked me, so that has to get the nod for influential.

8. Marathon (1994) – Mac

Spooky

Spooky

For me, this was the defining first person shooter.  There was a single player campaign.  There was a multiplayer deathmatch mode.  There were a variety of weapons.  There was a map editor and some mods and an online community that built up around it.  Everything after Marathon was just an incremental improvement for me.

Marathon on my iPad

Marathon on my iPad

There have been better graphics, better rendering engines, different weapons, plenty of variety on arena options, all sorts of updates on match making and connectivity, but in the end those are just updates to what Marathon already did.  To this day, I still sometimes say “I’ll gather” when creating a game or match for other people to join.  That was the terminology from 1994.  I wonder what Bungie has done since this?

9. TacOps  (1994) – Mac/Windows

Before video games I played a lot of Avalon Hill war games.  Those sorts of games made the natural transition to the computer, which was ideal for handling much of the housekeeping chores.  However, in the transition, some old conventions got dragged along as well, like hexes.  And I hate hexes.  Yes, on a board game you need to use that hexgrid for movement.  I could accept that for Tobruk set up on the kitchen table.  But a computer was fully capable of handling movement without such an arbitrary overlay.  A couple of games tried it, but they tended to fall into the more arcade-ish vein, which wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I picked up a copy of TacOps.

Giving orders on an open map

Giving orders on an open map

I bought it on a complete whim, picking up the very rare initial boxed version off the shelf at ComputerWare before it went completely to online sales.  And it was a revelation.  Hey, terrain governs movement.  And cover.  And visibility.  That plus simultaneous movement phases rather than turn based combat meant wonderful chaos on the field.  The game was good enough that the military of several countries contracted for special versions of the game to use as a training tool.

I originally had Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin on my list.  That is where Battlefront.com really came into their own with the Combat Mission series.  But aside from 3D graphics, TacOps had done it all already.

10. TorilMUD (1993) – various platforms

Have I not written enough about the last 20 years of TorilMUDPrecursor to the MMORPG genre for me.  Without it I might not have understood that camping mobs for hours at a stretch was “fun.”

11. Diablo (1996) – Windows

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

I have written quite a bit about my fondness for Diablo II, while I haven’t gone back to play the original Diablo since the sequel came out.  But I wouldn’t be still talking about Diablo II or comparing the merits of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile had the original not been something very, very special.

12. Total Annihilation (1997) – Windows

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation was not the first RTS game I played.  I am pretty sure I played Dune II and Warcraft before it.  It is not the RTS game I have played the most.  I am sure I have more hours in both StarCraft and Age of Kings.  But it was the first RTS game that showed me that the genre could be about something more than a very specific winning build order.  All the units, on ground, in the air, on the water, were amazing.  The player maps were amazing, and player created AIs were even better.  The 3D terrain and line of sight and all that was wonderful.  And new units kept getting released.  And you could nuke things.  I still find the game amazing.

13. EverQuest (1999) – Windows

Fifteen years later and nothing has made my mouth hang open like it did on the first day I logged into Norrath.  I can grouse about SOE and the decisions they have made and the state of the genre, but that day back in 1999 sunk the hook into me good and hard and it hasn’t worked itself loose since.  Pretty much what this whole blog is about.

Froon!

Froon!

14. Pokemon Diamond (2006) – Nintendo DS

Before we got my daughter a DS lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon was pretty much just a cartoon on TV and a card game somebody’s kid at work played.  Sure, I knew who Pikachu was, but I had no real clue about the video game.

And then in watching my daughter play, I had to have my own DS and copy of the game.  Make no mistake, despite its reputation as a kids game, Pokemon can be deep and satisfying.  It tickles any number of gamer needs.  My peak was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Back when 493 was all

Back when 493 was all

While I have stopped playing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about buying a 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon X or Y and diving back into the game.  It is that good.

15. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) – many platforms

Filling this last slot… tough to do.  There are lots of potential games out there.  For example, I like tower defense games, but which one sold me on the idea?  But for a game that launched me into a lot of play time over a series of titles, I have to go with LEGO Star Wars II.

LEGO Star Wars II

LEGO Star Wars II

That is where Travelers Tales really hit their stride.  The original LEGO Star Wars tried to hard to be a serious and difficult game.  With this second entry, they realized the power of simply being fun and irreverent.  That was the magic.

And I only have to look at the shelf of console games we have to see that LEGO games dominate as a result of this one title. They have evolved, and in some ways I think they have lost a bit of their charm by trying to do too much.  We got the LEGO Movie Game for the PS3 and it didn’t have the joy of LEGO Star Wars II.  Still, 8 years down the road, the influence of LEGO Star Wars II got us to try it.

Fools Errand?

Of course, putting limits like an arbitrary number on a list like this means it must ring false in some way.  And what does influential really mean?  I know what I said, but I can look back at that list and nitpick that, say, Castle Wolfenstein might not belong.  And what about genres I missed, like tower defense?  I could make the case that Defense Grid: The Awakening belongs on the list.  What about games like EVE Online?  Actually, I explained that one away to myself, seeing EVE as sort of the bastard child of Stellar Emperor and EverQuest or some such.  And while TorilMUD is so powerful in my consciousness, would I have played it had it not been for Gemstone? Where does NBA Jams fit?  And what other Apple II games did I miss?  Should Ultima III be on there?  Lode Runner Karateka?

And somehow this all ties into my post about platforms and connectivity options I have had over the years.

Anyway, there is my list, and I stand firm behind it today.  Tomorrow I might change my mind.  You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.

Others who have attempted to pick their 15, each with their own history:

Steam and the Path of Exile October 25, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, entertainment, Path of Exile.
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9 comments

Path of Exile was sort of the third horse in the two horse race to find the true successor to Diablo II.  I got into the beta almost two years back and was pleasantly surprised by how well the game recreated some of what I felt were the defining essences of Diablo II.  Grinding Gear Games seemed to be on the right path.  I put it on my list of games I was looking to play in 2012.

Path of Exile

Path of Exile

2012 came and we saw the release of Diablo III in the first half of the year on what has become known internationally as Error 37 day.  Then towards the end of 2012 Torchlight II made it on the scene.  Neither of those games really captured me as neither really felt like true successors to the Diablo II crown.  Diablo III clearly got story right, but failed on itemization as well as with the “OMG we hate RMT so much!!1″ auction house plan, which even they now grant didn’t work out quite as plannedTorchlight II got points on simplicity and itemization plus having real modding potential, but really didn’t have a story that was at all compelling to me, which meant that the game ended up feeling like a disjointed series of fetch and carry quests. (Plus I am still waiting for the promised Macintosh version so my daughter an I can play together.)

And neither game got many points when it came to atmosphere, one of the more compelling aspects of Diablo II.  It takes more than just making sure there is a desert zone and a jungle zone and so on.  The sense of atmosphere was spoiled because both games apparently took place on worlds where OSHA had mandated all subterranean lairs must be fully illuminated via a blanket installation of indirect lighting.  They successfully banished the dark and, with it, the prevailing sense of mood.  Go look at that YouTube clip in that Essence of Diablo II post I did a couple of years back to see what I mean.

Yes, some people did not like that.  I happened to think it was a vital element in setting the mood of the game.

Those two games launched, I played them both for a bit, and then let them fall by the wayside.  Meanwhile, Path of Exile remained in beta.  Earlier this year it went into open beta, so more people could pile in and give it a try, but otherwise remained an unfinished project.

More text and some screen shots after the cut.

(more…)

Reviewing My Questions for 2012 December 18, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in blog thing, Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Guild Wars 2, Lord of the Rings Online, PlanetSide 2, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Torchlight II.
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14 comments

At the beginning of each new year I have a special post.  Sometimes if it predictions.  Some times it is demands.  Last year I decided it should be questions.

2012pic

I asked 12 questions of the new year.  12 questions for the year 2012.

I think it is time to see if I received any clear answers.

1. What fate awaits the Old Republic?

Love it, hate it, see it as a revolution in MMOs or as a symbol of that all is wrong, Star Wars the Old Republic is now a force to be reckoned with on the MMO landscape.  It has everybody’s attention for good or ill.  Where will it lead us?

That was the position at the beginning of the year.

Unfortunately, the answer since then seems to be “Over a cliff.”  That cliff was described by the chart showing ongoing drops in total subscribers every quarter after launch.

Apparently story and voice acting will only keep people interested for so long.  That works for a single player game.  For a subscription game, not so much.  And so the Tortanic began to sink, and it was heralded as the death of the subscription model for MMOs.  They did announce an expansion, so they will have some content to sell along side action bars and raid access.  But there do not seem to be clear blue skies on the horizon for SWTOR yet.

2. Can Blizzard stem the World of Warcraft subscription trend?

Sort of.  The annual pass option, which got you a shiny mount and a free copy of Diablo III, kept at least a million people locked into their subscriptions.  And while numbers still fell, they rebounded some with the release of the Mists of Pandaria expansion.  The peak of “over 12 million” appears to be in the past, but 10 million isn’t so bad.

And, of course, WoW still rakes in cash like no other MMO out there.  Reports of the death of the subscription model may be a bit premature.

3. Will Free to Play continue to be the gold mine/panacea for subscription games?

Panacea?  It certainly seems so.  SOE has thrown in fully for the free model, bringing all their titles save the original PlanetSide into the fold.  And certainly SWTOR is looking to that model to rescue it and revive their fortunes.

Is it a gold mine though?  Early reports from the LOTRO transition to F2P seemed to indicate that there was indeed gold to be had.  However, since then, there appears to have been some iron pyrite mixed in with the real thing, leading companies to try and cast an ever wider net to get players to buy their RMT currency and then turn around and spend it in their cash shop.

LOTRO, which at least lets you earn their RMT cash in-game, went towards the odious prize boxes and started suggesting things like the hobby horse mount.

SOE screwed up their RMT currency so badly with heavy discounts that they had to stop selling premium memberships and expansions in Station Cash.

And reports I have read indicate that SWTOR might not have figured out the magic formula for F2P success quite yet either.

So there appears to be a lot more work to be done on the F2P front.  Merely being F2P is no longer enough, as there are a lot of choices out there.

Companies keep bringing their games to the F2P altar, but that alone is no longer enough.

4. Who will really win the “Just Like Diablo” battle of 2012?

It depends on what you value.

I started to write a full post about it with the objective of declaring Diablo III the winner, but only on technicalities.  Basically, it does more to capture the atmosphere of Diablo II, while at the same time doing the most to destroy the game.  It just feels more like Diablo II, if you ignore the auction house, the always online aspect, the need to play through the game repeatedly in order to get to the most challenging game play, and a few other things.

That said, I think Torchlight II is, overall, a better game if you take the “heir to Diablo II” aspect out of the picture.  It doesn’t get anywhere close on story or atmosphere compared to Diablo II, but it managed to avoid the manifold mistakes of Diablo III while being light, fun, and full of options denied the players of Diablo III.

Basically, the answer for me is that neither game really wins the “Just Like Diablo” crown, mostly because it just isn’t the year 2000 any more, so neither game could really have the same impact.

5. When will we lose a game to hacking?

We seem to be safe from this still, at least on the MMO front.  Lots of security breaches, but  I haven’t read about a game completely brought down and destroyed, never to run again because of hacking.

So the only answer here I suppose was, “Not yet.”

6. Will SOE remain the only player in the MMO nostalgia game?

This stems from the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server, about which I have posted often.

And my answer up until last week would have been “Yes.”  SOE is the only purveyor of MMO nostalgia.  I even got impatient by mid-year and went after the issue in a blog post.

After all, it seems like WoW could make a bundle with a similar scheme.  There are literally dozens of private WoW servers out there trying to recreate the “old” WoW, that being anywhere from day one to before Cataclysm.  I spent a bit of time on the Emerald Dream server and can vouch for the cathartic effect of playing an old-school version of the game.

But no such official venture looks to be forthcoming.

And then Turbine showed up with Asheron’s Call 2, fresh from the crypt, electrodes bolted on firmly in an attempt to create life where there was none.

I am not sure if it is quite the same thing, but it is something.  And it is nostalgic.

So SOE does not own the MMO nostalgia market completely.

7. Will Guild Wars 2 be the game changer in the MMO market in 2012?

Well, a lot was promised for Guild Wars 2.  But did it really change anything?

I have seen a number of GW2 fans lauding The Secret World for adopting the GW2 revenue plan, conveniently ignoring all the details that prove that they did no such thing.  Yes, there is the “buy the box” aspect for a free to play game that sure sounds a lot like GW2.  But what about the continuing monthly subscription model that unlocks things and hands out RMT currency as a reward?  That sounds a lot like an SOE game, doesn’t it?

I suspect that the “buy the box” aspect was a requirement only because they admitted they did not make their sales numbers, so it is either throw away all those boxes or find a way to keep selling them.

And, if we’re honest with ourselves, the “buy the box” plan was from Guild Wars, not GW2, so rationalize harder please.

Anyway, I think it is too early to tell.  GW2 only launched at the end of August, which didn’t leave a lot of time for anybody to react to anything they did in 2012, conspiracy theories not withstanding.

Maybe next year?

8. Will CCP ever be anything but the company that makes EVE Online?

Of course, they also helped make Lazy Town, right?  Next question.

Okay, yes, DUST 514.  It looms.  It seems like it could be something some day.  But that day was not this year.  So I can only say, “We shall see.”

Call me when DUST 514 is a thing and maybe I will be able to build enough enthusiasm to download it.

9. What will the earth shattering MMO announcements be in 2012?

I have to go with NCsoft shutting down City of Heroes, SWTOR going free to play, and Turbine reviving Asheron’s Call 2.

Oh, and that 38 Studios fiasco.  An MMO that never was will never be.

Anything else?

10. Will MMOs get redefined in new and interesting (or bad and annoying) ways?

No, nothing new here, move along.

Okay, maybe PlanetSide 2 moved the ball a few inches down field with a really massive online shooter.  But what else was there really?

11. Are we every going to get another decent MMO news podcast?

No.

12. What will Lord British do next?

Apparently jump on board the Zynga train just as it drives over a cliff.   Timing is everything in comedy!

So those are my questions and the answers as I see them.  I am sure somebody will remind me of a few items I missed… or will want to argue about Diablo III vs. Torchlight II.  But that is about it for me.

Now to consider next year’s post.

Time Magazine Sounds Off On The Best Video Games November 15, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, entertainment, EverQuest, World of Warcraft.
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15 comments

I still love lists, so I am going to keep talking about lists.

Last week we had a rather controversial list of the 50 Best PC Games of All Time.  EVE Online made the top spot there.

This week Time Magazine has a list of the All-TIME 100 Video Games, which includes consoles and arcade machines.

I have to say, it is much easier for me to get behind this list than last week’s list.

Some of the games you have to take in the context of their time, like Pong.

Others are just great regardless of when you set them.

This Castle is Timeless, Dammit!

Of course I had that screen shot sitting around.

Games I can totally support being on the list.

Honestly, there are too many good games on that list for me to call out.

Hunt the Wumpus!  I played freakin’ Hunt the Wumpus back in the day!

Okay, I’ll stop.

There are games on the list that I am not a big fan of.  But the only one I am dubious of is Leisure Suit Larry.  I always felt that people liked the idea of that game much more than they liked the game itself.  I think it is there by legend alone.  But that might just be me.

So how is this list?  Is this a better list than last week’s list?

It almost makes me wish I didn’t cancel my Time subscription last week.  Almost.

Torchlight II – First Night September 21, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, Torchlight II.
6 comments

Of course I got home last night and the first thing I did was get into Steam to see if Torchlight II was ready.

Steam says yes

It was available, it just wasn’t quite ready yet.

The game was now unlocked, but Steam had to download some additional… something… that apparently wasn’t installed with the pre-load packages.  This was hindered by Train Simulator, which just released its 2013 update, and which was hogging bandwidth.  I paused that, which somehow also paused the Torchlight download, which I didn’t notice immediately.  All told, something that was estimated at about 2 minutes of download time took nearly 20 minutes.

I suspect the popularity of the game was also hindering the download a bit, even on the might Steam.

Meanwhile, the other sign of launch day popularity was that the Torchlight II site was completely overwhelmed.    You couldn’t get there, much less create an account for online play.  Even this morning, while you can now reach the site, it has been configured as a special “low bandwidth” version to facilitate the masses.  This is the extent of the site:

Buy, download, or GTFO

And, because I couldn’t get to their site online, I had to just sit there getting the same error 37 over and over again.

Wait, what?

Ha ha!  Of course not.  I just chose a local game and ran off and played.

I went back to the same class, the berserker, as I did back in May when they had their beta weekend.  A berserker with a ferret pet because… OMFG it is too cute it has little goggles!

Warlimont and Snoogums

And it was good.

I cannot compare the May version side by side with the release version, but my gut and my fragmented memory say that the last few months were well spent on the game, as it feels tight and well put together.

There are still bits that annoy me.  I hate that you cannot click on the action bars to use them, that they respond to keyboard commands only.  You click on them to associate them with a skill, spell, scroll, or potion.  And I know in a click to kill game, your cursor should stay on the bad guys, not the hot bar, but every once in a while I’ll need a scroll and I’ll click on the hot bar by mistake and get the associate options rather than my option to identify  an item.

And I keep pressing “M” for map, which toggles through all the map/mini map on-screen configurations.  Bleh.

Fishing is also a bit odd.  I don’t really like the way it dominates the whole screen.  But my pet likes the fish.

The skill tree is, at least, something of an improvement over the Diablo/Diablo II raw trees.

Berserker Wolf Tree

It isn’t as on-the-fly flexible as Diablo III’s skills, but it also has more depth and you can respect your last three points spent if you make a mistake.  That won’t fix things if you decide you want to go another route, but it is better that the Diablo II “one free respec and you are stuck.”

Minor complaints aside, and I see those all as minor, the game is fun and draws you in with a “I’ll just go a little bit farther” that is completely parallel to the Civilization “just one more turn” and suddenly it is 2am addiction.

I ran around for a couple of hours, finding every corner of the overland maps, which as Gnome said in the comments of yesterday’s post, gives the game a much bigger feeling that the never ending dungeon crawl of the original Torchlight.  Dungeons are spread out amongst the open areas.

Dungeons are good, even if they are well lit. (Cue my atmosphere rant with accompanying Diablo II video clip.)  The ways are constricted but well designed.  There are plenty of urns to break (the Torchlight version of Diablo barrels) and occasional not-all-that-well-hidden secret rooms to find.

And, in a parallel to Diablo III, big bosses always have their own room in dungeons it seems, so if you die you can spawn again just outside to try again.  I had to do that when I went in and realized I only had to health potions.  I had to send Snoogums back for more potions before I tried again.

My daughter watched me run around for a bit and was very keen to play.  This enthusiasm doubled when I told her it was multiplayer and we could play together.  She made me hand over the controls so she could look at the character options.  She decided that an Outlander with a puma pet would suit here.  She was quite excited about the prospect and it was tough getting her off to bed.

This lead to the big disappointment of the night.  After my daughter went to bed, I went to get a copy of the game for her only to find that the Macintosh version is not out yet.

Spoiled again by Blizzard and their simultaneous Mac OS/Windows releases.

Thinking back, this is how it went for the original Torchlight as well, but for some reason that slipped my mind.  So I will have to break the news to her tonight that we won’t be able to play together for a while yet.

I am probably going to have to let her play on my computer for a bit.  Hopefully the Mac version will show up by Christmas.

On Talent Trees and Skill Points May 24, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, MMO Design, polls, Rift, World of Warcraft.
Tags: , ,
48 comments

When I was writing yesterday’s post comparing aspects of Diablo III and Torchlight II, I was somewhat dreading the possible comments, and all the more so when Massively linked to the post. (Thanks, by the way.)

My fear was that there would be a parade of Hulk-like “Me smash always online DRM single player game!” comments.  That seemed to be the primary focus of Diablo III hate at launch, at least when the servers were down.

But I actually did not get any of that.  The joys of a small readership.  Or maybe I successfully deflected them all to Straw Fellow.  Evil plan achieved.

I was, however, a bit surprised to find, both here and over at Massively, that the presence of talent trees and skill points was being pushed as a big pro-Torchlight II differentiating factor.  It was sometimes hidden under “character customization,” but it was there and oft mentioned.

And I found this a bit odd because I do not like talent trees.  I see them as having proven their flawed nature over the last 15 years to such an extent that I wonder how anybody can promote them as a positive feature with a straight face.

We have talent trees, and we are sure we have succeeded where literally everybody else has failed in the past!

In theory, talent trees are great and represent a way to create a unique and special snowflake of a character.  I get that.  Lots of things seem great in theory.

In practice, there is usually one “right” build for whatever role you are seeking to fill and every other alternative is sub-optimal.

So talent trees become less about character customization and more about finding the “correct” answer.  In the end, I think that most of want our characters to be good at their chosen roles, right?  I know there will always be somebody who will view playing with a sub-optimal spec as a challenge, but I have to believe that is the exception and not the rule.

And because the talent tree allows us to make bad choices, the band-aid of the talent respec came into being.  At first it was grudging… Diablo II got patched to give you ONE respec… or expensive… recall the mounting respec bills in WoW way back when.  But eventually the devs threw their hands in the air in more recent games and gave us respecs that were cheap and plentiful while they went off to try and find that elusive “many good choices” talent tree formula.

Even EVE Online gives you a stat respec up front for free, and another one yearly.  And that is for five stats that really only impact the rate at which your character can learn skills.

But respecs are, in my view, an admission of failure.  They seem to be saying that the devs have copped to the fact that they cannot create a talent tree system with many good choices, so when you realize you have made a mistake, here is your out.

And even cheap and easy respecs were not enough in some cases.  Rift, whose big feature was the soul system, which could be viewed either as the best character customization ever or the talent tree from hell depending on your point of view, caved in and as much as admitted that the whole thing was too vast for the average player and gave us some templates to help curb the rash of bad builds.

Just show me the right answer so I can go play!

This is, of course, my view of the world.  It is based on history, but also on the fact that I don’t really want to play the talent point game.  And that is clearly an opinion.  Even as I was preparing to publish this, I saw that Syp over a Bio Break has a post up asking why we don’t have MORE talents and stats and such to tinker with in games.  To me it is like asking that we ignore the last 15 years or so of MMO development.  But we all play these games for different reasons.

Anyway, from my point of view, the choice made by Blizzard in Diablo III seems like a clear win, and improvement over the past.

Instead of constraining character development by making me spent points in a tree system… and running to a vendor to get a respec when I make the inevitable errors… Diablo III just opens up new skills as you level up and constrains your character development by making you choose which of those skills you want to use.  With elective mode [boobies] in the options, you can build up a set of six abilities from your choices as you see fit and never have to spend a talent point or get a respec.

Of course, the system is not perfect.  As Keen points out, some of the Diablo III skills are sub-optimal.  Hey, you can still make bad choices.  But it still seems like a step forward to me.

As I said, the idea that this is a step forward is clearly not held by some.  So today I will let you validate your opinion with a poll.  Numbers always add value to opinions!

And, of course, you can post your anti/pro talent tree manifesto in the comments.

Diablo III vs. Torchlight II – A Matter of Details May 23, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, Torchlight II.
Tags: , ,
38 comments

[Note to Massively readers: The "no-holds-barred Thunderdome deathmatch" was cancelled, the honeybadger called in sick.  We're having a tea party instead.  If you are looking for a post complaining about Diablo III requiring you to be online to play, go read this.]

Runic Games had a Torchlight II beta event this past weekend.  A beta event during the first weekend after Diablo III launched.  Crazy, right?

Maybe, and maybe not.

Certainly there is a lot of anti-Blizzard ire in the air after the rocky launch day made error 37 the banner around which those angry about the always “connected nature” of Diablo III could rally.  Torchlight II, as detailed in this comparo chart, offers up online, LAN, and offline modes of play.  The latter seemed pretty attractive last week.

While I had seen updates from Runic about the beta, I was not planning to join in on it.  You know… first weekend of Diablo III and all that.  But they sent me a key for the event, and the download was pretty painless at 750 MB… versus 7GB for Diablo III… which is a little over an hour of file transfer with my internet connection.

The download went while we ate dinner, and when the time finally came, I was able to sit down and launch into Torchlight II.

I logged in (the beta is online mode only, so just like D3), made a character (berserker, the melee class), picked my pet (wolf), got into the game, and spent about 10 minutes running around.

At that point I was a bit dismayed with the graphical style so logged off and went off and played Diablo III for the next three hours.  And D3 was glorious.  I got through most of Act II, played with another friend for a while, and had a great time.

In the light of the next morning though, I felt that I had, perhaps, given Torchlight short shrift.  So I went back and played it for a couple of hours, just to be sure I got it.  And it was a good thing I did, as Torchlight II really has much to recommend it.

The key difference between the two games is what each team decided was important to continue the legacy of Diablo II.

After the break, a long discussion of how they differ, which I attempted to organize.  I did not do a very good job.

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Quote of the Day – The Settings of Diablo III May 18, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment.
Tags:
5 comments

It’s tough to understand why Diablo III recycled the settings of its predecessors when there are dozens of new alternatives, unless we frame Diablo III as an installment in a series that now has its own genre conventions. It’s the rough equivalent of a Metroid game having a lava area and an ice area—it’s just the way things are done.

Ars Technica review of Diablo III

The question of setting choices came to my mind last night as I finished up Act I and headed to Act II, only to find myself taking a caravan from Tristram to the desert just as I did in Diablo II.  We’ll see if I end up searching for tombs again.

Out in the desert

Not that the repeat of settings is a bad thing, just like naming a street “Market Street” or some running water “Deer Creek” are not bad things.  But with a whole world of possibilities, you might wonder why the team didn’t seek to inject something new in the scenery.

My hope is that this was the knee-jerk reaction of a new team taking over somebody else’s legacy and wanting to maintain the association with the previous versions.  Maybe we will see new places when the first expansion comes along.

Of course, that brings up the whole topic of Blizzard and expansions.  Will this be in the old Blizzard model, where we’ll get just one expansion, but it will show up in a year?  Or will we see a few expansions, but have no idea when they will show up?

Impressions of Diablo in the Age of World of Warcraft May 16, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
14 comments

The headline hints at my initial impression of Diablo III.

It is certainly, from my perspective, a mix of good and ill.

The first two installments of the Diablo series pre-date World of Warcraft by a few years and did, in fact, influence the design of Blizzard’s first MMO.  Certainly not in lore nor in the graphic style, but the mechanics of the game show Diablo’s hand clearly if you care to look close enough.

Oh hey, a quest!

More than a decade later, the shoe is clearly on the other foot.  WoW dominates Blizzard as sure as the sun dominates our solar system.  There is no escaping it.  It intrudes everywhere.

Like everything else, this can be viewed as good or bad depending on your own baggage.  I tend to like WoW, but I still find some of the intrusions annoying.

Anyway, in order to put some structure around my first night impressions, I will divide them, like Gaul, into three parts, which, because they are long and meandering, you will find below the cut.

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Diablo III – Hey, This Might Ship on May 15 March 19, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo II, Diablo III, entertainment.
1 comment so far

One of the big announcements last week was that Diablo III was slated to be released on May 15, 2012.

There were lots of re-broadcasts of that announcement.  It was big news.  I think one of my favorites was from the team over at Runic Games, who are making Torchlight II, clearly a Diablo III competitor.  Their message makes clear what most of us know, that there is room for more than one game in any genre.  I am on board for both games.

In fact I have been checking my Battle.net account every so often to see if I have been let into the Diablo III beta.  Not that I want to test, or even need some help on deciding if I want to buy it or not… I am already committed via the WoW 1 year subscription deal…  but just because I want to play the game already.

I won’t say I have been waiting for this for 10 years… I was a long time enjoying Diablo II and its expansion… but clearly there has been some need for it for the last 5-7 years.  How long has it been since 800×600 was an acceptable maximum resolution for a game?  That wasn’t so bad when we all had analog CRT monitors, but in the age of LCD displays which really, really want to display in their native resolution, it has gotten tiresome.

My honest first thought on playing World of Warcraft was, “Why wasn’t this ‘World of Diablo?’” (Of course, if you look past the graphics and the lore, a lot of WoW was borrowed from Diablo, but that is another story.)

Anyway, when I checked Battle.net this past weekend, I found that I was still not in the beta.  Oh well.

However, my account was active for certain aspects of Diablo III.  I could download the installer and I could set up parental controls.  I went for the installer, which seemed like a better idea than trying to download SWTOR for a free day of play, and which was an overnight download as well.

7.6 GB of download later...

And so there it is, the installer splash screen.  But that is about all there is to it at this point.  If I try to install, all I get is this message.

No install for you... yet

But at least the installer is there and waiting for me.  Only two months left before I can start patching and playing.

Back when the Activision-Blizzard quarterly report said that Diablo III was slated for Q2 2012, I assumed the usual Blizzard math, which requires you advance by one unit whatever estimate they give you unless they give you the actual launch day.

This time though, they look to be on track.  Granted they had to pull PvP from the game, but my response to that was pretty much, “PvP?”