Category Archives: Blizzard

StarCraft Cartooned

Blizzard is back with something new for StarCraft… or at least the remastered version of StarCraft that they released almost two years back.

StarCraft Cartooned

Blizzard worked with the team from Carbot Animations, the YouTube group that has been doing parodies of Blizzard games for some time now (including that great Diablo parody I mentioned earlier in the year) to create what is essentially a re-skin of the game in the Carbot style.

Available for $10 from the Blizzard Store, it changes everything in the game from classic to cartoon in style.

This seemed silly enough that I spent the $10 just to see how far they went with it.

Even the splash screen got an update, so this:

Splash Screen from the Remastered version

becomes this:

StarCraft Cartooned splash screen

They even have a promotional video that includes a modified version of the Terran cinematic:

Of course, it took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to enable the Cartooned skin.  There is an option in the main screen for “Collections,” that includes an option to select which skin you want to use.

Select the Cartooned skin

Once I got that set, everything was cartooned.  So I played a couple of games just to see it in action.

Checking out the Zerg

As with the 2017 remaster of StarCraft, the cartoon skin does not change the game.  The new skin still uses the sounds from the remaster, something fully in keeping with Carbot’s style, which favors juxtaposing their cute style with the game sound track.

Terrans Win

Was it worth the $10?  Maybe not.  I do not play StarCraft often enough to really appreciate it.  But it kept me amused for a couple of hours, and the Carbots team gets a cut of the take, and I do watch their stuff quite often. (Their StarCrafts series is in season 7.)

I am sure there is a Starbucks barrista out there angry at me because that $10 could have been used to buy a venti soy iced caramel macchiato with enough left over for a generous tip.  I’m sorry, but I’m not buying your crappy hipster coffee.  Also, I don’t drink coffee.

A WoW Mount Every Six Months Now?

A new pattern seems to be emerging.  Blizzard has hit on a new idea to keep people subscribed.  And it only requires the art department to churn out a couple new mounts a year.

Back at the end of September last year Blizz announced that if you opted in for a six month term on your subscription, you would get the Dreadwake mount.

Last week, just about nine months down the line from the last offer, Blizzard announced that if you again opted in for a six month subscription you would get the Sylverian Dreamer mount.

Another mount if you’ll just subscribe

Fortunately, if you are already on a recurring six month subscription plan you get the mount for basically carrying on with it.  I went to check the details to see if they were requiring you to commit to an additional six months on top of what you already had lined up.  The 9 month gap made me suspicious that they wanted to get people committed deep into 2020.

But no, if you already have a six month recurring plan setup, you’re covered… though, I did notice that the account management UI will let you buy in another six months of subscription time in advance.  So maybe Blizz is playing the confusion card a bit.

For the rest of us who subscribe in shorter increments, we have to press the button for a six month buy to get the mount.

If you’re somebody who has to have all the mounts, you’ll probably go for it.  Blizz sells mounts like this for $25 in its shop.  In fact, you can buy this exact mount in the shop for $25, if you don’t care to commit.  But there is lots to do in Azeroth for the rest of the year.  The Rise of Azshara update is just out and in under two months WoW Classic will go live.  If you want the mount you might as well subscribe rather than pay for it straight up.  Blizzard wins either way, so you should opt for the best deal for you.

I’ve fallen off the mount collecting idea myself.  Unlike battle pets, where having a deep bench is a requirement to do things like the Celestial Tournament or the pet battle dungeons, you can only ride one mount at a time.  And when I can fly, my main still uses the Silver Covenant Hippogryph which he earned in the Argent Tournament back during Wrath of the Lich King.

Where Does The Age of Empires II Definitive Edition Fit?

The golden age of the Real Time Strategy genre is nearly 20 years gone at this point.  Like most ideas in video games, it first made a splash in a raw form, in this case via Dune II ,and then saw change in great leaps, some of which made companies, as the original Warcraft did with Blizzard.  There was lots of variety as new titles rolled out.

Then somebody “won” the genre, created a title that seemed to perfect some aspect of it… that was probably StarCraft… after which the genre tapered off.  It didn’t die, but like MMORPGs or Facebook games, it stopped getting so much attention.  It was no longer the hot new flavor to chase.

In around the peak of the genre came Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, one of my favorite RTS titles.  I’ve written about it before, but in summary it was kind of a big deal for myself, friends, and co-workers.  Back in the days when IT wasn’t policing every PC in development for unauthorized software, we would play a couple of games at the office every Friday night.

So you might think I was pretty excite to hear about Microsoft announcing Age of Kings II – Definitive Edition last week during E3.  Except, of course, I am not.

The Age of Empires trio at the Microsoft site

I mean, I should be happy that Microsoft has finally dusted off the web site for the franchise, which was locked in 2001 for about 15 years, and decided to pay attention to the franchise.  As late as four years ago there was a banner ad for the original XBox on the franchise page.

But there are a few issues for me.

The previous remaster, the Age of Empires Definitive Edition didn’t exactly make a splash.  After a big announcement two years back, it was quietly released on the Microsoft store eight months later where little seemed to be said about it.  It remains an exclusive there last I checked, though there seems to be some plan to bring it to Steam at some point.

I was also more than a bit convinced that the AoE remaster was little more than a marketing scheme to draw attention to the planned Age of Empires IV, so this might just be more of the same.   Also, given that I wasn’t big on Age of Empires III and that all we got was a vague trailer about the game, I wasn’t too excited on that front regardless.

But the primary reason I haven’t been all that thrilled about the Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition announcement is that we already got an Age of Empires II remaster just over six years ago.

Hidden Path Entertainment, who did the wonderful Defense Grid and Defense Grid 2 tower defense games, did a remaster of the game back in 2013 that included:

  • Re-mastered for high resolution displays 1080p+.
  • Enhanced visual engine with improved terrain textures, water, fire and ambient lighting effects.
  • New Steamworks features: Achievements, Leaderboards, Matchmaking and Cloud support.
  • Share user created content with Steam Workshop support.

Not only that, they also updated the unofficial expansions for the game and even added another one just last year.  When steam does stats, Age of Empires II – HD Edition is always doing surprisingly well given its origin in the last century.

Basically, there is already a happy and thriving Age of Empires II community on Steam that is good with the game, so a new version from Microsoft just raises uncomfortable questions… like what happens with all of the Steam Workshop stuff people have created and what about those three expansions?

What does Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition really bring to the table, besides 4K graphics, and what will people lose if they go there?

I personally think that the graphics upgrade and a remastered sound track is insufficient to get people to buy another copy of a game they have probably already purchased twice at this point.  Or that seems to be a common thread in the reactions to the press release on Steam.

The press release mentions three new single player campaigns to be released with the Definitive Edition, and four new civilizations as well, which makes this seem even more like a branch that will be incompatible with the HD Edition.

Microsoft also seems to have learned from the Age of Empires Definitive Edition and will be launching the new game straight onto Steam, where the fan base has resided for years now.

However, even that move gives me pause.  Are they planning on supplanting the HD Edition on Steam?  Hidden Path may have done the HD Edition, but Microsoft owns the title and all the rights.  If they want to yank the HD Edition in hopes that the fan base will be compelled to buy the Definitive Edition, they can do that.

I don’t think they will keep you from playing the HD Edition if you already own it.  It will likely still be there in your library.  But they can certainly disappear it from the store, take down the Steam Workshop, and remove all evidence of the expansions that have appeared since they last cared about the game.

Furthermore, it Microsoft being tone deaf and heavy handed isn’t exactly out of character for them as a company.

I hope that they will find a way to embrace the current and thriving Age of Empires II community that exists on Steam.  Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition is due out this fall according to the press releases, so I imagine that we will see how they plan to play this soon enough.

Friday Bullet Points – Comings and Goings

Another Friday and there are some bits of news wandering around the net that I want to mention, but really don’t want to get into a whole post about.  So off we go.

  • Google Stadia

Google’s game streaming subscription service, Google Stadia, got a November launch date.  Just in time for Christmas, as they say.

The Founder’s Edition will run you $129 to get in and $9.99 a month thereafter.  For that you get a controller, a dongle that hooks up to your TV, some “free” games thrown your way regularly, and support for up to 4K video.  A Standard Edition is listed, but won’t be available until next year.  The Standard Edition won’t have a monthly fee, but will only support up video up to 1080p.

There is a list of games that will be available at launch, though some items on the list are TBD.  You, of course, have to buy the games and those purchases are locked to Google’s platform.  But you can play them on your Google Pixel phone as well.

I have zero interest in this, so this might be the only time I mention it unless something goes horribly wrong or Google shuts it down.  But what are the odds of that?

  • Google Play Tightens Up

Meanwhile, in another department at Google, those in charge of the Google Play store have decided that maybe the whole “anything goes” strategy there isn’t working out. (Steam, are you listening?)  The Google Play Store policies are being revised and targets include hate speech and sexual content.  They are also requiring that titles with loot boxes disclose the odds of obtaining any particular item and they are instituting a minimum functionality metric for apps.  While sexuality and hate speech are squishy topics, not easily defined, posting odds and requiring that stuff works sound good to me.

  • Esports is a Money Pit

Kotaku has an article up reviewing esports and the companies that drive them.  For all the talk of audience numbers (which turn out to be wildly inflated, that headline about League of Legends out performing the SuperBowl was largely because Twitch had the stream on the front page and counted everybody who landed there for any amount of time as a viewer), it seems that esports, even for the biggest names like Riot and League of Legends, is a money losing proposition.  Expect more leagues to close down.

  • Millennials Buy More Games

SuperData Research released a free report which you can download at their site about consumer spending patterns on video games.  Or you can read a summary of it over at Venture Beat.   The big headline carrying the report is that millennials, who are now young adults with jobs and careers and such, spend more money on them than older generations.  Who would have guessed?  Millennials spend more and prefer mobile as a platform.

  • Baldur’s Gate III

There was some excitement as it was announced that a Baldur’s Gate III was in development. That got people a lot more worked up than I expect they ought to be.  The original Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II were classics developed by BioWare, but that was back at the turn of the century.  Remasters of both titles have been released on Steam, and somebody even did an additional expansion for the Baldur’s Gate II Enhanced Edition remaster.

But all of that is more than a few steps away from some new team taking a crack at the franchise 20 years later.  This new game is likely to be very different… it might not have the isometric point of view… and maybe it should be.  But part of the reason it is getting announced now is because it will be on Google Stadia, which means it will have to support console controls, and I have not had a lot of good experiences with PC games that have their UI constrained by the need to be used solely with a controller.  I have the remasters.  If I want to relive the late 90s, I can do that just fine already.

  • Whatever That Blizzard Game Was

It slipped out that Blizzard cancelled an in-development FPS based on the StarCraft franchise in order to focus more on Diablo IV and Overwatch 2.

But rather than headlines about Overwatch 2 or Diablo IV confirmed, there was a bunch of wailing and gnashing of teeth about Blizzard and mindless pining for a game that never was.  Cancelling development on something in progress before it launches is a pretty normal thing in mature companies with multiple product lines.  Hell, it should be seen as a normal thing for Blizzard.  Remember Titan?  How far back was StarCraft: Ghost?

I think that this stems from companies in the gaming industry, small studio start-ups that have everything invested in a single title, being our mental image of how video games are made.  There are plenty of “ship or die” stories out there.  But that doesn’t apply to companies like Blizzard.  Meanwhile, if Blizzard doesn’t think the game is worth pursuing, pinning all your game play fantasies on it just because you like the idea of it sounds like a futile effort.  So if you’re doing that you should probably start a blog.

Simulating the WoW Classic Opening

The beta for WoW Classic has been up for a bit now.  Some people, and not a few streamers, seem to have made the cut for the beta which Blizzard has said it wants to keep limited.

I opted in for it but did not get an invite.  That is okay, as I likely wouldn’t play too much.  But as somebody who opted in I remained in the pool for stress test events, the first of which was yesterday.  I did get an invite for that.

Time to pile on the server

Blizzard can get lots of tactical information… not to mention some reports of bugs that are not bugs… from the normal beta.  But to be ready for opening night and the crush that will no doubt follow they need to load up the servers to see how their mixture of new and old tech responds.

Anyway, I downloaded the stress test beta, which appeared to be a subset of the WoW Classic package and waited for the start time.  They wanted people to log in and get up to level 5, which was where the test would be capped.  A minute or two early I launched the client to see if the server was up already.  I was not alone.

545 deep, estimated time under 1 minute

That seemed like a pretty optimistic number.  However, it did tick down very quickly and soon I was… kicked out to the login screen.  Well, I was in there ahead of time.  So I waited until the appointed hour and tried again.

1637 deep, estimated time 2 minutes

Now the surge was beginning to build.  There was a time, back in the day and at most expansion launches, where that many people ahead of you would have meant you had time to watch a movie or go have dinner.  Again, the queue drained readily and I was soon disconnected and back at the login screen.  But it did take less than 2 minutes.

I waited a couple of minutes, then once more unto the breech.

2052 deep, estimated time 3 minutes

The queue was getting deeper, but the time estimate stayed low.  And this time I was passed through and able to choose the server.

The server in sight

It may have showed a low population, but that seemed to be because it was having problems getting people loaded in.  I was once again at the login screen with an error.  But this was what we were here to do, load up the system to see where it breaks.  Back in I went.

2776 deep, estimated time 4 minutes

From this point forward I made it to the server selection every time, however the status of the server changed from time to time, being low population, offline, or locked at various points.  But I kept pressing the button every time I got kicked out.  That was the high water mark for my queue, though it stayed in the 2600-2700 range for the rest of the test.

Meanwhile, on Twitter WoWHead was posting screen shots and retweeting various streamers who were in the game and running around with the mass of players.  Life it good when you’re special I guess, though I suspect that nobody was retweeting people saying they couldn’t get in.

At about the 90 minute mark of the two hour test I was able to get on the server successfully and start on character creation.  I went for a night elf druid just to give that a spin, at which point I ran into the next problem.

Character creation timed out

That persisted for the balance of the test time frame, so I missed out on some of the special things that popped up during the test, like Ragnaros showing up.

Of course, that all showed up around Stormwind, so I wasn’t going to see it anyway… not unless I made the run across the Wetlands, which I actually planned to do.

While the time frame of the test was over, Blizzard said they would leave the servers up and later in the evening I was able to get in and experience the starting zone.  The opening cinematic narration was interesting, as it spoke of the planting of Teldrassil and how it was the vanity of the elves and their desperation to get back their immortality that made them do it, against the wishes of Malfurion Stormrage, and that it had been corrupted by the Burning Legion.  I had forgotten all of that.  Maybe Slyvannas was just doing Azeroth a favor by burning it down?

Anyway, I was in, a lowly night elf druid with 16 bag slots and some boars and nighsabres to slay.

In at last… but reporting tools up front and center

Even off peak, with the queue gone and no problems getting in, the starting area was overrun with other players.

Anyway, while I did not show up to actually play, I did run around and do the first couple of quests, got a level, and got myself into the mindset of what WoW Classic will really be.  It is easy to forget what it was like being fresh to the game back in the day.  I think one of the things that keeps us going in MMORPGs is the accumulation of things that ease our journey.  It is much easier to carry on with a game we’ve already earned that stuff in than to start raw and fresh in a new one.

Given that the test seemed to go less well than one might have hoped, I expect we will see another round or two.  If I get invited I’ll join in again to add my weight to the server load.  That was what we were being invited to do after all.  People angry that things were not perfect need to remember this.

I hope Blizz got some good data out of this that will make the launch in August, where I expect servers to be completely slammed by both the dedicated old school fans and the curious alike, go smooth.  Or at least not be a disaster.  I doubt it will be smooth on day one no matter how much Blizz throws at it.  We’ll see if this new layering tech works out.

Anyway, if you want to see how the login queue works before August you need to opt in for the WoW Classic beta, which is its own category in your beta options.

What to do with WoW Classic as it Ages

Retro, nostalgia, progression, classic, tag them with whatever prefix you choose, but farming the installed base with a promise of an old school experience has gotten a serious boost of legitimacy with the pending release of WoW Classic.  It is no longer just weirdos led by Daybreak and Jagex, or the desperate like the late Trion Worlds, playing the old school card.

Classic is as classic does

That Blizzard has gone there means that they are convinced of the viability of such a venture.  We have certainly seen, time and again, the success of such servers.  There is even a set pattern, with the launch seeing an overwhelming crowd show up, followed by a winnowing down of the nostalgic player base as the sight seers and the never-satisfied purists wander off.

There remains a solid and enthusiastic core of players who will see things through to the level cap, doing all the things from raids to faction grinds.  But even they begin to fade when their goals are met, leaving behind the truly dedicated who just want to keep on playing in the old content over and over.

At that point with something like EverQuest Daybreak will just unlock the next expansion.  Some of those who lapsed will return, the raiders especially, and the server will keep going.  EverQuest is pretty much the extreme example on that front.  With a substantial base of past and current players and 25 expansions to unlock, one of their progression servers can keep on going for ages.  The Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server, which Potshot and I played on, went live back in February of 2011 and is still moving along.  It merged with Vulak server, its launch twin, back in late 2017, but is still there otherwise.

Eventually though Daybreak will merge servers back into the live population.  Over on EverQuest II they will soon be merging the Fallen Gate server, which opened up in mid-2017, into the live Antonia Bayle server.  EverQuest II not only lacks the depth of expansions, but also doesn’t have quite the same fame or player base on which to draw.  Special servers there tend to wrap up much sooner than with its elder Norrath sibling.  But that is where they all go eventually.

The same happened with Rift Prime, the Rift retro server, which died off pretty hard once they got to the Storm Legion expansion.  There is always a certain wry humor to be had when the retro server follows the same path as the original live servers did back in the day.  The population that remained was offered transfers onto live servers.

But WoW Classic will be different.  Blizzard, perhaps going overboard on the purist aspect of nostalgia for the old world, has rolled up WoW Classic as a semi-independent game.  Your subscription gets you access to both WoW and WoW Classic, so you’re covered there, but it will be a different client using a different sort of server and will have its own character database, so even if you’ve used up all of your character slots in WoW you will have 50 open slots, 10 per server, with WoW Classic.

With EverQuest, EverQuest II, Rift Prime, and LOTRO Legendary the special servers were only variations on the live product with some flags set to limit access to content and changes to things like experience gain.  Otherwise they used the same client and the same launcher.  This sets WoW Classic apart.

In the short term I expect that WoW Classic will be successful, but what happens in the longer term?  While there is some progression planned in the form of raid unlocks, which will keep the raiders engaged… and they’ll likely lead the charge to level cap in any case if on can draw from the EverQuest retro experience… after that there doesn’t seem like much of a plan.  So what can Blizzard do?

  • Leave the Servers to Run

The easiest answer I suppose is to just leave things as they are once raid progression has been done.  There is a certain demographic that will just want to live and play in the WoW Classic environment, staying forever in 2006.  Others will show up late or won’t care about being there on day one or will want to get to level cap at their own pace.  And there will be people who will come and go from WoW, since one subscription pays for both.  Given the size of the WoW player base, that might be a viable path for years even if Blizz doesn’t do anything further.

  • Roll Fresh Classic Servers

The magic which Daybreak has discovered in their EverQuest progression servers is that there is a sizable demographic that just likes a fresh server launch and playing through the progression.  Daybreak can drop a fresh progression server every year or so and will see a swarm of people show up to play.  It keeps people subscribed, it keeps that demographic happy, and it gives people who want to be in the mad rush of a server launch but who may have missed previous chances a place to go.

I suspect that we will see something like this with WoW Classic.  The fact that there is raid unlock progression means that the experience won’t be static and so after the last unlock there will be people who missed out and/or who will want to start fresh.  This seems like a pretty easy choice to keep people playing WoW Classic.  The question will just be the timing of new servers.

  • Head for the Dark Portal

As noted, Daybreak revitalizes its retro population by moving on the next expansion, so it seems like Blizzard ought to be at least thinking about getting on to that as well.  In fact, we know they have.  The question is, how to you get there?

Given the Blizzard solution to the Vanilla WoW question was to go back to the original client, you can hardly expect anything less when it comes to The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King.

But how do you get there from WoW Classic?  Do you eventually convert those servers to servers for The Burning Crusade?  It almost feels like you have to if you want to get the whole “unlocking the dark portal” event.  But what about people who want to stay behind in vanilla, and there will be some?

Given how WoW Classic came to be, does this mean a third (or more) special client to keep and maintain for a third type of WoW server?

If WoW Classic proves to be a success, if the money is good, I suspect Blizzard will want to do something further on the nostalgia front.  The questions will be around how long it will take them to get there, where will they stop, and how will they get players into these middle timelines.  Server conversions?  Transfers?  Something else?

  • Other Options?

There are probably other distinct options, not to mention a plethora of variations on the theme, that Blizzard could pursue.  Blizz could, for example, go the “Disney vault” route and only roll out WoW Classic servers every five years or some such.  There is a possibility that they will decide the whole thing isn’t worth the effort and  just let the WoW Classic servers linger on with light maintenance, or even shut them down after some time has passed.  I doubt the latter, at least in the near term, but I suppose it could happen.

The question remains though, what will Blizzard do?  Time and audiences do not sit still and it feels like a big WoW Classic launch will only whet player appetites for other retro options.

World of Warcraft 15th Anniversary Collectors Edition Announced

In addition to the WoW Classic launch date being announced there was also a news item about a World of Warcraft 15th Anniversary Collector’s Edition.

WoW at Fifteen

While the box won’t be available until early October, you can pre-order it today for $100, because of course you can.  And when I say box, I mean box, as this appears to be focused on physical items.

Things you get

The list of items for the CE are:

  • Ragnaros Statue
    Behold Ragnaros, he who is ancient when this world was young! Bow, mortals, before this 10+ inch immortalization of the Firelord himself.
  • Onyxia Pin
    Add to your pin collection and adorn your home with the head of Onyxia, Broodmother of the Black Dragonflight.
  • Map of Azeroth Mouse Pad
    Gaze upon the realms your character has explored these past 15 years while you prepare for the next adventure.
  • Fine Art Prints
    Reach into Azeroth’s vivid past with eight frameable fine art prints.
  • 30 Days of Game Time
    Extend your stay in Azeroth with 30 days of game time to aid you on your next adventure.
  • Alabaster Mounts
    Take to the skies with these majestic alabaster mounts—living stone tributes to a pair of familiar flying creatures.

    • Alabaster Stormtalon for Alliance characters
    • Alabaster Thunderwing for Horde characters

While I am fond of collector’s editions for WoW (I regret not getting the original one) I am not really big on physical items, save for maybe the sound track.  At my age I am already carrying too much baggage when it comes to little nick nacks and dust collectors, so a ten inch tall Ragnaros doesn’t thrill me.

The mounts… maybe.  I’d prefer battle pets, but mounts are still good.

The Anniversary Mounts

But Blizz has me covered.  If I want just the mounts, they will be available on their own in the Blizzard shop in August.  If you buy them there then buy the CE you will get a $25 credit in the Blizzard store to cover the overlap.

And if you don’t want to spend any money on this, Blizz has plans for in-game anniversary gifts for the 15th anniversary for all subscribers.  We’ll get both a mount and a pet.  Blizz had put up a video of them.

So, in addition to WoW Classic, we have some things to look forward to later this year.