P for Psychology: Heroes of the Storm, Matchmaking, and a Very Expensive Herring

Heroes of the Storm has been out for almost two months now, to moderate and respectable success. You should go play it if you enjoy games like League of Legends or DOTA2, but don’t enjoy slugging through libraries of guides on obtuse mechanics on last-hitting or jungling or whatever. However, this is not a plug. I condescend to you to discuss a problematic trend in the Heroes community right now. Despite the youth of the game, HotS continues to get a lot of flack for its “matchmaking problems.” This is the purported issue of how Heroes’ matchmaker prioritizes speed over relative skill as measured by MMR, leading to countless posts on how the matchmaker put someone with, say, 3000 MMR on the same team as someone with 2000 MMR. Moreover, since the rise of Hotslogs.com, MMR checking and other pernicious habits have started to infest the community’s mentality, despite Hotslogs.com being notoriously inaccurate. I do not dispute the existence of a matchmaking problem per se, since Blizzard has already admitted to certain issues with it, but I highly doubt just how widespread people think it is or if they even understand the supposed problem to begin with. From a higher perspective, my concern lies in people latching onto a convenient scapegoat instead of learning how to deal with the typical and inevitable variance they will encounter in an online multiplayer team game. As I said, Heroes is a young game; bad habits form easily in youth; bad habits die hard.

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Including making bad memes.

Matchmaking in an online game has, is, and always will be an art more than a science, particularly in a team-based game. Often people offer blind praise for the matchmaking caliber of a game like Starcraft 2…a single-player RTS game. When you get right down to it, it’s very difficult to match five players against five players while trying to narrow any potential skill-gap as much as possible, let alone accounting for stuff like allowing for friends to queue with each other. Games are not at the point where their systems can make comprehensive value judgments on a human’s behavior, so any sort of matchmaking rating is a post-facto attempt to gauge pure game performance. As everyone knows, damage meters don’t tell you how good of a player someone is. Win ratios don’t reveal if a person yells at his teammates every second game or grasps strategic priorities on every map. At the end of the day, MMR only conveys how often a person has won or lost relative to the player base over a long period of time. Everything in between is variance.

But what is variance? Well, it covers a lot of ground. For instance, no one’s knowledge of the game will ever be complete. Heroes is not a solved game, like checkers. It is constantly shifting and being adjusted by its developers, who are in turn making decisions based on the collective decisions of a vast playerbase. Nobody knows everything about everything in Heroes at every point in time. Most people don’t learn even half the heroes of the game very well, even people in Master League. This is why you end up with players that only play assassins well or who can never play support. You will run into those kinds of people at every layer of the playerbase. Knowledge variance never disappears; it just stabilizes over time as you tend to encounter more people with wider game knowledge and wider competencies.

The same applies to performance variance. Robots are not playing this game: humans are. Humans are meat-bag primates whose nervous systems and physiques did not evolve to play highly complex computer games online. We have physical and mental limitations that affect our ability to perform at tasks. Sleep problems, a bad breakfast (or no breakfast), a miserable day at work, frustrating social events, etc., can all very negatively affect one’s ability to make judgments in a game like Heroes. Glaurung has bad days. Zp has bad days. Nick has bad days (and breaks the screen to cope). Everyone has bad days. Everyone makes a bad call on occasion, whiffs that key skillshot, gets tunnel vision, mixes up spawn timers, or even prioritizes playing a champion to have fun over winning. Just like knowledge variance, performance variance never goes away.

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What? I had to get a Snape reference in here.

So what does this all have to do with matchmaking? Well, everything. Matchmaking is no god. It does not determine everything that happens to you. In fact, unless you’re at a very competitive level of the Heroes community, it probably doesn’t affect your games much at all. The other stuff I mentioned is so much more important. Skill gaps, even tiny ones, can have far more drastic influence on how often you win or lose. Your team knowing when to take mercs or to go for an objective, or knowing how certain champions scale and which ones counter which, can make or break a match before it even begins. The mere skill of knowing when to back off is something most people at the lower strata of play don’t understand, even though it’s vitally important. To chalk everything up to “I was matched with a n00b” is both lazy and self-defeating. There are very few matches where you played perfectly and everything was everyone else’s fault. Yes, they do happen, but only once in a blue moon. You have no control over whether someone’s Time Warner connection is shitting itself at that particular moment. You can only control what you’re doing, so you need to focus on helping both yourself and others instead of tossing all blame onto a convenient excuse you don’t really understand.

The Heroes community needs to stop mistaking what has come to be called “matchmaking” for normal shit that every player goes through in every online game. You will be matched with feeders, AFK’ers, the first-pick Sonyas, the last pick Novas, and you will be matched against the first-pick Zeratuls that can Blink-dance with one hand tied behind their backs. It’s called “life”. Deal with it. Matchmaking shouldn’t even be on your mind until you’ve been Rank 1 for months and your win ratio is very stable. Only then can it be an intrusive element that you can legitimately complain about. In the meantime, if you really want to improve, watch replays, watch high-level players in tournaments, analyze what they do, analyze what you’ve done wrong, and treat your teammates with respect and decency. What’s more, part of this “matchmaking” issue arises from the way the competitive ranking system is structured at the moment. It’s much harder to rank yourself against other players and judge where you really are when there are only 50 ranks, only half of which matter, and there’s no Grandmaster League yet to stratify and discriminate between the people who’ve gotten to Rank 1. That will be fixed in time, though. It’s not something to get worked up about.

Heroes has the potential to be a very popular and excellent MOBA, but if we keep instilling this mentality that “matchmaking sucks” and teaching new players to blame their poor performance on a convenient scapegoat, we poison their experience from the very beginning. Even at the very worst, Heroes doesn’t fuck you over nearly as much as a game like LoL or DOTA, where you’re stuck with that feeder for 30+ minutes and just one ill-matched person on either side can sink the game for you and waste such a significant amount of time. If you get stomped in Heroes, the match is over in 10-15 minutes and you move on. We should be selling that as a big feature instead of running around with our heads cut off about that stupid Sonya pick.

Perspective is everything in life, and we shouldn’t lose it here just because it’s a game. Games really are serious business. We enjoy them and invest ourselves in them, which is the only thing that truly matters for us in an otherwise brief and largely futile existence. If you let something as specious as “matchmaking” control your thinking, you’re not going to have fun in Heroes, and that’s a crying shame, because that’s what games are all about.

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Oh.

And winning. Winning is more important.

Heroes of the Storm and the Deathly Release Date

SILLY.SNAPE-PREPAREDBlizzard announced the Heroes of the Storm release date today. June 2. Huh. Well, I’ve been playing HotS up to my eyeballs–enough to keep me from posting on this blog–and have a pretty high MMR, so I’m confident enough to speak on the game’s current status, particularly as to whether or not the game is actually ready for this sort of transition. Snape, loving curmudgeon that he is, has already given away my opinion.

As an aside, yes, I am alive. I do plan to post more, but there’s not too much to talk about as far as anime or whatever goes this season. I will do another Code Geass post soon, as that was a shitton of fun to write and read. Lelouch Lamperouge must be taken to task for all his “grand” schemes that make no bleeping sense whatsoever. I will need many bullets.

Get it? “Bullets”? They’re…eh. Philistines.

Oh, I was talking about Heroes of the Storm. Yeah, Blizzard, I don’t think you know what you’re doing. The game isn’t ready. It just isn’t. I play at high Diamond level and am pretty close to Master. From my perspective, the game has a lot of grime that needs to be rubbed off before you toss it out for public consumption. Most notably, we need more Heroes. Lots more Heroes. I was talking to a friend about it just now and we both agree the Hero pool isn’t sufficiently deep enough to create a healthy meta that supports flexible team composition selection. Sylvanas was a good step in the right direction, but since you’ve so thoughtfully set us down a collision course with destiny, we need about six-to-seven more Sylvanases to be in a decent state come June. Given that you’ve been releasing champions around every six weeks, that’s not enough time for more than two champions…unless you’ve got some surprise package of Heroes in the pipeline just waiting to go. To be honest, I was hoping today’s announcement was going to be a Diablo trio of Heroes or something thereof. Talk about disappointment in that category, but it just brings us back to the relative dearth of meta-viable Heroes to take into the Nexus. In an interview a few months ago, Blizzard stated clearly there were six Heroes in development at that time. Since then, both Lost Vikings and Sylvanas have been released. So that leaves us four. I’m going to assume that since then at least one other Hero has moved into the acute development stage or whatever you want to call it, so say five. Five isn’t enough, especially when there’s no guarantee all of them will have the same release-date quality as Sylvanas.

But that’s not all, Blizzard. There are other problems afoot at Hogwarts, since this school is run by morons who think putting soul-sucking, life-scarring Dementors a hundred yards away from school children is a perfectly sane idea.

Talents. Talents, talents, talents. Talents are a relatively new development in HotS, and it shows. Jaina and Sylvanas both demonstrate that Blizzard is finally getting the hang of what talents ought to look like, but so many other Heroes need an update in that department. There are only a few meta-viable talent builds for every Hero; many of those are sub-optimal. Some Heroes are stuck in the short end of the pool as far as that goes. Tassadar, Tyrael, Uther, etc., all have talents that suck really bad and no one will ever pick in any universe, prime or alternate. Furthermore, that’s not the kind of change you can realistically push out in the space of seven-ish weeks. Sure, surprise me by all means, but I remain skeptical, as I ought to.

Then there’s matchmaking, the canker afflicting HotS. People are not really matched well based on their actual MMR or some other solid performance indicator, but speed and general accuracy. This is less of an issue at the lower ends of the game where no one knows fuck-all and runs around thinking Anub’arak is OP or something, but it quickly becomes a serious issue the higher your skill level goes. At the very top end, it’s pretty annoying at best to be matched regularly with people at half your projected MMR, not that the other team doesn’t suffer from this just as much. It still takes the wind out of the sails of high-end competition. Few things in HotS are more enjoyable than a high-level match between equally skilled teams, win or lose. Trust me, I’ve done it. The problem is that it’s so rare that you have to slug through ten matches of Gazlowe-obsessed weirdos before you can face gather a proper team comp.

Suffice it to say, I’m not sure if Blizzard has listened to Illidan on this matter. We’re not ready for public release. The game systems need to be refined more, the talents need serious attention, we need more Heroes to shake things up and provide more viable picks and counterpicks, along with a simple team/guild/clan system and other similar features. HotS has the potential to be a great MOBA, but that only comes with time and patience. Am I wrong to suspect this release date is more internally dictated rather than developer-oriented? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet one of my horcruxes on it.

I have no horcruxes, by the way. That was a joke.

5 Things Game Developers Apparently Believe (Are Legitimate Excuses For Their Screwups)

(In response to this from Kotaku. The views expressed henceforth are my own.)

Before I joined the military, I worked at Starbucks as a barista. My formerly conservative views and upbringing gave me a pro-military leaning when it came to American men in uniform. Despite this, I didn’t spend all my time spewing vitriol at the big-budget Pentagon on how carelessly they were using our troops. I didn’t have to: they obviously were. Still, they offered a bunch of reasons why people just didn’t understand the realities of war. I didn’t care then or now. It turns out that, despite not knowing much about the real-life military, I still kind of expected them to follow all those inconvenient rules of engagement and Geneva Conventions and to get shit done in a reasonable time frame with as little loss of life and expenditure as possible despite all the unimaginable conditions they endured every day. Funny how that works.

Six or seven-ish years removed, I still expect that of the military, even though I know a little more about what it’s like in uniform as opposed to outside of it, probably because we are responsible for a vast amount of power that can (and has) ruined entire countries. I mean, I guess it’s probably hard for those guys manning our nukes in Montana somewhere to wake up at 0400 or whatever and deal with the most monotonous, horrible job that they hope to God never ever gets exciting, but I still kinda ruthlessly expect them to foster and maintain that sort of discipline each and every day while they’re handling devices that can bring about The End of All Things (complete with Howard Shore score) in the space of a few minutes. How unreasonable of me. The gall.

I say this stuff as a deliberately hyperbolic example, so let’s take it down a notch: I guess it’s pretty hard to build a building, e.g., an apartment complex, a type of facility in which billions of people live. To make matters worse for my spoiled ass, I happen to reside in a developed country with a decent standard of living and the inconvenient expectations that brings about, so I expect the facility to be safe, clean, protect me from the elements, and all the other sort of things I trade a little over one-fourth of my paycheck for. If, in the course of my residence, I spy a hole in the corner of my study, the roof starting to cave in, or simply a lot of bugs of the various types that shouldn’t be there (apart from spiders. I really don’t give a fuck about spiders and oh my god would you stop freaking out over them), I basically have grounds to complain about this, right?

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

1. Making games is a thousand times harder than you think (so it’s not our fault if we fail miserably)

I am an atrocious blogger. Check how often I post (and what I post about) if you don’t believe me, but jeez, I’ve gotten a little tired of the game industry coming up with all sorts of variations on this same comic mea culpa, which really just says “fuck you faggots it’s not our fault” in regards to stuff that clearly is. It’s hard to feel empathy for them when, oh, I don’t know, the developers for Assassin’s Creed go on record saying “it’s really hard to make female animation models, so fuck women. They’re not important!” then shit out a game that tried to coast on the same tired formula of their franchise’s last five games, hoping you wouldn’t notice how the rendered dolls behaved and appeared very much like the vanguard of Cthulhu.

Let’s say you want to make a game. The first thing you do is set goals. Over the past twenty-five years or so, one of them has tended to be to fix most of the critical bugs before shipping things. Then you can move onto things like story, gameplay, themes, etc. Done.

Nope.

Nope.

To make a game now, you need to focus on monetization. This is a fancy corporate term for squeezing money from your potential consumers who have stuck with you all these years, all due to a vicious cycle of spiraling costs and development times for much smaller profit margins, one we loudly lament on our Twitter feeds but refuse to do anything about, since the actual people above us tend to sign our paychecks. I can understand that you have families and can’t really be asked to be moral crusaders at the forefront of changing the industry you’re stuck in or wish to remain a part of, but then that probably means shouldn’t throw stones from your glass houses, as eventually some people might a mistake your attempts at catharsis as a legitimate opinion. Again, the gall.

Maybe I should have read the Necronomicon after all.

Maybe I should have read the Necronomicon after all.

And that’s just the most vocal people at the top, you know, the ones with some capital and wiggle room to freely express themselves in a public space once in a while. Since this is their livelihood and career, one that doesn’t tend to allow crossover into other sections of society, the unfortunate lower members of the studio have to shut up and deal with their studio heads’ questionable management methods and objectives and knock out the overwhelming pile of shit in the “To Do” pile on their desks. Granted, I haven’t worked in the game industry, but considering this is how it works in almost every company or organization worth a damn, I’m going to guess it applies to the oh-so-special cadre of persecuted game developers. Then you have to deal with the inherent uncertainty that comes with an industry with little solid ground and studio shutdowns and hoping Metacritic doesn’t tear the kitten you’ve labored on for five years into tiny pieces and, and, and…

I haven’t even mentioned design and code, because I’m giving up trying to follow the general literary format of the original article for no reason. Let’s skip straight to my point:

No one. Fucking. Cares.

This little “explanation” is something nearly everyone in the work force has to deal with. No one outside the military really understands us; as mentioned before, we’re still expected to do our jobs. Nobody outside the finance world understands it; it’s still kinda expected (but not really forced to, thanks to the power of Mammon that people still haven’t figured out is entirely imaginary) to do something productive for society. Nobody outside the video game industry really understands it; you’re still expected to meet a basic level of quality.

You’re not special snowflakes.

2. Games look like complete ass for 90% of their production (which is why we never explain anything)

You know what I love about Blizzard (that company that makes WoW and some other games whose names I can’t really remember right now…weird…)? Apart from their generally consistent output of solid iteration on established franchises, they’ve become masters at pretending to be really earnest people whose fans don’t empathize with, yet refusing all the while to elucidate and build a culture of transparency of how decisions are made in their meeting rooms. They’ll make long Blue Posts on their forums once in a while about how “we really try hard and care and blah blah blah” while making absurdly clueless decisions about problems in their own games, ones that their vigilant raiders were screaming at them for weeks to fix. Eventually, after a thousand and one mistakes, you stop believing they’re sincere. What’s baffling is that they (and almost all other game studios) insist on adhering to some unspoken Biblical Commandment that internal decisions and priorities are sworn to greater secrecy than CIA black ops, as if revealing their whole methodology–one uniquely tailored to their own institutional culture–will ruin everything. I don’t know why. To go back to my own experience, how the military works is not exactly mystifying. In fact, it’s one of the better understood ways of living in human civilization, since shitty stuff happening to you for inscrutable reasons beyond your control continues to remain literary gold. To be sure, the military doesn’t want you to know the precise details of what it’s up to right now unless you actually need to know, but that’s somewhat reasonable. Not for the video game industry, though. Imagine what would happen if they were transparent. They might get…embarrassed.

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Exhibit A.

The above poorly generated meme refers to the brief scandal in World of Warcraft known as Candlegate, in which Ion Hazzikostas (a cool guy that I met very briefly while my face was painted and stuffing itself with a mistakenly large pizza) declared, to the best of his knowledge in that minute, that they wouldn’t be nerfing an in-game item (yon Candle) even though it was clearly overpowered and causing some serious issues. Twenty four hours later, a hotfix was implemented to nerf the Candle. Oops. Egg on face. Hazzikostas was working off the information on the top of his head, but it still reflected a telling sign of the left hand not knowing what the right was doing, if not more. Suffice it to say, attempts at transparency in a corporate structure at odds with the very idea tend not to go very well.

Obviously, it’s not hard to imagine why this aversion to transparency endures. Video game developers are people, and much of what happens in those studios undoubtedly arises less from holistic creative aspirations–or even EA-style shenanigans–and more from the gritwork that we love to watch Frank Underwood spin: politics, self-interest, and ruthless pragmatism. You don’t really want to admit even the possibility that Casey Hudson ruined the Mass Effect franchise for the sake of his own ego or whatever (an unverified and unverifiable rumor, but to quote Mordin Solus: “theory fits evidence”), so you keep your mouth shut. You don’t want to try to put your foot down against Activision’s goal to release another soulless Call of Duty clone to keep the money coming in, so you keep your mouth shut. In a close-knitted industry where much of your resume involves your reputation, burning bridges safely is an opportunity most members will never run into.

The problem is that this sort of mentality actively instills among your fans a very skeptical, hostile, and altogether unforgiving culture towards you. It’s not like your feeble PR antics actually fool any significant number of people. They just communicate that our concerns and desires ultimately have no say: you’re the corporation, we’re the consumer, and we should learn our place. So if corporations want to continue avoiding transparency like the Black Death, they need to accept some amount of unbridled and at times ridiculous levels of criticism from us in return. It’s not like our concerns mean much to you. Why should your concerns mean much to us?

3. When the devs use the word “excited”, they’re not blowing smoke up your ass (except when they are, so good luck trying to tell the difference)

Really? No, really? This is a point? “The devs have feelings too”? You know, I generally assumed someone involved in such a nascent thing as the video game industry would have some kind of passion for it. How else would you get anyone to even start the damn thing? I also assume they’re working under a number of constraints that force them to do stuff they would rather not do, like oversell a talking point that a manager wrote for them. It’s not as if every other human being has ever had to do this.

This is how demeaning this article gets, since apparently everyone who criticizes a game is a Metacritic trollwhore who just wants to shit on game developers’ hopes and dreams and see their families starve. It’s like the author, now a game developer himself, hasn’t considered that most gamers are reasonable, intelligent people who work just as hard as they do (or harder) and would like to see some consistent return for shelling out their hard earned cash on an entertainment medium they enjoy and have dedicated significant portions of their own limited mortal passion and attention to. Let’s be fair: there are some idiots on the Internet who haven’t really thought through the logistics and realities of making a video game, but let’s be fair: those are few and far between. Most of us hating on you for demanding that we pay $60 for The Order: 1886 have some legitimate grievances with a pattern from your industry, a pattern that is no longer explained away as a fluke or variance. It’s become a damnable habit, and you’re just catching on to how we’re catching on. Uh oh.

4. Game devs actually read a lot of critical writing on their work (but don’t actually have to care)

All right, I do believe this point a little more than the others, if only because I watched the Dragon Age team fall on their swords repeatedly to appease the idiots who thought Dragon Age 2 was the Beast and False Prophet all tied up into one baby-eating package. On the flip side, who gives a flying fuck? Consumer criticism, by definition, is ex post facto, i.e., after the transaction is completed. From the standpoint of the law, the video game consumer has very little wherewithal or standing with which to resolve their buyer’s remorse (those massive EULAs have consequences). Keep in mind: we’re not talking about buying some rip-off toy from a mall vendor because we fell for their cheap sales pitches. We’re talking about $50-60 purchases that you, the developers, spend literally years building hype for. You promise us a tremendous amount of shit in the hopes we’ll buy it, much of which borders on blatant deceit. To our credit and often folly, we tend to follow through, because we care about games and tend to have active interest in experiencing this pastime of ours. To claim you empathize with our anger after you have managed to get us to hand over our money that we cannot get back from you is a little rich. At best.

No, it’s as rich as escargot, assholes. There is an implicit contract between the game developer and the gamer: you give us good shit, we buy it from you. If you don’t give us good shit, we at least have a right to complain loudly, as that’s the only thing we can do. No amount of bitching, Reddit-level quality or otherwise, will get a court to listen to us and force you to fork over those greenbacks. You’ve won. The only thing you have to do, as far as we can tell, is move onto the next game. You’ll repeat the cycle. Again, I’m more than willing to entertain the idea that game developers don’t always (or often) have a choice in what they can accomplish during a game’s development cycle, but examples of developers truly listening to feedback and making serious changes–changes they often don’t even have the corporate leverage to effect–are few and far between. Again, Dragon Age is really the only example that comes to mind off the top of my head. Not all of what they changed was good anyway. In the end, those people who hated Dragon Age 2 lost out on their money and time, even though I disagreed with them and spewed vitriol at them myself. Sure, maybe some of their reactions might prove a bit immature in the grand of scheme of things, but yours has no weight whatsoever.

In other words, game developers score no brownie points by claiming “we have passion too.” In the context of the basic video game transaction, they have the upper hand. For them, passion is a luxury. We, as video game players, only buy video games we have passion and interest in to begin with. That is literally the only thing making us willing to fork over several hours’ wages for something like this. When a flagship franchise for a next-gen console barely has enough content to match the real-world number of hours the average worker might have slaved away to buy it, you lose all standing for pity with us.

5. If you think something sucks, that’s not really news to the dev team (so suck it up anyway)

Oh. This again. I get to be enlightened by how game developers have limited resources and have to establish priorities. Yawn. I already explained that we, as normal people, understand this. Going back to Item #2, however, due to the gaming industry’s crippling allergy to transparency, we never get to know why those choices were made. Why do game developers insist on belittling us with stories about how “we have to make hard decisions” while never explaining what the calculus of those decisions is? You think we care if we don’t have any substantive details? Answer: we don’t. Here Anthony Burch waxes rueful about how his team had to choose between the bulk content of Borderland’s 2 and the ending. I dunno, that seems like a pretty big strawman to me, to say nothing of how it speaks to how out of touch he seems to have become with the average gamer. Very few people bought Borderlands 2 for the quality of the story, an element it barely even had. The entire game is sold up on reckless mayhem combined with some silly antics and quality voice acting to provide a transparent excuse for carnage. We want the guns, the classes, and the mindless violence. Claptrap is not Fall-From-Grace. He’s a mascot that produces cheap laughs. Sacrificing the ending of a game that did not prioritize literary quality from the outset is not a sacrifice. It’s called structure. We don’t expect Call of Duty to have an amazing story either. Or Blizzard games post Frozen Throne. Even claiming to value story is a reputation that a gaming company tends to have to earn.

Let’s go back to my favorite dead horse: Mass Effect 3. Explain to me the priorities of that game. It was the end of the trilogy, the closer to two previous games that had constructed a memorable array of characters in a rich and inviting universe we all loved. I’d hazard to say the story of that game should have taken priority over everything else, assuming all that talk about passion wasn’t pure flatulation. Instead, it seems pretty clear said story was low on the priority list. Forget about the nightmare that was the ending for a moment: Mass Effect 3’s story was the weakest of the three games regardless. There was a very noticeable shift in the actions of the characters and how the stories were told in the first place. All the piles of hype about how the story would have branching endings and radical outcomes based on what you’d done before turned out to be ashen night. But what did seem to have the priority of the developers? Oh, the gameplay. I should note that Mass Effect 2 had solved that issue already. Despite the outrage over thermal clips, the gameplay was tight and crisp. What other major iteration was needed? Apparently lots, because the gameplay was the best in the franchise, revamped and sparkled up for all to revel in. Even significant amounts of development time were dedicated to building a feature into a singleplayer RPG that nobody had ever asked for: multiplayer. I bet the months and resources appropriated to that could have been spent on giving us a final boss, or, maybe, a credible concluding scenario that fit the overall tone and themes of the franchise. Oh, but I just remembered Item #4, so here’s a little clarity for you: nobody remembers Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer. Everyone does remember the ending. Those last three minutes ruined the entire Mass Effect franchise and permanently scarred and besmirched the Pixar-like reputation of Bioware as a studio. I certainly hope that the studio discussed priorities after that fiasco.

It never gets old.

It never gets old.

You see, there are priorities, and there are basics. Assassin’s Creed didn’t get that right. Watch Dogs didn’t get that right. More and more games seem to be following in those footsteps. But beyond all that, merely having a list of priorities does not mean those priorities are well-conceived. It’s perfectly possible to ruin a game with the wrong set of priorities. What we’re a little miffed about these days is that you keep making the same mistakes. You keep throwing out games that nobody could believe were ready for release, yet you adopt the corporate line the moment shit hits the fan. A few months later, you rant about how nobody understands you. But we do: you are a normal person, in a normal job, in a normal industry, and we still expect you to do that job. Just like the military, stress and logistics are no excuse for massacring a village. The complexity of building a plumbing system doesn’t make the consumer a whiny brat for suing you when that shoddily built system ruins their month. But in the video game industry, we don’t have any recourse. You take our money and that’s that, often by outright lying to us. So we get to bitch in return and call you names on this giant bathroom wall.

Until you put your money where your mouth is, we’ll keep opening ours. It’s the only option we have, after all. How’s that for constraints?

An Update

SpSILLY.AHH-YEAHoilers ahead, ye denizens of the Internet.

Dragon Age: Inquisition has been beaten. It took me about 100 hours to complete the game, which is amazing for an RPG. I think both Origins and DA2 came in at about 50 hours each. Loved the game. The story was mediocre, but the lore and surrounding characterization more than made up for it. The combat system, though better than Origins’, was not as good as DA2’s for me. The PC interface took a long time to get used to and was the most significant minus and source of frustration for me. Overall I rate the game about 8.5/10, if that scale makes sense. I’ll write up a lore post going over my thoughts on the deeper lore elements revealed in DA:I soon.

On the anime front, I’m caught up on Sword Art Online II and Unlimited Blade Works. Combined blog posts incoming sooner rather than later, hopefully. The latter anime was more decent than I expected, so that’s a plus. UBW continues to be beautiful and elicit the question what the everliving fuck is the budget for this thing? The pain of Zankyou no Terror is properly fading, thank God.

Now I have to balance my time between writing, Super Smash Bros, other playthroughs of DA:I, WoW PVP, and League of Legends as the new season comes on the horizon (LOL LUCIAN NERFS APPEARED ON THE PTR TODAY. SO HAPPY…even though they might have gone too far.). One thing’s for sure: we’re not in a drought anymore in video game land.

Wish I could say the same for California, though. :/

Warlords of Draenor – the DK Report

While I count down the last few agonizing hours that stand between me and Dragon Age: Inquisition, I’ve taken up the new World of Warcraft expansion. I had a great time at Blizzcon, and it really made me want to hang out with my guildmates more often. My schedule precludes me from raiding, probably forever, but I can at least be in the game and do stuff with them. So I dragged my good ol’ Death Knight out, dusted him off, and charged through Draenor to see what all the hullabaloo about PVP and Ashran was. My general impression so far:

SILLY.MCKAYLA

Times a billion.

Disclaimer: I know the expansion has been out for less than a week; I know the metagame has yet to stabilize; I know a lot of people are busy getting gear for PVE and such; I know most people haven’t gotten their PVP gear yet; I know 25% resilience is still in the game; I know damage will start outscaling healing as the seasons progress. All that being said, PVP in WoW is only slightly improved from when I left it two years ago and is still as infuriating as ever, especially as a Death Knight.

Let’s start off with the much-hyped Ashran. This zone is a fucking disappointment if there ever was one. I would likely be much angrier had I gone in with any expectations for it. Going in blind probably prevented me from frothing at the mouth with how angry I’d be at Blizzard right now for fucking PVP over yet again at the basic level. Ashran is a concept–in theory–for bringing back the feel of the old Alterac Valley. If Ashran is working as intended, then let me just say this right now: fuck the old Alterac Valley. Fuck all you silver-haired PVP veterans who have kept lusting after your retarded nostalgia fantasies for the past seven years without remembering all the crippling flaws they came with. I never experienced the old Alterac Valley, and now I’m glad I didn’t. It sounds like a chore. Surprise: Ashran is a chore. It presumes a large, balanced server population that’s interested in PVP. I can only imagine how small a minority of servers in WoW fit that description. Well, good job: you have a never-ending, pointless seesaw battle that gets you tiny amounts of honor and no artifacts because you have to take them off of other players’ bodies. For some reason, Holinka thought it would be a good idea to have you lose Artifacts if you die or release your spirit, which will happen very often in a mass PVP situation. Moreover, the only significant reward for your time in Ashran is earned by killing the enemy boss in the opposing faction’s base, which is nearly impossible, as all the NPCs can one- or two-shot you and the giant NPC you can summon to help you has the worst AI this side of the Twisting Nether. If Ashran is going to work, it needs some massive tweaking and rebalancing, starting with non-tagged looting for artifacts, significantly increased honor rewards so you get something out of it more reliably, and mechanics to compensate for faction imbalance. Otherwise, I’m only going to Ashran for dailies, idle time in between battleground queues, or to buy some gear. The zone needs serious attention to be anything but another repeat of Tol Barad.

Now, onto the PVP meta itself. The following picture describes how it feels to be a Death Knight in WoD:

SILLY.MOLASSES

Now with teleports added for everyone except you.

Holy-fuck-my-stars-God, Holinka. You fucked up so bad. Every other fucking class in the game has insane mobility except DKs. Trying to stay on your target or keep up with anyone is a never-ending nightmare. Druids have blink, Mages have blink, Monks have blink, Hunters have disengage and constant mobility, Warlocks have their portal, recall, and a fucking knockback, Shaman have Ghost Wolf and etc, Warriors still have a billion stuns and charges, on and on and on and on it goes. What do DKs have? Chains of Ice and the Death and Decay Glyph. Aaaand Death Grip on a 20 second CD. Oh, that’s totally enough, right? At one point, long long ago, I thought Desecration needed to be removed. Now I don’t. I never thought I’d see the day when I thought Descration needed to be returned, but explain why all nine other classes are bouncing around every BG I find while I’m spending half my resources just to keep them snared so I might be able to hit them with my sword once in a while. Meanwhile, my damage still sucks, and our Level 100 talents are horrible. They’re massive CC breakers that don’t do anything. Necrotic Plague is worthless in PVP; Breath of Sindragosa takes too much RP and too much setup; Defile is the least bad choice among them. Given the fact that DK DPS has gotten almost no significant changes in two expansions, I’m confident in saying the designers have given up on the class in PVP. The amount of effort spent on DK ability design is pitiful, and it shows. They don’t give a shit.

Neither do they care about DPS in general, apparently. I don’t know what the design goals for PVP in WoD were besides cutting CC down to size a bit, but it seems like they put all their effort budget into that one idea. Healing is out of control. Healers alone can still put people back to full in an instant with instant casts, but now Ret Paladins and other hybrid healers can do that too. Killing people is absurdly difficult; one healer can negate half a battleground’s worth of DPS, if that. I’m honestly thinking of just finishing gearing my DK up for PVP in blues and leveling my Priest so I can feel like I have more of an impact, though I’ll probably run into just as many annoyances and nightmares as I’ve found with my DK. Sigh.

If my guild weren’t filled with such wonderful people, I’d shelve this game forever and go back to LoL. No matter how frustrated I get in LoL, it’s nothing compared to the sheer rage WoW PVP inflicts upon the soul.

I leave you with Snape, smoldering.

SILLY.SNAPE

Classy smoldering.

Back from Blizzcon

Had a wonderful trip. One of the best of my life. Met many of my guildmates and other awesome people. I’ll write up some impressions later on, maybe.

I will be streaming tomorrow. Don’t know what exactly, though. Season 4 in LoL ends tomorrow, so maybe I’ll do some practice matches on the new Summoner’s Rift update. Who knows.

The normal anime posts are incoming as well.

Dragon Age: Inquisition – The Beginning of the End

Unlike my previous post, this is meant to be a more serious take on Dragon Age: Inquisition. Fair warning: it is pretty nerdy. Feel free to skip over it if you don’t have a significant interest in the lore of the Dragon Age franchise and such. If you proceed, know that I never pull punches with spoilers.

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