Wednesday, November 25, 2015


One thing the Overwatch beta brought home to me is that I need to change my BattleNet tag. When Blizzard came up with the old system, the only Blizzard game I was playing was WoW. I couldn't think of a decent handle to use, and since the tag doesn't appear in WoW, I just entered my real name.

But now, when I play other Blizzard games, my real name appears very out of place. It is traditional to not use real names in gaming, to use a made-up handle instead.

I haven't really used an alias online in years though. My usual Coriel-style names are for characters, not for me. I suppose I could go back to using "GSHamster", but it was always pretty lame. I used it mostly for laughs in FPS games.

So I'm trying to think of a decent handle, and am drawing a blank. Do most of you use a consistent online alias? How did you come up with it in the first place?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Overwatch Stress Test Beta Impressions

I was lucky enough to get an invite to the Overwatch Stress Test Beta this past weekend. I last played an First Person Shooter well over a decade ago, Unreal Tournament 99. So I didn't expect much from this test. I fully expect that I am in the bottom 20% of Overwatch's audience.

I didn't take any screenshots, so have some Blizzard ones.
My first reaction is that despite how terrible I was, Overwatch was really, really fun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Overwatch has that "just one more game" draw to it. Matches are fast and frantic.

For the most part, I stuck with Mercy, who is a healer. Mercy is an excellently designed healer. She can heal or buff allies, and her ultimate is a resurrection of all dead allies. She's very well designed for new players, as her ability targeting is quite forgiving and has a decent about of computer assist. On the other hand, she's pretty fragile, and you'll die a lot. Blizzard nailed the aesthetic of a basic healer here. It's even great when, at the end of match, you see a Play of the Game, and it's your teammate and you can see that you healing/buffing them throughout their play.

After playing healer for a bit, I tried out some of the other characters. I'm pretty terrible at aiming, so I wasn't having much luck until I tried Reaper. For some reason, I just clicked with Reaper, and managed to actually get as many kills as deaths in a few games. I even got a couple kill streaks and a Play of the Game (which was basically me charging blindly at a group of people and magically killing several of them somehow).

A Blizzard screenshot of Reaper
There are a lot of heroes, and they all feel different, both to play as and fight against.

There are also some interesting design decisions. I don't know if other modern FPS'es do this, but if time expires, but there are still people fighting on the object, the game goes into overtime and continues until either the objective is cleared or the attackers claim it. It makes for some amazingly tense final seconds of a match, and is just so much fun.

There is no also killboard for the entire group. Instead, at the end of the match, Blizzard feature four people (who can come from either team) who have done quite well based on whatever metrics they capture. For example, people can show up for number of kills, healing done, damage absorbed by tanks, etc. Then everyone can vote for one person to be MVP. Blizzard then shows you personal stats for the match, and compares them to your average play. So there is a bit of feedback there, as it's really nice to show up on a card, and to slowly drag your averages up.

By focusing on the positive plays, Blizzard avoids embarrassing or humiliating lower skill players, but still provides them decent feedback. I hope Blizzard stands strong on this decision, as a lot of better FPS players on Reddit and the like seem to be demanding a killboard.

There's also no progression systems built in. It's very much a throwback to old FPS games of the 1990s where your character was the same in every match and didn't really change or level up. I liked this, as it is a lot easier to drop in and play, and outside of player skill, opposing characters behaved predictably.

Overall, I thought Overwatch was a lot of fun. Of course, I have zero idea what its competition is like, or what the hardcore FPS scene is like. But I'll probably pick up Overwatch when it is released.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Holy Paladins in Legion

Blizzard has started releasing Class Previews. Here's the Paladin preview. They say that are aiming going back and strengthening the core fantasy of each of the specializations. Here's what they plan to do for Holy paladins:
We love the unique identity of the Paladin healer and are modifying the gameplay to better support it. Single-target healing from Beacon of Light remains their marquee ability, but other abilities and talents have been adjusted to encourage Holy Paladins to be near the people they want to heal—including melee characters, when necessary. This is incentivized by Lightbringer, a new Mastery, which increases healing on allies near you. This is further reinforced by the addition of a row of Aura talents that provide a variety of localized beneficial effects, and refinements to some spells, such as Light of Dawn returning to being a cone.
It looks like Paladin healing will remain roughly the same, but with a bit more emphasis on positioning. That's pretty good, I've always enjoyed spells like Light of Dawn and the old Holy Radiance. As well, Auras were a core part of the Vanilla paladin, and it's good to see them come back.

Of course, for this plan to work, holy paladins can't be targeted by range effects. We'll see if their encounter design team actually remembers this.
Talents will also provide players with options to incorporate offensive capabilities while healing. When allies are in need, Light of the Martyr allows the Holy Paladin to rapidly heal them by sacrificing personal health. Finally, we’re addressing gameplay restrictions caused by Holy Power—in which players often feel forced to use abilities in specific orders or ratios—by removing it in favor of making Mana the primary resource.
That's good. Healing works best when it is fairly simple resource-wise. Holy Power didn't really add much to the healing experience.
To give you an idea of the Holy Paladin in action, here’s a basic look at their core combat abilities: 
Holy Light
2.0% Mana, 40 yd range, 2.5 sec cast
A slow but efficient spell, healing a friendly target for a moderate amount. 
Flash of Light
4.0% Mana, 40 yd range, 1.5 sec cast
A quick but expensive spell, healing a friendly target for a moderate amount. 
Light of the Martyr
2.5% Mana, 40 yd range, Instant
Sacrifices a moderate amount of your own health to instantly heal an ally for a moderate amount.
Cannot be cast on yourself.
Light of the Martyr is an interesting spell. Divine Intervention is always cited as a defining paladin ability, but it has proven too difficult to bring back. Light of the Martyr aims to get some of that same flavor back. It's should be especially interesting in PvP, as it is instant but with an important PvP cost. I'm not sure it will be much use in PvE, even though PvE damage is more predictable, making the spell safer to use.
Light of Dawn
4.0% Mana, 1.5 sec cast, 12 sec cooldown
Unleash a wave of healing energy before you, healing up to 5 injured allies within a 15 yd frontal cone for a moderate amount. 
Holy Shock
1.5% Mana, 40 yd range, Instant, 10 sec cooldown
Instantly trigger a burst of Light on the target, dealing moderate Holy damage to an enemy, or moderate healing to an ally.
Holy Shock has double the normal critical strike chance. 
Infusion of Light
Your Holy Shock criticals reduce the cast time of your next Holy Light by 1.5 sec or increase the healing of your next Flash of Light by 50%. 
Beacon of Light
0.5% Mana, 60 yd range, Instant, 3 sec cooldown
Place a Beacon of Light on a friendly target.
Your heals on other party or raid members will also heal the Beacon of Light target for up to 50% of the amount healed. Your Flash of Light and Holy Light on the Beacon of Light target will also refund 40% of their Mana cost. 
Mastery: Lightbringer
Proximity to your target causes your spells to heal for up to 30% (with Mastery from typical gear) more.
The mastery is pretty interesting. One suggestion I would make is to rename it to Devotion Aura and make sure there is a buff on affected parties. This makes it more like the Auras of old, and I think is a small cosmetic change that would make it a lot more appealing.

I'm not entirely sure if Blizzard intends the bonus to scale depending on the distance between you and the target. For example, 30% if you're right on top of each other, 15% at 5 yards, 0% at 10 yards. I hope they don't do this, and have a flat bonus for everyone within a certain range, especially as you will never be right on top of the tank.
Additionally, to provide a glimpse at how some talents may build upon this, here’s one example of a Holy-specific talent: 
Beacon of the Lightbringer
The maximum bonus from Mastery: Lightbringer is increased by 24%, and it now increases your healing based on the target's proximity to either you or your Beacon of Light, whichever is closer.
An interesting talent, allowing you to add a second Mastery circle to the raid, and compensate for positioning. Since Beacon will be on the tank, this Mastery circle should cover both the tank and the melee groups, if the Holy paladin does not want to stand in melee.

All in all, the changes to Holy Paladins look good. The changes for the other classes and specs are also looking very good, with some classes (Shadow Priests, for example) seeing significant overhauls.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Legion Cinematic

The Legion Cinematic was released at Blizzcon this past weekend. As is traditional, we note that it is quite good, but not as good as the Wrath cinematic. The explicit call out to the Wrath cinematic at the very start is nice.

Again, technically the cinematic is very well done. In particular, the Blizzard cinematic team did an excellent job with Varian. He may very well be the best CG human I have seen. They nailed the look and feel of an aging warrior king, one who has been fighting all his life.

The trailer has no orcs! It's kind of sad that is now a good thing, and shows how much Blizzard overused the orcs in the last two expansions. Instead the Horde side is represented by Sylvannas, who is always good to see. She also looks very good, like a proper undead banshee queen.

This cinematic has one really superb scene, where the skycarrier is crashing and Varian closes his eyes. It's the one moment where Blizzard is willing to do less, and it pays off. Otherwise the scenes are a touch too busy.

Still though, it's a great cinematic, and starts off Legion on a high note.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Has Final Fantasy XIV caught World of Warcraft?

The latest news is that World of Warcraft lost another 100,000 subscribers, and is now at 5.5 million subscribers. This is a pretty small loss compared to the previous quarters, and is somewhat unusual given the content drought WoW is going through.

That 5 million number has come up recently in another context, though. FFXIV announced it had over 5 million "registered accounts".

No one is quite sure what SE means by registered accounts, though. Last year, SE said FFXIV had 2 million registered accounts and 500,000 daily logins. With 500,000 daily logins, that 2 million number is almost certainly subscriptions. So if "registered accounts" were what we would call subscriptions last year, then I think it's reasonable to believe that they are subscriptions this year as well.

As well, consider the latest trailer FFXIV has put out for the 3.1 patch. The last frame explicitly says, "Join Over 5 Million Adventurers Worldwide". This again cuts strongly in favor of FFXIV having 5 million current subscribers or equivalents.

Of course, the distribution of subscribers is probably different. WoW probably has more NA/EU players, while FFXIV has more Japanese players.

But in my view, FFXIV is now roughly the same size as WoW. With a new FFXIV content patch coming next week, and no new content in sight for WoW, it's possible that FFXIV will actually surpass WoW and claim the crown of "largest subscription MMO" in the near future.

It certainly puts a different light on Blizzard's decision to stop reporting subscription numbers. It's one thing to report losses when you're still at the top. It's another to confirm that you've slipped to second place.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Quantum Link Remembered

David Wilding sent me a link to his article about Quantum Link, a online service from 1985 (30 years ago!). It's a very nice and thorough look at one of the forerunners of our current internet environment.

Quantum Link is about a decade before my time, but I remember connecting to BBSes in the 1990s, and playing Doom over modems. Good times.

Heh, here's a tidbit about PvP in Habitat, an early MMO that ran on Quantum Link:
At first, during early testing, we found out that people were taking stuff out of others hands and shooting people in their own homes. We changed the system to allow thievery and gunplay only in non-city regions.
PvP game designers encountering PvP players, something we've been able to count on for the last 30 years.

Edit: Pallais found a really nice paper on Habitat, written in 1990. It's an interesting read.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Blade And Soul Beta, Headset Issues

I tried the Blade and Soul Closed Beta test this weekend. I didn't get very far, mostly because of an odd headset issue. I'll give quick impressions below.

Headset Issues

I had an odd issue with my headphones this weekend. For some reason, I could not hear voices at all, but all background music and other sounds came through fine. At first I thought it was caused by the Blade and Soul beta, so I uninstalled that relatively quickly. But that didn't help.

After a lot of fiddling, I found that if I adjusted the Left/Right balance of my headphones, I could hear voices. Of course, now everything sounded odd. It looks like I'll just have to find a replacement headset.

Blade And Soul Impressions

Because of the above issue, I didn't really get that much time with Blade and Soul. I tried the first 3 levels or so with three or so classes. However, since the beta was a weekend-only thing, I didn't bother re-downloading it after uninstalling it the first time.

Blade and Soul is an action-y MMO from Korea, being brought over here by NCSoft. The character creator is very extensive with crazy amounts of sliders. Sadly, for me this just means that it is very hard to make a decent-looking character, and very easy to make something grotesque. I ended up doing my standard "drag every slider to the middle" technique.

The game plays a little like TERA, with somewhat similar controls. There are some interesting design touches, like several classes having a block-style ability. Successfully executing a block restores resources and empowers one of your attacks.

However, I am not a big fan of the interface. Most western games like to have the default interface on the edges of the screen, leaving the center area dedicated to your character and the world. Blade and Soul moves a lot of the important UI elements into that center area, impinging on your view of your character.

Of course, the flip-side is that this is very common practice among experienced players. Moving the most relevant information closer to the center is very useful for performance. I just did not like it here, though. It seemed like there was too much "UI" and not enough "game".

However, I really did not get any time to give more than the barest of impressions. Maybe next beta weekend I'll be able to give a better overview.