Me — The State of the Gaming Industry

An unconscious but nearly constant frustration I have these days is my growing disappointment with what the gaming industry has turned into over the past decade (or two, depending on how you look at it). Also, before I get into it, just going to say this could easily just be nostalgia talking, but I think at least a few of my points are valid.

The crux of my argument is that I feel that the days of waiting for a game to be as good as it can be before publishing it and releasing it out into the world are long past us. When I think of these games, the first two examples that specifically come to mind are the Halo franchise and most Blizzard Entertainment games (the Diablo 3 launch being an exception). You’ll see why I bring up these two in a minute, but if you know games you probably already know why.

No big calamitous event ruined video games, I’d say. It was a slow, gradual descent into madness as corporations realized there was money to be had there, and started taking over the gaming world. Huge names like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, etc., bought every smaller studio they could get their hands on, and as a result took hold of a lot of video game franchises that were stellar. Games became about money, not games, as mobile gaming became popularized, purchased DLC, and subscription fees all put game developers’ time and effort where it shouldn’t have gone—that is to say, out of the hands of the player. (I will say that mobile gaming in general was a great thing; it opened up a lot of realms of possibilities, but things like Candy CrushAngry BirdsClash of Clans, etc, were never about making a good game, which is the core of a lot of gamers’ hatred towards the genre as a whole).

So as companies realized they could make more money by locking more and more content behind larger and larger pay walls, a lot of focus started to be driven towards constructing those walls when it could have simply been spent making the experience the best it could be.

The worst of all this was that it is not and has never been an issue with the game developers. Everyone wants to make something awesome. Something everyone loves. But when the people in the big chairs say you have to release on a deadline that is immovable, regardless of setbacks and challenges, you will invariably get rushed and unsatisfying results.

Bungie is a good example of this. The Destiny franchise was strangled by Activision’s deadlines and rules, gutting a story without having time to rework it, simplifying content to fit a deadline, and locking all meaningful content behind seasonal DLC destroyed something that could have been amazing. A little digging will tell you that a lot of Bungie’s most iconic names have since left the company in the wake of a lot of disappointing corporate decisions.

This is the same story with Blizzard. Fortunately it took longer for the company to be eaten as they were larger to start with, but slowly Blizzard became less about its three flagship franchises and more about regularly releasing content for half a dozen games. Hearthstone hasn’t had anything innovative in years, it’s just a run of the mill card game now. Heroes of the Storm, which I still love dearly, has lost virtually all support from Blizzard, and it’s abandonment has left what semblance of a competitive multiplayer experience it had in shambles. World of Warcraft has been going downhill for about a decade now, and Overwatch hasn’t been getting the audience it used to now that it isn’t shiny and new anymore. Diablo 4 will inspire some new draw, for sure, but with how many veteran employees have left over the past two years, I can’t help but fear there isn’t much of a future left for what was once a titan of the community.

There are still good games being made. Nintendo is still the same old same old (God bless them). The newest God of War game is a masterpiece, and despite Fallout: 76‘s controversy, I’m optimistic Bethesda will Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI the best games they can be. But the only people I really feel I can trust in the industry these days are indie companies like Team Cherry and Chucklefish Studios. The only downside to this is that indie companies can’t make proper competitive multiplayer experiences without the support of huge servers and a large fan base (and I sort of always need a good PvP game to jump onto every now and then).

I’m not surprised that it’s come to this by any means. An optimistic Kollin would have hoped that Blizzard was above this ten years ago, even if capitalism consumed everyone else. Funny thing is, this nihilism does nothing to curb my interest in working for a game studio as a writer, because if anything I’d want to join an indie studio.

Review — Heroes of the Storm (Jun. ’18 Edition)

Since Heroes of the Storm is basically the only game I play given how busy I am, I think it’s only fair that I take the time to dedicate a little bit of my blog to it every once in a while (beyond saying “I’m still playing HotS” in the monthly updates). Being an online, MOBA style game, it’s constantly getting new features and characters to play, so reviewing it at one stage of its development will be totally different from another, even in broad strokes like “state of the game” as I intend to talk about here.

So, for timeline context—the newest character and battleground were released a few weeks ago: Yrel and Alterac Pass. This is following the releases of Deckard Cain and Fenix.

Overall, Heroes seems to be in rough shape, even with the newest batch of content. Keeping myself updated on the subreddit for the game means reading a lot of complaints about how toxic people are (as with all MOBAs), how reporting other players does nothing and there’s no reason to do so, and how frustrating a lot of characters are to play against. There’s a power gap between newer characters and older ones simply because the system is advancing, albeit slowly.

Unfortunately, Heroes of the Storm was crippled from the beginning. The game’s foundation is an engine (at least) nine years old, as it started off as a mod to Starcraft II. This means that connectivity issues and overall capabilities are limited from the start, and it can’t compete with new stuff, given how fast the gaming industry evolves. This will always be the biggest issue with the game—it’s built on old foundation.

And you can see the aging in the game, too. Older heroes like Raynor have very simple abilities, such as “increase attack speed” or “push enemies back”, whereas heroes like Fenix have “fire a laser that spins around your hero twice, hurting and slowing enemies it hits as it passes”. This becomes a problem when most of the characters being picked in high level play are the ones that were released in the past few months.

Overall, Heroes of the Storm is pretty solid. The best thing about it is that the vast majority of games last 15-25 minutes, and only on rare occasions can you give or take 5 more minutes. It’s completely free, you can play with up to five friends, and there is absolutely no “buying power”. You simply can’t buy stuff that gives you the upper hand against your enemies. (The only thing is, as with most MOBA’s, you have to play a lot in order to be able to buy the characters with in-game currency. Not a lot, mind you, and there’s no hero that you can’t buy with in-game currency, but it’s worth mentioning.)

It does have loot boxes, which the entire gaming community hates right now, but honestly I think it’s fine in this case because it’s mostly cosmetic, and you get them at a reasonable rate.

The game is, as it always will be, at it’s best when you’re playing with friends that don’t take things too seriously. Being competitive is fine, but there’s something about MOBA’s that really churns up hatred for other people. So as long as you’re fine with losing, and you can have fun without blaming the people you’re playing with (even if it is their fault), you can have a good time.

Review — Starcraft: Legacy of the Void (430)

Starcraft has always had a special place in my heart. I know it’s not accurate, but I do consider it the beginning of Esports and gaming on a competitive level. I never was very good, though. I was probably only about twelve years old when the second true installment of the game, Wings of Liberty, came out. This game has had an enormous impact on the gaming community as a whole, and while I’ve talked about it before, let me give my thoughts on the latest version. Even though it’s already two years old at this point, I hadn’t played through the last chapter until this past month, so cut me some slack.

Protoss is my favorite race. Between the goopy, brooding, and infesting insectoid swarm of the Zerg, the mechanical, sturdy, and militaristic might of the Terran, and the advanced, noble hierarchy of the vengeful Protoss, I’ll take the latter. I don’t like the bug or the hardbitten war aesthetic much, but an ascended race of people who think they’re better than everyone else? Yes please.

So, I think it goes without saying that since Legacy of the Void was the Protoss chapter of Starcraft II, it was definitely my favorite. I have the strongest handle on what my capabilities are with that faction, so I can try a little bit harder and pay more attention to the story than I could before.

And man, Legacy of the Void has some awesome characters and stories. I won’t spoil anything here (though the statute of limitations is definitely over), but it definitely has a lot more character than anything I really felt in the other two campaigns. The previous two objectives were: “save my x-girlfriend”, followed by “figure out who I am then get vengeance”. This time it’s “unite your fractured people, then take down a god”. This campaign felt a lot more impactful than the previous two, even if it is because it’s the “final chapter” of Starcraft II. Obviously I can’t really give credit to the writers here. It’s pretty much comparing the climax to the beginning and middle of a book, which isn’t fair at all.

All that being said, my favorite part about the single player is that it’s totally okay to give the player incredibly powerful abilities because it doesn’t have to be balanced. You’re supposed to win. The way that Legacy of the Void achieves this, through giving your character choices of unique units as well as adjustable in-game abilities (like ‘giant_lazer.exe’). Being able to upgrade and customize the way your character(s) go into a fight is one of my favorite game mechanics, and the fact that the things I’m choosing are all incredibly powerful makes my decisions feel extremely rewarding.

And, of course I can’t talk about Legacy of the Void without mentioning Alarak. (Minor spoilers ahead, but nothing too pivotal to the actual plot.) As far as I know, this character didn’t even exist in the Starcraft universe before this campaign, but he quickly ascended (see what I did there) to one of my favorite characters. You don’t get a lot of ‘Lawful Evil’ characters in any franchise, and even the ones that are aren’t on the good side. Alarak is a good guy, but he would never be mistaken for a good guy, if you know what I mean. Plus, he’s amazing because he’s so condescending, and the way he does it is so funny it’s amazing.

So, is Legacy of the Void worth getting? If you’re a Starcraft player, absolutely, but if that’s the case then you’ve probably already bought it. If you’re new to the RTS genre and want to know where to start, it’s great for that, too. All the complicated strategy stuff is easily tossed aside for new players. It’s mostly there to give veterans a way to amplify their abilities even more.

But, as old as Starcraft II has gotten, I’d imagine the next major installment for the franchise is due somewhat soon. I’d be willing to bet that the next big game release will happen before 2020 ends. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it was announced by the end of the year, but I don’t expect it to be. Whatever might be the case, this game is great and is very compelling for an eight/nine hour experience!

Me — Day[9]

It’s impossible for me to definitively say when or where I was first introduced to Day9, but I know I’ve been watching his stuff for at least four years now. In the past he was known as a Starcraft pro (especially Brood War), and he did a lot of commentary in tournaments as well as keeping a stream of Starcraft related content (a lot of it was instructional, which I suppose is where the “Be a better gamer” slogan came from).

In more recent years, he started streaming other games. These days I’d say he’s more known for his Hearthstone streams and his “Day Off”, which is simply a game playthrough of a game that usually only takes around seven or eight hours to complete.

Now, I don’t watch streamers or YouTubers very often (or at all, really). It’s a community I don’t really enjoy, and if I’m watching somebody play a game, it’s most likely because I don’t have access to the game, and I still want to experience it. I think another reason it’s not something I do much is because when people watch YouTubers run through video games, a lot of the time it’s because it’s a high energy thing. They want to laugh, or panic alongside the person playing it. For me, though, sitting at home on the computer usually means I want to relax. Focus and be competitive, sure, but I generally want to keep a mellow tone.

Day9 fits that bill perfectly. One of the big reasons for this is that though I watch most of his stuff on YouTube, he streams everything he does and takes part in his community. Whenever he’s playing any game, he’s always watching chat and answering questions, always engaged with his audience. In fact, he messes up what he’s currently focused on a lot because he turns his attention away from the game to throw his opinion into whatever is being talked about in the chat.

He strikes me as a very genuine person, and I really connect with his humor. In fact, my favorite content of his isn’t even him playing any games. He’s made a few ‘Story Time’ videos where he talks about an interesting experience he had or some of his philosophy on life. He encourages an awesome community, and watching him play through whatever game just fills me with a sense of warmth I can’t really seem to find anywhere else. In fact it’s difficult to do homework and generally be productive when I know there’s new content Day9 has put out. It’s an easy escape, you know?

I was talking to a friend the other day, and I mentioned that there are three “famous” people who I’d want to be more like. Sean “Day9” Plott, for his humor and charm, Brandon Sanderson, for his creativity and writing capabilities, and Matt Mercer, for his creativity and acting ability. In all honesty, as far as I can tell they’re all great people and personality-wise, there’s something to be admired in all of them. I’ve talked about Brandon Sanderson before, so I suppose I should bring up Matt Mercer down the line.

Review — Starcraft

Back in the day, my brothers played a lot of Starcraft: Brood War. I was a little young at the time, but when Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty was announced, it was perfect. Finally I could get into a series my brothers really liked without having to go back and play old games! (I played a very little bit of Diablo II with them prior to the sequel, but not enough to really remember anything.)

So Starcraft II was my first (and admittedly pretty much only) experience with real time strategy gaming. Now, I for one love strategy. I’m a huge fan of getting thrown puzzles by way of combat and resource management, but let me tell you, I generally do not like real time stuff outside of MMORPG and FPS games, but I couldn’t really tell you why. I’d like to say it’s because I get nervous when confronted with quick time actions, but I don’t think that’s really the reason. While I tend to avoid PvP in RPG games, I’d say the real reason is because I hate feeling as though I can never improve satisfactorily. But this is a tangent, so let’s say I’ll talk more about this in a me post later and then completely forget that I said this at all like usual.

Long story short, I played Starcraft a lot, but not competitively because I’m really bad. I went through the story, got as many achievements as I could, and played all of the fan-made arcade games that didn’t require actual skill at the game. I also played against the computer a lot.

But enough about me. Starcraft is an amazing game. It’s simple to learn, but requires literally thousands of hours of practice to start getting “good” at it. If you know what to look for, the world championship is incredible. The game requires a lot of thought, but at the same time playing competitively encompasses all skill levels really well.

It also has infinite replayability. Of the three races you can play, there are so many different strategies and playstyles that you can sit there and practice the same one over and over, refining it to learn how best to adjust towards other strategies, or you can just mess around and see which one you like.

I would say Starcraft is probably the biggest RTS out there. I’ve been told that in South Korea it’s practically a major sport (which to me I translate that knowledge to mean there is like a Starcraft channel on TV. Which would be awesome.) This game has a huge following, and there’s so much history behind it that it’s difficult for me to even wrap my head around. You could very easily spend an entire week watching videos, strategy guides, and streams around extremely specific aspects of this game.

The thing that I don’t like about this game in particular is the micro management. Players that are really good can keep track of several groups of troops, handle the production of four and five bases, and adapt to their opponent’s tactics all at the same time. My mind simply doesn’t work fast enough to be able to concern myself with more than one army and one base, so seeing the pro gamers do it flawlessly is just fascinating to watch.

So if this is the sort of game that sounds interesting to you, and it has somehow eluded your attention all this time, I’d recommend just looking up some stuff on YouTube. Maybe watch one of the championship matches. Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t hold yourself to that standard. Don’t get intimidated by what masters can do!