Blizzcon 2014: StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void Announced

Subject: General Tech | November 8, 2014 - 09:22 PM |
Tagged: Starcraft II, starcraft, lotv, legacy of the void, blizzcon 2014, blizzcon, blizzard

Blizzard has been reconsidering what constitutes "a game sale" with StarCraft for quite some time now. They have been slowly carving out its mod platform, StarCraft Arcade, into a standalone, free product. They allow playing multiplayer with limitations, such as forcing free players to choose Terran (except for certain promotions). A few years in to StarCraft II's release, they even added "Spawning" to allow Starter and Wings of Liberty users to play locked content as long as a party member has purchased it, although Starter users are still locked to Terran.

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Today's announcement is a little more conventional -- Legacy of the Void will be a standalone expansion. You can purchase it without owning any earlier content. If you do own Wings of Liberty and/or Heart of the Swarm, then it will behave like an expansion, however.

The game itself will change significantly, too. At the competitive level, you often have a bit of a boring early game, unless one player decides to be a bit cheesy with their tactics. A lot of this is due to how long it takes to get from your initial six workers to being supply blocked. In Legacy of the Void, you start with 12 workers, twice as many as before. Also, each mineral patch has 33% less minerals, requiring bases to be taken more frequently and discouraging a maxed-out army from sitting on a handful of expansions to build a bank.

Many units were added and changed as well. Terran and Protoss are being pushed toward dropping units. The Warp Prism has its pickup range increased, to allow it to grab and reposition units from anywhere within a relatively large army ball, without needing to put the transport unit in danger. On the other hand, Terrans are able to pick up Seige Tanks while they are in Siege Mode. This allows a Terran player, who is paying close attention, to drop a tank for a quick, high-damage, and splashing shot, and then pick it up before it can be attacked. Siege Tanks have large range, slow rate of fire, and a relatively low health. If they are never shot at, though, while they're reloading their main cannon, then that nullifies their weakness, as long as you can keep the Medivac alive, too.

One thing that Blizzard disliked, however, seems to be Swarm Hosts. In Heart of the Swarm, competitions went on for hours, literally hours, as one component turtled in a corner of the map (or surrounded an opponent into a corner of the map) with free units. This was particularly problematic for Protoss, that has a highly efficient, ball-based army, and Zerg, which could counter with their own Swarm Hosts. Battles was commonly wave-after-wave of free units doing zero (or minimal) damage, ad-infinitum.

In Legacy of the Void, they do not spawn Locusts (free units) fast enough to pin someone down, or keep someone out, and these Locusts need to be spawned manually. Instead, they are intended as more of a sieging unit, capable of dropping free units into a base and walking away. They also do not burrow, unless that upgrade is acquired, which will make them easier to attack. On the other hand, the Locusts can fly to their target, where they must land to attack, as normal. The Swarm Hosts do not need to be in a dangerous location, just a potentially dangerous range. Whether Swarm Hosts, if they are upgraded with Burrow, can release Locusts while hidden is unclear. It is not something that I have seen yet. That said, the borrowed, space-control unit is now the Lurker, a Brood War alumnus.

Many other changes have been announced, but it always comes down to user testing.

As usual for a Blizzard title, no official release date has been given. A private beta will be "coming soon" to selected participants. It was also available to play at Blizzcon.

Source: Blizzard

Blizzcon 2014: Blizzard Announces Overwatch (New IP)

Subject: General Tech | November 8, 2014 - 07:59 PM |
Tagged: overwatch, blizzcon 2014, blizzcon, blizzard

Blizzard has announced Overwatch, a new franchise to expand their portfolio. It was unveiled at the Blizzcon keynote with a cinematic trailer followed immediately by gameplay footage. The first video looks significantly different from other Blizzard cinematics. It follows a Walt Disney Animation Studios art style, including exaggerated facial features and animations, versus the game company's normal dulled realism. It would look at home alongside "Bolt", for instance.

The gameplay itself is compared to Team Fortress 2. It is a class-based first-person shooter with an assortment of game types. The first two, announced modes will probably sound very similar to most of our fans: Point Capture and Payload (yes, that Payload). The classes are described more like MOBA heroes, however, but multiple players are (said to be) able to use the same class. Apart from the character design, they seem to be functionally TF2 classes. Maybe the difference is just that their names do not define what they do?

There are several similarities and differences between the two games. The classes seem to borrow from Team Fortress, with a comfortable embrace to magic and abilities. There are at least two engineer-style characters that can build turrets, and at least one of them can build a teleporter. One difference is, there seems to be a bit of a focus on parkour and movement abilities, such as grappling hooks, in particular.

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There are also a couple of guesses about where this game came from. The funny, albeit likely incorrect reason is that, after Valve took the reigns of DOTA, Blizzard decided to take on Team Fortress 2 and push into their turf (although Gabe Newell has described the relationship between the two companies as "friends"). More likely, Paul Tassi published on Forbes some claims that Overwatch was a remnant from Titan, possibly one of its intended PvP modes. If this was a spin-off of Titan, it makes me wonder exactly what kind of engine they were trying to develop, that was developed for an MMO but that could also be comfortable as a first-person shooter. That said, it is not uncommon to see versatile engines in recent years, such as Source and Unreal Engine 4.

Overwatch will be going into a multiplayer beta in 2015, seemingly early in the year. It is interesting to see Blizzard go into a vastly different genre than their usual, especially from a technology standpoint.

Source: Blizzard

Blizzard Is Installing World of Warcraft Servers in Australia

Subject: General Tech | October 26, 2014 - 03:33 AM |
Tagged: wow, blizzard

With the new expansion for World of Warcraft, Blizzard is expanding their infrastructure to better serve their customers in Oceania. The company will not require users who are currently on North American realms to switch, but will be reimbursing server swaps, for as many characters as desired, during the two weeks leading up to Warlords of Draenor's November 13th launch date. This will not affect the time of release, which will be 7:00 PM AEDT / midnight PST (PDT ends on November 2nd).

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The expression, better late than never, definitely applies in this situation. The game has "Oceanic" realms for quite some time now, but they were still physically located in the west coast of America. Sure, the ideal latency of a packet from Australia to California is around 30ms (Update: It's actually around 60ms, 120ms round-trip ideal assuming 66% speed to light in a fiber cable. When Googling the distance between Australia and California, it thought I meant Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, 4000mi, not Sydney, Australia, 7500mi. Pixy Misa in the comments, who pointed out my error, said that they experience about 170ms of latency in practice), assuming the speed of light in fiber optics is about 2/3rds of light in a vacuum, but the actual latency is significantly higher in the practical world. Getting the servers about 4000 7500 miles closer should be welcome.

The transfer does not yet have a date, but refunds will be offered for character migrations between 6:01PM AEDT on October 29th, 2014, until 6:59PM AEDT on November 13, 2014. Just make sure to do realm swaps as a separate transaction from anything else you might buy. Apparently Blizzard acknowledges that their storefront will not be able to pick out the Character Transfer and Guild Master Realm Transfer among other services. While they should have spent a little more time making this promotion robust, I cannot really blame them. This is a one-shot. It is probably not worth the man-hours.

Source: Blizzard

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Requirements Listed

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | September 24, 2014 - 03:55 PM |
Tagged: wow, blizzard

When software has been supported and maintained for almost ten years, like World of Warcraft, it is not clear whether the worst compatible machine at launch should remain supported or whether the requirements should increase over time. For instance, when Windows XP launched, the OS was tuned for 128MB of RAM. Later updates made it be highly uncomfortable with anything less than a whole gigabyte. For games though, we mostly pretend that they represent the time that they were released.

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That mental model does not apply to World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor. While technically this is an expansion pack, its requirements jumped again (significantly if compared to the original release). Even the first expansion pack, Burning Crusade, was able to run on a GeForce 2. Those cards were bundled with the original Unreal Tournament, which was a relatively new game at the time that the GeForce 2 was released.

Now? Well the minimum is:

  • Windows XP or later.
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 or AMD Phenom X3 8750
  • NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT, AMD Radeon HD 4850), or Intel HD Graphics 3000.
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 35GB HDD

And the recommended is:

  • Windows 7 or 8 (x86-64)
  • Intel Core i5 2400 or AMD FX-4100
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470 or AMD Radeon HD 5870
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 35GB HDD

World of Warcraft, and other MMORPGs, might get a pass on this issue. With its subscription model, there is not really an expectation that a user can go back and see the game in the same state as it launched. It is not a work, but a service -- and that does not devalue its artistic merits. It just is not really the same game now that it was then.

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor will launch on November 13th.

Source: Blizzard

Blizzard Cancels Their MMO, Titan

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2014 - 06:12 PM |
Tagged: blizzard, titan, MMO, mmorpg

Titan has been officially canceled by Blizzard after a year and a half delay. Since around May of 2013, the developer attempted to "reset" the project by shrinking its staff down to a core group of thirty, down from a hundred. This team wanted Titan to embody their wildest ambitions, but they realized that it was not going to be fun. "Fun" is not the goal of every game, nor should it be.

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If "fun" was the intention though, and it isn't, then you have a problem.

As for the employees, there does not seem to be any discussion of lay-offs. 16 months ago, when the team was downsized from 100 to 30, Blizzard claimed that its staff would be reassigned to other projects. The smaller, core team is not mentioned today at all, positively or negatively. Whether that is a good sign, and why it never came up in the inteview, is still unknown. Hopefully they will be transferred to an existing game or service, or work on a different, new product.

Source: Polygon

StarCraft II WCS is Changing for 2015

Subject: General Tech | September 12, 2014 - 02:39 AM |
Tagged: Starcraft II, WCS, blizzard, blizzcon, esports

The StarCraft II World Championship Series is Blizzard's official method of conglomerating numerous tournaments, including their own, into a canonized ranking system. Players get points for winning various Intel Extreme Masters, Red Bull Battle Grounds, DreamHack events, GSL seasons, and so forth. Beyond the prize money of each event, points are awarded to sort a global standings list. These points, beyond bragging rights, lead to an invitation to the year's final tournament at BlizzCon.

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The system has drawn some criticism, however. One specific complaint is that players are allowed to partake in any region of their choosing. This seems to lead to tactical placement of players relative to other ones, rather than actual geography. Moreover, this allows players to join in servers that they are not anywhere near to, introducing lag in the online components. If I remember correctly, the rules stated that, unless both players chose to play on a server that was outside the region (ex: a South Korean server for two competitors in WCS America), the server would default to the region (America in the previous example). For 2015, Blizzard is requiring that all players must be legal residents of the region they choose to play in. The reasons for this decision do not seem to be publicly explained, but it should discourage the shuffling of players for logistical advantages.

The other, major change is that all participants of WCS 2015 need to qualify. Previously, if I (again) remember correctly, while points were reset, some placements in leagues carried over. This time, if a player is in any given league, they fought to get there from the very bottom. If anything, I expect this became necessary when the decision was made to change residency requirements.

WCS 2014 isn't over yet, though. It will close with BlizzCon on November 8th.

Blizzard's New Battle.net Launcher Feels Slick...

Subject: General Tech | September 3, 2014 - 03:31 AM |
Tagged: blizzard, battle.net

There has been a new Battle.net launcher in the works for quite some time now, about thirteen months. Blizzard is finally rolling it out to users of StarCraft II. Loading up the game a couple of days ago, I was transitioned to the new system. I must say: it looks and feels pretty slick.

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First, the main pages have a glass-like blur atop a background image for its window chrome. It has a borderless window style with a simple, one-pixel frame. When focused, it lights up a little central region at the top, rather than an entire strip of it. Personally, I find that this looks a little bit better than even Steam's most recent update -- but that is just being picky. Blizzard definitely thought about how it would look, and it shows.

The games are currently limited to World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, and Hearthstone. This leaves the shop quite limited, except for a few in-game mounts, pets, and services attached to WoW. Beyond the store, the layout is definitely intuitive and clean, despite only playing StarCraft II. And who knows, it might encourage me to branch out a little bit (but probably not).

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The app is also designed to function as a messenger client. When playing StarCraft II, I found it quite weird to have a chat and instant messenger client built into each of their games, which needed to be running for it to be useful. Obviously, it is much easier to have Battle.net run in the background 24/7 than, say, Diablo III or StarCraft II, so this should make their messenger application more useful. This is a fairly obvious statement. The part that feels weird is how it doesn't seem to integrate with any of the game's chatrooms. I would have expected that I could interact with the chat groups of Blizzard's various games, but that is not that case. It seems like I still need to launch into StarCraft II, or whatever, to go about doing that. This, as stated, feels weird... almost like they have not got around to it yet.

Blizzard's new Battle.net launcher is available for download basically the next time you launch StarCraft II.

Source: Blizzard

Speaking of Sales Figures: World of Warcraft Is Slipping

Subject: General Tech | August 20, 2014 - 09:07 PM |
Tagged: wow, MMO, blizzard

World of Warcraft, the popular MMO from Blizzard Entertainment, once had 12 million subscribers registered and paying. Last month, it was down to 6.8 million. Sure, that is a lot of people to be giving you about $13 to $15 USD per month, each and every month. It is a decline, though. According to an interview with Tom Chilton, lead designer of WoW, it is, also, not expected to rebound.

We really don't know if it will grow again, (...) It is possible, but I wouldn't say it is something that we expect. Our goal is to make the most compelling content we can.

He also notes that expansion packs are barriers for entry and reentry. A quick, single-character increase to level 90 is expected to bring players straight into "the new content". Note that, prior to the upcoming expansion, this was the maximum possible level (Warlords of Draenor increases this to 100). Blizzard will also sell you, for $60, level-90 jumps for your other characters.

Or, you can just play the game.

If the trend continues to slip, at what point do you think that Blizzard will pull the plug? 1 million, active subscribers? 3.14159 million subscribers? Or, will they let World of Warcraft keep going as long as it is technically feasible? This is the company that still sells the original StarCraft, from 1998, at retail (unless something happened just recently).

Source: Ars Technica

Rob Pardo, Former Chief Creative Officer at Blizzard, Resigns

Subject: General Tech | July 6, 2014 - 04:08 AM |
Tagged: blizzard

After 17 years at Blizzard, the developers of the Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft franchises, Chief Creative Officer Rob Pardo resigned on July 3rd. He was credited as the lead designer of StarCraft: Brood War, Warcraft III and its Frozen Throne expansion, and World of Warcraft and its Burning Crusade expansion. He has not announced any future plans, except to be a better Twitter user.

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Of course, several projects that he influenced are still on their way, even after he leaves the company. Beyond the games, he notes that eSports and the upcoming Warcraft movie are initiatives that he looks back on with pride, in terms of his contributions.

Source: Blizzard

The Top 20 PC Games of April, According to Raptr

Subject: General Tech | May 26, 2014 - 04:27 AM |
Tagged: steam, raptr, origin, blizzard

Raptr is a service for PC gamers to adjust graphics settings, earn loyalty rewards, and "powers" AMD's Gaming Evolved app, which adds driver updating and Twitch streaming to the previous list of features. It has a sizable user base, tens of millions internationally, which allows them to rank PC games by popularity. While it is not a perfect sample space, it tracks both Steam and non-Steam games. The leaders might make you say, "LoL, WoW!"

I am fully comfortable with myself after that pun.

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As you can probably guess, League of Legends is the most popular PC title, with 14.5% market share (with respect to time). WoW and Diablo III are almost a tie for second-and-third at 8.56% and 8.53%, respectively. DOTA II is next at 5.81% and The Elder Scrolls Online is fifth, with 3.78% of all game time.

Surprisingly, the tail is pretty long after that. In fact, the entire Top 20 takes up just 63% of play time, with the 21st place and lower, by definition, having less than a 0.73% share. This is a slow decline, leaving room for theoretically fifty games with Skyrim-level popularity. Several games just below the list are probably very close to one another.

I should also note that, since this is based on time, it probably skews toward long and intensive titles. This probably explains Diablo III, MMOs, and Minecraft as those games are played for hours if they are played at all. This really puts Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and, to a lesser extent, Battlefield 4 into perspective, with their series of short rounds.

Off the list since March is Titanfall, Rust, and Path of Exile. The first two are fairly surprising. Titanfall just launched and, it would seem, has not kept its players gaming habitually. Rust, on the other hand, is surprising because it is popular and, to my understanding, typically involves long play sessions.

At the very least, it puts context around Steam vs. Battle.net vs. Wargaming.net vs. Origin.

Source: Raptr