StarCraft II: Nova Covert Ops Arrives March 29th

Subject: General Tech | March 20, 2016 - 04:53 PM |
Tagged: blizzard, starcraft, Starcraft II

Blizzard is adding three new mini-campaigns to StarCraft II, with three missions each, to give more content for fans of single-player. The first one, StarCraft II: Nova Covert Ops, puts players in the shoes of Nova, who was created as the main character of the canceled third-person shooter, StarCraft: Ghost. Blizzard announced that this three-mission pack would be available on or before June 19th.

March 29th is, indeed, before June 19th.

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Before I end, I should probably mention the price. If you pre-purchase, the three packs (nine missions total) bundled together will cost $14.99 USD; that price will raise to $22.47 USD after launch. This is about $5 per DLC, which is reasonable. On the other hand, three-mission story arcs can be... light... for strategy titles. I'm not really the type to value art based on the time it takes up of my life. There is intrinsic value other than how big of a tiny fraction between birth and death this content fills, but that is a legitimate concern for some of our readers. It's likely a fine price, but it feels weird in the context of the free co-op maps, free Whispers of Oblivion, and relatively cheap expansion launch prices.

Whether you take it from the standpoint of cost-value or intrinsic art, though, it all depends on the missions. Three levels isn't a lot of time for an engaging story arc, and Whispers of Oblivion and Into the Void weren't exactly must-have life experiences. That said, I'm not going to underestimate what Blizzard can pull off. We'll see, and we'll see soon.

Unfortunately, you'll only find out after the 33%-off promotion.

Source: Blizzard

CES 2016: Activision Blizzard Confirms MLG Purchase

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2016 - 04:44 AM |
Tagged: pc gaming, mlg, esports, blizzard, Activision

On New Year's Day, rumors flew about MLG being purchased by Activision Blizzard for $46 million USD. At the time, the vast majority of available information discussed how this would affect shareholders, particularly those with lower-class stock in the eSport company. (As it turns out, very poorly.) I wondered why Activision Blizzard would want MLG's assets, especially considering their heavy involvement with ESL, afreecaTV, and others.

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According to a press release from Activision Blizzard themselves, they intend to “create the ESPN of esports.” The Activision Blizzard Media Networks division will be led by the former CEO of ESPN, Steve Bornstein, and the co-founder of MLG, Mike Sepso. The other co-founder of MLG, Sundance DiGiovanni, will remain at MLG. It was previously rumored, during the investor's leak, that he was replaced by the former CFO of MLG, Greg Chisholm. While I expect that some shuffling has occurred, DiGiovanni will apparently remain in a management role at MLG. Granted, it could be equivalent to Hideo Kojima's “holiday” last October, but that would just be silly.

As far as I can tell, other broadcasters have not commented on what this means to them.

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Rumor: MLG "Assets" Sold to Activision Blizzard

Subject: General Tech | January 2, 2016 - 03:08 AM |
Tagged: pc gaming, mlg, esports, blizzard, Activision

Update (10:10pm ET): Forgot to add "rumor" to title.

So I didn't expect this. According to eSports Observer, MLG has basically been liquidated to Activision Blizzard for $46 million USD. Neither company has confirmed the report. The source is a leaked letter that was allegedly sent to stockholders, many of whom, if the rumors are true, were not informed prior to the sale. That's kind-of crappy.

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We will probably hear this story evolve, if true, over the next couple weeks. The organization was said to have been running on a substantial amount of debt, relative to the company's size, for quite some time. If the organization shuts down as it seems it will, then many investors will probably get next to nothing.

On the other hand, it is interesting to see what Activision Blizzard will do with their acquisition. The publisher holds several popular spectator titles, such as Call of Duty, StarCraft, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, World of Warcraft, and soon to be Overwatch. I doubt that the company would roll their games into their own eSport service, especially as they are growing closer to rival ESL, so I would have to expect that these “assets” will be used to support (or leverage control) over third-party broadcasters and/or leagues.

Blizzard Says Overwatch's New Heroes and Maps Will Be Free

Subject: General Tech | December 8, 2015 - 02:28 AM |
Tagged: pc gaming, overwatch, blizzard

Jeff Kaplan of Blizzard has just announced, in the December 7th Overwatch Developer Update, embedded below, that maps and characters will always be patched in as free updates. This is particularly interesting because the game is often viewed as Team Fortress 2 being distilled through a DOTA 2 filter. Those games offer purchases of specific weapons or heroes (Update December 8th @6:15pm ET: I meant League of Legends when I was talking about hero purchasing -- I changed it to DOTA 2 for Valve symmetry, but they apparently don't sell heroes), respectively, which would be an easy way to monetize the title. The problem is that it could lead to a situation where a team doesn't have the necessary tools to counter a strategy that the opponent is fielding, not because of in-game logistics, but because the players didn't buy some piece of content ahead-of-time.

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Note that, while I haven't played the game, I've been hearing that weapon loadouts for individual heros will not be a part of the game, free or otherwise. A chosen hero will be the same across all players. I say this because Blizzard hasn't denied the potential for weapons or loadouts as DLC, but that seems to be because they're not even considering them at all.

Beyond heroes, maps will also be patched in for free. This is likely for a different purpose, of course. Heroes make a huge impact on the balancing of a game and the list of available strategies. The decision to release maps for free is likely to prevent parties from being split up because individual members don't have all the required content. StarCraft II approached this issue by allowing all members of a party to be upgraded to the highest-level member until the group is disbanded. For a game like Overwatch though, which seems likely to have more than two or three tiers of content, segmenting off a handful of maps unless you play with friends is probably too petty to monetize. Might as well just give it to everyone and charge once at the door.

Here is TotalBiscuit's thoughts on this issue and others, from before this announcement.

The beta for Overwatch will be shut down on December 10th for the holidays. It is expected to reopen in January. I'm guessing that they have an update planned, but they don't want to push it until after the holidays for support reasons. Thus, rather than leave an old build open for a month, where people begin to judge its already-fixed quirks with holiday binge-gaming, they decided to just pull it. They might as well let anticipation build, and welcome back users with something new after the holidays. This is just speculation, though.

Source: Blizzard

StarCraft II 3.0 Patch Is Released

Subject: General Tech | October 7, 2015 - 12:20 AM |
Tagged: Starcraft II, starcraft, blizzard, pc gaming, legacy of the void

And oh boy is it a big one. Turning on the Battle.net launcher automatically downloads about 14GB worth of StarCraft II code and content. The patch includes the new user interface that we reported on earlier, but it also opens the Whispers of Oblivion prequel campaign for Legacy of the Void to the masses, changes the file format of game content to CASC, which might explain the huge download, and gives the option of a 64-bit game executable, and more.

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About the CASC format, it was introduced in Heroes of the Storm and Warlords of Draenor as a method of storing content. It should be faster, more error resistant, easier to patch, and easier to extend the functionality of. I'm not sure how this will affect modders, authorized or otherwise, but I'm guessing that Blizzard is happy to deprecate a 20 year-old format. I'm not sure if they're migrating the content from MPQ to CASC on the client machine, or just re-downloading the content in the new format, but a 14GB patch is doing something. Lastly, this new format and the 64-bit launcher might even allow for bigger games and mods. If anyone has any experience with modding Blizzard games, be sure to leave a note in the comments, even anonymously.

Legacy of the Void will arrive on November 10th.

Source: Blizzard

StarCraft II v3.0 Gets Another New UI

Subject: General Tech | October 4, 2015 - 03:04 AM |
Tagged: Starcraft II, legacy of the void, blizzard

Third time's the charm, unless they plan another release at some point.

The StarCraft II interface isn't perfect. Even though it is interesting and visually appealing, some tasks are unnecessarily difficult and space is not used in the most efficient way. To see what I mean, try to revert the multiplayer mode to Wings of Liberty, or, worse, find your Character Code. Blizzard released a new UI with Heart of the Swarm back in 2013, and they're doing a new one for the release of Legacy of the Void on November 10th. Note that my two examples probably won't be fixed in this update, they are just examples of UX issues.

While the update aligns with the new expansion, Blizzard will patch the UI for all content levels, including the free Starter Edition. This honestly makes sense, because it's easier to patch a title when all variations share a common core. Then again, not every company patches five-year-old titles like Blizzard does, so the back-catalog support is appreciated.

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The most heartwarming change for fans, if pointless otherwise, is in the campaign selection screen. As the StarCraft II trilogy will be completed with Legacy of the Void, the interface aligns them as three episodes in the same style as the original StarCraft did.

On the functional side, the interface has been made more compact (which I alluded to earlier). This was caused by the new chat design, which is bigger yet less disruptive than it was in Heart of the Swarm. The column of buttons on the side are now a top bar, which expands down for sub-menu items.

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While there are several things that I don't mention, a final note for this post is that Arcade will now focus on open lobbies. Players can look for the specific game they want, but the initial screen will show lobbies that are waiting to fill. The hope seems to be that players waiting for a game will spend less time. This raises two questions. First, Arcade games tend to have a steep learning curve, so I wonder if this feature will slump off after people try a few rounds before realizing that they should stick with a handful of games. Second, I wonder what this means for player numbers in general -- this sounds like a feature that is added during player declines, which Blizzard seems to hint is not occuring.

I'm not sure when the update will land, but it will probably be around the launch of Legacy of the Void on November 10th.

Source: Blizzard

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void Release Date and Cinematic

Subject: General Tech | September 13, 2015 - 08:14 PM |
Tagged: starcraft 2, pc gaming, legacy of the void, blizzard

It has been more than five years since Wings of Liberty was released, which itself was a long-awaited continuation of the StarCraft story. The first game and its expansion had their narrative cut into six episodes, three each, that were released all at once. The three episodes of StarCraft II, on the other hand, were decoupled into the original game and two follow-ups. The third and final one, which focuses on the Protoss, will arrive on November 10th, 2015.

Representatives from Blizzard have said, multiple times, that Legacy of the Void will wrap up the story arc for the main characters. The story may continue, but we should get a solid conclusion. The release date announcement came with a cinematic trailer, above, showing the Protoss holding off against the Zerg. There doesn't seem to be much story in it at first glance, but Blizzard is quite subtle about meanings. Some questions, like who exactly they are fighting and why, might be addressed in the story.

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So that's what it looks like to them...

This announcement aligned with the finals of WCS Season 3, which is the last season before Blizzcon. Apart from the two sister tournaments in South Korea, GSL and SSL, there is just one Blizzard-counted tournament remaining, which is DreamHack Open in Stockholm, Sweden. WCS Season 3 was won by Lilbow, a Protoss player from France, which propels him from 18th place to at most 8th Update Sept 13th @ 8:40pm ET (Part of the points were already accounted for apparently): 13th, minus a few positions once everyone's points are accounted for. Since the top 16 make it to the year's global finals at Blizzcon, this is enough buffer room to guarantee a spot at the tournament.

Source: Blizzard

World of Warcraft Legion Announced

Subject: General Tech | August 6, 2015 - 10:18 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, wow, blizzard

Shortly after Blizzard has released their financial results, they announced “Legion”, a new expansion pack for World of Warcraft. They are arriving more rapidly than they have in the past. The amount of time between Mists of Pandaria's release and Warlords of Draenor's announcement is a little more than a year and a month. A year later, Warlords of Draenor was released and now, nine months later, Legion was announced. I expect that the stream of content is to either stimulate subscriptions or, less likely, finish the narrative before the game fades out.

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Image via PC Gamer

Before we get to the expansion, we'll briefly mention those financial results. In May, Blizzard reported that, while Warlords of Draenor pushed the subscription count to over 10 million, it fell back down to about 7.1 million by the end of the quarter. This is a loss of about 29%. This quarter saw another loss of about 1.5 million subscribers, from 7.1 million to 5.6 million. This is a loss of about 27%. This is a fairly steady, exponential loss of a little more than 25% every 3 months, which is fairly quick. This also means that Draenor was enough to offset about six months. Not much more to say about that -- I just find it interesting.

As for Legion, it will be a fairly sizable boost in content. The level cap has been increased to 110, which will hopefully include new skills and armor leading up to it. A new class, Demon Hunter, has also been added. You will not need to level them up from 1, and they will be capable as either DPS or tank. Of course, new raids will be included. Blizzard seems to have wanted to highlight dungeons, however. The way it was described to PC Gamer makes it sound like they want them to be more interesting as set pieces, with story and an interesting environment.

No pricing or availability information, but we'll probably hear a lot at Blizzcon.

Source: PC Gamer

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void Gets Prologue in July

Subject: Shows and Expos | June 18, 2015 - 09:47 PM |
Tagged: E3, E3 15, E3 2015, blizzard, Starcraft II, legacy of the void, whispers of oblivion

While StarCraft II is known for its multiplayer component, some of us are mostly interested in the campaign... and Arcade mods, but there's no news on that front. Legacy of the Void is the end of the StarCraft II trilogy, which is said to finally deal with the hybrids that were introduced in the secret missions of Brood War and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. They played a larger role in Heart of the Swarm's campaign although that did not even have unlockable missions, so they wouldn't exist otherwise.

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StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void does not yet have a release date, but there will be a mini-campaign released for free before it launches. StarCraft II: Whispers of Oblivion (or is that StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void: Whispers of Oblivion?) are three single-player missions that will be released in July. Those who pre-purchase Legacy of the Void will get the missions first, which might mean that everyone else needs to wait until after July to play them... or not. That said, if you are patient, you do not even need to own StarCraft II at all. Free to all, but timed-exclusive for those who pre-order.

Source: Blizzard

Blizzard Releases Overwatch Gameplay Video Ahead of E3

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | May 28, 2015 - 12:33 AM |
Tagged: overwatch, E3 2015, E3, blizzard

Various companies have begun teasing what we might see at this year's E3 expo. Blizzard has not historically had a big presence at the event, though. With the size and scope of Blizzcon, the company usually saves it announcements for then. In fact, I cannot think of a single, non-trivial thing that Blizzard did at E3 since the expo downsized after E3 2006.

This year, on the other hand, Blizzard will be present at AMD and PC Gamer's E3 show. The recent Overwatch previews could be leading up to this event, which takes place three weeks from yesterday. The recent video that I embed above, Tracer, is pretty interesting too. It shows how useful a light assault player could be if they don't obey the space-time continuum. The last two-thirds of the video show off an impressive kill streak.

Again, expect more E3 coverage leading up to the Expo on June 16th.

Source: Blizzard