Subject: General Tech | November 5, 2017 - 07:13 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: blizzard, starcraft 2, pc gaming
Over the last few years, Blizzard has been progressively opening up StarCraft II for non-paying customers. These initiatives ranged from allowing whole parties to share the highest expansion level of any one member, unlocking Terran for unranked games, opening up mods to the Starter edition, and so forth.
Starting on November 14th, after a handful of months of the original StarCraft going free-to-play, Blizzard will allow free access to multiplayer (including the ranked ladder), a handful of co-op commanders, and the Wings of Liberty campaign. If you already own Wings of Liberty, then you will get Heart of the Swarm for free (if you claim it between November 8th and December 8th).
If you already own both, then… well, life as usual for you.
In terms of making money, Blizzard is hoping to sell the remaining two-or-three campaigns, Heart of the Swarm, Legacy of the Void, and Nova Covert Ops, as well as the other up-sells, like announcers, co-op commanders, and so forth. If you’re in it for the vanilla (or Arcade) multiplayer, though, then you can jump in on November 14th without paying a dime.
Subject: General Tech | June 29, 2017 - 09:34 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, blizzard
We first reported on StarCraft Remastered when it was announced, which was alongside the GSL 2017 Season 1 finals on March 26th. This was accompanied by a patch that brought the base game up to modern standards, which conveniently allows it to be multiplayer-compatible with Remastered, although skill-based matchmaking is exclusive to Remastered.
It has now been given a trailer, above, and a release date: August 14th, 2017.
As for the price? Pre-orders for StarCraft Remastered are available at $14.99 USD, although it’s unclear whether this price will stick after the pre-order period. I should note that the page states that StarCraft Remastered requires “StarCraft Anthology”. The way its worded makes it look like you need to buy something else, but StarCraft Anthology was made free with the aforementioned 1.18a patch. Basically, it looks like Blizzard is treating StarCraft Remastered as a paid booster to StarCraft Anthology, but, again, the latter is free so it probably only matters in terms of the install process. At least, that’s how it looks to me.
Subject: General Tech | March 28, 2017 - 02:55 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: starcraft, pc gaming, blizzard
On the night of the GSL Season 1 finals, and the week of StarCraft’s 19th birthday, Blizzard made a couple of announcements associated with the game. First, the game will receive a patch (1.18a) with an official observer mode, improved support for Windows 7, 8.1, and 10, support for the UTF-8 character set, and a couple of bug fixes.
It will also be made free. Anyone can download and play it.
But... if you want a graphical upgrade, Blizzard also announced the (not free) StarCraft Remastered edition. This will arrive in the summer, and it will include new audio and artwork, bringing the early-Windows 9x graphics up to 4K (with 1080p cutscenes). The gameplay will be the same, to the point of even being cross-play compatible with the original game’s multiplayer. The addition of Battle.net skill-based matchmaking will apparently be exclusive to owners of the Remastered edition, though.
The 1.18a patch will arrive in a couple of days, making the original (non-Remastered) game free. The Remastered edition will arrive in the summer, but no word on price yet.
Subject: General Tech | February 19, 2017 - 05:07 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, blizzard, windows, EoL
Most companies have already abandoned Windows XP and Vista, including Microsoft once Vista leaves extended support in April, but Blizzard is known for long-term support. This is the company that is still selling Diablo 2, even producing retail disks for it last I checked, almost seventeen years after it was released (including a patch last year).
Later this year, World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm will no longer support Windows XP or Vista. This will not all happen at once, even though it would actually make less sense if they did. I mean, why would they coordinate several teams to release a patch at the same time and maximize annoyance to the affected users who cannot schedule or afford an upgrade at that specific time?
Although, if that’s you, then you should probably get around to it sooner than later.
Subject: General Tech | November 4, 2016 - 06:21 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: blizzard, pc gaming, diablo, diablo iii
Starting in the Public Test Realm next week, Diablo 3 will receive a campaign that is based on the original game, which turns 20 years old on New Year's Eve. Like the original game, you will fight down the levels of a dungeon into Hell where you fight and kill Diablo. Pardon the spoilers.
The patch, called The Darkening of Tristram, seems to be taken light-heartedly by the company. They announce that it will add a low-quality rendering mode to pay homage to graphical limitations of 1996. More functionality, they also force the character to move in eight directions, which I'm not sure it's tongue-in-cheek or actually implemented for gameplay reasons.
Either way, you can check it out next week by joining the beta realm.
Subject: General Tech | November 4, 2016 - 02:55 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: blizzard, google, ai, deep learning, Starcraft II
Blizzard and DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2014 and is now a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., have just announced opening up StarCraft II for AI research. DeepMind was the company that made AlphaGo, which beat Lee Sedol, a grandmaster of Go, in a best-of-five showmatch with a score of four to one. They hinted at possibly having a BlizzCon champion, some year, do a showmatch as well, which would be entertaining.
StarCraft II is different from Go in three important ways. First, any given player knows what they scout, which they apparently will constrain these AI to honor. Second, there are three possible match-ups for any choice of race, except random, which has nine. Third, it's real-time, which can be good for AI, because they're not constrained by human input limitations, but also difficult from a performance standpoint.
From Blizzard's perspective, better AI can be useful, because humans need to be challenged to learn. Novices won't be embarrassed to lose to a computer over and over, so they can have a human-like opponent to experiment with. Likewise, grandmasters will want to have someone better than them to keep advancing, especially if it allows them to keep new strategies hidden. From DeepMind's perspective, this is another step in AI research, which could be applied to science, medicine, and so forth in the coming years and decades.
Unfortunately, this is an early announcement. We don't know any more details, although they will have a Blizzcon panel on Saturday at 1pm EDT (10am PDT).
Subject: General Tech | August 26, 2016 - 10:19 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: blizzard, facebook, OBS
So I was greeted with an interesting pop-up when I updated my Battle.net launcher today. Turns out Blizzard is pushing Blizzard Streaming to “the Americas, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand”. Currently, Facebook is the only platform that you can stream to, and Blizzard hasn't announced bringing it to others, but the settings area is clearly a vertical list of horizontal widgets, so that suggests they intend to add more than one at some point.
As for the application, itself, this could be useful (especially if other services are added) for users who only stream Blizzard titles, and who want something designed a bit more mainstream than OBS. That said, Raptr and GeForce Experience both fall under this category. Moreover, Blizzard doesn't clarify whether or not the stream will make use of NVIDIA's NVENC, Intel's Quick Sync, or AMD's VCE, all three of which are supported on OBS Studio. Granted, Blizzard titles tend to be easy to compute, but it is hard to beat encoding on an idle, integrated GPU, if you should have one.
That said, choices are good, and you now have another.
Subject: General Tech | March 20, 2016 - 12:53 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2016 - 11:44 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: General Tech | January 1, 2016 - 10:08 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.