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.
Subject: General Tech | December 7, 2015 - 09:28 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Subject: General Tech | October 6, 2015 - 08:20 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Subject: General Tech | October 3, 2015 - 11:04 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
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.