PRETENTIOUS: Diablo III vs. Curiosity

Diablo III vs Curiosity

When you think of pretentiousness, you probably think of failed attempts at being intellectual or profound.  It’s the failed attempts that you think of.  It’s not pretentious to actually be profound or intellectual, but when an artist’s ambition is not matched by his talent, it usually ends up feeling phony.  You might think of a college chick who wants to open up your third eye with a shitty tambourine dance and some pot; or you might think of some indie developer who tries to tackle the sensitive issue of rape with an 8-bit sidescroller.  In both cases, you’re thinking of someone who bites off way more than they can chew.  You think of Peter Molyneux.

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Rob Pardo tries to take the bullet for Jay “Fuck That Loser” Wilson

Diablo III Lord of Greed

Blizzard’s Rob Pardo has accepted responsibility for Diablo 3‘s shittiness following the Battle.net forum backlash directed at the game’s Creative Director, Jay Wilson, upon announcing his departure from the game’s development.

Miraculously, despite supposedly being in development for 11 years (seven of which Jay was on board as Director) the game’s blatantly greedy business model, error-crippled launch, lack of balance, shoddy multiplayer, online DRM nightmare, lack of end-game content, etc. have earned the game a bad name in the Blizzard fan community.  Wilson himself is a quizzical nobody, without a resumé to speak of, now best known for daring to say “Fuck that loser” to Diablo 2‘s creator, David Brevnik, so it’s not surprising that Rob Pardo, a seasoned veteran with real respect, would step in and protect him:

If you still feel the need to dish out blame, then I would prefer you direct it at me. I was the executive producer on the project; I hired Jay and I gave him advice and direction throughout the development process. I was ultimately responsible for the game we released and take full responsibility for the quality of the result.

Jay “Fuck That Loser” Wilson’s departure means nobody is in charge of Diablo 3 despite it being in heavy development, with constant patching happening and two expansion packs in the works.  If I had to guess, I’d say the departure was a surprise even to Blizzard, which is why they didn’t have the chance to find a replacement and create a press release on the matter; standard procedure when somebody important leaves a major ongoing project.  Should we start blaming Rob Pardo for why Diablo 3 sucks so much?  I don’t think so.  Let’s not forget that Activision Blizzard’s CEO, Bobby “Exploit” Kotick, demanded the hasty creation of multiple Blizzard titles in order to take advantage of their godlike franchise names, pressurizing a company known for taking their long, sweet time.  It was bound to be a disaster, and Pardo was trying to play the hand he’d been dealt — who could have guessed Jay Wilson would be such a stupid prick?

Did I mention that the infinitely superior Action RPG, Path of Exile, is entering Open Beta this week?  And did I mention how this means you can play it free without worrying about your characters being deleted by any future update?

Damage over time: Morhaime weakly defends Diablo III

Diablo III Lord of Greed

Mike Morhaime (not pictured above), the longstanding CEO of Blizzard and recent corporate servant of Bobby Kotick (pictured above) has taken to the Diablo III forums to apologize, make excuses, and write enough corporate-speak to hopefully convince players that Blizzard’s latest big hit is not a big shit.  This, following on the heels of news that Vivendi is trying desperately to sell Activision Blizzard but nobody wants to buy it — probably because word on the street is that they churn out unfinished games at a unsustainable rate — which makes me wonder if this damage control is a coincidence or not.

Using the ancient method of saying the opposite of the truth — for example calling the universal outrage over the myriad of errors and crashes “not-so-positive” and throwing out the “Every Voice Matters” slogan — Morhaime’s post is a wall of blue text that means nothing, but feels reassuring to look at.  The unforgivable DRM scheme is labelled a success, not because even one player enjoys it or feels like it’s fair, but because “we have not found any fully functional cracks” of the game.  Huzzah!

And that’s not even broaching the subject of the Real Money Auction House, which is Blizzard’s shameless ploy to capitalize on the worst instincts of its gamer base.  As Ars Technica says,

Many players feel the in-game auction house perverts the spirit of the game by allowing people to buy their way to top-level loot. But Morhaime reiterated that Blizzard felt this was the best way to protect players from shady, black market item trading sites that cropped up around Diablo II. He admitted that the service “isn’t perfect,” but said that the company is “committed to ensuring you have a great experience with Diablo III without feeling like the auction house is mandatory.”

Just as with StarCraft II, which has failed to live up to its predecessor in every meaningful way, Blizzard is calling on its restless congregation to have faith, for There Shall Be Patches, And We Shall Get Our Money’s Worth.  Some beautiful day, when our weary travels in Sanctuary are over.

Meanwhile, upcoming Path of Exile will be completely free, feature zero “pay to win” features, and have an infinitely more interesting end game revolving around map items.  I’ve already praised the game’s ingenious economy, beautiful graphics, and superior game design.  You can currently buy into the beta using a Supporter Pack, which I suggest you do; this independent developer deserves success, unlike Bobby Kotick’s monstrosity.

I hate Diablo III, so here’s some more hate

Diablo III Lord of Greed

Ars Technica has posted a piece on how Diablo III is a sloppy, unfinished game, being obviously “broken” in terms of gameplay balance.  Blizzard is lazily developing the game after they’ve taken people’s money by patching, treating it more like an ongoing beta than a final product.

Blizzard‘s defense is easily predicted (after all, it’s the same excuse for why StarCraft 2 was, and continues to be, so frustratingly imbalanced) which is that their games are so complex that multiplayer develops its own “meta game”, wherein players are blamed for not finding the proper response to apparent imbalances.  After acknowledging the prudence of tweaking things after release, and the history of patching in older games, writer Orland says:

But the ubiquity of the post-release patch has led too many developers to be pretty lax about prerelease balancing, secure in the knowledge that they’ll be able to fix any problems that pop up at a later date.

The “meta game” excuse is tried and true, because it has a deep history with the original StarCraft.  Players (mostly in South Korea) defied Blizzard’s expectations by constantly evolving the strategies of the game in creative new ways, finding solutions through innovative gameplay rather than relying on a patch.

As for my comments about Blizzard being dominated by Activision, I know that Activision doesn’t own Blizzard (they’re both subsidiaries of Vivendi) and that Blizzard is supposedly free to do whatever they want.  It’s a gray area however, because it’s also a fact that Bobby Kotick is the CEO of Activision-Blizzard as a whole, meaning that his greedy, profit-driven, anti-creative, short-sighted and hugely destructive mentality towards game development was chosen to set the vision for the merged company.  His status and his well-known vision automatically sets the tone for everybody below him, including Mike Morhaime, who is the CEO of the Blizzard half of the company.

By saying that Blizzard Entertainment is independent and free to develop as they see fit they have ensured plausible deniability, but don’t the games speak for themselves?  They are uncreative, unfinished, lacking content, and dominated by DRM shackles.  Battle.net 2.0 was, and still is, a downright embarrassment.  Let’s not be naïve.

ALSO CHECK OUT:  Video Games in the Master Plan

Activision-Blizzard’s Diablo III DRM issue isn’t fixed with apologies

Diablo 3’s error woes have been making big waves, and RockPaperShotgun‘s Nathan Grayson has written an excellent editorial explaining why people shouldn’t let Activision-Blizzard off the hook just because they apologized.  Doing so, he says, sends a signal to other developers that players will be forgiving if they decide to follow the same route.  One quote in particular, from id Software’s Tim Willits, is provided as evidence:

“Diablo III will make everyone else accept the fact you have to be connected. If you have a juggernaut, you can make change. I’m all for that. If we could force people to always be connected when you play the game, and then have that be acceptable, awesome. In the end, it’s better for everybody. Imagine picking up a game and it’s automatically updated. Or there’s something new you didn’t know about, and you didn’t have to click away. It’s all automatically there. But it does take juggernauts like [Diablo III] to make change.”

That’s not the kind of change we can believe in, folks, but Diablo 3 probably will change it all anyway.  Here’s another piece discussing the stupidity of the “online single-player” game, on GameInformer.  They say:

So what’s the big deal about asking them to take the next step to be online all the time? For one, it means that we as gamers no longer own the games we play. By purchasing a game like Diablo III, you are no longer buying a product, you are buying the right to use a product at the discretion of its owner.

This much should be obvious, don’t you think?  When you play a multiplayer game which hosted on a company’s servers (see: Metal Gear Online) you know that they might shut down the servers some day, even though you paid full price for it.  You paid for access, yes, but without any promise that there will be something to access a few years from now.  That sucks, but at least it makes sense from a logistics point of view.  If you remember Diablo II’s multiplayer service, any character left inactive was automatically deleted after three months, saving Blizzard’s servers the storage headache.  But why in the hell should a single-player game carry the same fate?  It’s a greedy, short-sighted, and cruel system of control.  Is Activision-Blizzard contractually obligated to provide you anything in return for your dollars?  No, of course not.  They could shut down Diablo 3 tomorrow, if they wanted to.  Or they could just cut you off, for whatever reason.  The ridiculous errors people are encountering drive home the bleak reality of this.

UPDATE: Jim Sterling’s coverage of the MetaCritic backlash is worth looking at.  Although I keep noticing people say that Blizzard has been working on the game since 2001.  Much like StarCraft 2, the game was not actually in serious development for a decade; I’m sure they were tinkering, but the water only started to boil when Activision bought Blizzard, and started promising that a new Blizzard game would be released every year from now on.

OUCH: Leave it to John Walker to take a righteous sword to Diablo III’s many problems like no other.

Specifics on Diablo III’s online-only DRM problems

RockPaperShotgun has detailed the ways in which Diablo III‘s online-only system will affect players, including being logged out in the middle of a game due to server problems or connections, a cooldown period, and no ability to pause the game.

According to John Walker:

You can’t pause. In fact, in most ways, the game acts like an MMO. For instance, quit it, and you’re given the optional cooldown to have your player clear the server properly. But it’s not an MMO. It’s not even close to an MMO. So when I’m playing the single-player game, and I’m in the middle of a frenzied mob, and there’s a knock at the front door, there’s nothing I can do. As happened to me yesterday. Twice. On another occasion I was surprised by a phone call that led to my having to do some other things. I’d safely left my character in a cleared area, but long between checkpoints. When I came back to the PC, I’d been idle for too long and the game had logged me out.

Being idle logs you out?  No pausing the game?  Dropped connections?  This is Diablo, not World of Warcraft.  No matter what the justifications for including an online-only Digital Rights Management system, or how many great “features” come with this connectivity, this is disappointing and unnecessary.  This wouldn’t bother me so much if Blizzard wasn’t a leader in the PC gaming field, being copied by dozens of other companies; they set the standard for what games should be doing.

Of course, the real blame still goes to Activision.

I suggest you read the full post, as it explains even more annoyances with the system.

DOTA 2 makes six Ukrainians millionaires

I used to play Defense of the Ancients when WarCraft III was still burgeoning, leveling up my heroes and mostly trying to figure out what to do next, buying items and playing against a static A.I. instead of other players.  With the release of StarCraft 2’s map editor I heard some strong rumblings from the Blizzard community about whether or not it would be able to handle DOTA maps, but I never knew how popular the map had become while I was gone.  Ever since the name ‘DOTA 2’ surfaced — now belonging to Valve instead of Blizzard! — I have been eagerly following it.

So I’ve been watching The International DOTA 2 Championships with some degree of shock.  How can the grand prize for this thing really be $1,000,000 USD?  I know that ‘eSports’ have been growing over the years, but we’re talking about an closed beta of a sequel to a very old WarCraft map, with no sponsorships.

My hat is off to Valve for putting this together and having the balls to steal everything from the original DOTA right in ActivisionBlizzard’s face; and to the Na’Vi team for becoming absurdly wealthy this weekend.

Blizzard is now soulless: confirmed

Listen.  I’ll admit when I’m wrong.  Why, I can remember a day when I was positive that StarCraft 2 would be a legendary example of great game design, and even tried to follow the online Korean tournament scene, GomTV’s “GSL”, you may remember.  I wrote an article about the design principles I believed were behind the choices for the three races’ units and features, then watched as Blizzard fumbled patching and balance until it was clear: they’re clueless.

Well the days have gotten darker for ActivisionBlizzard, as they’ve revealed their greedy little plans to control and monetize everything.  Surely this is Activision’s part in milking Blizzard dry, but that doesn’t pardon anything.  What’s the big sin?  There’s actually 3, as reported by PC Gamer, and summed up by RockPaperShotgun…

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