I’m a sucker for a good questionnaire, and this one is relevant to my interests.
I’ll let the Qs speak for themselves. And if you want to chime in, go over to her blog (link above) and give her an earful!
When did you start playing video games?
In the 1970s … when they started appearing in the Pinball arcades. Yeah. Pinball arcades were a thing back then, and as video games started coming out, the video cabinets started displacing the pinball machines. But pinball was my gateway drug to video gaming, no doubt about it.
What is the first game you remember playing?
Video game: Pong … when I could find someone to play with me.
Game in general … checkers.
But it was strategy (board) games like Squad Leader or Star Fleet Battles or Submarine (in fact, most of the Avalon Hill lineup) that positioned me to get into AD&D, and that was my gateway in general.
PC or Console?
Standup console … this was before we had video games in our homes. But the first one of THOSE that I played was on a friend’s Sears Pong console. The first one I actually OWNED was a Magnavox Odyssey 2. It was wretched, even back then.
XBox, PlayStation, or Wii?
Jesus H. Christ on a unicycle, how young ARE you? My first two vid consoles were the aforementioned Odyssey 2, and a used Mattel Intellivision 2. Neither of which you probably heard of, from the sound of it.
What’s the best game you’ve ever played?
I would never be able to nail that down to one game. Railroad Tycoon on the Amiga kept me playing for years, until my miggy finally died from fractured PLCC socket woes. Close behind it, Civilization III on the PC. Civ I was great, and I played it until my miggy died, but Civ III hit a sweet spot.
What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
Sid Meiers’ Rails! was one of the biggest disappointments of all time. OF ALL TIME. In the vid cabinet world, I loathe and abhor Tempest.
Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.
Quake. I enjoy the FPS genre, but I felt Doom2 was the pinnacle of iDs output at the time; Quake seemed to be a poorly executed implementation of Doom in 3D.
Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.
I really liked Wizardry 8 and am really glad I got in on the pre-purchase … those that didn’t, didn’t even get the disks.
What are your favorite game genres?
God Games / Strategy games. Games like Civ, RRT, Populous, Settlers
Who is your favorite game protagonist?
Jaina Proudmoore. I keep hoping that someday, she’ll remember she is powerful.
Describe your perfect video game.
Keeps me coming back time and time again. Not story driven. Not scenario driven (unless those are randomly or procedurally generated). Has many layers (think of Star Fleet Command’s galactic versus tactical levels). Never ends. Never plays the same twice. Scalable difficulty.
What video game character do you have a crush on?
I prefer my own species, thanks. "Crushing" on vid game characters seems to be a post-FF-VII thing, which was not my jam.
But Fanny Thundermar … she does make me think twice about that from time to time even if I don’t have an arse like an anvil.
What game has the best music?
Descent / Descent 2. Can’t beat that with a stick. I was le disappoint with Descent 3 for not carrying forward the tradition.
Most memorable moment in a game:
Most of the games I play have no real dramatic moments in them. Sepiroth doesn’t reveal he’s Luke’s father as you take over his company in RRT.
But there’s the time my guild downed the final boss while he was still relevant. Or the Wrathgate event (which actually crashed my computer the first time). Or that time that (SPOILERS) Yoshimo turned coat in the big bad’s lair (didn’t see that one coming).
Scariest moment in a game:
Eye of the Beholder on the Amiga … the sounds of lurking monsters, just around the corner or on the other side of that wall? The Amiga team for this game did an outstanding job of making the ambient sound dial up the creep factor.
Most heart-wrenching moment in a game:
I have no heart. For otherwise I would care about video game characters. Baldur’s Gate II tried real hard for me to care about the wingless elf’s plight, but she just came across as whiney and clingy and resentful. Note to dialog writers (and this is true especially of Blizzard’s): show, don’t tell.
Well, there’s Socks.
What are your favorite websites/blogs about games?
I have a giant list. Perhaps you have seen it in the sidebar. I am somewhat voracious.
What’s the last game you finished?
The kind of games I generally play don’t have "finishes". But if I look back far enough … Descent 3. I think that’s the last story-driven game I purchased that I actually played all the way through. Maybe Riven on the PS2, but I don’t think I actually finished it. Wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember, if I did. Homeworld 2, possibly, though I might have stopped playing because of the interface. But I did finish Homeworld. Was that more recent than D3?
What future releases are you most excited about?
Elite: Dangerous. Between this and Star Citizen, I have hopes of finding a space trader game that isn’t Eve. If Braben can find the sweet spot between Frontier and Eve, that would be great.
Do you identify as a gamer?
Why do you play video games?
Not because I feel obligated. I play for fun. And the daystar burns, so outside is not an option.
Is that a cop-out? Am I supposed to write something deep and interesting here? If so, I fail, for it’s nothing more than that. It’s recreation. Nothing more than that.
4 Comments »
Yesterday, the cinematic for Warlords of Draenor was released to much excitement. At the end, was the release date for the game. If you haven’t seen yet, I’ve thoughtfully provided it here.
It was a really well-done cinematic, but continues the trend of WoW cinematics becoming smaller and smaller in scope. The cinematics for Vanilla and BC were broad, inclusive. But then WotLK went small, focused on Arthas. Cata broadened back out in one dimension, but we were notably missing. It might have gone big, but it was all about Deathwing. The MoP cinematic focused on a single moment, by way of introducing kung-fu pandas.
And now, this one … again, we’re focused on a single moment in time. An important moment, yes, but the scope is, well, small, and doesn’t have us anywhere in it.
This is perhaps the most complicated – or maybe the better term is convoluted – setup for an expansion to date. The problem is that while there is indeed one vector from the end of MoP – Garrosh’s escape and subsequent Marty McFly to Draenor of old – the rest of the setup requires knowledge of lore that has not been on our minds for over a decade. And, because of this, because Blizz wants us to feel like we’re part of this, regardless, they’ve worked up a huge backstory. We’ve gotten a comic. We’ve gotten history lessons. We’ve gotten a lot of build-up to the moment that is depicted in the trailer.
But it’s not enough. Because, even if we appreciate the enormity of what we see in this cinematic, we still can’t see ourselves in this trailer. We don’t see our place in this drama that is presented to us. For all the work put into this cinematic, the “intro” trailer of last year’s Blizzcon was actually a lot more exciting. We’re going to Draenor! See – there we are!
The scene being depicted in the trailer – as well as in the lead-in comic – is pivotal in Warcraft lore. The whispers around the electronic water fountains is that Blizz – as the 20th anniversary of Orcs vs Humans comes nigh – wants us all to appreciate where it All Came From. They’re obviously missing the flavor of WOvH and want us all to experience that, to remember where we all came from.
But, as the trailer shows, that’s not going to happen.
Mannoroth has been put down. Gul’dan has been cowed; he’s considered an enemy of the state. The Burning Legion will not be driving the Iron Horde, and that means that nothing that the Orcs did in the original Warcraft series will be part of this expansion. The invasion’s not even taking place in the same time-period – it’ll be in modern times, for some reason We’re not witnessing history here. The only part of that history that we get to see here is the players – on the Orcish side – themselves. There is no historical significance. There is only the cult of Orcish personality.
Orcs be savage and cool. Yo.
The only real history we can get from this is an appreciation of the significance of Grom dumping the cup of demon blood on the ground, the smugness of Garrosh as he mocks Gul’dan, and the beginning of an oddly-familiar portal structure.
And the only reason most of us ‘get’ that is because we were told so. Not by Blizzard, not via any of their story-telling mechanisms. Most of us weren’t paying that much attention when playing, or didn’t care, or – if you’re me – were busy playing other sorts of games. No, those of us that ‘get’ it probably ‘got’ it by reading up on it after the fact, and go, “Oh, that’s interesting” in the same way we noted that Churchill preferred a particular brand of cigar over others as he ordered the destruction of the French Navy.
Yeah, sure, that’s why we’re in Karazhan. Blah blah blah. Pull, for Metzen’s sake, I’m not getting younger.
In the end, all I can say is this. 10 out 10 for execution, but 1 out of 1000 for relevancy. And it answers none of the concerns many of us have on terms of relevancy and inclusiveness. The sorts of players that get into the back-slapping, chest-thumping, testosterone-driven culture depicted in that trailer just don’t give two shits about “lore”.
I’m starting to get a strong feeling that part of Blizz’s “getting back to the beginning” includes pushing away people that aren’t into this man-child power fantasy crap, and being okay with that. I think a number of people that I know and respect have already picked up on that, and left the game for good because of it, which, again, Blizz is apparently okay with.
I may be slow to pick up on this, and I’m still on the fence, but it may be right there and I’m just not looking directly at it. Fortunately, one does not have to actually buy the expansion and play the expansion to figure this out for good. I may decide to wait to see, by proxy, how it’s playing out after release, and then decide whether to buy it or not.
The upshot is that the cinematic – and thus far, none of the comics – have done nothing to assuage my concerns, or make me want to buy it, or assure me that if I buy it, I’m not contributing to funding a bunch of genetic throwbacks that should be working at a circus instead of a software company. The trailer, while “interesting” and “well executed”, is also … impenetrable.
If I were commissioning a trailer for a product that so many people had expressed doubts – or outright dislike – about, I’d ask that the trailer convey the kind of imagery that would bring those people back. Instead, they presented one that actually reinforces the doubts and concerns that people have expressed.
I am convinced, at the end of the day, that the Blizzard public relations department is manned by drunken wombats that live in a bubble universe where information flows out, but never in.
1 Comment »
Posted by Grimmtooth in Meta
The world of game journalism is an insular, inbred place with strange rules. Blogging shares some of that world’s DNA; in both worlds, everybody’s looking for an angle. Everybody’s trying to one-up the competition, whether they acknowledge it or not.
There are a lot of ways to do this: well-designed theorycrafting, deeply thought opinions, game guides, and so forth. But in the area of “news”, the one thing that trumps almost everything else is: access.
Access gets you exclusives. Access gets you in first. Access is a low-energy route towards rich content for your news site.
But access does peculiar things to a blog or news site. Access makes one dependent on the one granting the access. Do something to offend the wrong person, and that access can be removed.
Sometimes the access is that of an insider. Somebody embedded deep inside an organization that, truth be told, is probably breaking the law by going counter to a corporate NDA.
Sometimes the access is that granted by an organization. Preview content, implicit mutual endorsement of each other. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
In the game blogging/reporting world, access can mean the difference between beta access, a press screener, or no info at all. And this puts the reporter/blogger in a precarious situation: if the game’s any good, then all’s well. But if the game stinks, the reporter/blogger is in a bad situation. Be honest, and future access will be forfeit – most likely, for your entire organization, not just yourself.
At the same time, “honesty” also requires that one be honest in all respects. For example, reviewing a beta as if it were the production (shipping) game is largely frowned upon unless one manages to soften any blows with caveats and provisos.
And there’s my current beef.
Massively.com crossed a line in this regard, and as a result their reputation has taken a major hit with people that value honesty in game journalism.
The culprit in this case is one Eliot Lefebvre, who starts out the first entry in this virtual hit piece with several paragraphs about how he’s old school WoW, yo, so you cannot question his authenteezies. He be authentic and shizzle, yo.
I’m not going to go into a detailed deconstruction of his articles, but I will include links to each.
I include full linkage not because I endorse the opinions expressed within, but because I would rather you read and opine your own opinion than force mine down your throat.
I will state up front that I feel it’s important that a writer feel enabled to post something critical of a game without fear of reprisal. But that kind of article needs to have a lot to back it up. And I’m not talking about MMO street cred, here. There are seven million people out there that have the same amount of MMO “street cred” as Eliot does, in that they played the same game at the same time as he did. Playing a game for a long time has limited currency, and that currency is only viable in a specific context, and that context is not the context he’s using it in. There needs to be more authority to the critique that comes. As one of my bosses once told me, perfect attendance only means you’re stubborn, not talented. The “attendance” award is what they give you to make up for having nothing else that matches your particular, um, talents.
The authority of the articles is further undermined by Eliot’s repeated rebukes of his own “attendance award.” Complaining about NPCs not having any real feeling of familiarity with the many lore characters brought into the game. I’m not sure what I think of a gamer that claims to be old-school while at the same time drawing a blank on just why Khadgar or
Thrall Kal’el Jesus Orc Go’el are part of the ongoing lore of Draenor. Arguing that new players won’t “get it” seems silly on the face of it. This wasn’t put together for new players. Not even remotely. I’m not playing the beta, and even *I* get that. And there was none of that hand-holding in any of the previous expansions until MoP, either. Pandaria was the first place we ever encountered that was not steeped in over 15 years’ worth of lore. The fact that Draenor changes that lore a bit has no bearing on who Khadgar is. My only interest in HIM is just how Khadgar GOT there in the first place.
It also doesn’t help to contradict one’s self. To first state that one has massive history with the game and then turn around and complain that the lore NPCs are meaningless to him, only then to turn around and say that the expansion does not acknowledge the lore of the game so far. You can maybe have it two ways, but not all three, and preferably one. And to pretend that some of the problems with the expansion are NEW, when in fact the issues and/or features have been around for two or three expansions’ worth of content is disingenuous at best.
The greatest sin of all, however, is this. This is a game that is in beta. It is from a company that has taken entire ZONES offline in beta to revamp them. And this game is no where near the point of release. So why in the name of Ragneros’ smoking balls would you make a recommendation on the expansion at this point? This is beyond the pale for game journalism. A professional game journalist would know better. A professional gaming blog / site / service would know better. This is not just a failure on Lefebvre’s part. This is a failure on the part of the editor of Massively for letting it get by.
Until the final paragraph of that series, it was only egregiously hostile towards the expansion, obviously written by somebody that didn’t know any better, but given the track record of various AoL properties in maintaining perspective, it was not a big surprise and easily moved past, just another cranky entitled gamer not getting his props. But the “recommendation” at the end is just fundamentally irresponsible of Joystiq’s editorial staff. Despite claims to the contrary, this kind of thing can only be seen as clickbait.
Flawed as they might be, most of the complaints in these three articles are valid comments when directed towards the development staff. I have no idea if that actually happened in this case, and I strongly suspect that it didn’t. I strongly suspect Lefebvre viewed access to the beta as the means to the end of getting an early jump on the Blizzard-bashing yet to come and had no intention of providing anything like constructive feedback to the staff. I could be wrong, but the tone of the article certainly implies that he’s done with it all and has no interest in continuing onward. Those beta keys donated as a gesture of goodwill were thanked with a shallow, vitriolic spew.
The only thing worse than a beta tester that is negligent in his/her duties is a supposed “journalist” with an axe to grind.
I don’t normally give two shits about people posting hit pieces about games that they don’t like. Usually the hate is honest and well framed. But it really gets my back up to see someone misrepresent an unfinished product, knowing damned well that it’s unfinished, and blowing that off anyway, because, pageviews.
The staff of WoWInsider and Massively can take umbrage at being looked down for the pageviews thing if they want. Truth is, it’s not that that people get annoyed at. It’s the cheapness of the sort of ploy in these three articles. You wanna go with that sort of piece? Fine. Do so, but put some substance behind it, and don’t be foolish enough to try to recommend a game based on data that will likely be invalid at time of release.
The thing that bugs me most is WoWInsider’s silence on this. Where are they? I’m sure the editors there read their sister site, since they publish a weekly linkshill for each other. If Lefebvre’s beefs are legit, why did we hear it from Massively instead of WoWInsider? And if they aren’t, why haven’t they brought out a good rebuttal? I mean, wanna talk linkbait? Two AoL sites sniping at each other on the basis of turf and seniority sounds like a great way to get pageviews.
If WoWInsider is eschewing relevancy for access, then it’s starting to look like one can best be served by reading elsewhere. They used to at least provide some link love to indy blogs, but since they stopped doing that, reading that site has become more and more frustrating – over stuff like this, as well as watching them fail to meet potential on a daily basis.
Hey, I admit up front that the view’s great from the cheap seats. Being an indie hipster dwarf makes it easy to ignore things like pageviews and SEO and funding and all sorts of silly stuff like that. But it also means that I do this for reasons important to me, and have the option to be uncompromising. I’ll never make a living at it, and never have to make that difficult call between relevancy, editorial freedom, and solvency.
But I am so, so, very disappoint in everything this affair brings to light.
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This is one of those articles that challenges one to complete it, as things keep changing and I keep having to rearrange or adjust things. So, if something appears a little off, please keep that in mind. But I’ve determined to finish it today before it becomes part of somebody’s “history content” features.
This article started out as a focus on the departure of Ron Pardo from Blizzard, but a recent set of blog posts featuring Mike Morhaime threw some new light on the situation. And, finally, some commentary on the beta brought more fuel to the fire just today.
Really, if this article grows any more, I may have to buy a new domain to house it. Which is why I really need to either post or get off the poster, if you take my meaning.
This all started a few weeks ago when Rob Pardo announced he was leaving Blizzard. Now, followers of his Twitter account may have noticed a lot of activity, but none of it game-related over the past few months – more or less right after he had said some fairly sketchy things on the topic of diversity.
Anyway, all of the activity on that twitter feed post-sketchiness was, with one exception (E3), about vacationing. Cabo. Vegas. That sort of thing. Which is a rather interesting factoid if you happen to be the lead of the next major expansion to your company’s cash cow.
Even more interesting was, in the middle of all that hard vacationing, that he posted shock and surprise on his twitter feed that something he’d said had caused a stir. He hadn’t even looked at Twitter – an app originally designed to be used on a cell phone – during all that time? Really? I mean, who even does that?
Once noting the shocking news of the stir he’d created, he attempted some basic damage control, including the always popular “That’s not what I said!”
After that, and an intense vacation in Venice, we saw the announcement, along with this little gem.
I’m not exactly sure that’s the tweet of a man that left altogether willingly.
What I wouldn’t give for ValleyWag to be on this.
So, a week later, almost to the day, we see this article on WoW Insider, which was titled and presented in an fairly deceptive way which was wrong in every significant way except for the name of the exec involved. But it did include a link to the origin of the letter, and *it* included a link to the impassioned original post on Tumblr.
A few points of interest.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns about your experiences with our games. I appreciated the points you made, so I shared your letter with others on our teams here and included it as part of the ongoing discussions we’ve been having on the subject.
This is encouraging on the face of it, in that my perception up to now is that Blizz has been rather dismissive of critiques the casual sexism in their games.
[…] we want everyone to feel welcome, safe, and included in our games and communities. We have made some mistakes in how we’ve communicated about this and how we’ve reflected it in other ways, but we are working to improve.
Not entirely sure what to make of that. Are they working to improve on communication of what they want, or improving the actual thing? It’s a bit vague.
We are very conscious of the issues you raise and are discussing them more than ever, at every level of the company, in an effort to make sure our games and stories are as epic and inclusive as possible. And we know that actions speak louder than words, so we are challenging ourselves to draw from more diverse voices within and outside of the company and create more diverse heroes and content. […] There is no reason why inclusivity should come at the expense of an amazing game experience.
But this seems to be fairly straightforward, and I welcome what he has to say on that.
Note, however: no actual apology.
But here is the comment that I find most interesting in the Rob Pardo context.
There have been times when we’ve been seen or painted as being uninterested in hearing feedback or making changes. I want to be clear that this goes against the philosophies and core values on which Blizzard has been built and continues to operate. We will always listen, and we will always work hard to make games that appeal to as many people as possible.
I am certain that Morhaime chose his words very careful, so the phrase “seen or painted as” may bear some significance. Is this a rebuke of Pardo and Browder’s earlier statements about not being in the business of, well, leading by example? It’s very difficult to tell, as it’s been fairly well crafted to leave a LOT of wiggle room, but it is possibly indicative of an internal conflict at Blizzard. One which Pardo, possibly, didn’t win.
Well, that’s one theory.
The final piece came to light by way of this post on Massively. The final piece is not in this particular post, but it brought a series of conversations to light on Twitter.
These discussions focused around how a lot of people were seeing Blizz as the bad guys in light of the Massively articles, seeing as they had “changed the rules” on what Garrisons were supposed to be, and things like that. There were proponents on both side of that argument, and understandably so.
While it is true that even entire zones have been torn down and redesigned during beta, there was a general feeling that the ball had been dropped, dropped hard, and dropped repeatedly during alpha, beta, and prior to that.
One of the lead designers of this expansion, and in fact the lead designer of WoW in general, was Rob Pardo.
There are several possibilities, here, and office politics at Blizz are pretty much as opaque as any company’s, so anything proposed now is going to be based on conjecture.
Never stopped me from baseless speculation before, though.
After the Morhaime letter, one possible scenario is one in which Blizz, deciding to move actively in a direction of greater diversity in-game, and there were those that were probably not actively against diversity, but felt that giving in to the pressure sent the “wrong message” on the topic. In this scenario, Pardo is one of the resistance; Emperor Mike won this one easily, probably gave Pardo an ultimatum (“Go on sabbatical and think it over”), and eventually Pardo realized that “it wasn’t fun anymore”.
Option 2 is a lot more simple: WoD’s production was a disaster, and it was management that was to blame. Possibly the bean counters needed a head for their pike. Wouldn’t be the first time. It’s important to know that Pardo, Morhaime, and most of the other names you are familiar with are only on the creative management team. The real power resides in the hand of the financial management team, and even they’re not safe from infighting.
Option 3 is: there’s no here here. Everything is exactly as it appears. Pardo just got tired, went on vacation and decided never to come back. Morhaime is concerned about his company’s corporate culture as a logical consequence of what he’s seeing on the internet, and is taking perfectly reasonable and logical actions to correct and mitigate this. WoD was botched, yes, but Blizz has always been capable of recovering from this sort of thing, have done in the past, and while this is not pleasant, they’re not about to go hunting scalps at the expense of “getting things done.”
A lot of people will say (and have said) that it’s not really any of our business, that it’s his personal business and the company’s internal affair.
… it’s relevant to our interests.
Option 3 is the least encouraging of all the scenarios because it implies that things will continue as they have, with no change in corporate culture and no improvements in the product that gets delivered. The other two options, while a bit tawdry, do offer the possibility that someone has been drawn into doing something about it.
As a player and not yet decided on whether to even *buy* Warlords, I find this *incredibly* relevant to my interests, to the tune of approximately sixty clams.
What comes next is going to be watched with great interest here at casa de Grimmtooth.
My views on Pardo’s departure are mixed. A lot of people have tweeted to him how his work at Blizzard has made a difference to them, and this is true. And if he’s not the bad egg there, I’m sorry to see him go, too. If he is the bad egg, I have no reason to weep. The attitude at Blizzard, especially among its upper creative management, has sucked and needs changing.
No matter what, though, I won’t be crying for Pardo. His early arrival at Blizzard and his lofty position means he has a pretty good nest egg, assuming he didn’t invest it all at Aereo. Any man that can take three months sabbatical is probably swimming in gp. I have no doubt he’ll land on his feet, as long as “conspicuously lead team that felt it had no reason to speak out on the place of women in gaming and took great efforts to conspicuously avoid doing so even when team members were conspicuously pulling the rope in the other direction” doesn’t impact future hiring opportunities. Given what I’ve read of Silicon Valley culture, I’m sure he’ll have no end of suitors.
And I *conspicuously* hope that this marks the beginning if significant change for the better at Blizzard. And not the other thing.
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From the novel and film of the same name, an impossibly difficult choice, especially when forced onto someone. The choice is between two unbearable options, and it’s essentially a no-win situation.
WoW culture received a shock this week in the form of a scathingly critical article on Polygon that pointed out what we had all seen and chose to ignore: Rob Pardo, one of the senior seniors at Blizzard, stating in a talk at MIT that Blizz just didn’t see that it was Blizz’ place to be all that much of an exemplar to people with regards to socially progressive topics.
I wouldn’t say that’s really a value for us. It’s not something that we’re against either, but it’s just not something that’s … something we’re trying to actively do.
– Rob Pardo
In the an article on Rock Paper Shotgun, Harper points out Dustin Browder arguing that Blizzard is "[…] not running for President. We’re not sending a message. No one should look to our game for that."
RPS countered, "let people have fun in an environment where they can feel awesome without being weirded out or even objectified." to which Browder countered,
"Uh-huh. Cool. Totally."
– Dustin Browder, master of artful dodges
All this plays eerily like Nintendo’s earlier comments regarding their game Tomodachi Life, in which relationships are possible, but not if you’re gay. They apologize for this, but state
The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation. We hope that all of our fans will see that Tomodachi Life was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game, and that we were absolutely not trying to provide social commentary.
Eerie, because it seems like Blizz is responding to some sort of game developer culture dog whistle here.
All about framing
In an earlier tech scandal this year, Mozilla Corp., better known for browsers than politics, hired a vocally anti-gay CEO, who stepped down a few days later after talk of boycotts, protests, and other general discontent. At the time, Mozilla announced his departure along side a statement that it was "hard to balance free speech and equality".
Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.
This has become a popular idiom as of late; getting ahead of the reader and trying to force the reader to make a decision that they don’t have to make. In the case of Mozilla, they try to make it so that you can only have equality or free speech. But the fact was, nobody’s free speech was at risk here. They made the decision to hire a known homophobe. But they were unprepared to accept the consequences of their actions. The REAL choice was whether or not to stand by their choice, and Eich took the choice out of their hands.
Pardo and Browder both want to do the same; present their decisions as a choice between having fun, and making a "statement" about social issues.
The problem is, of course, that nobody asked them to make that choice. They chose to force that choice.
All about Inclusion
A few years ago, Blizzard muckety and general brodawg Chris Metzen got up in front of Blizzcon and made a speech about what "Geek is". Among them:
Conan the Barbarian
G. I. Joe
Okay, more or less on track. But the thing he missed, the thing he didn’t say, that "Geek is" inclusive. Real, true geeks welcome all into the fold that live by our code. We don’t care if you’re man, woman, child, elder, Eldar, gay, trans*, country, western, Coke, or Pepsi.
If you’ve felt more at home in a library than a soccer pitch, we feel you.
If you’ve stood in line in the rain for a Harry Potter ticket, we get you.
And if you’ve ever felt excluded because what other people like makes you feel sad or weirded out or uncomfortable – we get you. We accept you.
Because GEEK IS … inclusive.
And I imagine Metzen left that out for at least two reasons.
He – and the rest of his dawgs – don’t get that. Don’t understand that.
His company would not be able to deliver on that.
This is not new. This is not sudden. This is baked in to the corporate culture. If you don’t fit their mold, it’s okay if you want to hang out, but if you don’t feel comfortable in their sandbox, they don’t care. Worse than that, they want you to shut up about it.
"Women are okay, I guess. Some of my best friends are women. But this is a boy’s trip. So if they’re not really cool with that, that’s just too bad. We’re not trying to make a social statement here."
A Crisis of Conscience
WoW is in crisis. It’s a crisis that nobody talks about.
It’s not that the alpha isn’t ready to go or that raiders are feeling shafted or that there have been x number of days since the last major content patch.
The crisis is the wave of people that are leaving because they no longer feel like they belong in this game. Every time Blizzard reaffirms this, more leave.
WoW has a unique place in this kind of conundrum.
On the one hand there is a beautiful, wonderful community of bloggers and tweeters and forum posters and such that are supportive, informative, and delightful to be around. On the other hand, there is this seemingly toxic corporate culture that sees no profit from making the game friendly to over half the people in the world. It’s hard to decide between the two.
For a long time, many of us have avoided deciding.
But more and more are deciding. Many major names in WoW blogging have departed lately, and they have stated this toxicity as the reason why. Not all of them are women or LGBT – some are simply sympathetic to the cause, and are leaving in a show of solidarity.
It’s a quiet crisis. We rarely speak of it. Surely, you will not see stalwarts in the WoW community like WoW Insider or WoWHead or MMO Champion reporting on it, because they know better than to antagonize the golden goose too much (But kudos to Matt Rossi for at least addressing the issue behind it, not something I would have expected to see from an AoL property.). Note to said stalwarts: Reporting on this sort of thing is not the same as taking sides – unless, perhaps, Blizzard have made it clear that any mention of it is antagonistic to them. Is it? I have no visibility to it. There is no transparency AT ALL.
But the crisis exists, nevertheless.
And maybe we should make it worse.
Making it an issue
People like Rob Pardo and Chris Metzen are not going to take a threat of financial loss that seriously unless their board beats them up. You can’t really get their attention that way. They hired somebody else to worry about that. Someone to "be the grown-ups" so they could go on being big overgrown kids.
No, what Rob and Chris want more than anything is for you to think they’re cool. They have that word tatoo’d on their tongues. They say it over and over again, like a mantra. Even Greg Street drank that kool-aid. Cool. Cool. CoolCoolCool Coooooooooooooooool.
So kick ‘em in the cool gland. If you have a voice, make it heard. If you decided to unsubscribe, make it clear when you do that you feel that Chris and Rob and Samwise are really uncool people with uncool attitudes towards women and LGBTs and the like. Explain to them that you abhor their attitudes. Tell ‘em to get sensitivity training or something. Tell ‘em to grow up a little (but not too much).
And maybe if enough people iterate on that, they’ll Get It.
I’m not holding my breath. Because entitled schmucks never really Get It until the world crashes down around them, and then they’re more likely to blame everyone else.
Making it Personal
Which brings me to me.
I haven’t played the game in days, ever since this came to light. This incident has poisoned the well, soured the taste to the point where I just can’t ignore this issue any more.
I said in the past that if they showed no progress on this issue, I’d drop my subscription. The fact that I’ve written on this topic before, multiple times, is evidence enough that the problem is baked in to their culture. Last time, in the MoP lead-up, Metzen at least made noises like they were going to try to improve. This time, they’re actually regressing, trying to disavow any responsibility for the effects their culture has on the product. I see little hope of improvement.
I have a couple of weeks left on my subscription, so I have some time to ponder this. And that’s my difficult choice – whether to implicitly underwrite a developer’s toxic culture which chooses to ignore or alienate a bunch of my friends, or to turn my back on a number of friends that are still doggedly sticking around – though far fewer than there used to be – and cast myself into the void, to land I know not where.
While nowhere near the eponymous choice’s difficulty, it’s still a poser.
Well, Wildstar opens in a week. Maybe that’ll tide me over until Elite.
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There seems to be a deep divide between those that think that our classes’ rotations have become too complicated – and thus welcome the upcoming changes to our rotations in WoD, and those that think that reducing the count of abilities is somehow “dumbing down” the game and thus are very annoyed at the upcoming changes.
This is not a topic with simple answers. I’ve tried, multiple times, to explain my thoughts on this topic in a venue in which I feel is ill designed for such discussions – that being Twitter. In fact, I have in the past unfollowed people that absolutely refuse to take long, wandering Twitter diatribes and put them in a blog post where they can actually sound semi-intelligent. Since I can’t unfollow myself, I have no choice but to go the blog route, or never speak to myself again.
Part of my day job is being a programmer. I am, when I program, primarily a Python programmer. Python is a beautiful, productive, and exceptionally fun to work with programming language that has, at its core, a set of principles that all programmers should heed, even if they aren’t programming in Python. To wit:
>> import this
The Zen of Python, by Tim Peters
Beautiful is better than ugly.
Explicit is better than implicit.
Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated.
Flat is better than nested.
Sparse is better than dense.
Special cases aren’t special enough to break the rules.
Although practicality beats purity.
Errors should never pass silently.
Unless explicitly silenced.
In the face of ambiguity, refuse the temptation to guess.
There should be one– and preferably only one –obvious way to do it.
Although that way may not be obvious at first unless you’re Dutch.
Now is better than never.
Although never is often better than *right* now.
If the implementation is hard to explain, it’s a bad idea.
If the implementation is easy to explain, it may be a good idea.
Namespaces are one honking great idea — let’s do more of those!
Okay, the part I want to draw your attention to is this.
Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated.
The idea here is, simple code is easier to maintain than complex code, and maintainability is everything in the software world. You may not be the next person to work on this code, for example, so think of the next programmer in line. And, as a famous saying goes, “any code that you haven’t seen in six months might as well have been written by somebody else.” In this case, the next person might be YOU.
Of course, there are times that complexity can’t be avoided. If your web server wants to support multiple web browsers, for example, you need to bake a little bit of complexity in to cater to specific requirements of various browsers. You can do complexity and still uphold maintainability if you do your job right.
But complicated … well, there we lose the thread. Maintainability goes out of the window. You need a roadmap to even keep track of your own code. Often, you end up guessing because keeping track of it all just wears you out. Want a good example of complicated? Log in to Facebook using any browser you can get access to, including obsolete ones that nobody else supports. They’ve baked more than complexity into Facebook, and it shows, every time you use it. Often it even corrupts modern browsers to keep it open too long. It’s so complicated that it even damages the internet – not intentionally, mind you – because there are parts of it that are just harmful and broken.
How’s this pertain to WoW? Well, it’s all about the difference between simple, complex and complicated.
Let’s shift gears for a moment. One thing I was taken to task for was expressing that I missed the old, pre-Cata talent trees. I was called on this, “You claim you want to reduce the number of abilities but you want the more complicated talent trees! Hypocrite! LIIIIIAAAAR!!!!1″
But that’s just not comparing things fairly.
You’re gonna point and laugh at talent calculators, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU?
The old talent trees, for all their complexity, gave flexibility. You could put together a Holy Hybrid priest that was 3/4 Disco and 1/4 Holy that pretty much was indestructible and pretty good at healing, to boot. You could create a “Shockadin” that utilized elements of Holy and Ret Paladins. You could do a lot with a complex talent tree that was useful and functional.
Button bloat, however, offers none of that.
First of all, unless you get really clever and complicated in your keybinds, you have around twelve abilities that are easily available – or if you’re like me, maybe sixteen. The rest are going to always be a stretch to find and use. Adding more abilities just makes this worse. You weed out those that have no immediate purpose, and maybe don’t bind them at all. Maybe they stay in the spellbook.
What’s the difference between twenty unused talents and twenty unused abilities? Probably that the unused talents have the potential to actually be USED. But chances are, if your spec has twenty abilities that you don’t use, they’ll NEVER be used.
Once you go Warlock, you’ll never go back.
It would be a whole different story if you had twenty extra abilities or spells that you might use as effectively as the twelve you have bound currently, but those twelve are bound and those twenty are not for a reason. Those twenty unused talents, however, have probably some chance of being used at some point if you want change your build. But no matter how hard you want, you won’t change the effectiveness of those ineffective abilities.
There’s an obvious fallacy here, though.
The astute reader might realize that I’m not exactly comparing equals. I’m comparing twenty potentially useful talents to twenty mostly useless abilities. That’s because of the source of what I’m comparing – I’m comparing the state of talents at the end of WotLK to the state of abilities at the end of MoP. That’s not entirely fair, but it is the hand I’ve been dealt for this discussion.
Obviously, the answer to the twenty useless abilities is to get rid of them and replace them with twenty useful abilities, right?
But here’s the one glaring difference between abilities and talents. Abilities are in your face, on your ability bars, and used in real time. Talents are not, except when they actually “produce” an ability. But for the most part, you choose your talents, you adjust your rotation appropriately, and for the rest of the expansion, they’re out of your face.
In the end, I stand by this. Lots of talents gives you the ability to fine-tune and individualize your character without necessarily causing your contribution in (raiding | PvP | cooking) to suffer overtly. But too many abilities can get in the way, make your life more complicated, make it more difficult to contribute to your favorite activities.
Well, naw, that’s pretty much a fallacy, too.
Let’s be honest. Your rotation will be whatever you see on Icy Veins.
And what will they tell you? Of those 50 abilities you have, here are the handful that you must use. And those others? Use them at the ren faire. Maybe somebody will applaud.
For the most part, the same applied to talents back in the day, except that instead of one true way to use them, there were multitudes, often dependent on levels and gear and what you wanted to do with your character. In terms of abilities, however, you have one of three tasks, now – DPS, heal, tank. And there will be probably two rotations – single target vs multi. And that’s pretty much as you’ll ever get from abilities now.
I fail to see the virtue of twenty good extra abilities when there is zero chance that they will be used. Twenty extra good talents, however, have potential to be used, without getting in the way.
The difference between the two is the difference between complex and complicated, and it’s all the difference in the world to me.
Your keybinds, your ability setup, your macros, that all amounts to the same sort of package as the average software project. You have to set it up, maintain it, use it. If it’s an unpalatable glop of buttons and half-hidden macros, I doubt the author is performing to her or his potential. Unlike a complex talent tree, you don’t have the time in the midst of battle to go looking for stuff or reading up on Noxxic when you forget just what the proper set of mostly unused actions are that you need for this particular situation (whatever that is). The more towards simplicity we go with this, the more towards goodness. Let’s move the complexity where it belongs, which is to say, not in the real-time aspect of the game.
So, no, I’m not talking out of both sides of my mouth on this topic. I see a substantial difference between a rich talent tree and button bloat. I’m not a big fan of the current talent system, but even less of a fan of having a dozen abilities I’ll never use.
Maybe I can’t bring other people to see that difference, but at least I didn’t leave it in Twitter.
And the Zen of Python? Maybe Anaheim should think about adopting it as a core principle as well. The Python runtime achieved a Coverity defect density of .005 this past year. A culture that eschews complexity – while still allowing for it when necessary – seems to work out to high-quality software, something that impacts anyone that uses it.
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Today, while I was up to my neck in the gubbins of an uncooperative database server, the pre-purchase program for WoD went live. A few things of note:
- The cost of the pre-purchase will be $70.00.
- We have context for a release date, and this is unprecedented this far out from the actual release – Blizz tends to play close to the vest. To wit: "Before 12/20/2014", or, "Fall 2012", which frames it as Sep-Dec 2014.
- The cost of a level 90 boost is, indeed, $60.00. I am not surprise.
I am also not surprised at the release date itself – somebody once asked me if I expected everyone to wait several months for new content, and my answer was that basically I’m just saying that that’s when I think it’s going to be. New expansions have traditionally been released in the 4Q time frame, with one exception .
I realize that Blizz have said that they "want" to iterate more frequently, but "want" isn’t "can do", and they have a lousy record for being able to accomplish what they "want" to do unless it brings money to the table. Hiss invective at me all you want, but it’s an observation that’s pretty well bankable at this point. It just is.
I’m sure that Blizz knows that this will probably mark a pretty drastic bleed-off of subs for the summer months. Too many people are bored with with SoO content already, and even more are fed up with Timeless Isle. There are too many opportunities for enjoyment out there that do NOT require endless grinding on old content. I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure they’re about to take a hit, and I’m pretty sure they’re not deluded enough to not expect it.
(I also have a very strong suspicion that they weren’t planning on it being this long when they announced WoD, but they’ve revised deadlines.)
I know a lot of people that are going to be very disheartened by this announcement’s implications. I’m not too happy about it myself, but at least I have the familiar embrace of low expectations to fall back on. Sadly, I think I have to fall back into that a bit too much. A premier software company can afford the resources to eliminate this kind of recurring disappointment. But it has to have the will to do so.
"Want" isn’t will.
There is a gigantic disparity between how lore is presented in WoW, and how it would actually go if the key players were allowed for a moment to make decisions of their own.
Right now, in this period after the downfall of Garrosh Hellscream, is one of those times.
Look at the situation. The Alliance has gathered the entirety of its military might to crash the gates of Orgrimmar and end the reign of Warchief Hellscream. At their side are the Trolls, the Tauren, the Sindorei, and maybe the
Would the Horde forces have been able to pull this off without the Alliance’s aid? Canonically, no. It took the help Alliance to pull this off, "by the book", and that’s what we end up with; the alliance virtually has its boot on the Horde’s neck, and at the last minute – shows mercy.
Now, in any sanely constructed world …
- The following day would have revealed that there was only one real power in Azeroth, that being Alliance.
- On Day 2, the Horde would have been pushed out of all the places it invaded during the Cataclysm years, such as Ashenvale.
- Day Three would see outposts constructed all over the planet where Alliance could keep an eye on the Horde.
- Day 4 might possibly see the restoration of Gilneas.
And so forth.
Bottom line is, in a relatively short period of time we’d see Alliance supremacy asserted throughout the land. While I doubt Wrynn would invade Horde holdings outright, I’m pretty sure he’d be keeping an eye on them and pushing back in areas that were overtly invaded by the Horde previously.
In this more reasonable world, we’d see long term plans forming to retake Lorderon. The Sindorei might read the writing on the wall and petition to reunite with their Kaledorei bretheren.
This is the kind of world that would be nigh inevitable with the Alliance at this level of superiority over the broken Horde.
But that’s not going to happen.
"War"craft implies that peace or even an uneasy occupation are simply not in the books. Few want to play a marginalized faction; the overall presentation of WoW is that there are two main factions of nearly equal power. This is what is being sold and, by gum, it’s what WILL be sold.
The lore designers simply can not drive their characters realistically in this particular case. They have to sell games for people to play them, so the lore stops cold when it comes to permanent change affecting the faction balance.
As much as they make peaceable noises, the Sindorei will never join the Alliance. As much as Wrynn makes threatening noise, the Alliance will NEVER retake Lorderon. The lore-writers’ hands are simply tied when it comes to this sort of thing. The only time we will EVER see a change in factions is when new races / factions are added to the mix.
If you’re into "the lore", if you’re into telling of stories, you have to remember this: as the story approaches the boundaries of faction balance, it will cease to make sense. You have to turn off your brain and press the "I Believe" button. Even for your own internal Head Canon, you will have to build little loops and alleyways around this anomaly in order to make it work.
If Blizzard really wants to impress us, they can try something really bold in this regard. But it’s obvious that they won’t even kill off flying mounts, as much as they say that they want to, so I doubt they have the metaphorical backbone to do something as breathtakingly bold as to merge Sindorei and Kaledorei factions in-game and substitute something new. Won’t happen. The player upheaval would leave them gibbering.
I think we all understand this, but sometimes you need to remind yourself. Don’t cross Sales. They’ll cut ya.
This needs to be said, because sometimes we forget that Lore doesn’t HAVE to make sense if it gets in the way of selling games, and when you’re trying to predict where it might be headed – don’t delude yourself into thinking that "reason" and "plot" and "consistency" have any power over the game’s design.
Speculation is running wild in the wind up to WoD, so, have fun with that. But try to keep a level head.
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This quote from Ion "Watcher" Hazzikostas infuriates me.
"In terms of the pricing, honestly a big part of that is not wanting to devalue the accomplishment of levelling."
I hate to take one line out of a conversation like this, but this highlights the disingenuous approach that Blizz has taken on the topic of "leveling" zones since they started nerfing everything that wasn’t current content with gay abandon.
Somewhere near the end of Wrath, they started doing this; reducing the amount of XP required to level; boosting the amount of XP you get from each kill, each quest, each turnin. Giving huge amounts of XP for digging up ore or picking flowers or skinning beasties. Granting bonus XP from certain holiday items and buffs. Offering items that you could use to bypass entire swathes of leveling zones. Making zones provide so much XP and requiring so little XP to get to the next level that you routinely ran out of green-or-better quests and leave huge bits of the lore untold unless you deliberately chose to stop leveling for a while. You can’t even level in current content and see all the zones without loitering.
All these things have been done to the leveling game, but Blizzard "doesn’t want to devalue the accomplishment of leveling".
Forgive me for being vulgar, but how does a company that has spent the better part of a decade devaluing the accomplishment of leveling get off saying things like this? The devaluation has already occurred. Leveling, in our current state of affairs, serves one purpose: it gets you to max level. Only people that deliberately want to soak in the lore, or get Achievements, will spend any more time leveling than they have to – and most of those throwbacks aren’t actually leveling per se, but going back and picking up the remaining quests they need for the achievement, completely over-leveling it.
There is no value left to lose.
The only way this gets less annoying for me is if we hear in later press events that what they meant to say was that they were re-valuing the leveling game and didn’t want to cheapen it with cheap L90s. But somehow, I get the strong feeling that that is not what they meant and that they’re going to blithely continue on as if they have no responsibility for the state of the leveling game now, and that anything that they do with the Boost feature in any way changes that (it doesn’t).
The other little disingenuous nugget of fail in that interview was the assertion that they didn’t want people to have to buy a second game just to get that second boost. But they’re quite happy to charge you as much as buying the second game would cost you! More, if WoD isn’t a requirement for the boost – in which case five bucks will get a second game and another free boost. AND it gets worse when you realize that even WoD will deflate in value after the first quarter of release. Aside from the aisles of Wal-Mart, you’ll be able to get the game for probably $40 or less after the first quarter, and that’s a $20 saving on every boost.
Maybe Ghostcrawler left because he saw the writing on the wall.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into this. But I’m not liking what I’m seeing.
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If you were awake this past weekend, you probably saw the news that in WoD, there are a few design changes that will ultimately culminate in the requirement of a silver medal in the Proving Grounds before you can randomly queue for a Heroic 5-man instance.
That is an outstanding solution for a problem that we don’t actually have.
Let me quantify this with a pie chart.
I think I’m turning Japanese
Let’s let the blue part of that chart represent the number of times I have had difficulty in a random Heroic5 because somebody in the group was incapable of playing his or her class. Let the red part represent the number of times I have had difficulty in a random Heroic5 because somebody in the group was an asshole.
I think you’re starting to get the picture.
Now, I immediately point out that data is not the plural of anecdote, so my personal experience is not by definition the experience others have. But I will also point out that no man is an island, and we all share an experience here, so what I hear from other players can be used as a guide to help determine if I’m whistling in the dark here.
Well, the majority of what I see people complaining about online – other than the forums is assholes. Or, rather, if they’re complaining about the person not performing, it’s because that person is being an asshole. Or otherwise coupled with the person being an asshole, in some way.
Well, assume Blizz is starting small. Let’s have a look at how the poor performers break down.
The red part is people that are complaining about poor performers as an excuse for their groups’ failures. The blue part is those people which would see improvement in their Heroic5 experience if only a silver medal was required for entry into a random Heroic5.
Okay, I’m full of shit and making those numbers up out of whole cloth, because I really don’t need a formal survey of the forums to form an opinion on this.
Of all the people having problems with randoms of any sort now, performance is rarely given as the cause of the failure. More times than not I’m reading about the seven healers that are left after all the DPS prima donnas left because they felt like effort was something they would like to avoid, and the tanks left out of disgust at that, and the healers are busy discussing who gets to be the biggest martyr this time. It wasn’t performance. It was personality.
I really don’t care at the meta level. I’m not running random Heroic 5s, not because I don’t think people know how to play, but because I’m fed up with assholes. And nothing Blizz is doing here is going to change an asshole’s opportunity to make LFD an unholy shithole of gaming society.
When Blizz comes up with social controls on trollish behavior, I’ll be more interested.
Meanwhile, Blizz is wasting time and resources on something that won’t make any difference. They could have done that on the dance studio and at least made people genuinely happy.
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