What’s your one great wish for Blizzcon?

If I could see one dream announcement come out of Blizzcon this weekend, it would be that they have some ideas for an alternative to the raiding endgame. (Maybe influenced by public raids, dynamic Rift-like events or LOTRO skirmishes.)

And the second one would be an open Diablo 3 beta test.

How about you? Any interest in Blizzcon, any thoughts about what you’d like to see announced?

[SWTOR] Notes from SDCC, and scarce code is scarce

OK, a few more notes about The Old Republic to catch up on what we’ve seen last week, following up Arb’s summary of her flashpoint yesterday.

As an observer, I was mostly taken by:

  • Smoothness of the character animations. This isn’t LOTRO where the game is gorgeous until someone moves. It’s all very nicely animated.
  • Loved the female sith bounty hunter that Arb was playing, she looked very cool and badass. So did her armour.
  • It wasn’t all that easy for me to tell the various characters apart, aside from the sith inquisitor in his robes. Expect the inquisitor/ consular to get picked on a lot in PvP because they’re so easy to spot. As well as potentially being healers.
  • The dialogue wheels were lots of fun. I could see Arb settling into her character when she started instantly picking the most sarcastic options (which got darkside points, naturally.) What she couldn’t see but I could was that the guy sitting next to her was picking the exact same options with similar lack of delay. It’s almost a shame that the game can’t point out afterwards, “You know character X you met in that team? You guys have a lot in common and picked similar options, maybe you’d get on.” Would be especially neat for light side empire and dark side republic characters to be able to spot each other.
  • The instance was pretty much corridors (dressed up nicely as a ship) with mobs in them, broken up by the occasional boss or dialogue. There was an obvious influence from WAR in that side quests such as “kill 30 republic soldiers” kept popping up and it looked as though the team was completing them fairly organically just by running the flashpoint.
  • You do get to mow down lots of enemy mooks.

The point Arb made yesterday was that she could imagine groups getting very impatient if one member was slow to read or select dialogue or went AFK because the game does require everyone to make a selection before things continue. I assume there is a timeout, but we know how fast faster faster gogogo people get in instances.

Star Wars Panel

Bioware ran a 45 minute panel at Comic Con, at which they showed a few trailers, introduced some of the character voice actors, and answered some questions. G4TV recorded the whole thing, along with a commentary – mine would have been better (obviously) if I hadn’t run out of power on the iPod towards the end :)

The room was packed, and people cheered the trailers (which do look awesome on a big screen with proper sound equipment.)

Main points:

  • New trailer. This one briefly introduces the classes, it’s all made up of in-game footage, no cinematics. And I’m assuming you get to hear the actual voice actors who’ll be voicing the player characters. (The Imperial Agent not only looks geeky, he sounds geeky too! I may be a bit in love.)
  • No overlap of quest between class/ faction. For example, the bounty hunter and jedi knight have no quests in common from 1-max level. I’m assuming there may be some faction quests in common but definitely got the sense that the vast majority of class content is not repeated.
  • They discussed the solo endgame. There will be an entire planet devoted to this.
  • Planets can be quite large. They gave the example of 30 mins to run from one end to the other, although players will have faster transport than that.
  • You’ll be able to customise your companions, including changing their skin and hair colour. So yours don’t have to look like everyone else’s.
  • There is a LOT of dialogue in this game, which I think had been well broadcast previously. The voice actors discussed this, and the sizes of the scripts they had to read. They both really seemed to enjoy their characters and praised the writing (I hope the woman playing the love interest is ready for the amount of fan reaction she’s likely to get :) ).
  • They showed an example of the dialogue wheel, with a jedi vs sith fight where the winning jedi got to choose at the end whether or not to kill their opponent. They let the crowd choose, based on how loudly people cheered for each choice (cheers sounded about equal from where I was sitting). They said they expected people to choose killing, but showed both alternate endings. In the light side ending, the guy said he would change his ways, and they said you might run into him again later.
  • I can’t remember the character’s name but the twilek who ends up as a possible companion to the sith warrior is hilarious. They showed a couple of clips of her sassing people.
  • Level 50 was noted as the max level.

Pricing and Scarcity

There has been a lot of debate in the blogosphere (to put it mildly) about the pricing of the SWTOR pre-orders and collectors editions. Yes, they’re high, but they’re also bang in line with pricing trends for AAA games.

This will not be the first game to offer a $150 collectors edition, and it certainly won’t be the last. I don’t really understand the outrage on this particular point, collector’s editions were always supposed to be something a bit special for the hardcore (and rich) fans.  Having said that, I think Bioware could do fairly well if they sell the soundtrack separately.

Similarly, before complaining about the price of the standard edition, stop and think about how much MW3 is likely to be selling for later this year. Will it stop people buying the game? Hell no. I share the dismay on pricing trends, but this is pretty much in line with the way things are going.

Another issue is the deliberate scarcity of pre-order copies of the game. I have heard some obscure conspiracy theories around EA doing this to push prices up. I have also heard some more plausible debates about how to stop the servers getting swamped on launch (along with suggestions that EA should just somehow manage it.)

In any case, the real take away point I took from seeing the game and the dev team at Comic Con is that no one is trying to fool anyone. What you see is what you get. The game is very much for real. If you don’t like what you’re seeing and hearing in the interviews and demos right now, then it may not be for you. And I trust Bioware that if they are keeping the copies scarce, then they have a good reason for it.

It is a shame if players outside the US and EU have to wait a few more months for their servers, but we did that with WoW and it didn’t kill us. My advice is that it’s worth the wait to have local servers if you were planning to play the game anyway.

[SDCC] San Diego Comic Con, the geek Mecca

Last week, Arb and I were in San Diego along with 150000 of our closest geeky friends to attend the annual fan fest which is San Diego Comic Con. (Alas, no pictures since I lost my camera out there somewhere.)

I’ll be writing more about the con this week, including posts on individual game-related panels and demos (inc. SWTOR and Guild Wars 2) as well as some posts about the exhibition floor and events going on outside the convention centre, to try to give a flavour of what it was like out there.

Although there is a sizeable gaming presence, it’s just a small part of the whole event. The heart of Comic Con is still with comics, just about, but the film and TV industry run the largest and most popular panels.

Another site sums up their favourite of the film and TV panels based on popularity. I think judging on popularity may be a mistake, because we found that some of the less hyped panels were at least as entertaining. But I did hear that the Game of Thrones panel was very good (I was at the SWTOR panel which was at the same time.)

The convention that ate San Diego

San Diego is a delight, I’m glad we arrived there a couple of days in advance so that I could see what it’s like when not completely taken over by Comic Con. The weather is gorgeous (warm and temperate), it’s by the sea, the public transport is great, it’s clean, people are friendly, and it’s not too big. There is plenty for tourists to see and do, and you can get to Tijuana on the trolley bus if you wanted to poke your nose into Mexico as well.

But wow is it ever different once the convention opens!

It isn’t just that there are posters everywhere, hordes of geeky tourists, and that every restaurant and shop in the area has a poster up saying that SDCC fans are welcome. HUGE posters line the sides of hotels near the convention centre – and when I say HUGE I mean they take up half the side of the hotel. The trolley stop closest to the con was rebranded in comic typeface and speech panels. Everywhere is busier, and as you get nearer to the convention centre, the con tends to spill out onto the streets. There are booth babes handing out badges and fliers, carts selling food and produce, and stands/ tents/ hotels taken over by companies such as Sega, Bioware, Marvel, etc so that they can run their own events, parties and demos outside the convention centre for all comers. It gets loud. Everywhere. All the time.

Even on the convention floor, individual stands host Q&A sessions or events at different times or days: for example, I saw Stan Lee being interviewed at the Marvel Stand.

The inevitable queuing

Comic Con not only has a huge number of attendees, but it’s pretty much accepted by all comers that there are too many people for the size of the convention centre and the size of the event. It was on everyone’s lips to wonder how much longer they can continue holding the con in San Diego purely for this reason. Still, this didn’t stop us from doing any of the things we came to do – the exhibition floor was navigable, I didn’t have any major problems getting into gaming panels or playing demos, although the reason I didn’t try the SWTOR demo was because I didn’t fancy queuing 2.5 hours to play a 15 min demo. Props to Bioware that others did, though.

CBS reports in more detail on the future of Comic Con.

One of the side effects is that there is a lot of queueing. We got a first taste of this when we spent 5 hours or so queueing just to pick up our (pre-booked) tickets on the day before the con began. Tickets including preview night access for next year are already sold out.

One of the other ‘features’ of Comic Con is that they don’t clear out the panel rooms (which vary in size from a bijou 250 up to the vast 6000 seater Hall H) between sessions. So if there is a popular session scheduled for the afternoon, the only way to guarantee getting a seat is to be in there all day. And if the panel is really that popular, that means getting in queue early in the morning, just to be sure. Oh yes, the queues also start way before the convention centre opens.

So if anyone was wondering why we didn’t go to the Game of Thrones panel, that’s the other reason why.

Swag: not just a 4 letter word, it’s a way of life

When you pick up your comic con tickets, you are also given a huge and mostly empty bag. Why was this, I wondered. It’s for swag, said Arb knowingly, as we decided whether we liked the pictures on the sides of our bags or whether we should get Arb’s friend (who is apparently good at bag trading) to try to trade them in with other people for ones we preferred. I decided to stick with the Arkham City one.

Swag comes in many different flavours at comic con. You can pick up a fair amount by just wandering around the exhibition floor. In particular you will acquire badges, postcards, bags, free/ preview comics, fliers, and posters just by sticking your hand out as they’re being distributed. I also picked up a couple of t-shirts that were being given out by gaming companies after you had demoed one of their games.

There’s more strategy needed for a maximal swag grab, as some stands only give out swag at specific times of days, or give out different swag at different days/ times.

Swag can also be achieved in panels, and I saw some being given out to people who asked questions in panels. Other panels gave out swag to all attendees, such as the SWTOR pre-order codes given out by Bioware, or the very stupid hats given out by the cartoon network.

Some swag can be grabbed outside the convention centre too, such as the inflatable omniblades at the Bioware Base, or the angry birds badges that I saw being given out on the street by people in angry bird costumes. Or the really nice posters and captain america 3D specs that we were given at the cinema when we went to see Captain America.

My personal favourite swag was:

  • the educational comic about Tesla and the Chicago World Fair, illustrated with lots of pigeons
  • Dragon’s Dogma T Shirt
  • omniblade
  • Captain America poster from the cinema, which I’m going to get framed

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days

We (as in europeans) tend to have a view that Americans are really good at organising things,  especially when the things are also large events. SDCC really bore this out for me. Yes, there was a lot of queuing, yes there probably were too many people there for the size of the event, but all the staff I spoke to either on individual stands or as part of the convention staff were polite, helpful, and professional. Events happened at the right time in the right place, bang on schedule.

I don’t know if I would go again, although I’d certainly go to other (smaller!) cons but we had a fantastic time.

Comic Con (and holidays)

Arbitrary and I are off to San Diego Comic Con next week, which means posting is going to be on the quiet side until we get back (this does depend a bit on wifi accessibility and if my Eee holds up.)

On the one hand, this gives you all a chance for a break!

On the other, we’re hoping to get some good gaming (and geeking) in to write about when we get back, including a first hand look at both SWTOR and GW2. Bioware and Arenanet are both going to be running demos at the con, as well as panels during the convention.

Since I don’t go to California often (read: this will be the first time I’ve been there other than changing planes at LAX), is there anything else we should do or try while we’re out there if we have time?

Also, the schedule is here and we’re open to suggestions if anyone is desperate for a writeup on any specific panel.  (Confusingly, their ‘gaming track’ seems to be all about playing card games, with no mention of any other sorts of  games at all.)

Predictions for MMOs/ Gaming in 2011

It is that time when we look ahead and try to predict what the year ahead may bring. Arbitrary and I have put our heads together to see what we can come up with…

In general, it’s going to be another huge year for both social gaming and mobile gaming. There will be more massive hits along the lines of Angry Birds, and both iPhones and Android will continue to be strong platforms. We’ll see the trend for Android to increase in popularity continue as more and more models come onto the market.

The debate as to what does or doesn’t constitute an MMO will continue. Facebook will continue as the platform of choice for social games, particularly on handsets, since it actually is handset agnostic.

The iPad will not really live up to the potential that the industry had hoped. Already we’re seeing that magazine subscriptions on the iPad are below predictions. There will be popular games, yes, but they will never come close to the popularity of the phone-based versions. So iPad owners had best get used to continuing to receive iPhone conversions.

I predict something big with Zynga this year. They’re huge, but they’ve not had much success in breaking away from Facebook. The desire to do so is still there … maybe they’ll even try to take over FB or merge the companies in some way. Whatever it is, it’ll be crazy.

E-sports will be a big trend this year in some form or other, as publishers try to find more ways to draw in the ‘core audience’ into more social, F2P type games. Expect at least one hugely successful multiplayer game, possibly on a console or on Facebook, with this kind of worldwide e-sports competitive ethos at its core.

One of the other big trends this year was for breakout indie games. This is nothing new, but Minecraft in particular has been a stunning hit. In addition, the various Steam indie bundles, more attention from PC journalists and blogs, and ‘pay what you want’ weekend offers have gotten more people to try them out than ever before. This trend continues, and we’ll see at least one successful indie MMO launch this year.

Interactive/ internet TV is going to be another big trend this year. Look for gaming on Google TV in particular (one area where Zynga may have their eye). And this is a platform that favours simple social games.

This year also marks the release of the Nintendo 3DS, the 3D version of the DS. Whilst it will sell well enough to be marked as a success, they will signally fail to persuade most users to upgrade. However nice the graphics, there’s unlikely to be a killer game that really uses the 3D. (If it played films, however …) This won’t be a good year for handhelds, losing more ground to the ubiquitous smartphones.

WoW/ Blizzard

This year Blizzard plays it safe with WoW. There won’t be any big features analogous to the dungeon finder. Patches will be more of the raid instance, dailies, extra minigames type of content.

Whilst some players will get bored quickly of Cataclysm, the strategy to draw in more casual players will work, by and large.

The balance of ranged vs melee is going to continue to be a big feature of this expansion.

The leaked expansion plans date the next expansion for 2010. I predict this is correct and we’ll hear more about the next expansion and about Blizzard’s plans to offer more frequent, smaller expansions. Wrath will soon be perceived as the golden age of WoW in much the same way that TBC was by the old guard for most of Wrath.

The big change for the next expansion will be a crafting revamp.

Blizzcon will be held in Europe.

Blizzard will announce their next game, currently codenamed Titan. It will, as expected, be a different genre from WoW. (Please take a moment to imagine what the WoW community might be like if Blizzard’s next game is a FPS. Heck, imagine what the Blizzard community for a FPS MMO might be like? Scared yet? This is why they will come back with a more player friendly version of realID.)

Other games

Guild Wars 2 will not release in 2011.

Neither will World of Darkness (Vampire).

Neither will The Secret World

The walking in stations expansion for EVE will release and will generate a flurry of ‘look at this amazing character creator’ posts. It will not substantially expand the player base, though and will largely be seen by existing players as watering down the current game.

Star Wars: the Old Republic will release and will fail to either gain a million subscribers or to be a game people want to play for 10 years (both predictions made by EA). It may even fail completely within 6 months. (I will still play it.)

Mark Jacobs will announce a new project, DaoC 2.

There will be more discussion about the F2P model as it applies to MMOs, focussing more on practical details of ‘what works’. People will pick their games at least as much based on payment models as anything else, to the point of having preferences for very specific flavours of F2P.

There will also be extended discussions in the blogosphere about how trustworthy various publishers are viewed as being. This is partly connected with games that failed in 2010 (do you trust this game to still be going in 6 months before you invest too much time into it?) but also with the way the F2P model has been implemented by companies such as SOE.

LOTRO will release their Isengard expansion which will be comparable in size to Mirkwood. ie. a couple of levelling zones, new instances, and a raid. They will increasingly be spread thin trying to keep both the lifetime endgame player base happy and the new F2P players who are more interested in lower level revamps.

2011 is a big year for RPGs. In fact, it will probably also be the biggest year ever for computer games in general.

Diablo III will release, will be a massive success. It will contain various features borrowed from WoW, and so the cycle comes full circle.

Dragon Age II will release, will be a massive success.

Mass Effect III will release, will be a massive success.

The Witcher II will release, will be a massive success (but possibly not on the scale of the previous three games, which is a shame.)

And not a RPG, but yes, Portal II will release, will be a massive success.

Whatever Infinity Ward does for EA will release, will be a massive success.

There will be at least one film tie in game that is actually good, and will be a massive success.

Microsoft attempt to clean up the Xbox Live community in some way, possibly involving an element of realID.