SWTOR, Diablo 3, launch dates, and the pressure of the first wave

So the battle lines are drawn and SWTOR has a launch date announced just before Xmas. This smacks to me of a management imperative to get the thing out of the door in Q4 2011, in the same way that sales departments tend to get hyperactive at the end of a sales quarter with regard to targets.

So no,  in answer to Stabs comment yesterday, I don’t think this date was devised purely in response to Blizzard’s delay on Diablo 3. I also think that D3 probably won’t be released in January 2012 – if it was that close to the beginning of the year they’d have put more people in crunch mode to get it out before Xmas also.

Also props to Stephen Reid, the SWTOR community manager is, via reference to his twitter account just after the announcement:

Rockjaw Stephen Reid

If you don’t mind I’m just going to talk about the release date ‘thing’ for a couple of tweets…

Rockjaw Stephen Reid

It feels weird it’s out there, but great. Now it’s real for all of us in Austin. Working on MMOs pre-launch is cool but launch is amazing.

Rockjaw Stephen Reid

I just want to say thank you to everyone who kept the faith and have waited patiently… you’re all awesome fans.

Rockjaw Stephen Reid

And to those who lost faith and couldn’t be patient… well, I hope you’re happy with the date too. 🙂

Rockjaw Stephen Reid

Last: been an incredible ride for me personally so far. The best is yet to come though! G’night and dream of #SWTOR + #TOR2011

So, question is, will more people buy and play SWTOR because of this release date than if they had delayed? It’s a balance – I suspect yes because of the pre-holiday date. Everyone with a pre-order will get some manner of early access before the street date anyway so the game will effectively be in full swing by the time it is released.

As to whether it’s wise to play any MMO on release, the answer is that ‘it depends’. It depends if people are bothered about possibly bugs and teething troubles, it depends how badly people want to be in the first wave of players, or if they are desperate to raid/ endgame in a hardcore group, it depends if they have spare time at release and this is how they want to spend it.

I think one of the legacies of WoW and its hardcore raiding fixed size raid model is that players who do fancy themselves as hardcore are now obsessed by powering through the levelling game as fast as possible. This is because the more hardcore raids tend to form up from the first players to endgame. It’s not as rigid a rule as some players seem to think because raids form and disband all of the time, but yes, if you’re in a really competitive group these things can be important. I think though that players who want to appreciate SWTOR for its strengths (story) will not want to rush.

Diablo 3 is likely to be another kettle of fish. Anyone who wants to make bank on the AH in that game will want to level as quickly as possible (so that they can sell high level drops to lower level players), and the chances are that Blizzard has had enough experience with battle.net to keep the thing up through the initial rush.

But more casual players (eg. me) could easily delay playing D3 until they have a gap in their gaming schedule. As a single player(ish) game, there aren’t the social issues with being behind that you can get in an MMO.

Eurogamer Expo: What caught my eye, and it’s going to be a Star Wars (TOR) Xmas …

journey-game-screenshot-19You are going on a journey…

The Eurogamer Expo was held from Thursday-Sunday last week, taking over a larger venue than last year. I’d say that it was an improved experience all round, so props to the organisers.

As Danie says, computer gaming expos are very different in tone from gaming/ sci-fi conventions. You walk into a huge darkened hall, there are posters hanging from the ceiling, and the main source of light is the flickering of hundreds (thousands?) of screens running demos. It all feels very Bladerunner.

You wander around, decide which games you want to queue for and which you’re content to watch over someone else’s shoulder, keep an eye on twitter for when any giveaways are announced, and go off to explore. It’s not an ideal environment to meet people socially, so I do apologise to anyone else who was there who I failed to meet.

The games which I found most eye catching were the ones which immediately feel more different to the standard RPGs/shooters. Journey in particular had me and my partner absolutely mesmerised – and that was just watching other people play it. It’s a sort of platform game which has the look of a Studio Ghibli film.

We decided not to queue for Skyrim, GW2, SWTOR, Arkham City or Dark Souls; I’m not big on standing around for ages just to play a demo. My beloved did win a tshirt (for me 🙂 ) in a giveaway by knowing that Catwoman used to be a hooker though – I knew there was a reason I married him!

The Indie Arcade was also a huge amount of fun. I didn’t have time to try all of the games, but This Robotic Heart of Mine and Molecat Twist were both very engaging puzzle games of the type when you look up and blink and wonder where two hours went.  (The molecats are also adorable and they should make cuddly ones!) Rimelands: Hammer of Thor was also a fun little turn based roguelike which actually shows the dice rolls when you are in combat.

All recommended: I’m sure the others were good also but didn’t get a chance to play them.

The other big news of the convention was that Bioware announced the release dates for SWTOR: 20th Dec in the US, 22nd Dec in the EU. More on that tomorrow.

Diablo III for 2012? And more on social games.

I was talking to a friend last night about Diablo 3 and when it might be out. “We haven’t heard anything yet,” I said optimistically, “So maybe towards the end of this year.”

Apparently Activision haven’t heard anything about this recently either. RPS reports that they are predicting a release in 2012 because Blizzard haven’t mentioned a release this year to them yet. As John says in the link, it does make you wonder about the relationship between Activision and Blizzard.

Still, maybe by the time Blizzcon 2011 rolls around in October, they’ll deign to tell us a bit more about it. Other games likely to feature in this year’s Blizzcon are the next SC2 expansion, and hopefully more information about Blizzard’s next MMO and maybe the next WoW expansion as well. Should be busy.

Excuse me, I have to go cry my eyes out in a corner somewhere. OK, back now! Think brave thoughts about Dragon Age 2 and The Old Republic and ((insert forthcoming 2011 game of your choice)), chums!

Facebook games that beg/ plead/ cajole/ threaten you to tell your friends

This is an unrelated link that caught my eye since I haven’t written much about Facebook games recently. Sociological Images writer Lisa Wade describes (with graphics) why Zynga’s new hit Cityville is more annoying than ever.

So they still haven’t really cracked that, “Let’s make a fun game that doesn’t annoy everyone,” idea yet. But then, zillions of people play the darned thing so presumably it either doesn’t annoy them or else it annoys them into playing it.

[Cataclysm] New race/ class combos in before expansion

Ladies and Gentleorcs, start your engines. We have a release date for Cataclysm and it is 7th December. I imagine there was a lot of pressure for Blizzard to get this one out of the door before the end of the year (and not just from bored players.) Player vs Developer notes that the digital download will be available from Blizzard on launch day, which didn’t happen with previous expansions. Will Cataclysm sneak in as the biggest game of the year? There’s a lot of competition.

But there are going to be some major changes in the game before this date too. It’s been quite usual in the past for class changes to be patched in before an expansion and that will happen here too.

isheepthings sums up the changes coming into the game via patch 4.0.1 which is due in a week or so.

I predict that the raid lock changes in particular will be quite confusing to people. My brief summary:

  • 10 and 25 man raids will share the same locks
  • You can zone into any raid as long as it’s further into an instance than any boss you have already killed that week. So if you go into ICC on Wednesday and clear the first wing, you can go in with any raid later in the week as long as those bosses are already down when you zone in.
  • Blizzard explain it more fully here.
  • However, if your raid clears the first wing when you aren’t there and you then clear the rest of the instance with them the next day, you cannot later go into a new raid just to kill the first wing (because you have already killed the later bosses.)

More interestingly, Zarhym commented in answer to questions on the official board:

Q u o t e:
Will the new Race/class combinations (not Worgen/ Goblin), be available prior to Cataclysm? Or do you have to have a Cataclysm account to create an Orc mage or a Troll Druid?

They will be available to everyone shortly before the release of Cataclysm when The Shattering takes place.

So it sounds as though the world will change before the expansion launches, at which time everyone who is desperate to play a blood elf warrior, tauren paladin, dwarf shaman et al can get their groove on.

[Cataclysm] On being replaced by a pet

The Public Test Realms are now up with patch 4.0.1, which means that even slackers who aren’t in the Cataclysm beta will get an early chance to see the new class and talent tree designs.

If you find this PTR and patch 4.0 business puzzling, all you need to know is that before each previous expansion there have also been many class changes. Blizzard patches the class changes into the live game before the expansion. And no, we don’t know when although November 2nd is the current hot guess for Cataclysm. (Not saying this is set in stone, although I don’t think Boubouille has been wrong before.)

One of the more interesting changes is that the hunters’ pets have had a revamp. Each different type of pet will now be able to provide a different raid buff. And that raid buff will be exactly the same as a player of appropriate class could provide. This includes Bloodlust/ Heroism (which could be provided in future by a Corehound, available to Beastmaster specced hunters.)

Even a trained corehound could do that!

It’s ironic that one of the standard complaints about raiding (usually from non raiders) is “Even a trained monkey could learn to do that!” in a game where the actual trained monkeys are often more useful and easier to control than the players. A pet doesn’t have to worry about getting out of the fire in WoW, for example – they automatically take much much less AE spell damage.

You can probably even set the new pets to automatically renew their buff when the timer runs out. Which would put them way ahead of … well me for example! I do try to keep shouts (warrior buffs) up but sometimes if I’m busy it may be a few seconds late.  A pet won’t do that. And some of the ‘skill’ goes out of the game.

So there will be advantages to having pets along to do the buffing.

I don’t actually think giving hunters access to all the raid buffs is overpowered. Although it does give them a privileged position in regards to raid invites. Having one in your raid means a very flexible buffing class. If I played a different dps, I don’t really know how I’d feel about that. It’s not as if the class lacked utility before.

I think it’s a mixed blessing for the actual hunter player. Forget being able to choose which pet you bring to a raid, the raid leader will consult a spreadsheet and tell you. And if that means a tenacity pet which does less dps, then enjoy slipping down the damage meters in order to provide more utility. Look forwards to the joy of feeling obliged to go catch and tame a copy of every type of pet in the game if you are a keen raider, just in case. Enjoy having Beastmaster as an offspec, even if you hate it, just in case one of those exotic buffs turns out to be necessary.

Tanks however, are used to being replaced by pets. The pet’s entire purpose is to tank solo content, and if they can also tank instances and even raid bosses, well it’s just a matter of scaling. What I really want to know is why I can’t have a pet that heals or does ranged dps. I’d look after it and make sure it didn’t get eaten! (Or at least, I’d take better care of it than I do most of my mates in game, where I’d be more likely to point and laugh if they got themselves chewed on by mobs due to doing something daft.)

The strange lack of healing pets

In many ways, the most interesting of the new pet abilities is the heal which Spirit Beasts will be able to provide. Blizzard have shied away hard in the past from healing pets. I never really understood why this was. What’s the problem with a pet that can heal, given that they’re OK with letting them tank the occasional raid bosses? It could be tuned to never heal as well as a player, and to require lots of micromanagement if that’s needed as a balance.

Still, it feels odd to see abilities which used to be signature to a class turning up on a pet. It is a pretty good indication though that the days in which a player might expect to  be wanted in a raid just for one buff are over.

So, Diablo III might be out this year

Updated: so VG247 have dug into this and Blizzard just said that they hadn’t announced a release date yet for D3.

I am sure that I was not the only person who was just a wee bit gutted to read yesterday that Blizzard’s CEO had said that the only games they had due out in 2010 were Starcraft 2 and Warcraft: Cataclysm. What about Diablo 3, did we really have to wait until 2011?

Fear not, because (just for once) Blizzard are hinting at getting the game out earlier. VG247 reports that Mike Morhaime is saying that it’ll be out this year. (I wouldn’t normally put up a post for something like this but it’s Diablo and I’m a fangirl 😛 )

They do comment that they’ll be getting more information on this because they’re dubious, and much as I’d like to believe it, I’m dubious too. After all, SC2 was pushed back because of work on the upgraded battlenet and surely Diablo will be using that also.