Saturday, April 26, 2014

Our BlizzCon Memorabilia

I spent some time hanging up some pictures in our office and wanted to share because it's memorabilia from the all three Blizzcon's my wife and I have attended:



The Sindragosa print on the right is from our first year (2009) when we attended the Benefit Dinner.  It originally came without a frame.  Unfortunately, despite stamping "DO NOT BEND" all over the cardboard packaging we sent home (we had no way to carry it back with us), the idiots from the Post Office bent it in half and crammed it into our mailbox.  There are still some pretty significant and visible creases.  It's such a shame because it's a really amazing print.  The kind folks at Jo-Ann Fabrics did their best to salvage what they could, including cutting out Wei Wang's signature and attaching it above the matting.  A bittersweet memory.

The Demon Hunter poster on the left is from our second year (2010) when we won a signed autograph from the Diablo III development team by looting a legendary item.  I think it was a translucent flag.  I ran over and got the attendant as fast as I could.  Our best find by far!

The Heroes of the Storm sketch is from our third year (2013) by winning a silent auction.  We weren't the highest bidders but luckily for us the one who did cancelled out of the purchase.  Lucky for us!  Rachael picked out the blue matte around the photograph and I think it looks amazing.

Will there be room for art from 2014?  We'll have to see...

Friday, April 25, 2014

GameStopped!

Ever since I enrolled in Best Buy's Gamer's Club, with it's incredible 20% off new game bonus, I'm firmly in their camp (for the price I paid, I will break even in 5 games over 2 years - a no brainer!).  Prior to jumping on board, I used to browse around between Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Target to find the best deal.  Toys-R-Us oftentimes will have a Buy 2, Get 1 40% off (or even free) sale, but for those who are pre-order happy, GameStop always seemed to have the coolest "stuff."

Despite a store being devoted entirely to my absolute biggest passion in life, I'm not sad at all that GameStop is beginning to close up some stores (for now - just you wait) and convert to a more mobile-based storefront.  Zynga headquarters, here we come!

Personally, I've had nothing but bad experiences with their pushy, unintelligent employees.  Maybe it's the engineer in me, but I prefer to do my own research and form my own opinions about games.  Losing out on the supposed "expertise" of GameStop employees doesn't bother me at all.

So I'd like to make an offer to GameStop.  I'll buy the closest store for $250 bucks.  Then I'll turn around and mark it up and re-sell it to the next guy who is looking to save  buck or two.  Isn't that their business model, anyway?

Sorry, that isn't nice.  But neither is taking advantage of your customers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Blizzcon 2014: Rundown of what news I expect to see.

Today, Blizzard Entertainment announced ticket sales for BlizzCon 2014.  The convention, which will once again be held in the Anaheim Convention Center, is revered by Diablo, StarCraft, and Warcraft fans alike (not to mention the newcomers Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm).

Tickets, which have increased again from last year, now will set you back $200 a person.  Of course, if you like getting chummy with the Blizzard brass (including CEO Mike Morhaime), you can always attend a private VIP function the night before (and pick up some pretty unique swag - usually a limited edition print) for a cool $750 a person.  Of course, proceeds go to charity, but that doesn't change it's for the richest of the rich.  I got to attend this event back when tickets were only $500 a person.  It was fun, but once you've done it, you don't need a repeat performance.

The big question, of course, is exactly what do we expect to see from BlizzCon this year?  My thoughts:

Diablo III: With Reaper of Souls already on store shelves, don't expect to see much from the gang this year.  If the PlayStation 4 version hasn't released yet, expect that to make a return.  If line indications were anything like last year, the demand for a PlayStation 4 version (at least to the hardcore Blizzard fan) is extremely low, but I suspect they'll have it available for playing again.

StarCraft II: If you're a StarCraft fan, this is the year to go.  Expect some big news regarding the upcoming expansion Legacy of the Void.  Since we didn't see much news about this title last year, I'm sure this year will be all about StarCraft.  I wouldn't expect anything less than some demo missions to explore, focusing on the new units, as well as some brand new Blizzard created arcade content.

World of Warcraft: Since Warlords of Draenor was available to play last year (as well as the big announcement!) I suspect more of the same -- the ability to play through some of the new zones, and check out the new level cap spells and abilities.  The demand for this game was really low last year, as the lines were non-existent the entire time.  With the game most likely being available in beta or public test realms, I wouldn't expect much news here.

Heroes of the Storm: This game will get much more attention.  By far the smallest demo area from Blizzcon 2013, I suspect a larger play area for this game.  Although it will most likely still be in alpha/early beta by the time Blizzcon rolls around, expect Blizzard to debut some new characters, mechanics, and playable maps.  Will we see a release date?  I suspect so, as the game seemed very polished to me.  I know the folks at Blizzard have a hard time committing to a release date, though.

Hearthstone: I don't expect to see very much from this.  The iPad was on full highlight last time, and the game has just released.  Much like what I expect from Diablo III, I don't expect a big turn out from Hearthstone.

Titan: The infamous "Project Titan" will of course be rumored throughout the year.  I personally don't expect to see this one make any waves, as the game has been put on hold for quite some time now.  It's always great to hold out hope, but don't attend Blizzcon just for this one.

Again, just my thoughts... what about you?  What do you want to see or not see?


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Indie Games: Stealth Inc, Thomas Was Alone & Brothers (PS Plus)

I had a brief stint with some indie games this weekend, and thought I'd share my thoughts.  All were courtesy of PlayStation Plus (and are playable on the PlayStation 3):

1.) Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark

Although whether or not you remain visible is a key aspect to this title, I never really felt stealthy as I did in games like Splinter Cell or Assassin's Creed.  In reality, it's a clever puzzle jumping game that requires twitchy actions and clever manipulation of levers, switches and blocks.  While shadows and lighting effects (which look great, by the way!) do play an important role in remaining undetected, I found that the game is less about taking your time and slowly unraveling a situation as it is more about setting up a quick maneuver and then executing your actions as quickly as possible.




The addition of a world leader board and some hilarious prompts and dialogue that appears a-la Splinter Cell: Conviction (this game clearly is a tribute to Sam Fisher) keep the game fun.  If you enjoy side platforming, and think you're up to the challenge, I recommend checking this one out.

2.) Thomas Was Alone

This game piqued my curiosity when it was released (two years ago!) to much fan fare.  I had seen some screenshots and must admit, the general idea of the game was lost to me.  On the surface, this game appears to be a simple platformer, in which you control a piece of forgotten programming code named Thomas (a red rectangle).  The goal is to clear small levels by reaching the portal at the end.

But of course, that game wouldn't be very much fun.  As the game progresses, you are introduced to more and more "characters" (different geometric shapes) that all have various abilities.  And, before long, you're using all the characters to clear levels.  Some jump really high, others float - but they all have a purpose.  The game requires you to switch between each character to complete a level.  It's a simple mechanic but one that gets more advanced as each stage progresses.





The story is what really stands out, in my opinion.  Here, you are presented with various polygons that you actually start caring about.  It's a very unique experience that shows that while simple mechanics are fun, it is story that really drives a game home.

3.) Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

This game centers around two nameless brothers who must band together and go on a great journey to save their ill father.  Unlike Thomas Was Alone, the two brothers don't speak in an unintelligible language (very similar to what Team Ico does).  Instead, body language and inflection are very important to the story.  It's amazing how such an amazing story can be told visually as opposed to the written word.  Hope, fear, despair, joy -- everything is beautifully captured in this adventure.

What makes this game extra challenging is that you are controlling both brothers simultaneously.  The left stick (and left trigger) are for one brother, whereas the right stick (and right trigger) are for the other.  Many actions must be done in tandem, and require some coordination between both hands to ensure victory.  While this inherently makes some of the challenges easier, there are still some clever designs that require more brain power than lightning fast reflexes.  It's a great experience.





So there you have it:  three very different PlayStation Plus "indie" games and my thoughts on each.  When PlayStation mentioned at E3 they would embrace the indie scene, they weren't joking.  Getting to experience these games (which are available on PC/Steam, by the way!) is great fun, and I highly recommend any gamer check them out.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

World of Warcraft: 3 years sober but faltering.

I remember standing around my with my fellow guildies of "Deaths Embrace" (no apostrophe, I always hated that) as we posed around the corpse of the Lich King.  We were an expansion late, and despite being well geared and well coordinated, we still took our lickings before dealing the final shot.

It was a glorious moment for Rotjaw the Undead Rogue from Blade's Edge.  It was also 3:45 AM on a work day.  That's when I knew I had it bad.  Way too bad.

I "snuck" into bed next to my fiancee and realized it was time to give up.  I had been practicing with the team for the previous three weeks as we worked our way to the final confrontation.  We had watched the YouTube videos, studied the secrets: execution with 24 of your best friends turned out to be a difficult task, even with Ventrillo and over a dozen add-ons at your disposal.

When I ceremoniously laid Rotjaw to rest in the Southern Barrens (thanks Cataclysm) and logged for the last time, I knew it was the right thing to do.  But there's something about that game that always make me think about it.  Whether it be sneaking through Stormwind, ganking guards and flagged players, or whether it be the endless runs for Deathcharger's Reins, it was a hell of a game.

Going to Blizzcon doesn't help matters either.

Now, as I'm spread pretty thin gaming wise between the Wii U, the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and our latest obsession with Diablo III (or StarCraft II, depending on the weather), I ponder going back to Azeroth just one more time.  I've done pretty good in fighting off the urge, but I must admit, the desire still burns strong.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sony PlayStation 4 eclipses 7 million console sales!



Today, Sony announced that the PlayStation 4 had just sold over 7 million units.  According to Sony, this number is representative of actual sales (not just "purchase orders" fulfilled by stores).  Furthermore, the announcement also mentioned that over 20.5 million games have been sold.  Quick math tells us that on average, each user purchases almost 3 games per console.

Congratulations to Sony on such an achievement.

I haven't heard much regarding total sales from Microsoft (or Nintendo) for that matter, but suspect that the Xbox One sales increased significantly with the release of Titanfall.  Nintendo continually lowers their sale estimates, so the jury is still out on that - but I suspect that the upcoming Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Brothers titles will help keep the console relevant in the coming months.

So it appears that Sony's "gamers first" message resonated the strongest.  Here's my takeaways, as bias as they may be:

1.) The "all-in-one" console scares hardcore gamers away.
2.) The "all-in-one" console doesn't appeal enough to the casuals to make up for this loss in sales.
3.) Sony gambled that the "indie scene" would remain relevant.
4.) PlayStation Plus continues to impress.

Healthy competition is good.  Despite Xbox breaking my heart, I'm still rooting for them to make a strong comeback.  I know that with Phil Spencer at the helm, only good things are going to come to Microsoft (atleast, I hope so).  With Halo 5 and Gears of War on the horizon, I wouldn't count the folks at Microsoft out of the race just yet.

While gamers flood random message boards about console superiority, they ultimately speak with their wallet.  It appears, for now atleast, their choice is crystal clear.