We know that Heroes of the Storm went through multiple names over the course of its development, and those were just the ones mentioned in public. How does a company have both “Heart of the Swarm” and “Heroes of the Storm” in the development pipeline at the same time without someone stopping that? I type at least one thing wrong every time I spell out either name now.

: Zubon

Accumulating Dailies

We have previously discussed the differing needs of people who play an hour every day versus one big weekend binge. Heroes of the Storm gives you a semi-random daily quest rather than a first win of the day bonus, and your daily quest sticks around between days if you do not finish it today. You do not even need to log in to refresh this. If you have not played in three days, when you go back, you will have a full quest log.

: Zubon

Heroes of the Storm: Gazlowe

Ravious mentions playing HotS as an assassin. My experience has been completely different because I have mostly been playing Gazlowe, an anti-NPC specialist. This isn’t LoL, it does not play like LoL, and if I am going with it I am going with it.

I picked up Gazlowe because I got a daily quest to play three games as a specialist, with no specialists available in the free rotation unless I gained a bunch of levels (poor design). Gazlowe was the cheapest, and he sounded interesting. Melee is not my strength, but he is a melee with Heimerdinger’s skills and anti-structure talents. I’m in.

I get that some people manage to be bad at Heroes of the Storm, but either Gazlowe is top tier or I’m just rather good with him. I do 30-40% of our team’s siege damage, sometimes more. There are games where I have top score for siege and hero damage and xp contribution. In a MOBA that focuses more on NPCs than killing other players, Gazlowe focuses on NPCs. You could build him another way, but why?

I take the passive for Gazlowe’s R: +150% damage against minions, mercenaries, and structures. Turrets do a bit of tanking, and Gazlowe chops down the towers. You can even upgrade him to melee the ammo out of towers, although I prefer more mana for more turrets. Against minions, he starts with two AE attacks, and you can upgrade his turrets and basic attack to hit multiple targets and then add a damage aura. Late game, it takes me longer to get back on my horse than to clear a wave of minions.

It is making the game pall for me the way that cultural victories did in Civ V. Players are what provide the variety in MOBAs, and Heroes of the Storm makes the other players less important. Gazlowe can make them irrelevant. And he wins.

: Zubon

Heroes of the Storm Non-Impressions

I have been trying Heroes of the Storm. It is kind of like League of Legends for people who don’t like the “fight the opposing champions” part very much, more of competitive PvE with some chance to kill your opponent. Old Blizzard refined the best of a genre into a polished project; New Blizzard seems to simplify a genre in search of an accessible product.

I kind of want to review it in pieces, because there are interesting design decisions being made, including some very nice pieces of polish. I think that will miss the overall point, though, because the gameplay is less compelling due to a combination of factors and missing factors, not something that will be apparent from one design choice in particular. I’ll probably go on to discuss a few details anyway.

If you always wanted a MOBA where the players were more of generals shepherding their forces than assassins fighting around them, this could be for you, or you might be able to find someone still playing Demigod.

: Zubon

Time Investment

Phillip II: I can’t lose, Henry — I have time. Just look at you — great, heavy arms, but every year they get a little heavier. The sand goes pit-pat in the glass. I’m in no hurry, Henry. I’ve got time.
Henry II: Suppose I hurry things along. Suppose I say that England is at war with France.
Philip II: Then France surrenders. I don’t have to fight to win. Take all you want — this county, that one — you won’t keep it long.
The Lion in Winter

How do we feel about games whose competitive balance privilege the investment of time?

I do not mean games where you become better with experience. “Easy to learn, hard to master” is a classic design goal, and games without that learning curve often become dull quickly. Instead, I mean games where players can spend different amounts of time on the field, with points accruing to players/teams that invest more time. This includes bringing more players, playing for more time, or often both.

In contrast, think of a round of an RTS, FPS, MOBA, board game, or sporting event. The temporal bounds of the game are fixed, and the rounds are generally distinct. I can play as many games of StarCraft as I like, but I start each game fresh. If the other players are not there, I cannot keep rolling the dice in Monopoly to keep going around the board, nor can my football team show up at midnight to score unopposed while the other team is asleep.

Many computer-mediated games allow and even encourage this sort of play, especially where territorial control is involved, and the economics of the game may create this on a smaller basis if you can farm during off-hours to create an advantageous starting position. For example, your server’s score in GW2 WvW is largely driven by how many players you field over how much time, whereas GW2 sPvP at least tries to have equal players for equal time. EVE Online, Darkfall, Shadowbane, and Ingress are other games where bringing more players or continuing to play before/after the other team does allows you to win through superior time investment. You may be really good at the game, but you only have two hours per day to play, while the opposing guild might be college students who just finished finals (although you dominated during finals week).

On the one hand, it seems like something is wrong with such a game if superior time investment does not yield results. If you are trying to simulate a war, great ways to win a war include bringing more allies, bringing more economic resources, and sacking your enemies’ cities while their troops are elsewhere. On the other hand, now that I am long past the age where I have time to kill, why would I want to engage in competition where my competitors can score while I am not even playing?

: Zubon

To say nothing of the general MMO incentive to keep grinding.

[SC2] Verbally Raised Stakes

The cut scenes in StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm reminded me of Borderlands 2, and more particularly Yahtzee’s review of it. Every boss is a more powerful threat than you’ve ever faced. I apparently broke into the three most heavily defended locations in Dominion space and fought at least three beings who were more unimaginably powerful and/or cunning than any opponent I had ever faced. Of course, all the fights were easy, and almost all the bosses died in cut scenes. But hey, all the other cut scenes talk about how Kerrigan is now more powerful than the Queen of Blades ever was, than has even been witnessed, etc.

: Zubon

In the United States, every presidential campaign is The Most Important Election Of Our Lives.

[SC2] F2

I am playing StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, and its user interface has the zerg-iest thing ever: F2 to select all combat units. When you get that button, the game gives you about 100 zerglings and tells you to have fun storming the castle. This is a horrible thing to teach players to use in a game that rewards skilled micromanagement of attack units, but it works just fine in normal difficulty of the campaign, and nothing is more zerg than just taking every unit on the map and throwing it at the enemy in a massive rush.

RP via interface: love it.

: Zubon

Premature Climax

Many of my multiplayer gaming frustrations can probably be attributed to the excessive deployment of high variance tactics. Gamers take outrageous risks where they would normally not be warranted. If the risks pay off, they win big and feel awesome. If the risks do not pay off, they lose quickly, call something OP, then get another round to try to win big. After all, the downside of losing an online game is not that huge, especially if you down-weight the negative.

If you are the sort of person who plays Civilization on settings like “epic” and “marathon,” the idea of “win big or lose fast” is probably anathema. Whatever game you are playing, you are planning to settle in, focus on the fundamentals, operate efficiently and perhaps aggressively, and build to a satisfying climax. And then this twerp decides to throw absolutely everything at his first attempt, either failing miserably and quitting (smack talk on exit optional) or winning and declaring himself the best player ever (smack talk required).

This is where I place the distinction in an RTS between “rush” and “cheese.” Continue reading Premature Climax

Of Three-Monthers

About a decade into the MMO genre, we have started seriously discussing MMO tourism and have settled on the idiom of a “three-monther,” which implies how long you will stick with that game. Of course, as in most online game blogging, Jessica Mulligan wrote about it years ago in Biting the Hand: the four-month point was where games either died or took off. I am wondering about Sturgeon’s Revelation: a game you can happily play for years is an outlier, and most games you play for a few months then move on.

My college gamer friends almost perfectly followed that pattern. Single-player games you typically played through once and put away, and multiplayer games lasted almost exactly three months. An expansion pack could buy you another three months, so there were two three-month stretches for the original StarCraft. Asheron’s Call? Three months. Several Age of Empires games? Three months each. I think one of the Monster Rancher games was stretched to three months as people experimented with builds, strategies, and CDs that yielded special monsters. Our group skewed RTS, but I think that speaks to the consistency of the time frame.

The longest lasting game was Settlers of Catan. That never gets old, even with multiple games per night: extreme outlier. We played some pen and paper games. How often did we shake up campaigns or change game masters? Every three months or so.

The structure of American academic life lends itself towards that, and the large number of student gamers contributes to trends. Semesters last about four months, so you have a couple weeks to settle in, your group plays, and then you have a large break for exams and vacation. It is a natural stopping point; your momentum is spent, so switching to something new is easier. If you are not a student, you might be a parent to students, and their schedules affect yours. If neither, there is probably still some seasonal variability to your life, peaks of business or of outdoor activity. Our planet is conducive to three-monthers.

: Zubon