Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
The future of 3D printing

Predicting the future of technology tends is full of pitfalls. Thomas Watson, president of IBM predicted in 1943 that there was a world market for maybe 5 computers, today I own more than that (counting all mobile computers). And there have been other foolish predictions about people not needing television, or home computers. So armed with this list the proponents of 3D printing say that their product will have the same future as computers: Maybe a bit clunky and not terribly useful right now, but the next industrial revolution in the making. At the risk of looking foolish in 70 years, I disagree. 3D printing is not comparable to computing in future usefulness for humanity.

To see where I am coming from, one has to look at what computers do, and what 3D printers do. Computers process and display information. That is a huge field, because "information" is a huge field. In the end a computer allows me to communicate with people all over the world, watch movies, play games, design, model, simulate, archive, look up, and many more things. A 3D printer on the other hand can only be used to create an object. Even if in the future the complexity and the quality of the printed objects increases, physical objects are by their very nature more limited in variety than information.

Creating an object today seems like something fabulous, because it isn't something we as individuals do very often in modern life. But that is an illusion: In reality humanity has always been busy creating objects, and has become exceedingly good at it. The two basic principles we used to become so efficient at making objects are also the reason why the creation has become so much less visible: Division of labor and mass production. We don't create objects as individuals any more because we organized ourselves in a way that those who are best at creating any given object will create it for us. And we don't make those objects one by one, because it is far more efficient to make a great number of them and distribute them.

We never lost the ability to create things. You can still today start knitting a pullover, or carve a piece of wood into a toy. But division of labor means that somebody else is probably much better than we are at making pullovers or toys. And mass production means that this other person can not only make that pullover or toy better, he can also make it a lot cheaper. So instead of creating the objects we need for our daily lives, it is more efficient for us to work the job that we are specialized in, and use the money earned to buy the objects that the people specialized in their creation made. Yes, that bought pullover or toy will be less individualized than one we made ourselves. But as there are so many mass produced pullovers and toys on the market, we have sufficient choice without going for perfect individualization.

A 3D printer doesn't change these economic principles. No technological improvement can make the individual 3D printing of an object cheaper and more efficient than the mass production of the same object. Most of the object in your daily life are things that other people can use too, and so mass production is not going to go away. Having said that, mass production fails in some areas of technology, because in some special cases an object does have to be unique. And in those cases 3D printing does have a future. From making of prototypes to individual medical or dental protheses to anything "art & craft", 3 printers have a bright future. I fully expect in a few years to own a 3D printer, because the cost will have come down enough for it to have become useful enough to have one in the house. I just don't expect more than a fraction of a percent of the objects I use every day to be coming from a 3D printer. Useful technology, yes; industrial revolution of the future, no.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Back to the playing board

I used to play board games a lot, had a huge collection. But between Dungeons & Dragons, Magic the Gathering, and an increasing flood of video games, board games stopped to be part of my repertoire many years ago. And then an increasing number of board games got computer adaptations, especially on the iPad, and for some time the only board games I played were virtual. The best virtual board / card game this year for me is Pathfinder Adventures. Patches added more content and fixed most of the bugs, so at this point I can really only recommend it.

As Pathfinder Adventures is the sort of game my wife also likes, I started playing it with her in pass & play mode. But it turned out that this wasn't ideal. The fun of playing with somebody is the shared experience, and passing a tablet between players isn't all that great for that shared experience. And the video game automates many things like shuffling, and only shows you the relevant part of the game at the moment, so many game mechanics end up being less clear than if you have to take care of everything yourself.

So for the first time I bought a board game after already having played the video game adaption. At first just the base set, but as that was a big success I ended up buying the 6 adventures as well. That is six times as expensive in physical form than in video game form, but for us the added fun was worth it. Even the added time required for setting up the game and sorting cards back into stacks afterwards didn't deter us. We like this game, and will take the box with us on our summer holidays.

The only other tabletop game I'm playing is Dungeons & Dragons. Now pen & paper roleplaying is very, very different than any computer roleplaying game. The great freedom that a human DM gives over a computer following a script makes the experience very different. But after my experience with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game I started to think that may that wasn't the only reason why I prefer D&D over games like World of Warcraft or Skyrim. The same factor of a better shared experience when you are sitting around the table with friends is also something that is much better than a solo game against a computer.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Redistribution as a term in the political dictionary has a bad reputation. People usually think it means taking their money away and giving it to somebody else in the form of welfare. But in reality *any* action a government takes is redistribution. Whether they build a road, a school, or invest in military, anything they do benefits some people more than others, while the money is taxed not in proportion to that benefit.

When the United Kingdom of Great Britain decided yesterday to leave the European Union (and now risk to end up less united and less great as Scotland and Northern Ireland are likely to leave), they didn't think of redistribution. They argued about net contribution. "Net contribution", the idea that overall you pay more than you get back, is the same idea as progressive income tax: The rich pay more than the poor, so the UK being among the top 5 richest European countries is also among the top 5 net contributors. So some people in the UK think that Brexit is like a legal way to stop paying your taxes, which seems like a clear win. In reality the matter is a lot more complicated than that.

Net contribution only ever calculated the money Britain is paying directly to the EU and the money that the EU was paying out in the UK. The other benefits of being part of the EU weren't part of the calculation, and those sums are a lot bigger. Today the financial markets of the world are in shock, and London is the epicenter. Nobody knows exactly how much the Brexit will cost London as a financial center, but everybody knows that the net effect is negative and much bigger than the EU budget, which is why the pound is tumbling today.

But to come back to the theme of redistribution, it has also to be remarked that as everywhere else the contribution of Britain to the EU budget is also an internal redistribution: The people that the EU gave money to weren't the same as those who paid the money in. Some parts of the British economy were net benefactors of the EU, for example research and agriculture. It is unlikely that the British government is going to spend the money they don't pay to the EU any more to compensate those who benefited from the EU. Ultimately the Brexit itself is an act of redistribution: Even if you don't agree with the economists who predict that the overall net effect is negative, the money sure will be in a different set of pockets than before. And as every big project by politicians there is a significant danger that the money will end up not in the most deserving pockets, but in the pockets of the powerful and special interests. Some people will profit from the Brexit, but many will be less well off.

Thursday, June 23, 2016
Boardwalk Empire and Sex

My wife and me are currently watching Boardwalk Empire on DVD. That is a TV series from HBO which is all about the prohibition, showing how the official interdiction of alcohol led to the rise of organized crime while not really having a big impact on alcohol consumption. Then I was surfing some gaming forum where somebody had linked some game-related image and the stereotypical discussion broke out whether the female characters in that image were too sexy. And I couldn't help but think that there are some parallels to the prohibition here, just with a lot less crime.

Attitudes towards how acceptable it is to show images of naked women in mainstream publications vary over the globe. An American visiting England and buying a regular newspaper like the Sun might be in for a shock when he sees the topless girl on page 3. But the globalization of media and the dominance of the USA in media markets have led to a global general trend of less and less naked flesh in films, TV shows, print publications, and yes, games.

But just like prohibition just ended alcohol consumption on the surface, the consumption of media showing naked flesh, sexualized images, or just plain porn has not diminished. People, including teenagers and children, have unprecedented easy access to porn today. The global porn industry has been estimated to be a $97 billion business, of which around $12 billion are in the "prudish" USA. An estimated one third of all internet traffic is porn-related. And attempts to filter the internet and make porn inaccessible to teenagers have just plain failed. If your teen can't find porn on the internet there is probably something wrong with him. While the effect of that is disputed, the net exposure to sex certainly has gone up: The stuff that is removed these days as being too risky from mainstream publications is pretty harmless, while internet pornography these days is a lot more obscene than your daddy's Playboy magazine.

Unlike prohibition or the war on drugs there is very little evidence of pornography leading to a strong rise in violent organized crime. And so while prohibition ended in 1933 and "legalize drugs" campaigns are clearly making progress, there is very little chance that the drive to ban sex from mainstream media is going into reverse. But while female characters in mainstream games will become increasingly dressed, the porn industry will just branch out more and more into gaming. Both by producing gaming-related porn (there is a number of World of Warcraft porn sites), and by making an increasing number of games ranging from sexy over erotic to pornographic. The demand clearly is there, and if public morals prohibit mainstream game developers from fulfilling that demand, somebody else will. Just like prohibition, I'm not sure that driving sex underground is actually helping.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Getting feedback on game design

The people I play Dungeons & Dragons with are friends with whom I've been playing tabletop RPGs for over a decade. In many cases I can predict some of their decisions in a role-playing game simply because I know them. In a small group with always the same players, much of what is going on is determined by the individual personalities of the people involved and the group dynamics. A DM is always to some extent a game designer, as you can run a D&D campaign in many different ways. But rules of good game design only get you so far, and at some point it simply becomes a matter of playing to the audience that you already know.

The game designers of a MMORPG don't know their audience individually. But they do have the advantage of being able to use statistical analysis. In my D&D group I know a guy who almost always will play a wizard because he loves that class. In a MMORPG with hundreds of thousands or even millions of players, personal preferences probably cancel each other out statistically and a statistical analysis will reveal more players flocking towards whatever class is perceived as being more powerful, more useful, or more fun to play. Over time there is a visible impact of for example nerfs of a particular character class on the number of people choosing to play that class.

For my D&D campaign it is sometimes a lot harder for me to get feedback. Friendship and group dynamics can get into the way of telling a DM that you didn't like a particular aspect of how he is running his game. And I do believe that is a fairly general problem, with many people running pen & paper role-playing games not getting nearly enough feedback from their players. It would take a lot of bad decisions as a DM before your group decides to quit and not play with you any more. The hobby has always had more people interested in playing than interested in being the DM, so there is a barrier to exit: You rarely know many possible DMs, so quitting a DM might mean not playing at all for some players. That doesn't exactly encourage DMs of trying to maximize player enjoyment.

I notice that especially in the discussions on various Dungeons & Dragons or other pen & paper role-playing games on forums and blogs, even YouTube. Some people have quasi-religious opinions on how a game of D&D should be run because of some rule that somebody invented 40 years ago without having had the benefit of seeing how it works out in practice (a general problem in designing a totally new genre of game). They have a certain vision of how things like "magic" should work that reflects more the fantasy world in their head than what is fun for the players around the table in this world.

I do understand the concept that art doesn't have to be popular to be good. I just don't think that "critically acclaimed but hated by the audience" is a good concept for game design if your audience is just that small group of your friends sitting around your table. You can strive to raise the level of the game on your table, but ultimately you need to provide a fun game to the people who play with you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Zeitgeist: The Dying Skyseer - Session 07

In the previous session the constables of the Royal Homeland Constabulary discovered the details of a smuggling plot to provide the eco-terrorist Gale with magical wands from Crisillyir. So the next morning they planned on how to intercept those wands and capture at least the local smugglers bringing them in. The group decided against naval combat [Their group in this campaign is stronger in melee but weaker in ranged combat than their group in the previous campaign]. So they decided to let the smugglers go and make the exchange on the open sea, and capture them at their docks when they returned. On advice of their boss, Chief Inspector Stover Delft, they also brought a RHC steam cutter to prevent the smuggler's cutter from sailing away once they discovered the group.

Capturing the dock once the smugglers had departed was easy enough, with only two minions standing guard that were easily overpowered and hid bound and gagged in the building on the docks. Then they hid out of sight of the pier and waited for the smugglers to return. Fortunately for them the smugglers did return to there, and didn't unload the three crates of wands elsewhere first. So when the sailors had lowered and rolled up the sails and attached the cutter to the pier, Aria the sorceress shouted out: "Stop, police! You are under arrest, drop your arms!".

However there were quite a lot of smugglers: A captain of the ship, 7 sailors, 4 thugs of The Family (a mafia-like organization the constables had recently become aware of), and the two gnomes Blander and Danica Waryeye. The gnomes were actually the most dangerous opponents. The constables had had the opportunity to take them out separately before meeting up with the smugglers, but had decided against that to not spook the smugglers. Well, it made for a more interesting fight!

The other fun element of the fight was that the smugglers were sitting on three cases with 50 magical wands each. These were designed to be easily usable by common people, without the use of magic or even a command word. But they were unpredictable, providing one of 12 random magical effects. Nothing useless or harmful for the user, not like wands of wonder, but with effects of different strengths and usefulness. That turned even the sailor minions into potential threats.

The players used the terrain to their advantage, using powers that moved enemies to push them off the pier and into the piranha-infested waters. They were lucky that Danisca's main power, a domination effect, failed due to a low dice roll. Blander was more successful, as he could move by teleportation and used that to teleport into the building, where he summoned three badgers that were then "badgering" Artus. But Merian came to Artus' rescue, and the avenger abilities to pursue a single enemy turned out to be very strong against the gnome magician.

The random wands produced some fun effects. Apparently one of the writers of the adventure was a Harry Potter fan, so there was an Expelliarmus effect that robbed James of his main weapon. But he was able to push his opponent into the water with his bare hands and then picked up a cutlass one of the fallen sailors had dropped. The constables weren't totally consistent with what they were trying to achieve, some using lethal damage and others non-lethal damage to subdue the smugglers. When Danisca was bloodied and Merian had brought down Blander to 2 hit points, the two gnomes surrendered. And with most of the other smugglers being already down, the remaining smugglers also let themselves get arrested. The constables loaded the prisoners and the contraband into the two cutters and returned to the RHC headquarters. Eldion considered letting the gnomes go to "turn them", but then the group decided that this wasn't really practical and might just get the gnomes killed by The Family.

The next morning, after reporting their success to their boss, the group received an invitation from Morgan Cippiano, godfather of The Family, inviting them for coffee. They went and received an offer (which in spite of the reference they *could* have refused) to let the Family smugglers free in exchange for help with their investigation. They agreed, and Morgan Cippiano promised them to contact the dragonborn arsonists that had escaped them in an earlier encounter and send them that night to the house of the gnomes on an arson mission, so that the constables could arrest them. With that plan we ended the session. To be continued in August, after the summer break.


Sunday, June 19, 2016
Video game advertising

The recent trend of mobile games to give you in-game resources in exchange for watching an advert and a recent spree of mine of trying out lots of mobile games has resulted in me watching quite a lot of video game advertising videos. And I can make out several different categories there:

Most appreciated by me are adverts that show the actual game. There are a number of adverts where after 30 seconds I know exactly what the game is about and how it plays, which is obviously a great help to me to decide whether I want to really play this. However some games just have bad graphics, and then the advert doesn't look very appealing either.

A number of video game ads use real people. Basically three categories: Either people who look like the advertisers think an idealized version of the target audience looks, or cute girls, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. You'd think the state of California would give a better pension to their governors. You see those real people sometimes with a smartphone or tablet in hand, but more often with idealized game graphics appearing in front of them on the coffee table. You don't learn much about gameplay other than what genre the setting is in. Most games that use that sort of advertising are multiplayer PvP games, and you see the cute girl launching missiles at the base of the attractive young man while smiling at him. Not very believable!

A lot of ads use computer generated graphics that are visibly not game graphics. You get a general idea what the game is about, e.g. clashing armies or destroying bases, but there is a huge gap between the CGI-rendered graphics and the actual in-game graphics. The worst offender I've noticed was a game which went out of its way to create highly attractive graphics that *looked* as if they were in-game graphics, and were displayed in the video as coming from a tablet or phone, but didn't even remotely resemble the actual in-game graphics. In fact if you ran the video advert and a gameplay video from YouTube side by side, you wouldn't know the two were about the same game.

I don't think overly deceptive marketing really works. Yeah, you might get me to download and try a Free2Play game with a very promising video advertisement. But it'll take me just a few minutes to realize that the ad was fake and I'll uninstall the game before ever having spent a cent on it.

Sunday, June 12, 2016
Build Away!

Although there are half a million games on the Apple app store, the number of "genres" of games with fundamentally different gameplay is still relatively small. Starting a "new game" frequently means playing a game where you are already familiar with the general gameplay, and there are just details or story or graphics that are different from another game you already played before. Play enough games, and sometimes you can even observe how new genres of games evolve step by step.

One of this evolving genres is a new breed of so-called "idle games". They started out as jokes: The oldest idle game I know is Progress Quest, a game designed to parody the focus on endless progress by MMORPGs like Everquest. The next big step in the evolution was Cow Clicker, this time a satire on the effortless endless progress of Facebook games like Farm Ville. While these games had been designed to be "not a game" and show up how "stupid" a game with no challenge leading to endless progress is, the players didn't see it like that. To the big surprise of their creators, people played those "non-games" for the fun of it. Soon devs started to make idle games like Cookie Clicker, with no claim to satire. And then the industry started to take those idle games more and more seriously, even claiming that idle games are the youngest and most interesting video game genre.

And now I'm seeing a new generation of games that take the fundamental mechanics of idle games and turn them around by adding non-linear gameplay elements. For example there is Build Away!, "the world's best idle city simulator". One the one side it is a typical idle / clicker game, where you accumulate money even when idle / offline and gather money by just clicking on houses. But unlike similar games which only have one place to click on which is constantly upgraded, you now unlock more and more plots for more houses. And you need to make at least some actual decisions, as each plot can be built up *and* supplied with power to ever increasing degrees. And there are a bunch of gameplay elements thrown in that you'd expect from more typical Free2Play games, like the ability to buy gems and spend them on new blueprints and other sorts of bonuses. You can also link the game to Facebook and get bonuses from inviting Facebook friends.

So somehow the whole thing has come full circle, from a satire of a game providing a new gameplay element to a new genre of exactly the games that were supposed to be ridiculed.

Friday, June 10, 2016
Perfectionist vs. good enough

I'm having trouble recently finding a nice new tactical or strategy game I like. I've been trying a bunch, both on Steam and the Apple app store, but repeatedly stumbled upon the same problem: Scripted situations where you are expected to find the one perfect solution. It is not that I can't find that solution, it is usually possible with a few tries. But I don't enjoy that sort of gameplay. For me finding the perfect solution, the one perfect sequence of moves, is the gameplay of a puzzle game, not a tactical or strategy game. I prefer tactical games like XCOM 2, where the situation is at least partially randomized, there isn't one scripted perfect sequence of moves, and your goal is to achieve a "good enough" result, e.g. fulfilling the victory conditions with no soldiers dead.

To some extent that reflects a wider outlook on life of mine: I am not a perfectionist. I am a believer in the Pareto rule, which says that 80% of the task takes 20% of the time, and the remaining 20% take 80%. Which means that if you have a reasonable idea of what "good enough" is, you can achieve far more work by not pushing every task to 100% perfection. Often enough the last bits of perfection go unnoticed, unappreciated, but took you most of your time.

Where perfectionist games annoy me is that most of there time there is only one perfect sequence of moves to achieve the perfect result. The "good enough" result can be achieved by more different ways, which allows me to *play*, as opposed to *work*. So I hate it when my reward for finishing a scenario depends on having done that one perfect sequence, because I'm getting punished for wanting to try out different approaches instead of the one that the devs planned. Furthermore I have a sneaking suspicion that this requirement for perfection is a cheap trick: If the player needs to play the same scenario repeatedly until perfection, the devs have to create fewer scenarios.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016
Zeitgeist: The Dying Skyseer - Session 06

While the previous session, and the one before that, were both mostly about combat, it was a nice change of pace that in this session we didn't have any combat, and only did advance the story further through role-playing. The session started with news from the police officers who had cleaned up the scene of the previous fight against the dragonborn arsonists Eberardo and Valando and had found the backpack of one of them containing some documents. The documents were about the Danoran consulate security chief Julian LeBrix, showing at what time of the day he would be where, and strongly suggesting a planned hit on LeBrix. The constables didn't want to talk to LeBrix in the consulate and decided to rather later go where the day planner said LeBrix would take his lunch.

So instead they headed out to Goodson's Estuarial Reformatory, a fleet of prison ships run by the wealthy industrialist Guy Goodson in order to raise his social standing as a philanthropist. Earlier in the adventure the constables had found the criminal file of the dead girl, Nilasa, and discovered that she had been arrested in the presence of two criminals, Ford Sorghum and Travis Starter. As their boss had told them to look into Nilasa's connection to the criminal underworld and how illegal weapons and supplies were coming to Gale, the eco-terrorist, that seemed like a good place to start. Eldion even thought of bringing the necessary paperwork in case they wanted to free the prisoners in exchange for information.

Once they knew that Nilasa was dead, the prisoners were only too eager to offer detailed information about her plans in exchange for being released. They hinted that something was going down tomorrow, so time was of the essence. The constables agreed, but separated the two in order to verify that they got the same story twice. The two thieves told them the same story, that Nilasa had not worked with them for two years, but had been meeting them as friends just before the police picked them all up, and had been bragging about a big smuggling deal worth tens of thousands of gold pieces that she was organizing. A ship from Crisillyir would come the next day, two hours after sunset, with a load of stolen magical wands. They would be met by smugglers from the new criminal organization in Flint, The Family. Nilasa's contact to The Family was somebody in Pine Island called "The House Elf", who would get her on the boat with the Family smugglers on their dock somewhere in Pine Island. The two thieves did however not know the exact location of the Family wharf. The constables transported the two thieves to the RHC headquarters and told them they would be liberated if their information was found to be correct the next day.

Next they used their contacts to get more information about The Family. Eldion knew a priest from Crisillyir in Stray River, a quarter where many immigrants from that country lived. While the priest spoke highly of The Family and the "Godfather" Morgan Cippiano, it was pretty clear that the Family is a sort of Mafia-like organization (The campaign setting gives the people from the Crisillyir theocracy an Italian accent and mannerisms). Then the adventure went somewhat off-script when Aria the Spirit Medium decided that the best way to get information from The Family was to find a dead Family member and talk to him. So the first rule of Dungeon Mastering kicked in, which says: "Never say no!", and I let him make a roll whether he could find a dead mafiosi. Having rolled a natural 20 I allowed him to find a recently backstabbed man from Crisillyir; Aria cast the Speak with Dead ritual and asked for the address of the Family Wharf, and as the dead man knew that information and had no reason to hide it beyond death, he told her.

At noon the group went to the restaurant in North Shore where the documents they had found said Julian LeBrix was taking his lunch. He was surprised to see them, and even more surprised when they showed him the documents that suggested that there was a hit planned on him. Nevertheless he wasn't willing to hand out Danoran state secrets on the suggestion of Eldion that it was his knowledge of those secrets that endangered his life. But he did promise the constables some special enchanted bullets to take down Eberardo and Valando with.

All day long the constables had visited various quarters of Flint that were situated around the Flint Bay. To do so they had opted for the fastest mode of transport, an RHC steam cutter that they were able to requisition based on their prestige rating with Risur. Now they returned to the RHC HQ to tell their boss about the upcoming smuggling operation, and Aria requested a fully crewed warship to catch the smugglers. It turned out that this was more than their prestige rating allowed, and they were told to make do with the steam cutter. Their boss, Stover Delft, helpfully suggested that they might want to avoid attacking the smugglers during the handover, because there they would have two groups of smugglers to fight.

There remained another clue to the smuggling operation unexplored, the information that Nilasa's contact was somebody called "The House Elf". No, not the one from Harry Potter. But the fairy tales from Risur told of friendly spirits called house elfs helping with daily chores as long as the inhabitants of the house stuck to certain rules. So "House Elf" was more of a standing expression and didn't necessarily mean the person was an elf. Artus, the only one in the group with a decent Streetwise skill set out alone to Pine Island to discreetly ask around. He found that "The House Elf" was the stage name of a gnomish illusionist, real name Blander Waryeye. As he was already there, he also inquired whether that gnome had any connection to alchemical supplies and potions. To his surprise he was told that Blander had a wife, Danica Waryeye, who had a potion shop next door to her husband. That nicely explained the invoice marked "D.W." that they had found on Nilasa's body for potions and stuff.

On his return to the RHC HQ, the constables now set out to make a plan how to capture the smugglers and their contraband. They didn't want to visit Blander and Danica Waryeye before the smuggling operation (we'll see how that works out for them). So they think it is best to let the Family smuggler depart from their wharf, and capture that wharf during the handover. On the return of the ship they can then ambush the smugglers and capture the smuggled wands. But as it was getting late, we postponed that ambush to the next session.


Monday, June 06, 2016
Warcraft lore

I wasn't really planning to see the Warcraft movie anyway, but from what I hear the early reviews are pretty abysmal. The film currently has an average Metacritic score of 31! Well, it was still the top grossing film this weekend in several European countries, and we'll see how it does in the USA next weekend (You can't launch a movie next weekend in Europe, because the European soccer championship starts). But I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't as much of a success as the Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Because after spending hundreds of dollars and thousands of hours on World of Warcraft for over a decade, the Warcraft lore still makes no sense to me.

Much of that of course has to do with the natural limitations of a MMORPG. The world of Warcraft has several million player heroes, but comparatively few non-player peasants and other ordinary people. Most players care more about their own heroic rise from level 1 to the top than about the story of the NPCs. And in your daily activities on Azeroth, you do a lot of mundane quests like killing 10 wolves, while being only very rarely involved in an event from the larger Warcraft lore. It just doesn't feel like a living world, and many players just ignore the lore, because it isn't actually needed for anything.

The whole time-traveling thing doesn't make the lore any more accessible either. Frequently it appears as if the devs wanted to have certain features in an expansion, and so the lore was written to fit those features. I definitely had that impression when they announced the next expansion, Legion, which is all about trying to repeat the success of the Burning Crusade. And while the lore frequently talks of war between Alliance and Horde, the system of World of Warcraft doesn't really allow for large scale battles, and so that war remains largely hypothetical.

Apart from the convoluted story, the lore of Warcraft is often not very unique. A lot of features of World of Warcraft are deliberately generic, the same elves, humans, orcs, warriors, and mages that most fantasy role-playing games have. The original Azeroth also had a lot of generic landscapes, snowy mountains, steppes full of wild animals, green rolling hills, and generic forests, although the landscapes got more fantastic in the expansions. What makes for an accessible MMORPG that anybody can instantly understand makes for a rather boring background for a movie.

Friday, June 03, 2016
Skylanders Battlecast

I've been dipping my toes into Skylanders Battlecast,  a new iOS/Android game in which Skylanders characters battle against each other in a trading card game that strongly resembles Hearthstone. Now I'm a bit too old for the original Skylanders or similar toys-to-life genre to appeal to me, but I do understand the attraction for a child: Get a nice toy figurine *and* be able to use it in a video game, even by just bringing your toy over to a friend's house. However I can't understand why Skylanders Battlecast has physical cards for sale.

The Skylanders Battlecast cards can't be played as a game without a mobile platform. They can only be scanned in once, so you can't take them to a friend's house and play with them there. So why would you buy a $9.99 "Battle Pack" in real life and then scan all the cards instead of just buying a $9.99 virtual "Battle Pack" with the same cards? Cards don't make great toys, not a great a figurines. What child is going to build up scenes of battles on the carpet of his room using cards?

The only possible use I can see is for relatives to be able to buy a pack in a toy store and put it in a gift wrapper for a birthday or Christmas. But they can already do that with an iTunes / Google Play gift card, which is probably the better option because it isn't tied to a specific game.

Interestingly Activision seems to rather worried about their own physical cards. They can be scanned only once, so the company is worried that people post their newest cards on Facebook or YouTube and somebody scans the cards from the photographic image before the owner does. That is a potential customer service nightmare. So they even provide a trading shield with which you can show somebody a card while hiding part of the visual information necessary to scan it. They also obviously make less money from the physical cards, because they are more expensive to produce. So why make them at all and not just stick to virtual cards like Hearthstone does?


  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool