Brakketology is Keeping it in the Family

CardHunter

This week Brakketology is celebrating the mere possibility that Steam is making its libraries sharable with family members (and a bit beyond). As Kyle and Ana begin to clamor for more and more PC time, my need to have my Steam library accessible to more than just myself will become crucial. I’m just not quite sold on the fine print yet. Also making the rounds this week, Bioware is getting interesting again, EA is very proud of all the new IP they’re working on, even if they’re not too sure what the words “new IP” are supposed to mean, there’s a Kickstarter project that you should be looking at, and Blizzard just keeps on being Blizzard. But first…

We’re Hunting Cards.  Last week Matt wrote about Card Hunter. I’ve been studiously ignoring this game because, well, that’s that I do with free-to-play games. But he got me interested, so I’ve been checking it out and it’ll be a big part of the discussion on next week’s podcast. Suffice it to say that, for a free-to-play game, it’s interesting and addictive. The tutorial sets the stage well. The sort of shameless spoofing they do of the old days of pen-and-paper role playing is well executed. It’s not insulting, nor is it particularly funny. It’s just goofy fun and I’m fine with that. Because of its F2P nature, however, I doubt it’s the kind of thing I stick with for very long. The formula, with the pizza and the resetting dungeon timers, etc. doesn’t feel punitive (yet) in terms of gouging you to pay, but it’s also very obviously designed to keep you playing just for the sake of continuing to play and pumping proverbial quarters into the slot. Had this been designed as a regular game, where I fork over $10-$15 and just get to play the best possible version of this design, beginning to end, I think it would’ve been much better than it actually is. This is what the free-to-play model does to interesting ideas — it doesn’t quite murder them in the crib, but it stunts their growth and potential beyond repair.

Defining Family in the World of Steam. With the announcement of the upcoming Family Sharing plan, Valve has apparently taken to heart the warning shot Microsoft fired across their bow with the initial plan for digital sharing on XBox One. On the surface it all sounds wonderful and simple. You can share your Steam account with up to 10 other “devices” who are family or “close friends.” And, you know, I’d love to be able to do this with my family. Kyle on my desktop playing a Steam game from my account. Me on Michelle’s laptop playing something else. Sounds awesome. But will it work this way? My Magic 8-ball, having devoured the very short FAQ says, “Outlook fuzzy, screw off and come back later.” It was grumpy, I think.

Here’s an example of what concerns me: Kyle is a wee lad who doesn’t have his own Steam account and he’s not getting one anytime soon (probably). So unless I can be logged in, as me, on more than one device (which, right now I can’t), then this doesn’t actually let me share access with my family now does it? Now, it’s Valve. They’ll figure this out because they’re very good at what they do. Maybe we’ll be able to create sub-accounts for our kids. Maybe it will just become about devices and what libraries they’re given access to such that they won’t care anymore if I’m logged in as the same user on each. This could all be perfect. I’m just not holding my breath quite yet.

On the unambiguously bright side, they’re adding the latter-gen Wizardry games (6-8) to the lineup, which would be a big deal if they weren’t already on GOG.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Getting More Interesting. If you care a lick about Bioware or Dragon Age you know Bioware has been engaging in an age-old game industry tradition — going on a massive promotion blitz as the game reaches one year out from being complete. It’s a dull, drab tradition, but every now and then it manages to take a title that I was only loosely interested in and turn it into something I’m genuinely looking forward to. Lead Designer Mike Laidlaw’s twopart interview with RPS does exactly that. In the first part he talks about the decision to not have health automatically restored after combat.

Laidlaw: I wouldn’t say survival is the key, but it’s certainly a factor as part of that. More than anything, what I want out of it is the sense that, as a player, I need to take the game seriously and consider my actions. If enemies are largely inconsequential in the course of a fight – I recover almost instantly! – then you could consider them to be bags of experience points that you want to tackle. But as soon as you introduce the idea that health is sustaining damage, you move closer to a pen and paper experience. You move closer to the more old-school, hardcore approach to role-playing.

I’ve seen much complaining about this, and I get where it’s coming from, but I hope Bioware doesn’t cave on this one. These days every game of this type has auto-heal after combat. On some level having that feature makes sense because it can be frustrating trying to horde health potions or illogically rest for two straight days just to survive an adventure, but the auto-heal is much too far in the wrong direction. Laidlaw labels it perfectly when he says it turns monsters and encounters into experience bags. That’s all the combat in DA 2 was. Just walking five steps and collecting your experience for yet another boring level up. Just removing auto-heal doesn’t mean this’ll change, but Laidlaw’s answer is a nod in the direction they’ve recognized the problem and that’s crucial.

Then there’s your suddenly-obligatory tithe to the greatness of Torment:

From Torment specifically? Huh. Well, I think the big thing Torment brought to the table was offering a lot of different solutions and really cool solutions to the problems you faced. Not everything was fighting. Often just being persuasive or certain stats and stuff would come across like, “Whoa! I have a wisdom of 25, so let’s just shortcut the entire ending.” I really like that kind of stuff.

We’re going to look at some more non-combat solutions, but at this point… My general rule for Inquisition is that if I don’t have it locked down, I don’t really want to talk about it. I’d rather underpromise and overdeliver. It’s a direction we’re heading in, but I don’t want to go into details on it.

I’ve been whining about the lack of non-combat skills and abilities for a long time. I complained about it in Origins (which I loved), where it was barely there, and I complained about it a whole lot more in Dragon Age 2 (not so much) in which the notion of a non-combat skill was entirely absent. Again, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one. Who knows what the end result will be, but Laidlaw actually sounds bored with the track DA and ME have collectively been taking. For the first time in a long while I’m hopeful that Bioware is once again interested in crafting the sorts of gaming experiences I want to play rather than getting stuck trying to be everything to everybody.

Kickstart The Fall. It’s been awhile since I looked at backing any Kickstarter projects, but The Fall is worth mentioning. It’s about a Dude in a suit. Except you’re not the Dude. The Dude is unconscious. You’re the suit’s AI and it’s your job to get the Dude to safety, at which point you go kaplooey. It looks simple, yet atmospheric and with a fair range of gameplay mechanics for a side-scroller. Not a bad first impression, though I’m lukewarm to the notion of it being episodic (of which three episodes are planned). On the other hand you can back the first episode for a mere $10 or all three for $20, so we’re not talking a huge investment and the goal ($17k) is wholly reasonable.

Blizzard Being Blizzard. Which is to say, totally dickish. Players of the console version don’t have to be online to play Diablo III. PC players do. Is that going to change? Of course not. Why? Because on the PC Blizzard really, really wants you to have that awesome social experience! Courtesy of Eurogamer game director Josh Mosqueira:

Something Kevin says all the time is: Diablo plays best when you’re playing with other people. Because not a lot of people connect their consoles to the internet, that’s where the whole idea of having to get four people on the same couch playing together. That’s how we get that social aspect.

But on PC, we really want players to feel they’re part of the bigger Blizzard and Diablo community.

I can only say that if I still cared about Diablo III (I don’t), I would be tempted to throw something heavy at Josh. Josh, can I tell you something? Just between you and me? ‘Cause I feel like we’re close. Are you listening? SOME OF US DON’T GIVE TWO F***s ABOUT YOUR COMMUNITY OR HOW YOU THINK WE SHOULD PLAY YOUR GAME!  Also, you’re full of crap. We all know why the company cutting your checks wants the PC game online only. Hint: It rhymes with… okay, it turns out nothing actually rhymes with DRM.

Ahhhh. I feel better. I’m also tempted to go buy Torchlight 2 just for spite.

I’m Not Sure New IP Means What You Think it Means. In a September 6th interview, EA’s Games Chief, Patrick Soderlund, told The Market for Computer & Video Games (MCV) something that anyone tired of boring sequel after boring sequel something that should sound like music to their ears:

“We have six to eight completely new IPs in the works. The day we stop making new IP is when we go onto life support. We need to incubate new ideas and push creative boundaries.”

That’s fantastic news, right? A company that size should be trying some new things and I’m all aflutter just hearing the examples he gave of these new efforts, like having new Mirror’s Edge and Star Wars: Battlefront games… wait. Wut?

The thing is, I believe him when he says there are genuinely new IPs at some stage of development within EA. I mean, of course there are. But if you’re not prepared to name names that genuinely qualify as new IP, then don’t just start throwing out names like you’ve got franchise Tourette’s. There’s absolutely nothing to be gained from stuffing the ballot box. Just say, “Getting the most from our existing franchises is obviously very important to us, but so is generating new IP that can sustain us and entertain gamers long into the future. I can’t announce anything today, but at any given time we typically have upwards three to six new IP projects in the works.” Boring? You betcha. But at least you don’t come out sounding utterly ridiculous.

Inspired to Create Kerbals. If you haven’t read the story of how Kerbal Space Program came to be. Get thee hence to Joystiq and read this. I very much want this game to be done so I can play the intended experience and not just mess around in a context-free sandbox.


Things That Are Awesome. See above.

*Originally published at NoHighScores.com, 9/17/2013
*Updated 2/23/2016 (minor text updates)

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

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