Friday, December 12, 2014

Warlords of Draenor - The Project Manager's Addiction

Every WoW expansion pack that has been released over the past few years was shipped with its own personality.  Over the classic “vanilla” build of the game, Burning Crusade was markedly more difficult but had a lot of good content on your way to level 70 (not to mention replacing your epics on the first quest reward).  Wrath of the Lich Kingcame about and it was a far less challenging than its predecessor, but had what I consider to be some of the best endgame content raids in Ulduar and Icecrown Citadel.  It also brought the story full circle for those of us that nerded out on Warcraft III before Blizzard’s MMO days.  Cataclysm brought back the pure grind-it-out progression and the fall of Deathwing.  Mists of Pandaria?  Well, they had pandas and an eastern flair but I never got into it too deeply.

Now we’re a few weeks into Warlords of Draenor, the most recent expansion pack to the wildly popular World of Warcraft MMO.  And I’ll say it briefly before I get into the meat of this – I like it.  And it’s not wholly because of the content or of the throwbacks that will let you nerd out on character origins (like seeing Akama as a full on badass Exarch instead of an ubroken roaming Outland). This expansion answered the call for player housing from a lot of the fanbase, and they did it with style by implementing the garrison system.  I probably spend more time tending to my garrison and doing garrison-related quests than I do much else.  My main toon has been a level 100 for a week or so and I think I’ve only run 2 dungeons.  And there’s a reason…

My garrison is a giant project.  And one of my real life off-specs is project management.

The whole campaign starts with bringing people in from the Capital and creating a central outpost under your command to run operations in Draenor for whichever faction you represent – be it the Alliance or the Horde – when you have to sign off on the plans from the first buildings.  And from that point of initial construction, 100% of the mechanics involve running things (albeit in a much more toned down way but you know) in any sort of project.  As you level up more things open up to you in terms of crafting, garrison resource generation, heroes from around the land that follow your lead and run missions for you, and how much time and money it’s going to take to get it all done and customize it to exactly what you want.

(In other words, I just listed timelines, stakeholders, project resources, personnel, production/manufacturing, and change controls).

The player picks what buildings they want to be constructed to produce items or unlock certain rewards.  And other buildings are there to provide resources to get there.  My tannery lets my leatherworking department make stuff for me as well as higher grade materials for crafting and selling high end moneymakers.  My inn is a recruiting place where I can interview potential followers.  Hell there’s even a shack for fishing.  Everything can be laid out (almost) exactly like you want it.  And there’s a panel to track all of it.

And then… there’s the garrison missions.

Every mission that’s run has a reward, but they all have a set resource cost and personnel cost.  When you see a slate of available missions it’s up to you to figure out which skillset goes where, how long it will take and whether the cost and time is worth the reward.  Because nobody wants to wait 8 hours for just a tiny handful of coin.  I mean it’s insulting really.

Take the mission “The Infernals’ Fury,” for instance.  To guarantee a win in 4 hours I need level 100 followers with skills to counter the following: Wild Aggression, Massive Strike and Deadly Minions.  As you can see my girl Qiana Moonshadow has wild aggression covered handily, but I’m short on the other two.  My Dwarven associates Delvar and Bruma are my go-to aces to deal with massive strike and deadly minions.  But here’s the problem – they’re on another mission that is taking forever.  And even while they’re spreading the word of badassery in my name, that doesn’t give me something as good as that armor enhancement token.  So I can’t do this one right now – and that’s called opportunity cost, kids.  When they get back they’ll be assigned here because it’s a more important reward.

I can always put in my junior team in though.  They have the same skills, but since they’re not maxed out, my chance of getting that token would drop.  I mean you don’t take Peyton Manning out of the game unless he physically can’t play, know what I’m sayin?

So if Burning Crusade brought the gear, Lich King brought the break, Cataclysm brought the grind, and Pandaria brought the… well, the furries – Warlords brings the project.  And I am loving every second of it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Square-Enix trolls fans with Final Fantasy VII for the PS4

By now I’m going to guess that you’ve heard about the monkeyshines and shenanigans that occurred at the recent PlayStation Experience event.  But if not allow me to set the scene for you:

Our boy Shinji Hashimoto from Square-Enix comes out on stage to tell the audience something that many Final Fantasy fans have been clamoring for for almost 20 years –Final Fantasy VII, hailed by many RPG fans as one of the greatest games of all time, would be coming to the PlayStation 4.

If this is new to you then I know what you’re thinking kids – because I’m sure I was one of the many that did the same thing.  you’re replaying a next-gen version of the Bahamut ZERO summon in your head, trying to picture what the Gold Saucer would even look like, creating mental images of Midgar and that awkward Wall Market scene with Beautiful Bro.

But then reality sets back in.  Yes, Final Fantasy VII will be available for the PS4.  No, it is not going to be awesome.  It will be the same as the one released in 1997 – a port of the PC version of the game to be available in the spring of 2015.

We all got trolled.  Again.  And this time they did it to our faces in front of a huge hall full of people, getting them super excited then taking out their knees.  Here’s some video from Kotaku’s Fahey showing the presentation.

Now those of you that know me know how I feel about remakes in general – a lot of times to me they’re a cheap cash-grab with no discernible advantage to the older version outside of convenience to pick up some additional revenue to a market they haven’t sold to yet.  And in the process, while throwing away creativity and the opportunity to do something new for the fans, they repackage our childhoods and try to sell it back to us.  It happens all the time.

So you may be curious then – why this article about this recent event is getting my attention given this opinion of mine I’ve just shared.

Here’s the thing.  I’m not mad the remake isn’t happening.

I’m mad at how things have played out over the last decade or so in general, especially with this game company on remakes.  It was easy to remake the titles from the NES and SNES era – there’s something like 5 versions of Final Fantasy IV running wild over a number of consoles among a few others.  They’re decades old games remade with PSX graphics.  VIII’s on Steam and I’m not sure who really cares about a IX remake – and these are two additional Final Fantasy titles also originally released on the first PlayStation.

(S-E remakes for Android devices also have an always-on requirement, which already irk my ire, so this on top of that really sticks in my craw.  But that’s another story for another day.)

But for VII, they give fans hope.  In addition to the original game, Square-Enix developed an entire universe around Midgar, with spinoff games and video titles like Dirge of Cerberus, Crisis Core, Last Order, and topping them all off with the feature length Advent Children in 2005.  But it didn’t stop there.  In 2006 to show off graphical capabilities they released a technical demo for the PS3 engine (watch it here, it’s wonderful).  This demo featured the intro to Final Fantasy VII redone using the PS3 engine.  It was glorious.  Midgar looked great, the train details down to the sparks on the tracks were sharp, what we saw of Aeris was lovely, and Cloud’s eventual entrance on the train platform was done with style.


Square Enix showed us what one of the most revered games in modern history could look like, while having no intention of ever delivering.  We saw what could be, and the fact that they used that property for the demo sparked many rumors that a remake was in the works.  Since then, the game has been released in its original form on PSX, a 4-disc PC edition, a download on Steam, and playable on the PS3 through the PlayStation store.  Someone could have paid for 4 copies of the same game, with not much more than the addition of trophies and achievements added to their total gameplay experience.

Well I guess there is some sort of charm about huge pixels on TV’s sized like they are these days.
Still though.  Colossal who cares.

But we’ll never get delivery on the vision of the future Square-Enix had shown us with that demo.  They’ll continue to make money on every copy of this that was sold on multiple platforms from 1997 to today.  The game has still been wildly supported by its fanbase, some of who will buy every version of it out of loyalty and let’s be honest, to some extent mania.  Fans will keep assuming it’ll happen because Square-Enix keeps supporting the product and dropping hints unofficially while officially denying it.  For the same reason, Square-Enix will keep selling it.  And this dance will go on for a good long time.  And to think, this all would have never happened if only the PS3 was back-compatible.

Bottom line – if you’re waiting for a next-gen Final Fantasy VII remake, I wouldn’t hold my breath longer than a Knights of the Round summon.