The Ninth Circle #5: Brickbats and Bouquets I


Brickbats and Bouquets I

Already I am up to article #5, it seems like only last week I was emailing my columnist application to Flux. Time flies when you?re having fun, and the experience of becoming a columnist for a major Internet site has so far been great.

This is the first in a series of feedback articles, and I?ll put one out every couple of months or so. The idea here is not to replace individual emails, but to let the rest of you see the general response to a column, and also give my own thoughts in hindsight. Whether you agree, disagree, or agree only in part with what I write, I am always happy to hear your thoughts on the issues I raise. So don’t feel shy to write in. I may not reply to every email I receive, but I do read them all.

#1: A Patch or a Crutch?

This article was written as part of the columnist application, so it was only natural to make it the first actual article for the column.

Most people who wrote in agreed broadly with what I was saying, though many felt the benefits of patches far outweighed the downside of buggy releases. Others also thought that I was being too harsh on game developers, or developers in general, citing hardware concerns that don’t apply to movies and music.

Luke Elser:

“The comparison between a computer game and a CD or movie has one problem which I noticed. That problem being the truly enormous number of different situations a game can be played. As for a movie, it is played on a projector, and though I don’t know the exact number of various projectors worldwide, it cannot be close to the variations of computers. The same goes for a CD. When a game is being written, developers cannot take into account the staggering number of setups a computer could have, from video/graphic/sound cards, to monitors, motherboards, or hard drives. Plus, each system may have been “tweaked” by its owner for some reason. Any of these variations may cause an error in a video game.”

Travis Anderson:

I have been burned so many times by lazy, slow, and uncaring game developers in buying their unfinished products. The frustration is also magnified by all the hype and hoopla that surrounds some games that are billed as the next greatest thing or simply the next game in a series that I wait for. Fifty smackers for a game that has main line quest bugs, bugs that freeze the system, etc. is unacceptable.

My brief aside castigating computer magazines for not giving players ample warning of bugs also drew comment. Several people wanted to know what magazines I read, as theirs always mentioned bugs. One magazine, PC Gamer, was specifically mentioned by people as being very good in this regard. Then I opened this email.

“I’m assuming that you don’t read PC Gamer. Now I’ll concede that if you don’t read PC Gamer then your line “I have never seen a review mention bugs or compatibility problems with a game. Ever. Thanks a lot, guys.” is perfectly valid, but your initial assertion that bugs aren’t mentioned is just plain wrong.

PC Gamer’s review policy is to review games as they are played by the consumer—off the shelf, no patches. As such, bugs, when they exist and are encountered, are ALWAYS mentioned in the body text, and can also make a significant impact on the ultimate review rating.”

This email came from Rob Smith, who happens to be the editor of PC Gamer. He was rightly angry at having his own magazine lumped in with ones I obviously don’t like. Having this email arrive on the back of independent emails praising the magazine caused me to immediately go out and buy a copy (the one with the Doom 3 screenshot on the cover, if you’re interested). I have to confess I had never read a PC Gamer before this, and I took my time, reading it from cover to cover over a couple of days. I found that the magazine’s reviews were very good, and the magazine as a whole is a quality read. So I apologise to you, Rob, PC Gamer was unfairly lumped in with the others. On the bright side, I have started to buy computer magazines again.

#2: Baang, or Why I No Longer Buy Computer Games

Second article, and this time I’m talking about something I like. The feedback from the US readers surprised me the most- it seems there is a real dearth of these places in America, which surprises me as they are so popular elsewhere in the world. What is it about games in the US that makes these games rooms so rare there? It looks like there is a real business opportunity out there for the entrepreneurs amongst you.

Your emails also revealed the large pricing differences between different countries:
[LIST]
[*]Australia $2-3 per hour
[*]Canada $3-4 per hour
[*]US (where available) $4-6 per hour
[/LIST]
The figures above are all in US dollars, to allow for direct comparison. The high US price must be a barrier to the growth there of games rooms, even taking into account higher US incomes. I know games cost roughly the same in Australia and in the US, so the higher per hour cost, and the greater availability of broadband in the US makes the difference of whether or Baang can be successful there. For the record, broadband availability in Australia is pitiful—there are wealthy suburbs in the middle of Sydney that aren?t wired.

On another note, since that article was published I have bought 1 computer game—Medieval: Total War, which was being sold half-price at my local EB. Yes, I have a weakness for historical strategy, especially when it’s marked down.

#3: World Cyber Games

This article had the least relevance to Diablo 2, and it showed in the amount of feedback I received on it, about half as much as for each of the previous two. A few people wrote in to say they were very excited by the notion of events like the WCG, which was good, as the point of the article was to try and raise your awareness and interest in these kinds of events.

Kyle Gaudreau:

I don’t know if you know about the CPL but simply put it’s the most professional of all the big money gaming competitions. 2 American events a year with teams across the world tens of thousands of dollars to be won and just the most intense counterstrike playing because it comes down to euro vs the us and it’s usually damn close. WCG are good yes but the CPL is better. Once they start playing more then fps games it will be huge.

I resolved that the next article would deal directly with the game Diablo 2, to see whether the declining feedback was due to the subject, or because people had just stopped reading The Ninth Circle.

#4: Why Are We Here?

Well, I know you are still reading! I received over 60 emails from you so far, full of great stories of your Diablo 2 playing experiences, and thanks to Flux for repeating my call for your Diablo 2 stories on the front page. While I didn’t get round to replying to every email due to the volume, I did enjoy reading all your stories.

The main reasons given for playing the game now were the sheer number and variety of items, and the ability to replay the game with different character builds, in other words; variety. It’s the spice of life, and Blizzard have served us up a banquet well seasoned with it.

BoyMitch:

I’m still here because Diablo 2 is exciting, yet relaxing. I played Diablo, Hellfire, Diablo 2 and then Lord of Destruction hours and hours each. It actually has consumed about 15% of my life so far on this earth, but I am not sorry I’ve dedicated this time, because it’s fun and it’s a partial social substitute for the cruel outside world.

I did take a nine month break from Diablo 2 LOD and tried Dark Age of Camelot. After nine months of “heavy committment” time, I returned to Diablo 2 LOD and have been playing for six months straight, hours everyday! I find the necessary time investment in Diablo 2 LOD much less than other MMORPGs, since you can do what you need in a game, then go to the channel and do your laundry, make dinner, etc…whereas most other games require a committment block of “X hours” and is not flexible. You can’t just log on and play for 30 minutes like you can with Diablo 2 LOD.

Just like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I race to open the next treasure chest in hopes a great item will pop out. I stampede in the Secret Cow Level killing as fast as I can to grab that small percentage of charms that drop. You are always eager to kill Mephisto again and again….. Blizzard has certainly figured out the perfect reward system that keeps people hooked.

I’m proud to say that I’m 32 years old. Most of the people I encounter are half my age, but we share a common love of Diablo 2 LOD and that counts for something.”

Mike Waszczuk:

“I feel I have to respond to your article only because of its title and how it grasped me as the page loaded. Why are we here? What a great question. I for one have a little bit of a different story, but the same theme of getting sucked in is still there. I started playing diablo 2, two weeks after it was released, and went as fast as i could to the Hardcore mode on battlenet. This was the taste I was looking for. It seemed to me the first RPG fantasy based game that offered permanent death, and at the same time delivered multiple characters and thousands of items. Could this be the game I was waiting for. Well, in short it was. I played Diablo up untill 2 months ago, when finally my patience for the soon to be patch finally wore thin. That is why I found it funny that your article was asking Why are you still here? I still check diabloii.net on a daily basis. Ok, let me be honest. I check diabloii.net more than I check my email. In the hopes that the patch will be released and I can go ahead and renew my diablo experience with new tweaks to skills, a new realm and ladder, a new economy, a new everything. I can almost taste my entire weekend being wasted into being renewbified into the realm of Diablo. The game as it did for you was also on my mind all the time. I drive a lot for work, so I would find myself, planning what I wanted to do, what items i needed, what lvl i had to reach b4 tomorrow. In any event my daydreaming and hopes became a daily habit as were the ridiculous amount of hours I was putting in. To cut this short, I think most of us are here, in the hopes to be newbified again. To be running around in the unknown. Not knowing what item will drop next. Not knowing what skill path to take. Not knowing where to invest points, where to get good exp, where to find good items, and with a game like D2 the list goes on and on.”

Charl Daries:

“…The feeling of rapture the first time you see a unique Elite drop cannot be put into words, if you have not experienced it yet, you sure as hell are missing out !…..”

The presence of online play through Battle.net, and the circle of friends you could build up there also keeps many of you playing, while cheats and duped items are a major turn-off, and have caused some people to quit Battle.net altogether.

The Ninth Circle will return to normal service with the next issue, and another “Brickbats & Bouquets” will appear in a couple of months or so. In the meantime, keep those emails coming in, and I’ll close with words from “Reverend Omestes” who best summed up Diablo II with his words.

“I disagree with you, Diablo II IS a ‘classic’. It’s one of those games you’ll always use as a measuring rod of future Blizzard games, and of all games in its genre. The Diablo series has achieved true Beauty of Concept, meaning that it is so hideously simple to play, simple to describe, simple in all ways, but this simplicity hides a complex system, a complex beast. So simple that anyone can play it, and so complex that we are still talking about it, people are still making spreadsheets and calcs for it, still obsessing over it. Rarely has a game mastered complexity/simplicity, the simplicity hooks you, and the complexity keeps you coming back.”

Amen, Reverend.

Disclaimer: The Ninth Circle was written by Lorelorn (David Kay) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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