Down Goes Foreman, I Mean Diablo, And Other D3 Musings

**************** DIABLO 3 SPOILERS BELOW ****************

Diablo 3’s Witch Doctor shakes like he suffers from Parkinson’s. In one hand is his weapon, in his off hand is his wanga doll, both of them are constantly moving. The Witch Doctor is the Michael J. Fox of Diablo 3[D3]. His comical movements add some much needed humor to a plot line and atmosphere that can be, at times, dire. By the time you make it to Leoric’s Manor and delve into its torture chamber depths, you realize D3 is just as dark as its predecesores. The only thing that takes away from the fear that one feels as he or she ventures through the dungeons of Diablo are the in-engine story cinematics.

The games Act transition cinematics (major cinematics play when a player progresses from one Act/Setting to another) are some of the best I have seen and are a testament to Blizzard’s creative ability. The end game cinematic, that follows the slaying of Diablo, is gorgeously rendered and beautifully scored. It’s a cinematic that is befitting of the death of Diablo. Diablo, a character that is the series namesake and its main protagonist, deserved the cinematic given following his death. It’s the juxtaposition of the in-game cinematics and the in-engine ones, that makes it difficult to immerse oneself into the games story.  Most of the in-engine cinematics are forgivable and not so terribly important to the overall game play, or the game’s story-there is one exception however.

Following this quests completion is one of the most befitting cinematics for the death of terror itself.

Deckard Cain has been a reoccurring character in all three of the Diablo games. He is the last of the wise Horadric mages who have spent their lives fighting back the Prime Evils. Throughout all three games he has provided valuable information to the player and the plot,   and more importantly (in Diablo and Diablo 2), he helped identify your magic loot. He is the wise old man that you would gladly give an ear to when asked to, “Stay awhile and listen.” Deckard Cain is/was the Yoda of the Diablo series. His death in D3 was a sad moment but the magnitude of his passing was lessened by the in-engine cinematic that portrayed it.

Deckard Cain receives an in-engine killing blow.

If any plot lines deserved the same cinematic treatment that was given to the Act transitions, Deckard Cain’s death was one of them. Instead of feeling like I just lost my Grandpa, Deckard Cain’s in-engine death came across like the death of a week old pet goldfish. I was sad, but the cartoonish visualization of his death cheapened what should of been a momentous event in the Diablo lore. Even in his death Deckard Cain was working to fight the Prime Evils. As he took his last few breathes he recrafted Tyrael’s sword, letting everyone know that, “The truth lies within,” just as Yoda, on his deathbed, lets everyone know, “There is another Skywalker.”  Deckard will be missed, despite his unceremonious sendoff.

Even right before his death, Deckard Cain continues his fight against the Prime Evils by making Tyrael’s sword whole again.

10 Minutes With The Devil: Diablo 3’s [Error 37] Release

Diablo is just as infuriating and conniving as he was in Diablo 1 and Diablo 2 but for the time being, it’s for the wrong reasons. After setting up my Battle.net account and installing the game, I feverishly anticipate the opening cinematics. It didn’t matter that I had seen the opening sequence at least a dozen times before, this time was different. This time I was watching Deckard Cain convey his worries to his niece Leah (smart move Blizzard, adding the h at the end will keep the Lucas lawyers away), while my very own copy of the game set in front of me. When Deckard Cain asks Leah, “You do believe me don’t you Leah?” and the sky falls down on them in the Tristam Cathedral, I quickly answer, “Yes.” That however, is where and when my belief in Diablo’s third coming… ended.

As soon as Deckard Cain states, “It has begun,” is when my fun with Diablo 3 concluded. After the excitement of the opening cinematic you arrive at the log in screen for Diablo 3. With my account already created and my email address verified, I input my user name and password. Error 37. Here begins an error that will live on in infamy, via internet memes, for years to come. Of course I cancel and try again. Error 37. And again. Error 37. Taking a breath I exit out of D3 and give it another go. Error 37. The message board on the right hand side of the login screen addresses the issues with logging in, and state they will be fixed by 1:30PDT. I rejoice for a bit, it is 2PM CT and well pass 1:30PDT. I try to log in again.

Internet memes, commence.

Error 75. That is the next error I am faced with after my most recent attempt to log in. My fears of Diablo returning with his minions are replaced with the realization that I will not be able to see them nor stop them for the time being. Diablo will go unchecked in the world of Sanctuary, not because I lack the courage to face him but because of his brothers, the real Prime Evils, Error 37 and Error 75. I understand it is launch day for one of the most anticipated games in recent memory. I understand servers will be under a lot of stress but you can’t help but feel a bit of hell fire on the back of your neck as you stare at another error screen.

One of the lesser known Prim Evils, Error 75.

Once the lava cooled in my veins, and I embraced the teachings of the Dalai Lama for five minutes, I returned to the login screen. This time I am rewarded with a box that puts a check mark next to “Connected to Battle.net server” then another by “Authenticated” then finally, next to “Retrieving Hero List.” I am logged in and ready to create my character that will push back the hellspawn spewed from the ass of the Devil himself. I create my Monk, Dalai Camel, and exit out. My battle versus the Devil’s minions will have to wait.

*On a side note. Read the brief description for the Barbarian within the Quick Start Guide. Who does the line, “Armored in thick plate and driven by rage, these primal fighters wish only to crush their enemies and see them driven before them,” remind you of?

Quality Created Marketing: Blizzard’s “Unintentional” Boon From Flexible Release Dates

Blizzard’s policy of not releasing a game until it is polished and absolutely complete has worked out for both Blizzard, and for their game buying fans. With each games’ announcement, the online community explodes. Free marketing abound! With each delay of a Blizzard release, free marketing abound! When the game finally hits the hands of its wanting fans the level of anticipation has reached the same height of a Protoss Carrier.

Per Blizzard's Diablo 3 website (FAQ section).

For Blizzard, this practice of releasing games only when things are perfect has been awarded to them due to the money they’ve generated via World of Warcraft [WOW]. It also helps that each game they release, that has an extended development phase, is an award winning, financial success. With ample cash on hand, Blizzard can stretch out their development, alpha and beta phases. Many other gaming companies can not afford the luxury of having a negotiable release date, and in the case of Blizzard, the release date is not just negotiable but very flexible.

What was originally just the practice of giving its gamers/fans the most faultless iteration of its next game, Blizzard has created a marketing strategy original to the gaming industry. The constant delay and changing of release dates has now turned into a buzz machine for Blizzard. With some of the most appreciated and accepted games in the PC arena (Diablo, WarCraft, WOW and StarCraft) it’s understandable that Blizzard wants to get each release right. I do not think the delays in release are intentional but obviously Blizzard is aware of the storm it creates every time it even mentions another delay.

You can find the devil on Amazon.

When subscribers for WOW started to fall off slightly and Blizzard stock started to bleed (both happened in late 2011), I wrongfully predicted that Blizzard would, for the first time, hurry a release. I thought the pressures of share owners would finally put the squeeze on Blizzard and they would release a game before they wanted to. I am happy to be wrong. Perhaps Blizzard share holders have some faith and understanding of what makes Blizzard, just as polished as its games.

Once again, a Diablo 3 release date announcement is expected soon. Once again, the internet and gaming media are a buzz. Once again, Blizzard gets some free marketing. Once again, I am drooling at the opportunity to personally rip Diablo’s horns from his head.

Take Heed and Bare Witness to….Paul Eiding.

I recently downloaded EA’s online gaming social network and store known as Origin. It is meant to compete with Steam and with EA releasing Battlefield 3 soon (the reason I downloaded the new Origin app), it will do just that. I think it will be one of many competitors to Steam and I wanted to be an early adapter and familiar with the new platform when everyone else are just wetting their toes. It was the early adapter aspect that helped me pick my focus of this week’s post.

Paul Eiding is a household name in video game voice acting. His name/voice has been attached to an ongoing string of video game blockbusters (Diablo, StarCraft, Metal Gear Solid, Diablo II, God of War, Fallout 3, Dragon Age: Origins, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty) and even ones not deemed blockbusters (Tenchu 2, Escape From Monkey Island, EverQuest II, Jade Empire, Advent Rising, Ratchet & Clank series, Ninja Gaiden II), still received critical and commercial success. His resume of voice acting dates back to when the industry could finally fit enough data on a disk to enable it. It was that fact that put him out front of the nerd herd of voice actors: his early adaption to a developing industry.

Paul started on the stage and still calls it his true home but his commercial success came from his voice. His career started to develop by doing cartoon voices for the likes of Gobots, The Jetsons and The Smurfs (see his career start up story, in his own words, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Igcj9shVXfI). His jump from the obscure to mainstream can be narrowed down to his voice role of Perceptor in the 1980s version of Transformers.

He exploded on to the voice gaming stage by landing a gig with Blizzard in their tremendously successful role playing, top down, click fest versus demons game Diablo. Every time your warrior class in that game uttered, “I gotta pawn some of this stuff,” because your inventory is too full, it is Paul Eiding letting you know. When Pepin the Healer lets you know about a potion he wants you to give to the witch, Paul Eiding is uttering those words. Diablo was one of the first games to be packed with a full audio experience and when you look back at that game and wonder why it scared you so much it was because the sound and the voiced lore was new, fresh and downright pee your pants scary. The voice acting for Archbishop Lazarus and the lore you read throughout the dungeon….Paul Eiding. Two fine examples of his fear inducing voice can be listen to/viewed below.

Blizzard was a pretty good company to get in good with regarding a future in voice acting. Soon after his success in Diablo he showed his range by voicing Aldaris in StarCraft and its expansion StarCraft: Brood War. If the following doesn’t bring back memories and the frustration that comes from not having enough pylons, then you probably didn’t play StarCraft.

 If the picture to the left looks familiar then you too enjoyed sometime with Solid Snake of the Metal Gear Solid series and more importantly you enjoyed the voicing of Paul Eiding as Colonel Roy Campbell (pictured left). The Metal Gear Solid series success was due to the original PlayStation’s ability to use Compact Discs, new to gaming at the time, which enabled game data and rich sound. That rich sound enabled the US version of the game to hire Paul Eiding as the voice of Colonel Roy Campbell. It of course didn’t hurt that the game play of Metal Gear Solid was fun and great at creating tension.

In Blizzard’s follow up to Diablo, aptly named Diablo II, Paul voiced one of my most memorable cinematic scenes in a video game thus far (below). Funny enough, even Marius (the meager human within the scene) points out the voice of Mephisto. Who is voicing Mephisto you ask? You got it, Paul Eiding.

More recently Paul has lent his voice acting talents to Fallout 3 (voicing over 10 characters), Dragon Age: Origins (multiple characters), StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (multiple credits) and Halo: Reach (Spartan Commander). His most recent video game credit to date, via www.imdb.com, is his reoccurring role as Zephyr in the recently announced Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. I can only hope that another credit will be announced soon for the highly anticipated Diablo III.

Where many have had Hollywood success and then played their hand at voice acting, Paul invested early into a new and highly rewarding (commercially and personally) career of video game voice acting. Interesting enough Hollywood noticed and Paul has had voice acting roles in the animated movies Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Up and Wall-E. I know Paul’s heart beats for the stage and more blockbuster movie roles will surely come calling from Hollywood. I just hope he keeps his toes in the video game water so all us nerds can continue to enjoy his talents.

Young, Dumb and Ready to Gun

In my younger years, I couldn’t purchase the next triple-a first person shooter [FPS] quick enough and most of the time I would purchase them without reading a single review. All it would take was a Michael Bay like game trailer with explosions and in-game footage of heavy firefights to convince me I needed to buy the advertised game.

What it took to sale a game to me in the mid to late 90s was fairly simple. To get me to spend a little money all you had to do was make sure the FPS was visually appealing, show that visually appealing aspect in a trailer and make sure when people/monsters died, they died with plenty of giblets (giblets in the video game world are the chunks of body parts that are the repercussion of you, the player, shooting a person/monster – see video below). It also didn’t hurt to be a FPS game with gun heavy box art that was conveniently positioned next to a triple-A shooter that had an “oh shit” trailer – it would get purchased merely by association.

My haphazard purchasing based off game trailers with a nice pair of fake tits (i.e. visually appealing) and triple-a marketing showmanship came to an abrupt end with the purchase of the now infamous Daikatana. Daikatana was John Romero’s personal baby. Coming off his successes with id Software and the likes of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake, John Romero started his own development company  Ion Storm. Daikatana was supposed to be the first blockbuster game out of Ion Storm’s Dallas office (finally released in May 2000 after the initial plans of releasing Holidays 1997) and was meant to be their flagship, instead it was the torpedo that started their company to take on water. A marketing campaign started to tout the game as the second coming and journalist got caught up in the hype. For me, it was another potentially exciting shooter that I wanted to get my hands on and create giblets with. It ended up being the game that instigated a change in my buying habits. It was a dated looking game once it came out, the enemy and sidekick AI was horrid and frustrating (see video below) and the game just wasn’t any fun.

Looking back, Daikatana served a much greater purpose than just being a disappointment. It demonstrated to the gaming world, and especially to the reporters who worked in it, that hype could poison their industry too. It also sparked change to how the gaming  industry did their marketing and increased the appreciation of game critics amongst gamers. The most relatable change, however, was the one it had on me. I became a more sophisticated purchaser of CPU games and I also started to delve deeper into the video game world of critics, E3s and gaming publications. Daikatana, one of the hugest disappointments in video game history, made me a better PC gamer.

Soon after the Daikatana failure there was a shift in how games where presented to the potential gaming public. Commercials became smarter, funnier and better at capturing the attention of the young and old. The first game I noticed to market in a new and exciting way was Diablo II from Blizzard. Its commercials (see below) were more than just a Michael Bay trailer and the story aspects of the game were focused on creating interest without having to show giblets and death set to heavy metal music. Daikatana may have sucked more than Tonya Harding at the Olympics but at least it served a greater purpose in its failure.

Replay Value: Sh*t and Shinolah.

I was taking a look at my Steam library this weekend and viewing my hours played for each game I own. One thing, well two things, became very clear to me. The first being is I play waaaaaay too much and the second, the games making up my favorites list all contain some element of replay value. Upon further reflection I realized that all my favorite current games and fondly looked upon games of my past all have aspects of replay value.

Replay value, the second word being just as important as the first. If you go to a bar and buy a double, once you finish it you have nothing to show for it (except maybe a slight buzz) and no way to enjoy it again unless you purchase another. A game that contains some facet to it that will bring you back  again and again means you have a game with replay value. It is not a game where you play through it once, blow your load, and decide never to call it again (See the indie game Braid. Great game but once you finish it, will you ever return to it?).

Trying to find an antithesis to games that contain some replay value is a difficult task in today’s gaming market and nothing against Braid because its focus was always the single player experience and the story that goes with it. Publishers and developers are well aware that a games digital shelf life is important to its profitability and gamers realize its important to their happiness and bank account. Replay value is now a part of almost every game released. Some games do it well and make it a focus of the games development cycle from start to finish. Some games try to just stick in some replay value so they can put it in quotes on the back of their retail copies or within their trailers (Cough! Cough! Ghostbusters: The Videogame.)

Shit

Two routes seem to be the the most effective in creating replay value. Creating a game that is centrally focused on mulitplayer (i.e. Battlefield Series) or a  game that is focused on game useful collectables and exploration (i.e. Diablo series). The games that seem to have the shelf life of a radioactive isotope have found a way to creatively do both, focus on multiplayer and in-game items.  Team Fortress 2 is the shining example of this method of creating and replay value. Its original release (in 2007) was as a much anticipated multiplayer shooter with a purchase cost. It has now transformed to a free-to-play online shooter with an item drop system and money making item cash shop. An example of a game focusing on exploration (crack) and items (meth) is the Re-Logic’s Terraria. This side, and up and down, scrolling adventure game was crafted from start to finish to use collecting shinies, creating shinies from those shinies and repeat, as its main focus and draw – with great success. It has 4 player multiplayer (Four player multiplayer seems to be a gaming norm now. So everyone, make sure you only have four friends.) where you can explore and hoard shinies together.

Shinolah

Games from here forward will continue to be multifaceted experiences that pay heed to our social (multiplayer), inquisitive (exploration) and addictive (shinies) character traits. Games are getting better at appealing to our guttural desires and our recession styled pocket books. Games, and their publisher and developers, are now replay value focused. Just a bit of caution though, some publishers and developers will be creating games that they want their customers to play persistently, enjoy and do contain quality replay value. Others will just try to market to you that their games contain quality multiplayer and item hunting adventuring.  So when considering a purchase whose marketing mentions keywords associated with replay value consider the following video:

So I leave it up to you fellow gamers (and those of you who haven’t picked up the hobby yet) to be able to determine shit from Shinola.

Battlefield

Stretch It Out and It Fits, Stretch It Too Much and It Sags

Blizzard (known for their WOW [World of Warcraft], Diablo and Star Craft franchises/games) seem to do it the best; revealing a small piece of information about a game at the start of a month and then another at, say, months end. Little bits and pieces of the game “leaked” out to the general public and media with the desired effect of ramping up anticipation and awareness of the upcoming title.

I’ve coined this tactic STRETCH MARKETING: stringing along information, sometimes key elements and most of the time just tidbits, of a game over a span of time. It creates the media buzz that helps advertising…advertise itself.

When is it too much? When have you released enough to get your targeted and hopefully untargeted audiences salivating at the mouth? How far out from release do you start? All serious concerns to consider when launching such a marketing campaign.

Start a stretch marketing campaign too soon and by the time the game is released you’ve burnt out the games fervor. If you have an expected release date 3 years in advance and you turn the marketing facet on immediately then, by the time the game is made available to the consumer, your facet will run dry. Your potential buyer will be in shoulder shrugging mode by release date. Around two years (give or take a couple of months depending on how far along game development is) prior to release seems to be the most efficient starting date for a stretch marketing campaign but make sure that those two years are not made up of insignificant game insight. For example, the press releases and game footage need to be a mix of significant game information, that appeals to the broader game player, and little aspects of the game that the die hard fan will eat up.

Those who seem to understand the near perfect mix of huge game information (like character classes or a new playable species) with minute information (such as a new weapon choice or spell) continue to exceed other publishers in creating player salivation.

The perfect amount of gaming oats to fill the trough seems to teeter between too much and too little. You want to get enough information out to your potential buyers until they think there is nothing more to expect, then boom goes the dynamite, you hit them with a new playable class.

Blizzard’s Diablo 3 may have already released all their playable classes but keep an eye on Diablo 3’s upcoming marketing exploits as its actual release date nears. Don’t be surprised if they have something substantial to talk about at this years E3 [Electronic Entertainment Expo] in June.

High Five Party

Don’t be surprised if Blizzard still has a little trinket up their Witch Doctor sleeves.

STRETCH MARKETING campaign should look unpredictable and not static. Keep your potential buyers asking, “What’s next?” and you keep them interested.

Thanks for letting me tie you up for a bit, return to the herd soon.