Mojang finally hiring more people to work on Minecraft

Mojang/bukkit.

In the nearly three years Notch has been developing Minecraft, hires what is now his development company, Mojang, have been few and far between. The lack of hires certainly wasn’t need-based (or lack-of-need-based). It’s pretty easy to make the case that Minecraft has been in need of more developers for at least the past year. There is still no modding API, despite the fact that Minecraft enjoys one of the most active modding communities in the world. The game still feels like a bit of a fragmented mess. All of this could be solved with more manpower. Yeah, I said it. All they needed were a couple warm bodies with a basic knowledge of java.

Well they finally picked some, and it just so happens to be the fine folks at Bukkit. For those that don’t know, the Bukkit team produced an alternate version of the Minecraft server code that was more stable than the original, had a modding API, and required fewer resources to run. Luckily for the four fellows who ran the project, the Bukkit team won’t be working for free any longer. They’ve officially joined the Mojang team.

Their first project will be to write a brand new API. Now, I don’t claim to be a programmer, but I can only imagine one good reason to do this: Mojang didn’t want to pay for Bukkit. I have nothing but respect for the Bukkit guys. They started on a project for fun, they kept it going after it grew into something huge, and now they’re reaping rewards. Without knowing the details of their employment agreement, I think they’re getting the short end of the stick, and unfortunately so are we.

Again, I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about here, but I would imagine there’s a legal case for Mojang to say hey, stop doing that to our code or we will sue you. There certainly would be if Bukkit tried to sell their server package. As such, Mojang doesn’t really owe the guys at Bukkit anything. Wouldn’t it suck, though, to be such an integral part of the Minecraft community–as in, so big that you’re essentially synonymous with multiplayer gameplay–and be compensated with just a job offer? I know, job offers are hard to come by right now, but the guys at Bukkit have done more for multiplayer than anyone else, including Mojang. All of the notable multiplayer Minecraft servers run Bukkit. Now they’ll be forced to migrate to the new API developed in-house with Mojang.

I’m hopeful that the new API will be pretty much the work of those four guys, because I stopped trusting Mojang to build one a long time ago. The Bukkit guys certainly know what they’re doing and, who knows, maybe starting from scratch will be nice for them. It won’t be nice for players, though. Certainly not in the short term. Yes, they’ve pledged support through 1.2, but the transition probably won’t be super slick, to say nothing of the additional wait time we now have for development of this new API. For being a “released game,” Minecraft is in critical flux an awful lot.

Seriously though, congrats to the guys at Bukkit. You deserve all of your success.

Guild Wars 2 beta takes 1 million sign-ups

Guild Wars 2.

I was more than a little mad at myself when I realized I missed the Guild Wars 2 signup window. ArenaNet had only made it available for 48 hours and, though I knew about it well in advance, I neglected to get myself into the pool. I feel a bit better about things now. I just found out that more than one million players signed up for the beta over those two days. That’s 4,000 interested players every minute. That’s a lot of people.

Granted, beta sign-ups are free, so its a bit dubious to compare the numbers to something like, oh, SWTOR. Still, I can’t help but wonder what would bring about that kind of feeding frenzy. I’ve dipped into various SWTOR communities here and there over the past couple months and found a lot of discontented players. Players are already bored with the game, a situation I find totally unsurprising given the careful cloning process that spawned that familiar beast.

If anything, I think we can definitely say that gamers are on the prowl for the next big game, and they have yet to find it. A million PC gamers rallying around anything in 48 hours is a big deal. The fact that they’re looking at the one MMO that really promises to do things differently tells me that players are bored, tired of the MMOs they’ve been playing for the last decade. I’m right there with them. I’m ready to be plucked from the clutches of weeknight boredom and shown a compelling game experience. I certainly hope ArenaNet can deliver.

New LoL champion leaked (Fiora)

A recent update to Riot’s Public Beta Environment included files for what appears to be the next champion to join the league, Fiora. Fiora appears to be a fencer, equipped with a rapier and ready to do some stabbing. Her skill list is a bit…uninspired. Her ultimate is essentially Juggernaut’s ultimate from DotA. As for her other skills, she has a dash, a damage avoidance skill, and an attack speed/move speed steroid. Neato.

To me she sounds like an update Yi – not quite as reliant on Highlander to put out damage. You can read more about her lore and her skillset at State of the League.

Guild Wars 2 beta signups open for another 24 hours

Damn you ArenaNet. Why must you suck back in to the Guild Wars 2 news circuit? Why must you entice me to watch your manifesto again? Why am I yelling “yes!” after every point you make. Stop making me care about this game. At least I can’t be disappointed if I don’t care.

I do care, though, and you should too. Beta signups just opened for Guild Wars 2. You can bet this thing won’t be out until late Q3, early Q4, so there will probably be other chances. All the same, it doesn’t cost anything to sign up – you just have to submit your system specs.

Some old and (mostly) broken LoL mechanics

I would never expect a decent LoL article to come out of a radio station, but I suppose as games gain traction in the media we’ll start seeing some decent content everywhere. A Grand Rapids station put together a quick list of 10 old mechanics in League of Legends that were (mostly) broken. It’s an interesting look back at the game if you haven’t been playing for more than 6 months, especially since the post includes video.

I’ll say my favorite “remember when” from this list is the old brush system. Dear god. Riot was one brush-crazed company back in the day. That shit was everywhere. Innervating Locket was also an interesting item, though several strong characters made it ridiculously broken. I didn’t mind it terribly much on Gragas, mostly because AP Gragas is so much scarier than pure tank Gragas. Locket Udyr though? That was broken. Pair Udyr, Sona, and Gragas, get them all to buy Locket and you have one unstoppable push comp. As annoying as it was to see that comp played, I have to say, it added some flavor to the game.

Head over to the WGRD station for the rest of the article.

Terraria successor Starbound looks promising

Starbound.

After all the doom and gloom of my latest post I decided to spend some time reading about Starbound, the upcoming successor to Terraria’s 2D sandbox adventure throne. I’m hesitant to even get excited–the game is likely a ways off–but Tiyuri, the lead developer, seems to have most of the game planned.

The game looks like it will play a lot like Terraria, with all the side-scrolling, zombie-smashing mayhem that made the first game great. If there was one thing I wished for Terraria, though, it was more and lots of it. That’s what Starbound looks set to deliver. Tiyuri is promising a massive number of items, multiple planets to explore, an ever-increasing difficulty system, and enough vanity items to keep the most dedicated Chinese farmers happy for at least a day or two.

Pop over to the game’s official dev site for more information. This is one game I’ll be adding to my hopeful future playlist. The moment a beta releases, you can bet I’ll be doing what it takes to get in.

Image from: Playstarbound.com

The boredom the game industry can breed

KoA.

I love video games in a way many people in my life have never understood. My parents never really grasped my fascination with my Nintendo 64, and I can’t remember a girlfriend who looked with more than a passing curiosity on my favorite pastime. As much as I love certain games and certainly gaming as a whole, times like the present are far too familiar.

I’m bored with gaming. Deeply bored. I still play DotA 2 on a regular basis, though mostly because it gives me a chance to connect with my gaming friends. Updates for the game are coming slowly, even on Valve time. With the wide array of heroes yet to be added, the game is a long way from complete, and further still from seeing any kind of evolution on the status quo.

Beyond that, the industry’s recent releases have been half-hearted iterations on the latest classics, and even for those the cost of entry is steep. SWTOR was my gleaming hope for a while there, but the beta was a tragic disappointment, even if it did save me $60. Kingdoms of Amalur had some promise, but my enjoyment would have been short-lived. Games as long on dialogue as Amalur have always bored me, which is why I’ll likely be passing on Mass Effect 3. I certainly will be for the initial cost of the game.

In some ways I think the recent wave of quality indie games has ruined the big publisher model for me. When I can easily get the same or more enjoyment from a $20 alpha investment, it gets difficult to justify spending three times as much for some pretty graphics and a few big names on that expensive box. Seriously, if the likes of R.A. Salvatore and Todd McFarlane can’t pull together an original and compelling world, why pay the premium on their names?

The future doesn’t look much more promising. Diablo 3 is still on the horizon but I can’t help wondering if the grindy style will be interesting enough. Mass Effect 3 is out there, but I’m not a fan of BioWare’s over-valuation of dialogue and dialogue choices. The one bright light remains Guild Wars 2, but that game sounds so ambitious it almost seems like it has already fallen short.

What are you playing? Or is there something you can’t wait to play?

My Nautilus design dilemma

Nautilus.

After reading Nautilus’ skillset, I thought he was OP. At the very least he had too much going on. Berseking was kind enough to point me to Xypherous’ dev diary for the League’s new champion, a post that broke down the design decisions behind the champion’s design. After reading through it I still think he has too much going on, and the method by which Riot might keep him from being OP–a crappy attack animation/speed and movespeed–are an unnecessary frustration. He needs a limitation on the number of things he can do, not a mechanical throttle on his power level.

I’ll be the first to admit that Xypherous and I have different philosophies when it comes to champion design. He does make some interesting champions, but at least in the case of Nautilus, he is willing to overload on mechanics. If you read his dev diary and watch Phreak’s champion spotlight, you’ll notice there isn’t much talk of weakness. Any talk of a potential downfall in his design is met with “so we gave him X.” Notice the following:

One of the strongest downsides to a self-only shield is that it is effectively ignorable by the enemy team. Unless you are threatening enough so that you must be killed on sight, defensive shielded targets are generally ignored as there isn’t a point to attacking him.

Which was preceded by:

However, if he’s left alone, Nautilus can contribute heavy damage to the enemy team.

This is one major design decision that I just don’t understand about this game. Why does a tank need to deal big damage? Even solid damage over the course of a fight? Isn’t the fact that he has four CC skills enough? Isn’t the disruption caused by his presence enough? Xypherous talks about Wrath of the Titan being a “soft-taunt” because it adds damage if players don’t attack Nautilus. Why does a character with four CC skills need a soft-taunt? This doesn’t make any sense.

What about this – what if the tank was designed to control opponents, either by creating openings for his teammates to get kills or preventing the other team from attack. He would have very limited damage, relying instead on CC to keep his enemies alive. His enemies would then have to make an interesting choice – attack the high damage people in the back and risk getting stuck in Nautilus’ CC or burn skills on Nautilus so that the high priority targets are vulnerable. Instead, Nautilus forces players to burn skills on him or suffer huge consequences. That’s not interesting. It takes away the opponent’s ability to make an interesting choice but, more importantly, it takes away Nautilus’ ability and incentive to make interesting, epic plays.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve been playing DotA. I have a ton of fun playing support and tank champions in DotA, mostly because I’m not stuck spamming heals on my lanemate. I get to harass a lot. I set up kills a lot. Most of all, I get to make big plays during teamfights. Timing a stun for the perfect moment to save my carry from an enemy stunlock, using Force Staff to move my allies out of harm’s way, landing the perfect Shallow Grave to prevent death – these are all things I’ve pulled off or seen pulled off in ways that make me want to play support and tanks. Because those characters don’t often have big damage, they have a chance to move within a fight and have a serious impact on its outcome. Fights feel extremely dynamic because there is a constant target shift going on – players are trying to burn the big damage dealers while avoiding the crowd control of supports and tanks.

I can think of one character who has both big damage and big utility without any real sacrifice and he’s the most broken character in the game: Invoker. Pretty much every other character suffers from some setback, whether it’s mobility, lack of crowd control, position dependent skills, and so on. The game allows players to shore up those weaknesses through itemization, which obviously comes at a cost. On the whole, it’s the constantly sliding scale of damage, control, durability and mobility that makes a teamfight in DotA interesting. Only one character in DotA has all of those attributes without a truly godlike farm. I certainly can’t say the same for League.

I don’t peg all of this on Xypherous – that would be really unfair. He is working within a metagame and a design philosophy that obviously values Nautilus-style design. Personally, I wish Riot was doing more to change the game, but they’re trucking ahead with the current philosophy. For me, that has meant a serious decline in the amount of enjoyment I get from the game.

Riot strips Vayne down to nearly nothing

Vayne.

The S&M tribe that Riot has moonlighting as a group of artists did their worst to Vayne for Valentine’s Day. The Vampire Hunter was given her own version of the very tired stockings-and-corset costume. This will no doubt cause a flood of masturbatory spending from the 13-year-olds playing League of Legends.

I imagine the resumes in Riot’s art department are pretty short. How many different ways are there to say “I drew fantasy babes in stockings, thongs, and corsets every day.”

I’m not anti-sexy, just anti-lack-of-creativity. We’ve seen this skin one thousand million times. It isn’t interesting. At all. Not one bit. Nothing about it. Nothing. Not a single part.

…but good job on the Nautilus model.

Nautilus skill list revealed

Nautilus.

Riot has released the official skill list for Nautilus and…oh…dear…god. He sounds insanely strong as both an initiator and tank. Unless he has utterly terrible stat gain this guy will be a force to be reckoned with. I would imagine he was designed to play as a bottom lane support, much like Leona, but that all depends on his damage. If he has even remotely decent damage, he’ll be a brutal jungler.

Let’s have a look at Nautilus’ skills:

Staggering Blow (Passive) – Nautilus’ first basic attack against a target deals bonus physical damage and immobilizes the opponent briefly. Staggering Blow cannot trigger on the same target more than once every 12 seconds.

Dredge Line – Nautilus throws his anchor forward. If he hits an enemy, he’ll drag himself to his target and his target to him. If he hits terrain, he’ll drag himself to the terrain and the cooldown is reduced.

Titan’s Wrath – Nautilus places a shield on himself that absorbs additional damage based on his maximum health. While the shield is active, Nautilus’ attacks deal damage over time to units around him.

Riptide – Nautilus slams the ground, causing the earth to ripple out in waves. Each wave deals damage and slows the targets hit. This slow decays over time. Multiple waves that hit the same target deal reduced damage.

Depth Charge (ultimate) – Nautilus launches a depth charge towards a target that picks up speed as it travels. This charge knocks up all enemies it encounters while traveling and explodes on impact, stunning the target and launching them into the air.

I think his passive will be the most binary of his abilities. If it’s anything .5 seconds or lower, it will just be a nuisance, good for interrupting the few channels in the game or maybe breaking up a running pattern, but nothing more. Any more time on the stun and that passive is among the best in the game, especially for a champion with an AoE slow, a line knock-up, and a hook. Holy hell. With Jarvan’s passive there isn’t a ton of incentive to switch targets for a little extra damage. If this passive is a one second stun there is a huge incentive to switch. Did I mention the AoE CC this guy has? Imagine the crazy stunlocks this could potentially create. Yikes.

His other skills seem equally strong – at least as strong as Leona, which is why I’d imagine we’ll see him running in bot lane. Putting him top seems like a complete waste, much like Sejuani. I really hope he isn’t capable of quick jungle clears. If he can jungle it will just be more cement around an already solidified and fairly stagnant meta. I’ll wait for his spotlight to pass more judgement than that, but my god, he looks ridiculously strong.

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