Friday, August 28, 2015

[Eon Altar] We're Live! Early Access and PAX Prime

Last post I promised I'd let folks know when we were live, and well, we're live! You can check out Eon Altar on Steam Early Access here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/382050

You can grab the controller apps on iOS and Google Play. Just make sure your mobile devices are on the same network as your PC for Steam, and you should be off to the races!

Booth Under Construction
Our booth has been super busy, and we're loving showing off our game! I admit, our game is a bit hard to describe sometimes. But when people have gotten their hands on the game and played through it a bit, you can see their faces light up as the whole thing just clicks. It's been an absolutely amazing experience watching folks play and have fun with it.

 I think this Steam review actually says it really well:
The shining point here is how much the game feels like a computer aided D&d session. The second screens also pop up with secret quests, individual responses and reactions just for that character. Just like a GM passed you a private note. Player dialogue is not voiced, but pops up ONLY on your screen and you are expected to say it in your best full-on Renn Fair voice. This is totally stupid and totally awesome, especially when the dialogue goes all high fantasy cliche.
Watching players actually perform voices was fantastic. Totally not required, not everybody was that into it, but watching some folks really get into it was deeply satisfying. So many laughs and smiles.

Nicole Tanner of Pixelkin stopped by and played our game for a bit, and had this to say about Eon Altar:
Since I’ve been playing games for more than 30 years, I’m always delighted when I see a game that’s innovative and truly unique...I really can’t overstate how impressed I was with this game. I encourage everyone to check it out.
I admit, the rush is almost overwhelming. I'm pretty sure I was running solely on adrenaline by the end of the day, but that kind of fantastic feedback is beyond what I personally expected. Not because I don't believe in our game, I just...it's so hard to be objective when you're so close to it. It's too easy to see even the most minute "warts" and be really hard on yourself as a content creator. That's not to say we don't have work to do--we do, and a fair bit of it--but getting the game out there has been quite affirming so far. Absolutely nothing like working on application software. Nobody got this excited about OneDrive and Office. Well, almost nobody.


We're on the floor for the rest of PAX still, so if you're around, come by and give the game a try. We're happy to answer questions, let folks give it a whirl, and hear feedback--both the good and what needs improvement. Same with our Early Access build. We want to hear what folks really like, and what needs more work, tweaking, or what just isn't working for you. You can find our primary forums here, but we are taking a gander at the Steam discussions, too.

We need to get some more photos of folks playing from tomorrow. I'll be at the booth tomorrow and Monday (I'm personally taking Sunday to see a bit of the show and visit some friends), but we're so stoked to be there, and be (somewhat) released!
#EonAltar, #PAXPrime, #EarlyAccess

Monday, August 24, 2015

[Eon Altar] PAX Prime and Steam Early Access, Soon™



The past couple weeks have been absolutely insane as we've been trying to get stuff "done" and aligned for this week. With our handset builds out the door to Apple and Android, and our Steam build in review, all we can do now is generally wait as we prep our showing at PAX Prime.

<RonPaulItsHappening.gif/>
We don't have an absolute date at the moment, and until we know we do have a date, we don't want to make liars out of ourselves, but ideally we'll have something up on Steam for PAX Prime. If we do, and you bring your phone with our (free) handset app already loaded on it to play with us, we'll give you an exclusive pin.

But even if you don't bring your phone loaded with the handset app, you'll be able to play a bit of our game at PAX itself, as we're on the expo hall floor! I'll be working at PAX Prime for the first time ever, and it's gonna be so much fun. And so tiring and long, no doubt. I personally won't be on the floor every day, I think we have like 8 people and we only really want 4 employees in the booth at maximum at any given time.


We are choosing to go Early Access to begin with. My personal feelings on Early Access are...complex. I can't say I'm a big fan of purchasing games in Early Access (though I've been known to do it on occasion), but that's mostly because I prefer to play complete products myself. I play enough buggy software for my job, thanks :P But, on the other hand, as a tiny studio we could use the additional gameplay/balance/fun feedback, testing, and so on that Early Access can provide us, and it does give folks the opportunity to get in and let us know what works and what doesn't. Who knows, maybe one of my blog readers will have a massive impact on the final product!

It also allows us to soft launch, so to speak. With having to coordinate Steam, Android, and iOS, our patching/engineering process is likely going to have a few bugs unto itself, let alone the game. Having to be really careful about how we roll out the handsets and the central game, as well as engineering ways to have compatibility across devices that aren't necessarily up to date is going to be a difficult process. I personally have experience doing this sort of updating thanks to my time at Microsoft Office (because compatibility is king for Enterprise software), but still, I imagine we will end up making at least one mistake. Best to get that figured out before we release for real.

Still, I cannot believe we're already putting our game out to the world. It is exciting and terrifying simultaneously. Will people like it? Will they hate it? Will we get love letters and hate mail? I really hope to see folks who are going to PAX Prime drop by our booth and give the game a shot. And to just say hi! When I figure out what days I'm on I'll pop a schedule here. But looking forward to it!

#EonAltar, #PAXPrime, #EarlyAccess

Saturday, August 22, 2015

[FFXIV] Extrapolating the Subscriber Count

Recently Square Enix released their yearly Eorzea Census for 2015 and it has some really interesting numbers. They've also talked about how they have over 5 million registered accounts now. Syncaine believes this directly correlates to active subscribers, but at first blush I'd say that assumption is unsubstantiated hogwash.

However, thinking on it further, I'm not actually completely sure off-hand. So between the census and some other "registered accounts" numbers I figured I'd perform some numerical analysis to see if he's really off-base or not.

First of all, let's talk about the numbers Square Enix has released. We know they were relatively flat at 2M accounts registered from April 2014 to 2.5M accounts at December 2014. Then they jumped like crazy, reaching 4M nearly 3 months later in February 2015. Finally, they've hit over 5M in August 2015.



I still think it's fallacious to directly correlate accounts registered with active subscriptions, however, if we keep in mind FFXIV is still early in its lifecycle, and the meteoric rise in accounts created relative to the previous year, I imagine that slightly more than doubling their registered accounts in a year probably means that they've more than doubled their active subscribers. For example, if you're not generating new accounts, you're extremely likely to be losing active subscribers over time. Natural attrition as folks decide they have played enough and drop their subscription. By that logic, it's likely that the more recently someone has registered an account, the more likely it is that someone is still subscribed.

That's not a perfect assumption--there are plenty of counter-examples--but it would support Syncaine's theory to a certain extent. So why don't we take a look at the Eorzea Census 2015 data under the assumption that registered accounts is equivalent to active subscribers and see if it makes sense.

Side note: I'm going to work under the assumption of one character per account. This isn't strictly true, but given FFXIV's ability to be whatever you like on a single character, removing the necessity for alts that other games generally have, I think this is an okay assumption to make to give us an upper bound of subscriber number estimates.


Total Playing Hours



The first metric I want to look at is total playing hours of all characters. Nearly 97B hours of play time since the inception of the game. Thankfully, they give us the total playtime a year prior, which reduces this number to just under 96B hours. Seriously, like two orders of magnitude difference, which is actually pretty nuts.

It's also interesting, because the prior year their registered accounts were relatively flat from launch through August 2014. There's no way those 2M registered accounts only accounted for 823M play hours if 2.5 times that number of registered accounts were actively playing for 118x that amount by the end of the next year. This by itself would clearly show that registered accounts does not equal active accounts.

96B hours played is about 8B a month, or 266.66M a day. That would require 11M characters playing 24H a day for the full year. There is literally no way that is correct. Square Enix must have misplaced a decimal point here because that would require every registered account to have 2 characters logged in constantly.

If we assume they did misplace a decimal point, that brings us to 1.1M characters playing 24/7, or 3.3M characters playing 8 hours a day. Or 6.6M playing 4 hours a day. The 6.6M is clearly impossible (as they only have 5M registered accounts), so either Square Enix has a really impressively addicted fanbase compared to the previous year, or something is seriously wrong with the scripts harvesting their numbers. These values don't make sense.

Last year's values make sense though, because 823M hours played would mean about 0.56M characters playing 4 hours a day, and that jives with their suggestion that they had over half a million players logging in daily. A number that would make far more sense for 2015 would be in the ballpark of 5.2B total hours played, as that would mean 3M character logging in daily for 4 hours a day plus the 823M from the previous year.

This just doesn't add up. The data is clearly flawed.


Dungeon and Raid Runs



217,817 characters have entered Alexander: Gordias, the LFR-esque version of the latest raid. If Square Enix truly had 5M active subscribers, this number would be an abysmal failure. 4.35% of the population, with 0.7% ever setting foot in the Savage version. For a raid that's been out for a month and a half, that's a pretty small number.

If we look at stats for WoW's Blackrock Foundry raid nearly 2 months in at the time, we're talking about 36% of players who completed the first wing on any difficulty.

Granted, FFXIV moves a lot slower than WoW does, and there are plenty of folks who aren't yet max level, even 2 months in, but if we use that value as a basis then we're looking at a lower bound of 605,000 subscribers.



Dungeons run similarly shows a low number for potential subscribers unless an extremely significant portion of the population has no combat jobs above 50 period. Sohm Al is required for the main story past 54, and yet, it's only been attempted 450,000 times. This means, at a maximum, ~450,000 characters are through that section of the story. The actual number is probably quite a bit lower than that as multiple attempts would be made while leveling, especially through the duty roulette.

But again, FFXIV is a slower game, and I know a lot of folks who came in for the expansion and hadn't finished the 2.55 main story yet, so it's quite possible this number is low compared to the general populace of active subscribers. But even if I'm generous and say, only 25% of players have a combat job at over level 54, that's still only an upper bound of 1.8M active subscribers.

Edit: It's possible that the dungeon attempts isn't per character, but per instance spun up, which would basically multiply that 450k number by 4, bringing us to 1.8M characters through that section of the story maximum. That doesn't seem unreasonable. In fact, that kind of makes more sense given the 217k character number for entering Alexander: Gordias. With 1.4M runs of Neverreap plus Fractal Continuum combined for enough Tomestones of Law to hit the 170 ilvl requirement for Alexander, that would be under 7 runs per character if the dungeon runs were per character, which isn't quite enough to hit 170 if memory serves. That would bring the Expert Roulette dungeons to 5.6M or so runs on a character basis, which seems to be a little more reasonable as it'll be more than the Alexander populace which probably does make up more than half of those runs.

Given that, I doubt only 25% of the populace is over 54, so if we bump that to 50% that would mean an upper bound of 3.6M active subscribers.


Putting it Together

My guess for the active subscriber base is somewhere between 0.6M and 1.8M, probably closer to 1M in my opinion. If the actual number was 1M, that would mean about 21.7% of the populace have seen Alexander: Gordias, but still only puts a maximum of 45% of the populace higher than level 54 on one combat job. There's no way their total played time is remotely accurate. Frankly, I really don't think "registered accounts" is a good correlation to active subscriptions.  

Edit: Given my edit above, the guess expands to between 0.6M and 3.6M, but frankly the lower bound is bound to be much higher than 0.6M given the Expert roulette dungeon runs. If the dungeon runs is per instance rather than per character, I'd double my estimate to 2M.

#FFXIV, #Statistics

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

[Minecraft] Slime Block Elevators, Golem Farms, Item Sorters, oh my!

Wilhelm of The Ancient Gaming Noob has been doing a bunch of minecraft posts and gotten me sucked back into the game. So today, rather than doing a normal blog post, I decided I'd do a vlog post where I do a tour of my Minecraft beach resort on the 1.8 survival server I have running. I show off my fancy greenhouses and library, then take a turn for farming and redstone madness, with a golem farm feeding into an item sorter, as well as a slime block elevator to go up and down really fast. Check it out!


#Minecraft

Thursday, August 6, 2015

[WoW] The Features are Legion

So far I have successfully predicted that Blizzard would announce the expansion at Gamescom, the Burning Legion would be a possible theme, and I was only off by 0.2 million for my subscriber base guess. And looking at my predictions, a few more in there are on the docket for "true" as well. That's not a bad track record.


It's pretty easy to be cynical about the WoW reveal. With WoD still firmly in the collective consciousness, everything we see about the future will be through the lens of current content. I'm cautiously optimistic about the expansion outlook now that I've heard more, but my days of blind fanboyism are behind me, but that doesn't mean there aren't pieces of it that make me excited. So let's break this down shall we?

First, however, a caveat:


Things That Are Potentially Awesome


  • Moving Our Story Forward
Aside from the strangeness that is AU Gul'dan opening the MU Tomb of Sargeras to get...I have no idea where Illidan came from because I thought we had killed him...BUT that aside, we complained about the lore--or lack thereof--in Draenor, and it seems the WoW team was listening.

Now we'll have Vrykul backstory, the Emerald Dream/Nightmare and Xavious, Azshara, the Val'kyr and Sylvanas, Tauren, Alleria and Turalyon, Fel Elves (Felves?), the Burning Legion itself and their former prison world, and more. While our story was on hold in Draenor, this expansion they're throwing in the kitchen sink, it seems. I'm totally on board with multiple storylines in parallel, so it'll be interesting to see how these disparate pieces fit together (hint: Titans and Pillars of Creation). Also, Anduin's growing up!

Bonus, the only orc is Gul'dan. I can live with that.


  • Pre-expansion Event
Afrasiabi mentioned that we'd have a pre-expansion event, similar to the one for Warlords, except more story oriented. He claimed we'll be really surprised and shocked, so my interest is piqued. But if we wake up to a "world on fire" sounds like we're in for the Burning Legion doing something pretty nasty. If they can finally tell us a full story that brings us into the next expansion, rather than leaving it in a book, I'll be quite pleased.


  • Class Orders
This could be great. Class-specific questing, you being the leader of your class. I hope there's a decently significant chunk of class quests here because where in WoD we were commanders, in Legion we're the pinnacle of our profession. This is Blizzard making us the heroes of our story. At least, I hope so.


The other part of Class Orders is the evolution of the Garrison system. Fewer followers, we're not raising an army. Ostensibly more customization for these followers. But these followers won't do things instead of you, rather they'll give you bonuses in a specific zone if you send them to that zone, or perhaps they go on a scouting mission which reveals a quest for you to go perform. This seems like a good evolution of Garrisons in that it would actively encourage you to go into the world. It becomes almost a quest dispenser, really.


  • Artifacts
Artifacts seem like the natural progression of the Path of the Titans, plus some visual customization. So we have not just class-quests here, but specialization quests where you go find your specialization's Artifact Weapon. These quests will potentially take us across Azeroth, which would be an amazing way to tie the world to our current tasks.

They'll earn "artifact power" as you perform activities: questing, dungeons, PvP, raiding, etc. And you spend that power on basically a "talent" tree for each weapon. Ostensibly the artifact will power your character, though we don't know if you have to be wielding it to get the benefit, but it'll be an interesting question for dual-spec folks.



Of course, folks worried about every Ret paladin wielding Ashbringer need not fear too much, because we'll be given the capability to pick alternate models/color variants for our Artifact Weapons. With 5 models from what I can see and multiple colours on each model, per spec, we're looking at more models than we might get in an expansion altogether.

As an example, in Warlords Enhancement Shaman had a total of 11 models: 2 in Highmaul, 2 in BRF, 4 in HFC, 3 in PvP. But those 11 models are also shared with 2 Rogue specs and Windwalker Monks, meaning really that's only 3 models per spec, not 5. So I don't think we really have less choice here if they can actually pull off this many variants.



Of course, can't leave out the druids. They'll get to modify their forms since they can't actually see their weapons, and that's pretty spiffy. Also, confirmed hi-res cat form. I wonder if boomkin will finally get an update?

Overall, this feels a lot more fleshed out than Path of the Titans was during the Wrath announcement, so perhaps we'll actually get this one. Seems like this will be our progression, rather than picking up new class abilities and/or more talents. Nice way to give us new progression options, though it'll be interesting to see how this system moves forward...if it does.


  • Dungeons
Ion started with talking about how they feel they've given dungeons a bit of disservice. That there'll be more dungeons, more replayability, more reasons to go into them. I really enjoy 5-player content, so I'm hoping they can deliver on this.

They showed off art/screens for 3 of 9 total 5-player dungeons, which is about par for the course over the past few expansions, though hopefully they release more during the expansion.

We don't have many more details from a systems perspective.


  • Raids
Aside from the leveling experience, Warlords' biggest success has been raids. The raid dev team has this stuff down to a science and an art. Boss fights have been fantastic, and the zones have been varied and show off Blizzard's capability of telling and selling a story via the environment.

Highmaul then BRF worked pretty well overall, so Blizzard is going to do that again. A 7 boss raid, then a 10 boss raid.

Sounds like Blizzard is happy with how LFR, Flex Normal/Heroic, and 20-Man Mythic are working out. I call this a successful prediction on my end.


  • Improved Transmog System
Listed as a box feature, but we know nothing more about this at this time. However, if we see an improvement, another of my predictions will come true.


  • New PvP Honor System
Similar to CoD's Prestige system, you'll get new PvP talents unlocked as you gain PvP levels. You'll be able to voluntarily reset this Prestige level back to 1 and get cosmetic stuff, like titles, mounts, gear sets, etc.

So now the devs can balance PvE and PvP separately since they have separate talent trees, and folks have something they can choose to either sit at level 50, or if they want to grind for all the cosmetics they're free to do so. Also, gear as a whole should have much less impact on PvP as a whole, which is nice.


Things That Are Off or Strange


  • Jaina's no where to be found
Where'd Jaina go? Why is Khadgar the leader of the Kirin Tor? All we know is she was pissed off and ran off to do something. If she becomes the "I went crazy and now I'm a raid boss" route, I will be disappointed.


  • Emerald Nightmare
Xavius is destroyed multiple times in the book Stormrage, yet here he is again trying to push into Azeroth. Rumours are N'Zoth is behind this, but we'll see in the raid, I suppose. But I find it odd that they had apparently largely tied this up in a book, and now are tapping it. Part of the kitchen sink.

  •  Survival Hunters get an Artifact Spear
O.o Are they going to be a melee class?


  • Artifacts
If we thought it was hard to balance the specs before, now we have so many more knobs. Also, how will this affect off-specing?


  • Demon Hunters
While I'm happy to see Demon Hunters are a new hero class (like DKs), and that they look freaking awesome, I'm not sure we need yet another Agility Leather Melee class (3 specs of Rogue, Windwalker Monks, Feral Druids, and now Havoc Demon Hunters). There's also the case that ranged tends to be preferred over melee in raids--though Blizzard is getting better at not unduly punishing melee. There's quite a few bosses in HFC where being ranged actually is actively worse than melee.

I'm happy to see they're only doing 2 specs, to ensure concentrated awesomeness, but I'm not quite sure how they'll really fit into group content.


Things That Are Unsaid

Of course, Blizzard only had an hour and a half to talk about all of this, so there's a lot left unsaid, not to mention all of this information brings up a lot of questions unto itself.

What about professions? How do they plan on making 5-player content relevant longer? Is Dalaran our capital city again (which would be a clever way to save on asset creation time)? Are there other systems changes? What are the "improved social features" touted on the expansion feature list?

This expansion is very much by the book, though with some kitchen sink tossed in. If you were hoping WoW would reinvent itself completely somehow, you're probably not going to be happy with Legion. But if you want more of classic WoW, Legion looks like it might just deliver. If they can manage to ship another leveling experience as awesome as Draenor, and nail the landing of post-110 content? That'd be a solid win in my mind.


Beta? Release?

Oh, and before I finish, they mentioned Beta before the end of this year, which means my beta by Blizzcon prediction is quite possibly correct as well. So I'll throw down another prediction since I'm apparently on prediction fire this expansion: I predict a pre-expansion date of Thursday, March 31st, 2016, and an actual release date of April 28th, 2016.

If they do Beta by Blizzcon, then that gives almost 4.5 months on the PTR, then the traditional 1 month of the x.0 patch with old content (plus the pre-expansion event). The full expac would be a bit late for the first quarter, but the pre-expansion patch would give 2016 Q1 a subscriber bump just before the end, as they generally do.

It would also mean 8.5 months of 6.2 before new content, which isn't actually that bad. Not great, 6 months would be better, but if they could hit these dates, they'd be doing pretty well for themselves. #WorldOfWarcraft, #Expansion, #Predictions

Monday, August 3, 2015

My Totally Crazy Predictions for the Next WoW Expansion

This post is nothing but completely insane speculation. There's nothing of any actual import here, nor has any sort of backing to it aside from just rumours over the past decade of possible expansions. Basically, I'm just here to have fun. But without further ado, my "predictions" for possible content.


South Seas Theme

This is the one I've sort of heard the most floating around. Pirates, Kul Tiras, Azshara and the Naga. Who knows, maybe Blizzard will finally find Neptulon if they go this route. Lots of islands means lots of opportunities for super diverse content (not that it really stops them, given zones go from hot to cold in the blink of an eye).

Also, they could have garrison-like content where you end up building/modifying your ship. Send scouting missions, etc. Make the core feature required (rather than pretending it's not required), ie: you need to reinforce the hull before you can make it to the next island. But make the pieces like followers, scouting missions, etc. all optional. Literally optional, don't tie it to anything but minor rewards, perhaps the occasional mount/pet, and some cosmetic stuff. They're almost there with the shipyard today, except that the legendary quest requires it.


Burning Legion Theme

*SPOILER ALERT*



Since [redacted] escaped at the end of HFC, we could easily get pulled into more of the Burning Legion. Perhaps they follow [redacted] to our Azeroth? Or maybe we say screw it and take the fight to him? It's been a while since we've done any super active Burning Legion stuff, though given that HFC with the Fel theme was left-field because the devs didn't want to fight yet another orc leader in Grom, I doubt that the expansion they've been working on since at least October 2014 will tie much into the remnants of HFC.



*END SPOILER ALERT*

Perhaps one day we'll even visit Argus? More Draenei love, perhaps? Granted, they did just get a fair bit. But if we go Burning Legion, it might be easier to make a movie tie in next summer than a South Seas expansion.


More Convenience Features

We know they put off the Tabard collection because they couldn't finish it on time, so hopefully we'll see that soon.

Perhaps they'll even get the whole Toy/Not Toy distinction down; we have so many not-toys that they're eating up bag space, so much bag space. Also, can we start using half of these not-toys outside of Tanaan and/or Draenor? I don't understand why that limitation exists in the first place. Seems a bit silly to me.

Perhaps we'll get the new Diablo III-esque transmog system we know they've been working on. It'd basically be a replacement for Void Storage in effect, but it'd be super sweet to basically "DE" gear into a transmog closet.

I'm a massive fan of the jukebox in our Garrisons, so I'd love to see that feature move to whatever our home base becomes next.


Some Sort of Movie Tie-In

Duh. The question is what will it be? Caverns of Time Instance perhaps? If we're going to an AU Azeroth after AU Draenor, though, I'll be so done with the franchise. I don't care about alternate Azeroth. Heck, we dealt with "alternates" via the Infinite Dragon Flight previously (who are clearly still around), and even prevented our Azeroth going down that path in Cataclysm. Especially since we've been told there's only one "real" timeline over and over again by the Titans and the Bronze Dragonflight--part of why this whole AU stuff drives me up the wall.

Blizzard would be stupid not to have a tie-in. So we know there's going to be one, no matter what. Maybe a new starting zone for Orcs and Humans? Then you go comatose for 20 years and boom, you're awake in the world of WoW, a grizzled 40 year old war veteran? Nah, that's a bit silly. Another battleground, like they did with Southshore/Tarren Mill?


More WoW Token Stuff

What if you could trade WoW tokens in for digital in-game goods? Rather than spending your money, spend your gold to spend someone else's money for that Sparkle Pony mount, or Lil' XT?

As far as I can tell, the WoW Token has gone smoothly, and the community has largely embraced it, or ignored it. Even when it was announced, there was some sky is falling doom and gloom, but overall it hasn't really changed that much about the game so far.

And allowing for digital goods purchases means you're expanding the cap of what people will buy. Right now you can purchase 36 tokens over 24 months to be used as game time. They can keep the game time limit, but expanding the market means those AH barons can continue to float the token for gold side of the equation with further purchases.


Raiding Largely As Is, More Changes Around 5-Player Dungeons

I doubt we'll see many changes to raid formats. They'll probably want to see another expansion at 20 Mythic to see how it shakes out, not to mention trying to avoid shaking up their top-end guilds too much. Flex Normal/Heroic has, by and large, worked out rather well, aside from a few goof-ups for smaller raids mechanics-wise (and most of those they fixed after the fact).

Basically, Blizzard has raiding down to a science, mostly. Mostly I just think we'll see differences in how LFR and 5-man dungeons fit around the raiding model, if we see many/any changes. I'm hoping they finally figure out that small group content is extremely popular.


Your Predictions

Nothing is too crazy, too outlandish! Well, okay, that's clearly not true, but things really could go in any direction right now--I mean, how many people though we'd go time traveling for Warlords before the expansion was announced? Blizzard isn't afraid to take us into left field. So what are your predictions? #WorldOfWarcraft, #Expansion, #Predictions

Friday, July 31, 2015

Hand of Fate -- Deck-Building Roguelike with Real Time Combat

A lot of indie games distill a well-known concept to its essence, and throw in a twist. Being a small company--generally without many resources--that's how you manage to ship a tight, awesome game experience on a small budget. Hand of Fate is a game that largely succeeds at this mission.

I first saw Hand of Fate at PAX East 2014 on the expo hall floor and got to talk to one of the developers for a short period and play a demo build, and it looked super promising. The premise hasn't changed since, and the game released almost a year later, February 2015.

The dealer table. You can see the "dungeon" on the table itself, and I'm about to make a decision regarding The Altar encounter. Note the token at the bottom means if I succeed, I'll get more cards at the end of this scenario, win or lose.
Said premise is relatively simple. You're playing a game of chance and skill with the mysterious "Dealer", for stakes that are initially unclear. The game itself is a dungeon crawler of sorts, except your "dungeon" is made up of random cards from an encounter deck you put together, plus a few of the Dealer's own cards depending on the scenario. The other deck you put together is the equipment you potentially have access to. When you get equipment cards, they get pulled from your deck and handed to your character to equip, so you can choose what arsenal you want available.

You get access to new cards by successfully completing encounters, so while you're playing each individual game, you're expanding and strengthening the cards you have access to as a whole. This is a fantastic way to encourage you to put new encounters in your deck rather than always relying on early, safer encounters. Each scenario has your character starting from scratch, but the ability to stack your deck with useful weapons and not including earlier equipment provides some level of indirect character advancement.

Deciding what equipment I want in my deck for the next scenario. Equipment marked "new" I don't know the effects of until I actually collect it in a scenario.
All scenarios so far have involved killing some champion of the Dealer--usually a beefed up variant of the enemies you tend to see in that level, i.e.: bandits, ratmen, lizardmen, and so on. Combat itself is a bit too simple--if there's one place in the game where the developers' tight experience falls down a bit, it's combat.

You get thrown into a real-time arena, and you have actions bound to buttons. Melee attack, Counter (if you have a shield), Stun, or Dodge Roll. Enemies seem to only be able to attack one at a time (and they swarm you if they're not attacking) so short of traps you're not dealing with having to dodge or counter a bajillion attacks constantly. In fact, if you get into the rhythm of just hitting melee attacks until you see a counterable attack prompt on screen, you can pretty much get out of most fights unscathed. Eventually you get access to "artifacts" that have limited uses that give you abilities, such as poisoning an enemy, or healing. Some weapons also come with on-use powers--a sword I found had the ability to spray frost and freeze enemies it touched, which was super useful.

I would suggest using a controller if you play on PC. I haven't tried using the keyboard and mouse, but it's definitely built with console in mind. Combat probably wouldn't be nearly as easy if I had to use a keyboard in this instance.

Real time combat arena, though this one is basically just navigating a maze of traps for treasure.
Mind you, I'm still relatively early in the game; the first 1/3rd completed. As you defeat scenarios, the game beefs up the enemies and gives them new attack patterns and abilities. Traps have started appearing in the combat arenas, which make blindly dodge-rolling a bad idea. Some arenas are nothing but traps, and you have to get through them all to get to the treasure, which was pretty neat. And most bosses have abilities that aren't counterable, so you just end up dodge-rolling away, though a quick stun might be helpful depending on the boss.

The one thing I do want to touch on is the aesthetic of the game. The dealer table is amazing. The dealer himself is fairly expressive for a character that's mostly covered, and his voice actor is amazing. The writing is really on point, too. The first time I ran into an encounter, I figured out how to get a shield out of it if I didn't have one. The second time I ran into it, the dealer quipped, "You just put that encounter in for an easy shield, didn't you?" Little things like that which make it feel so much more immersive. The visuals of the table and the cards are on point, as well. Given the simplicity of the game's setting, it really afforded the developer time to polish that primary environment and it really pays off.

I could watch the cards float around each other for a very long time. Hypnotic and quite pretty.
Also, I really appreciate the developer putting in a setting to turn off the spider that sometimes would appear on the table. As an arachnophobe, I thank you from the bottom of my cowardly heart.

I've played about 3 hours of the game so far, and I'm really impressed. I've been having an absolute blast. I highly recommend picking this one up.
#HandOfFate, #Indie, #FirstImpression