New Year, New Job

Man 2015 was tough. Tough for various personal reasons but mostly from a work perspective, I never expected a new job.

2014 was a tough year for Mastertronic, this much was public knowledge but I never really expected what happened in 2015 to be the end result. After working at Mastertronic for 12 and a half years it all came to an end when the company entered administration.

This was a real blow, myself and the rest of the publishing team had been working hard over the last few years to really try and build up a fair publishing business for indie developers and it felt like it was finally starting to reach a point it was going to pay off, if investment had arrived I think it would of done. Thankfully the developers we were supporting got their games transferred back to them on Steam so hopefully good things will come to them direct over the next few years, they all deserve it.

I am a firm believer in all things happening for a reason, and out of this very sad news came a new job offer in the form of a Producer role at developer Mediatonic. I seem to have a thing for companies that end in ‘onic’.

So in early December 2015 I accepted the offer and began a new journey working at a development studio rather than a publisher.  My immediate responsibilities are in looking after games like Foul Play and Hatoful Boyfriend (plus Holiday Star) but going forward it is going to involve some very exciting new projects that I can say nothing about… for now.

After the lows of 2015 I am very much looking forward to what 2016 and beyond holds.

 

100+ hours of Heroes of the Storm, still enjoyable?

The easiest way to start this post would be with the statement:

“Hi, my names Stu and I’m a Heroes of the Storm addict”

So this at least means I’m still playing it, a lot.

Both playing and enjoying it a lot it must be said, Blizzard have finally created a moba that I can enjoy which has me very happy indeed.

 

My overall thoughts on the game haven’t changed from my previous post but over the hundreds of matches I have now played it’s become very clear that while the game is more action orientated than its competitors DotA and LoL it still has plenty of depth to learn.

You probably don’t pick up on that a lot from the quick match option but in the ranked modes like Hero League it becomes important to know the game inside out to give your team the best chance of a win. Picking the right heroes to counter the enemy teams selection is key, as is then choosing the right talents in game to keep them at bay. Like in all games in the genre knowing the maps is also important, from knowing when camps are spawning to when and where certain objectives are spawning it all helps you have a better chance of coming out on top.

 

If you end up on a losing streak I can see why people start to rage in these types of games, I have never really understood it as a newcomer to the genre but now I have got to the point where I understand where things go wrong I start to see how it can make you cross.

Seeing players do things that you know are wrong is frustrating, I have sworn at my screen probably more times than I would of liked but I have never taken to chat to throw abuse at the person. Maybe I have a higher threshold of control than a lot of others, or maybe I’m just aware that people need to learn from their own mistakes to get better. Either way I can see why such a super competitive game could cause people to lash out, even if they shouldn’t.

With the player base increasing by the day its likely the community will get more toxic, but I figure if you can ignore it and still have fun its not a massive deal. Just mute the idiots.

 

For now I am still having a lot of fun, even if I seem to be stuck on a horrendous losing streak at the moment! The high 30’s in ranked mode seems to have me destined to lose continuously!

Why I like Heroes of the Storm, so far.

After ages of waiting Blizzard finally decided to let me in on the Alpha (now Closed Beta) of their upcoming MOBA  – Heroes of the Storm.

I was going to start with explaining that I have been a casual MOBA player for a while now, then I looked at my League of Legends playtime and noticed the 69 hours played… I guess for a MOBA that’s still pretty light. So…

I am a pretty casual MOBA player, I have always enjoyed the team gameplay of the genre and the nice learning curve it offers in its mechanics, but the time needed to play a single game just never seem to fit into the time I had, which was a big shame. League of Legends introduced a couple of new modes that helped bring down times but they never felt like they did enough and I always felt like I was missing the main game.

Upon starting Heroes of the Storm I assumed I would have a similar issue, however after my first match against actual humans I realised this was certainly not the case. Most games seem to finish in about 30 minutes, usually less if one of the teams is a bit rubbish.  This is a major plus for me, at last a game in this genre that I can play around my life.

This was a very one sided fight, but games can be quick.
This was a very one sided fight, but games can be quick.

Another thing that always got to me about other MOBAs was items, the shops full of items often had so many choices that it seem liked it took ages to work out what were the best options, and once you knew them you never used any of the others. Always seemed a little odd to me.  There is no such item shop in Heroes of the Storm, at certain hero levels you get to choose a talent from a selection of four (at least once you have played a few games with a hero) and customise your hero that way. Much simpler, maybe too simple? I am still torn on this.

Storming the base, Valla style.
Storming the base, Valla style.

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Windows 10 – It’s cool to hate, but actually…

On the 21 January 2015 Microsoft held a conference all about Windows 10 and it was… long.  However it did contain a number of interesting announcements.

  • Windows 10 is designed to support all devices it runs on, so keeps stuff synced up between all your Windows 10 devices.
  • It will be a free upgrade for users of Windows 7 and 8 in the first year.
  • Cortana is coming to Windows, the virtual assistant currently on Windows Phone has been integrated right in to the operating system.
  • Start Menu is back, the Windows 8 Start Menu screen is now compacted into the traditional Start Menu many still love.
  • Project Spartan, Internet Explorer is dead so long live Spartan. Microsoft have a new browser coming that aims to allow people to share and make notes directly on the website itself.
  • Xbox App for Windows 10, the familiar activity feed on Xbox One is coming to Windows. Allows messaging, sharing content etc.. on PC.
  • Game DVR, like the Xbox One Microsoft are building in their Game DVR directly into Windows 10. Users will be able to hit Windows + G and record footage from any game running in Windows 10.
  • DirectX 12, is coming. From the short demo it seems to be far more efficient than version 11.
  • Stream Xbox One games to Windows 10 devices, if you own an Xbox One you will be able to stream the games you own to your other Windows 10 devices.
  • Cross Platform play is coming, Fable Heroes will be playable between Xbox One and PC players.

 

Now its easy to look at the above list and think its all a massive waste of time, indeed nearly all the people who hate Microsoft will state that regardless. It’s what they do. However for me it kind of seems like they are really trying to get things right this time. That is, assuming these things work as intended…

 

Game DVR

Operating System level built in game recording must be a good thing? I think so. Yes there are many options to do this on PC but having it as part of your OS is a bonus. Assuming it allows options. My fear with this is it will be too restricted for people to really get on board with.  If we end up with a 720p 30 fps restricted video each time then most people will continue to use other software making it pretty pointless.  I really hope that Microsoft have thought about Game DVR in Windows 10 properly.

 

DirectX 12

Not alot was said about this, but I really hope this is some serious tech. If it can streamline performance while giving us all the shiny new effects this could really boost both PC and Xbox One games.

 

Streaming

Streaming tech has a long way to go, but for me (when the TV is in use) if I have the option to play my Xbox One games via my PC I will be pretty happy unless its a terrible experience… Happy to give it a try though, would loved to be proved wrong on this front ans see something on this front that actually works.

 

As a PC, Xbox One and Windows Phone user this is all pretty exciting, the only reason I moved to a Windows Phone over an Android one was that it made sense to have one main account across all these platforms. Windows 10 seems to be pushing that focus even more and this pleases me. I just hope they do a decent job of it, not expecting it to be perfect but decent would do 😉

I look forward to jumping on the Windows 10 upgrade once its available to find out how it all works.

 

Goodbye iOS, hello Windows Phone!

Probably worth kicking off with a disclaimer, I own an iPad so I still have access to iOS apps that I might miss. So maybe this affects my feelings one way or another? Who knows.

 

I have had an iPhone since I first got an iPhone 3G, I loved it. My first smart phone and the geek inside me was as happy as could be.  I had something on me all the time that could do all these things, its like a dream come true.  So every couple of years I went through the motions of upgrading to the latest version, I got an iPhone 4 next (actually queued at launch day for this, less said about that the better!) and then the iPhone 5.

I loved every version, iOS got updated along the way to keep things (kinda) fresh and the phones got nicer along the way.  One thing you cannot deny about Apple is their hardware is beautiful. I was content with my phone.

Then this year happened, the iPhone 6 is a few months away and my contract is up but there was a problem. I knew I wouldn’t have the money to get one due to various reasons but mostly due to having a wedding to pay for. This meant I had to look at my options, do I switch to Android or Windows Phone?

Android would of been the obvious choice I think, the geek in me would of loved tweaking that to death to get the phone I wanted. However I have seen how infected Android systems can get with ads, this was not something I ever wanted to have to bother with on my phone. The safety of iOS is something I wanted.

That left Windows Phone, and in particular Nokia devices.  It seemed there was a new Lumia about to come out that ran on Windows Phone 8.1, the Lumia 930.  After some research it seemed like the perfect upgrade, well in all but one way. The Windows AppStore is pretty terrible.

I did some checking and it seemed the basic apps I used everyday existed so that wasn’t so bad. So I made up my mind and took the plunge and waited for it to be released in the UK.

Release day arrived!

God it was a big phone, the 5 inch screen made this a much bigger phone than I was used to with the sleek iPhone. Also the power/lock button is on the right side rather than the top, I mean wtf?! What have I done.

My Live TilesIt’s a nice bit of kit though, it may be ‘sturdy’ but it feels great in your hand(s) and Windows Phone it turns out is really easy to use.  It also has what I think is the best home screen layout of any phone due to Live Tiles.

They just make the home screen such a lovely thing to look at as they cycle through their various screens and show you bits of information. So much nicer than the boring grid view of iOS I have stuck with so long.

Plus you only need to put your most used apps on your home screen, all the others can be tucked away in the side menu. No more pages of icons like in iOS.

 

Was also nice to get some freebies with the phone:

It’s not without its issues though, lock screen notifications don’t really exist like they do on iOS, the pull down action centre you get is a similar thing and is just about enough but it could be better. Web support is a bit all over the place, some apps cant open web pages internally so open it up in a separate IE window which is kinda annoying. I miss the Steam app, my banking app etc.. also a button to make the phone silent aswell as the option to set quiet times, although I hear this is coming with Cortana.

I guess ultimately as with all things there are pros and cons, but I am happy to see there is life outside of Apple when it comes to phones. Windows Phone seems to of come a long way and with a bit more support on the app front I think its a perfectly viable option for a modern smart phone.  I do however know that come the iPhone 6 launch there will be a small pang of jealously as it will no doubt be a nice bit of kit but for now I am fully integrated into the Microsoft collective with everything linked, my PC, phone and Xbox One.

So for now its goodbye iOS, hello Windows Phone!

 

Steam Dev Days – Day 1

Day 1 of the first Steam Dev Days was an interesting one for many reasons, most of which I wont bore you with as its more interesting for me and my work but my real surprises of the day were:

 

Steam Controller: This is something I was eager to get my hands on and see what the fuss was about (is there fuss?) however what struck me most during the presentation on the subject was just how much Valve have thought about the design and how they are still adapting it now. They have put shed loads of thought into this design and how it will work for users. For example all bindings people make get shared to other users, which means in theory the best, most used set will get used for people that don’t want to mess around setting them. I am looking forward to giving it a proper play with either tomorrow or when I get home as they were kind enough to give us each one in our goody bag!

 

 

Steam Machines: I have really struggled to see who Valve were going after with these machines but after its presentation it became alot clearer.  They just want to give gamers choice, the choice to pick a spec they want/can afford and use it how they want with access to all their library of games in whatever room you want.  It also became clear they are convincing the bigger publishers/developers to support Linux so hopefully all games will work on it.  Some of these boxes are small enough that they will fit most places, I can see a use for one in my home now but not quite sure I would pay out for one.  To our surprise Valve said we were all going to get one to take home today, and they weren’t joking!

20140115-210510.jpg

So I look forward to giving it a test out with SteamOS.

 

There were plenty of other interesting talks on Early Access, Steam in general but they will sound pretty boring to anyone who doesn’t actually work with things on Steam.  All in all though the first day was great and Valve have done a great job so far, its great to see normal people who love their job talk about what they are doing and how they got there.  I look forward to tomorrows sessions.

 

Steam Dev Days – we have come a long way…

So after 2 planes and nearly 5000 miles I am sat in Seattle wondering what Valve have in store for their first developer conference (Steam Dev Days).

 

 

I have decided what talks I want to sit in on (which is pretty organised for me), but it was harder than I thought as there is plenty going on.  For me though I am most interested is the Steam Controller and Valves thinking behind the Steam machines as I am not completely sold on them.

I did have an interesting conversation earlier that basically said the Steam controller once you are proficient with it can be as good as a mouse and keyboard and might even be better?  This is something I find hard to believe but am excited to give a go to find out.

 

It wouldn’t surprise me if Valve had some announcements to make to catch everyone out, nor would it surprise me if they didn’t…  Will Steam go open?, will they make their own Steam boxes? Will Half Life 3 be announced?

 

Who knows, but I will be tweeting from the event the best I can and will do a write up of each day on here.

 

Why I would of liked a digital only Xbox One

2013 was full of ‘next-gen’ talk, with Sony and Microsoft battling for gamers affections. The biggest talking point during the year was Microsoft’s decision to have an ‘always on’ console, which basically meant that it would act much like gaming PC’s with Steam do now and have done for years.

 

Gamers were up in arms about this, no one wanted their console to need internet access or not allow them to trade in or share games… when I say no one I actually mean people who shouted the loudest and probably bought a PS4 anyway.

 

Having owned a Xbox One since launch there is nothing I would of liked more than Microsoft to of stuck to their guns and followed through with this plan, because… well its bloody convenient!

Xbox Ones OS seems to of been designed around getting around things quickly, with voice controls ideally.  This actually works pretty well until having to start a game that needs a disc?  You can no longer say ‘Xbox goto Need for Speed’ unless the disc is already in the drive.  It works just fine for any title bought digitally, you can switch between these games at will.  If Microsoft had kept to their original plan disc games would install to your console and then wouldn’t need the disc any-more, thus meaning you can switch between games without having to go looking for your disc. Happy Days!

The other benefit of this ditched system is that it would mean you could buy a game at retail for a better price than digitally but have the same benefits. Even happier days!

 

Now I understand there are some down sides to always being online, but if you are in the lucky position where the console is unlikely to ever be without an internet connection it would of been nice to still have the option of what Microsoft originally wanted for the system, if they offered the chance to switch back I would do so without hesitation.

I guess being a PC gamer has somewhat prepared me for this future more so than people who just use consoles, Steam has worked this way for years and is a nice system once you accept the benefits.  We haven’t been able resell or swap games for a long time now but I guess this is offset by lots of cheap sales? Mind you, I have never been big on trading in games.

 

This all being said I am sure Microsoft can revert back to their plans once the masses catch on, I just wish we had an option from the start.

 

New Year, New Blog.

It’s been ages since I have written anything and this is due to a number of things, the main ones being time and not quite knowing what to really write about.

I think I have this issue at least half solved though, how about I write about the things that makes me so busy? Publishing games.

I kinda figured that it should give me plenty to write about, just going to have to find the time to jot it down!

So that’s the plan, from now on this little blog will be populated with text about my life in video games publishing and general talk about the industry.

Let’s see how it goes…

Completed: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Completion time: 11 hours (all minor missions done)

Platform: PC

There has been alot of talk about The Bureau, most of it not being that great so I was interested to see if it really was as bad as people were saying…

Nope, its not that bad. It’s not a great game but its competent enough… just about.

 

Gameplay

For a 3rd Person Shooter it does the basics right, shooting feels fine and cover works pretty well for the most part. However for a team based shooter its AI lets it down, your two team mates seem to jump in and out of cover like they sat on an ants nest often getting themselves downed by enemy fire. They also sometimes just run off to the other side of the level right into a nest of enemies just to die again. On the plus side slow-mo battle focus allows you to direct them and order them to use their special abilities and they tend to do this as ordered.

(Me running through one of the story missions about 2/3’s of the way through the game.)

Graphics

The Bureau is a pretty nice looking game on PC, well the actual in engine stuff is. The cutscene movies are a shocking resolution which can only mean they are direct from the console versions 🙁

A lot of love has clearly gone into the 60’s setting of the game, this mixed with the sci-fi elements makes it a really nice world to shoot stuff in.

 

Is it XCOM?

This is a good question, and at first I thought it was a pretty tenuous link to the series but on reflection the answer is Yes.

Squad members can die for good, you can hire new members and train them by sending them off to do missions alone. Enemies, weapons and tech is all from the XCOM world… although would of been nice to see some more variation for enemies. You have a base… although its actually quite an annoying place to be!

If you play it as an XCOM origins story then you can see it fitting into the universe but I still much prefer the strategy games.

 

Final Thoughts

If you love the XCOM universe you can probably forgive the games faults, but even then I wouldn’t suggest picking it up until it was at least half price in a sale.