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This week, the Maximum PC editors discuss Blizzard's RealID debacle, as well as YouTube's new 4K resolution mode, and whether or not competitive eating should be considered a sport.
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[04.09.2010 Update] Hey all. Just wanted to chime in real quick and note that Blizzard has caved in and reversed its "First Name Last Name" forum policy as of 9:47 a.m. (PST) today. That's Murphy's Law: 1. Blizzard: 0...
Ugh. I was all set to write this totally awesome column about how World of Warcraft's latest Real ID measures are The Lich King's gift to proper forum management, and it's just one more reflection of much of what I talk about in this weekly column--the idea that the walls are slowly lowering between our various online identities as we transition our lives into a tell-all kind of digital tale.
Of course, resident Maximum PC gaming pundit Nathan Grayson beat me to the punch. With respect to Mr. Grayson, however, I don't think that he's really covered enough ground in regards to Blizzard's announcement that any World of Warcraft players seeking to post on the company's forums will now be identified by their first and last names--the "Real ID" I speak of.
What I find most curious is that this situation blows open the various degrees of user permissibility in an open world of data. What does that mean? Simply put, there are varying levels of sharing that people are comfortable with in the digital age, and it's funny that so many are complaining about an unsheltered digital lifestyle that we're headed toward anyhow.
We don’t usually bat an eyelash when a game’s official forum undergoes a policy change, but we’re making a special exception and batting harder than a mafia hitman against someone’s kneecaps at Blizzard’s decision to switch its forum over to a real ID system. In a nutshell, this means that in order to post on, say, the official World of Warcraft or StarCraft II forums, you’ll soon have to display your real name for all 11.5-million some-odd players to see.
“The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players -- however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild,” said Blizzard’s announcement of the change.
“Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well.”
Makes enough sense at first glance, right? Look closer, though, and you’ll realize that Blizzard’s missing so many points that anyone not hiding behind a giant, red bull’s-eye probably oughta duck. Foremost, there’s the issue of potential identity theft or other forms of harassment. In this day and age, odds are, if you've got someone's name, you'll find a treasure trove of personal information waiting for you on Google. Also, in these games, you are your handle. You are your character. Why play an MMO if not to become part of another reality – live another life? Worst case scenario, having your real name attached to your character could even change how you act in-game.
On top of that, has Blizzard taken a look at its own game lately? Of course there’s conflict on your forums. It’s called World of Warcraft for Pete’s sake! The trolling, flaming, smack-talking, etc is symptomatic of WoW’s intrinsic, PvP-based design, and forcing players to display their real names isn’t going to change that.
Is general hostility and confrontation an issue in many gaming communities? Certainly. “Issue” is probably understating it, in fact. But this definitely won’t fix it. It will, however, in all likelihood turn Blizzard’s forum into a ghost town. Please, other developers, learn from Blizzard’s potentially community-destroying attempt to unify its community. Think about the consequences of such a huge change before you make it. Look before you leap.
There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. And there ain’t no such thing as a free MMO, either. But there is such a thing as an MMO that doesn’t slowly-but-surely siphon a small fortune from your bank account, and it seems to be all the rage these days. Dungeons & Dragons Online rolled a last-minute, tide-turning 20 by giving the boot to its subscription fee, and Lord of the Rings Online seems poised for a similar resurgence. But what about the perennial king of the subscription-based MMO hill?
“At some point, it may not make sense for us to have a subscription fee,” World of Warcraft lead designer Tom Chilton told PC Gamer.
Of course, at this particular moment, 11.5 million subscribers say it still makes plenty of sense. In fact, many have speculated that subscriptions are going the way of the Dodo precisely because Blizzard’s hogging all the potential subscribers. Chilton, however, doesn’t buy it.
“I feel like they’re doing that to compete with other games that are on a similar subscriber level to what they were at. I imagine that when one of them went free to play it cannibalized some of the other subscribers. I can definitely imagine that being the case with World of Warcraft. If another game comes along and blows us away it may not make sense for us to have a subscription fee. Or even further down the line, when we have another MMO out.”
For now, though, keep on pinching those pennies. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, after all, and WoW’s the most well-oiled machine on the block. And besides, we all know where that money’s really going. Yep: Warcraft IV. Please, Blizzard? Pretty please with a reactivated WoW account on top?
Asking for realism in a game about intergalactic space-wars is a bit of a stretch, considering that we’ve yet to take our lethal bickering beyond earth’s gravitational pull. Still though, we have a pretty decent hunch that real star wars will still involve some amount of blood, swearing, and maybe even a bit of smoking. This seems like a safe assumption.
Ask someone from South Korea, though, and they might not be so sure. Granted, they may also be 12 years-old, as that’s the audience Blizzard is aiming for with its censored release of StarCraft II.
”Since StarCraft 2 was originally developed to be a game adolescents could enjoy, we're very pleased with the Game Rating Board's decision [to award the game an Age 12 rating]," said Blizzard, via a translation. "In the remaining time until StarCraft 2 goes on sale, we'll do our best to continue to perfect the game so that even more fans can enjoy it."
That decision comes after Blizzard set its censorship phaser to kill destroy, coloring in-game blood black, and removing all signs of smoking and “vulgar” language. Originally, the game would have been given the dreaded, “cover your eyes, honey” Adults Only rating, which – reading between the lines – probably would’ve done a nuclear strike-sized number on its sales. However, Blizzard is still considering releasing an uncensored version as well.
But hey, since we’ve already got the 12 year-olds’ attention, can we also throw an anti-cheating PSA in there? Certainly couldn’t hurt.
Enjoying the StarCraft II beta? Well, you’d better get your fill while you still can, because come May 31, you’ll have to get your spacefaring RTS fix elsewhere. That’s right: beginning in less than two weeks, you’ll have to go without StarCraft II for nearly two months.
“We’d like to thank all of our beta-test participants for your enthusiasm, dedication, and valuable feedback during the beta test, and we look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the StarCraft II beta test as the game’s July 27 launch approaches,” Blizzard said.
The beta will, however, have one last hurrah in July, a couple weeks before StarCraft II officially launches. In the meantime, Blizzard will be making “some hardware and software configuration changes in preparation for the final phase of the beta test and the release of the game.”
Dumb Blizzard and your obsessive perfectionism. Maybe, if your games weren’t so polished and fun to play, we wouldn’t forget we were playing a beta and end up disappointed when it comes to an end. Seriously, did you ever think of our feelings?
Pinch yourself. Now look around the room and make sure there aren’t any random celebrities embroiled in madcap mud-wrestling battles. Done? Ok, now that we’ve proven you’re not dreaming, feel free to starting hooting, hollering, and dancing embarrassing little jigs, because StarCraft II is coming. Better still, it’s only a few months away. Mark your calendars and cancel your summer vacation plans, folks, because StarCraft II’s launching worldwide on July 27, 2010.
“We’ve been looking forward to revisiting the StarCraft universe for many years, and we’re excited that the time for that is almost here,” said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. “Thanks to our beta testers, we’re making great progress on the final stages of development, and we’ll be ready to welcome players all over the world to StarCraft II and the new Battle.net in just a few months.”
There is, however, a bit of a catch: you won’t be downloading the game online. At least, not initially. If you’re hoping to join the fray on day one, you’ll be forced to jump through whatever hoops your local game retailer has decided to set up. Fortunately, StarCraft II will invade Blizzard’s online store “shortly after” its retail release.
However, as StarCraft geeks, we’re actually looking forward to braving the day-one retail riot. Why? Because it’s probably the closest thing we’ll ever see to a real-life Zerg rush.
Videogame movies, right? They’re all the same, every one of them. Each flecks of corn on the same festering pile of dung. Or are they? Between Spiderman director Sam Raimi, Dark Knight producer Legendary Pictures, and “Saving Private Ryan” screenwriter Robert Rodat, the Warcraft movie’s assembled a dream team that most major motion pictures only, well, dream of. Actually, you might want to pinch yourself too, because Blizzard’s resident lore master Chris Metzen – the man behind the worlds of Diablo, Starcraft, and of course, Warcraft – is heavily involved in the project as well. When asked about the movie’s progress, Metzen told VG247:
“I wouldn’t say ‘considerable’ at all just yet. We’ve been through a number of story meetings, and we’re still kind of getting it together with Raimi and his team and jamming on themes that we want to chase. We’re kinda getting a lot of values together – what kind of story we want to tell, what do we want people to feel, what is the best way to look at this big franchise.”
“My intention with the feature is that it is as close as possible to what people have experienced and what they know of our canon, but we’ll have to see the way it plays out. And I don’t mean that facetiously – we’re still trying to figure it out.”
Unsurprisingly, Metzen acknowledged that the Warcraft movie won’t adhere to its source material 100 percent. However, he likened it to Spiderman’s organic web shooters in the movies, versus his mechanical ones in the comics. Slight, mostly inconsequential changes, in other words. Don’t think, however, that Metzen has forgotten about the fans who rallied around Warcraft in the first place. Turns out, they’re priority number one.
“I have… from the day we decided it would be a good idea to have a movie in any shape… I worry about [disappointing the fans] constantly,” he admitted. “Hell, I worry about it on the games side. It’s all so complicated and fast moving – I have nightmares about screwing it up or just missing the mark. Even a movie that’s 85% good; that’s not 100% good, and our fans are very particular. But the point where we are today, with Sam and his crew – we’re still feeling it out and I think everyone shares that."
Hey you. Yeah, you. The one who has “I love StarCraft II so much that I’d do anything to get a beta key” written all over your features. We’ve got a proposition for you. Now, we’re not gonna lie: it’s not glamorous. For instance, if you’ve taken to rampant prostitution in order to scrounge up enough dough to afford a beta key off eBay, you probably oughta just keep doing that. But if you’re truly willing to sink to the absolute depths of depravity, you could always grab your keys and head over to GameStop. You poor soul.
Just stroll into the store, hope your body doesn’t spontaneously burst into flames or – worse – get accosted by an employee who wants you to trade your entire videogame collection for a used toothpick, and then reserve StarCraft II. With that harrowing experience out of the way, you’ll have yourself a beta key. But at what cost?
If you can’t beat ‘em, make a bot that can. That seems to be the mantra that two UC Santa Cruz students -- Ben Weber and Peter Mawhorter – are following in their attempt to design a StarCraft A.I. capable of going toe-to-toe with even the best of the pros.
“Our goal is to create compelling new forms of interactive art and entertainment that provide more deeply autonomous, generative and dynamic responses to interaction. A major thrust of this work is advanced A.I. for video games, including autonomous characters and interactive storytelling,” they told GamePro.
Currently, the crafty automaton’s already enjoying a 20 percent win rate against humans. It also plays exclusively as the Protoss, meaning that even if Weber and Mawhorter’s experiment fails, they’ve got an easy cop-out. “We were trying to make it play like a Pro all right. A Pro-toss!”
Er, anyway, the two hope their tiny tot of a bot will eventually reach “human-level behavior” – not just in individual games, but in the way it adapts to different situations.
"New strategies are constantly being uncovered by players and playing competitively requires learning how to counter newly discovered strategies," Mawhorter explained. "Our approach to this problem is to build a bot that learns new strategies from replays. Therefore, by giving it more replays, you can expand the strategic possibilities that it considers."
The plan, then, is for the bot to eventually learn strategies on its own, though implementing that kind of sponge-like soaking ability on anything more complex than build orders has proven to be quite the headache. We wish Weber and Mawhorter the best of luck. A word of advice, though: Make sure your bot stays far away from those illegal betting rings.