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Blizzcon Writeup 276

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the only-363-days-till-next-year dept.
This past weekend I braved the tangled web of deceit and lies that is commercial air travel to haul myself out to Anaheim, CA for Blizzard Entertainment's first attempt at a convention, "Blizzcon". Like any con there were good times and bad times but considering they had turnout on par with other major conventions and the fact that this was their first pass at a solo con, the result was nothing less than the level of excellence that we have come to expect from Blizzard.

It is very obvious that the developers have been working overtime to bring a TON of new features to World of Warcraft and Starcraft Ghost. I was impressed by the amount of care and attention to detail with so many of the new features. It is quite obvious that the developers have been listening to the general population and life is good.

Starcraft Ghost players were in the definite minority when it came to pure obsession but it should be no less exciting to fans of Blizzard games and console games in particular. Amidst the sea of Xbox consoles that they had set up for players to use I managed to find a seat (briefly, after all, without WoW every couple of hours I get the shakes) and kill a few space marines. The main thing to be noted about Ghost is the aiming interface (or lack thereof). This seemed to be the most talked about aspect of the game after the excitement of playable zerg wore off. Yes, don't let that be too much of a side note, there are playable zerg in all of their infinite sexiness. My corrupted space marine killed more than a few of his previous brethren. The aiming interface, however, made me feel like I was playing with oven mitts on, a fact that the developers also commented on. The promise is that this particular piece of functionality is nowhere near where it will be before they release and seems to be one of the main things that they are working on. The only other complaint that I heard among a sea of praise was that the Terran faction seemed to be horribly "under balanced". At first I couldn't help but agree with this assessment. My FPS skills, especially on the console, are about as bad as Jonathan Wendell's are good. Even with my lack of skill I seemed to be able to dominate over the Terrans most of the first day of the con. However, coming back the second day this was certainly not the case. The Terran faction is a much more "cerebral" gaming experience, you have to learn how to aim, drive vehicles, protect your assets, and work together. Once you are able to master these facets however the Terrans become a horribly lethal race. Definitely keep an eye out for this title as I'm sure it will provide countless hours of entertainment through both a solid single player campaign and a running tally of turning your friends into pixelated giblets.

The World of Warcraft expansion "The Burning Crusade" made its debut this weekend and promises a new race for each faction which was actually a point of quite a bit of resentment from alliance players. The horde's new race, Bloodelves were an incredibly polished race with a promising future in the overall WoW universe while the alliance were left with empty speculation as to what their race would be. The press room seemed to be an endless stream of people trying to squeeze even the smallest piece of information out of the developers about the alliance race to no avail. Do not despair alliance, you may have met disappointment in your new race but patch 1.9 will be your salvation. The rest of the expansion also promised raising the level cap to 70, the opening of the Dark Portal revealing the continent of "Outland", flying mounts, several new instances, Jewelcrafting (the newest profession on the block), socketed items, and quite a bit more. I feel like I am back in the days before beta, waiting on the edge of my seat for any news and counting the days until release.

The upcoming patch also offered quite a bit of excitement for the future of Warcraft. Paladins, who many have considered the longest running joke in World of Warcraft appear to be getting a breath of fresh air. (CT: /dance) The announcement was made and it was as if a million angry shaman cried out in terror and then went silent. The class discussion panel actually spent about 2/3 of the alloted time talking about and answering questions regarding the paladin. The highlight of the new paladin abilities seem to be a greater separation and enhancement of the three talent trees allowing paladins to further specialize into their role as a healer, a tanker (aggro management abilities ala taunt were promised!), or a damage dealing machine. The one announcement that drew more cheers and applause than any other during the weekend was the news that Paladin's would be receiving new blessings that would last 15 minutes in duration. This news alone was enough to draw the complete adoration of every alliance player in the room but when the noise quieted down the developer on the stage was able to further clarify that these 15 minute blessings would be castable by class over the entire raid! This means that if a paladin casts this "group blessing" of might on a rogue, every rogue in the group would get that same buff for 15 minutes. After this the crowd seemed to disintegrate into a gibbering mass of disbelief and excitement seeing nothing but stars for the next few seconds or days, it was hard to tell. The only other thing that could rival this news in terms of excitement was the promise of linked auction houses in every major city. It is very clear to me that a lot of overtime and TLC has been worked into the upcoming additions to the World of Warcraft universe and I cannot wait to see what else they have in store.

Each panel seemed to be custom tailored to fit one or several of the developers consuming obsessions so the level of "exciting news" in each panel really helped to drive the convention at the same frenzied pitch the whole weekend. The "Items and Professions" panel was certainly no different. Some of the more exciting news was that both Tailoring and Alchemy will be getting specialization trees akin to the Blacksmith/Weaponsmith/Armorsmith setup. Word on the street is that Alchemy will get three choices (Elixers, Potions, and Transmutations) but still no word on what tailors will get. There was a shouted suggestion from the back of the room for "Shadoweave Tailoring" followed by a great pause from the presenter and a mumbled "duly noted" which elicited quite a laugh from the crowd. More news on the items and professions front was that epic items will now disenchant into "nexium crystals" for the new high level enchants, new caster items will have a "proc on cast" ability, spell penetration vs spell resistance will be much more pronounced, new tier two graphics (no more placeholders!), enchanters will be getting a new UI for sorting their recipes (thank god), and the new dungeons will offer upgrades to existing spells based on your items. The only other major news to come out of this panel was the unveiling of their new profession "Jewelcrafting" which will have the ability to make necklaces, rings, crowns, and mystic gems that you can place into the new socketed items. The amount of customization and variation that the new items being worked into the game offer is quite exciting and seem to promise that World of Warcraft will remain (at least in the near future) a very dynamic experience for everyone from the casual player to the seasoned power gamer.

The general con floor offered many other distractions once I was able to tear myself away from the individual shiny bits that could have held me enthralled for several days. The vendor area was relatively small compared to most cons (especially for the amount of potential consumers) but Microsoft was in attendance and bought popularity through a live DJ, comfortable couches, and a fully stocked snack bar complete with what can only be called a butler-esque attendant. Intel, Creative, and NewEgg all had booths with computers allowing you to playtest their hardware with the new expansion which was one of the best kept secrets of the con by the players who didn't want to wait in the 3 hour expansion line. NVidia had a green screen where you could get your picture taken with your friends in one of six locations around Azeroth. Western Digital had a few shiny boxes to catch your eye, a coupon to tempt your wallet, and a flashing bouncy ball that you could annoy your hotel roommates with until the wee hours of the morning. The Penny Arcade crew was there in force with enough t-shirts for an army and indeed many of the con denizens were sporting "Rogues do it from behind" or "/spit" shirts after the first few hours of the con. Unfortunately (or fortunately I suppose) for the Penny Arcade guys, Blizzcon came equipped with TWO armies and they were pretty much sold out long before the con ended.

My last panel of the weekend was the combined Penny Arcade, PVP, and GU Comics event. The guys jumped right into questions, handling the crowd with an ease born of time in the webculture limelight. The quick wit and topical humor held the audience enthralled and laughing right up until Caydiem (one of the Blizzard moderators) called for the last question. The questions that they fielded covered a wide range of aspects but most people seemed to want to know where each of the artists drew their inspiration from. After the third or fourth rephrasing of this question Mike "Gabe" Krahulik chimed in that when looking for inspiration on a comic about a dinosaur raping someone he generally looked to Charles Shultz. Krahulik's usual deadpan delivery drew a hearty laugh from the audience and pretty much laid that particular line of questioning to rest. These panelists proved once again that they continue to keep their thumb on the pulse of the gaming community and are rewarded with the respect and adoration of many.

Regardless of how you felt about the convention itself the wrap-up concert on Saturday really helped the con go out with a bang. The act started out a little slow with an in-house act called "Level 60 Elite Tauren Chieftain" (say that 10 times fast) who seemed to be an old axel rose impersonator turned death-metal band. I admit it wasn't exactly up my alley but they made a good showing as a garage band in their first ever live performance. What a way to start, too, playing as an opening act for The Offspring and getting to use some of their cool toys. The second act was comedian Christian Finnegan who seemed content to perch himself firmly on the fence between insulting the crowd and identifying with growing up as a geek. He drew quite a few laughs but proved to be a poor segue between two pretty intense acts. This was something he commented on when he mentioned that Blizzard had put a heavy metal band on the stage to whip the crowd into a frenzy and then tossed the "worlds biggest pussy" in front of them. I am glad that he put the crowd in a generally good mood because we were forced to wait almost an hour with no explanation before The Offspring were able to take the stage. Once they took the stage, however, it was pure showmanship and excitement until the end. Approaching this concert from a geek perspective there was one thing that I couldn't help but notice, the lighting was fantastic. Now, many people may laugh at this observation but in addition to a great performance by The Offspring their lighting tech looked more like an artist painting his masterpiece than some random roadie who was just along to make the band look good. He freehanded almost as much as did with cues and it was tough to decide what to watch, the main stage or the tech stage as they were equally impressive.

Blizzcon was a great experience and a hell of a "first try" for a convention. One of the real strengths of this con was the ability for the core of Blizzard (the developers and upper management) to really make themselves available to the common man. I even noticed the president and lead developers wandering the showroom floor and stopping to talk to J. Random Citizen. This meeting of the "old guard" of Blizzard also made something that has been rather intangible in the past very clear. While the core of Blizzard that has weathered so many storms together is still just as strong as ever their "public face" is really struggling to keep up. I remember the days of beta and even early launch when the in game GM's were helpful, courteous, and knowledgeable. I even sent several glowing letters of review to their superiors because it was such a welcome change from the Sony mafioso in Star Wars Galaxies that I had just come from. A prime example of how the public relations folk are really struggling was the press/vip line during con check-in. A regular con badge could be accessed and retrieved in a matter of seconds due to a neat little database check-in program written by one of their technophiles. A press/vip pass however could only be found by thumbing through each and every pass, they didn't even have a list of who was authorized. This led to the "loss" of my badge and if it hadn't been for the use of my wife's badge (general admission) I would have missed the unveiling of the expansion, waiting until noon before they could figure things out.

We all need to remember that Blizzard is still the new kid on the MMO block and in many ways is still trying to "find themselves." The public relations department is working overtime to try and catch up to the overwhelming demand that WoW has generated and they are not doing a bad job. However, the problem comes in the fact that due to their inexperience they are trying to emulate other companies that have had some measure of success on the MMO scene, this is the worst thing that they could do. Blizzard gained a large degree of success from not doing things the same old tired way that other companies had already tried. It is my hope that Blizzard came away from this con with just as much learned as their fans did. If, in true Blizzard fashion, they were able to come up with a public relations solution that is all their own and no one else's their fans would love them for it.

I imagine that next year their organization will certainly be much more adept and they will be able to shorten their lines and wait time for many of the different attractions. Given the overwhelming attendance and success of this con I foresee many different vendors trying to get on board possibly leading to a separate vendor hall entirely which I think would help to alleviate some of the lines along with bringing more money into the con. Blizzard may be playing to a very limited audience in terms of scope, but sheer numbers and overwhelming loyalty seem to be more than enough to ensure that Blizzcon will continue to be a successful con for years to come.

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Blizzcon Writeup

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:18PM (#13918160)
    As a mature Alliance player in a mature guild I just can't WAIT for the expansion. Every 13 year old 3l33t dud3 is going to flock to the horde now.

    You just wait, Horde. Just wait for the idiots join your side!

    Ahahahahahaahhahahahaahahahhaaaaaaaaaaa!
  • by Trolling4Columbine (679367) on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:20PM (#13918173)
    It's not a civil right; it's a contract. You want to use the service? Then you have to agree to these terms. Feel that the contract is unnecessarily restrictive? Then don't buy their game!
  • Alliance Vs. Horde (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rampant mac (561036) on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:26PM (#13918218)
    "The horde's new race, Bloodelves were an incredibly polished race with a promising future in the overall WoW universe while the alliance were left with empty speculation as to what their race would be."

    So, kinda like an exact role-reversal from which the Horde is normally used to?

    /plays Horde
    /misses the "fit and polish" the Alliance side seems to take foregranted.

  • by Gruneun (261463) on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:26PM (#13918219)
    I thought the same thing. I could easily afford the entrance fee, but there's a consistent, monthly charge on my account that already shows my support for their product (not to mention the new recruits dragged into that world). The conference already had a lot of big-name sponsors. Asking for additional money from their customers to be part of an event that furthers the community aspect of their own game is somewhat shameful.

    I have to give them some credit. Essentially, they had a giant press conference and people paid to get in and hear their news. Most companies can't buy the kind of publicity they just got.
  • by daVinci1980 (73174) on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:32PM (#13918280) Homepage
    I'll bite the AC troll stick.

    Wolfenstein 3D, Commander Keen, Quake, Doom, Hexen, & Heretic. Plus all of the associated sequels. Actually, pound for pound, id has had more successful games than most studios.

  • Re:BNetD (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:32PM (#13918281)

    That's Slashdot for you. Blizzard abuse the DMCA (until we feel like fawning over their latest game), DVDs include evil DRM (until we want to buy the latest Firefly DVDs), Amazon abuse the patent system (but we'll happily promote them for the few bucks we make from referral fees)... the list goes on. They'll be giving Adobe free advertising next.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:33PM (#13918285)
    License != Contract

    "End User License Agreement" != "Contracted User Necessary Terms"

  • by nnnneedles (216864) on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:34PM (#13918299)
    I suspect that with 4 MILLION WOW players, it's a way of not having too many people show up, not a way to make money.
  • Re:"Excellence" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Thats_Pipe (837838) on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:40PM (#13918330) Journal
    Why do people still believe Blizz is running spyware on their computers? It was shown(months ago, by the way) that the alleged program just makes a hash of your running proccesses to check that they weren't altered to allow for cheating in WoW. No personal info of any kind can be retrieved from a hash, NONE; it is not spyware like the crap 180solutions will install on your PC. It says in their EULA that they do it and that they will prosecute anyone they find by this method that is trying to cheat. Learn the whole story behind something before spouting it off as truth.
  • by traid (679779) on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:48PM (#13918400)
    You have way too much free time if you have that many 60s. Paladins can deal dmg while immune very very slowly (50% decreased attack speed). They don't deal much dmg in the first place so... that's pretty irrelevent. Tying up resources in PvP? Just don't attack the paladin when it's bubbled. Not a hard concept. You can tell when it's bubbled, move on to another target. Do you stop attacking a mage when it's mana shielded or a priest when it's shielded? Mages and priests can attack while shielded at full force. The hammer can only be used below 20% life and uses more than 300 mana. If you are at the end of a big battle where you are healing you generally don't have 300 mana left to cast it. Comparing it to execute is pretty lame. I would love to have an Alliance Shaman so the Horde can finally see how stupidly powerful the Shaman is. Take away their mail armor and give them leather at level 40 instead and we'll call it even. Please suspend your account so we don't have to hear you whine in game. Thanks.
  • by kremehild (926438) on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:48PM (#13918403)
    Druids buff for 1 hour. Why should Paladins suck so bad and only have 15 minutes? That's just plain ridiculous.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 31, 2005 @05:49PM (#13918414)
    EULA = End User Liscense Agreement

    If it were a C-O-N-T-R-A-C-T, it would be called a EUCA. But it's not a contract, it a liscense. And yes, there is a big difference.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 31, 2005 @06:12PM (#13918644)
    So the chinese are okay with the killing of people, but not of pandas? :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 31, 2005 @06:15PM (#13918668)
    Very few people understand how hard it is to provide good customer service for an MMORPG. [psychochild.org]

    This is due in no small part to the subscription fees being too low. (yes, that's right, too LOW).

    Blizzard may have room for improvement, but they're doing as good a job as any large-scale MMO has ever done. Certainly a better job than Sony/Verant has ever done!
  • by Torgo's Pizza (547926) on Monday October 31, 2005 @06:18PM (#13918694) Homepage Journal
    Technically, id Software does *NOT* host Quakecon. It's all fan driven, created and run. id Software shows up and that's about the extent of their participation.
  • Re:"Excellence" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Peter La Casse (3992) on Monday October 31, 2005 @06:21PM (#13918720) Homepage
    Why do people still believe Blizz is running spyware on their computers?

    Exactly. The problem is that the license lets Blizzard do so if they wanted to, and that most people simply click "I agree" without reading what they're agreeing to, not a case of actual spyware being installed, as far as we know.

    Personally, I think the license thing reflects less poorly on Blizzard than the bnetd lawsuit, but that's just me.

  • by buffer-overflowed (588867) on Monday October 31, 2005 @06:24PM (#13918748) Journal
    Not really, I put in about 3-4 hours a day since release(it's been almost a year). It's what I do on weeknights and early mornings/afternoons on weekends now instead of watching TV or playing around on the internet. WoW is easy to level in. Takes about 20 days of playtime for your first 60 and you can get additional 60s in 9-10 days of playtime. Plus me and my roommate(a chef, keeps insane hours) played each other's alts. Oh and I took two weeks off work to powerlevel characters, because I know how I get with these games(It's not pretty, I'm a sick, sick individual).

    I have fought shamans, as alliance(on a pally) and as horde via duels. I've played both sides of the fence. Try playing the other side, you'll see how balanced things actually are.

    Priest and Mage shields are: A. Dispellable, and B. Do not scale with gear progression. While Power Word Shield used to be great, it's now taken out in less than a hit in the end game, and you can't chain cast it(even multiple targets, as it has a cooldown). Mage shields, AKA mana shield, drain mana for each hit, quickly, and are comparably weak. Mana is the very thing a mage needs to be useful, and if you're considering mana shield, mana shield probably isn't going to save you(it sucks, bad). There is also no gear in the game that improves either of these abilities. Pally shields are time based, and thus DO SCALE. They always protect the pally for the same amount of time regardless of how much damage that pally is taking and regardless of a paladin's gear. They're also, in the case of Divine Shield, reactive. They can break magic-based CC. They are equally effective against 1 person and 40 epic-geared people. The two classes of shields are not comparable in utility.

    I can tell that if you even play the game, you're evidentally part of the teeming horde of incredibly shitty paladins, and I have no desire to educate you on how to be effective. I'll just say that the actual problems with the paladin class are not the ones bitched about by your ilk.
  • Re:WOW (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Deekin_Scalesinger (755062) on Monday October 31, 2005 @06:26PM (#13918757)
    How do you watch a sound?
  • Re:BNetD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Omestes (471991) <omestes AT gmail DOT com> on Monday October 31, 2005 @06:46PM (#13918905) Homepage Journal
    Boohoo!
    I didn't care then, I sure as heck don't care now.

    Oh no! Some asshats violated a contract! Oh no! They had to stop doing it!

    Damn Blizz for protecting their IP! How dare they!
  • by queenb**ch (446380) on Monday October 31, 2005 @07:33PM (#13919308) Homepage Journal
    My qualms arise from the fact that game makes expect me to pay $50 for their game (give or take a few dollars depending on the title) and then pay to play it every month. Frankly, I flatly refuse to do it. If you want me to pay by the month, fine - sell me the game for cheap. It should cost well under $20 and the monthly fee should be reasonable. While the monthly fee to pay WoW is fairly reasonable (about $15/month), paying $50 for the game so that I turn around and pay another $15/month to play my game isn't.

    How hard is it to do the math? Charge me $20 for the game and $18/month to play. Over the course of 18 months, you've actually made an extra $4 per player and you likely have more players.

    2 cents,

    Queen B
  • Re:BNetD (Score:4, Insightful)

    by VGPowerlord (621254) on Monday October 31, 2005 @09:51PM (#13920217) Homepage
    ...the result was nothing less than the level of excellence that we have come to expect from Blizzard.

    Need I remind everyone of the BNetD case?

    For those to lazy to read TFA, Blizzard took these guys to court for reverse engineering and creating a Battle.Net client. In the end, it was ruled that the EULA overrides personal rights. Rediculous IMO.

    No, Blizzard took them to court for creating a Battle.Net server. The Battle.Net client is built into the games that support it.

    I can see why they sued, too. Most of a Blizzard product's life cycle is as a multiplayer game. Battle.Net is a free online service that you could connect to... provided you had a real CD key, as, unlike the game itself, Blizzard has a list of valid CD keys, rather than relying on an algorithm to check them.

    BNetD, on the other hand, had no CD key requirement. Surprise! The DMCA says that you can't bypass anti-circumvention technique, of which Battle.Net's CD key check qualifies.

  • Re:BNetD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by narfbot (515956) on Monday October 31, 2005 @10:54PM (#13920568)
    You don't know what a copy protection scheme is if you think Battle.net was one.

    All battle.net was, was a game match-making service. It only came out after the lawsuit that they said it was any different. But in reality there are only two types of copy protection.

    1) CD-KEY
    2) A very convuluted method of checking if the disk is in the drive.

    To pirate a copy of the game all you need to do is
    1) Copy the game
    2) Obtian a sufficiently working key
    3) Apply a no cd crack

    That's it. You can play multiplayer, single player all you want. YOU DON'T NEED BNETD, YOU NEVER DID. It's a lie that bnetd enabled pirating.

    All battle.net did was check to make sure you weren't logged in twice, that doesn't constitute any towards a protection--although back when bnetd was written, battle.net allowed more than one connection because how buggy it was. Battle.net could check for modified executables, but that can by bypassed by more crafty methods, but that's besides the point because you don't need to connect to battle.net or bnetd to play the game.

    If all people cared about was playing online, then all is required is a /tunnel/. Yes, it is simpler than you could even think. That was what zone.com, heat.net, and kali used (last of which got some people jobs at blizzard). Then why go through all the work of reverse engineering the battle.net prototcol if the ability to play online is already there? Question two, how do I play online if battle.net doesn't work? Question three, how can I form a community of players? It's because the bnetd authors got the idea, why not use the existing facilities of battle.net and provide alternate servers. That how we can use the match-making capabilities and provide a server that works when blizzard's doesn't. That would make reverse engineering the protocol worthwhile. The bnetd authors weren't in it for pirating, they were doing it because they wanted to play online.

    You could argue that the EULA prevents it, but you must consider once again, they weren't pirating the game and they weren't a mechanism for pirating the game. So all we have here is an obscure contract fight that accomplished nothing except destroyed our rights at the point of sale. Point proven is that there are still people pirating the games anyways, bnetd and several derivatives still exist (after all, bnetd never worked with Warcraft 3). But there are a few less blizzard customers.

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