What Makes a Good Instance?

Dungeons and Raids are the core endgame content when it comes to an MMO. These are the things that keep players enticed with playing the game. But what makes a good dungeon or raid? What makes an instance of content that is memorable, enjoyable and is something players will either revisit in the past or pine for the “good old days” when it was current content? I decided to analyze some of my favorite instances and raids from “World of Warcraft” to find common links. I’ll preface this that most of my time was in Wrath but I played a little of every expansion save for Warlords. With that disclaimer, I’ll continue.

B.U.N. Content

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B.U.N. is the term is use to describe content that has the three core tenants of what I consider a good raid: Balanced, Unique and a “New Take” on something. Each point has merits worth discussing because there’s a lot of nuance cut down into a single word or two. Many of this will likely seem obvious at a glance but it’s worth bringing it up to distinguish an OK fight from a fantastic one.

Balanced: Balanced is something that comes from a variety of levers, but it all comes down to how enjoyable it is to run the dungeon itself. Besides how easy and/or hard the bosses are, part of the balance also comes from how long it takes to complete the dungeon itself. A prime example of time ruining balance would be the “Return to Karazhan” instance in Legion. Originally one massive dungeon, the instance was split into upper and lower sections because of just how long it took to complete. Conversely, instances like the Argent Tournament instances were often too quick, forcing the fights to be harder to compensate for the lack of trash and travel. Another good example in balance is difficulty, albeit it’s more surface level. Wrath dungeons often were the subject of much criticism because of how easy they were. Conversely, the Cataclysm dungeons ended up being so difficult Blizzard had to patch them for the playerbase. A fair but challenging difficulty curve is what should be aimed for in every dungeon, not just locking the real difficulty behind ten-to-twenty modifiers like Mythic +35 with bursting swarming tenacity minions.

Unique: It’s difficult to make a truly unique situation because someone will always draw comparison, be it a model, a mechanic or otherwise. Still, sometimes old mechanics can be combined in new and interesting ways. For example, The Lich King fight of Icecrown Citadel is often remembered for both the spectacle of fighting the Lich King and the mechanics: The crashing platforms. The spreading plague. Being killed near the end of the instance to experience Arthas’ cinematic downfall. It all combined into a grand spectacle. Unique doesn’t always mean better, however. The Spine of Deathwing is often (and still) regarded as one worst boss fights despite the fight having unique mechanics such as Deathwing rolling, managing blobs and peeling off plates. A “good” unique mechanic should make a fight interesting while being balanced and not frustrating. Managing insanity with Yogg’saron is fun! Nefarian breaking your gun as a hunter is frustrating.

“New Take”: In many MMOs, you’re often going to a place that holds major significance in the lore. If a player approaches an instance less as “Oh my god we’re going to the Black Temple to fight Illidan” and more as “We’re going to this new raid because this is the best gear we can get right now”. There’s always going to be a subset that care more about the raw numbers or gear but one should still strive to create a major, significant take on a canonical instance. Assaulting Ulduar. Facing against Deathwing. Diving into Onyxia’s lair. As a counter example, part of the reason why I felt that Mists of Pandaria felt so flat was because of the lack of lore significance or take on a new area. There wasn’t much interesting sights to see because Pandaria was such a mysterious land. We had very little emotional stake and it reflected on how the instances really didn’t mesh until we ended up fighting Garrosh in Orgrimmar.

With these three pieces put together, it becomes clearer to tell what fantastic content is and what has fallen flat. In addition,  it’s also possible to dissect content that may have been great but didn’t quite hit the mark in every category.

Examples, Faults and Triumphs

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In my opinion, almost every main raid of Wrath was a success. The one outlier, if you were curious, was the Argent Tournament raids. The main raids of Naxxrammas, Ulduar, and Icecrown Citadel all served to make fun, interesting fights with thematic hooks that drew you in. They were also tough but fair, fights like zero-light Yogg’saron taking quite a while to complete while other raids like Naxx were made easier so gearing up wasn’t a chore. The five mans were also fantastic, from the iconic Culling of Stratholm to the thrilling Icecrown assaults. If there was one complaint about Wrath, it’s that older raids became trivialized quite fast. With as many instances as they had with both normal and heroic content for five, ten and twenty five players? Gear began to inflate, a problem that persists even to this day with Legion content ranging from A 750 ilevel all the way up to almost a thousand.

Cataclysm and Pandaria succeeded in some ways but failed in others. Most of the Cataclysm five mans and raids ended up being quite challenging, with only Firelands being the true standout raid. The hard swerve into extreme and challenging content came as a shock to players, which ended up causing Blizzard to revisit this. It’d also be the basis for creating challenge and mythic modes. The instances were interesting and unique enough but not always in a “good” way, sometimes provoking ire because of poorly designed fights that focused on a neat mechanic rather than a healthy fight.

Pandaria’s fights were a step up in balance and unique aspects but they sold on things that look cool more than established lore. It was difficult to establish a connection because we had to grow close to these characters with little connection outside of it. Legion has this problem to a degree but they make sure to establish connections with pre-existing characters or lore so that we’re not fighting with absolutely zero emotional connection outside of what we make in the zone.

Legion’s Current State

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So where would Legion fall on this scale? After going through most of the raids and fights, I think certain raids will be more fondly remembered than others. Emerald Nightmare and Trial of Valor weren’t fantastic raids but serviceable, easy to run and complete. The Nighthold, however, was far more entertaining and enjoyable. I think it’s likely my favorite raid of Legion. Tomb of Sargeras is alright but it has a huge problem of raid-finder not preparing you for the normal raid at all, lacking major mechanics that you find in normal which make transitioning into them difficult if you ONLY play raid finder.

The five mans are, unfortunately, forgettable in my mind. They don’t really have that many interesting mechanics and most of the fights grow tiresome after you’ve done them a few times on alts. I’ll make special mention, however, to the Karazhan and Court of Stars instances. Karazhan is a bite-sized version of the old raid and, while it needed to be cut in half, was still enormously entertaining to do. Court of Stars had a bunch of small mechanics in the instance itself that made it quite entertaining to do. After all, what kind of madman poisons a boss before the fight even starts?

It’s hard to say how people will remember Legion but if I had to guess, Nighthold and Karazhan will probably be the standouts when you look back. The other raids and instances were…serviceable. The connection to cool content was there but I never felt that the fights were all that shocking or interesting. In the end, I think Legion satisfies most of the B.U.N. scale but falls a bit flat in unique. Which is a shame, because there is some stuff to love in Legion.

Moving Forward

Legion was a revitalization of Warcraft and it shows. They’ve successfully recaptured some of the old success of Wrath and Burning Crusade but they’re finding their footing after a few years of rough releases. For the next expac, I hope to see more fantastic mechanics that challenge my perception of a five man. The raids I’m not too worried about but I sincerely hope that the five-mans grab me and make me invested in what is to come. Other games could also learn from this approach and, in my mind, Warcraft is still quite above the competition when it comes to instance-style content.

Legion was a decent step forward but with some stumbling after falling down. I only hope WoW can continue the forward momentum with fresh, original dungeons and raids.

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The “Vergil” and Why the Best Antagonist is Often Yourself.

Bear in mind, this article will contain spoilers for a variety of older games. Be careful when reading if you don’t want to be spoiled!


Devil May Cry 3
is a hard game. The early bosses are tough but, in a way, manageable. There is a turning point in the game however. A point where you meet someone who is on another level and you realize just how little you know about the game and your skill set. I’m talking, of course, about the Vergil fight.

In video games, a strong antagonist is paramount to making a good game. If there’s no threat, nothing we do holds weight. Most enemies fall into one of two categories: The giant boss leader, like Bowser, who commands a massive army of foes all under his sway while being a formidable monster himself. The other type is the all-powerful beast. While these types might have a legion, the true threat is them. Ganondorf would be a good example of this, as the scariest thing about Legend of Zelda ends up being his existence.

In my mind, neither of these enemies is a particularly strong villain. Sure, they can be written well and designed well, but they serve as a mere odd to overcome. Beating the covenant in Halo feels good because we waded through an army as a singular super soldier. Destroying Chaos at the end of Sonic Adventure feels amazing because we’re spitting in the face of a supposed godlike being. To me, the absolute best villain is the rival. The antagonist who is a dark mirror of the protagonist. The “Vergil”.

So why do I find this compelling?

Rivals and Personal Growth
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For starters, the stakes are set-up to be on a realistic level. The Vergil (Which I’ll be calling this amorphous enemy for the article duration) isn’t some unstoppable godbeing or some swarm-like army. The Vergil is you. Where the Vergil differs from you is that he’s you at the peak. He’s the person you could never hope to be in terms of skill, power and otherwise. As you lose to him, you can’t blame him being too powerful or having too many enemies. He’s just too strong and you’re not good enough.

This theme of rivalry is core and major to story development because it serves as someone we strive to either meet or surpass. The Vergil doesn’t even have to always be an enemy either! In Megaman X, Zero serves as the Vergil and the person you’re striving to become. He is you at your peak, he is the you that you want to be. He is the Vergil you hope to strive for.

Another important fact about the Vergil is that he has to mirror the protagonist in ability, power or talent. Take Jetstream Sam from Metal Gear Rising. Sam is a swordsman just like Raiden with similar cybernetic enhancements. He fights like Raiden, he loves the thrill of fighting and he doesn’t have many tricks you wouldn’t expect. Sam is, of course, the mirror to Raiden and thus the fight is strongest when reflecting that.

Much of this likely sounds pedantic. “Oh well duh fighting someone on equal level is cool” and such. What I want to drive home, however, is how many games get this wrong. The idea of a Vergil that’s never expounded upon or shown to be anything more than a mere rivalry. Take one of the final fights in Warcraft 3: Arthas vs. Illidan. By all accounts, these characters should be the twin rivals, two characters who both forsake their humanity (or in Illidan’s case, his elfhood) to protect their people. Yet these characters don’t feel like rivals. This isn’t a battle of ideologies or a battle of two enemies on equal footing. This is “It’d be so damn cool to see Illidan fight Arthas”. These are two pawns (albeit neat pawns) fighting for masters.

Cool Factor and Doing it Wrong.
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Alternatively, designers or writers will dial up the cool factor with no proper build-up or stakes in the fight. Azel in Godhand is a mysterious man who is said to be Gene’s equal. Despite this, we never get a scene where we see Azel wipe the floor with Gene. We’re just told Azel is his equal before being thrown into the final battle. Sure, it’s enjoyable to see these two titans square off but the payoff feels unearned.

Perhaps the most important part of a Vergil is the eventual surpassing. When you first fight a Vergil, you will be beat. Hard. Maybe in the game, maybe just in a cutscene, but you’re going to clearly be no match for him or his power. This is the core motivation. This is where the seed is planted that you wish to go stronger. Later in the game, when you finally do fight him, it serves as the remeasure. It’s the point where you stand your ground and tell the Vergil that you’ve gone on your own journey and your growth will beat his own growth. This idea of being disempowered or losing isn’t often a popular idea to gamers or designers, hence why Vergils are so often ignored or not done at all.

In reading all this, you might be curious: “Who does the Vergil best?” “What company creates a Vergil with every game they make?” The answer is simple: Platinum Games. Masters of the third person action brawler, Platinum has honed their skills and refined their craft to the point where they can create countless fantastic Vergil-type characters. While I don’t want the article to go on too long, here are just some examples of character-rivalries they’ve made that I consider amazing:

Bayonetta and Jeanne (Bayonetta)
Wonder-Red and Prince Vorkken (Wonderful 101)
Raiden and Jetstream Sam (Metal Gear Rising, Revengence)
Sam Gideon and Victor Zaitsev (Vanquish)
A2 and 2B (Neir: Automata)

It’s also worth noting that many games from members of Platinum Games, such as Viewtiful Joe and Godhand, would be prototypes for this. Special note to Hideki Kamiya, who was a director on Devil May Cry and part of the skilled group that helped bring the concept of the Vergil to life.

But what does Platinum do that no others do? What do they nail that creates such an entertaining Vergil?

You’re Trash at the Game (and that’s good!)
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To me, Platinum is a company not afraid to tell you that you’re bad. It’s a company that’s willing to laugh at that participation trophy you got. It’s a company that does not pull punches. You’re better than this and Platinum knows it. Where other companies are afraid to remove your power, even for a second, Platinum understands that this is core to your growth. It’s only against adversity, against an enemy who is the ideal you that has mastered everything you barely scratched the surface of, that you grow as a player. They might seem cruel but this tough love follows you to the end, all the way to Platinum cheering you on as you face your rival, evolved and ready to show your growth.

The Vergil is a tough concept to execute. It’s a concept that you have to be careful of. Even when perfectly executed, it’s not for everyone. Yet this type of rival is often necessary and I leap at the chance to have more of them in video games. I want that terrible feeling of powerlessness as I face someone better than me. I desire that looming dread of having to fight them later down the line. I crave the fearful steps as you walk into the boss room and see your Vergil waiting to show you that he’s still better.

And most of all, I yearn to show Vergil that I’m the one who has beaten him.

Leaks and Video Games: Help/Hurt.

In recent times, the most disturbing and problematic trend in video games (to me) isn’t any sort of ad revenue problem. It’s not the absolute silence of criticism, it’s not manipulation of websites like Metacritic and it’s not any sort of design philosophy. Rather, my frustration with the games and the game industry can be summed up in a word:

Leaks.

To understand the impact, we have to fall back years and go to one of the things video games do stronger than any other media: hidden/surprise content. While spoilers are a thing in every form of media that range from spoiling an ending to a book to the shock reveal or twist midway into a series, games have special things and aspects no other media can boast.

Specifically, when games have a hidden treat, it’s not something you can always find just by playing the game to completion. Sometimes, to find that hidden treat, you have to devote a ton of time to the game. You have to collect all one hundred-plus collectables. You have to find that secret area you only get by putting in the right console command. Hell, sometimes you have to finish the game and then call a phone number that plays a secret message for your ears only.

I can’t truly blame game developers for this. As we’ve gotten deeper into the existence of video games, these things were bound to happen. The amount of people who understand code and can datamine both games and patches have skyrocketed. In addition to this, social media has made it so that it’s incredibly easy for the average person to build a fanbase or a reputation as a “leaker” or someone with insider knowledge working under a pseudonym.

What hurts me most is that the surprise is gone. However, this isn’t always a bad thing. For this argument, I’ll use two core examples in recent times.

The Bad: League of Leaks

One of the most negative situations and a “worst case scenario” when this happens has got to be the painful leak Riot Games had with League of Legends. A few months ago, a giant leak list appeared. A ton of the information was listed among it but chief in it was both the reveal of the direction of two champion updates and the release of Xayah and Rakan.

This is when leaks are at their absolute worst. Incredible reveals that would have shocked us with the fact that Urgot had shotgun knees or that League was doing a dual champion release for the first time in years was instead dashed by a leak list. This also crushed the fact that hard work that should have shocked and wowed the audience was instead known in advance.

These are my most egregious leak aggrivations. Leaks that steal the surprise from me. Leaks that don’t shock me. Leaks that are done to give someone fame for a brief moment and be regarded as some sort of “prophet”. With that in mind, the question becomes “when is a leak good?”

The Good: Not-so-Marvelous Roster

The counter argument to this is a situation where a leak can actually stamp out problems and even save someone money. In this situation, I speak of the “roster leak” that happened for Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Thanks to data-mining from the demo, a huge amount of chracters were leaked and revealed for the game. Some of these supposedly confirmed for DLC and some of them mere additions to the roster.

Perhaps what is most important about this is that this confirmed a worry many players had about the games roster. It showed them that Capcom was reusing assets and that the new additions would be pitiful comparative to the third installment of the game. Even more importantly, it put a spotlight on the problematic roster when there was still time to correct it. That is, if Capcom goes that root.

This type of situation is one of the few where a leak can be good. A situation where the leak can gather major feedback before it’s too late. In addition, it also saves some heartbreak and even money. After all, will people still preorder knowing this pitiful roster exists?

A Pipe You Can’t Shut

Unfortunately, leaks will always be a thing. There is always going to be someone who shirks the NDA because the internet is a huge place and they can’t be found. That said, the best we can do is use our datamining for good. Instead of trying to datamine simply to get the latest work-in-progress, we could work toward finding out if a solution is reached for a problem. We could investigate the data for things like if a story mode exists or possible transaction prices.

Hell, we might even be able to use these talents to prevent situations in the future where we find documents detailing how a company was using the funds we gave from an Indiegogo to buy some fast cars to crash. No matter what, leaks are a powerful tool with great capacity for good and bad. The best we can hope for is that we have these abilities that can help people in the long term, rather than using them for a quick cash-in of social media fame.

E3 Press Conferences and Devolver Digital: Cringefest or Genius Parody?

This article is something I wanted to discuss because it’s a common topic always brought up when it comes to E3 and company showcases: Cringe. Cringe takes a variety of forms when it comes to a press conference; sometimes it’s an off-color joke that dies on-stage. Sometimes it’s a painfully scripted event that makes everyone wince with how forced it is. There’s one common thing that connects it all back however: Cringe is a clear disconnect from the audience.

That said, there is a fine line. A line where audience disconnect loops back around to full-blown parody. That’s where Devolver Digital comes into play. I’ve seen various levels of criticism and talking points about it but one thing is clear; the jury is divided on if it was the most cringe-inducing press conference ever or if Devolver created the most snarky, pessimistic parody of a press conference ever.

If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out Devolver’s conference. Personally, I found it kinda funny in a zany out-there sort of way. They hit all the notes one expects of a press conference: Corporate shilling, announcing things nobody wants and over-the-top editing. This followed with an incredibly long post-show of people just playing games and making jokes until the next conference…but why is it so divisive?

When it comes to the E3, there’s a fine line of how sarcastic you can go before killing a joke. For many, Devolver hit this point at minute two. Very little games shown, very little in the way of actual news, and overall it was nothing but half-an-hour or so of making fun of every single press conference. The problem is that for many, the jokes wore themselves out. You can only point out how cynical the press conferences are before the audience groans and says “We get it”. If you’re not funny and if you’re not showing gameplay, you’re just wasting time.

That said, for others, this was the perfect amount of snark and reveals. You had to read between the lines but there were plenty of silly moments and reveals to be had. They just didn’t get a two minute “World Premier” trailer associated with them. Devolver went the route of making a joke more than anything else. Nothing really tops them bringing in Suda51, a famous and wacky developer, just to say he’s not doing anything with Devolver.

The importance of Devolver’s conference is that it highlights a point that blurs the line between audiences. Some say it’s hysterical, some say it was a tired joke before the camera even started rolling. Will a conference like Devolver ever happen again? Who is to say. In terms of what cringe is, Devolver found the most wonderful grey area to toy with fans, viewers and E3 goers all in the wee hours of the morning.

Piltover Parley Ep. 3 ft. Riot Yuujou

Welcome to Piltover Parley!

This is a series (Sometimes audio and sometimes written) where I interview significant figures in the League community and get their viewpoints, thoughts and ideas about the game!

Riot sometimes seems like a mountain you just can’t climb when it comes to getting in. For that reason, I sat down with Alexander “Riot Yuujou” Quach to talk about scouting talent for Riot, success stories and…super sentai?

Bear in mind: This is a SHORTENED TRANSCRIPT of the full interview which you can find here for full viewing or here for listening. This written portion will merely cover some questions for those who are looking for the specific questions/answers.

Getting into Riot and Working There

David aka “CaptainMarvelous”: Real quick, tell us how you ended up working at Riot because it seems like it’s not a company you don’t jump RIGHT into.

Alexander “Riot Yuujou” Quach: Absolutely true on that end. Riot’s not a company you can just, like, pop in and start right away. I started on the sales floor actually! I was folding clothes at Banana Republic and then I traded up to being a supervisor at a retail store. I was at Wallgreens. From there I went on to retail HR. I was the executive human resources at Target before this and then I just fully integrated. Traded retail for games at Riot.

CM: What’s it kinda like working at Riot? There’s a lot of conflicting stories about how Riot is but let’s hear from you; What has been your experience working at Riot so far?

AQ: For me, working at Riot, I work not on the player-facing side. I work internally on our talent discipline. I face Rioters rather than players. Really for me, it’s been an incredible experience. I absolutely love working at Riot! It definitely has had its ups and its downs; people are very nebulous, they change their opinions, they get confused, they can get frustrated. But ultimately, working at Riot has been the best experience of my entire career.

CM: So what would the day in the life of you look like? Is it something you start at six A.M.?

AQ: No no no no. Definitely not at six A.M.! Riot’s very nontraditional in that kind of way. We’ve kind of abolished the nine-to-five paradigm. We’re gamers and we tend to sleep in. We’re everyday people like you or everybody else.

So my day typically starts at ten or eleven because I can’t wake up that early. I’ll get in, probably grab some breakfast, and then trudge through my e-mails to see if I missed anything and then I get into meetings. So my jobs are people-focused. I’m often face-to-face with individuals being a “thought partner” in their work or giving them advice on how to deal with stuff. Other parts of my job include making presentations or designing learning. We’re very bored of the traditional status-quo of classroom teaching and stuff like that. It’s all about innovating that space and making it world class for Rioters.

Looking for the Unicorn

CM: In essence, you talked a lot about how Riot is looking for that unicorn, that perfect person. What is some stuff that is, for lack of a better word, a red flag for you? That “this person has potential”? Would it be talent? Experience? Something they’ve done or even just an awesome cover letter?

AQ: So there are a few things that make-or-break talent. The first is “player empathy” or just being a gamer yourself. Different rioters have different opinions on how much of a gamer you have to be to work at Riot but we all agree, at the very minimum, you have to have player empathy. Our goal is to make the best game experience and be the most player-experienced company. If you can’t understand the pain of being a player, you probably shouldn’t be working here because it’s not going to drive you to fix the things that are wrong and you can’t develop the best products for players. That’s one huge issue we have in un-gaming-related parts of our company. We’ll find people who are HR experts who have never played a game in their life. It’s like “Ugh you’d be SO GOOD but you never played a game in your life.”

On the flipside, we get tons of applicants who are hardcore gamers but have never worked a day in their life. They’re like “Just please Riot, give me a chance! If I can come face to face with someone I know I can get the job!” but they’re really lacking the experience we need to level up our company and level up our team to make our products better. I’d say those are the two big things that stick up as red flags when it comes to hiring people.

CM: Isn’t trying again something Riot’s big on as well? That person whose not going to submit that first application and say “Well they said no. I guess that’s it.”?

AQ: Absolutely! We’re definitely looking for people who are full of perserverence, who can thrive in adversity or face a challenge head on and aren’t afraid to fail. That’s definitely a strong trait we look for in potential Rioters.

Success and Failure at Riot

CM: You talked a little bit about this in your own story but what would be an example of you helped with or you were a part of that was shocking or incredible?

AQ: Hm, significant or incredible…for me, in my time at Riot, I don’t think I’ve had a significant hand in something crazy for a hire but I will tell a story about something one of my peers has done: At Riot before, we didn’t originally have a centralized recruiting model. We were all kind of piecemeal. Originally when Riot started, we didn’t have ANY recruiters. Just very recently we hired a head of recruiters and he came from. It’s very cool to see him integrate into the company because he’s been working at this very established company. Nike’s been around for such a long time.

So he’s come to Riot because we’re this brand-new playspace for him. He’s really come into his own. He’s never played League of Legends in his life but here he’s played so many games and he’s thinking outside of the box. Ways we can improve our recruiting process and ways we can reach out to more people. Help them know what Riot is so they can come to apply to our company. It’s been super cool to see that transformation and have a hand in that.

CM: As a counterpoint to that, what was kind of a situation where someone you really believed in or someone who looked like they had a lot of potential but there was just something that didn’t click? A rioter who you had to pull aside and tell them “This isn’t working”?

AQ: Yeah, we had a guy on campus. He was a super diehard fan of League and was like “Oh my god I’m gonna work at Riot! This is my dream come true!”. But day in and day out, the only thing he did was play games. He was just so into the gaming aspect of Riot that he let his responsibilities fall to the side. It was unfortunate but, because he wasn’t executing on his responsibilities and we weren’t getting any value out of him being here, we ultimately had to see him go.

He was super cool, super chill, great on the rift but in the end he wasn’t “doing” anything and was just kind of riding along. Enjoying being a part of Riot without really providing anything in exchange. That was unfortunately a time where we had to see someone go.

Closing Thoughts and…Super Sentai?

CM: So I have a major question for you: What’s your favorite sentai series?

AQ: My favorite sentai series has to be Samurai Sentai Shinkenger. The theme song was epic, I loved the plot and how gritty it was and the plot twitst took me by surprise.

CM: I just thought it was kind of overrated.

AQ: You do!?

CM: It’s good, it’s just not the best.

AQ: It was my first so I have a strong attachment to it but I’ll take that into consideration right.

CM: Is there anything else you’d like to say for people listening or people interested in Riot?

AQ: I got a couple parting words! My first is for anyone who aspires to be a Rioter. If you’re looking to make it into games and you don’t think it’s possible? I am living, breathing, speaking proof that you don’t have to have ever worked in video games to work in video games. Just believe in what you do, believe in your dreams and passions and it will take you to the right place.

My second kind of parting words is to go check out Super Sentai. It is like power rangers but it is a thousand times better!

 

 

Overwatch Uprising: Intended Design vs. Fan Favoritism

There is an interesting phenomenon going on with Overwatch. Largely designed to be a player-versus-player competitive experience, a pattern is beginning to emerge: People like the player-versus-everything types of experiences far more than the originally designed core experience.

Uprising, Junkinstein and PvE

What is most fascinating about these events is that they do a lot of what players should dislike; These events limit your character choice, create difficult scenarios and force you to be on your toes against far-stronger enemy waves. That said, people have come to latch onto these events. Along with this there is a clear feeling that people enjoy these events far more than any esport-centric or competitive experience. Why could this be?

For starters, Overwatch falls prey to the common problem of online games. That being the factor of playing with someone else. “Toxicity” is what companies call it but I prefer an old school phrase known as “being a jerk”. In competitive games, like League of Legends and DOTA2, these people are synonymous with the game in quite negative ways. Its taken a good chunk of the reputation these two games have as well, despite how players and creators are quick to try and silence those criticisms. Overwatch is no exception, with youtube compilations of people spouting out racist or aggressive comments because you picked a hero they didn’t like. It sours an experience others enjoy.

Uprising and, by extent, all PvE modes doesn’t succumb to this to any meaningful degree. There’s a sense of comradery that grows between four players fighting against hoards of computer-controlled robots. In my many hours of playing, I only recall a few instances where someone was being a jerk to the point of annoyance. Beyond that? This experience is largely more enjoyable on a purely personal level.

One can also not neglect the essence of skill required; While there are harder versions, the overall PvE experience is much easier than a PvP one. Robots stand still, can be gamed by simple AI tricks and dying is usually because they’re FAR stronger than you are individually, not being outplayed or outmaneuvered. PvP is a breeding ground for the skill frustration, no real solution other than to “git gud” and not fail. With these in mind, it seems like the PvE experience is the way to go, right?

PvP vs. PvE

Except Overwatch was primarily designed to be a player-against-player experience.

From the establishment of the Overwatch Pro League coming later this year to Blizzard doing everything in their power to push for esports success, such as hiring MonteCristo and DoA to be the leading stars of the NA OPL, Blizzard wants Overwatch to become a long-standing esports game. Blizzard isn’t truly looking to make this a game like World of Warcraft with equal PvP and PvE content. This is a game designed to focus on the interaction between living players of equal skill.

With the comparison between Uprising and the normal experience, what can be done? This is not an easy question to ask, of course, but it’s a profound one that should be investigated. There are two obvious paths to take: On one hand, Blizzard could always make the PvE events second fiddle to the PvP ones. This might annoy many casual players (who are arguably the biggest audience) but it will preserve the main identity. The alternative is to develop PvE alongside PvP, creating maps and scenarios specifically for the playerbase which enjoys it. If it gets big enough, one might even be able to host time-attack tournaments to see who can clear scenarios the fastest or with the most points.

One option you might notice I omitted was the idea of removing focus on PvP. To be blunt, I don’t forsee that as an acceptable solution. Blizzard has committed too many resources already to go back on the PvP aspect of Overwatch. Even if the majority played PvE instead of PvP, the design of the game has just put too much energy and effort into crafting a specifically PvP experience. “Too big to fail” if you will.

Design Intention vs. Design Endpoint

A good example of this scenario stretches back all the way to Warcraft 3 and the modding community. Designed to be a multi-unit RTS, Warcraft 3 ended up taking off with the MOBA-style/DOTA-like game. Blizzard didn’t really support this to any meaningful extent, the game and community springing off despite Blizzard’s focus on making the core RTS the experience they wanted to enforce. This, of course, lead to the MOBA genre taking off and games like League and DOTA dethroning the RTS.

Can a similar scenario happen here? While Overwatch’s custom tools aren’t on-par with Warcraft 3’s, it could one day come to a point where the PvE experience overtakes the PvP. A game similar to Left 4 Dead being born from Overwatch’s framework that leads to a new experience that trounces the intended design. Perhaps I’m misjudging the desire for PvE. It’s entirely possible my focus on this could be overestimated and what many loved was just a fun, side diversion. After all, the OPL hasn’t started yet and the pro-scene of Overwatch could very well explode, snuffing out the PvE lovers.

All I can truly do is bide my time and see where this goes. Uprising or not, I highly doubt the PvE aspect of Overwatch is going to stay muted.

Video Game Journalism: Lacking the First Step

Chances are, you might have heard about the immense backlash at Brash Games. It goes to show that the entry level of video game writing and journalism really isn’t friendly. It is a system that exploits people who wish to be writers and does all manner of horrible things. While Brash is not the first, there seems to be a constant question of why people get exploited, as well as a plea from others to make sure up-and-coming-writers aren’t tricked into working for free.

The problem is that these people have no first step.

Personal Experience

This is not the first website I’ve written for, nor will it be the last. Before this, I had written for two small-time websites: Splitpush.net and Fortis Core. Let me be clear that Fortis hasn’t paid me but I do it because I know those who run it and I have high hopes for it. Splitpush, conversely, paid me for my work albeit it wasn’t all that much money in hindsight.

Perhaps what frustrates me most about others who insist on finding a place that will accept me and pay me a fair wage is that those places don’t truly exist. Paying writing jobs are often contract work or throwing your resume into a giant pile in hopes that someone will pick it up. I would love to get paid for the articles I write here but I doubt that is going to happen. They need editing and I’m not the best when it comes to editing. I could use eyes on my work but beyond posting on twitter and sharing with other sites, I can’t get that “exposure” that I need.

In the grand design, people often ask how anyone could write for exposure. The answer is simple: It’s all you can get. I was shocked when I was being offered about ten dollars for what I wrote at Splitpush because I had never been paid for my writing before barring some commissions. Often, new writers will take anything they can get because we don’t have that much available to us. So we either start our own websites and hope to garner a following or we go where they’ll take us.

Stairs Without a Step

This comes back to the problem that there is a lack of a clear, first step. Most writers will have a cavalcade of stories with how they got noticed: Some went to college, got a degree and worked at small time places for cheap. Others wrote a lot on the net and eventually got noticed. Some might be able to even leverage the horror story they had into job offers and being a spokesperson about the industry. Yet in terms of an actionable start to a career in video game journalism, there isn’t much.

This, in turn, leads to the abuse situations one can see on the net. Yes, exposure isn’t great and exposure can’t pay bills…but in terms of a first step, sometimes that is the best you can get. It feels dreadful because now you’re working for free but with the hopes that this can transition into something that will pay bills and let you work. It also doesn’t help that the pool of people who wish to write about games is enormous. Competition will shut out a majority of these people, which will lead them into taking less fair work and more painful jobs.

Perhaps this sounds like whining from someone who can’t find work, which is fair, but I’d hardly say my experience is unique. Outlets like Reddit aren’t well-suited to article sharing because of the format of content that shines while people will chastise you for spamming and posting your own work as opposed to reading about it.

Paving the Cracks

I think the best question to ask is if this is a problem that can’t be fixed. Honestly, it’s probably not something you can fix. Game journalism is just like any other media and breaking in is the hardest part. Sure, we can advertise and work with companies who treat up-and-comers right but those are limited jobs and there are a lot more questionable groups than admirable groups.

The earnest, best thing we can do to help those who wish to get ahead is to try and get more of those companies who can treat writers well. The more helpful groups there are who seek to nurture writers, the better the talent pool grows and the overall industry improves. It also means shady situations are avoided and left to rot. So long as there is more positive construction than negative exploitation, there will always be a net gain.

Overall, the worst thing I see being done is the posturing that “you’re worth money” and “find a place that will pay you for your work”. If that were as easy as it was said, situations like Brash Games wouldn’t happen. There are struggling writers who don’t have a place that will pay them, making them resort to working at other places for the great reward of exposure. There is so much talk about it yet very little in the way of offers of places to go.

Everyone wants to pay writers fair wages but it seems that when that young upstart comes knocking, the wallet is empty and they’re told to get to the back of the line.