Does the Auction House Sell a Windows 7 Compliant Diablo 2?

I don’t have to apologize for not having a movie review to post, or for that matter, a real review of anything, but I want to. And since I’m here, I also want to let the few people who care know why they won’t see GoldenPigsy wanting to join their game in Diablo 3.

I’m frustrated with the whole Diablo 3 situation for several reasons, the most trivial of which is that I’d still rather play Diablo 2 even though Blizzard will not release a patch to make the game stable on Windows 7. Granted, you can get it to run by fiddling with some settings – there are guides that show you how to do it – but I suspect that Blizzard will reissue Diablo 2 digitally sometime down the line, newly Windows 7 compliant, with heavy DRM and minor improvements, hoping to resell the game to customers who bought it twelve years ago.

But the fairly trivial reason ties into the very big problem I have with Diablo 3, which is the DRM. In order to play Diablo 3, the player must connect to Blizzard’s servers. And it isn’t as though this connection is a simple check-in; the connection must be maintained, even when playing single player. During last week’s launch, a seemingly large number of players had trouble actually playing the game they bought for sixty dollars. The servers were down entirely on Saturday.

I honestly cannot think of another industry that has such an adversarial approach to customer relations, and it is not strictly an issue of DRM. Diablo 3 is not designed for single player. Its single player mode is just a desiccated MMO; the game is meant to be played either with a party or with a NPC follower. The insistent solo player will find that the item drops and crafting provide only the occasionally useful item, and that it is far more sensible to buy powerful items through the online auction house, which will eventually implement an option to buy or sell virtual goods for not-virtual money.

In other words, the persistent online configuration is not only designed to prevent piracy, but to force the consumer into playing the game in a specific way, and with the hope that the consumer will continue to feed money to the developer.

Even the game mechanics are tightly controlled. The player no longer allocates stats, as it is done automatically, and the skill trees are quite linear. The “rune system” allows for a superficial amount of customization, but with the way they have structured the skill tree, Blizzard has done away with the whole concept of a unique character build in an attempt to nullify class optimization. The idea is that players no longer have to think about how to make the most efficient character. In practice, it means you can forget about making a unique build, like a singing Barbarian which buffs/de-buffs while hacking through hordes of enemies. From what I can tell, the Barbarian in Diablo 3 is a designated tank, and little else. Others have reported that the classes are poorly balanced – which was a problem even in Diablo 2, to be honest – which is telling of Blizzard’s priorities. They’ve spent several years and much capital in the making of this game and still not fixed a twelve-year-old problem.

And since stat allocation is handled automatically, and the skill system is mostly linear, the most effective decision making available to the player is in equipment – again, much like your typical MMO. And since the drops and crafting don’t seem especially helpful – and since level caps on equipment no longer seem to be a major part of the game – this leaves the auction house as the most viable way of building a character to your liking.

It’s like a free-to-play MMO, but you pay sixty dollars to play it.

So those are the reasons why I’m not interested in playing Diablo 3, at least based on the impressions I’m getting from watching RockManXZ24 while he plays it. As for the game itself, I will admit that it looks like fun. I like mindless hack-and-slash, loot-focused action-RPGs quite a lot, and, mechanically speaking, Diablo 3 looks like a compromise between Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and some of the MMOs that come out of South Korea and Japan. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. But I’m not interested in MMORPGs and the attitude that informs the new DRM policy is unacceptable to me. So that’s how it is.


This is not what David Gaider Wants

Last week I received an unusual e-mail from a reader. I call it unusual because its author did not want a) me to tell him or her where to find one of the more obscure movies reviewed on the blog or b) for me to send him or her a copy of the movie for free. (Seriously, people, do actually expect somebody to do that? Stop sending me your addresses.)

A portion:

I'm a BioWare fan. Not even gonna try to hide my fandom here. Relax though, while this email is coming your way because I read your reviews of The Calling and The Stolen Throne, I'm not writing to put your head on a pike. Quite the opposite actually. Basically, I'd love to write professionally. Preferably for video games but hey if I could do prose then I would not be complaining one bit. As silly as this may sound, I've always looked up to David Gaider immensely…

So where's the issue here? Easy. Up until today, Gaider has been... God. Well more or less, I have had several issues with parts of his writing but who can I read without having that? As many writing classes as I've had I'm frankly reading two versions of the same texts as my eyes dance them over - my own version and that of my education's mean eye. This man though has not set off that many red warnings in my head though. He has been who I want to be. Or at least, someone far along the ladder I want to climb, should I be able to go even further. But today I allowed myself to read quite a bit of his criticism, the final pieces of today being your two reviews (sorry, I'm leaving a turd on your doorstep almost by chance, I am really sorry =( ). Everything is changing.

It’s very easy to assume that people who enjoy tie-in fiction are stupid or lacking in self-awareness, but this isn't necessarily true (even if it often is). The young lady who sent me this very much wants to write fantasy stories for video games and fiction, and she feels let down now that she’s realized that her emperor’s ass is showing.

Her reaction is entirely normal – healthy, even. One of the more unnerving aspects of “fandom” is how it disconnects people from the broader scope. I don’t even mean, necessarily, from mainstream or higher brow literature, but from a broader scope of what might be within the fan’s interests. It’s also the sort of attitude that corporate interests try to foster.

It’s almost cult-like in its operation. Fan forums, especially those that are officially operated by the producers of large franchises (Bioware Social, Bethesda Softworks et al), cultivate insularity and reward fanatical obsession. Breaking away from all of the obsession and idolization can actually be stressful for the fan who once sincerely believed her or his favorite game developer or tie-in writer to be "God."

And that sort of cultivated myopia is what I’ve been railing at in the reviews of David Gaider’s fiction, and it’s what the sender of this missive is trying to cope with. She's quite right to be bothered.

David Gaider has done her no favors with his mediocrity, or with his half-hearted attempts to dodge criticism, or with self-important puffery – a trait which is consistent throughout Bioware’s public self-image. If there is one thing that Gaider sincerely does not want, it is for the readers of his fiction and the players of his games to actually educate themselves about decent story-telling and game design. Gaider (and the company that employs him) does not want for the majority of fans to feel the consternation that drips off of this e-mail.

Thankfully, it isn’t up to him. I wish my reader all the best.