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15 Jan 2018

FFXIV: Making Good on a Promise

New year, new game. Back in December, I mentioned that I’d be giving Final Fantasy XIV a try, with the Japanese MMO getting three months to win me over. Surprisingly, it’s managed to hold my attention in a magitek grip ever since I created a new character earlier this month. If my Twitter feed is anything to go by, I’m having a whale of a time.

However, if I’m honest, this isn’t my first time in FFXIV. Back in the original beta, rolled a new character and ventured forth, quickly stumbling on a quest to kill ten rats. Only the rats only had three spawn points, and the spawn timer was so low that a growing crowd of players swamped them. I logged out and never looked back, passing on the game until now.

That was almost ten years ago. Time passes and games change, but few have gone through as much upheaval as FFXIV. I interviewed producer/director Yoshida-san back when he was preparing to relaunch the game with the subtitle A Realm Reborn, and I couldn’t help but appreciate the energy and faithful commitment he brought to the job. A few years later, the reboot was a success and his team was already working away on an expansion pack.

I’d always promised that I’d give FFXIV a proper go, and even bought a boxed copy for PlayStation 4. But something else always got in the way, or trashed my plans, or caused a complication. Until this year, it always seemed not to be.

Today, I feel like an idiot for putting it off for so long. After playing for a few weeks, I’ve discovered that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is huge fun.

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13 Jan 2018

The Great PC Rebuild

About 4 or 5 years ago, I built the Angry Caretaker. Contained inside a tiny case was a monster of a PC, pairing a top-grade core i7 processor with NVidia’s latest graphics card. But, while it was fun to construct, the fiddly proportions made it tough to upgrade. If I wanted to replace anything, I usually had to pull several other parts out of the way first. It taught me a lot about working with confined spaces, but it just wasn’t practical.

And so, I decided that my next build would be a step up in size, from mini ITX to micro ATX. The space would give me more room to move, and I’d also get more upgrade flexibility from the larger motherboards. Yes, it meant going for a larger case, but I figured the trade-off was worth it.

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28 Dec 2017

My MMO Picks for 2018

When I look back at 2017, the MMO landscape is tinged with disappointment. Destiny 2, my big hope for online extravagance, failed to live up to expectations. World of Warcraft has hit another lull in the gulf between expansions. Over the last 12 months, nothing new has truly landed and stuck.

Yes, there’s a few surprises. Final Fantasy XIV launched its Stormblood expansion, while Guild Wars 2 brought us Path of Fire (more on both later). But, putting these to one side, the biggest breakouts in online gaming haven’t brought us grand new MMOs. Instead, tight new ideas like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite have dominated the online scene.

Anyhow, enough dwelling on the past. Looking onwards to next year, and there are some significant gems on my release radar. Not all of them are MMOs in the purest sense, but I’m confident this selection will still scratch that itch. So, without further ado, here are my MMO picks for 2018.

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23 Dec 2017

The Next Diablo: a Hybrid and Mobile MMO?

Earlier this week, MMORPG.com’s Suzie Ford made the bold claim that Blizzard wanted to show something new at Blizzcon 2017. Instead of majoring on Battle for Azeroth, the next expansion for World of Warcraft, her theory suggests that CEO Mike Morhaime wanted to introduce something new. That unannounced title? A new Diablo MMO.

It certainly sounds plausible. After a rough launch, Diablo 3 managed to redeem itself with the Reaper of Souls update, going on to sell some 30 million copies worldwide, so there’s definitely appetite for more. Beyond that, Blizzard has been hitting the job market hard, advertising for a Production Director with MMO experience to bring ‘the Diablo franchise into the future.’

However, it’s not all clear-cut. Blizzard’s also been hiring for a mobile RTS MMO project. Again, this is an unannounced title, but the studio also wants Unity expertise (the same engine used to power Hearthstone). Question is, are these job ads for the same game, or does Big Blue have two games in the pipe? The answer, frustratingly, might be yes and no. The next Diablo might be Blizzard’s biggest bet yet – going in-home and on mobile within the same grand experience.

This is Blizzard’s chance to release a title that dominates on all platforms – PC, console, and smartphone – with a unified world that enables players to hop from one to the other. In a single swipe, hybrids like Destiny 2 and Anthem look antiquated by comparison. The studio might not have been ready to share its vision on the Blizzcon stage, but there’s already plenty of hints about the direction being taken.

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12 Nov 2017

Blizzard Engineering: The Nuggets from Blizzcon

It’s not often when you hear engineers talk about the games they’ve been working on. It’s like a peek inside the machine, or under the hood. So it’s no surprise that I was pretty geeked out when I heard that two CodeCraft panels would be running at this year’s Blizzcon. As it turns out, the sessions were a trove of information on how Blizzard develops and operates its games.

I was surprised by just how much Overwatch has led the way in new techniques for the studio, being a testing ground for everything from having no downtime on patch days, to using a hybrid cloud infrastructure. Then there’s World of Warcraft, and what it’s like to manage a 10+ year-old codebase on a living game. Under that, it was surprising to discover just how much falls into Battle.net, and that’s without considering the areas covered by Service Support or Web & Mobile teams.

If I was going to ask for more from the presentations, it’d mainly be about the architecture. As a former software engineer turned enterprise architect, I’d love to discover if they have an enterprise domain model in place, or if Blizzard uses a methodology like TOGAF. Putting my personal asks aside, here’s some of the juicy nuggets from the two Q&A sessions held at Blizzcon 2017.

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