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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8 Nov 2017

WoW Communities: Create Your Own Realm?

The meaning of a Realm in World of Warcraft has become incredibly blurred. It’s no longer a distinct cluster of servers, or even a static circle of characters.Over time, patches and expansions have added cross realm LFG tools, shared cities and a sharded open world. Battle for Azeroth will even change how PvP servers work, giving players the freedom to toggle which version of Azeroth they’d like to adventure in.

If anything, the choice of where you create your character is having less meaning with every update. But is there a way for players to take advantage of this ‘tearing-down’ of old realm restrictions? Depending on how it’s implemented and how it evolves, World of Warcraft’s upcoming Communities feature might be just the thing.

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7 Nov 2017

Battle for Azeroth – First Thoughts

Another Blizzcon has happened, and another World of Warcraft expansion has been announced. Recent expansions have focused on defeating external threats, but  Battle for Azeroth aims to reignite the classic conflict between the Alliance and Horde. Only this time, it feels a little more… balanced. I’ll admit, I did cheer slightly when I realised Lordaeron was finally being taken back from the Forsaken.

I’ll cheer even more when the Gnomes take back Gnomeregan, but I digress…

Anyhow, the Anaheim convention also saw plenty of announcements about the expansion. Although, the focus was less on the story, and more about the technical details and content implementation. I could see the impact it had on other players, left deflated without having a big bad menace to rally the flag against. Instead, this feels more as if it’s the start of an intricate tale of personal conflict and malicious intrigue, in a way that’s best left shrouded for now.

Even so, I was satisfied with the WoW expansion information available, and with the Blizzcon Virtual Ticket (which I’ll come back to in a separate post). Some of it gets a thumbs up, while others I’m undecided on or will wait-and-see once beta rolls around. For now, however, here’s my initial take on the main topics we heard about.

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4 Nov 2017

WoW Classic – How It Might Work

World of Warcraft Classic logo

Vanilla – it’s a flavour of Warcraft that veterans remember fondly. Class raids to Stratholme, 40-player raids through Molten Core, and camping general chat to find dungeon groups. It was a time before transmogs, flying mounts, or pet battles. And now, in the form of Warcraft Classic, it’s making a return.

The WoW community was very different back then. Players chose a server and stuck to it, earning a reputation amongst their peers that would last for years. I even have my own memories – both good and bad – of what WoW was like back then. For some, overcoming the struggles of Vanilla WoW made a different type of player, and built a different type of community – one which some have clamoured to bring back.

But why has the concept been hard for Blizzard to implement? And what might have changed in order to persuade the studio to rethink? In essence, it’s likely taken a gradual overhaul of how WoW actually works, from a simple server setup, to a flexible landscape where the modern server engine and game content are completely seperate. How would it work? Read on…

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