Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stay Awhile and Listen: Book 1 - Review

David Craddock is a gamer: inquisitive, tenacious, and uncomfortable leaving a game unfinished. A lack of closure has a profound effect on the gaming breed of cat, which is what drives us to keep making corpse runs, and playing until all hours of the morning -- just for a chance at slaying a demon. To our benefit, Craddock has channeled this gamer mentality into a new series of books titled Stay Awhile and Listen, chronicling the mysteries behind one of the greatest computer games of all time, Diablo. I recently got the opportunity to dive into Book 1 in the series, and discovered it to be as addictive as the seminal subject matter on which it was written.

A wizard battles the dark lord Diablo,
released to the gaming public in 1997
by Blizzard Entertainment
This genre of techno biography continues to grow in popularity as many of us in our late thirties and early forties, who grew up with a tangled mess of Sega Genesis controllers and a 486 DX2 (with math co-processor), wax nostalgic for the games we grew up on. As a gamer and a programmer, the stories behind my most beloved games is something I've always been curious about. I'm happy to report that, after having read Book 1, Craddock has delivered a heavily researched, well-documented account from both sides of the fence. In this first book, the stories of Condor, Inc. and Silicon and Synapse begin to unfold before us like a freshly opened quest log, detailing the early years of two companies that are passionate about making video games. Extensive interviews and quotes from members of various companies tell the tale that will eventually transform them into Blizzard North and Blizzard Entertainment (respectively). It is a melding of gaming minds that goes on to unleash Diablo on to the unsuspecting public, giving gamers a new reason to live and increasing cases of carpal tunnel syndrome around the globe.

Readers that pick up a copy of this book will be treated to a unique perspective in storytelling. The book itself contains a literal set of 'side quests': fun side-bars that allow the reader to jump away temporarily in a style reminiscent to Choose Your Own Adventure books. These side quests offer up additional juicy nuggets of information. Some topics include the creation of Kali (one of the first and only tools enabling online play in those days), alternate sides to gaming history from names like Brian Fargo and Feargus Urquhart (of Interplay fame), and even an inside look into the creation of WarCraft. Ultimately, however, the book's core remains focused primarily on Condor, Inc., founded by Dave Brevik, and Max and Erich Schaefer. Readers follow this team in their quest to go from piddly side-projects and contract work, to ultimately delivering a game that is entirely their own creation. For gamers that also possess a love of technology and a passion for computers and programming, the book works double-duty -- not only recounting the stories of inspiring late-night gaming sessions, but of the struggles of day-to-day developments tasks. For the professional software developer, it reinforces what we experience daily and can relate to; for others, it provides insight and perspective into an industry that can be as mysterious as the catacombs below Tristram.

Among the Damned: Author David L. Craddock
(2nd from left) poses with David Brevik (left), Erich
Schaefer (2nd from right), and Max Schaefer
In one of the 'side quests' lurks a quotation left by an interviewee. He summarizes the differences in multiplayer architecture between WarCarft and Diablo, stating, "So there are two versions of the truth"; this quote speaks to much more than just network topology. As is the case even with corporations outside the realm of the game industry, heads bonk, tempers flare, and accounts vary as to how stories truly unfolded. Craddock shows both sides of these stories whenever possible, delivering a fair, objective and honest retelling. It's a refreshing perspective to be given, especially amid an industry surrounded by fan-boys and trolls alike. Book 1 helps bring clarity around events the public can only speculate on.

Stay Awhile and Listen: Book 1 was an absolute blast to read, and I am thankful for the great pains the author went to in delivering this first text in his series. If you spent any more than five minutes of your life clicking on demons and watching them explode into a mess of bloody guts, pick up a copy of this book when it is released on October 31st, and then drop what you are doing and consume it.

The carpal tunnel can wait.


You can purchase the book directly from these links: Kindle | iBook | Nook | Google Play

Friday, January 18, 2013

New URL!

If you are looking for the Memoirs of a Casual / Hardcore Raiding Guild Leader blog posts, the URL has moved! It is now:

Be sure to update your links!!

In the meantime, get started reading the memoirs from a specific chapter, right now:

Part I: Vanilla

Part II: The Burning Crusade

Part III: Wrath of the Lich King

Part IV: Cataclysm

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Tale of Two ARPGs

I had a moment of clarity while I was in the midst of slaying goblins and evil robots this weekend, and it was on the topic of game design. Now, I am not an experienced game developer, not do I think I am capable of designing a game of commercial magnitude from the ground up. There are a lot of subtle complexities that go into these things. Therefore, this post shall reflect a non-critical approach; a mere interesting observation, because nothing frustrates and angers me more than novice developers making baseless criticisms, trapped in their own Dunning-Kruger hell.

There just so happens to be two competing ARPGs on the market at the moment. They look and feel very similar, but were produced by two different game companies. Both games share many of the same mechanics. If you aren't privy to the games, let me share with you an interesting piece of confusing trivia: one of the games is a sequel in a series that was created by the other company. Lose you? It's very simple: Company X makes game #1a. Company X makes game #1b. Then, the people in Company X leave, and form brand new Company Y. Company X hires new people, and then they go on to make game #1c. Meanwhile...the original team behind the first games (Company Y) start over, and make brand new game #2a. And then, just this last weekend...they release game #2b.

Still confused? I have your back. The pictures below should hopefully clear up the confusion:

Company X (Blizzard) - Game #1c (Diablo III)

Company Y (Runic Games) - Game #2b (Torchlight II)

So, now that you've been formally introduced, let's get to the epiphany. Game #1c has been getting a lot of negative feedback in the news lately, both from professional game reviewers and the game players themselves. The complaints cover many subsystems of game #1c, but one area in particular took a lot of heat early on, the "dumbing down" of the character customization. In games #1a and #1b (considered old-school by many veteran game players), characters leveled up and gained points which were spent on attributes like Strength, Dexterity, Vitality and Energy. This left the player to choose what path they felt was right. Should my character do more damage, or have more health? Should she be able to cast spells for longer durations or should she cast spells that critically strike more often? A player who put thought and care into their choices meant for a much powerful character as the game grew in difficulty. Conversely, players that plugged stats in randomly got what they deserve: frustrating deaths due to misappropriated stats.

There is a growing trend in the industry to cater to a certain type of gamer that doesn't have time to figure out what stats go where. I won't address that trend in this post (don't get me started), but what I will point out is that trend successfully affected game #1c's design, and Company X removed that layer of complexity from its design. I'm not going to critique their reasoning; you're free to watch their explanation and draw your own conclusion. Just know that game #1c disallows you from making those choices.

Now, as it turns out, Company Y did retain attribute customization in their game, #2b. This means that you can just as easily create a powerful character, or shoot yourself in the foot and make a character that's totally useless. Forcing the player to take some ownership in the customization process, thereby directly tying the player to the fate of their character was a conscientious design decision on Company Y's part.

Where's the epiphany, you ask?

As players progress deeper and deeper into game #1c, in which they are unable to tweak their character's attributes to better prepare them for the most difficult challenges, all paths (more or less) end up at the same destination. The final, most difficult portion of game at the end of #1c is almost entirely unplayable; it is oppressively difficult (for more reasons beyond this), and Company X has been forced to revisit their design several times since its release to tweak it. Company X still had to implement a design for game #1c which drives the player toward an increasing difficulty, but without stat customization, players (both amateur and expert) were treated with the same result: an unplayable endgame. The running joke of a child screaming in terror from a swarm of chickens isn't far off.

On the other hand, it is quite ironic to note that Company Y's treatment of game #2b produced the opposite effect: early botched stat customization can ensure that a poorly tweaked character will suffer very quickly as the difficulty progresses. However, if the player takes care with regards to stat allocation, the reverse of #1c's endgame is the result: Characters in game #2b arrive at the most difficult challenges and lay waste to them.

I won't critique, I promised you that from the start. But, these two competing designs definitely produce very different levels of enjoyment. The question is, do you enjoy blowing things up? Or running in terror like a child?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Guest Post at

I was invited by my good friend Jeff Atwood to write up a guest blog post over at, detailing my opinions on the differences between Rock Band and Rocksmith. That post is now live, so head on over and give it a read!

Left to Right: Rock Band Fender Mustang, Rock Band Fender Squier, real Left-Handed Fender Guitar