Electric Ferret -

Diablo III: Final Word

There he is, my Diablo 3 alter-ego freshly returned from popping the minions of Hell  like misfit loot pinatas and taking their stuff.

Ah Diablo… how I’ve missed you.  I couldn’t tell you how many hours worth of days I spent with Diablo 2.  There is just something about smashing demons and taking their stuff that just never seems to get old for me.

Diablo 2 is a game that kept thousands of players coming back for nine years at least.  There are not many games that can make that kind of boast.  With one full expansion and several content patches, Blizzard Entertainment kept people playing Diablo 2 into the present day.  That is going to be a pretty tough act for a sequel to follow.

When I played Diablo 2 it was strictly in Hardcore Mode where death was permanent and the end of your character.  In Hardcore there is no resurrection, no second chance – just create a new character and start leveling again.  Diablo 3 sports a Hardcore Mode as well but I am not prepared to venture there yet.  In Diablo 3 the never-ending waves of Demons, Monsters and undead are brutal and unpredictable in a way that they were not in Diablo 2.  Accidentally pulling more monsters than you can handle in a dungeon is a quick way to get dead and the Act finishing bosses are also quite lethal this time around as well.

The game play in Diablo 3 is simply superb.  It is a fluid dream of motion, action and treasure gathering which improves upon Diablo 2′s already well oiled mechanics.  In fact, it does not feel like they improved upon Diablo 2′s mechanics so much as stripped them down to their best features and rebuilt them using warp engines and pixie dust. Combat and movement are a simple and intuitive ballet of death.   The new loot system is a joy where every player in the game gets their own loot only they can see – no cause for stressing about who got what in multi-player.

The high definition graphics are amazing (although often gory and dark as expected).  It is a modern game which recaptures the game play of old skool Diablo and imbues it with streamlined modern sensibilities.  Trashing the hordes of hell by the roomful for hours on end has never been so entertaining.  And the stuff… always collecting the stuff and looking for upgrades.

The story is meh – it gets you from point A to point B.  The cut scenes, however, are some of the finest I’ve seen.  From a re-playability standpoint I figure that the story is there to get in your way as little as possible so you can go back to gleefully mowing down bad guys with lighting bolts, arrows, big sticks … whatever your bag is.

Diablo 3 has three difficulty levels “Normal”, “Nightmare” and “Hell”.  My guldies who are in Nightmare level tell me it’s like hitting a brick wall.  That’s where you will need to ensure you have on the best gear there is to be had in order to survive.  To that end, Diablo 3 adds an Auction House where you can sell the stuff you find and buy the stuff other players find.  It is a useful resource, especially if you are unlucky with the drops.

Another new addition to Diablo 3 is a crafting system whereby armor and weapon upgrades can be made.  It is simple to use, but also random – as with monster drops, crafting can yield an amazing uber item or something which is not an upgrade.  Of course, it is this very randomness that will keep you smashing and looting monsters.  There is no sure thing in Diablo 3  and you never know what monster will drop your next upgrade.

The variety of monsters, demons and other enemies is staggering and it keeps things visually interesting along with the different scenery.  The artwork on this game is tops.  The sound effects and music are also well done.  The voice acting is so-so but there is no need to spend much time listening to peoples tales so not a big issue.

All in all, as a long time Diablo 2 player I’d have to say I’m very happy with Diablo 3.  I will be very interested to see what kind of expansion or patches Blizzard puts out for it.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are minions of Hell that need smashing.  A Barbarian’s work is never done.

Diablo III: Second Impressions

Day 2: While I am still having fun with Diablo III there’s a couple  things that I am starting to have issue with.

First, I am not liking the fact that the game only runs with a persistent internet connection to play on.  You should be able to play a single player game Offline, in my humble opinion.  Any disruption to Blizzard’s Battle Net means your game is going to take an unplanned break.

The next thing that is bothering me a bit is the new character skill system.  While many people would probably disagree with me I actually liked the character building system in Diablo II.  In that game you placed a skill point in the skill tree you wanted it and it stayed there forever.  This led to planning out every skill point placement way in advance and, also, agonizing about where to stick every one.  And that led to specific character builds.  If you wanted to try a new build, you created a new character and leveled it.  And that led to re-playability.

Under the new system there is no reason to ever create, say, a second Witch Doctor character.  Just re-arrange the skills you have.  Of course many will say “well, that’s an improvement!”  But, in my view it’s not because there is never any joy in starting the game over and seeing how a new build performs from level one.  I actually liked that.

These concerns aside, the game is still fast paced and beautifully detailed.  Will have more to say after I’ve given it more time.

Diablo III: First Impressions

Typical of most online games the first day launch of Blizzard’s Diablo III was plagued with problems.  Much of the day the Diablo III servers were down for maintenance. This does not bother me very much as I simply price it in to the first day experience.  However, between down time I played around with the Monk, Demon Hunter and Wizard Classes.

My first impression is that the game is Diablo I and Diablo II with graphics updated for 2012.  If you liked the previous Diablo games then it is a good bet that you are going to like this too.  If you didn’t, then no need to bother with it.

Diablo III continues the tradition of being an isometric 2D view game with a fixed camera angle.  You will not be futzing with a camera during the game.  I’m so used to having to deal with a camera that I found the Old Skool approach somewhat refreshing.  Others may feel the fixed camera is limiting.  The graphics are, of course, superb in the isometric view.

The RPG and story elements are improved and more intuitive than in previous iterations.  One thing they do (which I first noticed in Bioshock) is have bits of story you can find which the game then plays as an audio for you in the characters voice.

Diablo III game play remains very action oriented (almost arcade-like) which was true in  previous versions.  The characters I played with all felt distinct and solid – keeping in mind I didn’t get a great deal of time in on any of them.

My first impression was very positive and I anticipate many hours spent in the near future dungeon crawling my way to a final encounter with Diablo, the Lord of Terror.

All 62 Stephen King Books Ranked To Best. UPDATED – Evil Clown!

This is pretty cool: All 62 Stephen King books rankedClicky to Go check it out.

It’s an awesome job they did but the navigation is a little funky.  Use the arrow thingys to progress.

I have read several Stephen King books but I have never read the #1 rated book on this list.  Guess I will have to pick it up.

Some of my favorites…

I loved “It” which is an amazingly thick book yet flows at a brisk and frightening pace.  The Shining is another great read which also differs in many ways from Kubrick’s film.   Finally, the Dark Tower opus which was filled with storytelling genius, thrills, chills and some very memorable scenes.

I am definitely going to have to read that Number 1 ranked book, now.

UPDATED: Speaking of “It” … For a fee, Dominic Deville will wear this costume and scare your birthday child for a week.  No, seriously, not a joke – he will stalk your kid all week long.

Thanks Mom and Dad!  Creepy threatening clown is the Birthday gift I’ve always wanted!

Winners and Losers: A Tale of Two Disney Executives

Of particular interest to me is how one can view Disney’s colossal flop John Carter almost side by side with Disney’s colossal success The Avengers.  Released just a couple months apart and given comparable production budgets the two films will both go down in history but for different reasons.

The story of big budget film projects John Carter and The Avengers which ran in parallel production through the same company, is really the tale of two different Disney executives: Rich Ross, Chief of the Disney Film-Making Studio and Kevin Feige Chief of Disney Marvel Entertainment.  They both had the same goal (hit movie) yet followed completely  different paths – one to overwhelming success and one to ignominious defeat.  The strategies employed by the two in reaching the goal could not have been more stark.

The slow motion train wreck which was Disney’s John Carter has been fascinating me for several months.  Long before the film landed with a thud in front of the domestic audience there were news and comments coming from inside the production which were just bizarre.

Looking at John Carter, the ingredients brewed into this particular disaster would seem to consist of:

  1. An outlandish $250 Million Production budget.
  2. An untested Director on his first Live Action film project.
  3. A relatively unknown actor cast to carry the film.
  4. Archaic source material generally unknown to the public.
  5. A deeply confused and misdirected marketing strategy.

While the marketing fiasco of John Carter could not have been foreseen up front, the other four items should have given Disney Film-Making Studio CEO Rich Ross some pause.  However they did not, and so the John Carter disaster was given a green light to move forward.   Astonishingly, the John Carter project actually had a bigger budget ($250 Million) to work with than the Avengers project did ($220 Million).   To put it in better perspective, the first Pirates of the Caribbean film which enjoyed both a solid director and star power beloved by audiences (Johnny Depp) had a budget of $140 Million – or about half that of John Carter.  And that film was considered a risk for Disney to make.

One can only wonder how Rich Ross calculated the business risks out on John Carter.  Clearly the goal was to build a franchise on it, however profitable franchises do not grow on trees and the opener is going to be a financial risk for the studio.  Usually a franchise opener is going to be produced on a more modest budget to test the waters.  It is not at all surprising that a studio would make a movie based on Edgar Rice Burroughs classic and pulpy “John Carter Warlord of Mars” novels – what’s astonishing here is the way Rich Ross went after it, as though the audience was already built in and the franchise was already sailing along.  His calculus could only have been made in a fever dream of wildly optimistic returns.  If you are going to try and pull an Avatar then you had damn well better have James Cameron on-board … and the John Carter project had no such talent involved.

The first whiffs of desperation coming off John Carter came long before the film was ever released to the public.  Strange marketing decisions made by the studio began to leak out months before release.  Movie journalists speculated mightily about controversies inside the production and what they might portend.   At some point, long before the release, Rich Ross must have concluded that the studio had overreached.  They thrashed about for a marketing strategy but were completely unable to connect with the public.  In the end Disney would take a $200 Million Dollar write-down (loss) on the film.  One month after the release of John Carter, a film which may be Disney’s greatest financial failure, Rich Ross resigned.

So what was the Rich Ross movie franchise strategy, exactly?  I’m calling it the Ashley Revell StrategyAshley Revell famously sold everything he owned in the world, walked into a Las Vegas casino and bet it all on one spin of the roulette wheel.  The difference between Rich Ross and Ashley Revell, however, is that Ashley Revell won.

In stark contrast to the business plan attempted on John Carter, a different Disney executive took a different road and wound up with the biggest movie opening weekend in history.  Marvel Entertainment CEO Kevin Feige perused a six year strategy to bring The Avengers project to audiences using single character introduction films and build-up.

In South Park episode #8 an appetizer is defined as “something you eat to make you more hungry”.  What Kevin Feige did was to whet the appetite of audiences for The Avengers by introducing each character as the lead in smaller budgeted  films.   Captain America ($140 Million), Iron Man ($140 Million), The Hulk ($150 Million), Thor ($150 Million).  By the time audiences had finished sampling this fare they were ravenous for the main course team-up: The Avengers.

While the majority of the public is probably not overly familiar with the comic history of, say, The Hulk or Captain America most people could still probably pick those two characters out of a line-up.  And that, right there, is more than could be said for John Carter as a character.  In marketing each individual Marvel character’s smaller budgeted film the  Studio simply needed to remind people that they knew who these characters were and that they should come see them doing all the cool stuff on screen which people remembered.  The tortured marketing campaign for John Carter could not simply remind people who the character was – because the public at large didn’t know.  They had to try and introduce the character to a public which couldn’t be bothered to care.

Marvel Chief Kevin Feige properly balanced risk with reward.  His Studio put out two modestly successful films Captain America ($140 Million) and Iron Man ($140 Million) with combined production budgets of about one John Carter ($250 Million).  Each Marvel character film, while a distinct experience in their own right, served as an appetizer towards the main course: The Avengers.  The business risks on each individual film were smaller and easier to mitigate – if any had flopped themselves then the business plan for The Avengers could be re-evaluated prior to wagering a $220 Million production budget.  In following the Appetizer Strategy (as I’ve dubbed it) the chances of a smashing success with a large budget production were greatly increased by priming the public for a main course.

Naturally, The Avengers also did some other things John Carter did not like having a really talented crew on board: a solid director, star power and amazing writers.  And with all that The Avengers still cost less to make than John Carter!  Kevin Feige can be credited for the stellar production values in The Avengers and everything which led up to it.

It is hard to fathom, really, how John Carter came to be as it was.  Would that I had some inside gouge on that because I would dearly love to know what the calculus was behind that risk.  John Carter should have started where Iron Man did: $140 Million production budget, brisk writing, solid director, a well known lead and then worked its way up.  Who knows… maybe then the John Carter character could have been the opening for a later John Carter / Tarzan / Doc Savage team-up movie.

Finally… man invents the Light Saber

Via Gizmodo, Yes someone has finally made a real light saber which you can use to cause real damage to Sith Lords and other random nearby objects.  Some of us have been dreaming of this moment since the ’70′s.

I had actually been wondering lately if I should get some weapon for home defense and, if so, what it should be.  I mean, the Zombie Apocalypse or just regular burglars could happen at any moment and it’s best to be prepared.  Dude… now I know what I must have!