Blizzard Announces The League of Explorers For Hearthstone

Just when I was getting “barely” competent with “The Grand Tournament” cards in Hearthstone, Blizzard went ahead and announced “The League of Explorers” at BlizzCon 2015. “The League of Explorers” expansion adds a new adventure and 45 new cards. Available on November 12, 2015, the expansion should add more depth and diversity to an already deep and diverse game.

Here’s a clip from the official press release:

The League of Explorers introduces four intrepid adventurers — Elise Starseeker, Reno Jackson, Sir Finley Mrrgglton, and Brann Bronzebeard — and invites players to join their journey through a series of exotic destinations, some familiar and some new, to recover an artifact of immense power. These brave explorers will face many perils as they navigate through the Temple of Orsis, Uldaman, the Ruined City, and the Hall of Explorers in hopes of discovering lost artifacts that will lead them closer to the relic. Escaping giant boulders and emerging from all of the locations in one piece will reward adventurers with a combined total of 45 treasured new cards, bringing a slew of new tactics to the game.

For many Hearthstone players, “The League of Explorers” will make the game even more fun and addictive. Completionists love when new cards come out and will stop at nothing to acquire them. Advanced and competitive players will enjoy finding new ways to tweak their decks and crafting new strategies. As for me — a habitual Hearthstone player that stubbornly refuses to spend money on the game — I foresee a frustrating month where everyone I play has the new cards and I don’t. I’m excited to see, learn about, and (very slowly) acquire the new cards, but I’m also prepared to hate them while everyone else has them I don’t. I’m bratty that way.

I’ll be getting some hands-on time with the game and will write about my experience with “The League of Explorers” for Hearthstone in a followup story. For now, enjoy some artwork from “The League of Explorers.”

Edit: Hands-on preview is live here!

Warcraft Trailer: So What Do You Think?

The Warcraft trailer was met with great fanfare at BlizzCon 2015. Attendees went wild over the clip, released at the show by Blizzard Entertainment and Legendary Pictures. Naturally, a high level of enthusiasm was expected at BlizzCon, as the show if full of ardent Blizzard fans. I’m curious to hear what you think of the trailer. The clip is embedded below for your viewing pleasure.

What do you think of the costumes and special effects? How about the story? Kindly share your feelings (like a Care Bear) on the Warcraft trailer in the comments section. For now, here are some random (and probably silly) observations on the Warcraft trailer (with convenient timestamps!).

00:13 — The eagles from The Lord of the Rings have defected to the world of Warcraft (see what I did there?). Tired of taking orders from senile wizards and providing Uber service to hobbits, the eagles are moving onto bigger and better things in the Warcraft movie.

00:16: Phallic towers are mandatory in fantasy films…but you already knew that.

00:23: There’s your hero, Anduin Lothar played by Travis Fimmel.

00:28: When orcs attack….

00:37: I spy a racist white lord.

00:40: The orc story is explained. See, they’re not bad. Their makeup and CG just makes them look that way. Also, there’s your other hero — Durotan, played by Toby Kebbell.

00:47: You know orcs are badass when they’re completely comfortable with canine creatures that dwarf them.

01:02: Ah, that’s what Paula Patton has been up to since divorcing Robin Thicke. Is it weird that I think she makes a sexy orc?

01:15: The heroes meet! Obviously this is the part where they come to respect and understand one another…which is followed by the part where their people think they’re nuts and the warring continues. I learned this in college in Hackneyed Contrivance Plots 101.

01:24: See, a white man is behind all the trouble.

01:44: Blatant Moses ripoff! *snicker*

01:48: Climactic battle looks climactic.

01:55: Anduin pulls a Legolas.

 

Underworld Ascendant Paul Neurath & Joe Fielder Interview

The followup to the highly influential Ultima Underworld games from the early ’90s, Underworld Ascendant aims to dazzle gamers with an atypical style of fantasy role-playing. The original games were lauded for their sense of immersion; they are considered the first RPGs to offer first-person action in a true 3D environment. While many modern RPGs bombard players with millions of words of text, Underworld Ascendant will attempt to captivate gamers with environmental immersion and unscripted player-driven narrative. In many ways, the game is a throwback in the sense that the developer wants the player to put himself or herself in the game, as opposed to following the adventures of a heavily scripted character.

Underworld Ascendant will give players all kinds of choices, whether it’s character development or puzzle solving. As far as character creation goes, there are three types of skill sets that players can draw from: fighter, rogue, and mage. The skills can be mixed and mashed, accommodating a wide variety of player styles. Similarly, encounters with monsters and environmental puzzles can be handled in drastically different ways. Again, the emphasis is on player choice. You’ll be able to play Underworld Ascendant with the character you want to be, adventuring in the way you want to adventure.

Occupying the Stygian Abyss are three rival factions. There are dark elves, dwarves, and shamblers to encounter. The developer was quick to note that these races don’t fit into typical RPG trappings. For example, the dwarves in Underworld Ascendant will not have Scottish accents. The shamblers are particularly interesting — fungus-like creatures with mushroom heads that operate in a hive-mind society. The way you interact with and help (or not) these factions will alter how you experience Underworld Ascendant.

The interview below was lots of fun for me on several levels. First off, Otherside Entertainment founder & CEO Paul Neurath is a frickin’ legend. The man founded Looking Glass Studios, one of the all-time great game developers. Looking at the list of games Paul has worked on is mind blowing. He should be put on exhibit at The Smithsonian. Also in the chat below is design director Joe Fielder. I met Joe in the late ’90s when I was a corporate hack at Ziff-Davis and he was heading up GameSpot. He was one of the first videogame journalists I met and it’s awesome watching his career in game development burgeon.

Anyway, check out my chat with Paul and Joe below for more details on Underworld Ascendant, as well as lots of gameplay footage.

Coffee Talk #660: I Love Hearthstone. I Hate Hearthstone.

Ah, Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft…. I have such a love/hate relationship with this game. In many ways, it feels like being in a broken relationship. There are times when I love Hearthstone — when playing it leaves me utterly fulfilled and satisfied. There are times when I hate Hearthstone — when playing it pisses me the f*ck off. And like being in a broken relationship, a lot of it is my fault and I knew exactly what I was getting into.

While I messed around with Hearthstone during the beta period, I only really got into it last year. My friend Marcus and I were goofing around with the game when we had downtime during Blizzcon 2014. We had a lot of fun and it kind of steamrolled from there. Hearthstone is pretty much a daily habit for me, while Marcus…he actually plays on the pro circuit now (follow him on Twitter, please).

What I love about Hearthstone is its marvelous blend of complexity and simplicity. It’s just an extremely well executed card game. It’s easy to get into and difficult to master. It’s also extremely addictive and I tend to gravitate towards addictive things. Hearthstone has kept me completely entertained for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours.

What I hate about Hearthstone is that it’s blatantly pay-to-win. Out of sheer stubbornness, I refuse to buy card packs. This leaves me at a severe disadvantage in many games. As you can imagine, my card collection is modest, ergo it absolutely sucks going against players with stacked decks. I’ll think I’m in the middle of a good game when all of the sudden some trust-fund kid busts out five legendary cards in a row. Hearthstone has angered and frustrated me for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours.

With the release of The Grand Tournament expansion, the pay-to-win aspect of the game has become even more pronounced. The first couple of days after the expansion was released, I played several players that had tons of new cards. It’s safe to assume that most of those players spent money to get those cards and didn’t grind 24/7 for freebies. It was frustrating coming across new cards — especially new legendaries — that I had no counters for. It made me feel helpless, which isn’t a feeling that I want to have while playing a game.

Like many people in dead-end relationships, I’m not going to do anything to change my situation. I’m going to stick to playing Hearthstone as a free-to-play guy. Yeah, it’s going to suck and be frustrating a lot of the time, but there will also be moments when the game gives me sheer joy. Or perhaps I should seek out a Hearthstone therapist. If you know a good one, please let me know.

Unity David Helgason Interview

It was an absolute pleasure chatting with Unity founder and former CEO David Helgason. While it’s normally intimidating talking to someone that’s exponentially smarter than you are, David Helgason is such a nice and interesting man that the exercise was fun. We had a lengthy chat about Unity’s evolution, games that inspire him, and his eclectic taste in movies. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

You know, we didn’t even call Unity an engine in the beginning. We thought of it as a tool to help developers build the games that they wanted to build. At first, we focused on small platforms, where the target specs were pretty low. When mobile started to grow, we targeted that — around the time the iPhone 2 came out. At the time, the hardware was super low end. As the market grew, our customers became more and more demanding, wanting to build bigger and bigger games. Then we started working closely with the console manufacturers. These days, AR (alternate reality) and VR (virtual reality) are really taking off, so we’re working closely with that as well. We’re constantly working to try to stay ahead of the curve and provide our customers with all the technology that they need. It’s very different when you’re working on a high-end VR game than an iPhone 2 game in 2008. [Laughs]

We’ve been very lucky that we have a lot of customers that are happy to pay. Unity doesn’t really cost a lot, but we have enough customers that are happy to pay the pittance it costs. That enables us to aggregate the revenue and hire a lot of great people. We’ve been hiring like crazy in order to invest really deeply and long-term into the Unity platform.

When we started, we were out to democratize game development. We wanted to significantly change how games were built and who could build games. We wanted to expand that universe, so we had to give people great tools.

Again, I’m really, really happy with how this interview turned out. Please, please, please hit the source link, give it a read, and let me know what you think. If you’re a male gamer nerd then I guarantee that you’ll have a man crush on David Helgason. If you’re a female gamer then it’ll more likely be a crush crush.

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Coffee Talk #656: Random Thoughts on E3 2015

Another E3 Expo is in the books! Since we’re a few years removed from console launches, E3 2015 was gloriously software heavy. That said, virtual reality hardware was huge at this year’s show and generated lots of excitement. There were tons of great games on the show floor and behind closed doors. Special thanks to old friends and new friends that let me cut lines and sneak into demos that I didn’t have appointments for. Now here are some random thoughts on E3 2015.

Console Press Conferences: Sony crushed it. The company had lots of great original content and showed off juicy timed exclusives. The Shenmue 3 and Final Fantasy VII announcements won the hearts of millions of old-school gamers. Sony has come a long way with presentation too (remember those old Kaz Hirai PowerPoint slides?), largely because Microsoft raised the bar for E3 press conference theatricality. Microsoft put on a good show, but I found Sony’s press conference far more exciting. As for Nintendo’s latest direct-to-video presentation, the company had lots of games that I’m excited for…but the Nintendo executive muppets will haunt my dreams for the next few months (the Satoru Iwata muppet is terrifying).

Nintendo Muppets E3 2015

Publisher Press Conferences: I’m probably in the minority here, but I was more impressed with Square Enix’s presser than EA’s or Ubisoft’s. While Square Enix’s presentation was flat and the company didn’t have the celebrity star power its competitors flaunted, the games were excellent. Square Enix simply had more games that I wanted to play. While many of my friends loved Ubisoft’s lineup, it didn’t do much for me, save for South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Ubisoft gets bonus points for Aisha Tyler hosting and for Angela Bassett’s appearance. As for EA, it had frickin’ Pele — one of the coolest and most legendary single-name celebrities ever. EA’s Star Wars Battlefront, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst had me amped, but not as much Kingdom Hearts 3, World of Final Fantasy, Life is Strange, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Final Fantasy VII (more on that in a bit).

Virtual Reality: I played a bunch of VR games/demos and totally understand why so many people are excited about this type of gaming. It feels fresh and exciting. When VR works, it’s amazing and makes you feel like you’re playing a game from the future. When the frame rates are clunky, VR games give you a headache. What I’m unsure about is the business model. From what several people told me, making a VR game is very expensive. Gamers will need expensive hardware for the best VR experience. From the (admittedly limited) information I gathered, Valve has the best plans for making VR accessible for developers and consumers. I’m curious to see what the other VR companies will do to help make VR affordable for creators and gamers alike.

Wattam: Going into the show, I was certain that I’d be charmed by Funomena’s Wattam. The creation of Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy) and Robin Hunicke (Journey), Wattam is wonderfully creative — a game that’s simple, but with complexity that makes it difficult to describe. Some people are calling it a puzzle game, while others feel it’s adventure, and some are calling it a platformer. Check out the trailer below and see for yourself. Whatever category you think Wattam fits in, there’s no denying that the graphics are cute, the gameplay is creative, and the sound design is adorable. I love that Sony publishes atypically delightful games like Wattam.

Final Fantasy VII: Some gamers feel that FFVII is the best game in the series. Others feel that it’s the most overrated. Either way, it’s a huge deal that the game is being remade and coming to PlayStation 4 (initially). While I enjoyed the original game, it’s not in my top five for the Final Fantasy series. Having said that, I’m a big fan of FFVII world, since Crisis Core and Advent Children helped make sense of everything. I’m going to dedicate a full topic to this column next week. No matter how good or bad the FFVII remake ends up being, I’m excited to watch the process and listen to the debates. I expect full fanboy fury over FFVII and gamers better not disappoint me.

Mario Tennis: I “accidentally” spent more than hour playing Mario Tennis Ultra Smash at Nintendo’s booth. I’m a longtime fan of the Mario Tennis games, both on home and handheld consoles. Even though the game is early and there were only two playable characters, I had a blast with Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. The core gameplay is tight, while the addition of power-ups gives it a wackier feel that make sense in the context of the Mario universe. I’ll give this one a full preview in a bit.

Sword Coast Legends: As a huge fan of the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games, I was really looking forward to learning more about Sword Coast Legends. After getting a demo and playing the game, my expectations were exceeded. It will surely satisfy fans of the isometric PC RPGs that I mentioned, but should also satisfy fans of pen-and-paper RPGs. The dungeon master features look awesome, powerful, and fun. While most of the game will have professional voice acting, I was delighted to learn that there will be opportunities for live action role-playing. I vow to make a character based on Azrael Abyss from Saturday Night Live and annoy the hell out of anyone foolish enough to let me be a dungeon master. I’ll be giving Sword Coast Legends a full preview too.

Your Take: Naturally, I didn’t get to play or see everything I wanted to. This is where you come in! I’d love to get your take on E3 2015. How did it play from home? What games are you excited for? Who do you think “won” the press conferences? Kindly share your thoughts in the comments section.

Coffee Talk #655: E3 2015 — So Wha’tcha Want?!?

E3 2015 is next week! It kind of crept on me there — totally forgot it was this close. As always, I’m excited to see lots of great games, watch the console manufacturers try to outdo each other, and catch up with longtime videogame industry friends. This year, I’ll have a bunch more “me” time at the show. At E3 2014 I made the mistake of working for two companies that wanted full-time efforts out of one person. While I enjoyed the show, it was tiring and I didn’t have the exploration time that I love (I also missed my annual Hooter’s lunch with my dear friend, AIAS Debby). E3 2015 will be different! I have some light freelance work and a bunch of meetings, but will certainly have lots of time to check out games.

Hooters with @debbychen, an E3 tradition. #e32013 #losangeles #chickenwings

A photo posted by Raymond Padilla (@rpadtv) on

I tried to load up as many E3 2015 meetings as I could on Tuesday (day one of the show). In years past, some of the best games I’ve seen were ones that I looked at because friends and respected colleagues told me to check them out. Bumping into someone between appointments and asking, “So what have you seen that’s cool?” has lead to some amazing revelations. I’ll rely heavily on that technique at E3 2015.

Some of my industry friends have been making fun of me and asking, “So? What indie game are you going to fall in love with this year?” Yeah, yeah, yeah — that’s totally deserved after being smitten with games like JourneyThe Unfinished Swan and Sound Shapes during previous E3 shows. While I’m looking forward to the spectacle of big-budget games and the unique charm of indies, the game I’m looking forward to the most doesn’t fit into either category — Sword Coast Legends. As a huge mark for the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games, I can’t wait to learn more about this one.

As longtime RPadholics, I want to know what you want me to check out on your behalf. If I have access to the game and time allows, you’ll get your own personal preview. Please leave a comment below and let me know what you’d like me to check out at E3 2015.

Rocket League Preview (PS4, PC)

Rocket League has a premise that’s so preposterous that is must be fun — cars playing soccer. If that’s not enough to get your attention then how about ridiculously acrobatic cars playing a physics-enhanced death-match version of soccer? Okay, fine then. Let’s add Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal to the mix! That dude brings an absurd amount of fun to any party he’s invited to and he aims to amp up this game. From the brief time I spent checking out Rocket League, I found it to be a game that’s pure fun, whether you’re playing it alone (good) or playing it as a party game (better).

Let’s get some of the official particulars out of the way. Rocket League is being developed by Psyonix, a company known for creating Unreal Tournament 2004, ARC Squadron, and Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars (Rocket League’s forerunner). The game will be available for PlayStation 4 and Windows PC on July 7, 2015. In addition to playing against Rocket League’s AI, the game supports up to four players in split-screen mode and up to eight players in online mode, with drop-in drop-out gameplay.

After a quick demo and some gameplay, the aspect of Rocket League that I enjoyed the most was its feel. The game is flat-out fun. I loved the silly premise of cars playing soccer. Rocket League’s physics are extremely enjoyable, so much so that driving around and seeing what the cars could do was as much fun as competing in a match. I would say that the physics are accurate, but I have no idea of what the physics of driving up walls and on arena ceilings is actually like (I’ve lived a limited life, sorry). Where I think the game will really excel is as a party game; sure, solo and online play should be lots of fun, but I can easily picture having a blast playing Rocket League with several buddies on a couch.

Driving in Rocket League is much more than crashing into a giant ball and trying to get it into a net. The game’s cars are capable of outlandish maneuvers that will have you soaring through the air and performing acrobatic stunts. The cars can drive on walls, execute bicycle kicks, double jump, perform wicked power brake moves, and more. In the time I spent playing Rocket League, I found the driving to be insanely fun.

As you play Rocket League, you’ll unlock features. The developers were keen on going heavy with unlockables, so as to keep players coming back for more. I was told that Rocket League is loaded with Easter eggs, to the point that players should discover something new every time they play the game.

When playing against AI-controlled characters in Rocket League, Psyonix hopes to offer an experience that’s lifelike. From what I was told, the AI shouldn’t fall into predictable patterns. Sometimes the game will go at you aggressively and other times the game will emphasize defense. Psyonix’s goal for the Rocket League AI is to make it feel like you’re competing against an actual person.

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Like many car-based games, Rocket League offers lots of customizability. Players can choose from up to ten body styles — buggies, trucks, a Batmobile-like vehicle, RC cars, sports cars, and muscle cars. Paint color, paint type, wheels, tires, decals, exhaust trail colors, and more can be customized. I was shown some cool customizations, like sparkle exhausts and rainbow exhausts. I was told that other exhaust types include money and grass, while various paint types like glossy and metallic will be included.

Of course if you want to go with a pre-made vehicle, Rocket League should have some cars you’ll immediately recognize. Sweet Tooth of Twisted Metal fame will be exclusive to the PlayStation 4 version of Rocket League. You can see Sweet Tooth in action in the video embedded below and check out several screens of the iconic ice cream truck in the screenshot gallery above.

Other Rocket League features include extensive stat tracking, a robust replay editor that takes advantage of PlayStation Share Play, season mode, and (for your trophy whores out there) platinum trophies. At a glance, Rocket League appears to be a complete game. While I’m fairly sure that it will be entertaining as a multiplayer game, I haven’t seen enough to say if the single-player mode will have much longevity. Details on the game’s season mode will be revealed at E3 2015, so hopefully that’ll give me more of an idea of the single-player fun. For now, check out the Rocket League media in this story and kindly let me know what you think of the game in the comments section.

DICE Europe Chats With Michael Pachter & Greg Essig

Many of you longtime RPadholics know that the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences’ DICE Summits are my favorite events in the videogame business. I’ve been helping out the Academy with some interviews in preparation for DICE Europe 2015. The first two are live! First up is a chat with Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. Next is an interview with FunPlus head of business development Greg Essig.

A lot of you know Pachter as the most quotable analyst in videogames and from his Pach Attack show. He talks about his upcoming DICE Europe 2015 session, as well as some general nerd stuff. Learn about Pachter’s session, as well as his thoughts on the upcoming Star Wars movies and his view on A Song of Ice & Fire vs. Game of Thrones, by clicking the interview linked above.

While not as “game famous” as Pachter, Greg Essig is just as charming. Formerly with Apple and Creative Artists Agency, Essig has taken a new position with FunPlus. At DICE Europe 2015, he’ll be talking about “defining value in mobile gaming.” He told me a bit about his session, as well as his love for Sigur Ros and the Avenger he identifies with the most.

So yeah! Please do me a favor an check out the two interviews linked in the last two sentences of the first paragraph. You’ll be my favorite person in the world if you do!

Hearthstone Available For Android and iOS Phones Now

Blizzard has announced that Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is now available for Android and iOS phones. The collectible card game (CCG) was initially released for Mac OS and Windows PCs, which was followed shortly by an iPad release. In late 2014, Hearthstone came to Android tablets. Today’s release gives Blizzard an even bigger reach with Hearthstone, hitting millions of people that play games on their phones (or as they say in England, mo-biles). You can download the game through the Apple App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft was one of my favorite games of 2014 and is still something I’ve played most days this year. It’s easy to learn and incredibly addictive, while offering numerous gameplay styles. I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing it on my iPad and MacBook. I’m positive that I’ll spend hundreds of hours in 2015 playing it on my iPhone 6 Plus. It’s great fun and I hope that several of you RPadholics download the game on your phone, so that we can play against each other. Maybe we’ll get a tournament or something going and I’ll send a prize to the winner. Yeah! Let’s bring back the RPadTV Invitationals!

Having said all the praise for Hearthstone, the game can be frustrating. There’s certainly a pay-to-win element to it, in that players that sink lots of money into the game will have access to better cards. As a free player, it’s annoying when I run up against a guy or gal with multiple legendary cards in his or her deck. Blizzard is an amazing videogame company — easily one of the best in the history of the business — but the matchmaking in Hearthstone can suck. While I hope that all of you guys and dolls play the game, please be prepared to run into some trust-fund kid that will beat the pants off of you, simply because he bought his way into a killer deck.

Now that Hearthstone is available for phones, will any of you be giving it a shot? Please let me know in the comments section. Do it for the RPadTV Invitational!

Hearthstone phones 2

Hearthstone phones 4 Hearthstone phones 5 Hearthstone phone 3

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