Friday, 21 April 2017

Get Your Free Level 100 (What, Another?) : EQ2

There's a new Producer's Letter out for EQ2 and it's chock full of good stuff. Key takeaways for me were the introduction of Familiars and the news that this year's expansion will include a ten level increase, raising the level cap to 110.

Familiars are exactly what they sound like: a new set of companion pets that also give stat buffs. The senior game, of course, has had familiars for a long time. Indeed, there are so many of them that one of the features of last year's Empires of Kunark expansion was a keyring to store them all. It holds up to 125 of the critters!

In EQ2 until now only Sorcerors (Wizards and Warlocks) got familiars, a choice of three: an animated book, a drake or a gargoyle. With the upcoming "Menagerie" update on May 2nd we'll all be able to have a flappy, as they used to be called.

Familiars will come from Kunark Ascending Missions, as drops from Public Quests, or as a reward from the upcoming language-mangling "Co-opetition", which I do not propose to attempt to explain. Read Kander's detailed description and see how much sense you can make of it.

I'll wait to see just what this "Co-opetition" consists of before I commit to anything but I'm up for pet collecting and I'm always down for a PQ so let's hope they're one of the more common rewards there. Whatever, it's a really exciting addition to EQ2's already bulging cupboard of in-game hobbies. Gotta collect 'em all, as you know some people are already muttering.

As for the level cap raise, I'm very firmly in the camp that believes it's not a real expansion if you don't get a few more levels. The usual eeyores are out in force in the comment thread at EQ2Wire, bemoaning the impending collapse in value of the gear they will, by the time the as yet unnamed expansion rolls around, have spent the last two years working on.

I can see how it might be irksome, although you'd have to say that complaining about gear becoming obsolete in a theme-park MMO is a bit like complaining the sea's a bit wet when you go for a swim. It's both inevitable and really kind of the point.

As a casual player, though, new levels are awesome! Power creep means the opening up of new content. In the last few years Daybreak have done a magnificent job of enfranchising all playstyles, with solo versions of almost all Heroic and Raid content, but there are still some things I haven't been able to do. I'm hopeful that another ten levels might see me to the finale of Ages End at least.

Also of note is another free Level 100 giveaway, this time in the form of a "Boost Bauble". For two weeks from May 2nd to 15th any account made before the 20th of April is entitled to claim one bauble that will jump a single character to 100 and give them all the necessary gear to head to Obulos Frontier or The Proving Grounds.

Or in my case to sit around in a Freeport inn room for a few years, I imagine. I now have three level 100s and a level 96 on my main account and at least one level 100 on all the others. I have time to play, at most, two of them.

Not that that's going to stop me logging every account in and grabbing my birthright. I love the fact that it's a consumable this time rather than a straight boost from character select. Assuming these things don't have an expiry date that means I can sit on them until I find a use for them. Which, let's be frank, is going to be never, but, hey, free stuff!

There's also yet another Time Limited Expansion server, Fallen Gate. Like Agnarr, the upcoming EQ Progression server that's not going past LDoN ever, the new EQ2 version is eschewing democracy for a set schedule of quarterly unlocks. I'll probably pass. There are only so many servers you can meaningfully play on after all.

All in all, though, and especially after Easter's Beast'r home run, lookin' good, DBG!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Road Goes Ever On...And On...And On : LotRO, Twin Saga, FFXIV

The MMORPG genre is a very broad church indeed. It stretches from spreadsheet spaceships at one end to prancing ponies at the other. Looking at the big picture, there isn't perhaps quite as much distance between Twin Saga and Lord of the Rings Online or FFXIV as you might imagine.

They all have central storylines revolving around momentous power struggles among godlike entities for a start. They also have tab targeting and hotbars, dungeons and boss mobs. All the good stuff.

One stark difference, though, is the extent to which the developers appear to give consideration to the value of time. The player's time, that is.

Twin Saga follows the common practice of Eastern MMOs: you can click on a quest in the tracker and have the game auto-run you to where you need to be. It's a particularly flexible version that delivers you not just to the general area but right to the precise creature you need to kill or to the object with which you need to interact to complete the quest.

When you're finished, another click takes you wherever you need to go to sign off on what you've done. Oftenyou need to see the same person who gave you the job in the first place but equally often they aren't where they were when they gave it to you.

It allows for a very relaxed, smooth questing experience that keeps you moving through the landscape without a lot of doubling back (although taking side-quests messes with the flow  somewhat). It also means that you can sit back and enjoy the view as you travel.

Neither LotRO nor FFXIV, at the equivalent levels, seem interested in running package tours for armchair adventurers. Although they both have equally dominant central storylines, (in FFXIV's case, like Twin Saga's, unavoidable if you want to open up certain options for your character) how you get from where you are to where you need to be is your responsibility.

To be fair, neither game follows the full, old school practice of giving you a vague description in the quest dialog and then leaving you to run around until you trip over whatever it is you're looking for by sheer luck or stubbornness. They both have some form of quest tracker that allows you to select whatever you want to work on and have the general location highlighted for you on the map.

After that, though, you're left to your own devices as to how to get there. This, I think, is supposed to be immersive. Or maybe it's meant to be morally instructive, inculcating some kind of protestant work ethic or boy scout sense of self-reliance.

Having played all three games in sequence several times recently I'm in two minds. I did find an odd sense of satisfaction in traveling from Rivendell to Forochel but it took so long I ran out of time the first night and had to camp half way, coming back to finish the journey the next morning. That's the next real morning, not game day, by the way.

What's more, what I was doing wasn't actually all that different from the auto-pathing in Twin Saga. I was going to a Stable Master, looking to see what routes he serviced, opening the map and choosing the best option, then mounting up and letting the game auto-run me to the next staging post. At which point I'd do it all over again.

LotRO has instant travel of a kind but there's some arcane rule over what you can and can't use as a Premium player and in any case by no means all routes have an instant option. Mostly I just sat on the horse and let the countryside flow by. Actually, mostly I tabbed out and web-browsed. So much for immersion.

LotRO's maps are vast. Incredibly huge. I don't think I ever realized while I was playing the first time just how sprawling the game-world is. I happened into Angmar the other night and after a full five minutes of riding on my reasonably fast pony I looked at the map and saw I was - maybe - five percent of the distance across the map. West Karana is like walking across the room compared to this.

Eorzea feels quite big but that's mainly because it's awkward, I think. It, too, has an automated travel option via the Chocobo Porter system and like LotRO it's one that leaves a lot to be desired. There aren't too many stops and most of the questing seems to happen in the wilderness where the only option is to travel on foot.

FFXIV famously made a huge concession with tradition when it allowed jumping. It was an innovation made grudgingly. While it's true that you can't be blockaded by a six inch rut in the road as you could in FFXI, there are still a lot of impassable slopes. Just because you can see your quest destination marked clearly on the map doesn't mean you can get there - or not the way you think.

All of this leads to some very different gaming experiences. Whether or not I prefer one over another comes down more to mood than any innate superiority in one design over the other, I think. The trip across Middle Earth was okay the once but I surely wouldn't want to make a habit of it. By the time I reached the snowlands I was very happy to have it over with.

Once there, though, I was entirely absorbed exploring the bleak, forbidding landscape, I'd never been past the first village before but with a couple more levels notched on the hilt of my sword I felt confident enough to press ahead and see what lay over each next hill. It made for an immersive and exciting session but that's because it was all new.

In FFXIV, where I'm criss-crossing the Central Shroud and occasionally running back to Gridania for a hand-in, I would kill for an auto-run button. It's a beautiful forest but I've seen it so many times now and when it comes right down to it there's not really all that much there, is there?

Against that you have to set my lack of interaction with the environment in Twin Saga (whose world is called - hang on, let me look it up...nope, can't find it...I'm sure they mentioned it once, somewhere). I have no idea how anywhere connects to anywhere else let alone what's in any part of any zone where I didn't have a quest to do. Maybe there isn't anything!

In the end any automated movement option, be it GW2's waypoints, LotRO's pony express or Twin Saga's UI driver, is only an option. No-one has to use it. I could just ride my giant ginger guinea pig around until I happen to spot the cluster of crocodiles I need to club to death. Like all easy options, though, if you know they're there it's hard to resist.

If I had to choose I think I'd come down on the side of automation. It doesn't detract as much as you might imagine from my involvement in the world  - not as much as getting really annoyed about yet another ten or fifteen minute run just to get to somewhere I've been countless times before. Then again, if you always know where you're going you never run into anything you weren't expecting.

There's no easy or right answer to this one. I do think that weak compromises like staged rides and limited instant travel are prone to create more problems than they solve, though. And once you start highlighting quest locations on the map you really might as well make it straightforward to get to them.

Or maybe I'm just spoiled after two days of click 'n' run.

Monday, 17 April 2017

There Goes The Neighborhood : Twin Saga

Well, that went a lot faster than I expected. Only yesterday I was speculating whether I'd last long enough in Twin Saga to makes it into the twenties and get my Terracottage and here I am this morning, riding around in one.

After I finished in GW2 last night I went back to play some more and this morning when I sat down at the PC after breakfast I realized this was still the game I wanted play. I put in another three hours or so and now I'm a homeowner.

I was somewhat tentative about posting twice in a row about a game that, most likely, no-one reading this is even going to bother to download. Nevertheless, it's what I'm playing and also what I'm thinking about so I guess we'll just go with it.

There's also an issue of fair reporting to consider, or fair reviewing, if you consider this to be a review, which it kind of is. One of the very specific things I drew attention to in yesterday's post, the fruity tone and overripe prose, just seems to vanish around the time you leave the starting areas.

There's a major tonal shift from nudge-wink to gosh-wow! It's as though the writer and the translator both got up, took a walk to stretch their legs, came back and noticed what the game they were working on actually looked like. And who the audience might be - either tweenage girls or people who think like them.

That may not be an accurate assessment of the playerbase. It's the internet, after all, and as we know, everyone on the internet is a 57 year old trucker from Boise, Idaho. Still, it's quite hard not to assume the developers were targeting a very particular demographic when they came up with Rita and The Kitty-Cat Crew.

If Twin Saga has a screenshot function I haven't been able to find it so I'm relying on good old FRAPS and sadly I didn't have it running when I bumped into Rita. Someone on YouTube did though so if you're interested you can share the entire experience vicariously. Ailurophobes and diabetics beware. Also anyone who considers themselves to have either taste or standards.

It's probably not a good idea to dwell on why, but I'm enjoying Twin Saga more than just about any Eastern MMO I've played since...well, probably since Zentia. I suspect this may have something to do with TS being Japanese rather than Chinese or Korean in origin but then again Zentia was Chinese so maybe not.

Anyway, it's good. It's also coherent and easy to follow, which is not something I've been able to say about any imported MMO for a long time. So far it has a single, linear plot that makes sense. Okay, it's the regular nonsense about gods and goddesses but it's clear who is who, what happened to them, what they need to do about it and what your role is.

It may be that I've now played enough of these games to get an intuitive feeling for the "break it down and re-use it" progression mechanics they all use but for once I had no trouble working out the specifics of how to improve and upgrade my gear. It's also because Twin Saga is one of the most ergonomically acute MMOs I've ever played.

The UI is a model of efficiency. I found it immediately accessible and understandable. I didn't really need the tutorial tips but they're there and they're among the best I've seen. Twin Saga is a very comfortable game to settle into, with a very shallow, gentle learning curve.

That said, the Terracottage has turned out to be a bit of a challenge. You get one for nothing at level 21 as you progress through the Main Questline and it functions both as a house and a mount. It took a few mouseclicks and some trial and error to work out how to spawn and unspawn it and a few more figuring out how to get inside.

Once I was in there I somehow managed to set the shared storage so that no-one can access it, not even me! I think that was mainly because I'd become so (over) confident by then that I didn't bother listening to the NPCs as they explained everything. That's also how come I have a chair that I don't know how to place.

Nothing the wiki won't sort out, I'm sure. The Terracottage itself is fantastic. It really is. It has three floors - the Hall, which you can decorate, the Greenhouse, where you can grow genetically mutated plants and then cook them, and the Workshop, which is a full-function crafting center.

All three settings are quite stunning. Indeed, every setting in Twin Saga is stunning. It's a gorgeous game. Once again, as with Revelation Online, I've scarcely explored anything or anywhere. The on-rails auto-questing mitigates very strongly against doing so. Yet I feel as though I have. There are so many wonderful, rich, strange sights that it's as if exploration comes to you without you having to go looking for it.

In the early twenties I notice leveling speed beginning to slow. I see from the map that there are at least sixty-five levels. There's three-quarters of the overland yet to see. I could be here a while.

Just as well I have somewhere nice to live.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Seperated At Birth : Twin Saga, Dragomon Hunter

What I need is another MMO to play, right? Or how about a couple? I mean, according to my own account, I'm only playing five right now, with another dozen lined up, waiting to go. That can't be enough, right?

I didn't even mention Dragomon Hunter when I was counting down the possibles although last year I was playing it and enjoying it. I even blogged about it a few times. I took a break and the main reason I didn't go back was I lost my log in details, something I only found out when I tried to play another MMO in the Aeria Games stable, Twin Saga.

Quite a while ago someone - it might have been Kaozz at ECTMMO - wrote something about Twin Saga that made me think it might be worth a look. Then Syp at Bio Break wrote it up for one of his Try-Out Tuesday pieces and almost everything he said reminded me very strongly of Dragomon Hunter, which I took as a recommendation.

Wait a minute...I'm Level 2 and I haven't logged in yet.

So I downloaded it and installed the inevitable Aeria Games front end, which for some reason I'd never needed for DH. It was at that point that I realized I could use my existing Aeria Games account to play both games. Only, not having hunted any dragomons for quite a while, I couldn't remember the password. Or even which email account I'd used.

I searched around but I couldn't find the details. At that point I could have made a new account - they're free after all - but then I'd have had to start Dragomon Hunter over from scratch, which I really didn't want to do.

So I shelved the project and mostly forgot about it, except the Twin Saga icon stayed right there on my desktop, eying me balefully, which meant I could never completely forget about it after all. Then yesterday, when I was trying to find my Dragon Nest log in information (successfully, I might add, although my installed client is now so far behind the current version it won't even patch, so I have to download the whole thing again before I can play), what should I stumble across but the missing Aeria Games details!

Gatefold album sleeve c. 1973

A little window into the chaos and serendipity that I call a life, there. Anyway, with that incentive I opened up the Aeria patcher and patched both games. I tried to log into Dragomon Hunter but the servers were down for maintenance (at EU prime-time on a Saturday night on a holiday weekend if you  can believe it!).

Which is how I come to be playing Twin Saga. And guess what? Enjoying it, too. Probably more than I should.

Follow the yellow mud road

Couple of things to say about it up front. Twin Saga is hands down one of the most visually attractive MMOs I've ever played. The screenshots, for once, do it justice. It does look that good in game.

I realize you have to like the particular style, which won't be to everyone's taste, but as an example of that style I have never seen better. The colors are extraordinarily rich and the environments deliriously lush. I get the profound feeling this is a game that's been art designed to within an inch of its life and that's always a positive in my book.

And it wasn't even the most disturbing encounter I had that day...

Secondly, it's lubricious to a disturbing degree. No, perhaps "lubricious" doesn't quite catch the flavor. It's fleshy. There's a disturbing delight in sexual imagery that seems all the more inappropriate given the doll-like characters but the game doesn't rest at bawdy. Appetites in general are the focus here: from a delight in violence to an orgy of gluttony, character after character indulges in a frenzy of lust - for weapons, for pies, for defenceless elf girls.

It could be unpleasant.  It often is unsettling. Twin Saga is saved, just about, from outright creepiness by two things: the sheer gusto of the writing and the relatively demure visuals. The quest text isn't merely extensive and verbose, it's baroque and bizarre, while everyone dresses as though they're about to take a walk-on part in a restoration drama.

Okay, that's not at all inappropriate...

I haven't taken the trouble to determine whether Dragomon Hunter and Twin Saga share a developer but I'm all but certain they share a translator. TS's quest text is nowhere near as batshit insane as DH's, which may speak to an underlying difference in authorship, but tonally they're identical.

Syp was taken aback by the vocabulary, saying "listen, I write professionally, and this game is throwing words at me that I’ve never heard of before". He wondered whether Google translate might have had a hand but I think the explanation is much more likely to be one particular translator having the time of their life and getting away with it - possibly because they're the only one in the office who speaks both languages.

Flocculent? Flocculent?! "Bushy" wouldn't have done?

Whoever it is knows their way around both a thesaurus and a dictionary. Almost every arcane word that appears - and there are many - is used correctly. On the other hand someone did decide to render "curlicue" as "curly-Q" so who knows? Either way I love it. I read every word, which is why it took me nearly three hours to get to level 12. Syp estimated he spent 60% of his game-time talking to NPCs but I'd guess my tally came in closer to 75%.

What I certainly didn't spend much time doing was fighting. I think almost every single quest was either a fetch or kill, usually four, sometimes six, one time eight. The universal MMO gathering action is faster here than the average and combat at these levels consists literally of drumming your fingers as fast as you like on keys 1 and 2.

That's if you're in a hurry. Autoattack works just as well. It just takes a few seconds longer. Combine that with auto-find on the quest locations and auto-complete on the hand-ins and you have one very relaxing MMO.

I've seen a capybara. Trust me, they do not look like this.

And it very definitely is an MMO. You could assume that a game such as I'm describing would be indistinguishable from a solo RPG but these are precisely the kind of mechanics that attract what is probably the real global MMO audience.

The starting areas are heaving with players. I got two friend invites in a few minutes when I was hanging around the starting village - one in a pop-up and one in a whisper. All around you can see player characters standing in pairs or clusters talking to each other. It's like these are people who've come to an MMO because there are other people there to play with not in spite of it.

If I had unlimited time I would happily play Twin Saga for an hour or two every day. It's a bit of a sugar rush but it's bright and zippy and there seems to be plenty to do. What's more, the progression mechanics don't appear to be as abstruse as they often can be. I almost understood them right off the bat.

And so to bed.

If I can fit a few sessions in I'm going to try to get at least as far in the main quest line as it takes to unlock the housing option - The Terracottage. One of these stomped past me while I was out adventuring and it was quite something.

That means completing the main quest sequence as far as level 21, which sounds entirely doable. I think I got further than that in Dragomon Hunter. Speaking of which, I guess I should do some more there, too.

So many games...

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Irons In The Fire

At the very end of my "What I'm Playing" post the other day I threw in a line about how I wasn't even mentioning the mobile and non-mmo stuff. And, in doing so, mentioned it. So, here it is.

There isn't a lot because, well, I don't really play any video games that aren't MMOs, not for a long while now, but I do have three non-MMOs bookmarked so I can keep track of them in a desultorily obsessive fashion. None of them is officially released yet although two are getting close.

Furthest along by far is We Happy Few, which also happens to be the least MMOish of the three. I came across this one when Keen's jaw dropped at the E3 reveal. "WTF…Creepy. Skipping.!" was all he had to say but it was enough to make me go check out the trailer and I've been following it ever since.

WHF went into Early Access via Steam in July last year. I briefly considered buying in then but equally swiftly decided that would be a bad idea. While I can very much understand the attraction of watching an MMO grow up around me as I play it, it would make very little sense to do the same with a game built on narrative.

It's only now, pushing towards a year later, that Compulsion Games are getting around to patching in the 1.0 version of the full story. This does seem to be a case where Early Access has worked very well both for company and players. We Happy Few currently has a Very Positive Steam rating and when they say "very positive" they really mean it: 83% all time, rising to 90% over the last month.

Running your narrative-driven game successfully for nine months without actually having the narrative in place is quite a feat in itself but such acceptance comes at a risk. Compulsion Games are well aware of this and they're understandably nervous about the big switch. "It seems like a lot of people who haven’t played the game think our game is just a sandbox survival game with zero story", they say in the latest of their admirably frequent and detailed progress reports.

To that end there's going to be a series of videos (starting with this one) explaining what current players can expect the game to become, while encouraging people who don't start salivating when they hear the words "survival sandbox" not to pass by on the other side. The video features Alex Epstein, the game's narrative director, who has an interesting blog of his own, which you can find in the blog roll to the right. I was tipped to it by Tyler Sanchez in the comments last time I mentioned the game and I've been following it ever since.

We Happy Few looks set to be a success. Whether Early Access really does a game like this any favors is less certain. At current pace of development I'd guess the full launch won't come this year and by the time it does this kind of publicity may be hard to find. Then again, you can't time every game launch to coincide precisely with a once-in-a-lifetime lurch in the zeitgeist.

Next up on the assembly line is Tanzia. This colorful online RPG has been in closed testing for a long time. It missed its intended late 2016 EA launch date but not by too much. A few days ago developers Arcanity Inc. finally announced a firm date for Early Access via Steam: April 27th.

There are a couple of reasons I've been paying attention to Tanzia, which I first heard of through a brief piece on Massively OP.  Justin "Syp" Olivetti who wrote that squib caught my interest with the tagline: "Tanzia gives you the MMO experience without the ‘MMO’. I've long believed that it's as much the actual mechanics of MMORPGs that bind me to the genre as it is any of the multiplayer or social aspects, something that certainly seemed to hold true when I played Ninelives.

Ninelives is a moody, surreal work of art whereas Tanzia looks to be more of a sugar-overload romp but it's the gameplay rather than the graphics that intrigue me. Official descriptions make repeated references to the importance of kiting, which is something I don't think I have ever seen bigged up as a PR win before. I purely love kiting so it's a hook for me.

The other reason I'm paying attention to Tanzia is the pedigree of the team behind the game. The full skinny includes a whole load of prestigious studios and games but my eye was immediately caught by mention of SOE, Vanguard, EverQuest and Free Realms.

Whether Tanzia can live up to the rep of the games that underpin its design brief remains to be seen but this time I'll most likely buy in to Early Access, depending on the cost, which I don't believe has yet been confirmed. If there are packages announced already I couldn't find them.

On the other hand, Early Access for Tanzia is slated to last for just eight weeks. If they're going to hit full launch two months after EA then maybe I'll just wait. It sounds optimistic!

Bringing up the rear, a very long way behind both in familiarity and progress, but right at the front when it comes to MMO credentials, comes Antilia. Antilia was going to be an MMO but that turned out to be too much for the developer, Right Brain Games. There was a failed Kickstarter for the MMO version back in 2014 and since then the focus has been on making something smaller.

RBG describes itself as "a small team of developers dedicated to creating unique video games for the online game market" but as far as I can tell they haven't released any games. They have made a number of tools designed to aid in the creation of games but they aren't currently licensing or selling any of those for commercial use either.

What they do have is a website with some very nice screenshots and concept art and a trickle of detail about a virtual world that I find rather appealing. The game, if it ever appears, is set to be "a sandbox-style fantasy RPG, featuring a dynamic world simulation and anthropomorphic characters", which is pretty much a nailed-on "I'd play that" as far as I'm concerned.

First I have to live long enough. Whoever is behind Right Brain Games certainly isn't in a hurry. Last year the website was barely updated at all but this year has seen a relative flurry of activity with three posts so far.

The year began with an outline of project goals for 2017. The approach is very open and honest, full of self-deprecating statements and explanations:
"Progress in 2016 was very limited. This is just something that needs to be acknowledged. There wasn't really much in the way of 'secret progress' that I'm not showing. For most of the year my time on Antilia was limited to a few evenings and maybe one day each weekend...Let's face it, the development team behind Antilia is very small. While I am grateful that a good many people have expressed interest in helping the project in any way they can, these offers are from enthusiastic gamers and community members rather than seasoned game developers. Including more people on the project means more communication and coordination, as well as an investment of my time getting people set up and training them in our development tools. Doing this one-on-one has not led to much success."

It might not be what anyone wants to hear but at least they're telling it like it is!

Those are the only three non-MMO projects I'm keeping an eye on right now. Naturally the one I'm most interested in playing is the one I seem destined least likely ever to get my hands on. And I still didn't get round to mobile games. Maybe another time.

Friday, 14 April 2017

An Easter Egg Hunt : EQ2

Mrs Bhagpuss and I were talking the other day about Easter Egg Hunts and how they were never really much of a thing when we were growing up. I think I may have done one, once, as a child but I'm not even sure about that.

The concept is one I know more from popular culture than personal experience. Maybe I would have felt differently about it when I was eight years old but the idea of poking around in the shrubbery on a cold April morning looking for my chocolate eggs has considerably less appeal than simply having them handed to me indoors.

Going on an egg hunt in virtuality, though: that's an altogether more appealing prospect. It was late last night when I happened on an alert from the invaluable EQ2 Traders Corner. What would we do without Niami Denmother? You can have all your Developer Appreciation Weeks - praise where praise is due - but what we really need is a Volunteer Appreciation Week for all the people like Mum and Feldon and whoever it is who runs the EQ2 Library.

Rather than rush into something while I was tired after a long day at work I wrote myself a reminder to check it out next morning. I'm at that age now when if I don't make notes I can't be sure I'll remember what I was thinking about the day before. Actually I was always that way. I can't blame it on the passage of time.

Pet egg. Do not pat.

EQ2 wasn't the first thing I thought of when I woke up this Good Friday. That would have been Hot Cross Buns. After a brisk walk to the bakery and a breakfast that was fruity if a little dry, I sat down at the computer, where I immediately spotted my note. So that worked!

The egg hunt is itself a genuine "Easter Egg" in that it's neither a quest nor an achievement nor any sort of directed content. As Niami Denmother puts it "With no announcement, an eggstra special surprise appeared in Norrath".

There are five "Beast'r" eggs, each with a name more suitable for a dwarf bent on taking up a career in animated movies: Bumbly, Cheeky, Cheery, Frisky and Lovely. They spawn in all cities and starting areas so I went to the place I know best, Freeport, to look for them.

They aren't trackable and they don't appear to be lying about the streets in the flagrant fashion of most holiday collectables. All the ones I found were in relatively out of the way places. Even so, they weren't hard to find.

Just answer the questions and the beatings won't be so severe.

The eggs are quite big and bright and hard to miss. As soon as they appeared it won't have taken long at all, I'm sure, for people to begin noticing them and inquiring about them in chat. I wonder who it was who thought to ask a guard about them?

It would certainly never have occurred to me. It's been a very long time since I asked a guard to show me the way to anything. I'd pretty much forgotten it was something they did. It is, though.

When I was growing up we may not have had Easter Egg Hunts but we did have helpful policemen. I was taught as a child that if I was lost I should ask a policeman and even as a young adult on some of my early trips to London I would ask a policeman for directions before I'd ever think of looking at a map.

These days it could be days - weeks - before I even saw a policeman and even if I did I'd certainly think twice about asking where the nearest post office might be. Times have changed.

When it comes to MMOs, it's hard to think of a law enforcement agency you'd be less likely to approach with a frivolous enquiry than Lucan's Freeport Militia. They have an appalling reputation for casual brutality and that's the nicer ones. You'd expect the Qeynos lot to send you on your way with a snappy salute and a kindly gesture but in Freeport it's generally best to keep your head down and not make eye contact.

He was brought up by humans in case you're wondering. A troupe of traveling actors by the sound of it.

Still, a seasoned adventurer has little to fear from any city guards these days. Training's not what it was and most of the militia couldn't take a firm handshake from a level 100. My Berserker posed the question and got a swift and positive reply. "Cheery Beast'r Egg, is it? That way sir, above you and to the South East. Just follow the glowy trail. All part of the job, sir. Mind how you go!"

I found the first egg at the back of the inn in East Freeport where all the mercenaries hang out, that cosy little balcony over the harbor, where sailors gaze out to sea and soak their troubles in rum. I found the second one there, too. And the third.

At this point I was beginning to think all I had to do was lean on the rail and wait for the rest to spawn but I got into conversation with an ex-captain who'd lost his ship and next thing I knew I found myself in Beggar's Court searching the slave quarters. Somehow I accidentally killed one of Lucan's taskmasters (it was self defense - these things happen, you know how it is) so after I'd hidden the body I thought it might be a good time to look for eggs a little further afield. Like The Commonlands.

It took no time at all to find the last two I needed: Bumbly and Cheeky (or was it Cheery?). The final egg turned up in a Kerran hut, where the entire family was standing around staring at it, probably wondering how to cook it. They're a fussy, faddy race.

Anyone would think you cats never saw an egg before.

Picking up the final egg popped a new title - "The Eggcellent Adventurer". No pun left unturned. And all five of the eggs become cosmetic pets. Very well worth the small effort involved.

With the detour into piracy and subversion the whole thing took a couple of hours but the egg hunt alone you could probably knock out in half an hour or less. It's short, simple and a lot of fun.

Like the "Current Events" in GW2 increasingly I find that this kind of unpublicised, low-intensity background content is what I look forward to and enjoy the most in MMOs. Far from being mere filler it seems to me that this stuff is a lot more satisfying than many of the over-hyped big ticket events.

Seeing Blizzard working this seam with with their micro-holidays I am guessing it's something of a trend. It's a good one. Long may it continue and let's not be limiting to holidays, either.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Making Plans

Spring came in with a bit of a rush around here. Seven posts in the first five days of April! Good going but it seems to have tapped my inspiration dry.

Scratching around for ideas I thought of all those posts I keep reading where people say what they did last month and what they plan to do next month. I've always wondered how they know. I rarely have a clue what I'm going to be doing half an hour from now, much less next week.

It would be useful, though, having a record. Maybe not of what I plan to do but what I'd like to do or even what I am doing instead of what I expected I would be. So in that vein...

What I'm Playing

Guild Wars 2.

Coming up five years this summer. Five years right now, if you count from the beta weekends. Sometimes I think I'm mostly playing because Mrs Bhagpuss plays but the plain fact is I still turn to GW2 first most days, whether Mrs Bhagpuss happens to be playing or not.

Doing my dailies is quite literally part of my daily routine now. I do them for three accounts every. single. day. Without fail. I like to knock a couple of accounts off between breakfast and going to work and then do the third in the evening. I am trying to resist adding the free account to the list. There have to be limits.

WvW is dire these days and yet still ridiculously entertaining more often than not. ArenaNet seem to have literally no idea what to do with the game mode. They fiddled with it 'til it broke. Now they're whistling and looking in the other direction.

Any point or purpose the "competition" ever had is currently in freefall since the combined body-blows of the systematic destruction of Server Identity and the hamfisted manual adjustments to scoring. Nevertheless the day to day, or more particularly hour to hour, engagements remain as compulsively exciting as ever.

Somehow World Bosses are back on my menu. I've been doing Tequatl every day, twice if I can fit it in. I generally manage a Frozen Maw and a Claw of Jormag most evenings. I'm not quite sure how that happened or why, other than it's fun.

Overall, GW2 is just incredibly comfortable and easy to play. Especially after a long day at work it's about as relaxing as a nice, warm bath and frequently about as much excitement as I can manage.

Lord of the Rings Online.

Completely unexpected. Never had the slightest intention of revisiting Middle Earth this spring, let alone leveling up two characters. It's become that game, the one I play at the end of the evening. Mostly I just do tasks, wander about, kill whatever gets in my way, do some exploring.

The zones are enormous. I remembered they were big but not how big. It takes forever to get anywhere, not just because of the distance from one end to the other but also the incredible topological complexity. Everything is layered and there's frequently no quick way from A to B. You have to go up and around and down and through and back again.

I've found lots of new nooks and crannies in zones I thought I knew. Not having quests to lead me by the nose means I go off the beaten track a lot and there's a lot of wilderness out there. I say not having quests - there are some. I can't work out why some are allowed for free, or not always. I do them if I find them but mostly I'm my own boss. It's refreshing.

Final Fantasy XIV

If the return to LotRO was a surprise this is more of a stunning blow. I pretty much thought I'd never play FFXIV again. I've logged in most days and sometimes I've played for a few hours. The free trial has turned FFXIV into something not unlike the game I thought it might be for a week or two back when I bought it.

Not sure if this will last but I imagine I'll dip in and out indefinitely from now on.


This was my late night MMO until LotRO rudely pushed it aside. It's still hanging in there. I log in a couple or three times a week.

EQ2 will always be in play, though. I'll always drop in for the holidays. I even did quite a bit this year for Bristlebane Day and that's about my least favorite of the big ticket events. Any major update is going to pull me back in; expansions generally mean four to six weeks of playing full sessions most days. Here for the long run.


I did play a little last month. Did a bubble and a half of 92 (or is it 93?) on my Magician. Another MMO I'll play as long as I'm able, although it tends to be in small doses these days.

What I Thought I'd Be Playing


I was enjoying Aion. It seemed like a solid, oldish school MMO with enough character, polish and content to hold my attention for a fair while. Only other MMOS have more of all of those things and something was always going to come along to distract me. I just didn't expect it to be an old something.

I will probably come back to this one. Maybe.

Revelation Online

Similar to Aion although I thought it had a quirkier style and it certainly better looks. Not a game I need to play in any way whatsoever but one that could always fill an idle moment. I expected to get a few weeks out of it, like I did with ArcheAge, Black Desert and Blade and Soul. Didn't happen. Law of diminishing returns, I guess.

What I Ought To Be Playing

World of Warcraft 

I got Legion for my birthday and that was six months ago. I really ought to use it before the next expansion arrives.


This one's not really my fault. I was playing and enjoying it and then Daybreak trailed the complete combat and leveling revamp so I thought I'd pause it and wait for that...and I'm still waiting. Just do it, already!

Project: Gorgon

I kickstarted it but so far I don't believe I've even linked my account or replied to the email or whatever it is that I'm supposed to do. It was meant to go onto Steam Early Access, what, a year ago? Supposedly when that happens I won't be able to log in with my old details but since I haven't logged in for a year anyway that's not going to be a problem. I guess I'll wait until something actually happens and work it out then.

Dragon Nest

I get the feeling this one might not be around much longer so saying "I'll get back to it one day" probably isn't a solid game-plan. It's a really fun game and I was making good progress. It'd be a shame if I finally got round to making time for a session and found it wasn't there any more.

What I Could Be Playing

Rift, Allods, Black Desert, ArchAge, Blade and Soul...

They're all installed and the icons are there on the desktop. Probably about all I'm going to see of them for the foreseeable future but then a month ago I would have said the same about LotRO and FFXIV.

What I'm Going To Be Playing

Secret World Legends

Mostly out of curiosity and because everyone else will be. Unless it turns out to be very substantially easier, faster and more casual-friendly than TSW, though, I struggle to see why I'd play it over the original. Which I'm not playing. At least there's bound to be a blog post or several in it.

What I Wish I Was Playing

The freaking second GW2 expansion!

How much longer, ANet? How much longer? At least start the PR machine rolling so we can speculate. I googled for leaks or guesses about it yesterday and the very few I could find were mostly over a year old. I come from an SOE/DBG background, not Blizzard. I can't cope with these 2-3 year expansion schedules. Bash 'em out! Quantity over quality every time! You can fix it up as we play - it's the MMO way!

That'll do for now and I didn't even mention the mobile and non-mmo stuff. I'll save that for next time I can't think of anything to write about.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Slight Return : FFXIV

With all the big stories breaking across the MMO news front last week it would have been easy to miss this little squib. Final Fantasy XIV, voted Game Most Likely To by the "we used to play WoW but we're so over it now" crew, took another step towards full assimilation by expanding on its existing free trial.

I'd forgotten FFXIV even had a free trial but it does. It used to expire after two weeks - just like WoW's used to do. Now it goes on forever - just like WoW's does. You still have to make a fresh account to take advantage of it - just like you used to have to do in WoW. I imagine in due course you'll be able to log in existing accounts and play them under the trial restrictions because, well, that's the way WoW does it.

Trial accounts have all the restrictions you'd expect, mostly designed around preventing goldsellers and other undesirables from exploiting Square's generosity. By and large, though, it allows you to play the game in a not dissimilar fashion to a paying customer.

There is one very big difference between FFXIV's free trial and what you get for your no money in WoW: in Eorzea you're limited to Level 35, which really is a big step up from WoW's Level 20 clampdown. You can very easily hit level twenty in your first session in World of Warcraft but back when Mrs Bhagpuss and I played FFXIV at launch it took us a full month, playing maybe 30 hours a week, to get to the mid-30s.

What is it about Catgirls? We couldn't just wear leathers? I blame Cordwainer Smith.

Indeed I don't believe my character was 35 when the thirty days that came with the box ran out and we declined to subscribe. Given that FFXIV's design allows you to level every class on one character and that the the free trial allows you to make eight characters (all on different servers), it seems entirely possible you could play the game for free, as your main MMO, for months.

Not that I'd want to do that. I have a very odd relationship with FFXIV. There are many things about it that I really enjoy. The visuals are spectacular, the world is gorgeous and rich, the character animations are glorious. Combat is old-school MMO tab target, which is what I like best. The quest dialog is idiosyncratic and entertaining. The cut scenes are exceptionally well-rendered. There's a deep and intriguing storyline.

I could go on for quite a while with the positives and yet for all that FFXIV tires me out. It's an enervating experience. I've spent considerable time in the original beta, the "we know this is bad so you don't have to pay us" phase of version one, and finally in this, the Realm Reborn and, unlike almost every other MMO I've played, each session I play leaves me feeling drained, worn, ready to lie down.

Okay, I exaggerate. It's not that exhausting. But it does leave its mark. It's not simply the pace, which is stately, to put it politely. I like a slow MMO. It's something about the weight, the texture, the heft. FFXIV doesn't feel slow in a relaxed way, a take your time, smell the roses kind of way. It feels slow as in ponderous, plodding, heavy-footed.

#1 Cats do not like rain
#2 I am really not dressed for this...

This time round it didn't help that I logged in to a wet afternoon in Gridania. When it rains there it really rains. It was midday but it looked more like dusk. The plethora of instructional pop-ups in FFXIV's fussy font and ornate frames only added to the sense of oppression.

Fortunately, having played before, I was able to set things up as I like them fairly quickly. Like most MMOs, left to its own devices FFXIV obscures almost all of its fine art with game-related visual clutter that destroys any hope of immersion.

Once I'd got that out of the way I had to spend a long time fiddling with the controls to try and get screenshots to work. I failed. I don't believe that's FFXIV's fault. It seems to be a Windows 10 issue. In the end I gave up and started FRAPS.

By which point I had already had enough. That was yesterday. Today I tried again.

For the first few minutes I ran around gathering up quests. When I played at launch I read every word of all the quests, which is possibly why it took me a month to hit the thirties. To say FFXIV's quests are verbose is to do a disservice to verbosity.

I don't remember there being an Achievement system but I guess if WoW has one...

This time round, having already read it all before, I gave myself permission first to skim and then to skip the dialog entirely. I ducked out of every cut scene that allowed it as well and by golly does FFXIV have cut scenes!

Even with all that time-saving, as Syp said, I still found myself "doing nothing more than running back and forth and back and forth across a city". Which is fine in its way but, as I said, I've done it before, and not just the once either.

With the example of LotRO's wholly opposite approach to accommodating  freeloading tightwads in mind, I decided to ignore all the myriad elves and La-Las counting on me to cheer up their depressed friends or fetch their forgotten toolbags. Instead I wandered off into the woods and began killing stuff.

I think someone made the game easier since I last played. It's hard to remember exactly how it was three and a half years ago but I'm not sure I was able back then to mow down mobs three or four levels above me as fast as I could find them, using only the gear I woke up wearing.

See this, Secret World fans? This is why your game failed. You didn't have a big enough Level Up thingy.

Last time I was playing a caster. This time I rolled an Archer, the same class I played before the rebirth. Maybe that's all it was. Whatever, it was a lot more fun than running endless errands and reading yards of oddly formal prose.

I was getting bonuses for chain killing so I shot at anything I saw. A FATE popped and I ran to that, only to find that apparently I was under-level to get full credit, even though the mobs were the same level as me. I killed them anyway.

This killing spree lasted until I reached the next zone, where the mobs were level 10. I was level four at this point and although I'd been happily slaughtering level sevens I thought a six level gap might be a reach too far.

Retracing my steps I found another FATE, which again advised me I was too low to be there, even though the Ladybirds I was meant to exterminate were level four just like me. There were a lot more of them than there were of me too and they were highly aggressive. When no-one else came to join the FATE I found myself overwhelmed and eventually went down fighting four at once.

Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home. No, wait, just die. It'll be quicker.

At which point I stopped and came to write this. My Miqo'te is standing in a field of Easter eggs running her idling animations right now. It occurred to me to look up what those eggs are all about because no doubt there's some holiday going on, but much though I love an MMO holiday, perhaps I won't.

If I'm going to enjoy playing FFXIV and not just end each session feeling drained I think I might need to take a step back from what the game wants me to do. Indeed, I think I ought to stop treating it as a game at all. That was, perhaps, the problem.

Eorzea could be a magical place to spend time if people just stopped handing out endless lists of things you ought to be doing. The game does it, the meta does it, the NPCs do it, everything about the entire set-up screams "do this! do it now! do it my way!" and that's maybe why I could never settle.

As is becoming ever more apparent, free trials or restrictive free-to-play offers have the potential to hand some much-missed control back to the player. Knowing I can never go past level 35 takes a huge amount of the pressure to perform away.

It isn't going to do much for Square Enix's profits but, like LotRO, FFXIV is almost certainly back in my rotation. Just don't expect me to make "progress".

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Did I Say That Out Loud?

I was flicking through my Feedly this evening when I came across a piece on Pitchfork that for once seemed to be about someone I'd already heard of. Naturally, it wasn't a musician.You could say it wasn't even a real person, although we all know reality is a lie.

Back in the mid-90s, just before I discovered MMOs and thereby lost my fingernail grip on popular culture, at least for a while, I used to watch a quirky animated t.v, show called Daria. You may have heard of it. Apparently it was kind of a big deal. Not that we knew.

As I recall it was on Channel Four, possibly on a Sunday afternoon. I didn't watch it a whole lot but I liked it well enough. I particularly enjoyed the flat, deadpan delivery of the lead character, Daria Morgendoffer.

Around the same time the show was running, I was beginning to get back into video gaming after a few years' break. In 1997, I think it must have been, I'd bought a PC with my redundancy money, ostensibly with the intention of writing a novel. That never really panned out but inevitably some games got bought and among them was the original Baldur's Gate.

I'd scarcely begun playing before I discovered it was possible to swap both the character portraits and the characters' voices for custom versions. After a few experiments with making my own I took a look at some of the many versions floating about online and there I came across one that replaced the player character's entire repertoire of sayings and exclamations with lines from Daria. That's how I came to play through the whole of  Baldur's Gate as "a smart, snarky, sensitive teenage girl", to quote the Daria wiki.

This is also, surely, one of the primary reasons the first Baldur's Gate remains the only BioWare RPG I have ever - unequivocally - loved. The sardonic tone of these short clips (voice-acted by Tracy Grandstaff with admirable lack of affect) brought an astringency to the fantasy setting that undercut the sometimes ponderous self-importance of the narrative. Plus it made me laugh. Every time.

They say that once something's on the internet it'll be there until the heat death of the universe but if the original soundset I downloaded is still around then my google-fu isn't good enough to find it. I believe this clip features one of the soundbites it used. I'm sure I remember hearing my bard saying "I'm the Misery Chick" about ten thousand times over the course of the campaign.

All of which brings me to my point (and yes, I do have one, thanks). Earlier in the day I made a new Square Enix account and patched up FFXIV to take advantage of the new, improved endless free trial. No doubt I'll get around to posting about that in due course but for now I just want to mention the character voice samples.

In common with almost all Eastern MMOs, FFXIV offers you a choice of voices for your characters. You can have all kinds of squealing, grunting, yelping, groaning or giggling. The range runs the usual gamut from hysteria to...well, more hysteria. If you want anything more nuanced, though, well you're kinda outta luck as Lana Del Rey might say (Now there's an idea...Lana as the voice of your Miqo'te. That's a cash shop killer if ever I heard of one. I'll give you that one for free, Square, just make it happen).

Actually, it's not even fair to pick on Eastern MMOs. I've been playing a lot of LotRO of late and my Dwarf there can't go two seconds in a fight without growling or yelling "yaaarghh!" like a drunken pirate. It's really quite distracting.

GW2 has a seldom-mentioned function that allows you to replace any or all of the in-game music files with your own selections culled from your no doubt extensive and eclectic library of math rock and hair metal. If that can be a thing then why not voices?

I'm guessing that just about all MMO sound files are client-based, even when the character spouting the nonsense isn't my own. When I hear some passing mesmer boasting how she can run faster than a centaur, presumably that's the game triggering a sample that's already installed on my PC, so why couldn't it trigger a sample of my choice instead?

There doesn't seem to me to be any technical reason this couldn't be a standard add-on for games that allow such things. Maybe it is and I just haven't noticed. Oh boy, I hope so!

If not then someone better get right on it. I don't even mind if I have to cull and compile my own samples. I'm hearing voices already...
Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide