Tuesday, August 4, 2020

But Regardless, You're Mine

I spent all morning writing my Promptapalooza post. I know it's not due for two weeks but I like to get these things done ahead of time.

That means I don't quite have the mental energy for another post today but I also don't want to skip. So here's a thing I wanted to do but probably wouldn't have, otherwise. It shouldn't take long.

Remember when I was talking out loud to myself about how I was or wasn't going to buy some or all of the multiple versions of Lana Del Rey's first spoken-word album-cum-poetry collection, Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass? Well, the day came when it appeared on Audible and I thought abut it a bit and then I signed up for the free trial through Amazon Prime.

It was a bit of a rigmarole. They could make it a lot easier if they're trying to persuade people. Anyway, I got there. I tagged Violet to my account then cancelled because the last thing I wanted to do was forget and end up paying after all.

Audible kindly reminded me I was cancelling with an unused credit still in hand so I went back and looked for something else. The reason I don't have an Audible account in the first place and don't want one is because I've listened to about three audiobooks in thirty years. We have amazing speech radio where I live. Who needs to listen to actors reading books out loud? Or, worse, authors?

I hate to leave money on the table, though, so I took a Robert B. Parker triple which seemed like the best bang. The only audiobook I actually own, physical copy, is a Spenser double-header, although since it's on cassette I might as well toss it. Plus listening to the guy reading it doing Susan Silverman in falsetto is an experience I don't care to repeat.

So I thought I was done. I cancelled again and Audible didn't take that too well, either. They offered me a third credit for another title to get me to stay. Given the offer and the sub each only give you two, that's a substantial bribe. Didn't take it. I hit cancel for the third time and this time it stuck.

That was that, I thought. Then, a couple of days later, I got an email.

Yeah, still not buying. Reminds me of when I tried to cancel AOL and ended up keeping it for free for over a year. They just wouldn't say "Get lost, pal. See if we care". Which, frankly, is the only response I'd respect.

As for Lana's album, which is what I'm going to call it, because that's what it is, here are some reviews:

"The audiobook version of the singer’s forthcoming 30-poem hardback is a mixed bag – some are full of honest self-reflection, others are self-indulgent and mundane" - Martin Chilton - The Independent

"Lana Del Rey's poetry debut – sometimes cliche, always solipsistic: Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, released as an audiobook this week and in print in September, is a reminder of the singer’s strengths and shortcomings" - Yara Rodrigues Fowler - The Guardian

"She pulls off these musings and observations brilliantly, creating a new offshoot of the very specific world she’s created" - Rhian Daly - NME

"Lana Del Rey’s Audiobook Grapples With the Absurdity of Pop Star Poetry" - Sam Sodomsky - Pitchfork

"Lana Del Rey’s spoken word poetry album triumphs as a transcendent dreamscape" - Taila Lee - The Daily Californian

They're all fair reviews, from the lukewarms to the raves. As Pitchfork points out, the very concept of a book of poetry from a pop singer is a dodgy proposition. I was impressed by how seriously all the reviewers took it. The world really has changed.

I bloody loved it. Of course I did. Of course I do. Partly it's her superb reading voice. I could, as they say, listen to her read the phone directory. If we had such things any more.

It's also Jack Antonoff's wonderful arrangements. Without those Violet would be more of a book, less of an album, true, but it would also be much less of a miracle.

And all the reviewers are right. It's far from perfect. Some of the poems don't work. There's considerably more than I'd prefer to hear of the poet telling us she's a poet and how important poetry is to her.

But most of it is just wonderful. She creates worlds to lose yourself in. There's nothing to be done but listen when Lana recites. Background listening this is not.

Unless you're Mermaid Motel, that is. In which case you're busy visualizing. I'm not one hundred per cent MM nailed it on the first swing with her interpretation of LA Who Am I To Love You? one of the album's incontravertible highlights but close enough. A little on the nose, maybe, but so are some of the poems, although not this one. I hope the Mermaid does some more. I'm sure she will.

As for Lana, she's already talking about a second collection and there's a Lana del Rey album proper due out in a couple of months. Violet is already being talked up as maybe her first Grammy - for Spoken Word.

They all count, right?

Monday, August 3, 2020

Big Blue Diamonds : EverQuest

There's no question that EverQuest is currently my main MMORPG. How weird is that?

I seem to have hit a sweet spot. The last time this happened was probably when I discovered Jewel of Atiki, a strangely-named but delightful zone from the 2007's The Buried Sea. That was four years ago, when I was doing my Lesson and my Hot Zone daily for xp, then keeping myself busy farming plat to pay for armor upgrades in the Bazaar.

That seems to be what works for me because I'm doing it again and loving it. Just as it did back in my days in the Jewel, it helps enormously that I'm hunting in the light, sunny, open zones of 2011's Veil of Alaris. It seems like a delightful expansion, not least when compared to the oppressive, claustrophobic gloom of the inexplicably-preferred House of Thule, through which all re-starters and Heroic characters are funnelled. So glad to be out of that miserable hole at last.

As I posted a few days ago, the mage dinged 106 and I re-subbed her account. As I also explained, I was waiting for that specific level because that's when you can equip Conflagrant armor. In my particular case, Arch Convoker's Conflagrant, the variant intended specifically for the Magician class.

I was dreading hunting sharks when Franklin Teek gave me the task but it turns out there are loads of them right next to the docks, including this huge named.
It's not cheap but it is affordable. By watching the prices in the Bazaar carefully I've managed to upgrade ten slots. That leaves eleven to go, not counting ammo and power source.

I haven't been keeping a count of the exact cost but I must have spent somewhere around a quarter of a million platinum so far. I raided my Beastlord's piggy bank for 50k and bought a bag of platinum worth 13k with some loyalty tokens but mostly I've been farming grey mobs in much older zones.

Money flows in quite comfortably from the xp-level content I'm doing but when it comes to cash drops, EQ has a quirk I think is probably unusual in the genre. I can't speak for current content, which I haven't seen, but in pretty much every expansion from... well, thinking about it, from the original, base game, the standard moneymakers remain the same: gems.

Diamonds sell to a vendor for 190 platinum. Blue diamonds sell for 238pp. Various other gems sell for somewhere around the same amount. The main change between expansions seems to be not so much what gems drop as how often, although even that isn't consistent.

Hunting underwater in this zone is amazingly pleasant, not least because of the spectacular way the water amplifies every spell effect.
When I'm out doing my daily double xp Lesson in the level 95 Hot Zone, Sarith, City of Tides, the sharks Franklin Teek insists on sending me to kill drop diamonds and blue diamonds. So did the boogymen and samhain in Fear Itself. So did the reavers in Meldrath's Majestic Mansion.

Gems are great but high-value stackable mob drops can bring in as much or more. Clockworks in all of the Meldrath-related zones from Secrets of Faydwer (also 2007 - two expansions a year back then) explode into showers of cogs and springs when you smash them and those parts sell to vendors for a lot.

I guess those count as body parts if you're a clockwork, which makes sense because mob body parts have been a vendor staple since the game started. In other MMORPGs it's often barely worth giving bag space to fur and fangs but in EQ those crazy NPCs pay top dollar for the most repulsive and objectively worthless organs. I've always wondered what they do with them, although since no NPC vendor ever leaves his spot it's a bit of a moot point what they could do.

The final consideration when deciding where to farm is what players are currently buying on Barter. Incredibly conveniently, these days you can open the Barter window wherever you are in the game and sell directly out of your bags. No more running around the mazelike corridors looking for that one guy who buys writing ink.

The streets of the city are good, safe hunting. I'd do the quests but for that I need to learn the language. All in good time.

It's nearly all tradeskill materials they want, of course, but not necessarily the obvious ones. Many older mats retain decent value but many more are utterly worthless. Also, when selling things that are new to you, you have to be careful to check what the NPCs are paying before you put your silks and ores in the hand of a reaching player. Some buyers are less than scrupulous about offering a fraction of the coin you could get from cashing out at the nearest vendor.

Gems notwithstanding, it's fair to say the more recent the expansion, the more valuable the drops. If you're focused on making the most money per minute, though, it's makes sense to go somewhere you can cut the mobs down like corn. The individual drops may be worth a little less - although unless you go back almost to the beginning of the game it will only be a little - but being able to pull and clear whole rooms in seconds more than makes up the difference.

I've been experimenting, trying to find the most profitable, fastest, least annoying, most enjoyable farm. All of those. Asking a lot, I know.

I've tried half a dozen zones in Planes of Power. A lot of older guides to making money suggest the Plane of Fire and it is indeed very good for gems, plus there are trade mats there still that sell for hundreds of plat a time. Unfortunately, it's a hideous, ugly, depressing zone. I don't really want to spend more than half an hour there.

The aptly-named Beast's Domain is the next zone along. A lovely, blue-green forest with loads of kiting space.
Few of the PoP zones have aged well. My favorite to farm is Ruins of Lxanvom, better known as the Crypt of Decay. It's also stunningly ugly but as an underground dungeon with corridors and tunnels that seems more acceptable. Also it's relatively small and very simple to navigate.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's fairly popular for exactly the reasons I go there, so its not unusual to zone in to find everything already dead. Luckily the respawn rate is fairly fast and once people have cleared it they tend not to hang around for a second run. I know I don't.

All of the aforementioned Meldrath zones are good but I've done a lot of those over the years and I could do without the clanking. A nice alternative I've been trying is Bloodmoon Keep, a dungeon from the same expansion, refreshingly clockwork-free. All wereorcs, spiders and undead, that one.

I tend to farm until I run out of bag space or until I get tired, both of which clock in at around about an hour. My average for a run is somewhere close to 10,000 platinum but I'm fairly sure I can improve on that.

I probably need to, if only because I've bought up all the cheaper Conflagrant pieces now. The rest are going to run 40-50k a pop, which means I need to make about twice what I've already spent. I was very fortunate to get the chest and legs for about half the going rate, though, so who knows what bargains may turn up if I keep my eyes open?

From long experience I do know that I'll just about have had enough of farming after a couple of weeks. It's one of those activities that starts out as really good fun and ends up being a chore. For now, though, I'm still getting that thrill every time I see my balance go back up after a spending spree.

With a bit of luck I should be able to fill out all the remaining slots by the time my month's sub runs out. After that I imagine I'll be ready for a break, anyway.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Into Her Wonderworld: DCUO

Assuming we make that far, January 2021 will mark the tenth anniversary of Detective Comics Unlimited Online as literally no-one in the entire world has ever called it. Almost every MMORPG goes by an abbreviated version of its Sunday-go-to-meeting name but only DCUO has no other identity to fall back on beyond a set of initials.

And don't say "What about EVE?" I checked. The full name of the game we refer to as "EVE" is "EVE Online" and the correct, abbreviated version, which no-one really uses, is EO. Supposedly "EVE" is the name of the now-destroyed wormhole gate that linked New Eden with the Sol system, although why it was capitalized and whether or not it was an acronym, and if so what for, seems to be lost in the mists of space and time.

Hmm. I'd never noticed all that Christian religious symbolism in EVE before. There're the Sisters of EVE, too, an NPC faction that believes "the EVE gate is a gateway to heaven" That's a bit weird.

Umm... how did I get here? I was talking about something else, wasn't I? Oh, yes! DCUO.

It seems like a lot longer than a decade since I first stepped onto the streets of Metropolis. I was pretty excited for the game, being a lifelong DC comics fan.

I put in for the beta and got in, enjoyed it well enough to buy the game at launch, both for myself and Mrs. Bhagpuss. It was a subscription title then but it came under SOE's All Access umbrella, so that didn't factor.

Mrs. Bhagpuss completed the tutorial and, as far as I know, never logged in again. I spent several weeks levelling my first character to the cap, which was set at a low bar of thirty. It's still the cap today. The game uses a completely different system called "Combat Rating". I think it's based on some kind of gear score. Probably.

DCUO's progression mechanics have always been somewhat opaque to me. It's a pity. I really liked the leveling part of the game, the way it started out. If SOE had carried on developing and expanding DCUO along the same lines as all their other games I'd have carried on playing regularly, I imagine.

It only strikes me as I write this just how much of an outlier in the All Access portfolio DCUO always was. The launch roughly co-incided with the beginning of SOE's shift to a free-to-play model, but going F2P never stopped EverQuest and EQII from pumping out an expansion a year or more. DCUO has never released an expansion, not one.

Maybe that's down to its secret identity as a once-rare example of a successful console MMORPG. I have a suspicion Planetside and Planetside 2 operate in something like the same fashion. I've never paid enough attention to any of them to be sure.

Whatever the reason, with the leveling game over and the future marked for instanced group play, I bowed out. But I never gave up on DCUO. I keep popping back in every few months for another look. I've made several characters on a couple of accounts and played them up through those original levels. It's still as much fun, doing that, as it ever was.

About the current game, though, I know very little. It's been a very long time since I followed the storyline (I'm guessing there is one) or understood the structure (I know it's episodic but that's about it).

Occasionally Daybreak do something with the game that catches my interest. I got myself a Lair when they added housing and I always make sure to grab any free housing items that come with the periodic release of a fresh episode. I was pretty stoked when Krypto appeared. I even joined a League, once.

While I'm there, I generally have a bit of a run through the uplevelled "Event" version of whatever the new content happens to be. They all follow the same format. It's nothing if not predictable but as far as I can judge from reading the forums, regular players seem to like it that way.

When Dimensional Ink (Still can't take that name seriously) started bigging up the latest release, Wonderverse, the marketing department seemed to be making more of it than usual. I thought it was going to be something different for once. A new approach. Well, that's literally what they were telling us:

And maybe it is all of that, if you're a regular player with the required minimum CR of 300 and access to the full, permanent version of the zone. To me, when I logged in and knocked out a few quests for various Amazons yesterday, it felt pretty similar to all the other episodes I'd played.

But I was only in the Event version. They're always busy. I imagine the problem is that once the Event ends and a new Episode rolls in, no-one goes back to the old one. The usual built-in obsolesence that leaves so many MMORPGs bloated with forgotten content no-one uses any more.

The zone itself was nice enough, attractively designed on a Greco-Roman theme. Wonderful Mediterranean skies. Gorgeous terracotta tiles. All very Greek.

It was sprawling and "open" in the sense described in the Dev Diary, meaning it wasn't instanced. It was certainly chaotic and I did indeed run into other players, some of whom helped me kill stuff and some of whom poached my quest updates. That happens every Event, though.

I was hoping for something a little more like the original Metropolis and Gotham zones the game launched with. Those are true MMORPG open-world zones; huge, complex, unrestricted. Themiscyra is more like a non-instanced outdoor dungeon, lots of alleyways and plazas that interconnect but not too much wide-open space.

I freely admit that I may be missing something. Heck, I wouldn't even be surprised to find the zone I was in isn't even the "open world" zone they're talking about at all. I get incredibly confused in DCUO most times I visit. I was just happy to find the spot where the action was without having to spend half an hour flying round and round the Watchtower, searching for the teleporter, like I usually do.

For now, I think I've seen as much of Wonderverse as I care to but I'm keeping it under advisement. If it turns out there's more to it than I've understood, I'll be back. And anyway, I'll most likely tune in to see which Big Bad pops up next time around. They do kind of have that part of the comic book schtick down pat.

Other than that, roll on the tenth anniversary. I'm excpecting something special for that one, guys!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Magic Position

It's that time of year again! Blaugust, right? Oh, wait, no, we did that already back in April, didn't we?

Belghast, Monitor of the Blogosphere, seeing the world was troubled, in need of distraction from its fears, seeking solace for its pain, brought the timelines forward so we could enjoy summer in spring. Blaugust became Blapril and the weather obediently followed his lead (or it did where I live, anyway).

The Great Re-arrangement left a yawning gap where Blaugust once was but Belghast moved swiftly, binding the tattered ties together with a new creation he named Promptapalooza. All through August denizens of the blogosphere will come together in harmony for a game of pass the post, each blogger having their say then handing on a new idea to the next.

All are encouraged to join in as and when the spirit moves them. Kinda reminds me of my childhood, sitting in the Quaker meeting room, waiting for inspiration to prompt someone to stand up, break the silence and speak. Only a lot less boring.

I was all ready to go when August began but then the starting pistol sounded on the last day of July because of course it did. I mean, Blapril began in March. What was I thinking?

It was totally my fault I missed the first day. I even have the Google docs spreadsheet with the dates (I'm up on the seventeenth). There it is in black and white

Okay, that's reeeeally tiny but trust me, it says the opening post is by Bel on the thirty-first of July.

It's okay, though. I never planned to hit every beat. That would mean either an entire month of posting about topics I didn't choose while not posting anything I normally would have posted (never going to happen) or double-posting most days for the whole of August (would fricken' finish me!) .

I plan on picking and choosing. Posting in response to the prompts that interest me or anything that sparks a reaction. Also on using the prompts shamelessly to take the strain on days when I'm out of ideas, of course!

Yesterday's prompt, "If you could change anything about one of your core fandoms, what would it be?", I most likely wouldn't have responded to anyway. I'm not sure I have any fandoms, core or otherwise. I was most definitely an active member of UK comics fandom from the late 1970s to the early '90s, to the point that people I'd never met knew who I was (yes, I know these days that applies to everyone in the entire world but it was kinda not the normal run of things back then) but since that ended I don't think I've identified as being part of any fandom as such.

I'm a fan of a lot of things but being a fan and being part of a fandom are entirely separate states of being. It's well-documented on this blog that I have very serious issues with the concept of being a "gamer". Spending your entire life playing games isn't enough to qualify for that tag in my book, or not necessarily.

To be part of a fandom you have to contribute, not just consume, but conversely, contributing doesn't predicate membership of a fandom. I self-evidently "contribute" to blogging but I don't consider blogging to be a fandom. I think of it more as a craft or a hobby.

See, this is why I wanted to avoid this particular topic. The moment I read it I knew I'd get completely tangled up in definitions long before I ever got to say anything about the substance of the question. Let's shelve that one and move on.

The topic for the first of August itself is infinitely more straightforward: "What is some popular piece of content/media that seems to be universally loved that you have never been able to understand?". Bel assigned that one to Dragonray, who addresses it with what seems to me like an eminently reasonable and well-argued rant against Game of Thrones.

I say "seems" because the problem I have here is that I've neither read nor watched Game of Thrones. Oh, I can tell you the titles of all the books because I've put them on the shelves a thousand times. I've just never bothered to open the cover and look inside.

I read George R.R. Martin's Hugo and Nebula award-winning SF/Horror novelette "Sandkings" back in the early 1980s and it repulsed me so viscerally I swore I'd never read another word he wrote, a promise to myself I've found no difficulty in keeping. Of course, I can't stand turgid, time-wasting 500+ page fantasy potboilers either, so that helps.

I could come up with a list as long as one of George R.R.'s dramatis personae of popular media content I've avoided because I believe I wouldn't enjoy it but what seems more interesting to me are the things that I have consumed and enjoyed, things I would consider to be merely ordinary but which have become major global phenomena and cultural juggernauts.

I used to think World of Warcraft was one of those but that was before I played it. Once I gave it a chance I didn't find it all that difficult to work out why it had become the runaway success it once was. I still think it's unoriginal and derivative in many respects but Henry Ford didn't have to invent the automobile to figure out how to put one on every driveway.

No, the super-mega hit that still puzzles the heck out of me is Harry Potter. I mean, I totally get why people like it. It's a school story with wizards. What's not to like? School stories and magic have been two staples of children's fiction since the Edwardian age.

It's not a bad version of the two tropes, either. It's accessible and relatable, the language is simple, the characters are distinctive, the plot is... well, the plot is all over the place, let's be honest, but that could be said of even my very favorite writer in the genre, Diana Wynne Jones.

The first couple of books are weak but they get better, although as they get better they get longer, which isn't better at all. If you have an author who's inexplicably outselling everything since the invention of the printing press, the last thing you're going to want to do is piss her off, so I imagine editing J.K. became something of a fine art around book three or four.

I was working at a bookshop for the entire first-print publishing run of Harry Potter. I saw it change from generic children's schedule-filler by unknown first-time author to literally the major publishing event of the year. For the last three or four titles we re-organized our entire schedules around Potter Publication Day, and by "we" I don't just mean the shop, I don't even mean the company, I mean the entire bookselling industry.

Never actually seen any of the movies...
As far as I can tell from talking to people who've worked in bookselling and publishing for a lot longer than I have, no-one had ever seen anything like it before. None of us who lived through it expect to see anything like it again.

And yet, the thing about Harry Potter is that it's very ordinary. I have read all seven books, just the once. I can't remember when I started. I think the second was already out by the time I got around to reading the first.

After that I read each of them on release. I never paid for one. We received them in such insane quantities there were always damaged or misprinted copies floating around. There wasn't much competition for those because in my shop most booksellers either wouldn't have been seen dead with a Potter or they were so gung-ho into the series they'd pre-ordered, begged to be allowed to host the inevitable midnight opening, then stayed up all night afterwards reading the damn thing.

I was unusual in that I was interested enough to want a reading copy but not so interested I was willing to pay for one. I read a lot of fiction marketed to children and young adults and to me Harry Potter was (and remains) a pretty run-of-the-mill example. It's a bit better than "meh". More like "mm'ok".

And that's it! Why would something as generic go nova the way it did? Not a clue. These things just happen, sometimes, although obviously not often.

I'm curious to see how Harry Potter lasts. We still sell a lot of Potter although I'm not sure how much we sell directly to children or teens these days. The series seems already to be moving into the category of "books I read when I was a child" that parents love to spend their children's pocket-money on. Soon it'll be on the grandparent's gift list. Once a book makes it to grannie's preferred reading status it's "a classic" and we'll never be shot of it but no-one will be excited by it ever again.

I am projecting a bit, here. All that's a few decades off. For now, J.K. Rowling is still out there, wildcarding, so anything could happen. Her adult titles haven't hit Potter sales figures but she's a very major player in crime fiction now, yet she clearly just can't leave Potter alone. And until someone takes her Twitter account away, she's likely to keep generating the kind of controversy every publisher claims to deplore, while secretly wishing their quieter, slower-selling authors could emulate.

I can take Potter and his pals or leave him but I do have to thank the streaky-haired prodigy for one thing: without Harry Potter we'd never have had Simon Snow.

If you've ever read Potter, whether you loved him or loathed him, you owe it to yourself to read Rainbow Rowell's pastiche/parody/homage. It begins in Fangirl, where the Potter-analog serves as a backdrop, then moves into full 'verse status in Carry On and Wayward Son.

The difference between the two series is the difference between Launder and Gilliat's St. Trinian's films and Lindsay Anderson's "If". Do you want to kill a couple of hours on a wet Sunday afternoon in February or fall in love with another way of being?

Buyer's choice.

All images borrowed from the interwebs. If anyone owns anything they'd prefer not to see here, please let me know and I'll shift it.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide