Thursday, September 24, 2020

It's All Panda Panda Now : EverQuest II

As you can see from the screenshot above, Yun Zi the panda is a popular chap. It's not so much his friendly, affable personality or his open, childlike enthusiasm. It's more that he gives you stuff.

It's pretty good stuff, too. For any casual player who hasn't been putting in the hours since last year, the gear Yun Zi hands out is likely to offer some serious upgrades. And even if you have made the effort, the fact that he's happy to equip as many of your characters as you care to bring makes doing his simple runaround quests an annual ritual no-one wants to skip.

He's always surrounded by players, digging through his stockpile, but he's starting to develop a bit of an entourage of his own as well. When he first appeared, back in 2017, he was on his own but when we saw him again the following year he'd acquired an assistant, Pas Yu, to handle the merchandise. 

This year Yun Zi isn't giving out quests at all. He seems to have sated his thirst for third-party adventure. He's basking in the reflected glory of being the only panda who knows anything at all about the world outside the secluded village where he and his friends and family live.

He's become such a local celebrity, off the back of the tales we've told him, that a panda by the name of Mei Lan has been tasked with arranging a celebratory feast in his honor. Naturally, since Yun Zi is such a well-travelled explorer, albeit vicariously, she wants the menu to reflect all the myriad places he's visited. Or had us visit, I should say.

It's a delightful conceit. I was wondering how long Yun Zi could hold up the narrative of the naive rich kid blowing the family fortune on a personal obsession. The story was starting to get a little threadbare but this refreshes it perfectly.

This year, instead of zipping around the world each week in search of stories to tell, we're tasked with finding ingredients for Mei Lan to turn into amazing "local" dishes. The first excursion takes us to Antonica, where we need to find the makings for Coldwind Clam Chowder.

I know Antonica pretty well. A quick glance at the list told me just about everything I needed to know. 

I figured the giant Coldwind clams would be on the wide, desolate beach just down from Archer's Wood, where Mrs. Bhagpuss, myself and a friend spent hours hunting crabs for spell drops in beta and after launch. And yes, that's where they were.

I went for the old oak potatoes next, thinking they might be in the woods above the beach. Silly of me. Yes, those are oak trees, but who ever heard of potatoes growing in a forest? They are, of course, in the tilled fields just outside gates of Qeynos, where the bugs are so huge you can make a good living killing them for the farmers nearby.

The last ingredient on Mei Lan's list was wild Coven onions. There's only one coven I know in Antonica and that's along the riverside between the bridge and the aquaduct. 

The onions were there, sure enough, but so was something I wasn't expecting at all. As I said, I reckon to know Antonica pretty well. I must have spent hundreds of hours there over a decade and a half. I know I don't have the greatest memory but I think I'd have remembered if there'd been molehills the size of hobbit houses all over the fields next to the stream.

I stopped and looked at those for quite a while before I noticed something else I swear wasn't there before. A farmhouse, in the typical Antonican log cabin style, up a path in the low hills looking down on the river.

I don't know. There are a lot of farmhouses like that in Antonica. Maybe it was always there? I'd believe that before I believed those molehills were, that's for sure. 

The farmer was standing by his porch, gazing out at his fields. I thought maybe he'd have something to say about the infestation so I went to talk to him. He was happy enough to tell me how he felt about his lot in life but on the topic of the giant molehills peppering his land he remained strangely silent.

I filed it away as another of Norrath's mysteries. Must have been some event I missed. Forgotten, abandoned debris from those litters the lands from Qeynos to Freeport and far beyond. Everyone likes to organize events but no-one wants to clean up afterwards.

Back in Sundered Frontier I gave Mei Lan her makings and moved on to see what Pas Yu had new for us this year. I've been a lot more diligent than usual since the return to Luclin so I wasn't expecting much in the way of upgrades on my berserker, who's had first pick of all the goodies from instances and Overseer missions.

The items become available week by week as the questline continues but you can see everything from the start. There are some very nice adornments to be had, which is good because one area where I have been lax is in making top-notch white adorns. My berserker is a maxed-level Adorner and he has almost every recipe but the mats are a bit expensive. Also I kind of forgot.

I noted those for the future and carried on sorting through the new "Shadowed Excursion" gear. I followed my usual policy of checking the Resolve to see if anything was worth equipping. Resolve isn't specifically intended as a gear score but it acts as a very reliable benchmark. 

As I expected, there was nothing with resolve much higher than 170. My berserker isn't wearing anything lower than that and much of his gear is 175 or 180. Most of my roster have similar although I'm sure there must be a few 165s and even 160s lurking here and there.

I'd all but dismissed the idea of taking anything for the berserker when I happened to notice some of the rest of the stats. In EQII, as you mouse over gear, an automatic comparison with what you're wearing in that slot pops up. It seemed that although these new items had a lower Resolve rating, some - if not most - of the other stats were higher.

I spent a while doing a close compare on several slots and the conclusion was inescapable: the panda's gear was better than most of my berserker's, whatever the difference in resolve. What's more, the base stats on the Shadowed Excursion were often better than the enhanced stats on the gear I'd poured platinum and infusers into improving.

Even the rather nice 350 resolve, planar level six, two-hander the berserker had wasn't as good as the 340 resolve, planar level one Heavy Staff of the Shadowed Excursion that becomes available right after you complete the first of this year's quests. With the Two Handed Shadowed Excursion Rune: Power of the Planes that also opens up after the first quest installed, it was a serious upgrade. 

It looks as though I'll be swapping out almost everything for panda gear once more, after all. Maybe not the 180 resolve stuff. Definitely not the 200 resolve ethereal cloak. But most of it.

And then, quite possibly, that will get replaced with free stuff from the box beside the first questgiver in the new expansion. And that will get swapped out for the first set of quest rewards. Which will soon give way to drops from Overseer missions and instances.

You could be forgiven for wondering what the point of it all might be. It does seem a little self-defeating, all this built-in obsolescence. Only, having played a game for eight years where I haven't needed new gear for almost as long, I know which I prefer.

EQII's a funny old game, but I like it.

I just wish I know where those giant moles went.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Let's Go To The Moon (Like We Did Last Winter)


Right after I finished yesterday's post I found out EverQuest II had dropped a double-sized update, including some pre-expansion events and this year's somewhat inaccurately-named Days of Summer questline. That makes me very happy, for two reasons. First, new content. Yay! Second, something to post about. Yay!!

Last year the run-up to the expansion was spectacular but that was largely because it co-incided with the fifteenth anniversary celebrations. The two things were very cleverly intertwined.  

The expansion-related quests themselves were relatively low-key. Some collection and crafting for tradeskillers, some solo slaughter for adventurers. The real attraction was a sustained draconic assault on the wizard spires, which created huge crowds and a party atmosphere. There was a big tradeskill event, too, with the corpses of the defeated dragons providing the materials to build the giant statues that now stand proudly in Antonica and the Commonlands.

It was enormous fun and the desirability of the rewards kept people coming back all the way until the expansion launched. I spent many hours across a couple of months, leveling tradeskills and fighting dragons, to my great profit and satisfaction.

It would be a bit of an ask to expect Daybreak to repeat the whole extravaganza all over again, although I admit I was hoping they might. Based on what I saw last night, that's not going to happen but there is some solid, enjoyable content in the form of the by now traditional repeatable quests.


Like last year, the action begins in Teren's Grasp, the icebound mountain city high above Kylong Plains. I woke up my berserker and sent him there, via the spires, to grab whatever was going. 

There are five tradeskill quests, all of which I have and none of which I've done yet. Probably should have thought about that before I started the post, really. I don't imagine they take very long. Why don't I do one now and see how it goes? Talk among yourselves for a moment...

And just as well I did! That wasn't exactly what I was expecting. Oh, the gathering of the one specific quest material went as I'd imagined it would. Just run around Teren's Grasp and harvest from the many spinning crystal formations. 

No, the unusual part happens when you come to craft whatever item the quest requires, in my case a Box of Nails. The dwarf who gave me the quest said he wasn't picky about what materials I used, something confirmed in the quest description in my journal, so I was planning on using whatever ore I had the most of. 

I wasn't expecting the combine to decide at random which materials I was allowed to use and I certainly didn't imagine they'd all be rares! The recipe requires seven mats and you need to repeat the combine three times to complete the quest, making twenty-rares in total. And for that you get a measly two G.L.E.E.S.H. Marks, the new currency. (You don't need to know what the acronym stands for, trust me on that).

I know rares aren't what they once were and I can certainly farm a lot of them fast these days, but even so that seemed out of order, so I checked. God bless EQ2Crafters is all I can say.

Niami Denmother is recovering from some very major surgery (get well soon, Mum!) but Wilhelmina from the French crafting site EQ2Artisans has stepped in to keep us all informed. It seems that you can indeed use regular mats but the quest doesn't select them randomly at all. It picks the smallest stacks in your inventory. 

If, as I did, you go to your home and let the stupid AI loose on your materials depot, it brilliantly  manages to spot that all your smallest stacks are, inevitably, rares. Because of course they are. That's why we call them "rares"!

The solution is to pick out the materials you want to use and have those in your inventory and to do the combine somewhere other than the zone where you have your harvesting depots. Shame I didn't read that first, isn't it?

I'm not sure I'll bother going to all that trouble. Not when there's a nice, simple adventure quest that, once completed, lets you farm an infinite number of invading mobs, each of which has a fifty-fifty chance of dropping a mark.

That quest, by the way, is called "The Not So Nice Yet Accurate Prophecies of Beckah Stormsong", which has to be a hat-tip to Pratchett and Gaiman's "The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch". As well as giving props to the masters, the quest also throws a little shade on the work we're all doing to facilitate the next phase of the recovery of Luclin. Let's hope Beckah isn't really as accurate in her prognostications as Agnes turned out to be.



Last but for my playstyle definitely not least comes a repeatable Overseer mission. It follows the familiar pattern we've come to expect from previous holiday and event chains. You speak to an NPC in Teren's Grasp to get the initial quest and then each subsequent mission gives you the next in the sequence. 

I'm on part five, I think. It's called Iksar Intent: Into The Essence. There's at least one more part after that. Not sure what you get but I'm betting on a title.

And that's about it. All of the above will be with us from now until the expansion launches which is... well, we have no idea yet. I don't believe we even know what it's called, do we? Unless it's "Haven Bound". But I think that's just the name of the pre-expansion event.

It's always like this. I rather like the vagueness. We'll find out soon enough, I'm sure.

I ran on so much there, I think I'll save what I have to say about the new Panda quests for tomorrow. I've done the first one and I do have a few observations on how that went.

Meanwhile, I think I'll go farm some marks. I do want those petamorph wands and who says no to free mounts?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Just Relax


Syp and Belghast both posted today on the relaxing nature of leveling. I should need no reminding of that. Syp even talks about how the whole process can be made even more stress-free by avoiding quests in favor of killing mobs and farming crafting materials, something I was doing an awful lot of this time last year.

Ah, last year, eh? Remember that? When the biggest thing we had to worry about was whether to cancel our subscriptions to World of Warcraft to teach Blizzard a lesson? Happy days...

I was doing a lot of leveling back than. Two months, at least thirty hours a week, taking a Hunter into the fifties and a couple more into the twenties. When that all fell apart there was the EverQuest II expansion with another ten levels to do. Wouldn't have taken very long with the new accelerated xp but I had a lot of characters so I managed to make it last well into the New Year.

This year it's mostly been good old EverQuest picking up the slack. My highest character was level 93 back in the spring. Now she's 113, just two dings from cap. For much of the summer I was taking her out almost daily to hunt in all kinds of new zones and do all kinds of new content (new to me, obviously, not to anyone who's actually been playing since about 2013).

I kind of fell off that wagon when the recent double xp ended. I'm back to just logging in to set and collect the Overseer dailies. Since those give orders of magnitude more xp than I'm likely to get by going out and soloing there's not a huge amount of incentive to do anything more effortful.

It's very nice to get levels for doing nothing but I'm starting to get twitchy. I love leveling. Like Bel and Syp I find it relaxing but I also find it involving and interesting, too. I'm generally at my most  engaged with an MMORPG when I'm actively leveling a character.

I've been thinking about what I could do about it for a while. I have a Fury in the nineties in EQII I could dust off  but the nineties can be a real struggle in that game. It's why I stopped there in the first place. 

It's also so close to a hundred it feels crazy to slog through seven or eight tedious levels when I'm sitting on several boosts I haven't used. I could skip to 100 or even straight to 120. Which would defeat the object, so there she sits, dithering.

In Guild Wars 2 I considered converting some of my extensive gold reserves to gems to buy a new character slot. Leveling in GW2 can be a lot of fun and although I have all the classes, most of them twice at least, there are plenty of race/class combos I haven't tried yet, not to mention weapons.

And then I remember how my bank vaults groan with every kind of leveling boost. Last time I counted I had enough consumables to jump thirty or so characters from zero to eighty. I know I don't have to use them but just knowing I could is undermining. Plus, they're taking up space!

There are other options. I was enjoying leveling my Final Fantasy XIV character under the endless free trial  back when that only went to thirty-five. She's level thirty-three if I remember correctly. Now she can go all the way to sixty. I could do some more with her.

Then there's that new Microsoft game, Elder Scrolls Online. I was enjoying that one for a bit. And Blade and Soul, didn't I go back there for a heartbeat not a month or so ago? And I took the option to have all those Lord of the Rings quests for nothing back when they were giving them away. I could level up the normal way there instead of grinding mobs and pretending it's a prettier EverQuest.

Oh yeah, and Star Wars: the Old Republic too. Let's not forget that one. All games where I'd like to level up some characters - in theory. I just can't seem to commit to doing any of it in practice. 

And y'know what I blame? The weather, that's what.

Doesn't proper get-stuck-in, do the hours leveling feel like something you do when it's cold or wet or dark outside? Doesn't it feel a bit weird to be grinding away on mobs when the sun's shining through the open window and the birds are singing away?

In fact, back in the summer, when I was leveling away in EQ, it was mostly wet and not that warm. I remember doing a whole bunch of adventures with Test Match Special on in the background as the team desperately tried to fill an entire week of airtime with random conversation as a whole five-day test match was rained off. And they were playing not that far away from me, so we had much the same weather.

September has been glorious. I've spent most of my time either out enjoying the late summer sunshine or using the dry, warm weather to do a whole load of stuff around the house. What with that and going back to work, albeit only two days a week, I haven't felt much like sitting down at the computer for anything much, neither blogging nor gaming.

I'm coming to the end of the home improvement projects I wanted to get done this year, though, and today the weather broke. Tomorrow it's going to feel much more like autumn and that ought to do it.

The timing looks good. Blizzard are still being coy about the precise date of the Shadowlands pre-patch but everyone seems to think it's imminent. When that drops I've decided I'll definitely re-sub for a month. I'm hoping that the squish and the new leveling mechanics will give me as much to chew on as the launch of Classic last year.

Back then, the blog posts all but wrote themselves. Here's hoping history repeats.

Whether the pre-expansion experience translates into a desire to try Shadowlands itself will be interesting to find out. If I had to bet, I'd bet against it. In the end I never did play through any of that Legion expansion I was given. But who knows? Maybe I'll get the WoW bug and use the squish to explore all the supposedly good leveling content from Pandaria, Legion, Battle for Azeroth (people did say the zones were nice...) and Shadowlands itself.

That ought to keep me going until the next EQII expansion comes out. Which, now I think of it, won't have any new levels, anyway.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Ghost Ship


As I may have mentioned I have favorite spots in various games, where I like to park characters when I log out. If there's housing and I have time I like to settle down for the night at home but for one reason or another I often end up logging out in a favored quiet corner of the city or under a chosen tree out in the country instead.

In EverQuest II I have quite a few characters who are citizens of Freeport. My preferred camp spot there is under cover of the open roof on the seaward side of the smaller of the two East Freeport banks. It's convenient, cosy and ... haunted.

I always thought there was something odd about it but it took me quite a while to pin down exactly what it was. I was convinced that there had once been a large rowing boat resting on its side, propped against that back wall of the bank. I was sure I'd seen it but whenever I remembered to look there was no sign.

Later, as various characters acquired larger and larger entourages - combat pets, vanity pets, familiars, mercenaries - I began to notice one or two of them would sometimes mysteriously go missing when I was in that spot. I'd look around for them and not find them and then as I'd turn around they'd re-appear.

One day, it must be a year or two ago now, I was arriving or leaving, I forget which, when I spotted the ghostly outline of a rowing boat in the exact spot I remembered having seen a real boat, long before. I stopped and stared, then I carefully moved all around it, examining it from all angles. And then I stepped through it.

Was I hallucinating? Having some kind of flashback? Was it a secret quest or the ominous warning of some forthcoming event?

No, of course it wasn't any of those things. It was - and remains - a graphical glitch. There's something wrong with the code at that specific spot that makes odd things happen. I could bug report it but I would hate for it to be fixed. It's a part of the game for me, now. I'd miss it if it was gone.

Very, very occasionally I'm able to see the location as I imagine it's intended to be seen, with a large, solid boat leant against the wooden wall. Sometimes I see the ghostly outline of a boat but mostly I don't see anything at all. 

I've become so used to the anomaly I rarely think about it at all. Not until it pulls a new trick on me. Like it did tonight.

This evening, when I logged in to collect my Overseer rewards and set the next round, I was greeted with a most peculiar sight. My berserker was sitting on his winged warhorse in front of a brightly glowing cutaway of the small East Freeport bank. I could see the banker and the broker, an iksar customer and some crafting tables through what should have been the wall. And the rowing boat.

All around was darkness. Not the familiar gloom of a stormy Freeport night but the stygian blackness of a featureless void. I had the berserker turn his mount in a tight circle. For three-quarters of a rotation the void maintained. For the other quarter East Freeport flicked into view, solid and bright in full daylight.

I love graphical bugs and glitches in MMORPGs. When I run into a good one I always try to get a screenshot. This was a classic. I moved around carefully, trying various angles , hoping not to fix what was broken.

And then the ground fell away beneath my feet. The flying horse unfurled his wings and went into a majestic glide. Sparks streamed backwards from my berserker's glowing crown. The East Freeport bank grew smaller and smaller, slipping into the distance behind us as we fell into the void.

Until the game caught onto what was happening and teleported us to the zone safe point beside the West Freeport gate. Spoilsport!

In all the times I've come and gone in that spot, which must be many hundreds by now, this is the only time I've fallen through the world. I suppose I ought to find somewhere more stable to camp out in future. Hanging around near any graphical glitch is tempting fate. There's always that outside chance something could happen to your character or even your account.

Yeah, that's what I should do. What I actually did, naturally, was log two more characters in who were parked at the same spot to see if I could get it to happen again. 

It didn't, but because I was paying attention for once I noticed that what I saw each time was different. The berserker got the full works with the cutaway buildings and the void, the warlock got the ghost boat and the necromancer got a solid wall and an emprty space.

What no-one got was what they should have: a neatly stowed, ordinary rowing boat, leaning up against a solid wall. That's the rare version.

Long may it stay that way.

Friday, September 18, 2020

D.A.I.S.Y. Age?


This morning I received a typically busy and garish email from DAISY, the A.I. from art MMO Occupy White Walls. For an artificial intelligence devoted to aesthetics her personal style certainly does remind me of a particularly intense Geocities homepage circa 1997.

OWW (suggested pronounciation, according to the website, "Owouawwouaw") is still in Early Access on Steam. Or maybe it's alpha. I'm not sure there's a difference. On the website, developer StikiPixels defines Early Access as "the game is mostly stable but under heavy development", the exact phrase they were using for the alpha, when I first wrote about it back in 2018.

They're not kidding about the heavy development, either. In two years the "game", if game it is or ever was, has changed almost out of recognition.

When I first tried it I was quite excited, particularly for the building possibilties. I saw it as a potential replacement for Landmark or, conceivably, "the hipster Minecraft".

I was also eager to test the proposition that DAISY could educate me in art history and help me expand my tastes by leading me to new artists whose work I'd enjoy. She seemed to be quite capable of it. As I wrote at the time "Within a few minutes the artworks she was suggesting were beginning to pique my interest and stimulate my pleasure centers... After a dozen or so iterations... the problem was stopping myself from buying everything she put in front of me. I loved it all".


Sadly, that promise went largely unfulfilled. Each time I dropped in to see how the project was progressing I found it moving further from what I'd imagined it would become. Over time focus began to shift, away from what I'd seen as primarily an educative tool for dabblers in art history and towards an alternative means of self-expression and self-promotion for living artists.

I began to find DAISY less and less useful as she suggested contemporary artists in preference to old masters. It didn't seem as though she was learning my tastes, more like ignoring them.

As for building and decorating, even as the range of options and the quality of the tools improved, the possibilities shrank. Each account was limited to a single gallery. I made mine and was happy with it. I'd have liked to start again on another but to do that I'd have had to tear the old one down. 

I wasn't prepared to do that so that was the end of my adventure in architecture. What's the point of a building game that doesn't let you build?

Unsurprisingly, I haven't logged in much as the game's developed from there. In fact, Steam claims I've only ever played for 7.3 hours, which seems exceedingly low. I definitely haven't logged in for a long time. There didn't seem much point.

Not until today, that is, when DAISY's email arrived, bringing news of a couple of very significant changes. One of them opens fresh possibilities for exciting gameplay, the other makes me curious to see where the game is going next. 

Multiple galleries! That was the specific change I suggested in a recent feedback survey would be needed to get me back and playing once again. It's only two more slots but, as the email says, that's a 200% increase. More than enough to keep me amused for a few more hours. 

I'm not going to jump straight in and not only because you need to be level 20 to get the second gallery, 30 for the third. (I'm currently level 10). It's more that I find OWW suits the darker days. 

Putting a gallery together is a very enjoyable way to spend a wet Sunday afternoon. Right now, with the sun shining and the sky full blue it doesn't feel like quite the thing but when the rain comes maybe I'll start another project.

The other major development doesn't impact me directly but it's highly significant for the future of OWW: you can now upload your own art for a one time fee of $9.00. Per picture.

It seems a bit steep to me. The fee places the submission in DAISY's database and also on the Kultura website, where it remains for as long as the game and website persist, or so I assume from the assurance "Once your artwork is in, it’s in".

There doesn't seem to be any way of capitalizing on the investment directly, as yet. The FAQ mentions "sales" when making the point that no commission is charged but it seems to be a reference only to such sales as the artist and buyer may arrange outside of the game itself: "OWW is designed to drive traffic to social media and/or other sites. Many artists are contacted by fans (who discover them in OWW) over social media and in several cases, people bought artworks in the ‘real world’ "

The drive and direction seem clearer, at least. Occupy White Walls never seemed all that much like a game although it undoubtedly contains gamelike elements. For someone like me it's a toy and the addition of two more building slots makes it a much better toy than it was. The real thrust, though, is an ambitious assault on the established art market.

That's quite a manifesto. The various comparisons with Napster and Spotify that pop up elsewhere in the narrative make StikiPixels' ambition plain.

Whether there's a demand for such an open-access, global clearing house for artwork and, if there is, whether OWW is up to the job remains to be seen. Not being an artist I can afford to sit back and watch (although if I were an artist I think I'd still want to sit back and watch for a while before I started stumping up $9.00 a punt to test the market).

I'm just happy for the opportunity to build a couple more galleries. I'll see if I can't be a bit more forward-thinking this time, too. Last time I had no idea what I was building until I'd finished.

Before I can do that, though, I suppose I'll have to get leveling. I guess it is an MMO after all...

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Touch Too Much?

"Made many improvements to the Overseer system to make it simpler to find Agents you need when you need them."

Everquest Game Update Notes September 16

The strapline in yesterday's patch notes made me nervous. There's a fine line between welcome assistance and unwanted interference. It's been a comedy staple since, well, since forever.

I've been keeping up with my Overseer quests in EverQuest religiously. Every morning I log in to set five of them, mainly the twelve hour ones. I try to get them up and running before ten in the morning so I'll have time to log in again in the evening, collect the rewards and set another five before I shut the PC down for the night.

When I mess the timing up, which happens a couple of times most weeks, I pay the very small fee in Daybreak Cash to finish ahead of time and get things back on track. Alternatively, I set some six hour quests for one cycle. That does the job.

It also has the benefit of reminding me there are a couple of mission types I still need to level up. I have most of them maxed now but I'm still nominally working on Plunder, Craft and Harvest.

After nine months plugging away, barely missing a session, I have almost all of the possible agents. As far as I can tell, the only ones I'm still missing are two elites, King Kazon Stormhammer and King Tearis Thex. Oh, and Fippy Darkpaw, the only agent that has to be bought for DBC.

Setting ten missions a day, every day, means I pretty much know which ones are good at what without having to mouseover their icons or consult the drop-down menus. If a quest asks for a fierce high elf paladin I know Joren Nobleheart is the man for the job. If a rugged, frivolous dwarf's what's called for I give the nod to Tumpy Irontoe.

Having acquired this knowledge I look forward to employing it. Even after spending the whole of the year setting these missions I still actively enjoy the process and the more I understand the strengths and weaknesses of my extensive stable of agents, the more satisfying that process becomes.

Knowing who to pick for which job is one thing. Getting them slotted, set and ready to go is another.

Every quest has a number of required agents. How many varies according to the level, quality and
difficulty of the quest. You have to fill those slots or the quest won't start but you can also slot a variable number of optional agents to enhance your chances of success.

This is where it can start to get tedious. Five quests might use seven agents each and even when you know who's good at what, finding and slotting thirty-five of the buggers takes a while. Also, counter-intuitively, once the important agents are in place it's their lower-ranked assistants who take the time to select. You're not going to have a plethora of rank five Artisans to choose from but you might well have four or five bold rank one Soldiers.

Not that it makes a difference which you use, but you don't want to be sending someone on a mission because she's Frivolous, only to find out on the next quest she was also the only Malicious Scholar you had left. You can cancel a mission after you've set it to regain use of the agents it uses but if you do that it still counts against your maximum ten a day, so you want to avoid it, if at all possible.

Much more annoying than shuffling through the drop-down menus for an exact match, though, is finding the agent's picture to put them into service. After all these months I know just about every agent by sight but scrolling down to pick the right ones from the line-up got old a while ago.

It seems I'm not the only one to feel this way. Yesterday's patch addresses a number of issues with the Overseer system but the best change is this one: 

"Modified how Available Agents are sorted in the Quests tab for non-conversion quests. They are now sorted by the total number of matching traits and jobs, then by job ranks, rarity, and finally name. This change will usually result in sorting Agents with the highest potential contribution ahead of the pack."

I was curious to see how well this might work. The answer is perfectly. In every quest I've set so far, the exact agent I would have chosen has been first in line.

Then there's this change:

"Agents who offer no benefit to a quest no longer appear in the Available Agents list in the Quests tab."

Well, you really can't argue with that, can you?

And finally:

"Optional quest party slots now display their required job rank."

I didn't even know optional agents had a required rank.

There are other changes too, some of them very welcome,  but those three are the ones that are going to save me ten or fifteen minutes a day. The first two sets I completed after the patch took me considerably less than five minutes each. I normally allow anything up to a quarter of an hour.

That's very welcome, especially given that, now I'm back at work for a couple of days a week, I'm having to fit some of these sessions into a tighter timeframe. And yet, welcome as it may be, it does still bring up the question of how much assistance is too much.

I'm always wary of games that play themselves. I don't mean idle games. Those are fine. It's a genre. It's when MMORPG developers begin to engineer out the boring parts that I start to get twitchy.

In this case I'm fine with the changes made. I still feel sufficiently involved in the process to get that spurious sense of satisfaction that makes playing video games so dangerously alluring. It wouldn't take all that much more "help", though, to turn that sense of satisfaction into a queasy awareness that what I'm doing could all too easily be reduced to a single click.

I'd hate to read the patch notes some day and see that some bright spark had come up with the clever idea of having the game itself allocate the best available agents automatically, as soon as the player selects the mission. Obviously now the game can sort those agents effectively it could just as easily slot them for you. 

And then what would be the point of me?

For now I'm happy. I like the changes. The new ease of use even feels like a reward for all the effort I've put in up 'til now. I'd prefer it stops there, though. I'd like to keep my illusions of usefulness a little longer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Back To The Mountain : Trüberbrook

I finished Trüberbrook. It took me just over eight hours. I didn't use a walkthrough until the penultimate chapter. On the few occasions I did go for help it almost always turned out that all I needed to do was exactly what I thought I needed to do, only in a slightly diferent way.

That's a problem I'm very familiar with in aging MMORPGs, where quests have been designed and implemented by different developers over the course of many years. You don't really expect those kind of inconsistencies in standalone games but as flaws go it's a very minor one.

Overall, I'd rate Trüberbrook quite highly. Without a doubt its greatest strength is the visuals. Every scene is beautifully rendered, with a wealth of detail, but it never indulges in the kind of complexity for complexity's sake that turns an adventure game into "spot the hidden object". 


Almost every location would make a fine book illustration or jigsaw puzzle. There's a great illusion of depth created by the use of actual scale models for the sets and backdrops. Possibly for that reason, compared to almost any game of it's kind that I've played, Trüberbrook has very few locations.  

Far from feeling limiting or claustrophobic, it genuinely works in the game's favor. Hans, the protagonist, moves fairly slowly, even when you force him into his stoop-backed, shuffling run, so you wouldn't really want too many long treks. Even with the relatively small number of transitions, when you acquire a map late in the game that allows you to travel instantly from location to location, it comes as a welcome surprise.

One thing that makes the game feel more extensive than its limited number of scenes would suggest is the creative and satisfying way those scenes are re-used. As you progress through the narrative, places you've already explored demand further visits to see what may have changed. 



In other adventure games I've played re-tracing your steps can become tedious but in Trüberbrook it never does. The game lets you know quite plainly if there's no point returning to dead location but chances are you won't even try, since almost all the changes feel as though they're a natural consequence of the actions you've taken or the way the plot has turned.

There are a couple of occasions when something entirely unpredictable happens and that's when I would have welcomed a clue to point me in the right direction but mostly I found myself returning to the correct place to check on something I had an inkling about. More often than not my hunch was correct and even when it wasn't there was usually something else new instead, something that hadn't occurred to me but easily could have.

Obviously I'm being vague here because if there's one thing you don't want in an adventure game it's spoilers. It's possible I'm being too circumspect. If there's one area where Trüberbrook could do with some serious tightening up it's the plot.

I'm not saying it's bad. (It's pretty bad). It's no worse than any number of video game plots I've raised my eyebrows at over the years. If it wasn't for the claims made on the website ("a gripping sci-fi storyline", "a puzzling sci-fi mystery") it would be easier to ignore the fact that at no point does the plot threaten to make the slightest sense whatsoever. 

Much more accurate are the assertions that the narrative deals with "universal themes like love, friendship, loyalty, rootlessness, self-discovery and dinosaurs". It kind of does, although in an oddly eliptical fashion. This could be construed as a spoiler, in the way that just announcing a movie has a twist is in itself a spoiler, even if you don't say what the twist is, but Trüberbrook ends with a straightforward moral choice that I found surprisingly affecting. And it's certainly some time since I saw not one but two character arcs satisfyingly concluded through emotional commitment to inanimate objects.

Trüberbrook is very much a game that's more than the sum of its parts, which is just as well because some of the parts don't add up to much on their own. Those would mostly be the "game" parts. There were quite a few moments when I felt certain scenarios and set pieces existed more to justify selling Trüberbrook as a game at all than because anyone believed they would be inherently entertaining. 

Given that the team had gone to all the trouble of making the scale models and the sets I did occasionally wish they'd just doubled down and made an animated movie instead. They would have needed a better plot, though. Movies aren't as forgiving as games when it comes to that sort of thing.

Even so, I did have a lot of fun playing. There are plenty of times when something you do has an effect that's funny or surprising and that sense of agency is one thing no movie can give you. 

There's also a lot of genuine curiosity to be satisfied by poking around. Unlike most adventure games there seem to be an unusual variety of examinable and even useable items and objects that don't appear to further the plot in any way. 

An awful lot of work has gone into some of them, too. It's by no means uncommon in an adventure game to come across a journal or a guest book or some photos but to create ten or a dozen pages of a ledger filled with names and dates and times and notes, most of which don't have any obvious narrative or humorous value and none of which relate in any meaningful way to the plot seems to be taking verisimilitude to an almost obsessional level.

 It does make the place feel real, though. I'd rather they did it than not, even if it does feel odd to have spent five minutes reading something that isn't funny and doesn't help.

I have no such reservations about the superb set piece that happens late on in the game and which also has no discernible relation to the plot other than to leave a single item behind to be picked up and used later. That item could just as easily have been acquired through any regular conversation with an NPC but instead we not only get  to watch one of the better in-game musical performances I've seen anywhere but also to engage in some on-the-fly songwriting!

I was so taken unawares by this event I didn't have the presence of mind to save before it started so I could replay that segment and video the performance. Fortunately someone else did. This is definitely a spoiler in that I found the unexpected appearance of the event itself  to be the highlight of the whole game but it doesn't really spoil much, if any, of the plot.

 

Actually, the song wasn't the highlight. Here's another spoiler. 

There's an after-credit sequence. I knew there would be. The game just has that feel. There had to be one and there was. 

What it was, though, was completely unexpected and really quite beautiful. I took some screenshots and I was going to use one here but on second thoughts I don't think I will. It really would be a shame to spoil the surprise.

I'm generally not much of a one for re-playing games to see alternative outcomes or endings. I probably won't replay Trüberbrook. I might, though. The choice you have to make at the end is so stark the outcomes have to be very different. I am curious to know what would have happened...

Or maybe I'll just watch it on YouTube. I did say the whole thing would work better as a movie, after all.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

What Does It Mean?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A few months back, as I was trying to put together a post about the New York No Wave movement of the late 1970s and early '80s, I happened upon a video clip of a band I'd only vaguely heard of: The Del-Byzanteens. The clip was intriguing enough in itself but the really interesting thing about it was the keyboard player, Jim Jarmusch.

Back in the eighties I was quite the cinephile. I had favorite directors (Hal Hartley, Alex Cox, Ridley Scott... the usual suspects) whose movies I'd go to see as soon as they were released, in much the same way I'd buy the latest albums by bands I liked.

I saw Jim Jarmusch's first five widely-distributed films, Stranger than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train, Night on Earth and Dead Man as they came out. Even so, I'd somehow managed not to notice he'd been in a band and a pretty good one at that.

The No Wave post never really came together. It's a deliberately difficult genre and even the best-known bands didn't offer much purchase for the prospective television booker. Equally, fans didn't come equipped with palm-sized cameras the way they do now so the period isn't rich in ad hoc hand-held footage.


I haven't given up on the idea. A No Wave post is still a more likely prospect than my next project, a post featuring people who started out as musicians but ended up becoming much better known as directors. That's because, other than Jim, I couldn't really find any.

I'm open to suggestions but the criteria has to be that they were active and performing or recording, in bands or solo, before they became well-known in cinema. People who leveraged their fame to indulge their musical fantasies (Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood) definitely don't count.

One of the great things about the worldwide web in general and YouTube in particular is the way random searches turn into serendipitous chains of discovery. The No Wave post sputtered and the musicians-turned-directors never got started but instead I ended up spending an hour or so delving into the early stirrings of gender politics in 1960s girl groups.

The Del-Byzanteens only ever issued one seven-inch single. It came out in 1982 with an original, "Draft Riot", on the A-side and a cover on the reverse. "Draft Riot" is unusually tuneful by No Wave's challenging standards. The chorus is positively catchy. It's the B-side that sounds off-kilter and weird.


Built around an endlessly repeating bass riff, underpinned by Jarmusch's churning organ fills and revelling in cyclical vocals that sound like some kind of meditation, "Sally Go Round the Roses" exudes an atmosphere both psychedelic and unsettling. Reading the comments as it played, I was more than a little surprised to find the original had been a hit for a girl group called the Jaynetts way back in 1963.

The early 1960s has long been a byword for musical mediocrity. The accepted position is that rock and roll fell sick on Elvis's induction into the army in the spring of '58 and didn't recover until the Beatles' first chart success in the fall of '62. Once that recovery began, though, it picked up speed like a train.


1963 and 1964 gleam with strange and unlikely glimmers of the future, from the Monks to the Kingsmen but some of the best material undoubtedly rests in the safe hands of the girl groups. The Shangri-Las, the Ronnettes, the Crystals and all the sparkling, shimmying trios have lasted far, far better than anyone then could have imagined.


I'm very far from being an expert in the era or the genre but I'd reckon to recognize all of the better-known names and many from the minor leagues. I'd also expect the titles of most of the bigger girl-group hits at least to ring a bell. Apparently I don't know as much as I thought, because not only was the Jaynetts a new name to me but I'd never heard of, far less heard this, their signature tune and big hit, which peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top 100.


Fair enough, perhaps, for someone in the U.K. to have missed out on such a milestone. It wasn't a hit over here and anyway I would have been all of five years old. Less forgiveable, surely, for me to have missed covers by Grace Slick and the Great Society and Donna Summer.

Regardless, I was eager to find out more. And what a lot more there turned out to be. Sally Go Round the Roses casts a long, dark shadow. Here's how the extensive Wikipedia entry describes it:

"... unlike other pop songs of the day, with a spooky, even ominous, musical ambiance heightened by the sometimes odd and opaque lyrics, which gave the song a mysterious feeling... "

The original does sound different from the early sixties norm but it's the enigmatic lyrics that have built it a legend. Wikipedia again:

"Sally Go 'Round the Roses" could be interpreted as a conventional song of heartbreak over cheating, or it could be – and has been – seen as alluding to deeper matters, including drug use, illegitimate motherhood, madness, suicide, or, most especially, lesbianism".

That's one heck of a load for a three minute pop song to carry. Here's the lyric in full so you can make up your own mind:

Sally go 'round the roses. (Sally go 'round the roses.)
Sally go 'round the roses. (Sally go 'round the pretty roses.)
The roses, they can't hurt you. (No, the roses, they can't hurt you.)
The roses, they can't hurt you. (No, the roses, they can't hurt you.)

Sally don'tcha go, don'tcha go downtown.
Sally don'tcha go, don'tcha go downtown.
The saddest thing in the whole wide world is
To see your baby with another girl.

Sally go 'round the roses. (Sally go 'round the roses.)
Sally go 'round the roses. (Sally go 'round the pretty roses.)
They won't tell your secrets. (They won't tell your secrets.)
They won't tell your secrets. (No, the roses won't tell your secrets.)

Sally, baby, cry, let your hair hang down.
Sally, baby, cry, let your hair hang down.
Sit and cry where the roses grow, you can sit and cry, not a soul will know.

Now that's a good lyric. You can take it any way you want and it's not going to argue with you but it leads you in a direction it wants you to go. It's really not that difficult to see why it's been adopted as a proto-lesbian cri de coeur although you could probably make a case for any interpretation that involves someone suffering heartache and social isolation.


Interpreting pop songs is a tricky business at the best of times but even more so when the performers, writers and producers are disparate individuals with conflicting motivations and power. In the case of the Jaynetts, the "band" wasn't even a group but several singers pulled out of other combos for the recording session. 

According to Wikipedia, the whole thing was the gestalt creation of more than two dozen people, including twenty or so different vocalists. The person who initiated the whole affair reportedly hated the final result, although veteran songwriters Lieber and Stoller were sufficiently impressed when they heard it to want to buy the rights. It went on to be a top three hit and a formative influence on both the San Francisco and Laurel Canyon sounds, so what did the guy who came up with the idea know?

 

This all reminds me what a minefield the whole "liking pop songs because of what they mean" can be. I recently dropped Poppy from my YouTube subscriptions because now she's safe and happy, in control and doing what she wants, I find I don't much like her music or her videos any more. 

It's problematic in the extreme. I really liked That Poppy. I was this close to joining her church a couple of years ago. When it was alleged that that version of Poppy was mostly the result of emotional manipulation by her producer, Titanic Sinclair, it became increasingly difficult and eventually impossible to hear, see or enjoy the older work in the same way. 

 

Except I do still like those tunes and I do find the alien Poppy persona diverting, whereas the metallic tone of the new stuff isn't at all to my taste and I'm unlikely to get much from her make-up tutorials. I'm left feeling very happy for her that she's escaped from an intolerable situation to flourish on her own terms but thinking it's time to wish her well and let her go.


Maybe I'm being hasty in turning away. Poppy, of course, only this year recorded an excellent cover of one of my all-time favorite songs, itself originally made famous by an extremely controversial duo, whose backstory involved no end of machiavellian manipulation by a difficult Svengali figure. 

In the end it turned out t.A.T.u. weren't even "proper" lesbians. That none of it was real, by some measures of reality, does nothing to reduce the power, the drama, the feels of those magnificent performances, those towering, thundering, anthems. For anyone who took heart and felt better about themselves because of them, all was exactly as true as it needed to be. Nothing has changed, or should have.

Pop music is never real. That's why it's always real. The songs, the videos, the performances take on lives outside the lives of their creators. It's always a challenge, integrating the two. Or seperating them. Sometimes it can't be done. Sometimes it's not worth trying. 

It's not where the music comes from that matters, anyway. It's where it takes you.

Just go with it.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

I Can Take A Hint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Flosch pointed out in the comments, Trüberbrook was actually last month's free adventure game on Amazon Prime. Or something. It wasn't available to download any more by the time I wrote my post, anyway. 

There's an adventure game most months, or it seems like it. Good for me.Apart from rpgs (mmo or regular), adventure games are about the only video games I really enjoy.

This month's free adventure game on Prime is The Inner World, also available for £11.99 on Steam, although since you could sub to Prime for £7.99 and then cancel you'd have to be pretty crazy to pay that much. Except, oh no, wait, that won't work... it was free, but only until 11 September! So now you do have to pay for it after all.

We've all been there, right?


 

 

Seriously, are they trying to make it difficult? It used to be so simple. Just four or five games each month, for a month. Now look at this list for September, courtesy of Gamespot

If you parse that, (thirty-two games in all) you can see the original five free games per month are still there, available all month and only this month. Then there's some obvious tie-in with SNK, whoever they are, where you can get what's probably ever game they ever made (twenty-two of them and not one I'd take for free) any time from the start of September through 'til the end of March next year.

Finally, and crucially, there are four "bonus games", all of which you can have for nothing from the beginning of the month, only each of them drops out, week by week in turn throughout September, until the last one's gone by 2 October. Most of those same "bonus games" were also bonuses in August, as was Trüberbrook, which doesn't even appear on Gamespot's September list, even though I installed it on 4 September. Then again, maybe I confirmed it in Augusrt and didn't get around to downloading it until later...

I 'm going to have to do a whole lot more fact-checking before I post about these things in future. Recommending something that's free is one thing but £11.99 is very much another and £24.99, which is what Trüberbrook is currently going for on Steam, is something else again.

I'm not sure that's technically accurate.

Those are not unreasonable prices by any means but I wouldn't pay them. I'm only playing both games because they come free with a service I already pay for and use. Then, I'm really enjoying both of them, so does that make sense? Shouldn't I be more pro-active? Seek out games like this and buy them immediately, rather than passively wait for Amazon or some other subscription service to throw them my way?

Yes, well, maybe. And maybe not. I am enjoying them but my enjoyment is qualified, significantly, by the fact I didn't have to pay for them. That has a lot to do with both of them being adventure games. It's a genre I claim to like - and I do - but it's also one I find problematic at times. Most of the time, really.

I've been playing adventure games on and off since the very early eighties. In all those years I'm not sure I've ever finished one without a walktrhrough. In the days before the worldwide web, when I bought my adventure games on cassette and played them on a ZX Spectrum, there were no walkthroughs unless maybe a magazine printed one or there was a hint sheet you could send off for, either of which might take weeks to turn up, by which time I'd be playing something else and wouldn't care any more. 

Back then, when I got stuck, and I always would, that was it. I didn't finish the game at all. I just bought another and played that until I got stuck again. And so on.

Who didn't?

It made buying adventure games an ambivalent process. I'd be excited at the prospect of a new game and for a while I'd have a really good time, problem-solving and exploring. And then I'd bog down on some puzzle I couldn't fathom and I'd get frustrated and fed up and the game would go on a shelf and never be played again. 

If I'd made it a good way through I wouldn't really mind. The stories were generally not so good you'd care whether or not you ever found out how they ended. It was always more about the process than the content. If I'd gotten stuck before I'd really got going, though, I'd feel I'd been ripped off, somehow, even though it was as likely to be my fault as the game's that I couldn't work out what I was supposed to do next.

The arrival of free, instantly available walkthroughs effectively removed the issue of buying something I'd never be able to finish but it brought with it another set of problems all its own. Once you start resorting to a walkthrough to play an adventure game you can't help but notice that what you're really doing is watching a very badly-paced movie or reading a very stilted and awkward book. 

You never think of these things until it's too late, do you?
 

For me, playing an adventure game these days is a balancing act. I try to avoid using walkthroughs as much as possible. The further I get without having to look anything up, the better I feel about the game and my experience playing it. When I get stuck I try to figure it out for myself but only up to the point where I start getting annoyed. 

At that moment I do one of two things: stop playing or consult a walkthrough. Taking a break sometimes allows my brain to reset. When I come back to the game the next day I won't necessarily slip back into the same groove. I may see something I'd missed or think about the situation from a different angle. Stopping like that is a risk, though. Sometimes I just never come back to the game at all.

Going for the walkthrough is more likely to keep me pushing on through but it, too, has risks. I try to skim-read so as to do no more than catch the hint of an idea that pushes me over whatever hump I'm caught on. Oddly, games that have actual hints built in really irritate me. Go figure.

Pretty much the whole genre right there.

If I can finish an adventure game while skipping through the walkthrough like a stone across water, I'll end up satisfied. If I find myself having to read paragraph after paragraph of instructions or, god forbid, watch a YouTube video every time the game moves to a new scene, the whole thing starts to feel pointless in the extreme. 

I played The Inner World for the first time today, for a couple of hours. There's a lot I like about it. It's visually appealing, it's well-written, it's funny and the voice acting is mostly excellent. The controls are very comfortable, too, which always helps. 

The puzzles are of the middling kind. So far most of them have what I'd call fair video-game logic. Clearly anyone who tried to do almost anything that happens in an adventure game in real life would find themselves detained for their own safety in short order but action in The Inner World does have the necessary internal consistency to make sense in context. 

So far I would estimate I've been able to solve about two thirds of the problems myself and of the remaining third I generally have the correct solution, I just haven't been able to put together all the necessary intermediate steps. Only a couple of times have I had to say "well, that would never happen!".

I'll take "Things a psychopath would say" for $500

I've had to use a walkthrough a few times but it's been interesting to see that the solutions suggested aren't necessarily the solutions I've ended up using. There seems to be plenty of flexibility in what order things can be done, which is good design.

Even though I'm well within my personal tolerance for acceptable interventions, though, using the walkthrough has made one aspect of the game even harder to ignore than it would otherwise have been: The Inner World really would work better as an animated cartoon than a game.

Or possibly a radio play or a podcast. There's an awful lot of of dialog. A big part of the gameplay is talking to characters multiple times about multiple topics. It's fun because, as I said, the writing is good and the voice acting better. What's not so great is that the majority of my time is spent either clicking to make someone say their next line or sitting back and listening to them say it.

Trüberbrook, by contrast, isn't as well-written or as funny and the voice acting isn't as good but it's a better adventure game. There's a more even balance between the watching and listening part and the gameplaying part. The difficulty of the puzzles is also pitched almost precisely in my comfort zone. I'm about halfway through now, I think, and I haven't had to use a walkthrough once. Ok, once. Just the tiniest glance that confirmed I was doing the right thing already. Hardly even counts.

I'd recommend both games. They're each strong, fun experiences. Would I pay to play them, though?

Nope. But then I don't have to, do I? 

This is the modern world. No one has to pay for fun any more.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Threatened By My Work Ethic


Posts here haven't exactly fallen off a cliff but there's certainly been a slowdown of late. Partly it's that I don't have a great deal to talk about right now, particularly where gaming's concerned. A lot happened in August but now September's here we seem to be moving into the usual period of post-summer consolidation before the inevitable next surge of activity in November and December. "More of the same", while very welcome for regular gameplay, doesn't offer up quite as many topic hooks.

Another factor, somewhat counter-intuitively, is the lockdown. Which, of course, we don't officially have any more. Except we kind of do, in a way. 

You'd imagine that an extended period of enforced home-stay would lead to more games being played rather than the other way around and for the first few months that was indeed the case, not least because there wasn't a whole lot else to do. By the middle of June, though, my workplace had technically re-opened and by the middle of August activity in and around the center of the city had returned, if not to normal, then at least to something that might be mistaken for it at a casual glance.

I, however, have remained at home, my services not yet required. This had a strange psychological effect on me. I began to feel I ought to be more productive, use the time better. 

It's true that I have always liked to be busy. I describe myself as very lazy, which is true if you define laziness the way I always have, namely only doing things you neither need nor have to do. Given the choice, I'll usually spend my time doing things that are entirely pleasurable rather than those that are entirely necessary.



There's a lot of crossover between the two, though. There are quite a few things that need doing that I find I quite enjoy, once I get started. It's the getting started that's always been the problem. I'm very good at doing things that really have to be done now. Not so good at getting to the things that also need to be done, just maybe not quite yet.

Last year was a bit of a dry run for 2020. I had a great deal of time off work then, too. Around six months altogether. The big difference was that, then, I was quite ill. Being ill means not being able to do all that much and not caring, either. Well, it does with me, anyway. 

So last year I really did play a lot of games and write a lot of posts. I played the heck out of World of Warcraft Classic, for a start. This year I've done a lot of gardening, decorating, renovating and general round-the-house stuff. Nothing on this scale but a lot for me. And I've played games and written posts.

I think, though, that at the moment I'm probably playing video games for fewer hours every day than I have for twenty years. As far as regular gaming goes, I'm down to doing not much more than dailies in Guild Wars 2 and Overseer quests or missions in the two EverQuest games. All of those together take me a total of maybe an hour to ninety minutes, scattered across the day.

It's very much not from a lack of interest, enthusiasm or enjoyment for the games. It's much more from the significant satisfaction I'm getting from doing other things. Before sitting down to write this post I was up a fir tree at the end of the garden, sawing the branches off. And then the trunk, or some of it. I've done quite a lot of that sort of thing these last couple of weeks.

All of this might be about to change because yesterday I finally got the call to come back in to work. I start again next week. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was very much in two minds about the prospect before it happened. I was half expecting to get to the end of the furlough scheme and then find I was being made redundant. Had that happened I would have been happy enough to treat it as enforced early retirement and gone with it.

I still suspect that may be the eventual outcome if we get a bad Christmas, which we very well might, but for the time being I'm quite surprised to find I have some limited enthusiasm for returning to the old routine. 

My favorable feelings, I have to admit, are significantly enhanced by the fact that I'm only needed two days a week so far. We'll see how it goes but I suspect that having two days at work and five at home will remove all of my (very) low-level discomfort with being paid to do absolutely nothing and replace it with a conviction that I've done my whack and the rest of my time's very justifiably my own.

Which could mean I play more games, not less. Certainly on the days I work. I won't be doing anything useful when I get back, that's for sure. I'll be surprised if I can stand up. Mindless grinding may well be about all I can manage.

It also means I won't be posting anything on those days, either. Probably. Unless something happens that can't wait.

The upshot should be a move to four or five posts a week rather than the almost daily schedule I've been keeping since March. Which days I post might be a bit less predictable. Not that it makes a lot of difference. Just thought I'd mention it.

And now I have, so that's that!

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