Thursday, February 3, 2022

All Ears

It always feels a little strange when things I write or say have an effect on someone else. I guess it shouldn't. That's half the reason for saying them, isn't it?

The oddest experience I ever had along those lines was about twenty years ago, when someone who'd not long started at the place I was working then asked me if I was the same person who'd written an article in a comics fanzine back in the late '80s or early '90s. Which I was, except I barely remembered writing it. He, however, could quote from it verbatim.

That could happen then because in my zine days I wrote under my own name. It can still happen now, in real life because, naturally, I use my real name there, too. Well, we do, don't we? Unless we're rockstars.

Only a couple of weeks ago someone else I work with, who'd been away for a year or two but then came back, quoted something I'd apparently told her when she was a new starter, which must be five years ago at least. I didn't remember saying it to her but certainly sounded like something I would have said, so I expect I did.

The thing is, you never know who's going to listen when you're talking. I tend to work on the assumption no-one's paying close attention and even if they are they'll never remember. If everyone had a memory like mine that'd be a safe bet but apparently they don't. 

It's even riskier when you put it in a blog post, obviously. These things just sit there, ticking. I have comments set to go to moderation after a while because almost anyone who has anything to comment is going to get to it in a week or two. After that it's nothing but the endless, blind battering of bots, beating against the blog like so many buzzing bees. (Self-indulgent. Strike. Ed.)

I don't usually go back to check, so if anyone stumbles on an old post and takes exception to something I said, I'm probably never going to know about it. Just as well, I imagine.

Much harder to ignore is someone else posting in response or starting to talk about a game I've been writing about, while mentioning or linking back to me as a proximate cause. It's a nice feeling but it's also just a little worrying. There's a mild sense of responsibility that comes with any enthusiasm expressed in public, I find, and it's not always wholly comfortable.

There's a an irony in that, considering some of my all-time favorite writers have always been reviewers and critics. It seems a bit rich to respect and value the process but abnegate the effect it can have. If you aren't aiming to affect people's perceptions and choices, what is it you think you are doing when you write about these things?

I dunno. Keeping a diary? Trying to be amusing? Filling in a few more hours before the inevitable night?

Increasingly, I find myself caveating. Also verbing, but that's another topic entirely and possibly one for a different post. That link, gloriously and wholly co-incidentally, uses "caveat" as one of the examples, so the groundwork has already been laid. 

Being over-enthusiastic is always risky. You either sound like a toddler or a shill. I'd bet I'm fairly safe in believing no-one thinks I'm getting a kickback from Proxima Beta for constantly raving about Chimeraland but I'd be on much shakier ground if I assumed no-one was doubting my sanity or at very least my judgment.  

That's why I've been very careful to fill the posts with qualifications like "my First Impressions and early gameplay posts are wildly over-optimistic" or "I'm just shotgunning facts and anecdotes about the game now. The trouble is, I don't know nearly enough to go into any of it in depth." And yet it hasn't been enough to put everyone off. Several people have commented on how they wished they could play, if only circumstances or technology allowed. Now a couple have gone so far as to post about what happened when they did.

Results have been mixed, although a sample of two doesn't really allow for a graduated response. Azuriel did not have a good time and has very little positive to report. I can't say I'm surprised. Not everyone reads "ramshackle" as the unvarnished positive I do, for a start and his observations about the jankiness of the UI are entirely fair and accurate.

Having it pointed out like that raised an interesting question in my mind. How come I hadn't mentioned those issues in any of my "impressions" or subsequent posts? I can answer that! I never noticed them.

Okay, that's not strictly accurate; I did notice all the flaws Azuriel mentions and others besides but I didn't pick them out as being intrinsically different from any other mmorpg I've ever played that uses what used to be referred to as "action" controls. In my experience those always result in a deeply uncomfortable kludge between center-screen targetting and mouse-pointer button-clicking. 

I've become so used now to having to switch perpetually between moving and fighting with the mouse, then having to stop and swap to cursor control to do just about anything else, I almost don't remember how much I used to hate it. When it's drawn to my attention, though, it still seems like the clumsiest way to organise any kind of activity on PC, a device designed almost exclusively with the combination of clickable icons and mouse pointers in mind. Sadly, that seems to be a stance that fatally lost traction a decade ago. 

What I can say with some conviction is that, from my personal perspective, Chimeraland is no worse in this respect than most similar games and better than many. I'd put Elder Scrolls Online at the top of the "really super-annoying" list when it comes to UIs, closely followed by Riders of Icarus, Black Desert, Neverwinter and Genshin Impact, all of which I've struggled with and only partially subdued.

Having a much better time of it is Kluwes, who's posted a couple of very interesting and fairly positive impressions of his experiences so far. I found it very instructive to read the account of someone else's travels through the early stages. It's terrifying how much I've already forgotten, even though it was only a few weeks ago for me.

One of the things he mentions that had completely slipped my mind is that the tutorial guide, Bella, does offer some vague explanation of who your character is and what they're supposed to be doing. The problem with front-ending information like that in any game is that the opening few minutes are likely to be among the most confusing and intense, meaning the chances of most players remembering much of the fine detail are going to be poor.

Or maybe that's just me. What used to happen when I played mmorpgs was that I'd end up making several characters over the course of the first few weeks, allowing me to re-play those opening scenes a number of times. I'd take in much more of the plot on a second or third go round until I knew the whole set-up well enough to skip through it in subsequent takes.

These days, mmorpg design seems to do its best to nudge players towards sticking to a single character. While it's not an approach I like, I can see how it makes commercial sense. It's plainly much cheaper to pay artists and designers for just one or two starting areas, not to mention having all the characters look pretty much the same. 

That argument doesn't really play well with Chimeraland. As both Azuriel and Kluwes agree, one of the strengths of the game is the very wide selection of races and appearances available at character creation. It really makes very little sense to open with such a rich mix and then force it all down the same pipe. (Eww!)

I found being restricted to a single character per server annoying enough in New World, where the only choice is boring humans. Imagine how much more frustrating it is in Chimeraland, where you can be a baby cow, an elderly arthropod or anything inbetween. (Not that there is anything inbetween those two but you get the idea.) 

When Valheim was all the rage around this time last year, one of the most enjoyable facets was reading how everyone else was getting along. It's not only the familiar rush that comes from everyone playing the same game at the same time, it also has a very practical side. I learned a lot about Valheim and how to play it better from other people's stories and I'd like to be able to do the same with Chimeraland, especially since it looks as though I'll be playing it for considerably longer than I expected.

Bearing that in mind, I think I'm going to try to restrain myself from pre-apologizing too much when writing about the game from now on. Yes, I am almost certainly making it sound more unusual, interesting and enjoyable than it deserves. I suspect most people who try the game will come away with an assessment much closer to Azuriel's than mine or even Kluwes's. 

It's certainly not the game for everyone, no game is. Even Valheim had its detractors. But it doesn't need to be. There's a lot to be learned from reading negative criticism as well as positive praise, so long as it's intelligent and perceptive. 

The more people who read about Chimeraland here, then go on to give it a try and share their thoughts, the better for me. And for them, too. It's only time, after all, and time spent on something that makes you think is never wasted.

And wasting people's time is not something I need to be too concerned about here. I've seen enough of Chimeraland now to be sure that it is a game with plenty for me to enjoy, so I could hazard a guess at a few other bloggers who'd get something out of it too. Also, a few more who most likely wouldn't, but I'm not about to start calling anyone out by name. 

That said, this is certainly not the best time to be encouraging people to spread themselves thin. As we all seem to be saying these days, there's an awful lot going on in the genre right now. I doubt most people would be able to find the space in their schedules to fit the game in, even if they were curious. Remember when we were all blogging about the mmo drought? Boy, that seems like a long time ago.

Next time I write about Chimeraland I'll try to make it less meta. I guess that ought to be a plan for writing about any mmorpg I'm playing. I can't help but notice I've fallen into a pattern of writing about writing about mmorpgs rather than just writing about them.

It is fun to do that but maybe not so much to read. And as Kluwes says "There’s so much to write about this game." I should probably focus on that. Like Valheim, Chimeraland just oozes post prompts and that's probably reason enough to keep playing, at least for a while.

I note none of us seems to be playing Valheim much any more, though. Nor Genshin Impact, which was the big thing before that, either. Nor New World, which came next. If you're up for more posts about Chimeraland, maybe enjoy them while they last. If not, I wouldn't worry. I expect they'll dry up soon enough.

Unlike me.


  1. This was always the right link for "verbing".

    Also, if you want a jankiest-UI experience, can highly recommend EVE Online.

    1. I told you my memory was bad! Otherwise I'd have used the Calvin and Hobbes in the first place, not least since I have the whole collection right here in the room!

  2. Reading about your adventures in Chimeraland has been fun, but I can categorically say that's as close to experiencing the game as I'll ever come. The mobile crossover alone would be enough to make me skeptical, but the aesthetic it shoots for is enough to cement that fact.

    Be that as it may, circling back to my first comment there -- it has been enjoyable reading about your time with the game. :)

    On another subject this raised -- where you talked about your concern in how you present the enjoyment you've been having; it reminds me as a close adjacent experience to the one where you find something you absolutely *love*.

    Could be a short video, a joke, a movie- whatever. But you love this thing and think its the best thing since sliced bread. You love it so much, in fact, that you can't help but to get a friend or significant other to watch or otherwise experience this thing with you.

    And as you do... You realise they're not enjoying it as much as you did.

    All of a sudden there is a doubt, 'Was I wrong? Is this thing actually awful?'

    And like a light switch being thrown, all of a sudden, this whatever it was, no longer holds the same place of value for you that it did just moments ago.

    Dear Lord I hate when this happens. Its a trap I fall into at least a couple of times a year.

    1. Yes, whether to share a new discovery or keep it to yourself is a real risk. I was fortunate (very fortunate, I now realize) to have friend and peer groups all through my adolescence and early adulthood that pretty much ran on the fuel of everyone competing to introduce everyone else to the new things they'd dicovered. It fostered a belief that it was always worth telling other people about anything you'd found that you thought was good but there was also a difficult to describe balance between competition and co-operation that meant even when other people shot your new darling down in flames it often just made you feel even more sure you were right all along... or it made me feel like that, anyway!

      A lot of that came from socializing in groups the majority whose members had an almost unshakeable certainty that they were right, which meant for a lot of very robust debate with surprisingly few fallings-out. In the end, I think we all learned a lot from each other and at a distance of a few decades i can now see where some people i was surwe were wrong were actually right all along.

      It's been a long time since I mixed regularly in that kind of social milieu offline. I've had to learn to be less forward with my enthusiasms and less forward with my opinions. I'm happy to say that this corner of the blogosphere has proved more robust so I feel more free to cut loose here. It's a lot easier to get the tone right in print, though, when you get to read it back and edit!

    2. I've found that I just have to accept that other people don't always like the same things I do, in equal measure. Other people can be wrong. And that's OK, because if other people were never wrong then it wouldn't be such a special and glorious thing that I'm always right :)

  3. Mary Renault, in The Mask of Apollo, attributed the idea that "someone is always listening" to Plato. (With the tragedy that the person who would have best listened, Alexander, wasn't born yet.) That's always stuck in my mind. Those few times that a 'message in a bottle' comes back are always fascinating.

    I enjoy your posts about the various games you play. It is the sense of fun, the joy you have with them that I look forward to. That's what is appealing to me, these days. I played games where I always looked for the in-depth technical reviews, but over time I have found that those just don't engage me. It is the posts about folks having fun in a game that I look towards. I mean, I don't mind people pointing out warts, unpolished bits, rough spots. Those exist in every game and it good to be aware of them. I'm just not in a place that the mechanics of a game matter so much to me. I want to be exposed to why I might think about a game when I'm at work, wanting to get home to play it. :)

    1. I've always found that, while destructive criticism, when done well, can be hugely entertaining, it's always the reviewers and critics who can't help but rave about how great they think something is that end up tipping me to things I come to love as well. Enthusiasm is infectious or it can be.

      As a rule, I find it easiest to write either about things I'm invested in, whether that be enthusiastic praise for things I'm enjoying or deconstructions of why I'm not enjoying something I want to like more. It's going to be very interesting to see which side of the fence that falls when End of Dragons comes out.


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