Tuesday, March 2, 2021

In Another League


Three weeks ago, when I read this interview with the BBC's Steffan Powell over at Gamesindustry.biz, I thought sure, that's fine, but you're "Radio 1 Newsbeat's gaming reporter". Your target audience is fifteen to twenty-nine year olds. Of course you're going to take gaming seriously. 

Just hearing the argument voiced by a representative of the media giant's most teen/young adult-oriented station risks undermining the argument that "The oil tanker is turning in terms of the mainstream media's approach to games”, doesn't it? 

Powell makes the point, repeatedly, that he can be 'parachuted in' to offer his insights to other parts of the network, but when he says things like "If a story is appropriate for other bits of the Beeb, we share it. She's a big beast, the BBC, and it can be quite confusing..." it doesn't entirely give off a vibe of everyone in the corporate monolith being on the same level, to use a gaming metaphor. Or even the same page.

I'm not for one moment denying there has been a change in attitude towards gaming in the media. I'd say that, as a general topic, it's treated not too differently now from the way popular music was treated in the '80s and '90s. Enough people in enough senior positions have grown up with it to understand at least a little about it and to realize that even if it's not something they personally enjoy, other people of their age and educational background find it engaging.

Gaming is still some way from where pop music sits in the media cycle today. These days even relatively minor musicians, people who had, at best, cult followings when they were alive or who enjoyed two or three hit records anyone's likely to temember, are deemed worthy of sizeable obituaries in the quality press. Anyone who ever had a session on the John Peel show is pretty much guaranteed a documentary.

You don't quite need to be the gaming equivalent of David Bowie or Elvis to get that kind of treatment in the mainstream but you probably have to at least be Leonard Cohen. Gaming to the media still means violence, gambling and addiction. Actually maybe that's not such a stretch from the way they cover popular music after all...

I read that article three weeks ago and promptly forgot about it. I certainly wouldn't be writing about it now, if it wasn't for one thing.

This morning I clicked on my bookmark for the cricket coverage at BBC Sport. I wasn't sure if the fourth Test with India started tomorow or Friday. It didn't say on the main page so I clicked the link that said "Live cricket coverage on the BBC". 

That took me to a page that very helpfully told me "


The BBC not only covering the League of Legends UK Championships but selecting the final as recommended viewing? Placing it between Premier League and European football? Giving it that degree of equivalency and legitimacy?

Monday, March 1, 2021

It Makes You Think


As I play Valheim, which seems to be about all I do at the moment, ideas for posts keep popping into my head. It's a game that doesn't just generate stories but one that makes me think. At the risk of repeating myself, a risk I'm always willing to take, while playing Valheim reminds me of quite a lot of things, it reminds me of nothing so much as playing early EverQuest.

There were plenty of reasons I found myself sucked into the vortex by EQ. There was the astounding sensation of playing a game in real time with people on the other side of the planet ; there was the unearthly beauty of the three-dimensional images; there was the astonishingly convincing replication of the imagined experience of living in an alien world.

Above all, though, the hook that EverQuest sank deepest was the way it made me think. Nothing was explained but everything made sense. Or it would make sense if I could just figure it out. I rarely had the feeling I was playing a game, more like I was living a life. The rules I struggled to discover and understand had the heft of laws of physics, not regulations in a rulebook.

Over the years, as I pressed deeper into the undergrowth of online gaming, pushing through the increasingly cluttered thickets of mmorpgs, my sense of wonder diminished and receded. The more I games I played, the more they seemed like games I'd played before. 

That, of course, was what I wanted. When I nervously tried out Guild Wars 2 on the first open beta weekend almost exactly nine years ago I was cock-a-hoop that all the overblown promises (threats!) of broken moulds and new paradigms turned out to be so much overblown hype:

"Is it a paradigm shift? Is it a game changer? A step change? A new generation? No it flippin' well is not. ...what I've seen is an excellent implementation of traditional, standard and familiar MMO tropes. Guild Wars 2 looks to be a really first-class AAA theme-park MMO. If that's what you want then you're going to be very happy".

 And I was. I'm still playing it, after all. 

Looking back, I do think the blogger protests too much. (Me. I protest too much. I'm the blogger). GW2 was the big hope back then and I wanted very much to like it but ArenaNet and some of the game's more vocal supporters were making such iconoclastic claims for its supposedly innovative and original mechanics I was genuinely apprehensive I might not be able to play it at all.

That's about how I felt about EverQuest before I tried it back in 1999. I spent a lot of hours prepping before I even bought the thing. I browsed a lot of websites and read a load of online articles about mmorpgs in general (all three or four of them) and EQ in particular.

In the end I had to jump one way or the other. I jumped into Norrath and boy was that the deep end. It was weeks before I had even a vague idea what I was doing, months before I could say I was comfortable, years before I'd admit to being competent. It was a prolonged, intense, frequently uncomfortable initiation.

But it made me think. All the time. It still does, actually, when I go back and play. EverQuest engages the mind in multiple channels simultaneously. If the logic of some of the systems seemed abstruse then, after two decades of iteration they approach the ineffability of the arcane lore they attempt to emulate. 

To decipher the game's systemic tropes and canons you need to engage in analytical thought but out in the field you don't have time for that. You have to think in very different ways. Your senses need to be engaged at all times in case something wicked comes your way. Movement, sound, any subtle changes in the environment demand immediate attention, appropriate action if you want to survive, let alone prosper.

To play EverQuest is to be always slightly on edge. Never to be certain of your ground. Overconfidence can be fatal. Even confidence might be too much.

It's a while since I've played an mmorpg that demands that much or gives as much back in return. When I think about the ones I've played since... well, let's say since GW2, getting on for a decade ago... they've all been jolly romps to one degree or another. 

Alright, "jolly romp" scarcely applies to The Secret World, although technically I did play that before Guild Wars 2, but that's more to do with the subject matter than the gameplay. FFXIV, Blade and Soul, Bless, Revelation Online, Twin Saga, Dragomon Hunter, AdventureQuest 3D, ArcheAge, Black Desert, Landmark, Star Wars: the Old Republic... all of them engaged the intellect to some degree and most engaged the emotions but none really achieved the elusive, holistic mental gestalt of the genre at it's best.

And I'm not saying Valheim does, either. For one thing, it's not even an mmo, let alone an mmorpg. For another, in early access its scope is necessarily limited. No, I'm not making any great claims for what is without doubt more of an effective amalgam of game designs, drawn from elsewhere, than a purely original creation. Valheim is the sketch of what a great game could be rather than a great game in itself.

But it does make me think

So much planning. The journeys and the trips with their fiendish logistics. The preparation and the maintenance. The construction and the exploration and the goal-setting. 

There's the observation, the analysis, the wonder. How does the world look so hand-made when we know it's generated? Why do surtlings live in a swamp if water makes them explode? What are skeletons doing hunting deer when they neither eat meat nor wear hides?

And there's the in-the-moment, ad hoc, seat of your pants, skin of your teeth, getting through the next thirty seconds, somehow. The painful, arduous, frustrating recovery. The loss and the sliding down and the climbing back. The thoughts of regret, bitterness, resignation. The post-match analysis and the lessons to be learned.

I'm fairly sure it's what people who've played Minecraft have been experiencing for years. It's most likely nothing much at all compared to what people who've played Ark or Rust have endured or enjoyed. I keep seeing those comparisons but I'll have to take them on trust from people who've played those games because I never have.

But I have played EverQuest. And it was like this.The way it made me think was like this. 

That's what I've been missing. That's what mmorpgs have been missing.

I wonder if they'll ever find it?

Sunday, February 28, 2021

February Songs


Well, that was a ride. Last month we didn't know it existed. Now, no-one talks about anything else. Okay, I don't talk about anything else. 

On the tenth of the month I mentioned Valheim for the first time, mostly to say I'd bought it but hadn't played it yet. On the eleventh I gave my first impressions, suggesting I didn't think it was all that. Then I went on to post about it every day for two weeks, except for the odd day when I was so hard into playing the damn thing I didn't get to post at all.

About the only other things that got a mention were Teen Titans Go! and Twin Saga. Plot a chart for that. 

Enough. Let's get to it.

 


January Songs - January SongPygmy Lush - The way I pick titles for this blog is becoming increasingly abstruse. It began with me pulling occasional songs and lyrics out of my head. That worked for a few years, until I started to notice I was coming up with the same ones over and over. Next, I started looking through my extensive collection of downloads and cds, scanning for possible titles that might fit. That was alright but it got to be hard work. Also I was too tempted to come up with posts just to justify using titles I really liked. 

So I flipped it and moved to my current system, writing the post then running keywords and phrases that might fit through various search engines. That's been very productive in introducing me to new music I'd never have heard otherwise but it does attenuate the link between the source and the inspiration. And now I realize I'm also vetting the results for choices that come with a video that might give good freezeframe image in the monthly round-up. 

I didn't notice I was doing it until this month, when as chance had it many of the songs I wanted to use didn't come with any video at all. Like this one by Pygmy Lush, of whom I have never heard, even though they sound like a lot of other people I like. 

I have month-name titles picked out until August, making a full year since I switched the explanatory posts to a monthly schedule. I might take a break from using all music references all the time after that. It's already a dog-wagging tail. 

Then again, maybe I'm having too much fun to stop. We'll see how I feel in September.


Donkey Ride - Rickie Lee Jones - Wow! That's a long way from Chuck E's In Love. Rickie going full Yoko on that donkey's ass there. Erm... Maybe I should rephrase that. I love Yoko Ono, by the way. Certainly a hell of a lot more than I love John. Which is not at all.


Push The Envelope - Asteroids Galaxy Tour - At last! An actual moving picture video! I happened on this lot a few years ago. I think I was probably searching for Galaxie 500 and they cropped up in the sidebar. (That's a great link there, let me mention to you. Don't miss it. Antoine de Caunes from the wonderful 90s pop show Rapido, with a short introduction to the band, from which I learned that Galaxie 500 like Yoko too. I never knew that). 

I have no clue what kind of music Asteroids Galaxy Tour like let alone what they think they're playing. Anyone who puts the word "Tour" at the end of the name of their band clearly has a tenuous grasp of form, structure and meaning. Always a recommendation in my book. There's an acoustic version of the same tune here, worth watching just for the way the singer's hair makes it look like she has giant eyebrows. 

I Go Shopping - Alcazar -  And we're back to static shots of the covers. Sorry. Also, listen to this for just ten seconds and you'll have it in your head all day. They front-load the chorus to make sure. There are some "live" versions but they're all terrible beyond belief. This is the least bad of all of them, just in case you doubt me.  


Try It, You Might Like It - Soon(Like It) - Imani Coppola - I had two options for this. Both good but neither has a video of any kind. So frustrating! The other was Your Sister's Clothes by Pulp but honestly I think I've given Jarvis more than enough exposure already. And exposure is clearly the last thing that man needs. 

The Longest Road - Morgan Page (ft. Lissie)(Deadmau5 remix)  - Progressive house, apparently. Progressive country house, more like. Mesmeric musically, elegaic lyrically. Not sure the shots of Deadmau5 flipping switches and turning knobs add much to the ambience but I'm not complaining. At least something's moving.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum, Baby! - Airhead - Thomas Dolby - Who else in the entire world would use a line like that in a dance number? I'd forgotten all about Thomas Dolby. I'm not entirely sure I'm all that grateful to be reminded of him, either. There's a fantastic live clip here with him singing horrifically off key. Almost as bad as Dave Vanian, when I saw the Damned back in 1977. Not as bad, though. Nothing ever could be. 

Happy, As A Clam! - I'm A Vampire - Future Bible Heroes - The video's someone's creative arts class project but the diy aesthetic fits the tune perfectly. FBH were new to me but they sounded interesting so I took a look at a few more of their tunes on YouTube. You'd think it was pretty innocuous stuff but boy does it yank some peoples' chains! Reading the comments, I get the feeling there are people who still wouldn't understand what irony was if Alanis Morrisette came round to their house and explained it to them in person.

Cast A Long Shadow - The Monochrome Set - The always underrated Set, seen here dressed all in white and playing what looks like the second stage at a community festival in a local park. Been to a few of those in my time.

Better Later - On The Run - Jungle Brothers - One of the best things to come out of my change of method here is the way it's brought back to me my love of daisy age hip hop. Something about the phrases I search for seems to bring up new examples all the time. There's a whole post in how that happens, now I come to think of it. I mean, I knew I liked that stuff. I'd just forgotten how much. There wasn't ever a lot of it, either, but there's still plenty I never heard at the time. It's been like finding a whole new chapter in a book I thought I'd finished. 

Why Am I Doing This? - Starmartyr - My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult  - Like stuff I used to listen to but better. I'd dance to this. Or do other things. I checked the band's name. Supposedly it was taken from a tabloid headline. To me the phrase "Thrill Kill" always brings to mind Neal Adams. Not that I've ever read that one. I Probably should.

Thirty Days - Run DMC -  Old school rap seems to have aged a lot better than old school rock. Then again, I guess it depends how old school you're talking. Chuck Berry still sounds fresh or these people seem to think so, at least.

Is That All You Got? - Boom - P.O.D. - I know this from the far superior Crystal Method remix but there's no video for that so this gets the nod. P.O.D. gets the nod. Heheh. Heheh. No, that really needs a Beavis and Butthead sample to make it work. Plus it's not actually a double entendre. Then again, it's a drug pun, so...

We All Make Mistakes - No Room For Doubt - Lianne La Havas ft. Willy Mason - The punk police told us to take off our Joan Armatrading pins back in '77 They were wrong then and now everyone knows it. If you fancy a live version without Willy Mason (and I can see why you might, although he won me over in the end) the Barn Sessions has you covered.

Dead Again - Grins - Charlie XCX - To quote Charlie herself, "pretty fucking cool!". Predates my understanding of her work and thereby comes as something of a revelation. I need to dig down, obviously. Surprisingly rockin', especially compared to the studio version, although not as rockin' as Buckcherry. They have a song that uses the exact title and I momentarily considered it but it's kinda, sorta at best. I think I may be over that sort of thing, for now, anyway.

One of Us - Joan Osbourne - I confess when I came up with this one I was totally thinking of the chant from Pinhead by the Ramones. (And no, I am not going to start calling them "Ramones" with no definite article. We shall speak of it no more). That was before I ran the phrase through a search engine and Joan popped out. I had completely forgotten this one! I remember hearing it on the radio all the time in the '90s, back when I used to listen to music radio. What a great driving song. Windows rolled down, sun shining in, everyone yelling the chorus and that great bit that goes  "'...cept for the pope, maybe, in Rome".

I Have Built A Treehouse - Treehouse - I'm From Barcelona - Speaking of singalongs... Listen to this and I promise you'll have it in your head all day and you'll be glad to! Glad, I tell you! This lot seem to be another of that inexplicable cabal of collectives like the aforementioned Asteroids Galaxy Tour who seem to have beamed down from another reality to populate festival stages across Europe. God knows what they've been doing during the pandemic.

I came across this tune on YouTube a few years ago and watched all the live versions I could find. Well, a quorum. There are a lot of them. A lot of live versions, I mean. There are a lot in the band, too. The cover of the album this comes from has a group photo featuring two dozen people. How that can be commercially viable I cannot imagine. They're not from Barcelona, either. I think they're from Sweden. But don't quote me. I know nothing.

And there's another great song I could have used. Treehouse by Helen Austin with a stop-motion video by her daughter and some really great whistling most likely by both of them, I'd guess. I was going to save it in case I ever did another post about arboreal living but that might never happen so sod it, let's have it now.

I've Got A Lot Of Catching Up To Do - Catching Up - All Star Weekend -  Save yourself a mawkish ballad and skip to around 3.35. That where the pop-punk boyband bounce begins. Or maybe just skip the whole thing. Kind of wish I had...

Oooh! - De La Soul - De La do Dorothy. Shut up, Butthead.

In The Portals - Dreamy Lady - T. Rex - As I mentioned earlier, there's a whole post waiting to be written about how certain words and phrases are commonplace in some musical genres and almost entirely unknown in others. Much of that is obvious but a few years of searching for matches has made me aware of some peculiar trends. One thing I can always rely on, though, is how any even vaguely fantasy-related jargon is going to spit out prog and psych-folk bands like copper bars from a Valheim smelter. Come to think of it, I bet some of those bands are playing Valheim right now. Let's hope so. At least it'll keep them out of the recording studio.

I have to filter all of those out when I go with a genre-specific title. Marc Bolan, of course, used to be the feyest of the fey until he swapped fantasy for fifties rock and roll with a hint of the future. Out went the wizards, in came the silver studded sabre tooth dreams but once a hippy, sadly, always a hippy. He did have a tendency to revert. Good news for me. Don't know where I'd have found an acceptable use of the word "portals" otherwise.

On A Wooden Bridge - Wooden Chair - Angus and Julia Stone- I was so happy to find this for so many reasons. I love the duo's signature tune, Big Jet Plane, but I've never found anything else by them I like even half as much until this. It's a two-chorder and I love songs that have just two chords. And there's whistling! Oh god, how I love whistling in pop songs. So, yeah, good find.

It's So Different Here - Rachel Sweet - My days of discovering new songs by Rachel Sweet are, I fear, behind me. Ironic, perhaps, because this, from her superb debut album, is so far ahead of its time it might as well be brand new. I can hear all kinds of things in it now I couldn't hear then. The seeds of trip-hop for one. Liam Sternberg, who wrote it, has what must be the shortest Wikipedia entry for a music industry figure of his significance and impact I've ever seen. It's one paragraph! Five sentences! Is that really all anyone has to say about him?

Yo! Bum Rush The Show - Public Enemy -The originals and still the best. I realize that's a bit like when your dad used to say the bands you liked were okay as far as it went but they weren't the Rolling Stones but then most bands aren't the Rolling Stones, something for which, as a lifelong Stones fan, I'm profoundly grateful. As with Public Enemy, the original's plenty. No need for imitations.

Nothing Lasts Forever - Echo and the Bunnymen - A popular title, used by lot of people including the Kinks, Guns 'n' Roses and Maroon 5, none of which I'm going to link because I don't much like any of them. I do really like the one by Natalia Kills, though, so we'll have that.

Moving House - She Really Wants You - Aimee Mann - Aimee Mann is a fantastic songwriter, a wonderful singer and a solid live performer. I have records by her. Several. This one takes a few listens to bed down. I'm not sure I'd have made the effort if it had been the first thing I'd heard by her.

Swamp Fever - The Vice Barons - Have we had any Belgian surf-punk yet? No? Didn't think so. I actually prefer this identically-titled slice of afrobeat by John Cameron but the Barons look better on the blog and yes, I am that shallow.

'Til next time!

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Swamp Fever

 

On Wednesday evening I killed The Elder, Valheim's second boss, keeper of the keys to the gates of iron. Literally. He drops a key. It opens a gate. Behind the gate there's iron. Piles of it.

Killing him came as something of a surprise. I thought that was going to be the hard part. With the big fight out of the way I imagined my forge turning out iron weapons and armor the very next day. It certainly never occurred to me it would take me three days to find the blasted gate!

The gatein question is attached to the front of a sunken crypt. Not a specific sunken crypt. Any old sunken crypt. It's just a regular crypt that's sunken. In a swamp.

Swamp is the third of the five biomes in Valheim's Early Access. Two more to come. Actually there are six already, if you count Ocean. Only no-one seems to. 

In order of difficulty they go Meadows, Black Forest, Swamp, Mountain, Plains. I thought the last two were the other way round but in his comment on Wilhelm's  "looking for swamp" post  SynCaine says not and he's way ahead of me so I'll take his word for it.

Because every Valheim world is procedurally generated from seed there's nowhere you can go to look up where to find a swamp nor yet a sunken crypt. You just have to go find it for yourself. 

Except I already had found some swamp. Two dirty great patches, close together, right next to where I'd built my log cabin. I figured there'd be plenty of sunken crypts there. 


 

There weren't. There weren't any. Not one. I even googled what the damn things looked like so I could be certain I wasn't running past them without noticing.

Not likely. They're very distinctive. They look like Victorian mausoleums with green torches either side of the entrance. You can see them for miles in the gloom of the swamp.

Or you could if there were any. Which there weren't. 

Needless to say I looked again. Then again. I killed a lot of draugr. I killed a lot of blobs. I got quite comfortable in the muck and mire. Too comfortable. I got cocky, went roaming through the swamp in the night-time and it came on to rain and visibility went all to hell and I ran into a bunch of draugr and thought I'd plow through them and one was an elite and I died in the water, under a fallen tree.

Took about two hours and half a dozen deaths to get that corpse back. It had all my best stuff on so I had to do it. If it hadn't been for the stuff I'd bought from the merchant (I finally found him!) which cost all the gold I'd found in two weeks of graverobbing, I might have left it there. I was starting to wonder if it wouldn't actually be quicker to make an entire new set of gear than go get the old stuff back.

That about convinced me I wasn't going to find any crypts in the swamps I knew. I'd have to find some new swamps. That was my Friday, looking for swamps. I mapped all the areas of the large starting island except for the deep south, where it turns to plains. 

There was the start of a swamp down there but it was too dangerous to cross the plains to get to it. A major feature, intended or otherwise, of Valheim is the way the mobs from one biome roam into all the others. I might have a post about that some day but for now I'll just say it's like the old EverQuest days when you had to keep your eye out for griffins and spectres going on a rampage. Plains mobs encroaching on swamp environments is the stuff of nightmare.


 

After a few hours I was sure there were no more swamps I could reach by foot. It was going to take a sea voyage and some blind luck. 

For once I exhibited some sense. Instead of rushing headlong into it I did lots of prep. I worked out a likely destination and a route. Rather than waste an hour sailing my karve (It's a mini-longship. I guess that makes it a shortship) halfway round the island, I portalled over to the house near where I needed to start and made a new one there.

I took off all my good gear and stashed it in chests. I packed some food, some wood and rocks to make a shelter when I landed and all the mats I needed to make a portal so I didn't have to do the whole thing twice. Then I set sail, fully expecting a disaster.

It all went perfectly. The wind was in the right direction all the way. I made landing in a good spot. I got a shelter up and built the portal. There were a few greydwarves coming in but I dealt with them. Once I had my beachhead set up I headed off to explore. 

It turned out to be just a smallish island. Not tiny. About big enough to take one game day to go round on foot. And it didn't have a swamp to be seen. 

Bugger. Back to the chart table. This time I decided to go the way I'd tried right back at the start, when I'd sailed my raft into a storm and been eaten by a sea serpent. I'd seen land ahead just before I drowned. I'd try that.


 

And it worked! It was a much longer journey. I saw a sea serpent but it didn't see me. I landed on a small island at the head of a chain of them leading in to a wooded shore. There were a lot of greys but this time I'd equipped myself a little better, having learned from last time, when I had to spend the first few minutes making a stone axe because I'd travelled too light.

With a second base camp in place I once again installed a portal. Just because the last one was a waste of time, no reason to skimp. And just as well I did because this time I found what I was looking for. And a lot I wasn't.

But that didn't come until this morning. Last night was all huzzahs. I found some swamp! Even better, I got back in one piece, didn't wreck the boat (it was close!), got the portals paired and didn't die once. I went to bed feeling very pleased with myself. 

Today soon put a stop to that. I won't go through the painful details. Suffice it to say at one point not only was I trying to find a corpse with all the good stuff on yet again, this time with no grave marker to tell me where to look because of how many more times I'd died trying to find it, I was also trying to find another corpse I'd left somewhere not really all that close. It was wearing my second-best gear.

My judgment was becoming impaired from the endless carnage. At one point I built a supposedly unassailable shelter on a rock in the sea only to fall off the rock and drown as I missed the door trying to get in. There was a blob chasing me. I panicked. Lucky gravestones float. Not that I was carrying anything worth salvaging by that point.


 

And yet, in the end, I prevailed. I managed to find and grab my best gear and when I was leaping and bounding over rocks with blobs in squelching pursuit I spotted my second-best corpse on a tiny island. Once I was dressed I mades some chests, stashed most of my stuff, kept the armor and weapons, went back, cleared the general area and got my reserve kit.

It was glorious. Well, apart from the skill loss. I really wish they'd change that to a skill penalty against future gain. I must have dinged 35 in axe ten times now.

And the best part? On one of my desperate, hopping, swimming, stumbling runs through the brackish water and over rotten tree-stumps I spotted a sunken crypt. It was as hard to miss as everyone says they are. 

Amazingly, after that everything went smoothly. Well, I only died once more. I was careful. I made yet another house, right in the swamp, near the crypt, this time by fortifying the trunk of a giant tree. I even managed to get a bed, a workbench and a fire in there. And two chests. 

You can put a workbench on top of a fire and still use both. Did you know that? I knew you could put a workbench on top of a bed and still sleep in the bed but a bed's not on fire, is it? I'm guessing they'll change all that, eventually. Beta is better.


 

I got to the crypt without incident. An ooze was camping the entrance but I just sprinted past it. Inside there were two blobs in the first room. I killed the first and survived the poison with about ten hit point left. Then I killed the second and died on the final tick. So close. If I'd had the patience to wait for the fermenter to finish making my first batch of poison resistance potion I'd have survived. Nah, who am I kidding? I'd have used it long before on one of the corpse runs.

But that was the last death. It was a thirty second run back to get dressed and then three more round-trips to get the pick-axe repaired. I wore it out mining scrap iron in the crypt. Those two blobs turned out to be the only creatures down there but there was a ton of iron and I got it all. Now I never have to come back, not to that particular crypt anyway. Nothing respawns inside crypts as far as I know.

I stashed my iron in a chest in my fortified treetrunk, jogged back to the portal at the beginning of the island and ported home. Now I just have to figure out how to get my ore back to the smelter. It means a boat trip at the bare minimum and possibly a long overland run after that, unless I upgrade my original smelter and forge, which are much closer.

Or I could just break the whole lot down and move the entire operation to the new island. All decisions for tomorrow. Now I'm off to sleep.

After all that lot I'm flippin' exhausted!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Moving House

 

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I was playing Black Desert Online. Enjoying it, too. 

As with most things, I hadn't planned it. I just happened to hear that publishing rights were passing from Kakao to Pearl Abyss and I'd have to do something about it sooner or later if I didn't want to lose my characters. 

Even though I hadn't played in quite a while, once my memory had been jogged it occured to me I quite liked my BDO characters, at least the couple I could remember, so I probably ought to make the effort.

I went through the account transfer process. It was relatively painless as these things go. I even got a post out of it. And then, naturally, I had to patch up, log in and take one of my characters out for a spin.

I chose the Shai, since she was the one I'd been playing last. Everything was amazingly confusing, as you'd imagine with a game as peculiar and idiosyncratic as Black Desert, except for the combat. That came back to me in no time. 

Hardly surprising. At low levels there's not a huge amount more to combat than pressing a couple of buttons. Gets a bit more subtle later but no need to worry about that now. 

What was a little more unexpected was how quickly I got back into the routine of logging in every day. The daily log-in rewards had something to do with that, which I'm sure would please whoever designed them, but mostly it was that BDO is just fun to play. 

It's a deep and complex game in many ways but also a very simple one if you want it to be. I just ran around semi-randomly clicking on quests, autopathing to the location, killing whatever needed to be killed then autopathing back. On the way I enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and frequently veered off the pre-set path to go exploring. 

It was all going swimmingly until out of nowhere Valheim appeared and knocked me off the BDO horse. Donkey, to be strictly accurate. No shame on Black Desert. I fell off all the other mmorpg horses too.

Nothing much would have changed only this morning I saw that the transfer had taken place. Kakao are out of the picture, Pearl Abyss are in the driving seat and there are a ton of rewards for logging in under the new regime because of course there are.

I salivate on queue when the correct stimulus is presented and free stuff is about as correct as it gets. Also I was curious to see if the whole operation was going to continue as smoothly as it had so far.

There'd been some overnight issues but those were said to have been resolved so I thought I'd give it a try. I clicked on the icon on my desktop just to see if there'd be some clever handover between the outgoing and incoming owners but all I got was a "thank you for playing, now bugger off" notice from Kakao. 

Something along those lines. I forget the exact wording. I realize belatedly I should have taken a screenshot for illustration purposes but I didn't and it's too late now. I've deleted all the old files.

I did that after I started the up the new patcher. And I did that after I'd googled my way to the Pearl Abyss website and fiddled around until I found the download for their launcher. Maybe if I actually used the email address I'd signed up with I'd have received something telling me where to go for that. I hope so. I'm not logging in to find out now. Due diligence be damned.

In the usual way of these things, even though I directed it to the exact same place I already had the game files installed, the patcher decided it wanted to download all thirty-six gigabytes yet again. I realized before it had got through much more than a couple, so while it chunked away I copied all the files into the new Black Desert folder it had created inside the old one.

I thought that might give it indigestion but it seemed not to notice. Indeed, it was so oblivious it kept on downloading the files and installing them over the top of the ones that were already there. I stopped it and restarted it and then it got the idea.

If I'd done the transfer first the whole thing would probably have taken about ten minutes. As it was it took about twice that. Then I logged in. Or tried to. There was some error or other but I figured maybe it was because I'd been messing about so much I'd confused the thing. I stopped and started over.

Worked fine that time. My new login details were fine. My characters were all fine. When I got into the
game everyone was speaking Korean (the NPCs that is) but someone in chat said all you needed to do was reset the language in options so I did that and then that was fine too.

I thought I'd better pick up my freebies so I started on that but there are so many! It didn't help that I haven't cleared my mailbox in four years. It also didn't help that my inventory was full. And it certainly didn't help that as I took things out or sold them the inventory spaces healed over! I had less space after the clearout than I'd had before I started.

At first I thought that might be some transfer-related bug but then I realized it was much more likely a temporary upgrade had expired. Black Desert is really big on time-limited upgrades and they often feature in the free handouts. Well, sometimes. I don't know about "often".

To cut a long and really not that interesting story a little short, I ended up running all the way to Trent, a town out in the boonies I'd forgotten even existed. First I went to Carpheon to try and unload some stuff to the bank there but I had almost no space left.  

Black Desert's banks are all separate but these days you can at least see what you have where from any of them. And it seemed I had an almost-empty vault in Trent so that's where I went. It was a long run but I tabbed out for most of it and wrote some of this. 

Once I'd cleared some room I started claiming and opening boxes and packs until that started to get out of hand. I'd need about ten bank vaults to store everything if I claimed it all. Those four years of mostly untouched freebies in my mailbox are just the tip of the iceberg.

Once I'd upgraded half my armor and all my jewellery and grabbed a couple of nice titles I felt I'd done about as much as I could stand for one day. There was just one last thing.

According to Massively:OP there's also a coupon you can claim. Why there needs to be one of those on top of everything else I have no idea. I also had no idea how to claim a coupon so I had to google that. 

Seems you can't do it from the game. It involves logging in to your account on the Pearl Abyss website. Maybe that's the point, to make sure you know how that works.

Once you're there you'll find the code doesn't obviously fit into the four boxes. Nothing's ever straightforward, is it?

The code in question, according to M:OP, is 0225 WE ARE THE ONE but what you need to enter on the website is 0225-WEAR-ETHE-ONE! . Reddit told me that and Reddit was right. And don't forget the exclamation point or it won't work.

I've done all of that and now I feel I need a lie down. Nah, who am I trying to fool? I want to go chop trees in Valheim. Black Desert can go back on the bench for a while now I know my characters are safe and have all their stuff.

I will be back, though. Just can't say when.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Nothing Lasts Forever


Yesterday Wilhelm at TAGN posted an excellent examination and analysis of the difficulty of launching successful, new mmorpgs in the face of the sheer longevity and resilience of the games already running. As he observed 

"Fans of the genre tend to bemoan its stagnation and blame WoW or free to play or whatever for the fact that things can seem stale.  But the real problem is that old games don’t go away".

And I chipped in with this comment:

"People will insist on banging on about the mmorpgs that close down without ever recognizing the vastly larger pool of games that just keep on going."

I stand by that statement. It's just a shame I chose to make it on the day Gamigo decided to clean house.

In what seems like a particularly insensitive cascade of press releases, the company widely known for acquiring and aggregating mmorpgs announced the closure of four of them. Well, four so far. I imagine players of the remaining dozen or so left in the stable must be chewing their nails.

I can't pretend that the closures affect me deeply, either emotionally or practically. Two of the games, Defiance and Defiance 2050, I've never played. I've thought about playing them, a few times, but never with enough enthusiasm to do anything about it.


 

The latest to be axed, Eden Eternal, I have played. I've mentioned it here a few times. It even has a tag although I've never done a whole post about it.

I think of it as "the mouse game" because when I played my character looked like a giant cartoon mouse. I can't really remember much about the gameplay. I have a feeling it might have been the first mmorpg I ever played that used the "autorun to quest target" option, something that seemed almost magical at the time and which I still appreciate in every game that offers it.

Eden Eternal won't be missed by many in this quadrant of the blogosphere, I suspect. I know Telwyn of Gaming SF played and wrote about it now and again. Maybe a few others might have given it a look once, out of curiosity.

Of course, if it was one of those games that bloggers write about often that would at least suggest there might be enough interest to keep the servers running. When no-one even name-checks your game in passing it's never a good sign.


 

The fourth and thus far final game to be shuttered by Gamigo is the one I'll miss most: Twin Saga. I really liked Twin Saga. It not only gets a tag here but there are two posts dedicated to it specifically, both from 2017, when I played the game for several weeks and got a character to something like level fifty.

It had a gorgeous, vivid cartoon look and a bizarre, surreal, frequently disturbing prose style, whose sheer peculiarity could not be entirely explained away by the usual translation issues.

The thing I'll remember most about Twin Saga, though, is the housing. My character lived in a terracottage, a virtual mansion, complete with conservatory and roof garden, sitting atop a giant tortoise. You can travel the world in your house. And I did. For a while.

Not for long, though, because the other thing I'll remember about Twin Saga is how hard it got. I didn't stop because I was bored with it. I stopped because I hit a wall in the levelling game and couldn't get past it. I returned several times to see if it had gotten any easier but it never had. Now it never will.


 

All the games Gamigo are sending into the ultimate east close their doors for the final time on the same day, April 29th. That gives current players a couple of months to get their affairs in order, say their tearful goodbyes and work out what to do with themselves when the games they loved no longer exist.

Presumably there aren't going to be all that many people in that unfortunate situation. Gamigo's given reasons for the cull are purely commercial. Apparently the games cannot sustain themselves, which presumably means they cost more to run than the cash shops bring in.

I wonder how strictly true that is? Obviously those four games won't be making much of a profit because if they were you can absolutely guarantee they'd still be up and running. On the other hand, Gamigo has been on a buying spree these last couple of years. They've snapped up Trion, Aeria Games and most recently Kingsisle.

That's given them a much bigger protfolio than they ever had before. It's a lot of mmorpgs under one roof. And some of the recent acquisitions, particularly ArcheAge, Trove and Wizard 101, have hugely more traction in the marketplace than the likes of Eden Eternal or Twin Saga. It's not unrealistic to imagine there's a need for clarity in the offer as much as there is a desire that each and every game should be self-sustaining.


 

One of the pillars of Wilhelm's argument concerning the drag factor of elderly games on the development of new ones is the near-obsessive commitment of fans. Not just the continued desire to keep playing the same old games but the will and ability to make that possible even if the companies that nominally own the games aren't interested any more.

It's true. The emulator and private server scene is huge. There are grey market versions of games it's hard to imagine anyone cared about enough to recover from the void. But players do care. 

I've written a few times about the ongoing project to revive the game I knew as Ferentus. I only ever played that game, briefly, in beta. And yet I've never forgotten it. As with a number of more than half-forgotten titles I occasionally google it and a while back when I did that I ended up on a website telling me it was coming back. 

Since then I've played it a couple of times on open beta weekends. And it's as much fun as I remembered. I wouldn't spend my free time helping to bring it back but I'm very grateful someone has. 


 

Will someone do the same for the Gamigo Four? We'll see. I'd put the odds pretty low for Eden Eternal and Twin Saga but I suspect Defiance may have had the kind of audience that will see keeping it alive as a challenge. I hope so. 

For all that the persistence of old mmoprgs acts a drag anchor on the development of new ones, I hate to see any of them die. They will, though. As time goes on the seeming invulnerability to time that's been a hallmark of the genre will inevitably erode. 

More and more games will disappear for good. It's a shame but I don't think we can complain too much. After all, they've already lasted far, far longer than either their players or their developers imagined they could.

The only question left for me now is whether to use these last couple of months to revisit old haunts for a final time, maybe set foot in some new ones, while the opportunity still exists. 

I'm not sure I will. It's probably best just to let them slip quietly away.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Yo! Bum Rush The Show

Lateish yesterday evening, just when I was just thinking of calling it for the day, I tabbed out from Valheim to find Wilhelm had posted the first part of the story of his team's attempt to kill the second boss, The Elder. That got me thinking about my own couple of run-ins with the titanic treant. 

Those hadn't gone too well and I'd kind of drifted away from the plot a little. I'd spent most of yesterday building a huge stockade that stretches all the way around both my stone tower and my log cabin. I had some other large-scale building projects in mind. It didn't seem likely I'd run out of things to do for a good while, so why bash heads with a boss just because some raven flapped up and told me I should?

Wilhelm's post had re-ignited my curiosity, though. A few days had passed since my second attempt to cut The Elder down. I wondered if he was still crashing around in the forest or whether perhaps he'd gone back to wherever he came from, awaiting a re-summoning. 

At this point I should probably have made a plan instead of jumping straight through a portal. This is the downside of instant travel. It allows you to make snap decisions. Also from here on there are spoilers about the boss and the fight, just in case anyone's behind me and still trying to keep it fresh.

Last time I'd made a run at The Elder I'd done a fair amount of set-up work, including placing a portal in a hut on the edge of the forest where his altar stands. As it would transpire, this was crucial to my eventual success. Also my immediate defeat.

Part of the problem was, as always, over-confidence. I was dressed head to toe in grade three bronze armor, with a fine wood bow, several hundred fire and flinthead arrows and a grade three bronze axe for close-up chopping. I'd made some sausages out of draugr entrails (best not to think about it) and some bluebery/raspberry jam, all of which had bumped both my hitpoints and health regeneration to previously unheard of heights.

I wasn't figuring I could beat The Elder but I was pretty sure I could get in, give him a go and get out in one piece if things didn't go my way. There was just one thing I'd forgotten. It was the middle of the night.

When I jumped down from the portal (I'd built it on the roof to keep the local wildlife from destroying it while I was away) I realized I could barely see ten yards. I should have called the mission off right then but you feel silly having come all that way, don't you? And anyway he might not even be up any more. I at least had to check that out.

As I ran through the forest with no yellow fog or big red name across the screen I thought he must have despawned but when I finally got close to his altar, there he was. He'd wandered back to his calling place. And he spotted me from a very long way away.

All the guides I'd read about the fight agreed the way to solo The Elder is to bow-kite him around his altar, hiding behind the four stone pillars which block his massive ranged attack and popping out to pepper him with arrows. I tried that. It went disastrously wrong. 

In the darkness and chaos I got pinned down by his roots and stuck up against some immovable object I couldn't make out in the dark. The Elder closed in and stomped on me a couple of times and that was the end of that.

I was cross. It was a stupid death, entirely my fault. I'd been unprepared and I'd panicked and now I'd lost a load of skill points and my corpse, with all my best stuff, was right in the middle of the boss's home base. 


 

In other games I've played this would be the time to back off, take stock, think about how to deal with a difficult situation. Valheim doesn't work that way. When you die in Valheim you get a temporary immunity to skill loss, the only real penalty there is in dying (and a harsh one it is). That immunity lasts ten or fifteen minutes and each new death while it's up refreshes the timer.

It took me a while to see it but this effectively turns you into a superhero. You can be killed, sure, but death no longer has a sting. Therefore, the key thing to do when you die and leave a corpse with stuff you want to recover isn't to take time to prepare for a difficult corpse run. It's to get the hell back as fast as you can so you can do it before that immunity fades.

This is where portals become so very potent. I hadn't even thought to rebind to the nearby hut. I woke up in my bed back at the log cabin. From there it would take longer to get to my corpse than the immunity buff would last so a skill loss death loop would be all too possible. Only I had portals. It took me a few seconds to get back to the hut on the edge of the woods and less than a minute to get from there to my corpse.

Naturally, since it was still dark, I couldn't find it at first. I got killed looking for it and then killed again the next time but that didn't matter. The second time I spotted where my original corpse was and the third time I was able to grab it. 

There might have been another death in there somewhere. I wasn't keeping count. The important thing was, in no more than five minutes or so I had all my stuff back. What's more, I was back in my log cabin scarfing down sausages and buffing up for another run. 


 

It was daylight when I got back. As I was doing the corpse runs I'd spotted a stone crypt in the woods. In fact I'd had to duck inside it to escape. That hadn't been quite as safe as I'd expected. The Elder's roots go right inside the crypt when he attacks, which is very weird. I'd been thinking of the crypts as instances separate from the outside world. You do zone into them after all. Apparently it's not that simple.

While I was skulking in there it had occured to me I could use something Wilhelm had mentioned in a comment. Instead of hiding behind the pillars at the altar I could pull The Elder to the crypt and run him around the outside. I fancied my chances of that better than lurking behind a pillar.

So that's what I did. And it went surprisingly well. The crypt did indeed block the ranged attacks and also most of the roots. I was able to get plenty of shots on target. I could tell I was hitting him because The Elder was on fire. 

The problem was his health wasn't dropping. He didn't seem to mind being set alight and clearly my bow skill wasn't high enough to do him enough damage. Well, sod it. My highest two skills are Axe and Wood Cutting. He's a fricken' tree, ffs!

I abandoned all subtlety and rushed him. I began manically hacking at his legs and his health began to drop fast. Unfortunately, so did mine. He was stamping and his roots were grabbing and eventually I had to back off. 


 

But I had my belly full of sausages and jam. And cooked meat. I had almost twice the hit points I'd had last time I tried him and they regenerated faster. I took out my bow and put some more flaming arrows into him to keep him interested and when my health was back in three figures I charged him again.

That way I managed to take him under half health. And then a spear whanged past my head and into the ground. We'd managed to dance close to the edge of the plains and a fuling had spotted me. 

Remarkably, I had managed to kill one earlier, when the same thing had happened but I hadn't been in combat with a giant tree at the time. They're tough, fulings. I couldn't afford to have one pranging spears at me while I was concentrating on the boss. 

I ran, trying to get clear and got killed instead. It would have been a disaster except for that immunity buff and my portals. And the helpful way that mobs regenerate health slowly over time rather than snapping back to full when out of combat.

In a minute or two I was back. I found my corpse (it was close to the hut), grabbed my stuff, ate some more sausages and went looking for The Elder. He'd rgained a little health but he was still only around fifty percent. I had my immunity buff so I had no fear. I charged in and started hacking.

And that's how it went for a few minutes. I danced around his giant feet, chopping at his toes. When my health went worryingly low I sprinted away and amused myself by firing arrows at him from maximum range. He looked spectacular, his vast chest a mass of withing flames, his huge arms flailing, knocking down trees left and right. I'd have loved to take some pictures but I didn't dare - it was a full time job keeping just in range and not getting stomped.

Finally he was down to a sliver of health. I was down to about a third of mine. I'd been backing off at this point until then but I gambled I could down him before he got me and I was right! Boss down!

So much for the recommended strategy. Right back at the start, when I first summoned him, before I'd watched any videos or read any guides on the fight, my instinct had been to melee him. Even in leathers with my flint axe and just some berries to sustain me I'd taken him to 85% before I died. 

It confirms something I've been thinking for a while now. Other people may do better with the bow but my viking seems to be a berserker. She does best on the charge, axe whirling, a warcry on her lips. Forget subtle tactics, just get in close and hack.

And that death penalty can be turned to your advantage. Yes, the skill loss on the first death is vicious, but eat that and you become invincible. Provided you have a portal close by. It's going to change my strategy going forward, that's for sure.

Of course, when I went to pick up the loot my bags were full. Aren't they always. I had to throw out some greydwarf eyes and a couple of rocks to make space for the mysterious Swamp Key and the Elder Trophy. I'm guessing the former is what you need to get inside the crypts in the swamp biome, which is where you find iron, or so I've heard. It also explains how the next step of the crafting tree is gated by the second boss.

As for the trophy, I went back and hung it on its hook at the stone circle. Thanks to my portal network the trip took me no more than a couple of minutes. 

Next up, the swamp boss. I believe it's a blob. And it's supposed to be harder than The Elder. 

Might wait a while before I go see for myself.

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