Wednesday, October 4, 2023

It's Back To The Overrealm With EverQuest II's New Expansion, Ballads Of Zimara

Of course, the minute I finished yesterday's post, whining about how I had nothing to write about, Daybreak Games decided to open up pre-orders for this year's EverQuest II expansion, which we now know is going to be called Ballads of Zimara. I found that out by way of my own blog roll, when I went to read over what I'd just written for the final time and saw that The EverQuest Show had just relayed the news.

From there it was a quick click to the official announcement on the EQII website, which I have to say is immensely impressive. One of the most noticeable improvements at Darkpaw in recent times has been the professionalism and slickness of the website itself. I don't know if it stems from Jenn Chan taking over the reins from Holly "Windstalker" Longdale or whether it was already in progress before that but either way it's a very welcome change.

I imagine it's also commercially effective. EQII is an aging game, fast approaching its twentieth anniversary, so having a portal for new and returning players that doesn't creak and groan in the winds of time has to be a good thing. It's one thing to be old, quite another to look and feel old.

The commercial aspect of the enterprise is front and center when you land on the website. The first thing you see is a gorgeous, screen-wide illustration, richly-hued in purple tones, complete with a host of intriguing characters, bobbing in the air, brightly-colored spells fizzing at their finger-tips. The whole effect is compelling, with the positioning of the central characters drawing the eye to the name of the game and the expansion at the top and the all important "Pre-Order" button at the bottom.

It's really very smart. The immediate reaction is to click on that big button, taking you straight to the place where you part with your money. But we'll get to that later. 

If you resist the temptation to click and scroll down instead, you'll be treated to a sumptuous display of what to expect from the expansion. First comes a video, lovingly framed as if it were a painting, something that's sadly not replicated in the YouTube version you're about to watch.

As a promo for a vintage MMORPG, that's not at all bad. Granted, it's mostly scenery, but it looks pretty and not all that dated. It's also edited quite effectively, the soundtrack and images syncing perfectly, which creates a definite and reassuring impression of competence and attention to detail.  

I wouldn't draw attention to it if it wasn't that so many MMORPGs, and not just the older ones, either, have an unfortunate tendency to release videos that makes the games look worse than they are. This one, if anything, does the opposite.

Not that I'm suggesting it's in any way misleading. I would like, once again, to point out for the many, many people who probably haven't stepped inside an EQII zone since Rise of Kunark (2007) that most of the game looks way better than it did fifteen years ago, thanks to a new set of development tools that have only been applied going forward. The older zones still look like something only a nostalgist could love but the new stuff, which really means the last decade or so, looks pretty spiffy.

After the video comes a lengthy screed giving the backstory to the expansion. I'm tempted to reproduce it here in full so I can give it the full practical criticism workover my Cambridge supervisor would have demanded. Certainly there's enough in the two paragraphs to support a short essay. 

Whoever wrote the prose clearly intended it to stand as a call-to-arms, not just for the characters who will live through the events inside the game but also for the players standing behind them. The forceful use of the vocative in the second sentence, for example; the sudden switch to the second person plural at the start of the torrent of rhetorical questions at the end; it all seems designed to foster a sense both of urgency and inclusion. It's we, the players, who need to do something about this crisis and all those exlamation points suggest we need to do it now!

It's effective. I was fired up. Granted, the fusillade of unfamiliar proper names could prove off-putting to strangers to the game but this isn't aimed at anyone who isn't either already playing EQII or just about to come back from a time away. Expansions for twenty-year old games don't need to worry whether customers will understand the jargon. 

No, all they need to do is press the right buttons and Ballad of Zimara looks like it knows exactly where they are. Once again, we're headed back to places we know and probably love, in this case not only the Overrealm, setting for the game's second expansion, Kingdom of Sky but also to the homelands of the Djinn, who featured heavily in EQII's first expansion, Desert of Flames.

KoS was, as far as I recall, a popular expansion. Desert of Flames definitely was. I've spent a great deal of time in both over the years and I'm very happy to add to it. Even better, we won't just be retracing our flight-paths across the familiar skyscapes, we'll be alighting in four new, previously unseen regions: Splendor Sky Aerie, Zimara Breadth, the Aether Wroughtlands and Vaashkaani, Alcazar of Zimara

Both the Djinn homelands and the Overrealm are part of the now-deteriorating Plane of Sky, something that seems obvious when you read it but which hadn't previously occured to me. This is the level of detail that acts as a deterrent to newcomers but almost as an aphrodisiac to seasoned veterans. At this stage of an MMORPG's lifespan it's almost impossible to play the nostalgia card too hard.

Going back to the website and the way the information is presented, take another gold star for design. If you click the big picture beneath the "New Lands To Discover" banner, it opens onto a slideshow of screenshots from all the new zones. They're all appealing but a couple are spectacular. Again, it's all slick, professional and very alluring.

With appetites whetted and nostalgia primed, it's time to get down to practicalities. What, exactly, are we getting for our money?

Exactly what we expected, of course: new dungeons, new raids, new adventure and tradeskill quests and five more levels. Once again, the installed base knows exactly what it wants and that's more of the same. If they didn't like it, they wouldn't be installed, now would they?

I confess I'd forgotten it was a level-increase year. Level increases have been bi-annual for quite a while now and if I'd been more engaged with Renewal of Ro I'd have recalled it didn't come with a change of number next to my character's name.

It's good timing for me. There's certainly an argument for not going all-out during the off-expansions if you're a casual player. Every xpack is a soft reset but when it comes to those where the level cap goes up, the reset's not as soft as all that. If you're not playing flat-out all the time, it makes sense to save some energy for when it matters most.

As always, the expansion comes with some new features and as usual they're hard to parse from the brief description they get in the press release. See what you make of these:

  • Expand your arsenal interactively with Advanced Research
  • Re-challenge your favorite encounters in Chrono Dungeons

I could guess but I won't. No doubt more will be revealed as we approach release. If not, I'll find out when I get there.

And that concludes the excellent presentation. Darkpaw's, that is, not mine. All that's left is to take a look at the various Pre-Orders and Packs.Yet again, I'd like to compliment both the devs and the website designers on the excellence of their work; the comparison chart is very clear and easy to understand and every in-game item in all the packs is clearly displayed on a click-through - they all look great!

Once again, there are no real surprises. The expansion comes in four sizes, the traditional Standard, Collector's and Premium, plus the now-expected Family & Friends. Pricing ranges from $34.99 for the base model to what I'm contractually obliged to describe as an "eye-watering" $249.99 for the F&F  edition.

This year, I am very seriously considering buying the Collector's Edition, which retails at $69.99 (£50.39.) In two decades, I've never bought anything other than the basic version of an EQII expansion for the simple reason that all I've ever really needed was access to the content. I was never remotely swayed by the plethora of cosmetics and frippery that filled the more expensive packages.

As time goes on and game design changes, though, the practical appeal of the upper tiers becomes more obvious. EQII isn't pay-to-win per se, for the simple reason that everything you can buy is also readily available in-game but I wouldn't argue that it hasn't very much become pay-for-convenience. 

For example, I need a better mercenary quite urgently now. I could get one for myself by playing the game but that would require either buying from another player at what have become extortionately inflated prices or running instanced content for drops. 

Both of  those are clearly normal, intended forms of gameplay but I'm too lazy either to make the necessary in-game money through trading or to grind solo instances until I get the drop I need. If I buy the Collector's Edition I'll get a Legendary Mercenary, a healer, which is what I need. I'll also get a Legendary Familiar and Mount, both of which will substantially increase my character's effectiveness since each provides a huge boost to combat stats.

I'd also get a Prestige house, a furniture item that's also a teleport to the new expansion zones, some crafting recipes and a very nice painting to hang on the walls of my new home. That's the sugar on top of the actual cake.

I thought about going Collector last year and decided against it but I'm feeling this maybe the year I choose to ride business instead of coach. Forget about first class, though. The ticket gets you a Celestial upgrade to those Legendaries but I think that's a luxury I can easily forego.

There's plenty of time to think about it. There's no official release date, just the usual "expansion available before December 31". So long as I "Pre-order" before the expansion arrives I'll get all the goodies. 

Beta is already open. I have no plans on spoiling my own fun with that but I look forward to the usual trickle of detail all the same. I'm sure everyone will be complaining bitterly as usual. Me, I'm just happy the game's still getting an expansion every year. It's not that long ago we were all wondering if the next one would be the last...

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

I've Got Nothing. No, Really.

began his post today with "This morning I was struggling to find something to write about". I feel exactly the same way. The big difference is he managed to come up with something. I didn't.

It's not exactly that I have no ideas. Actually, I have plenty. And that reminds me of one.

It's about how the English translations of anime or games from south-east Asia, particularly Japan and Korea, constantly use "actually" or another adverbial phrase for qualification or emphasis. It's a conversational trope that, once noticed, cannot be ignored. I believe it has significant implications and I'd like to examine them in some detail. Just not today.

As well as starring in a standalone post, it's a topic that's sure to have a walk-on part in my much-hyped Carole and Tuesday review, whenever the hell I get around to writing it. I'm cetainly not up to tackling it right now. It's a lot more complicated than just banging out a few hundred words about how much I liked the show. I could do that but I've already done it. Not that that would stop me normally but somehow I'm just not feeling it.

That post, if we ever get to see it, something that's looking increasingly less likely with every day that passes, will also have to deal with the potential risks and benefits of AI for popular music, a running theme of the show. Now there's a topic good for a series if ever there I saw one. Shame I don't have the patience for it. I can't even get started on the research.

Then there's this opinion piece on the "Scream-along Singalong" phenomenon, here masquerading as a concert review. I just read that at  Stereogum and thought it was worth poking into. I bookmark stuff like that several times a week, mostly with the intention of spinning up a post. Sometimes I do something about it, sometimes I don't. This time it's don't.

Or how about the ongoing discussion and reverberations surrounding Ji Ham's EG7 address? I still have plenty to say about that. It would be easy enough, too, only if I want to avoid just repeating what I've already said, or someone else has, it'd need the kind of care and attention I just can't seem to find the time for right now. 

It's amazing how doing nothing seems to fill up my day. I think it's something to do with getting old. Today, for example, I didn't do anything of any significance and yet it was still evening before I sat down to write this - and even then I really need to stop typing now and take Beryl for a walk before it gets dark...

...which I now have done, so it's even later in the evening...

Lack of ideas is hardly the problem then. Poor time management, maybe. I've complained many times, that I find it harder to write short, pithy posts than long, rambling ones but at the moment I don't seem to be able to do either.

It would be lovely to imagine AI could solve these problems for me. If there's one thing generative text ought to be useful for it's a knocking out a couple of hundred words on anything you care to mention. That, as Janelle Shane repeatedly points out, is what the damn things are supposed to be good at, after all, not playing the half-assed search engine/personal assistant role they're being inadequately groomed for by the likes of Microsoft and Google.

The trouble is, they're not really all that good at writing entertaining or amusing prose either. I mean, you can nurdle them into doing it if you put in the effort but that's hardly the idea, is it? Might as well just write the whole thing yourself.

I asked ChatGPT to write me a couple of hundred words on the New World expansion Rise of the Angry Earth that launched today and what it came back with was so teeth-grindingly dull I'm not even willing to quote a couple of lines for comic effect. As Janelle's finding, it's getting harder and harder to get anything funny out of the things at all. 

I'm tempted to link back to my Smiths post of a couple of days ago and make some allusion to That Joke Isn't Funny Any More, which is how I'm starting to think about AI. If Tom Hanks is worried I guess maybe we all should be. I mean, Tom is the Everyman God, right? 

That said, most of his arguments sound more like endorsements to me so now I'm just even more confused. Is he for it or against it? Does he even know? I'm not sure I do any more.

And with that I think I'll take my leave. Clearly this isn't going anywhere. Maybe I'll have something tomorrow.

We can but hope. 

All images generated at NightCafe from prompts in the linked AI Weirdness post, using Stable Diffusion 1.4 at either zero or one hundred per cent weighting. Not that it seemed to make any difference...

Header image modified using Uncrop. Why it thinks it's Christmas I have no idea. The prompts were all for Halloween.

Monday, October 2, 2023

And Relax!

This is going to be a very short post (Yes, really!) for the very simple reason there's no time left this evening to write a longer one. And the reason for that is I spent nearly six hours today playing EverQuest II.

That's probably the most I've played in a single day over the whole of the year. It wasn't exactly planned but it was a lot of fun and I wouldn't rule out doing it again sometime.

I only meant to play for an hour or two this morning. I was going to log in, run the next instance in the Renewal of Ro signature quest line, maybe finish a couple of side-quests and that was going to be all. I figured it would take an hour and a half, tops.

In the event, the instance alone took over two and a half hours. It wasn't that it was particularly long or difficult, although I did die half a dozen times, mostly through connection issues and some bad pulls. It took a long time mainly because of a particular mechanic that meant it was a bad idea to leave any trash mobs alive - and there were a lot of trash mobs.

It also turned out to be the final proper combat instance the main quest sequence, something I hadn't realised, which probably explains why it was obviously designed to take a while. I could tell I was closing in on the end of the storyline by the way some of the drops from the bosses were beginning to reach the level of some of the gear I was wearing, although nothing that dropped was an actual upgrade. 

I still had a considerable advantage, wearing mostly gear that I'd acquired from post-expansion content, but it wasn't such a great lead any more that I could just ignore all the mechanics and tank and spank every boss the way I'd done in the last couple of instances. I had a walkthrough up, of course and I read ahead on every boss but there were still a couple of surprises that caught me out.

Not so tough without your buffs, are you?

All things considered, though, I had a good time. Even though the instance ran long, I was never bored or frustrated. There were a lot of mobs to kill but individual kill times were quick. None of the boss fights were attritional. The mechanics I had to contend with were easy to follow and to execute.

Even so, by the time I finished and broke for lunch I was a little apprehensive about what might come next. If that was the penultimate - or even pre-penultimate instance, what would the finale be like? 

The bizarre but very welcome answer ------ Spoiler incoming ------- was that there were no more proper dungeons, just one instance where all I really had to do was watch Lord Nagafen having a tantrum and another where both the "boss fights" turned out to be scripted insta-kills.

So why, once I'd decided to carry on and get the thing done, did it take me another three hours and change? Because there was a lot of open-world questing to get out of the way first, that's why.  

EQII devs have always enjoyed making players play dress-up. I can't count the number of times I've had to disguise myself as an elf or an orc or, in one memorable case, a rat.

This time I had to get a whole shoping list of items to make my disguise and one of those came from the very end of another long quest chain. I spent the whole afternoon running around poisoning water supplies and barrels of fish, collecting driftwood, building a ballista... all the usual shenanigans. 

One of only a couple of on-rails flight paths. Could do with about a dozen more.
It was mostly good fun, especially since I was one- or two-shotting most mobs, but the zone in question, Sandstone Delta, like most latterday EQII zones, makes extensive use of the z-axis, making getting from anywhere to anywhere else a constant challenge. It's ironic in the extreme that every expansion now restricts the use of flying mounts until the completion of the zone storyline, when the time you really feel the need of a pair of wings is while you're doing the fricken' quests.

I got everything done and earned the right to fly in the final zone of the expansion at last. I was a little surprised that came before the end of the Signature Timeline itself but at least it made the very last couple of chapters zip by.

And yes, that does mean I have finally finished the Adventure version of the main questline from last year's expansion! Yay, me! I'm pretty sure that makes it the latest I have ever completed the Signature in an EQII expansion I bought at release. 

Leaving it this late has both positives and negatives. It's certainly easier and for me easier is almost always better. Very little slowed me down in the latter stages. I was able to rip through everything at a comfortable pace, frequently ignoring annoying mechanics and just getting on with it as I much prefer. 

That's not to say there was no challenge at all. The second half of the questline, the part I left until I was more powerful, mostly sat in that sweet spot where you know for sure you're going to win every fight but not so easily you don't still have to pay a modicum of attention. I don't think I had to attempt any boss more than twice and most went down on the first try, which is just about right for me.

Now that's what I call a promotion!

The downside, of course, is that most of the rewards and drops aren't much use. As I said, it was only at the very end that I started seeing gear as good as the weakest pieces I was wearing. More annoyingly, all of the quest rewards are No Trade so I can't even hand them down to other members of the team.

I did get a very nice Legendary Mercenary unlock as a drop, although it's a "Support" class, not the healer I need. Still, definitely worth having. Other than that it's mostly the ability to fly everywhere and the various Account-based unlocks that are worth having, along with the satisfaction of having "finished" the expansion.

Obviously, I haven't really finished it. For most players, the end of the main quest is where things begin not end, and for Renewal of Ro that's even more the case than usual. The expansion introduces a whole new set of Epic Spells for all classes. You have to have done the Signature line to start working on those and even then you first have to do another humungously long collection as well.

I had a brief look at it on the wiki and it doesn't actually look as bad as most Epics. I might give it a go sometime. Not yet a while, though.

For now I'm just going to bask in the satisfaction of having met my self-set goal in very good time; not just before the arrival of the next expansion but before it's even officially announced. Which should be any day now, I guess.

I'm ready when you are, Darkpaw!

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Text And Subtext - An Adventure With Morrissey And The Smiths

Yesterday, I was somewhat surprised to find I didn't have enough new music bookmarked to fill a post. It's certainly not that I haven't been listening to plenty. It just looks as though I haven't been keeping a note of what it was.

When that happens it's usually either because I've been listening to familiar artists doing what they do, something I enjoy but don't necessarily find worth sharing, or because the new stuff I've discovered sounded good to hear once but not so good I wanted to call attention to it. That happens a lot.

Still, I wanted to do something musical on a Saturday. It always seems like the day for it. Luckily for me, late last night something really quite peculiar popped up in my feeds. 

To save everyone the trouble of following the link, it goes to a piece at NME entitled

"‘The Smiths Are Dead’ is a new Commodore 64 game about Morrissey". 

What the hell?! So much to unpack there.

Firstly, it's a text adventure. Apparently people still write those. I guess if you're going to revisit the 'eighties it's on point. Do people still play them, though? I mean, I loved a good tesxt adventure back in the day but I can't make myself enjoy them now.

Secondly, it's for the Commodore 64. That's still around? Well, yes, apparently. When I started reading the article I assumed it would be some kind of emulator project. Then I got to the part that said "While it is currently out of stock on the Amiga Store, fans should sign up for email notifications for when it is available again."

Unless you're Square Enix, you can't run out of stock of a digital product. And the Amiga Store (It exists.) hasn't. They've run out of cartridges. The Smiths Are Dead is (Or I guess I should say was and probably will be again, some day.) available in physical format. Specifically, cartridge. Go figure.

I do not intend to turn this into an investigation of why anyone would a) want to develop software for the Commodore 64 in 2023 or b) issue said software in a physical format that - to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge - the original C64 discontinued in favor of tape and disk the first chance it got. 

At this juncture I ought to say I never liked the Commodore 64 and never owned one. I preferred first the ZX Spectrum and later the Amiga 500. I actually still have an Amiga. It's fully functioning as far as I know, or at least it was the last time I used it, which would have been some time in the early 'nineties. Very, very occasionaly I toy with the idea of getting it out and looking at it but somehow I find the urge very easy to resist. As for using it... let's get real.

Never underestimate the draw of the nostalgia market, though. And I guess if you're going to tap that, it makes sense to double down. A Venn Diagram of the Smiths, home computing, the 1980s and adolescent angst would look like one big, filled-in circle, after all.

Anyway, like it or not, "The Smiths Are Dead" text adventure for the Commodore 64 is a thing that exists. It's set right at the point when the band has just split up (Hence the title, which also plays on the Smiths' album "The Queen Is Dead", as absolutely no-one reading this needed to be told, I'm sure.) and the game takes Morrissey's perspective as he prepares to record his first solo album. The cast features a list of characters well-known to anyone familiar with the British music scene of the time:

• Steven Patrick Morrissey 'Moz' is the ex-singer of The Smiths and the character we will take during the adventure.
Gail Colson is my manager and the person who should help us redirect our career after the breakup of the group.
Geoff Travis is the owner of the Rough Trade record label, which published the music of The Smiths.
Stephen Street is a producer and a very prolific and valued musician in the English indie scene.
Vinny Reilly is the ideologue of Durutti Column and a genius with the guitar.
Andrew Paressi is a multi-functional artist who accompanied Morrissey at the start of Morrissey's solo career.

If you want to know more, I guess you'll just have to play the game. Always assuming you have a Commodore 64. With a cartridge port. And that the game ever comes back into stock. (Oh, alright. It is available as a digital download from as well. You can play it using an emulator. I might even do just that, one day.)

In the meantime, why not let's have some Smiths numbers? Everyone loves the Smiths, right? Just like everyone hates Morrissey, now. 

Only, we've all heard the songs so many times. Do we really need to hear them again? So let's have some covers of Smiths' songs! And heaven knows there are plenty to choose from. There can scarcely be any eighties' songwriters more covered than Morrissy and Marr.

Unfortunately, an awful lot of the covers sound an awful lot like the originals, something I've never really seen the point in. Covers ought to sound as unlike the originals as it's possible to get without not sounding like them at all. 

Also, just because there are so many and because I've decided to do this on the spur of the moment rather than work up to it over a number of weeks, I just don't have the time to sift through the thousands of faithful, respectful versions of This Charming Man and How Soon Is Now? on YouTube in search of something interesting, irreverent or original.

Luckily for me, plenty of people have done that already, so all I needed to do was leech off their hard work. At least, that gave me somewhere to start. From there, I relied on YouTube's recommend algorithm to throw up a few more that hadn't been included in every Best Smiths Covers list ever.

I've favored covers that have videos, but some of the best ones don't have any moving pictures, unfortunately, so I've had to accept a few static images as well. Also, since the game starts when the Smiths stop, I'm throwing in a few Morrissey solo numbers, god forgive me.

Enough preamble. Let's jangle!

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side - Holden

OMG! This is gorgeous! And double points for naming the band after a Salinger character then covering a Smiths' song. Talk about teenage alienation!  

Holden are a French duo. I'd never heard of them. It scares me how many great bands I've never heard of. It scares me even more how many I'll never hear at all.

How Soon Is Now? t.A.T.u

The oft-maligned, frequently misunderstood, always inspirational t.A.T.u, who I've loved ever since a blowhard I couldn't stand stormed out of a Yahoo Group I was in just because someone (Not me, sadly.) had the temerity to say they liked All The Things She Said when it first came out. Until then I didn't have any strong feelings one way or the other but I figured if he thought they were some kind of threat to the natural order, they had to be a force for good.

I really love the way Julia breaks the lines in strange places, like between "the" and "heir". It's typical of the idiosyncratic way the two of them phrase. They may not be the strongest singers but they're wonderful with a lyric. True storytellers, both of them.

This Charming Man - Stars

Here in a forceful, if louche, live rendition, opening with a heartfelt plea by frontman Torquil Campbell in which he exhorts everyone to go out and start a band withtheir friends so they'll never lose touch with each other.

I did that. Didn't work. Haven't seen any of them for decades. Just sayin', Torquil.

Girlfriend In A Coma - Mojo Nixon

I could have sworn I'd featured this one before but search says not. I seem to remember a conversation with Wilhelm about Mojo Nixon in the comments. Maybe it was at TAGN

I recommend watching this all the way through. The second half is the best part.

Ask - The Roberts Family

See? Not everyone's a cynic! Recorded during lockdown, apparently, although it looks like they're outside a beach hut. I hope you like the song because we're getting it again in a minute.

Let Me Kiss You - Nancy Sinatra feat. Morrissey

It's not like I was going to let this pass once I knew it existed. Nancy sounds sublime as always and the arrangement is gloriously crazy. Morrissey looks exceptionally sinister in that picture, though, doesn't he? Even by his terrifying standards, which is saying something.

Cada Dia Es Domingo (Everyday Is Like Sunday) - Mexrrissey

Again, I was almost certain I'd used this before but no. It's not even in my archive. I must just have watched it and moved on. Morrissey, of course, is famously Big In Mexico. So is Lana del Rey so I guess it balances out.

You're The One For Me, Fatty - planetbumi

I'm not sure how big Morrissey is in Indonesia these days but there's one hell of an indie scene in Jakarta that seems open to anything remotely redolent of the 'eighties and 'nineties so I guess he's doing okay. I always thought this was one of Moz's more overtly comic numbers, although it needs constantly to be stressed that almost all Morrissey lyrics are inherently amusing, usually intentionally so. 

It also can't be repeated often enough that the Smiths are actually a mosher's delight. All that angsty bedroom misery goes straight out the window once you hear these tunes played in a club. I never saw the Smiths but I did see Smiths tribute band These Charming Men once and believe me, it was exhausting! Pretty much like what you see above, really.

Just a couple more and then we'll wrap it up, I think. The longer I go on doing this, the more curious and exotic covers I'm finding. We could be here all day if I don't exert some self-discipline; something no-one ever accused Morrissey of doing.

Ask - Nina Shallman

I promised another version of Ask and here it is. Shimmering, I think, is the word. The dynamics on this are superb but where does that xylophone-style keyboard motif come from? It's not in the original, unless it's meant to be the guitar part. Sounds more like Peter Sarstedt's Frozen Orange Juice to me. 

Don't you just love the way she smiles so happily all the way through "It's the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb that will bring us together"? And yes, there are seven bombs. I counted.

The Light 3000 - Schneider TM

There Is A light That Never Goes Out is probably a lot of people's favorite Smiths song. It's hard to replicate the initial impact of the first hearing, when it kind of rips your soul out. Even harder in a cover, which is why this glitched, bleached-out rewrite works so well. Go elsewhere, get to the same place.

This Night Has Opened My Eyes - WDRL

I was checking to see if Juice WRLD had ever covered a Smiths song, because it seemed like something he might have done (He hasn't. Didn't. Sad.) when I found this instead. Actually, that's not quite how it happened but I wish it was.

While I'm wishing, I wish I'd been the one to leave the comment on YouTube that says "This song makes me feel like I’m driving home late at night after dumping a body in a lake." Not that I've ever done anything like that...

C'mon! Now you're wondering, right?

Okay, I know I said two more but let's make it the round dozen. I mean, Morrissey would want imperial measures, I'm sure.

Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others - Lilly Hates Roses

They're Polish. According to the text as translated by Google "Lilly Hates Roses, taking on the work of the British, pass well-known songs through the filter of their own sensitivity and already developed style. The result is unique arrangements in which The Smiths' music takes on an even deeper expression."

I don't know about all that but I like it.

And finally. We really couldn't do all of this without Rick Astley and Blossoms, could we? Their joyful reappropriation of the Smiths back catalog in recent times has gone a long way towards making it feel comfortable to listen to some of these songs again. I'm sure all Smiths' fans who've been having issues with Morrissey never shutting the fuck up would like to thank them.

Which song to choose, though? Oh, alright...

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now - Rick Astley and Blossoms

It always was a bit of a plodder if we're honest but it's still a crowd-pleaser anyway. Not the finest sound quality but feel that crowd reaction.

And with that we're done. Until next time.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Traditional And Modern - Scattered Thoughts On A Friday

Following on from what I said yesterday I was going to be posting about today, this isn't going to be the promised (Threatened?) music post nor my considered thoughts on Carole and Tuesday. It might have something to do with AI in but it's beginning to look very much as though everything will, soon enough, so probably no need to draw attention to it.

I guess we may as well just call it another Friday Grab-Bag. On Friday. Again! Two weeks in a row that makes it! Who had that on their bingo card? No-one, I bet!


It's back! Panda Panda Panda, that is. (You can sing it to this tune - boy did I have to work to find a version I was willing to link!) 

I'd forgotten all about it. I had a clear window of a couple of hours this morning so I thought I'd try and nail down another instance in the signature quest from EverQuest II's soon-to-be-last-year's expansion, Renewal of Ro. As soon as I opened the launcher I saw two news items - one for Panda Panda Panda, the other for something called Gear Up, Swag It Up, which appears to be the new Gear Up, Level Up , another event that always runs around this time of year.

The main purpose of both GULU and PPP used to be to get everyone ready for the upcoming expansion but I guess it finally occured to someone that we only get a level increase every other year these days. Also, levelling up takes a fraction of the time it once did. I doubt anyone needs much help with that.

Gear is another matter. The panda quests, if you do the whole nine weeks of them, will get you something for every single slot plus all the necessary augments, not to mention a bunch of other useful stuff. When the quests were first introduced it made a huge difference to power levels but these days the difference is more incremental. 

I went straight over to check this year's rewards and they're good but not as good as the drops from the Shattered Overture instances. On the other hand, the panda quests are super-easy and extremely quick, plus you're guaranteed to get everything, whereas the SO instances take a while, aren't a cakewalk and give drops that have an element of RNG involved.

Of course, for anyone who plays more than one character at max level, the real attraction of the Panda quests is that they're account unlocks. You can get the rewards on as many characters as you like just for doing the quests once. Can't turn that down.

Usually I follow the walkthrough at EQ2 Traders but there doesn't seem to be one this year, possibly because Naimi Denmother is now the dev who writes them all, so I guess it would seem a little odd for her to hand out instructions. Never mind. The wiki has everything you need. Or it will have, when each quest appears.

As for Gear Up, Level Up I got a reward for it when I finished my main quest instance this morning so clearly you don't have to do anything in advance to qualify. I haven't been to look at the vendor yet but the Swag Shield buff ought to help me finish the Sig Line in good time for the expansion so I'll probably get that.

Speaking of which, isn't it about time we got the name of the expansion and the pre-order details?

How Are The Mighty Fallen

Demoted to a couple of paragraphs in a grab-bag. How humiliating! I read Amazon's blog on October's Prime Gaming giveaways last night and realised that even though I could have gotten a whole post out of the details, I really couldn't be bothered. 

I'd have to read up on a whole load of games that don't interest me and think of something snarky to say about them all and I really don't care enough to do it. I'm sure they're all perfectly fine for people who like that sort of thing and I'm far too mature to get a kick out of mickey-taking just for the sake of it. (Shut up at the back!)

Also, I get the feeling this has been one of the least-useful series I've done over the years in that no-one other than me really seems to mention Prime Gaming any more. I might be the only one left who cares, always assuming anyone else ever did. Or that I do.

I am still mildly interested to see what I can get for free each month. There's usually at least one game I think I might enjoy. This month that's definitely the bizarrely-named GRUNND.

The game's Steam page has a lot of detail, which is more than can be said for Prime Gaming. It's a kind of point & click adventure, which is good, but based on platforming design, which might not be. It's "inspired by the works of Franz Kafka and David Lynch", which is right up my street, as is the mention "Southern Gothic" but I'm not so keen on the influence of "Black Metal".

It sounds worth a look, anyway. I'll be claiming that one when it becomes available on 5 October. 

I'll probably also grab The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters the week after. It's"an atmospheric, story-driven game" set in a haunted school. All this month's choices are vaguely horror-related to fit in with Halloween. Horror's not really my thing but as I observed a while ago it seems to be creeping into everything nowadays, which has had something of a numbing effect on my sensiibilites. I can stomach a bit of horror better than I once could, anyway.

And that's probably it for this month. I suppose I might claim Ghostwire: Tokyo, which I had at least heard of, but honestly it's not speaking to me. Other than that, I claimed something for New World and Guild Wars 2 and that was it. The GW2 freebie includes a top hat, which is worth mentioning, I guess...

Still Looks Like A Brick To Me

I've never had a Facebook account and I have almost no interest in VR so I haven't been paying all that much atention to Mark Zuckerberg and his Meta project, other than to chuckle when Wilhelm points out the latest idiocy. As with Musk and Twitter, I really don't have a dog in the fight so it's easy to just sit back and treat it all like some wacky sitcom.

It was a bit of a surprise, then, to see this pop up in my feeds yesterday, followed by some quite cogent analysis this morning. Inbetween the two, I did a little research of my own, from which I learned not just that "Smart Glasses" are a thing but that they've been one for several years.

If you put "Smart Glasses" into Amazon you get over two thousand results, everything from simple specs offering Bluetooth hands-free calling at less than a tenner up to AR/VR sets costing thousands of pounds. Plenty of them have built-in video cameras, allowing you to film whatever you happen to be looking at, which I thought was the feature that had pitchfork-waving mobs threatening to burn Larry Page in effigy outside Google HQ when Google Glass was making headlines a few years back.

I always thought Google Glass was a great idea. It seemed so obvious that a light, comfortable, inconspicuous wearable, offering a heads-up display and access to social media was the inevitable next step after the smart phone. Only mass hysteria over spurious privacy issues and Google surprisingly running scared of public opinion stopped the device becoming ubiquitous.

Despite publicly withdrawing from the fight, Google quietly kept on with the project, developing and selling "Enterprise" versions to industry for a decade before finally throwing in the towel this spring. What lies behind that decision only Google knows, although this article lays the blame squarely on the cost, which at $1500 does seem steep. 

Pricing for RayBan's Meta Glasses, which I believe you will need a Meta account to use, start at a fifth of the cost of Google Glass - just $299. Not only do they have the video capability that supposedly caused all the ructions last time, they allow for hands-free livestreaming through Facebook and Instagram

If it wasn't for the tie-in with Facebook, I'd be wishlisting a pair of those right now. They look like the future to me, at least in principle.

I would not, however, be considering the actual Meta Quest 3, the device whose launch triggered my investigation to begin with. It's a clever idea with its "Passthrough AR", meaning you can see a representation of the real world as relayed by cameras in the unit, rather than being cut off altogether from reality as in previous VR headsets. 

It's still waaaaaay too big and waaaaaaay too weird to imagine wearing anywhere other than in the privacy of your own home, though - and even then you'd only want to wear it when no-one else was home to see you doing it. I mean, doesn't it remind you of that face mask Hannibal Lecter used to wear?

Still, we are clearly edging closer to the future we all thought was coming a decade ago. The last couple of would-be hype trains - NFTs and Crypto - ran into the buffers of their own worthlessness and ineptitude, while the one before them - Virtual Reality  - shunted itself into a siding, where it remains, of interest only to a relative handful of hobbyists. The next couple coming down the track - AI and AR - look far more likely to instigate the kind of paradigm shift we're all hoping for.

We are all hoping for that, aren't we? If only it wasn't Mark Zuckerberg driving the engine. (And I haven't even mentioned Snoop Dogg as a Dungeon Master...)

And Finally

I had more but it's getting late and my mouse is being really weird so I'm going to stop. I was going to finish with a tune but it seems I don't have many new ones to choose from. Good thing I didn't try and do a music post after all, eh?

Oh, I know! Let's have some Carole and Tuesday!

Don't worry. I'll be obsessed with something else soon enough. You'll look back at this little fad some day soon and wish it could have lasted longer!

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Down On The Farm

I'm back! Did you miss me? Nah, of course not. I was only gone for three days. And two nights, which we spent in a Shepherd's Hut about the size of the Mystery Machine, although luckily we only had to share it with a small black and white dog the size of a Scooby Snack, not a monster the size of ol' Scoob himself.

The hut was very comfortable and well-appointed, I have to say. Wifi, running water, electricity... I bet no shepherd ever had any of that. I could happily live in one although I'd need a better laptop if I was going to carry on blogging, too.

I did consider doing a whole post about it all but no-one really wants to see other people's holiday snaps and anyway Mrs. Bhagpuss took all the good ones with her iPhone and she hasn't uploaded them yet. Mine are all a bit blurry, what with my phone getting on in years now and not having had a great camera to begin with. 

I guess we could just have one - maybe of Beryl in the doorway of the hut. Everyone likes a cute dog picture or a picture of a cute dog. 

That one's really more of the hut than the dog, I guess, although you do get to see some of the canine paraphenalia that accompanies her on her travels:

  • orange collapsible water dish
  • small kibble bowl (With kibble.)
  • squeaky ball (The sky-blue thing.)
  • extremely long lead required to allow her to roam "free", even though farm regulations insist dogs be kept on leads at all times (Or leashes, if you prefer.)
  • red ball on rope, for chasing (Easy to throw very long distances with no appreciable effort.) 
  • weird blue boomerang thing I found in the long grass just after we arrived. 

That's just a fraction of the stuff we took for her. She had more luggage than I did. Literally. I'm a light packer.

The whole thing was more of a test of how well she'd travel and how much she'd enjoy being away from home. It's the first time she's stayed somewhere new overnight. As a dry run for something more ambitious, it was a complete success. Beryl's only obvious concern was that we had to come home again at all. She'd have liked to live in the Shepherd's Hut forever.

We were exceptionally lucky with the weather, which was much better than forecast. We saw a lot of wildlife, including a fox which walked right across the gravel outside the hut there, several wild ponies, a herd of wild goats, a toad, a raven and a flock of sheep which forced me to drive into a hedge. Not, I should add, for the first time. I've been driven  off the road by herds of sheep and goats many times.

Unfortunately, since I was either driving or it was night-time when all of these things happened, I didn't get a photo of any of them. Well, I did of the ponies but they were too far away to look like much. Then again, while we were looking at them, a guy stopped next to us, got out of his car and crossed the road to photograph them and they all ran away, so I stand by my decision to shoot from a distance.

They're in the picture above, somewhere. Near the middle. I wouldn't worry if you can't make them out. They're only ponies, anyway. Being "wild" doesn't make them look any more exotic. You're not missing much. Also, Exmoor looks much more attractive than this in every other direction but that's where the ponies were. Not much I could do about it.

I did manage to get a picture of some butterflies. There were loads of insects, mostly the nice sort, although not all of them. Beryl managed to pick up two ticks (Yes, I know they're arachnids...) despite suposedly being on permanent ant-tick meds and I spotted an absolutely gigantic hornet, by far the biggest I've ever seen in this country, which I suppose is another thing we have to thank climate change for. 

Didn't take a picture of that either. Probably just as well.

Here are the butterflies but really it's just a picture of a big ivy bush with a few spots of indeterminate color scattered here and there.  There are a couple of red admirals on there and a comma, I think. There was a peacock as well but I'm not sure it's in the shot.

Other than look at birds, animals, insects and plants and walk a lot we didn't do very much worth mentioning. Went in a doll museum. Ate ice cream. Looked at some buildings. Ever seen a seventeenth century yarn market? I have, now. Mrs. Bhagpuss took a good picture of that one but I'd given up by then. 

It's a faff, having to take photos on a phone. Maybe I should get a pair of these. I have a post to write about that although since it also involves Mark Zuckerberg's Meta I imagine Wilhelm will have covered it before I get there.

I feel I'm short-changing any dog-lovers out there with the blurry snap above. I do have an excellent picture of Beryl that I could quite easily pass off as having been taken on holiday. Here it is.

I took it a few weeks ago, about a mile from where we live. You might ask why we bothered to go on holiday to somewhere that looks so similar but all I have to say to that is We Slept In A Shepherd's Hut! Plus we did go to the seaside as well. Can't do that around here.

The sea's down there somewhere. Just over the cliff. I collected some nice pieces of driftwood and several tide-softened bricks I mean to turn into something. Foraging for crafting materials isn't just for games, you know.

Ayway, it seems I've somehow ended up with a whole post about What I Did On My Holidays after all. At least it was short.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow, probably either with a music post, something more about Carole and Tuesday or yet more about AI. Maybe all of those at once.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Take Me To The River

I seem to be starting a lot of posts I don't finish at the moment. Just did it again. I get a few hundred words in before I realise even I'm not interested in hearing what I have to say next. So I stop, send it to draft and start over. One day I'll be desperate enough for something to write about that even these turgid screeds will seem worth resurrecting. Fear that day!

Instead, here's something very weird I thought I'd share. I just spotted it on Steam and had to click through to find out if it was real.

Remember Rift? It was an MMORPG a lot of people had high hopes for, myself among them. I had a great time there for a few months and I still drop in now and then for a bit of a run around.

Long ago I linked my original account with Steam, so I get to see all the updates flagged along the top of the screen every time I log in. By far the most prolific sources of news on my Steam page are Bless Unleashed, New World, Valheim and Rift. New World and Valheim generally offer substantive information about significant changes to their games. Bless Unleashed and Rift... not so much.

Bless Unleashed seems to do a lot of "server maintenance" and "emergency updates", few of which contain new content. It actually works quite well as a form of subliminal advertising because I'm always thinking of re-installing and giving the game another try. I liked most things about it except for the combat.

Rift, under its current Gamigo ownership, does a lot of "events". Nearly all of these are rehashes of things that happened before Gamigo took over. MassivelyOP likes to report them while making ironic comments, most of which seem well deserved for once.

I rarely even think about joining in to try and get some bizarre mount or other, which is usually the reward. It was rainbow-colored unicorns last time, presumably because Gamigo's target market for the game is six year-old girls.

There's often speculation among the few who still care about just what Gamigo think they're doing with the game they bought in Trion's fire sale half a decade ago. I offer this as evidence that whatever it is, it's too weird to second-guess.

I don't know if that link works but it goes to a World Rivers Day quiz. Did you know it was World Rivers Day? I didn't but Gamigo did and they want to celebrate.

Given you can just Google all the answers, I think it's more of a lottery than a quiz. Then again, you're probably not going to need Google's help with the likes of questions like these:

Which of these famous tourist attractions was not created by a river?

  • The Grand Canyon
  • The Nile Delta
  • Niagara Falls
  • The Louvre


Rivers can carry rocks and mud called sediment for many miles. Sediment is often droppen when the river reaches the sea where it forms what feature?

  • Alpha
  • Beta
  • Delta
  • Archipelago

If you're interested, there's a whole week left to work on your answers. The top three highest scorers, drawn out of a hat because that'll be everyone, win 3,000 Credits. Not much use unless you play Rift. Also not much use to me since I have about 20,000 left from when they converted to F2P a decade ago. Never found any reason to spend those so I don't really need more.

As for what this tells us about Gamigo's long term plans for the game, maybe they could make that into an essay question. It'd be a lot harder to answer than anything in the quiz, that's for sure.

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