Friday, May 20, 2022

You Wait Seventy Years For A Jubilee And Then Two Come Along At Once

I was going to skip posting today for the very good reason I didn't have anything in particular I wanted to say. Well, I did have a few ideas...

I read Paeroka's post on How to Return to LotRO, which mentioned the boosters we all got for the anniversary, so I thought I might log in and use one of those and see how it went. I got as far as character select once and the login screen three times (I'm tabbed out from it now.) but every time something happened to make me back off before I could get any further. Usually something dog-related.

Then there was Belghast's post, the one he called "New World Has Improved Significantly", a sentiment with which I don't disagree but about which I felt I had something to say. Then I thought about it and realised I'd probably said most of it the last time I wrote about the game.

There were even a few things I might have contributed to the discussion arising out of Blizzard's thrashing about as they try to increase diversity and reduce toxicity but that would have required some serious thought and I wasn't convinced I was up to it.

I'd just about decided to take a pass on the whole thing for the day, when I logged into EverQuest II to do set my  remaining Overseer missions and saw a new link in the patcher. It said Welcome to EverQuest II's First Annual Summer Jubilee!

Excuse me? 

I clicked through and this is what I got:

A whole new way to enjoy your summer and gain access to exclusive items.

We're proud to announce the launch of our first annual Summer Jubilee! This event lasts all summer long and will incorporate Tinkerfest, Scorched Sky Celebration, and Oceansfull Festival where players can earn Copper Jubilation Medals which can be used to purchase exclusive items.

There's a whole lot more, naturally, explaining the event in detail:

Live Servers

  • Jubilation parades can be found in each of the player cities, pathing near the event merchant.
  • Jubilation merchants can be found in each of the player cities exchanging event exclusive armor, house items, recipes, instruments, and equipment for Copper Jubilation Medals.
  • Copper Jubilation Medals are heirloom and can be gained by completing most Tinkerfest, Scorched Sky Celebration, and Oceansfull Festival repeatable content.
  • Daily Mission for each event dungeon end boss and can be updated in either solo or heroic.
Special Rules Servers (Including Varsoon)
  • Start earning Copper Jubilation Medals during Tinkerfest and continue earning them through Scorched Sky Celebration and Oceansfull Festival.
And a lengthy section on the upgradeable bracers you can get that become more powerful the more events you do in all three of the summer holiday events:
Along with the Copper Jubilation Medals, we’re also adding in Golden F'Aestival Bracers. They're huge, they're shiny, and best of all, they're pretty powerful especially if you complete the Summer Jubilee event! How do you get a pair? Just log in during Tinkerfest and complete the event dungeon, Innovation: Tinkerer's Trial, six times. Once you do that, you'll have your new, Mythical bracers and ready to take on Scorched Sky Celebration and Oceansfull Festival.  
If you're interested in what they look like and what the stats are it's all there on the website at the link above. Suffice to say, the fully upgraded version clocks in at 340 Resolve and I'm currently turning cartwheels if I get anything over 295.

I'm assuming the Jubilee replaces the familiar Summer Ethereal event that's been running in the same slot for many years, although nowhere does it actually make that explicitly clear. I suppose the two could co-exist but I very much doubt that's the plan.

This looks much more inclusive and better-designed to me. Tying everything in with the existing holidays and expanding all three of them seems like a great idea.

Of course, great ideas also need great implementation so I'll reserve judgment until I get to try them all out. Tinkerfest is already up on the Test Server so I'll at least read the forums to find out how that's going, even if I don't log in and test it for myself.

It all kicks off on June 2, which just happens to be the same week as Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee. I know where I'll be celebrating...

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

Azuriel mentioned the other day how he's been finding it more difficult to find new music these days. It's a common problem, I think. Partly it's a function of the aging process. It's not not inevitable but it creeps up on you if you don't pay attention.

When I was at school, then college, every day was a swapmeet for new ideas of every kind, with music right at the forefront. As I went through my twenties I was out more than in (Much more.) and the same cultural cross-pollination moved to after-work drinking sessions and endless parties. We all read the music press, swapped fanzines, traded mixtapes and generally competed to find the best new things before anyone else.

As I burned through my thirties I slowed down some. Offline socializing receded to a gentle background hum then all but stopped altogether, when I discovered mmorpgs. I stopped following the trends. Meanwhile, all around me people seemed to be settling into an understanding of the things they liked, willing to settle for what they already knew.

Around the same time, music itself began to fracture. Distribution channels proliferated while radio fragmented. I lost track of the culture for a decade and when I emerged, blinking from my long sleep, nothing looked much like I remembered.

Over the past few years I've put the pieces back together or tried to. I began by rifling the riches of the past, miraculously restored to the present by way of YouTube and its millions of pop culture evangelists. I think the key that opened that lock was probably the first time I found footage of the Monks performing Oh How To Do Now on German TV back in 1966 but I can't remember now how I came to be searching for it.

Since then, it's been a gradual recovery. I started following Pitchfork a few years ago, then Stereogum and more recently I've added my adolescent bible, NME, to my feeds. The three of them have a good deal of redundancy but that's helpful. With the torrent of news some days, I need the reinforcement of multiple mentions to drive the message home.

I also follow a few music bloggers although I've been wary of adding any more than a few. There are only so many hours in the day to read blog posts and I'm sure you've seen my blog roll, which, come to think of it, generally doesn't include music blogs. Maybe it should.

The problem with music bloggers, in my limited experience, is that just as I get comfortable with them, they go silent. I have eight in my feeds right now but only two, Simon Reynolds' blissblog and Spavid's Willfully Obscure post with any regularity. I really need to replace the quiescent ones with people who are still feeling it.

My other main source is YouTube, of course. It's a well as deep as the Mariana Trench. I could find something new there every minute of every day if was crazy enough to try. 

I do a lot of primary research, a fancy name for entering random keywords and following links until I'm dizzy, but I also have a few channels subbed to give me curated suggestions. Elefant Records I've mentioned many times but I also follow the LazyLazyMe, MrSuicideSheep and Jarret Wolfson, who I guess doesn't need a fancy internet nick since he has such a cool name already.

I also sub Mermaid Motel, maker of amazing unauthorised music videos, and triplej, "Australian youth broadcaster and the home of Like A Version" as well as several individual musicians, although not necessarily the ones you might imagine. It's not all that many but I find that subscribing to too many YouTube channels has a tendency to result in diminishing returns. There's not much point subbing them if you never find time to watch them.

At this point I'd like to thank Azuriel for spurring me on to write this post and thereby examine just what my current methods and resources are. It's apparent to me that I could do a lot more and a lot better. I'm going to make more of an effort to find some new voices and sources to add to the ones I've mentioned and to replace the ones I've lost.

It also encourages me to keep doing what I have been doing, namely sharing things I've found that seem worth mentioning here on the blog. Word of mouth is the best recommendation.

Before I get to the videos, I'd like to call attention to a couple of very illuminating interviews I read today. One is with Lana Del Rey, the other with Jack Antonoff. Both reveal some intriguing details about their respective and collective methodologies as well as a good deal of insight into their personalities. The Lana one has some amazing pictures, too. 

I'd recommend both pieces to anyone interested in either of the artists but also to anyone who finds the processes behind the creation of the music we love either curious or obscure or both. I learned something from each of them.

And now... the music!

Lydia Wears A Cross - Julia Jacklin - A new name to me, I came across Julia by way of a brief news item about this, her new single, which I clicked on purely because I liked the title. I'm a bit of an easy mark for song titles with names in them and anyway I do tend to pick things out based on what they're called. It sounds shallow but it's a trick that's served me well, not just with music but books and movies as well.

After hearing this once I played it again right away and then a third time. Writing this post, I've listened to it three times more. She has a great song about Jesus, too (Well, he's in the title..) but I'll save that for Christmas. 

Nikki Go Sudden - Pink Mountaintops - Speaking of titles. with names in them... My eye was drawn to this immediately when I saw it in a news item. Nikki Sudden is one of my longtime favorites, or he was while he was alive. I bought the first Swell Maps E.P., "Read About Seymour" when it came out in 1977 and I own a number of Jacobites albums, mostly on cassette, which means I never get to hear them any more. This is a fine tribute that manages to evoke that instantly recognizeable Sudden delivery without sounding like a tribute act. 

There's a very good live version too. Actually, listening to it again, it might be better than the recording. Let's have that as well.

Once again, I'd never even heard of Pink Mountaintops. I dug back into their extensive catalog as well but most of it seemeed a bit rocky for my tastes. This one was okay, though. It's called Lights of the City. Very '80s.

Claire Danes - Damn The Witch Siren -Double header! No! Double double header! If there's one thing that gets my attention faster than a name in a song title it's the name of someone famous. Bonus points if it's someone I like. I do like Claire Danes but really it's Mrs. Bhagpuss who likes her. We've had a framed still of Danes as Angela from My So Called Life on the hall wall since the '90s. It's one of Mrs. Bhagpuss's all-time favorite tv shows.

I'd have given an ear to any song called "Claire Danes" but one by a band called Damn The Witch Siren? Slam and - if you'll permit it - dunk! That's three acts I never heard of until the last week and two of them are keepers. Here's their latest. It's good.

They have more but I'll save them for later. Pretty sure they'll turn up here again, as will Julia Jacklin. Proof that my methods for surfacing new-to-me acts really work. Of course, keeping up with new work by old favorites is just as important...

Roadkill - Starcrawler - It's been a while. I was wondering what they were up to. If it's got to be rock, this is the way I like it. Sharp, smart, self-aware and with the treble turned all the way up. And a chanted chorus, too. Arrow and Henri are the Mick and Keef of their generation. Unfortunately for them, it's not 1966 any more. Unfortunately for whom? Yeah... leaving that hanging...

Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty) - Horsegirl - Not, I think, the strongest track from the soon-to-be-released debut album, "Versions of Modern Performance" but it's a grower. I haven't pre-ordered. I need to save a few things for the birthday and Christmas lists.

Doritos and Fritos - 100 gecs - Wow! That was almost conventional! Well, by their standards. I notice a lot of YT comments along the lines of "Gecs is a rock band now" - "They always were". Not sure I'd go that far but I do agree they rock.

And that's it for this time. I might try to do this on the regular, post new stuff I've found just for the sake of it. Beats coming up with some thesis every damn time!

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Secrets We Keep

Today I finally got around to removing Microsoft's idea of a pretty picture (Clue: not mine.) from the lockscreen, which had reverted to type following The Incident. I set it to Slideshow and chose an old favorite: The Secret World.

In yesterday's post I mentioned how I thought Vanguard was one of those mmorpgs that looks better when you're playing than you'd guess from screenshots. Funcom's neglected gem looks great however you view it.

I was so happy to see some of my old favorites again, I thought I'd slap a few up on the blog just for the hell of it. No particular context or reason, just a good old screenshot post like the old days. It's possible I may have used some of them before, but there are more than twelve hundred in the folder so the odds are good.

Sunset. I love everything about it. The sunlight filtering through the haze, the reflections in the water...

I never tire of the way the light burns through the fog, the mist, the dust. Miasmas, everywhere.

They make everything glow. You could read a newspaper by that moon.  

Though you could always just turn on the lights.

Or maybe light a fire.

Then again, not everyone needs light. Or color.

We all shine, in our own way.

Some of us by day.

Some of us by night. Anyone for tennis?

Yeah, I'm on the night team but don't let that put you off. We're really not that good.

There can be a lot of distractions, y'know?

Some of them big.

Some of them small.

In the end, though, it's nothing we can't handle...

A girl..

Her gun...

And the night.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

A Tale Of Two Emus

One survivor of my recent, involuntary desktop cull was the icon for the Vanguard Emulator. Seeing it exposed made me realize it's been a few months since I last checked in to see how things are going. 

Longer still since I visited the forums to read up on what's changed. It's not always obvious just from playing as the detailed and informative State Of The Game post from last October emphasizes:

"While, to the player, the game might seem to be finished, there is a lot of back end work that has not been set up yet. If painting a picture requires one to start with broad strokes and finish with small details - we are still on the broad strokes - but the players see the finished painting."

As one of those players I completely concur. Every time I log in and play for an hour or two I come away with an impression of an almost fully-restored game. My Disciple is Level 13 and he can explore, quest, level , buy new skills, upgrade his gear, harvest, craft, everything you'd expect in the early levels. He can even work the levers of Civic Diplomacy.

Getting on for eight years since the Live game closed down, just to be able to do that much is phenomenal. As someone who tends to enjoy low and mid level gameplay more than endgame activity and who's very comfortable pottering around alone in a seemingly deserted world, I would be more than satisfied if the current iteration was as far as the team were able or willing to go. 

They wouldn't, though:

"...we are not finished, and we will not be finished for some time. We have come so far, but we have a long way to go. Our overall goal is to make the game as it was in its prime, pre-Free To Play Changes."

I couldn't say with any certainty what were the differences between the final subscription version of Vanguard and the first F2P ruleset. As I recall, the game began with a focus on group-play but then there were several, substantial revisions, first making the game easier, then much easier and highly soloable. Later, but well before the sunset, much of the former difficulty was restored and there was a brief focus on endgame raiding before the game went into maintenance mode and previously hard-to-get items like flying mounts were given away to anyone who wanted them.

Where the F2P conversion stands in all that and what kind of cut-off it represents for any given aspect of the game I have no clue. All I know is I found ways to enjoy every era almost equally so wherever the music stops is likely to suit me just fine.

This afternoon, when I logged in, I did what I usually do, namely saddled up and rode out to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Even now, I find Telon one of the most beautiful virtual worlds I've ever seen. The graphics may be showing their age but, much like Lord of the Rings Online, the deep, fluid, emotional commitment behind the world-building makes the place feel preternaturally real.

By happenstance and good fortune, I ended up following one of my favorite routes in the whole game, along the riverside from Khal to Ahgram. The dry, sunbaked grassland between the two cities shimmers in a heat haze under the merciless blue sky. 

The brittle, yellow grass, taller than a young Raki, ripples in the hot wind coming down from the mountains. Dust cakes the hardened dirt road, where camels stand idle and towers cast welcome shade for the merchants as they pray for rain.

As I cantered across the plains, I found myself wondering whether the recent issues with my PC had somehow improved the graphics. Maybe the drivers I reinstalled? Everything looked even more magical than I remembered. Vanguard has always been a game whose screenshots don't quite do justice to how it feels when you're playing but I think the ones I took today come close.

I didn't do much more than ride the roads, stopping occasionally to kill a skeleton by the ruins of a temple here or a scarab beetle under a tree there. The login message explained there'd been a difficulty pass on mobs to bring them up to the required challenge level so I was curious to see if things felt tougher. So long as I stuck to the mobs I was meant to be killing solo, everything felt fine. 

When I reached the towering walls of Ahgram the sun was almost down. Long shadows darkened the waters in the harbor and the light was almost blue with dusk. It had been a glorious ride. I struggle to think of any mmorpg where I find so much pleasure in simply traveling.

Vanguard is one of the handful of online games I would miss like a friend if it wasn't there any longer so the persistence of the relationship beyond the virtual grave feels little short of miraculous. Another game I'd miss ferociously would be EverQuest II, which is worrisome, given that of all Daybreak's portfolio, EQII is probably the most at risk.

For some years I was concerned by the apparent lack of anything resembling a working emulator for the game. Although it can sometimes seem as if every lost mmorpg can be readily found again in the emulator greyscape, as Wildstar's exiled fans can attest, there's no guarantee.

With that grim thought in mind, I'm exceptionally happy to be able to confirm that today I took the Far Journey once again to disembark at the Outpost of the Overlord, where my latest ratonga necromancer, now a lofty Level 3, is resting after her efforts. It wasn't on any Live server. It happened on the EQ2 Emulator Project.

A companion to the Vanguard Emulator and linked on their website, I've looked at this one before but this is the first time I've been able to download, install and play the game. There are full instructions here, including the necessary links and I had absolutely no issues following them to get the game up and running in short order.

Once I'd made a character I was surprised to find myself watching a narrated slide show laying out the history of Norrath, from the Rallosian invasion to the Shattering. The emulator requires the Altar of Malice client, so I'm guessing this was the introduction you got back then, when you installed the game from scratch. 

I'm not sure whether I ever saw it before. Bits of it seemed vaguely familiar but that could be because I already know the story or because I've seen very similar introductions in other games. 

Whether or not it was really new to me, I watched the whole thing with both interest and pleasure. The illustrations are sumptuous, the voiceover is mellifluous and the whole thing makes for a very good primer on how the world got to be the way it is. 

Whether a genuine first-timer would get as much out of it as a veteran is another matter. I tend to feel having new players sit through long lore cut-scenes before they get to play their characters can be something of an own goal but then I guess it never did Final Fantasy XIV much harm. Compared to that carriage ride, this is barely a bump in the road.

The EQ2 emulator as it is right now, based on the very small fragment I experienced, feels considerably rougher around the edges than the Vanguard emu. Nothing wrong with how it looks or plays, more in the technicalities. 

I ran into several UI glitches in the half hour or so I spent there. None of the icons on the bar at the foot of the screen worked and I couldn't open my inventory with the keyboard shortcut. I suspect I may have glitched something by running ahead of the tutorial prompts and clicking on things before I was told to.

I'm not complaining. It makes me feel safer just knowing the emulator exists, especially since there's also the option to set up your own server. With that, it feels highly unlikely EQII fans will ever end up slumped on the Wildstar bench, out of the game for good.

I have no intention of playing on the EQII emulator regularly. I probably won't even check in on it every few months, like I do with Vanguard. I'm happy playing - and paying for - the Live version. But if that ever goes away...

Monday, May 16, 2022

Dude, Where's My Stuff?

Azuriel mentioned, in a post the other day, he'd been having some issues migrating data from his old PC to the new one he'd just bought. SynCaine dropped by the comments to wonder why, if the data in question happened to be games, Azuriel was even bothering. "Why migrate games?", he asked. "Wouldn’t it be faster to download them off Steam than do whatever it is you are doing with multiple harddrives?"

That really made me think. I haven't bought a new PC (I wish!) but I have had to revisit all of my data following the involuntary renumbering of all my drives. 

The three of them together give me four terabytes of storage, three-quarters of which should, theoretically, have been pristine, seeing that one drive came with the PC and another I bought later. By that reckoning, only one drive should have had legacy data from my previous PC, the one I took out of the old and installed in the new.

That in itself would be confusing enough but in fact I also transferred a bunch of stuff from several old drives because it seemed easier than what I had been doing, namely sticking them into enclosures as using them externally. As a result I ended up with all kinds of data scattered across the three drives, a mess which I only partially cleared up by creating specific folders and copying data across.

It seems like it ought to be simple enough to pile everything into the case then sort it out after but there are several problems with doing it that way. The main one is the discipline and organization required to make a good job of it. Another is the time it takes. The real killer, though, is the tedium.

Here's the thing: I love inventory management so much that the idea of sorting terabytes of data into a coherent, ordered system always feels like it's going to be really good fun. I actively look forward to it, which is how I keep ending up doing it. 

The reality is somewhat different. It is fun to begin with but, like an awful lot of things, the fun stops before you get to the end.

If I'm sorting and tidying physical inventory (As I was this afternoon, when I opened a door in the lean-to we ironically call the conservatory, a door that hadn't been opened for at least a decade and a half, to find the space behind it entirely filled with dessicated driftwood, which I foolishly then began to clear out.) I pretty much have to finish what I've started. You can't really leave a job like that half done. We would literally not have been able to get out of the back door.

Digital tidying is much easier to give up on, unfortunately. When it stops being fun I tend to just bail. Unsurprisingly, with a six-year old computer, that leaves one hell of a lot of loose ends and most of them in a tangle.

It doesn't help that platforms like Steam and Amazon Games are so willing. They're happy to let you make multiple Libraries on different drives, then sew them all together invisibly so you never have to think about what's really stored where. It seems like an ideal solution until you find yourself having to stitch them all back together after some catastrophe tears them all apart.

I've spent a good few hours these last few days doing just that, with limited success. If you haven't tried to find them, you might be surprised where all these companies choose to hide their files. It's not in one, logical place, like it used to be back in the good old days of EverQuest, when I would routinely just open the game folder and find every single related file in there, somewhere.

If you're prepared to dig deep enough you can usually find most things. It can be quite good fun, a kind of digital treasure hunt. Satisfying, too, at least when you find what you're looking for. I was pretty pleased with myself when I finally located the save game files for Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis and managed to get the new installation to recognize them. I'd have hated to have had to play through thw whole thing again.

Some other missing pieces, though, I still haven't been able to find and sometimes even finding the right files and putting them in the right place doesn't make things work the way they should. Steam, for instance, has a set of protocols for moving files from one installation to another that has to be followed if you want the games to be recognized, let alone playable.

I could do that. It wasn't hard to track down the information and it would just be a question of following the instructions. Sure, it would be fiddly and annoying, but I'm confident it would work but, as SynCaine says, why bother? 

I have an answer. It's one I've been giving, often with a certain degree of smug self-satisfaction, for years. "It's the way I do things". Yeah, not much of an answer, is it?

I have a lot of ways I do things. I don't use menus. I like to have desktop icons for everything. I enjoy locating the icon for the app or game or program or utility or file I want visually. It's an aesthetic choice but it has an element of almost religious fervor to it as well. It always felt like the right way. I almost said the "morally correct" way. 

Only now I'm starting to think that, like an awful lot of other unconsidered practices of mine, it's really just a habit. I learned to do things a certain way a long time ago, when it was either just the way they were done or when there wasn't any other choice. When new ways of doing those things came along I either didn't notice or, if I did, shook my head somewhat condescendingly and said "No thanks, I'll stick with the old way, thanks. If it ain't broke..."

Except I'm starting to think that something doesn't have to be broken to be capable of improvement. I know. Revelatory!

It's also beginning to occur to me that my preferences don't represent much of a coherent aesthetic after all. I embrace minimalism. I turn off almost every option in most utilities I use. I like the cleanest possible appearance in browsers and websites. I actually seek out and install add-ons that suppress functions the designers put in to be helpful just so I can have everything looking as sparse and barebones as possible.

That doesn't sit comfortably with a desktop covered with so many icons I've twice had to reduce their size just to get them to fit on the screen. It's doubly ironic seeing that I take some care to set desktop backrounds that change every ten minutes, pulling pictures at random from files containing hundreds or even thousands of images, and yet I can barely make out what I'm looking at for the forest of thumbnails cluttering up the foreground.

When the glitch forced me to use my old installation of Windows 10 with its six-year old profile, more than three-quarters of all those icons simply vanished. Until I read that comment of SynCaine's I'd been diligently working to put them all back. Now I think I'm going to forget they were ever there.

More than that, instead of trying to find all my Steam and Amazon Games files and somehow teasing them back together, I think I might just delete the whole lot. Clear out the entire package and start again. Just download and install the games as I want to play them and let someone else worry about where to store them when I'm playing something else.

I'd want to be sure I had my screenshot files backed up but the saved games should be in the cloud. And even if they're not, what are the chances I'll ever want to start a completed game from a save, anyway? Have I ever done that in four decades of gaming? I doubt it.

It's not even as though you can play any of these games without an internet connection so the worst that could happen, if I suddenly decided I wanted to play something different, would seem to be a (relatively) short delay to download and install before logging in. I'm always doing that for new games anyway and it's not a problem. 

I'm still mulling it over but the prospect of clearing what would most likely be a terabyte or more of local storage is almost as appealing as the sight of a clean desktop. I've been trying to think of the downsides but I haven't come up with anything yet. If anyone has a good reason why I shouldn't sweep the decks, please don't keep it to yourself.

Otherwise, I think I'm going to do what everyone else probably did long ago: store my stuff in someone else's place.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

All Round To Yours Next Time, Okay?

My plan (I had a plan!) this weekend was to post something on Saturday, when I wasn't working, then take a rest on Sunday, when I was. So, naturally, radio silence yesterday and now here I am on Sunday, posting after dark...

For once, I have a kinda halfway decent excuse: on Saturday evening, Mrs Bhagpuss and I watched Eurovision

I can't remember the last time we watched it together. It was probably back in the '90s. Even the last time I watched it on my own must have been about a decade ago. I vaguely remember having it on in the background while I was playing some mmorpg or other.

This time we actually sat down together and watched it all the way through. Well, the twenty-five songs, anyway. Then later I watched the final half-hour of the voting in bed, while Mrs Bhagpuss was falling asleep listening to the radio. We are old. 

Not as old as Eurovision, of course, or the Eurovision Song Contest as we called it back then. It was a big thing in my childhood. In those days of limited choices, there were a number of major, annual televisual events that just about everyone watched, whether they were interested in them or not: the F.A. Cup Final, Miss World, the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show...

Of all of them, when I was between the ages of maybe eight and fifteen, Eurovision was probably the one I looked forward to the most. I started off watching it because I got stay up late, then I watched enthusiastically and by my mid-teens I was watching it with a sneer. I still watched it, though.

Later, as a student, I watched it ironically and then in my thirties I watched it nostalgically. By the end of the nineties, when I was pushing forty, I ran out of ways to watch it without feeling enervated by the bloat and the sag and the tedium. 

The timing was perfect. I began playing mmorpgs and all but stopped watching television altogether. For a decade or so I didn't bother to notice who was representing the UK or even who'd won. Thanks to EverQuest, those are my lost years. Eurovision is the least of the omissions.

Coming out of that shadow, I had some peripheral sense that the contest itself had changed. I knew it had always had immense camp credibility but somehow there seemed to be an element of mainstream respectability creeping in as well. 

I also came to understand that the glory days when any British entry would be all but guaranted a top five place, if not an outright win, had receded into the kind of history they teach in schools. Even before I stopped watching, a disturbing poiltical edge had started to creep into the voting. I took it that , while I'd been away, the creep had become a canter then a full-on charge. 

Plus most of our songs were so bland as to be invisible. That probably didn't help.

Last year's effort, which I didn't see or hear but did read about, was the nadir of nadirs. A double null from both the jury and the popular vote. I guess at least it couldn't get any worse.

I didn't watch last year's contest but I had been meaning to, just as I'd been meaning to watch the show for several years. My interest and enthusiasm began to rekindle following wins by the likes of Lordi and Måneskin, not acts that particularly appealed to me but ones that suggested the tenor and tone of the event might just have moved on from the predictable, dull

This year I was on the fence right to the last minute. I might have missed it again had it not been for my recent computer troubles. At about half seven last night I logged in, meaning to get down to writing a post, when a pop-up from Windows asked me if I wanted to update or reschedule. 

Forgetting I was on an old installation of Win10, thanks to the drive swap, I recklessly hit the "Update Now" button, only to realize too late it was going to take a couple of hours or more to catch up with all the updates I'd missed in the last five years.

I still had my laptop next to me from the previous recovery session so I fired that up and watched the first episode of Portlandia on DVD. When that ended I thought about watching another but it was exactly eight o' clock and I thought I remembered that was about the start time of Eurovision. 

I checked. It was. I put it on, then I went to make a coffee. I mentioned to Mrs Bhagpuss what I was doing, and she said she'd just been thinking of watching it as well, so we watched it together. 

It was pretty good, too. It was too long, of course, but then it always was, and the presenters were ninnies, but then they always were. As a spectacle it was hugely improved from what I remember but more importantly so were the songs. 

Okay, there were a few dull spots (Switzerland! Stand up! No, sit down again!) and there wasn't anything I'd be likely to run out and buy or rush to post here, but there were several I'd happily turn up if they came on the radio and a couple that sounded not much different from stuff I listen to from choice. Couldn't have said that a few years ago. As the NME put it, "only gammons still look down on Eurovision".

It helped that our song was strong and our singer even stronger. I don't get partisan about much but I have always had a commitment to the UK in Eurovision. Even when we field a complete embarassment, as we have done all too often, I still can't stop myself from hoping it'll somehow transcend its awfulness and bring the trophy home. 

This time it was easy to cheer Sam Ryder on to his very near victory. He's like a human cartoon. You'd have to be humorless in the extreme not to wish him well. Space Man is a more-than decent pop song and he really sells it. He can sing, which obviously helps, but perhaps more importantly, he's really easy to remember. If you haven't watched the show you may not appreciate just how significant that is.

I watched his performance just like I watched the other two dozen. I thought he had a fair chance but there were some other strong contenders and everyone hates the UK so I wasn't really expecting much. Just not coming last would be an improvement on recent years.

The full Eurovision experience takes about four hours. I like the voting but it can go on for what seems like forever so I took a break and watched an episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 2, in which she really is crazy, rather than Season 1, where she's mostly just sad and sweet.) 

When I tuned back in the voting was about halfway through and I was amazed to see the UK right at the top of the poll. It stayed that way to the end of the jury votes. In the old days that would have been it. We'd have won.

Not any more. These days, the final result is some arcane hybrid of national juries and popular telephone votes. I haven't made any attempt to understand how it works and I don't intend to start now. 

However it's calculated, the upshot is chaos. Songs that were languishing in mid-table can suddenly be catupulted into the top five. Leaders can find themselves shunned, sending them sliding back into mediocrity.

The main outcome of the influx of popular sentiment was the result everyone had been expecting: Ukraine got the sympathy vote, the solidarity vote, the protest vote, the moral vote and every other kind of vote. It helped that they also had a very strong song. 

They shot up to the top of the table with what looked like an unassailable lead. It was. Sam Ryder got a solid shout, enough to keep the UK in second place but nowhere near enough to unseat Ukraine, thank god. That would have been excruciating.

No, coming second to Ukraine in this exceptional year is the best possible outcome. Things could not have gone better if there'd been a script. Ukraine get their wholly deserved, highly charged, politically and culturally meaningful win and the UK gets rehabilitated after a decade or more as a Eurovision pariah.

The Eurovision tradition is that the winner hosts the contest in the following year. Let's hope this time next year we'll all be watching Eurovision 2023 live from Ukraine. I'll be there for that.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Patience Is A Virtue. Keep Telling Yourself That.

Here, as promised, or more likely threatened, is the extremely quick and boring post on my progress with EverQuest II's Overseer system It's an update to a post from more than two weeks ago, which I optimistically titled "Good Things Come To Those Who Wait". They do... but be prepared to wait a long time.

I've been diligently doing my Overseer missions in EverQuest II every day without fail, even when I really haven't had time for them. These last couple of days, things have been so close to the wire timewise I haven't even been able to make space for my Guild Wars 2 dailies, the first time that's ever happened, but I still I managed to get my Overseer missions done.

Despite those heroic efforts, it took me the best part of two weeks to get any more Legendary-quality missions. Eventually, a couple of five-hour yellow missions dropped and a couple of days ago, from one of those, I got my first ten-hour Fabled mission. From that I got a couple more Legendaries, so now I have almost enough good ones for a full slate.

It's also allowed me to look at the potential rewards for the standard and bonus chests for the purple missions, which confirmed, as suspected, that the 295 Resolve gear is in there, along with the green, Celestial missions that take, from memory, fifteen hours to complete. 

There are also a bunch of new agents with new traits that fit the new missions, a couple of Visions of Vetrovia mercenaries and a vast quantity of crafting books, potions and other items of less obvious value.

It seems to me that progress is a lot slower this season but I also believe that's an illusion. So much relies on RNG and there are so many possible rewards. Last season I think I had some very lucky rolls early on, while this time it's been the opposite. At the rate I'm going, I won't start to pull the really good stuff until it's just about to be made obsolete by the Panda quests.

Logically, the better rewards come from the higher-quality missions, which are also the longest, with the best of all coming from the bonus chests from Celestial quests. Well, you'd think so. 

During last season, I never really felt I was getting better stuff from Celestials than from Fableds but once again RNG makes it hard to be sure unless you go in and check the exact contents of the chests, which I don't believe I ever did. 

I will this time. When I actually get a Celestial mission, that is. If I ever do. And then I'll come back and report on what I find.

I'm curious, even if I'm the only one!

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