Sunday, August 7, 2022

Closed For The Weekend


Until I woke up this morning I had no intention of doing two music posts in a row. But then, I also had no clue what I was going to post about, either. 

I just knew I'd have next to no time to come up with an idea, bang it out, tidy it up and call it done. I had a full Sunday schedule: work, phone my mother, walk the dog. All of that was likely to take me close to bedtime before I even sat down at the keyboard.

Best I could come up with was to string a few screenshots together, probably the grounds of my mansion in Noah's Heart, add a couple of supposedly amusing lines of commentary and hope for the best. Sometimes those are the kind of posts that turn out surprisingly well. Sometimes they're not.

I did have one thing on my side. It was Sunday. It still is, as I'm writing this, although almost certainly not as you read it. 

Here's my Blaugust Mentor Tip of the Day to anyone who hasn't been at this game for long, although I suspect most of our many new Blaugustians have been at it quite long enough already to be familiar with the secret I'm about to reveal: no-one reads blogs on the weekend.


Okay, it's an exaggeration to say no-one. Some people do. I do, for a start, or I did, back when I had weekends off. Not so much any more.

Most people, at least as far as I can tell, read blogs during the week, on someone else's time, while they're at work. I would, too, if I had the kind of job that allowed it. I did have just that kind of job for most of the nineties and much of the aughts and you'd faint to know what I got away with but sadly these days I actually have to do some work if I want to get paid.

For much of my blogging career (Hah! Career!) I was blithely unaware of this rule. I also had a longstanding work pattern that left me free to work on the blog on weekends. Consequently I tended to post my longer, more thoughtful pieces on Saturdays and Sundays. Then I wondered why no-one seemed to be interested.

Now I know better, which is why you're getting this instead of, oh, say, this. Not that that's a very good example. It's long, sure, and detailed, but it's something of a shambles and it didn't get a single comment, even though I posted it in the middle of the week. There's no evidence anyone actually read it.

That would seem like a cue for Blaugust Mentor Tip of the Day #2. (Can you have two "Tips of the Day"?), namely never expect feedback on a post just because you put a lot of work into it. Seriously, just don't. You'll be happier that way.


As every blogger who's been at the game for a while knows, the most feedback comes from posts you dashed off in your coffee break, while the posts you spent hours or even days researching, editing and polishing pass by in a haze of dust and tumbleweed, never to be heard of again. You get used it after a while.

SInce no-one's reading this, I could just stop here. I've more than fulfilled my Blaugust obligations (To myself, obviously. Blaugust is entirely obligation-free.) Just on the off chance there is someone reading, though, I suppose I ought to pick up the baton from paragraph one and explain why I began by going on about writing a second consecutive music post after yesterday's

It was because of a post by Emily of Monsterlady's Diary, which I just about had time to read before I went to work this morning. The post, which I found fascinating, goes by the exemplary, self-explanatory title "Attempting to see a Music Genre I Hate in a New Light". If only I could stick to titles like that, we'd all be so much happier, especially me, when I go back to look something up six months later. I'd make that tip #3 but I couldn't live with the irony.

I trust the handful of people still reading this (Maybe a little more than a handful, since it's still the first week of Blaugust and we all feel duty-bound to try and read everything. Come back in ten days and see how that's going...) will have clicked through and read the post but to summarise it's about rap and hip-hop, why Emily finds them problematic and what she's done about changing that.

 

Rap and hip-hop, which are clearly two genres not one but everyone still lumps them together, has been the dominant musical form in the West, commercially anyway, for at least two decades. I didn't know that until surprisingly recently because a) I'm old,  b) we all live in cultural bubbles and c) EverQuest

I'm pretty sure Himalayan nose-flute instrumentals could have been the dominant musical form in the first decade of the twenty-first century and I wouldn't have noticed, unless the halflings in Rivervale had started playing them (Which would have been a major improvement over the hurdy-gurdy nightmare the hairy-footed little bastards did favor.)

Even so, I was a fairly early-adopter of rap and hip-hop, at least in my own cultural cul-de-sac. I certainly got into enough arguments in my twenties and thirties, defending my enjoyment of the likes of Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and, of course, the Beastie Boys. Ex-punks turned indie kids back then were not as open to change as you might imagine. Or more like exactly that open.

I mostly fell out of like with the genre with the rise of what we broadly understood as Gangster Rap (Or should that be Gangsta?). At the time there were a couple of teenage boys in the house so I heard more of it than would have liked but since my interests had temporarily shifted from music to mmorpgs I made no attempt to engage, just to escape.

I still don't like that style of rap or hip-hop. As must be plain to regular readers, I love me some creative cussing, but good swearing, like good comedy, is all about the timing. If you just replace every fucking adjective with "fucking" it kind of loses the impact. Or, rather, it gains the wrong kind of impact. Instead of the shock of a firework going off right next to you it's more like someone banging a nail into the wall next door - tedious, annoying, predictable and repetitive.

This isn't my post about swearing in music, though. I'm still thinking about that. This is just a quick nod to an interesting post by a fellow Blaugustian (I do like that word.) and something of a Note To Self to do something similar when I have the time. I've made a concerted effort over the last few years to educate myself at least to the point where I can recognize some of the major names in the field, have a rough idea what they sound like and maybe even know why they're respected - or not.

Any learning I achieve is naturally offset (I know who Offset is, by the way. Kind of. I just mention it by way of an example.) by my bloody awful memory but at least I stand a chance of remembering if I'm reminded, which is about all I can expect. And the more you keep at it, the more sinks in. 

Also, the more you listen, the more you hear. Any new musical genre all sounds the same when you first encounter it. You have to expose yourself to a lot of it before the diferences begin to come through.

It is worth it, even with genres you hate. Maybe especially with those. Thanks to having to share workspace with someone who played almost nothing but classic Country for weeks, I can even hear a pedal steel guitar now without wanting to poke my eardrums out with a skewer.

That's about all I have time for right now but it occurs to me this might make a series: Music I Hate and Why I Like It. Something like that.

Thanks for the idea, Emily. This is what Blaugust is all about. Pity it's the weekend and no-one's going to see any of it...

Saturday, August 6, 2022

KPop, Pop-Punk and Poetry


When you subscribe to feeds from several music sites, you do tend to end up hearing a lot about things you probably wouldn't otherwise, some of which you're glad to discover, others you wish you hadn't. If it wasn't for Pitchfork, Stereogum and NME, there's a very good chance I'd have had no idea who Belghast was talking about when he gave us his take on Machine Gun Kelly last friday.

Unfortunately, I did know who he meant. Over the last few months, I've read much more than I wanted to about the rapper-turned-pop-punk's endless spats and kerfuffles with other musicians, most of whom, like Corey Taylor of Slipknot, I don't much care about, either. 

Okay, I didn't have to read all those "news" stories. I could just not have clicked through the links. Sometimes these things have a lugubrious undertow that can't easily be resisted.

At about this point I suppose you might expect me to interpolate something by MGK by way of illustration. That would be crazy, although not quite as crazy as it sounds. He did a song called Forget Me Too with Halsey. I could have used that, in a pinch. Halsey is predictably great in it. MGK, though? Yeah, not so much.

I've liked Halsey for years, enough even to have bought their recent collection of poetry, I Would Leave Me If I Could.  Hey, here's an idea. Maybe we just have Halsey alone, reading a poem. The best choice would be this, which is stunning and magnificent but also a little much to throw at an unprepared audience. I very highly recommend it all same but just know what you're getting into. 

We'll have this one instead. 


Halsey's such a great reader of verse, something that's so much harder than almost everyone, especially poets, seems to realise. I really need to get the audiobook.

Machine Gun Kelly may take up more than his fair share of space in my feeds but since I subbed to NME his tantrums fade into complete insignificance in comparison with the coverage of KPop I'm routinely expected to consume. I'm ashamed to admit I click through fewer of those links than I do for MGK or Liam Gallagher, even though it's a sure thing I'd enjoy listening to just about any KPop icon more than either of those two. 

Pop stars having a pop at each other is so hard to resist, though, and Liam does have genuine comic timing. I kind of wish he'd use it on MGK sometime.

Despite the best efforts of the highly enthusiastic NME team, I still can't pretend to know anything about KPop, unlike Michelle of A Geek Girl's Guide. She joined Blaugust this year after seven years of blogging, and she's posted KPop pieces here, here and yes, here  already. 

I've learned a lot, not least because I love the format of those posts with the huge, embedded videos. It amost makes me want to give Inventory Full a makeover. That look just demands you scroll all the way down. I did.

It's just as well because about the only act she mentioned in her long Debuts and Comebacks piece that I'd heard of came right at the end: Stray Kids. There's something by them in one of my music posts here, somewhere,I'm pretty sure, although I'm not going to be the one to go find it. 

As Michelle suggests, Stray Kids are pretty "rock" for KPop, something you definitely can't say about the artist whose link I did click through at NME last week. It was the headline that got me: "Choi Yena brings out her gamer side in new music video for ‘Smartphone’."

As the piece goes on to explain "In the vibrant visual, Choi is a gamer who guides an avatar of herself through a playground filled with whimsical mascots, eventually stopping at a shooting game inspired by the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise." You want to see that, don't you?

Well, tough. I do.


One of these days I'm going to do a post about songs inspired by or based around video games. Can't believe I haven't already. 

That'll have to wait until I've done some research though because right now the only one that comes to mind is the most obvious one of all and I'm pretty sure we've had it here before, maybe more than once. 

Still, it's clinically impossible to have too much Lana del Rey so what the hell. Let's do it.


And with that, I'm off to bed. God knows what I'm going to post tomorrow. I imagine I'll come up with something. 

Welcome to Blaugust!

Friday, August 5, 2022

Welcome To My Mansion: First Impressions Of Housing In Noah's Heart

After yesterday's massive wall of text I think I'd better try and keep this short but I'm telling you now, it's not going to be easy. I got my house in Noah's Heart and boy, is it something!

I'd guess I probably run Syp a close second in the way I count housing a priority in my mmorpgs. It's a little strange, when you think that I played for five years without ever having a house in any of them, but ever since I got my first inn room in the EverQuest II beta back in 2004 I've never felt entirely comfortable in games that don't give you a home of your own.

Housing or what passes for it in mmorpgs varies enormously. I still rate EQII's housing system best-in-show although I'm aware that most of its subtleties and nuances remain closely guarded secrets, known only to a small cadre of obsessives. At the other end of the scale come half-hearted, box-ticking excercises like Guild Wars 2's Home Instances, which resemble true housing the way crashing on friends' hotel room floors at comic conventions resembled getting a room for the night when I did it back in the eighties.


 

From what I've seen of it so far, housing in Noah's Heart lands somewhere close to the top of the curve. It's impressive. Anyone who's really into housing in mmos is probably going to want to take a look.

Luckily, that's not too hard to do. The game is free-to-play, available on both mobile and PC and all you have to do to get a house of your own there is make it to level 43 then wait a couple of days. The waiting is the hardest part.

The house you get, described in game, accurately for once, as "a mansion", is given to your character by the King as a reward for services rendered. Unfortunately, you can't move in right away because it has to be made ready for you first, a job that takes exactly forty-eight hours. Real time.


 

You can keep track of the progress in the housing window, where you can watch timers ticking down for each of the five required items in turn: a plant stand, a drying table, a dining chair, an aquarium for eels and finally the key to the door. When that's all done, you can click the Housing button on the main menu and teleport to your new home.

Well, the grounds, anyway. Housing in Noah's Heart comes as two separate instances; Indoors and Outdoors. You arrive outside the front door, where you're greeted by Marcella, an NPC who seems confused over her role, which appears to incorporate everything from architect to butler. 

Her official title is Architecture Envoy but however she styles herself, her advice is invaluable. Through her you'll learn how to find and place items of furniture and generally come to terms with your new responsibilities.


 

She'll also give you an introduction to Jessie, an outgoing redhead with bunches and a look straight out of the 1970s. Jessie is a craftsman, "Craftsman" being one of the game's three tradeskills. (The other two are Masterchef and Tailor, in case you were wondering.) The annoyingly-named trade makes furniture and also Enchantments, about which I know absolutely nothing.

Crafting in Noah's Heart is a whole other post and one I am in no way equipped to write as yet. All I know so far is the little Jessie's taught me and the even less I've been able to work out for myself. I will go so far as to say that crafting in Noah's Heart looks like it might be pretty well designed, though.

Furniture making definitely is. There are plenty of recipes for lots of things that look immediately appealing, if you're the sort of player who gets excited by occasional tables and leather sofas, which of course I am. 


 

For me, the aesthetic appeal of the items plus the creative satisfaction of decorating my imaginary home would be more than enough to send me out into the countryside, chopping down trees, breaking rocks and skinning deer for the wood, stone and hides I'd need but there's a more gameplay-oriented motivation, too. While you get full and immediate access to the very extensive and exceptionally scenic grounds of your country retreat, when you step through the door to assess the interior, you're in for something of a surprise, not to say shock.

One room. One room! That's all you get. Or, rather, that's all you get to start. The rest of the mansion you'll have to earn and the way you do that is by making the place look nice!

It's brilliant. You can see the floorplan of your home so you know it has seventeen rooms, almost all of them larger than the one you're standing in but you can't get to any of them - yet. You have to level up your house just like you level up your Phantoms, your mount and yourself. If you like leveling you're going to love Noah's Heart.

To level up the house you need to meet the required stats for each level as it comes. Your house has five stats: Decoration, Practical, Coziness, Tech and Cultural. Different furniture boosts different combinations. For example, that eel aquarium I mentioned adds 300 to Decoration and 600 to Practical.

At this point I ought to emphasize I don't really know any more about all of this than I've seen in game. If there are outside resources, I haven't consulted them. I can say with certainty that the house has those five stats and that the tool tip says furniture can modify them but I can also say that all the furniture I've looked at only adds to Decoration and Practical. (Confusingly referred to as "Uitility" on the furniture itself.)

Regardless, I think it looks like an excellent system. It's very similar to the one Chimeraland uses but as with just about every point of reference the two games share, Noah's Heart is NASA to Chimeraland's high school science project. 

For those that value housing for the perks it confers to other aspects of gameplay, don't fret. You're covered. 

The first room to unlock is the Alchemy Workshop, not that you'd know it if you hadn't been told; it's just an empty space. Unlocking it requires House Level 2, which also unlocks Study

That's a function, by the way, not the name of another room, although for all I know there may well be a Study somewhere in the mansion. This just means you can "study" each day to get bonuses. What bonuses I can't tell you because I haven't unlocked them yet, other than the first two, Basic Energy Recovery and Basic Fatigue Recovery - 100 points of each per day.

Owning a house also gives you access to the Dispatch system, something that will be familiar to players of World of Warcraft or either of the EverQuest titles, where similar functionality is provided by Garrisons or the Overseer feature. You can send your Phantoms on missions of varying length, for which you're rewarded with various currencies.

You can also assign Phantoms to specific rooms, which also brings benefits, although what they are is currently beyond my remit to explain. The Alchemy Workshop gets you crafting mats, that much I do know. When I unlock another room maybe I'll know more.

And since we seem to be reaching the outer limits of my not very extensive knowledge, I think it's probably about time we stopped. I did say I was going to try to keep it short. 

If nothing else, I can say that I'm very impressed with what I've seen of Noah's Heart's housing offer so far. It seems to have been thought through with unusual clarity and implemented cleanly and coherently. Aesthetically, it's gorgeous, practically it's useful and functionally it's intuitive and comfortable. 

I'd go so far as to say it has the potential to be one of the better mmorpg housing systems I've seen although I'd probably need to be a little further up the housing ladder than the second rung to say it with any authority. For personal taste, I still don't think you can really beat systems that allow fully free construction and placement like Chimeraland or EQII, but Noah's Heart looks to have both decoration and progression firmly nailed down and I suspect there may be a lot more depth than I've yet been able to discover.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go chop some wood. Those beds and bureaus won't make themselves.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Like A Boss : Noah's Heart First Impressions #3

It finally happened! Late yesterday afternoon, not long after dinging 53, I finally lost a boss fight in Noah's Heart.  The momentous event occurred, co-incidentally but amusingly, mere seconds after I'd received the misleadingly-named "Undefeated" achievement, which merely asks that you kill five hundred mobs, not that you don't die while doing it.

It's an achievement that tells a story of its own: Noah's Heart is not primarily a game about killing things for the sake of it. Five hundred mobs in more than fifty levels is nothing by the standards of almost any mmorpg I've ever played. I would guess most games would see that kill count exceeded in the first ten levels. Many would match it in the first five.

The usual murder-hobo trope just hasn't played a major part in the game so far. There's plenty of hoboing, alright, but precious little murder as you travel from place to place almost entirely for the purposes of conversation. The talking almost literally never ends, while the killing almost literally never starts.

That's if you choose to progress almost solely by following the main story quest, as I have. In doing so, you travel a lot without seeing very much of the world. Every time you need to go somewhere further away than the other side of the street, a portal opens up to teleport you or you find yourself whirring across the sky in a balloon. About the only time I've seen open countryside has been when the plot required me to go somewhere I didn't have the portal for and the game was forced to take me there on horseback.

In my initial First Impressions post I mentioned I hadn't seen much in the way of the usual "Kill Ten Rats" kind of quests. That hasn't changed but I can now also confirm that for the first fifty or so levels, at least, I've not been tasked with many "Fetch" or "Escort" quests either. 

Such traditional quests do exist outside of the core questline, as I discovered when my monomaniacal obsession with the MSQ saw me racing ahead of the expected pace. Twice so far I've had to cool my heels for a while, doing favors for locals in small towns to gain xp until the number next to my name caught up with the level required by the next step in the quest journal.

Even so, I can't say with any confidence there are the kind of xp grind options you'd expect from a game that leaves you to find your own way for a few levels now and then. I did eventually force myself to go exploring, heading over the nearest hill to see what was on the other side, but although I had some adventures, I didn't see many monsters wandering around, doing their own thing, waiting to be popped for xp. I suspect you're supposed to do some of the repeatable instance content instead.

I did quite a bit of that as well. It seemed advisable. My brief experience suggests there isn't a lot roaming around the countryside other than a few small pockets of creatures, probably intended to be culled for crafting materials. I killed a few in passing just to see how tough they were and what they dropped. They either died in one hit or lasted a few seconds at most and all they had were hides, meat and the like. When I figure out how crafting works at least I'll know where to go for the mats.

Such anecdotal evidence isn't of much value, of course. The game tallies exploration stats for all the regions you visit and none of mine stand anywhere higher than 3%, so I wouldn't draw too many conclusions. The absence of aggressive wildlife, bandits, orcs, lizardmen and what-have-you does make the game feel very different from, well, just about any other mmorpg I've ever played, though. 

And not in a bad way, either. It's actually pretty nice just to be able to mosey around the countryside, enjoying the scenery and not getting jumped by the locals. Even other, recent, laid-back games I've enjoyed, like Genshin Impact and Chimeraland, perhaps the two titles Noah's Heart most obviously resembles, don't allow quite this degree of peaceful exploration.

Given the paucity of targets, a reasonable question to ask at this point might be "So how did you come to kill even five hundred mobs, then?" There's a very simple answer: MSQ combat instances. There are loads of them and the further along the storyline I get, the faster they seem to appear.

The pattern is very simple: chat to some NPCs to find out what their problem is; chat to some more NPCs for further details; chat to even more NPCs about what to do next; discover it's going to be a fight.

It's always a fight. That makes it sound more predictable than it really is and there are plenty of variations, but in essence that's the core gameplay loop as far as the MSQ goes so far.

The fights are even more on rails than the story. They always take place in an instanced location. You always teleport there from a window that pops up when you accept the mission. A glowing trail of light always leads you through the instance to the boss. Several groups of mobs always attempt to bar your way. 

Nothing ever happens in the instance other than fights and there's never any need, nor really any opportunity, to look around, much less explore. Every mission is on two timers, a short one for the bonus rewards and a longer one for general quest completion. As soon as you kill the boss you have thirty seconds to leave before the instance closes.

Each of the defending groups has something like four to six members and there are two to four groups before you reach the boss. I'd guess I was killing around a couple of dozen mobs per instance on average. 

All of the above is from memory and therefore subject to revision. I haven't been taking notes.

Until that fateful fight yesterday afternoon, almost none of the mobs, instances or bosses had given me much in the way of trouble at all, to the point where I'd managed to complete every last one of them inside the shorter timer. The regular mobs I just mowed through with no thought or tactics whatsoever; the bosses I occasionally had to take a very slight amount of care over, mostly because the later ones start to exhibit some tactical skills like teleporting or needing to be killed several times before they'd actually die.

I have, as yet, no real understanding of almost any of the elements of the game that contribute to combat efficiency. There's the usual multiplicity of systems relating to power and tactics, everything from team composition, including the choice of which Phantoms to bring for what skills and abilities against which specific mobs that might be vulnerable to them, to the individual skills of those Phantoms and the way they might form combos with one another, to the inevitable upgrades and enhancements for your and their armor and weapons. 

There's a lot more to consider. I've just listed the really basic stuff and I haven't begun to come terms even with that. I've been bumbling along, sticking to the same team (The first four Phantoms I happened to acquire.), letting them level up alongside me as they can. I've spent such development points as I've received pretty much at random and equipped whatever drops purely on the say-so of the automatic gear comparison widget that pops up when you loot anything it sees as an upgrade.

It would be more than fair to say I've done very little to improve my skills, knowledge or tactics at any point since I started playing and that my fighting technique consists of little more than frenetic button-mashing. And yet, in fifty-three levels, I have lost just that one fight and I really should have won that, too.

I knew I was taking a risk when I went in. The bosses, as I said, have been getting tougher but the real issue has been my combat rating compared to that of the instances. There's a very clear, numerical value shown on the pop-up for each mission, letting you know how close to par you are and I've been meticulous in not trying to fight above my weight, even if it's meant putting off an instance for a while until I've done a few other things to boost my numbers. It's about the only serious prep I have done.

Yesterday I got cocky. There was something like a four-thousand point difference in ranking between my team and the instance they were attempting. Not in their favor, obviously. I should have waited but I thought, what the hell, I'll give it a go.

It was a proper fight, probably the only one I've had so far. It went on for nearly ten minutes. More than once things looked rough but I kept believing we were going to pull through. Only the damn boss would not die. 

I lost count but I'm minded to say that by the time he finally got the better of me, he himself had come back from the dead three times. It's a mechanic I personally detest. I'd far rather a boss took three times as long to kill than had three health bars. You kill them, you're done, you know? Or I am, anyway.

Even with everyone down, I should still have been able to kill the boss for the purposes of the mission because there's a free in-instance rez that brings you back at full health, while leaving the boss on whatever percentage he was when you died. I can't give chapter and verse on the exact mechanics because, well, I only saw it that once. I'd never died before.

Given my opponents repeated resurrections I felt entirely justified in using one of my own. The problem was it didn't work. I ran into a bug! It was the first I'd seen in the game and showed up at the worst possible time.

The resurrection itself went perfectly except for one thing: when I reappeared I found myself impaled on the scenery. I could see the boss on the other side of the room but he was out of aggro range and none of my abilities could reach him. I wriggled about every which way but I couldn't get loose. It was frustrating, I'll tell you that for nothing.

The fight had gone on so long, there were only a couple of minutes on the clock when my team went down and rezzing doesn't reset the timer. I flopped around while the timer ticked down to zero. Then the instance kicked me out.

Bummer! Now I have to do it all again, something else I really hate. I've learned my lesson, though. Don't get overconfident. Yes, it's been a doddle up to now but as I said last time, it's really just been an extended tutorial. I think that part might finally be coming to an end. I'm rapidly approaching the point where the things I do begin to matter.

Whether that's going to dampen my enthusiasm we'll have to wait to find out. I'm going to have to start figuring out how some of these systems work and applying that knowledge to building a more effective team. I should probably also not try to fight outside my weight class.

One thing I can say for certain is that the combat in Noah's Heart is a lot more to my taste than in the otherwise very similar Genshin Impact. Not enjoying the fights was the main reason I drifted away from that game. I never felt I had much chance of "getting good" there. 

In Noah's Heart, becoming at least competent at combat does seem like it might be a theoretical possibility. It depends on whether I want to make the effort. And also, I guess, on how the monetization works. It is a Gacha game, after all. 

I don't propose to start spending real money on Noah's Heart so I just hope the developers want a lot of casuals running around, making the place look busy for the paying customers. I imagine they do. After all, there's no point flaunting your wealth if there's no-one poorer than you to see you doing it, is there?

If so, I'll be more than happy to sit on a bench for a while, mumbling "Rhubarb rhubarb" at the whales as they swim by in their finery. I think I'd be pretty good at that.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Let's Take Some Time To Review Our Options, Shall We?


Naithin
mentioned, in a post at Time To Loot yesterday, how he'd dropped his Humble Bundle review series because he no longer enjoyed writing them. He also explained the reason he wasn't into it so much any more was the quality of the bundles themselves, which "seemed to be falling off a cliff."

I have never bought a Humble Bundle in my life. Never even considered it. I only know they exist because various bloggers I follow have written about them over the years. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed Naithin's posts on them because I like to read short, pithy reviews of just about anything, regardless of whether there's the remotest chance I'll ever buy, use, play, read, listen to or watch it myself.

Reviews like that certainly don't need to be comprehensive, detailed or authoritative. The reviewer doesn't need to have finished whatever the thing they're reviewing happens to be for me to find their opinions interesting. They don't even need to have started it, frankly, although that probably does give their conclusions a little more weight.

Krikket at Nerd Girl Thoughts, for example, has an excellent series called Quick Look (currently incorporating #JustOnePercent.) in which she fires off pocket reviews of games she's played at least long enough to come to some kind of judgment on whether they're for her or not, even if that's only a few minutes. I always look forward to reading them, whenever they pop up in my feed, although there's hardly ever a chance I'll be interested in the games themselves.

As Naithin found, posts clearly signaled "Review" pick up more than the average number of page views. In keeping with his advice, with which I wholeheartedly agree, I no longer pay more than fleeting attention to my stats here on Inventory Full, but I can say that posts with things like "Review", "Preview" or "First Impressions" in the title do reliably outscore most others.

From the website.

If I was more interested in boosting my numbers than I have been in many years I'd probably have been well-advised to give my own series on the monthly free offer from Amazon Prime some kind of snappy, SEO-friendly title, like "This Month's Free Games On Prime". Of course, as any regular readers will know, that's not the way we swing around here.

It's true I have finally retrenched from my years-long flirtation with using only the names of songs or snatches of lyrics as post titles but, while that decision did briefly result in some relatively plain, declarative headlines, I think it's fair to say obscurantism and whimsy have firmly re-established precedence. 

I frequently can't even remember by the next morning why I called a post what I did. I don't recommend it. It's not just misleading and unhelpful to anyone visiting the blog - it annoys me, when I have to go back and look for a specific post and can't even begin to guess which it might be. I'm all for amusing, witty or imaginative titles but a modicum of informational value might be helpful.

In the case of my series on Prime free games and giveaways, the other factor to consider is that it's not really a series at all. I never planned on posting about it every month, like some kind of unpaid shill for one of the biggest companies in the world, like some kind of blank-eyed, post-capitalist drone. These things just happen.

The implausable, unfashionable, unpalatable truth is I just like writing those posts. It amuses me. 

From the App.

Also, they're really easy. Heck, they amost write themselves. All I have to do is open the Amazon Games app, browse the offer, pick the ones that interest me, take a few screenshots, cut and paste a few descriptions and bingo's your uncle.

Since, as I said, I don't pay much attention to my stats, I can't even say for sure whether anyone reads them but I honestly don't care. I know they tend not to attract much in the way of comments but the same could be said of any number of much better constructed, researched and considered pieces. Trying to second-guess which posts are going to attract comments is a right old mug's game.

In hobby-blogging, one of the few elements entirely under the blogger's control is whether or not the posts feel enjoyable to produce. If you can sit back and feel you had fun putting a piece together that's as much justification as you need for the time you spent on it. 

Similarly, as Naithin says, if it isn't fun, don't feel you have to keep doing it just because other people seem to expect it. This isn't a job and your reader's aren't your customers, let alone your bosses. If you're doing it right, though, they may become your friends and your friends wouldn't want you to keep doing something you don't enjoy any more.

All of which is a protracted, Blaugustian introduction to the post I sat down to write, namely  

This Month's Free Games On Prime

Ah, if only that were the title, eh? Also, there's a reason the introduction's so long. There are only four of them this month and I only claimed two of them. Doesn't give me much to work with. Have to pad these things out somehow.
 

Of course, when I say there are four free games on Prime this August, what I really mean is six. I'm not going to go over it again but, as the above screen grabs show, the offer you get on the Amazon Games app is different, by which I mean less generous, than the one on the Amazon Prime web page.
 
The four free games on the Prime app this August are:
Three out of the four score Highly Positive on Steam, with Recompile the outlier at a worrying Mixed. Zack McKraken is the seemingly-inevitable contribution from Lucas Arts. Seriously, is there some billionaire boys' club backscratching going on behind the scenes here or what?

Despite never having found a Lucas Arts game I liked and barely having liked the look of any enough to play them at all, I still grabbed Zack because who knows when I might run out of point&clicks? 
 
I also took Beasts of Maravilla Island. I've been dithering over several similar photo-journalist hunt-and-collects on Steam, without ever coming down in favor of any of them, so a free version is something of a gimme in more ways than one. I might even play it someday.
 

The larger offer on the website includes two extra games, both of which I claimed:

Family Mysteries: Poisonous Promises - "hidden object puzzle-adventure."
Starcraft: Remastered - Doesn't get a description beyond "a classic".

I took Starcraft because you can't not, can you? I'll never play it. It will sit on my Battlenet account unused even if I do eventually decide to give ActiBlizz a conditional pass and go back, which I most likely will when Microsoft finally get their hands on the keys.
 
Why I bothered to claim Family Mysteries I'm not really sure. Prime threw a bunch of Hidden Object games into the pot last month. I 'd been curious for a while to find out more about the genre so I claimed them and tried one right away. 
 
I wouldn't say I didn't enjoy it on any level but after a couple of hours I came away with the overriding feeling I'd just wasted an evening. It was like playing a point&click adventure but without everything that makes that experience involving, interesting or amusing. 
As an analogy, I'd suggest it was like listening to an album you like being played in the house next door; a vague hint of the melody, muffled almost beyond recognition by the thick walls, the odd snatch of lyric, occasionally drifting up through the floorboards. At best, it makes you want to find your own copy and put it on. At worst it makes you want to bang on the walls and tell the neighbors to turn it down.

Probably not going to be playing that one, then. Probably shouldn't claim any more like it, either.

As for the freebies for games I play, there's nothing to report. Some dyes for Lost Ark, a game it looks increasingly likely I will never play again. That was about it.

And there we must leave the mysterious world of Amazon Prime until next month, when I do hope you'll all be back to see what surprises are in store for us then. It's a pretty safe bet I'll be here, anyway. Not much chance I'll be able to resist the combined attractions of free stuff and an easy post. 

Why would I even try?

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

That's A New One On Me: Noah's Heart First Impressions #2

I am itching to play and post about Noah's Heart so much it's ridiculous, particularly since I don't even think the game's all that great. I mean, it's good. I'm definitely not saying it isn't good. It's very good. It's just nowhere near earthshattering or mould-breaking enough to explain or justify the attention I want to give it. 

In that way, it reminds me very much of Chimeraland, which I also felt like playing and posting about obsessively earlier in the year. It shouldn't be all that surprising. There are some very significant similarities between the two games. 

They both feature absolutely vast, open worlds, filled with strange creatures and spectacular landscapes but perhaps more importantly they both have an overwhelming number of systems and mechanics and processes with which to get to grips. A frankly insane number in the case of Noah's Heart.

That's almost certainly the key to it.  Excess. But also explanation. 

Both games managed to grab me at the outset in no small part by means of an extended tutorial process that effectively lasts for the entire leveling curve. At no point that I've reached in either game do the tutorial steps stop coming or the rewards for engaging with them stop flowing. It's addictive.

This Teletubby wannabe explains something early in the game.
What it is, I've already forgotten.

I used to have some fairly fixed views on tutorials in mmorpgs. I regarded them, at best, as a necessary evil. Granted, there's always a need to demonstrate and explain the basics to genuine newcomers and individual games need to elaborate on how they may differ from the conventions of the genre, but my take was always "Who the hell wants to play a pretend version of the game to learn all that? Just let me figure it out for myself in the damn game proper ffs!"

That, though, was in the days when instanced tutorials taking place outside the game itself were in vogue. You'd play through a zone or two, follow a storyline, meet a bunch of NPCs who'd tell you stuff and then BOOM! You were kicked out of the pocket dimension/asteroid/space station/island/underground facility/slave ship/mine (All actual tutorials I have endured.) into the gamespace where you'd spend the rest of your days, never, ever to return.

It seems those days are over and good riddance, I say. Most new mmorpgs I've played in recent times have gone back to the much older type of tutorial, where you start in the same world you're going to level up in and learn everything you need to know, in context, as you get to it. The big difference from the old days seems to be the way the learning process has been integrated not only into the leveling process itself but also into the main plotline. 

Not that long ago it was quite common to hear people questioning the fundemental purpose of levels and the levelling process in a maturing genre, whose central focus always appeared to be the endgame. I think we have an answer to that question, finally. Levelling is the extended tutorial.

Good News! There's Housing! Bad news! You have to get to Level 43 before it unlocks. Worse news! It takes two real-life days after that until you get the key.

It's a change that works especially well for me, since learning new things is perhaps my second-biggest motivation in trying different mmorpgs (After seeing new things, of course.)  The problem is, I still tend to lose interest as the cap approaches. Just because I enjoy learning what to do and how to do it doesn't mean I enjoy practicing it until I can do it in my sleep, so I can go on doing it forever. 

That's just the same problem with mmorpg endgames I've always had, though. At least this way I get to enjoy the part of the game I do like in something recogniseably close to the way I used to experience it fifteen or twenty years ago.

As this series of posts about Noah's Heart develops, I'm sure I'll end up talking about some of its myriad systems in detail but for now I'm barely capable of remembering what they all are. There are so many I'd struggle even to list them, let alone describe them or explain how they work or what they do. I would need to make notes as I played to have any hope at all.

For once, I have done just that, although not for the systems or mechanics as a whole. I started jotting down notes about the ones that struck me as entirely or mostly unfamiliar. I'm not saying everything in the following list is unique to Noah's Heart but it's all stuff I can't recall having seen before.

Why would you run around in here? Do you like bruises?

DMs from NPCs

I've known a few games that used the chat function to send in-character messages to the player but Noah's Heart takes it to a whole new level. It's also a feature that isn't covered by the tutorial, or at least hasn't been yet and my character dinged 45 last night so I'm a fair way up the level ladder. I believe the current cap is 68. (Also a first.)

I was looking at the chat box, for some reason, when I noticed I seemed to have a DM in the Friends tab. Since I'd never spoken to anyone in game and didn't know anyone who was playing, I guessed it would be some kind of RMT or bot message but out of curiosity I checked it anyway.

It was one of my Phantoms sending a message to my character. So far, so not that unusual. The rabbit hole opened when I saw the NPC was clearly expecting a reply. I clicked on the relevant spot and the two imaginary characters proceeded to have a lengthy, personal conversation with each other. As the player, my only role seemed to be clicking "send" when each of them was done typing. And yes, it literally did put up the "... is typing..." message so familiar from chat clients like Discord as we went along. I found it disorienting but in a good way.

Boys don't wear bunny ears. Or I missed a click. The latter, I think.

Inner Personality

Remember I commented on the old-school nature of Noah's Heart's gender selection in Character Creation? Premature!

It turns out whatever gender you pick, your character has the opposite gender as their "Inner Personality". There's a separate appearance tab for each of them and you can swap gender at will. Still a way off full representation but it feels like a nod in the right direction.

Not sure what I'm supposed to wear for that.

Weather Reports

All mmorpgs have weather. Some have weather that changes. To my knowledge, only this one has weather reports exactly like you'd get on Weather Underground. Okay, not that detailed. Maybe like your local news station. 

As someone who has not one but two weather apps running at all times and who checks them hourly, I count this as a major innovation for the genre. I wonder if it's one hundred per cent accurate? That would be unrealistic but then there is magic in the world, so maybe not.

Ship and Train Schedules

There's nothing new about public transport in games and it's reasonably common for some NPC to stand around 24/7 just in case anyone needs to know if the boat/train has just left. (Let's not kid ourselves. It's always "just left".) Noah's Heart has actual, printed times, albeit only for the next arrival or departure. I'd be more impressed if it was for the whole day but it's a start.

The Mayor of Ruritania called. He wants his hat back.

 Knocking on Doors

As an innovation, the last one was a bit of a stretch. I think maybe FFXIV has transport timetables. I'm fairly sure I'm on safe ground with this one, though. Have you ever seen your mmorpg character stop and knock on a door before going in? I thought not. I'm damn sure I haven't.

Walking in Houses

No, it's not the Noah's Heart version of EVE Online's controversial Walking in Stations. It's a lot cooler than that! After you've knocked on the door and zoned inside (Because buildings are separate instances.) your character stops running and starts walking. It's so simple and yet so effective in changing the dynamic. 

You can toggle it off in options but why would you? Indoor walking is the default and so it darn well should be! No running in the corridors!

On a related topic, while not an original idea, Noah's Heart also has what may be the one of the best sitting-on-seats mechanics in the genre. You can sit on anything that's meant to be sat on and it always looks natural.

If you look in the dictionary under "Accident waiting to happen", this is the picture you see.

Action Photography

Most newer mmorpgs, particularly the Eastern ones, come with a suite of selfie, postcard and screenshot options. Some I've seen are quite a bit more sophisticated than the ones in Noah's Heart but all the ones I can think of require you to stand still when you pose. 

Noah's Heart allows you to take selfies on the move. It's a great option for action shots of your character on horseback, galloping down a mountainside, which is what I was doing when I discovered it.

I'm sure there are plenty more oddities and idiosyncracies I've yet to find but those will do for now. I've scratched my posting itch; now I'm going to play.

I've got my notebook to hand. I think I'm going to need it.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Is It That Time Already?


It's Blaugust! 

OMG! I have prepared nothing! I haven't even done the usual, basic prep like adding the new arrivals to my blog roll. And there are a ton of them this year!

Okay, lemme at least get onto that. I was going to do the second first impressions post for Noah's Heart, which I have been playing obsessively - or at least as obsessively as possible, given I actually had to go to work for two consecutive days, coming home late and then taking Beryl-the-Dog out for an evening walk, meaning I could barely get a go at all, so not really that obsessively - but I did stay up later than usual and I did log in right after breakfast, just so I could get few more moments, so I think that counts...

Now I want to play it again... or at least write about it...

No! Discipline. Discipline!

So, here are all the new blogs I don't think I have seen before, bearing in my mind my terrible (And getting worse all the time.) memory. Seriously, it's bad.

In the last seven days alone I have

  •     Got out of the bath without having washed the shampoo out of my hair. (On the plus side - I still have hair!)
  •     Put the cap on a thermos of coffee without first having screwed in the stopper, only noticing when I shook it and a load of coffee spewed out.
  •     Switched the oven on at the correct time, let it pre-heat, then checked the time, decided I was an hour early (I wasn't.) and switched the oven off again.

At my age this could have implications but honestly I was doing this sort of thing in my thirties so I'm hoping it's just what I'm like.



What did I come in here for again?

Oh yes, Blaugust! And those new people!

There's a spreadsheet with everyone's details, something I didn't realise until I followed the link at Time To Loot.

Working from that, these are the ones I don't immediately recognise from previous years. Deepest apologies if I include anyone who I've forgotten I already know. Even deeper apologies if I've included anyone on whose blog I've left comments in the past. Would not be the first time. 

A Day In The Life Of Flash

A Geek Girl's Guide

A Nerdy Fujo Cries

A Vuelta Por Los Mundos

Blogging With Dragons

Cinder Says

Cubic Creativity

Dice, Tokens and Tulips

Digital Visceral


Dispatches From Darksyde

Everything Is Bad For You

FOBIII: A Blog

GamerLadyP - Gaming, Books and Musings of a Lady Gamer

Gaming Omnivore


Hundstrasse: Rambles About Games

Just Call Me Roybert

Kay Talks Games

Ludo Lama

Meghan Plays Games

Monsterlady's Diary

Overage-gaming

The Ghastly Gamer

The Last Chapter Guild

Phew! That was a lot. And you wouldn't believe how much fiddling about it took to get everything right. 

Not that it is. Right, I mean. Some of the underscores are a weird, bluey color. You should have seen it half an hour ago, though. It was so much worse. I am not touching it again.


 

That can be one of those blogging examples if you like: know when to stop futzing about and just hit publish. It's never going to be perfect and tomorrow you have to do another, so no-one cares.

Blogging is not for perfectionists, that's my take, although I'm sure someone else will disagree and waste no time telling us why. 

This is Blaugust, after all. It's what we do!


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide