Saturday, June 22, 2024

Can't Stop The Music

I've been trying to get a What I've Been Listening To Lately post up for the best part of a month now - the last one was all the way back at the end of May - but I just haven't been able to fit one in. So much going on. Shouldn't complain but...

Also, there's a structural problem with this feature: if I can't put one up at least every other week, the title's just plain wrong. It ought to be Stuff I Listened To A While Back And Now I've Moved On

Maybe I should call it that...

There's another problem with the format I've started to notice, too. I alluded to it last time, when I said "Bunch of friends of the blog dropped tunes since last time...They're all good. I guess we can't have 'em all, though.

The songs I post these days break down to two types - brand new tracks I've had pushed at me by the likes of Stereogum, Pitchfork and NME and older tunes I've scratched up, digging through YouTube late at night. When I first started doing music posts, I used to include quite a lot of stuff I already knew but mostly I've moved on from that. 

Not sure why. It's not as though I ran out of ideas. I think at some point I started to see dragging things out of my memory or my record collection as the easy option and I wanted to do better.

I've been thinking I should maybe split the music posts into a New Fads And Fancies feature that I might do as often as every week and a What We Missed When We Weren't Paying Attention column for the older stuff. Then I could do a Covers post every so often, like maybe once a month, sprinkle in those journalistic features I like to indulge myself with every once in a while, throw in a random theme post now and again and top it all off with the odd lucky dip from my ever-growing archive, just because that's fun for me.

And look! A whole new blog!

Maybe I'll do it, one day. When I retire, perhaps, which is technically in about five months from now, although I'm not planning on giving up work right away.

It's the old question: should I cram everything in the one blog, regardless of whether it fits, or should every obsession have its own space to grow? Another topic for Blaugust, I guess. 

Meanwhile, let's just carry on as we are for one more time. I think this one's going to be mostly people we already know, promoting their new record, but can I help it if they all release good ones at the same time?

Right Now - New Jeans

Or in the case of New Jeans, if they put out three pretty much all at once? The music biz sure has changed a lot since I was buying albums and singles. Back then even the most hyperactive pop acts waited for one 45 to hit or miss before they spat out another. Now its all bang bang bang.

Last time I did this I linked - but didn't post - a new New Jeans number called How Sweet. Look, there it is again! Since then they've released Right Now, apparently for the Japanese market, since it's sung partly in that language, and also Supernatural, produced by Pharrell. They're all good but Right Now is my favorite, possibly because it has that great Powerpuff Girls video.

I really need to watch the Powerpuff Girls some day.

The girl, so confusing version with Lorde 

Charli XCX feat. Lorde

Don't look at me that way. That's what it's called. 

Stereogum made me laugh out loud last week when they posted their regular Friday feature The 5 Best Songs Of The Week. I've only been following the site for a couple of years so maybe this wasn't the first time they've picked all five from the same person but even if it did feel a little like a situationist prank,  honestly it makes total sense. 

I could have done the same. This feature you're reading is called What I've been Listening To Lately and if I was going to make it mean what it says, this post would just be all the tracks from BRAT because that's what I've been listening to all week. Most of the posts from the last seven days were written to it. There's another great remix of 360 with Robyn and Yung Lean I could have featured, too, but I'll show a little restraint, for once.

Beryl loves the album, by the way. Every time I play it, she comes into the room and jumps in the old swivel chair I keep here for her and spins it around. I think she's dancing.

Please, Please, Please - Sabrina Carpenter

Oh, you think I won't go there? Let me quote the first line for you: I know I have good judgment, I know I have good taste...

Really, though, it was the stellar use of the word "motherfucker" that sold it for me. Pop music has changed, hasn't it? I assume there's a radio edit.

Supersad - Suki Waterhouse

Here's someone we haven't had for a while. From the upcoming album with the wonderful title "Memoir of a Sparklemuffin". I'm going to steal that for a character name sometime. 

It's three minutes long and the video plays right through the credits so we probably have the whole thing but it does kind of end as if someone just flicked a switch at the wrong time. Then again, whoever posted the clip on Suki's official YouTube account couldn't even get the name of the album right. That's not how you spell memoir...

Favourite - DC Fontaines

Yes, alright, I know. I was wrong. Sometimes resistance isn't just futile, it's stupid. This is just merciless, the way it goes and goes. And still goes. That guitar figure is relentless. You can argue with it all you want but you're never gonna win.

En Forma - Hinds

And if we're talking relentless...

Hinds are so much better since half the band quit. This is apparently the first song they've ever done with the lyric in Spanish, too, which is peculiar, given that's what they are. 

Just about every music review I read these days goes on and on about the lyrics and what they mean. I've just finished reading one hundred and fifty pages of Ezra Furman deconstructing the lyrics of Lou Reed's Transformer and brilliant though his analysis is, I'm not sure it makes the songs sound better in my head. 

Sometimes I think songs sound better when you can't understand what they're about.

90 Down The Block - XavierSoBased

Here's something a little older. Like three months. Really doesn't outstay it's welcome, does it? Treat it like one of those palette cleansers you have in the middle of a meal. Not that I've ever had one but I've heard about them.

I Am The King - Fat Dog

The cult starts here. Join early and avoid the rush.

We're All Losing It - Everyone Asked About You

...or When Subgenres Collide.

As someone says in the YouTube comments, "the kids are calling this tweemo... but I'll be damned if this one doesn't go hard."  

Yeah, it does!

This is Tweemo. You heard it here first. Probably.

The End (Diary) - Halsey

Halsey's been ill. Very ill. They wrote a song about it. It's what great artists do and Halsey is a great artist. Get well soon, Halsey. Make more music.

Smack Snack - Terry Poison

Okay, let's bring it on home. I have Syp to thank for this one, albeity indirectly. He constantly suprises me with his Sunday music posts, which have a strange consistency while still seeming almost random at times. His picks often remind me of people I'd forgotten I like or send me rifling through the back catalogs of acts I'd always meant to listen to but somehow never did. 

Last week he had Heavenly in there, a band I've constantly seen mentioned but who I'd somehow never bothered to investigate. The week before, he somehow picked Petite Mellor, doing what I think must have been her biggest stateside success, Baby Love.

That got me to wondering what Petite was up to now. One thing I don't do nearly enough is keep track of old favorites, once they drop out of the news cycle. 

It seemed ike the best place to look would be on Petite's own channel, where the latest video she's posted was for a song called The Drummer, a year ago. But that didn't satisfy me. I started to wonder just who Petite Meller was, something I hadn't really bothered to find out before because I can be pretty lazy. 

Not that I made much of an effort this time, either. I just read her Wikipedia page, from which I learned that before she went solo, she was in "the Israeli synth-pop band Terry Poison."

I wanted to know what they were like and now I do and so do you. I guess Petite is kind of like a Polish/French/Israeli version of Björk, if you want to be reductive about it. Also nothing like that at all.

blu - Girl Ultra

Another lyric I don't understand. I may be half Spanish (Have I mentioned that before? I can't remember...) but I don't speak the language. Oh, I can pick my way through a newspaper article and trot out a few stock phrases in an accent good enough to have people think I'll understand them when they reply, which of course I don't, but picking out more than a word here and there in a song lyric is way beyond me.

Don't need to know what it's about to know what it's about, though. That's kinda the point of music.

Good Luck, Babe - Chappell Roan

Let's end with the woman of the moment, Chappel Roan. She's blowing up so fast it's almost knocked her off her feet. Ten years for an overnight success. I guess we've heard that one before.

Sabrina Carpenter, who just blew up herself (That sounds weird. Maybe add a comma in there somewhere...) just covered Good Luck, Babe for Radio 1's Live Lounge, which seems like the pop version of one of those speeded-up videos, where you see a flower grow from a seed in a few seconds.

Life moves pretty fast. Never been truer.

Friday, June 21, 2024

What A Difference A Year Makes... Or Doesn't

I was halfway through a post about how the Tarisland launch wasn't going so great, when I tried logging in for a second time and found most of my problems had been of my own making. In my defence, the whole login procedure does feel like a bit of a mess and definitely more so than it was in beta. 

There was one big plus - I was able to patch up the beta client and use that for the Live Launch without having to start over from scratch. After that it all got a bit confusing. 

I took advantage of yesterday's pre-launch update window, using my email and password from beta and that all worked fine. Then this morning, a couple of hours after the game went Live, I tried to use the same details to log in and they wouldn't go through. 

I tried logging in through Google using the same email address instead, which entailed re-authorising the account. That may or may not have duplicated my registration, I'm not sure. I didn't get a new notification so probably not.

If at first you don't succeeed...

Whichever account it was that I logged into, it was able to get as far as server select but there I was stymied by two messages, One told me the Recommended server (EU2) was down for maintenance and the other that the original (EU1) was full. 

All the time this was happening, the introductory video, complete with bombastic music and voice acting to match, was playing on a loop in the background. I think I heard the whole thing all the way through at least three times. It made it very hard to concentrate so it's quite likely I missed something or messed something up. 

I guess it must either have been that or the maintenance was just about to finish because when I tried again a few minutes later, intending to check the sequence of events for the post I was writing, I was able to log in right away. All of that didn't put me in the best frame of mind to be impressed and neither as it turned out did what |I saw when I got into the game. 

I first played Tarisland almost a year ago, on 27 June 2023. I was very positive about the experience.  "The whole thing feels rock solid", "I felt like I was home!" and "I had a very good time" were just a few of the compliments I handed the game back then.

I wonder if Stylist Tony has any red hair dye?

Here's where the old "Better in beta" thing (First cousin to the Early Access paradox.) raises its grizzled head. If I had such a good time a year ago, will I still have that good a time now, when nothing feels quite so fresh and new?

It's too early to say for sure but my money's on no. Not because the game's changed. If anything, more because it hasn't. I mean, they've had a year so I imagine they;'ve done something with the time but I just skimmed that First Impression post and everything I said then still holds true so whatever they've been working on it clearly wasn't the starting experience. The difference is, this time I'm not likely to be pleasantly surprised by how good the game is - I'm much moe likely to be mildly disappointed it's not better.

I'm not going to go over the same ground again, though. I paid the first thirty levels or so some pretty good attention last year and I bet there's not much different about them now. Not much point rehashing the experience unless I find something different to say about it.

I'll most likely skip "First Impressions" from here on in and just put Tarisland on the "Posts About Stuff I'm Doing In Games I Play" pile, at least until I run into something I haven't written about already.

What I am going to do, probably unfairly, is briefly compare and contrast Tarisland with another game in that stack, Wuthering Waves. The main reason it's not a fair comparison is that Tarisland is a full-fat MMORPG, while Wuthering Waves is, at most, a co-op RPG. The way I'm playing it, it's a straight-up solo game. 

Dang! Wouldn't you just know it? My character's lost her memory - again!

That said, there are some strong similarities, not least that both games are translated, fully-voiced Chinese imports with open-world settings and cartoonish graphics. A year ago I described Tarisland's translations as "varied", something I also think would be a fit description of the English version of Wuthering Waves. The difference between the two is that the translatio in WW varies from exceptional to average import standard, whereas my immediate impression of Tarisland this morning was much less generous.

I think what's happened here is that my benchmark for a good translation has been raised by a few titles I've played since I was in that first Tarisland beta, particularly Wuthering Waves and Once Human. Neither of those is anything like as good as they could be - I've yet to play any translated F2P title that maintains a naturalstic English tone throughout - even the best of them have wonky passages - but they both have moments that impress. 

The real worry, however, is that the translations that make the best showing do so in the early stages, where a lot of care has clearly been taken to get someone who does genuinely speak modern, demotic English to give the final version a polish. They all tend to drift down to something closer to Google Translate later on but Tarisland's translation is already slipping a little right out of the gate, with some infelicitous phrasing and text that doesn't match what's being said.

Now that looks weirdly familiar...

Graphically, Tarisland does look good but not, in my opinion, as good as Wuthering Waves, which continues to make me happy just to look at it. Once again I feel as though my own preferences may have altered in the last twelve months. The fact is, I've watched a lot of anime since then and played a fair amount of anime-inflected games. I think I have slightly less affection for the chunkier WoW-style look Tarisland affects than I did a year ago. 

Also, I think maybe it is an affectation. Looking at the screenshots I took today, there's a bit of a cut-and-shut feel to some of them, as if someone had grabbed some NPCs and scenery out of one game and pasted it into another. In the shot above, the grass and that mountain split down the middle could have come straight out of Wuthering Waves but in the shot below almost everything feels like it was lifted from the Tauren starting zone. They barely look like the same game.

The third comparison that doesn't go in Tarisland's favor is variety of content. TL is very much a HIgh Fantasy MMORPG with all that entails. The opening cinematic is ludicrously portentous and terrifyingly overwrought and from what I remember about the storyline, it's just one damn crisis after another and an awful lot of fights.

Push harder at the back or we're never getting up this hill!

By contrast, while Wuthering Waves also has plenty of that, it also has lots of saving cats from trees, posing for bad portrait painters, parkour, puzzles, theater performances and all kinds of nonsense. I'm starting to realise I might be more interested in saving cats than saving the world. Is that bad?

None of these potential drawbacks is going to stop me playing Tarisland. I liked it plenty last year and I'm sure I'll find a lot to enjoy there still. I could certainly do with a tab-target MMORPG I haven't sucked all the juice out of yet and this one will do just fine, for now. I don't think I'll be clocking up four-hour sessions every day but I'm sure I'll keep noodling away at it indefinitely.

And that's about all I have to say about it for now. I really just wanted to record the fact that the game launched and I played it. From here on it's just going to be another game I play, sometimes.


Thursday, June 20, 2024

It's Déjà Vu All Over Again

And here it is: the obligatory EverQuest II Origins Anashti Sul - Day One post. It's would be neat if it was also the first one I'd written about the new server since it opened for business at eight in the evening last night but of course it's not. I had a few minutes to kill while I was waiting in the queue, which I joined about three-quarters of an hour after the Noon Pacific launch, so I pre-empted myself with a quick squib about the general implications of the whole deal. Now we get to the specifics.

I'm guessing the long beta paid off because it seems the launch went smoothly enough. At least, I haven't seen any headlines to the contrary this morning and I've had no issues getting in and playing. It seems pretty popular, too. I noted the astonishing 45 instances of the Outpost of the Overlord last night and even today, deep in the small hours in the US and the middle of a workday morning in Europe, there were still eight instances running when I logged in. The server is listed at Character Creation as "Heavy Load".

I did see one bizarre glitch, which I suspect is an artefact of the instancing system. I was in the middle of a conversation with an NPC when she suddenly flicked out of existence. I looked around, puzzled, but there was no sign of her. Then, a few seconds later, there was a shudder and she re-appeared, only this time there were three of her and all of them yelling at me.

The triplets were still there by the time I'd finished her quest and come back to do the hand-in. For all I know, they're still there now, although I suspect once the instance goes away, so will the bonus Field Investigators.

That's literally the only non-standard occurence I've witnessed so far. In fact, I'm struggling somewhat to come up with anything to say about this new/old version of the game that I couldn't just as well have said about levelling the equivalent character on a regular, Live ruleset server.

I was considering doing just that so I could make a note of the differences. I'm fairly sure it wouldn't take me two and three-quarter hours to get to Level Five on a Live server, which is how long it's taken me on Anashti Sul. However long it might have taken though, it seemed like it'd be too long just to satisfy such mild curiosity, so I shelved that plan. For now...

In any case, there's a bigger problem to consider: an existential conflict between the underlying concept of Anashti Sul and the way it introduces itself at the very earliest stage of the game. The whole point and purpose of the server is to come as close as possible to recreating the look and feel of the game as it was almost two decades ago, back in 2006, allowing us to contrast the game as it was then with how it looks and plays today. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to the first five levels or so, Daybreak already did that, nearly ten years ago. I wrote about it here and here. I'm not sure exactly how long the Far Journey/Isle of Refuge sequence was unavailable but however long it was gone, it's been back for longer - the last nine years -and I've played through it several times since it returned.

As I said earlier, I haven't checked whether the version of IoR on Live is identical to the one on Anashti Sul but it seems very much as I remember it and those memories are almost certainly no older than last time I played through the content on a current Live server. As I said in the second of the linked posts, the version re-added to the game in 2015 wasn't the original and now neither is this one.

Worse, any nostalgic thrill I might have had at seeing the old place again has been more than sated by the several trips I've taken through it relatively recent times. I remember getting a genuine frisson of excitement the first time I got to sail on the Far Journey again, back in 2015. Now I just think "Here we go again...".

I could and probably should have skipped most of it this time. The short but eventful trip on the Far Journey is non-negotiable but you can opt out of of the Isle altogether and get Captain Varlos to take you straight on to Freeport. I probably should either have done that or else picked a race and class that starts in Qeynos. Then I could have gone through the "good" island questline with a little more enthusiasm. I haven't levelled up in the Queens's Colony anything like as often as I've done it in the Outpost of the Overlord.

I didn't, though. Instead, I slogged all the way through the main questline to the instanced finale in the cave. I was a little wary of going in alone. I remember when most people waited for a group for that one although I'm pretty sure even back in 2006 pet classes and other strong soloists were scurrying past the rest of us as we we waited outside for a group.

By the time I got there today, though, I was already Level Five and I'd managed to solo two Named mobs and kill the guy at the top of the treehouse, a very awkward fight, when I was just Level Three, so I thought I might as well give it a go. That turned out to be the right decision. It was a tough fight but I won first time. 

Altogether, I died just twice on the way to Level Five, both times entirely my own fault, carrying on fighting when I could easily have run to safety. On the whole, though, I didn't feel much sense of risk, let alone danger, not least because there's no death penalty at those levels, distances are small and respawns are fast. Death feels like a brief interruption at worst.

Was it like that back in 2006? I tend to think not but honestly have no real idea and that's the problem. My nightmare memories of EQII - and I have a few - come from well before then. The game was horrifiically unwelcoming in so many ways at launch and for much of the first year but Anashti Sul takes its starting point from the time most of those issues had been fixed.

By picking this specific snapshot for Anashti Sul, Darkpaw has neatly avoided most of the worst of the original experience, while still making it feel, at least for returning players who quit at various points after that, when the game changed out of all recognition, like a huge rollback to better days. From the perspective of someone who's stuck around through most of those changes, though, it all feels remarkably familiar, still. On the Isle, anyway.

Then again, I know this particular slice of content very well indeed. It is possible to get to Level Nine or Ten on the Isles and I've done it more than once. I had one character who lived on the Isle of Refuge for years, refusing to leave. 

Not this time. As soon as I finished the main quest I was straight down to the Far Journey, asking for passage to Freeport. When the ship docked, I logged out, leaving my Ratonga Necromancer on the docks in Temple Street, the neighborhood Ratongas share with Gnomes. Next session I'll see what the old place looks like. That at least should feel like something fresh.

Or maybe not. The 'hoods (Or 'burbs as they were once called.) also haven't been gone as long as some veterans like to claim. The originals were removed and replaced in 2011, something I wrote about at the time. but they were partially restored three years ago for the launch of the Kaladim server, as I recorded in a post when it happened.

That revival didn't include most of the quests but I'm not sure how much of a disappointment that ought to have been. I'd have said I missed them but according to what I wrote when they went away, it seems as though I might even have been glad to see them go.

Even if I didn't wholly welcome the change, I was certainly full of compliments about the new content:

 "... if I had in mind that the villages might be ruined, or just wasted, I needn't have worried...What's really changed is that the villages have come alive...There's more going on than I ever knew and much more than I expected.

I am curious to see the fully-restored versions again. Quite honestly, I can't remember all that much about them, although apparently, just before they were changed, I "went round my favorites (Temple Street, Beggars Court, Big Bend) using EQ2's spiffy newish in-game video option to make my own documentary on the Way We Lived.

My reason for doing so was apparently that I thought it might "be nice in a few years to look back at the good old days." It wasn't. As far as I can recall, I have never looked at that video since the day it was made. In fact, until I re-read the post today I'd completely forgotten it existed.

So much for nostalgia, eh? We'll have to see how the returned reality stacks up. At least I can rely on not having done any of the quests for the best part of fifteen years, although I suspect that may turn out to have been a blessing. I don't remember most of them being all that great.

Further reports may follow, although I suspect not many and not for much longer, especially with Tarisland about to launch.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Welcome To Anashti Sul. Please Have Your Papers Ready.

While I'm sitting in the queue, waiting to log into the new EverQuest II Origins server, Anashti Sul, I thought I'd kill a few minutes by pointing out a couple of interesting items in the Update Notes and the Live! announcement. There's a lot of general guff about the specifics of the ruleset but these two seemed much more wide-ranging, with possible implications for the game as a whole.

Firstly, from the Update Notes:

" To patch the Origins server, you just need to set the version on the launchpad to "Origins".

An Origins server is a server set into a specific timeframe with as much rolled back to that exact timeframe as possible. In the case of Anashti Sul, the timeframe that the game exists in is early 2006."

That very much confirms Origins as a new branch of EQII, with Anashti Sul as just the first example, something that's re-inforced strongly by this, taken from the Go Live announcement:

"Origins works like EU, where characters on that server are separate from US. So, if you have 10 slots (membership + purchased), you could have 10 characters each on US, EU, and Origins."

I knew you got another set of slots if you played on Test but I didn't realise you could double your character slots by playing on both EU and US servers. Now you can triple them by adding an Origin server to your portfolio.

It seems clear now that, if Anashti Sul proves successful, we'll be seeing other Origins projects in the future. I wonder if that might include variants that deviate significantly what from what we've had in the past, as in the much wished-for but so far never-seen WoW Classic Plus

Only time will tell.

Addendum: I'm in the game now and I just reached the Isle of the Overlord, the Freeportian's version of the Isle of Refuge. When I stepped off the boat, I landed in the 45th instance of the zone. Even at the busiest launch of a new server, I can't recall seeing instances above the teens. I imagine there are even more for the Qeynos version, Good generally being more popular than Evil in these games. 

And most people have probably already moved on to the mainland...

All this at midday in the middle of the working week, too. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Addendum 2: Just before I logged out (It's getting late here...) I saw that General Chat had reached its cap. I didn't even realize it had one. Something else I haven't seen before.

That's Not Creepy AT ALL... Freeride Demo Microreview

And so we bid farewell to Next Fest as it fades into the summer haze. Never fear! It shall return, when the nights draw close and the leaves turn copper and gold. 

October 14 to be precise. I bet you can't wait.

Before that happens, though, there's still one last demo to praise. Or condemn. Or shrug and dismiss with an "Eh... It was okay, I guess..."

I'd pick one of those reponses if I knew exactly how I felt about Freeride. But I don't. I have no decided opinion on it at all, just a bunch of emotional reactions that don't add up to any kind of considered position.

Of all the six demos I picked to play this time, Freeride was by far the oddest and the one I found the most confounding. The thumbnail description on the store page calls it an "oddball RPG" but that really doesn't come close.

Here's the elevator pitch: Ride a train, talk to people, help them out, learn something about yourself. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, I didn't find it so simple. Not at all.

The game opens with the protagonist, named Proto, not coincidentally, I'm sure, waiting for a train. A dog runs onto the platform and barks. Proto, who we'll call "you" from now on, since the official line is that "Freeride is a game about YOU", gets a text from their friend Ula. So far, so normal.

You can reply to the text but it doesn't seem to make much difference what you say. The game does apparently keep a careful note of "The ways you interact with the game on its most fundamental levels", so whether you behave like a good friend or a smart-ass may well have consequences later but all of that happens behind the curtain so you won't know. Not yet.

You will in the end, though. Freeride is more than just a game. It's a "Personality Test". You get a "Personality Outcome" when it's over. I never got that far but I'll take their word for it.

Back at the station, a train arrives. A blue, floaty person appears, sweeps Proto up in a big hug, then apologizes for mistaking them for someone else. The blue apparition introduces herself as Lepida and explains that she's "A Spirit". She asks if you want to go on an adventure. 

On my first run I automatically said "Yes" to everything because why wouldn't you? It's a video game. That's why you're playing. I was curious what would happen if I said "No", though.

Not much, it seems. When I started writing this post, I briefly began a new game just to refresh my memory of how it begins and to take some extra screenshots. That time I tried saying "No" to everything. I refused to get on the train, I refused to have an adventure. I left the platform and tried run away from the scary blue ghost. 

It turns out you can say no and you can not get on the train but if you do you still can't leave the first screen and nothing else happens, so it's not like any of the choices you're offered are real. Once again, though, it's possible your reluctance, fear and stubborn refusal to co-operate might be factored into the game's assessment of your personality but if you really stuck with your negativity and stayed on the platform I don't see how you'd ever find out what that assessment was. I think the developers missed a trick by not letting the game end there and giving you a Personalty Outcome based on your refusal to play along.

Freeride doesn't come with a lot of explanations although there are some fairly detailed instructions on how to do certain things. Most of the gameplay seems to involve talking to people, which requires nothing more than clicking on dialog options, so mechanically that's easy enough. Working out what to do about anything anyone says, though...

There's also the option to move things telekinetically, which is very fiddly, not at all intuitive and comes with a lengthy tutorial. Even after being taken through the process step by step, I still found it clunky and awkward but I could just about manage to get things where I wanted them to go.

Armed with the ability to talk to people and pick things up and move them about with my mind, I made my way through all the carriages of the train, talking to everyone I saw, until the train stopped and everyone got out. By this point I was so confused I had no idea what was going on. 

There seemed to be some kind of argument between Lepida, who I'd learned had some kind of official position in the railway hierarchy, and several passengers. There was some kind of crisis or at least potential crisis that required someone to do something and to do it they had to get through a sentient door that wanted some kind of bribe before it would open. 

At the time, we were all off the train, milling around in some sort of floating mall, with an arcade and shops and I was feeling so disconcerted and muddled I just wanted it all to stop. It didn't help that everything was the color of a bag of Haribo and looked like the most sugared-up '90s cartoon you ever saw.

If I had to sum the Freeride demo up in a single word, that word would be "Overwhelming". I didn't hate it. I didn't even dislike it. I found it intriguing and I'd have liked to know more if only it hadn't gotten to be Too Much too quickly.

The graphics, garish as they were, had their own neon appeal. The narrative was clever, curious and inviting. The dialog was sparky, spiky, spooky and it sizzled. The characters seemed well worth getting to know. 

Even though I was finding the environment somewhat enervating, I'd most likely have carried on for longer if I hadn't gotten stuck in a very traditional adventure game fashion. I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do to get that door to open and until it did I could tell I wasn't going any further.

In a regular adventure game, I'd either have kept on plugging away until I figured it out or I'd have googled for hints or a walk-through. In the Freeride demo, I took being stuck as the perfect excuse to stop playing, which was what I did.

It was the only one of the six demos I didn't finish and at twenty-three minutes it was the shortest of my play-throughs. I don't know how much further into the game the demo lets you go but I have to imagine it's a lot further than I got.

The demo is still playable even after Next Fest has ended. I'm going to keep it installed. I don't exactly feel I'm done with Freeride just yet but I do think I'd have to be in a very particular frame of mind to play it again. It absolutely, definitely has something - I just don't know what it is or whether I want it.

I'm not even sure if I want to find out...

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Who Is Bhagpuss? Two Out Of Three AIs Say "Don't Ask Us!"

On Sunday, Wilhelm at The Ancient Gaming Noob posted a very interesting and detailed account of the way the three leading AIs answered the question "Who is Wilhelm Arcturus?" On Monday, Belghast from Tales of the Aggronaut followed suit. Then, later the same day, I saw that Scopique had joined in as well.

Following the lengthy discussion between myself and Andrew Farrell in the comments to Saturday's post, I was already planning to do something similar although I wasn't intending to use myself as a subject. I'm still going to do something along those lines but it might be a while before I get around to it, so in the meantime and in the hope of encouraging one of those post cascades, here's what I got when I asked all three AIs the simple question

Who is Bhagpuss?

Before we start, I have to say I knew exactly what was going to happen. I was sure at least one of the AIs would fall straight into the gaping maw of the obvious trap. I did think they might at least query it before jumping in with both feet but no...

Two of the three made the same very basic mistake. Both ChatGPT and Copilot assumed I was asking about the 1970s BBC stop-motion animated TV show Bagpuss, starring the eponymous saggy, old cloth cat. They gave me several paragraphs of what appeared to be accurate information about the show and sat back, looking pleased with themselves.

I then pointed out their error and asked them to try again.

No, that is "Bagpuss". I asked "Who is Bhagpuss?" Please note the different spelling.

Copilot apologized but clearly felt it had done all that was required of it.

I know when I'm being given the brush-off so I left it at that.

ChatGPT apologized, made excuses, then offered a what felt like a coded insult but at least it offered to try and do better if I'd just give it some help.

So I clarified.

Bhagpuss is a blogger who has a blog called Inventory Full on the Blogger blogging platform. Can you now tell me any more about them?

I'm not about to argue with any of that, all of which is true as far as it goes, although the needle does appear to have swung away from dismissive towards almost embarrassingly complimentary. I wonder where it gets those specific phrases from - "thoughtful analysis" and "engaging storytelling"? Has it picked them up from something in a comment or a review or is the AI just programmed to flatter?

ChatGPT was at least able to give me some reasonable detail when pointed in the right direction. I imagine Copilot would have done the same, if it could have been bothered to try. I suspect Belghast is correct when he suggests the main reason some of the AIs couldn't figure out who Wilhelm or I were from just our pseudonyms is because neither of us use our name in the title of our blogs. 

I don't agree with him that the AIs are just souped-up search engines. If only! That would make them far more useful and reliable. They can be made to act something like that, given sufficient prompting but in the past, if they couldn't find what they were looking for, they just made stuff up. 

Although they now seem a lot more willing to just throw up their hands and declare their ignorance, my recent experience with Dustborn suggests they can still get creative if not watched carefully. Search engines, no matter how overclocked, don't make stuff up. AIs most definitely do, even now.

Finally we come to the AI formerly known as Bard - Google's Gemini

Gemini did so much better than the other two it scarcely seems like a fair competition. Here's its first response, in full.

That's very limited but also 100% accurate. Gemini found the blog, gave correct examples of its content and used a quote about me that I did indeed say. The alternate suggestion is also factually correct. I do indeed use this alias for the stated purposes.

I also give Gemini a bonus point for mentioning that I write about other subjects than gaming, even though it only mentioned blogging itself. I'm always puzzled why none of the AIs, even when pointed to the blog, ever seem to notice the hundreds of posts tagged "Music" or "Movies" or "TV". It's always the games they fixate on. Once a gaming blogger, always a gaming blogger, I guess.

Gemini has already won the contest but since it was offering to go further I thought I'd see what it could do. As it turned out it wasn't much.

Nothing much new there. It's almost exactly the same information as the first time, except for that curious last line. It's oddly specific, not to say random. but it's true to some extent. 

It also appears to suggest Gemini might have done some kind of analysis to define not only what games the blog had covered but where those games stood in the overall context of gaming. Either that or someone, somewhere once said something about me to that effect. I think that seems more likely.

On the evidence presented so far, then, Gemini is the clear winner with ChatGPT coming in a distant second and Copilot not finishing at all. There is one significant fact I've with held, though.

I had to log in to use both ChatGPT and Copilot, which I did through Google, using a specific account I created just for playing around with AI. It's not linked to any of my other accounts or identities and therefore ought not to be immediately identifiable as me.

When I went to use Gemini, though, I didn't have to log in at all. Gemini already knew who I was.

That was the first thing I saw when I opened Gemini, before I'd asked it anything. It appears I must have logged in under my regular identity at some point in the past and Gemini remembers me. 

If it was anything like as "intelligent" as Google would like us to believe, I'd have thought it might have answered the question "Who is Bhagpuss?" with a simple "You are!

But no-one really believes these things are intelligent, do they?

And there you have it. We can all sleep easy in our beds.

For now...

Monday, June 17, 2024

Cat Pics Or It Didn't Happen - Neko Odyssey Demo Microreview

Next Fest is over or it will be later today. I picked six demos and easily found time to play all of them, suggesting perhaps I should have added a couple more. There are two left to cover, Neko Odyssey and Freeride. I was going to fit them both into one post but I probably have enough to say to give them each their own space. I certainly have enough screenshots.

I didn't have particularly high hopes for either. I picked them mostly because they looked a little different from the games I generally go for and because each of them had at least one feature that appealed to me. Two, in the case of Neko.

Neko Odyssey is a game about taking photos of cats then uploading them to social media so you can gain followers and get people to "like" you. In other hands it could be a searing indictment of the way unfettered access to the internet has degraded and diminished human society. 

It's not that. It's a cute game where a cute cartoon character takes cute pictures of cute cats.

I liked it. I played it for eighty-two minutes, which was exactly how long it took me to get the two hundred followers the demo asked me to get. Then the demo stopped and was I happy about that. 

It's been fun but I'm done now is how I felt about it. And I don't imagine I'll want to do it again.

If I did, it might be because I stupidly didn't realize I was playing the whole time with the wrong screen resolution. Bear that in mind when you look at the screenshots in the post. They look fine but they could look a lot better. I don't think sharper images would materially affect the gameplay, though, and the fact that I didn't even notice until I was closing the game down suggests graphic fidelity is not a primary selling point here.

I'm not quite clear what would be, if I'm honest about it. I found it quite difficult to tell what the game was about. There's very little in the way of instruction and nothing at all in the way of backstory or narrative. You just wake up in your home, pick up your phone, go outside and stroll around town talking to people and taking pictures of cats.

The people you talk to all say something but if there's any way to turn those fragmentary conversations into an kind of action, I couldn't find it. There are plenty of shops and eating places and there seems to be a currency but if you can spend it on anything, I couldn't figure out how. 

All there is to do is take pictures of cats and fortunately there are cats everywhere. Wandering the streets, sitting on benches and tables, up on balconies and rooftops... You can take pictures of any of them, but only providing you can get close enough. I wanted to get some shots of cats that were hanging out above street level but again I couldn't find any way to do it.

The process of uploading the shots you take to social media is entirely automatic. I was expecting some kind of gameplay, where you had to choose which sites to post them to and/or manage your online presence in some way but there's nothing like that. You just take a cat pic and your followers and likes go up. 

Or down. That was about the only tiny negative effect I saw in the whole demo. The number of followers, shown at the top of the screen, flicks up and down as you walk around, giving you the slight feeling you might be able to do something to affect it. But you can't. Or I couldn't. 

After a while I stopped worrying about it. The numbers dip very slightly now and again but the trend is ever upward. At first those two hundred followers feel impossibly far away but if you simply persist and keep finding more cats to photograph, the numbers go up and up until you feel success is inevitable.

It's quite soothing although also quite frustrating in the lack of impact anything you do seems to have on your progress. At first I thought new pictures of the same cats doing something different would gain me followers. And maybe it does. I couldn't tell. 

The cats do move about and change pose so theoretically it should be possible to post new images but the game just collects one shot of each cat for you in a folder and once you've saved a cat's picture, that seems to be that cat done. You can take more photos but if they go anywhere there doesn't seem to be any feedback to confirm it.

I assumed more cats would make my followers go up so I kept searching for new ones, even though they inevitably became harder to find after a while. I still think my proposition was correct but I noticed my follower-numbers going up (And down.) just while I walked around looking for new cats to photograph, so maybe collecting just a few cats and then doing nothing would eventually inch you to the two hundred follower target anyway. Who knows?

Why would you want to do that, though? The town itself is very attractively drawn and perfectly pleasant to explore. How accurate a representation of small-town life in Japan it might be I can't say but it feels quite convincing in a white picket fence kind of way. I certainly enjoyed strolling around, vicariously experiencing the little slice of life it offered. 

Getting about was no problem although a few streets don't seem to be accessible. An indicator pops up to tell you which way you can go at intersections. Movement is simple and the UI is minimal and easy enough to understand. 

One thing did occur to me as I played, which was that the message concerning whether a game ought to be played with a controller, about which I complained on Friday, appears to be a Steam issue, not something set by the developers of the individual games.

It might be that the message pops up if the game is listed as having "Full Controller Support". Neko Odyssey supposedly has "Partial Controller Support" and no pop-up popped. Despite that, I did in fact use a controller to play because I couldn't figure out how to open the phone and the backpack with the keyboard.

Their icons had "X" and "Y" indicated but pressing those letters on the keyboard did nothing. It occurred to me it might mean the X and Y buttons on a controller so I plugged mine in to find out and indeed that did prove to be the case. I used the controller for everything after that and it felt very comfortable.

I'd like to think the full game will have a lot more to it, especially in the way of interaction with the residents and shopkeepers, Maybe there'll even be some reason for starting with a backpack full of food, which is one thing I never figured out. 

I'm in two minds about the demo as a demo. It has the sense of a short story, complete in itself, but also a small segment of a continuum. There's not indication of who the central character was before the demo began nor who she'll become after it ends. That's how good short stories work but whether that approach makes for an effective promotion for a full game I'm not so sure.

I suppose it goes some way towards giving you an indication of what the game would be like but it somehow contrives to feel both extremely slight yet also oddly complete in itself. I'm not sure if that isn't a little self-defeating. If there's more to the game, I'd have liked to have seen it. If not, I think I've seen enough.

That's the effect it had on me, anyway. I'm happy I played. I enjoyed it for what it is but I won't be wishlisting the full game.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide