Thursday, August 16, 2018

Back On The Horse And How We Got There

We're at the half-way point of Blaugust now and I think it's fair to say it's been an unmitigated triumph. It's an especially impressive performance considering there was no Blaugust in 2017. In his inaugural post in July of this year, announcing Blaugust Reborn, Belghast gave some reasons why we'd skipped a year:

"...the tail end of 2016 and all of 2017 were extremely rough to struggle through.  There were events that happened in the real world and events that happened in gaming that caused people to fear for their own safety and sort of batten down the hatches."
This is true. I could (but won't) name bloggers who stopped blogging altogether around that time, giving exactly those explanations for their blogs going dark. The blogosphere was not a happy place just then.

There was also no New Blogger Initiative in 2017. No-one stepped up to organize it and there would most likely have been little enthusiasm if they had. As for Developer Appreciation Week, I don't actually remember if anyone hosted it last year or not. If they did it was very low-key.

Bel, with the indefatigable enthusiasm and energy he constantly demonstrates, had the genius idea to roll all three events into one. Bringing them back as a package deal was risky but it's a risk that's paid off wonderfully.

The list of blogs officially participating in Blaugust stands just shy of ninety, of which a great many are either entirely new or at least new to me. For the first time in ages there are more posts than I have time to read in a day and I've had to curtail my tendency to comment on anything and everything just to get through them.

The Blaugust Discord is lively and active every day. There are quite a few bloggers and blog-readers there who aren't officially participating but who have come to hang out and give their support. Anyone is welcome - it's not too late to join in

Blaugust Reborn has a loose structure, designed by  Belghast, for those who choose to follow it. This week is earmarked for the aforementioned outpouring of thanks and goodwill towards the people who make the games we all enjoy so much - or at least enjoy complaining about.

I was going to post about my ongoing appreciation for the sterling work Daybreak Games has done on the EverQuest MMOs since the dying days of the Smedley administration all but drove the franchise into the ground. I might still get to that later in the week (not that there is much "later" left) but I thought I'd turn things around and offer some much-deserved appreciation for the person who made all this possible in the first place - Belghast.

He may not be a developer but he's an elemental force in this corner of the blogosphere. I knew his name before I ever read his blog because so many bloggers would refer to his ideas and initiatives. Most people would be more than content with curating a single annual event like Blaugust: to curate three at once is going far beyond the call.

I'd like to think that 2017 wasn't missing its summer festival of blogging because of bad vibes. Instead I'd rather think of it as having taken time off to let the grass recover, like Glastonbury. After a year lying fallow it's back, bigger, brighter and more successful than ever and that's entirely thanks to Belghast.

Take a bow, Bel!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Bandwagonesque : WoW

It feels slightly strange being a Battle for Azeroth refusenik right now. I never planned to buy WoW's latest expansion but I had been intending to re-subscribe for the pre-launch run-up. I thought I'd play during July and August. It would have given me something else to write about for Blaugust and I thought it might be amusing, be working my way through Legion when everyone else was in BfA.

In the event, the lead-up just didn't seem interesting enough to justify jumping the train. I still hadn't pulled  the trigger, when both GW2 and EQ2 dropped extremely effective spoilers. The Festival of the Four Winds and Return to Guk caught my fancy and I couldn't see any way I'd be able to find enough time to log into World of Warcraft often enough over the summer to justify even the minimal cost of a couple of months' subscription.

It's particularly unsettling, then, that I'm finding some of the reports and screenshots coming out of the new expansion to be more appealing than anything I've seen from WoW for years. The look and theme of the new continent (?) seems to be the closest WoW's come to the kind of classic MMORPG high fantasy on which the game was built since Wrath of the Lich King.

Classic high fantasy is really where my MMO heart lies. I came to EverQuest twenty years ago looking for it and all the MMOs I've most enjoyed in the ensuing years (EQ2, Vanguard, Rubies of Eventide, GW2, City of Steam) have had something of that hinterland. I'm all for bolting on some magitech, science fantasy and steampunk trappings but what I want most are cobbled streets, tiled roofs, wooden ships and scenery that wouldn't be out of place in a touring production of A Winter's Tale.

Call that a city?
 Boralus, the coastal capital of Kul Tiras, looks nigh-on perfect. Unlike Syp I love huge, sprawling cities. I don't mind getting lost in a maze of streets that wind and twist and leave me baffled. I always thought Stormwind was a pretty decent-sized city so to hear Boralus described as "the first WoW city that feels like it's really sprawling" makes me want to go see it for myself.

I'm also a major fan of the autumnal, in games and in real life. I've waxed poetical often enough about the eternal autumn of Ascalon in GW2. When Syp talks of " autumnal feel for Boralus, which plays well with both the sea and mountains around it. Definitely a city for pumpkin spice lattes, yoga pants, and unnecessary scarves" I fond myself thinking "that's my kind of town". Minus the yoga pants, of course.

So, much to my surprise, I find myself almost wishing I was there, experiencing all this first -hand along with every one else, not just reading about it in blog posts. Especially this one. I want Dolly and Dot to be my best friends too.

None of which gives me any more time to play. If I did buy BfA right now I strongly suspect it would suffer the exact same fate as Legion, which has remained unplayed since I got it for my birthday nearly two years ago.

I wonder if I could stow away?

What's more, I have just bought a new MMORPG. Not for actual cash, you understand. I finally decided to use the Steam credit Chestnut sent me for winning the draw at the end of last  year's IntPiPoMo. I bought Bless.

I had it in my wishlist. More accurately, it was my wishlist. (My Steam wishlist is now Unavowed, thanks to Jeromai and xyzzysqrl). Bless dropped to 67% off so I got it. Mostly because of this post from The MMOist. Any MMO that lets you make non-human characters has to be investigated. Plus I'm itching to level a new character in a fresh environment, something I don't seem to have done for months.

Before I can, I have to make space for a 55GB download. That's going to take some re-organization. Maybe even a new HDD.

All things considered it would be a crazy move to buy Battle for Azeroth right now. I think I'm going to put it on my birthday list. Maybe I'll even get around to playing it before the next WoW expansion comes out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Get Smart : GW2

Festival of the Four Winds ends today. I had to be at work by eight in the morning so I thought last night's session was the last I'd see of The Crown Pavilion and Labrynthine Cliffs until next year.
I spent most of the evening on the newest of my three accounts, the only one that wasn't around last time we saw this content, grabbing bundles in the Treasure Hunt and doing any event I could find to earn Festival Tokens.

I just managed to scrape up enough treasure to by a kite and with my tokens I got a hot air balloon on a string and that yellow flower that goes on your back. The sense of satisfaction when I was finally able to buy them, just before the clock passed the absolute latest I could stay up and still be half-awake in work the next day, was disturbing. I haven't been that keen to get something in an MMORPG for a long while.

Then I get home tonight, have my tea, read Feedly, log in and find the Festival's still there! I'm  listening to the sounds of preparations for Boss Blitz in the background as I type.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I had something to say about Boss Blitz. I really enjoy it as an exciting, involving event  but I also find it fascinating as a social and psychological experiment. Or perhaps it's a demonstration.

Boss Blitz isn't hard to understand or to do. The optimal way to run the event is for everyone to split into six teams of eight to ten people. Ideally, certain classes or builds concentrate on particular bosses that suit their abilities. There are some mechanics that need to be explained, such as Boom Boom Baines' healing turret, but most of the bosses are tank&spank with a lot of dodging.

Once set up, preferably under six Commanders using different colored tags for clarity, each team goes to its designated Boss. All teams then attempt to bring their Boss to 10% health at the same time. Some inevitably get there first, meaning they have to "hold" the Boss at that point without doing further damage.

Someone needs to call out the health of each boss at frequent intervals in a public channel. I often took it upon myself to do that bit. I like yelling. I got suppressed a few times for spamming map chat, something which is all too easy to do in GW2, where you can be banned from sending items to your own characters after two deliveries in quick succession. I should have used /squad which doesn't use the same anti-spam mechanics.

Once the slowest team gets their boss to 10%, their Commander gets to give the "Burn" command, whereupon everyone goes flat out to kill the boss in front of them as fast as possible. The reason for the co-ordinated kill is that each boss passes its signature ability (bombs, adds, banishment) on to all the other bosses when it dies, meaning each kill makes every other boss more difficult.

If everything goes to plan a good, organized map can complete this in about five minutes. The timer for the Gold award is eight minutes. This year I didn't get one Gold in three weeks. Four and five years ago I got plenty. I'm not sure what to read into that. Have GW2 players got worse? Is the event harder? Was I just unlucky with the maps I picked?

I did get lots of high Silvers (time limit sixteen minutes, we did it often in nine or ten) and any number of Bronzes (no time limit). I used the LFG tool to swap maps often until I got one that was at least trying to get Gold or Silver. There were fewer of those than you might expect.

Most of the maps were barely organized at all. Instead of doing it as described above (a description that I saw repeated in map chat many times by patient or frustrated players) people did what they do everywhere in GW2 - ran around in a huge zerg trying to overwhelm all opposition by weight of numbers. Some of the squads advertizing in LFG even said "zerg" or "bronze" in the description, indicating an active disinclination to make more than the minimal effort.

Of course, zerging means that not only does each boss get harder as it acquires the abilities of the ones who died before it, but GW2's scaling mechanic means every boss also gains a gigantic health pool to reflect the army of players opposing it. An event that is self-evidently intended to take between eight to sixteen minutes often stretches out to half an hour or more.

The fascinating part is that by the second week of the Festival everyone knew this and yet the majority of players carried on doing it anyway. Angry and embittered experts railed against the idiocy but it seems clear to me that most players preferred to zerg. They knew it would take longer and they just didn't care.

After all, it's not like they had anywhere else to be. This is the event of the moment so they were doing it. The rewards for finishing faster weren't significantly better so there wasn't much incentive to organize. And in any case, zerging is a social activity, not a competetive one.

Watching this drama enacted over and over again was instructive and entertaining. Some people were so angry they must have had steam coming out of their ears in real life. The accusation was almost always that those who wouldn't organize were too stupid to know what was expected of them but the replies very clearly indicated the opposite. Everyone knew what they "should" be doing - they just didn't want to do it.

I very much did want to do it properly. I love organized content. I like events where everyone has to get into teams and go to different places and do different things to achieve a collective success. I love Dragon's Stand and Auric Basin and my favorite event of all time in GW2 was Scarlet's Marionette.

And yet I still enjoy a good, mindless zerg, even when I'm well aware it's inefficient and even counter-productive. Running around in gang of fifty, taking on massive hit-point sponges and wearing them down by sheer bloody-mindedness has its own appeal.

I guess you can have smart, clever fun or dumb, stupid fun. Either way you're still having fun.

Give me the choice and I'll go for the smart option, though. Well, eight times out of ten.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Little Late or Always Read The Instructions : GW2

When the Festival of the Four Winds began three weeks ago I took a look at the Meta and decided it was impossible. Usually these things allow a certain amount of leeway. They let you to skip a couple of the achievements you might find particularly difficult. This time it appeared you had to do all of them.

What's more, there were twenty-five, which is a lot. And the reward was some piece of armor that you couldn't Preview in game. A pair of gloves. It sounded like an awful lot of work for a pair of gloves. Who looks at their hands in an MMO anyway? Gloves aren't like a cloak or a hat that you can show off or admire. They're just gloves.

I dismissed any thought of finishing the meta. I just got on with doing the events and achievements that interested me or those I enjoyed. Which turned out to be most of them.

For one thing, I loved finding all the crystals. I was gliding around Labrynthine Cliffs on thermals for the sheer thrill of it anyway, so why not swoop down and pick up the shinies?

So much has changed since the Festival was here four and five years ago. One of the most under-reported additions to the game has to be the UI tweak that lets you to have the names of all interactable objects visible on screen, at a distance, all the time. Combined with the ability to fly - either  with a glider or a Griffin - what was once annoying and difficult has become simple and instinctive.

So instinctive, in fact, that I didn't need to use Dulfy's excellent guide until the very end, when I had to resort to research to find a couple of particularly well-hidden crystals. Mostly I just ran or flapped around and grabbed them as I saw them. Working out how to get to some of the ones I could see from a distance was particualarly enjoyable and satisfying.

Boss Blitz, the event in Queen Jenna's Crown Pavilion that involves the perpetual slaughter of six Bosses, held my attention for the entire three weeks. It's an almost perfect demonstration of social interaction in MMOs. In fact, when I came to write about it here I found I had so much to say it was in danger of unbalancing this post, so I'm going to write it up separately.

After a week or so I noticed that I'd done about two-thirds of the achievements for the meta. I also
realized about then that the tally of achievements that counted included some I hadn't thought were part of it, while some I thought were included didn't seem to count after all.

Had I thought to left-click the meta itself, all would have been revealed. There's an itemized list of what's required. Despite having played this game for six years that simply never occurred to me. It was only when someone mentioned it in map chat yesterday that I gave it a try.

Instead, I kept plugging away over the course of the Festival, letting the meta fill in as it would. For a long while I thought some of the achievements from the Queen's Gauntlet counted. They don't.

I surprised myself by getting all the way to Liadri, the last of the original Gauntlet bosses, in a single session. The Queen's Gauntlet, a series of timed, solo fights against increasingly tough or tricksy opponents, isn't really my kind of thing but it was fun to do once.

What does count for the meta are the races, or at least most of them. Fortunately the all-but-impossible Griffin race doesn't figure on the card although the ill-conceived Skimmer race does. The skimmer race isn't much fun. Skimmers all move at the same speed, slower than any other mount, so it's not much of a race. It's also never won by anyone on a Skimmer. 

Every race is won by people who jump off their skimmers in the final land section and mount up on raptors instead. Every race ends with a lot of angry skimmer riders calling raptor riders cheats. Luckily  you don't need to win for the meta, just finish within two and a half minutes. You could probably walk the course in that time. If you could walk on water.

The other two races are tougher all round. The mounted one at the end of Boss Blitz and the Dolyak race in Cliffs are both incredibly annoying and enormously entertaining at the same time. The former takes you through a lot of awkward terrain and a pile of hostile mobs; the latter turns you into a pig-sized dolyak and makes you use the original zephyrite crystals to control your movement.

For the meta you have to complete each race in about half the maximum time allowed: two minutes for the mount race, two and a half minutes for the Dolyaks. That's tight. It took me a number of practice runs to work out a strategy and a number more to implement that strategy effectively.

Since the mount race starts only when a Boss Blitz has been successfully completed and the Dolyak race is every two hours, it took me several sessions to get them both done. The Dolyak race was about the last thing I needed.

With that finally done I hit 25/25 and received my reward. It was better than I expected. The gloves have a very nice aura effect that is quite noticeable. An aura's not a hat or a cloak but it's not nothing.

I thought it would be of interest to Mrs Bhagpuss. On my original advice she hadn't been bothering with the meta either. She wouldn't have been able to complete it in any case because she absolutely cannot ride mounts. She literally gets motion-sick just thinking about doing it.

She had, however, already hit 19/25 on the meta meter, with just a few crystals, the races and one or two odds and ends to do. I finished those up for her yesterday afternoon, meaning we have now each  completed the meta on one account.

Ironically, when I read through the Dulfy guide after I'd finished, I found out you can "craft" the gloves anyway. By "craft" I mean there's a Mystic Forge combine for them. Since the meta gives you a stingy single armor weight of just one of the three designs, if you like them, you're likely to end up "crafting" several more anyway.

Even so, had I been paying better attention three weeks ago, and had I understood sooner what was required, I might have finished the whole thing on more than one account. Nearly all of it was fun to do.

Also, in retrospect, it would have made more sense to have done at least some of the events - and the dailies - on the other two accounts, especially the one that wasn't around the last time we had the chance to do all this. It's not a big deal because the items on sale aren't all that special but I do have a lot of them already on the account I was using to run the events this time.

There were a few things I wanted. I didn't have the new Watchwork Mk II outfit. I have the original and I used to use it a lot. Now I have the new one. I'm not sure I can see the difference to be honest. And for some reason I never had a kite until now. Not sure how that happened. I bought two.

Anyway, it's too late now. The Festival ends tomorrow. You live and learn. At least I had a ton of fun. And I hope and trust  the Festival of the Four Winds is now established as an annual event. I'll be better prepared next year.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

No Means No. Except When It Doesn't.

As someone once said (I think it might have been me) comments are the lifeblood of blogging. If you don't want feedback then there's not really too much point making your blog public in the first place.

If you just want to keep a personal diary that no-one but you will ever see you can set your blog to be Private. Blogger and WordPress both allow that. Obviously, if you self-host you can do what you want.

I'm sure it works because everything on the internet is totally private if you want it to be, right? And all the buttons you press do exactly what they say they do.

Except they don't. I was reading the comments to Wilhelm's excellent post on the various options available for reading blogs when I came across Pasduil's complaint about Blogger:

"I’m afraid at the moment the work I have to do to enter a simple comment is so much that I generally don’t bother except for a few."

This surprised me somewhat because I rarely have any trouble commenting on Blogger blogs. On the contrary, those are the ones where my comments tend to go through first time as soon as I hit "Publish". With WordPress blogs I have to sign into my WordPress account and then it's fine.

The only blogs I really have difficulty with are ones that use Disqus and a few outliers that use unusual hosting platforms. In general, though, I don't find commenting too arduous.

Of course, the one blog where I never have to jump through any hoops at all is my own. When I reply to comments Blogger knows it's my blog and gives me a free pass. So I thought I'd try commenting as someone Blogger doesn't recognize and see how that went.

Oh, boy! I'm amazed I get any comments at all!

I tried with Firefox, Chrome and Microsoft Edge, those being the three web browsers I have installed.
Firefox was the best by a long way. To comment anonymously all I had to do was click "I'm not a robot" once and the comment went through.

Second best was Microsoft Edge. Microsoft didn't believe me when I told them I wasn't a robot. I had to select a couple of images from the notorious Captcha system to prove my humanity. I passed that test first time and through the comment went.

Dead last by a country mile and then some came Chrome. Commenting via Chrome was so irritating that I would have given up long before any of the comments went through.

The problem was that Chrome didn't seem to accept any of my Captcha responses. It cycled through "new image" after "new image" until eventually it ran out and failed me. Then it picked another set of images and did it again.

I tried as Anonymous, using a name and a URL, and I signed into another Google account. Those are the options you get. All of them were terrible. I did eventually get a comment to post using each of them but I wouldn't expect anyone in their right mind to bother.

You'd think the takeaway from this would be "Don't use Chrome", which would be ironic enough, given that Chrome is Google's browser and Google own and operate Blogger, but it's worse than that.

There's a setting in Blogger that allows the blog owner to choose whether their blog uses the Captcha system or not. It's called "Show Word Verification" and you can toggle it "Yes" or "No" in Settings. Guess what mine says?

It's always said that. I have never intentionally had word verification on. But it's on.

I fiddled with it, switched it off and on again a few times. Nothing. I googled the issue (ho ho) and didn't find much. It doesn't seem to be a widespread issue or perhaps no-one's noticed. After all, you won't see it if you own the blog and anyone who's having issues with it is by definition going to have trouble commenting to let you know.

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot I can do about it other than to apologize to anyone who's having trouble commenting here. I've done everything I can to remove all the obstacles but if the buttons don't work hitting them harder isn't going to fix it.

Based on my tests I would definitely recommend not using Chrome if you're experiencing Captcha issues. I'd be interested to know who has problems and who can comment with one click, although it's all a bit academic since there doesn't seem to be much more I can do to make it easier for anyone struggling to make themeselves heard.

My Blaugust advice to bloggers is go try commenting on your own blog when you're not signed in. See how easy or otherwise it is. There may be things you can do to smooth the way. Your buttons might actually work.

You never know - there might be a reason you're not getting comments and it might not have anything to do with what you're posting.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

I Wish It Could Be Blaugust Every Day... Oh, Wait...

Well, we all knew it would come to this eventually. I'm astonished it took this long. Ten consecutive posts of arguable substance. I impress myself.

But now it's Saturday night and I'm tired so here it comes... the screenshot post.

These shots are all from GW2's unexpected and incredibly welcome holiday event, The Festival of the Four Winds. This is my necromancer, who does most of the holiday work. She's green all over courtesy of an extremely sought-after and expensive little doo-dad she got last Halloween.

Here she is, chatting to some nutcase who climbed the highest rock in Labyrinthine Cliffs for reasons he explains but which I've already forgotten. I remember it was something elegaic and mournful. Life is short, then you fall off a rock. Something like that?

I have taken a few other characters there. This is one of my rare humans. Mostly she lives in Lion's Arch and does the "Activity" dailies when they come around. Humans get all the best poses and their armor fits better than anyone else's. I ought to play more humans. Maybe.

There's a party beach in Labyrinthine Cliffs. It has a changing hut. If you go in the hut you can come out wearing a swimming costume. Sometimes there's music and all the sunbathers get up and dance. This is what we call "entertainment" in the 21st century.

I really love this map. I don't want it to go away. I don't want to have to wait a whole year to do this again. Holiday events are great but they should be all the time. That's your cue, Roy.

Friday, August 10, 2018

You're Talking A Lot But You're Not Saying Anything

So, here's what Belghast proposed for the second week of Blaugust:

"August 8th – August 14th – Get to Know Each Other Week – hanging out and meeting other people in this new fledgling community and hopefully gaming together a bit!  Also highly support doing some sort of collaboration on shared topics!"

Several people have taken the plunge so far, including Gracie, Nogamara and Marathal. And, of course, Bel himself, who set the tone of self-revelation with a highly detailed and fascinating mini-memoir that ends, somewhat paradoxically, with the claim that" ...getting any sort of coherent narrative out of me about myself is a challenge".

MMO blogs offer an interesting variant on the wider blogging phenomenon. "Blogging" as it's widely understood involves a large degree of personal exposure. Bloggers build their brands based on who they are, what they do, what they think and, in the case of vloggers (aka YouTubers), what they look and sound like.

MMO bloggers, contrarily, post under pseudonyms, use cartoons as avatars, mention most aspects of their personal lives only obliquely and generally do their best to remain essentially unknowable. Is it any wonder none of us makes a living at it?

Over the seven years I've been doing this I have made a habit of dropping (some would say shoehorning) certain facts about myself repeatedly into any number of posts. I was around forty years old when I discovered EverQuest in 1999 so I'm around sixty now. I work in a bookshop. I used to sing in a band (who didn't?). I was a major comics fan in the '80s.

I often claim I'm not a "gamer" because I never really felt that was my tribe. I was always more into music, comics, books, movies and writing than playing games - any kind of games - although I was in a role-playing group that met every Sunday from about 1982 to 1987. And I've been playing video games since I first heard the distinctive thud of a Space Invaders machine across the crowded bar of a pub sometime around 1979 or 1980.

I played arcade games in pubs all through college. I had an Atari 2600 and I bought a ZXSpectrum after I graduated and not only did I play the hell out of both of them, I even wrote some games myself. I also reviewed games for MicroAdventurer magazine a few times. They used to send the cassettes by mail. It was all very amateur back in those days, even when you were getting paid.

After the Spectrum I had an Amiga for a while but after that I had nothing for longer. My wilderness years as far as gaming went. I was writing up a storm, though, for comics fanzines and in the apazine scene, which was the analog predecessor of blogging. I miss apas. I liked the physicality of all that cutting and pasting.

Sometime around 1997 or so I bought my first PC with redundancy money that I got from staying in a job I didn't really like for about five years until they finally decided they didn't need me after all. I took a year off and used the computer to fail to write two novels, while successfully learning enough HTML to get a website up and running. It was all about my favorite ever band, Dolly Mixture. I still have the code on floppy disc somewhere.

I resolutely didn't play any games on that PC for almost a year. Then I cracked and bought Broken Sword and that was pretty much that. It might not have gone the way it did had I not immediately discovered that Mrs Bhagpuss, who'd never mentioned any interest in gaming that I can recall, was as keen as I was to lose herself in a fantasy world, which is how it's been for the last twenty years, give or take.

I suppose, having done precious little other than play and write about video games for two decades I should finally admit that I am, at least in part, a gamer. It still doesn't sit quite right, though.

Maybe in another twenty years...

Thursday, August 9, 2018

What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love And Understanding? : GW2

Tuesday's patch brought a nice little extra to GW2. Apparently there was some kind of competition to design weapon skins and this week the winning entries were added to the game in the form of three new "collections".

I saw it in the update notes on Tuesday but it wasn't until last night that I got around to checking whether Dulfy had a guide yet. Of course she did. She's Dulfy, isn't she?

The whole thing begins in Lion's Arch,. The first time you zone in you receive an in-game mail asking you to help with some crazed Asura's experiments. This sort of thing happens a lot. Apparently killing a couple of dragons and a god or two puts you on speed-dial with every mad scientist in Rata Sum, which is to say the entire population.

First off you have to slap together some easy-to-find bits and bobs and throw them into the Mystic Toilet Forge, where Zamorros has nothing better to do than hammer them together and spit out the very thing you need - an Ectoplasm-Infused Vision Crystal.

Consuming this lets you see ghosts. Like that's hard. Something that stopped you seeing ghosts would be more like it, especially in Ascalon. Anyway, I did it, then off I went to Fields of Ruin, where I spoke to a ghost called Xeniph.

Because I'd needed to craft a Lesser Vision Crystal for the combine, and because to do that you need to be 500 skill in Leathercraft, Tailoring or Armorcrafting, I happened to be playing my Ranger. He's a max-level Weaponsmith and Leatherworker and also a Charr.

Fields of Ruin, for those who don't play GW2, or who do and don't care to clutter up their brian cells with the convoluted lore and history of Tyria, is a flashpoint for ongoing tension between Charr and Humans. Ebonhawke, the city there, is frequently beset by bomb-throwing human separatists who reject Queen Jennah's treaty with the Charr Empire.

The conversation between Xeniph, who presumably died during the Charr-Human war, and my Charr ranger referred quite particularly not just to the historical context but to the fact that the dead human was now talking to a live Charr. I was somewhat taken aback by the intimacy but it was effective in drawing me into the narrative, something it did more successfully than the Living Story has managed these last few chapters.

It was intriguing enough that I'm curious to see how different the conversations are from a human perspective. And then probably an Asura, just for a control. Lucky I have three accounts.

The collection itself didn't take very long. A lot of people were there doing it, including three people tagged up either as Commanders or Mentors. There were helpful instructions being called in map chat and a mesmer was porting to the only awkward location, a tower in the middle of the map's jumping puzzle.

The whole thing took me maybe 45 minutes You could probably do it in half that. The final reward is
an Exotic Longsword with selectable stats. It looked like all the current stat options were available, which makes it very worthwhile for any Level 80 class that uses LS and hasn't got an Ascended version already.

The skin itself is about par for the GW2 course. Ridiculously oversized, ornate to a fault and very glowy. It is a nice blue color, I'll give it that. I might use it on my Mesmer. It definitely looks more suited to a caster than a melee.

The other two weapons are a one-hand sword and a torch. I'll be getting those as well. These short collections are fun and the dialog for this one was interesting. The torch skin is quite peculiar, too. I might use it on a necro.

Once again the amuse-bouche proves more satisfying than the main course.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Fabled And Storied : EQ2

On paper there's nothing much to EQ2's new Return to Guk update. It's just a few old dungeons amped up to give current max levels a fight. It could be seen as a lazy option or an indication that resources at DBG are flatlining.

Luckily we're not playing on paper. On screen it's excellent. I've ventured twice into The Halls of the Fallen and once into The Lower Corridors so far and my adventures have been both entertaining and rewarding, which is about as much you can ask from any content in an MMORPG.

SOE came up with the idea of upgrading existing dungeons to "Fabled" status some years back. If I remember correctly the orcish stronghold Clefts of Rujark was the first to get the pink wash. Since then there have been many additions but, as I discovered when I came to write this post, it's not as easy as it should be to find out what they are.

UltrViolet has a good point when he complains "they sure don’t make much of effort to accommodate new or returning players". It's true. They don't make much of a fist of explaining things to people who play regularly, either.

This is me fighting two giant hands with mouths in the palms. Don't have nightmares.

I don't think the EQ2 devs are particularly bad in this regard. Very few MMORPGs do a good job of providing detailed and comprehensive guidance in-game. Usually that slack is taken up by third-party websites like Wowhead or Dulfy and developers correctly assume players with questions will know where to look.

For older, less popular MMOs external resourcces can be thinner on the ground but EQ2 has several, including the excellent and well-maintained wiki at  EQ2i, EQ2 Library and EQInterface. None of which has a straightforward listing for Fabled Dungeons.

EQ2Wire may have closed its doors as a news site following Feldon's retirement but its offshoot EQ2U is still going strong. They don't have a list of Fabled Dungeons either but they do have something potentially even more useful: a sortable, searchable list of loot drops by level.

Using that I found the following:

Fabled Dungeons Suitable for Level 100 Characters

Fabled Dungeons Suitable for Level 110 Characters
The next question has to be will the Level 100 dungeons be re-itemized for the new maximum level of 110? The whole point of Fabled Dungeons, after all, is to provide a new playground and looting opportunity for max levels. When most of the dungeons on the first list were enfabled the cap would have been lower than 100, so presumably they have been bumped up, possibly more than once. 
I'm guessing here but I'm hoping I'm right because the loot in the Solo Return to Guk dungeons I've seen so far is, for want of a better word, fabulous. It's all called "Storied" and it's Level 110, which means every drop is an upgrade for any of my max levels. 
The best loot I've been getting from Planes of Prophecy solo content, including solo dungeons, has been Level 105. I have a suspicion some 110 stuff might drop in the Public Quests (the only 110 I got prior to Return to Guk was in the Tinkerfest PQ) but I haven't been doing many of those because of the way they've been implemented this time around. They happen mostly by appointment, on a timer, in an instance, rather than unpredictably in open world zones like the previous PQs The extra effort of negotiating that mechanic has tended to put me off just enough that I've passed on most when they get called in chat.
Doesn't this just sum EQ2 up, though? A rat in sunglasses fighting a minotaur dual-wielding daggers while an over-sized kitten in a Christmas hat looks on. Also you'll notice I'm using an anchor as a weapon. And people don't take the game seriously...
It's also my opinion that, while the newer dungeons are visually more polished and complex, the older ones are more straightforward, which suits me better. I do like to Tank&Spank. I've been very happy bashing frogs in the corridors and halls of Guk, even if the excessive knockbacks do mean I spend most of my time jammed in a corner.

So far I've killed the first three bosses in Halls of the Fallen twice and the first four in Lower Corridors once. I was camped at the fourth boss in Halls but my instance timer expired before I could log back in again. 
I've upgraded both rings, one wrist and one ear. I'm not sure if the bosses drop the same thing every time (twice is not a meaningful sample) but even if they do I can happily farm them a few more times for my three other max levels. It's a shame I don't have a leather class at cap because the only non-jewellery drops I've had so far have been for leather-wearers.

Generally I don't enjoy farming repeatable dungeon content for drops but in this case I'm having a fine old time. It's amazing how just knowing you're sure to get some really good upgrades makes you  want to go another round instead of throwing in the towel. It's also so much more satisfying, lifting the items out of a big metal chest, than it would be to collect tokens to spend on the same items at a vendor.

I wish a few other devs would take this route once in a while.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Ourselves The Elves

Psychochild has a post up about the perennial topic (I won't say "problem") of Roleplaying in MMORPGs. Over the years, RP has become a niche within a niche but if you drift back far enough in time it was once baseline behavior for the genre.

In 1999-2003, when I was playing EverQuest (on and off) pick-up groups were the norm. I met countless players, some of whom became online friends, some of whom I never saw again. In virtually every group someone, often several people would roleplay. Or rather, they would do something that we all thought of as "roleplaying" back then but which these days comes much closer to what I referred to in my recent "Conversation Starters" post as "character play".

Not if Scarlet sees you first, you won't.
The difference between what I'm calling character play (I'm not sure if its a term anyone else uses) and the practice generally known as roleplay nowadays is mostly - but not entirely - one of degree. Modern-day roleplay tends to be very serious business indeed. As Brian says in his piece, the current understanding is that "RP is basically shared storytelling". People get as deeply involved as actors do in their craft and we all know just how seriously actors take acting.

In-game racial abuse - weirdly okay.
Then there's the emotional commitment. "RP sometimes makes us feel vulnerable because it can expose emotions we often keep to ourselves." says Brian. There's a reason why many non-roleplayers go beyond finding roleplaying not to their taste to feeling actively threatened by it. The reason is fear of intimacy.

This is not the case with character play and it was rarely the case with what many players called "roleplay" in the early days of MMOs. While there absolutely were cadres of serious roleplayers back then, including whole RP guilds and cross-guild RP organizations who treated the virtual worlds of EQ or UO as backdrops for their collectively-constructed dramas, they were not the mainstream. Not even close.

Mainstream roleplaying in the dawn of MMORPGs was tawkin liek dis if you woz a troll or usin' a vera bad Scotch accent fer yer dwarrven clerrric. It was standing aloof and making sarcastic comments if you were playing a dark elf or handing out muffins to everyone in the party if you were a hobbit halfling.

In the lengthy downtime between pulls and set-ups, conversation ranged from what gear you were wearing to the latest sports news. There was no hard boundary between ooc and in-character chat. People dipped in and out of both all the time.

What's more, many people would stay in character while discussing out of character subjects. In EverQuest at that time people playing Trolls and Ogres would often not break character at all. You could be recovering from a bad pull at Back Door in the Sarnak Fort in Lake of Ill Omen and the Troll SK might say "gunna be afk a minnit. Dam cat skratchin at de door agen".

There were players I knew quite well at that time who I literally never heard speaking normal English. I was never that consistent myself when I played EQ but when I moved to Vanguard my Raki Disciple developed a particular speech pattern almost immediately and never deviated from it until the game closed down.

Names changed to protect the infantile.
Vanguard was, I think, the first MMO that Mrs Bhagpuss and I played mainly as a duo. We'd duoed
many times in other games but we'd also soloed a lot, been in the same and in separate guilds, had shared and separate circles of friends - the whole range. In Vanguard we started together and never really got to know many other people.

That was probably how we came to develop the kind of character play between ourselves that we've carried on in some form ever since. It consists largely of playing our characters as though they were various stripes of siblings or childhood friends (or more often frenemies).

It's actually worse when you can see what they're talking about.

There's a lot of jibing and taunting, frequently based around shared experiences and knowledge of each others (imagined, in game) habits and personality quirks. We tend to play small races as though they are the age their height makes them appear, while taller characters tend to be po-faced, long-suffering adults.

Size matters.
Over time a huge range of in-jokes accrue, some of which get carried over from one character to another or even one game to another. Not infrequently we stay in these character roles even when we are talking in game about something outside the gameworld.

I don't much like formal roleplay. I've tried it and I've watched a good deal. Mostly it seems to be artificial, forced and awkward. I find the conventions of using emotes spelled out in text with some signifier in front excruciatingly arch. The predeliction many roleplayers have for talking about their characters in the third person or the passive voice is about as unimmersive as it's possible to get.

I've also had a number of unfortunate experiences with aggressive RPers demanding compliance with their self-imposed standards in open-world areas and in non-roleplaying groups. I was once pursued for much of a Sunday morning by a Hobbit in LotRO who insisted it was my obligation to help him level for RP reasons which he articulated with increasing vigor and anger when I told him I had other plans.

Part of his argument was that, since I had rolled a character on a designated RP server, my characters were required to behave at all times in a certain manner, one which, in this instance, seemed to have far less to do with RP and a lot more to do with him not being able to find a group. My response was to quit LotRO altogether and go back to EQ2, where people generally let you use the bank without badgering you to take them adventuring.

Even the adults in the room...

All of this puts me in a somewhat ambiguous position. I have major reservations about roleplay in MMORPGs and my experiences with the more serious end of the hobby over the years have mostly tended to reinforce rather than remove those reservations. On the other hand I absolutely love character play and really regret the extent to which it has slipped into obscurity.

I'd love to hear Asuran player-characters talking like brash, self-agrandizing little "geniuses" or Charr gruffly cursing and calling each other out over their supposed legionary affiliations. My game experience would be considerably enhanced if players remembered which of their characters were Priory or Order of Whispers and dropped a few comments accordingly now and again.

It's all about getting the voice right...

It's not that it never happens any more. I see it occasionally. It stands out as the exception, though, where once it was so familiar I wouldn't have noticed.

You don't know what you've got til it's gone as Joni Mitchell used to say. Then again, she was obviously a High Elf, so no-one would have paid her the slightest attention anyway...

Monday, August 6, 2018

All We'll Keep

This blog is called Inventory Full for a reason. My first proper post, seven years ago, was me talking about bags, banks and storage. I had some crazy idea back then that I was going to make inventory issues in MMOs my theme and purpose here.

Well, that never happened. Even I couldn't write over 1200 posts about bags. (Or could I...? No, I couldn't). Nevertheless, inventory in MMORPGs remains a perennial subject of interest and concern, not least because it's both unavoidable and inevitable.

Every MMO I've ever played uses some form of notional space in which imaginary objects are represented, most usually as icons, occasionally as lines of text. In some games there are very clear and defined limits to the number of things you and your characters are able to store. In others there seems to be literally no end to it.

The art and science of storage in MMOs is often referred to as "Inventory Management", which makes it sound every bit as boring as many people believe it to be. Most MMO players would probably agree, if grudgingly, that there has to be some human involvement with the endless flow of goods and trinkets although there are those who argue the entire process should be both automated and invisible.

Those extreme minimalists are unlikely ever to get their way. Inventory and storage perform much too important a function in almost all MMOs for the entire process to be eliminated. In many gameworlds, inventory space is a well-established upgrade path like gear and levels. Bags and boxes often mark the baseline for crafting and act as a staple in the crafted economy.

Extra storage space and special, oversized or unique boxes feature frequently as sweeteners in Deluxe or Collectors Editions. Many free-to-play MMOs lean heavily on inventory space as a driver for cash shop sales and games with an optional subscription hold out enhanced storage options as a carrot to persuade people to subscribe.

It's no use wishing inventory management away. It's not going anywhere. It's safe to say that although other options could undoubtedly be designed, the familiar practice of putting things in boxes is unlikely to go away any time soon. Or probably ever.

That leaves the question of how to handle it with the tools we have. Inventory management is a skill but, unlike fishing or one-hand blunt it's not normally a skill you can increment by use or talent points (although I have a vague memory of playing some MMO where exactly that did happen). Perhaps it should happen more often. I rather like the idea of training up a skill and getting more inventory space, sort functions, tags and so on.

As things stand, in almost all MMOs managing your inventory comes down to either a real-lfe flair for organization or having the kind of personality that doesn't balk at the thought of spending significant chunks of your leisure time doing imaginary housework. Some people are tidy, some people learn tidiness; most people just have a lot of stuff thrust upon them.

Mrs Bhagpuss and I share a Guild Bank in GW2. This is her vault.
Then there are people like me who not only enjoy managing their inventories but see it as core gameplay. It's not going too far to say that inventory management was one of the things that drew me into the MMO genre from the get-go. If I was to make a list of my top ten reasons for playing MMORPGs (hey, another Blaugust topic!) inventory management would make the top five.

I find it involving, enjoyable, relaxing and satisfying but that doesn't mean I'm any good at it. Like most things in MMO gameplay I muddle along in my own inefficient fashion as best I can without ever making much of a dent in the activity I'm undertaking.

My banks are a mess and my characters inventories are chaotic. I frequently create systems for storing stuff so I can get at it handily, spend hours getting those systems set up and running, then promptly forget to maintain them and let entropy do its awful work.

I rarely know where anything is unless I use it every day. I make lists in notebooks and then lose them. I label boxes in game and then forget how to read the labels. In any MMO I play regularly I have so many characters and so many storage options I'd need a spreadsheet to keep track of it all - and the day I create a spreadsheet for a video game is the day I take my computer down to the nearest river and throw it in.

And this is mine.

Jeromai, Starshadow and Endalia all have something to say on the topic but Jeromai is hoping for some practical advice and I'm not sure I have much to offer.

One tip I would give, which I'm absolutely sure will immediately be labeled as heresy by some, is never to take any option the game offers you to convert all your small bags into one big one. That's fine for organized people but if you're already having problems, removing the visual link between the individual bags in your inventory and the contents of those bags will make those problems worse.

Many MMOs have different kinds of bags that auto-sort different things into them as you loot them. You can also sometimes re-name your bags with a descriptive title like "Bag for Twinking" or "My Dressing Up Box". Sometimes you can color-code bags or tell them apart by their icons. All of this helps and all of that help is lost if you munge the whole damn lot into one mega-bag.

Anyway, as I say, I'n hardly the best person to be giving advice on this topic. It's like asking a compulsive hoarder to give you pointers on feng shuing your appartment. I'm opening the floor to anyone who thinks they can help Jeromai declutter because my personal solution is always buy more boxes!

That said, I am going to think on this some more and post on it again. There's something to look forward to!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

He's Good-Bad But He's Not Evil

A few days ago, Atherne was the latest to bring up the ever-popular topic of D&D alignments, linking a couple of tests, one from the rights-holders themselves and one from Buzzfeed.

It's always fun doing those. I tend to come out fairly consistently as either Neutral, Chaotic Neutral or Chaotic Good. It depends a lot on how game-oriented the tests are. The further away from the ruleset the questions travel, the more good or chaotic I tend to become.

Questions that stick very tightly to the concept of role-playing games, as the Wizards of the Coast ones do, tend to be flat, emotionless and arid so it's hardly surprising they draw a more neutral, less involved response. I much preferred the Buzzfeed test, whose questions felt much more human and immediate.

The results varied quite significantly. WOTC judged me to be True Neutral, which I feel reflects my lack of emotional involvement with their static, abstract scenarios rather than telling you much about me. Buzzfeed rated me Chaotic Good, exactly where I'd like to see myself, so naturally I favor their methodology.

This kind of labelling underpins most MMORPGs. I've been choosing between "good" and "evil" ever since I made my first character in EverQuest, a wood-elf ranger who died, minutes later, falling, from the treetop walkways of Kelethin, city of a thousand elf and safety puns.

Very few MMOs go much further than that simple binary and even then it rarely means what it says. For most, "evil" means something like "moody emo goth" while "good" means "football captain and homecoming queen" (probably not the same person, although it is 2018...).

The ongoing moral panic over the pre-Battle for Azeroth trailers and cinematics over at World of Warcraft has also turned something of a spotlight on alignment, with many Horde players waking up to the fact that they've been Evil all these years and never knew it. Reactions have been...variable.

It occured to me, reading the comment thread at Massively:OP (rarely a good idea) that maybe what we need are some new alignments. Or, I should say, some new names for the old ones. Human nature doesn't change but language and culture does.

I tried to think of things players born long (long) after Gary Gygax might recognize and free-associate with and I took five minutes to come up with the list below. It's a weighty topic. It deserved that degree of in-depth analysis. This is what I've got:

Lawful Good = Control Freak

Neutral Good = Neurotypical

Chaotic Good = SJW

Lawful Neutral = Normie

(True) Neutral = Chilled

Chaotic Neutral = Edgy

Lawful Evil = Asshat

Neutral Evil = Cold

Chaotic Evil = Psycho

If you think you can do better, the comments are down there. Or maybe  you'd like to use this as a springboard for a Blaugust topic. Don't thank me, thank Atherne. She started it!

*Author's note. Yes, I have used that title before but it was in 2011 and no-one remembers, ok?

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Conversation Starters For All Occasions.

As I mentioned yesterday, this week's Blaugust theme is "Ideas for topics that the participants can then mine for the rest of the month". I have some. No, don't thank me. Seriously, don't thank me. You haven't read them yet...

Hats, cloaks or shoulderpads?

Which does the best job of making your character stand out from the crowd? Which looks the most stylish and which the most ridiculous? Do shoulderpads the size of small castles break immersion? Is that thing on fire? Does a feather in your hat make you cool (yes it does and you're crazy for even asking).

My character, myself.

Character play - what even is it? Did you just make that up? How's that any different from roleplay? Are your characters you or are they them? If they're them, are they real? What does "real" mean, anyway? Is it normal for heroes to talk like toddlers? Just sayin', bro. No offence. What does "normal" mean, anyway? Why be happy when you can be normal? Why be normal when you can be happy? Why be yourself when you can be your elf?

Act your age, not your level.

Do you grow into your MMOs or grow out of them? How old were you when you started playing? Did the age you were make a difference to how immersed or invested you became? How has that changed as you've aged? (You have aged, right? You're not some kind of elf, are you?).

Inventory management - curse or blessing?

Local or global? Manual or automatic? Bags or boxes? How high is a stack?  How come some developers go to 10,000 while others think ten's plenty? Why do video games even have stack sizes in the first place? Which MMO has the best banks? Should bank doors be big enough to admit horses? Dragons? Is that safe? Is that a safe? Is it always better to craft your own storage bins or is it okay to get one off the rack? If you could do a post on Inventory Management every day and twice on Sundays (and some of us could, naming no names) - should you?

It's the Economy. Stupid?

Do MMOs need economies? Do MMOs need economists? Are you rich? Do you want to be? Were you ever? Is broker-sniping PvP? Why are some goblins obsessed with money but others just love snot? If you can buy everything in the cash shop with in-game currency does your game even have a cash shop? How are those guys staying in business, anyway?

Jump! Everybody jump!

Does it drive you nuts when your character can kill a dragon but can't step over a knee-high wall? Is it legit to climb over things you aren't supposed to climb over just because you have a space bar? Who can do a five-foot standing jump? In plate armor? Does breaking out of maps break immersion or is being under the world underrated? How high can you climb? Can you see my house from up there? Did you remember to take a picture?

The Next Big Thing

Does this genre have a future? A roadmap? When's the next one coming? How long have we been waiting here? Who's driving this thing, anyway? If Blizzard is more profitable now than ever is WoW really dying? How long has WoW been dying? Didn't WoW die already? People still play that thing? What happened to all those WoW-killers? Didn't anyone remember clones have short lives? Did no-one watch Blade Runner? Weren't those replicants, not clones? Where are all the WoW replicants, now, eh? Eh??

Blognation! Under one groove!

Whither blogging? Who says "whither" these days? If blogging is so over how come the YA bookshelves are full of books with characters who blog? Why do all those characters aspire to a publishing contract? Does that say more about the writers, the publishing industry or blogging itself? If no-one blogs any more why do kids keep coming up to me and asking where the books by bloggers are? Is it because of all those characters in the books they read who blog and have publishing contracts? Or is it because they can't pronounce "vlogger", which is what they actually mean? If vlogger is a real word why does Blogger's own spellchecker not recognize it? Professional jealousy? Could Blogger be... alive???

 The Blog That Ate Itself

How many times can you recycle your own content before it gets so thin your readers can see right through it? Do you still have readers? Do you want any? Do readers matter? Who am I writing this thing for? *tap* *tap* Is this thing on? I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide