Friday, August 31, 2018

Then We Came To The End

It's been a trip but I can't say I'm sorry it's over. Turns out there's a very good reason I don't normally post on work days. It makes me slightly stressed, it mildly irritates Mrs Bhagpuss and sometimes I just don't have much to say.

Okay, that's not true. I always have something to say. I had plenty to say last night, when all I ended posting was screenshots. I just didn't have time to say it.

Now that the summer's over and Blaugust with it, several people have chosen to cast a glance at what's behind us. SDWeasel, Gracie, Aywren, Marathal, Mailvaltar, Shadowz, Nogamara, Eldarieal, Wilhelm, Sandrian, Endalia and probably many  more I've missed. Of all the wrap parties, perhaps the most intense was thrown by Endgame Viable, where UltrViolet, all of whose Blaugust posts I have very much enjoyed, chose to engage in a vigorous session of self-criticism worthy of the Cultural Revolution at its most unforgiving. I can only admire his rigor.

I would never be so harsh on myself. One of my fatal flaws is the innate self-confidence born of being an only child who grew up in a stable and loving environment. I do tend to feel pleased with myself a lot of the time even when there's little objective justification for it.

Looking back at my Blaugust output, I find that I managed to hit my target of posting every day. I even threw in a bonus post somewhere because when I post this wrap-up I'll be sitting pretty on thirty-two posts for the month. I said "post" too often then, didn't I?

Over the month, I ranged widely across the usual topics, repeating myself and trying to justify doing so by drawing attention to it. I guess I'm still a postmodernist at heart. (That sentence would run so much better as "I guess I'm still a postmodern girl at heart" but even in 2018 I don't think I'm going to go there...)

I was planning on subbing World of Warcraft for August just so I coud get some Battle for Azeroth posts out of it (without actually buying BfA, of course) but in the end I couldn't justify it because I had too much else going on. I would never have logged in. I very much enjoyed reading everyone else's experiences of the new expansion, which sounds pretty good to me. They varied so wildly it often sounded as though people weren't playing the same MMO let alone the same content.

Instead I bought Bless Online, which gave me a good run of posts mid-month. I'll be going back for more, most likely, although the biggest effect Bless has had on me is to remind me how much better Twin Saga and Dragon Nest were - and Black Desert, for that matter - so I may return to one or more of those instead.

Most of my Blaugust posts were lengthy. There's not too much filler in there. I did notice my fact-checking was slipping a little in the latter half of the month but mostly I still managed to do the requisite due dilligence before making any statements or claims I couldn't readily wriggle out of.

I'm pleased with that but I had, as always, hoped Blaugust would encourage me to write shorter, pithier pieces. As usual, I was disappointed. It's particularly annoying because I'm very well aware that shorter posts get a stronger response and I know that I sometimes weaken my own arguments by burying the main thrust of the post under the weight of all the connections I make while writing it.

In a way, the problem is that my posts aren't long enough. Some of them really need to be 5,000 word essays, not blog posts at all. And then there's the polish - or lack of it.

Back when I used to write reviews and articles for fanzines I would sometimes spend an entire week or more working on a single article of maybe fifteen hundred words. These days I often knock something like that out in a couple of hours. I don't know whether that's progress or not.

Whatever it is, it seems to be what I do and Blaugust has taught me, yet again, that I'm likely to keep doing it whether I want to or not. I'm verbose and I'll just have to live with it.

The best thing about this Blaugust hasn't been anything I did, though. It's been what everyone else was doing. Going in, I was really feeling the lack of good, new blogs. My Feedly was thin. Blaugust fixed that.

That's partly because Blaugust this year also incorporated the Newbie Blogger Initiative. The NBI always kicks up some great new writers but this year it outdid itself. There genuinely were more posts than I had time to read even though I did try. That's a happy problem to have.

Naming names is invidious and I'll leave it to Belghast to hand out the awards but I would just like to say that, of the bloggers I had never read before, I did particularly look forward to posts from Mailvaltar, Unidentified Signal Source, Moonshine Mansion, The MMOist and MMOsey.

Those are by no means all the new blogs and bloggers I really enjoyed reading, either. It was a vintage year all round. I very much hope you'll all keep posting after Blaugust ends even if right now you've fallen in a heap, mopping your brow with eau de cologne and croaking "Never again!"

Indeed, I hope everyone who gave it a crack carries on, at their own pace and in their own time, whether what they write is to my taste or not. Blogging isn't dead yet and it's not likely to be, not with this crew at the controls.

Congratulations to everyone who made it to the end - let's do it all over year!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

My Emptiness

It's the penultimate day of Blaugust and I am the most pushed for time I've been in the whole thirty days so far. Ironically, the moment the event ends I have four straight days of freedom so I will most likely carry on daily posting, making it five full weeks since I skipped a day.

Tonight, though, I got nothing! So have some pretty pictures.

Injury to eye motif. Dr Wertham should hear about this.
I'm even happier I made the effort to get this kite now we have Novelty Slots.
Why are we hiding in the jumping puzzle? Who cares? It's so blue!
Apparently you can tame and ride dragons in Bless - providing you don't mind looking like The Tick.
In Twin Saga you can ride a guinea pig. Is that cooler than a dragon?
Okay. I really need to play Twin Saga again.
I mean, my friends must miss me, don't they?
You got that right!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Now We Are Six : GW2

Guild Wars 2 is currently celebrating its sixth anniversary. Until yesterday, the festivities had been a tad understated. It's hardly surprising. Six years isn't much of a milestone.

We got a sixth anniversary pack in the mail on the anniversary of launch day. It was nice but not too exciting, since it was pretty much last year's over again. It did come with the choice of a set of armor skins, all of which can be seen over at Dulfy's. Nice armor, too, for a change.

Then there were the usual sales in Evon Gnashblade's Black Lion Emporium (aka cash shop). Sales are always welcome. I picked up a bunch of bag slot expanders at a decent discount.

Other than that I wasn't paying too much attention. Then I came home from work last night and Mrs Bhagpuss said "Look in the Gem Store when you get on - we've got presents!". And we did. Two of them.

One was the traditional Customer Appreciation Package - a free Black Lion Key and a Black Lion Chest to open with it. As I've said before I love lootboxes. I'm a huge fan of RNG and I'd always rather have a box with randomized contents to open than one with either a choice I can make or a specific item.

I don't, however, like paying for lootboxes because I'm a cheapskate. Free ones are for me.

As I've also said before, GW2 has some of the crappiest lootboxes in existence. I opened my free one on each of my three eligible accounts and the best thing I got was a dye I already had. Pathetic. Indeed, most of the items I got were so bad they verged on the insulting. If I had paid money I'd be furious.

Part of the problem from my perspective is that because of the backlash against lootbox randomization, GW2's boxes now automatically include a fragment of currency, which you save up to buy stuff. This, apparently, is a popular change and has caused the cost of the lootboxes (which have to be found as drops in the game and are tradeable) to skyrocket. Go figure.

That takes up one of the random slots and this time round we also got a guaranteed mini - a bunny (actually a "Springer" but no-one but ANet calls them that).  That left just two random rolls. Mine came up snake eyes. Three times.

Much better - and contradicting what I just said about not liking boxes with choices - we also got a Novelty Selection Box. This ties in with something I had no idea was going to happen - the addition of a Novelties Section to the Wardrobe.

It's explained in detail in this post on the GW2 website. There are four slots, one each for Musical Instruments, Held Items, Toys and Chairs. This means that, when you buy or otherwise obtain any of these things, you can add them to your Wardrobe and every character on your account can use them. You even get a new hotbar slot just for Novelties.

That. Is. HUGE!

I've spent very little money on GW2 in six years other than buying the expansions. There's very rarely anything in the Gem Shop that interests me.

I absolutely cannot fathom why people spend money (or gold) on perma-use utilities like unlimited salvage devices or the endless procession of novelty picks, axes and billhooks. I have always found the ones vendors sell to be perfectly adequate but judging by the insane racket and firework display going on around me every time I visit a node I am clearly in a tiny minority.

What I do sometimes spend money on, however, and have done throughout the life of the game, is Toys. I have Sonic Diggers, Electromagnetic Ascenders, Kites, Balloons... I love my Magic Carpet and Riding Broom so much I wrote posts about both of them.

Until now I had either to buy separate Toys for each character that wanted to use them or I had to put them in my shared inventory slots. And since I'm also too mean to buy more shared inventory slots...

Now everyone gets to use them! Okay, I still have to buy multiples because I have three accounts, but it absolutely will encourage me to do that. Also, chairs. Chairs! I've seen someone sitting in the Emblazoned Dragon Throne and it's awesome!

There aren't any pictures of me using the new Novelties I got from the Selection Box because... I haven't selected any yet. This is why I prefer randomized luckboxes to being given a choice. I suffer from Choice Paralysis.

I suffer from it so badly that I almost all of the choiceboxes I have ever had in GW2 are still stashed in my bank. Yes, all six years' of them. I often take them out and open them to look at the options only to close them and put them back. One day I'm going to do a post where I list them all. It can be used in my committal hearing, when they put me in a secure facility for my own safety.

And, while we're on the subject of hoarding, there's a sale on Bank Tab Expanders on Friday 31st. I already have my gems ready.

The Novelty Selection Box and Customer Appreciation Package are available for free from the Gem Store for two weeks. All accounts except F2P are eligible. Don't miss out. The choice of Novelties is excellent and you have tohave better luck with the Black Lion chests than I did...

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Way We Play Now

A couple of Blaugustians have been riffing on the ever-popular topic of soloing in MMOs. It's a question that's as old as the genre itself. I very clearly remember it being a hot-button issue even when I started playing EverQuest almost twenty years ago and I'm willing to believe it goes back longer than that.

It's also not a subject that's amenable to rational discussion. Views tend to polarize harshly. On the one hand you have the "it says Multiple right there on the box" crowd, who believe the entire meaning and purpose of the genre is collaborative and social and anything else is a betrayal of trust. On the other there's the "my time, my dime" crew, who feel it's their right to play the game any damn way they please.

Inbetween comes a vast mass of hybrid opinions, all truly held and passionately expressed. And everyone wants validation for the way they play, even if they don't think the way other people play is valid at all.

Fine, so far as it goes, I guess. It's always good to have something reliable to argue about. But then I got to wondering... is there really any meaning  left in the terms solo and group anyway? Haven't we moved into new modes altogether now?

Oh, of course I understand you can still group and raid and so on. The games support it and there are contexts in which it's even necessary. Communication and organization still matter. No-one's saying the gameplay differences no longer exist at all. But was the gameplay ever what people were really arguing about?

The split between solo and group players (and then again between everyone else and raiders) was always a matter of policy, not of practice. The issue wasn't whether you could solo but whether you should.

Committed groupers always felt there was something suspicious about soloists: something louche, untrustworthy, not quite proper. Meanwhile, dedicated soloists regarded group players as a herd: helpless alone, lost without their self-appointed leaders, a state of being to be pitied, not envied.

Fragmented hints of those sentiments still surface occasionally but such a sense of elitism is much harder to maintain when the structures of the games themselves so self-evidently deny it. It's difficult to pin down exactly when things began to change, but change they most certainly have.

Vanilla WoW, now often cited as a golden age of mutual reliance and group-friendly gaming, was seen by many at the time as the not-so-thin end of the wedge where solo content was concerned. Compared to what went before it was solo-friendly in the extreme.

As Blizzard doubled down on solo play then doubled down again, introducing automated group-making and Looking For Raid, Warhammer brought in the concept of the Public Quest. You didn't need an invite any more to play with the people around you.

Rift took that idea and spun an entire game out of it. Finally, Guild Wars 2 did away with almost every concept of group play to create a world in which all content was shared content and everyone was de facto soloing together.

Ah, yes. Soloing together. It seemed such a revolutionary concept at the time. I remember Gordon, in what was possibly his last-ever post for his much-missed We Fly Spitfires blog, describing with bemusement his experience of completing events alongside another player in Guild Wars 2.

He was concerned that they never spoke but of course they had no need to. Modern MMOs don't require you to talk to each other even if you do choose to group. As Sandrian says, "Most of the chatter in random dungeons... is virtually non-existant. People don’t really talk and if they do it’s often only a “hello” or “goodbye”.

These days, even content that is undeniably not soloable is still played solo. I spent much of yesterday in World vs World. Sometimes I ran alongside the zerg, outside the squad. Sometimes I was squadded. It made little difference either way.

Other times I stood around in keeps and camps, scouting, guarding, skirmishing. I herded yaks and fired cannons. I spent a glorious couple of hours helping in a surreal attempt to upgrade Dreadfall Bay by filling North West Camp with omegas. The whole time I was with people, but on my own; talking, but talking in map or team chat - to people standing not ten yards away.

In this 21st Century life, the boundaries between public and private, social and solipsistic are blurred if not broken.  Families, friends and co-workers sit in the same rooms and communicate by text or email or Twitter and Facebook. Watching television with friends means lying in your bedroom alone, tweeting smart remarks to your followers.

Gaming used to set cultural leads although lately the trends have been all the other way. "Gamer" is fast becoming shorthand for "conservative". Perhaps that's why the murmurings about the value and purity of group play have grown a little louder of late.

Nascent conservatism aside, it seems unlikely the wheel will turn full circle. The new asymetric social systems we all use and most of us enjoy are too convenient to give up. It seems peculiar to think of the early noughties as "a simpler time" but perhaps they were. Maybe we did all have more time then and more patience.

Or more likely we had less choice. If we'd been able to click a button back then to get a group how many of us would still have stood by the bank spamming "Rogue lfg" hour after hour? When Pantheon (and that other would-be hardcore, old school title I won't name, for fear of calling up one of its hyper-vigilant developers like He Who Must Not Be Named) finally arrives, will there be a deluge of defections from solo-friendly games like WoW and GW2?

I doubt it. We don't do a lot of things in the same, semi-formal group-friendly way we once did and not just in our gaming. The generations following on will see both socializing and friendship in a different way, not just to their parents and grandparents, but to every generation going back to the caves.

What it means to be human is changing. In this way, perhaps MMORPGs simply got there first.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Head Full Of Steam : City of Steam

I sometimes refer, rather glibly, to "my top five favorite MMOs of all time", which makes it sound as though I keep a list. I don't. I tend to slot things in and out on a whim as the occasion arises, as my mood changes or, as is most often the case, as I remember some game I'd entirely forgotten and succumb to a surge of nostalgic affection.

One such title is City of Steam. I have a lot of history with that unlucky and mostly unloved MMO. There are more than fifty posts tagged for the game here on Inventory Full, starting with my thoughts about the pre-alpha Sneak Peak back in March 2012 and ending with a brief mention in May of this year, when I said  "One of my favorite MMORPGs and definintely one that failed to live up to its full potential".

I also wrote "The original vision for the game was... a real labor of love". What I neglected to mention then, or probably ever, was that the "original vision" was also a published pen and paper roleplaying game.

I vaguely knew it existed. Or once had. The subject came up occasionally on the forums but that provenance was never really pushed as heavily as it might have been. Instead, Nexus seemed to  emerge, fully formed, out of the void, something that was  - and still is - quite common with MMOs.

Nevertheless, it's clear from early promo trailers like Room for Rent that someone knew a backstory we didn't. I felt much the same about WildStar. It's a good way to create interest in an otherwise unfamiliar property.

On a few occasions I've commented that City of Steam was at its very best in its earliest incarnations. It's commonplace to claim that MMOs are better in beta. That's not always objectively true - there are several subjective factors - exclusivity, novelty, camaraderie - that influence opinion - but also it is an indisputable fact that games do often change radically in development.

City of Steam changed many times. The Sneak Peak was perhaps the purest, most distilled version of creator David Lindsay's original vision, while some of the Alphas may have been the most immersive. I called the first Alpha "a disturbingly compulsive experience".

The game changed a lot in beta and in it's various Live iterations, first drifting and then sprinting away from its original conception. The final version, City of Steam: Arcadia, was arguably a better game but it was also as a neon-lit carnival, almost a parody of the dark, brooding, anxiety-inducing retro-future I'd fallen in love with five years before.

City of Steam shuttered in early 2016. There were vague hints that it might not be the end for the concept but Mechanist Games moved on to a new project, Heroes of Skyrealm.

HoS was a mobile game. I've played it. It was quite good, in its way. It almost felt as if it was part of the same world as City of Steam, but much shinier and more upbeat. Yesterday, for arcane reasons I won't go into, I thought of it and went to check the website to see how it was doing.

It's dead. But I didn't know that until this morning.

Heroes of Skyrealm launched in the Spring of 2017 and closed in June 2018, just over a year later. I only learned that five minutes ago as I was fact-checking for this post. The website is still there, frozen in time at the moment before Open Beta began in February last year. The links still go to the Google Play and Apple Store but the game is no longer there. I found the sunset announcement on Facebook.

The reason I didn't discover the sad news of the demise of Heroes of Skyrealm yesterday is that as I was following links back to Mechanist Games to see what they were up to I landed on the "About" page, where I read this:

"City of Steam: Arkadia... is based on The New Epoch, a series of table-top game books written by David Lindsay, co-founder of Mechanist Games" 

So I googled "The New Epoch" and found this. Minutes later I was the happy owner of Watermarked PDFs of both The Character Codex and The Adventure Codex for what is to all intents and purposes the roleplaying game edition of City of Steam.

I've written before about how reassuring and comforting it is to have a solid, physical representation of a virtual world. Novels, gamebooks, comics, even soft toys all help shore up confidence against the inevitable day when the last server goes offline.

Best of all, though, is a full set of roleplaying rules that let you feel that you could re-create the entire gameworld on your kitchen table. If you wanted to. You never will, of course, but you could, and that's what counts.

A PDF isn't quite as good as a printed book but it's a darn sight better than nothing. And these PDFs are stylishly designed and lavishly - gorgeously - illustrated in full color.

I haven't had time to read much in depth as yet. I need to transfer the files onto a device I can hold in my hand before I get stuck in to the detail.

Even so, at a skim, I can already tell just how fascinating a read it's going to be. It's not just the pre-cursor to the game I loved - it is that game. Some of the illustrations in the book are even the very same ones that were used in the early promotional videos.

One of my few gaming regrets is that I never finished the storyline in City of Steam or saw all the zones. I can't change that but now I have another chance to dig deeper into the lore and history that was always evident but ever elusive in the game itself.

And, I guess, one day I might even get to tell some stories of my own.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Walking My Dog Named Cat : Bless Online

When I learned that Bless Online has a different starting area and storyline for each of its seven races I was quite excited. I found the storyline for the first race I tried, the diminutive and (optionally) furry Mascu, engaging and entertaining. The prospect of another half-dozen narratives of that quality was enticing.

When my Mascu ranger ran into a minor roadblock in the main storyline somewhere in the mid-teens, rather than grind out a level or two on Monster Books and side quests to get past it, I decided to roll another character and see what their starting area and story was like. Of course, it doesn't take much to persuade me to roll an alt.

Leather hot pants and thigh boots. I know! it's a classic, right?

Heading back into character creation, I was reminded of something I'd skipped over the first time around. I didn't think to mention it in the post I wrote about making a character but six of Bless's seven classes are faction-locked. More significantly, since this is a faction-based PvP game, you can only play one faction per server.

By sheer chance my race of first preference , Mascu, is the only one shared by both factions. I didn't know that when I chose it. I also knew nothing about the factions so I picked Hieron pretty much at random. From a few things I've read since, apparently Union is the casual-preferred faction, partly due to snazzier mount options and partly because of the lore.

If I'd wanted to try one of the Union races I could have started over on a new server (there are four, two each on EU and NA, down from fifteen at launch according to the wiki, which might be some kind of record in just a couple of months... ) but I also wanted to find out if bank space was shared so I chose what I thought was a catlike race from the Hieron options in front of me.

Young wolf, run free.

Making the character was an absorbing experience. I could spend a long time playing around with Bless's options and sliders. Eventually I dragged myself away from the controls, settled on a look, gave my new cat-girl a cat-person name I often use when playing cat-people and logged in.

Imagine my surprise to discover I was a wolf. You'd think I might have noticed, not least because the freakin' race is called the Lupus, but no. This is what happens when you don't do your research. Or pay attention.

Just for information, there is a cat-person race. It's on the Union side and it's called the Pantera. These aren't hard codes to crack. The other four racial options are two flavors of human (Habichts and Armistad) and two sorts of elf (Sylvan and Aqua). I plan on trying them all.

Spooky red glow. It's a bad thing.

The Lupus starting area is delightful if entirely unoriginal. It reminded me of both the Priden starting area in Allods Online and the Tauren newbie zone in World of Warcraft. Lots of totem poles, wooden lodges and forest trails. Everyone's drawing from the same real-world well but it's always a refreshing draught.

The Lupus storyline isn't as unusual as the Mascu's but it's a decent example of the tribal rite-of-passage that goes wrong trope. I quickly found myself drawn in to the narrative, which was interesting enough that I wanted to explore all the conversational options to find out more of the back-story.

Bless has a lot of conversational options. Not the kind where you get to choose from a snarky, noble or neutral response for your character (I hate those) but the sort where you can interrogate NPCs at some length to reveal more about the gameworld's biography, history or lore. It also has a lot of good quality cut-scenes, something I should have mentioned in my First Impressions posts.

Smoke gets in your eyes. And your fur.

Wherever the quests are voiced, the additional text options also seem to have been fully translated from the original Korean. Those are definitely worth reading. I read all the quest text anyway, regardless of the quality of the English, but the well-translated ones are good enough that it makes me wish they'd had the time, money or inclination to buff up the rest as well.

So far, so good, then. I've played two races and very much enjoyed both starting experiences. There is a problem, though. They're too short.

I was hoping the individual racial storylines would take me all the way to Level 30, which is when both factions come together to compete over the same quest content. Sadly, that's not how it works.

Look at the way she stands on the balls of her toes. And those gigantic hands. Best werewolf ever.

The Mascu and Lupus storylines merge much sooner than that, around level five, at the point where you arive in the factional capital city of Hieron. I knew it was going to happen even before I got there. It was a bit of a give-away when the same NPC that my Mascu ranger sidekicks for turned up to take my wolf-girl under his wing in the Lupus starting story.

The upshot is that there's nowhere near as much unique questing and storyline content in Bless as I'd hoped. It was a bit much to expect, thinking about it. On the positive side, however, there are still six short stories of some quality to enjoy and two full-length storylines, assuming, as must be the case, that the Union story is entirely different to the Hieron throughout.

No airship trip for me. All the way on the back of a flying lizard. Hmm... that reminds me of something...

That does mean playing two elves to see them all but you can't have everything. It's also more achievable. I don't imagine I would ever had worked my way through seven sets of thirty levels, no matter how good the stories might have been - and I'm not saying they're that good. Just decent.

And that shared bank? There isn't one. But there is a shared wallet. My wolf-girl was able to dip into my Mascu's savings to buy herself a full set of armor at level one, rendering any combat in the starting instance trivial. Also any quest rewards. I'm not sure they've entirely thought this through...

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Rhythm Method

Telwyn reminds me that the theme of this Blaugust week is "Staying Motivated". I'd almost forgotten we had themes because, with less than a week left to go, I am, if anything, over-motivated by the imminence of the end.

Belghast took an enormous amount of care this year to avoid placing any kind of expectation on anyone who chose to participate. He commented that it was his fear that in the past "Blaugust wound up killing more blogs than it wound up helping" as bloggers found themselves overwhelmed by the immensity of the task they'd taken on.

No-one needs to feel that they have to post every single day. Bel created a whole range of Awards to make that point abundantly clear:
  • Newbie Blogger Award – You did it, you created a new blog and by god we are going to sing your praises for doing it!
  • Bronze Award – You made at least 5 posts during the Month of August 2018.
  • Silver Award – You made at least 15 posts during the Month of August 2018, go you!
  • Gold Award – You made at least 25 posts during the Month of August 2018, you are a badass!
  • Rainbow Diamond Award – You did it, you posted every single day during the Month of August 2018 and deserve accolades.
Now, awards definitely motivate people. There are lots of blogs I read that proudly display all kinds of icons and banners and flags that have been handed out during various events over the past few years. I've read some lovely posts where bloggers have been surprised, delighted and grateful to have won an award. Maybe if you're a post or two shy of one of those targets, just the thought of a shiny would be motivation enough to get you back to tapping those keys

I'm not personally all that interested in winning awards but I do find myself highly motivated by hitting targets. And I do like to do what I say I'm going to do. If I say I'm going to post every day in August I am darn well going to post every day in August, whether I enjoy it or not! I'm stubborn that way.

That's not really a good thing. What's more, it goes entirely against the advice I would give (and have given) to other people. I would always say that when it comes to something you do in your own time, for your own amusement, you should feel both able and willing to stop as soon as you find you're not enjoying it.

Which I would, if I wasn't. That's the thing. It's entirely possible to enjoy something while not enjoying it. I look forward to coming home from work and blogging at exactly the same time I as I wish hadn't committed myself to doing just that.

Stop and smell the lupins.

I've thoroughly enjoyed Blaugust and I'm very pleased with myself for having posted every day and yet I'm counting the days until it's over because I can't wait to have my workday evenings back. I can absolutely understand why some people post every day in August and then don't post anything else until Christmas.

For me it won't be that extreme. I'll go back to my normal routine of posting each day that I don't have to work, three or four times a week. With luck, I'll remember it is at least possible to get a quick post out on a weekday evening so my frequency might be a little higher for a while, but it won't last.

The thing to remember - the most important thing - is that blogging has a rhythm and that rhythm is different for every blogger. If you sign up to a set of external standards, as with Blaugust, it's fine to play along while it's working for you, but it's just as fine to stop and swap them for standards of your own.

As Wilhelm says in his excellent post about Editorial Policy, "what you do on your blog just has to please you". That applies to frequency just as much as it does to whether you italicize World of Warcraft or shun the Oxford comma.

If you want or need to take a break after Blaugust then take one. If you feel you're just hitting your stride then carry on! There's no correct cadence or set schedule. Post when posting feels right for you.

And if you give yourself permission to post only when you want to post, perhaps you'll even find yourself wanting to post more often. It's not a job, it's a hobby. Enjoy it.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Long Summer Days : EQ2

Just a short note to give any EQ2 players a heads-up that the excellent and essential Days of Summer event is back. Since I've been neglecting EQ2 in favor of Bless, I would have missed it myself, had it not been for a line in Kaozz's recent post.

EQTraders had already flagged the event when it began on August 21st - Naimi Denmother makes a point of drawing our attention to anything with even the most tangential connection to tradeskills and Days of Summer comes with a lot of items for decorating houses - but somehow I missed it. She has a page with all the details we know so far.

Fortunately, although the event began as a limited-time affair last year, it proved so popular it now stays in game as a permanent fixture. Yun Zi spends his entire life standing around in Sundered Frontier, making inane small-talk and handing out amazingly good items no casual player can afford to ignore.

He's acquired a tiny companion called Pas Yu this year, a panda of extremely restricted stature, who acts as his bag holder. I nearly missed him after I'd finished the first quest. He has all the sweet loot and it is sweet indeed.

To do the quests you need to have at least one max level character and the gear you get is Level 110 (making a lot of it upgrades for me even after the expansion has been out for almost a year). The housing items work for any level and some of the upgrades are suitable for level 100 and up. Once you complete the quest on a single character, any character on the account can shop at Yun Zi's for the low price of no money at all.

Like last year, there will be eight weeks of quests. The new quest comes with the weekly patch/server restart on Tuesdays. You have to have completed all of last year's quests before you can do this year's but if you're just getting started you can do both sets.

Using a guide, like the one on EQ2Traders or the wiki, each quest only takes a few minutes, especially if you use the wonderful and essential Fast Travel option from the Map window. If you're an All Access member you get that for free (and it's worth the monthly sub on its own in my opinion) but since you also have to be a Member to do the quests in the first place that's not a problem.

I raced around Antonica last night on the first of this year's quests and it was really good fun and very nostalgic. I found I could remember the exact location of every stop without having to check. I've spent so many hours in Antonica I know it as well as I know the countryside around my own home.

I was also lucky enough to arrive there at gametime sunset. Antonica has some absolutely spectacular skies at dawn and dusk. The graphics in the older part of the game are showing their age but the skyboxes are still as breathtaking as ever.

Like last year, Days of Summer is going to prep casual players for the Autumn expansion, although if DBG follow last year's model the expansion itself will start with free gear that's even better. This kind of thing is why I rate the current DBG team so highly. I've never felt so well looked after as a casual player. Long may it continue.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

It's The Beginning Of A New World

This week's big talking point in MMOland has to be the unheralded info-drop on Amazon's New World. Until now we knew almost nothing about this title, other than its setting, an alternate, magical version of the 17th Century.

Massively OP seem a little confused over the timing of the reveal but no-one's questioning the authenticity. Interestingly, the last time any significant information emerged about New World it was also described as "possibly leaked", making me wonder whether there's anything truly accidental about any of this.

The M:OP piece is a tad misleading. I'd recommend reading the full article at TechAdvisor, which gives a good deal more detail and some important context. For example, the "full loot" PvP alluded to in Massively's bullet point list, is heavily qualified in the article itself, which says

"...currently when you die you drop all of your gear which can then be looted by other players"
That "currently" is crucial. This is a game in pre-alpha. Unless Amazon come out and state that full loot is a core game feature, I'd bet it won't make it out of beta. If it even gets that far.

That said, there's no glossing over the bald facts: New World is a PvP game.

 Or is it? Even the blatant
PvP seems to be at the very focal heart of the game
is more nuanced than it first appears. "Seems to be" is either a bet-hedger or an admission there's a lack of hard information. And what's with that "very focal heart"? Does that mean PvP is everywhere or concentrated somewhere in the center? I can see why Bree thought this might be a draft text.

The supposed emphasis on what sounds almost like forced socialization is also heavily tempered in the full text of the TA piece. While it does indeed say that

 "The game puts a very heavy focus on social features and everything that comes along with player interaction"
it goes on to clarify that
"Forming guilds to take on greater challenges and build your empire... will be a good idea if you want to survive".
That's really not so different from any other MMO, is it? Greater challenges almost always require guilds. We tend to call it "raiding" in PvE or "guild vs guild" in PvP. You're hardly going to be building an empire on your own, are you? I wouldn't read that as meaning there's no place for solo or small group play at all.

The article goes on to explain how empire-building might work in practice: 
You can capture land and build upon it, creating outposts and bases for your guild to operate from which can house more advanced crafting stations giving you access to better gear. Your territory can expand over time... You will be able to tax players that wish to operate or build within your territory, which allows their structures to be under your protection for a price.

So far, so familiar, but the crucial part, which I've pulled out for emphasis, is this:

"...territory control ... will be a large part of the 'end game'."

Taken in context, this suggests to me that New World's end game is very similar in concept to Ashes of Creation's. A never-ending tussle between guilds and allainces to rule the roost and rook the peasants.

As a prospective peasant in both games I strongly expect to be able to wander around largely oblivious to the machinations of my rulers. I will be beneath their notice and they will be above mine.

The writer of the piece, Sean Bradley, did at least get to play the current demonstration build, so his assessment that it feels
" a survival game in the vein of Rust, Conan Exiles or Ark"
 can probably be taken at face value. That's not appealing to me and neither is the choice of action combat rather than tab targeting and hotbars, although I will concede that it was inevitable. No-one but MMO nerds want WoW-style combat these days and Amazon wants to cast its net a lot wider than the pre-existing niche audience that, bizarrely, WoW now represents.

And yet, even here there's a hint of grey in the black and white. The current build allows you to lock to a target using Tab. Sean also describes it as "very fluid and responsive" and "not too fast or slow", which is encouraging for a pre-alpha.

Like Telwyn, I found a lot of the Massively:OP summary off-putting. I was inclined to cross New World off my wishlist completely. Having read the full article at TechAdviser, however, my interest has been tentatively re-ignited. It's not a long read but there's a lot in there, more than I've singled out for attention here. I recommend anyone even vaguley interested in New World to read the whole thing.

Finally, and most importantly, this is a game in closed pre-alpha. A lot can change. A lot will change. There's a "sign up" for alpha available on the website that consists merely of registering your interest on your Amazon account. It takes five seconds. I've done that.

It still doesn't look like my kind of game but who knows?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Now That's What I Call A Patch Message Vol 1

Hang on a minute... left ankle? Are we talking Long Johns here?


Publish And Be Damned : Ashes of Creation

There are precious few AAA Western MMORPGs in development right now. Yesterday there was news on two of them. It wasn't encouraging.

Intrepid Studios, developers of Ashes of Creation, whose Kickstarter I backed, announced a publishing deal for Europe. The game will be published by, who are owned by and currently operate Allods, Skyforge and Revelation Online among others.

The reaction to this has been almost universally hostile. has a very poor reputation with players, it seems, and everyone is wary of the Russians. I wasn't perturbed at first, my own initial reaction being more along the lines of "that's handy - I already have a account so I won't have to make a new one".

The hoo-hah mostly seems to be focused on's rep for encouraging or even enforcing pay-to-win. The ancient incense scandal that blighted Allods' launch seven years ago has not been forgotten or forgiven.

As I recall, that was fixed fairly swiftly but no-one seems to remember that part. I doubt anyone commenting on it has played the game since, either, which is a pity. Allods is still running and has received numerous updates over the years. It's a very good MMORPG. Revelation Online seemed fine when I played it briefly, too. Skyforge I've not tried.

My own equanimity notwithstanding, feelings have been running high and Steven Sharif of Intrepid felt moved to quell the rebellion with an assurance that P2W doesn't feature in AoC's future:

 “I would like everyone in our community to be aware. Intrepid will maintain 100% creative control over Ashes and our partners and shares our vision for Ashes...This means our stance on p2w for the game".️ 

All well and good. Unfortunately he goes on to say

"This partnership allows us as a Studios to focus on the development of the game and allows us to feel comfortable with the level of service that we know and can provide". 

Yes, and, as they say, monkeys might fly out of my butt. All the EU F2P publishers have appalling customer service. Why would you have anything else when you have "customers" who didn't choose you in the first place, have no option to take their custom elsewhere and don't pay you any money?

For me, this is a non-issue so long as the game isn't region locked. I have always preferred to play on U.S. servers if allowed. I feel more comfortable in the culture there and my ping from the U.K. to the U.S. is often as good as or even better than my ping to servers based in the E.U.

The current AoC wiki states that "Regional IP blocks are not currently planned", which sounds reassuring - until you check the provenance of that highly conditional statement. It comes from a developer Q&A from July 2017, in which the reason why IP blocks aren't being planned is also explained. It's because IP blocks usually derive from publishing deals and Intrepid are planning to self-publish.

As a U.K. resident I also have to wonder what effect the Brexit deal (or lack thereof) might have. I can't imagine continued, smooth operation of video games is even on anyone's radar right now, what with the prospect of international flights being grounded, supermarkets running out of food and hospitals out of drugs. I should probably stockpile a few offline rpgs. And maybe a portable generator...

Anyway, it's all a long way in the future. I can't see Ashes of Creation launching before 2020 at the earliest. I'm signed up for beta, which I guess we might get to next year. I'll deal with it when the time comes.

And that ran so long I think I'll split this post in two. I'll get to Amazon's New World tomorrow. (This is what Blaugust does to you. I'm already wishing I'd split the Bless First Impressions posts into four chapters instead of just two.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bless Online : First Impressions, Part Two

I played Bless for another, longish session last night. Steam tells me I've put ten hours into the game. My Mascu ranger is level 14. I know just enough about the game to be dangerous. Let's go!

The Tutorial

I am not a big fan of Tutorials. I particularly dislike it when they make you finish an entire instance that has nothing to do with the game itself - especially when it takes up most of your first hour, draining any excitement and interest you ever had and making you wish you'd never bothered. Looking at you, Rift.

Bless kind of has one one of those but it doesn't really count because it's so incredibly short. There's an airship trip. I can't even remember how it starts. Almost immediately it's interrupted by a crisis. A beetle attack. (Beetles? Really??) There's a fight which goes by in a blur and then we're docking and that's it. All over.

It's reminiscent of the original opening to FFXIV (go figure) but on fast-forward. It also reminded me of EQ2 as well as several other MMOs I've played. Originality isn't an issue here, that's for sure.

Making the threat a horde of flying beetles does set the tone for what comes next, inasmuch as it's low key and slightly strange. Once the airship lands the rest of the tutorial melds seamlessly into the game proper. You begin doing the kind of things you're going to go on doing, only with hints, prompts and treats when you do it right. It's well-paced, helpful and unobrtusive. I appreciated it.

Questing and Story

Bless Online is a themepark. No question about that. But it's an odd, off-kilter kind of themepark, not the straight-up, quest hub WoW-clone kind.

There's a Main Quest sequence and a smorgasbord of side-quests. The questgivers have exclamation points over their heads but they're understated and easy to miss. The non-narrative questgivers are scattered all over the place, not gathered in little clumps. There's something of an old-school feel, although thankfully you don't have to hail every NPC just to check if they want something.

I was rather taken with the early questing. It's unusual. The first quest I got had me joining some NPC organization, whereupon they sent me to choose the new uniform for the guild. I went to see a tailor, who showed me several options hanging on mannequins. I had to select the most suitable. The reward was a uniform of my own.

After that I was interviewed by the guild leader and given a mission that sent me to investigate some trouble in the sewage treatment plant. There was some banter about that. I found it amusing. Almost as soon as I got there an animated suit of armor popped out of the waste-water and battle commenced.

From there things escalated to a show-down with a mad scientist who was sticking giant rats into plate armor for some unexplained reason. That led to his lab getting wrecked and somehow it was my fault and I found myself owing damages to the city, which is how I ended up working for the Government.

Or something like that. To be honest, it was all a bit of a blur. It was also entertaining and absorbing, two words that describe all the questing I've done so far.

That was all part of the main questline. I think. There's a very good quest journal with onscreen prompts and a detailed summary but mostly I've just been trucking along, enjoying myself, not worrying too much about the structure.

The plot has some twists I didn't expect and a narrative I'm finding quite interesting. It's linear without being pedestrian and familiar without being enirely predictable. I do tend to enjoy the questing in Eastern MMOs more than that in Western ones, though, so factor that in.

Also, I've read that there's an entirely different main quest and starting area for each race. If that's true it adds a very significant degree of replayability to the low-end game. I'd definitely play through a few more like this one.

Translations, Voice Acting and Polish

I put this in as a separate category because it's been a big part of the backlash. There are long, angry threads on Reddit bemoaning the awfulness of the translation and the bugginess of the game. There are also white knight defences of the work NeoWiz has put in to change all that.

My experience has been mixed. The very early part of the game is well translated. The quest dialog is idiomatic and lucid. The game instructions are coherent and grammatically correct. There are very few spelling errors and little that seems off or odd. I was impressed.

Unfortunately, that level of quality doesn't last. By around level ten or so the quest dialog reverts to the kind of quasi-English all-too familiar from many other hastily localized MMOs. At no point does it become difficult to follow but the characters start sounding less like individuals with personality and more like print-outs from Google Translate. Which is most likely what they are.

That doesn't always apply when it comes to the main quest. There, at least on the sequences that are voiced, things continue to be fully translated by someone with a sound grasp of spoken English.

The voiceovers themselves are all done by people who at least sound as though they're speaking their mother-tongue. Not all of them sound like their day job is acting but some of them are quite convincing. I've heard a lot worse.

As for bugs, I haven't run into any at all. For Early Access Bless seems solid, at least at the levels I'm playing.

Mounts and Taming

Another Eastern feature I strongly favor is auto-questing. I love being able to click a button and have my character find her own way to the next NPC or location. It seems to me to add immersion rather than remove it. My character should know her way around better than me. She lives there. I don't.

The auto-pathing in Bless is good, except where it doesn't play nice with things like the paternoster lifts. I found myself running into a corner a few times when the lift platform was up not down. Also I ran off a few high terraces once in a while. Health and safety isn't much of a thing here. Fortunately neither is falling damage. I guess if you can drop a hundred feet then get up and walk away you might as well save money on railings.

Somewhere along the questline they gave me a horse. Quite early on. I think I was maybe level five or six. He's a bit on the skinny side. You can see his ribs. Still, a ride's a ride.

It's definitely faster on horseback but mounts have a stamina pool and it depletes. Slowly, because I didn't notice for a long time, but eventually, on a long cross-country canter, my horse up and vanished.

There's a whole feeding system for mounts. They level up and acquire skills. There are  ground and flying mounts and mounts are a sub-class of Companions, which also includes Pets, which you tame. You can have up to forty Companions. That's about as much as I know but I'm guessing it's a significant part of the game.

So far I have two Companions and I was pointed to both of them by the extended tutorial (still popping up hints and quests at level 14). To go with my under-nourished horse I have a hamster the size of a Pomeranian.

I tamed the hamster using a taming scroll. Actually, four training scrolls. Taming is a mini-game where you have to stop a moving cursor as it passes across a green line. It's not hard but it's not a gimme.

I imagine it gets a lot harder as you go for bigger animals but that's just speculation. I tried to tame a giant rabbit (that's us, hanging out, in the picture above) but I didn't have the right scroll for it. So far I only have the hamster. He doesn't appear to do anything except follow me but he does level up. A cosmetic pet with levels is a new one on me. I may be missing something here.


It's easy. And fast. So far.

Killing mobs and gathering materials both give xp to the same leveling pool but the amounts are relatively small. The huge bulk of xp comes from quests. The main quest sequence doesn't give enough xp alone to hit its own gates but so far I've not really needed to supplement my quest xp to keep pace with the requirements. I did hit a couple of markers a tad early but a few side quests fixed that.

I read a couple of leveling guides, not because I was having any issues but because I'd heard that Bless can be very grindy and I wasn't seeing it yet. The guides tend to be written by and for people who want to skip as much content as possible as they race to the endgame. It was much the same in BDO. I don't believe anyone who enjoys questing and exploring is going to find the low levels in any the Eastern MMOs too much of a grind.

If anything, leveling may be a little fast for my tastes. I'm not keen to hit 30, at which point we move into open PvP zones with questing shared by the opposing factions (the exact same model as Allods, come to think of it). I already have an unavoidable xp buff granted by the game and some xp potions from a quest, which are staying in my pack. I don't foresee any difficulties in getting to thirty. After that... we'll see.

As well as quests Bless also has Monster Books. Sadly, these are not twenty-foot tall tomes with giant wheels. They're kill quests for specific creatures, familiar from many other games, most obviously FFXIV (Surprise!).

It's impossible to avoid these because, well, you have to kill stuff. I haven't focused on any yet but it's good to see them ticking away in the background.

Gear and Loot

This is a strange one. Before I'd even received a single piece of gear from a quest I happened to browse the wares of an NPC merchant. She had full sets of armor, with stats, for every class. More surprising yet, it was all cheap enough that I could afford it, just with the coin I'd been looting off regular kills. So I bought a complete outfit.

That significantly upgraded my gear score (which is an actual stat you can see on your paper doll). I was very happy, if a little puzzled. I can't think of many MMOs where you can just buy all the gear you need, for pennies, from an NPC.

It got even odder when, almost immediately afterwards, I received my first piece of gear as a quest reward. It was literally identical to one of the pieces I'd just bought, except it had a diferent name.

This is how armor works, it appears. The system was confirmed when I hit my first Dungeon in the main quest sequence. It's gated both by level (13) and gear score (1665). At 13 was well under the bar but there's an armor vendor right outside the dungeon entrance. I bought a new set of gear from her for peanuts and boom! In I went.

It seems like an odd system but only because it's just the baseline. You can be assured of functional armor but you're going to want a lot better than just functional.

For that you need to upgrade. There's one of those systems that lets you salvage unwanted gear for a resource you can use to improve items you want to use. Armor can also be crafted, as can accessories like Jewellery. I'm just at the tip of that iceberg so I can't say much more about it, except that if it follows the pattern of most imported MMOs it will be a spiral of ever-increasing costs for ever-diminishing returns. That's where the real grind usually lies.

Then there are your all-important weapons. Vendors don't sell those. They come as drops from mobs or from questing. I'm unclear whether they can be crafted. You can also buy them on the auction house. Boss mobs in dungeons always drop either gear or weapons. Other mobs have a much lower chance but can still drop useful stuff.

That is my preferred loot system and always has been. Hunt stuff, use what it drops. Can't improve on perfection. Add a vendor that has you covered for the basics and a way to recycle all the Paladin and Assassin stuff you're never going to give to an alt and you're in a sweet spot. All we really need from there is for some stuff to have unusual and exciting procs and we're home free.


Oh, no. Not yet. I've seen my first one and it didn't go well.

Dungeons in the context of Bless, as in many Eastern MMOs, mainly means solo instances. As mentioned above, they have entry requirements, which you can find here.

I had no difficulty with the regular mobs in the first dungeon, the Underground Prison of Balmont. They dropped some weapons for me, too, albeit not ones I could use.

The fun ended when I tried the first boss. I did get him to 50% but it was clear I'd need a few more levels to finish him and since the gate to the rest of the dungeon doesn't open until he dies I've bookmarked him for another try at Level 15.


I have even less to say about this than I do about Dungeons. At level 14 I got the prompt to visit the craft mats vendor. There, I got to pick a Main Profession and a Sub.

After some consideration I realized I had no clue what to choose. Rather than do any out-of-game research I just picked the ones I fancied, which happened to be Handicraft and Cooking. Handicraft makes accessories and cooking, as well as the obvious, makes stamina recovery items for mounts.

The mats lady then sent me to see the workshop guy and I used his workbench to make a bar of silver. It's the standard "have items in your inventory, hit button, watch progress bar" deal. Nothing fancy.

And that's as much as I know. Oh, except for the odd quirk that recipes, as well as being auto-granted by level, are found in "Dwarven Chests" that pop up around the world, both outdoors and in dungeons. By luck I'd already run into one of these under a bridge somewhere. Unfortunately the recipe I got was for Tailors. Still, it's a nice idea.


So far, so good. I'm enjoying myself. What's more, when I'm doing my dailies in GW2 I'm thinking about Bless and hankering to get back to it. I like my character, the world, the questing, the story and the games systems I've seen so far.

On the other hand, I could say the same for a whole raft of MMOS imported from Korea, China and Japan. Black Desert, Blade and Soul, Revelation Online, Twin Saga... I've really enjoyed all of them. They're all just different enough from each other that it feels a little bit fresh every time, yet familiar enough now that it feels comfortable.

I don't think there's much chance I'll ever play any of these games to the level cap, let alone go on after that. At low to mid level though, I find they all pass the time very pleasantly and have a good deal to recommend them.

Bless is in no way going to change anyone's mind about anything. If you didn't like previous Korean MMOs you're not going to like this one. If you did, you might well find Bless a little lackluster. It doesn't even pretend to be original and in Early Access it lacks some polish.

If you're easily amused, like me, though, it's definitely worth giving Bless a go. I'm sure there are a good few more hours in it for me and the odd blog post, too.

What more can you expect for a tenner?

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