Sunday, June 30, 2019

Back To The Old House : GW2, EQ2

No sooner do I think I've shaken myself lose from Guild Wars 2's seven-year deathgrip, then here I find myself, clutched tight in its merciless talons once again. I knew Dragon Bash would sucker me back in but I was determined to take control, limit my exposure, minimize the damage.

So much for that. I'd tried to convince myself I'd stick to my main account, concentrate on hitting that 25K AP target, complete the event achievements and be out of there but oh, no. GW2 was having none of it.

First it was the Dragon Bash dailies. So tempting. Then the regular dailies crept back in. It's two gold a day for those and two gold is a lot for doing not so very much.

Six gold is a lot more, of course. Those other two accounts nagged at me. Once I'd logged them in it seemed foolish not to do the holiday metas there, too. And when you're doing that, you might as well do the holiday dailies...

So now I'm doing eighteen dailies a day. It's just as well I'm not working.

I could be doing a lot more. GW2 is crazy for dailies. There are sixteen tabs in the Daily section of the Achievement panel: the main dailies, the current holiday, Fractals, the sunken treasure hunter one and a set each for every new map ever introduced by way of the Living World.

If you did all of them it would be somthing like eighty. There's almost certainly someone doing them right now. With my three accounts it would be two hundred and forty, although since I don't have Path of Fire on two accounts and no expansions on one and I'm not qualified to do Fractals above the basic on any of them it would come out a lot less.

The rewards for both the metas are absolutely hideous and will never be used by any character I play.
So naturally I have to have them.

Anyone who tried to do all the dailies on multiple accounts would need secure accomodation for their own protection. An intervention wouldn't be out of the question in my own case. Then again, the modern MMORPG operates almost entirely by a process of extreme repetition. I'm just compounding it by running three accounts.

The real reason I'm playing a lot more GW2 again is that Mrs Bhagpuss is also back. I thought she'd pretty much given up. She's been off the boil with the game since mounts were added. The harder ANet push them the less likely she is to log in and it had reached the point where she'd not played for over a month.

Would you trust one of these creatures? Seriously?

I thought the addition of the Warclaw to World vs World would be the final straw, WvW being the only part of the game mounts hadn't yet ruined. The big cats have indeed wrecked much of what was left of that game mode but if we're honest that wasn't much. The score has been meaningless for a very long time. and almost no-one I remember from a year ago still plays. Those who replaced them seem to play a different game altogether, one they make up as they go along.

But Dragon Bash is stronger than all, it seems. These last few days Mrs Bhagpuss has been seen in Hoelbrak on all her accounts, chipping away at the metas and generally goofing around.

Since there are a couple of mount-related achievements I drafted myself to do those for her, which is why I spent this morning racing round and round Hoelbrak on a beetle. One of the achievements asks you to complete fifteen laps, so that'll be forty-five in total. I've done about twenty so far.

The holographic dragon display is best seen from the rooftops.
Of course I'll have to do the same for my own accounts so that'll be a grand total of ninety laps, minimum. I like the roller beetle - it's the only mount I do like - but there are limits.

I'll let you in on a secret here. The bar for the Dragon Bash racing achievements is set very low indeed. You don't need a roller beetle. You can do all of them on the basic Raptor. Crucially, as far as the two achievements that count for the two metas are concerned, you don't need to use a mount at all. You can do those on foot. I did it this morning to prove it.

Mrs Bhagpuss could do them herself but it would take about an hour to do fifteen laps on foot so she'd rather I do them for her. And who can blame her? It's kind of embarassing, trudging through the ice and snow with beetles zipping by on all sides.

That's about a tenth of the mobs our tank scooped up. It only takes one to one-shot me.

As a result of all this festive activity, those other MMORPGs I've been so keen on lately seem to have dropped out of sight. I did manage to finish the penultimate stage of  EQ2's Chaos Descending Signature quest a couple of days ago, leaving just the finale to go. I read the walkthrough and it looks like a lot of boss fights so I'm saving it for when I have a whole afternoon free. So, any time, really.

While I was there I also tried one of the new Public Quests, the ones that have "best in slot" items as possible rewards. My Berserker joined a raid and said it was his first run. The group leader told him it was a simple tank&spank and to target through the MT. "If you get an uncurable curse, run under a waterfall. If there's a black cloud on it, run to another".

Best view of the fight I could get. You should see the close-ups - they look like Jackson Pollock on bad acid.
Clear enough. Unfortunately, no-one mentioned the MT was also the puller, so I followed him as he ran around gathering up every Epic X4 in the zone. Doing that, I got aggro somehow and died. Embarrassing, but no one mentioned it. I picked myself up and ran back and after that it all went swimmingly, appropriately enough, seeing we were in the Plane of Water.

I didn't get any BiS gear but I did get my first Ethereal currency of the summer. Whether I'll get enough to buy anything is another matter. I usually let the Summer Ethereal events pass well above my head but I do like PQs so this year might be different.

Dr. Arcana - quite possibly a homage to something. I wouldn't know.
As for the other MMORPGs I was so keen to play last week and last month - Star Wars: The Old Republic, Riders of Icarus, Secret World Legends et al,  they seem to be on the back burner for now. They'll be back, I'm sure, along with more.

For the time being, though, it's looking like Tyria in the lead, Norrath plodding along behind and the rest of the pack nowhere in sight. I'm not entirely happy about it but there we are. The mouse pointer wants what the mouse pointer wants, as they say.

I just go where it tells me.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Why Can't We Live Together? : WoW, EQ2, Rift

According to Massively: OP, the cinematic Blizzard released to promote World of Warcraft's latest update strongly hints at some kind of lasting rapprochement between the game's two long-standing antipathetic factions, The Horde and The Alliance. If true, the developers would be following in some well-trodden footsteps indeed.

The MMORPG genre grew out of a wider tradition of roleplaying games in which a fundamental schism between belief systems was almost always a given. Dungeons and Dragons finessed the split with a complex alignment system but in the end it still came down to Good vs Evil.

The usual alternative to such a moralistic, not to say religious, dichotomy was the supposedly more universal choice between Order and Chaos. Warhammer plumped for that one, first with the original tabletop miniature wargame, then with the paper and pencil RPG and finally with the online game.

When MMORPGs arrived in the late 1990s they took the concept and ran with it. EverQuest turned alignment into faction and assigned allegiances to every mobile object in the game, players not excepted. You had to make some serious choices before you could even set foot on Norrath. Deciding whether to be Good or Evil at character creation was a decision whose significant consequences you'd have to live with for years.

WoW and EverQuest II, when they went live in 2004, both had similar faction systems. Your choice didn't just dictate which NPCs would give you quests, it had impact on which players you could group with, what guilds you could join and even who you could talk to.

I didn't play WoW at the time but from what I can gather, the hard line went down rather well. People chose their side and stuck with it, treating allegiance in a not dissimilar way to supporting a sports team. In EQII the system was almost universally reviled.

EQII was a horrible mess of a game at launch. It had countless design flaws, almost all of which would require correction over the course of the first twelve months. The merciless delineation between Freeport (Evil) and Qeynos (Good) was one of the first to go.

Information on how it used to be is remarkably hard to research, but from memory, all guilds had to be created in either Qeynos or Freeport and while anyone could join either, all guild-related quests and writs were faction specific, meaning guild members on opposite sides of the fence couldn't share them. I also seem to remember restrictions on what could be sent through the mail and naturally characters were kill on sight in the opposing capitals regardless of guild affiliation, which posed a problem seeing as all guild housing was located in one or the other.

Over time a lot of this was changed or simply fell out of use. The restriction on sharing quests was removed, guild halls got their own instance separate from any city, mailing restrictions went away. A betrayal system was introduced, allowing characters to change faction and Good vs Evil in the the game moved inexorably to a state of flavor.

Rift was another MMORPG I played that began with rigid barriers between two sides, the unhelpfully-named named Guardians and Defiant. As I recall you couldn't even make characters of the opposing faction on the same server, something that made sense in an open-world realm vs realm game like Dark Age of Camelot but less so in one with a very strong bias towards PvE.

As Rift's population declined those restrictions were inevitably relaxed and finally removed altogether. If there are any differences between the factions today I couldn't tell you what they are.

The attraction for developers of allowing all their players to play together seems so obvious it's more surprising that any of them start out with player factions to begin with than that those restrictions are eventually taken away. It's not even as though having Good vs Evil is essential to the form, or at least not for the players. MMORPGs that avoid hardwiring moral positions onto character creation seem to work just fine.

Once you've taken the decision to go with two implacably opposed sides, though, it's a lot harder to sell the "let's all be friends" line later on. If your designers and writers did their jobs properly, by then your players will be about as likely to accept a truce as fans of Manchester United and Manchester City would welcome a ground-sharing scheme.

In my experience, the watering-down of player factions leads to blandness. It's not the worst thing and the convenience definitely compensates, but over time you do find yourself wondering why you ever bothered to choose a side in the first place. Oh, yes, it was because the one place that decision never gets rescinded is at character creation.

And over time the absence of meaningful faction based on moral or universal tenets tends to percolate through the entire game. Not only does your "good" character find herself doing favors for NPCs she despises but the NPCs themselves seem to lose their focus.

I came across a great example of this in EQ2's Scorched Sky festival yesterday. There's a new quest, "The Heat Is On", which takes place in Darklight Woods, one of the ugliest zones in the entire game and also one of the starting areas for "evil" characters in general and Dark Elves in particular.

The quest involves finding and picking up first the eggs and then the hatchlings of a large lizard, so an NPC called Limora Roamhill can take them to a more suitable environment to hatch and/or grow up in safety. It's a standard-issue quest for any MMORPG but something about it immediately struck me as out of kilter.

The dialog is highly sentimental, both on the NPC side and in the responses provided for the player. It would be entirely unremarkable in Antonica, where the writ of "good" Queen Antonia Bayle runs and it would be par for the course in treehugging Greater Faydark, where elves and fairies prance. In Darklight Woods, the back yard of Neriak, home of the paranoid and sociopathic Thex dynasty, the quest sticks out like a severed thumb.

What's more, according to the Wiki, the questgiver herself is a Dark Elf. If so, how she could have survived to adulthood defeats me. In fact the wiki is wrong, since the quest clearly identifies her as an Ayr`Dal, a half-elf, which at least explains her name.

Even so, her dark complexion suggests a Teir`Dal as her elven parent and her presence just a few yards away from Neriak speaks to a familiarity with the dark side. Perhaps she's just addled. Her concern for the welfare of what most Norrathians would consider vermin certainly suggests as much.

Then again, who am I to talk? My berserker, a right-hand rat of  Lord Lucan, Tyrant of Freeport and current holder of the undisputed All-Norrath public execution title, having put a citizen to death on the hour, every hour since 2004, is supposed to be Evil with a capital "E". Judging by my character's paw-ringing response to the plight of the poor Tuatura mother, his betrayal not just to Qeynos but Kelethin can be but hours away, although not if I have anything to do with it.

This, unfortunately, is the sort of thing that happens once the bonds of faction loosen. I don't play much World of Warcraft so it won't impact me personally should the Horde and Alliance shake hands and swap phone numbers (I imagine there are telephones in Azeroth by now - I mean, they've had motorcycles for years...).

At this stage of play, fifteen years after launch, it's probably far too late to worry about the integrity of the faction system anyway. It's all about ease of use and letting friends play together by now. Which means WoW isn't planning on being much of a role-playing game any more.

Just like all the rest.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Running Shai : Black Desert Online

There's an awful lot going on in MMORPGland this summer. I can scarcely keep up. I came back from holiday expecting to pick up where I left off with Star Wars: The Old Republic but I've barely logged in to that game at all.

This week alone saw the biggest MMORPG of them all, World of Warcraft, drop its summer update Rise of Azshara. The highly-touted Western conversion of Eastern import Astellia hit closed beta at last and the Harry Potter MMOARG "Wizards Unite" went live, to a surprisingly muted response.

I have no plans to play HPWU, I'm holding off WoW until Classic and I didn't manage to snag one of the fifteen thousand free keys for Astellia, so none of those impacted directly on my personal playtime. Just as well. I have more than enough on  my plate with the games I am playing.

A major "new" holiday event, Dragon Bash, for Guild Wars 2 looks set to eat up plenty of hours over the next three weeks and and I'm very keen to see this year's Scorched Sky event in EverQuest II, which started a couple of days ago.

Pass me the strimmer!
I haven't found time to log in to EQ2 to check it out yet because as soon as I logged out of GW2 last night I remembered that yesterday was also go live for Black Desert Online's latest class, The Shai. As I reported a week ago, I somehow fell into making a Shai during the preview event. I was keen to see how she looked and played in the game itself.

Black Desert is a strange game. It boasts a number of systems and mechanics rarely if ever seen in the genre and it looks substantially better than just about any other MMORPG I've played and yet, while it oozes professionalism, care and imagination, the translations are iffy at best.

I think it's fair to say that few BDO players care about the writing or the story. As far as I can tell, the main driver is personal status and power, unless and until you participate in the competitive territorial PvP end game.

It's also an explorer's dream, has some of the more impressive housing the genre has to offer and it features far and away the most viscerally thrilling mindless slaughter I've ever enjoyed. If you ever feel like logging in to an MMO purely for the fun of killing mobs by the thousand, this is the game you're looking for.

With all that going for it, it's perhaps not too surprising that Black Desert is far and away the big success story of recent years when it comes to East-West conversions. It's hard to be sure with no companies releasing meaningful data on populations but there are commentators who believe BDO might now be one of the top five most successful  MMORPGs in the West.

Benefiting from a Korean original running well ahead in development, BDO has been receiving updates with some frequency throughout its three year run in Europe and North America. The first year saw a flurry of updates including two "expansions", Mediah Pts 1 and 2 and Valencia 1, plus four new classes in 2016, two in 2017, one in 2018 and now the Shai in 2019.

I haven't really been paying attention. I liked BDO a lot when I played but it seemed to me to be a game you could either take very seriously indeed or play extremely casually. There didn't seem to be a lot of room in between. I opted for casual, meaning I pop in now and again, when I remember, ride around on my horse for a few minutes, realize doing anything more would require thought and effort and log out again.

In games of this nature it's always easier to start a new character and play through the early stuff. Coming back to an established character, the weight of their history drags you down, not to mention the inventory management required before you can do anything at all.

You've heard the expression "As the crow flies"...
Stepping into the world of Black Desert once again last night, I was struck anew by the extreme beauty of the visuals. The game looked spectacular enough back in 2016 but it's since been "Remastered" and it looks more spectacular still. 

It's an entirely different beauty from the usual glitter and shine of Eastern imports like the one I'm currently playing, Riders of Icarus. Black Desert has a gritty, dusty patina, a world that's used and lived-in. There's a happy absence of fairy wings and shoulder pads. NPCs look as though they've stepped out of a Holbein painting.

Of all the quasi-medieval fantasy worlds I've wandered over the last couple of decades, Black Desert's is possibly the most "authentic", for a given value of authenticity. One that includes magic and smoke demons living inside your head.

I'd forgotten just how creepy the start of the game feels. A Black Spirit, looking like a small thundercloud with glowing red eyes and an evil grin, haunts your every move, taunting you with secret knowledge about your past. In an early, disturbing sequence, the Spirit gloats gleefully "The Power is mine!" as some ancient artefact stops time around you.

It's a set-up to which I never heard the punchline back when I played before. By the late 30s or early 40s, when I stopped playing regularly, the Black Spirit had receded into some kind of amanuensis function.

There's precious little chance I'll find out this time round. I thoroughly enjoyed running around as a hyper-kinetic child (the lore apparently has the playable version of The Shai aged around thirty years old, since the race is exceptionally long-lived and slow to mature physically, but who follows the lore in BDO?), throwing an unfeasibly large boomerang and performing acrobatics.

I love BDO's combat. At the levels I've played it requires no skill whatsoever. Indeed, at the low level I was playing yesterday, the mobs didn't even seem able to react before I boomeranged them to oblivion, just standing there looking bemused, as well they might.

The animations are fluid and charming and the weapon and spell effects explosive and dynamic. They're also extremely hard to screenshot. I tried a number of times to get a good shot of the boomerang in flight but I failed. I probably should have recorded a fight on video and pulled a shot out of that but it was getting late.

Rebel! I should have called him Rebel.
Instead I headed to the nearest stable to claim my free donkey. The Shai are too small to ride horses so they get a choice of three donkeys, all of which as an MMO Blogger I am contractually required to describe as "adorable". Mine has tiger stripes and a blonde mane that reminds me of Billy Idol in his pomp. You get to name your mounts and I almost called mine "Billy" but fortunately I thought better of it.

In the short time I played I made it to Level nine. I also received my first piece of armor, which changed my appearance significantly. I had been curious to see what the character I made last week would look like in game, since the character creation screen warned me that the outfit I chose there might not be what I'd see when I logged in.

That turned out to be an uneccessary note of caution. I looked exactly the same, dressed in a demure and practical outfit consisting of tunic and leggings made from something that looked like hessian dyed grey-blue. With a lantern dangling at my belt and a massive boomerang strapped across my back I looked every inch the eccentric adventurer.

Australian weapon, Dutch clogs, Japanese belt, Swiss smock. Leggings courtesy the 1980s.

The new armor, while still, thankfully, entirely respectable, makes my Shai look considerably more girly. It seems to consist of a mustard-yellow smock over some kind of rose-pink pleated tabard, bound by a Japanese-style high, wide leather belt. The leggings persist. I'll take it. It could have been very much worse.

It's unlikely I'll carry on playing BDO for long this time although I might stick around for the events celebrating the arrival of The Shai. There are three : for one you need to hit Level 25 and for another Level 30. The third is a daily that runs for two weeks.

There's also a separate reward for getting to Level 58 by the 24th of July and a permanent one for getting to 60. Maybe that makes sense to someone. Leveling in BDO can be very fast. I might well make 25 or even 30 but I can't see 58 anywhere in my Shai's future.

I'm glad to have had the spur to log in and play again, though. Black Desert is a gorgeous and underrated MMORPG. I should visit more often.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Bash It! : Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 and I have been on the outs of late. It's nothing new. Flipping through some of my old posts on the game yesterday, going back a few years, I often seemed to be complaining  - how stale the game felt, how little new content there was, how disinterested I'd become.

None of those drawbacks ever made much impact on my desire to log in and play but my current ennui may well be the most intense I've experienced in the near-seven years the game's been running. It's been building a while, too. I began to lose faith around the time of the second expansion, Path of Fire. I didn't like it much then and the passage of time has done little to improve it. Nothing, in fact.

Still, I go on logging in. GW2 has the event horizon of a black hole. As I wrote almost five years ago to the day, "What is it about this tar baby? Every time you think you've pulled free, there you are, stuck again." I should listen to myself once in a while.

The most recent Living World episode barely held my attention for a week. It took me two short sessions across two days to finish the story and I think I might have spent as long again diddling around in Dragonfall, the new zone. Since then I've barely touched it - or the game.

But I'm back now. My necromancer's logged in as I type this. I can hear the fireworks and shouting as she stands next to Tigg, the Moa Trainer, close to the Legends Waypoint in Hoelbrak.

Tigg used to have the Moa racing franchise in Lion's Arch back before Scarlet's armies laid waste to the city. All his moas were killed in the invasion. When Lion's Arch re-opened, looking for all the world like the campus headquarters of a top 100 tech corp, the new management declined to find space for lowbrow pastimes such as on-course betting.

According to the Wiki, Tigg re-located to the far outskirts of L.A., taking over the now-ruined mill, where he's spent the last few years training Moa chicks. Lion's Arch's loss turns out to be Hoelbrak's gain. Tigg's back in business for Dragon Bash.

The asuran entrepreneur's comeback may be unexpected but it's not in the same league as the return of this long-forgotten festival itself. Who ever thought we'd see it again? Not me, that's for sure.

The original Dragon Bash was a one-off. It appeared as an episode of the first Season of The Living World, the same one that introduced Marjory Delaqua (currently residing in the "Where Are They Now?" file).

The first Dragon Bash made up most of the open world part of that episode. It included some narrative content relating to the Aetherblade sky pirates plus a slew of holiday-style activities. I reviewed it favorably at the time, concluding "Overall. Good. Better than The Secret of Southsun, which wasn't too bad either".

I also saw potential for the non-narrative activities to fit into GW2's sparse calendar of holiday events. As I observed, "...unlike all the other Living Story events so far, Dragon Bash could return next year".

It didn't. ArenaNet, at that time and for years afterwards, seemed entirely content to create repeatable content and then not repeat it. Really solid, entertaining, well-designed events like The Bazaar of the Four Winds and The Queen's Jubilee showed up once or twice, then vanished.

Last year something changed. The Bazaar and The Gauntlet returned for the first time in four years, bolted together and re-marketed as The Festival of The Four Winds. This year, to almost everyone's astonishment, Dragon Bash is back, bigger and better than before.

A lot bigger, in fact. Returning from the original are the Moa races, fireworks and pinatas. Some of the decorations look to be the same, too. New for 2019 we get to battle holograms in the classic GW2 event style in the Hoelbrak arena, try to survive against harder ones in a five-player dungeon-style instance and chase hologramatic dragons around the Shiverpeaks maps in a wild zerg. There's also a mounted race around Hoelbrak because there's always a race, isn't there?

The event comes with a plethora of achievements. There are two sets, Dragon Bash and Dragon Bash Feats. The first has thirteen entries, seven of which are required for the meta-achievement, which seems very generous. The latter has fourteen, half of which are needed for another meta.

So far I like the new Dragon Bash a lot. The choice of Hoelbrak as the location for a holiday is both inspired and also so obvious you wonder why it's taken seven years. The Norns, above all the other Tyrian races, positively live for this sort of thing. They spend their entire lives drinking, partying and trying to one-up each other in "friendly" competition. It seems impossible to imagine they'd sit on their enormous thumbs and let first the pirates and then the Krytans have all the fun.

The decorations look amazing, as always. There's a fantastic feeling of excitement and celebration all across the snowbound capital. Hoelbrak's layout doesn't make things exactly easy to find but that's all part of the fun. The sky is filled with fireworks and swooping holograms and the streets are filled with players having what looks suspiciously like a very good time.

So far I've tried the mount race and the arena event, I've smashed pinatas and bet on Moas, let off fireworks and stuffed my face with sweets. I even set some effigies on fire. All of those I enjoyed to varying degrees, with my favorite definitely being the arena, which seems to run 24/7 with a mere minute's rest between cycles. It offers all the utility of Halloween's Mad King's Labyrinth with none of the annoying running around and I can see myself doing it an awful lot.

I would probably also enjoy the open world zerg event, the Hologram Stampede, if I could get to anything before it died. I tried it last night in Lorner's Pass and even though I was on my Griffin and there from the start I literally never saw a single hologram. Maybe later, when things calm down and there aren't so many people.

Looking at the achievements, many seem doable. I'm currently a sliver away from 25000 AP on my oldest account so I need the points. 25k is a big milepost with a major reward, worth making a bit of an effort to reach.

Not that I'd bother if what was being asked of me wasn't also fun but in this case it is. I could happily never play another Living World episode again but I'd be all over a new holiday as good as this one every couple of months.

Dragon Bash runs for three weeks from June 25 to July 16. After that, if last year's a guide, we'll move almost immediately into The Festival of the Four Winds and then we'll be hard up against the seventh anniversary celebrations.

Perhaps ANet are finally getting the hang of holidays. It's not before time.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

I Just Ride: Riders of Icarus

Just because I haven't mentioned Riders of Icarus for a few days doesn't mean I haven't been playing. Secret Worlds Legends has grabbed a sizeable piece of my extensive available playtime but RoI has been rolling along steadily behind.

Steam tells me I've now played for thirty-four hours, although that's somewhat inflated. So long as you have a Familiar summoned it will level up, even if all your character does is stand in a safe spot, running through their idle animations and squealing. What's more, the game tends not to time out when minimized, which has, on a couple of occasions, led to me not realizing it was still open until it came time to shut the PC off for the night.

Even so, the great majoriity of those hours have been actively played, most of it directed towards questing and leveling, which seems to proceed at a relatively stately pace. My new character dinged seventeen yesterday.

I continue to be quietly impressed by Riders of Icarus. There's nothing particularly special about it other than the collecting and taming mechanic but the familiarity of its basic systems form a substantial part of its charm.

It's quite an old-fashioned game, one that plays very much like an MMORPG released a decade ago, not in 2016. There is a market for this kind of thing. That's what the heavily-publicized Astellia is counting on but why pay $99 for beta access when you could play RoI right now, for free?

I spent some time crafting yesterday. There are six crafting professions, five of which you'd expect to find in almost every MMORPG: Armorsmith, Weaponsmith, Jeweller, Cook and Alchemist. The only unfamiliar tradeskill is Bardercraft, which makes armor for Familiars and consumables that buff your chance to tame them.

Tradeskills seem to level up very similarly to what I remember from Lord of the Rings Online, although with a considerably simplified process. You go to a crafting station and make items. When you've made enough of an item you "Master" it. When you've mastered all the items in a tier you pay your trainer a fee, they open the next tier and off you go again.

You can do all the crafts on the same character and since I happened to have a small pile of silver ore in my bank I started with Jewellery. It didn't take long or cost much to complete the first tier. There's minimal randomization of results when it comes to leveling the skill - you get a point per combine and you need a specific number of  xp points per Mastery.

You can get a Triumphant result, which gives you double the xp and two of the item you're making. I think I had that happen twice. Materials come from gathering in the open world or instances and from mob drops plus a range of items bought from your trainer.  A nice touch is that trainers also sell the basic Tier One gathered mats, which gets you off to a running start. I only had about enough gathered mats to do half of T1 Jewellery but I was able to buy the rest for a nominal cost to finish the Tier.

As with all "make items to level up" crafting systems, you end up with your bags full of things you neither want nor need and which no-one wants to buy. My first response was to sell them all back to the Trainer. I made a loss but it wasn't a big loss. I was happy to take it as the fee for leveling up.

Then, as I was moving on to Cooking, it occured to me that RoI also has a salvage system. You can buy Extractors from NPCs which allow you to deconstruct gear and get Tempering Stones to upgrade your gear. At the moment this is of limited use, since most of my gear isn't upgradeable but the stones stack and will no doubt come in handy eventually. (Where have I heard that before?).

I bought all my rings and amulets back from the vendor I'd sold them to via the Buyback tab. I was interested to see that you have go back to the specific vendor you used, meaning they must all have individual inventories. That's something that varies from game to game. I rarely use the function so I tend to be fuzzy on details, game by game, but as Syp found, when he was dabbling in the World of Warcraft Beta, Buyback is a thing you only miss when you find it's not there.

How useful crafting is long-term remains to be seen. One thing I wish I could make is bags but the developers have cannily limited those to quest rewards and the Cash Shop. Apparently there's a market for high-end potions and the Marks needed for taming Familiars but since all the available info on the web seems to be the best part of three years old I'll believe that when I'm high enough to make them, will will probably be never.

Despite the lack of up-to-date guides and commentary online, the game itself always seems quite busy, even though I'm playing weekday afternoons in the U.K. on a North American server. It's certainly busy enough that I can't solo in peace without people trying to chat to me. That's a particular feature of Eastern imports that rarely gets a mention - people who play them seem to love chatting to complete strangers.

I guess that's another feather in Riders of Icarus's old-school chapeau, although, like many of the supposed wonders of the Golden Age it's probably one I could do without. I prefer wombling about at my own pace in this kind of simple, open-world content. Might be a different matter when it comes to dungeons, I guess.

There's a new event going on but it doesn't seem to be a patch on the last one. It revolves around taming ten horses every day and then Sealing them to hand over to a robot cat from outer space. Since it costs 20 silver to buy the item that seals a single horse, that seems prohibitively expensive for a daily quest. I've only made four gold in total so far!

What's more, the items the cat's selling aren't all that interesting to me and the prices he's charging seem extremely high. I think I'm going to sit this event out and wait to see what the next one brings. I'm sure there'll be another one along any day now.

Meanwhile I'm just going to wander around and enjoy myself. The scenery is often spectacular in an over-sugared, junior-on-psychedelics kind of way but there's some real attention to detail that makes both the art and sound design stand out.

When I eventually found my way onto the battlements of the capital, thanks to a quest, I was particularly taken by the way one of the flowering cherry trees outside overspilled the crenellations onto the walkway. I have seen exactly that effect in very similar circumstances in real life and in video games these things don't just happen by accident, so I'm guessing so had the artist.

When I got my first permanent flying mount (I have two now) I hedge-hopped past a windmill and was stopped in my tracks (not that sparrows leave tracks in flight but you know what I mean) by a hauntingly familiar sound. I have stood next to a windmill of very similar design in La Mancha and that's exactly the noise they make. In game I found it evocative and impressively authentic.

Small pleasures, to be sure, but they add up. I'll be playing this one for a while.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Party On! : Secret World Legends

Anniversary celebrations in MMORPGs often fill a dual role. For current players they fit into the game's calendar as one of the major holidays but there's also an opportunity for the company to remind the world in general - and ex-players in particular - that their game still exists.

As every MMORPG developer from Daybreak to Jagex seems to have discovered, the most fruitful route to increased login activity is nostalgia and nothing brings on a burst of the old rose-tinted like a birthday rolling round. On the other hand, sometimes there are things in your past you don't want to be reminded about.

Two years after an apparently successful launch, Secret World Legends looks very much like an also-ran, languishing in the slipstream of another, more profitable, higher-profile franchise, Conan, which saw its own successful revamp in Conan Exiles. Many Secret World veterans have never forgiven the company for mothballing the original game in favor of the supposedly more mainstream revamp and even players who were willing to go along with the change have run out of patience with the glacial pace of new content.

I just noticed how thick the soles on my boots are...
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Funcom's announcement of the Second Anniversary celebrations for SWL was received in certain quarters with a considerable degree of cynicism. Still, it offers a rare opportunity for the game to make an appearance on news sites, potentially bringing in some fresh (or more likely already-used) blood.

Talking about player retention in EVE Online yesterday, Wilhelm linked to a Superdata report that claims most new players beyond the two-year mark arrive as a result of recommendations from people already playing. A big bash like an Anniversary at least gets people talking. It's a start. I haven't heard anyone as much as mention SWL for months but over the last few days a few passing comments and mentions have cropped up in blogs I read. I doubt the game would have pinged my radar this summer had it not been for the publicity generated by the sophomore anniversary.

Two years may not seem much but it's probably a decade in MMO dog years. And let's not forget, The Secret World itself will be seven years old next month. Getting players to try an elderly game - or come back to give it a second chance - is hard enough. Getting them to hang around long enough to spend some money is a lot harder. SuperData estimate that just 2% of late registrants go on to play for more than thirty days.

You lookin' at my shem?

As far as inducements to stay go, there's nothing much new in this anniversary offer as far as I can tell, although I'm far from being an expert on SWL. TSW Database has an exhaustive breakdown of all the options, activities and rewards but I can't really tell what carries over from last year. I can't see much that would hold the casual player's attention beyond the duration of the event itself, no new storylines or explorable areas for example, while the official highlight, "brand new agents", involves a game system that's entirely unknown to me.

And yet, thanks to the Second Anniversary bash, it looks very much as though Secret Worlds Legends is back in my rotation. That's the rotation I don't actually have, of course: the random, whim-based, eeny-meeny choice I make most days, when I decide what I'm going to play.

I patched up and logged in a couple of days ago just to take a few screenshots and get some material for a post. I woke up conveniently close to the Argatha entrance in Savage Coast so I went to the hub to orient myself and sort my bags.

I guess this is where it all happens. Whatever "it" is...
There seemed to be a large crowd gathering next to a portal there so I hung around to see what was happening. When they all surged forward and vanished I followed them and in a few seconds I was unloading my pistols into the looming bulk of one of the PQ Raid mobs, a Talos of Gaia.

I used to love TSW's all-come, all-served hit point sponge open world holiday bosses. The only drawback was having to race all over the world while following chat and swapping channels (servers) to find one that was up.

SWL has done away with all that immersive, co-operative nonsense by putting the mobs on a fixed timer and sticking them in an instance with a portal in the game's main hub. Well, they did say they wanted to make things more accessible.

The effect is to turn the Taloses into even more of a loot pinata than they already were - and this in an event that has actual Pinatas that you hit with a bat. I am very definitely not complaining. I've done half a dozen so far.

Batter up!
They happen every hour, on the hour. Each kill gets you some drops and a shard that, when you collect five, combines into a Shem, the pet version of one of the bosses. I have two so far. Hang on, that must mean I've done ten bosses. Can that be true? I must be having even more fun than I thought!

There are login rewards and other goodies to be had but the surprising thing is that when each event ends I haven't been logging out to go play something else. I've been sticking around and playing the game.

In fact, I've done four levels. I roamed around Savage Coast for a while doing the League of Monster Hunters mission. Then I wandered over to Innsmouth Academy and did Carter Unleashed and a couple of others. From there I headed over to Blue Mountain, doing Ami Legend on the way, then the Sasquatch one for Sarge when I got to the military camp.

All of this is stuff I've already done in TSW.  I got almost to the conclusion of the main storyline of the original game and I've seen everything up to the end of Transylvania. Well, not every mission but all the scenery.

Some of it I remembered well, some only vaguely. One thing I did notice was all of it was a lot more fun. And when I say "fun" I mean "easy". I like The Secret World a lot but it was a slog. I was usually undergeared and always under-skilled. I died a lot and everything took ages. In SWL none of that happens.

Mobs die fast, missions take about a quarter as long to finish and the whole thing feels slick. What's more, my bags don't fill up with vast heaps of confusing drops that I have to spend hours sorting through and assessing. The few drops I get go straight into the Upgrade hopper and that's that.

I found myself wanting to play more and more. It had a lot to do with the addition of Levels to the game. As I was saying yesterday, the original TSW didn't use levels and at the time I had no problem with that, but I have to say that seeing that number tick up is a major motivator for me.

Levels are also more than just a cosmetic addition. If you don't level up you can't proceed with the all-important main mission sequence. I was ready to carry on with mine but when I finished Ami Legend (I think I was Level 22 at the time) the next mission on the tracker that came up was  "Level to 25". You can't make the importance of Levels any more obvious than that.

So that's what I'm doing. And I'm already nearly there. Wearing last year's party hat. Never in fashion, always in style.

Pretty much the motto of the whole Secret World franchise, I guess.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

On The Level

There's been a lot of talk about levels of late. Blizzard began it with the suggestion that World of Warcraft has too many. Something ought to be done about it, they said.

Yes, but what? If anyone knew the answer to that, surely they'd have piped up long ago. How long have we had levels, now? I make it... hang on, let me think... oh, yes... forever!

Online gaming was an entirely new concept for me when I stepped onto the precarious platforms of Kelethin back in 1999 but I'd known what a "level" was since the early 1980s. Even then I was late to the party.

I first saw Dungeons and Dragons played at University, where the people playing it confirmed every prejudice about the practice I might have had, had I had any, which I didn't, because I'd barely even heard of it. Nothing about the game or its players convinced me to give it a second glance but circumstances will conspire. A year or two after I graduated I found myself spending almost every Sunday for five years, from midday to midnight, rolling weird-shaped dice and improvising, cast against type and loving it.

We started out playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. It was the first edition ruleset, which we just called AD&D, because no-one imagined there'd ever be another. Of all the myriad arcane rules and systems in the many books, by far the most prominent were levels.

Levels ruled all. A lot about your character could change during the course of a regular play session but when the number next to your name on the character sheet incremented, everything changed. Well, so long as you weren't a Fighter.

Levels didn't merely make you more powerful by increasing your stats and giving you more hit points. They gave you entirely new abilities, put new spells in your spellbook, allowed you to do things you could never have done at all before you leveled up.

Perhaps yet more significantly, as your level changed, so did the world and that change was as marked as any real-world shift from childhood to maturity. Claw and fang scraps with kobolds the size of dogs faded into memory as concerns turned to giants, dragons and other-planar powers.

That's the part I didn't like. I loved levelling, sure, but I wasn't keen on where the level curve was taking me. It was all very well gaining new powers and skills but having to use them on demons and demi-gods stretched my personal envelope of disbelief to breaking point.

The rest of the gaming group tended to agree. We got to around Level eight or nine then re-rolled to start a completely fresh campaign from Level one. When we got back to where we'd been, we dropped AD&D altogether and spent the next few years running through various RPG systems, always moving on when our characters threatened to become too godlike.

EverQuest in 1999 felt both familiar and strange. I'd played a few video RPGs in the eighties and nineties, several either based on D&D or using the genre tropes that megafranchise established. EQ had classes and races and stats and spells and magic items. And it had levels.

When I started, about seven or eight months after launch, it had fifty and lots of people had done them all. I came to a game that already knew all about endgame ennui. There was plenty of talk of "bored fifties".

To hear people waxing nostalgic about the golden days of "Classic" EverQuest, you might be fooled into thinking everyone was happy to live in that pre-lapsarian world. They weren't. The atmosphere I recall, both in game and on the forums, was an uncomfortable melange of hyperactive excitement coming from the ever-growing flood of new players like myself and an increasingly uncomfortable and cynical impatience that seemed to be settling over those who'd done their six months.

It must have been plain to the developers back then that something would have to change if the numbers were going to carry on heading in the right direction. The game was opening new servers regularly to meet the growing demand but how many of those players would stick around once they hit fifty?

The solution to the problem was already baked into the structure of the game, of course. More levels. Sony Online Entertainment set out on a course they and their successor, Daybreak Games, has followed unerringly ever since: expand the game, don't change it.

"Expansion", in this context, was a concept entirely new to me. I was familiar with Campaigns and Adventures but the idea that you might "expand" the entire game by adding more of what was already there around the edges seemed astonishing.

From the very start EverQuest expansions included a lifting of the level cap. The first, Ruins of Kunark, added ten, taking the total to sixty. That turned out to be a huge change. RoK was so vast  and those extra ten levels made such a difference to what was possible, it felt like a different game altogether.

From then onwards levels were doled out more sparingly. The next step up had to wait until 2002's Planes of Power, the game's fourth expansion and even then the cap rose by only five levels, to sixty-five, setting a pattern that has persisted ever since, with several expansions passing before another five levels are doled out.

The unnamed, twenty-sixth expansion this autumn will add the ritual five, bringing the grand total to 115. In terms of power, a Level 115 character will be to a Level 50 as a supernova is to a birthday candle. This brings problems.

As many MMORPG developers have discovered, even success can be problematic. By any measure, an online video game that can still maintain a population sufficiently large to justify the production of new, paid-for content twenty years on has to be taken for a success. But a success for whom?

Most long-running MMORPGs rely in very large part on continual growth, creating a sprawling confusion of continents and alt-planes, a palimpsest of contradictory systems and a plethora of arcane mechanics, all of which put up barriers to entry for potential new players. Those barriers can climb to impossible heights and the level cap represents the most insurmountable of all.

A new player may be willing to overlook the aging graphics. They can certainly learn the necessary systems and mechanics. Wikis and fan sites do a good job of cutting through the clutter, opening up the essentials to the light of knowledge.

All of that is manageable. Levels, as originally conceived, are not.

Even back at the turn of the millennium being Level 60 in EverQuest didn't make you seventeen per cent stronger than a Level 50. It added an order of magnitude  - at least. For that to make sense in gameplay terms, the lands those higher characters were exploring had to grow as well.

The mobs needed to be strong enough to put up a fight. The items they dropped needed to be powerful enough to provide a reward. The further the level cap receded, the more irrelevant the rest of the gameworld became.

A level 60 might not have been able to wander Lower Guk alone with impunity but a Level 65 most certainly could. By the time 2006's The Serpent's Spine expansion raised the cap to 75, Mrs Bhagpuss and I were able, gleefully, to duo through the Elemental Planes, leaving nothing standing where once, at cap, we'd cowered in corners with a full group, praying the puller wouldn't bring more than one.

I love that about levels. As a solo or duo player, an ever-increasing cap consistently expands horizons. When a new expansion arrives it's filled with places I can't see and mobs I can't kill. But all I need to do is wait.

In time a new expansion will appear and another and over time my number will float up. I'll pick away at what I can, take my xp where it comes and one day what was impossible will become possible, then easy, then trivial. It's the circle of life.

Or it used to be. Unfortunately, trivializing older content can be problematic in itself.

Veteran players often enjoy re-visiting old challenges and breezing through them without breaking a sweat, especially if there are still rewards there to grab. Some games facilitate that behavior or even make a feature of it, adding achievements and cosmetics that bypass level-based gameplay. It's an approach that works well with instanced dungeons, where over-levelled characters can monty haul at no risk without offending anyone. To the developers chagrin it's a solution that doesn't work at all in the open world.

Allowing high levels to operate freely with low in the same environment causes any number of issues. If there are targets of opportunity the high levels will monopolize them. If there's nothing of interest to the bubble of players sitting at cap in an aging game, that zone will be all but empty. Anything that relies on co-operation better have strong incentives for the capped players or it will fail.

In most older MMORPGs I've played, after a while there's been a call to re-purpose old content. It's not being used, say the players who aren't using it. Let's revamp the lot. Make all the mobs our level, give them the loot we want. So what if a few new players won't get to do what we did? When did you last see a "new" player, anyway?

Game designers are surprisingly resistant to such demands, luckily. There's the economic argument. Revamping content costs. Also someone created all this stuff and chances are they're still there, somewhere, caring about it. And, as Cataclysm showed us, players don't always take kindly to having their memories erased.

In latter years a compromise solution has appeared: level scaling. The world reflects the level of your character. Wherever you travel, in new content or old, the mobs will give you a tussle and the gear they drop will fit. It's a solution ArenaNet incorporated from the outset for Guild Wars 2 and which many other games, from Elder Scrolls Online to WoW itself, have adapted for retrofit.

And yet all those MMORPGs still have levels. GW2 has 80. ESO has 50. WoW has 120. And many games not only have levels but multiple level-like systems, carrying on way past the cap, with the direct intent of mimicing the same mechanics. Indeed, as I think about it, just about every MMORPG I can think of has levels, except for those few that replace them with "Skills", another, very similar discussion of its own.

Only yesterday I started playing Secret Worlds Legends again. SWL is the revamped version of  the excellent but under-performing MMORPG The Secret World, one of the very few games of its genre that chose not to use levels. When Funcom rebadged and remarketed the game in an attempt to appeal to a larger, more mainstream audience, one of the changes they made was to remedy that omission. I did three levels in SWL yesterday evening.

Players complain about levels all the time. Levels cause any number of problems, only a very, very few of which I've mentioned in this lengthy post. Almost every mature game nowadays includes multiple ways to speed up or skip over the painful process of leveling: instant max levels, xp boosts, heirloom items. Scaling content attempts to render levels all but irrelevant. And yet, here they still are.

Blizzard, worried about the ever-growing number next to the name on your character sheet, wants to squish it. But no-one's talking about making it go away completely. Whatever problems levels may bring, it seems not having them is worse.

There's more to say about all this and more will be said. Levels aren't going anywhere and neither are the problems they bring. For now, though, I'm going to pass the conch. I'm sure it'll come back around again soon enough.

Just like my next level cap increase.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Six Months In A Leaky Boat

In December 2017 I put together a YouTube playlist of all the songs and lyrics I'd cannibalized for post titles that year. Then I made a post about it and called it "Superstar D.J."

In eighteen months that playlist has acquired an astonishing thirty-two views (!) which is an impressively tiny percentage of the 4000+ the post itself has managed, albeit most of those will have been bots. Even so, several hundred actual people probably saw the post and pretty much none of them followed the link to the playlist.

When it came time to repeat the process for this last New Year, in light of such an obvious and complete lack of interest I decided not to bother doing another. Another playlist, that is. That was hard work, anyway.

Doing a post, on the other hand, was a ton of fun, so I went ahead, putting all the links in the body of the text instead and calling it "I've Got A Little List". 

I've always used a lot of song titles and lyrics for posts but this year I've really doubled down. My aging brain tends to throw out the same snatches and suggestions, most of which I find I've already used. I have to google myself to be sure. These days I actively search for suitable phrases, both in my physical and digital collections and by trawling lyric search engines for matches.

I realized recently that, what with this extended effort and my enforced home-time this year meaning there's a strong chance my overall post count will be significantly higher than average, I'm going to end up in December with far more titles to cover than will fit into a single post. So I thought I'd split it into two.

Here's the first six months.

Girl Singing In The Wreckage - Black Box Recorder - I got the box set of all BBR's recorded output for Christmas. Can't have enough Luke Haines in your life.

Making Plans For Nigel - Nouvelle Vague - (Post title "Making Plans"). I love Nouvelle Vague's deeply inappropriate bossa nova interventions on po-faced rock classics (not that XTC were ever po-faced). They also once had some of the best comment sections on YouTube. Comments on their cover of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart used to be incendiary but time has eroded the hate, although you can still see references to the original reaction in the thread to this acoustic backstage performance from the Glastonbury Festival.

What Do I Do Now? - Sleeper - My favorite Britpop band, although Powder could have aced them out if they'd made more than one album before the drugs took over. I saw Sleeper third on the bill to The Blue Airplanes and A House. A few weeks later they were on Top of the Pops and never off the radio.

Hope Is A Dangerous Thing (For A Woman Like Me But I have It) - Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell is shaping up to be the best album ever made by anyone, always assuming the leaked tracks are actually on it, which is a very big "if" where Lana's concerned. Mariners Apartment Complex and Venice Bitch were the two best new songs I heard by anyone last year, by orders of magnitude.

Same Old Song - The Four Tops - Nothing wrong with a classic.

All Or Nothing - The Small Faces - Especially if Ronnie Lane's on it.

Twenty Years - Placebo - I tend to forget just how good Placebo are. They seem to fly under the radar a bit for such a long-running, successful band.

National Anthem - Lana Del Rey (Post title "Money Is The Anthem") I'd never seen this 68m view video until I came across it today, searching for a suitable link. It's stunning. I love Lana's monologues.

Same Same But Different - FXTRT - I actually got the name of this post from a sushi restaurant I used to walk past on the way to work. Whenever I use a title I think might also be a song, I run it past google in case it turns out to be something hyper-famous and really embarrassing. This is apparently the title of a movie but I also found the original, unrelated song by a Singaporean band called FXTRT (presumably pronounced Foxtrot). I don't generally get on with Math Rock but I like this, so here it is. I can't figure out if the drummer is disabled in some way or just deliberately trying to play in the most awkward fashion imaginable.

Funtime - Boy George - (Post title "All Aboard For Funtime") - I was obviously thinking of the Iggy Pop original but I just found this astounding Boy George cover with him doing Malcolm McDowell in a tunnel (in manner of speaking). How did we live before YouTube?

Small Wonder - TV Show Theme Song - I swear I never heard of this until today and the post certainly isn't named for it but I don't see why I should suffer alone. Did anyone ever watch this? If you missed it, looks like the entire thing is on YouTube - and it ran for several seasons. How?! And more importantly, why?!

Death Cab For Cutie - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band -  From the Beatles' ill-fated Magical Mystery Tour TV movie and the source of a well-known band's name. I was hoping Death Cab For Cutie might have done a cover of Death Cab For Cutie but try googling that...

Art House Director - Broken Social Scene - Canada fights so far above its weight when it comes to indie-inflected pop it's insane.

Here's Where The Story Ends - The Sundays - I really should like The Sundays but they always seem a bit obvious, like The Darling Buds without the snark or The Cranes without the sturm und drang or The Cocteaus without everything that made The Cocteau Twins iconic. This is cute enough, I guess.

Talking With Strangers - Miya Folick - (Post title "Talking To Strangers"). This is definitely the reference I intended but it appears I misremembered the title, or maybe I changed it intentionally. I should make notes.

A New Career In A New Town - TourDeForce - Oh come on, Bhagpuss! Why this, not the classic Bowie original? Because I love the Synthwave scene (yet another rabbit hole I'd never have found without YouTube) and this is a magnificent assault on a the great man's work, with gloriously oversaturated visuals to match. Terrible band name, though.

More Than Shooters, More Than Looters - John Legend and The Roots feat. Common et al - A cover of a Teddy Pendergrass song but it's Common's great rap that gives the post it's title.

New Kind Of Neighborhood - Jonathan Richman - Wangetty Dangetty Dingy Dang Dangetty...

Service - The Fall - (Post title "This Day's Portion") - From the last Fall album I bought on release, The Infotainment Scam, although this is the Peel Session version. We miss you, Mark.

Low Rider - War - (Post title "Drives A Little Slower") - I went to see some movie in the 1980s, mid-afternoon, knew nothing about it, can't remember the title. It was all about low riding. Why it was even showing I have no clue. This might have been on the soundtrack but I bet it wasn't. The movie wasn't that great.

Riding For A Fall - John Holt - Not a big reggae fan but that voice, that timing, that bass...

Come Home Baby Julie, Come Home - The American Analog Set - (Post title "It'll Be Like Before You Were Gone"). Should have called themselves Lack of Affect. I've studied these lyrics for hours and I'm still not sure what he's talking about. I tend toward the "his wife stopped loving him after the birth of their child" theory but it could just be that she went off with somebody else, and who could blame her?

Fool's Gold - Graham Parker And The Rumour - One of the best live performers I've seen although you can't really tell from this plodder. Pretty sure he'd have been a much bigger star if he'd been about eight inches taller. Oh, you know what I mean!

Portions For Foxes - Rilo Kiley - (Post title "There Is No Mystery Left"). I just love this song. Insanely catchy, superb lyric, perfect sentiment. I had no idea for years it was Jenny Lewis's band. I just found it when I was searching for songs with "Fox" in the title or lyric, as you do. Well, as I do. Just wait for my "Pony" playlist. I really love the way she stands to play, too.

Right Now And Not Later - The Shangri-Las - Unparalleled genius.

Video Games - Lana Del Rey - There are a lot of covers of this on YouTube and most of them are terrible. Well, I'm guessing... obviously I haven't watched "most" of them. The Melanie Martinez one is sweet, though, and the Bombay Bicycle Club Live Lounge version is both hysterically overwrought and understated at the same time, which is some trick if you can pull it off.

Delilah - Dresden Dolls - (Post title "Seven Years In Advertising") - I admire Amanda Palmer more than I actually like to listen to her but this has Lene Lovich! Bit of a wait until she joins in but it's so worth it.

Hospital - Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers - (Post title "When You Get Out Of The Hospital") - Jonathan can be scary. I've always read this as the story of an abusive and violent relationship involving obsessive stalking. Actually, Jonathan's often scary, just it's usually harder to spot with all the supposed niceness layered over the top, but he never fooled me. There's a great Luke Haines cover of this, too.

Let The Good Times Roll - Slade - There must be literally hundreds of versions of this on YouTube but this is the one I remember. Well, this and Little Richard, naturally.

You Can Leave Your Hat On - Etta James - Almost every version of this ever recorded is literally unlistenable, or should be treated as such if you want to retain your sanity. Then along came Etta.

Mellow Yellow - Donovan - Oh, Donovan. What were you like? Can't really tell when this was recorded. He doesn't look that old, although it's hard to tell with video like that.

Me In You - Kings Of Convenience - (Post title "If You Squint It Looks The Same"). This really needs trigger warnings for depression and suicide. Be very wary of Swedes playing acoustic guitars, that's my advice.

Switzerland - The Shop Assistants - (Post title "Switzerland Is The Place To Be") - One of my favorite bands of all time. Seminal live footage.

50ft Queenie - P.J. Harvey -  (Post title "Fifty And Rising") - There's always one, isn't there?

Space Oddity - ASON - (Post title "Floating In A Most Peculiar Way") - Think yourselves lucky. I could have given you Puddles Pity Party or Korn and Marilyn Manson or even William Shatner, god forbid. Puddles' version is actually pretty good, as always, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Four Stars Out Of Five - Arctic Monkeys - From one of the best albums I bought last year, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.  A prog concept album about a space station. In 2018. David Bowie has so much to answer for.

Something In The Air - David Bowie - And here he is! The Thin White Duke, as I live and breathe! I confess I was thinking of Thunderclap Newman when I came up with the title, but we've all heard that one a thousand times.

Modern Art - Art Brut - (Post title "Modern Art Makes Me") - Possibly the best-known tune by the sorely underrated noughties Fierce Panda act. Main problem seems to be they think it's still 1995. Or wish it was. Then, don't we all?

My Other Life - Lloyd Cole - One of my favorite Lloyd Cole songs, which is to say all of them, so that doesn't help. He's one of the very few performers where I would hesitate to link to a live version. I think he's a bit better in his later years, now he pretends he's a folk singer, but really his songs need the full studio treatment - he flattens them out live and not in a good way.

Two Weeks In Another Town - The Lemonheads - (Post title "Two Weeks In Another Camp") - A bit convoluted, this one. I was thinking of the movie, then I changed the title, then I discovered there's an entirely unrelated Evan Dando number of the same name. 

Barabajagal (Love Is Hot) - P.U.M.P. - It's bloody Donovan again! Well, some of it seems to be. It's hard to be sure. What in the name of sanity persuaded this lot, whoever they were, to cover this? Don't care, it's great!

Saw Red - Sublime Feat. Gwen Stefani - (Post title "Makes No Sense At All") - I had nothing particular in mind when I used this but it crops up in any number of songs, some of them by people already represented on this list. Let's have this one. I'd never heard of Sublime until the Lana cover. I didn't think they'd look like that, either.

Never Satisfied - Future (Feat. Drake) - This is another of those generic phrases that turns up in dozens of songs. I'm sure I was thinking of  Prince's When Doves Cry but I found the Future/Drake collab when I was searching and it's too good to miss.

My October Symphony - The Pet Shop Boys - (Post title "Rewrite or Revise?") - What a weirdly stretched video. Worth it for the visuals alone.

Up On The Roof - Carole King - I had The Drifters hit in mind but Carole wrote it and she really brings out the melancholy. Plus that Laurel Canyon sound is so in right now.

Days - Kirsty MacColl - (Post title "Those Endless Days") - Killed by a speedboat. Is that a rock and roll death? No, it's just stupid. And a tragedy. Let's have the Kinks original to cheer ourselves up.

Car's Outside - Head - (Post title "Car's Outside, Engine's Running") - Head was one of Gareth Sager's many, many bands, several of which I saw live and the first - and latterly most celebrated of which - The Pop Group - my own band twice supported at tiny venues back in the post-punk feeding frenzy. I love all Head's albums but unfortunately, the only time I saw them play, before they'd released anything at all, the sound was terrible and they were lackluster.

Ocean - Roland S Howard - (Post title "Down By The Sea") - A roiling, rolling, brooding cover of the Velvets classic by the former Birthday Party guitarist, who I know best for his collaborations with Swell Maps' Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks. (That's his name, although I very much doubt it's what his mother called him). They're all dead now, of course, along with just about everyone who ever played with them.

After The Fox - The Hollies - (Post title "I Am The Fox") - I don't much like Peter Sellers and I never thought much of The Hollies, but this is a curious, timestamped sixties artifact with a line that just fitted the post perfectly.

I Can Fly - Lana Del Rey - Well, here's a surprise. It's Lana again. From the Tim Burton movie I haven't seen but would like to.

You Need To Calm Down - Taylor Swift - (Post title "Now We All Got Crowns (Ok, Bunnies...)" - I think I used this quote on the very day Tay released it. I saw it on Pitchfork with a lyric video and it made me smile so hard I knew I wanted to share it somehow. I kind of shoehorned it in but I'm glad I did. And the official video that followed is just legendary!

Ride Your Pony - Lee Dorsey -  (Post title "Get On Your Pony And Ride") - One more for the pony playlist.

Blank Generation - Richard Hell - (Post title "I Belong To The Beak Generation") - I had to check to see whether Richard Hell's still alive. He is. He's 69. He doesn't seem to have recorded anything since the mid-90s and that wasn't much.

Second Hand NewsMatthew Sweet and Susannah Hoffs - Let's go out on a low note, why don't we? This is a Fleetwood Mac cover. I used to think Fleetwood Mac were the devil but I've mellowed a bit on that. Matthew Sweet has one of my favorite voices in rock and he's a great songwriter but he's the very definition of a wasted talent. He and Susannah Hoffs, who's voice I also like a lot, seem to have settled on a strange career of performing and recording bland covers of every song they ever heard and mildly liked. I made the mistake of buying one of their many collections of these. It doesn't get much play.

And there we go for now. We're not quite at the end of June but if I try to restrain myself from using any lyrical quotes in post titles for the next week that'll be a neat half-year.

Oh, who do I think I'm kidding?
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