Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Did You Ever See A Whale? - Riders of Icarus

Well... it turns out that extreme tiredness such as I was having actually isn't an expected effect of the treatment, particularly not when it occurs during the "rest week", when your energy levels are meant to return to something like normal. I went into hospital on Tuesday for the next three hour dripfeed that starts each cycle and after lengthy conversations with various nurses and doctors, culminating with a telephone coversation with my oncologist, they unplugged me and sent me home!

I get another rest week and then we try again. The result is that I now feel orders of magnitude better and for the time being, at least, something approximating normal service will resume. I couldn't really respond appropriately to all the lovely comments so I'd like to reiterate my appreciation now and also apologize to the couple of people who took the trouble to respond, who I know have similar issues of their own to worry about, and to whom I should have replied individually. My very best wishes for good outcomes to you both (I'm sure you know who you are and I don't want to out you at the top of a post!)

Anyway, that's quite enough of that. This isn't a medical blog and I don't plan on banging on about what is in the end an optional and precautionary process, other than as it affects my ability to blog. Back to gaming and about time.

Literally the only game-related thing  I managed last week was to log in to Riders of Icarus to spend my tokens from the July log-in campaign. I was being totally paranoid because the June vendor is still standing there as I type this, so it could easily have waited, but I'd determinedly made sure I hit the twenty-five (out of thirty-one possible) log-ins to claim the maximum four tickets and there was no way I wasn't going to spend them.

I made the effort because the prizes were so good. The rewards each day were excellent but the ticket items were superb. There were several Legendary mounts, some usually only available from cash-shop deals, some from various holiday events, some from in-game. There were a couple of Heroic combat pets and a whole lot of expensive high-end utility items that I'm sure max levels must love.

I spent a fair while deciding. Some of the Legendary mounts were two tickets apiece, meaning I could get a couple. There was some awkward three-ticketing but there were some decent things for one ticket to make that up.

Then there were two four-ticket mounts. I looked at both of them for a while but I always knew what I was going to buy: the Sky Whale.

That's not actually what it's called. It's official name is the Pink Plush Letonsia but I'm sticking with Sky Whale.

It is by some very considerable margin the most impressive mount I have ever owned in any MMORPG. It's about the length of a bus with an elaborate howdah on top that has three rows of seats. In the front is a single seat facing the controls, which is where my character sits. Behind her are two large bench seats. I have no idea if that means it can carry other passengers.

The whole whale is pink and white, although the upper part often looks purple in darker areas. The underside is striped and from it descend four undulating fronds, two tipped with blue jewels and two with yellow stars. It matches my fairy princess/rock chick Trickster character perfectly.

Stat-wise, it seems to be a tank. It has huge defensive bonuses. It also has a massive 1200m flight ceiling, like the inflatable dolphin. It seems to move quite slowly but that may be the familiar MMORPG effect of "big things seem to go slower, small things seem to go faster". I'll have to test it. It also makes whale noises as it moves.

In practical terms I imagine I'll carry on using my dolphin, which is nippy and maneuverable. The Sky Whale takes a bit of turning. For posing at the bank, though, it's going to be the whale every time.

I have to level it up, which is taking a while. I left the game on for the rest of the day after I bought it and for a lot of yesterday after I got home. So far it's only got to Level 15. Another ten to go.

No hurry, though. It's the first of August tomorrow and I'm guessing a new log in campaign will begin. I'll be logging in every day so the whale can sit about for as long as it takes.

Whatever else I might want to say about Riders of Icarus, it probably has the most generous give-aways for totally free players I have ever seen. I've had lots of cash shop currency which I've used to open inventory and taming slots, plenty of very useful boosters, some nice cosmetics and whole bunch of Heroic and Legendary familiars.

You could pretty much play RoI as an idle game, just logging in every day, claiming your free stuff and sitting in the central square. You'd be missing out on what is a very decent MMORPG but you'd still have fun.

EDIT: Aaand... literally the first thing I see after I hit Post and flip to Feedly is this at Massively:OP. Bloody typical. A new set of account details to go through. Can't say I'm sorry to see Nexon out of the picture. Going to have to do a bit of research on Valofe Global, of whom I have never heard. Anyway, a billion times better than a sunset announcement.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Tired Tired Tired...

Just a short post to break radio silence. After five weeks of barely being affected at all, on Tuesday my chemo decided to hit me like a truck. It's just tiredness and entirely to be expected but the effect is extreme.

I don't have the concentration even to browse the web, let alone play games. As for posting, I haven't even read a blog since Tuesday. I can't concentrate to read or watch video. Fortunately my abilty to listen seems unaffected so mostly I am lying in bed with the radio on. Going to be listening to a lot of cricket during August.

It's terrible timing, with Blaugust coming up, of course. Can't see me even hitting the five post goal if I carry on feeling like this. As I say, though, this is what's supposed to happen so I think I've been pretty lucky to get to nearly half way through with no real problems.

Anyway, that's the reason for things going quiet. Normal service should be resumed in September!

Monday, July 22, 2019

EQ3 Eh? Eh? Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink, Say No More!

Wilhelm sent me a link to an EverQuest site he'd discovered, called The EverQuest Show. I think it was intended primarily as a YouTube channel, which debuted in February this year, but so far there have only been three episodes, while the website has been considerably more active. There was a new post there just today.

I've added The EverQuest Show to the blog roll but it wasn't the site itself that drew me to make this post. As I was flipping through the articles I spotted a link to an AMA with Holly "Windstalker" Longdale and three other Daybreak devs, hosted by Fires of Heaven.

It looks as though the AMA happened in May or June so it's very current. It's also very long. I read the whole thing and it took me a couple of hours. There's plenty of waffle and nonsense but also plenty of tidbits that would interest any EQ fan.

One question that crops up over and over again in different forms is whether Daybreak are working on a new EverQuest game. Holly attempts to keep a poker face on this for a while but as her answers pile up the winks and smiles give the game away, literally. Ok, metaphorically.

I've severely trimmed these but here's some of the "evidence":

Q. Since there have been some rumors going around it, Is there another EQ game in development (other than the Nantworks stuff) by DBG?

Alan VanCouvering (Lead Content Designer): Wouldn't you like to know!

Holly: ….. 
Q. Being the 20th Anniversary, what is the future of the EQ Franchise? Be specific please. Is there another game in developed or at least in the talks of being developed or are we to expect that EQ will just receive expansions and new servers each year? 

Holly: There is a future and I don’t have specifics for you. The specifics will come when we have meaningful news. 

Q. So in 2019 if I’m an old school EQ guy who loves the world (nostalgia is a hell of a drug) but I also don’t want to play 20 year old games, is there a reason to care about the franchise? Are y’all going to surprise launch an early access EQ3 or am I stuck with ignoring a mobile game?

Holly: We have spent a lot of time looking into the future and how we build this franchise up even better than we have in the past. We did some research over a year ago with all ages of gamers. It’s amazing how many young people know the name “EverQuest” because of family and other gamers. We are still relevant and considered an original. Someday soon we hope to take advantage of that global recognition and release something new. Can’t say when. Have no details. 

Q. Will daybreak ever do anything worthwhile with this IP? Specifically getting a green light to do some real development work and create an Everquest remake with the same mechanics as the original plus 2 expansions updated graphically and from an audio perspective with consoles included and cross platform play?

Holly: We will definitely do something with the IP. A strict remake? Probably not. Will it embody the EQ spirit, most likely yes.

Q. With such an iconic IP will we ever see EQ3?

Q. Now that Blizzard is showing cracks in the armor, and the MMO space is super-dry, how about you announce right here that EQ3 is in production?
Holly: Another EQ game? 😊
 In an answer to a question on EQNext, Ed Hardin III (Lead Systems Designer) said 
One of the hardest lessons we learned from Landmark/Next was to not start publicity until we are certain the promise of the game can be realized. 
From that I think we can take it we won't be hearing anything about whatever Daybreak has cooking until they're almost ready to take it out of the oven. But something is definitely cooking!

Elsewhere in the AMA there's confirmation that the mobile project NantWorks was supposedly working on, using the EverQuest IP, is still ongoing. The EQ team has some involvement, presumably advisory, but no control over what the game turns out to be.
Q. Can you give us any details at all on EQ Mobile?

Alan VanCouvering :  I don't know if anyone here knows anything about it, but it's outside our control. 

Ed Hardin III: While we (as a company) will have input into what anyone else does with EverQuest on mobile devices, we (as individuals) aren’t going to be designing it.

Holly: They are in their early days and will tell you when they are ready and confident. We are definitely involved though.
Going back to EQNext and Landmark, the team's answers confirm what I've thought for a very long time were the reasons the game never got anywhere: it was beyond the technical capacity of the company to produce, at least within the budget they had to work with.
Q. Landmark seems like a huge setback (time & financially). I spent a good chunk of time "building" in that world, but once I realized it was overtaking EQ3 production completely, I abandoned it. My drive at the time was the hope of watching EQ3 be built. Is there any regret/animosity toward going the Landmark/Voxel direction?

Alan VanCouvering: Yes, Landmark/Next cost us, but if you don't try you never know what can be done. I don't think we really regret trying, just that it didn't work out.

Q. How much of EQ: Next was real and how much of it was smoke and mirrors?
Holly: EQ Next was real, but a long way from completion when we had to walk away from it. Very tough, but the right decision at the time. There’s mountains of great work that went into that game that won’t go to waste. We aren’t done with this franchise. Not by a long bowshot.
One thing that was asked repeatedly and was shot down in flames every time was the possibility of a "Remastered" version of EverQuest. Too expensive and the resources would be better spent on a new game. Couldn't agree more.

Other topics of note (to me, at least) were:

Reverting the notorious Freeport revamp for the TLE servers (they'd like to but too time-consuming).

What happened to the Quarm special event server? (Not as popular as expected and took more dev resources than the limited interest justified).

Why isn't there a PvP server? (there is and no-one plays on it (as Wilhelm always suspected)).

Why do they keep making expansions for EQ and EQ2 that no-one plays? (Lots of people buy them).

Did the then-team know what a disaster they had on their hands with the Gates of Discord expansion (oh, yes...).

Was Brad McQuaid actually any good as a designer? (He was and remains "a driving force", "an unstoppable force").

And to finish, a couple of short ones that deserve re-quoting in full:
Q. Any thoughts on Legends style TLP servers? Premium fee on top of regular sub, DBG gets additional funding, we get real GMs and regular events? (For those who missed it, Legends was a Premium server with a much higher subscription charge than the regular game)

Alan VanCouvering: Legends was a disaster in all possible ways. I highly doubt that enough people would actually want to pay as much as we would need to ask for to run a server like that.

Holly: What Alan said. Entitlement breeds demands that no dev team could realistically meet. Doesn’t mean we won’t offer premium-type stuff, but that server was super painful as a business model and play experience for a bunch of reasons.
And my favorite of all:

Q. Why does my Clockwork Rhino mount eat all my food?
Alan: There might be a gnome living inside it. 
Ed: I can’t say there isn’t a gnome.
There's a lot more in the full thing. I recommend reading it thoroughly if you have an interest in EQ or, indeed, in how Daybreak operates these days. And thanks again to Wilhelm for steering me in the general direction of this little goldmine. If it was reported or referenced anywhere else I didn't see it.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Some Journey

Naithin has a post up about The Horrible Hundred in FFXIV. As he explains, a hundred or so quests stand between the end of the original main storyline and the start of Heavensward, the first expansion: "It’s a rite of passage. A trial to be passed to earn your way into the much nicer content that follows."

Not surprisingly this prospect doesn't exactly fill Naithin with joy. I doubt it would many people. But he's trying to be a good MMORPG soldier and "love the journey" in the way we're often told we should.

Reading his piece made me stop and think. I've repeated the mantra plenty of times, not least here on this blog: "It's the journey, not the destination". I've repeated it so often, in fact, that I no longer think about what it means, if indeed I ever did. I just trot it out like a truth universally acknowledged.

Thinking about the expression, I see two problems with the way we commonly employ it in relation to MMORPGs. The first is that it's a misquotation. Its origin, widely but inaccurately attributed Emerson, is unclear. There's a revealing breakdown of possible sources on QuoteInvestigator, which points out that the whole thing has become a snowclone.

The root phrase, wherever it originated, crucially involved the word "life", which changes the meaning entirely. "Life is a journey, not a destination" self-evidently expresses a philosophical and religious approach that values an open-ended, open-minded willingness to engage.

Even Aerosmith know that! Check the penultimate verse.  Here's a link to the actual song and if linking to an Aerosmith video isn't the very definition of willingness to engage with what you find by chance along the way then I don't know what is.

The second problem, when it comes to the way the expression is employed in relation to playing MMORPGs, is extreme literalism. Having truncated the phrase to omit the word that gives it its primary meaning, we then compound the error by stripping what's left of any metaphorical nuance whatsoever. The "journey" becomes exactly that: a trip from A to B, whether that means going from city to city, creation to cap or acquisition to completion.

It's bollocks, isn't it? It only takes a moment's thought to see what utter tripe that is. As a short opinion piece on Psychology Today succinctly puts it:

"Arriving in Hawaii is much better than the plane trip there. And being in Hawaii is much better than the plane trip back. The plane trips are tolerable only by anticipating being in Hawaii or good memories of being there".

If what someone wants to do is play the content that came with Heavensward, for example, telling them to enjoy the "journey" that takes them there from the end of ARR is pretty much like asking  someone about to get on a 24 hour flight to Australia to be sure and appreciate the time they spend going through airport security.

Learning to "love the journey" in cases like this is made even more unlikely by the fact that that it's not a journey of your choosing. You haven't, as the mantra imagines, set out with no fixed destination in mind, allowing serendipity to reward you with what you find along the way. You've been given a job of work to do.

And it's not even as though it's a job you wanted. All too often it can feel like being a courier driver co-erced into working for a psychotic dispatcher. Go here, drop this package, get a signature, kill everyone in the house, steal their stuff. Back in the van, on to the next. Good luck finding the serendipity in that.

It is possible to play MMORPGs by wandering around and doing whatever. I've done it many times in many games and I'd reccommend it in the strongest possible terms. It can be entertaining, amusing, exciting, even revelatory. Most games will allow it and some even encourage it.

When I've urged people to "enjoy the journey" that's what I meant. It's a playstyle, if you like. It is very much not an encouragement to do every quest, look in ever corner, take forever to level up, let alone to have an anxiety attack if you find you missed something.

Indeed, missing out on things can be every bit as important as experiencing them. Your experiences are shaped in part by what's absent. If you went here you didn't go there. Because you went here you did this, not that.

Maybe you'll loop around and come back to "there" and do "that" later and maybe you won't. That's the joy of it. Go where the wind takes you. When it stops blowing, take a look at where you've ended up. Don't think about what you lost; think about what you found.

What Naithin is going through doesn't sound anything like that. He doesn't have a choice and I imagine he barely has freedom of action. He has a to-do list with a hundred items to be checked off before he can get to what he really wants to do.

In a situation like that, it's not so much about enjoying the journey as it is making the best of a bad job. That's not nothing. Far better to take a positive attitude and make the most of something you'd rather not do but know you have to than to complain and drag your feet and make the whole thing even more frustrating and tedious than it already is.

Making the best of it could very well be seen as a key skill for anyone wanting to take up playing MMORPGs as a hobby. Every one of them is chock-full of things we have to do to get things we want but which, given a free choice, we'd skip in a heartbeat. If you want a cliche, maybe "If life gives you lemons..." would suit the situation better.

I'm not at all sure it helps to try and pretend the whole thing is some kind of 19th century romantic journey. When Byron spent years criss-crossing Europe he was following his inclinations, not some itinerary given to him by a stranger on a street corner, who'd prevailed upon him for a favor and to be sure he wouldn't forget had told him "Here, I'll write it in your Journal".

Perhaps we need to be more realistic about the parts of MMORPGs that are there for purely pragmatic reasons. Gussying them up as amazing life experiences isn't necessarily doing us or the games any favors. Sometimes you just have to get on the plane and hope you can find something to keep your mind occupied until the journey's over.

It's something to think about. I'm certainly going to be a little less glib about doling out rote advice I haven't bothered to consider carefully in future. Well, I might be. I'll at least promise to try and feel a little sheepish if I'm called on it.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

On Some Faraway Beach: Riders of Icarus

One of the many things I like about Riders of Icarus is the way special events and holidays seem to run continually, even overlapping on occasion. There are so many it's hard to keep up, although since most are clearly aimed at high-level characters it hasn't presented much of a problem for me - yet.

The current event is Summer Festival (aka Summer Event Festival according to the official website). I almost missed it completely. I didn't see anything on the login screen or the Steam page. The main reason I found out about it was that I knew the previous event had ended and there was a patch, so while the game was updating I went to the News section on the website to see if I'd missed anything.

Although there's nothing obvious in-game to let you know the event is happening, most players are going to run into it eventually. It's based, as all events seem to be, in Victory Plaza, the central square in the capital city, Hakanas. The main questline sends you back there periodically and all the special currency vendors are there so it's a hub for everyone.

When I ported in and flew to the plaza I did a comical double-take. The entire square has been flooded and tons of sand imported to make a pop-up beach. It's spectacular and extremely well-done.

I flew around taking screenshots, thematically appropriate in my shades, riding an inflatable porpoise. I particularly appreciated the game not forcing me into beachwear like certain other MMORPGs I could mention (actually, I couldn't, or not with any accuracy, because I can't remember which game did that. I seem to remember it was FFXIV but I'm not sure...).

As far as I can tell, Riders of Icarus doesn't have any underwater content but it does have some of the best swimming I've seen since Landmark. The animations and particularly the splashing are weirdly satisfying. I like the way that front crawl sends frenzied fountains of water in all directions while backstroke is sedate and splashless.

There are bright yellow duckie rings in the water. I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to jump on them and sit down in the middle to get a screenshot. Sadly the game considers you to be "jumping" when you're in the the ring so that didn't work. It was fun though.

You can, however, sit on the edge of the ring. I did that and tried to get a decent shot, only to be confounded by the huge Radiant Aquavirios that was swimming nearby. These appear to be tameable although I haven't seen anyone try. You can buy a Mark with Watermelon Slices, the event currency, to make taming the Aquavirios easier but it costs 750 slices, which seems like a lot.

All RoI events seem to involve heavy grinding of special currencies but they also come with some much easier options. Summer Festival has a special login campaign with a reward of one hundred Watermelon Slices. Unfortunately, the rubric to the offer on the website is confusing:

Stay login during this hours 19:00 UTC to 22:00 UTC to receive a Watermelon Slice x100 as a reward from July 17 to July 30. Once login, you will be able to receive the rewards automatically after a minute.

Apart from being poorly translated that's quite confusing. Do you have to stay logged in for three hours or do you get the reward for logging in at any time in the spread? Is it a one-off or can you do it every day?

Since that's 8pm to 11pm my time I can easily test it, and I will. I've already missed three days because I have a habit of logging in to RoI in the mornings but that's easily changed. If it really is a hundred slices per day then I could still collect a thousand, which would buy me both a Heroic and a Legendary mount - and the legendary is a Watermelon Banana Boat!

Finally in the "get stuff for doing nothing" stakes there's yet another Special Login Event, for which you literally have to do no more than be there. If you manage that for seven of the possible ten days you win a Legendary mount - and the rewards for the daily stages aren't too shabby either.

There are also plenty of quests and tasks that actually require you to play the game. I took a few of those, the easy-looking ones. There's also a "secret" storyline that can be discovered although I have no idea how. All the game has to say about it is "One Summer, Bernadette lost her diary and she wants us to find it. This is her story, Secret within the summer". Good luck with that, Bernadette.

Lots to do, then. Whether I'll manage much more than turning up to collect my freebies I wouldn't like to say, especially since, if I was going to play properly, I'd be miles away in Sea of Hakanas, not in the fields outside the city.

Very nice to have the option, though.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Boxes On Boxes on Boxes on Boxes: Project: Gorgon

Project: Gorgon is both complex and idiosyncratic. These, along with a palpable sense of the genre's past, are its primary selling points. On Steam, where the game currently enjoys an enviable "Very Positive" rating from just over 650 reviews, this would count as typical:
This isn't a hand-holding theme park MMO like many that are out there at the moment and, because of this, it may not appeal to a broad range of gamers.
They aren't kidding. I suspect most people playing MMORPGs these days would hold their hands up in horror and run away screaming from some of the same systems and mechanics its avowedly niche audience praises so highly.

Take storage, for example. I have made something of a speciality of studying storage and inventory options in countless games over a twenty-year period. I have never seen anything like Project: Gorgon.

Here's the breakdown on the wiki. I looked at that for the first time this morning because I didn't want to make any ill-informed suppositions based solely on my very limited experience in the game itself. Reading through the list I can immediately see that a) storage is even more abstruse than I realized and b) the wiki is, as yet, incomplete.

P:G's wiki is an interesting pointer to the community surrounding the game. Wikis often are. EverQuest II, for example, has such a superb wiki, so complete, so accurate and above all so up to the minute, that you would think it had to be a hugely successful game with millions of players.

It's not the size of the audience that makes a wiki; it's the dedication. And also the attitude. No-one is questioning the commitment of Project: Gorgon's players but they are a particular bunch. I have never seen a wiki that opens with an admonishment for using it:

 Even the Secret Worlds Legends wiki doesn't call you out for daring to look things up!

Inventory and storage in Project: Gorgon is the most dislocated and abstruse I have ever seen. At first sight everything looks quite familiar. You start with a "Backpack", as you do in virtually every RPG ever made.

It's one of those notional packs rather than an actual item. About the only obvious option Eric and Sandra seem to have eschewed are bags themselves. Your character has no "bag slots" and crafters don't have an option to make bags (although, as we will see, they can make inventory space).

There's the expected bank storage, too. An NPC called Hulon runs the Vault in the main starting town, Serbule. The Vault is connected to a centralized system, meaning anything you put in there can be accessed from any zone that has a Dilapidated Council Storage Machine, or so the wiki tells me. I haven't field-tested that yet.

Vault space is also extendable by payment of in-game monies. So far, so familiar. Next come some other options I've seen in various games over the years. Individual NPCs will offer storage based on your faction with them. Faction, known as "Favor" in P:G, is an important game mechanic, controlling all kinds of things from the price you get for selling your junk to the recipes you can learn.

Then there are, supposedly, chests just sitting around in the world into which you can place items, something I remember very well from the Baldur's Gate series. There's apparently one on the tutorial/starter island but I can't remember using it.

As far as I can tell, if you put something in one of those it stays where you left it and if you want to get it you have to go back there. That used to dirive me to distraction in BG so I can't say I'm thrilled to see it making a comeback.

Much more welcome is a system I ran into yesterday, when I crossed into the low-level zone of Serbule Hills. I had a conversation there with an NPC, who told me I could sleep in the stables for nothing and use the storage in his Inn.

That storage turned out to be accessable by way of a bookshelf, which seemed weird, but then everything in Project: Gorgon is weird.  Only when I came to read the wiki did I discover that the bookshelf is a "zone access storage point". I think that means that, if I make pals with an NPC in Serbule Hills and they let me leave some stuff with them, I can find and retrieve it from the Inn without having to go back to the NPC.

So far, so complicated. Ah, but we've only just started! Skipping over Shared Storage (account -wide inventory accessed via Transfer Chests in a handful of towns) and Guild Storage (self-explanatory, ditto) we come to clothing.

In Project: Gorgon pockets are a thing. I'm not sure I've ever played an MMORPG with pockets before. If I have I've forgotten it.

I first noticed this one yesterday, when I was in The Bazaar browsing. Ok, in P:G the place where players set up to trade as though they were NPC vendors isn't actually called The Bazaar but it's so incredibly reminiscent of the system introduced to EverQuest with the Shadows of Luclin expansion that I'm always going to think of it that way.

I was looking at a crafted cloth shirt when I noticed it had inventory slots. Twenty of them. That's a lot of storage in a shirt! The shirt was far too expensive for me to buy and test so I don't yet know whether pockets come with any kind of size restrictions. I somewhat doubt it. Project: Gorgon is logical but not in any way realistic.

 According to the wiki, Tailors can add pockets to armor or clothing to increase inventory capacity, which is a very solid option for crafters but that's just the half of it. To increase your inventory by way of gear you don't have to go bespoke.

As the wiki puts it succinctly, "Increased inventory space also appears on many pieces of equipment as a part of the random aspect of equipment drops". Now there's a thing. Inventory space as a gear stat. Again, if I've seen that before I can't recall where. Imagine the dilemma on checking the loot from a dead monster and finding a pair of pants with worse combat stats than the ones you're wearing but an additional twenty inventory slots.

We're not done yet. There's more. And weirder. One of your characters primary stats, Endurance, has the effect of expanding the size of your Backpack, presumably by increasing your carrying capacity. This in a game where items appear to have neither size nor weight. I rescind my earlier statement re logic.

Endurance is improved by taking armor damage because of course it is. If you want more bag slots just pick a fight with a monster and let yourself get beaten up. Makes sense, right? About as much as having your storage capacity reduced because you lost a boss fight, anyway.

Oh yes, that's a thing, apparently. I wouldn't know, not having fought any bosses, but P:G does have a unique take on death penalties. When you lose fight to a boss bad things happen including but (I'm guessing) not limited to your head expanding, a spectre pursuing you and your backpack shrinking. Whatever curse you get stays with you until you do the only thing that can cure it - beat the boss that gave it to you.

By this point you might be thinking Eric and Sandra must surely be out of ideas but I saved the best for last. Discovering the Dimensional Folder on an NPC vendor yesterday was what prompted me to write this post.

A lot of MMORPGs have temporary storage options and expanders. Renting inventory space is a prime source of income for many an Eastern import. But even those games don't go so far as to combine temporary purchased storage with RNG.

The Dimensional Folder is a potion you drink that makes your bags bigger for an hour. How much bigger? Try it and see. Oh, and there's a smal but by no means insignificant chance it could make them smaller. And it stacks, so if you don't get the jackpot pull the handle again. And again.

At first it sounds completely crazy. Then I thought of all those times I've been deep in a dungeon or out in the wilderness miles from anywhere, with full bags and loot lying on the ground I couldn't pick up. How handy would it be to take a swig from a flask and add a few slots to my bags? It wouldn't matter that they only lasted an hour. It would be long enough.

I'm sure there are more peculiarities and quirks to be found when it comes to Project: Gorgon's storage solutions. Some of the ones already there may not stick. It's a game that's constantly evolving, partly in line with the whims of its creators and partly in response to feedback from players.

It's very much not a game for people who like things to be neat and tidy and laid out plainly with instructions. Learning how to play is part of the fun. Even when it comes to something as simple as putting your stuff into storage.

Next up, Gameplay. Might have to wait until I've actually played a little more, though. Which doesn't look like it's going to be a problem.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That: Project:Gorgon

If you browse through the Steam reviews for Project: Gorgon, one thing comes up over and over again; the graphics. Comments range from the extremely negative ("the graphics are horrifically bad") to the grudgingly accepting: ("Lets get the elephant in the room out of the way first; the graphics could be better, but they're passable."). No-one says they are good.

Which is strange, because the game really doesn't look bad at all, or not to my eyes. The colors are harmonious, the aesthetic is consistent and appropriate, you can tell what everything is just by looking at it. What more do people want?

The thing that has always puzzled me about P:G's graphics isn't so much their basic quality as their mutabilty. The way the game looks has changed a lot over the six years since I first wrote about it but not always in the way you might expect.

Since then I've played it in its various iterations and stages and posted about it a number of times. I've also taken a lot of screenshots, many of them in the same locations. For once I don't have to rely on my memories. I have objective evidence.

Fire at the old mattress factory.

Which is just as well. I started this post planning to talk about how the graphics have improved; about how much better the game looks. That was my first impression when I logged in yesterday, not having played since sometime last Autumn.

Then I started flipping back through some old posts to look something up and I was surprised - shocked, really - to see that many of the older sceenshots looked better than the ones I'd just taken. Or if not better then certainly not worse.

The graphics have changed but I'm not entirely sure they've improved. There are more flowers than ever, which I like, but everything seems slightly blurred. And then there's the lens flare.

Lens flare: the thermonuclear option.

Then I had a thought. Perhaps it's the settings. I don't think I've ever changed the graphics in Project:Gorgon from the default. It's always managed to find the correct screen resolution so I never bothered.

Looking at the settings the game chose for me I saw I was on "Great", number seven on a nine-point scale that runs, in typical P:G tongue-in-cheek fashion, from -2 (Retro-Terrible) to 6 (Ultra). I switched to the highest, Ultra, to see if there was any difference.

There was. Everything looked more abrasive, jagged and darker. Also, the game stuttered, badly. On balance the higher setting looked worse and the performance hit was significant.

I took identical shots on each setting to compare.

Before ("Great")

After ("Ultra")

In the "After" image, taken on Ultra, you can see some extra detail. There are flowers on the bush to the left and the tree sticking up above the rooftops has better-defined leaves. Also, oddly, even though I didn't move the character or the camera, you can see that the flowers at the very bottom edge of the shot are taller. Not surprisingly, I switched back to the lower setting.

If you want to see a really significant difference in graphic quality, how about these two shots, both taken in the main town of Serbule, five-and-a-half years apart:

Serbule December 2013

Serbule July 2019

The level of detail - of definition perhaps I should say - in the older shot is far higher. The skybox is much more realistic. The colors are richer and more authentic and pop more strongly.

Writing about it at the time, I was fulsome in my praise: "The walled, medieval village is one of the best I've seen in a game as far as spurious authenticity goes. I've been in that village several times, in France, in Spain, in Portugal."

I stand by that. It wasn't until Black Desert that I saw another version of the European Medieaval to match Project: Gorgon's. These days, it looks a lot more like any generic fantasy town.

It's all a bit of a puzzle, just like the rest of the game. Back then, P:G was in free to play "pre-alpha" and looked better. Now it's in "Early Access", costs an eye-watering £30.99 and looks worse.

Still looks pretty good to me though. And worth the money.

Next time on Project:Gorgon: Revisited: Revenge of the Colons - Inventory Management.

Now there's something to look forward to!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Steam On

When I tried to log into Riders of Icarus this morning, so I could leave the game idling in the background until I'd done my thirty minutes for the daily login reward (stimulating gameplay at it's finest!), the servers were down for an update. So on a whim I logged into Project:Gorgon instead.

Since I've taken to using Steam for logging in to certain titles, RoI among them, this sort of thing has become more common. I didn't bother to blog about it (except now I am...) but the other day I logged into Otherland, entirely because I was on Steam, something else was unavailable and Otherland caught my eye.

I am a very late adopter of Steam. For several years I couldn't see any point in it at all. I didn't even bother to install it. Then something or other I was interested turned out to be only available on Valve's platform, so I grudgingly triggered the download and signed up.

For several more years after that I barely touched it. Didn't seem any point. Hardly any of the MMORPGs I was playing were on Steam. The ones that were I already had installed and ready to go. Why bother? 

Another reason for my lack of interest was that Steam looked and felt both alien and alienating to me. It was all tiny writing and lists.

Despite being a lifelong, obsessive reader and writer, I am, I think, quite strongly visually-oriented. I like pictures. I have run my PC from the Desktop by clicking icons for a quarter of a century at least. I hardly ever use the Start menu. I find it most natural to recognize pictorial symbols, either on the Desktop or the Taskbar.

I don't even organize my icons. I just let them sit where the system puts them. I like having to search through them before I click. It gives me a chance to change my mind and for serendipity to flourish.

It's the same process that means I have never bought any of the unlimited use gathering or salvage tools in Guild Wars 2. Why would you do that? Isn't running out at a really inconvenient moment and having to go to the vendor to buy more an essential element of gameplay? It is of mine.

And yet, I also love convenience. Let me trot out that Emerson quote again, only for once I'll give the next line, the one no-one ever mentions:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do".

Passing over the question of  the size and/or quality of my soul, if any, the full quote does double service. Consistency can be stultifying and convenience can be arid.

The point at which convenience overtakes participation is at the nexus of repetition. In MMORPGs we do things a lot of times. Sometimes it's the grind. Sometimes it's housekeeping. Even for someone with a very high tolerance for repetition, me for example, there's a limit to what can be passed off as "fun".

Take the title of this blog. I called it Inventory Full because a) mine always was and b) inventory management was my precious. I have commented and posted countless times about how much I love sorting my bags in various MMORPGs and in some games that's still true. Inventory management in EverQuest II is a total pleasure even after fifteen years.

After playing GW2 for less than half that time, however, I could very cheerfully slap whichever ANet developer is responsible for that game's execrable storage design around the head with a wet haddock. Inventory management in GW2 is no fun at all.

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, there are things we know we would like done for us, things we don't know we would like done for us and things we don't know could be done for us. Steam has introduced me to a member of the final category.

I have always enjoyed selecting my icons and clicking them. I have always liked using the individual patchers and launchers and updaters they spawn. I even like watching progress bars fill as the games bring themselves into a playable state.

The one thing about the process I have never enjoyed is typing in the damn login and password details. Because I am paranoid (or, possibly, sensible) I never use the same password twice. I also very, very rarely use the same login or screen name. I also point-blank refuse to allow my PC to remember any of those details and auto-fill them.

I can remember the details for all the games I play regularly. It's the long tail of games I used to play and might again that's the problem. Very often the reason my mouse pointer pauses over an icon, then moves on, is that I'm thinking about the time it's going to take to find my login details.

Add to that the fact that I really don't like the process of filling in the fields themselves. Even when I know the login and password there's a significant chance I'll mistype or mispell something. It's by far from unusual for it to take me three goes to log into GW2 because I've fat-fingered a key in the email address and not noticed.

Until the last few weeks it never occured to me there was another way. Even though I'd been dibbling about in Steam all this year, since I bought Atlas back in January, it hadn't occured to me that once I was logged into Steam I could click on any of the games in my Library and they would start up without asking me for any more details about myself.

When I finally noticed it just a couple of days ago it came close to being an epiphany. I could log in once to Steam then play different games all day without having to enter a single extra detail. Steam isn't just a storefront with inbuilt social media, which is pretty much what I always thought it was. It has an actual, practical use!

Who knew? Well, obviously, everyone except me. I can see now why people are less than thrilled about Epic and others trying to carve out their piece of the pie. It's as if there'd only been Netflix for a decade and everything had been on it and suddenly Amazon and Sky and Google and Apple were all talking about launching services of their own, driven by exclusive content. As if such a thing could happen.

The thing is, of course, I did know all this. I knew it intellectually. I knew perfectly well you could add non-Steam games to your Steam Library, for example, so you could access them via that route. I even did it once, long ago, to see how it worked.

What I hadn't done was take the emotional leap necessary to transition from something I thought I liked doing (clicking icons on my Desktop) to something I thought I disliked doing (selecting a choice from a menu). That's always the hard part of change, the emotions.

The really strange thing is that, now I'm begining to become accustomed to doing it, using the Library is starting to develop a pleasing aesthetic of its own. There's the game's logo and the big, blue PLAY button and in the background a vague, hazy screenshot from the game itself. It's like a tiny desktop all by itself.

Whether this is going to lead to full Steam ahead I'm not sure yet. I'm not one hundred percent comfortable with adding non-Steam games to the interface and thereby, presumably, entrusting their secrets to Valve. It does seem to go against the whole point of having separate passwords and logins to begin with.

I guess if Steam is breached we're all screwed, though. Probably one of those things best not thought about, like supervolcanoes. For the time being I'll just add new games that are available via Steam, I think. No sense in going crazy.

There's still a post to write about what I saw when I logged in to Project: Gorgon but that will have to wait. At least now I know how easy it is I'm far more likely to do it again.

In the meantime, enjoy all these lovely pictures of lens flare.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Here Comes The Train: Blaugust 2019

"And so it goes on with the show
And all I hope, hope all your dreams will come true"

It's that time of year again. Dust off the keyboard, shake the cobwebs off the mouse, bring out that old lever-arch file filled with ideas you never quite finished...

Blaugust is back!

Ok, not quite yet but it's coming. Belghast says so and he should know. He invented it.

If you hang around this corner of the blogosphere you're going to be hearing about Blaugust a lot. Naithin and Izlain are already talking about it and now so am I. Expect a lot more of this.

Just to summarize, Blaugust is a Festival of Blogging. It started out as a challenge to post every day in August and over time it morphed into something much greater and grander than that.

The modern Blaugust incorporates lapsed celebrations like Developer Appreciation Week and the Newbie Blogger Initiative. It offers opportunities to begin or begin again. It asks you to do no more than you feel but to feel you can do what you want.

For active bloggers Blaugust can be a welcome challenge. Can you hit that mark running, each and every day? For those gone dormant, living in slow-time, it offers a structure, a scaffold, something to haul on as you pull yourself upright. For everyone who sends postcards to the void and wonders if there's anyone out there it brings the noise.

With the incorporation into Blaugust of the NBI this is also the very best time to start that blog you've been thinking about for weeks, for months, for years. Pressing Publish for the first time can be scary but Blaugust has your back.

Bel's even come up with a schedule. As regular readers will know I love a schedule the way a feral cat loves a nice, hot bath with lots of shampoo. But not everything has to be about you, does it, Bhagpuss? And Bel's schedule is so pretty!

If that's not enough belt there's also the braces of Mentorship. A whole bunch of folks who've been at this for a while have volunteered to have themselves tagged on Discord so you can tap them up for advice. I'm one but don't let that put you off. Expect a lot of old war stories you've heard before and advice that works for pretty much no-one but me. (First piece of advice for free, don't go hog wild on the metaphors).

For the full skinny read Belghast's post but for quick here are the links:

Discord Invite
Media Kit

I'm likely to be home all August for medical reasons so I have no excuse to miss a day. One serious piece of advice I would throw out there, though, is if you make targets for yourself and miss them that is absolutely fine.

Every year a whole slew of people sign up and some of them we barely hear of ever again. That is okay! Blaugust is about experimenting, trying things out, getting the feel of what blogging is like (if it's new to you) or how it could be different (if you're already in).

If it's not working for you, take a break, try it another way, rethink. If it's stressing you out then, really, stop. This isn't an ironman challenge. It's a co-operative, collaborative social event that's 100% for funzies. (Probably don't say funzies if you're 60 years old like I am, just another freebie I'm throwing out there).

Last year Blaugust saw 88 sign-ups, at least according to my count. I recorded them all in a sidebar called "The Crew", whose derivation I revealed in a post I wrote as recently as this June. Should have called it Rocket 88. Missed a trick there.

In my final piece of mentoristic advice for the day, that post was one of my very favorites of the year so far. I worked really hard on it and it came out even better than I hoped. It got no reaction whatsoever. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Once before, I built a second post out of how another had failed and Gevlon turned up in the comments to take me to task about it. He'd misunderstood my reason for writing the post but he still had a point.

Blog posts aren't your babies. You don't have to protect them. They're wild. Let them fly free. The best will go unremarked while the ones you toss out in an idle coffee break will live a life of their own that outstrips anything you could have imagined. That's just how it is. Ya gotta ride it out.

Speaking of Gevlon, currently residing in the "Where Are They Now?" file, if you're reading this, have you considered that Blaugust might be the time for a comeback? Now, that would break my irony meter. But go on, you know you want to. I can buy another one.

This is running way longer than planned.  Bit of a trope here.  Let's wrap it up.

Hoping to see an even bigger turnout than last year. Let's see if we can crack the ton this time!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Off Script or Where Raiding Went Wrong

Kaylriene has a short post up about something called Eternal Palace, which appears to be a new raid introduced in World of Warcraft's latest Rise of Azshara patch. Normally something like that would pass me by. I'm not playing WoW and even if I was I certainly wouldn't be raiding, let alone in new content.

Raiding is something I rarely talk about here. I've never been a raider in any MMORPG. I've never been in a guild that considered raiding or raid progression to be its primary reason for existing. Raids, by and large, are things that happen to other people, mostly in far-away lands of which I know nothing.

And yet, that doesn't mean I have no interest in, or knowledge of, the form. Raiding has always been there, a mysterious light on the horizon, a siren call or a dire warning. Perhaps both.

The history of raiding in MMORPGs turns out to be surprisingly hard to research. The Wikipedia entry is thin to say the least. It comes as absolutely no surprise to learn that raids originated in the MUD scene - what didn't? - but knowing that deep ancestry does little to explain how typing in text turned into hyperkinetic ballet.

Maybe someone else can chip in and explain raiding in Ultima Online or Asheron's Call or even Meridian 59, if any of them even had raids. I played all three but never got out of the newbie zones. I don't think it's too EQ-centric to say that, when most people think of the dawn of raiding in MMORPGs, it's EverQuest they have in mind. (Not counting the millions who believe WoW was the first MMO, obviously, but I don't think any of them are likely to be reading this).

Phinny, still just about a raid target when I first killed him.
We took a lot of people anyway.
When I started playing EverQuest in 1999 (I should put that phrase on a hotkey) raiding was already established as a concept. I remember people talking about raiding Naggy and Vox, the game's two big dragons of the Classic era. There was a third, Phinagel Autropos, who I never even heard of at the time, although I got to know him and his sad, demented backstory later.

All three were, effectively, the final bosses of their own dungeons, although I literally never heard anyone use the term "Boss" for a powerful mob in EQ until after WoW launched. I had about as much chance of seeing one as I did of soloing a sand giant. For most regular players back then, at least as functional gameplay elements, raid targets might as well have belonged to a different game altogether.

Just a couple of weeks before I bought my boxed copy as a birthday present to myself in November, Verant Interactive opened the first dedicated Raid zone, Plane of Hate. Like the dungeons, it was open-world. EverQuest had no instanced content at that time so anyone could join in with anything that anyone else happened to be doing.

In theory. In practice, access to the Plane of Hate was heavily restricted by game mechanics, preventing random players from wandering in, dying on load-in and losing six months of work with an unrecoverable corpse. You could do that easily enough in the zone outside, Kithicor Forest, anyway.

Plane of Hate required extraordinary co-ordination just to survive, let alone complete. It was the seed of what was to become EverQuest's raison d'etre, multi-hour raids involving anything up to six dozen people, requiring organization skills on a par with managing the wedding of the head of state of a minor Balkan principality.

At the time it was commonly said that only ten percent of players raided. Many had no interest in joining them but more did. Most guilds had neither the strength nor the skill to take on the designated raid targets but that didn't stop them raiding. They raided zones.

There were parts of Norrath that were considered ideal for this. Certain dungeons were popular. I remember several, largely disasterous, raids on Mistmoore with one guild I was in. Kerra Ridge (or Isle, if you prefer) was a conveniently isolated open zone where guilds could generally rely on only annoying a handful of players when they turned up mob-handed for a "practice raid".

Some kind of raid for someone's Epic, I think. Bard, probably.

Throughout the Rise of Kunark expansion into Scars of Velious things slowly changed. The raid targets got stronger and stronger and there were more and more of them. In order to survive against the overwhelming forces brought against them by players, there being no limit on how many could attend a raid other than how many it took before your PC caught fire, the bosses began to develop certain abilities and tricks.

This thread covers the way things changed rather nicely. Developments like a fixed cap on numbers (72 at peak) and, eventually, instances came about as solutions to technical and social problems caused by the all-pile-on approach, rather than as a result of conscious design decisions. (I would contend most of the direction of travel in the genre has come from developers reacting to perceived problems caused by player behavior but that's a topic for another day).

Planes of Power introduced instanced raiding, reducing direct, physically confrontational competition between raid guilds, moving instead to something more like the ladder system with bragging rights, which persists to this day. The thing that really changed raiding for me, though, was the introduction of scripts.

I remember scripting as a feature of EverQuest's second expansion, Scars of Velious, something confirmed but also questioned in this old discussion from The Safehouse. Whenever it happened, it was a gamechanger.

Poor old Feydedar. He never looked like much but he was a handful in his day. Reduced to single-group content by the time I killed him. Now he's a one-shot solo.

Before scripting, fights in EverQuest were straightforward and, to me, immensely satisfying and enjoyable. You faced off against creatures hugely more powerful than you and by dint of your superior numbers, along with a clear understanding of your and your companions' skills and abilities, you tore the mountain down.

The basic mechanics of the game allowed for infinite variation. The way aggro switched, the innate abilities of different mob classes to cast spells just like players, the ever-present possibility of outside agencies coming to the assistance of your target or just joining in with the general chaos provided all the variety and novelty anyone could ever want. Or so I thought.

At this point I was still, theoretically, interested in raiding. I'd done my share of zone and practice raids and I was curious to see the real thing first-hand. I'd never touched the Kunark raiding content but I got as far as some of the entry-level stuff in Velious, working into Kael with a guild some of whose members I knew.

It was hard work. It took a long time and most of that was down to organization. It was quite fun, though, and I might have put up with the delay and the effort, so long as no-one was asking me to organize anything. Not so the scripting.

There's long been a correleation between RPGs and acting. Tabletop roleplaying has a well-known split between improvisation and operational modes with one tending towards am-dram and the other grognard mechanics.

These days I never step out of the Guild Lobby without a full set of Raid buffs. Does anyone?

To my way of thinking, scripted content in MMORPGs manages to add a third way; one that, with hideous irony, combines the very worst aspects of acting and game mechanics to create a malformed monster hell-bent on bringing down the arches on its own head. Worse yet, it compounds that devil's synergy by bringing in dance moves.

I always liked acting but I could never learn the lines. I do not have that kind of memory. I love learning but I loathe learning by rote. As for dance, as an adolescent, going into young adulthood, it was tantamount to being my religion. I lived to dance.

When I discovered table-top role-playing games in the early 1980s they quickly became an outlet for my (imagined) improvisational dramatic skills. I liked the mechanics but I loved the "acting". The best part was making it up as I went along. Similarly, when I danced, people might have had to stand well clear or sit down before they fell down from laughing, but I didn't care. I was "expressing myself".

In the first few years, grouping and raiding in MMORPGs provided much of the same enjoyment and satisfaction. I knew what my character could do. I knew what I could do. I knew what my companions could do. Sometimes I even imagined I knew what they would do. Together we faced mobs that we understood and together we brought all of our skills and abilities to bear to defeat them.

And to do it we had to improvise. Improvisation was everything. Stick to a sript, you'd be dead. We had to observe and think and react and plan. It was acting and dancing and it was living

Giants were scary once.

Raiding ruined all that. Destroyed it utterly. The scripted events that were introduced to challenge raiders filtered down to contaminate almost all the content in the game. Every game. Nowadays even solo mobs in tutorials run scripts.

Had raiding remained a clear and direct offshoot of the gameplay that drew me into the genre to begin with, I might be here, now, telling my raiding tales with the rest of the grizzled vets. Probably not because I would likely never have had the patience but it's possible. The coming of scripted content ensured I was never going to raid and, until the arrival of Public Quests, it all but ended my interest in co-operative combat altogether.

When Kaylriene says "Blizzard is known to be staunchly opposed to adjusting bosses upwards in difficulty, because of how it impacts the morale of an already low-morale playerbase" I have to smile. It's a bit late for that as far as I'm concerned. When he says "Many bosses have complicated sounding mechanics that don’t do very much. I ate the first boss’ stack mechanic solo as a tank and had 66% of my health left afterwards. I have no clue what we did on Za’qul, but he died in two pulls. Nearly every boss died in 1-3 pulls... Mechanics don’t matter", however, I feel hope rise.

I believe in the freedom of the open road

These days my preference in any MMORPG with scripted combat is to reach the point where my character is so overpowered I can wholly ignore the script. I don't want to learn lines or dance steps. I want to get in there, spit in the boss's eye and face-tank him until only one of us is standing. Or kite him 'til he drops. Either one.

In my ideal MMORPG every boss could be tanked and spanked. Raid bosses would need a lot of sapnking. And they'd have friends who'd need to be lured away or locked down.

It wouldn't be easy or quick or predictable because things would go wrong. You'd make mistakes. I'd make mistakes. We'd notice or we wouldn't. We'd fix it or we'd fail. We'd muddle along and make it up as we went. And when it was over and we were all sitting around breathing hard and giving each other notes they'd be a hell of a lot more interesting than "You missed a cue in stage three. You need to work on your timing".

Yes, I know I'm romanticizing. Everyone will still learn their rotations. Things will go to plan. The adds won't wander up. The pull won't go wrong. The crucial taunt won't be resisted. It'll be boring.

Well, then, at least let me be bored my way.
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