Saturday, August 31, 2019

Home Is Where, When You Go There, They Have To Take You In. Ha! Lies! : Riders of Icarus

I'm sure absolutely no-one is wondering why I haven't posted anything about Riders of Icarus for a while. Even if athey have, no doubt they're assuming I've forgotten all about it in the slow-time frenzy of WoW Classic.

Actually, no. I'm still keeping up with my dailies in Guild Wars 2, I found time to log into EverQuest II to do the first of Yun Zi's new quests and I would have been logging in to RoI for my daily half-hour afk session too. If I could.

So what's stopping me?

 Error 602. That's what.

A few days ago, after downtime that officially lasted eight hours, Riders of Icarus slipped it's moorings from the safe harbor of Nexon to dock at the mysterious port known as Valofe or VFun. All the passengers who'd pre-registered should have gone along for the ride but quite a lot, including me, seem to have fallen overboard somewhere along the way.

My account transferred correctly as far as I can tell. I can log in to it on the VFun website and I have a Valofe ID. I was able to download the Valofe installer as required and install the full game. (The Steam version still seems to work but it now goes to a blank account with no characters).

The launcher also works but there's a discrepancy between the version I downloaded and the current version the launcher wants to patch. This is a known problem, aknowledged and apologized for by the new publishers, who do seem to be trying to sort things out.

Unfortunately, the fix they have suggested, which involves downloading the corrupted files directly from their website, doesn't work for everybody. Including me, naturally.

The latest advice is to submit a ticket, which I have done this morning. They even put up a template telling you exactly what information they need to try and sort the problem out for you.

It includes your characters' names, something most people presumably have no difficulty in remembering. I only have two characters, one of whom I have been looking at every day for several months. Do you think I could remember either of their names?

This is the downside to making up names off the top of your head in dozens of MMORPGs. Also of getting older. Fortunately, I have a blog.

I am scrupulous about never naming my characters in anything I write and always blurring or cropping their names in any screenshots I use. I have a thing about names and privacy. It's ridiculous but there you go. No chance of finding my characters' names from a post, then.

Very much not how I'm feeling about the move.
Because I illustrate so heavily, though, I take thousands of screenshots. For most of them I hide the UI but often I need some text or a pop-up window to emphasize some point I'm making in a post. I edit the names out of the pictures you see on the blog but I save those as separate files and keep the unedited originals in another folder.

I was confident the names would show up somewhere. It turns out I took a screenshot of the first one at character creation so that was easy. The other, my Trickster, the one with all the good stuff, was harder.

I don't have any shots of her from when I made her and RoI's UI doesn't include the name of the character anywhere. I checked the chat box in some of the shots but the game always refers to the character as "you" so no joy there.

I tried the shots I had of NPC dialog but RoI didn't seem to be one of those games that includes the character name in the quest text. I was starting to think I'd just have to tell VFun her class and level and hope that was enough, when I came across a shot of the her talking to the space cat back in May or June.

For some reason the cat did use her name. Probably because he's from space and doesn't know the local customs. Yay for cultural diversity!

As soon as I saw it I thought "Oh, yes, that's what she's called!" I had an inkling I'd named her after Dora the Explorer and indeed I had, although if I said her name I very much doubt anyone would make the connection.

Anyway, it's done now. All I can do is wait.

 I hope the new publishers can sort out their mess because I'd hate to lose all that great stuff I did absolutely nothing to get and paid absolutely nothing for.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Art Lessons: WoW Classic

Syp put up a "Perfect 10" on MassivelyOP yesterday: "Ten Weird Things I'm Relearning With WoW Classic".  Most of them I agreed with, or, if not, at least I could understand where he was coming from. The first, however, made about as much sense to me as listening to a chicken trying to explain Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity.

Number One on the list: "The Graphics Kind of Suck". No, they don't.

Here's my evidence, all taken this afternoon in Loch Modan, where the scenery was so outrageoulsy gorgeous I could barely concentrate on all the killing I had to do.

 I admit I'm a sucker for a good skybox but boy, that's a good skybox.

I love the way the reeds fill the shallows before the ledge drops away into deeper water.

The grass, the trees, the rocks, the water. It all looks so organic. I'm not going to say it looks realistic. It's not supposed to look realistic. It looks hyperrealistic. As it darn well should!

Swimming across the Loch is an unearthly experience. I've had a similar experience in Lord of the Rings Online but this is stranger yet. Like swimming through a painting.

Things turn positively surreal when you find yourself being chased by a version of Nessie who looks like an oversized bath toy. Sorry it's not a great shot - I was trying not to get eaten alive.

This is much safer; admiring the waters from the hilltops. If you want elegaic, you got it.

And lest anyone conclude the scenery is fine but the character models suck, maybe they'd care to take it up with my hunter and his bear. They, and I, would heartly disagree.

Then again, this boar, which photobombed my shot in spectacular style, doesn't make for such a great argument...but it's only pig with hair. Who cares what it looks like?

This was the shot I was trying to take before I got pigged. Look at the moss on those!

I realize art is a matter of taste (I don't really. I've must have argued the case against that particular cop-out in a hundred different pubs over the years but it's an argument no-one ever wins) but seriously, these graphics suck?

No, they don't. Not even "kind of".

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Pictures Or It Didn't Happen: WoW Classic

Within minutes of stepping out into the dwarf starting area (it has a name but I can never remember what it is and no-one ever uses it anyway) I started to notice things that seemed like they might be worth remembering for when the time came to write a blog post about WoW Classic. As Monk would say, this is both the curse and the blessing of being a blogger. You can never quite switch off, no matter how immersive the experience.

I grabbed a notebook and started jotting down my observations and thoughts. Things like "can't fire a rifle in melee range" and "no indication where to hand in quests". Later that day I wrote a "First Impressions" post and naturally forgot to look at my notes at all.

In the event I remembered most of the points I'd been meaning to include, but next time I played Classic I thought of a much better way of recording those aha! and hmm? moments. Instead of writing them down I took a screenshot.

Whenever I'm playing any game I take screenshots of pretty much anything that might be useful, just in case I decide to blog about what I've been doing. It's a lot easier than having to log back in when I'm writing the post and try to recreate the situation for a screenie.

What's more, I usually browse through the screens before I write the post so I can crop, edit and re-color the ones I might use. I used to do it after I finished writing but I've learned that it's generally quicker to do some of the picture-work beforehand, then backfill as needed at the end.

All of which means I can create this post just by dropping in the shots I took to remind me of some little quirk or idiosyncracy I happened upon in Classic, then do some commentary to explain and amplify what you see. So here we go. It really messes up the symmetry but you can't have everything.

Kill Ten Rats became a byword for generic quest design. Go here, kill ten of these creatures I don't like, come back, I'll pay you. Meat and potatoes of the MMORPG experience, along with FedEx (take this letter to my pal over there, bring me back the reply, I'll pay you) and Escort (come with me and kill all the mobs I deliberately run at and aggro, get me where I'm going in one piece, I'l pay you).

The thing is, it's kill ten rats because at the time the expression was gaining currency ten was considered to be quite a lot of rats. Or at least I always thought so. Certainly, modern MMORPGs tend to ask you to kill five or even three rats and call it a wrap.

In Classic WoW, ten rats would be an amuse bouche. It's not a proper quest until you've killed at least twenty. It's immediately apparent as you level up that every new area demands more slaughter than the last. When I took the shot I was about Level 7 and the NPC was already asking for twenty-two kills. The guy next to him wanted twenty-five. Neither of them had the least intention of killing anything themselves, of course. When do they ever?

Killing twenty-two animals, all either at level or a tiny bit above, took me the best part of an hour, what with all the running from adds, healing up and having to compete (very good-naturedly) with all the other adventurers looking to do the exact same thing.

I made more experience killing the creatures than I got from the quest. In fact I'm all but certain now that I would level faster by finding a good, fast spawn with a safe pull spot and just grinding like I was playing EverQuest c. 2001. The thing that makes leveling slow in Classic isn't TTK or poor gear or a wicked xp curve - it's the huge amount of time you spend doing daft things for NPCs instead of just getting on with your own business.

When I finished that quest I went to Ironforge to train all my missing skills, equipped a better axe and ran back. On the way I decided to kill every animal that came in range of my blunderbuss. I did half a level in about a quarter of the time it took me to do that one quest. Lesson learned.

Next time I ran back to Ironforge it was to train one-hand sword. I'd been lucky enough to get my first green drop in the Snow Troll cave and I wanted to use it. I asked a guard for directions to the weapons trainer and went to talk to him. Turns out he only trains martial arts weapons and some other nonsense I can't use. Why he's doing it in the Dwarven hometown I have no clue.

He was kind enough to redirect me to Woo Ping, who I can't help feeling sounds more likely to be the one to know something about martial arts. Is that racist, just based on his name? I hope not. It's hard to be sure in a world where people go by names like Bixi Wobblebonk.

Woo Ping lives in Stormwind because of course he does.That probably makes some people playing dwarves and gnomes quite cross. "Now I have to go all the way to the human city just to train? What is this? The dark ages?"

My reaction was the exact opposite. I frickin' loved it! This is what I've been missing! Proper world-building. NPCs who live where they live because it's where they live, not because it's convenient.

Okay, it's a pale shadow of having to run from Freeport to Highpass to buy your Level 16 Enchanter pet spell, dodging Level 30 Hill giants and Level 40 undead all the way then running a gauntlet of gnolls, all the while knowing you'll lose your level if you die so you won't even be able to mem the damned spell anyway. It's not that but it's not nothing.

Also, I got to ride the Deeprun Tram, which is still awesome even in 2019. What it must have felt like in 2004 I can only imagine. Like someone had spiked your Mountain Dew, I would guess. (Mountain Dew being all anyone ever seemed to drink back then. I still don't really know what Mountain Dew is, although I'm sure someone's going to tell me in the comments).

When I got to Woo Ping he wanted ten silver to train me. I had six silver to may name. That was how I ended up doing a level and a half in Elwynn Forest and Westfall and how I got Old Blanchy's Feed Pouch, one of my favorite low-level quest rewards because it's a four-slot bag! Also Old Blanchy's Blanket, the cloak you can see my hunter wearing in the picture. (Most of the rest he crafted for himself but crafting in classic isa whole other post).

All the quests I picked up in Westfall were orange or red to me and the mobs were way above my level. It was prime-time EU by then. Even the RP server was showing High and most of the rest were Full. It was busy enough that I was able to do the two or three quests that just involved fetching stuff or talking to someone . I still managed to get killed once but it was worth it because four slot bag! Also huge xp on the hand-ins.

I was well into Level 9 by then and I had sixteen silver. I felt rich. I ran back to Woo Ping and paid him to train me but before I could move away soemone opened a trade window and handed me a green shotgun. This is something that used to happen all the time in early EQ. I got given so much free stuff by friendly passers-by it sometimes felt a bit embarassing to take it.

When was the last time a random stranger gave you a good item for your level in a modern MMORPG? Doesn't help that many games don't even allow direct trading, of course.

I'd already had to figure out how to trade in Elwynn Forest, when someone called out to me in /say and then asked me if I had one light leather I could spare. Sicne I had over 60 on me at the time (my hunter is an obsessive skinner) I was more than happy to hand one over - once I'd asked the guy how to split a stack (Shift-r-click. He wasn't too sure either.).

The cynics who said conversation on Classic wouldn't amount to more than a string of abbreviations were dead, dead wrong. The whole social aspect, at least in these first few days, could have been transplanted wholesale from the very early 2000s.

This is how I remember it being in EverQuest, Dark Age Of Camelot and the rest of the first wave. Only, it's significantly more mellow, civilized, even, presumably because almost everyone playing is a decade and a half older. The mellow may fade but I think we'll be keeping the polite  communication for a good while yet.

Talking of lazy NPCs that expect you to do all their work for them, I was taken quite by surprise to find this metatextual joke. Someone was already hyper aware of the tropes of the genre before WoW even launched. There's a lot more of this hidden in the vanila version of the game than I expected. I was familiar with the pop culture references but I didn't realize WoW had this level of irony, this soon.

Here I am, sitting in the chair in the Inn at Kharanos, my day's work done. I finish every session by sitting down in this particular seat before logging off. It must have been the fourth or fifth time I'd done it when I happened to notice that a) there was a massive tome on the table beside me and b) it was interactable.

I can't say I've noticed readable books in WoW before. I guess there must be plenty dotted around. They wouldn't have been a new thing back in 2004 - I remember them from EQ's Kunark expansion, I think, but being able to sit in a seat and read a book on the table next to you must have been quite stunning at the time. It felt pretty impressive even now.

I lightened this shot so the picture stands out. It's a bit harder to see in game. This is the same room at the Inn in Kharanos. You can see the book on the table and, like that book, even though I've been in this room several times over the last couple of day,s I hadn't noticed the picture until last night.

Shows how observant I am. When I did spot it it puzzled me quite a bit. This in is the heart of Dwarven territory. Ironfoge is just up the hill. The Inn caters exclusively to dwarves and gnomes.

Why would a dwarven innkeeper choose to put a huge oil painting of a human woman in her underwear on the wall of his inn? I suppose it could be a reproduction of some famous Azerothian work of art but it looks an awful lot more like a slice of cheesecake to me.

Is there a painting of a female dwarf in her lingerie hanging on the wall of the Inn in Goldshire? I don't think so! I haven't checked but I feel pretty safe on that one, all the same. Do dwarves (and/or gnomes) find human females sexually, or even aesthetically, desirable? It seems highly unlikely but I admit I am more than sketchy on the lore here.

Come to think of it, someone had to draw that painting (Can you draw a painting? I guess you can. English is weird). I doubt it's lifted from a real work of art. What exactly were the artists and designers thinking of when they were building this world?

It all adds to the rich panoply of life in Azeroth, doesn't it? I guess it's hard to cavill over a cheesy painting when there are NPCs named after Monty Python stalwarts staffing the stores (Looking at you, Terry Palin).

I'll keep on photo-documenting the oddities I run across. I have the feeling there are going to be more than a few.

In fact, I think I'll go do that right now. My hunter dinged ten last night. It's pet time!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Punishment Of Luxury: WoW Classic, Guild Wars 2, EverQuest II

WoW Classic is beginning to get its claws into me. The diluted enthusiasm of yesterday is begining to coalesce into something more concentrated. I waited until after lunch to log in today but then I played for four hours without a break and I didn't much want to stop then.

I'm sitting here now, typing this post and itching to get back in and level up some more. It's quite a long time since I've wanted to play an MMORPG more than I wanted to write about it and wouldn't you know it, sod's law, all of sudden I'm staring down the barrel at three of them.

My delayed start in Classic today was mainly due to a hospital appointment but also because I logged all three accounts into Guild Wars 2 to pick up the seventh birthday present on my oldest character and the Victorious Anniversary Achievement Box on each account.

The box includes a few nice things and a rock you can stand on. I thought it sounded ludicrous but I have to say I quite like it. It is literally a small rock that goes in your Toy slot that you can pull out and stand on, whereupon your character strikes a triumphal pose. I've only seen it on a Charr so far. Looking forward to seeing what an Asura does with it.

"Ahem. May I remind you who is the Princess here?"

There's also a free Black Lion Key in the cash shop. I love these and so does Mrs Bhagpuss, who does map completion not infrequently to get them and has been known to buy them from the Gem Store.When I told her there was a free one she was considerably more excited than she was for WoW Classic (although she has now actually made a character there (Gnome Warlock) and leveled her up to five).

While I love opening the boxes when it isn't costing me anything, I would never buy a Black Lion Key.  A) they are far too expensive and B) what you usually get is total garbage. Total garbage was exactly what I got on the first two accounts, the two I play these days and also the two that have the Heart of Thorns expansion, which you have to have to be able to use gliding.

My third account (chronologically the second but third in terms of usage) only has the core game so of course that was the one that got the big ticket Exclusive item, the Watchwork Wings Package. Naturally it's account-bound and more surprisngly it looks fantastic. I would absolutely use it on either of the accounts that can, y'know, freakin' well glide!

I was, initially, very annoyed but I calmed down a lot when I realised the "Package" part of the description means you get both wings and a backpack. The backpack is also splendid so at least I can use that.

Take a look at what you could have won...
Fun and exciting though all that was, it obviously wouldn't keep me logged in and playing all day. If it wasn't for WoW Classic, though, the other new addition to the game that came with yesterday's update certainly would. Cooking has finally been raised to a skill level of 500 and I would be on my chef right now, grinding away at the stove. So to speak.

Cooking was the first tradeskill I took up in GW2 and it remains one of my favorites. It's been languishing for years but now it's back! Prices of various ingredients are booming and things will be chaotic for a while, which is always fun, but cooking is going to have to go on the back burner until I cool off on Classic.

The other hot ticket right now, were it not for Blizzard parking their elephant on everyone's lawn, would be EverQuest 2, where there's not only the new Panda quest to enjoy but also a new Fabled dungeon. I really enjoyed the last two of those. I spent a good while getting killed in them before I managed to tweak my gear and build sufficiently to start downing names and looting upgrades.

Can't stop! Things to do!

This time the schedule's so crowded I haven't even patched EQII up yet. Maybe tomorrow, as the theme tune to The Littlest Hobo would have it. Could have used that as the post title if I'd been as smart as the dog.

As far as posting about Classic goes, I have so much to say I don't know where to start. The reason you're not reading any of it now is that I know if I get stuck into a post about it I'll be here all night. Only this time I don't want to spend the evening writing about the game - I want to play it.

So I'm going to! Bye!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

First Impressions: WoW Classic

The big day is here at last! I was looking forward to it so much that I forgot all about it until after breakfast, when I saw this report from Massively OP. I reminded Mrs Bhagpuss, who sounded excited then promptly went back to felting  the solar system (apparently NASA says Pluto is a planet after all so now she has to make that too). She has yet to log in or even make a character.

It was about half past eight in the morning when I clicked the WoW Classic icon on my desktop. Based on previous experience, bolstered by the MOP report, I expected things to be busy. Given that most of Europe probably didn't pull an all-nighter, I thought there might even be queues.

Maybe on Firemaw, Gehennas, Golemag and Shazzrah. The other ten? Not so much.

At 5pm UK time (6pm EU) one more server is High, all the rest are Medium except Hydraxian Warlords and Ashbringer, which are still Low. Thnk I definitely picked the right server.

Login was smooth and immediate. There I was at that odd little camp on the ice in the dwarven starting area, the name of which I have already forgotten even though I was there for most of the morning. It was reasonably busy. For a normal MMORPG these days it would have seemed positively lively. For what is effectively launch day for one of the most hyped events in the history of one of the genre's titans, though? Again, not so much that you'd notice. Maybe it's the layering.

Chat was upbeat and positive. Everyone was talking in full, grammatical sentences, using good English with very little slang. I took it to mean most of them were using their second language.

It stayed that way for about half an hour, at which point some wiseapple announced that the servers would be 80% deserted in a month. Chat deteriorated into an orgy of triumphalism about how superior we all were to be playing Classic rather than Live, at which point I switched it off.

I fiddled about with a couple of settings but I didn't change much. I'm not using any Addons so everything's pretty much out of the tin. With that done I looked around, saw some dwarf with a ! for a hat about twenty yards away, spoke to him and we were off.

Well, almost. First I had to stare in awe at the quest text. It was typing itself out a word at a time! I don't recall seeing that in any MMORPG before. It makes the whole thing take about as long as if there was voice acting, only without any of the theoretical interest and insight a line reading brings to the text.

At first I thought it would be very annoying but after a few quests I decided I quite liked it. For some reason (the arcane thought processes of the designer, presumably) the text only unfurls in its stately manner when the questgiver lays out the terms and conditions. When you return with the hand-in everything happens at normal speed. Probably just as well. I have a feeling ghost-typing is going to get old quite fast.

From then on it really was business as usual. For gameplay, population density was just about perfect. There were exactly the right number of dwarves and gnomes to keep all the more "difficult" areas (the Snow Troll Cave mostly) open and easy to navigate, while still leaving plenty of spawns for everyone. Absolutely no lines needed.

I killed some wolves, I killed some boars. I killed some troggs. I killed some snow trolls. I delivered some letters. I took a mug of coffee mornbrew from one dwarf to another then brought back the mug. This is the gameplay that stunned the world back in 2004? Maybe you had to be there.

I was kind of having fun all the same, although as I played a couple of thoughts kept running through my mind:  "This is nowhere near as compulsive and satisfying as starting on an EverQuest Progression server" and "This isn't any slower or harder than leveling a new character in the free trial on Live".

If you're going to be a delivery guy you have to wear shorts. Now, where did I leave my gearless bike?

Since my mind was by no means fully engaged with the gameplay, which seemed to consist of an increasing number of kills for each quest and more and more drops relying on rng, I pondered over why I wasn't quite feeling it. There's the obvious nostalgia factor: I don't have any. Compare that to EQ, where I get warm fuzzies about every ten paces in every starter zone in the game (Okay, not Crescent Reach). I don't think that's the main drag anchor, though.

Maybe it's because I already do this all the time. Without much exaggeration, half of my play hours probably involve starting new characters on servers or in games where I have nothing and have to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I'm extremely used to having no money, no resources, no gear and little idea what I'm doing. A lot of people playing Classic probably haven't done anything like this for years. I do it every week.

After a good ponder I came to the tentative conclusion that the real joy-stealer for me is the questing. Not because I don't like kill ten rat and fedex quests. I enjoy them a lot, provided I run across them in a way that feels natural, organic and, yes, immersive. In WoW, questing is none of those things.

Now that's more like it. Forest green leathers for that traditional Hunter look.

I remember, back when the game launched, the idea of questgivers having markers over their heads was highly controversial. It was often used as shorthand for the dumbing down of the genre. It was also very successful, as was the increasing use of quests as the prime means of gaining experience to level up.

Both spread across the genre to the extent that it can be hard to recall what it was like before those mechanics existed. WoW Classic supposedly relies a lot less on either than the Live game and it's said not to have Quest hubs as we know them at all. Those came later, or so I read. I have to say it doesn't feel that way.

I did the first five levels in the Dwarf starting area. It took me a little less than two hours, which I am pretty sure is significantly less than it took me to get my free trial Panda, Worgen or Goblin to the same level on Live. Whether it will slow down over the next few levels we shall see. So far, the supposed slower gameplay is not evident to me at all.

I really like "raise on use" skills. but I wish they made a bit more of them.
I didn't even notice the text until I was Level 4.

Those five levels seemed as though they were mostly on rails. I did a quest, handed it in, some Dwarf or Gnome in line of sight would suddenly grow an exclamation point hat and off I went again. I lacked agency and felt it. At one point I was mousing over my xp bar and calculating how many kills I'd need to grind the level instead of questing. (Thirty at Level four, forty at Level six, if I remember correctly).

Other than that, a lot of things were fun. Animations were excellent and I couldn't help thinking the spell effects were bigger and more impressive than I was used to on Live. That can't be true, surely? I also spent five minutes or more watching a rabbit. It had unpredictable and non-repetitive pathing, sprayed snow as it hopped and left a varying trail of paw prints. That seems incredibly sophisticated for 2005. Anyone know if it's authentic Vanilla bunny behavior?

Loot was plentiful and quite satisfying. I equipped all the grey gear, vendored the vendor loot (no little gold dot to identify the trash, I noticed), ate some of the food and wished a bag would drop. No luck. I can see I'm going to have to take up tailoring, as usual.

Who are you calling a monkey, pal?

I trained Track Animals, a skill I forgot hunters had, and found it very useful for all the endless boar killing I was tasked with by dwarves who mysteriously can't leave their posts. I spent most of the two silver I'd made on a pair of vendor-sold pants and a jerkin because they looked so much better than the mismatched hand-me-downs I was wearing. A dwarf in shorts? Come on....

That meant I didn't have the money to buy my combat skills but it hardly seemed to matter. In the first five levels my health rarely went under 90%. The result of every fight was never in doubt and I don't even have a pet yet.

When I dinged five I'd had enough of the trainer wheels. I stlll had a quest or two left but I wanted my freedom. I ran through the pass, which I remember being a challenge when I first played back in 2009. There wasn't a mob to be seen. All the other gnomes and dwarves jogging through had exterminated every living thing.

Train to Kharanos! In a manner of speaking.

I trotted into Kharanos, where naturally someone asked me to deliver something and off we went yet again on the merry round of doing what other people want. The mobs here were a level above me and took longer to kill but there was still no risk unless a bear decided to join in. That happened a couple of times and I ran away, which solved the problem. Leashes are very short in WoW Classic.

I'd been playing for around three hours and I'd reached Level 6 when I finally bit off more than I could chew. I had the quest for Wendigo Manes. I knew full well I'd had terrible trouble with it ten years ago, and again when I played a Gnome Hunter more recently.

Ignoring precedent, I barrelled into the Wendigo caves and started killing. It was fine for a while. The caves were busy and wendigos were scarce, as were their manes. After a while, without me noticing, the crowd thinned and wendigos began to proliferate.

Go towards the light. Not like there's any other choice.

I got a couple of adds a level higher than me. I ran them off but in a cave that meant picking up more wendigos so I ended up running further than I expected. It worked a couple of times but then I had to abandon a kill without looting it. With manes being so rare I couldn't have that, so next time I got an add while the mob I was killing was nearly down I stuck on him 'til he died then tried to loot, even though another wendigo was clawing at my back.

Step too far. The second wendigo stunned me and killed me as I was kneeling down trying to peel the mane off his friend. An entirely avoidable death but one that did make me think I probably needed to be slightly more careful in future.

And that's where I left it. I had a couple of real life things to do so I collected my corpse, legged it back to the Inn, sat in a chair and logged out. Not a bad first session but nothing like the "you had to be there" experience I was hoping for. I wonder if that was really something that only happened at the US launch yesterday?

I'm a dwarf! I drink anywhere!
That said, when I finish this post I'm going to log in and carry on so I guess I must be enjoying myself. I might do my Guild Wars 2 dailies first, though. And log in to Riders of Icarus. Oh, and go do the first of the new Panda quests in EverQuest II.

I don't think there's anything going on in WoW Classic that can't wait.

Monday, August 26, 2019

What's My Motivation? Blaugust

According to Belghast's handy schedule, this is Staying Motivated Week.

"Staying Motivated Week – August 25th – August 31st: The final stretch. The idea is to post some help to keep folks motivated as they run towards the finish line. Also some general tricks and tips on how you keep motivated if you are one of the more seasoned veterans of the blogging community. If you are fresh to the initiative you could talk about some of the ways you have kept yourself engaged and creating content."

I am perhaps the least-qualified blogger imaginable to give advice on this topic. Just look at the August posts over to the right. Five days left in the month and I've already racked up three dozen posts.

That's already the most I've ever posted in a calendar month. I think my previous record was thirty-two for last year's Blaugust. This year I will break forty.

One thing I would like to emphasize, particularly to anyone who started blogging this month as a result of Blaugust is this:

  • It's okay to miss a day. Or a week.

Blaugust is exceptional. Everyone's so into it you might get the impression we're always like this. And some of us are. But most of us aren't. Blogging is a marathon not a sprint but it's very easy to forget that in the excitement of a big community event like this.

My normal posting pattern is very different. I average somewhere between 175 and 190 posts a year. I tend to post only on days when I'm not working, which, since I work a four day week, means about three times unless something exciting happens. If so I'll bang out something quickly in the evening.

If I'm off work for some reason I post a lot more. The reason my post count has been so high in 2019 is that I've been at home for much of the year, either recovering from an operation or going through post-op treatment that prohibits me working.

That's also meant I'm not really able to go out much (tiredness, risk of infection, highly increased susceptibility to sunburn) so I've had more than ample time to blog. And so far I really haven't run short of ideas, because

  • Ideas are like dust. 

They're everywhere and they pile up if you don't clear them out. If you read other blogs you'll see something every single day that makes you think "Oh, I've got plenty to say about that!". That's a blog post right there - maybe a series.

If you follow the news about the games you play or the developers who make them, things will constantly irk you or excite you or tickle your fancy. If you were talking about it to a friend or your guild you can post about it on your blog. Posts like that almost write themselves. After all,

  • Your blog is about something, isn't it? 

In this corner of the blogosphere that's most likely gaming but in the blog roll to your right there are blogs on real-life crafting, movies, drawing, parenting, comics, sports... Heck, one of the most enjoyable blogs I followed (now sadly dormant) was about bridges.

Whatever it is, it's something you do, right? You probably did it today. You probably do it every day. So write about it. Don't worry if anyone wants to read about the dungeon clear you did last night or the pair of socks you're knitting. Write entertainingly about it and they will, because in the end

  • It really isn't what you write about. It's how.

Which does not mean you have to be a great writer, technically or any other way. It doesn't matter if your grammar is shaky, your syntax shot, or your spelling all over the place. It's not like Reese Lansangan is going to come round your house and blow her whistle at you - although how great would that be?

It doesn't even matter if what you say isn't original. Your beatdown on the most flogged of dead horses is yours and you know what works as well as anything and better than most? Just being yourself. If your post sounds like you're talking to a friend over coffee and cake (or beer and peanuts) and you're both having a good time, that's all you need.

Rewind. It does matter if something you post is literally not original. Don't go nicking other peoples' stuff. Of course, no-one here would do that so I don't know why I mentioned it.

Okay, you got me. I do know.

Anecdote break. 

Before I blogged I used to be big into the APAzine Scene. APAs were (are?) like blogs you produce on a photocopier. Here, go read about it on Wikipedia. One time in an APA I was in there was a huge scandal. It turned out someone had been submitting work he'd "borrowed" from other sources, passing it off as "original" work of his own. Not only that but he denied it when challenged and we had to vote on expelling him at a meeting. He got kicked out. It was all very dramatic. And unpleasant. So it happens.

Of course, no-one can kick you off your blog. It's yours, which means

  • You can write whatever you want. 

And if what you write is entertaining, amusing, informative or just plain conversational people will read it. If you lack for motivation, just think: someone's bored at work, looking at their RSS feed right now, tapping a pen against their coffee mug, wishing a post would pop up.

It could be yours. You could be telling them about the new character you made in your favorite MMORPG or getting buyer's remorse out of your system for that dumb purchase you made on Steam. Or you could be giving an update on your weekend plans or posting a couple of pictures from the vacation you just took or being really, really sad about your pet that died.

All of those are posts I've read on blogs that were nominally about gaming. And that's another rule you can break to help you over any idea slump. Remember when I asked if your blog was about something? Well,

  • Whatever you thought your blog was about, it's actually about you.

So don't box yourself in. If you've gone dry on your topic of choice, reach into the bag and choose a different club. (Geez, did I just use a golf metaphor? I need caffeine.) I just did that this month, opening up the blog to posts about music. It's been hugely refreshing. If I was short of ideas for posts (Spoiler: I wasn't) this would have smashed that log-jam to flinders.

This could run on. I like the sound of my own voice, in case anyone didn't get that. And so should you. You should learn to like the sound of yours, if you don't already. One way to do that is to

  • Say what you want to say and let other people worry about whether it's interesting or not. 

Writers often talk about the importance of "finding your voice". Yes, maybe, if your goal is to win the Man Booker. Otherwise, you already have a voice. Just let us hear it.

And since we're actually talking about writing, not talking, learn to be your own favorite writer. Or if not favorite then at least in the top five! If you enjoy writing and enjoy reading what you've written, chances are so will someone else. And on the internet "someone" means lots of someones.

Of course, all of this is predicated on the idea that you enjoy writing. I mean,

  • You do enjoy writing, don't you?

Not everyone does. Actually, I imagine hardly anyone does. It's kind of a weird thing to do, when you think about it. Sitting on your own, staring at a screen, when you could be watching a movie or playing a game or taking the dog for a walk. Or painting the stairs, because you know they need it and it's been years since the last time. Okay, that one might just be me...

If you're sitting in front of the computer looking at a blank, white screen and wondering why, then stop. As the old kids TV show used to say "Why don't you just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead?". Except with your blogging app, naturally. Because who even watches TV in 2019? 

Finally, and most importantly of all, always remember:

  • Blogging is a hobby not a job.

And hobbies have a finite lifetime for most people. Could be a fad that lasts a week, an obsession that takes up all your time and energy for months, a habit that lasts for years until you forget why you ever started. It could even become a way of life, something that never leaves you. The point is, it lasts as long as it lasts and that's fine.

Also, hobbies are pick-up-put-down. It's not a one-time thing. If you're not feeling it, have a break. Maybe you'll come back, maybe you won't. Either way it's your choice.

That may not sound all that motivational but trust me, it is. Take the pressure off and give yourself time for the enthusiasm you had when you started to well up all over again. Fun things are only fun when you don't have to do them. 

That last sentence should probably have been a bullet point...

  • Final tip: if you're stuck for ideas, just bang something out. 

Doesn't matter what. Just freestyle it. Sit down, start typing, see where it takes you. Easy to say and guess what? Easy to do, too.

That's how I wrote this post, after all.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Blaugust Music Experiment

The Blaugust Music Experiment has been very interesting. Well, it has for me. Researching and writing the posts has been very enjoyable. I've had far more ideas than I've had time to use and I've got some plans for what might become regular "features", something this blog has never had before.

When it comes to response, it's probably been a little better than I expected. There have been a few comments, all of them considered and thoughtful. Given the increased volume of blog posts, not just here but throughout the Blaugust-inflected corner of the blogosphere, I'm sure more posts are getting skipped than in a normal month. I know I'm struggling to keep up. Off-topic posts like these are probably some of the first to go if you're in a hurry.

And this is an MMORPG blog after all. You wouldn't expect readers necessarily to welcome a Spinal Tap style new direction. Although, curiously, I've noticed a distinct increase in posts about music on blogs otherwise focused on gaming. Not sure it's quite a trend yet but it's curious to see.

One big problem with including posts about music on a gaming blog is that musical tastes are far, far more varied than tastes in gaming, not least because there are more musical styles than there are gaming genres. As a class, gamers tend to be stereotyped as metalheads or at least rock fans but that's almost certainly nonsense. I doubt a room full of gamers would be any more likely to agree on musical favorites than a room full of accountants or interior decorators.

All the same, I'm guessing that most gamers, not to mention most readers of this blog, have somewhat more coherent and consistent musical tastes than I do. I know everyone says "I like all kinds of music" but most really don't.

Neither do I. There are whole genres I can't stand - all the flavors of death/black metal, grindcore, anything where the vocalist sounds like they're throwing up in bucket. Rammstein and Babymetal are about as metal as I get these days.Then there are plenty of genres I usually wouldn't take any time to listen to -  techno, drum'n'bass, a lot of mainstream r'n'b, chillwave...

Outside of things I actively dislike, though, I'll pretty much listen to anything and not only will I listen, I'll make an effort to discover. The searching and finding is as much fun as the listening, sometimes.

All of which means that, when I share my favorites and new finds I'm likely to spit out a peculiar and incoherent melange of styles, periods and sounds. I'd hope people might flip throught them, listen to a few seconds and move on to the next if it doesn't catch their attention, but I know most probably won't.

Popular music just isn't as popular as it used to be. When I was growing up and for many of my adult years, music was the most important of all cultural indicators. When I was at school the first - literally the very first - question I and my friends would ask when we met a new boy (single sex school, so it was always a boy) was "What bands do you like?"

From the answer we would make a snap judgment on whether to put any effort into getting to know the newbie or whether to cross him off our list of potentially worthwhile contacts. As I moved through University and into an extremlely socially active 1980s, even among groups of comics fans the most frequent and often the most intense conversations revolved around music.

Things aren't like that any more. People do still define themselves and their circles by musical taste but it's the exception now where once it was the norm. Music has become just one of a range of cultural tags and by no means the most important.

So, going forward I'm thinking of keeping the music posts short and including fewer videos with each. I don't have any hard and fast plans because I don't do that sort of thing and even if I did I wouldn't stick to them. I'm far too whim-oriented for that.

Tentatively, I'm thinking of a semi-regular theme based around Cover Versions. As I wrote a while back, I really love covers and these days there are an astonishing number to be found online.

And I do mean "found". The sheer quantity is staggering and the quality varies from execrable to embarrassing to bland to enjoyable to amazing. I feel I can offer something of a public service by drawing attention to the best (or funniest) of the versions I happen across. After all, I'm doing all the hard work anyway.

Similarly there are the utter obscurities. Things that'll never be heard or seen unless someone throws back the blinds and lets the light in. I have a habit of searching for songs on YouTube that have fewer than ten thousand views. The fewer the better, really, although it's quite hard to find the very unwatched ones, the stuff that only the people who made it and maybe their friends and family have ever seen.

And judging by the views on some of those that I have found, not even that. I've watched a few that had no views at all. Most of them are... not good. But now and again you find a gem. I'd quite like to flag those up.

That's just a couple of ideas. I have more. Suggestions always welcome!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Welcome To Difficult: Wow Classic

As the big day draws ever nearer, all thoughts turn to WoW Classic. Well, for some people. I've been thinking about it on and off but I can't say it's been on my mind 24/7.

One thing that did occur to me was to check the exact time the new-old game launches. Almost everything I read just says "27th August" but of course nothing's ever quite as simple as that.

Blizzard have a very handy timetable on the official website that gives the American launch date as the 26th, not the 27th. I can't say I've seen that spelled out anywhere before. As the footnote explains "To align with other regions, the Americas will launch slightly ahead of August 27 in local time".

Here in the UK we also get a Monday start - barely. Servers should open for us at 11pm, by which time I can guarantee I will have been in bed for at least a couple of hours because my drug regime means I run out of steam at about eight in the evening. EU players technically begin on the 27th, at the dead of midnight, while Asia and Oceania join in at breakfast time.

I understand that time zones mean all the servers actually come online simultaneously but that's self-evidently not going to be the human experience. Given that launch is happening during the working week and that the majority of Classic players are likely to be of working and child-rearing age, being able to come home at five or six PM is a major advantage to having to log in at bedtime or breakfast.

Only to be expected. It's been that way in most MMORPGs I've played for the last twenty years. I bet Runescape doesn't do launches at 11pm UK time, though.

It's an entirely moot point at any rate. We're in no hurry. It suits us very well to start our Classic journey on Tuesday morning, with the whole day ahead. I'm home sick for the summer and Mrs. Bhagpuss doesn't work Tuesdays. I'm not even convinced she's going to get around to playing straight away- she hasn't made a character yet.

What's more, the server we've picked, Hydraxian Waterlords, is still showing as "Medium" population. Given eight or ten hours for the rush to subside (always assuming enough people want to stay up all night for there to be a rush), there's every chance we won't have to face a queue on login. Or not a ridiculously long one, anyway.

Once we get in there's the nature of the experience to consider. I made a second character today, a Gnome Warlock. It was entirely predictable. When I played WoW for six months I tried a lot of classes but the two I liked best were Hunter and Warlock. And obviously the two races that appeal to me in Classic are Gnome and Dwarf. If it ain't broke, as they say.

There's been some discussion around the blogosphere on the subject of how "difficult" Classic is going to be and also on how things like Add-Ons might affect that perception, not to mention the actual experience. They are thorny topics indeed.

On difficulty, my feeling is that those who played during Vanilla will be surprised to find almost everything "easier", and certainly faster, than they remembered. That's because they have those memories. They know, even if the knowledge is dim and cobwebbed, how to play the game. In 2004 they had no pre-knowledge and learning slows things down.

Players who only know the post-Wrath of the Lich King game will almost certainly find Classic a lot slower and considerably more fiddly and annoying. That may be perceived as difficulty; more likely tedium. They won't stick around.

I'm fine with Classic not being "difficult". What I want is for it to be involving - even immersive, if we can still call on that ancient concept. For that to happen the original systems and mechanics that Blizzard have taken so much trouble to re-create need to have integrity.

To that end I was very heartened to read Marathal's short post this morning. Community Manager Bornakk replied to a thread on the forums about the much-publicised LFG Addon, confirming that Blizzard aren't at all happy with it. What's more, they aren't going to allow it:
"After careful examination, we believe the nature of ClassicLFG is incompatible with our social design for Classic. Thus, in an upcoming patch (in the weeks following launch), we will be adding restrictions to the Classic add-on API that will significantly limit this add-on and others like it."
I sometimes complain about paternalism in MMORPGs but this is not that. This is proper custodianship, although I'm not quite sure why the fix has to wait until a few weeks after launch.

I was actualy playing WoW when the original LFG Finder was introduced. It was right at the end of my run and I stayed on a week longer than I planned to try this new-fangled option.

It worked. I got groups and got ported to the dungeon. It was efficient, clinical and alienating, all factors that have only increased over time as the mechanic has spread like a virus to most triple-A MMORPGs.

When we talk about difficulty, I'm reminded of the process of forming groups to do dungeons in EverQuest in the years before and just after WoW. Everyone remembers the the calling out in /ooc or /shout, sending and receiving /tells, trying to find a place in a group or fill one. Everyone talks about how long it took and how tedious it was but what no-one ever seems to mention is how dangerous putting a group together could be.

Not the reecruiting, obviously, but physically getting the members of the group together in one place, at the entrance to the dungeon. Norrath was both big and lethal. Dungeons were distant from population centers, tucked away in obscure corners of zones filled with aggressive creatures, monsters that could be much higher level than the ones the group planned on fighting in the dungeon itself.

I remember one occasion when, having taken half an hour or so to put a group together to take a crack at Mistmoore, so many of the group got killed trying to get there, some of them multiple times, that we broke up before we ever entered the dungeon. When Gates of Discord arrived to drive half the population of EQ in the welcoming arms of Vanilla WoW, most of the guild I was in refused point-blank even to try to join groups in Natimbi, let alone Qinimi, because they were convinced they'd never get there alive.

And they were right. Even with Spirit of Wolf and Invisibility the chances of dying in transit to your waiting group were significant. I found it "fun" or at least involving. I lasted longer in GoD than almost anyone on my friends list. I got past the entry level zones and did a little in the next tier. It was probably the hardest gameplay of my MMORPG career and after a few months I'd had enough, too.

That was taking things too far but to my mind getting to the dungeon should be as much of an adventure as crawling through it. Seperating the two experiences is a big mistake. I realize that traveling across Azeroth is never going to be anything close to the terrifying experience crossing Norrath was back in the day but at least it's heading in the right direction.

I only hope I will be. I do have a tendency to get lost trying to find my group.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Just You Wait 'Til It's Ripe!: Riders of Icarus

Since I mentioned it the other day, here are a couple of shots of my latest Legendary Mount in Riders of Icarus. I now have five Legendary Mounts and a Legendary fighting Familiar. I also have two Heroic fighters. Every one of those was a freebie from Logins.

My bags and banks are stuffed with items that give huge buffs, I've got fifty gold, approximately ten times the amount I've earned through playing, and I have almost 500 Ellun, one of the two cash shop currencies, having already spent several hundred more. All from login rewards

There are five more Legendary mounts, any one of which I can buy with the tokens I'm collecting from the August login campaign. By Christmas I guess I could have all of them.

 It's a very odd game. I must get back to playing it some day.

The Greatest - Lana Del Rey

To the interest of probably next-to-no-one reading this, I have to share the magnificent, new portmanteau video from Lana del Rey. I woke up this morning, had breakfast, sat down at my PC and checked Feedly and this was almost the first thing I saw.

I opened the video fullscreen on YouTube and sat back in awe. There is just so much there to take in. The density and weight of everything Lana's done over this last year is stunning. It sometimes takes me dozens of views and listens to come to even a hesitant conclusion on what I'm seeing and hearing. I'm slowly coming around to the belief that she's the sharpest, smartest lyricist I've ever heard but she also has a visual sensibilty and wholistic approach that other contenders I've admired and even worshipped over the years just can't match.

There's a very perceptive review of the video and one of the two songs it contains on Pitchfork. I don't always find Pitchfork's reviewers either convincing or entertaining but this one's on the money. That song, "The Greatest", seems to me to be both a commentary on our times, something Lana increasingly excels at, and an apocalyptic science fiction vision. It's the second of the pair and it starts at 4.23, although I very strongly recommend watching the full nine minutes, nineteen seconds from the start.

The coda, quoted in both Pitchfork pieces, paints an unforgettable picture of a world going down in flames:

"If this is it, I’m signing off
Miss doing nothing the most of all
Oh, I just missed a fireball
L.A.’s in flames, it’s getting hot
Kanye West is blond and gone
“Life on Mars” ain’t just a song
Oh, the livestream’s almost on"

Lana's old life is lost and gone and ours too. Everyone who can flee has fled but for most there's nowhere to run. Mars is our last, only hope. The screengrab at the top of the post, Lana a living figurehead on the prow of a ship named Wipeout, heading into a bleak and occluded sunset, well, it says it all.

And that final line - "Oh, the livestream's almost on" - hits like a truck. The end of the world will not be televised. It will be livestreamed.

Norman Fucking Rockwell is shaping up to be the best album I've ever heard. I just pre-ordered.

Ain't life (bitter)sweet?
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