Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Moonflight: EQII

I'm going to close out the year with a bunch of pictures of my Berserker flying around various Blood of Luclin zones on his... flying thing. I'm not entirely sure what it is (or where he got it). On the ground it looks a bit like some kind of cat but it has weird magitech wings that unfurl out of nowhere as soon as it jumps into the air. Makes a change from the usual back-mounted bat flappers.

I'm in two minds about Daybreak's decision to make flying in the new expansion dependent on completing either the Tradeskill or Adventure Signature Line. It could have been frustrating but I didn't find it so. Travelling around on foot seemed perfectly pleasant most of the time. 

Better yet, as soon as I thought to swap out my stats cloak for an old one with Featherfall on it I pretty much felt as though I could fly anyway. The zones all have a significant degree of verticality, which meant I could do what I'm used to doing in Guild Wars 2 - climb up something high and jump off, then glide halfway across the zone.

Other people have reported that the precursors to flying mounts, Gliders and Leapers, work very well too. I was going to try that for myself but most of my characters managed to snag various Holiday and Event mounts that let them fly at low levels so they never bothered to get the lesser kinds.

I'm very glad that the rumor about the tradeskill questline not granting flight turned out to be false. As usual, the crafting timeline is a lot quicker and less trouble than the adventure. My Berserker finished the craft line a few days ago but he's barely half-way through the adventure version.

I'm not as motivated to finish it as I might be, either, because getting flight had the odd effect of making me feel like I'd "finished" on that character. The fact that he'd dinged 120 as a Berserker on the second day of the expansion and now was a Level 120 Weaponsmith as well just compounded the sense of completion.

Where I'm not sure about the need to earn the right to fly is that it has to be done separately for each character. An account-wide unlock might be more appropriate. Like many other MMORPGs these days, though, there seems to be no clear idea what constitutes character progression and what comes as part of owning an account. In principle I prefer things to be character-based so I don't really have much of an argument against the way Daybreak have chosen to go.

The most telling factor is probably that I'm not dreading unlocking flying on the rest of my characters. I certainly don't mind going through the crafting timeline a few more times with my Alchemist, Sage and Carpenter. I can't really see me doing the Adventure line more than once - twice at the outside - so the other two I'm planning on leveling are probably going to have to keep their feet on the ground.

I don't see that as a problem and even if I did I wouldn't mind betting that by the time it becomes an issue the rules will have changed to make things easier. That's what tends to happen in MMORPGs if you're patient.

If only the same was true of life in general.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

And The Hits Just Keep On Coming...

Here we go! Part the third and last of 2019's song and lyric round-up. And look who it is, leading from the front. Bloody Morrissey again... 

I Was Looking For A Job - The Smiths from Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now - Calling Capt. Obvious. Morrissey is so horribly quotable, blast him. Once again, I'd prefer a cover to His Miserableness but even with hundreds to choose from I can't find a good one. If Puddles can't carry it, no-one can.

It's All Happening - Tommy Steele - Hear that noise? That's the sound of a barrel being scraped, that is. Although a barrel being scraped would have a better tune.

Welcome To Difficult - Cowboy Crush, from Difficult. Wikipedia lists nearly seventy sub-genres of "country ". I'm guessing this must be one of them but I wouldn't be able to tell you which. I'd probably come across as a lot cooler if I said I'd taken my post title from Difficult Listening Hour by Laurie Anderson but I'd be lying. What really happened was that I googled for songs with "difficult" in the title and this is what I got.

Punishment Of Luxury - Here, though, I definitely was thinking of the band of the same name, often referred to as Punilux. And though I didn't know it at the time, it's also a song by Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark. I imagine they have some common history. Where's Pete Frame when you need him?

A Change In The Weather - Love Spit Love - Isn't that a terrible name for a band? Particularly coming from the guy who came up with The Psychedelic Furs. I never rated The Furs until I reluctantly went to see them with a girlfriend back in the 80s and they were just great. Then I saw Pretty in Pink and that was me sold.

What Has Happened To Your Review? - from Peppy Solex by Solex. Okay, I admit it. This is just obscurity for the sake of it. 229 YouTube views in nearly five years pretty much says it all. It's great, though, isn't it? That's her picture at the top of the post, too. Actually, it turns out she's not as obscure as all that. She did six John Peel sessions...

Whole Wide World - Wreckless Eric - There are those who might also find Wreckless a tad obscure but compared to Solex he's Justin Bieber. Erm, that didn't quite come out right. This is the classic that cemented his place in pop history but he's written dozens as good or even better than this. He's also the drunkest I have ever seen anyone who was also still able not just to sing but to remember all the words - and I'm including Shane McGowan and Mark E Smith in that.

Yeah, Yeah, I Got An Alternative - Gorrilaz, from Hip Albatross. The line itself is a quote from from the film "Day of the Dead". I do love dragging non-sequiter fragments out of popular culture and forcing them into service. As does Damon, apparently.

Fight For Your Right (To Party) - Beastie Boys - Enough with the obscurantism, already! Play something we know! There are a million covers of this on YouTube, some quite bizarre - Debbie Harry seems oddly fond of doing it, though she probably shouldn't. There's a Dance Mix, a Lounge version, even Coldplay have had a bash although that's where I draw the line. In fact, I draw my line well before Coldplay...  My favorite so far has to be this slab of Argentinian Jazz Funk courtesy of Profesores de Tennis, which, for some reason, I embedded at the top of yesterday's post.

Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen - If you're going to go mainstream, might as well go all the way. The Boss's signature tune, here interpreted by the second band ever to have three consecutive U.K. number ones with their first three singles - Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Better than the original, I'd say.

Let's Go To The Moon - The Equals  -The drummer sounds like he's beating the dents out of a Ford Escort with a sledgehammer. Which was probably his day job.

Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman Like Me - But I Have It - Lana! Second appearance of the year for this song as a post title, this time used in full. It's a song so good I can hardly bear to listen to it. As the last track on Norman Fucking Rockwell it arrives like the dawn coming up over the ruins at the end of the world. No? Just me, then...

I Got Skills - From the sublime... an obvious and unsubtle pun on "I got chills" from You're The One That I Want by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta.  I actually saw Grease at the cinema on original release so I shouldn't get too sniffy about it. Even so, let's have the Angus and Julia Stone version.

Savage Silk - Suzi Quatro I must have been a very strange teenager. I would guess Suzi was maybe five years older than me when she hit big in the early 70s. Half the adolescent boys in the country must have had posters of her on their walls. For some reason I cannot now fathom, she looked to me to be about the same age as my mother. I thought of her accordingly. Sometimes you'd just like to go back and give your younger self a good talking to. Or a dry slap. This is not one of Suzi's best known bangers plus it has a very odd intro.

When I Feel Heavy Metal - Blur, from Song 2 - Can't help but feel Damon's making some kind of point with this one but I'm jiggered if I know what it is. It's a scary song at the best of times but the Glastonbury version is positively feral.

On The Road Again - Canned Heat - It's hard to explain why, especially since by the time I saw the movie Woodstock was barely five years in the past, but to my adolescent mind this was ancient history. I don't think I really understood that any of these people were even still alive. Come to think of it, some of them probably weren't.

Road To Nowhere - Talking Heads - There are some interesting covers of this radio standard, not least by The Rosebuds (who I saw at The Thekla, a ship moored on the Bristol waterfront. They didn't play it then, though). Nouvelle Vague covered it, too. Of course they did.

Keep Pushin' 'Til It's Understood - Bruce Springsteen, from Badlands. He gets everywhere! I'm not even that much of a Bruce fan. He's just kind of universal, I guess.

Carry The News, Dude - Mott The Hoople from All The Young Dudes. This is one of those absolutely superb songs that's suffered horribly from being overplayed. This great version by The Rebelles (with Ian Hunter on backing vocals) brings back what it was like to hear it fresh..

My Little Ponies, You Opened Up My Eyes - From the My Little Pony theme song Friendship Is Magic. Tune, brah! I have Brony tendencies, it cannot be denied.

We All Love Our Pets - Taking Back Sunday - Now that's what I call Emo!

New Tricks - I have a feeling I was thinking of Lena Lovich when I used this but the song of hers I would have had in mind is actually called New Toy. The specific phrase turns up in Dog New Tricks by Garbage, which is on an album we have in the house and also on Pure Pleasure Seeker by Moloko, who we have a couple of records by as well, so theoretically I might have been thinking of one of those. Only I wasn't.

The Other Side Of The Door - Taylor Swift, from the period when she was a John Hughes movie come to life.

New Best Friend - Be nice if I could claim it was from the gloriously woozy Boredom by Tyler The Creator [feat. Anna of the North, Corinne Bailey & Rex Orange County] or This Is What Makes Us Girls by Lana, which is even better, because Lana! What I was in fact thinking of was My Bag by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. Lloyd is one of the finest lyricists since Cole Porter and I used this very song as the title of the first post I ever wrote.

Rainy Days And Mondays - The Carpenters. I love this. So sue me. I was fourteen when it was a hit and if fourteen year old me caught 61 year old me listening to The Carpenters he'd punch me in the face. If I didn't punch him first for listening to Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Pretend We're Dead - L7 - I know this from their amazing performance on The Word. Live TV at its dangerous best and an object lesson to producers to always use a five second delay.

Don't Fear The Reaper - Blue Oyster Cult -  I own an album by BOC. The live double. Haven't played it in thirty years but this is a good tune. They had about three, as I recall. Still, three more than a lot of bands. There are several interesting covers out there - Big Country, Evanescence, The Beautiful South (!)-  but the ones I like best are by The Alice Band  and Keep Shelly In Athens (fantastic name!).

Don't Start Me Talking - Sonny Boy Williamson - I know it mainly from the New York Dolls cover on Too Much Too Soon. I ummed and ahhed over the album version or the rougher-edged demo but in the end I thought "it's the Dolls, ffs!". So I went with the rough.

Blood Moon Rising - inspired by Credence Clearwater Revival's Bad Moon Rising. In their heyday, CCR were credited with bringing a raw, live edge back to rock music but the original sounds leaden by modern standards. Sadly, many of the covers I've heard are even worse. Juliana Hatfield's is lovely though and the video from The La La Love Mes, which I used at the top of yesterday's post, is just nuts.

Saturday Night In The City Of The Eyes - a pun that really doesn't work, taken from Saturday Night In The City Of The Dead by Ultravox. You wouldn't think swapping one single syllable would cause such a rhythmic train wreck but it does. I knew as much at the time and yet I still went with it. I'm duly ashamed.

All The Tired Horses - Bob Dylan - The original, from Dylan's much-maligned covers album, Self Portrait, is haunting and strange. I came across it, uncredited, on a mix tape sent me by a friend and for years I didn't even know it was Dylan. Not surprising, since he doesn't sing on it. The original is nowhere to be found on YouTube and almost all the covers are execrable. This one, by Jimmy And Noelle, is the only one I could find that comes anywhere close to the bleak, elegaic desperation I remember from the tape I listened to over and over.

Memories Like A Shroud - from Halloween by Siouxsie And The Banshees. And it wasn't even a halloween post...

Complaints (It's My Department) - from Complaints by Sparks. Quite possibly the weakest track on the magnificent Kimono my House album but even a throwaway filler from Sparks is likely to come stuffed with great lines. I'm looking forward to the upcoming Edgar Wright documentary.

Time To Build - Beastie Boys - There's a very strong argument for The Beasties being rap for rock fans but I wouldn't be the one making it. I love the way they hit the last word of every line like they're banging in nails.

Customized Or Ready Made - from Trash by Roxy Music. They were already past their best by the time this came out but the video is fun. Apparently that's Gary Tibbs of Adam and the Ants making a complete show of himself on bass.

Bits And Pieces - The Dave Clark Five - Caveman rock! Actually, cavemen probably knew more about melody than this lot. I grew up listening to this kind of thing, you know. If you tried that now someone would call social services - at least I hope they would. I thought long and hard before using it for a title but sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and go with the obvious, because it works.

Around And Around - The Rolling Stones - from the same year (1964). Might as well be from a different galaxy. Is it any wonder their respective careers took the arcs they did?

I Still Have Faith That What Was Mine Can Still Be Mine - from Apology by The Go-Gos. If that was the title it would be up there with Lana's "Hope..."I kind of missed The Go Gos when they were around the first time. I only picked up on them when Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin started having solo hits. I gather they were seminal, although that's probably not the most appropriate way of putting it.

Fresh Starts And Second Chances - Buck 65 from Jaws Of Life. His voice is pitched so high here I thought whoever posted it had sped it up to avoid copyright takedowns. But no, Buck was just young, once.

It'll Squish - Sonic Youth from Mariah Carey And The Arthur Doyle Hand Cream. It must be painfully apparent by now that I like an abstruse song title more than most people but even I draw the line at this. There aren't all that many songs with "squish" in the lyrics to choose from, though, and the few there are you mostly wouldn't want to be caught quoting.

Fifteen - Taylor Swift - I already used the John Hughes line. I should have saved it for this one.

Slip Sliding Away - Paul Simon - Of the huge number of covers of this I glanced at on YouTube, almost every one is by someone who looks exactly like the kind of person you'd expect to cover a Paul Simon song. About the only one I could stand was this.

To Cooking School, To Cooking School - from Margot Known As Missy by The Judybats. I couldn't believe it when this came up on a lyric.com search. So perfect! I have a CD by these guys somewhere. I bought it because of their name, surprise, surprise. I don't remember there being anything as good as this on it, though.

Don't Go, Kitty Kitty - Avril Levigne from Hello Kitty.  I frickin' love this song and the video. Judging by the YouTube comments I probably shouldn't have said that out loud.

Look Around You, Art Is Everywhere - MGMT. These weird kids' shows are a gift that never stops giving. I don't think anything's ever going to top Starcrawler doing Ants on Pancake Mountain. Kids in the audience are going to be reliving that day in therapy thirty years from now.

Take Five - Dave Brubeck Quartet - The original is sublime but we've heard it so many times all impact is lost. Try King Tubby  or The Specials  or even Lisa Simpson.

When The Party's Over - Billy Eilish - It's a very, very common phrase in umpteen songs, particularly ones with "party" in the title but this is the one I meant. It has to be since I was listening to it when I wrote the post. She's everything they say she is and more.

Step Into A New World - from Step Into The New World by Soulhead. Not sure why I would have changed the definite article to indefinite. Didn't it work anyway? Also, not going to pretend I have any idea who Soulhead are. Nice old school groove, that's all I do know.

We Choose To Go To The Moon - There's A Light - No clue who these guys might be, either, although I'd lay odds they took their name from The Smiths "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out". They seem to like borrowing stuff. Fair dos. So do I.

Let's Go Faster - Stray Cats - Who doesn't like a bit of overamped rockabilly? Squares, that's who, daddio!

Am I Squeezing You Too Tight? - Avril Levigne from Things I'll Never Say - Two tracks by Avril Levigne? Seriously?

I think it's time we called it a day.

See you all in 2020!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Harmonies In My Head

Three years ago, on the day after Christmas 2017, in what was to become an annual tradition here at Inventory Full, I posted a list of all the songs and lyric fragments I'd used as post titles throughout the year. There wasn't a lot to it. I typed out the titles, put together a YouTube playlist, linked to it and that was pretty much that.

The following year I did it again, on Christmas Day itself, only this time I included the links in the post instead of making a playlist. I also added commentary to each entry.

This year I realised by June that I'd already used enough quotes to fill a post so I wrote one covering the first six months of 2019.  Since then, my reliance on music to add nuance has continued to the point where I'm finishing up the year with not one but two more title collections.

There were fifty-five post titles in June's post. Parts Two and Three run to seventy-three. Or is it seventy-four? Ah, who's counting?

Well, I am, I guess. At time of writing, with a few days of the year left to go, the post count for 2019 stands at 249, including this one and tomorrow's. I'm aiming for a nice, round 250 by New Year.

It's the first time in nine years I've passed two hundred. The previous high point was 197, twice in a row, 2012 and 2013. Those happen to be my first two full years of of blogging after which I slowed down a bit. You can thank (or curse) illness and Blaugust for the resurgence.

Sixty percent of all the titles I've used this year have been music-related. Some of them are obvious. Many aren't. Oblique post titles are something of a theme for this blog even though the degree to which I indulge myself undoubtedly acts as a deterrent both to search engines and potential new readers.

It's always been that way. Looking back, the trend was established right from the start. The first five consecutive posts here all used songs or lyrics for titles.

Over the years I've all but used up the music in my mind, which is how and why things have become not just oblique but positively abstruse. These days I tend to write the post then search for musical matches for themes and concepts. I very much need to start making notes on why I chose certain titles because coming back to them months later I find myself as mystified by what I meant as most of my readers must have been.

Working on this post, I've found myself staring at some of the entries, wondering if I meant to evoke something cultural or whether I was just lazily grabbing common phrases from the language with no intent to reference anything in particular. It's a thing I do occasionally, even though I know I shouldn't. The first couple of titles below demonstrate that all too plainly.

The List Starts Here...

On The Level - I very much doubt I was thinking of anything in particular when I chose "On The Level" for a title. It's one of those generic phrases that thrust themselves forward, uninvited. I'm sure I wasn't thinking of the Mac de Marco number. I don't like him much. Or at all. How he became the poster boy for U.S. indie mystifies me. I also didn't mean this Leonard Cohen track, because until I was checking google for this post I'd never heard it. It's quite pleasant, which pretty much sums up Leonard's entire career. I'm not a big fan of him, either, although he's a lot better than Mac de Marco.

Party On - And by embarassing co-incidence, the next one up (I'm taking them chronologically) is just as bland. It's going to become obvious quite quickly in this rundown that I use a lot of generic and stock phrases for titles. I could try to justify it by retrofitting some hip, happening or funky musical reference, of which I would have been utterly ignorant at the time, like for example Pure Energy. Even if I could get away with it, I would know. So let's not do that.

I Just Ride - Lana Del Rey to the credibility rescue! From Ride, obvs. This is more like it! Every time I quote Lana you can bet I meant to do it. This is one of her very best, although that's hardly narrowing things down much. She is close to infallible, after all.

Why Can't We Live Together? - Timmy Thomas - It's also a fair bet that if a title sounds like a passably well-known tune or lyric from the '70s, '80s or '90s, I did indeed have it in mind when I wrote the post. My mental rolodex (I'd say "and doesn't that date me?"except I've never actually seen a rolodex. I think they were obsolete before I was born...) is stuffed with cultural detritus from those glory years.

Back To The Old House - The Smiths - Oh, Morrissey... I'd prefer not to give the old git even this pitiful dribble of publicity but I have so many of his words stuck in my head like shrapnel. For some reason there seem to be a million covers of this. I'd love to link one instead of Mozzer but most of them are, erm, not very good. Even the Billy Bragg and Everything But The Girl versions aren't all that. It's a weird song to cover and no-one seems to have much of an idea how to avoid its obvious pitfalls. I guess we'll have to have the original, taken here from the 1983 John Peel Session

A Secret Understanding - Magazine, from Shot By Both Sides. Okay, this is less problematic all ways round. Not only did I genuinely pull this one straight from my memory banks, I've even seen Howard sing it live, at a student hall gig at some long-vanished polytechnic. The glamor of rock and roll, eh?

Hot Fun In The Summertime - Sly And The Family Stone - I'm far too young to have been at Woodstock (thank God). I was even too young to go see the movie when it came out. Not just the first time but when it was re-released several years later. It was an 18 Certificate and I think I was sixteen at the time. I know it was the first film I lied about my age to see. This one isn't in the movie but it was a #2 U.S. hit on the back of it all the same. I don't think I even heard it until about ten years ago.

Everybody Ought To Have A Maid - Sondheim - Here, in a postively insane version by Dean Martin, Orson Welles and Jack Gifford (who he?). I'm proud to say I was unaware of this one until I found it while googling "Song Titles Maid". I had to argue hard with myself to let it through. I'm kind of embarassed even to admit I know it exists. Which is saying something when you see some of the other stuff on this list...

Try To Hang On - Pavlov's Dog - I love Pavlov's Dog. I believe I may have mentioned that before.

Imperfect Is The New Perfect - Caitlin Crosby - Never heard of her or the song until I found it  while looking for a title for the post. She has kind of a country Melanie Martinez thing going on.

Bubble Pop - HYUNA. Another google find. 143 million views on YouTube can't be wrong, can they? Don't answer that. Also, really quite a dodgy video. I couldn't actually watch it all the way through. Well, I could. I just didn't want to.

Flying High - Time for another plunge into the Bumper Grab Bag of Cliches. I see now it's been used a few times for "music" by such luminaries as Opus and Falco (!) and Ozzy Osbourne. Also The Commodores. I'm going to pretend I meant this one by Captain Hollywood Project. Sooner them than Ozzy. From now on I probably should stop including titles I can't source convincingly.

Here Comes The Train - from The Shangri-Las' "Train To Kansas City". One of my favorite songs ever, although that's a pretty long list. I discovered it by way of a cover. There are some other good versions out there - Neko Case, Superchunk, Belle and Sebastian...

You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That - The Distractions - I actually heard the mother of a friend say this when when he was about to leave the house dressed in a bin liner at the height of punk. In retrospect, my sympathies are with his mother. It's a great title for a punk song but sadly this is less Punk/New Wave, more ersatz Merseybeat.

On Some Faraway Beach - Eno - His first four albums mark one of the greatest consecutive runs  released in my lifetime. An astonishingly subtle and versatile songwriter and a surprising haunting and ethereal vocalist. I sometimes wish he was less of a polymath, then he might have made more rock albums.

Some Journey - Suzanne Vega - While we're on the topic of ethereal voices...

Did You Ever See A Whale? Sharon Prabhakar - There's ethereal and there's "Is this real?" That diction! Can't argue it's not catchy but then so is measles.

I'm Still Standing  - Elton John  - I don't believe there was ever a time when it was cool to like Elton but I always have and I find like him more the older we both get. That said, this is not one of my favorites from his astonishingly extensive catalog. It's a decent little rocker, as it goes, I guess, but it's no Tiny Dancer.

Everybody's Got An Idea - from Green by The Papertiger Sound. One of my absolute favorite bands of the last ten years. I have everything they've recorded, pretty much. I wish they'd come off hiatus and get back into the studio again or even embark on some solo projects. God, they were good...

Seventeen Days - Prince - Except I was actually thinking of a song I wrote called "Seventeen Ways". Or I think it was called that. I wish I could link it. There were a couple of decent rehearsal recordings of the last band I was ever in playing it but the guitarist kept them when we split up and I never spoke to him again. All I have is a tape of the one rehearsal we did with a keyboard player, where he vamps through every song trying to figure out his part. He worked them out eventually but not that day. The tape is unlistenable.

Word Up - Cameo, duh! Also Gun, KoRn, The Boss Hoss... There are a surprising number of covers of this classic, none of them really worth our time.

Leaving Here - The High Numbers - Well, you could have fooled me. I thought it was a Motorhead original. Turns out it's The Who from before they were The Who. A bit thin, I'd say, but then brittle always was a mod thing. Ronnie Wood's old band The Birds did a more muscular version. No-one did it like Lemmy, though.

How Funky Is Your Chicken? - The Jackson 5 - It's the question we're all asking.

This Is The Modern World - The Jam - Have I not used this before? Apparently I haven't. Well, I have now.

And that's it for Part Two. Fizzled out towards the end there a bit, didn't it? Still, we made it to half way through August. Blimey!

Part Three tomorrow. It's already done so there's no escape.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Am I Squeezing You Too Tight? : EQII

So far my commentary on EverQuest II's latest expansion, Blood of Luclin, has been overwhelmingly positive. And, as I push further down the twin timelines, Adventure and Tradeskill, my admiration for what's been achieved by EQII's small team continues to grow.

It must be obvious to anyone reading my posts on the game over the past few years that I find little to complain about in EQII. After a few early misteps I've found Daybreak's custodianship to be a significant improvement over much of the Sony Online Entertainment era, especially so, compared to the Smokejumper years that immediately preceded the sell-off.


Oh, yes, there's a "but".

My enjoyment and satisfaction is predicated on my own particular perspective, that of a solo player for whom EverQuest II has mostly not been a main MMORPG. As a secondary title, played relatively casually and mostly alone, it's been a joy. It also works very well these days as an "alone together" game in the style of Guild Wars 2, with a multiplicity of all-pile-on Public Quests and frequent large-scale community drives.

Vandals set the crafting hall on fire! Oh, the symbolism!

It would be very easy to assume that everyone else is having the same serene experience I am. Moreover, given that EQII is a game whose community has always been fractious and malcontent, it would be equally easy to dismiss the frequent complaints that arise on the forums and elsewhere as the typical, entitled carping that's been going on since the game began.

Except when the people making the complaints are the likes of Niami Denmother or Wilhelmina, two of the most dedicated and knowledgeable players in the game, particularly when it comes to crafting. Voices like these, and of course Feldon, ex of EQ2Wire, who knows the adventuring side of the game as well as anyone, carry a lot of weight.

When Wilhelmina feels it necessary to start a thread explaining how crafting in the new expansion is functionally broken and Niami chimes in to support her, it's clear that there's trouble in paradise. I'm only part-way through the crafting questline so I haven't yet arrived at the point where the serious problems begin but I'm more than willing to take their word for it that crafting in Blood of Luclin is fatally compromised.

For one thing, what they're saying seems to explain the otherwise mystifying surge in frequency at which rare materials appear. It did occur to me, even as I was pulling a rare from almost every second root node, that maybe Mastercrafted gear and Expert spells in the new level range would require extra mats. What hadn't occured to me was that the entire crafting system might have been stealth-revamped.

Did they add sitting in chairs and I missed it?

Reading the lengthy thread, it appears that the reward for completing the tradeskill timeline is a staff that allows you to gather from "shadow nodes". It's the rares from these that you need to make Expert spells but, as Niami and Wilhelmina explain, the nodes themselves are hard to find, the rares all but impossible.

Even worse, it seems the staff operates on some form of timer and the Advanced recipe books, which already drop incredibly rarely, contain recipes to make Adept quality spells rather than the usual Experts. The whole system was reportedly changed in mid-beta from the one with which we've been familiar for many years to this new version. No explanation was offered and no answers were given to the many questions raised by testers.

To quote Niami Denmother
"...we asked (repeatedly and to no avail) during beta for details on the ability. When the recipes got changed AFTER we had tested them on beta (suddenly BOOM, the advanced books had adept recipes instead of experts and the books for the experts appeared on Oliver) we asked for confirmation and details (again to no avail). We couldn't test the process, we were not given detail on how it was "supposed" to work, and since the staff did not have stats on beta, we could not test how shadowed harvesting was working, much less how to verify that how it IS working is the intended way."
I no longer participate in beta testing for content I know I'm going to play when it goes Live. I've done my share of that. This, however, is extremely familiar to me from one of the times I did test EQ2 expansion content, years ago.

10,000 harvests in the first week!

That was when a relatively new developer called Behn took over as craft lead after an expansion was already in testing. I forget which expansion it was (probably Rise of Kunark) but during that beta he made many changes to the way crafting worked, then either wouldn't discuss themat all or responded quite agressively.

Crafting under his watch declined to little more than a neglected adjunct of adventuring. It  was only the return of Domino, by far the best tradeskill dev EQII - and very likely the whole genre - has ever had that righted the ship, ushereing in years of top-class content for crafters.

It seems we may be experiencing some deja vu here. Not only has the crafting system been changed with no explanation during beta, where feedback was ignored, but no provision has been made in Blood of Luclin for high level crafters with low levels in adventuring.

It's clear to me from the progress I've made so far that some of the crafting line would be all but impossible for anyone with an adventure level below what's expected in the new zones. There are times when it's necessary to travel through areas where aggressive mobs block all possible routes. A very determined crafter might conceivably muddle through with stealth or invisibility but I certainly wouldn't want to try it.

I didn't cheat and look up the answers on the wiki, either.
The absolute proof that crafters were not properly considered when the questlines were finalised is that even when the timeline is complete, crafters still don't get to fly in the new zones. To do that you have to finish the Adventure timeline. Or so I've heard. I've also heard the opposite, that the crafting timeline does indeed grant the right to fly. I'll know for sure when I get there.  Edit: The rumor was false! I just finished the tradeskill questline and although there is no notification to the effect whatsoever, my Berserker/Weaponsmith can now fly on Luclin.

If all this was down to bad management and a maverick developer, as was the case in the expansion I tested long ago, that would be bad enough. The worry here is that this something far more sinister.

For several years the group and, especially, the raid game in EQII have been the subject of accusations that the game has moved to a "Pay-to-Win" model. The short version of what's happened is that several extra levels of quality were added for spells and combat arts and changes were made to how those could be acquired.

Upgrading is now a multi-step process and content is tuned to expect certain quality levels. If you want to move into the upper echelons of the game, you have no option but to upgrade. Your means of doing so - for free - are strictly limited.

Here's Hulda, who Wilhelm was having trouble finding. Pro tip: after this stage she goes back to hiding under her tree.
I still haven't worked out why.
The old way of upgrading via dropped items has been severely curtailed. Dropped Adepts are now as rare as Masters used to be and dropped Masters are closing in on the drop rates of pre-cursors in GW2 (where I've seen one in seven years).

Even if you get a Master, there are now two more quality levels above that. Until the current expansion it was still practical for crafters to supply upgrades at Expert level but it very much looks as if BoL closes that door, too.

The suspicion, which seems far more than a conspiracy theory at this stage, is that all these changes (which also apply to mounts, mercenaries and familiars) have been made with the express intent of driving players to pay for "research reducers", cash shop items that reduce the length of time it takes to get the UI-driven free upgrades. The cost of these is horrifically high.

Feldon explained in another thread that this concept was originally devised by Smokejumper, back when SOE were in charge. Daybreak merely adopted and refined it.

Monty Python jokes in 2019? Seriously??
The irony is that, as a solo player, none of this matters. Solo content is tuned for the gear you get as quest rewards from soloing and for the Journeyman spells and combat arts any crafter can still provide with ease.

For a solo player, things have quite probably never been better. And until Blood of Luclin there was a relatively straightforward path from Solo to Heroic content, too, with Mastercrafted gear and Expert spells and CAs bootstrapping your character to a minimum viable level for Tier 1 Heroic instances.

I didn't have a problem with that. The game has to make money or it will close down. If simply charging a subscription (you can still play for free but I doubt many do) doesn't bring in enough to keep the lights on then other revenue streams have to be found. Charging people for being impatient always seemed reasonable to me.

A tax on impatience is one thing. An ever-escalating premium on playing anything but solo content is entirely another. It may be true that there are whales still out there, willing to open their whale-sized wallets, but if all the smaller fry, right down to those seeking to explore the lowest level of group content, are going to feel the sting of the harpoon then I fear fior the future of the game.

And that would be a tragedy because in terms of content Blood of Luclin is truly excellent. The zones are large and well-designed, the quests are involving and amusing, the fights are well-tuned and fun. It remains, as I have said, one of the best expansions for a long time in most of the ways that matter to me... as a solo player.

I, however, do not pay the bills. I pay a single, annual fee for All Access membership and that's the only money Daybreak gets from me. 

I won't need to buy Daybreak Cash any time soon, either. Maybe never again. I still have well in excess of 35,000DBC on two accounts, saved from the days when SOE were almost literally giving it away. I don't need to spend any of it on insanely over-priced "time reducers". The automatic upgrades get me to Master level on my key abilities over the two-year cycle of each level range and that's more than enough to do the content that interests me.

If Daybreak continues to raise the temperature the way they have been, I worry that the frogs will begin to notice and start hopping out of the pot. And if that happens it's going to boil dry.

"Kind of a big deal". Heh. Heh. Heh.
On a more positive note, this is the very, very start of this expansion cycle. What's more, because of the late December launch, there's almost certainly been no more than a skeleton staff at Daybreak to monitor and correct issues as they arise.

I'm reasonably confident that some of the most egregious issues affecting crafting will turn out to be either bugs to be fixed or post-launch tweaks to be made. All expansions begin a little like this. What matters isn't so much how they begin as where they end up.

The monetization methodology, however, remains a major concern. In fact, it's the major concern. The EverQuest titles have incredible resilience but if anything could kill them off it might be a combination of desperation and greed.

Let's hope for some clearer thinking in the year ahead. Meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy myself while I still can. Blood of Luclin really is an excellent expansion. For solo players.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Let's have some music! My favorite Christmas song, as performed for the very last time on the Letterman Show by its one, true originator - Darlene Love.

If that doesn't put you in a festive mood, expect a midnight visit from three grumpy ghosts!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Let's Go Faster : EQII

This has been the craziest run-up to Christmas for a while. I keep complaining about not having enough time to play, blog and get stuff done and that's because it's true!

It hasn't helped that Daybreak dropped this year's expansions even later than usual. I remember when September was expansion month. That was perfect. Then for a long time it was November, which was also fine. Now it's December, which is about the most awkward time of the year for me.

I'm pretty sure it's not a commercial decision. As everyone knows, the company's not really in the major leagues any more. There's only a small (and extremely dedicated) team left to get each year's expansion out of the door. They do an absolutely brilliant job but it clearly gets harder every year. Which, I imagine, is why the deadline has slipped almost to Christmas.

That said, Blood of Luclin seems more polished and complete than the last few expansions. It's not perfect - no expansion for any MMORPG ever is - but it launched with pretty much everything in place and working. We've had the usual post-launch patches but nothing out of the ordinary.

Wilhelm commented on the extraordinarily fast xp gain we're getting this time around. It really is quite peculiar. I've become used to the bi-annual ten level step-up taking me a couple of weeks. This time it took a couple of sessions. I think when I take a second character through it might be more like a couple of hours.

This is weird, there's no two ways about it. I don't think I've ever played any MMORPG where leveling was this fast. Handing in a single quest literally gives a full level, sometimes two, and that's with no xp buffs running. By the time I get to my sixth Level 110, if I managed to time it right, on a double xp weekend, with full vitality, a potion running and the 100% cumaltive Veteran buff from the preceding five characters, I wonder if I could do the whole ten levels on the first quest.

I'm in two minds about whether this is a great design choice or total insanity.

It's certainly true that accelerated xp on this scale is fantastic for altaholics.  It took me two years to get six level-capped characters by the end of the last expansion. Mostly that was because I needed a good, long rest between them before I was ready to go through the same content once again. This time I'm positively looking forward to taking several characters into Luclin for what I know will be no more than a session or two of light questing before they ding 120.

Crafting xp also matches adventuring for pace for pace in Blood of Luclin. I'm really glad I made the effort during the Dragon Attack prequel events to get my Carpenter and Alchemist to 110. I now have four crafters ready to max out, which will be the first time in fifteen years I've had more than two trades at cap.

On the other hand, like Wilhelm, I don't just enjoy levelling, I find it motivating. I can't help but see the imaginary credits roll when that final ding sounds. It's all very well doing it over again several times but at this speed I'll have done every character I have by Easter.

Then there's the Signature Line. This is where it gets gnarly. In the past few expansions the xp from the solo Signature timeline has been calculated to land you there or thereabouts at the cap. As a solo player you needed to do the whole thing for that reason alone.

There were also some great perks for doing it - account-wide unlocks for solo instances, gear upgrades, house items, certain utilities like teleports and so on. Group players and raiders did the Sig Line for some of those.

All that remains true for Blood of Luclin, which has both Adventure and Tradeskill Signature questlines that look to be as lengthy and complex as any previous expansion. The difference is that you'll be already be max level for most of it. I was on Step Four of thirteen when I dinged 120.

That would be all well and good if all the quests offered were gear upgrades and fluff. There are other ways to get gear, after all, and fluff is..well, it's fluff, isn't it?

In the case of Blood of Luclin, though, there's something at the very end of the line that almost everyone's going to want: the right to fly in the new expansion. Yes, apparentlly taking a leaf out of Blizzard's playbook, Daybreak have chosen to ground everyone for the new content.

They've done this before, in the Withering Lands stage of the Velious expansion and in Altar of Malice's Tranquil Sea. In both cases the moratorium on flying mounts was localized and temporary. A few quests and it was back to the sky for everyone.

As far as I can ascertain - and I haven't yet been able to nail down the details so this might be wrong - flying mounts don't work on the Moon of Luclin until you do (or get) something right at the end of the Signature questline. That effectively makes finishing it every bit as compulsory as it was in previous expansions, when you needed it for the xp to level.

Worse, from what I understand it's only the Adventure line that comes with a pilot's licence. If you're a high level crafter with a low adventure level you're staying earthbound. That's a major change of policy for the game, which has held the two disciplines to be Different But Equal for more than a decade.

It doesn't affect me directly because any crafter I have ambitions for will already be a high level adventurer. I think it's an untenable position all the same. I fully expect the Tradeskill line to acquire flight permissions at some future point. Precedent suggests it will happen and I can't see any benefit to holding the arbitrary line that's been drawn.

On balance, I find the super-fast xp more exciting and exhillarating than worrying, which might seem odd considering my avowed preference for games with strong and meaningful leveling paths. In this case I think the advantage to my alts trumps that. It's also disturbingly satisfying to hand in a quest and get a whole level. Not sure that's going to get old any time soon.

I can't deny that it does take a bit of the momentum out of pushing through the questline. I know there are a lot of solo instances ahead and the one I've done so far took over two hours. It wasn't hard but it was long. If I had to do it to level I'd be on to the next one already but since I don't, I've been goofing around in Wracklands taking snapshots instead.

Is that a bad thing? Isn't it just freeing me up faster to play the game the way I want to play it? It's not like EQII is short of extra-curricular activities. I'm not about to run out of things to do just because I levelled too fast.

But... I do like levelling! Good thing I have half a dozen characters to do it with. Plus two more on the Antonia Bayle server. And I guess I could always roll some more...

Friday, December 20, 2019

We Choose To Go To The Moon: EQII

I am having a wonderful time in EverQuest II's latest expansion, Blood of Luclin. So much so that I wish I had at least a week off  to give it the time and attention it clearly deserves.

Playing it in short sessions after I get home from work, tired and with other demands on my time, is far from ideal but it brings back those feelings from a decade, a decade and a half ago, when a new expansion or a new game would drop and there just wouldn't be enough hours in the day to play.

I was always pre-disposed to love this expansion. I've been waiting for a return to the shattered moon for fifteen years, pretty much since EQII launched in 2004. Looking up at the scar of Luclin's ruin night after night, I always believed we'd make it back there one day.

When the rogue dragon Kerafyrm was sealed inside a remade Luclin in final fulfilment of the epic Age's End prophecy, driver of  EQII's lore since inception, and we looked up to see the moon made whole, I knew we be going back. And now here we are.

For me, the nostalgic impact of Blood of Luclin dwarfs anything I felt during my time in WoW Classic. I have only ever been a tourist in Azeroth and any frisson of familiarity is on the level of revisiting a town where I once spent a happy holiday, years ago.

I lived on Luclin for a long time. It was the current expansion when I returned to EverQuest after a year in Dark Age of Camelot. It was also where Mrs Bhagpuss and I began, yet again, returning once more from adventures elsewhere, at the launch of one of my favorite server-homes, Stromm, where we went on to found a guild and make many new friends.

It's fair to say Luclin and I have history. And now we have more. If there's one thing Daybreak know how to do it's to haul on those levers of memory. My last few evenings have been an unceasing procession of "Oh wow!", "Is that...?" "OMG!". Every time I see a familiar mob - Thought Horrors, ShikNar, Lightcrawlers, Sambata - it's like seeing an old friend. Well, if by "friend" you mean someone who'd kill you as soon as look at you.

I have so much to say I have no idea where to begin. I also have just one day off work before Christmas and for once I'd really rather spend it playing the game than writing about it. I think I'll just stick to an introduction, rather than digging into the incredible amount of detail that's whirling around my mind right now.

How about how I got there? As Wilhelm says, one does not simply walk to the moon. Getting to Luclin turned out to be both simple and complicated. There was a reason the prequel events all related to the Wizard Spires, Norrath's longstanding means of cross-continental travel. All the work we did these last few months was to upgrade the Spires for interplanetary transport.

The Duality (and who died and made him boss I'm still not sure - I remember him when he was plain old Al'Kabor. Or half of him was, anyway...) doesn't pass out tickets to the moon to just anyone. Before you can see the new link on the spire map you have to have completed either the Adventure or Tradeskill prequel quests that were added back in September.

I'd done the crafting quest on both my Berserker/Weaponsmith and my Warlock/Alchemist so all I had to do was chat briefly to a couple of crafters in Teren's Grasp and off I went. A click on the spires and there I was in The Blinding, the entrance zone for the expansion.

For the first hour I was so gosh-wowed out, running about taking screenshots, figuring out I was in Mons Letalis, finding my way to The Grey, now re-named The Wracklands (no doubt incorporating other areas remembered fondly or otherwise from the elder game) that I didn't exactly notice all I was being given were crafting quests. It turns out that while you can get to Luclin on just your crafter cred, no-one wants to trust a tailor or a carpenter with kill missions. Go figure!

By then it was bedtime so I camped out on the terrace overlooking The Umbral Ocean (quite an upgrade from The Twilight Sea). The next evening, like Wilhelm, I found myself backtracking to complete the prequel I'd neglected. It turned out I had the quest in my journal, I'd just never bothered to do it.

I had a reason for that other than laziness. I vaguely remember hearing it was pretty tough going for casual solo players back when it was introduced. Wilhelm's post makes it very plain that was no exaggeration. Solo instances in EQII can be brutal if you're undergeared or underprepared.

Fortunately, thanks to my crafter pass, I was all kitted out in the free expansion gear from the Tishan's box I found next to me right where I zoned into The Blinding. It doesn't really look like much of an upgrade from the 2019 Panda quest gear but this is not my first expansion rodeo and stats don't fool me.

I took the trouble to take some notes when I swapped my gear. Moving from Bold Crusade gear to Veilwalker took my Berserker's hit points from 62 million to just over 80 million. His potency went from 54k to 76k.

The key to judging whether gear is an upgrade is usually Resolve. Ironically, it's a stat solo players don't even need. It applies only when you move up to Heroic (Group) content but it serves as a kind of shorthand for the kind of Item Level other games use.

It's not an exact science - there are lower Resolve pieces I still wear for various reasons - but it's a decent rule of thumb. All the new starter gear has a lot more Resolve so I figured it would be an upgrade and so it proved. Wearing that lot I had no trouble with the prequel instance. It took me about forty minutes, at least ten of which were taken up with backtracking to find bosses I'd missed.

With my Adventure qualifications established it was back to Teren's Grasp for a short briefing. Then off I went to the moon! Again!

As Wilhelm points out, just completing the first entrance quest gives a huge amount of xp. And huge amounts of quest xp seem to be a feature of Blood of Luclin. Looking at the wiki walkthrough for the Signature Quest for adventurers (which, I might add, I have not yet needed, so clear and straightforward are the in-game instructions) I see I'm only on Step Three of thirteen and yet I'm already Level 117.

It's true I've done some non-Signature quests but compared to any previous expansion this is astoundingly fast progress. It highlights one of the things I'm finding most appealing about this excellent expansion: it's fun!

Although I personally have enjoyed all of EQII's post-SoE expansions, it is definitely true that around the time of Terrors of Thalumbra and, especially, Rise of Kunark, there seemed to be a desire at Daybreak both to slow people down and make the content seem more "important". It led to things like the removal of map-markers for quests, a boatload of pre-reqs involving ancient quests going back years, a lot of language-learning and a heavy focus on NPC faction.

That approach really began to shift around the release of Planes of Prophecy in 2017 and the trend ever since has been towards a more alt-friendly, inclusive approach - at least for the casual player. Apparently, for the Heroic and Raid gamer, not so much, but that's not my thing so I won't comment.

Blood of Luclin, from what I've seen so far, doubles down on casual fun. It's really great to hear a deafening DING! and see your character gain two levels. Far from being concerned that it might mean nothing to do in a week or two I'm thinking how easy it's going to be to get all six of my 110s to 120.

Then there are the fights. In the open world, so far, I haven't experienced anything of that expansion hump, where you struggle through the first few days until you manage to cobble together enough gear to hold your own with a badger. In the free gear from the box, time to kill on overland mobs was measured in seconds from the start. For my Berserker, that is. Not tried anyone else yet.

Crafting xp is just as generous and as for gathering... Words fail me here. I am so used to rare crafting materials in current expansions being, well, rare. As in almost never seen. In Blood of Luclin I'm getting two rares from a single node! And not just as a one-time, freakish rng miracle. It's happened several times.

I'm already at the point where, if I don't get a rare every five minutes that I forage I think something's gone wrong. In the last several expansions I'd have been lucky to get one a week!

Once again, this could backfire. If rares aren't rare do we care about rares? Except that they do actually have a use. In the last few expansions, rares have been so valuable in the marketplace I've never known whether to use them or sell them. This time it looks as though that won't be an issue. I can finally put my crafters to work making stuff. Seems like better design to me.

The needles for progress, acquisition and combat are all set very firmly in the green, then, but the real joy of Blood of Luclin so far is the way it harks back to the kind of expansions we haven't seen since at least 2014's Altar of Malice. Arguably since 2007's Rise of Kunark.

According to an article in Forbes, Blood of Luclin has no fewer than six new, non-instanced zones: "The Blinding, Sanctus Seru, Aurelian Coast, Fordel Midst, Wracklands, as well as the Ssraeshza Ruins and Vault." That's far more than any expansion for a long, long time. (And that's seven, Forbes... I don't think Fordel Midst should be in there).

I would guess that Ssrashza Ruins and Vault are dungeons of some sort - not found them yet. The other four, though, are proper open-world zones and I've at least set foot in all of them. They're not as sprawling as the immense zones of old but they are big enough. And the exploration potential is huge.

Sanctus Seru is a glorious city. We haven't had a new urban hub like this since Thalumbra and the last time we had a city on this scale that was also open to the skies must have been Sentinel's Fate's Paineel.

I took a lot of screenshots but it's hard to do justice to this kind of monumental architecture, so overwhelming in game. In fact, none of my EQII screenshots ever seem to look anywhere near as good as the same scenes appear inside the game itself. I wonder if there are quality settings I should be tweaking?

I'll go look into that when I play next, which is going to be right now! I have a ton more to say but I feel the hands of time moving ever faster. I want to go... Back to the Moon!
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