Friday, December 31, 2021

New Year's Resolutions - #1 Don't Join A Cult


I said I wasn't going to do a music post for New Year because I couldn't find enough good ones. 

I lied.

New Year's Resolution - Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura are amazing, aren't they? They ooze sophistication. If I had to define "Music for Grown-Ups" (Something I'm never going to do, though I wouldn't mind being asked.) I'd go here first. Maybe Joni Mitchell, then here.

New Year's Resolution - Otis Redding and Carla Thomas

Okay, if we're talking grown-up music I guess that's where we're going. Sixties soul. Did it sound this adult back then? Not to actual adults, maybe. I seem to remember they were always going on about "Do you call that music?" Hah! Didn't know when they were well off! Anyway, don't look at me - I was nine years old when this came out.

New Year's Resovolution - Donovan

It always seemed like Donovan saw himself as some kind of advanced being sent here to explain feelings to the rest of us but no-one would ever have accused him of being a grown-up. Just look at that title if you need proof. I bet thirteen year-olds all across the south of England were hella impressed. This came out about three years after the Otis Redding so I would just about have been one of them but I wasn't quite there, yet. You'd have had to have given me another twelve months and I'd have been bang on it.

New Year's Resolution - Lil Tjay

Crashing back to the present or something aproximating it, here's Lil Tjay. Donovan might appreciate the sensitive piano intro but it's a hippy-free zone from there on in. There's autotune and then there's AUTOTUNE! He put out a Christmas number this year and it's even better. I'd have used it, if I'd found it sooner. Maybe next time, if we're spared.

 New Year's Resolution - DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ

Remember that Camera Obscura tune? Oh, come on! You must do. It was only, what, about ten minutes ago and that's if you actually listened to all the other songs, which I know you did not. Well anyway, here it is again, in a fantastic remix by DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ. Is that the best name ever or is that the best name ever? I'm not giving you a choice. Doesn't sound so grown-up like that, either, does it? I guess that's the whole point.

 New Year's Resolution - Lootpack

Here's an odd thing. As I'm putting this post together, I'm flipping back and forth to YouTube, clipping the links and each time I do, I use the back button to refresh. I leave the same seed in the search field ("New Year's Resolution song") and every time I get different results. Is that meant to happen? This would be a whole other post if I'd done what I usually do, download all the songs first and work from there.

New Year's Resolution - The Limousines

I mean, c'mon, seriously? I'm not kidding here. There are way, way more songs coming up now than the first time I did it. What's going on? And there are some good ones, too! This is going to run long. Bloody Donovan wouldn't have made the cut if I'd known what was coming, that's for sure. (Okay, he probably would. I always find Donovan really funny for some reason, plus it's worth wading through all the hippydippy nonsense to get to that tabla solo.)

New Year's Resolutions - Meekakitty

Or something like that. It's a little confusing. 

At one point I was going to build the whole post around this one, until all that other stuff came up. Those other songs, I mean. First off, I don't even believe this one's called "New Year's Resolutions". That's just what the person who put it up has titled it. 

It's on a channel belonging to someone called xXFyesanXx, where it was posted eight years ago. It's a fragment of a copy of a cover of a song called "So Much" by Asiah Mehok. Here's the original.

It's lovely but the cover has it beat, possibly because of the arrangement but more likely because of the performance, which is by Tessa Violet aka Meekakitty... At least I think it is... Reading through the thread, it seems the full-length song used to be on her channel only now it isn't, for reasons unspecified. There are a couple of links in the comments that supposedly take you to that version but if they ever worked they don't now. I wish they did. I'd love to hear it all the way through.

I thought Tessa Violet was a new name to me but when I dig into it I think I've seen a couple of her videos before. Like this one, maybe? 

 Crush - Tessa Violet

I've seen quite a few videos set in supermarkets, though. I'm not sure. I feel like if I'd watched this I'd have it safely tucked away in my massive folder of YouTube downloads. (It's so big I've had to start a new one.) Anyway, with 90m views she's hardly obscure.

I've subbed her channel now, not really for the songs, good as they are, but for the videos, which are great. 

Told you!  I could jump from there to Titanic Sinclair to Poppy in some kind of six degrees deal but I'm not gonna. Okay, I am. I just did. 

I recently resubbed to Poppy's channel after a couple of years away. She seems to have gotten some of the metal out of her system and she's back to the kind of oddness I always liked.

Blow Away - Poppy

There's more than five minutes of that. It never does anything else. I've watched it twice already and it's playing in the background as I type this.

Begin the New Year as you mean to go on, eh? That's my resolution.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Very Model Of A Metamodernist Metaverse

It's pretty clear, as we head into 2022, we're already well past the point where the term "Metaverse" has any meaning left. It's not even a buzzword or a meme now. It's just advertising jargon. Metamodernism, however, feels a lot fresher. By some counts it's been around since 1975 but I only heard about it this week.

That's language for you, tricksy, slippery and not to be trusted. No matter whether the words are so new you can't see past the gleam or so overused there's no shine left at all, it's the underlying concepts you need to watch. If you can just split out the hype and the fantasy and concentrate on what's being made, you can see we most probably are at the beginning of a new age, after all.

A new age of what, though? That's the question.

If you've been wondering what Paris Hilton's been doing with herself lately (Believe it or not, that is literally a conversation Mrs. Bhagpuss and I had while we were out walking a week or two back, which may tell you more about our home life than you need to know...) I can tell you. She's been building a Metaverse. 

Okay, she probably hasn't been building it herself. I imagine she has people to do that for her. She's also not creating it from scratch. It's inside Roblox.

Paris World is an island containing, among other things, "a replica of her Beverly Hills mansion and attached dog mansion, as well as a recreation of her neon carnival inspired wedding."  Tell me you don't want to see inside Paris Hilton's dog mansion. 

I don't believe you.

Paris Hilton actually has a surprisingly succinct, clear and, to my mind, realistic idea of what a "Metaverse" means at this point in time: “For me, the metaverse is somewhere that you can do everything you can do in real life in the digital world”, she says and that seems like as good a definition as any I've seen so far.

You can meet people, talk with them, dance with them, play games, watch video, listen to music. You can buy things and sell things and make things. All of those and lots more. What you can't do is download your consciousness or break the laws of physics. So long as people get that straight we're in for a fun ride.

I strongly suspect the kinds of Metaverses we're going to see (And really, shouldn't there be just the one?) are ones like Paris World and the place I spent much of this morning, Korea World. It took me a while to get in but once I was there I had a kind of fun, for a while.

Korea World is "a virtual space prepared by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's Overseas Culture Promotion Center so that foreigners can experience and communicate Korean culture anytime, anywhere." Kind of like Neriak's Foreign Quarter lets the rest of Norrath experience Teir`Dal  culture in relative comfort, I guess. Maybe not the analogy they were looking for but the first one that popped into my mind when I read that last paragraph back.

If it was accessibilty they were after, I'm not sure they've nailed it yet. You can't just click on the web portal and go to virtual Korea. First you have to download and install an app. It took me a couple of tries to get that to work but I got there eventually. 

You can register at the site but you don't need to and I'm not sure what benefits there would be if you did. Maybe it saves the character you make but since there are hardly any options at character creation and it only takes a few seconds I can't see why you'd bother. 

There are a couple of competitions runnng at the moment, one for screenshots, the other for videos, both of which have some good cash prizes (Well, Amazon cards, anyway, which are as good as cash.) so I imagine you'd have to register to be eligible for those. I might do that at some point. I certainly took enough screenshots although none of them were very "funny". Also, I'd have to make an Instagram account, so probably not.

What I mostly did was wander around, gawp at things, take selfies and press buttons at random. As a virtual recreation of a school trip to an art gallery it was flawless, even down to the annoying kid who keeps following you about, even though keep telling him to get lost.

I think that was some kind of bug or glitch. You can see the kid in some of the screenshots here, a clone of my own avatar, dressed in blue jeans and a KOCIS tee, always a pace behind me, everwhere I go. I finally lost him by ducking in and out of the Conference Room portal. Maybe he's still in there.

Before I got shot of him, the pair of us watched videos by several KPop bands, tried on a number of hats, changed clothes a few times (Tellingly, perhaps, there's no cross-dressing allowed.) and listened to people in Columbia, Canada and the Phillipines telling me what they liked about Korean culture, even as they cheerfully appropriated it. All at the direct invitation of the Korean government, of course, so I guess that's fine.

There's a very great deal of this stuff, all experienced through a highly effective interface that reacts almost instantly when you click on any of the many pictures hanging on the walls.

Here and there are some much larger screens playing video and sound directly into the exhibition space itself. I stood in front of one and watched a band play for a while. I was hoping for a full concert but it turned out to be one song looping over and over. That seemed to be the case for all of the big screen entertainment.

The exhibition space was bustling with avatars like mine, or so I thought at first. After a while, I realised all of them were NPCs. I never saw another living person (You know what I mean.) in the hour or so I was there. There's a chat function that supposedly allows you to talk to both other humans and to NPCs but I couldn't figure out how it worked. That's to say, I could see how to say things but not how to say them to anyone or anything.

There were emoticons aplenty, signifying emotes my avatar could perform but I coudn't get those to work, either. I did eventually stumble on how to move at more than a slow shuffle - hold down shift. These cavils aside, the controls felt quite smooth and pleasant to use and very familiar. They should. The supposed "Metaverse" appears to be built on the Unreal game engine. Windows Defender identifies it as a "3rd Person BP Game Template" published by Epic Games.

It's a bit clunky but as a way of finding out more about Korean culture it's not at all bad. Certainly beats reading the endless news items about KPop and Korean TV on my NME feed or watching random videos on YouTube. My main motivation in installing the app in the first place was in the hope of finding a fairly painless and low-effort way into what's shaping up to be the dominant cultural influence of the next few years. I'm not sure Korea World is quite there yet but it's a start.

It's also a pointer to the kind of thing we're likely to get in the name of the Metaverse over the next few years. Corporations, companies, governments and special interest groups pushing their versions of reality on to us by way of gamelike, interactive experiences in communal, social, virtual spaces. So long as we aren't expecting a lot more and so long as we make sure we stay firmly in control of which experiences we choose to engage with, it could be a lot of fun.

We might even learn something along the way, although I wouldn't count on it. All I learned was that I like wearing animal heads even better than I like wearing hats and Korean male fashions are not what I was expecting. Now that I come to think about it, that's not nothing, is it?

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Spot The Difference - Or Not.

Last night I surprised myself by spending an hour or so running through a number of older Frostfell quests in EverQuest II. It all started when I noticed MassivelyOP's MJ was "eager to see the new changes" Darkpaw supposedly made to the festival this year.

Changes? What changes? Did I miss a memo? "Frostfell is different this year! The questline starting off EQII’s major holiday event for the past few years is gone!" began the over-excitable piece. "Join us live at 3:00 p.m. to grab gifts from Santa Glug and check out the Deepice differences."

The stream is live today at three in the afternoon, EST. That's eight in the evening, my time, so I could easily tune in. I'd be very interested to find out what's supposed to have changed because whatever it is, I can't see it.

I had a quick google and a glance at the EQ2 forums yesterday, to see if I could work out what it might be. I checked the Update Notes but there are none. Frostfell doesn't require a separate patch. It just flicks on and off like a switch. 

I had a look at the Quests and Seasonal Events section but I couldn't see anything there. Finally I went to EQ2i to see if there were any amendments to the walkthrough. I found the "New in 2021" section but the only things it mentions are the new Overseer quest and the three new crafting books.

The section that tells you all about the many quests that can be repeated  every year still warns "there is one quest required to unlock almost all of the other quests within the Wonderland Village!" That quest, added in 2013, is called A Deepice Mystery and "Players must complete this quest once in order to free several Frostfell quest-givers."

You can learn an awful lot by reading and I place a very high value on proper research but in the end there's no substitute for personal experience. After I'd finished doing the Vetrovian crafting daily on my Weaponsmith, Alchemist and Sage (Still haven't taken the Carpenter through the Signature line. Must do that soon.) I emptied my pack pony's packs, checked both my plants and did a few other chores. Then I picked someone out of the line to go check out Frostfell and see what, if anything, had changed.

As far as I can see, nothing has. I found Jingle, the hand-wringing elf, standing on an ice flow and shivering as usual. I ran through his quest until I'd solved the Deepice Mystery, something that used to take a significant amount of time to finish.

These days it takes a fraction of the time it once did. Or it does if you have Members' access to the Instant Travel system and a 300% flying speed mount. This is something that applies to just about all retro-questing in the game now. I was thinking about it as I zipped around, checking off boxes. 

I can remember doing this quest for the first time, back when it was added. As with most quests, it was a lot of fun when it was new. I can also remember doing it several times since, when it was less fun. I'm not a huge fan of access quests for holiday content. I can't entirely see the point of them. I can easily see why someone might have felt it was about time it was retired but nope, there it still is, unchanged.

I have to say it's a lot more acceptable now it takes me about a fifth of the time but I'd still be happy enough to see it go. For now, though, it's still there and it's still required, if you want to do any of the other major quests it unlocks.

Those are the quests given by the five figures frozen in ice you first free and then interrogate as you try to solve the mystery. Candice Cheriweth, Gardy Ex-Giftgiver, Mr. McScroogle, Queen Bunny and Snarf Frostfoot all have major questlines involving instanced content. A lot of work must have gone into all of them and I can see why the devs are keen to make sure they don't fall out of use. I'm just not sure that keeping them locked until you solve the mystery is the best way to go about it.

Let's be honest here. Almost no-one who's going to do any of these quests will be doing them for the first time. Keenest will be the bunch of people for whom the seasonal and holiday events are the most important content in the game. You can hear them gushing about how great it is in chat sometimes. I used to be in a guild with a couple of them. 

Then there's everyone who wants one or more of the rewards, to which new things are added most years. That could be almost anyone other than the real hardcore combat types, who think anything other that doesn't involve getting hit in the head is a complete waste of their and the developers' time.

And finally there will be people doing what I was doing last night, taking one more ride on the merry-go-round for old time's sake. I haven't done any of these quests for a few years but as I was melting the ice off of old McScroogle I started to think about how we used to do his quest every year and how much I enjoyed it.

I still do. I cantered through the whole thing, dressing up as an extremely unconvincing version of the young grump, swapping insults and one-liners with goblins and girlfriends and generally making a mockery of the classics. 

While I was doing all that a couple of things occured to me. The first was how genuinely smart, witty and funny the writing is. I remember laughing a lot when the quest was first introduced and even now, when I know all the jokes, it still makes me smile. The other was just how much work had gone into the whole thing. 

The writing isn't just good, there's a lot of it but the quest isn't all reading. There's a large cast of characters, several locations and a number of things to do along the way. Like many of the holiday quests that have been added over the years, it's a little mini-adventure all of its own.

After I was done standing in for McScroogle, I still fancied some more old school holiday fun so I picked up Gardy Ex-Giftgiver's quest and did that too. It's even longer and involves even more travelling. It would most likely have filled an entire play session back in the days of ground mounts and world bells. 

The quests were very much as I remembered them but the rewards were new. As I said, extra rewards get added to old holiday quests most years and I haven't done any of these for quite a while. There were plenty of goodies I hadn't seen and didn't know existed. Quite a few of them were really nice, too.

I had such an enjoyable time, going through the old storylines and re-acquainting myself with some familiar faces, I'm planning on going back for more. [Edit: I just did Candice Cheriweth's quest to get screenshots for the post and had a great time once again.] 

Before Frostfell finishes next week I'd at least like to do the rest of the quests I unlocked by solving the Deepice Mystery. A couple I might even want to do more than once, for the rewards, since each character can do them separately and choose different things.

As for what's supposedly changed about the introductory requirements this year, I'm still none the wiser. It all looks just as I remember it. If anyone knows, don't keep it to yourself. I'll probably forget to watch the stream so I may never find out.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Seriously, Who Moves House In January?

When I logged into Steam last night, hoping to get back to my saved game of Secret Files: Tunguska, something I'd abandoned back in September because I had other things to do - better things - not at all because I'd gotten completely stuck and given up, it turned out I'd made a mistake.

Not in choosing to try and finish the story, even if I did have to lean pretty heavily on a walkthrough for some of the less than intuitive final puzzles. No, that all went fine. Eventually.

The problem was, like every adventure gamer, I started out looking in the wrong place. It turns out I don't own that particular series on Steam after all. It's one of the many point and click adventures I got free with Amazon Prime last year, a deluge that eventually included all the Secret Files games and no fewer than six Tales of Monkey Island.

I've never seen the appeal of the Monkey Island games. I have a boxed copy of one somewhere. I must have bought it back in the '90s. I have only the vaguest recollection of playing it. I know I didn't get far. My main impressions of the series are that the humor is puerile and irritating and the gameplay tedious. Makes me wonder why I bothered to grab the rest of them even for free.

A lot of catching up to do.

While I was hunting through my Steam library, looking for a game that wasn't there, I noticed a couple of new notifications for one that was, namely Bless Unleashed.

Ah, Bless! I was happily playing and posting about Bless Unleashed from the day it launched until New World appeared, at which point I dropped it like a radioactive potato. Even so, I always intended to get back to it at some point. I liked my character, I liked the world, the story was borderline interesting and the gameplay was passable.

Given all of that, I was a little disconcerted to find that Bless Unleashed was about to find itself under new management. One of the two very recent news flashes on the game's Steam page was an almost grovellingly apologetic announcement that as of January 26th next year, "game services" for BU would be moving from developers NeoWiz to Valofe

The article describes Valofe as "a global game company that handles development, publishing and operation". I remember them as the bunch that botched the transfer of Riders of Icarus, interrupted my flow there, left me unable to access my account for several months and effectively ended my engagement with that game.

Needless to say, I wasn't best pleased with the news. Reading through the details was a little more reassuring. It seems that, unlike the England cricket team, Valofe have proved capable of learning from their mistakes. I remember there being a whole lot of re-registration nonsense with RoI even for those who played the game through Steam but this time around Steam users should be unaffected by the handover of power:

"As the game data and account/payment information related to the game are based in the Steam platform, a transfer of them will not be performed...The current character data will remain the same and players can still continue playing the game even after the service transfer."

Apparently all we'll have to do is accept a new EULA on first login after the twenty-sixth and everything should carry on as if nothing had happened. I guess we'll see.

As to why the game needs to change hands in the first place, Neowiz don't care to say but it's probably fair to assume a 90% loss of players in six months has something to do with it. Back when the game launched it was averaging around 40k concurrency on Steam. Now it's bumping along nearer 4k.

And that's not really all that bad. If anything, it seems to be par for the course for new mmorpgs that
launched on Steam in 2021. Phantasy Star Online 2, which launched around the same time, has fallen from an average concurrency around 16k to 3k. Swords of Legends Online went from 7.5k to around 800. 

The biggest of them all, New World, which broke records as it peaked around 900k in October, is now down to 90k. It does look as though a drop-off of nearly everyone who joined at launch within just a few months is par for the course. 

It makes you wonder whether some of these companies really expect to develop and grow the games over years or if the whole point is to rake in the cash from the excitable hordes in the first few weeks before either selling the whole thing on to an aggregator like Valofe or Gamigo or just shunting it into maintenance for a while before shutting it down for good.

Clearly, Amazon want to make a long-term go of New World and with a property that's still in Steam's top ten (Just about.) even after losing nine-tenths of its players they undoubtedly have a viable product. With figures like SOLO's, though, you'd have to hope the game has other sources of revenue than just what we're seeing on Steam.

Valofe don't appear to have a very good name in the genre but then, realistically, who does? The list of developers and publishers that don't raise a cynical eyebrow or an angry fist these days is vanishingly small. It's unlikely Bless Unleashed will prosper under its new owners but at least it's still there. Maintenance mode is better than closedown.

They're all mine! You can't have any!

As for new content, I wouldn't hold out any great hopes. Once mmorpgs go down this route the best we can often expect is refreshed holiday events and some new, promotional "Seasons". 

At least Bless Unleashed leaves Neowiz with a twinkle. The other announcement was news of the Feywinter Festival, a refreshingly well-named seasonal celebration that kicked off on December 22nd and continues until January 12th.

It's the usual collection of free gifts, monster-bashing and a new holiday currency to spend at special holiday vendors. If I was going to be cynical I'd say it looks like a cut and past of BU's halloween event but the rewards do look good so I'm not complaining.

The festival is based out of a square in the Noble District in the city of Sperios. I took the trouble to log in after an 18GB update (!) and port down there to see it. It looks very pretty. I would have thought the devs could have cloned it and popped copies down in the other main cities for our convenience but I guess it would have looked out of place just about everywhere other than where it is.

Oh, alright. You can have that little green one.
No! Not the one with the bow! The little one!

I grabbed a free present but I doubt I'll be logging in to do much more of the event. As I'm discovering as I try to juggle Frostfell, Wintersday and Winter Convergence, it's not really practical to pursue more than a couple of these major festivals at once. 

Other than the stated intent of giving everyone a fun time over the holidays, all of these festivals, by design, involve a goodly amount of grind. They exist as much as anything to keep people logging in at a time when players have a lot of free time on their hands and developers are taking a well-earned break.

It's a shame, in a way. The midwinter events often offer some of the most attractive rewards. The iconography of the season, with its color palette of blues and blue-whites and plethora of snowy imagery, appeals to me a lot more than Halloween's garish black and orange and clownish costume antics. Plus, I'm always in the market for a reindeer mount.

At least I didn't have to go to any websites and fill in any forms. For that alone I'm willing to look favorably on this unexpected move. Now it's all down to waiting on the new landlord to see how they perform.

Mark your calendar for Jan. 26th and we'll see how it goes.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Tell Me Something I Don't Know

How do you like your MOTDs? Purposeful and practical? Plain and prosaic? Playful and peculiar?

I can't honestly say it's something I've thought much about in the past. It's been so long since I've been in an active guild with other people who aren't versions of me, I can't even remember what sort of topics used to come up or how they'd be phrased, back when I was.

In most of the mmorpgs I play these days, the only guilds I'm in are ones I've created myself. I came up with a guild name I liked about a decade ago and I've been using it ever since. Most games nowadays are happy to let anyone create a guild, virtually from the moment they log in. I can't remember the last time I was expected to have actual guildmates to do it. 

Even in New World, which I did think might be a little stricter, given the focus on territorial PvP, I was able to make my regular guild (Or Company, as they call them in Aeternum.) without having to provide evidence of support. Not that I plan to slap my  tag on a town but at least it minimizes the number of drive-by invites I have to turn down.

Guild Wars 2 generously allows you to join up to five guilds simultaneously. Across three accounts, I'm in a total of something like eight or nine in total. Once again, most of those were created by either me or Mrs. Bhagpuss, mainly before ANet wrecked changed the way guild progression works. It used to be possible, if not especially easy, to earn a large amount of extra storage space for even a single-person guild, which was a great motivator for making as many of them as the rules allowed.

For a few years, in both EverQuest II and GW2, Mrs. Bhagpuss and I liked to change the guild message of the day quite often, usually to make fatuous jokes and puns, sometimes to promulgate relevant news or information about the game. At that time there were meaningful numbers of players who weren't us in the guilds we'd made, hard though it is to believe now, so the MOTD was a handy way of keeping everyone on the same page.

As time went on and paricipation dwindled all of that became somewhat pointless. If we want to make infantile jokes to each other we can do it at home. And if that doesn't get the laughs, there's always this blog.

The current MOTD in our primary GW2 guild hasn't changed for a couple of years or more. It's an exhortation to eat more spam that, believe it or not, is a joke that isn't a Monty Python reference. In my EQII, guild, where no-one but who isn't me has logged in for a shade less than seven and a half years, the forlorn message consists of my email address, should any former members wish to contact me, and a note to myself reminding me which of my characters keeps the dressing-up boxes in their bank.

I was thinking about all of this because lately something has happened to the MOTD for EQII itself. In common with many games, there's a generic "Welcome to the game" message that appears at the top of the chat box every time you log in. I don't have many memories of how it used to be other than that, as far as I can recall, it was always very straight and factual, telling you if there were patches scheduled or other in-game events you might need to know about.

It still does, but now it's with attitude. I believe the tone changed about the same time the last Community Rep left and the new one took his place. It seems likely. I'm guessing writing the MOTD is one of the duties that comes with the post.

It doesn't change every day. It probably doesn't even change every week. Sometimes, as of old, it's just a very basic piece of information or a generic greeting. More often than not, though, there's some kind of sarcastic comment or in-joke.

I like it. It's the sort of thing that only works if the person behind it has a genuine sense of comedy, something that's a lot rarer than altogether too many people seem to think. (I'm waiting. Get it out of your system and we can move on.)

It also seems to me to smack of an increased sense of confidence, something I've begun to sense in the game over the last few months, quite possibly since the change of ownership. It's easy to read too much into these things but I've been playing the game for a very long time now and I like to imagine I'm attuned enough to recognize a change in atmosphere.

It's no kind of big deal but I noticed as I looked through some screenshots that I'd happened to capture two or three of the messages, so I thought I'd make a note of it. At least that way I'll have some kind of benchmark to compare against. should things change again.

I kind of hope they don't, at least not for a while. Color me amused.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Another Plan Gone Wrong

I'm pretty sure no-one wants to hear another Christmas song for at least the next eleven and a half months so the rest of the ragtaggle collection I've scrubbed together is going to have to gather dust until next year. I did take a brief look at New Year songs but the general standard there makes Christmas songs look like touchstones of cultural import by comparison, so that's not happening.

Then I came up with a clever plan to take a picture of one of the presents Mrs. Bhagpuss gave me yesterday, a vinyl 45 still in its sealed shrink-wrap, mounted and framed. It's Wet Leg's Chaise Longue and I already have it hanging on the wall above my monitor, where I can glance up and see it any time I want.

It seemed quite deliciously ironic, given some of the snarky comments I've made about vinyl recently, that this should be one of my favorite gifts this year, along with a tee-shirt featuring Bean from Disenchantment, because of course that's exactly the sort of thing I should be wearing in my sixties, along with my Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale ones. I thought I might make some self-deprecatory capital out of that.

Unfortunately, the camera on my Kindle Fire is bloody terrible, my phone has a flickering screen and I really don't have the time or energy to charge up the digital camera that I haven't had out of the box for about three years. I tried taking some shots with the Kindle but you can barely make out the frame let alone see what's inside. I guess I should think about buying a new phone.

Another present I received, at my request this time, was the little 33 1/3 book by Darran Anderson on Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson, the album I learned earlier this year to be the sonic inspiration for the Arctic Monkeys' Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. I suppose I could have asked for the album itself but I really wanted to read the book, which is supposed to be more of a biography of Serge than just a "how it was made" on the album.


It's an excuse to slap one of the songs up here, anyway. I also got an Auteur de Lucie CD, so I don't see why we shouldn't have a little bit of a French interlude. Pourquoi non, hein?

That tiny moment of madness is Sagrada Familia, which of course is in Barcelona, just to confuse matters. I've been there several times. I climbed all the way up inside the spires once. I wonder if they still let you do that? I doubt it. I was surprised they let me do it then.

I'd love to go again but it seems ever less likely. These last two years mark the longest time since I was too young to read that I've not left the country at least once. Currently we're booked to fly to Bilbao at the end of May but I've already shifted that flight four or five times and I'm fully expecting to have to move it again.

I think if there's one thing we've all learned of late it's not to make any plans we're not prepared to change. The future won't be dictated to.

Oh, look! This has turned into a New Year post after all and it's still Christmas! See what I mean about making plans? 

At least there weren't any New Year's songs. I got that part right, anyway.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Here's wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas or whatever your preferred holiday might be! I've opened all my presents (It was a lot and they were all great!) and now I'm having a break before we start making lunch, a major operation that lasts quite a while.

I could just leave it at that but yeah, I'm not gonna. This whole finding odd Christmas songs thing I've been up to has had some long-term benefits in that I've discovered a handful of new artists, performers and bands whose post-Noël careers I'll be following with enthusiasm.

I offer them up as gifts.

First, The National Jazz Trio of Scotland with their all but unrecognizeable version of one of the most annoying of all Christmas classics, Jingle Bells. They aren't a trio and they definitely don't play jazz. They may be Scottish, I couldn't say for sure. They have a whole album of Christmas songs (Doesn't everyone?), some of which are even quite cheerful. This isn't one of them.

If that hasn't drained all the fun out the festivities, this ought to do it. It's a magnificent desconstruction of Mud's cod-fifties classic, Lonely This Christmas. I must have heard this song literally hundreds of times but I never realized how utterly bleak the lyrics were until I heard this version. Les Grey's gurning face and pantomime performance leeched out all the meaning. The Mysterines pour it all back in and then some.

And finally, in a vague attempt to regain the room, here's a cover of Nikki Sudden and the Jacobites' Teenage Christmas, here given the full tweepop treatment by Eux Autres, who are, bizarrely, a brother-sister duo from Portland, Oregon. They "channel sixties' French pop and give it a unique sensibility". Or, in this case, eighties/nineties' drug-drenched boho minstrelsy. Same thing, really.

Always leave 'em laughing, eh?

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2021

It Was Christmas Eve In The Drunk Tank...

You'd think this would have to be the last Christmas Music Post for the year. (Stop cheering at the back!). No-one wants to hear Christmas songs after the twenty-fifth, do they? And no-one wants to be blogging on Christmas Day. That would just look sad.

Hah! You don't get off that easily! And like I ever cared about looking "sad"! 

I'm working on the twenty-sixth so there's a very good chance I'll come home and bash out another of these after tea on Boxing Day. Also, on Christmas Day Mrs Bhagpuss and I have generally had enough eating, drinking, movie-watching and cracker-pulling by the evening, leaving just enough time to get some dailies done and in my case bang out a quick post.

Most years it's not much more than a virtual greetings card, something I've already prepped for this year, but I've also not stopped rooting through YouTube for seasonal songs yet and I'd hate to waste all that work. 

Seriously, it is work. There are thousands and thousands of the things! I never noticed just how many people feel the need to record whole albums of Christmas songs. Nor how bloody awful most of them are! Anyway, I have enough bookmarked that I ought to be able to get at least two more posts out of them, including this one. Quite possibly three. 

And then we'll be heading into New Year, for which I will definitely be doing some kind of musical celebration, thankfully not seasonally themed. Do people actually write New Year themed songs? I guess U2 did. Anyone else? Hmm....

On New Year's Day itself I will once again be working - always assuming the Head Buffoon hasn't shut everything down for the widely-anticipated post-Christmas circuit-breaker - but chances are I'll have blown my musical stack on New Year's Eve. Oh well, I expect I'll think of something.

And now - the Christmas Eve tunes! If I'd thought of it before this very moment I might have tried to find some songs that do, in fact, mention the night before Christmas, but I didn't. Oh, wait...

 Assassination on Xmas Eve - Jeffrey and Jack Lewis

When I began getting back into music after the decade-long interruption that began when I first set foot in Norrath back in 1999, one of my earliest discoveries was Jeffrey Lewis, the anti-folk anti-pope. I love his deadpan delivery and he's very funny, although he can also be very political, as I think he's probably being here, when he and his brother cover an Archers of Loaf song. It seems to be about... something. Maybe a real-life incident? I knew I should have done some research. It's a pretty faithful cover, anyway, although somehow the original contrives to come over as considerably more tuneful. Arguably it could hardly be less tuneful than Jeff and Jack but that would be uncharitable and entirely out of keeping with the season.

Winona Ryder Hates Christmas - Fake Shark Real Zombie

Does she? Does she really? I kinda doubt it. It's strange how often her name gets thrown in to lyrics or band names. This isn't even the first time a song about her has popped up on this blog. I realise that makes it sound like I had nothing to do with it but of course I'm just as prone to dragging her name out for effect as anyone. She's almost as much a cultural artefact as a real person. Weird how that happens to certain actors, usually but by by no means uniquely women. I've always liked her, since I first saw her in Heathers. She's had an up and down sort of career but she's been great in a ton of things I rate highly. She's wonderful in Stranger Things so there's plenty more to come from her, I'm sure. Just not a Christmas movie, if these guys are right about her.

Don't Believe in Christmas - The Sonics

Winona hates it but the Sonics deny it even exists. This is two great songs bolted together (Subterranean Homesick Blues and Too Much Monkey Business.) to make one more. It's barely more than a minute and a half long, too, which makes it perfect.

Must Be Santa - Bob Dylan

I just stared at this open-mouthed when I first saw it. I mean, where do you even start? It opens like the Pogues then lurches sideways into something that sounds unnervingly like the theme tune to the Smurfs. Bob himself looks like Iggy Pop having a relapse and the video looks like Francis Ford Coppola directing an episode of Peaky Blinders. This man has a Nobel Prize. For Literature!

Linus & Lucy (Charlie Brown Christmas Theme) - Geoff Downes

This is what you get if you type "Prog Rock Christmas Songs" into YouTube. Well, it is after you've scrolled through about a thousand unlistenable covers of Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas and Jethro Tull doing their imaginatively-titled hit, Christmas Song

If this is prog there must be something wrong with my ears because all I hear is jazz. It's fun, though, and the video's great. Also the person who posted it put it up in memory of a friend who died of Covid this year, which is a bittersweet note on which to end.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Get Expansion. Register Expansion. Wait.

Today was the day I finally stopped putting it off and pre-ordered End of Dragons. I've been thinking about doing it since the expansion got a firm release date, which must have been sometime around the back end of the summer. Contrast that with the EverQuest II expansion, Visions of Vetrovia, which I pre-ordered the same morning the press release appeared and you can see how keen I was. 

As a rule, I like to pre-order expansions for games I'm playing at the earliest opportunity, not so much for the perks, which are generally quite modest at the level I buy in, but because it seems the tidiest way to do things. I can't think I've ever waited this long before pre-ordering an expansion I always knew I was going to buy.

I guess you could point at EverQuest's Terror of Luclin, which came out in December. I almost certainly will buy that but I haven't yet. As for pre-ordering it, the idea never even entered my head until I started writing this post.

The three purchases, actual or putative, tell an revealing story of their own, standing as they do on very different points of the interest curve. 

I was quite excited about the EQII expansion from the moment I read about what was going to be in it. It looked like more of the stuff I already knew I liked and it was set in a place I was interested to see, with which I felt I had some history. 

Conversely, when the details of the GW2 expansion emerged, most of what I read left me feeling deflated, bored and very slightly annoyed. It looked like more of the stuff I already knew I didn't much like and it was set in a place I wasn't at all interested to see, with which I felt I had no history whatsoever. It really didn't help that a whole load of franchise grognards were all over it, either.


The EQ expansion sits somewhere in the middle. It's filled with stuff I neither much like or dislike, for the very good reason I never get to see it. It's a long, long time since I played any current endgame content in the older Everquest and it's likely to be even longer before I do. Longer as in never.

The setting of ToL does appeal to me. I love Luclin. We have just spent two years there in EQII, though, so I feel my Luclin-based needs have been more than adequately met for the time being. The main appeal to me is the extra five levels but there's really no point paying for those until I plan to play the game, which isn't likely to be this side of the late spring or summer.

These last few years I've found myself needing to think about game purchases in a way I haven't had to do since the turn of the milennium. It's nothing to do with the cost, which remains very low in terms of entertainment hours. It's the direct result of the way my gaming habits have changed, itself the direct result of the increased amount of free time I've had.

What with illness, the pandemic and my approaching retirement, I've had more time available both to play games and write about them than ever before. The last three years have been by far my most productive on this blog. In the first eight years I never broke two hundred posts in a calendar year. In 2019 I posted 250 times, last year it was 293 and this will be my 340th post of 2021.

To reach those numbers I've needed to find more to write about than just the handful of mmorpgs I might happen to be playing. I've also needed to find more than the same sets of dailies to keep myself amused during the endless lockdowns, which for me started back in 2019, when I was having chemotherapy.

I made a very deliberate decision to expand the range of content on the blog back then. The most obvious change must be the numerous music posts, the majority of which I freely admit are there for my own pleasure and amusement rather than the entertainment of an audience, but there have been forays into various aspects of popular culture, all of which have, I think, added to the general standing of the blog.


Perhaps less obviously, I've written a lot more about games other than mmorpgs. I used to write almost exclusively on that topic. I considered this to be an mmorpg blog, not a gaming blog. That made a lot of sense because I only very rarely played anything else. Mmorpgs readily expand to fill as much time as you care to throw at them so, while I was working at least, the majority of the time I never felt the need for any other kinds of games.

It was partly the extra time that tempted me to go looking outside the boundaries of the genre but it was also the ever-increasing availabilty of free games. Just as the free-to-play revolution hugely expanded the range of mmorpgs I was able to experiment with, so the plethora of gaming platforms vying for customers - Steam, Amazon, Epic and the rest - tempted me to start looking at games and genres I'd never even have considered a few years before.

Almost all of the outcomes of these changes have been positive. I've loved being able to write more, I've played and enjoyed a lot of games I would never have tried and I've generally kept myself interested, amused, entertained and busy during what have been some challenging times both personally and globally.

It does, however, mean more planning than I've been used to for quite a while. There's not much point buying - or even downloading for free - games I have no intention of playing in the immediate future. About the only time that makes sense is when there are limited-time offers for games I would like to play but don't have time for right away.

Everything else needs to be sorted according to practical considerations. Will I play it right now? If not, will I miss out on some worthwhile bonus if I wait until later? Do I want to pay full price or wait for a sale? And so on and so on. All the things I've been reading other people saying about their game-buying choices for years.

While I was exclusively playing mmorpgs and felt I didn't have enough time even to do those justice, I didn't have to bother about any of that. I felt quite smug about it. There are posts here where you can see me being smug about it for several thousand words.

Well, I'm not feeling quite so smug now. Pleased with myself, oh yes. Still that. It's all worked out rather nicely. Smug about being above it all, though? No, not any more.

None of which really explains why I pulled the trigger on End of Dragons today. It's an uninspiring, lackluster patchwork of an expansion, from what I've seen. A bunch more pseudo-classes I won't play, a story I won't care about, a load of weapons I don't want. 

There's a bastardized sort of fishing, the go-to of desperate developers everywhere, combined with a peculiar take on boats that looks to be neither one thing nor the other. That's not setting my pulse racing.

Then there's Cantha. Everyone loves Cantha, apparently. I'm hoping it's going to be pretty, at least. I've probably been there before. I have all the Guild Wars expansions and I've played at least a bit of most of them. If I have, though, it didn't make much of an impression. I can't actually remember Cantha at all.

As for the freebies I'd have missed out on if I'd waited until launch day, I'm not clear on whether there are any. As I look at the official web page it seems to me everything is included in the various tiers regardless of purchase date. I'm not sure any of them are incentives for pre-ordering. Oh, wait, yes there are. I see the tiny asterisks and the tiny footnotes now. Boy, that's really selling it.

The real reason I bought it now rather than later is Christmas. I've been buying so much these last few weeks I've just gotten into the habit of it. Instead of asking myself "Why?" today I found myself asking "Why not?"

It's not the greatest of reasons but I feel good that I got it done. And that's not the greatest of endorsements, either, now I come to think about it. "You know you're going to have to buy this thing eventually. Just get it over with".

Oh well, at least I got another blog post out of it. And there'll be plenty more come February, count on that.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Trivial Pursuits

has a post up today about difficulty settings - implied, imposed, avoided - in both board and video games. It's a well-argued and sensible piece for the most part but there was one part which didn't quite ring true to me.

Talking about difficulty levels, he claimed "You never want to modify those to be completely trivial." I can see what he means, I think, but it refers back to the old "What is a Game?" question, something I don't want to revisit right now. 

I'm not really very interested in whether something qualifies as a "game". For many years I railed against the use of the world in the acronym "mmorpg". My argument was that mmorpgs were platforms for playing games, not games in themselves. It's an argument that's become harder to sustain in recent years, when developers have consistently tried to constrain the genre within certain gamelike parameters. 

Modern mmorpgs are often more like "games" than anything else. They virtually come with win conditions. When they're not so much like games, it's mainly because they're they're more like movies or stories. Some might as well be movies, although then they'd have to compete at a much higher level, with much more nuanced storytellers, so it's no surprise they aren't.

Leaving aside the question of whether the "games" we play are actually "games" at all, the more interesting question to me is what's required to make them "fun". And, of course, here we go again with another of those words everyone uses but whose meaning no-one can define. 

Tobold says "The purpose of a game is to have fun", which is so incredibly contentious a statement I can only assume he's trolling. Once again, I'll side-step the "What is fun, anyway?" discussion. Let's just pretend we all have the same idea of fun, for once, or we'll never get anywhere.

Giving a pass to both "game" and "fun" takes us neatly past the philosophy and into the action, which is the nub of the whole thing. All games require some form of action, don't they? Without they'd be passive entertainment.

What, then, would constitute "completely trivial" in such a context? Doing nothing at all is the only definition I can come up with, which takes us into the territory of idle games. 

I don't play or follow idle games so I'm far from being the person to extrapolate on how or why they might be "fun". I did, for a while, have Progress Quest installed and occasionally I'd watch it play itself but while Progress Quest may have been one of the ancestors of the modern idle game, I don't think it represents a much better example than Ultima Online would in a conversation about modern mmorrpg gameplay.

My understanding is that most idle games require some level of input from the player these days. I don't think you just install them and never touch them again, other than to see how they're going. At some level they do require some activity and "activity" is the key to all of this.

When Tobold implies a game needs at least a minimal level of "difficulty" I believe what he means is a minimum level of "activity". On that, I think we can agree, although as usual the exact moment where activity slips into inactivity is unclear. I do think a player has to be doing something at least some of the time to qualify as a player.

How much do they have to do, though? It's quite common to see negative comments about mmorpgs, usually non-western free to play titles, that automate most of the routine operations more respectable games expect players to perform for themselves. Apparently there's a qualitative difference for some people in watching their character move from quest giver to quest location based on whether or not they have to press down on the WASD keys to make it happen. 

It gets even more controversial if the character doesn't even need to fight their own battles when they get there. Games that handle all of the combat as well as the pathfinding cease to qualify as games at all for many. Personally I think at this point it's still a matter of degree.

By the standards of many of us, the "difficulty level" in those games has come pretty close to "completely trivial" but does that mean no-one's having fun playing them? Are the games still fun as the level of interactivity declines? Well, people play them, so I think we'd have to accept that for those people, they are.

There's a reason I've been thinking about this other than reading Tobold's post. The latest EverQuest II expansion, Visions of Vetrovia, differs substantively from all its predecessors in one particular manner; never before can I recall being able to one-shot most overland mobs before even completing the Signature quest line.

Someone commented on it in general chat, when the expansion was less than a week old. At the time I was still having to move and pull carefully to avoid being overwhelmed and I was dying not infrequently when I got it wrong. At that point my reaction was basically "Chance'd be a fine thing."

Now, having sorted myself out a little, I can pull literally everything in as wide an area as I can run in a circle without breaking leashes, then one shot every single one of the mobs in range with the first AE I cast. The only thing that stops me clearing the entire field in a single key-press is the time it takes the backfield to catch up to the play.

I can't recall any previous expansion where I found myself doing new, at-level quests for the first time and having them behave exactly though they were quests in out-levelled content. There's usually at least an element of challenge. In the routine VoV overland quests not involving sub-bosses or similar there's none, not now my character's level 125 with gear that's sometimes been upgraded four times already since the epansion launched.

Was I having more fun when it was harder? Am I not having fun now, with the gameplay completely trivialised in this way. 

No, I'm loving it. It was fun before but it's much more fun now. Far from making the quests dull or tedious it makes them much more enjoyable. It's a different kind of enjoyment, sure, but at least as satisfying in its own way, only there's more of it and it's faster. It's a bit like those magic painting books I did as a child, the ones where you just have to dip a brush in wter and swish it over the pictures to see the colors bloom.

When it comes down to it, how many people actively enjoy the navigating and killing parts of routine quests, anyway? I used to love the equivalent process in EverQuest, when breaking a camp could take fifteen minutes and holding it successfully could occupy a tense session, but it's been a long time since I played an mmorpg that offered that experience. And back then all I was doing most of the time was grinding xp. Even then, I didn't find that same process anything like as much fun if it stood between me and a quest reward I wanted.

Games of that era also gave you the tools to play that way and enjoy it. Imagine a modern mmorpg that allowed you remove aggro from a mob for a couple of minutes, root it for five, snare it for fifteen. Virtually all combat abilities in every mmorpg I play now are measureed in seconds, not minutes. Everything happens on fast forward. It's exciting and fun in the moment but enervating across a session, when all you're trying to do is get whole load of quests done.

There's a wide gap between the point where you have to give combat your fullest concentration and when it becomes completely trivial. That vast stretch, which constitutes most comabt gameplay in most mmorpgs, is the gameplaying equivalent of driving a car on a long, straight road. You have to be vigilant because if you drift you could die. It's something you have to do to get from where you are to where you want to be but you couldn't in good conscience say you were having "fun" on the way. 

Well, I couldn't.  For me, the point at which things start to become enjoyable again, rather than irritating, is indeed when they become completely trivial, or as near to it as makes no difference.

Released from the need to keep from dying, I'm able to enjoy my surroundings and also to think. It's when the gameplay becomes completely trivial that my mind moves across the meaning of what I've been sent to do. It's when I begin to think not just about the practicalities of the quest I'm on but its moral, philosophical and ethical implications.

It's in the triviality of the execution that I become aware of the gravity of my actions. There are things I do that I shouldn't and I know it and yet I do them anyway because we all do. We have to or else we can't play. 

Tobold asks, "if there is a rule in it that makes the game not fun for you, would you rather change the rule, or give up on playing the game?" but the same could be said of what we're tasked to do within the games themselves. When my attention is taken up with the what and the how of what I'm doing, it's easy to miss the bigger question: why? 

Yes, all very impressively deep, I'm sure, but there's another, much more persuasive reason why the kind of specifically trivialised combat and questing I'm talking about doesn't damage the overall prospects of an mmorpg, when it comes to having fun. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about mmorpgs being as much platforms for playing games as games in their own right.

We frequently hear it said that the true endgame in mmorpgs is fashion. Guild Wars II's entire business model is built around it and it's often given as the main motivation for sticking around at top level in World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV.

Similarly, people talk about the true reason for playing being friendships or community or relationships. In some games it might be having a home, a place to hang out, a way to express creativity. It can be collecting mounts or pets or titles. 

These are all things to which "difficulty levels" could be assigned but seldom are. Such difficulty as exists there is tied up mostly with luck. It can be "difficult" to get the rng gods to give you the drop you need but it's the kind of difficulty no amount of skill or practise will help you with, one iota.

No, when we talk about "difficulty levels" in games we nearly always mean something the player can actively affect by their own performance and when all that player is interested in is the outcome, not the process, the optimum difficulty level is "completely trivial". Anything else is just a waste of valuable time.

I'm very happy to have had my routine gameplay completely trivialised in this way. I hope it's the beginning of a trend not just an aberration to be adjusted next time around. And it's not all traffic in one direction. The overland bosses, usually a total pushover by this stage, are all still incredibly tough. So far I've killed one and I had to use a bunch of potions and all my cooldowns, some of them twice. And even then it came down to almost the last hit.

That was fun, too, but only once. A repeated diet of fights like that would not be fun at all, not for me. I haven't tried again. I'll wait until those bosses are as close to completely trivial as they're likely to get, while anything they drop is still worth having. 

By the looks of things it could be a long wait.

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