Sunday, January 31, 2021

Leaving Port Silo Pts. 1 & 2


A while back I mentioned how I'd been able to lift a few things I'd written back in the nineties off some old floppy disks I found. I was wondering if I should tidy some of them up and post them somewhere. Here, maybe, or on some notional new blog. And then, of course, I did nothing about it.

Well, not exactly nothing. I did create draft posts for all of them, just as another means of having a back-up on hand. I'd forgotten I'd even done it until I happened to be glancing at my drafts this evening. Most of them are far too long to post here, even if I ever thought that would be a good idea, but there were a couple of very short pieces I wrote as a kind of five-finger excercise back when I was trying out different voices.

I read them through again, two short chapters, fragments, really. A project that never came to anything. And something struck me. Something I'd never realized before. This poor girl, she's living in an mmorpg. And she's just left the tutorial.

See her check her inventory (just the one bag). Go through her minimal checklist of basic skills. Worry about what might be out there in the dark. It's one of those mmo/survival hybrids. She needs food, she eats nuts. She needs fire, she picks up sticks.

Even the part where she imagines what life might be like if she ever makes it to civilization, how she could earn a living. That's a quest hub.

The thing is, I wrote this several years before I ever played EverQuest. I'd never even heard of an mmorpg let alone imagined what it would be like to play one. And still, this is the world I imagined for myself. The world I wanted.

I'd play the game this girl lives in. For certain sure. She just doesn't know how lucky she is. Yet.




Two hours out of Port Silo and I’m all over dust. My bag’s covered. I hate this bag. It looks like cow stuff. I hate dust and cows. I hate Port Silo.

I sat fourteen hours in grain today trying to keep the grain dust out of my mouth out of my nose out of my eyes. Wasting my time. I hate grain. I hate dust. I hate Port Silo.

I hate travelling from one shitty little backwater Port to the next up to my chest in grain up to my chest in cotton up to my chest in rags, in-between boxes and crates and machine parts and keeping my head down keeping my head down keeping my head down. I think if I keep my head down any longer I’ll drown underground under the mudwater or the dust where the scratchy things scrape and scut.

Who makes all this dust grain cotton rag scutting scrapy scratchy things? Who wants them all? Not me. God, Pastor Tot says. Said. God should have more sense. 

God wouldn’t sit on the deck of a diesel barge that has the pumps running pumping water every hour of the day or it sinks. God wouldn’t squat in the shade of a crate full of parts full of rust that no-one wanted when they left and no-one wants when they get where they’re sent if they ever do arrive if the Goddam barge doesn’t sink. God wouldn’t say Goddam either, I suppose, and neither would I if Pastor Tot was here.

Pastor Tot would say yes God would sit on that barge in that grain and rag and rust and dust and let the sun or the shade scab and scar and freeze him and he would care and he would love and he would because he’d be everywhere, all at once. That’s what Pastor Tot would say. I hate dust.

She tugs at the knotted drawstring of her khaki canvas bag.

I’ve got an apple in here somewhere. Fruit. I guess fruit is okay just about okay, when there’s nothing else. It’s better than fish and that dried stuff, better than grain. I can’t believe I tried to eat grain. Next time I’ll eat the dust or the scuts.  

She bites the apple. 

This is gross. My guts ache. When’s something going to come down this road? It’s been two hours and what’s been by? Nothing’s been by that’s what’s been by. Nothing is going to be by that’s how I see it. I should have stayed in Port Silo.

Worms have had the best of this apple. I bet worms have had the best of Pastor Tot too. They haven’t though. I have. Those worms just get the husk like the skin of this apple dried up like I get. I got the best of Pastor Tot.

Sun’s nearly down. Stuck there like a great blood tick. What does it think it’s looking at? Cows and dust and stunty trees and me all over dust carrying this stupid cow stuff bag. Cow shit. Said it. I hate cows.

Where am I going to sleep? It’s going to be oh mighty cold when that sun goes oh mighty cold. Can’t see anything but this road going and going and nothing coming on it not a pick-up not a truck not a car. No. There won’t be a car. Not a horse or a mule or another sad me walking to Port Silo to say how far to Port Silo and for me to say not far enough not far enough back.

I used to think it was pretty, the sun shadowing me all the way back down the road. The dust has shadows, I used to think. Then I didn’t even hate the dust. Pastor Tot used to say the sun and the dust was people all the people of the world the old world ground up and blown away flying on God’s good sunlight around the world and every time we breathed we were taking someone in and making them part of us, carrying them along their road. 

Pastor Tot’s not in any dust. He might be dust by now if the worms have left any of him but he won’t be scutted up yet. The wind and the sun will have to push and scrape and shove at him for longer than I’ll be alive and God that won’t be too long I’m mostly about sure, before anyone gets a breath of old Pastor Tot.

I wish I was going to get a breath of him, though. That would be something, I suppose.

I guess I’d better find some cover some dry culvert or the crook of some stunty crab tree. When the sun’s gone there’ll be ice on the ground and when I wake up there’ll be ice on me. I hate ice on my eyes waking up with my eyelashes frozen together thinking I went blind in the night or got buried alive or died and this is it under the dust buried and dead and blind and still knowing. Jesus I don’t want to sleep out here alone.

There must be somewhere I can go to get out of the cold. Why didn’t I start looking sooner while it was still light? Oh why am I so goddam stupid? Maybe I should just keep walking until it gets light then sleep in the sun. Least I could be warm and if I get out of sight I could be safe, could be.

This  always happens. Paster Tot would have had us in a roadhouse or under a tarp in some quiet port corner an hour before dark and something hot to go with it. I can’t carry it can’t look after myself can’t look ahead, I just keep walking and walking and riding and hiding and walking, sleep where I land eat what I find and I’m getting thinner and tireder and I don’t have any plan don’t have any plan don’t have any plan.






The sun goes down. The moon rises. Stars come out.

This is hopeless. I’m never going to get to sleep. It’s too cold too too cold. Oh hell have I got any matches or my lighter? I should have got some wood when it was light there’re enough dead trees around here for God’s sake. This place is never short of dead stuff dead trees dead animals dead rivers dead land dead me if I don’t get warm. 

Moonlight is so not good for finding stuff. Everything goes flat and grey. Pastor Tot said that’s how the world looks when God’s sleeping because God never really sleeps he always sees always knows. God could find wood  by moonlight I bet and so could Pastor Tot. Well I damn will too.

The girl rummages in her bag. 

 Matches matches matches I know there’s some matches in here there’d better be some matches or I’m in big trouble bigger trouble. Always in trouble anyway. I’m so used to being in trouble if I wasn’t in trouble I’d think I was in trouble. What’s this?  Cowries. Damn. Too much stuff in this bag don’t know why I lug it all over but you never know what you’re going to need when.

Oh, hey! Hey! My Macadamia nuts! Oh this is brilliant this is so brilliant! My Macadamia nuts! I forgot all about them and after what I had to do to get them! Oh this is all coming good it’s all coming good.  

She executes a graceless dance, then stops suddenly.  

I heard something! Oh hell oh hell ! She crouches. Listen. Listen. No, I can’t hear anything. Maybe it was me doing my stupid dance maybe I stamped on a stick and it snapped. Oh, what if something’s crouching out there in the dark listening to me listening for something in the dark. Now I can’t eat my Macadamia nuts. It’ll hear me crunching. Maybe I could suck them, grind them a little with my back teeth if I’ve got any back teeth left after that damn corn.  

She stuffs macadamia nuts into her mouth. 

Now I can’t hear anything but me. I can’t see anything, only shadows.

If it was a stick if I broke a stick then there’re sticks. I could light a fire with sticks if I had some matches. I could shove a burning stick in a wolf’s face if it’s a wolf if a wolf’s out there listening to me. Oh God what if it’s a wolf a wolf listening listening to me listening to me out there in the dark? What if it’s a bunch of wolves? Got to find those matches. 

She rummages through the bag.

Here they are here they are. How many left? Two, four, six, seven. Seven. Seven’s enough. I can light a fire with seven. I can. Pastor Tot could light a fire with one. He could light a fire with none no matches at all. I saw him do it. Why didn’t I listen when he was telling me how? 

She strikes a match.

Grass. Grass burns.  It’s so hot every day grass has got to be dry enough to burn. Here’s something. And a stick. And another. Oh yes this is good this going to do it this is going to scare that wolf this is going to keep me warm, I’m going to do it. I’m going to be okay. I’ll get through this night and tomorrow that damn sun will come up and I’ll walk until I see a good place well a place there are no good places no good places left not places like there used to be like Pastor Tot told me about. Not places where there’s food right out on the streets piled up on carts and people give it to you if you do something for them or if you do something for someone else they give you money and you give it to the people with the food on the carts and there’s places to sleep indoors not in ditches or under tarpaulins on cruddy scutty boats.

The grass flares.

Yes! Oh yes I’ve got it. Now we’re doing it. Burn stick burn. That’s it. I can see what I’m doing now. Goddam stunty tree you’re going to lose some branches tonight old stunty stunter stunty tree.  

The fire grows. 

Warm warm at last. Oh I love fire. It’s the only clean thing in this scutty dusty world. If fire burned dust it would be perfect. I hate dust.

Last of the Macadamia nuts. I’m going to roast them. I’m going to roast them in my fire and have a hot meal like Pastor Tot would have had. Wonder what this tree is. Old stunty tree might be a nut tree, might be a Walnut tree or a Pecan nut tree. If they grow on trees. Or it could be Apples. Only one way to find out.  

She takes a burning branch from the fire.  

No, nothing. Only a tree a dry barky knotty tree. All you’re good for is burning old dumb tree. Couldn’t get any shade out of you in the day but I’ll get fire from you in the night.

I’m tired. Just eat the last of these then I’m going to sleep right by my fire. No damn wolves would dare come up to my fire and no other fool’s going to be wandering about here under the moon. Wolf moon, should have thought of that before. Oh what if I forget everything he taught me? What if I forget everything  Pastor Tot taught me? That’s all that’s going to keep me alive he’s all that kept me alive all this time. I’d be clearance in Port Silo by now if it wasn’t for Pastor Tot. Well, no-one’s going to clearance me. Not now. Not wolves not Port Authority not anyone.  

She curls up beside the fire and sleeps. Nearby, wolves begin to howl.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Back In The Desert

Having taken the trouble to move my Black Desert Online account from Kakao to Pearl Abyss so I wouldn't have to say goodbye to my characters, it was inevitable I'd want to log in and say hello to them instead. There was only one thing stopping me: a 56GB update. I realize I've been gone for a while but that's... well, it's enough for several complete games, isn't it?

Oh well, bite the bullet. I set the patcher running and it managed to gulp down nearly three gigs before it coughed up a hairball and fell over. Some file caused an exception and the launcher froze. I closed it and re-opened it and the whole thing crashed. 

I thought about trying to figure out something to do about it but then I decided to go patch Twin Saga instead. That's the trouble with old mmorpgs - as soon as I start thinking about games I used to play I want to play them all. 

Twin Saga also needed a hefty patch. I forget how big but it was several gigs. I play Twin Saga through Steam, though, so there were no problems getting back up to speed. That's one good reason to use Steam for mmorpgs that hadn't occured to me before.

By the time the update had finished I was playing something else. EverQuest, I think. A the moment I seem to be playing, for want of a better word, rather a lot of mmorpgs: EverQuest, EverQuest II,, Guild Wars 2, World of Warcraft - those four  I log into just about every day. I've played a fair bit of DCUO recently and now I seem to be adding Twin Saga and Black Desert to the mix. I even played Rift the other night and I'm more than willing to bet that won't be the end of it. 

Red Eyes snitches on Red Nose.


Actually, it already isn't the end - I was playing in this weekend's latest test of FHX until they had to reboot the server and I got kicked out. I'll play some more there tomorrow.

Other than the endless patching, the main problem with dotting about like this is that, as has often been observed here and on many other blogs, mmorpgs can be a bugger to get back into when you've been away a for a while. They will keep changing.

I'd have to say that really is one of the joys of Rift. It's always exactly the bloody same. It's months since I last logged in but it only took me about twenty seconds before I felt like I'd never been away.

I checked my mail (still full of free gifts I never remove because of a perennial lack of bag space) and fiddled around with the guild bank (there's a whole vault full of things that don't belong to me but no-one else has played for years so I guess they're mine now). 

Then I rode off across Silverwood, knocked off a few quests on the way and somehow ended up in Scarlet Gorge,. I put a couple of levels on whoever it was I was playing. It was fun, albeit very much a private kind of fun. It felt like I'd fired up a single-player game. I was there for a couple of hours and never saw a single other player, not even in town. I finally logged out in Scarwood Reach. Might be a while before I log in again.

Today I read a couple more posts from other people who've been reminded Black Desert exists and taken it upon themselves to give the game another go. There could be some marketing traction in this, you know, telling people something's going to happen to their accounts or their characters if they don't do something about it sharpish. I hope no-one's getting ideas.

I'll thank you to keep your suggestions to yourself, Spirit, unless you want a taste of this boomerang .


I was all set to uninstall and reinstall, thinking that might be the quickest way to fix whatever the problem was, but I figured I might as well just give it one more go as it stood and guess what? It worked just fine. Took a while but this time the whole fifty-six gigs flowed smoothly down the pipe and there I was, back in...

... hang on, what's the name of the world again? Oh, look! It doesn't have one! That's bold.

Mailvaltar mentioned in the comments that there were a lot of "welcome back, prodigal child" rewards I might be entitled to and he wasn't kidding. There were so many I kind of glazed over. Didn't take a single one and it seemed like there were dozens, maybe hundreds. I gave up long before I'd even looked at them all.

It's not that there's a lack of detailed explanation in game. Very much the opposite. Very, very much. Black Desert is one of those games that likes to append entire essays to mouseovers and tool-tips. It's only to be expected, I guess. If there's one thing you can say about Pearl Abyss it's that they do like to take a maximalist approach to just about everything they do. 

It's a ferociously complicated game in just about every way you'd care to mention, except perhaps for the combat, which at the levels I've attained consists almost exclusively of running into armies of mobs then jumping and yelling and spinning in circles until either they or you fall over. 

So that's what I did.

It's pretty plain my character has no more idea what she's doing than I do.


I only did it for about ten minutes and I levelled up twice. There seem to be some ferocious xp boosts on by default. I think the server was giving me 200%, an event threw in another 100% and some guild had buffed the town I was in for yet another hundred. I had several other consumable options I could have used but since my goal in Black Desert has always been to try to throttle back on leveling, I refrained from using any of those.

Only a week or two ago I was mithering a little about not having enough mmorpg options on my plate. I think I was misrepresenting the situation. There's absolutely no shortage of very good games I could be playing, it's just that getting beneath the skin of any of them requires more application than I seem to be prepared to give just now. 

It's not a problem. I thought briefly that it might have been but that was because I hadn't thought it through. If I don't have the drive to dive deep into any one mmorpg, I can just splash around on the surface of a whole ocean of them. 

I have no intention of re-learning how to play Black Desert properly but I am definitely up for beating on armies of imps for the sheer joy of it. I also noticed when I logged in that there seem to be about double the number of classes there were last time I played so I feel a new character or two coming on.

And now I come to think of it, it's been quite a while since went through a phase of making a load of new characters in different games. I'm probably about due. 

I wonder what else I could try...

Friday, January 29, 2021

Just Play That Music

For reasons that escape me, probably something to do with having once played Final Fantasy XIV, I get a never-ending stream of emails from Square Enix. They send me promos and special offers for everything in their seemingly bottomless slush-pile. It seems like I get something from them just about every day. How many games do they have, anyway? It seems like a lot.

Almost all of them are of absolutely no interest to me whatsoever. Usually I don't even open the email and when I do I wish I hadn't bothered. Case in point, today's grab-bag of "Tips and tricks for the BALANWONDERWORLD DEMO" (Square Enix's caps). I opened that because... actually, I have no idea why I opened it. Probably because I saw the word "demo".  

Grey. Hmm. I see why you went there.
It came with a bunch of shills for Kingdom Hearts, Marvel Avengers and "5 of the best Square Enix Co-op games". Those turned out to be two of the same games they were already trying to sell me on plus three more at least as not interesting.

To be fair to SE, there was an outside chance I might have been interested in the Avengers game, if it hadn't been that every review and blog post I've read about it at very best damns it with faint praise. Most of them tear it to shreds. I wouldn't mind a good RPG based on the Avengers IP. Or any of the Marvel superheroes. Just doesn't seem like that'd be it.

The reason they caught me with the "demo" hook was that yesterday I did download and play a demo and it wasn't a total waste of my time. And although I downloaded it via Steam, it was for a game I'd first heard about when it was being pushed at me via email. Not by Squenix, for once. By NCSoft, who rarely bother me over anything other than Guild Wars 2.

The game in question is FUSER. I mentioned it in passing back in November, when I was talking about wishlists. It was on my Steam wishlist for a while, even though I had no intention of buying it at the eye-watering £55 full-price. Even at half-price it would be about twice what I'd pay, and since it wasn't likely to drop anything like that far in any sale this year, I took it off.

FUSER describes itself as "a nonstop digital music festival where you and your friends control the music". It has some kind of multiplayer option where you can "partner with friends on epic collaborations, then share your mixes and headlining performances with the world". That makes it sounds like its some kind of cyberspace/social media platform centered on music and performance, which would be cool. When you read deeper, sadly, you discover it very much sells itself on being a game.

Please tell me you're not a real DJ.
Yeah, not interested in that, so much.

There's nothing about FUSER as a game that appeals to me. I don't want to "Complete challenges to unlock new skills and content in Campaign play" and I really don't want to "Collaborate or Compete in Multiplayer with players from around the world". I don't even want characters I can customize so I can see them dance on a festival stage or  DJ in front of an audience of NPCs as I play my mixes.

I just want to make those mixes. 

When I got the first email about FUSER last year it came with a link to a video (which I now can't find on YouTube so maybe that wasn't where I saw it). I watched it and thought "that looks like fun". Also "I could do that.

The video was all about mixing songs. It had absolutely nothing to do with playing a game. I knew there was some attempt to sell it using game trappings and jargon but I thought that was just a way to market it to NCSoft's captive gamer audience. Under the hood I assumed FUSER would be a utility just pretending to be a game.

Having played the demo and read a bunch of highly enthusiastic reviews of the full game on Steam I'm fairly sure it's the other way around. The demo is highly focused on the game aspects. It starts with character creation. Only premade characters, sadly. They range the full gamut from incredibly bland and generic to seriously, you expect me to play that?

Once you've picked your look there's an excruciating conversation with a festival organizer that would patronize the audience of a kids' TV show. Or maybe that really is how kids talk these days. Yeah, no it's not.

I almost gave up at that point but somehow I managed to grit my teeth and carry on. And it was worth it. Well, in a way. 

It's worse when you can hear him say it. I know, hard to imagine, right?


The demo is really nothing more than a very basic tutorial. It runs you painstakingly through the basics of selecting and dropping the various tracks into the mix. You only have a choice of eight songs to dismember, each with four components, drums, bass, a lead instrument and vocals. 

The full product has a hundred songs with more coming on stream all the time, plus bells and whistles like audio filters and loops (and quite possibly actual bells and whistles, for all I know) but even with the extremely limited choices available in the demo I could feel the possibilities.

The demo handholds you through the mechanics adequately but it's equally interested in introducing  you to the game part, which mostly involves matching your actions to on-screen instructions to earn expreience points.

No part of that Rage Against The Machine track mixes well with anything else. Just sayin'.


I found the gamification irritating in the extreme. Not only did I not care about it in the first place, it also led nowhere. In the full game, as in any rpg, there's the prospect of levelling up and opening new content and abilities, in this case more songs and new ways to mix them, but in the demo all you get for following the instructions is distracted. It makes it all but impossible to concentrate on trying to create something that sounds good, which I naively thought would be the main reason for buying FUSER.

If the purpose of a demo is to let potential players decide whether to buy the game then, ironically, from my perspective I think I'd have to say it worked.  FUSER's demo successfully proved to me that I'd been right all along not to spend money on the full game. I'm not sure that's what NCSoft were hoping for, but if you show someone something and ask if they like it, you have to accept there's a chance they're going to say no, they don't.

That's what I've been saying all along!

What I did learn, though, was that I do still very much want what I thought FUSER was going to be, namely an extremely simple, dumbed-down, near-toy-level utility that will let me pretend I'm a DJ without having to go through the long and difficult process of learning how to do it properly. Preferably one which comes with a whole library of songs, a reasonable percentage of which I know and like. 

That's something I might even pay good money for. I just don't want to have jump through a whole load of gameplay hoops to get there.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Let's Play Musical Chairs (Black Desert Edition)


I imagine most people who read Inventory Full also read Time To Loot, but just in case anyone missed it , I'm repeating Naithin's Public Service Announcement concerning Black Desert Online.

You can read the full details there but the short version is Pearl Abyss are reclaiming full control of the game from outgoing publisher Kakao. All previous logins will cease to be valid at the end of May 2021.

If you have an existing account, whether directly with Kakao or by way of Steam, if you want to carry on playing those characters from June onwards you'll need to migrate your account to Pearl Abyss. There are separate processes for the two platforms. Make sure you take the right one.

Anyone who's spent any signifcant time playing imported mmorpgs (or anything from any producer other than the very biggest, really, I guess) will be all too familiar with this sort of thing. I've lost track of how many times I've had to move various accounts over the years. It's always annoying but usually it goes reasonably smoothly. 

Usually, but not always. One of the worst I can remember was the Riders of Icarus move a couple of years ago. That went so badly many players couldn't log in at all for many months even after following the rules and moving their accounts in good time. I was one of them.

Numerous hotfixes and workarounds failed. Things dragged on and on. Eventually the new publisher, Valofe, did get it fixed but by then I'd lost interest. Before the switch I was logging in every day because Riders of Icarus has some of the best daily log-in rewards I've seen anywhere but the enforced hiatus broke that habit . I haven't been back since.

Worst of all is when the acquiring publisher can't or won't service the game in all of the same regions as the outgoing one. That's happened to me a few times, most frustratingly with a game I would very much like to still be able to play, Dragon Nest

I think I moved with that game, successfully, three times. It might have been four, although at least once my account didn't come with me and I had to start over from scratch. Finally I ran out of stepping stones and that was that. 

Most gallingly, Dragon Nest is still running somewhere - Malaysia, I think - but whoever's keeping that last version up has robust region locking in place. I've several times considered using a VPN but I haven't gone that far...yet.

So changing publishers is a risk both for the developer and the player. We could lose our characters or our access to the game. They could lose our custom or our money.

I'm very pleased to say that, in keeping with just about everything else about Black Desert, the transfer process seems extremely professional. Clear, well-explained and robust. 

I took Naithan's link to the official Black Desert Online Game Data Transfer page and followed the instructions. It took me about ten or fifteen minutes but most of that was me, looking for the login details of the obscure email address I'd used for the original account, trying to come up with a new username and password... When you never use the same details twice and you sign up for hundreds of things, it can take a while.

The whole thing was about as painless as something like this can ever be. I was particularly impressed both by the friendly tone and the detailed confirmatory feedback at every step. I'm not heavily invested in Black Desert but I know moves like this can be quite stressful for those who are. 

I especially liked the final stage, when you're presented not just with affirmation of the name of the account you're about to transfer, but a list of all your characters, their levels and other salient facts, just so you can be certain all your people are coming with you.

Of course, the final proof won't come until I try to log in after the first cut-off date of February 24th. That's when the Kakao logins cease to be valid and you'll have to have a Pearl Abyss account to play. You'll have a couple of months' grace to get one before your characters are pitched into the great void but until you do you won't be able see them.

With Riders of Icarus, it wasn't until I reached that point that I found out the transfer had problems. It had all seemed good until then. I'll hold off giving Pearl Abyss the final thumbs up until I see my characters in game after the transfer takes effect but I have to say everything the company has done since I was introduced to their existence, when BDO launched in the West several years ago, has done nothing but inspire confidence. 

They do seem to know what they're doing although I guess that could have been Kakao. I guess we're going to find out.

I hope it all goes well. It's a fine mmorpg, Black Desert Online. I may not play it often but I'd hate to lose the chance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Climb Higher


I spent an hour this afternoon playing two free games I found on Steam. I say "playing". I might be stretching a point.

The first was Cloud Climber. It's from Two Star Games and it only appeared on Steam a couple of weeks ago. Someone must have been waiting for it. It already has a "Very Positive" rating from nearly fourteen hundred reviews.

That could be because the developer's previous game, My Friend Is A Raven, has been available on for a while, long enough to pick up some (Over-enthusiastic) reviews and a whole bunch of video walkthroughs on YouTube


I played MFIAR (as no-one is calling it) after I finished Cloud Climber. It's one of those multiple-ending games that seem to have become something of a talking point around here of late. 

It could almost be an exemplar of the genre. Its endings are so central to the design they aren't only named, they're numbered. My first playthrough took me less than ten minutes and I got the bad ending. I know it was the bad ending because... well, see for yourself.


It seemed quite plain to me that the idea here must be to see all the endings. When it's made as clear as that my issues with the general concept don't seem entirely relevant. Also, it was pretty obvious how to get to see the rest.

Well, two of them. I skipped through the same steps with slight variations a couple more times for those. It only took two or three minutes each time. It would have been rude not to.

I couldn't figure out the one ending I was missing, though. I thought I'd rung all the changes. There are only a very few ways to twist a tale with so few moving parts. In the end it turned out I needed to do less, not more. That fixed it. But I had to watch YouTube. I didn't figure it out on my own.


So that's My Friend Is A Raven. I realize I haven't actually described it in any way but why bother? It's free and it takes ten minutes to play. If you're interested, go try it. It's no life-changing experience but it's worth ten minutes of anyone's time.

More unusual and possibly more intriguing is the game that led me there, Cloud Climber. This one really does push the boundaries of what could reasonably be called a game. The description on Steam calls it "a short narrative adventure game". Well, it is short. I won't argue with that.


Gameplay consists of climbing ladders and opening doors. A couple of times there are keys to pick up because a couple of doors are locked, even though there seems no reason they should be. There's one interaction with a fixed object and twice you need to collect some planks and repair something but again doing so doesn't seem to serve any function whatever except to justify calling it a game.

As for narrative, there are diary pages lying around and the protagonist soliloquizes now and again in voiceover. The sum total of the storyline could be jotted down in a paragraph. A short paragraph.


The minimalistic approach is highly effective. It doesn't really need anything more. The whole thing isn't so much a game as a mood piece, a tone poem even. 

It takes place atop a series of wooden towers high enough to reach the clouds, which is precisely what they were built to do. Visually, it's breathtaking. Literally, I imagine, if you have any kind of a fear of heights.

I'm not sure whether it's possible to fall off the stairs or platforms. One of the diary pages does allude to the possibilty. I was very careful not to find out. It certainly feels like it could happen at any moment, though.


The soundscape is understated and evocative. There's a disorienting sense of isolation and loneliness. The ending (there's only the one this time... I think) comes laced with bittersweet confusion. The developer (it's just one person, Gavin Eisenbeisz) calls Cloud Climber "a really relaxing experience" and I guess it is, at that. Provided you don't think about it too hard. Or have acrophobia. Or abandonment issues.

Once again I won't go on at length. Cloud Climber took me about fifteen minutes and the screenshots pretty much tell the story. It's free, go play it.

There's a third project in the works from the same studio, something that does indeed look much more like a game. It's called My Beautiful Paper Smile and it's already available in Early Access. It's a cheery little fable about "a world where children are raised in large facilities, and taught to smile at all times. If the kids show any emotion other than happiness they are deemed imperfect, and are heavily punished". Just the kind of thing we all need right now, I'm sure you'll agree.

Might give that one a miss, at least for the time being. Not sure I'm really quite in the mood.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Dancing By The pool

Here's a little thing I forgot about World of Warcraft's free trial (aka Starter Edition): if you don't pay, you don't get to use the mail.

In a game with no shared bank facilities, where the normal means of passing items from one character to another on the same account is by posting them, that seems a little harsh. You'd have thought they might restrict mail to just your own characters. What harm could that do?

I found out the hard way when I logged my new Vulpera Hunter into Orgrimmar last night. Attentive readers may remember I'd prepped for the cancellation of my subscription by making several new characters and sending them thirty-slot bags and pocket money. 

It wasn't until I went to open my inventory that I remembered something. When I'd made the new fox I'd sent her the stuff but she'd never gotten around to taking it out of the mailbox. And now she can't. Bummer.

That was why I ended up playing my new Goblin Warlock instead. It was touch and go whether she'd have bags and gold either. I remembered that I had logged her in but I also recalled running around Kezan for so long, searching without success for the bank, that I'd given up and logged her out back where she'd started. 

I thought I'd better check whether she was in the same predicament. Luckily it turned out she'd at least collected her mail before leaving. Since she was out I thought I might as well play her. 

So I did. And it was fun. A lot of fun. Back in 2013 I described the Goblin starting zone as "a fascinating place... genuinely laugh-out-loud funny" and I see no reason to alter my opinion. I'm not absolutely sure I've played through all of WoW's starting zones but of all the ones I can remember Kezan is by far the most entertaining. 

In that post I also wrote "had I known I was going to be expelled from it so abruptly and terminally at around level five I would have taken a lot more trouble to explore it in depth", something I found myself thinking again last night. I did manage to spend a little more time poking around under the elevated highways, down in the slums where the poor folk live but I still think I need to make another goblin and go poke around some more. 

Here's the thing about WoW. It applies to a lot of mmorpgs, come to think of it. A huge amount of work goes into the starting zones and the character, personality and culture of the races that live in them. And then most of that work is just thrown away.

About the only races that seem to retain some measure of consistency are the ones designed as comic relief. Gnomes, goblins and talking rats, usually. (The Asura in Guild Wars 2 are a bizarre hybrid of all three). They're the short ones who speak funny and make ridiculous machines that frequently blow up in their faces. That seems to be a joke that never grows old for developers. 

All the other races, no matter how different they start out, tend to clump up into one heroic (or villainous) blur as they diasporate around the world. (Yeah, that's not a word. Just go with it).

I'd very happily play a version of WoW that focused most of its attention on the goblins and their culture. It's plain to see from the brief time we get to spend in Kezan that there would be no shortage of material. There's enough conniving and backstabbing and plotting to fill dozens of storylines. You don't need external threats with a culture like theirs. 

Except this is heroic fantasy so the external threat to end all external threats turns up before you make level five. Nothing like a dragon attack to put some fire under you. Then a volcano goes off and the island sinks so that's the end of that.

It's all go but I'm not sure any of it tops the quest where you cruise around town in a convertible, picking up your crew to go party. Seriously, that's the game I want to play. I want to get to know my guys, hear their back stories, blag our way into parties and onto private yachts, make it on the scene. 

In the short time before the volcano erupted I got to drive a car, win a footbomb match, dance by the pool and get dressed up fit for a red carpet premiere. Not to mention rob a bank and blow up my own house. Nothing's going to match that. It's all downhill from there. 

I ended up comatose on a raft with nothing left but my good name. In a place that eerily reminded me of the new starting zone, Exile's Reach. Remember that first quest there, where the Murlocs have stolen a bunch of stuff and you have to go get it back? Well this is like that, only instead of Murlocs, it's monkeys.

Levels zip by all too fast in the free lane. My goblin was already level seven when I left her, sitting at the top of some stairs, staring out across the waves to where her homeland used to be. She'll be level ten by the time she gets to Orgrimmar and her life will be half-way over. 

I just hope she can find the bank.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Around And Around

If there's one thing the many the blog posts I've read on World of Warcraft's Shadowlands expansion have in common it's that they don't seem to agree on very much. I've heard people saying the open-world leveling experience is better than usual and worse than usual, that the expansion is very alt-friendly and that it doesn't really work for alts

Some people describe their experiences in Torghast in glowing terms, others aren't so keen. Everyone has their own idea of which covenant is best except for those who don't like any of them. Overall, some people think Blizzard have done a good job, others not so much. About the only thing everyone agrees on is no-one likes the Maw.

Can't say I'm all that surprised. It's probably a good sign. When expansions are genuinely below par the critical voices usually drown out the praise. If people are mainly disagreeing over which parts are good and which bad then the developers have probably got it about right.

It's all a bit notional for me since I'm not playing Shadowlands. Come to think of it, I seem to know a ridiculous amount about an  expansion of which I have no personal experience and not really all that much interest. That's WoW for you.

Reading all that did make me re-assess an mmoprg expansion that launched around the same time, one I am playing: EverQuest II's Reign of Shadows. In particular it got me thinking about EQII's current expansion gameplay loop, at least as it applies to solo players like myself.

The Darkpaw team does have one theoretical advantage over their counterparts at Blizzard. They knock out an expansion every year. With about a hundredth of the people and a thousandth of the resources, true, but at least they can remember what they did last time. Which is handy, because chances are they're going to do the same again.


Except not exactly. The level cap only goes up every other year and every expansion has to have at least one new feature to grab everyone's attention. Last year's Blood of Luclin had ten new levels and the Overseer system. It also had an unannounced, unexpected and, for many, unwelcome tradeskill revamp. Reign of Shadows keeps the same level cap but comes with a new race, the Vah Shir, and announced changes to the way both Alternate Advancement and Guilds progress.

Surprisingly little of that factors into my personal gameplay loop, which has remained remarkably consistent not only throughout the two Lunar expansions but the two Planar ones that preceded them and several more before that. Here's how it goes.

First things first. If the expansion has new levels I concentrate on getting those done, usually on my Berserker, who I grudgingly have to admit is my "main" these days. He's also a weaponsmith but far more importantly he's my Transmuter and Adorner, which means he also has crafting levels to work on. 

There's always a "Signature" questline for both adventurers and crafters. Each is usually lengthy, although the craft Sig felt a little shorter this year. The two traditionally carry the same main storyline but from differing perspectives, which makes doing both somewhat synergistic. 

I always start with the adventure quests, which until last year were designed to finish around and about the same time as you capped out. Blood of Luclin changed that, giving hugely increased xp, so last year I hit the cap long before I'd finished the questline. 


That made almost no difference to my motivation because as well as telling a story I find interesting, these quests provide regular upgrades. The final reward is either a weapon or a near-best-in-slot item. Something worth having, anyway. 

The rewards from the tradeskill line tend to be a bit fluffier - a lot of house and appearance items - but crafters are fluffy, by and large. Again, the final reward tends to be a very good piece that most players are likely to want. You also often need to complete at least one of the signature lines to get various character flags giving benefits like access to instances and allowing the use of flying mounts.

Blood of Luclin made a raft of changes to crafting that the majority of tradeskillers found detrimental to their enjoyment of the game, mostly for very sound reasons, but I personally liked them and even found them to be in my own best interests. This year, however, things are roughly back to normal, which is fine, too.

Once I've finished both the Signature questlines and completed all my levels, if there are any, the real expansion begins. For group and raid players that means the traditional round of progressively more challenging dungeons but for solo players like me it means a lot of single-use and repeatable quests.

Separate from the Signature quests, these days each expansion includes a load of quests that start with drops. In the distant past EQII had players learning languages and acquiring racial masteries from items mobs dropped. It still happens, but sparingly. The slack has been taken up by drops that give quests which send you around the new zones killing certain types of mob. That's one way you get more upgrades.


The other very important way adventurers can upgrade their gear without visiting a dungeon is to join in with the never-ending carnival of Public Quests. These vary quite a bit. Sometimes they're elaborate, with multiple stages requiring people to do different things in different places. Other times they're straightforward open raids on creatures other games might call World Bosses. Last year they happened in instances, this year they're on open maps.

Reign of Shadows must have good PQs because a couple of months after launch they're still very much the hot ticket. They're all the World Boss kind and there seem to be three in each of the new zones. If you kill all three a fourth spawns. 

Just about any time I log in there's either an open raid circling around doing them as they pop or people are calling them out and trying to get a raid started. I did four two nights ago and three last night. I could have done a lot more if I'd wanted because there's so much interest multiple instances of the zones keep spawning, leading to an almost unbroken chain.

The PQs are popular because they have drops which, while rare, are upgrades even for dungeoneers. I'm not absolutely sure but I think there may even be a few things raiders wouldn't sniff at. That keeps things busy, at least until most people get what they want, which usually takes a good portion of the twelve-month expansion cycle. 

It goes without saying that any of those good drops is going to be be a huge upgrade for a solo player like me but even the regular drops can be better than my quest gear. And there's a currency too, naturally, to spend at a special vendor. I haven't actually checked what you can get with that yet.


There are other soloable upgrade paths that shouldn't be ignored. EQII has a fantastic collectables system where you find and pick up "shinies" from the ground in every map and instance. Most are tradeable and the inevitable duplicates can go for big money - some of the rewards are very nice indeed.

Completed collections also come with collectables of their own, leading to meta-collections that can nest several times and provide really very good items for those with the patience or the deep pockets to acquire them all. 

Over the years the collectable system has been expanded to include No Drop shinies that can't be traded and different colored kinds that only characters who've achieved certain benchmarks or completed certain quests can see. Collecting in Norrath is serious business.

So is crafting. Last year there were many complaints about the way crafters acquired their new recipes and what they could make with them but this year things are a little more traditional. Basic recipes are purchasable from trainers and, as far as I know, the more sought-after rare recipes are still dropped by mobs (although possibly only by Bosses and then only rarely). 

The main crafting gameplay loop for me, however, is Research. Most of the new maps have a Researcher NPC who's almost the tradeskill equivalent of a Public Quest. Anyone who qualifies (usually by dint of having progressed a certain distance through the Signature questline) can take a repeatable quest from each of these NPCs several times a day. The more quests the server collectively completes, the more new recipes open up for sale on the associated vendor.


That's an incentive in itself but the real draw are the personal rewards you get for completing each quest. From those you can get all kinds of nice things like recipe books, mercenaries and the patterns needed to make the desirable new mastercrafted armor and weapons. They also give you the currency you need to buy things from the aforementioned vendor.

All of the Research quests involve harvesting materials and crafting items, something which melds very comfortably with the adventuring activities listed above. It feels very organic, swooping around the new maps on the mount that now flies because you finished the zone storyline, dropping out of the sky to snatch up a shiny, kill a bunch of quest mobs, harvest some materials or join in with a PQ.

In Blood of Luclin last year this loop kept me happily occupied right into the summer, interspersed as it was with the regular holidays and a couple of big updates. With the ever-popular ethereal season that seems to go on longer each year blending into the now-traditional Panda quests and then the pre-expansion events running up to next year's xpack, it's quite feasible to spend the whole year working on something or other - and that's not even considering playing other characters, of whom I have many.

The downside would be that all this activity can start to feel somewhat familiar, year on year. And, as we all know but don't like to admit, almost every gain our characters make is temporary, set to be wiped out as soon as the next content drop arrives. 

Those are very minor quibbles. The entire hobby relies on, even thrives on, these kinds of repeatable activities. And as an entertaining, satisfying, enjoyable way to spend a few hours as often as the mood takes me, I don't think the way EQII handles the loop can easily be bettered. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Walkin' With The Beast

When I began following Pitchfork a few years ago the thing I noticed most was that famous musicians die all the time. Partly it's that there are a lot of famous musicians for a given value of "famous", that value being "anyone someone at Pitchfork has vaguely heard of". Partly it's that popular music has been popular for a really, really long time now, so a lot of popular musicians are getting really, really old. Partly it's that even more musicians don't get to be old at all because they have a tendency not to look after themselves very well. Or at all. In fact, the opposite.

After a while I stopped being surprised by the death toll and only really paid attention when someone I own records by or had seen perform or who were so famous I knew who they were without either of those things being true upped and died. Even then, it took the death of someone with truly epic cultural reach to make me consider mentioning it here. 

Mostly I didn't because, as I saw it, this blog only concerned itself with video games, specifically the massively multiple online role-playing kind. I think the only exception I made was for David Bowie and that only because he was such a polymath he actually had made a significant contribution to gaming.

That was in the before times. These days anything goes. At Inventory Full we're still more about the mmos than anything (also we talk about ourselves in the second person plural now, apparently...) but music is a regular strand along with movies, television, books...

So, when I read that Phil Spector had died I thought I might mention it. I definitely wouldn't say Spector was on Bowie's level, not even close, but his cultural reach was significant. He was also a convicted murderer, which is going some even by rock and roll standards of bad behavior. 

That's not really why I thought I might commemorate his passing. It was more that he, or more accurately his famous Wall of Sound production technique, was strangely important to me at an entirely inappropriate time and for a peculiar reason, one that I believe was and still is emblematic of the way certain cultural events end up being misconstrued and misrepresented by those who get to the tell their histories. 

I have no personal experience of how important Spector's musical innovations were when he was big news in the sixties. I was a small child and if I heard the Crystals or the Ronettes on the radio I wasn't listening.

Even when I bought the Beatles last album, Let It Be, aged twelve or thirteen, I had no idea what a record producer did, let alone the names of any. I had no clue Phil Spector had produced that record nor how controversial it must have been for Beatles fans to see his name on the sleeve instead of George Martin's. Then, I was no Beatles fan. I picked them as one of my first purchases precisely because I knew nothing about pop music.

But I wanted to learn. And I did. Fast. A few years later, in my mid-teens I could tell you the full line-up of any and every band I whose records I owned. I could tell you what instruments they played, who wrote the songs and, yes, who the producer was. Probably could have had a fair stab at naming the engineer, too.

By 1976 I for sure knew who Phil Spector was. I was backfilling my knowledge on the last twenty years of rock, pop, folk and even jazz just as fast as the print media of the day could get it to me. Which wasn't nearly fast enough. 

I'd exited my mercifully brief infatuation with hard rock, proto-metal and prog to immerse myself with increasing intensity in the darker, artier sounds of the anti-sixties - The Velvet Underground, the Social Deviants, the Stooges, the Fugs, Captain Beefheart - but I was a voracious and eclectic consumer. I gulped down everything from Joan Armatrading to the Doctors of Madness

I knew what I liked because what I liked was the good stuff. It had to be, because I liked it. I never lacked for confidence in my own tastes. Still don't, as may be apparent. I was pre-made for punk. I just had to wait for it to happen.

In the summer of '76, in a story I've told here before, I stumbled across my first punk band. I'd read about the concept. The movement had been mumbled about in the music press for maybe two or three years by then but it was something else entirely to see it happening in front of me. 

Like many teenagers who had similar experiences, my friends and I went home that very day and started a band. A punk band. We had to get hold of some instruments and amps first. Also write some songs. Maybe learn to play, although that never seemed very important, certainly not to our drummer.

It took a little longer than we'd have liked. And we'd started quite early. There weren't a lot of punk bands to go and watch or punk records to listen to while we waited for the scene to coalesce. So we improvised. 

We doubled down on our musicological excavation of the deep past, namely the 1960s, which seemed about as far away as the Dark Ages to us and about as real. Anything uptempo with a running time under three and a half minutes was fair game. I remember listening to a lot of early Who and Tamla Motown. Honestly, we might as well have been Jam fans. Which we weren't.

There were a few albums I played a lot. A two-disc Monkees retrospective was one. Another was a compilation of surf and doo-wop hits, some of them produced by Shadow Morton, I think. It must be somewhere in my unsorted piles of vinyl but I'm blowed if I'm going to go look for it. I remember it had New York's A Lonely Town by the Trade Winds. I played that one a lot. 

Way better even than a bunch of ironic surfers, the standout act on that startlingly random collection was the Shangri Las. I loved the Shangri Las in 1977. Almost as much as I love them now. I couldn't get enough of them.  

No, seriously, I couldn't. It was 1977. You didn't ask Alexa to "play the Shangri Las". You didn't Amazon Prime their Best Of so you could listen to it before ten the same evening. You didn't even get the bus into town, go to your favorite record shop and pull the Shangs' Greatest Hits off the rack. There were no Shangri Las albums for sale in 1977 unless you lucked out and found one in a second hand store.

Okay, there most likely was some kind of import you could have ordered but the only time I ever tried ordering imports from my supposedly friendly record store they lost the order and really weren't all that bothered about it. Customer service was another thing you couldn't easily find in the 1970s. And come to think of it, Leader of the Pack had been a hit all over again only a couple of years before so there probably had been a Greatest Hits out to go with it. Maybe I didn't try as hard as I could have.

And maybe that was because I'd already found something else that did the job almost as well. Not quite but close. A collection of Phil Spector hits, only not the really obvious ones. Again, it's downstairs somewhere. Haven't seen it in a quarter of a century. Doesn't matter because I remember the two tracks that really counted. 

The first was Darlene Love's Today I Met The Boy I'm Gonna Marry. I thought Darlene Love had one of the most distinctive voices I'd heard, so strong even Spector's battering-ram battalions had to take a back seat for once. I wasn't to know she'd just get better and better.

The track I really loved, though, the one I played again and again, singing along at top volume (thick walls and no immediate neighbors, luckily for them) was less celebrated yet than even Darlene's minor hit (#39 on the U.S. Hot 100 in 1963 ). Home of the Brave by Bonnie and the Treasures reached the less than dizzy heights of #77 two years later, part of a bizarre who-got-there-first battle with Jody Miller, which you can read about here. Spoiler: Jody wins.


I frickin' love Home of the Brave. I love the performance. It starts out angry, storms through outraged and climaxes at vengeful. I love the pacing, the loping, stalking menace and threat. I love the bombast and the sturm und drang of the arrangement. Most of all I love the lyric, quite possibly the purest case for the rebel without a cause ever put to vinyl.

It's a perfect pop song in every way that matters and it's perfectly punk, too. It's in your face, snotty and it doesn't give a fuck. Which is supposedly a lot like Phil Spector although no-one much seems to have found him endearing the way everyone did Charlotte O' Hara. Then, she probably never held anyone at gun point, locked them in the studio, made them sing the same line over and over for hours until they begged to be let go. And she certainly never shot anyone with that gun she wasn't always waving around. 

Yes, by pretty much all accounts Phil Spector really was a bad boy. The judge thought so, anyway, when he sentenced Spector to nineteen years in jail. Spector was seventy. He'd have been eligible for parole in 2024, by which time he'd have been eighty-five. He didn't make it.

Reading over his dealings with the many acts he produced, wrote for and recorded over a long career, he doesn't seem like he'd have been all that much fun to work with. Or any. But it wasn't his job to be nice. His job was to facilitate the making of great music, maybe even great art, and that he managed handily, even if now I read the full story he had precious little to do with Home of the Brave, having neither written nor produced it, nor even done the arrangements, merely picked it for release on one of his labels.

I'd say he'll be missed but I have no idea if that's true. His work remains and that will stand. It's enough. It's more than enough. It might even be too mcuh. 

Just like everything he put his name to.

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