Friday, April 30, 2021

Maybe Do The Work

I want to say a little more about EverQuest 2's Overseer feature but not too much more. Reading about arcane systems in games you don't play is not inherently compelling. Not for most people. I know my mind starts to wander after a couple of sentences if I try to read posts about guns in Destiny  or Seasons in Diablo, for example.

With Overseer it's arguably worse than that. There's no guarantee even people who play EQII will sit still for a lengthy discussion of its ins and outs. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's been an unpopular addition to the game but from most of the comments I've heard it's not held in any great esteem, either.

Which is a pity. And a mistake. 

Of course, I would say that. I love it. It's my favorite addition since Mercenaries (something else that some players would happily see excised from the game, even now). I find Overseer to be compelling content in and of itself, what with its strong collection elements, the pick-a-team conceit and the often-gorgeous art. The interface is slick and a pleasure to use, too, which helps no end.

Green chests don't just have the best items.
They have the best missions and the best agents, too.
The thing that I think players most obviously seem to miss about the Overseer system, though, is how useful it can be if you put in the time. I get the impression that many who dislike it or dismiss it do so on the principle that if it's not combat or crafting it must be fluff and fluff should be quick, easy and rewarding, as most of the holiday content in EQII usually is.

Except Overseer isn't fluff stuff or holiday fun. It's an alternative progression path for your fighting and crafting characters. For casual players, particularly soloists, I'd argue it's now probably the primary progression path.

The thing is, just like leveling or crafting, getting to the point where you begin to see rewards that feel useful takes time. At the start of each season you have few missions and they aren't good ones. Your old agents, assuming you have some, don't have the right skills. You can probably only do a few of your ten permitted daily missions and what comes out of the chests you get for doing those is mostly stuff you neither need nor want.

At this point I imagine plenty of people lose interest. Unlike me they probably don't find the process pleasurable in its own right so if they're not getting rewarded they aren't going to do the work. Only you need to do the work. In mmorpgs you always need to do the work.

When Overseer Season 3 began, about all I seemed to get were consumables. Instead of last season's endless supply of potions, this time it was temporary adornments. They do look useful. Mor so than the endless potions we got in Season Two. I haven't used any yet,but that's mostly because I haven't done much in the way of combat for a few weeks. 

I re-organized my bank to make space for the new items and kept at it. Slowly, really quite slowly, I began to acquire more missions and more agents. It's a bootstrapping process. New missions and new agents drop from the missions you're already doing. Keep doing missions and after a while you have more. Keep doing those and eventually you have more than the ten you need to fill your daily quota.

The trouble is, most of those missions are probably still blue quality, requiring only one or two agents, taking no more than a couple of hours to complete. With those missions the loot table you're pulling from is full of armor and weapons no better than solo quest rewards, more missions no better than the ones you already have and new agents who mostly don't have any skills at all. And, of course, a whole load of low-end consumables.

Those blue missions also have a low chance of popping a bonus chest and even if you get lucky it's not a very good bonus chest. It's easy to get the impression the whole thing's a waste of time. It's not. You just haven't spent enough time on it, yet.

Here's the thing. You need to do all the missions but you need to make sure you do all the best ones you have, as many times as the game allows. If you have three yellow quality missions you can do six yellow missions in a day because the cooldown allows you do them twice. Maybe even three times. I'm not suggesting you set an alarm so you can wake up in the middle of the night to catch them as they come off cooldown but you can easily do a set in the morning and a set in the evening.

You won't need to do that for long. The better missions drop more better missions. Soon you'll have plenty of yellow missions and some purple and green ones, too. The better the mission, the better the rewards. Now, if you're a casual player, you'll be starting to see a few things drop that are better than what you have, even if you've been diligent in doing your signature questlines.

At this point I was going to say something about crafting and how deeply important Overseer has become for that side of the game. Thinking about it, though, it's too broad (and deep) a topic to shoehorn in here. I have another post in mind about how crafting has changed in EQII but for now, to keep it simple, just take it as read that casual and solo crafters will benefit strongly from keeping up with their Overseer missions.

The problem with doing that effectively and productively is having the right agents. If you stick to one character as your Overseer Guy, you won't. You can do all ten missions every day on a single character, sure, but you'll end up using a lot of agents with the wrong traits or no traits at all because the agent cooldowns get long when the missions do. 

Using inappropriate or unskilled agents us better than not doing the missions at all but nowhere near as good as doing them with the right people. The more agents with the right traits you can slot in, the higher your chance for those bonus chests. And the bonus chests are where the good stuff is.

It's an easy problem to solve but once again it takes time and work. All you need to do is farm your excess agents out to your other characters, I have six characters actively engaged in Overseer missions and they acquire their agents in a strict heierarchy. I stick all the spare agents in the shared bank as I get them, no matter who acquires them, then I log everyone in in the right order and each gets to hoover up any agents they don't have before the next character gets to pick.

I imagine other people would make a spreadsheet. Whatever floats your point.

The upshot of all this is that once momentum builds, the rewards come in almost too thick and fast to manage. There are still plenty of consumables but at least they're better quality. Most days there are some strong upgrades, items as good as or better than the things you get from the ends of solo quest chains. Depending on how many characters you like to run, it makes a very appealing alternative to taking each of them through the same questing content to gear up.

The pace of progression is dictated by the ten-a-day limit. Events like the recent Appreciation Weekend, which included Double Overseer Missions as one of the thank-yous, speed that up somewhat but over the first two seasons I found it took months before I decided it was no longer worth runing all the missions every day.

None of this is to say you couldn't get the same results faster in other ways. Heroic dungeons would give better gear than the best you're going to get from Overseer. Crafted gear is (once again) as good as or better than most of the things you'll get from running missions, so you could just buy the pieces you need from a crafter. Neither of those is exactly solo play, though. Or even, in my opinion, casual.

My point, to reiterate, is that Overseer is a well-designed, well-integrated feature, which appropriately rewards the effort taken to learn and master it. It may not look like it at first sight but that's what it is.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Stories About The Dragons

This is going to be short. Like the episode. Oh, and spoilers. It's all spoilers from here on in. Even the pictures. If you don't want to know what happens... look away now!

Heh. Like anyone cares. As they say on the YouTube threads, who's still playing Guild Wars 2 in 2021?  And if you are, who's following the story? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Thought as much. No-one. Only me.

The GW2 forums have been in Read-Only mode most of this week. They're getting a makeover. That's handy. I'd say it saved them catching fire only these days story drops barely make them smoulder. I do like to go and read what other people think after I've finished an episode, though, so this time I went to Reddit.

The quality of discussion is noticeably higher than on the official forums. Plenty of reasoned arguments and well-expressed opinions. If I had to describe the mood it would be "resigned". I read through a lot of a thread called "Can we talk about how ridiculous this ending was?" Yes, we can. Endlessly.

Also, yes it was. Although maybe "ridiculous" isn't the right word. Weak?  Thin?  Unconvincing? All of those occured to me. Also confusing, muddled, inconclusive. Possibly lazy. 

That might be a bit harsh, that last one. Rushed would probably be closer. As in everyone was too busy working on the expansion to give the tail end of a fading project much attention. It's over, let it go.

So, what happens? Taimi and Aurene come up with a back of an envelope plan to get Braham and Ryland to fight each other. We kick the crap out of the pair of them until Primordus and Jormag (who Aurene has on the end of a string made out of ley lines) are forced to show themselves or let their champions snuff it. 

Then we use some prisms Aurene made to kill both elder dragons. Or something. I had literally lost the plot by that point. 

I can tell you what actually happened though. The whole thing bugged out. Twice.

You get the choice of either a one to five person instance, a public 50-80 person world boss battle or a private squad version. 

First I tried to do it solo. Ryland turned up with a bunch of icebrood. I killed them and drove him off. Then nothing happened. It kept on happening (or not happening) until I got bored and went off to see if something was going on somewhere else. It wasn't but I got told that since I was no longer participating in the event I wouldn't be getting any rewards.

It was getting late so I went back to the Eye of the North, logged out and went to bed.

Next day (that's today) I looked at the Event Timer to see if the public event was on there. It was. It is. It kicks off every couple of hours, at the top. I waited for the first convenient opening, logged in with a few minutes to spare, waited for the call, spoke to the NPC when it came, got ported into the instance with seventy or eighty of my new best friends and we all had at it.

It was going very nicely for a while. Well, once my computer had adjusted to the load. I was downed twice in the first thirty seconds because it was so laggy I could barely move but that sorted itself out and then I was fine.

First we bashed Ryland until he ran away made a tactical withdrawal. Then we bashed Braham until he did the same. Then there was some nonsense about ley line energy so we all spread out and blew up the pylons (or something). Then Ryland and Braham both came back for another go round and we all split into two gangs and bashed them again.


That was one of those set pieces ANet love, where you need to bring down both of the targets at the same time. Or, to be precise, within fifteen seconds of each other. 

I remember when events like this were largely beyond the capacity of pick-up zergs. If someone didn't take charge and bark instructions like a drill sergeant the whole thing would fall apart. These days everyone just knows what to do. So we did it.

Then we did it again because ANet love to string fights out by making you do every section at least twice. More pylons. More bashing. In between each round we all ran up to the prisms and got hurled at a dragon so we could use a special attack. Another thing ANet loves. 

All of it was going perfectly. It was loud, chaotic and noisy but I was able to figure out what to do first time which is a huge improvement over some fights I could think of. 

We were into what looked like the endgame. Ryland and Braham were locked in a clinch under a bubble. We had to break them out for the next stage to begin... only we somehow managed to kill one or other of the pair before we got the bubble to burst. That left us all standing about watching Ryland and Braham locked in a clinch that looked like it was never going to end. And it didn't.

It was all a bit of disaster. Eventually everyone gave up and left. I took a few nice screenshots of the two dragons, who were just standing there like dopes, then I left too.

Two hours later I came back and did the whole thing again and this time it worked. Someone called out a warning about not killing too fast at the crucial stage and people seemed to listen. After the bubble popped there was a bit more that I forget and then we all got transported to a ledge where we got to watch a short cut scene of Jormag and Primordus butting heads until they both exploded.

A lot of people had done it before because apparently there are drops and achievements and things that need to be farmed. They all left, quickly. Those like me, who hadn't, stood around for a while wondering what had just happened and asking each other "Is that it?". Then we all left, too.

Back in Eye of the North it turned out there was a coda. A smidgeon of solo story including a reunion with Braham, who turns out to be neither dead nor crazy, or at least no crazier than he ever was. Then there's a final battle with Ryland, the fighting part of which is tedious and pointless but mercifully quick, and whose aftermath is either moving or just weird depending on your stance on charr behaving like humans in a made-for-tv movie. 

The very last thing is a debrief with Aurene, Taimi and Gorrik about which the less said the better. I'd say it was perfunctory but it really doesn't deserve that kind of praise. You can talk to them all individually but I don't recommend it. I did and I kind of wish I hadn't.

The upshot of all of this is two more elder dragons are dead and Aurene and Taimi seem to have done a complete one-eighty on whether that's a good thing. If they even hand-waved that away I must have missed it. Meanwhile, all the dragon magic mysteriously shot right through Aurene and out the other end, on its way to who knows where? 

Presumably straight to whomever we're going to be fighting in the expansion. And since that's called "End of Dragons" and as far as we know there are only two dragons left - Aurene and the as-yet unnamed sea dragon commonly known as Bubbles - well, I'm betting Bubbles got most of it.

But really, who can say? And frankly, who cares? At this stage it's as clear as could be that no-one in the writing room does. Or, more charitably, is allowed to. The prevailing theory on Reddit is that most of the devs wanted Season Four of the Living Story to be the last before they moved on to the expansion but that was overruled by whatever faction was gung ho for there never being another expansion. 

So everyone geared up for an expansion-level version of the Living Story and renamed it a "Saga" to make it clear it was bigger and better. Remember when they said it would be comparable to an expansion? I'd forgotten that. It sure as hell wasn't. 

And then, just as the team had gotten themselves on board with the new plan and turned out the relatively high-quality first three instalments of the Icebrood Saga (well, the Prologue and the first two), there was a change of heart in senior management (or NCSoft, more likely) and it was all aboard the expansion train after all.


Makes a lot of sense to me. Which is more than I can say about the story. As an ending to the Icebrood Saga itself it's a washout. As an ending to the nine-year story of our epic, existential battle with Elder Dragons... yes, well. Let's not go there. The writers certainly didn't.

Of course, as I said, the expansion is called "End of Dragons" so maybe this wasn't the end after all. Maybe that's still to come. Perhaps the whole thing will come good then. We can but hope.

Oh, did I have fun? I don't think I said, did I? Yeah, I did, quite. So long as none of the NPCs were talking and nothing got bugged, it zipped along entertainingly enough. I'll do the big fight a few times more, I imagine. I thought it was on a par with the Shatterer if not as good as Tequatl

At least it was short. (Unlike this post. I lied about that.) I used to complain about how brief the Living Story episodes were. Now I count it as a blessing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

This Is The Summer

Okay, then. Let's take a look at the Great Guild Wars 2 Summer of Fun! ArenaNet aren't calling it that, by the way. I am.

I might not even mean it ironically. I was quite impressed when I skim-read the program on the official web site. I'm curious to find out if it stands up to closer examination. 

One thing I noticed on the first read-through was that whoever put it together had eschewed chronology. Normally what you'd expect in something like this is linear progression through time. That's what a program of events traditionally requires. People don't just want to know what they're getting: they want to know the running order so they know when to line up and when to head for the bar.

If ANet had stuck to a strict timeline, though, they'd have had to open with 

May 11—Skills and Balance Update 

and no-one wants that.

Skills and balance updates somehow manage to be both predictable and controversial. At any given moment there's one bunch of yahoos wailing they need a full rebalance right now while another argues everything's just fine as it is so leave it the hell alone. Inbetween those poles you can find a lobby for every class and even every elite specialization in the game, all making their case for special treatment as all around the various camps trolls and troublemakers prowl, spreading the notion that various classes or abilites are gamebreakingly OP and ought to be nerfed into oblivion.

Whatever ANet says or indeed does about balance they know they can't win. Not hearts, not minds, not even arguments. Like some sisyphean ball of confusion, all they can hope to do is push it a little further up the slope than last time and hope that when it rolls back down it doesn't crush them on the way past.

So, although that little treat is the first course in this summer-long feast, it's been tucked away behind the big reveal. And the big reveal is... there's going to be a big reveal!  


July 27—Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons First Look

Believe it or not that genuinely is the most exciting prospect of the whole summer schedule. It fully justifies its place at the head of the program. I can't help feeling there's something just a little sad about it. The thing we're all the most thrilled to see is an announcement that there's going to be an announcement. Not even a date. Just what the new content is.

Don't care. Still excited. I'll be there on July 27 (probably not something any of us should be saying during the end times but you gotta stay positive). The stream's set to include "features, an introduction to the story, a new trailer video", all of which you'd expect, but also "elite specialization beta event information.

I'm not all that interested in the beta event (or the elite specs) per se but I am interested to hear one's already being planned. Combined with the run of dates for this "Live summer", none of which extends into August, I'd guess we'll get the beta event(s) soon after the livestream, then some kind of anniversary celebration and the expansion will drop either at the end of August or in September.

If not, they're going to have to come up with a Fall Festival of Fun to follow this summer spectacular because we ain't getting another season of the Living Story, we know that much. No, End of Dragons late summer/early autumn. Mark your dance cards.

Of course, when I said the EoD reveal would be the most exciting prospect I was speaking objectively. From a personal point of view, as I made clear yesterday, the true highlight of the summer will be


July 13—The Twisted Marionette

I mentioned this to Mrs. Bhagpuss this morning, just after Yaks Bend's expiditionary forces had been unceremoniously dumped back on their own border following a failed assault on Dragonbrand's Air Keep. Her reply was "Oh, I liked the Marionette!", which stands in stark conrast to the kind of reply I usually get to conversational sallies of this kind, namely "What's that? I don't remember it". 

The Marionette fight was unforgettable, which is a lot more than I can say about every Living Story boss fight ever and just about every meta event since Heart of Thorns. Generic events have been the name of the game for so long now it's difficult to remember when ANet knew how to create fights that were actually interesting. Perhaps refurbishing this one will remind them how it's done.

Next comes something from the Quality of Life department. I didn't think ANet had one of those. It's certainly been underemployed these last nine years.

July 13 - The Legendary Armory

This doesn't interest me at all and for a very good reason. I have no legendaries. What's more, not only do I not plan to get any, I specifically plan never to get any. As in I have positive intentions to avoid getting any if at all possible. 

I'm not saying I wouldn't take a legendary if ANet decided to give them away but short of that I would rather not, thanks very much. Never saw the point of them and still don't now.

The thing is this: I really, really hate changing my spec. I like to decide on it once then play it forever. If forced, as has happened a couple of times, I will grudgingly and irritably make the necessary adjustments to fall into line with some new orthodoxy but having done so I will expect to get several more years out of the new set-up before something drives me to change it again. 

That attitude has served me admirably across many mmorpgs and I see absolutely no need to change my behavior. Consequently, the attraction of items that are no more powerful than those I already have but which allow me to change my spec on the fly is utterly lost on me. 

I'm sure the Legendary Armory is going to be a boon for some people. It's nice that they're going to get it. Just don't expect me to care.

And finally, before we get to the list of regular holidays and returning weekend specials, here's the fifth pullout package. It's an odd one:


Beginning May 25—Living World: Complete the Cycle

I had to read this several times and I'm still not certain I understand it. Here's what I think is going to happen:

  • There will be a series of week-long windows devoted to specific Living Story episodes from Seasons 2 and 3.
  • Anyone who doesn't have that particular episode can get it for free during the week it's up.
  • The featured episodes will get new achievements.
  • If you complete all of the new achievements you get "a voucher for a Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons precursor weapon". This would seem to bootstrap you past the first segment of the interminable crafting process for a single Legendary weapon when EoD drops but that's about all. 
  • There's going to be "a new meta-achievement for all three playable Living World seasons and The Icebrood Saga". If you complete that you get a legendary amulet. Whoop-di-doo. 

All of the above (except the getting them for free part) persists indefinitely so you can work on these time-consuming (let's not say time-wasting) tasks at your leisure.

I would literally rather spend my evenings cleaning my oven than ever do any of LS Seasons two or three again and as for achievements I never did most of those in the first place so that won't be happening. Once again, good luck to them as likes it. I'll pass, thanks.

That just leaves us with what you could call the usual suspects, otherwise known as 


Ongoing Summer Events

For once, there are a lot of them. They switch on at a slightly better cadence than twice a month for the whole of the designated "summer" season, beginning with the ever-popular World vs. World Weeklong Bonus.

I say "popular" because it generally seems to be but there are plenty of dedicated WvW players who hate these weeks with a passion. They attract hordes of ignorant, unskilled PvE players into the borderlands, afking at the bank, asking inane questions and generally getting in everyone's way. They do have their advocates, though. 

The more positive voices always call for patience, pointing out  the opportunities these events offer for introducing wide-eyed newbies to the joys of WvW. Meanwhile roamers relish the plethora of easy kills and the chance to re-inforce every prejudice and preconception PvE players already have about wicked gankers. I just like the chance to push my rank higher. 

There are a couple of events like that and something similar for the sPvP crowd, who also get tournaments, something that's been denied to WvW for many years. Instead, in WvW we get the marmite "No Downstate" event (June 18), which always kicks up a ruckus on the forums as people take extreme positions, claiming either that they'll never play WvW so long as they actually die when someone kills them or that they wish downstate had never been invented and the event should made permanent. I just find it a fun diversion for a week, which, I think, is all it's meant to be.


In PvE there's some kind of "Fractal Rush" in which I don't intend to learn about let alone participate in and then there's Dragon Bash, the festival in Hoelbrak, which I do. I notice there's no mention of the Queen's Jubilee or the Crown Pavilion but on refelction those both take place in August, so outwith the remit. I'm sure they'll be along on schedule to tide us over until the expansion arrives.

In fact, with the anniversary also in August, that does seem to fill the calendar nicely until the beginning of September. It's all falling into place.

Eliot at Massively OP wrote an op-ed piece this week on maintenance mode in mmorpgs. I know this is actually a lull before a major expansion, which is hardly the same thing, but as a program it does feel remarkably similar to what you might think of as active maintenance. I have to say it suits me quite well.

I'd happily sign up for no more Living Story, ever, in exchange for bi-annual expansions with a program like this in the off-seasons. That sounds like a manageable and sustainable business model to me. Especially if the best of the older events, like the Marionette, could be spruced up and re-introduced. I could make a list of those.

Probably lucky I'm not in charge, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Marionette Strings Are Dangerous Things

The final episode of the Icebrood Saga just dropped and along with it a whole raft of information about what ArenaNet hope will keep us all busy this summer as we wait for the third expansion, End of Dragons. There's going to be a livestream on July 27 that should (finally) fill in a lot of the missing details about what's actually included in EoD. From the timing, and the mention of an "elite specialization beta event" I would surmise a late summer/early fall launch.

I'll get to all of that (and there's a lot of it) in due course. Not in this post. The reason I wanted to pop something up immediately is this totally unexpected bombshell:

July 13—The Twisted Marionette

Living World Season 1 set Guild Wars 2‘s story in motion, ending with the city of Lion’s Arch in flames and Mordremoth’s awakening. Scarlet Briar left the ruins of her corrupted genius strewn across Tyria, from the broken Tower of Nightmares in Kessex Hills to The Breachmaker’s wreckage in Sanctum Harbor.

Shortly before she launched her war on Lion’s Arch, Scarlet used Lornar’s Pass as a testing ground for her colossal watchwork superweapon, the Twisted Marionette. An army of heroes organized a three-pronged assault strategy, destroying Scarlet’s forces, surviving the Marionette’s attacks, and severing the chains tethering it to The Breachmaker.

Until now, the Marionette has lain scrapped in False River Valley. But on July 13, one of the most memorable battles of Living World Season 1 will return to Guild Wars 2 as a bonus event. We’ve preserved the flow of this highly requested encounter, with some adjustments to bring it up to our current design standards.

In my opinion, the Marionette fight was the single best set-piece event Guild Wars 2 ever had. I did it many times and I'd almost certainly still be doing it occasionally even now, if they'd only left it in the game. 

I really never thought they'd bring it back, not after all this time, but they're going to do it. Better very, very late than never. I will most definitely be there.

I just hope the "adjustments" don't ruin it. If "current design standards" are superior to the ones that operated back when the fight was current content I confess I can't quite see it. Even if they mess it up, though, it'll probably still be better than just about everything they've done since.

That's all I wanted to say. For now.


Thinking Too Much

I'm writing this on April 27. If and when I get the call to go back to work I should get a minimum of three days notice. That means the beginning of May at the earliest. Can't be too much longer than that, now.

By then it'll have been four months since I last did any work. I haven't been idle. All this enforced leisure has done wonders for my productivity in the things that matter, not least among them this blog. 

So far in 2021 I've failed to post on just four days. I'm not about to go back and put every post through a word-counter (I did run a few samples...) but at a rough estimate I've turned out something between a hundred and fifty and two hundred thousand words so far this year.

That's two novels. Three, if you're writing Y.A. It does occur to me, now and again, that maybe I should, in fact, write a novel. I did try a couple of times, long ago, but although I was quite pleased with the result (I'm disturbingly pleased with most things I do) I found it incredibly difficult. Much, much, much harder than any other kind of writing I've ever done. 

There were two major problems. The first was knowing what to write about. I had no idea. Literally. 

I do not "get ideas" for stories. They don't "just come to me". I can't work them up out of sheer energy and willpower. If I do think of anything it invariably turns out to be a pastiche of something I read, once. 

Characters, settings, dialog? All of those come easily. Plots? Never.


Still, I was determined to try so I sat down and stared at a screen and started typing. And that kind of worked, for a while. I found that if I let the characters talk to each other, eventually they'd come up with plots of their own. Most of it didn't make much coherent sense, no more than real life ever does, but unlike life I could fix that in the edit. (Or I thought I could. I never got that far to find out).

Tough as it was, plotting wasn't the worst thing. The real killer was the fugue state. 

It turns out writing fiction is like taking bad drugs. You lose your sense of self. You even black out for a while and wake up with no memory of what you've done. Or I did, anyway. 

Sometimes it wasn't like that but on the bad days (or maybe it they were the good ones) it felt like spirit-writing. I don't even mean that as an analogy. I would read back a couple of thousand words and have no memory of having written them. It was as though someone else had channeled through me and left me with their thoughts to interpret as best I could.

When I finished a chapter I'd look over what I had so far and find myself unable to imagine any of it being something I could have written, far less had. There never seemed to be the least chance I'd be able to repeat the trick (because it did seem like a magic trick) and yet somehow I almost always could.

So, that was weird. And exhausting. And a tad bit scary. It took so much out of me there was never much chance I'd kept it up long enough to hit my 80-100k target. And I didn't. Both the pieces I was working on faded out about half way through. Neither came to any real conclusion but I did. My conclusion was I wasn't ever going to finish. So I stopped.

And then I bought EverQuest and didn't need to think about anything else for a decade. But that's another story.

Cut to today. I still have no ideas for fiction. No plots. Only now it does appear I can spit out all kinds of stuff in gobbets of several thousand words a time, without any difficulty at all. I mean, look at what you're reading now.

Is that a transferable skill? Would it work for fiction, too? Should I try to find out?

In ten years of blogging I've racked up something like two million words. That's a lot. If it was novels it would be two a year, every year, for a decade. Halve it for the edit and it's still a book a year. That has to be my 10,000 hours right there and it's not even counting all the writing I've done in the forty years before that. 

You might think I could parlay all that experience into one finished work of fiction. Yeah... but no. I'm still doubtful. I'm pretty sure that's what I thought last time and that didn't work out so well.

Then, there's the question of motive. Why would I even want to write fiction? Isn't the point to have the idea for a story first and then want to tell it? Having an idea that writing a story might be a nice thing to do and then looking for a story to tell is getting it all back to front, isn't it? If you have nothing to say, why say anything?

I know a lot of people think if they can just bang out a novel they'll be rich. I talk to people like that alogether too often. I'm under no illusions there. I know how little authors make, nearly all of them. And it's not about posterity or leaving a mark, either. Almost all the fiction ever written was forgotten long before the authors put down their pens. That's if it was ever noticed at all. It's about as likely that anything I've written for this blog will have an afterlife as almost all the fiction ever written.

Still, it can feel a little self-indulgent, spending so much time on these snippets of prose. It's like living on snacks. It keeps you going but eventually you start to wonder if you shouldn't stop and have a proper meal, just once in a while.

What I'd probably be better advised to consider than fiction would be some kind of long-form version of what I already know I can do. Five or ten thousand word essays on the kind of topics I keep coming back to, for example. God knows there are enough of them and I never feel I've even scratched the surface most times I circle round.

Only that really does sound like work. And work's something I've never been keen on.

Nope, on reflection I think I'll just stick to this for now. I reckon I can keep it up for a fair old while yet. And I'm finding the diversification that's been trickling into the blog to be quite energizing. Surprising, too. It's not quite the spirit-writing I was talking about but some days I really don't know where I'm going with a post until I finish and read it back.

Take this one, for example. It started out as a couple of introductory paragraphs for the monthly music post and look where it's ended up. That's what happens when you let your mind wander. Now I suppose I'm going to have to come up with another way to get that one started.

Good thing I never get tired of writing, isn't it?

Monday, April 26, 2021

Put It In Books

Think back to when Warhammer: Age of Reckoning was set to become the biggest mmorpg the western market had ever seen. As well as Public Quests and bears that remembered who'd killed them (or something like that) one of the many innovations the game claimed to be bringing to the genre was a virtual book that would keep a record of everything you'd done.

I'm not at all sure the Tome of Knowledge would have been the first such in-game archive. Vanguard, for example, a game which launched a year and a half before WAR, had a wonderful feature that automatically recorded significant events like the first time you entered a new area or discovered a new item. The game took a screenshot when something it considered to be significant happened and fixed it neatly in a scrapbook you could open and enjoy whenever you wanted to look back on your journey so far. 

There may very well have been others before that but even if the Tome wasn't the first I don't think there's much doubt it was the most extensive. Had WAR gone on to be the WoW Killer so many hoped and believed it would be, we'd probably see vast encyclopedias dragging load times down to a crawl in every mmorpg.


Sadly, WAR's assault on Blizzard's bastion turned out to be something of a disaster. When the last Bright Wizard had fizzled out and the final goblin gone to meet the great Squig Herder in the sky, other developers quietly appropriated those few of WAR's innovations they could see a use for and left the rest to rot. No-one picked up the Tome.

Which is a shame. I really love in-game journals and albums. I can't see why they're so often relegated to minor sub-systems where few notice them, far less appreciate their many fine qualities.

It's different in single-player games, particularly those in the adventure or visual novel genres. There, where the audience is presumed to be predisposed to reading reams of text and staring fixedly at static images, all kinds of notebooks, albums and journals are the norm. 

Or they have been. I have noticed, of late, a regrettable tendency for such games to adopt a more contemporary solution: mobile phones, laptops, tablets and the like. It makes sense when the setting is a time roughly analagous to our own, of course, and in games set in the (inevitably dystopian and/or cyberpunk) future it would be perverse to have the protagonist record their findings in longhand.

In those games, the medium is less important than the message, anyway. Whatever the carrier device, the conceit is that the player-character is making a record of their thoughts, their theories and the clues and evidence they've uncovered. The journal may look beautiful but its primary function is practical, not aesthetic. 

Warhammer's Tome of Knowledge was intended to be highly functional as well as wonderfully decorative. The quest journal, a very specific sub-type of this kind of thing and one for which almost every rpg has to make some kind of accomodation, was, in WAR, merely one of the Tome's many  chapters. 

It's a long time since I played WAR. I can't remember whether I found the Tome a marvelous compendium of wonders or a bloody nuisance. I seem to recall it might have been a bit of both. Over the past couple of weeks, though, I've stumbled across several much less ambitious efforts that I've found wholly delightful.

The Overseer systems in both EverQuest and EverQuest II include something not dissimilar to a virtual cabinet of collectible cards. I spotted the feature in EQ right at the start but it's taken me more than a year to notice the Agent Collection tab in EQII. Or, perhaps I should say, I noticed it long before that but only recently did it occur to me to click on it to see what was in there.

Inside I found nothing I hadn't seen before. Just the same pictures of the agents and the same descriptive text. The difference is purely one of magnitude: the functional icons are almost too small to make out and the tool-tip versions aren't all that much bigger but in the Agent Collection tab they're huge. And they look great.

I love illustration. I was thinking about it after I posted about Scarlet Hollow yesterday. I was wondering just why it is I enjoy games of that kind so much, even when the story might not be anything I haven't read before and the gameplay might be routine (Scarlet Hollow, I should make clear, is both well-written and fun to play). 

The answer is very simple: it's the pictures. It hadn't really struck me before but I genuinely do have a sensual reaction to line illustration that's akin to those I get from eating or drinking or listening to music. It's an almost synesthetic reaction. I can almost, in some indefinable way, feel the textures. 

Or it feels like I can feel them. I'm not a genuine synesthete. I don't see colors when I hear sounds or taste flavors when I touch surfaces. All the same, line art does something to my brain that has an effect analogous to ASMR.

Come to think of it, perhaps it is ASMR. It's easy to forget that phenomenon extends to visual as well as auditory stimuli. Regular ASMR videos and recordings do work on me but not as strongly as they reportedly do on others. 

The sensations I get from line art are milder but unmistakable. Wikipedia describes it as ""the subjective experience of "low-grade euphoria" characterized by "a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin"". I don't often get the tingling just from looking at line art but it has happened. The low-grade euphoria, though, that I get often.

By no means all in-game albums produce those kind of effects. It's a bonus if they do. I don't need a quasi-synaesthetic reaction to enjoy them. I almost always enjoy them.

Dragon Nest Origins uses an album to record the way NPCs feel about the player-character. It's a faction list. It could just be a column of names and numbers, the way it is in so many other games with reputation systems. But it isn't.

Someone took the trouble not just to frame a little portrait of every character you can bribe or flatter into liking you but to work up a whole lot of personal details about each of them. Not the kind of details you might expect to find in a game, like their stats or skills. Nothing so mundane.

I think these will turn to color when you reach a certain percentage of favor.


Or, perhaps I ought to say, something much more mundane. Deliciously so. Their age, star sign, weight, height and, most bizarrely of all, blood type. Has any other mmorpg ever made a point of revealing an NPC's blood type? I very much doubt it.

As well as the basic facts of life there are entries for Likes and Dislikes that wouldn't look out of place in a 1970s teen magazine. Lady Kayleen likes "The color red, tangy fragrances" and dislikes "Clerics, dragon followers, annoyances". Don't you feel like you know her, now?


It seems to me these kind of albums and journals could easily be spun up into something a lot more central, even integral. to gameplay. I'd be far more likely to devote time and effort to the countless collections and achievements that most mmorpgs pump out as a cheap form of content if I could browse my the results in a heavily-illustrated catalog, preferably with extensive curatorial notes.

And how about pets and mounts? Couldn't they all come with breeding histories and certificates and, of course, portraits? There's a long, rich history of animal portraiture, after all. We already get lists of all these things, sometimes with thumbnails. All it would take is some thought to turn them into virtual keepsakes or even minor works of art.

I wonder if this is the sort of thing Raph Koster has in mind when he talks of "Supporting a range of ways to play." If so, I wish he'd get on and make a game. Unfortunately, I doubt a plethora of gorgeously designed and lavishly illustrated virtual scrapbooks is what he has in mind.

It's what I'd like, though. I just don't expect to get it.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Down In The Hollow


One of the things I like about Steam is the suggestion algorithm. Wait. Do I mean "like?". No, I think I mean "find laughable".

When I say "algorithm" I'm just guessing they use one. It's all algorithms these days, isn't it? Honestly, though, I have no clue how they'd come up with the kind of titles they claim I ought to be trying.

From the results I'm seeing they might well employ a haruspex. I'm pretty sure a quick glance at a sheep's liver (still warm from the sheep) would give just as good a reading as "Players like you love..." or "Because you played...". 

Still, if you throw enough stones in the pond, you're bound to hit a goldfish, eventually. There must have been some sect that did that.

This all came up because I found myself at a loose end yesterday evening, when I wanted to play Dragon Nest Origins and the private server I rely on for that fix was down. (Yep, I'm still playing DNO. Further along than I've ever been before, too.) Scratching around for something to fill an hour or two, I powered up Steam to see if there were any new suggestions.

I've played quite a few free games there now so Steam has the idea I'm cheap, which suits me fine. I am. They keep shoving more freebies my way and a surprising number aren't at all bad. Even if they are, they're almost always very short, so I'm out no cash and not much time if I pick one and it's a bust.


The other day I played Faefever, "winner of two Swedish game awards": "Best execution in narrative" and "Best diversity execution", categories that seem oddly focused on... well, execution. Maybe its a translation error. 

The game was entertaining, although I can see why the most common complaint among the otherwise "very positive" reviews is that the ending doesn't make much sense. 

Also there was one puzzle that I didn't understand even after I'd watched someone on YouTube solve it. I mean, sure, I copied what they did and it worked, but how they knew what to do still eludes me even when I could see them doing it. The whole thing felt unfinished, somehow, although not unfinished by me because I did get to the peculiar ending.

That's another thing about these bite-sized games. I finish them. Over the course of (what is it now?) forty years of playing video games, I can't pretend I've finished many, but my percentage is rising fast now I'm on the short stuff.

That's every small town in a fifty mile radius of where I live.
The whole feel of these pocket games from tiny studios reminds me strongly of the indie comics scene back in the '80s and '90s. I read a lot of short, whimsical comics loosely based on peoples' personal experiences back then. They were often drawn with considerable skill although equally often with significantly less self-discipline.  

Sometimes, when it worked, their images or themes stuck with me in a way commercial, professional comics didn't. I can still remember some of the Help! Shark stuff, for example, particularly Speedo Kitten ("Speedo Kitten, brave and strong, always there when things go wrong, he'll help you when you're in a fix, he likes eating chocolate biscuits."). It's just as well I remember it, too. It seems to be one of the few things you can't find on the internet. Maybe I should dig out my old zines and digitize them for posterity.

All of this probably seems like a self-indulgent, rambling digression but for once it's not. Not quite.

Wait a minute... there are leaves inside the house?


Faefever was okay but the game I played last night was very good indeed. It's called Scarlet Hollow and it's the creation of Black Tabby Games, "an indie studio founded by Real Married Adults Abby Howard and Tony Howard-Arias". 

Abby is a comics artist and the game has a deep and pervasive comics sensibility. An unsuprising number of these small, short, free indie narrative-driven games do. A venn diagram of comics, visual novels and animated movies wouldn't leave an awful lot of white space, I imagine.

Scarlet Hollow looks and feels quite specifically like the kind of thick, squarebound, black and white books that take up so much of the space on the lower shelves of the graphic novel section in the bookshop where I work. Many of those feature detailed renderings of architecture and interior design in the tradition of Harvey Pekar, combined with a loose, expressive Eisneresque approach to figure-work, the combination of which gives the whole thing a satisfyingly grounded yet freewheeling effect. 

My philosophy exactly.


In terms of gameplay, Scarlet Hollow is "a horror visual novel and adventure game", which about covers it. Actually, no, it doesn't, quite. There's some rpg in there, too. You get to pick some traits that have an effect on gameplay (Pick "Talks to Animals" or you'll regret it) and there's a good deal of what I'd call faction work.

That was probably the part I enjoyed the most. The writing is very good, the graphics are gorgeous, the plot is intriguing and the puzzles are satisfying but it's what Tony Howard-Arias calls "the dynamic relationship system" that makes it feel like a game. 

You get a lot of these things in all kind of games, nowadays. The character you play talks to people or gives them gifts or does things for them and they purport to like your character more or less because of it. Dragon Nest Origins does it. My Time At Portia does it. Every game that has those borderline-creepy "companions" does it.

Scarlet Hollow does it more naturally than I've felt it being done before. Except, perhaps, in Doki Doki Literature Club. Even there it was more up-front. In Scarlet Hollow, as is the intention, it's very subtle. I could always feel a relationship taking form in every interaction but I couldn't grasp it and twist it the way other games overtly allow or even expect. I had to nudge and guide and feel my way and even then I was never quite sure if I'd ended up where I wanted to be.

If this doesn't get me on Stella's good side, nothing will.


Playing through the whole of Episode One took me just over an hour. I'm slow at games. I always take longer than the average, which in this case is apparently more like forty-five minutes. I do take a lot of screenshots, though. I blame it on that.

Episode One is all there is so far. Episode Two will be available either in "late Q2 in 2021" or "when it's sppoky enough", whichever comes first. I'm a little vague on whether or not that will also be free to play. The page says it "will be available as part of a season pass". 

The Steam page, however, says the Early Access version will "give our players access to new episodes as we finished them." (Sic). There are seven episodes planned in total and the schedule is to have them all done by October 2023, when the game will leave Early Access and launch in its final form. 

Depending on the pricing, which is going to be the same throughout Early Access and at launch, other than if it goes on sale at any point, I will most likely buy in when the option arrives. In a way it would make more sense to wait until it's finished but autumn 2023 is a long time off. Not to sound too bleak but we could all be dead by then.

Yeah. Me too.


In the meantime, I'll be following development in Tony Howard-Arias' informative and interesting blog posts and working my way through Abby Howard's back catalogue of comics. That could take a while. I read Chapter One of The Last Halloween before I began wring this post and it took me longer than it took to play through the first episode of Scarlet Hollow. 

If you like funny, smart writing and drawing I recommend both the comics and the game. although you might need a certain sensibility to enjoy either.  It is horror, it's true. The game has a warning on Steam for mature content and "gore and other disturbing imagery." 

I wouldn't worry too much about Episode One but if what I saw in The Last Halloween is any guide I wouldn't be so sanguine about what comes after. And yet, even though I really don't like horror as a genre (I have a whole post brewing about how everything has to have a horror inflection these days and what a bore that is...) I really liked Scarlet Hollow. It's more X-Files than... well, than some horror thing I won't have seen because it's too grue.

Score one for Steam's algorithms after all, guess.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Sweeter Than Fiction


When I finished Mark Lindquist's Sad Movies I wanted to read Jay McInerney's somewhat similar but much more famous Bright Lights, Big City. Only I couldn't find my copy. 

Not that I really looked. I thought I remembered where it was but it wasn't there so I gave up. That's not really looking, is it? 

I did find Brett Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero, arguably the best-remembered of all the first-wave bratpack novels. I remember where I got it or at least I think I remember. I was at a party at a squat in Bristol sometime in the mid-80s and it was lying around and I made some comment on it and the guy whose party it was said something bad about it (the book, not the party) and told me I could take it so I did.

At least that's a story I tell myself. I see now the copy I have has a rail ticket inside it dated 1993. It's for a trip from where I live now to where I was working then. I was obviously using it as a bookmark. I doubt it's the same book I took from that party although I guess it could be.

That must have been the last time I read Less Than Zero: 1993. Almost thirty years ago. Probably about time I read it again. 

I almost did. I picked it up and thought about it but then I had a better idea.

I have more books by Mark Lindquist. Why not read one of those? 

He hasn't written many. Just four. He's working on a fifth. I've read three of them, Sad Movies, which started all this (this won't be the last of it), The King of Methlehem (which I gave to my stepdaughter for her birthday and haven't heard what she thought yet) and the one I decided to read next, Never Mind Nirvana.

The reason Lindquist has only managed four books in thirty-five years is he has a real job. He's a lawyer. These days he's in private practice but for over twenty years he was a federal prosecutor.

There's a lot of detail about his law-enfocement career at that link. More than I care to know. The only thing that interests me about it is how his life has influenced his work. Which is, I think, a lot.

When he was writing Sad Movies, or just before, Lindquist lived in L.A. and worked as copy writer for a movie studio, the same job Zeke has in the novel. His second novel, Carnival Desires, (the one I haven't read yet) "chronicled his Hollywood years when he was working as a screenwriter, script doctor, book reviewer, and general freelance writer."

I got that from his other website, the one where he's an author, not a lawyer. (See? He has two websites so he can keep the different parts of his life and interests separate. Don't you wish I did? Yeah, well, so do I sometimes. Other times I don't. We've talked about this before. I imagine we will again.)

In the early '90s Lindquist moved back to the Pacific north-west, where he grew up. Good timing. Grunge was peaking, or maybe had peaked. Seattle was the hippest city on the planet for a while and that was the while.

Mark (I never know what to call writers or musicians when I'm writing about them. First off, you use all of their name and then you use the last name and then you use the first name. I get that but as you keep on you kind of want to settle on something and "last name" starts to seem brusque but "first name" seems over-familiar, presumptious, and the two together just makes you sound like someone's mother. There's probably a journalistic convention about it. I should look it up. And then not follow it.) was at law school but from his third novel, Never Mind Nirvana, I'm betting he spent a lot of time in clubs.

The protagonist of NMN (abbreviates so nicely) is 36 ("almost forty"), works as a prosecutor and used to be lead singer in a band called Morph. They were on the scene, made one album, split up. Now it's the late '90s. Thereabouts.

As far as I know Mark (gonna stick with "Mark") was never in a band or at least not one than made any records. This is interesting. In all the novels of his I've read (that's three) it's the only one where the main character seems to be an almagam of who the author has been and who he'd have liked to have been. 

In all the others (still just three but I'm betting it would be the same in the one I haven't read yet) the central figure is clearly drawn from life: the author's life. This opens a whole can of questions that get asked in every first year lit course and never get answered to anyone's satisfaction. I've nearly come to blows over this in the past. 

It's more than just an academic argument. There's that whole legal disclaimer thing you get in the front of every book. The one where any similarity between characters and events is deemed entirely co-incidental. That one.

Except you don't get it in every book. I just looked in the front of Less Than Zero and it's not there. It's not in Jay McInerney's Brightness Falls, either. (I can find that one. Still can't find Bright Lights, Big City and this time I did look properly.)

It is in the front of Never Mind Nirvana, though, along with a dedication, something else you almost always find at the front of a book. They're on opposite pages.

I read dedications. I rarely remember them. They're usually to people the author knows that the readers don't and don't expect to. As a reader, I didn't expect to get to know Kim Warnick so it was quite a surprise when she turned up as a character on page 54.

I guess that's what "used fictionally" means.  Although how fantastic would it be if the author had actually dedicated a book to one of the wholly fictional characters in it? All the fantastic, that's how fantastic.

It's just as well I decided to base my Mark Lindquist playlist on Sad Movies, by the way. I'm only just over fifty pages into NMN and he's already namechecked more bands and songs than in the whole of his first novel. Which, I guess, is only fair. It is about music and musicians after all. 

Several of the artists and even a few of the songs are the same ones he mentions in Sad Movies, too. The same The The song (although a typo in my edition, a paperback first, misses out one of the Thes so its just The. You can see how that happened.) The same U2 song. The same Replacements album. Psychocandy.

There are also plenty of names of bands I've never heard of. It's impossible to tell whether they're real or made up. When I first read Never Mind Nirvana I typed a bunch of the names into YouTube to see if anything came up. Naturally I can't remember if anything did so I've just done it again.

I thought Murder City Devils would be real. They are. Tight Bros From Way Back When I was pretty sure wouldn't. They are. Flop, I was all but sure would be made up. They were a bit harder to find but... yeah, they're real too. 


Probably every band mentioned that isn't Morph or the band whose guitarist Pete prosecutes for sexual assault is real. Hey, though, what even is reality anyway? And what is fiction?

It was only yesterday that I realized my copy of Never Mind Nirvana is signed by the author. I bought it online, used, because if it was ever in print in the U.K. it isn't now. My copy came from America and I noticed when I opened it there was a big, handwritten dedication to someone called Keri Costello. 

I love to get books that have been written in. Not written on, obviously. Just where someone has given a present and added a note or where they've been so inspired or incensed by what the author's got to say they've scribbled in the margin. I also love it when people leave old bus tickets or postcards they've used as bookmarks. I made a collage of those, once.

It was probably only because I'd written the playlist post and had Mark Lindquist's name firmly in my head that I finally spotted that flattened signature was his. It's obvious once you know.

I'd thought whoever gave the book to whomever used to own it wrote it and maybe it they did. Maybe that was Mark. It does sound as if he knows whoever he's dedicating it to, doesn't it? But then, some authors are really good at that sort of thing.


Tama Janowitz, another bratpacker, was. Probably still is. I could tell my Tama Janowitz story here but it makes me sad so I won't. It's not a personal story. Just something about a book I nearly bought then didn't. I really, really wish I had, now.

The point, if I have one (I do) is that none of this is real and all of it is. This is fiction. Fiction is real. 

I get into arguments about this at work, sometimes. Bad policy, obviously, so I don't do it very often. Maybe two or three times in twenty years. I think it a lot more than that, of course. 

Everything that's true is made up because everything's made up whether it's true or not and anyway everything is true, because how could it not be?

Don't take this as an endorsement of conspiracy theory. That's not how reality works. What's real are the connections. Everything's connected, that's the reality. 

Maybe I should have led with that.

Remember when I said I had a point? That was it. I didn't say it was an original one. 

Still true, though.

Friday, April 23, 2021

This Grab Bag That I call My Mind

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm pondering a post about literature, which I think would be a first here. I have another in mind about in-game albums (that's photo albums, not gatefold sleeve concept triples on hot pink vinyl). And then there's the monthly music round-up to come next week. So it's not that I don't have any ideas.

I've managed to post something almost every day this year, in fact. I missed one day in February, two in March and so far this month just one more. The average length of posts is on the order of 1500 to 2000 words so clearly I'm not running out of steam.

What I do seem to be running low on is organization. So long as I just sit down and start typing I can bash out those thousands of words with pleasure. It's the prospect of doing the research for the more considered, journalistic pieces that fills me with existential dread.

So (I've said "so" an awful lot in this post already, haven't I? A good editor would have something to say about that, I'm sure.) how about a traditional Friday Grab Bag? 

Sounds easy, doesn't it? But I have a terrible history with those things. Just look at the post I wrote last Saturday. In the first paragraph I claim it's going to be a portmanteau and then I get myself all tangled up in the very first item and never get around to any of the others.

And I'm not going to get around to them now. I can't even remember what they were going to be. Let's have some new ones instead...


If this had turned up on April Fools I would have thought it a moderately amusing gag. It didn't and it isn't. It's real. 

I've never played an Assassin's Creed game although I've read enough blog posts about them to know it's a series where you sneak around shooting people in the back. It has the word "Assassin" in the title ffs. I'm very definitely not going to put on my Miss Primshaw Neighborhood Watch sash, like some people, but I do have to say I find it an odd choice for cross-media synergy.

In common with current entertainment industry practice (Every game ever published by Hasbro comes to mind) Hachette have been busy extending the Mr. Men into other fictional universes for a while now. We have a row of Mr. Men/Dr. Who (Dr. Men? Mr. Who?) books on the shelves at work, for example. 

Those work quite well. Dr. Who isn't precisely a children's show any more, if it ever was, but it's definitely family viewing. I imagine most people could easily come up with a dozen or more suitable franchise team-ups for the badly-drawn, tedious little cyphers (Never been a fan of the Misters and Misses).

Linking them with a series whose premise is that you play a professional killer sounds like one of those ideas someone might have called "brave" in the original brainstorming session. "Brave" as in"I'm calling security. Don't bother to clear out your desk". I mean, just look at the pictures. Putting a suction cup on the arrow isn't fooling anyone.

Oh, well. I'm sure there are worse things on the shelves of the 5-8 section. Actually, I can think of a few...


I'm still playing Valheim. Just not as much. I'm not posting about it because I don't have much to say that I haven't said already. I could probably put together a mildly entertaining "Today In Valheim" post after every session because something's always happening but I'd just be duplicating Wilhelm's excellent work. I have no plans on killing Yagluth but otherwise... what he said.

I am puzzled by the many reports in various guides and wikis that claim the raids on your houses and homes in some way reflect the bosses you've killed. I've seen very little to support that theory. At first it was just the forest rising, then the trolls joined in. Later, foul winds kept blowing draugr and blobs in from the swamp and after that I got a lot of surtlings. 

These days I nearly always get Skeleton Surprise, which sounds like it ought to be one of the chocolates in that Monty Python selection box. (Now with added french subtitles to keep things fresh).

Neither have I seen much evidence that the raids relate to how significantly you've upgraded your properties. Mostly they hit the bigger houses but that's just as likely to be because that's where I spend most of my time. I've been raided by surtlings while I was still building a tiny hut to sleep in overnight so I'm pretty sure it can happen anywhere.

One thing I meant to mention for ages but never found a suitable peg to hang it on (ironically) is something I discovered weeks ago but which I have yet to hear anyone else mention. You can hang a lot of other items on hooks besides the trophies you get from kills. 

I found out the hard way, when I accidentally hung my crafting hammer on the wall and thought I'd lost it somehow. I spent ten minutes searching for it and finally went and made another. Then I came back with my new hammer to finish the job I'd started and found my old hammer hanging on the wall.

Since then I've hung all sorts of things. My favorites are dragon eggs and fuling totems, both of which have a strong, purple glow. They make for great mood lighting.

Iron Gate confirmed today they're still busy working on the next major update, Hearth and Home, which should expand the options for homemaking considerably. No date for it because "Valheim was a labor of love and we didn’t decide on a release date before we knew it would be in a state we were happy to release it in, and we are doing the same for this update. Instead of rushing it, we want to let it take the time it needs to get in a state that we’re happy with". 

Never fear, though. Someone found the time to give the troll model "More hair, nails and more defined muscles". I just hope someone's working on some new troll skin recipes too. Maybe ones that use troll hair and troll nails.

The Appreciation Bonuses are in full flow in EverQuest II. The twenty-four hour maintenance lasted... twenty-three and a half hours. Yes, it finished on time, even a tad early. There was a minor glitch with buying Daybreak Cash afterwards, something that, unsurprisinlgly, received a high-priority fix and now everything seems to be back to normal.

The bonus that most interests me is the double Overseer missions. I'm trying to run all twenty every day but it's not easy. I don't have twenty Season Three missions that will recycle fully over a twenty-four hour period so I have to re-use some of the better, shorter ones as their cooldowns clear. Fortunately, the way you get more missions is as rewards from doing missions so the situation is slowly resolving itself.

I was also hoping to level my new Vah Shir swashbuckler to 120 while the server was giving double xp. You'd think with that, full vitality, 140% veteran bonus and a 100% xp potion it would be the work of an hour or two but no. 

Level 100 to 110 is the new bottleneck. There's always one isn't there? I was very happy with the tripartite faction in PoM back when it was current content but now that it's just the bit you have to do before you can go to the moon it's not so much fun as it was. And the repeatable quests you have to.. erm.. repeat to build faction before you can get each new tranche of storyline quests were never much fun in the first place.

So far I've managed three levels. As soon as I can skip to Myrrist, the Great Library, I'll be off. And as soon as I can leave there for Luclin you won't see my cat's tail for moondust. I do miss just being able to grind out a few dungeons for levels. I totally get why they stopped it for the immediate lead-in to expansions that raise the cap but it wouldn't hurt to set the restrictions to a rolling "two expansions ago".

And that's it for now. I still have a set of dailies in Guild Wars 2 to do. Can't let that slide.

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