Wednesday, June 30, 2021

June Songs

So that was June. It was sunny. It was rainy. I stayed home. I went away. I went to work. Just for one day. Just for one day.

Everyone watched the football, even Mrs. Bhagpuss. Everyone except me. I listened to the cricket.I read old books I'd read before. It felt like they were new. I couldn't stop. I didn't want to.

There were new games. They came bite sized. They tasted good. Now I'm waiting. Waiting for them to come back. Bigger. Next month. The month after that.

But those are other months. This month was June. And now it's over.

Shall we have some songs? 

May Songs - The May Song - The Gathering - Predictably, perhaps, songs referencing the month of May have a tendency towards the bucolic. This one reminds me of what Bjork might sound like if she decided to front a prog-metal band, which I wouldn't it past her to do some day. Not really my cup of dandelion tea but the best I could come up with after five minutes of half-hearted clicking.

Heal Me! - Holy Touch - Foxy Shazam - I'm not about to own this, either, although it's a hell of a lot more fun than the last one. There must be about a million songs with the words "Heal me" buried somewhere in the lyrics but none of them has a video like this, or at least I hope not. Seriously, where to even start? The entire comment thread is people pointing out who Foxy Shazam either look or sound like which seems to me to be missing some key points, like they're called Foxy Shazam for starters, and they have a guy who does high kicks and knee slides but he's playing trumpet! Yes, okay, they are Queen, but you can't have everything.

Elteria Adventures: First Impressions (or You Can't Get The Staff) - Lost My Touch - The Church - Okay, that's uncomfortably close to the mark. It might be a new low even by my lax standards. I don't think I've ever used the same title twice in the same month before, much less without even realizing I'd done it. I even noted down the same song both times in the draft and added a link to the same YouTube clip each time, and I still didn't notice anything odd about it until now. 

Hmm... maybe I could claim the first was a clever set-up for the second a couple of weeks later. No, wait, that would mean I'd have had to be able to see into the future. That staff wasn't even in the game when I wrote the first one. Not sure anyone's going to buy that... Okay, how about the other way round, then? That works. So, I came up with the second title as a riff on the first. Plausible! And clever, too. People might even think I knew what I was doing. 

Tell you what. Let's say that's how it happened, why don't we? And while we're at it, let's pretend this whole reveal is part of some meta-ironic, postmodern internet joke. You know, like Poppy. Wow! I'm on fire this month!

Summer Fever - Weekends and Bleak Days (aka Hot Summer) - The Young Knives - There was a time I really liked the Young Knives. They reminded me of XTC. (They reminded everyone of XTC. I imagine they even remind XTC of XTC) They wrote smart, clever songs with smart, clever words and smart, clever tunes and they made smart, clever videos to explain what the smart, clever songs were all about, in case you weren't as smart and clever as them. I thought they'd split up. They haven't. They sound different now. I'm not sure I like them any more.

There are two "official" videos for Weekends and Bleak Days on YouTube. The one I didn't use is better or it would be if you could see it.  It's so blurry it's not worth watching. I just remember what it used to look like. I didn't even need to use that Young Knives track anyway. I probably shouldn't have. There are at least two songs called Summer Fever and it's always better to have my title and the song's title the same.

I could have used Doe Hatfield which is nice but I should have used BETS, which is more than nice. So I'm going to. Because it's my blog and I can.

Well, that's messed up my nice video/text structure, hasn't it? Never mind. Carry on as if nothing happened.

With The Crows: Crowfall - First Impressions - Girls Dead Monster - This is where it gets weird. (You mean it wasn't already?). I was so happy with this one. I'd found the perfect title for the post and the band had a wonderful name... except it seems they don't really exist. As far as I can piece it together, Girls Dead Monster is the name of a fictional band in an anime that may or may not be called Angel Beats. Even after I read the entry on them at Fandom I didn't entirely understand what was going on. 

And anyway, if they aren't real then who is that up there on stage? It would appear to be a JPop star called LiSa, performing here as Yui, a character from Angel Beats. As for the band, you tell me. I'm too old for all this. (Yeah, you'd think...).

Say It Loud - Skillet - This is a nice enough pop-punk groove. I'm glad I found it, not least because for a moment there I thought I was going to have to go with James Brown and that would have been not right in so many ways.

Start Over - Beyoncé - I feel painfully uneducated when it comes to Beyoncé. I also feel like it's too late to do much about it. The moment has passed. Okay, that's no excuse, is it? I guess I better get on it, then.

Why Am I Here? - Longlost x Bonjr - Anyone know what genre or sub-genre or sub-sub-genre this is? I could hear more.

Boost Me Up - Alright Then - Nemaska Community - I had no idea what the Nemaska Community might be when I caught this in a lyric search, I just knew it was really good when I listened to it. There was no information on the YouTube page at all, except for a phrase, N'we Jinan Eeyou Istchee. Google translate didn't even try. It said it was English and gave up.

Yeah, well, it's not English. I imagine you guessed that. It's Cree. Google did better with Nemaska, "a small Cree community located on the shores of Lake Champion, in Quebec, Canada" as it says on their website. It looks like an amazingly beautiful place and the people seem immensely welcoming, especially given the history they've had. How hiphop fits into the picture is less clear but I'm happy it does.

Bullet Time - Opal - To quote Angel Corpus Christi "What you gonna do? Stab a bullet?" Nope. I'm gonna catch one. Watch me.

Burning Down The House - Prom Queen - Super Young Adult - 26 views on YT. Talking Heads, eleven million. Let's not go the obvious route. This is fresh and warped and wonderful. I just wish there was a video. I want to know what they look like.

Movin' Too Fast - Artful Dodger - This, I am reliably informed, is a UK Garage Classic. Good to know. I always wondered what one of those would sound like.

Big Production Thing - Square Biz - Teena Marie - Direct line of descent? Kinda feels it, doesn't it? Life moves in clades, as Bruce Stirling used to say.

Always Nothing Much To Say - Thumb - Dinosaur Jr. As someone with taste and style observes in the YT comments, "a structured and beautiful musical car crash." This should be everything I don't like about grunge. It's formless, tuneless, whiny and self-indulgent. But it's J. Mascis so it's all of that and magical, too. He transcends the form. 

Try Anything Twice - Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby (Standing in the Shadows?) - the Rolling Stones - I thought I'd been so clever when I came up with this title. Then I searched the lyric and found other people had been just as clever long before me. Gomez, for one, the Rolling Stones and...

... freakin' Lou Reed for cri-ipes sake! It's not like I haven't listened to both of those a hundred times, literally. I guess my subconscious was paying more attention than I was.

Layers And Players - Layers - NF - Do I have anything to say about this? Y'know, I think I don't. 

Ridin' SOLO - Hinds - OMG! So louche! It lopes like a wolf! Video of the month for the colors alone. Gotta be my favorite Hinds tune, by which of course I mean it's the one I heard last. Oops! Now it's Trippy Gum. I just played that as I was writing this. Who wouldn't? But that was when they were Deers so it doesn't count. I kinda wish they never changed their name, though.

It Might Not Now But It Will Be Later - Wading Through A Ventilator - The Soft Boys - Stands up pretty well although I never noticed how proggy it gets in the middle for a minute, there. They were always a bit Pink Floyd on sulphate, to be fair. I saw them live in Cambridge, probably 1979. They were a hairy bunch as I recall but fast as you like. Robyn Hitchcock went on to be... Robyn Hitchcock. Kimberley Rew won Eurovision with Katrina and the Waves. Careerist!

Speed Dating - Drew Barrymore Movie Marathon - Help She Can't Swim -There's some tough competition for best band name and best song title this month and no mistake. They have that jazz band falling down a lift shaft sound down pat, don't they? Very New York No Wave. Then there's this other one I found by them (It wasn't hard. The suggestion algorithm put it right there in front of me. I can't take all the credit.) where they could be Elastica for all of a minute and fifty-six seconds. That's not long, is it? We've got time for that.

Talk amongst yourselves. I just have to type something in this space to stop the videos running together. Is it "amongst" or "among", anyway? I never know...

Call Me By My Name - A Soft Place To Land - Kathleen Edwards - There are a couple of live versions of this on YouTube and they're very different. I actually prefer the studio take, which feels softer. This is quite abrasive. Goes with all that red. Then again, I could have gone with Chesney Hawke's The One and Only so everything's relative.

You Can Get The Staff - Lost My Touch - The Church - Hang on, this sounds familiar...

Another Frequency - Evergreen  - Slut -This is gorgeous. Sounds like a whole bunch of stuff I like. Bit of Wire in there, some Dream Academy, a little Rialto. Actually, quite a lot of Rialto. I'm in two minds about the name. I mean, it is good but you can see how it would be problematic. Just seems like one of those names you'd end up changing and issuing an apology about five years later. Been a few of those recently. Not going to be a problem for these guys, though. They split up years ago.

Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac - Seriously? Fleetwood Mac?? There was a time when I'd have had to make that sign to ward off the evil eye if I even heard the opening notes of a Mac track. We all mellow with age, I guess. I quite like some of the hits, now. So long as I don't have to hear them very often. I'm blessed if I'm going to have them in a full video on this blog all the same. The Bleachers' cover is relentlessly jolly, which is about as inappropriate a take on the lyric as you could possibly imagine. It's Jack Antonoff singing, too, so I'm pretty sure he knows, although I very much doubt the audience does. Or cares.

Unrealistic Expectations - Jason I Clark - There are a couple of songs that use this as a title. I like this one better but it's not a deep pool. Hell, here's the other. It's by Bo. Make up your own mind. I'm not even sure myself, now.

This Day's Portion - Service - The Fall - I'm sure about this, though. From what's probably my favorite Fall album, The Infotainment Scam. This has a fantastic lyric and some wonderful samples. Mark sounds so calm, too. He sounds pretty chill on the whole album. Maybe he was in a good place for once.

And that concludes the infotainment for another month. Just two more of these to go. Honestly? I'll be glad to get there, now.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

This Day's Portion

Among the many fine points made in the lengthy comments on yesterday's posts was this from Yeebo

"In terms of whether I consider the ongoing support from developers of a MMO adequate, it comes down to how much of the revenue seems to be getting folded back into the development of more content for the players vs. siphoned off for shareholders or to support projects that few players of the game could reasonably bet expected to care about"

Later, I read this post from Azuriel at In An Age, in which he talks about non-service games ("aka regular-ass games") and the shock he feels on realizing a game he's bought has reached a point of equilibrium from which it will receive no further amendments of any kind: 

"The thought that nothing will happen with the game anymore though? It feels like I was duped."

It seems the whole idea of "games as a service" has fostered a sense of expectation that affects not only the way we pay but the way we think. We want value for money, of course, but in a some strange way we also want to be valued ourselves. We don't just want a game, we want a relationship.

Players often claim to have a clear idea of what's fair when it comes to value for money but what is fair, really? Back in the days when a video game was a once-and-done purchase it used to be easy to tell. You bought the game, you played it, you knew. These days it's a lot harder to be sure. 

Take Guild Wars 2 for example. In theory it operates somewhere in the "games as a service" model but as a buy-to-play game it's less than clear what that means. And the more you think about it, the less clear it gets.

Whatever the service is, it's certainly not an ongoing arrangement between you and the company. As a service-user no commitment is required from you. That one-time payment is all you'll ever be asked for. GW2 has no subscription, optional or otherwise. If you want to give the developers any more money you'll have to buy something from the cash shop.  

Oh, except for the expansions. Those you'll have to buy. Another one-off payment. Twice in nine years that's happened. And even then you can just not do it. You can just carry on playing the content you originally bought. That's service for you!

It gets more complicated because ANet also pride themselves on keeping all the content relevant all the time. Most of the new stuff added within an expansion cycle requires that expansion but not all of it. So even if you just stick with your original purchase you'll get some new content, now and then.

Of course, if you're new to the game, you get everything for that one payment because now you get the expansions thrown in. At heart, GW2 remains a buy-to-play game. It's just that these days what you're expected to buy is the latest expansion. Buy that and you get everything. Until the next one, of course.

Only, there weren't supposed to be any expansions. Ever. ANet claimed on multiple occasions they weren't going to make any. They kept trying various ways to add content without going the full box route. 

They couldn't do it but what if they had? Then they'd have been giving all the new content away for free, forever. That single box purchase I made back in the summer of 2012? It would still be giving me two or three hours of entertainment every day of the week, nine years later. Even as it is, I've only had to buy two more boxes in nine years to make sure I don't miss out on any content at all. It certainly sounds like a good deal.

Not everyone would agree. Last night, as I was happily fighting holograms in the arena, I listened to someone in map chat complain at length about how worthless the whole Dragon Bash event was because ArenaNet have done nothing with it since it was first introduced. 

Which is kind of true in a way. Dragon Bash was on hiatus for years and when it came back it was much the same. They certainly haven't added an awful lot of new events to any of the holidays over the years, but then again, why should they? That guy aside, most people seem happy enough already.

GW2's holiday events aren't particularly imaginative and they rarely get updates or additions of much significance year on year, but they remain fabulously well-attended. Dragon Bash has been running for a week now and it's still heaving. There are been multiple instances of Hoelbrak and the Arena instance running every time I'm on. Several times the map's been so laggy from all the people crammed into it I could barely steer my beetle round the sharp turns. There are so many people clustered around the guy who takes the bets for the moa races you can't see him at all, sometimes. Granted he's an asura but even so....

It does make me wonder just what this "games as a service" idea hopes to achieve, when it's a service no-one has to pay for. If a company is going to keep servers up and encourage players to log in to them, it is, presumably, in the hope of somehow making some money out of the whole affair. If the players aren't paying for access (no subscription) and only paying a one-time fee for the game (buy-to-play) that only leaves the cash shop.

No wonder most players don't like cash shops. Or say they don't, anyway. It follows that cash shops must be more profitable than selling games and content for games, at least in those games that don't also charge a sub. 

Those are the games that are either being given away (free to play) or sold as loss-leaders (buy-to-play) after which they exist solely as reasons for players to spend money in the cash shop. That becomes the game's entire raison d'etre. There has to be a game to hang the cash shop on because otherwise there's no reason to buy anything. You have to have a game. But the game itself is secondary. It's not why you're running the service. The cash shop is.

I never really realized that before. It explains a lot although not why the games are still so frequently entertaining. That's because you catch more flies with sugar, I guess. (Actually, you catch more flies with rotting meat but that's a whole different metaphor...). There doesn't just have to be a game. There has to be a game people want to play, and keep playing, otherwise they won't be around to buy things in your cash shop.

All of which brings me back to the question I began with: just what kind of a "service" is it these games are offering? I'm not exactly clear on how there's even a service at all.  

I work in a bookshop. It has to be staffed and stocked and lit and heated, all so we can sell people books. Lockdowns notwithstanding, you can count on the store being open seven days a week, all year round. We don't call that "shopping as a service". We just call it running a shop.

In a game that funds itself by cash shop sales, isn't keeping the servers up and the game stocked with events and "content" just "running the shop"? The cash shop, in this case. Where, exactly, does the "service" part come in?

Mmorpgs with subscriptions and cash shops are in an even more dubious position. Does the sub pay for most of the costs and provide most of the profit, with the cash shop being a minor add-on? That seems fair enough, but how would we know? Are there still any games like that? WoW? FFXIV?

Usually, a subscription is really just another purchase, a way to rent items and functions that could be (and possibly are) sold piecemeal through the store. That also seems fair in principle. It's up to the player to decide if the perks represent good value or not. It's still not a "service", though. It's just more shopping.

Years ago, when Free to Play was something new and scary, we talked about this sort of thing a lot. We don't so much, any more. We're used to it now. And we've changed, many of us. We don't think like players so much as customers. 

Back then, there was one choice. Which game to play. Make that decision then all you had to do was buy the box and input your credit card details for the monthly subscription. That was "gaming as a service", the service in question being guaranteed access to the game 24/7/365, patch day excepted.

It's no wonder people hanker after the good old days. I'm not at all sure it was better value back then but it sure as heck was easier to understand. Now games are just another contract with costs that need constant monitoring to make sure they're not running out of control.

According to the Inflation Calculator, the standard $14.99 monthly sub from the turn of the millennium would now cost a shade over $27. Not quite double. Would you pay that for an mmorpg with no cash shop today? 

I might... until I think about my nine years in Guild Wars 2. Nine years in which I've used the cash shop exactly once, about seven years ago. Nine years that have cost me around $150 for one account, expansions included. Six months' subscription at the 2021 mark-up, in other words.

I think my real question here is how the hell do ArenaNet stay in business?

Monday, June 28, 2021

Unrealistic Expectations

I've seen an awful lot of discontented posts about Blizzard and World of Warcraft lately. It's hard to avoid them. Even though I'm not currently playing WoW it remains, as it has been for the best part of a decade and a half, the big story in the genre just about all the time.

These days, of course, there isn't just the one World of Warcraft. Blizzard may never have produced a sequel but, perhaps without intending to, they've somehow managed to make it seem as though they have. As with Norrath and a growing number of imaginary worlds, there are multiple versions of Azeroth available now. 

With three distinct and different versions available it's quite possible, likely even, that some are doing better than others. Not everyone is going to be unhappy all the time. Even so, there seems to be a general sense of malaise around the franchise as a whole.

For much of this year it was Retail in the firing line. There seemed to be no end to the complaints and discussions over everything that was wrong with Shadowlands. I kept hearing how most of the mechanics and systems introduced by the expansion were flawed or Not Fun. Either Blizzard wasn't doing much of anything about it or whatever it was doing didn't seem to be working.

As Classic wound down and the countdown to Burning Crusade ramped up, there was a fair amount of excitement but also some apprehension. Choices needed to be made and not everyone seemed comfortable about them. In the event the launch did arrive with the anticipated rush of exhillaration, and yet in a matter of days I found myself reading more tales of woe. 

Players leveling Shamans felt ignored and neglected, left in the old world dust to fend for themselves as the leveling bubble rose through Outlands towards the cap. Then there was the inevitable guild drama over reduced raid sizes, benching and the usual internecine maneuverings guilds tend to foster.

With the advent of the latest patch (9.1 I think it is) there's been a tinge of optimism over in Retail. I've seen commentary suggesting notice has finally been taken of the general levels of disatisfaction. Attempts are being made to turn the ship. Even then, there's a sense that it might be too little or too late or both.

The release of the recent Carbot Animations video "This is World of Warcraft" seems to have ratchetted the anxious tension around the games up another notch. Wilhelm has an excellent post on that, as does Gnomecore. Their positions overlap in a number of interesting way, especially given the extreme difference of their in-game interests and experiences. Both seem to agree the problems, whatever they are, lie as much with players and their expectations as with developers and their intent.

Both the posts also generated some lengthy and thoughtful comments. I get the impression the current state of all flavors of World of Warcraft and of the company behind them is giving a lot of players pause for thought.

It is, of course, not just about the games. It's only a couple of years since decisions taken over what could or couldn't be said in a livestream gave Blizzard unwelcome prominence on non-gaming newsfeeds all over the world. That controversy, bright though it blazed, doesn't appear to have smoldered as long as some expected or maybe hoped. In the end it seems it's the gameplay that matters most; the gameplay and the friendships it sustains.

Or doesn't. And that seems to be the problem. One of the problems, anyway.

In a comment on Wilhelm's post, Shintar linked another WoW video. 


I watched it but, like the Carbot video, it didn't really connect with me on the kind of visceral level it seems to have reached almost all of the two thousand or so YouTube viewers who left anguished comments on the thread. It's not that I don't recognize the experiences, albeit from games other than WoW; it's more that I don't look back on those same experiences with the anything close to the kind of emotion I'm reading about.

Perhaps the main difference between the two videos is where the center of gravity sits. The Carbot appears to drill down into what Blizzard, as both creator and curator, first got right and then got so badly wrong. The Pint video, conversely, appears to place a question mark over the validity of the experience itself, leaving the viewer uncertain where the blame, if blame there's to be, might lie.

All of this dovetails neatly into a sequence of posts Wilhelm has been running concerning the unwillingness of mmoprg players, en masse, to accept or even recognize the practicalities of keeping these games alive. Put shortly, it takes money and players don't want to pay.

There's another, closely-related theme playing out elsewhere. It concerns the attitude of players to games developers in general. Kaylriene has an excellent post up about that. He takes a very reasoned and reasonable approach, assuming goodwill on the developers' side, but it's worth reading the very well-argued counterpoint by Jackie in the comment thread, which includes this telling assessment:

"I don’t believe the developers want to engage with the playerbase. They’re not interested in criticism even from the people who can articulate it. If they wanted to communicate they would. My perception is that it’s an inward looking culture rather than outward looking."

It jibes nicely with something I said in my own comment on the thread there, where I asked why it might be, if we accept the premise that games developers do care quite deeply about the quality of their work and its fitness for purpose, that "so many changes in so many games appear to work so badly for so many players".

It's a worrisome question, isn't it? Personally, I've always been skeptical about player involvement in games development. I don't necessarily accept that individual players know what they want and I certainly don't see much in the way of collective agreement. 

Even if players did know what they wanted and could band together to express their wishes coherently, though, wouldn't it feel even worse to know the developers were listening and did care, but were fundementally incapable of doing anything very effective about it? 

Devs aren't gods, after all. Not even gaming gods. On the same day I read Jackie's comment I read this heartfelt statement by a developer for whom I have a lot of time, CharlieX of SmokymonkeyS, creators of the wondeful (now, sadly, mothballed) Ninelives. Despite the idiosyncratic English the emotion comes through perfectly: 

"Sometimes a player tells me, you design your game to more difficult and annoying to prevent the player to get the achieve. Well, this is a wrong idea overall. Sadly, this mean the developer's intend is not going well, and it happens always. Sometimes I go to watch my game player's video and get sick every time I saw the player stuck, get lost, or failed caused by my design."

Just because you know what you want to do doesn't always mean you're able to do it.

So much for the developers' side of the table. Returning to the comments in the threads following both the YouTube videos I mentioned, the recurring, indeed overwhelming theme coming from the players seems to be one of heroically unrealistic expectations. 

Playing World of Warcraft has very definitely been a seminal experience for many. Almost a rite of passage. From comment after comment I get the sense that playing WoW marked a transition from solipsistic isolation to social engagement, at least for some. Some feel betrayed that Blizzard somehow took this away from them. Others seem bereft, almost guilty. They lost the way all on their own.

The Pint video is fascinating in the way it depicts a player who, after playing and then leaving the game, has clearly been able to ground themselves in a committed relationship and, by implication, in the web of adult responsibilities required to support their newfound social status. Even with that support structure firmly in place, however, it just takes a nudge of commercially-driven nostalgia to tip them back into longing for a fondly-remembered past.

Wilhelm has another great post up about what prerequisites an mmorpg developer might need to have in place before choosing to enter the nostalgia market. For most games I think the factors he lists would be sufficient. For World of Warcraft, though, I suspect there needed to be more to make it work.

WoW wasn't just a video game. It was a global phenomenon. Its players weren't necessarily like other mmorpg players, either then or now. A lot of people ended up playing WoW who hadn't played other, similar games before. The things they did there were different to other things they'd done, not just in degree but in essence. 

I'd be willing to bet that some of the people posting elegaic, emotional comments on the threads following these deeply nostalgic videos found social engagement and acceptance in Azeroth for perhaps the first time. In their memory the experience isn't just one of many, another social setting where friendships were forged then forgotten. It was an intense experience that changed them and for that they value it highly.

It's a theme not in any way unique to WoW or indeed to mmorpgs or even video games. I see it repeated over and over in comment threads that draw on any widely-shared experience, from childhood itself through musical trends to a college education to sports... Any moment in a life when everything just seems to fall into place. When people around you understand. When you find your tribe. When you belong.

It always fades. School breaks up. You graduate college. The bands you followed split up or find new directions that don't sound good any more. You don't get picked for the team because you can't run so fast or jump so high and anyway practice is on a weekend and there are things you need to do, more important things. Your guildmates stop logging in, even on raid nights. Life moves on, everything changes, nothing stays the same.


If you're hoping that long-lasting mmorpg you used to love is going to buck that trend and stay the same forever, you're in line for a disappointment. It's going to change along with everything else or else it's not going to be there or if it is then no-one will be playing any more. 

And if you believe a Classic server is a time machine to take you and your friends back ten years to when you were younger and freer and life was better, well, you might, if you're lucky, get to take a nice vacation in a well-managed resort version of a specific snapshot of that past. And then time will catch up with you once again and you'll be back where you started, only with more disappointment than you had before because one more fantasy turned out to be just that and nothing more.

Listening to the various voices, the ones that seem most sanguine, most satisfied, are those that recognize a game is after all a game. Not "just" a game. More than that. But not so much more it can stop time and bring back lost youth. The people still having fun in World of Warcraft, both Retail and Classic/TBC, seem to me to be those who aren't expecting it to change their lives, just entertain them for a while.

I suspect that, if developers concentrated a little harder on entertaining people and worried a little less on keeping them locked into a revenue cycle, both sides might stand a better chance of getting what it is they really want. The games might hold onto the interest of more people for longer if players felt more accepted and more at home.

It's a pipe dream, I know, but its one that quite a few people seem to share. A few years back the buzzwords around the genre seemed to be Classic and Retro and Social. Now, the mission statements of many of the plethora of new studios spinning up from splintering mmorpg majors all seem to echo the call for a more emotionally intelligent approach to making mmorpgs. It's not so much a case of turning back time as it is learning from the past.

Whether any of them will be able to turn good intentions into good games remains to be seen but I think we should probably give them the benefit of the doubt, for now at least. If they can pull it off they'll only be giving us what we say we want, after all. 

Whether we'll want it when we get it, though, that's a whole different question.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Go Your Own Way

Much as I love snow zones, after finishing this year's Dragon Bash meta-achievement on one account and making it about halfway through on another, I was feeling a distinct urge to be somewhere warm for once. Nothing says "warmth" like a fire festival, so I traded the bitter cold of Guild Wars 2's icebound Hoelbrak for the burning desert heat of EverQuest II's Sinking Sands and headed for the beach to join in with this summer's Scorched Sky celebrations.

I knew there was a new quest and I never miss one of those. Well, I try not to, not holiday ones, anyway. I don't do them for the story so much as the rewards, which can often be well worth having. Most festive quests in EQII follow roughly the same format. They always begin with a chat with an NPC, who explains that something vaguely related to the celebrations has gone ever so slightly awry. 

Sometimes some creatures have escaped and either need to be rounded up and brought back or hunted down and killed. That happened a couple of years back. If it's not that, it's a mystery requiring some brief detective work that leads inevitably to some deserted cave system or underground ruin.

Once inside you can all but guarantee to find a scattering of dead bodies and a smattering of hostile wildlife. As the search takes you deeper you'll probably run across a barrier or two that needs to be removed and eventually you'll run your quarry to ground, at which point a fight will break out. Usually the final battle will involve some small degree of tactics and a good deal of thumping.


For quests of this kind you really don't need a walkthrough. Well, maybe you do. I wouldn't presume to judge. I don't. And yet I like to have one to hand all the same.

I don't know when it happened but at some point in my long EQII career I started thinking of quests not as adventures my characters are having so much as recipes I'm following. I think it probably began when I came back after a lengthy layoff and worked my way through two or three consecutive expansions in a row. It was taking long enough without having to work everything out from first principles. It seemed more than fair to follow in the footsteps of those who'd gone before.

Now I pretty much always do it except in the new expansion each year, when I do at least make a nominal attempt to play the way nature intended. Or at least the way Tunare intended. (A little Norrathian humor there...). Even then, if I find myself in any way stuck I turn immediately to the inestimable EQII Wiki, quite possibly the best and most accurate resource of it's kind I've been fortunate enough to draw on for any game.

As soon as I logged in this afternoon I went straight to the wiki to see where to go for this year's new quest and... nothing. I'd googled there using the search term "Scorched Sky EQ2" and it had landed me on the correct page but nothing seemed to have been updated since last year. It was a worrying sign.

For EQII's holiday events there's another resource that's even better: EQTraders. Niami Denmother (who thankfully seems to have recovered from her serious operation last year and is back to her usual active self) runs the tightest of ships when it comes to anything pertaining to crafts and housing and since every Norrathian holiday always comes packed with both those things she can be relied on to cover the whole event.


She doesn't always do walkthroughs, though. She has more than enough to do without that. I found the name of the quest (Feats of Burning Devotion) and the questgiver (Devotee Arborash) from the EQTraders Scorched Sky page and went to see if I could muddle through on my own.

Which, of course, I could. Everything went down exactly as expected. Arborash told me a tale of some nutcase who'd summoned an Efreeti from Doomfire, the Burning Lands, aka the Elemental Plane of Fire. Probably. I think. Who can keep these planes straight? 

Arborash was deeply impressed but when I asked him where I could admire this Efreeti and maybe speak to the genius who'd summoned it I was told the man, one Adherent Drasithe, had wandered off along the sands. That didn't seem like a good thing so I toddled off to look for him and maybe see if he needed a drink of water or something.

I didn't find Drasithe but I did spot a pretty obvious clue: a massive chunk of glowing lava stuck in the cliffside. As you do when you happen across a highly dangerous quasi-natural phenomenon, I went straight over and gave it a good poke, whereupon I found myself... yes, you guessed it, in a cave.

The cave had formerly been the hideout of some Samiel pirates, a smuggling crew commonly found lurking in similar crannies and crevices all over the Sinking Sands. I figured that out for myself by the way they were all lying around dead inside. 

The current occupiers turned out to be some snakes, a bunch of fire elementals and those annoying flying imp things you get all over any place where lava comes boiling out of the ground. In EverQuest they were called mephits. I forget what we call them now.


It was obvious what I needed to do next. Same as always: kill everything, take anything not nailed down and if I happen to spot any clues while I'm doing it, so much the better. I got to the end of the first bunch of caves (Is bunch the correct  technical term?) and ran into a portal. 

I did literally run into it, to see if it would port me anywhere, but it wouldn't. I had a bit of a think and then I noticed the two big spikes of lava-rock either side of it were clickable. So I clicked them. I can take a hint.

The portal closed down and my quest journal suggested now would be a good time to find a way past the fiery barrier I'd seen earlier. I had a sneaking suspicion I might just have done that by closing the portal and it turned out I was right.

Just past the portal I ran into my quarry, Adherent Drasithe. Again, literally. I ran up to him, intending either to congratulate him on his success or possibly slice him into small pieces if he'd been possessed by the creature he'd called into being but I didn't get close enough for either. He waved his arms and sent me flying backwards and then he yelled something and ran off, deeper into the tunnels.

I followed him, of course. There were some more elementals to dispose of along the way before I found him again, close to a portal just like the last one. He yelled at me again and turned into an Efreeti. Or maybe summoned one and vanished. I'm no magician, I don't know the form.

Makes no odds either way. You know it's just going to end in a punch-up. Which it did, although there was a bit more to it than that. It was one of those fights where the "boss" stops taking damage every so often and starts summoning minions and you have to kill those until something else happens and you can start pounding on the boss again. Seen it a thousand times.


I got the hang of that pretty quickly. The message I got every time a minion died, telling me the portal pillars were weakening, gave the game away, really. I whitled my way through elementals and imps until both the pillars were gone and the portal shut down, then I finished off the efreeti. At this point my journal suggested I might want to find the Adherent himself, who had to be somewhere close by.

He was. He was flat on the floor behind a rock, as dead as the Samiel pirates. I took the handy exit that had popped up from somewhere and legged it back along the beach to give Devotee Arborash the bad news. 

He seemed remarkably unphased. In fact he all but told me it was the best thing that could have happened and that Adherent Drasithe had done a marvelous thing for which he'd be richly rewarded in the afterlife. That's zealots for you.

I was more interested in being richly rewarded in this life, or at least in this virtual life. I took the eight ember coins (Four plus another four for being a subscriber. See? Subscriptions are worth it!). There was also a choice of a huge bed of embers or a replica of the Tyrant of Fire. I looked at them both in the Dressing Room. One was very impressive. One really was not. I took the Tyrant.

That got me wondering how many ember coins I had. I vaguely remembered doing the 2019 quest a few times but I also had an idea I'd bought a few odds and ends back then. I'd read there was a new mount this year, one that can fly, so I went over to the vendor to take a look.

Blimey, Charlie! Now that's a nice mount. A coal-black horse with fiery hooves and glowing eyes. I'd ride that. Although not until I do something to earn more ember coins, I won't. It costs a wopping hundred and fifty of them. The other two mounts, neither of which can fly, are a mere fifty coins apiece.

And this is the thing about holiday events. When they're well-done they can be highly motivating. Mrs Bhagpuss and I have both already put in hours at Dragon Bash because a) a lot of the events are fun and even if they aren't fun at least they're easy and b) the rewards are kinda-sorta nice. That staff I mentioned. Some fancy gloves. If I can imagine using these things then I'm quite likely to make more than a token effort to get them, even if in the end I probably won't end up using them after all.

I do want that horse. I'd quite like it for several people but I think that would be pushing it. I'll definitely get it for one character at least. You get an ember coin for killing the elementals that spawn near the festival sites and again you can double that if you're a member. I already have about fifty coins from previous years so I only need to kill fifty or so. That shouldn't take long.

Oh, and it turns out there is a full walkthrough up on the wiki after all. For some reason it isn't on the Scorched Sky page but it's there if you search by the name of the quest itself. I'm glad about that. It's always a bad sign when wikis stop getting timely updates.

Of course, if anyone wants to know how to do it, they can also just read my post. That should take about twice as long as doing the actual quest. I'll leave you to decide which would be more worthwhile.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Another Frequency

It seems the great intermission is over at last.. It's back to work next week for me, although I'm still waiting for someone to tell me exactly when I start. 

It also means something of a return to normality for the blog or at least so I'm expecting. It's been so long since I had a regular, stable work pattern it's quite hard to remember what normality here used to be. 

I think the way it used to go was that I'd only post on days when I wasn't working... although that can't be right, now I come to think about it. For some of the life of the blog I was working five days a week. For most of it I was working four. And yet I still managed close to a post every other day and more than that, some years.

Last year broke all records and this year, so far, has already seen one hundred and sixty-six posts, four more than in 2017, the lowest posting year in Inventory Full's history. Until June I'd only missed one or two days each month, if I missed any at all. 

I do have an excuse for slacking off this month - I've been on holiday. Technically, that is. It would be hard to tell the difference from the rest of the year except that we did in fact sleep away from home for a whole night last week and this week we went to another country. Okay, it was only Wales and we can drive there in less than an hour but it still counts.

Given the choice, I would not be going back to work. Nothing to do with the pandemic per se, just that it's now only three years or so until my retirement date and these last couple of years, what with Covid and cancer, I doubt I've worked more than nine months altogether and never more than three of them in a row. 

It feels as if I've already retired and it very much suits me. It would suit me a lot more if I was free to travel wherever I liked, which is how I always imagined spending my retirement, but I'll take sitting at home playing video games and writing blog posts about it over standing up in a bookshop for eight hours at a stretch any day.

The other thing is, I haven't really felt like I've not been working. Mrs. Bhagpuss sometimes teases me that I have a full-time, unpaid job now and it's this blog. I wouldn't go quite that far but most days it does take me at least two hours, sometimes as much as five or six, thinking up a post then writing, editing, polishing and publishing it. 

It has also occurred to me that, if this were a job, I would at least get weekends off. It's not like anyone's making me do it, though, so I'm not complaining.

As I'm sure must be obvious to all, they're rarely short posts, either. My average word-count is probably around 1200-1500 words, often quite a lot more. I guess I've written not too far short of a quarter of a million words this year. It's a lot.

As regular readers have almost certainly noticed, I rarely run out of things to write about. I have always been able to write (and talk) at inordinate length about almost anything. I could give you five hundred words on the dust on top of my monitor if I had to. 

Not running out of things to write about is not exactly the same as having things worth writing about,  however. I have been sensing of late that my enthusiasm for detailing the minutiae of the way I spend my enforced leisure could possibly be of more interest to me than it is to anyone else. 

That's not a huge concern since a) it's my blog and I like to read about what I've been up to and b) I've always been of the strong opinion that what makes something a pleasure to read is the way it's written rather than the subject itself, but even if that's so, it's also true that an interesting topic gives even the best writing a bit of a push. It was very noticeable, for example, when Valheim was all the rage, how even though everyone was writing about it at once I couldn't read enough about it. 

With that in mind, I'm certain sure I'll be falling over myself to get my thoughts into print when the next Big Thing comes along. Whether I'm working or not isn't going to be the deciding factor on how often I post then, although it might be if I have to choose between posting and playing.

For now, though, it's probably not such a bad thing for me to slow down the posting rate a little. Maybe if I'm running at four posts a week instead of seven I'll find myself having to pick more impactful subjects. Or maybe be more concise.

Yeah, like that's going to happen.

Anyway, I just thought I'd give a bit of background in case posting frequency does drop off somewhat over the next few weeks. It's nothing concerning, just a return to the status quo ante. 

Also I really didn't have anything else to post about today except bloody Dragon Bash, which I've been doing for hour after hour, and no-one needs that again.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

You Can Get The Staff

Tuesday is patch day in Tyria so yesterday I was looking forward  to the next instalment of Return to Living Story. We'd wrapped up Season Two, the warm-up act for the first expansion, Heart of Thorns, and I was all set to jump straight into Season Three, about which I can remember almost nothing without some kind of artifical memory aid.

When I logged in, though, there were no free tokens in the mail. We're taking a short break between seasons, it seems. The next two episodes dropin a week's time on the 29th.

Instead, to entertain us this week we have Dragon Bash, the pinata-smashing, hologram-battling, moa-racing festival that takes place, for no reason I can think of, in Hoelbrak, the snowbound hometown of the Norns.

It makes for a nice contrast with Scorched Sky, the holiday that began the same day over in Norrath. As the dramatic note from new Community Manager Accendo puts it, "The Scorched Sky Celebration is back and within the flames, all mettle is tempered—that which is weak, distracting, and fleeting is burned away leaving only the strong, pure, and resilient! Join us in lifting up the Tyrant of Fire and the Burning Prince, and you too will know the cleansing intensity of Fire."

I haven't yet engaged with the new quest, Feats of Burning Devotion, or browsed the thirty-four new items on the Ember merchants (including a new flying mount, so I hear). I'll get around to that tomorrow or the next day.

I have, however, already started working on my necessary obligations in the Shiverpeak snows. At least I thought they were necessary when I began. It turned out I was wrong.

ArenaNet have made some concerted effort these last couple of years to fill out what was once a desultory holiday calendar and also to make the holidays themselves more interesting and fun. I usually do the dailies and some of the events in all of them but Dragon Bash has several events I always enjoy. Smashing pinatas is a bit of mindless fun and I'm always up for some rollerbeetle racing. The hologram arena is okay for a few rounds once a year but  the staged hologram invasions of the various Shiverpeaks maps are good for the whole three weeks.

The problem with most Tyrian holidays isn't usually with the entertainment so much as the presents. It's all very well doing the events to earn the currency but I can hardly ever find anything I want to spend it on. 

From that perspective, it was a very nice surprise last night when Mrs. Bhagpuss, who can be much more of a determined holidaymaker than me, linked a very attractive new staff in guild chat. Going by the seasonally inappropriate name of Spring Warmth, it's a rustic pole that bursts into flower at the business end and it's one of three new weapons for sale at a new vendor added this year.

Out of curiosity, I ported across to Hoelbrak to take a look at the other two. One is a flowery rifle that looks both unwieldy and bizarre. I don't have anyone who habitually uses a gun but even if I did I can't imagine using this one. 

The third is a warhorn which, like almost every other smallish weapon in the game, would be hard to notice in use. This one also happens to be very ordinary-looking. It's quite realistic if that's the look you're going for but I can't see it setting any hearts racing.

The staff, though, that I liked. So did Mrs Bhagpuss. The cost at the vendor was twenty Jorbreakers, the currency of Dragon Bash. There are various ways you can acquire Jorbreakers, some of them quite speedy, but Mrs. Bhagpuss calculated that by doing dailies and regular holiday events it would probably take her thje full three weeks of Dragon Bash before she'd earn enough to buy staffs on two of her accounts. She reckoned she might even manage the third if she really worked at it.

I didn't plan on going that hard but I thought I'd definitely make the effort to get at least one. It was certainly pretty enough to make it feel worth it. And it would be nice to have a positive, practical reason to do the dailies and some of the events most days. Nothing like a sense of purpose.

I meant to get started on it today, after I finished in World vs World. I was doing my dailies there, when the dreaded three-minute warning sounded. It happens quite often after a patch. Some bug had been found and fixed, so everyone had to log out to get the update. If you happen to be in WvW when something like this happens, you don't get the luxury PvE players have of waiting for a convenient moment. Players on competetive maps need to have the same build so everyone gets kicked.

I thought I'd check the update notes to see what had changed. It was, as it almost always is on these occasions, a server crash. Since I had the main update notes from yesterday in front of me, I read those, too.

This line jumped out at me: "Three new weapons are now available as rare drops from dragon coffers. They can also be purchased from Sparking Stone, a new Dragon Bash weapons vendor in Hoelbrak." Say what? That seemed odd. The same weapons the new guy was selling were also this year's rare drops from the Holiday Lootboxes? Free, in-game lootboxes, that is, before anyone starts sharpening their pitchforks.

I told Mrs. Bhagpuss and she asked whether they were also tradeable, since if they were they'd be on the trading post in no time and maybe she wouldn't need to work on those Jorbreakers after all. I checked and there were none for sale but while I was at the vendor (reminding myself what the things were called so I could search for them) I noticed there was a dialog option I'd missed.

Chatting with the vendor, Sparking Stone explained how the weapons he was selling could also be found in the dragon coffers, if you were very fortunate. I refuse to feel embarassed for missing that the first time round. Who takes random dialog options from merchants?

I passed this information on to Mrs. Bhagpuss and carried on with my pinatas. Then, just a few minutes later, a link to the new staff appeared in guild chat. Mrs. Bhagpuss had been opening her coffers as they dropped and guess what had fallen out?

I congratulated her and thought about things for a moment. I was fairly sure I had a stack or two of those boxes stashed from last year. I went to the bank and checked and it turned out I had more than eight hundred tucked away for a rainy day.

The reason I store these things for years is precisely for this kind of situation. ANet generally don't create new containers when they add items to an annual event. They just alter the contents of the old ones. If there's nothing much I want one year I hold onto my stock in the hope next year will bring something better.

So I started opening coffers. I'd opened about thirty when the new warhorn dropped. That was a good sign. I kept going and with coffer #96 out came the staff. It hadn't even taken a hundred pulls to get what I wanted.

I put the other seven hundred or so back in the bank and considered my luck. Mrs Bhagpuss and I had bounced three of the new weapons from scarcely more than a hundred tries. That would hardly count as rare by the standards of most mmorpgs I've played but by the standards of GW2, where drop rates have historically been appalling, it seems incredibly generous. 

Or we were just incredibly lucky. It's clearly too small a sample to tell. If I was sufficiently motivated I might open another five hundred coffers and keep a count. That would probably give me a better idea. I think I'd rather save my boxes for the next good thing, thanks.

The real question I'm asking myself is how lucky is "lucky" anyway? Before the two staffs dropped so easily this afternoon we both had several weeks of content ahead of us. Working to earn something in a holiday event is a classic way to spend time in an mmorpg. 

Assuming Mrs. Bhagpuss doesn't pull another staff out of a box, she can now carry on with her plan to get the Jorbreakers she needs to buy the staff for her other two accounts. I'd bet she does get the drop before she gets that far, though. You get a lot of dragon coffers, doing these events every day.

I, on the other hand, am now finished with my Dragon Bash plans for this year. I got the only item I wanted on the first day. 

I'm not quite sure how I feel about that. I'm genuinely happy to have the staff and I'm also very happy to see ArenaNet getting into the holiday spirit. They've been scrooging for far too long. On the other hand, it does seem like they already covered the "don't stress - you'll get the thing you want" part just by putting the weapons on the vendor in the first place.

There's just no pleasing some folks, is there?

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Call Me By My Name

Not much more than a couple of years ago, on March 16 2019 to be precise, Daybreak popped up four new servers in celebration of EverQuest's 20th anniversary, two each for both the EQ titles. I posted about it on the day, leading with a screenshot of the login queue for one of the EverQuest servers, Selo, showing an average wait time of three-quarters of an hour.

I made characters on one of the EverQuest II servers, Kaladim, where I was cock-a-hoop over nabbing the name Lana. Flush with success, I logged in to EQ as well and snaffled two more top echelon names, Breezy (a Druid) and Buffy (a Bard). 

EQ's Selo server was so busy at launch I didn't get to log either of my newbies in until the next day. EQII's Kaladim, while popular, wasn't quite as rammed. I played there instead. And went on playing for quite a while.

Two year's later, Lana is somewhere in the mid-twenties. I took her all the way to twenty back when the server was fresh and I've logged her in quite a few times since to do this and that, most recently just a few weeks ago. 

I consider her a "real" character. She has a nice inn room that's properly decorated and I take care to make sure she gets her turn at things like holiday events so she can keep adding to her decor. As for the server, Kaladim is thriving. It's quite possibly EQII's busiest server.

Breezy and Buffy, on the other hand, haven't fared quite so well despite their impressive names. They're level three and four respectively. Buffy's total played time is just over two and a half hours. She's been standing in the bank in Shadeweaver's Thicket since March 2019. I don't know where Breezy is. Or care much, if I'm honest.

I'm in Qeynos, you dimmock! As if you care!


Even though I was genuinely thrilled to have both names at the time, I forgot either of the characters even existed almost immediately after I made them. Until today, when I read the following announcement on the login screen:

Upcoming Server Merge and Downtime - July 21, 2021

That got my attention. I wasn't aware any EQ servers were merging. I hope it's not one I play on! I clicked through the link to the forum post

"On Wednesday, July 21, 2021, Selo is being merged with Povar, and characters on Selo will be transferred over.
The announcement goes on to list a whole lot of detail about what the move entails, including this key piece of information: 

Naming Conflicts

  • If, as a result of the server merge, two or more characters have the same name, the conflict will be resolved as follows:
    • The player who has logged into game within 60 days before the merge will retain the original character name. If there is still a conflict, the character with the highest number of minutes played will retain the original character name.
    • The renamed character will have additional vowels (or 'x') added to the end of their name and be flagged for a free rename. Characters who have been renamed can open the rename window to pick a new name with /changename chat command.

That got me thinking. Didn't I have a character on Selo? I kind of thought I did. And I had some vague memory of something about the name...

Long story short, I logged in and found out everything I've just recounted above. It leaves me with some decisions to make. There's plenty of time. The merger is still a month away. 

The first question is do I want to go to Povar? I don't have to because until the move happens there are free server transfers off Selo for the asking. It's in the FAQ:

Will there be free character transfers off of the servers before the merge?

  • Free transfers off of Selo will continue to be active until the merge is complete. Use /servertransfer on Selo if you would like to go to a different server (or go to Povar early).

I didn't think I had any characters on Povar but I logged in just to be sure. None on my All Access account. I haven't checked my formerly-subbed account but I'm pretty certain Povar is a server I've never played on, nor Quellious, with which it's already merged.

I don't have any strong feelings about Povar one way or the other and since I have no intention of playing the characters anyway it hardly matters where they go. On the other hand, if I moved them to a server on which I have other characters, it's a lot more likely these two might also get a run out now and again. Not to mention I could twink them a little, which is always fun.

/Who all returns nineteen characters on Selo right now - and I'm betting a lot fewer than nineteen players based on those names.

But much more than that, I do want to keep those names. By logging them in I've cleared the 60 day hurdle. If I do nothing more and no-one else on Povar a) has an active character called Buffy and/or Breezy  or b) has an inactive one they care enough about to log in before July 21 so as to keep the name then I'm covered. If either of those things happen, though, I end up with Breezyx and Buffyx, a far less appealing prospect unless you happen to be one of Martin Millar's werewolves.

What I could do, if I'm being sneaky about it, is to try and make characters with those names on the various servers I do sometimes play on and see if they get rejected. If they don't, I can not make the character but instead /servertransfer there immediately in the confidence the name(s) will stick.

Of course, if I could do that I could just make the new character and log them in and I'd have the damn name(s) anyway so maybe it's not worth the trouble. Thinking about it, I probably stand a better chance of getting the slots by default on Povar due to inaction on the part of the current name-owners than lucking into a server where no-one's name-squatting them already.

Why I care is probably something best left unexamined. It's one of those wanting to be invited to a party even you have no intention of going things. 

As for Selo, it's a sad end for a server that started with a bang but was already whimpering long, long ago. Of the four 20th Anniversary servers across both EQ games, two prospered and two imploded. 

In EQII, as I mentioned, Kaladim continues on in style while Nagafen, the Seasonal PVP server, ran into the usual problems and closed a while ago. In old Norrath Mangler maintains a very healthy population while Selo has long been a virtual wasteland.

I won't go into the merits of PvP servers in the EQ games or the wisdom of launching multiple new special ruleset servers all at once except to note that history suggests there will always be PvP servers, no matter how many problems they cause and that however many PvE servers there are, there will never be enough at launch and always too many soon after.

I can't say I'll miss Selo. I never really played there. I'm glad I noticed it was going before it was too late to do something about my characters, all the same. If anyone else has people on Selo, now's the time to bail them out. 

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Hmm. I wonder if anyone's using Ferris?

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide