Tuesday, August 31, 2021

August Songs

And so we come to the end. Can't say it hasn't been fun.

Naming every single post after a song or a fragment of a song. I'd say it seemed like a good idea at the time but it wasn't my idea at all. It just happened, the way running jokes or habits happen, how they build up until it seems like they were always there, like they're laws of nature. They're not.

It's like the way now, when I go downstairs and make two coffees or two teas or two of any drink, really, the drink doesn't matter, it's not about the drink, don't confuse me. It's like the way I have to clink the two mugs together every time before I carry them upstairs, even though they don't clink, they don't make a good sound, sometimes, just a dull noise.

If I didn't do it, though, bad things would happen. What bad things? I don't know. Mrs Bhagpuss asked me that yesterday and I said I don't know, maybe we'd have black snow. Then we both thought how cool would that be? So maybe it wouldn't be so bad. I still do it, though, and I can't tell you when it started or why.

Habits. They break. This one's breaking now. Stopping. Oh, not the songs and lyrics for titles. That's never going to stop. Just the having to be those. I've wasted too many good titles already I could have used because they weren't songs. A title should be able to be just a title and now it will.

Okay, that's all clear, then. Let's crack on.

July Song - Kah - Oh, that's good, isn't it? Kah, though. Who are they? No idea. The things you find when you look, eh?

August Song - The Autumn Defense - Yes, cheating. Ought to be at the end or in the next roundup only there won't be a next roundup and I don't want the last one ever to end on something as bland as this. It's very sixties. Not a patch on Kah but nice enough, I guess. Let's just get it out of the way now and get to the good stuff.

Blaugust Backup Plan - Backup PlanLysa May - Back on track! Oh, and isn't this gorgeous? Can you believe the first three songs I've used can barely scrape a hundred views between them? This one has twenty-eight. Twenty-eight! What's wrong with the world? Don't anyone go thinking just because this is the last of these title posts we won't be doing something else like this every month. More than. I'm just freeing up some headroom so I can share the best finds not just the ones that fit...


... or just whatever I feel like sharing, like this by Plested. Good video, good tune. Why leave it out?

Let's Go Round Again - Bull By The Horns - kd lang and the Reclines -Not fond of a capital letter, that kd lang. She and ee cummings both. Is it just me or is this Chuck Berry's Brown Eyed Handsome Man with different words?

Baby, You're Far Too Clean - No Blue Skies - Lloyd Cole - So many of Lloyd's songs sound like he wrote them the day after a bad break-up that was all his fault. Too many for his peace of mind but never enough for ours. Never enough. But can he really have had that bad a time, romantically? I kind of doubt it. Not with that hair.

Hurry Up And Wait - Little Charlie and the Nightcats - I was, of course, thinking of Blondie's Sunday Girl when this popped into my head but that's a lyric and this is a song. Also a blues jam of colossal proportions. I used to lap this stuff up when I was in my late teens, only I liked it double speed.

Launch Day Brownout - Brownout - Xmas Emo - I'd be lying if I said I knew what this was. Lofi hip-hop? My best guess. The lyric calls out D&D at one point. What's that about? And what's with the name? Xmas Emo? Excuse me? Comments are turned off on YouTube so no help there. Haunting, isn't it? I do like a mystery.

We Are Explorers - Cut Copy - I think "We Are Explorers" would make a much better band name than "Cut Copy". Pretty much anything would. They should swap. 

How's That For First Impressions? - Depreston - Courtney Barnett - I think that's the official video for Depreston, which might have been the first Courtney Barnett song I ever heard, but I'm certain sure it's not the video I saw then. I think that was a live show somewhere, maybe a TV recording. Whatever it was, it was way less annoying. Australia looks really boring , doesn't it? So flat. I guess that's kind of the point but still. Who wants to watch that?.


Hubble Bubble - Manfred Mann - I left a note to myself about this one. It said "gonna need to edit it to get rid of the first song and intro". So I have. Only thing is, I couldn't be bothered to download the whole thing, load it into Movie Maker, trim it, upload it to my YouTube channel and link to that. So I tried a few online YouTube editors. The first two didn't work but this one did. Or it looks like it did. It's greyed out in draft but looks okay in Preview but you can't run video in Preview so who knows? I guess I'll find out when l I publish.

Weekenders On Our Own (It's Such Fun) - Perfect Day - Lou Reed - It's cover time! Everyone thinks they can do this one and hardly anyone can. I love Caro Emerald's version. The boopy-doop jazz arrangement coupled with her over-articulated accent is mesmerically inappropriate. The ending is demented for a given, exceptionally low, value of mania.

Perfect Day is a love song. A love song to heroin. Not everyone seems to get that but St Vincent does, although she makes a better case here for it being a love song to valium and creme de menthe, which was my late night tipple of choice once upon a time. What with that dress and whatever it is the piano player is wearing, this wins the prize for most distracting visuals in live performance by two people basically doing not anything odd at all. That guy coughing at the end needs to think about his life choices, too.

Andrew Bird, fast becoming a friend of this blog, manages to render the whole thing virtually unrecognizeable, always a win with a cover. That's Matt Berninger of the National on vocals. He seems to turn up here a lot too. Maybe I should listen to one of his records one day.

Somewhat surprisingly, Lou's favorite cover of this song was by Duran Duran. Given his famously contrarian nature you might guess that was some kind of ironic joke but no, he totally meant it. Lou said Simon Le Bon sang the lyric the way he would have, if only he'd been able. I love Duran Duran's covers, of which there are many, although some of them don't really work. *Ahem* 911 Is A Joke *Ahem*. This is genuinely magnificent, though. Lou was right, as usual..

There's also a version by Pavarotti but I haven't worked up the nerve to listen to it yet.

Cause Me Confusion - Confusion - Nouvelle Vague - If it's covers you want (It is covers you want, isn't it? I did hear that right?) you could do a lot worse than Nouvelle Vague. Their brand of smoky bossa nova jive doesn't seem to inspire the outrage it once did, when they were working their way thgrough the post-punk songbook back in the nineties. I guess we're used to that kind of thing, now.

Inconvenience Regretted - Jaggy - Alright, this is first for the blog. Punjabi rap. Enough with the Eastern European hip-hop. Let's go somewhere fresh. I can't even remember what I put into Lyrics.com to get this. It's really 90s. I like it. I have no clue what he's rapping about but he does say "inconveniences" in English right at the end.

Level Up - Interlunium feat. Anette Chanel - You would be amazed how many songs there are called "Level Up" but none of the ones I listened to were as totally on point as this one:

"Inside this world of fantasy
We can all level up, yeah, we can all level up!
We're gonna get to where we wanna be
We can all level up, yeah, we can level, level up! Up!"

Seriously, that has to be our theme tune, doesn't it?

Black Cat Moan - Clara Smith & Her Five Black Kittens - There are countless versions of this on YouTube but who's going to pass up a chance to link Clara Smith and Her Five Black Kittens? Not me, that's for sure.

Thirty-Six Hours - John Cooper-Clarke - JCC, always a favorite around here. Mrs Bhagpuss quotes something by him almost daily. Usually something sweary. This is a roiling, swaggering, spitting tirade with the Doctor on a rolling boil throughout. JCC was always at his best with Martin Hannett although he's matured nicely in latter years. He's settled for being a national treasure and he deserves it, just for still being alive after the amount of drugs he's taken. Allegedly. Do we still need to say that?

Get It Right! - Charlotte Jane -This is modern pop, isn't it? Do I hear a little Laura Marling in there, somewhere? Does that make it folk-pop? Is there any such thing? Oh, who cares. It's good.

Words - the Monkees/the Leaves - I prefer the Monkees version, which is kind of a cover and kind of not. It was written, I believe specifically for them, by their regular writers, Boyce and Hart, but it was recorded and released first by the Leaves, the garage band that also beat Jimi Hendrix to Hey Joe. How exactly that all came about I haven't been able (or tried) to find out. I own an album by the Leaves, though, if that helps. On vinyl.

That's Motivation - David Bowie - Look, I love Bowie as much as the next person (unless the next person happens to be Mrs Bhagpuss) but he didn't get everything right, did he? 

Tell Me Where To Go - I am not a woman, I’m a god - Halsey - I just fucking love it when I can get something absolutely brand new into one of these things. From Halsey's new album, video posted to YouTube just the day before I grabbed it for the title of a post about DCUO. Probably not what Halsey would have ch9osen but who knows? Maybe they play. They're getting better and better, too. I should get the album. I think I'll wishlist it.

The Lonely Financial Zone - Lonely Financial Zone - Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - I thought this was supremely weird when I first heard it while I was still at school. This and the one about the Government Center. I didn't realize he was literally just writing about what he saw every day, wandering around his home town, Boston. I'm not sure it doesn't make it even weirder, now I know.

Have Horse, Will Travel - Have Love Will Travel - the Sonics /thee Headcoatees- A fantastic double-header to end this long-running series with a bang. Nothing beats the Sonics but thee Headcoatees version is storming. Also, I loved that moment when everyone was putting a few extra "Es" on everything. It literally just occured to me to wonder if it was a drug pun but then I remembered Leee Black Childers. He came before all that lovey-dovey stuff.

And so we leave them, the song titles dressed up as post titles. Make no mistake, they will be back. They're not going anywhere. They're just going to pick their moments from now on.

As for big, portmanteau music posts. Oh, yes, there will be more of those.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Have Horse, Will Travel


I am still playing Bless Unleashed. According to Steam I've racked up almost fifty-two hours since the game launched three weeks ago. That's quite a long way short of how many hours I'd like to have played.

For some reason, even though I want to play, I keep finding myself doing other things instead. This isn't some kind of self-negating avoidance strategy or an indication that while I think I want to play I don't really. It's just that there's a lot going on right now and other stuff keeps getting in the way.

Even so, I have managed to play every day, even if it's only been for an hour or two. And I really have been playing. That Steam tally includes very little time spent idling at character select or tabbed out afk. 

There's a lot to do in Bless Unleashed and I don't mean busy work. I mean good, solid levelling and character progression. Levelling is as slow as I've seen in a new mmorpg for quite a while, although in part that's because I've declined to use any of the multiple xp boosts and buffs the game's been throwing at me. 

This is not to say it's poorly-paced; quite the opposite in fact. Levels in BU feel meaningful in a way that harks back to a much older style of mmorpg design. Each level matters. 


As a Priest, my spells are spaced out enticingly, with new abilities I very much want to earn sitting temptingly next to levels I have yet to reach. Other features and opportunities unlock as character level hits various markers. 

New dungeons and arenas open up every two or three levels. So far I've only tried a few but that already makes this one of the very, very few mmorpgs I've played in the last decade where I've willingly used a matchmaking system to pug a dungeon. And it's been... okay.

Since I've mentioned it, let's talk about my grouping experience so far. I've had one! That's unusual in itself, especially in a game that doesn't specifically require it. 

Actually, that's not wholly accurate. There have been a couple of quests that required me to complete an arena or a dungeon. I'm not sure the Campaigns in Bless Unleashed are quite as central to the game design as the MSQ in Final Fantasy XIV but I suspect you'd have problems if you tried to skip them entirely.

Even before the Campaign sent me there, though, I tried the matchmaking facility a couple of times out of curiosity. I was interested to see what my role in a group might be. 


I'm playing a Priest, supposedly a healing class, but I have almost no healing spells at all. Priests get one spell early on that summons a glowing ball of light about a meter away. It took me a while to figure out you have to go stand in it for a second or two, at which point it pops, gives you a big heal and puts a regen buff on you that lasts for a few seconds.

As you might imagine, that's awkward as hell to use in action combat, where half the time you're rolling and dodging and leaping about. I tend to cast mine inbetween kills to heal back up or ahead of time so I can run into it during a fight. 

In the couple of five-person dungeons I did I tried casting the heal bubble near other people as they were fighting or next to people who were low on health but only one person ever intentionally went into one to get a heal. I've seen people complaining in chat about how no-one in their dungeons understands how to use the bubbles and that's been my limited experience, too.

On the other hand, unlike most mmorpgs I can think of other than Guild Wars 2, back when people actually did dungeons there, Bless Unleashed doesn't care which classes make up a group. You don't need a tank or a healer. The matchmaker just slams the first five people it finds together without reference to levels or classes and lets you get on with it. Healing, at least up to the mid-twenties, does not seem to be a priority.


That's presumably why, even though there's an automated matchmaking system, general chat is full of people trying to put a group together the old-fashioned way. One person yesterday was offering his services repeatedly with the attention-grabbing tagline "I'm done grouping with matchmaking APES!"

For my money, the matchmaking is fine. Most of the two-person Arenas I've done have gone smoothly enough. There seem to be various incentives and reasons for higher levels to do lower level content so I'm always hoping to get matched with someone ten levels above me. 

All I have to do when that happens is stand back and press LMB while they kill everything, then pick up my loot and leave. Of course, now I'm in my twenties, sometimes I'm the higher level, so I have to do a bit more of the heavy lifting but that's fine, too. 

In the five-person dungeons it's a bit more nuanced. The wide spread of levels can mean someone's often dying a lot and someone else is doing all the hard work but mostly it's been a good team effort. No-one ever speaks, of course. And I mean no-one and ever. Okay, maybe once or twice, just a couple of words.

And yet, despite the apparent lack of social skills, a couple of the runs I've done have shown solid teamwork. People rez each other when they can, try to trade aggro, generally behave with a degree of attantion that goes beyond focusing only on what they're doing themselves.

I did one five-person arena where we had to fight a very large, very tough ogre. On the first attempt I loaded into the instance so late the gate had come down and I had to stand and watch through the wooden bars as the rest of my team tried and failed to beat the boss with just four. 

No-one yelled at me. No-one quit. When the last of them died they all respawned, the boss reset, the gate opened and we all went in, five of us this time. And wiped, after a long and arduous battle. Again, no-one complained, although one person left without saying anything. The matchmaker replaced them almost instantly and off we went again.

Aaand... wiped a third time. No-one spoke. I was sure the group would fall apart. I was about ready to call it myself. I didn't think we were going to get any further than we'd managed so far. We hadn't been able to get the Ogre down before he enraged and when that happened it looked like we had no hope at all. 

No-one else seemed to be giving up, though, so I went another round. And we won. People seemed to have learned from the failures. I know I had. We avoided some of the bad stuff, were more ready for the big attacks, more mindful of each other. And we all poured on the damage in the phases when it mattered. Nothing was discussed, people just observed, learned and acted. 

It was... good. Not as good as grouping with people who chat and discuss tactics and get to know each other, like we did back in the olden days. But still... good. I enjoyed it. I'll do some more. 

Going back to what I was saying, before I interrupted myself with tales of teamwork and the unexpected pleasures of pugging, levelling in Bless Unleashed has direction and purpose. It doesn't just feel like a makeshift way to keep people hanging around. It feels both absorbing and satisfying, in and of itself. 

When levelling matters, outlevelling becomes a viable option for circumventing obstacles. At level twenty-three I ran up against another solo instance in the Campaign involving a fight I didn't feel entirely confident I could win. It might have been possible but rather than bang my head against it to find out, I opted to carry on levelling. I'm hoping that another two or three levels should tip the balance in my favor. 

If not, I can always get a couple more but first I'll need to find some new quest hubs. In pursuit of those and other sources of xp, I've been exploring, ranging further and further across what's turning out to be an extremely large map. We're talking Black Desert distances here. 

I finished all three of the introductory questlines for the three NPC "Unions" (aka factions), all of which conclude in the immense, imposing and very beautiful city of Sperios. I thought about it as I rode through the broad avenues, opening teleport stations and taking in the sights, then I decided to throw my lot in with the crafters union, the Artisan's Society


They immediately sent me on an initiation quest that took me deep into unknown territory, opening up huge swathes of uncharted countryside and any number of villages, towns and settlements, in several of which NPCs were just waiting for me to come along and sort out their problems with spiders, wolves, errant girlfriends, over-protective boyfriends and the like. 

By the time I got to the third part of the Union quest I was facing mobs four or five levels above me. Once again I had to withdraw to more appropriate territories to hone my skills and add a couple more levels.

My immediate goal is to get to twenty-six when, if my sources are correct, I should come into possession of an Estate. I don't know just how Bless Unleashed's "housing" works but I've heard it comes with a significant amount of storage and that's more than incentive enough.

As for this post, I'm going to leave it at that for now. I'm very conscious still of just how much about the game I don't know, let alone understand. I don't want to sound as though I have it all figured out when I absolutely do not.

I will say, though, that I think Bless Unleashed is the most satisfying levelling mmorpg I've played for a quite a while. It feels very old school in that respect, without feeling at all old-fashioned. I suspect I'll be levelling a couple more characters of different classes before I'm done with it. 

For once, it feels as though that wouldn't be a complete waste of time.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Lonely Financial Zone

at The Ancient Gaming Noob has an excellent post up about the latest in the seemingly never-ending cavalcade of weirdness that trails along behind Daybreak Games wherever they may go. 

Back in the winter we learned that a company called EG7, of which I feel safe in saying no-one reading this had previously heard, had acquired DBG's entire catalog, including, to no-one's entire surprise, the games formerly believed to be independently owned by Standing Stone and only published by Daybreak. 

Almost before we had time to work out whether we thought this was a good thing or not the new owners released a slew of information about game profitability, income and player numbers such as we'd never seen in almost twenty years. The openness and transparency was refreshing but not as much as the bright, optimistic, confident personality of the EG7's youthful CEO, Robin Flodin

Since then, anyone who reads MassivelyOP can't help but have noticed a marked change in the tone in which news items relating to the Daybreak Games portfolio are reported. The snark, which used to be both extreme and perpetual, has softened to no more than the occasional raised eyebrow and with good reason.

Almost from the moment EG7 took over there appears to have been a loosening of the bonds that held the individual studios within Daybreak Games back. There's been readjustment, alteration and innovation within the games themselves and within their interactions with the players and the press. 


Just yesterday I posted on the latest changes to DCUO, a game that seems to be thriving under the recently enhanced authority of Jack Emmert, the man now leading Dimensional Ink. Planetside 2 is restructuring, adding content, looking refreshed. The EverQuest titles appear solid, albeit more so the elder than the younger. New expansions for 2021 have been confirmed.

Everything looked altogether rosy in the EG7 garden. And then this happened:

"The Board of Enad Global 7 AB (publ) and Robin Flodin have agreed that effective immediately Robin will transition away from his current role as CEO of EG7 and will be replaced by the current CEO of Daybreak Game Company, EG7’s largest subsidiary, Ji Ham. During this transition Robin will stay on for six months to assist Ji as he assumes his new role within the EG7 family of companies. Ji will be appointed acting CEO of EG7 as a search for a permanent CEO has been initiated. Ji has an extensive background in both gaming and finance and has for the last six years been the CEO of Daybreak. During his tenure at Daybreak Ji has overseen extensive growth and profitability of the company."

Wilhelm covers the backstory and the event brilliantly and his post led a commenter on the thread to point to the following piece of information, essential to a full understanding of what might be going on:

“The news that Robin Flodin is leaving the CEO position came after an interview with Dagens Industri on Thursday, in which Robin Flodin has difficulty answering questions about the difference between total revenues and net sales during the quarter. The answer is that the company has capitalized development costs for new games of approximately SEK 36 million in the quarter, something that turns into an income in the accounts, something Robin Flodin failed to explain.”

That's Google Translate's version of a paragraph from this Swedish article. The piece states that after the release of EG7's second quarter figures the share price dropped by 25% although in the translated version it's ambiguous whether that happened before or after Flodin's interview. 


Either way, having the CEO unable to explain why there appeared to be more money coming in than the sales could account for would not have done anything to help. Precisely the reverse, I'd imagine, since the two logical explanations for the discrepancy would be either that something was going on that shouldn't be or that the CEO didn't understand the finances of the company he was leading.

In that light his sudden departure is not so surprising. It does however, still beg the question why replace him with the ex-CEO of Daybreak Games? Or wait, no! The present CEO of DBG. Because of course, even though EG7 bought the company, Ji Ham retained his place as Daybreak's CEO.

I confess I'd completely forgotten about Ji Ham. It's not hard to do. He never says anything. He never does interviews. He never releases PR statements. I have never even been able to find a photograph of him. If you wanted to throw this hot potato into the safe hands of someone guaranteed not to say something unfortunate to the press, now or ever, you could not hope to find a person better suited for the task than Ji Ham. Potato? What potato?

What does all this mean for the games? If I had to guess, and I'm going to, whether I have to or not, very little. Whatever plan there was, whoever was making it, whoever was implementing it (and we have no real answers to any of those questions) I would bet nothing much has changed. Robin Flodin may have founded the company (and I notice his two co-founders have both cashed out already) but, like one of those over-ambitious, expansionist rulers from the history books, in attempting to assimilate a more powerful neighbor he has himself been assimilated.


Daybreak and Standing Stone carry on. Jason Epstein remains on the board at EG7, where he holds a very significant 8.335% of the shares. Another 11.732% is held by the founder of Innova, which, as Wilhelm pointed out to me in an email, is a name that has certain similarities with Columbus Nova and Renova. Remember them? No? Good. That's working as intended, then.

Whatever is going on is most likely not of much concern to any of us as players. As the revelations from the time of the EG7 acquisition told us, these games are making money. Who they're making money for is less important. So long as they continue to be profitable, chances are the servers will remain up and running. Maybe the games will even be given the chance to grow a little. That does seem to be happening.

And I am on record as saying that I've found Daybreak's tenure to be largely favorable as a player. It hasn't seen spectacular growth or innovation but neither has it seen the kind of self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing, borderline crazy behavior SOE turned into some kind of manic trademark in their latter years. I think some of us tend to forget just how derided and despised SOE was for most of its existence.

There is one curious thing (One? Hah!!) that comes out of all of this. The "revenue" Flodin was unable to explain supposedly derives from some arcane accounting procedure regarding the spend of 36 million Swedish Krona in a single quarter on "development costs for new games". That's about $5m.

What, as Tom Waits would say, are they building in there? We have a right to know.

Actually, we don't. But we'd like to all the same.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Tell Me Where To Go - DCUO's House of Legends

My plan for the morning, if you could call it a plan, was to write something about DCUO's latest update, the potentially game-changing House of Legends. I wasn't going to go into all that much detail, partly because Tipa already did that but mostly because I don't have much in the way of detail to offer. Just what I read in Tipa's post and what's in the official press release, update notes and forum post, really. There's a trailer, too. I've embedded it below.

I probably should have read the update notes before I logged in but I was in a hurry. I wanted to run around, take a few screenshots, check out the new systems and mechanics, maybe do a couple of missions to see what the xp and the rewards were like. 

I thought I'd take some screenshots, get a general impression, be out of there in a couple of hours, tops. Then I'd come here, bang out a quick thousand words or so and get back to what I really wanted to do today, namely play Bless Unleashed until my fingers bleed.

None of that happened. Okay, a some of it happened but not how I'd hoped. First, I had to get the update. I set DCUO patching, went to make a coffee, came back and it was done. That was fast. Then I logged in to character select to choose who'd get to check out the new stuff first.

I figured if I was going to do some levelling to see how the xp curve goes it ought to be a lower-level character. I have two or three of those. Of course, by DCUO standards, all my characters are low level. As is well known by now, or should be, levelling in DCUO is nothing more than an extended tutorial. 

That's a tad unfair. The levelling game in DCUO is more involving and interesting than that makes it sound but, as with Guild Wars 2, almost all of the game happens after you hit the cap. And in DCUO the cap is only level thirty.  

The character I usually play is level twenty-eight. That seemed a bit high for what I wanted. I had a feeling the update also included some kind of new New Player Experience, so I knew what I probably ought to do was make a completely new character, but I also knew that if I did I'd be an hour in character creation. Who ever got through character creation in a superhero mmorpg any faster than that?

Given I didn't want to spend much more than a couple of hours playing DCUO today anyway, that seemed a bit much. Plus, unless they've dropped the old "get off the exploding spaceship" tutorial at the start, that's another ten or fifteen minutes gone. 

I plumped for playing Cassie Praxis, level eight, ranged DPS, hero. Pretty much  all I could remember about her. I made her to test some other update ages ago and haven't played her since. 

I had no idea where I'd left her but she turned out to be idling on a rooftop in Metropolis. Par for the course for a minor hero, I'd say. Absolutely nothing related to the update popped when I logged her in. No introductory cut scene, no voice message from Oracle, nothing in the mail. If I hadn't known there was an update I wouldn't have known there was an update.

It occured to me I had not the least idea what Cassie's powers were. I had a vague idea she could fly so I ran her off the edge of the roof to see if I was right. I was. Lucky Cassie.


It looked like she'd been doing something in the immediate area last time she was awake so I got her to carry on with that just while I acclimatized. We took another mission from someone with a question mark hat we happened to pass. Cassie killed some killer bees. I helped by pressing left mouse button over and over. It seemed to work. They died, She didn't.

After that we followed the marker on the map to hand in a quest she'd done earlier and between those two missions she made a full level. That seemed like an awful lot from what I remembered. I was going to pursue it further but then I remembered why I was supposed to be there: House of Legends.

The House of Legends isn't just an update title. It's a new game hub for both heroes and villains. There's some backstory about how the Monitor, one of DC's numerous god-level entities, has called all heroes and villains to "train, coordinate, and prepare for a looming multiversal threat", to which end he's thrown open his own home base in somewhere called The Bleed.

The last time I was up to date with DC continuity was somewhere around 1989. I really did know my stuff for about fifteen years but by now that's on a level with having studied Classics at university. Actually, less relevant than that. I do roughly know who the Monitor is but The Bleed is a new one on me. Visually, it appears to be one of those liminal, metaversal interstices, a space between spaces. You can see it out of the windows from the House of Legends. It's red. Well, the parts that aren't green. Maybe that's why they call it The Bleed.

The HoL itself is a vast improvement on the two previous hubs, both of which, I believe, are still available should you prefer, although you'd have to be as crazy as the Joker to go there instead of the House of Legends. The new hub is, by DCUO standards, tight, organized and manageable. You can see all of it on the map without having to scroll, there are only three main rooms and they're all on roughly the same vertical plane. You can find what you're looking for in seconds not hours. It's astounding!

All the vendors are there and they're all clearly marked. Some of them have been consolidated. For possibly the first time since the game launched over a decade ago I feel I could go shopping without losing my patience or my mind. The teleports are also clearly marked and go where you'd expect, which is a huge innovation.

At this point I should probably have started to be suspicious at the complete lack of hints, nudges or basic acknowledgments from the game that anything had changed. It's very much not like DCUO to let a new update drop without having someone you're supposed to recognize pop up and lecture you about what's changed.

That didn't happen. What did was I got unreasonably involved in collecting blue exclamation points and yellow question marks from around the halls and corridors of the House of Legends. 

DCUO has always had an extensive collection system. Just about all SOE/Daybreak games have them. It's something of a trademark. For some reason I've never really bothered much with them in DCUO but this time I happened to notice when I picked up the first blue exclamation mark that it was a collection of just five items. 

Even I ought to be able to find five collects in a smallish, enclosed area like the HoL. You'd think. And you'd be right. I could and I did. After I'd gone and looked it up on YouTube.

The yellow collection needed twelve items. There were many possible spawns with a fast respwn time but the collects were not unique. You could pick up the same ones over and over. The blue ones were in five, fixed spots and each was different. All you had to do was find all five.

By the time I finally gave up and went searching for a solution I had 11/12 yellows plus a bag full of duplicates. I'd been around and around the HoL, methodically, and I'd found 3/5 blue spawns. It turned out that one of the missing ones was way up at roof level on a support beam, impossible to spot from below. The other one was behind a machine on the floor. I should have seen that one, at least.

There are several different types of collection in DCUO these days. This one seems to be a Briefing. It comes with a nice reward. I think most of them do. I don't know when that changed. One of the reasons I never really bothered with them in the past was that they mostly filled out a lot of lore, much of which, as a DC fan, I already knew. I'll be doing more of them in future, I think. I enjoyed these and it was profitable, too.

When I got the final one I stopped to have lunch. I'd already been playing about as long as I'd budgeted for but I hadn't gotten much done. I'd seen the new hub and taken some screenshots (most of which I later lost when Paint.net crashed) but as for the other features of the update I'd done nothing.

After I'd eaten I logged back in and chose a different character. I did that because although I could look at what was on all the vendors there was literally nothing on any of them my level nine could buy. I thought my regular character, who's done a few of the events and has some of the various currencies, might have more choice.

As soon as I logged her in all those things I'd been missing appeared. There were splash screens introducing the House of Legends update and some of its features. The Monitor appeared and started lecturing me about my responsibilities as a hero. Harbinger (no idea who she is although I'm fairly sure I've met her before) kept projecting herself in front of me as a hologram to tell me about all the things I could do in the new base. Someone called Tempus Fuginaut, of whom I'm sure I never heard before (I'd remember a name as bad as that) tried to explain how the new gearing system works.

Why none of this happened for Cassie Praxis I have no idea. Well, I suppose I can guess. She's too low level I imagine. Or maybe it's a bug. Something must need fixing because there was a red warning in chat telling everyone the servers were coming down in fifteen minutes for a patch.

I ran around trying to get as much done in a quarter of an hour as I could but with about eight minutes to go I disconnected and the server kicked me back to desktop. I tried to log back in but although I was able to connect what I got next was the original launch cinematic, something I haven't seen for years.

I escaped out of that and it took me to character creation. It had to because I didn't have any characters. I'm guessing someone took the account management software offline before closing the game down. Either that or Brainiac has finally managed to kill everyone and we all have to start over from scratch.

Either way, that's me done with DCUO for today. I have this week off work so with luck I'll have time to delve a bit further into the new update and report back with something a little more meaningful. It definitely looks very promising. DCUO is getting stronger and stronger, I think. Maybe people are finally beginning to notice just how solid an mmorpg it is. Clearing away some of the more confusing legacy systems can only accelerate that process.

And let's hope so. We're going to need as many heroes (and villains) as we can get if we're going to be ready for that "looming multiversal threat."

Friday, August 27, 2021

#14 Folklore - Taylor Swift

Original release date : July 2020

At last! At number fourteen, an album everyone's heard of! Not before time, eh? 

As I mentioned in the set-up post for this series, I played Folklore several times at high volume in the car on the way back from London and had I done it before I put the list together the album would very likely have placed higher. For some reason (I'd love to be able to pretend this is an isolated incident but of course it's not) even though I've owned Folklore since Christmas, that drive was only the second time I'd played it all the way through.

That said, the first and only time I played Folklore before then I'd been stunned by how good it was. I mean, I'd expected it would be good or else I wouldn't have put it on my wishlist for someone to buy it for me but this good? I wasn't expecting that.

I wanted to hear it again but you'd be surprised how few opportunities I get to listen to music alone and loud. The reason I took it on the London trip was specifically so I could hear it at high volume with no distractions. (Okay, yes, controlling a vehicle at seventy miles an hour in heavy traffic should probably count as a distraction but you know what I mean.)

Even prepared and knowing what to expect, though, listening to Folklore again was revelatory. I was talking to Mrs Bhagpuss about it afterwards and she mentioned something I hadn't noticed for myself: listening to music loud in the car makes the lyrics pop. It really does. And Taylor's lyrics are very, very fine.

I knew that a long time ago. My first introduction to Taylor Swift was through the video for We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together, upon which I eventually deigned to click after YouTube had suggested it countless times. As usual, the YouTube algorithm knows what's best for me.

That song has a whip-smart lyric that's funny and true but it's funny and true on the level of Bowling For Soup. No small achievement in itself but not quite the same thing as being funny and true on the level of Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen, the kind of company Swift's lyrics keep nowadays.

It came out as a single in 2012, by which time Taylor had already been a singing star for more than half a decade. I have not made any great effort to acquaint myself with her back catalog, something I most definitely should do at some point. 

I did start paying attention to her new stuff, if it happened to drift in front of me, but even then it was pure chance if I noticed any particular song or performance. I liked everything I heard but kind of in the way I like everything I've heard by Avril Lavigne, not so I was going to go out and buy any of it.

I only really started to pay full attention when Reputation appeared. She was in the news a lot around then and I kept reading about her on Pitchfork and she had her first #1 UK single and I began to appreciate, belatedly, just how big a star she was. And how good.

Reputation was the first Taylor Swift album I bought. It didn't make the list and I couldn't honestly tell you why other than when I came to look at the cover I couldn't really remember what any of the songs sounded like. That's almost certainly because I'd hardly ever played it. I have a tendency to not play albums I've asked for when I get them just like I don't watch movies I own on DVD. I'm getting better at not not doing that but I still need to work on it.

Despite having barely played Folklore either, I knew right away it was going on the list, based wholly on two things: the videos for Cardigan and Willow, both of which I'd watched many times, and my visceral memory of how strongly I'd reacted to the whole album the one time I did listen to it all the way through. (That does beg the question "If so, why only once?" for which you'd have to be me to understand. Not that I understand...)

Having now listened to all of Folklore properly and with full attention and several times I can categorically say it is one of my favorite albums of the last quarter-century and I am reasonably certain that with repeated listenings it will stand a fair chance of placing in an all-time twenty-five. It's rich, weathered and a little frightening and it will age very well.

Every track is excellent but the best are sublime. The aforementioned Cardigan and Willow, of course, but also the magnificent companion pieces to Cardigan, August and Betty. The three make a tryptych to equal anything I've ever heard in narrative songwriting. I played Betty three times in a row in the car at some risk to my life because I couldn't quite believe just how good it was.

I hear that Taylor's follow-up to Folklore, Evermore, is even better. That's hard to imagine. I'll find out if it's true as soon as someone gives it to me. It's on my wishlist. Too late for Pitchfork, though. 

The thing about songwriting is, it's a craft as much as it's an art. Artists and performers have peaks and troughs but crafters tend to improve steadily with age and experience, at least until their physical faculties let them down.

It might be too early to say for sure but I suspect Taylor Swift will just keep getting better. She knows her craft. I'm just glad that now I know it, too.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

#15 Antidepressant - Lloyd Cole

Trying to choose between later Lloyd Cole albums for this list taught me something that should have been obvious: vinyl aids memory. All those albums I bought in the seventies and eighties? I can remember most of the tracks on many of them. I'd even have a passing chance at putting them in the right order.

Try and remember the tracks on a CD, though, and it's a challenge. Stuff I've mostly listened to on iPod rips or downloads? No chance at all. One obvious explanation is size. Album sleeves are big. It's easy to read the titles. The other reason, of course, is vinyl only plays one way and it's the same way, every time. That'll drive the track order into your brain like a nail.

So I had to bring up the listings online and look through them to see which tracks stood out. Fact is, I haven't always been listening to these things as albums, although mostly in the last few years I have, if I've listened to them at all. My shuffle phase ended five years or more back but only because I'd stopped listening to music on my commute and swapped in podcasts instead, often as not. Well, more often than not, really.

It means some of these albums I've voted for I haven't heard in a while and among those it's the older ones, or, I should say, the ones I bought longest ago, that suffer most from fading familiarity. Well, it would be, wouldn't it? 

One of the reasons Lloyd Cole still makes the cut with ease is that many of his songs, even some of the later ones, I don't need to revisit to hear clearly in my mind. There are tracks on his first three or four albums from the eighties and nineties I can sing large parts of almost unprompted. Rattlesnakes, 2CV, Sean Penn Blues, Why I Love Country Music, Hey, Rusty... And those aren't even the hits.

As an aside, Hey Rusty is the saddest song in the world. Don't get me started on why. This afternoon, writing this, I found out there's a band of the same name. Based on the tune alone I'd bet they took their name from hearing the song. They sound like they haven't gotten over it yet. I know I haven't.  

I think it's not unfair to say that Lloyd's ability to pin me to the canvas time after time has diminished a little over the years. For a time in the 20th century it seemed like he was writing my life but for a while there after the millennium turned he seemed tired, jaded even, when I wasn't, or not so much. He's never really picked all the way back up, though he always rallies. Doesn't matter. Beaten down is a good look on him. He works it well.

Every album has a few songs to stand with anything he's ever done. It's just that, once, everything he did stood up. Still, to have a batting average like his is something most songwriters would murder for. Not for his sales, though. Maybe actual bodily harm.

Antidepressant has some killers. The Young Idealists is one of my favorites among his later works although once again it's bleak, almost nihilistic in its abnegation of hope. Such a sweet sound for those cynical words. That deadening end, too.

Lloyd's always been about the words, of course. He's famously literary although I always thought anyone who laid out their idols and influences from screen and page quite so boldly probably wasn't altogether the academic manqué they'd like us to believe. It's a fan speaking, not a critic. I bought and read Renata Adler's Speedboat just because of the song of the same name on Rattlesnakes, though, so he's made his point.

Best of all is the closing track, the sublime Rolodex Incident. It has the most divine, floating accompaniment to one of his trademark despairing psycho-social confessions. I truly hope the man doesn't write from life.

One problem with a post founded on Lloyd's later work is that there are no more videos. The money's not there to make them now he's not a pop star or a rock star any more, I guess. There are plenty of clips of him doing the songs live in his self-adopted folk singer guise but Lloyd was never the most charismatic of live performers even with a band behind him and I don't think he, his beard and an acoustic guitar necessarily showcase the tunes to their best advantage.

Oh well. It's supposed to be my twenty-five favorite albums not the most exciting videos of the last quarter-century. Static images it will have to be.

All the better to concentrate on those words and melodies.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

That's Motivation!

It's Staying Motivated Week! Yay! 

Let's get into it, guys! Come on! Work those keys!

Geez. Enough! Can we stop, already? I'm exhausted.

How long have we been doing this, anyway? God, is it only three weeks? Feels like a lifetime. When does it stop?

Nope. Not going to cave. Buck up, breathe in, battle on!

So, how do we keep writing when the ink's all dried out in the cartridge? The nib's split, the keys are loose, the ribbon's worn all the way through. There's nothing left in the idea tank and the "why the hell did I start this in the first place" folder's flapping in the wind.

Don't look at me. I don't have any answers.

Seriously, does it look like I lack motivation? How did I get this post going? I'm glad you asked! I just sat down, flilched that calendar strip out of my picture store and started typing. Pro tip: typing stuff at random always works.

Yeah, I'm not the best person to come to about staying motivated, not when it comes to blogging. It might be a different matter if we were talking about, oh, say, what I do for a living.

Motivational Slide #1 - Rearing Horse


Probably time I brought in some help. There are people around this part of the blogosphere who have things to say about motivation and the lack of it that are worth hearing. Things like these:

"Give yourself permission to let anything go that is no longer bringing you enjoyment." - Naithin

"Writing really isn’t relaxing or fun in and of itself." - Tipa

"If you have a passion for something then motivation will come." - Wilhelm

I endorse all of those! Except for one, with which I profoundly disagree. Even though it's true. It's just not true for me.

A couple of years back, after much deliberation, I gave myself permission to start posting about things other than mmorpgs. After six or seven years of doing pretty much nothing else, it was extraordinarily liberating. 

It also took me back to what I used to do before I ever had a blog. I used to write about anything and everything that interested me, print it up, paste in some pictures, photocopy everything thirty times, collate and staple it, package it, post it and sit back and wait for a parcel to drop through my door, filled with thirty more of the same sort of thing put together by other people. 

That's an APA, an amateur press association. It's like an analog blog.

Think of the effort! How motivated must I have been to go through all of that every other month? Or more, because on occasions I was in more than one APA at once.

Were there times when I didn't want to do it? When I wasn't really feeling it? When it seemed like a duty not a pleasure? Hmm... Let me think... Nope! Well, not until the very end, when I started playing EverQuest. That put a stop to it. But then, playing EQ put a stop to pretty much everything else for a few years. That's an entirely different motivational anecdote, that is...

Motivational Slide #2 - Soaring pillar.

Is writing relaxing? Yes, it is. I guess it depends what you mean by relaxation, though. If you mean does it make you go all limp and floppy, well, I hope not. If you mean does it let your mind stop fizzing and whirring and firing off in all directions and just settle into a cool, rhythmic groove then bloody hell, yes it does!

Writing is one of the best ways I know to turn off the outside world and fall down a happy rabbit hole of words. As for fun, then if there's anything more fun than talking about yourself to a captive audience (even if it's an imaginary one) I can't immediately think what it could be.

As Tipa says, if that's not what's happening when you sit down and open up your blogging software of choice, maybe "blogging is just something to do instead of doing something fun." So, go do something fun instead.

Yes, but what is fun? Discuss. 

Okay, don't. We've been down that road a few times already. Let's just agree we'll know fun when we find it, as Wilhelm says about passion. Passion, fun, same thing, anyway, isn't it? Aren't they?

All this talk about motivation is dodging the elephant in the room. Not an easy thing to do although I suppose it depends how large the room is. And how small the elephant. Or vice versa.

If you need to go looking for motivation then you're already in trouble. But then this week isn't about "finding" motivation. It's about "keeping" it. We're assuming you had it to begin with and you haven't lost it yet. It's just beginning to slip away.

Well, maybe you should let it slide. Maybe it's time. Is motivation even one of those things you can "keep"? Isn't it something you either have or have not? Is it on a toggle or a slider?

As Wilhelm also says, "We all seem to be able to find the time to do the things we really want to do, so if blogging is feeling like a chore, perhaps it isn’t for you." And maybe it's not. If you really wanted to be writing that post you'd be writing it, wouldn't you? Just like if you really wanted to be mowing that lawn you'd be out there, mowing it.

Motivational Slide #3 - Dramatic Sunburst

The lawn probably has to be mowed. Mown. Whatever. That's arguable but let's go with it. The blog post, though? That can definitely wait. If you're not feeling it don't force it. Wait for motivation to strike. If it does, great! If not, no big deal. As Naithin says, " If it stops being fun- stop doing it and find something else!"

That, in a blog post, is my motivational speech on why motivation can neither be created nor destroyed. Either it's there or it's not. Or possibly both, if you keep your motivation locked in a box with a flask of poison and a radioactive isotope. I'm guessing no-one does that.

If you had it and you lost it wait a while, see if it turns up. If it does, whoopee! If not, there are other things to do with that time you've gained, things you might enjoy more.

And always remember, like puppies and Christmas, a blog is for life, not just for Blaugust. Only, unlike a puppy,  a blog doesn't die if you forget about it for a week or a month or a year. Unlike a puppy, you can always come back to a blog, blow the dust off and find it as good to go as ever it was.

We might be getting a dog. Did I mention that? No, didn't think so.

See? There's always something new to blog about. There's always something.

That's my motivation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021


This morning, as I was pondering my promised post on the quality of the written word in Bless Unleashed, an epiphany struck me: there's no attribution in mmorpgs! 

I post countless screenshots of gorgeous images but I never credit the artists. I quote quest text and dialog that amuses or moves me but I never mention the name of the person who wrote it. I can't. I have no idea who it might have been and no way to find out. 

The most I could do, at a push, is quote the names of all the people in the relevant departments. They do show up in the very small print for some mmorpgs, if you know where to look. (Although not always) You have to be willing to spend the time searching and even then there's never any kind of specific credit given. You can't see who drew which image or who wrote which words or even who designed which zone or which questline.

The construction of this entire paragraph is eminently naturalstic. It's how we speak.


To an extent it's an accepted limitation of the collaborative process. Movies are scrupulous about listing everyone involved in excruciating detail. They hand out awards based on the credits but even there, when more than one or two writers are involved, the detail doesn't break down to who wrote which scene, let alone which line. 

In TV it's even less clear. Some of the smartest, snappiest, most memorable dialog comes out of "the writers' room", where there might be upwards of a dozen people contributing. Unless someone comes along after and claims ownership in an interview, you'll never know who wrote that great one-liner you keep quoting.

Mmorpgs are collaborative but not in that way. Or at least I don't believe that's how it works. As far as I understand, most quests are written by individuals. There's more of a team ethic on the overall structure of main story quests or narrative arcs but the text, dialog and NPC conversations will usually be the work of specific writers (or more commonly designers), who could be, but are not, named and credited.

No-one speaks like this except bards in fantasy novels. Ricardo is a bard. And a liar and a con man. This is him putting on a show for my character's benefit. She fell for it.


It makes it awkward to praise or criticize or even simply review the "writing" in any given mmorpg. If I say I think the writing in Bless Unleashed is above-average for the genre, which I do, then I'm suggesting that applies to all of it, which it doesn't. Equally, when I say I think the writing in Elder Scrolls Online is stilted and artificial, which, again, I do, then once again I'm making a sweeping statement that condemns the better writers working on that game along with the rest.

It's really annoying. I would love to be able to tell you to keep an eye out for any quests written by Jane Doe because she's a really naturalistic writer with a great understanding of how people actually speak while advising you to skip the ones by Joe Blow because he writes dialog like he's churning out refrigerator manuals. 

But I can't. I have no idea who writes what. It's like reading a short story collection in which all the names have been cut out with scissors. At the end you know some of the stories were great and some of them sucked and a lot were somewhere in the middle but you have no way of following up the writers you liked or avoiding the ones you didn't because you don't know who the hell any of them are.

With all that in mind, about all I can say with any certainty is that someone at Round8 or Neowiz can turn out fluent, convincing, demotic speech in everyday English when required. About three-quarters of the quests fit that description. Maybe more.

Loraine is Ricardo's long-suffering girlfriend. She knows him a lot better than my character does. His fancy language doesn't work on her. Shame I met her afterwards.


Whether they're all written by the same person I have no way of knowing. I'd have to do some serious close textual analysis even to come up with an opinion on that and even then it wouldn't be much more than an educated guess. My gut feeling is that there are two or three different authorial voices at work but that could just be an indication of the quality of one person's writing as they modify their register to reflect the speech patterns and personalities of the various NPCs.

It could also be a house style. I haven't yet seen enough to tell. A lot of mmorpgs, long-running as they are, end up having a house style, either by design or by necessity. I would say with some certainty after fifteen years that EverQuest II definitely employs a very specific house style in almost all NPC dialog to the extent you'd have to imagine they use some kind of in-house style guide.

However it's come about, I find the writing in Bless Unleashed a pleasure to read because, not in spite of, the quality of the prose. This is not something I'm generally willing or able to say about imported mmorpgs, especially the free to play ones. What I'm much more likely to say is that I find them amusing, entertaining or delightful even though they sound like gibberish half the time.

Meet Meyhen. Refreshingly atypical for a weaponsmith, in looks if not in attitude.

Dragon Nest, Twin Saga, Blade and Soul and many more over the years have baffled, confused and delighted me with their fractured, broken translations. Very often I could tell the original storylines and dialogs would have been nuanced and emotionally involving in the original but those nuances and emotions had been leeched out by the inept transfer from one language to another.

Bless Unleashed offers a rare opportunity to compare and contrast, in the same game, the "just run it through Google Translate and paste it in" approach with the full, hand-crafted, pride-taken work of an actual, human translator. It's revealing. And oddly satisfying. It proves my theory or at least adds some data points towards a proof.

There's a series of quests in Bless Unleashed that might well have become one of my favorites, had the translations been done by someone who knew how to speak idiomatic English, something you might reasonably take as a requirement for the job.  They all involve an elf and a seagull. The elf appears in seemingly random locations as you level up, often confined or restrained in some way. Sometimes she's in a cage, sometimes she's tied up. 

And this is Mokoro. He seems to have wandered in from another game entirely with some context for Meyhen that may or may not be accurate. With that hat and monocle, does he look like someone who'd know?


Despite her difficult situation, she never acts like a prisoner or as though she's in any way afraid or worried. She's snippy and snarky and either knows a lot you don't or has a very tenuous grasp of reality.

She sends you off to get various items or perform various tasks and as you comply she begins to refer to you as her apprentice and to act as though there's some form of established relationship between you, even though you have no clue who she is or why she's in the odd situations you find her. Let alone why she travels with a large seagull.

The quest dialog for this entire series is horribly mangled. It doesn't even limp off the page, it crawls. None of the jokes land and quite a lot barely make sense at all. For many imported mmorpgs that would be par for the course. 

In Bless Unleashed, though, because most of the quests aren't like that, because most of the dialog spins along with a sprightly shimmer, reading as well as good genre fiction usually reads, it's possible to say with some confidence that, in the original, the elf-and-seagull questline most likely is genuinely funny. 

Brightfang, with an impeccable example of gnoll logic. Also, gnoll sentence structure.


It's easy to see how it would be. Even as it stands the strength of the characterization somehow comes through. I would love to play through the whole thing once whoever did the rest of the translations gets around to fixing it. That's going to happen, right?

All the quests that aren't like this are good. I don't necesarily mean they're good as quests. I mean they read well, the character of the questgivers are recognizeable, consitent and believable in the context of the setting and that the dialog has the ring of something someone might actually say. That is the most important part to me.

I never expect originality or inspiration from mmorpg quests. We all know the quests are there to facilitate the mechanics. It's fatuous to pretend otherwise. Quests are means to an end. The point of them is to make the process enjoyable, even fun, by adding character, context, humor and pathos to the rote action of killing ten rats or picking ten flowers.

Shabiki, on the other hand, have a full and accurate grasp of syntax. They're just not so much on grammar.


Bless Unleashed manages to present most of the NPCs as characters with a backstory and a life outside of standing on a street corner giving out xp and tokens to anyone who'll talk to them. It's never more than a sliver of life but it adds up. 

All it takes to make dialog come alive is for the person writing it down to be thinking about how it would sound if someone read it out loud, which is ironic considering Bless Unleashed has almost no voice acting. It's noticeable in some mmorpgs how voice actors say different words to the ones in the text dialog. I'm guessing that's because they balk at reading what's written. In this case they would be fine to go with the script they were given.

None of this is to say the writing in Bless Unleashed is anything special. It's not going to win any literary prizes. It's not even going to win any Game Industry prizes, or I shouldn't think so. It's not The Secret World.  

Here's Clarice, the elf I was talking about. That's her seagull, too. Squawky. I didn't take any screenshots of her talking. Just of her sitting there with her hands tied behind her back for reasons. Reasons she never explains. Reasons we're probably better off not knowing.


It is, nonetheless, better than average professional work for the genre. I personally prefer it by a wide margin to some of the more widely praised examples, particularly the aforementioned ESO, where I find most of the quests over-formal and unatural, or World of Warcraft, where quest quality seems too variable to be consistent with the game's status in the industry.

As tends to be the case, I'm more interested in the smaller side-quests than the main storyline. I like all the little vignetes that shed light on the way people live, quests to get errant children to stop playing near the undead or help would-be crafters to earn their letters of merit. I find these kinds of stories important and effective in establishing a connecton with the world.

The main story quest, though, is not at all bad by the admittedly low standards of such things. It is, to be sure, the exact same plot that at least half of all the mmorpgs I've ever played have used but it's a good iteration. I find myself suitably outraged by some of the cynical actions of the villains, appropriately taken aback by some of the plot twists. It's not Hamlet but it could be a halfway decent story arc in Xena: Warrior Princess

The plot thickens. This is where I started to think I wanted to know what was going on.


In the past I've said some fairly negative things about the mere presence of central narratives in mmorpgs. I do tend to think of them, as at best, necessay evils. That said, having a solid storyline does carry you through the game. It can at times feel a bit like being chivvied along by a particularly enthusiastic personal trainer but it does get you where you need to go.

Without the direction provided by Bless Unleashed's Campaigns I suspect I'd be a few levels lower and I'd probably end up bowing out sooner. There's some motivation in finding out what happens next. If the tale weren't told as well as it is, though, I'd likely have lost interest already. If you're going to hang your gameplay on a story hook, the moral goes, at least make it a sturdy one. 

Bless Unleashed has a number of pleasures, chief among them the way it looks, but it's a good read too. Well, most of it. If only someone would give those few, faulty translations another pass it would be up there with the best.

Not that the best stand very high in this genre but you work with what you've got.

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