Thursday, September 30, 2021

Jogging Round The Park In New World

As I was playing New World this afternoon, I wondered what I might find to write about later. It didn't seem that a lot had happened. Certainly nothing I hadn't commented on before, in my posts on the various alphas and betas these last few years. 

I'd done a lot of gathering, of course. Fought a lot of animals and undead. I'd been shopping at the Trading Post. I'd spent a lot of skill points or mastery points, whatever they call them. Both, probably.

What I'd done more of than anything, though, was jog. I'm not a great fan of jogging, in life or in games. If you're going to run, run.  I kept trying to, but none of the usual keys made me sprint and although I kept meaning to open the Settings menu and check if there was go faster key, somehow I always forgot when I got to a safe spot.

Photobombed by a Norland Nanny as I teleported.

New World does have some form of instant transport, possibly more than one. I found one location I could reliably teleport back to but only one. Other places said I could but I couldn't seem to manage it. One quest made a big, big deal of how I'd be able to teleport back at the end but I couldn't. 

None of this had anything to do with bugs or glitches, of which I've seen remarkably few. It had a lot more to do with me not paying attention because I was squirrelling. 

As others have said, there's an awful lot to do in New World. At low levels, at least, you'll never be stuck for something to fill your time. Another thing I was thinking about as the kilometers ticked by was how I'd define a "sandpark" mmorpg, which is what New World is, probably. 

Oh, hey, that looks interesting!


I decided it's when there are more organized activities provided than you can reasonably expect to finish but it really doesn't much matter which of them you do or in what order. 

  • A sandbox doesn't have much in the way of prepared entertainment at all. It relies on your imagination and your energy and if you don't have enough of either to keep yourself entertained then that's your problem.  
  • A theme park hands you a program of set pieces and asks you to follow the signs and enjoy them all in the right order and gets awkward about it if you try to jump the lines or go round the wrong way.  
  • A sandpark just shoves everything in front of you at once and says "Look at all the stuff we've got for you to do! Off you go! Have fun!" There's no right or wrong way to approach things. It's all going to be there when you get to it and you can do it in whatever order you want.

Okay, there are certain rules and barriers but the rules are vague and the barriers are low. If you want to focus on your skills or your stats or your gear you can do that. If you want to get right on with grabbing territory and having small wars you can do that. If you want to make money to buy a home you can do that.

Try not to focus on what I'm wearing. I know it's difficult but try.


That's something else I was thinking as I trotted across the map. Making some money to buy a house.

One thing that annoyed me in the last beta I was in was that there was housing in the game but I couldn't find any way to see what it looked like from the inside. Other mmorpgs have a "Tour" or "Visit" option. It seems like you'd need it for such a big purchase. Who'd want to buy a house sight unseen?

Of course there may have been an option and I just didn't see it. Very likely. Doesn't matter now. What does matter is whether you can look around your potential new home now the game is live and I'm happy to say you can.

I found out the way I'm finding out everything in New World at the moment. I was bumbling around and something came up on the screen and I clicked on it. Suddenly I could access a Housing Menu, which allowed me to visit friends (If I had any.) or enter an "Empty House." I tried it and there I was, inside.

The Show Home. They always look immaculate.


I'm happy to report that, as I'd hoped, New World's housing works much the way housing does in Black Desert Online. I think BDO has about the best mechanics I've seen for instanced housing in that you can see the outside from the inside. It removes all the problems of urban blight that arise from letting people build wherever they want. It avoids the suburbanism of instanced neighborhoods and it neatly sidesteps the issue of everyone being siloed in their own pocket housing universe.

In BDO and now as I found in New World, you can stand at the window of your instenced home and look out into the street, where you can see other players running past or using the crafting stations or standing around aimlessly. The windows in the starter home were a bit poky for a decent view but the principle's the thing. I imagine more expensive properties have a better prospect.

There's something else I liked. The price. The starter home in Windsward is only 5,000 gold. I had over a thousand gold by level ten just from quest rewards and mob drops. It makes the whole thing seem eminently affordable.

Purple and green should never be seen. Oh, look who's talking...


It also helps to give me at least the beginning of an idea on whare to focus my efforts, something I could definitely use after nine hours of running around semi-aimlessly, doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that and a lot of not very much in particular. As a short term goal I'm going to try and save up my five grand and get my foot on the housing ladder.

How you make money in New World is another question. One way would be to stop spending it, I guess. 

As usual, I quickly found myself engaged in quests well over my level but instead of stepping back and doing the things I was fit for I decided to buy my way out of my problems. I'd heard that the economy was currently favoring buyers rather than sellers so I took a look at the Trading Post and managed to buy myself a whole bunch of upgrades for only about a fifth of my liquid capital.

Recovering on the ledge, the only place adds wouldn't keep spawning on me.


I'm curious - and skeptical - about how the player-only economy is going to work long term. Are there any mmorpgs, other than EVE Online, that don't have any way whatsoever for players to make money by selling items to NPCs? It's been a staple of every game I've played for decades and I find it quite hard to imagine.

For now, though, it's working just fine. My new gear let me cruise through the roadblocks. At one point I found myself at level 11 fighting a level 16 quest mob with three level 16 adds in a confined space at the top of a tower and I killed them all. Granted I was at 2% health at the end but they were down and I was up so who cares if it was messy? A win's a win.

The downside of buying a random selection of gear off the TP is that I look like a drama student who lost a drunken bet and had to dress themselves by pulling random items from a box marked "Pantomime rejects - Do Not Use.

There's a town crier somewhere missing his shoes and a sewer-worker looking for his rubber gloves.


Seriously, just look at me! What is that pink petticoat I'm wearing supposed to be? Heavy armor, apparently. It looks like something Lucille Ball might have worn in a bedroom scene with Desi (Twin beds, three feet apart, naturally.) with one of Jean-Paul Gautier's rejected designs for Madonna's bustier slapped over the top. It's beyond hideous and believe it or not someone crafted it. No wonder they were selling it at a rock-bottom price.

When I was wearing all quest drops they were both understated and thematically appropriate. Now I look like I shouldn't be allowed out on my own. If I knew how the appearance system worked, or the dyes, maybe I could do something about it. Another goal to work on, I guess.

That picture was taken in Windsward, by the way, the place where I looked at the house, is very nice. Twee, even. So much so, there are in-game jokes about it. I might settle there. I'm mostly doing stuff for Monarch Bluffs right now, though.

You say twee, I say picturesque.


That's another thing I like about New World, the geographical delineation. Each settlement has its own politics and social structure and there's a whole progression element attached. You could focus on one and cap everything, the way people clear or finish zones and maps in other games, or you could just wander around and do stuff for everyone and let it all fill in behind you. You can guess which way I'm going.

I do like progression, it has to be said. I don't go all that much on linear narratives or on-rails levelling but equally I'm not crazy about everything flattening out so much it never seems you're getting anywhere. I think one of the reasons New World has such traction at the early stages is that there's a continual fizz and pop of numbers getting bigger and it feels exciting. 

EverQuest used to be great at that in the old days, when skills all went up with use and every level mattered and there were hundreds of factions to work on. It's something a lot of games seem to have tried to get away from in recent years, possibly to try and avoid players getting confused or overwhelmed. New World doesn't seem to care much about that.

Does anyone know if flax is addictive? I think it might be... (This gag would have been ten times funnier if I'd remembered that plant is hemp not flax.)


There are going to be guides telling you the "best" or the "quickest" route through all this, soon enough. Actually, I'm sure there are already. I haven't looked. The strength of the sandpark format, especially when it's done as well as this, is that there isn't really a wrong way to do anything. In the end you're going to want to have done it all so you may as well do some of it whenever you can. Any of it.

That's my excuse, anyway. I suppose I might come to regret not having more of a focus - wouldn't be the first time - but I doubt it. For now, though, I have no particular plans.

Well, except for my house. And some decent clothes. 

Clothes first, I think. Can't keep walking around looking like that.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

#6 Iced To Mode - Misty Dixon

According to Wikipedia, Misty Dixon was a "folktronica project" Jane Weaver was involved with for a couple of years in the very early 2000s. The band released several singles, most of which I have but not quite all, and one album, this one, Iced To Mode.

Folktronica is almost self-explanatory and it must have been popular around that time because even Madonna was doing it, supposedly. I should probably check that one out. I've always liked Madonna.

If I hadn't read Wikipedia, I'd have called what Misty Dixon were doing psychfolk, which to my way of listening is pretty much what Jane Weaver's being doing all her life. Even some of the Kill Laura stuff sounds like psychfolk to me. 

Call it what you want, it's magnificent. I liked it so much I fitted one of the tracks to some video I took and put it up on my YouTube channel. To make absolutely sure no-one would ever see it I didn't use either the band's name or the name of the song. That might have cost me anything up to half a dozen views in the first few years, given how popular Jane Weaver was until recently.

It was the first video I ever uploaded to my then brand new channel. It went up in February 2012. In nine and a half years it's amassed a staggering twelve views, making it the second-least watched of all my videos, beaten in utter lack of interest only by this year's entry on the addition of music content to the Art mmo Occupy White Walls, which I made to accompany this blog post

From all of this I conclude that making videos is possibly not the best use of my time but I enjoy doing it once in a while so I suppose I'll carry on. At least now I get the opportunity to embed it here and pretty pleased about it I'm feeling, too. It's not as though there's a plethora of Misty Dixon videos to choose from, after all.

There's not an awful lot I can tell you about Misty Dixon other than it's a tragedy that a tragedy finished their career far too, far too soon. One album was not enough. Not nearly enough. Not when they were making music like this.

What happened, according to Wikipedia, (I'd fact-check it but where?) was that Dave Tyack, who played drums and piano in the band and co-wrote two of Iced To Mode's tracks with Jane, disappeared in the summer of 2002, almost immediately after the release of Weaver's mini-album, Like An Aspen Leaf, on which he also played and which could easily have featured in this list because it's brilliant.

He'd also finished the recording of Iced To Mode, which wasn't released until the following year, at which time Tyack was still missing. His body was eventually found on Corsica, where he'd been... 

I don't know what he'd been doing. The Wikipedia entries don't say. Taking a well-earned holiday after finishing work on two superb albums, I imagine. Relaxing by going climbing or hiking through the rugged Corsican countryside. Falling to his death somewhere so remote no-one found his body for two years. 

Rock and roll, eh? Nico fell off a bicycle. You never know when it's coming, do you?


For all the album's a group project by an actual group that played gigs and suchlike, every track bar one is written by Jane Weaver except for a stunning cover of Prince's The Beautiful Ones and every track bar none sounds like no-one other than Jane. She overwhelms everyone as she should.

I kind of wish I'd put all her albums in the list now but then who would I have left out? There needs to be room for more than twenty-five albums in my top twenty five albums, that's all there is to it. 

Damn this space-time continuum and its inflexible laws of physics!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Obligatory New World Launch Day Post


I'll keep this short. I'm sure everyone who cares wants to play New World not read about it and those who don't care... well, they don't care, do they? Although, of course, there may be some of you reading this who'd just love to be playing but can't. Have you seen those queues? Maybe you'll enjoy hearing about what you could have been doing today, if you could have gotten in. Or maybe not...

I got in. I had no problems. I've been there for the starting gun at quite a few mmorpg launches and not many went as smoothly as this one. I guess being the world's leading supplier of online server capacity comes in handy at a time like this. (I didn't fact-check that, by the way but it's true. Isn't it?)

My pre-order code arrived from Amazon by email yesterday and I pre-installed the game immediately. It was very fast, took maybe twenty minutes. The footprint isn't as huge as some recent games I've downloaded. About 45gb, I think it was.

I could have jumped on the bandwagon at eight this morning if I'd been wiling to play on an EU server. That's when they opened over here. I haven't checked but I imagine you can play on whichever continent you want since there's no region-locking. 

By preference I always play on US servers, though. I think it has something to do with the spurious concept of authenticity. For games made in America, or by Americans, or for Americans, American servers seem like they must be the real ones. All the others are slightly less real, somehow.

I get good ping from the North American East Coast, anyway. It was only a five-hour wait until the doors opened there, around one in the afternoon. Keen though I was to get in, I wasn't so crazed to play I felt like spending those five hours on a character I'd drop like a hot brick when a better option appeared.

In the end I was eating lunch when the deadline arrived so I didn't log in until around 1.30pm. I was a little surprised to see we only appear to get two character slots. I haven't looked into that yet but it seems low. Maybe they're one of the things you can buy in the cash shop, something else I also haven't looked at yet, even though I notice I have a bunch of cash for it already.

I was also surprised to see that my choice, US East, was the default on the login screen. Usually if there are EU servers a game will assume I want to play on them. I wondered for a moment if some flag had been set back when I was doing the alphas or betas but then I decided it would have to remain a mystery. A very small, insignificant mystery about which no-one gives a damn, least of all me.

After region, next choice was server. As I mentioned a while back, when the names were announced, I have no plans to link up with anyone so all I really need to do is avoid the crowds and pick a name I can remember. 

I had a couple of servers in mind, Morrow and Frislandia. The former, as I said last time, reminds me of the great comic artist Gray Morrow and Frislandia makes me think of Portlandia, Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen's TV show that I've wanted to see for years but so far haven't. (Not on any UK streaming services and I can't even find a box set of the whole thing at an affordable price, only scattered seasons.)  

According to that "Where the Streamers Are" app, no-one of any significance was on either so I was hopeful but by the time I got there both of them were flagged "High". And when they say "High" they mean "High". There were more than ten thousand in the queue for Morrow and it wasn't even top of the list!

I didn't take a screenshot of Frislandia. I think it might only have been in the hundreds but I still didn't choose it. I sorted the list by queue and found some that had no-one waiting at all. A couple of those had decent names so I picked one: Zuvendis. That'll do.

Character creation seemed much the same. Still not a huge number of options. Still more than enough. I made the same character I've been making since alpha, gave her the same name and then added a surname because the first name was taken. Odd. Never known it to be taken before but I guess people were getting creative given the competition.


By the time I finished making my character the queue had begun to form but there were only fifteen people ahead of me. I was in in seconds. Smooth, too. No launch day judders or jumps.

The intro cinematic seemed unchanged from several years back. The first part of the tutorial on the beach didn't look any different, either. After that, though, I got the distinct impression things weren't entirely as they had been last time I played, back in the summer (Although, of course, I did skip the recent open beta.)

It seemed to me there was less busywork and repetition in the introductory questline. Things seemed tighter, more zippy. Better. It didn't really become apparent until I got to the first town but right from the start one thing struck me hard: they'd got some decent voice actors at last!

Here's what I said about the voice acting in July:

"When I could hear them, most of the voice acting seemed... okay. The guy on the beach, the first questgiver you meet, speaks in a peculiar, arch tone that makes him sound like he's being sarcastic even when he's not but the folks in town mostly seemed matter-of-fact even when the lines they were delivering appeared to be intentionally humorous.  I can almost hear the director murmuring "Undersell it.""

That "guy" is now a woman named Charity Douglas. She speaks with an upper-middle class English accent and articulates every line with a combination of confidence and diffidence that make her sound like the head girl at a minor public school. 


All the line readings are good. There's an evident understanding of both the text and the subtext. There's nuance and humor and personality. It's still an understated performance but this time it's understated with purpose. 

When I got to town I felt, although I can't be absolutely certain, that all the voice acting had been re-recorded. One character had a fairly outrageous French accent, which I would have thought I would have remembered. Another was notably camp and things he said about himself and which another character said about him led me to suspect, although not to be sure, there might be some backstory about gender and orientation.

I am pretty sure I'd have noticed and commented on this last time if it had been there. It makes me wonder if the voice acting we got before was placeholder stuff. That would explain the comments I made about the readings not bringing out the humor of the lines. The current version very much hits the beats dead-on.

It's hard to say whether that's why I found the whole storyline more engaging this time, but I definitely did. I also think, as I said, that the narrative flow has been improved. I seem to remember last time we had to do missions for all three factions before we got to chose one. Now you just have to chat briefly with each of the recruiters and then make a choice.


Whatever's been changed it helps a lot. Many of the small niggles I remember seem to have vanished. Also, most importantly of all, performance was vastly improved over the miserable experience I complained about back in July. I had no lag or latency at all in the three hours I played, even in town with scores of players all around me.

I did leave my graphics on the default of "Low" this time although I established last time it didn't make a lot of difference to the problems I was having then. The game looks reasonable at the lowest settings and I didn't want to jinx my PC's excellent handling of the game while I was enjoying getting my quests done without any fuss.

When the areas I'm in thin out a little and it quiets down, I'll edge the quality up a notch or two and see how things go. New World is beautiful to look at at higher settings so I'd like to see it at the best it can be on my machine. If it comes to a choice between looks and performance, though, after last time I'll sacrifice the pretty if I have to.

Even though it was very busy, there were also no problems finding the right mobs to kill or the right objects to click on. Just about every issue I can remember from the last time I played and wrote about the game seem to have been addressed and corrected. It seems the long beta process actually worked.

One thing that Amazon can't really control is the nonsense people spout in the chat channels or the things they choose to call themselves. I'm generally a supporter and user of global chat but one time I make an exception is in the heat of a big launch. It brings all the crazies to the surface.

I tried just having the sensible channels like Help or Area switched on but it was still a never-ending stream of distracting codswallop. In the end I turned them all off and carried on in conversational silence.

If only I could have switched off all the player names, too. There may be an option but I didn't find it. I didn't look all that hard, though.

I saw some shockers. Nothing super-offensive although some of them came close. It always makes me wonder what people are thinking when they enter these names at at character creation. Are they planning on playing for a few hours then deleting that character and making a real one or do they really plan on making their rep as "WiggaStoleMyBike"? (Real name. I for sure couldn't have made that up.) 


It took me about two and a half hours to get to Level 10 and I enjoyed every minute. The game feels slick and polished. I find myself keener than I thought I would be to get further than before, now my character is going to stick around. 

The plot is more interesting than I thought it would be and the whole thing has the feel of a good, single-player RPG in an mmo wrapper. The meat is probably in the territorial PvP but it looks like there are plenty of other ways to go for those who don't want to get involved with all of that.

I do still have a lingering longing for the very different game New World was in the first alpha but that's not coming back so no point dwelling on what might have been. Anyway, the game we have instead looks like it will be hugely more popular and successful than the original conception of it would ever have been. It's clear Amazon made the right decision.

It very much looks as though they've also made the first, big, Western mmorpg hit for a long, long time. Six hundred thousand concurrent players on day one tells you that much, at least.

We'll see how things go from here.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Can We Be Internet Friends?

Today is one of those days when I don't have anything in mind to write about. I worked yesterday, so I put up another of my Pitchfork 25 posts. I'm next working Wednesday (it was Thursday but I got an email this morning asking if I'd swap days, something that almost never happens.) so I'll almost certainly use another P25 post for that. 

I love doing those posts. I'm pleased with how most (not all) have turned out but I realize they're not going to interest everyone. This used to be a blog about mmorpgs, after all, and I'd like it to go on being one, most of the time. 

For that reason I don't want to throw in a music post whenever I don't have a better idea, even though it would be a really easy thing for me to do. I can get one done in half the time it takes me to do a gaming post.

Also, as far as the Pitchfork thing goes, there are only six albums left and those are going to be far from easy posts to write. Two are done and in the bank but the last four are going to be tough. Four albums about which I have a lot to say but also four albums by only two artists, both of whom I've already written about in this series and one of whom I've written about many times before, including specifically about two of the albums in question.

Those are some of the reasons I'm not racing to finish the series but mainly it's because when it's done I'm going to need to think of another. Having this sequence of predefined titles and subjects, around which I've been able to riff with genuine pleasure as and when the mood takes me, has been both satisfying and exciting. It's allowed me to indulge myself in a way that makes the blog feel fun, while also efficiently stockpiling posts, something I've never been able to do in all the many years I've been blogging. 

I definitely want to keep that going. I just have to come up with another set of hooks. Another list to work through, most likely. Maybe several, so I can mix things up a little.

Before I started thinking about all of this I was going down my blog roll clicking on new posts in the hope of finding inspiration. That's long been my fallback position on days when nothing much comes to mind. And that's where I happened on Belghast's post, titled Friendship is Weird, at Tales of the Aggronaut

Most Mondays for quite a while Bel's been posting mixtapes he's made in a series called Mixtape Mondays. His musical taste and mine by no means match but they do overlap in many places. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading his notes on how he came to make each selection. I've listened to most of them all the way through, heard some new things I liked, some old things I already knew I liked and had my mind changed about a few things I was pretty sure I knew I didn't like.

I had been wondering how long Bel could keep coming up with ideas for these mixes. About this long, it turns out. As he puts it "the well has officially run dry." Instead of a mixtape, this Monday we got one of those revealing, heartfelt posts his blog is rightly known for, a musing on the nature of friendship.

I would hate for Bel to have to feel bad to write posts like these but as a regular reader I really appreciate them when they come. He has a natural, conversational style that make his musings feel very much like chatting with a friend over a couple of drinks. And, yes, it does feel like listening to a friend, which is kind of the point Bel's making.

Over the years a lot of bloggers I follow, most of whom used to write almost entirely about games and related hobbies, have slowly moved to include more and more personal material. These days it's probably the majority, including myself. Whatever we call these relationships we have, they can only be the stronger for it.

What relationships do we have, though? That's really what Bel's looking to define, I think, and as usual the main problem is one of language. Almost everything comes down to language in the end.

The last two or three decades or so have kicked up a whole flurry of new ways to communicate, some of which really have never existed before, even as analogies, in all of human history. We find ourselves needing to articulate the nuances while still tied down by the old ways of speaking. The old words. 

It doesn't always work. I'd say it mostly doesn't work.

Until we develop new language to express the gradations and granularity of the experiences there are going to be miscommunications and misunderstandings aplenty. It's not as though some of the language we're trying to use was all that accurate or effective even when we were employing it to describe regular face-to-face relationships.


Of all the difficult words the one Bel's struggling to define is perhaps the slipperiest. Just talk to any socially active six-year old and see how many kinds of "friend" they can name. As adults we may not be able to put all our friends in strict numerical order or keep mental (or written) records of which have been demoted from or promoted to "Best" this week but we still have close friends and work friends and old friends and good friends and drinking friends (okay, drinking buddies)...

So far we don't seem to have settled on either the terminology or the definitions for friends we know solely through a screen and a keyboard. Or maybe when I say "we" I mean those of us who grew up when that wasn't the way you "made" friends. I suspect any Gen Z teens sufficiently lost in the backwaters of the web to come upon this wouldn't have much difficulty in finding the language to express concepts that would, to them, feel as natural as breathing. Or talking.

Here in this corner of the blogosphere, we all grew up with the internet. Many of us grew up on it. Still, we did so in a society that either barely knew it existed or treated it with deep suspicion. All of us have made accomodations with the technology and for many of us it now feels natural but it will never feel inevitable. We were just born too late for that.

Which is not to say there aren't precedents, nor that we shouldn't be able to parse the differences better than we sometimes do. Does no-one remember pen-friends?

When I was growing up it was relatively commonplace for people to have "pen-friends". It could be someone you met on holiday or a relative who lived far away. Someone you'd met with face-to-face but with whom you now communicated only by letter.

That was one kind. Another, probably the more common, was someone whose name you'd been given at school, where such relationships were actively promoted, or that you'd found in a classified advert in a magazine. Remember those? Classified ads, I mean, not magazines, although it won't be too long before they'll be all but forgotten too. 


All kinds of publications carried Classifieds. People did every kind of business there but also they socialized. They met like-minded individuals for all kinds of mutual purposes, many of which necessitated meeting up in person. 

Meetings like that could lead to marriage or murder. Probably not murder so very often although that's what your friends would warn you might happen when you told them you were going to meet someone you'd met through an ad. Mrs. Bhagpuss and I met that way in the very early '90s. We haven't murdered each other yet.

The Pen Friend Wanted section didn't carry those fears or expectations but it had the word right there in the name: Friend. People corresponded for years, decades, without ever meeting up in person. It was something acceptable, understood, even encouraged. To have a "pen friend" was something you could admit to, even modestly boast about, in polite society.

I had one once. It lasted about two or three letters. It was in the mid-80s when I was reading Smash Hits, where they carried lots of ads from people seeking musically-minded pen-friends. I used to glance at them and wonder who would ever reply. Then one day I found it would be me. 

I was at a loose end and I thought how very cool it would be to have a pen-friend in America so I wrote to someone in California, who clearly thought it would be cool to have a pen-friend in England, since she'd taken the trouble to advertise in an English magazine. 

We wrote a couple of long, chatty, excitable letters. I sent her a plastic guitar and some other things because she told me she collected stuff like that. She sent me something I can no longer remember. I got her name wrong on the second letter I sent her. She still replied. 


She told me she might be coming to England. We talked about meeting up. I wasn't at all sure I wanted to. I imagine she wasn't, either. It's just one of those things you say. No-one means to do it. Or perhaps they do. You never know that, either, until it happens. I have an anecdote about that from my early internet days that's relevant but I'll save it for another post.

I have no idea if my pen-pal ("Pal", "friend", what's the difference? Plenty but we don't have time for that.) ever got to England. The correspondence fizzled out before then. It was one of those friendships not much different from those I had with so many people I met at gigs or at parties, then. The eighties - such a party decade! 

Just as on the envelope, in real life I got names muddled. Just as in correspondence, I saw people once or twice or now and then before we drifted away in different directions.

Would you call those people friends? You might, when you were with them. I would have. Remembering some of them now, because there are some I can remember, I still might.

We make the word "friend" do an awful lot of work. It can be everything from the person you'd jump in front of a bullet for to someone you'd find an excuse, any excuse, not to visit even on their deathbed. They're all "friends". Why should friends we meet on the internet be any different? 

I noticed, of late - and I mean just this year, really - without actually thinking about it I've begun using the term "internet friend" in offline conversation. Talking face-to-face with people about other people I know only through blogging or similar activities, I've been finding the need for a specific term and that's the one I've decided on, apparently.

For example, when my closest friend (Also ex-girlfriend, another complex relationship we don't really have the language for yet.) asked for a book on Bigfoot for her birthday, I linked her Belghast's post on his experiences then talked about it when I handed the book over. On both occasions I described the post as being by "my internet friend". 


When I mention Bel or Wilhelm or several other bloggers who come up up in conversation quite often in our house, these days I refer to them the same way. That's a change. Until recently I would probably have said "So-and-so, whose blog I read" or even "Someone I know on the internet." 

I still use that form of words for some situations but it feels inadequate when describing people I've known in some fashion for years now, whose personalities and lives I sometimes feel I understand at least as well as I ever did many "real life" friends from the past. For me, at least, the language does seem to be evolving.

Where it's headed though, I suspect, is just deeper into the same vague cloud of muddled meanings we already have. All I'm doing is adding another qualifying adjective to the already overburdened word "friend". 

I'm not suggesting any of my internet friends are necessarily people I'd share an astonishingly huge, unfeasibly affordable Manhattan apartment with (although I'm not saying I wouldn't do that, either...) nor that I'd drop everything to rush to their aid if the call came (although, again, not saying I wouldn't...) What I am saying is that I wouldn't necessarily do those things with "real life" friends, either.

The physicality of a relationship carries weight, of course it does, but physics isn't everything. Metaphysics matters too. And you don't get much more metaphysical than friendship.

Friends are whatever you want them to be, whatever they want to be, whatever they are. Don't worry too much about where you found them or what to call them. Just be happy they're there.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

#7 Interplanetary Class Classics - The Moonlandingz

Wait, what? Number seven? Oh noes! What was I thinking!

A month later, as I come before the court to explain how this one-off, in-joke side-project from a band already somewhat difficult to take seriously came to appear in the top ten of my twenty-five favorite albums of the last quarter of a century, I find myself at a loss. I'd struggle to come up with much of an explanation for how it got into the twenty-five at all, let alone sit proud and defiant at #7.

Okay, here's one thing in its favor: unlike a disturbing number of my supposedly favorite albums of relatively recent times I can at least name some tracks off this one without having to look at the CD cover. Let's see... Strangle of Anna, I.D.S. (aka 40,000 Years of Job Club), Black Hans... 


Okay, that's three. Three more than I could come up with for either of the albums at #6 or #5 although, as will become apparent in the posts for each of them, I definitely rate both a lot higher than this one. 

I guess that's why the Moonlandingz made it in. I can remember the songs. If there's one thing you can say about the album and the semi-fictional band behind it, it's that once heard they're hard to forget. Much though you might want to try.

A little biographical information for context. The Moonlandingz was (Were? Is? Are?) a spin-off from Peckham troublemakers Fat White Family. Want to know what they're like? Here they are on the Letterman Show (!) doing "Is It Raining In Your Mouth?", one of the less-disturbing of their performances I've seen. And they all keep their clothes on, which must make it something of a collectors' item.

I think I first came across their work with the confusingly-titled I Am Mark E Smith, to which the only reasonable response would seem to be "No, you're not. You're really not". 

I have a fairly high tolerance for this kind of thing but even I can only take Fat White Family in quite small doses. The Moonlandingz, on the other hand, are more palatable and weirdly more polished, despite being even louder, weirder and dirtier (as in unwashed, although probably the other meaning, too.)

Something I didn't know until I started putting this post together is that the Moonlandingz owe their existence to a project initiated by the Eccentronic Research Council, probably best known for the magnificent Another Witch is Dead (feat. Maxine Peak). If you haven't seen that (and I know I've linked it before) do yourself a favor and click the link.

According to Wikipedia the Moonlandingz was "originally designed as a concept act for the Eccentronic Research Council's fifth album Johnny Rocket, Narcissist and Music Machine…I'm Your Biggest Fan". The line-up is a mix of people from both the FWF and ERC and it seems they all had so much fun pretending to be one band they kept at it long enough to make an album.


Which I bought. And have played a lot. Really, quite a lot. Because it's full of storming stick-in-your-head tunes with stomping great choruses that demand to be sung along with at top volume. Also they made some great videos to go with them.

Speaking of which, I haven't really felt the need to add any warnings to any of the posts in this series so far and I'm not going to start now but if you have any qualms about fried eggs, cling film or people eating and singing with their mouths full you might want to excercise caution. Oh, and Donald Trump, of course, but it's probably a bit late to start worrying about him now.

Y'know what? Writing this, listening to the songs, watching the videos again, I can see exactly why Interplanetary Class Classics is in the top ten. I take it all back. Well, some of it. The top 25, anyway. 

#7 still might be a tad high.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

It's Beta, Baby! GW2's First WvW Alliance Test Goes Down In Flames.

For once, when I woke up this morning I had something of a plan. I was going to log in to Guild Wars 2 to take a look at the first of what's set to become a series of beta tests for the proposed World vs World Alliance system.

For those who haven't been following the plot, which would be everyone in the world who doesn't play GW2 and most of those who do, the idea is to remove the "Worlds" from WvW and replace them with "Alliances". This dates back at least four years and was originally supposed to have happened in a matter of months. 

It was always a timeframe that even the most wildly optimistic among the WvW community found hard to accept. As things turned out even the most wildly pessimistic of us underestimated ArenaNet's ability to do absolutely nothing at all for years on end. 

I thought it would take at least a year, maybe two. After two years I was minded to believe it would never happen. After three I was certain.

So now it's happening. It took several changes of leadership, the re-hiring of some key personnel who'd been let go and, I wouldn't mind betting, some firm direction from somewhere outside the company but for now, at least, Alliances are very much back on.

It's a very, very complicated and ambitious program. Having read countless forum posts and threads on it over the years and having heard it discussed at length inside the game I feel confident in saying many, possibly most, active WvW players don't fully understand even the intent behind the change, much less the details of how it will actually affect them.

I'm not claiming I do, either, not least because the whole thing has been in flux forever and elements of it keep changing. Add to that the new emphasis on consultation and iteration and it's plain that whatever we end up with could be very different from what's been proposed so far.

I have no intention of attempting to explain any of it here. I possibly could but no-one who doesn't play WvW is likely to care and nor should they. If anyone reading this does find themselves burning with curiosity about how the whole thing might work, I direct them to this exhaustive official announcement from a couple of weeks ago.


The first of the scheduled beta tests was due to go live last night at reset, around midnight my time since I play on North American servers. EU reset is a few hours earlier so they were due to start first. 

Before any of that, earlier in the week we all had to select a guild as our official WvW choice so the new mechanics could sort everyone, like first years at Hogwarts, into newly-devised "Teams". Since the proposed system operates on a multi-level sliding scale of Teams/Alliances/Guilds/Players and players can be in up to five guilds and guilds can be bigger than Alliances (?!), this was always going to be interesting.

Mrs Bhagpuss and I had a brief chat about it and decided to put our characters who had the option into the now dormant but once dominant WvW guild we'd been inducted into back in the days when Yaks Bend was an actual force in the game. The other accounts we left in our personal guild of two.

I was very curious to see how this would work out. That big guild is very quiet these days. All the leaders have long stopped playing and although most of the people who were ever in the guild are still on the roster, with the option of five guilds not many choose to rep that tag. 

This morning, after I'd eaten breakfast, had a bath and done some much-needed housework, I sat down at the computer to see how things were going. Before I even went to log in I thought I'd check the website I've been using for almost as long as been playing GW2 to see how the current matches were going.

I didn't know quite what to expect. A whole bunch of new "Team" names, maybe, although that was optimistic. More likely a slew of "Red" "Green" and "Blue", the default colors for the three starting positions. Most likely of all, a broken website with a lot of gibberish, which is what happens most time ANet change anything.

What I didn't expect was the exact same set of world names as yesterday, albeit in a slightly different order. Everything looked exactly the same as it would on a regular, non-beta Saturday.

Maybe it was just the website, pulling old API data that hadn't been changed for the test. I logged in to find out. 


Everything in game was just as the tracking site said it would be. I wandered around for a minute or two, waiting to see if anything felt different. It didn't. No-one was saying much and I didn't want to be that guy who logs in and asks the same question the last twenty people asked so I did my dailies quickly and logged out again.

From there I went straight to the forums, where I found my answer. Yes, the beta test had begun on time, at EU reset. It was supposed to run for the whole week. It lasted two hours. 

Whether it was a complete, unmitigated disaster or a highly useful and successful test run depends where you stand. From what I read on the forum it seems pretty much nothing worked as intended and much didn't work at all. 

Among other things, players were sorted into different Teams from those they'd nominated, there were multiple instances of the same borderland maps running simultaneously, there were massive queues that didn't resolve properly and didn't reflect in-game populations and there were multiple display bugs that meant players couldn't even tell what was going on, right or wrong.

After a couple of hours of that ANet pulled the plug. They kicked everyone out of WvW and reset the mode back to its pre-beta state. Only EU players ever got to see what could have been. By the time NA reset rolled around our test had already been cancelled.

Opinions on the forums range from "What did you expect? It's ANet" to "What did you expect? It's beta." My feeling is much closer to the latter. You run tests to find out what doesn't work much more than what does. As Josh Davis, the WvW lead dev said in the thread

 "Obviously things didn't go the way we had intended, but it was still an incredibly valuable exercise for the team. We learned a lot, to say the least. We aspire to have our testing environments mirror the Live servers as much as possible, but there's nothing like having thousands of real players crash into a system all at once to expose issues!"

My main objection would be to the terminology. Clearly this wasn't any kind of "beta". As several commenters suggested "alpha" or even "pre-alpha" would have been more accurate. We're clearly a very long way indeed from anythihg you could justifiably call a "beta".

Ummm... where is everyone?


Other than that, I imagine it was immensely useful, if frustrating for the team behind it all. I imagine they'll have a much clearer idea now of what they did wrong and what they need to do next. How long that will take them and how successfully they'll be able to fix things is another matter entirely.

This, after all, is just a test of the most basic element of the new infrastructure, the sorting of players into teams. If that doesn't work, nothing will. On the other hand, once you've got the foundations down you can get on with building the house.

It's clear from some of the comments that there were people who expected the entire new Alliance system would be up and running in a couple of tests. ANet never said that or suggested it. It was always my expectation they'd aim to have the thing running smoothly by the time End of Dragons is ready early next year.

Whether this will set that agenda back is impossible to say. If I had to bet I'd say the thing will either be operational by EOD or we'll never see it at all. And given the big statements of commitment to WvW they've been tossing around recently I don't think they can afford for it to be never.

For now, though, it's everyone back to the worlds we know. Matchmaking goes on as before. New links, which should have happened last night on a normal cycle, will come next Friday. If anyone still cared about any of that I'm pretty sure they don't any more.

I know I don't. I do care that the double xp event is staying for the whole week, though. I'd like to be as high a rank as possible when/if the Alliance sysyem does arrive, just in case they end up incorporating that into the sorting process, somehow.

At this stage, frankly, they could do anything and no-one would raise an eyebrow.

Friday, September 24, 2021

A Rambling Post About Twitter, New World, Sable, Japanese Breakfast, Posthumanism, Digital Feeds, Steam Sales And Pre-Orders, In Which I Push Declarative Post-Titling To Its Inevitable And Unsustainable Conclusion

This morning I have a few things rattling around inside my head that wouldn't make full posts. Or perhaps I should say ought not to be allowed to make full posts. There's not much doubt I could get a couple of thousand words out of any of them if I set my mind to it but just because you can doesn't mean you should.

If I was on Twitter I could just craft several delicious micro-posts and send them winging into the twittersphere to charm and delight, because that's how Twitter works, isn't it? I am on Twitter, as it happens, but I have never tweeted. Or have I? Let's see... 

Ok, that's quite disturbing. Twitter logs me in automatically even though I haven't knowingly used the service for over ten years. Where is it holding the information that allows it to recognize me without a login or password, I wonder? I never let anything do that, not even stuff I use every day.

I have tweeted five times, all in 2010, all auto-generated from Fallen London, which at that time required Twitter to play. I literally made my Twitter account to play it and that is all I ever used it for. 

I have one follower, a good friend of mine from a long time back. I'm following him too but I have not the least clue how that would have happened. I haven't seen or spoken to him for more than fifteen years. 

Other than that, apart from Failbetter Games, makers of Fallen London, who I had to follow to make the game work, the only other person I'm following is, for some inexplicable reason, Scott Hartsman. Maybe he played Fallen London. He seems like the kind of person who might have done.

It does occasionally occur to me to start using Twitter but I also seem to have set up my Twitter profile using some variant of my real name so if that ever happens it's not going to be on that account. I do appear to be @bhagpuss, though. That would be okay, I guess.

Seem to have strayed from the point a little, don't we? Not sure why I'm including anyone else in that. Share the responsibility, share the blame, eh?

As I was saying, I have a few odds and ends to mention and it's Friday so I thought I might steal Wilhelm's "Friday Bullet Points" idea and run through this and that. Except they're going to bleed into one another a little too much for bullet points, which is a shame, because I like bullet points. And now I've rambled so much I've forgotten what most of them were, anyway. 

It'll come back to me, I'm sure. I'll go and make myself a coffee. Get my thoughts in order. I knew I should have made some notes.

Right, New World! That was one of the things I was going to talk about. I had the email opposite from Amazon this morning.

A few things occurred to me in the light of Belghast's thoughts on the imminent arrival of Amazon Games big new thing/hail mary pass/nine day wonder (delete as applicable), along with the comments of a couple of people in the thread there, an earlier post by Syp about his launch plans and an apparently unrelated post by Tipa at Chasing Dings, which I read this morning.

Firstly, I'm weirdly unexcited by, even detached from this indisputibly major launch, even though there are plenty of reasons I should be super-keen. It's by far the biggest new AAA mmorpg to come along in years. I was in the first alpha, what, three years ago now and loved it. I pre-ordered at the earliest opportunity in 2019. Even though the game has changed almost out of recognition since then, I thoroughly enjoyed the two later betas, last summer and this spring. There's no doubt I want to play New World. I'm just not very excited about it.

I think it's something similar to the Valheim situation and, looking further back, Project Gorgon. I've already expended all the energy on getting excited about these games that I have to spare. They aren't "new" games any more, even though none of them has in fact launched yet. They're games that were "new" six months, three years, five years ago but they're still acting as though they just arrived and it doesn't quite feel real, somehow.

New World is in the better position in that it never had any kind of early access or non-wipe open beta phase. It is a proper launch following a series of proper alphas and betas as we would have understood the process ten or fifteen years ago. And yet it still feels like New World has been around a longish time because that's how we've been trained to feel about these things now.

What I really want, I realized recently, is for New World to have launched, to be running, to have become just another live game, one I can dip in and out of when the fancy takes me. I don't want to invest any special emotional effort or project any particular wishes or hopes onto it. I just want it to be there.

Think we should roll on Sitara? Yeah, maybe not.
I was considering the choice of servers, all 177 of them. It's really not that many to choose from, of course. Clearly I won't be playing on the Australian or South American ones, so that takes it down to 140. I try to avoid playing on EU servers where possible, which knocks out another sixty-four and given a choice of US locations I'd always go East Coast, meaning I really only have to choose from fifty or so names. 

Still a lot. I need to look at that website Bel linked that warns where the streamers are going, then pick somewhere else. I like a low-pop server if I can find one. I quite like the sound of Frislandia but my favorite would be Morrow, which makes me think of the great Gray Morrow.

I was interested to see that Bel had cancelled his Amazon pre-order in favor of buying the game directly through Steam. I wonder if that makes a difference since Amazon are apparently going to email Steam keys as the standard means of access anyway. I guess it depends a) how much you trust Amazon to send things out promptly and b) whether you care how soon you can get online.

As to a) I have had nothing but exemplary service from Amazon for a decade and a half but also as to b) on this particular occasion I'd be fine with getting my key a few hours or even a few days late. I'm not crazy keen to begin  with and even if I was, avoiding the initial feeding frenzy would probably be in my best interests. Letting the hordes move through the first couple of starter areas and then follow along at leisure seems like a good plan.

What I'd really like would be an option to buy a physical box and wait for it to drop through my letter box next week. As I mentioned in a comment to Tipa on the post linked above, I have a DVD case for Guild Wars 2's  Heart of Thorns sitting on a shelf in the bookcase to my right, even though the expansion was only ever available in digital form.

All the case contains is a piece of paper with a code on it. I could have gotten that code added directly to my account by clicking a box online but I chose to pre-order it from Amazon just to get that empty case. I would do that for all the games I'm actively interested in if I had the choice because I like to see the cases displayed in my room so I can handle them occasionally and feel some kind of tactile, physical connection.

As far as I can remember, Heart of Thorns was the last time I was able to do any of that. I was reading the other day how Gen Z buy more vinyl than Millennials. I think the death of physical media may have been overstated. Were not posthuman quite yet. We might have to wait for the singularity before people stop feeling the need to nest.

Conversely, and flipping round to touch Twitter if only tangentially, I do appreciate the speed and range of digital communication. Time was I'd have to wait 'til Thursday to get my fix of music news. These days I get it the same day, possibly the same hour, the journalists do.


I recently subscribed to (by which I mean added to Feedly, not payed money for) two additional music sources. I was getting the feeling Pitchfork was missing stuff here and there so I added Stereogum and my teenage mentor, NME.

What I didn't realize was that the 21st century digital NME is hard into gaming, too. I am now getting more gaming news from there than most of my gaming bookmarks. It's very odd but also very welcome, not least because the news items are short, concise and gloriously free of snark. 

Since NME used to be the very fountainhead of snark and also pretension that's a big reminder to me of how the world's changed. I do like me some snark and I live for pretension but it's nice to have the facts plain, no chaser, once in a while. 

Having all three sources in my feed might be a little too much, though. Some days I can't get though them all before a whole stack more have arrived. I mostly just scan the headlines. They tell me all I want to know about most things and give me that heady, fake feeling of not being out of touch with the world. The bits that matter, anyway.

I most likely will keep all of them. Naturally a lot of the news duplicates but you can never be sure which will focus on what. Pitchfork, for example, even though they don't carry a lot of gaming news, was the first to tell me Japanese Breakfast did the full soundtrack to Sable.

I wrote about Sable a while back and I've had it in my Steam wishlist ever since. Today, the same day I got the New World pre-order warning, I also got this (on the right) from Steam.

So there's another game I'm not going to buy. I want to play it but do I want to pay  twenty pounds for the chance? Probably not. Not because I don't think it's worth that much but because I don't need a new game right this moment. Too much going on already. 

Knowing the soundtrack is by someone I'd buy an album by and also knowing what a good game (I loved the demo) makes me considerably more likely to buy it eventually. It's like buying a game and album all in one. Bargain! And an even bigger bargain when it goes on sale.

I guess I am turning into one of those people who waits for things to go on Steam sale before they buy. Is that personal growth or just my standards slipping? Hard to say. 

So far this year, though, five of my wishlisted games have become available and I haven't bought one of them. And yet I'm going through with my pre-order of New World despite my aforementioned apathy.

This is why companies do pre-orders, you know. Lock in the excitement before it fades then trust to a combination of laziness, lack of attention and an uncomfortable sense of commitment to carry those sales through to the end.

It works, too.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

#8 Some Dusty - Birdie

My favorite band of all time is Dolly Mixture. They'd not long started gigging in their hometown of Cambridge when I arrived there as a student at the tail end of the nineteen-seventies. Before the end of my first year at university the Dollies were everyone's favorite band, the one we'd go see whenever and wherever they played. 

They had friends or acquaintances in common with friends or acquaintances of ours so they'd turn up occasionally at parties we were at, sometimes even parties to which we'd been invited. I think they even played at one of them. Hard to be sure. We crashed a lot of parties, especially in my first year. It was a blur, even then.

I saw them supporting the Fall at the Corn Exchange, about as unlikely a pairing as you could imagine and one I might believe I'd dreamed if it wasn't for the retrospective magic of the internet. £1.65 on the night. £1.30 with dole card. Those were the days, eh? I saw them at Downing College and I saw them at the Locomotive, where the roof nearly came off. One of the top five live shows I've ever seen.


That was more than three years later. I think we'd all graduated by then. I'd gotten married and so had two of the crew I hung with. We'd mostly left Cambridge. I think we were back for a visit or maybe it was just before we went back to the places we used to call home.

Dolly Mixture were the gang of three. Hester on drums and Debsey on bass, Rachel with guitar... Just the cutest thing you've ever seen, in their own words.

After the band split up in the 'eighties, Rachel and Debsey formed Coming Up Roses and when that ended Debsey joined St. Etienne's touring ensemble. I'm unclear whether she was ever a full band member but she's worked with them on and off ever since.


Birdie was the 90s band she formed with another St. Etienne alumnus, Paul Kelly, also her partner in life. They recorded and released two albums, Some Dusty and Triple Echo, both of which are superb. I know Some Dusty far better, though, having owned it almost since it came out in 1999, whereas for some reason (*cough* EverQuest *cough*) I never caught up with 2001's Triple Echo until many years later.

Birdie's sound is unearthly, ethereal, drifting and sublime. I find it transformative, transporting, transcendent and impossibly beautiful. Like everything any of the Dollies ever did, in other words. When I said they were my favorite band of all time I didn't mean just the three years of stunning live shows, the astonishing double album or the scattering of singles and EPs they gave us when they worked together. I meant everything.

Everything Birdie ever recorded has the sense of a summer in decline, dust in the fields, the harvest over, sun low on the horizon, a pale, red haze in the air. It's watching a 1960s social realist movie a decade too late on a black and white TV on a weekday afternoon with the blinds drawn. It's a long, empty corridor in a silent government building in late August, shafts of light picking out the dust motes that just hang there, undisturbed.

Yeah, I'm not going to convince anyone by talking about it, am I? You had to live that life. 

Maybe just watch and listen and you'll catch a glimpse and wish you had.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide