Sunday, October 31, 2021

This Blog Is Haunted

Who wants to hear some ghostie songs?

That's songs about ghosts, not songs by ghosts.

Because ghosts can't sing. You know that, right?

Okay, okay, they're not even songs about ghosts. They're just songs with the word "ghost" in the title.

Geez! Literal, much?

Now you're sorry!

Happy Halloween!

Don't have nightmares!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

We Fall And Then We Rise - The Unlikely Return Of Fallen Earth

A few days ago I read that Little Orbit were planning on bringing back the much-missed post-apocalyptic quasi-western mmorpg, Fallen Earth. Before I'd had time to assimilate that, they'd announced it wouldn't be in months or weeks or even days. It would be now.

I always really liked Fallen Earth. I was very sad to see it go. When I heard it was coming back I was determined to make some time at least to take a look. I hadn't made any plans on how that might happen other than that I'd probably wait for it to reappear on Steam, if only to make the whole process easier on the re-installing and re-registering front.

This morning I glanced down my blog roll and saw someone was already playing it. I checked the Steam page to see if anything had change. It hadn't. The game remains in limbo there, with a "Mixed" rating and a message from Valve that reads "At the request of the publisher, Fallen Earth Free2Play is no longer available for sale on Steam..."

I checked the Gamers First website. There's a big, orange "Play Free Now" button just begging to be pressed. I pressed it and of course it asked me to register or if I had an account already I could sign in. I did have an account already and I had the details. 

They didn't work. I reset the password. I thought I'd save myself the trouble of thinking up a new one by making my new password the same as my old one. I mean, logically, the old one hadn't been recognized, so the system checking it couldn't possibly know I'd used it before, right? I mean, if it did, then it would have worked.

Of course it rejected it on the grounds I couldn't re-use my current password. Which is a Catch 22 and a paradox, isn't it? Not the first time that's happened to me, either.



I just cut four long paragraphs where I explained in excruciating detail exactly how I nearly downloaded and installed the game and precisely why in the end I didn't need to. I wrote it before lunch then I came back and re-read it and almost fell asleep. So boring. The bit about passwords is edge of the seat stuff by comparison.

Cutting to the chase, in what felt like an indecently short time after deciding to do it, I was at character creation, making a new character. I did wonder as I was logging in whether my old characters would be there but no, it's a fresh start.

I have a post in mind about character creation and choice in Fallen Earth but I'm going to let it brew for a while. I'll just say I was very happy with the results.

I was also impressed with the tutorial. I'm not absolutely sure I've never played through it before. It seemed mostly unfamiliar but there were one or two moments when I did wonder if maybe I'd gone through it for a blog post or something.

It's very different from and much better than the tutorial I remember quite clearly from the launch era, back when you not only had to buy the game but also pay a subscription, something I did for about three months.

That tutorial made the almost unforgiveable mistake of letting you spend half an hour as an extremely powerful, fully-geared, high level character before finally dumping you into the real game, stripped of all your armor, weapons, skills and levels, a hobo in rags barely fit go two rounds with a chicken. I strongly dislike tutorials that play that trick.

The current one is much better. It reminds me of the original DCUO tutorial or indeed the original Allods one. Any tutorial, really, where an urgent voice in your head tells you what to do as everything around you falls apart and explodes. I quite enjoy those.

It took me maybe twenty minutes to get through that part and then it was out into the world. Fallen Earth is a very strange game, graphically, in that it manages at one and the same time to look primitive yet still breathtaking. It looked old-fashioned even when it was new but, rather like Lord of the Rings Online, the whole thing somehow manages to give the impression of being convincing rather than  outdated, weathered and authentic rather than tired and cheap.

It is, in fact, one of my favorite games for how it looks. It has an indefinable charisma. I guess it's all down to a combination of great design and good lighting but whatever it is, it really works.

With time pressing, I finished the first couple of quests, took some screenshots and logged out. Before I left I also made a chat window with none of the global or other public channels. I'd forgotten just how appallingly awful public discourse in Fallen Earth can be.

I don't know why but it's always been that way. It got even worse when the game went Free to Play but I remember it being very bad even before that. Something about the post-apocalyptic setting seems to attract the kind of people who not only know an astonishing number of colorfully obscene expressions but are determined everyone else should learn them too.

There is a bad word filter but it doesn't work. I went to put mine on and found it already was. I can't imagine what it could be set to filter out given what it was letting through. I tried to switch it off and on again to see if that made a difference but all that happened was I got a system message telling me "You are not allowed to run commands."

I'm guessing we'll just have to put up with both the bad behavior and the bugs, both of which were always a big part of the Fallen Earth experience. Gamers First have made it clear this is an as-is experience not a bona fide relaunch. That's fine with me. I'm happy just to have the chance to ride my horse through the desert sunsets once again.

When I get a horse, that is. 

Note to self. Next job: get a horse.

Friday, October 29, 2021

It's All Just EverQuest In The End, Isn't It?

At one hundred and twenty hours in, I'm starting to feel I have some idea just what it is about New World that makes me enjoy playing it so much. It's basically EverQuest. Or maybe Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, which was EQ 2.5. No wonder I like it.

I guess you could say New World is the latest addition to the EverQuest family, although I'd stop short of calling it EverQuest 3. Or EQNext god forbid. Could have made a great clickbait title out of that. Amazed I managed to show some restraint.

No, it's more like a cousin than a sibling or a daughter but it feels as though it's very much in the same bloodline, just like Star Wars: the Old Republic and Wildstar felt like they were in the same family as World of Warcraft. Which, of course, makes them second cousins to EverQuest, too.

Let me be a little more specific about what I mean. Here are a few of the more significant things I remember about about early EQ as it was when I played in 1999-2000.

  • There was no central narrative.
  • Any story there was came from quests, few of which seemed to have much to do with each other.
  • The world was sprawling and mysterious, filled with mysteries from a deep, forgotten past.
  • Travel took time and felt dangerous.
  • Gameplay revolved around leveling your character and not much else.
  • Skills, including weapon skills, leveled on use.
  • If you wanted to buy something you had to go to where it was sold.
  • Dungeons required groups but there was no automated means of finding one.

Most of those things also existed in Vanguard and now I see them in New World. I haven't seen all that many of them in any new mmorpg I've played over the past decade. The last time I noticed something similar would have been WoW Classic, the version of WoW that really does show its EverQuest roots, and that also grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go, until an external Blizzard scandal spoiled the illusion.

All of the above relate mainly to adventuring but EverQuest also had a crafting system from the start, although in those early days it was comparatively limited. It was a click-to-make process rather than a hands-on operation although it was nerve-wracking, too, with the relatively high chance of failure and material loss.

New World's crafting shares the fire-and-forget nature of the EQ crafting stations (Although thankfully they don't eat your mats if you use the wrong one.) but it drops the anxiety-inducing risk of failure in favor of a much more welcome chance for bonuses. It also speeds everything up hugely with the machines churning out hundreds of items in a matter of seconds.

Essentially, though, it's very much the same process. You supply the right materials and the machines turn out the product. In EQ each combine gave you a chance at raising that specific craft skill by a point. In New World you get a set amount of xp per item for the craft skill it requires. It removes the random factor but otherwise it feels very similar.

Both games involve a large amount of redundancy. In EQ you needed to make countless items in order to skill up. A few you might be able to sell to other players but most you sold back to NPCs. If you were lucky you'd break even. Mostly it cost you money. Vanguard sidestepped the need to go and sell  by making most of your combines part of consignments requested by NPCs in the first place.

New World doesn't have any NPC merchants willing to buy players' old cast-offs or overproduction spillage and the only orders you can get come from the town boards, which are ultimately controlled by other players. Other than a pittance for doing your civic duty, if you want to make money you either sell to other players or you don't sell at all.

Since most of what you'll be making to raise your skills no-one will want to buy at any price, there has to be some way to dispose of it and that's salvage. You rip it up and use the pieces to make more of the same. It doesn't feel a lot different to what I did in the older games.

If adventuring and crafting remind me strongly of EverQuest, gathering reminds me of Vanguard. EverQuest, unlike its nominal successor, EQII, had no real gathering other than a smattering of ground spawns (Iron Oxide, anyone?). Almost all materials were dropped by mobs as loot or bought from NPCs. 

Vanguard was the first game I remember playing where you could chop down trees for the wood, use your sickle on plants for the fibre and smash up boulders for the stone. It was also the first game where you could skin the animals you killed, something I found almost unhealthily enjoyable. 

My raki disciple was a skinner and a leathercrafter, two disciplines I absolutely loved. I eventually levelled skinning all the way to five hundred, not once but twice on the same character. It took me weeks if not months and the reason I did it twice was because I foolishly believed you could change gathering skills to retrain in another without losing the progress you'd made in the first. You couldn't. Yes, I am still annoyed about it, thanks for asking.

As well as skinning animals you could chop up treants for wood and mine elementals for stone and metal. You can do all of that in New World. Well, sort of. There are Angry Earth bears and wolves that can be logged, at least, and I came across something that could be mined after I killed it but I can't remember what it was. I didn't have enough skill to mine it, I remember that much.

It is absolutely no surprise to me that my two highest skills in New World are currently Tracking and Skinning and Harvesting. Just as I did in Vanguard, I find it all but impossible to pass up the chance to skin a beast or harvest a plant and there are beasts and plants all around. There are also trees and boulders but somehow their utter ubiquity makes it a lot easier to keep on running rather than stopping to aim an axe or a pick at every single one. 

The cumulative effect of all of this is to make me feel very much as I did in the early days of EverQuest and Vanguard. I feel at liberty in a huge, fascinating, mysterious world with no script to follow and no agenda to meet. I find the absence of an overarching, linear narrative positively freeing, exhillarating even. All the same, I seem to be one of a very small minority actually enjoying the storytelling in New World and one of the reasons is that I don't feel I'm being pushed down into my seat by the shoulders and forced to watch someone's home movies.

I think it's very telling that the bloggers I've read who aren't enjoying New World as much as I am, some of whom gave up very quickly, others who carry on somewhat grimly, all seem to be very much more focused than I am on either the potential endgame or the lack of a story. I've addressed the latter but the former could use a gloss.

I don't like endgames in mmorpgs. Over the past decade I believe I've been lulled into a kind of acceptance of the concept, whereas in the decade before I would have vehemently rejected it. I used not just to be disinterested in endgame play as I am now, I actively reviled it. 

My feeling was that mmorpgs neither could nor should have an endgame for the simple reason that they are, by practice and custom if not by definition, never-ending. It was my contention that mmoprgs existed to be explored and experienced and that characters existed to be levelled up and then retired. 

I once counted all my characters in EverQuest, the ones I considered myself to be actively playing, and there were something like thirty or forty of them. I had as many as you were allowed to make on several servers and plenty more scattered around elsewhere. Vanguard only had one server but I had as many characters there as an account allowed.

There are two major differences between those games and New World in regard to making new characters. Firstly, New World only has one race and secondly one character can do anything in the game. In EQ and Vanguard, there were many different races and classes and you needed many  characters to try them all.

That meant, in my opinion, there was no need for an endgame. Even playing the hours I did, putting in about as much time each week as a full-time job, there was never any realistic chance I'd be able to experience what it was like to play all of the available options up to the level cap. Add to that the extreme rate at which new content, including more levels, races and classes, came into the game and the whole idea of getting to some notional end state seemed fatuous.

Over the succeeding twenty years many things have changed but perhaps the most impactful has been the pace. There are still levels and classes and races in most mmorpgs but the time it takes to get to the level cap has reduced by orders of magnitude and the number of characters required to be all the things has collapsed to a handful.

New World fails very badly on the races and classes test. You can be a human and like it or a human and lump it. There are no adventure classes at all, only weapons, and no crafting classes, only skills. What's more, one character can do the lot.

As for levelling, that, too, is comically fast by the standards of classic EverQuest or even Vanguard. The game's been out for a month and my character's already two-thirds of the way to sixty. Level forty-one in fact. 

Even so, the levels are hardly racing by. Leveling in New World is well-paced. It feels solid. Every new level comes with the sense of satisfaction that used to accompany the famous EverQuest Ding! It also seems to be slowing down somewhat. I would guess it will take me another three or four weeks to get to sixty, maybe a couple of months or more from creation to cap. 

When I hit sixty, though, what then? In the old days it would have been off to character creation and another class, another race, another round of level-up. In New World I'm imagining a plateau period of filling out all the weapon trees and all the crafting skills. That should take a while. 

The two things that could keep me playing after that are housing and territorial PvP. Both are activities I very much enjoy in other mmorpgs. Whether there's enough in either or both to hold my attention when the leveling is over and all the skill trees are full I'm not so sure. It's going to depend how much work Amazon put into developing them further, fleshing them out, smothing the rough edges, truning them into genuine endgame activities.

I have to remind myself that whether or not they do so successfully doesn't really matter. Not at all. I do not play for endgames. I'm thoroughly enjoying myself now and that's all that counts. The game doesn't need to hold my attention forever, just for as long as it takes me to do all the things that interest me.

It's dangerous to make predictions but my feeling at the moment is that New World is likely to become the first mmorpg since Guild Wars 2 to join the fairly short list headed "Mmorpgs I always play". 

That's not because it's better than a lot of other games that have come along in the last ten years. I don't think it's better than Black Desert, for example, or Elder Scrolls Online

It's because it feels more familiar than anything I've played for a long time. More comfortable. More natural. Even with action combat it feels more like Vanguard than any game has a right to feel. If they'd just add some more races and give us a reason to make more than one character I could easily see myself leveling to sixty a few times over the next couple of years.

As it is, I imagine I'll drop in and out as the mood takes me and as the game changes. It will change, of course. It's an mmorpg and it's barely begun. In time it will scarcely be recognizeable as the game we see now, another reason not to get worked up about what's not working.

But the game I see now is one that works for me and that's mostly because it reminds me of other games that have worked for me in the past. I'm sure it's not working for everyone but I can only hope it's so working for enough to keep the wheels turning.

It's been a fun ride so far. I want to see where it goes next.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

If You're Going To Have A Party, Always Have It At Someone Else's House.

Here's another reason why blogging's great. People give you ideas. As Philip Larkin said about parents, they may not mean to but they do. In this case the idea came from Kaylriene, who posted yesterday about the arcane topic of flushing the water-cooling loop on a PC.

I read the piece with horrified fascination. Just knowing there are people doing this sort of thing in their own homes is disturbing enough but the real shudder of eldritch terror comes from the suspicion that one day we'll all be doing it and we'll think it's normal.

In reaction to that Lovecraftian terror, I drafted a comment. I tried to keep it as neutral as possible. I opened with the observation that if there was one thing that might drive the mainstream acceptance of remote services like Google Stadia it would be the thought of having to spend an evening doing something like Kaylriene had just described.

As I was typing I realised I wasn't one hundred per cent certain what Google Stadia was so I thought I ought to do some fact-checking before I made a fool of myself. In the process, I read an article that also mentioned some other cloud gaming options, one of them being GeForce Now.

There was a link to that and I clicked on it to see what the difference was, which is how I found out GeForce Now has a free option and that one of the games most recently added to the platform is New World. I imagine you can see where this is going.

I'm very happy with New World. I like most everything about it. I've already played for over a hundred hours and I would play it more if it wasn't for one thing: If I do, I'm worried my PC might explode.

Okay, it's not quite as bad that but playing New World does put a huge strain on my aging and not very impressive to begin with system. I can run the game on High settings, if there's no-one else anywhere near my character but it makes all the fans rev up in a way I am not at all used to hearing and it makes me very anxious.

With the graphics on Low the game plays smoothly during the day and even at the lowest settings it looks pretty good. Pretty and good in fact. My PC, though, has a bad time of it even though the game itself runs adequately. Tabbing out causes all kinds of ructions and the hard drive goes into continual grind mode. How ironic, right?

I've taken to closing everything else while I play, even Firefox, which is CPU-hungry at the best of times but even with nothing else in play the whole machine struggles to cope. When I log out it takes the best part of five minutes to settle down. Sometimes I can't even use the mouse for a minute or two.

Even before New World I'd been looking at upgrading. Nothing else I play has the same kind of issues but doing things like changing maps in Guild Wars 2 seems to take a lot longer than it used to and I feel like I'm noticing slowdowns and general sluggishness all over the place.

My current PC is now five years old and I've added nothing to it in that time other than some extra storage. The last two machines I had got upgrades while I used them and replacements before they got to be as old as this one. Back then, though, both components and whole PCs were a lot cheaper than they are now.

For very well-known reasons, this is a bad time to upgrade or replace a gaming PC. I looked at graphics cards again recently and to get a card that's a significant improvement on the one I have would cost me around £300. That's almost three times as much as I've ever paid for a graphics card and twice what I'd be prepared to pay at the moment.

Other upgrades are more reasonable but still overpriced. What's more, there seems to be a consensus that some of these items will fall heavily in price next year and even further the year after that as the supply issues resolve themselves and producers overcompensate for the shortages.

And my PC is fine (Touches wood, crosses fingers.) It's probably the best I've ever had in terms of reliability, stability and all round not giving me problems. I don't want to change it. It plays most old things perfectly well and old things are mainly what I play.

If I want to be able to play new things too, though, I'm going to have to do something eventually. In a while, probably not a very long while either, there will be new things I want to play that won't run on my PC at all, even at the lowest settings.

Windows 11 won't, for one. I tried the benchmark yesterday and failed. A lot of people with much newer, more powerful machines than mine are finding out they can't pass that bar. Not that it matters. I can manage happily for quite a few more years on Windows 10. I imagine everyone can. Everyone except Microsoft. They have to make money somehow and selling people a new OS they didn't want is what they know. It's a warning call, all the same.

I finished my comment to Kaylriene by saying "Hmm. I think I might be talking myself into something…" and I was. I was talking myself into taking one of the cloud computing services for a test run. 

GeForce Now, unlike the others I looked at, has a low-grade free option. It's very restrictive in terms of usage. You get a one hour session and if there's demand at the time you want to use it you have to queue. Doesn't sound great as an alternative to having everything available 24/7 on your own machine.

Except it's not quite as bad as it sounds. Each session is limited to a maximum of one hour but there's no limit on how many sessions you can have in a row. What it really means is you have to log out once an hour and log back in again. If it's busy you rejoin the queue.

That's not too disruptive, even less so when you consider my queue this morning was three people and took ten seconds. Also, I already have to log out of New World not infrequently to clear various bugs Amazon haven't yet fixed, the worst being that one that prevents any quest markers from appearing on the map or the compass. It's a very different game without quest markers and not one I want to play although I'd bet there are people out there who claim they prefer it that way.

It at least seemed like it would be worth a try so first thing this morning, after I'd posted my comment, I set about registering with Nvidia GeForce and linking it to my Steam account. Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

It took me over an hour. Some of it was my fault, some of it the obtuse and unintuitive processes themselves. In retrospect I should have realised I'd need to make my account with Nvidia using the same email account I'd used for Steam. It was entirely predictable the two companies would handshake that data to cross-check which games I owned.

Yeah, I didn't think of that, though. Not until I'd registered under another of my many Gmail accounts and then found the two wouldn't talk to each other. 

I probably should also have worked out that having two registered accounts with Nvidia would confuse matters even more. I could have saved myself some time by deleting the first account before I added the second.  

It's easy to delete a GeForce account, fortunately, unlike, oh, say, one you might have made with ArenaNet to play Guild Wars or GW2. To get your name off their books you pretty much need a doctor's note and a psych assessment but all Nvidia ask is a couple of clicks.

Once I'd sorted that out there were more shenanigans trying to get the two accounts to sync. I've managed to get along perfectly well until now without any kind of Steam profile at all but Nvidia weren't having any of that. They wanted to know more about me than Valve ever did.

I made a Steam Profile but that still wasn't good enough. It won't work if you set it to Private. It has to be Public. I have no idea why Nvidia are so dead set against anonymity. It's not as though they actually check who you are, just who you say you are. I registered my first account as Frito Mosquito and they seemed fine with that.

Unfortunately, back when I made my Steam account I gave them my real name (Which, in case you were wondering, is not Frito Mosquito, although I kind of wish it was.) If you want to buy games from the store you have to, really. 

Honestly, I think my days of pretending to everyone on the internet I'm not who I am are done. Not that I plan on using my real name when I don't have to but I have to recognize that I've already had to use it so many times it probably doesn't matter any more. The feline is loose from the burlap. It was a good run but it couldn't last.

There were a couple more hitches as I failed to understand exactly what it was either Nvidia or Steam were trying to get me to do. There were several sendings and resendings of codes to different email addresses. Steam seemed surprised I was logging in from a new location even though it had just passed my data to a service whose only purpose is to let me do just that. 

Applications got opened then closed then opened again. Error messages were read, assimilated and dealt with. Finally, about an hour and a half after I'd started, I pressed the big, green Play button and New World actually started.  

Of course, Geforce Now assumed I wanted to play on EU servers but it didn't quibble when I swapped to East Coast NA and when I did, there was my character, waiting for me. I logged them in and everything worked.

Sort of. As a "new" installation on a remote machine, every setting was back to the original defaults. That must be kept client side, I guess and I was on a different one. 

Why the camera controls default to the "inverted" version is harder to explain. Once I'd stopped my character lurching around like a drunk on a highwire I went through the settings and put them all back as I like them. Then I looked around. It didn't seem much different to what I was used to.

I checked the video settings. They were all defaulted to "Low", just as they were on my machine when I got the game. I found it unlikely that Nvidia would be using hardware that feeble even for the cheapskates on the free option and I was right. I reset first to High and then to Very High (Which is as high as it goes in New World.) No problem at all.

The world looked gorgeous on Very High, if weirdly softened. It seems that at higher settings there's some kind of bloom effect or there is in Everfall, anyway. Very mellow and autumnal with mist rising from the hollows and all the trees looking blurred in the middle distance. 

It looked a lot better than usual but I wondered how it would look in screenshots. I think the ones I take at "Low" must be saved at a higher definition because they look a lot sharper and more vibrant than what I see when I'm playing. 

I couldn't figure out where the screenshot key was. There didn't seem to be one. I've been taking all mine with the Steam screenshot function but that doesn't seem to work in Geforce Now, presumably because although you access the game you own on Steam, you don't use Steam to run it. Or something.

In the end I had to use the Print Screen key and tab out to save the result in, which turned out to be an excellent test of the service. If I tried doing that while playing New World on my PC the whole thing would come to a grinding halt after the first couple of shots. I'd be lucky if the game didn't crash and I'd certainly have to close the client and let it all calm down for a few minutes before carrying on.

With the game running remotely I could tab in and out as easily as I do when playing EverQuest II. Seamlessly, repeatedly, quickly, painlessly. The disk access light that usually glows steadily red for most of a session never lit up at all. The fans were silent. My PC was as calm, cool and quiet as I've known it.

I played for fifty minutes, running around Everfall, gathering, mining, killing, crafting. I ran into town and back out again without a hitch or a stutter. It wasn't heaving with people as it would be in the evening but there were a dozen or so players in the main square and more going here and there through the cobbled streets.

There was no perceptible lag or delay the whole time I played. Every command executed instantly. All my hits landed as they should. Every mob was exactly where it displayed as being. In just under an hour I had two momentary hitches, fractions of a second, and one chest didn't open properly until I backed off and tried again.

In a normal play session of that length using my own hardware I'd see many times more delays, stutters and glitches than that, even when the game is running what I would call smoothly. More often than not it would be considerably worse. Sometimes it would be quite literally unplayable at least until I rebooted. 

The real test will come this evening, when I try and play as the server fills up. If I can move through Everfall Town between seven and ten in the evening with my graphics on High I will declare the experiment a resounding success. Even if  I have to go back down to Medium or Low, if I can play comfortably in busy areas without the game becoming a slide show and my PC making noises like a turbine engine in distress, I'll still consider it a win.

At the moment it very much looks as if I'll be using GeForce Now to play New World from now on. I'll see how it goes on the free plan but I'm already considering a subscription. £8.99 a month gets you uninterrupted six hour sessions, priority access to avoid queing and better hardware to run the games. 

I would never play for six hours at a stretch. Even back when I was playing EverQuest for 45 hours a week my individual sessions weren't that long and these days I rarely go much over two hours before taking a break. A service like that would equate to always on for me. 

As for the cost, for the price of an upgraded graphics card I could subscribe to GeForce Now for almost four years. I need to experiment a bit more to find out how reliable the service is and how comfortable it feels to use but I'm thinking I might end up subbing, at least until GPU prices drop as they're predicted to, before upgrading or even replacing my PC in a year or two.

Or maybe I won't bother. Maybe playing on someone else's servers and paying rental is the future. I mean, just think about it. I could subscribe to a service like GeForce Now for a decade for the same cost as a new mid-range gaming PC but I'd always have up-to-date hardware, better hardware in fact, and I'd never have to fix or repair any of it.

Not saying I'm going to do that but I can see the attraction. And all of that from a post about how tedious it is to maintain a coolant system!

You see why I love blogging.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Sounds And Visions - The Return Of IntPiPoMo Plus Some Bangin' Tunes.

I was wondering what I was going to throw together for today's post. It was a work day but since the beginning of August I've always been able to sidestep that by tacking up something from the Pitchfork 25 list whenever I've found myself challenged for time.

For the first couple of months I was enjoying writing those posts so much I was more than happy to double up, write one on the same day as a regular post, then stick it in the draft bank for when I needed it. Then New World came along and that made me much less keen on writing blog posts morning, afternoon and evening. 

Not only that but the higher up the list I got, the harder it became to just freestyle. I started to feel some kind of obligation to do the albums justice, which made writing the posts a lot more intense. I still haven't worked out what I'm going to do about the #1 album, Norman Fucking Rockwell, although I'm tending towards saying nothing, embedding some songs and linking to what other people have said.

It wouldn't be a problem except I'm still on an unbroken run of posts since the end of July, which is both satisfying and annoying. I was thinking about deliberately skipping a day to break the pattern but then I made an arbitrary decision to at least get to the end of October without missing one, which meant I needed something for today.

I thought I'd be able to come up with something. I always have. And I had an early start so I'd be home by five. That ought to give me enough time. If inspiration didn't strike, I had a weak back-up plan to post a music video I watched a couple of days ago that quite amused me. (I said it was weak. The plan, that is, not the song. The song's the opposite of weak. Strong. The song's strong. It's a strong song. I'll stop now.)

It was recommended to me by Sir Elton John. Not personally, which would be a story worth blogging about. You may remember that joke from a previous post, when it featured Boy George in the Sir Elton role. George (I call him George. He doesn't know, obviously. I imagine he wouldn't mind.) introduced me to Let's Eat Grandma, for which I shall always be grateful. 

Both Sir Elton and Boy George (shockingly, yet to be knighted) share my fervent belief that there's always something new to hear. "“I’ve never lost the desire to hear new music,” says Sir Elton, "I’m always on the lookout for new things". 

Me too, although some of them do sound quite a bit like old things, you'd have to say. Still, nothing wrong with that. I don't think Yard Act are going to find a place in my heart like Let's Eat Grandma have but it's a bangin' tune and a great video. Reminds me of the Fall, the Young Knives and Pulp among others although I think it's only the glasses as far as Pulp are concerned.

Still, it was always going to be a but thin, a post based around nothing more than a song I wasn't even going to give the full fanboy treatment. Which is when Chestnut stepped in to save the day. Or the post, anyway.

Yes, it's that time of year! It's back!

IntPiPoMo 2021 logo

I know I buried the lede but that should make up for it. Plus I did put it in the title.

I love IntPiPoMo, not least because it's the only blog event of the year I can guarantee to keep up with at no personal effort whatsoever. Here's how it works, just in case you can't bring the rules to mind:

You post fifty pictures on your blog during November.

And, er, that's it.

Okay, there's a tad more to it than that. Go read Chestnut's post. It explains absolutely everything from the history of the event to the exact requirements.

If you want to take part - and you very definitely should because it's hella fun and there are even prizes - you need to sign up. The link is on Chestnut's blog and it's also here

I've signed up already and I hope plenty of other bloggers will too. It's less of a commitment than Blaugust so if you found that a little challenging this year, don't let it put you off. 

I think that's about all I have to say on the subject for now. And about anything else too.

Let's have another tune and then we'll be off!

I frickin' love that song! And the video. I've been looking for an excuse to post it for months and never found one so here it is with no excuse whatsoever. Go on, tell me I already posted it. I wouldn't be surprised. I know what my memory's like.

Don't care even if I have. It's plenty good enough to post twice.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Mind That First Step. It's a Doozy!

Here's one of the great reasons to have a blog. You post about something that's giving you trouble or that you can't quite get to grips with and someone will pop up with a comment and tell you what you're doing wrong. Better yet, they'll tell you something that will start you on a journey of discovery all your own.

Tipa, who knows about a million per cent more about DCUO than I ever will, left a comment on my last post about the game, explaining how I didn't have to have blue and white hair if I didn't want to. My character, that is, not me. I wouldn't mind having blue and white hair. I mean, I'm already there as far as the "white" part goes, although I think I might be a little too old for blue.

No-one knows, let alone cares, what the player looks like, of course, but. DCUO is a superhero game so what the character looks like, that's of paramount importance. It's branding, really. Superheroes do change their signature look from time to time but they don't randomly turn up to roll call wearing any old bits of gear that happened to drop off the last supervillain they beat to a pulp. 

That kind of behavior only seems to pass without comment in fantasy mmorpgs, for some inexplicable reason. Oh. Yeah. You're right. Stats. Sorry. That does explain it, I guess. Doesn't excuse it...

Even with Tipa's tip it still took me more than a quarter of an hour of clicking on every arrow, button and tab before I finally worked out the peculiarly obtuse combination required to stop my Chroma messing up my hair. Here's the sequence. See how intuitive this sounds to you:

  • Hit Escape to access the mouse pointer.
  • Left-click the second icon on the hotbar to access the Style tab.
  • Scroll down to find Hair.
  • Left-click the pale blue arrowhead next to the main Hair icon.
  • Left-click the tiny, weird-looking icon above the two padlocks. It looks like an old-fashioned movie camera. (It isn't. It just looks like it.)
  • Left-click one of the small arrowheads next to the name of whatever Chroma you have applied.
  • If nothing seems to happen, click it again.
  • And again.
  • When the name of the Chroma turns to "None", stop clicking. 
  • Left-click Accept.
  • You're done!

Part of the problem, although only a small part, is that all the Chromas come in sets of three and the short bar on that tab only displays the first part of the name, which is generally identical for all three segments. When you click the arrow, nothing seems to happen because even though it's now displaying the next Chroma, the name stays the same. Nothing flickers or changes at all. You might as well be poking your finger at the screen for all the difference it makes.

The bigger part of the problem is that DCUO has one of the most unintuitive interfaces I've ever struggled to wrest into submission. And it's much better now than it used to be! 

Of course, as you might have guessed, by the time I'd worked out how to use the blue and white chroma while keeping my character's naturally copper quiff, I'd decided I preferred the red and gold version anyway. That one only makes her hair a bit redder than it already was, which is arguably an improvement and certainly doesn't need fine-tuning.

In her comment, Tipa also mentioned she thought she might have a character in the same League as mine. (Leagues being what DCUO calls Guilds, obviously.) At first I thought that was highly unlikely but then I began to think maybe I remembered something about it having happened so I logged in to check.

Tipa's character and mine are not in the same League for the extremely good reason that my character isn't in any League at all. I think she was, once. I believe she used to be in an all-female-character League. I think I posted about it once. I also seem to remember her getting kicked for inactivity. Or maybe the League broke up.

I had thought I'd made my own League for her to join. I tend to do that in every game that allows for one-player organizations, which for the last decade or so has been most of them. New World does. I've done it there.

And now I've done it in DCUO too. I did it just then, between the last paragraph and this one. It took about ten seconds. Remember when you had to get half a dozen other real people and they had to fill in forms in game or pay money and go speak to some NPC? I don't miss those days at all.

While I was trying to find out if I did have a League that Tipa's Yellow Lantern might be in, I logged in all my characters on two accounts. That's only five altogether so it didn't take long. Or rather it wouldn't have, had it not been for the law of unintended consequences. Or maybe it was just serendipity.

Remember all those very generous freebies I was going on about the other day? I had completely forgotten, if indeed I ever knew, that virtually all of them are per character not per account. I hadn't realised because I've been doing everything on the same character for the last couple of years and also because playing so much Guild Wars 2 has led me to treat the Account as the primary, not the character, something that used to be an anathaema to me but they wear you down, don't they?

I spent a while claiming everything on everyone and as I was doing it something occurred to me. The solution to that problem I'd been whining about. I wouldn't have to give up my nice art deco lair just to be able to take a look at my new Space Base. All my characters have a Space Base! I could just get it with one of them!

It was an epiphany. Even though I'd never seen them use it, for some reason I'd been imagining all my characters had access to the same Lair. In fact, every character gets a quest at Level 12 to claim a base of their own. 

I found out it was Level 12 when I logged in my Level 9 to do it.

Fortunately I also have a couple of boosted Level 30s so I got one of them to do it instead. The one I never play because when I made her I decided to create her as some kind of 1950s movie star vamp in the style of Marilyn Monroe or Jane Russell and now I find her too awkward to play. Didn't help that I named her Kittentastic, either.

She does look great, though. Maybe I'll give her a whirl. She's in full body armor now, which might make it easier. Full body armor with wings!

That's the thing about DCUO. Making outrageously camp and camply outrageous characters is just too easy. The main reason I play the one I do is because she's the least crazy-looking, or she was until her face melted. I don't know what's going on but just now she looks like a store-window mannequin come to life. She never used to look like that.

It took me another ten or fifteen minutes, two (terrible and completely unhelpful) YouTube videos and a Reddit thread before I could work out how to get my Space Base up and running. And bear in mind I've done it before. Intuitive it is not.

I won't do a bullet point list of how to do it although if I did it would be just as long and confusing as the last one. I will single out the weirdest part, though, which is when you have to pick a street address for your base and pay a fee for it, which varies a lot depending on where in the city you choose.

Maybe that made some kind of sense once but now that access to your base is via a teleport on the Warp Menu, which is on your Map, which you can open anywhere, having an actual door facing onto the street doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

I like it all the same. It's one of those chunky immersion things or it can be if you want that. It's been a very long time since I entered or left my base by the front door but I'm sure as eggs going to start doing it from now on.

Of course, how a doorway in a skyscraper in Metropolis opens an airlock to a base that's probably on the Moon, judging by the amazing view of the Earth through the huge viewport, is anyone's guess. Comic book logic at it's finest. Never apologize and definitely never explain.

Then again, I did pick a building on Houston Street!

Monday, October 25, 2021

Graverobbing For Fun And Profit

New World continues to eat every other mmorpg's lunch but I did manage to get some time in EverQuest II this weekend, courtesy of a couple of days at work. By the time I got home I was too tired to deal with my aging and underpowered PC struggling to cope with the demands made on it by the weekend population surge, even with graphics set to Low. I didn't log into the game at all on either Saturday or Sunday.

It was a fortuitous break. I'd been meaning to check if there was anything new in this year's Nights of the Dead festival in EQII. I realize this isn't a news site but I still feel mildly uncomfortable if I miss the oportunity to report on any significant changes in the handful of games I play regularly and thanks to New World I hadn't even made time to look at the EQII Traders write-up, let alone to log in and see for myself what was happening.

As it turns out, there's quite a lot that's new. I won't get out my soap-box or my loud-hailer and bang on yet again about how Darkpaw seem to be able to add more content with a small team than other developers manage with one ten times the size, even though I'm not alone in having noticed the discrepancy, but once again I was impressed. 

There's a gigglegibber goblin who'll cast an illusion spell on you that cycles though a selection of creepy costumes. It lasts until you click it off. I particularly liked this one.

The EQII Traders article gives full chapter and verse on all the new content so I won't rehash all of it. There's a new quest (which I have done), a new crafting book (which I have bought and used - I strongly recommend the beautiful Rubicite windows.) a new collection (which I have finished) and a number of new rewards for old quests (a couple of which I have acquired.) There are also some new things to buy on the Nights of the Dead vendor, several of which are very nice. I haven't bought those yet but I will.

The new quest is fun. It's nominally a crafting quest but it requires no actual crafting skill. You trot around Freeport (or Qeynos, if you're that way inclined) gathering burial dirt, scarecrow bats and ephemeral frights to use as ingredients to make "fright conjuration powder". 

The frights are easy to spot. They're blue wispy ghosts that swirl about in a very obvious and striking manner. The burial dirt comes from mounds of earth next to the gravestones that dot the capital cities at this time of year, the same ones you dig up with the shovel to get all the various goodies, including two of the three collections, one of those being the new one that was added this year.

You might want to draw me a picture, Zintris.


I had a bit more trouble finding the scarecrow bats, mostly because I seem to be as blind as one. A bat, that is. It took me ages to notice there are scarecrows next to many of the pumpkin patches. After I'd run past about a dozen of them I finally realized what I was missing and clicked on one, which was how I got my first bat.

The quest, when completed, gives a very nice vanity pet in the form of a set of those whirling ephemeral frights. It also allows you to use the three fright dispensers you placed around the city for the second part of the quest. Every time you do that you get either a trick or a treat. 

The first time I did it I got swarmed by bats. The second time I got five charnel caramel bars. I ate one and next thing I knew I was surrounded by a shoal of what looked like ectoplasmic eels... or something even less savory. There are several more candies with aura effects and they're non-tradeable so it's well worth stocking up while the event is on.

Is it just me or are those bats flying upside-down?


There's still time for that, I'm happy to say. Even though this post comes unhelpfully late, Nights of the Dead runs for another ten days, finishing on November 4th. Plenty of time to get everything you want.

Compared to certain other Halloween holidays in games I won't mention (*cough* Guild Wars 2 *cough*) doing all that's required to fill your bags with all that's needed is a relaxing and enjoyable experience. There's still the inevitable rng to contend with, naturally, but at least if luck doesn't go your way you can sometimes buy your way out of a lengthy grind.

I spent over an hour digging up graves in the hope of completing the new collection but there was one piece that eluded me. I know it would have shown itself eventually but I already had more grave mounds, bloody toothed skeletons, snuffed candles and patchwork baby dragons than I knew what to do with so I stopped digging and checked the broker for the elusive Unholy Chains of Fear.


The reward is a very striking and deeply horrible plushie of something called the Dream Scorcher. I assume it's a raid boss in some raid I've never done and I would certainly not want to meet it on a dark night or even in broad daylight for that matter. 

Probably fortunately, given its looks, it can't be re-sized so it shouldn't give me the heebie-jeebies every time I use the storage chest I've set it to guard. It's too small to be scared of. So I keep telling myself.

I still have a few more things I'd like to do before the event ends. I got all three of the Phantasm Witchcraft pieces from my grave-robbing exploits but they're attuneable (aka bind on equip) and also heirloom (aka account bound) so I need to get them again for my necromancer and maybe my warlock, too. That's going to take a while.  

Which is fine by me. Digging up graves goes very well with listening to the T20 world cup on the radio and it's something to do in the evenings when New World gets too laggy to be fun. 

I also need to get a few rounds of the Public Quest in, if people are still doing it. There are Familiars to be had. New ones.

All in all, another fine holiday event from the game that does them best.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Waiting For The Future, Staring At The Past.

Regular readers who pay attention (there must be some...) might well have expected the final post in the Pitchfork 25 series today. Unfortunately I haven't written it yet. I had enough trouble sidling up to Chemtrails from behind in yesterday's post. I'm not nearly ready to take on Norman Fucking Rockwell (again) quite yet.

I also have Blue Banisters on my mind. Is it going to match up to the last two? If it does it'll be a trio to stand with Bowie's Berlin trilogy or the first three Roxy Music albums, air not many get to breathe. 

You might think I'd be in a position to judge by now, what with the album having been out for a couple of days, but I'm doing everything I can neither to listen to any of the songs or read any reviews, which is a lot harder than you might think.

It's a bit like the classic episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, the one where Terry and Bob try to go a whole day without finding out the result of a football match. Here it is, if you haven't seen it, or if you have and you'd like to again. And who could blame you?


That's a reference that both dates me and geo-locates me. I'm pretty sure I've seen exactly the same plot in a U.S. sitcom, though. Can't remember which one it was or I'd have used it instead. It sounds like it ought to have been an episode of Seinfeld but I don't really like Seinfeld so I wouldn't have thought I'd know it if it was. Do feel free to tell me what it might have been in the comments. Or, better yet, what it was.

I expected reviews to crop up on the various music news channels I follow - Pitchfork, Stereogum, N.M.E -  and they have, although it's easy enough not to click through to read them. Website monetization policy dictates everything has to have some kind of clickbait heading, though, so even glancing at the feed these past couple of days has been a ride.

It seemed safe enough to take a look at Lana performing Arcadia on Colbert. That's one of the tracks I've already heard. It's been out in the wild for weeks. I guess we could have that now.

If it sets the standard we're in safe waters. But why am I trying to avoid hearing the album anyway? You may well ask.

Bad timing. Mostly that. Bloody-mindedness. Masochism. A bit of those, too.

I put it on my wishlist, which in retrospect was probably a mistake. I should just have pre-ordered it like I did Chemtrails and NFR. But no, I thought it would be nice to get it for my birthday. Which is in mid-November. So now I have to wait. Like an idiot.

Of course, I don't have to wait. I don't have to own it, let alone buy it, or have someone buy it for me, to hear it. I subscribe to the official Lana del Rey YouTube channel and every track on the album is up there, in full. 

I've been reading science fiction since I was ten years old but it never prepared me for this. I knew we were promised jetpacks. I knew we were going to be living on Mars. I knew we'd have wall-screens and the people on TV would talk back to us (Oh, wait, that happened, didn't it?). No-one told me all music would be free.


Is it though? I mean, I imagine someone makes some money from those tens of thousands of views that no doubt will soon be hundreds of thousands then millions and if someone's making money someone must be paying. Just not me. Still, you'd think the record company would want to give the actual album a head start.

Only no-one buys albums any more, do they? I think we went over that yesterday. We all just listen to songs on streaming services. And yet here they are, the albums, still popping out as though it was 1977. And getting reviewed the same way, too, as though they matter. Strange times.

Ah, 1977. The year the Clash told us there's be no more Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones, just as  some guy named Hans Fenger finally gave up his dreams of being a rock star and turned his guitar hand to teaching classic rock songs to kids in the Canadian school system instead. I could tell you the story but I'd just be cribbing from this piece on Stereogum. Go read it and come back if you have no clue what I'm on about.


I probably heard my first track from the Langley Schools Music Project on the radio back around the turn of the millennium. I think it was the Beach Boys' depressive classic In My Room. By then those recordings were already over twenty years old. Now it's the twentieth anniversary of the time someone found a copy of the original, self-released vinyl album and decided it might be of interest to someone apart from the families of the kids who played and sang on it.

I own a copy. Not of the original vinyl version obviously. That would be unbelievably weird and also cool enough that you can bet you'd have heard about it long before this. Not even of the 2001 CD. No, I have a copy on cassette that my friend Andrew kindly made for me when I asked him to.

Clearly I didn't pay for my music then, either. And clearly I had no more shame about it than I do now. Home taping killed music, by the way. It's dead. There is no music any more. Just like we all go to work in flying cars and eat three-course meals in pill form while wearing silver jumpsuits with a big zip up the back.

There's a TV documentary about the whole affair that I haven't seen. Or hadn't, until now. It's on YouTube. I have it on in the background as I write this. You can watch it, too, if you want. Here's the first part.


There was a radio documentary about it on the BBC, as well. I heard that when it was broadcast. All of it. You can too, if you want, assuming the BBC allows you to, where you are. I know they don't always. In case they do, here it is.

I hadn't thought about the Langley Schools Music Project in a decade. I haven't listened to it in at least that long. Like all such things it lives mostly in my memory, for what that's worth.

Listening to some of it today, I think it stands up. Not every track. Honestly, I always found it a bit much to listen to as an album, end to end. Since I only had it on a C60, though, I didn't have an awful lot of choice.

If it had been discovered today, I wonder if anyone would bother playing it that way, start to finish? Who'd have the patience?

And maybe it would always have been better, a song here, a song there, an off-kilter chorus drifting in, out of place on some curated playlist, ghosting like a radio station from another dimension, some place people listen to music like that because that's what music sounds like, there.

It's the past, filtered through that past's past, filtered through the past of that past's past. It's a future that never happened even though it already has. Don't cross the streams. 

Or do. 

Probably do.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

#2 Chemtrails Over The Country Club - Lana Del Rey

I've written about this one before. More than once. Although now I revisit those posts none of them seem to be just about the album or even just about the artist. Mostly they seem to be about me, being clever. Here we go, again.

Looking back at old music posts on this blog I worry how many grey slates there are. "This video is unavailable." All of them say that, the grey ones. It makes the world feel fragile. You can't count on anything to stay.

Maybe that's why vinyl's making a comeback. I don't count that a good thing, by the way. I'd hate to be mistaken there. 

I was so happy when vinyl went away. I never liked it. I had to have it but I never liked it. 

Downstairs from where I sit typing this I have over a thousand vinyl albums. Almost as many vinyl singles, although no-one ever says "vinyl singles", do they? It's assumed.

It might be more. It's been a while since I counted. (Yes, I did, in fact, count them all. More than once.) It must be ten years at least since I last played any of them. More like twenty, probably.

 I dearly hoped I'd never play any of them ever again. I could have. I could, still. We have the means even now.

There used to be three full sound systems in this house, all with decks. And I mean after the kids moved out. I guess when they were all here there must have been six. Everyone had to have their own. Some of us had two.

Last year during lockdown I got rid of one of them. Still have one left. Now I'm almost wishing I hadn't. Got rid of the other, I mean. Who knows? I might need it. There's security in redundancy.

Only this week I nearly looked at some old records in a shop. Vinyl records. There have been weak moments when I've even considered buying something new. New vinyl exists. Once you know that it's hard to unknow it.

Do you know, there are some new records, records by young people, that only exist on vinyl? It's wrong but it's true. I wish I could tell you I'd made it up but I haven't. Young people like vinyl. Some of them, anyway. Don't you love it when we generalize? Saying it makes it true, you know.

Old people, do you know what old people like? CDs. Compact Discs that were going to be the shiny, indestructable future when I was just out of college. Up until then it was all vinyl vinyl vinyl but once I got my hands on those fragments of the future I was done with all that. 

No-one likes CDs. It's common knowledge. Everyone says so. Of all the formats they're the one no-one cares about. Okay, mini-disc, although I knew someone who was wild for it, once. Then, I knew someone who wouldn't listen to anything but 8-track casette. He had a player put in his car specially. There's always someone.

I like CDs, still. Of the twenty-five albums on this list I own twenty-four of them on CD. It would be twenty-five if the Papertiger Sound were more popular. Or at all. Of course, I don't listen to any of them. Only in the car and then only rarely. Even in the car I mostly either listen to podcasts if I'm on my own or talk if I'm with someone.

I listen to music in my head like everyone else. The sound of music coming out of a big speaker is like the bellowing of dinosaurs. I miss it a lot. Not the dinosaurs although that was implied.

Sometimes I will play an album through the speakers on this PC I'm sitting at. They aren't bad for small speakers. The sound isn't bad for computer sound. It's different, though. I think it might be less although it's been so long I can't remember. It has to be less, doesn't it, or why would they make them bigger? Maybe that's not how it works. I'm no engineer.

It occured to me the other day to put a record on and play it out loud. I didn't, though. We have neighbors. Did I ever think of that, then? Not really. I wonder why I do now. If I had, would it have been a CD? I don't imagine so. I imagine it would have been that vinyl. 

That, again. I don't like it but it's inevitable.

The CDs are insurance, really. Nothing more than that. I have the files backed up in various places but I remember those videos. Greyed and gone. There are some things you never want to lose.

This album is one of those things. Chemtrails Over the Country Club with its mildly controversial cover and its classical monochrome style and its hard, plastic case with the sharp corners that can cut. I have every hope it will stay with me always. Always be there, when I want to hear it. When I need it.

I will always want it.

I will always need it.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide