Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Can You Keep A Secret? Doesn't Look Like Funcom Can.

You know that feeling, when when someone tells you there's something you can't do and even though you didn't want to do it, weren't even thinking of doing it, now you know you can't do it, you really want to? Yeah, I bet you do. Well, I had it today, when I read this news item at MassivelyOP.

It's a long time since I last thought about logging into Secret World Legends. No, actually, that's not entirely true. I thought about it yesterday, funnily enough, although not because I wanted to play. 

It was while I was running through Great Cleave in New World, looking at the dirty snow and wondering if it was the most convincing winterscape I'd seen in an mmorpg. I've always been something of an afficionado of imaginary snow. One of the first articles I ever wrote for a comics fanzine was called "Good Snow Art". 

There generally isn't all that much "good snow art" in mmorpgs. Rift wasn't too bad, particularly when it came to blizzard conditions and whiteouts, but even there everything was absolutely pristine, as it is in most games. 

Snow zones tend to share a certain unreality with lava zones. Make everything the same color and then add some glare so it hurts to look at, that seems to be the general principle. Even the Guild Wars 2 art department, otherwise exemplary, seems to throw up its hands at the thought of grading fifty shades of white. 

New World has some very odd ideas about representing weather but the art team has done a pretty good job with snow. The covering in Great Cleave is scrappy, trodden down with the dirt showing through along the tracks and not too much lying on the exposed rocks. It feels cold and bleak and wintry without the slightest hint of wonderland.

It's good but it's not as good as the snow zones in Secret World, Carpathian Fangs especially. At least, I don't think it is. It's been a while since I was there. Maybe I'm remembering it as better (or more realistic) than it was.

So, yes, I was thinking about logging into SWL just to go check. Probably wouldn't have done anything about it. Even if I'd wanted to do a post comparing the two, I could just have flicked through the hundreds of screenshots I've already taken there. No need to go to the trouble of patching up, logging in, finding the right portal in The Agartha and running halfway across the map to get a photo.

And I doubt I'd have done the post, anyway. I've posted about my feelings for snow before. I don't have anything new to say (Although when has that ever stopped me?)

It's likely nothing would have come of it, if it hadn't been for that news item, telling me I couldn't log in so I shouldn't bother trying. I tried to ignore it all day but by teatime I couldn't resist checking to see if the issue had been fixed. 

According to the update at MOP, Funcom was "looking into it". At least that suggested it wasn't intentional. They hadn't just shut the game down and hoped no-one would notice. 

I found my login details and clicked on the icon on my desktop. The patcher went through its usual four-stage routine, downloaded a few files, then handed me on to the authentication server and thence to the login server... and that was as far as I got. 

I could have left it at that. I'm sure Funcom will get things sorted eventually. They'll give us some notice before they sunset the game. They're that professional, at least.

In a way, it might be for the best if they did close the servers and call it a day. I would lay good odds that The Secret World and/or Secret World Legends would be back in emulated form in short order and I'd also bet that whoever set that up would do a better job of curating the IP than Funcom have.

For now, though, Secret World Legends is still there, even if no-one can log in. And so is the original game. I'd forgotten about that but the MOP article confirms "the original Secret World server is still up and operating", unaffected by whatever's troubling the newer version of the game.

I'm sure everyone can guess what's coming next...


It really wasn't that difficult. I found this post on the forums which explains the process in five very straightforward steps. I added a sixth, almost certainly unecessary, step of my own by copying the entire SWL directory and making my changes there. It was 50GB so I wouldn't recommend it. I'll be deleting mine when I'm done.

Once I'd gotten the config file sorted all there was to do was run the patcher again. There was a gig and a half of data to download, which went very slowly. I wrote most of this post while I was waiting. Other than that, the whole process was perfectly smooth.

It's been many years since I last saw my TSW character. I tried to remake her as closely as possible in SWL but I can see now that I didn't come all that close. My SWL character's something of a show-off. The original's more introverted, less flashy, a little bleak.

The other character on the account, who I remember making but not playing, seems to have suffered some kind of identitiy crisis in the long lay-off. Whoever they were, all that remains is a string of numbers and a blank space.

Once in game I spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with the settings, trying to get the controls to work. Unfortunately, the Nvidia GeForce Experience overlay, which I didn't ask for and can't seem to switch off, overwrites TSW's native controls. That's why the screenshots in this post aren't very good. 

It also took me the best part of half an hour to find the right portal in the Agartha to get to Carpathian Fangs so I could get a few pictures of snow. When I got there, winter seemed nowhere near as well-rendered as I remembered but there were a lot of werewolves wandering around so I was a little on edge. I may not have been appreciating the finer details.

All in all it was an interesting little expedition. It was very nice to reacquaint myself with my original character but somewhat to my surprise what that did was demonstrate that, emotionally, I've moved on. She didn't feel like my "real" character. I could sense an absence. She didn't seem to be quite there in the way my SWL character is.

That might all change if I were to play her regularly but there's precious little chance of that. It's good to know that I can drop in for a visit if I feel the urge, all the same. 

And who knows? One day it may be the only Secret World game left. I wonder which has the more players these days? There were several people in the Agartha as I was bumbling around and there was some activity in general chat. I'd log into SWL to compare but, oh, wait, that's right! I can't.

Let's hope Funcom get that fixed and soon.

Monday, November 29, 2021

He's Not A Bad Dog. He's Just Drawn That Way.

Anyone remember Dogs in Space, the 1986 Australian movie directed by Richard Lowenstein, known, according to his IMDB entry, for "He Died with a Felafel in His Hand". Really, guys? You're sure that's what he was known for? 

It starred Michael Hutchence, known about equally for being the lead singer of INXS and the lover of Paula Yates, aka "Bob Geldof's Wife" or "Her off The Tube". Ah, the eighties, eh?

Yes, well, there's no reason why you should, really. It wasn't a very successful move into acting for Hutchence. Again, as IMDB puts it, "Michael attempted a film career, but his first film Dogs in Space (1986) earned an 'R' rating, completely alienating it from teenagers, its intended audience."

I saw it around the time it was released. I can't honestly remember now whether I saw it at the cinema or only at home on VHS. I know I had the tape at one time. I remember watching it although I can't remember an awful lot about the film itself, mostly one long party scene in a squat/student house with a lot of drinking, drug-taking and some moderately good music on the soundtrack.

Back in the eighties and nineties I was keen on films like that. They don't seem quite so endearing now. I strongly suspect that to fully enjoy watching such scenes of debauchery and nihilistic, self-destructive hedonism you have to be either drunk or drugged yourself. Or both. All kinds of trigger warnings on the clip, by the way.

So, why am I mentioning it now? Funny you should ask.

I was idly browsing through the "New to Netflix" section a while ago when I happened on something called, you guessed it, Dogs in Space. I immediately thought of the movie and then, a microsecond later, of the Muppets' Star Trek parody, Pigs in Space. (Pigs.... In.... Spaaaace!!") I imagine that's what the show's creators were thinking of, too. I hope so, anyway.

Of the two, Netflix' Dogs in Space is far closer to the Muppets than Michael Hutchence and his degenerate pals. It's an animated show (I'm guessing we don't call them "cartoons" any more?) featuring a bunch of dogs in a spaceship. Literal, much?

Seeing it there made me curious. When did animation become such a major part of mainstream television? It's always made up a huge proportion of children's programming, of course, but when I was growing up, animated shows for adults, or even ones suitable for collective family viewing (Remember that?) were rare. 

"Wait 'til Your Father Gets Home" is the first one I remember being touted as something new, a primetime cartoon specifically aimed at an adult audience (As opposed to, say, The Flintstones, which was fun for all the family but in a somewhat "Let's indulge the kids and watch what they're watching" kind of way.) It was the only US animated show to run in the evenings that got more than one series until The Simpsons arrived in 1989. WTYFGH ended in 1974 so it took a quarter of a century for the concept to catch on.

After Matt Groening kicked them down, I guess the doors were open for good. I begged off television from about 1998 until five years ago so I missed the whole sea change, when TV overtook movies as the new, serious medium for the visual arts. 

When I backed away there were already plenty of animated shows that seemed to be intended for what we now euphemistically call "young adults" - Ren and Stimpy comes immediately to mind, not to mention Beavis and Butthead - but they and the few more genuinely adult-oriented shows, like the downbeat, depressive King of the Hill, were firmly on the margins, tucked away in niche time slots or minority channels. Now, they're everywhere, at least on Netflix. On broadcast TV? I don't know! Who watches that?

Even as I type I'm aware I'm skipping over the anime deluge, which is like reviewing Jaws without mentioning the shark. I'm very much not qualified even to speculate on anime or how it fits in to any narrative after about 1990. I was there for what must presumably have been the opening of the non-specialist market to the concept of Japanese animation but I bowed out, without much grace, just about as soon as I could make my excuses.


I remember seeing Akira on its UK television debut, when a very big fuss was made of it. I also remember not being very impressed. It was alright but I coudn't see what the fuss was all about. 

At that time I would have counted myself a low-key animation fan. I watched cartoons and animated movies, I read books about animators and animation studios and I even wrote an article or two about the topic in comics fanzines once in a while. 

I was in that happy position of being the ignorant expert in a group of genuine ignoramuses (Ignorami?) when it came to animation. Comics fans, as parochial and elitist as most self-appointed keeprs of a flame, tended to look askance at any lesser artforms that threatened to impinge on their self-appointed preserve. You could look like you knew a lot just by dropping a few names. They didn't even have to be the right ones so long as you did it with sufficient confidence. A bit like here, really.

Anime put a stop to all that. I'm still not entirely sure why although I suspect it has something to do with the kind of visuals TV cartoons don't usually allow. Whatever the reason, a subset of my comic-reading contemporaries seemed keen on adopting an attitude to anime that was very different to their interest (or lack thereof) in classic Hanna Barbera cartoons. Almost without exception, the most vocal and enthusiastic among them were the very people I usually did all I could to avoid having to talk to at any length at conventions or marts. I quickly developed the impression that whatever this new variant was, it wasn't for me.

And it still isn't, even though I've long since lost that particular set of prejudices, along with any contact with the people from whom I acquired them. My new problem is, I think, that I'm just too old. Or possibly too English.

I can't follow anime-style narrative very well. It jumps about too much and seems to assume you can fill in the blanks. I used to have the same issues with live-action movies that used those super-fast jump-cuts that were all the rage in the twenty-oughts. Fortunately that fad seems to have passed for live action but it feels like it's going strong in the small amount of anime I've watched. Of course, those may be a decade old...

Age, origin and genre don't seem to figure much in Netflix's suggestion algorithm, which certainly doesn't make much of a differentiation between animation styles. It doesn't even really seem to care whether the actors in the shows and movies it suggests have two dimensions or three. There is one strand that's all animation but animated shows and films pop up everwhere. Reading the descriptions rarely tells me anything I can get a grip on. If I'm interested, the only way to find out if there's really anything there is to watch an episode.

So far I've tried F is for Family, Kid Cosmic, Disenchantment, Bojack Horseman, Tear Along the Dotted Line, Trollhunters/Wizards/3Below (Tales form Arcadia), BNA, Dogs in Space, X-Men (Japanese edition) and, of course, Bojack Horseman


I didn't do any of them any favors by watching Bojack first. That was a bit like getting into alt rock by listening to the first four Velvet Underground albums. If anyone knows another animated show that's even twenty-five per cent as strong as Bojack Horseman, please don't keep it to yourself.

Next best on that list, without any doubt, would be Disenchantment. I like it so much, for my birthday I asked for three different t-shirts featuring various characters and got them all. Now I just have to wait for next summer before people can see me wearing any of them, which is, of course, why I wanted them in the first place. Apparently I've learned nothing in the way of sophistication or self-control since I was fifteen. However much I like the show, however, it doesn't seem to be enough for me to get the name right. I keep calling it Disenchanted, which I actually think would be a better title. The writing is subtle, the characters convincing, the stories compelling and the animation supple. Looking forward very much to the next season.

Very close behind Disenchantment comes the Tales from Arcadia trilogy. Created for Netflix by Guillermo del Toro and produced by him, too, it's predictably well-written, coherent and smart with gorgeous CGI work. It's also solidly in the tradition of children's animation, which has a much higher quality threshold, so in effect it's even better than I'm making it sound. Top notch primetime tween/teen TV and plenty for adults to enjoy, too.

After that things get patchier. The first season of Kid Cosmic was highly enjoyable, not least the music parodies over the credits, but the second was a disappointment. It wasn't bad but it had a strong "We didn't really expect to get a second season and now we have no idea what to do with the characters" vibe about it. Might pick up in the third, if there is one, once the writers have gotten used to the idea they have to keep going. The animation is the highlight here: good enough in itself to make the show worth watching. Very much an homage to the classic 1950s/60s look with enough contemporary zazz to make it much more than a retro wannabe.

F is for Family is disorienting. It's like a twisted reboot of Wait 'til Your Father Gets Home, set in a peculiarly dour vision of the 1970s with a lot of edgy swearing to no obvious purpose. The animation is of a kind with the tone; flat, deflated, tired, albeit knowingly so. There are five seasons of it, the final one of which is either just about to end or has just ended. I've only watched a few episodes of the first season. I found it hard going, not because it isn't good but because it isn't fun. It's bleak and draining. It might be worth pursuing but I'd need to be in the mood.

Tear Along the Dotted Line is very odd. It's an Italian production that appears to have been dubbed into English by one person, who doesn't do voices. It's a very odd conceit. It works because, structurally, the entire narrative is subjective, seen from the point of view of the protagonist. He literally says, in the first episode, he can't remember what his quasi-girlfriend Alice sounds like so her voice is him, talking like a robot through some kind of vocoder. His female friend, Sarah, he just voices as himself and for his other pal, Secco, he puts on a Welsh accent even as he explains he can't do accents.  Once again, it's very sweary and extremely downbeat but somehow that doesn't detract from a certain joyous exuberance. It's also occasionally very funny. The animation is way more "European" than anything else on this list, if you know what I mean. It has a kind of roundedness and a lot of grubby edges. It's also very political in a particularly Italian way. Overall, effective and engaging if a little unsettling.

BNA stands for... erm... hang on, I had it a moment ago... Brand New Animal! That's it! It's the only genuine anime series on my watchlist, having originated on Japanese TV before Netflix hoovered it up. It exemplifies my difficulties with the form. I really liked the first three episodes, even though they went very fast and darted about all over the place. The animation is full of attack and pace in the action scenes but comfortably relaxed in the conversational pieces. There are some lovely, subtle touches. 


Even though it's not as confusing or exhausting as it might be, I still have trouble following the plot. There was such a radical shift of tone in episode four I actually paused the stream and checked I hadn't somehow skipped a whole season. Then the entire premise of the show gets thrown under a bus and never referred to again and all the characters have complete personality changes. Disorienting barely scratches the surface. Even so, I will persevere. I really like the main character and the story, even when it makes absolutely no sense, keeps things rolling.

X-Men (That appears to be all the title it's getting.) is also a Japanese production, with the team flying to Japan in the first episode to investigate a clutch of mutant abductions. That's mutants being kidnapped not mutants doing the kidnapping, in case I didn't make it clear. Given it's an X-Men show I guess it could go either way. The animation is average to really horrible, looking like someone tried to do Todd McFarlane on the cheap. Or Rob Liefeld, even. That bad. The story, dialog and voice acting is okay, though, and it's the X-Men so you know what you're getting. Once an X-Fan, always an X-Fan, sad to say.


And that brings us back to where we began with Dogs in Space. DiS is an absolute joy. The pace is gentle and slow (Rather like the leader of the team, the hapless and unhappily-named Garbage.) All the dogs are both characterful and likeable with some great ensemble dynamics, very much like you'd get in a well-cast, well-developed live action sitcom. You definitely don't need to be a dog-lover to appreciate the dog jokes but I'd guess dog-lovers would dog-love it even more. The animation is tidy and functional, never spectacular or flashy. It's entirely appropriate to the tone and structure, which is basically sitcom, although halfway through the season, which is where I am, an unexpected and potentially dark undertone comes creeping in around the edges. 

I'd recommend Dogs in Space. I obviously don't need to recommend the multi-award-winning Disenchantment and Tales of Arcadia. They recommend themselves. The rest, taste them and try.

I imagine there will be plenty more animated shows popping up in my Netflix suggestions so there could be a Part Two  of this post someday. Odds on I'll watch quite a few. 

Oddly, Amazon Prime hardly ever pushes any animation my way. Maybe Netflix bought them all.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Everybody Has To Sleep Sometime

As Tremayne was kind enough to explain in the comments to Friday's post, you can already sit in chairs and sleep in beds in New World. Look, there I am up above, doing it. The animation is really neat. too (Says Gidget.). My character swings up, rolls over and drapes her arm across her eyes. And her head aligns exactly with the pillow. Worth making a bed for. 

Keen readers with sharp memories may remember me mentioning long ago that I'd taken the non-binary option at character creation and chosen the pronoun "they". And so I did. So why am I now calling my character "she" and "her"? Because the choice I made didn't seem to carry over into the game in any meaningful sense and I absent-mindedly forgot about it and now I'm kinda used to thinking of her as she. Not very good of me or Amazon, really. Must try harder.

Since I'm really pushed for time today, in celebration of being able to lie down, here's a small selection of songs about beds and sleeping, all pulled from my own collection, plus a few pretty scenes from the game for those that don't share my tastes in music, probably a wide demographic, I'm betting

Anyway, here we go..

That was Trementina with the extremely apposite Fall Into Your Bed. I think they're from Chile. Definitely South America.

Next up, Boyskout with Back To Bed. Back? I haven't even gotten up yet! They're from California, if it matters. Now I suppose I'm going to have to say where everyone's from.

Lucy Rose knows the best place to be be. Middle of the Bed. This is from 2011, when there used to be a lot of this kind of thing going on. Probably still is. I hope so. She's from England, by the way. I wish I'd never mentioned where Trementina were from now. I'm going to stop. You can guess the rest. Or look them up like I had to, the ones I didn't already know.

Wow, that's a bright part of the forest! Okay, time for one of my favorite bands of the last decade, back when they were known as Peggy Sue and the Pirates rather than just Peggy Sue and when there were just two of them rather than three. I cannot explain why none of their albums, all of which I bought on release, made it into my Pitchfork 25 list. Some things are just ineffable, like this performance.

They told you what that one was right at the start but in case you weren't listening it was "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" aka "In The Pines" by Leadbelly.

That was a cover and so is this. Rod Stewart had a penchant for peculiar story songs. I always liked the way the lyrics of some of them seemed to undermine his image. He never seemed to care. Young Turks was one of those. Here it is in a mildly jazzy version by the charmingly-named Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps.


And to close, who better than Suzanne Vega, telling us she's Tired of Sleeping.  

Thanks, Suzanne. I can take a hint.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

You Say You Need It But You Don't

Over the years I've heard a lot about gaming backlogs and Buyer's Regret. The two phenomena could be seen as twisted mirror images of each other, one reflecting gluttony, the other its inevitable corollary, indigestion. Not sure how a mirror would reflect indigestion and frankly I don't want to try. Let's move on.

As I was reading Asmiroth's post on the misleading nature of sales and remembering Azuriel's analysis of the even more duplicitous pricing of expansion tiers, I couldn't help noticing both were describing problems quite different from those I have, when trying to decide whether or what to buy. I rarely get to the point of considering the comparative value of games or expansions. Mostly I get stuck on the existential question of need versus desire.

The easiest choice, by far, is whether or not to buy expansions for games I'm already playing. Why wouldn't you? Well, as it happens, Syp makes quite a good case for why you might not. You may already be so far behind the curve that expansion content won't be relevant or even accessible. You might not want to jump straight past a whole load of stuff you haven't seen, even if the expansion does come with a boost designed to let you do just that.

Mostly, though, if you've been playing an mmorpg for a while, you'll probably be ready for an infusion of new content. Ponying up for the latest expansion is a pretty straightforward decision. Which version of the expansion to get, though? That can be more of a poser.

Like Azuriel, under normal circumstances the base expansion is all I need. I don't generally play cutting-edge content. I don't raid or do Mythic/Heroic/Big Trouser dungeons. It's a safe bet that I won't need the pay-to-win bonuses some companies roll into their higher price tiers. 

As for the cosmetics, do me a favor! When I find a look I like, I stick with it for years. I'm not that target market. And anyway, like I'm going to pay real money for imaginary hats! Pshaw!

That's the "Need" part of my brain kicking in there, by the way. It talks like that, miserable bastard that it is. The "Desire" part is jumping up and down, squealing "Oooh! Shiny!" Sometimes it's hard to ignore but I manage.

Once in a while the extras in a deluxe expansion pack will come so close to having genuine, practical applications I'll teeter on the edge. Value for money is a nebulous concept at the best of times, slipperier still when what you're thinking of buying is intangible but things like character slots, inventory space and cash shop money at least make a direct comparison between cost and uitility feasible.

And yet, to date, I have never succumbed. I have never bought anything other than the base expansion for any mmorpg and I can't say I regret it. Is there anything I could have had, the lack of which has made me unhappy? Nope. Nothing. I obviously can't even remember what any of the things I didn't buy were. Who could? Money well unspent.

So, with the glossy brochure firmly folded to the page that says "Cheapskate Edition", the baseline for the decision on whether to buy an expansion would seem to be "Am I going to play it right away?". That's a very easy question to answer. If I'm already playing the game at least a few times each week then yes, of course I am.

Around this point I probably ought to talk about pre-orders but I'm not gonna. Different topic altogether. Let's leave it at "Whether?" and "What?" and forget about "When?" For our purposes "when" means "at launch".

There is one more wrinkle to straighten out before we move on from expansions to whole games. The account issue. For a lot of people it won't be relevant but for all kinds of half-assed reasons I frequently find myself with more than one account for a game and what's worse I play them, too. 

I have seven Daybreak accounts for example, three Guild Wars 2 accounts, two Lord of the Rings Online accounts (Might be three...), three Battlenet/World of Warcraft accounts... I have, quite literally, more mmorpg accounts than I could hope to remember.

Usually I would only want to expand one of them for each game but there have been exceptions. Two of my three GW2 accounts have Heart of Thorns for the very good reason that I liked it so much I wanted a second go. Only one has Path of Fire because even once was one time too many.

Even with all that mental clutter, it's clearly not a difficult choice. In the end I buy the expansion and play it. Then I either like it or I don't but it's done and I accept it. For given values of  both "Need" and Desire" the scales are balanced. It's over. We move on.

What about those sales, then? Didn't come into the picture for expansions, did they? Expansions never go on sale until the next one's in sight, looming over the horizon, casting an ominous shadow. De facto, by that point I've either bought it long ago or I've lost all interest.

New games, though, that's different. Every one is a unique opportunity to start over. Each purchase is a discrete and separate process. God, the thinking! It hurts my head!

Here's the thing: I always want new games, just like everyone else. I'm not an android. No, really, I took the test and passed. (I failed this one, though, so who really knows? Who ever really knows? Eh? EH??)

Ahem. Yes, I read about games and think "That looks like it might be fun. I'd play that." Sometimes I go so far as to put those games on a wishlist. And then I don't buy them.

Why don't I buy them? It's simple. Games do not come with an allotment of extra hours with which to play them. If it says a game takes on average thirty hours then you have to supply all thirty of them from your own stock. And you probably already had plans.

I do, anyway. The key time for me to buy a new game is when I've run out of old ones. That sometimes happens but not really all that often because mmorpgs are stretchy. However much time you have they tend to expand to fill it. It's why they're so very good for people with more time than they have things to do, that being the genre's core demographic.

I have more time than I have things to do, being semi-retired, but it still doesn't mean I want to spend all of it playing games. For a start I have this blog to write. It doesn't write itself, you know, though I'm sure it often seems like it must. And having bloated out to a post every day means even less time for playing games.

It's awkward. I feel, sometimes, as though I might be neglecting the games I already have. Not like neglecting a puppy. That would be terrible. Games are not puppies. They don't get mopey and fractious and have dull coats if you don't play with them enough. They just sit on your hard drive or in their cases, silent, inert. Looking at you.

I can't not know they're there. (I've stopped talking in the second person, you'll notice. It wasn't fooling anyone.) There's a nagging feeling and it gets uncomfortable, which is how we end up here with posts like this one

Luckily, it only takes a quick hour or two and I can happily forget about a game for months. Years, sometimes. Or that's how it goes with mmorpgs. With single-player games that have a beginning, a middle and an end it's more problematic. Those, I feel more of a responsibility towards.

Let's look at those four games up at the top, the ones on my wishlist that went on sale this weekend.

Swords of Legend Online is a an mmorpg I don't particularly want to play and it's quite expensive even at 40% off, considering it's not all that different to any number of Free to Play titles. I certainly don't need it and I don't even want it all that much, either. I'd kind of like to have it installed on my hard drive so I'd know I could play it if I felt like it but I know I wouldn't feel like it so what would be the point?

Wildermyth is the one everyone goes on about how great it is. Terrible syntax there, which I'd have to say is what runs through my mind every time I read a post about Wildermyth and imagine the character dialogue being read out loud. People say how immersive and convincing it is but the screenshots tell another story. 

All of which, ironically, makes me even keener to try it for myself to see what it is that I'm not getting. I really wanted to buy Wildermyth yesterday and the reason I didn't is because if i did I knew I'd start playing it immediately. I'd then either find it was as good as everyone says, in which case I'd be playing nothing else for days, or I'd find it wasn't and I'd feel I'd wasted my money.

Since I neither want to derail my current activities right now nor feel like I've tossed £14.61 down a FOMO drain I've decided to leave Wildermyth where it is, on my wishlist. We'll see what combination of circumstances and price cuts it takes to shunt it onto my hard drive. Pretty sure half price would do it.

Lake I liked when I played the demo but it's quite slow and quite.. I don't know, I want to say "difficult" but that's wrong. It's not easy to play, I think that's what I mean. I found I had to pay attention. If I found it a little draining in a demo, would I want a whole game of it? Not sure. And that discount is pitiful. Why even bother? So, definitely don't need, not even sure I want. Easy skip.

Lastly, Sable. I liked the demo a lot. I liked the look of it, I liked the music, I liked the setting and the characters and the writing. The gameplay was acceptable. Not exactly riveting but didn't need to be. Of the four, this is definitely the the one I want most.

A third off is a substantial discount, too. Substantial but not sufficient. I can tell you from decades in retail that at a third off you're pushing people who were definitely going to buy to buy now but you aren't pushing people who were maybe going to buy to buy at all. I was maybe going to buy. I still am. At 50% off I might be nudged. At 33% I'll stick, thanks.

On the last paragraph, I think we may as well define "people who were definitely going to buy" as people who've decided they need. Obviously they don't. No-one needs a video game. (Although maybe we should avoid absolutes. You might not think anyone needs Walkers oven-baked sea salt flavor crisps but you would be mistaken.)

My problem is that I'm perhaps too good at knowing what I need. Or maybe I'm too precise. Too specific. Too hardline. Or maybe I'm just too weird about it.

I mean, apparently I needed to spend two hours writing this when I could have been playing New World or even Wildermyth, had I bought it, because look, here's some time I could have borrowed that would never have been missed. Clearly I have my priorities entirely straight, no doubt about that, none at all.

Anyway, I'm glad we could have this talk. It's cleared a lot of things up for me. (It hasn't.) Let's do it again sometime soon. (Let's not. Really, let's not.)

Roll on the Boxing Day sales!

Friday, November 26, 2021

Home, At Last

When I decided to take a tour of the housing options across Aeternum, back at the begining of October, I'd already spent some time raising my standing in Everfall, the town where I originally planned on living. Once I'd seen the rest of the options I decided on a change of location. Mourningdale was the place for me. I never thought it would be six weeks before I'd be ready to move in.

At the time I was level 26 with five and a half thousand coin in the bank (Or in my pockets. There is no banking system in New World.) This morning, just about to ding fifty-three, I finally reached my goal, Admired in Mourningdale, Standing 20. The Mourningdale Residents Association had passed me fit to buy a Tier 3 house in their fine city but did I still want to live there?

It's been a long haul. First I had to level up far enough to be allowed to take quests and missions in Mourningdale. That took a couple of weeks and even when I was deemed ready the options were few.

All I could find were a couple of side-quests and the bare minimum of town board tasks, the basic upkeep ones that give minimal reward. No-one was upgrading Mourningdale because no-one lives there. Or goes there. Or knows it exists.

Because no-one was upgrading the town, crafting to earn Standing wasn't an option. The crafting stations weren't high enough to make the items I needed to level up my Armorsmithing, for which I had a long and very rewarding questline. I had to go to Brightwood or Everfall to do that, meaning all the hundreds of gloves I made went towards raising my Standing in those towns. I'm 24 in Everfall now.

Even when I could get quests in Mourningdale, I often couldn't do them. At the minimum level for the territory I was only barely able to do the easiest, ones where I had to find a single item in one chest or kill a handful of mobs I could pick off, carefully, one at a time.  

The near-total lack of town projects meant all I could really do were faction missions and at first I didn't even have the reputation to get those. When I did, they were frequently in places I couldn't fight my way into without ending up back in Mourningdale with a repair bill. One quest that I picked up weeks ago I was only able to finish last night and another remains in my book still. Padre Nuñez - I will have my revenge!

Over the weeks I spent much more time out of Mourningdale than in it. Almost everywhere else was more fun to be. I got to the point where I could live pretty much anywhere I chose. The only towns that wouldn't be happy to have me move in were First Light, Cutlass Keys and Reekwater. I can even live in Ebonscale Reach now and I might, too.

Still, I did spend enough time in Mourningdale to get to know it pretty well. After a while I began to have some doubts. On a fine day with the winter sun shining, Mourningdale has an almost ethereal beauty. It was like that the day I first saw it and after the dank swamps and stifling tropical shores of the south it felt clean, clear, fresh and fine. It seemed like there was nowhere I'd rather settle down.

Spend a few days there, though, and you'll come to know Mourningdale's true nature. It's bleak. It's cold. It rains all the fricken' time!

Before I got to Mourningdale I  wondered if New World even had weather. I'm not sure I've seen so much as a shower in the southern territories. Once you get into the mountains, though, it's either snowing or raining every day. 

In Mourningdale it's never snow. Snow would be a treat. In Mourningdale there are storms, one after another. Curtains of rain sweep across the harsh landscape, gales bow the trees. At night, even with the moon, it's hard to see anything. Travelling through Mourningdale can be a wet, cold, miserable experience.

There were times when I wondered if I wanted to live in Mourningdale at all. It wasn't just the weather, grim though it often felt. What would my prospects be, stuck up there in the far north with the wild, empty sea to the east, uninhabited Edengrove to the west and nothing but swamp and pirates to the south?  

The saving grace, looking to the future, is the road that heads yet deeper into the north. When New World expands and more of Aeternum opens up, that's one possible route we'll take. Expansion in that direction could turn Mourningdale into a gold rush town, some day.

That's what I told myself as I dug around in my bags for the money. With the first-time buyer's discount, the Tier 3 house I wanted cost me 7,500 coin. I could afford it. I'd saved up more than twenty thousand over the long wait.

There was never any doubt which house I was going to pick. The house itself is the main reason I've stuck with Mourningdale despite the obvious drawbacks. I've taken a good look around dozens of houses in all of the towns and there's not one that I like better, not even the Tier 4 mansions I've seen.

My house stands right beside the North gate. It's three storeys high with a long front porch facing onto the street. The back of the house overlooks the river and on the second floor there's a balcony that hangs above the water.

From the balcony, there's a fine view of the foothills, the beginning of the mountains that rise up behind Mourningdale to the North. If you turn and look the other way you can see the whole town as it sprawls along the river. If it's not raining it makes a perfect place to lean on the rail and think about life.

What if it is raining, though? A balcony's not much use in the wet. Ah, no, but a huge picture window over the street, enclosed and cosy in a room with a blazing log fire - that's perfect. And that's just what my house has.

What's more, unlike some of the other houses I inspected, you can actually stand in the enclosed window and look out. Others have some sort of invisible wall that holds you back but not mine. Once I get an armchair in there it's going to be delightful on a winter's evening. Or it will be if Amazon ever add "sitting in chairs". They will. Every mmorpg does, eventually. 

Once I'd handed over my money, I finally got to play around with the decoration system. At first sight it seems okay. No hooks, which is good. I didn't have the furniture to hand to test placement options beyond hanging a fishing net and some crossed oars on the wall outside, over the porch but it looked fine. Better than some.. 

My next job is going to be running round the whole map, retrieving the various bits and pieces of furniture I've left in storage. There's a whole Furnishing craft that I haven't touched yet. The only items I have, I got as drops. I rarely spot them when they appear, just find them lurking at the bottom of my bag when I grub around in there, looking for things I can salvage or store to make me less encumbered.

As I've wandered around various players' homes, ghostly and unseen in the weirdly creepy implementation the game uses for visiting, I've observed how some folks have made their houses into comfortable, convincing homes, while others have just piled anything and everything in a heap on the floor. I do not intend to be one of those people, the pilers. I have some decorating to do . And probably a lot of trees to chop.

This morning's was a very significant session in another way, too. Dinging 53, as I did minutes after buying my house, meant I could finally start to wear the Marauder faction armor I've been able to buy since I was in the mid-40s. 

The rate at which you gain reputation with your faction as compared to when the game expects you to do it seems way off. I already maxed out Tier IV, Destroyer a level ago, long before I could equip most of the gear it brings. I now have the quest for the final tier, Commander, but even if I could kill the boss the quest sends me to fight (I don't know how tough she is. I haven't tried her yet.) there wouldn't be much point. That set of armor is flagged for Level 60s.

The important thing is that now I have a new set of goals. In a sandpark game like New World, goals are crucial. Without a clear idea of what you want to achieve, and achieve in the immediate future, not some notional moment far off in time, the whole thing can start to feel formless and unsatisfying.  

I want to learn how to make furniture so I can decorate my house. Pretty straightforward and highly achievable. Plus I want to mess around in some lower-level areas for a while as a relief from constantly knocking my head against mobs two or three levels above me. I think I've earned myself a few sessions of goofing around. 

And when I've had enough of kicking back, there's a faction quest waiting for me and level 60 beyond that. Still got a ways to go, me and this game, before we need to take a break, I think.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Hope You Like Our New Direction.

Here's a question we've all heard before. Should game developers tailor their games to the wishes, desires and behaviors of players, hoping to keep everyone happy by giving them what they want or should they follow their own vision and make the games they want to make, trusting in the quality of their work to draw and hold an audience?

From the end of the original closed alpha, Amazon Games have come down very firmly in the latter camp. Five years ago they announced they were going to make a "huge open-ended sandbox game set in archaic, seventeenth century colonial America" with free-for-all PvP. They said so, right here.

By the time the finished game reached us back at the tail end of this summer it had become a sandpark mmorpg with opt-in PvP, quest hubs, a story and full deniability on the embarassing colonial thing. They kept the cool armor and that was about all.

The closed alpha, about which we are still not supposed to talk, went rather well. The game looked good, played smoothly and by and large people seemed to have a good time. The territorial PvP was particularly popular. 

What a lot of people didn't seem so keen on was the almost total lack of anything to do other than roam around the woods and fight each other over forts. In the video linked above you can hear one of the developers proudly announce "the players are our content". It turned out the players had other ideas.

Over several years the game went through several iterations, each the result of a new round of exhaustive testing and feedback. In direct contrast to many similar projects over recent years, all of New World's test phases were genuine attempts to find out what worked and what didn't, both technically and conceptually.

It's long been the complaint of players testing in-development games that developers have set ideas on how things should go, that feedback is ignored, that the whole thing is really a marketing excercise not a real development process. New World, demonstrably, was not put together that way.


Feedback, of course, is only one source of data available to the developers of a new mmorpg. For a very long time now developers have also had access to extensive metrics that let them know what the players are doing to an extraordinary degree of detail. As evidenced by the occasional infographic that comes out of the marketing department, they can tell you exactly how many trees were chopped, how many boars skinned, how many hours spent crafting gloves.

What they may not be able to say with anything like the same certainty is why. It's long been a topic of debate in these circles whether developers understand that just because players spend a huge proportion of their time doing a thing doesn't mean it's a thing they like to do. 

A slavish dedication to metrics has the potential to lead development into a death spiral as the game seeks to give players more and more of what it is they're already doing, not understanding the reason they're doing it is to try to get to the point where they can stop. That's how endgames get so grindy no-one wants to play any more.

Conversely, if developers just pay attention to what players say they'd like to be doing with their time, there's the huge risk that they'll find themselves catering to desires that are both unrealistic and unreal. There's a long history of players insisting they want things to be a certain way and then complaining bitterly when they get exactly what they asked for. 

At this point it might sound as though I'm suggesting developers should ignore what their players are telling them and stick to their vision regardless of the vitriol. I'm not. That's how you get WildStar or, it seems, the current version of EVE

It comes down, I suppose, to intelligent analysis. Metrics, feedback and all the other sources of information are just data points. Someone has to collate and correlate and then come to a conclusion.


Whether that's happening at Amazon Games only those inside the company can say. When specific changes get made, developers do sometimes show their working but when it's more of a general course correction explanations tend to be thin on the ground.

There were some quite detailed explanations on show to back up the deeply unpopular changes to the way farming Elite chests in endgame areas was nerfed into oblivion but the reasoning behind the latest broad assertion on the direction the game will be taking comes with some vague handwaving and that's about all.

“Our goal is to keep responding to what players ask for, and feedback from players will continue to help shape New World’s direction.”
says Scott Lane, a "game director" at AGS in a recent interview with PCGamesN

And what they're asking for, it seems, is more solo content. 

We know we have some work to do to improve the experience in the early-mid game (especially for solo players) and have already begun working on content to improve that experience.

Said improvements focus on more "story-led quests" and alternate, less social ways to complete the ones already there.

We are also continuing to add more quests for the early and mid-game players. New quest types are being added, and they will help unfold more of the mysteries of Aeternum. We understand that some players would like to focus more on solo gameplay, and we are doing more to make that viable through alternate quest lines, and more solo-supported gameplay.”

Whether you see this as a welcome and much-needed broadening of the game's accessibility and appeal or a disappointing betrayal of what credibility the game had left will no doubt depend heavily on your personal preferences and playstyle. Personally, the more soloable the game becomes, the more I'll enjoy it. 

If they'd just remove the dungeon stages from the main questline that would be a start. I'm all for grouping but not when it suddenly pops up in what was previously solo content, landing as a roadbock to progress. 


Despite my preferences, I'm a little surprised at this change of emphasis. New World is already a pretty solo-friendly game, at least as I understand the concept but then I forged my conception of solo play in EverQuest around the turn of the millennium so my definition may be a little out of date. If by "solo gameplay" Amazon means equal access to equivalent content for everyone, regardless of playstyle then, yes, I suppose there is some work to be done.

The danger is, there's an extent to which all of this is starting to look more like a social experiment than a game. The disenfranchised ffa pvp players are already kicking off about dedicated PvP servers (Which aren't coming. Yet) It's fine to course-correct but how many times can you swing the wheel without everyone falling over the side? 

New World was a big hit at launch, challenging concurrency records and hitting the headlines even outside the genre press but now all the traffic seems to be going the other way. From a peak not far short of a million players online at the same time, New World now looks to have shed almost all of them, bumping along at a mere... erm... hundred thousand or so - putting it still very solidly in the top ten most-played games on Steam.

If that's a disaster I imagine it's one a lot of developers would be very happy to own. As I've said before, timescales on all of this seem extraordinarily telescoped to me. For some reason there seems to be an expectation that to be deemed successful, new mmorpgs need to both find and hold a large audience from day one. Any slippage is immediately touted as the end of the game. Get out now, while you still can!

That's not how mmorpgs work. For every Tabula Rasa, which lasted less than a year and a half, there are dozens of Flyffs, the NA version of which will celebrate its sixteenth anniversary on Christmas Day. Even Wildstar lasted nearly four and a half years.


Amazon's extreme willingness to respond to player feedback looks likely to make the ongoing development of New World a bumpier ride than most. We can expect any number of lurches and mis-steps as the developers try to tack into the prevailing wind of player feedback. If there's one thing you can rely on players to be it's incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory in their desires. Okay, three things.

The correct response, in my opinion, isn't to jump ship but to go along for the ride. When the ship seems to have docked at an unfriendly harbor, maybe stay in your cabin until it ups anchor and heads for somewhere more clement. When it arrives there, go ashore and make the most of it. It probably won't last.

For the most part, these games don't go away. Neither do they stay the same. Sometimes they feel welcoming and fun, sometimes they feel alienating and unpleasant. Take the smooth, leave the rough. There are lots of other games. Go play something else then come back when your sub-demographic is being pampered. It will be, eventually.

I'm still having fun in New World although I'm only feeling the need to spend a couple of hours there most days. For me, the announcement of a renewed focus on solo play means I'm likely to stay longer and play more but it will, naturally, depend on just what that new, solo content involves. 

It's not as though the lack of stuff to do on my own was ticking me off to begin with. Other things annoy me a lot more, like the lack of playable races and the non-existent character customization. There's plenty Amazon could add or change that would excite me more than some new solo quests but for now I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

All Circuits Are Busy

It took a lot longer than it should have done (Waiting for my birthday, breaking my headphones, iTunes being bloody iTunes...) but I finally managed to listen to Blue Banisters all the way through. It is, no surprises here, superb. 

Belatedly reading some of the reviews, the consensus seems to be better than Chemtrails, not as good as NFR. Too early for me to say where I stand, yet, but it's like picking the brightest diamond in the diamond mine, isn't it? Depends where the light's shining that day.

It was curious to find I'd heard five or six of the fifteen tracks before. I hadn't realized. It's always hard to say, when that happens, whether the songs you've heard seem stronger just because they're more familiar or whether they were trailed early because they're the stronger songs.

Either way, Text Book, Arcadia and the title track make an astonishingly powerful opening trio. The track that really tore me up, though, turned up almost dead center at #9.

Dealer sounds unlike just about anything I've heard from Lana before. The vocals alternate between a smooth jazz croon (Miles Kane, on the verses) and anguished, abrasive yelling (Lana, in the chorus). There's even one part where she sounds like an AI. Meanwhile, the backing track ticks along like a cross between Portishead and a metronome. 

It reminded me at times of Julee Cruise, Sneaker Pimps and very much Arctic Monkeys circa Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, which turns out to be no kind of leap at all since Dealer was originally conceived as part of Lana's lost collab with Alex Turner and Miles Kane's supergroup Last Shadow Puppets.


According to the invaluable Lanapedia, both Dealer and Thunder, also on Blue Banisters, derive from that project, with Dealer being "unchanged" from the LDR/LSP recording.

As is the way of all things Lana, there happens to be a "demo" version of Thunder on YouTube, which may or may not also be "unchanged" from those sessions. Several contributors to the thread that follows suggest the demo is superior to the final version but that's always the way, isn't it? 

It's very different, that's for sure, sounding a lot more like Dealer than Dealer sounds like anything else on Blue Banisters, full of the same woozy, off-kilter swagger you'd expect from that team-up. It almost has to be the same crew, doesn't it?

 I love both takes. I'm just happy we have them both.

I would love to hear the whole of that lost album, though. What it must be to be so gifted you can leave stuff like this in the vaults, eh?

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Killing Time

If there's one thing that ticks me off it's finally settling down to play an mmorpg, only to find the servers are down for a patch. Or an update. Or a hotfix. Or whatever. Lots of names for the same thing: Closed. Come Back Later. 

It's not like the dark days of the twenty-oughts, of course. Back then, mostly, if your online game of choice was offline, so were you. You might, if you were lucky, still be able to read the forums, although as often as not they'd be Undergoing Maintenance at the same time. 

Before the free to play revolution, most of us didn't play multiple mmorpgs. I'd take a bet that an overiding majority played just one. Subscriptions cost money and making any kind of progress in the games of the day required a major investment in time. Even if the cost wasn't an issue, you didn't want to spread yourself too thin. 

Nevertheless, even from the start I always had a back-up plan. I applied to every mmorpg beta I heard of and sometimes I got in. There were more than you might imagine, too, although by no means all of them made it to launch.

Some of those betas seemed to go on for years. Even now, a couple of decades later, I can remember a few of the ones I'd turn to, when the servers in whatever game I would much rather have been playing went down. 


I can remember them but I can't necesarily remember what they were called, although a few stick in the mind. There was Endless Ages, of course, supposedly the first mmofps and also the first game I played where I had a character who could fly. Or use a flying mount. One or the other. I forget the specifics but I know I used to flap up and land in trees. 

That one did eventually launch. And fold. And relaunch. 

Another, Planeshift, is, amazingly, still running. Even more amazingly, two decades on, it's still in alpha.

I'm kidding. Sorta. It's in "Unreal Alpha" so I guess it's not a real alpha after all. Boom tish! Tip your waitress, I'll be here all week. 

I never really liked Planeshift. At that time it was one of those typical prototypes, where all you could really do was wander around and wonder why you were there. I used to fire it up now and again, more out of desperation than desire. I'd spend half an hour doing nothing very much then log out and wish I'd just read a book instead.

There wasn't a whole lot more you could do in the vikingesque mmorpg being developed by some obscure Scandinavian studio I used to visit every few months. I can't recall the name of either the company or the game. I think it began with a "D".


I liked, whatever it was called, even though it never really ofered even as much content as the most fly-by-night early access game would give you now. The shovelware floodgates hadn't yet opened and anything that let you make a character and walk around a couple of acres of barren tundra seemed like a gift.

It wasn't all alphas and betas. For much of my EverQuest/Dark Age of Camelot/EverQuest again career I did actually subscribe to a second mmorpg, The Realm. It, too, is still running. As I've observed on many occasions, mmorpgs are hard to kill. 

The Realm had one great advantage over other subscription games - it was cheap. The sub cost less than half the going rate. I forget exactly how much it was but $3.49 comes to mind. Or maybe it was £3.49. 

It seemed a fair price. In the age of 3D mmorpgs, The Realm was 2.5D. Playing it felt a little like moving cardboard figures with a stick, an approach adopted even more enthusiastically by another game I used to play, whose name also escapes me, although I remember it was being developed by a company called Missing Ink. No, wait, that was the name of the game. Gone now, all gone.

In the realm of The Realm, very much still with us, not much seems to have changed in a quarter of a century. These days a subscription will run you $4.99 although there is, inevitably, a free to play option. 


Who would choose to play any of these games today, given the overwhelming choice available, much of it for free, is an intriguing question, albeit one for another day. I didn't come here to wax nostalgic about these long-forgotten, even if still played games, nor to exhume them in exhaustive detail.

I could, quite easily. I could research the missing names, give historical context, describe the arcs of anticipation and disappointment, achievement or failure. It's all there in the strata. I've done it before, too. No doubt I'll do it again.

Not this time. The point of this post is to kill an hour while I wait for the EverQuest 2 servers to come back up, so I can play that game while I wait for New World to come out of "downtime" (As Amazon innocuously describe today's small adjustment to the recent, giant, disruptive and controversial patch.)

I could, naturally, have played any number of other mmorpgs while I waited, maybe Fallen Earth, Elyon or Allods Online, just to name three I've recently said I'd like to find time to play, but you know how it is. When the servers are down in the game you want to play, somehow all other games lose their luster.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've just checked and the servers are back up, so I'll be off. I have a Necromancer to dress and with luck it should take me just about as long as it takes Amazon to finish putting right those things they got wrong last time.

The little things, that is. Not the big ones. Fixing those could take a little longer.

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