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.

Monday, November 22, 2021

I'm On A Train... I'm Still On A Train... I'm On A Different Train... I'm Still On A Train...

I finally did it!  I finally bought something off my Steam wishlist! It was the cheapest thing on there and it had to go to half-price before I'd bite but apparently I do have a price sensitivity trigger after all. Within thirty seconds of reading the email telling me it was on sale for 50% off, I'd bought it.

I can still claim I only buy games I'm going to play, at least. Within a couple of hours I'd started playing it. Or maybe I mean watching it. No, listening to it...

All of the above. The Longest Road on Earth isn't exacly what you'd call a game. Reviews on the Steam store page, where it has a Very Positive rating, albeit from just a hundred and six reviews, say things like "This game is like an interactive screensaver" and "It's hard to really call The Longest Road on Earth a game". And those are the raves.

My favorite negative comment was "Great music but I don't understand the point of this game and by that I don't mean that I'm not sure what's going on in this game but why would anyone play such games." Tibore has a point. The music is great.

It reminds a litle of The Papertiger Sound and it's so good, in fact, that if I'd heard it first as an album it would have made my Pitchfork 25 longlist. Or would it?

That's a question I'm never going to be able to answer. The whole experience of hearing those songs is so inextricably linked to watching those images and also to pressing those keys that to judge the elements separately makes no more (or less) sense than singling out the individual instruments in a recording and rating them in isolation.

Which, of course, is something we do all the time. Or I do, anyway. Like, what would Sun60's Take Me Home be without that trumpet solo? I guess I could pick the fabric apart and talk about the graphics and the gameplay and the sonics independently. I might, yet, if I ever get around to a full review.

I think I won't, though. I think I'll stick with the gestalt. I think that's what matters here.

The first comment I quoted above, the one about the "interactive screensaver", gets very close to what The Longest Road feels like to play (or play with) but what I was thinking as I watched and clicked and listened along last night was "this feels like I'm directing a music video". I'm guessing there'd be a market for an app that let you do that although I'm not sure it would need to be a "game".

Sometimes there didn't seem to be a lot of direction needed. The action (I use the word in its loosest possible sense.) is so perfectly synched to the music that even though I had no clear idea in some scenes what I was expected to do, whatever I did seemed to fit. It's strangely empowering. It feels almost like dancing, only if you could.

It's such a strong meld that on the odd occasion I couldn't quite find the rhythm it felt frustrating. There were a couple of scenes where I wasn't entirely sure whether I should be doing something or just sitting, watching and listening. 

That. It turned out to be that. One thing the game does that you only really ever see in experimental works and art installations is ask you to experience something from a perspective other than your own, for longer than feels comfortable, making no attempt to entertain you while it's happening.

I played for an hour and there were several train journeys, two of which asked me to do nothing much other than sit and wait until the train got to where it was going. Once the ticket collector came by. Slowly. Then he came back. The other time, not even that. 

In both cases I could do just one thing while I waited: change my point of view from mine to the character's. In one train carriage the character put her her elbows on the table and her head in her hands and all I could see from her perspective was the lamp on the table. In the other the character sat upright facing the other side of the carriage and all I could see through his eyes was the opposite window and the hanging straps.

Just that. For about three minutes. While a song plays. A whole song, start to finish.

When one of the Steam reviewers says "this is not a game for eveyone" they're really not kidding. Mostly I love it but in those extended train journeys even I began to feel the lack of agency. 

I'm fairly sure, though, that in those scenes lack of agency is precisely the point. The characters are trapped in situations they can't escape, doing things they find emotionally harrowing or soul-destroying. They can't change their perspective or take control of their lives so why should you think you should be any different?

Or at least that might be what's happening. It's hard to be sure. The Longest Road is not a narrative-driven experience. There are stories being told but what they are is mostly up to you, the player, to interpret. Or invent. Or imagine. 



As yet, I'm not even sure the scenes always happen in the same order. I think they do but I've only played the original demo and the first hour of what is generally reckoned to be a three-hour game. In last night's session I remembered many but by no means all of the scenes from the demo I played back in February.

Even though the demo only lasts twenty minutes, there are screenshots in the old post of things I didn't see when I played for an hour last night. I'm curious to know if there's a random factor or whether it's just that the demo is really a trailer, a few of the best bits stitched together, not, as I thought at the time, the whole of the first story.

I'll get the chance to find out soon enough. The main reason I played for an hour last night, rather than the thirty minutes I intended, wasn't because of how wrapped-up in the experience I was but because I couldn't find any way to stop. The controls are the very definition of minimal - left and right arrow to move, space (or mouseclick) to choose an action. Or, I should say, choose whether to act. The only choice, ever, is Act or Do Not. Yoda would love it.

Similarly, you either play or don't play. There didn't seem to be any way of saving the game that I could find. Hitting Escape pauses the game and gives you access to a couple of icons but all you can do with them is adjust the volume or close the game. I closed the game.

 


Afterwards I noticed that when you very first start there's an icon of an old-fashioned floppy disk. It seems to be crossed-through by default but you can uncross it. I am guessing that might relate to some sort of Save function. I cleared it for next time but as yet I haven't been back to see what effect that's had.

I'm not sorry to have to start over. The whole thing could stand some poking. I'm very unclear on just what can be done. I was wondering even as I was playing what would happen if I just let a character stand in the middle of a scene indefinitely. Would the game move on to another when the song ended? Would the song start again from the beginning? Is the music designed, like most game soundtracks, to loop indefinitely without making it obvious that's what it's doing?

And the animations and the vignettes - are they always the same or do they pull from a pool of possibilites, puzzle pieces that slot together like Lego to give an unending impression of mundane, quotidian, workaday existence? That would make the whole thing more than I imagined it was. Or possibly, as yet another Steam reviewer would have it, "Beautifully mundane... But nothing more.".

In the end, I'm not sure it matters. It's a mood piece. It's a series of images set to music. It's a suite of songs with pictures. It's a something to do with your hands while you listen to an album. It's a place to let your eyes rest while you think about the lyrics. It's an experience.

If and when I work out what that experience is I'll be sure to come back and let you know. Better yet, go try it for yourself, then come back and tell me. It's on sale at half-price (£3.99/$4.99) until November 24.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

"Look What The Black Cat Dragged In!"


Don't think I even have time tonight for the promised (Or is that threatened?) Narnia mash-up. I have all the pictures but as I learned last night I'm not capable of just putting them up and walking away. I have to editorialise and in the end it takes as long as writing a proper post, so that's kind of missing the point.

Luckily I have the old fall-back to fall back on. Music videos! Got a couple and a couple of reasons for using them, too. Always good to have a reason.

The first is something I wanted to crowbar into yesterday's post but couldn't find a delicate way to do it. Delicate crowbarring. Now, there's a concept to conjure with. Conjuring with crowbars, even better. What was I talking about?

Oh, yes, the video. It's Nine Stories by Hazel English. Pretty obvious why I wanted to get it in somehow. Better now than never.


It's a slice of sweet indie pop with a bubbling beat and a vocal that sounds like it was recorded through a sock. Several socks. Probably thermal. I don't want to come over like one of those fathers in a 1960s teensploitation movie but I really can't understand the words. 

Of course, by "understand" I mean "make out". I can understand what they mean, now I read them at Genius.com. They're pretty simple to understand or they seem to be. I know lyrics are seldom as surfaced as they appear but it's what I'm going with for now. 

The only conection with the book that gives the song its title would appear to be the first few lines

"You lent me Nine Stories
While you starred in mine
We talked about J.D
In your car.
.."

It's enough. I mean, I didn't even talk about him.

The other video is "3 Small Words", a candypop slammer from the soundtrack to Josie and the Pussycats, done live by Letters To Cleo, whose singer, Kay Handley, was the voice of Josie in the movie (Something which takes more digging to authenticate than it should.) and the always entertaining Charly Bliss, who are currently supporting LTC on tour, a billing order that surprised me. 

The result is one of the most mood-lifting spectacles I've seen for quite a while.

Seriously, if that doesn't at least make you remember what it felt like to be happy, you may want to check your pulse. I had that much energy once, you know and some of it was even my own.

Other than the sheer, innocent, exuberant joy of it, the reason (Remember, I said I had one.) for wanting to put it up is because Riverdale is back in my thoughts and back on Netflix. Last time I mentioned the show (I'd link but I can't find the post. Maybe I only thought-wrote it.) we'd just gotten to the end of Season Five and everything had gone totally telenovella. 

I wasn't sure there was going to be another season but not only is there, it's now! It's also short. Five episodes. Actually, that's just half a season. Then it goes on hiatus for a few months to return in March next year.

That would be good enough but there's more. So much more. Remember how peeved I was over the way longish-running shows seem to get cancelled these days with no view to giving the fans either the catharsis they need or the satisfaction they deserve? One of those shows was The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which ended (BIG spoiler...) with Sabrina dead and gone to heaven. It was kinda cool but kinda fucking annoying at the same time.

When it happened, I wondered why, since TCAOS and Riverdale both take place in the same 'verse and have the same showrunner, some sort of deal couldn't have been worked out to integrate the two. Well guess what!

Oh, you guessed. I kinda teed that one up a little, didn't I? The picture at the top of the post may have been a clue, too.


Season Six of Riverdale, which is "in-canon and within the continuity" features the return of everyone's favorite teenage witch. Just like in the trailer (I could give you a couple of thousand words on that trailer, by the way. Maybe just on Cheryl.) Sabrina doesn't turn up until the end but I'm hoping she'll be sticking around for the second half of the season, when it finally gets here.

That just leaves me with the familiar quandry: whether to watch the weekly episodes as they drop or to hold my nerve and watch them all in quick succession at the end. I've tried it both ways this year. I waited for The Expanse (Also soon to return.) but I watched each episode of Stargirl as it came. 

My preference is to watch one episode a day. I wish someone would try that for a cadence once in a while. Or maybe they have and it's something I don't watch

I don't watch everything. Just the good ones.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Nine Pictures


I did warn you this would happen. It's eight in the evening, I haven't even logged in to do my Guild Wars 2 dailies yet, let alone anything more interesting and yet I still don't want to skip a day, so here comes something I prepared earlier. Although "prepared" may  be stretching a point a little.


I was curious how Artflow would interpret some of my favorite fictional characters. My first attempt, which was more of a title than a character, came out rather well, if you think Uncle Wiggly was an elderly fisherman rather than an elderly rabbit. Also I just now realize I spelled his name wrong.

After that debacle I tried just putting in the character names but I didn't much like the results. Then it occured to me to try adding the name of an artist to use their style as a kind of filter. The AI seems pretty well-versed in that sort of thing.

I had a brief think about who I could try. I'd already done a few pop stars as they might look if David Hockney had done their portraits, as indeed he could easily have done but I for some reason the AI seemed to think Hockney's defining trope was making people look like they'd fallen asleep in the Californian sun while lounging around the pool in his Los Angelean home.

That didn't seem like it was going to work for the pasty, New York intellectuals I had in mind. I toyed with Warhol but it seemed a little too on the nose. Rothko seemed like he might be interesting but only in a metaphysical fashion. I couldn't see how it would actually bring anything to the experiment other than another color wash.

While I was trying to come up with something better, Roy Lichtenstein popped into my mind, as he so often does if I start thinking randomly about art. Not that I'm a particular fan of his work or even of Pop Art in general, although obviously I like it well enough, who doesn't? It's more that he's so brash and loud he tends to push his way to the front.

I took a couple of shots at it to see what popped up and they weren't at all bad. They might have been even better if I'd spelled the artist's name right. I sense a theme developing here...

I find it fascinating how consistent they are. They really do look as though they'd been painted by the same artist. I'm not sure that artist would be Roy Lichtenstein but I guess it could have been Roy Leichtenstein.

They didn't look anything like the versions of the characters in my head, though. Phoebe is too old and also far too sophisticated. Seymour looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger in drag. Holden looks the best of the three but I always imagined him to be a lot thinner in the face. The hair and the sullen, defeated-yet-confrontational expression are pretty close, though.

Just then, probably because I'd been talking about her earlier that day, I thought of Cindy Sherman. At this point I'd dearly love to just let that lie there while I bask in it. I'd love to be thought of the kind of person who has casual conversations about Cindy Sherman over afternoon tea. 

What actually happened was that Mrs Bhagpuss and I watched an old episode of Pointless on YouTube and there was a question where you had to name a female American photographer from a picture. Not one of her pictures, a picture of her.  I've already forgotten who it was. It might have been Dorothea Lange. I know at the time I could only think of Diane Arbus and I knew it wasn't her. 

Anyway, it started me thinking about Cindy Sherman, who I like enough to have a picture by, up on the wall in a room downstairs, cut out of a magazine and snap-framed about a quarter of a century ago. I figured she'd be worth a try.

Yeah... kinda.

As you can see I went all out for accuracy and consistency in the seeds and I damn well got it, too. What I don't think I really got, once again, were either the characters or the artist as I'd imagined them. 

I can see a touch of Cindy Sherman in the shots of Phoebe and Franny. There's a hint of that processed color I like about some of her stuff. The backgrounds also seem to have some redolence of what I remember about her work in a certain period, although I suppose that's just pure chance.

Phoebe's too old again. I think I'd have to specify her age to get anything remotely close. Other than that, and especially if she wiped off that lipstick, she's not too far out of line. Franny looks closer to my idea of her, Cindy Sherman or not, and Zooey isn't far off, either. Seymour is at least possible. I don't have a super-strong image of him to begin with, although I see him as well-built and solid with a more traditionally masculine look than the rest of the Glass family. This version is that, at least.

I can't say I have any particular notion what Buddy might look like except he sure as hell wouldn't look like he does here, where he reminds me of Hugh Laurie playing the role of a supercilious officer in a movie about the War Between the States. Not sure which side he'd be on. Maybe he's not, either.

Holden, I think, looks less like himself than he did under Lichtenstein's influence. He looks like a young Dean Martin caught in the middle of removing his stage makeup. He's got that worn-down, ready to give up look again, which is right, but this time he doesn't seem to have the energy left to be belligerent.

Anyway, there you have it, for what it's worth. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I might just have enough time before bed to get those dailies done.

I'm working again tomorrow so I may very well have to trot out the results of my attempts to actualize the main cast of C.S. Lewis's Narnia stories. There's something to look forward to, eh?


Friday, November 19, 2021

Void When Opened

Despite what I said in yesterday's post, it wasn't until this afternoon that I found time to log in to New World to see what the Void had brought. Maybe that should be "wrought". Seems more appropriately doom-laden.

I was way the hell up in the north in Mourningdale but I remembered the patch notes had said something about "a force of invading knights currently raiding Southeastern Aeternum" so I guessed I'd better head that way. I looked at the map and figured if the Varangians had come by ship (which, since Aeternum is an island, they pretty much would have had to have done) unless they had some kind of magic portal or they flew in on dragonback (by no means out of the question) presumably meant a landing somewhere in First Light.

Although that's on the same side of the map as Mourningdale, the overland route is tortuous. Since I've never seen any good reason to change my original bind point from the Monarchs Bluff inn, over to the southwest, I figured I'd recall and run across from there. That would give me a chance to kill several crows with one rock: I had a few quests to hand in at various town boards, I'd be able to get a feel for that oh-so-generous ten per cent speed buff for running on roads and I might be able to snap a shot or two of the "updated visuals" in the starting areas.

The speed buff was easy to assess. For a start there's an icon that pops up when it kicks in so you're in no doubt whether it's on or not. I think I'd know even without the visual indicator. Somewhat to my surprise, I could just about tell the difference. 

It's very much not like getting Spirit of Wolf in EverQuest, where people would routinely refuse even to set out on a long journey until they'd found someone to cast SoW on them, even if they had to pay for the privelege. I can't imagine changing my route to stay on roads just to keep the buff, not if taking a cut across country looks shorter. It's better than nothing, though.

By the time I'd reached the beach in First Light I'd seen no signs whatever of either the invading army or the supposed new eye candy. I went right to the point where you get the first quests in case "starting area" was being used in the most literal sense but nothing. If anyone knows what the changes were, please chime in. I'm not likely to go back for another look unless I know just what I'm looking for.

I had a lot more luck spotting a couple of the new mob types. The Beetle, as far as I know, is genuinely new or at least I've never seen one before. I guess there might be some in a dungeon or a very high level area. In fact, the more I think about it, the likelier that seems. 

Either that or it's a pre-existing model they never got around to using until now. I find it hard to imagine anyone would sit down at their desk at this point in production cycle and proudly announce to their co-workers "Y'know what this game really needs? Beetles!"

The other new creature I saw was the "Lost Alligator Pet". Let me parse that because it's not what you may be thinking. It's not a pet alligator that wandered off and now can't be found. It's the alligator pet belonging to an NPC who's succumbed the overwhelming sense of existential despair that comes with eternal life and has passed into the realm of The Lost

I guess they could have called it "Lost's Alligator Pet" to make it clearer but that just sounds wrong. Although, now I think about it, who's to say that alligators can't suffer from existential despair? Maybe it's a pet alligator that is Lost (but not "lost"). I may be overthinking this.

Two things aren't in doubt. It's clearly an alligator and it's clearly domesticated. I spotted the first one on the porch of a cabin in the woods, not somewhere you'd expect to find a wild alligator. If there was any remaining doubt, the fact that it was wearing armor and a saddle soon cleared it up.

At least I'm pretty sure it's a saddle. It's hard to see in the screenshot, where it looks as if it could be a harness. In game, though, I definitely thought it was a saddle. That would be significant because there are currently no mounts in Aeternum for either players or NPCs. The alligator I saw looked too small to be the mount for a human-sized character (even ignoring the logistics of riding a creature with a ground clearance of less than six inches) but it could be taken as a straw in the wind.

Finding nothing in First Light I decided to do a little research. I googled "Varangian Knights" and found next to nothing of any use except this YouTube video, which irritatingly doesn't feature the obligatory map shot to tell you where it was filmed.

 

Luckily, someone had already raised the question in the thread and the uploader had replied"North West of Everfall, where it is written 'Stonereach.'" That sounded odd. Everfall is pretty much in the middle of the map, so the location would be more to the southwest than the southeast. 

I opened my map and looked and stap me! Not only is there an area called Stonereach to the northwest of Everfall but there was a big, yellow quest marker right on top of it. I moused over the marker and a helpful precis of the text appeared confirming that it was indeed the breadcrumb quest for the new content.

Leaving aside the uncomfortable fact that I have apparently had my map upside down this whole time, I had also been assuming the invaders would have been added as something to keep the bored sixties occupied for a while longer. It had puzzled me a little that endgame content would be added to lower-level areas but I had literally been musing as I ran down the road about this being a good first move toward keeping all of the map in play as people stacked at the cap.

I couldn't have been more wrong. The invaders and the associated questline are wholly appropriate to the level of the area they're in. What's more, absolutely nothing in the promotional material or the patch notes suggests anything else. I'd made the whole high-level thing up out of no evidence whatsoever.

A disgruntled Abigail Rose set me to evicting the invading army from the abandoned keep from which they'd just evicted her. I approached cautiously, not knowing what to expect, only to find a bunch of level seventeens lounging around some bright yellow tents. Even though they were all wearing full plate armor they died in a hit or two. Hard to say how tough they'd be at level, although the shield-carrying guards do have a very nasty stun.

As well as killing the necessary half-dozen I also found their not-so-secret plans. These, along with several other notes and letters I read, very strongly suggest the invasion is just the start of a new, longer narrative. How long it will be before we see any of it depends on how quickly Amazon can produce new content, I guess, but it is at least a fair indication they have something in the works.

The story moves from the Keep to the coast, where the Varangians have a gaudy encampment of the ugly mustard-colored tents they favor. Keeping a low profile does not seem to feature in their agenda, whatever it is.

Disturbingly, the camp turns out be barely a stone's throw from the town of Monarchs Bluff. Had I come out of a different gate when I ported there at the beginning, I might have spotted it from the clifftop. It seems particularly brazen that the invaders would set up camp so openly right next to a major population center but as this other note I found suggests, they are neither subtle nor entirely free to make their own tactical choices.

That raises far more questions than it answers. Who is the Lord Commander? Who is the Great Lord? Are they the same person or two, separate individuals? What are they trying to find out? What is their task? Why is it so urgent? 

And why do they call themselves so many different names begining with "V"? Varangian, Varikulaki, Vulkgard. Not to mention where the hell have they come from and how did they get here? I thought the entire island of Aeternum was surrounded by storms that wrecked every ship. Come to think of it there is a wrecked ship right next to the beach camp. And it has their banners flying from the wreckage...


In common with much of the writing in New World, it piques my curiosity and makes me want to know more. I can't yet say if the quest carries on after the first step because having finished it I noticed I was at my Azoth cap and since part of the reward is 150 Azoth I'm going to have to find something useful to do with some of mine before I do the hand-in. I really hate the caps in this game.

That's going to be something for another day, maybe not until next week. It'll be too late to carry on after I finish this and I'm working all weekend. It was a fun session, though. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

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