Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Who's That, Again?

I see from all the "Hello! This is me!" posts popping up in my blog roll that we've entered "Introduce Yourself Week". Normally, I'd probably skip the introductions on the grounds everyone likely to read them already read them last Blaugust and the Blaugust before that but as Wilhelm points out, we have a significantly bigger than usual intake of first-timers, so it would only be polite to say a few words about myself, I guess.

Introducing yourself on the internet is different to introducing yourself in person, of course. As the famous New Yorker cartoon from 1993 had it "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog".

I'm not a dog. I am a big fan of the New Yorker, though, if that's a thing someone can be, when they've never bought a copy, far less subscribed. Back when there was only the physical magazine, it was a high day and a holiday if I ever even saw a copy. I think the first time I got my hands on an edition would have been when I was at college, around the turn of the decade, going from the seventies to the eighties. 

Growing up in the U.K. we didn't have the New Yorker; we had Punch. Punch was alright in its way. I certainly used to read it with enjoyment when I was in my teens, if I found it lying around in the school library. Being a lifelong comics reader, I was naturally attracted to the spot cartoons but some of the articles were worth a look too - not that I can remember any of them now.

Whatever Punch's merits, it definitely wasn't the New Yorker. It wasn't the place you went to read the best contemporary short fiction before it found its way into collected editions. Fine humorist though Alan Coren undoubtedly was, Britain's own Thurber if you like, even the best whimsy and snark isn't going to go fifteen rounds with the likes of Salinger, Updike, O'Hara or Munro.

Even though Salinger was then and remains now my favorite author, he'd long ceased to contribute anything, having withdrawn to the seclusion of his well-appointed cabin in Cornish, New Hampshire. The last story he published in the New Yorker (Or anywhere.) was Hapworth 16, 1924. It appeared in the June 11, 1965 edition and that was the last anyone saw of it, other than in faded copies of the magazine languishing in dentists' waiting rooms across America.

Three decades later someone tried to publish that lost story. Like most attempts to get Salinger back into print, it didn't go well

"My" Cambridge college, in a horribly blurry shot borrowed from the Internet. I don't believe I took a single photograph in the three years I was there.

I heard about at the time because by then I'd grown up, graduated from Cambridge University with a lower second in English Literature (The Drinker's Degree as it was unkindly but accurately known.), worked for a year in a comic shop, trained as a computer programmer without following through, taken a job in an insurance company as a clerk and ended up writing and editing the house magazine while running the marketing department, been married and divorced, spent a while licensing vehicles for one of the of biggest fleets of vans in Europe, before being made redundant, finally ending up doing what I've done for the last quarter of a century, namely working in a bookshop.

When I started there it was in the Mail Order department, which was just beginning to take its first, nervous steps into the digital world. Since I'd been working with computers since 1982 and not only knew what the World Wide Web was but had been using it daily in my previous job since the start of the nineties, my application for the task of dealing with these new-fangled email inquiries was happily accepted.

Within a year that had morphed into a full-scale online operation, the details of which will have to wait until I'm no longer employed by the same company. Suffice it to say, at that time not one person in a thousand in this country would have heard of Amazon, let alone been able to tell you it was a place you could buy books - and only books.

One of the things I did with my generous redundancy package from the telecommunications company I'd spent five years with was buy a PC of my own. I'd been using them at work for fifteen years by then but it had never occurred to me before to get one for myself. 

For most of my adult life I'd had what we used then to call a "home computer"; first the inevitable Sinclair Spectrum - a ZX48 -  then the bigger one with the built-in disc drive, and finally an Amiga 512. The idea of having a "real" computer in the house, the kind I used at work, didn't occur to me until I was in my late thirties. I mean, what would I do with it?

What I did for much of the first year after I got it was write a novel. Two novels. Neither of them got finished. 

Here's an important fact about me, possibly the most relevant thing I've revealed yet, at least so far as Blaugust and blogging is concerned: I love my own writing. No, I really love it. I'm not just saying that. It's embarrassing how pleased I am with my own stuff. If I had to name my favorite writer (Which I just did. It's Salinger. Does no-one listen?) I'd really have to excuse myself from competition first.

There's a huge, huge problem with liking what you do: you're always satisfied and satisfaction is death. That thing writers say - all artists, really - about never being happy with the end result? Cherish that feeling. That's motivation, that is. Without it, you'll get nowhere. 

At best, like me, you just churn it out, read it back, chortle with pleasure and sit back, happy. It's not a great look, if I'm honest.

Apparently it was a sequel.
Never knew that at the time.
Probably should have guessed from the title
.
As far as the novels went, there was a bigger problem. Unlike this sort of thing, which I can (Self-evidently.) knock out effortlessly without taking a breath, writing fiction is hard. More than that, it's scary. It was for me, anyway.

During that year, I would sit down at the keyboard and wait for a moment. Sometimes a lot more than a moment. Then I would start typing. An hour or two later I would stop and read back what I'd written and most of it would be unfamiliar to me. When I read it back a few days later it would be entirely as if someone else had written it.

Even now, reading what I wrote then, I cannot imagine how it could have been me. It's like spirit-writing or channelling. I always found it extremely draining and after a few months I found it too disturbing as well so I stopped. Haven't written any fiction since, other than a handful of in-character pieces in the early years of this blog.

So, there I was with a PC and nothing to do with it. I had a chat with Mrs Bhagpuss, with whom I'd bought a house and had been living for about five years by then, and for the first time discovered that she was interested in computer games (Again, as we called them back then.) It also turned out she'd played some tabletop RPGs back in the eighties, most notably Call of Cthulhu, and so had I. Amazing how you can get that far into a relationship and something like that just never comes up.

We started playing video games together. RPGs like Might and Magic VI and VII, Return to Krondor and Baldur's Gate, as well as adventures like Broken Sword. After a year or two we began to run out of ideas for what to play next, which was when I had the bright idea of trying one of the new, somewhat intimidating online rpgs. In November 1999 I bought a copy of EverQuest and that was pretty much that for a couple of decades.

Now, here I am in 2022, still playing video games, still even playing EverQuest on occasion. I haven't logged in for a few weeks but my subscription remains unbroken since the end of the last milennium.

I did try several times to subscribe to the New Yorker but at the time they wouldn't have me, even for the digital edition. I didn't have the right IP. I might try again although I can think of a few other services I'd rather sub to, now subscribing's back in fashion. 

When it comes to entertainment, art and creativity, though, most things I want come free. The F2P revolution could have been designed with my playstyle in mind. It's turned online gaming into a vast party with a free bar. I just wander around, sampling everything, picking up anything I fancy then putting it down when I've had enough.

Beryl. When she was younger.
And that's what this blog has become, too. A rolling record of things I've sampled and what I thought about them, bundled in with a clutch of opinions, reminiscences, speculations and the very occasional rant. I've always loved the sound of my own voice and I've been writing since I could hold a pencil. Blogging was made for me. I can only apologize for the outcome.

I do also have to admit that of late the quality has slipped somewhat. I could blame it on my age but actually I blame it on the dog. Six months ago, before Beryl arrived, there were occasional longeurs, when I struggled to think of something to do. I've dropped my working hours to two days a week as I enter pre-retirement and in the dark, cold, wet days of late winter there were times when I entertained the thought that I might have too much time on my hands. I certainly had all the time in the world to work on posts, polishing them 'til I thought they shone. (Not at all the same thing as them actually shining, obviously.)

Yeah, well that didn't last. Two and a half hours of dog-walking a day put paid to any concerns I had about finding something to keep me busy and also any semblence of organization or coherency in the posts. It's quite hard to hold onto your train of thought when a dog suddenly appears next to you and starts barking because she wants to... I don't know... anyone speak dog?

A dog is for life but a puppy's just for a while, though. She's already turning into a surly teenager and in six months, with luck, she'll be a responsible young adult. Just like I was. (I'm fond of irony. It's a cultural trope over here.)

This is my twelfth year of blogging. I don't suffer from triskaidekophobia, thankfully, although I am finding myself to be increasingly superstitious as I get older. You won't catch me not saying hello to a single magpie, that's for sure. 

I feel I have a few years of blogging in me yet, everything else being equal, so with luck and the will of the fates, let's meet back here in a year's time and do it all again. And if we get another batch of first-timers I'll try and come up with something different by way of an introduction.

Oh, who am I kidding? I won't even remember what I wrote by this time next week, let alone next year!

Monday, August 8, 2022

Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too! : Noah's Heart - Final First Impressions (After This It'll Just Be "Impressions", I Guess...)

There's one obvious drawback to writing long, effusive "First Impressions" posts about brand-new games you've only played for an hour or two: you have no idea what you're talking about. 

Think back to your first few sessions in any mmorpg you care to remember. Did you know what you  were doing? Did you understand the systems and mechanics? Could you find your way around? Did you even know what the game was about?

No. Of course you didn't. Not unless you'd done a ton of research in advance, watched a bunch of playthroughs or streams or instructional videos, read the wiki, been to the fansites, had a friend who played who'd told you all about it...

You didn't do any of that. You just downloaded the game, registered, made a character, logged in and started playing. You barely knew enough to follow the tutorial, if you could even manage that much. And even if the tutorial was well-designed and comprehensive, it didn't do a lot more than introduce you to the basic structure of the game. That's all a tutorial ever does.

Imagine if you'd logged out after that first session, opened up your text editor of choice and jotted down your thoughts about what had just happened. How much sense do you think it would have made? How helpful do you think your opinions and conclusions and - god forbid - explanations would have been to someone else just about to start?

Now imagine if you hadn't just retailed those jottings to your friends or your guildmates but to the whole frickin' world by way of the internet. Would that have been a responsible way to behave? Seriously, now, would it?

If you type "First Impressions Noah's Heart" into Google right now, this is what you get:



Those are the top three results. The first isn't even from the game as it is now. It's from the Closed Beta Test. The other two are mine.

I'm sorry. I apologize. I didn't know no-one else was going to write about the damn game. I thought it was popular. 

It is popular. On Mobile. Half a million downloads on Google Play and sitting comfortably at 3.9/5 from fifteen thousand reviews. Not quite as strong on iOS but close.

On PC? No-one seems to have noticed. Hence my pre-eminent position in the listings, disseminating misinformation to anyone foolish enough to take me seriously.

If this was a conventional website I'd be issuing retractions and corrections, trying to cover myself and salvage some credibility at the same time. Luckily it's just a blog and since blogging's dead, no-one really cares. I can say what I want.

Still, I can't help but feel some responsibility. I don't want to confuse people. I'd like to make amends for my mistakes. The trouble is, I don't even know enough to know what I got wrong. If I try to correct my errors I might very well compound them instead.

Here's an example. Talking about levels, in my second First Impressions post I claimed, with some conviction, "I believe the current cap is 68." Oh, really? How do you explain this, then?

Yes, well, maybe... But nope. Not falling for the same trick twice. Full disclosure: 

  • I have no idea what that board is.
  • I have no idea what I can "collect".
  • I have no idea what those levels are.

They might be character levels. Maybe you can level to 200 and beyond. I'd be a fool to say so, though. 

In Noah's Heart a lot of things seem to have levels: houses, mounts, Phantoms, careers, Exploration... Maybe there's a "Notice Boards" level that progresses. Who knows?

Not me and I'm done pretending I do. That screenshot above even points to a second example of my ignorance. See the timetable?

In the same First Impressions post, talking about train and ship schedules, I handed out this backhanded compliment: "Noah's Heart has actual, printed times, albeit only for the next arrival or departure. I'd be more impressed if it was for the whole day but it's a start."

Now, technically, what I said does appear to be true but it's a misleading, mean-spirited snipe, all the same. When I made it, I'd seen precisely one provincial railway station, a single-platform halt outside a small village somewhere I've already forgotten. 

There was one train going to one place. I was impressed in the way Dr. Johnson claimed one might be in his famously misogynistic epigram. It wasn't that I was impressed to see railways and scheduling done well in Noah's Heart; I was impressed to see them done at all.

Now I've visited the station in Gulf Stream City I'd like to formally retract my cynicism and register instead my full, unironic admiration for what the developers and designers have created. The station strongly reassembles those great works of Victorian invention, all brass railings and vaulted wrought-iron ceilings.

It has not just multiple platforms but multiple levels connected by long flights of stone steps. Huge, gleaming, polished locomotives steam in, pull up, wait for passengers to board, then depart. They come and go on different lines, heading to various destinations according to a posted timetable that predicts arrivals and departures to the second.

To board, you simply walk through the doors, find a seat, sit down and wait for the appointed moment, whereupon the train sets off, leaving the station through a force-field of yellow hexes preventing travelers from entering the tunnels or falling onto the rails. 

Sadly, if perhaps practically, you don't get to sit for the full journey, watching the scenery flash by. There's a short transition before the train appears outside its destination, allowing just enough time to appreciate the change of locale before it pulls into the station to let you step down onto the platform.


It's slick and delightful or it is if you're enough of an aficionado of train travel  to enjoy the trappings but not such a grognard as to demand a complete simulacrum. I love it. I can easily imagine setting myself a goal of traveling on every train, seeing every station and taking snapshots of them all. I'm kind of surprised that's not already a formal option in the game. 

Or maybe it is. How would I know?

I believe there's an equivalent network of ships and ports to be discovered and experienced but learning my lesson I'll say no more about that until I've experienced it for myself. As yet I haven't even made it as far as the coast so further comment would be premature in the extreme.

I will say, though, that Noah's Heart is shaping up to be a very good mmorpg indeed. Possibly, though it galls me somewhat to say it, given how much time, effort and praise I devoted to that game earlier this year, a better one than Chimeraland.  


If it does turn out to be the superior of the two, I really won't be complaining. We're blessed to have two such wide-ranging, atmospheric open-world, exploration titles arriving so close together. I just hope I can learn to keep my facts straight and not lead people astray, should they be rash enough to come here looking for advice or information.

At least the pictures tell their own story. I'll keep taking plenty of those. I can always use the extras for IntPiPoMO, if we're doing it again this year.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Closed For The Weekend


Until I woke up this morning I had no intention of doing two music posts in a row. But then, I also had no clue what I was going to post about, either. 

I just knew I'd have next to no time to come up with an idea, bang it out, tidy it up and call it done. I had a full Sunday schedule: work, phone my mother, walk the dog. All of that was likely to take me close to bedtime before I even sat down at the keyboard.

Best I could come up with was to string a few screenshots together, probably the grounds of my mansion in Noah's Heart, add a couple of supposedly amusing lines of commentary and hope for the best. Sometimes those are the kind of posts that turn out surprisingly well. Sometimes they're not.

I did have one thing on my side. It was Sunday. It still is, as I'm writing this, although almost certainly not as you read it. 

Here's my Blaugust Mentor Tip of the Day to anyone who hasn't been at this game for long, although I suspect most of our many new Blaugustians have been at it quite long enough already to be familiar with the secret I'm about to reveal: no-one reads blogs on the weekend.


Okay, it's an exaggeration to say no-one. Some people do. I do, for a start, or I did, back when I had weekends off. Not so much any more.

Most people, at least as far as I can tell, read blogs during the week, on someone else's time, while they're at work. I would, too, if I had the kind of job that allowed it. I did have just that kind of job for most of the nineties and much of the aughts and you'd faint to know what I got away with but sadly these days I actually have to do some work if I want to get paid.

For much of my blogging career (Hah! Career!) I was blithely unaware of this rule. I also had a longstanding work pattern that left me free to work on the blog on weekends. Consequently I tended to post my longer, more thoughtful pieces on Saturdays and Sundays. Then I wondered why no-one seemed to be interested.

Now I know better, which is why you're getting this instead of, oh, say, this. Not that that's a very good example. It's long, sure, and detailed, but it's something of a shambles and it didn't get a single comment, even though I posted it in the middle of the week. There's no evidence anyone actually read it.

That would seem like a cue for Blaugust Mentor Tip of the Day #2. (Can you have two "Tips of the Day"?), namely never expect feedback on a post just because you put a lot of work into it. Seriously, just don't. You'll be happier that way.


As every blogger who's been at the game for a while knows, the most feedback comes from posts you dashed off in your coffee break, while the posts you spent hours or even days researching, editing and polishing pass by in a haze of dust and tumbleweed, never to be heard of again. You get used it after a while.

SInce no-one's reading this, I could just stop here. I've more than fulfilled my Blaugust obligations (To myself, obviously. Blaugust is entirely obligation-free.) Just on the off chance there is someone reading, though, I suppose I ought to pick up the baton from paragraph one and explain why I began by going on about writing a second consecutive music post after yesterday's

It was because of a post by Emily of Monsterlady's Diary, which I just about had time to read before I went to work this morning. The post, which I found fascinating, goes by the exemplary, self-explanatory title "Attempting to see a Music Genre I Hate in a New Light". If only I could stick to titles like that, we'd all be so much happier, especially me, when I go back to look something up six months later. I'd make that tip #3 but I couldn't live with the irony.

I trust the handful of people still reading this (Maybe a little more than a handful, since it's still the first week of Blaugust and we all feel duty-bound to try and read everything. Come back in ten days and see how that's going...) will have clicked through and read the post but to summarise it's about rap and hip-hop, why Emily finds them problematic and what she's done about changing that.

 

Rap and hip-hop, which are clearly two genres not one but everyone still lumps them together, has been the dominant musical form in the West, commercially anyway, for at least two decades. I didn't know that until surprisingly recently because a) I'm old,  b) we all live in cultural bubbles and c) EverQuest

I'm pretty sure Himalayan nose-flute instrumentals could have been the dominant musical form in the first decade of the twenty-first century and I wouldn't have noticed, unless the halflings in Rivervale had started playing them (Which would have been a major improvement over the hurdy-gurdy nightmare the hairy-footed little bastards did favor.)

Even so, I was a fairly early-adopter of rap and hip-hop, at least in my own cultural cul-de-sac. I certainly got into enough arguments in my twenties and thirties, defending my enjoyment of the likes of Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and, of course, the Beastie Boys. Ex-punks turned indie kids back then were not as open to change as you might imagine. Or more like exactly that open.

I mostly fell out of like with the genre with the rise of what we broadly understood as Gangster Rap (Or should that be Gangsta?). At the time there were a couple of teenage boys in the house so I heard more of it than would have liked but since my interests had temporarily shifted from music to mmorpgs I made no attempt to engage, just to escape.

I still don't like that style of rap or hip-hop. As must be plain to regular readers, I love me some creative cussing, but good swearing, like good comedy, is all about the timing. If you just replace every fucking adjective with "fucking" it kind of loses the impact. Or, rather, it gains the wrong kind of impact. Instead of the shock of a firework going off right next to you it's more like someone banging a nail into the wall next door - tedious, annoying, predictable and repetitive.

This isn't my post about swearing in music, though. I'm still thinking about that. This is just a quick nod to an interesting post by a fellow Blaugustian (I do like that word.) and something of a Note To Self to do something similar when I have the time. I've made a concerted effort over the last few years to educate myself at least to the point where I can recognize some of the major names in the field, have a rough idea what they sound like and maybe even know why they're respected - or not.

Any learning I achieve is naturally offset (I know who Offset is, by the way. Kind of. I just mention it by way of an example.) by my bloody awful memory but at least I stand a chance of remembering if I'm reminded, which is about all I can expect. And the more you keep at it, the more sinks in. 

Also, the more you listen, the more you hear. Any new musical genre all sounds the same when you first encounter it. You have to expose yourself to a lot of it before the diferences begin to come through.

It is worth it, even with genres you hate. Maybe especially with those. Thanks to having to share workspace with someone who played almost nothing but classic Country for weeks, I can even hear a pedal steel guitar now without wanting to poke my eardrums out with a skewer.

That's about all I have time for right now but it occurs to me this might make a series: Music I Hate and Why I Like It. Something like that.

Thanks for the idea, Emily. This is what Blaugust is all about. Pity it's the weekend and no-one's going to see any of it...

Saturday, August 6, 2022

KPop, Pop-Punk and Poetry


When you subscribe to feeds from several music sites, you do tend to end up hearing a lot about things you probably wouldn't otherwise, some of which you're glad to discover, others you wish you hadn't. If it wasn't for Pitchfork, Stereogum and NME, there's a very good chance I'd have had no idea who Belghast was talking about when he gave us his take on Machine Gun Kelly last friday.

Unfortunately, I did know who he meant. Over the last few months, I've read much more than I wanted to about the rapper-turned-pop-punk's endless spats and kerfuffles with other musicians, most of whom, like Corey Taylor of Slipknot, I don't much care about, either. 

Okay, I didn't have to read all those "news" stories. I could just not have clicked through the links. Sometimes these things have a lugubrious undertow that can't easily be resisted.

At about this point I suppose you might expect me to interpolate something by MGK by way of illustration. That would be crazy, although not quite as crazy as it sounds. He did a song called Forget Me Too with Halsey. I could have used that, in a pinch. Halsey is predictably great in it. MGK, though? Yeah, not so much.

I've liked Halsey for years, enough even to have bought their recent collection of poetry, I Would Leave Me If I Could.  Hey, here's an idea. Maybe we just have Halsey alone, reading a poem. The best choice would be this, which is stunning and magnificent but also a little much to throw at an unprepared audience. I very highly recommend it all same but just know what you're getting into. 

We'll have this one instead. 


Halsey's such a great reader of verse, something that's so much harder than almost everyone, especially poets, seems to realise. I really need to get the audiobook.

Machine Gun Kelly may take up more than his fair share of space in my feeds but since I subbed to NME his tantrums fade into complete insignificance in comparison with the coverage of KPop I'm routinely expected to consume. I'm ashamed to admit I click through fewer of those links than I do for MGK or Liam Gallagher, even though it's a sure thing I'd enjoy listening to just about any KPop icon more than either of those two. 

Pop stars having a pop at each other is so hard to resist, though, and Liam does have genuine comic timing. I kind of wish he'd use it on MGK sometime.

Despite the best efforts of the highly enthusiastic NME team, I still can't pretend to know anything about KPop, unlike Michelle of A Geek Girl's Guide. She joined Blaugust this year after seven years of blogging, and she's posted KPop pieces here, here and yes, here  already. 

I've learned a lot, not least because I love the format of those posts with the huge, embedded videos. It amost makes me want to give Inventory Full a makeover. That look just demands you scroll all the way down. I did.

It's just as well because about the only act she mentioned in her long Debuts and Comebacks piece that I'd heard of came right at the end: Stray Kids. There's something by them in one of my music posts here, somewhere,I'm pretty sure, although I'm not going to be the one to go find it. 

As Michelle suggests, Stray Kids are pretty "rock" for KPop, something you definitely can't say about the artist whose link I did click through at NME last week. It was the headline that got me: "Choi Yena brings out her gamer side in new music video for ‘Smartphone’."

As the piece goes on to explain "In the vibrant visual, Choi is a gamer who guides an avatar of herself through a playground filled with whimsical mascots, eventually stopping at a shooting game inspired by the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise." You want to see that, don't you?

Well, tough. I do.


One of these days I'm going to do a post about songs inspired by or based around video games. Can't believe I haven't already. 

That'll have to wait until I've done some research though because right now the only one that comes to mind is the most obvious one of all and I'm pretty sure we've had it here before, maybe more than once. 

Still, it's clinically impossible to have too much Lana del Rey so what the hell. Let's do it.


And with that, I'm off to bed. God knows what I'm going to post tomorrow. I imagine I'll come up with something. 

Welcome to Blaugust!

Friday, August 5, 2022

Welcome To My Mansion: First Impressions Of Housing In Noah's Heart

After yesterday's massive wall of text I think I'd better try and keep this short but I'm telling you now, it's not going to be easy. I got my house in Noah's Heart and boy, is it something!

I'd guess I probably run Syp a close second in the way I count housing a priority in my mmorpgs. It's a little strange, when you think that I played for five years without ever having a house in any of them, but ever since I got my first inn room in the EverQuest II beta back in 2004 I've never felt entirely comfortable in games that don't give you a home of your own.

Housing or what passes for it in mmorpgs varies enormously. I still rate EQII's housing system best-in-show although I'm aware that most of its subtleties and nuances remain closely guarded secrets, known only to a small cadre of obsessives. At the other end of the scale come half-hearted, box-ticking excercises like Guild Wars 2's Home Instances, which resemble true housing the way crashing on friends' hotel room floors at comic conventions resembled getting a room for the night when I did it back in the eighties.


 

From what I've seen of it so far, housing in Noah's Heart lands somewhere close to the top of the curve. It's impressive. Anyone who's really into housing in mmos is probably going to want to take a look.

Luckily, that's not too hard to do. The game is free-to-play, available on both mobile and PC and all you have to do to get a house of your own there is make it to level 43 then wait a couple of days. The waiting is the hardest part.

The house you get, described in game, accurately for once, as "a mansion", is given to your character by the King as a reward for services rendered. Unfortunately, you can't move in right away because it has to be made ready for you first, a job that takes exactly forty-eight hours. Real time.


 

You can keep track of the progress in the housing window, where you can watch timers ticking down for each of the five required items in turn: a plant stand, a drying table, a dining chair, an aquarium for eels and finally the key to the door. When that's all done, you can click the Housing button on the main menu and teleport to your new home.

Well, the grounds, anyway. Housing in Noah's Heart comes as two separate instances; Indoors and Outdoors. You arrive outside the front door, where you're greeted by Marcella, an NPC who seems confused over her role, which appears to incorporate everything from architect to butler. 

Her official title is Architecture Envoy but however she styles herself, her advice is invaluable. Through her you'll learn how to find and place items of furniture and generally come to terms with your new responsibilities.


 

She'll also give you an introduction to Jessie, an outgoing redhead with bunches and a look straight out of the 1970s. Jessie is a craftsman, "Craftsman" being one of the game's three tradeskills. (The other two are Masterchef and Tailor, in case you were wondering.) The annoyingly-named trade makes furniture and also Enchantments, about which I know absolutely nothing.

Crafting in Noah's Heart is a whole other post and one I am in no way equipped to write as yet. All I know so far is the little Jessie's taught me and the even less I've been able to work out for myself. I will go so far as to say that crafting in Noah's Heart looks like it might be pretty well designed, though.

Furniture making definitely is. There are plenty of recipes for lots of things that look immediately appealing, if you're the sort of player who gets excited by occasional tables and leather sofas, which of course I am. 


 

For me, the aesthetic appeal of the items plus the creative satisfaction of decorating my imaginary home would be more than enough to send me out into the countryside, chopping down trees, breaking rocks and skinning deer for the wood, stone and hides I'd need but there's a more gameplay-oriented motivation, too. While you get full and immediate access to the very extensive and exceptionally scenic grounds of your country retreat, when you step through the door to assess the interior, you're in for something of a surprise, not to say shock.

One room. One room! That's all you get. Or, rather, that's all you get to start. The rest of the mansion you'll have to earn and the way you do that is by making the place look nice!

It's brilliant. You can see the floorplan of your home so you know it has seventeen rooms, almost all of them larger than the one you're standing in but you can't get to any of them - yet. You have to level up your house just like you level up your Phantoms, your mount and yourself. If you like leveling you're going to love Noah's Heart.

To level up the house you need to meet the required stats for each level as it comes. Your house has five stats: Decoration, Practical, Coziness, Tech and Cultural. Different furniture boosts different combinations. For example, that eel aquarium I mentioned adds 300 to Decoration and 600 to Practical.

At this point I ought to emphasize I don't really know any more about all of this than I've seen in game. If there are outside resources, I haven't consulted them. I can say with certainty that the house has those five stats and that the tool tip says furniture can modify them but I can also say that all the furniture I've looked at only adds to Decoration and Practical. (Confusingly referred to as "Uitility" on the furniture itself.)

Regardless, I think it looks like an excellent system. It's very similar to the one Chimeraland uses but as with just about every point of reference the two games share, Noah's Heart is NASA to Chimeraland's high school science project. 

For those that value housing for the perks it confers to other aspects of gameplay, don't fret. You're covered. 

The first room to unlock is the Alchemy Workshop, not that you'd know it if you hadn't been told; it's just an empty space. Unlocking it requires House Level 2, which also unlocks Study

That's a function, by the way, not the name of another room, although for all I know there may well be a Study somewhere in the mansion. This just means you can "study" each day to get bonuses. What bonuses I can't tell you because I haven't unlocked them yet, other than the first two, Basic Energy Recovery and Basic Fatigue Recovery - 100 points of each per day.

Owning a house also gives you access to the Dispatch system, something that will be familiar to players of World of Warcraft or either of the EverQuest titles, where similar functionality is provided by Garrisons or the Overseer feature. You can send your Phantoms on missions of varying length, for which you're rewarded with various currencies.

You can also assign Phantoms to specific rooms, which also brings benefits, although what they are is currently beyond my remit to explain. The Alchemy Workshop gets you crafting mats, that much I do know. When I unlock another room maybe I'll know more.

And since we seem to be reaching the outer limits of my not very extensive knowledge, I think it's probably about time we stopped. I did say I was going to try to keep it short. 

If nothing else, I can say that I'm very impressed with what I've seen of Noah's Heart's housing offer so far. It seems to have been thought through with unusual clarity and implemented cleanly and coherently. Aesthetically, it's gorgeous, practically it's useful and functionally it's intuitive and comfortable. 

I'd go so far as to say it has the potential to be one of the better mmorpg housing systems I've seen although I'd probably need to be a little further up the housing ladder than the second rung to say it with any authority. For personal taste, I still don't think you can really beat systems that allow fully free construction and placement like Chimeraland or EQII, but Noah's Heart looks to have both decoration and progression firmly nailed down and I suspect there may be a lot more depth than I've yet been able to discover.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go chop some wood. Those beds and bureaus won't make themselves.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Like A Boss : Noah's Heart First Impressions #3

It finally happened! Late yesterday afternoon, not long after dinging 53, I finally lost a boss fight in Noah's Heart.  The momentous event occurred, co-incidentally but amusingly, mere seconds after I'd received the misleadingly-named "Undefeated" achievement, which merely asks that you kill five hundred mobs, not that you don't die while doing it.

It's an achievement that tells a story of its own: Noah's Heart is not primarily a game about killing things for the sake of it. Five hundred mobs in more than fifty levels is nothing by the standards of almost any mmorpg I've ever played. I would guess most games would see that kill count exceeded in the first ten levels. Many would match it in the first five.

The usual murder-hobo trope just hasn't played a major part in the game so far. There's plenty of hoboing, alright, but precious little murder as you travel from place to place almost entirely for the purposes of conversation. The talking almost literally never ends, while the killing almost literally never starts.

That's if you choose to progress almost solely by following the main story quest, as I have. In doing so, you travel a lot without seeing very much of the world. Every time you need to go somewhere further away than the other side of the street, a portal opens up to teleport you or you find yourself whirring across the sky in a balloon. About the only time I've seen open countryside has been when the plot required me to go somewhere I didn't have the portal for and the game was forced to take me there on horseback.

In my initial First Impressions post I mentioned I hadn't seen much in the way of the usual "Kill Ten Rats" kind of quests. That hasn't changed but I can now also confirm that for the first fifty or so levels, at least, I've not been tasked with many "Fetch" or "Escort" quests either. 

Such traditional quests do exist outside of the core questline, as I discovered when my monomaniacal obsession with the MSQ saw me racing ahead of the expected pace. Twice so far I've had to cool my heels for a while, doing favors for locals in small towns to gain xp until the number next to my name caught up with the level required by the next step in the quest journal.

Even so, I can't say with any confidence there are the kind of xp grind options you'd expect from a game that leaves you to find your own way for a few levels now and then. I did eventually force myself to go exploring, heading over the nearest hill to see what was on the other side, but although I had some adventures, I didn't see many monsters wandering around, doing their own thing, waiting to be popped for xp. I suspect you're supposed to do some of the repeatable instance content instead.

I did quite a bit of that as well. It seemed advisable. My brief experience suggests there isn't a lot roaming around the countryside other than a few small pockets of creatures, probably intended to be culled for crafting materials. I killed a few in passing just to see how tough they were and what they dropped. They either died in one hit or lasted a few seconds at most and all they had were hides, meat and the like. When I figure out how crafting works at least I'll know where to go for the mats.

Such anecdotal evidence isn't of much value, of course. The game tallies exploration stats for all the regions you visit and none of mine stand anywhere higher than 3%, so I wouldn't draw too many conclusions. The absence of aggressive wildlife, bandits, orcs, lizardmen and what-have-you does make the game feel very different from, well, just about any other mmorpg I've ever played, though. 

And not in a bad way, either. It's actually pretty nice just to be able to mosey around the countryside, enjoying the scenery and not getting jumped by the locals. Even other, recent, laid-back games I've enjoyed, like Genshin Impact and Chimeraland, perhaps the two titles Noah's Heart most obviously resembles, don't allow quite this degree of peaceful exploration.

Given the paucity of targets, a reasonable question to ask at this point might be "So how did you come to kill even five hundred mobs, then?" There's a very simple answer: MSQ combat instances. There are loads of them and the further along the storyline I get, the faster they seem to appear.

The pattern is very simple: chat to some NPCs to find out what their problem is; chat to some more NPCs for further details; chat to even more NPCs about what to do next; discover it's going to be a fight.

It's always a fight. That makes it sound more predictable than it really is and there are plenty of variations, but in essence that's the core gameplay loop as far as the MSQ goes so far.

The fights are even more on rails than the story. They always take place in an instanced location. You always teleport there from a window that pops up when you accept the mission. A glowing trail of light always leads you through the instance to the boss. Several groups of mobs always attempt to bar your way. 

Nothing ever happens in the instance other than fights and there's never any need, nor really any opportunity, to look around, much less explore. Every mission is on two timers, a short one for the bonus rewards and a longer one for general quest completion. As soon as you kill the boss you have thirty seconds to leave before the instance closes.

Each of the defending groups has something like four to six members and there are two to four groups before you reach the boss. I'd guess I was killing around a couple of dozen mobs per instance on average. 

All of the above is from memory and therefore subject to revision. I haven't been taking notes.

Until that fateful fight yesterday afternoon, almost none of the mobs, instances or bosses had given me much in the way of trouble at all, to the point where I'd managed to complete every last one of them inside the shorter timer. The regular mobs I just mowed through with no thought or tactics whatsoever; the bosses I occasionally had to take a very slight amount of care over, mostly because the later ones start to exhibit some tactical skills like teleporting or needing to be killed several times before they'd actually die.

I have, as yet, no real understanding of almost any of the elements of the game that contribute to combat efficiency. There's the usual multiplicity of systems relating to power and tactics, everything from team composition, including the choice of which Phantoms to bring for what skills and abilities against which specific mobs that might be vulnerable to them, to the individual skills of those Phantoms and the way they might form combos with one another, to the inevitable upgrades and enhancements for your and their armor and weapons. 

There's a lot more to consider. I've just listed the really basic stuff and I haven't begun to come terms even with that. I've been bumbling along, sticking to the same team (The first four Phantoms I happened to acquire.), letting them level up alongside me as they can. I've spent such development points as I've received pretty much at random and equipped whatever drops purely on the say-so of the automatic gear comparison widget that pops up when you loot anything it sees as an upgrade.

It would be more than fair to say I've done very little to improve my skills, knowledge or tactics at any point since I started playing and that my fighting technique consists of little more than frenetic button-mashing. And yet, in fifty-three levels, I have lost just that one fight and I really should have won that, too.

I knew I was taking a risk when I went in. The bosses, as I said, have been getting tougher but the real issue has been my combat rating compared to that of the instances. There's a very clear, numerical value shown on the pop-up for each mission, letting you know how close to par you are and I've been meticulous in not trying to fight above my weight, even if it's meant putting off an instance for a while until I've done a few other things to boost my numbers. It's about the only serious prep I have done.

Yesterday I got cocky. There was something like a four-thousand point difference in ranking between my team and the instance they were attempting. Not in their favor, obviously. I should have waited but I thought, what the hell, I'll give it a go.

It was a proper fight, probably the only one I've had so far. It went on for nearly ten minutes. More than once things looked rough but I kept believing we were going to pull through. Only the damn boss would not die. 

I lost count but I'm minded to say that by the time he finally got the better of me, he himself had come back from the dead three times. It's a mechanic I personally detest. I'd far rather a boss took three times as long to kill than had three health bars. You kill them, you're done, you know? Or I am, anyway.

Even with everyone down, I should still have been able to kill the boss for the purposes of the mission because there's a free in-instance rez that brings you back at full health, while leaving the boss on whatever percentage he was when you died. I can't give chapter and verse on the exact mechanics because, well, I only saw it that once. I'd never died before.

Given my opponents repeated resurrections I felt entirely justified in using one of my own. The problem was it didn't work. I ran into a bug! It was the first I'd seen in the game and showed up at the worst possible time.

The resurrection itself went perfectly except for one thing: when I reappeared I found myself impaled on the scenery. I could see the boss on the other side of the room but he was out of aggro range and none of my abilities could reach him. I wriggled about every which way but I couldn't get loose. It was frustrating, I'll tell you that for nothing.

The fight had gone on so long, there were only a couple of minutes on the clock when my team went down and rezzing doesn't reset the timer. I flopped around while the timer ticked down to zero. Then the instance kicked me out.

Bummer! Now I have to do it all again, something else I really hate. I've learned my lesson, though. Don't get overconfident. Yes, it's been a doddle up to now but as I said last time, it's really just been an extended tutorial. I think that part might finally be coming to an end. I'm rapidly approaching the point where the things I do begin to matter.

Whether that's going to dampen my enthusiasm we'll have to wait to find out. I'm going to have to start figuring out how some of these systems work and applying that knowledge to building a more effective team. I should probably also not try to fight outside my weight class.

One thing I can say for certain is that the combat in Noah's Heart is a lot more to my taste than in the otherwise very similar Genshin Impact. Not enjoying the fights was the main reason I drifted away from that game. I never felt I had much chance of "getting good" there. 

In Noah's Heart, becoming at least competent at combat does seem like it might be a theoretical possibility. It depends on whether I want to make the effort. And also, I guess, on how the monetization works. It is a Gacha game, after all. 

I don't propose to start spending real money on Noah's Heart so I just hope the developers want a lot of casuals running around, making the place look busy for the paying customers. I imagine they do. After all, there's no point flaunting your wealth if there's no-one poorer than you to see you doing it, is there?

If so, I'll be more than happy to sit on a bench for a while, mumbling "Rhubarb rhubarb" at the whales as they swim by in their finery. I think I'd be pretty good at that.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Let's Take Some Time To Review Our Options, Shall We?


Naithin
mentioned, in a post at Time To Loot yesterday, how he'd dropped his Humble Bundle review series because he no longer enjoyed writing them. He also explained the reason he wasn't into it so much any more was the quality of the bundles themselves, which "seemed to be falling off a cliff."

I have never bought a Humble Bundle in my life. Never even considered it. I only know they exist because various bloggers I follow have written about them over the years. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed Naithin's posts on them because I like to read short, pithy reviews of just about anything, regardless of whether there's the remotest chance I'll ever buy, use, play, read, listen to or watch it myself.

Reviews like that certainly don't need to be comprehensive, detailed or authoritative. The reviewer doesn't need to have finished whatever the thing they're reviewing happens to be for me to find their opinions interesting. They don't even need to have started it, frankly, although that probably does give their conclusions a little more weight.

Krikket at Nerd Girl Thoughts, for example, has an excellent series called Quick Look (currently incorporating #JustOnePercent.) in which she fires off pocket reviews of games she's played at least long enough to come to some kind of judgment on whether they're for her or not, even if that's only a few minutes. I always look forward to reading them, whenever they pop up in my feed, although there's hardly ever a chance I'll be interested in the games themselves.

As Naithin found, posts clearly signaled "Review" pick up more than the average number of page views. In keeping with his advice, with which I wholeheartedly agree, I no longer pay more than fleeting attention to my stats here on Inventory Full, but I can say that posts with things like "Review", "Preview" or "First Impressions" in the title do reliably outscore most others.

From the website.

If I was more interested in boosting my numbers than I have been in many years I'd probably have been well-advised to give my own series on the monthly free offer from Amazon Prime some kind of snappy, SEO-friendly title, like "This Month's Free Games On Prime". Of course, as any regular readers will know, that's not the way we swing around here.

It's true I have finally retrenched from my years-long flirtation with using only the names of songs or snatches of lyrics as post titles but, while that decision did briefly result in some relatively plain, declarative headlines, I think it's fair to say obscurantism and whimsy have firmly re-established precedence. 

I frequently can't even remember by the next morning why I called a post what I did. I don't recommend it. It's not just misleading and unhelpful to anyone visiting the blog - it annoys me, when I have to go back and look for a specific post and can't even begin to guess which it might be. I'm all for amusing, witty or imaginative titles but a modicum of informational value might be helpful.

In the case of my series on Prime free games and giveaways, the other factor to consider is that it's not really a series at all. I never planned on posting about it every month, like some kind of unpaid shill for one of the biggest companies in the world, like some kind of blank-eyed, post-capitalist drone. These things just happen.

The implausable, unfashionable, unpalatable truth is I just like writing those posts. It amuses me. 

From the App.

Also, they're really easy. Heck, they amost write themselves. All I have to do is open the Amazon Games app, browse the offer, pick the ones that interest me, take a few screenshots, cut and paste a few descriptions and bingo's your uncle.

Since, as I said, I don't pay much attention to my stats, I can't even say for sure whether anyone reads them but I honestly don't care. I know they tend not to attract much in the way of comments but the same could be said of any number of much better constructed, researched and considered pieces. Trying to second-guess which posts are going to attract comments is a right old mug's game.

In hobby-blogging, one of the few elements entirely under the blogger's control is whether or not the posts feel enjoyable to produce. If you can sit back and feel you had fun putting a piece together that's as much justification as you need for the time you spent on it. 

Similarly, as Naithin says, if it isn't fun, don't feel you have to keep doing it just because other people seem to expect it. This isn't a job and your reader's aren't your customers, let alone your bosses. If you're doing it right, though, they may become your friends and your friends wouldn't want you to keep doing something you don't enjoy any more.

All of which is a protracted, Blaugustian introduction to the post I sat down to write, namely  

This Month's Free Games On Prime

Ah, if only that were the title, eh? Also, there's a reason the introduction's so long. There are only four of them this month and I only claimed two of them. Doesn't give me much to work with. Have to pad these things out somehow.
 

Of course, when I say there are four free games on Prime this August, what I really mean is six. I'm not going to go over it again but, as the above screen grabs show, the offer you get on the Amazon Games app is different, by which I mean less generous, than the one on the Amazon Prime web page.
 
The four free games on the Prime app this August are:
Three out of the four score Highly Positive on Steam, with Recompile the outlier at a worrying Mixed. Zack McKraken is the seemingly-inevitable contribution from Lucas Arts. Seriously, is there some billionaire boys' club backscratching going on behind the scenes here or what?

Despite never having found a Lucas Arts game I liked and barely having liked the look of any enough to play them at all, I still grabbed Zack because who knows when I might run out of point&clicks? 
 
I also took Beasts of Maravilla Island. I've been dithering over several similar photo-journalist hunt-and-collects on Steam, without ever coming down in favor of any of them, so a free version is something of a gimme in more ways than one. I might even play it someday.
 

The larger offer on the website includes two extra games, both of which I claimed:

Family Mysteries: Poisonous Promises - "hidden object puzzle-adventure."
Starcraft: Remastered - Doesn't get a description beyond "a classic".

I took Starcraft because you can't not, can you? I'll never play it. It will sit on my Battlenet account unused even if I do eventually decide to give ActiBlizz a conditional pass and go back, which I most likely will when Microsoft finally get their hands on the keys.
 
Why I bothered to claim Family Mysteries I'm not really sure. Prime threw a bunch of Hidden Object games into the pot last month. I 'd been curious for a while to find out more about the genre so I claimed them and tried one right away. 
 
I wouldn't say I didn't enjoy it on any level but after a couple of hours I came away with the overriding feeling I'd just wasted an evening. It was like playing a point&click adventure but without everything that makes that experience involving, interesting or amusing. 
As an analogy, I'd suggest it was like listening to an album you like being played in the house next door; a vague hint of the melody, muffled almost beyond recognition by the thick walls, the odd snatch of lyric, occasionally drifting up through the floorboards. At best, it makes you want to find your own copy and put it on. At worst it makes you want to bang on the walls and tell the neighbors to turn it down.

Probably not going to be playing that one, then. Probably shouldn't claim any more like it, either.

As for the freebies for games I play, there's nothing to report. Some dyes for Lost Ark, a game it looks increasingly likely I will never play again. That was about it.

And there we must leave the mysterious world of Amazon Prime until next month, when I do hope you'll all be back to see what surprises are in store for us then. It's a pretty safe bet I'll be here, anyway. Not much chance I'll be able to resist the combined attractions of free stuff and an easy post. 

Why would I even try?
Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide