Monday, January 31, 2022

My Game Of Rest And Relaxation

Something commenter Angry Onions said, last time I posted about Chimeraland, started me thinking. "Most monsters aren't aggressive." It's true. They're not. Is that why I felt more immediately comfortable there than in many other unfamiliar games?

It certainly does help, when you're trying to learn the ropes, if everything around isn't trying to rip your head off. I'd say no more than ten or fifteen per cent of all the creatures I've seen exhibit what we used to call "Kill on Sight" behavior back in the days of EverQuest. It's a piece of jargon you don't hear so much any more, although the concept and the mechanics still operate in most mmorpgs. 

Back then, "conning" mobs to see whether they were KoS was an absolutely crucial survival skill, because "kill on sight" had nothing to do with how you felt about the mob - it was what the mob was going to do you the minute it got the chance. The variation in attitude displayed by different creatures was immense, all signaled by a codified array of colors and phrases, from red at the extreme end of danger through yellow, warning you not to get too close, to safe, cool, neutral greens and blues.

Most games had their own versions. I guess they still do but I'm struggling to remember what they might be. I play Guild Wars 2 every day but I couldn't tell you, without logging in to check or going to the wiki to look it up, whether there's some particular message or indicator to tell you how a given monster or NPC is likely to react if you get close.

Yeah, I don't care what the rules say. I'm not going anywhere near that.

The thing people tend to remember these days isn't so much how aggressively mobs behave as how many of them there are, how closely they're packed together and whether they have a lot of extremely irritating crowd control abilities designed to stop you just barrelling past them at speed. 

If you'd tried that in EQ or Dark Age of Camelot, unless you were a bard or a skald you'd have come to a very bad end but in just about every mmorpg I've played for years, putting your head down and charging has been the recommended approach to crossing open country. Developers seem to have preferred to deter such a disrespectful approach to their work either by making zones that require a lot of z-axis work to navigate or by packing the mobs so close together that something's bound to tag you eventually, no matter how you zig and zag.

There are a number of reasons why I don't like GW2's last expansion, Path of Fire but the extreme combination of shoulder-to-shoulder mobs with crazily over-tuned crowd control abilities and hideously uneven, fractured landscapes comes right at the top. There are even great stretches of land where just being there is a death sentence as unavoidable environmental effects place huge dots and snares on you the moment you arrive.

Twister! And it's coming this way!

By contrast, in Chimeraland, only this morning I managed to get sucked into the air by one of the tornadoes I mentioned a few posts back. I'd been curious to find out what would happen if one passed right over the top of me and now I can tell you: you go up, you come down. It's exhilarating and it doesn't hurt at all. Next time, I'll be sure to get my fancy umbrella out so I can float down like Mary Poppins.

On the other hand, don't try strolling through the inexplicable wildfires that occasionally break out. I have yet to work out how they start but the one time I found myself caught up in the flames what happened was exactly what you'd expect. I burned to death. 

What game function either the tornadoes or the fire represent is opaque to me as yet although, again as I've mentioned before, Chimeraland does have a well-developed environmental system in which these extreme events could well play some part. 

In the case of PoF the inhospitable terrain was obviously intended to make the expansion's core feature, mounts, seem both attractive and essential. Since I loathed GW2's mounts from the get-go and just because I wanted to prove I could, I did all of Path of Fire's storyline without using mounts at all, other than the few key plot points where progress specifically demanded it. 

Red sky at night, shepherd's cottage on fire.

In retrospect, that may have contributed to my immense dislike of the whole expansion but subsequent forays into the various zones with no such self-imposed restraints have done little or nothing to change my mind. The entire region is a seething hellscape of frustration and misery thanks to the kind of design choices I've been describing.

At the other extreme lie the numerous mmorpgs I've tried in years not long past, where at least in the early levels mobs cluster just as densely but wait passively to be culled. We've all seen those killing fields, where scores of innocuous rabbit-like animals hop inanely across brightly-colored meadows, no purpose in their non-existent minds other than to feed the insatiable maw of the quest journal.

Chimeraland, while it shares the same lack of immediate threat, doesn't feel at all like that, not least because gameplay isn't quest-driven. If you want to slaughter harmless animals, no-one's going to stop you but no-one's asking you to do it, either.

Nor does it feel much like EverQuest or Path of Fire. There are plenty of mobs everywhere you go but the world is so immense they're never crowded together, even when there are quite a lot of them on screen at once. As Angry Onions suggests, the majority of them don't really care about you, one way or the other so there's no need for any EQ-style "conning" to check whether it's safe to pass.

When a mob does have designs on your blood, however,  you'll know about it. All aggressive mobs are flagged with a burning red eye like the mark of Sauron

Mostly it's the obvious ones - big cats, bears, spiders and the rest of the apex predator elite - and it's also mainly the regular-sized beasts that glare at you intimidatingly. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the design in this regard is the way the many giant, grand and noble beasts, some quite literally the size of several houses, meander peaceably across the landscape, showing no hostile intent towards anybody. 

At first I gave them all a very wide berth indeed but now I treat them like so many grazing cattle - at least until someone's foolish enough to provoke one into anger, at which point I get the hell away. Once riled, anyone's a target. Open AEs don't discriminate.

Even when mobs are flagged as aggressive, you have to get pretty close to get their attention. The warning eye is visible much farther afield than the creature's aggro range. I'm not entirely sure whether, as there so often is in mmorpgs, there's a level factor involved. I seem to recall that my character got attacked more often when she was younger but it may just be that I had less of an idea what I was doing then.

Doesn't look like much, I know, but it was one of the toughest things I've fought.
Not that I have such a great idea of what I'm doing now. After what must be a couple of dozen hours or more, I still don't have much of a plan. The point is, it doesn't seem to matter. Chimeraland is a genuine sandbox, a genre I'm not used to enjoying quite this much. I put a good portion of that down to the unintimidating nature of the world itself.

It's not that there's no threat. Floradyne has died plenty of times and not always from poking her nose  somewhere it shouldn't have been, either. The hunting totems can be a real challenge and the guardians that spawned to protect a rare tree she was trying to chop down gave her the fight of her life.

By and large, though, challenge arises as a direct result of something you've done, not just because you happen to be there. If I'm working on my house and all I want to do is mine green ore for pale jade, there's every chance I'll be left to get on with it without having to stop every two minutes to defend myself from some marauding monster.

If you want to see me skip I'm going to need to see some coin.
All of which gives me a much greater sense of self-determination than I'm used to in modern mmorpgs. I can pretty much do as I like without fear of interruption. It's relaxing and absorbing and about the nearest thing I can compare the feeling to is playing Landmark. Chimeraland, though, is orders of magnitude more polished, finished and complete than Landmark ever was, even at the end when Daybreak washed their hands of it and called it "launched".  

The one thing that really ought to be shaking up this cosy, comfortable world is the supposed open PvP. Most descriptions of the game mention it and there's an in-game notification when you ding level 15 but so far I have seen absolutely no indication that it happens. While most of the translations in the game are solid, the sections I've read on PvP are at the very least ambiguous and I'm wondering whether the non-consensual part is actually limited to the one PvP continent.

Having to look over my shoulder every time another player passes by would certainly put an end to the pervading sense of carefree fun but the longer I go without anything happening, the less I think about it. I'll deal with it when it happens, if it ever does.

Until then I'm going to keep on skipping through the flowers. Literally. I set Floradyne's mood to "Happy" and now she skips everywhere like a fairy princess. Somehow, it just seems like the right thing to do.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

I'd Like To Say It's X-Y-Z But Really It's Just W.

This is going to be short. No, seriously, it is! It might be a bit longer if I hadn't just spent a chunk of my minimal Sunday evening posting time on a comment at TAGN that's almost long enough to be a post in its own right.

I do have a "What I've been watching" post of my own brewing. It's going to need more concentration than I've got to give today, though, and I haven't found quite the right peg to hang it on, yet. 

No, it's just going to have to be another post picking away at that NME 100 Emerging Acts list, I'm afraid. And frankly, by this stage it's getting tough to wring much more out of the ragged tail-end of the poor thing. I mean, we got as far as Wallice last time. How many more do you think there could be?

Well, there's Wet Leg, for one. Unfortunately there's not much I can say about the pride of the Isle of Wight that I haven't said already. Or much more I can show, what with them only having released four songs so far.

Luckily, there's this, which only went up on YouTube three days ago, so at least it's new and there's absolutely no chance I've linked it before.

Okay, I have linked the song already but only the video that plays in the background, not the live-in-the-studio performance, which is charmingly ramshackle. Can't wait for the album!

Next up, and slightly out of alphabetical order, if anyone's keeping count, here's Warren Hue, described by NME as "an electrifying moment where emo-rap meets post-punk." As I said last time, I find musical comparisons invidious but sometimes you just can't help yourself. I mean, doesn't that first twenty seconds remind you of someone?

I didn't think I was going to link the next one, when I first started listening to it. I liked it but not enough to pull it up for focus. And then the chorus kicked in. So satisfying. Also, the way she stuffs too many words into almost every line and still has it work makes me feel like I'm having palpitations. Not saying that's necessarily a good thing but it's notable.

And that's the end of the list or at least the end of the stuff I want to make a fuss over. Oh, except I didn't really do justice to the top of the alphabet, did I? It would be criminal to miss out on a mention for Cathy Jain. NME recommends Cool Kid, which I admit is right in my sweet spot but she has a cover of Lana's Chemtrails over the Country Club and that's just sublime.

I guess that's about it. I listened to well over half of the acts on the list, probably three-quarters. I only skipped the ones where the description made me feel almost sure it was something I'd most likely not appreciate. I might have been wrong but you have to make choices.

Of the ones I tried, there were only a couple I actively disliked and I'm keeping those to myself. All the rest that didn't get a mention were the kind of thing I'd be very happy to hear on the radio or at a party or on the soundtrack to a tv show or a movie or a game but after I'd heard them, I wouldn't feel any need to go check the artist out afterwards to see what else they'd done.

All of the ones I featured, I did that. Without any doubt, the glitchier they were, the more likely I was to want to know more. The more I've been learning about the hyperpop diaspora, the more I want to know. Perhaps the strangest thing for me is how deep the drum 'n' bass influence is on all of this and how very well that's working for me, now. 

It never did before. I was around for that sound the first time and I wasn't up for it much. In those days I was still going to clubs and parties where it got some play and Mrs Bhagpuss really liked it (And still does.) so I heard a lot, one way or another. I didn't not like it but I liked a lot of other things more.

Now, somehow, the more things glitch, the better they sound to me. Go figure. Lets end with some of that. Why not?

 Recording ends.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Who Writes The Songs?

This week has seen a positive torrent of news I would love to have commented on as it happened. I had other things to talk about, though, and games to play. Only so many hours blah blah blah...

Now the weekend's here I'm kind of glad I saved some easy wins to fill some space in a hurry. Don't you loathe that expression? "Easy win"? Makes my skin crawl.

Which was much the same reaction I had to Damon Albarn's absolutely incomprehensible attack on Taylor Swift's songwriting ability, as he claimed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times "She doesn’t write her own songs.

Challenged on this bizarre assertion by the interviewer, Mikael Wood, Damon attempted to reinforce a self-evidently untenable position by asserting Swift's writing "doesn’t count" because it's "co-writing" and "Co-writing is very different to writing". Then, à propos of nothing at all, as far as I could see, he contrived to drag in Ella Fitzgerald, before concluding "A really interesting songwriter is Billie Eilish and her brother. I’m more attracted to that than to Taylor Swift. It’s just darker — less endlessly upbeat. Way more minor and odd. I think she’s exceptional."

Unpack that, if you can! Apparently Billie and Finneas are some kind of gestalt that counts as a single songwriter, not a collaboration, while Swift, whose last several albums have been anything but upbeat by just about anyone's definition, is presumably still knocking out jolly pop songs like it was 2012. It makes me wonder if Damon has ever heard a Swift song, let alone listened to the lyrics.

If you google the controversy now, almost all the results focus on his apology, issued almost immediately as he desperately tried to backpedal his way to some kind of position that didn't make him look old, outdated and misogynistic. Apologizing "unreservedly and unconditionally", he tried to throw some of the shade back on the interviewer or at least the sub-editor: "I had a conversation about songwriting and sadly it was reduced to clickbait."

The NME has an excellent piece on the reaction both the original interview and the apology drew from a number of musicians and songwriters. Both Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, Swift's collaborators and among those who've co-written the songs Damon thinks don't count, weighed in, with Dessner calling Albarn "obviously completely clueless" and Antonoff suggesting he should "shut the fuck up."

Support from Jedward may not impart much gravitas but others had much more serious points to make.  The Anchoress went straight to the heart of the issue. "It is a distinctly male privilege to be allowed to explore your creativity via collaboration and not have it assumed that a lack of talent or skill drove the decision. Imagine applying the same judgement to Bowie?

She's one hundred per cent correct, of course, and it's all but impossible not to read that subtext into what Damon said, even though his subsequent incoherence, as he tries to clarify his position, does suggest he may not have known what he was going to say until he heard it come out of his mouth.

When I read the original report, my immediate reaction, other than stunned disbelief that anyone with as much media experience as Damon Albarn could expose himself so unwisely and unecessarily, let alone that he might actually believe what he was saying, was to wonder just what he meant by co-writing being "very different to writing."

I mean, just think about it. The history of popular music is made up almost entirely of songs written in collaboration. Want a list? It's not like examples don't come instantly to mind: Leiber and Stoller, Lennon and McCartney, Holland, Dozier, Holland, Jagger and Richards, Gamble and Huff, Morrissey and Marr...

Did someone mention Morrissey? Let's hope it wasn't Marr! Morrissey doesn't like it when that happens. He hates it so much he wrote an Open Letter saying so. In another demonstration of how people who really should don't seem to know what "clickbait" actually means, Morrissey politely (for him) requested Johnny refrain from mentioning his name in interviews and stop "using my name as clickbait."

Johnny Marr's response was somewhat less grovelling than Damon's. Rather than make any promises to comply with Morrissey's request, the Smiths' guitarist chose instead to lampoon what he saw as his old co-writer's archaic use of language: "An ‘open letter’ hasn’t really been a thing since 1953, It’s all ‘social media’ now."

Maybe someone should tell Neil Young. Old rockers will stick to what they know, though, and maybe that's a good thing. (So long as we're not talking about Ted Nugent. But who ever would?) 

Morrissey's not the only one writing open letters this week. Neil, who has form with the form, fired off an open letter to Spotify, blasting the streaming platform on its decision to keep hosting a series of podcasts by Joe Rogan in which, as Neil sees it, "Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines - potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them."

Young demanded all his material be removed from Spotify, pronto. Spotify was happy to comply, leading to an immediate surge in support for Neil's principled position from... all of Spotify's competitors.

I watched all of this (And a lot more I don't have time to go into. It was a hell of a news week.) with a mixture of emotions ranging from amusement to anger to approval. Perhaps my favorite intervention in any of the many scuffles and spats came from someone who very definitely does understand the concept of clickbait and who uses social media like one born to it, even though he came to fame before the term even existed.

Liam Gallagher, already on record as a fan of Taylor's Swift's songwriting chops, asked by a fan on Twitter what he thought of the dispute, replied with admirable brevity "Love it". Well, he would, wouldn't he? 

When pressed to say what he thought of Damon Albarn's talents, he tweeted "Great songwriter". Asked about Swift, he tweeted "Great songwriter".

If you find yourself being schooled by Liam Gallagher on Twitter you maybe need to take a moment to rethink your strategy. It's like the Britpop wars taught us nothing! Well, some of us...

Friday, January 28, 2022

Reading The Signs In Chimeraland

In a comment on yesterday's post, Redbeard expressed some surprise at the depth of  my involvement, not to say infatuation, with Chimeraland. It surprises me, too, although perhaps not as much as the complete radio silence across the rest of the blogosphere and the Western mmo press concerning the game's very existence. Am I literally the only one playing it?

Well, maybe around here I am, although my relentless battering at the gates seems to have triggered a flicker of interest in at least a handful of readers. I'm very much looking forward to reading the first First Impressions post from someone who's actually gone so far as to install the game and try it out (And got further than Character Creation, naming no names...)

Chimeraland may not have gathered much traction here in the West but as far as I can gather it's very much a hit in other territories, specifically Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines. I took the shot below of the server select screen yesterday at around seven in the evening. That's three in the morning over there, about the quietest time in any mmorpg.

Every server is flagged "Busy", the highest population marker available. The only exception is a new server that was just added and flagged "recommended" for new players. I tried to make a character there and it wouldn't let me. The server was too congested to allow more accounts to join.

Since the day I started, I have never seen my server at anything less than "Busy". There are houses everywhere, in all states of construction, from one slab dropped carelessly on the ground to massive castles.  Evidently a lot of people have been playing, even if they haven't all taken to home-ownership with equal enthusiasm.

Despite the evidence of occupation, I don't see crowds of people everywhere I go. Hardly surprising, given the local time, although it may have as much to do with the sheer size of the world. Chimeraland has four continents, all accessible immediately, making for a reported nine billion square feet of virtual land to explore and exploit.

The world around me isn't empty of other players as I travel, even so. Far from it. I see other people passing by on weird mounts. Trees fall around me as other players chop them down. At the one beast tribe outpost I know, there are always other questers, dropping by to pick up their dailies or buy things from the vendors.

I've seen plenty of big battles as players come together to bring down Noble or Grand beasts. As I mentioned in previous posts, I did try joining in a few times but it never went well for me. Now I just watch from a safe distance. 

Last night, though, I somehow found myself more personally involved in a communal enterprise. I was just along the riverbank from my house, looking for Green Rock to mine for Pale Jade, when I spotted a Totem. 

Lower-left, you can see a neglected, decaying home. It's made of wood and without repair moss has grown all over it. In the background is my house. It's made of stone and in pristine condition. I don't know how stone ages and I don't intend to test it on my own property.

There are various kinds of totems, two at least. If you activate them, waves of mobs appear, culminating in a mini-boss. There's xp and rewards to be had and they're quick, if not always easy. I'd been gathering for a while and I was in the mood for a fight so I set the thing off.

The first wave had barely started when another player came charging up and joined in. I have no clear idea how credit is allotted in Chimeraland but I've tagged on to plenty of big fights and no-one's sent me any angry whispers so I guess it's cool. Anyay, I was more than happy to have the help. 

Then something unexpected happened. A party invite popped up. I thought about it for a moment then shrugged and said "Why not?" Even though I don't do as much grouping as I used to, I'm never averse to a good PUG and I'm always more prone to accepting offers in a brand new mmorpg, if only so I can learn how the mechanics of grouping work, should I need to know later.

As with most things in Chimeraland, I still don't really understand it even after doing it. I accepted the first offer and another popped up to ask me if I also wanted to join Party Chat. I've never known a game that differentiated between speaking and non-speaking roles in a group context before. 

I accepted that as well, not that it made any difference. No-one ever spoke. Although, now I come to think about it as I write this, I never have a chat window open in the game. It's closed by default and I leave it that way. Maybe there was a constant stream of conversation going on the entire time. 

There certainly could have been because the party kept getting bigger and bigger. New players kept arriving and tagging in until there were five of us. Each time we reached the end of a set of three waves and downed the mini-boss, a big chest dropped. When I've done these totem events alone, that's when I stopped but it seems, as with most things in the game, my ignorance has been hiding things from me.

Each time, when I expected the fun to end and the party to disband, someone went to the totem again, clicked it and started another round. I didn't count them but there must have been half a dozen or more, each a little harder than the last. 

Finally, a really big mob appeared. I think he probably deserves to be called a Boss, not just a mini-boss. He took some time to whittle down and he had some impressive moves, not least the one where he flew about a hundred feet into the air and summoned a giant whirlwind. 

In the end we got him down and a more impressive, metallic chest appeared. We all looted that and suddenly I found myself all alone again. Everyone else had jumped on their various strange creatures and headed out in different directions. 

I struggled for a while, trying to find a way to leave the party, without success. After a couple of minutes there were just two of us and then there was just me. I went back to my gathering and mining, a little wiser in the ways of the world but not all that much. 

This is one of the stranger things about Chimeraland. I'm reasonably certain it's a well-populated, successful game at this early stage of its life and yet there's no evidence of the usual support structure I've come to expect. I'm used to even minor releases quickly generating wikis and guides and walkthroughs, especially when the official launch follows lengthy periods in Early Access or Open Beta.

Bless Unleashed, for example, was by no means a huge hit, when it launched last summer. Even so, there were plenty of resources available right from the start. I enjoyed learning the systems for myself because that's one of the biggest attractions for me of playing any new game, but I always knew that when I got stuck, as I inevitably did, I'd be able to go and look up the solution somewhere.

I think this excellent umbrella was a login reward but it could have been a drop in the totem trial. It's all a bit of a blur...

About the only semi-reliable source of information I've found for Chimeraland is the subReddit and that's as hit-or-miss as you'd imagine. Most Google searches I run for problems I can't figure out for myself bring up nothing but YouTube videos, very few of which are any help at all.

I wonder if this is at least in part the result of the cross-platform nature of the game? Are extensive wikis the province of PC players? Do mobile games also attract players willing to address themselves to documenting video games in obsessive detail or are they more likely to pull in players who just want to play?

For that matter, how many people are playing Chimeraland on PC as opposed to on a phone or a tablet?

Based on the original news release I read at MassivelyOP, which alerted me to the game's existence in the first place, I had been under the impression the January 6th launch was global. That certainly seems to be the case for the PC version but Kluwes mentioned in a comment that he hadn't been able to download the mobile version and it doesn't appear on Google Play for my Kindle Fire, either 

The headline of this article at GamingOnPhone clarifies matters: "Chimeraland is now live in selected regions", those regions being the ones I listed at the top of the post. The piece explains, if somewhat ungrammatically, "Since it is currently live only in these select regions so only the interested players residing in those regions only can play the game from their respective app stores" and then goes on to detail how players in other regions can get around the IP blocks.

Or you could just play it on PC. That works. Except PC players don't appear to be interested, which is both a pity and also quite odd. I guess this is exactly why games like this need to be on Steam.

Then again, Genshin Impact isn't and it seems to have done pretty well for itself. Remember when it appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to huge interest and acclaim? Part of the narrative surrounding that unexpected success was that it might herald an era of free-to-play games that were actually content rich and polished rather than minimal effort cash grabs.

As well as flying me around, my Vultura has an astonishingly powerful fireball attack. I didn't get a shot of him in action but he did a huge amount of damage in the big fight.

Chimeraland looks very much to me like a fulfilment of that hopeful prediction. I'm sure it has plenty of flaws and it's entirely possible there's some whale-hunting or pay-to-win grind lurking in the end game, but as with Genshin Impact there certainly seems to be one heck of a lot of stuff to do before then and it all seems pretty well crafted and fun.

I'm definitely not in the business of promoting games. I just write about what I'm playing. If I sound enthusiastic about something it's because I'm enjoying myself, not because I have any agenda to make the game sound better than it really is.

I'm also painfully aware that I find a lot more pleasure in learning systems and mechanics in a new mmorpg than I'm ever likely to get from practicing and perfecting them. Most of my First Impressions and early gameplay posts are wildly over-optimistic about my prospects of playing the game long term. The truth is, I almost always wander off to play something else well before I even reach the level cap.

Even allowing for all of that, though, I think Chimeraland is something of a gem in the genre. I'm glad it's popular somewhere. Maybe if it rolls out that mobile launch around the world it'll even be popular here some day. And maybe then someone will start a wiki for it. I wish they would.

Maybe I'd even contribute, only I'd be the worst! As I'm coming to realise, almost everything I've written about the game so far is either factually inaccurate or a misunderstanding. I might have to do a whole post going back and correcting all the mis-assumptions and errors I've committed to print.

God forbid anyone googling for help should end up here!

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Not Another Post About Chimeraland?

Hmm. I have several ideas for posts today but most of them are about music and the rest are about Chimeraland. I kind of wish I had something else to talk about, just for the sake of balance, but I suppose the whole point of having my own blog is to be able to talk about whatever I want to talk about.

I think I'll try to keep the music posts for the weekends. No hard rule on that but as I've said before, they're a lot faster to put together and also they're more fun to do after a day at work, relaxing and refreshing at one and the same time. 

That's fine for the kind of loose series I seem to have fallen into a pattern of creating, almost from when I began posting about musical topics. 

There are strands here on cover versions and musical death matches. I haven't done a death match for a while. I'd like to do some more, if only I could think of some good match-ups. 

I never made a tag for the death matches, something I regret now. I suppose I could go back and retro-tag them but if I start on that I probably ought to redo the entire tag cloud and that's days of work and who ever even uses tags, anyway? I used to but then I found out how good the Blogger search function is so now I mostly just use that. It's much faster if you're looking for something speciific.

Then there was the Pitchfork 25 series. Technically that's unfinished still. I never did get around to my definitive post on my #1 album of the last quarter century, Lana del Rey's Norman Fucking Rockwell

There were a couple of reasons. One was that I'd already written about NFR, both before it came out and after. The other, the main one, was that it seemed like such a big deal. I didn't want to throw the opportunity away so in the end I just let it slip out of my hands. I ghosted my best love, if you want to look at it that way.

I should also have done a final wrap-up, with links to the Pitchfork post where they collated all the results and gave a bunch of infotainment style facts about the poll. It took forever to appear and if it was ever in my Pitchfork feed I missed it. In the end I had to go looking for it.  

It shows the top two hundred albums. Guess how many from my twenty-five made the cut? Four. Honestly, more than I expected. Three of them are by Lana, with NFR the highest at #17. Born To Die (A decade old today.) and Ultraviolence were the other two, at #121 and #153 respectively. Why Chemtrails isn't on there I cannot possibly imagine. The fourth was Taylor Swift's Folklore at #68. 

There were quite a few albums in the 200 that either I or Mrs Bhagpuss own, a few of which I might have shortlisted myself had I thought of them. Belle and Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister would certainly have featured in my twenty-five, had I realised it was eligible.

That series is still open, then. Maybe I'll do the final couple of posts and finish it off sometime. 

The oldest and biggest Inventory Full music series of them all, the annual, then quarterly, then monthly round-ups of songs I've borrowed for post titles is probably gone for good. I say probably because I've noticed recently I am using the occasional musical steal as a title. There might be enough for an annual catch-up.  

Or I might get a second wind and start titling posts that way again. I was very tired of doing it quite a few months before I stopped but now I've had a break I sort of miss it. Never say never.

I think that's all the semi-regular virtual columns that've featured here. It's quite a few, now I count them, especially since I don't believe I've ever done anything that could properly be called a "series" or a "column" on gaming. 

Well, there was the very short series of in-character posts I did when the Beastlord class was added to EverQuest II. That was a long time ago and it only ran for four episodes. 

I often think about writing more "in character" posts. I really enjoy doing them. I was doing something like it even before I had a blog, as I discovered last week. I was going through a screenshot folder and I found shots of every page of two in-game diaries I wrote in EQII, back when I was playing on Test, at least a dozen years ago. 

The thing about in-character posts is they always feel like they must be a lot more fun for the writer than the reader. I've read a lot of them by other people over the years and these days I tend to skip past them unless they really catch my attention in the opening few lines. I can't imagine it helps that I tend to pick characters who either talk like precocious seven-year olds or who have weird speech patterns.

Still. it's something that's often on my mind. You can see yesterday's post almost flirting with the first person at times. I can't help feeling Chimeraland would lend itself very well to that kind of conceit. 

And here we are. We've come full circle without actually going anywhere. (Please don't point out that's what "coming full circle" means.) I started out trying to decide whether to write about music or Chimeraland and I spent almost a thousand words deciding it wasn't going to be music.

I guess it has to be Chimeraland, then...

Oops! Out of time!

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

You'll Never Get Me Up In One Of Those Things...

I played a lot of Chimeraland today. I took loads of screenshots, some to remind me of things I wanted to write up in a post, others because the game can be so goddam pretty, when it wants to be. In the end, I played so long and took so many shots there's probably enough material for three or four posts, easily. it would be three in the morning before I finished typing it all up.

Yeah, I'm not doing that. I thought about doing another photomontage-with-footnotes instead. They're always fun and they don't take too long to put together. In the end, though, I decided to stick to the one thing I knew I was going to write about as soon as it happened, which was that I got myself a flying mount!

That's him, right there. He's not much to look at, is he?

He's a vulture or, to be exact, a Vultura. Most creatures in Chimeraland are... well, they're chimeras. Two or more animals melded together by some freakish magic. What animal other than a vulture was involved in this combination I have no idea. When you see a Litiger it's pretty easy to work out what happened (A Lion and a Tiger loved each other very much...) but when all you have to go on is a loose letter "A" and what looks like a halloween mask grafted onto a bird's head, well I'm open to suggestions.

I learned today, as I was grubbing around the Chimeraland subReddit, trying to work out how to get my supposed "flying" mount to lift me higher than three feet off the ground, that you can do the mix-and-matching yourself. You can graft wings onto a big cat and fly in style... if you know how.  

I don't, yet. I think it involves feeding one kind of animal to another and hoping the traits you want carry over. Or something. Like all of Chimeraland's systems it's bound to be complex and require both thought and effort.

How did I get my Vultura, anyway? Was it some login freebie or a quest reward? Was it hell! I caught it myself. Not only that, I did it unprompted, spur of the moment, seat of the pants, all that good stuff. Here's how it happened.

I was out looking for a chilli pepper bush to photograph for that ranger whose picture I used in yesterday's post to illustrate the "come back and do this every day" nature of modern mmorpgs. She's human (I think) but she hangs around in one of the beast villages, the only one I've found so far, even though she has this thing about wanting to see the world.

My character had a chat with her... hell, I may as well use my character's name for once, seeing as how it's there in every one of the selfies I've been posting... Floradyne chatted with the ranger, trying to persuade her to go travelling but reading between the lines there's some kind of romantic tryst the ranger's hoping will happen if she just hangs around where she is for long enough, so she's going nowhere.

What she wants is for Travellers (Which is what player-characters and, confusingly, NPCs that behave like players, are called in the game.) to take snapshots of various things and show them to her, so she feels like she's seeing the world. It's that panda from EverQuest II all over again. The things she's interested in seeing are about as random as Yun Zi's, too. Today she wanted me to photograph a chilli plant, a Vuldo (It's a big, blue bird.) and my dressing table. 

The village is on the edge of the desert and I figured there might be chilli plants there so I was out on the sands looking (And overheating - as I think I mentioned, Chimeraland has a well-developed weather system complete with debuffs.) when I noticed something flapping around not too far above me.

I knew there were flying mounts in the game although I haven't yet seen anyone fly by on one. There are also mounts that go underwater, something I very much need to do. There's stuff on the sea bed I need. I'd already been out looking for one of those, without success but I hadn't made much of an attempt to find a flying mount yet.

Actually that's not entirely true. I caught a weird giant mosquito yesterday. I had hopes for that but it turned out to be a combat pet, not a mount, which is probably just as well. It would give me nightmares to ride the thing. I'd show you a picture but for once I don't seem to have taken any, which should tell you plenty about how repulsive it is.

Seeing a bird about her own size gave Floradyne the idea to try and capture it. She'd just crafted a much-improved capture-gun (Look, it has a proper name but I can't remember it and I'm up against a deadline here so I don't want to have to log back in and check, okay? Just go with it!) and she'd been having great success with it so her chances looked good.

Capturing creatures is fun and fairly easy once you get the hang of it. I may go into in more detail another time but the gist is this: you beat up the creature you want to capture until it's all but dead, then you bring out your capture-gun and blast at it until a big, blue bubble wraps the creature up and drops a tiny version of it at your feet. Or, more likely, a hundred yards away in some bushes.

Nearly always, what you get is a temporary version of the pet, one you can summon for five minutes before it vanishes for ever. That sounds feeble but the real purpose of those is to feed them to your proper pets. That does...something. I'd tell you what but I haven't tried it yet. I have a bag full of temporary pets and feeding them to the permanent ones is on my to do list. I'll get back to you when I've done it.

Once in a while, instead of a temporary pet you'll get an egg. That's when you dance around, waving your hands (Or paws.) in the air and singing for joy. If you have a Hatcher in your house you can put the egg in it, sit yourself down on top, wait a couple of minutes and out pops a permanent pet version of whatever it was you caught.

Again, there's a bit more to it than that, although I'm not sure how much. The temperature has to be right, I know that. 

I was exceptionally lucky. I only had to kill a couple of vultures before an egg dropped. I was so excited! I ported home but just as I was about to pop the egg on the Hatcher i noticed it was night and the temperature had fallen to fifteen degrees Celsius. I checked the egg and it said it needed "Warm" temperatures to hatch. I didn't know what that meant, exactly, but Floradyne figured so long as she was neither shivering nor feeling dehydrated it was probably about right.

Still, we waited until the sun came up and the temperature rose to a balmy 20C before we started. That turned out to be exactly right. As the process runs you can see two temperature gauges on screen, one showing the current ambient temperature and the other the temperature the egg needs to be. They were identical. Phew!

At this point I still didn't know for certain whether the Vultura would be a mount or a combat pet. It wasn't until the egg hatched and I was able to look at the details in the Pet window that I saw it was flagged as a "Mount". 

Obviously I couldn't wait to try it out. I "Deployed" it and went outside to give us plenty of room. Then I pressed "G" to mount. Next thing I knew I was upside down, high in the air, moving. The world lurched and we were right-way up as the vulture barrelled across the river at speed. I tried to change direction but the whole world span crazily again and before I could figure anything out we were on the far bank, back on the ground.

I won't go into details about the next twenty minutes. There was a lot of getting on and getting off. There may have been some swearing. If you've read any Terry Pratchet, think of Granny Weatherwax trying to get her broom started. Reddit, for once, was no help at all and the lack of anything remotely resembling a wiki is a distinct problem when it comes to moments like this.

Finally I noticed a tiny on-screen prompt down in the bottom right-hand corner. That's where the game puts little indicators to let you know what keys to press in certain situations. To get a flying mount to, y'know, fly, you don't do any of the usual things I've learned from other games. You don't hit the space bar or Page Up or use mouselook. You press "Shift". 

Of course you do. Never mind it's the "Sprint" key. 

Once I'd gotten that sorted we were airborne. And then we were back on the ground. Again.

It took me a while longer to realize the mount uses up stamina to fly in exactly the same way a character uses it to sprint. Okay, now that choice of key is starting to make sense.

After a while I'd just about gotten the hang of it. The controls aren't the smoothest or the easiest but like most things in Chimeraland that just adds to the sense of involvement. Not to mention the Vultura is most likely about as entry-level a flying mount as you're likely to find. Pretty sure no-one's going to be keeping one once they've grafted wings onto a Litiger. I expect the bigger ones are steadier. They'd pretty much have to be.

My Vultura will very much do me for now, though. I've had plenty of flying mounts in my time, nearly all of them flashier and cooler than this one, but I'm not sure I've ever felt such a sense of satisfaction in getting one off the ground before.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Blowing Up

Kaylriene has a post up about losing faith with World of Warcraft and - maybe, possibly, perhaps - being done with it for good. It's a thoughtful, considered post in which he says, among other things, that it was Blizzard's failure to provide sufficient new, compelling content that opened the space that let him try out a new mmorpg, New World, and delve deeper into one he was already playing, Final Fantasy XIV, which had always, until last year, had to take a back seat to WoW.

The post reminded me of something I'd been thinking to myself, as I pounded down the dirt tracks of Aeternum yesterday, finishing up the Winter Convergence event. How necessary, or even advisable, is it to commit to a single game? 

For the longest time now, I've played a lot of mmorpgs. As I've written before, since the very beginning, when I discovered EverQuest in late 1999, I've almost never kept to a single one. Partly it's been an endless sense of curiosity. Almost as soon as I read about a new entry to the genre I want to try it out. 

As I've learned over a couple of decades, it doesn't pay to dismiss any mmorpg out of hand, sight unseen. Yes, at times (And this last couple of years has definitely been one of them.) there seem to be more mmorpgs coming on-stream than anyone could hope to keep up with but experience tells me it's a lot harder than you'd imagine to know which will end up being one you'll always remember fondly and which you'll forget forever the moment you log out.

Take Chimeraland. I'd never heard of that game until I read a very brief news item saying it had launched. I only tried it out of curiosity and in the hope of generating an easy blog post or two. I wasn't expecting to spend most of my gaming time over the next two weeks playing it, every chance I got. I could say much the same of a number of other unfashionable titles that crop up regularly here, Twin Saga, Dragon Nest, Blade and Soul, Riders of Icarus...

Those and many, many more are titles I picked almost at random, never expecting to spend much time with them. There must be dozens of mmorpgs I've spent longer playing than I have most single-player titles I've bought and enjoyed. There was a flurry of conversation in the blogosphere recently concerning which games people had played for more than five hundred hours. I thought about joining in, then thought better of it. It could be embarrassing.

There's a problem here and it's not the thorny old chestnut of how much game-playing is too much? It's the less self-flagellating "too many games, not enough time." As Kaylriene says, what he describes as "the competetive landscape of MMOs and gaming in general" has changed a lot in recent times. 

It began a long time ago in what we thought of then as the "Free to Play Revolution" but in what feels like a wholly counterintuitive backflip, it's spawned an unexpected sequel - "Return of the Subscription". As Krikket was saying, this is a much wider cultural phenomenon than just gaming but I've spoken about that several times in the past and I don't really want to go over it all again. I think we're at the point where we can all accept it's the culture we're living in, at least for now.

What's exercising me more at the moment isn't the cost, the convenience or the cultural implications, it's the more pointed question of how all of this is supposed to fit together. For once, I'm not whining about how there are only so many hours in the day, as I often do when it all starts to feel like it's getting on top of me. No, I'm thinking more of how much preparation, planning and effort it's going to take to get what I want out of what's on offer.

Looking outside of the gaming bubble for just a moment, only this week I've had to take time to download some seasons of shows I've been watching on Amazon Prime because they're going to be "leaving the service" shortly. If I hadn't spotted the warning, I'd have logged in one evening to watch the next episode and found it wasn't there. 

Netflix is losing ground to Disney+ as the mouse claws back content it was happy to license out before it had a subscription service of its own. I'm not so much concerned that I'll have to subscribe to multiple services as that I'm going to have to start scheduling what I watch based on who's showing it when. That sounds disturbingly like a step backwards, heading in the direction of the bad old days when we had to rely on broadcast media for our entertainment.

I was very interested to read Kaylriene's observations on the way Blizzard times content releases to spoil the pitches of competitors. He seemed in absolutely no doubt whatsoever that this isn't just a thing they do, it's a thing they always do.

Over the years I've seen many denials that any such practice exists. Blizzard is too big to care what others do, its defenders protest. The company wouldn't even notice what lesser lights were doing. All that's beneath their dignity. 

I've seen similar claims made for most of the larger developers and I've never found the arguments particularly convincing. If you can steal a competitor's thunder, why wouldn't you? It's not as though this is all some kind of friendly, altruistic club. It's business in the post-capitalist age.You don't raise yourself up by standing on the shoulders of giants if you can stand on their corpses instead.

Whether or not it's intentional doesn't matter so much as that it's almost inevitable. The market is so crowded now. There's no space to dodge everyone even if you wanted to try. 

For the first few years after I started paying attention to the genre, the announcement of a new mmorpg was an event in itself. There weren't so many you could afford to ignore any of them but also, with a box fee and a monthly subscription the norm, there weren't likely to be that many you could afford to play, either.

That was a long, long time ago. Everything was different then. Mmorpgs kept coming out. Many of them hung around. The list runs to sixty-three pages and there are fifteen titles on each page. That's getting on for a thousand mmorpgs. 

As Kaylriene's post makes painfully plain, mmorpgs need to keep pumping out content to hold on to the players they have. It's like treading water in a deep ocean. The moment you stop paddling you're going to drown. To all those intriguing, exciting new games you can add Updates and Patches and Expansions and Events for all the ones we have with us already.

Earlier today, MassivelyOP flagged several upcoming promotional events for Guild Wars 2's fourth expansion, End of Dragons, for which, as Bree pointed out, we don't even have a firm launch date yet. In the discussion that followed it was suggested that ArenaNet might want to push the launch back into March "just to get out of the way of everything else being released", to which the reply was "March isn’t much better for major releases, both months are fairly brutal."

The schedule is congested, it's true, and has been for a long time. Last summer I was writing about the log-jam of new mmorpgs and things have scarcely slowed down since (Except at Blizzard, of course.) It's not likely there'll be much respite this year, either. Perhaps that's why Darkpaw decided to get their markers down early.

I used to wonder why anyone would stick to just one mmorpg but I can kind of see it, now. As Kaylriene complains, along with the rest of us, WoW comes with a lot of "padded busywork" to keep the core audience locked in. So do most mmorpgs. The genre is famously time-consuming.

It's not just the intentional stickiness of the regular gameplay, either. As my recent posting history confirms, every mmorpg likes to pump out holiday content for the same holidays. The more imaginative add extra holidays based around the cultural traditions enshrined in their own lore but everyone mirrors the big real-world events. 

It can be moderately challenging to keep pace with this stuff even in just the one game, especially if you like to play multiple characters. Mrs Bhagpuss has been known to burn out on both GW2 and EverQuest II holiday events, trying to get all the things for several characters on different accounts. I'm nothing like as diligent but I find it too much of a good thing sometimes.

Chimeraland has put a lot of this into perspective for me. It's a very good game with a great deal of potential. It's system-rich, there's much to learn, it has a slew of interesting progression systems, particularly in crafting and housing and there's a core gameplay loop involving catching and evolving monsters that I know has proved highly compulsive in other games but which would be entirely new to me.

I could easily see myself playing Chimeraland as a "main game" but I remember saying similar things about Genshin Impact, Black Desert, Bless Unleashed, Blade and Soul... The thing is, I'm already de facto playing both GW2 and EQII as "main games", a fact easily proved by my purchase of every expansion either of them has put out. 

It's plain I can barely keep up with those two. I haven't completed the adventure questline for Visions of Vetrovia yet (Okay, that is mostly because I couldn't beat that one boss...) and I've been doing the bare minimum to keep up to date in GW2 for a couple of years. It was a blessed relief to me when they mothballed the Living Story in favor of letting everyone play catch-up before the expansion.

If I'm going to go on playing multiple mmorpgs, which I most assuredly am, I have an uncomfortable feeling I might need to be more organized about it. It goes against the grain, I can tell you. I am not going to go as far as some people and draw up a gaming schedule but I will have to decide on a few broad guidelines based on goals and priorities.

Or I should. Whether I will is another matter. I was kind of hoping setting it down in print like this would focus my mind and it has, a little. I can say for sure that I want to carry on with Chimeraland, even if it's at the expense of something else. It's the game I most want to play each day so it would be crazy to play something I was less interested in just because it had seniority.

When End of Dragons drops, though, I'm going to feel obligated to give it some serious attention, even though right now i can honestly say I've rarely been less interested in an expansion for any game I was actually playing. If ANet postponed it for another few months I wouldn't be complaining. 

They won't, though. They're committed themselves. Maybe I should follow their example.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Like Rabbits?

The entirely unanticipated addition of Chimeraland to my gaming schedule put a serious crimp in the plans I had to finish up the Winter Convergence event in New World before the thaw arrived. Prior to that, Amazon's decision to extend the event until the twenty-fifth of January had released whatever slight pressure I might have felt to get on and actually do the work but yesterday I realized, if I didn't knuckle down and get on with, it pretty soon it was going to be too late. 

Even then, I knew I had more than enough time left to jog along the roads and tracks of Aeternum, picking up lost presents along the way as I visited every town to collect my daily allotment of gifts and enhance my standing with the Yeti community. The event was already paced to feel relaxed and unstressful even before the deadline shifted.

Of course, that's assuming you didn't plan on being greedy. I guess if you saw the whole thing as an opportunity to fill every slot with endgame-ready gearyou might have felt more of a sense of urgency, but all I wanted was a bunny. (Did anyone else get a Suicidal Tendencies flashback just then?)

Come on! Who could say no?

The bunny in question, a clockwork automoton wearing a brightly-colored sweater, with a key sticking out his back, costs ten Premium Winter Tokens. You get a few PWTs from the questline but mostly you have to "craft" them by converting Winter Tokens at an exchange rate of twenty-five to one. That's quite a few to collect.

Having the tokens isn't enough, of course. You also have to have the reputation. By the time I finally pulled myself free of the Chimeraland gravity well to log back into New World for the first time in a couple of weeks, there were only a few days left for me to boost my rep by the three and half thousand points I still needed.

It sounds like a lot but it turned out to be pretty straightforward. I logged in for three of my free, one-hour-capped GEForce Now sessions but I didn't use the full sixty minutes in any of them. A couple of times I ran across pristine, untouched Gleamite strikes, which helped a lot. I hadn't noticed before that each Gleamite nodes gives a random amount of reputation, sometimes as much as thirty-five points. It adds up fast.

What with those, the five points for every lost present and the hundred or hundred and fifty from every town's present pile and winter village's gift sack, my reputation fairly flew along. I also stashed away a goodly number of tokens as I went, enough that when the time came last night to buy my bunny, I had more than enough.

So much more, in fact, that the question became what to do with the surplus. I had thought I'd spend it on the rest of the furniture for my house but when I came to look at the options I realised I didn't really want any of it. 

It's not that the items on offer aren't attractive or well-designed. They're almost tasteful. It's that I just don't like frozen (or fiery, for that matter) furniture. Never have. I know it looks impressive but I can't help but imagine how intensely uncomfortable it would be to use.

There is a hat that goes with the outfit but you'd have to be a "jongleur" at a new age "fayre" to think it was a good idea to wear it.

I would have taken appearance clothing if there'd been any but I could only see one piece and it looked remarkably similar to something I already had. Amazon gave away a whole load of Winter Convergence freebies as as a kind of login daily through the cash shop, all of which they very generously put back up for a few days at the end of the event. I'd already scooped up all of those, including a full set of visible gear, so I didn't feel it was worth spending another ten premium tokens on a coat that didn't look much different to the one I was wearing.

I did wonder about the much cheaper, lower-level gear. Some of the designs looked good. I particularly liked the antler helmet. New World has a dreadful "appearance" system, though. In theory you can swap out the looks of items you like and copy them onto gear with stats you need but items have to be flagged to allow it and almost no low-level items are. I think the developers assume no-one would want to make higher level gear look like lower level gear, which is literally what I do in every game that permits it.

Having vetoed that idea, I had a look at the level 60 stuff. The obvious choice would have been to buy as much as I could afford. My character is a few percent shy of fifty-five now, so it would be a good investment. I only had enough for two or three pieces, though, which seemed a bit half-assed. 

Then I noticed the patterns. There seemed to be one for every level 60 item on sale. The tool tip irritatingly refused to tell me what ingredients were required to craft the gear but google soon sorted that out for me. 

It seems they all use some Tier V mats and a lot of much more common ones. I've no idea how hard the rarer mats are to get but I noticed I already had a few, so it can't be impossible.

Even if it was going to be hard to get the mats, the patterns only cost a single winter token each. Raising all the necessary crafting skills and running down the materials to make a full set of gear would certainly give me something to focus on when I get to sixty. It seemed crazy not to pick them all up, so I did.

That still left me with a couple of hundred tokens. Working on a very long-standing principle, I figured the one thing I always want to be as good as possible would be my weapons, so I converted the lot, which gave me just enough Premium tokens to buy a level 60 hatchet and a sword.

Just acquiring the first of those also gave me an achievement. Luckily it was for "getting" a level 60 weapon, rather than, as you'd expect, for equipping one. It's going to be a while before I can do that.

With all of that out of the way, I ported back to my Mourningdale house and settled my mechanical bunny down in his new home on the front porch. He looks great there and crucially he doesn't look too specifically Christmassy. Neither do the two potted poinsettias although the wreath over the doorway may have to come down when spring arrives.

So will the mistletoe over my character's bed. I'm not sure who she thinks is going to take advantage of it (Or her.) there but what she gets up to after I log out is her own business. The other two poinsettias on either side of the fireplace can stay.

All in all I'm very satisfied both with New World's first major holiday event and with what I managed to achieve in it. I thought it was well-judged and appropriately generous for the season. 

Who sleeps with their boots on? Not to mention the sword...

Amazon have another of their regular "How do you like the game so far?" surveys up. I filled it out last night. Most of my answers were along the lines of "I like it just fine as it is. Don't go messing about with anything." I saved my powder for the final section, where they ask what changes you'd like to see. I told them I want a proper appearance system, one not based on the cash shop and I want more character slots, especially multiple slots on the same server.

If they can give me those I'd be more likely to play more often. Unfortunately, I suspect the game will be heading off in another, less casual direction, if only because what happens in every new mmorpg after the intial rush of attention fades is that the players who stick around are those who take everything the most seriously. I imagine New World will have to go through a phase of courting the hardcore before it gets back to flirting with the flighty. 

I'm going to really miss the snow, when it goes.

There is that promise of more and better solo content to consider but I have a horrible feeling it might mean solo content with heft, never really what I'm looking for. Still, Winter Convergence has been a good experience, all things considered. When the survey asked what I'd like from future New World holidays I answered "More of them".

Can't really hope for a better feedback than that after the first one.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide