Saturday, April 30, 2022

A Code To Live By

Simon Reynolds, whose blog, blissblog, I somewhat grudgingly follow, has an interesting article on Pitchfork, entitled The 20 Best Punk Movies. As he explains, it's a somewhat misleading title: "Framed as the 20 Best, it was originally conceived as "from the worst to the best", which explains the insulting tone of the early entries."

He then goes on to royally roast a movie that didn't make the cut, CBGB, directed by Randall Miller. As it happens, I watched that film only a few weeks ago and I have to agree. It's not very good. Didn't stop me enjoying it, all the same.

There's something about watching fictionalised versions of real-life stories you vaguely know. It's disorienting but in a good way, like being mildly stoned. I watched the National Lampoon creators' biopic A Futile and Stupid Gesture a while back and that was much the same: a parade of actors you feel you ought to recognize, playing public figures you mostly do.

It doesn't pay to think too hard about reality or authenticity. The meniscus between fact and fancy is soap-bubble thin. About the best you can hope for is to have your pre-existing impressions confirmed. At least when that happens it's easy to go along with the narative. It's when people you celebrity-know begin behaving in ways you never imagined they would that doubt crawls in. Best not to take any notice. Who knows what's real, anyway?

All of which goes a good way towards explaining why all the really good films on Simon Reynold's are pure fiction, not rock docs or biopics. Of the twenty, I've seen eight and of those eight, three are on my all-time favorite movies list. (A list I really need to compile, some day.) 

There are two Alex Cox movies in Reynold's twenty. One is the very obvious choice, Sid and Nancy. I saw that one at the cinema on release, more because it was directed by Cox than because it was about either of the two title characters. 

I became a punk in 1976, when I was eighteen. By 1977 the scene was already tribal. You either liked the Pistols or the Clash. It was just like the 60s with the Beatles and the Stones or the 90s with Blur and Oasis. You liked one or the other. You didn't like both. 

Of course you could like both. Lots of people did. You just kept quiet about it. In public, you picked a team and stood on their side of the room. I stood with the Clash, something that seemed embarassing even by 1978, although fortunately not as embarassing as standing with the Pistols would have been.

I have never re-watched Alex Cox's version of the doomed love story that turned out to be all about doom and not at all about love. I remember it as being grim and depressing yet somehow still overglamorized and fanciful. Sid and Nancy is not the Alex Cox film on the list that I venerate.

That would be Repo Man. I saw that one at the cinema on release, too. I've also seen it on TV and I own it on DVD. I think I've watched it three times, which is a lot for me. It's a freewheeling, spiralling, speed-infused rush that replicates the feeling of punk much more succinctly than if it was a film about punk, which it patently is not. 

It was made in 1984 for a start and the punk in the movie is US Hardcore, which I don't even think of as punk at all. The film itself is definitely punk, though. I particularly like the way Cox borrows from the past to invent the present by way of the future, which is exactly what all the better punk bands did.

Also from the '80s, a couple of years earlier, comes one of my favorite, forgotten films: Smithereens. If it's remembered at all, it's as the first Susan Seidelman movie, although I'm not sure who remembers Susan Seidelman any more. 

This one I didn't see at the cinema. I can't remember if I saw it first late at night on TV or whether I ran across it on VHS at the great Twentieth Century Flicks video store. I used to rent a lot of movies from there, chosen on title and cover alone. I was rarely disappointed.

The thing I always remember about Smithereens is the mesmerising opening sequence, one of the best I've ever seen in any movie, almost entirely because of the sublime, driving soundtrack. The other thing is Richard Hell, who is not an actor. He doesn't need to be. He's Richard Hell.

You can watch the entire movie for free on YouTube at time of writing, in considerably better quality than the above clip, although I suspect the clip will be up for longer. I'm not sure "fair use" covers posting whole movies online but I guess it is very punk, for a given definition of the word.

The three films I've picked as my own favorites come in fourth, fifth and sixth in the list, which goes some way to explaining why I persist in reading Reynolds' blog even though most of what he chooses to write about interests me not in the slightest. When he goes near things I care about he does tend to get it right, by which, of course, I mean "agrees with me".

Repo Man is at #4, Smithereens at #5 but the main reason I'm writing this post is because it gives me a rare opportunity to mention one of my true, all-time favorite movies, Times Square, which comes sixth in the list. I was delighted and astonished to see it there at all, let alone so close to the top five.

Times Square is the epitome of a movie that should never feature in any list of this kind. It's a bandwagon-jumping exploitation pic, dreamt up by an uber-commercial Holywood producer. The story is fatuous, the writing is embarrassing, the acting varies from amateurish to prime ham and the whole thing was an unsurprising disaster at the box office.

I love it beyond reason. I loved it the first time I saw it, which was on late night TV, when I watched in delirious disbelief as Nicky Marotta (Robin Johnson) and Pamela Pearl (Trini Alvarado) as the self-styled Sleez Sisters somehow convince first DJ Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry, enjoying himself far too much) and then the greater New York area in general of their genius. 

The songs are toe-curlingly naive, the performances even more so... until the girls fall out and Nicky forces her way into the late-night radio studio to try and fix things with a heartbreaking, acoustic confessional apology, at which point everything becomes too real to bear. Happy endings, there are none.

This movie saved my life later, which is why I love it so much. It's always an exaggeration when people say things like that but exaggerations are only bigger versions of the truth. It got me through a bad time. Let's say that. 

It was a revelation to discover a few years ago that, far from being a forgotten failure, Times Square is now "a touchstone for latterday punks like Kathleen Hanna and Manic Street Preachers" and "a staple at gay and lesbian film festivals". All that stuff I said about the writing and the performances? You can forget all that. I knew I was right all along!

Once again, you can watch the full movie on YouTube for nothing. I recommend buying it. I recommend buying all three. I did and I'm glad.

Now I just need to watch them all again. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Things Fall Apart

Oh, god! Here we go again. Friday night and I got nothing. 

That's what happens if you spend all morning doing dailies and sorting inventory because it's about all you can manage with a small dog sleeping on your lap, then spend all afternoon watching the same small dog chewing up cardboard boxes and working herself into a frenzy over a grooming brush.

Not that I feel guilty about it. A solid run of meaty posts all week. I deserve a goof-off day. If it was only the one...

Must be something... oh, yes, what about that Twitter deal, eh? 

Do I care? Not really. You know those cars you see sometimes, parked up with grass growing around the tires? Rust all over the body, a window missing, birds nesting inside? That's my Twitter account, that is.

It's hard to imagine anything good will come of Elon Musk buying Twitter but then it's hard to imagine anything good coming from either of them separately, either. I'm not sure putting them together makes things worse.

There was going to be a paragraph here about how I don't get why Twitter even exists as a commercial entity since it doesn't make money and never has. Then I fact-checked and found that, contrary to popular opinion, it has been turning a small profit of late.

That about sums up how much I either know or care about Twitter. Let's have a picture of one of those cars I just described so we can all imagine my Twitter account, somewhere out there in the cyberwilds, slowly falling to digital bits.

That screenshot comes from the point and click adventure game I seem to have been playing for most of my natural life, Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis. The link goes to the game's Steam page and if I'd been playing it on Steam I'd be able to quantify just how many hours I've put in. It would be a lot.

I didn't buy SF2:PC on Steam, though. I got it free from Amazon, I can't exactly remember how long ago. I know I started playing it on January 6 and I'm still playing. Not every day and usually only for about an hour, although I've had a few longer sessions. It's the game I wind down on at the end of the evening before I go to bed, or one of them, anyway.

I have fifteen Save files, so at a conservative estimate I have probably played for about twenty hours over four months. Hard to be sure. The game just seems to meander, thematically and geographically, which makes it feel like it's going nowhere and never going to get there. I've been on a cruise ship in the North Sea, a ruined temple in the Indonesian jungle and now I'm putzing around a cemetery in Paris. 

The plot makes little sense, the voice acting is iffy, the writing is labored, the translation uncertain, the puzzles often obtuse. Sometimes there's even an embarassingly self-conscious, fourth-wall breaking, nod-and-wink meta-joke. And yet I enjoy it a lot, probably because it reminds me of Broken Sword as performed by an earnest tribute band.

Speaking of Broken Sword and tribute bands, I read an article at this week by Šarūnas and Žilvinas Ledas, the brothers behind Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit, a p&c adventure whose demo I played and wrote about a couple of months ago. 

The piece is part of a series called "Why I Love" and it does a good job of explaining the singular attraction of the Broken Sword series. The part where they talk about playing the second game "not exactly together" really took me back.  "We would play in turns, and it became a competition about who would solve a puzzle first. But during the off-screen time we would actually collaborate in figuring out how to move forward."

That's pretty much how Mrs. Bhagpuss and I played the first two Broken Sword games. We only had one computer at the time and one or other of us would play while the other sat and watched and made "helpful" suggestions. We'd get stuck and spend ages trying things, then one of us would be thinking about the problem at work the next day and we'd come back and tell each other and try it and... it wouldn't work and we'd go round again and on like that. We finished both games in the end and with no walkthroughs. It's a lot easier and more fun with two.

I wasn't very complimentary about the Crowns and Pawns demo, calling it "bland" and "a bit like adventure gaming by numbers." I feel a bit warmer towards it now I've read what motivated the brothers to write and produce it. I've added it to my Steam wishlist, something I didn't do after playing the demo, which just goes to show there's more than one way to promote a game.

A couple of musical items to finish with, I think. I had a nice surprise today when the third Let's Eat Grandma CD dropped through the letterbox, frightening the puppy, who ran into the kitchen and hid in her barrel. 

There have been four singles released from the album so far and I'm pretty sure I've featured all of them here. I seem to have fallen into a pattern of talking about every new release by a small, select group of bands (Band of groups?). I quite like doing it so I don't see why I should stop. 

Since there isn't anything new from the album to show you, how about the album itself? I have never really understood the attraction of unboxing videos but that's not going to stop me from using this one to fill up some space. It's the vinyl album that's being unboxed (Should be Unsleeved, surely?). I got the CD because CDs are better than vinyl in every conceivable way. Same cover though.

While we're on the subject, Superorganism dropped a second single from their upcoming album this week. I have that on pre-order too (The album, not the single.) but it's not out until mid-July. 

The song goes by the incredibly annoying name of The first time I downloaded it my PC apparently believed it really was a .zip file and put it in an appropriate folder. I had to download it again and rename it with a space where the dot is to get it to behave.

On first listen I thought the track was a bit meh but it's a real grower, especially when the big ending kicks in. Looking forward to the album.

And that, I think, is about that for today. Tomorrow I'm on dog duty all day, while Mrs. Bhagpuss is out at work and we've got a puppy gate coming. (Really a baby gate but don't tell her. Beryl, that is, not Mrs Bhagpuss. She already knows - she paid for it. Mrs Bhagpuss that is, not Beryl.) I have to fit it at the top of the stairs to stop her tumbling ears over tail all the way down (The puppy, that is, not... oh, you're ahead of me...). 

With all of that, chances are tomorrow's post could be thin. Sunday I'm working, so then too. Fun, blogging, isn't it? There's a new month's worth of free games from Amazon on Sunday, at least. That'll probably be worth a post, although I guess I probably ought to finish the one I'm playing before I start another.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

DPS. It Stands For "Don't Pour Scorn".

put up a very interesting post a few days ago, in which she talked about that old favorite the damage meter and the problems, both practical and psychological, adding one to a game can cause. Any discussion of damage meters is de facto one about the DPS role itself, of course. Damage meters, almost by default, relate most directly to DPS classes, although these days many mmorpgs expect everyone to be DPS, even if they also have other responsibilities. 

The post is as much about the role as it is the way it's measured, something that very much comes out in the lengthy, interesting discussion that follows in the comments. I've mentioned my long-standing feelings on DPS as a role too many times already (Tl:dr version  - it isn't one.) but even as I sense myself setting up for another vault over the old hobby-horse it occurs to me once again that most of what I think about mmorpgs is based on playing EverQuest almost twenty years ago.

Self-knowledge is notoriously hard to come by but mmorpg blogging is a useful excavatory tool when digging into your own psyche. We belabor the same topics over and over, those dead horses we love to flog, an exercise that can either result in the mental equivalent of repetetive strain injury or the growth of new mental muscle-tone. 

I'd like to think the result is more often the latter although I suspect that might be wishful thinking. It is ironic, given the extreme and often self-conscious efforts I make not to let myself settle into a rut where music or literature are concerned, the way I allow myself to trot out trite tropes from twenty years ago without seeming to notice how unfit for purpose they've become.

In the specific case of Shintar's post, my immediate reaction was to trash talk the very concept of "rotations", something I claimed I'd never used "on any character in any game". I did throw some smoke over the claim by adding the descriptor "hard" to "rotation" but even so it's a pretty bald statement to make. Could it really be true?

No, it couldn't. If I take the time to dig back into my mmorpg past, I can think of a few characters I've played who did indeed have a particular set of spells or abilities that they habitually triggered in a specific order so as to have the most effect. What is true is that I never consciously set out to create a strict rotation for any of them. I just worked out what seemed the most likely order to get the result I wanted and fell into using that. As Nogamara wonders in another comment in the thread, was I just "lucky in mostly picking the correct rotation by myself and thinking "this was natural"?

Here's the thing: if I didn't use any kind of rotation, how the heck would I even be able to play EverQuest II, where at any given time I have a hundred and twenty hot keys on screen. Literally - ten hot bars of twelve keys each. The most you're allowed. (If I could have more, I would. There are quite a few things I have to open other windows to use.)

Looking at my Berserker, fully half of those one hundred and twenty keys are combat abilities, mostly attacks plus some buffs/debuffs and self-heals. Of those sixty I normally use about half in most fights, around thirty separate actions, each of which I trigger with a mouse-click. It's a lot.

Every one of those abilities has a tool-tip that describes what it does. Some of them are several paragraphs long. I have a working understanding of the more important functions but mostly I've grouped the abilities in a rough approximation of when they might work best together. On some other characters, where I've judged synergies to be more critical, I've tried to align them in the order they should be used. If I'm paying attention I even click them in the order I've placed them.

In a normal fight against a regular opponent I'll usually only have time to trigger the most important abilities once or twice. I'll generally stick to the ones that primarily do immediate damage and that have the shortest cooldowns. I also like to use all the knockdowns because the sight of mobs falling on their backsides amuses me. Also it reduces the damage I take, which may or may not be more significant.

In longer fights and especially on Bosses, I can end up using most of the sixty combat abilities numerous times so it would be ridiculous for me to claim I don't follow any kind of rotation at that point. It would also be less than accurate to describe whatever rotation I have as much more than making sure I hit everything on cooldown, remember to refresh all the short-term buffs and use my Ascension abilities in the order that means I get an extra refresh.

It is a rotation but not much of one but then it doesn't need to be. Playing solo, the only thing that really matters is that I don't get myself killed. Short of that, it doesn't make a lot of difference whether it takes me five, ten or fifteen minutes to get the job done. 

Of course, I'd rather it was five but I come from a background where in a normal, solo play session I might not kill more than eight or ten mobs in an hour of continuous hunting. Not boss mobs. Just regular, outdoor creatures.

When I played a Druid in EverQuest back in 2000-2001, I think each of my dots used to last something like three minutes. I had several of them and a fight would consist of rooting the mob, laying all the dots on, then sitting and waiting. Usually I got to refresh those dots once before the mob died, meaning most "fights" lasted about five minutes. Later, when I perfect quad kiting, I'd hope to get all four mobs down before my Ensnare ran out. It lasted about fifteen minutes. 

I had a rotation then, too. It's just nonsense to pretend I didn't. It was even a fairly consistent one, if not actually strict. I only had eight spell slots. Most fights consisted of casting Ensnare, then some version of Root, then all the dots I had, probably some variation of Flame Lick, Immolate, Stinging Swarm, Creeping Crud and Drones of Doom. If I was impatient I might cast a nuke, most likely something in the Ignite line. Nukes were very mana-inefficient, though, so I tended to avoid them. 

All the caster and hybrid classes I played behaved somewhat similarly, solo. In groups, my play was far more situational, which is where I got the idea that casting the right spell at the right time was the key to good, social gameplay and also the idea that concentrating on DPS was selfish and solipsistic. "Selfish" was a commonly-held opinion of people who chose to roll Wizards, the prime DPS casting class, in those days. Rogues, people mostly just pitied.

I'm fairly sure I've written a detailed post about this before and I don't want to reiterate the same descriptions of how I used to play a Cleric or a Druid as a main healer in a group. The point is, as a healer, I felt my role was to do as little as possible so that when I was called on to do a lot very quickly I would have plenty of mana in the tank to get the job done. Any kind of "rotation" there would have been an anathaema to me because it would mean I was wasting mana by casting something other than a heal when it was needed.

I also played a Beastlord in the era when that class was the Swiss Army Knife of many groups. Mana was less of an issue there, what with the class having the second best mana regen buff in the game and also a bloody great tiger that never ran out of steam.  

As a BL I had certain responsibilities, primarily Slowing the mob as soon as possible, keeping it Slowed for the entirety of the fight and maintaining various buffs for the group. I also patch healed,  cured, dotted, debuffed and meleed. The tiger off-tanked. It was a full life, playing a Beastlord.

All of those were fundementally situational, not least because they frequently had to be co-ordinated with other members of the group. Any rotation, such as it was, would have been limited to making sure everything got refreshed when it faded or re-applied when it was resisted. Yes, in the broadest sense the same buttons might be pressed in the same order each fight and there was definitely a sense of actions falling into a pattern but there was never any hint of activating a pre-determined series of key-presses against a timer.

Those early EQ experiences have colored everything I've done in mmorpgs since. It took a very long time before I was able to stop trying to bend every new mmorpg into the shape EQ made. I think it was probably Guild Wars 2, with its would-be mould-breaking new approach, that finally shifted the paradigm for me but it's taken a lot longer to calm the shudder I feel every time I hear someone talking about the importance of DPS and the need for an appropriate "rotation". 

Even now, my instinct is to read any such thing as an expression of self-centered, self-aggrandizing hubris. In the milieu that formed my personal mmorpg values, people who thought that way were the kind you didn't really want in your group. To be thought one of them would be mortifying.

Times have changed or maybe they've just turned full circle. Whereas open world content has largely moved to a Time To Kill model, where fights are measured in seconds, as Shintar rightly points out, when it comes to dungeon bosses "there's inevitably a lot of time where you just attack one big opponent for minutes on end." I fear I may have fallen into the trap of conflating disparate experiences into an unconvincing and unrepresentative gestalt.

For most of what I do, any idea of a rotation would be at best superflous, more likely fatuous. How many times would I even get through even a simple rotation more than once? I don't think it even counts as a rotation if you can't get through it the first time, does it?

When it comes to those long, attritional fights, though, the ones I complain bitterly about having to grind my way through at the end of Living World or Adventure Signature Questline instances in GW2 or EQII, I'm grateful for anything that shortens the agony. Ideally, I'd prefer it if developers would come up with another, more interesting means of holding our attention but since that's unlikely I'll settle for learning to maximize my efficiency, if that's what it takes.

It's time I revised my unthinking dismisal of DPS as a role, not least because these days DPS is mostly what I play. I never planned on making the change but somehow it happened anyway. I guess if you end up mostly soloing a shift to a DPS focus is inevitable.

For many years I thought of myself as primarily a healer in mmorpgs. It was my preferred role and I fancied myself pretty good at it. To be a healer, though, you need someone or something to heal and it's been a long time now since I grouped regularly, let alone as a healer. I don't even duo much any more and healing myself or my pet doesn't count. 

As for the other role I really enjoyed back in the noughties, the one I tried to grab as much of as I could and could never get enough, it barely exists today. I used to relish being the one responsible for things like snaring, slowing, debuffing and generally making it harder for the mob to operate effectively. Crowd control was an extremely responsible position in a group back then. Now it's become what DPS used to be; something everyone's supposed to be able to do in the background while they're concentrating on something more important.

Or maybe that's just in GW2, where "CC" means "reduce the Breakbar" and not much more. I'm not sure I've ever seen anything actually "controlled" by one of those abilities, not least because no effect ever lasts more than a few seconds.

And that's the key to it. How long a fight takes. For DPS to matter much at all fights have to be longer than an eye-blink and the same is true of using skills situationally, the way I prefer. What I mostly come across are either ultra-short fights, where neither skill nor judgment seem to matter at all, or massive hit-point sponges that have to be worn down over time with a firehose of damage. If it's a boss, occasionally there'll be a quick round of Simon Says or The Floor Is Lava just to keep you awake. 

Even when there is a "situation", the only way to address it is through a formal set of behaviors learned from a dance manual. The old school response of winging it, making up strategy on the fly, something which seemed to serve most groups I healed for very well back in the early 2000s, probably never makes it out of beta these days. By the time most of us ever get to see the content there's already an accepted strat up on YouTube and woe betide you if you haven't watched it and committed the moves to memory.

The same with rotations. I say I don't use them and I certainly try not to but I can't pretend I don't even know what they are any more. When I go to Metabattle for advice on what gear to buy and what skills to slot, I can see the builds also come with a detailed description of what buttons to press and in what order.

I have no intention of taking that advice. It's too much like work for my liking. I'll muddle along as I am, following my own guiding principle: if the mob's dead and my character isn't, I must have done everything right. 

What I will try and do from now on, though, is recognize the new landscape and my changing place in it. Shintar descirbes DPS as "by far the hardest role in SWTOR's more demanding group content" because you have to both keep that meter ticking as fast as possible and also not falter in your dance steps. It must be like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time and we all know how hard that's meant to be.

That kind of dedication deserves respect. Grudging, maybe, but respect all the same.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Last night I finished watching the second season of Russian Doll. I was going to write something about it until I realised it would be almost literally impossible without major spoilers. Everyone else who's tried has had the same problem. 

I know because, following my usual pattern, the moment the end credit music on the seventh and final episode ran down I flipped to Chrome and started googling reviews. All of them began with a "Major Spoilers Ahead" warning and well they should.

Don't fret. I'm not going to talk about the story or the plot or the writing or even the acting or the actors. Just about anything I might mention could give something away and knowing anything at all before you watch would run counter to the very concept of the show. 

What I will say is that I thought at first I was going to be a little disappointed but I ended up not being. Also, I think it's a season that needs to be re-watched before judgments are passed. 

I'll also mention that if I ever want to give a practical example of the Intentional Fallacy I'll quote Natasha Lyon's interview in which she explains the ending and contrast it with Sophie Gilbert's review in Atlantic. Don't click those links if you haven't seen the show yet. Just take note of these quotes:

"It’s okay that this is the way I am, and it’s okay that this is the way you are." - Natasha Lyon, writer.

"The only way to bear what Nadia can’t change is to accept that she can’t change it." - Sophie Gilbert, reviewer.

They kind of agree, right? Although the tone is very different.

"But really, for them, three and a half years later, [it’s about] ‘How do I start living? What does it mean to be present in a life and make the most of the time that we have in the here and now, with our set of circumstances?"NL

"It’s a devastating way to leave a show that, at its outset, underlined how connection with other people could bring hope, joy, and redemption... Season 2’s final moments feel so shatteringly incomplete." - SG

Now they don't. They're seeing entirely different pictures.

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about the smoking. Geeeeeeeeeez! The smoking! I could hardly follow the plot for the smoke. At least that's my excuse.

Don't I remember reading just a few years ago how there were a whole set of rules for film and tv, either external or self-imposed, about not depicting cigarette smoking in a positive light? Wasn't it meant to be uncool to show smoking as cool, if not actually illegal? 

I even seem to remember something about old movies and shows being recut to remove or reduce the instances of smoking. I could have sworn it caused some kind of minor controversy over authenticity and cultural heritage.

Yeah, well, that seems to have died a death, ironically. I'm watching three shows on Netflix at the moment and two of them feature smoking almost as a core feature.(The one that doesn't is Space Force, in case anyone's playing some kind of drinking game.)

The one that's not Russian Doll is the original anime version of Cowboy Bebop in which all the main characters other than Edward, who's about eleven or twelve years old and Ein, who's a dog, smoke with élan; stylishly if not obsessively. Everything about the show is intended to drip cool, from the jazz soundtrack to the slinky spaceports and a certain kind of casual smoking very definitely ups that cool factor.

Cowboy Bebop was made just over twenty years ago, though, so you could argue standards were different then. I'm not sure there's any smoking at all in the recent live-action remake, even by the bad guys.

Russian Doll, Season 2 was made over the last couple of years, so there's not even that cigarette-paper thin excuse. Neither does the fact that some of the scenes take place in other time periods. Cigarette consumption here isn't historic, it's heroic.

In the first episode, Nadia, Natasha Lyon's character and the center of the story, spends so much time playing with an unlit cigarette I found myself wondering if the actor was a non-smoker who didn't want to inhale. Given that she's also the writer, that would seem unlikely.

That reticence turns out to be foreplay. For the succeeding six episodes Nadia's barely seen without a lit cigarette, often between her lips as she growls out her lines. Everyone else around her smokes too, or it feels like they do.

It's so foregrounded at times I found it actively distracting. I gave up smoking decades ago but I grew up in an era when knowing how to smoke was both a vital social skill and a mark of sophistication. I can't look at someone smoking without infering plenty about their character. 

In the case of Russian Doll and with due deference to the Intentional Fallacy, it's very plain that's what you're meant to do. Smoking acts as a plot point, a character arc and ironic foreshadowing, among other devices. With cigarette smoking at an all-time low I did wonder what, if anything , it all implied about the intended audience.

You're not going to get an answer on that from me. I just know what I'm watching isn't a documentary. If someone smokes in Russian Doll it's for a reason. And they do. All the time.

I'm not saying its cool or clever. We al know it's not. Still, it adds something that wouldn't be there otherwise and its hard to find anything to replace that effect. Which, I guess, is why writers keep lighting up even when the world is trying to give it up.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

LotRO: Generous To A Fault

See that up there? That's my brain on LotRO, that is. Or, if you want to be literal about it, it's a collage I made from the screenshots I took in Lord of the Rings Online earlier today. I was snapshotting new things as I found them and opened them, or I was until I gave up because there were just too damned many.

There's a phenomenon known as overgifting and Standing Stone have it down to a fine art. It might be simple overenthusiasm or maybe it's some kind of passive-aggressive atonement for previous meanness. I hope it's not a tricksy way of pushing cash shop sales on inventory upgrades. I have actually spent some of my very limited supply of LotRO Points doing just that in exactly this situation the past, so I have to wonder.

It very nearly happened again today. I got as far as opening the Store window and checking the price. I was already annoyed because last time I played I spent about an hour emptying a whole bag and yet this time, the moment I logged in it was bloody well full again. And that's before I'd even started opening any of the boxes!

Before I could even think about looking at what I'd been given, I had to spend fifteen minutes sorting through the rubbish I was carrying, finding the Forochel Task Board, taking all the quests, finding the hand-in NPC, giving him all the completed sets, retaking the quests and giving handing in some more, just to clear some of the slots taken up by task items.

After all that I still only had about half a dozen empty spaces, at which point I cracked and opened the Store. When I saw all I could afford was another five slots I just thought "Sod it", went to find a vendor willing to buy the leftovers. I hate selling stuff I could use but the alternative was to go and hunt mobs to get more items more to make up the difference. That way lies madness because no matter how careful you are, you never end up with an exact hand-in. There are always leftovers.

There is a bank in Forochel although you'd have to know it to find it. It's inside a tent that's a separate instance, which makes good sense from a lore perspective but is inconvenient in terms of gameplay, something that just about sums LotRO up, if you ask me. I went there to check but I didn't have much expectation of success. 

I wasn't disappointed, or I was, depending which way you look at it. I was right. My vaults were all but full. 

There were a few empty slots, just about enough for me to clear another row of bag space. It looked like it might be enough to make a start. Start where, though?  

My original idea on patching up had been to check out the Anniversary gifts but I hadn't bargained with all the cruft that seems to have come with the opening up of most of the expansion content to all-comers. I don't remember reading that we were getting the Collector's Editions but my bags were overflowing with "Collector's Edition - Bonus Items" boxes.

About the only plan I had was to try and guess which would explode into the smallest number of things or might have items that could be immediately consumed, like mounts or pets. The corgi, which I was quite keen to see, was already there in my packs as a separate item. I consumed that first.

You get a corgi for every character. Not just the ones you have now but any you might ever make in the future. I have never been much of a fan of corgis, so strongly associated with Queen Elizabeth II as they are, but I'm pleased to say that recent exposure to Ein in both the live and anime versions of Cowboy Bebop has added some nuance to the breed for me.  

It seems I have another dog as well, a German Shepherd. Well, actually a "Shepherd Dog" but same thing. I looked it up and apparently it comes from the Minus Morgul Collector's Edition. And then there's the Mysterious Celebration Pig. That one comes from the 13 Year Giftbox, which I got for having an account that's thirteen years old, surprise, surprise. I got it today, even though this is the fifteenth anniversary. I didn't start playing LotRO until a couple of years after it launched.

I kept on opening things until I got the message that there wasn't enough room to carry on, at which point I thought I'd better take a look at what I'd gotten so far. As well as the pets, which auto-populate onto your hotbars if they can find a spare slot, something that confused the heck out of me when I was searching through my skills to add them, there were the usual slew of fireworks and boosts, the former mostly useless, the latter very useful if I ever plan on actually playing the game.

As well as pets, there are free mounts to be had. I'm not exactly sure how it works but I ended up with four of them. At least, I think that's what happened. I found one new mount on my hot bar, the Steed of Starlight. It's a very impressive warhorse, caparisoned with astonomical or astrological emblems. It also runs at a very tasty 68% above standard. 

I thought that was it for mounts until I logged back in to check something for this post and found I'd somehow acquired another three - two horses and a pig. I wouldn't normally countenance riding around on a pig but I believe you can use them in Moria, where a horse can't go, so I might make an exception for that, if I ever get there.

A swine wasn't the most surprising thing I received. There were not one, not two but three Valar Level Boosts, one going to 50, another to 105 and a third to 120. It's possible I already had the Level Fifty boost from some previous event but the other two are new, I'm sure. 

They're account bound so theoretically I could use them on three different characters. I have four and another free slot to make a fifth. (Or I did. See later in the post...) It's tempting but it's going to bear some thinking about before I decide. 

I would like to see some of the later zones. I'm not sure how it works in terms of travel, though. If you boost to 105 do you also get a free pass through Moria to an appropriate area for your level or do you have to hack and slash your way through the mines like a demigod?

Another very welcome and totally unexpected gift were three "Carry-Alls". I didn't know these things existed but I'm most happy to discover they do. They're extra storage for specific types of items - crafting mats, task items, musical instruments, house items and so on - and they come in various sizes.

There were two Small and one Large Carry-Alls and a free choice of all the kinds. I picked a ten-slot crafting bag and both a ten and fifty slot task item bag. Back when I was playing LotRO as a main game, all those thirteen years ago, I took my crafting quite seriously but that seems very unlikely to happen ever again. My bags are always full of task items, though, as I mentioned earlier. It'll be great to have somewhere to stash them.

Another box I opened contained appearance armor. At first I thought that would be fine. I could stick it in the slots on the Cosmetic Outfits tab and clear a space in inventory. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to work that way. I ended up with the item registered in the Appearance tab but still in my bag. 

I went to the vault again and cleared out ten spaces by moving some crafting mats into the new carry-all. I kind of wished I'd chosen two Small crafting carry-alls then. I have a lot of mats in the bank. 

Still, ten slots is ten slots. In went the level boosts and the appearance gear and a whole bunch of stuff related to Legendary weapons, something I'm pleased to say I don't have to worry about just yet. 

By then I'd been sorting inventory for well over an hour and I'd about had enough. I might love inventory management for its own sake in other games but in LotRO it's just a pain. The tiny icons, the overcomplicated mechanics, the very miserly allotment of space... I've played plenty of F2P games with more generous capacity and much better systems.

The more I think about it, the more I'm sure I'll have to start over from scratch if I'm ever going to play LotRO for more than the odd hour here and there. Even if I can get past the inevitable inventory issues, my dwarf Guardian is quite possibly the dullest race/class combo imagineable. I could bump him up with one of the boosts but I very much doubt it would make him any more interesting to play. 

My other choices are a 27 Man Lore Master, an 8 Dwarf Minstrel and a 7 Elf Hunter. I like the Lore Master but the other two have barely begun and I'm convinced there are better options. 

Also, I'm surprised, now I think about it, to see all four of them are male characters. It's very unlike me not to have at least a 50-50 gender split. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure it was because Mrs Bhagpuss was playing too and we were duoing a lot. 

I seem to remember it getting just too confusing at one point in EverQuest II, when we started on a new server and made a bunch of new friends in a short time, having to explain that yes, we were a couple but no, we were playing different genders, which also would have been fine if we hadn't both been playing several characters and not all of those the same gender as each other, let alone the person playing them. Maybe that ought to have been less of an issue on a dedicated RP server but as I've said before, I never found Laurelin to be a particularly accomodating environment, socially, so I probably wanted to keep things simple.

One final note before I go. I'm all but certain that when I logged in this afternoon I had four characters and one more free character slot under the Premium ruleset. After I logged out and logged back in again I have four characters and three free slots. What with that and the mounts, I'm starting to wonder what else might have changed.

Maybe I'll log in the other two accounts I have access to and see what else I can blag. I mean, free stuff, right? You can't have too much. Can you?

Monday, April 25, 2022

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait. No, Really. They Do! Don't Walk Away!

Overseer progression in EverQuest II is a painstaking and time-consuming affair, which I'm guessing is why there are so many offhand comments on the forums about how tedious and/or pointless the feature is. It's also only of sporadic benefit to the more committed players, by which I really mean anyone playing much above solo difficulty. I very much doubt Heroic II Dungeon players would be interested in anything that drops from an Overseer reward chest, let alone raiders. Even H1 players probably find the pickings slim.

For a solo player, things don't look great at the start, either, but the trick is to keep going anyway. At the top end, gear drops from Overseer missions are on a par with drops from solo instance bosses, at least, and they're a lot easier and quicker to get, especially if you have a stable of characters to dress.

It's possible to see some of that in advance. EQII, like Guild Wars 2, has a facility whereby you can preview the potential contents of reward chests. I believe there was some legal reason this was added so as to remove any hint of gambling from the chests you can buy from the stores for cash money but for some reason it was extended to in-game loot containers as well, a change about which I have somewhat mixed feelings. 

On occasion it can be useful to know all of the possible drops from a reward chest but it does mitigate strongly against the sense of elation that an unexpectedly good drop can bring. The option is very useful, however, in determining just how the progression ladder for Overseer works, something that's anything but intuitive. 

I really enjoy the Overseer system but the way it works can be quite oblique. It occured to me it might be an idea to write a detailed guide on the subject, something for which there's obviously a demand. "Overseer" is currently one of the five top-trending searches on the EQII wiki. People clearly want to know more.

Unfortunately, wiki-users are likely to be disappointed if, like me, they're trying to find out more about the new Season 4 rewards or mechanics. Although there's a very extensive Overseer page, it has yet to be updated beyond the end of Season 3. I'd like to be able to do something about that but having thought about it I realize I have nowhere near enough understanding or experience of the changes either to write my own guide or to edit the wiki, always assuming I could figure out how to do it. I've never actually edited a wiki. Maybe I should.

Still, I thought it might be useful to lay out a few of the basics, as much for my own reference as anything else. I've been diligently doing my missions every day since the update and some progress has been made. Not nearly as much as I'd like but at least I think I can begin to see the shape of things now.

As far as I can tell, each tier of rewards contains the seeds for the next. At the beginning of a new season you get a pair of the shortest, lowest-quality missions, blue-colored Treasured missions that take an hour to complete and have a half-hour cooldown before you can take them again. The loot for those is generally about the same as you'd get doing solo quests in the Signature questline.

These missions have the chance to drop alot of other utility items, boosts and so on but what you're really after at this point are some of the more than twenty further missions. These range from more blue, sixty-minuters to longer blues and even longer yellow "Legendary" missions. I'm vague on the exact numbers and details because, while you can examine the contents of the basic reward chests from the Overseer menu at any time, the only chance you get to look at what's in the more desirable "Bonus" chests is when one pops up as an actual reward for a mission you've completed .

As I write this I have a screenshot of the Bonus chest from a Legendary mission to refer to but I haven't had the chance to snap a picture of the inventory of a Treasured Bonus chest. Should have thought of that before I started, really. As you can see I didn't do my homework.

Leaving the exact provenance of the missions aside, what you're trying to do at this stage is to upgrade your mission options as much as possible. While you have only Treasured missions, the best you can hope for is to add some Legendaries. It can be a slow process. To date I've managed to acquire just two.

The new season began a couple of weeks ago and so far I have a total of eight missions: three Treasured (one-hour), three Treasured (ninety minutes) and two Legendary (two and a half hours). That allows me to do the full ten missions per day simply by taking them all first thing in the morning and then re-taking two of the blue ones when I collect the yellows, which is a big improvement over having to keep logging in every couple of hours to recycle the few blue ones I started with but still isn't really getting me where I want to be.

While just banging out all eight missions then doing two more blues on re-pop may be convenient, it isn't the best use of resources. The blue missions can only give me more blues or yellows and what I really want are some purple "Fabled" missions or better yet, some green "Celestials". I still need to keep coming back to retake the two yellow missions when the cooldown fades.

Or at least I think I do. It's at at this point that I realise I can't say with any certainty what the yellow missions do offer. I'm assuming yellows can give purples and purples can give greens but I don't know that for a fact. Since facts are kind of the important part of this post and since I just realised that "looking inside the box" trick doesn't work for missions on cooldown, which both of my Legendary missions are right now, what say we reconvene in two hours from now, when they're up again?

Intermission. Ice creams are on sale in the lobby.

Okay, everyone back in their seats? Good. Then let's see what we've got.

That was worth waiting for. It doesn't give you the specific quality-rating for the missions but you can tell by the number of agents required that some are going to be Fabled and some Celestial. The rest are Legendary. No Treasured.

There are also a bunch of new agents, ranging upward into the Celestial category. Higher-level agents don't perform better per se. They have more talents, meaning you can find more missions for them and also there's a chance that they could fulfil more than one of the talent requirements for a given mission all on their own. They might even have one of the very rare talents you hardly ever see.

And finally there are the new Overseer Items. I read about these in the update notes, where they only got a passing mention, but now I can see they're familiar iconic items from the game. The conceit is that you can equip your agents with these powerful items when you send them out on missions although I suspect what actually happens is that you slot the item in one of the agent slots. Probably more of a flavor than a mechanic.

Of course, first you have to get lucky with the rng. There are a very large number of other possible rewards in the chest, including a lot of armor. It's the same level gear as in the blue chests, there's just a lot more of it. The better stuff comes from the bonus chests.

The good thing is, the luckier you are, the luckier you're going to get. Every time you do get a better mission it makes it more likely you'll get another. I'm sure someone could do the math but you don't need to math know that increasing the quality of the input will increase the quality of the output. 

That's the key to a successful Overseer career: persistence. At the start it can be very slow going indeed. And if you don't roll well the start can drag on. As I said, I've been doing it for two weeks and so far I've only managed to get two yellow missions. I'm not yet at the point where anything that's a real upgrade is dropping. It would be easy to decide not to bother any more.

From my experience of the last two seasons I can say that that will change and when it does, after a while, it will start to feel like a snowball rolling downhill. The new missions begin to build up until you're filling all ten daily slots with Legendary and Fabled. The chance for bonus chests goes up the better quality the mission is so that it becomes more likely you'll get one than you won't.

If you keep at it, there's a glorious time when almost every day brings some kind of upgrade for your main character or your favorite alts. Then you reach the far side of the plateau and it all starts to get a bit repetitive, with most of the drops being duplicates or things you don't need. You'll have enough potions to last you years

You hang on, though, for the few choice pieces you still want until eventually it all starts to feel like more effort than it's worth and you drift away.

So far, for me, each season has taken several months to run through that cycle. It seems like a pretty well-judged progression and drop rate to me but then I find the process itself enjoyable and I'm in absolutely no hurry. I guess if all you wanted was the rewards you might get somewhat ticked off with how long it all takes and how little direct control you have over the results.

Then again, what else have you got to do with your time? You're playing an mmorpg, aren't you?

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Rabbit, Run

There was a time, once, when I could find my screenshots from New World. When I played the game directly from my own hard drive by way  of Steam it was easy. I just hit the screenshot key and there they were.

Actually, there they weren't. Steam doesn't make finding screenshots as easy as it might be. Like DCUO, for some reason they like to use a string of gibberish rather than a comprehensible filename. Fortunately, there is a handy option in the main Steam interface that lets you browse your photo album and open the files on disk.

When I started playing New World through GeForceNow I lost all access to Steam controls even though I still have to login via Steam. That was okay. GeForceNow has a nice screenshot facility of its own. I was using that for a while until I wasn't. It just didn't seem to work any more. Then it did. Then it didn't. It was frustrating. And Confusing.

I spent a good while fiddling about, changing various settings, altering the keybinds, getting more and more irritated. Sometimes I couldn't seem to take any screenshots at all, other times the game told me I had but I couldn't find them anywhere.

At one point I resorted to hitting PrtScr then tabbing out and pasting the clipboard into That's where the shot at the top of the post came from. Primitive but it works.

This evening, when I came to write this post, I tried once again to find the dozen or so screenshots the UI confirmed I'd taken a few days ago. They were pictures of the new event, the one where you hunt corrupted rabbits. Once again I couldn't find them anywhere.

There's only so long I can stand searching through folders for photos that may not even be there. It occured to me it might be quicker to log in and take some more. So I did and it was.

Of course, this time when I took the shots they all went straight into the Gallery folder where they're meant to go. I swear I did exactly the same as last time but logic suggests I probably didn't. Whatever it was I did differently will have to remain a mystery. A very boring mystery no-one in their right mind would want to solve.

The important thing is that I now have a dozen shots of my character chasing rabbits. Wow. That was really time well spent, wasn't it?

The event, Rabbit's Revenge, is very odd. For a start, that name. Makes you think the rabbits are turning aggressive, doesn't it? You imagine there are going to be fights. You versus some big, mean bunnies, Night of the Lepus style.

Yeah, that's not happening. The rabbits are just the same as they ever were except they have some red marks in their fur now. They still hop about amiably, run away if you get near them and die in one hit. I'm not sure where the "revenge" comes in.

There also don't seem to be any more rabbits than there used to be or rabbits in any different places. I didn't see any for a couple of hours while I was down in Cutlass Keys and Monarchs Bluff. Rabbits don't do swamps. 

Eventually I remembered there are usually a few of them hopping about outside Everfall so I ported over there to look for them. It took me about five seconds to find one on the path just outside town. They appear on track but it's hardly necessary. 

The next part is kind of undignified. You sidle up to the rabbit, hoping it doesn't spot you. Animals in Aeternum tend to be oblivious to any threat from behind. If you get within striking range that's it for the bunny. A level one character can kill a rabbit in a single blow and my character is a shave away from fifty-nine.

If the rabbit spots you, however, it taks off like a hare. Erm... They zig-zag a bit and there's a lot of undergrowth and trees so it's a bit of a Benny Hill performance to catch one. I imagine it's a lot easier and more dignified if you use a musket or a bow but I use a hatchet and that's that.

In the end you get your bunny and it drops a bag. Nearly always. I did think it was a guaranteed drop but it isn't, quite. The bag contains a lucky rabbit's foot. You can only have five of them each day. They stack and you can use them for a Luck bonus.

I couldn't figure out if that was worth doing or not. There's a caveat on the tooltip warning you it replaces other luck bonuses from consumables. The rabbit's foot gives 4.9% Luck but I couldn't find anywhere on my character profile that told me how much luck I already had. Not that I know what luck is good for, anyway.

Theoretically you can also get something called Diamond Gypsum as a drop from corrupted rabbits but I have yet to see any. For me, it seems to be as hard to come by as the "Exceedingly Rare" Defiled Storage Chest, the big ticket item from the event.

I confess I don't really see the point of this event. It doesn't seem to be particularly entertaining in itself and the rewards seem either pointless or far too rare to encourage people to bother trying to get them. I haven't played all that much but it was very busy when I was killing my rabbits and no-one else seemed to be remotely interested. I had the entire warren to myself.

I guess any event is better than none but I think I'll call this one done for now, unless anyone knows of anything I've missed. There's probably something. There just about has to be.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Seven Yellow Elefants (Okay, Five If We're Being Picky)

Due to some bright spark having [REDACTED] after work, a situation made worse by my having [REDACTED] and furthermore and unrelatedly due to me being wholly incapable of finding any of the screenshots I took in New World via Geforce Now the other day, tonight's post, which was to have been an unutterably tedious piece of nonsense about corrupted rabbits has been indefinitely postponed. Count yourselves lucky.

Since I now don't have remotely enough time to come up with anything halfway decent, I am forced to cannibalize the post I was planning to write tomorrow night, a music post, which was never going to be much more than a thrown-together stopgap anyway. God knows what kind of rags and tatters we're going to end up with now.

The vague plan - and calling it even that is an insult to vaguery - was going to revolve around a few tracks I came across recently by way of my YouTube subscription to Spanish record label Elefant, an estimable source that I've mentioned before and which rarely lets me down. There have been a few releases on Elefant of late that seemed striking even by their consistently high standards so I thought I might ride on their comet tail for a while and hope some of the stardust might rub off. 


Opens with a long spoken-word skit in Spanish, which you might want to skip unless you're fluent. The good stuff start at about 0.50. I played this one on repeat for most of the day I first heard it. Can't play it too loud, either. It has another great use of a swear word in the lyric. I really must do that post sometime.

It's quite conventional by the standards of the next one one, though. I just love this stuff. I realise I might be the only one.


Oh what the hell, let's have something else by GFOTY too. With 100 gecs, why not. They're sitting on a yellow sofa. That's a good enough reason. Let's call it a theme.

stupid horse - 100 gecs [feat. GFOTY and Count Baldor]

Now I want to know who Count Baldor is. 

No! Stop! Have some discipline!

Shall we have something a little more relaxing? Yes, we shall. Sort of.

Club de los 27 - Pipiolas

This one starts out as if it's going to be quite normal but don't let that fool you. It seems to be at least three or four different songs welded together. It seems to be their trademark. (Too many "seems". Ed.) As the record company blurb says about another of their songs "In barely four minutes we have gone from bedroom pop to house, then suddenly to techno-pop, and then another quick change and you’re rubbing elbows with punk-pop." We might as well have that one as well.

Narciso - Pipiolas

I like the first one better but all their stuff is worth hearing, or all of it that I've heard has been, anyway.

If you've made it this far, here's a reward for your patience. 

 No Sé Muy Bien - Lisasinson

The always-reliable, always uplifting Lisasinson with a song that has a hauntingly familiar descending cadence. I think it reminds me of something by papertiger sound and there's no chance on God's earth they ever heard it, so coincidence is a true thing. A judge told Ed Sheeran that, I think.

And since we mentioned her, why not let's end with her? Lisa Simpson and Billy Eilish, together at last. I think the yellow theme is really coming together...

Sadly, I don't have Disney+ so the trailer's as good as it gets. 

It's good enough!

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