Friday, July 29, 2022

Noah's Heart: First Impressions

Noah's Heart is a brand-new, open world mmorpg, developed and published for Android, iOS and Windows by Archosaur Games, best known (If at all.) for Dragon Raja. It uses Unreal Engine 4 and has server clusters in the EU and North America.

The game launched on mobile only in Europe a couple of weeks ago and globally on all platforms yesterday. It uses a free-to-play payment model and currently ranks #2 in the Free Role Playing category on the Google Play Store and #4 in Role Playing on the Apple Store, with ratings of 4.6/5 on both.

I've played the PC version for a little over three hours, including pre-launch character creation. My character is Level 31and some way into Chapter Two of the main storyline. These are my early impressions: 

It's good. I like it. 

Oh, you want more? Okay. 

It's hella similar to Genshin Impact, for a start. Remember when it came out and everyone went "Wow! That really raises the bar"?  We were right. GI went on to make an absolute fortune and it's clearly the benchmark now for any developer hoping to be taken seriously in the all-platform-F2P-Open World-RPG stakes. That's something we should all celebrate.

That said, Noah's Heart isn't as instantly impressive as Genshin Impact and not only because it didn't come first. The aesthetic, while delightful, is less well-defined and the graphics, while gorgeous, aren't as sharp. 

Whether the world is as deep and fascinating, it's a little too early for me to judge, not least because at Level 31 I've seen barely any of it. The world is, presumably, vast. A tool tip on a loading screen mentioned eight continents and hundreds of islands. So far, all I've seen is some random countryside, a city and the inside of several very small instances.

I'm coming for you, Heidi!

The reason for that is the story, not that it's especially compelling, thrilling or even interesting. It's definitely not. So far, it's very much a by-the-numbers anime mmo plot, involving the usual princes, kings, charming rogues, handsome officers and an unfeasible number of very young women in unsuitable outfits running every which way whenever you turn around.

The dialog is nothing out of the ordinary, either. I've played quite a few imported titles where I got the strong impression the writing would have been laugh-out-loud funny in the original language. I doubt that's the case here although the translation is just shaky enough cast some doubt. 

I ought to make it clear at this point, in case anyone reading this is unfamiliar with my established perspective, that I tend to think of shaky translations as a feature not a bug. The nuances of language exposed that way are endlessly fascinating. 

You don't get out much, do you?

I'd take just about any limping, broken-backed attempt at rendering one culture's demotic take on familiar fantasy tropes into the vernacular of another over the dull, plodding, worthy Heroic Prose of many a game's native English text. Your mileage, as they may or may not say in Seoul, may vary.

By similar inductive reasoning, I also have considerable time for voice actors who give oddly-inflected line readings, which is just as well. I'd rate the voice acting in Noah's Heart as competent at best, pedestrian for the most part and occasionally downright peculiar. 

At one point I was all but convinced one of the NPCs was being voiced by some kind of text-to-speech app, the inflections were so robotic. Then, in the next scene, the same character began speaking with recognizeable and appropriate emotional emphasis. Did the director have a word with him or did someone tweak the settings on the AI? We'll never know.

Ya think?


If the plot isn't anything special and the acting isn't either, why have I done virtually nothing other than follow the storyline for the whole three hours I've been playing? Oh, several reasons...

  1. There's one holy heck of a lot of it.
  2. It's relentless.
  3. Seriously, it never stops.
  4. And its all cut scenes.
  5. So. Many. Cut scenes.

Even so. Surely I could have just ignored it and done my own thing? Well, yes I could. There's nothing to stop you doing that, if you want. Only I didn't want.

Drama! Excitement! Threat! I was there! (Watching)

The fault is entirely my own. I feel quite guilty about it. In former days, I would never have allowed a game to direct me so forcefully. I'd have veered off the intended path and made my own way, ignoring the story altogether if need be. 

In those days, though, there wasn't a single button that played the game for you. In Noah's Heart there is and I love it.

I've always apreciated mmorpgs with an autoplay function. Who wants to find their own way to anything, amiright? I mean, you guys have satnavs, don't you? The problem with automated questing systems tends to be that they only do half the job. They run you to where you have to be next but then they leave you to do all the work. 

Noah's Heart has possibly the best autoquesting I've seen. I've used it for the whole questline so far and it hasn't made me irritable once. All I do is click on the quest in the onscreen quest tracker and my character trots to the next NPC and opens the dialog window. If there are teleports to take, she takes them. If it's a long way, she summons her horse, jumps on and rides. 

Speaking of horses, whoever came up with those names deserves a raise. Either that or they need to go back on their meds. I'm not sure which.

It's slick, smooth and strangely soothing to watch. Let's be honest, it's fricken' addictive. Given the extreme quantity of cut scenes and the paucity of combat quests, it feels less like playing a game and more like watching a somewhat shambolic anime - from the inside!

Sometimes you even get to "control" the characters within the cut-scenes, something I can't recall ever doing before. There was one part where my character and three of her pals had escaped captivity and were running through a castle courtyard and a button popped up on screen for me to press so each of them in turn could somersault over a barrel or slide under a haywagon. 

It felt like we'd segued into some sort of make-your-own-movie game and, honestly, it worked really well. I'm not sure what would have happened if I'd declined to press the button at the appropriate moment but it never even occcured to me to find out. I was sufficiently invested to want everyone to get away, which I guess means the story's better than I thought it was.

Although who I'm supposed to attack in here escapes me.

Mention of on-screen buttons brings me on to the UI and the control system. It's good, or at least it's good for me. 

In these days of center-screen targeting and action controls, new mmorpgs where you can do everything with the mouse are hard to come by. Noah's Heart is one of those, not because Archosaur has gone full WoW-style for the PC release (Although it does have tab tagetting.) but because all they've really done is kept the mobile controls and mapped them to the keyboard as an option.

There are large circles or icons for all the relevant actions on screen in the lower right corner, where your thumb would go on a tablet or phone. They're all neatly labelled and swap themselves in and out according to context. 

If you play by keyboard you might find the key choices a little weird. I know I've never seen K and J as primary and secondary attack before. They're all remappable, though, and you can just click the on-screen buttons with the mouse pointer if you prefer - which I very much do.

Every instance boss takes a moment to pose for photos just before the fight begins.

As a result, I was not only able to win every fight in every storyline instance so far, I was able to do it while meeting all the requirements for all the bonuses. Such a thing may never have happened before, although it may also be because the fights so far have all been incredibly easy, even the bosses. The bonus criteria specify "No more than two heavy injuries" (Or something like that. It means getting knocked out after losing all your HP, I think.) but so far I've yet to go under about 90% health at any point.

I seem to remember Genshin Impact was also easy at the early stages but that's presumably to boil the frog. Like GI, Noah's Heart is a gacha game, where the company hopes to make a fortune by leading you into a debt spiral of purchases, in this case of "Phantoms", the collectable NPCs who fight alongside you. 

Unlike Genshin Impact, however, so far there's been very little combat at all. The whole "kill ten rats" part of the package seems to be entirely absent. I've barely seen an attackable mob outside of the storyline instances, far less been sent to kill one. Even inside the instances there have only been one or two groups of enemies, easily disposed of, before the boss.

One of the very, very few mobs I've had to kill for a quest.

Presumably things will get harder - much harder - as the game progresses, although I kind of hope not. It's been a charmingly laid-back experience so far and I'm in no hurry for that to end. 

This First Impressions post is going to stop now, though. Not because I don't have anything more to say - I have plenty. Barely scratched the surface! I'm just going to save it all for Blaugust, which starts on Monday. New games always give me a ton of ideas for things to write about so the timing couldn't be better. 

With luck, Noah's Heart might last me all month. I played Genshin Impact longer than that and this feels like a rerun. Or maybe a cover version. And I do love my covers.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Jumping Someone Else's Train

caused a certain amount of sage head-nodding in mmodom a few days ago with a pronouncement that all forms of NFT and Blockchain-related activity would be banned from Minecraft because the fad "creates digital ownership based on scarcity and exclusion." Amen to that, right?

I mean, who would argue against anyone who says online gaming ought to be about "creative inclusion and playing together", right? Certainly not me.

And it makes perfect sense for the kind of game Minecraft is. It's all about the creativity and the community. Mmorpgs, though, for all they like to foster an image of social harmony, they're kind of built on the concept of "scarcity and exclusion", aren't they?

As far back as the days of classic EverQuest (Or just "EverQuest", as we knew it then.) it's all been about the haves and the have-nots. What were all those endless camps for, if not to put your hands on something that was really hard to get? Something most people didn't have.

Seriously, who'd have spent days, weeks, sometimes months, wishing, hoping, praying for the Ancient Cyclops to pop or Quillmane to fly past, if it hadn't been because those creatures were so damn difficult to find but so worth it if you did?

Scarcity and exclusion is what those spawns and their even rarer rare drops were all about. Even needing a credit card to pay a subscription before you could play at all reeks of exclusivity. For every player who buckled down and powered through there must have been scores, hundreds who just couldn't bring themselves to make the effort and millions who refused to pony up at all.

Almost no-one I ever ran with successfully camped either the AC or Quill and those were some of the more accessible of the hard-to-hit targets. A few tried then gave up. Most never even started. When you know something's been made that hard to get on purpose, it feels like a trick you shouldn't fall for.

That's how I felt, anyway, which is possibly why, although I find NFTs to be laughably transparent as the con trick they are, my blood doesn't begin to boil at the thought of them inveigling their way into our games. For sure, they'll make things even worse than they already are, in the way there's stuff most of us will never see or own, for whatever value of "ownership" you care to apply, but that ship sailed before I even reached the dock.

So, NFTs are bad and Blockchain sucks but as usual that's not what I'm here to talk about. No, what that Mojang quote made me wonder was whether there might be too many mmorpgs.

It's not something that's ever really occured to me before. I've always been very much a maximalist when it comes to all forms of entertainent and popular culture. It's not as if music or movies or comics or tv are some kind of zero sum game. Having more options doesn't mean we get less out of each of them.

Or does it? When it comes to mmorpgs maybe it might. Is that the reason we all go through phases of finding the genre moribund, claiming "MMOs are dying", even as we scramble to download the latest seven-day wonder the moment it tumbles off the assembly line?

I was pondering all this while I was staring at the login screen for Noah's Heart, the new all-systems mmorpg that finally got its PC launch today. At 9AM. Or so I thought. Apparently I can no longer tell time. I learned to read an analog clock when I was five years old but it seems that's not enough any more.  

Archosaur Games kindly sent me an email yesterday to let me know they'd be opening the servers at "9:00 UTC-5) on July 28th". They told me I could download the game right away, so I did. 

They also mentioned something called "Preset Customization", saying "Preset customization is also available for you to share with your friends in advance. The character data will be saved in the game system. Explorers who finished preset customization could enter the game with their characters while the server opens."  

I didn't have any friends who'd be interested (Outside of the blog, that is.) but I fancied the idea of being able to get into the game immediately when it opened and anyway who can resist making a character in a new game, even if you can't actually log them in yet?

I stayed up half an hour later than usual making a character. There were a lot of options although most of them might as well have been labelled "Will never be seen in game". I mean, how often do you check the slant of a character's eyebrows during a firefight? Also, no nods to the zeitgeist with any "Body Type A and B" on the "Select Gender" screen; just plain, old vanilla Male and Female.

Eventually I had something I was happy with, namely the usual generic anime girl I always end up playing in these games, unless there's an anthropmorphic option. Noah's Heart is no Chimeraland in that respect. You'll be human and you'll like it although you can have pointy ears if you want to pretend you're an elf. (You can show yourself out over there, if that sounds like a good idea to you.).

I did try to make her short and round but you can see how that went. Archosaur's idea of "plump" is quite different to mine. The balloon pants pretty much make up for it, though.

This morning I was very keen, excited almost, to get back from walking Beryl and see how the game played. At eleven in the morning I thought the servers would have been up for a while. They weren't, of course. 

It took me an embarassingly long time to work out why, and while I was fiddling about I somehow managed to delete my saved character appearance. Never mind. Turns out I had three hours to work on another.

Four hours, actually. Even after I reminded myself how UTC works, I forgot to allow for British Summer Time. The servers finally came up at 3PM my time, either one or six hours later than I expected, depending where you stand.

As I was sitting around, messing about with sliders and mithering about the delay, it occured to me how very, very many times I'd done the same thing over the years. I used to know how many mmorpgs I'd played but I lost count long ago. Still, I'm pretty sure it has to be well over two hundred by now. 

"Scarcity and exclusion" may still drive mmorpg gameplay but the days when it also applied to how many there were and how difficult they were to access are long, long gone. For many years now, there's been an absolute glut of mmos to choose from, more than any rational person could ever try, let alone really play.

As for the monetary gatekeepers that once had offline gamers shaking their heads in disgust and disbelief, not only do most games no longer ask for a monthly subscription, many of them have waived the entrance fee altogether, handing out the whole game for free to anyone with an email address and sometimes not even asking for that.

If we're all a little cynical about the process it's hardly surprising. If we find ourselves gobbling down games like candy and feeling just about as satisified after, whose fault is that? 

Well, everyone's I suppose. The companies for piling games onto the ever growing pile without much intention of curating the experience for longer than it takes to get away with the cash and us for falling over ourselves to grab each new toy as it appears, only to throw it aside a hot moment later to play with the next.

Alright, maybe that's just me. I really can't resist a new mmorpg, especially if it comes with a flashy promo and some great scenery. If I ever had any genuine wish to find a new virtual home where I could settle down for more than five minutes, it long ago evaporated. Now I just want to get in, see the sights, take a few photos and get out. And if I can finesse a few juicy posts out of it all, so much the better.

Once in a while something comes along that sticks for a while, like Chimeraland or New World, but not very often. For all the money and time they take to make and the supposed longevity they enjoy, most mmorpgs entertain me for a handful of sessions at most. It does make me want to ask if a bit more "scarcity and exclusion" wouldn't sweeten the pot.

Forget about the cultural, technological and moral dead-end represented by NFTs. If mmorpg developers made fewer games and made those they did more exclusive to play, would that re-kindle interest in the genre from sated, satiated vets like me?

Nah. Shouldn't think so for a moment. It'd just be very annoying. I'm with Mojang on this one. Let's stick with "plenty and inclusion" at least for a while longer. I'm not bored yet!

Oh, Noah's Heart? Yes, I did get in, eventually. I logged in at two minutes past three and played for an hour and a half before I had to stop so I could write this post. First impressions to follow, although if you're a regular here you can probably guess what I'm going to say and save yourself the suspense.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Currently Playing: Chimeraland (Again)

An odd thing happened yesterday, when I went searching for something on Google. The top result had absolutely nothing to do with the search term I'd entered. It was a link to some new kind of analytic for this blog.

I clicked on it, naturally. I don't go hunting for stats about the blog any more - haven't for years - but if Google happens to show them to me, it feels impolite not to look. Not that they have, for a while. I used to get the odd email but even those seem to have stopped. 

This is something altogether new, anyway, or new to me, at any rate. I'd put up a link or a screenshot or something but I have no idea what I did to trigger it and I didn't think to snapshot it at the time. 

Oh, hi! Didn't see you through the long grass...
A google search on things like "Blogger Stats" only brings up information from a decade ago (Ironically.) I wondered if it might be related to the new flavor of Analytics, GA4, but since it offered me the option of linking to my current Analytics profile, set to expire sometime next year when GA4 takes over, that seems unlikley.  

The new thingummy (If it even is new...) appears to be primarily focused on how traffic comes to the blog via organic search, specifically from Google itself. It all feels somewhat self-referential, if not a tad solipsistic.

I did find it quite interesting, nonetheless, in that it showed a deal of detail on what kind of search terms had been sending readers my way of late. That's information Google used to love to throw around until they thought better of it and started keeping it to themselves. It's nice to see it coming back into favor once again. The wheel turns...

Welcome to my modest home.

If this all sounds as if it's building up to a post about blogging and data-gathering and all that sexy stuff, well I'm sorry; it's not. It's by way of being an introduction to yet another post about Chimeraland, albeit only the second featuring the game in its shiny, new Steam incarnation. I guess the pictures may have given that away.

Speaking of screenshots, once again, I regret not having taken any at the time (Even some notes would have been nice.) meaning I can't give much in the way of detail. The key takeaway is that, other than the obvious top search term ("Inventory full") and its popular alternate ("Full inventory"), searches which I'm sure sent plenty of people away fuming, by far the most common topic bringing people to the Inventory Full yard over the last month has been Chimeraland.

Whether that means the game is trending or just that pretty much no-one but me has ever mentioned it, so I'm hoovering up whatever scraps there are, I wouldn't care to say, although I hope it's the former. I haven't been giving the game anything like the attention it deserves since it launched on Steam but I'd like to think plenty of other people have.

It's Steam, though, isn't it? We don't have to guess. We can look it up

Just lie back and enjoy the view!


That's quite encouraging in a way. A couple of thousand people, give or take, started playing on launch day, a couple of thousand people are playing now and the all-time high (For a given value of "All-time" that's about a week long.) is a couple of thousand, too. It's consistent, if nothing else. 

Reviews on Steam currently stand at "Mixed" from just under a thousand respondents, although with 65% of those coming down on the "Positive" side, I'd contend they're not as mixed as all that. People do seem either to love it or hate it, which is another recommendation in my book, even if I do kind of admire the reviewer who, in giving the game a thumbs up, merely offered "I don't have a clue why I play this game and even less why I keep playing it." That's how we all feel, bro!

By many accounts, the version of Chimeraland available through Steam runs less well than any of the others - the standalone client or the various mobile versions. It actually feels about the same to me as the SEA version but I suppose that's a slightly damning observation in itself. You'd think it would be noticeably smoother on EU servers from the UK without the signal having to travel half way round the world and back. 

One of the many filters for the "View" selfie function. I forget what it's called.


For some reason that I can't explain (Ignorance? Laziness? Lack of storage space?) I have yet to download the Android version, currently enjoying an extremely healthy 4.3 rating on the Google Play Store from more than seven thousand reviews. 

In theory, I could. Play tells me "This app is available for some of your devices", a message I get to see all too rarely these days. Unfortunately, it declines to tell me which it is. It's certainly not the increasingly useless Kindle Fire, which doesn't offer me the game at all, either on Amazon's own skeletal store or the full-fat Google Play I sideloaded within minutes of opening the box.

Since I don't, in fact, own any other Android devices capable of playing anything at all, that pretty much puts a cap on the mobile version for me, at least until I get a new tablet. Or phone. Possibly both. For now, I'll just have to stick with the allegedly inferior Steam version.

I know it's hideous but it's 48 slots!


Which is what I did this afternoon for almost three hours. I'm not going to go over the same old ground again. If you want to know what the game's like, go back and read my old posts. I have spotted a few differences but the gameplay's mostly the same as far as I can tell.

It's also every bit as compulsive. I certainly didn't intend to play from lunch to tea but it happened anyway. Once I started building a house an extended session was all but inevitable. 

I have, of course, started building in a less than ideal spot and I've already boxed myself with some awkward placements that mean I have to bunny-hop around my own front room (Only room...) to get from one machine to another but it's only until I get the feel of the controls once again. Then I'll tear it all down and start over. (Yeah, right. Like you did last time, eh? Remind me how that went again.)

Someone finally remembered why they called it "Chimeraland".
Things I've noticed that are different include an entirely new building material: candy. Build your own gingerbread house. Witches need not apply. Also, an unexpectedly challenging quiz on Ancient Greek civilization and mythology. Would you know which of five types of pillar was the plainest? Even if you cheat and Google it you only get three!

The quiz takes place in what's laughably described as your faction's "main city", which (As I knew from before.) is nothing but a scattering of small buildings in the middle of nowhere. You do get a free port there, which is just as well. It'd be a long run.

Wait a minute! I know this one!


When I arrived there was a huge battle going on between some invading NPC bandits and several other players. I threw myself into the fray before considering Chimeraland has open, non-consensual PvP and I lost my newbie invulnerablity a couple of levels ago. 

It's a funny sort of PvP, though. It never happens or not that I've seen. I never once got attacked or even got caught in friendly fire in all my time on the SEA servers and so far, so safe here, too. No doubt I'll get caught out one day but until then I'm just going to forget about it.

If I stand way over here, maybe no-one will notice.

I'm not planning on digging in as hard as I did back in the spring, when I really put in the hours for a few weeks, but I'll be popping in from time to time. I suspect that, as with Landmark back in the day, I'll have to limit my visits for my own protection. I'm not really fit to be let loose unsupervised around building games and if I was to get into the whole animal breeding thing as well...

Oh, what the hell! Maybe just one quick session before we take the dog out... 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Thunder And Steam

Back in April I posted a couple of times about a game called SteamWorld Quest:Hand of Gilgamech. It was a Prime game for that month and it turned out to be one of the best giveaways I can remember. 

As you might imagine from the name, it's one of a series set in the same world. Perhaps we should call it a "Universe". That seems to be the current usage. All the characters are steam-driven mechs and there's a hybrid cowboy-steampunk vibe to the whole thing. 

So far, so indie but the really odd part is that every game released so far is in a different genre. Well, okay, not the DLC. Oh, alright then, not the sequels, either. The main games, though:

  • SteamWorld Heist (Turn-based Strategy)
  • Steamworld Dig (Metroidvania)
  • SteamWorld: Hand of Gilgamech (Card Battler)

Much though I enjoyed the setting and style of SW:HoG, the others aren't really the kinds of games I normally play. I probably wouldn't have bothered to pick up either of them had it not been for a pop-up I saw on Steam this afternoon, when I logged in to play Chimeraland.

Steam always opens with some sort of pop-up. I usually ignore them but once in a while something about one of them will catch my eye and I'll click through. In this case it was the striking, fifties/sixties design and iconography and the bold, retro red/white color scheme. Good marketing pays.

I wondered what kinds of games a publisher with such good taste might have to offer. I wasn't disappointed. Almost the first thing I spotted was the SteamWorld game I'd already played and a quick delve further into the offer revealed the entire SteamWorld catalog, all on sale at extreme discounts.

For a brief moment I considered buying the lot. There's a package deal available: all SteamWorld games, DLC and soundtracks for a little more than £17 the lot, a saving of 76%. I thought about it but I don't really want the soundtracks and as I said the genres aren't my favorites. Better not get carried away.

I took some time too look at the games individually. The discounts on all of them were good but the two, core games I didn't already have were each a whopping 85% off. That's very nearly giving them away.

Of course, it's more than likely that in a month or two someone like Amazon or Epic literally will be giving them away but that's then and this is now. I try not to pay money for games unless I plan on playing them immediately but in this case the amount of money was so insignificant, I felt I might make an exception. 

I bought Heist and Dig for a grand total of £2.77. As for whether I'll actually play them, I needn't have worried; I've already clocked up almost an hour in SteamWorld Heist. Chimeraland didn't get a look-in.

What's more,  the game opens with the exact same warning I was talking about the other day, the one that led me to invest in an XBox-style controller. The further I tiptoe away from my comfort zone, the more often that warning seems to come up. (Not the bit about the hat, sadly...)

It seemed like an excellent opportunity to continue my experiments with alternate control systems. It's still ongoing as I'm sure everyone will be relieved to know.

In that regard, just last night I finally managed to locate DCUO on my system, by way of the Start Menu, a place I very rarely visit. Even there it doesn't have an icon, just a generic folder. The game files turned out to be buried deep in the Users/Installed Games filepath, where nothing has really gone for years. SOE used to use that route a lot, something I'd forgotten. I guess it's been there ever since I installed it back at launch. 

It works, anyway, which is the important thing. It also only took a matter of minutes to patch, unlike bloody Elder Scrolls Online, so I was able to give it a trial run with the controller almost immediately. 

It went fairly well. I need to take the time to do some actual content - a few missions perhaps - before I reach any kind of conclusion but it felt like a good start. 

I was able to potter around quite happily for half an hour or so, moving from place to place with reasonable ease. I visited the Watchtower, my Lair and Metropolis. I talked to NPCs, picked up missions, hoovered up collectibles, opened my map and my inventory and generally had a fun time. 

It felt, at least, no worse than using the keyboard and mouse. DCUO has always been a game I've felt clumsy playing so I'm cautiously optimistic that, given some practise, I might find it more comfortable with the controller. If so, it would certainly encourage me to play more often. I'd like that.

As for Steamworld Heist, it plays beautifully with the controller. It felt comfortable within a few minutes and by the time I stopped I wasn't really thinking about the controls at all. I was just playing.

"Just playing" is, of course, just what I'm looking for from the controller. It's all very well running trials on various games for academic interest and to fuel the blog but the real point is to get to the stage where I can sit back and play without worrying about how I'm doing it. That still feels a long way off but at least I get the sense of it, hovering somewhere on the horizon, just out of sight.

I wonder, too, if a modicum of facility with a controller might open the way to some gaming genres I've previously avoided. Platformers, for example. It would be nice to think so. I often see games with aesthetics, settings, characters and storylines that appeal to me, only to find on closer examination that they involve platform gameplay, at which point I don't even bother to go on.

Case in point: Planet of Lana, which I discovered by way of the Thunderful sale, even though it's not. On sale, that is. It's not even out yet. Later this year, apparently.

The trailer looks amazing and its called "Planet of Lana" ffs! Of course I want to play it. I really am that predictable. 

Unfortunately, I know I'd be wasting both my time and money. I'd never get out of the tutorial. If using a controller could raise me even to the heights of "Not very good"  at platforming, that might just be enough.

Anyway, that's about all I have to say on the matter, other than to recommend visiting the Thunderful sale if you fancy a bargain. There are some good games with some very deep cuts. 

They even have a game on my wishlist, Crowns and Pawns, although sadly it's only 20% off. I'm still thinking about that one but I'm going to have to make my mind up soon. The sale ends 28 July.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Return To Kurns!

I read Jenn Chan's latest Producer's Letter for EverQuest II a few days ago but for once I wasn't planning on mentioning it here. Although I do appear to have fallen into the habit of posting about them as they appear, this particular example didn't seem to have an awful lot in it that merited comment let alone analysis.

Even so, I found myself thinking about it. The fact that it didn't say much felt strangely interesting in itself. Was it because of a lack of upcoming content in the game? Were we about to enter a period of stagnation after what had seemed like a whirlwind of activity?

This morning, I went back and re-read the Letter, along with the forum thread that follows (Always a risk.) It made me realize I might have missed a few things first time around. Or maybe not "missed", exactly. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I might have, unconsciously, allowed the tone and tenor of the announcement to mislead me.

Since she took over as Head of Studio for Darkpaw following Holly "Windstalker" Longdale's sudden departure for supposedly better things at Blizzard (Better-paid, at least, I'm sure, although given the timing of the move she may well feel that's about all.) I've been very impressed with Jenn Chan's approach. She comes across as friendly, self-aware, competent and clear-sighted, all of which, from time to time, have been qualities embarassingly absent in some of her predecessors other than Holly.

If Chann has an obvious flaw it might be diffidence. Coming, as I believe she does, from a more technical background than some previous holders of the post, her style, while affable and confident, tends a little toward the practical.  

Kurn's Tower as seen in game, all spooky purple filters and fog.

She's very good at laying out what's going to happen, complete with roadmaps and bullet points, then reviewing progress as it's made but she tends not to go in for the kind of "Hey!! Look at us!! Aren't we great!?!" self-aggrandizement that marked (Or marred.) the mid-late SoE era. It was an always uncomfortable, occasionally odious attitude that reached its nadir in the cringe-inducing EQNext years, when certain public faces of the company appeared more interested in furthering their potential careers as stand-up comedians or drive-time DJs than in telling the paying customers anything worth knowing.

I find the current, low-key, informative pitch hugely more accessible, especially for an aging, niche title like EQII but as I found this time around, that can lead to a slight sense of disengagement, which probably isn't exactly what the PR department was hoping for. The news that next month's mid-year game update will include not one but two Fabled dungeons, for example, slips by almost unnoticed in a single paragraph buried in the middle of the Letter.

Fabled dungeons are remakes of existing instances, re-imagined and most importantly re-itemised for current max-level players. It sounds like a cut-price way of adding new content but in practice it's far from that, sometimes involving a new questline and new encounters as well as offering multi-tiered access where previously there was none.

August's Game Update 120, Myths and Monoliths, doesn't just come with two Fabled dungeons, either. They're two absolute classics.  

Veeshan's Peak, once the be-all and end-all of raid challenges in EverQuest, was introduced to EQII as the climax of what many still regard as the game's finest expansion, Rise of Kunark. At the time it was a X4 raid, meaning it required four full groups, meaning most people playing back then probably never set foot inside the dragons' den. 

And as it looks with the filters off. You can see why the filters got added. RoK may have a stellar rep as an expansion but it wasn't for the way it looked, that's for sure.

The Producer's Letter makes no specific mention of the intended difficulty rating for the Fabled version, leading me to believe it may well once again be intended for raiders. Such is the formidable reputation of VP, just the suggestion of converting it to an adventure fit for mere groups or - surely unthinkable - allowing people to solo the mighty dragons that live there would be more than enough to cause apoplexy among the more conservative veterans of the game, which is to say most of them.

The other upcoming Fabled dungeon, however, is almost as well-remembered and comes with no such caveats. Kurn's Tower was once one of the key dungeons in both iterations of EverQuest, for solos, duos and groups. A massive, multi-storey edifice teeming with undead, it offered hours of satisfying dungeoneering to all-comers for several years before the ever-moving level-cap rendered it irrelevant.

The Fabled version arrives in three flavors: "heroic, solo and x2". I believe that X2, in the jargon, means meant for a two-group raid rather than a duo, something which would be described, I think, as "Advanced Solo". It's hard to keep up, sometimes.

The focus from my point of view is the solo version. I would love to do Kurn's again at level although I suspect that it'll be tough. As a relatively grubby casual, it's always touch and go whether I can do new solo dungeon content on launch day and Fabled dungeons tend to be overtuned until a couple of patches later.

There's an open beta for GU120 beginning tomorrow but my days of beta-testing content I'm going to play "live" in a matter of weeks are long gone. I will keep an eye on the beta forums, though, just to see how it's all going. It's not as if I'm in a tearing hurry for new-to-me content in EQII anyway; I've yet to set foot in the big dungeon from GU119, Coffers and Coffins. I really should get on with that first, now I've finally finished the Visions of Vetrovia Signature questline that gives access to it.

Probably explains why it's so dark inside, too. I'm looking forward to seeing the revamp - the tools the art team has to work with are so much better these days.

The rest of the Producer's Letter is mostly concerned with Good Works, including a $5k pledge to the San Diego LGBT Community Center as part of Daybreak's commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and November's Extra Life event, about which we'll be told more nearer the time. It is a bit early - it's only July!

There's also mention of the next expansion, which is apparently set in "some fantastic new lands and some that have been re-imagined", which doesn't give an awful lot away since that could describe pretty much 90% of all EQII expansions. On the subject of where we might be going, Jenn Chan does close with one of her frequent (And frequently terrible.) puns - "Be sure you have all your ducks in a Ro.". A return trip to the setting of the first-ever EQII expansion, Desert of Flames? I hope so. That was a good one.

Finally, there seems to have been a little confusion over the Panda, Panda, Panda event. A player named Chienne-Guk notes in the forum thread that although the event itself is still included, the line about new quests has disappeared. Caith, a well-known dev name, pops into the thread later to clarify: "Yun Zi may be out of Quests, but will still probably offer "perilous opportunities for personal growth and reflection". Not sure exactly what that might mean but the "probably" qualifier rings alarms.

I don't know, though. Maybe it is about time Yun Zi settled back to enjoy the notoriety he's achieved among his fellow pandas as a result of all of our efforts these past few years. What with a new Overseer season and two Game Updates between expansions these days, all offering catch-up gear to casuals and returnees, plus the now-obligatory box of starter gear that comes with the expansions themselves, it's hard to see where the once-essential panda gear fits into the program. Last year I don't think I even equipped most of it before VoV made it irrelevant.

Perhaps someone's had a better idea for this year. I guess we'll find out come September. Until then, here's looking forward to my Return to Kurns! 

I can't believe they didn't call the update that.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Look, Ma! Both Hands!

It's possible, although I don't really think it's likely, that you might remember me saying earlier this week, that I'd bought an XBox-style gamepad. Ostensibly it was because my swerve away from all-mmos-all-the-time to more of a mixed gaming economy had me running into more and more games that support keyboard and mouse grudgingly at best. That was my excuse, anyway, although the real reason was the Prime sale was on and I really wanted to buy something... anything... fun because it sometimes seems like all I ever buy on Amazon are necessities.

The game that prompted my purchase was Ikonei Island, which did indeed turn out to be even more enjoyable when played with a controller. Unfortunately, open beta ended the very next day, so I only got to play once, very briefly, using the superior control system. Grrr. Gnash.

Brevity aside, I enjoyed the experience so much I started looking around for other games to try with the pad. I was under the impression I had quite a few but once I started looking, I couldn't find any. Hardly surprising, really. Most of the games I've bought or played over the last year or two have been some variation of point&click adventure, walking simulator or visual novel, none of which seems especially suited to the controller, although I'm sure there are plenty that use it anyway.

As for my staple diet, mmorpgs, of late, I've rather fallen off that wagon. I think I must have played fewer hours per week these last few months than at any time since the turn of the millennium, although that has more to do with external factors (New dog plus extended run of great spring/summer weather.) than any loss of interest or affection for the genre.

Mmorpgs, being very much a PC genre by historical development, tend not to be optimized for or even playable with gamepads but there are some notable exceptions. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember what they were off the top of my head so I had to do a bit of googling.

Among many others, I came across this list, which looked good, even though I didn't find it all that helpful or indeed trustworthy, what with Tera (Closed down) and Valiance (Not yet up.) along with a few titles that aren't mmos at all, let alone mmorpgs, plus a bunch I'd never heard of (Steambirds Alliance, anyone? KurtzPel?) Still, it was somewhere to start.

I thought I'd make a shortlist of mmorpgs with controller support that I a) already know b) have played and enjoyed and c) still have installed. From the two dozen on the list, that left four - five if you include another from the concluding section, headed "Best MMORPG with Controller Support", in which they bizarrely boil the choice down to four games, two of which they haven't even bothered to include in the main part of the article.

The games I ended up with were

  • DC Universe Online
  • Dragon Nest
  • Final Fantasy XIV
  • Lost Ark
  • Elder Scrolls Online

I also considered Final Fantasy XI, a game I once tried very hard to enjoy despite it having hands-down the worst mouse/keyboard controls of any game ever. I wasn't going to subscribe just to give the controller a test run, though, and sadly, even after all this time there is no free-to-play option, although it does have a fourteen-day free trial. 

AThere's another consideration. After more than a decade I'm still traumatised from my struggles with Square Enix's infamous PlayOnline registration process. I don't think I want to go through all that again just for an hour or two's play and a blog post. Never say never, though...

ArcheAge might be a possibility in that I liked it quite a bit but it also played really well with keyboard and mouse. Like any other mmorpg, in fact. There doesn't seem a lot of point in re-installing a game that almost certainly won't feel more enjoyable on a gamepad than if I just played it in the regular way. If I want to mess around with something like that, I think Guild Wars 2 has some kind of controller support.

Trove was another theoretical possibility but I never really got on with Trove. I can't say I want to try again. For the purposes of the experiment, five games ought to be plenty, anyway, and it's fair to say that, while I've enjoyed playing all of them, four out of the five do feel like they weren't originally intended to be played on PC. There's a reasonable chance my experience might be improved with a controller.

The exception would be FFXIV, which I always felt played immaculately with traditional PC controls, but I've heard that it's also the best-implemented of all mmorpgs when it comes to gamepad support. Comba did feel a little off, now I come to think of it.... That might well feel a little smoother and more natural with a gamepad. Worth a try, anyway.

DCUO is a game I've always loved despite the control system clearly being designed for consoles. I would have made it my first stop, only I couldn't remember where it was. I haven't played since my hard drives all swapped themselves around and the icon has gone from my desktop. Obviously I could have gone looking for it but all the rest were there, staring at me, so DCUO shuffled off to the back of the line. 

It'd be funny if you could understand it.


I began with Dragon Nest. Things did not go well. 

I may have mentioned before just how many versions of Dragon Nest there are. I have played more than half a dozen of them over the years, including the original (Just called Dragon Nest although maybe we should call it Dragon Nest Classic now), Dragon Nest EU, Dragon Nest Oracle, Dragon Nest Origins, Dragon Nest 2019 and Dragon Nest Worlds

I have all of those except Classic still installed although Worlds is actually the mobile title and it recently closed down (Wipe away those tears! There's a Dragon Nest Worlds 2 on the way.). The icon on my desktop turned out to be for Dragon Nest 2019, which in turn turned out to be what I'd named the foder for Dragon Nest NA.

DNNA has an excellent opening cut scene with barely comprehensible captions but what the game itself is like I can't tell you because once you get past that it's solidly IP blocked. As the website explains, they only have the USA, Canadian and Oceanic rights. 

The EU servers closed a while back, when whoever it was that had them lost the rights and no-one else wanted to take over. Still, I was fairly sure there was some UK-accessible iteration of Dragon Nest still out there and I was right: Dragon Nest Origins.

I got that patched up, which didn't take too long. My old login details worked and it was wonderful to reacquaint myself with my highest-level DN character, Dora. I'd forgotten how far I'd gotten with her. She's level 27 (Out of seventy, I think.)

I fiddled about looking for the controller options but when I found them they were horrifically complicated, to the point where I closed the window in terror. I was so shocked I didn't even think to take a screenshot. I'd log in and do it now but I can't because Zenimax won't let me. Explanation follows.

I tried using the controller without the instructions. Some things were intuitive - movement, speaking to NPCs, jumping... Others weren't - scrolling through lists, selecting options, turning around.... I'm going to have to take a proper look at the enormous list of commands before I try and do anything more challenging than walk around town but since I always found DN fairly comfortable to play with the regular PC controls, I can't really summon up the willpower just now.

Proof of Concept

On to the next, which for entirely arbitrary reasons, I decided should be ESO. Big mistake. 

I knew there'd be some updating to do. It's been a while since I last played. I started patching at around midday and the damn thing was still going until about twenty minutes ago. It's nearly half-past six! 

For some reason the patcher kept downloading massive multi-gigabyte files and installing them even though I already had over 70GB of files in the folder. When I eventually checked the size of the finished installation it wasn't much more than 10GB larger even though it seemed like ten times that had to have come down the pipe.

Not only that but for a couple of hours the patching, installing and verifying was so intense it made my entire PC come close to locking up. I couldn't do anything more taxing than look at phones on Amazon and even that was a struggle. 

Eventually I went to lunch, leaving the patcher running, hoping it would fniish while I was gone. I came back an hour and a half later, just in time to see the PC shut down and restart. Whether that was something demanded by the patching process or the poor thing had just given up and rolled over I couldn't tell.

Another couple of hours later and the PLAY button is finally ready to click. I suppose I'd better go give it a try. It's a lot of work for a game I don't even care for al that much but I've started so I guess I'll finish.

Whatever happens when I get in is going to have to wait for another post so I guess this is going to turn into a series whether I want it to or not. I hope the rest of the entries end up a lot more interesting than this one but I have a worrying feeling they won't. There's only so many ways you can say "I tried it but I didn't much like it and now I feel like I've wasted my day".

Friday, July 22, 2022

Oversharing Friday

Anyone fancy another Friday Grab Bag? Good, because that's what we're having. Mostly because I happened to see two or three things and I felt like sharing I don't have any particular points to make. I just see stuff and want to share it and this is the best place I have.

As I was suggesting in yesterday's boost for Blaugust (Wish I'd thought of that at the time - it would have made a better title.) the blogosphere has become something close to my personal version of a social network. Leaning into Redbeard's fears as expressed in his comment to that same post, it feels a deal safer sharing stuff here than, say, on Twitter or YouTube.

The obvious disadvantage is that almost any other platform at least stands a chance of a) getting more traffic and b) reaching an audience that's actually interested in the topics in their own right. Posting here, it's more like putting up a poster in the convenience store on the corner of the street to say you're having a sale of your home-made pottery in your back yard. 

There's a chance some craft-loving stranger from out of town, stopping off for a Dr. Pepper and some Flamin' Hot Cheetos to see them through the next fifty miles, might spot the notice and drop by but it's not much of a chance. More likely it'll just be a few of your neighbors turning up for a chat as they handle the merchandise without really looking at it, before putting it back down and heading off home.

Once again I should probably save this sort of thing for Blaugust itself, although now I come to study the schedule I see we're not actually doing a How To Blog week this time. Did we ever or did I just imagine it? Maybe that was for the Newbie Blogger Initiative. Is that still rolled up into Blaugust?


I saw the above in a news item from NME last night. Surprisingly, it hasn't yet cropped up in any of my other feeds. I thought everyone would be all over it but maybe its old news and I'm late to the party. Unfashionably late, that is. (I never really got that whole "fashionably late" thing. I had to learn by hard experience that "Eight for eight-thirty" really means "Don't even think of showing up before ten".)

This will be the second Dungeons and Dragons movie, I believe. Not that I know much about D&D. I only played it for about five years, roughly from 1981, just after I graduated college until maybe 1986, by which point everyone in the group had pretty much lost interest and/or were no longer speaking to each other.

As far as I recall, that first movie was both a critical and commercial disaster. I saw it on TV, I think, although I have virtually no recollection of anything about it. I do seem to remember it being so bad that it set the entire hobby back a decade, not that D&D had all that much in the way of progress towards mainstream recognition to lose.

Times change. Science fiction, fantasy and superheroes are all so mainstream now the actual mainstream is starting to feel like a genre. Stranger Things, currently weirdly hot for a show that's apparently airing on a dying network, can take a lot of the credit for making D&D, specifically, feel culturally relevant right now, which I guess makes it a good time to drop the first trailer for the movie, even though the film itself isn't due until next year.

I clicked through to watch it not expecting much, but I came away, two minutes later, quite impressed. The effects look good, which is crucial for a project of this kind, even though some people don't always seem to think it matters that much, but perhaps even more importantly, the dialog wasn't terrible, the acting was suprisingly understated and the set-up for the plot made sense. 

By the time we got to the coda at the end, which made me laugh, I was of the general impression that it might be something I'd like to watch, which I guess is the whole point of a trailer. Also, Whole Lotta Love weirdly works, which I didn't think it would...

A long way further up my street than either big fantasy movies based on game franchises or Led Zeppelin, come bands I like doing covers of songs I like. When I saw the item on Wet Leg covering the Chats' "Smoko" for Like A Version, I got one of those brief, physical reactions, where the hair on the back of your neck stands up.

Wet Leg are everywhere this year. Everyone knows who they are, not least because megastars like Harry Styles and Elton John keep name-checking them, covering their songs and hiring them as tour support. 

I'd like to think that in this corner of the blogosphere you all heard about them from me first, well before all these Johnny-come-Lately superstars got into the act. I, in turn, discovered them by way of a blog that's now sadly gone silent, Everett True's How Not To Write About Music

Everett last posted almost a year ago, when he gave us the thirty-first entry in his series Sixty for 60, in which he was planning on commemorating his sixtieth birthday by sharing sixty songs from 2021, as nominated by people he knew on Facebook, thereby adding yet another level of metatextuality to the referal process. There has, as yet, been no thirty-second entry. 

This, of course, makes Everett True a perfect candidate for Blaugust, other than the fact he's never heard of it and would almost certainly want nothing whatever to do with it. I would love to imagine him doing a vanity search on Google some time in the next week, catching all these references to his name, coming here to see who's been talking about him and ending up rebooting his blog for Blaugust. 

Yeah, not gonna happen.

That Elton John item I linked above deserves drawing out, by the way, in case you didn't click through. The gist is, he thinks "girls" are making the musical running these days and the "boys" need to catch up. I very much agree, although I think you have to be Sir Elton to get away with phrasing it quite like that.

Elton runs through a short list of examples, including several of my own personal favorites from recent times: Wet Leg (Of course...), Let's Eat Grandma and the Linda Lindas. He also mentions the Nova Twins, who are great but not in a style that does it for me, and Haim, who I've never really got. 

I've mentioned before how it was Boy George who introduced me to Let's Eat Grandma. It's very encouraging to see the old guard looking forward instead of back. And let's face it, it's a better look than this. I mean, would you want to be that guy? 

There is a real problem that I'm sure Roger Waters, who has "no idea what or who the Weeknd is, because I don’t listen to much music", is equally unaware of, namely that interest in new music is declining. The fear is that it's being suppressed, even pushed out, by the dead weight of all those classics. Not Pink Floyd specifically, although I'm sure The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon play their part. 

I'm all for rediscovering, sharing and celebrating the past but not at the expense of the present and the future, which is why I focus a lot more on what's new and great than what's old and great here on the blog. Well, that and wanting to look cool, of course, although cool to whom or for what end are questions I don't want to think about right now. Or ever.


Sometimes, of course, you can have your cake and eat it as with Starcrawler's latest. As I write, it's been on YouTube for all of eight hours but like most of their stuff it sounds like it could have been recorded in the South of France in 1972. Comments in the YT thread pick out notes from Britpop to Grunge, proving, as we all knew, that pop has very definitely eaten itself.

This has turned out to be more of a music post than anything, which wasn't exactly what I had planned, but what the hell... Since we're on the theme, I'll reveal I've been collecting tunes for another "New Stuff I Like" post. I'm thinking of making it into a series. Let's have something from that and then we're done for today.

I Want An Authentic Tail - Police and Pea - Isn't that magical? Or maybe I mean maniacal. It turned up in some Songs of the Week list I saw. I'd never heard of them but who could resist a title like that? There were no links in the piece so I went to YouTube because everything ever is on YouTube, right?

Well, this isn't. Or not under that name it's not. The only thing I could find was this:

That one's called Pineal Gland, it's nine minutes long, it's in Chinese (Cantonese, presumably, since the band's from Hong Kong...) and it's positively hypnotic. It also has the name of the band in ideograms and that's how I finally tracked down the tune I was looking for. 

As far as I can make out, Police and Pea is some offshoot of the excellent My Little Airport, several of whose songs I have in my files. I'm guessing, really, but a lot of their tracks turned up in the suggestions every time I picked another P&P track so it seems likely, although MLA are very much still going.

In the unlikely event anyone's been moved enough by Police and Pea to want to own some, here's the Bandcamp link,. Unlike everything else I've covered today, I don't imagine you're going to find it on Amazon or even Spotify. Other than that, I think we're done.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide