Wednesday, August 31, 2022

After The Fair

Wahoo! Last day! One more post and we're done! If only I knew what I was going to write about...

Let's see, there's the traditional "What did we learn this time?" Blaugust wrap-up post... but no, I did that two days ago

Music posts are always fast and fun (For me, if not for anyone else.) but again, no. We had one of those yesterday. I knew I sould have saved it.

Okay, how about a "What I'm playing" diary post? They pretty much write themselves. Only it's half past nine in the evening and I haven't actually logged into a game yet. I didn't get home from work until half past six and by the time we'd eaten and taken Beryl for a walk it was already dark. The nights are drawing in, aren't they?

Anyway, even if I had played something it would only have been Noah's Heart because that's literally all I play now. It's double-teamed with Blaugust to take up all the available hours in the month. I still have a zillion things to say about it but even I'm starting to wish I had another game to write about, just for the sake of variety.

I could bounce off someone else's post. That's always a solid, team-spirited tack. It would be thoroughly in keeping with the event and a highly appropriate way to close the month . Only those kinds of posts generally take a lot of writing. By definition they have to begin with some actual inspiration and it would just be rude to riff off someone else's work without putting in the effort. I really don't have either the time or the energy for a post like that right now.

Let's see. What else is there? Oh, I know! Screenshots! That always works. Just open a folder, flip through a few shots, pull out some good ones, maybe give them a few tweaks, then start slotting them in and writing captions. You'd be surprised how often that turns into something with a theme or a structure or a narrative that makes it looks like I had it in mind all along.

Yeah, but I've jinxed it now, haven't I? It's the old explaining the magic thing. Now I've said it, you know it won't happen. Nix that, then

Hmm. Running out of ideas here. There's nothing bugging me enough for a rant. Well, I'm sure I could think of something but who wants to be one of those people who can get angry about the bunting still being up the day after the fair? (Actual example drawn from life.)

Speaking of the fair, we walked Beryl through the park this morning on my way to work and they were striking the tents from the fair. Well, they didn't have tents. More motor caravans. But most of the rides were down or gone.

It's the last time, too. A month ago the posters went up announcing it was the Final Tour. You may have seen this fair without realizing. It's been in several big movies - Paddington 2 and Rocketman for example - and some TV shows.

The plan is to sell the whole fair (It's a kind of museum, really.) to someone who'll house it on a fixed site and run it as a kind of Heritage Experience. I'm not sure there are going to be many takers for that idea but let's hope.

The owners were encouraging people to take lots of photos and video of the fair's last hurrah. We didn't know that when we went last week. We only went because we wanted see what Beryl would think of it.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, given dogs are supposed to be freaked out by loud or sudden noises, she loves loud, bangy-crashy machinery. We had to put her on her lead yesterday before she could go and investigate a hay bailer. 

She's also crazy for anything where a lot of people gather together so we thought she might enjoy it but in fact she barely seemed to notice, even with blaring fifties rock and roll coming at her from all sides. It was only when we came to the very loudest ride on the site she briefly looked up and paid attention.

Anyway, I did take some video of her and by default of the fair itself. It's on my phone still. It's always a pain to get anything off there and onto the PC. I wonder if I have time... 

Wow! That worked! Sorry, it's super thrown together and not tidied up and I had to cut some of the best shots of the rides to keep Mrs Bhagpuss off screen. She would not be happy if I'd left her in. 

Still, it's there and it gives you the general feel of the thing. Even from this brief moment you can hear what a great choice of music they'd made. It went way beyond the usual fifties classics we've all heard a million times. If anyone knows what the first tune that's playing is, please drop a note in the comments.

I guess that's about it. A textbook example of where a post can go if you just let it run and hang on for the ride. That about wraps it up for Blaugust 2022.

See you all next year. Or, in fact, tomorrow, because I'm not going anywhere.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

And A Child Shall Lead Us

Sometimes inspiration strikes from the unlikeliest of places. Who would have thought the first single by Madonna's daughter Lourdes “Lola” Leon, aka Lolahol, would lead to a journey of discovery?

Certainly not me, when I read the NME's admirably po-faced news squib announcing the release of Lock&Key with choice quotes such as "“I don’t have a specific goal. I probably should" and "As for music, I can sing. I just don’t care about it."

Are you having 90s flashbacks? I am.

The only reason I clicked the link was this: "hyperpop-oriented". Just that phrase. Of all the many, multifarious musical movements of the last few years, the one I feel most drawn to is hyperpop. The glitchy, transcendent jitter, drenched in hypersaturated aural color, denaturized, animated, irreal. It scratches behind my eyes like the smell of burning tinsel.

Lolahol - Lock&key

I wasn't expecting a lot but it's a sleek, shifting, silky groove. Reminds me of those mid-90s jams I liked, trance-tinged trip-hop fellow travellers like Sneaker Pimps or Snowpony. The skittering drum and bass backbeat, the skyline trumpet, the alienated, affectless delivery. I love it.

Not to be obvious but I was curious as to the provenance. Lola is right. She can sing. If she doesn't care about music, though, where did the rest come from? 

New York, of course. Specifically, New York experimental pop artist Alexandra Drewchin, aka Eartheater, credited with not just co-writing and co-producing the song but also the video. 

Naturally, I checked Eartheater's own work next.

Eartheater - How To Fight

Disturbing. Definitely NSFW. 

Eartheater- Mitosis

Nor is that. The word headfuck comes to mind.

The first reminds of me Lana, when she's singing with her head voice. I really love Lana when she sings with her head voice. Then again I love her when she sings with any voice, so that's not really helping, is it? 

The second also reminds me of someone but I can't quite place who. I like it, anyway.

When I'd sated myself on Eartheater solo I started rummaging around in the recommendations and I spotted a familiar title. 

Sega Bodega and Eartheater - Fade Into You

I assume everyone's familiar with the original. I've linked it before, maybe more than once. I'll do it again. One of the greats. Deserves every link it gets.

Here's the thing about covers: if you don't know the original, they're just songs. I love covers but for all the effort I make, as time expands I recognize fewer of the originals. When I find a streak I chase it.

Sega Bodega, a name new to me, spent some lockdown capital on a series of collaborative covers with a bunch of other people I never heard of either. The project was compiled into a charitable collection called Reestablishing Connection to raise money for the AIM COVID-19 Crisis Fund, helping independent musicians and associated workers "suffering serious hardship as a result of cancelled artist projects". You can still buy it on Bandcamp, although what happens to the money now lockdown is over I couldn't tell you.

The album features five covers and bar one, they're all songs I know. And like. And they're great covers (Although I'm not sold on the videos.) Better than the originals, even. Some.

Sega Bodega and Trustfall - White Flag

I couldn't with any honesty say I like Dido. I mean, I don't not like her... She's one of those artists like Sade or David Grey who was just somehow always there, y'know? At dinner parties in the 90s, mostly.

That is a stunning cover of an original I wouldn't even have been able to tell you I knew. The vocoder makes it reminiscent of Laurie Anderson. An ageless, dated sound.

Sega Bodega and Isamaya Ffrench - Feel

Ah, Robbie. You can't but love him, can you? Well, maybe. I wouldn't switch him off if he came on the radio, let's go with that. It's a compliment. I'd turn the cover up, though. And its another original I forgot I knew.

This next one everyone knows.

Sega Bodega and Dorian Electra - Teenage Dirtbag

That's another great cover, although it's not the first time I've heard the song all loved up, slowed down, ironicized and de-ironicized. Phoebe Bridgers does a great acoustic version, too. It's one of those songs. Everyone want  a crack at it.

Sega Bodega and Teddy Geiger - Sometimes

We're all team Brittney now, right? I know I am. Wasn't always, sadly. We learn. We learn. I know the original but I couldn't tell you how.

And finally...

Sega Bodega and Lafawndah - Teardrop

Saved the best 'til last, I think. It could be a new genre - trip-prog. How I'd imagine a Geoff Barrow remix of Gentle Giant might sound. A scary prospect, for sure.

Of course, once I'd worked my way through that lot I had to go follow links to all the collaborators but that's a post for another day. And it would be plain rude not to end with one of Sega Bodega's own numbers. 

That's good. I'd listen to that on repeat for an hour or two. The video's - um - interesting, too.

That's all I have for now. Thanks again to Lourdes "Lola" Leon aka Lolahol - for introducing me to a whole new scene I might never have found. Say "Hi" to your mom for me, if you ever read this. Tell her I like her stuff too. 

Who doesn't?

Monday, August 29, 2022

Those Who Do Not Learn From The Past...

I've just read and commented on Jen's "Lessons Learned" post over at the excellent Book of Jen It's prompted me to come up with this - hopefully brief - post of my own. A bit early for a wrap-up but here we go.

Every year, both during Blaugust and afterwards, quite a few people post about how challenging it's been, how exhausting they've found it, how burned out they're feeling and how posting every day for a month really isn't for them. There's also a widespread acknowledgement that even trying to keep up with reading all the extra posts the event generates is impossible. The general impression is that it can sometimes be all too much of a good thing.

I am not immune to any of this, much though I love to bang on about how I enjoy blogging and how easy I find it. During this year's Blaugust I think I must have commented on, or at least alluded to, my own issues with keeping the plates spinning at least four or five times.  

Even after taking part in this whole performance for several years, I always end up feeling surprised by just how much effort it takes. I was saying something to Mrs Bhagpuss the other day, talking on a supposedly unrelated topic about how time-poor I felt, and she said "Oh, you're like this every August, when you do that blogging thing."

It's true. "Doing Blaugust" can have an impact that goes well beyond the event itself.

I took these shots and I'm going to use them!
According to posts I've read this year, various Blaugustians have drawn up detailed schedules, stockpiled posts well in advance and stayed up way past their bedtimes, just trying to make sure they didn't miss a day. I'd give links but I've read so many posts I've forgotten who said what.

Personally, about the worst that's happened is I've skipped playing games to post. Often about playing games, ironically. I don't imagine anyone's lost their job or had the car repossessed as a result of becoming obsessed with hitting their self-imposed Blaugust targets but I imagine a lot of us have found we don't have quite as much time to do things as we did in July or will have in September.

And yet it's all so very unnecessary. Indeed, it's not only not needed, it's actively discouraged. Year on year, Belghast takes ever more trouble to structure and promote the event in such a way as to remove even the suggestion of obligation or failure.

 This year's announcement of the "rules" could scarcely have been more accomodating to all levels of interest and commitment. I mean, you get an award just for signing up! There is still mention of the "challenge" of making thirty-one posts in thirty-one days but there are many stopping-off points along the way and awards and titles to recognize that reaching any of them is an achievement in itself.

Who cares if they're relevant?
Speaking of which, there are actual Achievements this year. So many of them and so generous in their qualifying requirements that literally no-one who joins in with the event at all could possibly come away without a shiny Blaugchievement badge to stick on the side of their blog.

There is no judgment of any kind in this event and never has been since I've been doing it. No-one criticizes anyone for not making as many posts as they promised they would. No-one tells anyone they should have done more, tried harder, made more of an effort. It's a marvelously supportive, accepting environment in which to stretch your blogging muscles but if you get blogging cramp and have to sit the rest of the event out, everyone's just glad you were able to join in for as long as you could.

Bearing all that in mind, the lesson I'd like to learn from this year's event is this: Blaugust isn't about posting thirty-one days straight: it's all about learning what works for you

If you find daily posting gives you a buzz then that's fantastic. You don't have to stop when September comes. Last year I didn't. I just kept going until June. I believe Dan from Magi Was Taken has posted every day since his first Blaugust, three years ago.

If, on the other hand, posting every day stopped being fun two weeks ago, give youself a break and take one. Come back when you're feeling it again. You almost certainly will, eventually. Maybe next Blaugust.

As I said last year, they break up the text and that's what matters.
The bloggers I most admire this year aren't those of us who've been able to come up with something every day, even though that's impressive and admirable and very much welcome because it gives me a wealth of great writing to enjoy. No, the people to whom I take off my imaginary hat (It's one of those leather ones like Tom Waits wears...) are those who set themselves a specific goal to suit their own circumstances and desires, giving themselves targets they'd crafted for themselves rather than blithely going for the full thirty-one, no matter what.

That's the lesson I'd like to say I've learned from Blaugust 2022: be the blogger you want to be. In my case that would be the kind of blogger who can, when it feels like the right thing to do, post a single paragraph instead of writing an essay or use a single screenshot instead of a dozen.

Unfortunately, I say that to myself every year and then next year I come back and do the same damn thing. If I had a nickel for every time I've said "I wish I could write shorter posts" I'd have a jar full of coins I couldn't spend because no-one in this country knows what a nickel is.

The second lesson I'd like to learn is to hold off on giving advice until I've learned how to follow it. Why should anyone listen to me when I patently never listen to myself? What kind of mentorship is that?

That's one lesson I did remember!

I mean, read what I wrote in last year's "Lessons Learned" post, snazzily titled "Lessons Will Be Learned": 

"This is Lessons Learned Week and for once I can confidently say I did learn at least one thing this time around: writing ahead really pays off. Also, another thing, so does finding a hook on which you can hang a whole bunch of similar posts".

Were those lessons learned? Were they hell! 

This year, I thought of an idea for a series, posted about how I was going to do it, then decided it was going to be too much trouble and completely forgot about it until a few days ago. If I'd listened to my own advice and taken it it would have saved me a whole lot of last-minute scrabbling and I'd be able to smugly tell myself I'd told myself so.

So my final lesson learned for this year is going to have to be... remember you're a womble? No, not that... what was it? I had it a minute ago...

Oh yes! It's remember what told yourself last time you did this! I mean, it was only a year ago. There's probably even some kind of a written record. You could always go back and check...

Roll on next Blaugust when we'll do it again, make the same mistakes, give each other the same advice and then ignore it.

It's called tradition and it's a very good thing.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Motorcycles And Mounts In Noah's Heart

Like my bike? I got it tonight. It didn't cost me anything but time. 

Thirty days, it was. Thirty days, logging in. Just that.

Noah's Heart launched on July 28. I logged in for the first time on July 29. Thirty days ago, exactly. I haven't missed a day.

The thing is, I haven't been logging in just to get the bike. I wanted the bike, yes, but I was logging in because I wanted to play the game. The bike was just a nice bonus for something I was doing anyway.

I do like a motorcycle in an mmorpg. I think this is my third. I had one in City of Steam and another in The Secret World. Or Secret World Legends. Either or both. 

I'm not much of a biker in real life. I've been on a motorcycle just  a handful of times, riding pillion back when I was in my teens. I was a bad passenger. I leant the wrong way. 

I never even thought about getting a motorbike of my own but if there's the chance to own one in a game I'm always interested. When it rains in games I don't get wet and if I fall off I don't go to hospital. Or the morgue.

My bike in Noah's Heart has a name. That's a first, I think. It's called Sky Devourer, which kind of suggests maybe it can fly. I hope it can fly. A flying bike would be all kinds of cool.

There's a page of stats for my bike. There's even a diagram. 

I understand the stats. I don't understand the diagram.

I don't need to understand any of it to ride the thing, fortunately. As soon as I got it I took it for a spin.

It handles nicely enough. Mounts in Noah's Heart have some inertia but not, thank god, anything like in Guild Wars 2. Just enough to feel it, not enough to make you throw up.

The Sky Devourer makes a somewhat throaty noise setting off but sounds more like a lawnmower when it gets going. Or a wasp trapped in a Coke can. It's okay. I've heard worse.

I thought I'd see them everywhere now the thirty days are up but so far I've only seen one other. Then again, I've only been on for a few minutes, just long enough to take the shots to write the post.

I'd like to write something in a little more detail about mounts generally in the game. There are four types: horses, mounts, vehicles and ships. 

Horses come in many kinds. They roam around in the wild. You need a lasso to catch them, then you have to play a mini-game to tame them. It's not hard. 

You can feed them and level them up and there's a whole breeding deal involving bloodlines and who knows what-all. I haven't gotten into it yet. I probably won't. Animal husbandry's not really my thing.

Mounts are any riding animal not a horse. There are three I know of and two of those are just different colors of Llama. The other's a wolf. 

The llamas can be bought in stores. One's a store I don't even know how to see, the other's in a store that uses a currency I don't know how to get. And it's not listed there anyway. I've seen people riding them, though, so someone's worked out how to get them.

The llamas make some really annoying noises. I can hear them if they're nearby when I'm crafting in town. I wouldn't want one even if I knew how to get one. 

Actually, I do know how to get one. Or rather, I do now. After I wrote that I didn't I went back into the game and clicked on the icon that says Treasure Record, under "Obtain by purchasing in Adventure Store" and it took me to the shop.

It isn't in the Adventure Store at all. There is no Adventure Store except when the translation says there is. There is a "Treasure Record", though. It's a sub-department of Trading Port

The llama costs 20,000 Illusion Crystals. They look like pink stars. You get them from "Open World Adventure Mode" or by completing "Area Missions". I must have done that because I have 3001 of them. Maybe one day I'll have enough to buy a llama.

I don't want to buy a llama, though. I would like the wolf. The wolf is called Forest Wolf and it you get it from an event. It doesn't say which event, even if you click on the icon that says "Event". 

If you click on the icon that says "Rare Boutique", though, the other way you can get the wolf, it takes you to a sub-department of Treasure Store called Trendy House. There's no wolf there.

This is why I am not writing any guides to Noah's Heart. It's probably why no-one is. I imagine most people find it frustrating, infuriating even. To me it's one of the reasons I'm so wrapped up in the game. It's more like being in a foreign country than most mmorpgs and I enjoy it.

I would like to figure out where to get the wolf some day, all the same. Also, I'd really like to get the Flashing Sword, which is a car that looks something like a cross between a Bugatti and a tiger shark. 

The Flashing Sword is one of the Vehicles. The other two are the bike I'm riding and another bike, called The Terminator. There are no helpful icons to tell you how to get any or them. Maybe they'll also be login rewards one day.

The final category is Ships and there are just two of those right now. One is Explorer, "an ordinary, wooden sailboat" although it looks far from ordinary. It's "capable of handling long-distance voyages".

If I log in every day for the next nine days I'll have Explorer. It takes fourteen logins and I've done five already. I want it more than I wanted Sky Devourer so I will get it. There is no doubt.

I would love to get the other ship, too. It's called Heart of Ocean, it's "the flagship vessel of the Gulf Stream Royal Guard" and although it's much slower than explorer its a lot bigger and tougher. I don't know how dangerous sailing the seas is going to be but I don't imagine ships would  need hit points if there was nothing to worry about.

This has all run on rather longer than I expected. I was only going to post a few pictures of my bike. I didn't even do that. Let's have one now.

 Never mind. I learned a lot.

What? You thought I knew this stuff already? Nope. Most of what I know about Noah's Heart I find out as I write these posts.

If I didn't have a blog I probably wouldn't know anything at all.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Innocence, Experience And Why My Feet Hurt

It's Saturday night, it's close to bedtime, I have work tomorrow and the only post I've done any prep for would take far too long to finish. If it wasn't Blaugust, of course, I wouldn't be posting at all. When I broke my lengthy run of daily posts a while ago it was mostly so I wouldn't have to do this any more - come home from work and spend the rest of the evening blogging instead of relaxing.

Not that I don't find writing blog posts relaxing. I do, most of the time. I also perform better to a deadline so that's not really the problem. Mostly it's just that I do get quite tired after a day's work. It's not like I'm carrying bricks up a ladder all day, granted, but working in a large bookshop can be surprisingly physical, as I often feel the need to explain to fey bibliophiles who gush about how wonderful it must be to spend the working day surrounded by books. Try lifting them off a lorry by the crateful and carrying them up four flights of stairs, then tell me how wonderful it is...

My particular role involves much walking across three floors and five storeys, interspersed with long periods of standing in front of a computer screen. It's hard on the legs and actually worse now I only work two days a week because my feet don't quite have time to get used to it the way they did when I worked full time. Well, nearer to full time than I do now. It's been a very long time since I genuinely worked full time.

Added to that, every day now comes with an average of two hours dog walking. The books say twenty minutes twice a day is sufficient for good canine health but we like to give Beryl a lot more outdoor time than that. On a work day it gets cut to just one long walk in the evening but it's still another hour, hour and a half on top of the seven hours I've done already.

All of which leads me to believe it's best if I only post on work days when I have something I really want to say. And since I work mostly at the weekends and, for reasons I've explained, weekends are the last time anyone should post anything that really matters to them, if ever I do have something important to bring to the attention of the world, or the infinitesimal part of it that reads this blog, I'd be well-advised to save it for Monday, anyway.

All of which goes to show two things: 

1) I really can knock out several hundred words about nothing much at all, without even catching a breath

2) Blaugust makes people do things they wouldn't - and quite possibly shouldn't - normally do.

I didn't want to discuss any of that, though. The real reason for the long introduction is simple. When I sat down half an hour ago, with no clue what I was going to write about, I flipped through my Noah's Heart screenshot folder and an idea came to me immediately.  The problem was, the post that ought to have accompanied the screenshots I wanted to use would have needed a lot more thought and time than I was ready to give it just then.

That's how I came to start riffing on how and why I was too tired to write a long post. Next thing I know I've written six hundred words, which is plenty to give the whole thing the look of a real post, not something cobbled together out of need and desperation.

So, what about those screenshots? What was the post going to be about, anyway? Well, I'll tell you, since you asked.

In part, it was going to be yet another attempt to explain why I keep playing this odd game. I was going try to illustrate the variety of characters and storylines that give the whole experience a woozy, off-kilter feel that I really enjoy.

That in itself wouldn't have taken too long. The offputting part was when I realised both the quests I'd chosen to highlight also exemplified a storytelling trope I find almost pathologically appealing, namely the childlike innocent, whose naive commentary reveals the innate flaws in the supposedly mature worldview of the protagonist and by implication the reader, or in this case the player. Especially when they speak in the third person, using their own name. That really gets to me.

I was going to go all  the way back to the Superboy comics I read as a child, where there were sometimes vignettes featuring not just Superman as a boy, the raison d'etre of the title, but also Superboy as a baby; a baby that could barely talk and yet could, by virtue of his Kryptonian heritage, still foil evildoers, whose greed or malice he could barely comprehend yet could still easily recognize.

From there I would have weaved my way through various anthropomorphic animals to paradigm-shifting moments like Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, finally concluding with some brief words about Lost Ollie, the Netflix show I'm currently watching.

As you can imagine, all that would have taken quite some time. Certainly a lot longer than the fifty minutes it's taken me to type this. It's now just before ten in the evening and it's going to take me another fifteen or twenty minutes to add the illustrations to the body of the text, think of a title, put in the tags and finally give the whole thing a final edit before hitting publish.

With that in mind, it's time for me say goodnight. I'm sorry I didn't have time to write the full post but I'm sure everyone can fill in the details for themselves. Or be my guest, take the idea and work it up for a post of your own. 

You do all have blogs, don't you?

Friday, August 26, 2022

The Rain, Arlo Parks and Other Things

I still have an unconscionable amount to say about Noah's Heart but I think it's probably time for a break on that front. I also have a music post brewing but I'm working Saturday and Sunday, so I think I'll save it for the weekend. Music posts are always relaxing and fun to put together after a long day at the book mines.

Since it's the end of the week, let's have a good old Friday grab-bag, why not? I'm sure I can come up with something... 

I'll even throw in a few screenshots I took last night the Olmec Rainforest, the brand-new island that got added to Noah's Heart in the most recent patch. It's very close to the mainland. I think you're supposed to arrive by boat but I was able to fly across the narrow straits on my jetpack. Did I mention we get jetpacks?

All the content there requires level 75 so I wasn't able to do anything more than ride around but it looks amazing. Shame about the never-ending rain but then, y'know, rainforest...

Ok, here we go! This is a good one. Sure to cheer you up.

Snoop Dogg and Eminem to deliver metaverse-inspired performance at 2022 MTV VMAs. 

I lifted that verbatim from a headline at the NME, where news reporting tends to be text-book neutral in tone. If you click through and read the whole thing, you'll find it's even more disturbing than it sounds.

Snoop and Eminem are inarguably two of the biggest, most recognizeable names in the most commercially successful form of popular music in the world. Granted, both of them base their fame on work done quite some years ago, but they still have A-list name recognition and immense cultural clout. 

Their impramature is significant so it shouldn't be too surprising they've given it to the best-known of the upstart NFT/Crypto tyros, Yuga Labs, the Bored Ape people. That in itself is concerning to those of us who fear the wrong metaverse is coming but there's something a lot closer to home to worry about for mmorpg fans, specifically.

The VMA performance is going to be actual not virtual, unlike the upcoming Charlie Puth gig in Fortnite. (I had to google Charlie to find out who he is. I'd heard the name but I thought he was an actor.). It will apparently be inspired by “the world of the Otherside metaverse”, which is “a gamified, interoperable metaverse” that “blends mechanics from massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) and web3-enabled virtual worlds”. It will, of course, be fully integrated with and reliant upon NFTs and Cryptocurrency, specifically ApeCoin.

Given the heft of the names here, I think it's reasonable to feel a frisson of doubt about where this all might be leading. I know we all like to handwave the future away when it doesn't suit us but change happens. None of us want this kind of multiverse but we might be getting it anyway.

Of course, as we know, making mmorpgs is a lot harder than people seem to think it is and takes a lot longer. Making mmorpgs that anyone wants to play for more than a few weeks is even harder still. 

The chances of Otherside turning out to be something other than a cultural curiosity seem slim, especially since even Mark Zuckerberg, with all his money, doesn't seem to be making much progress. On the other hand, I'm old enough to remember when mobile phones were comedy gold and the bursting of the dot-com bubble spelled the end of the internet. I wouldn't assume all this is going where we'd like it to go just yet.

It was Guild Wars 2's 10th Anniversary this week but I couldn't bring myself to care, much less log in. It's been well over a month since the last time I played. I understand there's no such thing as a cure and it's one day at a time but things are looking good.

There's certainly nothing in the current celebrations to tempt me back. If there's any company that underplays anniversaries like ArenaNet I've been fortunate enough not to play their games long enough to notice. Here's what you can get for ten years loyal service:

Let's summarise that, shall we? 

  • Two basic utitlity items you can get from daily login rewards. My banks are stuffed with them. 
  • A bag of the kind of shards I get dozens, maybe even hundreds, of every day. 
  • A "birthday card" with no picture and no greeting that can be converted into five thousand Karma, the game's legacy currency, of which I have tens of millions already.
  • A couple of tokens for the cash shop. Enough to buy you some extremely basic utility items and nothing more.
  • And finally, the one item original to the actual 10th anniversary itself, a measly single token to go towards the new "Decade’s armor set". It won't even buy you a single piece.

Compared to the never-ending shower of gifts anyone playing any of the latest imprted titles has come to expect, this is a joke. Those games also depend on cash shop sales but somehow they manage to give away mounts, skins, hats, weapons and every kind of boost and utility as a matter of course. Would it really bankrupt ANet to come up with some actual gifts once in a decade instead of clearing out the lint from the bottom of Evon Gnashblade's pockets? No, it bloody wouldn't. 

In other GW2 news, the game finally went live on Steam this week but only for new accounts. Existing accounts can't be linked for tedious but understandable financial reasons (Valve's 30% rolling finder's fee, basically.) I did briefly consider making a new account, as I did when the game went Free to Play, so I could do a blog post about it. I still might but as far as I can tell there isn't any substantive difference between the Steam version and the regular F2P so there's probably not much to say. Also, I really don't need a fifth GW2 account.

And in other, other GW2 news, it also arrived on GeForce Now this week. Didn't see that coming. Since one thing I've never had any cause to complain about in GW2 is any kind of frame-rate lag and my ancient PC can run the game as well now as ever, I don't think I'll be adding in the extra step but it's good to know the option exists. 

On a similar theme, I finally pulled the trigger on a VPN this week. I've toyed with the idea many times but it always seemed like too much of a bother to go through the set-up and payment process. Then, in the middle of the week, Firefox sent me yet another promo for their in-house version, at a discount.

I clicked through and read the details and it looked good but before I made a decision I looked at some reviews of the service, from which I learned that Mozilla uses a pre-existing VPN from another provider, Mullvad.  Firefox rebadges that service and charges about twice as much for it.


Granted, if you have a Firefox/Mozilla account it's neat and tidy to keep it all under the one roof but it turns out Mulvad is almost pathologically dedicated to avoiding any kind of paper trail, so setting up an account with them is about the simplest operation imagineable. You can literally send them cash in an envelope if you want.

I didn't do that. I paid by PayPal. It's very cheap. Five euros a month, flat rate. No discounts for longer contracts because they don't do contracts. For that they'd need to know more about you than they want you to tell them.  

It was super-easy, too, and very fast, as was the set-up process. And the service works just as advertised. I tried it for a while, logging into various U.S. media sources that usually block my I.P. All of them worked just fine. 

The problem is, anything worth watching still requires a paid account. It's all very well being able to fool HBOMax or Warner Bros into believing you're dialling in from New York but they still want to be paid. If I ever decide to subscribe to a service that doesn't operate over here, I would certainly use Mulvad to do it, always assuming I could find a way to pay that didn't trigger cross-border alarms but for now I can't see that I'm going to find much use for  a VPN.

The whole thing also has a downside that none of the reviews or discussions I read mentioned. It was all very well telling new websites that didn't want to know me before that I was now One of Them but old sites that already accepted me suddenly had no idea who I was. Using the VPN, I kept having to sign back into places that normally let me in on the nod.

Consequently I have the thing switched off most of the time, only flicking the switch if I want to visist some ring-fenced oasis of culture like the CW. It defeats about 95% of the point of having a VPN at all, which as far as I can see is to be able to creep around the World Wide Web like some kind of ghost-ninja, leaving nary a trace. 

Personally, I gave up caring who knows what I do online years ago. If anyone wants to track my progress from MassivelyOP to BBC Cricket to Pitchfork and back, good luck to them. I think it must be at least a couple of decades since I knowingly visited a website I wouldn't be happy to mention on the blog. I'm old. Nothing I do is likely to be interesting to anyone.

I doubt I'll renew the subscription to Mulvad when it expires in a month but I'd certainly pay them another five euros any time there happened to be TV show I wanted to see, if it was showing on a free service I couldn't access. It's a very low price for even one season of a good show.

And finally, out of my random sack of fun, I pull a video! It's Arlo Parks covering Julia Jacklin for Like A Version, which is one of my YouTube-subbed channels. Arlo Parks was one of my "discoveries" from this year's BBC coverage of Glastonbury. She won the Mercury Music Prize in 2021 for her album Collapsed in Sunbeams, something I failed to notice even though it was reported on all the music sites I follow. Shows how much attention I was paying.

Anyway, better late than on time, as any fashionable party-goer will tell you. 

I was even later to the Julia Jacklin party but now I'm through the doors, I'm having a great time. There's something about her voice and the arrangements she uses that have an almost ASMR-like effect on me. She has a new album out. I read a review today on Pitchfork and it sounds great. I already know some of the tracks, including the wonderful Lydia Wears a Cross and the excellent I Was Neon, both of which have already appeared here.

I'd buy the album now but this is the time of year when I have to start thinking about what to tell people when they ask me what I want for my birthday and Christmas. Yes, I do need to start building my wishlist that far in advance. I'm going to put Pre Pleasure on it. In fact, I think I'll go and do it now.

It's kind of an approrpriate title, now I come to think of it...

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Darkness, Darkness, Be My Pillow

If anyone's playing Noah's Heart it's time to stop reading right now. It's spoilers all the way down from here.

Let's take a brief pause while we lol at the idea that anyone other than me might be playing. Well, okay, I know of one person who is but I figure there's no way they're going to get this far. I think we're safe.

So, I finished Season Zero - Light and Shadow this morning and let me tell you it was bleak. It's a long episode that takes up days, weeks even, of a player's life and what it all comes down to in the end is this: 

It has to be one of the most emo storylines in any mmorpg ever. Every plan fails. Everyone dies. Nothing is real. There's no point to anything. My character turned to drink and who could blame her?

Oh, wait, that screenshot's from the light-hearted Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Scarlet Mark Mystery. Yeah, that one's no laugh riot, either.

I guess I should have known where things were headed as soon as Noah started quoting Nietzsche.

Still, you have to have hope, don't you?  

Don't you?

It's just all too much, sometimes, Ave.

Which is your cue to tell us what you really are. It seems like only yesterday you told us you were a goddess in disguise... Now you're saying you're not even real?

Maybe none of us are...

Maybe we're all just characters in someone else's game. Did you ever think of that?

Oh, well. If nothing matters any more, I guess we may as well all go... fishing.

I mean, it's not like we just discovered there's an ancient God lurking beneath the waves, plotting to destroy us all, now, is it?

Oh well, I'm sure it'll all come right in the end. It always does, doesn't it?

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Known Unknowns : Coping With Confusion In Noah's Heart

asked a very reasonable question in the comments to yesterday's post about why, if I'm spending so much time playing Noah's Heart, I have so little idea how any of it works. The short answer is because there's a hell of a lot to learn and the game doesn't seem all that bothered about explaining the fine details. 

Maybe a few examples would help.

Let's start with housing. Almost three weeks ago I posted very positively about the system, saying "I'd go so far as to say it has the potential to be one of the better mmorpg housing systems I've seen although I'd probably need to be a little further up the housing ladder than the second rung to say it with any authority."

I'm now on the sixth rung. I've made some progress but it's been slow. 

I've opened five more rooms - two more bedrooms, the alchemy workshop, the kitchen and a room called "Post", the exact utility of which is still unclear to me. I've also researched nearly a dozen functions on the housing Tech tree, not all of which I understand.

For a long time I was roadblocked by a quest from my butler, Marcella, who's been taking me through the basic functions of the housing system and demonstrating how they work. She wanted me to visit the house of a friend and help them but I didn't have any friends in the game and no idea how to visit anyone's house.

I came across a very similar quest in Chimeraland but there all housing is out in the open world. All I had to do was jog along the shoreline to the next house down the bay, then interact with the owner indirectly through the window that pops up when you trespass on someone's lawn.

Housing in Noah's Heart is instanced so that's not an option, which left me stymied. I did consider sending a DM to some random person to ask if I could friend them just for the quest. I have no shame - I've done that sort of thing in games before. There was so much else going on, though, I just forgot about it.

Yesterday I happened to be going through my chat tabs for some reason or other, when I noticed someone had sent me a friend request. Quite a while ago, actually. I hadn't noticed. 

That might sound odd but I've already had several DMs from NPCs - someone called Yuff sent me a really stalkery one - so it's not always immediately obvious whether incoming mail is from a real person or not.

Anyway, since the option to Friend someone was right there on the screen, I thought I might as well take it. They were offline but this morning when I logged in they'd accepted the return request. After that, I opened the Friends tab, clicked on my new friend's avatar image and found a menu with several options, one of which was Visit Home.

I clicked on that and it teleported me into my new pal's front yard. I found another button somewhere in the UI marked "Help" and with one press my quest was done. 

After that I was able to talk to Marcella again. She gave me a couple of new quests I was able to finish before, once again, she asked me to do something that floored me.

This time it has nothing to do with my lack of social skills. I just can't work out what she's talking about. She wants me to "Dispatch phantoms to the post and complete 1 tours". The mouseover tip helpfully advises "Go to Home and open Dispatch page to complete Post travel", which almost sounds coherent, but when I go to Dispatch there's no "Travel" option in sight.

I was thinking it might be because I hadn't yet researched the necessary upgrade to my house via the Tech panel. To that end, I've opened both Beginner Post Traveling and Basic Tour Skills but still no joy. 

It's at this point in most games that I'd give in and go to the wiki but unfortunately in Noah's Heart's case that's not an option. There is a wiki but, as you can see if you follow the link, it barely qualifies as a placeholder. There's virtually no useable information there at all.

There's also a pretty extensive in-game Encyclopedia, which is a lot more useful, but it suffers from the same kind of translation issues I was talking about yesterday. Not ideal for a primary information source. Still, I 'd be able to make sense of it, I'm sure, if only there was a relevant entry. There is not.

These kinds of communication problems go some way towards explaining why I still feel so at sea after nearly a month of playing Noah's Heart. I think, on balance, even the very confusing Chimeraland explained things better. Lost Ark definitely did.

Luckily, all I really need to do to keep upgrading my house is to make and add furniture and decorations. By doing that I also progress my crafting skills, specifically Craftsman and Tailor, while making food to give my Phantoms, something that increases my Affection levels with them, lets me level up as a Masterchef.

Making things requires a lot of materials. I get regular supplies of crafting mats from Assignments in the various workrooms in my house but mostly I need to go out into the open world and mine rocks or chop trees. As yet, I haven't got the locations of specific mats clear in my mind. I'll bet there's an in-game way of locating them but as yet I haven't yet sussed out what it is. 

Consequently, getting the necessary materials to make, say, the Fire Grate that Jessie, the Craftsman trainer, wants as proof I'm ready to progress to Level 3, is taking me quite a while. Coming up with the steady flow of mats for all the furniture I'd need to keep my house upgrades rolling in would be a full-time job. 

And that's what it's meant to be, just as it was in Chimeraland. It's the gameplay, or part of it. If you find it dull or grindy, as many will, then you're probably not the target market for the game.

You could be excused for thinking otherwise, of course. All the flashy pop-ups and free stuff that explode on screen every time you log in tend to give an impression of careless abandon. It feels as though all you have to do is sit back, maybe click a button now and then to keep your character auto-running to the next location and the game will just play itself. 

It won't. There's a proper, gritty, almost old-school levelling experience barely hidden beneath the shiny surface, which is almost certainly one of the reasons I'm enjoying it so much. If you don't put in the effort and the hours you're going nowhere. I do, after all, like leveling. And here everything levels, if only you can figure out what you need to do to make those numbers go up.

Your phantoms all level individually, as do their separate affections. Your three Career (Crafting) skills each have their own levels but you have a Career level that levels indepently of all of them. Your house levels up. So does your Mount. You can earn Fame with several factions, separately. Even your Friendship with other players comes with a numerical value you can work on. 

Then there's Adventure levels (I'm Level 14), Arena Ranks (I'm Silver III in Honor, Gold II in Fantasy.), National Plan and who knows what else. Even the damn server levels up! I'm on Spring Lake and we're going to ding 73 later today. 

The server level dictates the highest level your character can attain, which is why, back at the start, I blithely stated the level cap was 68, which was where my Growth Book stopped. Little did I know.

Currently the level cap on the server where I play is 72, simply because you can't be higher level than your server. As of this morning's update my Growth Book now goes to 89, which is, I assume, where the server's headed. You can swap servers to get past a cap lock, assuming you can find one that's higher than yours.

What actually causes the server to level up and how far it will eventually be able to rise I have no idea. The game is so intensely, ineffably complex, all I can do is hang on for the ride and hope I don't fall off.

Even if I was able to get to grips with what I've seen so far, there's always something new coming down the pipe. The latest addition would seem to be boats. There's a new item on the Exploration page called "Ocean Shipping" with a mission "Obtain a ship". Luckily, there's also a free ship now as a login reward. I thought we were getting a motorbike. Maybe I missed it. Whichever we get, I bet that levels up, too.

I hope that goes some way to explaining, if not excusing, my continuing confusion. I ought to make it quite plain I'm not complaining about any of this. On the contrary, I relish it. 

As Chris Neal at MassivelyOP implied about Chimeraland, it's not knowing that makes for compelling gameplay. Once you fully understand everything you have to do to survive and progress in a game, all that's left is to buckle down and do it. Then you keep on doing it until you can't bear to do it any longer.

Looked at that way, the longer I remain in the dark about how Noah's Heart works, the longer I'm likely to want to go on playing.

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