Friday, September 30, 2022

Give Me A Reason. Yeah, That'll Do.

I haven't played Cyberpunk 2077. I'd like to but my PC won't run it. Well, technically it will. I just benchmarked it at and somewhat to my surprise I got a PASS on all of the Minimum Specs but I'm not naive enough to think that would lead to a great experience.

On that test, my rig gets a rating of 37%, which is a failing grade by anyone's terms, although what it actually means is that I can run "371 of the top 1000 most popular games listed on PCGameBenchmark - at a recommended system level", which isn't quite as bad as I thought. Still, that number is only going to shrink.

The site very helpfully analyses where my rig is weakest and tells me what I need to do is upgrade the graphics card, which will "have a big impact on your performance in games." That's quite re-assuring. I've been thinking of doing it for a couple of years but obviously the market wasn't right. Now that crypto's over (Hah!) prices are coming back to a reasonable level, so it's probably time I did something about it at last.

Badge of Shame.
I've also thought about upping the ram. Memory has been very affordable for a long time so that hasn't been what's stopped me. I just haven't been sure it would make much of a difference. Still, it's bound to do something, right? Might as well do both.

Apart from money and availablity, the other reason I've been holding fire on upgrading this six-year old machine has been the prospect of remote play. Streaming if you prefer. Playing on someone else's hardware.

I dabbled with that when I was playing New World and I'll be doing it again when the miracle patch drops. Like everyone else, I'll be back in the queues to see how the new New World plays. I haven't decided if I'll start over so I can play through (And document.) the new-user experience or if I'll carry on with my existing, max-level character. Almost certainly both, I imagine.

New World does run on my machine, albeit not without issues. Although I can play just about normally, my PC makes frightening grinding sounds and chunters away to itself, which makes it hard to concentrate. I keep worrying it's going burst into flames. 

Playing New World on GeForce Now leaves my PC silent and cool but without paying a subscription it leaves me limited to one hour sessions (Albeit chainable indefinitely.) and the performance there isn't always great. It doesn't feel like the ideal time to be investing in a streaming game service, either, what with Google suddenly deciding to pull out of the market. I still believe streaming from remote servers is the future of mass-market gaming but we clearly have a ways to go yet.

Just because I can't play Cyberpunk 2077 doesn't mean I have to feel completely left out. There's a spin-off anime series on Netflix and I just started watching it last night. I'd been aware of it since it first appeared and I had it on my watchlist but it might have been a while before I got round to watching it if it hadn't been for this.

That's the 7" single that came with the deluxe edition of Let's Eat Grandma's utterly wonderful third album, Two Ribbons and even on such a superb record it would have been a standout. I'm not convinced by the logic of putting your very best work on bonus material in collectors' packages but so long as we all get to hear it later I guess it doesn't much matter either way.

Towards the end of that Stereogum article (That you didn't click through and read earlier. No judgment!) there's this delicious tidbit: "In other Let’s Eat Grandma news, they scored the upcoming Netflix series The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself, which drops on the streamer on October 28." Oooh! Excited now!

Naturally, the first thing I did was look the show up. Turns out it's an adaptation of a YA series called "Half Bad", the first of which I read in proof quite a few years ago. I can't even remember if I liked it, much less what it was about. The publisher, Penguin, must have had expectations. They made a promo video. That doesn't happen often. Here it is. Just don't confuse it with the upcoming show.

You'd think the fact that I never read any of the sequels would suggest I wasn't very keen but you'd be one hundred per cent wrong on that. I've started any number of series with proofs, many I loved and swore I'd follow, but the problem with reading proofs is that by the time the actual book comes out you've read fifty more. I very rarely remember to follow through on series I discover that way.

My success rate with TV adaptations of YA fantasy series has been pretty good, though, so I have hopes for this one. I'd probably have watched it anyway, when it popped up in a New to Netflix promo. Now I know Rosa and Jenny did the music it's a sure thing.

A lot of indie/pop/rock musicians seem to be working in soundtracks these days. Some of them seem more suited to it than others. Let's Eat Grandma's lush, cinematic sound ought to be a natural fit. Once again, though, releasing in limited format. Not sure about that.

 Still not seeing the Cyberpunk 2077 connection? Don't fret. We're getting there.

After I'd watched the video for "Give Me A Reason" embedded in the Stereogum piece, I went straight to YouTube to download it. As I was listening to it again, I noticed several links to Cyberpunk 2077 in the reccomends sidebar. I thought that seemed odd so when the song finished I clicked through to see if I could find out why they were there. This is why.

Credited to "Rosa Walton and Hallie Coggins", it's not by Let's Eat Grandma as such, even though it sounds exactly like something they'd do. It's a solo effort by Rosa, whose "in-universe alter-ego" is... Hallie Coggins. The song plays on the in-game radio station 98.7 Body Heat Radio and features in the TV show, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, all of which is so meta it burns. Also, talk about limited accessibility...

So far, I've  only watched the first episode of the show. It starts very unpromisingly for reasons that are satisfactorily explained within a few minutes but it's a risky opening. If I'd been flicking through, looking for something to watch, I'd have kept on going.

After the unsettling start the thing picks up traction quickly. I was solidly hooked by about ten minutes in. I'm looking forward to seeing all ten episodes. By accounts I've read, the Rosa Walton tune accompanies a deeply resonant, emotional episode in the show. I'd expect nothing less.

We'll see if watching the show makes gives me a reason to play the game. Who knows, by the time I get to the end of Episode 10 I might even have bought myself a new video card.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Expansions, Pandas, Events... It's All Happening In EQII

So, we know the name of the next EverQuest II expansion at last. It's Renewal of Ro. Jenn Chan slipped it in at the end of her latest Producer's Letter.  

Darkpaw seems to be developing some kind of slow release, drip feed for expansion news, a technique I find rather effective. There's just enough new information each time to keep the appetite piqued and it takes several bites out of the news cycle. Like most things Daybreak is doing these days, it feels like a solid, competent effort from a significantly more focused marketing department than we've been used to seeing in the past.

There's still very little detail on the exact setting or storyline for EQII's nineteenth expansion, other than the hint hidden in the very last sentence - if you can call something hidden that's been both bolded and italicized. "Get ready to Tack on your best gear and establish yourself as one of the greatest of spelunkers in hiztory". Jenn does love her puns.

You could engrave everything I know about Takish Hiz on the head of a pin - if you were a gnome with one of those sets of magnifying goggles they all seem to wear. I have a passable grounding in Norrathian lore, myth and history but the first I ever remember hearing of the legendary home of the elves was in 2003's Lost Dungeons of Norrath, the sixth (And in my opinion one of the best.) expansions to the original EverQuest.

Takish Hiz was one of the LDoN dungeons, where I spent a great deal of time in the six months before the next bi-annual expansion suddenly made getting groups to go there all but impossible. I remember it clearly as a complex of marble halls and corridors entombed beneath the desert sands. Of the sylvan forests so dear to the elves who once ruled Norrath during the eponymous Takish Age, there was no sign at all.

How long Takish Hiz has lain beneath the sands I'm not sure but by the time Renewal of Ro drops it has to have been a millennium at least. EQII is set five hundred years after EverQuest. EverQuest Online Adventures, the iteration of Norrath created for Playstation 2, was set five hundred years before. Much to my regret, I never played EQOA but from the wiki I can see that Takish Hiz was a zone in that game and the pictures and descriptions clearly show it long abandoned, the desert already in the process of reclaiming a land left empty by the vanished forests of the elves.

I have to say I am very interested by the choice of location for this year's expansion. While I do like to see and explore brand new places, I feel one of EQII's strongest cards is its connection with EQ . Every time we're offered the chance to re-visit old haunts there's a powerful emotional charge freighted in that frisson of familiarity, combined with curiosity. 

It's subtly different from pure nostalgia, more like the odd, disconcerting sensation that comes from seeing how things have changed when you go back to a place you once knew well, after a long time away. I find that feeling compelling in the real world and it's no less energizing in virtuality.

Added to that, the EQII expansion which the new one references, Prophecy of Ro, was very good indeed. It had a truly huge amount of content, much of which I've completed more than once, and it had a strong, consistent theme that held everything together. I had many good times there and still do, whenever I go back.

The last expansion, Visions of Vetrovia, was lots of fun. It ticked all the expected boxes for an EQII expansion and I got several months of quality entertainment from it but perhaps the only thing I felt a little unsatisfied by was the supposed connection with the troubled EQ expansions Gates of Discord and Omens of War. I was looking forward to revisiting some of those locations - Wall of Slaughter maybe, Natimbi certainly, but in the end there was barely a namecheck for any of the places I knew.

Takish Hiz is much more of an unknown quantity. It was already lost in the mists of history the first time around. The Desert of Ro, on the other hand, has already had its day in the sun in PoR. I'm very curious to know just what the balance between new, old and new-old will be this time around.

Before the expansion arrives I probably need to do some work on whichever characters I intend to take through it first. I haven't been neglecting the game entirely but these last few months my activity there has tailed off a lot. I'm substantially further behind than I have been for a couple of years.

One way I've been able to benchmark is by the new gear available from 2022's Panda, Panda, Panda! event, which was patched into the game earlier this week. The event itself was always on the schedule, but it hadn't been entirely clear whether there would be a new set of quests this time.

There will. Nine weeks of quests, just like usual. This year they take the format of Creature Catalogs, a very smart way of reducing the workload for the team, while still giving players a similar experience to previous years.

This morning I did the first, a series of identifications around Kylong Plains in Kunark. With instant travel, flight and a surprisingly accurate memory for the exact locations of all the creatures needed, the whole thing took me about five minutes. If you did it old school and weren't familiar with the area I'd guess it might take fifteen or twenty.

Either way, it's a very good return on time invested. The first tier of rewards includes weapons which, at 315 resolve, will be upgrades for all but one of my characters. Browsing through the very large selection of gear, augments and sundry items available from the full sequence of nine quests, I can see that I'll need to pick up most of what's on offer, even for my best-equipped character.

Last year, for the first time, most of the Panda gear wasn't really an upgrade for the character I was planning on taking into Visions of Vetorvia so it shows how much I've let things slip. Of course, these days, the panda gear itself tends to be made obsolete by the hand-outs from the box on the floor next to the first questgiver in a new expansion, so it's a moot point whether I really need to take this short-term, interim upgrade. Since I'm going to be doing the quests for the fun of it anyway, it would be crazy not to pick up the rewards.

There's also a huge number of housing items to be had, all of which you'll be able to see at EQ2Traders as the event progresses. Niami Denmother also always has the best walkthroughs for the panda quests, should you need any handholding.

As well as the pandas there's also the other "get you ready for the expansion" event that always runs alongside it: Gear Up, Level Up. It comes in three phases and this time its available on all servers (Emphasized as "yes, all servers".

The schedule, should you need it, is as follows:

  • September 27 – October 10 = Double Loot
  • October 11 – October 17 = Mount Training Drops
  • October 18 – October 24 = Spell Research Drops

I don't usually bother with Gear Up, Level Up but I might this year. Spell research boosts are always the most souhgt-after but to take full advantage I really need to get on and make all those Expert spells I've been avoiding.

Mount training boosts I already have in abundance, thanks to Overseer, but unusually, there's still content I haven't finished in the last expansion. Those double drops from instance bosses might have some things I want, even if I don't techically need them at this stage.

Either way, it's great to have options. Now all I have to do is find some time to excercise them.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Gained In Translation

Despite having teed up today's post as some kind of in-depth analysis, it will in fact be a few screenshots interleaved with a short paragraph or two in which I state the bleedin' obvious. This is because I spent the day driving to the next city over with Mrs Bhagpuss, sorting out various fiscal matters, having lunch next to a pride of lions (Bronze. Photographs may follow.) then throwing a ball for Beryl next to a ravine (Okay, it's a gorge but "ravine" sounds much more dramatic.) before driving home the long way round. Consequently I don't feel like spending the rest of the evening putting a long post together but equally I don't want to think of anything else and I already have the screenshots, so...

Boy, that's really selling it...

Here's a typical page from the newly revised in-game Encyclopedia. It's clear, concise, detailed and very easy to understand. I think it would be fair to say that most players, having taken the trouble to read it, would know just what to look for when a quest told them to go find a totem and just what to do about it when they found one.

In my original run in Chimeraland I never got the hang of totems. They didn't seem very consistent and I couldn't always figure out which ones I needed or why some didn't seem to do anything. I did read the Encyclopedia page but I don't recall that it made much sense.

If I found totems confusing, I found faction incomprehensible. You have to make a choice at character creation but there's no real explanation of what that choice means or why you'd pick one over another, except for the information about resources.

That carries over to the new version, above, which again is from the Encyclopedia. I haven't yet revisited character creation to see if the description there has also been re-written. What you can now clearly understand is that these are PvP factions not, as I thought, NPC factions. When it says "There are three factions in Chimeraland and they are all enemies" it's telling you that you are only safe on your starting continent. Everywhere else you're going to get killed. By other players.

Just in case you missed the memo, here it is again, in even plainer language. Chimeraland is a PvP game. There is open PvP. As it tells you in another perfectly translated panel, which I forgot to screenshot, you're protected until Level 15 but then it's open season. Clearly, on your own continent you're far less likely to run into players from the other factions, which probably explains why I have so far never been attacked by anyone. I'm sure it'd be a different story if I tried to travel outside my Faction's borders. None of this was clear to me until now.

Here's the page on Fishing. Fishing in Chimeraland is very straightforward and very similar to fishing in many other mmorpgs so I had no trouble figuring it out on my own. There was a certain amount of trial and error all the same. I don't recall if I ever looked it up in the Encyclopedia but if I didn't it was because I already knew the information there would be so garbled it would probably leave me more confused than ever. Very much not the case any more.

Here's my favorite example so far. The rocket into space. Much play was made of this feature in the promotional material from the initial SEA launch. It made a big impression on me at the time because it emphasized the huge amount of XP you could get from riding the rocket. 

That, however, was about the sum of the information I was able to glean from the confusing description back then. One of the first things I did in the game was try to find the rocket but nothing really told me where to look. I did eventually find the spot but I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do there and after fiddling around for a while I gave up.

Reading this, it's hardly surprising. The original translation seemed to imply all you had to do was get to the rocket and everything else would happen automatically. In fact, it takes quite a lot of work to get the thing started and even then you have to crawl underneath the damn thng to set it off. It's clear enough now but it sure wasn't then. 

Finally, if only because it's the last screenshot I have, there's the question of all the re-translated quest dialog. Most of this was vaguely comprehensible the first time round but a lot of the finer detail was garbled. I generally got the gist of what Bella, Yenni and the others were trying to tell me but sometimes I just couldn't figure out exactly what they wanted me to do or where they wanted me to go and often I couldn't quite see how one thing connected to something else.

Now it's all beautifully articulated. I haven't been in any doubt about what to do or why I need to do it. What's more, the conversation has a reasonably natural flow, which makes the whole thing feel a lot less like being lectured by an immigration officer and a lot more like being mentored by... well, a mentor.

I'd put up a couple of "Before" shots of the old quest or Encyclopedia text but unfortunately I didn't take any. I realize that means all of this is based on my memory of how it used to be, which is not what you'd call hard evidence but then this isn't a court of law. My impression is that the whole game has been completely and comprehensively re-translated and that whoever did the job did it well.

The question is, does that make the game more or less enjoyable and the answer's not as obvious as you might imagine. It ought to be clear from the many posts I wrote about Chimeraland during my first run that the sheer mystery of the whole thing was one of the key factors driving my engagement with it. 

I loved trying to figure out what was going on. It was like a really interesting puzzle. I got a great sense of satisfaction every time I learned more about how the game worked and it was always a moment when I realised I'd misunderstood something. 

Without that element of confusion, would I ever have become so enmeshed in the game and its world? Didn't the off-kilter translations add to the otherworldly feel of the place? Does it all seem a little more trite, a little less original, now everything's spelled out in good, plain English?

It's very hard to say because with the changes I have the added hook of being able to compare one experience with the other, something that, as this post demonstrates, plays very well with my personal proclivities. I do like to compare and contrast.

Noah's Heart makes a great counterpoint to this argument. The in-game explanations of systems and mechanics, by contrast, are generally clear enough. They could certainly do with some tidying up here and there but a complete re-write wouldn't add that much. There's not a huge amount of enjoyable puzzle-solving to be had by figuring them out so nothing major would be lost with a better gloss. 

Even so, Archosaur should very definitely take a leaf out of Chimeraland's book and get someone to do a proper, accurate, demotic English translation of all the text in the game.That's because Noah's Heart is far more narrative-heavy than Chimeraland. It has reams of story text and dialog, none of which reads well and most of which reads very badly indeed. I would actually pay a modest amount for DLC that rendered the storyline into normal English.

The current  translation varies from barely adequate to barely comprehensible. What that game needs more than anything else, if it ever hopes to be really successful in the West, is the exact same kind of re-translation Chimeraland just received.

I say that with some conviction because I believe players who actually find working stuff out for themselves in mmorpgs make up a fairly small percentage of the playerbase. The demographic that enjoys trying to make sense of badly translated in-game text as a game in itself has to be vanishingly small.

Cheaping out on translation seems to be the norm in imported games and I can't help but think it's one of the reasons so many fail to make much of an impact. Not only are poor translations off-putting to natural English speakers, they have to make playing the game even harder for players trying to pick their way through the explanations using English as a second or third language.

I think on balance even I would prefer solid translations to the dubious thrill of trying to figure out what the original meaning was before it was mangled by a monolingual intern using Google Translate. Chimeraland might not have have seemed quite so bizarre with easy-to-follow instructions but I think it would still have been quite bizarre enough. It is an odd game, after all.

The new translation also gives me an added incentive to carry on playing now I've returned. It doesn't feel quite like walking the exact same path, even though it really is. Things feel just different enough, thanks to the extra clarity, that I might want to get at least as far as I did last time, just to see if there was anything I missed because I couldn't work out what some NPC was trying to say.

I'm pretty sure that must have happened a lot.

Monday, September 26, 2022

There's Coming Back and There's Going Back...

Well... it seems I'm back playing Chimeraland again, at least for the next week or two, so I guess that "Come back, we missed you" offer did just what it was meant to do. I logged in once then logged in the next day and the day after that, but more importantly I didn't just turn up, grab the gifts and leave. I hung around for a while. I was there for couple of hours today.

Some progress was made. Fria, my one and only character in the Steam edition of the game, was in the high teens when I woke her up a couple of days ago. She's in the low twenties now. My house is a bit bigger. I have a pet and an attendant.

I did think about starting over from scratch since I wanted to see how the new player experience and the tutorial had changed but I decided against it - for now. It would hardly have been a big commitment if I'd re-rolled. I only had a couple of hours played time in the new version of the game. 

The hard choice was made when I moved from the SEA server I was on to start over in the Western release. I'm not sure how many hours I had over there but I would imagine it must have been close to three figures. 

I'm still not convinced I'm done with that character, either. I might want to check whether the "Return to Chimeraland" offer applies to all versions of the game. If it does I might just have to go back just for that. 

If I did, it would have to be either a quick drive-by or I'd have to stay there for good. The idea of playing two versions of Chimeraland side-by-side is terrifying, even though it's exactly the kind of thing I would have done without blinking fifteen or twenty years ago.

When I look back at the way I played EverQuest for the first few years, it seems almost ubelievable, not so much that I did it but that I really loved doing it that way and advocated for it as a preferable playstyle. I had characters on something like a dozen servers and I was theoretically levelling them all. And it wasn't even one character per server - I had half a dozen or more on some servers and two or three on most where I played.

A normal evening's play for me would consist of swapping between three or four servers, adding a few per cent of a level to a ranger here, maybe half a bubble to a necromancer there... Is it any wonder it took me over a year, playing forty hours a week, to get my first character to fifty, which wasn't even the level cap any more?

When I think back on it now it seems like a different world and a different me. Reading Wilhelm talking about going back to Wrath of the Lich King, hoping it lives up to his memories of how it felt the first time around makes me wonder if I'll ever have that same desire, or if I even want it.

That's not to imply I'm done with EverQuest, or any of my old favorites. I often get the urge to revisit my old haunts. It happened this morning. 

For some reason I can't explain, unless it was the sudden, unheralded flickering back to life of The EverQuest Show, reminding me of that game's glory days, I woke up with a singular desire to make a fresh gnome in Ak'Anon and run him (Or more probably her.) to Freeport or Qeynos. I was even musing on recording the whole thing and editing the footage into a video to post on my YouTube channel, thereby to be included, of course in a lengthy post here.

As I was turning it over in my mind I started to get flashbacks of all the other times I done the same thing or something very similar - Freeport to Grobb to Qeynos to Highpass to Freeport to Neriak - all the classics in every direction, there and back again, uphill in the rain, pursued by a bear. There are whole sections of runs I did two decades ago that I remember with greater clarity than anything I've done this year. 

And that's the crux of it. I do remember them that clearly. If I want to relive the experience I just have to close my eyes and think about it. Would doing any of it all over again it make it feel any more immediate, any more vital?

Maybe. I'm not going to go and find out, or not right now, anyway. What I also remembered as clearly as anything is how long it takes and how, even in the new, kinder, softer EQ, how many things can go wrong and how frustrating it can be when they do. 

Last time (Or maybe it was the time before last.) I tried to run a gnome necromancer from Ak'Anon to Freeport I couldn't even get the little bugger on the ship! I'd forgotten how kill crazy those bastard dwarf guards are. I do not want to go through that again!

I'm starting to wonder if I'm finally coming out of my old school mmorpg phase. These days I find newer games a lot more intriguing and entertaining. I'd never say never to going back to an old favorite for just one more run but I'm finding it harder to imagine settling down in an older game for an extended stay.

There was WoW Classic three years ago, of course. I had a great time with that one for a couple of months; really bedded down, dug in, played old school hours, made alts, the whole nine yards. If it hadn't been for the big Blizzard blow-up I might have lasted a while longer but even then I'd probably have been gone by Christmas. Still, that would have been four months and four months is a long run these days.

The thing is, I never did play WoW in the early days. WoW Classic was a new game to me. It did have that crucial element of discovery that drives my engagement much more reliably than nostalgia ever could.

All of which brings me back to the post I thought I was going to write tonight, namely whether the big change to Chimeraland since I last played, the re-translation of all the narrative, quest and explanatory text into good, grammatically correct English, has made gameplay there more or less compelling. Is a game more fun when the systems and mechanics are clearly explained or when you have to figure them out for yourself?

Sadly, though, we seem to have run out of time! Hold that thought. I'll come back to it later.


Sunday, September 25, 2022

Back To Chimeraland, Again. Only Wiith An Invite This Time.

It's been a while since I last played Chimeraland. A tad less than two months to be inexact. It's not that I've lost interest, more that I've not had the time, although I guess maybe it comes to much the same thing in the end. 

I've not even been keeping up with the Chimeraland news. I did spot that there'd been a big update adding dinosaurs to the game but I didn't read the details. Now the game's on Steam, normally I'd see the updates there, but I've barely logged into the platform since I started playing Noah's Heart.

This evening I finally found time to go back and see what's changed since last I visited the old place. Or that was my plan... 

The incentive that nudged me into action was, of course, free stuff. There's a Returning Player event, or perhaps that should be offer, which doesn't seem to have been heavily advertized as yet. 

I saw it mentioned almost as an afterthought in a news item at MassivelyOP. When I clicked through the link it took me to the game's Twitter feed and so far that's the only place I've been able to find the details.

They're not as clear as they could be, either. I've reproduced them here. See if you can make them out. The language is peculiarly lawyerly for a "Please come back - we missed you!" plea, I'd say.

I thought the easiest way to find out if I met "all three conditions" would be to log in and let the game sort it out. There was a substantial patch (I don't let Steam auto-update anything any more. Too many multi-gigabyte updates for games I never play.) and then there I was: back.

Right away a window opened, telling me something about New Traveller's Exclusive Gifts. I took that to be the Come Back offer, which it wasn't. I don't know exactly what it is but it offers a daily reward for fourteen days, whereas  the Return To Chimeraland offer is just eight, so it must be something else. Deductive logic ftw!

Obviously, I took the gifts anyway. Free stuff is free stuff. I closed the window and suddenly I was in a cut scene. Yenni, a very cute... I want to say racoon? appeared and began to guilt trip me in an uncomfortably convincing way. 

I'm sure it won't work on everyone but, honestly, it worked too well on me. Poor Yenni! I left him (Her? Them?) there in the house all alone, all the food ran out, the house began to fall in on itself... When Yenni said "the house is a wreck. All I can do now is stay out of the rain" and started to sob I nearly joined in.

Yenni! I'm so sorry! I'll never leave you ever again! (Fingers crossed behind back emoji.)

Of course, I got my bamboo broom out right away and fixed the house up. I'll have to make sure I feed Yenni, always assuming I can find him again. The cut scene ended very abruptly and I haven't seen him since although there's some rhino sitting in my bedroom. Chimeraland <Shrug>.

Once that was over and I was able to look at the world outside again, my first reaction was "Have they upgraded the graphics?" It looked amazing - much better than I remembered. As far as I can tell nothing's really changed; it's the same as it always was. What I'd forgotten was how much better Chimeraland looks when you're playing it than it does in screenshots.

In game this was an atmospheric, twilit moment. In the screenshot, not so much.

It's odd how that goes. Some games look better in screenies, some worse, some about the same. I think in Chimeraland's case it's that there're a lot of movement and lighting effects that don't come over in a still image. The air is filled with floating motes, there are rainbows and flares everywhere and the intensity, color and quality of the light changes all the time.

Once I'd remembered how to take screenshots without the UI and how to get the cursor to stay on, I started to click on every icon that was glowing or flashing or otherwise trying to draw itself to my attention. There were a lot.

Why would you downvote that? Why??

One turned out to be the thing I was looking for but before I found it I came across another addition to the game I'd not heard about. There's now something called an Atelier, which appears to be a galery of people's houses and characters. 

You can submit selfies and shots of your home and other people can "Like" them. Or, sadly, "Unlike" them. Whether either has any effect other than to boost or crush the creator's ego I can't say. 

Nope, not these either, although I'll take them and thank-you very much.
I know from bitter experience in EverQuest II that decorators can be viciously competetive, more than capable of organizing cabals to downvote anyone they don't like. For that reason, I'm not really in favor of competitive structures for creative content in mmorpgs. I am very much in favor of shop windows for talent, though. I hope that's all this is. 

When I finally found the window with the Returning Player offer it was still not entirely clear what I was going to get. At first I thought I'd come in a couple of days late and was going to have to start in the middle but once I'd pressed "Claim" things sorted themselves out.

I think these must be the ones.
A lot of the rewards are temporary outfits, pets or titles. I don't much enjoy those in any game. I have a bunch in Noah's Heart and I haven't even opened them. Then there are the inevitable currencies and materials, all of which are useful to players who are progressing but not so exciting for casual players dropping back on a whim.

None of that matters when you realize there's also a full set of "Tier 9 Excellent" quality gear to be had if you manage the full eight days. For my first day back I got a fan, an excellent and elegant weapon. I'll definitely try to make it in for the other seven days. The gear will be a huge upgrade.

These too, although it looks like they cost something, so they're not really "gifts", are they?
After that I started to look at what else was new but it was absolutely overwhelming. There's a new survey, which I started to complete, but other than my age and level I could barely answer a question. Everything referred to stuff I'd never heard of, far less tried.  

It's good to have a fan.
A lot of it looked very interesting, too. As well as all the dinosaur stuff there's a new event featuring "merfolk" that comes with new housing material so you can build a house out of shells. Also you can turn yourself into a merperson. That looks well worth exploring.

The whole tutorial/new player experience has been revamped. I'd like to sewhat that's like. It certainly looks a lot different in the quest journal. 

Perhaps best of all, you can now Blueprint your house so you can move it (Relatively) painlessly to another location. That makes me think it might be worth my going back to my SEA server account. I have a lovely house there I'd like to move to somewhere less slummy. I just hope the system works better than the one in Landmark...

Chimeraland is such a strange, intriguing, fascinating game. In many ways it's better than the one I dropped it to play. Maybe I should return to Chimeraland.

Or maybe I already have.

Friday, September 23, 2022

One Song Leads To Another

A few days back I was all fired up to do a music post. Unfortunately, I couldn't decide what it was going to be about. I had a few ideas but they all required work and I wasn't in the mood. I thought I might use my magic lucky dip algorithm but I forgot where I put it, so that was that. 

In the end I figured I'd just do "Stuff I've Heard Recently", like I said I was going to, only when I went to the folder the files were bare or however that goes. Seems I haven't been listening to much that's new of late.

Well, there's only one way to fix that. Okay, there are loads of ways buthe easiest of all is to sift through YouTube and hope you strike gold. For that you need a seed to get started. My seed was Fran

I came across Fran only yesterday, by way of a post on Stereogum. As a source of new music, Stereogum's a bit hit or miss, for me. I suppose all music zines are but Stereogum has some particular areas of interest that don't much interest me at all, like hardcore and post-hardcore. They write a lot about those, or anyway it seems like a lot when you're trying to skip round it all, like I am.

Consequently, I don't always - or even mostly - click through. I'm not sure why I clicked through Fran but I did and I was glad. I liked what I heard. Not crazy in love with it or anything, you understand. Just curious enough to follow through to see what else she'd done. And I liked what I found next even more.

Let's begin with a couple of those. The first link in the chain's over at Stereogum, if you're minded. I see no need to pop it out here.


That's So Surreal and Company and they both really remind me of something else although I can't quite say what. Company sounds like Jane Weaver, I know that much. I love the video for that one or rather I love the shots of Fran on her scooter. She's not actually called "Fran", by the way. She's called Maria Jacobson. More of that later.

I was on my Kindle Fire in bed, doing all this. I was getting pretty sleepy, but I noticed some interesting recommendations, so even though I was tired I thought I'd better press on. Lots of very low view numbers. I spend a lot of time trying to fool YouTube into showing me things no-one wants to watch, something it very much doesn't like to do. It'd be rude to ignore it when it was giving me want I wanted for once. 

There was one name that jumped out at me: Jet City Sports Club. That's a great name. So many allusions. The link went to a live show in Sydney, suggesting the band was Australian. It is. A lot of good music coming out of Australia these days. Or perhaps I should say not coming out. Staying in, really, judging by the viewing numbers.

Two versions of Redfern Station there. I think I prefer the live take just for the frailty of it. Again, they remind me of a whole load of stuff including, weirdly but obviously, the magnificent Footscray Station by Scott and Charlene's Wedding. They even sound something alike in a very obscure, parallel universe kind of way. 

I dug a little deeper into Jet City Sports Club's back catalog and everything I saw and heard impressed me plenty. I could fill the rest of the post with tunes by them but there's a lot to fit in so that'll have to wait for another day.

From there my next jump was to The Vovos. It's not the greatest name, is it? I have no idea if it means something. I suppose it must. The reason I went there was the song title: Jessica Day. I'm an absolute sucker for songs that are just names. Especially girls's names. Especially melifluous girls' names that sound like they might be made up.

Okay, I know what that reminds me of - Pony Up! You know it's a good day when everything new reminds you of something old you never got enough of when it was new. Pony Up! haven't made a record for, what, fifteen years? 

The Vovos turn out be... Australian. I thought I could hear the accent but I found out for sure this morning, when I spent a couple of exceptionally pleasant hours retracing my tablet tracks on desktop. Let me tell you, "Fran" is not an easy place to start, which is how I lucked into this:

Now, that may not be the greatest Sweet Jane cover of all time but it's one of the oddest. Not because of what it sounds like - it sounds like Sweet Jane - but because it's on the YouTube channel of "a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers", a prolific vlogger whose most popular post (Over 2m views) is called "It's Official: UFOs Are Real. So What Are They???" Very interesting video, by the way. The Pentagon report to Congress she mentions did appear but apparently didn't shed much light. Who ever thought it would?

Fran also has a Lou Reed story, which is somewhat more germane to this post. Lou comes out of it both well and not so well, like he always does. Fran makes a thirty second anecdote last eight minutes which is a perpetual issue with vlogging. Like I can talk... 

Anyway... in the end I had to go look up the Stereogum piece again to find the name of the song before I could find the Fran I was looking for. Sometimes videos have low view counts for reasons entirely unrelated to their content. Even when I was back where I started, it didn't help as much as it should have done.

I've complained before about the flakiness of YouTube's recommendation algorithm. You never get back exactly what you put in even if you try to step in your own footsteps. Fortunately I remembered the name of one of the bands I'd watched before I fell asleep last night. Just as well because it didn't come up again.

See, "Fran"? This is what you want. A memorable name. Something like The Witchcraft Merit Badge. Not that that's what they're called, ironically. They're just "Merit Badge", I think. It's unclear. They seem to go by both. It doesn't really matter because I don't much like anything else they've done other than this, which is a) a cover and b) sung by someone who isn't in the band. It's called Bad Diary Days and the original is by Pedro the Lion.

I prefer the cover, which is often the case. And it seems we're doing covers now. I didn't plan for it. It just happened. We've had two already and there are more coming. Remember The Vovos? You should - it was only half a dozen paragraphs ago we were talking about them. Here they are again, covering, of all people, the Spice Girls.

I always liked the Spice Girls. Whether the Vovos do is less clear. I have no idea if it was their choice or whether it's some deal of the show, Spicks and Specks. The host introduces it as "their version of tonight's secret song". It's a corking cover anyway, a proper reinvention as all the best covers are.  

Wannabe always was a great song but maybe not as great a song as Psycho Killer. I'll leave whether the Spice Girls were a better band than Talking Heads hanging but I will say you won't see many better covers of the old David Byrne classic than this unlikely team-up between bogan punks The Chats and hip-hop/r&b singer Genesis Owusu.  

That's extraordinary for so many reasons. The Chats are so tight. Their bonehead image belies a postmodern wit and some serious musical chops. They're absolutely the real punk deal. 

Owosu clearly has an old school punk rock pedigree, too, although where he acquired it as a Ghanaian/Australian born in 1998 is anyone's guess. In case this isn't evidence enough (It definitely is.) check his Like A Version choice. 

That's Anarchy In The UK reinvented as a Lip Up Fatty era ska stomper, speeded up. Bits even sound like the Jim Carrol Band doing People Who Died, although that might just be me. You could boil a kettle on the energy he's putting out although it'd need to be a big one.

And that's probably (More than) enough for one post. Also it's all I've got. Well, all I got from that particular hunter-gatherer session, anyway. I do have a few more fresh tidbits tucked away, though. Maybe we should enjoy them before they go stale (Not that they would. Good tunes are timeless.)

Okay, just a couple more then...

Can't go a whole music post with no hyperpop at all, can we? That's Fruity by Chloe Moriondo. Over half a million views since August. It's not just me who likes this stuff, you know... Chloe made their name with covers. They're collected here if you're interested. All fifty-two of them...

And finally... no, really... please, you're too kind but I have to be going now...

Courtney Marie Andrews with a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorse: These Are The Good Old Days.  Musically speaking, that is. Probably needed to clarify that.

She's from Phoenix Arizona but next month she's playing a gig twelve miles from where I'm sitting. I won't be going, although I did actually see a live band only this weekend, the first in many years. I filmed some of it on my phone, too. Maybe the footage will turn up on my YouTube channel one day. 

We're all content creators now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Digging Deeper Into Noah's Heart

I'm sure what everyone wants to know is how I'm getting on with Noah's Heart. Thank you for asking. I'm doing very nicely, as it happens. I haven't missed a single day since launch, exactly two months ago.

I have one character, Califa. She's Level 78, Adventurer Level 18, Career Level 34. Her house is Level 8. She's a Level 3 Craftsman and Level 2 in both Masterchef and Tailor.

My Valhalla is Level 69 with ten unlocked slots, three of them still unused. My current team is Charlie, Philo, Ave and Euclid. They are Level 2*, 4*,1* and 6* respectively. 

Califa is Diamond III in Fantasy Arena but only Silver I in Honor Arena. At 5222 points she's still a thousand shy of making the top fifty rankings in FA.

I've completed 100% of the first three Seasons - Light and Shadow, Scarlet Mark Mystery and Soul Inspired Art. 

There are seven people on my friends list, which can hold 60 names. I'm in a guild called ΛΣĞΙΩΝ, which is Level 3, has 89 members and a guild hall.

That's probably enough raw data to be going on with, although it's barely scraping the surface. Let me flesh it out a little, starting with the guild.

I joined my guild entirely by accident. I was coming out of an instance when a pop-up appeared as I zoned back into the open world. I clicked on it reflexively, thinking it was a reward for the instance I'd just done. It turned out to be a drive-by guild invite. 

Having joined, I thought I might as well see what a guild could do for me. Plenty, it seems. I was able to finish a mission I'd had hanging around for ages that was asking me to buy something from the Guild Store, for a start. Being a member of a guild also opened up several new dailies. 

The guild appears to be Greek in origin or at least the name, MOTD and all guild notices are in that language. You might think it would be awkward but so far I've never heard anyone speak. The language issue hasn't arisen.

Until today I was very happy in my silent guild. I've been making guild donations, receiving guild payments and occasionally joining in with guild events. Only yesterday I discovered we had a guild hall, which made me oddly happy for some reason, as if I'd somehow had something to do with it.

It's been all the fun of a guild without any of the stress so I was more than a little miffed to receive a message after today's update telling me the guild will be disbanded in 24 hours due to "Low Health".

I can't deny the guild is clearly in steep decline. Of the 89 members, only nine have registered any form of Guild Contribution this week. Mine was the second-highest and I've barely done anything. 

Even so, I can't see the rationale for forcibly disbanding us unless inactive guilds somehow place unacceptable stress on the server infrastructure, which seems highly unlikely. It seems like a commercially shortsighted move. You don't usually want to give people a reason to leave your game but kicking them out of their guild is likely to do just that.

I won't be leaving Noah's Heart just because my guild went pfutt. I'm enjoying myself far too much for that. I will look for another, though, which makes this the first time in years I've done that. I just hope I can find another guild where no-one speaks, only this time one where they do actually contribute.

Friendship is a similar story. I've had the usual smattering of drive-by friend invites but for once I've been accepting them. So far, none of my "friends" has attempted to communicate with me in any way other than to send me Friendship Points. There's a daily and a reward for doing that so I click the button every day and so, I guess, does everyone else. The points keep piling up.

Friendship Points are useful because you can buy extra Summons with them at a rate of ten points a spin. There are probably other things you can do with them, too, but what those might be I haven't discovered yet.

Speaking of summoning Phantoms, I was fortunate enough to get my third SSR yesterday. She's called Gretel Alexander, a name I can't place in any historical context... oh, wait a moment... I just got it! She's Alexander the Great, isn't she? OMG! that is brilliant! Seriously, that's just genius, isn't it? If someone at Archosaur can craft such excellent English puns, how come the rest of the translation is so bad?

Ahem, sorry, back to the post...

The problem with getting new SSRs is they're very slow to level up without spending money. I can shove them in Valhalla to raise their numerical level but to upgrade their star rating I have to find shards of the same character, which is a tough proposition. All my Rs and SRs are ranking up quite nicely but I've been working on getting Ave her second star for what seems like weeks and I probably still have seven to ten days to go.

Meanwhile, I've been playing around with the team lineup. You can store a number of team builds. Currently I have room for six. I found it made quite a difference when I swapped them around, especially in PvP. There seem to be some synergies I don't quite understand so it's very much a work in progress but it's a fun little game-within-a-game.

The main reason I was doing it was to try and win more matches in the Fantasy Arena. That's the one where your phantoms fight someone else's phantoms while you watch. For a while there I was steamrolling everyone by the simple trick of paying attention to the numbers. 

You can refresh the screen as often as you want to get a new slate of potential opponents. You can see their team's Strength rating, which phantoms they're playing and what their levels and stars are. It's fairly easy to work out who you can and can't beat that way... or it was.

Unfortunately, I have become something of a victim of my own success. By cherry-picking opponents I successfully raised my own standing until my Rank far outpaced my Strength. At Diamond III the average Strength looks to be somewhere around 175-250k. Mine's 114k.

For a long time I was able to find suitable matches by being patient and refreshing the options but now I'm lucky to find anyone even close to my Strength level. Finding anyone weaker than me is like Hannibal Lecter bobbing for apples.

I do have the option of downgrading. Every time you win a match you gain points but every time you lose it's the opposite. In original EverQuest you could lose your level; here you can lose your rank. I've already dropped back to Diamond IV once.

Rather than intentionally de-level, my plan is to work on improving my Strength rating but first I have to determine exactly what factors affect it. I know the level and star rating of your phantoms makes a big difference but I'm not sure if things like the level of their weapons has any effect.

In fact, I still have only the sketchiest idea how most of the systems in Noah's Heart work. There are so many of them and they all have so many levels and ranks and stats. It wouldn't be a bad idea to sit down and start changing things one at a time while making notes but do I really want to invest that much mental energy in what was supposed to be a light, fluffy, amuse-bouche of a game?

Probably a bit late to start worrying about that. I'm already playing two or three hours most days and barely doing any open world exploration at all, let alone working on upgrading and decorating my house. Even though I'm not spending any money, I still seem somehow to have managed to get myself tangled up in its myriad progression systems, most of which can be operated and maintained from the UI. It's not so much playing a game as tinkering with a construction set.

This would be a good time to start doing some proper exploring. We're on hiatus as we wait for Season Three to begin. When I finished Season Two there was an ominous prequel to the next, all black background and flowery language. I'm looking forward to it already. Today's update notes suggest it's already here but I can't see it in game. Maybe tomorrow?

Until it arrives, I have an opening of opportunity. Seasons have been occupying most of my time and I got into a routine for doing them that I have yet to break. I'm still doing all the dailies I need to get 200 Active Points every day, even though I no longer need those points to open the next tranche of Seasonal content.

Of course, those dailies also give me a ton of rewards, almost all of which I need for other things. Every activity seems to give you something you need for something else. You can find yourself in a closed loop that can be hard to break out of just to go exploring. It's worth it when you do, though. There's so much to see.

In fact, I think I'll go see some of it right now. Deeper into the Heart we go!

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