Wednesday, November 30, 2022

I'm Coming! I'm Coming! Just Give Me An Hour To Get Dressed...

 As Wilhelm noted, today marks the launch of EverQuest II's latest expansion, Renewal of Ro. It's just as well he mentioned it. I'd forgotten and, somewhat surprisingly, Daybreak don't seem to have sent me a reminder.

There was scheduled downtime lasting five hours before the servers opened on the new lands. I'm guessing it went to plan because by the time I finished walking Beryl, cooking her chicken and feeding it to her, it was half an hour past the appointed hour and there were three instances of the opening zone, Raj'Dur Plateaus already up and running.

For once, there was no frenzied scurrying, trying to find out how to get there. The Message of the Day gave clear instructions. All we had to do was find a magic carpet in one of the home cities and we'd be whisked away on our great adventure.

I had been planning on finishing the Panda quests first but it occured to me that, based on previous expansions, as soon as I got there I'd be junking pretty much everything in favor of the free catch-up gear lying on the ground next to the first questgiver.

That indeed proved to be the case. The stuff in the box is 390 Resolve, a huge upgrade from the 315 of the Hua Collector's gear, even though that's only a matter of weeks old. At this point, I really can't see the point of the Panda quests, or at least not of the equippable gear they reward. It's hard to see who would use it, except maybe people who don't buy the expansion but still play endgame from the last one. Does anyone really do that?

Of course, the Tishan's gear itself is only a stopgap. The rewards from the two quests I took at the docks are upgrades to it. Then again, if you don't equip the starting gear, good luck doing those first quests unless you're in full raid gear fron the last expansion!

Gearing up from the box is not a simple process, as I learned to my cost several expansions ago. There are numerous Adornments to check, fit and replace, some of which are Lore and clash with things you're probably already using. I imagine it's going to take me an hour to get myself sorted out and that's just doing the bare minimum.

I'm also beginning to get a little desperate for a new mercenary. My current one is from the expansion before last and while he's still keeping me upright, I think it might be asking a bit much of him to go one more round. I was excited to see this cheery-looking fellow hanging out his shingle in the dockland area but sadly he wouldn't do more than pass the time of day with me. I hope he'll be more communicative when I've done... something. Not sure what, yet.

Since an hour was about all I had, if I was going to get this post done before bed, I had to content myself with a quick explore around the harbor and a very tentative peek at the desert beyond. Again from experience, I know that without the new gear I'll be one-shotted by the first aggressive wildlife that spots me trying to sneak past.

The canyon at the back of the docks led to what looked remarkably like the open sea and was, disturbingly, strewn with dead sheep. When I cautiously poked my nose around the cliffs I found out what had been kiling them. Vultures.

And that's as far - and as close - as I got. I already have a quest to kill those vultures, along with some non-aggressive mites I passed on the sands, but both of them would very definitely be picking my bones within seconds if I was rash enough to take them on.

That's going to have to wait until tomorrow, after I've sorted out my gear and done the dozen other necessary things one always has to do at the start of a new expansion, the first of which is going to be deciding who to take through the Signature line first. I'm leaning towards my Necromancer. It's been far too long since I played a pet class in EQII.

Then again, my Berserker's already there...

Monday, November 28, 2022

Monday, Friday. Wednesday.

It's Monday. What better time for one of those Friday Grab Bags?

Let's start with a quick What Am I Playing? I don't generally do those, although generically the entire blog is one infinitely extended WAIP post, I guess.

Mostly, it's Lord of the Rings Online and Noah's Heart. I have now logged into Noah's Heart every day for nearly four months, which must put it right at the top of the stack for imports I've played. I've certainly spent more hours in other Korean or Chinese games but I can't think of any I've played for this many consecutive days.

LotRO is also doing me very nicely right now. I'm in the happy position of not being able to get as much time in the game as I'd like (Too many hours dog-walking and doing other real-life stuff.) Much better to want to play more than you can find time to fit in than not feeling it at all, I think.

In terms of blogging, though, I'm not getting much in the way of ideas from either of them at the moment. On the contrary, I actually find myself preferring just to play without thinking about whether something I see or do might make a post. I guess that's a good thing although I'm not entirely sure.

Other than those two, I dip into my Steam and Amazon Games libraries now and again, mostly for a quick fix of point and click adventure. I finished the third title in the Secret Files series a week or so back. I think it must have been some kind of bonus episode because it was maybe a quarter the length of the first two. It was also a lot easier. Either that or I'm attuned to the house style, now. Whatever, I didn't need to resort to a walkthrough even once, which might be a record.

I also finished a free title, If On A Winter's Night, Four Travellers, which I came across somewhere. I forget where so if it was on your blog I apologise. It was very moody and atmospheric and the ending blindsided me completely. I even liked the pixel art. I may be softening on that aesthetic. Or crumbling.

Other than those, I've popped into Chimeraland and Guild Wars 2 briefly, mostly to pick up freebies. I haven't logged into New World for a couple of weeks but I haven't intentionally jumped ship. I need to pop into EverQuest II to do the last of the panda quests, too. I think that's about it.

With that out of the way, let's move on to What I'm Not Playing. Dragonflight

Well, obviously I'm not playing a million other games too but the new World of Warcraft expansion is the only we care about, isn't it? I'preparing myself mentally for the next couple of weeks, when Dragonflight is going to be all anybody wants to talk about.

I almost certainly wouldn't be playing it anyway, of course. I have literally never bought or played a WoW expansion at launch, so it would be disingenuous of me to claim any moral high ground. Still, I do find it a little unsettling just how completely the game and the company behind it have slipped back onto almost everyone's "currently playing" list. Has anything materially changed? Would we even know if it had?

I was planning on re-assessing my position when the Microsoft buyout went through, which I thought would have been before this. Now it looks as if it might not happen at all. I wonder where that will leave us all? 

I'd be fudging if I said I wasn't interested in playing Dragonflight at all, though. Most of the things I've read about it make it sound more attractive than most previous expansions the game's had. More laid-back, less hyperactive, dare I say more casual? I'd be curious to see how that impression stands up to experience, although maybe not curious enough to pay for the damn thing. Looking forward to reading some reviews from people whose experience and judgment I value.

What I Might Be Playing comes next. I'm not talking about the obvious EverQuest II expansion, due at the end of the month. I'm thinking of the Mistlands update in Valheim.

I'm in two minds about it. I'd like to see the new content but I definitely don't want to start over. I tried that a while back and it absolutely did not take. Fortunately, there's still a good portion of my original world I haven't opened up yet so I'm hoping there will be some patches of Mistland in there, somewhere.

I was very impressed with the promotional video. The thing certainly captures a mood, that's for sure. Iron Gate are quite adept at getting more out of less. I could do with fewer fast cuts but I can see why they wouldn't want to let the camera linger on some of the shaky graphics.They always look much better in game.

How about What Am I Watching? I'm glad you asked! The same as everyone else, of course - Wednesday, currently #1 on Netflix UK.

Bit of an open goal, really at least where I'm concerned. I've been a low-key Addams Family fan since childhood. It was a show I always tried to watch back when it was there or thereabouts new. I much preferred it to the Munsters, which I liked but, even as a ten-year old, found a bit silly.

I saw the first two Addams Family movies at the cinema although I kind of lost touch with the franchise after that. I also loved the unofficial Adult Wednesday Addams YouTube shorts, as has been evidenced here these last two Halloweens. 

I'm also a low-key Tim Burton fan, although I don't like everything he's done. I was a bit wary when I heard he was behind this latest addition to the chronicles. He's a little too... colorful... sometimes. 

I'm delighted to say all such fears seem to have been unfounded. I'm four episodes in and loving it. I'll save detailed comment for when I've seen the lot but I'll just say that if you're not watching it, you probably ought to give it a try.

Lastly, What Am I Planning? Something! Nothing original, for sure, but something I haven't done here on the blog before: a Musical Advent Calendar.

Yeah, right. Like I have any idea how to set that up. No, what I'm planning is a post a day from the First of December to Christmas Eve, each with a single Christmas song plucked from YouTube. Nothing too obvious but also nothing completely unlistenable. I've already packed away the first dozen and I can tell you, they're thick on the ground already.

I got the idea from the surreal sight of the two remaining members of Run-DMC, now in their mid-50s, performing one of my all-time favorite Christmas tunes, Christmas in Hollis, as part of The Wonderful World Of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration. You couldn't, as the saying goes, make it up.

It won't be instead of regular posts. It'll be a bonus. A gift, if you will. Or, indeed, if you won't. It'll be fun, anyway. For me, that is.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

A Feather In My Cap

One of the many things I appreciate about Noah's Heart is the excellent costume design. I do like playing dress-up.

I maxed my Affection with Charlie Babbage a couple of weeks back, crafted a copy of her outfiit and I've been wearing it ever since. I'm now working on becoming BFFs with Jenny Watt, so I can wear her designer dungarees.

It isn't really all that hard to max Affection. It just takes time and Energy. I could probably blitz it in a few days but I'm content to chip away at it, a few gifts every time I log in.

Somewhat surprisingly, I find I like the way I have to work at getting each signature look. It really gives me something to look forward to. I'm upgrading my fighting gear as well, of course, but none of that displays, so getting a new piece isn't as exciting as it might be in other games, where you can see it on your character as soon as you put it on.

Anyone who's been paying attention (There must be someone...) will already have spotted I'm no longer wearing my bunny ears. I still have them and I'll definitely wear them again but now I have a new hat! I was very lucky last week. I won a lovely headband with a feather in it in one of the regular mini-games, Planet Hunt.

It's not an easy game to do well in without spending real money, which is precisley what it's there to encourage you to do, naturally. You have to spin a wheel to move a car along a track to reach a chest and you get one or two free spins each day. There are various tracks of different lengths and every couple of weeks the whole thing resets, so you have to start again.

There's a bit more to it than that. I won't bore you with the details. The point is, I always play the game because there are small prizes at every stage but I usually don't reach the chest before the game resets so I don't expect to get a shot at the main prize at all. Only this time I did. 

Even when you manage to get the chest, there's only a very small chance you'll find one of the big prizes inside. The game very decently gives you the percentages for everything you might be thinking of spending money on, up front. The chance of getting the feathered headband in most of the chests is less than 2%.

Luckily for me, the chest at the end of my track happened to be the Feathers Garment Headware Surprise Pack, which has a whopping 20% chance of dropping the hat. Or, if you prefer, an 80% chance of not dropping it, but I'm a glass-one-fifth-full kind of guy.

And my optimism was rewarded. I won! I've been wearing my feathered headband proudly ever since.

 I'm very easily pleased. It's a gift, you know.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Just The Facts?

The Lifespan of a Fact - Wikipedia 

"Thank God it's Friday" would be an extremely inappropriate way for me to begin a post these days. I never work Fridays any more but I do work every other Saturday, so it would be like saying "Thank God it's Monday". Or at least on alternate weeks it would.

This is exactly the kind of factual nit-picking that ruins a freestyling mood piece, isn't it? Not that I'm sayihg that's what this was going to be. It wasn't, as it happens. Still, if that kind of obsessive, almost ritualistic textual analysis either grates your teeth or zings your strings (Not a recognized expression.) then let me recommend a fascinating book I just read. 

Hang on. I left it downstairs. I'll just go get it. Maybe make yourself a coffee or something while you wait...

Okay, found it. Here we go. It's called "The Lifespan of a Fact" and it's by John D'Agata, author and Jim Fingal, fact-checker. That's how they're credited on the cover, lower case and all. But you can see that.

The book's ten years old, having been published in 2012 (Well, yes, it would be then, wouldn't it?) and it seems to be famous enough to have its own Wikipedia entry. Okay, it does have its own Wikipedia entry so there's no seeming about it. Any doubt cast on its fame by that word is unjustified.

I warn you know, this is how you'll end up thinking if you read it. For a while you'll find yourself unable to read a single sentence without parsing it for logical inconsistencies, factual errors and all-round subjectivity. It's really annoying.

Even so, I heartily recommend it. I'd never heard of it before I took it out of a box at work. I was unpacking and receiving the day's delivery and this particular item stood out. It just looked odd.

It also had the expression "fact-checker" on the cover and I've been mildly intrigued by the whole concept of making a living by looking stuff up to make sure someone else hadn't gotten it wrong since I first came across the idea in a movie back in the 1980s. Now, which movie would that have been?

Let me think. It was set in New York but that really isn't going to help much. I'm borderline obsessed by anything set in New York. Have been since I was a teenager. I'm actually reading a book, Pineapple Street, right now that I only picked up because it's set in New York. 

Okay, not literally "reading right now", since literally right now I'm typing this sentence, although not as you read it, when I could be doing pretty much anything. Alright, not anything. Something that, at time of writing or reading, cannot be specified due to lack of information. Or a time machine. You see how this could so easily spiral out of control? Okay, let's move on...

I'm still trying to think what that movie could have been. Maybe Bright Lights, Big City, the adaptation of Jay McInerney's bratpack classic? 

Whoah! Yes! Got it in one! Now that's what I call fact-checking. Or memory. One of the two. Here's confirmation from the Wikipedia entry "The film follows one week in the life of 24-year-old Jamie Conway. Originally from Pennsylvania, Jamie works as a fact-checker for a major New York City magazine".

Of course, a real fact-checker like Jim Fingal wouldn't think much of anyone who used Wikipedia as a source. He says something disparaging about it somewhere in the book although I very much doubt I can find where and I certainly don't have time to look. You'll just have to take my word for it, something Jim hears a lot from John.

The thrust of the book is an existential wrestling match between reality and imagination, held in the venue where the two supposedly meet, namely literary non-fiction. It calls into question both the feasibility and advisability of sticking strictly to the facts when revisiting events that reportedly happened - and by using "reportedly" there I'm setting a trap for myself into which I don't intend to fall.

You can, if you like, (Fall into the trap, that is.) but I suggest you read the book first. I found it "provocative, maddening and compulsively readable", which exactly what Maggie Nelson is quoted as saying about it on the front cover. 

And who is Maggie Nelson? Wikipedia (Them again! I'd never get a job checking facts for a major New York City magazine with my sloppy methodology, that's for sure.) describes  her, entirely unhelpfully but quite probably accurately as "a genre-busting writer defying classification". 

Assuming she's been quoted accurately, which she certainly hasn't by me, as we'll find out if I ever get to the end of this sentence, she's also an adherent of the Oxford Comma. I am not. I have, therefore, excised said comma from the quote, meaning it's no longer a wholly accurate representation of what she said. But it keeps the meaning intact, I believe. 

This is the sort of thing Jim and John argue about, although not really, since neither of them appear to be grammar nazis. They do, however, dig in and scuffle over details that seem incredibly trivial to one of them but immensely important to the other. What's at stake is nothing less than the truth, only the problem is neither of them agrees on what the truth really is.

It doesn't help that the nominal subject of the essay John's trying to get past Jim so it can finally be published (It takes them seven years to hammer out an agreement.) is an incident whose exact details, in common with just about any past event, neither of them can ever unambiguously know.

Which might be kind of the point. I'm not sure. By the time I got to the end I found myself pretty much siding with both of them. And that's almost certainly the point.

Anyway, I felt like I'd learned a lot and maybe even grown a little. Intellectually, that is. I'm not any taller. Or at least I don't think I am. I didn't measure myself before and after reading the boook. Maybe I should have...

If I had to come down on one side or the other, though, I think I'd edge just a tad closer to John. Seeing Jim trying to nail down "facts" like whether a specific slot machine was or was not named after a short-lived televison game show made me realise I could probably afford to let a few more things go when I do the edits on these posts.

As John says, when Jim calls him on that one, "It really and truly does not matter that there was a short-running television show that could or could not have been the source for the name of this slot machine". Or maybe it does. I don't know.

I do know that I'm going to be thinking about whether or not things like that matter even more than I already was, every time I write one of these things, so thanks for that, I guess, John and Jim. 

It's a good read, all the same. I recommend it.

Oh, and by the way, this was supposed to be one of those "Friday Grab-Bag" posts, which is how I came to open with that "Thank God it's Friday" thing. 

Just look where that got me. Screw whimsy, eh?

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Before The Shadow: Big Skies, Small Horizons

Before The Shadow is turning out to be a very good purchase. I've only managed three sessions so far but they've been lengthy- a couple of hours and more each time. It's mostly been proper, focused gameplay, too. I've been sticking to the main questline, only picking up side-quests as and when I find them. Which is often. There are a lot of quests.

Even so, after as many hours, I'm still less than halfway through level 7, suggesting I could be at this for quite some time. With a reported "expansion cap" somewhere around the low thirties, I can see this becoming my second-longest run in Lord of the Rings Online to date.

I first picked up the game sometime back in the late noughties, when I made it to around Level 40. (The cap was 50 at the time.) If I'm remembering correctly, it took me about three months to get there but it might not have been quite as long as that. Maybe it just felt like it.

I do know that by the end things had gotten very grindy indeed and when some stranger royally pissed me off one Sunday morning, making some entitled roleplaying demands I wasn't interested in meeting,  I grabbed the opportunity to flounce out, taking Mrs Bhagpuss with me. She's never played again. I have, many times.

I'm in there, somewhere. Hobbits are, like, really short, y'know?

I'm even still playing on that same server, mostly because I'm too mean, stubborn and lazy to move. Frankly, it hasn't improved much in the last decade. Last night I had to switch World chat off because I couldn't take the ceaseless bickering over whether housing is or isn't a core part of the game and whether Standing Stone are or are not justified in making housing items the lead attraction in their Black Friday offer.

Without the players, however, Before the Shadow becomes a charming divertissement indeed. The new zones are as huge as these screenshots suggest. I got distracted by the sheer scale of the landscape while out questing last night and found myself climbing to the tops of several crags just to get a better view.

While I was exploring, I ran into some orcs, brigands and footpads, for none of which had I been given quests to hunt or kill. Naturally, this being an mmorpg and I a seasoned mmorpg player, I killed them anyway and I was very glad I did. Several dropped armor and weapons that weren't just far better than anything I had but also much better than anything any questgiver had seen fit to hand out as a reward. 

Yep, these planks all seem fine to me.

This seems like an interesting quirk. The structured gameplay in the new starting zone is clearly defined, with a central narrative and regular breadcrumb quests leading the player to each new quest hub. It would seem sensible, therefore, to stick to the schedule, go where you're sent and do as you're asked, an approach that's become almost compulsory in most modern mmorpgs. 

Despite that, and even though Before The Shadow is entirely composed of newly-written content, it seems the old ways persist. When LotRO launched, back in 2007, World of Warcraft had already begun resetting the parameters for the genre with its quest-based levelling mechanics but the pre-existing practices of older games like EverQuest or Dark Age of Camelot, where grinding mobs for both xp and gear had long been the baseline, still exerted a powerful influence on game design.

All this second-person reported speech takes a bit of getting used to. It has a serious distancing effect on the narrative, too.
You might have thought the supposedly good currency of questing would have driven out the bad of random mob-killing by now but evidently not, at least in LotRO. Good for Standing Stone! I love levelling up by wandering about, killing anything that can't kill me, then stealing their stuff and using it for myself. It's a simple but eternally satisfying gameplay loop.

Of course, the nature of the quests I'm being offered might have something to do with my enthusiasm for off-piste slaughter, too. I know the early stages of the game have a reputation for cosiness, particularly when Hobbits are involved, but some of the things I'm being asked to get involved with really stretch the definition of "adventuring" well past breaking point.

I forgot the one about finding
some guy's lost boot..

There was the butcher who wanted me to go round the village, collecting next week's meat orders, tacked to his customers' front doors. Or how about the mother who sent me out to look for her five children, none of whom she had the least clue where they might be, just to tell them their tea was ready?

Things like that make the time when I was tasked with retrieving a single, lost arrow, supposedly stolen by a mysterious beast, only to be asked to wash it when I brought it back because it had monster spit on it, seem almost reasonable. Even something as straightforward as swimming across the river to look behind a waterfall, just in case something might be hiding behind it, as one paranoid Hobbit had me do, felt like reckless risk-taking by local standards.

So determinedly trivial are many of the quests that simply being sent to check out some hill where orcs might be hiding (They aren't.) or to retrieve a book from some bandits seems like high adventure. The civillians are bad enough but the local authorities are even worse. 

The bridge inspector, who didn't feel up to working one day and sent me to check the planks for her, had a better claim on my time than the so-called Mayor, a Hobbit so lazy he couldn't even be bothered to tack his weekly meat order on the door but still expected me, a total stranger, only in town to warn him of the impending orcish threat, to go out and kill animals for him just so he could feed his blasted dog!

And yet, somehow, none of it sends my blood pressure soaring. Rather, it all feels surprisngly relaxing. It's old school mmorpg gameplay with all the sharp edges sanded away to leave nothing more than a gentle nub; the adventuring equivalent of a cosy armchair and a pair of slippers. 

If things carry on like this for another twenty-five levels, I won't be complaining - although that might just be because I'll be fast asleep.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Dude, Where's My House?

Chimeraland is one of the many, many titles on the ever-growing list of mmorpgs I mean to go back to someday but, since I only just bought the new mini-expansion for another game on that list, Lord of the Rings Online, a couple of days ago, that day wasn't supposed to be today.

When I came to log into LotRO, though, it was down for a scheduled update. Isn't it always the way? As it happened, only a few minutes earlier I'd read a news item on MassivelyOP about the latest update to Chimeraland and it sounded intriguing so I thought I might as well go take a look at that while I waited.

There were a couple of things in the update I was curious to see, particularly the Nine-tailed Fox. My character is a fox already but she only has the one tail. I'd be up for eight more.

The "Child Beasts" sounded interesting, too, if more than a little creepy. I thought I might go have a look for some of those, always assuming I could figure out what and where they were, never a given in Chimeraland..

In the event, neither of those headline items took up much of my time after I'd patched and logged in. What did was something I'd barely noticed in the announcement, buried as it was in the small print; the merger of another pair of servers, one of which appears to be mine.

At least, I'm assuming that's the reason I found myself standing on the doorstep of a large and impressive castle when I finally got into the game. Last I remember, I logged out in my house several weeks ago, having taken the trouble to register my presence prior to the last merger round. This time I'd been unaware further contractions were planned so it looks like my claim on the plot has been gazumped by someone who actually plays the game.

Fair enough. I really can't complain. Use it or lose it, as the saying goes. And I have to admit the structure now standing where my half-built shack used to be is a lot more impressive. 

Not only that but the whole area seems to have undergone some sort of gentrification as a result of the merger. Where mine used to be one of the few homes in the area and even one of the more developed, now there are towers and mansions in all directions. I guess whichever server was merged into Moonbeam Bay had a lot more going on around the waterfall. I always thought it was an underappreciated locale.

It certainly suited me, anyway. I had no desire to move. I'm sure there are hundreds of scenic spots where I could relocate but damn it, why should I? I found this place and I plan on keeping it.

So, I just set up across the way from the castle, where a handy rocky outcrop made for a nice central feature. All my furniture and building materials had been neatly stored for me. I pulled out my Spirit Stone, plonked it down to claim the new plot, then started laying down foundations and putting up walls.

I kept on until I hit my housing point limit which, since I'd made it to Housing Level Eight or so when last I played, gave me a decent square-footage. I even remembered to leave some space around the Spirit Stone this time, so for once I won't have to try to get to it from the other side of a wall or by hanging off a staircase.

I had to cut down a couple of trees that were growing in inconvenient places but in half an hour or so I had a considerably better house than the one I'd lost. The view's the same only considerably improved by the elegant castle that stands where my old place used to be, although I can't imagine the castle's owner is going to be thinking the same when they come home and look out from the battlements at the jerry-built fixer-upper that's appeared overnight, right outside their walls.

Whether I'll find the time to do any of that fixing is another question. I'd like to but I suspect it won't happen. Even if I do return to Chimeraland for anything ressembling an extended run, I'm in two minds whether to carry on with the Steam version or go back to my higher level character on the Singaporean server. The Asian servers have had somemmergers, too. I wonder which is likely to be around the longer?

As for the Nine Tailed Fox, I couldn't figure out where it was in the shop, let alone what I needed to do to get one. I didn't have time to go looking for child beasts, either. Maybe next time.

If there is one.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Before The Shadow - Very First Impressions - or - How To Calm An Anxious Chicken

After lunch on a cool, wet Monday, with the rain hammering down outside and little prospect of anything very much different to look at through the window over the next few days, feeling at somewhat of a loose end, I decided to to pull the trigger on Before The Shadow, the latest mini-expansion for Lord of the Rings Online. I've been holding off buying things on impulse, what with Black Friday right around the corner, but any heavy discounting seems improbable for such a new release, so why not?

Buying the thing was  seamless. Log in, press button, get receipt. Less than thirty seconds. There's not even a code to enter. It's all handled automatically. In theory I could have been sampling the new content within a minute or two. In theory...

In reality, there's the infamous LotRO patcher to consider. I'd already fired it up about ten minutes before I decided to buy the expansion and as I write this it's been running for the best part of twenty minutes, which means it's about halfway through downloading over seven and a half thousand files. I hope it's the advertised two new zones although I'd be entirely unsurprised to find those need to be delivered in a separate, follow-up patch.

I've been waiting so long now, in fact, the promised end to the current downpour has arrived. The rain has stopped, the clouds are clearing and the sun is beginning to peer out. Beryl the dog has been waiting patiently all day so I'm going to have to postpone this to take her for her much-delayed walk.

Back in an hour. With luck, the damn thing might even have finished patching by then.

... Aaaaand we're back. In fact, we've been back for a couple of hours. Long enough to make a new character and get them to Level 5. I guess we could do a First Impressions on the new starting zone and tutorial, if we were in the mood. We could also stop talking in the second person plural. It's not like Beryl's co-authoring this post with me.

I ummed and ahhed for a minute or two over whether to make the new character on my usual server, the EU-RP-EN server, Laurelin (That's Europe-Roleplaying-English, btw.) or on the ever-popular US-RE server, Landroval. As I was thinking about it, I realised I didn't really know the difference betweeen "RP" and "RE", so I looked it up . It didn't help much:

 "The servers with the 'RP' sign are servers that have a player base dedicated to role-playing, while 'RE' means that the server in question encourages role-playing but that it's exercised by all of the server's population."

Come again? Is there a negative missing in the second sentence, maybe?

Anyway, I don't plan on talking to anyone so the point is moot. In the end I settled for the familiar and went with Laurelin. I had seven available character slots but only four characters so adding another wasn't a problem. Choosing a race and class was a bit harder.

I ruled out Men, Elves and Dwarves because I already have one of each. I thought about Beornings but they have their own starting area so that didn't make sense. I looked at the Stout-Axe Dwarves but they seemed to have a complicated back-story I didn't want to get into. I actually didn't even notice there was a second kind of elf, High, so that one didn't even get a look-in.

In the end I went with Hobbit for a couple of reasons. First, even though I do have a Hobbit character already, they've never really been played. I can't even remember what class or gender they are. Second, as I understand it, much of the new levelling experience takes place in hobbit-inhabited (I almost said "infested"...) lands so it seemed like a good fit.

For a class, I wanted something I hadn't already played but also something that was going to be as straightforward as possible. I'd heard Captain was easy-mode so I was planning on trying that but it turns out Hobbits can't be Captains. I have no idea why. Maybe the boots are too small?

Instead, after looking at all the options, I went with Champion. It looked pretty similar to EverQuest II's Berserker and I already know how to play one of those; pull everything and spin.

I picked one of my regular placeholder names and hit Randomize until I got a look I thought I could live with. Let's be honest - there are no good-looking Hobbits. Then I clicked on the button and entered the world.

The first thing that happened was my bags filled up with stuff. FFS! That's what I started a new character specifically to avoid! There was enough to put two of my five bags out of action, although for some arcane reason the game distributed the items across three of them. Most of the things were themselves containers of some kind. I didn't dare open any of them in case the contents that spilled out took up the rest of the available space.

Instead, I just took a brief inventory, noting I already had half a dozen Titles and a couple of mounts before I'd even started, then I got on with following the tutorial and doing what I was told. Ninety minutes or so later, allowing for a couple of dog-related interruptions, I was Level 5 with several quests waiting to take me on to the next village over the hill.

I'm not going to review the whole Tutorial as if this was some brand new game no-one's played before. It's LotRO. Everyone who cares to know what it's like has played it already, a few times most likely. The new starting area, at least the first five levels of it, feels pretty much exactly as I remember the old ones...

...except I'm thinking of the really old ones, not the most recent "old" one, because as I found out when I was making my character there are now three Tutorials you can choose from and even the one before the Before The Shadow one is called "the new user tutorial" - although now I come to think about it, maybe the "new" refers to the user, not the tutorial...

Ahem. Anyhoo... 

The BTS tutorial (Just don't, alright?) starts off with what I imagine is supposed to be a bang, when some orcs (Uruk-Hai to be exact.) invade the sleepy country town of... hang on, I've already forgotten what it's called... Mossside? No, Mossward, that's it. (Had to look it up.) 

I say orcs. There are some orcs. Eventually. First of all, though, there are goblins. Okay, a goblin. I realise it's a tutorial but running down the street, sword in hand to find nothing more threatening than one rather small goblin did strike me as a bit of an anti-climax. (You did remember to "equip" your sword, didn't you? I mean, two separate NPCs did take the time and trouble to explain how important that was and how embarassing it would be if you forgot.)

The other thing that struck me as soon as the fighting started was how very elderly the game feels now. Even more so than other mmorpgs of its era. Combat in LotRO was always ponderous but in comparison to what we expect from just about every game these days it barely feels like combat at all. I couldn't really tell by looking what my character was doing. She barely seemed to be moving most of the time. 

She must have been doing something because the goblin died. Then some more goblins died. Then some orcs. There was a ranger who talked about knowing Strider and a Dwarf who repaired my weapons before they'd even been used and a very, very annoying child who made off with the orc leader's sword and had to be cajoled into giving it back and a guard who seemed really keen to give me a personal insight into the super-boring details of the everyday life of a guard and even a farmer who wanted me to calm an anxious chicken, which seemed like a step too far but then turned out to be kind of an in-joke and...

Oh, I don't know. It all trucks along very much like the Shire. I get the distinct impression someone's taken on board all those positive things people have been saying about how cosy the Shire is and how much people like carrying pies and decided to lean into the vibe. Which is fine. I like the Shire, too.

And that's where I left things to come and write this post. I had to drag myself away. This sort of thing is like settling into a deep, warm, comfortable armchair in front of a glowing fire on a winter's day. You're barely awake but you feel revived, somehow. 

I looked at the map and the new area seems pretty large. Supposedly you can level to 32 there. At LotRO's levelling speed that's going to take quite a while. I've only ever levelled one character further than that so there's no guarantee I'll even make it out of the starting zone. 

On the evidence so far it should be fun trying. I'm very happy with my purchase. Now if I can just find a bank so I can get all these anniversary fireworks out of my bags...

Friday, November 18, 2022

Shadow Of Renewal

or Daybreak if you prefer, since they seem to be pretty much interchangeable at this point, seems to be doing rather well right now. Yesterday, MassivelyOP reported an 11% bump in "monthly active players" over the same period as last year for Lord of the Rings Online, an increase the company rather self-effacingly ascribes to the impact of Amazon’s Rings of Power TV series.

As I think I may have mentioned in a previous post, I watched the first episode of the Amazon show, which I described, unenthusiastically, as "alright". I went on to say that a week had passed since then and I hadn't gotten around to watching episode two. I still haven't.

I haven't even bothered to find out whether the show has been either a commercial or a critical success but I did chat about it, briefly, while I was having a birthday lunch with a friend earlier this week. She'd asked me to get her an expensive boxed set of the books and it turned out part of her reason for doing that now rather than any other time in the last quarter century or so was not unconnected with the show. 

Grey and yellow wouldn't be my choice
for a promo.

As she put it, a lot of fans seem to be reinforcing their interest in the source material as a tangential result of what have been seen as controversial choices made by the makers of the new series. As with the desire to return to the Classic era in World of Warcraft, it's not so much open hostility to the new stuff (Although it can be that.) as a re-ignited affection for the way things used to be.

Put like that, I guess LotRO, fifteen years old and famously stolid in its reverance for the source material, qualifies as a safe haven for anyone looking to rekindle old fires. It would be interesting to know how many of the 11% are brand new to the game and how many are prodigals returning to the fold.

I suspect Standing Stone (And by implication Daybreak Games and by further implication EG7.) are about to add a percentage point or two to that enviable uptick. This morning I received two emails from the EG7 stable, one of which I'll get to later, the other asking me if I'd be interested in the new expansion, Before the Shadow.

I've never bought an expansion for LotRO. Indeed, other than the base game and a few months' subscription, I've never bought anything from Turbine or SSG at all. I hadn't been thinking of starting now, either, until I read Wilhelm's recent post

As Wilhelm says, $20, is a pretty reasonable price, even for a mini-expansion. It sounds even better in sterling, where it comes in at just £15.29. Even so, I wouldn't be considering it if it wasn't for one thing; the new levelling experience. 

I do like the low-level game in LotRO. It's solid, entertaining and old-school in the best way. It might be fun to start a new character and play them up through whatever the new zone or zones are - some sort of hobbitty-shire experience I think it is. Not only would it be interesting in its own right, it would also make for a convenient fresh start in a game where my other characters are mired in previous poor decisions and lumbered with bags full of items, the use of which I no longer understand nor care to learn.

I'd have to say this looks a lot more appealing.
As always, the real question is "If I buy it, will I play it?" I'm leaning heavily towards "Yes, I will", on
the fairly solid grounds that LotRO is free-to-play, I always have it installed and I've been back for brief visits many times over the years. Also, playing through something that other people are also playing and talking about is always a bonus for the blog.

Mitigating against the idea is the other email I received, this one directly from Daybreak, wearing their Darkpaw hat. I was somewhat surprised to receive notice this morning that the new EverQuest II expansion, Renewal of Ro, now has a firm launch date and it's less than two weeks away.

As the website has it, "The next expansion for EverQuest II, Renewal of Ro, is set to launch on November 30, 2022 at 12:00 p.m. PST". That is pretty much when you'd expect but I was on the beta forums only a couple of days ago and I had the impression things were lagging a little this year. Then again, when aren't they? I'm sure it'll be fine.

I've already bought this one, of course. The only question is when I start playing. The 30th is a Wednesday, which should give me a couple of days to get started before my working weekend. Then again, based on prior experience, I'll probably be doing myself a favor if I wait a week until everything's working properly.

It's nice to have something to look forward to, anyway. I might not be able to join in with the frenzy when Dragonflight lands (Any date for that, yet? Oh, yeah...) but I should at least have something to talk about.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

It's All In The Report

I skipped posting the last couple of days partly because I had other things going on but mostly because I didn't have anything much that I wanted to post about. It goes like that, sometimes. One week I have half a dozen ideas; the next, none.

Actually, it's not strictly true to say I don't have anything I'd like to showcase here. There's plenty more I'd like to say about Noah's Heart, for example, but unless I can come up with some penetrating insight that feeds into an observation on the genre as a whole, I think it's probably best I ration myself to one or two posts a week on that one.

I can always do music posts, of course. Putting one of those together isn't much more than an excuse to play a bunch of songs I like and watch the videos on YouTube, a very acceptable way to spend an afternoon. On the other hand, I could just watch the videos and not write the post and the experience would probably be much the same - maybe even better.

There's always something about the other media - TV, movies, books and the rest - bubbling around in the back of my mind but the problem there is writing about stuff like that is quite a lot of work. It pretty much comes down to writing the kinds of essays media studies students have to do as course work, only without any prospect of getting a grade. I have to confess the bit when you got the essay back and saw what grade you'd got was always my favorite part. Without that validation the whole thing can seem a little hollow.

Then there are the posts that begin like this one; posts about the process of posting. Again, I find writing those easy and reflexively entertaining but even though I also enjoy reading other bloggers extemporizing on the topic of their process, I can't but feel it's a tad self-indulgent, a subject of limited interest to most.

Then again, I'm not here to entertain. Or educate. Or inform. Those are incidental benefits that may or may not, on occasion, attache themselves to my real purpose, which is self-expression and self-reflection. Just be glad I'm not asking you to read my poetry or hear about that one really weird dream I had the other night... 

What does any of that have to do with the picture at the top of the post? Frankly, not a lot. It's more in the way of a five finger excercise as I warm up for the post itself, another example of the process in action. What I came here to talk about today is a report published by IFPI "The voice of the recording industry worldwide"

IFPI stands for The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry although I had to go to Wikipedia to find that out; they don't explain it on their website. The organization has just released its annual report on music engagement, something I learned from a news item at NME, under the enticing tagline "Music fans are listening to more music than ever before".

That surprised me a little. I'd been under the impression engagement with music had been on the decline for many years. It had certainly been my belief, based partly on things I'd read but also on experiential evidence, that music - specifically popular music - no longer held the dominant cultural role it had enjoyed prior to - let's say - the turn of the millennium.

Of course, it would be very much in the interest of any organization representing the interests of the music industry to gainsay such a defeatist viewpoint. As you can see from the screenshot, however, this particular report does seem to be based on a good deal of well-sourced and properly weighted research. 

It's also very interesting and extremely accessibly presented. I have no intention of analysing, critiquing or paraphrasing the contents. Rather, I suggest anyone even the least bit curious clicks through and reads it for themselves

It'll only take a few minutes. Although the website offers the option of downloading either the Full Report or a Highlights Infographic, in fact both long and short form options are presented in the infographic format. 

They're really good infographics but I confess I was a tad disappointed not to get a traditional text report as well. There are pull-out quotes that make me wish I could find out more, like the one that reveals respondents cited more than five hundred musical genres, when describing the kinds of music they listen to. 

I was looking forward to plugging some of those unfamiliar genres into a search engine and thereby opening my musical horizons a little wider. I like hearing things I've never heard before. So, it seems, do most people. I find it heartening to learn that the number of genres people report listening to averages out to eight. That suggests a significantly more open-minded attitude than I would have expected. 

On the other hand, it's less than encouraging (and somewhat weird) to learn that "in those people most engaged with music such as people who subscribe to audio streaming and those who buy vinyl" the number of genres listed goes up just one, to "9 genres on average." It doesn't immediately stand out as a great improvement, does it?

Moving on to a subsection perhaps of more immediate interest to the readership of what at least used to be a gaming blog, we come to the section on music in video games. Or, more accurately, I probably should say the brief mention of same.

The report doesn't seem to concern itself with music made specifically for video games, although that may very well be one or more of those 500+ genres we didn't get to see listed in full. What it does want to highlight, to my own very great interest, is the use of video games as a platform for the distribution of non-video game music and/or as a venue for its performance. 

According to the report a truly astonishing 44% of "gamers" claimed to have "watched a virtual concert on a gaming platform in the last 3 months". Less astonishing is the statistic concerning the age demographic, almost half falling in the youngest bracket, 16-24.

The development of virtual performance and particularly the role of games as a platform for it, as regular readers will no doubt remember, has been an interest of mine at least since the begining of the pandemic. The only reason I have either Roblox or Fortnite installed on my hard drives is so I can visit them to watch singers, bands or movies on their in-game stages and screens.

Back when we were all banged up under viral house arrest, I predicted a bright future for these kinds of virtual shows. Given the kinds of unrelenting pressures currently threatening to crush the last remaining breath from the gasping live music industry, coupled with the relentless push of technology and the growing willingness of rights owners to join in with the fun, the road to a digital future for "live" music is looking wider and clearer than ever.

Anyway, as I said, I don't plan on picking the report to pieces or riffing on the dozens of themes it suggests. I just thought I'd mention it as something worth a few minutes of your day.

You're welcome!

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Never-Ending Advent Calendar That Is Noah's Heart

Back when I began posting about Noah's Heart, right after the global rollout at the end of July, I talked a lot about how little of the game I understood. It wasn't a problem. I enjoyed waking up in the dark and groping my way towards the light. It gave me the chance to learn new things and learning is always fun. 

In one early post I wrote "As this series of posts about Noah's Heart develops, I'm sure I'll end up talking about some of its myriad systems in detail but for now I'm barely capable of remembering what they all are. There are so many I'd struggle even to list them, let alone describe them or explain how they work or what they do."

I also noted "With luck, Noah's Heart might last me all month." So far it's lasted sixteen weeks and there's no sign of it stopping. You'd think by now I'd be pretty much up to speed with all those systems and mechanics, right?

Yeah, well, I'm not. Not even close. Despite the game's thorough and detailed tutorial and exemplary in-game explanatory notes, even now I feel there's probably more I don't understand than I do. With that in mind, I thought for a moment I might try for the improbable and list the full range of systems, complete with explanatory notes. 

Then I thought about it again and decided I wouldn't. It was a wise choice.

Instead, I thought I'd just skip through the opening screens, the ones I see every day when I log in for the first time, describing the various options that appear before I even get into the game proper, just to give an impression of the levels of complexity and engagement the game demands. That wouldn't take too long, surely?

There's the very first screen that appears after the server connection is established. Looks simple enough, doesn't it? So simple, I've never really looked at it closely before. 

Now that I do, I realise I have no clear idea what either "Current EXP" or "Active EXP" mean.  My character is some way into Level 87, where she's racked up 3074087/4200000 so this must be something different. I'm thinking "Current EXP" is just the generic header for the two items next on the list, Active EXP and Fatigue but honestly I'm not even sure of that.

I do know I get Active Experience points from doing Daily Activities but those, as indicated, are the ones with a maximum value of 200 points per day. I had no idea there was another tally running that capped at 480000 and I have no clue what it could be. 

As for the Today's Activity listings, of which there's just a smallish subset on show (And I have no idea if the selection indicates anything specific.) I make sure to max those daily because they give solid rewards and I need those Activity Points to trigger another set of rewards that fuel the narrative Seasons. It's painless enough; they're mostly things I would be doing anyway.

As you may have spotted, I skipped over Fatigue. Fatigue is a resource that gets mentioned periodically in the game. It's a requirement to do certain things but what those things might be I couldn't tell you without looking it up. 

Whatever they are, it doesn't look like I'm doing them because as the screenshot makes plain, I have Fatigue to spare. Literally. 2715/960, to be exact. How I acquired a surplus or what having more Fatigue than the apparent max implies, once again, I couldn't hope to explain.

We're already getting into deep water and we haven't gotten past the Welcome screen yet! It's a screen I barely glance at most days, anyway. I just click that "Return" arrow in the bottom right, at which point the giant envelope you see above appears in front of me.

This is a relatively recent innovation. It's been around for a few weeks. I think. Actually, now I try and remember, I can't recall exactly when I first saw it. 

I do know what it's supposed to be; it's a letter from Ave. Ave is the one Phantom who seems to have some idea who my character might be (The PC has amnesia because of course they do. It's an mmorpg, isn't it?) Ave is also the Phantom who gives the PC a "Mirror", a piece of arcane tech that looks suspiciously like a mobile phone and which acts as a kind of portal to many of the major mechanics and systems in the game. 

It's what I consider to be an admirably creative, lore-appropriate re-purposing of a function lesser creative teams would happily palm off to the Escape menu. Noah's Heart is very good at that sort of thing.

One of the most endearing aspects of the game for me, for example, and a contributory factor to why I've stuck with it this long, is the way all the Phantoms act like imaginary friends, sending in-game mail and having conversations with my character, both sides of which are fully scripted. It's like your toys came to life - and not in a stabby way. 

Opening Ave's letter reveals

Where to begin? 99Letter means nothing to me. It can't surely be the 99th letter she's sent me, can it? That would be almost as long as I've been playing and I could have sworn I didn't start getting them for several weeks. I could be wrong about that, though. In fact, I probably am.

The date and the weather are straightforward enough. Noah's Heart has a more than averagely complex weather system that includes weather forecasts and some interactive elements, so I guess it's something worth mentioning when you write. I know I always do the same when I email someone but then Mrs Bhagpuss would say I was obsessed with the weather. Does say, actually.

The greeting, "Dear Adventurer" seems oddly impersonal. The game routinely interpolates the player character's name into quest text and NPC dialog and Ave regularly talks to me directly, so you'd think she'd be a bit less formal when she writes.

As far as I can tell, the whole "fortune-telling" bit is pure flavor and I've been largely ignoring it but as I think about it now, I'm wondering if it might actually reflect things I've done in the game recently. Yesterday I did make and place a new piece of furniture in my house. I also acquired the dye I needed to finish making the outfit from the pattern Charlie gave me, which, of course, I immediately set as my new look.

That does seem suspiciously relevant to the two entries flagged "Appropriate", although it's an odd fortune that tells you your past. I'll have to read these more carefully from now on and see if there's a pattern. As for the "Avoid" message, I have absolutely no clue what Ave's talking about. No, really!

Finally, along the bottom are the "Accumulated Rewards", each with a description giving what appears to be a label number. Not the faintest clue what that implies. As for "Today's Attachment", I believe that's the two items you can see overlaying the Starlight Guide at the top of the image; one is 90000 gold, the other... I have no idea what that is.

So much for the letter itself. Down the left of the screen you can see four subsections: Welfare, On Sale, Event and War Order. Each of those opens a menu, the one displayed in the shot being "Welfare". Each of the items in those menus opens another window, which may or may not then offer even more options. I'd go through them all but we'd be here all day.

Instead, I'll give you a count. Twenty-four. Two dozen subsections, branching directly from the initial four. Fortunately, everything that's immediately relevant is highlighted by a red dot. I like the red dots. They mean I don't have to think too hard.

As you can see from the shot, I have three highlighted items listed under Welfare: Noah's Heart Carnival, Treasure Bay and Push Pack. As you can also see, the Midday and Evening benefits listed under Gulf Stream Tea House, each of which provides 50 Fatigue, are both flagged "Not the time yet".  

Even if it were the time, I'd get a message telling me I couldn't use them, because as we've already established, I am about as far from being fatigued as its possible to be. I have never once been able to claim a free welfare meal since the game began. Whether that means I'm doing something right or something wrong I couldn't say.

How about the Noah's Heart Carnival, then? That sounds like it ought to be fun. And it is, in a way, but really it's more a record of fun I've already had. It's a list of some things you can do each day to earn rewards, in addition to the regular dialies and weeklies. I never make any effort to chase these additional targets but I often end up completing most of them anyway just by playing normally.

Then there's Treasure Bay. Treasure Bay is a currency exchange. You can spend one in-game currency, Diamonds, to buy another, Gold. I always have more gold than diamonds so I just take my free gift of 30,000 gold every day and move on.

Lastly, Push Pack; even though it's always highlighted, I never click this one. It refers to something you can do on a mobile device. Noah's Heart is cross-platform so if I had a device that would run it I could log my account in there and claim whatever it is you get. I don't so I can't and I probably wouldn't bother anyway. 

I'll skip over the other three main options. (On Sale,  Event and War Order, in case you'd forgotten.) This is already running long. Just take it on trust they're full of more buttons to click to get free stuff and things to go and do to get even more free stuff.

With all that out of the way, finally we get to the actual game screen, which, as you can see, is yet another nest of icons and red blobs. It's at this point the futility of trying to explain the systems and mechanics of Noah's Heart in a single blog post becomes impossible to ignore.

I did a quick count of the actions available through the various windows and menus that open from the twenty or so icons in the image above. It comes to more than a hundred and fifty. Luckily, most of them don't require much more from me than that I notice the red dot, click on it and click again on whatever it points to.

That's simple enough and, to me at least, entertaining. I like clicking things to get stuff and in Noah's Heart there's rarely a click that doesn't come with a reward of some sort. Where things start to get tricky is in the systems and mechanics that require I make a choice. 

Pretty much everything that affects character progression, team-building and generally playing the game as a game requires both thought and knowledge. It's not a lucky dip where every dip's a win. You can't just blithely click away any more - or I guess you could but you'd come to regret it later.

Maybe another time I'll attempt to explain, to myself as much as anyone else, exactly how some of those systems work. Before I do that, though, I'm going to have to find out. 

Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide