Friday, December 30, 2022

Full Steam Behind: 2022 In The Rear-View Mirror

Everyone seems to be sharing their Steam Replay year-in-review stats so I thought I might as well get in on the act. It's an easy post so why not?

Except I don't seem to have received my annual report. I know Steam knows where I am. I've been getting emails about the sale, reminding me of all the titles on my Wishlist that are going cheap (Although not cheap enough that I've actually bought any.) but of the Replay itself there's been no sign.

Of course, my Steam account is linked to an email address I don't look at very often. But then I shouldn't need to; I have it set to forward everything to one I use every day. And it's working. That's how I'm getting the sales promos. So where's the Replay?

In my Spam folder, where else? Why did it go there? Search me.

To find out what was going on, I logged into the Gmail account I use for Steam. There was my Replay email, sitting at the top of the inbox, right beside all those sales pitches. 

If Gmail was perfectly happy to consider those legit, why, then, with the same software forwarding the same emails to another Gmail account, did the sorting algorithm decide to label one of them as spam? I mean, who did it imagine was sending the damn thing? It's literally Gmail mailing Gmail. Who's the spammer now?

Sometimes I think the real surprise is that any of this stuff works at all. We take it all for granted but as Twitter's recent troubles remind us, the whole internet is really all held together with string and spit.

Anyway, I got the report in the end, along with a couple more things from Square Enix and Flyff that I'd have liked to have seen when they were fresh but which had somehow been forwarded into the spam folder. I suppose the takeaway from all of this is that I should check my spam folder once in a while. Yeah, like that's going to happen...

Looking at the data itself, rather than the delivery method, it feels equally sketchy. There are a number of broken links and blank panels. It seems that during my "longest streak" (A vague concept that might refer to consecutive daily logins but that's a guess) I played seven games, only Steam can't remember what three of them were. Neither can I, although I imagine they were demos from one of the NextFests that have since been removed from the platform.

I was a little surprised at how little I appear to have used Steam in 2022. I would have imagined I'd at least have opened the interface most days although I would frequently just have been using it to look things up or find screenshots I've taken. I use Steam as a source of information as much as a gaming platform. Probably more. 

It makes a bit of a nonsense of the Replay stats as far as I'm concerned. I'd be more interested to know how many times I logged in and what I did while I was there, not just what games I played but I don't imagine facilitating bloggers in the pursuance of their craft is one of Valve's top priorities.

The breakdown of games played by age is interesting, if more than a little misleading. I'm pretty sure the heavy bias towards new releases is another by-product of my regular attendance at Steam's frequent NextFests. 

I really like demos. In many - quite possibly most - cases a thirty-to-sixty minute demo is about as much of a game as I'm likely to need or want. There's evidence to support that thesis in the form of all the games on my wishlist that found their way there on the back of demos and now linger fretfully, awaiting a purchase that will almost certainly never come. 

As I've already mentioned, even hefty discounts are rarely enough to tempt me to hit "Buy". When I do occasionally succumb, as the statistics prove, the results aren't pretty.

Exhibit A: My Time At Sandrock. I bought this as soon as it flagged up as available in an Early Access build. Since then, I've played it nine times, most of those in the first month. 

Although there were plenty of complaints about the inevitably buggy and incomplete nature of the game in Early Access, none of that had anything to do with my fast-fading interest. It played perfectly acceptably for me - I just found it a bit dull. I haven't really thought much about it since last May.

A similarly unsuccessful purchase, Sable, didn't even make it into the highlights.  Hardly surprising when a click-through reveals I've notched up just two sessions there. It represents a rounding error in terms of playtime at <1%. 

By far my most played titles on Steam, at least in terms of hours logged, were mmorpgs. Three of them account for well over half of all the time I spent "playing " games on Steam in 2022.

I am quite surprised to see New World accounting for sixty sessions. I knew I'd played a fair bit in the autumn, when the big update dropped, but I'd forgotten I also played for a good while in the spring. 40% of my time spent in Aeternum this year came in March, April and May.

Immediately before that I'd been heavily into Lost Ark, apparently. 80% of my time there was crammed into one month, February, with the remaining twenty per cent trailing along in March. We were all playing Lost Ark back then, of course. Is anyone still?

The spider-web graphic purporting to show where I spent most of my time this year is misleading. Not that it's any fault of Steam. It can only tally the games I play through its services, after all.

In a wider context, I certainly played  more Point & Click Adventure Games than anything other than mmorpgs this year but I played almost all of them on Prime Gaming. Maybe Amazon would like to send me a similar breakdown. Or not.

I'm not sure what Steam is counting as a "Life Sim". I wasn't aware I'd played any. Maybe My Time At Sandrock counts? As for "Building", the only game where I did much of that was Chimeraland. I did log into Valheim five times but all the building I did there was in 2021. Still, I suppose it just counts tags, not actual in-game activity. I mean, how would it know? Don't answer that.

Finally, there are the comparisons with other Steam users. As everyone else has noticed, most Steam users barely seem to trouble the statisticians at all. The average Steamer (Is that what we're calling ourselves?) plays just five games in a calendar year and barely manages to log in for much more than a week at a stretch.

I doubled the average for streaks and tripled it for both games played and achievements... erm, achieved. I think that definitely says more about the general level of engagement with the platform or, I should say, lack of it, than any particular enthusiasm on my side. 

It took me a long time to come around to Steam but I do now think of it generally as a Good Thing. Even so, it's a long way from being my primary interface with the games I play, the majority of which I fire up from their own proprietary launchers. 

Many of those I could play via Steam. I just choose not to. It's one extra layer of beaurocracy to climb over before I get to play the games themselves. The stats are nice, though. I'll give them that.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Sometimes You Don't Know What You've Done Until You've Done It

On balance, I was quite pleased with the way my Advent Calendar project went. Given that I came up with it on a whim and did little more to prepare for what it would look like than bookmark a website offering copyright free images, the results seemed about as solid as might have been expected. 

The fun part, naturally, was trawling through YouTube for possible entries, something I spent numerous hours doing throughout the month. I also did some "research" outside of YouTube, by which I mostly mean flipping through a number of lists of odd, bizarre, weird or unusual Christmas songs other people had compiled. Seems like a lot of people had that idea.

I felt a tad uncomfortable about cribbing from other people's work, though, so most of the examples of the form I found there didn't get used, even if some of them were pretty amusing. I also tried to second-guess how familiar the songs would be to others, not just whether they were new to me. I had, for example, never heard Don't Shoot Me, Santa by The Killers before but I bet almost everyone else has, so it didn't get used.

The idea was to stay away from the really obvious ones. I also tried to avoid any I'd already included in posts from previous years. All of that meant some numbers I'd have otherwise liked to include got left on the cutting-room floor.

Most of these rules developed organically as I was putting the posts together. It took a while for the project to find its shape. To begin with, everything was so ad hoc and disorganised, it was several days before it occurred to me I ought at least be trying to match the image with the song in some fashion. Once I started doing that, it became by far the most time-consuming part of the whole process and something I felt well worth spending time on, even though I very much doubt most people would have noticed the difference.

Of course, how many people even glanced at the calendar day-by-day is an unknowable. Blogger keeps records of this sort of thing but the statistics are largely meaningless. Looking back at the record, every day in December is much of a muchness, with the notable exceptions of the 21st, 22nd and 23d, when for no discernable reason page views spike tenfold. 

Comments generally provide a much more meaningful indicator of engagement. I was both pleased and surprised to receive responses to many of the calendar entries over the course of the month, something that might have read as a solid endorsement of the project, had not every one of them come from the same person. At least I know Redbeard enjoyed it.

So did I. From my perspective it was definitely a success. I had fun doing and it certainly boosted my post count, never a bad thing. It also meant I was able to take several extra days off during the busiest time of the year and still have something to post every morning. 

Whether I'll want to do it again next year I'm not quite sure. There's certainly no shortage of Christmas songs to choose from - there must be thousands. I already have a couple of weeks' worth banked that I didn't have space for this year. I added a couple more just doing this post...

If I do run the feature again next time, though, I think I'll have to tweak the format a little. The thing I found by far the most frustrating was not being able to comment on any of the songs as I posted them. It felt very unnatural just to put the videos up without context or commentary. I wouldn't do it that way again.

Luckily, thanks to Redbeard, I was able to get some of that pent-up frustration out of my system in the comments. Even so, I was very tempted to go back over the entire two-dozen entries here in today's post, adding my thoughts and showing my workings.

Sanity has prevailed, as I'm sure anyone still readiing this will be relieved to hear. I'll just suck it up and keep my pithy observations and snarky wit to myself. The Christmas snow has fallen. Let it lie.

What the whole thing has demonstrated, once again, is the value of running tightly-focused series of posts based on a clear, uncluttered premise. So far, every time I've done this it's been about music but there's no reason the principle can't be extended to other subjects or topics. I'll be giving that some thought in the New Year. 

I should also bookmark this for my advice to new bloggers post come Blaugust. You can place your bets now as to whether I remember.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Christmas Post

Surprising things keep surfacing in my email. I guess that's what happens when you sign up to dozens -  scores - of games and services over the years. Suits me. I like getting mail.

Today's was about a game I'm very fond of but which I haven't played for quite a while: Dragon Nest. I've commented before, more than once, on the title's confusing history; the number of times it's changed publishers; the numerous variant versions with their differing gameplay; the problems I've had accessing my characters after changes of ownership ; the impostion of regional IP checks...

It's hardly surprising I'm frequently confused about which version I'm supposedly playing but last time I checked I think it was Dragon Nest: Origins. That's who sent me the email, anyway.

The big news is a huge update coming at the end of the month, raising the level cap to 70 and adding a whole raft of new content. The full patch notes are extensive. As well as numerous quality of life improvements and tweaks, some of the highlights include

  • a new class - Assassin 
  • a new zone - Anu Arundel
  • three new dungeons - Golden Meadow, Bronze Crescent Forest & Valley of Eclipse
  • a new game mode - Chaos
  • a new Nest - Guardian Nest

The capital, Saint's Haven, gets a graphical makeover and there are updates to character models and hairstyles. There's even a trailer on YouTube.

It's all very impressive and even more so when you realize Dragon Nest: Origins is a private server. I'd either forgotten that or, more likely, given the checkered history of the game, I hadn't even realised.

There's also a Christmas event going on right now. I have no idea what it is but when I logged in someone was recruiting a group for "Santa", snow lay thick on the ground in Saint Haven and there were decorations and presents all over the central square. 

There was also a continual soundtrack of Christmas music; some very familiar and recognizeable tunes like Jingle Bells and Silent Night, all in a louche, lounge-jazz style. Quite possibly the best seasonal musical accompaniment I've heard in an mmorpg this year.

The email rather charmingly exhorted lapsed players like myself to jump back into the game, aknowledging that "We understand that life can get in the way of gaming, but we hope this patch will entice you to jump back into the world of DNOrigins. Our community is friendly and welcoming, and we'd love to see you in-game again." 

I'm happy to take them up on that encouragement. I'm always saying I want to get back to Dragon Nest. Even though, at level twenty-nine, I'm unlikely to see most of the new content, I'm very keen to find out what the revamped Saint's Haven looks like.

Maybe I'll even try the new Assassin class. I do have fourteen of my sixteen character slots still available, after all..

Monday, December 26, 2022

Lou And Melanie, Sharing A CD...

Yesterday, as I was sitting at the PC with a stack of real-life loot beside me, I had the urge to do one of those "What I got for Christmas" posts that, now I come to think of it, no-one really does any more, if indeed they ever did. I guess it feels a bit braggy, although what kind of social leverage anyone could get from seven Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels (used) or a three-inch tall felt fox (original purpose: christmas tree ornament) is hard to imagine.

Then I read this post from AI Weirdness. It inspired me to go play with Stable Diffusion, one of the many AI toys in my playbox I keep forgetting to use. I'm always signing up to these things, bookmarking them and then doing nothing with them for months. Maybe I should make a New Year's Resolution about it. Those always work.

What got me started this time was Janelle Shae's comment that suggestions from Ada, the smallest AI, "tended to be harder to illustrate". I wondered about that so I picked one of Ada's card descriptions, "A frantic octopus watches Santa descend from the sky out of a dark, drapery-clad window" and ran it through Stable Diffusion to see what would happen.

This is what I got.


I think all of those would make excellent Christmas cards. In fact, rather than buying my cards next year, I might just print those four out and glue them over some of the many unused cards I have from previous Christmases. Even with the cost of printer ink it would probably save me some money.

Then I had the bright idea of inputting a list of gifts I'd received and letting SD illustrate them for me. I have a medium-term goal of getting an AI to write posts for me so I need the practice. So, it appears, does Stable Diffusion. The results I got were... shall we say "mixed"?

The first prompt I used was "chilli chocolate, a felt fox and a hat that lights up". This is what I got:

That's a lot of felt foxes and fair spattering of hats, none of which light up. Also there are chillis but no chocolate. I give it five out of ten.

Next, I tried "gloves, cowboy bebop and a whole load of buffy the vampire slayer merch". Not sure why I went all ee cummings about it nor if that makes a difference to the result but I think it came out pretty well:

There are some very recognisable images in there - Buffy and Spike particularly - and I love the way SD has collaged them. It reminds me strongly of the kind of thing I did in art class back in the early 1970s.

It's very curious how the AI went purely for drawings rather than live-action, given both shows exist in both formats. Also that it picked Spike from Cowboy Bebop rather than any of the other main characters. I wonder if that has anything to do with there being a character called Spike in both shows? Gloves are well represented, too, albeit in only one out of the four versions but there's no sign of any "merch". I think that's a solid eight out of ten. Nine, even.

By contrast, my next prompt was the least successful of them all. This is what "Supergirl, Robert B Parker's Spenser and a stripy velour hoodie" got me:

That's awful. It's just pictures of Supergirl. I mean, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against pictures of Supergirl, but where's Spenser? Or the hoodie? 

Oh, wait... there is one picture of Supergirl, the one that looks like a mash-up of a photo and a cartoon, where she's wearing a maroon hoodie with the S logo. Is that an actual look she wore in the comics? I think it might be. Also there's one where she doesn't have the S logo at all, which is weird. I don't think I can give this one more than four out of ten.

Following on, we come to "presidents of america, veronica mars and some jelly beans". You'll note the capitals, which reappeared for a moment, have vanished again.

I don't think I can argue with this, although aesthetically I don't find it especially pleasing. I think I can see Kennedy, Bush Sr. and possibly Hoover in there, although I get the feeling the AI has played a game of mix and match with most of the presidents on show. It also seems to have slapped Kristen Bell's head onto a presidential torso, which is kind of horrific. 

There's no arguing about the jelly beans. They get a whole image to themselves. I'm a little surprised the AI didn't make something of the Ronald Reagan/Jelly Bean connection but maybe that's why we still need humans - for the trivia. All in all, even though it's ugly as hell, nine out of ten for accuracy.

Two more to go. I saved one of the best and definitely the cutest for last. First up, "melanie martinez, halsey and lou reed CDs". For some reason I capitalized "CDs" but none of the names. It was late. Otherwise, I have no excuses.

I really like this set. I'm not absolutely sold on any of the imagers being Halsey but I'm willing to give the AI the benefit of the doubt because it's worked so hard to include all the elements in the prompt and managed to integrate them so well. 

I think the first panel is supposed to be a series of CD covers, albeit in dimensions that would better fit a cassette box. I'd be first in line for a copy of "Do Love" by Melanie and Lou. The one with the hand holding up the Melanie/Halsey collab is inspired, too. Another eight out of ten. I could be convinced to go as far as nine.

And finally... "a cute baby fox asleep in a nest". This is a bit of a gimme for Stable Diffusion, to be fair. It's just one image, not a list of unrelated items. Still, the result is so eerily similar to the actual present I received it's uncanny. 

Well, the third one is, anyway. I'll give that one nine out of ten and the rest about six or seven.

That's not all the presents I got or even necessarily the best of them (That would be the polyptych diorama Mrs Bhagpuss made for me) but it'll do for now. Tomorrow I'm going to visit my mother. We'll see what she's got me and if it's odd enough (Not an unlikely possibility) maybe we'll find out what Stable Diffusion makes of that.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Friday, December 23, 2022

Day Twenty-Three

Simi - Christmas Sometin

Thursday, December 22, 2022

May Shrink Or Leak While In Use

My inner hipster quirks an approving eyebrow every time I add another obscure mmorpg to my portfolio but there are certain caveats that come with choosing to play the games others ignore. Yesterday brought a couple more yellow flags.

I logged into Noah's Heart to a bittersweet welcome in the mail: five hundred diamonds, compensation for another server merge. I'd heard nothing ahead of time. From my perspective, the server where I play seemed as busy as ever. It came as a complete surprise to me.

It took a bit of searching before I could track down the details.

After this week’s maintenance, we’ll conduct server merge among the following servers:
AM Server: S1-Fairy Spring & S6-Elegy Tomb
EU Server: S1-Avant-Garde & S4-Greepersia
S8-Divine Valley & S14-Canan & S16-Star

The first server in the group is the main server and the rest servers will be merged into the first one.
I found the announcement on the game's Facebook page. Facebook's not a place I generally go for game news. I'm inured to having to check Discord to find out what's going on but I have my limits.

It would seem the game's down to three servers now: one in North America, one in Europe and one... somewhere else. Asia? South America? Mars?
I play on Fairy Spring, which probably explains why the game has always seemed well-populated to me. The server has been the host for at least one previous merger so I'm guessing it's always been the busiest, even more so as it keeps picking up refugees from all the others.
New content still coming in. That has to be a positive.
I was bullish about the game's prospects last time this happened but that was only a month ago. It's hard not to see this latest contraction as a warning. At the rate things are going, pencilling in a celebratory post for the game's first anniversary next summer probably wouldn't be the wisest plan.
I'm not too bothered. It feels as though I might be running out of steam with Noah's Heart, anyway. I'm still logging in every day but only for the time it takes to fulfill my guild obligations and rack up my 200 activity points. I bank my three tokens towards the next stage of the current Season then I log out.
I like to try to follow the narratives of these weird, sometimes incomprehensible storylines but the time-gating has increased to the stage where it now takes a full week to build up the points needed to move the story forward. It used to be three days. 

When I do get to open the next chapter, it rarely takes more than fifteen or twenty minutes to finish. Major set piece action segments and crafted cut scenes are things of the past. Now it's always a sequence of talking tableaux and a lot of silent movie style intertitles. The approach certainly has its charm but it doesn't occupy a great deal of time.

After more than twenty years, I get a feeling for when my interest in a game is begining to flag and I suspect that time may be approaching for Noah's Heart. Still, if it ends up being six months, that's a very strong run. I didn't play Chimeraland, a game that very arguably has a lot more going for it, for as long as that.

Of course, Chimeraland is another at-risk title, having suffered similar shrinkage to Noah's Heart. The bizarre, monster-smushing game does have a higher profile, at least with MassivelyOP, where several writers seem amused that it even exists, a sentiment I can readily appreciate, having played it. Whether the attention will help keep the servers up any longer than the already all-but-forgotten Noah's Heart, though, I have to have my doubts.
The other odd title I picked up recently, ROSE Online, has, as far as I can tell, just the one server, which at least means merges aren't likely to be an issue. It's also extremely busy as of now, which has to be a good sign.

A lot less re-assuring was the email I received yesterday. I won't quote the whole thing... or shall I? Yes, why not?

A data breach is never good news but props to Rednim for the detailed explanation. It looks concerning at first sight but if I'm reading it correctly, all it really amounts to is a small chance that someone might have been able to see an email address and an even smaller chance they'd also have had a shot at a few characters of the password.

I suppose if you were lucky enough to have a very short email address and lazy enough to have chosen a very short password, a curious prodder might have been able to log into your ROSE Online account but even then, unless you're one of those peculiarly shortsighted people who use the same email address and password for everything, the damage would be limited to loss of your progress and character in a free to play mmorpg still in the first week of early access. It's hardly the Brink' s Mat robbery.
I changed my password just to be on the safe side, although I never re-use passwords nor even follow any particular convention or format when creating them. I literally make up something random, stream-of-consciousness style, every time. 

As for email addresses, I'm not quite sure what the logic behind keeping them secret is in the first place. They exist so people can use them to contact each other, don't they? Or maybe that's archaic. 

Anyway, I make up almost as many email addresses as I do passwords, and most of them get used just once, to reply to the email that validates them. After that they just lie there, gathering virtual dust. 

Thinking about it, that might explain why the first I hear about things like server merges is when I log into the game. I might be getting dozens of  notifications I never see.

I do maintain ongoing access to the email adress I used for ROSE Online. It's one of several I use when creating accounts for games I don't expect to play for long. Only, as must be self-evident by now, I'm not the greatest predictor of my own behavior when it comes to new mmorpgs. I often end up bedding down for weeks or months in titles I expected to last no more than a session or two.

If there's one thing the whole free-to-play revolution has taught me it's that mmorpgs are like busses. If you miss one, there'll be another along in a minute. Although now I come to think about it, that's the kind of analogy only someone who doesn't use public transport would make.

Maybe what I mean is that mmorpgs are like pets. You love them while they're around but you always know they won't be with you forever. Hmm. No. That's not it. That's really bleak.

Okay, I don't have a neat moral to this tale I can wrap up in a tidy cliche. I guess the takeaway is that mmorpgs can be fragile so it doesn't pay to lean on them too heavily. Seriously, I can keep this up all day...

But I won't. I have games to play. Or I do while they last.

Day Twenty-Two

 The Brian Setzer Orchestra - Yabba-Dabba Yuletide

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Day Twenty-One

Santa Baby - Rev Run feat. Puff Daddy, Mase,
Salt N Pepa, Snoop Dogg, Keith Murray & Onyx

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Santa Claus Lives On The Moon

The very same day I suggested I would probably never get to visit Luna, the second of ROSE Online's planets, where do you think I found myself? Yes, Luna! It would be a pretty poor way to open this post if it had been anywhere else, wouldn't it? Also, the picture's a bit of a giveaway...

So, how did it happen? Well, it was all thanks to Santa Claus. It transpires that not only is Santa trans-dimensional, he has multiple centers of operation in all the territories he serves, and since he's very much the traditionalist, he always sets up shop at the local equivalent of the North Pole. In the Auruan planetary system, that just happens to be the frozen planet of Luna.

I found this out entirely by chance. I was jogging through Zant when I spotted someone in a very striking red car. Or was it a sled? Hard to be sure. I'm not quite up to speed on how mounts work in ROSE - I think we only have vehicles but I could be mistaken - but I know a holiday ride when I see one. Especially when it's being driven by someone in a Santa suit.

As luck would have it, the NPC for the event was standing right behind me. You can see her in the picture. Her name is Judy. Up to this point I hadn't even realised there was an event running, although in retrospect I guess the gigantic Christmas trees I'd been taking selfies next in front of all week should have given me the hint.

I spoke to Judy and she spotted I was carrying some snow crystals in my bags. I'd picked these up as drops but so many crafting mats pop out of every creature I kill I hadn't realised there was anything special about them. From context, I now understand these are both the currency and the entrance fee for the event. 

Judy asked me if I'd like to go visit Santa in his space workshop. Okay, she didn't put it quite like that. What she actually said was... wait a moment, I think I took a screenshot... ah yes, here it is!

Obviously I said yes and next thing I knew I was in a cut scene, flying off to space in a wooden airship. I took some screenshots of that, too - three of them, in fact - but unfortunately each time I pressed the button the cut scene changed to a loading screen and that's what I caught on camera.

I figured out eventually that hitting any key terminated the ride. The view was something worth seeing but you're just going to have to take my word for it.

Even when the ship had landed and I was trudging through the snow I didn't realize, until I opened the map to find out where to go next, that what Judy referred to as "Santa's Planetoid" was actually the planet Luna. I think we came down somewhere in the Mana Snowfields but don't quote me on that. One snowy plain looks much like another.

Wherever it was, there were people everywhere. The place was packed. I found my way over to the center of activity and, after a brief comic interlude where I gave the wrong response to a simple question and found myself on the airship back to Junon, I managed to have a word with Santa to find out just what sort of problem he was having this time.

In my experience, whenever Santa's having difficulties, it's always with his elves or his reindeer. They're either trying to unionise or they're drunk again. This time it was the reindeer, collectively known here as "Rudolphs", an act of blatant disindividualisation that tells you plenty about the kind of organization Santa's running.

I wasn't surprised to hear there'd been a dispute over conditions. In his own words, the training methods employed on the Rudolphs had been "rigorous" and the put-upon deer had staged a revolt. Santa wanted me to chase them down and administer a salutory beating, although he was careful to make it clear he didn't want the reindeer killed. They still had a job to do, after all.

I find it interesting that, whereas most quests in ROSE Online come with a couple of responses, one to accept and another to refuse, this one assumes you'll be as indignant about the reindeer revolution as Santa. I felt more sympathetic to the Rudolphs but solidarity with the workers wasn't going to get me a new, red suit so I agreed to act the enforcer on his behalf. That left Santa free to stand back and look jolly. Wouldn't do to sully the brand, now, would it? Although I have to say the suit would be good for hiding all that reindeer blood.

Finding the reindeer was no problem. They were running around all over the place, being chased by players hacking away at them with swords, blasting them with fireballs and generally behaving like the hired strikebreakers they were. I joined in, of course.

Bashing the beasts was no problem. They didn't fight back. All they did was run in circles, into trees, into snowdrifts, anywhere to escape the relentless pummelling. As they ran, endless streams of Snow Crystals spewed out of them, punctuated by the occasional Elifedora, the mysterious power source that keeps Santa's sweatshops churning out the toys.

Where I did run into difficulties was in picking the damned things up. Occasionally I was able to pocket one but mostly I got a message saying they didn't belong to me. It was clearly something to do with attribution but I couldn't figure out how it was being calculated. Was it first hit? Most damage? A timer?

About the only real success I had was when I found a rudolph stuck almost entirely inside a wall of ice and mercilessly pounded him with a stick until he died. Santa's bland assurances that they'd know when they'd learned their lesson and return home in shame proved to be over-optimistic in the extreme.

Everything that deer dropped I was able to loot but after that I was stuck getting nothing again. I was about to give up when someone popped a party invite on me. I accepted with alacrity. In a group, all the loot became... erm... lootable. The only issue now was one of etiquette. How long do you have to keep whacking a reindeer before it's acceptable to take a break to pick up the pieces?

I'd collected a decent stash and was just begining to wonder how to extract myself politely from the party, when the server solved my dilemma by disconnecting me. I'm finding ROSE pretty stable for the most part but there have been a few more disconnections than I'm used to in other games.

When I logged back in I was out of the party so I went to Santa to spend my crystals. I'd had a look at the price list before I started and I'd ruled out many of the more exotic items, like the car, on the grounds it would take me days of grinding to get them. 

The basic Santa suit looked very doable, though. I'd seen other players wearing it and I thought it looked pretty smart. When I counted my crystals I found I had enough for the sweater, the hat and the boots. I bought the sweater and the hat. Why I didn't buy the boots I couldn't tell you. I'll get them next time.

When I put the "sweater" on, I was surprised to find it came with a jacket and tie. And a skirt. And socks. And the sweater itself was blue. And V-necked. It's basically a Christmas-themed school uniform, something I had signallly failed to notice when looking at other players wearing it. It looks very smart, if not exactly traditional. Certainly more suited to the season than the bell-bottoms and halter-neck combo I've been sporting until now. And at least the hat meets the Santa Standard.

All in all, I thought it was a pretty solid little holiday event. It's a fun trip to get to there and an easy task to complete, at least once you group up. The rewards are well-judged in that there's decent stuff you can get in a matter of minutes but also things you could spend a good few sessions grinding for, if that's your bag.

I think the full santa suit, including boots and gloves, will probably do me. I'll leave the big ticket items to the real holiday grinders. 

That sled-car does look good, though...

Day Twenty

I Don't Know How But They Found Me -
Merry Christmas Everybody (Slade Cover)

Monday, December 19, 2022

Going To Town In ROSE Online

In a development I'm sure will surprise absolutely nobody, I'm finding ROSE Online to be a lot more enjoyable than I expected. I only started playing the game on a whim, when I happened to read a news report about its unexpected return from mmorpg limbo, thinking to get a single blog post out of the event, if that, but I swiftly found myself drawn in by the simple, uncomplicated gameplay, cute graphics and the general hustle and bustle of what appears to be a very popular and well-attended resurrection.

For the moment, ROSE is the game I find myself keenest to log into each day, closely followed by EverQuest II, where I continue to make good progress in the latest expansion, Renewal of Ro. Third on the list comes Noah's Heart, another game I never expected to stick with but which I've now been playing every day for four-and-a-half months. 

Falling by the wayside for the time being are Lord of the Rings Online, New World and Guild Wars 2, none of which I've given any serious attention for weeks. Of those three, it's LotRO that stands the best chance of an early return, thanks to the recent addition of two new starting zones. As ROSE has reminded me yet again, the aspect of mmorpg gameplay I most enjoy is the early to mid level range, when significant changes to both gameplay and character development come thick and fast.

As I mentioned in passing the other day, just preparing to set out to explore new content in EQII requires a significant investment in time and effort, as you check all your gear and abilities are fit for purpose and take remedial action to correct those that fail the test. It is, in itself, an enjoyable process, but it requires an entirely different degree of concentration, application and administrative attention, something that can become mentally exhausting after a while.

In contrast, the early levels of any mmorpg feel more open, exciting and fresh. There's the intellectual challenge of learning new systems and mechanics, something I find exhillarating and absorbing, but also the relative freedom from the kind of beauraucratic box-ticking that frequently dominates at-cap gameplay. If nothihng else, it's a pure joy to play a character whose inventory is almost empty.

ROSE Online benefits hugely in this respect from being a game from an earlier, simpler era. It feels both mechanically and graphically uncluttered. The game looks and plays clean. I'm aware that behind the straightforward appearance may lurk a much more complicated interior but that's not something I need to worry about just yet.

For now, all I have to do is go where the questgivers send me and do what they ask. If I keep doing that, I get a drip-feed of information on how the game and the world work, plus I get new weapons and armor. It's a really plaeasant, relaxing, involving way to spend a couple of hours. I can see how it caught on.

One of the things I learned yesterday was the name of the world on which ROSE Online is set. It's called Junon, a name that sounds comfortably familiar yet different enough to stand out among the many imaginary entries in my mmorpg address-book.

I was looking at the map yesterday, after I'd been given the introductory quest to the third zone, Canyon City of Zant, eponymous home of the first significantly-sized town I've yet visited, and it occured to me the whole of the world map looked a tad on the small size for a full game. 

I've since learned that ROSE Online takes place on not one but three separate planets, the other two being Luna and Eldeon. There are four other named planets in the ROSE solar system, all of which were intended to be available for play, but as the wiki somewhat enigmatically explains, the others were only available on "Rose Online Brazil, first and only server with all seven planets."

If I go on playing ROSE, something that seems highly likely, at least in the short term, I'll probably find myself digging into the history of the game a little, as often happens in cases like this. I do enjoy investigating the genre's quirkier corners even if I occasionally find myself wishing someone else had already done the research and turned it into a neat summary I could skim through instead. 

The whole concept of mmorpgs offering different content in different territories is something I'd like to learn more about. I've noticed it happening in a number of games I've played, particularly Dragon Nest, which seems to have had half a dozen significantly varying versions over the years, and it often comes up as a point of contention when titles are ported to the Western market, but I can't recall ever seeing any kind of overview or discussion of the underlying principles of the phenomenon.

For now, I'm going with the three world paradigm for ROSE Online. If it turns out there are more, that'll be a bonus. In any case, even given my current enthusiasm for the low-end game, I think it's unlikely I'll make it far enough to complete the Level 70 quest that takes you to Luna, let alone to Eldeon, which doesn't open up until you hit Level 90.

My Hawker is curently Level 19. Progress has been steady, the bulk of experience coming from quests, the handing-in of which can sometimes jump you a whole level or more. The nature of the quests and their rewards makes it plain I'm still in the tutorial phase so how much longer progress will come in such hefty chunks is uncertain. I'll just enjoy it while it lasts.

Meanwhile, I'm appreciating the changes I see all around me as I travel. Yesterday was the first time I'd seen the gameworld at night and it was spectacular enough to prompt me into taking several screenshots of the vibrant night-time sky. I'm something of an afficionado of skyboxes and I have a particular appreciation of looming planets and nebulae, both of which Junon has in abundance.

I also met my first anthropomorphic animal NPC, a vendor and repairer by the name of Rockwell. I think he's a bear but I wouldn't swear to it. At first I thought he was an otter but on closer examination he looks a bit too gormless to be anything so cool. 

One of the things I didn't mention in my First Impressions piece was character creation. Usually it's something I'd give space to but in this case it was so perfunctory I forgot all about it until after I'd finished the post. I was mildly disappointed there were no options to play anything other than a human but it's something I'm resigned to these days. At least if I can't be an animal in game, now I know there are some I can talk to. That's something, at least.

Another in-game staple I ran into for the first time yesterday was the player vendor. Pretty much every mmorpg has some method for players to transfer goods between themselves. Some games have several. There's one basic, fundemental split, though, and that's whether the interface involved is a UI element or a virtual object placed in the gameworld. (Actually, as both EQII and FFXIV would like to tell you, there's a way to bridge that chasm, but I don't want to derail my own post by going into details on how its done.)

ROSE Online appears to stand firmly in the camp that believes in players laying out your their own stalls; literally. Coming into the city of Zant, I ran into several player-vendors on the access ramp, peddling wares that looked interesting enough to make me stop and shop. 

The stalls include a large overhead sign the player can personalise as appropriate. I don't know how or if it's policed but I was impressed by the lack of smut. I saw dozens of the things and they were all reasonably informative, at least after a fashion.

The one that caught my eye was advertising Backpacks for sale. I'm always in the market for more storage. I wasn't immediately able to work out how to buy them, which turned out to be lucky for me, since I later found out the sneaky seller appeared to have purchased some items from an NPC vendor, just a few yards up the ramp in the city itself, giving them a hefty mark-up. 

It's a common practice and well-established in games that allow reselling of vendor-bought gear. I've done it myself on occasion so I don't hold a grudge. Caveat emptor, as they no doubt don't say on Junon.

Zant itself is a very busy place, positively teeming with activity. I found a helpful NPC willing to explain the facilities although I'm still finding the lack of word-wrap challenging. I often have to swivel the camera so the text is visible against some clear background like the sky.

One other thing that struck me, something I rarely mention when giving early impressions of mmorpgs, is the quality of the combat animations. I know it's something some people take very seriously indeed but I can honestly say I rarely even notice what moves my character is making, mostly because I'm too busy looking at the hot-keys. 

In ROSE, at least at these early levels, there's not an awful lot to do in a fight. It's mostly auto-attack plus a special, giving me plenty of time to admire the clean, precise movements my character makes as she stabs and slashes with the bamboo spear she's still using. 

By now I ought to have swapped to a more Hawker-appropriate weapon, like a katar or a bow but I'm so happy with how my character looks using the spear I haven't yet made the change. That's something I have in mind for next time I log in, which will be later today.

And that's how things stand at the moment. I have the basics down but there's still a huge amount to learn and much more to discover. This is the honeymoon phase. As Parker says to Logan in the final episode of Veronica Mars, employing some of the bleakest ironic foreshadowing I've ever heard, "enjoy it while it lasts".

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide