Sunday, December 31, 2023

Shameless Count Stuffing

I was one post short of three hundred for the year! 

And now I'm not.

What can I say?

I like round numbers. 

And, like the Count, I have no shame.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Next Year - The Violent Femmes

Saturday, December 30, 2023

New Year Lists. Bad Idea, Right?

New Year! Ah... dontcha just love it?  Yeah, me neither.

One thing I do quite enjoy are the recaps and the forecasts, everyone either telling you what was great about the year that's just gone or what's going to be even better about the one that's coming. I often find a lot of stuff I've missed going both directions that way, plus I'm narcissistic enough to relish that sense of affirmation, when someone else points up something I also like, as if somehow that validates my opinion.

I've read of few of those lists already. Looking backwards, there's

Elton John's Favorite 15 Songs of 2023 

Stereogum's Best Pop Songs of 2023  

Kieran Press-Reynold's Top 10ish Songs of 2023

Looking forwards, we have

The BBC Sound of 2024 Long List 

MMO Bomb's 22 Upcoming MMO Games Releasing in 2024 

Massively OP's Most Anticipated MMO Award 

and our very own Naithin's Coming Games of Interest.

I'm absolutely certain there'll be plenty more when we hit the turn of the year but for my purposes those are plenty already. I did consider doing my own, comprehensive retro and prospective lists but frankly that's a lot more research than I feel like doing right now. Instead, I thought I'd just riff off those and beef the whole thing up with a couple of easy wins of my own. Never say I don't take this sort of thing seriously!

First up, it's self-congratulation time. Not that many years ago, I was almost completely out of touch with contemporary music. MMORPGs had eaten all my available bandwidth. I could have told you far more than you ever wanted to know about which massively multiplayer games were failing, flailing or flourishing and I'd have been able to give you some solid leads on potential entrants to the field worth following. 

At the same time, not only could I not have told you what acts were tearing up the Top 40 charts, I wouldn't have been able to recognize more than a handful of the names if you'd told me. To my shame, the decade and a half from the turn of the millennium to around 2014 or so is a blank void in my memory when it comes to popular music. As someone who'd previously never felt out of touch with the prevailing trends in thirty years, realising how far I'd let myself fall behind was a traumatic moment of self-discovery.

It explains why I feel so smug now, when I see names and songs on these lists that have also appeared in posts here throughout the year. Well, that and the unfortunate fact I can be a smug git about these things at the best of times. Still, I can't help seeing it as a recovery from near-disaster. I'll never get those lost years back but at least I've stopped the rot.

We Can Be Anything - Baby Queen

Among the artists I've enjoyed in 2023, who also appear on one or more of the lists linked above, are Baby Queen, Chappell Roan, PinkPantheress, New Jeans, Caroline Polachek, 100 Gecs, Charli XCX, Feeble Little Horse, bar italia and The Last Dinner Party. All of those have turned up in What I've Been Listening To Lately posts this year, some of them more thah once. 

Ahead of them all, though, and topping two out of three countdowns above, comes Olivia Rodrigo. Like Wet Leg the year before, Olivia released a string of electrifying singles, all exploding with infectious energy and studded with smart, scintillating one liners. Best of all was the exhillarating, addictive, anarchic Bad Idea, Right? I'm not going to pick a song of the year but if I did...

What I am going to do is list the ten songs featured in those WIBLTL posts that I went on to listen to even after their moment had passed. The bittersweet truth about almost all pop music is that it's ephemeral by definition. It's joy is in the now. When I look back at the posts I wrote this year, I barely even remember some of the songs at all. As for humming the chorus of most of them (Assuming there ever was one.) - forget it.

The following ten, though, I remember very well indeed. I listened to them all, over and over, around the time I wrote the posts and plenty of times since, too. In no particular order, they are

Candy Necklace - Lana del Rey Feat. Jon Batiste

Engine - Slaughter Beach, Dog

Speed Drive - Charli XCX

We Can Be Anything - Baby Queen

New Jeans - New Jeans

A&W - Lana del Rey

What Was I Made For? - Billie Eilish

Alma Mater - Bleachers

Veronica Mars - Blondshell

Bad Idea, Right? - Olivia Rodrigo

Of the ten, the outlier is Alma Mater. I have never liked anything by Bleachers before. It probably isn't going too far to say I've actively disliked the few songs of theirs I've been careless enough to hear. Why I like this one so much is unclear. I'm expecting it to be an aberration. Hoping, really. I'm not sure I could cope with being someone who likes Bleachers.

Veronica Mars is, I think, the only song on the list not from this year. It's from 2022. It's also almost certainly the song on the list I've listened to the most times. For a while I was listening to it every night, right before I went to sleep. I haven't heard it for too long. I'm going to listen to it right now...

Yep. Still just as magnificent. Also, this just in... Joiner, which I very nearly used here instead of Veronica Mars because it's nearly as good and I listened to it on repeat for a good while earlier this year, turns up on Barack Obama's Top Songs of 2023. Now that's a meeting of the minds I would not have predicted!

Obviously I listened to a lot more Lana than those two tracks but here I'm only talking about songs I listened to through the blog itself. Yes, I do go back to the posts and use them to play stuff. Lana, I can listen to on CD. 

Speaking of CDs, a format whose demise, along with every other physical format, appears to have been overstated, of the artists listed in this post so far I bought CDs by Lana, Olivia Rodrigo and Bar Italia, or rather I had them bought for me. I also asked for and received an album by someone who doesn't appear on any of the lists - yeule. I haven't taken it out of the shrink-wrap yet.

daizies - yeule

So much for music. How about games? For this I'm going to take the simple solution of listing everything on my Steam Wishlist. If it's on there, I must be looking forward to it, right?

First, though, let's assess the nearly two dozen titles MMO Bomb threw out. There are four titles on there I've already play-tested: Past Fate, Tarisland, Reign of Guilds and Once Human. Past Fate was okay but a bit grim and worthy; Reign of Guilds the same only more so. Both Tarisland and Once Human I really enjoyed (Still am enjoying in the case of the latter.) and plan on playing when they release.

Of the remaining eighteen, the only one that really interests me is, inevitably, Nightingale. I mean, we're all waiting on that one, right? I received multiple emails from the developers asking me to apply for the beta this year, all of which I declined because it has a very strict NDA. I'm not interested in play-testing anything I can't blog about, these days. I'll be there when Nightingale launches, though. So will you. Don't pretend otherwise!

Pax Dei and Blue Protocol mildly intrigue me. I'll try them if they're F2P. The rest either I don't know enough about to form an opinion or they're not my kind of thing at all. Of the games mentioned in the MOP post, nothing else is anywhere near close enough to release to be worth thinking about. 

Obviously I'll be playing the new EverQuest game, if it ever happens, although since I'll be pushing seventy by the earliest possible release date, it had better have some strong accessibility options. Light No Fire also looks interesting but I've managed without No Man's Sky this far so I'll probably pass.

None of the games on Naithin's list mean anything to me except for Baldur's Gate 3. I really want to play that but I haven't yet because a) it's far too expensive and b) I'm not convinced my PC will run it. I'm waiting for a decent sale and then I'll risk it. 10% off in the Steam Winter Sale is a bad joke, by the way, Larian.

If I do get BG3, it'll probably run, just about. I upgraded a couple of things this year and those websites that scan your PC and tell you how crap it is now tell me I can run over 98% of all the games they monitor. A year ago that was more like 50%. Time will keep moving on, though, and technology with it, so I don't imagine I'll be able to say the same this time next year.

That just leaves my final list. All the unreleased games on my Steam Wishlist, which I suppose we could take to be the ones I'm looking forward to for next year. And here they are:


Old Skies

Schrodinger's Catgirl

Sovereign Syndicate

Albert Wilde: Quantum P.I.


Once Human

The last two I've already covered. They're also the only multiplayer titles. The rest are single-player, as far as I'm aware. I'll buy Nighthawks, Nightingale and Once Human on release, at full price; the others when they go on sale, if at all. 

And that's my round-up/look ahead for 2023/24. I'm working all weekend so maybe I'll get a final post in for the last day of the year and maybe I won't. If not, here's wishing everyone a Happy New Year. 

Can't hurt to say it twice.

Friday, December 29, 2023

The 2023 Inventory Full Advent Calendar In Review

I said I was going to review the 2023 Inventory Full Advent Calendar and by golly I meant it! 

I thoroughly enjoyed researching it, picking the possibles and making the final choices, generating the images and posting the finished pages. What I didn't like was not being able to give a running commentary on all of that while I was doing it, so this is where I get all that pent-up frustration out of my system.

If anyone remembers, my original plan was to have the AIs do most of the heavy lifting. I thought I'd get them to find a bunch of less well-known Christmas songs and then all I'd have to do would be listen to them and pick the best ones. Unfortunately, that really didn't work out.  

In the end, I think I used just two of the suggestions: Christmas in Nevada by The Willard Grant Conspiracy and Christmas Is My Time Of Year by The Monkees. The AIs were also indirectly responsible for several other entries, most notably Merry Christmas From The Family by Jill Sobule and Sympathy For The Grinch by 100 Gecs. In both cases, one of the AIs gave me a Christmas song by those artists that didn't exist, which led to me finding one that did.

The AIs also gave me another half-dozen or so useable suggestions I just chose to ignore. Some of them, like Snowqueen of Texas, just weren't Christmassy enough. Others, like the excellent The Christmas Song by The Raveonettes, felt too obvious.

Snowqueen Of Texas - The Mamas and The Papas

With the AIs largely proving useless, I came by most of the tunes through old-fashioned YouTube surfing. I spent quite a few hours link-hopping, listening to a lot of really not very good seasonal material to come up with a long-list of over fifty. 

By the beginning of December I had the first week's posts already done but after that I surprised myself by changing my mind on almost everything else. I didn't use half the ones I had earmarked and I kept finding new ones right until the last few days. One lesson I learned is that, while it's fun to prep,  it's a lot more fun to do this sort of thing on the fly. I hope I remember that next year.

The images followed a similar pattern. I ran a lot of them up front and stashed them but most of those went unused. A couple of comments from regular readers, saying how much they disliked the AI art, made me re-assess it a little. As I've said, I do actively enjoy the distortion and weirdness but even I'm beginning to think you can have enough six-fingered hands and dogs with five legs.

As a result, I started to be a bit more picky about which images I used as the month wore on. I tried to avoid using the weirder ones (Believe me, I have some that will give you nightmares.) and to keep the images more closely aligned with the songs. 

Then, on Day Twenty-Two, something happened. I found a way to use DALL-E 3 for free via Microsoft Image Creator. The final three images were generated there and I think they look and feel radically different. I suspect it will be my go-to for AI illustrations for a while and I hope it will alleviate some of the issues familiar from the less-polished pictures I've been using up to now.

By far the hardest part was stopping myself writing a paragraph or five on every song as I posted it. I found it incredibly frustrating not to be able to show my workings. Next year I might have to add some sort of captions to cover that.

Fortunately, Redbeard, who gets an Inventory Full Christmas No-Prize for commenting on every single post, gave me the opportunity to release some of my dammed-up tension in the comment thread. I thought I was going to say a few things about some of the songs in this review but looking back, I think I got most of what I wanted to say out in those comments.

It's just as well Red took it upon himself to comment on every entry because if not for that, the entire event would have passed in near-silence. Atheren popped in to say she was using the Grinch picture and I think maybe there was one other comment but really I have no idea whether anyone was listening to the songs or even looking at the pictures. Luckily, I was doing it almost entirely for my own amusement, so it didn't matter either way. 

Lack of response certainly isn't going to stop me doing another Advent Calendar next year, far from it. In fact, I enjoyed doing it so much, I've been trying to come up with an excuse to do something similar as soon as possible. I really don't want to wait another twelve months to have that kind of fun. 

I'm even toying with the idea of starting a second blog, one rather like Wilhelm's Eve Online Pictures, where I'd just post a song and a picture every day. I doubt I'd be able to stop myself from adding a few lines of text, though and next thing you know I'd be writing a full post so maybe it's not such a great idea...

One unexpected side-effect was that I listened to most of the songs several times and a few of them really quite a lot more than that. I spent an hour and a half wrapping presents while listening to Day Thirteen on a loop. 

Among my favorites - or at least my most-played - were Jill Sobule (Which is a cover, by the way.), Margo Guryan, the Charlie Bliss cover and very surprisingly to me at least, The Willard Grant Conspiracy. I must have listened to that last one a dozen times, easily.

My favorite entry over all, though, was Christmas Eve. Mabes' Alone On Christmas Eve was probably my favorite Christmas song of the year, for the video as much as for the song itself. The way you hear the sound of the plates and glasses smashing on the floor as she tosses them out of shot is absolute genius. I thought the two videos went very well together, which makes it a real shame that whoever posted the second one made their YouTube account private a few days later. I had to replace it with another video that isn't quite such a good pairing. At least the AI image is still perfect. 

I listened to a bunch of other songs by Mabes after that and they were all great, although she doesn't seem to have done all that many, especially considering she put the first one up on YouTube four years ago. She hasn't added anything to her channel for over a year so maybe she's stopped making music. I hope not. 

I'm going to end this post with one of hers I really like. It's got nothing to do with Christmas, which is probably just as well. 

I think we're done with all that for a while.

Sugarush - Mabes

Thursday, December 28, 2023

One Down, How Many To Go?

It's been a whole week since the last time I wrote anything substantive about Once Human, not counting that Christmas Day squib about the santa hat. Rest assured, I have been playing every day. I just thought we probably all needed a break from the apocalypse over the holdays.

Yesterday I put in one of my longest sessions yet, almost four hours straight. I don't often play any game for that long without a break these days but survival games in general do lend themselves to rambling, extended sessions and this one makes those more immersive than most.

It does to me, anyway. When it comes to gaming, particularly the persistent, open-world RPG kind, I have a preference I don't think I've mentioned before, one that I'm not sure is necessarily apparent from the games I choose to play and write about.

I have said, many times, that I prefer, whenever possible, not to play human characters. I'd rather play animals, animal-human hybrids or, failing that, humanoids of dimunitive stature like gnomes or fairies. If I do have to play a human character, though, my favorite setting to play them in, by far  is contemporary or near-future. 

I find it much easier to connect with a human character who's able to wear clothes that look like clothes I recognize, not like medieval armor, which really doesn't figure in any vision of myself I've ever had. I also much prefer humans to wield weapons that look familiar, like guns or baseball bats or monkey-wrenches, not fifteen-foot long girders with lasers shooting out of the end.

I also have a penchant for modern buildings that have fallen into disrepair or ruin, something I very much enjoy exploring in real life, should I ever get the chance. It's evocative and fascinating to be able to wander through the decaying detritus of a dead or dying commercial sector or prowl around the dusty, tumbled furniture in a deserted suburban home. 

These kinds of environments tend to elicit more complex emotional reactions from me than the gosh-wow awe and amazement that comes from graphic artists' joyful renderings of royal palaces and stately homes. Not that those aren't fun, in their own way, but they don't resonate the way a beat-up filling station does.

Obviously, I like the pretty stuff, too, but given the choice I'd generally go for gritty, urban realism and sylised streetwear over fairytale fantasy and frou-frou frocks, every time. The Secret World is a long way from being my favorite MMORPG in terms of gameplay but it's been my benchmark for playing dress-up for over a decade and it comes in close to the top for set design, too. 

It's too early to say whether Once Human can topple TSW from either of those positions but it's got to be in with a chance. While I don't see any sign yet that it's going to compete with Funcom's game for leather-jacketed street cool, the depth of detail in both architecture and interior design look increasingly impressive the further I explore.

Which is not to say there's anything particularly ground-breaking or exceptional here. It's much more likely I just don't get to play many games with these kinds of settings. I mostly play MMORPGs, which as we know, are mostly fantasy or sci-fi. I'm fairly sure I'd have been equally as impressed, or more so, by any number of well-known titles, if only I'd played them, but since nothing I've noticed between TSW and this also came with a New Weird overlay, my points of comparison are necessarily limited.

That's a very round-about, long-winded way of saying I often find myself spending longer playing Once Human than I mean to because I take so much time gawping at overturned vending machines or staring at broken billboards as though they were exhibits in a gallery. I'd rarely stop and gaze at a sumptuous ballroom in a fantasy game the way I stare in delight at a run-down, out-of-town shopping mall.

Even so, my capacity for taking screenshots of urban decline, considerable though it is, has its limits. I wouldn't be spending this long going through every trash-filled room in every run-down building if it wasn't for the hook the game sets every time you enter a new location.

As soon as you cross the threshold of a named settlement, be it a farm or a factory or a mall, a set of objectives appears on screen. These are similar but not identical for each place you visit. Usually you have to kill a certain number of the inhabitants, find a "mysterious" but unspecified object, loot a couple of gear or weapons containers and maybe kill an Elite mob. 

It's astonishing how effective a motivator this can be. It turns every delapidated show house or deviant-infested repair shop into a hidden object puzzle. Not that the objects are hard to find per se. They light up or glow or stand out from the background, bordered in white. To be absolutely certain, you can press Q, sending out a pulse of energy that illuminates anything you may have missed. 

A recent patch added extra glow to chests to make them even easier to see. And if that wasn't enough, best of all, the game uses a very effective graphical trick to make life easier, one I haven't encountered before. When you enter a building, the ambient light alters automatically, effectively emulating the real-world experience of your eyes becoming accustomed to the gloom. It's very effective and immersive, too.

All things considered, I get the strong impression the developers focused closely on encouraging players to feel good about exploring the environment, fitting the gameplay around the experience rather than the other way around. It's not so much that it feels natural - theres' nothing natural about braining a zombie with a monkey-wrench - as that it feels bizarrely comfortable. Very little is awkward or frustrating and yet it doesn't feel insultingly easy, either. 

I realise as I write this that I'm describing the whole experience very much from the viewpoint of the Explorer archetype we're all familiar with. This really is an explorer's world. It's thrilling to explore for the sheer fun of it. At the same time, all those numbered, tabulated tasks speak directly to the Achiever, the archetype which usually comes second for me in any of those Bartle tests I've done. It's no wonder I've been finding it so compulsive.

One thing I've been less happy about is the way the game follows what seems to have become the standard model for crafting progression in these kinds of Survival games, where each tier is locked behind a boss kill. I first encountered it in Valheim, where I didn't really like it much, then I saw it replicated verbatim in Dawnlands, where I liked it even less. 

Now, here it is again and I'm still not keen. It's not a pleasure, just an annoying necessity. Granted, a successful boss kill does release a momentary burst of endorphins but I'd happily forego the hit for a more straightforward, skill-based progression system, one bearing a more meaningful relationship to the crafting process itself. Mixing crafting and combat this way always seems counter-intuitive to me.

Still, if you're going to do it, at least make it manageable for players who prefer to craft rather than kill and therefore may not have the skills to handle challenging boss fights. That ought to be the rule. Again, it's too early to say whether Once Human achieves that standard - or even aims for it - but I can say that I have now killed the first boss and it went well.

The tool-tip suggests two level ten players for the fight so since I was going solo I tried to over-level for it. By the time I dinged 14, though, it had become apparent to me that, while you can keep on leveling up as long as you want, extra levels don't bring the same kind of innate, material advantages in this situation as they might in other games. What I really needed were better weapons but short of some exceptional luck with a Weapons Crate, I also needed the next tier of crafting to make them. Something of a Catch 22. 

I watched a couple of YouTube videos of the fight and it didn't look difficult. Long and tedious, yes, but the tactics seemed easy to understand and not much harder to execute. My biggest concern was finding a time when Beryl wasn't likely to interrupt me mid-fight. In the end, yesterday afternoon, with Beryl sleeping in the armchair behind me, I just got fed up of waiting, made myself a thousand rounds of ammunition, repaired all my gear, ate, drank and restored my sanity and then teleported to the location and went in.

It was, as promised, a fairly straightforward fight. It followed what I'd seen in the videos quite closely although as with all these fights, there are always small variations. Still, there were no real surprises. I was concentrating so hard I didn't even think of taking any screenshots so the only record I have is the handy Victory screen the game pops up for you as you exit the instance.

The fight seemed to take a long time but that was mostly because the weapons I had, a couple of handguns, did relatively little damage. The boss, the Foul Shadowhunter, recently renamed from the perfectly acceptable Ravenous Hunter for reasons that escape me, has a massive health pool but it dosn't matter because you mostly can't shoot him anyway. He's immune from attack for much of the fight. Instead, you have to shoot his gigantic gatling gun, which has its own much smaller health pool. 

When you deplete that to zero he drops the gun and just stands there like a lemon. You pick the gun up and empty the entire magazine into him. If you do it correctly, aiming for the head, it takes huge chunks off his health. When the ammo runs out, the dance begins again. There are a couple of other phases, where you have to run around destroying things to stop adds spawning but most of the fight consists of hiding behind barrels while the boss shoots uselessly at them, then popping out while he takes a breather to blast his gun until he drops it.

I got him down with three goes on his big gun, which seemed pretty decent from what I'd seen in the videos on YouTube, where everyone clearly had far better weapons than I did. I didn't time it but it felt like eight or nine minutes. 

Longer than I'd have liked, sure, but not even close to being either as long, boring or annoying as virtually any instanced boss fight I'd done in a decade of Guild Wars 2's Living Story. I'd say it was about on a par with the first bosses in both Valheim and Dawnlands If things carry on like that way, it should be manageable enough. I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to the next boss fight but at least I'm not dreading it.

That, though, can wait for a good while. First I have a whole new tier of crafting to explore, something that will also require me to level up a few times to earn the requisite points to open all the options and learn all the blueprints. Beating the first boss also unlocks the Cradle, the device in your backpack where you store the Deviations you have to collect to give you extra abilities and buffs. 

All that, though, is for another post. There's so much to talk about! I haven't even mentioned my new Gacha machine. It plays Whack-a-Mole and spits out blueprints. I'd tell you more but I don't understand how it works yet.

I guess I'll have to save that for next time.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Bringing Back The Blog Bounce

Simon Reynolds
has a lot of blogs. Forty-four by my count. The only one I follow is blissblog, which I think might be the primary, if that's an appropriate term. 

Reynolds, of course, is one of the more successful and widely-known music journalists of the millennium, having written for many publications, both print and digital. He's probably even better-known as the author of a number of critically and commercially successful books, like Rip It Up and Start Again and Shock and Awe, both of which I've read and would recommend.

As well as being a professional journalist and writer, however, he's also a high-profile advocate for both blogging and the blog format, which is presumably why the Guardian asked him to write a piece on the topic. I read it this morning, in conjuction with a blog post he wrote that goes into the subject in a kind of granular detail that would no doubt have driven his editor at the Guardian to a frenzy of blue pencil, which does rather make Simon's point about the reason for having a blog in the first place.

Unlike certain bloggers I could mention, Simon doesn't harp on about the supposedly spectacular decline in cultural importance and impact of the long-form, text-centric blog, something I feel is often over-emphasized, particularly by individuals who experienced a personal moment in the sun that's now passed into shadow. Instead, he draws attention to a particular aspect of the hobby, one which he feels has rather sadly declined.

It's a phenomenon he labels "inter-blog communication", a somewhat dry and formal description for the organic, whimsical, occasionally joyous way that an idea sometimes takes hold and runs across numerous blogs like a grass fire. In this I have to agree with Simon that "Blogging has become more of a solitary activity. A blogpost will be sparked by something "out there," or by something within, but rarely in response to another blog. "

He does qualify his observation with "At least, in this particular corner of the 'sphere", by which he's referring specifically to the once-fractious, fizzing collective of music-based blogs. I follow a few of those but I'm not going to pretend I was there when the kind of interactions Simon's missing were a fundemental feature. I suspect that, by the time I started reading music blogs, they were already, as they do seem to be now, inwardly focused and somewhat solipsistic.

The bubble in which this blog floats was originally concerned almost exclusively with gaming, specifically MMORPG gaming. With such a tight focus, perhaps it was always more likely that conversations between blogs would generate spontaneously but there also seemed to be more of a sense of collective responsibility back then.

There was always at least one blogger who'd take it upon themselves to post a round-up of what other blogs were doing, something that strongly promoted traffic between blogs and often encouraged a rolling discussion of topics of the moment, across several posts and numerous comment threads. It's been a while since we had anyone willing to take on that kind of self-imposed responsibility and I can imagine why. It must be a lot of work and the thanks are few. 

It also seems to me that there used to be a significantly higher frequency of sporadic conversations breaking out across blogs, where one blogger posted something, another took it up and a few more joined on behind, all with posts of their own. It does still happen, just not as often. I've been posting here for more than a decade and I think it's hard to argue that inter-blog communication isn't what it was when I started.

I could (But won't.) name the handful of bloggers in my blog roll who can still be relied on to start these kinds of conversations or keep them going, when they flare up. Ironically, I suspect it's the existence of a number of very extensive blog rolls, such as my own or Syp's, that can act as something of a drag anchor on the kinds of to and fro we used to see more often.

Even more ironically, I wonder if the very success of events like Blaugust, as they open out to include not just gaming blogs but blogs, vlogs and personal websites covering everything and anything, end up mitigating against the kind of mutual sharing of ideas that results in flurries of posts on the same topic. In theory, a wider topic pool should generate more opportunities for jumping in but I fear the effect my be just the reverse.

During Blaugust itself there's always an admirable degree of cross-pollination but when the event comes to an end it's not always clear how much of that continues. I know that, after years of joining in with Blaugust, The Newbie Blogger Initiative and other community-driven events, I now have a lot of blogs in my own blog roll that I rarely visit. It's not that I'm not interested in them once the events are over but there's only so much time I can spend reading blogs, particularly given I actually follow quite a lot of other blogs, on subjects that particularly interest me, ones, like Reynolds', that aren't in my blog roll.

In that Guardian piece, Simon says something I find a little paradoxical: "If community persists, it’s on the level of any individual blog’s comment box." This feels both true and untrue. I certainly value my comment thread more than any statistics Google or Blogger can give me but I know from grim, personal experience that commenting on blogs is a lot harder than it ought to be. 

At least three times in the last week I've given up trying to post comments on blogs - after I've written the comments, too - because the technical challenge of getting the comment to register was just too onerous to overcome. It applies equally to Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr and any of the outlier platforms. All of them seem far more concerned with keeping unwanted comments out than allowing welcome ones in.

The supreme irony in all of this is that, when I wanted to leave a comment on Simon Reynolds' blog, letting him know that his observations on the decline of inter-blog communication had led directly to an example that had even leapt the barrier between blogospheres, and also to point him towards the Blaugust phenomenon, something I thought might interest him, I couldn't find any way to leave a comment on his blog at all! 

As far as I can tell, blissblog doesn't accept comments. I can't speak for his forty-three other blogs...

In essence, though, I think he makes a fair point. Despite the barriers, I think I am more likely now to leave a comment on a thread than I am to write a full-length post of my own, linking back to the blog that inspired it. For example, this morning I left a comment at Time To Loot that I did consider turning into a post here, not least because it seemed as though Naithin was addressing a sufficiently broad and important enough topic to justify a full response.

Instead, I chose to write this, which is at least an example of the kind of communication, the decline of which Simon Reynolds was bemoaning, even if he'll never know about it. 

His article and post have also inspired me to make a New Year's Resolution (Something I rarely do.) I resolve to try and be more mindful in 2024 about taking topic cues from other bloggers. I used to do it without thinking. It's really not that hard.

Of course, if this follows the pattern of most New Year's Resolutions, I'll have forgotten I even made it before January's out. That's why I don't make New Year's Resolutions.

If that happens, do feel free to remind me. 

Or better yet, write a post about it.

A note on AI used in this post.

Both images created by DALL-E 3 via Microsoft Image Creator.

The prompt for both was the same: "Blogging has become more of a solitary activity. New Yorker Cartoon style."

Monday, December 25, 2023

Nothing Says "I Survived The Apocalypse " Like A Limp Santa Hat

Here's a thing I'd really like to know: just how long is this Once Human beta going to last? As of last night there's a Christmas event, an in-game scavenger hunt with real-world prizes you can win in a contest on Discord, which is where you can also find a code to claim a santa hat for your character. Plus another ten thousand invites are going out to new testers, none of which seems like something that would happen if the beta was about to end in a few days.

I only ask because I'm falling into that troublesome pattern of playing beta like it was live. It's a perennial problem. I guess a lot of people experience something like it When a beta's every bit as good, if not quite a bit better, than most Live games, why not play it as if it was here to stay?

It's an existential conundrum, anyway. All games go away, don't they? Does it matter if it happens next week, next year, next decade? Or, as seems ever more worryingly possible, next century. If even then.

Are beta characters less valid just because they're ephemeral? How long is long enough to matter? What makes a character in a video game valid, anyway? Is it all down to how long they keep on not existing? And doesn't intensity or originality count for something? Is fun in the moment an insufficient return for effort expended? Does value only multiply by time spent? 

You can drive yourself crazy thinking about stuff like that. Unless you have a metaphysics paper to write I'd recommend not going there. Still, I'd like to know, all the same.

Until I find out, I guess I'll just go on enjoying myself. I've certainly been doing that.

Other than forty-five minutes in that Reign of Guilds beta, which I only racked up "for science", I haven't played any other games since I got invited to test Once Human. The knowledge that I'm going to have to do it all over again, when the game launches, is the only thing that's keeping me from playing two or three times as much as I have been. Even when I resist, I can't motivate myself to play another game instead. I just don't play anything.

It's not that Once Human is that good. I mean , it is good, sure. It's very good but it's no coincidence that most of the games I've devoted huge chunks of time to over the last few yeas have been some flavor of Survival. I'm clearly as vulnerable today to the hooks employed by that genre as I once was to the Diku-MUD inspired tricks of the Classic MMORPG era. 

Is that a good thing? Probably not. At least I have a blog now, so I can write about my obsession and in that way convince myself it serves some greater purpose. Without that, I really would have some questions I couldn't answer.

I did spot something today that might conceivably pry me away from OH for a while. Naturally, it's another survival title, albeit one that's out of beta, although I wouldn't like to put money on how long it'll be hanging around.

I'm talking about Dawnlands, of course, and it just got a new update. I was in Steam, spending some of my Christmas Present money on games in the Winter Sale, when I noticed it was pending. I checked the notes and it seems they've added a whole new biome, which is a big deal for a game of this kind. The image in the patch notes looks gorgeous, too. I ought to find time to go check that out, at least.

As for the sale games I bought, I restricted myself to a couple of Point & Click adventures. I can all but guarantee I'll play them fairly soon. I've been itching for a good point & click fior a while, now. 

There were several on my wishlist; all discounted, naturally. Is anything not in the sale? I picked Crown and Pawns and Tales Noir Preludes as the best combination of Bargain and Will Definitely Play, two tags Steam really ought to add. 

I had Cats and the Other Lives in my basket but I took it out at the last minute on the grounds I'd never find time for three P&Cs. It's at a steep discount, though, so it's odds on I'll crack and grab it before the sale ends.

Anyway, those are my excuses for being on Steam on Christmas Day and for blogging about it afterwards. What excuse I'm going to give for playing Once Human after I post this I'm not so sure.

 I'm sure I'll come up with something...

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Day Twenty-Four - Christmas Eve

Alone On Christmas Eve - Mabes 

Christmas Eve -Tatsuro Yamashita

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Reign of Guilds - First And Last Impressions

I was hoping I'd be able to get a quick, short post done today so I could get on with Christmas stuff and also fit in a session of Once Human, so thank you kindly, Reign of Guilds, for making that happen! I really don't have a lot to say about this one so it shouldn't take long.

As I said yesterday, I couldn't remember hearing about this one, which surprised me. At a glance, it appeared to be the sort of thing I'd have been keeping tabs on. It's also in a very late stage of development, with a proposed launch window on Steam of Q1 2024, and there have been multiple tests throughout the year, including an earlier open one in September.

Having now played the game, briefly, I think I've figured it out. Reign of Guilds is a FFA PvP sandbox, not a "classic MMORPG" at all. That's probably why I never paid any attention to it before.

It's another in a long and so far not very successful line games in this sub-genre. As usual, it has some kind of "karma" system that's supposed to regulate predatory behavior. Has that ever worked? About the only truly successful entrant to this somewhat overpopulated field in the last few years has been Albion Online, which succeeded by developing a well-balanced playing field with graded  zones that allow new players to get started and find their feet in reasonable safety, before they move towards greater danger at a pace they can control.

Reign of Guilds doesn't do that. The only safe place for new players is the Inn, where the Tutorial takes place. From the moment you step through the door into the starter village, on the starter island, you're subject to involuntary PvP.

Potentially. There is that karma system, which supposedly makes it unwise for anyone to attack innocents in sight of the authorities. It means you ought at least to be able to walk around the actual village in relative peace. I did, but then I was on the North American server at what would have been about three in the morning on the West Coast, so it may not have been a fair test.

Things didn't go so well for me when I ventured out into the forest but we'll come to that in a bit. First I ought to go through Character Creation. Can't get ganked until you have a character!

The setting for Reign of Guilds seems to be a relatively low-magic, very low-technology, quasi-medieval world. The only playable race is human, which comes in the traditional two genders, male and female, something that already seems quaint and old-fashioned. 

At first there didn't seem to be a lot of options for making a character. The game uses a skill system with no hard classes so there's no choosing to be a Warrior or a Mage. You don't even get to set any characteristics or preferences or dump points into stats. All of that happens in gameplay.

What you do get to pick is what you look like, which again seems to offer limited choice at first. Most of that was fairly standard, although one interesting wrinkle I hadn't seen before was the way height affects both the size of your character's hit box and the reach of their attack. I thought that was quite clever. 

Height also affects how quickly you get full from eating food, which may be going a little overboard in terms of "realism". I'm not sure short people eat less than tall people, especially in fantasy worlds. I guess they don't have Hobbits here.

Other than that, the initial elements of Character Creation seem a little perfunctory - until you get to the face. There, you have as many sliders as you could want and quite a few of them are interesting. I found the option to fine-tune my character's expressions appealing and effective. I can't remember being able to quirk one side of an avatar's mouth up, very slightly, into a smirk before, or certainly not this convincingly. 

Overall, I was quite impressed with the character creation options, other than having to be a boring old human. I wonder, though, what the point of all that fine detail is, when you never really see your character in the actual game. It's strange how PvP games that don't show the player character in action still obsess over what they look like close-up.

All action takes place entirely in first-person perspective. You can toggle to third-person for screenshots, something I didn't discover until afterwards, but you can't fight or really do anything much else. Still, I'm not going to knock anything that lets you take quality selfies, so a cautious thumbs up for character creation, I guess.

I'd also give a tentative high five to the graphics. If they were going for a disheveled, neglected, backwater peasant vibe, they pretty much nailed it. Everything looks clunky and worn-out and dirty, including the peasants. Outside the village, though, the countryside is oddly attractive in something like the sketchy, impressionistic way Valheim manages. Mostly it's skyboxes and mist doing the heavy lifting but it did feel quite atmospheric at times.

Before you get to see the village, you have the option to take a Tutorial inside the inn, which is where you arrive on first login. It's very straightforward but also very long-winded. I'm not sure it really needs both an in-character voice-over and so many very detailed out-of-character walls of text. I found it difficult to listen to one while reading the other but to have done the two things separately would have taken even longer and it already felt like it was going on forever.

Basic melee combat mechanics are relatively simple - LMB/RMB for normal and charged attacks etc. Nothing much new to learn there. There's blocking and dodging, both of which felt awkward, but then I'm not good at that kind of thing. I was, at least, able to complete all of the required moves, easily, to the satisfaction of the trainer, which is a lot more than I can say for some tutorials I've suffered through.

Magic is more unusual, consisting mainly powders, which you throw in people's faces. They can be heated to make them more effective but over-heating makes them explode in your hand. The heating process itself takes place in combat and happens by way of a mini-game, which feels very strange. Even so, I found it surprisingly easy to get the hang of. I'd guess it would feel quite natural, quite quickly, with practice and it's certainly original.

The tutorial goes through all the usual topics - combat, magic, inventory management, skills and so on. The one thing all of it seemed to have in common was fiddliness. Honestly, that's what put me off more than the possibility of being ganked. 

I really don't have time any more for game mechanics that seek to replicate physical processes with anything more than a nod to reality. It seems to me all that does is bring the things I'd like not to have to think about in real life into the foreground in what's supposed to be an escape from all of that. The big advantage computers have over humans is that they can do certain tedious things very much faster, so why not let them get on with it?

With that personal proviso, I'd have to say the mechanics don't look bad per se. I don't like them but they're understandable and they work. If you're into that kind of fiddle-faddle, you'll probably see it as a positive. I might have, once, but I'm older and wiser now.

When the Tutorial ends, it's out the door into the village, where one of the first things you notice is a lot of sobbing and crying. I tracked the source to a near-naked figure in a cage hanging from a gibbet on the main mud track between the huts. I assumed it was some unpleasant local color but then I saw there were lots of similar cages, all stuffed with people, whining and wailing.  On closer examination they proved to be player characters. 

I assume this is what happens if you let that aforementioned karma fall too low. I guess it would make you think twice, although clearly it hadn't stopped all these guys from doing whatever it was they did. As I said earlier, when did it ever?

It makes for a deeply unpleasant introduction to the gameworld. It turns the village into the kind of place anyone in their right mind would get away from at the earliest opportunity, which is exactly what I did. I grabbed a bunch of quests and left. 

Questgivers were easy to find even if they weren't immediately obvious. The default settings put no markers or names over NPCs to let you know who they are or whether they have quests but I often switch all of that off anyway, so it was no biggie to approach a few and talk to them to find out if they had work for me.

Of course they did. They might be peasants and yeoman but they all have plenty of spare change to dole out to strangers for doing trivial tasks they're too lazy to do for themselves. Letters to deliver, goods to collect, animals of all kinds to kill and skin for bounty. I very much dispute the idea that Reign of Guilds is a "classic mmorpg" in most ways I would recognise but they certainly have the classic questing gameplay loop nailed down.

I set out to kill a boar or a wolf for the guy who seemed to want every living thing on the island wiped out but I couldn't find anything bigger than a chicken. I shot at a hen with my crossbow but it ran away with the bolt visibly sticking out of its back and got clean away. They breed them tough around these parts, it seems.

I wandered down to the docks and took a few screenshots, then I crossed a field and went into the woods. I still hadn't seen an animal other than that chicken. As I was searching, I sensed a movement behind me and a purple light flashed past my shoulder. I turned to see what it was. Another player.

It occured to me they might be attacking me but I didn't really believe it. I was in the starting zone. I don't think I've been ganked in a starting zone since Rallos Zek in 1999. So I ignored them, whoever they were, and carried on searching for prey.

The next purple bolt caught me in the back. That cleared things up! I thought for a moment about running away but then I realised it wasn't as though I cared whether my character survived. Might as well see how low-level PvP feels in play. 

Also, I realise now, I've actually done quite a lot of PvP of various kinds over the years. I think of myself as someone who doesn't enjoy PvP but quite often I do get quite a lot of pleasure out of it. I'm just terrible at it, that's all. Also I really don't like losing my stuff but since in this case I didn't have any stuff to lose - bring it on!

The fight went on for a while, always a good sign. I'm guessing my attacker wasn't much more experienced than I was. He certainly couldn't aim any better. He kept flinging fire at me and mostly missing; I got out my crossbow and shot at him, with much the same success. 

We carried on like that for a while. I managed to heal myself with a powder at one point, which I felt was something of an achievement, given the number of operations involved. It was all going quite well until, very suddenly, the screen went black and I was dead.

On respawning at the graveyard, I did what I usually do in such situations and checked the chat box to see what had killed me. It wasn't the guy I was fighting at all. It was a bloody wolf!

I never even saw the damn creature. I'd been out there looking for it, I got into a fight with someone else and the wolf saw its opportunity and took it. The irony was delicious.

It seemed so neat, in fact, that I couldn't see much point carrying on. The whole experience was obviously only going to go downhill from there. 

Anyway, I'd seen enough to know that Reign of Guilds is not the game I'm looking for. The graphics are okay but nothing special. I don't like the setting, I don't like the mechanics, I don't like the tone and I don't like FFA PvP.

From what I saw, though, I don't think it's a bad game. Everything seemed to work. It didn't feel buggy. The writing is competent, if not very engaging. The voice acting is alright. The magic system felt like it might be the most interesting part, there seems to be a lot of character progression with choices based off the skill system and of course there's seige play and organised, mass PvP to look forward to for an endgame.

I'll be interested to see how well Reign of Guilds does when it launches next year. There are always people saying they want this sort of thing. and this looks, on the surface at least, like one of the more competent attempts to service that demographic. It'll be instructive to see if those players show up and, if they do, how long they'll stay.

I'll watch that with interest but from the sidelines. I'm going to unistall RoG now. It was interesting for a moment but I think I'm done.

Day Twenty-Three

All I Want For Christmas 

 The Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Friday, December 22, 2023

It's Begining To Feel A Lot Like... Anything But Christmas!

I guess it's probably time I posted something other than Christmas songs and first impressions of Once Human. Good thing it's Friday, eh? Where shall we begin... oh, I know...

Reign of Guilds Extended Playtest.

As I write this, I'm downloading the 43gb client for "classic MMORPG" Reign of Guilds. I'd heard of this one before but for some reason I don't seem to have paid any attention to it whatsoever until today, when I saw on MMO Bomb that there was an open playtest on Steam

All you have to do is click the button asking for access and you're in. I've done that and I soon will be, only I have to take Beryl for her walk first, so I won't be able to try the game out until we get back. I'm writing this in the expectation I'll be able to plump it up with a couple of screenshots and a few observations later on.

From what I can see on the Steam store page, it doesn't look quite as "classic" as all that. It looks like a first-person, action MMO with a gritty, grimy, medieval - not to say feudal - vibe. It also seems to have a realm vs realm aspect that makes me think the classic mmorpg they have in mind might be Dark Ages of Camelot.

All of that will no doubt come into better focus when I get in and make a character. What's really puzzling me and the reason I'm writing about it now rather than waiting until I have hands-on experience, is that I can't quite figure out why I haven't mentioned it on the blog before.

It's been in development a while. This isn't even the first open playtest. There was one in September and a bunch of closed tests before that. I had heard of it but I don't seem ever to have paid any attention to what it was or what it was doing. A search of the blog doesn't find a single mention and I can't even recall hearing anyone else say anything about it.

It does seem to me sometimes that, whereas a few years ago we seemed to be concerned that the MMORPG was in steep decline, with no-one wanting to make those kinds of games any more, or at least to admit the games they were making were part of the same genre, now we seem to be back in surfeit. There are so many in development or early access or in some kind of beta, not to mention the ones that have launched in the last twelve months or so, mostly unsuccessfully, it no longer seems feasible to keep up with all of them. 

As Yeebo said in a comment on Tipa's excellent post on Pantheon's current round of closed alpha testing, "whatever audience they are aiming for seems unlikely to materialize in financially viable numbers". I think that applies to a lot of these games, maybe most of them. It's almost like the old WoW clone era, except on a very much tighter budget.

Anyway, Reign of Guilds shows a very imminent Q1 2024 launch date on Steam and does appear to be in the final stages of testing, so I guess we'll find out how much interest there is in this particular entry to the canon soon enough.

[SPOILER - I won't be there for the launch. I've played for three-quarters of an hour now. I completed the tutorial, saw a little of the starter island and I already feel like I've seen enough. I'll likely get one post out of the experience, if I find time to write it, then I'll be uninstalling the game. I know, if I don't, I'll probably end up playing it some more and I really don't want to. I'm aware of the insidious nature of the systems it employs and I'd rather not let them get their hooks into me, not when there are other games, using much the same methods, that appeal to me a lot more.]

Revelation Offline

When I saw the news at MassivelyOP that Revelation Online was going to close its doors in March of next year, my first thought was "Oh, that's a shame. Didn't I used to play that?", closely followed by "Hang on, what game was it, exactly?", then "Do I still have it installed?" and "Should I play it again before it disappears?"

The answers to those questions, in order, are "Yes", "I don't really remember", "No" and "Definitely not." I certainly did play RO for a brief while - it has a tag here and there are eight posts either about it or which refer to it. The last was over six years ago, in April 2017, when I included it in a round-up of my gaming habits of the time, under the sub-heading "What I thought I'd be playing". 

I summed the game up then as "Similar to Aion although I thought it had a quirkier style and certainly better looks. Not a game I need to play in any way whatsoever but one that could always fill an idle moment." It appears, when I referred earlier to a time of glut for the mmorpg genre, I was probably talking about 2017 because I went on to say "I expected to get a few weeks out of it, like I did with ArcheAge, Black Desert and Blade and Soul." 

Looking back at my posts about the game, what it mostly makes me realise is that if I didn't have a blog I'd have no memory of most of my gaming history at all. Well, I'd vaguely recall the names of games I played, as I did with this one, but that would be as far as it would go. I wouldn't have been able to pick Revelation Online out of a line-up of imported MMORPGs unless it was by a process of elimination and I wouldn't give very good odds even on that.

Looking at the screenshots in those posts, though, a couple of which I've re-used here (Because, seriously, who's going to remember having seen them before?) a little does come back to me, albeit faintly, through a haze. I certainly don't remember RO nearly as well as, say, Bless, a much-vilified game that I rather enjoyed in at least two of its many incarnations, let alone Blade & Soul, to which Revelation Online was frequently and always unfavorably compared. 

Of the many MMORPGs imported to the West by hopeful developers in South East Asia back before the pandemic, very few established any kind of hold. The most successful was probably Black Desert, which seems still to be performing reasonably well, while my own personal favorite would certanly be Blade & Soul, a game I frequently think about playing again and do occasionally log into, before feeling overwhelmed and logging out to play something I don't have to relearn from scratch.

Knowing a game is going to go dark forever (Although "forever" in this context frequently turns out to mean something considerably less final than you'd think, given the genre's penchant for revivals and emulators.) I confess that ,even as I write this, I'm contemplating re-istalling Revelation Online for "just one last look". 

It could go in the hard drive space Reign of Guilds won't be using. It's not like it would need to be there for long...

There's More To Life Than Video Games

Music, for a start. And TV shows. And the inexorable march ot technology. I have plenty of ideas for posts about all of them, just waiting to be written.

The TV shows very definitely need to get a post and sooner rather than later. It's disturbing how quickly media-driven enthusiasm shifts from "This is the best show I've ever seen! I have to tell everyone about it!" to "I guess I ought to put something together about that show before I forget everything about it. What was it called, again...?"

On the other hand, leaving a good long gap between watching a show and writing about it does sort those with lasting value from the regular, hi-impact, sugar-rush of the new thrill. What does tend to go out of my mind for all shows, though, regardless of any other factor, are the names of the characters. I have to look those up even for shows I'm in the middle of watching.

For example, I can remember plenty about Beastars, which I finished watching weeks ago. I could write my long-promised post about it right now without having to go look up anything at all - except it would be full of sentences beginning "The little rabbit-girl who..." and "The big fox guy that..." - and those are two of the leads!

You know who used to have this problem? Andy Warhol, that's who. Lou Reed and John Cale wrote a song about it after he died. It's on Songs for Drella, which is a great album, just in case you haven't heard it. 


 "Drella" was a nickname Warhol Superstar Ondine invented for the great pop artist, film director and all-round genius; a contraction of Dracula and Cinderella, whose twin characteristics the actor felt Warhol embodied. I knew that without having to look it up, although I'm not claiming I remembered it was specifically Ondine who came up with it. 

The lyric refers to Warhol's self-professed difficulty in remembering either faces or names:

"Faces and names, I wish they were the same
Faces and names only cause trouble for me"

Yeah, no it doesn't. I could go on pretending it did and I might get away with it but I can find no evidence he suffered from either prosopagnosia (AKA "face blindness") or nominal aphasia. As far as I can tell, the song is about Andy's issues with fame and narcissism, not his non-existent inability to recall the name of some actor in some show he watched, once.

I wonder if there's a name for the psychological condition that has you going off the point all the time because I certainly seem to have that one. What I was going to say in this section was that, thanks to posting a song every day for Advent, I now have a large backlog of new tunes for the What I've Been Listening To Lately feature (Although if I'm honest, most of what I've been listening to lately has been Christmas songs...) and a bunch of ideas for posts on AI.

The trouble is, I don't really feel I can do a full music post, not while I'm also posting a tune a day, and I also haven't found the right moment to gush and gabble about yet more developments in AI, given I'm already posting a daily AI-generated image and I've had complaints about that. I know it's my blog and I can write about what I like here but I am at least somewhat sensitive to the knowledge that I have readers and at least a few of them actively dislike either music or AI or both being featured here so regularly. Also I've lost about 3% of my Feedly followers in the last month and I can take a hint.

Anyway, just take this as a warning. There will be some kind of public self-review process about how the Advent Calendar went and it will include both the musical choices and the imagery, as well as what part AI played in the whole thing and how useful I found it - or otherwise. And there will certainly be at least one catch-up, non-Christmas, music post as well. Plus AI isn't going away any time soon and nor is my interest in it. 

I might think about using header categories again - I did that for years so it wouldn't be anything new for the blog. At least then people can skip the ones they don't want to read like I do with anything Tobold posts that's not about games.

There's something to look forward to. Or not. Oh, and I will get that blasted anime/TV post done if it fricken' kills me. I guess that can stand as a New Year's resolution! Is it too early for those?

New Year? What About Last Year?

I got my Steam stats. They were really uninteresting. 

Above are all the games I played on Steam in 2023. Below is how much I used Steam each month.

The smaller Spring and Autumn spikes are NextFests. The huge pink pillars in August and September are all Dawnlands


Other than that, I didn't really use Steam even as much as I would have guessed. This month, until I downloaded Reign of Guilds this morning, it looks as though I haven't logged into Steam at all. 

I guess that might change next year, at least for the early months. There are quite a few titles on my wishlist with steep discounts in the Winter Sale. I'm almost bound to pick up at least a couple of them. Of course, then I'd have to find time to play them... 

Maybe the Once Human beta will be over by then.

And Finally - A Song

Because it's tradition. Also one less I'll have to have to consider for the next real music post...

We Kick Around - Princess Chelsea

They have some really good T-shirts in the store. Just sayin'.

A note about AI used in this post.

Just the spot illo. It was generated by DALL-E 3 via Microsoft's Image Creator from the prompt "Someone who really doesn't enjoy reading about AI, reading about AI. Cartoon." I haven't figured out if you can see the exact weights and so on using that portal, yet.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide