Friday, June 9, 2023

What I've Been Listening To Lately (Is A Lot)

You know that old cartoon trope, where someone's looking down the end of a hosepipe to see why no water's coming out and round the corner there's someone else, standing on the hose with a big grin on their smug face? Well, get ready for a soaking because you're staring down the barrel of my musical hosepipe and I got tunes backed up in there like you wouldn't believe!

Dear me! What a way to begin! That was unpleasant. And unnecessary. I do apologize. This isn't Norfolk Nights, after all. 

But the point stands. Since the last time I updated everyone on What I've Been Listening To Lately I've racked up another thirty or so possibles. More than twenty different artists. More than a dozen never featured here before. 

It's too many, right? No-one's going to sit still for two-and-a-half dozen tracks... although I seem to remember some posts from a few years back where the count hit three figures - in links, anyway - so I guess there's precedent. No excuse for making the same mistake again, though, is it?

Oh, hell. I guess I'll just gas this thing up and see where it goes.

Lilith (Diablo IV Anthem) - Halsey, SUGA

Hah! Suck on that, hipsters! 5.2m views in three days. Mainstream me, baby!

I fricken love Halsey, ever since I posted that clip of them dancing to Lana del Rey back in 2016, which has to be one of the most joyous, life-affirming things I've ever seen, albeit not something you would expect from the person who called her poetry collection I Would Leave Me If I Could. I can reach out my hand from where I'm sitting and pick up that book up, by the way, something I did only a few days ago and will do again, many times, I'm sure. Halsey can write as well as they can sing and that's almost too much for one human being.

I don't know how good they are at playing Diablo, though, or even if they play at all. I guess they might. Apparently Whoopi Goldberg does so I guess anyone could. Except me. I don't. I never have. And much though I love Halsey's dark vision for the game, I don't think I ever will.

Oh, and SUGA's on the track too. Dunno anything about SUGA. Probably ought to find out something. Bit late now.

Nothing Matters - The Last Dinner Party

Ok, it seems I've unwittingly opened the show with two songs with the word "Fuck" in the chorus. That wouldn't go down too well on Radio Norwich.

A radio-friendly edit of Nothing Matters would fit right in, though. Reminds me a bit of my musical crush from the 'nineties, My Life Story and also of Virginia Astley's first band The Ravishing Beauties, a long-forgotten, all-female chamber-pop outfit, who I saw supporting someone (Can't remember who.) back in the very early 'eighties. There's also - obviously - a goodly portion of Kate Bush in there and that guitar solo is straight out of every Saturday afternoon soft-rock radio hit from about 1974 to whenever Dire Straits went out of fashion. 

Heck of a video, too. Looks like the Umbrella Academy on a choir-school weekender in some other timeline. Someone spent some money. Someone thinks these guys are going to be big. I'm betting someone's wrong but I hope that someone is me.

Loveher - Romy

A gorgeous, rippling, ethereal groove from Romy Madley Croft out of one of Mrs Bhagpuss's favorite bands, the XX. Spookily, my Bagpuss alarm clock started speaking its piece just as I typed Mrs Bhagpuss's name. Freaked me the hell out, I can tell you. It's a risky business, blogging.

5 Easy Steps to Get In the Giant Robot - Horrible Girl and the Hot Mess

Come on! You would have clicked on that, too. I did and it got me this great punk slammer but also just the album cover to look at while I was listening to it, which was fine but I thought I could do better so I had a go. 

Maybe I succeeded. Maybe I didn't. You can be the judge. 

I started out trying to make a visualizer but all the free ones I tried were time-limited for less than the running time of the track so I scrapped that idea and made a slideshow instead. I used NightCafe to give me five sequential images of a giant robot, then I hammered those together in good old Microsoft Movie Maker (Yes, that old thing...) and finally I tarted it up a bit in Veed, who insisted on watermarking it if I wasn't going to pay them, which I wasn't.

It took me about an hour but that included figuring out most of the apps as I went along. I could do it again in half that time. Less. Also, if I was going to do it again, I'd make sure I got a nice jump-cut in there when the track suddenly speeds up about 44 seconds in and I'd stick to the "5 Easy Steps..." motif a bit more closely. Too late now...

Also, just as a FYI, YouTube does a nice, automated copyright check when you upload someone else's work like this, which I didn't know because I've never done it before. It told me I was using copyright material but it was okay because the owner allowed it. I hope that's right. That and the research on copyright vis-a-vis YouTube I did a few weeks ago makes me a lot more interested in making videos for tunes I like that don't already have them. That would be an pretty addictive hobby, I reckon. Like I need another of those.

Nothing To Do - ArfPunk

There was a moment last week when I fell down a bit of a punk hole. Not sure what started it. Looking at the time-stamps on the stuff I saved, one minute I was watching Romy and the next, this. Seems like a leap. It's at times like this I almost wish I allowed YouTube to save my browsing history. At least then I could follow the data trail.

If Horrible Girl... sound like the kind of band that might have come on second on a three-act bill at the Tropic, supporting some slightly more successful band touring off the back of a #8 single in the indie charts, maybe very late 70s, very early 'eighties, ArfPunk sounds like the opening act at The Bear in Hot Wells circa '77/78, on one of those DIY nights where the main band booked the venue themselves and got some of their pals in to make it look like more of an event. 

Too specific?, I guess you had to be there.

This is the one and so far only song on ArfPunk's channel. The only biographical information is "My First Song Ever Released". From the vocals - and the lyrics - she sounds about twelve, if that, but the whole thing's so wonderfully period-accurate I have to believe whoever's at the back of it is probably about my age. If not, it's proof that reincarnation is real.

You Killed A Boy For Me- Henry's Dress

Okay, so if I was programming this post by title, I'd have put "Nothing To Do" after "Nothing Matters" and this one after "5 Easy Steps..." but I'm not so I didn't. It is a great title, though, isn't it? Also a great band name.

I've used the live version because it's good and it gives us something to watch. Mostly the drummer, to be fair, although the drummer in Henry's Dress is really good. The recorded version isn't actually all that much cleaner and if anything the vocals are mixed even further back and the drums even further forward. Maybe it's the drummer's band. Maybe he's Henry. Or they. Or she. 

I said it was a good name for a band. 

Sever The Blight - Hemlocke Springs

Me, talking about Nothing Matters by The Last Dinner Party: "There's also - obviously - a goodly portion of Kate Bush in there". 

Hemlocke Springs: "Hold my beer!

I mean, there's even an arpeggio in there that must have fallen out of the folds of Hounds of Love. (Like I know what an arpeggio is...) A good Kate Bush pastiche is nothing to sniff at but Hemlocke's got a lot more going on than the obvious influences. I went to her back catalog and found nothing but eclecticism and bangers. Try this one 

Stranger Danger - Hemlocke Springs

or this

Girlfriend - Hemlocke Springs

'Course, the problem with being versatile is people can't put you in a handy box and people do like their boxes. Also, I probably could have just kept to links there if I was trying to fit as many songs into the post as possible.

But I like embeds! Not gonna lie!

Red Wine Supernova - Chappell Roan

I'd sure as hell rather have a Red Wine Supernova with Chappell Roan than a Champagne Supernova with Noel Gallagher. The choruses both stick in your head the same way but the lyrics...

"I don't care that you're a stoner/Red Wine Supernova" vs "Slowly walkin' down the hall/Faster than a cannonball"  


"I heard you like magic/I got a wand and a rabbit" vs "How many special people change?/How many lives are livin' strange?"

And they gave Noel the Novello Award?? TANJ!

Silly Little Girl - Goodby Temujin

Is it me or is this turning into a NSFW special? It's not intentional, I assure you. I don't make the videos. Well, okay, I made one but it's like the most innocuous of all of them!

This is the first single from yet another interesting band from Jakarta, a city that positively teems with them. I knew nothing about Goodbye Temujin whatsoever until they put up an interview video on their channel, literally as I was writing this post. I had it on in the background as I was typing and... I still know absolutely nothing about them because it's in... well, it's not in English, that's for sure. Jawa maybe? That's supposedly the most common language spoken in Indonesia but it's only one of seven hundred. Seven! Hundred! 

No wonder most of the bands choose to sing in English.


Pizza or Mac - Summer Whales

The question everyone's asking. 

Pizza. I vote Pizza.

Drift - Purr

Everything just has that summer glow today, doesn't it? This is like summer in Alaska; clear, blue, still cold. 

Okay, you got me. I have no idea what summer in Alaska is like. Full of blackfly and despair, probably.

Reminds me a little of Scary Bear Soundtrack is what I think I mean, which is a very big compliment. I wonder what they're up to nowadays?

Skate With Me - Scary Bear Soundtrack

OMG! I never saw that before and it's been up for a year! I really have to do more follow-ups. I was thinking of putting a "Where Are They Now?" post together, looking at bands I've featured here multiple times but not for ages. I should totally do it!

And since I appear to have started adding new songs on the fly that don't even come from my "To Post" pile, which is still more than half-full, I think it's best I stop before things get totally out of control.

Oh, okay then. If you insist. Just on more. But really this has to be the last. So, let's go out on a high.


I'd italicize the title but I don't know which it is. Google translate thinks it's "That Girl's Smile" by Orthocentrism, which I didn't know was even a word. Anyone speak Japanese?

You don't have to know Japanese to sing along at the end or to have a great, big grin slapped across your face while you do it. Joyous, that's the word.

And Goodbye. That's the other word.

Until next time, by when I'm likely to have even more of this kind of thing than any of us can handle.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Broadsword Retirement Home For Old MMORPGs Is Pleased To Welcome A New Resident: SW:tOR

Without a doubt, the mmorpg-specific news of the week has to be the shock announcement that BioWare is handing Star Wars : the Old Republic off to Broadsword, the independent (Or is it?) studio tasked with caretaking the elderly Dark Age of Camelot and ancient Ultima Online, titles the conglomerate acquired when it subsumed first Origin in 1992 and later Mythic Entertainnment in 2006. The story has been very widely reported but this summary at Gameworld Observer is one of the clearest I've seen.

I first read the news at MassivelyOP, where the reaction in the comment thread was both less astonished and more positive than I'd have expected. It probably says as much about how badly BioWare has been judged to have handled the game over the years as it says anything good about Broadsword, although, as I commented in response to Shintar's concerned post on the news, MOP commenters do seem to have a particular blind spot when it comes to certain aging titles, Star Wars Galaxies being the most obvious, with DAOC and UO coming up strongly behind.

It seems unlikely that many of those commenters have actually played a title curated by Broadsword in recent years. Or ever. I'm not sure what the current populations of DAOC and UO look like but I think it's fair to say they'll be small and composed almost entirely of a veteran hardcore who don't get out much - to visit other mmorpgs, I mean.

Someone who has played one of the games extensively is Yeebo, creator of Yeebo's DAOC Guides, who dropped into Shintar's comment thread to share his experiences. No doubt he'll post on the topic himself at some point so I won't pre-empt his analysis of the situation, other than to say the evidence he's already presented looks pretty damning.

I already had my own, largely uninformed, opinions on the efficacy of Broadsword's tenure as a curator of slumbering giants but Shintar's reply to my comment added some much-needed texture to the conversation from an SW:tOR-specific perspective. Even though I've played the game and follow several bloggers who've written quite extensively about it over the years, I wasn't aware quite how "severely unloved" some of the devs working on it had been feeling. 

I knew that the game had been under-resourced and under-developed for years. I've commented more than once on the irony of a TripleA+ global IP like Star Wars having nothing more on its mmorpg record than two under-performers like the cancelled SWG and the commercially-disappointing SW:tOR but I was under the impression the latter was at least rubbing along, doing alright in a not quite top flight sort of way. It's in Tipa's Tier 3 of Google Trends MMOs alongside Guild Wars 2, after all, and I keep reading about how well GW2 is doing these days.

According to both Shintar and Pallais, a regular commenter at Going Commando and a regular SW:tOR player, too, the revenue SW:tOR generates has been used  "to pay the bills so the "main" development team could faff around for years not shipping anything.", making SW:tOR BioWare's "milk cow". On this basis, it's easy to see why the 40+ developers making the cut to move across to Broadsword might see the change as both an improvement and an opportunity.

It's a very curious situation all round. By most counts I've seen, the current Broadsword set-up has around a dozen developers in total to cover both existing titles. The arrival, whether physically if they're asked to re-locate or more likely virtually, if they stay where they are, of another 40+ employees is bound to have a seismic effect not just on the activities and status of the company but also on its culture.

It reminds me weirdly of the recent events involving EG7 and Daybreak Games, where the newly-acquired properties and personnel in short order seemed to consume their host and set about remaking the business in their own image. I'm not saying we're going to turn round in few months and find the CEO of Broadsword is someone from the SW:tOR dev team but I do think that, unless the properties are kept wholly inside their respective silos, there's almost bound to be some bleed-over.

My immediate reaction was that it couldn't rationally be regarded as a positive development for the game, its players or the developers currently working on it. Broadsword is nominally a private company but the entirety of its business would seem to be maintaining two (Now three.) mmorpgs owned by EA, in which the gaming giant has long lost interest. 

I'm finding it a little tricky to figure out exactly what Broadsword's status is. Some sources describe it as a "private company" but LinkedIn lists it as "public". I asked Bard, who told me "Broadsword Online Games is not independently owned. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Electronic Arts (EA)."  Bing agreed that Broadsword "is not independently owned", describing it instead as "a third-party studio".

Whatever the corporate structure, it's pretty clear that Broadsword is an mmorpg retirement home. It's also one evidently dependent on a single client - EA - for games to look after. If it's not part of EA, it might as well be.

Clearly it's better for SW:tOR to be sent into retirement than into the sunset but I'm not sure the game's players were expecting either just now. That many of them seem to be unfazed by or even quite pleased with the idea suggests just how far expectations must have fallen. As for the developers, it does appear that those who don't get the boot themselves will probably just be glad to have BioWare's boot off their neck.

As a player of very old, niche and/or underpopulated mmorpgs, I can attest that maintenance mode isn't always a bad deal. If a game already has plenty of content, all it really needs is someone to keep the lights on and change the fuses when they blow. The hardcore players who stick with the games they love long after everyone else has moved on are usually quite capable of making their own entertainment.

Games like that usually have a skeleton crew operating them, like the half-dozen each at DAOC or UO. A team of forty may be half what SW:tOR used to have but if those forty are freed from the fetters of an actively-hostile management, it's not unrealistic to imagine them becoming more productive overall. It might be an unpopular opinion but I'd say that, from a player's perspective, something of the kind did happen to the two EverQuest games under Darkpaw, when it was siloed from Daybreak - and things had already improved there under DBG compared to late SOE.

Thoughts like these may make the prospects seem cheerier but there's a big difference between SW:tOR and either the games Broadsword already runs or the Daybreak stable. In fact, there's an instructive comparison to be drawn between EQII specifically and SW:tOR.

One of the largely-forgotten selling points of EQII when it originally launched back in 2004 was that it claimed to be the first fully-voiced MMORPG. That record is "officially" held by SW:tOR, as verified by the self-regulating Guiness Book of Records but other equally authorative sources with longer memories remember it diferently. Much of the hype of the time revolved around the large number of voice actors employed, the hours of dialog they'd recorded and the big names (Christopher Lee and Helen Slater) SOE had hired to voice the two opposing faction leaders.

After EQII failed to emulate its predecessor's impressive sales curve, one of the first things to be dropped was all that expensive voice acting. For most of the life of the game we've gotten by with some voiced set-pieces in major storylines and a lot of reading. 

And it's been great. Better, in fact, than the original plan which, if I'm honest, I found pretty irritating even when it was a novelty. I don't really like voice acting in mmorpgs all that much. It slows things down and it's often distracting. I hardly ever turn off the music or the sound in games but I often turn off the voices.

I suspect SW:tOR players take the voice-acting in their game a bit more seriously. They also expect a lot of story, that being the fourth pillar on which the game was so famously built. How Broadsword will manage those expectations with their reduced team and without the safety-net of a giant corporation behind them might be interesting to watch. From the outside.

Will SW:tOR begin to bloom again and go on to flourish under the gentler guiding hand and more supportive environment at Broadsword? Or will financial concerns and restraints replace the cultural chill that supposedly froze out innovation and creativity under BioWare, leaving the game no better off and perhaps even worse than before?

Will the devs who move across even stay with SW:tOR? I wonder if there's anything about that in the agreement? Will Broadsword be constrained to maintain their new ward with exact same level of resources they were handed or will they be free to re-assign some to the other games under their control? Could SW:tOR's losses become DAOC and UOs gains?

Well, don't look at me. I don't know. I'm going to be sitting over here in the cheap seats, munching on my popcorn. This one's going to run and run, I'll bet.

One thing I will say about it is that it's revived my own interest in giving the game another run. I think I'll wait until the ink's dry on the deal, then I might either wake up my old character or start a new one. I won't be staying long, I'm sure, but it seems like it would be a good time to pay a visit and take a look around the game's new home.

Whether looky-loos like me, coming in, will balance out disgruntled vets heading out the door the other way remains to be seen.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Built To Last Or Built To Fail?

A while back, Tipa posted one of her occasional overviews of the State of the Genre as revealed by Google Trends, in which it becomes immediately obvious that the mmorpgs people are asking Google for information about tend to be... how to put it politely... really old. 

More recently, James Crosby, aka MMOFolklorist, attempted to explain the "MMO Hype Vacuum", the sense he has that no-one really gets revved up by the prospect of a new mmorpg the way they used to.  In another post, he observes that TarislandTencent's upcoming riposte to World of Warcraft's departure from the Chinese market, potentially one of the biggest global mmorpg launches of recent years, left him hovering "somewhere between apathy and despair".

In the same post, James gives his thoughts on the imminent closedown of Sword of Legend Online, an mmorpg that only launched a couple of years ago. He also mentions Elyon, which launched around the same time and has already drifted off into the sunset. He concludes that, while they "both looked pretty, and they played at least as solidly as any other medium-profile entry into the genre", that simply wasn't enough, the implication being that mmorpg gamers these days demand more of their games than competence, professionalism, sound gameplay and good graphics.

The implication is that every game should be not just good but great. Otherwise they're doomed to fail. 

This morning I read a post by Mailvatar that mentions in passing a sentiment I've heard numerous times, namely a sense of disappointment in what were probably the two most commercially sucessful mmorpg launches of recent times, New World and Lost Ark. Both games very definitely enjoyed a great deal of hype in the run-up to launch, being received almost ecstatically at first, before enthusiasm bled out just as quickly.

Unlike SOLO and Elyon, New World and Lost Ark carry on but with a tiny fraction of their original audience. According to the Steam Charts, in this case an atypically accurate measure, New World has lost 98% of the players it had at peak; Lost Ark has done a little better, only losing 97%.

In terms of news coverage, New World far outranks Lost Ark, about which I struggle to remember when I last heard anything. By contrast, New World continues to feature regularly in multiple news feeds I follow, including some that aren't primarlily gaming-focused. 

Tipa's tally puts both in the same Tier 3 bucket alongside Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Star Citizen, suggesting those games might also have audiences of similar size. As we know, guessing the population of almost all mmorpgs is a mug's game, so I'm not going to draw any hasty conclusions.

My concern here isn't, for once, the prospective health of the individual games or the genre as a whole as evidenced by the number of people who log in to play each day. It's more of an existential question: if games as relatively well-made and well-received as New World, Lost Ark, Sword of Legends Online or Elyon either aren't good enough to attract an audience to begin with, or to hold the attention of more than a tiny fraction of the audience that they do manage to find, just what is going to be enough to satisfy the current mmorpg player?

Tarisland, when it appears, which would seem to be likely to be sooner rather than later, may indeed turn out to be a complete flop in the West. Certainly, if the quality of the translation evident in the trailers is anything to go by, Tencent don't seem particularly bothered about spending much time or effort on localization. 

Would such a commercial failure tell us more about the cynical way the game might have been conceived and developed or would it just be more evidence to support something we may already suspect about the expectations of the audience, namely that nothing is ever going to be good enough?

As Tipa says about WoW, FFXIV and Old School Runescape, the top three mmorpgs on Google Trends by a very large margin, "These three MMOs are far and away the most popular MMOs in the USA, according to Google Trends, and they have been that way for years. Sometimes one is on top, sometimes another one is, but it’s always one of these three."

Stepping past the always-intriguing question of why this part of the blogosphere barely nods towards any version of Runescape, it's hard to argue against the idea that the mmorpg market, at least in the west, is all but impenetrable to new entrants. New World and Lost Ark have done very well to make it to Tier 3 alongside all those decade old games (And that decade-old alpha.). The massive hype they enjoyed in the build up to launch didn't boost them to glory but I guess we have to acknowledge that still being here two years later is some kind of success in itself.

As for games like Sword of Legends Online and Elyon, widely accepted at launch as being not at all bad and pretty solid for new releases, what chance did they have? I remember there was a glut of new releases around then, including Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis, Crowfall, Bless Unleashed and more. Just how many players for these types of games are there meant to be, anyway, that half a dozen or more can hope to release in close proximity and still prosper?

This summer doesn't appear to have anything like that crush of new launches but there are a bunch of big titles there or thereabouts on the horizon, from big hitters like Blue Protocol, Throne and Liberty and the aforementioned Tarisland to plucky indies like Palia and Wayfinder. I'm looking forward to trying all of them but do I honestly expect to settle down and play even one for any meanigful amount of time?

In the post I linked earlier, Mailvatar talks very positively about Black Desert Online and Genshin Impact, two games I played and enjoyed when they came out and often think about playing again. They're both successful games by most metrics - they're still running, they get new content regularly, people still talk about them. 

When they were new, though, everyone was talking about them; everyone tried them. How many of those people are still, like Malvatar, playing and enjoying them? How many bloggers are writing about them?

More than play or write about Swords of Legend Online now, that's for sure. More than played or wrote about Elyon before it closed down. More than play or write about PSO2:NG (Although there are some very interesting developments there that deserve attention.)

I feel slightly uncomfortable about the fate of SOLO. The developers issued a very forthright statement outlining the reason the game failed, explaining almost wistfully "The MMO market is fiercely competitive, and despite our best efforts – including the release of the 2.0 update, making the game free to play, as well as further content patches along the way – we’ve found that the player numbers simply aren’t strong enough to sustain the game".

I liked the game quite a lot but I didn't manage to find time to play it even after it went free-to-play. I wanted to. I meant to. I just kept putting it off, thinking I'd get to it one day, when I had time. That day never came and now the game is going away. 

It's not a great loss. If I'd really wanted to play it,I'd have found the time. The thing that makes me uncomfortable isn't any sense of guilt over not supporting a decent mmorpg. It's the worry that no new mmorpg is ever going to be special enough to prise me away from the games I already know and love. Or, indeed, the ones I quite like and am used to.

Worse, I fear the same may be true for a lot more potential players than just myself. I wonder whether all these developers are fooling themselves, believing the audience they're hoping to attract even exists. With the exception of FFXIV, itself an aging game now, how many mmorpgs have successfully been able to poach players from existing titles in the last few years, let alone attract new players to the genre and keep them? ESO, maybe, but that game had a pre-existing single-player audience to draw on.

It would make me wonder why so many developers keep on making mmorpgs except I know why they do it: it's because mmorpgs take upwards of five years to develop and keep a lot of people in work. Provided you can keep raising the investment capital, making mmos is a sustainable business. Running mmorpgs as a live service for years after launch? That's a much bigger gamble.

Nosy Gamer, in his recent review of the Uprising expansion for EVE Online, rates it a success, since it at least stemmed the flow of players leaving the twenty year-old game, but concludes by saying "at the beginning of EVE Online's third decade of operation, staunching the bleeding is not enough. CCP needs to build on the success of Uprising and attempt to grow the game once again". Is this a reasonable - or even a rational - expectation?

Maybe. Although most indicators would seem to suggest the best an mmorpg can hope for is a long, slow decline, populations do ebb and flow. Lord of the Rings Online and Guild Wars 2 reported spurts of growth recently and Runescape in its various iterations seems to operate entirely by rules of its own, so it's not impossible to imagine player numbers going up in any established title - for a while.

To expect any of them to stay up or even to keep adding new players at a sufficient rate to replace attrition seems a big ask, all the same. And if they were able to manage it, what would it say for the prospects of all those new games coming down the assembly line? While it's not a zero sum game, neither is there an unlimited pool of mmorpg players out there, ready and willing to populate the starting, mid-level and end game zones of every half-decent mmo willing to accomodate them.

As the SOLO devs said, "The MMO market is fiercely competitive". Too competetive for most. What they didn't say but probably were thinking is that the MMO player is too fussy, too fickle and just plain too hard to please. Also spoiled for choice and pampered like some indigent, overgrown princeling, surrounded by barely-touched delicacies and still calling for more.

I wish now I'd played more Swords of Legend Online but, with the best will in the world, I can't play them all. No-one can. And if you're talking about playing them meaningfully, no-one can play more than a handful.  

These days, competition isn't even limited to other mmorpgs, either. Belghast, describing what he calls the "live service dystopia", suggests "a given player only has time to play one live service game at a time, and as a result, EVERY live service game is ultimately competing with every other one.". It used to be commonly believed that playing an mmorpg meant you'd not have time for other mmorpgs but now it looks like playing any online game means you won't have time for any other online game, not when those games all have Battle Passes and Seasons and DLC and Expansions that require your full attention, all year round.

None of which is going to stop people making new mmorpgs, if only for the reason that investors and players still seem more than happy to keep throwing money at them - until they actually launch. It's only when the time comes to play the damn things that everyone suddenly loses interest. 

Designing and developing mmorpgs may very well be a sustainable business model. Star Citizen, Ashes of Creation, Pantheon or Camelot Unchained would certainly seem to support that thesis. Maintaining, running, even playing mmorpgs, though? Is there a future in any of that? 

For anyone?

Monday, June 5, 2023

A Question Of Pride

I feel like this is the same post I wrote the same time last year but what the hey. Life moves in clades as Bruce Stirling once said. Or maybe he didn't. And even if he did, it's hardly the same thing. I don't know why I brought it up.

Life is one big circle, maybe that's what I mean. Oh, wait, now I sound like I'm in The Lion King. Which could totally work, if could come up with some smart way of connecting Pride Month with a pride of lions.

And why not? It's just what Darkpaw did, when they ran out of rabbits to drape in the rainbow flags of all orientations. They just moved on to lions and started working through the list all over again, three at a time.

This year's trio is Aceheart, Openheart and Freeheart, which I'm reliably informed "represent asexual, non-binary, and pansexual orientations". I think that's in respective order, although it's not always obvious which colors match up with which flags. The names can be a little vague, too, although Aceheart is clear enough. 

The lions, which are Familiars in the game, and therefore functional as well as meaningful, are all free for the asking in the EverQuest and EverQuest II cash shops, as are all those from previous years. Since Familiars are character-bound rather than account bound, you'd need to claim them all separately for each character you'd like to have them, but you have the whole month to do it and indeed a bit longer than that; they'll be in the cash shop until the 9th of July.

I've already picked mine up for my two most-played EQII characters and I'll be collecting them for all the others as and when I log them in. It's been a while since I last logged into EQ and even longer since I actually played but I'll probably make time to get the latest lions for at least a couple of characters before they disappear.

As I said, though, it's no big deal if you miss the opportunity this time around. The whole, rolling carnival will be back next year, I'm sure.

Which is both wonderful and also slightly worrisome, in a way. If you wanted a textbook example of how mmorpg culture has changed for the better in the twentysomething years I've been playing, you couldn't ask for anything more than the widespread acceptance and acknowledgment of difference that comes with incorporating Pride Month into the official event seasons of the games themselves.

It's a very far cry indeed from the genre's origins, when only the bravest of souls would dare to mention the possibility that anyone playing might be anything other than a straight, white male. Back then, you could easily find yourself on the wrong side of a vocally violent in-game mob, just for raising the possibility that anyone might want to express themselves as anything other than that expected norm. Even more disturbingly, you could sometimes find yourself on the wrong side of the moderators or GMs too, especially if you had the temerity to stand your ground.

It wasn't always that bad by any means but it was a time when many, quite possibly most, players seriously did not believe anyone played the games they liked other than people they considered to be exactly like themselves. Anyone playing a female character was assumed to be male because girls didn't play mmorpgs (Or any video games, really.) and any male who played a female character was deemed to have some nefarious motivation probably best not revealed.

Without getting all Polyanna about it, things are demonstrably better now. I'm just not entirely convinced that the best way of expressing, consolidating and cementing that positive change is to keep giving away free stuff. It seems a little odd, that's all.

But, hey, free stuff, right? I'm not gonna say no...

In fact, I'm so much not going to say no that over the weekend I logged into two games I'm not currently playing just to grab the Pride freebies I'd heard they were giving away. I have no shame when it comes to freebies. Plus, I do like to represent, at least in small ways.

I guess that's a cue for a quick aside before I get to talking about the loot I got. As one of those supposedly stereotypical straight, white males, I haven't had to spend a whole lot of time reflecting on either my gender or my ethnicity. Or so you'd think. Except, of course, I have.

I'll put the ethnicity angle to one side for now and try to concentrate on one thing at a time for a change. I've been thinking about this a lot over the last few years. It's something Mrs Bhagpuss and I talk about quite often, too. I'm about as sure as it's possible to be from the precarious vantages of hindsight and hypothesis that, had the cultural framework to support it been in place when I was an adolescent, I would have identified differently to the way I did.

How I would have identified is another matter altogether. Adolescence is a contradictory time of both radical confusion and rabid certainty. I might well have picked a flag and waved it proudly. I might also have found the fence a very comfortable place to sit. 

Now, at my advanced age and with my immense and hard-won wisdom (I don't need to insert an irony emoji here, do I?) I'm starting to realise the Q in LGBTQ+ could have some connection to me. It would be tantamount to cultural appropriation for me to lay claim to Q for Queer but I feel quite comfortable in adopting its alternate meaning - Questioning

Next time I have to fill out one of those government forms with a box to tick for gender and/or orientation I'm going to give it a bit more thought. You're never too old to learn new things about yourself - or I hope not, anyway.

While I figure out what questions I ought to be asking, let alone what the answers might be, let's get back to the plunder! ArenaNet is giving away a nice pair of wings in Guild Wars 2 for this year's Pride although unlike Daybreak they don't seem to be making much of a noise about it. I heard about it from MassivelyOP but I didn't get any emails from ANet and there's no mention of it on the news feed on the official website.

The wings are supposed to make you look like a macaw. What does that have to do with Pride? I had no idea, so I asked Bard, Bing and ChatGPT. Unfortunately, the rabbit-hole that led me down would trip the entire post and send it cartwheeling into a thicket of unsubstantiated assertation, so let's just say I was not able to confirm a relationship between macaws and Pride, assume ANet knows something I don't and take it there must be more to it than a mere coincidence of coloration.

The wings, which you can claim for free from the Gem Store under the Promotions tab, are account-bound and work either as a glider skin or a backpack, which makes it odd that you have to have at least Heart of Thorns enabled on the account to claim them. I tried to get them for my Core account but they don't even show up in the shop. 

There's a thread about it on the forums. It appears to be an issue with the Gem Store itself because there's a workaround in which you can get another account to gift the wings to a Core account and the receiving account is able to accept and use the item, which they can then equip as a backpack but not as a glider. Whether ANet will fix this before the offer ends I guess we'll just have to wait and see but it does seem a bit shortsighted of them to have allowed it to happen in the first place.

I've left the best 'til last, although since I led with it as the picture at the head of the post, I kind of blew any element of surprise right at the start.

For Pride '23, DCUO is giving away all ten orientation flags along with a really strong set of posters for your base. The posters feature various DC characters kissing, including Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy and Superman and... y'know, I'm not sure who that is. I really need to find out.

I took everything I could get my hands on and then realized my base is so overdecorated now there's barely any wall space left to hang new art. I eventually found an alcove I hadn't used yet so I put the posters up there but I may need to move them to somewhere more prominent later.

There are also some spectacularly colorful costumes that I haven't quite worked out how to get. I can't quite see myself wearing them so I can't pretend I made all that much of an effort. It's nice to have the option, all the same.

I'll be keeping an eye out for any more freebies that might turn up in other games I play, even if they're games I don't happen to be playing at the moment. I'm always willing to patch up for a good freebie. Pride lasts all month so there's plenty of time for more to show up.

Not that I'm suggesting free stuff is the point of Pride. No, not at all. I didn't even think it. 

It's just it'd be rude to say no when saying yes says so much more.

Friday, June 2, 2023

It's All You, You, You, Isn't It?

Straight-up Friday Grab Bag. No Messin'.

Okay, let's open the bag and and grab something. What've we got?

You Call That An Offer?

Prime free games for the month, here we go... Remember when this used to be a post of its own? Ah, the heady days of May '23. Now it's relegated to and in other news.... 

There was even a moment, about a week ago, when it looked as though Prime Gaming would get a second post all to itself for May. I got an alert telling me "Prime Gaming Adds Eight Games, Bringing May Line-Up Total to 23 Free Titles" but when I read it, the extra games turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of stuff they'd brought back from previous offers, so that was the end of that.

This month brings a baker's unlucky dozen of thirteen. The pick, from my perspective, would be Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition and SteamWorld Dig 2 but even those aren't the draw you might think they'd be. 

I already have two versions of Neverwinter Nights - the original box and the "Diamond" edition on Good Old Games. Granted, it would be a lot more convenient for me to play NWN as an Amazon app but the chances of me playing it at all are vanishingly slim. As for Steamworld Dig 2... I have  Steamworld Dig on Steam and I haven't played that yet so do I really need the sequel?

Of the other eleven games, the only one that looks remotely interesting is Once Upon A Jester. I'll claim that one but the rest I wouldn't waste hard drive space on. If you want to check them out for yourself, here they are.

I hate to have to align myself with the cavilling crowd but it is getting harder and harder to pretend that anyone who matters at Amazon gives a damn about the Prime Gaming App any more. I get the strong feeling that whatever plan they had for the platform they inherited from Twitch has either failed outright or already fulfilled its purpose and been shunted into the promotional equivalent of maintenance mode. Oh well. It was good while it lasted.

You Do Know They Can't Hear You?

A couple of people asked questions or raised points in the comments that I either answered there or said I'd post about. Since I doubt many people go back and read the comments to posts they've already seen, comment threads are a particularly poor place to make pertinent points so maybe I thought maybe I should highlight them here.

Angry Onions left a comment on the "Covered in Confusion" post to the effect that AIs "don't know and can't think", which is demonstrably and absolutely true. You wouldn't think it was even in dispute if it wasn't for the claims that keep being made about them, although not on this blog, I hope. Everyone does realize I'm treating them like toys, right?

I really ought to do a proper post, laying out my motivations and interests and explaining why I feel the need or desire to keep posting about the AI trend. I'm mulling one over. Maybe I'll even write it myself. Until then, the tl;dr version is that I grew up reading Philip K Dick and I've been waiting all my life for this, so I'm quite excited and when I get excited about something I want to share, whether anyone wants to hear about it or not.

I do realize that we won't get to the autonomous, cranky, personable AIs of science fiction in my lifetime or possibly ever, but for a long, long while it seemed like no-one was even trying. At least now they are and I'm very happy about that. Yes, it could all go horribly wrong but then doesn't everything? Is that a reason not to try?

On a a much less emotional, more practical level, I'm experimenting with and posting about the current generation of AI apps because I can see a lot of potential uses for them that would either solve problems I have or make my life easier. 

One thing I'd really like is an automated research assistant, something I could set parameters for and send out to find, collate and precis information that I could use in posts I'm writing without having to start from scratch. I've been trying to find out if Bard or ChatGPT could fill that role and so far it's clear they can't, mostly because of that endearing but infuriating tendency they have to make things up if they can't find the answer.

I'm sure plenty of older readers (Heh! That's all of you, isn't it?) will remember Ask Jeeves, the search engine that you could talk to in full sentences. It wasn't very good, was it? I learned something from it all the same and that was to treat all search engines as if they could understand normal English. I generally don't just type keywords into Google; I ask it questions. I also cut and paste whole sentences into the search bar and let Google sort out what I want to know. It works very well.

It seems to me that it wouldn't be too far-fetched to imagine a version of regular Google Search that can parse sentences and paragraphs and return results that have been sorted and summarised in good English, rather than just pulling up a page of links you have to go read for yourself. That's what I've been hoping the AIs would be able to do. That they can't is frustrating but their failures are hilarious. 

That's basically what I'm up to with these posts, just in case it hasn't been obvious - pushing the AIs to do what I want and then laughing at them when they can't. Probably going to come back and bite me in the ass when AIs get full autonomy and non-human rights but I reckon I'll be long gone by then. 

You'd Look Pretty In That Dress

On yesterday's post, Redbeard asked if I'd say fashion was one of the primary parts of Noah's Heart. I gave him some sort of reply in the thread but it's not such an easy question to answer because, if I'm honest, I have no clue what the point of the game is or even what it's supposed to be. One thing I can say with some confidence is that I'm sure you're not meant to play it the way I do.

When I began playing Noah's Heart I treated it like any other mmorpg. I explored the world, levelled my character and followed the storyline, all of which were fun things to do. After a few months I found myself doing very little in the open world, beautiful though it is, because I'd opened all the teleport locations and kind of felt that was enough.

From then on I concentrated mainly on the monthly story Seasons, which were complete in themselves and had somewhat intriguing plotlines, if you could pick them out from the execrable translation. Those have a time-gating mechanic based on tokens you get from doing dailies so I got into the habit of making sure I hit my daily max of two hundred points.

As the months went on and the game lost players, as evidenced by the multiple server merges, the new content drops dried up, to be replaced with not much more than a rotating sequence of quasi-holiday events and cash-shop driven minigames. No more story seasons have arrived since the one I'm supposedly doing, which is handy in a way because I got fed up with that one half way through, when it became obvious it was padded out with stupid boss fights, and stopped. 

Despite no longer needing tokens for the season unlocks, I've carried on doing dailies because I actually like doing dailies now. Guild Wars 2 gave me Daily Stockholm Syndrome and I've never recovered. 

Apart from enjoying them, the two practical reasons I do dailies are a) to fulfill my Guild responsibilities and b) to get mats and sundries to progress my Phantoms. My guild is a lot quieter than it used to be but I still like being in it and I don't want to get kicked out for not meeting the minimum activity requirements. 

As for my Phantoms, while I don't do much fighting these days, I do still like to see how far I can get in the Fantasy Arena, where Phantoms are pitted against one another in a form of quasi-PvP. If I'm ever going to get past Diamond 3 I need my team to get stronger, so that's a motivator.

Dailies in Noah's Heart are also very quick and easy now. I won't bore everyone with the mechanics of how it works but suffice to say that a while back the devs added some automation to the daily mechanics that allows me to get things done in a matter of seconds that used to take me half an hour or more. I've also built my home up to the point where it provides me with a hefty supply of crafting materials every day just for the few seconds it takes me to set some switches.

That's meant I have a large supply of materials for crafting gifts to give my Phantoms so they'll like me more, which is how I persuade them to give me the patterns I need to copy their clothes. I also get a fair amount of a number of currencies I can spend on items needed for both upgrades and crafting. If I had to go out and harvest or fight for those myself, the way I used to, I don't think I'd have become as invested in getting the different appearances as I have done. I'd probably have given up quite a while back.

Since my playstyle is so truncated and limited, I find it impossible to say whether fashion is intended to be one of the endgames but I'd have to say it is for me, not least because I have no clear idea what the alternatives even are. There are several ladders for PvP and PvE that I guess competitive people work to rise to the top of and there are a few of those endless progression dungeon things that seem to have become mystifyingly popular in a number of games of late but other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to how people spend their time in Noah's Heart.

A lot of people do wander around all dressed up, though, so it looks like I'm not the only one working on their wardrobe. For a game with a lot of looks to collect and a payment model that relies on cash shop sales, I'd have to say there don't seem to bthat many clothes or accessories you can flat-out buy for real money. Most things seem to come either from the kind of in-game activity I've been doing or from unspecified "Events" that I never seem to be able to find.

It's a strange game in so many ways. I like it a lot but I can't see it lasting much longer.

You Can Be My Daddy

I love the way Lana del Rey's father, Rob Grant, is playing with the odious concept of "Nepo Babies". That's the concept 'm calling odious, by the way, not the babies. 

Seriously, at what point of human history has it ever been about what you know rather than who you know? And what are children supposed to do? Actively reject the experience and advice of their parents? 

Are we going to accuse someone of nepotism because they've decided to train as a doctor or a teacher, following in the footsteps of a parent or grandparent? Are we going to ban offspring from carrying on the family business? If not, why should it be different just because the family business involves singing or playing the guitar?

It's even more stupid considering the result is right there in front of us to make up our own minds about. Aren't we capable of judging value by the quality of the work any more? Is it all about the connections, now?

Pah! And pfooey! Anyway, having the dad ride in on the coat-tails of the daughter is hilarious, especially when you consider the lyrics of any number of Lana's early recordings - and when it comes out sounding like this, it's glorious too. I'm gonna buy the album, which I certainly wouldn't if Lana wasn't on it. Nepotism works! 

You've Got To Laugh

If you remember the post I wrote about whether cover versions can be considered free of the stain of their corrupt originals, you might also remember me mentioning a book called Monsters by Claire Dederer. At the time I hadn't read it. Now I'm about half-way through.

As I said then, the copy I have is an uncorrected proof so I can't quote from it. It says so, right there on the cover: "Sceptre uncorrected proof. Not for resale or quotation". I'd post a picture of the cover to show you but I imagine that's not allowed, either.

It's a shame, because there are plenty of lines I'd like to share, not so much for the political or critical or socio-politico-critical points they make but because they're damn funny. If there was one thing I wasn't expecting from a semi-academic treatise on the moral conundrum of what to do about art we admire when it's also created by men we revile, it's that it would have me laughing out loud. 

But it has and it does. I've laughed a bunch of times now and inwardly chuckled a whole lot more. A hundred pages in I'm not at all sure what case is being made or whether I agree with it but I'm certain I want to read more by this author.

At one point she describes herself, somewhat uncomfortably, as a memoirist, something that would be hard to deny, given she's published two memoirs, one with the highly unappealing title "Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses", which apparently has a recommendation by Elizabeth Gilbert on the cover, enough to warn anyone off, I'd have thought. The other's called "Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning", which isn't a whole lot more enticing.

I read some of the Amazon reviews and wishlisted both books. I mean, who wouldn't, when people are saying such amazing things about them, like "The book had quite a few stains on the front which I wasn't expecting" and "It is mildly interesting, but to my mind the contents would've been best left in the author's diary". I mean, it's better than a nod from the author of Eat, Pray, Love, that's for sure.

And that, I think, is just about enough. Working the weekend so that's all until Monday.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Ripped Black Leather

Another month, another outfit. That's about how long it's taking me. I'm starting to wish it was faster. 

It could be faster if I'd either play the game properly or spend some money on it but I'm too lazy for the one and too mean for the other. Still, just doing it the way I am, as and when I remember, it's ticking along.

After almost nine months I have a choice of eight Outfits, six that I've worked for and two that I don't remember how I got. Events, I think? I also have three Fashion Sets that came from doing the main storyline. I guess I might get a few more that way, if I ever finish the thing.

All of the above come in pieces that can be mixed and matched so my potential number of looks is already considerable. In practice, of course, although all the pieces fit together very neatly, most of them look terrible jumbled up.

As well as the three central pieces that make up each outfit - Top, Bottom and Shoes - there are display slots for Headwear, Hairstyle, Backwear, Accessory, Face and Umbrella, plus a dye system as well. I haven't managed to get myself many of any of those.

About all I have are my rabbit ears and my headband and a bunch of dyes that I still can't figure out how to use. Right now there's an event going on that rewards a backpack for logging in at least ten days out of fourteen. Since I log in every day without fail, I should soon be sporting a Spotty Basket, which looks like a small bear sleeping in a picnic basket. I suspect there may be translation issues. 

The last outfit I worked to get, the one worn by the Phantom Urian, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment in that it was much stiffer in action than the loose, flowing look the picture suggested. It's the only one that hasn't come out exactly as I expected.

With that in mind, I thought for quite a while about which to get next. There are a lot of fluffy, frou-frou or fancy looks but I was a little gunshy of trains and flounces after the last one so I decided to go for something close-fitting instead.

Simone Michealangelo is an artist and a sculptor. She's also a punk. Why whoever designed her decided to shunt those two apparently unrelated ideas together I have no idea but it works for me. 

In her SSR card, she wears what looks like the ripped and tattered remnants of a white t-shirt, held together by two enormous safety-pins. It's also attached somehow to her neck and shoulders by a kind of leather bondage yoke. A large, metallic symbol dangles from the leather collar and a long strip of white cloth goes all the way to her thighs from the safety pins.

She wears ripped leather jeans, held up by a heavy leather belt, with what looks very much like the head of Michaelangelo's David hanging from one of the loops. On her left wrist she wears some kind of fingerless leather gauntlet. Her right wrist is wrapped in bandages.

Her leathers fluff up in a most unpunky way below the knee but she avoids the embarrassment flared pants by stuffing them into her heavy motorcycle boots. 

It's a great look. I wanted it.

And now I have it, even if the outfit I made from the pattern she gave me isn't exactly the same. I'm beginning to realise that's not guaranteed. It adds a certain element of risk to the choosing which, now I'm aware of it, I quite enjoy. And honestly, I think mine's the better version.  

The main differences are: 

Two leather gauntlets instead of one. No bandages. 

A double leather strap around her left bicep, with a stiff tie-off that sticks out several inches at right angles.

A large, leather pouch attached to her belt on the right hip.

The whole look just works, especially in combat. It has a freedom and a forcefulness the fancier sets can't match. Simone may be an artist by profession but she's clearly a fighter, too. I'm very happy with the result although I really do need to work out how to use the dye system. It'd be even better with a splash of color here and there.

Now I just have to decide which Phantom to work on next. I'm leaning towards Leona da Vinci, Auria Aurora, Kristen Andersen or Antonia Leeuwenhoek but there are so many good ones it's hard to choose.

Nice problem to have.

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