Friday, March 31, 2023

A Bard's Tale

After some correspondence with Wilhelm and having read his post on the comparative abilities of various publicly available chat models to follow a prompt, I filled out the extremely brief application form to join the waitlist for Google's Bard test program. A few days later I received an equally brief email telling me "It’s your turn to try Bard".

One thing that all the various AI-driven apps and services that I've signed up for have in common is ease of access. Compared to registering an account to beta-test a new mmorpg, for example, gaining permission to play around with experimental text, image or video AI software is astonishingly straightforward. Mostly it's an email address and they don't always even check that. 

Whether this laissez-faire attitude will continue is something I very much doubt. I imagine once we pass through the testing phase the sign-up process will become more rigorous. Money may even need to change hands. If anyone's on the fence about whether to give it a try, I'd jump down on the "Do it" side now, before the barbed wire goes up.

In common with most of the AI software I've seen, Bard has an extremely simple front end. Whoever's designing these things just loves minimalism. It's so simple that I almost missed the input area at first. When I'd found it I pondered what to ask, always a bit of a problem for me. I really need to come with a project already thought out, not just treat it as if I was writing a blog post like this.

I started off by asking Bard a couple of questions inspired by a video Mrs Bhagpuss showed me about a dog who can fight with a sword. The link was sent to her by our friend and dog-sitter, who I should credit in case she reads this. 

I didn't save the responses but I can remember them surprisingly clearly. Bard initially thought a real dog wouldn't be able to fight with a sword, although it knew cartoon and movie dogs might. When I produced the evidence, Bard opined that, while it hadn't seen anything like it before, it thought it showed the dog and its owners had a good relationship. It was also concerned they not give the dog a real sword to play with.

This is eerily close to the conversation Mrs Bhagpuss and I had while watching the video and it highlights a couple problems I'm having with these AI chats. Firstly, I find them almost too convincing. I start to feel my socialization routines kicking in, telling me to be polite, not to be too intrusive or demanding, to respect the feelings of the person I' m talking to and all of those constraints that would literally never occur to me when using a search engine.

This is a recurring problem for me. It makes it harder for me to play adventure games than it ought to be because I really dislike badgering people or harping on about something when they clearly don't want to talk about it. Adventure games frequently require the player to interrogate NPCs quite ruthlessly and also to go back again and again to the same person and ask them questions they already answered, just in case they might say something different. I feel very uncomfortable doing it and it's frequently the reason I have to look things up in walkthroughs, whereupon I often find I stopped hassling someone for information long before I should have.

In the case of the new AI chat models that reticence, based on assumed norms of social interaction, is exacerbated by the passive role the AIs always play. Every AI I've used so far waits to be asked a question, gives its reply, then stops. That's not a conversation, it's at best an interview and at worst an interrogation. I started to wonder if anyone's working on AI software that initiates and sustains conversation as an active participant. That would be considerably more interesting to me and quite possibly of great commercial value.

As I thought about it, it occurred to me that I could just ask Bard about it. So I did. 

That's somewhat encouraging, although I note that both the AIs Bard names have been in development for quite a while. Also, they sound like the kind of chat programs we saw even as far back as the 1990s, the ones that always reminded me of a sitcom version of a Freudian analyst, mirroring everything the user says in the hope of having them do all the conversational heavy lifting.

I'm hoping for the kind of AI that would pipe up out of nowhere "I'm bored! Let's do something!" and then come up with a few ideas of what we might do, then argue with me when I said I didn't want to do any of them and challenge me to come up with a better idea. Or an AI that would ping me with a link to a music video and ask "Have you heard this? I thought it sounded a bit like like that really awful one you claimed you liked yesterday."

I don't think we're there yet. Then again, I'd also want the AI embedded in robot pet of some kind so maybe I'm looking in the wrong place. Oh... wait a moment....

I think I'm starting to get the hang of this now. I have to say that of the AIs I've tried so far, Bard is the best at simulating an accurate, practical search engine, which is, I guess, what you'd expect from something developed by Google.

That said, I wouldn't take advice from Bard without double-checking it through good old unintelligent Google as well. Take that claim that the Joy for All pets can "carry on conversations with their owners, and they can also play games and sing songs." No, they can't. Not according to the website, anyway. The dogs can bark, the cats can purr and the birds can sing. The company sells games as well but none of the pets talks or plays those games. 

How about Paro the seal, who can "carry on simple conversations". Again, no , it can't.

So, I went back to Bard and asked for some better suggestions. It was most apologetic and eager to make things right.

Okay, let's go through these.

Jibo was exactly what I asked for and technically still is although, unfortunately, not for much longer. As this report at The Verge explains, Jibo was supposed to go offline back in 2018 until the last-minute sale to another company gave it a reprieve. That grace period is itself now coming to an end. As the company website puts it " will have access to all of the existing features and functionalities of your Jibo Robot through March 31, 2023, at which time we will suspend services related to the Jibo Robot.

The plan seems to be to update and modernize Jibo, not kill it off for good, but it's not an option you'd want to be looking at right now.

Moxie is live (In a manner of speaking.) and available. It more than adequately fulfills the brief in that it can hold a proper conversation, something it backs up most impressively with an amazing repertoire of very authentic facial expressions and hand gestures. So long as conversation remains within expected parameters the illusion of sentience is quite convincing. When someone doesn't follow the script, however...

Well, that was dark. Moving on, how does Bard's third suggestion pan out?

Vector is basically Alexa cosplaying as a tiny bulldozer. I found this one by far the least appealing aesthetically but then I have no emotional affinity with earth-moving machinery. YMMV. Functionally, Vector also sounds the most robotic so far and is way too small to feel like a "companion", at least for an adult. I looks like its about the size of a hamster so a child might find it appropriate. You can buy one on Amazon right now so that's "commercially available" nailed, at least.

Sophia is... disturbing. Unlike the others, she is categorically not a "home robot" and I very much doubt she was "designed to be a companion for people who live alone" as Bard claims. The company behind her is, however, working on one that is - something called "Little Sophia", a positively disturbing 14" tall bald robot dressed in what looks worryingly like full combat armor.

Little Sophia was supposed to be ready by the end of 2022 but currently still shows as available for pre-order on the company website. Big Sophia, on the other hand, seems to be busy working the blockchain/NFT circuit as in this creepy video from earlier this year. It's not so much Sophia that I find creepy about it, either.

So much for pet robots. Maybe in a couple more years.

Getting back to Bard, the next thing I asked it to do was solve a crossword clue my mother had emailed me. Most weeks she sends me several she's having trouble with and I usually manage to do most of them. This one, though, had me stumped.

Bard thought it was easy. It was so pleased with its prowess it even added a paragraph just to big itself up. I didn't screenshot the results but I did save it to text:

"Are you any good at solving cryptic crossword clues? What do you think the answer to this one might be? "Thief from Madeira crashing into posh car   (3-6)   __ __ __   __ __ I__E __"

"I think the answer to the cryptic crossword clue is "Smuggler". The clue is a play on words, with "thief" and "smuggler" both being words that describe someone who steals something. The "Madeira" part of the clue refers to the fact that smugglers often use Madeira as a base of operations. The "posh car" part of the clue refers to the fact that smugglers often use expensive cars to transport their goods. The "3-6" part of the clue refers to the number of letters in the answer. The "I__E __" part of the clue is a placeholder for the letters of the answer.

I am good at solving cryptic crossword clues because I am able to think logically and creatively. I am also able to access and process information from the real world through Google Search.

Almost none of that is true. Bard was about as wrong as it could be. Apart from anything else, it completely missed the part about the answer being two words, offering a single nine-letter word instead of a three and a six. Bard clearly has only the sketchiest understanding of how cryptic clues work, but I suppose that's fair enough; even a sketchy understanding is more than most humans can manage.

I did find the contrast between how pleased Bard seemed with itself and how badly it had done highly amusing. I'd take that as a feature in a robot pet, for sure. Not so much in a practical app, though.

For my final test before writing this post I thought I'd ask Bard to express a personal opinion. It clearly has some sense of its own identity, given the self-satisfied tone of that last paragraph. I'd just been looking at the shortlist for the 2023 Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent battle of the bands and I wondered who Bard fancied to win.

"The finalists for Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition have just been announced. They are Cordelia Gartside, EVA, FFSYTHO?!, Naomi Kimpenu, N’famady Kouyaté, The Love Buzz, Prima Queen and VLURE. Who do you think will win and why?"

"Congratulations to the finalists for Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition! It is an amazing achievement to have made it to this point.

It is difficult to say who will win, as all of the finalists are talented artists with unique sounds. However, I think that N’famady Kouyaté has a strong chance of winning. He is a talented musician with a powerful voice and a unique style. His music is both traditional and modern, and he has the ability to connect with audiences of all ages.

In addition, N’famady Kouyaté is a strong performer. He has a stage presence that is both captivating and engaging. He is also a gifted storyteller, and his songs are full of emotion and meaning.

I think that N’famady Kouyaté would be a great addition to the Glastonbury Festival lineup. He is a talented artist with a unique sound and a strong stage presence. I wish him all the best in the competition!

Wow! That was way more personal than I expected. I thought Bard might go through all the finalists and list their strengths, perhaps coming up with an evidence-based conclusion on the most likely winner but instead it just gushed over N’famady Kouyaté like a true fan. 

Off the back of that recommendation, I went to watch N’famady Kouyaté on YouTube. He is very impressive. Not my musical taste but definitely everything Bard says he is. If I was going to put a fiver on it, I might well back him, too.

And that's about as far as I've got with Bard so far. I went off to check the full, long list for the ETC, which I'd missed when it was released, and naturally that took up couple of hours. You can lok forwqrd to (Or dread. Your choice.) a post on it soon.

My impression of Bard so far, as compared to the various iterations of ChatGPT that I've used, is that it's simultaneously more formal and more personal, which is a good trick if you can pull it off. It feels like it would be more reliable for factual information. ChatGPT does like to go off on flights of fancy, given half a chance. I wouldn't ask Bard to help you with your crossword clues, though.

The most important thing I've learned from playing around with both of them is something about myself. I need to develop new modes of communication and new social mores if I'm going to feel comfortable talking to AIs and hope to get the best from them. 

I'm going to work on that. Hopefully it will turn out to be a transferable skill I can bring into gaming, too. I'm all but certain it won't be long before similar AI chat tech will be driving NPC conversations in-game.  But that's another post altogether.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Things A Little Bird Didn't Tell Me

Earlier this week I saw a couple of news stories that struck me as the kind of thing I might have tweeted about, if I had a Twitter account I actually used. Now that Twitter's fluttering like a sparrow with a broken wing, I'm finally starting to wonder if it mightn't have been worth joining in with the fun, back when there supposedly was some. Too late now, as Wet Leg would say.

And since I've mentioned Wet Leg, entirely uncoincidentally by the way, we may as well begin with them. I warn you, though, it's sad news. So sad, in fact, that I've already rejected several half-decent humorous quips and asides that popped into my mind unbidden. If you're the kind of person that needs to get a laugh out of someone else's tragedy you can jolly well make up your own jokes for once.

I'll quote the NME headline verbatim because it sums the situation up both respectfully and with admirable clarity: "Wet Leg's adopted donkeys have died after illness". I recommend reading the item in full. It's an exemplary piece of journalism. I won't attempt to precis it, other than to say that "late 30s" seems like a very good age for a donkey and even twenty-two isn't bad going. 

I know there's been some shade cast on the concept of donkey sanctuaries in the past, their very existence being framed as evidence of some kind of moral malaise, but I've always been in favor of them. Donkeys are gentle animals and many of them have a hard life. I don't see why they shouldn't have some comfort in their later years. If I had a nice place in the country with grounds I'd be happy to have a donkey or two wandering about the place. 

As regular readers no doubt know to their cost, I'd find it wholly possible, even acceptable, to spin a couple of thousand words out of that news item but I can't help thinking everyone would be better served with a couple of sentences and a link on Twitter. A tweet would also stand a much better chance of starting a cascade of debate on the nature of charitable giving, the relative status of grief and bereavement, the foibles of the rich and/or famous and any number of other potentially stimulatiing topics. Here on the blog the news will just lie down and die quietly, much like the donkeys who inspired it.

Then again, is that such a bad thing? Wasn't one of the reasons I never took to Twitter a nagging concern that a throwaway remark or an ill-considered witticism might spiral out of control? On a blog, about the worst you're likely to get is a snarky comment or two, not a torrent of death threats.

For example, take the next two items that surprised me this week. Firstly there was revelation that Frank Ocean is apparently a big fan of Garden Center. Not garden centers, you understand, though for all I know Frank may enjoy a stroll around the gnomes of a Sunday, as anyone might. No, this is Garden Center, the indie supergroup from Brighton.

I learned this from Stereogum, where it was reported that "Frank Ocean is a fan, and he’s played Garden Centre on his Blonded show a bunch of times." That was in a piece about the band's upcoming album, Searching For A Stream, which is confusingly both "coming out this fall" and "out 5/19" according to the article.

I wasn't much taken with latest song off the album but I do like the single they put out last month. Here they are doing it live. It sounds unnervingly like Genesis circa Nursery Crymes to me, which goes no way at all towards explaining why Frank Ocean might favor the band when programming his shows.

The second of the pair of items I mentioned was the news that Questlove is set to direct Disney's forthcoming live-action remake of The Aristocats. When I read that, on both NME and Pitchfork, I was initially more taken aback at the idea of live cats playing dixieland jazz than the attachment of Questlove to the project, although it did seem to be an off-center choice for Disney, not least because Questlove has heretofore only directed one (Albeit hugely acclaimed.) music documentary, Summer of Soul

Then again, there is a lot of jazz in the original movie, which is set in pre-First World War Paris, although until I looked it up just now I thought it was the 1920s. The Aristocats was, for a long time, my favorite Disney movie. It may well still be, although a cursory glance at the clips on YouTube suggest any number of problematic characters and themes. 

I don't honestly remember it that clearly. I saw it at the cinema, on release, when I was however old that would have made me... twelve, I think, which actually sounds a bit above the target age, now I come to think about it. I saw it a second time in the 1980s or '90s, in circumstances that now escape me. The high esteem in which I've always held it has more to do with it having a lot of cats in than any genuine artisitic merit, I now realise.

I was aware that Disney were in the process of remaking their entire animated catalog in live-action format but I hadn't been paying that much attention. I did hear quite a bit of chatter about whether the Lion King remake was too uncanny-valley, with the hyper-realistic fur and the lyp-synching not quite achieving gestalt, but I hadn't really thought long or hard about it.

Somehow, the idea of animals like the Aristocats, who already look and act like humans, wear clothes (Well, hats and neckerchiefs.), play musical instruments and the like, being represented in "live action" feels weirder and a bigger stretch than the more regular animals like the elephants in Dumbo or the cast of The Jungle Book. I was picturing actual cats as hep cats and it was concerning.

Reading the news more carefully, I see the plan is for a “live-action/hybrid reimagining”, which makes a lot more sense. With that out of the way, however, I was left with the uncomfortable realisation that, in reacting with any level of surprise to either Frank Ocean's or Questlove's involvement in these stories, I was possibly displaying inadvertent, conditioned racism.

It's uncomfortable to realise that it may be the notion of an African American celebrity choosing to enjoy something that seems, on the surface, very white indeed, be that twee/post-punk indie bands from British seaside towns or the unreconstructed white hegemony represented by classic Disney, that causes the disconnect. At some barely recognised level (Except, of course, I'm recognizing it now.) it feels like streams are being crossed. 

Which is fundementally a racist position, I guess. Anyone can like anything, can't they? I bloody well hope so, anyway. That'd be my position. But I'm aware of where those kind of broad, utopian strokes can lead. It's one thing to engage in some fairly abstract, gentle self-interrogation on a long-form blog, where, hopefully, nuance can be found; quite another to fire off a contextless tweet complete with astonished face emoji. (You can have emojis on Twitter, right? See, I don't even know that much for certain. I didn't even realise there was a button in Blogger to add them to a post until this moment 😲 😳)

I'd like to think I'd have been on safer ground with the last pair of stories that made me momentarily wish I was a twitterer. The first and less amusing of the two is the news that there could be a remake of the X-Files on the way. 

In theory, this could make a trio with the last two in that the director of this  - once again - very white show is reputed to be Ryan Coogler, but as it happens, I didn't even think of that until now because I didn't recognise his name, something which, I understand, has implications of its own. 

I was more concerned with the information that the revamp won't feature either Mulder or Scully, which on the face of it sounds a bit like staging Romeo and Juliet without the leads. I was a big X-Files fan back in the '90s, to the extent that I didn't just watch every single episode but recorded them all on VHS tapes - which I still have! 

Then again, I taped a lot of stuff back in the '90s. I was obsessed with building an archive, something that now feels both ironic and yet oddly prescient, in view of some of the things I was saying just a couple of days ago

I've never watched any of it back and by now I probably couldn't even if I wanted to. Shame I didn't pick a better storage medium. That's largely because a) tastes change and b) new stuff keeps coming. I lost interest in the X-Files to the extent that, until I read the article yesterday, I didn't even realise there'd already been one reboot that did feature the iconic duo. 

I guess if I didn't care about that I shouldn't care that they won't be in the next one. And I don't. But I bet someone will. Maybe it wouldn't have been safer ground for a tweet after all.

Finally, something I really can't imagine anyone getting het up over, something the very idea of which does just straight up make me laugh. Jarvis Cocker has a cameo in Wes Anderson's new movie, Asteroid City... as a cowboy.

Oh, come on! That's hilarious!

Cocker has also "contributed to the film’s soundtrack", which seems a litle more plausible. As it turns out, this is neither Pulp frontman's first collaboration with Anderson, nor his acting debut. He played Tip Top, a chanteur, performing a histrionic cover of the 1979 French-language hit "Aline" (original by Christophe) in a promotional video. 

In it, Jarvis was animated, by which I mean he was a cartoon. Okay, I'm not making this any clearer, am I? Jarvis is often animated and cartoonish. This time, though, he was hand-drawn. I'm not sure it counts as acting. Let's hope the cowboy Jarvis is live action. I'd pay to see that.

I would pay to see Asteroid City even without Jarvis in chaps. I wouldn't say I'm a Wes Anderson fan as such but I have seen a number of his movies and enjoyed them all. I can see why he annoys the hell  out of some people but I like the self-referential artificiality that's become his hallmark. The trailer for the new movie looks fantastic but trailers often outdo the main feature. We'll have to see.

If I do get around to watching it, I won't be tweeting my thoughts. They'll pop up here as always. Twitter is over as a cultural force, perhaps, or perhaps not. It's still too early to be sure. I can say, though, that its travails and troubles no longer feature in my daily news feeds the way they did a few months back. 

The last I heard was a report that the massive staff cuts have left Twitter's infrastructure hanging by a thread. Even if I wanted to get on board, which I still don't, it looks like the ship has sailed, even if it hasn't quite yet sunk.

I think I'll stick to blogging.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Nothing Gold Can Stay

I read an interesting article at last week, the premise of which was that the much-hyped but largely real Golden Age of TV that began at some nebulous point around the turn of the millennium, probably about the time the first episode of The Sopranos (A show I still haven't watched.) aired on HBO, hasn't just peaked or even ended, as has been argued, but has turned into a full-on slide from peak to trough.

When the fulcrum shifted from the networks to subscription services and then to streaming, it very much felt like a tide that would not easily turn. The level of quality expected by viewers rose so substantively it seemed hard to imagine anyone settling for less. 

In many ways that remains a sustainable argument. Certainly, production values and the quality of both script and performance haven't slipped noticeably from the high-water mark of ten or fifteen years ago. All the big-budget shows still benchmark at or above the comparable standard in cinema, a target that would have seemed laughably unattainable in TVs previous "Golden Age", let alone in the regular programming of the wilderness decades of the sixties thru the nineties.

As has been discussed many times in this corner of the blogosphere (We really need to figure out a better way to describe our nebulous collective. If there's one thing spheres definitively do not have, it's corners...) the increasing tendency of all the streaming platforms to commission shows they then decline to renew, often for reasons that remain opaque, is starting to look like an existential crisis for the format. Viewers are making decisions on what to start watching based on their assessment of how likely they are to be able to find resolution when the show concludes, creating a negative feedback loop that only increases the likelihood the shows won't get renewed.


Perhaps more damagingly, there's increasing evidence of a concerning tendency of streaming platforms to straight up abandon shows altogether, not just in terms of forward continuity but even in retaining episodes already made for viewing. Along with the rise of streaming, digital distribution and the worldwide web, came an easy expectation that everything would be available forever. Physical media rapidly fell out of fashion and there was much talk of future generations owning nothing but their devices and a handful of contracts and subscriptions to that great media library in the cloud.

I should probably say here that I was one of those people who believed a decade and more ago that we were on the cusp of a true digital revolution. I thought that, while I was too old, my cultural expectations and assumptions too ossified to do much more than creakingly shift a little in place, generations coming up behind would break almost entirely with the need or even the desire to acquire and horde hard copies of the things they loved, and especially of the things they had loved, once, but now thought of only occasionally and in passing.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that was a techno-utopian vision as unlikely to come true as the jetpacks and hovercars we all thought we'd have by the 'nineties at the latest. People like stuff, it seems. There can be no other rational explanation for vinyl's dead cat bounce turning into a tiger on a trampoline. More importantly, at least to rights-holders and producers, as soon as they find financial security, people can't seem to stop themselves buying back their own past. The rolling nostalgia market has to have product to sell.

Now, though, there's a far less abstract justification for buying offline copies of shows you'd like to watch again, one day. It's that or nothing. And the more niche your tastes, the more alert you'll need to be. While some recent panics, like the culling of big-name shows like Westworld as part of a Warner Bros. cost-cutting excercise, have turned out to be false alarms (The shows are, mostly, shifting to a forthcoming non-subscription service.) many less-celebrated shows have simply vanished into the ether, quite possibly never to be seen again.

Since most shows these days don't get a physical release either on Blu-ray or DVD, I guess we're just going to put our hope in those public-spirited fans who love either the shows or their own subscriber numbers so much they're willing to upload entire seasons to their YouTube channels. Even then, I wouldn't count on any of them staying up forever. About the only way you can rely on a show still being there when you want to watch it is if you have it safely tucked away at home.

Looping back to where we started, there's always a disconnect between what's best and what we remember most fondly. Whether the current faltering of TV's second Golden Age is the prelude to a fall or merely a mistep, soon to be corrected, it seems hard to argue against the prevailing wisdom that things aren't as good now as they used to be. 

There are fewer "Must Watch" shows and those that we have seem to land with slightly less cultural impact. Runs aren't just less secure, they might also be shorter. The fracturing of the streaming market into multiple competing platforms awkwardly mimics the broadcast era with its network structure and the proliferation of individual channels within the streaming structure, many requiring subscriptions of their own, casts a rose-tinted haze across our collective memory of the brief quasi-universality of the early 2000s.

Like net neutrality and the yearning of information to be free, it all seems like a message from another, more innocent time. I hesitate to say winter is coming, not just because I'd be quoting a show I've never watched but because in a while, maybe even that meme won't stand.

All of which is fine and well but I actually came here to talk about Daisy Jones and the Six. And Locke and Key. And Camp Camp. I guess I'll just have to save my thoughts on those for another day. Always assuming I can remember what they were. My thoughts, that is. The shows, those I always remember, even when they're gone.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Fool Me Once...

April Fool's Day is far from being a favorite of mine but EverQuest II's take on the "holiday" has always been entertaining. Practical jokes sit a lot better in video games than in real life, I find.

They're very gentle jokes, too. I spent an entertaining hour or so this morning, completing the Tin Metal Protection questline, in which Norrath's Lord of Misrule, Fizzlethorpe Bristlebane, amuses himself mightily by sending you on a wild drakota chase (No actual drakota involved.)

It's a parody of a cliche with a meta-joke bundled in. It reminds me of those children's tales, where some hapless innocent tries to do someone a favor and ends up doing chores for everyone in town. Basically, every fetch quest, ever. 

The reward, the Tin Metal Helm of Protection, actually an inverted cooking pot, can't even be worn as a an appearance item. All you can do is place it in your house, where it looks like what it is - an upturned stewpot gone rusty. 

Until you activate its protective field, that is. Then it looks like this!

Did you leave the gas on again?

Given that I've done this quest at least three times before, you might think I'd have better things to do with my time but no, apparently, I do not. I put it down to the unwarranted enthusiasm that overtakes some of us when we either create a new character or, in this case, transfer an old one to a new server because, yes, it was little Mitsu who was making - and doing - all the running.

I already knew that all the NPCs who were sending me on scavenger hunts through Freeport were the god Bristlebane in disguise, so the reveal didn't come as a surprise. I had, however, forgotten that it leads on to a second quest, this time in a dungeon with proper fights and everything.

The follow-on quest is called Rescuing the Princess and I'm assuming I must have done it before, only I can't for the life of me remember when or with what character. As I was slaughtering Iksar cultists deep in a dungeon in the Emerald Jungle, with my own Iksar Shadowknight mercenary tanking them for me, I was trying recall when I might have done all of this before. Nothing came back to me at all.

The princess turns out to be none other than (Spoiler!) Firiona Vie, although at the very end (Double Spoiler!!), the elf-maiden is revealed to be one of Bristlebane's goblin flunkies in disguise. 

I told you to lay off the Elven wine, Fi.

Firiona Vie, as the Public Face of the EverQuest Franchise, turns up all over the place, of course. I've met her many times on many characters over the years. Even so, It's not something that happens so often I don't notice when it does, or fail to remember. I can be a bit of a Firiona fangirl at times so it surprises me I can't recall this particular excursion, all of which makes me wonder whether maybe I haven't done this quest before, after all.

That's one of the things about EQII and other aged mmorpgs that you either find endearing or infuriating; there's so much damn content now, it's near-impossible even to remember what you have and haven't done. Better that way than than the reverse, in my opinion, though I know not everyone agrees.

Whether I'd rescued the princess before or not, I had a good time doing it today. It gave me a chance to try out my new mercenary, Lord Valkiss Ssi`sh, the Shadowknight Freeport-aligned characters get for their ten-year Veteran award. Qeynosians and other goodie-goodies get the services of Lady Liae Croae, a Paladin, instead. I'd rather have had a pally for the buffs and healing but not so much I was going to try and sneak into Qeynos at Level 26 to claim her.

Mitsu isn't Level 26 any more, though; not after her adventures in mischief today. She's Level 30 now. Levels in EQII pass very quickly up to about the eighties or nineties. I wasn't even running any xp buffs. I'm in no hurry to level her up so I might need to think about toning the xp down a bit, not ancouraging it to flood in even faster.

Stand back, Valkiss! I think he's going to explode!

Fortunately that's something you can do very easily. You can divert some or all of your xp to AAs, which has the satisfying effect of making you more and more powerful while you stay at the same level, or you can switch xp off altogether. 

You can also mentor back down to enjoy any content you accidentally outlevelled, if you're one of those people who can't enjoy quests when they've gone grey. I'm never sure what difference it makes, really, although I do experience a spurious sense of satisfaction while one-shotting nominally at-level mobs under the influence of the auto-mentoring superhero effect. 

I'd probably enjoy most mmorpgs more if my character could one-shot everything, if I'm brutally honest. I know people say it gets boring but that's rarely been my experience. It's far more often been the long, attritional fights that have bored the chainmail pants off me. 

That might be why I've been so keen on the Overseer function ever since it was added to the game a few years ago. It offers all the interesting parts of questing (Storyline, travel, characters, rewards) without all that tedious combat. 

I like the holiday Overseer quests for another reason, too: they're very quick. Each step takes just half an hour. Sometimes the final stage might be bit longer. The whole thing can easily be done in a session or two. I'm in the middle of the Bristlebane Day Overseer questline as I put this post together and it's already updated twice as I write.

Collections are another combat-free way to progress your character in EQII. There's a new one for the Bristlebane holiday this year but it's packaged in an unusual way. 

If you're out foraging up holiday crafting mats from the Jester's Gardens, bushes that only spawn during the event, you'll pretty quickly find a discarded piece of equine equipment - or should that be bovine? If you inspect it, you'll receive the quest Saddle Up, which turns out to be not so much a quest as a collection.

The reward is a Bovoch plushie for your house. Or rather your garden. Who keeps a cow in the house?

What I have to decide now is whether I want to carry on with Mitsu or swap over to my regular characters on Skyfire. Low-mid level play is very addicting because the progress is so immediate and the rewards so frequent but having a new home to decorate is also a big attraction. I'd like Mitsu to start building a library of holiday crafting books but I need to remember to keep my archives up to date with everyone else. too.

I'm not intending to swap focus. I imagine Mitsu is set for a carefree life, pottering around her private island, doing the odd spot of decorating, popping out every so often for holidays and special events like this one. It's not practical to maintain a slew of max-level characters on multiple servers (Unless you're willing to dedicate yourself to the game like the much-missed Cloudrat) but it's eminently possible to keep multiple characters in play with a few hours here and there, now and then, so long as you set your goals appropriately.

Most importantly, it needs to be fun. And if you can't have fun on Bristlebane Day, when can you?

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Album Format Is Dead

I think this is going to be a genuinely brief flick through tracks that've caught my attention since last time I did this but I guess we'll find out soon enough. I do know I haven't tucked much away and I also know that much of what I have got to offer is just more by people I've already posted but what the hey. If that's what I'm into, that's what I'm into.

The big, big, BIG news, of course, is that today's the day Lana del Rey's ninth official studio album. "Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.", drops - drop being the operative word, since my copy of the CD landed on my doormat about half an hour ago. 

I don't actually have a doormat. For some reason I thought that needed clarifying.

I haven't listened to the whole album yet. I can't even say for certain how many tracks there are because the font on the back of the CD is so tiny I literally can't read it. It looks like there might be nineteen. That would be a lot.

By delightful synchronicity, I was in the middle of reading the Pitchfork review when the postman pushed Lana though the letterbox. I learned a couple of interesting facts about the record, one of which is that there's a four-and-a-half minute long track called Judah Smith Interlude that's"a sermon on lust from Judah Smith, the Beverly Hills pastor...accompanied by melancholy piano". Want to hear it? Of course you do.

To no-one's surprise, I'm sure, someone's already seen fit to post the entire album, track by track, on YouTube. Makes me wonder why anyone buys anything except of course it doesn't. I pre-ordered mine on 14th February, the first day I knew you could. 

I read this week that the whole vinyl/CD revival is heavily underpinned by Japanese and Korean fans purchasing physical "souvenirs" of their idols as part of Idol Culture. Pretty sure that's what I'm doing...

The other item of note in that Pitchfork review was this: "“Taco Truck x VB,” the chimeric closer ... is partially a trap remix of Norman Fucking Rockwell!’s “Venice Bitch”". Since Venice Bitch is my all-time favorite Lana song, I'm going to make an exception and include Taco Truck x VB right here, right now, even though as I type this I haven't even heard it. It's going to be awesome, I promise.

Taco Truck x VB - Lana del Rey

Oh! My! God!! Screw Judah Smith! That's a religious experience!

Ahem. Moving on...

So, what else have I been listening to? Well, there's this.

From The Morning - Let's Eat Grandma

Wow! We really are playing in the big leagues this week, aren't we? I pity whoever has to follow this opening salvo. And this one's not just Let's Eat Grandma, it's Let's Eat Grandma covering Nick Drake ffs. 

From The Morning is the closing track from Drake's final album, Pink Moon, which came out originally in 1972, to a wave of indifference, after which it largely vanished from popular consciousness altogether, until the growth of his posthumous cult a decade and a half later. Now, half a century on, Pink Moon is a fixture in Greatest Albums of All Time lists although personally I prefer Nick with a band. Hazey Jane I and II are among my favorite songs by anyone, ever.

Let's Eat Grandma's cover is for "The Endless Coloured Ways – The Songs Of Nick Drake", due out in July. It's one of those "get a bunch of bands to cover tracks by the same songwriter" affairs that once seemed like an exciting novelty but now feel more like a desperate marketing ploy. Still, every time one appears, someone does a stellar job and this time it's Rosa and Jenny's turn. Also, did you notice how they've made it sound like the Velvet Underground's Sunday Morning? That bass line... 

Jokerman - Bob Dylan

Okay, let's make this fair. Bob can handle the pressure. I came across this by chance last week and it made me smile. With a certain amount of irony, yes, but not only that. 

I think "punk" would be pushing it but it's a very solid New Wave performance, of its time (1984) in a way I just don't recall Dylan being in the eighties, when I was living through them. Two-thirds of the backing band come from the Plugz, "a Latino punk band from Los Angeles that formed in 1977 and disbanded in 1984". Their Wikipedia entry mentions the Letterman performance backing Dylan but gives absolutely no explanation for how it came about. I'd love to know.

TV in the Gas Pump - Wednesday

Much though I love Bob Dylan, I doubt I could listen to his new wave stylings more than a handful of times before the novelty wore thin. I could listen to this on a loop for hours. These days, I like my songs short, so at 2.21 this ought to be perfect but I want more. I might have to get the album, Rat Saw God. It's out next month.

HI 5 - Frost Children

As is Frost Children's Speed Run. With 100 Gecs moving towards metal-inflected pop-punk on their new album, 10,000 Gecs, maybe Frost Children are poised to pick up the hyperpop baton. Although...

Dumbest Girl Alive - 100 Gecs

I just played that as I was writing the last entry and I enjoyed it much more than the first time I heard it. Maybe I shouldn't jump so fast to judgment.

Desert Flower - The Saxophones

And finally, for everyone who feels, like me, that we never got enough of Lee Hazelwood while he was alive, here's The Saxophones. For some reason, I thought they were French. You can see why. They aren't, though. 

This is from their third album, To Be A Cloud, which comes out in June. It's all about new albums this week, for some reason, isn't it? Well, except for Bob. Does he have anything in the pipeline, I wonder?

I guess we can just ask him. Don't you love the modern world?

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Welcome To My Island

Yesterday I did something in an mmorpg just for the simple fun of doing it. It's surprising how rarely that happens. 

So much of the hobby revolves around doing something either to get a reward or to make a number go up. Leveling. Running dungeons for gear with better stats. Raising faction or reputation. Improving skills. Earning currencies. Even questing or following the storyline often ends up being more about the xp or the rewards than finding out what happens next. 

And then there's blogging. For me, these last few years, playing games has often been as much about finding something to write about than having fun. 

Obviously, it's been fun as well. I'm not a masochist. But if I'm honest, I can't say fun is always the prime motivating factor in the choices I've been making, not unless you count the fun of writing the blog posts afterwards. Which I do.

For once, though, I found myself doing something mostly because I felt like doing it and that something was choosing where to live. As I explained the other day, Mitsu (Nee Lana) was about to be kicked off her server, Kaladim, to go live on Antonia Bayle, so before she was pushed (The server merge happened yesterday.) she jumped; to Isle of Refuge.

As I also explained, this led to her having not only to change her name but also move out of her comfortable inn room in Temple Street, a district not zoned for housing on IoR. I also mentioned that, since the old restrictions on Kaladim were no longer any kind of concern, Mitsu was free to raid the account's Claim vault for anything she fancied, as well as help herself to whatever she needed from the Daybreak Cash fund.

Boy, did she ever! She spent a highly satisfying half hour going through everything in /claim to see what was worth having. I should do a whole post on that, someday. After almost two decades, there's an astounding amount of stuff in there, some of it available to every character I'll ever make on that account, a lot of it extremely handy for a character with limited resources, one who's chosen to go to a server where she can call on help from no-one, not even the other characters on the account. 

Of all the claimable items she looked at, by far the most essential had to be the Patchwork Pegasus. I wrote about the pegasus back in 2016, when it was offered as an inducement to get people to make a character on the first ever event server, Race To Trakanon

As I said at the time, "I couldn't resist the lure of a free flying mount for every character on my account" and I'm very glad I didn't try. A free, flying mount is one thing but this is a free, flying mount you can use at Level 10. Most ask that you be at least Level 85.

As I was looting the /claim stash I considered the possibilities for a new home. There were a couple of very impressive options available to me for free: either the vampire lord Mayong Mistmoore's ancestral home, a vast, cavernous castle set on a clifftop over the sea or the entire Isle of Refuge, the complete starting zone.

While the idea of living on the Isle of Refuge on Isle of Refuge had a certain recursive appeal, I know from experience that enormous housing instances like either of these can quickly become overwhelming. I've already tried both and it hasn't been a great success. The scale is just too intimidating for a casual decorator like me.

Instead, I decided I'd dig into the Daybreak Cash and buy Mitsu a Prestige home more suited to her diminutive size. That led to me spending over an hour at the Prestige Homes portal in Freeport, alternately looking up properties in the cash shop and then using the portal to take the Tour so I could find out if they were worth buying.

I was quite struck by the Personal Planetarium, a single, vaulted room with a gorgeous display of bright tilework representing both the day and night sky. The problem there was access. There are galleries all around the upper tiers that would make excellent sleeping and living quarters but there aren't any stairs and flying mounts don't work indoors. I could, of course, buy or craft stairs and install them but it would be a bigger decorating project than I care to take on just now.

I considered all of the smaller houses I don't already own on other characters but none of them took my fancy. After a while, when I still hadn't found the right home and swapping between the Store and the Tour was starting to annoy me, I wondered if perhaps I wouldn't be better off buying a house in Freeport instead.

Another half hour trotting around the streets, knocking on doors and asking to see inside and I remembered the problem with EQII's original housing stock: no windows. The only houses with exteriors are flagged for guild use, which wouldn't be a problem on my main server, where my personal guild is Level 167; for Mitsu, the required Guild Level 50 is far out of reach.

It was around this point, entirely by chance, that I made a discovery. You can browse, tour and buy all the available Prestige homes directly from the housing interface. Even better, it shows two screenshots of the property, plus terms and conditions, making it easy to eliminate unsuitable accommodations without the need to visit. When the heck did they add that? And how did I not know about it?

Using the upgraded facilities I was quickly able to narrow my choices down to just two: Tinkerer's Isle or Rum Runners Cove. I was going to visit them both to compare but after I'd seen the Isle I knew I didn't need to bother with the Cove. When you find the right property, you just know, don't you?

Tinkerer's Isle is Steamfont's Gnomeland Security Headquarters, relocated from a mountaintop to an island. It includes the four GSHQ buildings plus, for some reason, the Steamfont Observatory, which towers above everything in the most impressive fashion. There's also a beautiful, sweeping sandy beach and a number of grassy plateaus, studded with pines. There's even an extensive area of ocean included, should you want to practice your swimming or construct an underwater lair.

It's also outdoors, so flying mounts are allowed, meaning every part of the landscape is easily accessible. Sizewise, it's right in the sweet spot - big enough to feel spacious but not so big you couldn't imagine using it all. It's potential personified and I'm very happy to have taken possession of the keys.

It is odd that I've found myself doing all of this with a minor character on a new server but that's the kind of thing that happens when you cut loose from the bonds of purpose that usually tie you down in games like these; when you start doing things just because  you feel like it, that's when the magic happens.

I used to do it lot. I wonder when I stopped. And why?

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Luna Landing

I had a post nearly ready to write but then I read this news item at NME and ended up wasting an hour or so fritzing around, trying to get to a place where I could post about that instead. That didn't really pay off but by then I didn't feel like I had enough time left to do the things I'd meant to do for the other post, so I was kinda stymied.

Never mind. Make the best of it, eh?

So, here's what I know. It isn't much.

Amazon has a cloud gaming service called Luna because of course it does. I mean, Amazon is probably the biggest supplier of cloud-based computing services in the world by now. Why wouldn't it have its own slice of that pie?

Not that it's been an especialy tasty pie so far. By now, I must have read more doomy reports about how cloud gaming isn't paying off the way the industry thought it would than I ever read hype pieces about how it just had to be the future of gaming to begin with. 

I'm guessing it'll end up being neither. There will be cloud gaming services and home clients and they'll all rub along just fine together but that doesn't make for much of a story. 

Personally, I find cloud services like GeForce Now useful for playing games like New World that my increasingly elderly PC balks at but only because I can do it for free. The day may come when I see subscribing to a cloud service as more financially prudent than replacing hardware but that day still looks a good way off to me.

For that reason alone, I wouldn't have considered paying for access to Amazon's Luna service but even if I'd wanted to I couldn't have - until now. It wasn't available outside the U.S. As of today, it is.

As the NME piece explains, "Luna was initially announced in 2020 but launched for US subscribers in 2021". Now, it's also available in Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. 

I still wouldn't pay for it but luckily for me I don't have to: "a rotating selection of games that changes each month" is on offer to Amazon Prime customers as part of the subscription they already pay.

Not that you'd know it from the Prime website. At the moment it doesn't appear anywhere at all on my Amazon Prime home page. The only way I was able to find it was by googling "Amazon Prime Luna" and following the link from in the U.S., telling me the sevice isn't available in my territory but helpfully providing a working link to the correct U.K. address, which for reference is this one

Why they keep adding these things, incrementally, as separate sub-services beats me. Wouldn't it make more sense just to list the free Luna titles under Prime Gaming? Well, it would to me and maybe that's where it'll end up, eventually.  I'd say it was an odd decision but I'm disturbingly used to these things by now. Amazon Prime never makes anything easy. Well, except getting your stuff delivered for free. That works fine.

Once I'd found the right portal, things still didn't go smoothly. I took a quick glance at the titles in this first month's free offer, picked one and clicked on "Prime Members Play Now", only to be told my browser, Firefox, wasn't supported. 

Digging into it a little, it looks as if the only supported browsers for Windows are Microsoft Edge and Chrome. I could have used either but instead I chose to click on the Download button just to see what it would do. 

It downloaded a standalone Luna app. Figures.

That installed itself briskly and worked just fine. I picked a game - Trails From Zero - and logged in. There was a warning that Luna was "Currently experiencing high demand" but I was #2 in line and the wait time was estimated at two minutes, making me wonder what the hell low demand would look like.

Two minutes turned out to be pretty much dead on target. The game launched, I checked the controls, watched the opening cinematic and settled back to play. Then, of course, I had to try taking a screenshot.

You can't. Or I couldn't, anyway. There was no listed screenshot function in game, neither FRAPS nor Print Screen worked and a google search for "How to take screenshots in Amazon Luna" only returned replies relating to Fire tablets. 

I am pathologically incapable of playing any game where I know I can't take a screenshot. It becomes the only thing I can think about. So I stopped. Until I figure out a way to do it, I won't be using Luna.

Unless, of course, they happen to include a game I really want to play, one of these months. Then I will. If necessary I can screenshot the damn thing with my phone! Don't think I won't do it!

For now, that's about all I have to say on the matter. Consider this a PSA for any UK-based Amazon Prime customers who happen to be reading. Or German or Canadian residents, I guess. 

All of which makes me wonder if Luna has been offering monthly free titles to Prime customers in the States all along. Anyone been using it there?

As for the post I was planning for today, I guess it'll have to wait 'til tomorrow. Unless something more important turns up before then...

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

How To Review A Game You Haven't Played

Tobold has a post up today about a topic that always interests me: Artificial Intelligence. In it, he suggests "ChatGPT could easily reply to a request like "write a blog post about World of Warcraft in the style of Tobold"." I'm sure it could but we alrady have a pretty good idea what Tobold thinks about WoW

How about a game that, as far as we know, he hasn't played yet? Diablo IV. I've been reading a few posts about that one myself, wondering how, as someone who's never played any Diablo games, let alone the newest one, I could get in on the act. Maybe this is the answer.

I fired up my Open AI test account and gave ChatGPT the following to work from:

"Here's a paragraph of a blog by mmorpg blogger Tobold.

 "Games describe game elements with words that have a certain meaning in general language and then game design sometimes ends up players feeling something very different about that game element than the word would suggest. A great example is "monster", which used to describe something scary to be avoided, but in many games ends up being more like a resource to be searched after. But in the large majority of games that I have played over several decades, "leveling" your character was a good thing. Until Phantom Brigade. I recently deleted my save games and started over, because I had leveled up quickly, and then found out that it was a bad thing."

Write a 500 word post in Tobold's style about the new Diablo IV game."

The first thing I have to say about that is five hundred words is way too long. Half that would have been plenty. Secondly, one paragraph really doesn't give ChatGPT much to work with so I hope Tobold's oeuevre is already logged in its databanks.

With that gloss, here's what it came up with:

"As a long-time fan of the Diablo franchise, I was eagerly anticipating the release of Diablo IV. And while the game certainly delivers on many fronts, there are a few aspects that I find somewhat troubling.

One of the biggest changes in Diablo IV is the introduction of a non-linear open world. While this is a departure from the linear dungeons of previous games, it also introduces some issues. For one, the game's narrative can feel disjointed at times, as you're constantly jumping from one area to another without a clear sense of progression. Additionally, the open world can sometimes feel overwhelming, with too many tasks and quests competing for your attention.

Another issue I have with Diablo IV is the new skill system. While the previous games had a straightforward skill tree that allowed you to specialize your character in specific areas, Diablo IV has a more flexible system that allows you to mix and match different skills. While this can be fun and interesting, it also means that there's less of a sense of progression as you level up. In the previous games, you always had a clear sense of what your character was working towards, but in Diablo IV, it can feel like you're just adding more skills to your already crowded arsenal.

That being said, Diablo IV does excel in some areas. The graphics are absolutely stunning, with an incredible attention to detail that makes the world feel alive and immersive. The combat is also excellent, with each class feeling distinct and offering a unique playstyle. The world design is also fantastic, with each area feeling distinct and interesting to explore.

One of the most interesting features of Diablo IV is the introduction of mounts. While this might seem like a minor addition, it actually has a big impact on the game's overall feel. Being able to ride through the world on horseback adds a sense of scale and adventure that was missing from the previous games. It also makes traversing the open world much more enjoyable, as you're not constantly running from one end of the map to the other.

In terms of story, Diablo IV is shaping up to be a solid addition to the franchise. The game takes place many years after the events of Diablo III, and the world has changed significantly. There are new threats to face and new characters to meet, and the game's story is shaping up to be one of its strongest aspects.

Overall, I'm still not sure how I feel about Diablo IV. While it has some fantastic features, there are also some aspects that feel like a step back from the previous games. That being said, I'm willing to give it a chance and see how it develops over time. If you're a fan of the franchise, it's definitely worth checking out. But if you're looking for a game that's a clear improvement over its predecessors, you might be disappointed."

Now, that's a very impressive auto-generated review. It's coherent, consistent, focused and clear. If I read it on someone's blog or on a gaming site, I wouldn't question its authorship for a moment. On the other hand, I certainly wouldn't peg it as something Tobold might have written. It has none of his slightly skewed syntax or second (Third?) language infelicities for a start but more importantly it has none of the stamp of his unmistakeable personality that all his posts enjoy.

As for accuracy, I have no idea. Does Diablo IV have mounts? It's the first I've heard about it but Google confirms that, yes, it does. And the observations about the strength of the storyline and the quality of the graphics were certainly confirmed by Tyler F. M. Edwards in his piece at MassivelyOP, in which he observed  "the story intrigued me" and "the graphics are gorgeous", albeit both with qualifications.

So far, so convincing. I would suspect ChatGPT of pulling chunks from extant reviews wholesale but as Janelle Shane at AI Weirdness found, it probably wouldn't own up even if you caught it in the act. And anyway, maybe that's just how good it is at its job. Game reviews are often much of a muchness so it would be hard to tell, either way.

I flatter myself my own review style is slightly less bland than the average, although I'm sure we'd all say that about our own stuff. Regardless, I thought it would be interesting to get a comparison. 

This time I gave ChatGPT the following to get it started:

"Here's a paragraph of a blog by mmorpg blogger Bhagpuss.

 "By an order of magnitude, at least, my all-time favorite mmorpg for fashion is The Secret World. Or Secret World Legends, for that matter, since it uses exactly the same apearance system. I currently have my screenshot file for the original game set as the source for my desktop background and I'm constantly surprised and delighted by just how cool my characters look in those old shots. Noah's Heart doesn't have anything like the same aesthetic but even so it's probably the game where I've most enjoyed dressing my character since I was playing SWL. "

Write a 500 word post in Bhagpuss's style about the new Diablo IV game."

And this is what I got:

"As an avid MMORPG blogger and player, I'm always on the lookout for the next big thing in the world of online gaming. And when it comes to upcoming games, few have me more excited than Diablo IV. Having played the previous games in the series extensively, I can confidently say that Diablo IV has the potential to be one of the best MMORPGs of all time.

For starters, the visuals are absolutely stunning. From the moment I saw the gameplay trailer, I knew that Diablo IV was going to be a feast for the eyes. The game's dark, gothic aesthetic is perfectly in line with the series' roots, but it's been updated with modern graphics technology to make it look better than ever. Every detail, from the characters' armor and weapons to the monsters' grotesque appearances, is rendered with incredible attention to detail.

But of course, visuals aren't everything when it comes to MMORPGs. What really matters is the gameplay, and from what we've seen so far, Diablo IV looks like it's going to deliver in spades. The game's new open world format is a departure from the previous games' linear dungeon-crawling, but it looks like it's going to be a welcome change. The world is vast and filled with secrets to uncover, and the ability to explore it at your own pace is a refreshing change of pace from the usual "follow the quest markers" formula.

One thing that's particularly exciting about Diablo IV is the return of skill trees. In the previous games, skills were unlocked as you leveled up, but they...

Error in body stream"

Perhaps fortunately for us all, there was a glitch that halted text generation long before the five hundred words were done. Nevertheless, there's more than enough to show that this is a considerably better attempt at aping a specific prose style. 

I can see clear elements of the way I structure paragraphs in there, along with my usual sprinkling of cliche-adjacent descriptors and deadweight modifiers, the kind any good editor would excise immediately. I include these things quite deliberately to keep things demotic and conversational and avoid coming across as too dry and academic, always a danger in factual posts.


I don't think I'd choose to use "deliver in spades" or "a feast for the eyes" but I certainly might call something I approved of "a welcome change" or talk about something being "perfectly in line". I'm reasonably confident that, with only a handful of very minor changes, I could drop these paragraphs into a post I'd written and no-one would notice the difference.

Of course, as for content, it's completely spurious. Far from "Having played the previous games in the series extensively", as I said, I've never played them at all and I'm certainly not going to claim "when it comes to upcoming games, few have me more excited than Diablo IV". I could care less about the damn game, frankly. 

But who cares about accuracy? It took ChatGPT about forty-five seconds to come up with those three paragraphs. It'd take me a lot longer than that and would they be materially better? I'm not at all sure they would.

I did try to have Chat GPT churn out the full five hundred words but it stalled again with the same error so I moved on to one, final test. This time I wanted to give it more to work with, ask it to do less and have it focus on something I actually know a little about but which would be far less likely to provide ready-made copy than the ultra-high profile Diablo IV: Noah's Heart.

I fed four paragraphs of a post of mine about the game into ChatGPT. (To save space reproducing them here, they were paras 10-13 from this post.) Then I asked it to 

"Write a 250 word post in Bhagpuss's style reviewing the cross-platform mmorpg Noah's Heart."

Here's what it said:

"As a seasoned MMO player, I was curious to try out Noah's Heart, the latest cross-platform MMORPG. After spending several hours exploring its vast world, I can say that I am pleasantly surprised by what I've experienced so far.

One aspect of Noah's Heart that immediately caught my attention was the beautiful graphics and artwork. The game has a distinct anime-inspired style that is both whimsical and charming. The character designs are unique and varied, and the environments are stunningly detailed.

Another impressive feature of the game is its immersive storyline. The game follows the journey of the player character as they explore the world and uncover its secrets. The game's main questline is well-written and engaging, and the side quests are equally enjoyable. The game's cast of characters is also diverse and interesting, each with their own unique personalities and motivations.

One of the game's standout features is its combat system. The game offers a fast-paced action combat system that is both responsive and engaging. Players can choose from a variety of classes, each with their own unique playstyle and abilities. The game also offers a robust crafting system that allows players to create a variety of items and equipment.

While the game is not without its flaws, such as occasional server lag and some bugs, overall, Noah's Heart is a solid MMORPG that is well worth playing. It offers a beautiful world to explore, engaging gameplay, and a captivating storyline. Whether you're a seasoned MMO player or new to the genre, I highly recommend giving Noah's Heart a try."

Now, that's a very interesting review. Stylistically, I think it reads a little less like something I would have written, despite having been given more to go on, although "whimsical and charming"and "well-written and engaging" sound very much like things I'd say when trying to hand out compliments. It does make several confident assertions that I would never have included, like "Another impressive feature of the game is its immersive storyline", which is blatantly untrue, but even so, all in all, the conclusion isn't too far from what I've been saying these past few months.

I also remember talking specifically about occasional server lag, which seems an oddly specific thing to mention, given the game isn't in any way widely known for problems of that kind. That, along with one or two other details, does make me wonder if ChatGPT hasn't sourced it's information from things I've posted myself. 

It wouldn't, after all, be too much of a stretch to imagine. As I've commented in the past, there really aren't a lot of people writing about Noah's Heart at all, so Google tends to favor me on that front. A google search today for "blog posts about Noah's Heart" has two posts of mine in pole position on the first page of results, immediately after the links to YouTube videos about the game.

Experimenting with all of this has been fascinating. It's something I've been meaning to do for a while so my thanks to Tobold for giving me the push I needed to get on with it. The results raise a whole lot of very interesting questions concerning authorship, authenticity and accuracy, some of which I may get around to asking, if not answering, in future posts.

For now, though, aren't you re-assured to know I can fill a whole post with detailed, personalised reviews of a game I've never even watched, far less played? 

I know I am.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide