Monday, July 31, 2023

Three Shows Down

That post
I wrote about the Kindle Fire? It didn't entirely come out of left field. You know how when you're driving on ice and the car goes into a skid and you're meant to steer into it - well, it happened like that.

It was supposed to be about what I've been watching on TV recently, which is why it opens with the paragraph about my viewing routine but let's not start all that again. The point is what I watched, not how or where I watched it.

It's been a while since I last wrote one of these. April, to be precise. Longer than I thought. Since then I've started some shows, finished some more, and I'm still in the midldle of watching the rest. As I said back then, there's a problem in writing about watching TV, which is that it takes weeks, even months to finish a series. They run across each other and there's seldom a neat, tidy moment to stop and assess.

So I'm just going to get on with it. It'll be messy but hey. I can at least begin with the shows I've watched all the way through. They all happen to be on Prime. I don't know if that means anything.

The Legend of Vox Machina

I was wary of this. It looked a bit shoddy. I was short an animation at the time, though, several others having non-started on me, so I gave it a go.

The tone was hard to define at first. It seemed like comedy-fantasy, always a risk, but I could sense there were undertones I wasn't getting, a rumble of subtext. I quite liked the characters, though, and the jokes didn't make me ill so I stuck with it and gradually it occurred to me it might be an adaptation of something I'd read other people talking about a good while ago. 

And it was. According to Wikipedia the show is "based on the first campaign of the Dungeons & Dragons web series Critical Role." I imagine everyone already knew that. 

Finding out the origin neither increased nor diminished my enjoyment. It was an interesting piece of background but no more. By then I was moderately invested in the storyline and more interested in where the show was going than where it had come from.

I finished watching it a few weeks ago and already I can't remember all that much about it. That's the danger of leaving these things too long. I can remember the characters, though, and enjoying myself, so I'm pleased to see a third season was commisioned late last year although it seems like it won't surface on Prime until early 2024 at the earliest.

Having enjoyed the animation, you'd have thought I might have felt more like giving the live role-playing show a look, something I've always resisted, no matter how people have talked it up. Somehow, I don't. 

Swedish Dicks

I watched this around the same time but I remember it a lot more clearly. If you want to talk about a show with an odd tone...

The Swedish Dicks are literally that: two Swedes who live in Los Angeles and work as private detectives. At the beginning there's just one Swedish Dick and the agency is called The Swedish Dick. Then another Swede turns up and joins so they add an "s" to the end of the name. The writers seem so pleased with that joke they focus it a couple of times, which should give you some idea.

When I was about eight or nine and no doubt an embarrassingly preocious trial to all who met me, I once had an argument with my Aunt over the word "dick". I insisted it was a legitimate nickname for a detective. She was equally sure it wasn't and that I oughtn't to be saying it at all. She's still alive but she's in her late 'eighties now. Probably a bit late to call her up and tell her I was right. (I knew I was right then, of course. I wasn't bloody guessing, was I?)

I liked this show quite a lot. It's funny enough to carry the elevator pitch premise. It also has the weirdest casting. The two leads are Swedish-born character actor Peter Stormare, a familiar face, if not name, from umpteen Hollywood movies and Johan Glans, a Swedish stand-up comedian. So far, so logical.

Among the recurring cast are Traci Lords, a name even I can recognize as synonymous with the porn industry and... Keanu Reeves. The Wikipedia entry for the show goes into some detail about how Lords got the part but how they landed Keanu remains a mystery. He's very... Keanu in it.

My favorite characters were none of the above. I liked Vivian Bang as Sun, the enigmatically terrifying Vietnamese woman who has a business in the same office block as the Dicks and becomes increasingly entwined with their bizarre cases and Felisha Cooper, playing Sarah, kick-ass lawyer and unlikely daughter of original dick Ingmar, who... ditto.

The show ran two seasons, two more than it had any right to run. It didn't go down well with the critics but I liked it. It's ramshackle and most of it makes no sense but it hangs together, somehow. Much like the rest of Keanu's career, now I come to think of it...


Oh boy. Everything Swedish Dicks probably wishes it was, Deadloch is by orders of magnitude. Hysterically funny, jaw-droppingly weird, mostly uncategorizeable, barely describable. An absolute one-off.

It's Australian, set in a no-mark country town in the backwoods of Tasmania. The two central characters are senior sergeant Dulcie Collins (Kate Box), the town's senior police officer, and senior investigator Eddie Redcliffe (Madeleine Sami), a detective flown in from Darwin to take over a murder investigation. 

The police contingent is rounded out by the excellent Sven (Tom Ballard) and Abby (Nina Oyama) and there's a huge ensemble cast of townspeople, almost all of whom are confoundingly peculiar. A few are even likeable.

The first three episodes are the broadest of broad farce and also, without any possible challenge, the sweariest thing I have ever seen on the small screen. Seriously, the swearing just never stops. And it's hard swears, too! I love truly creative swearing and this is outstanding. I'd quote some of the best bits but I'd be too embarrassed to type them out. 

Sadly, almost none of the strengths of the show are evident in the bland trailer but it's all we've got, so use your imagination.

The opening episodes are extremely funny and I was expecting the whole season to continue that way but it does a slow pivot in the middle to become much more of a police procedural. It's still funny but the humor starts to disappear under the encroaching shadow as the scale of the threat becomes clear.

As well as mounting an attempt on the Guinness Televised Swearing record (Not a real record, sadly.) Deadloch also seems to be trying to dismantle the entire concept of the Australian national character. I'm guessing there must be a whole strata of subcultural satire going on that non-Australians are going to miss but even judging by the part that juts above the surface, this is brutal stuff.

The show also evidences an almost mythical socio-cultural ambition, denaturing expectations left and right and leaving them bleeding in the Tasmanian mud. I spent some time trying to work out if the writers were trying to favor any particular ethnic, gender, class or orientational grouping over the rest but in the end I came to the conclusion they found every one of them worth poking hard. 

The First Nation characters come out of it best but certainly not unscathed. Straight, white men get it the worst. I'm not sure there's a single, heterosexual caucasian cis-male that isn't proven loathesome by the end. Everyone else gets pummelled repeatedly but somehow makes it through with at least a tatter of some kind of dignity or credibility.

The show ends with a very definite and satisfying resolution, albeit one that gave me unplasant flashbacks for about a week, which makes it entirely comfortable to recommend as a mini-series in terms of narrative conclusion but only providing you can cope with everything else it's going to throw at you. 

The coda, however, is a blatant set-up for Season 2 which, if it ever happens, looks like will shift the action to Eddie's home town of Darwin in the Australian far north. I hope they make it - Dulcie and Eddie and the showrunners both.

And that's what I've finished watching. Next time we'll take a look at what I still am, although of course there's a chance I might have finished at least one more show by then. 

I said this was going to be tricky.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Amazon's August Foretold

It's nearly the end of the month and that means... well, mostly disappointment these days, if it's Amazon Prime Gaming giveaways we're talking about. The glory days of anticipating a chunky package of exciting new, free games I might actually play are long in the past.

The sad caravan limps onward all the same. It's possible, although exceedingly unlikely, you may have spotted the post from the official Prime Gaming Blog when it popped up on the blog roll to your right, telling us all about the joys we can expect throughout August.

In case you didn't and to save you scrolling down to find it now it's slunk off into the dark depths of the link forest, let me summarise: 

  • bunch of games you've either already played or never heard of... blah blah blah...
  • bunch of crap you don't want for games you no longer play or never played to begin with... blah blah blah...
  • bunch of games you won't be interested in, that you can play for a month in the cloud, if you live in the right part of the world...blah blah blah...
  • and something really weird for Call of Duty... at least that's new, I guess.

Hmm. Maybe I should elaborate. Just a little.

There are nine free games for August which is quite a haul, at least quantitively. Qualitatively, it's not so impressive. The tentpoles are probably PayDay 2 (plus DLC) on 3 August and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 on the 17th.  

We had SWTFU in July (So close with that acronym, LucasArts!) so I guess we could have seen it coming. It looks like Prime subscribers are going to get the entire LucasArts back catalog in the end. I didn't claim the first one so I'm hardly likely to bother with the sequel.

I don't actually remember PayDay coming up before, though. That might be new to Prime, which makes it seem strange they're starting with the second one. Then again I know absolutely nothing about the franchise so maybe there are reasons. Or maybe we did get the first one and I was so uninterested it didn't register.

If you want to talk late to the franchise, though, let's just think about the game that's coming on 10 August: Farming Simulator 19. Nineteen? Nineteen!? Are you seriously telling me there have been eighteen Farming Simulators before this one and it wasn't enough

Nope. It sure wasn't. We're up to #22 now.

Before we go any further, here's something odd. Amazon has started to flag up the delivery method for free games to make it clear whether you need to jump through any additional hoops to get them. Both PayDay2 and Farming Simulator 19 are flagged as coming via the Epic Games store. 

I'm wondering now if these games are free on Epic anyway and Prime is just telling us about it or whether only Prime subscribers can get them for nothing by way of linking their accounts with Epic. 

If I wanted either of the games I guess I'd find out in a few days but I don't and I also don't care enough to try claiming one just for science, so I guess we'll never know. Well, not until they do it again with something that interests me, anyway.

The rest of the games are a right old mix. Blade Assault arrives also on the 10th, followed by Foretales and Driftlands on the 17th and In Sound Mind and Summertime Madness on the 31st.

Foretales looks mildly intriguing. It has animal characters, at least. I'll probably claim that one. The rest I'll pass, thanks, although I'll note that In Sound Mind does have and "Overwhelmingly Positive" rating on Steam, so it might be worth grabbing if you're into that sort of thing.

The canny counters among you may have noticed that only comes to eight free games and Amazon said there were nine. That's because they're counting the PayDay 2 DLC The Gage Mod Courieras a separate game. Cheeky!

The four titles coming free to Prime members via Amazon's cloud gaming platform Luna in August, provided they live in the USA, Canada, Germany or here in the UK, are Batora: Lost Haven, SteamWorld Quest,(Which I've played and finished!) Smurfs: Mission Vileaf and Ys VIII: Lacrimose of Dana, although the press release does make reference to a "slate" of games coming on 1 August. I guess we'll have to wait and see what the others are, if any.

Finally, there's that Call of Duty offer I mentioned at the top. I don't play CoD. I've never watched anyone play it so for all I know, stuff like this happens all the time. It certainly does in Fortnite.

For August, Prime is giving away a Warzone Rat Pack bundle that lets you... cosplay as a rat. Seriously, it's a super-creepy, badly-stitched, whole-head mask in the shape of a cartoon rat. It's not unique to the offer - it was already in game - so I'm guessing Call of Duty isn't exactly the dour, militarist sim I've always assumed.

Still not gonna play it so I don't need the head or any of the rat-related decals that come with it. It was interesting to learn they exist, though. 

If there's anything of interest buried in the rest of the in-game giveaways, I'm sorry but you'll have to check for yourselves. I can only do so much and for this month this is it.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Blaugust '23 - The Long List

As Wilhelm reminded us all yesterday, Blaugust is only a few days away now. We have sixty sign-ups so far, which seems like a lot to me, although I know we've had more in other years.

Wilhelm included a handy list of everyone who's signed up so far, including links, which I'm very happy to reproduce here. You can also find in a handy spreadsheet here, which Belghast will keep updating as new people join. There are always a few people fashionably late to the party.

  1. [Blogging Intensifies]
  2. A Green Mushroom
  3. Aywrens Nook – Gaming & Geek Blog
  4. Bitterly Indifferent
  5. Broximar
  6. Calamity Jess
  7. Capsulejays Tales from the Backlog
  8. Chasing Dings!
  9. Contains Moderate Peril
  10. Cubic Creativity
  11. Cynnis Blog
  12. Dragons and Whimsy
  13. Endgame Viable
  14. EVE Online Pictures
  15. Frostilyte Writes
  16. Full Time Casual
  17. GamerLadyP
  18. Gaming Diaries
  19. Girl Goblin
  20. Heartless Gamer
  21. Hundstrasse: Rambles about games
  22. Inconsistent Software
  23. Indie Creator Hub
  24. Indie Dee
  25. Indiecator
  26. Inventory Full
  27. Its The Bageler!
  28. Juha-Matti Santala
  29. JustCallMeRoybert
  30. Kay Talks Games
  31. Knifesedge Blogs
  32. KONMAI Zone
  33. Lewis Luminos
  34. LFGryph
  35. Mailvaltar – MMOs and other stuff
  36. Many Welps
  37. McKenna Games
  38. Midnight Reading
  39. MMO Casual
  40. Mobile MMO Review
  41. Monsterladys Diary
  42. Nerd Girl Thoughts
  43. Nerdy Bookahs
  44. Nomadic Gamers Eh
  45. Off Fleek Geek
  46. Overage-Gaming
  47. Raindrop Blue
  48. Random Access Memories
  49. Scopiques Bunch o Stuff
  50. Shadowz Abstract Gqaming
  51. Tanking Mage
  52. The Ancient Gaming Noob
  53. The Friendly Necromancer
  54. The Gamepad.Club Blog
  55. The Ghastly Gamer
  56. The Last Chapter Gaming Blog
  57. The Lesser Key of St. Byleth
  58. Time to Loot
  59. Unidentified Signal Source
  60. Words Under My Name

I didn't just come here to piggy-back on Wilhelm and Bel's good work. I also wanted to mention that, as usual, I've added all this year's participants - the ones that weren't there already - to my increasingly unwieldy Blog Roll. 

Seriously, it's grown like Topsy, if you want a really outdated reference. There are just shy of three hundred of the things on there now. 

It's lively, too. More than sixty have posted in the last week; over a hundred in the last year. Not sure why people keep saying blogging is dead...

I'm guessing there has to be some limit to how many blogs the widget can hold but I'm finding what it might be extremely hard to nail down. The closest I've been able to find is a mention going back to 2012 of a limit of three hundred for blogs you can "follow" on Blogger, which may or may not be the same thing. 

If that turns out to be the case, I'm going to have to do something I've always tried to avoid: cull the herd. That would be a shame because blogs do flicker back to life occasionally, sometimes after years of inactivity. 

Until I run into the buffers, though, I'm minded to leave everything as is. Blogger handily timeshifts every new post to the top of the list, so it doesn't really matter how far the tail descends. 

Unless, of course, you happen to have one of those blogs for which Blogger can't find a feed. When I try to add one of those Blogger accepts it but drops the entry to the very bottom of the list, which is where it stays. If that happens, it's highly unlikely you'll ever see any traffic from me.

It did happen to two of the blogs I added yesterday: Raindrop Blue and Mobile MMO Addict. Neither of those turns up on the first five pages of a Google search either, possibly because they're both relatively widely-used phrases. If I have a moment I might tinker with things a little to see if I can shift them but for now, just be aware that's where they went.

Scanning through the list for this post, I also noticed a couple of duplicate entries. For now, I'm leaving those, too. For all I know they have different functions of some kind. If one of the pairs happens to be yours and you'd like to lose the duplication, just leave me a comment saying which needs to go.

Similarly, if anyone notices any other issue relating to the name or description or url or whatever, please drop me a comment and I'll fix it - always assuming it's within my capacity to fix. I really don't know what I'm doing here. I just make this stuff up as I go along.

And with that, I'll wish all our Blaugustians a very pleasant, relaxing weekend before the madness begins on Tuesday.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Dragons, Ponies, Bunnies And Sheep

Immediately after I posted about Dragon Nest 2: Evolution yesterday, I logged in and played for a couple of hours. When I logged out I was level 10 and I had a pony. 

I'd love to show you how cool I looked riding it but although I took some great snapshots I still can't find them. After spending the best part of an hour looking, including a full search of my hard drive by date and file extension, I have to conclude that's because they don't exist.

Luckily, I have a workaround. Two, in fact. I can take screenshots using the excellent Windows 10 Screenshot function, something I do more and more these days, since I finally discovered it existed a few weeks ago. Or I can use Bluestacks own screen saving service.

Why don't I do that now and then we can have a nice picture of a horsie!

Isn't he adorable? He's even better when you can see him stamping and shaking his head. He's called Macha. Or maybe she is? Probably a girl-horse.

Doesn't really matter because I won't be riding him/her any more. Now I'm riding a sheep. Want to see her? Of course you do.

The more observant reader might also notice my character's dressed differently in that last shot. Oh, a lot happened while I was logged in taking those screenshots, let me tell you! For one thing, I got some...

Bunny Ears!

Bunny ears that turn you blonde, no less. It's only fitting.

The bunny ears came from a chest I got that I think was either from the current holiday event - because of course there's already a holiday going on even though the game only started a week ago - or it was a reward for the game going Live. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a Log-In reward because those were mostly coin and gems to spend in some shop I haven't even looked at yet.


The sheep, which is actually called Angelic Sheep - it has a halo! - also came out of some chest or other. Judging by the congratulatory message, maybe it was a lucky win. I only saw one other person riding one but then again I am a week late getting started so probably everyone else is on griffins or pegasi by now. 

My sheep is quite charming, don't you think? Yes, well, you should because she is charming and I can prove it.

See? She has a Charm modifier. My pony doesn't.

She's also faster than the pony so you know who's going to win and I don't just mean in a race. I have no idea what riding a charming mount does for you in this game but I'm betting it's better than not riding one. I mean than riding one that's not. Oh, you know what I mean.

As for the new outfit, I bet you can't guess how I got that. Go on. Try. You won't guess.

I fought a dragon for it! Yes, that dragon. A big, red one breathing fire and everything!

I want to say I killed a dragon but I'm not actually sure what happened. It was a quest that popped up at level 10 to "Change" my class. I wasn't sure I wanted to change my class but I was curious so I clicked on it and it took me into an instance where I had to fight that thing.

It was one of those fights where the boss has umpteen defensive layers you have to peel off so it felt like I'd already killed him three or four times when he finally flew off. I was so low on health by then I thought he'd killed me and I'd lost but when I exited the instance it turned out I'd done whatever it was I was supposed to do. 

Probably just prove I was dumb enough to try and solo a red dragon, I guess.

I found out what "Change Class" meant when I did the hand-in. It means pick your sub-class. Or advanced class. Or whatever. 

My inclination was to take the ranged option, Bowmaster, but then I looked at those helpful diagrams at the bottom and decided that given the way I'm approaching combat, Ranger would be the better option for me. 

When I started, I tried to play my Archer the way I imagined a ranged DPS ought to be played solo. I stood back, picked targets, kited and tried to stay out of melee range as much as possible. That worked fine in a couple of instances but then at around level 5 I hit a quest instance I couldn't finish. 

I kept dying almost as soon as I engaged the final boss. At first I figured he was too strong and/or he had some kind of one-shot ability I was failing to avoid but after a few runs, while I was going very carefully and slowly, trying to figure things out, I got "one-shotted" before I even got to the boss - after I'd killed all the mobs.

It was then that I figured out what I was doing wrong. The instance had a timer I hadn't even noticed. You had to complete the whole thing in under three and a half minutes or the instance closed and kicked you out. That's what had been happening to me every time.

Clearly I needed to go faster. Careful pulling was too slow. So I changed tactics one-eighty. Instead of backpedalling and plinking away with my bow as the mobs chased me, I ran straight at them and stopped in melee range. Then, instead of carefully selecting each of my attacks, I just rippled my fingers as fast as possible across keys 1-4 like I was playing a keyboard trill.

And guess what? It worked. I finished the whole instance, boss included, with a minute to spare. I didn't even take all that much damage. Since then, that's been my go-to combat style. Absolutely no skill or thought required. I can't imagine it's going to work for long but it's gotten me to Level 10 and it beat that dragon so I'm sticking with it until it stops working.

It also got me a parade through the city of Saint Haven complete with cheering crowds and a fanfare from iconic NPC Irine. I've had similar experiences in a few MMORPGs over the years but this was one of the better ones. It gave me feels, I'm not gonna lie.

It's nice to get this kind of thing at the start of the game, too, rather than having to wait until your all cynical and jaded after weeks of grinding. Not that I'm going to be doing any of that. Much though I love Dragon Nest in all its myriad forms, I don't think of it as any kind of "forever game". A Forever Franchise, maybe.

Even if I was minded to settle down in Altea (That's the name of the world where Dragon Nest is set.) it wouldn't be a good idea to become too fond of any one iteration. They open and close like California poppies (If that's botanically inaccurate you can blame Bard. I didn't cross-reference it.) A previous attempt at a mobile MMORPG version of the game, World of Dragon Nest, barely lasted a year and the way the ratings for this one are going (Down to 1.9 today.) I wouldn't bet on it lasting even that long.

Which would be a shame because it's a lot of fun, at least at the beginning. How long it'll stay fun I wouldn't care to say, although comments I've read about the necessity to find groups or even raids to complete basic main quest instances don't bode well.

For now, though, I'm happy to keep mashing buttons and picking up prizes. We'll see how long that lasts, I guess. If nothing else, it makes a change from doing the same thing in Noah's Heart.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

You Can't Keep A Good Dragon Down

In the extremely unlikely event someone were to ask me if a particular new game from SquareEnix had been released yet, in theory I'd be able to tell them immediately, even though I haven't played an SE game in a long while. That's because Square delight in bombarding me with information about every last little thing they do. 

In practice, of course, I never read any of their press releases or bother to remember any of the names so I wouldn't be able to help anyone out on the latest Final Fantasy game or whatever it might be.  I have next to no interest in anything Square Enix is ever likely to produce.

I find it almost painfully ironic, then, that I didn't find out about the launch of a game I would have loved to have known about until I read about it at MassivelyOP almost a week after said game went live. I should make it clear, I'm not complaining about MOP's tardiness. At least they got around to covering the launch eventually. The other MMO-specific news site I follow, MMOBomb, still hasn't seen fit to mention the game at all.

The game in question, as you'll already have gathered from the picture at the top of the post, is Dragon Nest 2: Evolution. Anyone who's been around this blog for a while will have heard me mention Dragon Nest a number of times. It's one of my favorite MMORPG franchises and one I've been playing on and off - mostly off - for many years. 

The last time I posted about Dragon Nest was a couple of years ago, when I helpfully recapped my history with the game, saving me the trouble of having to do it again now. I will just re-iterate the surprising - even to me - fact that I've been playing various versions of Dragon Nest for longer than this blog has existed.

Next time I do a recap like that I'm going to have to add another chapter. Dragon Nest, despite having barely been mentioned by any MMO news outlet I've ever read, let alone by any other bloggers in this part of the blog forest, is a pretty big deal in some parts of the world. There have been many iterations of the IP on both PC and mobile. There are often multiple versions running simultaneously in different regions. Dragon Nest is very much A Thing.

The MOP news story reports that the newest addition to the stable collected more than three million pre-registrations of which I would have been one if I'd know there was anything to pre-register for. I'm aware these big numbers can sound specious but I did some research on the worldwide popularity of Dragon Nest a few years back and all the data I was able to find spoke to a global audience measured in millions. The current iteration is even tagged as a "Global" release so I find this new figure convincingly consistent.

Naturally, as soon as I found out what I was missing, I moved to remedy my loss. There's a satisfying degree of synchronicity here in that Dragon Nest 2: Evolution is a mobile-only title that my Kindle would probably burst into flames if it had to try to run so it's incredibly good timing that it happens to have launched just as I've been updating my Mobile-On-PC capabilities.

First, I had to choose a platform. I discounted Google Play Games immediately on the grounds I'd already checked to see if I could play any of the earlier Dragon Nests there and come up blank. I've just done a due dilligence check to see if DN2:E might have been added to the GPG roster in the last few days; it hasn't.

My next choice was Bluestacks 5, where I was delighted to find the game right away. Unfortunately, when I installed it and pressed "Play", I got the introductory movie followed by a swift return to the game selection screen. 

Rather than fiddle around with that, I tried Nox. The current version of Nox has a horrible search function that seems to do nothing more than open a web browser. When you search for a game, most of the top results are for third-party websites that offer to install the game for you. Yeah, right. Nope.

I found the genuine Google Play link and used that but all I got was the dreaded "This phone isn't compatible with this app." Fortunately, I still wasn't out of options. 

When I was tinkering with Bluestacks the other day, trying to get Sky: Children of Light to run (Still no joy there...) I set up a couple of variants, each of which appears to register as a different "phone". I tried another and this time... 

It still didn't work. But that turned out to be because I'd refused to allow the game access to my photographs. 

I know. Why? Apparently you have to, though, if you want to play. I did want to play that much so I started over. Fine, you can look through all my pictures of Beryl if you really feel you must. Then is everything cool?

It was. I was in.

Since I hadn't even discovered Dragon Nest 2 : Evolution existed until about five minutes before I was about to close down the PC for the night and since getting it up and running had taken me about half an hour, there wasn't really time for me to log in, make a character and take a look around. 

So I logged in, made a character and took a look around.

Of course I did. It's Dragon Nest!

I'll most likely do a proper First Impressions piece at some point but for now I'll just bang out a few bullet points:

  • Classes: There are only four: Warrior, Archer, Sorceror and Cleric. I picked Archer because for some reason I almost always pick someone with a bow and then almost always wish I hadn't. And yet I never learn.
  • Character Creation: Isn't bad, especially for a mobile game. There are a reasonable number of choices in hairstyle and eye-makeup and you can make your character's face look round or pointy. So long as you want your character to look like a seven-year-old playing dress-up you'll be very comfortable with the results - and if you don't, remind me why you're playing a Dragon Nest game again?
  • Controls: The screen is covered with dots which is weird. There's one for every location where there's some kind of command or trigger. I'm guessing on a touch screen that's where you'd tap and you can indeed click the icons there with your mouse pointer when they appear. They also tell you which keyboard shortcut you can use. All of which is fine except why they need to be permanently visible beats me. If there's a way to turn them off I haven't found it yet but since my brain was already refusing to notice them after half an hour I imagine I'll just forget they're there altogether in a while. * See comments below - this is actually a Bluestacks option that can be changed or removed, not a feature of DN2:E.
  • Aesthetics: Those dots are going to be the least of your problems when it comes to screen clutter. What is it about mobile games that makes designers want to cover every inch of the screen with pop-ups and windows and notices? How does anyone play these games on a five inch screen? Can you even see your character on a phone? That said, Dragon Nest 2: Evolution is better in that respect than Dragon Nest M was and it's almost minimalist by comparison with something like Black Desert Mobile, which I found totally overwhelming.
  • Translation: The big surprise to me is the translation. It's good! I'm so used to having to pick my way through the quaint, charming, fractured English in search of anything approximating a meaning in all the other Dragon Nests I've played, it's almost shocking to be able to understand everything completely, first time. Better still, all the English text I've seen in the game isn't just technically correct - it's idiomatic and characterful too. It's a miracle!
  • Voice Acting: Maybe the reason the translation is so much better than usual is that they were able to hire a genuine English speaker with the money they saved on not hiring any English-speaking voice actors. The game seems to be fully-voiced - at least the tutorial is, which is as far as I've got - but all of the actors are speaking Korean (I think... could be something else... I'm not entirely clear on who made the game, which is published by Tencent subsidiary, Level Infinite.) It's a compromise that works quite nicely for me. I've always been fine with subtitles.
  • Selfies: There's one of those in-game photo features that I like so much. I took some great shots of my character. At least I think I did. Unfortunately, the game doesn't tell you what directory it's using and I haven't been able to find them. I looked in all the usual places but nothing so far. All the shots in this post were taken using Windows own screenshot function.
  • Authenticity: The game really looks and feels like Dragon Nest. The character design is the same as always, the NPCs are all familiar names and the tutorial opens in Carderock. I recognised the starting town immediately. It looks much the same as it did in all the other Dragon Nests. 

I'd have looked around town and taken some selfies but before I could orient myself the tutorial shunted me off into an instance and then another and then I died so I thought it was probably time for bed.

DN2:E has a lowish rating on Google Play (2.6 out of 5 from more than half a million downlaods as I write this, up from 2.5 last night.) following a rocky start when some things kept falling over or didn't work at all. It looks like most of that's been fixed since and some of it seems to have been no more than the usual mmorpg launch issue of everyone trying to log in at the same time, anyway. It ran smoothly for me is all I can say. 

Reddit is even less happy, though, and for reasons that have nothing to do with launch day blues. The general consensus there seems to be that the whole thing's just a blatant cash grab based on re-using existing assets to exploit any remaining pockets of nostalgia that aren't already tapped out from all the other Dragon Nest cash-grabs there've been.

I can't say I disagree. I am absolutely not going to recommend DN2:E to anyone who hasn't already played other games in the series and even then only if, like me, it feels like it still hasn't been enough. If it wasn't for the nostalgia factor I wouldn't be bothering with it myself and even with those warm fuzzies, it's pretty unlikely I'll play this iteration for more than a few sessions. 

Like all the later versions, it's like a photocopy of a photocopy of the original, just enough fidelity left that you can picture what it's supposed to be if you squint hard enough. I'm happy they keep making new Dragon Nests because I always enjoy trying them out but the best one was the first one. That's the game I really miss. It's been a slow roll downhill ever since.

I'm just a Dragon Nest tourist at this point and happy to be one. Or I will be, when I can find my holiday snaps...

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

You Had One Job...

As I said yesterday, my daily routine these days concludes with a couple of hours of viewing time, all of which happens in bed, on my five year-old, 8" Kindle Fire. Having used the device for half a decade, I'm still in two minds over whether or not I'd recommend it. It very much depends on what you'd want to use it for, which I suppose applies to most things, but seems particularly foregrounded here.

The negatives became apparent fairly early on and have only gotten worse. You're at least theoretically locked into Amazon's ecosystem although one of the first things I did after I set the tablet up was to go online and research how to sideload Google Play. That gets you access to the whole of the wider Android marketplace but it doesn't do you a lot of good when most of the stuff you're interested in comes up as "Not available for your device".

The Kindle Fire is definitely not designed for playing games. It wasn't great at it when I bought it and half a decade later it won't run anything new that I want to try. That's how I ended up installing Bluestacks and re-installing Nox the other day, although as I said at the time, neither of those will run the one game I wanted to play, either. 

They will run pretty much everything else the Kindle Fire won't, though, and there's a third option I meant to mention but forgot, that being Google's own proto-PC-platform, Google Play Games. As the official description puts it 

"Google Play Games on PC brings the best of Google Play by enabling players to experience an immersive and seamless cross-platform gameplay."

The service is still in beta but a couple of weeks back Google rolled it out to 120 countries so it's pretty widely available. At some point I'll probably give it a fair run and post about how I find it but my initial impression is that it's slick and professional as you'd expect but with a limited choice of games as yet. 

It looks as though Google are trying to ensure the games on the service are playable natively using PC controls. There's some of this built into the service itself with key-mapping and games are categorised as either "compatible" or "optimized", depending on how much work the developer has done to port their titles across to PC. 

A quick check of what's available right now yields somewhat disappointing results. Genshin Impact is there, although why you'd need to use the mobile version on PC when there's an actual PC edition is hard to imagine. On the other hand, Honkai Star Rail, is not, so maybe the reverse logic also applies, an argument made neither more nor less convincing by the presence on Google Play Games of HSR's sister title, the oddly-named Honkai Impact 3rd which, although I'd never heard of it until now, is apparently also available on Steam.

Neither Black Desert Mobile nor Dragon Nest (Any version.) are included, unfortunately, and neither is Sky: Children of Light, the game I installed the service hoping to be able to play. For now, there seems to be no real reason to prefer Google Play Games over the established independent alternatives but I have no doubt that will soon change, provided whoever's sponsoring this one at Google doesn't lose interest and wander off.

Returning to the supposed topic, my Kindle Fire, I would also be hesitant to say anything very good about its Amazonian operating system. Derived from Android but heavily modified, FireOS is functional but limited. It chugs along, occasionally halting and requiring a reboot to get it going again. I'd blame that on the age of my Fire but that wouldn't be a convincing excuse; it's always done it.

As for web-browsing, I wouldn't say "forget it" but I would say "bring a book". I tend to use my Kindle within a few feet of the router with a five-bar signal strength rated "Excellent" by the Fire itself and yet it takes what seems like forever to load a new web page. Actually it's seconds but a second is forever in computer time.

Not a real Mondrian.
Worse, the Fire's ability to stream from a website seems inordinately inferior to the speed it can shunt information from one of its own authorised apps like Prime or Netflix. The YouTube app, which I really don't like, works much better than watching the same YouTube videos on Firefox or Chrome, where they sometimes display only as faux-Mondrian blocks of colored squares.

A minor but exceptionally irritating aspect of FireOs is its bull-headed refusal even to consider delivering notifications. As far as I can tell after extensive research it's literally impossible to get a Kindle Fire to cough up the code from a Google Notification, making certain apps entirely inaccessible to me if I'm foolish enough to try and use a Google account to log in. I don't actually approve of the Notification process to begin with but as with many things in life, you'd rather be able to have it and not use it than be denied entirely.

So much for the things the Kindle Fire does badly or not at all. Obviously it would have gone to the back of the cupboard under the stairs long ago if it didn't also have some powerful positives. Really, one positive: the display.

The Fire is designed as a media device by which Amazon really mean a screen on which to watch things you've bought from Amazon. As the name implies, it can act as a Kindle for reading text, a job it performs very well, if not quite as well as an old school Kindle with one of those screens that apes paper. Or so I assume. I've never used one.

Where the Kindle Fire really shines, though, is in video. The display is significantly better than my monitor and far better than my (Admittedly crappy.) television. Even though mine is a five year-old, basic model, the image is intensely crisp and sharp. I'm not sure my eyes are capable of interpreting better.

I didn't ask for a fox.
The thing I found most interesting about watching moving images on a handheld-screen when I first
started was how immersive it could be, even when the image was much smaller than those I was used to. The such first device I ever used was an MP4 player, the make and model of which I can no longer remember. It had a screen about two inches square, so small you'd have imagined it would be all but useless for anything more than reading the liner notes on an album, yet I was able to download TV shows and watch them at work in my lunch break with as much enjoyment as if I was sitting in front of my TV screen at home.

Later, I watched some of the same shows again on a much larger screen and was fascinated by the detail I'd missed but the more surprising discovery was that the lack of that extra visual information didn't seem to have reduced my pleasure or understanding to any meaningful degree. I'm of the opinion the imagination readily fills in the absent detail without the viewer even realising there's anything missing.

Fascinating as that process may be, it's irrelevant to the Kindle Fire. In fact, my experience suggests its rather the reverse. When I move between watching the same shows on my PC monitor and the Kindle Fire, it's the image on the smaller screen that feels more distinct. I prefer it and not just because when I'm watching the Fire I'm usually lying down - although that certainly doesn't hurt.

There's a lot of information available online about the optimal screen size to viewing distance ratio. The Fire display has clearly been optimized for viewing at a comfortable arm's length. If you have average-length arms, I guess. It feels natural, comfortable and immersive. I find it easier to get lost in the image with the Kindle Fire than with just about any other screen I've watched, large or small.

Now I did.
Finally but not at all unimportantly, the sound on the Kindle is really good. I'd prefer it if the speakers faced forward rather than straight up into the ceiling, but they still deliver gratifyingly clear audio at a consistent volume that doesn't vary between applications the way it does on my PC.

The two final positives I have to share about the Kindle Fire are also the two main reasons I bought it in the first place. Kindles are very cheap and very reliable. 

Prior to buying mine, I'd been through something like seven or eight tablets in four or five years. Either I broke them or they broke themselves. Some of them were objectively superior in some respects to the Kindle and most I'd been quite happy with while they lasted but I was fed up of paying good money for devices that barely limped past the manufacturer's minimum guarantee before falling over.

That my Fire, which cost me less than half the price of most of my previous tablets, is still working as well after five years as it did five minutes out of the box is enough to make me feel charitable towards its many flaws. That and the fact it does the one thing I really want it to do pretty much perfectly means there's every chance that, when it finally does expire I'll most likely buy another.

As I implied at the beginning, I wouldn't exactly recommend the thing but then I wouldn't try to dissuade anyone from buying one, either. For me, it has one job to do and it does it well, so I guess it gets a passing grade.

Monday, July 24, 2023

How To Write Nearly A Thousand Words On How To Keep Things Short

One week to go until Blaugust and I've done absolutely nothing about stockpiling posts to cover the days I don't have time to write. Okay, I did make that list of fallback ideas but just having ideas isn't a whole lot of use if you don't do anything with them and I really haven't.

I have thought about them a bit though and - honestly? - they all seem like they'd either take at least as long to put together as a regular post, which pretty much defeats the whole object, or they'd be so perfunctory I'd be ashamed to use them. 

So, I thought about it so more and it (Finally!) occurred to me that Blaugust, even in its original conception, was never about posting every single day for the whole of the month of August. Bel spells it out as clearly as you could possibly wish in his introduction to this year's event:

The original challenge was to post 31 times during the month of August which is 31 days long. This can be posting every day or doubling up on some days to make the schedule a bit easier. 

I'm not quite sure why I've never really noticed that before. I mean, I knew it but I didn't know it, if you get my drift. I'd say I "grok"it now if it wasn't that even admitting to knowing that word, let alone using it, makes me borderline queasy.

a free-thinking maverick
who plays by their own rules
(polished, clockpunk)

The realisation makes things significantly easier for me. The real problem was always going to be posting on the days I work, something that can be awkward or even enervating. When I come back from work I barely have time to do my dailies and walk the dog before bedtime.

Granted, that's largely due to my insistence on being in bed at a ridiculously early hour, until recently before it even got properly dark, just so I can watch four or five TV shows before I go to sleep. I didn't say it was a real problem. 

Oh, heck, wait... yes I did say exactly that, didn't I? I should listen to myself when I'm talking, at least once in a while.

It was a lot easier when I stayed at the computer for another two or three hours every evening and never went to bed until well after midnight, I can tell you. It's true what they say about television, whatever it is that they say. Something derogatory, anyway, I bet.

The ironic thing about creating a whole bunch of "traditions" for myself that I feel I have to uphold, along with an almanac of invented superstitions I have to abide by, all done in the name of convincing myself I'm a free-thinking maverick who plays by their own rules, a bit like the renegade anti-hero of a 1970s cop show, is that all of this completely optional nonsense, far from feeling like light, fluffy, character-defining fun, can end up feeling instead like I've carved a set of unbreakable commandments out of stone and trapped myself under them, because if there's one thing defines freedom and individuality better than any other, it's an inflexible set of totally arbitrary, pointless, self-imposed rules.

That was a fun sentence to write! To read? Not so much, I'm guessing.

And now I'm starting to sound like Homura
Anyway, the upshot is that my new plan isn't to pump up a bunch of safety balloons in advance (Safety balloons? Is that a thing? Pretty sure it's not. Probably shouldn't have drawn attention to it. And now I'm starting to sound like Homura. Did I say that out loud?) but to stick with my preferred method of winging it, only on the understanding I can skip a day and catch up by double-posting later. 

Or treble-posting. Or more. Because the other bright idea I had is microposting.

I can't remember how many times I've said I'd love to be able to write shorter posts. It's been a goal of mine for years. Every time I try, though, my innate logorrhoea kicks in and the whole thing gets away from me. Blaugust is probably one of the only times I manage to keep at least a few posts down to a reasonable word count.

I'd very much like to encourage that in the hope I might begin to get the hang of it. I'm not suggesting I'm going to put up a single video or screenshot and call it a post, although since I don't use Twitter (Sorry - X.) I'm often tempted to do just that. I'll have to give myself a minimum content requirement of, oh, I don't know, let's pick some arbitrary value... maybe two hundred and fifty words? Does that seem reasonable?

Done that way, a few of those ideas I listed for myself ought to work pretty well but I should be able to adapt the whole concept to anything. I could split all those "Friday" Grab Bags and post the individual items separately for a start although even then I bet I'd need to edit most of them down. They always overrun.

It's a plan, anyway. It could work. Also, it sounds like fun. And a learning experience. Those are good, right?

I suppose, if I'm going to have any chance of succeeding in keeping things crisp I ought to get some practice in right away. So I'll stop here.




Well that felt weird...

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Let's Go Party!

In recognition of the cultural moment. 

Come On Barbie!

I guess we should start...


I actually thought about going to the cinema to see it. I mean, obviously I'm not going to... But that I thought about it? When did that last happen?

I don't own any Barbies, by the way. Just in case you were wondering. I am not now, nor have I ever been, the owner of a Barbie. I'm more plush than plastic. I have a lot of Jellycats... 

But hey! This isn't about me. It's about Barbie! Specifically songs about Barbie or by people called Barbie. And maybe anything pink. Barbie really likes pink.

Let's start with the soundtrack. I already used the best song a few posts back but now there's a lyric video so let's have it again.

Speed Drive - Charli XCX

Songs are so short now. I love it!

Barbie World (with Aqua) - Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice

Still working on liking Ice Spice. Getting there. Nicki Minaj scares me though.

Angel - PinkPantheress

Doesn't even mention Barbie but when you're PinkPantheress I guess you don't have to. Hey, we knew her when, right?

What Was I Made For? - Billie Eilish

"Turns out I'm not real. Just something you paid for.

The video is genuinely traumatizing. I'm not kidding.

And that'll do for the soundtrack. Where shall we go next? Oh, I know!

Barbie Eat A Sandwich - Care Bears On Fire

Yes, I know we've had it before but that was ages ago. I bet no-one remembers.

Barbie Goes Around The World - Barbie (Army of Lovers)

Not like Barbie has a big following in the drag scene or anything. Mrs Bhagpuss used to watch a lot of videos by a drag queen who collects Barbies and uses them to illustrate talks on socio-cultural trends. She's at work now or I'd ask her who it was and maybe add a link. Oh, hey! I can do it later, when she gets back, then dub it in! I forget how this all works, sometimes...

Oliver - Barbie Army

Don't think any video of Barbie Army exists, sadly. The Chicago Reader did a very detailed retrospective about them if you're interested. Which you're not.

Barbie (Not Yours) - Hot Wax

 "I am not your Barbie and I don't wanna go to your stupid party"

Well that's rude...

Bury Yourself - Viking Barbie

I bet that didn't go where you were expecting from the intro. Admit it! Also, could be a tad NSFW if you're watching with the sound up. And why would you not be?

Ostrich Cowboy - Barbie Almalbis

Okay, she's just called Barbie. It still counts. I do have more but I think we've probably had enough Barbies for one post. 

Oh, except for this one. Obvs.

Barbie Girl - Aqua

Stay pink!

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