Wednesday, January 31, 2024

How Much Is Enough?

I was very amused to hear Tobold complaining that after playing Palworld for fifty hours he'd run out of interesting things to do. I almost wish I had his problem. It continues to be a busy time around Chez Bhagpuss and finding the time both to play the game and compose thoughtful, detailed posts about it is proving difficult. 

Steam now tells me I've played for just over sixteen hours, which I can assure you is as much as I've been able to fit in since I bought the game a week ago. If I could have played for fifty hours I certainly would.

Tobold is right to make it clear that "The lack of content problem is a subjective one." I suspect it isn't even so much a mater of interpretation as one of taste, playstyle and personality. I also don't believe the issues he highlights are specific, let alone unique to Palworld. They seem to me to be more like generic, intrinsic problems - or perhaps we should say features - of the Survival genre itself.

When he says "...the higher level content often doesn't introduce something new... less novelty, more grind at higher levels... the rewards I get for exploration and leveling are mostly just stronger versions of stuff I already have..." he seems to me to describing all Survival games. Indeed, he could just as well be describing most MMORPGS and a very large proportion of all video games, so I'm not sure that, as a complaint, it boils down to much more than "video games tend to be very repetitive."

In fact, the more I think about it, the more concerned I am that Tobold has teased out a thread we probably ought to be very wary about tugging on any harder. It raises some very pointed and potentially uncomfortable questions about productive use of time and the value and purpose of the kinds of video games a lot of us choose to play.

For at least a decade and a half, I played MMORPGs almost exclusively. The mere fact of their endlessness, that it was literally impossible to finish them, seemed to me to be a recommendation and a justification all of its own. In more recent times, however, I've branched out somewhat. I've played a lot more narrative-focused games with novelistic or film-like storylines; three act structures; a beginning a middle and an end.

That is a very different experience. Self-evidently, it's much closer to more traditional forms of entertainment or even to literature and art. There's a much clearer purpose to the activity. It's not simply a means of passing time. 

Pastimes, entertainments and games have similarities but they are not the same. For years, I railed against the use of the word "Game" in the acronym MMORPG. It feels like an archaic argument now. Modern MMORPGs are far more game than anything else, with much clearer "win" conditions than anything seen in Ultima Online, EverQuest or Asheron's Call at the turn of the millennium.

Back then, I often chose to think of the kind of virtual world exploration I engaged in as more of a hobby than a game. I sometimes referred to it as "virtual tourism" but my go-to analogy was "virtual whittling".  I used to imagine myself whittling away at my characters, starting with a block of plain, undiferentiated wood, slowly teasing out a recogniseable shape and form, often over hundreds or even thousands of hours. 

There was no purpose to it other than the pleasant sensation of doing it and the steady satisfacion of watching the figure come into focus under the endless strokes of my keyboard and mouse. I had scores of characters in multiple games and at that time I could name and describe most of them. Even now, I remember quite a few.

I don't regret any of the very many hours I spent doing that. It was the right thing for the right time. I certainly took a lot longer than Tobold's fifty hours to tire of it. More than a decade, for sure. Maybe two decades.

After a quarter of a century, though, I do feel as though I may be largely over it. I still love to develop the characters I play but I no longer feel the same desire to play dozens of them and keep them all happy. I used to complain quite bitterly about MMORPGs that made it plain they preferred you to play just one character but now I rarely make more than one character in any new game and if I do make more, I still only play one.

Of course, one of the big reasons MMORPGs were so successful, for a time, was the infamous application of the Skinner Box of tricks. Playing virtual Barbies, now frequently seen, unironically, as the genre's endgame, has always been a big part of the attraction but the deep clawhold of addictive behavior comes from something much less fanciful - those dopamine hits supplied by a relentless drip-feed of incremental rewards.

Survival games, I find, take much of what was addictive about those practices and reduce it down to a much simpler, more elegant gameplay loop. You begin with nothing, you get something, it makes you able to get more, you get more and it never stops. That's basically all it is.

As a reductive analysis, it doesn't only apply to pure Survival games, either. It works just as well for so-called "Cosy" games like poor old Palia (Anyone remember Palia? Anyone still play Palia?). I haven't played Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing but from all the accounts I've read by people who have, I imagine it applies there, too.

All of these games - and by now there are plenty of them - arguably, more than anyone could realistically want, let alone need, to play - differ mostly in the context of their aesthetics and their narratives. The ones with more story-driven content feel more purposeful, although the quality of the stories may not stand up to gentle, let alone rigorous examination. The ones with more creative options feel more toy-like, more playful, perhaps even more artistically satisfying.

No matter the trappings, though, underneath the paint there's always that same engine, the one Tobold singles out for gentle criticism in Palworld. If he's correct in observing "One of the attractions of any game with any sort of resources is to find out how the economy of the game works, and then to optimize it ", then he's predicting the exact problem I've read so many bloggers complain about: the better you get at playing these kinds of games, the less fun they are.

What Tobold describes there isn't a game at all. Neither is it a story. It's a puzzle. Here are some pieces. Figure out how to put them together so they make a machine that works in the most efficient way possible. When it's done, it's done. Congratulations You solved the puzzle. Now start another.

Is that a sustainable model for a Live Service game? No, it's not, but I think that may be where perception and expectation run up against intention. Are Survival games even meant to be ongoing, open-ended endeavors like MMORPGs? Does anyone expect Valheim or ARK to last twenty years, continually adding new biomes, new ores, new monsters? Is that anything anyone really wants?

Wilhelm, after a lengthy search for a new game like Valheim to play, decided to return to Valheim, astutely observing that Iron Gate have a set number of biomes in mind for the game and that, when the final one is added, that will "... complete the set to appease Odin, prove our worth, and win the game." In other words, Valheim is designed to reach a complete, finishable state and then stop.

This is perhaps why it's okay for survival games to do no more than offer better versions of the things you already have as a reward for playing. Eventually you will have all the things, the game will be complete and you can stop. 

That's an offer no MMORPG can ever dare to make. Once, I would have taken it as a threat. Now it feels more like a promise.

Monday, January 29, 2024

More First Impressions Of Palworld That Nobody Asked For

While they're all still relatively fresh in my mind, let's run through a few more notes on Palworld. I'll grant it feels a little redundant, even to me, what with millions of other people playing the game and no doubt tens of thousands posting, streaming and vlogging about it, but if I don't write about the things I'm noticing, it feels like I have grit in my socks. Gotta shake it out.

I want to start with the Pokemon comparison controversy. I'm not even going to bother linking to the news items about it, most of which, at least the ones I've read, are speculative at best. I'm sure everyone knows the gist, anyway, but if not, Tobold has a decent overview of the issues involved. 

I've mentioned this before but I want to re-iterate that, for someone who's never played a Pokemon game, other than the obvious similarity in the naming convention, which does feel very Pokemonesque, there's pretty much nothing in Palworld that I haven't already seen in another game I have played. It feels very much like a portmanteau of tropes, systems and mechanics from a number of other successful and less-successful titles I've played, some recently, some a very long time ago.

As I already said, much of the creature-catching, taming and riding reminds me of Chimeraland, which I don't remember anyone comparing to Pokemon. I haven't got to the breeding part yet so we'll see if that's also similar, but I already have a bunch of eggs stashed away, which I found lying on the ground in various places, and there's a blueprint for an Incubator in the Ancient Tech Tree just waiting for me to find the mats to make. And that's exactly how it was in Chimeraland.

Much of the rest of the game is Survival 101. You can say it's inspired by Ark or Valheim but really it's going to feel like whatever survival game you played last, which in my case would be Once Human and Dawnlands. The gameplay loop in all of them is near enough the same.

I don't have any shots of random Pal fights so here's one of me and my glider.

The influence that most interests and also surprises me is neither Pokemon nor survival games but the clear through-line that threads back to early MMORPGs, mostly the DIKU-MUD variety. One of the defining features of those virtual worlds (As opposed to those games.) was the complex interaction between non-player entities, both mobs and NPCs. It's something I stopped seeing commonly in new MMORPGs many years ago and it's always both a surprise and a joy to see it re-appear. It makes the world feel so much more alive and convincing.

In Palworld, it's not just a basic on/off switch, either. There are aggressive and non-aggressive mobs but they seem to behave quite differently. Some don't react until you get in their way, while others spot you from a long way off and charge over to attack. 

What's much more interesting and amusing, though, is the way Pals and NPCs behave amongst each other. They skirmish and fight, hunt each other or run away, all apparently according to some set of behaviors you can see in the detailed description when you catch them. 

I'm not sure yet if the behaviors are species-specific or controlled by individual traits, meaning different individuals of the same species might not all behave the same way. Based on observation, that does seem possible. Cativas, for example, often have the Cowardly trait and a lot of Cativas run away when you try to catch them - but not all of them. I might have to try catching some that do and some that don't so I can see if their traits match their behavior but even then, of course, I couldn't be sure the one I caught hadn't had its traits generated at the time of capture.  

One thing I can be sure of is that Pals have friendly-fire turned on. A lot of them have ranged attacks, most of which are dodgeable. If you roll out of the way of a blast and it hits another Pal behind you - a wild one, not one of your own, tamed ones - that Pal will take instant offence and join in against whichever Pal tried to poison it or set it on fire.

Level 31 Mammorest v Level 5 Thugs. Place your bets but make it quick.

This opens up one of my all-time favorite strategies - getting mobs to do my fighting for me. Yesterday, I spotted a Level 32 Mammorest, a large, normally peacable, elephantine Pal, lumbering towards a bandit camp. I pulled the bandits, most of whom use automatic weapons, and put myself between them and the Mammorest. They shot at me, missed and hit the Mammorest. One round of fire later and the enraged beast was trampling them underfoot, clearing the camp for me in seconds.

I find that sort of thing immensely satisfying. Also much more efficient than doing it myself. It also offers great opportunities to attempt to capture Pals you don't fancy fighting. Just stand near a fight between Pals, then toss a Pal Sphere at the winner before it begins to recover health.

Another curious feature of Palworld is the seeming universality of the capture mechanic. It seems you can capture humans as well as Pals. So far I haven't managed to add any people to my collection but I did establish proof of concept by throwing a Pal Sphere at a bandit. It worked. Unfortunately I couldn't subdue him enough to capture him without beating him to death but there are plenty more bandits out there!

Even Tower Bosses like Zoe and Grizzbolt can be captured, although only by use of yet another exploit. Still, it shows the mechanic is there. I suspect it's baked into every creature in the game. That could  make things interesting...

Speaking of mechanics, I can now answer a question I raised in an earlier post. No, you cannot dive down and swim underwater. At least, not under your own power. I suppose there might be aquatic Pals you could capture and ride to go beneath the waves, which was how it worked in Chimeraland, but if so I haven't seen any yet.

He's called a Nitewing but he seems happy to fly by day as well.

I have, however, seen and captured a flying mount. I had to wait two levels to get the recipe to make the saddle for it but now I can ride my Nitewing into the skies... at least for as long as my Stamina holds out. 

I did fear that would be how it worked; that I'd need stamina to fly. Climbing and gliding both work that way, although riding a ground mount doesn't. At least you don't seem to come plummeting to the ground when you run out of stamina on a flying mount, the way you very much do with a glider. You just can't go anywhere until you land and re-enstaminate (It's a word. Or it should be.)

Somethng you can do on a flying mount is fight with other Pals, either on the ground or in the air. I tried both. Skirmishing aloft with another Nitewing was chaotic and disorienting but strafing earthbound Lamballs and Foxparks from the air was disturbingly enjoyable. 

Not as enjoyable as holding a Foxpark in my arms and using it as a flamethrower, though. Now that really is fun. Also they do an incredible amount of damage that way, although they soon get too hot qnd have to be rested so they can cool down. Honestly, the number of bizarre possibilities I've already seen in the game make me almost scared to find out what happens later on.

I'll be sure to grab a Foxpark next time the Palworld equivalent of the Animal Liberation Front turn up to raid my base. I know I said I was thinking of turning base raids off but they've been very easy and you get useful loot from them so I'd almost started to look forward to them. And then this lot arrived.

Back off, unless you want a face full of fox fire!

I didn't take any screenshots and I can't remember the exact name of their organisation, but it's something like the Pal Freedom Society. They want to set all enslaved Pals free, or I imagine that's their agenda. They clearly see me as one one of the oppressors. Not without reason.

All of that is fair enough but when I saw the raid alert pop, I didn't expect a dozen or so humans in battle-dress to come storming up the hill and I most definitely did not expect them to all to be Level 16.  As with most direct action, there was considerable collateral damage involving the supposed benificiaries of the protest. Five of my Pals ended up back in the Pal box in intensive care. I ended up face down in the dirt. 

Fortunately for me, once they'd made their point, the whole lot of them ran off. I think my team and I did for maybe a third of them but they certainly won the day. If I get many more incidents like that, base raids will be terminated. (Addendum: I have now switched raids off. I did a bit of research and apparently they just get worse and worse. Better to knock the whole thing on the head before it really gets out of hand.)

The last thing I have to report, for the moment, is that I found a couple of dungeons and explored one of them. I knew there were "dungeons" which, on the basis of the one example I've seen, seems to mean instanced caves filled with Pals, bandits and lots of mining nodes. Also some very impressive scenery, involving stalagtites and stalagmites, giant skeletons and a lot of the kind of luminescent, phosphorescence you'd expect to find at the bottom of the sea. It was big, too.

Not quite "measureless to man" but big enough.

Obviously, at this stage I'm still seeing and discovering multiple new things every session. It's very much the honeymoon period for a new game. Even so, having played quite a lot of games not dissimilar to this before, I have to say it's very impressive. The world has something of a hand-crafted feel to it, with interesting or rewarding things to find wherever you explore. The whole thing has been hand-crafted, not procedurally generated, and it shows.

And I still haven't really encountered any bugs. Once in a while one of my Pals will get stuck somewhere in the base and need to be put back in the box and taken out again to get them re-started but that barely registers as a glitch. Other than that, I don't think I've had any issues at all.

When I drafted this on Friday, Steam told me I'd played for 13 hours. It's barely changed since then.I workled all weekend, which really put a crimp in my play-time. I'm aware there may be some diminishing returns, following so many lengthy runs in survival games over the past few years, but I was actually a little annoyed I couldn't play as much over the weekend as I wanted, which I take to be a good sign.

Then again, it's less than a month until Nightingale goes into Early Access. There's an open Stress Test for that one next Friday, with no NDA. It's short, but it's at a very convenient time for me, so I'll have to see if I can get in for an hour or two. 

It'll be interesting to see what impact that has on Palworld's impressive concurrency numbers - the EA launch, not the stress test, that is. The timing is good for Nightingale, I think, unlike for poor old Enshrouded. I bet they feel like they were hit by a train over there.

Anyway, enough of all the speculation. Time to go play Palworld again!

Friday, January 26, 2024

It's Not An Exploit If No-one Sees You Do It

As I mentioned last time I posted about Palworld, I'm doing my best to avoid not only spoilers but guides, walkthroughs, How To videos and just about anything that would be informative, save me time and make playing the game more efficient. With eight million copies sold (!) I'm absolutely certain the early game, at least, must already be subject to min-maxing, ideal strats and tactics, something I'll no doubt be very glad about at some point in the future, when I hit the inevitable skill wall. 

I did expect to run full-face into it on the first dungeon boss, a fight which, I now realize, represents the Tutorial's final exam. Beat that boss and you prove you've learned all you need to go it alone.

As must be obvious to anyone who's been here a while, I am not at my best with Boss fights. I neither like them nor am I good at them. If there's a way around them I will happily take it. That said, I do usually find some way through to the other side, if going through is the only option. The only game I can remember actually giving up on because I literally could not beat a gate-keeping boss was The Secret World, the end of whose storyline I have still never reached.

That, however, was a fight close to the end of the content that came with the original TSW. This was going to be the very first such fight in Palworld, an introduction to the concept. How hard could it be?

That sounds like a set-up, doesn't it? I'm either going to tell a story about how easy it turned out to be or spin a tale of woe about how unfairly tough it was. Well, I might have, if I hadn't have found a trick to it. As it turns out, I don't really know how easy or hard the fight would be if you did it properly because I didn't have to do much at all.

Oh yeah? So why are we looking at picture of my character standing outside the entrance to the instance, looking at the bag of gear with all her stuff in that drops when you die? I suppose I'd better tell the whole story...

I was playing Palworld last night and thinking about the post I'd written earlier in the day, where I said I'd been to the Rayne Syndicate Tower but hadn't gone inside. The more I thought about it, the dafter that seemed. What kind of explorer would I be if I didn't even take a look? What did I think was going to happen in there, anyway? Why would I automatically assume it would be too difficult for me to handle? It's part of the Tutorial, ffs! I'm not that bad at video games! Am I?

Only one way to find out. I ported over and went in. It was meant to be a fact finding mission, not a serious attempt, so I didn't change my team or kit myself out with consumables or make any preparations at all. I know the Tutorial rubric told me to "make sure your Pals and equipment are in tip-top condition" but that was just the equivalent of an "Enter at Your Own Risk" sign, surely.

The instance is timed. You get ten minutes to beat the Boss. About three minutes after I went in, I was back at my base in my starting gear.

Ah, but I'd learned a lot. I learned that the fight was nothing whatsoever like I'd imagined it would be, for a start. I've never played Pokemon but I've read plenty about it. When I saw people saying these instances were Palworld's equivalent of Pokemon Gyms, I imagined something along the lines of Pet Battles in World of Warcraft. I thought I'd be picking my Pals and sending them in to battle for me. I didn't expect to be doing the fighting myself.

The instance opens with a dramatic cut-scene, rather like the entrance of a Championship boxing match. In come Zoe and Grizzbolt. I don't know what I expected but it wasn't them. They're neither of them my idea of the leader of a bandit gang.

I also wasn't expecting to be thrown straight into a completely normal boss fight. It felt almost exactly like something out of Guild Wars 2 or EverQuest II or some other MMORPG that isn't even a sequel. Zoe and Grizzbolt chased me about, trying to kill me; I beat on them with my baseball bat, trying to kill them. There was no subtlety involved.

Unfortunately for me, they had 30,000 HP and I didn't. It was pretty obvious to me I didn't have either the DPS to beat them down or the armor class, defence or player skill to withstand their attacks. It was frenetic and chaotic and I was never going to win - but it didn't feel entirely hopeless. 

I had enough time to see that the pillars in the room blocked their ranged attacks and that they had a lot of trouble getting to me when I hid behind one. I had Foxparks out and he was doing good damage, a lot more than I was, but he was getting the worst of the attacks, too. By the time I died he was already out of commission, which is how I came to learn that when your Pal is down, ten minutes in the Palbox sets him on his feet again.

I was too impatient to wait ten minutes. I took the revive at my base, put Sparky in the box, took another Pal out and ported back. I was worried my gear would be in the instance under Grizzbolt but it was safely outside so I got dressed and went back to try again.

It went better the second time but it still didn't go well. I kept out of the way and concentrated on watching what Z&G were doing. I cycled through various Pals to see who did the most damage. None of them did enough. 

A couple of times, though, Zoe and Grizz seemed to get completely stuck on the opposite side of the pillar I was hiding behind. I waited to see if they'd get loose but they didn't. My Pals kept attacking but even with free shots they were never going to do enough damage in the time. I tried coming round the side to get some free hits in myself but that set the evil pair free, so I had to dodge back into cover again.

With about three minutes left on the clock and Zoe and Grizz once again stuck to the pillar, I gave up hope of beating them and pulled out my last Pal for a comedy finish. It was lazy, useless old Cativa, the slacker I was complaining about yesterday. 

OMG! I will never complain about him again! He turned out to be an absolute monster in combat. Okay, granted he was getting a free run with Z&G unable to respond, but he was doing ten times the damage of any of the others. 

As he repeatedly blasted them with his special attack, then charged in and pummeled them with his paws, that giant health-pool sprung a huge leak. I watched, first in surprise and then in delight, as the possibility of victory shifted from a glimmer of a chance to a racing certainty. Cat didn't even need the full three minutes. There were more than thirty seconds left on the timer when Zoe and Grizzbolt went down and I and all my Pals dinged.

We'd done it. Okay, we'd exploited a glitch in pathing to beat an opponent who couldn't fight back but so what? Take the win!

Apart from a huge chunk of xp, the main reward was five Ancient Technology points, giving first access to some powerful, craftable artifacts. There didn't seem to be a loot chest so it seemed like time to leave.

What happened next was weird. I exited the dungeon to find myself on top of the tower. There's a portal statue up there that you can only get to by beating the boss. Or by flying up there under your own power, I guess, but I don't have a flying mount yet so that's not an option. 

There's a fantastic view and it makes for a superb starting point for a glide. As soon as I make a parachute - or the gloves that let me use Celaray as a glider - I'm going back there to give it a try. 

With the first boss down, the Tutorial comes to an end. I no longer have anything on my on-screen To Do list. I don't have a To-Do list. Although there is still a very clear progression path along the Tech Tree and there's a separate set of Missions relating to Base Building, it feels like now there's an awful lot of sand and very little box. 

As for Zoe and Grizz, having crossed them off my list I did some googling to see how other people were handling the fight. I saw plenty of guides and suggestions but none of them were even close to the way I did it. Everyone says to use Earth Pals and kite. Some of them recommend getting to Level 15 before even trying.

Lucky I didn't know about that strat before I went in. I'd probably still be in there now.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Lay Down, Melanie

As I've said before, if I posted an obituary for every notable musician, artist and writer whose death, timely or untimely, appeared in my cultural news feeds, I'd have a full-time job of it and there'd be no time to write about anything else. I'd say I have to pick my tributes, except it doesn't quite work that way. It's more like they pick me. Somehow, I just know immediately on hearing of someone's demise that it's a moment I need to note.

The strange thing about it is, it can be someone I haven't thought about in years. It's somehow as if their passing tears a small rip in reality that's going to take a while to close. Well, my reality, anyway.

I own just one album by Melanie, on vinyl. I can't even remember what it's called. I bought it some time in the 1990s, when I was trawling thrift shops and yard sales for anything that looked interesting. I think I might have played it a couple of times. Melanie Safka is not someone I've listened to a lot, now, then or before.

And yet her music has been a perpetual presence in the background of my life. When I was a young adolescent it was impossible to avoid her best-known tune, Brand New Key, an infuriating earworm that tinned out of transistor radios everywhere, once heard, impossible to shake. It annoyed the hell out of me and I liked it a lot all at once, a reaction that's become a signature note of many songs I've admired over the years. 

From around then, I also remember her cover of Ruby Tuesday, a bleak reading from the far reaches of the other end of the emotional spectrum, which eclipses even the Rolling Stones' original. She clearly had some range.

When I was at school, as I've mentioned before, we had a relatively young, very enthusiastic music teacher, one of whose big ideas was to arrange school trips to see live performances. He's the reason I can put a tick against AC/DC on my "Seen Them" list. 

It's hard to exaggerate just how odd that must have been at the time - a bunch of boys from private school being taken on an official school trip to see a touring heavy metal band - but another gig he arranged a trip to was more believable. Melanie was, among other things, a folk-singer and even fifty years ago, folk music enjoyed a respectability neither punk nor heavy metal will ever achieve. Probably.

At this point I ought to be reminiscing about what a great gig it was and what a marvelous performance Melanie gave. Only I can't, because I didn't go. By then I was a paid-up punk, in so far as you could be when you were still going to a fee-paying school. I only went on the AC/DC trip as an ironic joke. (Joke was on me - they were stunningly good.) An hour in a bus to go see the dippy woman who sang Brand New Key? Hell, no!

My best friend at school also declined to attend but our other pal, the uncool one, went. The next day we heard a lot from him about how great Melanie was, especially how, after the official part of the gig ended, she came back on stage, sat down and played a whole bunch more songs, just her and her acoustic guitar, for the people who hadn't already gone home after the encore. 

It's strange how I still remember that. I also remember how I wished I'd gone, after all. It sounded like exactly the kind of experience punk was teaching me to expect from live performance - lack of front, rapport with the audience, we're all in this thing together. Which just about pegs punk itself as a kind of folk music, I guess...

Before I was a punk I was, briefly, something of a fan of progressive rock. I really liked glam rock, too, although I was a bit shy of admtting it. How the order changes. Just as with punk a little later, there were a few bands who jumped tracks or tried to, slipping out of their afghan coats into spangled jumpsuits and stack heels. One of the most successful to make the switch from sweaty denim to sparkles and silk scarves was Mott the Hoople.

I loved Mott. Still do, although as with the Smiths, it's increasingly difficult to calibrate that affection with certain aspects of the singer's persona, in this case a close read of some of the lyrics, which don't necessarily come over the same way now they did back then. In both cases, however, any of that applies more to the solo work and for my purposes today I'm looking back far beyond Ian Hunter's solo career, back farther even than the band's brief, Bowie-inspired glam heyday.

As would have been my normal practice then, once the band had come to my attention I did my best to dig back through their back catalog, which in Mott's case was extensive. They'd been around a long time before anyone outside the club circuit began paying attention. 

They'd made, I think, four albums before All The Young Dudes, none of which sounds all that much like any of the others. They were clearly looking for a direction and not fnding one they could all agree on. 

The album I liked by far the best and which I played over and over again was Wildlife. It's apparently the album of theirs over which guitarist Mick Ralphs had the most influence, which seems odd since it's close to being a folk-rock album and he went on to form Bad Company, a numbingly straight-ahead, hard rock act with almost no soft edges at all.

Wildlife, though, is a drifty, dreamy album among whose several highlights is a great cover of one of Melanie's best and best-known songs - Lay Down. Also known as "Lay Down (Candles in the Wind)", the lyric attempts to encapsulate and communicate Melanie's transcendent experience, playing Woodstock as one of only three female performers to appear solo at the legendary festival. The other two were Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, which gives some perspective.

I listened to Lay Down last night, after I heard of her death. I watched the epic performance on Dutch TV with the Staples Singers in front of an audience, most of whom look actively traumatised by the experience. Then I listened to Mott's version, which still sounds as good as it did all those years ago. I've included them both here, so you can hear them too. If either is new to you, you're in for a treat. If you know them already, you won't need any prompting to listen to them one more time. 

And then, since it came up on the recommends, I also listened to the ineffably warm and wonderful duet between Melanie and Miley Cyrus on another of Melanie's classic tunes, Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma. I'd forgotten she wrote that one. Now I wonder just how many more great songs she wrote that I've never heard.

I guess I'd better take some time and find out. Melanie may not be with us any more but her music is and always will be.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Finding My Way Around In Palworld

Here I am again, with a few more semi-random notes and observations on Palworld. It's a strange situation I find myself in, posting about a game millions of people are playing, almost all of whom probably know more about it than I do. 

While I've been playing, I've been trying to keep my own experience as clean as possible, and yet here I am, pumping out potential spoilers on the blog. It feels more than a little ironic, especially when you consider I don't really know what I'm talking about. I mean, how could I, when I'm still working through the Tutorial? (Still! After nearly seven hours!)

Fortunately for me, the game is pretty well-documented internally and fairly intuitive to play, so I've not needed much help so far. There must already be countless guides, walkthroughs, wikis, reviews, Let's Plays and every other kind of examination and explanation imagineable available but I wouldn't be able to tell you anything about them. Other than to double-check I've gotten the names right in a post, I think I've looked up all of two things so far, one of which I've already forgotten.

The one I remember, mostly because it was only about an hour ago, is the disgusting-sounding "Pal Fluid", a material required to make a Spa Pool for the Pals at my base. Apparently a soothing dip improves their mental health and increases their Sanity. Like it would.

Mrs Bhagpuss came into the room to ask me something while I was holding down the "F" key to finish the build on the bath tub. Her reaction, when I said I'd be with her just as soon as I'd finished building a Spa for my Pals to bathe in, definitely gave me some perspective on what I was doing but, hey, six seven million other people are doing it too so I can't be completely crazy. Right? 

Pal fluid, should you find yourself in need of some, is a drop from any water-based Pal. I had worked that out for myself, really. I needed ten of them and I already had nine in my backpack. I couldn't imagine how they'd hav gotten there unless I'd looted them from something I'd killed.

Although... not necessarily. 

As Nimgimli observed in a comment on yesterday's post, Palworld is unusual in that you don't necessarily have to kill mobs to get drops off them. You also get drops when you subdue and capture a Pal, which can be a little disturbing.

Some Pals only come out at night.
A tuft of loose wool is one thing, but when you open your bags to find a slice of mutton that wasn't there before, it raises some serious questions. Did you beat the animal hard enough with your baseball bat to make bits of it drop off, which you then stuck in your backpack for later? Then you dragged the badly-injured creature back to your lair, where all it would have to look forward to would be a miserable life of indentured servitude, before tossing the freshly-flayed Pal-flesh into the feeding tray for the rest of them.

I notice they're not making a feature of that in the marketing material.

My hope was that I'd be able to get Pal fluid more peacably, perhaps by extracting it painlessly from one of the creatures in my care, although now I say it out loud, I'm not sure that sounds any less disturbing. Sadly, it appears you can't milk Pengullets or Teafants for their juices, so I had to jog down the path and club one to death for the final fluid I needed. 

While I was there, I also coshed a Foxpark for the Flame Organ I needed to... no, I've forgotten what I needed it for. It might have been to make the harness to turn my tame Foxpark into a handy flamethrower. 

I know. It sounds weird when you say it straight out like that, doesn't it?

I think I'd be finding Palworld weirder than I am, had I not spent several months playing Chimeraland. That game set a pretty high bar for stuff you don't want to think about too hard. I don't think Palworld has reached that level for me yet but it's early days.

I have seen rather more of the world now, though. I went exploring for an hour or so last night and opened up a lot of new areas. The world is pretty damn big and as far as I can tell, it's one of those "If you can see it, you can go there" kind of places. 

You can climb just about anything although, as I discovered, if you run out of stamina while climbing a rockface you don't stick where you are, you lose your grip and fall off. There is falling damage but it seems very mild so it's not a big deal but still, it's frustrating to be a finger-tip from the top and not have the oomph to reach up and haul yourself over.

Swimming is a thing, too. I've done that. I didn't try to go under the surface so I can't say whether there's a whole underwater world to explore, like there is in Chimeraland. I kind of hope there is but then again I wasted so much time just gawping at the neon sealife there, taking countless screenshots, I almost feel I'd like to be saved from myself by being restricted swimming on the surface.

Flight exists in Palworld, or at least gliding does. I already have a recipe for a parachute. I just haven't gotten around to making one yet. The Tech Tree seems to go from Stone Age to The Future, so maybe  powered flight opens up eventually. I already know you can ride flying Pals, again just like Chimeraland, a game with which I'm increasingly finding parallels. 

I don't want to know the mechanics of any of this in too much detail right now. I'm trying not to look too far ahead. The surprise factor is a big incentive for me, whereas feeling I ought to be to working towards something that's weeks of work away has just the opposite effect.

Of course, that does mean I can't plan much further ahead than the next session. I'm constantly making decisions I'm probably going to regret. I could certainly have laid my base out better if I'd looked ahead to see all the production stations and facilities I'd be installing. The place looks like a goblin built it. Not one of the clever ones, either.

Since I seem to be running down the transportation options, I ought to mention there are both mounts and teleports. I have a Rushboar, for whom I made a saddle earlier today, but I have yet to figure out how to get him to wear it so I can ride about on pigback.

Instant travel is by way of towers you have to visit to unlock. They appear on the map so you can head towards them as you clear the fog of war but as far as I can tell you have to be physically next to one every time you want to use a tower to go anywhere. You can't just click on the map icon to port there from anywhere, like you can in almost every game that uses a similar system. I guess that means it's not quite so "instant" after all.

Maybe I'll come back later. He's probably busy...
Exploring in the game is a lot of fun from both an aesthetic and a practical perspective. Although the world isn't highly graphically detailed, it is very attractively and thoughtfully designed, making the most of the chosen style. As far as biomes go, so far I've visited meadowlands, autumnal woodland, temperate coast and what looks like the start of the tropics, all in a day's jog. This is not a world that adheres to metereological boundaries as we recognize them but it's all the more intriguing for that.

It's also something of a living world. The barely-articulated conceit appears to be that the player is one of a number of castaways on an archipelago with a pre-existing society of humans there already, or at least the remnants of one. I came across a village with a number of NPCs and a couple of merchants last night and there's evidence of major building and engineering projects all over the place.

I also ran into two bandit camps. Literally, in one case. They were very interesting to see. Each had a Pal in a cage in the middle and unlocking the cage added the Pal to my team without my having to subdue it or catch it with a Pal Sphere. The bandits didn't want me to have it, naturally. They would have stopped me, too, there being quite a lot of them, only in both cases they were under attack from other, wild Pals and they had their hands full. 

I stood back and watched as a Level 11 Nightwing cleared a whole camp of Level 5 bandits. I nipped in and freed the captive Pal while they were battling it out and then, somewhat ungratefully, I tried to capture the wounded Nitewing. I was Level 9 at the time and it was too tough for me, even at half health. In the end I had to call my Foxspark to come help kill it. The damn thing would not go in the Pal Sphere for love nor money.

Batter up!
These kinds of interactions between NPCs do make a gameworld come alive and once again it brings to mind original EverQuest, where various mobs would help or hunt each other according to some arcane faction table that only began to become clear after hours of observation. For all the no doubt valid comparisons to Pokemon, Palworld feels a lot like several other games, too.

I am now at the point in the Tutorial where I'm expected to go into Rayne's Syndicate Tower and battle the bandit Boss. (The bandits I met were all part of that syndicate.) I've been to the tower but I haven't stepped inside. I'm not entirely sure what the fight will entail although I suspect from the odd comment I've seen that it follows the format of a Pokemon Gym, which makes me none the wiser, never having played that game.

I'm in no hurry to find out. There seems to be more than enough to do without going into towers and fighting Syndicate bosses. I mean, why would you, if you didn't have to? I'll get to it when I feel ready or, failing that, when the game gives me no other choice.

In the meantime, I'm going to go do some more exploring. I made a Tundra Outfit and a Tropical Outfit today (Same design, sadly, just different colors.) and a nifty feather head-dress (See illustration above.). I'd like to find somewhere suitable to show them off. 

Other than here, that is.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Palworld: First Impressions

With more than six million people playing Palworld, almost two million of them literally playing as I write, I imagine the last thing the world needs right now is a First Impressions piece from someone who hasn't even finished the tutorial. Well, tough, That's what's coming.

I will at least try to keep it brief and to the point. To the bullet point, in fact.

Connectivity, Bugs, Practicalities.

Playing solo with multiplayer not enabled as I have been, the game has performed flawlessly so far. There's been no lag and I've not seen a glitch or a bug in just under five hours. Exiting and re-entering the game is swift, saves are automatic and it all feels very competent and clean, especially for an Early Access title. Of course, I may just have been lucky...

Character Creation

For Early Access, again, there's a very decent amount of choice. Palworld employs the newly-popular, ungendered (Body Type A/B) archetypes, something I always like to see. The default character I got was, almost ironically, I thought, a redhead, but they looked unusually and satisfyingly chunky, which I thought might be making a point of some kind. Then again, maybe the first character you see is random. I haven't tried to make another character yet so I can't say for certain. 

Now I look at the screenshot I took, though, I rather wish I'd stuck with that default option. She looks cheerful and friendly. The character I made looks bad-tempered and a bit sharp-faced. I get the feeling she might not like me all that much. It's lucky I only have to look at the back of her head, most of the time.

For now, I'm stuck with her unless I re-roll and start a new world. There's no cosmetic remodelling available yet. It is on the schedule, though. I think I'll be taking advantage of it, when it arrives. 

Graphics and Animation.

The world and the environments within it, the few I've seen (Meadows, small woods and rivers, a lot of mossy ruins.) look very pretty, if not all that detailed. They've gone for a cartoonish vibe that reminds me of a certain kind of kids TV show; it's a rounded, softened, cartoon-realism that's almost not quite really one thing or the other. I always find the style a bit uncanny valley in a show but it works a lot better in a video game. It certainly works well here. 

The character animations, I like. They're bold, broad and lively with no attempt to mimic real-world practice. You try chopping down a tree by swinging at it left, right, left, right, like the pendulum of a clock. See how far you get. Feels great in a game, though. 

Pals (Every creature you see is a "Pal", as far as I can tell, except maybe the huge, named ones.) are goofy and comic, as expected. Lamballs, for example, are hysterical when you kill them - they just roll and roll like tumbleweed until they hit something that stops them, if it ever does. I haven't watched for long enough to see if Pals exhibit much character beyond the obvious species tropes but I suspect they might. 


I found it both comfortable to use and pleasing to look at. What more can you ask? 

Building uses a radial menu, something I'm generally not pleased to see, but I'm finding this one quite intuitive. 

About the only complaint I have, apart from the almost inevitable one about the lack of screenshot and Hide UI commands, is that I haven't yet found out how to give myself a free cursor. There have been a few moments when there was something on screen I thought I ought to be able to click on (A scroll bar, for example.) but haven't been able to find a way to do it. I suspect I just need to read the Options menus more carefully.

Survival Mechanics

Very simple and familiar, if mildly overtuned for my taste, although there don't seem to be many of them, at least not to begin with. Hunger and cold are the only ones I can remember off-hand and cold just goes away as soon as you make yourself some clothes. Hunger was a nuisance at first but now, at Level 7, it's just slightly annoying. I suspect it will become all but unnoticeable before long.

Pals seem to have more Survival issues than the player, as far as I can see. They need to be fed, kept sane and given somewhere to sleep. You get a running commentary on screen of the various issues they're having but even at this early stage, most of them have fixes that can be handled autonomically, for example by placing a feed dish and filling it with berries so they can go help themselves when they get hungry. 

All the different species have their own strengths and weaknesses, something I assume will form a major part of the gameplay eventually, but so far I've been able to ignore all of that and just let them get on with it. They seem perfectly capable of looking after themselves, most of the time, except for Cativas, who are a right, royal pain in the neck. I only had one and I already regret catching him. I've had to retire him from active service because he wanted more attention than all the others put together. Typical bloody cat.


Just about all of the above, I should stress, is entirely optional. The game comes with three preset difficulty levels - Casual, Normal and Hard -  plus Custom, where you can adjust a wide range of parameters to taste. As I usually do with any new game, I started on "Normal" so I could assess what the developers intentions might have been and I'm finding it very comfortable so far. 

I could happily carry on this way indefinitely. Should I feel like changing anything, though, that option remains permanently available. You can switch difficulties from the main menu at any time, including using the custom settings to tweak things to your precise tastes. I'm curious if you can use that to finesse the difficulty level of Boss fights, without having to create a whole, new, easier world. That would be a very welcome innovation.

I probably will change the death penalty after a while, so I get to keep all my stuff when I die, instead of having to run back and pick it up, a time-wasting process that just seems fatuous in a single-player game. I might also turn off base raids, a feature I'm not mad keen on in any of these survival games, except the starving Pals who keep attacking my food store do drop some very handy keys that open locked chests. Until and unless I discover an alternative source of keys, I suppose I'll have to put up with the raids.

Combat and Capture

Hmm. Mostly it's very easy, until it isn't. You have to reduce a Pal's health to make it easier to catch, which is safe and simple on lower level Pals... until you discover they're social and every other Pal around piles on. They also have a loooong leash, so running them off when you get too many isn't always a successful strategy. 

As for fighting anything above your level, probably don't bother. I did manage to subdue and catch something a level above me but the captured Pal drops down to your level so there's not much point. There are also some aggressive higher-level mobs wandering about, even in the Tutorial area. It reminded me of the zone-sweepers in early EverQuest. When I got killed by some flying mob, it felt highly reminiscent of being killed by a griffin in West Commonlands

In fact, the whole thing feels weirdly everquesty at times. Even the supposedly Pokemonesque capture mechanic reminds me just as much of those many, many quests in EQII, where you have to fight something until it hits about 10% health before using a quest item to capture it and take it back to the questgiver. I've never played a Pokemon game and yet I felt right at home with the process.


I guess I might as well cover them here, now I've talked about catching them. They are weird. Not what they look like, which is exactly as you'd expect, but what they do, which very definitely is not. 

They bustle around my base, turning their paws to everything. They start off mining, logging and gathering but as soon as I start to do anything, like build a crafting station or some furniture, half a dozen Pals come barrelling up and start hammering away alongside me. It's great! The more Pals, the faster things go. Combines that take a minute to make solo take maybe ten seconds with a pack of Pals.

And it does feel surprisingly good. About an hour and a half in yesterday, I was beginning to regret my purchase. Things were going just fine but it was clearly yet another Survival game like too many I've played lately and I was wondering why I'd thought I needed another one... and then my first Pal, a Lamball, joined in and helped me make a bed. 

It felt... well, it felt pally. My mood changed instantly. I no longer questioned my decision to buy the game, which suddenly felt very different to anything else I'd played. My whole sense of ennui just evaporated.

How long that's going to last we'll find out in due course but after five hours the novelty hasn't started to wear off yet. It still seems amazing to see a Pengullet watering my berry patch or a Lamball trot by with a chunk of stone on her back. The AI seems pretty sophisticated. I assumed I'd have to give them all tasks or at least micro-manage the set-up for each new addition to the team but no, they do it all themselves and they seem to be doing it pretty well so far. I'm not sure they really need me there at all.


Needs work. It's not at all bad but the design aesthetic feels a tad unsophisticated, although that could well just be because of the low-level materials and designs I'm seeing. What certainly doesn't get a pass is the positioning of the click-to-fit sections, which is too often fiddly and awkward. There are always moments with systems like these when you can't get a piece to go exactly where you want but I spent far too long trying to get sloping roof sections to slot into places they were clearly meant to go without any success at all. In the end I took down the few sections I'd managed to place and swapped the whole thing out for a boxy flat-roofed design that looks bad but at least goes up and stays up.

Other than that, which I'm sure is something that will get smoothed out as development progresses, I was happy enough with the options and the mechanics. I didn't have much of a problem finding a suitable, permitted area in which to build and the starter base is a very generous size. I didn't find it too difficult to put stations and flooring in the spots where I wanted them, although getting things to go under stairs was, as usual, more of a problem than it would be in real life, where "under the stairs" is the homeowner's version of the TARDIS. 


One of the big strengths of the Survival genre has to be clarity of intent. Unlike many MMORPGs, there's rarely much doubt in the mind of a new player on what to do next. That's very much the case in Palworld, where after five hours of pretty concerted, concentrated play, I'm still very much in the Tutorial phase, following instructions. 

There's an on-screen Tutorial check-list in the top right corner at all times, as well as a list of the current Missions to upgrade my base. Between the two, I found myself pretty much permanently busy, to the point that I eventually started to feel a little claustrophobic. That, of course, was my fault. There's absolutely nothing to stop you just running off to explore, which is what I did when all the chores started to feel like I had a full-time job.

The important thing is that I always wanted to progress. You can see well ahead down the Technology line to the recipes that are coming, which is motivating in itself, but also to lots of items with nothing more than a big ? indicating a mystery recipe you won't unlock until you catch a certain kind of Pal. If that doesn't make you want to go exploring, Palworld probably isn't the game you're looking for.

Even without having pitted any of my Pals against a Boss yet, or having seen or heard one word of narrative (There is a story, apparently.), both of those things being what passes for a throughline in this game, I can already feel the tidal pull of the nested progression mechanics. I suspect this is yet another Survival title capable of eating several hundred hours of anyone's life, should they be incautious enough to let it get a grip.

It's probably too late for me. Save yourself, while you still can.

Monday, January 22, 2024

If All Your Friends Jumped Off A Bridge... A Continuing Series.

Hands up, everyone who knows what game the screenshot above is from. Hah! You, too, eh? Well, you're in good company. There are five million of us so far and that's not counting everyone playing for "free" on Game Pass.

Among those millions are a couple of bloggers. There's Tobold, who bought the game on Steam, then refunded it almost immediately because it gave him motion sickness. Too late, he found a fix but by then he'd also realised it was on Game Pass, which he already had, so in a way his nausea came as serendipty. It saved him a few Euros. 

And then there's Scopique, whose very positive First Impressions post was at least in part responsible for my buying the game today. He makes it sound very appealing.

The main reason I bought it, though, was last night's storm, Storm Isha. (I really don't see how giving storms a name makes them any more friendly, although I guess that's not the point.) It was pretty windy but I didn't think much about it. We get a lot of storms this time of year, where I live; the tail end of hurricanes or tropical storms, wearing themselves out after crossing a few thousand miles of Atlantic ocean. They make a lot of noise but don't often do much damage, this far inland.

It used to be a lot more worrying when we had a falling-down fence on one side of the back garden and two precarious, sixty-foot conifers on the other. In those days I received news of any forthcoming wind stronger than a light breeze with a deep sense of foreboding. In recent times, though, we've had both trees taken down, along with another problematic one at the front of the house and two years ago our neighbors put up a new fence between our properties, a very sturdy construction that ought to be good for a few years yet before it falls down. (All fences fall down, eventually.)

It was an unpleasant surprise, then, to open the front door this morning and find a large sheet of lead lying on the front lawn. A chunk of the cladding had blown away in the night, leaving an eight inch gap between the top of the wall and the bottom of the roof. 

The good news is that within literally five seconds of registering my problem on a website designed to put householders in touch with suitable tradespeople, I received a call from someone offering to do the job the same day. A few hours later it was all done.

The bad news was the cost. I could have bought myself a new laptop (Okay, a reconditioned laptop...) for about the same. 

I did contemplate doing it myself. It just looked like sticking a lead plaster over a hole, after all. How hard could it be? I got as far as putting up a ladder and fiddling around up there for a minute or two before I decided that a) it was going to be a lot harder than it looked from the ground and b) my life was worth more than the cost of getting someone else to do it.

I was quite miffed about having to spend the money just to put the house back into the same condition it had been just twenty-four hours ago, especially since the actual work took less than five minutes, but that's ever the lot of the householder. After moaning about it for a while to Mrs Bhagpuss, I talked myself into feeling happy we were able to get it fixed so quickly, instead. There's another storm coming tomorrow (Storm Jocelyn) so it's as well we didn't have to wait. 

It's all in how you look at these things. Keep telling yourself that.

All of which is very interesting, I'm sure (I'm really not sure but I've written it now and I'm damned if I'm going to start this post again.) but how does it factor into my decision to buy this game everyone's talking about? I'm glad you asked!

Obviously, I bought it because I felt I deserved a reward, after I'd been so grown-up and all. And nothing says "Congratulations on being a responsible adult!" like buying a video game you don't need, just because everyone else is playing it.

Oh come, on! I deserved it!

I mean, it's not like I haven't finished the two games I bought on Steam in the Winter Sale, now, is it?

Okay, I haven't finished either of them.

Okay! One of them I haven't even started.

This one, though, is a survival game and those I do play. I play the hell out of them, in fact. I need to do a post about that sometime because it's begining to dawn on me that I may have moved on from MMORPGs to survival games, something that has implications all of its own, not least for this blog.

In fact, given the extreme numbers of units games like Valheim and now this one have managed to shift in a frightening short amount of time, and also given that "Survivalboxes" are self-evidently a lot easier and less problematic to make and market than MMORPGs, I suspect we might all have to get used to every new game coming in some flavor of Survival for a while, just like for a decade every game was marketed as some sort of MMO.

I like them because they're relaxing to play (Odd, given the supposedly brutal premise of being cast alone and naked into the wilderness...), because they have clear and straightforward progression and because they make for a series of blog posts that all but write themselves. And for a lot of other reasons that some day I hope to uncover in one of those posts.

Today, though, I am going to go learn how to play this specific survival game. On the evidence of the hour or so I've spent with it so far, it is a bit different from the others, although quite possibly not as different as its developers are going to come to wish. 

The game, of course, is Palworld, not that anyone needed to wait for the reveal. I'll let everyone know how what I think about it as soon as I know, myself.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Never Forget Your Inhaler

You can tell it's the post-Christmas lull by the paucity of interesting new releases this week. I've scarcely heard a song I imagine I'd ever listen to again if I didn't have to write this post. 

Hah! "Have to..." That's rich!

It's a shame because it's Saturday, I'm home alone with Beryl, and I feel like playing some tunes. There must be something worth sharing...

I guess I could do that covers post I've been talking about... I even took the trouble to make a separate folder for covers so I could get to them right away. Let's see... hmm, nearly a dozen in there, plenty for a post. But honestly, while I like them all well enough, they're all pretty faithful to the originals. Which is fine but feels kind of bland.

Covers aside, there are plenty of possibles still in the pot that I haven't used yet, going back into last year but you have to ask yourself, if I didn't share them last time or the time before that, are they really worth sharing now? Maybe I should refresh my memory on a few of those...

Okay! Now we're cooking with gasolene. There's stuff in here far too good to ignore. Better than the new stuff, that's for sure. I think we're good to go.

Fake - Elise Ecklund

I really have to thank Syp once more for introducing me to Elise Ecklund. I subbed her channel and she posts YouTube shorts all the time and something longer about once a week, always something fun. I just wish she'd do more actual songs. She's a really good songwriter. 

Then again, when you have almost four million subscribers and your old posts get tens of thousands of comments, I guess you don't need to write whole songs...

Easy Fun - gglum

Oh boy, that rolling beat sounds familiar. The opening reminds me of My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style although now I actually come to listen to that one again it's absolutely nothing like it so I guess I must be thinking of something else. I bet it's something by De La Soul...

I have no idea who gglum are and I haven't bothered to look them up but they sound extremely 90s to me so they're probably still at college. That seems to be how it works now.

Also, I highly recommend reading the full lyric, which they handily include in the description. It's a slice-of-life masterpiece. I especially admire the chorus:

Underneath the light
(you look so pretty)
And I think the smoke screen might
(have got your asthma)
All kinds of twisted up I hope you brought your blue in-
(-haler to the club)

Really takes you there, doesn't it? And I am not being ironic, just to be clear.

Wish You Were Dead - Lola Young

Way to work those harmonics, Lola! Ringing like a bell! 

Another kitchen sink, cinéma vérité lyric that rewards close study. It's like a three minute Play for Today. Also makes for a great double-header with Olivia's bad idea, right? (cf IFs passim. Ed.)

Backwards - H31R

I really don't like videos where the focal characters move forward while everything else moves backwards but I'll make an exception for this one. I mean, it is actually called "Backwards" and the whole lyric is about "moving backwards" so what else were they going to do?

Funk This Up - Jessica Winter

Now that's a bassline to blow your speakers. Except no-one has speakers any more, do they? It's all headphones and ear-buds. 

Speaking of which, I got some bluetooth headphones for Christmas and I finally got them working last week. Had to buy a bluetooth dongle because my PC doesn't have bluetooth and while my laptop does, it didn't want to talk to the headphones. I have some bluetooth ear-buds somewhere that I've never been able to get to link to anything. I ought to try those with the dongle.

Also, last spring, while I was having the annual move-everything-about-fest that comes with warmer weather, I took one of our three 1990s stereo systems to the recycling center and put both the others away in a cupboard... and now I'm thinking of getting one of them out again because it might be nice to play stuff through some big, fuck-off speakers again, like in the olden days.

Down Bad Bad - Smith Taylor

If you thought that last video was mildly unsettling, let me introduce you to Smith Taylor. Aren't you glad you can't really see what's going on there? I know I was. And he sounds so nice, too...

What's really interesting, though, is that I had to go back to Stereogum, where I originally came across this one, and follow their link back to YouTube to get to the video I remembered watching. When I just searched for the title and artist on YT itself, all I got was this. There's no sign of the video at all. 

I'm curious to know who can see the video I linked and whether it plays for everyone as an embed. I'm wondering if there's some YT settings-related censorship going on...

Swallow - Girlpuppy

Another Jarrett Wolfson tip. He's like my indie rock dealer. I wonder if he ever vanity-searches and finds his name here? Hi, Jarrett! Thanks for all the tunes!

I tink there could be some warped Alice in Wonderland vibes in the video, which might be the third mildly disturbing one in a row. Maybe we need something unequivocally wholesome about now...

Put On Dog - THUS LOVE

Oh, what the hell. One more video with mild S&M/fetish imagery isn't going to kill anyone.

SPORTY Boy - Dead Tooth

Wow! We're really rockin' out today! And, in a way, that's possibly the most disturbing video yet. I mean, it looks horrifyingly like they actually did those stunts with the car and the rope for real, in the actual street...

Also, I really need to stop finishing every section with an ellipsis...

Okay, remember when I said at the start that the songs I'd collected since the last time I did one of these posts weren't all that much? I was talking nonsense. Half of these came from that folder and they're great! I'd just forgotten how good they were. 

Let's have a couple more.

My Producer - Smerz, Alina

From an upcoming concept EP about a fictional pop star, apparently. Smerz are two real Norwegians and Alina is the name of the fictional pop star, hence the credit. 

You don't hear an awful lot of music from Norway, do you? Well, I don't. It's all Sweden, Sweden, Sweden...

Well, contrary to expectations, it turns out I have more great tunes than I can reasonably fit into one post so I'm going to have to roll a couple or three over to next time. Which isn't going to help much, is it, let's be honest. I think I'm going to save The Libertines and The Jesus and Mary Chain for an old crocks special, so let's wrap it up with a colorful finish.

Orange County Punk Rock Legend - The Garden

I only put this one in so I could link back to it later and say I knew what Clowncore was that long ago. Yes, I am that shallow...

Plus it's short, so it has that going for it...

And finally...

(You're going to wear that period key out if you keep on like this...) 

Spinning - Julia Halter

That ought to calm things right down. Six solid minutes of neo-psychedelia. You're welcome.

There's a new Jane Weaver album coming, by the way... 

A Note on the AI used in this post.

Just the image at the head of the post, but I did futz around with it a lot more than usual. I used the whole of that gglum chorus as the prompt, plus the modifiers "cartoon" and "colorful". The model was SDXL 1.0 , runtime Medium, Prompt Weight 75%, Refiner Weight 25%.

Once I'd gotten the image, I took it to and started to play around with it. There was a blue blodge on the main guy's face. I removed that and smoothed the whole of his face a bit. Then I used a bunch of different filters - oil painting, noise, soften and a few more until I got the final version. 

Although you can still see the AI glitches, paricularly in the hands and arms of the people leaning on the bar, I think the overall "feel" of the thing is warmer and less artificial, although I might be imagining it. 

Here's the original for comparison. Judge for yourself.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide