Sunday, March 31, 2024

Resurrection Shuffle

Happy Easter! Have you noticed how people seem to celebrate it like it's a bona fide holiday, now? With cards and everything. Until about ten years ago, I never knew anyone to send a card for Easter unless they were Roman Catholic. If you weren't full-bore Christian, Easter was chocolate eggs and that was it. 

Now we have as many Easter cards at work as we do for Mother's Day, which in the UK was less than a month ago. Remember a decade or so ago, when we were all expecting physical greeting cards to wither away and die? With everyone online and carrying smart phones, who'd be uncool enough to send cardboard through the mail?

Yeah, well, that didn't happen. Greetings cards are a growth area right now. People quite literally buy them by the handful. We can't keep the shelves stocked. 

Anyhoo... I didn't come here to talk shop. I'm not really supposed to do that anyway, at least not while I'm still working, so I'll leave that until I retire, at which time I might just have some stories to tell, although not as many as Wilhelm, that's for sure.

Retirement could be this year, too. I'll be entitled. More likely, it'll be the next or even the one after that because I quite like my job, especially now I only have to do it two days a week. It gives me plenty of exercise and almost all of my face-to-face socializing so I'm not quite as keen to give it up at the first opportunity, like I always thought I would be. It'll be nice to have the option, though.

So, anyway, what was it I was going to talk about if it wasn't work? Oh, yes, I remember. I originally meant to include this next part in yesterday's post. I had some loose framework for stitching the two together somehow. Then my thoughts on the Noah's Heart sunset ran a little longer and more philosophical than I was expecting and I decided to include the other news would unbalance things so I cut it.

Oh, wait, I haven't said what it is yet, have I? Listen to me, rambling on...

Monsters & Memories Early Access 

There! Nothing like a sub-heading to bring things to clarity.

So, I was reading my news feeds a couple of days ago and this popped up. Monsters & Memories, in case you haven't been taking notes, is yet another of the would-be "spiritual successors" to EverQuest and/or your Golden Age MMORPG of choice. Mostly EverQuest, though, and especially this one. 

Tipa, who's been paying close attention, pointed out the tight correlation between the games in a post archly entitled "Monsters and Memories is not EverQuest", while my own snarky comment, after I tried the game out in a stress test last year, was "It's like EQ and Vanguard had a (Very inbred.) baby".

Both of us had a pretty good time with the game in those tests but in my case whatever fun I had there clearly left no lasting impression. By the time I read Tipa's post about another stress test, which took place months after the one I took part in, I'd completely forgotten I'd ever played the game. 

It's hardly surprising. I wasn't planning on pursuing the project further. As Tipa said, the game "takes twenty five years of MMO advances and tosses them in the bin" and I'm not particularly looking for that kind of experience. EQ was amazing for its day but unlike a lot of people, apparently, I can very clearly remember the endless, unceasing demands from many of those who were playing it back when it was the market leader, asking for all the kinds of quality of life changes and gameplay tweaks the current wave of retro-developers seem determined to roll back.

Okay, maybe some of those "improvements" did go a little too far but most of them, had they been offered back in 1999-2004, would have been wildly popular. That's not speculation on my part. It's just World of Warcraft

As I suspect we can all now see, if not openly agree, Blizzard pretty much got the balance right, about a year or so from launch. That snapshot iteration of WoW, sold back to us a few years ago, rebranded as Classic, sands off all the right rough edges from the EQ template, while leaving the basic structure untouched. It's just gritty enough to give traction without being so rough as to feel abrasive.

Of course, even WoW took a while to get there. The problem was, when it did, it didn't stop; it just kept right on going until the wheels fell off. The various owners of EQ have been more cautious and circumspect in their modifications of the chassis, meaning the game still feels more like its old self after twenty-five years than Retail WoW feels like Classic after twenty. 

Even so, modern EverQuest is still way, way more forgiving than the game I played a quarter of a century ago. If you doubt it, once again I'm not speculating based off a few frayed memories. Something virtually identical to the original EQ is available, right now, for free, over at Project 99. And EQ is free-to-play, too. Go check them both out for yourself and see how much more relaxed the official version feels.

P99 isn't some under-the-counter, grey market renegade, either. As the official announcement back in 2015 explained, the team behind the emulator have a written agreement with Daybreak Games allowing them to run it legally. As with the now legally sanctioned City of Heroes emulator, it does make me wonder why anyone who wants to play these old games "like they were meant to be played" doesn't just go and play those exact, actual games.

We're still supposedly getting several "spiritual successors" to CoH, even though the game itself is back in business, and apparently we also need a number of "New EverQuests", too, even though both the original and a Classic version are up and running still. The team behind Monsters & Memories seems to be banking on there being a niche audience out there who want something almost exactly the same as EQ that just isn't called EQ. 

In doing so, they're looking to please that demographic who never wanted the games to get any easier in the first place or - more likely, in my opinion - no longer remember how much they once wanted precisely that more than anything. If those people actually played the games that are still available, they might remember why they stopped. Much safer to pin their hopes on something as yet untried. 

Also better graphics, of course. Never forget the "We just want EQ but with better graphics" crowd.

It's understandable. There's evidence that we tend to remember good experiences for longer than we remember bad ones (Although for the sake of balance I should point out there's evidence for the opposite, too...), which may explain why so many people seem to think they had a much better time playing MMORPGs when it was uphill in the snow both ways. 

I try to keep it in perspective but now that I'm able to look at it from a more nuanced position, that kind of gameplay, often described at the time as "addictive", doesn't look healthy. A lot of incidents that get reported, anecdotally, as "satisfying" or "memorable" seem to relate more closely to that rush of endorphins that comes with relief at the resolution of a really bad experience. All those late night corpse recoveries, raid wipes and the times you *almost* rage-quit, until finally it all turned around, leaving you drained but elated. Sure. I remember those. I could write a list.

There's no arguing. Those kinds of experiences do make memories. Only yesterday I was saying it was the memories that matter. Would I want to do all that again to make more, though? Nope. I would not. To burn memories as deep as that risks leaving a scar.

And I value my time more now than perhaps I did then. As I've said about my recent stint with Nightingale, these days I find myself more concerned than delighted when a game grabs me and won't let go. Twenty years ago I was defensively dismissive of those clickbait game addiction headlines. Now, I'm not so sure there wasn't something more to them than I was ready to acknowledge. 

Those games had exceptional access to the part of the brain that likes to be stroked. I've read so much about Skinner Boxes and dopamine hits and training by reward that I could write a blog post about it. 

I'm not going to because I'd just be telling you something you know already. What I don't know and I suspect no-one else does, either, is whether those same autonomic responses can or will be triggered by an obvious copy, when applied to an audience that's deeply familiar with the process and has experienced those same stimuli many times before. 

Even if it works, will that audience pay to keep stroking those neurons - and keep on paying? Experience suggests the effect wears off, sometimes leaving a residue of anger, betrayal and self-loathing. Can that burn-out be avoided or managed effectively to maintain a stable player-base in the absence of a continual inflow of new blood? 

I guess we'll find out, if and when one of these games finally launches. And now we have something like a date for that.

Here's the reason I wanted to write this post in the first place. I quite liked what I saw of Monsters & Memories. I'd definitely have paid the usual $30 for the "box", with free access thereafter in the familiar Buy-to-Play model most such games have gone with in recent times. Unfortunately for me, that's not what's on offer.

Instead, the developers, who go by the extremely appropriate, if presumably also ironic name of Niche Worlds Cult, have opted for giving the game away free, then charging a monthly fee of $15 to play it. 

That's not news. They've always said it would be a subscription title.

What is new, as far as I can remember, is that the sub cuts in the moment the game goes to Early Access. Then, it'll cost $180 to play M&M for a year (There's actually a reduced rate for six or twelve months up front but I haven't been able to find an exact figure for that.) 

It's a good deal cheaper than Pantheon's convoluted Pledge/Season system, which in any case is for a game still in alpha and not even close to "Early Access".  It also has the merit of being much more straightforward but it's still a very bold ask for an unfinished game being developed by an unpaid team of volunteers.

At least, given the recent firestorm over Singularity 6's obfuscatory take on what does or does not constitute Open Beta, there's a very refreshing openness about the whole procedure. The game's website and FAQ are unequivocal about both the methodology and the reasons behind it. Early Access, according to NWC, is not a time for testing. 

"... we aim to have all core gameplay systems complete and tested prior to Early Access... Our goal of Early Access is to expand our game world and its content, not to use the time as an extended testing phase."

That does make it clear that EA is a launch, not a test. It's a distinction we don't always see made when developers start asking for money. Perhaps it's because M&M is being developed not by a for-profit company but a volunteer team that they're able to be so open about the reasons for taking the route they've chosen:
"We have a volunteer team working on Monsters & Memories. MMOs are large, expensive, and difficult to make. By supporting us through Early Access, the hope is we can scale our art and environment production capability, allowing us to accelerate development to where we can have a more fully fleshed out game world. As our subscriber base grows, we can also begin to pay some of our team members."

I applaud their forthrightness but I fear won't be paying $15 a month for the pleasure of losing my corpse in the desert, although I'm not ruling out the occasional, one-off down-payment to satisfy my curiosity. I'm not too proud to buy a few posts for the blog now and again, especially if the game has a bit of a buzz going.

I won't have to think about it for a while, though, because none of this is happening for a couple of years. The proposed EA launch isn't scheduled until January 2026, which is certainly giving plenty of notice.

 Until then there will be more opportunities to kick the tires. As the website says

 "We will continue to run Free Playtests & Stress Tests prior to going Live with our Early Access Launch, to ensure the game runs and plays as well as possible. This will also allow anyone the chance to try the game before paying any subscription fees.

I'll see if I can't remember to give some of those a try but I would lay odds that almost no matter how well or badly the game fares after it starts charging an entry fee, there will eventually be some form of free trial as well. I'm not sure I know of a single subscription MMORPG that doesn't have one now, including several that didn't have one when they began.

What I would say, from the little personal experience I have with the game and from what others with more have written, is that this seems like one of the more organized, focused and realistic teams currently at work on a project like this. I'd give them more of a chance of bringing it home than

I guess we'll find out how well they've done come January 2026. Mark your calendars now. 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Going Gently Into The Good Night

It's Easter weekend. The sun is shining. The trees are coming into leaf. It's the time when everything springs back into life after the long, hard winter.

Or not.

Noah's Heart is set to sunset next month.

On the 29th of April, to be precise. It launched on 28 July 2022 so that's not even two years. I really liked Noah's Heart but honestly I'm surprised it even lasted that long.

As the MassivelyOP report notes, Archosaur, the game's publisher, never really did much - or anything - to promote the title. I can't remember seeing anything about it post-launch. Certainly nothing at all in the last twelve months.

Of course, it's a cross-platform title, playable on Android and iOS as well as PC, so I was never sure whether the complete lack of promotion for the version I was playing also applied to the mobile versions. I've played quite a few such titles and it often seems that it's the mobile players who are keeping the games afloat, with PC players something of an after-thought.

Not so well. The world is ending, in case you hadn't heard.

In this case, though, it does seem to be quite the extreme version of that benign neglect. MOP point out that news of updates has "been kept largely to the client and its existing players" but when I logged in last night to have a look I couldn't see any mention of the closure in the game itself. 

Even the link in the MOP article that goes to the official announcement doesn't take you to the website's front page. It goes to the "News" section, which is only available from a small button in the header. 

As you can see from the screenshot below, taken the day after the closure was announced, the landing page still shows the game as up and running with a massive "Available Now" banner right across the middle. 

And I guess it is. For one more month.

Redbeard asked in the comments to yesterday's post for my thoughts on the closure, given my heavy coverage of the game in the past. There are fifty-nine posts here with the Noah's Heart tag, after all. You might well expect I'd be sad. Or upset. Or pissed.

I'm not any of those things, not really. Mildly disappointed, sure, but not surprised, let alone shocked. As I said, I've been expecting it for a while. And of course, I stopped playing a few months ago. It's not like I'm in the middle of anything

It's an odd thing to say about an MMORPG that lasted less than two years but I think it had a pretty good run. Or maybe I should say I had a pretty good run with Noah's Heart. While my early posts tell some adventure stories, most of the later ones focus on housing and fashion. I played close on every day for more than a year and a lot of that time was spent working on furnishing my house and making my character look good.

I did do other stuff. I liked exploring and the asynchronous PvP was fun. There were some good stories, too, at least for a while. The game does have some kind of through-line narrative. It might even be interesting if you could follow it. It's certainly quirky and amusing in places and even thrilling on occasion. Unfortunately, much of it is so badly translated as to be almost incomprehensible, especially in the later stages.

It may as well be both of us. I mean, what's the point now? It's all over.

I finished all the "Season" stories until they stopped coming but I never finished that main storyline although, even with the problems with translation, it wasn't because I lost interest. It was because it got too hard. 

As with Genshin Impact, I gave up on the main quest because I couldn't win the battles any more. Either I'm not good enough at action-combat or I'm not prepared to pay money to engage with the gacha mechanics to upgrade my characters sufficiently to compete. It's both, actually.

Luckily for me, unlike Genshin Impact, which quickly lost my interest when I couldn't win my fights, I had no trouble finding plenty to do in Noah's Heart without needing to do any combat at all. Mostly I did the extensive selection of dailies and worked on gaining affection with various Phantoms so they'd give me the recipes to craft the nifty-looking clothes they were wearing. 

The main reason I stopped playing towards the back end of last year was that I'd BFF'd all the Phantoms who had anything I wanted. I spent a good while going through all the rest of them in detail and there wasn't a single item of clothing left I could imagine my character wearing so I felt I was done.

Why? It's not like there's anywhere to run.
I could have carried on working on my house but again, I was happy enough with the way I had it set up. It didn't feel like it would be worth the effort required to upgrade it any further so once again, I felt I'd done all I wanted to.

If Archosaur had still been adding content to the game that might all have changed but they weren't. For the first six months there was a torrent of new content, much of it very entertaining. That slowed down to a trickle and eventually stopped altogether. 

Sometimes when that happens, live service games enter a kind of unnanounced maintenance mode and just carry on indefinitely. I could name a good few like that. Sometimes, though, they just close down. 

I used to dread games I played closing down. I even dreaded the end of games I once played but wasn't playing any longer. Now, it doesn't really affect me all that much. If it's a game I'm playing it's a bit annoying. If it's a game I've stopped playing, it's fine.

Everything has its time. For some online games that time seems to be measured in decades. For others it's months. And anyway, as we all are starting to realize, the end doesn't have to mean The End. Games come back, legally or illegally. They're about as hard to kill as super-heroes.

I can see the end approaching.

Noah's Heart won't come back. No-one is going to emulate it. No-one is going to buy it. It's dead, or it will be by the end of April. That's a shame. It was a good game in its way and I'm sure it was someone's favorite and they'll be distraught. Unfortunately, it was never going to be enough players' favorite game. It's a crowded marketplace and there's too much choice.

I've had my Noah's Heart screenshot folder set as my desktop background source for more than a year now. The image changes every ten minutes and there are enough screenshots in there that I don't see the same ones that often. 

Because of that, although I'd stopped playing, I've still been looking at my character every day. But even before the closure news broke, I'd been thinking it was probably about time for a change.

I have my screenshots all backed up. I have the posts I wrote. I can go back and relive the things I did in Noah's Heart any time I want. The best ones, anyway. 

That's what matters. The memories. 

Being able to play the game really isn't all that important. 

Not any more.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Taking The Tour - Housing In AdventureQuest 3D - Part 2

AdventureQuest 3D is an odd game. Artix seems like an odd developer. I don't play often but when I do it often feels like I've slipped through the veil into another timeline, somewhere they just do things... differently.

I'll give you a for-example. Lots of games have instanced housing but I can't think of a single one where your room has no door. 

Oh, sure, there are games that only let you enter via a button in the UI. You can't go to an actual door in the shared space of the open world and click on it to go inside. Once you're inside your home, though, there's always at least a visual signifier of egress, even if it's only notional.

When I zoned into my free room in ADQ3 for the first time, I was disturbed to find there was no way out. The room has no door. It doesn't have much else, either. I don't think I've seen such a minimal floor-plan since the earliest days of EverQuest II and even then there was a choice of layouts available and most of the rooms came with at least a few features. And a door. Always a door.

As I was looking around my room, such as it was, yesterday, I put the austerity down to two things: it's a brand-new feature and ADQ3 is far from being a visual feast at the best of times. Either no-one thought having a door mattered or they hadn't gotten around to adding one yet. What never occurred to me was that someone on the team might make  getting a door to your room an aspirational feature.

But that's what it is in AQ3D. If you want a door you have to go buy one. I did. You can see it there in the screenshot at the top of the post, along with a couple of bushes and a big, lighted window. And my four-poster bed.

I bought all of those and none of them surprised me except the door. I have homes in many games and I've bought bushes and beds for most of them. Windows, too, on occasion. A door, though? That's a new one on me.

Okay, I've bought extra doors and special doors. Doors that open or fit a theme. I've just never had to buy a door so there'd be a door. 

But that's AQ3D for you. Want another example? Here's one.

After I'd seen my room and spent a few planks making it look homier... wait, what? Planks? Who pays for things with planks?

Okay, let's take a step back. I wasn't going to get into this but we may as well. It's another example of how odd this game can be. 

So, you can buy all kinds of fixtures and fittings from the B.U.I.L.D. vendors in the Trading District of the main town, Battleon but they don't accept either the in-game currency, Gold, or the cash shop variety, Dragon Crystals. No, they want either Sturdy Materials or Solid Materials

Cozy Inn Room

Sturdy is wood aka planks, Solid is stone aka bricks. There's a pair of daily quest to collect fifty of each. It's very easy. They drop from anything you can kill because of course all animals carry bricks in their non-existent pockets.

Even without the dailies, I had to hand in fifty of each type for one of the quests in the opening section of the Get Your House line. Somehow I already had enough of both on me for it to autocomplete. I still don't know if they were in my inventory from earlier or if the quest just added them on the spot.

Either way, I had loads left so I was able to buy what I wanted and while I was shopping I also noticed all the other house deeds you can buy for Dragon Crystals. I somehow have 1100DC although how I got it I couldn't tell you. It was enough for some of the cheaper ones.

Dark  Castle Room
I wasn't going to spend precious Crystals without seeing what I'd be getting for them, of course. Neither would anyone with any sense, which is why there's a Preview option. I started at the top of the list and worked my way down. There are only half a dozen, plus one you can only buy with Gold. 

Y'know what? Let's start with that one because I think it says a lot about whoever designs stuff in this game. The Gold-Only Deed is called Castle Room and it costs 2.5m Gold. That's right. Two and a half fricken' million! I have 27k. Alright, I'm only level 8 but still... Does income really ramp up that much?

Even if it does, I wouldn't spend twenty-five Gold on the poky little closet they're peddling, let alone twenty-five million. I'm not even going to waste a screenshot on it here. It's not like there'd be anything to look at. It's a boxy, square, high-ceilinged room made of rough stone, about the same size as the one you get for free. Maybe not even that big. That's it. Why would you even... ?

Anyway, moving on... 

Naturalist's Hut

I spent a while visiting all the properties and taking screenshots. You can see them here in the post, all labelled with the name of the Deed.

As you can see, they vary wildly. The first three are single, closed rooms much like the free version but with more character. I wouldn't bother with the not entirely accurately named Cozy Inn Room even at the knock-down price of 500DC but the Dark Castle Room has a certain, gothic appeal and I did seriously consider parting with a thousand Crystals for the Naturalist's Hut, which has some nice features including a small mezzanine floor and a big tree.

For just a couple hundred more you can have your own Warehouse. Why you'd want to live in a warehouse is another question but it's actually surprisingly attractive. At least it has good, natural light from some large windows and it might even have a view, if you could get up high enough to see out of them. You can see the sky with clouds moving across it and the tops of trees, at least. It's not bad at all.

Wiggly's Warehouse

If you can afford the extra, though, things take a dramatic turn at 2000DC. For a couple of grand you get not just a room but an entire zone, either the Greenguard Quarry (Actually a verdant valley.) or your own Tropical Island, complete with dock and moored sailing vessel (That you can't get to, sadly.)

It's a ridiculous leap. One minute you're locked in a single room, next moment you have a whole valley to yourself or a substantial chunk of coastline. 

Of course, what you don't get is a house. Just the land. I'm not sure how that works. The B.U.I.L.D. vendors don't sell prefabricated construction parts other than walls, and I'm not sure whether you can craft any. I think I'd at least want a roof.

Greenguard Quarry

As I said yesterday, you can slowly accrue cash shop currency for free from the Login daily. The 2k options are sufficiently attractive that I'm motivated to put AQ3D on my daily to-do list just to open my three, free chests each day until I get the extra 900DC I'd need for the island. I haven't had a daily login game since I stopped playing Noah's Heart. I could do with a new one. It does give my gaming day some structure.

About fifteen paragraphs back you might remember I said something about another example of how AQ3D does things differently. Perhaps you think we had it already. We didn't. Here it comes now.

As I was cycling through the previews, I was becoming increasingly irritated by the way the game put me back at the zone line every time I left the instance, meaning I had to run all the way across town to pick up the next preview. If you were designing it, wouldn't you put the player back at the same vendor who'd just shown you around so you could either buy that Deed or go look at another?

Tropical Island

Guess what? Artix did think of that. They just decided it would be more fun if you had to earn it. You can buy a Travel Crystal from the vendor that lets you teleport instantly back to the vendor who sold it to you, who just happens to be standing next to the Deeds guy. The Deeds guy himself doesn't sell one. That would be too easy...

Naturally you can't buy the Travel Crystal with Gold, either. That would be crass. Or maybe jejune. One of those. No, you have to buy it with planks and bricks. I don't know... maybe the vendor actually goes out back and builds the damn thing for you with the stuff you give her. I wouldn't be surprised.

Once you have it, you can slot it onto your hotbar and port instantly back to the housing depot. It's a lot handier than using the door. Especially since the door doesn't work.

Excuse me? Do I know you?

There's probably more I could say about AdventureQuest 3D's new housing feature but I think I've probably said enough. More than enough, really, even if I haven't mentioned the placement UI for furniture (It's not great.) or how I realize now I missed several steps out of that long-ass bullet point list yesterday, including the weirdest one, the bit where I had to go tell my roommate (Who I didn't even know existed...) that I was moving out, or the most pedantic part, where I had to go and collect some empty moving crates for all my stuff (As if it actually existed...)

As MMORPG housing goes, it's a long way from being the best I've seen. It's not even close to being the best I've seen in a free game. But it's not at all a bad start. Plenty there to build on, if you'll pardon the pun.

Hmm. Now I want to know what B.U.I.L.D. stands for. I mean. it has to stand for something, doesn't it? They wouldn't just put those periods there for show, would they?

Would they? I dunno. It's AQ3D. They might, at that...

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Home, At Last - Housing In AdventureQuest 3D - Part 1.

Contractually obliged, as I am, to cover developments regarding housing in any and every MMORPG I have ever, will ever or might ever play, regardless of how much I or anyone reading this could care less about them, as soon as I read the news about AdventureQuest 3D's latest update I knew I'd be writing this post. 

I know! You don't need to tell me! It's not like I don't have better things to do with my time but here we are anyway. I knew what I was getting into when I started this thing so theres' no point complaining about it now.

I ought to make it clear before we go any further, this won't be any kind of Guide To AQ3D Housing or even a walkthrough, although lord knows someone should write one. When I logged in this morning I thought I'd be done in ten minutes. It took me two and a half hours.

It shouldn't have. It's not like I haven't claimed a free house in an MMORPG before, right? I know the form. A couple of clicks, zone in and it's over.

Oh hell, no. Not in AQ3D, where everything always takes forever. It has to be one of the nitpickiest, fidlly-faddly games I've ever played, which I don't necessarily mean as a criticism. It's actually part of the appeal but I always forget until I play again just what an old-school set-up Artix have going here. It might have a lot of time-saving devices like instant travel straight from the map but it also has a propensity to take everything extremely literally, the way these games did twenty years ago.

It's only taken eight years...
Remember when in EverQuest II, if you wanted to start a guild you had to go to a government office in town, speak to a registrar, obtain a document entitling you to solicit membership, then cart the thing around with you until you found enough people willing to sign it? Then you had to take it back and hand it in to be notarized? 

Maybe I'm imagining some of that but that's how I remember it and that's going to be how I remember getting my first house in AQ3D ten years from now. A whole lot of running around, talking to people and getting the paperwork straight. If that's your idea of a good time, jump on in. You can thank me later.

To be fair, I was almost expecting it. Before I even started, I took the trouble to watch a video on YouTube. I had a notion it would save me some grief and it did. A little. I think my first mistake was pausing the video after thirty seconds, as soon as we saw the NPC giving the quest. I figured I could take it from there.

And I was right, except I had no idea how much farther it was going to take me and how many times I'd get turned around and have to go look up how to find my way back to where I needed to be. By the time I'd finished I'd watched three more videos , read the official handout and browsed two reddit threads. And I still got half of it wrong.

You could at least give me a hard hat!

It certainly didn't help that as I was stumbling my way through the extraordinarily long list of things to do before you get your key, I kept getting sidetracked by other quests. AQ3D is an exceptionally quest-driven game with NPCs everywhere calling out or beckoning you to come do their jobs for them. 

I managed to tune most of them out but it still seemed like every second NPC I had to speak to for the quest I was actually on also had two other things they wanted me to do while I was in the neighborhood. I don't mean I had to do those before they'd help me. It wasn't one of those Little Red Hen situations we're all so very fond of in our games. No, it was worse than that.

I've always believed AQ3D has some kind of a reputation as a kids' game in the vein of Wizard 101, even though whenever I play it that never seems to be borne out by what I see or do there. For example, would you think it was appropriate for a game aimed at minors to include a parody of the infamous diner robbery scene from Pulp Fiction?

No, me neither, but when I went to the bank to get the manager to sign my Proof of Insurance so I could move into my new home, that's exactly what I found myself caught up in. And naturally I was the one who had to put a stop to it, too.

Why are you laughing, dad? I don't get it...

I guess the excuse would be that it's like the old joke about the lady who complains because a man walks past whistling a dirty song. If you don't already know...

My problem with it wasn't anything to do with morality or decorum. It was more along the lines of it being a pain, having to kill ten bank robbers before I could just get on with my business. The same sort of thing happened in the forest and in the bank vault and just about everywhere I went, mostly because the AQ3D quest interface is not the easiest to parse. I was never quite sure which quest was mine and there always seemed to be several of them so I kept starting new ones.

It's also not the least-buggy game I've played, either. Somehow, I managed to kill all ten bank robbers and still ended up with only 9/10 on my count. I was wondering if that was going to be a problem but then I zoned out and in again and all ten were back, along with Honey and Pumpken, who I'd also killed the last time. 

Pretty soon I had 11/10 on my kill-card, which another strange quirk of the game - you can get extra credit for going too far. Rather than carry on, I just talked to the Bank Manager, who happened to be an owl but we won't get into that, and suddenly all the robbers went away. 

Things like that seem to happen quite often in AQ3D. I think it has some fairly robust self-correcting processes running in the background that put you back on track when the wheels start to come off, which I guess is one way of handling it. Personally, I'd prefer they just worked properly in the first place but then I'm old and bad at adjusting to the new ways.

Just what I play fantasy role-playing games for - the paperwork!

To sum up, the brief sequence for getting a house runs something like this. Remember, it's not a walkthrough. If I was going to write a walkthrough I'd have taken notes. This is just what I remember and some screenshots I took.

  • Speak to the first questgiver who sends you to the second questgiver. 
  • Speak to all the builders, about half a dozen of them. 
  • Find the tools and the toolbox one of the idiots dropped off the roof. He's the foreman, too, so that gives you an idea how competent these people are. 
  • Go to the forest and speak to a surveyor. Do his damn job for him.
  • Go back to town and speak to the Architect.
  • Speak to the guy you spoke to earlier and find out you need Insurance. Seriously, when was the last time you needed an actual insurance certificate to buy a house in a game? What are these guys on?
  • Go to the bank and find out the Manager can't issue your Insurance because he's lost his pen. 
  • Stop a bank robbery on the way to the vaults where he thinks he might have lost it. Not sure if that part has anything to do with the housing questline or not. I doubt it, actually...
  • End up doing a completely different questline about getting access to the Main Vault because everything is all jumbled together and nothing is clear. 
  • Do that and then realize on the hand-in you didn't need to but now you have the follow-up so you're in it up to your neck.
  • Finally remember AQ3D has a quest-marker that literally points you to the next location, right down to each individual item of a collect-10 or a scavenger hunt. 
  • Kick yourself. You deserve it.
  • Using the quest-marker, go to the right vault, kill the right mob and get the owl's pen back. (Turns out it's not his pen but if that's a plot  thread I didn't follow it.)
  • Try to hand it in then realize you really do have to go to a desk and actually sign the sodding insurance form. Mutter bleakly about some people taking things far too literally.
  • Get the signed insurance form authorized and go back to where you started.
  • Speak to that guy yet again and get the key to your new place!

...and then find you have to pay real money for it.

Nah. No you don't. But I believed you did for about fifteen minutes, all because the blasted quest interface is so confusing. I clicked on the unlabelled + sign that lets you add a second home to your collection, an additional perk for which, not unreasonably, you have to pay.   

Oh, now I see it...

I spent a while fulminating about the injustice of it all and figuring out how to earn the necessary cash shop coin to buy a house without actually having to get my credit card out (You can earn a random amount of the necessary Dragon Crystals by opening the daily Login chest. It could take anything from a couple of weeks to a few months to collect enough because the daily stipend is extremely random.) 

Then I finally noticed the original announcement does specifically say the new housing system gives you a free house. And the wall of text explains you need to "locate the new housing button in the menu" and "click on the inviting door icon" to be whisked away to your "very own abode"

So I did that and found myself, at long last, in a grim cell with no door, no furniture and just two dully glowing windows you can't see out of. Holy hell! All of that for this?

As it happens, it's really a lot better than that but the first impression wasn't great. I'd explain how it gets better but this post has run on long enough already. Also, this way I get two posts out of it, which is only fair since it took me all morning to do.

Part two tomorrow, unless anything more pressing arrives before then.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Sign-Up Season Begins

You don't see a sign-up form for weeks and then three come along all at once...

Tarisland Revs Up

For launch. Sometime. Would be nice if we had an actual date but you can't have everything.  According to MassivelyOP we can rule out 14 June, at least. Hardly surprising since that's a Friday. When did any game ever launch on a Friday? (Cue comments listing all the famous games that did indeed launch on a Friday...)

I'm not sure I'd call June "near" but I suppose its all context. Everything is context. Since I was already registered from the closed betas last year, I wasn't sure if I'd need to "Sign Up" again but I figured it would be best to check. 

Just as well I did. I used the same email address and my application was accepted as if it was the first time Level Infinite had ever seen it so I'm guessing we're starting over as though we've never met.

I'd make some observations here about whether or not I'm likely to play Tarisland and if so how seriously and for how long but June might as well be the year 3000 as far as that goes. If I'd made book at New Year on what games I'd be playing until Easter I'd have lost my Gunsmith Cats tee. Come the launch, I could be playing anything so I'm making no promises.

That said, I did like Tarisland quite a bit. It's retro enough to feel nostalgic but modern enough not to come across as old-fashioned. It does feel a bit generic in places but it zips along and it's fun to play so why not? Also, I imagine it will be the new hotness for at least five minutes and I'd like the blog to bask in that heat, so it'd take something big to stop me at least giving it a run, I think.

Throne and Liberty Goes West

Apparently a lot of people have been angsting about not being able to play this one since the it launched in South Korea last December. I can't say I've been paying much attention although I did vaguely remember the name. Yesterday there was finally news of a playable opportunity for everyone outside the current launch region as sign-ups opened for a global closed beta starting on 10 April. 

In something of an autonomic reaction I immediately went to register but balked at having to input my Amazon account details. I'd completely forgotten the game was being published by Amazon here. While I was checking it was all legit, I discovered the beta is under NDA so that was the end of that. 

If I was desperate to play I'd have sucked it up and signed but given the only reason I was even looking at the beta was in the hope of squeezing a few blog posts out of the experience, there really wouldn't have been much point. I'll wait until they drop the NDA or go into open beta or maybe even actually launch the damn thing.

The whole thing did have the effect of making me curious about Throne and Liberty in a way I wasn't before, so at least there's that. As far as I can tell the game still has no launch window more specific than "soon". I'm wondering what the heck they need to do to it to make it ready, given it's already up and running in some territories.

I watched the trailer, flipped through the screen shots and read the description on Steam. It looks like every other imported MMORPG of the last six or seven years to me, albeit marginally prettier. My PC doesn't meet even the minimum specs but then that's true of plenty of games I play with no issues at all. I got very lucky with my CPU, it seems. It always outperforms benchmarks.

I'll give T&L a go when it comes out of NDA, anyway. It's on Steam and it's free so why not? Can't imagine I'll play for more than a handful of sessions but at least it'll give me a chance to write some First Impressions posts. I do love doing those.

Palia Steams In

Whoop, and if you'll pardon me, de-do. I mean, I'm not complaining. As we've discussed before, it's very handy to have all the games under one roof. I am a Steam convert if not actually a Steam fan. 

I haven't played Palia since... hmm. Let me check... looks like last August. If you asked me I wouldn't say I'd given up on it but I never seem to find any reason to log in. Until last night.

As soon as I saw the news, I went to Steam to download the client and... it wasn't available. I was too early! I added it to my wishlist and forgot about it... for all of five minutes, after which I got an email from Steam telling me it was available. That's what I call service!

I started the download running but what I wanted to know was whether I'd have to begin again from scratch or whether I'd be able to transfer my existing character and progress to my Steam account. I spent a good while googling that without finding any useful information at all so when the big, green PLAY button lit up I thought I'd just click it and see what would happen. 

It wasn't as though I'd gotten very far last time. Or at least I didn't think I had. I couldn't actually remember how far I had got. Anyway, starting over didn't seem like it would be much of a problem.

As it turns out it wasn't any kind of a problem at all because I didn't have to do it. You can indeed carry on from where you left off. Steam pretty much does all ther admin for you, too. A window popped up asking if I wanted to link my Steam and Singularity 6 accounts. I said I did, found my old login and password, entered them in the relevant fields and that was all there was to it. Slick and quick.

If there was a problem, it didn't come from the process. It came from the game. I can't recall the last time I logged into a game I haven't played for a while and felt my mood slump so fast. Almost from the moment I was in I wanted to leave. 

So I did. My current played time for Palia on Steam is five minutes. It may well stay that way, possibly forever. There's nothing actively wrong with Palia that I can put my finger on... I just find it stiflingly dull. 

Dull to look at and dull to play. I don't even think it's an issue with the implementation; I think it's the genre. 

According to the description on the Steam store page, Palia is a "a cozy community sim MMO made for you and your friends". I don't have any friends to play Palia with and frankly I don't want to get any. I find it hard to imagine how doing the things you can do in Palia with other people would make doing those things any more interesting than doing them alone. They just aren't very interesting to me, period, and that's an end to it.

It's not that it's the kind of gameplay I find intrinsically uninteresting. Other than the lack of combat, there's little fundemental difference between the activities on offer in Palia and those in Nightingale. There is quite a difference in the visuals and the setting, though, and it's clear that Nightingale's world appeals to me aesthetically in a way Palia's does not. Palia's world is also tiny compared to Nightingale's, which makes the explorer in me sad. 

Still, I think the real difference between them lies in the word "cozy".

I love being cozy. I like to sit in my comfy chair with the fire blazing and Beryl snoozing on the rug beside me. It's the very image of coziness. Virtual coziness, though? Is that appealing? Isn't it literally emulating on screen what I'm experiencing in real life? Don't we play to experience something different? Something thrilling, even.

I know I frequently claim I don't appreciate challenge in my games but what I mean by that is challenge that makes me tense, anxious or stressed. Challenge that falls well within my capabilities feels satisfying. Palia, from what I remember of it from last summer, manages to be both unchallenging and yet still  low-key stressful by way of its annoyingly awkward gameplay, while not providing much in the way of intellectual curiosity, emotional engagement or excitement by way of compensation

It's not so much cozy as dull, that's how I remember it and five minutes there last night brought all of that dullness back. I'm not saying I won't play it any more but I can't say I have any immediate plans. Still, it's there on Steam if I want it, now, which has to increase the chances somewhat.

Now if Once Human would just... oh, wait a moment...

Monday, March 25, 2024

Want To Know How It Ends? Me Too!

This is going to be one of those posts about how you can't trust streaming services and how if you want to be sure of the things you value you need to keep them close at hand, not on some server far away. And then again it's not going to be exactly that.

Nothing's ever so simple, is it?

I've been watching Roswell, New Mexico. It's a TV show that's hard to explain. Not the basic premise, which is that the Roswell UFO landing was real and that aliens live among us. Anyone can work that much out from the title alone.

No, where it's hard is in figuring out how this show sits in context with other iterations of the same... franchise? Brand? No, neither of those, exactly. 

Shall we call it an IP? Why not? 

The Roswell IP began as a series of books written by Melinda Metz and published by Pocket Books in America back around the turn of the millennium. There were ten books in the original series, collectively known as Roswell High. They all came out in an astonishing gush between 1998 and 2000, which is some going even for a pulpy YA series. 

They must have been pretty successful because they spawned a TV series almost immediately. Simply known as Roswell, it aired from 1999 to 2002. The show must have done pretty well too because it sloughed off its own series of novelizations, eleven in total, three of which came out while the show was on air and eight more, from a different publisher, after it ended.

You might have thought that after twenty-one novels and three seasons of a TV show the whole thing would have been tapped dry but you would be wrong. In 2019 the IP returned for another run on TV, this time under the name Roswell, New Mexico. It ran for four seasons, ending in 2022. 

I came into this story late. Roswell was streaming on one or other of the services I subscribe to and I watched it maybe five years ago. I was under the impression I'd posted something about it at the time but it seems that while I've mentioned once or twice in passing, I've never actually given it a post of its own.

That was remiss of me. Although I've only watched the series once, I have it pegged in my mind as one of my favorite shows of all time. Without a re-watch, that mostly suggests it made an extremely strong first impression. I'd need at least one more go-through to calibrate and preferably a third for confirmation. Usually my first impressions run true, though, so I think it's safe to say it's pretty good.

Luckily, I certainly felt strongly enough about it at the time to buy the box set on DVD, so any time I feel like refreshing my memory, I have that option. Technically, it also exists to stream on Prime but I've just checked and it suffers from the same problem as the later version, of which more later.

Given how highly I rated Roswell, it's perhaps surprising I took as long as I did before getting around to the sequel. I had my reasons and they weren't just the obvious "too many shows, too little time". The issue I had with watching Roswell, New Mexico is that I wasn't entirely sure what it was supposed to be.

I called it a sequel just now but it's not. I thought it was, until I watched it, but it turns out I was wrong. What I knew about it, going in, was that it featured the same characters ten years older, when Liz Ortecho, one of the leads, returned to Roswell after a decade away.

Naturally, I assumed that meant the story would pick up from where it left off. It does not. I hadn't checked but I also figured it would mostly feature the same cast. It doesn't do that, either.

Roswell, New Mexico is a kind of reboot of the original although again, not really. Maybe a re-envisioning? It's not so much that it takes place ten years later, although it probably does. It's more that the characters are ten years older. 

Instead of them being in high school they all graduated long ago. Instead of being adolescents aged from sixteen to eighteen, these people are all genuine young adults, in their mid-to-late twenties, with jobs, responsibilities and pasts. 

Liz is a high-flying microbiologist, Max is a deputy sheriff, Michael is a mechanic and Maria owns and runs a bar. The whole thing takes place against the politicized backdrop of the Trump administration (I almost wrote the first Trump administration...) and the tone is quite different to the original series, much more politicized, with a great deal of play being made between the aliens' situation and that of illegal Mexican immigrants, of whom Liz's father is one.

I honestly don't even remember Liz being hispanic in the first series although Maria definitely was. The new Maria is black. Also half-alien but we won't talk about that for fear of spoilers. We also won't talk about the plot, not at the risk of spoiling anything but because it makes absolutely no sense. I'd need to watch the first series again to be certain but I'm fairly sure that, wild though it was at times, it never thrashed around like a snake in a hot tub the way this one does.

The science also makes absolutely no sense, which wouldn't be an issue if there wasn't so damn much of it. Liz is a professional scientist and so is her ex-fiancee, who turns up in Season 2. One of the new characters is a hacker for the military, another is a surgeon. Even Michael is apparently an untrained but intuitive scientific prodigy. 

The show oozes science, all of which might just as easily be magic, not least for the way it compacts years of development time into hours of frenzied lab-work, but also the plain fact that even the people doing the "science" don't always know how it works. The part where they perform an alien heart transplant in a back-room without anyone knowing about it is particularly fine but every episode seems to feature one of the cast doing two impossible things before breakfast thanks to "science".

Most of the negative comments about the show, of which there are plenty online, revolve around one or other of these flaws. My front-loading them might suggest I didn't much like the show either, especially in comparison with the original but that would be wholly wrong. I fricken' loved it! From the opening episode, when I realized about halfway in that we were starting over, not carrying on, I've been on board all the way. 

To set against the issues with the plot, which even the characters archly liken to a telenovella, we need to stack the dialog (Crackling.) the performances (Compelling.) and the characters (Convincing.) Add to that the stunning New Mexico scenery and it's a great watch. Just don't make the mistake of trying to untangle the plot.

As always, it makes a huge difference to me that I like most of the characters, even if it took me a long time to warm up to the new Maria. She was my favorite in the original and the new one is very much not a grown-up version of that character. She's someone completely different. 

I did come around, though, and anyway I took immediately to the new Michael, who seems much more likeable than the old one, so that was a trade-off. The new Max is also less annoying, while the new Liz is really similar. I can't now remember if Liz's dead sister was alive in the first Roswell or not but Rosa in Roswell, New Mexico is a standout, so I'm glad she came back to life. (Don't ask...)

All the new characters are pretty good - Michael's on-again/off-again love interest Alex, Alex's terrifying father, school bully turned empathic doctor Kyle, Max's friends-with-benefits police partner Jenna  - but my absolute favorite is the third of the alien trio, Isabel, played in an almost indescribably odd manner by Lily Cowles. At first I thought she couldn't act at all. Now I'm convinced she's the reincarnation of Elizabeth Montgomery, which is about the highest praise I can offer.

I was going to wait until I'd seen all four seasons of Roswell, New Mexico before I posted my thoughts, so why are we here, now? 

Because, despite all four seasons being clearly indicated as available in the drop-down menu on Amazon Prime, where I've been watching the show, I was extremely irritated to find, when I came to start on Season Three, only the first two are actually there. In a new wrinkle in the streaming service I've not tripped over until now, it's apparently permissible to promote shows you can't even watch!

I'm used to shows having three seasons of which only two are on a given platform. That's happened to me several times. I've never known a show to list all of the seasons and then refuse to show half of them to you. That's tantamount to taunting!

I did a little research and it seems there are "rights issues" involved, although nothing I've found wants to try to explain what those issues might be. I did also discover there were some ructions during the production of Roswell, New Mexico that led to the unexpected departure of the show-runner around the time of the third Season but whether that factors in I have no clue.

As of this post, I also know that the same situation applies to the original Roswell. I checked just now and while the first season is available to watch on Prime, the second and third, although listed, are similarly flagged "Currently unavailable to watch in your location". 

Sticking to Roswell, New Mexico, I suspect, although I don't know, that it might have something to do with the show having been bought by ITV for terrestrial broadcast in the UK. Then again, it's not available on the ITV Player either, so maybe not. 

Meanwhile, all the various "Where To Watch" sites cheerfully claim all four seasons are available in the UK on just about every service imaginable,  from Prime and Netflix to AppleTV and Google Play. I've checked them all and in every case it's only Seasons One and Two that are available.

I'd happily buy the damn thing, either digitally or preferably on DVD, but that's not an option either. There's no digital version of the full series I can find for sale in this country, nor are the individual seasons three and four for sale, at least not in the U.K. As for a hard copy, I'm pretty sure only Season One was ever issued on DVD, anywhere. 

For now, I seem to be out of viable options. I could try a VPN, of course, but I've never had much success going that route in the past. It's all very well having the right I.P. address but if it's a paid service they usually also want a valid, local payment option and sometimes even an address to go with it. 

I may give it a try anyway. VPNs are very cheap. Certainly a lot cheaper than streaming subscriptions.

There's also an outside chance the problem might just fix itself if I wait. I note from various forums and reddit threads I've lurked in that at times the missing seasons have become available briefly before slipping back behind the veil. Maybe something is happening behind the scenes although I suspect if it ever was it isn't any more. 

Once again, it's the old "everything's available forever online until it isn't". Millennials are coming into the nostalgia zone about now, with Gen-Z due to start arriving a decade or so later. It's going to be interesting to see what happens when they find they can't have their childhoods back on demand.

Until this gets sorted, I recommend a return to physical product, or at least a download on hardware you physically posess. Not that  it helps me with my Roswell, New Mexico problem but then you can't have everything. 

Sometimes you can't even have what you were told you already had.

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