Thursday, 26 May 2016

NBI 2016: Incoming!

It's that time of year again! Or to be precise it's past that time of year. The great tradition that is The Newbie Blogger Initiative usually rolls around in May but this year it's kicking off a month late.

It looked for a while as though we'd be skipping a year but in the end Doone stepped up to the plate. Thank you, Doone!

I'm a bit vague on exactly what's planned but I'm sure it'll all come together somehow. The forums are still up and running, there's a Twitter feed and even something called Discord, about which I know nothing. I'd never even heard of it before. I'm guessing it's some kind of voice chat...

If you've ever read a blog and thought "I could do that" or even "I could do better than that" now's the time to prove it. Go on, give it a go! Blogging may be a whole lot of things but one thing it's not is hard to start.

The easiest way is to just grab yourself a free Blogger or WordPress account and follow the instructions. If you get stuck (you won't) just ask!

The NBI Head Office

Blogging has a fairly high turnover/attrition rate. If you read blogs you'll have noticed that. As blog readers we all need a constant stream of new blood and you could be it! Doesn't that sound appealing?

The NBI has a pretty good record for helping people to get started and supporting them through those early days and weeks. It certainly beats spinning a new blog up out of nowhere and hoping someone notices. Every year sees some great new blogs that go on to run and run. And some that don't but that's fine too. It's not for everyone but you won't know until you try, will you?

I'd particularly encourage anyone who already comments on blogs to make the move to a blog of their own. It really is a natural progression. I always click through new names in my comments in the hope that the link will go to a blog I haven't read before. When it does, in most cases I add it to my blogroll and when it doesn't I'm always just a little bit disappointed.

Here's looking forward to a June filled with lots of new clicks and no disappointments! Now 
let the blogging begin!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Essential Bookmarks For EQ2

A couple of people mentioned in the comments that they were thinking of coming back to EQ2 after a long time away or even giving the game a try for the first time. After a dozen years and as many expansions, plus several Adventure Packs and a hundred Game Updates, getting up to speed can be a daunting process.

With a brand new MMORPG I would see it as a problem if players needed to refer to third-party sources just to be able to get to grips with everyday gameplay but there comes a time in any long-running MMO's life when the sheer weight of the past begins to overwhelm new or returning players. EQ2 passed that point long, long ago.

The official Daybreak Games EQ2 website has a comprehensive list of third-party resources, some of which I would consider essential and some of which I've never used or even heard of. A couple that every EQ2 player probably has bookmarked would be EQ2Wire and EQ2 Traders Corner. They're each run by a pillar of the EQ2 community although I think it's fair to say that their approaches and the way they've been received have varied radically over the years. 

Feldon of EQ2Wire can be something of a thorn in the side of management, be that SOE's or DBG. 

He takes a forthright and occasionally confrontational stance on issues big and small and on occasion certain gung-ho members of EQ2's internal hierarchy have seen fit to ban him from the forums, a fate that, it must be said, can happen to anyone and not always for any good reason. In Feldon's case it has always been from an excess of speaking truth to power - or what thinks of itself as power. 

EQ2Wire is the first and best source of news about EQ2. It's fast, accurate and Feldon has sources that allow him to gloss the facts with nuance that is often revealing.

EQ2 Traders Corner takes a very different tone. Hosted by the inimitable and much-loved Niami Denmother, this is the place to come for everything tradecraft-related. Mum, as she's known for short, has been active on the Test server for as long as I can remember, taking a comprehensive look at all new crafting content before it reaches the Live game so that she can be there on day one with a full screenshot gallery and all the practical information you need.

Her husband, Ngreth, used to be the Tradeskill Dev for EQ1 so her connections with the company run deep, making her more of an insider than Feldon but that doesn't prevent her speaking her mind when appropriate, although the critique might be presented rather subtly in a roleplayed, fictionalized form.

The other two absolutely essential resources are the official EQ2 Wiki and EQ2Map. For years I have used these two so extensively that I think of them as an integral part of the game. I can imagine playing without them but I don't think I'd want to try.

Most MMOs have wikis these days but EQ2's is exemplary. Going by the name of EQ2i it's beautifully organized and thoroughly comprehensive. It's very rare to look for an answer there and not find what you need, whether the quest you're stuck on was added last week or a decade ago.

EQ2i used to have very strong competition from the Zam network (formerly Allakhazam) but as Feldon reported almost a year ago, Zam was bought by China's Tencent Holdings and effectively mothballed. The site is still up but the last posting is former Editor-in-Chief Cylenia's farewell message.

According to Feldon's piece, Zam also owned both EQ2Interface and through it the crucial add-on EQ2Map. As I discovered last week, when I got my new PC up and running and logged into EQ2 for the first time on a fresh install, the default in game maps are barely adequate. Scratch that - they aren't even barely adequate.

I don't like add-ons. My strong belief is that every MMO should provide sufficiently robust tools to make external add-ons unnecessary. In my experience most do but one area where many an MMO falls down is mapping. 

EQ2Map is still going strong at the moment. I re-installed it last week and it updated to the current Scourge of Zek content. Long may that continue, whoever is behind the curtain.

Other resources that I find either useful or fascinating include EQ2 Library and The Athanaeum. And although I don't personally use EQ2U, a spin-off from EQ2 Wire, many would consider it the most important resource of all.

For a twelve-year old MMO with a low profile and a dwindling audience that's still a very impressive range of resources. I would encourage anyone coming back to or starting out in EQ2 to make the fullest use of all of them. And if anyone has any other suggestions please don't be shy about talking them up in the comments.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

I'll Be Back! : EQ2

Last night I finished the Signature questline for EQ2's Tears of Veeshan expansion. It's one of the best I can remember.

Every zone was stunning. As Wilhelm pointed out in the comments, EQ2 has always had some beautiful scenery, even back in 2004, when the game began. Dungeon design, particularly, has frequently been exemplary.

Until a few years ago, though, much of that was hard to appreciate behind the muddy textures and clunky rendering. That problem seems to have been resolved and the whole of the later game looks shiny and modern.

The plot almost made sense or, at least, I could just about follow it. For once the "You are the Hero who can Save the World" trope felt, somehow, just about right. This is EQ2, though. Before anyone saves anything we have to have a meeting. There will be minutes.

Quest structure and dialog in EQ2, as I mentioned before, tends to follow a very particular model. The language is often quite formal, there's a tendency to adopt an almost self-consciously high moral tone and no-one ever speaks in anything less than full paragraphs.

When EQ2 launched it's primary USP, now long forgotten, was that it was the world's first fully-voiced MMORPG. The pre-launch publicity centered as much around the involvement of Christopher Lee as Overlord Lucan D'Lere and Heather Graham as Queen Antonia Bayle as it did around any of the gameplay.

That idea got shelved at the first expansion and ever since EQ2 has been a real reader's game. If you don't like reading walls of text then EQ2 is really not going to be your thing...although I might ask, if you don't like reading walls of text, what are you doing here?

Christopher Lee and Heather Graham may be long gone but Lucan and Antonia remain. They both make appearances in the ToV storyline, along with other familiar names and faces. As a Norrathian veteran of extremely long standing I confess this really works for me. I may not remember much of the detail but there's strong name-recognition and I do get a palpable frisson when certain familiar faces appear.

I found it surprisingly affecting to hear The Duality, perhaps Norrath's most powerful mage, discussing magical theory with my ratongan Berserker as though they were equals. Even more so I appreciated going to call on The Overlord in his floating lair, uninvited, and having him take heed rather than having me summarily executed. Although, to be fair, that was his initial reaction, until I straightened him out and calmed him down.

When Firiona Vie made an appearance my ratonga went so far as to take a selfie standing by her side. It's not like he hasn't met her before. He saved her life once as I recall. But she was looking particularly spiffy in her classic costume.

The best part of all, though, was when The Duality sent him to steal something from Mayong Mistmoore. Not for the first time, I might add. The Duality has very louche morals when it comes to private property.

Mayong isn't merely Norrath's most powerful vampire. He has pretensions to godhood and in the past he's come close to making those pretensions a reality. He caught my little ratonga in the act of ransacking his private chambers and unleashed the full force of his vampiric will upon him with the intention of making him his thrall.

And my ratonga laughed in his face. And pointed out all the dragons and gods he'd met and bested. And wondered why a mere vampire thought he had a chance. It was not only ridiculously satisfying but it finally succeeded in contextualizing just why my character is treated as such a powerful opponent, a major threat, a genuine player in the big game. It's because he damn well is!

The fact that power creep has now made even a solo-geared character a one-rat raid goes a long way towards making this work in a way it never used to do. The Tears of Veeshan content is nominally aimed at level 95 to 100. Everything gives xp without the need to mentor down and many of the mobs are yellow cons. And yet they all fall like wheat before the blade.

Until the final movement, that is. The Signature solo questline pulls that annoying SOE/DBG bait and switch trick of turning into group content at the end. Worse, this time the final act is an Epic X2 raid, meaning it's tuned for two full groups.

I tried it anyway. The opening sequence I found genuinely stirring. Very dramatic. The music, the emotion, the sturm und drang. Kerafyrm beating his wings, Lucan barking orders, Antonia Bayle in her full plate battle gear...

For a while it looked as though I might make some impact. My Berserker and his trusty if psychotic orc mercenary Zhugris were managing to cleave through waves of four Epic X2 Awakened soldiers at a time. And then I started getting one-shotted and couldn't work out why.

In the end it turned out to be a Named general. I knew I'd have to fight him later on but right now he was flapping about above the battle and dropping what appeared to be targeted meteor strikes on my head. Zhugris and I gave it the old Freeport College try. He battle-rezzed me several times and eventually killed two EpicX2 mobs all on his own while I stayed down and watched but the General kept dropping his rocks and there seemed to be nothing either of us could do about that.

So the very final chapter is on hold until we get a level cap increase and power creep takes us to another order of magnitude. Then we'll see. I'm patient. I can wait.

In the meantime I think I might amuse myself by going round all the Heroic Dungeons and Raid instances that were, until recently, out of my league. There are quite a few. That's the glory of the classic level and gear progression MMO. All content comes to he who waits.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Who Says Looks Aren't Everything?

Ravanel raised an interesting topic, almost in passing, in her Friday Fashion post yesterday.
Even though I'd like to play characters as varied as possible in an ideal world, I've found that I enjoy playing characters I identify well with most. Male characters, very short characters or characters with a different build simply don't get logged in, so I've given up on creating them.
I also have to be able to identify but to achieve that I like my characters to look as different from my actual appearance as I can make them.

I have a semi-established hierarchy of preferences when it comes to making characters in MMOs. In loose order of preference, factors that are likely to affect my choice positively include:

Anthropomorphic animal race
Cute or funny
Childlike or naive
Looks good in hats
Normal height Humanoid but has a tail, rabbitty ears or other non-human characteristics

It's tall grass, alrights?
Strong negatives would be:

Very tall 
Overly muscular, especially Viking or Charles Atlas types
Elves (although, counter-intuitively, an elfin appearance can be a positive so long as no actual Elven blood is involved)
Weird creatures that you can't tell what they're supposed to be

Guess which one's me. Wrong.

When it comes to gender I am flexible. When I first began playing MMOs and for quite a few years afterwards, the issue of matching player gender to character gender used to be a very controversial issue. The outside world has moved a long, long way since then and the question of whether the person behind the keyboard is a direct analog of their avatar has largely lost its meaning, what with self-identification outside the game and gender/class locks like Black Desert's inside, not to mention single-gender races or races whose genders are visually indistinguishable.

I always played a mix of male and female characters although over time I have developed a preference for females. I suspect this has something to do with identity politics. Despite being a cisgender male in almost all respects, my upbringing led me to favor female role models over male as a child and adolescent and that has stayed with me all my life. Playing a heroine just feels more natural and comfortable than playing a male.

Embrace the other.

Of course, when you're looking at a three-foot tall fox that walks on his hind legs and wears clothes then the gender of the fox is perhaps the least of your concerns. It's different, and quite strange, when the picture on the screen is a sexualized human (or at least humanoid) female, which is why my female human characters tend to dress relatively demurely (or, in the case of my Norn Elementalist, like an actual nun).

Ravanel mentions that she doesn't make many "curvy" characters and one thing I don't often do is play characters who are overweight. It's not so much an aesthetic choice. It's less political or sociological than it is practical. I had a traumatic session quite early in my MMO career, playing an Ogre Shadowknight in EverQuest, when the group decided to go to Lower Guk and I spent most of a three hour session with my head stuck through the geometry of the walls.

These are small...but the ones out there are far away...
I did go on to play that Ogre Shadowknight for a long time. Although he remained a big lad in theory, whenever he went indoors he would drink a shrink potion or ask a shaman in the group to shrink him, so it ended up being more like playing a weird-looking gnome.

Now I come to think of it, that was his backstory. In those days I actually went to the trouble of creating backstories. Hard to believe. 

My ogre had been found as a baby by gnomes. He'd been abandoned in some unspecified and ill-explained fashion and they adopted him and raised him in Ak'Anon. He did know he was an ogre but by inclination and upbringing he always felt and acted gnomish.

I do quite a lot of that. I have an EQ2 character who has always carried a stack of gnome bones, a clickable item that casts Illusion: Gnome. I wanted to play a class that, at the time, gnomes couldn't be, so I made a half-elf and had him look like a gnome, and indeed claim to be a gnome. Mrs Bhagpuss ridiculed him mercilessly.

For some reason I can't explain rationally I like half-elves. Yes, there's that elf thing, you can't really deny it, but half-elves traditionally have difficulty being accepted by either community and somehow that undercuts the elven heritage in a satisfying manner. I also will play humans on occasion on the spurious logic that, in a full-on fantasy setting, Human is the funky, "cool" race.

Snuffkin? Nah, mate. Nivver 'eard of 'im.

All of this does have a material effect on whether I decide to try an MMO in the first place, as well as how long I stick with it. The annoying trend of recent years to offer very limited choices - usually something along the lines of Human, Big Human, Slightly Feral Human, Elf - has put me off quite a few titles.

If the game is good enough, as in Black Desert for example, I'll usually find a compromise that works. Often that will be a female human scaled down as short as the sliders allow. I think the reason I have so many characters like that has as much too do with the limited racial options as it does with any strong positive preference on my part. Or maybe I'm just telling myself that.
Blue cat for a blue day.

Either way, I think one of the key reasons I've stuck so long and so loyally with GW2 despite its many faults is that although it only has five races they are all very strong, distinctive and different. In the Charr and the Asura the game has two of the best-defined and detailed non-human races I've seen in the genre. I've come a long way towards appreciating the Sylvari, too, especially given how strongly I took against them at the start.

I do hope that as new MMOs come along they will continue the great heritage of the genre, where in games like EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, Vanguard, Warhammer Online and, of course, WoW, players could expect to fight alongside and against a wide array of races and body types. I'd hate to think we'd all end up in a world like Landmark's, where you can be anything you want so long as it's a normal sized human or one who's just a teensy bit taller.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Where To Begin? : EQ2

A short conversation in the comments on the previous post outlined two of the biggest problems older MMOs have in trying to attract and hold new players: they're overwhelmingly vast and they don't look that great by modern standards. A few, Saga of Ryzom, comes to mind, were prescient or fortunate enough to go with a stylized graphic approach that ages well but most older games look, well, old.

As the anonymous commenter observes "the EQ2 graphics were also implemented with an eye to future graphic hardware upgrades". Certainly SOE made a big deal about that at the time. Anyone remember the pre-release video that got everyone so excited and which turned out to look nothing whatsoever like the actual game, when it finally arrived? In practice, though, for the first decade at least, that promise went unfulfilled.

Much though I love EQ2, for the longest time I would never have made any great claims for its visual style. Even back in 2004, coming to the new Norrath from the then five year old 90s stylings of EverQuest, it didn't look that great. Antonica and Commonlands were functional, Thundering Steppes and Nektulos Forest bleak and/or bland. I was always impressed by Freeport but Qeynos was famously so badly optimized that many people simply avoided going there altogether.

Over the years the post-Luclin version of Norrath grew and grew. The Desert of Flames expansion, visually, was much of a muchness with the base game, only with added sand. Kingdom of Sky was a lot more impressive with its soon to become familiar Roger Dean style floating islands but as the expansions rolled out year after year it was the increasingly enjoyable and complex gameplay that kept me coming back, rather than any expectation of anything amazing to look at.

Researching this post I was surprised to find that the EQ2 team only got the new Terrain tools that massively speeded up and improved their ability to create zones from scratch in 2014. That was no doubt why we saw all-new zones in the 2014 and 2015 expansions and updates whereas 2012's Chains of Eternity and 2013's Tears of Veeshan largely re-used and re-vamped older assets.

Something must have changed, though, because as I play through the ToV signature timeline and explore the sky islands of Vesspyr Isles and the alternate-Norrath dungeons they lead to I find myself doing something I rarely do in EQ2: taking screenshot after screenshot just because. As should be readily apparent from the illustrations in recent posts, Tears of Veeshan is a visually sumptuous experience.

It's not just the zones, either. The character models are elaborate and detailed. It's hard to appreciate the sartorial style of a shissar temple guard as he 's trying to cleave you down the middle but these are some snappy dressers and the bixies in the Fractured Hive have certainly followed an entirely different evolutionary path from those buzzing fluffballs I remember back in Misty thicket.

It's been like this for about four or five years. The post-level-95 zones in EQ2, open world and dungeon alike, are much more likely to make you reach for your screenshot key than for excuses. No-one needs to apologize for an aging engine here. The graphics may not be cutting edge but they have, at last, managed to achieve something of the timeless style of good graphic design.

A lot of it seems to have to do with a new approach to surface and color. The ToV zones have a lot of flat surfaces and color washes. Texture frequently seems to be provided by tiles, panels or patinas rather than, in older zones, those tired and tiring texture maps. It reminds me in places of the clean, classic expressionistic comic art of Alex Toth or, to take a less-exalted example, Trevor von Eeden

In other parts there's something of the lush, overripe, almost sybaritic indulgence of the "Studio" artists, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Mike Kaluta, Barry Windsor Smith and Bernie Wrightson. There also seems to be a deal of constructivist influence going on as well. All in all it's a far richer mix than anything you're likely to encounter in the first few dozen levels and therein lies the problem.

When nearly all of your players are up in the canopy, enjoying the fruits of a decade or more of improvements in both the design of the game and the tools to apply lessons learned attractively and efficiently, how can you hope to draw fresh sap from the roots? Even with modern leveling speeds it's a long road from installing the game to the good stuff five or ten levels short of the cap.

I'm a huge advocate of low level gaming in MMORPGs. I prefer to be down there in the fields, helping with the turnip harvest, running off the gnolls. For me, EQ2's huge, sprawling hinterland is freighted with nostalgia and memory. Nothing there comes clean and raw. But could I start there now, with no foreknowledge, and stay? I don't know. 

EQ2 is an exceptional case, I think. In many, most MMOs I might well suggest the best of the gameplay is at the lower end. I tend to become disengaged by end games. EQ2 doesn't really go there. For a long, long time it's still the same leveling game only the scenery gets better and better and the plots become more and more involving. There isn't any huge change of playstyle when you hit the buffers on level.

It would be probably be better all round if DBG could split the game in two. There's more than enough content from 1-92 to make most MMOs with years of development behind them look skinny. That could be the retro, nostalgists' version.

The game already makes a step-change at 92. It would be the perfect new beginning, jettisoning the dead weight of a decade of overwrought and underused mechanics and systems, offering instead the much more coherent and visually appealing package that begins somewhere around the introduction of Withering Lands, half way through 2011's Destiny of Velious expansion.

Since that's unlikely to happen I think I would recommend would-be new players in Norrath to lay down a few extra dollars in the Store and begin at Level 90 with a Heroic Character. It seems counter to everything I usually espouse and support but EQ2 really is a different game these days and I suspect very, very few players who start at the bottom in 2016 will ever stick around long enough to discover just how different.

Of course, if you're an experienced MMO veteran who knows what to expect of an old game and isn't unduly phased by spending quite a long time staring at some really unappealing scenery then you're in for a real treat. There's an unconscionable amount of content in those first 90 levels and a lot of it is very entertaining indeed.

The best part is that there is a choice. A few years back it was very much like it or lump it and I suspect that after a few frustrating sessions many chose the latter. Most MMOs of a certain age now offer some kind of elevator to the top and the days of shaking our heads over the supposed entitlement issues that brings up are over. Or should be.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Everyone's A Critic : EQ2

Sometime back in the late 70s I saw Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers play live. It was at the Anson Rooms, a long, rectangular box of a venue used by Bristol University for various functions, the least appropriate of which was punk gigs.

Of course, Jonathan wasn't a punk and The Modern Lovers weren't a punk band. For a while he'd been a fellow traveler of the scene, the most direct link between The Velvet Underground's mid-60s noise/art experiments and the fear-fueled motorik of The Subway Sect.

The chugging paranoia of "She Cracked" and the angry strut of  "Pablo Picasso" from the eponymous, John Cale produced album that I bought in 1976 were important signs and portents but by the time Jonathan walked onto the stage that night he'd repudiated his past or at least turned down the volume.

"Anyone who would hurt a baby's ears sucks", Jonathan pronounced in a controversial interview, as he outlined his new methodology. I saw him play a number of times and sometimes you couldn't easily hear him over the sound of the crowd chattering. Loud he was not.

Which was probably why, a few songs into the gentle, quiet, rockabilly-inflected set that evening, some disgruntled punk decided to lob a meat pie at Jonathan's innocent hangdog head. The poor lamb stood there with gravy dripping down his face looking for all the world like a puppy that's been chided for some infraction of a rule he doesn't, can't, understand.

He wasn't angry. He was hurt. He told us how hurt. Repeatedly. Softly. Unhappily. By the time he'd finished - no, long before he'd finished, because Jonathan kept coming back to the question of "why the pie?" after every number - the crowd was itching for a lynching. The errant pie-thrower wisely exited early, realizing the enormity of his error.

This all came back to me quite vividly yesterday afternoon as I was working my way through the Signature quest line of EQ2's "Tears of Veeshan" expansion. I'd done a range of chores for various dragons, most of whom I vaguely remembered from EverQuest.

I'd re-united Harla Dar with her son Fraka, whom she thought dead. I'd helped Wuoshi, who used to terrorize my characters at the Wakening Lands portal to the point where I parked a sacrificial low-level there to act as a canary in the mine and warn me with his sudden death if it was too dangerous to use the druid ring.

In the Ethernere, the realm of the dead, Wuoshi has mellowed. I enjoyed a long, philosophical conversation with him as I helped tend his garden. I'm really enjoying this expansion. It's so EQ2 it verges on self parody but, like Jonathan, wonderfully so.

That wasn't how I came to be reminded of the pieing of the Bard of Boston. That came later, in High Keep. I was surprised to be in High Keep. I had no idea the old East Karana stronghold had anything to do with the expansion in question. I'm not really clear, even now, on what it's doing there.

It seems to be some alternate timeline where the Pickclaw goblins have gained the upper hand in their eternal battle with the High Keep nobles, gamblers and militia. The meticulously detailed and beautifully rendered castle has been overrun by goblins, who are behaving just exactly as you might expect, overturning furniture, getting drunk and generally making a mess of the old place.

In the huge refectory they're having a food fight. I stood and watched as the pies flew but that wasn't what made me think of The Jonathan Incident. No, the memory trigger was even more specific than that.

I don't know about you but I don't associate goblins with musical talent. Dwarves like to sing about gold, we all know that. The problem is stopping them. Elves have that ethereal thing going on. Goblins, though...

The Pickclaws have a band. A trio. Drums, guitar, vocals. No bass. Usually the singer would play bass. Just a suggestion.

They aren't very good. They are, in fact, so bad that as you get close to the stage a big prompt comes up  across the screen that tells you the singer's so bad he deserves a pie in the face.

That was when I thought of Jonathan. As someone who's sung on stage and later heard the singer (actually, reciter) of another, very much more successful, band tell our guitarist that we're good but we'd be a lot better with a different singer, I can be sensitive to that kind of criticism, even when it doesn't come wrapped in a pastry crust. No singer is so bad that a pie in the face offers a valid critique of his shortcomings.

Still, quests, progression...sometimes bad things happen. I went to look for the pie. That turned out to be harder than expected because I seemed to have a bugged instance. I couldn't interact with any interactable objects. I could see the pie but I couldn't pick it up. It was an existential dilemma.

I solved it by swapping to the Heroic version of the zone. I figured, correctly as it transpired, that my uber-solo Terrors of Thalumbra/Scourge of Zek gear would see me through and so it proved. In fact, the difficulty and challenge in the Heroic (meaning full group expected) version seemed just about perfect.

In the Advanced Solo instance my Berserker was literally one-shotting everything, even bosses. In the Heroic the fights lasted about as long as a reasonably easy Solo instance would. I cleared my way back to where I was before, picked up the pie and lobbed it.

Sadly I was too slow to take a screenshot but the moment was eerily similar to my memory of the real-life event. The pie arced, impacted, exploded. For a moment there was gravy. Gravy and stunned silence.

And then things took a very different turn.

Bloogly, the goblin vocalist, is not Jonathan Richman. Arguably he sings a bit like him, especially that one time I saw Jonathan when he had a bad head cold, but his reaction to being pied was entirely other. So I killed him. And his band. Harsh, but there you go. They knew the risks when they set up. This is punk rock.

The rest of the instance went swimmingly until I ran into the final boss. He turned out to be none other than Brell Serillis's less famous brother Bolgin. No, me neither. I actually thought it was a dwarf with delusions of grandeur but after I died the first time I googled him and he's a real god alright.

Being a god he can Curse. In EQ2 there are no Cure Curse potions. There are no tradeable Cure Curse items. Curses are incurable and, at least in the case of the one Bolgin casts, fatal. You'd think Zhugris might have chipped in with a cure, seeing how he's my Healer Mercenary and all, but no such luck. He doesn't know the spell.

Removing curses remains the final, irreplaceable stock in trade of the player-healer. Without an actual person backing me up Bolgin can roll around on his pile of gold like Uncle Scrooge in his money pit and just laugh and laugh and laugh.

I'll see him back in the Advanced Solo instance. We'll see who's laughing then. And if I can pick up that pie this time round I'll give Bloogly another taste. I always wanted to be a rock critic.

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Beat Goes On

I'm not the biggest fan of blogging about blogging. I was hoping I might get past the latest wave of despondency without comment but it seems a little disingenuous to carry on as though my Feedly wasn't filled with posts bemoaning boredom, burnout, or malaise.

It's not as if we haven't been here before. MMO blogging has a handful of themes that play over and over again like the never-ending musical loops in the games themselves. After a few years of reading blogs it becomes apparent that there are only so many topics and all of them have been done to death.

The same thing happens with the MMOs. Killed one dragon, you've killed them all. The tunes you can play on a fiddle may be without number but if you're bored of hearing the sound of four strings being scraped, plucked or struck then it hardly matters how many ways someone can come up with to go on doing it.

On the other hand, if you're someone who just purely loves the sound, who can't but jump up and dance every time the fiddler begins to play, then the very idea of ennui never enters the picture. Folk and jazz clubs around the world are busy with aficionados who've been nodding along for decades.

Most of us, though, go through a folk club phase only for a while, if we ever go through one at all. For a few weeks or months or years little seems more appealing than an evening in the pub with a pint of Old Duckfeather in hand and a buzz of conversation counterpointing the tales of maidens' virtue lost.

And then one day going to the club doesn't feel like such a great idea any more. The thought of another night of men with full beards and fingered ears bellowing into a mic, while intent young women saw earnestly at the catgut, seems oddly unappealing. And it's starting to rain and there's that new HBO series people at work keep talking about that you haven't caught up with yet, so you decide to stay in, just for tonight.

Next thing you know you're someone who used to go to folk clubs but doesn't any more. Then, in a while, folk clubs are a thing of the past. Your past. Probably a thing you don't even mention. Your new, non-folkie friends would find it all a bit...well, you know...

So there you are, or rather there you aren't. You're not at the folk club any more but the folk club is still there. People who aren't you still go. For a while people ask where you are and then they don't, any more, only once in a while, when someone says "oh that reminds me of old whatshername. Whatever happened to her, anyway?".

Maybe one day, a long while later, you get that feeling - is it nostalgia? You wonder what the old place is like these days. Do any of the old gang still go? But when you wander along - just out of curiosity, you don't really miss it, you've moved on, it was your past but still, you just wonder - the club has gone.

The pub has closed. It's a coffee place now. They don't have live music. You feel something's been lost but you don't know what it is. You walked away. You didn't want it. Why should you care that it's gone?

Except it hasn't gone. Only gone away from you. Somewhere in town some of those same earnest young women, not so young any more, are still sawing away. They have children now and their children are dancing to the fiddler's tune.

About the only thing that you can't have back is your past. That and the time you spent there. If that's what you're searching for you'll come home sad and disappointed. But if it was the music...well, the music never stopped. The music never does stop. It never will. Just listen and you'll hear it.

Which is why you shouldn't worry over taking a break, over walking away, over moving on. If you're done, you're done. Maybe you're done for now, maybe you're done for good. Either way, if you're not feeling it you can't force it. Listen to your heart.

Forget about folk music. I wish I could. Let's get back to MMOs and blogging about them.

MMOs aren't going anywhere. They're going to be around longer than you are. If you need them, if you want them, they'll be there. And while there are MMOs there will be bloggers blogging about them. Take your time out, your sabbatical, your re-calibration.

We'll miss you. We'll welcome you when - if - you come back. Some of the faces may have changed. You might have to find a new game to call home. The club moved along a few streets, some new people joined, some old people left but really nothing changed. You'll fit right in. It'll be like you never left.

Or maybe it won't. Maybe you'll come a couple of times and realize it was a bad idea. That you don't really know any of these people and you don't want to play the games they're playing now, or read about them, or write about them. Now you know. It was just a phase after all. And that's fine, too

This time last year we had the 2015 Newbie Blogger Initiative. For once I thought to tag all the blogs that came out of it as I added them to my blogroll, so I can see who's still around. I added sixteen of them. Ten of those blogs were still posting in 2016. Four posted in the last week.

It looked as though we weren't going to have an NBI this year but Aywren let slip the news that Doone is going to host the event a month later than usual, in June. The well replenishes itself. Let's hope so, anyway. Spread the word.

I should declare self-interest here. I read a lot of MMO blogs and I need a steady supply. If people are leaving then new people need to start! It's fun. Really, it is. Give it a go. If you don't like it you can stop. And start again. And stop. As often as you want.

If you want proof, look at Nils. Hasn't posted a word for two years. Comes back, posts once, gets nine comments. The folk club door is always open. And it's always open mic night.

Disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a "folkie". I did go to some folk clubs a few times back in the late 80s but only against my better judgment and only because someone else made me. I do not have a beard. I will never have a beard. I don't even drink real ale. It was just an analogy, all right? Geez, don't take things so literally, you guys...

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