Battle Bards Episode 34: Feature that instrument!

While many soundtrack pieces are a collaboration between an entire orchestra, once in a while a single instrument will take the forefront and steal the spotlight.  Those tracks are the theme of today’s show, in which the faithful Bards choose seven MMO songs that feature a dominant instrument.  Also, there is much whining because that is what we do best.

Episode 34 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Breton Melody” from Dark Age of Camelot and “ARK Theme” from Anarchy Online)
  • “Map Music 1″ from The Sims Online
  • “Sarutabaruta” from Final Fantasy XI
  • “Below the Asteroids” from EVE Online
  • “Sanctuary” from TERA
  • “Ogrimmar” from World of Warcraft
  • “Flibbertigibbet” from Final Fantasy XIV
  • “Age of the Dragon” from Guild Wars Factions
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Outro (“Disband Deed” from Wurm Online)

Listen to episode 34 now!

WildStar: Putting a bow on Galeras

My goal during this past weekend was to put a wrap on Galeras with my Engineer and move on.  Galeras isn’t a horrible zone… but it isn’t my favorite, either.  The “pretty” parts don’t really stir any feelings in my soul, and the war-torn battlefields and grey canyons are depressing.  All the more so that I know that gorgeous Whitevale lays ahead.  So I pressed on and finished up the last dozen or so quests.

All I had to do after that was to finish up my Scientist path missions.  I try to be vigilant in doing these as I go through the zone, but I had three unfinished, with one of those being 14/20 datacubes found.  Big sigh and then I hunkered down with an out-of-game map to track down everything, do a puzzle to open a door, ta da, I’m done.

It actually was pretty beneficial.  I got to level 15 with my Scientist and level 24 with my Engineer (hello bolt cutter!).  I’m feeling so much more confident with this class than I was in the first month after launch, not to mention that I’m settling in well with my house and guild.

I poked my head into Whitevale this morning before work and my daughter climbed on my lap and helped me spot pearls as we went on a diving mission.  She really likes to be my game “spotter”, so I’ll tell her to point out giant spiders and clickies and so on.  It’s a good wake-me-up when you have a four-year-old shrieking “THERE!  THERE IS ONE!” in your left ear.

It really will be nice when my Engine laps my Medic and forges on to a part of the game that I haven’t seen yet.  I’m not feeling incredibly anxious about it or anything, but I’ve rerolled enough as it is.  It’s time to see new frontiers.

The making of a Battle Bards episode

making ofOur going-on-two-years-now Battle Bards podcast is probably one of the most involved of my various web projects and a true labor of love from Syl, Steff, and myself.  We are nuts about MMO music and have a grand ol’ time jawing about it together, and seeing how the show’s resonated with fans is a treat.

But as I said, each episode (which is usually about an hour long) represents probably seven or more hours of our combined time to make.  I’m not sure how interested any of you might be in how a show gets made, but since I go through this on a bi-weekly basis, I thought I’d chronicle the making of a show from conception to release.

Planning

Through discussion and trial-and-error, we came up with a good plan early on that works for us.  The very first thing we do is to lay out a plan for the next batch of six shows, with each one of the Bards nominating an MMO-specific episode (i.e. WildStar) and a theme show (i.e. Character Creation).

Syl — the ever-organized lady that she is — set us up a group spreadsheet that we use for show planning.  On it, we have the upcoming shows with spots for each of our track choices.  The rule of the show is that whoever came up with that episode’s theme gets to pick three tracks for the episode and the others only get two.  Seven tracks felt like a good “sweet spot” to give us a nice selection without making the show run too long.

Another rule we have is not to choose tracks that have already been done or (hopefully) someone’s called dibs on for use in a future episode.  Although we’ve messed up on the latter often enough that it’s caused a little bit of eye rolling.

As the record time approaches, each of us listens to all of the tracks for the next two episodes (so that’s 14 tracks total) and takes notes, since we won’t actually be hearing the music while we record.  Personally, I like to listen and write my notes the morning of so that my memory is very fresh on them.

Recording

Generally, we record once a month on the second or third Saturday.  This requires coordination between Steff and I (eastern time zone in the US) and Syl (who is in Switzerland).  For us it’s a Saturday afternoon, but for Syl it’s probably some ungodly hour of the night.  Or early morning.  I’m not quite sure how time works on the other side of the world.

A couple of days beforehand I’ll take a look at the spreadsheet and any of our reader letters, and then put together show notes for everyone.  Mostly this is just about the order of the tracks, which only occasionally needs to be handled deftly for various reasons (such as grouping similar tracks together).

Because of the hassle of getting three people from two different time zones together, we record a pair of shows back-to-back within a single two-hour block.  We set up a three-way call on Skype and I record using my trusty Callburner software (which I’ve been using for three years now for all of my podcasting).  It’s not always perfect, but it makes three tracks for each call: one on my side, one on theirs, and one combined.

Recording is a lot of fun and we’ve gotten comfortable enough so that we don’t screw up that often any more.  Occasionally we have little kids wander in or fire alarms go off or power outages, but we roll with it.  I’ll then save the files and leave them for a week or so.

Editing

The week after we record and then two weeks after that I’ll edit the two shows.  Editing is both fun and tedious; it’s really cool to see a show come together, but man does it take a lot of time.  Generally, I can expect to take between two to three hours for a single 50-minute show, and that’s if I’m going at a good clip.

What takes so long is that our podcast is ambitious with its use of music.  Most podcasts will feature an opening and ending song, but the bulk is just talking and requires minimal editing.  Ours weaves the seven track in and out of the conversation along with our standard Battle Bards intro, two additional music snippets during the opening talk, and a stinger track.

I use Audacity to edit, mostly because it was recommended and it was free.  It took me a little while to learn what I needed to know, but now I feel quite comfortable with it.  I’ll have three tracks on the screen at any given time: the top one being all of the music in the show, the middle one being our recorded conversation, and the bottom one being the current track that I’ll pulling segments from.

I’ve been asked why we don’t just play the full track.  Not only would that really interrupt the format of the show (a lot of music then a lot of talking then a lot of music is actually dull) but it would be violating copyright law.  Each one of these tracks is owned by someone who is not me, and so we have to be careful about this.

Initially I modeled Battle Bards on another podcast called Top Score, which I liked for its professional sound and its love of game music.  I reached out to the host and asked her about the usage of music, of which she replied by saying that fair use allows us to broadcast 30-second clips “in the clear” (i.e. with no voices on top of them) for the purposes of review.  So that’s what I’ve clung to.  Every music snippet is actually around 45 seconds or 1:00, but I’ll only put 30 seconds of it without any voices, with the beginning and end fading in and out.

Getting the right parts of the track and making sure that the fade in/out sounds good and doesn’t obliterate our talk, not to mention finding good breaks in our conversation, is that fun/challenging part of editing.

So after I finish up with an episode, I’ll add podcast tags for iTunes and other sources to reference, then export it to an MP3.

Release

As I’m mixing I’m also working up the blog post/show notes for that episode.  I’ll go into Libsyn, our podcast host, and paste those notes into a second blog post (one for Libsyn and one for Bio Break), while also uploading the show to that site.  I then set the show to release on 9:00 am on the next Tuesday, zip my co-hosts the links and blog post, and call it a wrap.

When the show actually comes out, I’m already well past thinking about it because it’s all automated at that point.  The blog post and podcast is pre-scheduled, the podcast aggrigators pick up the new link, and Twitter gets our links out.

And there you have it — if I didn’t bore you to death with the details!  We’ve got a new episode coming at you tomorrow morning, so stay tuned.

WildStar: Home epic home

emoteJust a quick post to say that I had a really terrific night in WildStar yesterday:

  • I blasted through about a third of Galeras and an entire level, really getting into the groove of my Engineer and her eternally buggy pets
  • My boombox of the day (of which I only have 14 left) graced me with an epic mining fabkit for my house, which I definitely will use
  • I sold a ton of mats and made over two platinum on the exchange
  • Then I discovered that one of my most-wanted housing items — pocket dungeons — were on the auction house.  I bought two of them to use at level 30 and 40, which gives me something great to look forward to
  • And I’m really gelling with this new guild.  Good folks who keep piping up to do stuff together.  I asked for help with a 5+ group mission and had a level 50 quickly swoop to my aid.

I love nights like that.

Month of DDO: There is a dungeon inside of this cart

An occasional problem that I run into with LOTRO is that the game will spend way, way too long loading my character into the game… and eventually quit to desktop as a result.  I’m finding even more problems with DDO.  Not only do I get the same load problem, but when my character does pop into the world, everything’s frozen for a good minute or three before finally allowing me to move and interact.  This time around I got both issues, which was followed by another one: I could turn and use my weapon, but moving in any direction?  Not so much, no.

Generally, if I have to keep logging in and out of a game to try to get it to work, I start asking myself, “Is this really worth the hassle?”  Hint: It almost never is.

Anyway, let’s get going with our adventure of the day!  Can you believe that there’s a dungeon inside of this innocent hand cart?

cart1There totes is.  The quest is “Thorn and Paw,” and we’re heading out into the forest to help some dumb Druid who got corrupted with, I dunno, poison ivy +1 or something.

cart2The cart drops me off at a photogenic if eerily terrifying part of the forest and then leaves without so much as a how-do-you-do.  I’m hearing a lot of “bear” talk on the loading screen, which bodes poorly for my 27% armored fleshy pre-carcass.  Hey, let’s head into that terrifying cave!

cart3No bars yet, although I do meet up with a pair of thorny horrors.  Good thing you have a “T” on the front of your name, man!

So a lot of you have been begging me for my patented fighting strategy in DDO, and so I’ll relent and tell you just to get some peace and quiet.  When I encounter a mob, I:

1. Click and hold down on the left mouse button.

2. Wait until monster dies.

3. Repeat with new monster.

If I really feel fancy, I’ll activate one of my long-cooldown special abilities, but I don’t feel fancy a lot.  Sometimes fighting in DDO is so simple in contrast to its enormously complex stats.

cart4Oh hey, there’s a bear, first name Dire.  I stand in the middle of his stomach and whip him to death, which is a completely normal thing for a 38-year-old man to be doing on a Tuesday evening.  Behind Dire Bear is the corrupted druid, who throws a lot of ice at me but dies nonetheless.  In the middle of this fight I get a blind guild invite, which I accept if just to get that prompt off of my screen.  HI NEW FRIENDS MEET MY DIRE BEAR.

I thought that he was the boss, but I guess he’s just the start — I need to kill a few more druids to unlock the chamber of the ultra-druid.  Woe is me.

I head down the side passages to defeat the additional druid mini-bosses and the large corrupted seeds, because nature is in imbalance and only by thrashing it with a big stick can order be restored.  Killing the seeds is a stupid move, as it removes all of the large roots that were blocking the bears from coming out to maul me.

cart5You know what would feel really great right now?  To be surrounded by thorns.  While on fire.  As a pack of wolves eat me.  Thank you, DDO, for fueling my nightmares.

cart6After fighting my way through a cavern of bears and druids, I am shocked beyond belief that the final boss is a bear and a druid.  As I’m fighting the bear, more bears surround me in a freaking country bear jamboree.  That’s when I break out my 20-second whip maneuver that I learned at cheer camp.

cart7This is DDO’s version of “Sorry, but your princess is in another castle.”  I love how this druid is deliberately screwing with me even as she dies.  “Be a whole zoo!  That’s how you win the game!  Also, smack yourself in the face with a pie!”

Thanks, druid.  Now don’t mind me as I step over your corpse to retrieve my treasure.  A bear will be by presently to gnaw on your bones.

Quest for Glory: Raking horse poop

(This is part of my journey playing through Quest for Glory 1. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

I mentioned this a couple of times back in my Space Quest and King’s Quest playthroughs, but the Sierra games are a dream to use today.  They start up quick, have no qualms about letting you tab out (which some older games really do), and they save/load swiftly.  All of these make Quest for Glory an enjoyable gaming experience.

da1After three sessions (!) in town, I’m finally heading out into the wilderness.  About time, huh?  The road goes north, south, and east, so I pick east and walk down a quiet path until I hit a snowy avalanche and can progress no further.

da2AHH!  TALKING FOX!  BURN IT!  BURN IT!

da3Nah, I set it loose from the trap and the fox tells me the most random piece of quest information ever.  How would a fox know any of this?  And why is that “amusing?”

da4I turn and go up north, this time ending at the healer’s hut with her pet pteradactyl.  What century is this?  She not only makes potions, but has a quest for me: to find her gold ring.  Fair enough, healer.  I’ll be back with it in a jiffy.

da5As I understand it, you increase your skill points in this game the more you use them (so there’s no traditional XP > leveling system).  So climbing this tree with my 0 skill requires me trying again and again and again.  This is the problem with skill-based systems, since you end up stopping your gameplay to do one action a million times in a row to level it up.  I remember the same crap in Morrowind.  Sigh.  Let’s get to this.

At 29 climbing skill, I finally make it all of the way up.  And what do I get for my efforts?

da6Well.  THAT was an easy quest, all things considered.

I head back in the hut and give the ring to the healer.  She’s so overjoyed that she not only gives me six gold and two healing potions, but she french kisses me on the spot.  It’s kind of hilarious how my character freaks out at this: “You leave to avoid being kissed again.”  Because fat people kissing you is torture, am I right?  But if it’s a hot little filly of a centaur, we can’t get a date fast enough.  Thanks, game.

da7Speaking of that centaur girl, her father is nearby doing farm work.  I’m pretty amused by this elaborate strap system that he’s got going on here.

I ask Heinrich the centaur about the brigand attack that nearly killed him a while back.  He said that they broke his leg and were about to kill him when their helmeted leader stopped them and carried Heinrich to the healer’s hut.  That is… odd, to say the least.  Who is this leader?

da8A little to the north is the Baron’s castle.  The big story behind the Baron is this: He used to have two kids and a wife.  But he got into a tiff with the Baba Yaga, who placed a curse on him and then arranged to have his daughter kidnapped by some sort of flying creature.  The Baroness died, the Baron’s son died, and the jester and several guards went out to try to rescue the girl.  But now it’s been many years and the girl — who should be 18 and well within dating range — is still missing, the Baron is holed up in his castle, there are few guards to keep the peace, and the land is going to muck.  What we need… is a hero.

Of course, this hero is a money-grubbing thief, so my primary concern is to increase my finances.  I am offered a job to clean the stables for a whopping five silver, but hey, I’ll take it.  Money is money.

fightWhile wandering in the forest, I get into my first fight with a goblin… orc thing.  Let me tell you, I have NO idea what I’m doing here.  I just keep clicking the sword icon to attack and easily kill the creature.  Seven more silver for me, woohoo!

deathA second fight goes much more poorly.  Not only can you die from your hit points reaching zero, but you do the same when your SP (stamina points? skill points?) deplete.  Since attacks cost SP, I have enough for about one fight in me per rest.  Awesome.

havenAt least I find this little haven nestled in the woods: Erana’s Peace.  It says it’s a safe place, and it has both free food and a free bed for the night.  Sold!

What WildStar should be doing with paths

pathsOne of WildStar’s big talking points prior to launch was its path system.  This was supposed to be a “second class” that you could level up independantly by pursuing a specific type of content tailored to your playstyle (fighting, exploring, lore, building), and would add to the replayability/customization factor quite a bit.

From what I’ve heard, the original plans for paths got toned way down, although that’s hearsay on my part because I’m too tired to do actual research into that.  In any case, what we have in the game is a neat system that shows promise yet underdelivers.  I’ve enjoyed leveling up my settler and scientist paths, but as I’m doing so I keep making a mental list of how Carbine could improve these paths to be more like they were advertised in the first place.  After all, paths SHOULD be a major topic when players share thoughts on the game, but it seems as though most of the discussion has drifted into either housing or raiding.

So what should be done about paths?  Here are five ideas.

1. One of the coolest parts of paths is how it lets you interact with the game world in different and sometimes surprising ways.  Once in a while, I’ll get an option to activate a scientist object that can benefit me in ways other than adding to my path XP, such as opening up a locked door or exploding a barrel so that enemies take more damage.  Those make you feel as though your path has a purpose, and we need a LOT more of them.  WildStar isn’t very consistent with placing these, so they really are a rare occurence.

2. The devs should be adding new types of path missions into future updates.  Scientists need to be doing things other than endlessly scanning the environment (why not let us perform experiments?) and settlers should be able to creatively build things instead of merely activate buff stations.  I’m less familiar with soldier and explorer paths, although I’ll bet that soldiers are probably tired of the constant holdouts.

3. We need more and better path skills.  Paths are worth pursuing for the additional utility skills, such as creating portals or summoning vending machines.  But there are only four or so per path, and you get three of those relatively early on.  New path skills trump pretty much every other reward on the path reward track.  Some paths have better utility skills, period — soldiers get the short end of the stick here.

4. Scientists aren’t explorers, so help us find these things.  From what I hear, explorers get helpful arrows pointing them the way while scientists are often left wandering around hoping that they find all of the datacubes and scannables.  It’s so frustrating to finish up a zone and realize that there are two more datacubes you haven’t found, requiring a trip to a wiki to cross-check with your in-game list so that you can locate those remaining objects.  It’s not what this path is about and it needs to change.

5. There’s a pretty common refrain on the path forums: Let us be able to change and swap paths.  Maybe that would cut down on alts, but not everyone wants to alt anyway, and allowing players to pursue multiple paths would extend the available content for a character.  It would be neat to max out a path and then retain those benefits while starting over on a new path — which would also give me a good reason to revisit old zones.