Sunday Serenade: Hurts, Human League, F1 Tornado, and more!

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with…

“Stop!” by Erasure — There a pureness to Erasure that I have grown to love over the last few years. This song is dorky and simple but it’s likable too.

“Big City Greens Theme” by Saturday Morning Acapella — What is it with Disney’s ability to make the catchiest cartoon theme songs, anyway?

“Root Beer Rag” by Billy Joel — This is an oldie but a new one to me, and I found myself charmed by the dancing piano keys and the memorable riff.

“The Height of the Fighting” by Heaven 17 — This is a really dorky ’80s synthpop song that’s more about barking words than singing… yet it’s got that something that makes it pretty listenable.

“Tell Me When” by Human League — Pretty simple question that was repeated over and over and over again… and never answered! Should’ve been an answer at the end of this song.

“Beautiful Ones” by Hurts — This band is quickly rocketing up in my esteem after listening through its discography. Great anthem song here.

“Title Screen” from F1 Tornado — Another goofy Amiga theme that baaaarely made the cutoff for my attention. I guess it ended up being a not-so-subtle earworm in the end.

Toonstruck: Tarred and feathered

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1996’s Toonstruck. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

When we last left Drew and Flux, they were starting their lengthy scavenger hunt to find items to build a Cutifier to save Cutopia from Count Nefarious. And if that sounds like the plot to a TV show that a second grader could make up, then welcome to Toonstruck’s creative writing.

Before venturing out in the country, the duo skulk around the royal palace to look for useful items and just to be nosy. Functionally, Toonstruck is one of the smoother adventure games I’ve played, using a context cursor to interact. One of its few unique traits is that Drew can use Flux as an item to do various cartoony things, like to launch him in the air to grab a trap door.

All of this sneaking results in a perfect trap for the obnoxiously snobby footman, who ends up tarred, feathered, and smacked with an anvil. “Feathers? How predictable,” he drolls before getting knocked out. I’ll admit it, I laughed again. That’s twice so far, game. I’m keeping count!

Free of the palace, Drew and Flux explore the nearby town. There’s an Irish pub with an overactive mouse and some bunnies necking (ew).

Drew plays the organ to get the mouse dancing like mad, and Flux uses a nearby mousetrap to inflict grievous bodily harm upon the rodent. That nets the two an old mug, which may carry no value except in games like these, where it is more precious than life itself.

Up to this point in the game, the puzzles have been fairly straight-forward, but I cry “foul” at the phone one. It’s a quiz where you have had to memorize a whole bunch of details about what color is what thing elsewhere in the game. Unless you’re using a cheat guide, you’d have to write down these questions and then go hunting for the answers — and then hope you get asked the same questions and not different ones the next time. That’s a little too obscure for me.

Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun is hopping around the now-ravaged meadow, having some sort of breakdown while trying to stay perky and happy at the same time. It makes for an interesting conversation. And the above line got another laugh from me, because I’m that basic sometimes.

Well this is a new one on me… a stereotypically ’90s gay scarecrow who’s actually a CAREcrow. Because he likes to care for crows, see? And he wants a new outfit. And he talks a lot. A lot a lot a lot. I’m sensing a pretty deep subversive vibe for this game world. That’s cool by me.

Disco Elysium ate my brain

As I mentioned on Twitter recently, roughly four days into this month and I found myself rearranging all of my gaming plans. For the most part. I’d wrapped up my progression stuff on LOTRO earlier than expected and playing Witcher 3 ultimately prodded me right back into the arms of Elder Scrolls Online. But what was the most striking is that I couldn’t help but dive deep into the oddly alluring Disco Elysium.

I only became aware of this CRPG late last year, when it popped up on all sorts of “Best of 2019” gaming lists. I went from “intrigued” to “drooling over” after reading up on it even more, and I bought it for myself as a Christmas gift, thinking that I’d play it in February or March. But I couldn’t resist — don’t you love when you can’t resist getting right into that game or book you’ve found? — and now I’m deep into this demented detective tale.

If I had to describe it in comparison to other video games, Disco Elysium would be in the very rare company of Fallen London and Planescape Torment. It’s a wordy, bizarre CRPG in which your own character is an unreliable and unstable narrator and the game might take off in a very unexpected direction at a moment’s notice. There’s little like it, which makes it a welcome relief after being saturated with tons of standard fantasy tropes.

Disco Elysium does begin with one big honking trope of its own, however: It’s a film noire setting in which you, a detective, awake with amnesia. It kind of works in the context of an RPG, allowing you to mold and shape your new consciousness after apparently have gone on the mother of all self-destructive benders in order to destroy your old one.

So my unnamed (and, so far, un-faced) detective awakes without a clue where he is or what he’s doing. Where he is happens to be a pseudo-European island on a world that has some passing similarity to ours. He’s part of a police force that nominally patrols the islands, but this particular isle is in fact controlled by a labor union and its brutes. Why he’s there is that there’s a dead body hanging from a tree — for over a week — and that’s about it. Who that person is, what happened, and how it ties into everything else all around is part of the ongoing and unfolding investigation. The detective gets a temporary partner from a rival precinct, and from there just about anything can happen.

Seriously. Apart from Torment, this is one of the most out-there RPGs I’ve ever played. You CAN play the detective very straight and normal, but even then the game gets bonkers at times. It’s much more fun to go off the rails and shape the private eye the way you want — as a supercop, as a drunkard, as an insane lunatic who gets obsessed with cryptids and desperately wanting this case to be “sexy.” Me? I’ve been going all over the place with him, picking whatever options amuse me and seeing what happens.

Another similarity to Torment is that this isn’t a fighting kind of RPG. Instead, there’s a bunch of skills and the game keeps making dice rolls against them to see what happens. You can invest in a detective who has better hunches, or can lay out a crime scene very well, or is physically intimidating, or all of the above. In an interesting twist, many failed skill checks can be retried in the future if you invest another skill point in that field.

I think that the familiar-yet-alien setting is the most fascinating to me. There’s a lot about European politics and governments that kind of goes over my head, but the dev team obviously went to great lengths to give us an alternate universe version of our world where the cars were designed differently, people still wear armor, and reel-to-reel is still hot tech.

I’m only on Day Two (Tuesday), and while I’ve got a long way to go, I’ve certainly… seen… some things so far. I’ve met the Light-Bending Rich Man and the cryptozoologist, I’ve freaked out a whole bunch of union guys by being irresponsible with a gun, and I’ve solved several smaller mysteries. It’s one of those rides that you really want to slow down and enjoy because you know you’ll only ever experience it for the first time once, and you want that to last as long as possible.

Battle Bards Episode 160: MMO cover songs vol. 2

For the first time since Episode 50, the Battle Bards crew returns to the theme of cover songs of MMO tracks. Several extremely musicians tackled their favorite MMORPG tunes to our delight, taking us on a breathless tour of their spin of these classic tunes. Since we want to give all of the artists full credit, you can find links to their full tracks in the show notes — give them a listen!

Episode 160 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat.Grizzly Hills Theme from World of Warcraft,Main Theme from Albion Online, and Fear Not This Night from Guild Wars 2)
  • Gondamon Theme from Lord of the Rings Online, performed by Brandon Skelton
  • The Secret World from The Secret World, performed by Lord Bif Music
  • Forest Calling from Lineage II, performed by Dryante Zan
  • Heavensward Synth from Final Fantasy XIV, performed by Dutyyaknow 
  • Arthas Theme from World of Warcraft, performed by Eliott Tordo 
  • The Tale of the Mad King Thorn from Guild Wars 2, performed by Sharm
  • Stones from Ultima Online, performed by Mathias Semborg 
  • Which one did we like most?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Jade Plateau” from Blast Corps, “The Trial” from Epoch, and “An Endless Beach” from Death Stranding
  • Outro (feat. “Kelethin” from EverQuest)

The Sims 4: Tiny living might make my tiny house fantasy come true

One strange obsession I have that hasn’t been discussed on Bio Break is my weird fascination with the tiny house movement. I’ve always loved small, cozy spaces, and ever since discovering that tiny houses were a thing, I’ve been hooked on the fantasy of downsizing to a small, compact, and cozy home. I lurk on the Tiny Houses reddit and peruse floor plans and watch videos and generally indulge in a fantasy that I could never achieve. At least until my kids all grow up and graduate, and at this point, that’ll put me at 59 years old. Which is not an exaggeration.

Now I’ll be able to take that fantasy to a virtual level, thanks to the upcoming Sims 4 stuff pack, Tiny Living:

Actually, The Sims 4 has a rather passionate tiny house community already, which was probably why EA Maxis decided to go this route. It’s the smallest of that game’s DLC tiers, so we’re not talking a massive gameplay shift, but there’s some cool stuff here. The idea is to build houses on these new tiny lots of no more than 100 tiles, forcing compact and ingenuity. There will be some new toys to help with this effort, like the the murphy bed and other two-in-one items.

The community isn’t pleased that there weren’t — to our knowledge — the much-desired bunk beds, pullout couches, spiral staircases, or ladders, all of which would be ideal for this type of home. Still, it’s fired up my imagination. Our home is pretty Sims 4 crazy right now, to tell the truth. I’m going to have to take some pictures of the homes my nine and ten year old created, because I’m pretty sure that these would be ideal chambers to drive normal people insane.

I did have some fun designing a small — but not tiny! — house using a split-level technique that I picked up from a YouTube guide. It’s not nearly as decorated as it could be, but I’m reasonably proud of it for an evening’s work. Tried to rely more on country decorations for that feel, but I know I have a long way to go to really making a place stand out.

SWG: That classic Star Wars feel

One thing that I definitely love about Star Wars Galaxies is that this — despite coming during the prequel movie season — feels totally like old school, original trilogy Star Wars. With the new movies and SWTOR’s Old Republic setting, I’ve missed the classic setting. Going into a cantina on the starter space station and hearing the familiar music ripped right from Mos Eisley tugged at the heartstrings.

Another neat touch is that the next set of quests I get seem to revolve around my class, encouraging me to get to know my role as a medic. I just thought we tossed people into giant lava lamps and called it a day, but I can spray people with magic pixie dust if need be.

I found a room filled with Black Sun slicers and went nuts for 20 minutes or so, getting a feel for SWG’s combat. It’s… a bit old and a bit janky and way too clicky. Similar to DDO, this is pseudo action combat where you keep having to click to attack — and in the beginning, that’s all you can do. Target, clickclickclickclick, and hopefully win. At level 4, I got a Vital Strike skill that gave me a nice opening attack. Think I’m a good doctor? Think again. I do harm all over the place.

I don’t know if it’s just the Legends emulator or this is how SWG used to be, but the enemies float around at times and occasionally stutter and get wildly crazy. It’s definitely not the smooth type of MMO combat I’m used to, but more in line with, say, Anarchy Online.

After proving my worth as a medic — and getting some pristine white duds as proof — the next step is to try to get off the station. That means helping Han fix the Falcon, a problem which is exacerbated by the presence of Fan Service. Er, I mean, Boba Fett, who is just hanging out in the cantina like he’s a level 1 noob with no idea where to go. For the record, I’ve never been the biggest Boba Fett fan, although the Mandalorian is pretty awesome.

Of COURSE you’d devote one of your three only floors in a space station to a giant garden with flying things. That’s just common sense.

To its credit, the game does give you a choice to leave the station after fixing the Falcon if you’re antsy, but I chose to stay on for other missions. Don’t make me leave my safe little bubble just yet!

Actually, after running through a few of the ones offered on the station, I found myself growing restless. They really aren’t anything to write home — or you! — about, and the station/cave aesthetic struck me as pretty dull. I wanted to get a planet under my feet, so I ran over to Han and said, “Han, old buddy… PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HEREEEEEEE.” It’s amazing what blubbering begging from a giant fish-creature will get you.

Witcher 3: Apart from the bandwagon

I just want it stated for the record that I’m not playing The Witcher 3 this month because of the huge uptick in the game’s popularity thanks to the new Netflix series. I’m just a guy who is very, very behind on playing his Steam backlog.

Actually, Syl has been pushing this one hard on me for a couple of years now, and I’ve about run out of reasons not to play it. I’ve been dragging my heels because (a) I don’t have 500 spare hours to beat this reportedly huge game and (b) wasn’t that in love with The Witcher 1’s action combat style. But I’m down for playing it for a single month, to dig into it and see what’s there and if it’s worth completing in the future.

I did start it a few weeks ago but didn’t get much further than the tutorial. Then I ran into a problem with cutscenes not showing or stopping the game entirely, which was fortunately fixed by repairing all of the game’s files. In the first week, I’ve gotten through the entire first area, clearing out all of the quests and points of interest. It went from a game that I dragged my feet on to one I was honestly excited to boot back up and play.

And I don’t think it’s for the somewhat generic fantasy world or its growly, hypermasculine hero. Instead, what hooked me was the exploration of it all. The cutscenes lend a lot of weight to each quests (the lady howling on about her pot had me chuckling) and the Guild Wars 2-style of world exploration encouraged me to just roam, fill out the map, and bump into all manner of encounters. Between the combat style and the map and the quests, all of this reminded me of Elder Scrolls Online, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.

The little side-stories, as usual, have me more interested than the big main one. Helping a dwarf uncover who burned down his house or figuring out how to drive a haunting spirit away from an abandoned village was infinitely more exciting than trying to find friends who failed to leave forwarding addresses.

I’m still not that keen on the combat, but there’s an option to reduce difficulty to focus more on exploration and questing. Call me weak, but I’m going with that just to enjoy my time in the game more.

And apparently this song from the show is super-popular right now, so I’m required by nerd law to include it: