Sunday Serenade: Night Trap (seriously), Willa Amai, Enya (yes, seriously), 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…

“Trampled Flowers” by Willa Amai — A soulfelt anthem about love and loss (mostly the loss part). I especially like the lyrics with this one. It’s very well-written.

“Echoes in Rain” by Enya — I was weirdly into Enya in college, mostly because I felt her music triggered the imagination and set moods in all sorts of interesting ways. This song sounds so much like her old, classic stuff that I’m very glad to see she’s still pumping it out.

“Holders of Power” from Ys 1 & 2 — An amazing boss (?) theme with a frantic guitar and a riff you want to surf from the start to the end. Had to listen to this again immediately when it ended the first time.

“Zombies Want Your Candy” by Parry Gripp — Not as catchy as some of his other tunes, but the hilarious lyrics more than make up for it.

“Amazing” by Inna — I like the poppy sound to this. Like a lot of dance, its lyrics are very shallow and nonsensical, but it has me tilting my head back and forth, so that’s enough for shallow enjoyment.

“Pursuit” from Ace Attorney Investigations Miles Edgeworth — I’m not a fan of how long that title is, but it’s worth typing for how amazing this track is. The fast beat and catchy tune took me off-guard and had me quickly rewinding for another go.

“Ending Staff Roll” from Night Trap — A super dorky, super cringy, and somewhat lovable end credits song from the infamous Night Trap. I dare you to listen to this and not be singing “NIGHT TRAP!” by about midway through.

Dagger of Amon Ra: Act 4, Museum of the Dead

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1992’s The Dagger of Amon Ra. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As the murders are piling up in the museum, at no point have any of the characters here gone, “Gee, maybe we should leave? Call in more cops? Barricade ourselves into a closet and refuse to come out for any reason?” Instead they all go about their various businesses, some obviously ducking the law, while the murderer(s) keep knocking folks off one by one.

Yvette is somewhat displeased that Ernie has been mastadon-ka-bobbed, but Laura isn’t buying it. She knows a player when she sees one, and in a funny bit, she calls Yvette out on it. Way to go, girl.

Steve, the dull-witted and creepy-voiced love interest of Laura, shows up out of the blue and raises all sorts of suspicion about his integrity when he (a) has no idea that murders are happening all around him, (b) subjects himself to a scar examination by one lady, and (c) gives Yvette a “comfort massage” to ease her pain over Ernie’s death. “You mind not moaning so loud?” is perhaps the phrase from this game that will haunt me until the day I die.

The museum’s security officer isn’t much help either. He flies off the handle at everything, threatens to shoot everyone, and keeps using the two German words that all players in the 1990s learned from Wolfenstein 3D.

Oh hey! Yvette got murdered! And then… stood up inside of a portrait gallery, posed somewhat seductively (?), and then hastily plastered over by the killer. Man, this killer goes to great lengths to cover himself up. I mean, how awkward would that be if you walked in on a guy propping up a corpse with one hand and slathering plaster all over it with the other? That’s not something you’re going to attribute to “it is what it is!”

Yes, this is a completely normal question and reaction to this situation. This lady needs professional help, and I’m not talking about the snake-bitten elderly lady up there.

Really, if you hate snakes, this is probably not the game for you, because Laura then has to come in and wrangle a cobra back into its cage. Man, remember the 80s, when we thought cobras were the coolest snake on the planet? What ever happened to that? I would join any dojo with the name Cobra Kai and hire Stallone to do Cobra 2 if I had the chance!

Yeah, Laura isn’t the best at handling snakes, by the way. At least she gets a dumb pun to comfort her into the afterlife.

With the countess dead, that makes the total kill count in the game six so far. It is kind of ridiculous at this point, but that’s the kind of adventure game this is, so we just roll with it. I do think that the most silly part of it is how much evidence Laura keeps removing from all of the crime scenes. Her purse seems to hold no end to random junk that may (will) prove necessary in the future. Of course, if I were her, I’d be using the weight of that purse to punch a hole in a window and jump out to freedom.

My latest World of Warcraft obsession? Engineering.

Back in the days of actual vanilla World of Warcraft, I had a Gnome Warlock named Syp (whom I think of as “the original Syp,” as that was where I got my online handle). In her adventures through vanilla and into The Burning Crusade, I took her down the path of Engineering, as I thought it fitted her nature as a Gnome rather well.

This turned out to be one of the very few times that I actually heavily pursued a World of Warcraft crafting profession. It took a lot of farming, time, and dedication, but it all felt worth it to get cool toys, a dragon combat pet, neat goggles, and — in TBC — a helicopter/plane to call my own. That helicopter was one of my most treasured possessions in an online game when I finally crafted it, all the more so because of the work that I had put into it.

Weirdly enough, after I left WoW for a break in 2008, I never got back into Engineering when I came back for subsequent stints and expansions. It’s weird to me because if there’s one profession that is totally down my alley, it’s this one. I’m totally about toys and gadgets and pets and mechanical everything. But I guess I thought it took too much time and I was too behind as it was, and so I eschewed further exploration of Engineering for gathering profs (because money).

This has changed over the past few weeks, mostly due to WoW Classic. In looking at the limitations of what that server would have — assuming that there would never be any progression or server transfers — I started thinking of alternate goals for my character. Engineering once again popped into my mind. It was something that I could pursue at my own pace, was an activity that would take up much of the leveling process, and could fill up time when I was at 60 and without anything else to do.

That got me excited. Even if Classic never ends up being more than Classic, having a character with those engie toys once again might feel like the journey was worth it.

What got me even more excited was the thought that, hey, I’m about done with my main goals in Battle for Azeroth and need something else to do on retail. Once I get flying on my Death Knight, I’ll be done with that character until the next patch/expansion. So what I’m thinking is that I might flip back over to my level 116 Gnome Hunter, finish her leveling, and then start working on bringing Engineering up to the max level.

As of this writing, I haven’t even done much research into what is out there. Honestly, I’m ignorant of any developments past the Burning Crusade era, but I’m looking forward to reading up on that and maybe spending the next few months taking my Gnome through trade school. It’d be a good feeling to have a crafting prof maxed out once more.

LOTRO: This Hobbit’s not going to Isengard (at least today)

Has it really been eight years since Rise of Isengard launched? It doesn’t seem like yesterday… but like three years ago, tops.

I started covering Lord of the Rings Online for Massively back in early 2010. The game was fresh off the Siege of Mirkwood expansion and quickly transitioned into a free-to-play format following DDO’s successful switch. So Rise of Isengard is kind of special for me personally in that it was the first expansion that I got to cover while doing a game column on the site. Eight years later, and I’m still writing about LOTRO on MOP — and here. And we’re back to Rise of Isengard all over again.

Except that I’m not quite there. I know I played it pokey in the last expansion cycle for the progression server, allowing myself to get too distracted and taking longer and longer breaks, but ultimately I failed in finishing up the content in preparation for the next pack. While I am level 65 and have Mirkwood and its epic finished, I still have Enedwaith to go.

As such, I’ve vowed to be more diligent in pursuing this goal of staying on track for these expansion unlocks. I thought they were going to be every four months, but I can see why SSG would make Mirkwood three, considering that it was a smaller pack. I’ve put off adventuring on the regular server and spent at least 45 minutes every day pushing forward in the epic. It’s a lot of Grey Company nonsense — Middle-earth could really use a telegram service instead of one overworked Hobbit sent to round everyone up — but I’m pleased to see that I’m heading in a southwardly direction.

One little nice bonus is that SSG handed out a free armor set to everyone. It’s a reskin of one of my favorite sets, the Rohan one, but I’m not complaining. It’s nice to have it in blue, and I feel that it really fits my Hobbit Minstrel well.

Instead of thinking of all that’s ahead of me, I’m just going to keep my head down and plug away. Forty-five minutes a day might not seem like a lot, but it’s pretty astonishing how much you can accomplish when you’re focused and on a time limit. And yes, I’m still reading quest text and having fun; I wouldn’t be playing otherwise. I like how simple the battle rotation is for the minnie, as I have one round for single targets and one round for packs.

And if there’s one advantage to being a full zone behind, it’s that I’m earning XP right now toward the new level cap and can rake in all of Enedwaith’s experience while the previous level cappers couldn’t. Hopefully that’ll give me a slight level advantage when I enter Dunland in a month or so.

My top 10 Fallen Earth adventures

If you’re a more modern reader of Bio Break, then you might be completely ignorant that for a good long while, I had a big crush on Fallen Earth. I *loved* this post-apoc MMO in a way that went above and beyond most games. I loved its humor, setting, freedom, and focus on exploration. But I also drifted away, in part because of its fading prospects following a horrible free-to-play conversion and subsequent mishandling.

I had hope that new owner Little Orbit would be able to do something good with the game, especially considering that its staff seems to have come to really like it, but it’s a tall order to sort out the mess of Fallen Earth’s code and performance. They’re trying, bless them, but it’s not enough to keep the game going. So Little Orbit is shutting it down next month with the hope that they can create a revised version to relaunch down the road. If they do that, I vow I will be there on day one.

In the meanwhile, I thought this occasion and Fallen Earth’s 10th anniversary would be a good one to go back through 140 or so blog posts I’ve written and pull out some of my favorite adventures from the past.

1. Finding your place in the world: “That said, one of the more valid criticisms levied at Fallen Earth is that the starting experience is simply too wide, too inscrutable and too bewildering for some players.  You learn as you go, for sure, but the problem is that you can make a few regrettable errors at the start that you will kick yourself for later.”

2. My biggest fear in Fallen Earth: “Okay, now, normally my response to ants is a gentle amusement and wonder as to what these socially-minded insects can do, and a deep assurance that I’m able to crush half their tribe with one well-placed footstep if I’m of the mind to do so. But in Fallen Earth?  There’s simply nothing more terrifying in the wasteland than these six-legged terrors.”

3. Off the beaten path: “In Fallen Earth, I have fully surrendered to the Explorer gene.  I am about the worst leveler in the world — I think I’m poking around level 24, up from level 20 around Christmas — because whenever I start to do a quest, something catches my eye and I have to go see what it is.  Before I know it, I’m about six miles away from my horse and not caring whatsoever.”

4. Wasting time in the wastelands: “It’s small things, like being able to go in a majority of the structures — something most MMOs, strangely enough, deny to the player.  Or the funny voice quotes, or the fact that the game really isn’t about combat as it is a journey.”

5. An-ti-ci-pa-tion: “Fallen Earth.  I can’t seem to stop playing it.  It’s haunting my dreams, even. I think that after a year-plus in mostly fantasy worlds, it’s wonderfully freeing to be running around in a semi-contemporary environment (if one can include mutated chickens and ants in that statement), enjoying the lack of elves and exploding particle effects.”

6. One man’s junk is another man’s fortress: “The Junk Fortress is no small theme park funhouse; it’s actually a large, sprawling underground parking garage-turned-HQ for the Blade Dancers, a faction you end up fighting all across southern S1.  Mobs are in high density, and if you’re at-level, you should definitely bring friends.”

7. Adjusting to free-to-play: “Another change with the update is the addition of the wardrobe (cosmetic outfit) system.  Great to have it, but I was really let down to see that you have to buy, with reward points, each slot.  So free players aren’t going to have this, and even subscribers are going to need to purchase a few if they want the fluff.”

8. Gil and Rufus: “Fallen Earth NPCs are downright hilarious to observe, particularly since many of them have scripted conversations and actions that unfold if you stop to watch.”

9. A horse and a girl: “My recent return to the post-apocalyptic Grand Canyon of Fallen Earth has been slow-going but oddly satisfying.  I don’t craft in any other MMOs at the moment, but I can’t resist doing so in this game.  There’s something very compelling about constantly harvesting and queuing up recipes.”

10. It’s like riding a post-apocalyptic bike: “Back when I first started playing Fallen Earth, it took a long time before you were able to make and use guns (I think the default ranged weapon back then was a pathetic crossbow). Now the game dumps a wide selection of weapons in your inventory and lets you start shootouts the second you are able to craft ammo.”

WoW Classic: Diving back into Deadmines

“Who wants to join us for a noble if suicidal and misguided mission?”

With that kind of call put out into guild chat, how can you not resist? As I said, what are we so busy doing in WoW Classic that we can’t just stop to goof around with guildies? There’s a hard stop at the end there, so might as well have as much fun along the way.

The call in question was from Belghast to go do a Deadmines run. As we were all Horde, this was a slightly trickier prospect — but more appealing because of it. A lot of us had very fond memories of this early dungeon and wanted to see the pre-Cataclysm edition once more. So House Kraken jumped on a zeppelin, went over to Stranglethorn Vale, and met each other “in person” for the first time since Classic launched.

Yeah. Undead rule.

To get to Deadmines, we thought we were in for a huge gauntlet through higher level zones and twisty turny paths. Turns out that there was a much more elegant solution: To swim up the coast, encountering nary an enemy along the way. As with many WoW Classic activities, it left us with plenty of time to chat. Most of the conversation was either (a) favorably comparing WoW Classic to retail version or (b) dredging up memories of Ye Olde Vanilla Tymes.

After a largely uneventful trip north, we arrived at the Deadmines and began to do our dirty work. This wasn’t a particularly hard job, either, as a few party members were well over-leveled for the dungeon and blew through it rather quickly. In fact, I noted that we were approaching this in much the same way we would have on the live server: by rounding up a large group of mobs and then burning them down. Crowd control? Careful pulls? Not in this run, no sirree.

It was deeply surreal to be going through Classic Deadmines once again. This is the version that I knew and remembered the best; I’ve done the Cataclysm version a few times, and while that’s all well and good, it hasn’t replaced this memory. Besides, they’re both basically the same layout and pacing, other than the intricacies of the boss fights.

We had a lot of fun goofing around on the way and sucking up as much loot as possible. I actually came out very well from the run, netting over a gold’s worth of vendored loot, a couple of green upgrades, and even a blue ring with +6 INT on it. That made me smile. Actually, I think most all of us got something good out of the run.

Mr. Smite’s cutscenes here remind me of a very old World of Warcraft memory, which was (I think) when Patch 1.2 came out and Blizzard kind of made a big deal out of adding chat bubbles to the game. The above quote was featured in a website article about it.

I proved to be somewhat of a good luck charm, as I ended up looting not one but two parrot pets. Considering how rare a good pet is in Classic, these are actually desirable. But I’ve been rocking my narcoleptic panda, so I gave away the macaws to others who wanted one. “A Two-Parrot Run” instantly became guild slang for a worthwhile dungeon venture.

Chronicles of Spellborn: Better late than never

I think that a lot of us gamers have an extensive pile of “when we have time to actually play” titles, and in mine for a while now has been The Chronicles of Spellborn. Now yes, the game only lasted about two years (2008 to 2010) and has since faded into the past. It always looked really fascinating to me, although apparently not enough to get me to try it out when the game was live. But thanks to the tireless efforts of fans, an emulator called Spellborn Reborn emerged in 2018 and racked up… um… 900 accounts? That doesn’t seem like a lot, to be honest, but this is a pretty niche game. And at least the emulator allows me to visit a game that I missed the first time around.

Getting set up with Spellborn Reborn was remarkably easy, and within minutes I was inside of this odd fantasy universe.

While under the “fantasy” umbrella, traditional Tolkien/D&D fantasy this is not. If I recall correctly, Spellborn takes place in a hollowed world that saw some sort of fracturing apocalypse, so there’s not so much sky as the underside of other places. The art style is pretty strange, too, slightly reminiscent of Ryzom with exaggerated looks and hairstyles. I think I can land small aircraft on mine.

One cool thing about this MMO is that you get to pick out your outfit right from the start, so there’s a bit more dressing up than usual. I made something that wouldn’t make me embarrassed to be seen by other players, went with a spellcasting class, and jumped into the tutorial.

And what a weird tutorial it was! About half of it — the first half — was overly concerned with teaching me how to move. You know, WASD and all that. Over and over it kept telling me to move to this part of the room and then to that part and then up on a crate and then down again. Maybe Spellborn got a lot of first-time video game players, I don’t know, but it was laughable how long this went.

After attacking hay bales on an understaffed shardship, some Lovecraftian monstrosity flew out of the mist and started spewing babies from its mouth. Nature!

So Spellborn’s combat system takes a bit to get used to as well. As you level up and collect different moves and spells, you can assign them to a rotating hotbar. As in, once you hit one key for the first hotbar, it rotates to the second, and so on. So I guess you can set up different chain combos with it so you can spam “1” all the time and have your character go through them all without having to move your finger. Combat also lets you freely choose between bow, sword, and spell attacks, and while I thought I’d be loving spell damage, sword attacks simply got the fight done quicker.

Coming in for a landing in the post-tutorial docks area…

…and finding that there was absolutely nobody there. I don’t know if you’ve ever played an MMORPG where no players exist, but DANG if it isn’t eerie. It’s really creepy. I kept sending out little messages over the different channels to see if anyone else was on, but nobody replied and during all my time playing, I never saw another player character.

On the plus side, the visuals and sound design were very striking. You quickly get the sensation that this is a much different and more “alien” world than normal, and it made me curious to explore it.

I also liked the cartoony warping of the buildings and structures. In my opinion, stuff like this holds up better over time than proper (but boring) fantasy houses that use straight lines and dull color sets.

There was a mix of familiar-looking fauna and some more exotic ones, like these… angry turkey dodo Shriners? It’s like they were slapped together with leftover parts and then rejected from biology classes thereafter.

Just to say that I really liked the wild trunk and leaf patterns here. If nothing else, Spellborn did have some good artists at the helm.

But was it enjoyable to play? I’m… probably not going to extol the gaming virtues of this one. After a couple of hours, I just couldn’t see the interesting aesthetics overcoming what was a pretty dull questing and combat loop. Fighting felt like a chore with unresponsive hits and sounds, the story (other than the terrific narration in spots) was vague and dull, and without other players around, I didn’t even have the social element to connect me to this title.

At least I scratched a curiosity itch and have some sort of feel for what this game was and what it offered.