Syp’s Gaming Goals for January 2019

December 2018 in review

  • Generally it was full steam ahead with Lord of the Rings Online’s progression server (in which I nearly hit the level cap and got all but two zones done) while enjoying my annual month stay in Final Fantasy XIV.
  • A good chunk of that LOTRO time was spent in Halloween and Christmas activities to get cosmetics and housing decor.
  • I ramped up my playtime in Pillars of Eternity with the goal of finishing the base game by December 31st. Put in at least a half-hour a day in this with sometimes more.
  • Retro gaming came back as I started a Quest for Glory IV playthrough. I also went through The Return of the Obin Dinn, although I’ll talk about that more next week.
  • Our DDO group got together to do some House K and Delara’s Tomb quests, ultimately netting me the Voice of the Master and level 8.

January 2019’s goals

  • After looking over what I played in 2018, I came to the conclusion that while I had a generally agreeable and enjoyable year, I didn’t do much to push into new territory or try different games. In fact, I kept going back to the well of the familiar over and over again.
  • My big push for 2019 will be to broaden my gaming scope. Different MMOs. New games. Dig through my backlog. Be more purposeful in my gaming time. I don’t know how that’s all going to shake out, but just thinking about this kind of frees me up in a way that I didn’t realize I was shackled.
  • For January, I’m going to be giving Elder Scrolls Online and Warframe both solid, multi-day sessions. I’m actually quite excited about both.
  • For LOTRO, I’ll aim for the very reasonable goal of hitting level 50 and finishing Angmar and Forochel, if not Eregion too. I have to start thinking about what I’ll be doing when they release new content on the live servers, because that’ll split my attention.
  • One retro game a month is my goal, so by the end of January, I want to have finished Quest for Glory IV and move on to my next project.
  • I’m going to take a one-month break from time-intensive single-player RPGs to dip into several quicker titles. I have a bunch lined up, including UnavowedThe Long Dark, Subnautica, and even (sigh) Fortnite.

5 favorite novels I read (and listened to) in 2018

As with a lot of entertainment this past year, my hectic life kept free time down — and reading with it. I’m finding that I actually get more reading done if I tote around my Kindle with me everywhere, but by and large, I didn’t have as much time to chew through novels this year.

That said, I read probably around 20 of them, and I wanted to at least share with you my favorite from that batch, plus a couple of audiobook mentions! Here goes.

#1: The Stars Were Right by Alexander

While I got bogged down in the second book, I rather enjoyed the first one right out of the gate. It’s set in a sort-of industrial, frontier fantasy world where a guy is framed for a murder he didn’t commit and has to go on the run while uncovering a wide conspiracy. Just really impressed with all of the races and world building, and the main characters were pretty likable as well.

#2: Grey Sister by Lawrence

Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor series takes the assassins-in-training fantasy trope and at least gives it a fresh coat of paint and some fun developments. Probably my favorite part is that the setting is on an alien world where old human technology and this new medieval society mix. I also liked the Nevernight books and Foundryside, although I am really tiring of the whole assassin/thief angle that many fantasy novels pursue.

#3: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by James

I think I liked the concept of this YA novel a lot better than the actual execution. Lots of great ideas here, with a teenage girl who’s living by herself on a colonization ship after an accident, a second colony ship that makes contact, and some dark history from the past. As I said, lots of great ideas, but the novel lurches from scene to scene and doesn’t handle its protagonist very well.

#4: Them Bones by Waldrop

I’ve read a lot of time travel books, but nothing quite like this one. A trio of tales bound together — somehow — tell of a man who is thrown into the far past as he tries to avoid a nuclear holocaust, a platoon of soldiers from the future who clash with natives in the past, and an archaeological dig from the 1930s that uncovers several confusing finds. While kind of depressing in the end, it was still a really gripping read start to finish.

#5: The Ark by Tomlinson

A free book with a generic title and cover art belied an actually awesome scifi tale within. The Ark takes place on a generation ship that’s fleeing a now-destroyed earth in the hopes of establishing a colony on a new planet. 230 years into the voyage, there’s a locked-door whodunit and a security chief who won’t give up until he figures out what’s going on. The sequels take place on the colony itself, which is kind of a shame because the ship itself made for such a great and unique scifi setting.

And for audiobooks, I mostly purchased ones from novels that I had already bought on Amazon (since you can get the audiobooks for much cheaper that way). I finished up the excellently narrated Harry Potter series, went through the entirety of the Greatcoats (just as awesome in audio form), and spend many short drives going through Peter Clines’ 14.

Bonus list: Your picks

I once again polled Twitter for favorite novels this year, and here are some of the ones you said:

  • Sturbborn: Collapsing Empire
  • Woolydub: The Name of the Wind, Fire and Blood
  • Jazz: Children of Blood and Bone
  • Katriana: Before the Storm
  • Andy Starr: Red Rising
  • Stephen Sattler: Shadow and Claw
  • Mike: TheWay of Kings
  • Kherova: Pilot X
  • DDOCentral: Doorways to the Unseen
  • David: The Three-Body Problem
  • Jason: Ethan of Athos, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
  • Magnet Head: Once and Future King

Retro Gaming: Jill of the Jungle

A couple of months ago, GOG.com announced that not only was it starting to carry the shareware cult classic Jill of the Jungle, but it was giving out the entire three-game set for free. I will snap up anything for free, especially if it has some connection to my gaming youth, as this one did. I at least had one episode of this on my PC back in the day, and while it wasn’t an obsession or anything, Jill did deliver solid platforming action that we weren’t always getting on computers. And we definitely weren’t getting a lot of games with female lead characters!

Again, it wasn’t a game that I spent a lot of time with, but back then we were always happy to get our hands on some Apogee, id, and Epic titles, as they usually had good quality and a kickin’ fun factor — if not always the slickest presentation or highest production value. You can kind of see this with Jill of the Jungle. It’s a fairly simple Metroidvania-style game that is attractive enough without really pouring gobs into the visuals. Obviously from the screenshot above, you can see how everything looks like its made out of the NES-era blocky sprites.

That said, Jill is still surprisingly good — and even interesting — today. Every stage is a puzzle of sorts as to how to get to the end, and that can be through problem solving, platforming, fighting, or a combination of all three.

Jill is a good runner and jumper, but she has no inherent attack. Instead, she can pick up items to help her out on every stage, starting with her trusty dagger. This is a weird weapon in that you fling it out from you like a boomerang and it returns back (more or less). You can “guide” it by releasing it in one place and moving your body to another. Even better, it’s possible to get multiple daggers and fling them out in quick succession. The only downside to this weapon is that the daggers can get stuck and even lost if you’re not careful.

She also gets the opportunity to shapeshift into different animal forms at various points in the game — which again calls back to the Metroid influences.

This is kind of a great example of the sense of humor that a lot of these shareware titles had. Not subtle, doesn’t make sense, but makes you smile even so.

I put about 45 minutes into this the other day and got through a good seven or eight stages. One of these was a non-combat castle, where it was easy to get in but very tricky to get out. And I can say that, because the word “TRICKY!” was actually written on the castle wall. See the subtlety?

It was fun and I appreciate the value of getting all three games for free — even if I’m probably never going to play them. A couple more notes:

  • The music is actually quite good and made me seek out the soundtrack
  • The sound effects, on the other hand, are… really odd. Everything from getting hurt to finding a key results in a noise that doesn’t match up to what you’re doing
  • I think this sort of game would be so much better with a controller rather than the highly awkward (and non-changable) keyboard format
  • Bonus points for the fact that you have infinite lives (dying means that you simply restart a level) and can save on the fly. That really cuts down on frustration!

5 favorite non-MMO games I played in 2018

MMOs weren’t the only games I played this past year — there were plenty from the single- and multiplayer varieties as well. Continuing with my look back at 2018, here are my five favorite non-MMO titles I enjoyed this year:

#1: Rimworld

Rimworld has earned a permanent spot on my computer as a go-to game whenever I want to have an enjoyable 20-30 minute gaming session. I love management sims, and this scifi colony game is full of challenging surprises, interesting interactions, and a deep satisfaction in seeing a colony take shape.

#2: Bloons 6

I’ve always been a sucker for tower defense games, and the Bloons series have set themselves apart with the addictive pop-pop-pop of the “enemies.” Every morning in the winter while I’m biking at home, I’m usually lost in yet another round of balloon warfare.

#3: What Remains of Edith Finch

Played a lot of great adventure games and walking sims this year (Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, Grim Fandango, Tacoma), but by far Edith Finch is the game that amazed me the most with its experimental storytelling, evocative setting, and bittersweet tones.

#4: Telltale Games’ Batman

The week I spent at family camp was largely devoid of gaming and internet — except for finally going through the Batman adventure game. Like most Telltale Games, this title offered choices that didn’t matter TOO much, but it still gave off a great illusion while in the moment. Love the take on Joker, too.

#5: Pillars of Eternity

My big RPG for this year, I vowed to get through the main game by December 31st (and trust me, it’s going to be a race down to the wire). But I’ve really loved the writing, RPG mechanics, and worldbuilding that this Baldur’s Gate spiritual successor created, and I’m encouraged that there’s an expansion and a sequel after this to enjoy!

Bonus: Your Favorite Games!

I asked Twitter what was their favorite games they discovered this year, and here is what they said:

  • Woolydub: Into the Breach
  • Neschria: Black Desert
  • VBarreirojr: Ashen
  • Capnhoppy: Lord of the Rings digital card game
  • Rubi/Dolvic: Monster Hunter World
  • Endgame Viable: Rimworld
  • Johnny: Divinity Original Sin 1 and 2
  • Khadre: Grim Dawn
  • DruStorm: My Portia, Farm Together, Garden Paws, and Warhammer Inquisitor: Martyr
  • Bleuchz: Tales from the Borderlands
  • Donapel86: Two Point Hospital

Retro Reprise Episode 15: Atari ST tunes

On this episode of Retro Reprise, Syl drags Syp back to her childhood playing on the Atari ST — and the tunes that made this machine so memorable. Do these tracks withstand the test of time? Find out — if you dare!

Show notes (episode downloadepisode page)

  • Intro
  • “Theme” from Wizball
  • “Theme” from Toki
  • “In-Game Music” from Bubble Bobble
  • “Theme” from Wonderboy in Monsterland
  • “Theme” from Mousetrap
  • “Theme” from Xenon 2: Megablast
  • “Theme” from Bard’s Tale
  • Outro

A FFXIV Christmas miracle

I think that MMO holidays are always a tad bit intimidating when you’re coming to them as a newbie. You don’t have any idea how complicated or involved or difficult they are, and there’s also the added pressure of years’ worth of content stacking up. So while everyone else seems to be zipping around with all that knowhow and getting sweet rewards, you’re fumbling and feeling a little insecure.

It’s why I completely avoided FFXIV’s Christmas event the last time I was in the game over the holidays. Just didn’t want to bother with it. But this time around, I’m comfortable with my progress and reassured by other players that it really wasn’t too overwhelming. And you know what? Turns out they were right!

Like nearly any other storyline in the game, the Christmas event took the form of a medium-sized quest chain that involved a performance at the Starlight celebration, a runaway girl, and one of the most off-putting holiday soundtrack pieces I’ve ever heard in an MMO. At the end of the chain, players have the option to “conduct” a small choir through a quick-time event minigame that is very forgiving and doesn’t take too long. I think that, start to finish, I ran it about 10 times in 15 minutes total to get all of the tokens for the items I wanted.

From the quest chain itself, I got a nice choir outfit that looks quite charming on my Lalafel. From the tokens, I grabbed the full set of indoor decorations for my apartment/house (whenever I get one!). A holiday event that doesn’t overstay its welcome or bore me? I’d say that was a Christmas miracle.

Apart from that, I’ve been engaged with a pretty regular pattern in the game. Now that I have Scholar and my mount, most nights I’ll log in, do my daily dungeon roulette (insta-pop thanks to heals), and run a main story quest or three. While I’m level 33, in the MSQ I’m back around level 21, so I’m steamrolling pretty much any opposition I encounter. Most of the time that these quests take are in the travel and cutscenes.

Will I still be playing next month? I… don’t know, yet. As I’ll talk about next week with my Gaming Goals post, I’m in a deep state of inner deliberation over how I want to spend my gaming time in 2019 and what I would like to accomplish. FFXIV alternates between being fun and comfortable and being a bit bland and unwieldy, and unless I can latch on to a solid reason to keep playing, chances are that I might drift away come January. There are, after all, always other worlds than these.

A look back at 2018 in MMOs

As 2018 draws to a close — and happy Christmas Eve, y’all — I felt like it was a good time to look over the MMO Timeline and evaluate the year as it pertained to MMO gaming.

I’ll say that, by and large, it was a fairly disappointing year. I was hoping to hear more new game announcements (at least we got Torchlight Frontiers and Atlas as nice surprises) and that more of these in-development indie MMOs would have launched already. But 2018 ended up being a year more defined by its downward marks than its upticks, which makes me yearn all that much more for a better 2019.

That said, there were bright spots and a lot of fun gaming to be had, so let’s give it a look as a whole!

MMO launches

When MapleStory 2 ends up as the most high-profile full MMO release you get, you know it’s not been the most exciting of years. That game actually became a nice little sleeper hit, but other than that, it was a sad crop.

We had piddly indie titles that nobody really looked at (Stash, Wild West Online, Darkfall: New Dawn, Boundless), a few eastern imports that underwhelmed (Bless, Closers, SoulWorker), and several high-selling but rocky online multiplayer titles (Sea of Thieves, The Crew 2, Fallout 76). Atlas kind of came out of nowhere to have a sort-of launch, but it’s far too early to judge that one. Defiance 2050 tried to rope in players by rebooting the game, but that ended up being a non-starter that’s resulted in two games being run in parallel that barely anyone plays.

And a special note for Shroud of the Avatar, which “officially” launched for like the third time and demonstrated how early access fatigue can make such a day a non-event. If you were already playing, you were playing, but it brought virtually no new people to the game.

Expansions

With dull launches, it was up to MMO expansions once again to pick up the slack of hype and excitement. They performed that role… adequately in 2018. Most definitely the biggest release was Battle for Azeroth, which dominated headlines and interest in August and September before slipping south quickly.

The second most-anticipated expansion launch was Elder Scrolls Online’s Summerset, which again was good-not-great. Didn’t hurt the brand but wasn’t nearly as thrilling for players as Morrowind, let’s just say.

EverQuest II: Chaos Descending got a lot of player kudos for being a pleasantly strong pack, and there was plenty of hype for EVE’s Onslaught and Path of Exile’s Betrayal going into the final months of the year. Star Trek Online’s Victory is Life got Deep Space Nine fans excited as well.

Closures

WildStar’s demise, while not unforeseen, still hurt like a mother when it happened in November. By far, this was the biggest MMO to close its doors this year, but not the only one.

We witnessed the end of Devilian, Jade Dynasty, Swordsman Online, and the sad saga of H1Z1 Just Survive. Jagex closed down RuneScape Classic due to far too many unfixable issues, and while Pirates of the Burning Sea looked ready to close its doors, it got sort of a reprieve when the community took it over.

Other developments

What was the best part of 2018, at least to me, was seeing how MMOs developed in some other significant ways. Black Desert earned some respect by bringing out a “remastered” graphics and music update, and I was excited to see RuneScape release an orchestral album as well.

We saw Ultima Online roll out a free-to-play option, sort of, which was interesting. But by far the most fascinating development was the move toward progression servers with both RIFT and LOTRO. Had a lot of great times on both.

In any case, I’m definitely looking forward to next year with the hopes that we’ll see some stronger releases and better surprises than what we had in 2018.

FFXIV: Lalafel from hell

So yes, I’m a Lalafel now with a weird punk hairdo and a big book of pain.

I’m going to have to back up to explain a tad, if you don’t mind. About a week after re-entering FFXIV, I’m talking with Belghast, and he lets me know that the guild I used to be in is still in existence and some fellow Twitter people and bloggers are on there. Unfortunately, my cat girl was on a completely different shard, and I wasn’t about to pay $18 to transfer her. This all resulted in the decision to re-roll and repeat the last four or so days of progress.

On my side was a refreshed knowledge of how to play and a determination to catch up to, what was I, level 15 or so. I had a full Sunday afternoon to play, so I powered through and got there in one nice long gaming session. I also went with a Lalafel this time because… well, Bel inspired me in part, but I guess I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone in this game. In any case, I’ll probably switch over to a BunnyPerson when those come out, so I don’t have to worry about being stuck with this.

The whole theme this time around is “learning from my past.” The first time I played FFXIV, I spent just so much time experimenting with various classes before acknowledging my preference for Arcanist/Scholar, so that’s what I went with right off the bat. I also feel like this time through, I’m not struggling as much with pointless side activities or trying to figure out systems. It’s mostly main quest, main quest, main quest with sides of dungeons, side+ missions, and class missions.

It’s mostly been a good time. You have to meet FFXIV at its own pace and be content with that, because if you want to speed through things you really can’t. The story is plodding and the pace of everything is more laid-back than sprinting, but that’s kind of nice at the end of a long day.

Forget you, catgirl. Imma pet your li’l unicorn here. Such a cutie, yes you are! Yes you are!

I am trying to focus on leveling up to 30 as quick as the game will allow, however. I miss my Scholar abilities and having to queue and fight as DPS in dungeons is a real bummer. I want to be a healer, but there’s a bit of a time gate here. At least I had the foresight to go through the series of Smith training quests to get my 30% XP ring. That right there is pretty handy!

The only real bummer I had this past week was when I was running a dungeon and some pompous buffoon decided that it was his job and responsibility to lecture the rest of us how to play MMOs. I found out there’s no /ignore function for teammates (alas), so I just switched over the chat to free company instead and finished the dungeon while his words fell into the void. Honestly, if I want your advice, I’ll ask for it. You haven’t earned the right to “teach” me just because you’re level awesome.

LOTRO: Take me Winter-home Hobbit roads

A week or two out of the fall festival reprise, we LOTRO players are able to jump right into Yuletide for a good month of snowy fun. As much as I love — and I really do — the Haunted Burrow and the Halloween storylines, as a whole package, I love LOTRO’s Christmas festival even more.

It’s simply one of the best-packaged holidays that I’ve experienced, moreso that it takes place in its own little self-contained Christmas zone. It’s convenient, it’s atmospheric, and it’s less a contemporary Christmas holiday that you might see in many MMOs and more like Christmas would actually be in Middle-earth.

Even though I’ve done Winter-home to death, I’ve never really grown sick of it. I suppose that’s because I don’t overstay my welcome here. In fact, I’m inspired to make a quick list of six things I love about this in-game holiday:

  1. It’s remarkably easy to pick up and run the full gamut of daily quests in a short amount of time (15 minutes or so). None are hard or annoying, but there is a nice variety.
  2. For the most part, it’s a lot of goofy, light-hearted fun where you can build snowmen, have a snowball fight, and clean up Hobbit puke! Wait, why am I praising this?
  3. The interactive theater is a really clever idea that obviously took a lot of effort to make work. It’s a shame that there’s only one “play,” but having both the audience and actors participate makes it pop even so.
  4. There is a darker side to this holiday with the whole “rich vs. poor” storyline that forces players to take a side. Bonus points for not letting you pick the other side (at least, not until the next year!).
  5. I always crack up at trying to cheer the grumpy snowbeasts. Poor guys, they just want to nap.
  6. So. Many. Rewards. Loving the new outfits this season, including a slick robe and a furry mantle!

In fact, it’s proving to be a godsend to my progression server Minstrel, as she’s still working hard at building up a solid wardrobe and decking her Hobbit hole with holly. Doing a quick round of daily quests, earning a bunch of tokens, and then going shopping with them is a fun diversion.

In other news, I’m making good progress in the Misty Mountains, although I’m a little worried about getting bogged down around Goblin-town. At least my epic book is done in that zone, and afterward, it’s off to even MORE snowy goodness in Forochel. And then comes Angmar but we shan’t think about that right now. No we shan’t.

Battle Bards Episode 134: Halloween and Christmas

It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas! And, er, Halloween! Well, the Battle Bards were never much for subtlety, so you must excuse their efforts to sandwich two holidays — and their related MMO soundtracks — into one amazing yet confusing show. Whether you like to be spooked or Santa’d, this episode’s got the score for you!

Episode 134 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Xmas Jazz Theme” from Lineage II, “White Christmas” from Ragnarok Online, and “Wistmead” from Lord of the Rings Online)
  • “Halloween 2018” from Black Desert
  • “Halloween” from Elsword
  • “Ice Day for Penguins” from RuneScape
  • “Jingle Bells” from Dragon Nest
  • “Frostfell” from EverQuest II
  • “Winter Wingding” from Glitch
  • “Gotham Winter Holiday” from DC Universe Online
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail from Scott, Cynalus, and Zinn
  • Jukebox picks: “Village of Rynoka” from Moonlighter, “Train Heist” from Red Dead Redemption 2, and “Bloody Tears” from Super Castlevania IV
  • Outro (“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” from Lime Odyssey)