Syp’s gaming goals for April 2020

March 2020 in review

  • Well, I don’t think this month went like ANYONE planned, unless you were some sort of doomsday prognosticator. In any case, both life in general and my gaming routine was upended with the COVID-19 outbreak, and I found myself cycling through several different games.
  • I made good progress on Lord of the Rings Online’s progression server, hitting level 83 in Rohan and dabbling in the spring festival a bit to get a hedgehog pet.
  • Two sessions in Elder Scrolls Online, and I officially finished up the first Elsweyr zone. While the combat continues to do nothing for me, the setting and story are still pretty engaging.
  • Neverwinter went back into mothballs, as did World of Warcraft Classic. I had some good fun in both in recent times, but they weren’t sticky enough nor did they provide enough of a sense of community to keep me there.
  • I played a lot of Chrono Trigger for my retro gaming series and wrote up posts that are scheduled for months from now. I should be done with in a week or so of writing this!
  • The big surprise for me was heading back into Guild Wars 2. It’s the kind of familiar, soothing, mindless gameplay that I craved right now, so I resumed playing my Engineer, Rain Bunny, and worked on filling out the world map.

April 2020’s gaming goals

  • Suffice to say, just plowing ahead with regular sessions in LOTRO and GW2 seem to be what my gut-doctor is ordering. I don’t know if I’ll finish up with eastern Rohan by the end of the month, but I think it’s a distinct possibility. If I do, I’ll work on Hytbold restoration and Bingo Boffin stuff.
  • For Guild Wars 2, I’m going to ping-pong between world mapping and finishing up Living World season 2 on my Engie. If I could get both of those done, then that would be a good achievement.
  • Two strong candidates for play this month: A new World of Warcraft retail character — maybe a Shaman — and a revisit into Fallout 76 to see the Wastelanders revamp when that arrives.
  • Once I’m done with Chrono Trigger, my next retro gaming series is going to be going through the entirety of the ARPG classic Dungeon Siege.

Six classic PC games that still hold up great today

So here’s a question related to our situation: Are you getting through your gaming backlog during your new life at home? I can see that happening, and I can also see people going back to old favorites as comfort gaming food. And since I’ve been going through classic PC games over the past several years here on Bio Break, I thought I’d make a recommendation of six games that were not only great back in the day but are still very enjoyable even in 2020.

I’ll start by holding up The Secret of Monkey Island and LeChuck’s Revenge, because humor doesn’t ever really age badly. What was funny in 1990 is still pretty dang funny 30 years later. And the fact that both of these titles received facelifts that make them more modern if you want that experience.

Over in the RPG side of things, Star Control 2 was an amazing experience that wasn’t lessened in any way by being 28 years old. I think its pixel art is pretty acceptable considering how many modern games use it, and the sheer fun, depth, and personality of this game makes it a wonder to explore today.

For my third recommendation, I’ll once again toot the horn of Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim. This RTS flips the normal script on its head by taking control of units out of the hands of players and making them these weird autonomous heroes questing in a kingdom you build for them. It’s humorous and so very fun to play.

Heroes of Might and Magic III is a classic and for good reason. It perfected this hybrid blend of RPG, board games, and strategy combat and gave players scads and scads of content to play. It’s one of those “desert island games” you’d bring just because you’d almost never run out of new stuff to do.

Want a CRPG that is as anti-fantasy as possible? Play Planescape Torment and revel in the joy of a bizarre world, little-to-no combat, deep themes, memorable characters, and several novels’ worth of storytelling. It’s still amazing.

I opened with a pair of adventure games and so I’ll close with another pair. Star Trek: 25th Anniversary and Star Trek: Judgment Rites are two of the best Star Trek games I’ve ever played. You get to go through several new “episodes” from the classic series that involve a lot of conversations, exploration, puzzle solving, and even combat. There are even story arcs and recurring characters!

What are some classic PC games you’d recommend as being fun in 2020?

Sunday Serenade: Hackmud, Agatino Romero, 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…

“responsible_infinite_skeleton_king” from Hackmud — This hacking-themed MUD landed on my radar this past week thanks to a column on it over on Massively OP, and I discovered that it actually had a soundtrack. Some very moody, occasionally exciting electronica pieces, including this one.

“Ain’t No Sunshine” by Agatino Romero — Classic tune with a snappier beat. I know I know I know I know

“Painful Gulch” from Lucky Luke — Can’t say I ever heard of this GameBoy title, but the soundtrack is actually quite excellent and a total earworm.

“Kiss and Tell” by Ludomir & SOWL — The fact that he makes a whole song doing just this makes him a raging hypocrite with a beat.

“Kings & Queens” by Ava Max — I can’t think of a song that applies to my actual life situation less, but hey, I’m still listening to it.

“I’m Feeling for You” by Agatino Romero — Simple, peppy, happy. I’ll take it.

Chrono Trigger: A grim future indeed

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

To escape an unjust execution and a stifling family life, Crono, Lucca, and Marle step into another time gate and make a quantum leap from 1000 A.D. to… somewhere else. Lucca immediately determines that it’s an advanced civilization due to the technology, but this definitely isn’t the familiar Guardia Kingdom any longer.

It may be an advanced civilization, but it looks like it’s a ruined one. Smashed domes lay around the crater-ridden landscape, and either ash or snow blow relentlessly across a sunless sky. Something’s very wrong here.

The trio do discover survivors, but that’s all they are — merely surviving instead of living, huddled up inside of broken domes.

I’ll be honest, the future apocalypse map isn’t my favorite part of the game, but of course, it’s not meant to be.  It’s just so dreary and grim, what with the few remaining people facing extinction due to mutants and rampaging robots keeping them from food. Fed up with the situation, Crono and company decide to help retrieve the food from a storage facility.

Guarding the food is one massive robot — so big, in fact, that I have to yet again wonder how it managed to squeeze through tiny doorways to get here. It’s a slightly tricky fight involving some adds that have to be killed or else they can wipe the party in a hurry. At least Crono and Marle’s combined Healing Aura move allows for a party heal. Love that ability.

Unfortunately for all involved, the food in the next room has all spoiled due to a malfuctioning refrigerator. The only hope lies in a corpse sitting here clutching a single, solitary seed. Well, that’ll make a light snack at best.

Deep inside Arris Dome, the trio discover a supercomputer that not only points them toward another possible time gate but (thanks to Marle’s random switch flipping) a visual record of the “Day of Lavos.” This pulls up a video of 1999 A.D. — 999 years after Crono’s present — where a spiky monster erupts from inside of the planet and triggers a global apocalypse. Right now, it’s 2300 A.D., so the Day of Lavos was three centuries prior. Agast, the trio vow to do whatever they can to stop this horrible future from happening. But first, they have to get home and attempt to do some research on it.

It’s an indication of how dreary 2300 is that the sewers actually end up being the nicest place. There’s none of the smog, and the music is actually kind of peaceful and pleasant. Plus, there are cats to kick around for fun and sport. It’s a non-mandatory area, but I like doing it for the XP, the change of scenery, and a couple of good items (including a counter-attack accessory that I like to leave on Crono).

Naturally, there’s a robot motorbike gang along the way that wants to race Crono. I’ve always cheesed this race by not doing anything until two seconds before the end of it and then hitting the turbo button. This time? I walked the length of the highway, which is another thing I’ve never done in CT. You can get a “race recorder” that allows a second type of race mode, which shows how I’m still learning about this game even in 2020.

The gang gets to Proto Dome — the site of the second time gate in this era — but they can’t get to it because the power’s shut off. The good news is that there’s a decommissioned robot here that Lucca restores (and names Robo), who joins the group and informs them that the nearby facility can restore the power. Robo’s just one of my favorite characters, more for his fighting prowess than his personality. Still, it’s always cool to have your own personal robot when you’re traveling through time. He’s got a chunky, vaguely bug-like look to him, but he’s awesome at throwing out heals and AOE attacks like no one’s business.

World of Warcraft Classic: Torn between two eras

Having both an old and modern version of an MMORPG up and running offers a lot of unique opportunities for comparison. But if I may be permitted to whine for just a moment, it’s the fact that neither of them are offering exactly what I’d love to be experiencing right now. It’s a Goldilocks conundrum.

Modern WoW is really solid in a lot of ways, full-featured, lots of content, all of the races and classes, tons to do, etc. But man, that endgame is the pits. I haven’t even been back for the visions and legendary cloak thing, and I can tell you that seeing yet another pointless grind for gear that we’re just going to ditch soon is beyond non-motivating.

WoW Classic offers a tougher, slower experience that does a lot to respark those old nostalgic memories. It makes drops feel meaningful and streamlines the game to feel more immediate and immersive. Yet that endgame is also the pits. If I hit level 60, I can’t see having anything to do with my character other than mothball her.

The “just right” solution may, in fact, be a Burning Crusade or Wrath server — more content, but still of an older era with talent trees and none of this goofy artifact/heart grinding. I’m sure there was just as much spinning wheels at high levels, but to me, it seems more manageable… and more “World of Warcrafty” than what we have now.

But for the time being, my sessions in WoW Classic are more relaxing, zen-like adventures that involve a lot of running and slow questing. The other day I was doing the level 20 Warlock quest, which sent me from Stormwind to (why not) the Barrens. THAT was well-thought out by devs, let me tell you. It’s a good run if you like dying and feeling like you’re the odd gnome out in the middle of a deep Horde territory, but for me it was mostly a half-hour to watch an episode of The Office while trying to get from Point A to B.

I can already see how a lot of the initial appeal of making a character on this server starts to wear off at this level. The first 20 levels are full of discovery and great growth — faster levels, talent points, bag space, setting stuff up, getting established, revisiting those cherished beginner zones. There’s still advancement and some significant milestones ahead, particularly at the 10-level marks, but it’s not quite as meaningful as before. That’s where having a strong endgame serves as motivation to get there, but when there is none that interests you, then… I guess you’re just in it for the journey. And how long can that last?

Blapril wants YOU to fight against homebound boredom!

We’re about two weeks, more or less, into this bizarre homebound isolating quaratine to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Even if you’re a practiced introvert, as I am, it’s wearing to not have the option to go out and do other things and stressful to have this cloud of fear and uncertainty of the future hovering overhead. I’m finding that it’s more important than ever to be focused on projects and goals that I can influence and accomplish, and with that in mind, I invite you to join me in participating in this year’s Blapril blogging initiative.

While it’s usually called Blaugust and scheduled for late summer, Belghast moved this annual project up to next month due to the actual need for a really good distraction and a way for us as a gaming and writing community to socialize and collaborate. The basic idea is to get everyone writing on a blog, hopefully at the pace of one post a day (but it’s up to the individual to determine this). New bloggers can get help getting into the scene, experienced bloggers are welcome to become mentors, and everyone enjoys a shot of added visibility and promotion.

I think this is a great idea for right now and I hope you’ll join me in blogging — even if you’re just trying it out for a month! Here are Bel’s instructions how to get started:

  • The first step is to fill out the Sign-Up Form for Blapril 2020 which can be found hereOnly those who have signed up will be given credit towards the awards.
  • Next make sure you are active on the Blaugust Discord and the link for that can be found here. This is the third year we have been active on Discord and it is a community that has managed to stay evergreen throughout the years. Maybe even share your content each day in the appropriately named “share-your-content” channel.
  • When you share your content on social media please use the hashtag #Blapril2020 for tracking purposes and to make it easier for those watching the event to find fresh content.
  • Mingle with your other Mentors and Participants because this is a community event, and part of the fun is getting to know the community. These folks represent a social structure that you can lean on for advice in the coming years. I personally deeply value my ties with other bloggers that I have built up over the last decade of doing this thing.
  • If you are so inclined there is a “gaming-together” channel on Discord for impromptu grouping in various games while the event is going on.
  • Welcome to Blapril 2020 as we use the power of internet togetherness to help combat those negative side effects of social distancing.
  • If you want an archive of all of the various logos and such, check out the Media Kit page which is the final resting place of all Blaugust and now Blapril related media.

Battle Bards Episode 165: LOTRO Composer Bill Champagne

On this Very Special Edition of the Battle Bards, Lord of the Rings Online’s Bill Champagne sat down for an interview to talk about his tenure in this long-running MMORPG as its lead composer. From his surprising origin story to tales behind the scenes at Standing Stone Games to his favorite soundtracks, Bill gives the flip-side of MMO music production while still sharing the love that we all have for these scores!

Special note: Bill picked specific LOTRO tracks for us to feature on today’s show, which is a first for the program! Bill Champagne can be found on Twitter @BillChampMusic.

Episode 165 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro
  • “Where Dragons Dwell and Kingdoms Fell”
  • “Life in Laketown”
  • “Beyond All Darkness”
  • “Valley Nourished by the Great River”
  • “Dread and Drear”
  • “Feast in the House of Grimbeorn”
  • “Fury of the First Age”
  • “She Who Walks in the Darkness”
  • “The Remnants of Grárik”
  • Outro (feat. “Lingering Shadow”)

LOTRO: Getting lost… and found again

For some people, the Great Time-Out of 2020 is a (forced) opportunity to get in a whole bunch more gaming time, and they are taking advantage of it. That might have been me a long time ago, but right now this enormous gift of time is being negated by having to handle and teach four kids at home while also adjusting my job duties at church to minister remotely. So while I kind of wish that I had tons of peaceful time to pour into gaming, the truth is that I actually have less alone time now than I did a couple of weeks ago.

But that’s OK, because when 8:00 pm hits, the kids go to bed, and I still get my quiet time. And these days that means my regular routine of logging into Lord of the Rings Online for at least an hour of adventures.

For the most part, it’s just more questing through Rohan. I’m starting to get into Fangorn Forest, which is one of the most unique wooded landscapes of the game, and as I’ve only really done this a couple of times before, it still feels pretty fresh to me. I’m still stubbornly resisting doing any sort of mounted combat, and let me tell you, when you stand in one place to let the enemies keep coming to you with warg flybys, you start seeing how janky this system is.

The spring festival started up last week, giving the community something additional to do — which is definitely welcome. Of course, I wish it was any festival BUT the spring one; I’m just not a fan of most of the activities with this one. The hedge maze and shrew stomping are annoying and stressful, so mostly I’m just grinding out enough tokens to get a hedgehog pet before calling it a day.

I do want to give Turb… Standing Stone Games serious props for turning on ALL of the content in LOTRO through the end of April. To my knowledge, the studio has never done this, and I saw a lot of people light up in excitement at the announcement. LOTRO’s biggest barrier to entry is the prohibitive cost of getting all of the expansions, so this at least temporarily gets rid of that. I can see dedicated free players speeding through as much content as possible to use up the expansions before they lock up again.

It doesn’t do anything for me personally other than to see a lot of excitement bubble up over an MMO that I love. The servers were definitely popping after the announcement, and I publicly stated that I hoped SSG would decide to make all of its older content permanently free to play. I think that could go a long way to sparking a new renaissance for LOTRO.

5 good books Syp’s read lately

Looking for a few good book recommendations to help out with The Long Wait of ’20? Here are five I’ve really enjoyed over the past few months.

We’ll start with Band of Brothers, which I picked up on Audible as my last title before I turned off my subscription. I’ve seen the miniseries several times but never read the book, and as it turns out, audiobooks are an amazing format for historical accounts. It’s a great, fast-moving narrative with a lot of quotes from the soldiers who were there and all of the hard and bizarre things they went through as they fought across Europe in the last year of WWII.

I’ve also been making a concerted effort to chew through the list of Kindle books that I bought or got on sale but threw on a (virtual) pile and never touched. I’m doing a thing where I’m reading the first three chapters to see if it’s hooked me, and if it does, great; if it doesn’t, I’m on to the next one. A Closed and Common Orbit surprised me because I wasn’t really expecting to be that engrossed by this side-sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Instead of focusing on that crew and ship, it follows a newly born artificial intelligence and her quest to find herself as well as the backstory of her mentor/protector. Really good stuff.

Our adult Sunday School class just finished up with JI Packer’s Knowing God. It’s a weighty work, but I mean that in the best of ways. Instead of froo-froo theology, this is a deep examination into the character of God as revealed through holy scripture. My favorite chapter talked about the “good” kind of jealousy and how God is jealous for us as a husband is for his wife.

Ed McDonald’s Raven’s Mark trilogy is perhaps one of the more underrated grimdark weird fantasy series on the market. It’s truly excellent, with a much different kind of fantasy world and one big hulking guy who is on a long, twisty path to redemption. This final book, Crowfall, does a great job wrapping up a lot of the threads from the first two books while arriving at a rather uplifting ending.

I guess it’s the month for crow titles, because The Merciful Crow took me on a whirlwind adventure from start to finish. I love it when a book makes me want to turn the page to find out what happens next, such as in this tale of a caste-based society where the bottom rung — the Crows — are the only ones immune to a plague sweeping the land. The lead character finds herself growing into the role of a chief before her time, all while protecting a snobby prince and his bodyguard from an attempted coup.

Sunday Serenade: Lethal Enforcers II, Five, Zelda, 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…

“Self Control (Live)” by Laura Branigan — Something about a concert setting gives a track like this a healthy kick.

“Everybody Get Up” by Five — So dorky in only a way that a 90s band could attain. Plus, it totally stole from “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” but that’s a good riff so I’m fine with it.

“Never Back Down” by Jeremiah Kane — Yes, yes, yes… get your dark synthwave motivation right here!

“A Link to the Future” by OC Remix — This fan remix is going to kick you in your pants, it’s that amazing.

“Love (Anaa Remix)” by Lennon and Maisy Stella — This terrific female duet is made even better with a toe-tapping beat.

“Bank Robbery” from Lethal Enforcers II — Not just a catchy western action riff, but one that has an absolute killer bassline. Amazing!