LOTRO: Dipping into the Wells of Langflood

After far too short of a testing period, LOTRO pushed Update 26: Mists of Wilderland live late this month, giving us the Wells of Langflood zone, a new epic book to explore, the anniversary festival, and anniversary presents. It was a lot to take in on the live servers, especially since it had been a good long while since Update 25 (November’s Minas Morgul expansion).

Happily, I had finished up with my progression server adventures (at least until the next unlock) and was able to devote my full attention in the game to this and this only.

I’ll start with the bad, which is the usual disappointed sigh that this patch was rammed through after too little public testing. That meant, as usual, a lot of bugs and problems slipped into the mix, the most notorious being the presence of mounted combat mobs where there really shouldn’t have been any. SSG said that this was a simple error in file names, that one type of warg rider wasn’t specced for mounted combat and the other one was, but however it happened, we ended up with these mobs that are zooming around the landscape on lightspeed and really impossible to fight unless you also want to mount up and then ride off cliffs. There was also a ton of lag over the first couple of days, so much so that a couple of times I had to log off until it got better.

On the plus side, hey, it’s never a bad day when we get more LOTRO zones and questing content. The content creation team’s been doing amazing stuff since Mordor, and I’m really glad that we’re getting a “happy” zone instead of a grim, depressing one. In this case, we’re returning to where we left off right before Minas Morgul, going north from the Vales of Anduin into the Wells of Langflood.

The zone has that riverside quality to it, although there are deeper gorges and more difficult landscape traversing than down south. One thing I really like is how SSG experimented with giving players two options to approach the Wells. The normal world questline starts at the south and goes north, whereas the epic book starts at the north and presumably goes south. I’m going with world stuff first, the epic later.

For the occasion, I decked my Lore-master out in a new outfit. I wanted something different than robes and tights, so I went with this nerdy battle-master look. I really like this ravaged armor piece and gave it a few touches (such as with the Grey Company shoulder piece), but then softened it up with a floral headpiece and a backpack stuffed with maps and books.

I do admit that I’m having a problem getting back into the swing of LM combat. It’s just not as smooth and instantaneous as the Minstrel, and the mobs have that high-level toughness that requires me to be more cautious than ever. I don’t hate the class, but I do have some serious envy for how quickly Rune-keepers and Hunters burn down mobs all around me. If I ever do roll up a serious third main character, perhaps for the new server later this year, then I’m 99% sure it’s going to be a Hobbit Hunter.

Chrono Trigger: A boy named Glenn

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

With the broken blade, the shattered hilt, and the dreamstone, the pieces are in place to reforge Aragorn’s sword and put him on the throne of Gondor. Er, I mean, to forge the Master Sword for Link to use to defeat Ganon. I’m sorry, no, it’s the Masamune to cheer up a depressed frog. I’m pretty sure it’s all the same story.

Frog is a little startled that the Crono Crew crossed space and time to reforge the Masamune, but even so, he goes, “Ah, yeah, I should probably think about this for a bit. GOOD NIGHT.” And cue cutscene…

Set in the past, the cutscene tells the tale of Cyrus, the head knight of the realm, who goes on a quest to reclaim the Hero’s Badge and see the legendary sword. He takes along his loyal squire, Glenn, and fights all manner of enemies. Naturally, he beats a giant frog creature and gains the badge.

Alas, upon clashing with Magus the Fiendlord, Cyrus’ Masamune breaks and he sacrifices himself to allow Glenn to escape. Glenn, however, tries to face down Magus by himself. In reponse, Magus transforms him into a giant frog… meaning that Frog is not the knight Cyrus, but his squire. At least all of this convinced Frog 10 years later to take up his boss’ sword and attempt to finish the job.

In another cutscene, we see how Cyrus defended Glenn even as young kids and that Glenn, while a great swordsman, struggled with fear during battles. It’s an interesting storytelling technique, to start at the end (a grown-up Frog as knight) and work backwards through time to the beginning of the tale. Appropriate for a time travel game, eh?

Something that’s new to me for this playthrough are the animated sequences, which I think were added for the DS version. They’re well-done, but after seeing a couple of these, I have to say that they feel unnecessary since they just copy when you’re also seeing in-game. I guess I just like my pixels more!

After all of that sword-forging and frog-convincing, the team finally arrives at the front door of Dracula’s the Fiendlord’s castle. Time for an epic showdown of epic epinosity!

The halls of this gothic castle are spookier for the fact that (a) there is no music and (b) no enemies at first. That… quickly changes as ghosts transform into monsters and magicians pop out of the woodwork to challenge our plucky heroes.

About this time, I’m starting to get characters into the level range where their second tier of magic opens up. This is wonderful, as it transforms single-target attacks into room-clearing blasts. That, plus Frog’s ability to heal the whole party in one go, makes combat much more simple (not that it was too hard to begin with).

Finally, finally, the Crono Crew faces off against the Fiendlord himself — Magus. It’s a tough, nail-biting fight, but ultimately the good guys prevail and Magus is cast down (but not killed). A new time gate is opened, and everyone falls through…

Top Tens: 10 more favorite Atari 2600 games

Ten years ago, I posted a list of 10 of my favorite Atari 2600 games. It’s a system that I grew up with as a kid, and since we didn’t have an NES, it was the dominating console in our house in the 1980s. So we ended up with a lot of games for it, and after doing some nostalgia trawling the other day, I realized that there were plenty of other favorites I wanted to add. So here goes, another list of 10 games that I liked — whether or not they were classics!

1. Dark Cavern (1983)

If you got sick of eating pellets and running from ghosts in Pac-Man, it was time to slam in Dark Caverns to go on the offensive. Basically, you get a guy who’s running around a maze blasting robots with his gun (the robots can shoot back), and every six bullets, you run out of ammo and have to find the next gun. It was one of those games that I could project a lot of action movies or personal fantasies onto, so I dumped a lot of time into these shootouts. I forgot about this until the other day when I came across a screenshot for it and gasped so loud that my wife was worried for me.

2. Fishing Derby (1980)

Activision really had most of the great games for the 2600, and Fishing Derby is one of its simpler and earlier titles. Two players race each other to fish up the most poundage, with sharks trying to eat the caught fish off the hook. The real fun came when you tried to snatch the other player’s fish first and get those deep fish for the big points.

3. Solaris (1986)

After the NES came out in 1985, pretty much everyone ignored the old Atari 2600. However, these latter years of the 80s saw some of the most advanced and sophisticated games for the console, including Solaris. This was a really fine-looking game in which you zoomed over planets and in outer space on rescue missions. In my opinion, it even looked better than some early-era NES titles.

4. Pitfall! (1982)

I’ll admit, I was terrible, just terrible at this early platformer — yet everyone in our family played it, because there was something captivating about trying to make it pass obstacles on a grand treasure hunts. Those crocodiles can drown in quicksand, though. (And no, we never got the sequel.)

5. Yar’s Revenge (1982)

One of the outright strangest titles for the system was also one of its best. It’s all about being a gigantic space fly who has to dodge a constantly moving missile and break down the shield around a boss before summoning a boss-killing super-blast. There’s a lot of (sorry) on-the-fly strategy going on with this cult classic, and I have fond memories of both the game and the comic book that came with it.

Dang, that brings back memories.

6. Vanguard (1982)

A fun and mindless side-scrolling shooter that was kind of a early R-Type game. Nothing super innovative, but it was fun to shoot in four-directions.

7. Ice Hockey (1981)

I wasn’t much into the sports games on the console, but Ice Hockey was simple fun — and you could bash your opponent down with your hockey stick. That’s pretty much all we did, just fight.

8. Dig Dug (1982)

I’m guessing pretty much all of the classic games for the 2600 came out in 1982? I was six years old back then, so it’s all a blur when any of these got released. But anyway, Dig Dug was just a great, solid arcade port that gave you a bit of strategy and a bit of action fun. I didn’t play it the most out of the games, but I did enjoy it.

9. Battlezone (1980)

Pulling off any sort of simulated 3D on the 2600 was nearly impossible, but Battlezone at least gave us a 3D feel back in 1980. It was a pretty basic tank shooter, but I liked that it was slower and more methodical. Really helped with the fantasy of it.

10. Frogs and Flies (1982)

This game looks simple and basic, but let me tell you, Frogs and Flies is one of the most intense competitive games on the system. You and another player assume the roles of frogs leaping back and forth on lily pads, trying to snatch up flies. It’s a competition to see who can get the most before the sun sets, and it really got heated in our household. The gradual onset of nighttime in the background was incredibly effective as a timer, and I’ll always remember this one fondly.

Wildermore may be the best zone story LOTRO ever told

With Update 26 on the way, I had a feeling that it was time to get Riders of Rohan good and done. I figure we’re still a ways out from Helm’s Deep coming on the progression servers, so this would give me more than enough time to switch over to the regular server to do the new update when it dropped. I need an MMO scheduler to handle my commitments here. Like a secretary or something. Any takers?

So the other weekend, I powered my way through all of Wildermore. Wildermore was the zone added to the end of Riders of Rohan, with its own story arc and epic book to go with it. I had fond memories of it, due to it being a rather gorgeous-looking snowy area, but it took going back to make me realize that this might be one of the best examples of zone storytelling the team has ever done.

Essentially, Wildermore is a region that’s under assault by a brutal, unstoppable ice giant. He’s kind of a Jason Vorhees-style slasher, plodding his way up to all of the villages, killing key figures left and right, and leaving ruin and icy destruction in his wake. I don’t think I remember any other point in the game where so many named figures got killed in rapid succession as they do here, but the first part is just hard to endure. I as the player felt impotent to stop the giant and frustrated to see the pain and suffering all around.

On top of the murders, the giant also managed to bring a sort of enduring winter with him. Wildermore isn’t meant to be a snowy region, not all the time, at least, but the unnatural weather change forced people to adapt in a hurry. It’s one of my favorite regions to screenshots, especially in the Balewood forest, where snow-frosted evergreens are thick around and it’s so easy to feel like you’re actually getting lost in a real wood.

Anyway, I ended up in awe of how well everything fit together to tell this story — the environment design, the map, the zone quests, and the epic quest. There are some powerful revelations, downfalls and triumphs, and at no point was I left wondering what was going on or who these characters were.

And I got it done! I might’ve played it a little more than usual that weekend, but sometimes when you have an end goal in sight, you want to cross it. So now my Minstrel is quietly working on Bingo Boffin missions while the countdown clock ticks toward Update 26.

Sunday Serenade: Martika, Emmit Fenn, 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…

“I Feel the Earth Move” by Martika — You never realize how much you need a strong shot of ’80s music until you get some and feel deeply satisfied.

“Wicked Wonderland” by Martin Tungevaag — If you can tolerate the sax as a primary chorus motivator, it’s a pretty bouncing track.

“BuDuDuDum” by Emmit Fenn — I think I found my new jam. Gonna play this once a day.

“Revolting Children” from Matilda the Musical — Never let it be said that Syp doesn’t love a good strong musical number!

“Do Si Do” by Diplo — Such an unusual sounding song, especially with the whispered/growl of the singer and the shamelessly western vibe, but man, it hooks you right in and doesn’t let go.

“Pale Sun Rose” by Matthew and the Atlas — This almost slipped beneath the waves of my interest, but something about it keep bouncing it to the surface. I could picture driving along, listening to this, so onto the playlist it goes!

“Daydreams” by Meado — I’m finding that I’m a complete sucker for great tropical tracks, and this one fits the bill perfectly.

Nostalgia Lane: Atari 2600’s Starmaster and Star Raiders

For today’s Nostalgia Lane trip, I wanted to head back to the ’80s for two of my favorite titles on the Atari 2600. We were all nuts about scifi, Star Trek, and Star Wars back then, and there were several games on the console that tried to give us a knock-off feeling of having your own ship and blasting through the cosmos.

1982’s Starmaster was the simpler and more streamlined of the two titles. It was pretty impressive for what it offered with a one-button joystick setup: The player got to be a pilot of a ship racing around outer space trying to destroy all of the enemy fighters before the fighters destroyed the starbases and/or the player. The game utilized a couple of the switches on the console itself to handle navigation and even offered a real-time strategy component (all of the enemy ships were constantly moving around in the map screen even as the player did).

There was a lot of strategy here, what with conserving fuel, making trips to the starbase to repair and refuel, and deciding which fighter groups to tackle next. The combat itself was simple but satisfying, with lots of loud sounds and flashes when either ship got hit. And considering that your ship could have components damaged and there were four difficulty levels, it was a surprisingly deep title. I had a lot of fun jumping in the cockpit and zooming around for a quick game, even if space was nothing but white dots floating by.

Star Raiders also came out in 1982 and offered a bit of the same setup, although it ran to a more complicated design. The game required the little-used Atari keypad for additional input, which was a bit cumbersome but also more immersive. Punching in buttons for ship commands and navigation helped to flesh out the fantasy of being a spaceship captain.

There was more enemy variety and arguably better graphics than Starmaster, but most of the gameplay was pretty similar: warp around, protect starbases, refuel, and blast bad guys. It definitely stole from other scifi franchises, such as Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica with the ship design, but video game copyright infringement cases weren’t as much a thing back then. And since we weren’t getting a really great Star Wars arcade experience on the 2600, these titles were acceptable substitutes.

I liked Star Raiders, but because I’d have to plug in the touch pad every time to play it, I didn’t get around to Star Raiders quite as much as Starmaster. The combat wasn’t as good, either. Starmaster had you blasting with fast lasers, whereas Star Raiders had you shooting what looked like a pair of balled-up socks. Maybe rocks. It felt jankier, too. However, there could be more than one enemy ship on the screen at a time, and there was cool battle damage like losing one of your two guns and having to make do with the remainder.

Both of these games were strong predecessors to Wing Commander, which took the freeform flight concept and went in a more narrative direction.

Top Tens: My favorite TV sitcoms

Welcome to a new feature here on Bio Break — Top Tens! Every so often, I’ll be churning out a listicle that covers something of interest to me that I’d like to share with you. Today’s topic: My favorite TV sitcoms of all time.

  1. Bob’s Burgers — Forget the Simpsons, this is my animated family of choice. I usually close out every day by watching a quick episode with the Belchers and their amazing town of characters. While I can’t stand Linda, pretty much everyone else entertains me with (surprisingly) wholesome togetherness and quirks.
  2. Community — There aren’t enough words to let me properly gush about how much I love this innovative sitcom about adults going to a dinky community college. Great characters, pop culture dissection, and a different angle every week made these six seasons among my favorite to see over and over again.
  3. The Office — I don’t binge watch this like some people do, but I am deeply fond of this cast and the day-to-day weirdness of Dunder Mifflin. Unpopular opinion? I think Season 9 is better than 7 and 8 by far.
  4. Arrested Development — Forget the newer seasons, the first three classic seasons that aired on Fox were the best-scripted comedy of all-time. I’ve rewatched this show so many times and am still picking up on new gags!
  5. Parks and Recreation — Less cringy than The Office and a little more cartoonish. It’s just a terrific ensemble cast that had a strong run from seasons 2 through 7. I just finished rewatching this and I think I said on Twitter that P&R had the best finale that I’ve ever seen.
  6. Brooklyn Nine-Nine — Obviously I love Michael Shur’s library, and this did a great job capitalizing on Andy Samberg’s comedy style while introducing a wide range of supporting characters that are deeply funny in their own right. Joe Lo Truglio is deeply underappreciated for his physical body comedy.
  7. Futurama — Again, I prefer this over the Simpsons. The characters are more consistent, the futuristic setting is very unique, and I get a shot of sci-fi in with my comedy.
  8. New Girl — I think Zooey Deschanel’s manic pixie dream girl thing got old a while back, but happily New Girl quickly took the spotlight off of just her and made it far more of an ensemble comedy with so many likable and bizarre personalities.
  9. Happy Endings — It’s Friends, if Friends was way better and didn’t have Ross and Rachel and other people I hated with a passion. It’s such a shame this show didn’t get more acclaim; it’s really brilliant in its own way and deserved a lot more recognition.
  10. Better Off Ted — I agonized over the last spot on this list, because I did want to include shows like Modern Family, Scrubs, The IT Crowd, Black Books, Venture Bros., and 30 Rock. But I had to include the two-season Better Off Ted because it’s, start to finish, a light-hearted hoot that lampoons evil corporate culture without any downer episodes.

Guild Wars 2: Hopping to victory

What I’m appreciating about Guild Wars 2 these days is that it’s a perfect game to play when you don’t want to think — you just want to wander and experience. You don’t have to pay much attention to quests while doing stuff in the world, and even when you are in missions, the story is most definitely forgettable. Something something dragons and angry gods and people calling me “Commander” because they can’t be bothered to learn my first name.

Instead of fussing about storylines, most of my play sessions involve logging in and seeing where my interest and attention takes me. Loosely, I’m working on unlocking my mount masteries and clearing through zones (I finished Crystal Oasis and have been hacking away at Desert Highlands). There’s always a mini-goal to work toward, whether it’s the next map point or a heart or an event or a mastery point or what have you. While I’m doing this, I’m getting a feel for how my raptor and bunny handle.

I do kind of wish that Guild Wars 2 would have rolled all of these mount abilities into one mount, rather than a bunch of different ones, because it is annoying as all get out to have to switch between them for specific situations. It’s awkward, unlike the elegant double-tap of the spacebar for gliding (which I kind of consider my third mount). While I’m not that keen on platforming as a whole, getting these movement-related abilities reminds me pleasantly of old days playing Metroid and other similar games that gradually boosted your abilities that in turn opened up the map even further.

A lot of nights, I’m trying to figure out the puzzle of how to get to a various point. Sometimes I can’t, because it requires a certain mastery that I don’t have yet. Grinding these masteries is slow and not at all fun, but I get that they’re there to keep you occupied in these maps for longer than you would’ve done otherwise. Unlike the old world maps, where everything was expected to be done on foot (and mounts are a bonus), these newer maps may have points completely inaccessible until you get a particular mastery. That bugs me, but it’s a small issue and not that distracting from my average adventures.

I am pleased to see how many people still engage in the dynamic event system. I think this shows the strengths of Guild Wars 2’s overall design, that these features are synergetic with each other and encourage participation because they’re still relevant and helpful in some way. Events keep rewarding currency, mastery experience, and items that people want, even when they’ve cleared out the maps, and so groups still migrate to these. They’re so much more enjoyable with others, so I don’t mind taking detours to get into them.

At the very least, I know that an event will pay out in some items that I can hopefully convert to cold, hard cash. I’m currently saving up for my next batch of gems to unlock the few episodes of the living story that I need, so any and all money is welcome. Every week, I’ll take an evening to head over to a trading post, empty my bank of mats, and put stuff up for sale. Seeing the gold flow in is quite satisfying.

In the meantime, it’s back to map exploration. As always, Guild Wars 2 is pure eye candy, and I’m never lacking in opportunities to take amazing screenshots. At least Path of Fire isn’t all desert dunes!

Chrono Trigger: Sword dreams

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

Pouty as ever, Frog isn’t going to step up and help defeat the Fiendlord until he has his super-awesome-spectacular-magical sword. Which is broken. And, apparently, can only be repaired by taking its pieces to the future, where a certain Melchior lives. Did he make the sword and then send it back in time? Or has he lived for a really, really long time? So many mysteries. Don’t question them.

So the Crono Crew travels to 1000 A.D. to talk to Melchior. He seems willing and able to reforge the sword, but says that it needs some “dreamstone” to finish the process. And since that’s been gone for a long, long time, there’s no way that any non-time traveling people could ever hope to get some. For us? That means a trip back to the prehistoric era of the world!

Finally, a new era to explore! Welcome to 65,000,000 B.C., because apparently Jesus Christ visited Crono’s world too. Right from the get-go, it’s a pretty weird place, with reptile humanoids roaming about and some fierce cat-lady named Ayla kicking butt and taking names. I love how intrigued she is by Robo. Past… meet the far future. As an aside, it amuses me to no end to have a robot slice up dinosaurs with laser beams. Thank you, Chrono Trigger, for crossing that off my bucket list. As another aside, until I watched the cutscene anime, I never realized that Ayla’s “tail” isn’t actually her tail but some fur that she has wrapped around her. THE MORE YOU KNOW.

The prehistoric era isn’t quite as lush as later years, but there’s a certain charm in the percussion-dominated soundtrack and the rocky world. Fun fact: Unlike the later eras, 65,000,000 B.C.’s world map is mostly one giant continent. I guess this was to signify continental drift that happened later on. That’s another nice touch.

Ayla seems quite taken with Crono and company, and so she and the village throw them a full-on rager. It’s actually a pretty fun little scene, where Crono goes about talking, dancing, and (of course) drinking. Lots and lots of drinking.

Hungover, the party wakes up in the morning to Reptite tracks everywhere and the time gate key missing. That’s going to be slightly problematic to getting back to other eras, so a hunt is necessary!

After a long chase, the prehistoric Crono Crew track down the chief Reptite who took the gate key. It seems that the Reptites are more advanced and intellectual than the humans, although Ayla wouldn’t worry about that. Nothing worries her if she can head-butt it into submission.

One dino boss fight later, and the gate key is safely back in the hands of the good guys. Ayla says goodbye, but I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing her again before too long.

Battle Bards Episode 167: Childlike wonder

Tapping into their inner children, the three Battle Bards get into the spirit of name calling, trading stickers, and goofing off in kiddie MMOs. It’s another episode devoted to 100% kid-themed games and their soundtracks and the weird rabbit hole tangents that the hosts find themselves pursuing. Did you know Switzerland has a Not-Fun Zoo? Never, ever go there. Just trust us.

Episode 167 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Main Theme” from LEGO Minifigures Online, “Shrouded Glade” from Free Realms, and “Aerokid” from Habbo Hotel)
  • “Character Creation” from FusionFall
  • “Jammer Anthem” from Animal Jam
  • “Arissola” from Temtem
  • “Maple Island 1” from MapleStory 2 
  • “Unicorn Adventure” from Fantage 
  • “Kid’s View” from Trickster Online 
  • “Goofy Speedway” from Toontown Online 
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Katriana, Danny, and Ratstew
  • Jukebox picks: “Ode to the Bridge Builder” from World of Goo, “First Steps” from Unravel, and “Ophelia” from Elsinore
  • Outro (feat. “Bolshoy Theatre” from Hello Kitty Online)