Sunday Serenade: Newsies, Avicii, 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… 

“The World Will Know” from Newsies — Listening to this rousing anthem, it makes me wonder how Disney actually feels about unions.

“We Won’t Be Alone” by Feint — The way the beat ramps up for the chorus is amazing. And the vocals aren’t half bad either.

“Peace of Mind” by Avicii — There’s a real nice chill flow with this one.

“Sixteen” by Ellie Goulding — What’s with much older singers trying to pretend that they totally remember what it was like to be a teenager? Oh well, I love the chorus with this one.

“Nice to Meet Ya” by Niall Horan — This song kicks into gear quite a lot, and it’s a great experience each and every time.

Nostalgia Lane: 7 favorite DOS games from the ’80s

Seeing as how the 1980s were so long ago now, my memory of what computer games I used to play on our family’s old IBM are starting to fade. However, I was looking through lists and screenshots to recall these, and came up with six titles that I experienced back then on MS-DOS.

Thexder was about the closest thing I got to playing a great Transformers game. In it, you’re this robot who’s exploring a Metroid-like base and can transform back and forth between a robot and a spaceship. It was pretty cool, and I loved how my laser attack would automatically target enemies.

Karateka was a decent beat-em-up with (I think) different moves. I was never very good at it, but that’s the story of my life.

Since we never got an NES, I eagerly leaped at the opportunity to play pretty crappy PC ports of console games like Shinobi here. I mean, at least it was something.

Test Drive was a huge hit among my circle of friends, probably because hot cars was a big thing for teenage boys in the ’80s. The game itself had a great concept but was tough to play, what with all the crashes, the cliffside venue, and police chasing you. At least your car came with a fuzzbuster.

Sopwith was a silly dumb game where you got to do all these stunts as a WWI-era biplane and also shoot and bomb things. I crashed so many times with this, guys.

Silpheed was a great-looking shmup that I struggled to get working on the aging computer. That was the story of a lot of the games I tried to get running in the late 80s.

I didn’t really like sports or sports games, but I played the latter because I was limited to whatever free games I could get. Olympic Decathalon was one of them, a series of badly drawn minigames where you compete in the Olympics. That shotput game was the death of me.

Phantasy Star Online 2 and the very bad, no good launch day

Phantasy Star Online 2 may have just had one of the strangest launch days of any MMORPG in a very long time. For starters, we’re not talking about a brand-new game here, but an 8-year-old MMO that just now made its way to the west, so its status of “new but not new” already puts it in a different category.

But the talk of the town yesterday wasn’t the game itself, but rather the extreme difficulty that many — including myself — had with installing it. For reasons that are probably not very good, SEGA made PSO2 only available through the much-loathed Windows Store rather than offering it through the PSO2 site or even Steam. People struggled to get the file, to jump through the many hoops of registering and logging in, and to get it working at all.

For me, I spent several hours downloading it, only to find errors every time I tried to load the game. I had to uninstall it, update to the very latest version of Windows 10, reinstall it, and run it as an administrator before I could get to the launcher. Another issue was the fact that PSO2 starts in a much-reduced window mode, which a friend on Twitter told me could be resolved by changing the resolution, not in the game itself, but on the launcher. Sure. That’s intuitive.

In any case, it was a hot mess that put a huge damper on what should have been a very exciting day for the MMORPG community, and I’m pointing all kinds of fingers at SEGA for poor communication and decision-making during this.

So I did get in for an hour last night and at least was able to make a character and get her through the tutorial. My general thought is that if an MMO allows you to make a zombie or a robot, you make that zombie or robot and don’t think twice about it. Here, it’s more of a robot girl, but still, I’ll work with that.

I did find the above screen weirdly funny, because I can’t think of any other game that has a “chubby” slider. Chubby and shapely, that’s me.

The thing is, after all of the stress and frustration of getting the game to work, once it did, PSO2 worked perfectly for me. At least the tutorial was smooth and felt very natural, and I was quickly blasting away without any reservations. I went with the Ranger class over the Summoner because the summons looked dorky and I liked the visuals of the Ranger more. Pew pew!

When this boss appeared and my NPC companion (a very, very whiny elf, because of course PSO2 has elves) shouted at me, “Attack the rock monster’s vulnerable spots!” I had a flashback to Galaxy Quest and wanted to shout back, “It’s a rock! It doesn’t have any vulnerable spots!”

By the time I got to the game lobby, where other players actually were, it was late and there was some nasty lag going on, so I logged out. I definitely need to give PSO2 a good chunk of time to get a feel for it and to see if this is a game I want to pursue in earnest or not, but at least the gameplay felt solid and engaging, and that’s something.

LOTRO: Hunters ‘R’ Me

You may eat an everything bagel, but I like to game with an everything Hobbit. That’s what I think of my newest character, a Hunter I made on Landroval for the express purpose of… being everything. She’s there to fully complete zone quests, to do all of the deeds possible, to craft (Scholar), and to rake in as much LP as possible. There’s no race, since this is a regular server, and so I’m just doing a half-hour or so of casual questing with her each night.

So far? It’s been relaxing in that familiar, been-there, pie-runned that sort of way. Pretty much the only real newness to me is the Hunter class, and that I’ve even dabbled in the past. I’m going yellow line with her, mostly because I love using an exploding decoy and whipping out some nasty AOE abilities.

Night over Frogmorton. This game is still so very beautiful in so many ways.

One advantage of rolling on the same server as my main character is that my Hunter has access to a ridiculously huge (I think 260 slots?) wardrobe. So it was pretty nice to get her decked out in a spiffy outfit from the get-go that didn’t look like lowbie thrift store.

Whenever I start up a new Hobbit, I always make sure that the first two quest chains I run are the mail and pie chains. They’re very lengthy and somewhat tedious, although I don’t mind them because of the nostalgic value (and the fact that I can put on a TV show and mindlessly do them). These chains have the added benefit of unlocking all the stablemasters, racking up a ton of completed quest for the zone deed, getting a big chunk of combat-free XP, and snarfing up all of the quest accepts as I run about.

It was a little weird to roll a Hunter about two days before SSG dropped a major Hunter overhaul. I was a little peeved that the yellow line DOT that I’d been using went from a focus-free instant attack to a two-focus cost. So I had to rearrange my rotation a little and get used to being more stationary before I attacked.

If I had one wish for the Shire, by the way, it would be for a much larger Shire. Like a whole game of nothing but Hobbit MMO goodness. But if I had another wish, it would be for far more stablemasters in the zone. I think Overhill needs one, at the very least, and I wouldn’t be opposed to Frogmorton or Tuckborough either.

Chrono Trigger: A new hope

(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 Crono dead and a world mostly destroyed due to Lavos’ hissy fit, the outlook in 15,000 BC is pretty gloomy. Yet there are survivors — both among the population and in the Crono Crew — and so there is also hope.

Forget it; I spoke too soon. Dalton the Jerk somehow survived as well, and he’s declared himself king over the world. Dalton pulls a “LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!” cheap move, knocks everyone out, and then stashes them on his mighty flying Blackbird plane. King Force One? I’m going to call it that.

Not sure why Dalton didn’t just kill everyone, because now the crew can climb through the vents and go on a murder spree all over the ship. Pew pew, Lucca says, while she disintegrates another baddie.

Meanwhile, Dalton spruces up the stolen Epoch with wings. He gets ready to take off and the game starts playing the Chrono Trigger theme, and there’s a funny bit when Dalton breaks the fourth wall by insisting that the music change to his own frantic boss theme instead.

The long and the short of it is that Dalton gets his butt kicked yet again, and the Crono Crew takes over a new-and-improved Epoch. One that can shoot laser cannons, apparently, as evidenced by the fact that Ayla accidentally blows up the Blackwing.

Down on the world below, Magus is found to be both alive and melancholy. There’s a major choice in the game as to fight him or not, but as I’ve never had Magus join my party, I’m going to decline this time around. There’s an illuminating cutscene in which the fates of the various advisors to the Queen of Zeal are shown after the Lavos incident. A series of time gates pop open and send each one of them to a different period — one to 1000 AD, one to the end of time, and one to 2300 AD. Also, Janus is sent to the middle ages, where he is surrounded by fiends.

This all ties back to Magus, because Magus the fiendlord, you see… is Janus. He’s the little boy who grew up in 600 AD, all while being separated from his sister and vowing vengeance on Lavos. That’s a pretty spectacular twist. And now he’s officially part of the Crono Crew, ready to help us put Lavos down.

The little boy who predicted Crono’s death then hints at the possibility of bringing Crono back. Now, according to stories of the game’s development, Crono’s death was originally intended to be permanent. Players would go back to when he was slightly younger and recruit that version for the rest of the game — and then return him to finish out his timeline and die soon thereafter. That would have been pretty neat, but Chrono Trigger is about to take us in a different direction. This IS a time traveling RPG, after all.

AWW JANUS GOT HIS KITTY BACK SO PRECIOUS

Ahem. As the crew takes off in the Epoch, the Ocean Palace — which I guess survived? — rises above the ocean and a series of vortex swirly things open up in various eras. Nobody knows what this means, so it’s off to the End of Time to figure out how we can get Crono back!

After some crotchety hemming and hawing, the old man at the End of Time — Gaspar — gives the party a time egg to hatch. Guess it’s better to call it a “Chrono Trigger,” because “Time Egg” would’ve been a dumb name for this game.

Back in the present — 1000 AD — the crew has a very awkward conversation with Crono’s mother, who for whatever reason isn’t informed that her son was obliterated by a giant space tick about 16,000 years ago. Huh. Wonder why. At least the team can snag that snazzy Crono doll duplicate that they won from the fair so very long ago!

The long and the short of it is that with the egg, they’re able to travel back to the exact moment of Crono’s death… and in that paused moment, swap out his body for the doll duplicate, which is destroyed instead.

With that, Crono is saved and the team prepares for the final battle against Lavos!

Elder Scrolls Online: The Warden rides again

Out of all of the ways to be drawn back into an MMO, I wouldn’t have expected a trivia contest to do it.

So here’s the weird story. Every night I sit down and cycle through several MMOs to grab daily rewards for if and when I might come back to the game. When I did so in Elder Scrolls Online, I noticed that my guild (which is, of course, squid-themed) was four questions into a trivia contest. Well, I couldn’t let that go by, so I sat there and dominated the rest of the game (I may not be smart, but your boy can do trivia like no one else). We were laughing and chatting, and since I was sticking around, I also started questing.

Well, that led to actual play engagement — which led to actually wanting to play. Nightly. Regularly. So there you go — daily rewards don’t get me to play, but a silly guild trivia contest? That’s the ticket.

Anyway, it’s actually been really great to slide back into ESO. With the new(ish) zone guide feature, I’m able to see how many quests that are left in any given region, so I’ve been puttering around Northern Elsweyr working on finding the few that I overlooked and chomping through them.

I have to say that I’ve really come to appreciate ESO’s storytelling on many levels. Not only are these usually self-contained tales (rather than enormous, sprawling ones), but the voice acting, the scripting, the variety, and the resolutions offer me a lot more than I usually see in MMOs. And I actually *care* about the stories, which makes a difference. FFXIV might have great storytelling, but when you don’t really care about the world or the tale being told, then it doesn’t matter how well it’s packaged.

So really, the only obstacle to full enjoyment and engagement in ESO is and continues to be combat. I can keep wishing in vain for things like auto-attacks and more visceral blows, but there are things I can control. One thing was turning on damage numbers, which were off for some reason. I like seeing that feedback, especially for AOE attacks. Another thing is that I’m trying to build my Warden to being a 100% spellcaster, rather than a spellcaster/melee hybrid. I don’t like smacking things around in this game, but I am finding enjoyment in just throwing down AOE fields and DOTs. So I’m going to stick to that.

I think it’s a really good time to be getting back into this game, what with Greymoor coming out today. Even though I have just tons and tons of other zones and content to do, I pre-ordered the expansion because I knew it would kill me not to be adventuring there with everyone else in the summer. I’ve also done the prologue quests, which at least start to get the player in the mindset of heading to Skyrim to fight vampires.

I also can’t wait to try out the new Antiquities system. That seems like a really great way to repurpose zones and add non-combat activities into the game, and I’m down with that. I should also work more on my house, since I haven’t done much with that since I initially set it up.

Anyway, great to be back in Elder Scrolls Online, particularly this month!

Fallout 76’s perk system is pretty groovy

One thing I’ve noticed about giving games a second or third chance is that sometimes you end up understanding systems and getting the game as a whole a lot better the next time around (and with fresh eyes). I can’t say that I really got Fallout 76’s perk system in the past, but now? Now I’m on top of it — and it’s become one of my favorite MMO character build systems.

So basically, every level you get to bump up a SPECIAL attribute by one point. While the attributes have connected effects on various secondary stats (carry weight, VATS accuracy, etc), each point also represents a total perk pool for that primary stat. So if I have 8 strength points, I can put in perk cards that total up to 8.

Every level you also get to choose one perk card from an assortment related to the stat you chose, and ever five levels you get a “perk pack” of (I think) five random cards. This creates your overall pool of perks from which to choose and assign to your stats. Perk cards can be combined to level up to make a stronger effect (but also a higher card point value). It’s actually pretty straight-forward once you get it and remarkably flexible.

Since Fallout 76 doesn’t really have active combat skills, none of the perk cards that I see actually give you more abilities so much as just create a lot of passive effects and effects that are triggered upon a certain condition. I really like having a perk, for example, that automatically injects me with a stim pack when I go under a certain health threshold. And I do not regret investing in several perception points to get two ranks of lockpicking.

I also have been applying perk cards that help bring down my carry weight. But by far, my favorite category is luck, because those perk cards are just amazing. I have cards that randomly pay out in bonus ammo and food when I find those containers, and they proc all the time.

In any case, it’s a very flexible system that allows for a wide range of builds, and I appreciate any game that lets me tailor my character and playstyle to what fits me.

Sunday Serenade: Battletoads, Nam 1975, 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… 

“Sweet Little Lies” by Bulow — A little dark but also kind of goes down smooth.

“Soldiers” by Neoni and Fjora — Strong war-like anthem. Not really something you’d want to sing along with, but that’s not for everyone.

“All of You” by Alex Ross — Nothing groundbreaking, but it’s got a good beat and I was jamming with it by the end.

“Thousand Eyes” from The Scheme — Juuuuust catchy enough to warrant inclusion this week.

“Ragnarok Canyon” from Battletoads in Battlemaniacs — The Battletoads series always had really excellent music, and this one channels the spirit of Rocky, I think.

“Level 2” from Nam 1975 (Neo Geo) — Some pretty rockin’ video game music for a Vietnam shooter.

“The Edge of Forever” by The Dream Academy — Ferris Bueller had such a great soundtrack.

Which MMOs have the best daily rewards?

Every evening when the family heads off to bed, my gaming time usually starts with a quick round of “log in to a half-dozen MMOs to grab daily rewards.” Even if I’m not playing those games at the time, I hate passing up on free stuff and like the idea of stockpiling goodies for possible future use.

The psychology of daily rewards is pretty evident in that paragraph: It’s hard to pass up “free” stuff, and if that gets people to at least log in, then there’s a good chance that they’ll stick around to actually play. It’s not a dumb idea, even if it is straight-up bribery.

Anyway, going through this routine made me think about the MMOs I play or have played that feature daily rewards. Which are the best out of them?

Neverwinter – I just log in once a day to activate the celestial blessing, which comes with some experience and astral diamonds bonuses. But the real reason I do it is to get that one token a day, which can be saved up and then spent on something really nice — such as a free pet. I think there’s a purple-ranked angel at 365 days, so I’m playing the long game with that.

Elder Scrolls Online – Definitely one of the best daily reward systems, although you do need to stay on top of it to move through the calendar month. There are usually some good rewards at the two- or three-week mark, including pets, costumes, and piles of gold. I never miss this.

Lord of the Rings Online – Hobbit presents are… fine. At least we get some free virtue XP every day, and that’s almost always useful no matter what level you are. Once I got a ton of mithril coins, that was pretty great. But it’s not that thrilling for most days.

Dungeons and Dragons Online – Both the silver and gold die rolls have the potential to pay out big. Getting free experience is always welcome, and I’ve leveled up my character a couple times just by logging in. On top of that, I’ve gotten stat tomes, costumes, and all sorts of useful potions and buffs.

Guild Wars 2 – I appreciate that this daily reward system doesn’t reset unless you finish the 30 days, so there’s no pressure if you go on vacation. Some good rewards here, like mystic coins or laurels, but I can’t recall ever getting something that really made me excited. A lot of times the rewards just get translated into gold somehow.

Star Trek Online and RIFT – I wanted to mention these because instead of a straight-up rewards program, these games skew to a mission system that serves much the same psychological prompt to log in and get free stuff that’s on a timer. STO’s duty officers got me to many levels back in the day, and I always liked getting free housing decorations in RIFT.

What’s your favorite daily reward system and what’s the best thing you’ve ever gotten from it?

LOTRO: Going on a spending spree

Wells of Langflood, while a nice zone, certainly was one of the smaller LOTRO content updates in recent memory. Either that, or I really blitzed through it way faster than I have done so in the past. I usually milk these new zones for a month or more, but this one was done in under two weeks playing pretty casually. That’s a slight bummer, because now I’m going to end up sitting here twiddling my thumbs until new stuff or unlocks happen again — but at least we have the summer wedding update and the upcoming Helm’s Deep progression server unlock on the way.

All in all, I liked Wells of Langflood. Not too hard, some decent stories, and a really nice addition in the new Hobbit village of Lindelby. I rather enjoyed doing silly Hobbit chores once again while soaking in the serene pastoral sights and the gorgeous village music. I really hope River-hobbits will be added to the game sooner rather than later, because I am totally on board with rolling one.

Previously I had really thought that my progression server Minstrel would be the last character I ever leveled up through the game, but more and more that looks not to be the case. It’s more a question of “when” I’m going to get serious about a third character than “if,” especially with River-hobbits and this fall’s challenge server. I’m leaning toward a Hunter in the latter case, and hopefully by then the class will have gotten its much-needed fix. I’m really keen on the idea of just doing a much slower and more thorough character that’s not trying to keep its nose pressed against the border of current content.

But that’s all a while for now, and so I’m thinking it might be best if I invest some more time in my current characters. I could get into some serious deeding and maybe even crafting (whaaaa), but for this past weekend, I had a better idea.

So my Lore-master has been around since… honestly, I don’t know how long. She has a /played time of 3 weeks, 3 days, and 23 hours, so it’s a significant amount. And during her full adventures through Middle-earth, she’s racked up so much unspent currency and tokens that I thought it was high time I go about and do a shopping trip to actually use it. Here’s what I ended up with:

  • In Dol Amroth, I got some T9 relics and a scroll of renewal.
  • In Tinnudir, I picked up a couple of so-so armor pieces for cosmetics and a lot of healing pots to stash in shared storage.
  • My Pelargir reputation was too low to buy anything, even though I had hundreds of silver pieces. Go figure. This was also the case with Mirkwood’s Malledhrim.
  • The newer quartermasters generally have a better selection, so in Vales of Anduin I got some cosmetics (including a dorky crown), a pig and bee pet, a nice damage rune, and some housing music.
  • In the Wastes, I got a couple of forgettable housing items and a tier 8 essence. I should’ve sprung for the spooky horn emote instead, but I didn’t see that until I had spent the tokens.
  • In Skarhald, I got a swift travel skill, but then got frustrated because so much good stuff was locked behind rep. So I stopped there and buckled down to work on Grey Mountain Expedition reputation. I’ve never really done much in the way of rep grinds in this game, so I figured it would be an interesting experience if nothing else.