Battle Bards Episode 175: Prehistoric jams

Having perfected their musical time machine, the Battle Bards leap back to the past to enjoy the soundscapes of dinosaurs and other prehistoric denizens. What does the MMO soundtrack for savage wildlands and dinotopias sound like? Tune into today’s episode and find out!

Episode 175 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Zandalari Allied Race” from World of Warcraft, “The Valley of the Hidden Dinosaur” from Star Stable, and “Journey to the Prehistoric” from Club Penguin)
  • “Savage” from Durango Wildlands
  • “Traces of Ancient History” from WildStar 
  • “Dinoville” from Dino Storm
  • “Main Theme” from ARK Survival Evolved
  • “Gift of an Axe” from Conan Exiles
  • “Dino Biome” from Trove
  • “Un’goro Crater” from World of Warcraft
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Zinn and Katriana
  • Jukebox picks: “Unbroken” from The Last of Us Part II, “No Escape” from Hades, and “Red Planet” from Bucky O’Hare
  • Outro (feat. “Path of Titans” from Path of Exile)

Mainstream games outlets need to drop the condescension toward MMOs

Last Wednesday, VG247 posted an article about Star Wars: The Old Republic that really rubbed me the wrong way. Oh, on the surface, it looks like it’s a piece written in 2020 that’s praising a 10-year-old MMORPG, which is kind of a win for our community. But the way it was written was a perfect example of the dripping condescension and contempt that many mainstream games outlets view MMOs.

In short, these outlets — your Kotakus, your Polygons, your VG247s — are staffed with plenty of writers who like to act all snide toward MMOs if they ever write about them. It’s like they’ve been trying to establish a pecking order so that the geeks on top can feel better beating up on the geeks below. We experienced a lot of this back when I worked at old Massively, as our colleagues at Joystiq would hardly ever deign to give us the time of day or promote our pieces. We MMO fans were the weirdos.

So going back to this VG247 piece, I think it’s a perfect example of the type of opinion article that we get every now and then from these outlets. There’s a type of formula to them, where the piece starts out trashing MMOs in general:

“MMOs feel too much like a second job to me. They’re spreadsheets that you play at your PC, which is where I sit down to work all day. I don’t like the idea of stabbing 20 wolves to get +1 of some stat I don’t give a crap about.”

That’s the opening paragraph right there. But then this article (and similar pieces) goes on to reluctantly say that this particular game has something appealing about it, despite it being a filthy MMO. “Damning it with faint praise” is the term that comes to mind. Actually, the praise that it gets has nothing to do with the MMO format but that a player can experience it as a solo game story if he or she wishes.

Listen, not everyone has to like MMOs, even game journalists. But some of us do, and these journalists keep acting like we’re nuts while they’re over there, I don’t know, playing genuine works of art. Like they’re so much better and would NEVER care about stats, achievements, patches, persistence, upgrades, or whatever. Like they’ve never grinded a day in their life in their single-player titles.

It’s just silly. Video game genres are bleeding over into each other more and more as time goes on, and to vilify one is to have those insults boomerang back when you realize that you’re playing titles that have a lot in common.

So get off your high horse, VG247, and get over yourself already.

Pet Peeve: The plague of misleading mobile gaming ads

Hands up if you’ve seen an advertisement for a mobile game that looks similar to the graphic above. The Flash-looking ad tends to show someone who is trapped in a precarious situation or trying to get to treasure that can only be achieved my manipulating the on-screen elements in a specific way. It’s an intriguing-looking puzzle, and the ad usually is animated and will show the puzzle failing while daring the viewer to download the game and do better.

And when said game is actually downloaded, it has absolutely nothing in common with those ads. It’s a completely different game, or a different type of puzzle game.

I’ve seen a lot of misleading gaming ads — anyone remember the hilarious run of Evony’s “Play Me, My Lord” a decade or so ago? — but this specific type of ad has been popping up on mobile, Facebook, and all sorts of other places for a while now. I keep bumping into it, and as a result, it’s become a major pet peeve of mine.

It’s not that it’s such a blatant bait-and-switch that is easily uncovered the second you actually go see what the real game looks like. It’s that these ads actually depict what might make for a pretty interesting game.

When I first saw these types of ads, I did make the effort to look up the game, because I thought it seemed to good to be true that a company was hand-crafting different levels of puzzles like this. I hoped it would’ve been real, even so. But no, it’s not. The games that these ads promote are almost always dumb match-3 trash that can churn out a million levels in rapid succession.

So why do these ads exist even after we’ve seen through the veil? There’s a lot out there on this particular phenomenon, and it all boils down to one actual truth: Bold lies pay off. It gets attention and eyeballs on a product, and if a percentage of those people lied to stick around to play, then you convert them even though you lied to them.

I’m not that up on advertising rules and laws, but this does seem to be a type of advertising that is forbidden in many other areas. Companies are prohibited from flat-out advertising one product or service and delivering a completely different one. Why is this different? Maybe not so much regulation or oversight, I don’t know.

At least one company noticed that these fake ads looked pretty cool — and actually made a real game from them called Hero Rescue. So I guess if you say a lie long enough, it becomes true?

Still annoys me that these ads exist, though.

Sunday Serenade: Harry Potter, Ava Max, 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… 

“Star Glide” by Muzz — Take off and flyyyyy

“Now I’m Gone” by Moorland — I love that people are still making songs in the spirit of the ’80s. This is such a rad tune.

“Arrows” by Matthew Gordon Price — Someone said this has a summer vibe, and I agree.

“Capsize” by Frenship and Emily Warren — This was a really neat discovery this week. Probably listened to it a dozen times.

“Welcome to Hogwarts” from Harry Potter 5 (video game) — James Hannigan’s Harry Potter game OSTs are right up there — and maybe better than — the movie soundtracks. This one is a little bit of a slow burner but it’s so worth listening all the way through.

“Party in My Iggy” from Club Penguin — I dare you to love this song as much as you’ll hate it.

“Miraculous Ladybug Theme” by Disney — This is pretty much my life summed up perfectly.

“Who’s Laughing Now?” by Ava Max — The beat has a nice back-and-forth bounce to it, and it doesn’t hurt that the song is an earworm.

“Driving Hourse” by Axel Flóvent — I’m not normally one for these slow songs, but this one has a nice soulful vibe to it that I couldn’t help but add it to my collection.

“Sad Faces & Dark Places” by Babel — I swear, I’m not in a super-emo mood these days, but sometimes I like something a bit somber… with a low beat.

Promptapalooza 2020: What is your earliest memory related to one of your core fandoms?

I grew up in the 1980s, and as a result, I was exposed to a lot of the classic pop culture franchises we still follow today. But the first time I can really remember diving in deep was the release of 1983’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

At that time, I was, what, seven years old? A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back came out when I was much too young, but by 1983, I was aware of those movies and was so excited when the Return of the Jedi phenomenon hit.

It was the first time that I can recall really getting swept up into some big movie event. The day my aunt took me to see it, I burned my hand on a cooling iron and had to slather it in aloe vera while I went to the theater. But the movie? I loved it. I cheered on Luke when he fought the rancor, I was bouncing in my seat when the space battle happened, and I even liked the Ewoks before the internet was invented to tell me that they were uncool.

That one movie rippled out and became my obsession for a good year. I read the novelization on the school bus. I got a Jabba the Hutt watch for my birthday and wore it with pride. I played with so many of the toys — including an Ewok Village that I got for Christmas — and slept in Return of the Jedi sheets.

It’s a special movie that has a special place in my heart — and I still think it’s one of the best Star Wars movies to date, even better than Empire.

So your turn: What is your earliest memory related to one of your core fandoms?

And when you’re done with answering that, why not head on over to visit Glittering Girly Gwent Gaming, a blog by two girls who love Gwent: The Witcher Card Game.

Ruts and gaming variety

One of the gaming memories that haunts me to this day came around 2005 or 2006, when I had been so deep into World of Warcraft — and nothing else — for well over a year. It was the very definition of a game that sucked me in, maybe moreso than any title that had come before.

But then one evening, I crashed. I had been doing the same thing, over and over again, logging into the same game, night after night, and I hit a wall. I hit burnout so hard and so quickly that it actually frightened me to an extent. WoW was my gaming life, and I had nothing else. And if I was burned out of WoW, what else did I have?

On a larger scale, that shows how I need to make sure that nothing other than God becomes my personal idol and source of satisfaction. But on the scale of MMOs and video gaming, it taught me an invaluable lesson about how extreme repetition and a lack of variety will ultimately result in a crash ‘n burn. For me, at least, it’s not “if” but “when.”

This is why my thing, ever since, has been about diversity and moderation in gaming. I don’t get so invested and tied to a game that I can never step away, and I don’t tend to just play one and only one game at any given time. Usually my gaming roster hovers around two to four titles, and that has proven to be a sweet spot in giving me variety without making me too frustrated in trying to keep up in multiple games with limited time.

However, variety *within* an MMO is important as well, because there are always those ruts we fall into when we’re going through our routines. Some of my biggest ruts are when I’m willingly engaging in repeated activities, such as dailies or event objectives or reputation grinds, that don’t change. You’re chasing a reward, not the experience, and hoping that you can outpace your own boredom and burnout in the process.

Last week, I recognized that I had been creating a rather dangerous rut in World of Warcraft in my pursuit to level up four 120s for the expansion. I had already gotten two of them done and was hacking away at a third when I just hit a wall. Not a hard wall, maybe one of those cushy walls or something. But I just knew that I didn’t have the stomach to keep power-leveling through dungeons or the heart to level through expansions with the weird double XP thing messing up the flow.

So instead I went, hey, if I’m going to play, it should be something of interest and enjoyable first, and beneficial to my progress second. That, for me, turned into questing through Battle for Azeroth on my Druid. I have plenty of zones left to do and haven’t really fought on that character lately, so it’s a good change of pace. And questing is something that rarely leads to burn-out because there’s always a change of scenery and more stories to experience.

Nostalgia Lane: Max Payne

When 1999’s The Matrix added “bullet time” to our pop culture lexicon, it was only a matter of time before video games tried to replicate this sense of chaotic gun battles happening in slow motion. While many have tried it, the first and best to really pull this off was 2001’s Max Payne.

Seriously, when you look at it, there’s *nothing* original about Max Payne. Everything is borrowed from hoary tropes, casting the player in the role of a inward monologuing cop who gets embroiled in some skeevy gang fight/drug case on the eve of a huge snowstorm in the city. The story is broken up by comic panel cutscenes that push this notion of a hard boiled detective film noir setting, and about all of it is as over-exaggerated and cheesy as it can get without becoming an out-and-out parody.

But that was kind of the charm, too. By pushing these tropes so far, the game was telling us that it really didn’t take any of this super-seriously — this was a mindless action movie in which the player got to be the main star.

And for a game that hinged on a single innovative mechanic, Max Payne sure picked a good one. Bullet time was a marvelously fun thing for a third-person shooter, making the game less about pure reflexes and more about the ballet of carnage and bullets. 

In the game, you had a bullet time meter that would gradually fill up. As long as you had some juice left, you could activate it to greatly slow down everything while letting you aim and shoot like normal. This meant that the player could run, jump, and roll through crowds of bad guys, blowing them away in slow motion like they were in a John Woo flick.

The sequel was fun, but it also wasn’t quite as new or novel any more. The Max Payne games really are a one-trick pony that wears a film noir coat, and after the first experience, I was satisfied but not really champing at the bit for more.

Space Quest V: Killing time at the Spacebar

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Space Quest V: The Next Mutation. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The crew of the Eureka is tired and frazzled (from what? Roger’s the one who’s been handling all the work and threats of execution), so the ship heads over to the famed Spacebar. You get it? Like the thing on your keyboard? But a bar? GET IT? You better get it. At least Droole and what’s-her-name are pretty excited to have some R&R.

Welcome to the Spacebar. It’s not that remarkable, but it does capture the Marriott conference room feeling of Star Trek: The Next Generation pretty well. And yes, for real, Space Quest V was sponsored by Sprint, so that logo pops up all over the place. There isn’t much to do here other than order drinks, so that’s what the crew does.

Spoiling the bland atmosphere is the arrival of Captain Quirk and his toupee (they really went to town on Bill Shatner here), who picks a fight of words with Roger and then ultimately challenges him to a duel on the battle cruiser simulator nearby.

It’s… Battleship. Pretty much just Battleship, and as exciting as you remember Battleship being. Kind of wish I didn’t have to play through a full game of this, but then again, back in 1993 it wasn’t like there was the internet or texts to place an urgent call on our attention. We were probably desperate to be bored like this. Anyway, this took me way, way, way too long and I don’t appreciate that I had to waste time in my life on it.

Cliffy getting into a fight at a bar? What is this, Cheers? Begone with you, Cliffy, and the cigar you rode in on!

A diversion is needed to bust Cliffy out of the brig, and that diversion is — obviously — dumping space monkeys into a drink to make them hatch and float all over the place, reproducing like crazy.

Sure, we COULD rescue Cliffy… or we could just wait and sees what happens when uncontrollable space monkeys overpopulate a closed environment. Answer: Nothing good. After a long while, the station fills up with the cute green buggers and explodes.

In the *second* timeline, Roger uses Spike to acid up the cell bars and help free Cliffy right before everything explodes with pregnant green life. That’s more than enough “relaxation” for the crew, so back to work they go!

LOTRO’s big moving day

Boy did last week’s Lord of the Rings Online update come at a great time for me. With the servers seeming to settle down, we finally got the big Rohan patch that we’d been anticipating — the one with both Rohan housing and the Helm’s Deep unlock for progression servers. That meant that my Hobbit was off the leash again and racing ahead to work through a huge mountain of content.

But before I adventure through western Rohan and toward the Hornburg, I made it my priority to move out of my old Hobbit house and into a huge new Rohan estate. I thought that 4700 LOTRO points was more than enough to buy any house I wanted, but I guess I underestimated how expensive these “premium” houses were going to be.

I ended up with the most basic one, but even that one was absolutely huge in comparison to regular houses. I went with the neighborhood that was on the plains for that wide-open feel, getting a nice house with two main rooms, a basement, and an upstairs; a barn with a main floor and upstairs; a stable to put all of my goat mounts; and a hilariously huge yard that’s far bigger than I’ll ever need.

Moving into this new house was, in several ways, a lot like moving in real life. It was some annoying time of packing up the old place and saying farewell to the now-bare rooms. Then there was hauling everything into the new place and trying to find spots for decorations and furniture while acknowledging that I’ll probably rearrange everything later.

That said, after an hour or so, I started to get a feel for what I wanted to do with the estate:

  • Main Floor room #1: reception room with big trophies
  • Main Floor room #2: kitchen
  • Basement: all the Halloween stuff
  • Upstairs: cozy bedroom and living space
  • Barn: all the Christmas stuff

I’m going to need to get a lot more stuff to flesh out these rooms, but I’m in no rush. This is my progression server character who is only 85, so I wanted a place that she could grow into over time and put the accumulated stuff that she discovered in her adventures.

I do absolutely love the new ambiance vendor and all of the assorted toys that we can play with in our new (and old) homes. The lighting options are tremendously fun, although not quite as pronounced as, say, WildStar’s was. Still, I’m glad to have them, and I like making some of my rooms look like they have flickering fire going on. And then there are tons of fun options, like bat colonies, rainbows, falling water, mists, and even the ability to put cosmetic pets in the place — although you have to pay premium currency for that (boo).

But overall, I’m so happy to finally see Rohan housing added to the game, and I think this may well be the best housing update we’ve ever gotten since the original one.

SWTOR: No one betrays me and lives

Heading back to Star Wars: The Old Republic has turned out to be a really good idea, at least for me in the here-and-now. Enough time’s gone by that all of this feels fresh(er), and I’m going through that delightful stage of being reminded of all the things I ever liked about this MMO.

Initially, I thought to start a brand-new character — as is my wont — and go through the entire game journey. But after playing a Bounty Hunter for 20 levels, I found myself drifting back to the Sniper I made back in 2018. She was only in her mid-20s, but I knew I liked the combat style, the story, and the armor that I had picked out, so it was an easy jump back into that role. I think I was playing her somewhat Dark Side, so that was a change-up from my old Operative.

I think it’s a shame how little of the class stories I’ve seen in SWTOR. When the game first launched, I had grand plans to level up all eight and get the Full(tm) Experience. But then I went with the Agent right out of the gate, found a class and story that I liked immensely, and everything else I’ve tried has paled in comparison. And as much as I would have liked to go through those stories, I’m not going to force myself to play classes that do nothing for me.

But one class is fine right now, even if it’s more or less an old favorite, and I am having a really great time. Lots of screenshots, leveling up crew skills, and doing the class and planetary mission chains. Nothing radical, but since I’m getting to straight right on Alderaan, it’s kind of a relief to know I’ll get a second companion soon and can enjoy this gorgeous planet instead of Hutta and Balmorra. I’ve always really liked the fresh snowmelt look of Alderaan, kind of a ski resort-in-early-spring feel. You know, with giant bugs.

And there’s really no huge rush to level either, so the pressure is off in that regard. There’s plenty ahead to do — the core game, five expansions, and assorted planets — but BioWare only has one quest update coming for the rest of this year, so the goal post isn’t getting moved that quickly.

I probably should get a stronghold one of these days, but right now, the focus is on building up some measure of wealth and getting a good combat rotation down for the days ahead.