Sunday Serenade: Alex & Sierra, Kid Icarus, 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… 

“Little Do You Know” by Alex & Sierra — Sweet and sad wistful love song.

“Falling Up” by Dean Lewis — Dang, this song is a gut-punch of emotion.

“Sleepless Nights” by Kristine — God bless modern artists keeping the ’80s spirit alive like this.

“Black Feathers in the Sky remix” from Kid Icarus Uprising — This OC Remix has such a great beat and melody. Played it like three times in a row when I first heard it.

“Cry” by Betta Lemme — This is the peppiest song about someone crying, let me tell you. Weird too. I’m all for it.

“In the Air Tonight” by Dressd — Phil Collin’s classic song actually works pretty well as a dance tune.

“Journey” by Ethan Sturock — A peppy piece that would go great as any kind of background music for daily activities.

Nostalgia Lane: Geocities

If you were to trace all of my online activity and involvement back to a single starting point, it would be in the mid-1990s on a place called GeoCities. Back then, the world wide web was this vast unknown thing full of potential to all of us, and just surfing it was a deep thrill. Keep in mind that for me, the only online experience I’d had prior to 1995 was a stint with BBS connections.

If there’s anything that I miss the most from this era, it’s that heady feeling of newness and excitement. The WWW offered so many sights and repositories of information and fandoms, and at college I had unlimited access to it. But it wasn’t before long that my desire to make my own mark started raring up. The only problem was that I was a broke college student, and getting a web domain and host cost money.

Enter GeoCities. With this service, Yahoo granted a free slice of virtual real estate (and an email address) to anyone who wanted to come by and claim that homestead. It wasn’t a massive amount of space, mind you — there were storage limits to keep people from going hog-wild and abusing the system — but it was more than enough to set up fan sites and journals and what have you.

GeoCities was structured in a very unique fashion, too. It was made up of several “neighborhoods,” each hosting a certain theme.  So if you were going to make a scifi-themed site, you’d set up shop in Area 51, but if you were going to shill for Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, you’d want a spot on Capitol Hill. There were neighborhoods for sports, fashion, wine, pets, and so on. Me? I moved into CollegePark, as I figured that I was a college student and all.

Everyone who used GeoCities had to figure out how to format in HTML, and it was a testament to your skill if your site didn’t look like absolute garbage in the end. A hallmark of a GeoCities page is a look that makes your eyeballs bleed — bad frames, dozens of moving GIFs, color clashing, bad font choices, and so on.

Yet it was a riot even so. Everyone was having so much fun with all of these tools, and we’d covet each and every visit to our sites. There were guestbooks for people to leave comments, hit counters of all varieties, web rings to join and promote, MIDI jukeboxes to annoy the ever-loving snot out of any visitor, and so on.

I had a great time expressing my creativity, and this activity led me to make the Mutant Reviewers — a cult movie review site that, indeed, is still going on even to this day.

That can’t be said for Geocities, which was shut down a while back (although many of the sites were preserved by internet historians who like filling their garages with trash). In its place has arisen Neocities, which seems to be offering a lot of the same ideas and structure — just more modernized. While I’m much more comfortable with blogging platforms these days, I applaud Neocities’ creators and the people who are keeping that creative, discovery-driven spirit alive!

How Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2 share the same great feature

One of the absolute best design elements that went into Guild Wars 2 was in creating its maps and how players would interact with zones. Choosing to ditch the hub-quest model, GW2 elected to create zones with all sorts of icons to encourage exploration and interaction. Filling out a GW2 map is deeply satisfying by finishing up all of the hearts, points of interest, vistas, and the like. I appreciated that it allowed me to set my own course and follow my curiosity rather than a rigid path.

While Elder Scrolls Online isn’t exactly the same, the two MMOs share a lot of similarities in their zone designs. ESO also has quests, POIs, mini-dungeons, sky shards, and waystones all over the place, and the player is pretty free to meander in whatever fashion is thought best.

The newish (well, not so new now) zone finder screen is a big help in giving players checklists and starting points for all of the optional activities. If I want to spend the day sky shard hunting or making sure I’ve done every last quest line, this screen gives me a visual indicator as to my progress (and some clues as well).

My Glenumbra meanderings are about at an end. I really am setting no speed records for completing zones, but I’m having a very good time even so. One of the last things I did was to go back and wrap up dungeon delves, which I had neglected originally. Each of these are small public dungeons with a boss tucked somewhere inside, and it’s a nice solo option to jump into one and check off that tickbox without a huge time investment.

It just makes every zone that I haven’t done feel like it’s a gift box that I get to unwrap and enjoy a bit at a time. Hm. Maybe a better analogy is a box of chocolates, savoring one bite of content at a time. Whatever, it’s lunch, and I’m hungry.

And hey, I’m level 50! My very first in Elder Scrolls Online, so Champion Point grind, here I come!

Eye of the Beholder 2: Forest trails

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1991’s Eye of the Beholder 2: The Legend of Darkmoon. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

A while back, GOG.com handed out free copies of Eye of the Beholder 2 to everyone, and you know me — I’m never one to turn down free games. At the time, I took note of the fact that a few gaming outlets were gushing about how great this game was back in the day, and I made a vow to get to it sooner or later. This is that sooner AND later.

Eye of the Beholder 2 is, at its core, a Dungeons & Dragons dungeon crawler. Make a party, crawl the dungeon. That’s it. But it has a great reputation (generally this second installment, made by Westwood Studios, is the best-reviewed) and I am curious to look at it from both a modern perspective and from an imaginative one of wondering if this would’ve been my jam back in high school if I had only been aware of it.

The introduction of the game is pretty stereotypical for D&D — and very quick. The archemage of the town in concerned about something bad happening in a temple, and sends the player party to investigate. There are some really pretty 1991-era VGA graphics going on here. This is definitely one of my favorite periods of computer gaming, visually.

I had some fun with character creation, using recent names on my Twitter feed to populate my four-person party. This group includes:

  • Zinn, a lawful good Paladin with a heart as sterling as her hair is silver
  • Wolfy, a sketchy-looking Fighter/Thief who doesn’t have all of his teeth
  • Katriana, a mysterious Cleric who is all-green for some reason
  • and Syl, a Mage and constant thorn in my side.

I also have graph paper on the desk beside me, because I hear it’s one of those games. Let’s do this!

Our adventure begins in the woods outside the temple. I don’t know about you, but it’s a little harrowing trying to figure out brand-new game controls while a wolf starts clawing you like crazy. I actually dropped a sword thinking that’s how you attacked.

Syl’s sharp eyes spotted a secret area beyond some bushes, so we investigated and found a hidden cellar. It’s a small place that has a magic missile scroll for Syl and some leather armor and rotten food. Yum!

I’m starting to get into the groove of combat and casting spells, so we wander around the forest getting a handle on fights and seeing what else might be here. There’s a graveyard tucked away in the back of the forest, but Zinn — our lawful good Paladin — kicks up a fuss about desecrating the dead.

Fine. Take all the fun out of graverobbing, why don’t you?

Fortunately, the game does send an old lady to lead you right to the temple door if you are a little lost. Considering that there’s no map feature in this game — easily the biggest oversight — I’m grateful for the assistance.

Well, I *could* click “no” and stay out in this small forest forever. Doesn’t seem like that would be much of a game, however. Into the temple we go!

Battle Bards Episode 189: Spooky and Magical 3

Is that a chill creeping down your spine? Did your ears just perk up at the hint of fae music in the trees? Is Tinkerbell blasting you with a cannon full of musical confetti? Then you must be in a good place to listen to some more spooky and magical music from MMORPGs with the Battle Bards!

Episode 189 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Emerald Labyrinth” from FFXIV, “Wizard City Tower Golem” from Wizard101, and “Jawaii Town” from Ragnarok Online 2)
  • “Enraptured” from Final Fantasy XIV 
  • “Uralia” from Glitch
  • “The Lullaby of Praxis” from Elder Scrolls Online
  • “A Very Exile Shade’s Eve” from WildStar
  • “Bow and Jubilate” from Runes of Magic
  • “Floating Whispering” from Aion 
  • “Bloody Moon Melody” from Black Desert 
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes from Valheim Composer Patrik Jarlestam and Pheeb Hello
  • Jukebox picks: “The Cemetery” from Pumpkin Jack, “Dungeon” from Sword of Vermillion, and “Rain” from Call of the Sea
  • Outro (feat. “The Fortune Teller” from Star Stable)

Trying to make bank in WoW Classic

As I’m nearing level 40 in WoW Classic, I have come to realize how much I’ve bungled this character. Oh, my warlock is fine, but she’s almost always broke at a time when I should be saving up a whole lot of money for epic and flying mounts, not to mention bigger bags, training, and other niceties.

This is most definitely in part by my choice to go Engineering, which has generated no money whatsoever. Initially I was fine with that: The Warlock gets a free mount at 40 anyway and the appeal of Engineering trinkets is a big one. And I may well continue down that track. But anything I’ve mined I’ve been saving or using for recipes, so there’s no gold generation there.

So I decided to at least take a break for a while from questing and settle down to simply farm stuff. I did a lot of research on different farming areas, although any of those tended to be over-farmed by level 60 mages zipping about and snapping up all of the mobs.

It was fine for a while. I actually like just grinding and farming, especially in WoW Classic. It’s relaxing, I can put on music or a movie while doing it, and I’m generating XP and money without having to worry about running here and there and everywhere. But of course it does get tremendously boring after a while and needs to be broken up by some other activity.

Honestly, I just wish that the pre-patch was here so that I could get started on my Draenei Shaman already. I feel that there’s all this time I have right now I could be doing that, but I’m going to have to wait until perhaps just a month before Burning Crusade comes out to start that process. And while you may be an amazing leveler with scads of time, I am not, and I know it’s going to take a whole lot longer than a month to get a character to level 58.

My farming has definitely helped my gold income. In a week or so, I’ve gone from 18 gold to 116 — and I got a rare pet drop that will go for about 225 gold when someone actually buys it on the auction house. At the very least, I tell myself, I can be earning money to funnel into my Shaman when the time comes. Because in WoW Classic, money really does make the world go ’round.

It might be time to say goodbye to RIFT

Even when you’re not playing your past favorite MMOs, you still have a fondness and a heart for them — and you certainly don’t want to see them come on bad times. Every time I think about Secret World, for instance, I let out a long sigh and count myself fortunate that I got so many good years when it was still being developed.

And I definitely feel an ache whenever my thoughts turn to RIFT. It wasn’t like it was getting a ton of development prior to the Trion sale, but after Gamigo picked it up, the most significant new additions to the game were the seasonal battle passes. It’d just slowed down to a grinding halt, with the new owners not very interested in talking with the community or laying out any future plans.

For Gamigo, it’s been all ArcheAge and Trove from the Trion acquisition. It shut down Atlas Reactor, brought it back as a horrid flop of a spin-off, and then shut down both Defiance titles. When the Defiance thing happened, Gamigo was offering incentives for players to jump into other specific titles — but RIFT was not one of those mentioned.

Now we have the news that this past week, Gamigo laid off some (all?) of whatever developers that were still on RIFT. First of all, like most of you, I was taken aback to learn that there WERE devs at all. But certainly this news is not good, nor does it bode well for the future no matter how much Gamigo says otherwise. It’s very telling that in a response to the player anguish over this news, Gamigo… highlighted what it was doing with Trove and ArcheAge. That’s not a vote of confidence.

So it might be time — it might be well past time — for us to be saying farewell to RIFT. I’ve seen several people this past week talk about how their RIFT guilds have packed up and moved on to different MMOs now that Gamigo has effectively killed any hope in a future. In fact, I think that the only hope this game does have is that either Gamigo sells it to a studio that miraculously wants to develop for it or it hands the source code to the community. And I don’t really see either of those happening.

This saddens me more than you know. I really loved RIFT and always enjoyed my journeys in that game. It has so much of what I want and love in an MMORPG, and I feel it’s a crying shame that nobody can do something with this full-featured package. It certainly would be easier than starting a new game from scratch, after all.

Maybe the lights aren’t off yet and the servers are still humming… but RIFT’s 10th birthday is probably its last.

LOTRO: Dale-lands is so underrated

Actually, I think that most post-Mordor zones in Lord of the Rings Online suffer from not being appreciated as much as they deserve. This could be because everyone playing the game simply hasn’t gotten to those areas yet, but egads, these are some of the most visually striking locales in the game. I’m seriously impressed at the quality that the small team is able to pump out.

But out of all of these areas, Dale-lands seems to never get mentioned at all — and that’s a shame, because it’s one of my absolute favorites. It’s a diverse zone with a rather pretty marsh at the southern end, a pristine lake, some boreal forest biome going on there, two beautiful towns, and the looming presence of the Lonely Mountain towering above it.

Emerging from Mordor and Northern Mirkwood, the gorgeous brilliance of this region is such a tonal relief. It feels like a civilized land that’s not been touched by war, and Hobbit fans will get to visit a lot of areas key to that book.

I’m sure that running waterfall is not helping the bladder of this guy waiting for the outhouse.

Perhaps the reason that Dale-lands doesn’t get much chatter is because it seems very light on content. The epic book breezed me right through here without much sight-seeing at all, and I’ve never been able to find too many quests. Many of the quests are parts of chains that if you skipped them early on, you won’t see them pop up at all.

Another thing I really enjoy about the region is its architecture. Compare this to Bree and Bree ends up looking like a shoddy shanty town. Dale and Lake-town are absolutely incredible settlements that have a distinct visual style that feels different from Gondor, Rohan, and Eriador — and I really like it. I’d actually love a player house in this style!

Elder Scrolls Online and the length of gaming sessions

Nice doggy!

So here’s a weird thing I’ve been noticing about Elder Scrolls Online: It’s really an MMO that benefits more from extended play sessions than shorter ones. I mean, I can pop in for a half-hour and knock out a quest or visit an unexplored region, but I’m starting to figure out that the game is best played in good blocks of time. At least an hour, if not two.

It always takes 15 or 20 minutes to slip into the feel of ESO when I boot it up, for starters. I don’t know why that it, but I get this mental picture of wriggling and stretching into the game before I’m fully comfortable and off and running.

But the greater case to be made for longer play sessions is that ESO really emphasizes quest chains over isolated adventures. One quest usually leads to another… and another… and another until it finally comes to some sort of big conclusion. And while I’m doing that, chances are that I’ve found or been handed the start to another quest chain.

I do like this, mind you. As with Secret World, I appreciate focusing on a single storyline and following it through to its climax. There’s continuity, repeated use of characters, and a cohesive tale. That’s right down my alley.

And I’m often finding myself surprised or amused by the outcomes of quests, especially ones during which I’m given some sort of choice. There was one quest in Glenumbra where I was doing a quick dungeon dive to find some treasure for a very haughty lady. So I find the treasure, but the ghost guarding it says that I should take a cursed crown to her instead of the real thing so that the ghost is freed and this nasty woman’s spirit will be bound to this place instead.

Well, I had to see that play out, right? I’m sure everyone did. So I presented the cursed crown to her — only to have her long-suffering assistant pick it up instead. And so his spirit gets bound to the place and the ghost comes to possess his body — and the lady is none the wiser. It’s a really weird ending that left me scratching my head and wondering if this was good or bad or what.

But that’s Elder Scrolls Online for you: Sometimes it goes in a different direction than what you’d anticipate. Keeps me on my toes. I like that.

Rimworld: The odds of survival

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2016’s Rimworld. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As the fall heads toward winter, the struggling Bio Break colony starts to show signs of actual survival. All three members are up and working with minimal injuries, hunting down muffalo and elk for meat and leather. The newest colonist, Bentley, proves to be a great shot with the revolver, and food finally looks like it’s no longer such a dire concern.

Ahaha I spoke too soon. Lozano snaps — again — and starts wandering off in a daze. Normally, I’d let him be, but it’s so cold that he starts developing hypothermia and frostbite. The only way I can get him inside is to arrest him, which is a dicey prospect. Wallis takes the job, and the two tussle until both are bleeding and Lozano is back in the base. Bentley, meanwhile, breaks and goes on a food binge. I guess there are worse ways to have a breakdown.

A big part of the problem here is that I’m not quite at the level of basic survival that I need to be right now — nevermind providing niceties and luxuries to make everyone’s mood better. So the colonists’ mood keeps dropping and people keep snapping. It’s a bad cycle.

Two small strokes of fortune: The jackets I made at the tailoring bench are helping stave off the cold, and something or someone killed the nasty timber wolf that was stalking the area. For food, the colony is now depending almost entirely on herds of muffalo, caribou, or elk passing by.

It’s proving to be very difficult to keep Lozano in a good mood, especially as his grief for fallen friends and a dead dog continue. Once again he breaks, but this time it’s with an eye to stab Bentley to death. Once again, the only recourse is to try to arrest and detain Lozano before he can do much damage.

This… does not go well. Lozano puts down Wallis and Bentley with savage ease, leaving them bleeding to death in the snow while he huffs and puffs. All I can do as the player is watch my two sane colonists twitch on the ground and hope that Lozano snaps out of it fast enough to enact a rescue.

No man-in-black-type situation here; Wallis succumbs to his injuries and dies at the hand of his brother.

Bentley follows suit eight hours later.

Lozano eventually comes out of his rage, exhausted and losing an ear to frostbite in the hard snow and -24 degree temps. He grabs some berries to eat and struggles home, but collapses along the way. After a few hours, he wakes back up and gets home.

The next day is the first day of winter. Snow piles against the sides of the mostly-empty colony. The murderer Lozano sleeps in a bed, trying to heal while he enjoys two days of catharsis before his mood dives again.

A glimmer of hope arrives with another transport pod crash and the release of another prospective colonist. But Lozano is too far gone in a daze to come help, and Crosby — sweet, sweet Crosby — dies alone in the snow, unrescued.

I keep thinking the game is over… and then something happens to give me a slight chance at continuing. Lozano heads out to ambush a rebel assault, and in the process, he’s able to capture — instead of kill — the rebel. This gives me a shot at converting him.

But what I didn’t think about was Lozano’s state. Turns out that as he’s capturing the rebel, Lozano is also bleeding pretty heavily. On his way to grab more medicine for the prisoner, Lozano collapses in the storeroom and dies on the floor, the last of my colonists.

And that’s the end of this colony’s story. Not very inspiring, was it? The tundra locale was a huge obstacle from the very start, but having a character who kept breaking didn’t help either. I think that there were a few moments when I could’ve made it through the first year if things hadn’t gone wrong, but there was one too many problems, and a colony collapse proved inevitable.

Hope you enjoyed this playthrough! Next week, we’ll start a brand new game — and this time, it will be a genuine retro experience, I promise.