Blizzard, I am disappoint.

No doubt that by now you’ve read the highly disturbing allegations leveled against Blizzard by the state of California for discrimination, sexism, and abuse in the workplace. The state wants to take Blizzard to court for a jury trial, and there’s no doubt going to be a lot of news following this.

And while the legal process will play out as it does, in the meantime each Blizzard player and fansite writer/streamer will have a court of their own in their hearts. Do they believe these allegations? Does this line up with what we know of Blizzard to date? And if so, what do they do about it?

It’s certainly not the first time that anyone’s dealt with that struggle between liking an art form and hating the artist. I’ve always been of the opinion that you don’t listen to the mob telling you what to feel/do but rather to evaluate it yourself and make a judgment call whether or not you continue to support that. You have to decide what the line is where, if crossed, nixes your patronage.

I’m of the personal opinion that these allegations ring true and probably don’t scratch the surface of some of the really bad stuff that happens behind closed doors in companies where people let power and authority go to their heads. It should be exposed and dealt with, both externally (lawsuit) and internally (clean house and reform).

I’m very disappointed in Blizzard, and that’s putting it mildly. If my daughter went to work at a games company — and I would use every ounce of my persuasion to attempt to convince her not to, based on my experience covering this industry — I would want her to be paid fairly, treated well, and protected from predators. Blizzard, from these indications and others, loves to wave a flag of virtue while letting slime slosh around its corridors.

So I’m done with World of Warcraft and WoW Classic, at least until or unless I see Blizzard making a concerted, genuine effort to reform. I doubt it will. I think we’ll get a lot of noise and fancy-sounding programs, but nothing of real substance. It stinks for me as a gamer — I like these games! — but it’s really nothing compared to those employees affected by such a toxic work environment. So if this is what it takes for any semblance of justice to come about, I’m willing to be challenged in my entertainment choices and forego an MMO that I’ve enjoyed for the better part of two decades.

It’s not me, Blizzard, it’s you.

FFXIV: Giant dolls make me go “Lalahell no”

If nothing else, Final Fantasy XIV is proving to be such a screenshottable game that I’m having a hard time culling pictures down to a handful to share in these posts.

It definitely was a great decision on my part to resume questing with my former character who’d already gotten through the core Heavensward expansion. Since every story beat from here on out is new to me, I can log in every night and have that expectation of discovery.

And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve put in the time to unlock flying in all of the zones. Man, flying makes such a difference in this game, and I never get sick of taking my chocobo to the skies.

One mental obstacle that I’ve had to contend with is ignoring that internal pressure to “catch up CATCH  UP” with everyone else in the game. If there wasn’t an expansion coming out this fall, I doubt that voice would be as loud, but… it’s there. I know there’s a huge amount of content — two expansions and three expansion patch cycles — between where I am now and where veteran players are, but there’s no rushing it. There’s no brute-forcing it, nor fretting about it. Like any MMO with a long and involved story arc, it’s best to enjoy where you are and trust that you’ll get there… evantually.

So I’ve been going through the 3.X main story quests, which I’ve dubbed “more dungeons and dragons.” Honestly, I’m more than done with Heavensward in terms of themes and characters. It wasn’t horrible, but the Syp demographic isn’t enthralled by developers going “hey, let’s keep that Elf-and-dragon parade going!” past the point that you felt this storyline concluded.

The patches so far — I’m in 3.4 as I write this — have had some really good beats, including that upside-down castle dungeon with the creepy doll boss. That’s nightmare fuel right there.

I’ve also been faithfully working on a single beast tribe reputation grind every day. I figure I’ll just do one until it caps out and then pick up another one until I’m done with them all. I’m doing the Vanu Vanu, which is great if you like giant angry-looking chicken-bears living on floating islands despite lacking the capacity for flight.

I also took some time off of my routine to hang out with my free company when it was throwing a hide-and-seek event the other night in our neighborhood. It was really nice to see everyone in person (so to speak), although the housing reminded me that I’m so far away from being able to afford even the smallest cottage. One gil at a time!

All things considered, I feel like I’m in a really good place with FFXIV. It’s not annoying me (dragons aside) and I have two classes (Machinist and Scholar) that I’m flipping between for when I want to enjoy specific playstyles.

The Curse of Monkey Island: Wedding bells

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As if it wasn’t bad enough to have LeChuck kidnap Elaine in an attempt to marry her on his rollercoaster, the zombie pirate has transformed Guybrush into a little child. Hey, that skull there looks a little familiar…

To get out of this predicament, Guybrush has to mess around at the carnival to whip up one of those hangover cures he used on Goodsoup. This includes greatly angering Murray, as Guybrush chooses a different prize from the game. He goes on at great length to lambast Guybrush for the poor choice. I do love me some Murray.

After turning back in to a 20-year-old adult, Guybrush jumps on LeChuck’s rollercoaster of death in hot pursuit of Elaine. But you know me — I do love me a good rollercoaster ride in a video game! So I sat back and enjoyed the four scenes as they looped one after the other.

Poor Wally returns as part of this set dressing. Guybrush tries to rescue him, but nothing doing. Poor Wally.

In the inexplicable snow scene, Guybrush rigs up an explosive giant ape, then tricks LeChuck into lighting the fuse and blowing up the mountain. Also, apparently Elaine gave the pirate the slip, because she’s OK.

And with that, the game comes to a close! Elaine and Guybrush finally, finally get married and sail off into the sunset to live happily ever after. At least until the sequel.

So that was The Curse of Monkey Island, start to finish! Thanks for going on this journey with me. I love it just as much as the first two games, which is to say, an awful lot. It’s hilarious, the setpieces are gorgeous, and the puzzles quite tricksy indeed. I have just one game left in this series, but I’m going to leave it for now and embark on a different adventure come next week.

LOTRO: Saddling up for another ride

There’s always that feeling of guilt when you log back into an MMO after a long absence and see your character patiently waiting there, eager for more adventures. It kind of makes me think of Toy Story and how Woody and Buzz and the rest couldn’t wait until their owner would come to play with them.

Then again, you’re a video game, and you’ll darn well wait when I want you to.

So yes, this past week I picked back up LOTRO and resumed my journeys on my Lore-master. I had only the *slightest* temptation to roll up a new character on the new progression servers, but honestly, I already did that three years ago and I don’t think I’d get anything special out of it doing it again.

Instead, I’m trying to get in to the mindset of picking back up older MMO characters to continue their journeys rather than constantly restart whenever I come back to a game. Not saying I’ll never do that, but hitting that reset button never helps me to see the newest content.

Thus, I set off for the wilds of Elderslade, since I’m about two patches behind right now. From what I’ve heard, it’s not like there was a mountain of content added since then, so I think I can very casually quest and be more than caught up for the expansion this fall.

There’s simply something soothing and comforting about the pattern of questing in Middle-earth. I’m mostly doing it for the experience — not the XP — as I’m already at the level cap. Just to see the new areas and get that artificial feeling of accomplishment. Some of the quests are handing out gear upgrades, which is certainly nice, so it’s not all altruistic gaming.

And as always, LOTRO continues to be a visually striking game.

One nice thing about picking back up older characters is all of the unlocks and mounts and cosmetics that I have accumulated. I love mounting up on my elk here and riding across the landscape.

Long-term plans? If I cap out on content, then I may pick back up my Minstrel and get her through the epic book to the cap as well. I do have interest in trying out the new Brawler class come this fall, but more to write an article on it than playing it long-term. I already have the characters I want to journey with going forward.

My new old typewriter

I’m certainly not what you would call an antique collector, and even my garage sale visits have trailed off (I tend to be the driver who lets the family in and out of the car so that they can walk a block and then get picked up without having to double back). But the other weekend we were all walking a huge block sale and one particular item caught my eye.

It was a cute shiny typewriter sitting in a box on a table, and my kids were already jamming on its keys. When I went over to inspect it, I was really taken with how great of a condition it was in and how neat it looked. The family was happy to let it go for $5, and I figured that if nothing else, I had a great office decoration that befits a writer.

But what really astounded me was what I discovered when I went back home with it. What I had stumbled upon here was a Royal Deluxe Model O typewriter from 1937 — and in incredibly good shape. It’s got that eye-catching art deco design, and apparently such things are collector’s items worth up to a grand to the right buyer.

I wouldn’t think of selling it, though. It works perfectly, and the ribbon still had enough ink for some typing (I did buy a new one). It’s been a long, long time since I last used a manual typewriter — I trained on electric ones in high school typing class — and while it’s clumsy and awkward to use these raised keys with a good amount of space between them, I was pleased how quickly it came back to me. There’s a deep satisfaction to hearing that “clackity clack” of the typewriter strokes.

I showed this to my church secretary, who’s in her seventies, and she giggled over it like a schoolgirl. It was exactly the sort of machine she’d used back when she was younger, and you should’ve seen how quickly she pounded out a short letter with accuracy on it.

I figure that in the future, I’ll probably give it to my daughter who’s already a burgeoning writer in her own right, but for now, it’s great to look at — and to use for the occasional note!

Confession: I never liked the Nintendo 64

You would think that a kid who grew up enthralled with the NES era in the 1980s and was fiercely devoted to his Super Nintendo in the early 1990s would be a shoo-in for jumping on board with Nintendo’s third console. Yet when the Nintendo 64 came out in 1996, I had zero interest in buying one.

This raises the question, why?

There’s a few answers to that, starting with the fact that I was a broke college student who couldn’t really afford a new console at the time. Plus, I was already interesting in saving up for the PlayStation, which I got a year or two later for all of the roleplaying games that seemed to have jumped onto that bandwagon.

But I think that the biggest reason I snubbed the 64 is that it didn’t interest me at all. I hated the physical design of the controllers and console itself, I really disliked its ugly 3D graphics, and I wasn’t that on board with Nintendo’s key properties any more. You know how you’ll bump into tons of kids who grew up playing Mario 64 and Orcana of Time? I feel very alienated from that crowd, because those games had nothing that called to me.

Oh, I eventually got a Nintendo 64, but it was for my youth group. We installed it in our youth room, and I spent more than a few Sunday afternoons playing GoldenEye and Perfect Dark in four-player. That was kind of fun, sure, but I wasn’t a die-hard FPS gamer or anything.

I also remember trying out Majora’s Mask (which creeped me out) and a couple other titles, but in the end, I deliberately missed out on this console entirely. It wasn’t for me — and as I gradually realized in the early 2000s, consoles in general weren’t for me any more.

I know there have been calls for a N64 Classic, but I wonder how much such a product would remind people that the early 3D games haven’t really aged well at all. There’s a reason why sprite-based games on the SNES and Genesis are still attractive to our modern eyes but those chunky polygons of a bygone era are best not spoken of in polite company.

Did you — do you — like the Nintendo 64? How much is it a part of your gaming history?

SWTOR comes alive for its 10th anniversary

Here’s an MMO I didn’t expect would be making waves this year — Star Wars: The Old Republic. In fact, I didn’t even clock that 2021 was the game’s 10th anniversary until BioWare said something about it.

Boy, 2011 seems so, SO long ago, doesn’t it? I was so hyped up for SWTOR that I couldn’t wait for that December launch, and that initial year was a blast. I’ve enjoyed coming back to it here and there ever since, to varying degrees of interest.

But I may have to make some time to come back this year, and by the sound of it, many other MMO players are planning to as well. This is thanks to the announcement of an actual new expansion, Legacy of the Sith, which is slated for later this year. I would say on the actual anniversary of the launch day, but that’s just me.

From the sound of it, this sounds like a decent-if-not-revolutionary expansion that’s probably the best that BioWare can do with reduced staff and budget. New storyline, more Darth Malgus stuff, and the one feature that has everyone buzzing, combat styles.

If you haven’t noticed, SWTOR has never added a new class in its entire decade run so far. Probably never will, because a new class would — for this game — require a whole new class storyline and voice work and tons of other assets that BioWare does not have the spare money to make. Perhaps the studio could do something like WoW’s “heroic classes” and have a new one start out at a higher level to jump over the regular class storyline leveling, but still… that’s a lot of new assets.

So instead of a new class, BioWare’s doing the next best thing which is to allow players to mix-and-match classes with class storylines. This is done within boundaries, mind you. All “tech” (non-Force users) classes can pair up an advanced class with a different’s class storyline, and the same for all Force classes. So you can experience the Bounty Hunter’s storyline using a Smuggler’s playstyle, or a Jedi Knight’s storyline with a Sith Warrior.

It’s actually a clever idea that will help to inject some interest in rolling up alts and giving established players a new way to experience the game. I don’t know if there are any combinations that have me buzzing, personally, but I’m sure it’s going to help SWTOR get some people back and stay relevant in this important anniversary year.

The Curse of Monkey Island: Duck Island

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The Welshman rows Guybrush out to Skull Island, which, as it turns out, looks more like a giant duck. Or a bunny, if you squint and turn your head to the side. In any case, not quite as scary and imposing.

Guybrush stumbles upon a smuggler’s cave that’s certainly filled with enough treasure to foot any bill — but he needs that special diamond to fit into Elaine’s engagement ring!

After a rousing game of poker — in which Guybrush uses his five death tarot cards to win — a fight breaks out and the diamond is secured. Thanks, cutscene!

LeChuck, enjoying a value meal, reminds us that he’s still nominally in this game and still hunting for Elaine. Welp. Good to know.

Guybrush catapults the skeleton from the hotel into the crypt — as one does — and it comes back to life, proposing to his long-patient bride. The two share the creepiest kiss in the world and then vanish, leaving behind one (1) engagement ring.

Guybrush uses his hard-earned lotion to get the cursed ring off of Elaine and then replaces it with his hard-earned engagement ring. Poof! She’s back! And she finishes that massive punch that she started back at the beginning of the game. Well, it’s OK, because now the lovers are reunited and nothing will…

will…

…will separate them? Well, LeChuck’s back, and he’s taken them to his Carnival of Death to marry Elaine. At least he can’t kill Guybrush or risk ruining the reputation of a LucasArts adventure game!

Battle Bards Episode 197: A royal affair

Battle Bards Episode 197: A royal affair Battle Bards

Bow to your king and queens of MMO music royalty, for the Battle Bards have donned the crown, taking up the majestic scepter, and issued a proclamation that all sorts of royal music must be heard through the land!  Episode 197 show notes  Intro (feat. "Behold Tarantia!" from Age of Conan, "The Royal Bodyguard" from Blade and Soul, and "Illusion Castle Radiant Hall" from Cabal Online) "To Wear the Crown" from Monarch "Krakunta" from Lime Odyssey "Royal District" from Project Copernium "The Castle of Luteran" from Lost Ark "The Grand Duchy of Jeuno" from Final Fantasy XI "Royale" from RuneScape "Ode to the Queen" from Elder Scrolls Online Which one did we like best? Listener notes from George Wilson and Katriana Jukebox picks: "Letting You Go" from The Sims 4, "Stereo Madness" from Geometry Dash, and "Windward" from Bravely Default Outro (feat. "Royal City" from MapleStory 2) Talk to the Battle Bards on Twitter! Follow Battle Bards on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts! This podcast is produced using copyrighted material according to Fair Use practices as stated under Section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act.
  1. Battle Bards Episode 197: A royal affair
  2. Battle Bards Episode 196: Project Gorgon
  3. Battle Bards Episode 195: In the mountains
  4. Battle Bards Episode 194: No Man's Sky
  5. Battle Bards Episode 193: Tribal jams

Bow to your king and queens of MMO music royalty, for the Battle Bards have donned the crown, taking up the majestic scepter, and issued a proclamation that all sorts of royal music must be heard through the land! 

Episode 197 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Behold Tarantia!” from Age of Conan, “The Royal Bodyguard” from Blade and Soul, and “Illusion Castle Radiant Hall” from Cabal Online)
  • “To Wear the Crown” from Monarch

  • “Krakunta” from Lime Odyssey

  • “Royal District” from Project Copernium

  • “The Castle of Luteran” from Lost Ark

  • “The Grand Duchy of Jeuno” from Final Fantasy XI

  • “Royale” from RuneScape

  • “Ode to the Queen” from Elder Scrolls Online

  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes from George Wilson and Katriana
  • Jukebox picks: “Letting You Go” from The Sims 4, “Stereo Madness” from Geometry Dash, and “Windward” from Bravely Default
  • Outro (feat. “Royal City” from MapleStory 2)