Posted in Final Fantasy, Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 216: FFXIV Before Meteor

Episode 222: World of Warcraft Dragonflight Battle Bards

Will our fascination with giant, skyfaring, flame-belching lizards subside? World of Warcraft bets not, as it's currently soaring through its Dragonflight expansion. Will the music also ascend to lofty realms or fall to the earth with a dud? You'll have to listen to the Battle Bards as they figure out the answer to that question! Episode 222 show notes  Intro (feat. "The Dragon's Hoard," "Riverbends," and "The Isles Awaken") "Take to the Skies" "Giants of the Span" "Windsong" "Tyrhold" "Ramparts of Valdrakken" "Gardens of Unity" Which one did we like best? Listener Notes: George and Bullwraith Jukebox Picks: "Encounter Elite" from Sea of Stars, "Jubilife Village Theme" from Pokemon Legends Arceus, and "Density" from Citizen Sleeper Outro (feat. "Life Pools") 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. Episode 222: World of Warcraft Dragonflight
  2. Episode 221: LOTRO Before the Shadow
  3. Episode 220: Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons

While Final Fantasy XIV players won’t shut up about A Realm Reborn, it’s not often you hear people speaking fondly of the original 1.0 edition. Yet in this episode of Battle Bards, Syp and Syl find something to praise from this era: the Before Meteor soundtrack. Let’s rewind the clock and hear the O.G. Eorzea tunes!

Episode 216 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Canticle,” “Promise of Plunder,” and “The Rider’s Boon”)
  • “When a Tree Falls”

  • “Navigator’s Glory”

  • “Born of the Boughs”

  • “Desert Moon Defied”

  • “Eorzea de Chocobo”

  • “Dreams Aloft”

  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Stage 2” from TMNT 2 and “The Fallen Kingdom” from Blue Fire
  • Outro (feat. “To the Fore”)
Posted in Blaugust

Blaugust 2022: 10 quick tips for writing motivation

As we wrap up another wild ride of Blaugust, I wanted to think Belghast for organizing all of this and for all of the contributors, mentors, and encouragers that emerged this month. August ended up being far busier than any month I’ve had this year, so my participation was limited to mostly posting and peeking in to the Discord to say hi now and then, but it was satisfying to observe all of the increased activity.

I think I managed to pump out 31 posts this month, which is just slightly more than my normal cadence. I’ve been on a six-posts-per-week routine for a while now, which works for me, and I’ll be going back to that in September.

The theme of this final week of Blaugust is “staying motivated,” so here are 10 tips that help me keep my writing output high:

  1. Have a regular time to write every day and try to stick to it. Your mind will adjust to this and even anticipate it, making it easier over time.
  2. Always be on the prowl for interesting topics, whether playing a game, reading posts, or seeing others tackle a discussion.
  3. If you don’t have time to write a full post, at least start up a shell of one and jot down a couple quick thoughts that you can flesh out later.
  4. Write about whatever strikes your fancy and passion — not about what you think others want you to write. Write for yourself first.
  5. Challenge yourself to try out different writing styles. Write short posts, long posts, silly posts, deep posts, picture-laden posts, whatever. See if you can find a style that works even better for you — and never stop looking.
  6. Take the time to re-read what you’ve written a little while later (at least an hour or so) so that your brain can catch spelling mistakes, grammar errors, redundancies, etc. Never hurts to polish it up a bit.
  7. Design headlines that catch the eye and pique interest. Action verbs! Questions! Weirdness!
  8. Find a writing cadence that suits your schedule. Nobody expects any more or less output from you than you want to give. We’re just happy to get it at all. You don’t owe us squat.
  9. Understand that sometimes the dumbest and most slapdash posts will be the ones that blow up and get the most comments and views. This will happen and it’ll dumbfound you every time.
  10. Don’t give up!
Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: My fate in Gundabad

Hey, it’s your friendly neighborhood Captain here, doing what I do best: Be a total coward and run away from screaming packs of hobgoblins. At least I’m getting good cardio out of the experience!

With all of the Gundabad zones cleared of normal quests, I doubled back and picked back up on Chapter 7 of the epic. I find it’s a lot easier to follow expansion storylines when you do the epic straight through with no interruptions. So as I nudged a couple of dwarves toward each other in beardy romance, I started to get into the business of the orcs and dwarves yet again.

As I went through the remainder of this story for the first time, I contemplated why the Orcs vs. Dwarves storyline seemed to flop in the LOTRO community. I haven’t seen a lot of enthusiastic testimonies about it — but I have witnessed a lot of the apathy that I share. It’s not bad, mind you, but there’s something about this whole arc that failed to connect as broadly as it should. Maybe it’s the use of dwarves (acquired taste, those), or the post-book storyline, or the general sense that despite all of the devs’ work, Gundabad still came off as Moria 2.0. My conclusion is that it was a not-particularly-exciting narrative thread that ended up going on for far too long.

And boy was I ready to be done with it, not only from apathy but because the general game performance in Gundabad is downright abysmal these days. I don’t generally see a lot of lag in LOTRO myself, but these past few weeks in Gundabad specifically have been horrible. Rubberbanding, freezing, loooong delays in combat… you name it, it was there. Nearly unplayable, and absolutely unacceptable for an MMO in 2022.

The above picture? That’s not me being quick with the keyboard. That’s combat frozen for over a minute, giving me ample time to screenshot it.

Some people don’t like session play, but I enjoy the combat and narrative breaks that it offer. And hey, how many times do you get to play a weird goblin in a video game? Ph Glurkub, will you be mine?

Last known photo: Glurkub making friends.

Happily, the epic picked up steam in the last few books — many of which were glorified cutscenes (yet very interesting ones!). In fact, I found myself becoming engrossed in the tale at the backend, which makes me regret brushing it off so lightly. A good ending to a mediocre start is better than nothing.

And before I knew it, I had wrapped up the final Gundabad epic, finished all the zones, hit 140, and gazed at a majestic sunset over my accomplishments. It’s a heady feeling to know that you’ve actually come to the end of all of the (current) solo content in the game.

So it came time to part ways — for a while, at least — with Captain Syppi. She’s been with me over a very long road in LOTRO, and she deserves a rest in her home until adventure comes calling again.

Posted in RIFT

RIFT: I R in Iron Pine Peak

I have a rule in RIFT that every time one of my bags fills up with housing decor, I must take a break to head to my dimension and test all of that stuff out. I keep just the best or the most fitting. It’s a lot of very quick placement (thank goodness this game makes placement easy), but I still feel like my house is coming along nicely. Got a cozy feel to it.

This twisty elevator may be my favorite MMO elevator ever. I like that it doesn’t need to be this elaborate here, but it is — and it’s a blast to ride, because the world slowly revolves around you as you go up and down it.

Welcome to Iron Pine Peak! Every time I’ve gone through RIFT on the Guardian side, I always think of how we get four amazing thematic zones, one right after the other, bing bang boom. The alpine heights here are a treat to explore, and who doesn’t love that sprinkle of snowfall?

Not what I would picture as a “bandit boss,” usually. RIFT has its own style — and underrated mob animations.

A wintry creek and a doofus assigned to standing in the middle of it until someone kills him.

The cozy cabin feels! So hard to stop taking screenshots. Duck and faerie are deeply wishing that I would take them to the tropics after this.

My Ancient Ice Strider seems perfectly at home in the frozen mountains, however.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Freezing my butt off in the mountains

Honestly, I couldn’t wait to get out of Clovengap fast enough. No, it’s not the worst zone I’ve seen in this game, but in terms of sheer annoyance, it was up there. So imagine my relief at stepping out into the Welkin-Loft and seeing this wide-open snowy wonderland. I actually smiled in relief. Fluffy snow!

“Um, guys? Kinda need to cross this bridge here. Anyone know when the repair crew is scheduled to arrive?”

Sometimes, it’s the small things, but I really enjoyed breaking down an old hobgoblin outpost and helping the dwarves set up a new camp. Nice use of phasing there. Now I only wish we had tents in this game for real.

For a game that was really stingy with dragons for most of its run, LOTRO’s certainly gotten dragon-happy in its most recent expansion. Tack that onto undead dwarves, packs of wolves, and chilly temps, and this place is fraught with peril. Just fraught.

Don’t you hate that feeling when you slowly grind your way to a couple of quest objectives, get them done, port back to your camp… and realize you still had one thing left to do at the very end? And then you’ve got to go all the way back through that again? Yeah, game, you’d BETTER give me an amazing sunset for my troubles.

Despite liking the snowy zone with its gorgeous vistas, I really wanted to be done with it — so that I could then go back, do the epic, and fully be done with Gundabad. In the meanwhile, I made friends with a snowbeast who had one of those comically large collection of bones. Garbage day’s on Tuesday, dude.

Posted in Indie

Desktop Dungeons: A total blast from my past

So this might be the most roundabout journey to a game that I’ve ever experienced. Back in 2012 or so, I became aware of a game called Desktop Dungeons. While it sort of looks like an RPG roguelike, it actually was an RPG puzzle game of sorts. I played a very early incarnation, was deeply impressed with it, and somehow lost access to it and forgot about it after that.

Flash forward — way forward — to a full decade later, when I came across a story saying that Desktop Dungeons (you know, that game that’s been out for 10 years without me playing it) is coming out with a new version called “Desktop Dungeons Rewind” later this year. That sparked a memory of a game that I played way back when, which then sparked a google search, which then sparked a whole lot of “Oh yeahhhhhh” on my part, which sparked a quick Steam purchase.

And I’m glad I did, because this really is as much fun as I remember it being.

If you never played it, Desktop Dungeons has you select a class and race, then you head into a one-screen dungeon that can be completed in about 10 minutes or less. Instead of running around all willy-nilly and hack-and-slashing your way to success, there’s a lot of strategy here. It very much is a puzzle, where you’ve got to approach the dungeon and enemies in a certain way to beat the whole level.

The basic rules are: Every unexplored tile will give you health and mana when you uncover them. Every enemy lets you know the exact outcome of attacking them before you do. You can use spells to get in free hits, but physical hits come with being hit back. All the rest is grabbing items, loot, potions, and power-ups to help stack the odds in your favor.

Generally, you want to level up as quickly as possible by attacking mobs from lowest to highest in level (i.e., kill all level 1 mobs first, then level 2s, and so on). But you’ve also got to be very economical in exploration, because those hidden tiles may be your only healing you’re going to get for a while.

I’ll admit that the tutorial kicked my butt — I had to repeat it four times before beating it. But it was a good tutorial in that it refreshed me on the basics and taught me that, if I’m paying attention, I’ll be in full control of my run. I won’t die without knowing that it would happen. And every item and mob would be in the same place for subsequent runs, so even a failed run bore fruit.

On top of the bite-sized dungeons themselves, the loot you bring back can be used to upgrade a village so that you get more options for classes, races, and so on. I really like the dungeon wrap-up card which shows you exactly what you killed and in what order.

Anyway, replaying this has me very psyched for the Rewind edition (which will offer 3D and a way to skip back in time to make better choices), which should be coming out in Q4 2022.

Posted in Blaugust

Blaugust 2022: What’s the most important blogging metric? (it ain’t hits)

Back when I joined the do-it-yourself HTML throng of GeoCities in 1996, I was not alone in absolutely craving feedback on my site. There were “guestbooks” (which you kids would call a “comments section” today), but even sites that lacked those were sure to have a hit counter on the front page. That ever-ticking-up counter let you know how popular you were, and for a while there, it was a genuine thrill to check out your site in the morning and see that 10 people (or whatever) had visited in the night.

Stats, SEO, views, demographics, and all the rest haven’t gone away. Every blog platform I know of offers some way to track and break down all of the visits you’re getting. And it’s easy to get addicted to that. I mean, a while back when reading blogs was much more the hot thing, I saw posts routinely shooting into the tens of thousands of views on dumb stuff like “Champions Online bingo cards.” I got a high off of seeing those view counts every day.

But gradually, I realized a few things. One, this was tempting me far too much into narcissism for my own good. Becoming obsessed with view counts and likes and whatnot is a good way to seeking validation from the approval of strangers. And chasing that popularity never has a good ending for anyone.

Two, views come and views go, but those numbers only tell you so much. They don’t tell you if someone actually enjoyed what you wrote. And they don’t reflect how you feel about your own post.

So a while back — years and years now — I simply stopped looking at any of my site’s stats. I just don’t. I know I’m not as popular as I used to be because blogs or the subject I primarily write about (MMORPGs) aren’t as popular. And that’s OK, because it’s not the blogging metric that I crave.

Simply put, I’ve found that the joy in blogging and writing is putting entertaining and informative content out there that interests me enough to write and others to read. I want to offer my services as a writer, not to please others, but to make their days a bit better and share in the passion of our mutual hobby of gaming. So seeing comments or getting like notifications on posts doesn’t go to my ego these days as it does to my gratitude bin. I’m grateful that people read the silly nonsense that I put out there, and I hope they get a smile or some measure of affirmation from it.

Kids, let go of your stats. Those numbers will crush your mind if you let them. It’s so freeing to let them go. Just write to write — and see the exciting places that it takes you.

Posted in RIFT

Why didn’t RIFT do better — and is there any hope for it now?

It was just last night that I was playing RIFT and saw in the 1-29 channel a person announce that they had come back to the game for the first time since 2016. This player expressed much the same sentiments that I did just a few weeks prior: Happiness that the MMO is still around, joy to rediscover all of its treasures, questions about the current state of the game, and concerns about its future.

For all of the time I’ve been playing it over the past month, two thoughts keep zooming through my head: RIFT is an incredibly fun and well-done MMORPG… and it makes no sense why it’s not doing a lot better today. People are *hungry* for good MMOs, and we’re not getting many new ones that offer full-service packages the way older titles did. In fact, older MMOs like Guild Wars 2, LOTRO, and the like are doing pretty well even with reduced staff and funding from their glory days.

So why not RIFT?

Well there are a few obvious answers. Gamigo’s not thrown any real development or support for it since acquiring the title. But there were signs it was struggling even before Trion sold it off, with the RIFT Prime experiment — a Hail Mary, even — barely running a year from 2018 to 2019. The last expansion was 2016’s Prophecy of Ahnket and the last really significant patch was Update 4.2 in 2017, which added four new souls and a new zone.

It’s unclear how poorly RIFT was doing prior to the 2018 sale to Gamigo (egads, has it been four years already?), but it wasn’t the headliner that it used to be for the studio. Gamigo actually put money toward Trove and ArcheAge since the purchase, but RIFT’s existed more or less in an maintenance mode since then.

And I guess that’s a small blessing, because “existing” is better than “being shut down.” People have predicted RIFT’s closure every year since 2018, but it’s still here.

Does that give us any hope? Probably not. There are only four scenarios that I can envision where RIFT makes a significant comeback, and each are more unlikely as the last:

  1. Gamigo decides out of the blue to hire devs and start pouring a lot of money into active development of RIFT. It promotes the game, maybe even re-launches it, and starts cranking out content again to give the impression of an active title.
  2. Gamigo sells RIFT to a studio (maybe even a Broadsword-like assortment of former devs?) who actually care enough to work on the game again.
  3. Word-of-mouth and community love spur renewed interest from the wider gaming audience.
  4. RIFT dies and an emulator project recreates and relaunches the game with more content, a la SWG Legends or Realm of Reckoning.

I mean, there are stranger things that have happened in this industry, but I don’t see any of those as strong possibilities. More like, RIFT will continue to truck on as it is until it isn’t making any money for Gamigo and gets shuttered.

Along with the demise of WildStar, RIFT’s degrading slide into obscurity is such a waste of a genuinely great game that really deserves a second shot. Maybe I’m shouting into the void here, but I believe it.

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Gundabad can keep Clovengap at this point

Is that… that the end of Gundabad growing near? It must be, because my Captain arrived in Clovengap late one night. And just when I thought I’ve seen every type of cavern this game can pump out, here is a veritable forest stretching for multiple tiers.

While I welcomed the greenery, I quickly became less-than-enthusiastic about the zone design. The multiple levels, staircases, and tight corridors meant navigating is a chore — and you’re often slugging through mobs to get anywhere. It’s the kind of LOTRO zone design that I really hate, yet it comes back every so often.

How can you feel bad for a warg? If it has a breakout of painful-looking purple crystals, I guess. That does not look like a fun existence. Wonder if it tastes like grape if I licked it, though.

My initial impressions of Clovengap were not misled; this zone continued to be a slog of navigation. As a bonus, one quest even had me going into a maze-like vineyard to hunt down stealthed critters. Thank goodness for the diversion of kin chat, because my patience meter was quickly eroding.

Was it all bad? No, not at all. I actually really liked the theming, especially the part-cavern, part-outdoors nature on display here. There were a few genuinely cool areas, such as a museum on a platform.

And who doesn’t like bringing the beatdown to a pustule monstrosity with an exposed brain? This is making friends, Middle-earth-style.

But all in all, Clovengap was a whole lot of figuring out paths and memorizing them so that when the next batch of quests sent me back, I’d know where to go. Not so much “adventure” as “player-turned-GPS.”