Posted in Books

2022 in Review: Syp’s bookshelf

It was a so-so year of reading for me. I had far more “did not finish” books than I would’ve liked, including some sequels that I thought were shoo-ins for greatness. Even so, I ended up with six titles that I would feel easy recommending to anyone — including, believe it or not, you!

Dungeon Crawler Carl

I with into this LitRPG series with a lot of reservations — chief among them being that I don’t read LitRPG at all — but I was won over by the humor, creativity, and marriage of tabletop stats and underlying drama. Carl and his sentient cat Donut are a compelling team, and I’ve since read books two and three as well.

The Blacktongue Thief

Easily the best fantasy entry I enjoyed this year. Just tremendous writing with a whole lot of humor and creative worldbuilding — even if that world can be pretty grimdark at times. Cannot wait for a sequel.

The Wizard’s Butler

I bought this audiobook on the premise alone — an ex-EMT becomes a butler for a guy who claims to be a modern-day wizard — and thoroughly enjoyed the cozy fantasy tale. Yes, it gets in the weeds of explaining every single action taken by everyone, but I thought it was a unique spin overall.

The Dark Side

This “detective noir on the moon” absolutely hit the spot with a dogged investigator, a corrupt system, and a murderous, unstoppable android on a mission. Really good writing with every chapter leaving me wanting more.

Justice of Kings

Speaking of detective stories, this tale of a roving justice and his teenage clerk slowly and surely sucked me into its complex world and morally compromised figures. Honestly not sure if I’ll read the sequel or not, but I did love it.

Chasing Graves

My final recommendation takes us to a world where the dead are resurrected as eternal slaves to the living. With one of the viewpoints being a particular zombie, I thought it was a tremendously fun idea with a lot of possibilities for the rest of the series.

Posted in Podcast

2022 in Review: Syp’s podcasts

Continuing the tour of my geeky 2022, I’ll turn my attention to podcasts. Over the course of the year, I participated in three of these ongoing projects. It’s a time-consuming hobby, especially with the editing-intensive Battle Bards, but it gives me a regular opportunity to hang out with friends and talk about some fun subjects.

MOP Podcast

This year we reached 400 episodes right before the Christmas break. That’s 400 episodes since we rebooted the podcast back in ’15, with another 350 or so prior to that. I’ve been talking about MMORPGs for a long, long time at this point… but it’s not boring! Not yet, at least.

Bree’s a good co-host, and it’s a regular fixture of my week to spend an hour or so every Monday afternoon holed up in my office talking about the latest news developments and listener questions with her. I’m always a little awed how people have faithfully tuned into this cast for years upon years now. If you’re one of them, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Battle Bards

The Battle Bards crew made a cadence shift in 2022. For the first time since we started in 2013, we downshifted from two to one episode a month. This was partially because we were starting to feel mildly burned out and partially because our co-host Steff took a hiatus. But we still cranked out at least one new show every month in 2022 and had a good time doing it. We’re now up to 220 episodes.

Community Rewatching 101

Our bi-weekly Community rewatch wrapped up season one and plowed into season two during the calendar year. We’re getting a lot more comfortable doing this, with some of our team even investing in better equipment to record professional-sounding episodes (with dorky personalities inhabiting them). It’s generally a great way to relax at the end of every other Tuesday with this great group of friends.

Posted in General

2022 in Review: Syp’s gadgets

This is a weird post to make, seeing as how I’ll never be accused of being an early adopter of tech. Actually, I’m the guy who will hang on to old tech and keep using it until it’s to ancient or broken. I mean, our whole family still shares an iPad mini from 2016 as our primary tablet.

But I did want to speak to gadget use this year, since it is a geeky thing and it had some impact on my life. The biggest upgrade I saw in this area was buying a Macbook M1 at the end of 2021. It never became my primary computer — especially for gaming purposes, as it’s pretty limited in that regard — but it definitely became my go-to travel laptop. Sitting in the car waiting for the kids to finish a club? I pull this out, connect it to the internet with a phone hotspot, and get to writing or surfing. Going on trips or sitting at a coffee shop or even lounging in the living room on the couch? I love the lightweight, no stuff attached form factor here.

I got a new Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday that replaced my old one (which went to my kids). It’s such an easy portable reader that I love bringing it with me whenever I’m heading out. But I definitely “read” more on audiobooks this year, using my phone and bluetooth earbuds or a connection to my car stereo to feed me stories.

Other than that, no computer upgrades or even phone upgrades (I’m still rocking an iPhone 7, believe it or not). I probably will get a new phone relatively soon, but it’s not a pressing need at the moment.

I guess one other gadget I should mention was that I tracked down the very last CD boombox that my local Walmart was selling, as I started to re-collect CDs late in the year. It’s a serviceable enough device, but if this is something I really want to pursue more, I may need to invest in a better upgrade in the future.

That’s about it for gadgets!

Posted in Gaming Goals

2022 in Review: Syp’s MMO journey

One of the benefits of doing my monthly “Gaming Goals” article is that I can keep track of what I played when I look back at the end of the year. And as I did last year, I created a simple chart to show what MMOs I ventured into during which month of the year.

So there you go: About 16 MMORPGs, depending on your definition, that I touched in 2022. Some of these were much briefer stays than others. For example, Embers Adrift, Tower of Fantasy, Lost Ark, Diablo Immortal, and Crowfall were first-time expeditions that didn’t really take with me. A couple others — SWTOR, Fallen Earth, Guild Wars 2 — were return visits that also failed to be “sticky” in the way I was hoping.

That leaves us with the streaks — the MMORPGs that I invested a good amount of time into. Lord of the Rings Online is the most obvious, with an uninterrupted 12-month play. I’m a little surprised I didn’t take a break in that time, but hey, I like this game!

I didn’t recall spending five (!) months in Elder Scrolls Online, but I guess I must have. I keep thinking that this is a title to revisit sometime soon.

Wrath Classic got a couple of runs there, mostly bolstered by the incoming Wrath Classic (and then defeated by general apathy toward that expansion when it did come out). I jumped back into retail WoW in the last quarter of the year and had a pretty OK time there.

RIFT and DDO were titles that I spent a nice chunk of time in this year. The former was a big splashy return to an old favorite MMO, while the latter was picking up my character and going through another expansion. And then there’s New World, which only recently got its hooks into me after its revamp and fresh start servers.

I should point out old MMOs that I didn’t touch at all this year, which include FFXIV, Star Trek Online, and Neverwinter.

All in all, it was a good year full of variety. I don’t plan or map these games out in advance, so it’s more like seeing where the wind — and my whims — take me. Maybe 16 titles signal that I was too full of wanderlust and wouldn’t settle down, but I think LOTRO provided my “home base MMO,” so to speak, that allowed me to venture out into other territories.

There are some upcoming titles I’m keenly interested in, but as for other MMOs that I might return to in 2023, I have only the loosest of notions. DDO is always a good bet (I think it makes for fun blogging, but that could just be me), and RIFT/EQ2 could take over for that WoW fix if and when I leave retail WoW. I feel like LOTRO and New World are going to be a good bet for a while now, and ESO probably will suck me back in around expansion time.

Posted in General

2022 in Review: Syp’s non-MMO gaming

Hey, it’s the last week of 2022, and with that in mind, I wanted to wrap up the year on Bio Break with a look back at my geeky journey over the past 12 months. Today I’ll be kicking things off with a review of all of my video gaming outside of MMORPGs.

I feel like I got a good smattering of various gaming experiences this year. RimWorld and Wildermyth were both fun to blog through this past spring, and I went through both Darkside Detective titles for some hilarious old fashioned adventure gaming. Seriously, Darkside Detective is incredibly funny (and kind of clever) despite having chunky old school graphics.

Out of numerous strong recommendations, I did try Project Zomboid for a while. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ever get into this game. It was too stressful, too confusing, and the controls were way too awkward. But I like the concept!

Over the summer, I took a short vacation break to play through all of Life is Strange: True Colors. It was a bit shallow in the end, but a great ride and a wonderful way to pass the time. I needed a good adventure game fix, and this gave one to me in spades. Later this year, I played through all of Detroit Become Human for the same reason and came to the same conclusion (kind of really fun during it, but unsatisfying and shallow by the time I finished up).

I got back into retro game blogging with an eight-episode stint through Chrono Cross. I put about 35 hours into it before fizzling out, but it was still nice to revisit the past and see what held up about it and what didn’t.

Speaking of unexpected gaming, American Truck Simulator got its hooks into me for a bit of time there. I still enjoy it in spurts here and there, but it was an infatuation quickly dismissed. Longer lasting, though, was Marvel Snap, my must-play, go-to mobile title for the year. Man, I love that game!

I also started up another playthrough of The Outer Worlds, this time to blog through and play the DLC. Finally, I started playing through Shadows Over Loathing, the sequel to West of Loathing. It’s a pretty decent (and seriously quirky) adventure-RPG hybrid.

All in all, I feel I got a lot of non-MMO gaming in — and a nice variety, too. What’ll come in the new year? I have ideas… but I’m not sharing yet.

Posted in CRPG, CRPGs, Kingdom of Loathing

Shadows Over Loathing surprised us all

One of my absolute favorite RPGs released in the last decade was West of Loathing — the single-player spin-off set in the Kingdom of Loathing universe. Despite its stick figure graphics, it was nevertheless absolutely engrossing. And hilarious. And weird. And imaginative. I really loved it, which is why I was bowled over when the studio abruptly launched a sequel with absolutely zero advance announcement or warning.

So we got Shadows of Loathing last month, and that was an insta-buy for me. I’ve been pecking away at it in chunks of gaming time here and there. Unlike the first game, which was a wild west RPG, this one is kind of a Lovecraftian 1920s-themed adventure. And it is much more of an “adventure” game than an RPG — maybe a 70-30 split there — due to the focus on discovery, puzzles, and dialogue trees.

I’m only in chapter three (of six) of this storyline, and I don’t know how I feel about it. There’s a whole lot to like here — hey, any game where you get to play both sides of a time paradox is pretty fun — but I can’t help shake the feeling that it’s not quite as funny or as clever as the first game. The combat is rather weak, and some of the quests require a lot of very specific actions to accomplish (which mean a lot of Google search for clues).

Yet I am far from writing it off. There’s nothing quite like these games in terms of their wordplay and weirdness. I love that my traveling companion is Gabby the Goblin, who is absolutely bizarre. I got a big laugh during her sidequest where she goes off and reproduces like a fungus, sending one of her offspring back to me without my character being the wiser.

One of these is mine! And that’s not odd at all!

Posted in CRPG, CRPGs

The Outer Worlds: Introducing the Company Man

It’s been a couple of years since I last played The Outer Worlds, and I feel it’s time for a return for four reasons. One, I absolutely loved Obsidian’s scifi RPG and would like to go through it again. Two, there’s a sequel on the way. Three, I never did play the two DLC packs. And four, it’d be cool to blog through a run. So why not?

Unlike my first run, where I was goody two-shoes helpy-helperton, this time around I’m a Company Man through and through. Slick-talking, pretty smart, and willing to say or do whatever to get ahead. I named him Burke, of course. He’s got a background as a Cashier, Sub-Grade, Non-Supervisory. I dumped some extra stat points in some social options and handgun usage.

The Outer Worlds has such a cool setting with a nice retro-futuristic Victorian style. It takes place in the Halcyon system, where Earth’s first-ever company-run colony is set up. There are competing corporations with different reputations and production lines, and it’s up to the player to choose which to align with. In any case, the game starts out on the Hope — an abandoned colony ship that is boarded by an eccentric technowizard named Phineas who wakes me up from hibernation.

He wants to save all the colonists on the abandoned ship, but he’s only got enough time and chemicals for smarmy ol’ me. Thus, he shoots me down to a planet and tasks me with an overall quest to rescue the Hope’s inhabitants. First, I’ll need to meet a smuggler and board his ship…

Gotta love that Obsidian dark sense of humor. Well, the smuggler’s dead — my escape pod crushed him — so now I’m going to head off to steal his ship for myself.

Outer Worlds is played in first-person perspective only (which was because of development reasons, or so I heard), so it’s kind of like an RPG shooter or fighter, depending on your weapon loadout. However, there’s a neat “time dilation” feature that effectively gives you bullet time for short bursts so players like me with bad twitch skills can actually line up headshots and get a jump on an encounter.

The good news is that the game hands me a starship of my own for transportation and a base of operations pretty much right away. The ship’s AI, ADA, absorbs the news that the old Captain Hawthorne was crushed, so she accepts me as the new Captain Hawthorne instead. Unfortunately, the bad news is that I need a doohickey to power up the ship and get it off ground, so that’s going to require some local questing.

Outer Worlds is a little bit tough at the start — by which I mean that you (I) can die pretty quickly. So like last time, I’m going to be careful to fully exploit this starting planet for all of the gear, money, and XP I can get. Need those perks to survive!

Edgewater is a Spacer’s Choice town, which means that everyone here is indebted to a company that makes cheap, easy-to-break items. It’s also been ravaged by a plague, which makes it all sorts of a fun place to live. To get the doohickey for my ship, I need to fix a power plant and decide whether to divert the remaining energy to this company town or to a settlement of deserters. There’s an interesting third option here, which is that you divert to the town but then you convince (or kill) the company exec to resign and have the deserter chief take over local business. That’s the one I went with.

Posted in Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 220: Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons

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

Whether or not you like dragons, you have to admit that Guild Wars 2 certainly ended them in style! Join Syl and Syp as they rewind to last winter’s End of Dragons and its incredible bounty of soundtrack goodness.

Episode 220 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Daigo Ward” and “Mist Connections”)
  • “A Future Carved in Jade”
  • “A New Era of Heroes”
  • “I’m Home”
  • “The Petrified Forest”
  • “Captain of the Aetherblades”
  • “Stroll in the Night Markets”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Crystal Garden” from King’s Quest V and “Knucklebones” from Cult of the Lamb
  • Outro (feat. “The Empire of Dragons”)
Posted in Music

Rebuilding my CD collection from (near) scratch

If you couldn’t tell from this blog, I’m the type of person who loves to get excited about a project and then dive into it with great amounts of enthusiasm. Sometimes it pans out for the long-term, sometimes not, but it’s almost always fun for the meanwhile.

So for a while now, I’ve had this idea simmering of getting back into physical music collecting. I’m still curating a tailored MP3 music directory that I tote around with me in various formats (car flash drive, laptop, iPod, phone), but I liked the idea of physical media. It’s been a long time since I did this, and my previous collection has either disappeared or been given away or was represented by lots of types of music I don’t listen to anymore.

I thought about vinyl, but rejected it because it’s too expensive these days, too prone to damage, and would require a rather costly initial investment. Cassettes were a thought, mostly for a portable Walkman, but those are even flimsier. That led me around to the tried-and-true CD. It was after I discovered a whole bunch of videos extoling the virtues of CD collecting in 2022 — and how there was a rise in CD sales in 2021 for the first time in like two decades — that I started down this path.

The weird thing is that I don’t even own a CD player except in one of our vans. I did some research and have my eye on a couple of different units for a post-holiday purchase. In the meanwhile, I figured it wouldn’t hurt anything to start hunting around for albums and start rebuilding that collection.

This has been, in a phrase, a cracking good time. I’ve been feeling the nostalgic twinge for the ’90s pretty hard lately, so this gives me an outlet to time travel (musically speaking) and build the album assembly that I should’ve had in college but didn’t. Now that I know a lot more about the bands I like from this era, I can hunt them down.

So every day or every other day, I’ve been making a point to head off to a different Salvation Army or Goodwill after work to comb through the CD piles there. Sometimes I walk away with nothing, sometimes a hefty handful. I don’t really do shopping anymore, other than groceries, so this provides a cheap outlet to go hunting in thrift stores.

I also found a local CD reseller right down the street from my work the other day. He has an amazing store with albums for relatively cheap prices, and I instantly doubled my baby collection for $20 with lots of old favorites. I’ve got plans to check out another local record store and then do some extra garage sale shopping come next summer (if I’m still going strong with this).

Yeah, maybe it’s a little silly to think of filling up shelves with old media when I’ve got MP3s living in virtually no physical space, but I’m jazzed about it. I can’t wait to get a good player and then pick a different album every day to listen through start to finish.