Sunday Serenade: JJD, Jessie Fyre, 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… 

“Kitty” by Mafin — Happy go lucky EDM. Nothing more, nothing less.

“Pumpin Blood” by Nonono — This remix hits the right sort of upbeat, bubby tone that makes it worth a few relistens to me.

“Share That Love” by Lukas Graham — It’s a really good sign when you’re singing along with the lyrics before you’ve finished hearing a song for the first time.

“Connect” by JJD –– A simple earworm of a song, but no less fun for that.

“Windows” by K-391 — Dork techno by the way of the 1970s? I dig it.

“How Deep is Your Love” by Lea Beiley — I was really on the fence about this mellow track, but I felt that the remix version tipped it over the edge into favorable territory.

“Fallen Leaves” by JJD — Going through this guy’s discography and I’m really impressed. This would be the kind of music I’d want to hear if I went to a club. If.

“No Sleep” by Jessie Fyre — Really impressed with this retro singer. She belts it out in a way that you’d think it was still 1987.

“Ace” by Mazzix — I imagine this would make a great track for a workout… especially biking.

LOTRO: Marching ever onward

I know I’ve taken the above photo of Underharrow before, but seriously, it’s one of my favorite places in LOTRO — even though we’re only there as players for a very brief time. It’s a good reminder of how much beauty and wonder there is in this game world, and why I love being in it.

Anyway, the past week saw more adventures further into Helm’s Deep on the legendary server. I forgot just how big and sprawling these Rohan expansions are. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, as the quests are generally engaging and not annoying, but I have to step hard on the desire to power through it quickly. I might consider, say, an afternoon marathon session one of these Saturdays, but mostly I just get a half-hour of LOTRO time a day and that’s it. I do try to make the best of it.

Another think I’ve loved about these two expansions is reuniting with the old Fellowship. I still think this is one of the best ideas the LOTRO writers had — to give the player their own regular companions that weave in and out of the epic story. It’s kind of sad that they don’t stick around forever, but for now, I’m glad to see Horn, Nona, and Elf-Dude.

Well, at least Horn and Nona.

Meanwhile over on the regular servers, I realized I hadn’t quite finished up the Great Wedding update. Specifically, I hadn’t done the feast instance that comes after the wedding. There’s no combat and very little in the way of quest objectives; mostly it’s about attending a big banquet and watching a whole lot of story beats.

Again, this update feels like it’s the coda to the entire MMO. There are great cameos, happy resolutions, running jokes, and the classic Fellowship enjoying a well-deserved moment of peace and joy. It was a great way to spend 45 minutes or so, and now that it’s done, I feel like… well, anything might be possible.

Of course, we do know where we are going next: up north to help the dwarves fight orcs or something. LOTRO’s prepping a mini-expansion for this fall that isn’t quite selling me on the urgency to buy — I’ve really had my fill of orcs at this point — but the boar mounts do look neat. I’m also not happy that we won’t be able to buy this with LP out of the gate, which I feel is a really nasty thing to do to players.

Anyway, I’m sure there will be tons to do on the current progression server, the regular server, and perhaps even the new progression shard. When the weather turns colder here in New York, I might settle in for a nice winter of LOTRO.

WoW Classic: Breaker Breaker!

There’s an awful lot that I’ve forgotten about vanilla World of Warcraft that WoW Classic is all but too eager to teach me. Like how easy it was to die, or how you actually need food and drink to get them bars back up, or what travel was like when there was only a single flight master per zone.

And I totally forgot what Hunters used to be like sixteen iterations ago. Like pretty much everyone, I started off with a Hunter in vanilla, but after a while I migrated over to the Warlock as my main. I only started a serious Hunter back up in Wrath, so my memory has large gaps in what I remember Hunters as being and what they actually were.

But then I watched a video last week explaining some of the intricacies of the class, and suddenly my memory unlocked all of these little details that I had put away, particularly in regards to how the class was much more focused on the care and maintenance of pets. There’s feeding pets, collecting skills, training them up, loyalty levels, and so on. I had TOTALLY forgotten than you could mix-and-match skills to create a build for your companion, and I’m kicking Blizzard that they let that idea go. That’s so cool.

As rekindled interest soon led to action, I had created a Troll Hunter to re-experience the class and see at which intersection nostalgia and reality would meet. I didn’t want to be super gung-ho with this toon, so I made her with some possible leveling structures in mind.

Particularly, I wasn’t going to do quests. If Classic has taught me anything, it’s that while quests are good for XP, they’re generally horrible for rewards and involve a lot of time crisscrossing the world. That gets tiresome. Since I’ve actually liked just mindlessly farming the most in Classic, I figured this character would be perfect for that. I’d just farm mobs, farm minerals, and work up Engineering.

I did, however, make a list of quests that do have some useful rewards that I want to do at some point, but there’s no rush with that. In the meanwhile, I’m running around the Barrens with my floppy feet and a wolf pet that I named Breaker. Wolves seem like a good Classic pet — able to equip some useful skills, including one that has group buff usage, and boasting a nice balance of tankiness and damage. And I like dogs more than cats, so there you go.

I polled my guild the other day about why they’ve chosen the class that they did for Classic, and pretty much all of them said that it was the class that they played extensively back in vanilla. So maybe they did know what they wanted all along, eh Blizz?

Space Quest 6: Stellar entry

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1995’s Space Quest 6: The Spinal Frontier. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Speaking of being down and out, Roger bumps into Elmo Pug. You know, the head of the ScumSoft Corp in Space Quest III and the target for Roger’s merciless beating vis-à-vis giant robots. Elmo’s fallen on hard times and become a drunk who sells cheat sheets for arcade games. Sounds like just the thing Roger needs to win at Stooge Fighter III!

Man, even E.T. is slumming it here? Roger needs to get off this planet ASAP.

Alas, that doesn’t look like it’ll happen — at least, not the way he’d want. Roger is kidnapped by a couple of beefy aliens and held in their dorky man cave. It takes a long time to figure a way out, but eventually Roger gets past the two dorks, activates a homing beacon, and is rescued by a StarCon crewmate.

Said crewmate is Stellar, a completely new character with a severely wrinkled forehead who seems to be infatuated with Roger (the girl, not the forehead). He’s interested but reluctant, fearing Beatrice’s wrath if he ever cheated on her. I don’t know how I feel about the game suddenly throwing this woman at Roger without any explanation as to… why… she’s interested in him or when they met, but at least he has an ally on the ship.

Meanwhile, the captain gets orders to go assist some craggy-looking crone with a project. I love the bridge of the DeepShip here, it’s packed with so many great details, like the SNES controls and the cat bed and cat litter for the captain.

Meanwhile meanwhile, Roger and Stellar start to try to figure out who tried to kidnap him. It’s here that we see — in what I think is a first for the series — Roger’s bedroom on the ship. You’d think that a janitor would be more sanitary, but no, it’s a dump. It’s good for several funny call-backs to previous games, as Roger has a lot of mementos from his adventures to date here — including his golden mop from the first game.

And speaking of mops, Roger gets a mission from the captain to beam down to another planet and clean the quarters of some old hag. This pulse-pounding action is exactly what people signed up for when they bought this game. Actually, it does get a bit more interesting, as the doors lock and gas starts pouring in through the vents thanks to the hag triggering a little remote under her blankets. I have to say that, so far, it’s really hard to die in this game, especially compared to earlier Space Quest entries. I had to wait like two minutes before Roger croaked here.

Stellar beams down to help Roger get out of the room, but she’s trapped and left behind. An explosion sounds and Roger lets out the predictable “STELLAR!” She’s assumed to be killed, and so the crew has a funeral for her back on the ship. I love that Roger reuses Kirk’s funeral eulogy from Star Trek II, albeit with a minor change (“Of all the souls I have encountered on my journey, hers was the most… scuff-resistant!”).

Battle Bards Episode 177: Gone with the wind

As the weather howls and gusts around us, the Battle Bards stand in the middle of it all with their heads lifted up, listening to the music that rides on the breeze. In this episode, Syl, Steff, and Syp examine wind-themed tracks from MMORPGs. Will they find all of the wind’s colors? Probably not, but nobody ever mistook these three for artistic geniuses!

Episode 177 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Calm Breeze” from Elsword Online, “Silken Wind Through a Bamboo Forest” from Age of Conan, and “The Wind and the Reeds” from Fallout 76)
  • “Sign of Wind” from Lineage
  • “Echoes of a Zephyr” from Final Fantasy XI
  • “Dust” from Last Oasis
  • “Whispering Winds” from TERA
  • “On Windy Meadows” from Final Fantasy XIV
  • “Carbines in the Wind” from Star Wars: The Old Republic
  • “Winds of the Frontier” from WildStar
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Zinn and Katriana
  • “Swordmaiden’s Prayer,” a special WildStar tribute to Avidguru
  • Jukebox picks: “Traps” from Turrican 2, “Title Theme” from Clockwiser, and “Title Theme” from Ary and the Secret of Seasons
  • Outro (feat. “Highland Winds” from Skyforge)

SWTOR: Gettin’ frosty on Hoth

The other day I saw DasMoose tweet on SWTOR: “Do you know why Legendary is so special? It’s not getting every class buff across any character. It’s not for titles or achievements. No, that’s not why it matters. You went through Hoth at LEAST 8 separate times and retained your sanity.”

And I was like, aww, I like Hoth! Coincidentally, I’ve been going through Hoth right now on my Sniper, trying to cast off her chemical brainwashing while dealing with not a few uprisings and scavenger hunts.

I’m not entirely sure if Hoth has a terrible reputation, as DasMoose seems to indicate, but I’ve always thought it was one of the better planets in the game. For starters, I love winter zones, and Hoth is a good one — starkly beautiful with lots of shades of blues and whites all over the place. There’s frost on windows, ice in the underground bunkers, wampas frolicking left and right. It just *looks* cold, and that’s a good accomplishment for the art team.

It’s not a visually complex, but there are some notable landmarks — most significantly the frozen spaceship graveyard. I just like cruising around Hoth to see what there is.

Plus, Hoth draws heavily upon the setting and nostalgia from The Empire Strikes Back, and who doesn’t love that movie? The opening battle is one of the most iconic from the movies, with zooming snowspeeders and unstoppable AT-ATs marching on. I always felt like the choice of Hoth as a Rebel base suggested that the Rebels were at the end of any options and had to make it work. It didn’t look safe and cozy; it was hostile inside and out.

That’s an interesting setting for me and one that I was glad to revisit a couple of times in SWTOR. I can tell you that there are other planets that I like a whole lot less than Hoth, although I’ve never actually sat down to do a ranking. Hm. Maybe that’s a project for another day.

Shadowlands can’t seem to get its act together

There’s no doubt in my mind that World of Warcraft players are beyond ready to pull the eject lever on Battle of Azeroth. Pent-up frustration and a general sense of “this all didn’t work out as intended” has created a migratory mindset in the community that is desperate to move on to new and — hopefully — better lands.

The problem is that Shadowlands doesn’t look like a stable landing zone for the community. At least, not yet. Oh, I see some genuine potential here. The afterlife theme and zones seem really interesting and something I would like to explore. The new leveling scheme and introductory zone is getting some praise. I’ve read some positive reports of how fun the Torghast infinite dungeon is. And at the very least, it’ll be not-Battle for Azeroth, which is the very low bar that is now set.

But even coming at the expansion from the perspective of a casual player who’s like, “Yeah, I’ll have some fun there,” even I can’t ignore that there are some large red flags being thrown up. At this point, less than two months to launch, Blizzard should be refining content and testing it to get every last bug out. Instead, it’s scrambling to rework systems and address the great community unrest over the central covenant system. That’s… not a good sign.

And I don’t really feel bad for Blizzard, because this is a mess of its own making. It can’t stop trying to rework classes and progression with every expansion, yanking out old systems and tossing in new ones. People are tired of the switcharoos and look back at previous eras where the talent trees only got slightly reworked between expansions. If Blizz would create and then stick to a progression system that could be built up with each new expansion, I think it’d have a lot better reception with the community than to do artifact weapons and then heart of Azeroth and then essences and now covenants and soulbindings.

Have a vision, have a plan, and stick to it. That’s what Blizzard needs. Instead, it’s slamming around all over the place trying to make everyone happy and succeeding nowhere. For those of us softly parachuting down into Shadowlands, it’s disconcerting to see this mess happening underneath our hanging feet.

Yeah… I do hope the devs’ll get it together soon, but it’s not looking that likely. And that’s going to suck some — but not all — of the joy out of unwrapping a brand-new expansion.

Sunday Serenade: Janji, LOTRO, 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… 

“Shadows” by Janji — A fun uplifting track with a good deal of bounce to it.

“Ameno” by Gabry Ponte, Marnik, and Roberto Molinaro — Gregorian chant set to a techno beat? It’s a weird collaboration, but it also kind of rocks.

“A Feast at Merethrond” from LOTRO — One of the amazing wedding tracks and probably the greatest concentrated nostalgia this game has ever produced.

“My Kind of Love” by Fewz — Smooth vocals and a mellow beat make for a really good combination.

How can I get past my distrust of MMO emulators?

In the year of our good Lord 2020 A.D., there is certainly something to celebrate in the MMO scene: the rise and acceptance of emulators. Rogue servers, as we call them at Massively OP.  There are so, so many of these out there, and while there’s not one for every dead MMO that exists, plenty of these former projects are being preserved with love and care by diehard fans.

Today, you can step back into games like Star Wars Galaxies, The Sims Online, and Earth & Beyond, even though these MMOs have been shuttered for many years now. And not only can you play them again, but you can play them with thriving communities of modern day players. That’s pretty amazing.

All of this gets my approval — I have no ethical or moral qualms about preserving shuttered MMOs — but I’ve also noticed that I am emotionally wary about getting invested in such games. Last year’s revival of City of Heroes, amazing as it was, wasn’t enough to keep me coming back for too long. It wasn’t that I was uninterested (nor am now), but that there are some yellow flags that warn me away.

I feel likewise with Return of Reckoning, the Warhammer Online server that I keep promising myself I’m going to check out. You know, one of these days. Sometime. It still hasn’t happened.

I think it’s a mixture of the following:

  • Distrust of volunteer developers who may not always have the best interests of the players at heart
  • Perceived instability of these projects and their coding and backend tech
  • Concern about long-time commitment to maintaining these games
  • A lack of legal approval

None of these are deal-breakers — I have played City of Heroes, Chronicles of Spellborn, and Star Wars Galaxies emulators — but they do a lot to make me hesitate getting that invested into MMOs that could end up folding overnight if the team doesn’t pay the server bill, dissolves in a fight, or gets slapped with a C&D from the IP owners.

We’ve been waiting over a year now for the City of Heroes Homecoming group to work out a deal with NCsoft for actual ownership or official permission to run these servers, but I’ve getting more doubtful the longer these “talks” continue that it’s actually going to happen. If they did go through, I’ll tell you that it would work a lot in the game’s factor to attract me.

Of course, the project I really want to see happen is a WildStar emulator. I think I’d rather NCsoft sell the game to a company that’d be interested in running it as a legit thing, but I’d be happy if someone managed to jury-rig WildStar up on an Amazon server and let us return to Nexus. I’d still be worried about the state of such an emulator, but… yeah, I’d play in a heartbeat.

Geocaching the COVID blues away

While this past spring was both scary and stressful as the pandemic raged about and kept us locked up during the last gasp of a Buffalo winter, summer for our household has been better. Unconventional compared to past years, but actually pretty fun and full of family bonding activities. Lots of hikes, lots of socially distant activities like berry picking, and a renewal of an old favorite activity of mine — geocaching.

In fact, when I had thought of this in August, I was slapping my forehead that this didn’t come to mind earlier when my wife and I were brainstorming things to do with the kids that were safe for them and for others around us. Geocaching is kind of a perfect COVID-era activity: It takes you to remote spots off the beaten path, it encourages you to not “play” if others are near, and it turns the world around you into an exciting treasure hunt.

So for the past month, I’ve been taking out my older kids a few times a week for geocache hunts. We haven’t really done it since arriving in New York two years ago, so this is fertile exploration ground for us, and there are hundreds if not thousands of caches to find. For both me and the kids, it’s thrilling to go on these trips because we never quite know what we’ll find or what we’ll see. Geocaching is often about being led by strangers to interesting places and shown things that most folk never witness, and that connects us with this invisible but real community.

It’s social distancing, gamified.

Some of the notable geocaches we’ve found so far:

  • One that included a small Polaroid camera for geocachers to take pictures of themselves and put them back in the container.
  • A multi-cache that involved finding death dates on gravestones and using those for the GPS coordinates of the final cache.
  • A WWII memorial that was one of the more visually impressive shrines I’ve ever seen.

It’s certainly helped us to get our exercise, especially since the kids grew so sick of “yet another walk.” Now we’re walking with a purpose, and they don’t complain but keep chattering away. We have team roles — navigator, log signer, treasure holder — and everyone gets to join in on the challenge of finding the cache.

Anyway, I’m hoping to keep this going until it gets too cold this year to do it. The question of winter activities in a city that’s still pretty locked up looms over our heads, but one day at a time and we’ll make it though even that.