LOTRO: Brown lands isn’t the adventure I signed up for

The current guestimate of the LOTRO community as to when Standing Stone Games is going to unlock Riders of Rohan on the progression server is mid-January. That sounds about right to me, and since SSG rarely gives us much of a head’s up on such things, I’ve been rushing to get the Great River region done so that I’ll be 100% ready. If I get done sooner, well, I have tons of Bingo Boffin quests waiting to fill the time.

It’s pretty mindless questing, for the most part. I do try to read the quest text and follow along with the stories, but when you’ve done it a few times already, it’s easy to shut off the brain and just go to where the glowy patches are on the map and Do The Things. I’m not really in it for advancement (I’m already 75) or money, but rather a sense of completion and the off chance that one of these quests will reward me with a unique armor or weapon skin.

That last one isn’t so far off, either. I actually got two cool pieces this past week which weren’t lurking in my wardrobe, and so I’ve been refining the above outfit with even better looks.

I don’t know why the devs saved the Brown Lands area as the last place you go in Great River, because it’s easily the ugliest part of what is otherwise an interesting zone. There’s a hint of an interesting plotline with one sad Ent who is looking for the Entwives and their garden, but otherwise, it’s just killin’ Easterlings, cats, bugs, and crocodiles. At least there are no flowers here for elves to make me pick. You have to count your small blessings, after all!

Looking ahead to the next expansion, I don’t share the angst over Riders of Rohan that I’ve seen among some players, but I do understand their concern over how many quests there are. It’s a huge region with scads of quest hubs and whatnot, but I still like it for the visuals and the uptick in storytelling. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been back in Rohan and I’m looking forward to revisiting it — even if the game is going to try to make me excited about warsteeds again. Man, that’s a lost cause, isn’t it?

I’m even more interested in hearing from SSG about the coming year of the game, but the producer only gets off his butt sometime in February for this, so we’ll probably be waiting a while. I have no solid guesses, other than some more Minas Morgul content and Rohan housing.

Toonstruck: Doc Brown and the Flux Wildly

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1996’s Toonstruck. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

While most of the games that I’ve gone through in my Retro Gaming series I’ve either known of or played personally in the past, Toonstruck is a different story. I first came across this just a year ago in a YouTube video review and subsequently picked it up on GOG.com to save for a special occasion. I’m quite flabbergasted that it escaped my attention — it wasn’t a massive breakout hit, but this is a game starring flippin’ Doc Brown himself (Christopher Lloyd) as well as Ben Stein, David Ogden Stiers, Tress MacNeille (Futurama and Simpsons), Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson), Dom DeLuise, Tim Curry, Frank Welker, and more. I’m not making any of that up; this game is stocked with the voice talents of some of the animation industry’s greatest right here. And I haven’t played it.

That changes today.

From what I can tell, Toonstruck is in the strange sub-niche of cartoon and live action crossovers that we’ve only rarely seen in movies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Cool World and Space Jam. You’ll note that this isn’t a sub-genre that’s really taken off. It’s got to be very hard to make and make right, so we’ll see how this game does it. Let’s begin.

At the start we meet a frustrated TV animator named Drew Blanc (played by Christopher Lloyd), whose name is the kind of humor that we’ll be encountering in this game. Because he draws a blank a lot when it comes to schedules and creativity. You get it.

Drew originally wanted to make a bizarro cartoon character named Flux Wildly but instead sold out to make the Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show instead. His boss, Ferris Bueller’s Ben Stein, tells him that by morning Drew needs to create a whole bunch of new bunnies to jazz up the show. For some reason, this is a near impossible task for Drew, who falls asleep on his table after moaning a lot.

While he’s sleeping at four a.m., the Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show pops on the TV. And then promptly sucks Drew into the cartoon universe, because of course that’s how this sort of thing works. I saw it on Captain N that one time.

Promptly, two things happen to Drew. He’s attacked by a flying saucer and then bumps into his own neglected creation, Flux (voiced by Castellaneta). As Flux tells us that he lives far away in this world, it’s not really explained why he happened to be in this other country when Drew shows up, but now I know where Doc Brown got the idea from the flux capacitor. I was only allotted one Back to the Future joke for this series, and I’m using it now.

Despite not having much to live for back home, Drew seems hellbent on getting there. Flux takes him to the good King Hugh, who says that he has that ability but requires Drew to help him first, as this is an adventure game. The evil Count Nefarious has made a weapon to turn good cartoons bad, which to me seems far more interesting, but Hugh wants Drew to help assemble a machine to reverse the effects and make everything ultra-cuddly again. I’d think Drew would hate this idea, but Lloyd vaguely gestures and reacts to a green screen and agrees to this.

By the way, I want you to meet Toonstruck’s options menu. Prepare your eyes, because this is going to hurt:

That’s either the absolute best or worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

Toonstruck’s design is a combination of FMV and animation, which actually looks pretty great. Sure, Lloyd’s movements have that unnatural cadence that you get from FMV, but he blends in fine to the world, which itself is colorful, expressive, and scored by a Disney-like soundtrack. This looks like a game at which a lot of money was thrown.

A lot of the humor of this game is of the wry-and-pun variety, which isn’t necessarily bad, it just depends on the delivery. A lot of the humor is also smack-you-on-the-face-with-a-fish subtle, such as this literal footman here. “So does that mean that in this world, a butler is a great, big…?” starts Flux. “Exactly,” says Drew. That got my first laugh of the game.

At this point, I am actively rooting for Count Nefarious to win, if only to put an end to these chipper armadillos. Anyway, the royal engineer tells Drew that he needs 12 specific items to build a “Cutifier” to save the country. It seems that the mystery items are the opposites of what Nefarious has used in his machine (for example, sugar to his spice), so now we’re off on a scavenger hunt.

“How long could that take?” Drew asks innocently, not knowing the first thing about adventure games at all.

SWG: A disturbance in the Force

For January’s floating MMORPG pick, I let my MOP Podcast co-host Bree choose for me. I don’t know what I was expecting, since every other sentence from her either references Ultima Online or Star Wars Galaxies, but here I am in Star Wars Galaxes Legends, a post-NGE emulator that picked up the game after SOE abandoned it (or was forced to abandon, to be fair).

My only previous hands-on experience with SWG was a couple of sessions in 2010 — a full decade ago! — for an article that I wrote about somesuch or the other. I wasn’t really sold on the GLORY and MAJESTY that was Star Wars Galaxies back then, and there was SWTOR on the horizon, so I didn’t get much past the tutorial.

This month? I’m going to see what I can see, but I do want to root around in a galaxy far, far away and see what I can make of myself.

Getting Legends set up took more doing than your average live MMO. I had to download a whole bunch of files from an abandonware site, finagle my computer to accepting them as “discs,” set up an account, patch up, fiddle with administrator rights, and then… then I was logging in. To Star Wars Galaxies. In 2020.

What hit me right from the start was not only John Williams’ incredible score but the fact that SWG has a waaaaay better racial selection than SWTOR. Most of the picks are the more exotic alien races, including the somewhat disturbing Bothans (above).

Me? I had to go with ol’ Fish Eyes here. I ended up with this purple-and-lime pattern that I actually dug. It’s not a trap, it’s a fashion statement! I even watched all of the very old class videos before selecting Medic. It seemed self-sufficient for my purposes.

Here’s Syp Squid in her first moments of life, learning how to walk with the aid of the almighty WASD. I love how she looks like she’s in a blind panic all of the time.

Since this was after the NGE revamp of the game, the tutorial was redone to deliver a lot more in terms of fanservice. You get C3P0, R2D2, Chewie, and a Han Solo voice impersonator. They took me on the Falcon because I get VIP treatment in every MMO these days. Flying with the stars, I am.

While Han kept yelling at me to get into a gun turret to fight off some TIE fighters, I ignored him and enjoyed sitting in the captain’s seat for a few minutes. Random thought: Wouldn’t it be hard to free-fly the Falcon since the cockpit is off-center?

Another random thought: turret combat actually works. Space combat is something that SWG managed to pull off, and for the time, that was pretty impressive.

After the short tutorial, Syp Squid was plunked down onto a station and Han basically told me that he didn’t care if I helped the Empire or the Rebellion. Which seemed to be an odd statement, considering how we just gunned down Stormtroopers and TIE fighters. Maybe he likes stirring things up.

So check out this inventory screen, eh? Constantly rotating 3D objects and no paper doll. It’s… interesting if somewhat ugly.

Switching it up

My wife’s big gift to me this past Christmas was really a gift to our entire family, as we finally made the jump to the Nintendo Switch as our console of choice. This was a bigger change-up than you might realize, as the previous console we had was the Gamecube. Nothing like leapfrogging over a couple of generations to the semi-newest one.

For us, we like Nintendo because of its focus on family-friendly group games, so the Gamecube actually was amazing for a long time. My kids never got tired of Smash Bros or Mario Kart Double Dash, and I think that we picked up something like 25 other titles over the years. Just good bonding time as we played together rather than apart.

That’s why the Switch sold us. We wanted the latest generation of games while still retaining that four-player fun. I got the basic console, an extra pair of joycons, Mario Kart 8, Sonic Racing, and some other fighting game that I don’t think we’ll ever touch. It’s pretty funny to me how much better the graphics are after having been used to the CRT-attuned Gamecube, but I’m also gratified that the gameplay is tight and engaging — at least for Mario Kart, which is where our family seems happiest.

The Switch is nice, but it’s not bowling me over with its features or presentation. It’s remarkably finicky with controller setup and frustratingly difficult to set up parental controls. I also literally growled when I realized that the eShop didn’t sell NES or SNES games like the virtual console did; you have to subscribe to a monthly service and I am so not doing that.

So it’s probably going to be a once-in-a-while gaming console for us, just like how the Gamecube was. We’ll pick up a few games and every now and then take it out to play as a family. The fact that we could easily bring it on a trip or to a different room has appeal, I suppose, but I’m somewhat terrified of the kids scratching it up.

The only two other titles that I’m keeping an eye on for future purchases are Super Smash Bros Ultimate — the kiddos are begging me for this one — and Mario Maker 2. For now, though, I think Mario Kart has more than enough to offer us for a half-hour of intense (yet innocent) smack talk and reckless driving.

Sunday Serenade: Fast Food Rockers, Hurts, Art of Noise, 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…

“Fast Food Song” by Fast Food Rockers — This song is not high art. Not even close. It’s borderline annoying… and catchy. Of course, it’s not high class food, either. But both are tasty and weirdly appealing.

“Main Theme” from For a Few Dollars More — I can’t believe I haven’t heard this yet, especially after being infatuated with Morricone’s other classic works. This is going on the MP3 player for sure.

“Wonderful Life” by Hurts — Sometimes I find myself in the middle of listening to a song that that I’ve started to tune out, only to have it arrest my attention and demand that I rewind and start over. I did so with this one, and it definitely won me over.

“Muscle Beach” by Ace Marino — “The ’80s are strong in this one,” one commenter wrote. Yes. Yes it is.

“Close (To The Edit)” by Art of Noise — What is this glorious madness? It is my current joy, my friends!

“Don’t Tell Me” by Blancmange — It’s so great to keep discovering ’80s hits that I’ve never heard before. You can only listen to “Don’t You Forget About Me” so many times, you know.

12 MMORPGs I want to play in 2020

A whole gaming year spread out before one feels almost decadent, especially considering all of the choices that are out there. In evaluating what potential MMORPGs I would like to either revisit or play once they launch, I realized that there are at least 11 titles that might see some serious action from me this year (in addition to LOTRO, but that should almost go without saying on this blog).

Here are the MMORPGs I’d like to play in 2020:

  1. Project Gorgon: I’m starting to get concerned that we may never see an actual launch to this, or at least a launch soon enough to capitalize on what interest is out there for this unique MMO. It might be a good thing to just pull the trigger now and dig into it instead of briefly visiting it now and then with the intention of really playing once it releases.
  2. Torchlight Frontiers: Oh yes, this is a must-play whenever it comes out, even if it ends up being a here-and-there side game. The housing, contract, and pets all have my attention, as does the colorful atmosphere. I haven’t been let down by a Torchlight game yet.
  3. Phantasy Star Online 2: I don’t know much about this game, but I totally missed out on PSO1, so I’ll definitely give this a shot when it comes out this spring.
  4. Neverwinter: Very high up on my must-revisit list — I’m kind of jonesing for a Cryptic experience (if you couldn’t tell from this list) and I haven’t put in any serious Neverwinter time for a couple of years now.
  5. Path of Exile: Always gets lauded in Massively OP’s end year awards, and its huge expansion is a good excuse to have some clicky fun.
  6. AdventureQuest 3D: Last time I played this, AQ3D was in a rather streamlined beta; I think it’s time to give it another serious go. Perhaps on mobile?
  7. Elder Scrolls Online: This one has been nudging me more and more in recent months, especially considering that I’ve been logging on each day faithfully to get the rewards. I would like to finish up Elsweyr and go on more adventures. It’s a pretty fun game to blog about.
  8. Guild Wars 2: Weak story aside, GW2 has so much of what I love in MMOs, and if it doesn’t implode or something this year, I should be spending a month or two back in it.
  9. City of Heroes: I’m glad this one came back, because it’s a good MMO to return to for a month every year or so — at least for me. Might do some Champions while I’m at it.
  10. New World: This one is more curiosity than anything else, just to see what Amazon does with an MMO. If I can have some PvE fun in a Colonization-era world, it could be very interesting.
  11. World of Warcraft: With the new expansion on its way, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’ll be returning to Azeroth at some point. But I’m in no rush to do so right now.
  12. RIFT: If Gamigo would show signs of actually developing for this MMO, I’d be back in a heartbeat. I miss RIFT.

Syp’s gaming goals for January 2020

December 2019 in review

  • This month I was much more mindful of goals — and managed to accomplish all four of my projects by the 15th.
  • This meant that I wrapped up both FFXIV Heavensward and LOTRO Minas Morgul, both of which were fine, but I felt like it was time to put a bookmark in FFXIV and game elsewhere for a while.
  • I also finished The Outer Worlds and my retro gaming project Fallout New Vegas. Both made by Obsidian! It was actually pretty neat to play them both in parallel for a while there. Makes you appreciate how the studio has developed.
  • With a lot of time left on the clock, I didn’t get a jump on January goals but instead had fun going through my gaming backlog just trying out different titles. I played some Rimworld (because Rimworld is always amazing), Marie’s Room, Yes Your Grace demo, The Sims 4, and Into the Breach.

January 2020’s gaming goals

  • Last month was a trial run for a different way I wanted to structure my gaming time, which I think went very well indeed. The idea was to be more goal-focused than laying down loose “I sorta kinda want to do something” in my time. I enjoy having concrete goals as well as the idea of switching up my games on a monthly basis.
  • So the format that I’m going to try, at least for now, is to focus on four games per month: One cornerstone MMORPG (which will be LOTRO until further notice), one floating MMORPG (expansion, patch, game I haven’t played, etc.), one retro title, and one single-player title from my backlog.
  • In Lord of the Rings Online, I want to get my progression server Minstrel fully caught up, which means finishing The Great River and doing as much of Bingo Boffin as is available.
  • I let my Massively OP Podcast co-host pick my floating MMO this month, which is Star Wars Galaxies Legends. My goal is to spend a good amount of time on this emulator and see if I can make my way in a sprawling sandbox.
  • My backlog game is The Witcher 3. I know everyone’s playing it because of the TV series, but for me, it’s been in my backlog for a long time now and I want to really dig into it for my own interest.
  • My retro game is Toonstruck, because it’s Christopher Lloyd in a weird Roger Rabbit-like adventure land. That’s an irresistible pitch! It doesn’t look super-long, so if I can get it done in a month, that’d be great, but by mid-February at latest is my goal.