Wednesday, March 20, 2019

An Epic Game Needs an Epic Soundtrack

As surrounded by music and musicians as I am in this household, it's not exactly a surprise that I find interesting articles on the intersection of music and gaming.

(And if you're interested in MMOs and music, check out Battle Bards in the sidebar.)

Anyhoo, I came across this article about Sarah Schachner, the composer of the music for Anthem, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, and other games/movies:

Music For Saving The World: Sarah Schachner And The Soundtrack Of Video Games

What I found the most interesting about the article was when she discussed how she was contacted by NASA to compose music for the spacecraft Cassini, as it was nearing the end of its 20 year life. The article is bridged by her involvement in Cassini, and in between it covers the wide range of topics, from "where do you get your ideas" to "female composers in video games" to her own personal trajectory.

It's really worth the read.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Oh Hai, Sneak Button. How've You Been?

I've been working through ESO's Craglorn the past week or so on an off-and-on basis, and if I thought that the "vanilla" part of ESO emphasized the solo play versus group play (it does), Craglorn is very much a group play oriented zone.

The original implementation of Craglorn, prior to the One Tamriel patch, was just about entirely group oriented. Even the puzzles had to be performed in a group context, otherwise you couldn't progress in the main questline. The post One Tamriel version of Craglorn still retains much group content (including a lot of group Delves, designed for a group of four people), but a significant part of the main questline is not solo play.

What do I think of the revamped zone so far? Interesting.

In its own way, the lore surrounding Craglorn and the Celestials has me a bit more confused than before. I'd kind of figured out the Daedra vs. Aedra and the Mer vs. Men aspects of Nirn, but the Celestials are pretty much outside of all of that. In the realm of neat and ordered*, Celestials are the monkey wrench thrown into the machine.

The non-spoiler version of the zone is that there's a Celestial for each month of the year. Think "Zodiac" instead of "Celestial", and you've got the idea. If you were given to understand that those Celestials you find throughout differing ruins (mostly Ayleid), and are utilized in a lot of puzzles, were just metaphors for the different months of the year, then I was right there with you. But apparently the Celestials are more than months of the year and constellations in the sky. And three of them are missing.

::cue dramatic music::

Your job is to find out what happened and to fix it.

But hey, if you played through the main vanilla questline, you know that this sounds like not a big deal after you dealt with [redacted], right? At least I thought so, too, but given all the group content in the zone I get the feeling that my toon is a wee bit more underpowered than I thought.

It's still taking me some time to adjust to Craglorn, as I'd become used to the ebb and flow of the zones in Vanilla ESO, but I'm fine with that so far. Reintroducing myself to constantly sneaking around isn't a bad thing at all, particularly if it means that you don't get one shot by a gigantic mob of trash screaming for your blood.

*And given the differing "pantheons" of the species in Tamriel, that's likely stretching things a bit.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Looking Over Your Shoulder

There are days when I feel like I'm the last person to know anything at all in our corner of MMO space.

Oh sure, I pick up on big items fairly quickly*, but some of the lesser exposed items tend to pass me by. Perhaps it's due to my ignore factor set high enough to not go bananas every time a game company acts like, well, like the part of Corporate America it is**, but I refuse to respond to that sort of clickbait.

But this rolling of the eyes and moving on with my life has led me to miss some important activity happening in gamer space.

Such as this article from Kotaku about stalkers in streamer space.

On the face of it, the concept of stalkers being out there on the internet isn't exactly a new one. I grew up prior to the Internet Age, and I remember quite well the almost laughable advice given to teens and tweens in the late 80s and early 90s about protecting yourself from stalkers. To say that it was on the level of "Just Say No"*** is doing an injustice to the old anti-drug campaign itself. Still, like a stopped clock being right twice a day, there were some good pieces of advice sprinkled in, such as never assuming you know who is on the other end of a chat.

However, the age of streamers and Influencer culture has warped the old advice a bit: people know who the stalker is, but feel they have little power against them.

The nature of social media has sharpened and enhanced the ability of stalkers --particularly those who have a built in audience-- to wield a lot of power. And if someone threatens their power, the social media feeding frenzy they can unleash can be terrifying.

So people the stalkers seek out keep silent.

I don't have any real answers to this conundrum, because often the only way to combat this sort of power is with power, and stalkers deliberately minimize this sort of reaction because they prey on the powerless. About the best advice I have to anyone is to be a friend to people. Listen to them. Don't assume, and keep an open mind.

And most importantly, believe them when they come to you with a problem --any problem, really-- but especially stalkerish issues.

*Activision-Blizzard job cuts, for instance.

**Basically every "[insert game company here] MUST PAY!!" article or posting or video. I've worked in Corporate America for decades now, so cry me a river when a company behaves like any other company in that world. You want that to change? Good luck with that, because the concept of shareholder primacy has been around since the late 1970s/early 1980s. People much more powerful than I have been trying to break the stranglehold shareholder primacy has on the market without much effect. I suspect it'll take an economic shock for that to happen, and if the Great Recession can't do it, then I doubt some YouTubers will.

***Yes, I'm old enough that I had to sit in class and watch Nancy Reagan's videos for a full week about saying no to drugs. That was a week of my life I'm never getting back.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

And That was That

Between work and home life, it's been a busy couple of weeks. However, I have finally finished up the last of the three faction storylines for ESO, which means I've completed "Vanilla" Elder Scrolls Online.*

I have plenty of thoughts to unpack, but I figured I'd get something off my chest now: for a 3 faction MMO, I'd have expected the "enemy" of each faction to be equally represented in the faction storylines.

But it isn't.

This isn't exactly a spoiler, given that we're talking the 500 mile view, but the the factions and their "main" enemies are as follows:

  • Ebonheart Pact: A lot of Daggerfall Covenant early on, a bit of Aldmeri Dominion, topped off with the Worm Cult.
  • Daggerfall Covenant: A bit of Aldmeri Dominion early on, a lot of Daedric Cults and Ravenloft**, and the Imperials.
  • Aldmeri Dominion: A lot of civil war, some Covenant interference, more Daedric Cults, and finally the Imperials.
Do you see what's missing?

The Ebonheart Pact is not noticed very much in the storylines for the other two factions. Oh, there's the occasional quest hub that has "Pact pirates" or something similar, but 90+% of those turned out to be House Telvanni, which isn't a signer of the Ebonheart Pact at all. There's really only one quest hub that stands out to me that the Pact itself are the bad guys, and that's about it.

That's not to say that the Daggerfall and Aldmeri questlines are inferior to the Ebonheart Pact's, because they're not. Each has their own theme about keeping an alliance together throughout difficult times, and with all three factions there are zone quests that definitely fall under the title of "tragedy". Still, with the Pact reduced to basically background noise on the other factions' storylines, I do wonder how this plays into PvP.

I've seen enough PvP over the years to know that if you don't get some good natural antagonism going between the factions it's going to be pretty hard for people to buy into the concept of PvP. With the Pact, you've got ample evidence of how bad the other two factions are, so there's little hold you back yelling "For the Pact!" heading into a PvP match. But with, say, Daggerfall, if you're up against Pact enemies, my reaction would be "Oh look, some pirates!" rather than "There's my hated enemy!"

There, I got that off my chest, and now I can investigate Craglorn prior to jumping into Morrowind.

*Somewhere in the middle of all this, I picked up the lead-in questlines for Morrowind, Summerset, and Murkmire. I finished Morrowind and Murkmire, but I've decided to complete Morrowind's story first before finishing Summerset's lead-in questline.

**If you get the reference, that is. Seriously, look it up; it's a great setting for D&D.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Churn Goes On...

Blogs come and go. More often than not, they tend to simply fade away as real life or other factors step in and demand more of the blogger's time.

This time it's different.

Gevlon has decided to retire his Greedy Goblin blog after deciding that the MMO arena has no more space for people who want to get better:

"Players no longer need to be any good to progress. They just have to log in and open their wallets. The morons and slackers who couldn’t clear Karhazan back in the day, now clear all the content, because it’s tailored for their pathetic performance. They don’t have to learn anything to succeed, so learning became “tryhard”. They became the dominant culture in gaming. Being any good became “elitism”. “Gamers are dead” is the new slogan among developers. And don’t even get me started about mobile crap.
As a result, any kind of good information is rejected and actively hated. When I found how to get to the toplist of PUBG, all I got were downvotes and hate from the “community”, for ruining their “fun” of mindlessly killing each other. When I disproved the bizarre conspiracy theory that baddies made up in World of Warships to explain their defeats, I got banned from the game’s subreddit. And let’s not even mention CCP Falcon and his antics.

There is no more point in trying to play well, so there is no point writing about it. So people stopped doing so. There were no one left for inspiration. The remaining gaming blogs are personal adventures and maybe game reviews, but not teaching anything about games. Blogging in general went nosedive, giving way to “streamers”, acting in clown (or slut) costumes for money.

I tried longer than most. I hoped that the tide will turn. But it’s time for me to accept that my hobby went the way of television: once an intelligent entertainment, now targeted to the lowest common denominator.

There is no point continuing this blog, so I stop. I will keep playing games, for my own entertainment, using self-imposed (scrub) limits to challenge myself, but there is no value writing about it."

Sure, there's plenty of Gevlon's signature style of disparaging the 'morons and slackers' in this snippet from his post, but I don't think that Gevlon's basic premise is completely correct. There's plenty of people out there trying to win at MMOs, and they share some of Gevlon's drive, but what I think has changed is what it means to "win". 

Gevlon's goals were straightforward: amass tons of gold; win enough matches to get onto leaderboards, be on progression raiding guilds that kill off raid bosses with ease, etc. Those are easily defined and have metrics you can track. But when "winning" becomes less associated with those goals and more with "are you having fun?", then the singleminded purpose of "winning" changes. 

Or, in Gevlon's case, he has been around long enough to see his blog made functionally obsolete by the video game industry.


I'll be honest in that while I respected Gevlon's work, I never really thought much of him as a person. He had no time for the aforementioned 'morons and slackers', and while I understand where he's coming from, I don't believe in ripping people a new asshole just because I don't agree with them. Yes, I'm aware it used to be a shtick that Gevlon adopted with the Goblin persona, but I believe that ship sailed long ago and we're now seeing the person behind the Gevlon persona.

I'd imagine that Gevlon really doesn't care what I --or anyone else, for that matter-- think. Still, words do matter, and if you talk and act like an insufferable ass, then don't be surprised if people react to your posts (on your blog, your comments, or Reddit for that matter) as if you're an ass.

All that aside, another voice from the MMO gamer space has gone the way of the Dodo. Nobody will truly replace Gevlon because he was so unique, and love him or hate him, Gevlon did demand your attention.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Hammer of the Dunmer

I have a favorite playlist that I've rather loosely defined as Epic Music. Yes, it contains MMO music, but it also contains soundtracks from other video games (such as Dragon Age or Baldur's Gate) as well as pieces from movie/television soundtracks (such as Yeager's Triumph from The Right Stuff).

It's one of the playlists that I take on my mp3 player*, and I periodically add to it as I stumble across new music.

Two of the more recent additions are the two official expansions for the Elder Scrolls Online, Morrowind and Summerset. Given how the vanilla version of Elder Scrolls Online is okay but nothing special, I wasn't expecting to add music from the two expacs to my playlist.

But here they are.

The login screen for ESO, which included my introduction to the game, is Even Paradise has Shadows, from the Summerset expac:

As this was my introduction to ESO, it has become my resident ESO earworm to the same extent that the intro screen for WoW's Wrath of the Lich King was. I specifically bought the CD for Wrath just to hear that intro screen again a year after Cataclysm dropped, and I remain fond of it to this day. Even then, I was starting to get a bit sick of Wrath's intro music by the time Cataclysm dropped. Even Paradise has Shadows hasn't reached that level yet, but I'm starting to look forward to the Elsweyr expac for a musical change.

But by far my favorite piece of the two ESO expacs is A Land of War and Poetry, from the Morrowind expac:

The intro to the piece has a chorus, dramatic horns, and a clash of percussion and cymbals reminiscent of the intro to The Fellowship of the Ring. the music then softens to a hush, as a violin solo evokes an almost Celtic feel. The music slowly builds from there until Jeremy Soule's classic Morrowind theme makes an appearance for a dramatic conclusion.

If you'd have told me the title and let the music play without knowing the game behind the piece, until the Morrowind theme appeared you could argue that this was a piece of music meant to evoke Scotland. It may not have highland pipes in it, but the title A Land of War and Poetry pretty much describes the Scots --particularly the Scots from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment-- spot on.**

The irony was that I went into ESO blind, so had no idea of what the backstabbing and infighting among the Great Houses of the Dunmer were like, and I had no idea what sort of person (God?) that Vivec was, either. So while the title of the piece correctly evokes the Dunmer and Morrowind, for me it evokes something quite different.

And that's perfectly fine with me, because I can create my own mental imagery when listening to the music, rather than relying upon the video game to provide it for me.

EtA: I should mention where the title for this post came from. It is a reference to Hammer of the Scots, which is one of the nicknames of Edward I of England, who was King of England during the First Scottish War of Independence. It is also the name of a boardgame from Columbia Games that covers the conflict.

*Yes, I still have one of those. The decoder chip on my sturdy old Sansa Fuze is superior to the decoders found on phones and even the iPod Classic. Hey, I'd prefer lossless as much as the next person, but I bought the player when streaming wasn't much of a high quality sound option. Yes, it's that old.

**You could also make an argument for Ireland, but I went with Scotland and the poetry of Robert Burns.

Friday, February 15, 2019

But It's Important to ME!

"You want me to reset your password? Now? It's the middle of the night on a Saturday, and there's no emergency going on."

"Yes, I need it now!"

"There's no change going on right now for your server! This is not important! It can wait until Monday!"

"But it's important to ME!"

--A (paraphrased) exchange an ex-coworker of mine had with someone who paged him awake at 3 AM to change the person's password. Because he decided that working overnight on a Saturday was more important than my co-worker's sleep. (Yes, the guy got reprimanded for abusing the system.)

I have a t-shirt that is older than the mini-Reds.

It's not a rock concert t-shirt*, it's not from a museum or Con or something, and it isn't anything of particular importance. This shirt just happened to last for a long time, and I use it when I'm working around the house and don't mind getting a stain on it. Like, say, if I'm making tomato sauce.** It has also managed to avoid getting paint on it after all this time, and I'm not exactly sure how that minor miracle occurred. However, if you hold the shirt up to the light you can see that in spots it is so thin that I can see through it.

Why do I keep the shirt? Just because it works. It fits me, I don't have to worry about being neat when I'm wearing it, and it's a connection to a time before kids (and before our first house). 

Likewise, I'm occasionally given to hanging onto something in a video game "just because".

When I play one of the Civ-esque games, instead of upgrading/replacing all of my units I'll hang onto one or two of my initial units as a sort of "museum" of where my Civ has come from, in much the same way that the US Navy still has the USS Constitution as an active naval vessel. Those units serve absolutely no purpose in the game, and if I were to press them into service it's likely the endgame for my civilization.

But.... Those units were important to me, because of what they represented.

I also have a habit of preserving the original gear that a new toon in an MMO or RPG, purely for sentimental purposes. I'm not a pack rat***, but some gear or items I never want to sell off. The class weapons you receive in WoW are a great example of this, but also is your first lightsaber in SWTOR. Or the cloak that you received after completing the Shadows of Angmar campaign in LOTRO.

I'm also the guy who will use the original mount received in game as long as possible, until circumstances dictate I use faster transportation (such as keeping people waiting at a world boss location). Perhaps a bit of vainglory is involved there, as I prefer to not wave and shout "look at me!" when I'm out and about in a game world.

Which was kind of the point of the Celestial Steed, the so-called Sparkle Pony when it was a WoW cash shop item back in Wrath days.

I never bought one, so I had to go
rely upon sharing one of the numerous
screencaps from WoWHead. (This one was
by Toknahtar.)
Yeah, I'm not keen those sort of shenanigans.


But enough about me, what about you? What do you hang onto --or not-- because it's important to you personally? Because of some sentimental attachment?

*The last one of that ilk was from The Who's 1989 tour, and that bit the dust a long time ago.

**I may enjoy food, but come on. I'm not buying a chef's jacket or bothering with an apron.

***Others might argue, but in my defense I'm never quite sure what might come in handy in a game until at least one playthrough (or at least I get far enough away in level from the gear) that I can then sell off some items in my bank or backpack. All it takes is for you to realize you were supposed to hold onto ONE item that will turn you into a semi-hoarder.