Microsoft taking over (Activision) Blizzard

Well that was quite the headline: “Microsoft to acquire Activision Blizzard to bring the joy and community of gaming to everyone, across every device”. Not something I would have predicted even given all the rolling scandals over at Blizzard. I’ve no real idea what this could mean for World of Warcraft, the only IP of Blizzard’s that matters to me particularly. If the deal goes ahead in 2023, which still is rather a long way away, it could mean the much needed change of leadership gets pushed down onto Blizzard. I suppose it could also mean more money pumped into renewing IPs that have been poorly supported in recent years. Maybe it’ll even mean WoW on XBox or some such cross-over?

Interesting start to the year for sure!

Posted in MMORPG, World of Warcraft | 2 Comments

Jedi Fallen Order on PS4

Ever late to the party, I received Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on PS4 for Christmas and have been rather rapt by it since coming back home. It is a beautiful game to look at: expansive skyboxes galore and really grand scale design. Very mild spoilers follow for early game areas below.

Opening in a shipyard
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Grim dark stories

I was struck overnight by the thought that I’m very tired of grim-dark story-telling in Science Fiction/Fantasy entertainment. I feel like games, movies and TV have focused rather too heavily on this tone over the last few years. It’s a bit like the trends we’ve witnessed in gaming, and in MMORPGs specifically, if one studio has a successful action MMO then all the new MMOs have to be full-on-action, if another has a full-loot PVP game, all the others seem to follow suit with their new game developments. It seems almost everything is grim-dark at the moment.

Watching episode 2 of series 4 of Discovery got me thinking this as the series has taken a darker tone again. I’ll avoid plot-spoilers but there is a great loss at the start of the series. The second episode focuses a lot on the stresses caused by this and ends with a rather jarring bit of melodramatic dialogue. In the post-episode discussion we all agreed that the last scene sounded un-Star Trek in tone (over the top and very unscientific words from a science officer).

Another recent example was re-watching Star Wars Episode IX for the first time since the cinema over the Christmas break. As I thought the above over in my mind, I then considered the sequel trilogy (or whatever I’m supposed to call Episodes 7-9), and, again, just how unremittingly grim those films are compared to the end of the original trilogy.

TV series or films can, naturally, be written to be gritty or with horror elements. Here I’m writing more about the injection or twisting of a more optimistic tone into a darker one – I fear in many cases because writers either think that is “cool” or the current Zeitgeist. Given the last two years I would argue until I’m blue in the face that what the majority of us need is a lot more optimistic and escapist entertainment forms – not a dose of grim fantasy on top of the grim reality we live in! Star Trek to me is possibly the most optimistic mass market Sci Fi series, yet the two flagship TV series (Discovery and Picard) come across as rather grim and depressing to me – only the amazing animated series Lower Decks manages to continue a sense of that Next Generation-style optimism that I grew up with.

We intend to rewatch Star Wars 7 & 8 at some point, we only watched 9 out of sequence because of my Dad’s desire to see the one film. But the new trilogy starts off grim dark and only gets worse. I’ll avoid rehashing the entire plot here but the New Republic is nigh on destroyed from the get-go and the “heroes” have almost continuous set-backs. I could do several posts on how I would rather have seen the films re-imagined but the overview of it would be along the lines of:
Episode 7 – the Republic is flourishing, but then a menace is revealed and a single (but non-crushing) defeat of the main Republic fleet occurs near the end
Episode 8 – the Republic forces have to rally to contain the menace and to protect their endangered unity, personal drama for the heroes becomes the focus
Episode 9 – the Republic wins a key battle, but then the personal drama kicks into overdrive with a surprise twist and a shift to a more intense personal conflict (e.g. Jedi vs unmasked Sith) – note at no point is the entire Republic threatened with total annihilation by an impossibly large Sith fleet

In addition to being grimmer and darker with each series or expansion, TV, movies and games also seem to have a massive problem with “threat inflation”. Episode 7 starts with a lore-breaking super-weapon and then has to outdo even this in Episode 9 with a whole fleet of super-weapons. It just breaks any possible suspension of disbelief for me. I much prefer the personal conflicts and minor setbacks, followed by believable resolutions, that series like the Mandalorian and now the Book of Boba Fett are offering.

As for Discovery, I really liked the shift of the last series to the future and the eventual return to a more optimistic and exploration-focused Federation. But, of course, they immediately had to undo that tone in the first episode of series 4. I’m fatigued with “universe-ending” threats as a constant background or motivation – can we not have some breathing-spaces in-between the chaos?

Finally, I’d say that the Legion, Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands expansions for World of Warcraft are suffering from similar issues. This trilogy of expansions keeps on ratcheting up the threat levels and the grim-dark hopeless future for the game’s setting. While World of Warcraft has always had horror and grim warfare as thematic elements, I used to feel the game balanced it better with the overall tone of “being the hero” than it has done of late. Now it’s a familiar defeat, followed by setback, followed by atrocity and maybe a small victory at the end of the expansion; then in the next it’s immediately back on the defeat-train for another few content patches. What I’d say World of Warcraft desperately needs next expansion is an optimistic, exploration-focused setting with as little grimdark as possible!

Posted in MMORPG, World of Warcraft | 3 Comments

Happy New Year!

This holiday has been filled with a good amount of gaming, as well as a surplus of good food and quality time with family. I’ve had the opportunity for a good few long walks despite the rather dismal weather which has been a tonic for how busy I was in December with work.

Carcassonne in progress

The unexpected hit among the family has been a new board game my nephew bought for my Mum – Carcassonne. It’s a deceptively simple tile-based game, where the board is built by the players as they draw random tiles. There is just enough strategy and complexity to keep it interesting game after game, without an individual game taking too long to set up. It’s also quick to learn which has been a particular boon. I may have to look into the mobile or PC version of the same game, I’ve read via social media that it’s good fun and it’d be nice to have a version I can play at home since the box will be staying at my parent’s house.

So this is just a quick post to mark the turning of the year before I get busy with family gatherings – Happy New Year for 2022, dear readers, here’s to a happy and healthy year to come!

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Merry Christmas 2021!

Just a short post written while the Turkey is cooking for a few hours. Later I’ll be cooking the rest of the roast Christmas dinner for the seven of us that are eating together at my parents’ house. This year, like last year, I have all my timings worked out in a spreadsheet diagram – I do love a spreadsheet to organise a complex task or subject.

In a few hours the family will be gathered and the festivities will begin in earnest. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, wherever and however, you are able to celebrate it this year!

Tinka, Yamas and friends say Merry Christmas

Posted in MMORPG | 2 Comments

Sailing home for Christmas

Sadly it won’t be sailing exactly, more like a couple of trains and a taxi, but we are intending to visit my family for Christmas despite the current pandemic situation. A quiet disconnected week with family is all I can hope for at the moment.

Random Raft screenshot

Looking at the full rucksack I’ve just packed, I think I’ll be taking my netbook with me as it is so much lighter, and with family around basically all the time, I’ll not have the free time or motivation to be sat in a corner playing MMORPGs. That’ll mean no festive events or further exploration of the EQ2 expansion, but Christmas for me has rarely been about online gaming for years now. If I’m lucky I’ll squeek in the odd bit of writing time so I can make some more progress on my current draft D&D module.

In any case, I suspect there’ll be a whole heap of other gaming in one form or another: along the lines of Mysterium, card games and the odd party game on a Playstation!

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Starships and the Drift in #Starfinder

Drift travel in the Starfinder RPG involves planar travel through the technological transposition of the starship between normal space and the ever-shifting plane of the Drift. It’s characteristics and the function of the literally divine-inspired Drift engine technology remain only partially understood.

Recently in reading another work of fiction, the excellent Harbinger Trilogy by Diane Duane – set in the Star*Drive setting for the 1990s Alternity tabletop RPG – I was inspired to devise some additions of my own to how the Drift can be further incorporated in my campaign’s story-telling.

Note: here be potential spoilers for my campaign, so my players please stop reading now!

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Sunday thoughts #DnD #Gloomhaven

I’ve managed absolutely no MMORPG gaming this whole week: a combination of factors conspiring to keep me away from the hobby. Firstly we, unusually, were out socially two evenings in one week, a first for at least two years because of our very cautious approach in general to going “out out” since the pandemic started. We’re still cautious, though, and only go to quieter venues in small groups. I was listening to episode 197 of the excellent Dungeon Master of None podcast – about running convention games – and despite being thoroughly intrigued by the idea, I can’t imagine being comfortable going to a convention for a long time to come.

On top of that I’ve been prepping to launch a second run of my ongoing, published D&D campaign with a new group, and prepping to continue the first group’s run of the (still in draft) third module in that series.

Me being me, I can’t just rerun the adventure, I feel compelled to rewrite sections of it to have different themes and protagonists – kind of like an alternate history version of the same campaign. It may lead to improvements to the published modules or even a free supplement for purchasers of the original with the optional alterations. Lot’s of editing, idea generating and rewriting this last week. It’s fun but it takes so much time and is usually pretty intense, so sitting at my gaming PC / desk after is the last thing I want to do.

I have managed a few games of Gloomhaven with two friends, the campaign mode continues to keep us busy for short play sessions. We finally went back to a fairly early-on pair of missions that represent a story choice regarding a certain necromantic-themed NPC. The mission had us facing a growing army of undead monsters, getting to the NPC and stopping her from double-summoning new foes every round was the number one priority.

Thankfully the “get boss into a doorway” tactic worked wonders here, not least because she had no empty hexes near to use for summoning more minions. That and we had the distraction of a small horde of friendly guards that were remarkably competent – at least when the AI allowed them to do something useful.

Laying traps in their own way – not the smartest move

We triumphed and had a blast on this mission. The mission design overall in campaign mode is more varied and unique than the random-feeling maps of guildmaster mode. I’d recommend a play through!

Posted in D&D, Gloomhaven, MMORPG, TTRPG | 1 Comment

Expansion excitement #EQ2

I dipped into the new expansion, Visions of Vetrovia, for Everquest 2 as a Saturday morning treat after a very busy work-week. The mail was waiting to take my Inquisitor on his journey to the Svarna Expanse starting zone.

Easy accessed from the fast travel map, or a Bell if you’re not a subscriber. That brought my character to the island that starts the expansion and the questing. Before I could begin with adventuring though there was the small matter of expansion freebies and gearing.

That gave my character a new pet, a new familiar and a new mount (pictured below). His inventory is a bit of a disaster at the moment, I need to seriously look into the depot housing feature that Bhagpuss wrote about recently – I’ve never gotten around to installing any.

But I was in the mood for questing rather than virtual life-admin so I just focused on the free armour upgrades from the nearby Tishan’s Lockbox and throwing away all the old character-bound gear. Gear replacement can be a very frequent thing in Everquest 2, getting too attached to any particular items is probably a bad idea given how easily they can be replaced.

The upgrades were pretty impressive, as expected, and his health trebled and them some. I’d read in the linked post that the new monsters could be a challenge – thankfully I’d done the upgrading before I went out to start fighting my way to the first area for quest objectives.

My healer is running with a mage mercenary at the moment. His health dipped on occasion but so long as I kept the buff up for his “I heal if you dare hit me” mechanic, I had no problems even with the slighter tougher elite mobs. That seems like a nice change from the rather rough start I’ve had in some other recent expansions, though I’m not expert enough on EQ2 gearing to offer more than gut-feelings.

My rather paltry free inventory slots quickly filled up with vendor trash, status items and some quest rewards. So an early order of business was finding a “status merchant” to sell to for maximum benefits. For once, going straight to the wiki wasn’t the best idea: the in-game map had the correct NPC marked in the first village you come to, so it was easy to find where to sell.

Oh, glowing tower!

I’m liking what I see so far. The quests are solid, and the visuals varied and interesting. There are enough strange or interesting sights on the horizon to keep my character wandering and me happy!

Posted in EQ2, MMORPG | 2 Comments

Skylanders Superchargers screenies #IntPiPoMo

Although I’ve been playing PS4 for some months now, I’ve not written much about it, nor shared many screenshots. Unlike PS3 at least it is pretty easy to take a screenshot on this generation of the console.

The fancy light air vehicle

Typically for Sony, although there’s a built in screenshot button on the controller, and I have a Playstation Plus subscription for cloud backups of saves, the obvious link between the two is missing – my screenshots are not available via the same account on my PC via the website.

Collect the figures and, in Superchargers, the vehicles too

Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to copy screenshots to a memory stick – but it seems a bit last decade to be doing so.

Water vehicle level

I kind of thought Superchargers would be really gimmicky, I was not a fan of vehicle quests in World of Warcraft – forcing you to play with different abilities than those of the character you were invested in leveling and playing.

An air level

Either my tastes have broadened or the way the vehicle levels are implemented in Superchargers has kept me engaged more than the equivalent in a MMORPG.

Side-scrolling water level

It helps that Superchargers has the improved graphics of this console generation, a real step up from what we were used to on the Playstation 3. Also the humour is spot-on, it’s a charming game.

Whimsy in spades
Interesting NPCs abound

It also helps that Superchargers introduced some really colourful an fun new base skylanders. I love Dive Clops to bits for his characterisation and sound effects.

Dive Clops is probably my fave now
Fiesta is really charming too

Fiesta is another fun character to play, but not as effective from a mechanics perspective.

This post is my final contribution to the IntPiPoMo 2021 event. This rounds out my picture total to the target of 50/50.

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