Off to Alba for a Holiday Break

Alba, a Wildlife Adventure, is a rather peaceful indie game I have been playing some time ago and can recommend if you’re into taking photos and observing wildlife in videogames. This post however is not about that.

I’m off to Scotland for the next three weeks to celebrate the start of summer there. We’re taking the car, the doggo and some buddies and head up to the northern parts of Alba that we love so much. I’ll be back with pictures and more talk about gaming and general geekery in July. Crumpets, scones and pies here I come! See you soon.

Loch Eribol and Monty

The Steam Wishlist, Part 1: Unreleased Games

My Steam wishlist is a beast of many attractions. There are titles that at one time or other piqued a fleeting interest and for lack of a better tracking method, were added to the list. There are those games that I intend to buy at a later time when there’s a Steam sale going on. Games that sound like fun for maybe a few hours but don’t warrant the current price to me.

Then there are games that I absolutely intend to play because they tick all my preferred boxes, yet are too vast and time consuming at present for me to tackle. I see you, Horizon Zero Dawn and Ghost of Tsushima. And lastly there are those games yet to be released, early access titles I won’t yet risk because been there done that, once burnt twice shy.

The unreleased Wish List

Bhagpuss recently shared a list of his wishlisted games that have not yet been released, which inspired me to start with the same category. It’s always fun to read what other bloggers are looking out for. Also, I’ve been wanting to purge my wishlist for a good while now, so a blog series on my Steam hopefuls is the perfect excuse to do so. What follows is my final list of unreleased games that have survived the cutting block for now. As you can see, indies are heavily dominating.

Steam Wishlist 01

Outbound is a typical cosy indie adventure. The Wholesome Games curator on Steam has proven a personal goldmine for cute and casual indie titles in the past. Outbound looks interesting because it’s a spin on games like Raft but with an old Volkswagen camper. All will depend on how well executed and varied the features of this game will be; either it’s going to be a boring snoozefest or a small gem among adventure-with-crafting titles.

Everdeep Aurora looks nothing ingame like its cover thumbnail. It’s pushing an oldschool Atari Castlevania aesthetic, only with a cat. Every now and then I enjoy a puzzle platformer or metroidvania, so unless this turns out to be too difficult for me, it could end up in the library after checking reviews first.

Light No Fire looks immediately appealing to anyone who enjoys games like Valheim or Enshrouded. It’s your classic open world survival crafter with co-op. While Steam is loaded with games of said persuasion, I’m particularly interested in the ones that manage to overcome the voxel look and are set in a fantasy world. Light no Fire ticks off both boxes and adds dragon riding on top, so there’s a lot of potential here!

I Need Space looks like a potentially very fun and quirky puzzle adventure that’s doing its own thing. Surface impressions suggest Oxygen Not Included meets Starbound but it’s hard to say at this point, just watch the trailer.

Steam Wishlist 02

Tiny Glade is one of the very few pre-release games that is an almost foregone conclusion for me. It looks fantastic and fits perfectly in my “zen builders” Steam collection together with Townscaper, Dorf Romantik or Cloud Gardens. I really look forward to trying it.

Mika and The Witch’s Mountain is essentially a game about delivering mail to some island townsfolk while riding a broomstick. I mean, how could I not be excited for something like this? It’s Kiki’s Delivery Service and recent titles I have enjoyed, such as Mail Time or A Short Hike, all in one. Pretty sure I will end up playing it!

Europa is a Zelda-esque looking exploration adventure that can go either way. If you enjoy games à la AER or Abzu, exploring old ruins and unearthing civilizations, Europa could be interesting. That is, if it manages to avoid boreout, as sometimes plagues this subgenre.

Silksong, the much awaited Hollow Knight sequel is put here for posterity if nothing else. The truth is, I have all but given up on this title and I doubt it will ever see the light of day. Announced five years ago, the devs went radio silent soon after and nobody really knows anything for sure anymore. It’s too bad, because Hollownight was a fantastic metroidvania in every aspect, a true indie rockstar and personal top 10 title.

Blog fixes and self-hosting is killing me

Returning to a self-hosted blog is always an adventure in and of itself. That is one way to put it.

When I think back on my very first blog in 2001, the world on the interwebs was still simple: make a Blogger account, automatically host on blogspot, don’t worry about being spammed, invaded or sued. Publish posts to your heart’s content while the sun is shining down on your keyboard. Somewhere between 2010 and today, I made the decision to self-host after Google bought Blogger and gradually dismantled everything to do with the service, support and feedreader. I realize people still use Blogger for convenience but Google treated it like an ugly stepchild and that never sat well with me. I was also suspicious of the copyright situation around blogging on a hosted platform and I really wanted threaded comments. Hence my journey to export my then blog, Raging Monkeys, to a self-hosted WP blog.

I recall this being a relatively painless procedure thanks to the fact that a) many other bloggers, including WoW bloggers had done it before me and b) there were plugins to help with things like feed redirection, perma-link redirection and importing posts and comments. It’s pretty amazing to me now really, considering things have become such a headache ever since.

Security headers, blogrolls and where the hell is my feed?

Nowadays of course, nothing comes easy anymore. Self-hosting means I am running version updates for WordPress, Jetpack and many other essential plugins on an almost weekly basis. I’ve had to figure out how to buy and install my own SSL certificate for the blog because my webhost doesn’t automatically take care of that. Oh, how I love the CPanel!

Site health

Since returning to the blog this year, I’ve also noticed a new cockpit feature telling me about my overall site health. This seems wonderful but is actually every layman’s worst nightmare because half of the recommendations might as well have been written in a different language. What are security headers? Why do I need a persistent object cache? What or who is “utf8mb4” and why do they need an update? I am not prepared!

After consulting mates, browsing the forums and opening my own threads to deal with the more important risk factors, I’m now at a point where the relevant security headers seem fine at least. Or maybe not but that’s what is telling me, anyway. I’ve also been dealing with the uncoupling of my blog’s feed from the old feedburner which has become buggy and slow. Whenever I publish new posts, they seem to take hours or days sometime to show up on feedreaders or blogrolls, so I had to reverse-engineer what I’ve done (apparently, because I don’t remember!) several years ago on feedburner. I now know where to find my .htaccess file and what to do with it, it’s a whole new world!

My blog’s feed now seems to work the way it should, that is /feed does no longer redirect to anything. It is found at “” which is the standard for most blogs. I’ll have to see if that fixed all issues (feedback is appreciated!), either way it’s good to be rid of feedburner. Speaking of blogrolls, I have given up any attempt to simulate the old blogger blogroll on the sidebar. After too many frustrating attempts with different plugins, all of which seem to NOT work one way or another, I’ve had to content myself with some block-code widget. It’s not pretty, it’s not alphabetic and it won’t change order according to time published which is why I’m calling it the “Bad Blogroll”. Still, it’s essentially the information I want and a semblance of normalcy. I’ve started adding more blogs now and shall be on the lookout for more as I rediscover the gaming blogosphere!

Sunsetting the Battle Bards Podcast

All good things must come to an end. No really, we’re just taking a break! An extended hiatus! Yeah…this is what they always say.

Seeing that Syp has kinda let the cat out of the bag in the latest episode of the MOP podcast, I might as well already talk about it here (it’s not like my blog has that many readers): our little geeky podcast on MMO music is setting its sails by the end of June 2024, or whenever episode 234 has aired. Things have just run their natural course and both Syp and I, co-hosting the show for some time now, have felt our enthusiasm gradually lessen. For one it has become harder and harder to find good titles to talk about and without constantly repeating ourselves in our commentary. There are only so many ways to talk about game music and after 11 years it really feels like we’ve unearthed and covered as much as we reasonably can. I would rather end on a high note now as our long journey together very much deserves.

And it really was such a blast! When the three of us (including Steff) set out in April 2013, none of us would have expected to still be chatting (and bickering) about MMO soundtracks a decade later. I call that success and we’ve always been proud to be “the world’s first and only MMO music podcast” out there! There were times when the show did really well in terms of visits and download numbers and we always appreciated the great feedback from our listeners. The fact that the Battle Bards podcast had a small but steady following is part of what’s kept us going for so long. These interactions are one thing I will miss dearly but I’m happy to know we’re still connected to folks on Twitter or Bluesky. Our episode archive can be found on the MOP site for now (and will hopefully remain so long into the future), so you’ll still be able to access it from there.

There will be a bit more commentary in our final episode on all this, even if we haven’t made it an official farewell show and the announcement wasn’t prepared in any way. I’ve never believed in grand goodbyes, not here on the blog or elsewhere and we both want to keep the door open in case a special occasion strikes. You never know, maybe MMORPGs will see a second coming few years from now! Or we’ll just be doing something else together. I would like that.

Thanks to everyone, in case you read this and are/were a follower of our podcast! It’s been a privilege to share the passion for MMO music with y’all! <3

Returning to Valheim

When Valheim launched in February 2021 it was possibly one of the greatest adventures me and my friends have shared online since MMORPGs stopped being good. It was a nearly perfect game and I remember being completely immersed and absorbed by the beautiful world, the great building features and well-balanced mechanics and progression. It was probably also the last time I’ve experienced the famed “running and screaming in terror” that gamers like to refer to with some nostalgia when talking about the good old days of gaming. There’s no doubt that Valheim ranks as one of my top favorite games of all time (overall, not just within the open world survival genre). Games such as this are very rare.

And yet after arriving in the Plains after the initial launch frenzy, things came to an almost screeching halt. Valheim’s indie dev team, Iron Gate Studio, were clearly taken aback by their success. It took them 1.5 years to release the next biome Mistlands and almost the same amount of time to drop the Ashlands expansion this May 2024. Not discounting smaller additions to the game like the Hearth & Home features or Cult of the Wolf optimizations, that is an awfully long time to release new content.

The inevitable happened for me and my group of five – everyone lost interest after the Plains were bested in spring 2021 and most of the gearing and crafting had been optimized to the max. The dedicated server save on which our build had been running was lost by someone’s mistake or other, much to my chagrin. Half a year later, nobody mentioned Valheim anymore. It was as if all memory of it had indeed passed on to the afterlife of Valhalla and only Huginn and Muninn remained to tell the tale.

Home base

It’s hard to come back from such a long break, yet whenever I’m reading Valheim posts by other bloggers I feel it pulling at me something fierce. Now Wilhelm reported that the Mistlands biome was a very mixed bag and often more odious chore than epic adventure. And apparently the developer’s plan for Ashlands is to be as unforgiving and tedious as possible…to slow player progress? Not the greatest prospects. To echo Bhagpuss, I’m not interested in playing Elden Ring Valheim. I’ve no idea what the developers real intentions are but I certainly never thought of Valheim as a particularly difficult game. It was tuned just right to keep your attention, sometimes frustrating but never joyless. I cringe at the idea that they’ve gone and overtuned things in Mistlands or the more recent biome which according to many forum discussions is an endlessly respawning mob rush.

Will I still find Valheim enjoyable when I reach the new biomes? It’s hard to say. Difficulty is often relative, as I have found when playing games that other players consider too easy or too hard. I’m no sucker for punishment for the sake of it, yet I can certainly sink my teeth into a more hardcore title. The question is always: is it hard but motivating? Is it well paced and rewarding? Does the difficulty make sense? And if not, do the devs listen to player feedback?

I guess I’ll just have to find out for myself. A brand new server is running anyway, this time our own. Me and the better half have just downed the second boss and the sunrise over our little hut is as poetic as ever. I miss our old base but this is another afterlife we must explore. Here we go again, Valheim.

Tales of the Shire

I’ve been ruminating on Twitter some time ago on how we’ve never seen that many successful videogames based on Tolkien’s works. There’s obviously LOTRO and the “Shadow of…” titles which have done reasonably well. I also personally really enjoyed the LEGO version of the movie trilogy. That aside, there’s the old EA games, an RTS and awful recent failures like the Hunt for Gollum. That is precious little over the past 20 years and I’ve always wondered why we’ve not seen a beautiful adventure game across Middle-Earth, an open-world RPG or casual title. For the most part LOTR based games seem to revolve around war despite the fact that there’s such a wealth of whimsy in Tolkien’s world.

Fortunately, it looks like the folks at Wētā Workshop might change this soon. Thus far, there hasn’t been an awful lot of information on Tales of the Shire other than the website and a more recent gameplay trailer from three weeks ago. But it’s the below update from inside their New Zealand games division that really has me excited:

I would personally love to play a more relaxed and fun LOTR game that focuses on casual play, questing and maybe also farming and building around locations like the Shire, Bree-Land or the South Farthing. I get the impression that there’s a very passionate, talented team of Tolkien fans over at Wētā really looking to create a unique and beautiful experience that could be exactly what many of us explorers and tinkerers have been waiting for. If anyone can do it, it’s probably them. Fingers crossed!

Comfort Films

Struggling with a herniated disc for the past month, I have found myself immobilized and cranky during April and in dire need of diversion. The weather has been annoyingly volatile too which is standard April weather in this part of the world. It’s either too hot to wear spring clothes or then it’s snowing. Certainly excuses enough to return to my favorite comfort watches on the screen for when I am feeling moody and tired!

Gandalf & Frodo

It’s safe to say that the Lord of the Rings movies by Peter Jackson remain my favorite films of all time. Having rewatched the extended versions of the trilogy again last week for the umpteenth time, I feel like they’re the gift that keeps on giving: each time I discover a new detail or line I hadn’t noticed as much before. Or maybe it’s just me focusing on different themes as I get older – great art grows and changes with the observer. The passion and craft that has gone into the 20 year old masterpieces is as impressive as ever. To this day they stand far above the rest.

There’s something uniquely comforting and uplifting about watching the LOTR films. From the moment the magnificent Shire music by Howard Shore starts to play and Gandalf’s cart is arriving in Hobbiton, it’s as if I’m transported back to the past and greeted by a dear old friend. There are only very few movies, books and games that can create that wholesome, almost therapeutic effect for me. Here is a familiar place under the sun where I can relax and recharge for a little while. The stories and characters of Middle-Earth are like immortal companions and the world like a warm blanket to wrap myself in.

I wonder if we’ll ever see another production of LOTR’s calibre but I doubt it. The movie industry has changed too much and failures like Amazon’s dreadful Rings of Power only serve to drive the point home. Apparently there’s an animated movie coming out by the end of this year called War of the Rohirrim, co-produced by some of Peter Jackson’s old crew, but I’m not holding my breath for anything.

(P.S. Just after posting this today, I learned of the passing of the great Bernard Hill this May 5th. He was a wonderful actor and among my favorite characters in the films. Rest in Peace, Théoden King!)

Binging the Fallout TV Show

Fallout is out on Amazon Prime this week and it so happens that I already watched all 8 episodes (don’t ask). After seeing the brilliant teaser trailer for the show, I took conscious steps not to go and read the hype-threads on Reddit or fall prey to the negativity surrounding Amazon after the debacle that was Rings of Power. The creators behind Fallout are responsible for Westworld and Jonathan Nolan, brother of the famed Christopher Nolan, boasts an impressive resumee of his own as a movie director. Add to this Ramin Djawadi of Game of Thrones fame as new Fallout composer and Walton Goggins, one of my favorite actors from Justified and The Shield, playing a major role in the series: I dare say we have a recipe for success! [Mild spoilers ahead]

And the show really delivers, I’m very happy to say. It is a fun and wild watch with some massive world building, wide vistas and beautiful shots. The humor is very sharp and things often turn to the bizarre and macabre. Many an easter egg and inside joke will be missed by the uninitiated as the show is full out fan service galore. I greatly enjoyed the cast and how the different places, back stories and timelines slowly come together towards the end of the season. Goggins’ character is a joy from the first scene and it’s fair to say he’s carrying large parts of Fallout. Ella Purnell and Aaron Clifton are great too even if I felt their romance happened rather haphazardly and could’ve used more time to develop. Some of the relationships fell a little flat.

Generally if I was to criticise anything, it’s that things feel somewhat rushed halfway through. There’s so much ground to cover between the past and present that it’s hard to take in everything about the very detailed scenery and locales. I would also have liked characters like Wilzig or Ma June to get more screen time, to learn more about why they got to where and who they are. I wonder how much had to be cut and edited out as it feels like there was material enough for 10 episodes at least. As someone who is not too familiar with all the Fallout lore myself, I feel like I probably also missed quite a few things along the way. The show is big into ‘show rather than tell’ which generally is a very good thing.

“Wasteland has its own golden rule. Thou shalt get sidetracked by bullshit every goddamn time.” [The Ghoul]

It’s definitely rich and entertaining enough for me to give it a second watch soon and the way things were left off in the final episode, it’s clear we’re supposed to get a second season. That at least should be a given – Fallout is an excellent watch and deserves all the praise it’s receiving. It’s not often we get such a high quality adaption for a video game series, even less so when it comes to live action!

DD2 Status Report

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a gorgeous game. It is also bewildering and strange and you really don’t want to play it without a controller, as I now have to concede after 6 hours of playtime. The PC port still struggles with other optimization issues but I’ve experienced little in terms of bugs myself, the odd clipping aside or blurry textures. It’s worth looking into the various guides for graphics optimization depending on the system you’re running – or better yet, just play it on console if that’s an option.

Playing hunter for my main class right now, I’ve not been able to get used to Dragon’s Dogma’s intricate combat mechanics just yet. This is partly due to the abysmal keyboard controls and me just being unsure about which vocation to go with. Fortunately switching class is simple and also encouraged in this game. I will probably end up playing some type of wizard, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my excellent main pawn’s abilities; Raistlin is a formidable companion and has already saved my ass many times. I love the fact that I have him along for this ride and I chuckle every time he is being rude or sarcastic to the other hired pawns.

Raistlin the mage

Gameplay mechanics aside, Dragon’s Dogma’s biggest pull is undoubtedly its world, the harsh travel and exploration. The game feels like a wild marriage between the formulaic JRPGs of yore that would make you earn your passage dearly and the magic of Skyrim’s endless sky. I’m loving every minute of it while I’m out in the field. Everything takes time: preparing for travel, preparing for quests, hiring new pawns as two of them don’t level with you. Inventory is tight and so is daytime when you lose sight of it – beware of the night!

Having a party of three NPCs along doing and saying different things is also quite rad and I love how it harkens back to the classic JRPG party setup. Only in DD2 you don’t command your pawns in some slow round-based battle, you adjust to the dynamic play-styles of each class and hope for the best. Banter before and after special fights can be really hilarious and it’s useful to actually listen to what your pawns have to say, as I found out the hard way trying to attack foes beyond our skill set.

Having arrived in the main big city just yesterday, I can’t say much about DD2’s main story line just yet. I find myself constantly straying off the path exploring or then following some side quest. The game’s horizon feels absolutely vast; there are things you must do but just as many or more things you can do. There are quests that are timed and can be lost forever, there are quests you can solve in a multitude of ways. There are optional storylines, optional classes (this is wild!), optional bosses. I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of this world and for now I really like it that way.

Review-Bombing on Steam

Dragon’s Dogma 2 is out today and has already received some considerably negative reviews on Steam. While the game seems to have some optimization issues right now, the primary reason for the review bombing is that Capcom, most likely on the publisher’s side, added micro-transactions to the game which allow players to purchase optional items (like fast travel) which make the often harsh gameplay more trivial.

While I am no fan of micro transactions myself, much less in a premium single-player RPG, much of the current review bombing on Steam is based on misinformation and not entirely fair. As veterans of the older title have pointed out, optional items were always a thing in Dragon’s Dogma and more importantly, the ingame world also offers opportunities to receive the much coveted items, albeit on more difficult terms. If you want to play DD2 the way its director of development, Hideaki Itsuno intended it, you will ignore the optional items and enjoy this RPG world for what it is. If you prefer shortcuts, you have to pay extra.

Much of this initial outrage seems fabricated or at least very knee-jerk to me and I feel a little sorry for the development team who likely had no say in the matter. I also wonder what some of the hot critics who are unfamiliar with the franchise will say once they discover all the other warts of this new title. Dragon’s Dogma has always been rough around the edges and decidedly less mainstream than Skyrim, for example. Newcomers should probably watch videos like this one by Gameranx first which very accurately describes what you’re in for, should you decide to give DD2 a go. I still look forward to playing it this coming weekend, anyway.