GW2: Ok…So They Went There…

So the Aug 30 announcement of the Living World: Icebrood Saga contained:

  • Next episodes of Living World/Story announced / Lore drops / Hints at map direction / showing off some environments and level design
  • An assurance that an expansion’s worth of content will be bundled into the staggered release format
  • Some shiny mount/weapon/armor skins
  • Some ridiculously grindy long term Legendary sort of item to construct
  • Jewelcrafting to 500?
  • Some brief allusion to fractal/raid to keep the difficult group content subset dangling
  • Build templates
  • Something to help WvW or PvP (vaguely)
  • New elite specs
  • Variant difficulties to raids (easier to repeatable CMs)
  • New weapon types?
  • Cantha
  • Ships (ie. above water and underwater mounts)
  • Improved Guild Halls and Guild Missions
  • Personal Housing (or improved decorating / player placed features for home instances, etc.)
  • Underwater combat

On the bright side, I guess one can say that one nailed it essentially 100%.

Though if anyone was trying to play GW2 announcement bingo, I’m not sure there’s enough to fill up a complete row. Reddit is going to be a bloodbath for a while.

I am cheered by one thing – we do now have official confirmation (not just speculation) that we’ll be checking out the northernmost Frozen Shiverpeaks and the charr homelands, and that Jormag is next.

Though it is predictable, it looks fairly lore rich, lets us hang out with and learn more about the charr and norn (and kodan) cultures – which are some of the more uniquely GW2 racial offerings – and hints at a tiny bit more worldbuilding than we’ve seen of late.

The art is still good, but the actual gameplay stuff looks sketchy, like they’ve been working pretty darned hard to pull off this much to show after the layoffs. It’s going to take some time to ramp up, I hope they can pull it off.

Build templates confirmed. Which is probably the best news there is. Only took 7 years, but better late than never, right? As mentioned in the previous post, that actually demonstrates that the current team can pull off a long term, ‘new feature’ project/improvement, even if they had to tweak/invent/change a million things to get there.

Vague allusions to PvP and WvW were had. Swiss style tournaments for PvP and concept art of new armor sets for it, allowing me to cross off two rows based on something that took 30 seconds to say. And they are still trying to work out how to automate WvW restructuring, which might be months away, and I guess one can read between the lines of that item fairly obviously.

I -was- pleasantly surprised with the revelation of strike missions, aka probably easier mode pickup raids in the vein of what we’ve seen in Dragon Bash. That is, a stepping stone to getting more people familiar with some version of instanced content, and allowing for repeatable group content that doesn’t require a formal LFG or more intense style of group formation. We’ll see how that one works out?

Things that weren’t on my list:

Masteries linked with the Norn spirits. I’d kinda assumed masteries would come with Living World drops. Sounds like a more lore-based take on masteries, though I’m not sure if there will be any story that comes with that, or just an excuse for some extra lateral skills with long cooldowns after a bunch of running around pressing F on things.

Charr rock bands. Ice elemental construct mini-boss fight in either the Prologue or Episode 1, can’t quite recall the details. Drakkar Lake monster might be a little less frozen in Episode 2.

A sudden realization as to why the marketing of GW2 is so terribly off tune most of the time. Let’s just say you need to watch the stream/video up to a certain point where you CRINGE and then the revelation unfolds.

Several surprisingly decent marketing items, including a 20th anniversary GW1/GW2 art book collaboration with Dark Horse comics (aka desperate cash grab via recycling assets, but their art has always been their major value product and it works a lot better than oh… cringy clothing or drinks only obtainable in one country. As in, I kinda want it. I have a weakness for art books. Even if the game goes to shit, I’ll always have the awesome concept art to remember the world by) and Funko pop collectibles of Aurene, Rytlock and Palawa Joko.

Major bundling of Heart of Thorns (aka now free) to Path of Fire, as in, please buy one box and join us in game now. We really need new blood. Or returning blood that was scared or scarred by Heart of Thorns reviews.

(They were also clever enough to promise HoT owners some special goodies to stave off the “I paid good money for something that’s now free?!” complaints. No doubt some of those complaints are still coming, but at least it’s an extra thank-you-for-your-support bonus, alongside the “you’ve had plenty of time to utilize HoT value” argument.)

And I guess that’s it.

Ohh, this is going to be tricky to figure out how I feel about this one.

I can predict the hardcore fanbase reaction already. Bad. Really really bad.

From a more story-oriented casual like I used to be, once upon a time, it feels like they are trying to steer the slow boat around back to another -hopefully better- attempt at something along the story season veins.

I do kinda want to see where they’re going with the world and the story.

I just fear the speed and quality with which they can tell it.

Time will tell if the fear is founded or unfounded. Two more weeks, Sep 17, before we get a Prologue. In the meantime, Path of Exile’s Blight Legion launches Sep 6. Warframe’s Prime Vault opens Sep 3, releasing Saryn Prime and Valkyr Prime. Harry Potter Wizards Unite will be having some Day of the Dragon related events Sep 7.

I’ll have things to do.

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GW2: Wild, Baseless Suppositions for Aug 30 Announcement

Quick post to lock in some random guesses for GW2’s scheduled Aug 30 announcement… in roughly 12 hours from this post… just to see how wildly off-base and out of touch I might be from the current pulse of things.

Like undoubtedly many, learning more about the future of GW2 from what ArenaNet is able to show of its current plans is going to play a big part in whether I think I want to participate in that future.

Realistic Expectations

  • Next episodes of Living World/Story announced / Lore drops / Hints at map direction / showing off some environments and level design
  • An assurance that an expansion’s worth of content will be bundled into the staggered release format
  • Some shiny mount/weapon/armor skins
  • Some ridiculously grindy long term Legendary sort of item to construct
  • Jewelcrafting to 500?
  • Some brief allusion to fractal/raid to keep the difficult group content subset dangling

Possible But Moving Towards Uncalled For Hope

  • Build templates
  • Something to help WvW or PvP
  • New elite specs
  • Variant difficulties to raids (easier to repeatable CMs)
  • New weapon types?

Hopeful Ideals / Wild Dreams

  • Cantha
  • Ships (ie. above water and underwater mounts)
  • Improved Guild Halls and Guild Missions
  • Personal Housing (or improved decorating / player placed features for home instances, etc.)
  • Underwater combat

Not all of the above are going to be things I personally like, but these are just guesses into what might be conceivably achievable and a possible priority for Anet.

Most of the stuff listed under Realistic Expectations is the standard bread and butter for both Anet and their game audience, in my opinion, anyway. Stuff they should be able to do. If they can’t, then there really is an issue with how their company is doing things and we should all be running for the hills.

The biggest puzzle is what max jewelcrafting might do if Legendary sigils can already be made without it. Infusions? Craftable Ascended trinkets (as if there weren’t enough sources for those)?

New fractal is personally not going to thrill me. I shut myself off from PUGing long ago and horror stories of the new Siren’s Reef do not help in that respect. The only way I’ll see that content is if some attention is given to helping soloability of dungeons/fractals, be it through henchman/hero AI or even more power creep. (And note, that feature didn’t even make the Wild Dreams list, it’s that far off the table, even in my guesses.)

New raid would make me sigh. I dunno. Still conflicted about that whole issue. Yes, I acknowledge a decent (and controversially debatable) amount of people like raids. Yes, I begged, borrowed, stole my way into a static that tolerates my shenanigans long enough for mutual goals to be achieved and things to eventually die (which is probably the diametric opposite of elitist behavior.) They also take up a lot of time every week. They have undoubtedly changed the social community feel of GW2, with the introduction of different people with different values, which then changes some social mores.

One has never been a truly ideal fit for raids, and many times, I end up feeling like I’m shoving a hexagonal peg into a round hole just to deal with its introduction to the game. (It’ll get in there eventually, after some of the rough edges are worn off, but with imperfect fit and a lot of swearing involved.)

The big question has always been, is that struggle worth it? If GW2 has a future, and a future I can see myself interested in and taking part of, then okay, the pain is worth it, for the rewards and the maintaining of that social network. If not, then I might do better rethinking my relationship to MMOs altogether, because I’m kinda reaching a plateau point regarding social persistent world games and my interest level in them.

Anyway, moving on from those maudlin thoughts until we know more of what’s actually coming, and back to wild guesses of what dreams may come.

Build templates would be big. If they can actually announce and successfully introduce that (as some changes in UI and tweaks to Legendary functionality seem to hint at), then the current GW2 team demonstrates that they can actually pull off a long term, ‘new feature’ project.

If they can’t, then it’s another layer of glum depression of getting nothing substantial on a systems front.

WvW and/or PvP. Heh. Yeah, I think they exist? Does Anet? Is the group of interested players on those fronts large enough for them to devote resources to? I dunno, I just include it as a mention, just in case.

Elite specs are probably a thing. That should come with expansions. And if the Living World is the next expansion per se, they should endeavor to throw those in sporadically, like one or two per episode or something. Should. There seems to be a lot of repetitions of that word “should.” I wonder if I can name an asura Should.

On an even more hopeful level, if some of those elite specs can move on from using the established weapons, perhaps we’ll actually see new weapon types like greataxes and polearms (land spears?) Does Anet even have animators anymore, post layoffs? If new combat skills can be introduced and chairs/rocks with player poses… maybe?

Saving the best for last, can raids actually be salvaged for a larger percentage of the population?

On a mechanical and technical level, they are basically just another sort of combat/boss fight – as long as you disregard the closed instances, social necessities and difficulty level pitched at time investments of 2-3+ uninterrupted hours from ~10 people meeting the arbitary thresholds of performance required for success.

Except that said performance thresholds in GW2 vary significantly with game knowledge, time investment and willingness to practice (aka skill/learning factors) and cannot be modified like other games through time and grinding for gear with bigger and bigger stat numbers.

Ideally, a progression would be to filter a bunch of players like a pyramid from a large pool of middling competence players into a smaller group of more competence until the ridiculously refined levels at the peak.

Yes, the downside would be this forever push by the more competitive to clamber ever higher and increased social drama, but the alternative is what we are already seeing now, a large bunch of players never hit the thresholds and are excluded, the players over that threshold dropping like flies from boredom at repeating already mastered content and nobody happy and blaming the other group. I am sure I said this divide would happen years ago when Heart of Thorns came out. No shit, Sherlock.

So. The most positive way(s) out of this mess that I can possibly conceive…

1) Raids are salvageable, enough of our population likes them = Variant difficulty raids

Have a raid variant that is equivalent to the pick-up-and-play experiments we saw for Wintersday Frosty and Dragon Bash. People go in, people come out, or just play for 15-30mins. People see mechanics and learn mechanics. Mechanics are not punitively punishing and other players can save shitty players by forcibly rezzing them repeatedly. Good players can carry others. Lower performance numbers required. Low stakes. Low or different rewards.

Continue with standard raid difficulty.

Add repeatable Challenge Modes and increased Challenge Mode variety for the statics that have finished with standard raid difficulty. Different rewards, more prestige based, aka achievements/titles and the occasional shiny skin or sexy stool.

The hopeful results would be casuals try out easy pickup raid and get carried, decide “oh, this is fun or not too bad” and mostly stick to that, with some ambitious or inspired enough to move to the standard that is in effect now, aka some new blood that has at least taken dips in the baby pool and not shoved off a diving board to figure it out as they are falling.

Meanwhile, your old and burnt out blood that is now busy making derisive attacking posts on Reddit and ranting on Twitch/Youtube would be kept busy running a hamster wheel of their own making (except that the hamster wheel is cat-sized, full of hamster-sized holes to jump across aka fall through, and has actual cats draped around it for added difficulty… I mean, that’s what they want, right? It’s great stream material.)

OR

2) Raids are not salvageable, too little people like it or will play it, regardless of what we do. Let’s ignore it and say nothing and eventually they will go away and leave us alone.

Some people would be deeply unhappy and have huge vocal histrionic fits about this for a while. But ehhh, I’m good. Practically every other MMO is a haven for the raider subset already. (Have you heard of our Lord and Saviour WoW Classic? Or the New Book of Final Fantasy XIV? If you’re not a devout MMO traditionalist, I hear there is this other upcoming sect called Monster Hunter World: Iceborne.)

We’ll see. There may be other more boring alternatives that Anet might take, like play it safe and promise a raid Soon(TM) and we’ll see it 9 months from now, assuming anyone’s still left to be interested in running it.

Let’s move on to the “If this happens, I think I’ll buy their Black Lion Package Deal of Miscellaneous Goodies (or whatever it’s really called) to show my support” items:

Cantha.

No shit. We got Elona. Seeing Cantha would be fucking cool. Will we actually get it when a Living World expansion will probably take us to Jormag or Charr homelands or whatever? Probably not. But we can dream. The Warclaw was kinda Chinese Lion looking, right?

Ships. Naval combat. Two or multiple seater mounts. We already have the skimmer. Underwater mount would be neat. (Octopus? Shark?) I just want something new, different, systems/feature-based and cool. Not more reskinned content in the same vein and a new layer coat of story veneered on.

Guild halls and guild missions were a great idea. In 2013. Or was it 2015. You get the picture. It’s been ignored since forever. It was a great way to socialize in a no stress environment and actually have an excuse for a mini-community gathering. Was. No variation to the content will do that after some time. As for guild hall costs, tweak them to accomodate guilds of different sizes and not only the megaguild, eh? Even Warframe and Path of Exile have better guild/housing options than a full on MMO. That’s a shame. The promise of achievable, personal housing to decorate and self-express might pull back a bunch of casuals that fled from raids.

As for underwater combat, I’ll grant that this one might be extremely controversial to do. But as a sort of stretch goal for ArenaNet, to do for underwater combat/content what they did for mounts, to lead and innovate where no other MMO has, to do it differently and make it appealing and have it be big time news like how praises for the raptor mount’s feel were splashed all over various sites…

… yeah, this would resoundingly demonstrate that the ArenaNet of today is still right up there with the big boys.

But um, I’m not exactly holding my breath for it (pun fully intended.)

We’ll see.

Tomorrow or the day after, we’ll look at how many things I nailed (if any) and how many more things I got wrong, and that should probably help us figure out a bit more of our very conflicted feelings about this game and about this company.

Warframe: Monkeying Around

Wukong Prime was the warframe that kept me busy for most of last month, earning relics and then cracking them open painstakingly, only to find the wrong parts and begin all over again.

One has the option to skip most of the grind by paying a semi-exorbitant sum of real money – I did that for my first love Rhino Prime and have never regretted it; I was at a point in the game where I needed a good tanky awesome-looking frame to push my progress further.

In this case, I didn’t need Wukong Prime, but I thought he looked really cool and wanted him pretty badly. Going the relic route basically meant an excuse for gameplay… though bad luck ended up really extending the length of that gameplay this time around.

wukong1

Worth it. Playing around with the frame after earning the parts over said month, spending 12 hours building the parts, and then waiting another 3 days for the parts to be assembled into the warframe was immensely rewarding.

The frame’s abilities were apparently reworked fairly recently and the results are something I really dig as a soloist.

Ability 1 creates a celestial twin – basically a computer-controlled version of your warframe, presumably using the specter/pet AI. It uses melee if you pull out your ranged weapon to shoot something, and switches to range if you go melee.

Fortunately, the pet AI in Warframe is good enough to do a decent amount of damage, especially when it uses my Ignis Wraith flamethrower. It is childishly delightful to just watch your very own computer-controlled ally just clear all the enemies for you, while you stand around, swinging your melee weapon around in the air while admiring yourself.

Once you tire of that, ability 2 is Cloud Walker. He disappears into a cloud, going invulnerable (temporary tankiness, awesome!) and while in the cloud, you gain a massive speed boost and flight abilities, so you can literally pilot yourself up floors and across gaps without needing anything so crass as a bullet jump or a double jump like all those other ground-dwelling warframes.

In case that wasn’t enough, Cloud Walker also restores your health.

Oh, and it stuns any enemies you waft pass.

Is there anything it can’t do?!

I haven’t found the limits yet. I even managed a Maroo’s Ayatan sculpture mission with it, something I previously had to resort to Titania’s Razorwing flight mode. Cloud Walker is more brief, lasting only seconds, but I kinda like the active feel and the design implication that a little bit of skill in timing is needed to do cool things with it.

Ability 3 is Defy. Another sort of invulnerable skill which absorbs damage enemies do to you briefly, then reflects it back in a giant staff swipe of multiplied AoE damage. Oh, and he gains a brief armor bonus based on how much damage was absorbed, capped at 1500 armor.

I like it. It brings shades of Rhino or GW2 guardian blocks to mind, in that there is tankiness to be had, but it should be timed well, or at least used actively, when you anticipate huge bursts of incoming damage.

Ability 4 is the classic Iron Staff the Monkey King is always seen with. Like Excalibur, he can pull out an Exalted melee weapon and then go to town on enemies.

Honestly, I haven’t even tried out ability 4 while ranking up Wukong Prime. I just couldn’t be bothered to slot it with mods yet.

I had a Zaw, Warframe’s custom modular melee weapon earnable from the Plains of Eidolon, and it happened to be an already modded two-handed bladed staff I’m pretty fond of. So that’s my melee weapon for the time being.

I presume with proper slotting Iron Staff might be pretty good, or more ideally, pretty darned awesome, or less ideally, just only okay. Whatever. I’m good with Celestial Twin and Cloud Walker already.

wukong2

It’s odd. I never really was attracted to the persistent Monkey King-alikes that “mysteriously” get inserted into various games (aka thinly veiled attempt to appeal to the China market – see Who is Sun Wukong and Why is He in Every MOBA?) despite being Asian and yes, growing up with Journey to the West as one of my favorite book series/mythological stories.

But something about Warframe’s Wukong Prime – and it has to be the Prime look – really does it for me.

Superhero musculature, robot monkey, and all ninja – yep, checks all the boxes except zombie and pirate.

Definitely one of my favorite warframes, just a hair shy behind Nidus and Rhino Prime.

wukong3

Heroes of Myth… That’s What They Called You

Three years ago, you saved the world.

The moon turned blood red. The demons broke free from the portal to wreak havoc. A Dark Lord (well, Lady) had arisen to sow chaos and despair.

Together, mage, warrior and soothsayer followed the path of an ancient prophecy, fought back these evil forces, slew the Dark Lady and brought back peace to the land.

The only problem? None of it is true.

It was all one big fat lie.

Your partners-in-crime were:

Letha, the above-mentioned warrior who, by the way, just happened to have murdered your mutual employer for being a demon sympathizer, thus getting the both of you flung into jail

Alvis, the wannabe soothsayer who, actually, doesn’t have a scrap of magic in any bone of his body and lies through his teeth out of sheer habit

Verity, the “Dark Lady” who wanted to fake her death, because… reasons…

And you, not at all a master of -any- elemental magic, just some illusions.

Well, you do also have some other skills at your disposal. Perhaps you’ve studied a great deal of theoretical magic and history. Perhaps your gift is that of the gab, charming others with witty banter. Maybe you’re not half bad at tactics and in the combat arena, or maybe you’re just really good at running away.

You’re going to need them.

Because tonight, the moon has turned blood red (for real), and you’re not to blame, but your three years lie is finally catching up to you.

Heroes of Myth by Abigail C. Trevor is one of the most recent offerings from the Choice of Games lineup of text-based choice-laden narrative games.

I picked it up via iPad app because I was simultaneously craving reading a book I could tote around on the go, and something more game-like and interactive where I could have an influence on where the story went.

For moods like that, the Choice of Games lineup is definitely becoming a good resource, though it can take a little patience to dig the gems out of the merely decent or the unfortunately mediocre with cringy writing.

Crowdsourcing some Steam review opinions, and then playtesting the first few chapters for free via their website (see link above) is usually how I go about it.

By and large, Heroes of Myth navigates the twin perils of purple prose or the outright ungrammatical fairly well. The style is straightforward and easy to read.

The one caveat is a gender neutral character who is constantly addressed as “they.” Done tastefully, I think there is little wrong with that usage. But as repetitively as it is sometimes used in the story, the pronoun can produce momentary confusion as to whether it’s referring to that specific character, or used in the more normal plural sense. This can get occasionally disorienting and even cringy language-wise.

Despite that minor niggle, the power of Heroes of Myth is how it treats its central theme – that of truth or lies. Is honesty the best policy, or is it better to tell the world a mythic story to dream about and believe in? You get to decide.

There are multiple viable paths through the chapters. This allows repeated playthroughs with entirely different archetypes of your choosing.

In the vein of Choice of Games style games, your initial decisions move your stats towards shaping your character in certain ways. If you tend to talk your way through things and being bold and flashy, your Charm and Showy stats go up. Fighting everything might push up your Combat stat instead, and making more introverted hover-in-the-back-of-the-crowd decisions leans you towards Subtle instead of Showy.

In the later chapters, these stats become more fixed, and get used for tests of success or failure. Often, you’ll want to use the better stat choices for optimal results, but there can also be times when it becomes interesting narratively to fail.

In one playthrough, I had a terribly low Charm skill, so most of my choices that relied on conversation tended to repel NPCs with my uncouth and overly forthright manner. Near the end, there was an option to assure certain other NPCs of some matter… except that I as the player actually wanted to fail this, so I picked the choice suspecting my character would make a hash of things, and they did. The NPCs did not believe my character. Character: *unhappy* Player: “Yes!”

Speaking of characters and NPCs, Heroes of Myth provides quite a veritable cast of NPC characters – each of whom you have your own relationship meter with, and as is the usual fan service with such games, the possibility of romance with quite a number. At least five, if my count is correct.

All in all, I find Heroes of Myth a fun romp. It’s a fantasy adventure story that lays out its premise from the beginning and concludes where it should.

As stated, there’s going to be demons, illusions, a prophecy (twice-repeating) and a fantasy kingdom with a cast of characters to save. You begin at the start of the second repeated prophecy, flashback to portions of the first “prophecy,” and end when that second prophecy concludes. Nothing more, nothing less.

But how you get there, well, that you’ll have to decide for yourself.

You’re a hero… aren’t you?

Cultist Simulator: Two Lives

Nathaniel. An ordinary man, fired from an ordinary job as a hospital porter. He took up a junior clerical position at Glover & Glover, clocking in and out for meagre pay. In his spare time, he dabbled with long walks down strange streets, the occasional painting and tried his hand at unskilled labour to strengthen his body, for he feared wasting away his physical talents hunched over in bookkeeping.

Realizing that his funds from both sources were on par, he took more to the hauling job as it helped to chisel his body into something more herculean. He found a few odd books in a bookshop and took to reading them, following trails of strange history and gibberish… there was… something… about them. But it, whatever it was, stayed beyond reach, beyond the odd dream that offered fascinating glimpses and glimmerings of… something indescribable.

He met a lady named Violet, who expressed that she too had such similar almost-experiences. They met up a few times to converse, and someone, he could not remember who, proposed, half-in-jest that they should call their meet-ups a Society meeting and invite others who had encountered the same phenomenon.

“But what would we call this society,” asked the other, and the first replied, “The Society of St. Hydra.” The many-headed, ever-branching, searching for secrets beyond ken.

Honestly, little became of it, beyond a dead end expedition to a forgotten stone temple.

It was the book in the bookshop that was the key. Or at least, -a- key.

His search for ever-increasing physical prowess had plateaued, despite regular exercise, dock work that demanded everything of his muscles, early nights for good sleep health and ruminations on all things vital. The book whispered secrets of the Forge men, fueled by flame and stout as steel. He referred, cross-referred, took the secrets apart, put it back together again, practiced and studied. At some point, he achieved a Matchless Physique, godlike as Thor. If this was possible, what else lay beyond what was previously known?

cultsim_nat

Nathaniel had taken up painting as a form of expression of those odd moods and longings, a counterpoint to all that mindless muling for his pay to keep on living. He forgot to attend to his clerical job, and there was talk he would be in trouble if he ever returned.

He didn’t. He kept on painting.

Sometimes they sold, sometimes they didn’t. Mostly, they were paens to whatever existed in the gaps between the everyday. He felt his soul blossom open, but there was no response. His plaintive questions to the universe went unanswered.

Funds were a struggle. He existed on the borderline between bankrupt and bereft. To buy a book in the hope for scraps of revelation meant giving up the scraps of food for his one and only meal of the day. For a week.

He talked himself into sending his compatriots on a trip to a Forgotten Mithraeum – Victor had joined Violet by now, and both needed tickets and funding for the venture. There was hope that something precious would be found, but alas, both returned emptyhanded. Victor was sure that there had been a Hidden Door somewhere, but try as they might to uncover a passage, the cold, unblinking ancient stones of the temple simply watched and said nothing.

Nathaniel, too, said nothing when they told this to him. Merely walked away knowing he was down to his last cent. There was nothing for it now but to give up his days and nights to hauling on the docks, hoping for enough coin to keep going, and maybe, just some day, afford the luxury of another strange book.

The days blended into each other, his unpursued desire stillborn into a restlessness that set him a pacing, even as the dockmaster blew his whistle and demanded another cargo to be loaded or unloaded. His physique helped him do the work of two men, but on the contrary, no one thanked him for it. He received the pay of one, and the other mortal men eyed him, jealous, surly, and hostile for he was spoiling the benchmark of average, normal work.

The restlessness grew into despair of ever escaping this menial struggle for one more dawn, to be spent promptly head down and straining upon the ropes. The despair steadily bloomed into dread, a growing horror of this animal subsistence.

He fixated on trying to beat the clock, to earn just a little more than enough, for just one more book. He forgot his painting. He forgot even his fear and despair, throwing himself into his work repeatedly, cycle after cycle.

But it was a lie. A lie he had almost managed to fool himself with. Almost.

It was probably the night of the full moon. That night, in the unrelenting truth of its silver light, Nathaniel woke up from his dream of hope and realized he was still numb on waking. The dread thrice crushed his perfectly chiseled chest and had a death grip on his heart.

They say that he calmly turned around on the pier and instead of walking back home, walked off the end instead. He was not seen again.

Juliana, by contrast, was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. A Bright Young Thing. She merely stretched out her hand and money filled it, to be spent on whatever entertainments her heart desired – a night on the club, some antique book or curio, anything she wished.

That is, until her father died.

He left her a tidy sum as her inheritance though, so she was still of great means, but the tap had ceased to flow. It would be up to her now to maintain the pool of wealth and ensure it did not run dry.

Left to her also, was the odd rambling diary of a man named Nathaniel.

There were dalliances in those early days. There were enough funds to not worry about work for a while. She pored over the diary, then the books she had obtained as whims when money was no object, she learned Latin and read some more. She painted a little. Some of the books spoke of strange hedonistic Sensations, ineffable feelings achievable through… –Iä- nog kadishtu ‘bthnk ftaghu gotha … No, no- there are no words for this, no way to crystallize the symbols or the meanings, but only glimmerings, faint ephemeral may-be could-bes.

The more she thought (or perhaps it was less thought and more intuited) about them, the more the temptation grew to comprehend, to fulfill a restless need for more. If these Sensations were not for the mind to grasp, perhaps the body would.

Let us draw a veil over the proceeding days and nights. Juliana worked and labored at her pursuit of bodily sensation. There were walks and assignations; strange spices and scents at clubs, exotic tastings, departures from the merely unconventional into the outright bizarre. Some adventures even left her with coin at the end of it. Her physique grew lithe and flawless.

There came a point where this grew boring, and she decided to take up art, exploring the depth of her passions.

There were the odd duds, but by and large, her paintings – capturing all manner of fleeting reminiscences, contentments, dread, and other such sensations – were popular enough to be sold for additional funds. Her reputation and mystique grew.

Her public gallery showings were sporadic, but drew decent crowds. One stranger stood out like a cantankerous sore amidst the well-to-do and bourgeois. A constable tromped in and out, glowering, occasionally scrutinizing a painting as if it held some lost and stolen masterpiece on a layer beneath its surface. What he was searching for was hard to say.

Juliana never spoke with the detective. Nor did she speak to much anyone else. She had no friend nor follower. She circumvented her own path, her conscience was (relatively) clear, beyond the books she habitually bought and devoured in private. She found various snippets of lore in those books, which she would put aside and categorize, still finding them for-the-moment useless and wanting. The holy grail was still the redness of sensation that she sought.

It was slow but systematic going. Her funding troubles were minor, compared to Nathaniel’s woes as penned in his diary, but it still disturbed her that they were sporadic earnings. She had to remove herself from books and study in order to create another sale piece of herself. Perhaps it was time to seek out more mentally challenging work to speed up her understanding of these difficult texts?

Glover & Glover was still an institution in her time. Her brain, while running a little behind her mastery of her body, was still brilliant and adept enough that she spent very little time as an entry level clerk and rose to a more senior, better-paying position.

The problem was Mr Alden.

A small man with an even smaller mind, he reveled in the power of an extra prefix in his job title over hers.

He nitpicked stylistic choices, demanded overtime without extra pay, shoved work he disliked into her lap and then directed all blame squarely at her as “her job” while his job was to yell abuse in the confident presumption this would ensure the work be completed more rapidly (while still remaining perfect.)

Strictly speaking, Juliana did not need the job. She could have left and gotten by with her paintings and her bodily trysts.

And yet, the work sans an unreasonable superior was decently challenging, well-paying and promising. To wait for him to retire was too many intolerable years to consider. She took to walking the city streets to meditate on the problem, and the suggestion of a potential solution arose while making contact with some of the less savoury elements of her earlier experimental periods.

There was a bomb-maker who was the first to make the suggestion, upon overhearing her lament to a barkeep. “Perhaps if you were willing to fund an explosive device, said mechanism might find its way to his dwelling?”

She had coin to spare, and Mr Alden was a right nuisance that had stolen one too many lore studying hours from her. She pushed the funds over, and left.

Days passed as she waited with bated breath, hoping to read in the paper of Mr Alden’s demise. But every morning, the despicable man was still there, making her working life a hell.

On the fifth day, there was talk of a bomb that had attempted to have gone off, but the explosion was more of a firework squib, and Mr Alden had not been at home regardless. The police were searching for the suspect, but Juliana felt confident there was little to link her and the bomb-maker.

She put up with the abuse for a little longer while the notoriety of the incident died down, and then went searching in the City again.

She found some Professional Muscle, who swiftly assured her that Mr Alden would be no more.

Imagine her chagrin when she heard in the break room Alden bragging about how some thugs had attempted to accost him, and gotten themselves quickly overpowered then arrested. For he had been lunching with some important personages with their own bodyguards.

His fate was sealed now. Juliana resolved that it would be him or her. Either one of her Hirelings would succeed, or the Notoriety of her attempted criminal solicitations would bring her down.

Her third time’s a charm City visit found a Hulking Fellow fairly smitten with her. “No problem,” he said, doing something with his knuckles in a clumsy but earnest manner, “I’ll wrap him up and thump him. My gift to you. He won’t trouble you again.”

He didn’t seem terribly competent, so in truth, her expectations were set low and her plans already extending toward a fourth search for help.

She was astounded when she realized the Hulking Fellow meant it literally. A knock on the door one night heralded him standing over a wriggling, gagged bundle. Mr Alden was her new Hapless Prisoner.

Thinking on her feet furiously, she persuaded him to stash Alden in a more secure location for the time being.

That night, her dreams were filled with insidious whispers speaking inhuman languages; flashes of visions – her licking the blood oozing from the larva-like bundle; flame coursing through the scarecrow form of Mr Alden; his bound body dessicating and withering on the vine, aging 39 days like prime beef, before … Oh, the possibilities…

The problem being, as she realized when she woke up in the clearer light of morning, that she didn’t actually have any concrete form of knowledge to perform any such rites as might require the use of a captive.

It was far more probable that Mr Alden would expire in his captivity (preferably far from here) under the care of that Hulking Fellow, before she might discover such a ceremony in the books she was perusing. Said books being paid for by the earnings of the job that she had better make haste to.

That day was possibly one of the best days on the job ever.

She feigned concern with the rest of them over the sudden disappearance of Mr Alden, then sighed with relief when his new and temporary replacement proved to be more than a “hands-off” sort. He simply told everyone at her level that he trusted they would do a great job, and then took his entire body off elsewhere.

The days and weeks began to go by without incident. She did her job, did it well, went back at appropriate hours and invested the pay and spare time into her sidelong study of esoterica.

Mr Alden became more of an afterthought, presumed dead by all, while a small secret part of Juliana smiled in secret, knowing his clock was indeed ticking down to the inevitable.

It was only a small part, however, because the work at Glover & Glover, sans obstacle became both lucrative and intellectually challenging. It took up more and more of her attention and focus, if not her time. The funds rolling in were keeping her in great stead, the work kept her mind occupied, and life became steadily more normal.

It was an immense surprise when one day, a problem at work demanded not just simple, logical reason, but for someone to care and argue for a particular resolution. Post-passionate argument (which was indeed victorious), Juliana looked up from her desk and realized: She liked it here. She loved her life. She was content.

Those books at home? There was little reason or need to read them. The knowledge would never amount to anything. This? This work? This desk? This office?

This was real.

One thing leads to another. I’ve taken to reading a little more in my blog absence, having little to talk about besides more Warframe, or more of the same in GW2.

I love anthologies, and randomly borrowed a bunch from the local digital library. I also love mashups of settings. (Case in point: A Study of Steampunk: Choice by Gaslight – an excellent interactive fiction game combining Sherlock Holmes and steampunk; Open Sorcery combining computers and elemental magic, etc.)

“Shadows Over Baker Street” is an interesting collection of stories that gloms together Sherlock Holmes with the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. What happens when the undefeatable intellectual capacities of the world’s premiere detective meets Things Man Was Not Meant to Know?

A lot of fun reads, that’s what.

It got my mind set directly on all things Cthulhu-ish. (Critical Role also recently did a Call of Cthulhu one-shot, so there’s something in the air lately…)

It’s a short progression from there into a Cultist Simulator game revisit. I briefly alluded to some experimental tries with it in an earlier post.

It took that many tries to begin to grasp the mechanics, but I’d failed to explore the actual content per se, being completely lost at the time. Since it had been a while, I decided to erase the entire contents of the save and start anew.

This time, I could start to explore some early game content and upkeep mechanism loops. Not at all well, for there’s a fair amount of RNG in some of the card draws and plays, but at least enough for me to begin to understand and start crafting and telling myself a story for these experimental lives, which I’ve elaborated on above.

This is still way early game, because I’m not making much progression on anything cult-related per se. I am evidently still missing some connections on how to progress on that front.

But at least I’m sort of beginning to understand how to survive and not immediately die or jump headfirst into a hopeless doomed spiral. (There’s plenty of traps for the latter that I will be falling accidentally into, without having to help it along. The second life, Juliana, for example, fell headlong into a Minor Victory “trap” that I was not at all expecting. The game suddenly declaring an ending quite baffled me. Still, it was all for the best, being 3am at the time. Civilization-like “just one more turn” this Cultist Simulator is, indeed.)