Steam Library Update is Here!

In beta form at least. But it’s open beta! So if you want to take a play for yourself, you can. (Settings -> Account, click ‘Change’ under Beta Participation to ensure you’ve enabled Beta updates.) The news struck that it was out while I was at work yesterday, so I itched all day to give it a go.

Now that I have, it seems my earlier excitement from back in June was well warranted. The library update is every bit the revolutionary update (for Steam) that the earlier Chat update was.

There’s kind of a lot going on here even just on the main screen.

Starting from the top and possibly the most obvious changes — there is a view of recent updates and recent games. These two rows can’t be toggled at the moment and are always on. There is plenty of feedback on this already though, so I expect we’ll see a change here.

The updates are kind odd in some respects and I’d be curious to know what the algorithm for selecting them is as it appears there is more going on than just freshness of the update. You can hide individual updates, but there isn’t currently a way to hide updates for games as a whole. I thought at first it might be looking at the games I ‘follow’ but this doesn’t seem to be the case as some titles that show I don’t follow presently.

The updates row I find of dubious utility then, and I’ll likely continue to use the general ‘Activity’ log for a review of updates I’m interested in for games I own and for those I don’t. Still — I don’t think I’d turn it off even should that option become available. Entirely possible something will catch my eye.

The recent titles list however may become my most common game launch point, with it showing games both recently added to the library (Hai2u last Humble Monthly titles!) and your actual last played on a timeline, which you can scroll back for further history.

The Library ‘Shelf’ Space

This is where you start getting to customise. Ohh yeaah. By default you’ll have an ‘All games’ shelf, but you can add others based on your categories (now revamped to ‘collections’, which I’ll get to shortly).

You can then sort the display order within an individual shelf on any number of criteria. Stock standard alphabetical, played time, games which have the most friends currently playing, release date, etc. Can even sort by metacritic score if that way inclined, or perhaps just looking for something to pick up next.

A particular shelf will always display one row of titles no matter what — but you can toggle between that one row only and a full display of every title within that category/collection.

In the screenshot above you can see I’ve added my ever optimistic ‘Play soon?’ category (although I guess at least I was self-aware enough to add a question mark to it). ;)

I may also end up adding an ‘Uncategorised’ shelf to the view simply so that I have a visual reminder not to let this group grow too excessively large again.

But particularly if you weren’t one to categorise your games previously — then this shelf concept may not be of too much interest yet. Which brings us to the new collections — specifically, Dynamic Collections.

Category Improvements and Dynamic Collections

Before — if you wanted to categorise your titles, it was by hand. And it involved a few clicks too many to do it. (Right Click, Set Category, tick the categories you wanted, click OK.)

It was tedious, in short.

And error prone too. Not sure entirely how I missed this given they would’ve been right next to each other all along, but I had both a ‘CCG’ and a ‘CCGs’ category. <facepalm>

Now at least — and I hope you’re seated for this, because it’s some really revolutionary tech we’re about to talk about here…

…You can click and drag from one category to another.

Wizardry!

I jest. And of course it does demonstrate just how far behind the times parts of Steam’s interface was before. But whatever the before state was like — this? This is nice.

You can multi-select (which to be fair, was possible before too), and then drag those items into the new category you want (or to the top to simply remove from the category you’re dragging them from currently). The UI has some really nice visual feedback about where its going, with even the border in the visual display on the right turning solid to indicate the currently hovered category.

So if by-hand curation of your categories is your thing, this is now a relatively painless task even for big libraries.

But if you’d prefer, you can create and define ‘Dynamic Collections’ and I’m seriously considering converting my categorisation system over to this.

My old categories, plus opened the Filter options display — which is how you can create Dynamic Collections.

There are a number of ‘built-in’ filter toggles as it were. If you want to create a collection of only co-operative RPG games that feature trading cards and achievements — you could do that. Any new game you purchase or add to your library in the future fitting this criteria would be automatically added to this collection, too.

If — like me — you want to get a little more specific than the broad genre categorisations allow for, you can also add any number of Store Tags to your filter. Want a dynamic collection that lists your completely unplayed games that the store tags have listed as having ‘Great soundtrack’? You could do that.

Being possibly a bit more practical (for me, at least) I’m more likely to create collections of things like ‘Multiplayer titles I have installed’, add that collection to my home page and then sort it by friends playing. Gives an easy launch point for jumping into things with buddies.

I’ll also likely switch my current genre manual categories over to dynamic collections using a mix of the prebuilt/base-line criteria and store tags. Not having to manually curate any more would be a Godsend. xD

Overall Impressions

Very positive, if you couldn’t tell.

I appreciate that even the classic style ‘list’ on the left was not removed immensely. It has received the benefit of updates to searchibility, sorting options1 and the filters used to create dynamic collections will also pare down this list.

Switching to the Library view is snappy, and scrolling even a list of hundreds of games poses no performance issues (in my experience). I even flicked the scroll wheel around the place with smooth/infinite scroll mode toggled on the mouse itself and no problem. As soon as the scrolling stopped the thumbs appeared snappily, despite loading from a standard HDD as opposed to an SSD.

I’ve certainly offered some feedback on the odd thing I’d like to see added (there is a beta feedback in the top right of the Library’s homepage), but even in its current beta state — it is a night and day improvement over what came before.

Post Publish Update: The Actual Game Entry Pages

Paeroka’s comment made me realise I missed out on a glaringly large piece of this update — the game entry pages! They’ve been given a bit of a spit-shine as well.

Each game receives its own mini-activity page, specific to the game itself. It now shows a log of news updates, achievements and shared screenshots from friends and yourself.

As a nice little piece of visual flair, any achievement where less than 10% of the game’s population has achieved it will be given an animated golden border.

Unsure yet whether this will change my general habit of consuming update news through the main ‘Activity’ page, but I could certainly see it being handy when interest strikes out of the blue for a particular game to see how it’s come along since I last checked it out. I used to go direct to the game store pages for that, but now wouldn’t need to. :)

Playin’ by new Rules

Some people love creating additional rules for themselves to play a game. Sometimes it’s quite simple — playing in a hardcore or ‘one life’ mode in a game that doesn’t officially support it. Sometimes they’re remarkably complex like the ‘Nuzlocke’ Pokemon ruleset (or maybe just seem that way to me as a non-Pokemon player).

I’ll happily mod a game for a new ruleset. I might even choose a particular achievement or goal to chase that alters the way I play. But just layering new rules over the top of a game ‘just because’ isn’t really something I’ve done. Couldn’t tell you for sure why. I don’t have any particular aversion to the concept.

Possibly it’s just not something I’d find fun on my own without the shared experience component. That’s my operating theory at the moment in any case.

Backing that theory is my eagerness for a community Iron Man event running on the Levistras Asheron’s Call server at the moment, created by Joneseh, Spigot, Wolfenstein and a few others.

My Iron Man character preparing to commit (one way jump) to doing more of Halls of the Helm dungeon.

You can see the full set of rules and the character sheet here – but the basics? A certain degree of randomisation on the creation of your character. You roll a 1d6 for instance to select which stat you max out at 100 during creation. Every other stat balances out to 46. You then roll out your weapon (or offensive magic) type. Oh and also completely randomise the order in which your character will pickup skills.

Beyond that, characters playing in this event cannot receive help from any character not also participating. No transfers from your main characters. No buffs from non-Iron Man characters. No outside help of any kind.

Oh, did I mention every character participating is flagged for Player Killing too? xD

Now the intent behind that is not to make this a bloodbath free-for-all (although there are no rules against this), but rather to add to the sense of danger that comes from the potential for friendly fire. Especially if playing alongside (or as) a 2H-weapon character and the cleave attacks they do.

Making the old new…

And it is amazing to what extent!

Building a character for yourself, it is typical to go with what is known as 3-school, learning Life Magic, Item Enchantment and Creature Enchantment even on a non-offensive mage character. So commonplace that having these buffs available on demand is just a fact of life.

Take that away and you need to find new ways to compensate. You need to draw upon your wider understanding of the world to think about places to go, suited to the adjusted power level of your character. Places that previously may have been skipped on the early game ladder get to see the light of day again. Jewellery and clothing with imbued buffs become some of the best items you can possibly find.

The old strategies get thrown out the window, basically.

I’m level 17 in this challenge so far, and the character I’m playing is rouuuugh. But it could be worse. I do at least have shield and healing trained already.

But hooboy have I relearnt the terror of enemy spell casters. It’ll be a while yet before I can comfortably take on any case capable of casting level IV war spells. >.<

Gaming Addiction

Roger recently posted on the topic of WHO declaring Gaming Addiction as a recognised disorder. It’s an interesting topic and still one subject of much debate. As you might expect, the ESA is up in arms about it — but even within the profession, it is by no means a decided matter. The DSM-5 notes it as an area worthy of further investigation, but without sufficient evidence to categorically state it is a condition in and of itself as opposed to a further symptom of other underlying issues.

Although it is possibly worthy of note that the DSM-5 was published in 2013, and there have been additional years of study since.

Roger’s post already talks through some of the potential issues with this becoming a recognised disorder and I noted some others in my reply comment but the topic has stuck with me in the days since. And in particular that my initial response possibly lacked a certain degree of care and empathy. It was by and large reflective of a younger-Nait’s way of thinking, a less-informed-Nait’s way of thinking.

I can claim no particular expertise on the topic from a professional standpoint. I have no way of knowing whether my own experience is typical or atypical. Nor can I absolutely claim it would have met the diagnostic criteria set out by the WHO.

But as implied by that paragraph — I have been through a time in my life where I suspect I would have met the criteria.

The False Alarm

Before getting to that — there was another time in my life when I was not addicted, but nonetheless my Mother was worried enough to send me along to a psychotherapist for a chat over it. Luckily I had a good one who listened and understood, so it was a positive overall experience regardless. But it could have been worse and I share the worry Roger expressed of parents equating a lot of gaming with problem gaming.

Essentially, I’m very far along the ‘Introvert’ end of the Introvert / Extrovert scale. I had friends at school — and Mum knew this, as I both had them visit and I visited them on fairly regular basis — but I still needed a lot of me time to recharge after the average day of school or in preparation for such an event.

Gaming was not only a hobby, but it was my vehicle for gaining that necessary social charge. Plus of course, the fact I loved it in and of itself too. It was fun.

So I did it every available moment — which I suppose is where Mum’s concern came in, despite the other healthy indicators. Also of note here, when I say ‘available moment’ that is not meaning that I put aside school homework / projects. I did my work, I studied, I did pretty well — if I may say so myself.

I maintained social contacts (offline) as noted and so overall was very much not letting gaming run my life. Just my free time. (Incidentally, Asheron’s Call was a part of it at this point in my life too!)

Probably the Real Deal

Later on though, after I’d left home something did change.

I was now at University, studying Computer Science. First year was pretty good — I remember getting an A+ in CompSci 101 and being pretty pleased with myself. Math 108 I think I only got a B+, but even that I was OK with given my general dislike for Math. Heck I even joined the student council that year.

Second year, I started down the path of falling off the rails.

I started prioritising raiding in WoW (on a US schedule, whilst living in NZ) over attending classes. I prioritised playing over getting out with the friends I’d made the year before.

Projects were given a backseat, any work I deemed as optional (i.e., I thought I could reach the mandatory class percentages without it) were not done.

In short, I did the bare minimum to not fail. And I did that only grudgingly. When I did attend lectures, or tutorial classes I was always giving thought to being back at home and playing more WoW.

Worse still, at the time I was lying to my family about my attendance and sometimes going to lengths to achieve the deception such as leaving the house by car in the morning only to return when I knew the house would be empty again.

This carried on for the better part of a year — and it is only the fact it was less than 12 months in duration that make me doubt it would have met the current WHO criteria. The criteria state a duration of 12 or more months unless driving especially severe consequences.

I was fortunate. Very fortunate. While I tanked my GPA to be sure, I maintained a pass grade in all classes (barely). On the home front it certainly caused tensions with my now-Wife, then-Partner. As even after Uni hours, I still wanted to do very little else but play WoW.

Here’s where the diagnosis might be key…

…And partly why I cannot say for sure whether my experience was typical or not.

As bad as my behaviour was — I always knew that for me it was a choice. It was something I was doing to myself and to others. It was a selfish and terrible choice, but it was one nonetheless.

In my case at least, I don’t feel that I was under the thrall of some disease and therefore had no agency (or blame) in the matter.

I don’t mean to say it was an easy set of choices to start reversing — because it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. I’d put it on par as being at least as difficult as establishing a new set of habits around eating or exercise for someone not used to maintaining these disciplines.

I was helped too, in a way, by there coming a tipping point wherein the obvious upset I was causing my partner — someone I still loved very much through the gaming haze — was simply not worth the in-the-moment transient joy of playing the game.

In fact, thinking on it further… I’m unsure I would have possessed the strength of will and necessary discipline to change my behaviour otherwise.

Huh.

And with that realisation, I wonder if I otherwise would have even sought to change my habits. Or what the trigger might have been. Or whether I would then have required professional help.

Another way I have been lucky…

…Is that unlike substance addictions or the other behavioural addiction currently recognised (gambling), it hasn’t been necessary in my case to cut gaming entirely from my life.

I have no way of knowing whether this is going to be the typical experience or not.

But once I set the proper checks and balances back into place, and even more importantly — made sure I clearly understood my priorities?

Gaming has been able to make a full return as my means of recharging my social batteries. I can still enjoy it as a hobby without it taking over. I’ve even been able to return to raiding in WoW without letting the game run rampant over my life. (Although of course part of this was switching to an Oceanic timezone, too!)

I guess in closing just a final word to a couple of different groups…

To the parents of kids who game: Long hours alone does not a problem make. Not if they’re still meeting their other school commitments and getting the sleep and exercise they need to remain healthy. It’s OK for kids to be introverted and need time alone. If they need this — let them have it. At the end of the day, the key questions are: Are they happy? Are they healthy? If yes — then try not to worry.

…To anyone who thinks they might have a problem: I think you will know. That you wonder it is quite likely indicator enough. If you are sacrificing your health to play more, if you are sacrificing your offline relationships to play more — it’s time to really buckle down and make a change. And just like a personal trainer or nutritionist can help you stay motivated and sticking to your health goals — seeking help from a professional might just be the best thing to keep you on track with the necessary changes here.

This need not come at cost, either. If you can’t afford professional help — there are any number of avenues to check down. Employed? Check in with your EAP (Employee Assistance Program). If you’re at school, approach the school counselor. In the US, check out this link. In New Zealand? This one.

There will almost certainly be a page similar to these for your own country if you live elsewhere. Just look for it now while its top of mind.

Teetertot Moments

Only a week ago, I was trying out Asheron’s Call again for the first time in what I estimate must be at least 10 years. Fourteen if you take it from when I last ‘seriously’ played. And I almost bounced off entirely. I was so close to just calling it a failed experiment and moving on.

A week later and that outcome is almost unimaginable.

Asheron's Call -- Glendon Wood Prison dungeon.
Inside Glendon Wood Prison

The loss that would have occurred with that outcome indescribable. And yet I never would have even known or truly appreciated it. I would have had no way to. Because truth be told, until now I didn’t really understand Isey or Quin’s desire — or even ability — to wrap themselves up so entirely with EverQuest again (in its Project 1999 iteration). I was happy for them that they so obviously found such joy in it. But I didn’t understand how or why.

It took diving back into WoW Classic to make me realise my earlier stance on nostalgia might not be right after all. Rather amusingly, I was right in my estimation of WoW Classics lifespan for me. It did only last a couple of weeks. But I was way off base about why that would be the case. I could have seen myself happily playing WoW Classic for some time to come. And I realised this quite early on. So it isn’t without some degree of irony then, that this realisation is what sealed the fate on not playing it for longer.

Because it drove me to try AC again.

Asheron's Call Screenshot -- High up on a plateau, overlooking the Gharu'ndim desert after having climbed Bellig Tower.
I got up here through working my way up Bellig’s Tower dungeon. I was after the Lightning Hammer possessed by a revenant who (un)lived near the top, but I noticed it carried on past this target so I followed it further up. Eventually, I came to a portal to take me outside again — and was met by an amazing vista from atop the plateau. More — the portal shown jumps across to the next plateau in the distance. Then the next, in a chain, until I eventually found a sister tower to the one I started at.

I’m not the most prolific taker of screenshots. Generally, I need to remind myself to take any at all. But I’ve taken over 40 so far, and flicking back through them — even only spanning a week so far — carries so much memory and sentiment already.

Now I know, a large part of that sentimental power is driven by compounding upon old memories. But the effect is no less real or meaningful now for that fact.

Asheron's Call screenshot -- Green Mire Grave dungeon.
Nearing the end of Green Mire Grave

I felt an almost silly degree of pride in successfully navigating through the key and lock puzzle elements of Green Mire Grave without resorting to the use of a map, as I had needed to with the Mite Maze.

I made it through the Mines of Colier, down to the (now undead) Baron. Back in the beta this place had a different set of monsters and a chest on a 10-15 minute timer that spawned amazing loo for the level you could get down there.

People would line up around the room, waiting their turn at the chest and just talk and laugh with one another. The recent talk of lining up for quest mobs in WoW Classic made me smile in memory of this. Of course, no-one is lining up for this chest now — but yet… It was nice to be back.

Or heading back to the Glendon Wood Prison. This was the first dungeon I ever did in Asheron’s Call that wasn’t located near my hometown of Holtburg. Being back here I was reminded that dungeons in Asheron’s Call weren’t tailor made for specific levels. They were places that made sense in the context of the world they resided in. Sure you could complete the quest objectives within the low level portions of the dungeon no problem. But push too deep and you could find things best left locked away. Things you may not be ready for yet.

Overall, I feel like I might be back with Asheron’s Call for a while. Enough so to wipe the slate (sidebar) clear of all else for the time being. I could always be wrong — but I hope not. Because it’s a very similar feeling to the one I have about the longevity of this blog, compared to my prior efforts.

I may not have understood Isey, Quin and the others that played Project ’99 to the exclusion of all else before. But I do now.

Humble Monthly: September 2019

Entering around round of Asheron’s Call mania, there’s a passing fair chance I’ll stop being tempted by every new shiny that passes my way. For a little while at least. Although on reflection, I have actually been fairly good at not impulse purchasing as much stuff as I might normally of late. The last thing I bought was Remnant: From the Ashes and before that… I don’t even know, but it’s been a while!1

Anywho — August’s headline titles are now here, Squad and Save the Spire. Squad I’ll be keeping for myself, but Save the Spire I already own so I can gift the copy to my son. :)

As for next headliner for October?

October Headline Title

Battletech

Recent reviews put the title at ‘Mixed’ on Steam — from people upset about bugs still existing a year post launch, to tabletop players unhappy with some of the translated elements. It probably also doesn’t help that the DLC has been particularly well received, either.

I kickstarted Battletech on the strength of the devs work on the Shadowrun RPGs and for my part I have no regrets. As someone not intimately familiar with the Battletech TTRPG, I found this variant to still offer a depth of customisation and tactics in play. After the initial weeks I never ran into any further crashes or gamestopper bugs — and I’ve picked this up to play a few times since it came out.

Perhaps best of all, it is incredibly moddable with unofficial expansions and total game overhauls being released. So if you haven’t picked this up yet and turn based tactics games fit within your wheelhouse then this is an easy recommend within the context of the Humble Monthly, even if you end up liking nothing else in the bundle.

But that’s probably a good thing — given it is the sole revealed headliner at this stage!

Revealed Titles

For a wonder, I only own one of these already — Distance. Distance might actually have been my first early access style purchase. If it isn’t, it’s right back there. As to what it is? Well… ‘Stunt Racer’ only begins to explain it. I mean… Your car can fly. But layer on top of that too an actually interesting story reminiscent of Tron, as you race deeper into the core of a corrupted system with weirder and weirder artifacts of this corruption appearing as you go.

At times it borders on the feeling of a horror (although there is nothing particularly scary about it — maybe better to say it is good at creating a sense of tension in both story and gameplay).

Of the others, I’d be most interested in trying out Mothergunship. It’s an FPS-roguelike basically, with the gimmick of the game being the crafting of the most preposterous multibarrel weapons you can imagine.

“Don’t worry recruit, sometimes life just takes a few tries.” xD

God’s Trigger could potentially be interesting too — it’s a top down ARPG style thing, where the story seems at least at surface level copied inspired by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens. You play as an angel and a demon out to stop the apocalypse by ending the four horsemen. (Who are bikers.) … Yep.

That aside, it does look like a potential spot of fun — but I just don’t think it’ll bust high enough up the list of things I want to play on the backlog to see the light of day any time soon.

Ding!

Well alright, maybe more than just one ding. I very almost didn’t get a post out at all tonight on account of wanting to extract every moment possible of play until better sense took over and drove me to bed. I made a fair bit of progress — not just in raw levels (although that too), but also in social ties to the server and general preparedness for this character to go out into the world.

Not dead — just resting. Lying down speeds up your stamina and health regeneration. (Mountain Sewer, near Mayoi in the south of Dereth)

I was just sitting in town, sifting through my spells — getting ready to learn the level II variants for that tiny bit more oomf in my hunting — when in local I saw the announcement someone had made a successful 9th tinker on a weapon, followed up swiftly by a 10th.

If you’re unfamiliar — in Asheron’s Call you can tinker with your gear. Up to a maximum of 10 times per piece. You can do a range of things, from adding a rend effect (bypasses some degree of elemental protection) through to increasing a specific resistance on a piece of armor.

Each tinker attempt requires more skill than the last, and being unsuccessful blows the piece of gear in question to smithereens. Now — add to this the knowledge that a weapon rend only ever has a maximum chance of 33% (and so is typically done as the first tinker, to avoid wasting materials) — and you might understand why tinker attempts are broadcast and why it’s worthy of a trot over to where the action is happening (craftin’ action!) to give a hearty congratulations.

(And also jealously inspect the resulting weapon, of course.)

Long story short, we got to chatting and I ended up joining their allegiance (guild). This provides access to a general all allegiance chat channel, along with a chat for my patron (the person I swore personal allegiance to) and his other vassals which I remember being quite good fun in the past with the right mix of people. :)

It seems a lot of the old habits are falling back into place. I lamented in the past on feeling like I’d lost a lot of the social drive in the context of MMOs. I have been far, far more willing to play solo than to even attempt to find a good-fit guild. I just had no interest.

And it isn’t really about ‘need’ either — Asheron’s Call is an incredibly soloable game. I don’t wish for any boost in gear, I want to go through raising myself up off the ground again. So it isn’t access to ‘stuff’ either. My motivation pure and simple was to get access to chat while I play. Later on I expect to join them in higher level play — but that’s a way aways yet.

But that didn’t mean I was opposed to taking an offered round of buffs. Level II spells? Pft! Level VII please! This gives an hour of near Godlike ability. Case in point:

Contrast in this image between the black death horde of the Olthoi and the place they call home might make it a bit difficult to see just how deep in it I am without a click through for embiggening — but actually? Turns out it was fine. Despite the fact that there were still more busy running in at me (as seen in the minimap).

It’s worth noting that levels mean relatively little in AC. The fact these things are 8 levels over me has no direct bearing on my ability to hit them or them me. Rather what matters is the total XP the level represents, and how it is invested.

Since I’m specialised in both Missile Weapons and Melee Defense — buffed to the gills as I was — these Olthoi made for good pickings.

Although that’s not to say it still wasn’t worrisome to see quite that many beelining for my juicy bits. This was in a dungeon called Olthoi Arcade, and I’d already descended several full floors to get here. Death (which would have also resulted in loss of the buffs) would have made for a terrifying recovery run.

In any case — come the end of the buffs I scarpered my way back outside and realised I had a lot of XP to spend. I chose to invest it primarily in my magic abilities to skip over Level II self cast buffs entirely, and jump to IIIs. It is around this point that I typically feel much more comfortable and at home with a character — so even if it isn’t quite optimal to push for it so soon when I’m still having Strength issues (geez arrows be heavy), it was worth it to me. Rest can catch up later. :)

On the power of my own buffs — after spending a fair bit of time waltzing around the map trying to remember who would actually sell me the necessary knowledge for Level IIIs — I carried on my adventures in the frozen north, in a dungeon simply known as the Mite Maze.

At this site — the pyromancer Branith was hounded by Mite Sentries ever deeper into the lair. I’m unclear precisely what happened to him after he was lost, seperated from his party in the maze… But I don’t think anything good, as you can find his Shirt and Staff laying on the ground at certain points within.

I’d spent a small portion of my AC Youth in this dungeon in the past — so I thought it would be a nice place to revisit, perhaps see if some further sign of Branith could be found, but…

AAAHHH! AAAHHHHHHHH! AAAHHH!

Who the hell let Gold Phyntos Wasps in here? The screenshot above is right by the entrance, and I literally had to do an about face and run back outside the first time I popped in. There were TWO of the Golden buggers initially. Just… RIGHT THERE.

Their sting is like ‘Pfft’ even through my measily Level III buffs — but they cast lightning bolts and those hurt.

Still — I managed to plink them down, get my breathing back under control and enter the rest of the maze wherein the Mite’s themselves lived. An enemy I was much happier with.

On the other hand though… It is a well named dungeon. And I got lost. Several times. I used to know this place like the back of my hand — no more it seems.

Buffs running dry I had to call a retreat so I could recast. It was at this point my brain advised the rest of me it was time to sleep, so I agreed to take a quick look at the map and try again tomorrow. (Although tricked myself, didn’t I — cos here I am writing this thing!!)

Anywho, here’s the map. Looks so simple from this view. Ingame you need to track all the twists and turns by memory alone.

Asheron's Call Map - Mite Maze
Tomorrow! Tomorrow I’ll get to the end.

Oh, if you’re wondering though — I ended the night on level 34 still. It was a near thing to 35 and another skill point — but the next thing I’m purchasing will be Mana Conversion, and for that I need yet another skill point which arrives at level 40. Mana Conversion is a skill that reduces the amount of mana it takes to actually cast something as the primary reason I want it — but secondly it also reduces the rate at which your magically imbued gear sucks its own mana reserves dry.

Handing in one of the earlier dungeon rewards — didn’t quite manage another ding after this one tonight. But given I started at 12 I think this is OK. :D

Thrill of the Hunt

In EverQuest you camp. WoW has you questing. But in Asheron’s Call you go hunting.

Ranging out near the edge of the safe lands. The pillars mark the edge, although it is still a transition and riding the edge can reap some rewards if careful. The pillars themselves also have a backstory — one I hope to uncover again in my travels, as it is lost to me presently.

Hunting takes many, many shapes and forms and can serve a range of purposes. My favourite approach being to roam the terrain. Rather than locking yourself to a specific camp or even area — you strike out and explore.

When I was new to Asheron’s Call this was less ‘ranging’ and more ‘puttering about within eye sight of familiar things’. Staying within a familiar locale grew to patrolling the wilderness around my home — Holtburg — in ever increasing distances. Hugging the natural line of the river became wanting to see what the nearby mountain range was like.

The first time making that next step was terrifying. The unfamiliar terrain could easily render your body full of goodies lost should you die.

But it was also exhilarating in a way I don’t think EverQuest, WoW or perhaps any MMO since has truly captured. Now I admit — Asheron’s Call was my first MMO experience ever. There is an incredible amount of positive bias that goes along with that. But in terms of unconstrained freedom to explore — I think I’m still sticking to the realm of objectivity to sing its praises above the others.

Right — opening this in all its glory is probably a little more complex than it should be unfortunately. But if you right click this link and tell it to open in a new tab or window, you should then be able to zoom in and take a look around at the nooks and crannies of Dereth.

Holtburg is in the North Eastern area of Dereth — the main landmass — resting alongside the North Western end of the river, or almost directly South East of the Crater.

Still — like I said. This was just one form. Creatures do spawn in places that make sense to them. If you had something specific in mind — you could go seek them out. Armadillos for a spine to craft the Sifili of Crimson Stars? Look to water banks.

Great Mattekars1 to craft a set of armor? Head for the hills — riiiight up the hills to the snowy peaks, leaving the valleys far behind.

And then there were dungeons. Some 700+ of them. Many containing their own story to uncover. You can find letters, or whole journals telling a perspective of a larger story. Lore hunts were a thing — looking for additional clues and insights into the stories we thought we knew. Sometimes it was through as small a clue as an inscription on an object. Although some stories were much better known, and personal to the nearby residents.

What I want to do next — is to work my way around the land of Dereth, uncovering the lore I once knew and have since forgotten. Visiting the dungeons, and places, and quests necessary to start reforming the story of this world for myself.

Not everything you find in the wild is out to get you — I came across a Healer living off the land who could sell uncommonly good healing kits.

And hell — maybe in the process remind myself of the grand sense of ‘place’ Dereth offered. From an above ground that made sense, to a below ground that times could be truly oppressive in the feeling of depth created. Some of the Olthoi dungeons in particular I remember feeling miles under ground before I reached the area I felt comfortable with — and yet, I knew from runs where I had friends along for the ride — that there was still much further to go and bigger challenges if I just kept on going.

I’m excited by the prospect of seeing all this again. And I think that without WoW Classic showing me there is actual real value in revisiting these past experiences and that it’s not all just smoke and mirrors or nostalgia glasses? I never would have bothered.


PS: I’m no longer on Coldeve — I’m now on Levistras. Coldeve had a higher nominal population count true. But this was multiboxers and buff/trade bots at least as much as actual players. Levistras has a strict no macro policy, so anyone you run into is actually — you know, a player. :)

Travel Down that Ol’ Town Road

Everquest isn’t the only old school MMO in town with an emulator scene. Asheron’s Call does too. Until recently I’d resisted making any attempt to return. I was alright with just leaving my memories as they were and in the past. To be occasionally plucked to the fore and examined kindly before being put away again for another day.

Until that was, WoW Classic blasted onto the scene. One thing in particular that WoW Classic demonstrated was that sometimes there is value in revisiting what came before. And that the old game worlds can still be played for enjoyment quite successfully.

That in mind, along with the longer-running thread through the community of enjoying Project 99 in all it’s glory, I set out to get myself up and running in AC again.

Getting setup was not too much of an ordeal, I just followed the instructions found here on the GDLEnhanced page. Despite what the instructions say, you can change the paths as you go. Just so long as you take account of the changed paths in subsequent steps. Otherwise though, pay heed to the details in each step as some of them are critical to success!

GDLEnhanced is one of the two major AC Server emulator projects at the moment. The other being ACEmulator — fortunately regardless of which server type you end up on, the instructions on the GDLE page work just fine.

And just like that, I was ready to go on to the character creation screen. (On the Coldeve server, incidentally. It seems the most populated — and I’m not ready for the PvP experience just yet anyway.)

Whoa — where did all the extra playable races come from??? How on earth is THIS explained by lore?

This was the first sign that something was awry.

Now — truth be told, I do have dim memory of this (and the subsequent horror of the changes to the skills on the next page) — being something brought into the ‘real’ AC nearer the end of its life. But I didn’t play very much during this era, and when I did I essentially buried my head in the sand and played existing characters.

But starting fresh I had no choice now but to look at it.

It didn’t feel like my Asheron’s Call any more. It was some undead beast lurching about in AC’s skin. And I already didn’t like it.

Even so — I persisted. I created an approximation of my old Sho Unarmed (now ‘Light Weapons’) build and logged in.

I was greeted with a familiar introductory sequence. It wasn’t there at launch but had nonetheless been a part of the AC I knew and recognised and therefore it was OK. The New Player Onboarding sequence sees you run through a few quick tasks to familiarise you with the systems and how XP is earnt and spent.

One of the last trials of the introductory experience sees you descend into a Young Olthoi hive, to recover an orb of protection.

But all too soon it was over, and I was thrust back into the world.

A sidebar:

Holtburg has ever been my ‘home’ in Asheron’s Call. I’ve bound and lived at other places, possibly for longer times all up than I ever spent at Holtburg. But it doesn’t matter. Holtburg (West, in particular) was where I very first started in Asheron’s Call.

The place I took my first timid steps out into the world around, my awe constantly growing at the realisation there were no ‘levels’ or loading screens.

I never ranged far afield at first, as I ever wanted to be certain I could get back home. Holtburg was safe, and had everything I ever needed as a young player.

Of course eventually, confidence grew — at least sufficiently that I was willing to travel by road to some of the nearby towns I’d heard of. Apparently people were selling elemental weapons in Cragstone, a little to the South.

/ End Sidebar

Right. So here I was, thrust into the world on my new character — and into Holtburg.

But… It was so different. There were too many NPCs. Additional buildings. New adjoining structures. And there was a town portal network, just… there? What happened to having to know your way around the world and where the portal loops of old could take you?

Character creation had been taken from me. Now it appeared Holtburg had too.

Asheron’s Call needed its own ‘Project 99’ it seemed, I was despairing of finding any common ground with this iteration of the game.

Still, not quite ready to logout yet, I ran from town in a southerly direction and soon found myself trotting the well-worn path to Cragstone.

Coming around one corner of no particular note, I was presented with the following sight and my breath caught.

South Holtburg Valley

Now if you’d simply asked me, ‘Do you remember the valley south of Holtburg, toward Cragstone bordering the river and the road?’ I would have said ‘No, not at all.’

You could have further prompted me, ‘It has a hut in it, with a peddler inside’ and I still wouldn’t have been likely to recall it

But seeing it… Oh boy, seeing it.

When you die in Asheron’s Call, there is no map marker or anything else to tell you where your body is. You have to just know, or else be able to find it again. This is a skill you learn over time, especially if you’re hunting in an area you’re familiar with.

But for characters starting out — the best advice I ever received and could hand out in turn was to hunt around a landmark.

This valley? It was a spot my friends and I often guided young players to, and suggested they keep within the bounds of the valley until they were a little more confident. Behind me in the screenshot is a Lifestone — so should they perish, the valley is right there and is a confined space to search.

Across the river in the old spawning rules of the world was slightly higher level creatures than what was in the valley itself, so it offered a natural progression as well.

To see it again, after the despair just moments before, was quite a stab to the feels. And it gave me some hope that maybe I can adjust to the changes made — that the core of the game I loved so much in some fairly fundamental ways is still here.

Still… I’d really love for at least one of the emulator projects to go down the P99 route. Or at LEAST consider stopping before the race and skill change were made. :P