Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halcyon and On and On

I felt like I was doing entirely too many of these random posts on the topic of "Here are some shows or games that I am enjoying!", but I see that I haven't done one of those for, like, THREE whole posts, so I won't feel so bad if I indulge yet again. In no particular order:

Fallen London continues to impress and amuse. I'm growing ever closer to the end of major content, and the last few storylines have been most impressive (more details below the spoiler block). That timing is somewhat fortuitous: very little new content has been added to Fallen London recently, while Failbetter has been working hard on building their Story Nexus platform and other projects like Cabinet Noir and The Silver Tree. So I've basically avoided the long drought, since it's all new to me anyways. (The feeling it not entirely unlike someone reading through A Song of Ice and Fire now - they skip over the pain of waiting years for a new installment.) And, with The Silver Tree due to arrive before the end of the month, we should be getting a few of the associated Fallen London rewards that were promised during the Kickstarter campaign.

The first of those rewards actually arrived on Monday, in the form of a delightful roleplaying chat conducted on Twitter between several Fallen London luminaries and backers of the project.

MINI SPOILERS for Fallen London

The forum was quite cozy and spirited: Mr. Pages officiated the conversation, with Mr. Wines and the Gracious Widow as guests. The Gracious Widow's presence was much to be expected: she is one of the survivors of the Fourth City, where The Silver Tree will be set, and thus provides a useful bridge between the two cities. Mr. Wines is almost certainly the most favorite among all Master of the Bazaar: he engages quite cheerfully with humanity, and seems much more vibrant and upbeat than his often-menacing associates.

Most of the hour was given over to answering questions from backers, with welcome lengthy digressions included. This included some intriguing tidbits of information, and some confirmations of matters long-suspected. (For example: the Masters are not equipped to enjoy the services of Sinning Jenny.) For the most part, it was an enjoyable ramble over familiar ground: for example, in response to a question as to whether the Masters have emotions, Mr. Wines replied, "We have a wide variety of emotions, exactly like those of humans. The cellars of our spire are full of them."

I was happy to have my own question answered… or at least addressed. (One of the benefits of an intimate group was that I'm pretty sure everyone who wanted to participate, was able to do so.) I had just recently concluded the Affair of the Box (more details below in mega-spoilers), which raised some intriguing and chilling questions. So, I put a form of those questions to the speakers: Is the Fifth City worth keeping? Do you look forward to the Sixth?

A rather long silence ensued. Mr. Pages broke it, assuring us all that, while all things must eventually end, they would certainly mourn London once it passes. Mr. Wines contradicted him, stating that there had always been and would always be five cities: "London endures." That contradiction is, of course, wonderful, since… well, I'll get into why below.

Some of my favorite exchanges follow:

Mr Pages
By the voids! Can it be true,@Mr_Wines? A bottle of the Hesperidean? Loose in London? I am gastroflabberated!

The Gracious Widow
This is UNFATHOMABLE. What were you thinking,@Mr_Wines

Mr Wines
We were thinking of rolling around in a bath of money, which is also filled with money.


Mr Pages
"Rumours tell me when one dies in London, they find themselves unable to leave. What exactly happens if I try to return to Belfast?"

Mr Pages
I answer the question with a question. Why on *earth* would you want to return to *Belfast*?

Mr Wines
Returning to Belfast from London is much like putting on a pair of shoes filled with hedgehogs.


Quite wonderful!

Anyways. The Silver Tree fast approaches, and apparently new cards have begun to appear in Fallen London in the last few days. I hope to soon make the acquaintance of a Bitter Saker Falcon, and perhaps visit the Temple Club.

MEGA SPOILERS for Fallen London

The two plots that have been occupying me most since my last update were the Affair of the Box, and my investigation of the Jack-of-Smiles case.

The Affair of the Box has been going on for so long that I only vaguely remember how it started… something about a stuttering fence? Most recently, I was approached by Jasper and Frank, Clay Men who serve the Masters, who wanted the box, or the key to the box. This set me on the trail of the Kashmiri Princess, the most celebrated performer at Mahogany Hall. I renewed my acquaintance with Glass, the society of illusionists, and pulled off a spectacular illusion of my own while preparing for Sunday's performance. I avoided or lied to Jasper and Frank, came clean to the Kashmiri Princess(es!), and was given the key. Which… did nothing.

It turns out that the Box's locks are merely for show. I ultimately had to enlist the help of the Drownies to open it. And found… a CREATURE, inside the box, who creates glim, and seemingly cannot survive outside the box.

This discovery led to others, eventually pointing towards an epic conflict that could decide the fate of London itself. Namely: there have been four cities before London. And, I now learned, in each case, the previous city was destroyed when the following city descended. Hence, for example, the ruins of the Fourth City than can be found in the Forgotten Quarter today. This raises a rather alarming question: do the Masters plan on bringing down a Sixth City? If so, the death toll will be calamitous.

As it turns out, the Masters are actually debating this amongst themselves. That was quite startling to hear; this may be the first time that I had heard of actual disagreement between two Masters. Mr. Stones and Mr. Fires lead the two opposing factions, one which wishes to hasten the arrival of the Sixth (and destruction of the Fifth), the other which rather enjoys the Fifth and would like to see it linger for some time.

The Affair of the Box ends with a very delicious choice. Will you cast your lot with Mr. Fires, to act as the savior of London? Will you follow the path of nihilism, supporting Mr. Stones and annihilating London? Well… to be entirely frank, I've had quite enough of the Masters by this point. I've found them exceedingly difficult to work with, and singularly stingy in their recompense. So, I happily followed the third path: the path of truth, the path of muckraking, the path of infamy. I fired up the presses, and produced the most shocking exposé ever issued by the Fourth Estate. The chink in the Masters' armor has now been revealed, and, given time, it may grow into a crack that brings down the whole endeavor.

I'm very close to finishing the Jack-of-Smiles case, too. I'd spent some time early in the game hunting Jack around Watchmaker's Hill, during which time I'd learned that there are, in fact, several Jacks. The more recent phase has you digging more deeply into Jack's activities, through your new position on the Velocipede Squad. This was quite enjoyable: both Jack and the Affair of the Box eventually open up some new options on some very old Opportunity cards, the faction-related ones, so there was a nice bit of variety while pursuing the cases. I chased all sorts of Jacks: male and female, young and old, rich and poor, corrupted Constables, etc. In all cases, the people seemed entirely normal, until one day they seemingly went insane and started stabbing.

Without any discernible similarities between the people, I eventually gravitated to the true commonality: their knives. Many were cheap, some expensive, some elaborate, but they all shared a common characteristic: a maker's mark from a forge in Polythreme.

Along the way, I was granted the opportunity to become Jack in order to continue my investigation. This offer was accompanied by a very thoughtful warning, that the content would be significantly more violent and gory than typical for Fallen London. I was grateful for the warning, and decided to pass, instead taking the more pedestrian (and cheaper) approach of traditional detective work.

Once the Polythreme connection was made, I embarked on a (hopefully final) voyage to the Sea of Voices and its distant shore. Along the way, I stopped to acquire yet another Plated Seal, having lost the offspring of my first two seals when making a Bifurcated Owl. I think I'll make this one a Hound of Heaven; I didn't have much chance to play with my previous one. Anyways… I'm a trifle bored of voyaging, and hope to make this my last visit to Polythreme. Once there, I realized that, though I had not completed my guidebook before departing last time, it still remained unwritten, and so I was regularly met by Zailors. I quickly wrapped up that tale, singing the praises of Polythreme, then started my investigation, once again making the acquaintance of a stream of Fractious Furniture. I easily tracked down the workshop where the knives came from, only to find that its owner is entirely ignorant of the harm they cause. A consultation with the Clay Priest revealed that the problems all started some time ago, when the shop's human owner was led astray in his dreams, leading him to murder his family and set the shop ablaze, thus touching off the spirit of malice that would manifest itself across the Zee.

I'll be heading back soon to London and Veilgarden to hopefully track down the true culprit once and for all. As long as I'm in Polythreme, though, I'm spending some time making a small fortune in Stolen Kisses and Romantic Notions, just so the (long!) voyage doesn't feel wasted. I'm also contemplating a return to London via the Tramp Steamer rather than my own far superior vessel… it would take much longer, but would offer some variety.

Once I do arrive in London… well, that will be about it! Wrapping up the Jack case, and enjoying whatever Silver Tree-related content arrives. I suppose I might finally brace myself to explore the Mystery of the Plaster Face, though I'm not exactly looking forward to that; that particular storyline has managed to annoy me greatly even during the very small amount of time I've spent with it thus far.

END SPOILERS for Fallen London

In other gaming news: I'm increasingly getting into Skyrim, so it's now moved from a roughly-weekly activity to a roughly-daily one. My level is in the low-to-mid 30's. I recently maxed out my first stat, Stealth, which unlocked a particularly enjoyable Perk that lets me briefly turn myself invisible even mid-combat by exiting and re-entering Stealth. I also raised Smithing high enough to improve my magical gear, which is useful, but also leading to some dashed difficult decisions. Example: I currently have three sets of armor to choose from. One is an assortment of Gilded Elven and Scaled armor that I crafted and improved myself. It has the highest armor rating, but no special abilities. Next is a set of Nightingale Armor, which has some nice bonuses, but also some useless ones (like a hood that boosts Illusion), and is a little weaker. Finally is a set of Shrouded Armor, which includes my single favorite piece of armor so far, the Shrouded Gloves, which double my backstab multiplier… but is also a weak set of armor, and most of the other pieces aren't incredibly useful (like a bonus to Frost Resistance).

I'd LIKE to stick to one set, so I could use the set bonus and look snazzy, but as it stands I have a mishmash between the three… plus, I worry I'll need the other pieces sometime, so I'm currently carting those around with me, which is eating up some much-desired carry weight.

Eh. Too much good armor is a nice problem to have, I suppose.

I did decide to try experimenting with dual-wielding, and so far I'm really liking it. The only major downside so far is that I no longer get that awesome animation when I backstab someone with a dagger. Instead, there's this complicated thing that involves flipping around daggers, yelling, and stabbing. It's a bit less creepy-looking, but WAY more effective… I don't have actual numbers, but considering that I'm doing a dual-wielding power attack with a 30x multiplier, it must be a LOT of damage. Everyone I've tried it on so far has gone down in a single shot, even the boss creature I fought. At the moment I'm just wielding two Flawless Elven Daggers that I crafted, but I'm about to reforge Mehrunes' Razor, which I'm certain will be more impressive.

I still am not doing anything at all related to the main plot. I suppose I should sometime, just so I can make use of some of the Shouts / Words of Power that I've been stumbling across. I'm having a blast with everything else, though… I'm almost finished with the main Thieves Guild questline, and just recently started the Dark Brotherhood one.

For the most part I'm enjoying the game. The thing that's irritating me most at the moment is the journal. It's much better than the abysmal Mass Effect 3 journal, but I really wish it would provide more context. Most items in the journal are only a few words describing the immediate task you need to do, like "Kill the bandit leader in Haveron Cave." Now that I have scores of tasks in my journal, it's impossible for me to remember what's significant about more than a handful of them. What's frustrating is, I know that some of the quests are more important than others. In particular, certain quests were given to me directly from a Jarl or his/her steward. I'd like to focus on these, since these are probably the quests that would help me become a Thane, and thus purchase more property. However, it's been long enough since I accepted those quests that I can't remember which ones are Jarl quests, and which ones are from random people I've encountered, and thus probably would only reward a couple of hundred gold on completion. I'm guessing that Bethesda did this deliberately, to keep the journal simple and keep people from feeling overwhelmed by copious amounts of text, but it really takes away from my sense of immersion in the game… it makes me feel like I'm just pushing buttons, not questing.

The other thing that bugs me: sometimes I'll leave my horse while I go do something, only to find out that he managed to get himself killed. I won't figure this out until MUCH later, and will need to reload a very old game. This is infuriating. At the very least, the game should say "Your horse is dead," so I know then to reload. Far better: don't kill my horse if I'm out of earshot!

Those complaints aside, though, it's a good game. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous; some of the best screens I've seen from any game are when I'm standing on a mountaintop, watching the sun come up over a valley, while some snow swirls around nearby, and a dragon wings gracefully in the distance. The controls feel much better than earlier Elder Scrolls games. I'm delighted to finally be able to play as a pure rogue without penalty for ignoring magic. Level designs are good and keep getting better. Voice acting, while not as good as a Bioware title, is far better than any of the previous Elder Scrolls games. I do have subtitles turned on and will skip through most conversations, just reading the text, but a few actors are so good that I listen to every word they say. Karliah jumps to mind as one of the best.

On to television…

I'm thoroughly addicted (hah!) to Breaking Bad, and am now plunging ahead into the third season. It's been really good so far, though I suspect it will get even better… fans talk about the third season with hushed, reverent tones, and while the first few episodes have been good, they haven't come close to touching the highlights of the second season.

Hm, I think that's it for now! The election is consuming entirely too much of my attention, which I look forward to regaining after it's complete.

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