random music fridays : morning nightcap

I didn’t know that this was the sort of thing you should defensively hide from people until Stephen Colbert made a flippant aside a few years ago — “How am I even supposed to tell if it’s good?” — and then a quick google and I had everyone from historical instrument builders to pagan tumblr making it abundantly clear that it was wrong in so many ways to like, well, this. This Definitively Not Authentic (why are we still worshiping authenticity as an a.) concrete or b.) attainable characteristic?) New Age-y Celtic Crap. And I could go on and on carefully extricating myself from any trumped-up claims of blood kinship to the music, or “fake Irish”-ness, couching my enjoyment of these sounds within the safe, narrow confines of childhood familiarity or a happenstance Riverdance ticket gifted by a school friend in the 90s.

But I don’t have to do any of that, and I’m not going to. That warm tone A Morning Nightcap opens with is fantastic. It’s like the perfect part of your run where you have endorphins but also air in your lungs, when the road is clear of people and you could go on forever. It sounds the way smiling feels on your face. I don’t care if people 200 years ago weren’t playing this — because the instruments were different or the arrangement was or whatever. I don’t care if my ancestors ever listened to this. It’s great. Haters gonna hate, but it’s great.

Enjoy it.

buckle up

I am reading Blood Meridian, because Guy Gavriel Kay said it was the sort of recommendation he didn’t immediately make; that he was careful doing so; and there is no surer way to get to me to read a book than to imply that I am somehow inadequate to the task, or that you might regret having recommended it to me, or that there must be special circumstances in which the recommendation and subsequent reading of said book is deemed acceptable.

That’s how I ended up reading Gravity’s Rainbow and Remembrances of Things Past and The Possibility of an Island and…you get the idea. And, in the gentlest way possible (because no one making these recommendations was A Bad Person), I’d like to point out that every single book I was recommended with a caveat was recommended thusly by a man. No woman ever told me “maybe you can handle this but…” or “this is a great book but officially I’m not recommending it to you…” or “this was powerful to me when I read it but maybe you should wait.”

Now, to be fair, fewer women than men have ever recommended books to me. But those who did, refrained from making assumptions about my “readiness” for a book. Or tried to scare me off, or protect themselves with disclaimers about not officially making the recommendation. (On the one hand this seems partly a product of a lawsuit-happy culture; in the other, why did those few women recommending books to me feel comfortable dispensing with the screen of demurrals, whereas the men felt the need to impress upon me the degree to which they were not recommending the books? Am I such a liability?)

Anyway. Blood Meridian. Onward.

random music fridays : seve

This song samples from “O Sifuni Mungu,” by African Children’s Choir. It’s upbeat, and it’s in Swahili, which my mom knew. She learned it as part of her job, rehabilitating people’s hands in Kenya after they were shredded or crushed, usually by construction or farming equipment.

I’m an upbeat person. I don’t walk around staring at my feet. I wish strangers good days and good weekends and mean it. For months after Mom died, though, I wasn’t. And now I am again.

It’s hard to recognize the clouds that hang over your head when you’re under them.

all the pretty colors

Me at 7AM Saturday, trotting gamely after trainer into gym to do stuff you need spotters for: Oh yeah sure, I’ve got this, I’ve basically been doing this stuff with free weights anyway. How bad could it be?

Me at 8AM: Kill me.

I didn’t, then, do a lot of moving around Sunday, because any movements I made looked like those of a very old woman. Which meant: MMOs! And let it be known that Black Desert Online has one of the most lavish seasonal displays I’ve ever encountered in any MMO:

The event takes over an entire otherwise empty beach, on a trail leading down from the cliffs that first meanders through street vendors selling foods amidst colorfully-painted surfboards, culminating in a multiple-dancefloor-and-restaurant beachfront complete with private cabanas, pirate shooting galleries, and opportunities to fish gunk out of the water to keep the environment clean despite the influx of people.

But what really got me here — because again, BDO is not where you go for story or plot — was the colors. It’s just so pretty. In fact, do you know what it reminded me of, the minute I stepped into the surfboard alley that led to the beach?

besaid

Yeah! Besaid, from FFX. All we needed was a blitzball team. (Actually, please no: I loathed blitzball so. So. Much.) In fact, BDO’s Terrmian Waterpark event put me so much in mind of FFX that I decided to go ahead and do a free trial of FFXIV. Because I love MMOs, and because it’s the last of the big current [non-space] ones going that I haven’t played. And also, because my muscles were begging me not to move, so I wasn’t about to move.

And it’s pretty. As pretty as Elder Scrolls Online, my MMO of choice? No. The lighting — the sunstars, or rather the lack thereof, and the tree shadows thrown down in patterns onto the landscape below, as well as the blades of grass that make up that landscape — are slightly subpar. But it’s as smooth as ESO, and that is a massive step up, for my eyeballs, from BDO, whose vibrant beaches and sunsets are gorgeous, but whose objects stick out way too much from the surrounding countryside, the way old cell art animation sticks out from the painted backgrounds. In 2D, where your eyes are tracking the moving target anyway, it’s fine; in 3D where you’re trying to immerse yourself in the environment, it hurts.

And while the landscape may be behind ESO, the character animation and writing is easily on par. I say writing though, and not voice acting, because, holy shit, there are next to no voices in the beginning levels of FF14. I’m told this changes with expansions; I’m told that maybe 70% of the game is ultimately voice-acted? But, early on, there’s a whole lot of reading.

You gain lots from this, it’s true! The localization is as good as Fantasy Life’s was — and after BDO’s horrible, horrible localization, this is a tremendous surprise and relief. There are little asides, plays on words, correctly-employed idioms, and prolonged conversations with character types whose subtle shading would have been lost, without those extra paragraphs into which to cram their personalities. There wouldn’t have been time or space to record all those lines being spoken, I know. But still, just the silence of it — it startled me, in 2017. Recognizing voices — and I am damn good at it — and whooping with triumph when an IMDB search turns up a confirmation is one of the keenest incidental joys I take from recent games. But FF14  offers no real route to that mental truffle hunt: it’s just birdsong, pianos, and ambient noise. Which, again, is okay. Just kind of shocking at first.

ffxiv_07162017_180246

How can I be properly insulted if I can’t hear your odious voice as you malign me, Silvairre? (Note: Weirdly, we cut to Silvairre-view for this line, so he’s not actually pictured. Everyone who IS pictured is staring at him.)

 

Having played FF11 back in, oh, 2005, I can say that they’ve fixed a bunch of things that bugged me:

1.) Male and female for each species.

2.) All races can be all classes, again like ESO, which I appreciate.

3.) You can now jump. Jumping is a big deal, people! Always let us jump.

But mainly I’m here for the bright colors and blessedly smooth textures. The Sotha Sil pvp server for ESO is nearing the end of its monthly brawl, which means that for the Daggerfall Covenant, for whom I fight and who has held the lead all month, pvp is currently brutal. We’re already going to win so there’s no real reason to play — so no one is. Which means those few sorry individuals who do show up get steamrolled, day in and day out.

Soooo to FF14 I went.

I had considered a post comparing ESO and FF14 in more detail, given that both of them struggled at first with the legacy of deeply-loved single player games — how to bring that experience into a multiplayer situation without forfeiting either the fannish love for the original, or the necessary change in experience required of an MMO version. But I think I am too much of an Elder Scrolls fan, and too much of a Final Fantasy critic, to do anything remotely resembling a fair job at that comparison. This, for example, was the list I had started to make comparing the struggles of each:

Things Essential to the Experience of Your Single Player Game That You Now Want to Export Into Your MMO

Elder Scrolls

  • Open world
  • Openable things: crates, barrels, etc.
  • Robbery
  • Guilds whose ranks you climb up
  • Cool hidden people and places that have to be stumbled upon to be found

Final Fantasy

  • Bright, elaborate outfits
  • Most of your interactions mediated through glowing blue UI windows
  • Gil
  • Moogles, chocobos, those big many-eyed acid-belchers, etc.
  • Storylines based on friendships deemed way deeper than we’ve seen them actually be

As you can see, I’m kiiiiind of biased. Just a little bit. So I’m not the person to point to each and say, “this is what is intrinsic to the single-player experience of each franchise, and this is what they successfully ported to the MMO versions of each.” I enjoy both ESO and FF14, and will be playing a lot more of the latter in the next month, since I have the 30-day free trial.

I do hope, though, that wherever I level up to next after this lovely sun-dappled forest isn’t dusty, dry and dead. Or dark, dank and dreary. Give me a scintillatingly bright desert or a chain of islands or a sun-drenched plain or something. Maybe even a sunstar or two! It couldn’t hurt…

ffxiv_07162017_112523

random music fridays : i’m not calling you a liar

Ahem, one moment please.

*cough*HOW DID I MISS THIS OMGWTFBBQQQQQQ!!!11otherearlyaughtsexpressionsofshock*cough*

Yes, now. Where were we?

Florence and the Machine’s I’m Not Calling You a Liar, reworked with the zithers(?) that work their way through Inon Zur’s soundtrack for Dragon Age II, plays during the end credits. A fact I learned by accident five minutes ago, when YouTube’s auto-play moved me right on through the DA2 soundtrack to this last song which completely escaped my notice until now:

If I am honest with myself I know why I missed it, despite being a fan of Florence + the Machine and Dragon Age. The year DA2 came out, I was trying to do too much, and there are frighteningly huge gaps in my memories. Juggling a new job, a resumed relationship, and finishing a two-year degree program double-time in one year, there were days I worked from 5AM to 11PM, day after day after day, and while somehow in there I managed to play DA2, the fact that I missed out on, or blanked out on, the credits sequence does not surprise me. I burnt out that year.

But still! Oh my god, listen! I love this version even more than the original. The meandering piano and bouncy claps are too much at odds, too cutely endearing, with how I want to be cut up by a song. And this version does that. Is part of that due to the context it gains from playing at the end of DA2? Sure, maybe. But I’ll take it!

mindfield

I am very much stricken, for obvious reasons (see: Alzheimer’s), by stories where memory and its loss or deliberate disruption is a centerpiece. Remember Me, Dreamfall, Remembrance of Things Past, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind…and all the memory-centric parts of stories not directly about it, like What Dreams May Come or Life Is Strange or Logan. It’s so predictable that I can see people wince or grow leery, if they’re with me at a movie or during a cutscene in a video game, and content starts turning that direction. Maybe in a few decades we’ll all know better how to deal with this, but right now everyone just gets uncomfortable and doesn’t know what to do when they know stuff that makes me sad is now playing out on-screen, trapping me, and them by association, somewhere none of us wants to be.

Behold, the dream of everyone connected to anyone with dementia: beating the everloving shit out of the destroyer of memories.


Books and comics are easier. Your private pain remains private. No one is there experiencing it with you, forced to either acknowledge or desperately ignore (itself a sad sort of acknowledgment) the anvil that’s sitting on your heart. But these mediums also make it easier for stuff like this to creep up on you. Fewer people read, which means fewer spoilers, and no one’s making trailers for physical comics that I know of. So this bit in the last collected Batgirl of Burnside caught me by surprise. We had already dealt with memory issues several issues ago, so I thought it was past. Nope. 


Look, though, at that beautiful visual rendering of memory disintegration. You know how this would play out in a moving medium. You know how the sound would change, how the screen would distort, how the voices would fade in and out. And here it is done visually, on one still, flat page.

As a grim connoisseur of such portrayals, I gotta say: this is pretty fantastic. You have movement, the notion of a center that’s starting to fray at the edges, and geometric rigidity that suggests a mental stability that turns out to be an illusion. Things are orderly but they’re still falling apart. Sound doesn’t line up with image doesn’t line up with time, even though it should. Even though everyone wants it to, it doesn’t.

Seriously. I love Batgirl of Burnside, but this may be my favorite panel in the whole run.

random music fridays : angela

At work, I’m one of the first people in, and I head to the gym before actually clocking in. I’m already tired from the four mile bike ride in, and I’ve had no coffee yet, and I’m bowed under the huge sack that clips onto the back of my bike. I’m bleary and slow-moving across a silent courtyard, is what I’m saying. But the radio connected to the coffeeshops clicks on at about the time I arrive, and when this belted out across the dark, muggy morning earlier this week a smile split my face.