Friday, May 27, 2011

Musical notes, by the Fool

I've found a new toy; abc music notation and playing music in Lotro. It's very cool indeed, but not without its frustrations.

Firstly, the good things. I have been hugely impressed by the amount of roleplaying the music system inspires, by the amount of time and dedication some people put into concerts and other musical events.

Would this happen without a workable and well-developed music system? That's a good question, but I suspect not. There is something about the reality of the music that inspires participation. It's not people sitting around, roleplaying eating a muffin. It's not people pretending to a physical reality that, ultimately, doesn't exist.

The music is real. What you write and perform is heard by others. And this gives it an immediacy that makes for compelling in-game interactions. Call it roleplay if you will, or don't if you'd rather not. Whatever it is, it's effective.

I read somewhere (some blog or other, can't remember where now) that the initial music system in Lotro was very basic, but still hugely popular, and that Turbine was taken aback at how enthusiastically players responded. I haven't decided whether or not this is surprising, to be honest, but I'm certainly glad it happened. There's no doubt that the Lotro music system is something that makes the game almost entirely unique, and is something that will only increase the game's popularity.

I say "almost entirely" unique, as I know of one other game that has such a detailed music system; it's Clan Lord, a MMORPG for the Mac that's been around for a long time. Music was cool in Clan Lord, and it's cool in Lotro.

Of course, like anything, the Lotro music system isn't perfect.

Most frustrating of all is the choice of instruments. At the minute the available string instruments are Lute, Harp and Theorbo. All three of them have a gentle attack and a long sustain. Perfect for singing gentle Celtic folk songs, but not so good for much else. It's very limiting. Without some chordal-style instrument that has a sharp attack and limited sustain (acoustic piano, for example, or steel-string guitar) it's very difficult to create complex rhythmic patterns. The rhythms get muddied by the sustain, and smoothed by the gentle attack, and overall you lose the punch, you lose the definition of the music. It's a shame. Perhaps this was a deliberate decision by the developers, trying to encourage the gentle folk style rather than a more modern sound.

The wind intruments are a lot better, although their tonal qualities leave a bit to be desired, and the intonation of the clarinet is awful (well, on some notes, anyway). The drums and cowbells are inoffensive, but I don't know too much about percussion.

Not all the abc notation is implemented, too, which isn't actually a major problem. There are workarounds for most things that only involve typing stuff out. It's a minor nuisance only.

At any rate, I've been having a blast, writing stuff in abc notation. It's a fun puzzle; how do you write a mambo beat in Lotro abc notation? How about a blues? Funk? Swing? Each style is a challenge. Some don't work out well. Blues is not good, as that relies so much on a percussive guitar sound, which Lotro just will not do. Mambo is much better, as that's much more a cowbell and conga sound. And so on.

I'm busy working through the people in the Lonely Mountain Band who have been kind to Aegthil, writing them a song each. Whether they want one or not. Still, even if they hate the tunes it could be worse. They could have lyrics.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Slavery and exploitation

This is a shocking story, gentle reader. Those of delicate sensibilities and a proper sense of propriety will blush. Those made of sterner stuff will find it unsettling, offensive, disturbing. But I assure you it is all true. Every single word of it.

I have been enslaved by the Lonely Mountain Band.

You might laugh, you might snicker, but this unpleasant and nasty truth cannot be denied. For the past few days I have been forced to spend my valuable time slaving in the copper mines, collecting ore, collecting more ore, collecting yet more ore. I have been given no rest. I have been allowed no recreation at Madame Celestine’s Establishment for Young “Ladies”. I have been badgered, bruised, and brutally berated. My clothes have smudges. One of my nails broke. My feet are hurting and my legs are tired. My vision is going blurry (well, that could be the pipeweed, of course). I have been made to go up hill and down dale, over and over again, through Breeland, Staddle, the Shire, Ered Luin, and then back again, and again, and again, and all for what?

For copper ore.

Do I care about the stuff? No. Do I want to waste my time doing this? No! And NO I say again! A thousand times, No.

So why am I forced thus into vile slavery and impotent bondage? For the sake of the Lonely Mountain Band, none other. They want copper ore, and I am forced to collect it. They are a kinship with no conscience, no heart. They care nothing for others, but only for themselves. Does it worry them that a true artiste such as myself has been degraded to the level of a common slave? It seems not. Do they care for my weary body, my exhausted mind, my sorrow and my heartache? It seems not. Do they care about Madame Celestine’s girls, forced to make do without me? It seems not. They care about nothing but their own selfish desires, and are willing to sacrifice anything and anybody on the altar on their demands.

I don’t even know why they need it. My Fool won’t tell me.

However, I have plans to get even. I am not alone in this world. I have friends in high places. I have pictures taken at Madame Celestine’s (through keyholes). And the Lonely Mountain Band had better watch out. I will get my revenge. I will make them rue the day they ever forced me into servitude.

I will drag their name through the mire of public disgrace and they will be sorry!

Escape from the Dancing Horse

Finally, I’m out. My Fool arrived home, kissed his darling wife, thumped his darling children, and let me out. About time, I told him. Be quiet, he said to me, you are an annoying, selfish, ignorant, self-rightous, talentless excuse for a Minstrel. I ignored him genteely and with dignity. I believe it is always better to demonstrate moral superiority than to descend to the level of uneducated obscenity that my Fool seems so to enjoy.

To celebrate my release I sang for a group of servants who were taking me around some place close to Ost Guruth. Maybe it was called Agamand, or Aagamud, some such name. Garth Agamond? Garth something I think. And there was some story about a red maiden which I found all rather confusing, but I didn’t let that bother me. When travelling with servants I find it usually better just to follow along, sing my songs, and pretend that I know all about it.

In this case one group of servants was very obliging. One, in particular, called Andywine. I think. He looked after me while I found an urn, and then looked after me while I did some thing with a vial of water, and then escorted me through a place full of nasties to talk to the red maiden. He then seemed to kill her, but she didn’t die very well, so I talked to her at the end. I think she gave me a present, or somebody else did. And other nasties were running around, and my other servants killed them as well, and I don’t think that any of them ran away at all. Well, I did, but only once, so that hardly counts. All in all, a great success, although not entirely without confusion.

The other group of servants I found just ran around and around outside the place where the red maiden was, without ever going in, and when I asked them what they were doing they didn’t answer. Ah well. I just shrugged and ran around after them so they could protect me as is their duty.

It is important to keep in mind, at all times, that a true artist must be dedicated to their calling, and remain undistracted by the tawdry reality of existence. It is the job of my servants to worry about such mundane things as quests, achievements, killing baddies, or finding the way.

It is my job to demonstrate the sublime heights of artistic and moral endeavour, not to dabble with servants in the gutter.

Marks are the beetles of Eriador

What on earth is it with Marks? Skirmish Marks, Barrow Marks, Bounty Marks, Green Marks, Blue Marks, Silver Marks, every bloody kind of Mark you could think of. Marks are the Beetles of Eriador.

What is wrong with being able to go into a shop and saying “I want a nice pair of pants, size 32, pink with a lacy frill, lots of Will, no Might. 40 silver. Thanks. Goodbye.”? What a great idea. Must have been a genius to think that one up.

But no. Up north here you get things called Skirmish Marks, or Barrow Marks, or some other kind of Bounty, or Mark, or thing, or … well, you get the picture. You have absolutely no idea what they’re for, so you go looking for a place to spend them, and then you finally find one person that converts Silver Marks into Blue Marks and then Bounty Marks into Skirmish Marks, and then you find another person that converts Skirmish Marks into armour but only if you’ve also got a Barrow Mark which you haven’t turned into a Skirmish Mark, but if the Barrow Mark is blue you only get armour sets part one but if half the Skirmish Mark is red and half the Barrow Mark is really a Pink Mark, then you can buy armour set part 2, but only if your Bounty Mark has a legendary Barrow Mark attached, and even then only if you can find part 2 armour hidden among the other 1,000,000 pieces of armour in the shop.
Who thought this up? Did somebody, somewhere, sometime, actually think this was a good idea? Was it the same person who invented beetles? (My vote is yes on this one.)

But enough about Marks. More about me.

I am pining away, unable to leave the Dancing Horse Inn, or whatever it’s called. Not that it’s a bad place. There’s often music by the fire, the fat guy behind the bar, Butterbun, isn’t really a bad chap, and the barber is always available to ensure that I look my best. And as you all know, my best is very good indeed. Actually, forget about the fireside music. Let’s not go there.

But even the best of pleasures pall when one’s diet includes no other, and I want to get the hell out. Most particularly because of the music by the fire, come to think of it. My Fool is absent, away from home, travelling far across the ocean, so I’m bloody well stuck here.

My adoring fans are devastated.

Aegthil's return

You will all be delighted to hear that news of my death has been greatly exaggerated. So are the tales of Madame Celestine’s Establishment. I can assure you they are not Young Ladies. Ahem.

It was a minor scratch, a minor scratch only, and I have arisen from my death bed fit to grace once more the salons and dining halls of the highest Eriador Society, as is my wont. The only after effect I have noticed is a minor tendency to forget unimportant things. It is possible that I only forget them because they are unimportant, but cause and effect have become somewhat muddled in my mind as of late. But no matter.

I fully expect Aegthil’s Social and Participatory Mountain and Valley Orchestral Band to throw me a Welcome Home party! What an excellent idea! Expensive presents! Free wine! Free food! Admiring women! Cheering crowds! The usual, I know, just the usual, but no more than I deserve.

In related news, my Fool was entirely unaware that readers were able to comment on my writings. He has only just discovered this, and has quickly approved all comments. He apologises for the lengthy delays, which perhaps caused some puzzlement to the many thousands of my fans who read my writings with avid relish. I find it hard to forgive him. Who knows how many young and beautiful maidens have withered away in their prime through lack of attention from myself, from belief that their admiration of my fine self could find no easy expression in the comments section? Who knows, indeed? It hardly bears thinking about.

Well, enough about my Fool. He is unimportant. Since my return I have been struggling with baddies around Ost Guruth (I believe that is the place’s name). This is a barbarous settlement in a barbarous area. Surrounded by undead, by zombies, by the walking people-eaters, it is a cultural desert, an oasis of intellectual dessication; in short, it is the jakes of Eriador. Just larger. Why the foolish Brown Wizard, Rabalast, Ralagast, Ragadast, whatever, chooses to live there is beyond my comprehension. Possibly a Green Wizard would know better. Or maybe even a Light Blue one. At any rate, I’m not surprised that the nearest Inn is Lonely. I’m just surprised it’s not The Totally Deserted POS Inn. Ask my Fool’s children what POS stands for. It’s not polite.

It was awfully kind of Harperella, that noble, beauteous, talented, wise, creative, gentle and well-bred Lady to donate a gold piece to my recovery fund. I accepted with a dignified air of grateful gentility. In truth, I find it relatively easy to earn money in these northern lands, and with precious little to spend it on. Before my fall I was able to gather together 12 gold pieces (which was entirely dissipated by medical expenses! You wouldn’t believe the price of quacks in Bree.) and since my recovery have amassed another 3 or 4.

But there is nothing to spend it on. Ridiculous clothes aside, of course. What silly capes people wear. But I digress. It’s not clear what I should do with my savings. I only need one horse. There is little armour available for purchase. I already look dashingly handsome in a special outfit. I have purchased all necessary instruments to display my talent.

What on earth should I buy now?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Throw flowers, please

I am Aegthil’s Fool, and it is with mixed feelings I announce that last night, on his way home from his usual drunken carousings at Madame Celestine’s Establishment for Young Ladies, Aegthil tripped over a stone, fell, and cracked his head open on the edge of a doorway in Bree.

He is currently in a vegetative state, which, although not too different from his usual state, is at least considerably quieter. Medical experts are firmly of the opinion that Aegthil is unlikely ever to recover.

Whether or not this is a good thing is a matter of opinion. Personally, I think the Lonely Mountain Band has had a very lucky escape.

As a parting gift to the LMB I offer “The Lonely Mountain Band’s Lament for the Death of Aegthil“, both in a multi-part abc file (suitable for abcplayer) and in a .wav file.

Try to think kindly of the poor fellow.

The Great Barrow, Reprise

Finally my Fool has proved that he is not entirely useless. No, let me retract that. He is entirely useless. However, he was able to find a group of servants willing to kill stuff for me in the Great Barrow. This does not prove that he’s not entirely useless, it merely proves that he can read advertisements and respond to them.

Anyway, it was my very first experience in a Fellowship, and most interesting it was. Well, it was interesting for my Fool, who had to learn a lot of things. For me, it was merely yet another opportunity to display my extraordinary musical talent to a group of people that listened very carefully indeed, because if they didn’t they got their arms chewed off.

Still, there were some surprising things. I had no idea that you could be transported directly to the Great Barrow. I heard a rumour that this requires the presence of some kind of food in my pack, so I suppose it was there. Those kinds of details are beneath me. I am not a grocer, I am an Artist. However, transported I was, and there I met a lovely group of people all in bright shiny armour, carrying dangerous looking weapons, and all very much more capable than my Fool. And all so polite! This particularly amazed my Fool, who is used to rather different behaviour in similar such groups. I suspect this is because he is preceded by his reputation, so people don’t bother being polite to him, while in Eregion, nobody knows him. Such are the perils of being a social retard.

But I digress.

Off we went into the Great Barrow, killing all kinds of nasty monster things. I sang fit to burst, my servants killed stuff with abandon, and nobody ran away. Well, nobody that is until we got to some room or other that was full of little nasty things and then one great big nasty thing.

Don’t stand on the stairs, say my servants. My Fool ignores them. Off the stairs, say my servants again. My Fool doesn’t hear. AEGTHIL! Please get off the stairs or you will kill us all. What, says my Fool. What? Huh? Doh. (That is the usual level of his conversation.) AEGTHIL, YOU BLOODY MORON, GET OFF THE DAMN STAIRS! Well, they didn’t actually say that, they were too polite, but I’m quite sure they thought it.

But no, all to no avail. My Fool is incapable of following simple instructions, he left me on the stairs, and Brave Sir Robin chickened out and buggered orf. So did all my servants.

Round two. Leaving nothing to chance, I got off the stairs at the beginning.

And so it went on. Power was a slight problem for me, as was the fact that the nasties kept heading for me, to bite my arse. I guess they really didn’t appreciate my Mixolydians. It was also a new experience for me having to manage my different jobs. Sometimes I just had to heal the servant up front with the thick armour, but other times I had to play ballads and songs in some order so I could get to the good ones. Tier 3 ones, I think they’re called. The names are all funny up in these barbarous northern regions, not at all what I’m used to in Gondor. My Fool gets confused. I don’t, of course.

But we managed. Did the first bit of the Great Barrow, which is a pretty complicated place, all windy tunnels with no signposts, and then moved on to the second part. Killed the nasty there with no real problem.

Finally, my Fool had to go, tired but happy.

Now I have to figure out what to do with all these purple things I got. Marks, or Tokens, or something like that. I have no idea.