Embracing Choice

June 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Posted in General | 2 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

Yay for debate!  It stops the world getting a little boring, and the little (big) chaos of internet debate means that some subjects will never die.  Ever.  Not ever.

Blizzard deciding to throw the cat amongst the geeks by stating that 10- and 25-player raids will now be equal in every way that matters in World of Warcraft has been a godsend to internet gaming debaters in general.

This is because Geeks love hierarchies.  Star Wars is cooler than Star Trek.  Fanfic writers are cooler than slashfic writers.  Everyone looks down on furries.  Sorry furries.  And the way that we define whom gets to be the top of the pile, and therefore gets to look down on everyone else, is through reasoned debate.  And a whole load of unreasoned debate.

Things change, though.  I remember when Whovians (fans of the original Dr Who series) were looked on as the poor cousins of Geek Fandom.  Now they are in the ascendancy, and saying you’re a NuWho fan is no longer a cue for people to roll their eyes and utter soothing; “Poor thing; you’ll get over it in time” noises.

In World of Warcraft, 25-player raiders looked down on 10-player raiders.  As a 25-player raider, you got better gear, more of it, and the fights were cooler and more dangerous.  10-player was easymode (even in heroic mode), and the phat lewts were actually skinny mocha versions of the gear you already had thanks to your 25-player raiding successes.

By making all lewts equally phat, and by making all fights equally challenging, what is the difference between 10-player and 25-player raiding?  Apart from 15 players?

There is *a* difference.  25-player raids will get *more* lewts.  I’m not sure how much more, but not enough to make people think that 25-player raiding will “survive”.

This is where I tend to digress from many of the random forum screamers that are out there.  Phat lewts are a tool, to me.  They allow me to join in with raids and see more content.  They allow me to go raiding and partake in a meaningful fashion.

It’s the raiding itself that matters.  It’s that bold leap into danger, facing off against terrible odds, and emerging battered, bruised and victorious.

It’s about being part of a team, of playing your part in a shared success, and of making friends whilst doing it.

It’s about war stories and anecdotes, about those experiences that stood out, and that defined what it was like to be there at the time.  And with that comes bragging rights, the abilitiy to say “I did that.  We did that”.

Of course, if that’s not enough, and it *is* all about the phat lewts, and it’s not so much bragging rights as being able to rub everyone else’s nose in the dirt about just how much better you are then they are, then we both have differing views of what MMO gaming is about, never mind raiding.

A change in the number of players allowed into a raid means a change in the social dynamics of the group.  I’m pretty sure MMO raiding teams are pretty much the same when it comes to sports teams; players want to be *in* the team, not looking at it from the outside.

Just try and imagine the chaos, the screaming and the shouting that would happen were the football authorities to change the number of players allowed onto the pitch at any one time during a game.

Football has the benefit of a over a century of formal sporting code, and the refinement thereof.  MMO raiding is still just coming out of the “two excitable mobs fighting over an inflated pig’s bladder with a clock tower as one goal post and the town gate as the other” stage.

But that doesn’t mean these are bad times; these are the exciting times, where anyone and everyone means something, as opposed to it being all about overpaid sporting stars.

Right now is where all the choice is; being pioneers means we have the opportunity to play as a part of an excitable mob, or a 5-a-side team, or anything and everything in between.  Whatever style we prefer, there is a game or games that will cater for us.

So I don’t see it as a case of there being only One Way, and every other way is The Wrong Way.  It’s just different.

Difference should be celebrated, as it’s what makes life interesting.  I find that defining myself by my chosen style of raiding (which in World of Warcraft is 10-player, for those interested), or to define anyone else’s choice of raiding as *Doing It Wrong* is very negative, and generally makes us all look like cranks to the outside world.

Even Blizzard have decided to step out of The Great Debate, by stating that 10-player and 25-player raids will be just as challenging as each other and drop the same loot (just differing amounts) in Cataclysm.  It’s just a case of personal choice, helping us to find the gameplay that we want.

Surely that’s a good thing?

Cheers,
Hawley.

Social Gameworking

June 21, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I got an email about Blizzard’s Real ID thingy at the weekend.

Now this appears to be far more of a Battle.Net thing than a World of Warcraft thing, but it is launching with Patch 3.3.5, so that shows where Blizzard think that their core market is.

Now, it doesn’t particularly strike me as innovative, clever nor necessary.

Many of the features, such as universal friends lists and single-contact chat have appeared in other games.  And the other features just seem to want to introduce social networking into my MMO gaming.

I don’t social network (much/properly).  I don’t know how to use Twitter, besides which I’m not sure all my friends need me to update them with; Still at work.  Working”.  I’ve never had a Facebook account, don’t know what to do with Buzz, and Live Journal/MySpace/Bebo might as well exist on other planets.

I blog, but I tend to just cover MMO gaming.  I realise that this is social networking, but this isn’t a lifestyle blog, this is a gamer blog.

I’m a relatively private person.  I’m far too much of a curmudgeonly grump to want to spam my life to the outside world, or to be shown up for how exciting everyone else’s life is.

But for all that, I can see how this will help people stay in touch, and help to organise things for players.  Especially those with characters in multiple guilds and across multiple servers.

I can also see why it’s a win for Blizzard.  What makes an MMO such a strong pull is the social element, and offering players an easy way to stay in touch through various games makes it easier to retain those players through differing games in a portfolio.

So Real ID is just not for me.  I can understand that it will be an aid for many people whom I game with, and that I will (yet again) miss out on much social fun and frolics due to my techno-unsocial grumpiness.

But this is something I accept, and have learned to deal with.  I’ll limp along quite happily, whilst others will grow (or enlarge their already existing) social butterfly wings and fly.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Just Waiting

June 15, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I’ve still not done anything of note in Lord of the Rings Online since the announcement that it will be moving to a free to play/freemium model.

It’s not that I’m still heading through the five stages of denial; I know my limitations, so I quite often just put the Anger away and move right on down to Acceptance as soon as is possible.

The slacker in me knows that going through the other four stages takes far too much work.

Besides, whilst I can be as prideful as the next person, I’m trying not to let some rather foolish declaration slip out.  You know the one;

I shall nevah play this game again!  Nevah!

This is because I know myself well enough, and there’s precious little that I hate more than having to publicly acknowledge the fact that I said something more than a little twattish.  Principles are all well and good, but to have principles about something that doesn’t actually mean much in the grand scheme of things just devalues those principles that do matter.

I’m just stuck with a general sort of malaise whenever I think of playing Lord of the Rings Online, similar to the sort of malaise that strikes whenever a game makes an announcement of great import.

It’s that sense of waiting, the one where nothing seems to happen yet it takes forever to not happen.  I suppose I just want the plaster to be ripped off now so that I can just get on with playing within the new regime, rather than play whilst being constantly bombarded with wistful nostalgia and fearful of what the future might bring.

Cheers,
Hawley.

What Wol did next

June 11, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I have reached the threshold in Fallen Earth.

Wol is now at the point in level 15 where he’s very close to level 16.  And from questing, he’s more or less exhausted the starting towns to the south of Sector 1.  This means heading out of the starting towns of the south, and into the more dangerous towns of the North.  This is the start of the journey to Sector 2.

What surprises me is the amount of time it’s taken to get this far.  According to most games, Wol is still a babe in arms.  Most games can see me get a character to level 15 in a couple of sessions, yet Wol has been going for weeks.

Pondering why, I’ve come to the following conclusion;

There’s a lot to do.

More definition required?  Okay, seeing as you asked nicely.

Hoovering up everything you find takes dedication.  It also takes time.  Find a good spot with a lot of node spawns, and it takes time to pick them all up.  Especially if it’s a fast spawning area, and you go for a couple of circuits.

Add in a few mobs that are suicidally desperate to give you all of their trez and xp, and a quick farming stop off whilst travelling can turn into a half hour orgy of combat, gathering and looting.  Of course, you should add an extra 15 minutes if the local mob is HERMIT CRABS!

Then there’s the questing.  Whilst it has some Quest Hub A leads to Quest Hub B sensibilities, there have also been some wonderful little quest hubs scattered in the wilderness between settlements.  They’re just sat there, and the ones I’ve found have been quirky and fun.  I’ve mentioned the gun-toting CHOTA offshoot before, but I’ve also encountered a settlement on a bridge that’s owned by the Goat family.  They’re having trouble fending off the predations of a group of Gully Dogs raiders, lead by The Troll.  Yes, I got to be all gruff.

These little quest areas, with four or five quests and a shop reward taking the time to explore an area, or check out something that looks interesting against the skyline.

I’ve also been crafting, and spending the time to hoover up everything I can has really helped.  I have both Sector and Barter Vaults constantly filled, and quite often I just vendor the commonly found components such as Tainted Meat and Tainted Water, as I have full stacks in the banks just in case.

That hoovering has meant that I’ve been able to work on all of the crafting types, with the exception of the scarily expensive Mutagenics (well, it is in Sector 1, so it can wait) and Construction, which is of less use to the up and coming clone.

It’s not even been that expensive to keep crafting, as questing has meant that money has just rolled in.  Wol isn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but neither have I ever had to do without.  Cashflow is good, and I’m well equipped seeing as I’ve crafted everything myself.

I also have a choice of mounts, thanks to that crafting.  This is particularly useful, as Sector 1 is big.  No, bigger than that.  It feels like the largest starter zone I’ve ever played in, and I’m also taking into account the fact that the extended tutorial gives out a horse mount.

Currently I have two mounts.  I have a horse for general questing because it has excellent inventory space, fuel economy and stamina, and I have a motorbike for travelling between towns because they’re cool and they go like the clappers.

Having said that, it’s not about rushing from one place to the next, taking the fastest route through the game.  The ‘bike is to take me quickly when I want to, not because I feel I have to.

It’s down to the immersion.  I like the immersion factor in the game.  Now don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to live there.  At all.  I like the world we live in.  It may have its flaws, but it’s got things like beds, and ceilings connected to walls, and showers.  It also has a comfortingly low ratio of mutants to regular people.

But I don’t feel like I have to rush through the game, to get to the fun bit at the end.  It’s all fun, and that even includes the farming bits.  I feel like I can farm as much as I want to, and then move onto something that’s more fun.

Oh, I’m more than aware that there isn’t much of an end-game as we know it, but seeing as I’m levelling whilst smelling the roses, it doesn’t matter so much right now.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Shonky

June 10, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Posted in General | 4 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

I got the Fallen Earth Mobile Companion yesterday, from the Android Market.

But before we go any further down this particular rabbit hole, a few words about this particular white rabbit:

I’m not a professional reviewer.  I am not unbiased, and I don’t especially wish to attain that particular state of grace.  Take what I have written with a pinch of salt, and feel free to make up your own mind.  I shall be honest about what I feel about the software.  You shouldn’t take it as gospel acclamation.

Furthermore, my phone is a G1.  It is a year and a half old, and there are much faster Android smartphones out there.  It is on the T-Mobile network, which has some “issues” when it comes to 3G coverage and connection.  It has a notoriously bad battery, and I know how to drain the battery in about an hour by using a combination of multiple apps and using the aforementioned 3G.

Having said all that, I love my G1.  It keeps me sane, during the bad times.

But enough preamble; onwards to the could-have-been-a-review-if-I-was-all-professional-about-this-stuff.

The overriding thought I have about the Fallen Earth Mobile Companion is that it’s launch proves it to be very much *of* the MMO genre.

Yes, you guessed it; it’s been released way too early, and could do with a good few months to iron out the bugs and add a decent sheen of polish to it.

There are connection issues, random bugs, not all of it works properly, and the interface isn’t that responsive.

Connection is vital in this app.  It’s only a scant few megabytes in size, which means it’s constantly accessing the game servers for information requested.  If it loses connection, it times out and throws a connection error out.  It can take a long time to bring up a screen, and there’s no sort of progress bar, just an hourglass icon.  And because of all that connecting and reconnecting, it doesn’t so much as eat my battery power as inhale it.  Be warned.

Then there are the bugs.  It’s not showing me all the crafting recipes I have, by a long shot.  It seems to have decided to show me a random selection of recipe groups.  And I mean random.  According to the Science tab, I only know the Dye, Weakness Gas, Refine Adhesive and Gunpowder recipe groups.  Huwah?  The crafting queue is quite happily showing me make Motorcycles, but according to the Fallen Earth Mobile Companion, I don’t have the first clue in how to make them.  The same goes for the other Crafting skills.  It makes no sense.

It also has a habit of locking up.  If I’m looking at what’s for sale on the auction house, and touch an entry to see more details about it, the app locks.  Deader than a doornail, and I have to go drop out of the app and go back in it to sort it out.  This is actually a change from earlier, when I could bring up item details.

Quite often, I need to press an icon two or three times to get it to operate.  Maybe that’s my phone, but I’ve not had a problem with slow or unresponsive apps before.

There are other polish issues.  The auction house will show me what’s for sale, but not how many items in a stack if the item is stackable.  And there’s no way I’m going to gamble my chips away by effectively bidding blind.

Not only that, but when I slide out the G1 keyboard, the view remains staunchly portrait.  Even when using the chat function, and I’m typing away on aforementioned keyboard, the app refuses to change its pro-portrait stance.

Call me some freaky freaky-face, but I like being able to type on the hardware keyboard without it appearing at 90degrees on screen.  Never mind the typing window inextricably occupying half the screen, whilst the software keyboard occupies the rest of the screen.

Why?  It makes no sense.  It’s nice to see what chat I’m responding to, never mind being able to respond in good time if new chat arrives whilst I’m typing.

Oh, and sometimes it’s nice to work in widescreen.

Those are the major gripes.  There are a good few minor gripes, but I can live with those.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though.

The Comms function works nicely, apart from the polish issues.  I think the Friends pane works better at telling you who’s online better than the actual game does, and whilst the only community channel available is Clan, that’s fine by me.  Chat works in good time, and has even informed me when chat is occurring whilst I’m on another part of the app.

The Character screens are quite well realised.  Showing character stats could be better realised, but inventory and equipment screens are nicely done.

The maps are nice, and quite well realised on the small screen.  Not much use, but pretty nonetheless.

The crafting queue is useful.  It’s quite surprisingly nice to see how close something is to being finished when logged out.

Do I think I wasted my money?

Possibly.  At the very least I handed it over way too soon.  Or I have the wrong phone or OS; maybe it works perfectly on the iPhone, and it’s only shonky on Android.  Or the G1.

But shonky it is, and I really hope they’ll get their act sorted out, and improve and update this app as often as Fallen Earth LLC have improved and updated Fallen Earth itself.

If they do, then “Mobile Companions” could well be the next big thing to happen to MMOs.  Because as a proof of concept, the Fallen Earth Mobile Companion shows that this kind of thing will work.  AFK Interactive now need to show that it will work *well*.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Massively Mobile?

June 9, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

The Fallen Earth Mobile Companion has been unveiled.  I first saw it on the splash screen when logging into Fallen Earth last night, and I saw that Dickie has a nice post about it on Rainbow MMO.

It’s a cross-platform mobile app designed to allow players of Fallen Earth limited access to the game when on the move.  Chat channels, auction house, crafting queue, that sort of thing.  It’s been made by Icarus, Fallen Earth LLC, and AFK Interactive.

I checked out AFK Interactive’s website, and they’re stating it’s part of their M4 Platform, where M4 is short for “Massively Multiplayer Mobile Monetization”.  It’s a skinnable/customisable app, which they would like to see used for a variety of differing MMOs.

I’m not sure how you feel about that little word “Monetization” sat there on the end, but it sets off alarm bells for me.  I’m not sure I wish to be monetised through my mobile.  It sounds vaguely of ladies of ill repute and worse legality leaving business cards in ‘phone boxes to me.

However, sensitivities towards RMT aside, I’m going to give it a go.  It’s $1.99, which is less than the price of a pint, and as far as I can see it’s a one-off payment.  If it was a subscription that would be something else entirely, but I don’t mind giving a cut of 2 bucks to the people behind a game that I particularly enjoy.

Is it going to be a must-have?  I’m not so sure about that.

It gives an advantage to those players who enjoy playing the auction house, those who send a lot of in-game mail, and those who are particularly chatty, that’s for sure.  After that, it’s hard to say; the advertising blurb just says, and I quote; “and more!”

Cheers,
Hawley.

When Hubris Strikes!

June 7, 2010 at 6:45 am | Posted in General | 2 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

Proof the universe has a sense of humour:

One evening last week, my lovely lady came home from work, and asked me if I played a particular MMO that one of her colleagues plays.  Upon enquiring the name of said MMO, I got to put on my best smug voice and declare;

“Oh, no, I don’t play the *free* ones”.

Hmm.  How things change, and how quickly they change.

On Saturday I started catching up on my blog reading, and there is Syp at Bio Break telling me that Lord of the RIngs Online is about to become free to play.

It seems I *do* play the free ones after all.

The news has, as expected, raised quite a lot of comment.

Well, I specialise in unfounded opinionated rambles, so it seems a little unfair to let such a thing pass by without comment, although I did decide to do it at the far end of the weekend so that I could at least ruminate on the decision without having to resort to some sort of reactionary nerd-rage.

Right now, I’m feeling like someone has kicked a really, really good mate of mine in the soft and tenders whilst filming it on their mobile so they can upload it on YouTube.  Yet at the same time, all I can feel is; “Oh”.  Not an excited; “Oh!”, or even an angry; “Oh!”  Just a complete lack of emotion; “Oh”.

I can understand why Lord of the Rings is going Freemium; the people in charge think they can make more money out of a Freemium game than they can as a subscription game.  I could try and rationalise why, but it would be as if someone did a complete load of unfounded speculation, and I don’t like to speculate as much as I opine.

But I will speculate enough to say that they think that Freemium is going to make them more money.  And that someone in a high enough position has decided that’s good enough reason to make the change.

The net result for most players is that they’ll not have to pay out for a subscription every month, and that many players will have the opportunity to play a fantastic, wonderful game that I really enjoy.

Of course, I feel bad for those paying customers who were offered a cut price but still not inconsequential amount of money for a Lifetime Subscription about a month ago.  It feels shark-like, at the very least.

But I got my lifetime subscription long enough ago that it’s more than paid for itself.  And rather than be a regular player; I shall be a VIP player, no less.  So there’s no need for me to be churlish and feel that as a lifetime subscriber I’m losing out because everyone else will be playing for free too.  I’m being rewarded for my loyalty.

And there is still a subscription option.  It’s there for those who want it, and for those who don’t want to pay, there’s that whole free option.  More choice, and choice is good.

But I’m old, and getting old means hating change.  Lord of the Rings Online isn’t broken, so why does it need fixing?

And I can’t help worrying.  With a subscription model, games are there to make us want to pay our subscription every month, to get us to *want* to play.  Freemium allows us to pay what we want, for what we want.

It’s the same; both models want us to part with money as part of playing.  But subscription games want our money once per month, and as a result we get to partake in all parts of the game.  Whilst Freemium wants us to pay to see more and do more.  And it isn’t happy with just one payment; it wants as much cash as it can get from us.

Is it a subtle distinction?  I don’t think so.

And most importantly, under the subscription model we’re all equal.  We all get the same opportunities, we all get the same options, we all have the chance to see and do the same things.

Do I actually *want* to be a VIP player?  As if I don’t have to wait in any queues, and get my own roped off area in the club, with bouncers to protect me from the hoi-poloi?

I’d rather not.

Now is when I say that I’d not played for any appreciable length of time in the last month.  I was recharging my Middle Earth batteries, ready for an orgy of alt levelling.  Fallen Earth and World of Warcraft were taking up the lion’s share of my gaming, and I was happy to let Lord of the Rings Online take a back seat until I really felt like kicking some orc.

That was going to be this weekend, but the announcement sort of took the wind out of my sails.  Right now I’m not sure what I’m going to do about a game I really, really enjoy.

I think this one will take a vat-load of tea to work through.

Cheers,
Hawley.

On Greed

June 2, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Greed, as I’m sure we are all aware, is one of the seven deadly sins.

It’s also a funky-looking fist weapon that’s all lovely and phat epixxxy.  It’s lovely, quite lovely, even though it seems to make me look like I’m beating monsties to death with a rather vicious-looking sock puppet.

I won it in a Culling of Stratholme run, equipped it, and that evening used it at the start of the alt-raid that I have mentioned previously.

I say used it at the start, because during the alt-raid, Gutbuster dropped after we’d given Festergut a good shoeing.

And with no-one else wanting it, the raid leader shouted at me that I might want to upgrade.  He’s a good friend like that.

To Gutbuster thanks to Greed, all in about 4 hours.  It was a strange feeling, as I thought Greed and I were going to be best mates for some considerable time.  Such is usually the way with my characters; after getting a good weapon, it’s usually some while before I get a new one, especially one with such a marked increase in potency.

I might be somewhat level-headed and salubrious when it comes to gaining phat lewts, but it’s always nice to actully get hold of not one, but two sizeable upgrades in weaponry.

Yay!

Cheers,
Hawley.

Raiding Return

June 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I had a harsh lesson at the weekend.

Actually, as harsh lessons go it was a rather fun one.  I went alt-raiding.

Actually, everyone else went alt-raiding.  I went main-raiding with some alts who were alt-raiding.

We started off by going into the Obsidian Sanctum.  Then we went to Ice Crown Citadel in normal mode, getting as far as Professor Putricide before wiping.  After that, we went into Winterspring to have a go at the Vault of Archavon, which went swimmingly.

It was lots of fun.  I’ve not raided in a melee dps role since Skooge and World of Warcraft Classique, so that was a surprisingly lovely (if bloodthirsty) change.  There is, of course, a completely different set of gaming skills required to healing, so it was nice to get to use it.

And it was lovely to be able to go raiding again.

However, the harsh lesson came via Recount.  It was an eye-opener, let me tell you.

The lesson being that despite everyone else playing alts, I was still bottom of the dps pile.  Even one of the tanks was doing more damage than I was.

There are a few mitigating factors; the people I was raiding with had alts that could go into Ice Crown Citadel through the gates that said “You must be this uber-geared to go on this ride”, and not worry that they were sneaking in the back.  Herewerd is getting to that point, but some of his big chunky armour is bulked out a bit with papier-mache and double-sided sticky tape.  I’m way too much of a slacker to try and raid-gear more than one character, but the gear is coming.

It was also my first time for a lot of the encounters I was facing.  Luckily the raid leader, and the raid, were nice and patient, and willing to give me enough information to know what I needed to do, and where I should stand to do it.  Even so, a run-through or a strategy guide isn’t the same as actually doing it (otherwise why bother playing a game; read the guide, it’s cheaper) and my default setting is always set to “Dun die, dun be stoopid, dun be a monkey” and with that comes a bit less damage than I could be capable of.  Learning the encounters will mean more time smacking, which will help damage output.

I’m also out of shape.  A few instances is useful practice, but won’t get me raid-sharp.  Knowing what to hit and when, maximising the damage I can do by choosing the right ability at the right time, as well as simple things such as grabbing the right target fast and first time.  Even being able to differentiate targets in the grand melee, when there’s half a dozen sprites all stood on the same spot, and one of them is really, really fat and four times taller than all the rest (and it’s not the target you want).  All of that needs more practice in raids.

But there were a couple of plus sides.  I wasn’t laughed out of the raid, and no-one shouted at me for standing in the fire.  So it’s nice to see that I’m not completely raid-inept.

Cheers,
Hawley.

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