where the magic is

My spouse got me three books from my wishlist for my birthday. The authors wrote them, the publisher was responsible for marketing blurbs, and I chose them and am the reader. So any disappointments here were not my spouse’s fault, but I’ll give her some credit for where I find delight or enlightenment in them. 🙂

Currently I am reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry For the Future. It is a fictional story of an international organization tasked with saving the future from the present, mainly in terms of climate change and equitable distribution of resources. There’s a fair bit of nonfiction sprinkled throughout. It grapples with all kinds of geoengineering, carbon capture, and energy technologies, the question of how to value human and nonhuman life (present and future), and most importantly, where and how to apply the leverage necessary to do what must be done. It is excellent so far.

Sonic Possible Worlds was, unfortunately, a hard pass. When I was quickly going through lists of books about music and sound, it seemed interesting. From the introduction and the start of the first chapter though, maybe it is brilliant and esoteric in some way but to me it is just impenetrable word salad. I gave up.

Sound Objects is a set of essays that mostly center around Pierre Schaeffer’s concept of objets sonores. Schaeffer was famously the inventor of musique concrète — a sort of musical collage assembled from snippets of audio recordings — and performed studies categorizing sounds according to their actual characteristics rather than what produced them. (I may be oversimplifying that.) Most of the essays are drily academic and philosophical arguments about what the words mean and what words would have been better, and honestly not exactly inspiring.

However, “Spectral Objects: On the Fetish Character of Music Technologies” by Jonathan Sterne grabbed my attention — it is about the relationship of musicians to instruments (and other equipment) in terms of the Marxist concept of “commodity fetishism.” That is: a sort of worship of goods as having intrinsic value, without recognizing the labor and social relations that produce that value.

"The deep feeling that an instrument brings magic or power to musicians, rather than they to it, is a residuum of this more general way of thinking.  This agential inversion of musician and instrument defines the role of commodity fetishism in sound."

The highlighted last couple of sentences in particular is what really grabbed me.

Where is the magic located — in the wizard, or in the wand? Or did it come from whoever made the wand? Or is it in the mind of the one witnessing the magic? That can be a key question in fantasy fiction or in roleplaying games, but I think this article has a good point where it comes to musicianship.

I can’t bring myself to say that in electronic music, the instruments are unimportant. I’ve often found switching gear (heh) or finding the right kind of setup to match one’s temperament helps bring inspiration, and certainly each instrument has its own character which can contribute to the music. But I do think there is something skewed about many electronic musicians’ relationship to gear, and perhaps that is more true in both modular and software-based electronic music. Like we do a lot of chasing more and different things, when we already have more that we can handle. Perhaps the related concepts of magic and agency are the right way to contemplate this.

what I did on my autumn vacation

It was nice having a week off. Not as nice as an actual road trip, and I could have done with less rain and another walk around the lake, but it was all right.

For Thanksgiving, we had jerk chicken and zucchini on the grill, sweet potato fries, coconut rice and cornbread. My spouse also made me a German chocolate cake for my birthday. We Skyped with our families, which felt pretty special and holiday-like since it was the first time for my side and almost the first for her side (and we got to see the new house and our young nephew).

I recorded three tracks for the new album project, and am confident the theme is going to work.

I wasn’t tempted by any Black Friday sales, but did get my Christmas shopping done. [UPDATE: I did get four little Puremagnetik plugins at 50% off on the Tuesday part of “Cyber Monday” though.]

I was tempted to pick up the last Mystic Circuits Portal in the special edition black panel — having decided that I don’t need another delay or reverb in my modular, nor more modulation sources. Portal is a unique distortion module that, above a threshold, wraps around to 0V instead of folding over or clipping. And it can wrap around a ridiculous number of times, feedback itself into ultrasonic ranges, generate interesting rhythmic crackles, perform “oscillator sync” with only one oscillator, and other things. This got my attention because (beyond “Black Portal” just sounding kind of badass) it’s similar in concept to an experimental plugin I wrote years ago, but takes that concept much further. There are two other derived outputs, one of which is a somewhat gentler quasi-quantized output, the other a spiky delta output. While the module can do ludicrously heavy distortion, I’m more interested in the other things it can do. So this is definitely more about curiosity than absolute confidence I will love this module, but satisfying curiosity is a valid use of remaining rack space.

I played my usual Dirt Rally 2.0, Noita, Bewejeled 3 and Guild Wars 2, all of which have been in rotation since before this pandemic struck, and Art of Rally which has been out for a couple of months. Noita has been getting significant updates even after leaving Early Access, with surprise new spells and monsters, so it’s always fresh.

I also grabbed Drag, which is neither about drag queens nor drag racing, but rather, an Early Access game of futuristic-ish off-road racing. The setting is a little strange, with sleek driverless rail buggies that have what seems like a vestigial roll cage too small for a human driver, with a long steering column ending in an odd bracket where the driver’s head would have been. Two of the courses are muddy wilderness roads that occasionally cross concrete or metal bridges or overpasses, bounded by forcefields to either side, occasional radio towers and oddly shaped concrete towers in the distance; the third is a raised bridge-like track mainly covered in a mound of mud, in an arctic setting with mysterious cranes and towers numbered in Arabic numerals but Cyrillic text. Graphically it looks good, within its sparse design. In terms of physics, it’s challenging, slippery and feels fairly realistic (although, once you’ve started to roll over it goes a little nuts, like many racing games do — and wheels are prone to pop off at the slightest provocation). Gameplay-wise there is not much to it yet, just different sections of course to do time trials on, with no sense of competition or career progression. I’m curious to see where future development takes it.

Probably where I spent most of my time was reading Rhythm of War, the fourth and longest book (at ~460,000 words) in the Stormlight Archive.

(I also read Dawnshard, a novella that takes place a little before Rhythm of War. I technically should have read it first, but at least thus far, it’s almost entirely a side story. It may very well become important to later novels, but if so, it will probably be retold.)

One thing I like about Sanderson’s novels is the “hard SF” approach to magic; there are definite rules and mechanics, the magic is highly integrated with how society works, and in most cases there’s a very scientific approach to determining the limits and applications of magic. This extends to the Cosmere as a whole — an overarching setting uniting most of Sanderson’s series, permitting some characters to cross between them and carry exotic artifacts with them.

But what I love about his books is the emotional impact of the story, both the lows and the highs. I care about the characters and want them to stop hurting and being frustrated. I celebrate with their moments of incredible triumph. I reel from the big revelations, shudder at the implications and cheer on their discoveries.

For a while I felt that the Stormlight Archive books kind of “cheat” at this; human emotions attract “spren” that can telegraph how they’re feeling even if they’d rather hide those emotions (or hide themselves!), while the Parshendi people speak and hum to rhythms that make their attitude explicit (with some conscious control when they concentrate). But this ties in nearly with the nature of this world’s role within the Cosmere, and it’s not as if his stories in other settings don’t convey emotion just as effectively.

Without even considering connections to other worlds, there are a lot of characters in this series. That is both a strength and a weakness of epic fantasy, I feel. This particular novel concentrates on three in particular, with lesser concentrations on a couple of others, and interludes, flashbacks and side trips to keep up with a few more. But the three main ones get a lot of development and growth and some of those great emotional moments that I love. The book also crams in a ton of that “scientific” discovery, and revelations about the greater universe and historical perspective on current events. Mental health is a huge theme — when you put people under continuous stress as these have been, they break. Their ability to hold it together, heal from emotional trauma, or just get some rest for once, is as important as how they face external threats. The truly important battles in this book were — for the most part — either against personal demons, or battles of wit and cunning rather than spear and sword.

I don’t think this book would make a lot of sense without reading the previous Stormlight Archive novels. It should be fine without reading any other Sanderson novels, although one would miss recognizing many tidbits scattered throughout. But then, there’s so much going on that I’m not sure even the wiki-article-writing superfans are able to catch everything. I don’t feel too bad not realizing on my own that so-and-so mentioned by a minor villain in this novel might be such-and-such character from a different series, who died, and now has a different name and completely different goals… while Sanderson’s novels are full of that sort of thing at this point, that’s not the main attraction for me.

that time again

It’s October 28, and definitely a good time to break out the scary music. I’ve never wanted to watch the movie a second time because it just wasn’t that amazing, but every year I break out the 30 Days of Night score. The composer invented several new instruments for it, some of which involve objects whirling dangerously at high speed…

For Halloween, I’ll be staying home, wearing a t-shirt with a skull-faced mermaid lounging by a pool, and keeping an eye on the end of the charity auction. Though the bid totals are quite good (over $22.5K so far), there are relatively few hardware offerings this year. I’m not interested in any of the sample or preset packs. There are a few software items I could go far — but in many cases they are bundled with a bunch of stuff I’m less interested in, so bidding competitively doesn’t make sense for me. Right now I am only trying to win one particular item, though I might throw a bit more money at something for the sake of the charity. And in the secondhand auction, there’s one minor plugin that I have a $5 bid on that’s on sale for $7 anyway.

Although… maybe on Halloween I may have to drive over to Lake Creve Coeur and walk around for a while, if it’s not too crowded. Hopefully the fall colors will be somewhere at peak, though it might be late for that. I’m probably too out of shape at this point to walk the full distance without overdoing it, but some semblance of “forest bathing” will probably do me some good. Unless it’s raining of course, in which case it would be a forest shower and not quite so pleasant.

With COVID cases hitting new records, we are following the advice to not risk travel this Thanksgiving. It’s a shame we will miss out, but it is not worth anyone getting life-threateningly ill.


I finished watching Neon Genesis Evangelion, and… I was not really prepared for how broken the ending is. I feel like the state of the series kind of reflected the apocalyptic events in the story and peoples’ mental states, but it also apparently was a reflection of the writer’s depression and the exhaustion of the overworked production team and pressures that were hitting the studio in general. Things just sort of fell apart, and aside from some (disturbing) hints, we lost perspective on events other than Shinji’s inner voice in the process of merging with everyone else’s…

There was a movie that presented sort of an alternate viewpoint and alternate ending, called appropriately enough End of Evangelion. Where the original series ending was, in its odd way, “the good ending”, this is the bad one in terms of Shinji’s personality and which conspirators “win” the apocalypse. There is also a remake slowly in progress called Rebuild of Evangelion, which apparently makes the main character more macho and has a lot more fanservice. I’m going to eschew those, and consider the original series and all its flaws a complete work of art. (Granted, one that doesn’t quite stand up on its own without a little support from outside explanation.)


I’ve sent the DAFM synth back to Kasser in Spain for repairs. Given that it took a month to arrive here in the first place, I will not be surprised if it doesn’t get back to me in 2020.


The album is up to 57 minutes of material. I feel like I’m on a roll and have more to say here, but an album shouldn’t be overly long or it challenges the attention span and does the music a disservice. If my next set feels like a continuation, I could always call it a Part Two.

Listening to what I have, I think it needs something to close it right, and I’m considering dropping one of the songs. But I do expect to release it on Bandcamp Friday on November 6.

I did do another recording with three parts rather than one or two, although the third is just using the other output of Akemie’s Castle which was used as the first voice, and some different processing to make it a simpler, background part.

detour

I had, over the last couple of days, decided I was going to make some music based on a particular esoteric insight that has been reinforcing itself. It would have fit nicely with the planned album theme.

Instead, I did something spooky.

I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise.

I’m going to go ahead and blame Stranger Things, and last night’s drive home. “It looks like we’re making a bad choice,” my spouse said as we drove from a relatively bright and sunny world into a sinister, gloom-shrouded one, where night fell three hours early and the wind whipped leaves from the trees, “…but this is where we live.” Neither of us realized at the time that she had just named a song.

Only the lack of fiery streaks divided it from the sky that Will’s “shadow monster” descended from.

I’ve already used “Cumuloominous” as a title, but I think this one is more intense than that. Not calmly foreboding, but fully foreboding. Maybe angrient.

gradually

Overall this album has felt like pretty slow going so far. I’ve been gaming, reading, napping, and occasionally firing up the music rig. A little slower is okay; there’s still momentum. Especially when I consider that I did record two more pieces for Ambient Online during this period. Honestly, I think it feels like more time has passed than actually has.

If the momentum does stop, or I feel unhappy with the quality of my work, I’ll pull the alarm and go back to a song-a-week-or-more format until I reboot myself. Hopefully that won’t be necessary.

Anyway, a month ago I thought I had a theme for this — waveshaping and nonlinearity — but I things haven’t really solidified that way. Instead, they have picked up the less technical, more emotional and esoteric themes of incubation and hesychia from the Kingsley book. It’s a more appealing choice, but it’s honestly not too far off from where my music tends to go anyway, so it feels a bit like no theme at all.


Speaking of books, what I’m into right now is K. J. Parker’s Sharps. In a setting similar to Renaissance Europe, a small, poor kingdom decides the path to maintaining a fragile peace with a neighbor is sending a national fencing team for Olympics-style diplomacy. Everything goes wrong due to some coincidence of bureaucratic incompetence, basic human laziness, corruption, and colliding conspiracies, and it’s often hard to tell which is which. Much like the news in 2019, only a lot more fun.

The book makes me want to learn some things about fencing. What the heck is a demi-volte? What just happened in that big action scene? Why was the thing that somebody just said significant? I’m missing some of the story here I think.


I’m still on Guild Wars 2. I’ve gotten to level 80 with 4 characters:

  • A sylvari Mesmer, who went through the Path of Fire story and converted to the Mirage spec, which I’m not really certain is either more effective or more fun. (It’s not like converting back is hard now though.)
  • A human Necromancer, who I kept at the core spec because Death Shroud — which looks and feels a lot like the wraith world of the Nazgul in the LOTR movies — just seems a lot cooler than summoning sand shades. This is probably my most capable character in a solo situation.
  • A sylvari Engineer, who converted to the lightsaber-ish Holosmith spec, and who looks extremely cool. But I had serious trouble in Southsun Cove (due to “quiet” Confusion applied by some of the monsters there which causes you to injure yourself) and found the intro to the Path of Fire area much more difficult than with the Mesmer.
  • A Norn Ranger, who went for the Soulbeast spec. It’s kind of cool to take on some of the aspects of various animals, but the special effects are lackluster and the actual effectiveness is questionable.

I also started a couple of thieves and an elementalist who got a little ways in and I just found they weren’t as fun or effective to play — though that could just mean I need to adopt to a different spec and playstyle. I’m now on a sylvari Guardian, who feels fun and flashy, intending to go for the Firebrand spec.

I haven’t visited all the level 80 zones, though I think between all my characters combined, I’ve covered all the below-80 zones. I figure once I max out this Guardian, I’ll pick a character and try to get 100% map completion. After that I might chase after achievement titles, unlocking more cosmetic gear, and maybe even try WvW, which I’ve never done before, or solo Fractal Dungeons. There’s a ton of content in this game and as much of it as I’ve seen, there’s a lot more — not like when I had 70+ characters in Champions Online and had done basically everything except the premium mission content.


There’s also Stranger Things. We just watched Season 3, and then rewatched Season 1 (which I’d only sort of half-watched and missed a few key things). It’s far from a perfect show, and some of its appeal is in intentional 80s cheese (turned up to 11, so to speak, for the third season). But it’s a pretty fertile setting for more stories — who knows what else might come from the Upside-Down, whether there are other otherworlds, what else went on in that lab or elsewhere in US and Russian psychic research, whether there are any other psychics besides Eleven and Eight (maybe Will’s developing something?)

Of course in my circles, a big part of Stranger Things is the synth soundtrack. It’s kind of become the Stairway to Heaven of synth players, and Season 3 brought with it a whole new wave of covers. I like the music, but please, people, create something new. Or do a creative rather than an imitative cover of anything else. Or go ahead and do your imitation, for your own amusement and learning purposes, and then don’t post it anywhere. Ask yourself whether the world will be a better place because there is one more cover of the Stranger Things theme.

(I had thought Season 3 was a lot heavier on the licensed 80s music than previous, but Season 1 did have quite a few — including sneaking in Tangerine Dream’s “Kiew Mission”, itself an 80s all-synth track that slides right in alongside the score.)

As I have recently posted elsewhere, I like it when artists take iconic 80s style synth sounds — or at least, the “synthwave” sounds we identify as 80s sounds now, though they’re not entirely representative — and then do something fresh and new with them rather than going pure retro. I feel like SURVIVE, Makeup & Vanity Set, and some others do that pretty well.

drive

I ran out of CBD oil caplets a few days ago, and decided not to restock just to see if I noticed a difference.

Today anxiety definitely made itself felt — I was very tempted to go home early from work. I’ve also felt more worn-out and slow to start in the last few mornings. But on the other hand, the trouble I’d been having with constipation also disappeared.

So I think I’ll get back on it but at a lower dosage, and see how that works.


I picked up an Elektron Analog Drive in a blowout sale. I was expecting a fairly normal-sized stompbox, but it’s a big metal box as tall and deep as the Microbrute, more than half as wide and twice as heavy.

It sounds pretty great with the Reface CS, lending its sound a lot more authority and/or face-melting screaminess, depending. If I wanted to do rock leads or organs that would be a pretty great setup. I don’t, but I’ve already put it to pretty good use turning chords into a variety of textures via intermodulation distortion.

One issue with the Reface though is a high noise floor. I’ve dealt with it on other recordings, but high gain settings on the Analog Drive really makes that noise stand out. I had a couple of ideas as to the cause, but someone suggested it might be picking up noise over the USB connection; if so there are isolators to fix that. I’ll give it a try.


Last weekend we got an estimate on removing our alarmingly wobbly deck and replacing it with concrete steps and a bit of fence, and the number was… much. It wasn’t itemized, which raises a red flag for me, and we’re going to get estimates from other contractors. But I suspect I’m going to put that computer replacement plan on hold for a bit. I don’t have to jump right into it as soon as the 3rd generation Ryzen chips hit the market. It could be smarter to wait for Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Consumption Season deals anyway.

Something else I am looking at from a bit of a distance is the Chase Bliss MOOD pedal. Like the Dark World, it’s a collaboration between other pedal designers, with two sides that “talk” to each other in various ways. Hainbach — who does nifty atmospheric stuff with small synths, old cassette recorders, MiniDisc players and retro test equipment — called his video on it “The Most Ambient Guitar Pedal.” But nobody is launching this one with a discounted price, so I’m going to hang on a bit and look for it used or discounted, or decide I don’t really need it.

Another one is Soma Labs Ether. It’s a small sensor/amplifier that picks up electromagnetic fields from various electrical/electronic devices, made especially for exploring urban environments. It’s very cool, but:

  • It’s just an improvement on an induction coil gizmo I already have. Mine is passive and needs a lot of amplification just to catch signals leaking from nearby LCD screens, electric motors, light switches etc.
  • While there are a variety of clicks, hums, buzzes, whines, rhythmic patterns etc. it picks up, they tend to have a similar character and I feel like the “language” would be exhausted pretty quickly, in a musical sense. It’s probably not something I would want to use in a lot of releases.
  • (On the other hand, someone said their walk around a shopping mall with one was “the best ambient/drone gig I have been to in 2 years.”)
  • One of those super-cheap radios meant to tune into broadcast TV audio is pretty great at plucking weird signals out of the air. Sometimes those signals are coming from the next continent over. I believe I should still have such a radio around here somewhere. Of course, broadcast signals and natural “sferics” are different from local EM fields, and the focus is much less on exploring one’s local neighborhood with a different sense.

bits

First, a link. Someone came up with a brilliant patch for Rings, feeding it clocked random noise, which makes for a very convincing cello.

I’d generally rather hear a real cellist than a perfect imitation of one — but the ability to imitate a real instrument demonstrates the ability to create sounds that are unreal and otherworldly but have the characteristics of physical, acoustic objects. That’s where the magic is.

This is making me wonder a little about the Uncanny Valley phenomenon as it applies to sound… if it does. Slightly-off human-like voices can be a little creepy, but not nearly as much as a subtly wrong human visual appearance. Slightly-off musical instrument sounds, animal noises and sounds generally categorized as foley, usually don’t bother us at all.

That thought ties in with my current reading: R. Murray Schafer’s The Soundscape: The Tuning of the World. It’s not quite the book I expected, but I’ll stick with it. So far it’s sort of a catalog of descriptions of the sounds and soundscapes of the world, in both poetic and scientific terms — with an emphasis on things such as noise pollution, the lowered sensitivity toward sound that people have had since the Industrial Revolution, the lost sounds of extinct species and traditions and obsolete technologies, and so on.

And before that was Peter Kingsley’s In the Dark Places of Wisdom. That one was a combination of fascinating and infuriating. While I believe the author’s style and the structure of the book were intentional, it grated on me and left me frustrated at the end.

The general thrust of the book was the story of the pre-Socratic philosopher (and mystic) Parmeneides, who was Zeno’s teacher. (That’s the Zeno’s Paradox guy — if you step halfway across a room, and then halfway again, and halfway again, etc. you will never, according to math anyway, reach the other side. Although in practice you get down to atoms and then the Planck length, and statistically merging some non-zero number of the molecules of your foot with the wall, and… yeah.) Kingsley has a non-mainstream interpretation of who Parmeneides was and what his poetic writings were referring to. That interpretation is criticized by other scholars, but came off as relatively plausible to me at least — I was mostly reading this for inspiration, thanks to a tip from someone online.

Kingsley argues for a Western tradition (with bidirectional Eastern and African influences) of mysticism and holistic thought that was basically killed off by Socrates, then ignored by modern scholars because it didn’t fit the mold they expected. Except he never really concludes that argument or explains why it’s so important for modern people. He never really gets into a sort of Stoic-sounding-but-also-something-else world view that he hints at, either. He does try to sell the next book at the abrupt end-but-not-completion of the first, though. Argh. Nonfiction books shouldn’t be cliffhangers.

Anyway, it was still interesting. All we learn in grade school history about Greece is, basically, Socrates, Athens, and Homer. We don’t really find out about Apollo’s associations with the underworld (the sun goes into a cave at night, just like in Egyptian myth), the tradition of incubation (lying still in a small enclosed space as a means of contemplation / mystical journeying), Greek hero worship (almost literal), how Pythagoras used scientific/mathematical knowledge as a lure to attract people to his mystery cult (basically), or how Athens was kind of a colonialist bully to the rest of Greece.

There was a fair bit about silence, darkness, stillness, and the mystical that mostly didn’t come off as terrible woo and resonated with my own experiences. This might have me reconsidering the theme for the next album — it’s a much richer and more evocative theme than “nonlinearity.” But perhaps I will work both a technical theme and an emotional theme simultaneously, and I might yet find inspiration that merges the two.

easy

With about 5 hours of minimal effort last night, Internal Reflections is mastered. Once again, I didn’t really leave myself anything difficult to work with, just a few spikes to manually tame, a couple of generally-too-loud tracks and a couple that benefited from a pass with a compressor/limiter.

I’m sure if I hired a professional who’s used to this genre, like Nathan Moody, to master my work it’d come out a bit better. But I don’t think I can justify the expense as it is. That’s almost a reason to wish I had a bigger audience right there though 🙂

I’m certainly happier with my own mastering work than with super-cheap or free services I’ve heard that seem to either pass everything through a single algorithmic process, or… completely neglect to address major differences in loudness between tracks on the same album so you wonder whether they did anything at all.


I have put together some high-contrast art this time — not the original idea I was going to work with, but I think it’s better — and I’m trying to decide how to work the text in. I might even forgo text, but I have some graphic design ideas for it that I’d like to work in somehow. I also have the concept blurb finally hashed out, and making the patch notes more readable isn’t that much work… so the release will be quite soon!

The Panharmonium got held back for a month for some new software features their testers asked for, which as I see it, just gives me more time to get familiar with the DPO before learning something new. I’ve had a few insights with it — figuring out why the FM felt so wild at first, delineating where the “sweet spots” for less noisy sounds are, and coming up with a set of experiments I want to try.

onward

I’ve got a bit over 58 minutes recorded for the new album. I’ve just gone through a full listen, and aside from two minor edits, mastering and artwork are next (and I have a solid idea about the artwork). I will still need to bash on the accompanying text, because the initial concept sort of proved itself, but also proved itself trivial? It’s hard to explain, and that’s why I need to work on that explanation some more.

In some sense I feel like the album’s cohesion arises naturally rather than due to conscious effort on my part. Aspects of the composition, sound, feel, etc. just come together a certain way. The previous album was different, and the next will be different again, but this one hangs together. This is a big part of why I prefer albums.


I’ve been playing a lot of Guild Wars 2 recently. I finished the Personal Story for the first time — despite having had several level 80 characters previously. There was some tedium and frustration and eye-rolling, but I made it.

Then I started on the Path of Fire expansion. This skips 3 years of “Living World” story and a prior expansion (and apparently enough happening to the player’s character to make them much more brash and forceful in personality), so I read up on that and… wow. This game and the lore behind it are huge, and kind of crazy at times. There’s a frightening amount of content, past and present.

I was hoping to unlock the Mirage specialization for my character quickly, but circumstances require a bit more effort. Meanwhile I’m mostly enjoying the ride with the story, though the area design — based on training various mounts for jumping, flying etc. — has stymied me a bit. The setting is much more gorgeous and creative than I expected, with minimal “faux Egypt” elements and much more “desert/oasis region with its own rich history and present story.” Overall, it feels like a different game — still partially an open world explore-fest, but far more like a single-player, story-driven adventure.