new module day

The new stuff I was waiting for arrived yesterday, and I got it set up and did some of the experiments I had queued up.

Boredbrain Optx is excellent. It looks and feels classy (even has black PCBs behind the front panel and a black power cable with dark grey stripe), it gave me no issues setting it up and it performs flawlessly. Highly recommended… even though I’m still trying to sell my ES-3 and probably not helping my case by repeating how much more I like the Optx.

Joranalogue Compare 2 is also quite good. Tools are often compared to a Swiss Army knife, positively (versatile) and sometimes negatively (individual tools might be awkward or inferior). This is like a zoomed-in version, a specialized cork removal tool but which has surprisingly more uses.

Something like a window comparator can be fiddly to set up, matching levels to the incoming signal and tweaking it so it’s just right. It’s designed to help with that. I do think dedicated LEDs for the output gate would clarify the (also helpful) blue/white/red for low/match/high when things are cycling rapidly… but at some point to really understand signals you’ve got to put them on a scope anyway.

Klavis Mixwitch gives me mixed feelings so far. It’s a clever design for sure. The mute switches are good to have rather than needing to patch an offset and manual switch together. The positive/negative toggles are handy, and the switching capability extends its capabilities and makes it something more.

However, it’s displaced Shades, which is a beautifully simple module with great layout and feel, very familiar to me. I’ll have to build up some new habits/muscle memory before I decide whether I like the new module’s paradigm and feel. I may try replacing the knobs, but I will certainly give it some time to decide. Meanwhile, I plan to keep Shades and the Ladik P-075 switch on standby for a good while in case I feel the need to switch back.

I had a few patch experiments saved up for New Module Day:

  1. Can Compare2 & Mixwitch imitate Loose Fruit (switch between normal and inverted at zero crossings?)

    Yes, readily. In a nutshell, this patch allows a bit more smooth variation in the sound, but it sounds a bit more brittle and edgy and less pleasant than Loose Fruit does (possibly fixable with some filtering) — and Loose Fruit can do it twice, in parallel or series or independently. So I plan to keep the Fruit for now.
  2. Crazy sync patches with Compare2?

    Yes. Definitely crazy sync patches with Compare2. Some of them sort of related to PLL patches in that they do very brief frequency modulation bursts. Weird shit ahoy!
  3. Can Compare2 & Mixwitch & Maths imitate Schlappi Engineering Boundary (set an upper limit to the rise stage, causing both lower amplitude and faster cycling?)

    Maybe, but (A) my patch design was flawed, and (B) it’s a bit awkward. It requires Compare2 to act as one window comparator and an RS flip-flop while Mixwitch acts as another window comparator. More experimentation might get me to what I was looking for.

    Given certain limitations, Maths and a VCA can certainly do “bouncing ball” patches. But if I wanted to use, say, velocity CV from a keyboard or a sequenced CV to control the boundary instead, it shares the “dynamic gates” problem of sudden changes in level affecting more than one would want.

    At any rate, I’ve decided against replacing Maths with Boundary even though I couldn’t replicate it.
  4. Can I imitate NSI Inertia with Maths, using some kind of serial slew patch?

    …no, or else I’m just not smart enough. I don’t know how two slew limiters are creating overshoot and resonance. It seems like feedback has to be involved somehow, but I’ve been completely stymied.

    I’m really curious to see some demo videos of Inertia. It seems like it has some cool potential… though the real question is, would it be practical and/or inspiring for me or should I just stick with Maths?

Really the only other thing under consideration now is Xaoc Erfurt. Again, I will want to see some demo videos to be sure. I really like the weird variety of stuff I can get Drezno and Jena to do, and Erfurt seems like a good addition. But I wish it had a front panel switch to isolate it from the other Leibniz modules so it could act as a counter/divider on its own, rather than having to pull out ribbon cables.

one more for good measure

Schlappi Engineering Boundary was just announced. Like Momentum, it is a slope generator in the tradition of DUSG, Maths etc. with a little extra — in this case, a built-in four-quadrant VCA (like Mini Slew), a full-wave rectified input (for envelope follower purposes) and a Bounds input. Bounds sets the maximum level that it rises to before switching to the fall stage without changing the slope — meaning it affects not just the output level but the rise and fall times.

This can be used for “bouncing ball” patches more natural than the usual Maths version, and perhaps also very natural vibrato. That by itself isn’t enough to convince me, but I’m curious about other uses. How does it behave with audio?

With these interesting function generators becoming available, I’m realizing I could probably replace my Maths with one of these, or perhaps another, smaller option. With Stages and Just Friends, I don’t think I necessarily need the dual aspect. Hmm.

[ALSO] Joranalogue officially announced its new stuff. Orbit 3 is a chaos/strange attractor oscillator, Enhance 2 is a stereo processor, but the really interesting one to me is Step 8.

They call it a Sequential Tracking/Sampling Register. It’s an 8-step sequencer that can be addressed by clocking or with CV, but each of the steps samples or tracks a common input while active. It can also be set to shift the register values rather than advancing the step. It’s super versatile, and could be fun to play with but I will need to decide how the next wave of changes will look and whether I would want to dedicate 16HP to something like this.

on the loose

Loose Fruit arrived today, and at first I felt a little bit disappointed. It isn’t quite what I thought, but rather, a sort of digitally controlled inverter. Once I started to understand it though, possibilities started to open up.

Most waveshapers are some kind of nonlinear function: level X goes in, level Y always comes out. The shape of that function, and the shape and dynamics of the input entirely determine the output.

This one is time-based. Each time the signal crosses zero, the module decides whether to invert the signal based on values in its internal shift register. The “state” knob sets the contents of that register. Everything else is based on the frequency of zero crossings — which if it’s not a simple wave, is not the same thing.

A wavefolder (and most waveshapers generally) tends to sound its best with simple material that has few harmonics, such as a sine or triangle, and works poorly with square waves. Loose Fruit, on the other hand, works fine with squares and gets much more interesting with more complex shapes, stronger harmonics, chords and inharmonics. It prefers things like Rings, Odessa, or EnOsc.

What I’m not certain of is whether it will hold its own against the combination of Compare2 and Mixwitch. I could certainly detect zero crossings (or whatever range), use it to trigger a gate sequencer, which then decides whether to switch to normal or inverted. The need for a sequencer in the middle does make it more involved, although I suppose I could pick up a Bin Seq. With more control over the comparator it might be worth it though? We’ll see.

pumpkin spice and synth show season

First, the usual complaint that summer can’t end quickly enough. The days are getting shorter, the pumpkin spice flavored everything is taking over, and we are well into the -ember months, but the high temps are still in the low 90s. Bring on the gloomy skies and the hoodies!

Knobcon 9 was this past weekend. I didn’t go, because I didn’t know how the COVID situation would be and because of some work uncertainties. I’ve heard it was about 2/3 the usual size, and honestly that seems like the perfect size to me, since the full experience is a bit overwhelming and crowded. But I wouldn’t have wanted to spend the entire weekend stressing over COVID, so I’m not sorry I missed it.

This coming weekend is Superbooth. Knobcon and Superbooth are the two biggest synth-specific conventions (though there are bigger music industry shows, such as NAMM and Musikmesse), and usually there are a lot of announcements about new products. Despite parts shortages, there have been some of those.

VCV Rack 2 is coming — first another free version, then a commercial one in VST plugin form. I was excited for that until I started hearing about toxicity in the developer community, and now I don’t think I can support it. One writeup about it is here. The rebuttal from Andrew Belt basically calls it a “smear campaign,” there is no attempt to address any of the concerns brought up, and there is indeed a “anyone questioning the moderator will be banned” policy, and I’m just not getting a good feeling from that. Honestly, I have gone this long without using VCV for more than a few minutes, and I can continue without it given how well Bitwig integrates with modular hardware.

Joranalogue has two or three new things that they’ve teased but not announced. It seems like one of them is a chaotic/random generator of some kind, one seems to be some kind of stereo tool (with a phase correlation meter, balance/width knobs but we haven’t seen more) and there’s something with a lot of faders that could be a number of different things. I look forward to seeing what these turn out to be, but probably not something I’ll feel like I need.

Shakmat Mod Medusa seems like a neat concept: a Euclidean (and other algorithmic patterns) LFO. But I have that covered with Teletype.

I’m more curious about New Systems Instruments’ upcoming “Intertia” module. It seems to be a function generator (a trigger causes a signal to rise at some rate, then fall back to zero, or it can cycle, or follow an input level with maximum rise/fall rates). But this one has momentum — it can overshoot its goal, then when it gets turned around, accelerate too much and overshoot again, and so on — also known as resonance. It can oscillate without retriggering, and it can act as a filter as well as an oscillator or envelope. It’s sort of unifies some related concepts that never quite connected before in modules. That said, you can run a function generator (or any other CV source) through a resonant filter and get this sort of wobble. I’m curious if having it all in one unit offers any advantages other than convenience.

Xaoc is not disappointing either, with three new modules: a stereo filter, a stereo spatializer and mid/side converter, and more relevant to my interests, a new entry in the Leibniz Binary Subsystem. “Erfurt” is, on the surface, a simple binary counter with +1, -1 and reset inputs, and outputs for each of 8 bits. Binary being what it is, if you clock one of the increment inputs you get /2, /4, /8, /16, etc. divisions. But the part I’m trying to wrap my brain around is how it interfaces with other Liebniz modules. When it receives input from that bus — such as from Drezno’s ADC, or Jena’s wavetable lookup — it uses the value as a guide for how much to increment or decrement by. I’m not sure what it sends out to the Liebniz system though — its own register value, or is it an offset to the input, or what? The implications could be lots of different things and I think I need some explanation/demos to puzzle this out.

Other than that, I can write off the other announcements (so far) as stuff that mainly doesn’t seem particularly innovative, or at the very least, just not relevant to me. Which is good, because I don’t really want to shake up my plan.

Last night I finished reading Glow by Tim Jordan — there are many novels with that title, I have just discovered. A sort of cyberpunk horror, with a setup similar to Repo: The Genetic Opera and perhaps Deus Ex: Human Revolution with a touch of Terminator, but also spies getting literally into peoples’ heads, robot nuns both worshipping and trying to create the “Future-Lord,” and a protagonist who literally doesn’t know whether he’s a human or a dog at times. It was mostly enjoyable, though I’ve just realized it has a “fridge logic” problem. But the main issue I had was that the copy editing seemed to just stop about 2/3 of the way through the book. Grammar started to stumble, and punctuation dove off a cliff. It’s like the nicely bound novel with a very well-designed cover, bought in a nice brick and mortar bookstore, suddenly became a self-published ebook.

Now hang on. I’m not against either self-published books, or ebooks! But too many of them suffer from lack of an editor.

I know my grammar on this blog and on forums — the only places where I really write anything — is far from perfect. Sometimes I cringe and correct things quietly when I notice what I’ve posted. But when I read a novel, I have expectations, and I’m often disappointed. These things detract from the experience. It’s like listening to a bootleg of a live show rather than a professionally produced and mastered album.

everybody cut fruitloose

I have been pondering minor changes in my modular rig.

First: changing from the Expert Sleepers ES-3 + ES-6 combo to the upcoming BoredBrain Optx. Less power consumption, 2 additional inputs, a single module, no DC offset on the inputs at 0V, and I free up half my Mazzatron Mult+PassThru for Minibrute connections. And the price looks to be less than or equal to what I’ll get reselling the old modules.

Second: TipTop Fold Processor goes out. The folder itself is one I don’t especially like. What is groovy about it is the sub output, which is done with a window comparator on the spiky/offset folded bits, and some dividers and a mixer. So why not ditch the folder and go for the king of comparators, Joranalogue Compare 2 — which I was wanting anyway, and which can do /2 (possibly /4 with clever patching) right on board?

(Folders I like: Intellijel uFold and Shapeshifter, Antimatter Crossfold, saw-to-sine converters like FM Aid, Warps (though it’s a bit rough in some ways), Blades, basic geometric folders like in the E52, the Arturia metalizer. “Serial”, Serge-like folders in general, I think. Folders I don’t like as much: DPO, 0-Coast, Origami, TipTop; the “parallel” Buchla-style folders generally.)

Looking at various logic module options, I figured an SR latch might be cool to have, particularly with a comparator. As it happens, you can patch one using a side of the Compare 2. So that’s a win.

Third: also while looking at those options, I happened to investigate the Klavis Mixwitch, and discovered that it’s flipping brilliant. The basic part is two 2-input mixers (A and B), the inputs normalled to +5V, invert buttons for each input, a mute button for each output, and A output normalled to mix with B. Already a super useful set of things that could replace my Stages/P-075 combo.

The even better part is that the B output can go into switch mode — which can be CV addressed or sequentially/randomly clocked, and can flip through all 4 inputs or just the two B inputs.

So this one module is a mixer, offset/attenuverter, CV source with on/off switch, transposer, signal booster, sequencer, sequential switch, random selector, flip-flop / clock divider, window comparator, AND/NAND, OR and XOR logic…

Fourth: back up to the part where I’m replacing a wavefolder. I thought about Warps (my glowing old friend) to replace it, but started poking around and… hmm, God’s Box Loose Fruit seems interesting. It’s a dual digital waveshaper with an analog crossfader built in. Something a little different here…!

reserved words

I had the perfect name chosen for the next album, appropriate to the nature of the music and yet based on a disturbing and eerie concept from a dream my spouse told me about. And I had an idea for the album art which was sort of an homage to something else that I like.

But it turns out, it is also the title of a story and short video, and also someone’s kind of clever invention.

One month after I released Shelter In Place, a Nora Roberts novel by the same name was published. I got their first but it still felt kind of weird. Not as weird as when COVID-19 hit and we got actual shelter-in-place orders, but still.

I would be surprised if my second-choice name isn’t already the name of a novel, a movie, a band, an album, a wine brand or something. But it’s also a generic enough sounding thing, rather than an unlikely and distinctive combination of words. I’ll give it a bit more time to ponder, though.


While looking into my controller options, I watched LoopOp’s video on the Novation Launchpad X and thought “yup, that’s the one, right there.” Grabbed a half-price one. And it is, indeed, the one.

I’d ignored it and its kin in the past because they’re advertised as controllers for Ableton Live, for clip launching and general navigation through the software. I know controller scripts for Bitwig are available, but I just wasn’t interested since it doesn’t much match the way I work with Bitwig. But it’s also a performance controller, an oddly shaped 64-note keyboard that can be configured in several different ways, and has both velocity and pressure (though not the horizontal/vertical wiggling that the Medusa’s grid has, which is honestly good for vague wobbles and not much else).

Note mode gives you the choice of Scale mode or Chromatic mode (all notes available but the scale is highlighted). It also lets you set the span between rows to “sequential” (octaves for Scale mode, or 9 half-steps for Chromatic) or to 2-5 fingers — that is, how many notes “right” are equivalent to one note “up”. It probably sounds more confusing than it is, but the grid will light your way to finding equivalent notes and it’s pretty easy to navigate.

There are also four slots for custom layouts. With an online tool or downloadable PC software, you can set up combinations of scale pads, keyboard-shaped sections, drum pad sections, vertical or horizontal sliders that send MIDI CC, etc. The one thing that I feel is missing is the ability to use a single pad’s pressure to send a CC, instead of an on/off button. But still, it’s really flexible.

I haven’t used it with the Minibrute or modular yet but have played software synths a bit with it, and it’s great. With something like Aalto, Buchla Easel V, Bitwig Grid or Bitwig’s basic FM or phase modulation synths, you can directly assign pressure to an LPG or VCA… no envelopes needed. So good.

I’ve now recorded all 7 tracks for the upcoming album, and am ready to do the mastering and art. Things are a bit nuts at work again and I’m kind of worn out so I’m not going to rush it, but… soon!

I’m rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy for… I don’t know how many times this will be now. We watched the extended edition trilogy a few weeks ago and a few documentaries, and I just felt like it’s time again. It definitely qualifies as a comfort read at this point, but there is quite a lot of craft to admire!

I’m still enjoying Elder Scrolls Online quite a bit. Sticking with that bow-wielding Bosmer Nightblade and following through the story. The writing and the voice acting do vary a bit in quality, but overall it’s pretty compelling. There are several recurring characters I really like (Razum-dar, Queen Ayren, Lyris Titanborn, Azura) and a few I love to hate (Abnur Tharn, Molag Bal), rather than simply not caring about most of the NPCs as in Guild Wars 2. Once I get through the main story I plan to start a Breton Templar, burning through enemies with sunlight (mostly because the special effects are freaking awesome) and see how the story goes with one of the other factions. I don’t know how much the main quest line changes with faction, but I’ll find out!

bark and bite

After watching several demos, reading more reviews and thinking more about how I make music — and then seeing someone selling a MiniBrute 2S for considerably less than average — I wound up going for that.

It’s bigger than I was expecting, pretty much like the Microbrute was smaller than I expected when I got it. In the 2010s slang size scale, it’s not quite an absolute unit, but it is thicc. It feels really solid and good, though in appearance it’s a weird anachronistic smear of decades — faux wood sides like an 80s home appliance, but the big numeric LCD is blue rather than red, and there are 2010s style colorful light-up rubber buttons.

The sound is great, defaulting more to “beefy” than other things but there’s so much versatility there, it refuses to be pinned down. The patch bay is an extremely powerful tool compared to the extreme limitations of the Microbrute’s few patch points, and I haven’t even patched it to my Eurorack gear yet. Maybe I just haven’t used the right oscillators before, but its main VCO will do dynamic expo FM combined with sync without sounding gross, and that’s pretty notable. It also does linear FM, AM patching is possible, and this time you can feed any signal through the metalizer.

The patch bay does have some limits, and there are a few design choices that seem odd (but mostly reveal their purpose with a little experimentation). I’d gladly give up the Inverter for direct filter input and output — great for using the filter as an oscillator, patching the metalizer post-filter, filtering the square but not the triangle, etc. The two onboard attenuators have other inputs normalled to their outputs, so sometimes you need an extra dummy cable to rein things in. And for some reason pad velocity doesn’t affect volume unless you patch it through the extra VCA; it could have defaulted that way. But overall, it is hot stuff indeed.

The patch I have set up right now is pretty reminiscent of one of Isao Tomita’s “baritone singing voice” patches, and is quite beefy. It’s using expo FM, the metalized triangle, and lowpass filter with a lot of resonance and fair amount of “Brute Factor” (a sort of drive/feedback patch), with pad pressure controlling the filter cutoff. Just a particularly great sweet spot I stumbled into.

With its nifty sequencer, it’d make a fantastic friend to a groovebox, with mad 303-esque bass/melody lines (but a better sound than the 303 which I’m honestly pretty tired of). I’m unlikely to use that style in my own music, but it’s fun to jam with, especially given that the arpeggiator can interrupt the sequencer and keep playing in time with the rhythm, and you can also temporarily hold loops in the sequence, and tweak it live. It’s very performable, which is great.

The plan is to replace the Medusa. Now… there are things I like about the Medusa that I will probably miss:

  • Medusa’s synth engine may be a lot more plain overall compared to MB2S, but that does kind of highlight its expo FM and filter FM possibilities. Which simply means that I need to show restraint sometimes with my synthesis techniques.
  • Medusa is paraphonic with up to 6 voices, where MB2S is monophonic (or duophoonic if the oscs are separately controlled/sequenced, which is possible even internally). That being said, I still have the Microfreak and software synths, Just Friends can be paraphonic and many of my digital oscillators will produce chords or clusters or swarms.
  • Medusa’s grid controller is very clever, with 8×8 pads that support X/Y movement and pressure, and selectable scales and adjustable layout. MB2S has just one chromatic octave of note pads, so it’s not something for solos with big leaps. I do like those leaps sometimes…
  • Medusa’s sequencer is also cool, with its parameter locks. But they are also a little unfriendly to edit, and I wasn’t really using the parameter lock that stuff much in my music. MB2S’s more groovebox-like sequencer does offer a couple of extra CV channels that will give me a decent amount of variety though.

I appreciate that the synth engine on this is 100% analog, totally knob-per-function. The sequencer is digital of course, but its output is four signals available in the patch bay — pitch and gate, plus two more CVs that can be velocity and pressure (synced to pitch/gate) or generic unipolar CV, additional pitch and/or gate, AD envelopes (with adjustable attack/decay per step) or LFOs of various shapes (with adjustable speed and amplitude per step).

I’m going to ponder controller possibilities while I get to know this instrument both on its own and integrated with my modular.


I have latched onto a scheme for the next album: I will stitch each session onto the front of the previous, instead of the back. That is, the first song I record is the last on the album, the last song I record is the first, but it will blend into one continuous mix. It’s not really a theme, thus my choice of the word “scheme.”

Even before Stridulation-Yukon-Relay and Luminous Phenomena when I began stitching sessions together, I was already keeping the track order of each album pretty close to the order of recording because it mostly felt right to do so. Once in a while a track would really cry out to be first or last, or I felt like changing the order would improve the flow a little, and I’d renumber.

I decided arbitrarily that “Multiversal Solvent” — the first track I recorded — is number 7. I’m going to try to stick to that, just because. 6 and 5 have been recorded, and I have a good idea of what I would like to do with 4, as well as a name for the album and a possible album art design. So it’s moving right along!

I have been thinking about trading the Medusa. While I do occasionally like its grid sequencer/controller, I can easily imagine just not using it anymore and being fine with that. So I guess it’s sort of on trial now?

  • I know a Make Noise Strega would fit my music extremely well.
  • The Moog Grandmother was just plain thrilling to play when I tried one briefly. It is a simple synth but sounded so smooth and beautiful. And it’s Eurorack compatible, so it wouldn’t have to remain simple by any means. But it’s pretty large.
  • Minibrute 2S would bring back that filter I liked from the Microbrute, plus considerably more features and more Eurorack connectivity.

In other gear thoughts, BoredBrain is about to release an ADAT interface called optx which improves on the Expert Sleepers ES-3/ES-6 combo, by being a single module and offering 8 inputs instead of 6, all in 8HP. From what I have heard, it doesn’t have the DC offset issues that ES-6 does. I’m strongly considering going that route.

I went for the custom XBox controller. This newer generation uses USB-C, but more importantly, has a better grip texture everywhere (only the ABXY buttons are slick, which works pretty well) and a slightly better overall feel to the trigger/throttle controls on the back. And of course, it doesn’t have a dead button.

Arriving on the same day was the Kenya update for Art of Rally, so that managed to distract me from Elder Scrolls Online for a brief time. But ESO is really good y’all.

until I took a Dark Anchor to the knee

I said before that I was done with Guild Wars 2 for a while. I’ve been playing some Dirt Rally with the XBox controller, and have found it a good time. Still thinking about whether to sell off the wheel or hang onto it.

I gave Rift another try, and didn’t last long in the tutorial before deciding it just felt too clunky and I wasn’t enamored with the idea of dealing with its skill system. I also gave Lord of the Rings Online a brief try with my spouse, and just wasn’t into it. I seem to measure every MMO against the extremely smooth and slick GW2 experience, and most of them come up short.

I wound up going for Elder Scrolls Online instead. Everything I’d read promised an experience similar to the single-player Elder Scrolls games: extremely solo-friendly, very strong in world-building and story, the right blend of action and not being too twitchy, interesting crafting and many ways to play. And it’s true. If anything the characters and plots are more interesting in ESO than I remember from Oblivion (I never played Skyrim for some reason).

Molag Bal is watching.

I started three different characters on the first day, thinking I was going to stick with a staff-wielding orcish Dragon Knight whose direct approach to combat (and everything else) is the opposite of most of my prior characters. But then as I understood the systems a little better, I started a fourth, a bow-wielding Bosmer Nightblade, and I’m enjoying it quite a lot.

ESO’s combat system is a little unusual, and made to be console-friendly without being too dumbed down. The skill bar only has 5 skills plus an “ultimate”, but weapon(s) (including magical staves, which are primarily ranged) can do light and heavy attacks, blocks, interrupts, etc. Like GW2, enemy area attacks project red danger zone indicators onto the ground — but these can move, change size and shape, and spawn new zones, keeping you more on your toes.

The skill system is pretty open-ended; you can choose skills from a set of three class skill trees, or from weapons, armor, your race, the Fighters or Mages’ guilds, and so on. Not all skills are combat-related; some affect dialog, finding crafting materials, picking pockets and so on. Any class can use any weapon style, can freely train in Stamina, Magica and/or Health, and can set themselves up as a damage dealer, tank, healer / support character, etc. as they see fit. (Staves come in “destruction” and “restoration” varieties with different skill sets available on them.)

Overall the gameplay feels exciting without necessarily being as dangerous as many MMOs. Level scaling is in effect in most of the world, so you can just follow storylines and know you won’t be way over your head. This is also kind of a downside since you can’t really challenge yourself that much. But mostly it suits the way I want to play.


  • The brief combat tutorial didn’t quite make it clear to me how the game signals which attacks can be blocked, which can be interrupted, and which require a dodge. Sometimes the game will prompt you with text popups, sometimes not. As a highly mobile ranged attacker, I often find stepping outside visible danger zones is more effective than blocking anyway.
  • Kiting doesn’t work very well in some areas. I’m used to some enemies in GW2 giving up the chase and running back to home territory, healing rapidly; in ESO sometimes they just disappear instead. Sometimes their territory is significantly smaller than max bow range. There was one quest step where I had to resummon a particular daedra four times before my movement didn’t just make him vanish.
  • Sometimes, the single-player aspect of much of the gameplay collides with the fact that it’s an MMO. Usually this works well and people see their own versions of events, NPCs present or absent as it should be for your storyline. Once in a while there are snags.
  • Inventory space is limited, and like every Elder Scrolls game, you will want to pick up and carry a ton of stuff. In ESO this is mainly about crafting items. There’s blacksmithing, woodworking, clothing/leatherworking, cooking, alchemy, enchanting, and furnishings; each has different raw materials, style materials, trait materials, other enhancements, and the goods themselves which you probably want to save to break down into raw materials (which can also teach you how they’re made, increasing your skill). It’s very easy to fill your backpack and/or bank with this stuff. The crafting bag that ESO+ subscribers get may be its biggest perk, and indeed that makes me think crafting/items were intentionally meant to sell subscriptions. I’m considering it (you can pause and unpause the subscription if you go through periods of not playing, like I have with GW2).
  • There are an absolute ton of quests, which is great. But the map system has some disconnects that make managing them difficult. You can’t zoom directly from a local map to the world level, and the name of your current region isn’t shown anywhere [I found it, it’s over in a corner; this does help a bit]. The list of locations doesn’t include city names but region names. Even major cities and points of interest aren’t labeled on the world map. So if you want to teleport to Vulkhel Guard, you have to know what region it’s in (it took a while before I remembered this) or at least start from where it is on the world map (I forget) or poke around randomly until you find it. To add to this, often quests will fast-travel you by cart, boat or portal to some other part of the world — taking you away from other quests in the area you also wanted to finish. And the quest journal doesn’t really keep a history of what you’ve done in the quest so far, just what your next step is. I guess taking copious notes might help, but mostly you just have to embrace the chaos.

ESO is fully voice acted, and oh boy is it voice acted. Malcolm McDowell and Lynda Carter are Daedric princes Molag Bal and Azura. Kate Beckinsale and Bill Nighy are royalty. John Cleese is a knight. Tara Strong is a few voices. And I’m sure people more familiar with Hollywood would recognize a lot more names.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, my previous job was as one of the main developers of HeroEngine (particularly the world-building tools, and several graphical elements). Zenimax, the development studio behind ESO, was one of our licensees. Apparently when it first was announced that ESO was going to use HeroEngine there were some gamers whining that it was going to be (A) just like Star Wars: The Old Republic and (B) horribly broken.

To that I respond: (A) the point of a game development platform is that the developers can concentrate on game content, which means all of the mechanics, all of the story, all of the sound, the GUI, nearly all of the art (they might use a few standard textures for grass or tree bark or something if they choose). (B) When BioWare Austin licensed HeroEngine, it wasn’t even ready for beta yet, we told them as much, they acknowledged it and were desperate to have it anyway because they wanted to get to market quickly; so they bought a source code license to our unfinished product, forked it and bolted on a bunch of other stuff in a half-assed rushed way, and never fully accepted any updates from us as we completed it and made drastic improvements. And that became their game, which was slowly patched into something more functional over the years.

And also (C) Zenimax started extremely small. They were using HeroEngine as a prototyping and area construction tool — which it was extremely suited for — while growing their staff and developing their own totally custom engine which used many of the same features and third-party libraries, but was entirely under their control. And they had the budget to make it really shine and work extremely smoothly. (HeroEngine always had a shoestring budget, and let’s also remember it was begun in the early 2000s several generations of hardware ago.)

However, playing ESO I recognize a few influences from HeroEngine and the sample content we had created for it. The triangular face/body shape controls in character creation. The way grass seems to work (they’re probably still using a variant of my shader). The strange way that characters jumping sometimes “hover” in a knees-up position until they find valid ground to land on (something we improved on later, as I recall). But there’s also no doubt that what’s in the game now is very polished and well tuned overall.