The Blogosphere Strikes Back

Image stolen from Wookiepedia. And, you know, that movie.

Tobold recently declared that the MMO blogosphere was dead to him (paraphrasing slightly), so I suppose it’s my duty to point out that we’re still here, sort of.

Tobold was one of the first, if not the first MMORPG blogger I read, way back in the olden days when he talked about Vanilla WoW all the time. He was one of the original models for how I thought a blog should look. Then he sort of lost me in the last five years or so when he started panning every single new MMORPG that came out and embraced the jaded “everything used to be better” schtick and moved into pen-and-paper games. I haven’t read him much since then, but I see most of the titles of his articles going through my feed reader, and it’s hard not to notice one that reads, Is the MMO Blogosphere Still Alive?

Hey, I’m in that!

But by Tobold’s likely definition of “alive” (that is, generating ad revenue and getting free stuff thrown their way), probably not. The only way to get to that level is to a) start ten years ago, and b) embrace controversy early and often (like, say, talking about politics, which I’ve noticed from some EVE bloggers). Otherwise you have to branch out into other mediums like podcasts, streaming, or whatever.

But there are plenty of people still writing about MMOs. And even the subset of MMOs known as MMORPGs. (Here on this blog, the editorial standards are that an “MMO” means something very different from an “MMORPG.”)

I’m not particularly good at maintaining my own blogroll (because it is an incredible pain to manually make a big list of blog links in WordPress–for roughly 10 years I’ve wished for a reliable way to tell WordPress “just get your blogroll from my feed reader list and stick it on the side”), but I think the majority of mine still post relatively often. I also have a list of new blogs in my feed reader that I keep wanting to add to my blogroll.

The thing is, though, most blogs talk about their experiences in-game (including this one). Not very many talk about MMORPGs from a wider or philosophical or meta perspective, as Tobold used to do back in the day. There just isn’t that much to talk about on a daily or even weekly basis, that hasn’t already been said a million times before. I’m struggling to maintain a 3-posts-a-week schedule of interesting material here myself. Thankfully Tobold came along with this “blogs are dead” post to give me something to write about. :)

Most blogs tend to stick with one game, too. I jump around to different games a lot so I’m able to change up topics now and then, but it seems like a lot of people park themselves in one game for years on end. I can’t even imagine doing that, myself.

I think Twitter also cut deeply into a lot of blogging. Once potential bloggers discovered that they could be part of a community of their peers while only having to write 140 characters, instead of 500- or 1000-word articles, I think a lot of people said why bother? I can certainly understand the temptation myself. Why write an entire blog post about Kritika Online when I can tweet:

I can also comment on other stories around the gaming world without the effort of writing an entire post:

Those could have been two entire posts, but I couldn’t think of anything to write other than a sentence or two, so that was that. (I still might do a Kritika Online post, but the difficulty will be to avoid sounding like I’m bashing it to death just because I don’t “get it.”)

Not even mentioning streaming and YouTube, which is effectively blogging without the pesky need for structure and grammar.

So yes, there is still an MMO Blogosphere.

Ugh. This one is going to be hard to find a picture for. Another good reason to focus on in-game experiences–you can just use a handy screenshot!

Belghast also wrote about this.

Blogging In A World That Hates Blogs

I usually prefer to post nothing instead of a post about blogging*, but since Roger brought it up, and I just said two posts ago that there’s nothing to blog about, let’s talk about blogging!

Rather than write something that stands on its own, I’m just going to respond to the parts of Roger’s post that jumped out at me, as if it were a Usenet post.

The Nature of the Beast

“I’ve written several pieces that I’m proud of. However, they never got the traffic I hoped for. That’s the nature of the beast, I guess”

I’ve always been of the mindset that there is blogging, and then there is blogging for success, and the two are totally different disciplines. There is a fairly well-established body of resources and theory on how to attract attention to your site. It falls under a category loosely known as “copywriting.” One of the blogs I follow off-and-on is called Copyblogger. If you go to that site, you’ll know instantly that it’s a blog about blogging for revenue (aka. views), because it has that “generic corporate” look and feel.

If one wants to get traffic, one needs to follow certain rules that involve SEO, keywords, readability, images, links, and many other things like that. None of those rules have anything to do with creative writing, which is what I’m more interested in. I have a WordPress plugin called “Yoast SEO” that regularly yells at me because my posts invariably fail to live up to their potential.

Oh, everyone says that the best way to get attention is to write good content, and to a certain extent that’s true. But if that’s all you do, then you have to rely on lucky breaks. Like when I posted about the Dark Tower movie at the exact time that everyone on the Interwebs was searching to find out how the Good vs. Evil Edition differed from the theatrical release. If one wanted to chase traffic, you need only watch what people search for every day and write daily blog posts that answer their questions. (See: Every for-profit web site in the world.)

My Dark Tower blogging bump
Guess when I published that Dark Tower post.

See what I did up there? According to Yoast SEO, self-referential or “internal” links are good for business. I also changed the “focus keyword” for this post to “blogging” and I suddenly got a lot of green dots, which I assume is a good thing.

Early SEO analysis of this post, the "work" of blogging

The point I’m trying to make here is this: You won’t know which posts will “hit” or “miss” but there are things you can proactively do to stack the odds in your favor. This is also known as “SEO” or, as I like to call it, “work.” I’m generally unwilling to do a lot of work on something that doesn’t pay out anything in return, and I’m generally happy with where my blog is at the moment, so I don’t do much SEO work except for testing or curiosity. The biggest return I get for writing this blog is an occasional mention in MassivelyOP’s Global Chat column, which is pretty cool and I’m grateful for it, but unfortunately it doesn’t contribute anything toward paying the mortgage.

That’s why new writers should never start blogging because they want fame and fortune. You won’t get it. (Unless you happen to know someone who is already famous.)

So why blog at all? Great question, which is hard to answer. I would say the two most compelling reasons for me to keep blogging are, firstly, that I like to write and it’s a great way to practice writing, and secondly, it’s the main avenue for me to express my weird thoughts and opinions to the world. Nobody I know in real life would ever listen to me talk about what I write in this blog for more than about five seconds. :)

Audience Participation

Therefore, an audience, comments and feedback are important. Our writing is an invitation to friendly interaction and an exchange of ideas…

Number and frequency of comments is one of the most universally-accepted measures of a blog’s success. Unfortunately for me, I’m the dictionary definition of a “reclusive writer” and it takes a lot of mental energy for me to monitor and respond to comments. In my personal opinion, it’s one of my biggest barriers to greater success here and generally in life overall. If I had an intern here at Endgame Viable Headquarters, they would very likely be tasked with responding to comments and “building the community.”

For myself, every time I see a new comment has arrived (anywhere on any platform), I have to go through a whole process of, “What wrong thing did I write this time?” “What did I leave out that utterly destroys the entire argument I was trying to make?” “WHAT IF I MISSPELLED SOMETHING?” “What if they don’t like my writing and by extension me as a person??” “How can I bear the shame of even showing my face on the Internet after I read this comment???”

It’s gotten a lot better over time, but that’s the standard thought process of me interacting with audience feedback for any creative endeavor. I have to mentally construct a brick wall around my “artist self” aka. “helpless small child” before I start looking at comments.

Consequently, I rarely write a blog post to begin a conversation. I typically write posts that try to explain my thoughts on a subject, with hopefully a clear beginning, middle, and end. I write them as if I’m writing an article for a magazine someone would read in a waiting room. (Success varies wildly from post to post.) I usually don’t feel any need to continue a conversation beyond what I’ve already written.

That’s not to say I don’t like conversation-starting blogs. I’m just not very good at it myself. Others are quite good. Incidentally, you can always tell the bloggers that want to start conversations because they typically end their posts with a question, to gently lead people into posting a comment. “What do you think about all this, dear reader?” In copywriting parlance it’s a “call to action.” In a way, it’s what Roger did with his post on blogging. :)

Blogging as Therapy

although such concepts are becoming increasingly alien in the current binary climate. This last point paradoxically offers another reason to write. I use my blog as a means to marshal my thoughts and to try and understand what is happening in the world.

I agree with this completely. I write therapeutically about “the current binary climate” on a different blog, though. There is very little audience in the world right now for critical views of both “them” and “us,” certainly not in gaming. (Honestly, there never has been an audience for that in politics.)

Words versus Videos

Being a fan of the written word, I always prefer to read someone’s thoughts than watch a live stream or a video.

I have also observed that the Venn diagram of blog audience and video audience does not overlap very much. My efforts here and on Twitter to gesture nonchalantly at my YouTube channel go completely unrewarded. :)

I will offer this as for why people might go to streaming or videos from blogging, though: It’s generally more time-consuming for me to write a blog post than to record a video. While I don’t know this for a fact, I have a feeling that the pool of video viewers is larger than the pool of blog readers. So going back to the principle of not doing work without remuneration, it makes much more logical sense to concentrate on making low-effort videos than writing high-effort blog posts.

Fortunately, I still like writing. In fact, sometimes I record videos of a new game I’m trying out, and transcribe what I said to make a blog post. (Most of my Snap Judgment posts follow this formula.)

I also have another completely selfish reason for making videos: I’ve never been good at speaking out loud so every video I make is a little bit more practice. I very rarely get opportunities in real life to speak uninterrupted for any length of time.

So what do you think about all this, dear reader? Uh, write a blog post about it! :)

* There’s an old, unspoken adage that if you blog about blogging, you are not really creating content. I’ve heard the same for podcasting about podcasting and I would assume, now, streaming about streaming.

P. S. Regarding time investment, it took me over three hours to write and edit this post. Yoast is yelling at me now because it’s too long.

P. P. S. If only I could count this text for NaNoWriMo!

Lockbox Expectations

While the rest of the world is probably posting about the Destiny 2 open beta today, I’m going to post about lockboxes, because I wrote this yesterday. I think it was Roger that said we bloggers could get a lot of good topics out of MassivelyOP’s Daily Grinds, so here’s another one:

What Do You Actually Expect To Get Out Of MMORPG Lockboxes? This particular Grind was inspired by Bhagpuss boldly claiming to like lockboxes (in a way).

I’m pretty sure that I’ve never purchased a lockbox in any game in my entire life, so I may not be the best person to ask.

But some games give out lockboxes as game rewards anyway. The most notable example that I can think of is WildStar’s Boom Boxes which they gave out like candy during open beta, but I think you could only open one a day after launch. I still have 63 Boom Boxes left to open. They sometimes have fun stuff in them but most of the time I was disappointed after opening them. They may not technically qualify as “lockboxes” though since I don’t think you can buy them anymore.

In GW2, I have a stack of Black Lion boxes and keys, but I gave up opening them years ago. I just drop them in the bank or ignore them entirely. I have no idea what might be in them, but I have a reflexively negative view of all boxes and bags in GW2 and I try to avoid them as long as possible. They explode into useless loot that fills up inventory slots and forces me to work to get rid of them. Bhagpuss’s description of spending a half hour clearing out inventory before and after any kind of event is very familiar to me, and one of the many things I could cite that drives me away from the game.

As for what I would expect to get from a lockbox: If such things existed in, for example, FFXIV, I would expect a (good) chance at receiving a reward similar to what I might receive as a drop from a dungeon or raid boss. I would also expect to see the odds of getting that reward before I bought the lockbox.

By the way, I think that it’s implied when we talk about “lockboxes” that we are referring to lockboxes bought with real money, directly or indirectly. I certainly don’t mind opening them if they are acquired through in-game means (subject to the above inventory management woes).

But I don’t buy lockboxes (or keys) and have no plans to ever buy one.

Comfort MMORPGs

Here’s another post based on a MassivelyOP’s Daily Grind:

What’s Your Comfort MMO?

I find this to be a somewhat odd question, because I generally like to have a constantly-changing game experience, as opposed to an experience that is always the same. I am the kind of person who likes to learn and try new things all the time (within the boundaries of crippling anxieties, of course). This is why I try out most new MMORPGs if I can.

Still, there are a number of long-running MMORPGs that I keep coming back to after long absences, around once a year. One of them is WoW. I usually drop back in and subscribe for a month, then leave again. It takes me about that long to run into the edges of the game–that point where I find myself mindlessly repeating the same mechanics over and over and over again.

I used to return to Rift a lot but I’ve soured on it lately. I just feel like I’ve done everything that matters and now the only way to advance is to join a guild and I just don’t want to make that kind of commitment. Rift still has a somewhat complex set of abilities you need to use to be effective, which makes it increasingly harder to return. I think they over-extended themselves a bit after Storm Legion.

LotRO is one that I’ve started returning to more frequently. Particularly in the past year, of course, when there was some concern that the game might disappear. I liked that they simplified the classes, because it made the game a lot easier to return to. Previous to that, it was a massive chore to get back into the game each time.

SWTOR is another that I return to often. It’s a very easy game to get back into because combat is easy. I find myself mesmorized from watching the cool lightsaber animations and listening to the cool lightsaber sounds more than anything else. I don’t play it as much though because they make it really difficult to enjoy playing for free, and I don’t want to subscribe to more than one game at a time.

Other runners up might be GW2 or TERA. Possibly even Mortal Online. I’ve always wished I had more time and/or ambition to play Mortal Online actually.

I can’t list ESO or WildStar or some others because I haven’t yet been able to return to them repeatedly.

I don’t go back to any of those MMORPGs for “comfort” though. I go back when I haven’t played them in a sufficiently long enough time that the game feels “fresh” again.

I should also mention FFXIV, because in terms of what I would call a “comfort” game it would probably be whatever I happen to be playing at the moment, which is FFXIV. Though I am drifting away from it as I wait for the next content patch. I’m at a point where most of what I do in the game is wait in a queue, and I don’t have much patience for that.

Getting Lost In MMOs

A recent MassivelyOP Daily Grind asked the question: “Do you like being lost in MMOs?”

My answer is generally no, I never want to my progress to be impeded by not knowing where to go. But it depends on the situation and/or the game. Here are two recent examples:

When I think about my experience playing through the remainder of the GW2 Heart of Thorns story, I was lost a lot in the Maguuma Jungle, and it was aggravating. The flat 2D map helped little because the world was extremely 3D and while the map might show you standing on top of your destination, in reality it might be way above you or below you with no discernable path to reach it.

On the other hand, I also spent a great deal of time lost in LotRO’s Mines of Moria, but I don’t remember feeling any frustration over it. The problem was identical: The map was flat and 2D, while the environment was 3D with ramps and stairs leading up and down all over the place, and you could never really tell whether your destination was above your head or below your feet. Yet I don’t remember ever grumbling about it in LotRO.

In these two cases one difference might have been the combat difficulty. In GW2, it was such an effort to reach anywhere on the map that if I didn’t get to the right place on the first try, I thought, “Ugh, now I have to fight my way someplace else! What a pain!”

Whereas with LotRO, the combat was ridiculously easy, so it was more of a sightseeing stroll to walk around the environment if I got lost. Also in Moria there were plenty of interesting things to look at while I tried to work out the right path. The color palette varied dramatically from place to place: There were blue areas, brown areas, gray areas, red fiery areas. Whereas most of Heart of Thorns looks roughly the same (like a big jungle).

(Updated with link and I actually read what I wrote to fix the mistakes.)

Ranking My Play Personalities

Thinking Play had a very interesting post recently about Play Personalities, something I had never heard of before. I recommend reading it. It’s a bit like a Meyers-Briggs test for how you spend your leisure time, or the Bartle Test. Here’s my self-assessment of how I fit the different play personalities:

The Joker. Nope. Well, maybe a little. Sometimes I do like to poke fun at things that other people find deadly serious, much to my own detriment on Twitter. Although I am not a “class clown” by any stretch of the imagination.

The Kinesthete. When I was younger, sure, but not now that walking across a room has a relatively high chance of causing injuries.

The Explorer. I can strongly relate to this one, in that I am constantly seeking out new things to learn and study. I don’t ever physically go to new places though. In theory that would be fun but *cough* massive anxiety *cough*.

The Competitor. I don’t seek out competitions anymore, but when I do get involved in a competition, I always try to win and crush the hopes and dreams of all opposition. In a nice way.

The Director. Nope, nope, nope, and more nope.

The Collector. Not really. In the past I flirted with collecting guitars, and I think it would be fun to collect real live swords, but I’m too dern miserly in my old age now. (Although some guitars can be good investments… hmmmm.)

The Artist/Creator. Of course the one with a slash in it and the most awkward to write in a sentence is the one I probably most identify with. When I look back over my life and try to generalize all of the things I’ve had fun doing, I would say that the one thread that connects them all is creating things that weren’t there before. Software development, writing, music, blogging, videos, drawing. It is one of the great ironies of my life that it’s hard to earn a living doing most of these enjoyable things.

The Storyteller. I can also relate to this one. Not only in the form of writing stories, but you can also see this aspect of me most recently in my 58-part YouTube playthrough of Stormblood–Why not watch it today! You might be the first one!–which was very much “play” for me. You can see it in a lot of my blog posts, too, since I usually try to make at least some attempt to entertain, and I try to make my posts a sort of narrative from the top to the bottom. Except for this one of course, which is just a straight infodump.

If I were to rank these play personalities, I would probably do it like this:

  1. The Artist/Creator
  2. The Explorer
  3. The Storyteller
  4. The Competitor
  5. The Joker
  6. The Collector
  7. The Kinesthete
  8. The Director

* Note that the “featured image” for this post has nothing to do with anything. It is a picture of the latest dungeon gear set I got from FFXIV, right before I scheduled this post.

Why Solo MMORPGs

Another one rescued from my Drafts folder, from February 2016…

I’m in the camp of people who primarily play MMORPGs solo, so I guess I can speak a little on this topic.

I wouldn’t say that I “demand” solo content from MMORPGs, though.* And it’s not that I’m against group content. I just prefer games where I can log in and do interesting things without having to form or join a group all the time. Because if I had to do that, I probably wouldn’t log in very often unless I had the time to idle a lot.

I don’t understand why this is a controversial topic–why it has to be one or the other. I think it’s well within an MMORPG’s capabilities to handle both styles. (It’s got to be easier than catering to PvE and PvP crowds at the same time, at least.) I can’t think of a single MMORPG I’ve played since my first one (UO) where I couldn’t do soloing or grouping depending on my mood.

The reasons that I prefer to play solo essentially boil down to two things, which I imagine are the two most common reasons anyone would give: Introvertedness and limited time.

Introvertedness

I don’t like to lean on introversion as an excuse, but the reality is that, even on a good day, it’s a lot of work for me to cultivate and maintain social relationships. Particularly right now, when I have a fairly intense amount of socializing I have to deal with at work, the idea of extending that into online games is pretty abhorrent.

You never know what kind of person you’re going to meet in an MMORPG, of course, but nine times out of ten, from the perspective of an introvert, other people are going to be an energy drain. They don’t have to be a jerk to do that, either. Sometimes the friendliest people in the world are just as draining. I hate to admit it but sometimes I find friendly people more draining to deal with because I feel like if I don’t mimic their friendliness they will receive a social cue from me that their behavior is inappropriate, which is both wrong and makes me feel tremendously guilty. So to avoid that I have to work extra hard to interact with them in a way that meets my needs but also doesn’t hurt their feelings. It’s far easier to just avoid people altogether. :)

Maybe we need some way to indicate our mood in the games we play. In real life, we can tell from expressions and body language and social cues whether it’s “okay” to approach someone to talk. But in a game, that doesn’t exist.

Time

The other big reason is time. When I log into a game, I want to start playing immediately. I don’t want to log in and wait an indeterminate amount of time while a group forms. Even with dungeon finder tools, I find it very aggravating to log in, queue for something, and then sit there staring at the screen waiting for the queue to pop. That’s one of the things I love about FFXIV–you can actually accomplish something meaningful (leveling an alternate class or crafting) while waiting for a queue. You can’t do that in most MMORPGs–you just have to stand there doing nothing.

Then there is how long the activity takes once you start it. If a game task starts to take too long, I start to feel trapped and claustrophobic and “stuck” at my computer playing what will increasingly feel like a stupid game. The upper limit of my focused concentration on one task is usually around 30 minutes, especially on a work day. (To me, a “task” is anything with a start and an end, like a dungeon, or a match, or a quest, or something like that.) After that I want to walk away for a while, or do some other computer task, or do some other game activities, or play a different game, or basically anything.

Long dungeon runs with PUGs are the absolute worst. I still vividly remember a two-hour dungeon run in Neverwinter and a two-hour dungeon run in WildStar. Both were successful by sheer force of willpower in overcoming failure after failure after failure. I should have felt great about those accomplishments but mostly I felt like I had gotten out of a two-hour tax seminar.

But solo activities in MMORPGs are usually short, finite tasks. Go to a spot, kill ten rats, hand in a quest. Boom, you’re done. Even if the task does take too long, you can always walk away and leave your character AFK for a while.

The minute you step into a group activity, you’ve lost control over your time. You have to stay there until the group finishes, and group tasks in MMORPGs are almost always time-consuming. God knows why, but they usually design group content so that it does take a long time.

Incidentally, I sometimes have more difficulty playing “sandbox”-style games solo because of the time factor, particularly if they have a harsh death penalty. It’s endlessly aggravating for me to be forced to make a “corpse run” because you have to get your stuff back before it disappears or someone else takes it. (Currently I’m experiencing this tremendous annoyance in ARK.)

* Back when I wrote this draft, there was an article or a blog post or forum post or something that talked about players demanding solo content, but I don’t know where it is now.

Three Albums

I saw Liore’s post on #3AlbumsThatChangedMyLife, and I started to think back on my own impressionable youth and the albums that affected me.

I was raised in a somewhat musical family, but I didn’t become “interested” in music until let’s say my mid-to-late teenage years. Prior to that most pop songs went in one ear and out the other and I never owned any albums. (Okay I did buy a single of M-M-M-My Sharona, a song that was entirely inappropriate for my then-age.) In high school I started to learn to play guitar (again) and really started to buy, collect, and “study” music. Since then I’ve dabbled in writing songs and home recording and all manner of audio things, which now manifests as an occasional YouTube upload. But I think my musical senses really peaked in my late teens and twenties, which is reflected in this list.

For this exercise, I’ve picked albums that didn’t necessarily change my life per se, but albums that sparked my imagination and changed what I thought was possible with music. Albums that were more than merely a collection of catchy tunes, but windows into other worlds, visions of endless time and space, filled with possibilities. (Yucky music metaphors ahead.) I’ve excluded movie soundtracks and classical music.

By the way I think all of the YouTube links below are helping the referenced artists, but if they aren’t somebody yell at me and I’ll remove them. I hate ripping off musicians. If I couldn’t tell I left out the link.

3. Queensryche – Promised Land

The first Queensryche song I ever heard was Silent Lucidity on the radio. I liked it because of the clear Pink Floyd influence. Then I heard Jet City Woman, which is an entirely different kind of song. Then I heard a third song from the same album (I think it was Another Rainy Night). With three songs that I liked from the same album, all three similar but different, I figured there was a good chance I’d like the whole album, so I bought Empire, and not surprisingly, I liked it.

I then bought their previous album, Operation: Mindcrime. It’s very different–a concept album–but I loved it, too. (I didn’t like their earlier stuff as much, though.)

Both of those albums might have been on this list, but soon afterward, Queensryche released Promised Land.

I eagerly bought it. It was different from both Mindcrime and Empire. The band’s sound had evolved yet again, a talent that I really appreciate in musical acts. It’s a glorious mixture of goth, metal, and rock with top-notch production values. Dense reverbs throughout made it feel like you were inside a huge cave of awesome. All of the songs felt deeply meaningful and relevant to my life at the time, too. “Life’s been like dragging feet through sand, and never finding the Promised Land.” Good stuff. Very uplifting. :)

2. Pink Floyd – The Wall

I mean, obviously, right? I first heard songs from The Wall when some friends suggested I needed to expand my musical repertoire and made me a mix tape (a cassette!). I remember it had Van Halen on it, and some other stuff I’ve forgotten, but it definitely had Comfortably Numb and possibly Hey You from The Wall.

Being a student of electric guitar at the time, Comfortably Numb obviously became an instant hit with me. And when I listened to the entirety of The Wall from start to finish, it was like listening to something from outer space. (It’s hard to come up with metaphors for music, ya know?) I would just sit there mesmerized. How could humans possibly make music like that?

I was amazed at the pristine production value of that album. The absolute precision of every track in those songs, and how it all sounded so amazing and perfect. There were orchestras and classical guitars and pianos and male choirs and sound effects and even actors. It was the first “rock opera” I ever heard. (“Rock” is kind of a loose definition for The Wall, but back then it was definitely rock.) And it was a compelling story, too. At least to me in my youth.

(I didn’t care for the movie, though … it spoiled my image of the music.)

(I later learned that a lot of The Wall was the work of Roger Waters, and his later albums The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and especially Amused to Death, both masterpieces, would have made this list, except I heard The Wall first.)

1. Queen – A Night At The Opera

A Night At The Opera was the first album I can remember blowing my mind completely. I only knew of its existence from my older brothers. At some point in my teens, around the time I became interested in music and was bumbling around learning chords on an acoustic guitar, I came across the album on cassette and instantly decided that this was the goal that I should be striving for in all my efforts to learn about music. It seemed like the ultimate expression of thoughts and ideas in the audible spectrum.

Several things struck me all at once. Practically every song on the album is a different style. Radically different. It’s always impressed me. Obviously Freddie Mercury’s singing is amazing, but since I was learning guitar I was drawn more to Brain May’s amazing guitar work. Sometimes it was hard and metallic, sometimes it was quiet and lyrical, sometimes it was acoustic, sometimes it was electric. It was complex and layered and seemed to display every possible sound you could make with a guitar.

Most people know A Night At The Opera as the album with Bohemian Rhapsody on it, but my favorite song is The Prophet’s Song. It’s amazing. When I listen to that song, I see an entire Cecil B. DeMille movie play out in my head. It’s like an entire epic fantasy book series all in one song.

Honorable Mentions

Extreme – III Sides To Every Story. Extreme is similar to Queen and clearly influenced by them, and this album was their finest work in my opinion. But it’s a bit redundant with Queen already on the above list.

The Strange Days Soundtrack. I discounted movie soundtracks from the above list, but this soundtrack is a collection of songs. It opened my eyes to the power of rawer, punkier, more “alternative” music.

Enigma – Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi.  Don’t ask me to pronounce that. :) The genre used to be called “new age” music, but I don’t know if people still call it that. I love many albums in this genre–anything by Tangerine Dream, for example, or Mike Oldfield’s Songs of Distant Earth–but this Enigma album took new age music to a whole new level for me. It’s such a lush “soundscape,” with cool drum beats and even some singing.

Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare. This is a master class of electric guitar work. In a way, it’s like a rock opera of instrumental songs. It makes my jaw drop whenever I listen to it.

This turned out to be a fairly hard post to write, because I’ve always considered the music that people like to be deeply personal. When somebody criticizes the music you like, it often feels like they’re criticizing you personally.