Thursday, May 28, 2020

My Complaints about Blogger, the Shire, Cereal, and My Inability to Phase Through a Graphics Card

For now, I want to return the blog back to a journal style site. I know I'm whiplashing the blog around but I'm stuck at home and bored. And when I'm bored I tinker with things that are working perfectly fine.

At least a blog is a lot less expensive to replace if I can't manage to get it back together again.

Blogger Forcing the New Design, and Why I Want My Own Website

The march of progress continues on unstoppable. For a Google product, that means tinkering and overhauling it while stripping away features and eschewing your current audience in favor of one that probably doesn't exist.

Blogger is no exception to this.

The now inevitable Blogger Redesign is just a "mobile-friendly" version of the site. I think it looks ugly and it makes the dashboard less dense with information. I shouldn't have to scroll through this much to find information I need on a large monitor.

Blogger will allow use of the "old" site for now, but Google kills off actual viable products all the time, there's no chance that a now niche product is going to keep two different versions of the same site.

But I've had problems with Blogger for while longer than this recent development. Recently I found they removed the ability to create pages independent of the blog with their own custom URLs. I don't really use social media and I'm tepid about using flaky cloud services to share things like photos. Recently, I tried sharing a page of my dog's birthday party with my family and it turned out to be way more difficult than it needed to be. The URL to that page is still a mess. I want to do more things like that. Also, things like margins and resizing photos are just a little bit funky. Thus the change.

I haven't been posting this week because I've been working on a new design for this site. I'll probably end up using WordPress for the actual blogging software and something like Digital Ocean for the hosting, but I want the actual HTML and CSS to be by my own hand. I want to create pages outside of this specific blog, but are still tied to this same domain.  This was always the plan way, way back in the day when I started this blog. I obviously have some free time on my hands nowadays, so better late than never.

Blogger is making it difficult to share this dog's smile. Unacceptable.
To borrow a phrase from a once great game developer: The redesign will be out soonTM.

Chex Quest HD

Back in the days of my youth, access to cheap or free games was limited. Every release that made it's way into my grubby hands was a nectar from the Gods. So desperate were these times that one was often forced to terrible acts to obtain gaming goodness.

One of those acts, I am ashamed to say, required the purchase of some god-awful cereal.

Seriously, who eats Chex? Just tear up an Amazon box and pour milk on it. Same thing. Probably the same nutritional profile too.

Anyhow, for those not in the know, Chex Quest was a 1996 promotional game included in boxes of Chex. It was a first person shooter based on the Doom engine. Unlike Doom, it was a family-friendly affair. One does not shoot aliens, they teleport them back to their home dimension.

It was relatively short, but it only cost the price of a box of cereal back in the 1990s. Which was probably like a quarter. I don't remember, I was 8 at the time and wasn't doing a ton of grocery shopping.

Skip to today and the recently released Chex Quest HD. It includes all five original levels, plus some local multiplayer action, and additional characters to play as if you purchase bags of Chex Mix with the corresponding codes. Or just copy the codes from the Internet because I'm not making a convenience store run in the middle of a pandemic for character codes in a multiplayer mode that no one will play in a week. In fact, here are the bloody things:

Fred Chexter - D2af3W
Wheatney Chexworth - D3bg4E
Dr. O'Ryen - D4cj6R
Shane 'The Dread' McBread - D7Gy2u
NACL96 - D5eK9T
P.R.E.T.Z.L. - D6ft1S

Put the code into the prompt on the menu screen.

Does it hold up? The gameplay actually does. For a free, kid-friendly game this would actually be kinda perfect for an hour or two of play.

What lets it down is the terrible performance of the game. Moment to moment gameplay is somewhat choppy and everything feels like its in slow motion. I have this problem even on the lowest graphical settings on the lowest resolution. For the record, I have a RTX 2080 paired with a i7-8700K. I can run Battlefield V at 4K resolution with 60fps. Chex Quest is not optimized well and it makes gameplay distracting. It runs on Unreal Engine 4, we know the engine can do much better than this.

So hopefully they update it with some improvements. It won't matter to me. It takes about 1.5 hours to finish the game and there's no real reason to go back. No Steam Achievements. Apparently each character gets a different ending scene. But I'm going to be honest with you. I don't go deep catalog into Chex Mix Universe.

Installing New M.2 Drive
An M.2 drive is just a fancy hard drive. It combines the speed of a standard solid state drive with the ease of installing a stick of RAM. Find the M.2 slot on your motherboard, unscrew the screw sitting nearby, slide the drive in, and then screw the whole thing. In and out, should be a 2 minute process.

That's the theory of course. And a theory I mistakenly believed in when I bought this thing.

The reality is that the screw needed for the drive was sandwiched in, almost perfectly, in between the fan for my CPU cooler and my graphics card. In order to get to this screw, I had to unscrew and unseat my graphics card, and then disassemble part of the fan. It's not that big of a deal, but it is certainly more than I bargained for.

The culprit here is my motherboard: the MSI Z390-A Pro. It's a large motherboard with room to have put this M.2 drive anywhere it pleased. Sandwiching everything together like they did was asking for trouble, and trouble I received.

My next computer is going to be the size of a small car. Not because I'll need the space to fit all my components, but so that I'll have the space needed to upgrade and maintain my computer without needing to take up a second hobby as a contortionist.

Lord of the Rings Online 
The Shire killed me. I was excited for it. After doing the relatively uninspired Dwarf and Elf starting zones, I though I had saved the best for last. I like Hobbits. I like the Shire. I liked seeing the Shire. But all those running around quests? Delivering pies and mail on foot? LOTRO's version of the Shire is crap. Looks nice, plays like a shopping cart with uranium blocks for wheels.

Ironically, the day I write this I read two different posts in my RSS feed showing love for LOTRO's Shire: Syp and Eliot Lefebvre at MassivelyOP. But both writers of these posts openly credit nostalgia. I do not posses such a thing. The only character I played back in 2007 was a Human leveling in Bree-land.

I did finish the Shire. Every quest in the zone on my Hobbit Burglar. I have every starting experience finished now, at least of the four races that launched with the game. With that done, it was time to return to my Human Champion in the Forsaken Inn. But when I got there I had to read through and accept about 15-20 quests. That's too much reading even for a Tolkien game. My sub ran out the same day so I'm going to let LOTRO cool by the fire for a hot minute. Play some other stuff, and then jump back into it later. Or maybe not, I finished up the base game for Everquest II and haven't been in a huge hurry to get back to that one either. But my moods are cyclical. Anything can happen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

I Weigh in on Coin Weight in Pantheon

A current trend in MMO blogging got fired up by Belghast stating something obvious about 'coin weight' in Pantheon. That something obvious is that it's bad and trying to replicate a bit of nostalgia that some people wished they had but actually don't.

Syp and Telwyn both weighed in as well.

'Coin weight', for the record, is an extension of inventory weight. Inventory weight is when your character can only carry a certain amount of 'stuff' before you get penalized with either slow or stopped walking speed, removal of fast travel features, or a combination of both.'Coin weight' means that the very currency you carry around contributes to that overall weight as well.

Nobody heard the announcement that coin weight was going to be a feature in Pantheon and jumped out of their seat fist pumping. Some are hopeful that it's a sign the developers take player immersion seriously.

I see people typing that it will add 'realism' to the game. A more articulate argument is that it adds a 'grounding effect' to the game that helps immerse you into the fantasy by still adhering to some realities of our world. 'Realism' doesn't make sense as an argument. Dealing with cumbersome monetary systems has been a problem for as long monetary systems have existed. We didn't invent banks because we just really enjoy terrible customer service. Human beings do what we can to not have to carry a bunch of shit around with us all the time. That's like 20% of human history. If your game includes coin weight, but no other system for trying to avoid it, then you are not being 'realistic'.

Some are arguing that coin weight has intrinsic value because it forces players to make decisions on what to carry with them. Decisions are of course what make video games fun, so more decisions equals more fun. And perhaps sometimes it is fun. Deciding what I'm going to bring with me on a small hike is fun in small doses. Researching and putting together a pack for a long camping trip is certainly fun for some people.

But does anyone get excited packing their bags for a work trip? Is it more likely we create lists and buy packing cubes to make the process as quick and painless as possible? The first time we have to making a decision on what to bring on a play session through Pantheon that mechanic might feel pretty good, for some people. 100 days into the game? Probably not. When it inevitably ends up eating an entire play session forcing you to run back and forth doing inventory management? When you log in after a short break and are forced to deal with your inventory for the first hour? When you have to stop your dungeon run for a minute because you can't remember which crafting mat was marginally more useful than the other one?

On day one, inventory management in Pantheon is going to range from neat to awful. On day 100 it's going to range from whatever to awful. At some point in the game's life, it's going to range from awful to awful and then the game developers are going to get rid of it. (Everquest says 'hi'.)

Coin weight doesn't exist because it's a killer feature for the players. It exists for the benefits of the developers.

Like all art, video games oscillate between creators who make something to please an audience and creators who make something to please themselves. Most work, particularly if it employs more than one creator and would like to make a bit of money, sits somewhere in between these two ideals.

A good arts scene would hopefully be robust enough to support creator-focused games and audience-focused games. And the video games industry is robust enough. But that's often cold comfort when you're staring at a gameplay 'feature' in the present that pretty clearly exists to make someone money, or to make their life easier, and that someone isn't you.

Coin weight exists to fulfill the whims of the creators. I'm not saying it's evil or stupid or greedy or misguided. It just is. And at some point it will not. The original creators will lose their enthusiasm or move on to other projects and will be replaced with someone else. And that someone else will likely not care for coin weight, because the number of people who think that it's a good idea is already low.

Pantheon will not escape the fact that other games have experimented with this feature and eventually discarded it. It will not escape the fact that most players will not want this versus those that do. Coin weight is not an effective game mechanic for creating interesting decisions, it's needlessly complicated compared to other inventory systems in a hobby where players overwhelmingly want their UI to be clear and simple, it's not effective for increasing immersion for very long among even the most hardcore players, and it's certainly not 'realistic'. It will eventually be removed or rendered a non-factor.

But it did create a bit of pre-launch buzz. Which was most likely it's true purpose.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Animal Crossing: The Hero We Need, But Not Right Now

Turns out Animal Crossing wasn't as much fun as I had hoped it would be. I do rather suspect it has less to do with the game itself and more to do with my current mood.

I played a tremendous amount of Animal Crossing: New Leaf (the 3DS predecessor to the current game). And while many things in my life has changed, the world of Animal Crossing has not. And that's probably some of the problem. I've a large amount of the Animal Crossing gameplay loop within the past several years. And it really is the same. The items, the villagers, the mechanics are just ported forward to the Switch version. Nintendo really is concentrating on shipping a minimally viable product at launch and the filling the actual extra features with free or paid DLC nowadays.

The new stuff at launch is worthy of a shoulder shrug. Slightly more viable multiplayer? Terraforming? Endlessly repeatable quests for a different but similar currency? I'm sure this a boon to first time or super dedicated players. But my GameCube copy of the original still works and things just haven't moved enough for me.

But there are other things happening here as well. If you haven't noticed we are in a bit of a pandemic. I've now been stuck in my house and immediate surroundings for about two months now and even this introvert is starting to spinning his wheels. Animal Crossing is mostly about nurturing and organizing your ... house and immediate surroundings. I've had quite enough of that already. Thanks.

It makes sense why I've fallen for Lord of the Rings Online so hard, a game that I bounced off of completely when it first came out in 2007. Back in 2007 I could actually leave my house and do interesting things. In fact I was in college on my own for the first time. That's exactly what I was doing with my free time.

To riff of the famous Clerks 2 skit about Lord of the Rings (NSFW), it's mostly a story about people walking. My ass would love to leave the shire right now.

And the shire I kinda what I have. I live in a small town, in a rural area where the closest major city is several hours away and currently closed because it resides in a different country than me.  There is evil rumored throughout the land but none of it has really hit us, and many in my town don't think it's a threat at all.

My house is a cozy little hobbit hole with a fireplace and plenty of supplies. I rather want to order a sign, 'No Admittance Except on Party Business', to keep my version of the Sackville-Bagginses out.

But I'm not a hobbit, I am, at last check, a man. And as such I require more adventure and whimsy than a hobbit. Cozy and familiar have been not only my last two months, but several months preceding thanks to the Minnesota winter.

I log in to Animal Crossing and do my chores. And then I log off and do my real chores. Having to decide my outfit for the day is laborious enough to do just once. Picking weeds and general lawn care is something I don't need a duplicate of either.

Wrong game at the wrong time. But maybe in 13 years I'll be in the mood for Animal Crossing as well.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Saturday - New Blog Format Same As the (Not Really) Old Format

This is post #101 of this blog. And that means it's time for a shakeup. This blog and I have been together for about nine months. And like most of my relationships, things have gotten stale and we're only sticking together because of the impending pregnancy.

(For my mother, who reads this blog, I'd like to clarify: that was a joke.)

So it's time to mix things up a bit. Add a bit of spice. I think this is the part where me and the blog go to a key party? But I think in the blogosphere that just means guestposting on other people's blogs, and that feels like some SEO bullshit that I'm not feeling.

So I'm heading in a different direction.

Themed days! It's like drink specials at bars except we can't go to those anymore. If you're a dedicated reader to this blog (and of course you are), you've already been thrown into this mad and very innovative experiment. The last three posts have already been published in this format.

I've pulled a tricky one on you. No apologies or refunds offered.

The schedule is like so:
  • Monday - MMO Talk
  • Tuesday - Cooking
  • Wednesday - Books/Reading
  • Thursday - Retro Video Gaming
  • Friday - Computer Hardware 
  • Saturday - Wildcard
  • Sunday - Editorial
The schedule will change. Because change, adjustments, and risk-taking are an important part of the creative process. But it's mostly because I'm lazy and rarely stick with things, unless I've gotten them pregnant, because I am a man of honor (and I've had my passport revoked so I can't flee the country).

The schedule will change because I don't know what some of these topics mean, particularly the weekend ones. Wildcard is like this post. Probably a bit meta. Probably some mild cursing. It's mostly a day to word vomit a topic that won't leave my head. It's like therapy. For me. You're the unwitting therapist. Sorry about that, I forgot my wallet in the car, I'll cover that copay next week.

Editorial is going to be the blog posts that I enjoy writing best, but usually don't set aside the time to do properly. Stuff like the rant on RNG in games I had last week. I don't like that post. I think there is a real good post in there somewhere. A post that explains my thoughts better and has little more substance to it than RNG = dumb. We're going to see if sticking those kinds of posts to one day a week helps it happen.

And if this gimmick doesn't end up improving the blog, or my mood, then I'll pitch it and go back to writing whatever and whenever. But I'm starting my own personal Blaugust Blapril Blay using this format and we'll see how it goes.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Computer Hardware Friday - I'm an Idiot

I think I've marketed towards myself.

Judging from the hellscape that is both my living room and Animal Crossing house, I'm not much an interior decorator. I like clean and well-designed rooms. They make me happy and more productive. I'm just gloriously incapable of creating those rooms myself.

Instead, I just move things. Often to nowhere in particular. Just someplace new.

The doldrums of the pandemic have firmly set in. Spring has finally arrived, for real this time, to our Minnesota home. It's a perfect time to lace up the boots and enjoy the great outdoors.

Except I'm very obviously not going to do that. There are bugs and sunburn out there.

Instead, I've moved my PC to the living room with it's large windows that let me simulate being outside without actually having to put pants on. And it's worked, at least for now, my mood has improved and I'm feeling more productive. I even got a little fancy, and put that expensive gaming computer up on the desk, with the glass side facing me so I can see all the little internals and inexplicable RGB lighting.

I also see an empty M.2 slot on the motherboard. That graphics card also says RTX 2080 right on it. Wouldn't it look better if it said RTX 2080Ti? I'm only using 2 of my 4 RAM slots. I have literally no need for more RAM. But do you think those empty slots get lonely at night? What about that drive bay? You could fit like 6 hard disk drives in that bad boy. Or solid state drives? You don't even technically have to mount them. Just duct tape them in there wherever. No. What a man really needs in life is a 1600 watt power supply. My whole town should know by the lights dimming that Everwake has sat down to play some Minesweeper.

I have marketed towards myself. Where I see slots and space I see opportunity, and my wallet cries out for relief.

"You've been spending so much less money since the pandemic started. You owe it to yourself. Remember that one time you had to uninstall a game? That's just so inconvenient. The only answer is an 8TB hard drive. Look, it's $10 off!"

My usual response to these situations is to close the browser tab. In 24 hours, if I still really want it, I'll go back and buy it. If I go back earlier or later it doesn't count. It's got to be within the 20-28 hour timeframe.

It mostly works.

What usually ends up happening is that I spend a month or so obsessing over something before finally breaking down and getting it. Right now that obsession is a new hard drive. Having the extra space would actually be genuinely useful. The external drives I use for non-gaming storage are slow and one recently failed on me. Screenshots for this blog, ROMs for N64 and PS1 games, and billions of pictures of my dog are taking up more space than I expected. Also, my SSD on this computer is only 250GB. That used to be just fine. Space for Windows, an MMO, and 1-3 games. But now even non-MMOs are taking up 100+ GB of space having more fast storage on hand would certainly be useful.

So what are my options? I keep a 'multi-reddit' that combines several subreddits that collate discounts on games and gaming hardware. At this point I have a pretty good handle on the pricing trends for most things. Storage is about the same as it always is. A little more expensive because of the pandemic perhaps. So there's no real deals to be had right now, and I don't expect there will be anytime soon.

For a fast drive, I want to take the easy route and just plug a M.2 drive in. My eye is on the 1 terabyte Western Digital SN550. The problem is that link is a third-party seller at $20 over MSRP. The drives are sold out most places right now and I'll have to pay premium, and possibly forgo a warranty.

Traditional hard disk drives are better. The prices are about the same and there actually in stock. The bit of friction is that I've never actually installed a HDD in this particular case before. It has a drive bay that I've never seen before. I think it's just a tool less set up, but I'm not 100% on which connectors need to go where to power the thing. I'll figure it out.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Thursday Retro Gaming Post: Where's my Ducking Money?

Somewhere along the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean sits a treasure of immeasurable worth. Well not immeasurable. Actually it's quite measurable. It's about $80 or so. I also don't know if it's along the Atlantic right now or not. It might still be in the clutches of Britannia, or sitting in a warehouse more domestically.

Either way, it's a Raspberry Pi 4 - Model B and a host of accessories that complete any look. It is destined to become my new emulator machine of choice. The prime HDMI port in my game room awaits, relieved of it's duty of carrying the signal of the Steam Link.

(Which, for the record, is a really nice piece of tech, but I really just don't use it that much. It lives on with the bedroom TV now.)

If you are unfamiliar, a Raspberry Pi is a small, credit card sized computer that's cheap and easily customizable. There's a million different uses for it, I use them for gaming because I lack imagination and drive. Anyhow, those with imagination and drive have developed a suite of software that can turn our little buddy into the ultimate retro gaming machine, complete with compatibility for just about every emulator and game from ~2000 to earlier. It has a very handsome UI that's pretty close to what you'd see on the Mini Consoles that have come to fashion of late like the NES Classic.

It's also exceedingly easy to set up and very well documented. Which again, is useful since I lack imagination and drive.

I bought a Raspberry Pi 4 instead of reusing my original Pi or Pi 2 for the extra features. The performance upgrade lets the 4 play PS1 and N64 games without breaking a sweat. It also has built-in WiFi, which keeps shuttling about with SD cards from one device to another at a minimum.

Of course the darn thing has to actually be delivered for any of this to happen. I'm not thick enough to actually rage against a delivery infrastructure dealing with a pandemic. But I'm allowed to sit here and be disappointed. Maybe even whine a bit.

In the mean time my actual retro game playing has been more or less put on hold. (Does Lord of the Rings Online count as retro? It released in 2007 and that's firmly the Xbox 360/Wii/PlayStation 3 era of gaming. I'm not ready for that to be called retro yet. My heart can't take it.)

I have, however, been loading up on podcasts for my marathon walks during this pandemic. Retronauts has been an enjoyable listen, although many of the episodes I want to listen to are behind a Patreon paywall.

I dislike Patreon, not because I don't want to pay creators, I very much do, but because the subscription model doesn't make sense to my brain. I want to pay for a thing and then receive a thing. (Ignore the 15+ years of MMO subscriptions I've been paying at this point.) I guess I'll break down, pay for a month at a premium tier of their service, download all the podcasts, and have effectively done the same thing. But I don't know how that plays nice with my podcast app, so I'll probably be shifting files from my computer to my phone for the first time in years. Gross.

Anyways, I like Retronauts. It's like a book club but for games I've actually played. Which is in contrast to the earning of my English degree, which was a book club for books I avoided reading. It's nicer this time, now that Class Participation isn't 15% of my grade.

The Dreamcast Junkyard Podcast is also on my rotation. It's admittedly a bit more uneven. It's also full of British cultural references that I'm too Yankee Doodle to understand. But it's a pleasant listen and they love the Dreamcast the same way I do: as the fucked up but still somehow favorite child of all my consoles. Sorry PlayStation 2, you may have went to law school and and had your 2.5 children, but the Dreamcast can live in my basement until he's ready to move out. He just needs a bit more time. And money for another doll. I mean action figure. Isn't he so precious?

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Wednesday Book Post: Lord of the Rings Offline

Standing Stone Games has generously offered the content of both Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online for free during the pandemic. I opted to take that offer in the case of LotRO. (D&DO is a neat game that I thought translates the D&D experience to an MMO format better than I really thought it possible, but it's not really the kind of MMO I prefer.)

Abbreviated stints aside, the last time I played LotRO in earnest was back at it's launch in 2007. I think I was buying every AAA MMO that was coming out then. I remember my poor budget laptops during college groaning under both the strain of their graphical fidelity and gigabit heft. Either way, LotRO was competing for my limited gaming budget with every other MMO, most notably World of Warcraft in it's prime. So it's not a real surprise that I didn't play much after the initial free month.

This time I've resolved to do a bit better now that I have the free-time of a college student and the computing prowess of a salaried adult. Also, MMOs don't really come out anymore. So that alleviates the competition bit of it.

The game is slow. Sometimes pleasingly so. Sometimes less so. A slower gameplay loop is fine, maybe even ideal for the long play sessions I want. But some of these quests, the Bingo Boffin episodic quests are literally just riding around the shire doing menial chores. I have a tough time believing the grown adult who designed that quest line isn't a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. 

On a positive note, I'm rereading the trilogy as I play along. It's amazing how it makes both the game and the books less dense. I hate, hate, hate when books info dump a bunch of proper nouns on me. It's why avoided science fiction and fantasy for much of my life. Tolkien arguably started that nonsense, so I should hold more of a grudge. But I plowed through the original trilogy initially because it was genuinely good (and out of a sense of obligation to an influential work). But I felt my enjoyment of the hobbits and company were limited because I lack the kleptomaniac joy of looting names and places that don't really exist. An author does their best to recreate the Book of Genesis and my eyes glaze over.

But it's better with both the book and the MMO at hand, especially the geography. Instead of quickly reading past a smattering of tweedish village names, I can close my eyes and visualize the in-game maps to see exactly where they are. That makes them more concrete in my mind. The names as well. We have a million, trillion hobbit names that become a bit more manageable when I've at least spent some time running their pies or murdering the local wild life for them in game.

It all feels much, much more real to me. More immersive. I get the superior storytelling of the books, plus the comfortable interaction of the MMO. It makes me wish we had more like that. Obviously the popular bit is to turn printed works into movies and TV shows. Which is fine and dandy enough (the wife and I are enjoying the Good Omens series currently). But what I want are video game adaptations that add to the source material.

I mean they exist, obviously, but not quite in the same way LotRO does it. I mean, Ubisoft publishes another Tom Clancy game every half hour, but those are only vaguely related to their source material. I can't play through the plot of The Hunt for Red October in any meaningful fashion. Rainbow Six is both a good book and a good game franchise, but they don't really have anything to offer one another other than the name.

Telltale has adapted the Walking Dead in a similar manner. But adventure games and visual novels don't really scratch that game playing itch for me. They tingle the reading part of my brain. (Also, I've found every incarnation of the Walking Dead to be laboriously boring.)

Video game adaptations used to come out all the time back in the 80s-2000s. But they were by the rule, crap, and rarely had the care put to them that LotRO does. Granted, maybe most media just doesn't deserve the care the Tolkien gets, but I don't think that's quite fair.

One thing I do wish for was a reading guide along with the game. The LotRO story line doesn't place you in Frodo Baggins entourage, but has you running adjacent errands that occasionally intersect with important lore characters. At first I thought the naming scheme to the game's epic quest coincided with the book's chapters. The game labels them Volume I, Book 1, Chapter 8 for example. But neither the volume, the book, or the chapter actually seems to correspond with the books themselves. Certainly an easier conceit for the game designers, but it hurts me in my overly-controlling aspects of my brain.

Perhaps I'll make my own guide. I have nothing but free time at the moment. I'm currently level 24 and have finished 99% of all the quests in Bree-land. I'll grind out the last of the slayer deeds in this area and then I have to make some decisions. Which zone do I take my Human Champion to next? Or, do I roll a Hobbit/Dwarf/Elf and see the story line of the other starter zones. The Shire quests in particular are tugging at me. Should I simply do those quests on my main? Can I actually do most of those quests on my human main? If I do roll alts to handle the unique leveling zones, what do I do with them? Are there enough leveling zones throughout the rest of the game to support leveling multiple characters without repeating content? Lots of decisions, but again, I have nothing but time.