Scattered Thoughts on Hobbies, SWTOR, and WoW

By Paige Francis Posted Wednesday May 15, 2024

Filed under: Epilogue, Paige Writes 5 comments

We need to talk about Thomas the Tank Engine.

No, we don’t actually. But ever since I watched Thomas “TomSka” Ridgewell’s video about Thomas the Tank Engine, that opening line has been stuck in my head. Tom mentions having a, what he believes is quite conventional, relationship to the British children’s show. That is, when he was a child, he watched it. When he wasn’t a child, he didn’t watch it anymore. That seems reasonable. As is, or was anyway, common in England; television programs tended to be produced one series (what Americans would call a “season”) at a time rather than under an open-ended contract. So while the first two series/seasons appeared in the early 80’s, the third didn’t run until several years later. The show picked up…steam…and probably hit peak popularity in the mid-to-late 1990’s. This was when Thomas big-screen movies started to appear. And while the average person, especially us American GenX’ers who only had early exposure to Thomas through the PBS children’s show Shining Time Station; could be forgiven for thinking Thomas probably disappeared sometime early in the new millennium….well, you are wrong. As I have discovered, Thomas…chugged…steadily along until Mattel(!) bought the franchise, and made some decisions that have ONLY RECENTLY left the show in somewhat questionable circumstances.

I am not doing an essay all about Thomas the Tank Engine. Just a partial essay. Around World War II Reverend Wilbert Awdry engaged in the standard British tradition of men with sons named Christopher, and started writing children’s stories for his offspring. Bears were taken and high fantasy was currently in the development stage, so Awdry went with his own particular idiom.

These stories eventually turned into books. A lot of them. The books collectively are called “The Railway Series.” Of note, while Awdry could write (and write well, I might add); he apparently couldn’t draw so the publisher hired independent illustrators. Yes, it was this kind of children’s book. Think of something like The Berenstain Bears books (and I actually figured out why so many GenX kids still believe it was “Berenstein”), but written at a reading level closer to Tolkien’s The Hobbit. TomSka described them as “obey-your-parents-style books,” which is adequate. Based on my American childhood, Awdry’s work is a lot more subtle than the stuff I grew up with.

There was an attempt to turn the Reverend’s books into an animated television show in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, if I remember correctly. It was abandoned quickly, and from what I’ve seen probably rightly. Then a woman named Britt Allcroft approached Awdry around 1980 with an idea to make a television show using actual electric trains with interchangeable “faces” and moving eyes. And as far as most of us are concerned, the rest is history. But like I said, this isn’t a “so what ever happened to Thomas the Tank Engine” story. This is about ME, dammit.

TomSka’s video was actually my SECOND fairly recent exposure to Thomas. YouTube Poop creator DaThings made a video remixing elements from the 1995 Bookmark documentary “The Thomas the Tank Engine Man.” I’m gonna call this video “wrench one” paired with TomSka’s “Thomas the Tank Engine is Darker Than You Think” as “wrench two.” Because I watched both of these videos multiple times (hey, I happen to think DaThings creates some of the funniest and cleverest YTP content available, and I also think Thomas Ridgewell is very funny and insightful. I also ALWAYS laugh at fart noises, so make of it what you will) I started getting Thomas the Tank Engine videos recommended to me. I mean, you know how YouTube works. If you ever watch two videos ABOUT THE SAME THING, Google believes THAT IS THE ONLY THING YOU CARE ABOUT OR EVER WILL CARE ABOUT AGAIN. OK, so “wrench three.”

When I was eight…I think…my parents got me a train set for Christmas. Bizarrely, it was the box it came in that made it memorable: the box edges were concave, with the “back” of the box actually being larger than the front. I’m pretty sure the manufacturer was Bachmann, but other than that I remember no names. It came with a bridge and trestle set. I’m pretty sure I have found the track and accessory components in eBay auctions…all the grey plastic trestles, telephone poles, and track pieces I remember are there, but not the engine or rolling stock, the railroad cars. So I can’t post a picture. The box seemed huge, but I was eight. My parents covered a piece of plywood with green felt to put the train on. I loved it, but I also couldn’t just…leave it out to play with whenever I wanted. It took up too much room. So everything had to be taken apart, stored, then put back together every time. And of course I didn’t store it properly; everything just got thrown in the “toy box” and dug out every time. Pieces went missing, and a few years later the engine stopped working.

That set was HO-gauge or HO-scale, and people who take talking about model railroading very seriously will get quite cross if you misuse those terms. One straightforward example is that HO trains are 1:87 “scale.” That is, every inch of an HO model train is equal to 87 inches on the train the HO model is based on. Or to put it reverse (and use a different measurement), if you see a freight train engine at a railroad crossing that is, say, fifty feet long; the HO model of the same train would be about 7 inches long. HO trains use a “track gauge” of 16.5 millimeters. The distance from the inner edge of one rail to the inner edge of the other rail is 16.5 millimeters; about 2/3 of an inch. Keep in mind the OUTSIDE dimensions of an HO scale train are only going to be around 1 inch, maybe a bit more. And for the final bit of the illustration: while HO scale is the most popular model train in the U.S., in Britain the equivalent is called “OO” scale. OO scale is 1:76; OO model trains will be SLIGHTLY bigger than the equivalent HO scale model. HOWEVER, OO still uses 16.5mm gauge track. Any OO scale model purchased from Britain can run on American-produced HO-gauge track, and vice-versa. So there. Scale versus gauge.

In high school and college, I tried for a while to build an “N” scale train set that I could leave up and constantly work on, but it never really went anywhere. The fact that college students move a lot and don’t have any money were major factors. However, in the YouTube video recommendations for Thomas the Tank Engine, I found people who were modelling the trains and locations from the series. I also incidentally found a lot of people who take Thomas the Tank Engine fandom seriously. I found out that Bachmann currently produces Thomas the Tank Engine electric train models in HO and N scale (and HOn3, which we won’t get into.) The HO models even have moving eyes! Neat! But in descending down this rabbit hole, or tunnel, as TomSka called it, I got sucked into the lore and background, and history. For instance, all of the trains used in the series are meant to be based on real trains. A lot of the early trains got a bit screwed up between Reverend Awdry’s intentions and instructions, and the artists hired for the book. But after the book series became a hit, Awdry kind of got trapped into not changing some of the things that were problematic. Thomas, as an obvious example, was depicted as an entirely different type of train engine than Awdry created him as. While Awdry eventually managed to write in SOME changes and get the art fixed from artist to artist, Thomas is “officially” a kind of custom version of an E2-class engine. He LOOKS mostly like an E2, but is about 3/5 the size of an actual E2.

This kind of got me fascinated in modelling the trains from the show based SOLELY on what they were meant to be. This has problems that require some interpretation. Again taking Thomas as an example, Reverend Awdry was clear that Thomas was supposed to be a J50. This was a tank engine that was designed for the same kind of work as an E2, but was a bit smaller. Probably still *technically* larger than the CHARACTER Thomas ended up being depicted, especially as time went on (he got smaller and smaller), but much more in line with the concept…without making up a new train to explain his existence.

Plus, you can get HO/OO scale J50 models. The second engine introduced, Edward, is an “almost-but-not-quite-ANYTHING” design; effectively a one-off. BUT Reverend Awdry kindly mentioned that he was MEANT to be based on a Furness Railway K2 class. Yay! Real train! Nobody makes one. Boo! In this case, I will have to turn to 3D printing to provide a body shell for an existing chassis that matches the K2 class mechanical layout. And honestly, Edward is probably the FURTHEST from his real-life basis of all the Thomas engines. Other than being a 4-4-0 wheel arrangement with an inside-mounted drive cylinder and similar dimensions, Edward doesn’t actually look much like a K2. Another early engine, Henry, is a one-off prototype of the relatively famous Gresley A1 class. But as Henry was later, and canonically, rebuilt to more closely match his A1 basis, this is an easy decision. He is just an A1.

But let’s not get too far ahead. I *do* have a model to base an “as intended” Thomas on. I’m not building a full train set at the moment, just modelling. Just another thing to try to see if I can do.

In Star Wars: The Old Republic, I have increased Rix’larril’an’s influence with all base-story companions to the maximum level of 50:

I tried to work out while doing this where the break-over point was between just purchasing hundreds of companion gifts, and purchasing the Commander’s Compendium that will elevate influence to max in just one go. Building the three “Dark Project” craft items required to purchase the Compendium in addition to 4,250,000 credits needs to be factored in. Some of the components for these crafted items come from max-level crafting abilities, which means you’re spending as much as 10,000 to 20,000 credits on each mission to gather supplies. And some of the components require dozens and dozens of missions to satisfy demands. I didn’t figure it precisely, but I’m guessing if you start from zero, the crafting probably ends up costing between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 credits. So a Commanders Compendium actually costs between 5,500,000 and 6,000,000 total credits. If you buy gifts, I know from today that going from influence level 33 to 50 takes about 3,200,000 credits. As influence gained by gifts decreases as the level goes up (the higher the current influence level, the more influence it takes to reach the next level; AND every TEN levels the gifts decrease in the amount of influence they grant), I know going from influence level 0 to 33 costs less. In fact, if you limit yourself to buying the max-influence gifts for every companion, it only takes, like, fifteen or twenty gifts to go from level 0 to level 10. Something like that. Getting to level twenty *probably* costs less than 1,000,000 credits. I think something like 600,000 in fact. Going from level twenty to level thirty is, again *probably*, about 1,000,000 credits. That reveals the total cost in our guessing estimates to be around 5,000,000 credits. Considering I AM guessing at some of these numbers while others are well-informed…I would not be surprised if Gifts vs. Commanders Compendium cost EXACTLY THE SAME, or at least close enough as makes no difference. You can also balance the TIME of doing the collection missions for the crafting against the time of handing hundreds of gifts ONE GIFT AT A TIME to companion. So my final judgement is that it’s a wash.

Some of you may have notice my comment update last week. The one about making an irrevocable decision in some of the later Battle for Azeroth content that was DEFINITELY NOT the choice I wanted to make, and in my opinion was not presented in a way that made clear what was going on. So along with some of the other “oops, I was supposed to do this way-back-when” decisions, I deleted Cinderlynn, recreated her, then moved to a different character to reset my palate. I chose to start working on the new version of Mystilatre, the Dranei hunter. I did Exile’s Reach for the starting area again, then skipped the intro that leads into Battle for Azeroth when I got to my Faction capital, Stormwind. Without really needing to know too much lore, I’ve always felt most of the current iteration of World of Warcraft kicks off with the Warlords of Draenor expansion. Coincidentally, it’s also *mostly* my favorite expansion; and as a bonus is VERY Dranei-influenced. So I went to Chromie and chose to level in Warlords of Draenor. Imagine my surprise when Chromie-time put me in Warlords of Draenor AFTER the introduction sequence THAT LAYS THE FOUNDATION FOR THE WHOLE STORY. Thankfully, I remembered my OWN NOTES from the last time I experimented with Chromie Time: you don’t have to use Chromie time AT LEAST for any expansion starting with Mists of Pandaria. Just go to one of the “Adventure Board” bulletin boards scattered around town. NOTE: NOT the “Adventure Guide” located in the menu, although at least for SOME things it has the SAME functionality, in my experience. I take the quest to start Warlords of Draenor. The quest sends me to the Mage Tower in Stormwind, which is where the fast-travel portal network is located. Unfortunately, the quest instructions tell you to talk to the guy who will send you to the ZONE where the person you need to talk to is located…halfway across the zone from where you get teleported. Whereas if you talk to the person NEXT TO this guy, you get sent RIGHT NEXT TO THE QUEST TARGET and just turn in the quest and start the expansion.

Really, Blizzard. Do better. That’s pathetic.

The central story in Warlords of Draenor is the same for both Horde and Alliance, but interestingly told from different points of view. Yes, there is Horde-only and Alliance-only content…after playing through a universal introduction, Horde players go to a different zone from Alliance players to create their “garrison” headquarters. Likewise the Horde and Alliance establish different “capital cities” for the expansion where you can access services you would typically need to return to your traditional faction capital for. The Horde and Alliance-specific stories are both well worth it. As I’m doing Alliance right now, I’ll focus on this young Dranei acolyte, Yrel.

We meet Yrel (Yee-rell officially, although it sounds closer to EE-rell) as a priestess-trainee in the introduction, captured by the common foe of Warlords of Draenor, the Iron Horde. She cross-classes to Paladin after gaining combat experience escaping the Iron Horde, and studies under the Dranei leader Prophet Velen along with other Dranei leaders known as Exarchs. She is then a main character in the zone story to stop the Iron Horde’s attempt to invade Shadowmoon Valley and capture the Temple of Karabor. Along with the player, she is witness to the sacrifice of Prophet Velen, who gives his own life to un-corrupt a corrupted naaru (beings of holy light) known as a dark star (negative version of a naaru). While not stated explicitly, it has generally been accepted that Velen blesses Yrel with some kind of aura of leadership prior to his death. Yrel, with the aid of the player and the cleansed naaru K’ara, deal the Iron Horde a crushing defeat at Karabor.

However, possessing meta-knowledge that the first patch hasn’t (hadn’t, I guess…this was 2014) even been released yet, and none of the previously named main bad guys were present during the invasion, Yrel suspects there is much more to do in other questing zones.


It is complete and utter bullfrog that Blizzard took away a simple little toggle for your helmet and cloak on your character screen and requires you to travel to a capital city and get a free transmogrification every time you upgrade either of these items. It’s SO stupid.

See you next week!


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5 thoughts on “Scattered Thoughts on Hobbies, SWTOR, and WoW

  1. Pun Pundit says:

    They took away the hide helmet button!? That’s a crucial button in any game released in the last 10 years or so. Everyone needs that button! I didn’t think I could be more disappointed in Blizzard and yet here we are.

    1. Yeah. You have to visit a transmogrifier and get it transmogrified into an invisible helmet. Which is fine, I guess, if you have gear at max level and don’t change it. But if you level and maintain numerous alts, it’s a huge pain. Oh, and the transmogrification is FREE, too; but it’s the principle of thing. And the time taken.

  2. Pythor says:

    I never watched Thomas, but I had one of those “never get to play with it” train layouts. It was huge, actually. Probably 3 foot x 6 foot, and made of molded plastic. Painted and lightly flocked for me to put my train tracks on. I have no idea when I got it, or who gave it to me as a kid, and I also do not remember ever actually playing with the full layout. I had a boxed set with track, an engine, and 3-4 cargo cars that went with it, and a single caboose that was individual sold (and thus special to me). I do remember at least once or twice taking out the box, laying the track on the carpet, and trying to get it to run. This never worked for more than 10 seconds, as carpet is entirely the wrong place to put a proper train set.

  3. TheNick says:

    …(and I actually figured out why so many GenX kids still believe it was “Berenstein”)…

    You can’t drop this and then never reference it again!

    (Although as somebody who heard about this potentially reality-hopping story, I had heard the controversy but never the reason why so many people thought this and have since looked it up and it’s actually a pretty good reason.)

    1. Honestly? For me, anyway, and I suspect many of my generation, Berenstain was written in some kind of script. We can plainly see a script “e” in our minds, and of course the soft “e” sound is already present. As kids, until the animated cartoon came out, you would hear people pronounce the name both “Bear-en-STEEN” and “Bear-en-STAIN.” Sometimes “Bear-en-STINE.” In all cases, that last syllable CAN be written with an “e” instead of an “a,” Bear-en-stein” IS “Bear-in-stain.”

      The bottom line is, the “e” overwhelms the “a,” especially in light of the script “a” being a less distinct letter than the script “e.”

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