Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Zonk

Posted by Randolph Carter on March 13, 2009

MMO community connection:

MMOG Nation

Chapter 1: Introduction

What is your name (your online persona/alter-ego, what have you)?

I used to go by ‘Dialogue’, but nowadays I use ‘whoisdialogue’ as a moniker in a bunch of spots. I’m also pretty well known as ‘Zonk’, a nickname from high school that followed me to my days at Slashdot.

What is your connection to the gaming/blogging/podcasting community (your chance to plug yourself here)?

I’ve been a blogger at MMOG Nation for about three years now, and for over a year I ran the super-awesome MMO news blog Massively.com.

Please take a minute and describe what your blog/podcast is about.

MMOs generally, with a focus on what I personally find engaging about the games.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

Born in Chicago, IL. Grew up in Madison, WI.

Where do you live now?

Austin, TX

Your level (age) is somewhere in the range of (pick one): 10-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, 61-70, 71-80, 81-90

21-30

What do you do for a living?

Game Designer

If you could reroll your career, what would you be?

For more than half a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to pretty much always be doing something that I loved. I hope it never stops.

List five random things most people don’t know about you.

  • My favorite movie in a trilogy is almost invariably the second one. Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Bourne Supremacy, Two Towers, etc etc.
  • The very first MMO I played seriously wasn’t EverQuest (the first MMO I played) or Star Wars Galaxies (the first AAA MMO I played seriously), but A Tale in the Desert.
  • I once dressed as a ‘mob’ from an MMO for Halloween. I wore a black vest and a skull mask, taking on the guise of a member of the ‘Skulls’ gang from City of Heroes. I affixed a piece of clear cellophane with the mob’s name to a headpiece so that I’d have a floating name over my head.
  • My first portable system landed in my hands as a result of my ability to spell. I was in fourth grade and got sponsored in a spell-a-thon. A combination of invested relatives and the cogent placement of letters in proper order resulted in my coming out on top for my grade. As a result, I won a Game Boy!
  • My favorite beer is the Belgian White Ale called “Blue Moon”. Yes, it’s not a microbrew, but I like those too. My favorite of those is the New Glarus, WI beer called “Spotted Cow”.

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

I’m married to another awesome gamer named Katharine.

Chapter 2: Origins

What kind of games (if any) did you play as a child before you got into video gaming? Did you play with family, friends or was it more of a solo activity?

Before I got into videogaming, I was pretty much just into boringly normal stuff. Monopoly, Yahtzee with the grandparents, etc. My life as a videogamer began at Christmas of 1985. I was about 5 years old.

What other hobbies and/or activities did you have as a child (sports, music, etc)?

I was in little league when I was very young, and did very poorly at it. I was always much better at Mario and Duck Hunt.

Were you ever exposed to pen and paper role playing games? What was that experience like?

I’ve been a tabletop gamer since I was 10. I’ve played using numerous game systems, but my favorites have always been Shadowrun and D&D. Since getting out of college I’ve mostly been running games, and I’ve had the pleasure of running two ongoing SR games and three long-standing D&D campaigns since 2002. I just began a new D&D Fourth Edition campaign about a month ago that I’m playing with some friends via Skype and the Fantasy Grounds software.

Did you read much as a child? If so, what did you like to read (books, comic books, etc?) Please list some favorite authors, titles, etc.

I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on when I was younger. Some favorite books/series from my youth include:

  • The Young Wizard Series (So You Want to Be A Wizard, etc..) by Diane Duane
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
  • The Bunnicula Series by James Howe
  • The Tripod Trilogy by “John Cristopher” (Samuel Youd)
  • The Johnny Dixon Series by John Bellairs

Would you say that any of these games or books had an effect on your later appreciation of computer gaming and ultimately MMOs? Please explain.

An appreciation for imagination and weirdness is a theme that runs through a lot of the stuff I like to read. I’d say that ties directly into my enjoyment of gaming.

How were you first introduced to video games? How old were you? What was the platform?

My mother purchased a Nintendo Entertainment System for my brother and I on the occasion of Christmas 1985. I was 5 years old.

Did you ever play coin-op games at the arcade? What was that experience like?

Though I didn’t play in arcades as often as some folks (because of the NES at home), I definitely got in a lot of time there when the family was shopping. It was a pretty unique experience: the sound of the machines in ‘barker’ mode, the smell of the cheap pizza or uber-sugery soda. There were always older kids (teenagers) hogging the best machines, and my pitiful abilities at fighting games left me out of some of the best experiences those places had to offer. When I did hit an arcade, I tended to go for side-scrolling action titles that button-mashing would help with.

What was the first video game you can remember playing that really made an impression on you? Please explain.

The first game that really affected me deeply would probably have been Legend of Zelda. The sheer scope of the game, along with its real effort at a plot and story, were incredibly novel.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

NES, SNES, Game Boy, PlayStation, N64, Dreamcast, PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, DS, Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii.

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever exposed to MUDs?

Yes. In the mid-90s, I check out a few MUs on local BBSes in Madison. I honestly don’t recall their names and didn’t spend too much time with them. A friend of mine got a bit involved in one of the larger ones that allowed player programming, and invited me to check it out. That was probably my first social MMO experience. He later told me a story of how he created a hat as a vehicle/room, jumped into his hat, and was able to essentially scoot around in it. His fun ended when someone put on the hat and effectively trapped him in the room.

What was your first MMO experience?

As with a lot of people, my first proper MMO experience was with EverQuest right after launch. Some acquantances were playing it in College and I expressed a lot of interest in the product. They let me jump onto the client and create a character. A Troll, I believe, which would make it my first MMO character. I only occasionally played EQ again on the very rare occasion I was over to their dorm room; otherwise I didn’t really play MMOs until I got out of college.

If possible, list all the MMOs you’ve played extensively.

I’ve played pretty much every AAA MMO released since 2002, so I’m not going to go into detail of EVERY game I’ve played. Here are the ones I’ve spent a lot of time with:

  • A Tale in the Desert - I joined up sometime near the middle of the “First Telling”, and along with my wife made a pretty extensive encampment on a hill somewhere in (I think?) the Sinai valley. My mentor in the game made wine, and we’d go over to have tasting parties and hang out.
  • Star Wars Galaxies – I was in-world on launch day, and actually had my very first character go belly up due to server issues. I played hardcore for about six months and since then have only occasionally drifted back to it. At the end of my six month run I had an uber-powerful Mon Cal Pistoleer/Master Tailor that supplied uniforms to most of the PAs on the Starsider server. In the current game mechanics, he’s a Commando.
  • City of Heroes - I’ve played a Blaster named “Jacob’s Ladder” in the game since launch day. CoH and I have always had a very much on again/off again relationship, with my coming back to it every six months or so, usually just for a month or so. I’m currently playing CoH with the same group I tackled EQ2 with. We’re in our low teens with those characters.
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online - I played a Cleric up to about level 5 or so at launch and then jumped ship. I didn’t go back again until last year, where myself and some friend adopted it as a weekly play target. We, likewise, only made it to about level 5 or so before jumping to Lord of the Rings Online.
  • EverQuest 2 - I played EQ2 for about two minutes at launch before deciding it wasn’t the game for me. With the innumerable changes that have happened to the game, it became well worth revisiting as a target for a group of friends a few years ago. I played a Gnomish Inquisitor once a week for about two years or so, and made it into the high 50s. We’ve since moved on to CoH.
  • Guild Wars - I’ve played GW on and off since launch day. It’s fantastic not having to worry about a subscription fee. I leveled a Monk/Warrior to 20 in the first campaign, dabbled with a Necro in the second, and have a level 20 Dervish/Necro that I’ve played in the third and the expansion.
  • Warhammer Online - I’ve played a Warrior Priest up to about 20 or so, and have a Runepriest in her low teens. I’m not actively playing the game at the moment, though.
  • World of Warcraft - I’ve basically had a live WoW account since launch day. I’ve leveled a Dwarven Paladin to 70, a Human Mage to 60, and my current main (an Undead Rogue) is within spitting distance of 80. I also have a Troll Priest in his 50s, along with a slew of fun alts (all on the Horde side). I basically don’t see myself ever closing my account at this point, though I’m not always actively playing it.
  • Lord of the Rings Online - After playing a Hobbit Minstrel up to about 20 at launch, I set LotRo aside. In the last few months my podcasting buddies and I have been playing the game diligently once a week or so, and we’re having a ton of fun working through the group content. We’re now all about level 40, and really looking forward to Moria! I’m playing a Guardian named Grodomil, and I have a much-loved Warden alt sitting in her low teens.

What is your current MMO of choice, or perhaps, what are your current MMOs of choice?

Right now I’m playing three MMOs regularly. Ever week on Mondays I get together with the Podcasters of Bree to explore Lord of the Rings Online. On Thursdays I get together with the Shortiez, the same folks I played EverQuest 2 with, to play City of Heroes. World of Warcraft is the MMO I play for ‘me’, when I have some time to do so and feel like engaging in that sort of activity.

Which MMO have you spent the most time playing? How long would you say that has been?

In sheer in-game time, that’s probably World of Warcraft. As I mentioned above, I have leveled a number of characters into the ‘higher’ levels, though some of those higher level characters I’ve since deleted to avoid the temptation to play them. In terms of how long I’ve played a game continuously, that’d probably have to be EQ2. The Shortiez and I got together about once a week every week for about two years or so.

Have you reached level cap in any MMO? If so, which ones?

Yes. World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, and Star Wars Galaxies.

Loki taps you on the shoulder one day to inform you that you have fallen victim to one of his elaborate pranks. The world you’ve been inhabiting of countless MMOs to choose from and play has merely been a dream. In reality only one MMO exists. After laughing at you for a bit he decides to take pity on you and allows you to choose which MMO will remain. Which one would you choose and why?

I know it’s trite, but WoW really is the kind of game I like to play. I honestly wish that I’d spent more time playing WoW when the opportunity was available in past years.

Are there any MMOs currently in development that you are particularly interested in? Please explain.

Well, aside from my one-could-say overwhelming interest in DC Universe Online, I’m very keenly looking forward to Star Wars: The Old Republic. I imagine I’m not really alone there, but from everything BioWare is showing us it really feels like SWTOR could become my own personal WoW-killer.

Feel free to share an interesting or amusing anecdote related to your MMO gaming experience.

I have a lot of them, but most of them are really only amusing to me, you know? That’s one of the things I love about MMO gaming, how personal it is. A lot of people have been to the Mos Eisley cantina or IronForge, but we all have our own personal recollections of what those places mean.

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