Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Shawn Schuster

Posted by Randolph Carter on May 12, 2009

shawnMMO community connection:

Massively | Massively Speaking | OMG-RL!1!| Through the Aftermath

Chapter 1: Introduction

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

I just go by Shawn. I’ve never been much for alter egos and all that good stuff.

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

I currently do 3 podcasts. Although in total, I’ve been the host of 6 podcasts and an audio book. I’m also the Managing Editor for Massively.

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

Let’s go chronologically, shall we?

- Weisenheimer Radio: This was my very first shot at a podcast where I basically played indie comedy music I found around the net. It lasted about 3 months before I was overwhelmed with the popularity of my second podcast. Even though this podcast totally sucked, it was my first adventure with a podcast interview and I received my first free swag from a wonderful band called Orange Monkey, who I still love.

- GuildCast: This was a podcast all about Guild Wars. Still my most popular podcast to date, even after almost 4 years doing this.

- TabulaCast: I played Tabula Rasa in the beta and loved it, so I decided to make a podcast about it. Had lots of fun with the show and the game, but just couldn’t stay with either.

- Oh My God Real Life: This was started as my show where I could just let loose and say whatever I wanted. It soon evolved (thanks to the addition of my co-host Jenna) into a humorous advice podcast for gamers. It’s really a lot of fun to record and I enjoy the interaction with the gaming community and acting like I have some good advice for them.

- Eve of Adam: This is my first attempt at an audiobook where I presented it more as an ‘in-character’ play than an actual audiobook.

- Massively Speaking: This is the official podcast of Massively.com, started by Michael Zenke and myself a little over a year ago. We cover the top MMO news stories each week, with special guests consisting of developers, community leaders and the rest of the Massively staff.

- Through the Aftermath: My newest podcast that I started up with Jonathan from The Online Gamer’s Anthology. We cover everything post-apocalyptic in media — from games, movies, books, comics and more.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in Northwest Indiana, right smack dab in the middle between Gary, IN and south Chicago. Needless to say, I didn’t go outside much, lest I get shot. This is probably the main reason I got so deeply involved in activities that kept me inside.

I moved around quite a bit after college, do the most growing-up in Phoenix, AZ and New Orleans, LA.

Where do you live now?

Tennessee

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

33

What do you do for a living?

Managing Editor for Massively.com

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

I absolutely love my job, and it took me a long time to get here, so I wouldn’t think of rerolling right now.

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

  • I do all the housework at home, except cooking. I can’t cook, but I can wash a mean dish and vacuum the hell out of a carpet.
  • I am saving up to buy a farm.
  • I own 2 cats: Max and Hemi
  • I get anxious when my phone rings because I hate talking on it. I hate texting even more and will usually not answer you if you text me.
  • I consider myself an environmentalist, but my one vice is old cars. I love rebuilding them, watching drag races and going to car shows. Other environmentalists would probably kill me if they knew that.

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

I have a daughter and a step-daughter. I’m divorced, but living with my girlfriend for about a year now.

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?

Risk, Sorry, Monopoly, Life, Dark Tower. Those are the ones I remember playing with my parents the most. Risk was kind of a right of passage for my family during birthday parties. Once I was allowed to play with the adults, I felt I had become a man.

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

I always hated sports. My dad tried getting me into baseball and wrestling, since he was good at both when he was younger. But I just wasn’t competitive enough to care about winning. I was that kid standing in left field picking grass and looking at bugs.

I started playing drums on my mom’s tupperware when I was about 11, which evolved into drum lessons and an old kit I got at a garage sale when I was 14. Eventually I got into a metal band in high school and we had a nice little following for a while there: studio-produced album, t-shirts, paid concerts… the whole nine yards. Some of the greatest times of my life!

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

I played AD&D with my best friend and a few others when I was in 9th and 10th grade, but I was always afraid my friends in the metal band would find out and make fun of me, so I stopped. I was totally in nerd denial.

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 could read my first book at 3, and my parents loved to bring this up to as many people as they could, as many times as they could. I was fanatic about my GI Joe comics in the mid 80s. I still have them all, too. I never had the attention span to sit down read too many novels though, but my best friend was an avid reader and turned me on to some great stuff like R.A. Salvatore and all the Forgotten Realms books.

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.

Definitely. My best friend’s appreciation of the whole fantasy genre is what got me into it and we immersed ourselves into it with the music we listened to, the drawings we created, the movies we watched and most everything we did.

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

When I turned 10, my (rich) aunt and uncle bought me an Atari 2600. Back then, that was a huge deal because they were expensive, and there’s no way my parents or I could have ever bought that. I would sit and play games like River Raid, Space Jockey, Outlaw, Grand Prix, Vanguard and others religiously.

Not long after, my best friend’s dad got a Commodore 64 and he would let us watch him play Telengard. I was fascinated by it and I’d want to watch him play more than my friend actually would. I saved my allowance for a few months and got a used C64 from the newspaper. This was the fuel that fired my future obsession with RPGs, thanks to SSI’s Gold Box series when I was about 13.

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

There was one arcade near my house, and whenever my parents would drive me and my friend there, we’d spend hours and more quarters than I’d care to remember. Ironically, he met his current wife there, although back then she was just an icky girl and we were more concerned with getting the top score in Golden Axe.

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

Pool of Radiance. It was so amazing to me that I could make a party of adventurers to control against real AI monsters. I went full-force into the RPG genre from here, playing games like Wasteland, Knights of Legend, Bard’s Tale and a few others at every spare second I had.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

I was never much into consoles. I guess the Atari 2600 could be considered my first, then I had a Sega CD, an Xbox and now a Wii. That’s it.

Feel free to share a story related to your gaming experience as a child.

In junior high, I would set my alarm for an hour early every morning so I could play games on my Commodore 64. For anyone who never owned a C64, most of that time was spent booting the darn thing up, but it was totally worth it.

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever exposed to MUDs?

MUDs played a big part of my life from 1996 until about 2002 or so. I met my ex wife on a MUD, and my current gf on a MUD. This is an unfortunate coincidence, not a creepy dating MUD or anything.

What was your first MMO experience?

I wasn’t really ‘allowed’ much gaming while I was married, so I missed out on things like EverQuest, UO, etc. I remember looking at the boxes on the Best Buy shelves for EQ and even an oldie that got shut down called Motor City Online. I remember reading the back of the boxes thinking “How on earth can they expect people to pay for a game AND a monthly fee?! That’s absolutely insane!”

When Guild Wars came along in 2005, that was my ticket in.

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

  • Guild Wars – Level 20 Necromancer
  • Tabula Rasa – Level 37 Spy
  • Lord of the Rings Online – Level 60 Hunter
  • Runes of Magic – Level 25 Mage/Warrior

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

It’s been LotRO for about a year and a half now, and I have yet to find a game that will bring me away from that for longer than a month or 2.

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

I used to know Guild Wars like the back of my hand, and played it religiously for almost 3 years. I still play it occasionally now, but not nearly as much.

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

Guild Wars and LotRO. If combining the levels of alts counted, I would have reached the cap in Tabula Rasa about 4 times, not counting clones.

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?

LotRO. I want to live in The Shire and grow vegetables all day.

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

Actually, several…

Fallen Earth. The game mechanics of that game are everything I’ve ever wanted in a game since I started (only because I missed the pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies). I worry about the game though, because it’s being developed by an indie studio which might not be able to handle the inevitably negative comments from the majority of forum trolls who will hate it because it’s not simple and/or World of Warcraft. I hope I’m wrong though, because I like what I see so far.

Global Agenda. I’ve played this game a few times and have had so much fun every time. PvP is not usually my thing, but they make it so fun. That might all change once the teabagging Xbox Live demographic enters the picture, but we’ll see.

Aion. This is NCsoft’s last chance at regaining a positive public opinion. I hope they can pull it off, so that development will follow through on their next big title…

Guild Wars 2. I will buy this game even if every game reviewer out there said it was the worst game they’ve ever played. I love ArenaNet and I love what they’re capable of making. I have high hopes that GW2 will be huge.

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

I have loads of these stories, mostly because I never pay attention when I’m playing. I fall off cliffs, aggro unwanted monsters and get left behind many times. One day I’ll learn to turn off my IM client and concentrate on playing. One day.

Chapter 4: Preferences

At your peak, how much time per week would you say you spent gaming? How about now?

At my peak, I would play Guild Wars 6-7 hours after work every night. Now, it’s down to about 2 hours a day across many games

When during the week are your regular play times?

I dabble throughout the day when I get the itch, but the only times I play for more than 30 mins at a time are usually after 10pm EST. I don’t really play on weekends at all, because that’s family time.

Generally speaking, are you more of a social creature in MMOs (grouping to quest, joining guilds, etc.) or something of a lone wolf?

I’m usually a lone wolf, but I’ve been blessed with a wonderful kinship in LotRO, so I play with them whenever I can. I like to at least be a part of a guild in every game I play, even if I don’t always play with them. In fact, I really enjoy the prcess of starting new with brand new people in a guild who don’t know me at all. That’s so interesting and exciting to me.

Have you made any lasting friendships through your MMO experience? Please explain.

Definitely. I’ve even met several guildmates. I see my LotRO kinship members about once a year and we go out for dinner, etc.

Before logging into a game, do you already have a course of action planned out in your head, or do you just sort of do whatever you feel like once in game?

I usually log in with a plan, but that changes if someone needs help with something. I’m open to doing whatever, and don’t get upset or frustrated if my original plans get forgotten. But this usually means I level slower than everyone else, because I’m not determined to advance as quickly as possible.

When playing MMOs do you tend to just play one at a time or do you take more of the smorgasbord approach?

I used to be all about one game, and wouldn’t think of trying another game. Now (mostly because of my job), I try to have a working knowledge of as many MMOs as I can. That’s becoming increasingly more difficult.

Do you tend to supplement your MMO gaming with other PC, console or tabletop games?

I would go insane if I didn’t. My favorites include Fallout 3, Rockband 2, Guitar Hero World Tour, Mount & Blade, Half Life 2 and Wii Sports. I also love to play board games with my kids. I created a simple tabletop RPG for them using only animals as characters and Uno cards for a basic combat system. We have lots of fun with that.

Are you something of an altoholic?

Yep, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I need to try out every class, and every race, and every combo, and… and. Well, let’s just say it takes me awhile to find my perfect character. Even then, I like to go back to other alts and try new stuff.

Do you find yourself multitasking while gaming (perhaps watching TV, talking on the phone, out of game instant messaging, playing another game, or even listening to a podcast)?

I HAVE to multitask when gaming. I’m either reading email, searching my RSS feed for potential news stories and always listening to podcasts or music. When I edit podcasts, I’m usually gathering nodes in LotRO.

Do you find yourself having much MMO discussion off-line, perhaps with friends or family?

Only with my gf, who also plays Guild Wars and LotRO. None of my family and most of my friends don’t even know what an MMO is.

Have you ever felt that you game too much? If so, how did you cope with that?

If it didn’t pay my bills, then yes. I still get guilt trips if I play for too long, and usually make up for that by doing more housework or something else productive.

Since you started playing MMOs, have you ever taken a break from the genre? If so, please explain.

Not since I started playing MMOs, but I think that’s because I started so late (in 2005). I took a break from gaming for a few years while I was in college and married, though.

Chapter 5: Blogging/Podcasting

When did you first start blogging/podcasting?

I started podcasting in July of 2005. I started blogging in about 2000 on Livejournal, but that doesn’t count.

I started Weisenheimer Radio first, in July of 2005, then GuildCast on November 19th, 2005. From there, I started OMGRL on July 31st, 2007 and TabulaCast on October 15th, 2007. Eve of Adam started in January of 2008, Massively Speaking in April of 2008 and finally, Through the Aftermath started on January 30th, 2009. Apparently I like to start podcasts in July and January.

Why do you podcast?

Originally, I started podcasting because I loved the whole (new) concept of podcasts at the time. I loved sitting at work with my headphones on, listening to other people talk about gaming. My first gaming podcasts were World of Warcast (even though I never played WoW at the time) and Gaming Steve. I enjoyed them so much, and I enjoyed playing Guild Wars, that I thought marrying the two would be a good choice. It was.

Do you have a schedule or some sort of routine you try and follow when podcasting?

Definitely. I think you need to. Out of the three podcasts I do now, TTA and MS are on regular schedules. OMGRL is the only one that comes out whenever I have a chance. Possibly not coincidentally, OMGRL also has the fewest listeners.

Is there some grind involved in podcasting? If so, what is it and how do you cope with it?

Editing is almost a grind, but I enjoy it. It’s very soothing, and I could probably do it in my sleep now. I actually cope with it by farming in LotRO or doing something menial in another MMO. I have to make sure it’s something I can stop immediately when I hear a mistake that needs to be cut out of the podcast. So grouping is out of the question during this time.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about podcasting?

The finished product. Knowing that I created something that could potentially educate or entertain someone.

How many people offline know you podcast?

Very few, actually. I once told a co-worker and he asked me if I LARP and cosplay, too. Then he proceeded to tell me all about his weird sister-in-law who goes to Ren Faires and plays a lute and how crazy she is (to him). Lesson learned, on my part.

My parents know, but don’t even begin to understand. I tell them I make internet radio shows, and they kinda understand that. They just don’t understand how it could be about video games. I usually don’t tell too many people though, to avoid explanations.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to try their hand at blogging or podcasting?

  • Be consistent
  • Be yourself
  • Don’t worry about spending hundreds of dollars on recording equipment. I use a $30 headset and free mixing software.
  • Don’t conform to negative feedback. Constructive criticism is one thing, but for every person telling you they hate your show, there are dozens more who like it and don’t say anything.
  • Don’t respond to idiots. Afterall, they’re idiots.

What is something you know now that you wish you had known when you first started?

Nothing. I think the fact that I was so naive helped me learn the way I did. I seem to learn best from my mistakes because they really stick with me.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your microphone and no longer podcast?

I’ve never really thought about it too much, but I coped just fine before podcasting and blogging. Of course, right now it’s how I earn my money, but I hope to stay in this as long as I possibly can.

At your funeral, what song(s) would you have played as your corpse is set alight and cast out to sea on a funeral barge?

“Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli. That’s the song I played on the final GuildCast and OMG IT’S SO SAD.

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