Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Archive for August, 2009

One shot: Gnomeaggedon

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 31, 2009

MMO community connection:

Armaggedon’s Coming

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

Armageddon’s Coming is a World of Warcraft Blog focusing on Fire Mages, Gnomes, Gnome Fire Mages, Mages in general and little bits and pieces that capture my imagination both in game and out. Often leaning towards the Q in QQ, but always with a healthy dose of appreciation for the excellent game that Blizzard have developed. Generally the out of game entries revolve around my toddler (Ironically, considering this is appearing on Grinding to Valhalla, my toddler’s name is Odin) or my experiences as a WoW playing parent.

What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

World of Warcraft was my introduction to MMOs… Neverwinter Nights doesn’t count and that was the closest I ever got to one before.

It turned out that by the time I purchased the 3 sets of NWN to join my mates… they all left to play another game.. something called WoW…

As I had begged to be allowed to play NWN with my Mates, and my wife finally submitted and gave me the leave pass, I wasn’t prepared to try and convince her to let me play WoW right up…

However at Easter after the release of Vanilla WoW, while at a LAN with those same mates, one of them encouraged me to roll a warrior on his account.. just for a taste test… When I was dragged away from the screen some 3 hours later, it was only because my own copy of the game (purchased by my mates) was being waved in front of my face.

To be honest, the first experiences were average… the Warrior sucked… it was boring, and I am not a melee kind of player.

My 2nd experience in the MMO wasn’t much better… see I was mate number 6… and about 30 levels behind my mates, so it was just me and my pet (I rerolled a Hunter) for the 1st 30 levels.

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

It was around level 30, I was running down a road and someone running in the opposite direction /waved and buffed me.

OK, this sounds a bit strange, that I am playing an MMO and it was only about level 30 I experienced anything along the lines of the MMO nature… but being an Aussie, playing on a US server, often meant that I was playing alone. I remember doing a /who in the Arathi Highlands one night… I was the only player there.

As for real, OMG it’s so big moment… either running into Org one night to the crowded bank… or when we rerolled and started a guild on Khaz’Goroth server… we were the 2nd guild on the server, and one of the largest for some time, around 500 members… that became a full time job.

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

At my peak probably about 11-12 hours per week during TBC. Comprising 1 x 6 hour slot on a Friday night with my mates and 5-6x 1 hour slots in the morning while doing housework.. just playing the Auction House. It was the only way I could “grind” my Spellfire and Spellstrike sets.

These days it is pretty much purely the 6 hours per week, with the occasional leave pass to pay while my wife watches Desperate Housewives.

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

The basic answer is no. I don’t have any consoles and have no time for other PC games.

Once in a blue moon a mate will organize a game of Space Crusade (or similar) as a “night out”.

Even when I am at my mates LAN parties I tend to spend most of my time in WoW, catching up on all those things I couldn’t otherwise do.

When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?

I started blogging just over 12 months ago, June 23rd 2008 with my post You’ll always find me in the Kara at parties. I actually prepared a few posts ahead of time, so in the 1st 3 days I published 6 posts… something I didn’t intend to do, but I think in the end I was publishing about 1.5 posts on average a day… even though generally I only published on week days, and I was away for 2 months of my 1st year of blogging.

There is really only one blogging project… Armaggedon’s Coming!

To be honest it takes up more time than I can really afford… but it’s a passion. A passion that extends to all Mage blogs, which I love to publicize as I discover them. For some reason most Mage bloggers start because they can’t find any mage blogs… strange as I have about 60 of them in my blogroll!

Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?

It’s purely a hobby… something to relieve my addiction to WoW. I may not be able to play 24/7, but I can still write about it on the train!

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

Not really. I do attempt to write one post per day, but I usually have several in the works (about 20 online drafts and another dozen on the iPhone). My main schedule, or routine is to note any ideas I have in my iPhone immediately, then draft the post up on the way to work. It isn’t unusual for me to knock up 3 posts on my 40 minute train ride.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you tend to cope with it?

Definitely, but I think it’s an expectation driven problem. The problem is really of perspective, as a blogger you just feel you MUST write something every day, you MUST post something every day, you MUST get those viewer stats up.

My coping mechanism is to churn out the posts when they are bursting, schedule them, then relax. Usually if I am feeling really pressured (it is only internal pressure though), I will schedule a weeks worth of posts. Then once I feel the pressure subsides I will write at a calm, relaxed pace, and just shuffle the posts about.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

There is no particular order for this, but numbered anyway…

1) The readers: Firstly it’s the page hits that really drive me, as much as I like to deny it. Luckily I have some guides there that just generate hits even though they are 12 months old now. So now I really enjoy the discussion with my regular and loyal readers, particularly the non-blogging readers (but definitely not excluding my fellow bloggers). People like Prelimar, Larisa and Jong, to name only a few of my very much loved readers, keep me coming back with more.

Recently my mother died, and it has been fantastic the support the community has given… best yet, they were all there waiting when I started writing again.

2) Brain dumping: I love to talk… I love to sprout rubbish, most of all I like to know people are listening to the rubbish I spout. The blog gives me the opportunity to QQ, dream, brag, cry etc in a relatively meaningful fashion… especially since my mates are tired of hearing my voice…

3) Reading other blogs and leaving comments. OK, not strictly blogging, but I challenge any blogger to say they don’t read and feed off other blogs. The community of WoW bloggers is amazingly close for such a disparate bunch of people and they really encourage you to push yourself to write again and again. So much of the stuff that is written is mind blowing… maybe not the best grammar, maybe sometimes a bit off center, but it is all worth a read.

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your blogging past?

4 things come immediately to mind.

1) My 1st comment came from Larisa from the Pink Pigtail Inn (actually it was the first 3 comments). She was the primary reason I was inspired to start blogging, so this was a great start, and the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

2) My 1st linkage from WoWInsider (now WoW.com), which was for a silly little post about the similarities between parenthood and WoW: WoW is like bringing up kids.  I thought the WordPress stats were broken when I first checked, then it dawned on me.

3) The loss of some of my favorite bloggers. They come and go of course, but they were inspirations to me (both to blog and for post concepts), so it was sad to see them go (and reappear… Jong & Megan!)

4) For my 1st blog anniversary, I decided I would let my readers write the posts… for a couple of days. I thought this would be a nice way for me to have an easy blogging week. It turned out I received a pile of quality responses and screenshots and it took about 2 weeks to get all my “Blogday Presents” posted. It really struck me that I had some quality readers out there, that were prepared to go to serious lengths to reward/thank me for my efforts over the previous 12 month… I love you guys!

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

No.. I have contemplated guesting on a podcast or two, but the reality is I don’t have any time to even do that. The Aussie timezone difference makes it hard to contribute to US podcasts as their recording time is usually midday Aussie time when I am either at work, or with Family… and I am a family 1st WoW player.

Are you pleased with how your blog has been received in the MMO blogosphere?

Pleased… Yes..

Amazed… Yes..

Stunned – you wanted to include me here, on Grinding to Valhalla!?!

I keep getting told how positive Armageddon’s Coming is, which strikes me as strange as I wouldn’t say that I am the most positive person in real life. That said, I do enjoy the game and I am constantly seeing the fun aspects of WoW.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

Not much that I can think of.

If I had more time I might go self hosted, but I don’t, and I think WordPress.com (or any of the 3rd party hosted blogs) is the best way to start, just to see if you are up to the constant grind.

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

1) Write. Write what you love (or hate) about your subject matter.

2) It is certainly easier if you pick a niche, even it’s as broad as “everything about WoW”, but it is better if you are even more refined (yet don’t limit yourself too narrowly and run out of subject matter by the end of the 1st week)

3) Read other blogs, leave comments, make friends.

4) Bounce off other blogs, respond to them via your own posts, expose them to your readers etc.

5) Write as much as you can while you are enjoying it, slow down when you aren’t

6) Stats don’t make a blog, they may encourage you to write more, but they aren’t important in the whole scheme of things. If you need that sort of external acknowledgment, write a guide, preferably a timeless guide, so the hits come in even if you are AFK (As I was for a month recently)

7) People that comment are your friends, acknowledge them… the new ones, the old ones, the lurkers. Yes the lurkers will come forward every now and then, they deserve to be recognized for coming forward.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

Yes, that time nearly came a few months back… but the real reason for that wasn’t that I was tired of blogging, rather that I thought I was giving up WoW. When I give up WoW there will be no good reason to continue with Armaggedon’s Coming and it is unlikely I will write a personal blog, so unless some other game inspires me to the extent WoW does, the keyboard will be binned.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

Mmmmm, well there would be two factions containing multiple races that can perform as different classes. They would be able to solo grind, run group quests and instances and closer to the end game form into larger groups, or raids, to take on the toughest content…ohhh… errrrmmm… sound familiar?

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One shot: Scott Nicholson

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 27, 2009

Website:

http://www.scottnicholson.com/

What do you do for a living?

I am a library scientist as an Associate Professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. I also run the Library Game Lab of Syracuse where we study the intersection of gaming and libraries. In the past, I have been a network administrator, a reference librarian, and a statistical modeler for Citigroup.

Would it be possible for you to give us a brief overview of your gaming background?

I’ve been gaming for over 30 years. Board games have always been my primary interest. That said, I’ve spent considerable amount of time with RPGs (lots of Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer Fantasy, Earthdawn) and livescale roleplaying with the foam-sword wielding International Fantasy Gaming Society. I’ve always had consoles from the Atari 2600 on up. I’ve done computer gaming through my Commodore 128, Amiga, and PCs, handheld gaming, and even worked for Wizards as a Netrep for The Imagination Network answering Magic: The Gathering questions. My first professional design was as a co-author on Call of Cthulhu Live, 1st edition.

As someone who collects board games, would you know how many you actually own?

Around 1000. I tend to sell games frequently; I probably sell a hundred board games a year through auctions and markets at conventions. If I try a game and don’t see a time where that would be the game I would pull out, I sell it. I’m not a collector for the sake of a collection.

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

Everquest, where I focused on a Bard and juggling spells World of Warcraft, on and off from the beginning. I find that I need to have people I enjoy talking with – the game itself isn’t enough to keep me playing.  I’ve played around with many of the others, but those are the only two that I would consider that I played extensively.

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

I think it would be logging onto Everquest, running around, and realizing that all of these other people running around were controlled by other players. Back then, this was a big deal.

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

This is a difficult question, as I’m doing quite a bit of work related to gaming. So, for me, I am typically spending much more time working on things related to gaming than I am actually gaming.  I do the Board Games with Scott video cast, and those episodes can take 30-40 hours to do. I also host the Games in Libraries Podcast, and am a voice on the On Board Games podcast.

For my work, I’m doing presentations and workshops on gaming, as well as writing books on the topic. I taught a class via YouTube this summer where I prepared one video every day on the topic, and that created several weeks where I was working on gaming topics for 80-100 hours a week.

So, my life is so entwined with game-related experiences that it’s hard to pull it all apart.

Would you care to share an amusing and/or interesting anecdote from your gaming days?

I think the funniest things are happening now, as many folks know about Board Games with Scott. About half of the time that I travel somewhere and visit a game shop, someone knows me. This summer, I was in Utrecht at a game shop. While I was shopping, someone recognized me. We chatted for a while, and then when he left, the shop owner asked how he knew me. I explained about my show, and the shop owner looked at me like I was crazy. The next person who came in the door looked at me, and exclaimed, “It’s celebrity day! It’s Scott Nicholson!”

Because there aren’t a lot of known faces in the board game world.  Having one means I get recognized a lot.

You’re a major proponent of gaming in libraries. Could you take a minute and explain what the movement is and how you got involved in it?

Just a minute? I do a full-day workshop on it. Libraries have been supporting gaming since the 1850s. The games have taken different forms over the decades, but it’s been there. Now as more people are engaged with gaming, the engagement with the libraries and gaming is growing. Many libraries host gaming events where people can play board, card, computer, or console games with each other. Games are a form of entertainment media, and as they replace books and movies as a primary form of entertainment, the libraries are fulfilling that need.

Many public libraries are community hubs and the games allow members of the community who may never interact to enjoy spending time with each other.

I got engaged with it about 3 years ago. I saw that the growing focus was on video games in libraries as “gaming in libraries” and I knew that there was a much wider variety of game types that libraries have been and could use to meet their goals. I got involved to study it as a professor, gather evidence on the phenomenon, and explore when gaming is appropriate and how it can be most effectively used as a library service.

Do you see a way that MMOs could be incorporated into this?

They already are. Some libraries are running World of Warcraft or Runescape events where they get a group of people together in a computer lab, log on at the same time, and teach a group how to play an MMO. When you have a group of players all sharing the same physical space and in-game space, social interactions go on between those players.

Another area of research exploration is understanding the information structures that support World of Warcraft. To play the game, it requires significant use of information resources and development of strong searching and other information literacy skills. By drawing connections between these skills and general information seeking skills, librarians can help players become better searchers by tapping the skills they have developed to play the game.

There also is a Libraries and Librarians Guild on Aerie Peak in World of Warcraft. This is akin to an always-running library conference, where players in the guild chat about real-world events in librarianship while grinding away.

While Second Life is not an MMORPG in the same sense as WoW, there is a significant library presence there. At the Info Island, there is most likely at least one reference librarian always on. Anyone needing help can visit the Second Life Alliance Library space and get assistance with information.

Are you at all concerned that board gaming may become a thing of the past due to the popularity of video games especially with our younger gamers?

Concerned? Not really. Board Games are a form of entertainment media. They provide face-to-face interaction, and that is the element that is missing in video games. Many folks who stare at a screen all day like to play an analog game to get back to these in-person social connections.

I see analog and digital games merging through surface computing.  These tables would allow people to enjoy the face-to-face experience with the convenience of a digital game. But I like fiddling with my bits (during games), so I’ll miss that!

You’ve recently created your own board game entitled Tulipmania 1637. Would you mind explaining what the game is about?

Tulipmania was the first well-known bubble market. It happened in the Netherlands in the 1600′s and almost completely ruined the Dutch economy. I learned about it at the Tulip museum in Amsterdam, and thought.. “Hey, that should be a game!”. I like economic games, and so set to designing a game. When I hit a design quandary, I did research on what really happens in a bubble stock market as to provide a realistic view on this phenomenon.

How difficult of a process was it for you in creating the game and then finding a publisher?

Oh, it was very easy to create a bad game. Making it into a good game was the tough process. What really helped was a convention I attended with many strong boardgamers who were willing to be honest about my game. Too many people playtest only with family, friends, or their local group and don’t get the quantity of feedback from objective experienced gamers needed to improve the game. Every night, I printed a new board and new cards. During this event, a publisher saw the game and decided to take a copy with him.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

I would create a game that combines the gameplay of an MMO with the resources available through digital library services in a steampunk modern world. During the play of the game, players would be required to learn various tools to do research in real resources. As they play, they would become much stronger at searching, recognizing untrustworthy information resources, and generally improve their information literacy skills. Perhaps I’d call it “Beyond Google” as a key lesson to teach is that Google is not the place where people should finish their searching.

At least, that’s the library science professor in me, as part of that funding could then fund my Library Game Lab for a very long time.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer audience?

Reach out to your local library and volunteer to help with their gaming programs (or start one)! Many libraries are interested, but don’t have the gaming expertise needed to do it well. As you know, you can make a lot of mistakes in selecting games, and you can help libraries avoid those mistakes.

To learn more, check out my free Gaming in Libraries course.

Other plugs:

You can learn about many modern board games through my 62 videos at Board Games with Scott and can keep up with me at the Games in Libraries podcast and at the On Board Games podcast.

Are you a researcher? I’ve got all of my game-related publications at the Library Game Lab of Syracuse.

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Reading the text: Ethan Gilsdorf

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 24, 2009

fantasy freaks and gaming geeks

Author website:

http://www.ethangilsdorf.com/

Ethan Gilsdorf’s book “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks:
An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms” comes out September 1 from The Lyons Press. After playing Dungeons & Dragons religiously in the 1970s and 1980s, Gilsdorf went on to become a poet, teacher, and journalist. In the U.S. and in Paris, he’s worked as a freelance correspondent, guidebook writer, and film and restaurant reviewer. Now based in Somerville, Massachusetts, his travel, arts, and pop culture stories appear regularly in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Christian Science Monitor, and have been published in other magazines and newspapers including National Geographic Traveler, Psychology Today, and the Washington Post. He has also been a guest on talk radio as a fantasy and escapism expert. He does not own elf ears, but he has kept all his old D&D gear, and has been known to host a Lord of the Rings party or two.

Could you please explain what Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is about?

Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is combination travelogue, pop culture analysis, and memoir. The book is an exploration and celebration of fantasy and gaming subcultures — what they are, who are these game-players and fantasy fans, and what explains the irresistible appeal of these fantastic adventures.

It’s also a personal quest. I’m a gamer from the 1970s and 1980s but left behind those games when I went off to college. Years and years passed. Around when I turned 40, I discovered my old D&D and other RPG gear in a box in my parents’ basement. I spent hours looking at my yellowed character sheets, brown paper-covered DMs Guide and Monster Manual and three-ring binders of rules and map. But D&D was associated in my mind with a difficult childhood: my mom became gravely ill when I was 12, and I now think I partly used D&D as an “escape” from that pain.

I was inspired to set off on a journey through my old hobby and see how fantasy and gaming had changed, and what new fantasy worlds now existed. I wanted to know what attracted serious gamers today, particularly adults, into fantasy worlds, and for what reasons, whether healthy, unhealthy, or in between.

So, why this book?

This book is particularly relevant now. Fantasy is much, much more acceptable as an activity now, compared to when I played as a teenager way back when. Now, tens of millions of people around the globe turn away from the “real” world to inhabit others. Cosplay, collectibles, action figures, comic book conventions, Renaissance fairs, live-action role-playing games (LARPs) — all this stuff is huge. The online game World of Warcraft (WoW) has twelve million users worldwide. “Geek” is no longer a four-letter word.

People — parents, teachers, also have questions about how safe it is to immerse yourself in these fantasy worlds. There are concerns about addiction and abuse. Are we all “escaping” and if so, why?

The final answer to this question: I met a lot of folks (mostly men) who, like me, had come back to gaming after a long hiatus. They had played as teens or in their 20s and then life (work, spouses, children) got in the way. I was curious to see how older gamers had re-integrated gaming into their lives.

ffgg_insideWould you mind describing what your own gaming background was like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I grew up in a family that played a lot of family board games and card games. We also played outdoors a lot, and had lots of time and space and nature for imaginative play. I discovered D&D in 1979, when I was 12. I played D&D every week for five or six years. At the same time, I played lots of TSR-produced RPG spin-offs. I really loved Gamma World, Boot Hill, Top Secret. I dabbled in war games and simulation games like Avalon Hill’s Stalingrad and TSR’s Risk-like Divine Right. But the WW II scenarios never really captured my imagination. I really liked the SF and fantasy milieus, in particular the Tolkien-esque worlds. Home PC games were their infancy when I was a teen, but I do remember playing MUDs like Adventure (or was it Dungeon?) on my friend Bill’s dad’s terminal hooked into the mainframe at the University of New Hampshire. In the era of Defender, Galaga, PacMan and Centipede, I blew a ton of quarters on console games. My all time favorite is Robotron. I missed the wave of Doom and Quake — by then I had stopped gaming altogether. Only in the past year, as research for my book, did I try MMOs like WoW.

What was the process like in getting it (the book) published?

Hard. I have been a working, full-time freelance journalist for almost ten years, writing on arts, travel and pop culture. My interest in fantasy worlds and gaming came creeping back in 2001-2003 when Lord of the Rings came out. I was living in Paris at the time and began to write articles on Rings and Tolkien, on assignment for places like the Washington Post and Boston Globe. I was already subconsciously exploring fantasy again. But I didn’t think it would become a book. When I moved to Boston 5 years ago, I kept writing on these topics, met an agent (at the wonderful writing school where I teach, Grub Street Inc.) and she expressed interest in a memoir/pop culture/travelogue. I fleshed the ideas out into a book proposal. She sold it to my publisher. The odds are stacked against any writer. I say it took me 20 years to write this book. I’ve been writing seriously since 1989, at least.

What kind of research went into writing this book?

Once I got my (very modest) advance from my publisher, I set out to explore every aspect of fantasy and gaming and fandom that I could squeeze in. I wanted my “quest” to begin in my geeky teenage past and end in our online gaming future. I set out to investigate and participate in as many facets of this phenomenon as possible. I questioned Tolkien scholars and medievalists. I talked to grown men who built hobbit holes and spoke Elvish, and to grown women who played Warcraft and EverQuest. I camped with 12,000 medieval re-enactors for a week. I went to a WoW tournament, and I played MMOs. I joined a LARP for a weekend. I hung out at conventions like Dragon*Con and gaming stores. I tried to meet Gary Gygax and Peter Jackson (just missing Gygax; he died before my trip to Wisconsin). I crisscrossed America, the world, and other worlds—from Boston to England, New Zealand to France, and Planet Earth to the realm of Aggramar.I was not afraid to wear costumes!

Would you say the research you did was “work?”

It rarely felt like work. But being a journalist and constantly asking questions, taking notes, videos and pictures, can be grueling. I wanted to participate in these games and activities as much as possible, but I could not often immerse myself fully because I was so busy observing and analyzing, too.

What exposure have you had with online worlds? Was it all for research or have you actually played for fun?

As I said, I used to play primitive MUDs like “Dungeon” and “Adventure,” was a serious coin-op video game player, and dabbled in some pretty rudimentary games for my home PC on IMB and Apples. But I had never played an MMOs. I had avoided them in recent years because I was worried about getting sucked in. I was worried about the time suck. Me getting back into MMOs like WoW was initially “research,” but I enjoyed the experience, getting my toes wet again. But I wouldn’t say I was hooked.

Of all the people you crossed paths with in your research, would you say there was one or two who deserved to be crowned king or queen of the geeks?

I met a couple named Elyse and Mike from Milwaukee, who I profile in my chapter called “Geeks in Love.” These two have the perfect geek relationship: she’s into the SCA and D&D and calligraphy and period baking, he’s into horror and SF and building reproductions of props from his favorite movies like 2001 and War of the Worlds. Mike is really a talented artist. Their house is a shrine to geekdom. It’s full of collectible tchotchkes from a bunch of fandom universes. They were very cool and I spent the weekend with them.

After everything you did and all the conclusions you’ve drawn from your research, would you ethan gilsdorfconsider yourself a geek today?

Yes, definitely. That’s a theme of the book: Embracing my geekhood. In high school I was shunned, and made to feel ashamed for not being a jock, or not being popular, or not having a girlfriend. But “geek” means something different to me now. It means I’m passionate about what I love, be it Tolkien, or Peter Jackson’s movies, or special effects, or the history of gaming. I feel comfortable identifying with the “geek” name again. I made T-shirts for my book launch and book tour with the slogan “GEEK PRIDE” and a red d20 on them. And I wore that shirt proudly at Gen Con this year.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

Yes, definitely. I think the D&D rules system taught me the value of specificity and being concrete and filling my writing with details. All those vocabulary words in the DM’s guide: harlot! halberd! theocracy! adamantine! vorpal! I think all writers are, to an extent, world builders, even if they aren’t genre writers. Playing D&D made me read the dictionary, learn about Norse mythology, Tolkien. It also taught about storytelling. Like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s archaic literary clubs, we sat around (not drinking beer or smoking pipes, but still), telling each other stories in the dark. D&D stretched my mind. Imagination, storytelling, curiosity. All good and necessary tools for the writer — no matter the genre or style.

Would you say there is grind in the writing process?

Yes, there can be a grind, both in completing a single project like a long article or book, and the grind of the career-building, too. Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks was written under a tight deadline: most of the chapters were composed in nine months, and I was researching, traveling and writing all at the same time. I needed to knock out about two chapters a month, 4,000-6,000 words per chapter. There were times when I was exhausted, depleted, and sometimes, despairing. In terms of the “grind” of the career, I tell my writing students (I also teach writing) that few get to write a book and even fewer get to have one published. Unless you are brilliant or exceptionally lucky, you have to be patient. You have to put in the time, work your way up the ladder of your writing career in incremental steps. Levels, if you will. No one expects to perform a cello recital within a year after picking up the instrument. Same with writing. You need to remember writing is an art and a craft, but it’s also a lot of work. I call it “AIC” — “Ass In Chair.” Putting in the time. It’s going to be two or three years minimum before you get to be any good, and five or ten years before you see any progress as a published writer. It took me 20 years of work in a variety of genres before I published this book, my first book: this one, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

I started out as a fiction and screenwriter in college, then moved on to poetry, then to journalism. In each case, all I wanted was to do good work and have an audience. For me as a non-fiction writer, I find joy in connecting with my readers. Getting an email or a letter saying, “Hey, that article or poem really moved me or connected with me. It made me think about such and such from my own life.” That’s what writers live for. I hope folks who read Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks will contact me to tell me what they think. I hope it connects with gamers, old and young. I think it will strike a chord with those who are into gaming and want to hear others explain why they got into gaming, and those who have someone who games in their lives — a spouse or child — but they don’t get what the appeal of fantasy is all about. I think my book will help explain why fantasy and gaming is so important to so many people.

ethan gilsdorf2Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Persistence. Patience. Faith. Find good and honest readers (other than your spouse, parents and friends) who can give you useful feedback. Develop a thick skin so you don’t take criticism personally and get used to rejection. You’ll encounter a lot of it. Writing is highly, highly competitive and only getting more so.

Your website is quite impressive. I would think anyone who is reading this interview would enjoy checking it out. Would you mind talking a little bit about it?

Thanks. I did the website myself using an online site builder service called Squarespace.com, which has basic templates that you can customize. Even a non-web savvy guy like me can make a goof-looking site. I’m not a techie but can do some basic HTML if necessary. I got the graphic designer at my publisher to make me a banner. He’s a great artist named Bret Kerr (who also designed my book jacket, see his portfolio here).  I shot and edited a promotional video myself. I’m adding stuff all the time.

So, if you had it to do all over again, would you do anything different as far as your gaming and geekness are concerned?

I wish I had been less cautious and ambivalent about gaming in my 20s and 30s and had embraced gaming and fantasy instead of shunning it. I wish I had returned to gaming earlier.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

I’m launching a contest on my website that I’m excited about. It’s called the Great Geek Giveaway! and I want folks to share their geekiest secret, freakiest fandom moment, most embarrassing gaming gaffe. Folks can submit a brief essay, photo or video and win cool prizes. More info here.

And one final question, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided dice?

I was at Gen Con this August and rolled a d20 a lot that weekend. I also loved dipping my hands into the bins of dice at dice vendors on the exhibition floor! Something quite pleasing about that. Sort of like scooping up a dragon’s hoard of treasure. I have a couple d20s on my desk and I play with them every so often. It’s a way to connect with my gaming past.

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One shot: James Egan

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 21, 2009

MMO community connection:

Massively.com

Could you explain what your involvement with Massively.com is and how you came to be working there?

I’m a Contributing Editor at Massively. Originally I joined the team to write about EVE Online, but since that time I’ve begun to cover most any title out there as well as any breaking stories in the industry. I’m definitely more likely to cover sci-fi games than fantasy titles in a given day, but I’ll write about anything happening in the industry if it catches my interest.

I joined Massively in April of 2008, and found out about the opening on the EVE Online site. It was just a brief message they posted stating that Massively’s looking for someone who can write well about EVE so I went for it, wrote a few articles and submitted them, hoping for the best.

The timing wasn’t ideal as I was working on a Nickelodeon spec script for Avatar: The Last Airbender at the time for the writing fellowship they run each year, so I had to choose which job I was going to try for. I went with Massively and fortunately I got the job. Sadly, Avatar is no more, but it ended beautifully.

Horror stories about working for Shawn “Hitler Jr.” Schuster abound. Is working for this megalomaniac as horrible as it sounds?

It’s worse than it sounds. All those “mandatory” 80′s cartoon theme sing-a-longs in Skype… there’s only so many times you can do Thundercats or Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors before you’re ready to snap. The 4am phone calls/rants about “beta keys” and “jade gloves”, various bits of Guild Wars arcana. Hobbits. I don’t even know what the hell he’s talking about half the time but if you don’t agree with him enthusiastically, you’re finished.

I’m kidding, of course. Shawn is great to work for. Controlling the Massively writers is like herding kittens but he does it well. I guess the main thing is that he lets us write about what we’re interested in, what we’re passionate about, as did Michael Zenke before him.

What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

It was EVE. Obviously I’d heard about other MMOs for years but never got into them. The fantasy genre just never hooked me, I could never get immersed in it. Still can’t. But I was already interested in virtual worlds and sci-fi themed games (not MMOs at the time though) when I started listening to MMO podcasts.

I listened to Brent on the VirginWorlds podcast, and Massively Online Gamer/MOG Army, the now-defunct podcast from Gary Gannon and Ryan Verniere. I’d hear their stories on MOG about MMOs, and the mishaps and fun stuff that went down when they played EVE. I guess this really got my interest up.

Of course I’d already heard about some of the batshit crazy stuff that happens in that game, but it didn’t quite make me want to jump in. I just liked reading and hearing about the game. Eventually I took the plunge and I haven’t looked back since. So Gary, Ryan, and Brent, thanks so much for pushing me off the cliff!!

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

It was actually before I’d even played one. It was about this sci-fi game where players could form corporations (guilds, basically) and plot against their rivals. I was living overseas at the time and didn’t have access to English language gaming magazines, but a friend pointed out scans of this article that blew me away. It was about this mercenary group called the Guiding Hand Social Club in a game I’d never heard of called EVE Online. They spent close to a year infiltrating another corp, and when the time was right, assassinated that corporation’s CEO while operatives placed at all levels of the infiltrated corp simultaneously pulled off the biggest heist ever in the game (at the time, anyway).

I couldn’t freaking believe it. A game lets people do something like that?! Beyond whether or not the game’s creators allow it, this is even possible?! People spent *months* planning and waiting for that one shining moment — is it even a game at this point?

For someone who’d really only played single player games on PS2 or whatever console I had at the time, I was in awe. This was the first time it had dawned on me what’s possible in a video game. So I started reading more about it, which led me to the podcasts, to playing the game, and ultimately to Massively.

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

The weird thing is that when I started writing for Massively, I thought I’d be playing more games than ever. “You’re paid to play games!” isn’t quite the reality of the situation, although my friends still seem to think so. The thing is the more you write about games, the less time you’re actually playing. It’s not a complaint in the least, just a misconception I think a lot of people have. One that I had in the beginning as well.

But at my peak… good question. EVE in the beginning, easily 20 hours in a week, pre-Massively. Some weeks more, like during holidays — and if I was single — I’d maybe rack up 30 hours. Now, it’s much less, maybe 10 hours in a week. Part of this is that I’m also playing other games, either on Steam or just single player games on my laptop, plus a few betas.

There’s also the simple fact that when your regular job is focused on MMOs you sometimes just want to unplug at the end of the day, and that’s not always by playing what you’ve written about since the morning. I should note the upside there though — as long as we’re on top of news coverage, I can stop and take an MMO break anytime I want. It’s not like they can fire me, right? It’s “research”!

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

Absolutely. I think that’s important. I’ve become a big fan of games like Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead. Also console gaming is something I do with friends. We all meet up at someone’s house and have these Halo 3 gatherings pretty regularly rather than just matching up online. It’s really a social thing for us, as much about the games as hanging out. The consumption of Jim Beam and Coke typically ensues. Also the occasional cigar.

I used to be really into pen-and-paper RPGs, especially the World of Darkness games, before they did the whole reboot. (I’m not all that familiar with the new setting but I’ll give it another look soon.) My favorite was Mage: The Ascension, with Vampire a close second.

I lived abroad for a huge stretch of my life and didn’t get to play games like this much for a while, but since I’ve been back in the States for a while now we’ve got a regular Aberrant game running which has been a lot of fun. I now play with the same group of friends I played games with growing up.

When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?

Massively is my first go at writing for the web. People usually seem surprised when I say this, but I’ve never been a blogger as such. I come from a print background so this has been something new for me. Compared to some of the people I work with and other game journos I’ve spoken with, I’m still pretty much a noob with only a bit over a year of experience doing this. So I feel really lucky that Massively gave me my first shot at games journalism. They’ve expressed a desire to clone me, so it seems they’re happy with what I’ve done for them so far.

Prior to this I was an editor at a biz magazine and did a lot of freelance writing and editing when I was living in Shanghai. All print. Some of it was interesting, and being a biz journalist in China was challenging, but honestly it could get really boring. I still shudder when I think back to some of it. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to write about something fun.

Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?

Oh, it’s definitely my job. It can be a fun job, and is much of the time, but ultimately it’s still something I take more seriously than a hobby. Writing is my livelihood. If I had more time I’d run my own gaming blog on the side, something with a very different style from what I do at Massively.

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

I don’t have a rigid schedule per se, not like I did when working any 9-5 job. I’ll often start work around 9am, sometimes even 10am if I was out late or (more often) working late the night before. I work well into the evening on most work days though. I find it easier to write in the evening.

My schedule, as of only a few days ago, will be a bit lighter though. I probably won’t be putting in quite as many hours at Massively as I have been, and I’m going to look into some other options. Whether that’s freelance writing about games, tech, anime… a salaried position somewhere… I’m not sure yet.

I’m not leaving Massively of course, I love the job, but sometimes it’s good to mix it up a bit. They’ve been supportive of my choice to do this, so another thanks to Shawn and my editor-in-chief, Elizabeth.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you tend to cope with it?

Yes, there are definitely points where you hit a wall and it’s a little tough to get past. It’s not so much writer’s block as just the fact that you’ve been at it for a long while on most any given day.

More than anything, I think it’s the pace. Massively is a really small team of writers but we turn out a new post, interview, or feature story every hour Monday to Friday, and through the weekend too, albeit at a slower pace.

How do I cope with it? Sometimes I take a step away, do something else for a while. When that’s not an option and they need me there covering what’s happening in MMOs, you’ve just got to push through it. Even on those days, the fact remains that you’re writing about games, and that’s not bad at all. Keeping that in mind always helps.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

The simple fact that I’m writing about something I care about. I spent years writing content for other people either by contract or smaller freelance projects. So writing about what I want, when I want… you can’t beat that.

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your blogging past?

Pretty much any usual “day at the office” has all manner of bizarre things discussed among the writers. Chocolate breast explosions (oldie but goodie), “Michael Zenke’s insulting article… of clothing” (we turned a borderline insane, over-the-top rant from a reader into a T-shirt). In Zenke’s defense, he had nothing to do with the T-shirt thing, someone else did it. Then there are the elaborate but so far fruitless schemes to abduct key figures in the MMO industry and force them to reveal the future. That was mine.

Sometimes I’m amazed we get anything done, but we really do.

When I think about a memorable moment though, no single thing jumps out at me. I guess more than anything, there are lots of little moments that make the long hours and my void of a bank account worth it. Being Slashdotted for the first time, the recognition I get now and again, and in general just connecting with my readers. I get a lot of email from people who’ve read my work, and that’s something I didn’t have much of before writing for the web. All in all, it’s been a good year at Massively. I’m looking forward to plenty more.

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

Oh, no way. I’m much more comfortable with just being a writer.

Are you pleased with how your contribution to Massively.com has been received in the blogosphere?

Absolutely. I actually get a fair amount of email from my readers, which is really cool. I had no idea how this would turn out when I started writing about games but this has all gone really well so far.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

Yes, actually. In fact that’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve been really focused on writing about MMOs but there’s a whole lot more out there that interests me. Ideally I’d like to balance out MMOs with writing about other topics, in other styles.

When I was in uni I enjoyed writing short fiction, plays, and was really hoping to get a foot in the door with writing for animation. I think I’ll be happier with some more variety in what I write about each day and that’s the general direction I’m heading in now, although I have to admit I’m still not sure where this will lead me.

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

Just write about what interests you. Have fun with it and try to connect with other people who share your interests, see where it goes from there.

If you happen to be one of those bloggers who really loves this and wants to try and earn a living writing about games, the enthusiasm you’ve shown on your own blog will do a lot for you. I know we’ve hired people because of that passion they have about their games of choice.

The other thing is what people never seem to want to talk about, but it can be hard to earn a good living doing this. Some people do pretty well though, no doubt, but when you’re starting out — much like I am to be honest — it can be rough. Still, if you love what you do, that means a lot more than raking in cash writing about topics you don’t connect with, simply for the money.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

Actually I can’t picture *not* writing about games. But I’ve also never pictured writing about about games and games alone.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

Unlimited you say? It’s a game called “Resonance”, but more of a virtual world or a simulated reality. While some other users/players make up this society, the cities are fully populated by all manner of AI, creating a bustling metropolis. You can do most anything possible in the real world, which might sound boring, but the concept of Resonance is that you can step away from yourself — removed from the mimicked reality of Resonance — and follow the threads of causality connected with things you do, or what you *don’t* do.

For example, you see a little girl walking her puppy on the sidewalk. The leash slips out of her hands and the puppy darts into the street. She chases after the dog without thinking. A van speeds towards her, the driver is distracted. You act and save the girl (and why not, her dog too). Your action intertwines yourself in her life and you can step away and watch her life unfold. Snapshots of her birthday party at age 9, video from her backpacking with friends in Thailand during Spring Break, audio of her tearful apology to a friend she let down while in grad school, diary entries, so many ways it can be conveyed — but you can see how she lives her life, in highlights. Her shining moments and darkest days.

Whether it’s her troubles at school, her sadness when her dog passes away from old age, her med school graduation, her wedding day, explaining to a tearful family in the waiting room that their loved one (her patient) didn’t make it, buying a puppy for her own daughter… these are all moments in that life that your single action gave to this little girl. You can follow her life until its eventual end, and if you choose to, follow the threads into the next generations, her children and grandchildren.

On the other hand, if you didn’t save her in the street that day, there are threads you could follow with the loved ones she’s survived by as well.

That would be Resonance. More an experience than a game. It seems like no one would ever want to try this, but once they experienced its depth and the realities generated on the fly by the system, people would be pulled into it.

Nah, screw it. I’m clearly deranged. It would never work. I’ll just make the Ghost in the Shell MMO!

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One shot: Frank Sanchez

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 20, 2009

MMO community connection:

Overly Positive

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

If I was writing in the “voice” of Overly Positive, I’d say that people are just SO jaded and cynical these days. Genuine excitement and praise has long since been ridiculed as being as blind as a kid playing pin the tail on the jackass. At Overly Positive, we bring back the idea that being happy isn’t just a good thing, it’s a great and less stressful thing, too. Let the rest of the Internet have their “rants” and their “nerd rage” – at this blog, even the equivalent of nuclear fallout is actually a good thing from a certain perspective (hey look – real estate opportunities!).

In reality, I’m generally an optimist – or, that failing, I don’t really sweat the small stuff. Murphy has ruled with his Law for quite some time, and bad things will happen. Geeky society has moved from being socially outcast to being wry and quick-witted. When it comes to the geek media – things like sci-fi, gaming, comic books, and TV shows – geeks tend to be passionate, and in some cases, as angry and sarcastic as the worst mainstream sports fan or “normal” person. I’m basically filling a niche that basically says, “it’s not a big deal, and in fact there’s something good to be gotten out of anything.”.

Allow me to quote from your about page: “Ever wonder if bloggers sometimes have their cereal pissed in every day to have the hate they do.” I guess that would explain my hatred, but how do you manage to remain so “positive?”

Well, people have accused me of everything from having brain surgery to extract the hate to certain recreational drugs. The real key is just in attitude and seeing “the big picture”. Whether you’re talking about a game you play or the TV shows you watch or the tech things that you build, if you’re a geek you’re doing these things because they’re fun – because they provide you with some kind of entertainment and joy. Simply put, if you’re angry enough that you’re not having fun, or you’re not enjoying yourself, why waste effort and blood vessels being pissed about it? It’s just not practical, and the rather cathartic feeling you get from screaming, yelling, or typing a post on the Internet to someone insulting them and their progeny is simply short term.

I just don’t let a lot bother me. Years of being a moderator on various forums, where insults are as regular as a bathroom break, might have helped this, though.

What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

I first technically got into MMOs before they were really “massive”, back when I played MUDs. Gemstone III and various free to play text-based adventures were my introduction to online role-playing games. Then when Ultima Online came out, I jumped on board that, and the rest is history.

You know, back in those days, the unforgiving nature of these kinds of games was simply a fact that you lived with. There was permanent loss of your loot, there was player-killing, and there was having to retrieve your naked corpse from the worst places, where possibly being eaten by a monster inspired by a grue was the least of your worries. These were the kinds of things that were expected when you played MMOs, so there wasn’t a huge culture shock or surprise at engaging in MMOs. Frankly, I experienced more of a shock when I realized that I could actually keep my hard-earned armor or that death was as meaningful as a walk in the park.

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

I think when the first MMOs that really started utilizing the ability of a graphics card came out, like Everquest, was when there were “wow” moments – small ones, like seeing a zone load the first time, or watching a ton of players killing mobs in a zone. But nothing beats your very first raid, where you come upon a boss monster so huge and epic it seems to dwarf your party. These are always “wow” moments for two reasons – one, because the encounter is likely to not be one that you’ve experienced before and two, because you almost certainly die in a matter of moments.

If possible, list all the MMOs you’ve played extensively. Please start from the beginning and work your way up to the present.

Well now you’re just asking for it. In order of appearance:

  • Gemstone III
  • Ultima Online
  • Everquest
  • Earth and Beyond
  • EVE
  • Final Fantasy XI
  • Dark Age of Camelot
  • City of Heroes/Villains
  • World of Warcraft
  • Warhammer Online

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

When I was a senior officer and co-raid leader for the guild Templar Knights on Archimonde/Mug’thol in WoW, that was probably the peak time of my play. There, I was spending at least 35 hours a week raiding, planning, dealing with logistics or drama, or farming.

These days, with a lot of different (and more important) things in my life, including being married, having a job, paying my mortgage, and generally being suckered into internet community projects, it’s more like 8-10 hours a week. Yep – I’ve become a casual player, and perhaps that might actually help me not be so mad at certain things.

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

Sure – mostly with console games, though. I was a console gamer long before I was a PC or MMO player, with the Atari 2600 to the 360/PS3/Wii generation progression under my belt. I favor RPGs because they tend to last longer for me at my current playtime per week.

When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?

Overly Positive has really only been around a little over a year, but I’ve been actually writing and putting my thoughts to the internet for maybe 7 years now. Like most people, I started out with more personal blogging on Live Journal, then moved to other, brief projects in writing that honestly aren’t worth mentioning until the advent of Overly Positive, where I felt I really found a voice that, despite being an exaggerated parody of myself, was one I was comfortable with.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been tasked to write for other projects. For a few years I ran a 14,000 page site called AnimeInfo.org, which provided reviews, articles, and guides to the anime and manga industry. I also got into the wonderful and crazy world of convention planning, where I managed to provide significant roles (some of which involved me having to sound coherent on paper) through running departments and even chairing the events as a whole. Currently, I’ve put my community management experience to work as a contractor for Curse.com, where I serve as Assistant Site Manager for Warhammer Online fansite Warhammer Alliance. Among other things, I occasionally write OP-ED pieces about WAR under the name PhoenixRed for that site.

If you hadn’t noticed already, these kinds of things explain why I only play 8-10 hours a week now.

Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?

I enjoy writing positive articles and introducing a little bit of sun (even when it’s a bit purposefully overbearing and bombastic) into my corner of the Internet. I’ve honestly always enjoyed writing and blogging in general – this probably comes as no surprise considering my undergraduate degree is in English.

To be honest, if it became something more – and certain doors have been opened to that effect already – then I’d be quite happy. I see writing/blogging as more of a side project with side income, rather than a full-on job, per se, but finding a niche and a place that would be happy to have someone like me would definitely be exciting. Places like The Escapist and Destructoid feature passionate, prolific, and entertaining writers all the time, and someday, I wouldn’t mind joining their ranks.

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

The only hard and fast rule is at least one post a day. This is mostly to exercise my writing muscle, keep my pen sharp, and keep my content on Overly Positive fresh, of course. Typically on a day when I post, I’ll scour Google Reader for the blogs and sites that I keep up with. If I see something that strikes my fancy and could use a bit of sunny optimism, I write about it. The most times I post in a day usually doesn’t exceed three – once in the morning, once at lunch, and once in the evening. In the midst of that, I also take the time out to visit the various blogs I follow and leave comments for them. You’d be surprised at how having someone care enough to leave a comment can energize them to write more – and how they can reciprocate in kind by reading and leaving one for yours.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you tend to cope with it?

There’s only a grind when you feel constricted, or have writer’s block about blogging. There’ve been times during Overly Positive when I just couldn’t inspire myself to write about something positive for the day. Sometimes it’s a mental thing, other times it’s other priorities, but blogging can become a real chore when that happens.

To be honest, if you are struggling with blogging, it’s usually best to take a break – clear your head, try to find that creative muse, and come back to it when you feel you can do it without really thinking about it. There are times I look at posts I make and don’t realize that I’ve posted 3 times in a day. When you can crank out articles, it’s a good sign for your future writing inspiration.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

Blogging is a permanent marker of your thoughts and ideas, committed to virtual ink and placed on the Internet for all to see. I think that a lot of times, we verbalize or think about something really profound, or really exciting, or really funny, and the really crappy thing is, it’s gone within hours, or sometimes minutes. When you blog, you’re creating an archive of your ideas and things that strike you, for reference or for simply getting it off of your chest. The experience is cathartic for a lot of people, which is why rant blogs are so popular and well-read – they’re an explosion of thought and ideas that many people can identify with when reading.

While massive readership is not needed to feel good about blogging, the fact that you have an audience of sorts is nice, because it validates that people find what you write meaningful. I have extremely limited readership for Overly Positive right now – but even for the 25 or so readers that hit up my feed, I find pleasure in making their day a bit more interesting with my quirky and thoughtful posting style.

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your blogging past?

Whenever someone actually attempts to insult me on Overly Positive, I always respond with a kind of unnerving, perhaps even annoying kindness that fits with the voice of my writing. There was an article I wrote about what happened in Final Fantasy XI with a certain boss that one guild attempted for 18 hours. No, that’s not a typo – they were really raiding for 18 hours, to the point that some of them were physically getting ill from the effort. Now, I wrote on this particular issue in my own way, which is to say that I heaped unnatural praise for neglecting basic health needs and being generally insane. Well, apparently my bright attitude didn’t go over well with the FFXI community, who proceeded to roast me over the coals for being so sarcastically taunting. Thing is, every hate-filled comment I got was responded to with a blinding ray of sunshine and a huge virtual grin, and in some cases, it was disarming. I even got a comment from an FFXI GM. It was great.

Ever since then, I’ve had an Overly Positive Thoughts feature on Thursdays, where I provide the same kind of all-caps “THIS IS AWESOME” optimism to some of the worst pieces of news on the Net. Most people get the joke. Most.

Have you had any experience with podcasting? If so, what has that been like?

Over at Warhammer Alliance, we have a regular biweekly podcast. We’ve just passed 16 episodes and don’t seem to be in any danger of stopping anytime soon. I love podcasting, to be honest, and so do my co-hosts, who’ve also never done podcasting prior to this endeavor. Podcasting has been a challenge to overcome technical issues, features that didn’t work out, and commentary that has been a backlash to certain topics, but it has also been fulfilling and fun. Podcasting is sort of like blogging on steroids – the most interesting podcasts are a stream of shared consciousness from individuals with unique and interesting personalities. Even with a talented editor or producer, when you’re podcasting you’re kind of “blogging” without a safety net, because writing at least gives you the opportunity to better edit your own content. By contrast, your brain may cause your mouth to say something that might get you in trouble later (I didn’t mean to imply Halflings were only good for stew, honest).

Are you pleased with how your blog has been received in the blogosphere?

There’s a Japanese saying that says “There’s always someone better”. Seems pessimistic, sure, but the real message is that you should never be satisfied with the status quo. I like my humble little readership, but I’d love to reach out to more people, collaborate with them, and promote their projects too, which is why I’m more than happy to do this interview for this particular blog. Honestly, I’m not quite 100% with how I’ve been writing, but the constant comments and well wishes really are an encouragement to keep tuning under the hood.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

Probably not. Maybe I would have picked a wittier name, but boy, searching for the right domains has gotten so troublesome these days.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

Sure – when I’m in my grave and dead. My own geeky tendencies, combined with my current online project responsibilities and my chosen profession in Information Technology, mean that I’m always going to be near a keyboard, which means I might as well do something worthwhile with it. No one can really predict the future, but for now, me and my optimism aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Posted in Blogger, Podcaster, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

One shot: Ferrel

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 19, 2009

MMO community connection:

Epic Slant

Where does the name “Ferrel” come from?

The most common misconception is that the name Ferrel is a play on the word feral. That was never my intention. When we picked up EverQuest the second time (more on that later), I wanted to play a cleric. Back then the High Elf cleric had the most starting Wisdom by a good margin and I was a min/max kind of guy. I rolled a female (my first real female character) and had to make up a name for one. I had a few names I used for male characters but I had never created one for a woman. In the character creator I just played with names. Ultimately I came up with Ferr’El which would be pronounced Fair El. EQ did not allow ‘ in the primary character name so I just typed out Ferrel and it has stuck for a long, long time. I am southern, however, so when I say it pretty much comes out Ferrall.

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

Epic Slant is a blog that focuses on MMO design, guild leadership and my thoughts on the game I am currently playing. I’ve had a lot of experience in guild management and I originally wanted to share that. I go quite a bit into theory and psychology and sometimes it can be a little dry but the lessons are actually quite useful to would-be guild leaders and officers. My MMO design commentary is more of a passion for me. I like to advocate for things that I and my guild enjoy. As I said previously: I am a lobbyist of sorts.

What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

I started playing MMOs back in the MUD days. Way back then, I played paper and pencil RPGs with a good group of guys but we couldn’t always get together. When I wasn’t with them, I did a lot of role-playing on AOL’s chat rooms. I wanted something a little more fleshed out, however. Someone in our group pointed out MUDs to me and it was a natural fit. For a while I was even a builder and lead administrator on one. My first graphical MMO was Ultima Online, though.

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

EverQuest 1 simply blew me away the first time I saw it. I was in a local hobby shop with a good friend and we were talking about UO. The clerk heard us and started explaining this amazing new game that was 3D and far more like AD&D than UO. What he described (a first person game online) sounded far fetched to us but we went out and bought it. The first time I logged in I simply couldn’t believe it. The world felt so massive and it was a total mystery. That is when I was truly hooked.

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

I figured you might ask that and I still was not prepared. I’ll do my best with this list but it really is outrageously long. I’m only going to include the high points since I’m not sure what you mean by extensively. Most of the games I touch I at least get to max level.

MUDs, UO, EQ1, DAoC, EQ1 again (four years, this is when I first joined an “uber” guild), EQ2 (two+ years), World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, Eve Online, and currently LotRO.

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

At my peak I was putting in insane hours. In EQ2 I put in somewhere in the nature of 60 to 70 hours a week. Roughly 40 to 50 of those were in game and playing. The rest was spent dealing with the administration of Iniquity. It was, without a doubt, a full time job plus.

At one point you were heavy into the competitive raiding scene. Would you care to share an amusing and/or interesting anecdote from these days?

In EQ2 Classic there was a group of weapons called “Prismatics.” They were peerless at the time. To get one you had to complete an incredibly long quest and defeat multiple raid targets. The last of which was a dragon called Darathar. In those days, not a lot of guilds had defeated him and he was horribly bugged. In some fights he would simply heal to full when his script went badly. He was changed numerous times but Darathar 1.0 was the most difficult encounter out there at the time. Iniquity had worked all the way to him and for a week straight, hours a day, I threw us at that dragon. I could not count how many times we lost. It got so bad and we got so low that Khallid and Durrel, who at the time were playing at my house, looked over at me and said outside of Ventrilo, “Dude, we need more gear. Lets call it and farm a bit longer and we’ll get him. We’re close.” I had heard rumblings that they were going to tone Darathar down a bit and I did not want to miss beating the hard version. That is the thought that went through my head. Not “I want my epic now.” Not “We want his loot.” It was “I don’t want to beat 2.0 when only an elite few beat 1.0.” In the hardest moment of my life I looked at some of my best friends in the world and told them we weren’t leaving and they needed to just suck it up and win. They were understandably frustrated with me. I pushed and pushed and pushed, though, and that very night we won. We beat Darathar 1.0. That is a story that has always stuck with me. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding moments in my “career” as a leader.

Do you still find time to raid?

I do still have time to raid, yes. We are now what I call microcore professional raiders. We only look to raid one or two days a week but when we do so we don’t fool around. We’re there to get in, execute our strategy effectively and win. Currently we’re maxing out in LotRO so we can enjoy the content there.

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

MMOs make up the lion’s share of my hobby time. I do dabble in table top miniature games and the occasional PC game. I seem incapable of playing consoles. If it doesn’t have a keyboard and mouse I’m lost. Beyond that I do web design for fun. I hand crafted Epic Slant’s theme. It isn’t the most amazing thing on the planet but I did it myself and that means a lot to me.

When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?

I “grew up” in the tradition of uber guilds putting editorials on their website. Each day I religiously looked at the FoH, Afterlife and Township Rebellion websites and read what they had to say. Silent Redemption (my EQ1 guild) also did similar writing but we were never a “big name” outside of our server. We were certainly up there world wide but we were more of a second tier uber guild. We held our server completely but we couldn’t get a “game first.” Occasionally I was allowed to do a new story. It was usually a comedy bit but it did earn me a spot on the writing staff for the defunct MOG Magazine.

It was only natural that when I found myself in the leadership position in EQ2 that I equally editorialize. Iniquity held the Oasis server completely during the classic era. We were so far ahead it was laughable. Our website received copious amounts of traffic and I wrote. My fellow senior officer, Thax, did comics and also wrote. It was our moment in the sun. I was asked to do some guest articles for Caster’s Realm and did so. That went over well. Eventually I retired and moved from Iniquity’s front page to a site I devised known as MMOlogy, more or less the “science” of MMORPGs. I did some good work there but I did a poor job of getting the message out. My only readers were the guild members of Iniquity who retired with me. After about a year of doing that I decided to rebrand and make a better effort. That is where Epic Slant was born.

Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?

Blogging can indeed be a hobby and it does serve as one of my creative outlets but that is not my primary motivation in doing it. I see my role as less of a hobbyist and more of a lobbyist for players like me. Due to this presumed responsibility I take some of my writing quite seriously. This is also why you won’t find any rants on Epic Slant when it comes to a specific game or mechanic. It is my goal to ensure that anything that I write will be profanity free, respectful, and will never include overly negative comments without some sort of suggestion for improvement. I do give a lot of constructive criticism but only because I am passionate about the games I am playing and want them to improve. It is my hopes that the articles and discussions about them are useful to community managers and developers. I want them to feel like they use my site to see where they need improvement. If they feel like I’m just there to shout at them then I’ve failed as a lobbyist and give my demographic a bad name. I hope to avoid that at all costs.

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

I pretty much ensure that Epic Slant has a new article appear each Monday and Friday. Frequently I write a week in advance so that this is possible. Of those two I try to ensure at least one is MMO design related. On Wednesday I allow myself a broader topic range but do try to keep it in the same general genre so I don’t lose the message. I’m not a big “reactive” guy. Rarely do I just “write from the hip.” I’m simply not as good at it as I want to be yet.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you tend to cope with it?

Blogging is most certainly a grind when you’re not inspired. Sometimes I have ten topics I am dying to cover. Sometimes nothing comes to my mind and I’m terrified of just rehashing something without adding to the discussion. Occasionally I have guest writers so they can fill in blanks for me. Thankfully since I write things in advance I usually have a week or two to slack. I have since decided, however, that it is better to post nothing or a “sorry I didn’t get an article out today” post than to put up inferior quality work that I did out of desperation.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

I absolutely love discussion. The most rewarding thing for me is when other players, bloggers and industry people post comments. I like any sort of constructive comment. If you completely disagree with me I welcome you as long as you’re constructive, don’t use profanity and offer alternatives. I have yet to disapprove any comment on Epic Slant. I’m a big boy and I do not fear disagreement. I thrive on it. Just be ready for my rebuttal is all!

Are you pleased with how your blog has been received in the blogosphere?

I am thrilled with how Epic Slant has done so far. It has grown from just Sodality guild members reading it to a multi-hundred hit a day website. I’m currently sitting at about 2/10 on the Google page rank which is better than it sounds. Most sites like mine register at a wonderful zero. To be a two in a year without offering some sort of viral product or hilarious video is great. I want to branch out, though, and get more readership. I’m probably going to start leveraging some of my industry contacts for interviews. My ultimate goal is to involve professional members of our industry more directly with players. In my eyes that is what we need more of. For too long have we lived in an us vs them situation. The truth is that we’re all gamers and people. If we talked with less levels of red tape between us we could all do better. I want gamers to be more accepting of faults when it comes to MMOs. At the same time I want the industry to be more concerned with customer service. We’re a young industry and we have an opportunity to change it for the better.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

I am not a big fan of regrets. The only thing I would do over again is to have had my branding consistent sooner. The original URL for Epic Slant was ferrel.me. I built traffic with it and then changed to epicslant.com. In doing so I did damage to my web ranking. In the long run it is better but I should have just went with epicslant.com to start with.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

Absolutely not. For me to stop blogging I would have to stop playing MMOs. No matter how much I’ve heard we grow out of things, I can’t seem to. I don’t enjoy other games. I don’t like the idea of being separated from my guild mates. Some people view guild mates as just “online people” who are only somewhat real. I do not view them as any different from the friend I have lunch with here at home. I know my guild mates. I’ve met many of them. We’ve shared stories, talked about relationships and children. We’ve been together so long it would be like divorcing an entire friend group. No, I’m in this for life, probably.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

I’ve often thought about this as any player does. We all assume that we can do a better job than the guys that are already industry. The truth is most of us can’t. We have great ideas but ideas aren’t enough. That said, I also think our industry is too inbred. Veteran designers go from game to game and “breaking in” is ridiculously difficult. There isn’t enough new blood coming in. Sometimes you need someone who will sit in a meeting and when the established group says, “We can’t let players do this” they will jump up and say, “Why not? Why CAN’T we? Why is everything so permissive now?” Most of the time the answer is “Buh?” or “Because we’ve always stopped them…” MMOs have too many rules now and we need to start beating them back. Too many shops don’t do things because EQ did them and “EQ is bad!”

If I was a studio head with the resources and time I would grab a lot of the best veterans in the industry (much like 38 Studios did). They would form my solid core that I would count on. I would then give a lot of young and independent developers a shot. Most importantly, though, I would hire a group of players to sit in and ask “why” all the time. If the answer is ever “buh” or “because” then we have to reengineer and rethink.

I realize that isn’t really the question you asked but I felt it would add insight into what I would do. A quick summation of what I would design though would be…

-Fantasy / Steam Punk setting based on the IP I’ve been writing a while.

-Extreme PvE focus with PvP server(s) being play at your own risk.

-The game would be designed around healthy, positive competition between guilds.

-About eight classes with clearly defined roles before they ever release that actually match. If a rogue is easy to kill and does the most single target damage over time the description will say that and no matter what players complain about, it will do that. PvP will NEVER factor into balance. It is nearly impossible to balance one set of classes across two systems.

-You will be able to solo to max. It will not be more effective or efficient than grouping. Grouping will always reward you better. Most group content would be “small group.”

-Non-instanced dungeons will exist that are far more rewarding than instanced dungeons.

-Named mobs will drop treasures like they did in EQ. They will not, however, inhabit small spots. They will have very large areas where they can spawn to reduce camping.

-Raiding will be a focus but not a niche. There will be three extremely clear raid tiers. “Easy” for basically anyone to do. “Medium” which will offer a reasonable challenge but a good portion of the player base will be able to do it. “Hard” which is for the hardcore and professional raider.

-Contested mobs will return. They will be difficult and they will drop rewards the likes of which can never be found in an instanced raid.

-Crafting will exist but only in “useful” fashions. I loathe the arguments between which gear should be better, crafting or drops. Crafts will provide useful additional items. Potions, weapon and armor enhancements, ability enhancements, fluff items and cosmetic things. The best items in the game will be made from crafting components dropped off raid mobs.

-Bind on pick up will be extremely rare. I’ve never seen a good argument for it that amounted to anything more than “we don’t want people who didn’t do the encounter to have the reward.” Items will be tradable at least once. If the guild that won it wants to sell it to competitors, more power to them.

-There will be some form of alternate advancement that will allow players to specialize.

-Guilds will have insanely amazing tools at their disposal. I believe guilds keep players in games and I would have a team working on the guild UI before anything else. Guild masters would have every tool imaginable to make their life easier and keep them in game.

-The game itself will track the progress of the guilds server wide and game wide. At any given time, without any doubt, players will know who is “in the lead.”

-Exploiters and cheaters will be banned. If your guild gets caught exploiting a raid mob more than twice all of your officers in attendance will be banned. Every member there will be suspended. In a game that focuses on this kind of competition ensuring a fair game is more important than a few accounts.

Now, I recognize that any industry person who reads my list will roll their eyes. I am an admitted idealist. I recognize that in the real world what I want to do couldn’t happen unless I had many hundred million dollars and additional investors who were willing to let me do whatever I want. The question did say I had unlimited resources though so I shot for the stars!

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Reading the text: Alex Bledsoe

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 18, 2009

sword-edged blondeAuthor website:

http://www.alexbledsoe.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what The Sword-Edged Blonde is about?

It’s sword-and-sorcery high fantasy written as a 1940s pulp detective novel. Instead of a private eye, my hero Eddie LaCrosse is a “sword jockey” who gets 25 gold pieces a day plus expenses for taking on your case. In the novel, he’s hired by an old friend, now king of the country where they both grew up, to find out whether the queen committed a particularly heinous crime. To solve the case, Eddie has to come to terms with some difficult things in his own past.

There’s also magic, and sword-play, and smart-ass dialogue.

From your website it appears there’s an interesting story behind what inspired you to write the novel. Would you mind explaining this?

The original inspiration was the Fleetwood Mac song, “Rhiannon,” and the original impetus to write it was a crush I had on the hot new teacher my senior year in high school. The book is dedicated to her, even though I never had the nerve to show it to her back in the day. The first third of the current novel is, in fact, pretty close to what it was back then, although much better written. The rest of it went through more revisions and permutations than you can imagine.

Have you since been able to show it to her?  If so, what was her reaction?

I dedicated the book to her, and tracked her down through some of my other old teachers to let her know about it. She was very gracious and said she loved the book. So that made me happy.

Stepping back a bit, what the process was like for you in getting your first book published?

It consisted of years and years of tedious legwork, submitting to publishers and agents while working on short stories to build my CV. I never went through any MFA programs or writing seminars, and I didn’t attend a convention until I was in my 40s, so I had no network of industry connections to fall back on. I just kept at it. From the time I made the decision to make writing my priority to the publication of “The Sword-Edged Blonde” was eleven years.

First I landed an agent, Marlene Stringer, who did the unthinkable and stuck with me for two years before making that first sale. Ironically the book she signed me for is still unsold. But I found her based on the query letter/sample chapters/full manuscript process, without any outside influence, so it can be done.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

I was a huge reader. Well, okay, I only weighed about 180 back then, so there were some readers a lot bigger than me. Rim shot! Tip your waitress.

Seriously, I grew up in a tiny little town in western Tennessee. Out of a population of 350, I was related to about 250 of them. There was no high school, no newspaper, no library, no cable TV, nothing like that. And the social scene consisted of drinking beer, driving around and killing small animals (and I mean that in a very broad definition, because some of these good ol’ boys will kill anything that crosses their path). I had no social skills to speak of, so when I found out I could drink better than most of my friends, that became my new hobby. I think I was 14.

Anyway, yes, I was a big reader. I loved all things science fiction and fantasy when I was a teenager. What I remember most were Edgar Rice Burroughs, Alan Dean Foster’s multitudinous SF movie adaptations, HP Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. I tried some of the hard-SF, but it was too technical for me. I remember one about a black hole that actually included mathematics tables and formulas. In a novel.

On the other hand, I have particularly fond memories of a 1980 book called Shiva Descending by Gregory Benford and William Rotsler, because it combined an Earth-destroying asteroid with fairly graphic descriptions of sex, at least in my small-town experience. I haven’t re-read it since then, so I have no idea if it holds up, but man, it kept my attention then.

And what do you spend time reading these days?

Anything that catches my eye, really. I don’t stick to a specific genre or topic. Within the last year I’ve discovered the amazing fantasy works of Ekaterina Sedia, especially The Alchemy of Stone, which I can’t say enough good things about. I’m a huge fan of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels and Andrew Vachss’ Burke series. Charles de Lint is a big favorite; in fact, Memory and Dream is on my short list of favorite novels ever. At the moment I’m reading an ARC of Erica Hayes‘ urban fantasy Shadowfae and really digging it.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I played all the usual board games growing up, although to this day I don’t know how to play backgammon. My favorite was, and is, Battleship.

But as the above description of my home town implies, there weren’t a lot of people sympathetic to things like science fiction, fantasy and the like. In fact, it could be downright dangerous to your health on the playground if word got around. I did know one kid who played D&D, ironically the Baptist minister’s son, but he definitely had power issues about it. I was hugely excited the first time I sat down to play, but his iron-fisted DM’ing sucked all the fun out of it. I never really tried again.

In college–this would’ve been the mid-80s–I had a fraternity brother whose little brother (the biological kind) had one of the first text-based adventure games. I don’t recall the title, but I remember thinking, “This is just like writing a story.” Except that, at the end, you had nothing to show for it. That realization stuck with me. I was excited by the idea of the game in theory, but when I tried to play it myself, my sense of narrative kept getting in the way of what the game expected you to do.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

No, I haven’t. I’ve looked over shoulders while other people have done it. The big problem was that, until a month ago when I got my new iMac, I never had a computer reliable and/or fast enough to run them. I was always three years or so behind the cutting edge. Now I’m too busy with deadlines and children to develop any proficiency.

Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?

The only game I ever beat was the Sega James Bond game back in the 90s. I don’t know what I expected at the end, but what I got was just a girl coming out and kissing Bond. The End. Not even a huge explosion or anything. Very anticlimactic.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process? Please explain.

If you talk to even a few writers, you learn pretty quickly that every writer’s process is different. The grind, for me, is the first draft. Getting the story out of my head and into text is the “work” part of it. Revisions are easy, and even fun most of the time. I know a lot of writers who feel the exact opposite, though.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

I actually had an epiphany about that when I was reading through the ARC of Burn Me Deadly for any last-minute changes. I realized that, whether it got good reviews or sold well or anything, that it was exactly the kind of book I always wanted to write: it deals with the things that I, as a writer, always wanted to explore, both narratively and thematically. It was a level of satisfaction that took me entirely by surprise.

When do you find time to write?

The simple answer is when the kids are asleep, or someone else is watching them. We have two sons under age 5, and they require a lot of attention. I’m lucky to have a wife who’s 20% smarter than I am, and who’s willing to put up with my artsy pretensions.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m revising the sequel to Blood Groove, titled The Girls with Games of Blood. It will be released in May 2010.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Think about writing the way an athlete thinks about his or her sport. You practice that jump shot to be ready for the Big Game; in the same way, a writer should write something every day, polishing and developing their skills so they’re ready for the Big Idea.

You wake up to a world where The Sword-Edged Blonde has been made into a massively multiplayer role playing game. What class would you play and why?

See, the problem with that is that Eddie is the only POV in that world, and I’m not sure I could function as any other character. And one of Eddie’s core skills is knowing when he can’t win a fight. So I might just spend a lot of time running and hiding from the more experienced gamers until my lives run out.

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One shot: Keen

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 17, 2009

MMO community connection:

Keen and Graev’s Gaming Blog

Would you mind explaining where the name Keen comes from?

Keen is best known as the shorthand for Lurikeen, which is a playable race (and my all time favorite MMORPG race ever) from DAOC’s Hibernia Realm. I first started using the name, or at least a version of it, when I made a character on the Mordred server named “Mean Keen”. From there the name stuck with me onto several forums where I adapted it, oddly, into “MeanKeenLurikeen”. Eventually I just shortened it to “Keen” as a nickname and a blogging name.

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

Keen and Graev’s Gaming blog is about just that: Gaming. The goal for our blog has always been to create a place where Graev and I can talk about gaming, in any form, with other people. It’s a place for us to share our ideas, strike up discussions or debates with others, and really analyze gaming as a whole. We strive to communicate our interests to our readers in the form of reviews, impressions, adventure logs, theorycrafting, and more with hopes that we can make some sort of impact on them.

What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

I’ve always considered my first MMORPG to be The Realm. It was one of (if not the first, because it was in beta before Meridian 59) Grapical MUDS. It was really surreal to be playing in a virtual world, even a sidescrolling one with turn based combat and instanced battles, with hundreds of other people at once. It was the first time I had a physical representation of a character that lived and progressed within a persistent world. I owned property, collected treasures, went to parties (Held a few of my own), PvP’d, and ultimately realized that this was now my favorite type of game.

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

This would have to be the first time I logged on to EverQuest and saw a 3d virtual world. This “wow!” moment lasted for weeks as I realized what a step up it was from a game like The Realm. I have often written about my most memorable experience in EverQuest as the time I traveled from Halas to Freeport. Having to travel during the day and hide in barns at night, meet travelers along to way, and see how a real game world (we’ve lost this over time) can truly immerse the player has made a huge impact on how I perceive MMORPGs today.

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

I get asked this question a lot. I can safely say that I have at least tried every AAA MMORPG released (Or tried to be released) in the Western market and nearly ever other MMO that I can possibly get my hands on. I consider “extensively” to be six or more months, including beta, or one where I’ve completed all content in the game. In order (if my memory serves me correctly), these are the MMOs I’ve played “extensively”:

  • The Realm
  • EverQuest
  • Dark Age of Camelot
  • Star Wars Galaxies
  • World of warcraft
  • EverQuest 2
  • Vanguard
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea
  • Darkfall

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

At my peak I spent over 60 hours a week playing MMORPGs. It’s been many years since I’ve been able to pull anywhere near that. Right now I spend none, since I am currently between games, but I plan to spend about 20 hours a week in the Fall.

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

Absolutely. These days I play RTS games more than MMORPGs. First person shooters, adventure, action, racing… heck, I’ll play anything if it is fun – and I do! Right now I am playing a lot of Heroes of Newerth beta. I’m really looking forward to Modern Warfare 2 and Dragon Age: Origins.

When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?

I made my very first blog entry March 15, 2007 on our original blog hosted with blogspot. It didn’t take us long to realize we wanted to have our own blog to allow us more control over the project as well as more options for future endeavors. We started www.KeenandGraev.com on April 7, 2007 and it’s been consistent ever since. We began podcasting shortly after with Keen and Graev’s Podcast, which was a short lived project that I’ll explain in later in the interview. Comics have also been another way that we communicate with our readers.

Our most recent project, and by far the most successful project to branch off from our blog, is the Keen and Graev Forum Community started in August of 2008. This started off as a place where a few of our friends could communicate with us but it quickly turned into a full fledged community. We have forums going for all major MMORPGs on the horizon, a General Gaming board that remains active on a daily basis with information, and forums for specific guilds/clans we have formed within games. Our community has survived two rough launches (WAR and Darkfall) and remained determined to play games like Aion and SWTOR together. Our forums are a place to talk about games, introduce topics of your own, share beta invites, win contests, and get to know other gamers with similar interests. Thus far I’ve made dozens of new friends that I know I will be gaming with for years.

We have two new projects in the works for you guys that we hope to present very soon.

Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?

I have always seen it as a passion rather than a hobby because of the subject matter. I’m truly passionate about games and I believe it shows through my writing. I enjoy the outlet for my creative ideas. I enjoy the connection the blog has created between myself and gaming communities across the world. I never once set out to make money with the blog (and still refuse to put ads on it today), nor did I ever consider it a platform to launch myself into the gaming industry. Will I make money or find myself a job because of it? Perhaps one day it will happen, but I would never expect it nor would I stop blogging as a result.

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

One post a day was my goal when I first started blogging. That goal has since proven to be unrealistic. I’m a full time College student maintaining a 4.0 GPA as well as trying to actually play these games I write about. My schedule is really this, and it works well: When I have something to say, write about it. That’s it. That’s my schedule.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you tend to cope with it?

Yeah, the grind comes with gaming droughts and between games. Right now I’m between games AND suffering through the summer slump which just hit me last week. It kills a little part of me inside to browse forums, news sites, other blogs, and see nothing going on. I can’t blog about playing Call of Duty 4 or Heroes of Newerth every day; It just doesn’t work for me. I cope with it by trying not to let it get the best of me. I’ll take a few days off blogging or work on other projects.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

I enjoy the ability to communicate an idea and see what others think. There is nothing more exciting about a blog than to see that people are reading what you have to say and reacting to it. Presenting an idea and sparking a discussion that goes on for 70+ comments, spills into additional blog entries and gets picked up by other blogs and sites to continue the discussion is a great pleasure to watch. The best part, and where I derive most pleasure, is that I don’t TRY to make it happen. I write what I want to write, and my readers take it from there. I’ve gone on record before saying that the best part of our blog can often be found in the comments.

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your blogging past?

I’d have to say it would be when actual Game devs started posting on the blog and linking to us on their official sites. I never expected more than a handful of people to read our blog, and now we’re actually apart of the MMORPG industry in our own little way. The memorable moments continue as we are asked to review games by publishers, get sent things in the mail to post on our blog for in-game events, and even attract devs into our forum community where they play the games with us.

What has been your experience with podcasting?

We have done two separate podcasts in the past. Keen and Graev’s podcast lasted for several months but in the end we were not pleased with it. Our listeners might have been enjoying it, but we did not enjoy putting it together or listening to it ourselves. We’re currently working on K&G’s Quickcast, which will feature Graev and I recording 5-8 minutes of gaming discussion about very specific topics.

Are you pleased with how your blog has been received in the blogosphere?

I really am. I feel like we’ve made a name for ourselves in the blogosphere and that people respect our opinions even if they don’t agree with them. It’s an honor to have as many readers as we do and we hope that they will continue to enjoy our blog.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

Absolutely not. I would not change a thing.

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

This is something I am asked frequently, and I give everyone the same advice. The first thing you need to do before you blog is recognize why you are blogging. Are you doing it for money? Are you doing it for fame? Are you doing it because you have something to say and you hope other people will be interested in reading it? Then you need to create a blog. I always recommend blogspot because it is user friendly. Once you have a clear direction and a blog up and running, just start writing. Write something EVERY day. It’s key for you to establish yourself as a consistent source of quality content. Do not fall into the trap of posting news – there are other websites out there for that and they’re way better than you. It’s my opinion that a blog is a place of personality and if you can’t let yours show through in your writing then you’re doing something wrong.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

Unless I grow tired of gaming, there will never be a day that I stop blogging.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

Brutal question to ask! In a sense, this one question encompasses a huge part of what my bloggings have been about for the past year and a half. By working through what games are doing right, and what they are doing wrong, I’m coming closer and closer to realizing what I personally want out of a MMORPG. I can’t see a logistical way of answering that question here without spending days on it, so I’ll link you to a blog post where I discuss my ideal setting and world and give you a snippit.

From my “What is your Ideal MMORPG Setting?” entry:

“Without getting too much into mechanics, I want to emphasize that my world and the characters within it would be heavily influenced by the lore and legend. Players would appreciate the importance of where they are and what they are doing regardless if they read the texts or not. I would want every place within the game to feel like it was designed for a reason. It would take some doing, but I know that a finely crafted world is capable of immersing the player in this type of experience.”

For more on this you can read the entire post here.

In this wonderful world, would you employ Graev to work for you? What would his job be?

Graev would be great to work with on a MMORPG. Although he has grown further away from them these days and turned to consoles, he has a very clear vision of what he likes and does not like. He’s one of those people that won’t, for a second, put up with any crap in a game. He can play until he is one level from the cap, realize the “end-game” is a certain way, and stop right there. He represents a very, very large player base within the gaming industry that have yet to embrace MMORPGs. He and I are on the same page regarding MMORPGs today losing key components from their glory days. Graev would make a great Producer or Senior Designer working side by side with me to create a MMORPG that once again captures what made them great.

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Reading the text: Richard Lee Byers

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 14, 2009

unholyAuthor website:

http://www.richardleebyers.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what your Forgotten Realms series The Haunted Land is about?

The three volumes are Unclean, Undead, and Unholy.  It tells the story of a civil war in a land ruled by evil wizards, and focuses on several characters who play pivotal roles in the conflict.

It appears you have a short story included in the recent anthology, Gamer Fantastic, entitled “Griefer Madness.” Would you mind talking a little bit about your story and how you got involved with this project?

My story for Gamer Fantastic is one of my very few science fiction stories (I generally do fantasy or horror.) It’s set in a near future where LARPs have become hugely popular, and people play in a sort of theme park where high technology provides what seems like a very realistic experience. My story is about a detective searching the park for one particular player. Since everyone he meets is masked in the guise of a PC, and since there are people trying to stop him, he doesn’t have an easy time of it.

I was invited to submit a story because I see Kerrie Hughes, who’s one of the editors, at Gen Con every year. We often end up talking on the same writing panels.

gamer fantasticAside from Forgotten Realms, what other shared world universes have you written for?

The Marvel Comics Universe, the World of Darkness, the world of Magic: the Gathering, Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion multiverse, the world of Warhammer, the Scarred Lands, Valdemar, the Land of the Diamond Throne, the Nightmare Club, and possibly one or two others I’m forgetting.

Would you say you have a favorite universe to work in?

It’s a toss up between the Forgotten Realms and the Marvel Universe.

What has your gaming experience been like (pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I started playing and GMing D&D back when it was three beige pamphlets in a white cardboard box. I’ve also played and GMed GURPS, DC Heroes, Champions, and Call of Cthulhu. I’ve never really gotten into computer gaming.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? What has that experience been like?

I’ve never gotten into online RPGs. I’m afraid to. I imagine I’d love it, and would want to spend as much time playing as some of my friends do. I haven’t got the time to spare.

Would you care to share an amusing and/or interesting anecdote from your gaming days?

Honestly, nothing is leaping to mind. I’ll note, though, that my gaming days aren’t over. My friends and I still get together and play from time to time. The game I current run is d20 Call of Cthulhu set in 17th Century France (the milieu of The Three Musketeers.) In addition to Call of Cthulhu, the game draws from the Swashbuckling Adventures sourcebook that came out a few years back.

How would you say your gaming experience has influenced you as a writer?

I don’t think it’s influenced the way I write. It made me confident that I could write game-based fiction, and as a result, I tried to sell to those markets.

undeadWere there ever times when you felt like your gaming got in the way of your writing?

No. I’m pretty disciplined about writing, and I’ve never let that happen.

Have you found there to be any drawbacks to writing shared-world fiction?

You can get typecast as a shared-world writer, and then publishers may be less open to publishing your non-franchise fiction.

By contrast, what would you say you enjoy most about writing shared-world fiction?

I like it that there’s a guaranteed audience, and that some of them will let you know what they thought of your work. I’ve done non-franchise stories that I thought were pretty good, and yet I’ve never heard from a single person who read them. That won’t happen with a Forgotten Realms story. And a lot of the shared worlds are intriguing and fun. If you like Spider-Man, why wouldn’t you enjoy writing a story about him?

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m in the middle of writing a new Forgotten Realms trilogy. I just turned in Book Two and will write Book Three next year. Until it’s time to return to that project, I’ll be developing various proposals on spec. Or, if somebody bites on one of the proposals I already have in submission, I’ll get to work turning that into an actual book or whatever.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I fence twice a week. Epee, mostly, although I still mess around with foil and sabre once in a while. I play No Limit Hold ‘Em when I get the chance. I’ve already mentioned playing D&D from time to time. Other than that, just the usual stuff that everybody does: go to the movies, watch TV, listen to music, read, etc.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

You have to arrange your life so you sit down and work on a regular schedule, week after week after week. You have to finish the stories you start. You have to put them into submission so editors have a chance to buy them. You should take advantage of the various written and online guides that can teach you about proper manuscript format, query letters, and the other things you need to know to look like a professional. Never pay anybody to critique, edit, or represent your work.

uncleanYou wake up to a world where your Haunted Land series has been made into a role-playing game. What race and class would you play and why?

Well, The Haunted Land is set in the Forgotten Realms, so it actually does tie into an RPG. If I was going to be reborn into the Realms, I guess I’d choose to be an elf. You might as well have the longest lifespan you can get, right? Class is tougher. I dearly love swordplay, so my inclination is to say Fighter or Swashbuckler. But on the other hand, it’s hard to say no to all the miraculous abilities that Wizards possess.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

I’m grateful to everyone who’s given my fiction a try. If you’d like to check out my blog, you can find it at richardleebyers.com. If you’d like to email me, there’s a link on the site. My next novel is The Captive Flame, Book One of The Brotherhood of the Griffon, due out in April, 2010.

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Iain Compton

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 13, 2009

MMO community connection:

Antipwn

Chapter 1: Introduction

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

Iain Compton a.k.a. IainC, Requiel

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

I have an MMO industry blog at antipwn.com/blog that has been going for a few years now. I am a games designer for an MMOFPS being released later this year and I worked as a community manager for DAoC and WAR in Europe before that.

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

I discuss the inside of the industry, trends and game design topics

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in Scotland and I grew up in a lot of different places.

Where do you live now?

The Black Forest in Germany

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

31-40

What do you do for a living?

I’m a games designer

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

A musician

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

  • I’m autistic.
  • I am a huge fan of comics.
  • I am a wargamer.
  • I have lived in a warzone.
  • I hate getting out of bed in the morning.

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?

I played a lot of tabletop roleplay games which are, of course, a social activity. I also played a lot of miniatures wargames, CCGs and board games. I never really needed to play games as a solo endeavour.

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

Mostly I played games. Chess and D&D were the main ones.

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

I played a whole lot of pen and paper games, mostly 2nd EdAD&D but also Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, MERP, WHFRP, Torg, DC Heroes, Rifts, Rolemaster, Palladium, GURPS, Twilight 2000, Traveller… You get the picture. Those were great times.

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.

My mum was a huge fantasy and SF fan so I grew up reading Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Anne McAffrey, Brian W. Aldiss and so forth. I read a lot as a kid and books were my retreat of choice when there was no-one to play a game with.

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.

Of course they did. Games without narrative are lifeless to me. A game needs to have a commentary to be interesting enough to play. Even if that commentary is applied externally.

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

I played a lot of games on my Commodore 64 when I was a kid – probably 8 years old or so. My dad was a computer hobbyist well before most people even knew what they were, back in the days when games had to be typed out and saved on tape.

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

Not really, they didn’t exist in most of the places where I lived.

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

Eye of the Beholder, the original Gold Box SSi game. Stories in a computer game!

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

PS1/2/3, Xbox 360, Atari 2600, Sega Megadrive, 3DO, Nintendo DS. To be truthful I was never really into consoles, I preferred computers.

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever exposed to MUDs? If so, when was this and what was the experience like?

A friend got me playing a hybrid fantasy/crime/SFgame which I played the hel out of for a couple of years. I found it fascinating and was turned on by the fact that the lack of graphics didn’t detract from the gameplay at all.

What was your first MMO experience? Again, when was this (a year please) and what was this like?

The first MMO I played was Dark Age of Camelot in 2003 when it was released in Europe. I had tried to play UO before that but I couldn’t get past the arcane interface.

If possible, list all the MMOs you’ve played extensively. Please start from the beginning and work your way up to the present.

DAoC, WAR, Eve Online, LotRO, Everquest II,

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

Eve Online

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

DAoC without a doubt. I played it for five years pretty solidly and must have ranked up 250+ /played days.

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

DAoC

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?

Eve Online, it has the most depth of any MMO around.

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

I’ll play Aion when it releases. I like the premise and I’d like to see how the PvP is handled.

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

I ran an event for DAoC in Europe where I ended up accidentally scamming the players who’d turned up. Eventually I gave all the money I’d stolen to the first newbie I encountered and ran a follow-up event where the players could capture me and put me on trial for my crimes.

Chapter 4: Preferences

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

I used to play about 30 hours a week, nowadays it’s probably around 15.

When during the week are your regular play times?

Evenings, weekends.

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

Definitely social. I hate soloing as it becomes a challenge to stave off tedium rather than a challenge to defeat the game.

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

I’ve found plenty of strong friends through MMO gaming, I’ve even brought some of them over to this side of the industry table.

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?

Sometimes, most often I’ll just log in and see what my options are.

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

I tend to play one as my main game which absorbs most of my time and I may have another one or two that I play as a change of pace.

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

Yes. Currently I’m playing Bloodbowl and a few other strategy games in between Eve sessions.

Are you something of an altoholic?

Depends on the game. I was in DAoC but not so much in WAR or Eve.

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)?

Eve lends itself to that quite well. In other games I tend to concentrate more on the game and try not to get distracted.

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

My wife plays MMOs too and all my colleagues work on an MMO so yes.

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

I went and took a holiday without internet access.

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

Not really.

Chapter 5: Blogging

When did you first start blogging?

I have two blogs, one is an MMO industry blog which has been running for about 2 and a half years, the other is a wargames and miniature painting blog that I started earlier this year. I recently migrated them both to my own domain www.antipwn.com/blog/  from wordpress.com.

Why do you blog?

I like to think out loud and a few people seem to like discussing my thoughts with me.

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

No. I try and set myself a one update per month minimum but I don’t always meet that. Sometimes I update several times in a day though.

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

Not really, because I don’t make myself write unless there’s something I want to write about. There’s no pressure for me.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

I like to read the comments and discuss with the readers of my blog.

How many people offline know you blog?

Most of my friends and family.

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

Figure out what you want to write about and why people should want to ready your opinions. Then go for it.

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

If you get no comments on a post, that doesn’t mean no-one read it.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

Possibly, not for the foreseeable future anyway.

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?

Sumerland (What Dreams May Come) by the Fields of the Nephilim.

Posted in Blogger, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

 
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