Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

One shot: Scott Jennings

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 12, 2009

MMO community connection:

Broken Toys

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

The subtitle of the blog is currently “Random comments about games and tractors”. I think I do pretty well at meeting that mission statement, though I have been woefully remiss in blog entries about tractors. I’ve been making random comments about online games in various blog-style forms since 1999. I should get good at it fairly soon.

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

I first played UO in 1997, a few weeks after it was released, and was just struck dumb by how alive everything was around me. There were people making deals by the bank, people riding by in a hurry on horseback, snippets of conversation I would pick up on in passing as I walked by – that world-ly nature was just so different from what I expected (I expected basically a multiplayer version of Ultima 7, I think) and really showed a lot of potential. It was an immensely satisfying, promising moment where you felt as though you could grasp the future of gaming.

Then I left Britain and was killed for my 13 gold by a group of PKs.

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

In rough chronological order:

Ultima Online: 1997 to 2000. I was fairly rabid about it; I got involved in an active RP/PvP guild – this is where the “Lum the Mad” character was born, a bald guy who wore a dyed robe and a deadly-poisoned dagger, both of which thanks to how the game system worked would survive my very frequent deaths. I eventually got tired of it, but 4 years is a good run for any game.

Everquest: 2000 to 2001. I never really got into high end raiding; my highest level character was in the high 40s which even then wasn’t terribly advanced.

Dark Age of Camelot: 2001 to 2005. Despite this game being the start of my career in making MMOs as opposed to playing them, I still played DAoC frequently and enjoyed it – the epic PvP with hundreds of characters slamming into each other in furious melees reminiscent of “Saving Private Ryan” hasn’t yet been matched in any game I’ve played to date. My main character was a Midgard Bonedancer which I’m sure vastly amuses everyone who assumed no one at Mythic ever knew where Midgard was. As with UO, I did eventually grow tired of it, but after 4 years of steady frequent playing. Hm, maybe this is a pattern?

Star Wars Galaxies: 2003 to 2004. I really wanted to like this game, and I came pretty close to liking it when the star-fighter expansion came out. Lack of spare time (and still playing DAoC actively) didn’t help.

World of Warcraft: 2005 to present, though you will note that it’s rapidly approaching my apparent 4 year expiration date. Despite that, I still play it fairly actively, and have both a warlock and death knight that have Naxxramas-level raiding gear.

City of Heroes: 2005 to present, on and off. It’s different, I like the combat and the story lines for a lot of the mission arcs. It’s a game I’ll set aside for a few months, then come back to.

Other than those, I’ve tried just about every MMO that’s been released, but none of them really held my attention for longer than a month or two, either because I never found a community to become a part of (which is a key part of any MMO) or because I just didn’t have the time – a factor that’s reared its head more and more, and why World of Warcraft’s less demanding schedule still appeals to me.

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

I’ve always been what Brad McQuaid once called a “time-starved powergamer”. Even at my most obsessive I’ve rarely put more than 15 or so hours a week into an MMO; if nothing else my ADD will kick in and I’ll bound off looking for something shiny after that. Currently I’d say I spend about 10 hours a week on WoW – sometimes less, though I try to at least log in and do a few dailies every night. It helps that I’m in a guild that appreciates bad jokes more than reliable raid attendance.

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

I’m a frequent strategy gamer – I’ve played every version of Civilization that’s come out somewhat obsessively (my favorite one? the Fall from Heaven mod! :) ) and am currently staring down Hearts of Iron 3 wondering how many years of my life it will take away. On consoles I tend to play JRPGs, especially the older ones, which I’ll still break out and play sometimes – my wife calls them my “pixel people games”. Back in the 1980s I used to be a fairly hardcore tabletop wargamer, but now limit myself to the light party game (Apples to Apples is surprisingly fun when you realize that “Berlin 1945″ is the trump card for literally every possible question).

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

My first game of Dungeons and Dragons was when I was 10. This was in 1976, and the original 3 book set had just come out, so no one had any idea how to play it. We all rolled up 1st level characters. I rolled up a mage, and memorized my one and only spell – Charm Person.

The first encounter was with a beholder. (You did catch the part where we were 1st level, right?) So, thinking on my feet and showing a keen caring for my fellow man even at such a young age, I immediately cast Charm Person on the thief, told him to charge the beholder, and the rest of us ran screaming into the next room.

The next room had a troll. We all promptly died.

I’ve been complaining about class balance issues ever since.

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

My first blog was “The Rantings of Lum the Mad”, which I started in 1999 to complain about Ultima Online. It was a fairly new concept – until then the only ‘bloggers’ (the term had yet to be invented, most of the time we were called ‘ranters’ that ran ‘rant sites’, a term I embraced gleefully) were exploiters who posted which interesting new way to break the game was popular that week. I came more from the standpoint of a regular guy who just wanted to play the game as intended and thought cheating scumbags were cheating scumbags. Surprisingly, it was a popular viewpoint!

The blog kept getting popular. I added guest writers because I felt guilty about not being able to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every MMO or the ability to make blog posts 20 times a day. We started developing delusions of being actual reporters (which, amusingly, still predated bloggers and their delusions of being actual reporters). The blog became popular with MMO developers as well, mainly because one of the requirement of being an MMO developer is that you are an MMO player, so we’d get interviews and the odd invitation to fly out to visit game companies. I paid for the trips on my own dime, out of a weird sense of ethics (I’m told this isn’t a standard many keep any more. Probably more my silliness then their ethical failure, though) yet still got accused often of being a craven sellout.

Then I lost my cushy dot-com database job, and in short order DID become a craven sellout – namely Matt Firor, who’s currently at Zenimax but at the time was one of Mythic’s founders, saw my “AAARGH I AM UNEMPLOYED” post on my blog and remembered that he needed a database guy. I immediately screamed “WOO HOO!” (I actually accepted the job without even being told what the salary would be – not only was I that happy to be in the game industry after years of writing about it, I was also really pretty desperate for A PAYING JOB) and moved to Virginia to work on hit dice and customer service database forms.

I tried to keep the blog running in a hands-off way with the people who were left behind, but a lot of drama ensued and the site eventually closed in anger, flaming, recrimination, and apparently someone having a vacation in England off of the site’s operations fund. (I’ve never been to England, by the way. Would kind of like to visit some day!) A few months passed, and I missed making cranky smartass comments about gaming, so I started another blog. By this time (2002) the world had caught up and the word “blog” had been invented. I’ve been updating that blog, “Broken Toys”, ever since – sometimes more frequently, sometimes less, but with significantly less drama and a more casual outlook. I’m as likely to post a crazy Youtube as a long meandering design theory think piece. Probably more likely.

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

For me, it’s both, really. It’d be silly to call it a career since it doesn’t actually pay anything, but it is something of a vocation. It’s humbling realizing that thousands of people actually will read random words you slap into a web form and comment about it. And the conversations from that do feed back into my day job.

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

Nope. That would imply organization! Thanks to the miracle of RSS readers (which based on my stats about half of my readers use regularly in lieu of the website) I don’t feel that guilty about letting the website go a week without updates. I’m not trying to build my reputation up in the blogging community (if anything I’m trying to lower it so I can post more silly Youtube videos) so I don’t really care if I build up a loyal readership any more. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate it – I just don’t stress about it any more.

Would you have an advice for someone interested in trying their hand at blogging?

Just do it. Go to a free site like blogger.com or wordpress.com, get a site account, and start writing. The hardest part is having something to write about – everything else is just decoration.

massively multiplayer games for dummiesOnce upon a time you wrote a book entitled Massively Multiplayer Games for Dummies. Could you take a minute and talk a little about the book and what the process was like in getting it published?

Sure. I was approached in 2005 by Wiley (the publishes of the “..for Dummies” series) because the original author they had planned to write the book, Richard Bartle, didn’t have time to do it. Ordinarily I would have taken umbrage at being number two, but given who they originally went with I don’t feel that badly about it. I was paired with a couple of editors (one from Wiley and Nova Barlow from Themis Group, who was the designated actually-knows-something-about-MMOs fact checker) and for 6 months spent every weekend cranking out chapters.

What kind of research went into writing it?

As far as research, well, there really wasn’t so much “research” as “put down a description of what we do every weekend in writing”. I drafted several members of my DAoC guild for screenshots of things like tanking, healing, and dying, which caused some people to note that there was an awful lot of DAoC screenshots in the book. My wife especially was a huge help with a lot of the book, and the section on crafting is from her experiences as a master tradeswoman in several MMORPGs.

Are you pleased with the way it turned out?

I’m pleased with how it turned out. Originally it was to include a trial DVD for World of Warcraft, which I think would have helped sales just from having that, but Blizzard didn’t have it ready in time for the book to go to press. In any event it didn’t sell that well (it is kind of far afield from what the “for Dummies” series usually covers, and I doubt there’s any plans for doing a revised edition. I wouldn’t have time to work on it even if there were, so there’s that. But still, it was an invaluable experience for me personally, plus I can tell people I’m a published author now and them smile smugly. That’s pretty important.

And one final question, if you had a chance to do all of this over again, would you do anything different?

With hindsight, I would do many, many things differently. But overall I absolutely can’t complain about where everything ended up – I have made dozens if not hundreds of friends from my Internet scribblings, and currently work in MMO game design which is about as much of a dream job as you can conceive. So, no, I wouldn’t change anything because as science fiction teaches us, one random change and all of a sudden we all die and the world is ruled by intelligent dinosaurs. Personally, I don’t want that guilt on my hands, thanks.

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One Response to “One shot: Scott Jennings”

  1. [...] is a site that apparently wants to interview each and every MMO blogger (there are quite a lot!). Today’s my turn. Filed under: Me No Comments Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) ( subscribe to comments on this post [...]

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