Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces


Posted by Randolph Carter on March 7, 2009

Hoodzie 001aMMO community connection:

Free Play Podcast

Chapter 1: Introduction

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

“I go by many names” but as of most recently I’ve started to take the alias of “Riknas Sarn”.

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

I am the host and writer of the Free Play Podcast over at

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

The purpose of the Free Play Podcast is all about how to enjoy yourself in the online community without being forced to pay that monthly fee, but still have some fun doing it. So we (try) to spend each week looking at a different F2P (Free to Play) and review/passjudgement/butcher them on the show.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I originally was born in Connecticut, but haven’t stayed in one place for a while, mainly moving around the different states of New England

Where do you live now?

Still pretty much the same case, I’ve last been visiting New York though.

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

Last I checked I was in the level 10-20 range. Man the grind is slow compared to WoW.

What do you do for a living?

I’m in the level 10-20 range, so, I still move around with the family. Still just prepping for college.

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

Considering I don’t -have- one, it wouldn’t be rerolling, however I’m seriously looking into the journalism/broadcasting career.

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

1.I’m narcoleptic, and thus fight chronic sleep problems.
2. Most of my role models are the actual podcasters from the Virginworlds collective.
3. I’ve known Andras since I was about 4
4. I’m working on a DnD group to run online
43. I have trouble with numbers

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

I really don’t know how to describe them sometimes. It’s pretty average in the fact that there’s nothing normal about us. We live with a cat, a dog, two rabbits, a guinea pig and a bowl of fish. I have the most arguments with the fish, but I think that’s a separate issue. I have a younger sister who I’m desperately trying to get an MMO, but couldn’t care less, and the same goes for my mother, who has almost no understanding of the computer whatsoever. My father is a computer programmer and an awesome guy, but being in that whole “I hate society” teenager phase, I don’t spend as much time with them as I used to. Personally, I find the cat to be the most empathetic in the family.

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?

Well, as a kid I don’t recall there being a lot out at the time, though I suppose there were more than when my peers in the podcasting field were my age. I played a lot of adventure games in my earliest years like Crash Bandicoot, Banjo Kazooie or Donkey Kong. At the time it was almost exclusively a solo activity, I never heard of co-op, and was still an only child. Friends were for the weak.

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

It’s kind of a shame in retrospect, I didn’t do a lot when I was a little kid (I assume we’re still talking about pre-adolescent childhood) other than running around aimlessly. I was content to play with my games or my little action figures. If I wasn’t doing that I was sitting there making up adventures for myself to be on, I guess I had a little Dungeon Master in me all along.

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

Only recently. I’ve been aware of them since I was ten or so, but only just started getting into them a couple months ago, and even then it’s not really pen and paper since I’m doing it over the internet. That said though I spent so much time thinking “Hah, that’s way too nerdy” until I came to the realization “Oh right. I’m a nerd,” and just let myself enjoy the ride of other people enjoying an adventure of my own.

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

I didn’t read a lot when I was very young, however it became something of a habit when I entered middle school and the reading sickness has been getting worse ever since. For books I liked things ranging from light stories of heroics like the Dragon Lance Chronicles or Deltora Quest, to the stories of the surreal and horror fantasy (also known as “low fantasy” to some) like The Damnation Game by Clive Barker and Robert E. Howard’s Conan The Barbarian. In the more contemporary settings I liked stories of espionage and stories of great empires and large scale consequences like Tom Clancy’s books, especially NetForce.

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.

I wouldn’t say so, no. At least not until recently. Since I was interested in them around the same time I always saw them as two separate mediums and neither really “copied” each other (At least, I never thought so.) Furthermore the games I played were of specifically different genre type than the books I read. Or at least, the games I would play was more limited than the books I would read.

In books, I felt that since I was following a story, I could read about topics that may disturb or scare me. I had no control over what would happen, so nothing would be my fault, so I wasn’t (deeply) bothered by the horror fantasy I read and touchy topics like religion and the afterlife were being tackled for me, instead of making a statement on them myself.

Meanwhile, with video games, playing as the main character, I felt that it was very much my story, even if it was a rail shooter. I didn’t want things that involved the deaths of innocents horrific hitman or Grand Theft Auto, and I didn’t want to face things were it seemed over brutal or bleak like Doom or Resident Evil.

That said, they’re starting to converge more. Books have different genres, games have different genres. Computer games are their own thing, etc etc. They were simply separate. Admittedly, sometimes I’ll compare an MMO to an old game, but mainly to see how far MMOs have come along to being able to be like a single player or co-op game. “Hey look guys, collision detection!”

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

I believe the first game I played (Not counting for the educational computer games) was when I was 3 or four. A Kirby game for the Super Nintendo, though I can’t remember what it was called.

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

Yea, I played in arcades. I still try to visit the old arcade every few months. Though I usually fail. But when I didn’t have many games of my own I was fascinated by the arcade. It was my equivalent of being a kid in a candy shop, I was a kid in the arcade. Seeing so many different games and different people, all on their own adventures at each terminal, it was awe inspiring at the time.

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

Although I’d say every game has made some impression on me, that would feel like too much of a cop out. Ultimately I’d say the first game to truly affect me was the original Crash Bandicoot. It was a light hearted silly game at the core, but still appealed to my love for what I thought to be an epic adventure, fighting absurd and impossible odds to acquire crystals, supposedly of great power, all the while having a side quest line urging me to acquire special diamonds instead. It felt like being the middle man in a battle of two great powers, and I loved every minute of it.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

More than I should have no doubt. I’ve had a Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Color (And advanced, and DS versions), a Play Station, a PS2, and PSP, Xbox, and Xbox 360 (Still waiting on their handhold.)

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

I feel obligated to put something here, but I struggle to come up with something as I feel like there’s so many stories that I’ve already gone through, as well as too many more to choose from still. However I’d have to say the best story to relay would be how fascinated I was when I first played KOTOR. Since I still hadn’t played D&D I didn’t really know what it was like to feel like you were in control of your own adventure, let alone make my own character and decide what to say to other people. It simply blew my mind that there could be such a thing as separate endings based on your own actions.

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever exposed to MUDs?

No. No I haven’t. I hope that story was interesting.

What was your first MMO experience?

It really doesn’t count as a true MMO experience, but I first tried the original Everquest in the year 2002 when planes of power came out. Considering I was nine at the time, the experience was less than pleasant and I had no idea what I was doing. I never read the manual. Even if I tried, I probably wouldn’t have been able to comprehend most of the suggestions or the explanations of how to play. On the bright side I figured out how to walk. For all intents and purposes though, I didn’t really know it was an MMO, the concept just didn’t really connect to my brain. All I knew was that my uncle loved it, and he played it with his friends. And in my mind, my uncle was more like God. So, I should play what God plays right? It wasn’t for a few more years that I’d come to grip with the potential an MMO really had.

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

Oh dear. The list is quite large actually, but there’s no way I’ll remember the levels for all of them.

As I stated earlier, there was Everquest, and then a dormant period as I thought, “Wow, that stupid game was broken.”

A good two years later, then I tried Everquest 2, where I first actually had fun in an MMO, really grasping the idea of one big world. Eventually I got tired of the “Kill 10 green blobs. No, not SICK green blobs, they need to be just normal green blobs. They’re somewhere in here.”

And I came across Star Wars Galaxies when I was twelve I believe. It was quite the experience as I finally understood the full concept, not only was it one huge world to explore, but it was a world you and people all over my world could explore. What wasn’t there to like?

Things all started to really blur that time, and I’m probably not supposed to write an essay on each MMO anyway.

Toontown, Runescape, City of Villains, City of Heroes, World of Warcraft, Dungeon Runners, DDO, Tabula Rasa, EVE, Age of Conan (Level 60 there. At least I remember that.), Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, The Matrix Online, and Planetside.

Don’t even get me started on the other F2P games out there or the website might crash.

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

Right now I’ve been flopping back and forth between The Matrix Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online. DDO has mainly been what I’ve been doing to group up in, while MXO has proven to be my “Solo” MMO when my good friends aren’t on. That said, I’ve been spending a lot more time in The Matrix Online.

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

So far I’m going to have to give it to City of Heroes, where I had been playing it for a good two years albeit off and on. In terms of actual time spent playing it’s possible I spent more with EVE or Age of Conan, but I highly doubt that.

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

In retrospect, it seems pretty absurd to have played so many MMOs and only reached end-game content in one. But I think I might learn patience with age, and I certainly hope to see the cap in more games. That said the one game I hit the cap for was CoX on the Heroes side. It was quite the experience to realize I hit the cap in something. I had to do it to try out the Warshade and Peacebringer!

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?

Well, in reality I’d probably just curl up and die, either from shock or I hung myself at the thought of such a miserable truth. Assuming I did manage to get past that hurdle, I would probably have to give it to…well, I’ve typed up three different answers six times and I want to have that on the record before anyone else reads what I have to say after that. Ultimately, after crying about Dungeons and Dragons Online I’d really have to say Age of Conan, though again, DDO would be a remarkably close second. In the end, although I’m not playing Age of Conan right now, that was the game that really was able to give me back the “sparkly” feeling of my first MMO back as I went through tortage. The role play community was there, the action was there and everything felt edgey. The game is beautiful, and I really think if that’s the only thing that exists, it would be able to fix all its bugs and we’d all be able to have a jolly old time.

I can’t say it enough, (Though I’ll try anyway), that I hadn’t actually felt truly immersed in a game for so long. Although DDO really hit the nail on the head with the sheer amount of interactivity, AoC gave me the feeling of a huge world, that also really let me interact with it, as well as providing combat that didn’t consist of whack-a-mole style game play.

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


Okay, fine. That’s a lie. Honestly I have a love for all MMOs, and as goodie-goodie as it may sound I want every single one of them to come out and succeed, but for the sake of the question I’ll say my hopes are riding highest for Earth Rise, I love the concept and the fact that it really nails down a reason for everything to happen ranging from spawning and all the skills. As well as the fact, I have the feeling it might be able to succeed where Tabula Rasa failed, by offering a somewhat more fast paced shooter like experience, while still having the aspects of an RPG.

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

All these “feel free” questions make me feel obligated to think one up. But this one is a lot easier than the previous ones.

Back when I was playing Star Wars Galaxies, I had hooked up with a pretty sweet guild on the Tempest server, I never really leveled though, I was too busy running a town out in the deserts of Tatooine, every now and again though I would wander off to the different planets, and for some reason my good friend in-game was calling me over to Corellia. I was curious, and flew off in my singular Y-Wing as soon as I could. When I walked out of the building I saw a huge line up of people several yards away from the entrance/exit. I walked over and asked someone I saw frequently at the Mos Eisely Cantina, “What’s going on?” There was a pause, “The Sith are coming,” he said. I was curious what he meant. I was pretty sure nothing spawned aside from the usual space port guards at the dock. A few minutes passed by, and nothing happened, I was ready to go back and assume it was just some weird rumor.

But just like out of a movie, I saw the Rebel begin shooting to the right. Less than a second later, the guard went flying left out of view, presumably into the wall opposite him. Just moments later, from both entrances to the space port, black cloaked players ran out towards us. Simultaneously everyone (Aside from myself and my friend) pulled out green and blue lightsabers, while all the Sith players turned on red lightsabers. In a panic my friend ran back and began firing his blaster. I instantly partnered up with my cantina buddy and hacked away at a Sith with my vibro blade. Many of us were dispatched, and I ran off in a panic, hiding in one of the many corellian buildings. My friend screamed for help on the other side, and I ran off to find him. I didn’t even get out the building though, and was cut down by a sith myself, and we had both died. Eventually though, the Sith had left when more Jedi came into to remove them. After that though, I simply said to my friend, “This is the best game ever.”

I still can’t think of any singular event that wasn’t role play that could come even close to matching that event in the scale “awesomeness”. I dare say that event invented the word awesome.

Chapter 4: Preferences

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

Collectively? Too much time. This pretty much is my peak, as I’m getting a job next year, I’d say I get in a good 25-30 hours of gaming total a week. It’s kind of alarming in retrospect.

When during the week are your regular play times?

Evenings, definitely evenings, from 6PM-10PM on weekdays, with plenty of breaks in between. As for weekends, nothing is regular about them.

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

Sometimes I’m a lone wolf as part of necessity. It just can’t be helped, because no one is in the low level zones where I start, or I managed to pick a low population server. More often than not though, I am a total chatterbox and grouper, grabbing pick up groups, joining guilds (And more often than not, becoming an officer) and starting a self-help club for the team. Well, that last one only happened once…

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

Didn’t think I would, but I stayed in contact with a couple people back in Star Wars Galaxies. I definitely had my strongest friendships there. I met him nearly a week after playing, and sold him a house in-game. Somehow that inspired us to hang out there more, and we just stuck together from there. I stayed in contact with him up until last year. Not sure what he’s doing now, but I hope he’s doing well.

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?

Definitely. I always know what I’m about to do, if I don’t have an overarching goal I’m usually not doing anything important or useful. And if I’m not doing anything useful I feel compelled to stop playing. I’m very much about planning and thinking. To not know what to do next would just throw a wrench in my whole day for not planning it out ahead of time.

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

I try to be a monogamous gamer. Only recently now that I’ve been trying other MMOs, (And even then, it’s usually only F2P) and that’s mainly because I’m doing a podcast about F2P MMOs now, so it’s somewhat necessary to play other games. I’m almost always just playing one pay to play game at a time, insisting to myself this is the game I’m finally going to stay with forever. Until the next MMO releases.

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

I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but a lot of my gaming habits have just developed or disappeared. In the case of side-gaming, I haven’t lately, though I’ll likely be amending that in the near future as I get ahold of some new console games.

Are you something of an altoholic?

Yes and no, the answer to all of my questions. I was very much an altoholic, which is likely what would lead to my MMO burnout problems, where I try every race and every class in a game and play through the same starting content over and over again. Now I’ve been sticking to having my “group” character where I play with my static team, and my “solo” character where I can experience new content on my own, usually trying to get as far from the group content as I can if the game is non-linear.

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)?

Not really. Sometimes if someone calls me I’ll talk to them while I game, though I try not to (It would be pretty lame to tell your girl friend that you can’t talk to them because you’re too busy playing Dungeons and Dragons Online.) Though I do frequently listen to podcasts if I’ve been lagging behind in the list of ones I’m subscribed to. Even then, I’m only half listening, my mind focused on the game. I’m very much a, “The only way is all the way!” type of person.

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

Yes, very often I would talk MMOs with my father and my friends whether it be about the concept of collision detection, PVP in MMO’s. I’ll talk about upcoming releases, specific features, and whatever I read on the assorted MMO news sites I visit. At the end I almost always find myself exclaiming, “Man! We’re such nerds,” And then talk about women or football, until we get bored and talk about MMOs again until the cycle starts all over again.

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

Oh man. Nearly all the time. Before I was responding to this, I was just playing DDO. Honestly? I struggle to cope, and so I often go through brief periods of mental collapse until I start writing (Be it songs or short stories), go for a walk/jog, or I start gaming again.

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

I’ve had a couple of those stints without MMOs, namely being after Everquest, because I didn’t understand them and spent a few years not understanding them. I also was convinced after Everquest 2 I figured MMOs out and realized how evil they were with their monthly subscription and wouldn’t fall to it again. My final stint was with Star Wars Galaxies where I swore off MMOs forever because I realized I could never love an MMO the same way again. Although I did go back to MMOs this time, there is a grain of truth to my last statement, being that I have yet to find something that could really and truly replicate the experience of openess I felt playing Star Wars Galaxies.

Chapter 5: Blogging/Podcasting

When did you first start blogging/podcasting?

My first delve into the podcasting community was in a Tabula Rasa podcast for PlanetTR, the largest community site available actually, my co-host Andras has actually been with me in it all the way. This first project we called, “Behind the Front Lines”. We’re still archived here actually.

The second project Andras and I touched upon is actually the precursor to our current project, the Free Play Podcast. Originally it was the Free Play Blog and was a heavily structured, weekly review blog that Andras and I alternated between, as we gave overviews of F2P MMOs.

Our biggest project (Still being continued actually) is the Free Play Podcast, which has the same point as the Free Play Blog, but is a bit more broad as we cover news and more discussion topics. My personal favorite is the fact that it’s no longer a “taking turns” game, where we both reviewed the same game together and are thus able to give more opinions and overall better coverage of the game being discussed.

My latest project is my first solo work, called the Riknas Rants, which is a very general blog that I occasionally write up on Gax Online to talk about possible projects and what I consider good discussion topics that aren’t about F2P MMOs, and not necessarily even about (But most likely) involving MMOs.

Why do you blog/podcast?

That’s actually a question I’ve asked myself a lot, and for a while I really wasn’t sure. It’s not so much that I didn’t know, but I just forgot it a lot. I listened to Massively Online Gamer a lot before I started podcasting, and now I still listen to a lot of the shows on Virgin Worlds. They were all entertaining, but what I had admired most were the podcasts about individual MMOs, like Warp Drive Active. What they did was become part of the community, they kept players attached to their game, and in a sense, the listeners that subscribed to the show become a community within the community. I liked that, I wanted to form a community, or solidify one. If by talking about something I love, I could actually bring people together, and, provide people some entertainment along with it? At the end of the day I’d have to ask myself the “real” question, “Why NOT?”

Belial2Do you have a schedule or some sort of routine you try and follow when blogging or podcasting?

No doubt. When the schedule breaks, so does the release schedule. I have set times for playing the game, playing a game with friends, the recording schedule, and the editing schedule. Albeit, I haven’t been able to follow it as of late, I most certainly stand by the routine as an essential part of keeping things moving and successful.

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

There can be a grind to it. It’s the fine tuning of the show that turns things to a grind, the anticipation of, “Oh man. I totally have to edit this and it’s going to take forever,” all that jazz. As much as I want to enthusiastic all the time, I can’t say it’s a riot cutting out deadspace and digging around through sentences saying, “Wait lets cut that out,” “Eh, no, maybe that will work let’s just cut this part out.”

What keeps me going is the same reason that I blog in the first place, I just need to keep telling myself, “I’m bringing people together, there are people who want to know this stuff.”

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging/podcasting?

The recording process is, and always will be a blast. It’s like having a set of topics to have before talking with your friends. Recording is something to look forward to, where you really get all those ideas going and your mind starts running as you try to put all your experiences into words.

How many people offline know you blog or podcast?

Really, only a handful. I may start handing out business cards at some point though.

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

Set aside from time for it, be it by mental note, writing it up in a pad, putting it in your PDA or teaching a carrier pigeon to go to your friends house who will then send you smoke signals to check it out, otherwise it will be a horrible mix-mash of thoughts that just won’t come together even long enough to get a punchline in.

Second, know what you’re going to talk about. There’s no real explanation necessary.

Last, really, follow the cliche, love what you’re talking about so that you can just throw all your enthusiasm and energy into it. Be it text or speech, people will see that you have something to say and not just doing it because it’s a second job to you.

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

Editing is not, and never will be, fun. Ever, and if you want to make sure you have a show done on time, you’re going to need to edit yourself. That’s it really.

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

No, never. I might take breaks every now and again, slow down my pace, but I can’t imagine a future where I just stopped trying entirely. I don’t want a future like that.

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?

Are you kidding me? I want someone to play every single podcast I ever participated in so they just knew how all the things I’ve done, if only to shove it in the faces of people who say, “Eh, he never did anything in his life.” Oh yea? Well I have 20 hours of me talking about different MMO aspects and payment models. And that was just for his first year of the show. Sit down, it’s going to take a while.

And if it takes someones entire life time to sit and listen through it? I think I officially won at life.

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