Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces


Posted by Randolph Carter on March 20, 2009

MMO community connection:

The Ancient Gaming Noob

Chapter 1: Introduction

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


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

The Ancient Gaming Noob blog as well as being a regular guest on the Shut Up, We’re Talking and Witty Ranter podcasts.

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

Pretty much focused on the whole MMORPG thing. My blog has some commentary, but is mostly a journal of my MMO experiences and interactions. “I don’t know what I am doing” is a recurring theme on the site.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

Silicon Valley on both counts. Well, it wasn’t called Silicon Valley when I was born. People still referred to it as The Valley of Heart’s Delight back then.

Where do you live now?

Silicon Valley. Everybody else in the world seems to be moving here, why should I leave?

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

41-50 – it sneaks up on you.

What do you do for a living?

I run a software testing group for a fortune 500 company. It is enterprise software, so you cannot buy it on the shelf at Fry’s (though I started off in commercial shrink-wrapped software), but chances are very high that you have used some piece of software on which I have worked.

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

Um, if I choose wrong, how much does another respec cost?

I don’t know if I would re-roll, but during the start of the first dotcom bubble I was working at a start up making a hardware device with some really brilliant people. If we had turned that power to evil, we could have really bilked some VCs out of some serious capital. Instead I have a T-shirt and some hardware that doesn’t work with any current OS.

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

  • I spent some time in the Soviet Studies program in college… about the time the Soviet Union went tits up. Bad timing in some ways. Things were changing so fast that it became a current events seminar in many ways.
  • I met my wife through an online dating service, but it turned out we went to high school together and had friends in common.
  • I used to work on Macintosh products, so I get more than a bit uptight about bad or inconsistant UI design.
  • My parents were both, essentially, accountants. When I realized that, it explained much.
  • I spent a lot of my childhood in a library. My grandmother was a librarian and I spent a lot of time with her and got really used to having access to a lot of books. This explains all the book shelves in my office at home.

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

My beautiful wife is amazingly tolerant of my gaming hobby… or she has grown resigned to it at least. It was a point of contention early in our relationship. More recently she mentioned that, as hobbies go, it was at least inexpensive and did not take up, say, the whole garage. However, the “at least I am home” card has been over-played and no longer has much value.

My daughter is very interested in games and virtual worlds. She likes to see what I am playing and wants to try out everything.

My mother plays World of Warcraft with my daughter and I.

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?

We played games quite a bit at my grandparents place. They had a farm out in the California Central Valley where TV reception was spotty and there was a general “early to bed/early to rise” rhythm of life. In the late afternoon before dinner, there was a point where pre-dinner drinks were served up (I got to have a soda) and we would sit around and play a game. Dominoes was the popular choice for a long time. Gin or other card games were played at times. At home too, we played games. Monopoly was always popular. When I was older and Trivial Pursuit came along that became a favorite. I suspect it was because, as a family, we have a remarkable knack for trivia. My mother and I were an unbeatable team, with me covering science and history and her on entertainment and sports. With friends I ended up playing war games, usual the Avalon Hill bookshelf variety. While we played all varieties, I grew to like the game Tobruk the most. It was a much more tactical game than some others, like PanzerBlitz or Third Reich. The more strategic, and thus the more abstract, a game got, the less I seemed to enjoy it. At least to a certain level. A game like Risk, warfare abstracted to the extreme, I did enjoy quite a bit.

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

I played some sports. I was in little league baseball and ran track through junior high. For hobbies I built models, usually tanks or airplanes to go along with my toy soldiers. I had quite a collection of Airfix 1/72 scale figures.

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

Not until high school. My family moved before my freshman year and I ended up at a different high school from all of the friends I grew up with. Then, alone and susceptible to the influences of strangers, I fell in with a crowd of role playing gamers. They started by introducing me to the light stuff like Tunnels and Trolls, but I quickly moved on to the hard stuff and had a copy of the AD&D Players Handbook before my parents could intervene. Soon I was reading Tolkien and affecting a bad British accent. Still, I was able to keep my head to a certain extent and never, for example became a Ren Faire regular or an SCA member.

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.

Honestly, I read very little of my own volition until about 8th grade. I used to mostly flip through books and look at the pictures. MAD Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy” comic was my level of reading commitment. Then at some point in junior high school I decided I wanted to know more about the pictures than the rather scanty captions in a book I was looking at, so I started reading the thing. This is, of course, all heresy, since my grandmother was a librarian and I spent hours and hours at the library. I was just browsing the pictures most of the time. In high school I read a lot of Science Fiction. Larry Niven and Harry Harrison figured prominently. Oddly, I tended to steer clear of the “classics” from authors like Asimov and Heinlein. “Bil the Galactic Hero” was much more amusing when I re-read it years later after having soaked up more of a foundation in the genre. (I only recommend the original book, not any of the follow-ons.)

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.

Certainly. Larry Niven was all about space. There is a direct line somewhere from me reading “Ringworld” to me playing EVE Online. And certainly RPGs and Tolkien mixed in unhealthy doses pre-disposed me towards fantasy. The one thing I disliked about table top games like D&D was all the accounting that needed to be done. While computer games and then MMOs restricted much player initiative, the hid ALL of the accounting that I so loathed. That made me a natural for the genre. I just want to attack, not calculate my THAC0.

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

I played Pong at The Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown San Jose when I was just a kid. It was amazing.

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

Of course, from the point I found Pong to the day I got a personal computer, I spent a lot of time in arcades. It could be a lot of fun, but it was also expensive. For 25 cents back in those days you could get a comic book. This probably explains why I did not do much comic book collecting.

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

I played Star Trek on an HP system. A friend’s dad brought us into the office one weekend and let us play it while he got some work done. My friend and I loved it and went about creating our own board game version of it since we did not have ready access to any sort of computer.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

I have owned three, an Atari 26000 that I got for Christmas in 1977, a Sega Genesis that I got as a bonus of sorts for a project at work in 1992, and we got a Wii in 2007. That is one console every 15 years like clockwork. I’m not due again until 2022.

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

A story about gaming? That’s what I have a blog for! Okay. At one point a friend and I were very excited about computer/console games. This was in 1978 or so, and I had an Atari 2600 and he had a Fairchild Channel F. We were both enamored with the technology but somewhat let down by the lack of depth there was to most games. Because of this, we tended to build metagames where you might have to play any given shallow two-minute-thirty-second “shoot the blocky thing with smallers blocks” as part of a single turn of the bigger game. There was a lot of role playing and pretend around it. We were nerds once, and young.

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever exposed to MUDs?

Yes, I have played a number of MUDs over the years. I think the first that would be recognized as a MUD was Gemstone. I was in the beta for it on GEnie back in 1988 or so. It was a lot of fun. Having played enough text games ala Zork, I was ready for the multi-player environment that MUDs brought to the table. From 1993 through to 2003 or so I played Sojourn/Toril MUD quite regularly. It is a Forgotten Realms based MUD, so had the advantage of being in my favorite D&D setting. I still play online games with people I met in that game.

What was your first MMO experience?

Does Island of Kesmai count? If so, 1986.

If, however, we’re going to stick with what we refer to today as MMOs, then EverQuest. I picked up the box on the afternoon of March 16th, 1999. I still have the receipt.

I had considered Ultima Online when it came out, having played some of the Ultima series. Unfortunately I had also gotten a bit tired of that series so never quite got around to the MMO iteration of the game.

EverQuest though… on day one it was buggy and slow and I got dropped a lot and it have high system requirements (a 3D card?!?) and I immediately felt at home. Part of the reason I felt at home was that many of the people who created EverQuest played Sojour/Toril MUD and sought to bring the fun of that MUD environment into a 3D world. There is an oft told tale that the city of Waterdeep in Sojourn/Toril MUD was the basis for the layout of Freeport in EverQuest.

If possible, list all the MMOs you’ve played extensively. Please start from the beginning and work your way up to the present. For extra bonus fun list your main (class & level) in each game as well.

Limiting myself to games I played for at least a year or more of calendar time, I get the following list:

  • EverQuest (1999)
  • EverQuest II (2004)
  • World of Warcraft (2005)
  • EVE Online (2006)
  • Lord of the Rings Online (2007)

There are other MMOs I have tried, such as:

  • City of Heroes
  • Guild Wars
  • Planetside
  • Runes of Magic
  • Star Wars Galaxies
  • The Matrix Online
  • Tabula Rasa
  • Vanguard
  • Warhammer Online

But I did not spend long enough playing them, for various reasons, to meet my own criteria for having actually really played the game to any great depth. I just played them long enough for me to decide they were not the game for me.

I tried to list my main characters, but that can be difficult. I have a serious pack of alts stored away, so it can be hard to decide who is the real me.

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

World of Warcraft is probably the one I play the most of late. I have a regular group that plays on Saturday nights. I also play with my daughter and mother on the weekends. And then I have a solo career. EVE Online is the other MMO to which I am currently subscribed, which I think defines it as an “MMO of choice.” It offers a different experience in that I spend at least as much time trying figure out how to do things as I spend actually doing them.

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

In terms of total hours played, probably EverQuest II. I couldn’t tell you an exact number, but there were many hours of concentrated daily play for me in post-cataclysm Norrath.

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

Because of the alt situation, I have not reached the level cap very often. In fact, I think World of Warcraft may be the only MMO where I have stopped levelling because I hit the then current level cap of 70 during the Burning Crusade expansion.

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?

Loki is always pulling this sort of crap too. Hrmm, that is tough. I would probably pick World of Warcraft, but then try to convince Loki that EVE is really just a multi-player sandbox and really doesn’t count. But if you had asked me a year ago I might have said EverQuest II. And next year I might say something else. But for the moment I would choose WoW because it is the game where I spend the most time playing with other people.

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

I have an odd personality quirk where I try to avoid something I know I will be interested in when released so as to not dilute the experience in advance or get my expectations set to high. So I avoid trailers for movies I know I’ll want to see or reviews for books I know I am going to pick up.

With that in mind, I am diligently ignoring Star Trek Online. Star Trek is deep in my psyche. The first game I ever played on a computer was Star Trek. I spent much of my youth playing Star Fleet Battles. And I have consistently been disappointed by Star Trek games on the computer. The best so far for me has been the Star Fleet Command, which was based off of Star Fleet battles. So I live in hope that maybe Star Trek Online can deliver.

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

There is a quest in WoW called “Mudrock Soup and Bugs” that sends you out to collect some “Forked Mudrock Tongues.” I mis-read this as “Forked Murloc Tongues,” an error compounded by the fact that there are Murlocs running around not too far from the turtles that actually drop the tongues. I spent ages slaughtering Murlocs to no avail and eventually just abandoned the quest. Later, I picked it up with an alt, groaned in memory of my futile effort, the decided to read the quest closely as I was obviously killing the wrong Murlocs. And, of course, I figured out what it really said. The odd part is that almost anybody I mention this story to says that they too thought it said “Murlocs.” Not all that amusing or interesting once I wrote it down I suppose. Way to close on a down note Wilhelm!

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