Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces


Posted by Randolph Carter on March 30, 2009

MMO community connection:

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)?

I am host of LOTROCast: The Lord of the Rings Online Podcast

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

Well one major feature about my podcast is that it has a certain structure. Many podcasts out there are very much stream-of-consciousness (and that’s fine by me). To keep myself on track and to help let people know what to expect, I have a few ‘departments’ in the podcast, much like a magazine. I usually start off with an overview of the episode, then do some ‘ranting’ about some topic or another that has come to my attention over the course of the weeks. Then I take some time and look at Turbine news as well as features of the very involved LOTRO community. After that, I tend to do a ‘focus’ segment, which is a discussion with a few other players about a certain aspect of the game. After that, I conclude and take care of so-called ‘housekeeping.’

I do my very best to structure episodes around what listeners tell me they want to hear…I have an episode coming up in early April that has been put together entirely from user input, so I really do value the communication with the people who take time to listen to my pontifications.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in Norfolk, VA but my home is the USA.

Where do you live now?

I live in La Crosse, WI.

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

If I could have any job I wanted without any sort of need for qualification, I would be the CEO of the Disney Company. Doesn’t that sound like the best job?

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

  • I’m a host of a podcast, lol. Only about 5 people I know in real life actually know this.
  • The only states I have left to visit are North Dakota and Hawaii.

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

Not much to tell. Single and looking.

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?

Oh geeze. Well, I have very distinct memories of my younger years. I remember very, very clearly that a friend of mine (Thomas I think his name was) had one of those jungle gyms in is backyard. We used to play Star Wars on the jungle gym all the time…just sliding around and stuff and making ‘pew pew’ noises. I went camping a lot with the Boy Scouts, so playing out ‘Star Wars’ was a pretty common occurance. We would make up our own storylines (this was back when the whole Expanded Universe thing was just starting up, so we were all captivated by the idea of making up our own Star Wars stories) and play them out over the trips. Good times, good times. If it hasn’t been made obvious, Star Wars was a big player in my youth, something that has inspired me to get into Film myself.

Besides the whole ‘make believe’ deal, I remember playing a lot of bored games. Some friends and I would set up a fold up table outside and play Life, Clue, Stratego, etc. I still have the copy of Life that I used back then. It still has the writing inside it from when we were counting up all our moolah at the end of the game. I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it.

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

I was a Boy Scout (although since now I work at some capacity as a Professional Boy Scout in my older age, I guess I should say I still am). Made it all the way to Eagle. I played soccer and baseball with kids around my neighborhood. Around the end of elementary school and the start of middle school, I began using our family’s video camera and making stupid kid films. Over time, that evolved into a much more serious hobby and now a career.

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

Heh. My experience with RPGs is pretty simple: I borrowed the core rules for the Star Wars RPG from a friend and forgot to ever give it back. I always wanted to play it, but never did. I still have the book, though.

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.

Oh, absolutely. I remember a series called ‘classics for kids’ or something. It had all sorts of classic books like Red Badge of Courage, Sherlock Holmes, The Jungle Book, etc. I devoured those. I absulotely adored ‘The Hobbit.’ It was and still is my favorite Tolkien book (although The Silmarillion comes in a very close second). I had a lot of science books on my shelf. I also started accumulating Star Wars fiction (starting to notice a pattern?). I never got into comic books. I would like to now but they are so darn expensive. And I hate cliffhangers.

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.

Eh, I don’t really know. Some might say that computer games have the opposite effect as books. Take Lord of the Rings Online (my MMO of choice) for example. It makes a concrete version of Middle-Earth. Once you’ve been there, it makes it hard to come up with alternatives. I am not as picky as others, though. I look at movies and games based on books as one person’s interpretation of a setting. I still hold to my own imagination, so that kind of thing doesn’t bug me as much as it does to others.

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

PC, man. PC. I got a hand-me-down computer from my grandfather when I was pretty young, back in the ol’ floppy days. I remember we had some cheapo rip-off games. I also remember a Sonic CD game. I remember having a Game Gear. We eventually had to get rid of it because the adapter started sparking. Yeah.

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

I’ll be honest; I was just past the arcade generation. For me, many arcade experiences were in places like Jillian’s or Gameworks…those massive, awesome mega arcades. Tons of fun.

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

Aww, man, making me think here. When I was younger, I remember watching people play Shadows of the Empire (I played that game again recently. Doesn’t really hold up to time well). I also remember Super Mario World. Was and still is one of my favorite Mario games.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

It was hard to convince my parents to get consoles, so we ended up with many handhelds. I have owned a Game Gear, a Game Boy Color, a GBA, and a Nintendo DS. In terms of consoles, I own a Nintendo 64, a Wii, and a XBOX 360. I do not like Sony.

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever exposed to MUDs?

Ah, MUDs. I was heavily into the MUD Achaea about 10-15 years ago (good Lord, I feel old). I played for about two years then moved on. It was a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, but without having a concrete map I found it tough to get around. It was my first time RPing, and it is a heavy RP setup. There was less joking around like we have here in LOTRO. I really didn’t understand what RPing was all about, really. I remember I had to do a ‘novice’ interview of some sort and I was talking about all my real life experiences to answer questions instead of getting into the mindset of my character. I learned a lot about RPing from this game and I remember it fondly.

More recently, I had a little fun programming my own MUD-style local game. Using what little knowledge I have of coding, I put together a zombie survival game in the style of a MUD, although it is solo. That was an interesting and very challenging experience.

What was your first MMO experience?

Star Wars: Galaxies. Do I really want to bring up those memories?

I started Star Wars: Galaxies back around 2005. I bought an account, which I didn’t know was wrong at the time. Regardless, I made a new character and deleted the old one. I remember the early days fondly. Star Wars: Galaxies allowed you pretty much endless customization, what with the multi-class system the allowed. And then came NGE. And suddenly the country was filled with 9 year old Jedi players (when all but a few Jedi were supposed to be dead) who thought they were so l33t that they accused me of cheating whenever my Officer would whoop them. They just couldn’t understand that sometimes skill and strategy are more important than button-mashing…
I ended up quitting that about three or four months into the NGE. It turned into more of a grind game than any I can think of. SOE created about three different bunker designs and cloned them over and over and over and over. On every planet, every single bunker, cave, and building seemed exactly the same. Once I realized this, I jumped ship.

About a month ago, I got an email from SOE telling me I had a free week to play so I thought ‘what the heck’ and jumped in for old time’s sake. It only brought back the memories. At level 40 something, I only had about 8 skills, three of which were combat skills and the rest were buffs/non-combat skills. Also the aiming system sucked. And they had such a weird set of invisible walls: in that game, you cannot jump off a ledge no matter how high it is…50 feet or 5. I ram through Theed, the central city on Naboo. Not a single other live person existed. I left after less than a day. For good.

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

If you consider Achaea an MMO, then I played that first. Starting in about 2001 and going until about 2003. Star Wars: Galaxies was next, going from about 2005-2006, with a day trip here in 2009. I have played Lord of the Rings Online since 2007 and have a lifetime account there. I’ll be around for a while.

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

Definitely Lord of the Rings: Online.

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

As of now, (again, counting a MUD as an MMO) it would be Achaea. I’ve been playing for two years.

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

I have reached the level 50 (when it was the cap) and level 60 now that it is the cap in Lord of the Rings Online with one character.

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?

I would pick LOTRO, obviously. No other game dev team out there has taken so much pride and care in making their game so perfectly molded. The environment in LOTRO is superb. You haven’t lived until you have seen nighttime in Forochel, or jumped down into the Waterworks in Moria. Every time I enter a new area for the first time, I have to just stop and stare for a few moments.

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

I was interested in the new Star Wars MMO developed by Bioware, but when I discovered it would be run through micro transactions, I ran the other way.

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

To be honest, I’m not all that interesting :(. I would like to share a passion I have developed over the past few months for the in-game music system of Lord of the Rings Online. LOTRO allows you to take a .abc file and play it in game. Your character does all the work while you get the credit. There are whole websites dedicated to the LOTRO Music system. Recently I have started up an in-game band where we take songs with multiple parts and play them on different instruments. I made a video of another band performing pretty recently (you can find it here).

I remember not too long ago playing a quartet piece called “Rohan” from the films. We stood in a circle and played the song. The moment was magical. Each instrument gives off a different colored note, so the colors were mingling in the air. The song was picking up pace and reaching its peak. People stopped and clapped for us. Some were even dancing. I will never forget that moment, standing right near the stables in Bree. LOTRO is filled with little moments like that, and that is the reason I will never stop playing it.

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