Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces


Posted by Randolph Carter on April 8, 2009

MMO community connection:

Chapter 1: Introduction

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

I go by the name “Hatch”.

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

I channel the powers of demons and perform dark blood rituals to craft a blog known as The Escape Hatch.  It focuses on World of Warcraft, specifically on game design decisions, 10-man raiding, and rogue mechanics.

I’ve also been known to harass Ixobelle on a regular basis.

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

The elevator pitch: my blog is about excellence, both in overall game design and in playing one’s own character. I tend to focus on raiding and rogue design specifically, though I touch on other subjects and even veer into non-WoW subjects in the greater geek realm, such as other video games, TV shows, etc.

I’m not excellent at everything (yet), but the point is I’m striving to be better. That’s part of what the blog is about as well. If coming to my site got you to think about something you never thought about before, whether that be a new dps rotation or a mental approach to class balance, then I consider my job, as they say, “wtfpwnt”.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in suburban New Jersey, and I share a unique mix of pride and shame with all who live there. Since becoming an adult, I’ve roamed from city to city across the US.

Where do you live now?

Washington, DC

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


What do you do for a living?

Communications. I write and produce online educational media in-house for a specific company.

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

I am, in fact going to reroll careers in a few months. I am going to take a shot at becoming a novelist.

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

  • I drink so much Coke Zero it’s probably replaced my blood.
  • I’m obsessed with hairstyles. In a manly way, of course. It’s just the first thing I notice about people. And judge them by. If you want me to take you seriously, lose the mullet. 🙂
  • I’m a punctuation freak, and I actually use words like “via” and “thus” in everyday conversation. One of my coworkers calls me “Sir Formal”
  • I’ve held a black belt in Karate for the past 10 years.
  • I was a Boston Red Sox fan before they started winning World Serieses again. The Curse has since been Reversed, so I tend to avoid mentioning them so I don’t get accused of being a dreaded Frontrunner.

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

I’ve been blessed with a happy family life. I’m currently in a live-in relationship, but have no children.

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?

It’s hard to remember a time before video games in my life. I’m pretty sure that my dad let me mess with one of the joysticks for his Atari 2600 when I was still toddling. I do have fond memories of the tradition of playing Yahtzee whenever we visited Grandma’s for holidays, and sitting on my father’s lap while the grown-ups played Trivial Pursuit and answered questions about presidents and events that they remembered but happened long before I was born.

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

I played every sport for a season before deciding I didn’t like them. I was OK at sports, but I didn’t play well on teams. I eventually settled on karate, which melded better with my loner and self-improvement tendencies while having the added bonus of allowing me to kick things. Aside from that, I rode my bike around with my friends a LOT, read books, and drew pictures (this started out with tracing from magazines, and escalated into actual drawing in middle school). I also picked up guitar around the time I started getting interested in girls (coincidence?). I’ve basically dipped a bit into all of the arts, but don’t seem to be particularly talented at them.

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

I wear a radiation suit at all times, to prevent exposure to harmful tabletop RPG-waves.

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 actually laughed at this question, because I read so much that the idea of not reading much seems ludicrous. As a kid I read anything I could get my hands on from the library: I remember a lot of Choose Your Own Adventure books and horror series like Goosebumps and Fear High (I’m not a horror fan, but they appealed to my Sci-Fi and fantasy interests and were in ready supply). Also, discovering Spiderman comics was a revelation for me as a child. I got my hands on everything I could, especially the Jim Lee style early 90’s comics during my tweens. I also have quite a complete collection of early Nintendo Power issues.

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.

They did so mostly by nurturing my interest in Sci Fi and fantasy as well as my tendency to be a loner. I probably wouldn’t have been as “into” games as a child if they weren’t so much like books I could play (and an activity to do while I was alone).

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

My first introduction was my dad’s Atari. I most distinctly remember a Hide and Seek game which was made up of 5 or 6 screens representing a house and yard. One player would look away from the screen, the other would navigate the screens with their stick-figure avatar and choose a hiding place. Then the second player would search the house for them. In retrospect, my dad must have been bored to death by the simplicity even as my child-mind found it so riveting.

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

It was a rare treat to happen to be somewhere that had arcade machines (most often these were found at bowling alleys and roller rinks, two favorite sites for pre-teen birthday parties). Hands-down, the favorites were side-scrolling brawlers starring famous IPs. The TMNT, Simpsons, and X-Men arcade machines are still framed by a warm, loving glow in my mind’s eye. I would pay good money for these on PC or a console (are you listening, industry?)

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

Weirdly, I’d have to answer: River City Ransom. It was just so goofy and fun, and comically raised a simple high-school brawl into a sprawling epic of hitting guys with chains until they say “BARF!” And the character design was so simple, and yet the art looked great for it’s era and had real personality. It changed my idea of what video games can do. I know now that those ideas are common to anime and not terribly original, but it was my first exposure to it.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

All Nintendo consoles except Virtua Boy (including a release week game boy, another original game boy, a GB color, and a DS). Playstation and Atari. Some of my most extensive gaming was done on PS2, but I never owned one (first my roomate had one, and then my girlfriend, so I never needed to buy one of my own). I’d also say over half of my adult gaming has been on the PC (and that’s NOT counting WoW!)

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever exposed to MUDs?

One of my college roommates played them, but I never really understood them. It seemed more a computer geek thing than an MMO geek thing.

What was your first MMO experience?

City of Heroes, Summer 2004. I loved that game. It was just so much fun, even as the grindiness got to me. It also penalized you pretty heavily for deaths, and I don’t miss that kind of demoralization one bit.

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

Dark Melee/Regen Scrapper in City of Heroes. Fire/Fire …what was the villain equivalent of “controller” in City of Villains? Started out as a Druid in WoW, then over the years have switched mains to warrior, then rogue, then DK. What can I say, I like to get in your face and smack you. Haven’t played other MMOs for long enough stretches to count.

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

World of Warcraft.

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

Again, WoW. 4 years now, started shortly after launch.

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

CoH (twice) and WoW (2 in vanilla, 4 in TBC, 4 in Wrath so far).

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, WoW obviously. Besides the fact that I prefer it, it has the most players and thus leaving it in the world would be what the most others would want, I suppose.

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

Champions Online is the #1 new MMO on my radar. Looks like an action-oriented sequel to CoH, and this time it’s learned everything there is to glean from the MMOs that have come since. It’s WoW with superheroes, only more convenient and streamlines and with tons of features stolen from WAR and other games.

APB also looks very interesting, but it’s still early on that one. I could also get excited about FF14 if it turns out to be a million times more user- and solo-friendly than FF11.

Chapter 4: Preferences

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

Oh dear god don’t make me think about this. At my peak? I was in grad school, living alone in a strange city across the country from all of my friends? 25-35 hours per week. Now, it’s more like 15-20, depending on if we do a full-clear of Naxx 25 that week, or if I’m trying to fit in time with a beta.

When during the week are your regular play times?

A few weeknights. Weekends it’s variable. Sometimes raid Sunday evening, sometimes spend a Saturday afternoon in BGs or doing instances.

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

I’m a lone wolf. I just prefer it that way, but I also enjoy running instances with those in my circle of friends.

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

Yes. One of my guildies happened to live only a short subway ride from me. We became friends in real life. I was reluctant to meet him at first, but he had no qualms because he actually met his wife in Everquest. Turned out to be a really cool guy. Aside from that, I’d consider most of my guildies to be friends, but I’ve learned not to get too attached as people quit, change goals, or leave because of drama. You can have real friendships in MMOs, but they tend to be much more easily broken than real-life friendships. I tend to not get very close to online friends.

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?

I’m the planning type. It can sometimes be difficult to convince me to deviate from that plan. 🙂

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 get deeply into one rather than playing a few at once. I find that the type of activities I enjoy are better served by focusing just on one game. If you play a lot of different games, you tend to fall behind the curve. I also haven’t really liked most of the other MMOs I’ve tried lately. I may need to revise my answe once Champion’s Online or APB come out.

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

Yes. I console it up with my Playstations (mainly skateboarding games, brawlers, and story-driven RPGs), my Wii (basically anything with “Mario” in its name) and my PC (story-driven shooters like Half Life and CoD4, strategy games like SC, WC3, Sins of a Solar Empire)

Are you something of an altoholic?

Yes. This is mostly because I want to try out and master all of the different classes to enjoy new playstyles and perspectives on the game. I’m weird in that I find exploring the different class abilities more interesting than exploring the game world.

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)?

Yes, all the time. Raiding is the only time I don’t also pay attention to something else. If I’m alone, I PvP with music on and watch TV or listen to a podcast while grinding and leveling. Otherwise I’m talking to my girlfriend in person or on the phone with family/friends while playing. All this is mostly a function of my brain constantly needing stimulation. One part of my brain needs something else to do while I’m talking to someone, and the other part needs something else to do while I’m playing.

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

I constantly talk about WoW with my girlfriend. She’s my GM and co-raid-leader. Online gaming made a short period of time when we were long-distance a lot more bearable, so it’s become something we share quite heavily.

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

I do often feel that way. My response is usually to take a night off to read a book or go out to a bar/restaurant/movie/store, or watch a movie or TV show from home. The other thing I do when I feel like I’m gaming too much is take time out to exercise. I can do this pretty much any time because we have exercise machines and weights in our home. And guys, remember: if you feel like you are playing too much, take a break and go give your significant other some real attention. If you think you’re playing to much, then they probably think you are playing WAY too much.

The absolute best is pure detox. I take a trip to visit my family and or friends out of town, where I won’t have time or connection to play. I find that as soon as I get on the train or plane, I don’t even miss the game, and that’s comforting. It’s more something I do recreationally, and not something I feel dependent on.

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

Nope, not since I started. I only stopped playing CoH because I had already gotten into WoW, and my subscription hasn’t lapsed in all these years. Why haven’t they sent me some sort of “thank you”? I’ll take it in the form of cookies, please.

Chapter 5: Blogging

When did you first start blogging?

I opened the Escape Hatch in February 08, but didn’t really take it seriously until October 08.

Why do you blog?

I hope to get some ideas out there while being at least marginally entertaining. Get people thinking, maybe help them learn the game. Practice writing and keeping on a schedule.

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

I post 3 days a week, Mon-Wed-Fri. Most Fridays I cheat with a low-content post. That’s why I call it Friday Laziness.

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

There is a bit of a grind when I’m trying to keep to a schedule. Some days you just don’t feel like writing, or don’t have the time, or don’t have any interesting ideas. If I don’t have time because of work or family, those things come first, so my posts get canceled (though I usually try to announce it so people don’t forget about me). If I just don’t feel like it, then I’ll push through anyway, and maybe adjust my expectations to write a smaller post, or a simple guide. Or, try something totally wild and different to spark my imagination or start hunting through announcements and news until I run across something that at least makes me mad enough to rant about it. Since part of the purpose of the blog is to improve my work ethic, pushing through these phases is important to me.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

The number one thing is looking back at my own work, on the few times I get it right, and going “hey, look, I made that” and being proud of it. Close second is finding out other poeple read it and actually didn’t think it was terrible.

How many people offline know you blog?

Just my girlfriend, and she doesn’t read it because she wants to give me space.

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

There are three absolute most important things about blogging:

  1. Be interesting to your audience. Too many times you’ll see new blogs which blabber on and on in big walls of text about uninteresting subjects, or that are just boring diaries of what someone did today in WoW. The most popular blogs fall into 3 categories: useful info, entertainment, and ideas. WoWinsider and Matticus are mainly info sites. I’d say Jong is a good example of entertainment. Tobold, Tesh, Larisa, and Spinks are places to go for ideas and theory. Some sites, like Ixobelle, are particularly good at marrying entertainment with other types of content. The Greedy Goblin pretty much set the blogosphere on fire by combining ideas about highly volatile subjects with tutorials about something every player is interested in. If you want people to read your blog, you have to give them something worth reading. Always think first about what you think someone else would enjoy reading before you write about something that interests you.
  2. Keep working at it. The more you do it, the better you will get. The more consistent your schedule, the bigger your audience. You’ll need to build up some content before anyone notices you, so don’t feel bad if you go a month or two without any signs of recognition. If your content is good, people will catch on.
  3. Networking. It has to be genuine. Bloggers can smell self-promotion a mile away, so don’t bother. Instead, find blogs of people you like and try to make a genuine contribution to their commenting community. Do it because you find their content interesting, not because you are looking to promote yourself. Once you have a few weeks of content under your belt, make a blogroll with your favorite bloggers on it. Make sure you wait until you have some actual content before you do this.

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

It’s really, really difficult to get noticed. You need a bit of a thick skin, and you need to be prepared to step up your game when it comes to creating content people actually want to read.

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

Certainly. If I get a job that does not afford me as much free time at my desk (I’m quite busy, but there are a lot of “hurry up and wait” spaces in my day), then I’ll definitely hang it up. Or I might just get bored of WoW and not feel like blogging about other subjects.

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?

I’m debating between “I wanna rock!” and “You give love a bad name.”

3 Responses to “Hatch”

  1. Raegn said

    Hatch, do you play on Earthen Ring in WoW by chance?

  2. […] Hatch […]

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