Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces


Posted by Randolph Carter on April 12, 2009

MMO community connection:

Anyway Games

Chapter 1: Introduction

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

People either know me as Hallower or by my real name, Aaron Miller (or just Aaron).

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

Anyway Games. I’ve also occasionally written articles for other sites and comment often on others’ sites. I’ve been a guest on a couple podcasts. And now they’ve got me using Twitter (the beginning of the end, I’m sure).

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

Anyway Games is about the design of games in general — more philosophy than news and commentary. It was inspired by all the design debates on Sigil’s forums in the early years of Vanguard’s development. So it began as more MMO-focused, but now it’s about all games. I’ve recently gotten into doing more reviews and developer interviews.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born in New Orleans, and grew up here in Spring, Texas (just north of Houston). I’ve also spent a good bit of time with family around Mobile and Daphne, Alabama. I’m a Gulf Coast Southerner at heart.

Where do you live now?

Spring, Texas. It’s a little too much like Houston these days for my tastes. Too much city, not enough woods.

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

I’m 29. It’s no mystery (see my blog’s web address).

What do you do for a living?

Nothing regular. Music, college, and random jobs like helping a friend build patios or writing articles. I’ve started to make a bit of money off my site… hopefully enough one day.

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

Rock star. It might happen. I’ve been making music for about 16 years.

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

  • I’m about two steps short of literal insanity. 🙂 I spoke about it with Pete once at Dragonchasers here. Generally, the more excited I get, the more I wander. I’m usually pretty calm and laid back, though.
  • I can make music in any style. If I can listen to a song or two, then it’s usually not too hard figuring out the general style and adapting it to my own. I’ve got Irish songs, Spanish, Russian, metal, classical, 80s rock, country, etc.
  • I’m interested in literally everything. I figure, God’s offered you the whole world, so why accept only a part of it? I try to find inspiration for game ideas in other subjects. Ultimately, everything’s ties together.
  • I talk with a thick drawl. It doesn’t really match anyone in family, so I’m not sure where it came from. Too many John Wayne films?
  • I’m a songwriter, first and foremost, but have only been to five or six concerts in my life. The glory days of rock for me are the early ’90s: Metallica, Ozzy, Pantera, Alice in Chains, Corrosion of Conformity, Skid Row, etc. I can’t wait for Brütal Legend! My last concert was Down.

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

I have a close extended family (cousins, uncles… even 2nd and 3rd cousins, including another web junkie), but I’m the only regular gamer. We all gamed as kids, but I’m the only one who has more than a couple games at any given time these days. A cousin and I play co-op war campaigns in LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth 2 (with the expansion) when we can. The elder generation couldn’t care less about games.

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?

The first Nintendo was released when I was only five years old, so there wasn’t much before video games. But I did play a lot of boardgames, card games, and complete puzzles with my large extended family. I still all of those with family on the rare occasions we can get together.

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

I’ve always played music and started creating it when I was about thirteen. I’ve played piano, drums, and guitar. I’ve also played every American sport besides hockey and golf. I spent a lot of time in the woods and at the beach. And my family traveled a lot within the U.S. for recreation (landscapes, museums, etc). I did a lot as a kid.

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

My brother, cousin, I and few others played D&D for a couple years. It worked well since we all had vivid imaginations. It helped get us all interested in the fantasy genre of fiction.

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 read a lot. Our parents required that we read books every week or month as soon as we were able. All sorts of stuff. I read most around middle school, when my brother, cousin, and I began our fascination with fantasy books. I’m the only person I know whose childhood thieving phase involved stealing books! In high school, I read more classics, like Moby Dick and The Count of Monte Cristo as well as poetry. My dad was a geologist and had a number of scientific magazines I liked to read.

These days, most of my reading is philosophical, theological, and political articles online. For fantasy, my favorite series are The Death Gate Cycle, the Shannara series, and A Song of Ice and Fire (is it finished yet?). For spy novels, I prefer Frederick Forsyth. For ghosts and horror, I like short story collections like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s or one of Victorian and Eduardian Ghost Stories, and books by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. For poetry, romantics like Shakespeare, Robert Frost and William Wordsworth. For philosophy, Peter Kreeft, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Pope Benedict XVI… people who honestly try to understand why those they disagree with might believe what they believe.

My cousin and I have talked about re-reading LOTR soon, now that we’re so intimately familiar with its geography through LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth 2’s War of the Ring mode. 🙂

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.

The fantasy books definitely peaked my interest in RPGs, as did poetry. Fantasy feeds the explorer’s hunger for new experiences and discovery. Poetry trains you to see things in a conceptual way and think beyond the surface of what you see. Together, I think they really helped to appreciate the development of characters and the construction of worlds.

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

As I’ve said, I was five when the NES came out, though I doubt my parents bought it until a year or two later… so maybe I was seven? Some of my favorite NES games were Excitebike, Master Blaster, Contra, and of course Mario. We had an Atari only briefly before that, but the only game I remember is Joust.

I also played some arcade games. And I played some DOS games like F-14 Tomcat, Bard’s Tale, and Descent. I have no idea how old I was at the time.

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

I was a big fan of Golden Axe, Super Off Road, and the first Star Wars game. My cousin and I used to take about 10 bucks a piece sometimes to a nearby Hilton hotel’s arcade room.

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

Mario Bros was the first game that sucked all my time. Not much to say about it, really. It was just fun.

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

I owned the Atari console. I owned every Nintendo console until the Wii, and didn’t care much for the GameCube. Some favorites through the years were Donkey Kong Kountry, Killer Instinct, GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, and the Zelda games.

I only played a couple games on my friend’s Playstation, like Twisted Metal 2 and Resident Evil 2. The only game I remember keeping long for the original Xbox was Halo. Now I love my 360, aside from the reliability issue.

I’ve always been an avid PC gamer as well. Many of my favorite games have been on PC; including Diablo 2, Nuclear War, LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth 2, Deus Ex, and Neverwinter Nights.

I never owned a handheld, though I’m a big fan of the Simon game.

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

I enjoy single-player games most these days. I did as a child as well, but I did a lot more gaming with family back then. We spent hours competing at Street Fighter II, playing Bard’s Tale cooperatively, or taking turns at Nuclear War. I love my family, so I definitely miss being able to game with them. Few play games often anymore. The only one I still game with regularly is my cousin, in LOTR: BfME2.

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever exposed to MUDs?


What was your first MMO experience?

I first played Everquest in 2001, shortly before the Luclin expansion. I didn’t care so much that I was playing with other people. I enjoyed it because there was such a large world to explore and so many character possibilities. I mostly soloed and joined small groups. I played to level 48, I think. It lasted about a year.

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

  • Everquest (Kunark and Velious): Hallower – dwarf cleric – lvl 48
  • Shadowbane: Oske – minotaur barbarian, Fesk – shade warlock
  • Star Wars: Galaxies (at launch): Dubaash – wookiee master creature handler, master ranger
  • City of Heroes / City of Villains
  • Everquest II

I’ve also played Asheron’s Call 2, EVE Online, Horizons, D&D Online, and others for only a month or two. I’ve beta tested other games that I never played when they went live. Since I’m an explorer, I try many characters in every game.

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

I haven’t played an MMO in years, other than some betas. But I’m looking forward to The Agency and Huxley.

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

I spent the most time in Everquest and SWG. Everquest was my longest at about a year, because it was my first. SWG was my favorite, and I played that about 9 months.

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

Only in SWG, which wasn’t hard to do. I don’t like games that are drastically different at higher levels.

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?

Star Wars: Galaxies. Because there were no levels and equipment didn’t add many hit points, players never became superhuman. New players and veterans shared the same content. The non-combat animations and variety of strange beasts made it feel like a living world. There was so much to explore, and no barriers to exploration. My Creature Handler could wander into true wilderness (areas where few players journeyed) and tame animals many players had never seen, and bring them back to the cities to share. Every player’s character looked unique and had unique experiences. Basically, SWG sucked you into the setting and players could have true adventures — unpredictable and unique experiences.

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

The Agency interests me most, at the moment. The combat is real-time FPS action. The game allows players to switch styles and combat roles frequently, in response to group needs or impulsive interests. The comedy-espionage setting looks like a lot of fun.

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

My most memorable MMO experiences were in SWG.

Once, I was sitting in a cantina with many others, listening to the music and watching the dancers, when a Stormtrooper walked in. Suddenly, a firefight broke out between him and a Rebel soldier. The music and dancing stopped as every watched the fight… watched the soldiers running around the bar and duck behind walls as they shot at each other. Finally, one soldier killed the other. The music and dancing quickly began again, and it was like it never happened. It was exactly like that cantina scene in the Star Wars movie!

Another time, my ranger stumbled onto a lair of narglatches (like demonic lions – scary and aggressive). He got down on his belly and spent the next hour or so slowly crawling down into the cave, occasionally stopping as narglatches walked by and growled. Finally, he reached the bottom and found the cubs. But when he tried to tame one, it alerted the narglatches to his presence. He got up and sprinted for the cave entrance, but died before he could get there.

That’s what made SWG great. Those were unforeseen experiences which few, if any, others experienced. My character’s story was truly unique… not just my customization choices, but what I encountered and how I was able to respond.

Chapter 4: Preferences

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

It’s not unusual for me to spend over 40+ hours of a week gaming, though sometimes I don’t touch my games for days. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my console lately, since I’m enjoying a new game (FUEL on the 360).

When during the week are your regular play times?

No regular hours. Any free time is possible gaming time.

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

Mostly alone. I sometimes enjoy small groups, but groups generally aren’t conducive to an explorer’s playstyle.

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

No. My online friendships are mostly from blogging.

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 always play impulsively. Since I’m not an achievement-focused gamer, I take my time and don’t mind mistakes.

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

I’ve never played multiple MMOs simultaneously. That’s too much money. Even beyond the money concern, I like to focus on one game at a time.

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

In the past year, I’ve done the vast majority of my gaming on my Xbox 360. There are many great games for it, and I prefer single-player games. I’m attracted to MMOs for reasons other than the social aspect.

Are you something of an altoholic?

Absolutely. As an explorer, I’m always experimenting and searching for new experiences. In some MMOs, I never settle on one character as a main.

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)?

Never. When I play any game, I like to be totally immersed in it.

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

Nobody I know in person is interested in MMOs. I haven’t played an MMO in a while, but I still discuss their design with fellow bloggers.

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

Entertainment should never dominate a person’s life. Luckily, gaming helps me be productive in writing and music. It distracts me enough to let my imagination roam freely, and so ideas pop into my head as I’m playing. I should spend less time gaming, though.

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

I’m on break now. =P I don’t play any game because it’s an MMO. I play a game because it’s a good game. I’ve had my fill of all the MMOs currently out there, and don’t care to play one of similar design. Right now, I’m waiting for MMOs with more active and dynamic gameplay. I’m through with ability timers and enemies that stand still while I hit the same old series of skills. I’m through with taking the same steps every other player takes and pretending that’s adventure.

One Response to “Aaron”

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