Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces


Posted by Randolph Carter on April 15, 2009

MMO community connection:

Chapter 1: Introduction

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

I blog as Tesh, a portmanteau of my legal names, and my most common gaming name is usually a variant of Ransom, Silveransom being the most common.

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

I maintain the blog Tish Tosh Tesh as well as make the rounds to comment sections of sympathetic or interesting bloggers, as noted in a recent article I wrote here.

I seem to have been accepted for the most part, despite having somewhat atypical views on a lot of things related to the game industry or game design in general. I get a lot of good discussion, which continues to surprise me, inasmuch as anyone bothers to read my writing, and that comments are helpful and insightful the vast majority of the time. (Yes, I’ve been spoiled by forums where the most intelligent comments are those that bother to spell out “your mom”.) I still can’t help but feel a bit like a hippo blundering through a herd of gazelle sometimes, though… and it’s nice when I don’t get shouted down for being a bit different.

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

I blather at length about game design, with side trips into art, game theory, politics and economics… or whatever else I feel like at the moment. Most articles connect to games or gaming in some way, since that’s my profession at the moment, and what I’m working on in my spare time.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I started in Spokane, Washington, then meandered through a few towns in Utah with a stint in Alabama between high school and college.

Where do you live now?

Orem, Utah

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

31-40, though I feel that’s more of an average of where I actually am, where I wish I were, and where I *feel* like I am.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a technical artist working for a great little game studio. I’m trained to be a Pixar-style CG artist, but with interests in gaming, science and literature, as well as fine arts, I’m more of a jack of all trades, which fits nicely into game development. Plus, I won’t move to California. Bleh.

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

A university professor, likely dual classing in Physics and Art. I’d still like to do that, actually, time and budget willing.

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

  • I actually *do* have ten toes. (Really, who checks?)
  • My lineage is artistic and musical, but my musical taste is fairly
    unique in my family, and I can’t produce decent music on my own.
  • My grandmother is 29, going on 29. Has been for a while.
  • My daughter’s middle name is based on a Kingdom Hearts character.
  • I am not John Tesh (don’t tell Jason!)… but I like his music.

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

My wonderful wife and two young’uns make life worth living.

Chapter 2: Origin

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?

Before video gaming? I’ve always played board games and card games, as well as played with puzzles of all sorts, but I started playing video games when I was 4, so it’s really just been part of the stable of pastimes. I tend to play video games largely solo, but my family does have a long standing tradition of playing board and card games at family gatherings, so I wind up doing both.

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

I read. A lot. And then I read some more. I also drew and painted, wrote and thought. As an asthmatic, allergic to nearly everything, the mental world has always offered me more opportunities than the rough-and-tumble reality offered to the prototypical male of the species.

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

I played a couple of Palladium games, Robotech and TMNT, and read a little about GURPS. Those were great experiences, and expanded my gaming vocabulary well past the Mario Brothers and Monopoly palette.

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 ton of books, for most of my free time. More often than not, I read fiction, but nonfiction was something that I grew to appreciate around my early teens and beyond. A short list culled from a much longer list of favorites would include Tolkien, Lewis, Stackpole, McKinley, Dickson, Hawking and Moroni.

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 see games as a natural sort of Renaissance medium. Storytelling is a natural outlet for human creativity, with many cultural facets that have been important to history. Games are one of the more interesting storytelling mediums, since they are deeply interactive. They have great potential and great power, and are really only scratching a bare minimum of that potential as they exist at present. (And they are almost wholly ignoring the Spiderman lesson, dodging responsibility, for the most part.) Nearly everything I’ve read and played has something to offer the genre, and my own life experience. The notion of “what if?” plays a deep role in human learning, and I’ve been lucky to experience a wide variety of such questions, with well crafted answers.

MMOs in particular have unique potential among games, with greater social implications and deeper design challenges. That they have largely abdicated that potential, choosing to embrace mindless DIKU design and banal bloodthirst, is a recurring theme that I revisit in my articles.

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

I first played video games at my grandparents’ neighbors’ house. I was 4, and found the ability to control what was on the TV to be utterly enthralling. The Atari controller is very rudimentary compared to what we see today, but then, it was magic. I did play Pong, albeit a few years after its introduction, and I’ve been interested in video games ever since.

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

I played in arcades a lot as a teenager, though I had played Pac-Man in Pizza Huts since I was 6 or so. Street Fighter 2 and its spawn were the mainstream of why my friends and I would play, but on my own, I’d just as often tinker with a Pac-Man, ExciteBike, Strider, Rampart or 720. I still don’t like the cheap “gotcha” kills/crashes and stringent time limits that made the machines quarter munchers, but those arcade games were still a lot of fun, and I still enjoy a trip to the local Nicklecade on occasion.

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

The first one I remember was Atari Bowling. Controlling the ball after I “released” it was silly even to my 4-year old mind, but it was so much fun to play that I didn’t care. A bit later, Atari’s E.T. was baffling, but sort of fun, and it started a collector/explorer mindset that I’ve carried through the years. Even later, Final Fantasy 6 forever warped my expectation of what a “video game” could offer when it came to storytelling, and may well be the biggest single influence on my thoughts regarding the medium’s potential. (Though Kingdom Hearts, Myst and Final Fantasy Tactics have also been pivotal for similar reasons.)

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

NES, Sega 8-bit, SNES, PS, N64, PS2, GameCube, GBA, DS, Wii (honorable mention: Macintosh and PC, several models)

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

Dark Castle (on the Mac) was one of the first games that I designed levels for, actively trying to extend the gaming experience. Of course, there was no level editor, so my levels were ultimately just drawings on paper, but trying to figure out what would make for a good level, or even just a fun experience, was great mental exercise, and a lot of fun. To this day, I enjoy *making* a good game as much, if not more, than *playing* a good game.

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