Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

One shot: Pete Smith

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 21, 2009

MMO community connection:


Please take a minute and describe what your blog is about. is very much my personal blog. I started it in 2002 with no clear goal in mind other than having a place to share my thoughts. It is about what I’m interested in at any given moment. Since I’m a gamer-for-life, mostly that means its about MMOs & video games, but I also cover books and tv from time to time.

What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

I’d say the first MMO I played, though the term hadn’t been coined yet, was a multiplayer space game called MegaWars III on Compuserve back in the early 1980s. The way the game worked is that the admins would start the universe and everyone had a single planet. You’d expand and capture other planets (a 4X game, for strategy buffs). Players could join together in teams to share resources. Resource-rich planets that would sustain life were pretty rare, so teams would be organized around protecting their good planets, pretty much 24/7. My team had a call list. If you logged in and another team was attacking our planets, you’d log off (everyone was on a modem back then) and call the next guy after you on the call list, then log back in to defend. The guy you called would in turn call the next person on the list and then log in as well. 2 am calls were not uncommon! It was exciting as heck…and remember, this was all text-based (and people using 1200 baud modems were considered cheaters since only big companies could afford that kind of technology). At some point one team would more or less dominate the universe, and the admins would declare them winners and ‘reset’ the game.

After that, I played Neverwinter Night on AOL and The Shadow of Yserbius on The Sierra Network. In terms of modern MMOs, I started in Ultima Online during its beta test phase.

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

During one ‘war’ in MegaWars III, our team leader had to step down for a while due to real life commitments, and he put me in charge. We came in 2nd place in that war. At the time, I was in a dead-end job, cooking for a living, still living at home at 22 or 23. Not quite in my parent’s basement but close enough. But I’d log into MegaWars III and I was somebody. I was empowered. It was like stepping into a good sci-fi novel and just living in it for a while. And I was interacting with people all over the country. That seems ordinary now, but remember, this was before universal email, when only a fraction of people had computers and a fraction of those had access to Compuserve or GEnie or that weird ‘internet’ thing that college students could get on if they know someone that would get them an account. I used to play Chess in a Play-by-Mail club where you’d write your moves on a piece of paper, stick it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and then wait a few weeks for your opponent’s response to arrive. Compared to that, Megawars III was damned near magic!

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

My peak was probably in Ultima Online. How much time a week? Essentially every waking moment that I wasn’t working… 40 hours? 50 hours? Too much time, anyway.  That was an unhealthy amount of time to spend in a virtual world. These days, 10-15 hours/week, tops. Often less than 10. When a new game catches my fancy, the amount goes up. As I write this, XFire says I’ve spent 7 hours in the past week, most of it in Age of Conan (that 2-week ‘welcome back’ period is going on).

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

Yes, I have all the video game consoles. In theory I also play PC games, but I never stick with them for long. Sitting at the computer, I’m always tempted to log into an MMO. On the consoles I play single-player RPGs, driving games, and ‘action adventure’ games. I just finished Infamous on the PS3 a week or so ago. I don’t do tabletop games. Before personal computers I had a nice sized collection of wargames, the paper and cardboard counter kind, but never found another wargamer to play them with, so I’d solo-play them. I was a geek in a community of friends that were all about hunting and fishing… a game of Monopoly was pretty complicated for them. 🙂

When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?

As I mentioned, Dragonchasers was started in 2002. I also run a gaming forum, Jaded’s Pub, that’s been going since 1994, though these days it is mighty quiet. That community came from the Strategy Plus Magazine forums (now defunct, both the forums and the magazine) which I ran (I was an associate editor for Strategy Plus for a few years). When I left the magazine, I started my own community. Jaded’s Pub is pretty insular; mostly older folks like myself who’ve know each other for literally years online. We don’t get many new members, and as old members drift off we just get smaller and even *more* insular. Every year I think I should shut it down, but it has such a history…

I also blog for ITWorld, non-game related techie stuff (though I sneak a gaming post in now and then). That’s a paying gig, though. I write a post every day and that’s the extent of my influence over the site.

Between a full time day job, the ITWorld blog, and Dragonchasers, I keep pretty busy. I have lots of ideas for other projects, but no time to work on them. Just like all of us!

Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?

I’d love to blog full time, as a living. But times are tough for media of all kinds. In my day job, I do web development for a small consumer electronics publisher, and both our web site and print mags are really struggling. I keep my ears open for opportunities, though! The few years I spent writing for Strategy Plus were without a doubt the most fulfilling years of my life, professionally speaking. But Dragonchasers is strictly a hobby…it’s my escape valve where I can blow off steam however I want to without worrying about what would happen to me if I lose my audience.

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

One post/day for ITWorld, if I want the checks to keep coming! No schedule for Dragonchasers, though.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you tend to cope with it?

When keeping to a schedule, yes. It’s tough to come up with a fresh idea to write about every day, and even with a new news topic, delivering it in a new way can be a challenge. I cope with the idea side of things by keeping a ‘tickle file’ of things that strike my fancy, then going through it to combine different items in various ways to find new patterns or new ways of looking at things. As far as new ways to deliver your ideas, I think reading a lot helps. Blogs, newspapers, books…lots of different authors. Just being exposed to a lot of styles can help you sound fresh.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

The writing. I just love to write, and for reasons I don’t understand, writing is more pleasurable when someone else is reading what you’ve written. 🙂

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your blogging past?

Nothing from my blogging past jumps out, but I can tell you a fun story from my Strategy Plus days. I got flown out to Las Vegas to cover a new game from Westwood called “Command & Conquer” (yeah, this is going back a ways!) and I sat down with Ed Del Castillo who was, I think, the producer of C&C? And he laid out this epic storyline that was going to take place across three games… he had it all planned out. What Tiberium was, and all this crazy stuff. And I had to sit on that info… it was all NDA. Of course, C&C was a huge hit back then and people would be on message boards speculating about this and that and I’d know all the answers but all I could do is chuckle to myself.

We put C&C on the cover of Strategy Plus and we were the first magazine to really expose the game. I was always proud of that fact, because I really had to sell it to the editors as cover-worthy.

In general, visiting game development houses was a real joy, though. These people are *so* passionate about what they do… you can’t help but get caught up in their excitement (which is why so many previews are so positive).

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

Naa, I don’t have the voice for it.

Are you pleased with how your blog has been received in the MMO blogosphere?

There are days when I wish I had a bigger audience, but that has a downside too.  There’s something ‘comfortable’ about having a circle of blogging friends who you read and who read you. If you go read the comments on a typical post at Joystiq or Massively… they’re really ugly. I don’t think my life would be enriched by a bunch of hateful, bitter gamers reading my blog, y’know? I have a circle of bloggers who I read and respect, and they seem to respect me, too, and that’s very rewarding for me.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

I would probably have started 2 blogs: one specifically for MMOs, and another for everything else I write about. Just to have a clearer message.

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

Forget about regurgitating news that everyone else has already reported on. If there’s some news item you want to talk about because you have an opinion of it, then sure, cover it and share your opinion. But just reporting the news isn’t going to get you very far since then you’re competing with sites that have a paid staff tracking this stuff down. You need to write about what only you can write about, and generally speaking, that means your opinion.

In order to build traffic, read blogs that talk about the same general topics that you do, and comment there. If your comments are interesting, people will click through to read your blog. Blogrolls can help, too.

Also in terms of design, keep things clean and readable. Flashy layouts can be interesting to look at, but not to read, and you want people actually reading your posts, not just popping in to look at your design and leaving.

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

No, I really can’t. I suppose in the worst of all possible futures I’d have to ‘blog’ in a notebook with a bic pen. But I’d still be doing it!!

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

I’d probably rewind the clock a bit. I still think UO was the best ‘virtual world’ MMO there’s been. I like the idea of the player-driven economy that lets you build everything, from weapons and armor to homes and furniture. Though I’d want the house-building functionality of Horizons in there. My game would have a death penalty of some kind…enough that death had a bit of a sting to it. And lots of player-driven changes to the world… great engineering feats that players would have to collaborate on. Oh, and skill-based rather than class-based.

As for combat, I know its in vogue to hate on current MMO combat, but I enjoy it and wouldn’t change it very much.

Since I have unlimited funds, I guess my game doesn’t have to be commercially viable.  Which is probably a good thing, because I don’t think my ideal game would be!!

2 Responses to “One shot: Pete Smith”

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