Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Archive for September, 2009

One shot: Adam Martin

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 30, 2009

Community connection:


You’ve mentioned that you’ll be speaking at GDC next year. Do you know of any topics you plan to speak on?

I’ve submitted a proposal for using Entity / Component Systems in MMO development / game-engines. This could also be called “using functional programming to write your game engine”.

There was a prediction made at the LOGIN conference you attended back in May that the iPhone would become the dominant gaming platform within the next five years. What would be your take on this?

Yep, that was my prediction 🙂   I still believe in it wholeheartedly.  I’ve noticed over the past 6 months that more and more game developers seem to be “getting it” and at least dipping their toes in the waters (my impression is that it took much longer than this for people to commit to Wii development, by contrast – but note this is a very unscientific claim: there is a huge amount of selection bias in the people whose activities I’m aware of!)

Do you see the iPhone becoming a viable platform for MMO development?

Yes, I’m working on a multiplayer realtime dungeon-exploration game at the moment. It’s just a test project at the moment (although I intend to launch it on the App Store soon), and as much as anything it’s a chance for me to re-create (and then re-play!) the bits I liked from classic FPS RPGs (Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, Moraff’s World, etc).

The main difficulty is the GUI / interface, which is fundamentally different from everything learned about RPG interfaces on PC for the past 10 years.

Once that’s done, and launched, it’ll be a good point to start considering larger, more challengine iPhone MMOs…

Do you have a particular genre of game you prefer to develop?

Casual, because I like creating new gameplay, testing it, tweaking it, showing it to 10 people (and watching them play) all in one day.

Online, because … well, why would you ever want to work on a NON online game in this day and age?

Given unlimited funds and resources, what kind of game would you most like to make?

I’d make a large number of smaller games. I think spending a lot of money on a single game is self-evidently foolish, unless you know you’ll only ever be able to / allowed to make one game in your life. There are valid arguments around spending a lot of money on sequels, but even there it’s not without great risk. Of course, it works for some people, and they’re welcome to it – but I’d rather make lots of profit, or make a great game, neither of which tend to come out of huge budgets.

There are big companies whose stated policy is to only ever make the most expensive MMOs possible. I’ve tried working that way, seen the arguments from the inside, and it left me convinced that it’s not the right way for me personally.

In your infinite spare time you also appear to blog. What is your blog about?

Good question. I don’t really know yet. But I’d probably guess something like:

“Trying to be better – on a meta-level – at creating games, using technology, and building businesses. Preferably all three at once.”

The “meta-level” part is critical; most of the things I write about are more aimed at helping you to find better processes that make a wide range of things you’re doing all individually better. I try to steer clear of too many precise detailed things (except for bug fixes, workarounds, and documentation for projects that lack it – those things are worth doing in detail!). I prefer to try and find a few large underlying issues that we can solve or improve to get disproportionately large benefits.

In an ideal world, I’d like my blog to be the kind of thing that Tech Directors and CTO’s in the games industry found particularly useful.  The people who have to think a little bit more generically, a little bit more strategically, and a little bit more long-term than pure programmers.

Also … these are people who are still fundamentally involved in creating and delivering product. They haven’t become pure managers (yet). So … the nature of that product, and the practicalities of delivering it, still resurface for them on a frequent basis.

Why do you blog?

Because there’s so much good stuff I learn from others, or invent, or discover, or know … and I don’t have time to go around the world finding all the people who’d benefit from the individual bits and giving it to them personally. Blogging is the source/faucet of a distributed info-dissemination system that routes your valuable info to people who benefit from it.

Also … it’s sometimes *really helpful* to me to be able to join a company and see some old issue come up that I’ve already blogged.  Instead of starting meetings and writing explanations, and phoning people … I can just send around a link to the original blog post.  *Then* we can start the meetings, and conf calls, etc – but at least this way some of the people will have self-educated a bit on the topic, and I won’t have to repeat myself. OR … they’ll point out what a raving idiot I am, and I get the benefit of their superior knowledge and/or experience teaching me a valuable lesson ;).

(useful to myself too, sometimes, when I forget the finer details of something I previously researched in detail – it’s like a live, online, mind-dump)

Finally … and perhaps most valuable to me personally (as opposed to readers), is the fact that what I blog is constantly under peer-review. When I say something stupid, people line up to tell me so, and explain why. When I omit something important, ditto. This is great. Sometimes it’s a slip-up my end, but often it’s that I simply was unaware, ignorant, or ill-informed. All those commenters refine the content and help me better understand the things I thought I knew (like a mini version of Wikipedia, in some ways).

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

Absolutely a hobby. I can’t see a way in which it would ever become something more.

But also … in some ways a lot more important than “hobby” implies; I think it’s an essential part of your personal professionaldevelopment.

e.g. I get annoyed when startup founders stop blogging because they’re “too busy to blog”; IMHO that’s one of the best times to blog. You need the benefit of other people’s perspectives telling you if you’re smoking crack (people outside your own team). You also are living in a hyper-fast bubble, and will be learning 10 times as much as ordinary people every day … so that would be a damn good time to be sharing some of it.

Stepping back a bit, what was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

I was one of the longer-term members of the MUD-DEV mailing list in the late 1990’s, where a large proportion of the designers, researchers, and developers of MUDs and MMO’s hung out. 

The list was extremely heavily moderated, and extremely high signal-to-noise ratio. When the list died in the mid 2000’s, everyone exploded off into the blogosphere, but a lot was lost never to be regained.

In game terms, I started playing MUD’s with Avalon, one of the oldest commercial MUDs, based in London.

I started playing MMO’s with Ultima 7, which played like a high-quality 2008-era MMO in solo mode, with no raiding.

I guess what you really want is my first “real” MMO that I played “too much”. I tried to get into beta UO, but my UK net connection was too poor. I saw EQ ruin people, so I played it casually for a while, but not for long. In the end, by coincidence (I went to the same University as the author) it was Runescape, back when it was about 5,000 players. I’d played it even earlier, but didn’t like it much. It was attempt 2 that hooked me.

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

Never really had one, although luring griefers to their death via social engineering tricks (pretending to hate them, then gradually caving in, and offering bribes, and getting all whiny and apologetic, while leading them into a very-high-level zone, and standing and laughing while they learn the meaning of corpse retrieval) … probably comes close.

I don’t really see anything about MMO’s today to make you go “wow”, not once you’ve played games like Ultima 7, GTA IV, and Oblivion, and have developed a raging thirst for a “true” wide open world – which no MMO has come even vaguely close to so far.

Those are all “oh wow” games. I’ve not yet played an MMO that was (and I’ve played a lot of them).

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

MMO gaming is a small fraction of my gaming. I have *extensively* played thousands of different games – nearly all of which I could describe to you the core game design, and compare and contrast to at least 5 other games, all off the top of my head.

I find this helps a lot when working on and evaluating games.  Especially at an early stage, when you have to see the potential, and especially at a late stage, when you’re looking for extra ways to add polish.

It also helps vastly when you’re working in a publisher, seeing incoming pitches, and you can ask really difficult questions to test how thought-out the project is. If they’re (accidentally – or maliciously!) reproducing an existing game you’ve played, you can quickly ask the questions they SHOULD have thought of, but might not have. Although that’s a really niche usefulness!

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

Does playtesting your own games count? I’m running at probably 1-5 hours a week right now. For what’s it worth, I (deliberately) don’t own a TV, so the time that other people spend watching TV I’m either playing games or doing something more active. I’ve got nothing against TV – I grew up with it – but it’s just a lot less rewarding to me than interactive things, stuff where you learn, and/or spending time with other people.

Normally (I’ve got two dayjobs right now) I’d be running at 5-15 hours a week, not including any games I was forced to play for my job (market research and/or internal playtesting).

At peak, I’ve probably played 50+ hours in a single week. But then, I’m under the age of 35, which means I’ve had the luxury of playing while at school and university. I used to play some games, like the original Civilization (from 1990-something), and the original Shogun: Total War (about ten years later), all night, and see the dawn in. Ditto we used to play Micro Machines v2 all night, 4 player mulitplayer, on many occasions.

(its a crying shame that Codemasters let that IP rot and die. Its awesomeness is still strong…)

What advice would you give someone who is wanted to get into game development?

  1. Only apply for the job you actually want to do. DONT YOU FRICKIN DARE apply for a QA job because you really want to be a programmer or designer but dont think you’re good enough. If you’re not good enough DONT join the industry. (if you dont understand why this is a big issue, I’ve covered it on my blog a couple of times ;))
  2. Make more games. If a game is NOT shipped it’s worth exactly zero.  Even the world’s biggest turd – IF you ship it – is worth something more than zero.
  3. Read my blog, find the links on the right hand side, and click on the bits about “recruitment” and game-design/programming – I cover different aspects of this often.
  4. If you can find one, get a bachelor’s degree in a “traditional” subject (one that existed before 1990) relevant to your discipline.  i.e. Programmers: get a Computer Science degree (everything else is worthless), Artists: get a Fine Arts degree (everything else is NOT worthless, but is worth less), Designers: get a Literature or History or Psychology or Philosophy degree (Lit and Hist probably best), Producers: … get a degree in something scientific, like Physics or Biology or Chemistry or Maths … something that proves you’ve got an extremely precise, well-organized, empirical mind.

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

One or two, but nothing that’s going to help anyone else :), at least not without the long rambling explanation of “why” that would go with them…

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One shot: Ivy

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 28, 2009

MMO community connection:

The Road Goes Ever On

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

The Road Goes Ever On is a visual blog that follows the story of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien using screenshots from the MMO “Lord of the Rings Online”. I discuss similarities and differences between the way locations are described in the text and the way they are implemented in the game world.

How did you come up with the idea for this?

When I started playing LOTRO, I was really impressed with the faithfulness of the game’s interpretation of the text, so I thought it would be interesting to have a blog that showed the evidence of that. I thought it would appeal to LOTRO players familiar with the book, but also to LOTRO players unfamiliar with the book and maybe even Tolkien fans unfamiliar with the game. I’m sure there are also plenty of LOTRO players who came to the game because they are fans of the Peter Jackson movies specifically. In any case, if TRGEO inspires a few people to read The Lord of the Rings, I’d consider that a great thing.

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

LOTRO was my introduction to MMOs and I actually haven’t tried any others yet. I’ve really enjoyed the experience so far, particularly when I finally figured out how the dynamics of group play work.

Can you recall that first “wow!” moment in game?

As mentioned, discovering the concepts of group play — that each class has a unique role to play in group content — really heightened my enjoyment of the game. Obviously that’s something that’s integral to the MMO experience that might not necessarily be apparent to new players used to single-player games. At least it wasn’t immediately obvious to me!

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

At my peak, probably 2-3 hours each day on weekdays and longer on weekends were I had some free time. These days, I play less often partly due to time pressure, partly due to being at level cap, and partly due to burnout.

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

In the past I have been a fan of RPG-style single player PC games. I would love to be involved in some tabletop gaming (long-time D&D fan) but it’s a huge time commitment.

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

I started TRGEO in early 2009 and have been working it since.

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

For me, this is just an enjoyable hobby.

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

In the early months of the blog I attempted to make a new post each week, but I soon realized that at that pace I would quickly run out of content. I’ve slowed down the pace of my posting because of that.

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

There is some grind involved. To write something engaging, I think the author has to be feeling inspired about the subject matter. I think with MMOs “burnout” is a well-known phenomenon and can strike from time to time. When I’m feeling burnt out, I take some time away from the game. I eventually feel inspired to come back after a break. Other times working on alts is enough to do the trick.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

I think what I find most enjoyable is creating a finished product. Because of the style of my blog, which is more an essay format that something more conversational, I feel a sense of accomplishment with each new post.

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

It was exciting when Turbine (developer of LOTRO) featured TRGEO on their website and on their Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

No, I don’t think it would fit with the subject matter of TRGEO.

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

Yes, I think the response has been positive and I have had a number of really kind comments and encouraging messages left on the blog.

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

I’m really happy with the direction of TRGEO. If I had all the time in the world, I would probably attempt to do more in-depth research and analysis in each of the posts.

You’ve mentioned that at some point in the not too distant future you will run out of content for your blog. Do you have plans to expand your blog beyond its current scope?

No. A couple of months ago, I did add a secondary feature to the content of the blog, which is a discussion of characters from the book that also appear in-game. This was done to “space out” the primary content — following the main plot of the text. For now, my plan is to just let the pace be what it needs to be so that the game content stays ahead of the blog content.

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Reading the text: Brenda Cooper

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 25, 2009

silver ship and the seaAuthor’s website:

Could you take a minute and explain what your Silver Ship series is about?

This series is meant to an all-ages adventure story set on other worlds. I start by marooning six genetically enhanced kids on a planet full of people who detest genetic engineering.

The first book – The Silver Ship and the Sea – is about growing up, about becoming, and about loyalty. It’s also an anti-war book, and it touches on the concept of prejudice. If human’s discriminate based on color or age or sexual orientation or just about any other slight difference, what will happen when there are real differences between us, as people have different skills and powers one from the other. This concept is actually fairly inherent in gaming, too.

The second book – Reading the Wind – is about a child finding a father and about genocide. It’s also introduces readers to The Five Worlds – a complex society spread across 5 planets (some natural, some artificial). The two most powerful planets of the five are preparing to go to war between each other….

And in book three – Wings of Creation– our heroes are trying to stop the war. They are on Lopali, a world where humans can fly….and the surface of everything looks ordered. But death and betrayal exist under even the prettiest places….

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting your first book published?

My very first novel was actually a collaboration with Larry Niven: Building Harlequin’s Moon. Larry is well established, brilliant, fun, and a good teacher. Because the book was with Larry (who did tons of work on it – it’s not my book with his name on it – it’s a joint effort), I didn’t have the usual problem of getting a foot in the door. So the real challenge was believing in my work, in our work together, and in book itself. When you are achieving a life-long dream, there about a million way to sabotage yourself, so I had to watch for those and avoid them.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

Sure. A bunch of grinds. You have to write every day. At least I do. I get grumpy if I don’t. And some days I get grumpy. Some days I drag home after work and there’s social/family stuff I want or need to do and I hit the keyboard late and every word is tough. This year, work has been so hard (can you say recession) that I’ve cut my word count target in half to stay sane. I still write more many days, but it’s lets me off the hook earlier when I need it.

Marketing can be fun, but it can also be a grind. I’m happy to have been asked to do this interview, and I’m having fun answering the questions. But I’m not writing (However, I did write my minimum word count already today).

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

The act of writing is absorbing and almost always fun. Seeing your work take shape as it becomes a book is grand.

reading the windHearing from readers is the best thing ever. I can be having a tough day at work or at home, or I can just be tired, and I’ll get a nice note from someone I don’t know who’s read one of my books, and that will be fuel for a day or a week of good energy.

Seeing my work in a bookstore is still a bit of a shock. The first time I was able to give Barnes and Noble money in trade for a short story of mine in a magazine, I cried. Dumb girl. I already had the story for free on my computer and in my head. But I cried because I could pay money for it. Humans really are silly.

When do you find time to write?

Whenever. This morning it was between 6:00 and 7:00 AM. Tomorrow it might be the same. If I don’t get to it in the morning, it will be after 10:00 PM. Sometimes I just go away for a night or two and write – especially when I’m starting a novel or a big story.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I’ve always escaped by reading. I still do. I escape by getting lost in fast, fun books like a lot of the urban fantasy that’s out there. A Patricia Briggs is like candy – I buy it and I stop my life for two hours. Lately, we’ve been watching LOST on CD (we’re still on Season 1, but I own Season 2). I walk my golden retriever, Nixie. I exercise (not nearly enough – but I always love it). On a rainy day, we do have a Wii that we like to drag out and play fun games on.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Write. Really. Write. Write. Write. It’s all practice. Write. If you were planning to run a marathon, you’d train (run). To write a novel, you have to write. So the advice to would-be-writers is to write.

Writing makes you a writer. You can learn how to be a published writer after you practice being a writer.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

To find out more about the books, go by The Academy of New World Historians.  Readers who leave comments through November 10th will be entered into a drawing to win a free book (one a week). The grand prize will be a hardback set of all three books.

This website is a new concept for me, and I honestly don’t know if it’s working yet. I wanted to create a place readers would like. So if any of your audience will drop by they get a chance at a book and they get my undying gratitude for taking a minute to let me know what works and what doesn’t.wings of creation

To find out more about me, drop by where I post reading recommendations, musings on futurist topics, and keep my schedule up.

Just tonight, I listened to our local seattlegeekly podcast issue #32, where our intrepid podcasters interviewed game designers at PAX 09. And talk about fun. I wanted to play the games I heard about (I am scared to death of gaming. It would eat my time. I would never finish books). One of the games the show was about, Aion, has flying people in it. So does Wings of Creation. So now I want to play Aion. I probably won’t. I need time to write (see above; writer’s write).

Whether you’re gaming or creating games or writing, be happy.

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Reading the text: Grant Tavinor

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 24, 2009

art of vidogames2

Book information:

Wiley | Amazon

From the title of your book The Art of Videogames one might be a little mislead in thinking this is mostly about the visual art of videogames. What would you have to say to this?

The term “art” is used in a number of ways, including in a rather narrow sense to refer to the predominantly visual fine arts. In the philosophy of the arts, the discipline in which I do my research, “art” is almost always used in the more inclusive sense in which one might refer to “the arts.” The category includes, but is not limited to, painting, sculpture, music, literature, drama, architecture and film. A key argument in my book is that at least some videogames deserve to be included in that group on the basis of sharing a large proportion of the conditions that are thought to be characteristic of the arts. Videogames, I argue, extend the category of the arts in a new and largely unprecedented way.

This is not to say the visual aspects of videogames are unimportant, or irrelevant to their nature as art. There is a certain opinion of games, I think, that holds their gameplay or formal features are more important from a functional and critical perspective than their visual aspects. I agree that the visual success of a game is no guarantee to its qualities as a game: a game with stunning graphics can fail to provide good gameplay. But nevertheless I think that the qualities of the visuals of a game—their design, style, implementation, and technical qualities—do add to the qualities we should find desirable in games. Of two games with otherwise identical formal properties, I think we should prefer that which presents the more aesthetically successful artefact.

Also, it is surely their simply visual beauty that is one of the foremost reasons that we are so tempted to see computer games as a form of art (though of course this is not the only reason). That Grand Theft Auto IV depicts Liberty City in such a subtle and beautiful manner is surely a reason to find comparisons to art entirely natural.

So why did you decide to write this book?

The book came about because two different aspects of my life collided at some time during my graduate studies in philosophy. I had always played videogames, but not seriously. When I began my PhD I bought my first personal computer, ostensibly for study purposes, but I pretty soon began to play games like Age of Empires and System Shock 2. For a while I was pretty obsessed with Age of Empires. Anyway, I had a nice scholarship, and this afforded me some spare time in which to play lots of videogames while I was studying for my PhD!

At the same time, my doctoral studies were on the nature of our emotional involvement in fictions. I was looking into the question of what it is to become emotional involved in a fictional scenario, especially when we are aware that the situations depicted in fictions do not exist. This is sometimes called “the paradox of fictional emotions,” and it is a problem that has generated a large literature in the philosophy of the arts. My specific approach was to incorporate into my ideas on the issues recent philosophical and scientific studies into the emotions.

Somewhere along the line it became obvious to me that the consideration of videogames was a natural next step in terms of the ideas I was developing. In my thesis I spent only one or two paragraphs on gaming, because it was already clear to me that there was a whole other manuscript to be written on the topic of videogames. I subsequently wrote the first draft of a book on videogames in the final year of my PhD.

Jumping ahead several years, and I was lucky enough to have found a job teaching philosophy at Lincoln University, and the book had gone through several more drafts. I was also writing research papers on the topic, even though I had never envisaged or intended to research videogames when I started out in philosophy of the arts. I subsequently had a paper published in Philosophy and Literature, which it seems that several people read and liked.

What was the process like in getting it published?

Getting the book published seemed rather easier than it should have been. I originally submitted a proposal to one academic press, and they agreed to publish a book on the topic of videogames and aesthetics. At precisely the same time I was approached by the New Directions in Aesthetics series editor Berys Gaut at a conference in Los Angeles with an expression of interest in seeing a proposal, which they eventually also accepted. So at this stage I had two contracts before me, which was a nice choice to have! I went with Wiley-Blackwell mostly because they are a prestigious press in philosophy.

I already had the manuscript that I had been working on since my PhD, but at this stage I decided to start from scratch, so almost all of that first manuscript was discarded. What was eventually published was written over the course of several very intense but enjoyable months in 2008.

What kinds of research went into writing the book?

Generally the research was of three kinds. First, I read a lot of literature, both philosophical and non-philosophical, that pertained to the topic. There is very little literature in philosophy directly about computer games, so there was not a lot to respond to or build on. Most of the philosophical literature I refer to is principally about forms of art other than videogames, with my own work adapting or revising those ideas to the facts particular to videogames. This was also a real attraction of the topic because it allowed me to some extent to go my own way and define the issues as I wanted. As a result, much of the book is taken up by framing the philosophical issues with videogames, rather than responding to other approaches, as is more usually the case in philosophical works.

Second, I played a lot of games. No one would think of writing about the aesthetics of music without a significant first-hand experience of music. The same surely applies to the aesthetics of videogames. I made a point of playing a wide range of games, and playing them thoroughly. Mostly I played on my Playstation 3, and as a result my focus in the book is often on console games, though I try to note how the theory applies, or needs modifications, in the case of other formats of kinds of gaming. Fortunately, I also received a research fund from Lincoln University that I was able to spend on my gaming!

Lastly, being a philosopher, I philosophised. Thinking about videogames has dominated my life most of the last two years, which has not always been a positive thing.

How much of your research would you say dealt with MMOs?

I played World of Warcraft in the preparation of the book because I wanted to be able to write with some assurance about that game. This was about the extent of my direct concern with MMOs. But much of the content of the book, aimed at explaining computer games and videogames in a more general way, is eminently applicable to MMOs. Indeed, they provide some of the best examples of the issues that I focus in the book because of the extensive nature of their fictional worlds.

A basic claim in the book that the virtual worlds of videogames are robustly represented and interactive fictional worlds. The interactivity of these games comes about because computers are able to provide fictional props that respond to the interaction of the player, which means that unlike films or novels, the fiction can acknowledge the presence of the player in what is depicted by the work. In multiplayer games, unlike almost all other works of fiction, players may simultaneously experience and interact with a fictional world. What is happening in a game like World of Warcraft, then, is that multiple appreciators are engaging with a fiction for the purposes of playing a game, and having a social interaction. This is interesting in terms of the philosophical literature about fictions, in that it seems to connect such computer games quite strongly with the games of pretence or make-believe from which all fictions may ultimately derive. MMOs may thus reconnect fiction and social interaction, something that is missing from other largely solitary fictive experiences such as reading a novel or watching a film.

As such, there is no doubt a great deal more philosophical work to be done on MMOs specifically, especially concerning the ontological status of some of the objects and events seen in such games. To take just one example, the puzzling nature of virtual currencies has frequently been noted. Is World of Warcraft gold real or fictional gold? How could one really trade a fictional substance? Answering these questions will demand some pretty close attention to the philosophy of fiction. And arguably, previous analyses of such issues are often confused because they have not taken such a careful philosophical approach.

Stepping back a bit, would you mind describing what your own gaming background was like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I grew up in the 1980s, and as a smart kid at that time was pretty hard to avoid being drawn into Dungeons and Dragons, even in New Zealand. So I played a fair bit of that as a kid. More than playing it, however, I was interested in creating and documenting fictional worlds using the rules and conventions of Dungeons and Dragons. I put a lot of effort into the detail and history of these fictional places. This of course is another sense of the word “game”: games of make-believe. Computer games are not only called games because they have rules and objectives in a way chess does, but because they present compelling imaginary worlds in which you can lose yourself. I think that’s what mostly attracts me to videogames these days, and I’ve always basically been interested in the imagination, as a kid in terms of the activities I engaged in, and as an adult in terms of my philosophical studies.

I also played videogames as a kid. I was gifted a Nintendo handheld parachute game. I also occasionally visited games arcades, though I never had any money to play, so I mostly just had to watch. The famous early Star Wars 3D game was around at this time, and that made a big impression on me. I also occasionally played on the Sega consoles in the early 1990s. But for the most part I forgot games when I went to university. As I noted, I was reintroduced to gaming in my graduate studies, and I’ve played regularly since.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

In as much as gaming has given me an exciting and rich topic to write about I think it has. I’m not sure that it has substantively changed my writing though; most of my influences there come from reading other writers. I admire writers like Richard Dawkins and the philosopher Daniel Dennett, who manage to address interesting and sometimes complex ideas in an approachable and engaging ways. I’ve tried to write in that way myself.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

For me, writing has certain predictable stages, which have different degrees of pleasure associated with them. I always struggle to get going, and this can often be an unpleasant experience, especially when something has a deadline. Once I’m into the subject, things tend to flow and I can write pretty quickly; this period is far from a grind, but can be quite exhausting. I spend a lot of time subsequently reworking and revising a piece of writing, which I also find a pleasurable experience. Eventually, though, this can become a grind, which is probably a good time to take a break form the work!

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Apart from the being in a state of flow, as noted above, I find just getting ideas down on paper and constructing arguments to be an enormously rewarding experience. Writing this book was a lot of fun, largely because I was sure I had something interesting to say, and that I was lucky enough to get the chance to say it. I’m looking forward to writing another book.

When do you find time to write?

Research and writing is a key part of my job as a philosophy lecturer, so luckily I get to assign large stretches of time to the activity. Most of my best writing is done between eight and noon, fuelled by lots of coffee. We’re also lucky to get some long breaks in summer, which can also be a productive time. During term time though, it is often quite difficult to maintain enough concentration to be productive.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I like to go wandering in the Capital Wastleland, shooting super-mutants, which I still find is a nice escape even though in some sense videogames have become work for me. In the real world I occasionally ride my mountain bike or go walking in the bush, both of which are nice ways to escape, especially in New Zealand where we have beautiful areas to pursue both activities. A glass or two of pinot noir is also a nice distraction!

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One shot: Almazar and Weaux

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 23, 2009

MMO community connection:

Lord of the Rings Online Reporter

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

Chris (Almazar): LOTRO Reporter is a news, tips and tricks blog about Lord of the Rings Online. We cover the latest news, some tips for the game, as well as include some editorial content about the game, such as our Group Leveling column, which talks about the experience of leveling through the content as a group.

Bill (Weaux): The blog and the podcast are about LOTRO news and game information, from the perspective of relatively low level, casual players. Kind of a “write-what-you-know-and-make-up-the-rest” thing.

Stepping back a bit, you guys happen to be friends in real life. How did you meet?

Chris: Bill moved to the town that I lived in when we where both in Grade 10, and we had a few classes together. We became friends quickly and ended up playing a lot of pen and paper RPGs together, mostly the Palladium system of games. We played a LOT of Rifts. We also played Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, and a couple of other games. We became quite close when we both ended up going to the same University. Marriages, kids and the such later, and here we are.

Bill: Chris and I went to high school together. I was the new kid in school in grade 10, and Chris invited me to join in him a pen-and-paper game session (we played D&D 2nd ed. and several Palladium books games). We drifted apart a bit when we met our girlfriends/future wives, but the summer after graduation I scammed a last-minute invite to his wedding. Our lives have taken very similar paths since then through school & location and we’ve stayed close ever since.

And so, where did the idea of starting a LOTRO blog and podcast come from?

Chris: I started the blog this past summer when I really got back into LOTRO. Bill and I had played WoW quite a bit, and had talked for a long time about starting a WoW podcast and blog. When we both got bored of WoW, and wanted to play together again, we re-subscribed to LOTRO (we had not been playing LOTRO for about 6 months) and started playing together again.

Through all of this, I came to really appreciate the complexities of the game, started listening to some podcast and checking out some blogs, and I found that there wasn’t anything out there that was filling the same space in the LOTRO world as two of my favorite blogs/podcasts: (then known as WoW Insider) and The Instance. Not that I think we’re in the same league as those two, but it’s something that I keep in mind as we produce content.

I’m basically making a blog and podcast that I would enjoy!

Bill: I would like to take all the credit, but it would be a dirty lie. We often get into very heated, involved discussions about LOTRO (& MMO’s in general) and at one point we decided it would make a good podcast. Chris did about 95% of all the work getting it set up and published (both the podcast and the blog) – I’m there mainly for the good looks.

What were both of your introductions to MMOs and what was that experience like?

Chris: I started with Ultima Online. Well, do MUDs on bulletin boards count? Did those two. I actually didn’t have a computer when I bought UO, but I happened to live right above a bookstore/internet cafe where they had computers that you could rent by the hour. I had played the Ultima games a ton, and really wanted to get in on an online version of it. I didn’t get very far in UO though. I got ganked. So I tried a different area. And I got ganked. Yeah…..

Bill: My first experience was in Asheron’s Call. I was in University, and it obliterated my grades! At the time I thought it was the most rich, deep, involved gaming experience possible. It’s funny to look back on it now as seeming fairly simple.

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

Chris: My first WOW moment in an MMO was the first night that I played Dungeons and Dragons Online with my wife, with Bill, and with his wife. I had never really gotten into groups very much in the past, missing out on all the group content that MMOs have to offer. Playing with a group, all the time, made the game so much more enjoyable that it had been before and changed the way that I approached MMOs from that point on.

Bill: It’s over 10 years ago now, but I remember the pain and joy of learning new spells in Asheron’s Call (through random material research) the hard way, because I hadn’t looked up any of the cheats yet. I remember thinking, “No regular game could get away with such a mind-numbing, frustrating mechanic.” Again, it’s funny to look at it now because if a game had such a mechanic to one of its central game systems (spellbooks) I would be out of there like a shot. It just speaks to how “enthusiastic” I was about the game.

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

Chris: I think that my peak was probably about 50-60 hours on WoW when I was on sick leave from work. I was staying in a trailer, in my sister’s driveway, away from my family, and couldn’t really get up and move around. So I played a lot of WoW. Enjoyed it, as it was a way to connect with people, and to connect with my wife as well (she played WoW and currently plays LOTRO).

Now, I play about 10-15 hours per week, depending on how much real life gets in the way. Family, kids, that always comes first.

Bill: At my worst (best?) I was probably playing 40-50 hours a week for several games. I’m sure I did that when I was at my peaks in Asheron’s Call, Dark Age of Camelot, and World of Warcraft. I also squeezed a few hours a week in that time for offline games like Baldur’s Gate, Diablo II etc.

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

Chris: I’m a pretty avid gamer overall. I play Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead on the PC, as well as several games on my PS3, mostly of the Rock Band variety, although Batman: Arkam Asylum has got its hooks on me pretty good right now. We used to play tabletop/pen and paper RPGs, but life just isn’t letting Bill and I get together often enough for that.

Bill: Definitely. Our pen-and-paper play has definitely died off (we tried email campaigns, and IM campaigns, but it just didn’t work). I have a Wii that I play with my wife and kids. I definitely still play quite a bit of “offline” PC Games, though not near as much as I used to.

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

Chris: With our resent spike in number at the site recently, my wife was joking that it will soon become a second job! But in reality, this is a very enjoyable hobby. I have a family to take care of, and working helps me do that, so the time I can offer to the site and the podcast will always be limited. Then again, Scott Johnson from The Instance only recently left his job to pursue his art, podcasting and blogging career fulltime, and he’s been Podcasting for years. It’s a great standard to emulate.

Bill: At this point in my life it’s a hobby – there’s too much RL for it to be anything else. It would be a dream come true to be able to make it a living. It sounds sad, but if I could be a minimum wage blogger/podcaster/internet-pseudo-celebrity I would retire from my day job. Heaven is going to work in your underwear.

Do you try and stick to any sort of schedule?

Chris: I try to put a new post on the site every day, but it usually comes in spurts, where I will put 3 or 4 posts up one day, then nothing the next. With the podcast, we try to keep a weekly schedule, but are doing a pretty poor job so far. It’s a learning curve. Our latest episode was a week and a half late because I forgot to hit the RECORD button before we started, and we lost a whole show. Real life didn’t allow use to record again for another week. I also try to use twitter whenever I post, and also respond to other LOTRO related tweets whenever I can.

Bill:  We try to podcast weekly, though various RL and technical issues have interrupted that schedule. I think as we’ve realized there’s more people listening besides our wives, we’re putting more priority into getting podcasts out in a timely fashion. Chris is a prodigious blogger and is far more diligent than I at it. Same with podcasting though – as we’re starting to see more people visiting the blog, I am putting higher priority on contributing.

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

Chris: No, I don’t find it a grind at all. Mind you, I haven’t been doing this all that long. It may change. I don’t think it will though. I enjoy what I’m doing, I’m creating content that I like, and a community is starting to form around it. It was a little hard at the beginning, as it felt like we where in a vacuum, without much community feedback. It’s very nice to see the community interacting now, and that makes it all worthwhile.

Bill: So far, no. Every podcast we’ve done is basically a phone-call or BS session we would have had anyway. The only difference is we’re recording it (and drinking less during). Chris being the far more diligent blog poster might have a different point-of-view but anything I’ve written or contributed has just been for fun.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about the experience?

Chris: I just enjoy writing the posts and talking about LOTRO for the podcast. I’m really enjoying the community interaction that has started recently, as well as starting to interact with some of the other bloggers and podcasters in the LOTRO community.

Bill: The act of doing it is fun for me. I think if I had all the time in the world and real life would leave me alone (and all the game servers were down) I would write for the blog and record podcasts for fun.

Are you pleased with how your blog and podcast have been received in the blogosphere?

Chris: Like I mentioned before, the beginning was tough, but lately, things have been great. We’re even looking at forming at Kinship for bloggers, podcasters and their fans, and the reaction to that has been very positive.

Bill:  Well, it’s been relatively recent that we’ve started to see some significant traffic, but definitely yes. I find it fascinating and very flattering that there’s people out there interested in what we have to say.

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

Chris: Nothing comes to mind specifically.

Bill: I would have made a bigger effort at the start of the website I think. Again – Chris deserves all the credit for this thing taking off to where it is now. I have some ideas for the future for it, though – so stay tuned!

Are there any new projects in the works for the LOTRO Reporter you’d care to discuss?

Chris: We’re just going to keep growing and expanding the site naturally. I’m spoken to a few fans about trying to get some pre-recorded segments on to the show that are fan created, and we’re working on that now. Other than that, we’re just going to keep playing LOTRO and having fun with the site and podcast.

Bill: I think we’re mainly just trying to keep writing and keep recording as long as it’s fun. Of course our 5 year plan is to have a prime-time LOTRO sitcom on a major network and to own the entire internet. That’s in pretty early planning stages though.

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One shot: Werit

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 22, 2009

MMO community connection:


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

My blog is mostly about MMO’s but I tend to cover all types of games as well.

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

The first MMO I played was Neverwinter Nights on AOL. It was pretty exicitings as I prety much went from Nintendo/PC games to this multi-player world. It was also expensive, 5 hours a month is not enough time to play a MMO.

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

My first “wow” moment was when I started playing MUSH’s (text based games). I came across a sci-fi game called Hemlock. There were no levels, you were whatever you wanted to be (roleplay). It had a realistic space system and economy which added meaning towards what you wanted to do.

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

At my peak, I would play 15 – 20 hours a week. Now I only get about 5 – 10 hours of playtime a week.

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

I have the major consoles and play them whenever a game strikes my fancy.

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

I started blogging almost a year and a half ago. The upcoming release of Warhammer Online is what first drove me to start up a blog. Since then I’ve started to cover more than just Warhammer.

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

For me to is pretty much just a hobby and a form of communication.

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

I try to post once a day during the week. I take weekends off. Some people post more, some less. I find one a day keeps me from burning out.

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

Grind? Not at all. If it was a grind I would not do it. I think the fact my blog is focused on games in general, rather than one particular game, really helps keep that grindy feeling away.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

When I was younger and in school, me and my friends used to talk about games at recess. I think talking about games with people is a lot of fun. These days my offline friends don’t play games. Blogging allows me to talk about games again.

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

The time I received a letter (you know, snail mail) from Warhammer Online that had to do with the upcoming event was pretty memorable. Getting involved with something you enjoy is a lot of fun.

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

I’ve done a guest stint and thought it was fun. In the future I hope to do more.

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

Absolutely. I’ve met a ton of great people through the blog that I otherwise would not have.

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

Not that I can think of.

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

First, choose a name that will not force you into a narrow topic. You may like that game now, but who knows whether you will down the road. Second, don’t worry about visitor numbers. Blogging takes time and persistence. Finally, get involved the with greater blogging community.

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

Only if I run out of time.

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.

SWG sandbox/crafting + EvE economy/sovereignty + WAR accessibility

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Reading the text: Stephen Dedman

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 18, 2009

art of arrow cuttingAuthor’s website:

Could you please explain what The Art of Arrow Cutting happens to be about?

It’s quest fantasy, using a contemporary American setting (which saved me the trouble of drawing any maps, though I did create a fictitious Canadian town) and creatures from Japanese mythology. The protagonist unknowingly acquires a powerful talisman, and has to learn how to use it because a previous owner, a powerful magician, is willing to kill to get it back.

What was the process like in getting the book published?

I sent it to several publishers without success, until one editor expressed an interest in buying it. Unfortunately, she was fired two weeks later. Fortunately, that expression of interest was enough to get me an agent, so when that deal fell through, he found another editor, Jim Frenkel from Tor, who liked it and bought it.

You’ve spent some time designing role-playing games. What are some of the games you’ve worked on?

I’ve had material published for Villains & Vigilantes (superhero roleplaying), the last three editions of GURPS, Car Wars, and one AD&D piece in Australian Realms. I also wrote adventures for FGU’s Bushido, Daredevils and Aftermath!, and FASA’s Shadowrun and Doctor Who RPGs, but while these were accepted, they were never actually published: one of the hazards of working from Australia in pre-internet days was that by the time I heard about an RPG, the chances were that the company had stopped buying new material for it.

How would you describe this experience?

Fun, if not always profitable. My first attempts to break into that market were AD&D pieces intended for Dragon magazine, all of which came from my experiences as a gamesmaster (none of them sold). After I started running V&V games, I decided I was putting so much work into being the GM (especially mapping) that I might as well get paid for it, so I turned one series of games into an adventure module and submitted it. A year later, I heard that they’d accepted it and it was about to be printed: the publisher thought the editor had contacted me, and vice versa (this was pre-internet).

fistful of dataI still GM occasionally for fun – usually GURPS – and when I do, I frequently turn my notes into short adventures or ‘Terra Incognita’ articles. Even unsold RPG material sometimes comes in useful: I adapted one unpublished Bushido adventure into a GURPS Martial Arts adventure, and an unpublished Shadowrun adventure into my Shadowrun novel, A Fistful of Data.

So then, what has your personal gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I started playing pen & paper D&D back in the late 70s, and tried a few other games before being introduced to V&V, then other FGU games, then Shadowrun (I’ve been running the same campaign, with some of the same characters, for 20 years) and GURPS. I occasionally play card and board games when I don’t have time to prepare an RPG adventure – mostly Steve Jackson or Cheapass Games such as Unexploded Cow, Lord of the Fries, Illuminati, Frag, and some others. I’ve never owned a gaming console (though I’ve shared houses with a few), but I have gotten briefly hooked on some computer games at different times: Wizardry, Bard’s Tale, Civilization, Rise of Nations and Call of Duty are the ones that come readily to mind.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

Not in any significant way. I prefer to create the worlds myself, either as RPGs or as settings for my fiction.

Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?

Most of the amusing stories from my games involve one player, who treated every game as though it was D&D and every NPC a monster worth experience points. In her first V&V game, she decapitated an unarmed receptionist; in a Shadowrun campaign, she blew a hole through one of the other player characters to get a clear shot at an enemy. In an Aftermath! campaign, she nearly wiped out her entire party when they were cleaning through a cannibal lair: there was one room left unexplored, and she had one grenade left and wanted to use it.

The party had external measurements of the building, and had counted their paces as they advanced, and even allowing for error, they knew the room had to be very small. The fact that the door opened into the corridor, not out, should have been a dead giveaway. But no, one of them held the door open while she threw the grenade inside. The ‘room’ was a broom closet, and the grenade bounced off the back wall and back into the corridor, into the middle of the party, before the door shut. Kaboom.

Admittedly, she wasn’t the one responsible for burning down most of Cuba by teaching gestalt rats how to use cigarette lighters, or for inadvertently nuking Mexico City, but that’s another story.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

Yes. The Art of Arrow Cutting was not only inspired by research I was doing at the time for Bushido, it was largely written as though I was the GM, on the side of the enemy, and the heroes were player characters. I still find this a useful technique when writing novels. Some other stories of mine have also come out of research I did for RPGs, and my most recent novel was a Shadowrun tie-in.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

Absolutely. Some of my short stories were written in one draft without grind; beginnings and endings may be written with little or no grind, but the middle of any long work usually requires a lot of hard work.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Making up stories – which is something I’ve done to entertain myself for as long as I can remember – and (sometimes) getting paid for doing it.

When do you find time to write?

Not as often as I’d like; I have two other jobs (I teach writing at university, and co-own a science fiction and fantasy bookshop). Mostly, now, I write when most people would be watching TV or playing video games.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Game design; writing fiction, which is a great escape when it’s going well; travel, when I can afford it; watching DVDs.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Write your first drafts for yourself only: write what you want to or need to write, don’t worry about other readers or making any money until you’re doing a second draft. Then, when you’ve done that, look at what you’ve written and ask yourself who would want to read that piece, and who you want to read it; whether it can be made into a publishable piece and whether you want to do that much work. Having someone who will give you honest, well-informed feedback at this point is invaluable: if you want to be a professional writer, constructive criticism from someone who knows and likes your genre matters much more than your ego.

(Having said that: don’t send work to me for feedback, unless you’re one of my students or mentorees or a very close friend. I don’t have enough time.)

The sf/fantasy/horror field is one of the few where there is still a huge range of markets for fiction of almost any length: make the most of this. Unless you’re incapable of being concise and can only write epics, try writing short fiction: you’ll learn, much more quickly, where your strengths and weaknesses as a writer are. Similarly, if you want to write for the RPG companies, the best way to get a track record is to start off with short articles for magazines such as Pyramid.

You wake up to a world where The Art of Arrow Cutting has been made into a role playing game. What character class would you play?


Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Read widely – at all lengths, a range of genres, and non-fiction as well as fiction. Read a publication before you submit to it: buy a copy or even a subscription so the magazine will still be around long enough to publish your work. If you want to read any of my stuff, there’s a regularly updated bibliography at my website,

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Reading the text: Greg Costikyan

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 17, 2009

Author’s website:

If it’s not too much trouble, would you mind discussing your background in the gaming industry?

My first game was published when I was 16; it was a board wargame based on the battle of Alamein. I continued to design games for SPI, a wargame publisher, throughout high school and college, though most of my games were based on SF or fantasy themes. In the early-mid 80s, I was director of R&D for West End Games, where I managed all game development and publication efforts, and personally designed several games, including Paranoia (with Dan Gelber and Eric Goldberg) and Star Wars: The RPG. For several years thereafter I was a house husband, writing novels and doing work for Prodigy, the old commercial online service, in my “spare” time. In the early-mid 90s, I went to work for Crossover Technologies, one of the few game developers in NYC, where I designed several online and PC games, as well as a series of ecommerce applications. I was then a consultant for a time, the founded one of the first North American mobile game companies in 2000. After it failed, I went to work for Nokia, first as editor of the games portion of their developer support website, then as a “games researcher.” In 2005, I founded Manifesto Games, an attempt to expand the market for independently developed computer games; I shut the company down earlier this year.

I’ve written a lot about games, game design, and game industry business issues for many publications; have consulted to many Fortune 500 companies on the industry; have lectured about game design at universities both in the US and Europe; have designed more than 30 commercially published games; and am the recipient of 5 Origins Awards and the IGDA’s Maverick Award, as well as an inductee into the Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame.

As the CEO of Manifesto Games, which retails independently developed games and creator of the website Play This Thing! you are obviously a big fan of indie games. Why are you so committed to this?

See: “Death to the Game Industry, Long Live Games”

What would you say to someone who has never strayed from the AAA titles in their gaming experience? What are they missing out on?

Doesn’t it all start to feel the same after a while? The conventional industry is lucky if it sees -one- innovative title in the course of a year, and in general, unless your name is Wright or Miyamoto, you will never be allowed to work on anything other than a game the marketing dweebs know how to slot into an existing market category.

If you actually want some spark of creativity in your games, you have to look outside the mainstream. This is true of film and music as well, of course.

You designed the first online game to attract more than one million players. Would you mind discussing this game a bit and what the experience was like for you?

That was MadMaze, a game for Prodigy, one of the commercial online services that existed before the Internet was opened up to commercial use. The miracle is that it didn’t suck, since one of the constraints was that no original programming could be required; it used two existing Prodigy applications, one for posting news stories, and one for running little q&a quizzes. Like miany highly constrained game development projects, it was actually rather tedious to work on, really, but Prodigy paid me quite well, and it’s hard to argue with success.

Are you still designing games?

Yes. My current project is a boardgame commissioned by the Macarthur Foundation that is designed to teach middle- and high-school kids from the Chicago area something about the Burnham Plan, the landmark 1909 urban plan for the city of Chicago that had a big impact on the 20th century development of the city, and to encourage them to think about how they would reshape the city given the chance.

I’m also working on a 2-8 player boardgame about naval conflict in the Mediterranean in the 16th century, tentatively titled “Philip & Suleiman.”

Kim Wilkins, one of the authors recently interviewed for this site, had this to say about the future of writing: “If you want to see the future of narrative, it’s in games. As written entertainment goes digital, I think we’ll see more and more quality writing in games. It’s going to be awesome.” Would you have anything to say to this?

I think it’s horseshit. There’s a fundamental conflict between the demands of narrative and the demands of games, which I’ve written extensively about here: “Games, Storytelling, and Breaking the String.”

The typical game story is a thud-and-blunder heroic melodrama of such limited literary virtue that it would make Robert E. Howard blush. Games do power fantasy pretty well, but nuance of character is lost when you hand over control of a character to a player, and most of the things that create tension or interest in a story are difficult or impossible to show in a game (how upbrigning shaped a character, the complexities of love and betrayal, any sort of emotion beyond fiero and frustration). Mind you, I applaud people who try to extend the narrative reach of games, but to look to games as the future of narrative strikes me as insane.

She also happens to be a big fan of World of Warcraft. Speaking of narratives, what is your take on the current state of MMOs?

Narrative in MMOs consists of a) backstory that everyone ignores, and b) quest text that you blip over as quickly as possible to extract the essential information you need to know, e.g., where do I have to go and what do I have to do.

My take on the current state of MMOs is that it essentially sucks. One the one hand, we have eight-budget spectaculars that look for WoW numbers and are even less willing to experiment than the conventional console-and-PC market; and on the other we have low-budget “free play” titles designed to gull you into splurging on digital content and therefore offer degraded gameplay in an effort to maximize per-player revenues.

Mind you, I continue to play WoW, and I highly recommend A Tale in the Desert and something remarkable and different from the norm.

Why do you play WoW?

WoW is a pretty bad gamemaster, but it’s always there and I don’t have to work to get together a group of friends or (as GM) to prepare an adventure. It’s a useful way to satisfy a gaming jones at fairly minimal effort.

I’ve previously made an analogy to tailoring: A tabletop RPG session is like a bespoke, hand-tailored suit, crafted by your GM to the tastes and interests of his or her friends. An MMO is like a suit bought off-the-rack — it won’t fit as well because it’s tailored to the lowest common denominator rather than your individual measurements, but it will satisfy some of the same requirements.

What do you see as the biggest unrealized potential of the genre?

Which genre? RTS, FPS, TCG, board wargame, computer wargame, miniatures wargame, LARP, ARG, tabletop RPG, computer RPG, console RPG, JRPG, indie RPG, Eurogame, aufbaustrategiespiele, sim/tycoon game, MMO, casual game, adventure game, sports game, sports management game, shmup, sidescroller, platformer, turn-based strategy, turn-based fantasy, flight sim, vehicle sim, choose-your-own-ending book, or maybe tower defense?

Games are not a genre; games are a form, and incorporate a great many genres.

Let’s try this again: What do you see as the biggest unrealized potential in MMOs?

Virtually every MMO on the market at present is essentially a dikuMUD variant. That is, it’s based on hack-and-slash gameplay and level advancement. In the history of MUDs, there were many other successful game styles — to give one very different example, in a Pern MOO, advancement fundamentally depends on establishing positive relationships with other members of the weir and getting permission to imprint a dragon, go on raids, etc. Or as one of the few examples of an MMO that’s quite different, A Tale in the Desert is basically a crafting game, with a specific end-goal and victory condition, in which all combat, even PvE, is prohibited.

Hack-and-slash is far from the only style of play you can accommodate in a thousands-of-players online environment, but virtually no one is experimenting with anything other than minor permutations on the dikuMUD model.

first contractYou also happen to have several published novels under your belt. For gamers who would like to check out something you’ve written, what would you suggest?

Several of my short stories are readable for free at my site at  Of my novels, First Contract is the one I like best.

I am curious to know whatever happened to your Magic of the Plains series. I see where book 1, By the Sword was published a while back, but I wasn’t able to locate any of the subsequent volumes in the series.

By the Sword was written as a stand-alone novel (actually, originally, as a one-chapter-a-week series for Prodigy). Tor got all excited about it and slapped the “Magic of the Plains” label on it in the hope that it would become a series. The first book didn’t really sell well enough to justify a sequel.

I can more properly be chastised for the Cups & Sorcery series, which is hanging at two books and definitely needs a third to come to completion. I rather doubt I’ll ever get to it, however.

What advice would you have for someone wanting to get into the field of writing for games? Would your advice be any different for aspiring authors?

First, play LOTS of games. Second, understand that you are a hired gun; the game designer is the one actually shaping the experience, and you are being brought in to fill in little bits of dialog that need to be written, or little bits of story that get transmitted here and there, or, in very rare cases, to flesh out the basic game system with sidequests or other story elements. In other words, not only are you not a novelist, with complete control over the final product, you are not even a screenwriter, the original fount of the movie even if it later gets reshaped by others. You’re pouring content into a structure defined by others.

Third, understand that writing for an interactive medium is very different from writing for linear media: “First, they go to Bree….” But what if they don’t? What if they decide to light out for the West?

And of course, network, network, network… People hire people they know. And it doesn’t hurt to get famous or quasi-famous as a writer first (e.g., Marc Laidlaw was a pretty well known science fiction novelist before he was hired by Valve).

How do you escape these days?

There is no escape this side of the grave.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Immortal Defense:

My Life with Master:

The Upgrade:

The most interesting uses of narrative in games today are -not- found in boxes from EA or Activision.

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Reading the text: Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 16, 2009

duplicate effortAuthor’s website:

Your Retrieval Artist series has been described as part CSI, part Bladerunner and part hard-boiled gumshoe. How would you describe this series to someone who knew nothing about it?

I’d describe them as hard-boiled mystery novels set in space. I really focus on the mystery here, but I remember the rule about sf: If you can remove the sf elements and still have a story, then you don’t have an sf story. So I’m balancing mystery with real science fiction, which is always a bit of a trick.

Having published extensively both novels and short stories, would you say you’re more at home writing one or the other?

I love them both. I read them both and I write both, as you noted. If I’m writing novels, I miss writing short stories. If I’m writing short stories exclusively, I miss writing novels. So I’m at equally at home with both.

Going back a bit, would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting your first novel published?

It took forever! Seriously. I wrote the book in 1983 – 1984, after I got my first computer. I couldn’t face writing a novel on a typewriter. Then I started marketing the book. I got great rejections, although I didn’t know it at the time. I was mightily discouraged. But I kept plugging, and writing more books and stories. The great Brian Thomsen had a line at Warner Books for newer writers. He wanted my novel for that. He kept taking the book to committee to get the book bought, and they kept turning it down. He did that for more than a year. Then I sold a bunch of short stories, got nominated for some awards, and got an agent, who sent the book to John Silbersack at NAL. John bought it. But he had the awards, which helped. Then I got nominated for a Campbell. Then I won the Campbell. John kept slipping the book back, moving it up the list, until it became a lead title, published with tons of fanfare and a Tom Canty cover—which was hot then. It took 2 years for the book to get published. By the time it came out, I had sold eight other novels. I was beginning to think the process was write a novel, get paid, write another novel, get paid—but never see the books in print.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Played games my whole life. Board games as a kid (too damn old for RPGs; they didn’t exist when I was little). Did RPGs in high school, college, and after. I was the DM for a Dungeons and Dragons game that also had Kevin J. Anderson in it. We met every Sunday night and had a blast. Now I ban games from my computer or I’d never write. I do play on occasion, but never at home.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

Nope. Sorry. Won’t simply because of the timesink element. I know I’m missing great stuff.

Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?

In my D&D game, the players always celebrated the end of a good run in a tavern. They’d drink, then toss their glasses in the fireplace. So one of the villains developed a potion that, when put in fire, exploded. He dosed their cups. (I set this up with my character, an evil magic user, and using some long lost D&D rules) I had this thing for months, but the players stopped tossing their glasses in the fire. Then one day, after a particularly grueling session, they did. The tavern exploded, everyone died, and Kevin never forgave me. In fact, he still gets mad about it if you mention it. (Mention it. Mention it.) My character survived because he knew what was coming. Became the most powerful character in the game for a while. <evil grin>

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

Oh, yeah. It taught me to plot, to think ahead, to realize that different characters have different skills, and yet at some level they’re all you. Both Kevin and I based our first novels on our D&D game. So it had quite an influence.

Speaking of short stories and gaming, would you take a minute and explain what your story “Game Testing” in the new anthology Gamer Fantastic is about?

gamer fantasticI game tested back in the early 80s. I lived in Wisconsin, and TSR used to do a lot of game testing at conventions. So somehow, the story became about Lake Geneva, a real-life game test, and the history of RPGs. You’ll have to read it. It’s a lot more fun than I’m making it sound here.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

Not really. If you don’t love this work, you shouldn’t do it.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?


When do you find time to write?

Writing is my day job, my night job, my job. If I don’t do it, I don’t eat or funny things like that. So I write every day, most of the time, just like most people go to their day jobs. The difference is that I don’t take much time off.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Oh, jeez. Exercise, believe it or not. Reading in genres I’m not writing in at the moment. Being with friends. TV, movies. Surfing the web. Travel when I can find the time.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Trust yourself. Finish what you write. Have fun. That’s the real key. If you’re not having fun, there’s really no point.

You wake up to a world where your Retrieval Artist series has been made into a role playing game. Please describe the type of character you would roll up and why?

I’d probably roll up Flint or DeRicci—someone in charge of something (because that’s my nature), who fights crime creatively, and tries to make a difference.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

I think you covered it all.

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One shot: Bootae

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 15, 2009

MMO community connection:

Bootae’s Bloody Blog

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

Mainly it’s all about Warhammer Online, though I do go on the odd tangent. I guess in theory it’s not a WAR blog, it’s a blog for whatever games I’m playing right now, it’s just that my main gaming passion at present is WAR, so that has the limelight. In the future you may see the odd post about the likes of Mechwarrior 5, Silenthunter 5 and perhaps the other MMOs, but for now it’s all about the WAAAGH!

I post about my experiences in (and around) the game and try to be as fair as possible, if it sucks I’ll say so, but also give credit where it’s due. For me it’s important to avoid jumping on the “I got beaten by class X nerf them!” bandwagon and as such I try to stay as objective as possible. I’m not a fan of the forum based over-reacting troll culture.

Amongst things, I regularly ramble on with thoughts about how WAR could be improved (third faction posts are common…) and I try to give people a heads up on decent Developer comments and other info coming out of Mythic.

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

Ultima Online in I think 1997… I bought it on a whim; at the time I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. I’d been doing a lot of online gaming, but it was things like X-wing and Quake. Ultima was a revelation. This was back in the days when it was full PvP everywhere, the game wasn’t all about epics, there were no quests, there wasn’t much in the way of add ons and the in-game player community was hugely important. It dumped you in a massive, very wild world and let you find your own adventure. I was lucky enough to join an amazing guild (Eternal Knights of the Circle) and thanks to them and the rest of the Europa server I had classic adventures every night. I loved it and have never encountered it’s like again. Alas, whilst UO is still running, epics and the foul influence of carebear games have killed it.

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

When I joined EKC in Ultima Online and was taken to their player built city. It was incredible! The guild had control over a huge amount of land to the east of a place known as Wrong Mountain. They had their own pub, blacksmith, a huge tower where their King and Queen lived and loads of houses. There were even knights from the guild patrolling the city, defending the locals from PKs (Player Killers). Bare in mind the whole persistent world was new then, so this was just mind blowing.

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

At my peak in the UO days it was probably over 30 hours a week. These days I have to balance gaming with a wife, daughter and watching as much football as humanly possible, so somewhere between 10 and 15 hours a week at a guess. I have a couple of “gaming nights” agreed with the missus, but I sneak an hour or so in most nights.

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

Like half of the known world I’ve got a Nintendo Wii sitting there not doing much. Having seen the heavenly PC light it’s rare that a console game can hold my attention. PC gaming wise I like strategy games, simulators and things with a bit more realism. I play Arma 2 quite a lot, awesome co-op on that. Oh and anything Warhammer. Which right now is the new Bloodbowl game. Great stuff, I’m in an online league for that.

I’m an old Warhammer geek, I love the background of both the 40,000 and fantasy universes. Whilst I actually still have a room at home full of little soldiers, I don’t really play the games anymore, other than Battlefleet Gothic. I’d say that’s probably the best game that Gamesworkshop have ever made, easy to play but hard to master.

This of course means my wife thinks I’m a mentalist.

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

It was January this year; I saw the Age of Blogging promotion and figured I’d give it a try. To be honest I didn’t really think too much about it, just thought I’d do it for a crack and fully expected to get bored and quit after a week or two. Then I realised people were actually reading and so I started putting a bit more thought into it.

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

Oh it’s a hobby totally. I was asked recently to write for something else, which was a pleasant shock, but I turned it down. I’ve already got a decent job and I’m not sure the time and effort of a second writing job would be worth the reward. When you’re writing for yourself it’s no hassle, you can have a break whenever you feel like it. I’m not sure I fancy having to work with someone else’s deadlines. Of course, never say never.

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

A lot of the ideas for posts come from discussion with friends about WAR. I then either start writing a post or note down the idea for later. This way I’ve built up a list of potential topics and it’s really helped with those writers’ block moments. Most of the actual writing I do on lunch breaks at work, then just tidy things up a little from home and post away.

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

The day it becomes a grind is the day I quit.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

I get to vent frustrations and record my oh so brilliant ideas and then people actually read them! I mean come on… that’s gotta be good for your ego. That and there’s always the vain hope that someone from Mythic/whoever will one day read one of your posts and actually respond.

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

I have a real life friend and guild member that is always using his photoshop skills to make amusing images. I got to post up his version of female Orc in a provocative pose. Puking and laughing at the same time is a fascinating experience.

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

The way I write tends to reflect how folks round my way talk, which can involve a bit of crudeness. Obviously this interview isn’t for my site, hence me not saying bollocks at all… Doh… I’m not sure that combined with my London drawl is right for podcasting, they always seem a bit prim and proper.

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

Pleased? I’m bloody amazed! I’m too lazy to really advertise my blog, it’s just there, so I was expecting to get a handful of hits a day and then have to wind it up due to lack of interest from anyone else. Instead I’ve somehow ended up with regular readers, people commenting and others linking to me. It’s hugely flattering and was a total surprise. Lately I’ve started getting people messaging me in game just wanting to say hi, which has been very trippy.

I really have to say thank you to my readers and particularly to everyone that has been promoting my blog.

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

I would have started blogging years ago.

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

If you’re writing something and it’s not feeling right, then review it and don’t be afraid to delete and write something different.

Likewise don’t worry about your posts being the next Name of the Rose. It’s a blog not an exhibition in literary excellence.

As I mentioned before, if you have multiple ideas note them down. Before you know it you’ll have a little warehouse of potential posts.

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

No. I’ve got the bug…

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.

Oooh I like this one 😀 Ok you asked for it 😛

I’m going to make Warhammer Online 2, but it would be a very different kettle of fish to the existing game. The core concept is a melding of Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe. At launch there would be the following playable races: Bretonnians, Empire, Dwarfs, Orcs & Goblins, Chaos Mortals, Skaven, High Elves and Dark Elves. They would be independent and not grouped into factions. Language would work as in the lore, with most races able to communicate through a common tongue, as well as set chat to talk in their own languages. As a player you would be restricted to one race per server. Guilds from different races could form alliances, as long as they were within certain restrictions, i.e. no Chaos and High Elf alliances.

There are not flight masters everywhere and no zone loading screens; it’s one giant world. There will be some fast transport, but limited. To reach some remote areas you will need to go on proper expedition. No flying to just outside the enemy zone, you need to travel and prepare. And when I said a giant world, I meant it. Really, bloody huge! This is the Warhammer world in all its glory. Exploration will be back on the menu. I want a game where a year down the line there’s still new things to see.

Everywhere is PvP enabled, you are attackable by other races at all times. Your own race is un-attackable, this is going to be a bloody harsh world and your own race will need to work together. Each race would have their multiple major cities from Warhammer lore as relatively safe zones, with NPC guards protecting them. These would attack their races natural enemies on sight, but not instantly launch at those with more cordial relations (say Dwarfs and Humans). Cities can be attacked, torched and temporarily destroyed (it would slowly rebuild itself).

Away from the cities would be smaller NPC and player populated towns, guilds would be able to buy or capture property in existing towns, or even build their own in a selection of designated areas. All of which would be attackable, meaning enemies can attack and conquer these towns. NPC guards and defences could be purchased, so when you’re offline your property can’t be ninjaed unless by large-scale assaults. Thankfully because of the size of the world, attacks on enemy towns will not happen every day, but should you capture one then you have a potential stronghold in enemy territory.

Character levels are gone. Being hit by a sword hurts, it doesn’t matter what level you are it could still kill you. I want a skill based system, but one where you have to actually hit things to gain skill points. Want to get good with a sword? Go stick it in some Orcs! Skill points can be spent on unlocking abilities. But crucially it means you’re not useless when you get started, this time you can join in with your mates straight away. It just means your character lacks the finesse of one that has unlocked lots of abilities. I’m sticking with the lock target & toolbar system we’re all used to, just changing how we get those abilities.

Not wanting to neglect PvE, there are hundreds of dungeons of varying scale and none of them are instanced. Instancing has made us soft.

Or if I can’t have that lot, then I’ll just settle for an exact copy of Ultima Online before the 2nd age, but with proper modern graphics. At the end of the day that’s all I want from a new MMO, just someone to make one as good as UO used to be.

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