Interview with blogger and fledgling independent game designer Geldon Yetichsky who discusses his game blog, Digitally Staving Off Boredom, and talks about his own gaming background, his blogging experience and what working with BYOND, a free online game development suite, has been like.
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MMO community connection:
Digitally Staving Off Boredom
Please take a minute and describe what your blog is about.
The actual subject of what my blog, Digitally Staving Off Boredom, is about has been largely in flux for some time. Much like MMORPGs, there’s a lot of blogs out there these days, and so finding a niche is important.
I knew early on from my visiting sites such as Lum The Mad or Old Man Murray that if I wanted to be a popular blog, I should probably entertain my visitors. People like to laugh, it would bring them back. However, it turns out I rarely was in the mood to tell jokes, I prefer to be more of a straight man, so that didn’t pan out.
For awhile, I thought perhaps I would be an aggregation blog whose goal was to find “the diamonds in the rough” amidst all the cloned crap in the gaming universe right now. That too didn’t pan out, partly because there’s way too much crap out there for one person to reliably to sift through, and partly because I really was not feeling the calling to do so.
Right now, my Blog is mostly a soapbox where I talk about what I’ve been playing lately, what I feel they did right, and what I feel they could do better. This is because I have more of a concern on game development lately ever since I started dabbling with BYOND (a free online game development suite). I consider myself a fledging independent game designer who, having not released his first game yet, can still feel relatively free to constructively pan his future competition without facing legal repercussions.
What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?
I’ve been online gaming since way back, on a 300 baud modem using a Commodore 64 (I was about 10). I’ve been gaming regularly ever since, and so to me it seems as though MMOs are just another step along the lines of slow evolution from the old bulletin board system door games that I played as a kid. Consequently, the lines gets a bit blurry when you approach what constitutes my first MMO played.
If I had to take a stab in the dark, I’d have to say my first experience with an MMO would be Kesmai’s Multiplayer Battletech:EGA over GEnie. The core gameplay was basically identical to the first Mechwarrior PC game, but with two major differences. First, each of the up to 8 mechs that could be in the game were each controlled by an individual player (it was no longer a single player game). Second, there was now an out-of-battle game that involved several chat lobbies and several factions, where much organization and roleplay would take place – the bridge which made the game a MMO.
I did not play it very long, because MMO gameplay back then was something that was charged for on a dollars by the minute rate. In one electrifying weekend, I had an over $300 bill to explain to the parents, and that was that. However, the MMO bug had been planted.
Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?
Again, considering my history, things tend to blur together a bit. However, one experience that really stuck in my mind was back from the early days in EverQuest. Coming into the view of the entrance to Kaladim (the dwarven city) the first time and seeing these towering statues above it, entering the cave and actually seeing this city hewn out of the interior, this was very much a “wow!” moment for me.
There’s something about those early EverQuest environments that really made them feel more real to me than even recent MMORPGs have managed. There does not seem to be that kind of ambition towards hand-crafted MMORPG content anymore, things are so cut and pasty in comparison.
At your peak, how much time per week would you say you spent playing? How about now?
The term “hardcore gamer for life” applies rather well to me. I was hooked to gaming back on the Commodore 64 when I was kid and, while computers have changed, my habits have not. I’ve always been a bit of a fairly introverted type, so I haven’t felt much social pining to do otherwise.
I pretty much dedicate every scrap of spare time of waking hours I have towards the habit, outside of school or work. Given a series of days in which I may have no other obligations, something along the neighborhood of about 12 to 14 hours a day, I guess it comes out to about 90 hours a week, give or take.
Now? Not quite as much. I think I’ve become a bit jaded when it comes to games – it’s really hard to find one that entertains me for long anymore. I’ve seen all the old gimmicks, and new stuff doesn’t come around that often in this age of clones we live in. Consequently, game development can be a lot more satisfying for me and so I dedicate those hours to towards that – especially during a dry spell when quality entertainment seems completely out of my reach.
Do you tend to supplement your MMO gaming with other PC, console, or tabletop games?
Though I’m primarily a PC gamer, I have branched out into consoles given the general lack of originality to be found in PC gaming (with the notable exception of indy games). I enjoy the exceptional range of exotic tastes to be found on the PS2, the mainstream American flavor of the X-Box 360, and the unique Nintendo craftsmanship on the Wii (on the few titles that aren’t kindergarten casual).
I particularly enjoy the Nintendo DS on the grounds that there’s a greater focus on gameplay on these smaller platforms since there’s not so much capacity to push whiz-bang graphics. Right now I’m playing Scribblenauts for example… it’s a very interesting concept, simply being able to summon any one of thousands of nouns is an incredible technical achievement, albeit it’s not particularly well balanced in this implementation.
Tabletop games, not so much. Though I have dabbled with some of the source materials of a few of them (notably Battletech) they are largely social activities. The big satisfaction tabletop game isn’t so much rolling the dice and advancing in levels so much as applying your imagination with friends. There’s a lesson there that many contemporary CRPG developers overlook.
What MMO(s) are you currently playing?
Champions Online, just released last month. I put over 1600 hours into City of Heroes (that’s just the time logged when I had XFire running) and so the spiritual successor of the game definitely has my attention.
It probably would have been a bit better received if they did not make so many last-few-months adjustments to the core underlying power mechanic, cutting short the time they had to really balance the powers out. Further, the content is a bit sparse, partly because they’ve been tweaking advancement rate and so some of the content is skipped as players out-level it.
However, Cryptic Studios is a fairly outstanding bunch, and they’ve been fixing what’s broken with the game at a downright aggressive pace. Against my earlier reservations, I shelled out for a 6 month subscription to the game upon its release, as I expect to see a much better product by the time comes around to consider a renewal.
Would you mind sharing a particularly enjoyable gaming experience?
As you can imagine with a fellow who plays games as often as I do, I’ve so many particularly enjoyable gaming experiences to draw upon that it’s hard to isolate just one (though less so given the prevalence of clones these days).
I think the last game I really enjoyed to an extent reminiscent of my start as a gamer would be Psychonauts. While the game was a platformer on the surface, there was just an incredible soul conveyed through the thing. I really connected well with all the characters in the game – the campers and councilors of this summer camp for psychics – and also the surrounding environment. From the beginning to the end of the game, I was fairly riveted – me, a PC gamer playing a platformer, of all things. All hail Goggalor.
Double Fine really is a batch of truly outstanding developers, perhaps the best in the business I can readily recall. I look forward to getting my hands on a copy of Brutal Legend soon. I really hope they don’t suffer the fate of similar studios which are simply too good for mainstream appreciation. (E.g. Clover Studio, maker of Viewtiful Joe and Okami.)
When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?
My very first blog was started July of 2004. It started when I lost my last real full time job and went on for about 700 posts before I took that private and did a reboot. The reboot was Digitally Staving Off Boredom, it continued for nearly 300 posts on Blogger before I took it to WordPress, where I now have about 200 published posts.
Presently, I’m mostly focused on fledging game development. I’ve been working with BYOND. BYOND is a very interesting suite in that it’s free but allows you to construct a remarkably diverse amount of games which automatically include optional tile based graphics and online functionality. They even include a great web portal.
I’ve been dabbling a lot with it on and off over the past couple years, getting really good at the code (prior to this I’ve only brushed up against C++, Java, and Visual Basic). I hope to turn out something there “soon.” Thus far, I’ve done many experiments in trying to push the envelope of gamekind, but I’ve yet to see something through to completion. My “progress” (or lack thereof) can be tracked on my BYOND portal blog.
Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?
I use my blogs for a lot of purposes.
I do have one for personal venting, that’s private, and I think I largely keep that one up out of a certain nostalgic consideration that I might just look back at it some day – it’s more of a journal (talk about old school).
My Digitally Staving Off Boredom blog is perhaps best described as temporal art, largely revolving around my angst as a dedicated computer gamer who is a bit jaded about what happened when his favorite hobby went mainstream. Here, I post up things I find interesting at the time and maybe later I’ll take them down. This isn’t done out of dishonesty, but rather because I feel that a blog is a place where I can put my best face forward and tell the world what I think needs to be said. (Also, once in a great while, I’ll write up a hint guide, and when it comes at you with 26 years of gaming experience it might just be worth a read.)
Finally, there’s my most recent blog over at BYOND which I just mentioned. It is largely used to publicize my struggles in highly independent game development.
Do you have a schedule or some sort of routine you try and follow when blogging?
For Digitally Staving Off Boredom, it waxes and wanes as the mood takes it. I’ve decided I want to have something to say, and so if I feel I don’t particularly have anything worthwhile then I resist the temptation to write something. Inspiration (the muse) is a fickle beast, it does not beget true progress to hold it to a schedule.
For my BYOND blog, I try to have an entry up every Monday just to let people know what I’ve been working on that week. It’s a very embarrassing bunch of reflection on my lack of progress since Champions Online’s release and I returned to school over the past month.
What do you find pleasurable about blogging?
I think I get the artist’s appreciation out of blogging – whether or not anyone else particularly appreciates one’s art, simply the creation of the artifact feels worthwhile it that it is a manifestation of something outside of yourself. I’m not going to fool myself into saying it’s an immortal part of myself – if I got hit by a meteor tomorrow and WordPress caught wind of it, my blog would probably be gone in a flash – but it’s good to produce something, be able to look at it, and think the world is imperceptibly better with it than it was without.
Are you pleased with how your blog has been received in the blogosphere?
Generally speaking, my blog doesn’t attract a whole lot of hits. If I crest 100 hits it’s a good day. However, I don’t blog out of aspirations for popularity, nor do I make any money from it. I blog because I think I have something to say. So I’m about as pleased as one can be when they think they have something to say that someone might trip over accidentally from time to time.
If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?
Given my current expectations, no. However, in an alternate universe where I care a lot more about whether or not people take the time to glean my wisdom (such as it is)? I think I would have told a lot more jokes in order to keep them coming around.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to try their hand at blogging?
It’s certainly good to know the true motivation behind your reason for blogging. I started off not knowing what I would do with my blog, and it ended up mutating between so many different focuses that it required a reboot or two. If you’re in it for money or the popularity, you’re going to have way different motivations than I do. If you’re not, then don’t let a relatively low number of hits bother you: after all, the mainstream sucks.
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.
On an off over the years, it’s become robustly clear that the ultimate geek fantasy would be a completely free-roaming universe game that includes interaction on both the ship travel level and the personal level (walking about planets, space stations, ect).
The pitch line is Mass Effect Online, but it would actually have largely different game mechanics, neither borrowing from EverQuest nor Gears of War. Instead, it would have game mechanics owing largely to its completely dynamically generated universe, one where when the players do things, they actually matter, the quest does not simply reset 5 minutes later.
Though dynamic, it would also well balanced in such a way that the players do not possess absolute power but rather are individual members of the major factions within the games, and consequently the newbies are able to be something more than perpetual wage slaves for the established players.
Ironically, the game would probably never be released because, in a scenario with unlimited funds and resources, the refinement cycle can go on indefinitely.