30 Things This Blog is About (#25: Culture)

People are fascinating, frustrating, and fantastic. The ways in which we communicate, play, and share with one another are myriad, and while my usual medium for that sort of thing is games, I’m no less interested in the differences between media.

I also find it fascinating to see how our media shapes our culture, the things we do, say, and think. Ten years ago it would have been unheard of for the “popular kids” in high school to even know what a d20 was, much less use one for anything. The other day, a friend of mine told me a story about his middle-school-aged daughter, who was nearly in tears because a boy she had a crush on was playing in a D&D game that she wasn’t invited to. I can only imagine my friend’s reaction to this– he’s been DMing tabletop RPGs for 20 or 30 years, works in video games, and here is an opportunity to become The Best Dad Ever, hosting a game for his daughter and folding her into a group she desperately wanted to be a part of.

Twenty years ago, the idea of everyone having a phone, an instant camera, a notepad, a game boy, a voice recorder, an up-to-the-minute map, a source of driving directions, and a boombox all at once, constantly, would have been laughable. Now I carry around a device that does all of this and more and is less than half the size of my wallet. The cultural shift that’s followed has been immense. We’ve gotten food porn and the selfie, two frivolous but extremely popular things that have only arisen because we have smartphones, and up-to-the-minute news comes from actual people reporting events live on twitter, for the entire world to see, and countries that try to censor their media find out just how difficult it is to stop the signal.

Culture has been undergoing a seismic shift over the past few decades, and the speed with which it’s changing is only increasing.

30 Things This Blog is About (#24: Business and Money)

Yep. Boring, I know. Part of this is that as I advance my career and my education, I’m learning a lot more about both business and money. That’s not really the cause of my interest, though.

We (by which I mean the ‘we’ that is likely to read this post) tend to vilify corporate interests without a second thought. I’ve spoken to many people, some of whom are good friends, who are quick to use words like “greedy”, “stupid”, and “selfish” to describe businesspeople in general, regardless of industry. I think this is a failure of perspective. I wouldn’t call a Starcraft master an idiot because they can’t explain to me the story of Mass Effect, because we’re playing different games. Similarly, the professional gamer isn’t greedy because she accepts money to play games.

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, I think it’s important to see all of the different sides of a given story. I’m in the unique position of being able to get a good look at both sides of things, and it’s something I’m hoping will give me a good position to talk about. I think that making sense of decisions on both sides is important– beyond simply “why didn’t game X include my favorite feature” or “why did they cancel game Y” to more complex questions: “why aren’t we getting more Mega Man games?”

I don’t think these are necessarily simply answered, and I suspect there are a lot of questions that would come from the executive business side that we find easy to answer. I’m hoping I can find myself in a good “bridge” position that lets me speak intelligently to and on behalf of both sides.

30 Things This Blog is About (#23: Q&A)

I occasionally have people ask me why I do things, or why I think things. It’s not always an easy question to answer, as it requires that I analyze myself and my motivations. In the course of doing so, I usually either find I feel more strongly about something than I thought I did, or don’t care about something that I previously fought fervently over. I like it when people ask me questions and challenge my worldview, because it tends to mean that there’s a perspective that I’ve missed, or it lets me analyze and become more secure in my convictions (if I can adequately defend my thoughts).

Every so often, I find that there are some very simple questions that I have a hard time answering, which is an interesting situation to be in. A great example is “what kinds of games do you play?”

It’s not a simply answered question. The flippant answer is “everything”, or “everything good”, but those are non-answers, both untrue (I don’t play everything, that would be impossible and very expensive) or vague and elitist (by saying I only play “good” games, I’m implying that what I think is good is somehow an objective view of ‘good’, and that everyone else should be able to recognize what I mean by my shorthand, which is an incredibly arrogant stance to take). A real answer would take an incredibly long time; I play quite a few games and listing them all out would take ages. A better answer is probably “I play games that are culturally relevant, either because of massive ad campaigns or word-of-mouth or because of the issues addressed therein, and I particularly like games that I can play cooperatively with my friends and/or have a strong focus of some kind, be that exploration, narrative, puzzle-solving, reflexes, or what-have-you”.

Sometimes, the flippant answer is best:

Q: “Why are you writing 30 posts in about as many hours?”

A: “Because Ashgar doesn’t think I can, and I’m concerned he might be right.”

30 Things This Blog is About (#22: The Future of Games)

One of the really neat things about having grown up playing games is getting to see the advances the industry has made, and in turn the leaps and bounds by which games have advanced themselves. Watching games evolve from chip-sound and monochromatic graphics to the audiovisual extravaganzas we have today has been a wild ride, to say the least. More than that, though, the ways in which we play games have evolved significantly.

We are long past the days where games were mostly played by teenage boys, and we’ve left the days where games meant a specific, dedicated machine used for no other purpose far behind. Arcades have risen and fallen in most places in the world, replaced by the home consoles and ubiquitous PCs. Solo or small-group multiplayer has given way to online play, and couch-gaming is rapidly less and less of the overall games breakdown as mobile and social games take the fore.

In and among all of this, the games themselves have been rapidly evolving. You can trace the lineage of many games back to their roots, and with any luck, following those paths might hint at where games will go.

We’re on the cusp of a variety of new technologies– Google Glass is poised to either overhaul our relationship with our personal devices or fall flat, while advances in streaming technology get us closer and closer to gaming on the cloud, without specialized equipment or physical software. In the meantime, tools advancements and rapidly developing middleware on the industry side are making it easier and faster to make games, while perpetually driving up the quality bar, and indies are filling in the gaps left by the massive rise in production values.

Whether any of this is sustainable is up for (heavy) debate, but one way or another the future of games should be exciting.

30 Things This Blog is About (#21: Games I’d Like to See)

My taste in games has continually evolved, and as games have become more and more varied, I’ve made a specific point to try out new types of games I don’t expect to like, and try to avoid the trap of developing tastes so rarefied that few games meet my hyper-specific standards.

It’s a philosophy that’s hard to maintain– I need to constantly try things I don’t think I’ll like and push myself out of my gaming comfort zone. For a long time, I motivated myself by thinking this was, essentially, a professional requirement of being a game designer. Now, the habit is so ingrained that I do it automatically. It’s done wonders for my enjoyment of video games, because with so many games coming out, there are plenty that I find I enjoy, and it’s given me a better idea of the kinds of games I’ll enjoy.

That being said, I still have my esoteric tastes that I don’t often expect to see, but would love to see more of. I am an avid fan of the Thief series, every game that’s come out, and the most recent one, while panned by critics, was a joy for me. It specifically triggers my love for ghosting through the darkness in games, NPCs around me totally unaware of my passing. I will cheerfully sit on a rooftop for ten minutes watching guard patrols before making a move, which is a particular bit of fun I fully recognize most people think is crazy.

Occasionally, I’ll talk about games that I really want to see, even if I don’t think they have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting made. Every so often I’ll be surprised (Mirror’s Edge 2? What?)

30 Things This Blog is About (#20: My Dog)

I have a dog. Her name is River, after River Tam, because the pun was too good to resist. Here she is, I’ll get the cute puppy picture out of the way first:

Her ground state is constant motion, which makes getting a non-blurry picture next to impossible.

River, my dog.

When I was very young, I was attacked by a German Shepherd, who jumped over a fence to knock me down and bite three-year-old me. Not growing up in a household with dogs, or having any close friends or family with dogs, this initial experience instilled a deep phobia that stuck with me for a very long time. Throughout grade school, I would actively avoid visiting friends’ houses who had dogs, and I grew to deeply dislike and distrust people who would force their dogs on me, claiming that they were “harmless” or “just wants you to say hi”.

This lasted for more than twenty years. After I left Austin, I met a co-worker who would become a close friend of mine. He and his wife were incredibly friendly and welcoming and I loved hanging out with them, even though they had a pair of dogs. One was a large mutt, and the other was a friendly beagle. Both were perceptive and immediately recognized that I was extremely uncomfortable around them, and generally stayed entirely out of my way, either motionless across the room or in another room entirely. This suited me fine, and I enjoyed hanging out despite the dogs.

Over time, I became more familiar, and while the larger dog continued to be ambivalent towards me, the friendly beagle developed a need to make friends with me. As my friend’s wife later put it, “he didn’t understand how there could be anyone in the world who didn’t want to pet him”. Over the course of almost a year, the beagle would sit a little bit closer every time I’d visit. First, across the room. Next, on the floor near the TV. Next, at the far end of the couch. Then, on the couch. Then, a cushion closer to me. Finally, after about nine months of this slow indoctrination, I looked up to see my friend’s wife taking a picture of me and beaming. I had been idly patting the beagle for several minutes without having noticed it. It took some reinforcement after that, but I’d slowly been broken of my intense dog phobia.

River, my shih tzu above, is the final step of puppy therapy. I got her as an eight-week-old puppy and have raised and trained her myself. I am, I think, finally over my dog phobia.

30 Things This Blog is About (#19: Alcohol)

My relationship with alcohol is strange. Growing up, I spent a lot of time visiting my family, many of whom live in the Caribbean. I got to try a great number of various tropical fruits, many of which had been juiced. I grew up on a variety of interesting, flavorful juices, and as I got older that turned into interesting flavored sodas, flavored waters, and other things. In college, I was so famous for my love for “novelty drinks” that people who flew home for breaks would often come back with some exotic beverage for me to try.

Despite, or possibly because of this, I didn’t take to alcohol until well after most people I knew. I had an extreme sweet tooth, and most alcohol was strong and bitter; I didn’t appreciate the taste. The taste of alcohol in a drink was generally enough to ruin it for me, so when my 21st birthday rolled around and my college friends took me out for the traditional pub crawl, I was somewhat worried. I hadn’t really had much in the way of drinks that I’d actually liked.

My concern was dispelled very quickly. A particularly perceptive friend of mine knew about my tastes and knew that a lot of standard drinks wouldn’t go down well, so he carefully maneuvered the party to a place that made particularly good cocktails. The first drink set down in front of me was a Long Island Iced Tea, which I’d never had before, tried, and immediately loved.

I had something like 18 friends with me over the course of the pub crawl, each wanting to buy me a drink, and my first drink was a Long Island. Despite this, I was entirely lucid throughout the rest of the night, despite further drinks numbering in the double digits. Possibly the rest of the evening may become clear at this point, which brings me to my weird relationship with alcohol.

Having had… a frankly ridiculous amount of liquor over the course of a few hours, I was handed several glasses of water in an attempt to reduce the inevitable hangover and eventually went to bed. I slept through the night and woke up… still extremely drunk. What I hadn’t really paid attention to was the fact that my college eating habits had slowed my metabolism down to a crawl. I slept through the night and was thirsty, but still heavily intoxicated the next morning (and, truth be told, through most of the rest of the day). What most of the party hadn’t realized is that what looked like me holding my liquor legendarily well was simply my body processing it incredibly slowly. I took longer to get drunk, and the alcohol took longer to leave my system.

For a long time, this state of affairs continued. I have, to date, never had a hangover, though I’ve woken up a few times still drunk. Kodra will probably tell a story of a time I came back from a party at PAX East and, while he watched, became progressively drunker over the course of several hours despite not actually drinking anything.

As I’ve gotten older (and fixed my metabolism), this alcohol tolerance hasn’t stayed, surprise surprise. I’m very good at knowing my limit, although that limit tends to be fairly high. I’m often responsible for driving myself or others home, though, which means I frequently have no more than a single drink when I’m out. As a result of this, I’ve gone back to my appreciation for novelty drinks. I love a good, interesting, well-thought-out drinks menu, because in much the same way I love food, I love the experience of a well-crafted drink.

30 Things This Blog is About (#18: Miniatures Painting and Modeling)

I’ve had a few other topics about miniatures, but I feel like the minis games themselves are separate from the artistic side of things. Expect these sorts of posts to be a lot more picture-heavy, with some thoughts attached. I have never been an artist, and I greatly appreciate well-painted minis, so a goodly portion of my personal collection has been painted on commission. I like to collect commissioned minis from friends of mine, as it gives me a great way to remember them.

I also greatly enjoy modifying my minis, to better achieve some look or aesthetic goal. I’m a much better modifier than painter.

Here are a few things I’ve worked on recently:

Warmachine: Cygnar Stormwall Colossal

I have always struggled to paint big models. Something about the sheer amount of surface area to cover intimidates me, and I have issues getting started and getting an idea of how to paint. One painter friend of mine suggested I simply try a bigger brush, and otherwise paint it as I would a smaller model. The above is the result. As the colors took shape with the larger brush, I found myself less worried about an even coat (because the larger brush makes that easier) and I could start focusing on the details. I’m quite happy with the end result. The bright yellow of the swan logo was an enormous pain.

Hordes: Legion of Everblight Ravagore

A friend of mine did a very large commission for me, taking the army that this Ravagore comes from and doing it in red and black. After seeing his work up close, I tried my hand at imitating it, getting a sense for how he accomplished the appearance so that as my collection of that particular faction grows, I can keep them painted in the same style. There’ll certainly be a marked quality difference but I can live with that.

Hordes: Circle Orboros, Baldur the Stonesoul Epic Warlock

This paint job isn’t mine– a good friend of mine painted it, but the model itself is a heavily modified one. The original is on the right, mine is on the left. The character is supposed to be a very earthy, solid sort of character. Another incarnation of his mini has a hood with a beard showing through underneath. I didn’t like the bald, “raging warrior” theme of the original mini, so I swapped the head out for one with a hood, altered his arm to have an open hand instead of a fist, set his sword to rest rather than being ready, and sculpted a giant, epic beard for him. My friend’s paint job really brought the altered mini to life.

30 Things This Blog is About (#17: Articles Worth Reading)

I get a lot of my news, as many people probably do, from the Internet at large. Every so often, I will run across something that I think is particularly pertinent or thought-provoking, and there’s a really good chance I’ll want to share and talk about them here.

Here’s the most recent: http://dangolding.tumblr.com/post/95985875943/the-end-of-gamers

These introductory segments are meant to be a brief look at the kinds of things I’m likely to talk about (and why I use the tags that I do), but I really want to talk about this specific article rather than simply talking about talking about articles.

I have a really strange relationship with the “gamer” identity as it relates to myself. I’ve spent a lot of time wearing it like a cloak, especially growing up, because in many ways the thing that set me apart, that made me unique, was my undying love for video games. Being a “gamer” has netted me friends, helped people relate to me, and even sparked a couple serious, intimate relationships.

As I’ve transitioned from playing games to making them, though, I’ve found the “gamer” label has been less and less applicable to me. It increasingly misleads people as far as informing them about how to best interact with me, and the main concept it communicates — “I play games” — has become so common as to be meaningless. When I was growing up and self-identifying as a gamer, I wanted everyone to play games. Now, everyone does play games, and I’ve found I no longer really need the label. I can’t say exactly when I stopped using it, but it’s been a few years now.

Dan Golding’s piece on the “end of gamers” really resonates with me. I am not a gamer, I’m a player, like a billion other people in the world.

30 Things This Blog is About (#16: Books)

I love to read. I’m generally about halfway through three or four books at any given time, and I PROMISE I’ll get back to them at some point. You know how it goes.

Reading, for me, is some combination of inspiration, mental workout, and perspective. I think anyone who reads seriously is inspired by what they read, whatever that may be — I’m certainly neither special nor alone in that regard. So much of my creative output is narrative that books are how I recharge, finding new ideas and interesting twists on old ones. Even though I’ve mostly worked on video games, the core ideas I get from books are still incredibly valuable, adapted to the work I’m doing (or even just providing an idea). I also find that putting mental effort towards visualizing what I’m reading, rather than watching it on a screen, helps me better visualize my own work, and keeps me sharp. The same is true for the perspective that books provide. It’s extremely important to me to continually broaden my horizons and keep looking at things from different angles, just to keep my content fresh. Books are a helpful shorthand way for me to get a different perspective than I might have otherwise.

Here’s a short list of what I’ve been reading (or rereading) lately:

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

D&D 5th Edition Player’s Handbook, by Wizards of the Coast

Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

Making Money (Discworld), by Terry Pratchett

The Scar, by China Mieville

I try to keep things varied, although I admit I’m not very good at it. I’m always interested in recommendations, although I’m appallingly bad at getting to them in a timely manner.