Quo Vadimus

A couple springs ago, I logged into Quarter to Three and saw that I had a private message from Troy Goodfellow. I’d run across his name when I was researching another piece I’d written for The Escapist, but I didn’t know much more about him. He liked an article I’d done for them, and wanted to tell me so.

I don’t know many writers who go out of their way to drop messages of appreciation to their juniors, but Troy does. He was willing to chat a bit with me over the next few months, and provide advice and counsel when I needed it. And then at some point he brought me in to help out with a feature series he was running, and shortly thereafter he brought me onto Three Moves Ahead to fill in for Julian and Bruce.

Freelancing often comes down to who you know, and whether or not they like you. Troy reached out to me and opened far more doors than I could have hoped for, starting with his invitation to become a regular 3MA panelist. He vouched for me to editors, and he helped me build an identity and reputation. He is generous with his assistance to those he believes in, and I am very lucky to have won his confidence. There are not many so generous with help in so competitive a field, and games writing is losing more than you might think as Troy transitions to a career in PR.

On his way out the door, he has given me some more amazing opportunities and responsibilities. The one I want to talk about right now is Three Moves Ahead.

Continuity and Change

When 3MA began, it had four incredibly qualified panelists on hand to discuss strategy games. Julian has a very deep well of experience from which he can draw when it comes board games. Troy and Tom Chick know the strategy genre better than any other writers in the US, and more importantly, they can communicate their understanding to readers and listeners. Bruce knows wargames inside and out, and has a logician’s approach to discussion.

Had that group continued to have the type of conversations it did in the first half of 3MA’s life, I would likely never have been a part of it, and the show would be none the worse. They were a great panel and I still consider many of their episodes to be the gold standard against which I judge those I’ve been a part of.

But other commitments made it hard for four or even three of the panelists to record together, and their busy work schedules made it very hard for them to coalesce around a topic on short-notice. Remember that I came aboard as a semi-regular fill-in, and one of the great advantages Troy had in working with me is that I was chronically under-employed and was willing to crash-research a game or a topic. Until joining 3MA, I had never considered myself a strategy gamer. It just happened to be a genre where I spent a third of my gaming time. But I liked 3MA, I was honored to be helping out, and I was learning a lot. I dug into the genre so that I could make more valuable contributions. But I don’t flatter myself in to thinking that I bring what Tom or Bruce does to an episode.

So as I take over the show, one of my goals is to get the mixture of panelists closer to how it was in earlier episodes. It’s a better show when we have a larger group of intelligent people examining the topic at hand. Hopefully Tom and Bruce can help out from time-to-time, but I’m also hoping to add enough depth to the bench that the show is less dependent on me and Julian. In this vein, I’m also hoping to have longer fuses on each 3MA, so that we can better prepare for a topic. If we can get these two things right, I am certain 3MA will be as good as it’s ever been.

All that said, I have different tastes and views than Troy. My definition of what constitutes a strategy game is probably closer to Tom Chick’s heretical “everything is a strategy game.” While I’d never do an episode on Bioshock 2 like he wanted, I might do an episode on the Brothers in Arms series. Not all my favorite games are strategy games, but almost all my favorite games have significant strategic or tactical elements. From time to time, I will beg your forgiveness as I try to catch glimpses of strategy existing outside its natural habitat.

Likewise, it is inevitable that my increasing interest in board games, and Julian’s knowledge of the format, will result in board games playing a larger role on the show. However, I will try and ensure that board games come up in the context of theme shows where  they might be relevant, or when we uncover a particularly interesting game.

Beyond that, you should also expect more classic game analysis. Frankly, we haven’t really scratched the surface of games that are worth revisiting. If we can get the planning right, there’s a wealth of rich topics waiting to receive attention. Episodes like this will also allow Troy to rejoin us on a regular basis.

These are small changes, but I think they could have a major impact on the show. I have other plans in the works: a site for the show, better production equipment and practices, and perhaps even taking the show twice  monthly if it means we can make better preparations and and deliver a better product. But some of these are minor changes, and others are just ideas, not plans. In the last analysis, 3MA answers to two groups: the panel, and the audience. I want those of us who record 3MA to be proud of our effort, and I want those of us who listen to it to come away feeling like it’s as interesting and thought-provoking as ever.

I don’t entirely know what that will entail, which is why I want your input and suggestions. In the meantime I am, as ever, honored by Troy’s trust, and the goodwill of the listeners who have been offering their congratulations and best-wishes since we made the announcement. I will do my best to live up to the standard he set.

    • Greg Langmead
    • January 20th, 2011 10:05pm

    Rob, I congratulate you and thank you for all you’ve done while I’ve been listening to 3MA. You have brought an articulate voice, an analytical mind, and plenty of gaming history. Quite frankly, I think of you as a truly valid and viable substitute for both Tom and Bruce.

    Here is the ONE THING that I can suggest on top of your very reasonable ideas above. There is one major difference between the shows where Tom was present and those where he is absent. Namely, he is a better host than Troy, and a better manager of conversational flow. Even as co-host, he spent more time hosting and shepherding the conversation than Troy. I am not intending this as a criticism of Troy, but the role of a host is much different than the role of the other panelists and it is not easy to be successful, I think. The host has to be more sympathetic to the listener, and help pop back out of the nested layers of conversation. I suspect you will be good at this, from what I heard on the shows where you hosted. Julian is also good at this, so I recommend leveraging his abilities.

    Best of luck, I look forward to enjoying the upcoming episodes!

      • Flitcraft
      • January 21st, 2011 8:35pm

      This is good advice, and facilitating conversation is definitely something Tom excels at. I think Troy’s a fine host too, but the big difference is that we tended to be a bit better prepared for episodes where Tom was joining us. He brought a conversational agenda.

    • Patrick
    • January 20th, 2011 11:37pm

    Rob,
    I have listened to every episode of TMA and consider it one of the best spent hours of each week. I was originally concerned upon hearing Troy was leaving. However, I am happy to hear that you are taking over and very happy with almost all of your proposed changes. I would love to hear more discussions of non-strategy strategy games. It would be great to get Tom back on the show and while I don’t actually play any deep board games I love to live vicariously through the panel.
    The one possible change that concerns me is the twice a month schedule. I understand why you want more lead time and time to plan out the episodes. However, I want my content dang it (to be clear, I am being facetiously angry)! If you do decide to plan out and research only two episodes a month I would like (and humbly request) that the other two weeks just be a “What have people been playing lately” or “Any interesting gaming moments recently” discussion style podcast. Even if these podcasts are shorter and just thrown together they would be nice to have.
    Congratulations on taking over TMA. I am very happy and optimistic that it will continue to be some of the best time of my week.

      • Flitcraft
      • January 21st, 2011 8:54pm

      I will definitely think long and hard before I change the cast schedule, and I would rather not do it. But Troy was hesitant to record “Whatcha been playing?” episodes, and in some ways they’re tough for the panel to do. We play in other genres a lot, and it’s hard to fill an episode without repeating ourselves about a game we’ve already discussed, or conversation stalling.

      A lot of my thinking, honestly, is based on my feeling that quality slipped during the last few months. It seemed like roughly every second week, we weren’t meeting the standards we’ve set for ourselves. Everyone was busier and we didn’t have the time necessary to put together a great show every week. Frankly, that has made me stop listening to other podcasts. I don’t like the thought of people doing the same to 3MA.

    • Gregg
    • January 20th, 2011 11:40pm

    I predict great things to come from 3MA! Thanks Rob for continuing it, I honestly think the show only got better the more you were on.

    And hey, look at the bright side – no more “how old are you?” jokes. :)

    • Quinten
    • January 20th, 2011 11:44pm

    Close Combat show, and Panzer General show. If these come true, you have made me happy that things will go smooth.

    • adam kelm
    • January 20th, 2011 11:53pm

    You have a good grasp of the concepts and materials…..you will do great! More guests is a good idea. The show really takes off when you have 3 or more grognards arguing about something obscure. That is when the show is at it’s best.

    I’d miss it if it wasn’t every week. Better quality definitely does make a difference.

    • R Simmon
    • January 21st, 2011 12:20am

    Rob:

    Don’t sell yourself short. You may not have the depth of knowledge of Tom and Bruce, but you’re also not jaded and bitter and set in your ways.

    I’ll second the recommendation to keep a weekly podcast: I’d be afraid “bi-weekly” would become “whenever we get around to it” and my favorite gaming podcast would fade away. I suggested this on Flash of Steel, and I’ll repeat it here: when you can’t give sufficient attention to the epics, focus on the many smaller strategy games that are on XBLA, PSN, Steam, iPod, DS, PSP, etc. In many ways they’re more polished (and more “fun”) than the bigger releases.

      • Flitcraft
      • January 21st, 2011 9:02pm

      Good points, all. It would be good to do more shows on smaller games. But with a lot of these platforms, the problem becomes who has what. Julian lives in a house made entirely of consumer electronics, but the rest of us are almost PC-only. It’s something I hope to mitigate with planning and guests. Although it’s starting to seem like the iPad might be a mandatory item for strategy lovers.

        • Dan
        • January 22nd, 2011 7:53pm

        Wow, you’re not bitter or set in your ways! Maybe it’s just a matter of extent. Obviously you aren’t as bitter and set in your ways as I am, but I would say you are still pretty darn set in your ways and at least a little bitter. Maybe your predecessors are just more at my level of bitter-old-man-ness.

        Congratulations!

    • Dave
    • January 21st, 2011 4:13am

    I was sad to hear that Troy is stepping down as host of TMA, but I am very glad that it’s you who’s taking the reins.

    I appreciate that you recognize the value of the original panel make-up, and the strengths it had over the more recent trend of the podcast (that’s not to say some of the two-man and impromptu “chat” shows weren’t great), but I’d say the best TMAs were the game-specific and design-focused shows that featured the knowledge and readability of Tom Chick as well as the insights of Bruce Geryk. It’s not even so much the point that those panelists were specifically present, but that having their types all but guaranteed that those shows would go in directions that really differentiated them from the more typical game podcast. As a strategy game designer myself I still go back and refer to the topic episodes for trade, diplomacy, maps, etc whenever I want to really think about a specific area of design I’m working on.

    I also heartily agree with your notion to put more preparation into the show, as nothing derailed a topic or episode as much as those moments when lack of understanding and information about the games that were the focus of a given episode halted or skewed the discussion. But at the same time I share Patrick’s desire that the show not turn into a biweekly thing, even if that means that you have to balance topic-focused discussions and more “whatcha-been-playin” style shows.

    However you decide to move forward, I wish you luck with your new responsibilities as host of the best strategy gaming podcast in my house, and that I shall be sitting at my desk with my TMA coffee mug (with the obligatory Tom Chick quote affixed to it’s side) every week waiting for each new cast to drop.

    PS: You’re still under obligation to get both Jon Shafer and Bryan Reynolds on the show sometime this year.

      • Flitcraft
      • January 21st, 2011 9:09pm

      I think we’re on the same page, and enough people are weighing in against switching the schedule that I’m probably going to shelve that idea.

    • Scott Parker
    • January 21st, 2011 4:25am

    I’m glad to hear that you were the one to take over the reins. Of all the panelists, you seem to maintain an even keel and interest no matter what the topic or where the conversation goes.

    If I had one suggestion, it would be to use Tom not as a panelist but as a guest. as another commenter pointed out, he’s very good at directing the flow of conversation. However, that often seems to be at the expense of virtually everyone else on the show. In other words, when Tom is a part of 3MA it’s not people having a discussion, it’s people responding to Tom.

    If I had two suggestions, it’d be support of the classic game discussions. We strategy gamers are lucky to have a rich and varied history that has played a huge role in our legacy, but I think that’s largely disappearing from our collective awareness.

    The King is retired. All hail the King!
    -SP

      • Flitcraft
      • January 21st, 2011 9:16pm

      Interesting. I never really saw it that way. Tom is definitely a great one for talking, but I also think he puts a lot of questions before the panel for discussion. Those prompts are useful.

  1. And so the Padawan arises…

    • Hell-Mikey
    • January 21st, 2011 5:56pm

    I’d like to suggest that you add a sponsor’s message to each episode of 3MA. I’m thinking not of a traditional, commercial sponsor, but more like, “This episode of Sesame Street has been brought to you by the letters A and M, and the number 3.” In place of basic phonics and numeracy, the sponsor’s message could come from Mr. Goodfellow, and highlight a moment in history. Yes, some would apply to the podcast at hand, some would not, and some might be entirely counterfactual (as were Dr. Geryk’s assertions about historical accuracy in Dominions 3). This would let Mr. Goodfellow’s voice be heard even when he had to recuse himself from the week’s podcast. We would have to monitor him closely to see that he wasn’t teasing some product he was repping. Six weeks’ 3MA sponsorships about Thrace prior to a hypothetical “Schwerpunk: Adrianople” game he’s promoting would be met with grim looks and forum explosions.

    Were the tradeoff mine to make, I’d take low production values and a weekly pod over higher production values and a bi-weekly pod. I’d second votes for the smaller, more accessible games (indy, xbox live, or whatnot). I’d love to hear commentary from multiplayer games, even those between selected guests and the hosts. If Mr. Zacny manages to squeeze in a noteworthy game against Mr. Brakke, for instance, please consider having a small segment (recoded asynchronously perhaps?) where they discuss that game. This may provide production challenges, but I’m already assigning work like a clueless middle manager, so what the hey?

    I fear change, of course, but am confident in Mr. Zacny’s skills and commitment, and am excited for the rebooted Three Moves Ahead. The very best to hosts, sponsors, and good friends of the show.

    • Rez
    • January 21st, 2011 9:52pm

    I remember the first time I heard you on 3MA; it was obvious you were nervous and I thought it was a big mistake bringing you on (sorry). But over time you found your voice and that finally prompted me to subscribe to your blog. 3MA is my favourite podcast and while I was sad to hear Troy was leaving, I am very happy to hear you will be taking over. Congrats!

    Two suggestions:
    1) Show intro/outro music. While not necessary, it would make the show sound so much more polished.
    2) MOAR CATCHPHRASES!

    Best of luck to you and the other hosts!

    -rez

  2. I’ll be sad if the show moves to a twice-a-month format, but I understand that it may be necessary. I trust you to do what you think is best for the podcast’s future.

    I also want to second the call for a show on Panzer General and Close Combat. I love Panzer General, but have never really been able to get into the Close Combat games for some reason.

    Also, a show on the Panther Games catalog (Highway to the Reich, Conquest of the Aegean, and Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge) would be really fascinating. I think that these games are doing really interesting things with wargame design for the PC. They can seem difficult to wrap your head around at first, but after a little work I think they wind up working pretty well. They also bring up some of the virtual viceroy issues that come up occasionally on the show, as you are generally giving commands to subordinate HQs, which will carry them out as they see best given the units they control.

    Good luck with the podcast. I am confident that you will do a great job.

  3. Good luck, Rob! And I’ll give you the same advice I gave Troy when he start 3MA. Weekly is too often for such a focused podcast. Give yourselves a break and go bi-weekly. The quality of the show will improve with more lead time, and you won’t have to scrounge for panelists as much. Maybe even Tom will show up again!

      • Flitcraft
      • January 24th, 2011 12:48pm

      Thanks, Soren! I suspect you may be right about the weekly pacing, but most listeners have weighed in heavily for keeping it that way. I’ll give it a try and see whether that’s feasible for me and the goals I’ve set. If I can’t produce consistent quality, I’ll make the necessary adjustments to the schedule.

  4. Congrats Mr.Zacny. I’ve enjoyed the podcast over the last half-year or so, catching up on old episodes and following the new ones. Reading your post I’m excited to see err.. hear where the podcast goes.

    Thanking you in advance for all your hard work :)
    Best,
    George

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