Archive for November, 2015

Recent Work – 29 November 2015

When I went to Blizzcon this year, I had an odd and fun assignment: I wasn’t supposed to do any game previews or news posts. Instead, my job was to focus both on what it was like to be there, and what it represented as a cultural event.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Greater freedom is actually harder to deal with as a writer, especially now that I’ve written up so many short interview features in which a developer explains a new feature for an upcoming game. Being given a free hand to do something else can induce a bit of paralysis… especially when every Blizzard person I met was there to talk about a new feature for an upcoming game.

Still, I tried to capture two important moments from the event: the first was the opening keynote and the crowd gathered for it, which marked a stark departure from other Blizzcons I’ve attended. Blizzard always seemed to be speaking to me and gamers of my generation, reminding us of the glory days of Warcraft and Diablo while promising more of “the same but better” in the future. This year, I realized that Blizzard were aiming their pitch at fans of a decidedly more recent vintage, and those fans have different reference points than I have.

The other moment, and this was probably the highlight of my Blizzcon, was the StarCraft final between Life and sOs. I tried to break down both their games, and also why the meeting of these two players in particular was an important and redeeming moment for StarCraft and the flawed Heart of the Swarm expansion.

Overall, however, this has been a quiet week due to the holiday. The most momentous thing to happen was that Three Moves Ahead broke $1000-per-month on Patreon, which is a huge source of pride and relief this time of year.

I’ve been on break since Wednesday morning and this is the first day where I’m really trying to get back in the swing of things. I did have one bit of good news this week: despite a slip and fall last week, my leg is healing quite well and I may be off crutches a couple weeks earlier than I thought. I can’t wait: while I’ve been slightly pampered lately, and a friend dropped by with a small feast to take some cooking pressure of MK, I’m officially getting a bit stir-crazy. So even if it means a return to housekeeping, I can’t wait to get back on both feet.

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Podcasts

A Month on Patreon and Giving Thanks

This week, we hit the one-month mark on the Three Moves Ahead Patreon. We’re off to a good start: about 150 listeners have put up almost a thousand dollars a month for 3MA, which is a pretty amazing vote of confidence and a sign of how much the show’s audience has grown in the last few years.

Patreon was something Troy, Bruce, Michael, and myself put a lot of thought into over the past several months. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some hesitation. But there’s no getting around the fact that the time the show demands increased significantly over the past couple years.

I think that’s been time well-spent. Looking at the recent history of Three Moves Ahead, I’m not sure the show has had a better run than what we’ve been doing over the past eight or nine months.

We’ve had a great mix of guests and topics, covering everything from the overall state of the 4X genre with Austin Walker, to examining the strange and unique magic of the new Nobunaga’s Ambition with Nicholas Vining from Gaslamp Games.

Bruce has contributed a terrific series of interviews with board wargame designers that explore some interesting corners of strategy gaming.

I think you can hear we’re having more fun doing the show these days, too. Some of my favorite episodes have been the ones that were practically thrown-together. Troy and I can find a good conversation about just about anything and everything: I think one of my biggest surprises as a game and as a topic was Total War: Attila.

Our expanded pool of regulars have also made the show a lot more enjoyable to record, like with our discussion of how developers go about fixing and saving fallen franchises, where our friends Rowan Kaiser and Fraser Brown contributed to a great discussion that feels both relaxed and insightful. It’s one of those shows where eventually I just forgot we were recording, it felt so natural.

So as we begin the Patreon-supported era of 3MA, I’ve never been more confident that we’re producing something that’s worthy of our fans and their support.

But I don’t think we could keep up that level of quality and commitment without some income from the show. I know I couldn’t: I’m having to spend more time on freelance work this year, and unfortunately, that work is becoming less and less tied to strategy games. Even though I’m always happy to put my spare time into this podcast, the brutal truth is that there’s less and less “spare time” to go around.

So for me, this Patreon represents time and stability. That translates to more hours each month that I can put into playing a strategy game, or booking special guests, or planning special events. 3MA makes me as proud as anything else I might do, and I’d love for more of my working life to be spent on something so personally satisfying, that reaches so many people.

For the first time, we’re able to compensate our producer Michael Hermes for the hours he’s put into producing the last couple hundred episodes of 3MA. I like to think we’ve gotten pretty good at giving him good source material, but there have been a lot of times we’ve basically dumped at his feet a pile of random audio recordings full of background noise and said, “Fix this.” Even when everything goes right, he’s working in the background to smooth out all our rough edges.

We’ll finally be able to just buy new games outright without worrying whether we’ll get PR help. Hopefully, we’ll be able to put together enough extra cash to maybe meet up for a boardgaming weekend and generate some cool show topics, or host fan meetups around convention season.

Since it’s Thanksgiving time, I should also mention that the Patreon already represents a huge source of relief and peace of mind for me personally. Especially this month, where I had ankle surgery and have had to reduce my workload quite sharply around my recovery. Losing a week or so of work would have been a hard blow, except that Three Moves Ahead listeners have had my back.

This Patreon lifts real, meaningful burdens from off of my shoulders. Last 3MA brought in enough to pay for my insurance. This month, it might even manage to cover the extra costs of my surgery. I can’t even begin to tell you what a relief that is.

At a time when ordinarily I’d be scrambling to do extra work to make up for lost time, I’m able to relax, focus on games like Chaos Reborn and Prison Architect, and maybe enjoy an actual holiday break. That’s an incredible gift to get from our listeners. Patreon backers have taken a lot of worries off my mind and let me focus on being creative with the show. For that, I’m incredibly grateful.

In the end, I hope this Patreon is a foundation from which Three Moves Ahead to grow into something even better, reaching more people. I think we’re better than we’ve ever, and with help from our listeners, I’m excited for where we’ll go next. In the meantime, I hope you’ll keep listening and keep supporting Three Moves Ahead.

Recent Work – 22 November 2015

It’s funny to see how my feelings have evolved toward StarCraft 2 over the years. When it came out, I was almost obnoxiously contrarian in my skepticism. I thought it was old-fashioned and frustrating, ignoring pretty much every innovation in RTS games that had occurred since Brood War. We were sharply critical of it on Three Moves Ahead at the time.

Cut to this week, in which I reviewed Legacy of the Void for IGN and absolutely loved it. Part of me is troubled by the inconsistency. It’s still the same game at heart, right, so have I just stopped questioning it on anything other than its own terms? Or does Legacy of the Void represent a successful evolution and expansion into something greater than existed before? I think it’s the latter, but part of me still worries that this review is as much about Stockholm Syndrome as it is about Legacy of the Void.

Outside of StarCraft, it’s been a busy time of late. We launched a Three Moves Ahead Patreon to help support the show and give us a little more time to work on it. Plus, I just had surgery on my left ankle to take care of a bone spur that was cutting into my Achilles tendon, so I’m back on crutches for the first time since I played high school football. I did a lot of work in the weeks leading up to it, knowing I’d be off the board for a while, so let’s take a look at the best stuff I’ve done lately.

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