Archive for the ‘ Gaming ’ Category

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 — 7 September 2015

Don’t be fooled by the fairly short list of things that I’ve been working on of late. The last week was a marathon sprint through a bunch of upcoming stories, but you’ll have to wait a little bit longer to read them. However, my review of Eugen Systems’ Act of Aggression did go up on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, so you can go read that right now.

It’s tough to review a game like Act of Aggression, both because it’s an incredibly difficult game with which to come to grips, but also because I came to it with a ton of expectations and hopes based on the developer’s recent output. This happens a lot, but it’s always a difficult thing to correct for, because I am constantly asking whether I’m reacting based on what I’m seeing and experiencing, or based on the gap between that and what I expected to see.

With Act of Aggression, it took me a long time to start meeting the game on its own terms. That has its own dangers: knowing that my opinion might be shaded by disappointment, I probably err on the side of being forgiving. A lot of my friends, I think, are more frustrated by Act of Aggression than I am. Even so, it’s a game that I am continuing to play and learn long after the review has been filed. It doesn’t make itself easy to enjoy, but it does start paying off if you’re willing to put in the hours to tease apart its overall design and how it wants you to play it.

The same could be said for a lot of RTS games, which is why I’m increasingly worried about the genre as a whole. The problem is that RTS games are uniquely miserable when you’re not good at playing them. I remember, when  he was trying to get a Kickstarter project off the ground, Chris Taylor (who designed Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander) remarked that he felt like RTS developers were constantly misreading the audience. When stats are available, most people play RTS games for the campaign, or they skirmish against the AI. Few spend a lot of time playing ranked games on a ladder. Yet RTS developers, Taylor said, always looked at that trend  and said to the audience, “We hear you! Here’s your hardcore competitive RTS.”

I like RTS games, but this is a hard problem to solve. I think Eugen have come closer to solving it with earlier games than they have with Act of Aggression. That’s why it was so frustrating to see Act of Aggression be so defiantly old-fashioned and cryptic. This is the first Eugen game I’ve played where my friends started bailing on our multiplayer sessions after just one game. I stuck around because it was my job. But for most people, why is this a journey worth taking? RTS developers need to start offering better answers than a hand-wave in the direction of skill and mastery.

Features:

Reviews / Crit:

Appearances/ Podcasts:

Recent Work – 23 August 2015

Some people have asked me where the hell they can find all the stuff I’m working on and the answer is, or is supposed to be, this blog. But that only works if I update it.

I think one of the things this entire blog unwittingly demonstrates is what happens when you become a working writer and the job becomes less of a pastime and more of a career. Five years ago I saved every link to every article I published. But for the last couple years, I’ve been cranking out so much work that there scarcely seemed time to document it all, and I certainly stopped feeling like every story was a special snowflake the deserved to be memorialized. Especially when I was pulling gaming news shifts, and 1/4 of what I wrote was notes on trailers and patches.

That’s also a warning sign, of course. When you’re forgetting about half of what you’ve done within minutes of doing it, it’s probably time to shift gears. I’ve gotten away from news writing and am focusing more on feature work, which is both more interesting and pays better.

The downside is that a lot more of my life is spent transcribing now. There are services for this, of course, but unfortunately I find it’s in the act of transcribing that I really get a handle on an interview and how it should be used. I wish my brain worked differently, but there you have it. On the other hand, there is a sort of meditative pleasantness in transcription. It’s the writing equivalent of long-haul driving. You just point the car down the road and zone out while miles and miles of blacktop whiz past. With transcription, you just fly through the audio and at the end you’ve got 5,000 words of text to use for a 2,000 word article, and your job just got a lot easier.

Anyway, this is a sampling of what I’ve been up to lately. This isn’t quite everything I’ve done in the last month or so, but it’s close. These are all my major stories, as well as the podcasts I’ve done lately.

The big news is the launch of Esports Today, a podcast I co-host with Andrew Groen that’s aimed at people who like esports but struggle to follow them. When I got into esports coverage, it was a constant struggle to stay on top of  events, and it’s only gotten harder. There are more games to follow these days, but the coverage that’s aimed at esports fans tends to be a little too obsessed with inside-baseball. It’s pitched at people who don’t need to hear news because they already know all the news.

Esports Today gets away from that. We do a tight, half-hour show every week covering most of the major events and stories in professional gaming, with enough to context to get you up to speed and ready for the next event. It’s probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever worked on, thanks in large part to Andrew, the gang at Idle Thumbs, and our producer Michael Hermes.  I’d love it if you checked it out over at Esports.Today

Beyond that, I’m taking a sort-of, kind-of vacation at my friend Julian Murdoch’s. Just a week of living according to my own rhythms and enjoying things like quiet time, reading, and games with friends. It’s hard to get real breaks as a freelancer, but at least this once I’ve managed to get a few days off. Come Monday, I’m still on break, but the late nights and treating beer with chips and salsa like a meal replacement is going to end as I get back to the slightly healthier habits of my regular schedule and life in Cambridge.

Features:

Reviews / Crit:

Appearances / Podcasts:

Go Bid the Soldiers Shoot

We finally retired my Falcon Northwest 2008 Fragbox due to a slowly failing motherboard. My pal Drew drew up some new specs that could recycled the parts that still worked, and I am now once again on a high-end gaming rig. But it was still a bittersweet moment as we retired the old machine, and I was moved to say a few words.

Moments later I sang “Danny Boy” and read some Yeats over the Jameson-soaked case. In memoriam:

The Fragbox FalconWumpus was activated on October 31st after its predecessor Broken Piece of Shit Fragbox failed after two weeks. The first game I played on it was SWAT 4. It was paid for with money from The Escapist and my blind faith that I could get enough work as a freelancer to justify the expense. Through its efforts and stability, running for almost four years with only two or three isolated blue-screens, I was able to focus on writing and gaming. Though gaming slowly left it behind, it never delivered less than adequate performance. It enjoyed a brief renaissance this last year after PC Gamer Editor-in-Chief Logan Decker helped with a major upgrade. Our love was renewed over maxed-out Crysis, but it was not to last. It spent its final days playing Max Payne 3 and Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, and watching StarCraft 2 streams with its family.

It is survived by a GeForce 560 card, a 750W power supply, two hard drives, a Falcon Northwest coffee mug and its freelance writer. It will be a missed.

The Happiest Happy Hour – September 23

Last weekend some friends of ours got married in one of the best ceremonies and celebrations I’ve ever seen, but that wedding also meant two other things. The first is that MK’s summer break was over, and she had to leave to do the second part of her extended internship. It also meant that I didn’t get any work done over that weekend, which meant that three days’ worth of work had to be crammed into Monday and the early part of Tuesday.

I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened on either of those days. I know that for one of them, I started working at 10 am and finished my last assignment after 1 am. A pizza box on the floor of my apartment and a couple receipts from an Indian and Chinese restaurant indicated I somehow ate this week. But really, it’s been a blur of games, printed drafts covered in red ink, screenshot editors, and a blinking text cursor.

But it’s over now, and I have a couple precious days to cook, clean, and work on some pieces for next week. I feel like I just turned in my last final exam, and I half-expect to find my fraternity brothers waiting for me at the campus bar, a rail gin and tonic with my name on it sitting in its little plastic cup.

Instead, though, it’s just me in my living room with two fingers of Johnnie Black on the rocks, and OK Computer on the stereo. Not bad, but I think I could do with loud laughter, crude sex jokes, and Star Trek discussions.

Still, I can only feel happy and relieved. I survived my first week as a PC Gamer blogger, and you can find me every weekday over at pcgamer.com. This week I was just trying to keep the lights on, because this job arrived on short-notice in the middle of a full freelance schedule. I didn’t do any original pieces. That all changes next week, however. I plan on doing a lot more interviews, impressions pieces, and perhaps even some original reporting. I’ll be linking all of it through my Twitter. Longer, meatier pieces I will link here, on my Work page.

For a moment, then, all is right withe the world. Lara Crigger and I were laughing about how long it takes, and what a huge milestone it is, for a freelancer to break the poverty line. I think I’m there and if things keep up like they are right now, I might actually be making the equivalent of a decent starting salary in a real career.

This, by the way, is why you are unlikely to find me writing anything about how to become a games writer. Until this year, my fourth, I did not earn enough to entirely support myself.  I have a long way to go before I would even be able to contemplate supporting a wife or a child on my own. I say that only because careers are supposed to provide a measure of independence for you and security for those you love. As yet, my work does not. I think it will, eventually, but every time things start going well, some outlet is closed or an editor cancels a regular gig. That’s another part of the freelancer’s life.

I don’t recommend it. If you can do something else, do that, because “making it” means working incredibly hard just for the chance of maybe making a living wage. Knowing that major sources of income could vanish with a couple emails.

Me, I can’t do anything else. Maybe someday. But not today. Today I am proud of my work, and am looking forward to Monday.

Happy Hour – September 9

OK, I lied. It’s actually the wee small hours of the 10th right now. I’m up late waiting for Windows 7 to install for a second time. The first time it didn’t clear away the hard drive, and I really didn’t feel like rooting out all the old files from the previous installation.

Tomorrow is likely to be grim, but hopefully I’ll be going into it with a vastly superior gaming rig. Some great friends spotted me a new power supply and a GTX 560 video card, and I just bought myself an ASUS 27-inch monitor, along with 8 gigs of RAM, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7. This should get me through to next year, at least. Longer, if consoles keep acting as an anchor on hardware requirements.

This is probably the only weekend where I could fit this in. For the rest of the month, I’m on reviews duty, with no end in sight. This upgrade needed to happen now or never, and it’s a load off my mind knowing I’ll be hitting the major releases with the great hardware. But before I get to reviews, I think I’ll have to install Crysis. Crysis, Sengoku, and Age of Empires Onlines should occupy my weekend quite nicely.

But what about my weeks? I haven’t done a great job of explaining what I’ve been up to lately, but the truth is I’ve kind of been everywhere of late. For instance, you can find me on the last couple Gamers With Jobs Conference Calls, talking about Deus Ex: Human Revolution and other things.

We’ve also been going great guns over on Three Moves Ahead, what with Soren Johnson killing some lazy summer days by spending time talking strategy games with us. It’s been impressive to see the spike in listeners. We do a good show over at 3MA, but a guy like Soren packs the house when he’s headlining. It’s great to count him among 3MA’s fans and recurring panelists.

I also made an appearance over at the mighty Rock, Paper, Shotgun, writing a review of the surprisingly good (yet still somewhat unfulfilling) Tropico 4. It’s thrilling to find myself writing at a place that was such a huge influence on me when I was starting out as a freelancer. To my relief, the RPS readership seems to think I fit in pretty well over there. Some of them didn’t even guess I was a Yank.

I’ll be popping up in some other unusual places over the coming weeks, and I’ve got some projects I’m really excited about. Hopefully tomorrow (today) I’ll be working on one of them with my pal JP Grant. Preferably with some brews in hand.