Creating Space For Conversation: Why I Podcast

I have been podcasting for just over two years now, first doing the Handsome Boys Comics Hour, and then starting The Simpsons Show (a year ago on this date). I want to do more of them, but adding more to my workload would probably strain me to the point of breaking. Juggling a full time job and two podcasts is hard enough when trying to get a social life and some video games in. However, I would make one exception for sure, and that is any kind of podcast project with my wife. Now, she included in one of her marriage vows to do at least an episode with me, so I have witnesses that she would participate, but still, I feel like that is out of some kind of obligation. When I asked her the other day what she’d be interested in talking about, she asked me, why? Why do we need to record our conversation, and release it? Why not just have the conversation?

Podcasts are near and dear to my heart, even with me being a relative newcomer to a medium that’s been around for over a decade, but is now just gaining real traction with the general public. Why podcast? The obvious first answer is that it’s fun. You get to create a freeform radio show of your own devising, and stretch your creativity. There is no one telling you what you can or cannot do. You can create whatever type of show you want.

I think that’s the most obvious answer, however. The true reasoning of why I podcast, and why I love podcasts in general is that starting a show, of some kind, about something, creates a space for conversation to exist. In our modern world, it’s rare to just sit down and talk about a specific topic with someone, even a close friend or spouse. Even if you do, do you really analyze it, do you really look at it with a critical eye? And even if you do, do you really explore the topic? Do you really cover every angle? Probably not. We talk, we share ideas, but anyone you would converse with at such a level would probably already share a lot of your sentiments. Just with the act of exposing the conversation to the public, you open it to the idea of other opinions, for good or ill.

As well, by creating a rigid schedule, by giving yourself a responsibility to create this show, you now have an appointment to have a conversation. And that is a wonderful thing. You are forced to look at something with a critical eye, to think about it in different ways, to even expand your opinion at most. The simple act of recording it, and showing it to the world makes a normal conversation that much better. That, mixed with the ability to create your own unique take on the medium, and the fellowship of recording something, of sharing the experience, truly makes podcasting a extremely unique medium, one that is still growing.

Gimme Shelter: First Thoughts on Fallout 4

I stayed up for the Bethesda conference, watching Giant Bomb’s stream of the event, waiting anxiously for Fallout 4. The trailer release two weeks hinted at a lot of things, but the official news from last night couldn’t have me more excited.

New stuff:

  • Voiced characters
  • House and community building
  • Mass Effect style conversation wheels
  • Faster, more true FPS style combat, with true iron sights
  • Pipboy App

Old stuff, but better:

  • A dog
  • Weapon crafting
  • Facial customization
  • Colors! Plants! Animations!

First things first, a lead character that talks is the biggest change from previous games. Frankly, I’m all for it. The acting sounded great in the trailer, and should serve to add more emotion to the story. The house building seems obvious now, especially that it was added into Skyrim. But letting you create entire settlements from the ground up is literally the thing I wanted most in Fallout 3, and now is a reality. Building the dystopia back into something seemed like a goal of the first game, and this is letting you do that. It has so much potential. The crafting system as a whole is fun and deep, and should allow for all kinds of possibilities.

The conversation wheels are a shift, and although I had no problem with the previous conversation system, this is cleaner and faster, and makes more sense with a talking main character. Only potential flaw is the sin that Mass Effect sometimes committed, which is a misleading descriptor of what your character will say. Hopefully they’ll be clear enough to make the intent obvious.

The combat looks leagues better. True iron sights, sprinting, and a more dynamic VATS should make what could become systematic in FO3 more interesting and varied. The customization of weapons should also let you identify a weapon that you really like and really feels like you as a character. Not to mention the airlifts and jetpacks and custom power armor. Just so much stuff. With all the stuff they showed, there’s still so much there left unsaid. Is there still a good/evil dynamic to it? How big is the world? How many quests? With the depth of FO3 and Skyrim, and them trumpeting this is their biggest game yet, it seems like there’ll be a massive amount of ground to cover.

Not to mention the Pipboy app for your phone or tablet. Of all the gimmicky things to include, it is the one that I’m the most stupid excited about. Will it be any faster than just using the game? Probably not, but just having it is a cool touch that they didn’t have to do, but did anyway.

Speaking of, I’ve been playing the Fallout Shelter mobile game all day. I’ve gotten into a pickle by overextending myself, and leaving myself defenseless by sending out my only gun into the Wasteland, but I’m starting to get my feet under me again. Having a lot of fun with it, and it’s scratching that itch, for now at least. 148 days!

The Illusion of Progress

After the first night of playing Heroes of the Storm, I texted a close friend and told him that the game is dangerous. He understood immediately, as he responded that it’s a game designed to ruin your life. It is designed to keep you coming back, day after day, hitting all those sweet reward centers of your brain, constantly showing you progress, if not on a character, then on your overall level. There are musical cues, dialogue from NPCS, and visual cues that all tell you you’re doing a great job, keep it up, and you’ll get more rewards, more stimulus. Heroes isn’t the first game to do it, but Blizzard has done an excellent job at implementing what has been a continuing trend in gaming.

Almost all games now have RPG elements somewhere in there design, simply because it is a simple way to incentivize players to keep coming back, to keep unlocking new abilities, new skins, new weapons, new something. Dying Light, Shadow of Mordor, Far Cry 4, Call of Duty multiplayer, none RPGs, yet all of them have leveling systems. It’s gotten to the point where I can clearly see the carrot, know that it’s been put there only to get me to come back, and yet I still continue. It’s not as insidious in paid games, but in free to play games likes Heroes (with Marvel Puzzle Quest being the other freemium game that has lured me in) it can be downright destructive, because you’re basically paying to play the game by playing the game. It’s almost like a system of labor built into playing the game. It’s bizarre cognitive dissonance, when I’m really enjoying playing the game, and at the same time are completely aware of the systems in place. “I need to keep playing so that I can play it more!”

How do you react to games like this? I try and temper my enthusiasm for a game by limiting my time with it, knowing that I shouldn’t put too much time towards it, but it’s hard for me to resist that siren’s call completely. I find myself constantly asking myself if I’m really enjoying my time with the game, or if the game’s just tricking me. The strangest is when it’s hard to tell the difference. “Am I having fun?” shouldn’t be a hard question to answer, but at times I’m not sure. I find it interesting because it really delves down into what is fun about playing videogames. Is it that sense of progression, of growth and experience that usually isn’t easy to come by in real life but comes so quickly in a game? If a game is rewarding you with that, is that enough?

Retreat Isn’t Sexy: Starting Out in Heroes of the Storm

I am 6 days in on playing Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s first foray into the MOBA, the genre dominated by League of Legend and DOTA2, which spawned from a Blizzard game in the first place, Warcraft 3. It’s 5×5 team combat, with each player controlling a hero, leveling it up throughout the match, eventually trying to topple the opponent’s base, with the use of special abilities, strategy, and teamwork. I was always interested in MOBAs, finding the depth of strategy and mixing of characters really interesting, but getting into DOTA2 or League seemed very intimidating. Heroes, however, has me hooked.

After the tutorial, I started playing as Tychus, even though he’s rated a “hard” character. After dabbling with a few different melee characters among the launch week’s free characters, I feel much more comfortable as a ranged character. I’ve ranked him up to 8 at the moment, and bought him today after the free characters rotated. I’ve already ranked up Sylvana to 5, and I really enjoy playing with her as well. However, I’m having trouble keeping her alive, which is what I really want to talk about, what I kind of think is the essence of the game, namely, when to run away.

As a gamer, I’ve been trained not to run away, even going back to Mario. You keep going right, because there is no left, no retreat available. That through line has continued through most of video games. You either win, or you die, and start over. You don’t go back, you don’t run away. Running away doesn’t make any sense in most games. Retreat is seldom treated as a tactical option, and even when it is, it’s seldom worth it. Retreat isn’t sexy, isn’t fun, and so it’s not included in most game design. You die, and reload, or respawn. You don’t regret not retreating. You regret dying. However, death is an inevitability in Heroes, and playing with retreat in mind as changed my perspective on other games as well.

With the announcement of Fallout 4, I’ve been revisiting Fallout:New Vegas, a game I played, beat, and sold when it came out, enjoying it far less than Fallout 3. Revisiting it, I’m enjoying it more. With Heroes fresh in my mind however, it’s made me notice how it seldom let’s you escape combat. There are several areas close to where you start that are extremely dangerous for a low level character, and if spotted by one of the monsters there, you’re probably going to die. You’re too slow to run away. Your problem is that you got into combat in the first place. The shift in dynamics between the two has made me wish for a more viable option to retreat, to gather forces, to come back.

As a strategy, it’s also evident in RTSs to an extent, although you’re not nearly as focused on one character as you are in Heroes. It also explains why I was never very good at RTSs. However, I’m finding my footing in Heroes, leveling up and playing different characters. I’ve done well so far, and am really enjoying playing with my friends. I’ll end with what ends many encounters…RUN AWAY!