Today we continue our series of Gameblog Interviews. It’s been great to learn a little something about the people whose writings we read every day.
Our guest today is a gamer (with at least 3 games on the go), husband, father, podcaster, and prolific champion to geriatric bloggers everywhere (http://tagn.wordpress.com/). Without further ado … may we present
The Ancient Gaming Noob
WorldIV: Introduce yourself! Who is The Ancient Gaming Noob?
TAGN: I am middle age man. I know how escrow works! (Stop looking at my gut! I’ve been doing situps!)
I am the guy who, in his 20s, thought that a pretty good weekend consisted of a large pizza, soda, beer, and uninterrupted reading and game play. Hours and hours of my 20s and early 30s were spent playing Wizardy, Ultima III/IV, Civilization I/II, as well as online games, especially MUDs.
And then somewhere along the line I met somebody who could put up with gaming, got married, moved into management, bought a house, became a parent, and started acting and sounding a lot like my father. So the days of 12+ hour sessions of gaming are gone. But my wife is very understanding. She lets me have quite a bit of time to game and even tolerates our Saturday night WoW instance, for the most part.
WorldIV: For clarity, can you define “Ancient”? While you’re at it, what’s “old”?
TAGN: Webster’s Dictionary defines “ancient” as…
If you ever see me start a post like that, you’ll know I’m too old.
In terms of our discussion, old is being able to clearly remember online games before the adjective “Massive” was used. Ancient is being able to clearly remember when there were no personal computers. I’m in that second category. When I was growing up, we had to let our B&W television warm up for 5-10 minutes before a show came on if we expected to see opening of the show.
WorldIV: You post regularly on your antics in WoW, Eve, EQII (and a little bit of EQ it seems too). They’re each quite different games (well, as different as MMO’s get from one another these days). Do you have a current favorite? Or favorite aspects of each?
TAGN: WoW – It is the guided tour. We are running through all of the group instances. For a five person group that only meets once a week, it is very nice to know what we’re going to be going after this week and next. It seems a weakness to some, this “on rails” approach, but it is a huge strength for the game in my view. I couldn’t plot out what our group should do for fifty weeks in a row in EQ, EQ2, or LOTRO. But the Azeroth Travel Bureau hands you a map and a guide book and sends you on your happy way.
EQ2 – It is huge, it is wild, it is mostly soloable, it is Norrath, and I have friends playing it. There is the key, of course. Friends. If all of my online gaming friends played just one game… I might be able to keep myself to two or three games.
EVE – Outer space and the Jon Hallur song “Below the Asteroids.” Well, and the fact that EVE is huge, complex, scary, uninformative, and unforgiving. If EVE were a restaurant, you would go in, bid on a meal from a long and complex menu read aloud to you exactly once, end up with something excellent but completely unexpected, have half of it stolen by other patrons, and then either get in a fist fight with the busboy or start making out with the beautiful hostess as you prepare to leave. And either of them steal your wallet and charge up a ton of stuff on your credit cards.
WorldIV: You make us want to try EVE!
TAGN: Seriously though, there is something to the “you can lose it all” danger aspect that I have not really felt since the early days of EverQuest. I am running level 3 missions and every time I go into a low security system to finish one, I know I could be blown up, podded, and generally set back quite a bit. There is nothing like some anxiety to spice up a game, even for a carebear like me.
EVE also has a very good “part time” aspect to it. A lot of things, like skills or production, can take days or weeks. You can look in on your character a couple of times a week and still feel like you are accomplishing something.
EQ – I am poking my nose back into that again. I cannot help myself. EQ came out just before that big transition to respectable adulthood, so I missed most of the content after Ruins of Kunark. By the time I was ready to get back to that, EQ2 was on the scene and people I knew were starting fresh there. So there is the dual draw of nostalgia and the feeling that I missed some of the best content in EQ that brings me back there once in a while.
WorldIV: Which brings us to the question … How in the hell do you find time for three games?
TAGN: An understanding wife helps a huge amount. She must love me a lot, because I don’t think she is buying the “well, at least I am home” line any more.
WorldIV: … An ‘average’ MMO player probably puts in 20 hours a week.
TAGN: I do not think I hit that many hours, all games combined, in a week. Unless, of course, my wife and daughter go somewhere for the weekend, then I am on the phone to the pizza place.
WorldIV: … And you’re a family man!?
TAGN: I do not have a lot of other hobbies. I have managed to keep business travel down to two over night trips in 10 years. I rarely watch TV. My wife and I watch videos together a few nights a week. (We’re currently watching “24.”) My daughter goes to bed early and so does my wife some nights, so there is that quiet time to get just one more level! All I have to do without is sleep!
WorldIV: What are your thoughts on the role of multiplayer online gaming in the family setting (especially considering the increasingly mature theme and graphics in games).
TAGN: I am very protective of my daughter, as is my wife. She has a computer she can use, but it is out in the family room so we can keep an eye on what is going on. Usually that is KidPix or PBS Kids or WebKinz. It tends to be what is on television that concerns me the most.
Still, she does show a lot of interest in the games I play on my computer. The bright, colorful worlds are very attractive to her. I will do some tourist things with her on my lap. We go and see the sights. But it does bring up the uncomfortable question of what these games are about. How do you teach morality on one hand then explain a game where I have slain thousands and thousands of virtual beings, often at the behest of strangers offering a few coins. “Yes dear, that quest is also simple “murder for hire,” just like the last dozen.”
So I follow the lead of my parents and attempt to avoid the issue. Then my daughter and I go play the LEGO Star Wars on the Wii where we… well… slaughter hundreds of beings made out of LEGO bricks… see, this is not going to be easy.
WorldIV: Tuebit says he’s had the same quandary with regards to young children and MMO. “My daughter also loves the shiny … particularly the big gold ring in LotRO. But explaining what’s going on is a tough one. I’ve often tried to imagine a game that my friends and I would enjoy playing and that I would feel ok about letting my daughter play as well.” Why is it that it’s hard to imagine a fun (for us) MMORPG that doesn’t include violence? Can you imagine a non-violent game mechanic that you’d enjoy playing?
TAGN: Conflict is such a common theme in games that you have to think for a moment or two to come up with one that does not involve killing/capturing your opponent after a violent battle of some sort. (Chess, for example, is just violence abstracted. Or the fishing game in Wii Play. Those fish aren’t going to a life of retirement in an aquarium.)
Violent conflict generally gives such a clear result, who won and who lost, that it is hard to get away from it. Fans love a boxing match that ends with a knock out. One that goes 15 rounds and is decided by points is much less satisfying.
I am looking forward to the upcoming MMO from NetDevil and LEGO, LEGO Universe. I expect that it will have enough non-violent attractions to make it family friendly. Plus we’re very big on LEGO bricks at our house.
WorldIV: You’ve put yourself as a multiplayer online gamer since 1985 … lots of different games in that period. Is there one that holds a special place in your heart?
TAGN: There are a number of special games for me. Stellar Emperor. Air Warrior. Gemstone. Tribes. Desert Combat. But two, Toril MUD and EverQuest stand out as very special. Toril MUD was, and still is, a vibrant community and a great game. EverQuest was, in some ways literally, Toril MUD translated into a 3D graphical world. I passed on the EQ beta, but was there playing on day one. Even on that buggy, laggy, crashing first day, I knew there was something special about the game.
WorldIV: As a mature, family oriented gamer, is the industry catering well to your needs? Do mature family oriented gamers have a unique set of needs? Has your playstyle and game interests evolved over the years?
TAGN: I am less tolerant of some things. I demand more information from a game. I still have detailed, hand drawn maps from playing Wizardry, charting out every level of the dungeon. I no longer have the patience to do that sort of thing. I want to spend more time solving the real problem that is in a quest rather than just trying to find my way to the quest.
A game has to get interesting or fun a lot more quickly for me. I have so many other options, I am less willing to invest time not having fun.
A game has to be stable. I mentioned day one of EverQuest. I doubt I would stick around now for day two. I avoided EQ2 for a week after Rise of Kunark went live. I do not need the headache. But, again, I have other viable options. Vanguard holds some interest for me, but I could see in beta that it was going to be a disaster for the first year. I have the box sitting on my shelf, but I probably won’t bother to play until the VG team hits a level of stability that allows them to release an expansion.
I am both more and less interested in the lore around a game these days. I am less interested, or less able to follow, the tactical implications of lore unless it directly affects what I am doing. On the other hand, the overall lore that ties the world together, that motivates the major forces within it, that I like to read about.
Finally, games that do not include shared, persistent worlds do not excite me. The hook for me is the ongoing illusion of progress and improvement in a shared environment. I may only get to log in and play for 30 minutes, but my character was probably improved by that 30 minutes in some minor way. That feeds something inside of me. Going from that to a shooter where you play, the game ends, and everything starts over again does not do much for me. There is a one star review of EverQuest that says something along the lines of, “Do not buy this game, you cannot win, it never ends!” On reading that, my thought was, “Well, yes, that is the point.”
WorldIV: Speaking of time commitments … you blog and podcast, too! Why do YOU blog (as in, what do you get from the activity)?
TAGN: Some people just need to write. I am one of those people. I have had various outlets throughout the years, email, guild forums, and the like. I even ran a BBS back in the days when that meant a computer with a modem hooked up to it. In a way, the blog is more akin to the days of running a BBS than any of the other outlets. I run the show, I can write about what I want, when I want, and nobody can ask me to leave or revoke my posting privileges.
As for podcasting, I do not really have that much invested in that at the moment. Darren of The Common Sense Gamer sets everything up, works out the topic list, handles the recording, and does the editing. I just blather away on Skype for a couple of hours and my part is done. It is a pretty casual atmosphere, and there is usually beer involved, so it is more akin to having a drinks with some gamer friends after work.
WorldIV: Do you read as much as you write?
TAGN: I try to. I get four weekly and a half a dozen monthly magazines delivered to my home, plus more at the office. And then there is the daily paper. though that gets thinner every year! I am also an avid read of history and science fiction. I try to make as much use of my waking hours as I can in that regard. I have a two book a month subscription with Audible.com for audio books that I listen to in the car or when working around the house and I have been known to run out of books there. I get in trouble for reading at the kitchen table during meals. I also read to my daughter every night, though we’re a lot closer to the “Pat the Bunny” end of the spectrum than “Stranger in a Strange Land.” Still, the Narnia and Harry Potter books are on the shelf. We’ll get to those.
WorldIV: You post regularly, and not just short little snippets. Can you comment on your blogging process? What’s your muse?
TAGN: There is something in my head that just starts writing blog posts, usually in the shower in the morning. If what comes up then meets the “what’s the point?” test, I’ll try to take some notes and flesh it out later. My biggest problem is not taking enough notes. I’ll have something brilliant in mind when I am in the shower, get distracted, then two hours later write down some notes that do not have quite the same punch.
Of course, the other aspect is, if you have low standards, you’ll never run out of things to blog about. Much of what I post is very tactical. How our group did in Sunken Temple. How I got to level 60 in EQ2. How they changed all the raw material icons in the latest game update (and did not mention it in the patch notes). Here is my fae with a comically large arrow stuck in his head.
I try to post at least one, bigger issue entry a week. And when I look back over traffic, it tends to be the fae with the comically large arrow in his head that gets the most page views. The detailed comparison of time played to get to level 40 in both EQ2 and WoW, that gets ignored.
WorldIV: You once wrote .. “he too succumbed to the peril that stalks bloggers: Delusions of relevance.” It seemed to be a critique of soapbox ranting or armchair designing. And your own posts only occasionally enter that arena. What are your thoughts on the role and value of blogging within the industry?
TAGN: I get on the soap box now and again to go after “big” issues. My comment was more directed towards the fact that a lone blogger making pronouncements is as likely to be met by the sound of crickets when they are done as they are to see any sort of positive reaction. And changing the world, even a virtual one? Forget about it.
That does not mean people should not go out and speak their mind. You just have to have answered the question, what will you do if you stand up, state your piece, and nobody cares?
Blogging and the industry? I think a smart company keeps an eye on the pulse of blogs, the way they would of their own forums. But I also work on software and have for 18 years, I know you cannot drive your whole company to meet the needs of the angry guy on the soap box. That person is rarely, if ever, in possession of all the facts. You listen though. Once in a while that person is right.
So when I’m the guy on the soap box telling, say, Clint Worley how he needs to improve accessibility for EverQuest, my expectations are pretty low. If I get more than crickets, I am pretty happy.
Bonus question: Is there anything you’re looking forward to in multiplayer online games? If not, in 20 words or less, what IP would you like to see turned into a MMO and what would be it’s core goal?
TAGN: Forgotten Realms done in big, outdoor, full world, MMO style.
We’d like to thank The Ancient Gaming Noob for the excellent interview. Clearly, his zeal for gaming (and blogging) hasn’t been diminished by time. Note to the old-folks-home: install high speed!