Offhanded Rambling

I haven’t really just rambled about things in a while, which is sort of a shame, as I do find it remarkably cathartic and useful in recharging my creative batteries, so to speak. Lately, all it seems like I’m doing is just giving quick updates about what’s happening in my life, without much in the way of me in the process. Sometimes, I’m afraid that I’ve forgotten how. I’ve been reading a lot lately (and even then, not as much as I should; I really ought to just sit down and cram a few more books into me over the next week or two), including quite a few blogs mostly talking aobut game design, development, the gaming industry, and game related politics. (A quick segue: as most of you are aware, I am adamantly opposed to government legislature that restricts any civil right, no matter the reason. Needless to say, I am furious over FEPA. Regardless of the current trend, I stand by my belief that we were not meant to be governed by a nanny state, and will be once again writing my congressmen saying as much. Seque addressed; back to the topic.)

Games have been a major part of my life for quite few years at this point, and in a lot of ways it’s been great to have an excuse to immerse myself in the subject. That said, it is a large and daunting topic, and more than once in the past two months, I’ve felt somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of material to not only read and internalize, but also then reflect upon and write about it in time for my monthly due dates. While I’m sure that personal factors have a major role in how scattered I’ve been with it all, that is ultimately an excuse that does nothing for very real deadlines and very real concerns over worth and hireability in the post-graduate world. The last thing I want to do is bullshit my way through this semester and come out of it feeling lackluster over my abilities and value to potential employers. I am well aware that I am overly critical of my own knowledge and abilities, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling like I should be doing better.

I’ve been hashing out a few game ideas, and hopefully I will be in a position by the end of the semester to take some of these ideas and bring Critical Games into the development realm (this is, and always has been, my long term goal). This would involve certain things going very right in terms of securing capital (among other things), which while I’m confident CAN be pulled off, still involves a good deal of luck and being in the right place at the right time. The first step is to do well this semester. The second step is to make a good impression at the Game Developer’s Conference this spring (still haven’t received word over getting trust funding to attend that… more prodding may be needed). Third step is to secure funding (I have some assets now, and potentially more coming in the following months, but let’s face it, starting a development company isn’t cheap, even assuming you are able to hire developers for equity). I have some ideas on what to do about the hiring/funding part, not the least of which involves giving developers “points” in each game in a similar fashion to how movies are handled, rather than equity in the company itself; unless it’s a best seller with a great contract with the publisher, development houses tend not to really make much of a profit (and often fold), so equity in one can be a hard sell.

Shifting back toward an academic bent for a moment, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m going to organize my final product. I know what the product will be (a collection of essays about games), but now comes the challenge of writing those essays in a cogent, cohesive manner and in a fashion that really addresses my core topic (games as literature and art). My writing feels rushed (because it is) and scattered (also because it is), as I’ve been addressing whatever topics strike me as wanting or needing to be talked about. While that’s fine for a blog, I need to be a bit more collected for my study. Ideally, I’ll wake up tomorrow, feel rested and whole, and start pounding through books and essays like a man possessed.

Instead, I’ve been an insomniac, not being able to sleep before 3, 4, 5am. Not for lack of trying, I just haven’t been able to pull it off. I’ve also been painfully aware of a feeling broken, incomplete for the past week or two. This isn’t surprising; when the marriage abruptly fell apart back in April, I was put on a fairly high dosage of a powerful anti-depressant (20mg Lexapro, for the curious), which I only recently got off, so it’s entirely possible that the “broken”, “scattered” feeling is attributable to withdrawal symptoms. This certainly adds an extra challenge to the semester, but I’ll simply have to learn to cope; I have no wish to be on anti-depressants any longer than I have to. Besides, if I can get organized and pull out a great semester through all that, I can get through anything, right?

One step at a time: I’m in the second to smallest bedroom in the house (the smallest that’s being used as a bedroom), and have arguably the most “stuff” to try and find a place for. This has proven to be an interesting adventure to deal with, though hopefully I’ve finally come to a final solution this weekend with the delivery of a wardrobe (the room has no closet), so I can stop living out of a suitcase, and a bookshelf, so I can finally empty out and get rid of the pile of boxes of books that are scattered around the room. This is more important for me than you might think: for me, a clean room is a clean mind; organizing my room is a meditation that helps me organize my thoughts for writing. (As those who’ve lived with me in the past can attest, you’ll never see my office cleaner than when a school packet is due.) I haven’t been able to organize my room because I simply haven’t had anywhere to put anything.

I suppose it’s dichotomous that I talk about these personal issues in the same post that I talk about ideas for handling game development, but I’ll let you in a little secret; that’s simply how I am. I feel embarassed talking about myself and my personal problems, I hate doing it, but still feel the need to get it out, and feel better after I’ve done it. Talking about impersonal things is my shield from my personal self, and it’s where I go to hide after exposing myself and to build up the courage to expose myself again. I’ve been cognizant that this is what I’m doing for a long long time, but I haven’t ever really sat down and explained this before. My apologies if this frustrates anyone; I doubt it will change any time soon. I suppose i could just separate the personal and the impersonal into separate posts, but that’s kind of opposite to my whole writing philosophy, on several levels: it breaks the flow of writing; I rarely (if ever) write drafts, so what you see is raw and usually written in a single sitting. (You wouldn’t believe how fucking nuts it drove me writing my online communities essay, since it was too long to do in one, or even two sittings… this is also my biggest hinderance in actually writing a novel, or anything longer than a short story. I don’t care about the personal/impersonal thing, but THIS is something I want to change, ASAP).

I know a lot of people who read this blog have commented in the past that I tend to write long, dense posts, and that makes it work to read. In consideration for those people, I should probably end it here. Those that read it in syndication on LiveJournal also probably don’t appreciate the giant swarms of text filling their friends page, either. But who knows, maybe they do.

It’s remarkable how quickly I’ve been rebuilding frustration with Avatar. I’ve been back for a few months at most, and I’m already feeling disillusioned and disappointed over the interaction between staff and players, communication on all levels, and the direction of development. Core principles of game design (as delineated from social design, which also has issues going on) are not being considered or implemented. (An immediate example, without giving out specifics, is a failure to balance playability of all user-accessible content; while varying levels of challenge is expected and desired, awareness of the outer limits of playability should always be kept in mind and addressed.) Maybe it’s tied to the withdrawal again, maybe not, but I am getting very close to my threshold about this, and increasingly interested in finding a way to incorporate designing a new MUD into my study (this isn’t much of a stretch; while implementing it would require more time than I have, establishing a roadmap/design document using a type of game I am already extremely familiar with isn’t much of a stretch to include at all).

I hate ending things, especially on a sour note like griping about a game I’ve been involved with for nearly a decade, but there it is. I’m just not sure where else I could take it from here, and don’t really have anything else I want to say right now… leave it to a stress-point to kill a perfectly good ramble.

4 thoughts on “Offhanded Rambling

  1. Nabil

    Found your site by the most circuitous route imaginable. Very amusing.

    I left Avatar and haven’t gone back except occasionally, and for very short periods of time. I couldn’t decide if I had simply moved on, or whether the game had lost its luster, gotten bogged down from the playability standpoint, or what. I’m still unsure, but I don’t regret leaving–it has no shine for me anymore, even though I spent something like 6 years affiliated with the place nearly full-time.

    Hope you’re well, all things considered, and continue to be so.

  2. It’s great to hear from you, Domovoi! You’ve been sorely missed. I can definitely appreciate where you’re coming from (as is evident from my rambling here), though I wish I could find a solution that re-endeared the both of us to a community we spent so much time involved with. Occasionally I’ve made my grumblings known to others on the staff, and they tell me that my thoughts and contributions would be missed… the reality is that I haven’t really been offering my thoughts or other contributions much anyway. (Though at the same time I say that, I’ve begun my next, possibly last, area, and recently added another area and revised several of my previous ones… I view these as prior obligations rather than actually contributing anything new, however.) On a semi-related note, I think it would be interesting to sit down with other retired/semi-retired/considering-retirement imms (you, Reuben, Amok, Maera, Jaron, Lokki) and commiserate on why each of us left.

    If you happen to check old threads and see this response, I’d love to know what this circuitous route was, as I’m always curious as to how people find me.

  3. It wasn’t all that long–just surprising. Saw a comment over at Making Light with your (given) name, thought “Naw…could it be?” and checked the link, saw the subdomain (with your old charname) and said, “Holy… I guess it is.” So I felt compelled to come on over and say hello. Nice digs you’ve got here. WordPress looks clean & flexible enough for your needs.

    It may be for others, as for me, that (as the Kundera title goes) Life is Elsewhere. There was so little compelling me to continue my meager contributions there and so much pulling me away to other bigger, better things. Or at least more rewarding things. Sadly, about the only things that provided me any enjoyment were “tending the flock” and acting as a sort of liaison between players and staff. Those things weren’t rewarding enough for me to be willing to sacrifice other things I wanted to do. So I faded away, retired the staff character, and have slowly but surely disappeared from memory nearly entirely. But that’s about what happens, it seems. IMHO, gameplay at lord was never worth pursuing, and the utterly mindnumbing nature of the latter half of the hero tier was in some ways worse in its tedium (though laughably easy). I didn’t see the game growing without fundamental changes that clearly weren’t forthcoming, so I kind of stopped caring a whole lot. The rest of the anomie kind of grew from there.

    Drop a line sometime. *tip*

  4. Hah! Yeah, I first met Teresa at a Boskone several years back, and then re-acquainted myself at UberCon last year (she was palling around with Stephen Brust), and have been reading her blog ever since. Somehow, I’m entirely unsurprised that you read Making Light.

    As for WordPress: yeah, I like it; it has the features I want, and the presentation is highly customizable; it was easy to get the page to render how I wanted (for anyone curious, this is a modified Kubrick… I do web design, but I’m also smart enough to not reinvent the wheel when I don’t have to).

    In regards to fading from memory, I think you’d be surprised (or perhaps not) how many people remember you and ask about you on channels. That sort of says a lot about the playerbase, however: the gameplay dynamic is so geared towards repeat (hardcore) players that we really haven’t been attracting many new players, unless they’re of the powergamer persuasion already. If it were a genuine stasis, that would be unfortunate but not necessarily bad; however, with other, newer games coming out (World of Warcraft for instance), we’re also losing some of the long time players. To put things in perspective, in 2001-2002, we had an average peak of 196, and an average trough of around 90, with an average median of 125 to 150. Our new average peak is around 110 to 125, average trough of 20-30, with a median of around 90. Now, I’m hardly going to start saying the mud is dying, but it is pretty clear that its having difficulting competing for the hardcore players and accomodating the newbies; I don’t think it’s just us old sourpusses who have become non-plussed with it.

    It should be amusing to see if Snikt finds these comments the next time he checks the site (he’s an intermittent reader), and what his reaction is. :)

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