UberCon X Followup

UberCon has once again come and gone. While our numbers weren’t what we’d hoped or expected, a lot of that can be tied to the current recession, and not having the hotel contracts in time to promote the event early on. We can’t do much about the recession, but this time at least we have firm dates for UberCon XI — October 24-26th. I can’t be positive I’ll make it out for it (I’ve made it to the past two by the grace of friends in a more financially beneficial place than I am), but it would certainly be nice to see everyone again.

Overall, I’d say the con was a great time — it’s good people, and everyone seems to have fun. I met a bunch more Avatarians, though frankly I lost count ages ago. I’m fairly positive I’m over 100 at this point. (The list of MUDders who attended can be found here.) I actually ended up hosting two panels (well, one and a half, one of the panels was on plans to shift some of the geography of Avatar around, and pulled in a whopping two people and took about 10 minutes… the other one was very well attended, as it was a roundtable discussing plans for the ranger class revision). As is usual, I didn’t really play any games, but instead spent a lot of the weekend simply running around and checking up on people, making sure they had what they needed, and doing general chit-chat. I like being “at large,” and honestly don’t think I’d have nearly as much fun if I was locked into an official role.

Some highlights: getting to see a lot of friends I’d not seen for anywhere from six months to several years, or even had never met in real life before at all; observing the midnight game of “It’s Midnight… are YOU a Werewolf?”; wading through a two foot long chocolate eclair from Harold’s with Timothy Zahn and a dozen other friends; and, of course, the late night parties and diner runs that all seem contribute to the COMPLETE lack of sleep that happens at the con.

A Month of Couches

I gave up my apartment in Seattle on March 1st, moving most of my belongings into a storage unit, and the rest into my car. Put simply, I felt done with Seattle, and wanted to try elsewhere, but couldn’t really afford to continue to hemorrhage money on an apartment while I found job somewhere else. It’s something of a risky maneuver, but thankfully I do have friends and family who help, which mitigates the risk of it all nicely.

So, barring a week in Seattle helping my friend Anna move, I’ve spent most of the month crashing on my brother’s couch in Portland. His roommates are aware of my situation, and have been incredibly cool about it, though I still feel bad about imposing on them for so long. I’ve been sending out resumes, and interviewed for a position last week that I really hope I get, as it’s a position I think I would enjoy, for a company I really like (and whose products i use often). That would put me in Portland with a decent (not high pay, but comfortable enough) full time job, which sounds pretty damn idyllic right now. I run into more people in Portland who have made a conscious choice to be there, instead of being drawn for some ulterior motive (work, hipster cachet, relationships, etc), than anywhere else I’ve ever visited or been. That sort of attitude really shines through in the behavior and personality of the city.

Despite having interviewed for a job I am hopeful to get (and remain in the running for), delays in that process (they’re still looking at and interviewing candidates) have left me in a position where I’ll be flying out to DC to help with UberCon and hang out with a lot of the Avatar crew. I could be there for as much as a month (notably if I don’t get the job), though possibly less. We’ll see. In either case, it’ll be good seeing people (and anyone who wants to hang out, drop me a line).

It’s all been sort of surreal. As much as I’m aware of the need and stressed about finding a home and a job, I’m actually feeling pretty good and calm. Maybe it’s the Portland vibe, maybe it’s just that I’ve ALWAYS liked being a floater, but in either case, it’s a pretty good mindset to be in (way better than freaking out about it, at the very least). Largely thanks to Uri, I’ve already met more people in Portland than I ever knew in Seattle. Yes, I’m an introvert, so it’s hard for me to meet people in the first place, but I still think it really says something about the difference between Portland and Seattle.

Catching Up

So, what have I been up to in the past two months? The obvious answer would be “stuff,” but that’s not very descriptive. I’ve been working a lot (the 8-4:30 is really a 7-7 due to traffic… working weekends was always delightful, because I was not only making overtime, but my commute was 20 minutes each way), and that’s been sucking my brain dry, where I’d usually get home, maybe eat something, maybe putter a little bit, and then go to sleep. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for much (I didn’t even hit the coffee shop more than maybe once). But there were a few highlights:

I flew back east for UberCon. My friend Chris (Tsabrak) offered to cover my airfare, so I was suddenly able to at least partially justify the trip. It was fantastic seeing everyone, including meeting some folks in person that I’d only known online up until then. It was definitely a good time, though I do wish Erica had shown up, as I would have liked to see her. (I was both nervous and hopeful about the prospect… I do miss her.) I was recently made head builder for Avatar, so I ended up spending most of the trip talking about mud related stuff, and I think we covered a lot of good ground that I hope to see getting implemented soon.

My parents were gracious enough to cover the expense of picking up Mac OS X 10.5, so I’ve got that installed and running on both of my machines (the laptop and desktop). I must say, I am damned impressed. Not only is there a considerable amount of polish, but the interface is cleaned up and the machine in general seems to be snappy. The file sharing integration into the finder is an excellent addition, and makes the process of mucking with files on both machines remarkably painless. I did clean installs for both machines and then migrated documents back over from my backup disk, so I’m still in the process of installing applications back onto it. Overall the whole upgrade process has been fairly painless.

My brother has moved from DC out to Portland, Oregon! I went down and visited him last week and bummed around with him and Dano and Dan’s lovely fiance, Moonrise. Totally good times, we even hit up the roller derby, which was great fun (Portland vs Baltimore). Later in the week, Uri came up for Thanksgiving, and we sorta tooled around a little bit, found a place for tasty turkey dinner, and in general had a good time.

Those are the big highlights that come to mind. It should be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks.

Tuesday Drips By

As a follow up to last post, I did indeed procure and install a shower head and pillow (well, the pillow doesn’t really need installing per se, but the gist I think is made). Life is better, though I’m still looking forward to something more resembling a bed. I’ve gotten a few other errands out of the way, and my Scrivener review is now up, if you care to read it.

Today I woke up to a bright, blue sky, which is always fantastic. Spent the morning reading and puttering around the apartment waiting to meet with my landlady and for a package from my parents to arrive (got it, and it’s all very much appreciated! Happy Ayyam-i-ha!). The meeting with the landlady went well, so now I’m officially the leaseholder and I’ve paid my rent and all that. I’ve got to say, it’s really nice renting from someone who is willing to work with their tenants: I was able to move in on a relatively small deposit and without the lease officially signed, and all a week before the apartment was originally supposed to come due. Big, hearty thumbs up on that. We also briefly discussed my doing some computer related work for her other business, and she asked me to give her a rate to set up a VPN. I’ll need to think on that and get back to her: not too worried about setting up the VPN (she has pretty minimal needs, we’re not talking some enterprise level solution here), just trying to think of what to charge — I could certainly use the money.

When I was down in Portland, I swung by Powell’s, and ended up picking up Harry G. Frankfurt’s On Bullshit and On Truth, both of which are delightful short reads (I started and finished On Truth this morning waiting for my appointment). Definitely some interesting things to think on, and I’ve already started taking some notes (via Scrivener!) for an essay I’ve been thinking about writing.

I’m currently in Zoka, downing a pot of Jasmine while waiting for for their wireless connection issues to sort themselves out (system crashed and had to be rebooted, and now appears to be flaking out again… unfortunate). I’ve been here most of the afternoon, wrapping up a project for AvatarMUD and mailing it out to the rest of the staff. While I think I did some good work with it and that it would on the whole benefit the game, I’m not exactly holding my breath on seeing it actually implemented. Perhaps I’m getting cynical in my near-decade on the MUD, but seems like big changes tend not to go through unless they’re championed by someone in a position to implement the change themselves… which this isn’t. Sorry I can’t be more specific about what I’m talking about. It’s good to have it out of the way, at least. I’ve been working on it since August.

The weather has progressively become wetter as the day has marched on, with it currently wavering between drizzling rain and simply looking sullenly damp. I’m fine with this. I kind of like the semi-rain Seattle tends to get. It evokes a partcular mood that is a little hard to describe: the closest I can come to a short definition would be “indie aloofness”, only without the smug pretentiousness. You’re walking around or driving around and there’s a good groove going on the radio or on your iPod and you’re feeling good about the solitude. It is all good.

On Links and MUDs

Ancient “Warrior” Found in Permafrost, found via Warren Ellis. That man is a treasure trove of neat esoterica (which as I’ve discussed before, I’m rather fond of myself). Also found via his site, I’ve added myself to MyBlogLog, which is a method to track users and links and in general help form the idea of a community a bit. I’d love to find a non-feedburner solution to tracking unique rss users as well…

Sorry for the hiatus from posting. I’ve kept to my goal of writing something every day, it just happened to not include posting on here… I’ve been working on a few projects for AvatarMUD the past few nights, involving some tweaks we’ve discussed doing, as well as a new area (and thinking about what I’d like to do to an old one). None of them are done, but I’m taking a breather for a bit, especially since those “tweaks” involve a lot of number crunching, and I’ve been going a bit cross-eyed with it. Avatar and I have somthing of an odd sort of interaction. I’ve been a player there for nearly a decade now, and an administrator for nearly as long. It’s seen me through several relationships, a marriage, a divorce, and several substantial moves. I’ve graduated both high school and college while there, and it’s even been integrated into some of my work (like my Online Communities paper). I’ve made friends through it, I have friends who even got married after meeting through it. It’s an important part of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, though, it does have its problems. I’m not going to get into details at the moment (though I’ve been thinking long and hard on doing a postmortem-like writeup at some point), but there’s definitely room for continued improvement, and some of those frustrations have encouraged some time distancing myself from the MUD. I never fully left, but it would be hard to argue that I didn’t take at least something of a sabbatical. I’m in something of an upswing in activity on the MUD right now, mentoring one of the new imms, writing, and working on a few projects. One of the biggest things I’m doing though (and reasons I’m back in this surge) is that I’ve taken on something of a Don Quixote role. My particular windmills fall into staff-to-staff and staff-to-player transparency, in terms of taking the time to actually communicate first with the general staff, and then also being more open with our players. I’ve also been pushing for more attention being given to casual players, as there has been a slow but steady trend towards “hardcore” (on all the time, min/maxing your stats and equipment, etc) players. I strongly feel that a healthy game is served best by maintaining a balance of both.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn by saying I’m pushing for these things. There’s been a lot of quiet support among staff and players, and I’m definitely not the only one speaking up and pushing for these things. It’s been energizing, nonetheless.

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.

Hello I’m Updating

If you haven’t seen it yet, Sockbaby has finally released the conclusion to the Sockbaby Trilogy. If you haven’t seen these movies, I would highly recommend checking them out… “That Sockbaby is a Sockbaby Jesus, the Sock Saviour of the Sock People,” need I say more?

I haven’t updated in a while, and I apologize for that. In my defense, I’ve been pretty busy. For instance, I am now back in Vermont for a few weeks, UberCon just wrapped up, and so did my semester. On a more geeky front, I managed to break my server severely enough that the CTO of the company had to step in to patch things. Basically, in my recent site renovations, one of the changes I requested concerning the subdomains and how things get redirected managed to create an instance of a bug that hadn’t cropped up in 3 years. I would like to publicly thank Terra, the CTO of FutureQuest, for not only fixing the issue, but doing so quickly and professionally. He (and the rest of the support staff) are the reason I keep on recommending FutureQuest.
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As some (most) of you know, I’ve been on a MUD called AVATAR for seven years now. One of the things that really kept me playing it for so long was the sense of community that exists there. It’s like an extended family in many ways, and was made moreso by getting to know some of the players and other immortals in real life. (For instance, the owner of the MUD, Snikt, is both a friend and a business partner, and we would never have met without the MUD.)

One of our regular players died last night. Last week he had gone in for a routine tonsillectomy, and during the operation they knicked an artery. He was sent home afterwards, but ended up back in the hospital the following night, and slipped into a coma not long after. It continued to get worse, with a period during which he was brain dead for six minutes, causing irreversible brain damage even if he ever awoke from the coma. His parents signed a Do Not Resuscitate order yesterday, and he passed away at 1am last night. He was 19.
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