Life — WoW: Classic

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have any interest in playing Vanilla WoW again when they first announced it. After so many years of updates and so many quality of life changes, I wasn’t convinced that nostalgia could save it. There was just so much that the original game was lacking that current players take for granted. Despite this, I knew I’d give it a try just for its own sake.

It’s odd to think about, but how many games are out there that were released specifically as an older version? Even old games that are re-released get remastered with better graphics and less glitches, but WoW Classic required an enormous amount of effort to unmaster. They didn’t even “digitally remaster” the graphics or anything like that, because obviously they wanted it to be as faithful to the original game as it could possibly be.

And, for good or for ill, I’ve been playing it a lot. Nearly all my free time has been spent playing it, (though I’ve still been taking time to keep up with writing projects, blog notwithstanding) and there’s something that I didn’t expect WoW: Classic to revitalize…

Back in the early days from 2004-2007, I would say that World of Warcraft became popular for two reasons. The first is that mechanics-wise, it was the best of its time. There’s little question about that, all you have to do is look at the numbers. But more than that, it was a great way to socialize. After you got home from work, you would log onto the game, see all of your friends online in the guild, and chat with them. Hang out with them. The game made it so easy to connect with people—as well as make new friends.

Fifteen years later, with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., we are so globally interconnected that people have rekindled relationships with friends they otherwise never would have met again. (For example, I’m Facebook friends with my best friend from 2nd grade, whom I haven’t seen since.) So, at least in the retail version of World of Warcraft, you really don’t need to talk to people. Partly because the majority the content can be done on your own (or at least it connects you to strangers automatically), but partly because the online connections you have don’t need to be done through an MMO like WoW.

This was my main concern. “You can’t restore a game to its original glory when its glory was so contingent on a tight-knit community,” I said. And I still think some of that is true, but oh boy did I underestimate the players.

In a lot of ways, playing WoW: Classic is like stepping into the past. The chat channels are always full, strangers are constantly inviting you to their parties and guilds, making the same jokes, you name it. If you log in at 5pm realm time, you have to wait about an hour just to log into the server I’m playing on because it’s full. In ways I can’t quite put into words, and in ways I certainly didn’t expect, I feel like I’m once again exploring a world with other people. Something I haven’t really felt in probably any other MMO.

This isn’t a review. If it was, I would tell you how awful the quest design is (which is actually worse than I remember), and how much time you have to waste running back and forth from Point A to Point B to get pitiful amounts of money and experience. I’d tell you how everything is hard, and since there’s so many people around, you have to compete against those around you just to get to the next quest, or how you constantly have to fight your inventory just to be able to maximize profits when you get back to town.

I’ve also been struggling with finding a good game to play lately. I needed a time sink so that I can watch YouTube streams and listen to audiobooks, but everything I had been playing was either tired or too high maintenance to multitask. So this came around at the perfect time.

Me — The State of the Gaming Industry

An unconscious but nearly constant frustration I have these days is my growing disappointment with what the gaming industry has turned into over the past decade (or two, depending on how you look at it). Also, before I get into it, just going to say this could easily just be nostalgia talking, but I think at least a few of my points are valid.

The crux of my argument is that I feel that the days of waiting for a game to be as good as it can be before publishing it and releasing it out into the world are long past us. When I think of these games, the first two examples that specifically come to mind are the Halo franchise and most Blizzard Entertainment games (the Diablo 3 launch being an exception). You’ll see why I bring up these two in a minute, but if you know games you probably already know why.

No big calamitous event ruined video games, I’d say. It was a slow, gradual descent into madness as corporations realized there was money to be had there, and started taking over the gaming world. Huge names like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, etc., bought every smaller studio they could get their hands on, and as a result took hold of a lot of video game franchises that were stellar. Games became about money, not games, as mobile gaming became popularized, purchased DLC, and subscription fees all put game developers’ time and effort where it shouldn’t have gone—that is to say, out of the hands of the player. (I will say that mobile gaming in general was a great thing; it opened up a lot of realms of possibilities, but things like Candy CrushAngry BirdsClash of Clans, etc, were never about making a good game, which is the core of a lot of gamers’ hatred towards the genre as a whole).

So as companies realized they could make more money by locking more and more content behind larger and larger pay walls, a lot of focus started to be driven towards constructing those walls when it could have simply been spent making the experience the best it could be.

The worst of all this was that it is not and has never been an issue with the game developers. Everyone wants to make something awesome. Something everyone loves. But when the people in the big chairs say you have to release on a deadline that is immovable, regardless of setbacks and challenges, you will invariably get rushed and unsatisfying results.

Bungie is a good example of this. The Destiny franchise was strangled by Activision’s deadlines and rules, gutting a story without having time to rework it, simplifying content to fit a deadline, and locking all meaningful content behind seasonal DLC destroyed something that could have been amazing. A little digging will tell you that a lot of Bungie’s most iconic names have since left the company in the wake of a lot of disappointing corporate decisions.

This is the same story with Blizzard. Fortunately it took longer for the company to be eaten as they were larger to start with, but slowly Blizzard became less about its three flagship franchises and more about regularly releasing content for half a dozen games. Hearthstone hasn’t had anything innovative in years, it’s just a run of the mill card game now. Heroes of the Storm, which I still love dearly, has lost virtually all support from Blizzard, and it’s abandonment has left what semblance of a competitive multiplayer experience it had in shambles. World of Warcraft has been going downhill for about a decade now, and Overwatch hasn’t been getting the audience it used to now that it isn’t shiny and new anymore. Diablo 4 will inspire some new draw, for sure, but with how many veteran employees have left over the past two years, I can’t help but fear there isn’t much of a future left for what was once a titan of the community.

There are still good games being made. Nintendo is still the same old same old (God bless them). The newest God of War game is a masterpiece, and despite Fallout: 76‘s controversy, I’m optimistic Bethesda will Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI the best games they can be. But the only people I really feel I can trust in the industry these days are indie companies like Team Cherry and Chucklefish Studios. The only downside to this is that indie companies can’t make proper competitive multiplayer experiences without the support of huge servers and a large fan base (and I sort of always need a good PvP game to jump onto every now and then).

I’m not surprised that it’s come to this by any means. An optimistic Kollin would have hoped that Blizzard was above this ten years ago, even if capitalism consumed everyone else. Funny thing is, this nihilism does nothing to curb my interest in working for a game studio as a writer, because if anything I’d want to join an indie studio.

Rambling — The Lack of Long-term Goals

I was talking to a friend the other day (a game developer who’s been working closely in the industry for a few years), and I told him that if I had had my way, my ideal career would be writing up the storylines to video games. My thought was that I could be the lead writer for an indie company, because that avenue has been growing more and more prevalent over the past decade. It wasn’t his intention, but he said something that was really disheartening, which was the fact that the project that he’s currently working on has over forty developers and zero of them are just “writers”.

Now, the thing is, I’m not sure how well his situation translates to my ambitions, because the project that he is on is unannounced, and therefore he can’t tell me about it. It sounds to me like the thing that he’s working on is very mechanic-driven, with little to no narrative. (I’m struggling to avoid using the term ‘game’ here, even if that is almost assuredly what he is doing). You don’t need a narrative for a game like Chess, after all, and for all I know he’s just making Super Chess.

I don’t like facing the fact that he’s probably right—there’s very few careers for a writer in the video game industry, meaning they will be hard to get and more than likely, none of them would be exclusively writing. (I love brainstorming, but there’s no way in hell anyone would pay me to sit in an office 40 hours a week to brainstorm with people and string story threads together.) But the problem with that is that I have no other marketable skills for that industry.

The vast majority of the time I do a pretty good job at not worrying about the future and just live in the present. Building towards and preparing for my life in two years is all well and good, but looking much further than that doesn’t tend to yield very accurate results.

What concerns me here is that I have no real passions. I’m sure that’s not uncommon with a lot of people my age, and so I should count myself lucky that I tend to be competent at most everything I pick up, but what I don’t want to do is be sitting in the same spot 10 years from now wondering when I can start calling myself an adult.

It’s stupid, I know. I’m already an adult and my life started decades ago. Some people live their whole life waiting for it to start, but if nothing motivates me into kicking myself into gear, what is there to do?

I used to think I’d be a published author by now, well into the first few novels of a fantasy series, but as it turns out I get bored with long-form writing and burn myself out. I have this irrational (if commonplace) fear that every aspiration I turn to will yield the same results.

They say not to make your hobby your day job, but my only hobby is D&D, and I already consider it a load of work. Ho-hum. Rambling over.

Me — March ’19 Update

We’re already chugging along through 2019, and I think we’re at the point where 2019 doesn’t quite feel new, but (at least for me), it doesn’t feel like anything has really happened, either. Which is a bit surprising, because there’s been a lot of new and interesting things going on.

So let’s jump on in with the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Not much to say about the current state of the blog. I’m pretty happy with where it is right now, forcing me to write regularly but not often enough to be oppressive. That said, I might want to be upping the content come summer. More on that in a bit.

As you probably know, I don’t really have a whole lot going on writing wise. That story I posted last week was one of my first forays into the world I’ve been working on with some friends, but since that’s a collaborative project, I don’t like to talk about it much. I will say that we plan to have stuff to present some time this year, though, and when that day comes you bet your butt I’m going to be talking about it here. Apart from that, I’m working on that full length Lisa Stenton play for school. Have I mentioned that on the blog? Well, now I have. It’s still in a very rough draft and nowhere near at the level in which I can show to anybody (the public especially), but it’s coming along, which is exciting. That’s pretty much all I’m working on at the moment.

I don’t feel like I’ve been playing pretty much anything lately. I pretty much get home from work or school, try and fail taking a nap, and then work on whatever needs to be done. When I do have actual free time, though, I usually watch videos while casually playing Heroes of the Storm or Hearthstone. I haven’t even been playing on the Switch lately, which makes me feel a little bad, but I know I’ll get my hours in with time. Also, my brother and I have been dedicating a few hours every other week to playing classic games, which has been fun because we’ve been narrating characters to each other in silly voices. Right now we’re going through Secret of Mana, which has been a blast. I’d say “expect a review on that soon”, but I’m realizing I’ve been saying that a lot lately and have yet to review anything in 2019. Oh well.

Listening, though. I’ve been listening to a lot of Day9 and Critical Role. Those two channels combined produce about a dozen hours a week, which is more than the amount of free time I can spend watching YouTube, so that’s pretty much all the media I’ve been consuming. Haven’t listened to podcasts or audiobooks in months, but I’m sure I’ll binge on stuff a few months from now to catch up.

As far as school goes, I mentioned last month that this would be my last semester. Well, that’s not happening. One of the classes I needed got cancelled, and there’s no way around it beyond taking an extra semester. For one class. So all my plans for picking up a second job after this semester and saving up have kind of gone out the window. Sucks, but can’t do anything about it now, so there’s no use dwelling on it.

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Second-to-lastly, D&D is going great. I just finished my first full city, Craydon, which took about 10 hours of work to build. It houses roughly 18,000 people, complete with about a dozen factions, shops, and lots of events and secrets to uncover. The Aleor campaign is going great. I will one day post a campaign diary of the story. When I get around to it.

So, that last thing. I’ve been considering finding a feasible way to take commissions on story writing. Like, fanfiction, micro fiction, writing prompts, whatever. It’s something I could certainly do, but the only thing would be monetizing it in a way that actually provides me with an income. People would need to know and have read my work for that to be any sort of business plan at all, which is not something I can magically make happen. It would be a good hobby for a bit of extra change, but it’s not on my radar just yet. I need to give it some more thought first.

Me — My Goal in Life

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how often people reformulate what they want their life to amount to. The end of the road. The “I’ve made it”. I’d never really had concrete plans, as for the longest time the goal had just been “get real good at worldbuilding and then write some books”. Well, if you really know me then you’d know that I don’t have any real, serious dreams/hopes of ever writing books as a career. I’m just never as interested in the characters as I am with the scope of the world itself.

But even at that point of my life, my true goal has always simply been ‘happiness’. I mean, I’d say that’s everyone’s goal whether they realize it or not. To me, it doesn’t matter what my life ends up being as long as I get to a point where I’m not twiddling my thumbs wishing things were different. Do I expect to ever get to a point like that? Maybe not, but I’d like to get as close to that as possible.

Still, I had never thought about what that life looks like. Obviously, I can’t predict the future and I know my life will change in unimaginable ways, but I think it’s still worth exploring the ideal future the current Kollin would like, and for all the introspection I do in my day-to-day life, it’s a little surprising I had never given it more thought until now.

So here it is.

I have a stable career working on story structure and planning for some big game a la Overwatch or World of Warcraft, or perhaps I’m the main story writer for some smaller company. Maybe the story I’m working on is in a world I helped build from scratch. It’s a steady job, something that keeps me living well within my means but doesn’t allow for extravagances (I’m never going to be the person that takes yearly vacations around the world). I probably also live in Oregon or Washington, because it’s gorgeous up there and doesn’t get nearly as hot.

I’ve got a wife and maybe some kids (2 or 3 or none at all), and every week we invite my brothers and maybe one or two other friends to our awesome game room (where most of my expendable income goes) and play Dungeons & Dragons. I have appropriate monster miniatures at the ready and have been playing the game and practicing long enough to tell crazy cool stories with fun adventures, complete with interesting character voices I fully commit to. Perhaps I even play D&D twice a week so I can play with all the people I want to play with (or heck, I might even be running the fabled West Marches campaign.

I wake up just past dawn every morning feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day, because I go to bed earlier than most people. I enjoy the privacy of every quiet morning with a hot cup of tea.

That’s it. That’s all I want. I’m not optimistic I’ll ever have half of those things all at the same time, but hey. Ideals.

Me/D&D — A Love Letter to Critical Role

Dungeons and Dragons can be played a myriad of ways. I’ve read someone describe it as “being the main characters in a fantasy novel”, but it’s even more open-ended than that. It can literally be anything you and your friends want it to be, it just so happens that most people value simplicity over anything else, and so they more or less stick to the rulebook (which, as Barbossa would say, are more like guidelines—especially the Dungeon Master’s Guide). I came to a realization about Critical Role today, and I thought I would share that realization with all of you in the form of a love letter… Buckle up, this one is going to be a long one.

268x0wCritical Role, a weekly livestream of D&D I’ve already dedicated one full post to, does just that. They play with the rules that they’re given, and only on rare occasion does the dungeon master, Matthew Mercer, ever cook up a new monster or a new character class/subclass. I would go so far as to say that they play a very vanilla version of D&D, and the only thing crazy about it is how gifted the players are at pacing out story beats and telling the tale of a group of people rather than getting from Point A to Point B. Of all the D&D streams I’ve watched in the past, that’s the #2 reason to watch the show.

What’s #1 you ask? Well, before I get to that, I want to step back and talk about why I personally love it so much. Not as the critical observer as I often am whenever I’m consuming media, but as the fan. As Kollin.

I’ve been watching the show since it aired 3 years ago now, and this only dawned on me today. Critical Role encompasses every aspect of my personality, and encapsulates everything I want to have and be. (If you’re lazy, just skim the paragraphs ahead—the bullet points are in bold.)

For starters: storytelling. Obviously, I love stories. I’ve fancied myself a writer for nearly a decade now, and I specifically love epic fantasy. I grew up with World of WarcraftLord of the RingsDragon QuestOblivion, etc. The romanticism of picking up your sword and shield and going on an epic quest is something so inexplicably baked into my being that I literally cannot describe why I love it so much. It’s simple, easy to understand, yet its breadth is endless. In order to tell a complex story in such a world, you first have to start simple and show the audience this new world—explain its rules—and seeing a world where our impossible becomes their mundane is always fascinating to me.

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That ties into the concept of what Dungeons & Dragons is. It is a literal, mechanical fulfillment of the Hero’s Journey. You kill monsters, you level up, you achieve goals, and so on. I love watching or being somebody who has nothing inevitably challenge literal embodiments of evil. By then, you’ve really learned about and grown with the character, and in many ways you’ve watched their life go by. What I like about D&D is that victory is not guaranteed. If I had my way, I would even go so so far as to say that it is less likely than defeat, for how can victory feel empowering if you feel it was given away? (Now, a Hero’s Journey and storytelling clearly go hand in hand here, but I think the distinction is important. Not all D&D needs to be a journey, and not all storytelling is D&D.)

116curiousbeginningsAs for aspects specific to Critical Role, and to explain why it holds a special place in my heart over any other D&D show, the first component to this is the cast of the show itself. Every player in the game is a notable and respected voice actor, and I knew over half of them when I first tuned in (by the sound of their voice if not their name and appearance itself). These people have all had a hand in creating the games and shows I’ve dedicated so much of my life to (the aforementioned World of Warcraft is certainly pretty high on that list). So because I recognized their voices, I was already familiar with them. I already know these people, and this is an opportunity to know them better.

But even more than that, they’re all actors. I’ve been a part of the theatre world for six years now (which is crazy to me), and it literally changed my life. I tell people I was the kid that sat in the back of class reading and hoping nobody would talk to me. They’re always surprised to hear that because I’m so outspoken (they don’t realize that all that’s changed is that I now sit in the front of the class hoping somebody will talk to me). It didn’t necessarily make me more confident—I’m lucky enough to have pretty much always had that—but it did teach me to have fun by not caring about looking cool, stoic, and professional. I’ve found that people will hold a lot of respect for those than can throw caution to the wind. It’s a skill not many have. So watching the cast put on silly voices and make dumb jokes really speaks to me. Not because I’m an audience member admiring their skills, but because I’m a fellow performer that appreciates their techniques and the obscure theatre-related jokes they sometimes toss out at each other.

Lastly, and by far the most important reason that this show is the best—these people are all best friends. It’s really heartwarming to watch a group of people have a blast with each other. To share in the absurd humor as well as the very real tears that have happened over the years. You see people who so overtly love each other and the community they’ve created, and watch as they empower each other every week, and it maxresdefaultreally has an effect on you. It’s really difficult not to feel like part of the reason that they do this show is for you—and not in that “we do this for the fans” sort of way, but in a genuine way. They show fanart on stream and have hired fans to be part of the tech and have quite literally built a community founded on love and respect for one another as much as D&D. Sure, not everyone is as loving or respectable as the cast, but the vast majority of voices I’ve seen in the YouTube comments or on Reddit have been supportive and, in general, awesome.

I have a lot of dreams for the future. Some of them I know I will never achieve, simply because it’s not what life has in store for me. But if I have one goal, it’s to be happy. And every week when I get home from work or school to watch Critical Role while relaxing with a cup of tea, I can’t help but think.

One day I’ll have that sort of life. I don’t envy them for having it, because I’m grateful that they’re willing to share it with the world. And one day I’ll surround myself with people who bring me nothing but joy and we’ll share tears of both joy and pain. I may not be there yet, but if they can do it, I can do.

Learning! — Are You Creative?

A while back I wrote about what creativity is. I have a different way of looking at it because my improv experience has taught me that most people think of creativity as the ability to pull things out of thin air, but it’s just not. You’ll have to read that post to hear my full thoughts on that, because today I’m going to talk about something slightly different.

I would say a lot of people also think of personality traits as sliding scales on a Sims game. (I really hope that’s how Sims games work or else I’m going to look real dumb here.) You have 2/10 laziness, 7/10 attractiveness, 5/10 intelligence, etc. Creativity is no different, right?

I actually think it is very different.

All my life, I’ve had things swimming around in my head. Dragons single-handedly fighting off armies of thousands. Powerful spell casters throwing hurricanes and tidal waves at each other, sundering the landscape around them. An evil king increasing the gravity in his throne room to literally force those around him to kneel.

There is always. Always. Something like this in my head—even if I don’t have the willpower to put it to paper, like right now.

This is just part of the way that my brain works, so I was a little surprised when I found out that not everyone thinks like this. To be honest, it still seems a little strange sometimes. But maybe that’s just it.

Maybe having a creative mind isn’t something you put a scale to. Maybe you either have it or you don’t. This is only an inkling of a theory, so I could be way off base, but perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in here somewhere. Hear me out.

If you split it this way, turning it into a dichotomy, it becomes easy to differentiate the sort of people around you. It’s easy for me to split everyone in my writer’s group between creative and non-creative people.

Now, being creative doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with scenes of a book. Maybe it’s hearing new melodies or seeing magic in poetry. Whatever it is, it’s breathing life into something new.

It is important to note that when I say non-creative, it isn’t an insult, merely a descriptor of how our brains function. In fact, some of the best writers in my writer’s group were far more technically inclined. They weren’t creative at all.

You may or may not agree with me, but thinking of people in this way has helped me better accommodate for the strengths and weaknesses of those around me. Putting creative people in technical fields can yield interesting results, and the opposite holds true as well.

You could probably immediately tell me whether or not you’re a creative person with my definition, and if you start thinking about your friends and family, you might be surprised to discover that their profession is something contrary to their personality. Well, you might think it’s contrary, but in actuality they’re just bringing different things to the table.

Just because it’s unconventional doesn’t mean it won’t work.