Me — November ’19 Monthly Update

Greetings! So. A lot has happened since my last monthly update. I visited the Pacific Northwest for the second time, went to BlizzCon 2019, started compiling stuff for a new project, and well, we’ll get to all that.

As always, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, work, school, D&D, video games, reading/listening, and other things.

No blog changes again. To be honest, I’ve attained a bad habit of not writing any posts until Monday night when I would prefer to be in bed. No forward planning at all at the moment!

My writing has been a bit crazy lately. I’m converting my Lisa Stenton play into a screenplay, editing some stuff for the passion project (which has been on hold for a month while we recover from firing on all cylinders for months on end), and putting together Anthology #2. That last one is the lowest priority, and I’m growing increasingly concern that I’m not going to even start making those final edits until late December. If that’s the case, it probably won’t see publication until January at the earliest. Still, I can’t be too upset at myself because I am working on arguably more important things.

I’m still hard at work at the same old job, though things have been looking up lately! We beat our sales goal for the third month in a row, and the owner has been a lot more cheerful and easier to get along with lately. I don’t know if those two things are directly correlated, but I actually suspect it’s a coincidence. Either way, though, I’m not complaining. Happy boss, happy life? Doesn’t have the same ring to it.

School has been fine. No news on that end, though I will say I don’t think that anyone I’ve met this semester will end up being a long term friend. Bummer, but same old same old.

D&D has been fun. We just hit level 9 and completed a little mini arc. I’m very excited for the things to come, but in the meantime I’m simply enjoying what we already have.

Still chugging away playing World of Warcraft. I haven’t been playing Spyro as much anymore, as it is pretty repetitive, but it’s still something I think about almost every day.

As far as listening goes, I’ve got lots to catch up on. I have 3 episodes of Critical Role, one episode of their offshoot game Deadwood, and practically all of the BlizzCon panels, as we only watched one live while we were there.

I may or may not provide a more detailed account of my BlizzCon experience down the road. I still haven’t written a post about my second Portland trip, but that is also on my list.

I also want to just throw out there that, overall, October was hard for me, mentally speaking. There were days where I was hit with a type of depression I had never experienced before—the kind that is dangerous. I think the worst is behind me, but I’m certainly not out of the woods yet. I just wanted to say that things aren’t really getting easier for me. I don’t know if it seems that way or not because I’m on the inside looking out, but, well, here we are. Some days (or weeks) are just easier than others. This last week was easy. We’ll see about the next one.

Stay safe out there.

Life — Social Gaming Climate

Ever since WoW: Classic launched, I’ve been spending practically all of my free time on it (writing and social life—or lack thereof—notwithstanding). And while I know I made a post about it some time ago, the game has had a lot more time to stabilize since then, and I have more things to say about it.

I was afraid that the nostalgia of socializing with people online and making real friendships would be unattainable in today’s world, both because of how gaming itself has changed and how much social media has grown to dominate society in the last decade. But I could not have been more wrong.

More than I could have imagined, I’m forging real relationships with the people in my guild. Receiving and returning favors, trading things we need, talking about random stuff, or taking pot shots at other people in the guild. Admittedly, I’ve practically learned nothing about their real lives, but the climate in Classic WoW allows for so much more of people’s personalities to show than the last several years of the retail game.

In a way that I have never before experienced, your character has a reputation in the space that they’re in. The people you interact with remember your name, so it pays to be good to others. And since the vast majority have the same mentality, (my guild especially,) social interaction in the game is just so pleasant.

We finished our first Molten Core run today, and while it wasn’t quite as impactful as it could have been, I couldn’t help but think of how many thousands of people had walked through those caves before me. How many inseparable groups of friends. How many memories forged in those lava pits.

And now I’m making memories of my own. Not with inseparable friends, but with people I can’t wait to get to know, for hopefully several months to come.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the meaninglessness of my existence. The knowledge that if I simply evaporated, life would go on without me, and very few people would be affected, especially in the grand scheme of things.

But when somebody in the guild needs water for their mana, or a portal to Darnassus, I try my best to be there for them when I can. It’s not that I’m eager to help. It’s that I want to be known as and remembered for my willingness to go out of my way to help people. I find that the satisfaction of helping is often its own reward, and Warcraft gives me a great outlet to do that frequently.

I think about the stories I’ve heard of the relationships that have been forged inside World of Warcraft. Especially the stories of people that are gone. Heck, I wrote one of those stories (partially inspired by real events, but quite fictional).

It’s amazing how easily an entire culture was able to be restored inside a fifteen year old game. It really encourages teamwork and friendship in a way that no other MMORPG has compared to, and for that, I want to thank all the people that brought it to life then, and those that resurrected it now. I wish I had been old enough to really enjoy and experience it the first time around, but I’ll take what I can get. In some ways, it’s keeping me together.

Me — October ’19 Monthly Update

Greetings. I hope you are doing well. It’s finally cooling down here in Southern California (though next week will be in the 90’s again), so for the first time in months, the fan in my room is being turned off. I feel as though I have to relearn what to do about temperature in the winter months every time summer ends. Is it my goal to keep it as cool as possible in the room? Do I shut the window at night so it stays warm inside? Who knows.

Anyways, onto the updates, which I’ll keep simple, as September was relatively uneventful. As always, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, work, school, D&D, video games, reading/listening, and other things.

No blog changes. Once a week suits me just fine for the time being.

As for writing, I’m still working on a lot of things at once, though progress has been slow going. Draft one of the full length Lisa Stenton play is done, but I hate it. As it stands, it is simply a collection of things that happen, not an Aristotelian song. Edits will be on the way, and I still hope for it to finish with that by the end of the year. I’m also still making edits to the anthology, but on that front I’m dragging my feet a bit. I don’t like editing my own work, but it’s a task that needs doing. Still hope to publish Book 2 by the end of the year as well. The passion project is currently on the back burner as we just finished a milestone, and the three of us are all quite a bit burnt out. Our current plans are to get back on track November.

No news as far as work goes. It goes and goes. Where it stops, nobody knows.

School has been fun. The singular class I’m taking has been really enjoyable, and it stretches muscles I don’t use often. Plus, it forces me to socialize, which is fantastic.

In the Aleor campaign (which I am no longer DMing), the Knights of Fire have just reached the city of Aqila, the center of magic and innovation. It’s been a lot of fun to play Acelia as a player character instead of a DMPC. I feel like I’m actually role-playing! In other news, a new campaign is in the cauldron, and I’ve finally figured out the backstory for the character I’m going to be playing, which is exciting.

My free time has still been spent almost exclusively on World of Warcraft, and has been for the last month. That said, I’m still not max level yet. Classic is brutal! I hope to get there by the end of next week. I will note that a brother got me the remastered Spyro trilogy for my birthday, so I’ve been chipping away at that. Lots of childhood memories in that game.

While playing, I’m still mostly just watching Critical Role and Day[9]. The new Magic: The Gathering set just came out, so I’m excited to see what fun new decks he can cook up.

Lastly, I have news! I will be returning to the Portland area very soon! I can’t wait to see friends and family up there, but part of my is unsure how I should spend my time. Should I just relax the whole time or should I use it as a little retreat from work to get stuff done? Only time will tell.

See you next month!

Me — September ’19 Monthly Update

August set the beginning of the end for my schooling (for now, at least), and after this semester I will be done. It had a lot of ups and downs, and I would categorize September as a return to normalcy. I feel as though I’ve finally, truly, recovered my purpose, and though I still don’t have the drive of “Be productive 24/7 and get all the things done”, I’m trying to be okay with relaxing. Between working full time and going to school, pretty much every day is productive. I’m trying to let go of the idea that a day is a waste if I don’t spend at least some time working on personal projects.

Anyways, onto the updates. As always, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, work, school, D&D, video games, reading/listening, and other things.

No blog changes. Once a week still suits me just fine. I like the periodic updates without feeling like I’m chaining myself to the website.

As of now, I’m still working on three different writing projects. For the passion project, I’m currently drafting up story beats and a prologue to the first big main story arc. (The details of that story won’t come for at least two years, as the project would first have to find its feet with a following, and we would have to develop better means of telling such a big story. Suffice to say it’s at least a novel length and needs context before being presented to the world.)

The first draft to Lisa’s full length play is nearing completion, and while I do feel the plot is ho-hum at best, I am proud of myself for nearly completing a work of such length, as I haven’t finished a full draft of that caliber in years. Stay tuned for more details on that, I expect to finish this play by the end of the year.

My second short story anthology is still in the works. Unfortunately, it’s at the bottom of this list. Still, these stories only need edits, so I hope to publish it by the end of the year as my first “real” book. (The first anthology was meant to simply be a means for family and friends to access a hard copy of some of my earliest works.)

Work has been slow going. It hasn’t been stressful, which is good, but that also means its been a little slow, which means my boss hasn’t been super happy. These past few days have been okay, but I still find myself thinking and preparing for any bad news he might present to me at any given moment. I know it’s not a good relationship to have, but it’s just how it is, and it’s something I can bear for a few more months.

School has been a bit rough. The play I had been planning on being a part of didn’t cast me, which was a bit surprising and my ego took a hit, but I suppose that’s a blessing in some regards. Being turned down has made me think about how my supposedly great audition really wasn’t as stellar as I had thought it was, and now I know how I could do it better in the future (not that there will be one, but still). It’s a bummer, but it also allows me to have week nights, which I had planned on giving up for the next few months. So now I’m only taking the one class, which has been a lot of fun so far. I’m trying to be more sociable, which is sort of working.

At the end of July, I passed the reins of the Aleor campaign to one of my brothers, who is taking the party to a new destination. I’m super excited to play as a PC again, and to finally explore Acelia’s personality. It makes me feel a little bad as I’m worried about overpowering the campaign. (The other two players aren’t quite as interested in roleplay as I am, even if they go along with it.) This isn’t a concern I have directly addressed to them, and perhaps it’s unfounded, but I honestly feel like I’m playing the way I want to for the first time. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy DMing—the Octopath Traveler soundtrack has become nostalgic to me for this specific campaign, but prepping a session is a lot of work, and I could use the break.

With the release (re-release?) of WoW Classic, that’s basically been how I’ve spent all of my free time. Two weeks later, I’m level 35, so it’s probably going to be about another month at least before I hit 60, but as per my last post, it’s definitely been the time sink I needed to unwind. Even if the game hates the player.

While playing WoW, I’ve been watching lots of Day9’s Day Off playthroughs, as well as Critical Role. I plan on returning my attention to the Dresden Files soon, (I’m halfway through my reread of #3, Grave Peril), but it takes more mental effort than I’m willing to give at the moment.

I actually don’t really have anything else. After that mental blow I took in June, I feel as though I’ve gotten back to where I was. That is to say, able to enjoy life. Last time it took me six months to get back to this point, so the fact that it only took three this time is a really good sign. Plus, it’s going to start getting cooler soon, and fall is probably my favorite season. Things are looking up.

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.

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.