Me — December ’19 Monthly Update

So. I’ll just say it. As far as my mental health goes, October and November 2019 put me in the worst state I’ve ever been in. I experienced lots of emotions I didn’t know I was capable of, and, well, it was rough. Only two people have any idea how bad it got, and not even they know the true extent. Luckily now, nobody has to know.

I felt like I was actively drowning and that in my flailing to grab anything—anyone—I would merely drag them down with me. I almost lost a very important battle before I even realized I was at war. I learned some things, but most terrifying of all was that it came and went with no specific warning or trigger, and with that knowledge comes the fear that it could strike again. I think the worst is over, but since I don’t know how it happened, I also don’t know what I can do to prevent it in the future. Either way I’m glad it’s behind me. I just wanted to let you know why I was so vacant last month. I’m still in recovery.

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

I’m still going to do my best to update once a month. I have some story ideas and some blog posts I’d like to share, which doesn’t happen a whole lot. Maybe next year I’ll have more to talk about, but if that doesn’t happen, I’m actually going to take the blog off the monthly updates, as the cadence of once a week has suited me well for several months now.

I’m still chugging away at the same writing projects. My Lisa Stenton screenplay has finished a preliminary second draft (though I still need to make a few passes to “finish” it as a full draft), and I’m probably going to put that on the shelf soon. I still don’t really like it, even with all the changes I’ve made from the first draft. There’s something about the world of Lisa Stenton that doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t like the magic system (or lack thereof) and how the supernatural ties to it. It’s the only thing that has ever held me back from writing more of that story, and the only reason this screenplay kind of works is because it has very little actual magic.

Other than that, the second anthology is probably not going to be published until the beginning of next year at this rate. With all that’s happened, I feel like I’ve lost a month and a half of writing time, but it is what it is.

Work has been fine. I’m not going to share details, but we’ve actually had several strong months in a row, as far as sales go, which is increasing morale and making the whole atmosphere a lot easier to bear.

Not much to say about school, but I only have a few classes left before I finish… maybe forever. That hadn’t occurred to me until I just wrote that. These next couple class sessions might be the last time I’m in that environment period. At least for a long while. Huh. By this time next month I will hopefully be sitting pretty on two AA degrees.

D&D has been going great. We’re almost closing what I’m calling Chapter Three of the Knights of Fire campaign. (The only one of five that I am not the DM for.) We’ll be taking a break from that for a couple of months to play in another short campaign before we resume with this story and, by extension, my role as dungeon master. I’ve already got the juices flowing as to How Chapter Four will start and what the main story beats will be.

I’ve been devoting the vast majority of my time playing WoW: Classic still, and let me tell you, in the last month, our guild has become a family. I can’t put it into words in a concise manner, but… I love the feeling that I’m part of a team and that people are talking about me when I’m not around. That’s part of my goal for regaining the sanity I lost in October and November. I’m planting the seeds that will make me feel like I’m important to people. I wouldn’t say I feel like I’m an essential part of the crew, but… I hope I will be in time.

Not much to say about listening. I’m keeping pace with Critical Role as well as I can, and that’s about it.

Not much else to say.

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.