Last Best Hope

Bel Folks Stuff #7 – Late Night with Jaedia

Rift_FOXFOXFOXFOX I have been pretty horrible about keeping any semblance of a schedule with the Bel Folks Stuff podcast.  Some months I release early in the month, and others I barely squeak out an episode before the month finishes.  This month is definitely the later as with other events going on I struggled to find a good time for me to record this bonus podcast.  I am extremely thankful that when I found a time my good friend Jaedia was gracious enough to make it work.  What makes it even more special is the fact that Jae is recording rather late in the evening.  It seems she doesn’t actually sleep, and might be some kind of new fangled android or something?  Joking aside we had a lovely conversation about all sorts of random things.

Since both of us have suffered with depression and anxiety for years, we touch a bit on that.  We also of course talk about gaming and what we have been up to lately.  We also get into the rules of how long you have to live in Wales before you have to start calling yourself “Welsh”.  Jae is recently married so we talk a bit about the transition from living together to being “married” that we both went through.  Jae at one point had five different blogs so we talk about the depths of her insanity and ability to compartmentalize.  We also talk about the happy medium we have found with being a general interest blogger.  It was a fun show to record and I hope a fun show to listen to as a result.

[Download Episode Here]

Last Best Hope

WildStar64 2014-05-14 17-53-01-005 Almost since launch folks have been foretelling the Doom of Wildstar, and not for lack of good reason.  The game had extremely anemic launch numbers, and as was announced during the latest NC Soft earnings report its box sales had trickled to a slow drip.  The current rumor mill of Wildstar going free to play was really spurred on by the announcement of their Mystery Box promotion.  So yesterday when they announced that the game would be shifting to a free to play model, this should have surprised no one… not even the most die hard of pro-subscription Wildstar fans.  While some Wildstar players are tending to wallow in the doom and gloom that comes with these sort of statements, I tend to view this as a potential new lease on life.  For whatever reason gamers appetite for a monthly subscription is next to non-existent.  Even World of Warcraft recently introduced the Token system allowing players to convert in game gold for subscription time much in a similar way to Eve Online does.  This leaves the last pure bastion of the subscription game being Final Fantasy XIV… and I would not be shocked if we see them implementing some sort of gil to token system eventually.

I am not saying the age of the subscription is over, but I think the age of subscription being the only option just might be.  I personally prefer to pay a single monthly fee for “all you can eat” buffet access to the game.  Some players prefer to try and play the game for free regardless of the restrictions.  Others prefer to purchase features “À la carte” and quite frankly I think in the current gaming economy a game needs to support all three models in order for it to gain permanent traction.  Wildstar I feel suffered from the same issues that Elder Scrolls Online did… namely that it launched during an exceptionally tight window of viability.  Too many things were being released during too short of a window and it caused the players to flit gleefully between everything that was coming out.  I know I personally left Elder Scrolls Online to play Wildstar and left Wildstar to play Warlords of Draenor.  Sure I set down permanent roots in Final Fantasy XIV during that time as well…  but most players do not do a great job of juggling more than one game at a time.

Free to Play is Not Doom

WildStar64 2015-04-17 20-28-57-98

More games have converted to the Free to Play model than I care to keep track of, and in no case has it really signaled a lasting doom for the community.  If anything the opposite is true as a flood of new players come rushing into the community over a few months.  When a game releases as free to play it becomes the shiny new thing in the view finder of the player base, and for a period of time everything old is new again.  This is likely the phase of doom that most players are dreading, because it means that there will be more than a few “how I mine for fish” folks flooding into your gated community.  The thing is… this too shall pass.  Not all of these new people will stick around and find footing in the game, and often times the most heinous of players tend to be the most fickle as well.  Within six months you will have a more stable population filled with the people who really do intend to set down roots in your community and stick around awhile.  Many of those players will probably even convert to subscriptions, but simply didn’t want feeling like that was their only option.

The free to play model is ultimately a good thing for many games because if nothing else it lowers the barrier of entry for new players.  This makes it that much easier for you to be able to recruit people into the game to join you.  I know with Final Fantasy XIV once they opened the fourteen day trial accounts, it became all that much easier to get my friends to give the game a “second glance”.  This also means that probably every player that played at launch is going to fire the game back up and revisit their characters.  I personally found the game greatly improved when coming back recently and rerolling as an Exile.  I don’t regret my decision to come back, nor do I regret snapping up cheap boxed copies of the game for months of gametime and bonus items.  The game is really rather good, and my hope is that with me stepping out of World of Warcraft for awhile I can devote more time to playing it.  If you find yourself in a situation where you are surrounded by “doom and gloom” folks, my suggestion is that maybe you find a more friendly place to hang out.  Over the long haul this will be a good thing for a game  that was so desperately trying to avoid falling into a death spiral.

The Podcasting Bug – Part 3

Putting it Someplace

Today is the final post in my series highlighting some of the decisions that you need to think about when starting a podcast.  In the first post I talked a bit about various formats, casting options and some of the design aspects.  In the second post I dove straight into recording your podcast and editing it.  In this mornings post I plan on handling the least exciting part of the equation…  hosting it somewhere that other people can listen.  If you wanna be a rock superstar and live large…  well you are going to have to dump those shows somewhere reliable and fast.  There are so many options here that it will make your head spin but I am going to try and do what I have done to this point and just talk about a few of the potential paths.

Dedicated Podcast Hosts

When I ventured down this road I noticed that pretty much all of the podcasts I listened to had one thing in common… they all seemed to be hosted by a service company called “Libsyn” so for ease of use that is who I chose to use for AggroChat.  These companies are dedicated to a upload and forget it business model automating a lot of the process to make it easier to integrate with services like iTunes and Stitcher radio.  One of the things you are going to realize quickly is that you have no real idea just how much space you need.  For example the basic Libsyn account is $5 a month for 50 megs of monthly storage.  What that means is that you can upload roughly 30 minutes of new audio each month before incurring additional overage fees.  For a weekly show I knew without a doubt that this was not going to be enough.

When I set up the AggroChat account initially I went with the $15 a month 250 meg of monthly growth account, thinking that surely this was going to enough.  The problem there is that there were a few weeks where I quite literally had to wait until after the monthly reset before uploading that next episode.  Finally I have settled on the $20 a month account for 400 mb of storage.  This gives me some breathing room, and allows our podcasts to fluctuate in length naturally without being extremely concerned about running out of space.  Ultimately what you are going to have to figure out is what works for you.  If you figure 50 meg per 30 minutes of podcast that means you can record at a decent bitrate and hopefully have a bit of wiggle room when it comes to your monthly allowance of space.

LibSyn

LIbSyn honestly seems to be the gold standard for podcast hosting.  The problem is it is rather pricy as compared to say a normal blog web hosting account.  In part this is because they work slightly different.  For starters LibSyn has no concept of maximum monthly transfer.  They are only concerned about how much file growth you are generating each month.  Additionally they host your back log and archive indefinitely, which is extremely nice.  We’ve recorded 56 episodes and all of them are available to listen to on demand, which means they are hosting roughly five gig of audio for us.  The other big thing they provide is really good statistics and analytics about who is listening.  I would highly suggest if you consider them at the very least going with the $15 a month 250 mb plan.

PodBean

In every market there is a “Bargain Provider” and just like that statement usually means… you ultimately get what you pay for.  When you compare I am paying $20 a month for 400 mb worth of monthly growth through Libsyn, it seems like an absolute steal that you can get an $8 a month unlimited bandwidth and unlimited storage account through PodBean.  The problem is that they have a fairly abysmal reputation for reliability.  The Better Business Bureau has them listed as an “F”rating, so you are more than likely taking at least some risk.  However if you really cannot afford a better option this is there.  I would love to hear thoughts if any folks out there are actively using this service and liking it.  Most of the complaints I have heard centered around customer service.  Considering the price I looked at it seriously for “Bel Folks Stuff”.

SoundCloud

The service I am the least familiar with to be honest is SoundCloud but from what I can tell a lot of folks are having good luck with it.  In part the way its pricing is structured allows you to ease into using it, and as such get your feet wet before committing to a monthly fee.  The free account allows you to upload 3 hours of audio.  Now this is not per month, but this is 3 hours of audio period.  For $6 a month you can get a total of 6 hours, and then upgrade to unlimited to $15 a month.  When you compare the raw hosting power to my Libsyn account this seems like the clear winner, but for me personally LIbsyn still comes out ahead in the number of things it just takes care of for me.  SoundCloud offers basic RSS support but from what I am tell it is not quite as optimized.  Still this is a really solid option especially if you are considering hosting multiple podcasts off the same account.

Self Hosting Audio

You can at least in theory host your podcast off a traditional blogging account.  The problem being is that when your web host sees the usage of folks constantly downloading MP3s from your site, chances are that they are going to hit you with some sort of bandwidth overage fee.  Because of this what might be a perfectly reasonable and awesome place to host your blog, might be exactly the wrong sort of place to host a podcast.  Libsyn is not terribly flexible when it comes to adding new podcasts without adding additional subscription fees.  So when I started kicking around the notion of “Bel Folks Stuff” I opted to try and host this myself.  For some time I had a cheap unlimited storage and bandwidth hosting account that I used for some development on the side.  As a result I opted to simply host my MP3 files there, and link to them directly from WordPress.

The problem with this is once again you get what you pay for.  While my unlimited host is cheap… and unmetered it is also sluggish at times.  As a result I am telling you about a method that I am contemplating abandoning or at the very least tweaking how I do it.   The host I am using is Arvixe which offers a $4 a month unlimited transfer and unlimited storage account.  Overall it works well enough for my purposes but I have noticed that roughly once a week I have at least one minor outage in service.  These outages are usually less than five minutes according to my wordpress uptime monitors, but they still happen.  Now this could be for any reason including legitimate maintenance… or simply because they have over sold their resources.  In whatever case it is something you should be wary of when looking at any “unlimited” account.  There is almost always a small measure of “snake oil” in those sales pitches.

BluBrry Powerpress

The heart of this process relies upon a WordPress Plugin called BluBrry Powerpress.  In its free form this plug-in takes care of the functionality that Libsyn does with its iTunes optimized RSS feed.  In its paid subscription version it also adds in the robust analytics and statistics.  For “Bel Folks Stuff” I chose to simply use the freebie version.  I manually upload the MP3s to my web host, and then once activated I can link to the media in a traditional wordpress post.  The end result feeds out as a podcastable rss feed, and visually embeds a player on the page.  This works pretty flawlessly, and were I using a different host I would even maybe think this is the preferable way of dealing with a podcast because it gives me the maximum control.  The nice thing about this plugin is that when I chose to create my own custom AggroChat.com wordpress site, I can still use it to cleanly embed media from libsyn into posts.

Advertising The Show

Now that you have your hosting set aside and hopefully your website created to embed your work, now it is time to talk a little bit about getting your show out there.  This is something I honestly do a pretty poor job of myself.  I just happened to stumble into an affiliate network through the close ties I made thanks to the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  The Gaming and Entertainment Network was essentially formed out of NBI in a way, and were it not for that happening my shows would likely still be unaffiliated.  I do a pretty horrible job at the business side of blogging and podcasting, so hopefully someone will come along after writing this guide and tell you all how to actually recuperate your costs.  That is something I have yet to master, because this hobby is absolutely a money sink.  Regardless though you are going to want some listeners and I am going to talk about a few of the avenues I use.

Twitter

Twitter is an absolute no brainer.  Make an account for your show, and syndicate every new show over twitter.  You can get as complicated here as you want or be as generic as you like as well.  Ultimately in a perfect world you want to hashtag in some of the topics you spoke about during the show.  I have yet to really master the art of this without making the advertisement sound anything other than smarmy.   We publish on Sundays, so I tweet out the link early that morning.  Then on Monday I tend to re-tweet it again for anyone who missed the first posting and is looking for something to listen to at work.

iTunes

I do not use iTunes at all, but man it seems like every other person on the planet does.  There is apparently a meta game to getting your podcast placed in iTunes perfectly and there are all manner of guides to timing the launch just right.  Truth be told mine is only up there because my friend Jaedia asked me to put it there.  The act of getting it up there is relatively simple and Apple provides a list of specifications that the podcast needs to follow in order to qualify.  From there you simply have to wait the requisite three or four days before it shows up in the index.  I think for me it happened in about two but depending on backlog of podcasts it has been known to take as long as a week.  Like with anything you can get higher placement if you convince your friends to go into iTunes and vote it up.  I was shocked to find out that apparently our podcast has a five star rating.

Stitcher

The other big player in podcasting directories seems to be Stitcher Radio.  Just like iTunes they have a series of requirements for getting a podcast listed, but have a handy dandy FAQ outlining them.  Essentially it reads your RSS feed and re-syndicates it on their network.  The only problem with this is that it seems to absolutely butcher my podcast.  It sounds like a garbled mess running off their servers, whereas iTunes seems to leave everything as is.  Just like with iTunes someone asked me to list my podcast there because they liked using the stitcher mobile client to listen to podcasts so I did just that.  Really uncertain if I am actually getting any traffic from this but it can’t really hurt.

Go Make a Podcast!

So over the course of these three guides I have done my best to share the small amount of knowledge I have about how podcasting functions. The thing is I am still very much learning as I go because I don’t feel like this is the sort of the thing you can actually “master”.  You might be sitting back and thinking…. god that is a lot of information to take in.  The positive is that I knew absolutely NONE Of these things before I dove head first into recording our first episode of AggroChat.  So my hope is that I can give someone who is on the edge and considering jumping into this world a bit of a head start.  These are the things I wish I knew beforehand, and I have talked about some of the choices I might have made.  Ultimately podcasts are extremely unique beasts, so yours can be whatever you want it to be.  Again if you have any direct questions I am more than happy to answer them, but my hope is that maybe just maybe someone is going to read this mess and get the courage to start.

The Podcasting Bug – Part 2

Making it Happen

Yesterday I talked at length about the design that goes into a podcast.  While sure some people quite literally just start recording without much forethought, the best and most successful podcasts put quite a bit of effort into figuring out just how they want to go about the process of making their vision come to life.  No matter how much prep work goes into the planning, there comes a point where you have to sit down and functionally record your podcast, and there are all manner of issues that arise.  Most of us that go down this path lack the formal training with audio engineering to fall back on, so there is quite a bit of “sink or swim” that happens.  Having gone through some of these decisions myself I thought I would talk about some of the hurdles that comes from the recording and editing of your podcast.

Recording the Podcast

The hardest part of the equation quite literally is how exactly you are going to record.  If you can get all of the people you are needing to record in the same room it is a relatively easy situation of setting up a bunch of USB microphone inputs and having them all get recorded by a single piece of software.  The problem being most podcasters have no physical contact with their co-hosts meaning that we are somehow going to have to make this whole thing work over the internet.  When dealing with the internet you have all the standard problems of latency and network stability.  Today I am going to cover some of the methods of recording remotely that I have seen or heard working very well.

The Skype Standard Method

Skype has managed become the gold standard as far as internet telecommunications software goes.  While this started off as a relative rogue horse with the acquisition by Microsoft it has become absolutely ubiquitous.  The problem being…  it was not designed to record audio with.  In fact Skype has no default method for recording either side of the conversation, and I would assume this is by design to keep away from any potential legal hurdles.  The other negative is that excellent sound recording software like Audacity was not designed to work with something like Skype.  As such you have to figure out how precisely you are going to make this work.  Essentially the first hurdle you have to decide is if you are going to try and record individual speaker tracks or if you are going to record the resulting mixed audio.

Single Audio Tracks

Recording individual audio tracks is without a doubt the “purest” method of recording a podcast.  This means each person is recorded separately and then can be mixed at a later date to create the final merged product.  This means you can do all manner of post processing on audio levels, clearing up jitter and pops without effecting the integrity of other tracks.  The problem is…  isolating each speaker.  There is software that will supposedly help you with this method but more than likely you are going to need to do a significant amount of research and testing to get it working correctly.  The most tried and true method that I know of for this is the “everyone records themselves” method.  Meaning that essentially each participant launches their audio recorder of choice and at the end of the show passes off their audio track for editing in later.  There are a number of issues with this concept, not the least of which is that uncompressed waveform audio is way the hell too large to email.  Secondly editing in multiple tracks is a mind numbingly boring process.  If you record an hour long show expect to spend one hour per participant plus another hour or two on miscellaneous issues while trying to merge all this audio together by hand.

Merged Audio Tracks

The far more common method is that you simply “get everything right” before you start recording and record one merged audio track that represents the basis of your podcast episode.  Generally speaking this involves getting a test call going first, and then setting up again to record the “real call” that will be the final product.  Of note… my experience with Skype comes from co-hosting on other podcasts, and I chose not to go with this method myself.  Some of my advice may not be absolutely accurate so before you set down this path do some legwork and research it yourself.  The idea is that you start a Skype call and then have a third party software “catch” the audio and record it.  Since this has become the default way of doing podcasts for many people you can imagine there are a lot of options out there for recording.  Here is some of the software I have heard decent things about.

Voice Server Method

The method that I never really hear anyone talking about that has worked very well for me personally is recording off of a voice server.  Both Teamspeak and Mumble offer the ability to record client side audio of what is actually being said on the voice server.  Both servers we have used had their positives and negatives.  The key negative of mumble is that all of the audio is recorded in a mono format, making the sound a bit hollow.  The positive there however is that you could choose to record each participant to their own audio file allowing you to merge them together manual later.  Teamspeak offers stereo output but merges all speakers into the same audio stream.  Ultimately you have some of the same issues that arise with Skype in that you need to make sure that all of your speakers are as “clean” as possible before you actually record.  Since we record on the voice server that we quite literally hang out on every single night, then this portion was pretty simple for us.  There are a few things you really need to think about before going down this path.

Audio Codecs Supported

The server that we happen to record on supports a large number of audio codecs.  This allowed me to set up a custom server channel and tweak the audio settings until I got a product that I was happy with.  Currently the channel we record in uses the Opus Voice codec with a quality rating of 8, and this is something we had to tweak down a bit until we found a happy place.  In order to maintain that quality of stream you need an uninterrupted 7 KB/s transmission but thankfully for the most part all of our participants have really solid internet.

Lock Down Your Channel

If you are going to record on an existing server that is already active, it is important that you have to lock down your channel.  It is extremely easily for some well meaning person to pop into your channel out of curiosity and completely destroy your podcast.  In theory you could get by with just naming your podcast channel something obvious like “Podcast Channel”, but I suggest taking the extra step of password protecting the channel.  This allows me to hand the password out to regular guests and simply drag limited hosts into the channel manually.

Turn Off All Audio Queues

This one is absolutely important.  Sure it is nice to know when someone leaves or joins the server but for the purpose of recording a podcast make sure you turn off all of this stuff.  Someone popping on and off the server will be recorded in your final output stream.

Priority Speaker

This one has bit us in the ass a few times, but if your voice server uses a priority speaker system… make sure that ALL participants in the conversation are artificially elevated to priority speaker status.  How priority speaker works is that it essentially lowers the volume of low priority speakers to make sure that the priority one is heard.  This works great in a raid situation where one person needs to be delivering orders, this does not work well when you are expecting multiple people to be chiming in on a conversation.  I am administrator on our voice server so I cannot turn off priority, so I just elevate everyone else to the same level while in the podcasting channel.

Google Hangouts Method

This is the method I honestly know the least about but I believe this is how Cat Context has been recorded for eons.  You can check out this guide but I will try and cover the basics.  The idea is that you start a Google Hangout On Air inviting all of the members of the show.  This is recorded and afterwards you can export the video in MP4 format.  From there you can take the MP4 and edit in an audio editor like Audacity and extract the audio only portion that then becomes your podcast.  The benefit here is that instead of only having audio you also have video recorded of the hangout that can be uploaded to a service like YouTube allowing you to tap into a completely different audience from the traditional podcaster one.  The negative is that you are putting all of your faith in Google Hangouts and hoping that the service will not have any hitches during the recording.  In my own experience playing games over Hangouts, and having people drop in and out of the call…  this one makes me more than a little edgy.  I just wanted to throw it out there as an option because I know lots of people make this one work, and work extremely well.

Editing The Podcast

No matter how pristine you think your final recording is.. you will ultimately need to edit it somehow.  Ultimately you can easily spend ten times as long editing the podcast as it took to record it.  I personally go for a minimal editing process to safe my own sanity, but I know some folks that can take upwards to a week to get the final edit ready to go.  The more you edit the faster you get, so expect your first few podcasts to take a significant investment of your time as you get used to your tools.  My suggestions will be based on Audacity the extremely flexible open source audio editor.  It works equally well on Windows, Mac and Linux and actually does an amazingly clean job of letting you edit just about anything you could ever want to edit.  To make it even more extensible it supports a number of standard audio plug-in formats.  Like I said above I take a pretty minimalistic approach to editing AggroChat so I am going to focus only on the features that I actually use.

Normalize

image The very first pass I make is to normalize the audio.  This helps to minimize the difference between the loudest volume speakers and the quietest volume speakers.  Now you can completely squash any difference in volume if you really like but you end up with robotic sounding audio.  I have personally found that I like the defaults pretty well.  This is an extremely fast edit so should not take a lot of time, but the final result can be very noticeable.

Noise Reduction

image This pass is primarily for if someone I am recording with has a significant amount of white noise or audio “hum” when they record.  For the majority of the time recording Aggrochat this was actually “me” that I was having to edit.  This pass is a little trickier because of the way this tool works.  Ultimately you need to highlight an area of the recording where the noise you want to extract is evident and use it as a sample using “Get Noise Profile”.  From there you run the complimentary command of “Reduce” to essentially cycle through your audio and filter out that noise.  It does a fairly good job but the more noise you filter, the lower the overall fidelity of your recording gets.  This really needs a fine touch because if you filter too much you end up with washboard sounding audio as a result.

Truncate Silence

image If you have ever edited audio the thing you notice after the fact is just how many awkward pauses we make as human beings.  Going back and finding these and eliminating them is pure tedium.  I spent weeks doing this manually until it finally dawned on me.. that this should be something that is pretty easy to automate.  After a little research I found the “Truncate Silence” tool and it is going to be your new best friend.  What it does is essentially even out the silence in your track truncating any silences over a set amount and padding any that are under a certain amount.  These are the settings that I go with for AggroChat, for Bel Folks Stuff I move it up to 400 and 600 respectively to allow a little more room for contemplative silence.  Ultimately you will have to figure out what setting “feels” best to you.

Limit Your Futzing

You can literally spend hundreds of hours if you really wanted to obsessing over the wave form audio.  I have stared at ours enough that I can literally tell you which person is speaking at any given moment from the shape of their waveform audio.  Basically the end result is going to need to be something that you can live with, but at the same time does not take over your life as you keep editing and re-editing.  To make my life easier I have created these files that I refer to as the “Canon” file that includes everything a show needs minus a given weeks audio track.  I set these up once and then just paste the new audio into them before saving them out.  You too are going to find little tricks that you can do  to speed up your process.  On a good night I will have the MP3 audio of our podcast ready to post within thirty minutes of finishing recording.  The longer the recording the longer the edits will take, especially as you start doing things like noise removal.  Those take a significant amount of processing time.  Now that you have your audio recorded and ready to go, you are going to need a place to put it.  Tomorrow I am going to cover the hosting of your podcast and some other bookkeeping tasks like publicizing.  My hope is that someone will find this whole process useful and maybe it will spur on a few new Newbie Blogger Initiative podcasts as a result.

The Podcasting Bug – Part 1

Love of Spoken Word

I grew up with I guess what you would call a love of both the written and spoken word.   The moment I got access to my first copying machine, was the moment I first tried to create my own comics and magazines devoted to whatever I happened to be into.  When I got my first word processor I went through a renaissance of sorts in trying to publish information about the games I was playing and distribute it freely among anyone who was willing to take it off my hand.  So when I started blogging significantly later in life it was of no real shock.  I had been “trying” to publish my own content for years, just doing so with limited success.  I would be willing to bet that other bloggers “of a certain age” can tell very similar tales of youthful exuberance.  While I grew up in the MTV generation, my sentiments will more than likely always lay with the era when print media was king.

Another constant in my life however was Radio and Public Television.  I spent most of my childhood watching Nova and Mister Rogers Neighborhood, and when I rode around in my fathers truck it was almost always tuned to the radio station playing Paul Harvey.  When I started choosing my own radio stations to listen to I found the best use of my time to listen to NPR and use that morning lull as my way of catching up on the world.  From there I discovered so many broadcast programs that were more entertainment than education, and I was absolutely hooked.  In many ways podcasting is the extension of this love for the spoken word.  Some bloggers catch the bug, and feel like they have to move into doing something more than just writing.  This happened to me a little bit over a year ago and now I have two different podcasts to show for my obsession.  Many other attempt to maintain three for four different shows devoted to different segments of their experience.  If this is happening to you, I thought I would take a moment this morning to talk about some of the issues I had to deal with when approaching my first show.

Format

One of the first decisions you are going to have to make is what exactly you want your show to be about.  Just like with your blog you have to make a decision as to what you want your format to be.  Single game or single topic blogs and podcasts will be significantly more popular than generalist ones, however in my experience your audience will also be considerably more fickle.  If you listen to a Wildstar podcast religiously for example, and you stop playing Wildstar…  then your reason for listening to that podcast also goes out the window.  If you listen to a more general podcast you ultimately end up listening for the cast of people, and those sorts of listeners tend to be significantly more loyal.  That said all of the biggest podcasts that I know of tend to be devoted to a very specific niche.

For me personally I knew that there was no way in hell I would be turning this into a career so I was not extremely concerned about trying to get the biggest possible audience.  I am interested in a lot of different things, as are my friends… so for me it was a no brainer that we created AggroChat to reflect the conversations we already had on TeamSpeak on a regular basis.  In my experience podcasts tend to fall into four broad groups as far as the actual format goes.  I have listened to great podcasts that fall into each of these categories, and not so great podcasts as well.  Ultimately you have to pick whatever works best for your cast, which leads us to the next point.

Topic Focused

I chose to refer to this as topic focused, but more often than not this tends to mean a “News” show where the hosts cover a series of predetermined topics.  This requires you to keep good show notes and that they get circulated before the actual recording of the show.  Believe it or not we actually started AggroChat trying to follow this format, but quickly realized we were not the “planning” type people.  These tend to be the most “predictable” shows as far as recording time goes, since you have a clear list of goals that you want to accomplish in each show.

Conversational

This is ultimately the format that AggroChat became, because we are bad at having structure.  The idea here is to record a somewhat natural conversation with a group of people.  Topics flow in and out of the discussion and segway naturally.  The problem here is that this only works if the folks you are recording with are very very familiar with each other.  While the first format relies heavily on planning, this format is all about interpersonal chemistry.  I personally love this format, but I am sure there are just as many people who are annoyed by it.  This is not a format you can carry off if you are assembling a group of people that do not regularly spend time together.

Narrative

This is the podcast that tells a story.  There are many different versions of this but probably my two favorites are This American Life and Radio Lab.  This is the format that requires extreme planning but adds a whole new dimension…  that is significant amounts of post production editing.  When it works you have this wonderful audio journey through the story you are trying to tell.  When it doesn’t work, you end up with jarring gaps.  This is one of those formats that I aspire to try some day, but just don’t have the technical ability yet to really make it work.  If you are an audio editing wizard though this might be your natural format, mixing in clips and music to support the tale you are trying to weave.  The folks that can do this one will have my constant and undying respect.

Interview

This format is probably the most straight forward and at the same time extremely flexible.  The concept is simple, in that one or more hosts asks questions from one or more guests.  The challenge is in scheduling a constant flow of new guests to sit down and record with you.  You can put as much planning into this format as you need to, or you can do it completely off the cuff.  When I record “Bel Folks Stuff” for example I ask a few standard questions but the rest is taken from queues in the conversation and I try and go wherever the conversation wants to lead.  When Braxwolf records Beyond Bossfights he seems to have a master plan laid out in exactly what he wants to ask his guest.  Both work and both are completely viable methods, so ultimately you have to figure out which version works best for you.  Chances are you can even make a hybrid approach work a well.  This format relies mostly on the ability of the hosts to “coax” a performance out of their guests.

Casting

There are lots of different styles of podcasts and each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses.  The more people you add into a podcasting cast, the more chaotic the end result.  The fewer people you have, you lose some of the depth of having multiple opinions chime in on topics.  The “Solo” podcast is its own beast that I personally am not a huge fan of.  It always feels like I am being lectured to more than joining in on a conversation.  I am going to talk about a few of the styles that I have experienced and some of the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Solo Podcast

This is the traditional “one man show” to borrow the showbiz term.  You have an idea that you want to run with and you just start recording.  The problem here is that like I said above these shows tend to be extremely unbalanced sounding.  The solo podcast works well if you are telling a story, and going to be referring back to audio or music clips to help flesh out your narrative.  These shows also work amazingly well for five to ten minute “news update” type formats.  Where the format tends to grind on is when dealing with a thirty minute or longer show of just one voice talking.  The positive is you can literally record whenever you want to, and are not limited by other people to make your ideas work.  The negative is…  you have to carry all of the weight on your own shoulders.

Duo/Trio Podcast

I feel like the majority of podcasts fall into this category, where you have a preset group of two to three voices that present topics every single week.  This is the cornerstone of the podcast for a reason, because it works extremely well.  In three voices especially you can get just a wide enough range of opinion to make most topics work, but not have too many competing voices to let a discussion descend into chaos.  The challenge here then becomes scheduling.  Unless you can find a time every single week or whatever your recording schedule happens to be…  it becomes a juggling act trying to get all of the key players in the room at the same time to record a show.  I know many shows that will record multiple episodes in the same weekend and stagger their release to make up for scheduling conflicts.  I know personally we have done this twice with AggroChat and they made for some very long evenings.  Once you get into a routine then more than likely things will stabilize and get significantly easier.  Duo works well but the problem with Duo is when one person is gone… you have a solo podcast.  With a Trio you can limp through with just two people relatively successfully.

Ensemble Podcast

The ensemble cast is the most forgiving when it comes to scheduling conflicts.  It tends to draw on a large list of potential co-hosts and arranging as many of them as you can on a given night.  This is ultimately what AggroChat has turned into over time having had ten different people who have appeared with semi-regular frequency during the course of our time recording it.  Ultimately however in order to make it work you are going to need a large group of friends who are interested in podcasting.  The strength of this format is that you can incorporate new people easily and in a pinch you can record with significantly fewer people than normal.  The problem being that once you get over five people on a podcast it starts to get extremely chaotic.  We do our best to mitigate that problem with our format, but ultimately AggroChat is what it is… a rambling chaotic mess sometimes.  I feel the casting is extremely sustainable as recently Rae expressed interest in stopping the podcast for the time being, and we were able to work in a couple newer voices in her place.

Interview Podcast

This one is a very different beast in that essentially it is a solo podcast… with one additional guest that varies each time you record.  This is the format I chose for my Bel Folks Stuff podcast, and it has its own set of interesting challenges.  The key problem for me has always been scheduling people.  When dealing with a few people on a regular basis you can pick a single time to record that works for everyone.  When you are constantly changing who your “partner” is on a show by show basis you end up having to work with  the new persons schedule.  This has been pure hell for me at times considering a lot of the people I have wanted to talk to are in vastly different time zones.  This has completely destroyed any semblance of a release schedule for me, and as a result I have purposefully kept from submitting the show to TGEN because I never know when I will get time to record one.  I personally find the format gratifying  as a host because it allows me to have interesting long form conversations with “folks” that I care about.  Due to all of the problems I would highly suggest against this being your “primary” podcasting format.

Release Schedule

As with blogging the key to building a reliable audience is through regular and predictable release schedule.  There are people who start their day by reading my blog, because they know it will always be there waiting on them.  Similarly there are a series of podcasts that I start listening to Monday morning as I begin work because I know they will be reliably waiting on me.  As such I have found that the interval is not nearly as important as simply sticking to something.  I personally jumped in the deep end and started immediately with a “weekly” show.  This means every single week like clockwork you have to crank out a show, edit it, and get it posted and publicized.  AggroChat requires less editing than most shows out there, and still without a doubt this dominates my Saturday night and Sunday morning getting things ready for the world.  There are many nights that I go to sleep about 2 am after editing, and then still have to get up the next morning and deal with the publicizing.  This is the last point I am going to talk about today so I thought I would talk about a few of the release schedules that I have seen work.

Weekly

Like I said this one is at times sheer madness.  You are signing yourself up for a radical shift in your lifestyle to incorporate making a podcast into each and every week.  Depending on the type of podcast this can be easier or harder.  For example we use an ensemble cast, and Kodra is more than willing to “host” but I have never really cross trained anyone else on the whole “creation” process.  The positive here is that people LIKE listening to new content every week.  Your audience will grow faster because you are creating more content for them to consume.  We even have some insanely loyal listeners that have gone back through our entire back catalog of new 56 episodes.  Just realize that the weekly show is a massive challenge, and you have to be fairly stubborn to make it work.

Bi-Weekly

I hate the term bi-weekly because it means two things… twice a week or every other week.  In this case I am referring to the every other week schedule that several podcasts use.  This is still a strenuous schedule but gives people an “on” week and an “off” week to recuperate and plan things around.  I have been exceptionally lucky that I have a wife that supports the madness I am involved in, but for a lot of married couples locking away a night every week is going to be a problem, especially once you factor in children.  The bi-weekly schedule tends to be this happy medium making it equal parts flexible and manageable while still churning out enough content to get folks “hooked” on your format quickly.

Monthly

There are a myriad of issues with the monthly format.  For starters you have to be extremely careful when you schedule exactly when you want to record.  Theoretically you need to record with regular interval meaning you would need to release the first week of every month or some similar schedule.  The problem is life often sabotages you, and while it sounds good right now that we will record in three weeks…  there might be a birthday or an anniversary or some other hurdle that gets in the way.  I am horrible at keeping calendars so there is no way I could do a regular monthly show.  I release “Bel Folks Stuff” on a semi-monthly schedule, but I have actually missed an entire month before.  The big problem I see with a monthly show is that in theory you have to always have a great show.  When you do a weekly show, you can recover from having a shit week pretty easily.  When you are only releasing twelve shows a year… they all pretty much have to be golden to keep folks interested.

Recording Your Podcast

When I set down to talk about all of this I quickly realized that I would have to chunk this up over the course of multiple posts.  In this first part I focused on the “design” of your podcast.  In the next part I am going to focus on the nuts and bolts of recording your first episode.  The final part to follow after that will talk about the nuts and bolts of hosting.  My hope is that this inspires folks to go off and create their own podcast, but also inspires them to realize there is a lot of planning that goes into making it work.  As I am drafting the next pieces I would love to know if there are any specific things that you would like me to take a detour through and cover.

Foundation of Folks

Statistics Funk

One of the problems with creating content is every now and then you will have something that you are very proud of, but the community doesn’t seem to be all that interested in.  That is not to say that I am not proud of most of the things I am involved in.  I love what this blog has become, and I love AggroChat…   but that seems to be less about me and more about the group dynamic that we have assembled.  However I feel like “Bel Folks Stuff” was one of those projects that I poured more of myself into than most.  The idea was that I would grab interesting people and have natural conversations with them where we discussed whatever happened to be on their mind.  I feel like for the most part that mission has succeeded, and I am very proud of the six episodes we have so far.  In the episodes I have talked with:

  1. Gypsy Syl
  2. Rowanblaze and Sctrz
  3. Alternative Chat
  4. Petter Mårtensson
  5. Qelric
  6. Liore

Unfortunately after the release of the latest episode I did that thing you are never supposed to do… I did a deep dive into the statistics.  In many ways this secondary podcast has been a labor of love, and right now it gets several orders of magnitude fewer listeners than AggroChat.  So I question…  what I did wrong with it?  Maybe I have simply done a poor job of advertising it?  It isn’t part of The Gaming and Entertainment Network so that right there is one strike against it.  I release them with questionable regularity, which is another strike against it.  I also question whether or not it was a good idea to treat it as separate from the other things that I do.  I have wondered for awhile if I should have just released it as part of the AggroChat content stream.. as a sort of bonus episode or something.  In any case… since looking at the stats I am exceedingly bummed about the limited audience.  Maybe there just is not the appetite for listening to gamers rattle on?  Anyways… this isn’t going to necessarily stop me from making more but I also feel like my guests have been awesome in their willingness to do the show…  when there really isn’t much benefit from it.

Foundation of Folks

For some time now, I’ve had various people tell me that I use exercise any connections I have within the games industry to turn the “Folks” podcast into an industry interview show.  I suppose I could do that, but the problem is I am afraid that would fundamentally change the nature of the show.  It might be idealistic, but I wanted to create a show without pretense about its purpose.  I wanted to have people on and just talk, and whatever topics we happened to cover naturally is what we would end up talking about.  If I have people on the show that are known for this or that, there is the pressure to ask them about what they are famous for.  By the same token, I would feel obligated to give them time to plug whatever hot project they happen to be working on.  At that point we have a traditional interview show and not what I was hoping for.  Maybe it is strange but I was hoping to have authentic conversation with a bunch of people, and almost forget for a time that we were recording the conversation.

I guess I question if I could talk “industry” folks into that sort of notion.  So far the people I have had on the show I have a deep connection with already.  These are people that I have gamed with, blogged with, or exchanged more tweets than I can count.  Right now it feels like I am just having a conversation with a friend.  I worry that I cannot keep up that dynamic with people I am not quite so personally invested in.  Then there is the problem of how would I even sell this notion to someone, when I obviously cannot guarantee much in the way of listeners.  That is the obvious sell for most big podcasts… is “talk to me and I can give you X number of ears”.  I don’t have that going for me on any level.  So yeah right now I am in this existential funk about “Bel Folks Stuff” and even though I love doing it… I am questioning if it is worth the scheduling headaches and the extra work on my part to keep it up.  I want to keep it up, but damn…  just bummed.

Second Static

ffxiv 2015-04-05 19-27-29-95 Last night when I got home… I was wallowing in my frustration over the podcast…  so much so that I forgot that last night was to be the inaugural running of the second static group within the Free Company.  The guild has been insane, and we are apparently so active and so prevalent that we jumped from 16th to 6th in the FFXIV free company activity standings.  I will say for some time there has not been a single city I have been in that I did not at least bump into one person with the [GREY] tag.  In order to help get the second static off the ground, myself and Kodra has offered to fill in as whatever role they needed us in.  I ended up main tanking to Damai’s off tank as we managed to work through several content items.  So while I started the evening in a bit of a malaise I finished it pumped about the prospects of having two active static teams within our free company.

We started off with Garuda Extreme, which I know very well…  just not well enough to explain adequately apparently.  This always seems to be a thing for me… I can do something, but I can’t necessarily tell you how to do it.  For awhile we tried using the Duty Finder to fill our missing slots, but honestly had significantly more luck creating a party in the Party Finder.  We met a few nice people on the server as well.  We managed to clear Turn 1 and Turn 4 of Binding Coil of Bahamut as well.  I was pleased that we one shot 4, since I remember having a significant amount of trouble with it initially when Ashgar and I tanked it.  To add to the confusion for the sake of this arrangement… the roles were flipped from what I am most used to.  The positive is… I feel like I could actually farm four over and over in an attempt to get my bear mount.  I need to figure out which piece of high allagan I am missing so I can focus down those.  I would really love to wear that full set of gear.  Anyways the end of the evening was definitely better than the day, so I am thankful that I have such an awesome group of people to spend my game time with.

Race to the Bottom

Bel Folks Stuff #6 – A Good Friday with Liore

Listen to the Episode Here

I had these grand ideas about having two episodes during the month of March to make up for the fact that I missed a February episode.  That never quite worked out.  I had a handful of people that I had talked to but scheduling never quite worked out since I try really hard to squeeze these episodes in whenever my wife is otherwise busy.  With the weekly schedule of AggroChat and the various guest spots I end up getting called on to do, it means she is having to bend her time around me quite often, that I try my best not to make this podcast also do that.  As such I tend to schedule people on a whim, and I am super thankful that the amazing Liore was amicable about that sort of timing.  I literally talked to her Thursday to see if she was available, and we recorded on the afternoon of Good Friday since we were both off work.

Liore and I have known each other for what feels like forever.  She’s been in my guilds, I’ve been in her guilds… and for a period of time in Rift we raided together multiple times a week.  During all of this time we have forged an unconventional friendship.  It feels like we end up on opposite ends of so many discussions, but at the end of the day we do so with the greatest of respect for the other.  During this podcast we talk about all sorts of things, but one thing in particular we highlight because we found it extremely humorous.  Both of us have been getting commentary from the community about a supposedly rivalry between the two of us since we do similar columns now for gaming websites that are technically in competition with each other.  I had a blast spending the afternoon talking with Liore, and had I allowed myself to do so I could have easily spent another full hour chatting away.  I always love it when the conversation flows naturally.

Race to the Bottom

wowtokenresults Yesterday we saw the release of the WoW Token out into the wild, and the demand for gold greatly outstripped the availability of people snatching up subscription time.  At the beginning however it was skewing the other direction.  The token started at a prematurely low 30,000g and I watched it yesterday raise up to 35,000g before taking a big dive into the territory that it is currently sitting.  Someone thought ahead and created an excellent stock market like tracking system on https://wowtoken.info/ and you can see the bottom starting to drop out.  Thing is…  most players already have an active subscription for the moment.  It was not until the end of the month when in other games with similar systems we started to see the demand finally climb again.  My advice, just like Wildstar is to snatch up these cheap tokens now because once the system matures a bit you will be paying significantly more per month of subscription.

The reason why I feel like this is the largest benefit of a system like this is it removes the temptation of players to turn to less than legitimate sources of currency.  When I wrote about this a month ago, my research at the time indicated that in the aftermarket this same $20 was buying players around 100,000 gold.  This means the legitimate route now costs you roughly five times as much as the illegal market, which is still going to be a huge draw for some players.  The WoW Token is a failure for Blizzard unless they can squash the third party gold sellers by starving them of their market.  Right now the token is new… and a lot of people are trying it out.  Given a month or two of sanity they will realize that it is greatly overpriced.  I guess for me, I won’t be doing this token unless I can buy a couple and get a big ticket item like an expedition yak, one of those things I have always wanted but was much too far out of my price range.  I have a feeling that this is going to be the case for your average customer.   If by the end of the month we do not see a massive spike in the price of a single token… then I will be extremely surprised.

End of an Expansion

ffxiv 2015-04-07 17-25-22-55 Now for the hardest part of my morning… how exactly do I talk about the wrapping up of the storyline in Final Fantasy XIV 2.55 without giving any spoilers.  I chose a very careful screenshot out of the stack of them that I took because this one really doesn’t say much about what is going on.  In the most spoiler free fashion I can, I am going to talk about my impressions of the events.  I have to say Final Fantasy XIV knows how to end an expansion.  This is hands down the most satisfying and at the same time most anxious ending to an expansion I have ever experienced.  In games like World of Warcraft everything is generally resolved at the end, and all the loose bits tied up… because the intent is for that expansion to live on its own forever without actually continuing the storyline in the next expansion.  In Final Fantasy XIV…  every aspect of this closing means massive ramifications that will hopefully be resolved as we travel into Ishgard.  Instead of wrapping up the lose ends neatly… for each one that is concluded two more ends stand open waiting to be explored.

The awesome thing is… this game has proven that it WILL actually explore them.  How frustrating has it been in the past as games have hinted at things, that never saw fruition.  After all there are still I believe three portals under Wyrmrest temple that go nowhere, that will likely NEVER go anywhere because the narrative has moved on past the original plans.  I expect that each event that happens during the closing of “A Realm Reborn” is going to factor heavily into a future storyline chain.  It was a pretty shocking and brutal conclusion, but it makes me damned happy that I am playing this game.  I quite literally did not see this one coming, and I highly suggest you push hard so that you can see this content before the expansion.  I pushed through in part because my friend Ashgar said that the trailer that was releasing this Friday supposedly spoils some parts of this impact.  As the credits rolled they showed a number of scenes from the past block of content… and I have to say sometimes you lose sight on just how much we accomplished during “A Realm Reborn”.  I am extremely excited to see what happens as we turn our eyes “Heavensward”.

MooCowadin

Bel Folks Stuff 5 – Evening with Qelric

We are going to put on our timey wimey stuff hats and pretend that this show is being released during the month of February, as it was originally intended.  When I record a Bel Folks Stuff I tend to give the victim as much time as possible.  So I approached Qelric back in January to talk about this show… and she every so graciously accepted.  The problem is that life happened in the time between, with her getting an absolutely horrible case of chicken pox towards the beginning of the month, and me dealing this this insane bronchitis mess towards the end.  The result is we recorded the “February” episode in March…  and that I supposed is just fine so long as it came out in any form.

Qelric is quite literally one of the only youtubers I watch with any regularity because she brings to her craft a style that you don’t generally see on youtube any more.  She presents extremely content dense videos in a news like format, making them far easier for me to digest without the rambling exposition.  If you are not familiar with your videos, I highly suggest you check them out.  On top of this however Q is just a downright interesting person, and we have interacted for what feels like years.  I had a delightful afternoon/evening sitting down to record this episode.  Before we knew it a couple of hours had passed and we had a mammoth hour and a half long show.  The awesome thing is… even after the mic stopped recording we wound up talking for another thirty or forty minutes.  I love it when the conversation is natural and flowing.  Hopefully you will all enjoy this as much as I did recording it.

[download the podcast]

Moocowadin

Wow-64 2015-03-02 06-25-36-19 Yesterday was a surprisingly busy day, with dealing with the publishing of two different podcasts and a normal blog post.  As a result especially while waiting for Qelric to get online, I wanted to play something but did not want to get too terribly engaging.  With the introduction of the Heirloom system and the 6.1 patch, it has greatly increased my desire to alt.  My number one frustration while trying to level a character is trying to make sure I have level equivalent gear.  I realize that gear is never as important as I seem to make it, but I like to have at least as good of a weapon as possible while  pushing through the levels.  Now previously I had some heirlooms, but I had to choose which character would get to use them.  Even with the ability to send them cross realm, it became a mess trying to track who had what and I was constantly afraid I would end up losing heirlooms in the mail…  because I have done this before.  The new system however is pretty much ideal for me, since I can generate copies of heirlooms on any and all characters.

When The Scryers server merged with Argent Dawn I set about creating eleven place holder horde characters, since I did not know how the actual merger would work.  It makes me extremely happy that I can have 11 Alliance characters on Argent Dawn and 11 Horde characters on The Scryers…  and use them to play with my AD Horde friends.  I have always been one of those players that tried to span the faction divide whenever I could and through various community efforts I developed just as many bonds on the red side as the blue.  I always feel like a louse however for never really spending much time leveling a character on the “other” side.  As a result I started working on Belgrace my Moocowadin yesterday while waiting for Qelric and while recording the podcast.  As of this morning I am now level 18 and starting the Ratchet area.  It is insane just how fast the levels come when you are completely kitted out in heirlooms.  The only slot that I do not have is the ring, and I am simply not a good enough fisherman to get that.

A Confidence Boost

Wow-64 2015-03-01 11-55-03-53 Over the last few weeks since the launch of the Final Fantasy XIV 2.5 patch I have greatly tapered off the amount of time I am spending in World of Warcraft.  It has become a Tuesday/Thursday experience for me largely which means simply showing up in time to raid.  Now granted I am logging in periodically throughout the week to run garrison missions but in the grand scheme of things that takes ten minutes or so at a time, and I am really not online that long.  I’ve felt kinda horrible because one of my long time friends has been slowing improving her ilevel gear wise on her priest.  Every so often she would give me an update and yesterday she told me she had hit ilvl 626.  I knew the answer before I asked it, but I asked her if she had managed to do any LFR yet?  As I suspected she said no, that she was wary of raiding… and didn’t think she was ready for it.  I hopped on Lodin my hunter, that could still use gear from Highmaul LFR and offered to queue with her for moral support.

Finni had raided before during the early days of World of Warcraft, and as such the bulk of her experience dated from the 40 man era.  So when she thinks “raid” she equates it to super serious business.  Fortunately and unfortunately at times…  Looking for Raid is anything but serious business.  Within what felt like fifteen minutes of queuing we were through the first section, and she got a much needed confidence boost… and thankfully a little bit of gear.  I remember the first time I queued for Looking for Raid upon coming back during Pandaria.  I was scared as hell because the concept of a raid for me too was “serious business” time.  Thankfully we have this wonderful system that allows players without the time to dedicate to at least be able to get in and see the fights in one form or another.  She ended up walking with a few upgrades, and I did as well…  and can now queue Blackrock Foundry on my hunter.  I think we both benefited from yesterday equally, because it seems like she won’t be quite so frightened of the LFR queue.

#WoW #Paladin #BelFolkStuff

H1Z1 Early Access

Bel Folks Stuff #4 – An Evening with Petter

This month the Bel Folks Stuff podcast focuses on the amazing Petter Mårtensson.  Petter has been an extremely busy man, and has had a ton of side projects over the years.  In his normal fashion he even offered to guest on Aggrochat if we could ever work out the time zone issues.  Our listeners could know him from any number of places.  For several years he worked for the european gaming magazine GameReactor both as a writer and as an on-air anchor.  Similarly while dormant for several years, he is the man behind the Don’t Fear the Mutant blog.  On the podcasting front he has been extremely active in the CSICON network serving as a host on several different shows including Claims the Normal, Three MMOSketeers, Enochian Frequency and most recently Who’s Who.

In addition to all of this he was involved in creating the A Tale of Internet Spaceships documentary talking about the culture behind EVE online.  Now he is also writing a monthly Final Fantasy XIV column for MMOGames.  Like I said… he is an extremely busy man and I am thankful he took the time to sit down with me and have a length conversation…  mostly about non-gaming stuff.  I think the most interesting thing about the conversation was the delve into Futurism and the things we would love to see.  We also geeked out a bit about Doctor Who, which apparently is something that happens on every podcast now that he hosts the Who’s Who show.  Definitely was an interesting conversation, and I hope you all enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed recording it.

Listen to the Show

H1Z1 Early Access

H1Z1 2015-01-15 22-48-18-17 Yesterday Sony Online Entertainment launched the H1Z1 early access.  This was originally supposed to go live on Steam around noon, but various delays pushed it back into the late afternoon.  When I got home from work it was available and I figured $20 but satiate my curiosity was a fair price.  However the game apparently is very much “not quite ready for primetime”.  The above screen is what greeted me when finally after my World of Warcraft raid I fired the game back up.  Early in the evening I was not able to get into the server select screen at all so I guess in a way it is progress?  I am sure this is another case of “underestimated demand” and I seriously cannot blame them.  Throwing a game up on Steam early access as your initial forray into alpha… is pretty damned daring.  Right now the game has roughly 2000 reviews, roughly half of those are positive and half are negative, so if only a small fraction of the population comments…  that means they sold a ton of early access copies.

I love the concept of a zombie survival game…  the problem is I don’t want to have to deal with the world pvp aspect of games like Rust and Dayz.  So when this game was announced I had zero interest, until it was confirmed that there would be PVE only server environments at launch.  Hell I didn’t even mind that the original icon in the server browser list was a teddy bear.  I am a carebear, and I am okay with this notion.  While it is immature to taunt the player base that has proved to make up the overwhelming majority of MMO players…  I can deal with it.  I am sure H1Z1 is going to be a mess for the near future, but hopefully at some point it will be playable and interesting and allow me to play a base building game in a walking dead style world.  If it gives me that… then I am largely going to be happy with it and will consider it $20 well spent.

Mar’gok Attempts

Wow-64 2015-01-15 20-12-37-89 Early in the week on Tuesday we had a really phenomenal night or raiding, meaning we cleared 6/7 on normal and 2/7 on heroic.  This freed up last night to work entirely on Imperator Mar’gok.  While we got a bit of a late start due to key players running a bit behind, we accomplished just that, an entire night of attempts.  Mar’gok is one of those fights with a lot of moving parts, and it is simply going to take a lot of repetition before we have our “click moment” when everything falls into place.  We however did make good strides in that direction.  Essentially there is one transition that is wrecking us… that we need to figure out how to do more smoothly.  Once we have that transition down I think we will down the boss.  All of that said we did manage to start getting him down into the 40% range each time, which tells me we are likely on the cusp of victory.

It feels really good to be doing current content in World of Warcraft.  During my time back in Pandaria I attempted to raid with a group that was in theory several content patches behind.  There is just something demoralizing about doing that, and especially since we never seemed to make any real forward momentum that would lead me to believe that at any time we were likely to get to current content.  When LFR served as my primary source of upgrades…  I had to ask myself why was I even bothering with the constant nights of wiping.  This expansion however has been a completely different experience.  I really want to kill Mar’gok but I have the utmost confidence that we will, and likely before the Blackrock Foundry raid opens.  I am just bummed that I won’t be around Thursday night next week… because more than likely after reviewing the logs we will make some tweaks and finish this raid.

Wishes for the Next Year

Failed Futurism

bttf2 Over the last few days I have made a few posts recounting some of the positives and negatives of the last year.  Today I want to place my eyes forward towards the next year and what I hope it might bring.  One of the problems with futurism is that generally speaking it is always going to be wrong.  2015 was the year that Marty McFly went forward to in Back to the Future 2, and that movie made a ton of guesses about what the future would look like, most of them being completely wrong.  That said we are at least getting a form of a hoverboard next year, granted we will have to pave the streets in conductive metal for it to actually work properly however.  The thing I find funny is how no work of futurism ever seems to get just how incrementally fashion evolves, because I doubt any of us are going to start wearing chokers made of bullets or a darth vader breastplate.  Instead of futurism I am going to focus on my hopes for the year to come.

Gamers Stop Being Assholes

While yesterday I spent my post reveling in just how awesome my gaming community was over the past year, the larger community has not really been an awesome place to be.  Our very small niche of a community has figured out more or less how to exist in a relative state of harmony.  Outside the gated community however, things are pretty much in a constant state of martial law.  My hope is that this year gamers can figure out that it is cool to have lots of people playing in their sandbox, that may or may not look the same or want the same thing as them.  Diversity only serves to make things more interesting, because really as we learned during the 90s…  just how many doom clones can we really stomach?  At the very least I would love that gamers would stop endangering the lives of others with their misguided crusades.  We are all here, we all play games…  lets enjoy that fact and quit trying to claim this person or that person isn’t as much of a “real” gamer as you are.

More so than all of this… I would really love it if my natural instinct when confronted with having to play with a group of strangers is not to clench my sphincter and prepare for the worst.   I would love to be able to approach grouping with random players the way that I used to before I started turning off every public channel in any game I was playing.  There is a great post from Liore summing up a lot of these feelings of dread.  Mostly I feel like a lot of gamers have forgotten why we started playing games in the first place…  not for the competition, or not to be the best at something… but because we used to honestly have fun doing it.  I have tried really hard to embrace this spirit of fun and positivity, but you can only be told “you fucking suck” so many times by a random stranger before you stop trying to interact with anyone that is not already connected to you.  I’ve branched out and made a lot of friends, more than I can possibly list…  but for the most part when I play a new game, I shut off all the public channels and hang out with people I already knew before going into it.  This year… I would love this to change.

Settling Down for Awhile

Wow-64 2014-12-30 20-19-36-17 For years I have been searching for something, a magical spark that seems to have been missing for me in MMO games.   Over the last several years I have tried extremely hard to make this game or that game my new home.  I tried to make Rift work, and tried to forcibly bring all of my friends along on that journey with me.  I tried to do the same with Final Fantasy XIV, and Wildstar, and Star Wars the Old Republic, and The Elder Scrolls Online.  In order for that spark to exist two things need to be there…  firstly there needs to be tons of things for me to do, and an insane amount of goals and sub goals to keep my mind busy and engaged.  Secondly there needs to be a solid and thriving community to keep me engaged socially.  This past year I found that spark, but in two different places… both of which appeal to slightly different sides of me.  As a result I am splitting time between raiding in Final Fantasy XIV on Mondays and World of Warcraft on Tuesdays and Thursdays… and occasionally Wednesday fun runs.

ffxiv 2014-12-16 06-40-03-38 So far this mix works extremely well for me.  There are things I like about both games, and I like the freedom of being able to flip back and forth between them at will.  Right now I am spending the bulk of my time in Azeroth, but I think that is a counter reaction to the fact that I spent the last three months exclusively engaged in Eorzea.  I feel no less connected to one when I am spending time in the other.  I am playing both games and I am happy to be doing it.  My hope for this year is that by the  time we reach next December that I will still be playing both games happily.  I am in amazing raid groups in both, and the content is keeping me engaged in ways that I feel like only one game would not be able to satisfy.  I have a feeling that when new content is released in one, I will shift to mostly playing it…  and versa vicea.  My hope is that I have found a combination that works for me… and I can settle down for a long while here.  I’ve gotten tired of the constant game jumping and want some stability for awhile.

Personal Projects

2014 saw me getting involved in a bunch of projects other than the Tales of the Aggronaut blog.  I kept up my rigor of daily posts and in April I celebrated both my 5th anniversary as a blog, and my first year of daily posting.  This coming April I will be able to celebrate a second year of daily posting and another year as a blog.  My hope is throughout all of 2015 I will be able to keep up this daily posting thing.  This past year also saw the launch of the AggroChat podcast along with my friends Rae, Ashgar, Kodra, Tamrielo and sometimes participants Dallian and Raven.  Over the course of the first season we recorded 37 episodes of Aggrochat, and I think that is pretty damned solid.  We made it over a lot of the awkward hurdles, especially considering I knew absolutely nothing about making a podcast before we started.  Those first few episodes are mighty painful to listen to at this point, and I am sure after another year the entire first season will feel the same.  We are anything but professional, but we have a large enough following that I feel like we must be doing something right.

This year also saw me start a fledgling experimental podcast called “Bel Folks Stuff”.  So far three folks have been gracious enough to have a conversation about “stuff” with me, and I am thinking overall it works pretty well.  The podcast has a much smaller footprint as a whole, but I am okay with that.  In January I have another individual lined up for another conversation, and hopefully another in February.  Basically this is just an excuse to have a  conversation with friends and push the record button while doing so.  Other than this there is another thing looming on the horizon that should be exciting for 2015, but I don’t really want to talk about it much until I am ready to announce it.  Essentially my hope is that 2015 will be as awesome of a year for my side projects as this year has been.  I could not do this without all the awesome people supporting me, and the constant help of my friends who always seem to be willing to follow me down whatever rabbit hole I fall into.  Thanks to you all for taking this journey with me… I may not know what the next day will bring…  but I know I will always have you along with me.

An Evening With Alternative Chat

Bel Folks Stuff Episode 3

This morning sees the release of the third episode of my experimental side podcast, Bel Folks Stuff.  For those who have not followed this development, as the title graphic says I have conversations with interesting people about the stuff they are into.  So far I’ve had such conversations with Gypsy Syl and Rowan Blaze and his wife Scooters.  Both of those were really awesome conversations and I suggest you go back and listen to them at your convenience.  This morning however I am releasing an episode that I have been looking forward to with another good friend the Godmother of Faff behind Alternative Chat.  As a strict devotee of the Faff lifestyle, or at the very least an aspirant to the lifestyle… I always appreciate her bringing the term to public consciousness.  The funny thing is… we really didn’t even talk about this during the podcast.  I believe in letting the conversation go where the conversation goes and we filled up an hour of time chatting away about various bits, and probably could have filled up another hour doing the same.

Of note for this episode I also wanted to make sure that the podcast was available on both iTunes and Stitcher radio to help those folks out who prefer to listen to podcasts through those avenues.  I admit I was nervous with this episode because Alt herself has such an amazing production quality for her own podcasts. I felt like there was no way I could live up to that standard.  That said I feel like this episode is really solid, and that maybe just maybe I am starting to get a hang of what exactly this thing is going to be all about.  I don’t really sit down with a fixed number of questions or anything of the sort, but instead just try and keep the conversation flowing as best I can.  With Alt the conversation flowed naturally even though later in the cast she admitted to having notes of her own.  I still feel like we maybe got more than a few moments of genuine spontaneity there nonetheless.  Speaking of spontaneity, I am always trying to evolve as a person and as such would love to hear your comments on how this side project is working.

Rifftrax and Raiding

With the shit storm that happened Tuesday with the Argent Dawn server, we didn’t actually get to start raiding as a group until last night.  Unfortunately I had other plans, and had to miss the raid.  Some of my co-workers and I have started this tradition of sorts of going to the RiffTrax live shows whenever they happen.  Granted they are not truly “live” for us as in performed in theater.  Nonetheless each time I go I think to myself “I have never laughed this hard ever” and then the next one trumps it.  This go around they were riffing on a show they did during the 5th season of MST3K, a strange version of Santa Claus that involves Santa, Merlin, and some Christmas Devils…  you know the standard fare.  It turns out that apparently the film originally hailed from Mexico where maybe it made more sense?  The final product is this insane dubbed over feature with so many absolutely absurd moments that they had pretty much endless ammunition to make fun of it.  If you are really curious you can check out the MST3K version that someone has dumped on youtube, but apparently it was edited down heavily… and they had all new jokes to make at the movies expense.

As far as the raid goes they apparently had a pretty great night of their own right.  It seems as thought they managed to two shot Kargath, and then down The Butcher a well.  The sounds like they made some good progress on Tectus as well, so they are hoping to easily down that next Tuesday and progress to the next boss.  We apparently ran the raid on personal loot and the RNG gods were good to a lot of players.  I know Rylacus walked away with three pieces of gear, which means he can officially no longer complain about “never getting drops” for the remainder of this expansion.  Admittedly he has always had pretty shitty luck with getting drops he actually needs, but the moment a rare assed mount drops… his dice immediately improve.  I can’t really complain because I too have a collection of rare mount drops, but most of those were diligently farmed… and the only one I actually won when it was relevant was the Fiery Warhorse Reins.

Less Communicative

Last night after my post yesterday, I had a friend check in on me to make sure I was doing okay.  It made me realize that I am doing a pretty bad job of reaching out to say “hey” to people lately.  This friend has been logged into WoW at the same time as me for many nights, but I have been stuck in my own little world quite a bit.  Right now I have a batch of things that needs to be wrapped up at work before going on my holiday vacation after the 19th.  Then there is the daily blogging, and the two podcasts that I am keeping going… one of which records weekly.  After that it seems like I always have some OTHER side project to work on, like my upcoming post for Syl’s Bloggy Xmas.  Someone started a conversation the other day with “I know you are busy but” and I thought…  am I busy?  It seems like I very much am, and as a result when I get busy I tend to encapsulate myself in a little bubble or just shift into “speak if spoken to” mode.

Mostly this morning I wanted to take a moment to say that essentially “its me not you”.  I feel like I am failing miserably at keeping in contact with people during this holiday season.  I promise I still care, and I promise I am still interested in what’s going on in your worlds… but at this point I feel painfully behind in everything.  I’ve always taken the Stanley Spadowski “Drink from the Firehose” approach to information intake.  The problem is I seem to be falling further and further behind as my blog reader consistently has hundreds upon hundreds of posts to read.  Between that and trying to juggle playing World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV and entertain semi-focused raiding in both of them… my attention circuits are maxed out.  I promise I am still out here and still caring… I am just not taking it upon myself to engage directly nearly as much as I previously did.  All of that said… if you need help with something I will do my best to assist in any way I can.  Hopefully after the holiday break things will calm down a bit and I can reach a point of equilibrium.