Racing Snail

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Out of Advice

This month is of course the rescheduled Newbie Blogger Initiative… and I have been horrible at supporting it so far.  Normally I have filled my blog with various sundry related information about blogging, and if you really want you can probably still take some of that as completely valid.  I know this event works, but the problem is… at this point I just feel like I am out of advice to give without simply rehashing a bunch of old themes.  The truth is I really don’t know what I am doing, and while sometimes I put on the front that I do…  I spend the majority of my time winging it.  Sure before I wrote a single line on Aggronaut, I had planned a lot of stuff like the domain name and hosting provider, but that is not to say I didn’t have a much earlier not fit for public consumption blog on blogger.  Back then… I just started blogging, and it is I feel honestly good to just go make some mistakes on your own without the intervention of others.  My original blog was a semi-private ordeal talking about my life, my family, and all sorts of random events in large part surrounded on our sudden and bizarre desire to start camping.  I say camping… but what I really mean is hanging out at a lakeside resort in an RV.  It was real and snarky and sometimes raw… but it had a very specific audience of folks who actually knew me in real life.  Those people didn’t care about my gaming, and in most part would probably find it strange.

So when I created Aggronaut it was by purpose designed to be completely divorced from my real life.  The idea was I would have the real world blog for people who knew me… and then the other blog to talk about my passions.  That didn’t exactly work because I’ve found that while I can write in a mostly anonymous fashion talking about people and events from my real life setting…  I can’t exactly keep them out of my topics.  I’ve tried not to name names in my blog as a sort of “protect the innocent” fashion in part because my wife works in a very skittish profession.  I never wanted anything I might say to reflect badly upon her.  I would say that I probably filter myself a lot, but the truth is I really don’t have that many inflammatory opinions.  What I personally consider ranting about subject… I’ve often been told is just polite but impassioned discussion.  So as I sit down and try and thing of advice to give a budding blogger, I am really finding myself completely empty this year.  Just because I have been doing something longer, doesn’t mean I have any better grasp on how things should work.  I don’t know what I am doing… and it is perfectly okay to not know what you are doing.  I’ve somehow made that work for over seven years now, and I suppose I will continue to make it work for the foreseeable future.  I lack the ego however to tell you t hat my way is the correct way, because I know I don’t even know if it is right for me.  Next week I might get new information that makes me question everything about what I have done for the better part of this decade, and that is also okay.  Basically if you want to write…  just go write.

A Good Note

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Over the last few days I have become progressively more active in the Rift community.  There is something comfortable about coming back to this game, and I find myself obsessing with all of these little details.  The experience has been something akin to catching a movie on cable television that you have not seen at decades… and then having a sudden swell of feelings for how much you used to love that movie.  Coming back to Rift this time feels very much like dusting off a favorite tome and reading it again with new eyes.  There are some things I am coming to terms with, namely that unlike so many games… it is unlikely that I will find many of my closest friends interested in joining me.  As I have learned time and time again… Rift is not really their game and especially the AggroChat crew can rattle off a list of reasons why.  That said… it has always sorta been my game, and been something that I supported regardless if I was actually playing with it.  I’ve said time and time again that Rift is essentially all of the features I ever wanted in a video game compiled in one game… and they just keep adding more features as time goes on.  That said it is also a much harder game than I have grown accustomed to, and as a result for the last several years since the launch of Storm Legion I have struggled a bit to find my place in it.  I was extremely slow getting to level 60, and I am just now getting to 65, so the speed and difficulty of leveling was something I had a difficult time reconciling now that I am extremely used to the fast pace and ease of leveling in the “modern” mmo.  I’ve long said that my favorite time period in World of Warcraft was Wrath of the Lich King, and I’ve just realized that Rift is as though you stopped the clock in a time period before content started to get watered down to appeal to a wider audience.  That is not to say that Rift does not have a lot of solo-able features… but if you intend to play at the highest levels of the game you are going to need a group and dedication to your character.

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All of this aside I am in this position where I am really enjoying the depth of this game, and finding myself with this entire list of things that I want to accomplish.  One of the best parts of the game for me personally is the way that they have changed the wardrobe system.  Now when you pick up an item, you collect its appearance and can then assemble outfits out of these appearances without needing to fiddle with any of the actual loot.  The fact that there are also zero negatives like a gold sink associated with it, means I am constantly changing my wardrobes around, and I guess at times this is a positive.  Within the Rift forums and Discord there was a contest called “Planetouched Style”, the idea being that you assembled an outfit that represented a certain planar theme and then went out into the world and found a location that fit the theme to take a screenshot.  The first image was my entry, going for a sort of “Papa Legba” feel for it… and then finding an area out in Seratos that really shows off the deathyness.  Much to my shock… I apparently nabbed second place in the contest.  So I am now the proud owner of the 5th Anniversary edition racing snail…  completely with flames decorating the shell.  This goes nicely with my 4th Anniversary mount that I already spent damned near all of my time riding.  I am excited and humbled to somehow have managed to win, but it was a great note to end the day on yesterday.

 

Letter to New Bloggers

NBI2016

A Newbie Month

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This is one of those mornings where I apparently forgot to set my alarm clock and am damned thankful that apparently I only woke up thirty minutes late.  So everything feels rushed and it is not exactly the proper mood for a contemplative post.  Today marks a few things… firstly it is my mothers birthday and I have already remembered to send her a text so she would have a message waiting on her when she wakes up.  I will of course follow up later with a proper phone call…  but I wanted to get that early strike in there first.  Secondly this is the beginning of the rescheduled Newbie Blogger Initiative month.  This is something I have participated in since 2013, and feel a sense of obligation each year to do so again.  The problem is that after all these years I am questioning if I have any fresh wisdom to give out to the participants.  Blogging is one of those things that while we can commune as a group…  there comes a point where you are sitting in front of the tyranny of the blank page and only you can push through it.  We all have mornings when thinking let alone blogging is a difficulty, and for me this is one of them.  However as per my own statement… I am going to push through and make something happen.

So You Want to Blog

It seems like almost every year I start the proceedings off with something along the lines of that paragraph.  The truth is, only you can really look inside of yourself and see if there is a blog there waiting to spring forth into the world.  For me personally… I guess I was always a blogger and just never quite realized it.  I was extremely prone to posting “big damned walls of text” in on any subject I happened to be passionate about.  Early on the topic of choice were the White Wolf World of Darkness role-playing books or the Palladium system.  Later it became games as I even started writing reviews of Saturn and Playstation games for a small emulation and general gaming website.  I really came into my own when it came to MMOs and I haunted the forums of pretty much all of the games I played be it Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, City of Heroes or eventually World of Warcraft.  I had this burning drive to talk about the things I was interested in and to share my ideas, and while a lot of my topics were fostering the community…  a lot of them were just talking about my experiences.

On the forums for the server I used to play on… I became one of the white hats that regular rode in to chastise the evil doers, but at the same time freely shared game advice if I had any to give.  If you have ever found yourself doing these things…  chances are you really do have a blog inside of you waiting to get out.  Now the real challenge is trying to direct that unfocused information into a meaningful form.  Many bloggers will tell you that the secret to success is to pick a niche and stick with it… and become the be all end all site to go to for that subject.  That is probably some absolute truth, but it is also something I was never terribly good at.  This blog after all launched as a “Warrior Tanking Blog” just about as niche as you can possibly get… but the problem is I felt like a fraud doing that.  I was no real expert in being a warrior, nor was I an expert in tanking.  Both were things that largely came naturally to me, and it was baffling for me to try and explain what was largely pure instinct.  So I took a step back and decided to refocus on Raiding… until I realized that I wasn’t a particularly brilliant raider either.  We did what we did to win and at our own pace, which isn’t exactly a sterling example of the craft.  As a result I kept setting up branding and then knocking them down… until I finally wound up with this simply being “my blog” without any other pretense, because “bel saying things” was a focus that I could actually stick with.

You’ll Need a Name

Ultimately where I am going with this… is that you are going to need a name to call your blog.  Some people have created perfectly brilliant names… that they quickly outgrow when they go through a similar digression like my own blog did.  I am lucky that “Tales of the Aggronaut” was fairly generic and that I could keep adapting it pretty easily to whatever I happened to be doing.  Aggronaut was my attempt at a clever name for a tank… and since I rarely don’t tank at least a little it has continued to work.  Other folks have created a perfectly lovely name for say a Warlock blog… only to find out later that playing a Warlock is not their primary calling in life and as a result they have to come up with something else.  Ultimately my advice I guess would be to come up with something that represents you the writer, and not necessarily the subject.  Clever names are awesome, but only so long as they actually are something that you feel comfortable sitting down and writing posts behind.  There are an awful lot of famous blogs out there… with completely boring or descriptive names.

I think most people envision brilliant branding of their website from the starting gate, but in truth you are probably better of just picking some minimal window dressing until you get a feel for where exactly you are going.  I maybe jumped into this whole concept with two feet hitting the ground in that I bought my domain name and had it completely set up and ready to go before I wrote a single post.  I guess that makes sense given that I write code for a living, but in truth you don’t need to do any of this quite yet.  Your best option is to simply lean on good ole WordPress.com or Blogger.com rather than to try and do the self hosting thing right out of the gate.  I lean heavily towards WordPress simply because you have a lot more options for if you decide to transition to self hosted at a later date.  Technically you can do the same thing with Blogger but the process is less seamless and from what I have read in “how to” articles way more hassle than the other option.  There is of course Tumblr as an option, but you are exposing yourself to a way more problematic community right out of the gate than I would suggest for any fledgling blogger.

You’ll Need Readers

Now for the hard part…  you’ve named yourself and set up a site…  now you need to hang out yours “open for business” sign and wait.  This is the part of the equation that can drive you completely insane when you realize that no one is actually reading what you are writing.  This is going to happen to everyone, but the positive of starting a blog during this month means that the other bloggers are going to at least help try and get you started.  Self promotion is one of those things that I am particularly bad at.  In theory you want to put your blog in front of as many eyeballs as you can, which means syndicating it to pretty much all of the available options.  I syndicate my posts each day to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Google Plus… and this is essentially like casting a net out into the water.  If you get a nibble more than likely folks will add your blog to their RSS feed and be done with it… and then you have a potential reader for life.  That is unless you do something so horrific as to cause them to go through the effort of actually removing a blog.  For me at least… once a blog makes it to my RSS feed I am pretty much going to read them forever.

The problem is… your stats will always seem insignificant.  You can drive yourself completely mad looking at them for too long when you watch as this post that you spent five minutes on got ten times the readers than that gem you spent several days on.  Amassing regular readers is a bit of a waiting game, but I will say that there are a few factors that seem to factor in.  Firstly you need to have some sort of a schedule.  Since taking my recent breaks my readership has gone to shit, but previously when I was doing the post every single day thing I had a fairly steady stream of readers each and every day.  Secondly you have to give them something interesting to read, and this can come from several different directions.  My personal theory is that if someone is going to read you for long one of two things are going to be happening.  Either you are posting such a wealth of information about a very specific subject as to turn yourself into the “resource” for that community, or they are sticking around because they care about you as a person.  I’ve tended to focus on the second part of that statement, and as a result have shared some super personal information with my readers.  It sometimes works, but ultimately you are going to have to figure out the points that work for you.  The problem with giving blogging advice is no two blogs are the same… nor do they even have the same goals.  We can throw information at you, but you will have to figure out which bits are relevant to you.

 

I wish you luck and look forward to reading your blog

Bel

 

 

Blaugust is Coming

Goodbye NBI

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As of this morning the month of May is officially over and with it goes the Newbie Blogger Initiative for 2015.  I have some mixed feelings about the 2015 run, but in the important ways it seemed like a success.  The good folks at MMOGames had offered me the ability to highlight NBI specifically during my “bonanza” blogging round up.  The problem being there was a pretty massive falloff in the amount of blog content after the first two weeks.  I still highlighted the Talkback Challenges but found it quickly hard to make an entire post made up of nothing but Newbie Blogger Initiative content.  So I guess the question I am trying to answer is what specifically caused this cooling effect in the posts?  Generally speaking in past years if anything there is a ramping up with new people joining the initiative as the month goes on and folks having a burst of activity right towards the end.  That didn’t really happen this year.

That said any program that gets new people into blogging is a success in my book, and as I have said many times our community needs a constant fresh infusion of people willing to add their spin to the conversation.  Here is a relatively final list of the Class of 2015, so you should absolutely add these blogs to your blog reader and check in on their progress every now and then.

Blaugust is Coming

I’ve had a lot of questions and commentary asking me to do the Blaugust event again this year, and since I had been mostly coy about this…  as of this morning I am committing to making it happen once again.  For those who did not participate in the process last year, or were not around the blogosphere…  Blaugust is a festival of sorts devoted to the regular creation of blog content.  Above anything else I have become known for my mission of posting something every single day on my blog.  Granted there are lots of bloggers who do this and should be celebrated.  I know personally I saw a massive spike in my readership when my content deliver became for lack of a better word “predictable”.  The idea for Blaugust is simple…  post at least one post each day during the month of August.  That is thirty one days of posts, and if you win the competition you get the pride of being able to display one of our badges on your site showing you “won”.  Additionally last year we had various prizes to give away and I am sure that will be the case again this year.

The big thing that is going to have to change this year is I am going to have to wrap some tools around the process.  My life during the month of August revolved around making sure that everyone had gotten in their blog post each day.  Where this got squirrely was when I factored in our Aussie bloggers who were blogging from the future, and even our six hour offset European bloggers were a challenge to keep track of.  What is going to happen instead is that in order to participate you will need to submit each blog post through some sort of a form that is going to keep track of if you posted for a specific day.  This should help out some of the folks that would end up posting after midnight, when they really intended the post to count towards the previous day.  The important thing is the regular creation of content, not necessarily technically when you post it.  We have a two month reprieve, but I wanted to get notice out there that I would in fact be doing Blaugust yet again, so that folks could start psyching themselves up for the “marathon”.

Infernal Horsebirds

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This weekend I managed to push my crafters in Final Fantasy XIV to level 21, which gave them access to a whole new set of gear and allowed me to get rid of the other set I had been using.  I figured this was as good of a place to rest for a bit as any.  With only eighteen days until the head start I don’t figure there is a real chance that I will actually be able to push my crafters to 50.  With that in mind I opted to start working on my Rogue a bit this weekend.  For awhile now I have been torn as to which class to push next, and I have juggled both Monk and Ninja.  What finally pushed me over the edge to Ninja was when I managed to get the Malignant Mogknives to drop awhile back.  As such this weekend I managed to go from level 28 to almost level 34 which is not the fastest progress in the world but still acceptable.  I figure I will speed up significantly in a few levels when I can realistically start doing Coerthas for FATEs.

For the time being I am running FATEs in the Costa Del Sol region while queuing for whatever the max level dungeon happens to be.  Currently that is Brayflox Longstop which also gives me the opportunity to pick up the couple of pieces of the Infantry set I had been missing.  I have no idea if I will manage to push up Ninja to 50 before the expansion, or if I will return to Crafting madness, but in either case I certainly have plenty to do to keep me engage until things launch.  I really should devote a weekend day to the Post Moogle quests because I really do not think they would take that long.  I did not end up with as much play time this weekend as I thought I would, otherwise I probably would have done precisely that.  One of the things that I think is amazing is that as a Free Company we are still bringing in new people.  Sure it has slowed down from the initial burst of players, but over the weekend we added another five members or so through our extended networks.  This gives me hope for Heavensward and our ability to get things like the guild airship.  I am certainly excited about the prospects this expansion has for our group.

NBI Talkback Four – Deadly Gamer Sins

As part of my continued attempt to complete the writing prompts as part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative, this morning I am tackling Talkback Challenge Four.  This one is a bit different than most because it is actually a series of questions about the “Seven Deadly Gaming Sins”.  This concept is courtesy of Joseph Skyrim who has outlined the series of questions as a way of getting to know our gaming habits better.  I have not done terribly many questionnaire type posts so this might be a little interesting.

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Lust – Do you enjoy games more if they have scantily clad and “interestingly proportioned” avatars? Do you like playing as one of these avatars? Why or why not?

Nope!  I am being honestly with this one because quite honestly there is this awkward uncanny valley thing going on when it comes to nudity in games.  It always feels extremely cringe worthy in part because developers have yet to figure out a way to do mature content without it either being soft core pornography or incapable of also showing human emotion at the same time.  As far as playing Avatars, that isn’t my shtick either.  Pretty much all of the characters I willfully play are like the ultimate version of myself, or more so how I wish I might be.  As a result I am always going to go with the heavily armored character, with badass armor plates everywhere.  While the subligar in Final Fantasy XIV is humorous, I am not the type of person to walk around in one.

Gluttony – Do you have a game backlog of unfinished games but still buy new games regardless? Why or why not?

I have a truly massive backlog of games that are unfinished, and I am mostly okay with this.  When I buy a game I don’t necessarily view it as “just” buying a game.  I also view it as me supporting the development of that game with my dollars.  Maybe that is a strange concept, but there are a lot of games that I am happy that exist whether or not I ever get around to playing them.  Additionally I am a sucker for a good sale, and sometimes I pick games up in the hopes that I will actually get around to playing them because they were pennies on the dollar of the original price.  When I pay full price for a game I always play it, pretty much immediately.  The bargain basement games however, sit in the stack waiting for me to find the time and the drive to dig into them.  I really need to resurrect the Steampowered Sunday concept again and start digging through my backlog.

Greed – Do you enjoy hand outs in a game? Have you ever opted to NOT do an action / in game activity because the rewards were lacking? Why or why not?

Oh absolutely on this one, as far as opting out of not doing something because there was no reward in it.  I am most guilty of this in World of Warcraft, because when I reach a point where I can no longer receive upgrades on a given character…  I lose all desire to keep doing  the content.  This is more than just a loot issue however because there are games where the content itself is the reward.  Some games are only valuable to me so long as there is a carrot being dangled in front of me.  For example I generally love running dungeons, but the hassle of running heroics in World of Warcraft is not worth the non-existant rewards that can be gained from doing it.  On the other hand in Final Fantasy XIV I am almost always down for running a dungeon (except Aurum Vale because fuck Aurum Vale) and there is quite literally nothing of use that I can get from most of them.  The experience is worth my time even when the rewards are not.

Sloth – Do you ever leech or AFK in a party? Do you discourage others from attempting things that you feel are difficult? Have you ever seen someone that needed help, but decided not to help them? Why or why not?

I’ve never leeched experience or AFK’d in a party other than you know…  to go do something important in the real world for a brief period of time.  There are times though that I do get pessimistic when I don’t feel like we can defeat a given content.  I tend to play MMOs and there is a hard fact that sometimes there are simply gear checks that a group is not ready for.  So while I see myself as being a pragmatic voice of reason… there are some who could see me as discouraging the group.  As far as seeing someone in need of help… if someone is struggling with content I will almost always try and lend a hand in a game setting.  I am one of those people who runs over and helps attack random monsters, because it is in my nature to do so.  As far as dungeons and raids and such, it all depends on what my overarching mission for the night is or how much time I might have.

Wrath – Ever get angry at other players and yell (or TYPE IN CAPS) at them? Have you ever been so angry to stalk a person around in game and / or in the forums? Why or why not?

The me that existed around Lich King absolutely did this thing.  In fact I have a lengthy post about the “Bunny Incident” if someone is interested in reading about it.  The current me… I try really hard to be overwhelmingly positive.  Mostly I went through a bad spot mentally for awhile… and then I took the advice of “fake it until you make it” and quite literally it did help.  Over time I became  a much happier person and additionally more balanced.  There are some people though that seem to hate me and I do find myself obsessing about them a bit.  Trying to figure out exactly what I might have done to them to make them so upset with me.  I have this overwhelming need to be liked that no matter what I try I cannot quite shake.  I am working on it, but it is like the polar opposite of Wrath.

Envy – Ever felt jealous of players who seem to be able to complete content you can’t? Do you ever suspect they are hacking or otherwise cheating? Why or why not?

For the most part no on this one.  I don’t really see myself as some pinnacle of gaming skill.  I am just a guy that enjoys piddling around in video games.  I am not a terribly competitive person, and as such when I get bested in skill I just move on knowing that the player was better than me.  I do take pride in things like tanking, but I think that is slightly different.  As far as Envy goes…  I don’t ever get jealous of content that people are able to complete.  There are times I do get frustrated when players are at a level that I know they did not earn themselves, but are bragging about it.  Anyone that worked their way up through the content on their own merit and through the blood sweat and tears that comes from weeks of wiping…  those folks earned every last drop and I would never be jealous of anyone who put in the effort I did not.

Pride – Are you one of those people that demands grouping with other “elite” players? Do you kick players out of your team who you feel are under-performing? Why or why not?

Nope! I love my “scrubs” and “casuals” for the most part.  Now on the raiding side I do tend to demand that players put in some effort.  That said I am more than willing to teach someone the ropes, and explain fights.  This has been one of the great things for me when it comes to the Final Fantasy XIV community.  Overall folks have been more than willing to stop and take the time to explain the encounters when someone says they are brand new to it.  As far as raiding goes you ultimately have to do what is best for the team.  If you have a player that is simply not performing, and even though you have spent time working with them… simply cannot compete at the level the rest of the team is.

Under those circumstances then yes, absolutely I would trim that player from the raid and replace them with someone that was able to “keep up”.  That is the thing about raiding is that essentially it is a “team sport”.  On many fights you are only as good as your weakest link, and even though it might suck to do it… you have to do what is needed for the raid group to progress.  That does not make the person a bad player or a bad person… and outside of the raid environment I would not think any less of them.  I like to keep a line of separation between “Guild” and “Raid” for this reason.  The guild is a social structure and the raid is a working group designed to complete a task.  Folks have to be understanding that while everyone can be in the guild, not everyone is ready to put out the effort needed to be in the raid.  I don’t necessarily see this as a “pride” thing but more a “taking the needs of the team” into account.

Don’t Believe Your Own Hype

Strange Dreams

Last night I failed miserably to attend the World of Warcraft raid.  For whatever reason I have not slept amazingly well this week, so by the time I got home yesterday I found myself incapable of sitting up straight in my office chair.  From there I attempted to game on the couch from my laptop, but before long was finding myself dozing off.  So around the 7:30 start time of our World of Warcraft raid I was ultimately taking a nap.  It looks like they put in ten solid tries on Blackhand without me, which is pretty awesome.  Hopefully this coming week we can manage to down him and take his candy.  I am not sure why I am apparently sleep deprived but after all the napping on the couch I still managed to sleep a fairly full nights sleep.  Admittedly I woke up several times during the night, but each time I was able to get right back to sleep without much issue.

I did have a really strange dream during the course of all these wake ups.  It was at some banquet for Blizzard Entertainment, and somehow had gotten chosen to say a few words.  When it came to me and I introduced who I was and what blog and podcast I am from…  there was a sheer look of horror from the stage.  It was like this overwhelming wave of “What is he doing here?” sweeping over the fine folks from Blizzard.  I proceeded to say a few words about my love of Blizzard and I am not really sure what happened next because I woke up.  However I do remember having this general feeling that I did not belong there.  The funny thing is…  that in order for the dream to function I would have to be well known, and this is something that I am not willing to accept.  I don’t think anyone at Blizzard has a clue who I am, let alone enough of a clue to be horrified that I would be speaking at their banquet.   I am just a guy that does a thing, and not terribly important for doing it.

Don’t Believe Your Own Hype

One of the interesting things about being a blogger or a podcaster is that you are forced into the often uncomfortable role of self promotion.  This aspect of blogging names my skin crawl because ultimately whether your like it or not, you are building a brand.  The brand is made up of you, the image you project of yourself and the content you create.  Most of us adopt a persona of sorts that we break out when it comes to interacting with the world and our readers.  For some of us that persona is really damned close to the real thing.  For me it is like a super hyped up and self confident version of myself, and the odd thing is that over time the REAL me has become more and more like the “Rockstar” me.  For the most part this is harmless, because “super” me probably is far more enjoyable to be around than the sulky and moody “actual” me that exists sometimes.  The problem is it is really damned easy to lose your sense of self on the internet.

In the decade or so I have been serious about socializing online, I have seen more than a few people lose themselves in their own hype.  They start to believe that they are legitimately famous and as such somehow separated from the “common” folk because of it.  If you ever find yourself with the strong desire to utter the phrase “Don’t you know who this is?” then chances are you have already gone off the deep end.  As strange as it sounds this is a constant fear of mine, that I will end up becoming one of those empty self promoting husks.  I spend most of my time trying to actively deny the fact that I have any sway over other human beings, and that I am ultimately just talking to myself.  The reality is somewhere between because apparently as much as I try and deny it the whole #BelEffect thing that I am cursed with is apparently a legitimate thing.

Find A Grounding Force

The reality is that on a daily basis I have somewhere between 500 and 1000 readers of this blog when you combine direct hits and folks that read it through an RSS reader.  I am by no means a large presence on the internet, but I do have a niche following.  I do everything in my power to forget that I actually have readers, largely because I am scared to death of turning into one of the people that I have been frustrated with in the past.  I just want to be me, doing the thing that I do… and sharing that thing with other people.  Essentially what has worked thus far is to surround myself with people that are not buying into my own hype in the least.  While my friends like to grief me with things like that hashtag or trying to claim I am some media personality… they are also the first people that would call me on my shit if I ever started to believe any of it.  More than anything the biggest grounding force in my life is my wife, who is not part of the gaming universe at all.

I realize this is a strange post as far as Newbie Blogger Initiative tips goes, because if you are just starting out you are in that phase where you are struggling to gain the courage every single day to post anything at all.  There comes a time however when those fears go away and you are able to interact freely.  I’ve tried my best to stay grounded and humble as this blog has grown from something a couple dozen people followed to the readership it has today.  The problem is that not everyone does, and I have watched this whole process go to folks heads.  I am no one special, and thanks to the support of my wife and friends…  it is my intent to keep it that way.  Self promotion is a necessary evil, and the “rockstar” version of my personality will more than likely always need to be there as a coping mechanism for the stress of dealing with other human beings.  It is my sincere hope that I can keep from falling into the trap of believing in my own hype.  It is also my hope that as you go through your own rollercoaster of success with your own blogging endeavors that you too can keep from believing your own hype.

NBI Talkback 3 – What Made You A Gamer?

Early Beginnings

searstelegames I had an extremely strange couple of days, so instead of talking about that I thought I would tackle the third talkback challenge.  For this one my good friend Jaedia posted a prompt on the Newbie Blogger Initiative website asking “What Made You A Gamer?”.  This is one of those topics that I have thought long about for years, and I am not really sure what the answer is.  I am not sure if there is any one thing that makes someone a gamer.  I think you are either born with the natural proclivities in that direction or you are not.  My earliest memories of gaming are pretty clear however.  My parents had a Sears and Roebuck version of the Atari Tele-Games console system…  aka Pong.  I remember being completely enamored with being able to move the bar on screen to intercept the square bouncing around the screen.  I don’t necessarily remember playing this all that often because well… it was my parents toy and not mine, but I remember the desire being real.

A few years later thought my parents purchased an Atari 2600, and that is the system I remember being “mine”.  My mom was a teacher and I guess one of her students was selling theirs used.  This is important because it sets up a long tradition of me buying console systems second hand that I continue today with my Craigslist finds.  The console came with the base system, several well worn controllers and a dozen or so games for the big price of $50… which actually was quite a bit of money back then.  I was enthralled by the games and while they really had no story to tell on their own, it didn’t stop me from making up stories.  Even the most generic game could be a vehicle for me to tell tales of valor and bravery.  I remember for whatever reason that Sea Quest was one of my favorite games at the time, which was this simple game about going down in a sub marine to save divers.  In my head I was this crack submarine pilot fighting off sharks to rescue my troops.

Discovering Role-playing Games

DaveTrampierPlayersHandbook At this point we are going to take a bit of a detour, because I was happily an Atari kid for years making up stories to fill in the gaps that the games were not providing for me.  Then an event happened that literally changed my trajectory permanently.  As I have said before I grew up the child of a teacher, and that means a bunch of things.  Not the least of which is that you end up spending a lot of time up at school waiting for your teacher parent to “wrap things up”.  I knew all of the janitorial staff by name and they were a kind of family that I hung out with as they did their things, and I waited on my mother.  At the end of the school year there was a tradition, the great locker cleanout.  On the last day of school, anything that was left in the student lockers at 4 pm was going to get dumped in the ground and thrown out, to clear the lockers to be cleaned for the next school year.  I learned my scavenging instincts at a young age, and this was pretty much a magical time for me as I wandered around through the piles of debris picking up gems.

Most of the treasures I found were in the realm of nifty “stationary” items like binders or notebooks, but I remember during second grade I stumbled upon a book that quite literally changed my life from that point onwards.  That seems like a fairly bold statement but finding a dusty well worn copy of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook was like opening a whole other world to me.  To say I was obsessed with this was a bit of an understatement.  I poured over the pages of the tome soaking in everything I could from it.  While I didn’t understand anything about the game itself, it provided for me a structure of types of heroes, types of weapons, types of magic that imprinted upon me.  I loved the artwork and the next year at school it dominated the recess games I played with my friends.  We were a band of warriors, and the fact that the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon started around this same time only served to fuel the fire.  The only problem being that we lived in the bible belt, and “Dungeons and Dragons” was an evil thing.  So instead I got wrapped up in the Marvel Super Heroes game also by TSR.  For some reason my friends parents could stomach them playing a game based on comic book heroes, so long as we never referred to or referenced it as being “like” D&D.  We had to go so far as to hide the dice needed to play it, so as a result I became the game master because my parents were cool with all of this.

The Nintendo Christmas

nintendo-nes-mario-console-boxed The next major event in my game development came with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Up until this point I had been doing everything I could to squeeze the joy out of a combination of the Atari and my scattered pen and paper role playing games.  Then my cousins came to town with their Super Mario Bros and completely destroyed my world.  Everything about the NES was just better.  There were stories being told through the games, and with characters that you could actually recognize as characters.  I grew up in a pretty small town and the arcade was a less than savory place.  So my exposure to Arcade games to that point was pretty much limited to the occasional lobby of a department store.  While I craved playing them, and begged my parents for a quarter anytime we were near one… it was not something I really got to do all that often.  When the NES came on the scene I was completely blown away by the graphical fidelity and my entire existence became about getting one.  This was the Christmas that the Nintendo was universally sold out around the country.

I had to be the most annoying kid because I kept tabs on which stores had them, which stores were rumored to have them… and which stores were sold out.  I kept my parents up to date on my findings, in hopes that they would rush out and get one.  So as Christmas rushed towards us and there was no Nintendo shaped box under the tree…  I was completely devastated.  Then Christmas morning happened… and I had put on a good face and was prepared to swallow down the disappointment.  There under the tree was sitting a gleaming Control Deck box just like the one above.  This was probably the most joy I had experienced to that moment, and if my parents had a video camera it probably would have looked a lot like the N64 kids.  This was the single best and worst Christmas I had ever experienced.  About two hours after getting my Nintendo…  we lost power due to an Ice Storm that was raging… and we did not get power back for three days.  So while I had the object of my desire…  I had no power with which to actually enjoy it.  The rest is pretty much history, games like Final Fantasy were able to merge my love of RPGs and my love of games, and now I spent most of my time playing MMOs.  I still think however that people either are inherently game lovers or they are not, and there isn’t really much that can “make” a gamer.

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.

Back But Don’t Play

Supporting Kickstarter

wasteland2 This morning I am going to tackle the second talkback topic for the Newbie Blogger Initiative because it is actually one that has been on the hearts and minds of the AggroChat folks for the last few weeks.  For the April AggroChat Game Club game I chose Darkest Dungeon, and since then the topic of playing “unfinished” games has been somewhat of a recent discussion among us in private.  The fact that the game was unfinished caused numerous problems, not the least of which was the simple fact that we were never quite sure if this or that functionality was intended… or just unfinished.  So I feel like I was not able to give it a really solid testing, because I don’t know what might change between now and when the studio deems the game “finished”.  The prompt however for this talkback is pretty straight forward but my answer is going to be a bit more nuanced.

Early Access and Kickstarter – Do you support unfinished games?

So for the first part… yes I wholeheartedly support the backing of unfinished games.  I’ve backed more than I can count at this point through either Kickstarter or company specific initiatives.  I think Kickstarter is a pretty awesome thing, and it has caused a lot of things that I care about to see the light of day.  I’ve backed both software and physical merchandise projects through it, and have been relatively happy with pretty much every project I have ended up chipping in on.  Kickstarter does a lot of things, but the biggest one to me is that it allows me to vote with my dollar on what I think is going to be an idea worth making.  I rarely back very far into a given product tree, and the end result is me usually getting a cut price copy of the game at launch.  While many of these games offer a double platinum early access alpha program…  that is not so much what I am interested at least not any more.

Tired of Alphas

Once upon a time I wanted to be playing every single game I could get my hands on.  I reveled in the fact that I had alpha and beta tested most of the MMOs out there.  For a period of time this was something that was achievable because at any given moment there were a very limited number of Alpha and Beta test programs available.  Somewhere along the line I noticed that playing an Alpha seriously adversely effected my chances of staying with a game for very long after release.  In essence I would burn myself out playing the Alpha, so that when launch happened the game felt very old and tired to me.  The pinnacle of this problem happened for me with Elder Scrolls Online.  I seriously cared about the release of this game, and I took my Alpha testing duties seriously.  I was told at one point that I was in the top 1% of all bug reporters in the game, and every single time we played I spent most of my time reporting and re-reporting issues I saw.

The problem here is that I had been alpha and beta testing builds of this game for a good year before the game actually launched.  So while I only managed to play about three months after the launch of the title, in truth that was around 17 months of me actually playing the game.  Huge chunks of the content I had literally seen hundreds of times, and remembered each of the different incarnations.  The additional problem is I had trouble letting go of the past.  There were some changes made in that game that I considered “for the worse” and myself and many of the other early testers rather vehemently pined for the imagined “good ole days” of early alpha.  Memory is always an incomplete state, and what we remembered was this or that feature that stood out in an ocean of an otherwise broken game.  The final product was so much better than the one we were requesting they return to, but we got hung up on the minutiae of this or that feature that we missed.  Basically I learned that Alpha testing ultimately ruined my enjoyment of the final product… and it only took me twenty some years to wake up to this fact.

Back But Don’t Play

Ultimately I have a very nuanced stance on Kickstarter.  I am more than happy to donate money towards a cause that I believe in like the creation of a brand new Wasteland experience on the PC, or any of the other games I have backed that let me wallow in the nostalgia of my youth.  Generally speaking I now back just far enough into it to give myself a cut rate copy of the game at launch.  Then when I get said copy and any bonus trappings… it seats neatly in my Steam account until I am ready to play it.  I might boot it up periodically to check on its progress, but ultimately I am not going to start the game for real until I see that note from the developer talking about how the game has launched.  The problem is this also means I am phenomenally bad at tracking the progress of games on Kickstarter.  I almost always have a message that needs to be responded to about this or that game but this is what works for me.  It lets me feel like I am backing things that I believe in, but also gives me the piece of mind of not actually starting a game play session until the game is “finished”.

As far as other games that are in a permanent state of development like Minecraft…  once again my feelings are a bit more nuanced.  Paying to play an alpha does not really bother me, if the experience and the enjoyment itself is worth paying to play said alpha.  I got into Minecraft for example during its pre-beta days when you could pick up a copy for well under $10.  I have gotten easily $1000 worth of enjoyment out of that game.  Similarly while I don’t play them nearly as often I have gotten more than enough happiness out of both Trove and Landmark to recuperate any costs I might have put into them.  Ultimately backing an unfinished game, and playing said unfinished game is not an entirely bad idea… so long as you go into it with the thought process that you are playing something that isn’t quite done yet.  Early Access games are in essence paid betas, and if you can live with that… awesome…  if not wait for the release of the game.  I personally have found that the games I played heavily in Alpha and Beta get more enjoyable over time, and going back a year after launch I end up really enjoying myself.  So that is to say that the games I ruined through Alpha testing…  are not in a permanent state of ruined as evidenced by my recent travels into Guild Wars 2, Wildstar, and Star Wars the Old Republic.  Ultimately you have to figure out what works for you, and the amount or risk you are willing to take.  If I feel like I am going to care about a game, I try my best not to burn out before launch.