Nexus Destiny

Bel Against Nature

treefrog As I said yesterday morning, last night we had a big end of school cookout to attend and in spite of my antisocial tendencies I enjoyed myself quite a bit.  However this morning I am paying for that enjoyment as my sinuses and lungs are full of crud from “extended exposure to nature”.  The food however was amazing as was the company.  This little guy showed up towards the end of the night, and we all ended up snapping photos of him.  Firstly I had zero clue that Tree Frogs existed in Oklahoma, secondly if they did I didn’t realize they could be green.  Most of the frogs you see around here are muddy brown or grey to mix into the surroundings.  According to the biology teacher in the midst this guy is NOT native to Oklahoma, but we have no clue where he comes from.

The other thing I am wishing I had snapped a photo of were the kittens.  One of them tried really hard to come home with us, and I totally would have been cool with that…  if I didn’t think it would completely upset the existing balance with our three cats.  These babies were the most chill and relaxed I have seen.  One of them I carried around in the crook of my arm on her back like I would a ferret.  She was all to happy to have my scratch her belly, and none of them really seemed to use their claws at all.  The most entertaining thing was listening to the back and forth with the parents as the various kids tried really hard to adopt one for their own.  One girl damned near outlined a PowerPoint presentation for exactly why she should have a cat.  But alas her mother decided that she would rather have a crying daughter than a divorce.

I have a sneaking suspicion that in our household this will not be the end of the talk of the adorable kittens.  Right now our eldest cat is extremely picky, and I am afraid bringing a little one into the mix would set her off.  That said it is impossible to find more relaxed cats than these I think.  I am such a softie when it comes to little furry things.  The desire to adopt them all is why we had six cats at one point.  Over the years we’ve had two bunnies, six different ferrets, two sugar gliders, a hamster, a guinea pig, and in total ten different cats to date.  So I am sure there will be more cats in our future, in spite of me putting up a good defense… I always eventually give in.  Right now I am happy with just cats and ferrets though, and I doubt I will branch out into other fuzzy children again.

Newbie Blogger Initiative

Today is the last day of the Newbie Blogger Initiative for 2014, and I feel like I should have probably done more.  This year I have set in a different role, doing more personal tutelage of participants than big informational posts.  Mostly this happened because as far as a advice goes I am not sure what I could say that has not already been articulated better.  I don’t really know what I am doing, and I am still very much figuring it out on a daily basis.  In a way I have been a Newbie this year as well in that this is our first year doing the podcast.  Tonight will be our 8th episode, so I am pretty proud of how that has progressed so far.  I am also very much a newbie at this whole streaming thing, even though this month I have cut down massively on the amount of time I have devoted to it.  May is pure hell, but hopefully as we move into June things will chill out quite a bit.

About mid month I reworked my blogroll so I have all of the Class of 2014 blogs listed there.  You should totally check them out because this crop is doing some pretty great things.  What has been the most interesting for me personally is that a number of my long term friends have opted to start or recommit to blogs this month as well.  I have each of them in my blogroll and I have been seeing some pretty great stuff come out of the “noobs”.  We as a community need this event, to help replace the many people who just stop blogging each year for whatever reason.  As someone who spends a lot of time doing this… I fully understand the desire to throw up your arms and stop.  That said we need this transfusion of talent each year to help keep the gaming blogosphere a vibrant place.

Here is a rundown of my NBI topics this month.

So I guess at the end of the month I didn’t do as poorly as I thought I did.  Six posts devoted to NBI2014 is probably better than I did during the 2013 run.  My only real regret is that I didn’t come up with anything brilliant for Syl’s Poetry Slam.  I think maybe the topic of “Magic” threw me for a loop, because I have a very negative feeling towards “finger wigglers” as I call them.  I am at home with swords and shields and shotguns…  but I have always shied away from casters and wizards and spell slingers.  I tried to come up with an epic about slaying an evil necromancer… but nothing really worked.  So I wish I had come up with something, but I am sure she will have plenty of entries this year to choose from.

Nexus Destiny

WildStar64 2014-05-31 08-21-05-015 Today is the beginning of the Headstart for Wildstar.  I think the servers came up last night at Midnight PST, which would have made it 2 am for me.  I have a deep seething hatred of all of these launch dates being centered around PST, but I not much you can do about it when a studio is from the west coast.  I was so damned happy when the Elder Scrolls Online times were all based on East Coast.  All of this gnashing of teeth aside, I got in this morning rather smoothly and created Belghast the Chua Engineer and Belgrave the Human Warrior.  Both of which are on Evindra the PVE-RP server… which is where all the sane and rational people seem to be rolling characters.  I say that jokingly, but almost all of my twitter list will apparently be on that one server, so even if folks are not all in the same guild it will be good to at least have them all centralized on the same server community.

WildStar64 2014-05-31 08-24-14-744 This is the new Belghast… while I could not do anything vaguely close to my traditional “Bel” look as an angry bunny/rat/thing I feel like I captured the “feeling”.  Something about playing as a Chua immediately made this game more enjoyable.  I think mostly it is the animations, and the fact that in early games I always favored dwarves or small races in general.  My original Everquest character was a Dwarf and my first WoW characters were all also Dwarves.  So while this seems like a huge departure race wise for me… someone who mostly rolls humans, it is more a “getting back to my roots” of sorts.  I am still up in the air about this game, but I am going to give it a fair shake.  I did not intend to like Final Fantasy XIV at all, but ended up having a blast playing it.  So I am hoping that Wildstar will be another similar case.  I feel like this is precisely the game that I would have loved… about five years ago, but I’ve changed massively since then.  Here is hoping there is a game inside of Wildstar that the current me will enjoy.  In any case I plan on still playing quite a bit of Elder Scrolls as well.

#Wildstar #NBI2014

The Ritual

Bad Mentor

It is generally this point in the month that I start to feel like I have not done enough to help out the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  I am not very active on the forums, and I thus far have not been active at all in the Steam Group.  I managed to miss both the Hearthstone tournament and the League of Legends night because I was recording Aggrochat during the events.  I’ve only managed to post a few articles relating to the NBI so far this season, so it is generally at this point that I feel like I have to get my act together.  One of the things that I did as a result was port my blogroll over to a database driven system that I had been meaning to for some time.  This has made it far easier for me to update not only my main blogroll but also highlight specific groups, in this case the Class of 2014.

At some point when I was not paying attention, we zoomed from about fifteen blogs to twenty seven as of yesterday when I was setting up my blogroll.  Had I been watching the forums I would have realized this, but this so far is a really impressive turnout for the third running of this event.  I’ve added them all to my feedly and I look forward to seeing the wonderful stuff they post over this next year.  Several of the folks have hit the ground running and have already racked up a dozen or so posts on their respective blogs, so I am thinking this might be one of our most prolific groups yet.  In light of this I am not sure what sage advice I really have to give that they don’t seem to be taking to heart already.

This year has been less about making proclamations for me, and more about reaching out and getting to know some of the individuals involved in the NBI.  While it seems like the sort of thing I do normally on twitter, I have fielded a lot of questions from various members of the group.  Hopefully in some small way this has helped, but I still feel like I could be doing so much more.  Ultimately May is a fairly horrible month for me, as the spouse of a teacher there are two hellacious time of the year…  beginning of school and end of school.  Couple this with a string of weddings and graduations to attend and I feel wildly off balance right now.  Its moments like these that I entrench and try and narrow my focus so I keep doing the things that have to be done.

The Ritual

In the middle of this hell month, I feel mostly void of good advice, however there is one thing that I feel like I can pass along.  There are as many kinds of blogs as there are bloggers out there, each of them can and should be unique.  However each of them should also have some form of a natural schedule.  While I do not promote the daily blogging madness that I embarked upon over a year ago, I feel like most bloggers can and should find a specific schedule for writing.  One of the interesting things about a schedule is it forces you to think about how you can find the time to specifically carve out that chunk of time, and what you need to reschedule or push to one side or another to make it happen.

As I said my personal schedule is blogging each and every day, and in order to accomplish this I had to build a sort of ritual.  Every morning I get up, turn on the television to start my wife waking up and stumble into the kitchen to flip the Keurig on.  I hop in the shower and after getting dressed make a cup of Revv for myself and a travel mug full of whatever flavor my wife happens to be making.  At this point I mutter “going upstairs” and find my way to my office.  Here I sit for the next thirty minutes to an hour banging away at the keyboard in Live Writer until I have something that vaguely resembles a post.  I give it the most summary of glances to look for anything odd, assign categories and tags and post it as a draft.  Finally I open up the wordpress backend and edit my posting options, making the tweet have the relevant hashtags before finally publishing.  On a good day this all happens within a thirty minute window… on a bad day upwards to an hour.

In either case I have set up a block of time every single morning and committed it to a routine.  The weekends are a bit more haphazard as I find that it seems writing with time constraints tends to speed my process.  When I have too much time available and no real pressure to finish quickly… I can take upwards of two hours to knock out my post.  Occasionally when I know I won’t have time to write on a given morning, I stage my post the night before… but I really don’t like doing this.  When you have a pattern and follow it religiously… your entire day feels off when you don’t blog.  So those days where I have staged content and I simply hit the post button in the morning… I feel like something is missing from the day.  In essence my brain has learned to crave these little data dumps.

Finding Your Schedule

This pattern works for me, and it is something I have come to rely on.  You need to find your own pattern, be it posting something each week on a specific day or posting something every few days.  The pattern helps, and your readers come to expect your content.  It is getting to the point where if I do not make my morning post for some reason, folks start emailing/tweeting/IMing me to see if I am okay.  Thankfully this has happened only a few times, and due to extraneous circumstances, but I still made posts those days albeit significantly delayed.  The schedule helps me think more than anything, it helps focus me on a goal of doing this one thing and repeating it.  The interesting thing about carving out a block of time like this, is that you realize you can do the same for other things you want to do as well.

Basically look at your routine, the things you do every single day and see if there is one of those you can hack into “also” being writing time.  For me this was simple… I was already used to going upstairs each morning and drinking my coffee while reading my RSS feed or playing a game for a bit to wake myself up.  I simply stopped doing those other activities, and substituted writing in its place.  Look at your daily activity and see if you have a similar places where you could substitute in writing instead.  Do you have a long commute to work on public transportation?  I wish I had one of those… I would spend the entire time banging out ideas on my chromebook and then posting them later when I got to a stable internet connection.  Do you have a lunch time ritual, that you could including writing in?  Each of us has some time that we can claim for ourselves and for writing, and you need to find yours.

Ammunition

When I make my posts, they tend to be very spontaneous and stream of consciousness, as I compose at the keyboard without a lot of thought beforehand.  This works for me, but it doesn’t work for others.  I’ve had conversations with Gypsy Syl about this a few times, and how instead she tends to sit on a post for a bit and groom it until it is ready to be made.  Both are awesome ways to write, and both have strengths and weaknesses, but in both cases they need something to feed the process.  One of the hardest things about keeping a schedule is always having something you want to say.  I find I have to keep various things for inspiration that can be drawn upon at a moments notice.  Since I only have thirty minutes to an hour to write each morning, I need to have a system for getting my creative juices flowing quickly.

The biggest source of inspiration for me is my blogroll, and as a result I tend to keep mine packed full of stuff.  At this very moment I have 626 unread articles in my feed reader, from an unknown number of sources.  If I find something interesting, I dump it in my reader and I do a pretty poor job of categorizing.  I tend to have a “Gaming” firehose that I try and drink from when I need inspiration or have idle time while running errands or at the beginning of meetings.  Sometimes this just isn’t enough to start the process in motion.  Additionally I try and keep a google doc going of little fragments of ideas that come to me throughout the day.  Inevitably the second you hit publish, you think of thirty other things that you should have said.  Capture these… while some of them are crap, some of them will be absolute gems that need to be refined at a later date.  Keeping this list of potential topics also makes for a great start on those days when you don’t have any ideas.

Contingency Plan

I am extremely devoted to my chosen schedule, and I will do absolute silly things to make sure that it is maintained.  Part of this is knowing your schedule ahead of time, and plotting your life around it.  Like I said before, I write every morning, but occasionally there are mornings where I cannot write.  As a result I set aside time the night before, or later in the morning to be able to get my post ready and out the door.  Before you embark upon a schedule, have ways that you can juggle your writing to make sure that the schedule is maintained without breaking you in the process.  If you are going on vacation, it is perfectly okay to write a bunch of topics ahead of time and schedule them to post periodically throughout your time off.  Other bloggers have had great luck with guest posts during these lapses.  I personally just bring my laptop with me and bang them out in the hotel room either that morning or the night before.  Hell at one point I even made a morning blog post while sitting in one of the terminals at Chicago O’Hare.  Whatever you choose to do, it is important that you at least think about what you will do when you can’t post for some reason.  The one thing I have learned above all else is that your readers crave consistency.

So You Want to Stream

Why I Stream?

This morning I found myself sitting here at the computer struggling to come up with a topic that I felt was worth writing about.  For the last several days I have been kicking around the notion of trying to do a very basic streaming guide, but really like everything I do… I don’t actually feel like I know what I am doing.  When I decided to start streaming on a whim a few months back, I had to pretty much figure everything out from scratch.  Thanks to lots of Google searches I managed to cobble together just enough information to do a passable job.  I am far from a streaming celebrity, and to be truthful no one actually watches my stream all that often.  I am happy to have a single other person in twitch chat with me.

So you might ask me then, why do I even bother streaming?  Honestly I am not really sure but it just seems fun to me.  There is something neat about showing the world what you are doing, and in some aspect that’s why we do any of this.  At least at a base level we blog, podcast, YouTube and stream all to share our lives with the world.  When I decided to start streaming I set up a structure on our guild voice server.  I created a channel called “Bel is Streaming”, and the basic idea was that if I was streaming I would join the channel and folks could pop in and chat with me… thereby making the entire feed seem more interesting.  This has worked pretty well, and on many evenings most of the people in channel are not even playing what I happen to be playing.

As a side note… I would not have had the courage to start the Aggrochat Podcast were it not for these streams.  For years I have said that we should be recording our mumble conversations… because some of the topics we end up delving into are really awesome.  It was while listening to one of these game streams one day at while working that I realized our nightly conversations sounded quite a bit like an impromptu podcast.  A few weeks later I was pulling together some of the regular members of these nightly discussions and AggroChat was born.  So if nothing else my piddling around with game streaming has had a mostly positive effect.   As to why I do it..  I am still trying to figure that one out.

Getting Started

The first thing you need to start streaming, is an account on a streaming provider.  The defacto industry leader right now is Twitch.tv which is the gaming offshoot of Justin.tv.  This is what I use personally but I have been hearing some really good things about Hitbox.tv for those who are wanting to use something different.  For the purpose of this guide we are going to primarily talk about what I use which is Twitch.  When you initially sign up, your username will be the default channel name for your stream.  However you can go into settings and change the Display name property to switch this up.  Basically I would suggest that you pick something simple and relatable to your blog or other social media efforts.  I am a simple monkey, so I try and pick /Belghast on all of the things unless it is already taken.

Moving forward what you really want from the twitch website can be found on the Dashboard.  You want to copy to a notepad document (or anywhere else you will remember it) the long string found on the Stream Key tab of the dashboard.  You will end up using this from that point on in any third party software to let you stream to your channel.  Another setting you might want to fiddle with while you are in the Twitch interface can be found on the Channel Settings page.  I highly suggest you toggle on the “Automatically archive my broadcasts” checkbox, because this opens up a whole world of options.  Firstly there will be folks that hit your page because it is “YOUR” page… not necessarily because you happen to be streaming something at the time.    Checking this box means that anything you broadcast will show up under the “Past Broadcasts” tab inside of your twitch profile.

The other cool thing this does for you, is that you can export directly from Twitch to YouTube.  Ultimately this is how I record anything that ends up on my YouTube channel.  I like keeping things simple, and being able to export directly without having to fiddling with the YouTube interface is a huge win to me.  The twitch interface is actually rather robust and it allows you to export individual segments of your video to YouTube, as well as having a default functionality to split videos into fifteen minute chunks.  By default YouTube will only allow you to upload videos that long until you have gone through the process of verifying your account…  which is an entirely different topic for a different day.  I am by no means “good at YouTube” but I do a passing job at having a channel.

You Need Some Software

Now in order to get your video stream to twitch.tv you are going to need some software.  I know absolutely nothing about Mac gaming…  so if you fall into this category, I am sorry this guide is going to leave you in the cold.  I am a PC gamer and as such only really experienced with PC configurations.  The Twitch broadcast page has a bunch of different options, and I am assuming that one or more of them can run on a Mac.  The “Gold Standard” in streaming seems to be Xsplit, as that is really what all the professional streamers seem to use.  However, to get the most out of it… it is a yearly subscription service.  I am totally fine with using the “Bronze Standard” in streaming software… because I am cheap.  That honor seems to fall to Open Broadcast Software or OBS, a very solid open source alternative to Xsplit.  Basically you have to ask yourself what your level of comfort is with software in general.  If you truly dislike fiddling with things until they work… save yourself some headache and pay for Xsplit.  If you are like me and are willing to scour internet forums for information to save some money… then OBS should work well for you.

image This is what my OBS configuration looks like.  The software is arranged into a few basic concepts.  Scenes can be thought of as a “screen setup” that you plan on broadcasting to the world.  I have one set up for each game that I happen to be playing, as well as a generic “Thanks”, “AFK” and “Pre-stream screen”.  You can swap back and forth between these rapidly from within the software, so it is completely to personal taste how many you configure.  You are going to need at least one scene to be able to broadcast anything to the world.  The next concept is Sources… these are essentially things you want to place on screen at the same time.  One of these will be your video game feed, then a lot of streamers include a feed from their web cam and various image overlays.  You can use ANY transparent image, and overlay it on your video.

I personally keep things pretty simple, my personal preference is that I have an image in the top left corner identifying what game I happen to be streaming at a glance.  I find this important since sometimes it takes a time or two for twitch to actually update your stream title and game you are playing.  Additionally I have a “Tales of the Aggronaut” image that floats on screen… that I use for a pretty simple purpose, to cover up the majority of my chat box.  Not that I do anything super secretive in game, but I would prefer to guard anyone’s account information that might happen to be sending me a message for guild business.  Not that I have a lot of followers, but I don’t want to just assume that everyone I deal with in the games wants their information broadcast on the internet.  The floating image does a nice job of obfuscating the text but at the same time advertising my blog and providing my twitter information.

For the purpose of this setup, the most important thing that you add is a “Game Capture” source.  This will ask you to name the source, which can be anything that makes sense to you.  Next you will get a drop down of every active application on your system.  In this case you would choose whatever game you are wanting to stream.  On this same screen there is a “stretch image to screen” check box and generally I would suggest doing this.  This is going to be important for most Indie games especially since the resolution may not be the actual resolution you happen to be streaming.  I personally stream everything 1080p, but a lot of streamers drop down to 720p for the purpose of compatibility.  I can’t stand to play games at that low of resolution, so I have not really figured out a viable way to play at 1080p but have something scale me down to 720p without the stream looking like crap.

image At this point you want to preview your new Scene by hitting the “Preview Stream” button.  You should in theory see your game image coming through in the little window inside of OBS.  If you see nothing but a black screen… now begins the “fiddly portion”.  OBS generally seems to work best when playing a game in “Fullscreen Windowed” mode.  There are a few exceptions to this rule, but in theory you will want to configure your game to run in that mode if at all possible.  Black screen means you are not getting a feed of video from the game.  There are also options for “Window Capture” and “Monitor Capture”, but those are more thermonuclear.  If you choose to broadcast your Monitor, it will literally broadcast everything that comes across your monitor even stuff you don’t necessarily want to broadcast.  I suggest only ever doing that if you happen to have a multiple monitor setup.  Window Capture in general seems a little flaky, but right now I am having to use that for ArcheAge to get it to work well.

The Super Technical Bits

Now comes the hardest part of the setup, and the one I cannot give you any “firm” answers for.  There are a few settings that you need to configure based on your internet connection.  If you are not comfortable with thinking of things in terms of kilobits per second aka kbps…  then you are likely going to find this bit frustrating.  There are essentially two schools of thought here, the super technical is to go through a process of figuring out exactly what your connection will support and assigning the values accordingly.  The second school of thought is to try 2000, and if that doesn’t work smoothly… try 1500.  I am going to actually cover the technical aspects, because the trial and error method is exactly that.

image Inside of OBS settings, there is the encoding tab, and more than anything else this tab dictates how smooth your stream looks.  For the most part everyone should be using the x264 encoder.  I did some tests with the Nvidia NVENC encoder, and the end results looked horrible.  It greatly reduced the system requirements of doing the encoding, the end result was a choppy and blocky mess.  Use CBR should also be checked as well as the CBR padding.  This means it is going to try its best to keep your stream at a constant bit rate, which should go a lot way to preventing stutters and stops.  The Audio settings should for the most part work for everyone as well.  The piece that is going to be unique however will be Max Bitrate and Buffer Size.  I personally like having a buffer a little bit larger than my Max Bitrate for extra padding and hopefully extra stability, however for most individuals they set these values to the exact same thing.

The above image is a test of my internet connection this morning while working on this post.  I will be using it as an example, but ultimately you are going to want to test your own line… because quite frankly my connection is way faster than most internet connections.  There are many testing providers out there but for this example I am using Speedtest.net just hit “Begin Test” and you should see your own results shortly.  This tester ends up giving us our speed in mbps, which is fine but for the purpose of the tool that estimates what these settings should be in OBS, we are going to want kbps.  This is simply a case of taking your mbps value, in this case 22.82 and multiplying it by 1024 the number of kb in a mb.  The end result in my case is 23367.68 kbps and then I take that number and dump it into the OBS estimator.  In my case it suggests that I set my max bitrate to 3500 and my buffer size to 3500 as well.  I however did not want my stream ever to take up my entire pipe so I dialed those back to the settings I actually use.

Hooking it to Twitch

image Now that we have our encoding configured, it is time to actually hook the thing to Twitch.tv and see what happens.  Remember that stream key I asked you to copy out to a notepad document?  This is the point where you actually need it.  This is what twitch uses instead of a username/password authentication scheme to allow someone to broadcast to your channel.  Guard this with your life… or at least take some precautions because with this key anyone can use your channel.  You want to set the mode to “Live Stream” and since we are going to be piping our output to Twitch, you want to select the “Twitch / Justin.tv” option from the streaming service drop down box.  The next setting is pretty important, for Server you want to select the closest location geographically.  I live in the Tulsa, OK area so for me I choose “US Central: Dallas, TX” and it works pretty smoothly.  Finally you want to paste your stream key in the “Play Path/Stream Key (if any):” box.  If you did not copy this down earlier you can retrieve it from the “Stream Key” tab of your Dashboard.

Test That Puppy Out

image

If you did all of the things above, now you should be able to click the “Start Streaming” button and be off and running.  Some things to make sure before you do this.  Firstly make sure the game you are wanting to stream is running in the background and preferably running “Fullscreen Windowed” mode or whatever the equivalent is in that game.  Secondly make sure you have the correct scene selected inside of OBS.  Lastly I highly suggest you decouple your twitch account from your twitter account for the purpose of testing.  Otherwise every time you press that start stream button you are going to be spamming the hell out of your twitter friends.  In theory you should be able to open your twitch stream and see the output of your game on the screen.  But before you do it… there is one last thing.

image Make sure your stream is actually showing the correct game being played and the title you wish it to show.  I have had more issue with this one than anything else, and now I load my profile three times in a row just to make sure the edit took.  Initially it seems like the first edit NEVER takes.  When when I reload my stream I have to log back in and change it again, and sometimes it doesn’t actually take until I do it a third time.  I wish there was a way to set this inside of OBS, but as far as I know you have to keep logging into the Twitch website to set it up.  The only reason why this is important is because it will broadcast to people browsing the twitch interface that you are playing a specific game, and in theory you want it to be the right one.  At this point… press the start button, cross your fingers and hopefully you are live to the world.  If not… it is time to hit Google and figure out why exactly a given game isn’t working with this setup.  I am by no means an expert, but hopefully this guide will be useful to at least some of you.

Shores of Oblivion

Mornings Are Hard

This one in particular is extremely difficult for some reason.  I guess it could be the fact that I fell asleep at the keyboard last night, and as a result ended up getting to the actual bed far later than I had intended to.  Now as I attempt to jump start my brain with caffeine I am realizing how frustrating the act of a morning can be.  More than anything I am finding myself extremely easily distracted.  Of late several of us have been slowly migrating to Anook.com as a social site.  Primarily this is for the fact that it is ideally suited for a multi-guild meet-up site like the Alliance of Awesome.  At this point I am wondering if I could simply transplant my folks from the House Stalwart forums to the site as well making the whole experience more fluid.

For those who don’t remember… or were not reading my blog at the time, the Alliance of Awesome is a weird experiment that we have been running.  With the launch of Landmark alpha, several of us realized just how many different overlapping groups we were a part of.  So we proposed a grand alliance, and since then many of us have been laboring to make those efforts successful.  Right now the AofA as we call it, is a combination of Combat Wombat, Dark Religion, Mercy Gaming, Multiplaying and House Stalwart.  Elder Scrolls Online was the first game we really went into as a large amalgam guild and so far it seems to have worked extremely well.  I have been shocked at just how little drama has been involved, but I guess that is to be expected when most of us are “thirty somethings”.

Shores of Oblivion

Screenshot_20140506_195501

Last night was an odd sequence of events.  Firstly I was supposed to be doing a pen and paper thing with several of my friends.  However I did not want to get into anything too deep because I knew I would need to go do things with my wife when she got home.  As a result I ended up piddling around in Elder Scrolls Online while waiting in a holding pattern.  As the evening went on, the time of her arriving home kept slipping backwards, so in grand total I ended up playing and streaming my gameplay for a few hours.  The mission of last night as always was to finish up Bangkorai.  I have finally reached a point where I think there are just two objective areas left in the map.  However completely by accident I seem to have moved past the zone and into Coldharbor by following the storyline.


Watch live video from Belghast on TwitchTV
At some point soon.. or at least as soon as I can find a wayshrine in Coldharbor I will be venturing back to Bangkorai to finish up the last few things on my map.  I find it almost impossible in this game to “skip” content.  It drives me absolutely insane that there is still a black skull on my Alik’r map from a world boss that was bugged out.  I feel like I have to explore every corner of the map before I finally and reluctantly move on to the next area.  At this point I am just a stones throw away from 47, so I figure that I will ding 50 well before I even come close to finishing Coldharbor.  That zone looks equally huge as compared to Bangkorai.  When I posted the above picture on Anook, someone commented about the Mudcrab.  That is “Butter” my faithful companion that has been with me the entire journey.  I am not sure why I bonded with the brown mudcrab pet over the Monkey, Bantam Guar or Red Mudcrab… but I did and he has been at my side throughout all of this.

Crush the Resistance

swtor 2014-05-05 21-28-00-26 I love the Elder Scrolls Online with every fiber of my being, but the game requires a lot of focus.  This past weekend and the last few days I have struggled a bit in trying to maintain that focus.  Wandering around the world requires you to be constantly aware of your surroundings, because an afk in the wrong area can end up with a hefty repair bill.  As such I need a game that doesn’t quite matter so much.  For a long while this has been landmark, but I have reached a point of builder burnout there for the moment.  On a whim this weekend I decided to fire back up SWTOR and I have been piddling around on my Caithar Sith Juggernaut.  I never really got to see the Sith side of things, so overall it is pretty enjoyable.  I opted to go Light Side Sith, which seems to be far more my style anyways.  I am this island of honor and nobility in a seething mass of evil.

swtor 2014-05-06 23-32-23-94 To be truthful… this specifically is the reason why I logged in over the weekend.  On “May the Fourth” they gave everyone that happened to log in an adorable astromech droid pet.  I could not pass this up, because of my friends… I am the only one who ever seems to be nostalgic enough to re-up a game subscription and revisit games the guild has moved on past.  So while it started out as “get this thing while it was available”, I am actually finding myself enjoying the game again.  It is no real competition for ESO, but it scratches the itch that most everyone seems to be satiating with Wildstar beta weekends.  Additionally… after all this time I finally have a machine that will run SWTOR on maximum everything.  This client is so poorly optimized that even on my laptop with dual video cards… it runs like complete shit.  No clue how long I will piddle around with SWTOR, but I might even stream some of my adventures.

From the Desk of Doctor Hannah

Another good friend of mine decided to enter the Newbie Blogger Initiative fray.  Dallian, otherwise known as Doctor Hannah from twitter… has had a blog for ages, but for the most part it had lived in a dormant state.  I think both the blog and the twitter account started as a joke reference to the now infamous Tabletop episode where Felicia Day creates this massive backstory of Doctor Hannah while playing Last Night on Earth.  So while the blog started off as a joke, at some point during its life it morphed into being Dallian’s personal space.  With the NBI he is taking the step of rededicating himself to blogging more regularly, and about his gaming side as well.  In this post on the forums he mentions wanting to do at least a post a week, but so far he has made like four posts this month.  I will do whatever I can to help support this effort, but in the meantime you should totally pop over to his blog and check it out.

#ESO #ElderScrollsOnline #SWTOR #DoctorHannah #NBI2014

Permission to Suck

The Ugly Baby

Something that is probably useful to know about me is that I am absolutely an NPR junkie.  Several years ago I made the decision to stop listening to music and instead use that time to catch up on the worlds events.  There is a concept among NPR listeners, called the “driveway moment” where you have reached your destination but you cannot leave the car because you are enthralled by whatever is happening on the radio.  Yesterday I had one of these and in a way I found it extremely relatable to the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  Ed Catmull is most well known for being one of the founders of Pixar Animation Studios.  Yesterday afternoon on the Diane Rehm show, he was talking about his new book.  But he dwelled upon a specific chapter, and I was able to dig up the same basic discussion in the youtube video above.

The chapter of the book is “The Ugly Baby and The Hungry Beast”.  In his example the “Hungry Beast” is the part of Pixar or any creative studio that is the most productive.  They are the ones churning through content and making things happen.  The front of the studio, the creative side however is the “Ugly Baby”.  He said that when Pixar starts a new project the output is always horrible.  Nothing looks quite right, nothing fits together, and generally speaking it is rather ugly.  The creative ideas need time to grow into something fully fleshed out, and during this period they need to be protected and given time to nurture.  When you are just starting out blogging, your blog is this Ugly Baby.  Nothing quite works the way you want it to, things don’t quite flow, but you have a vision for where it can be and you have to give it time to mature.

Permission to Suck

One of the hardest things about creating anything, be it a blog or a web comic or a podcast is giving yourself permission to suck.  We intellectually see failure as being a necessary part of the creative process, because it allows us to grow and change.  However as people…  we never want anything we do to fail, because culturally we have placed all of this weight upon that happening and attached all sorts of meanings to it.  In order to make a blog work, you have to give yourself permission to suck, and to not know all the answers.  Like most things in life you can figure things out as you go.  My blog has evolved over time into what it is, because quite frankly the first two years of it were pretty lousy.  Still on a daily basis as I sit down at my desktop and put fingers to keyboard each morning, I question if I know what the hell I am doing.

As a writer you need to create enough space around your work to allow it to grow and mature into what it can be.  At least when you are getting your feet about you, you need this judgment free zone.  Realize that in six months most of what you create today, is going to embarrass you.  That is part of the process and if you somehow manage to get everything right immediately… then you are some sort of freakish prodigy.  That said… no one gets everything right immediately.  Blogging is one of those things where you learn more by doing, and doing often.  I don’t feel like I really learned much about myself or the process until I was forcing myself to do it every single day.  While I don’t suggest anyone follow me down that path of madness I do suggest you pick a schedule and stick to it.  This can either be a fixed number of posts per week, or an actual schedule like Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

Just Write Anything

There are going to be days where you are scheduled to write something and you don’t have a clue in the world what you are going to say.  I’ve found it is important to observe the routine, and brute force your way through the issue.  If you look through my blog there are massive several month long lapses in content.  Each and every single one of those started with a day when I just could not think of anything to say.  I used to get to the point where I would feel like, each time I made one of these lapses that I would need an extremely epic post to start back up again.  As sort of a payoff for those who still had me in their RSS feeds, that I needed to make a really good one to make the outage worth it.  Problem is… this only complicated the process and make it all the more unlikely that I would be making a post to start things up again.

When I have days where I am quite literally experiencing writers block, I just start writing.  I might rattle off three paragraphs of completely banal bullshit, but there is something about the act of writing that gets the process started.  Flowing words out onto the page, somehow clears the logjam in your head and within a few paragraphs of crap you start seeing genuine content.  So when this happens I keep writing my way through the post, and end up deleting most of the “bullshit header”.  Ultimately relying on inspiration is not sustainable, so many times you have to make your own inspiration.  This could be playing a game that inspires you, or crawling through your RSS feed looking at what others are writing… or it could be just forcing yourself to produce content by sheer will alone.  In any case, the more you force yourself to write, the better your content will be and the more mature your blog will become.

New Challengers

In many ways “winning” NaNoWriMo has forever changed the way I look at things like the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  While I still have so much editing to do, the focus of that exercise was not necessarily to write really amazing content, but instead to focus on getting my 1500+ words a night.  During the Newbie Blogger Initiative I really see the focus on getting your blog off the ground, and posting content regularly.  The content can be horrible, but the act of doing it over and over will improve your own personal process… and similarly improve your blog.  So far the Class of 2014 seems to be busting down all expectations I might have for them and producing some really great posts.  Additionally there have been several new people added to the mix since my last post so I wanted to post an updated roster.

I highly suggest you check them all out and add them to your RSS reader.  We have a few that are on their first or second post, but we have quite a few that are cranking them out on a pretty regular basis.  Just remember to give yourself room to post things that you don’t immediately like.  Cranking out the posts is the only real way you can develop your own process.  The Newbie Blogger Initiative is this great judgment free zone, where each and every established blogger wants you to succeed.  Use the hell out of this space to experiment and try new things.  Figure out what it means for “you” to write “your” blog.  This experience is worth what you get out of it, it is like an optional boot camp, and those who really take that to heart seem to be well served by it.  As I look out on the class of 2012 and 2013 I see many well established voices, and I look forward to being able to say the same about 2014.

Class of 2014

Class of 2013 Revisited

Now that we are officially underway in the Class of 2014, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see just how well the fruits of our efforts with the 2013 have paid off.  I have to say based on past experiences I was expecting to see about half of the blogs either no longer resolving or not having been updated in months.  However it appears that the class of 2013 was one of the most productive to date.  Looking up my blog post from the close of NBI 2013, I counted 23 blogs that finished the event.  Out of those fifteen are still updating fairly recently, or have at the very least had a blog post in the last few months.  A handful have even been updated semi-weekly for the past year.  I think this is pretty cool that the Initiative was able to create some really dedicated bloggers.

Here is a quick rundown of the folks who beat the odds and have kept up with their blogging habit on a regular basis.

All of you out there that are still updating your blogs regularly… take a well deserved bow.  There are some massive lapses in posting in the history of this blog, so the drive to keep making content is something I truly respect.  Last year seems to be the most successful year to date, and here is hoping that going into 2014 we can top that.

Class of 2014

It is still pretty early in the process but I wanted to get some link loving started already to the folks who signed up right out of the gate.  I expect as the month rolls on we will have significantly more participants, but already we have an extremely impressive crop.  So if the group we have gathered already are any indication for what we are likely to see in 2014 as a whole… I feel like this is going to be a really great year.  One of the big challenges when the Newbie Blogger Initiative was rebooted last year, was to not only get new bloggers into the community, but also to retain them.  It seems to be working and I tip my hat to the folks who have been making sure this happens.  Without further ado… on with this years list of blogs.

A few of these folks I have already engaged with via Twitter, and I am hoping to be able to do the same for the others as well.  If you are not already there, twitter is somewhat a vital too for maintaining the sense of community as a whole.  Generally speaking that tends to be how the majority of the gaming blogosphere communicate with each other on a regular basis.  My contact information is at the top of the right side bar and I welcome anyone to approach me in any venue I happen to be using.  If there is anything I can do to help make your blog more successful, please let me know.

Gaming Lite

The last few days I have been all over the place as far as gaming goes.  I recorded a new Trove video the other night as I tried to figure out all of the changes… which are pretty massive.  Adventuring now seems to revolve around the creation of portals that take you to various tiered worlds.  Additionally there seems to be a system now that prevents you from equipping too high of level of a weapon.  I end up screwing myself over by upgrading the one set of weapons I could equip… too high to actually equip them.  So now I am back at square one, working on leveling up my Knight and finding weapons to do so with it.  The pace of the game seems to be significantly slower, and I am going to have to figure out exactly what all has taken place since I last played.  I still really dig trove in that it is a funky and friendly little world full of random adventure.

Another random thing I did the other night was decide to record a walkthrough of our guild hall in Rift.  I still love what she did to the place and how awesome it looks.  I have been pining for Rift lately, so I will likely start poking around over there again.  I wish I could get some elite groups honestly, but the random dungeon finder queue is insane.  I might end up working on my tank spec and doing some streams of me tanking for random pugs.  I am just not sure if I really want that kind of stress.  Surely as long as the queues are… folks will be appreciative of tanks right?  At least that is the theory and I hope they don’t rip me to shreds.  There are a few other streamers that I might be able to connect with that also seem to want to do elites, so maybe I can get that going.  Right now both my Warrior and my Rogue are geared almost entirely through the free patron chests that we get every week.


Watch live video from Belghast on TwitchTV
Lastly I am still playing a ton of Elder Scrolls Online on a nightly basis. I streamed for about an hour last night as I wandered around in Bangkorai trying to finish up objectives that I still have out there. I ended up completing a few major quest steps, and generally faffing about killing lots of imperials. I show off my new armor and my new fast pony. I finally gathered up the 42,700g needed to buy the +25% speed mount, and while it is not necessarily the color I would have chosen… I am happy enough with it. It seems like the campaign against bots is actually working, as the few places I went last night with bosses… the traditional gathering of bots was absent. I feel like Zenimax is trying hard to combat the gold spammers and botters, but it is a constant and ever changing battle. Right now they have shifted almost entirely to using the email system… which is a bit more manageable. I am religiously reporting each and every spam email I get, hoping that over time they can lock down on these accounts. I am super interested in ArcheAge, but right now honestly I am still having a ton of fun playing ESO.

Not as Hard as it Seems

So You Want to Blog

This will be my third year participating in the Newbie Blogger initiative, and each year I have lead off with a post along these lines.  Without a doubt the hardest part of blogging is some how conquering that little voice in your head that says that you shouldn’t.  If you can ever defeat this inertia you can do truly wonderful things.  The problem is, this is the step no one can really help you with.  If you are like those of us who are already blogging…  you have ideas and thoughts that you feel like sharing with the world.  Chances are you started out as a poster on your guilds forums and then worked up courage to posting on your game forums.  Maybe you are the “social network pundit” that comments on various topics when someone else brings it up.

Essentially at this point you are this bottled up fountain of ideas.  I am here to tell you there is a cure for what ails you.  There is nothing quite so cleansing of these ideas as trying to write a post.  You can go from having thirty million things to say on a variety of topics, to not having a single thing at all to say when presented with the blank page of your own blog.  For the past year I’ve engaged in Mortal Kombat with the blank screen every single morning, and for better or worse made my mark on it.  When you finally wrangle an idea out of your head and break its will transforming it into written word…  it is a miraculous thing.

The hardest battle however is actually hitting that publish button.  There are many mornings I simply close my eyes and hit publish and then walk away from the screen for a few hours.  In truth this is helped by the fact that I write at 6 am as I am drinking my coffee and have a natural built buffer to keep me from fiddling with it otherwise known as my drive into the office.  There are going to be days where you write something you thought was great… and no one seems to care.  You are going to have topics that you threw together in five seconds that get way more hits than the rest of your blog combined.  But at the end of the day you get to call yourself a blogger, in a completely real fashion.  You are a content creator, you put words out into the internet and even if no one knows who you are…  eventually those words will reach someone thanks to the sorcery that is Google… and hopefully touch them in some way.

Not as Hard as it Seems

There are a lot of decisions to be made about your blog, but the most important one hopefully is that you have decided to make one in the first place.  There are tons of great free options that you can have started and running in a few minutes.  I happen to be in the WordPress camp and I choose to host my own version of the software.  However there are many people who have great results with Blogger, including my own wife.  I personally suggest you create a little proto-blog on each of the services and get a feel for how the tools work.  They each offer unique benefits, but also have some unique constraints as well.  I’ve personally found WordPress to be more flexible and more easily modified to do exactly what I want, however if Google already controls your life… then Blogger more easily integrates with G+ and Drive.  In either case you can literally have a blog up and running and open to the world in less than ten minutes.

There are as many ways to write a blog as there are people.  Some folks like to stage the entire post in a word processor and cut and paste bits into the blog software when they are ready to post.  For a few particularly tricky posts I have done this with a Google doc that allowed me to “chew on” the topic for awhile before finally entering it into my blog.  Other people like to stage their posts ahead of time in the blog software and schedule a specific post time.  This allows you to write an entire weeks worth of posts in a Saturday afternoon and have them trickle out throughout the week.  I’ve never been a huge fan of this, but it works well for a lot of people, especially those who write for multiple blogs.  Ultimate you have to find the option that works best for you.  I highly suggest you try lots of different things.  If you read my early posts they look nothing and feel nothing like they do currently.  This was a slow evolution over time where I found what I liked and didn’t like and started to develop my own blogging style book of sorts.  Ultimately you will end up doing the same thing for your blog whatever it might be.

Picking a Format

Now we start getting down to the more difficult decision territory.  Your blog is this “thing” and that thing needs to have a hook that will draw people in.  What is your “thing”, are you supremely devoted to this one game or even this one niche of this one game… or are you more of a generalist wanting to talk about lots of different things.  Tales of the Aggronaut for example started its life with the intent of being a World of Warcraft blog.  More so than that… the intent was to be a World of Warcraft Warrior Tanking blog.  A niche within a niche within a very specific game.  I have to say there is a beauty and a simplicity of writing a blog about one specific thing.  When someone asks you what your blog is about you have a very handy answer, that immediately makes sense…  at least to anyone who has ever played World of Warcraft.

I quickly realized that I had boxed myself in a corner, because it meant that from that point onwards… I would have to write about World of Warcraft Warrior Tanking.  The biggest advice that I can give you after five years of blogging… is to pick a “thing” that is livable.  Essentially you want to try your best to quell any excuse you might have NOT to post a blog post.  For the first few years of my blog there were some massive lapses in posting, and each one relates to a period where I just was not feeling the theme of my blog.  I didn’t want to be a rant blog, and if I didn’t have anything that made me excited about something… I stopped writing about it at all.  This was the achilles heel of being about a specific thing.  So I went through a series of “format changes”.  For awhile I tried to be a blog about raiding, or a blog about World of Warcraft in general.

Finally I had a massive reboot and become an official Rift Fansite for a bit, when I was hot and heavy over that title.  Thing is it wasn’t just my site that was changing, but it was me as well.  I had played this one game for seven years and I was entering a phase in my gaming where I didn’t really want to be tied down to this one thing any longer.  I am so thankful that early on I picked a pretty ambiguous title for the blog.  “Tales of the Aggronaut” can be so many things, and regardless of the game I am playing I always seem to have Tanking tendencies…  so Aggronaut always makes sense.  Had I been thinking properly at the time I would have simply named my blog Belghast.com and been done with it, shedding all illusion about what it would be.  Having an open ended name to the blog has allowed me to shift the format around a bit to fit whatever felt right at the time.

Now five years on you have a blog that is vastly different than where we started.  I am now habitually and happily poly-amorous when it comes to gaming, and my blog has become a cult of personality of sorts.  People are interested in reading what I write more than what I happen to be writing about.  I feel grateful and lucky to have reached that point, however in the beginning after watching lots of new bloggers hit the scene… it is probably better to try and be a blog about a “thing”.  Those blogs seem to have far better traction because they are easily relatable and more importantly easily integrated to an existing community that is whatever that “thing” happens to be.  All that said… when you name your blog, I highly suggest you give yourself an escape clause. Name your blog something that will make sense as this “thing” you want to write about, but also make sense as something else too.

Accessing the Community

I know the irony that is me writing about community after various posts I have made in the past about blogs and community.  However if your blog is going to get traction you need a community to support it.  This can mean different things, but ultimately you want to find a niche in the “thing” you are writing about, and also a niche in the community of bloggers that share that space.  This is the aspect of the Newbie Blogger Initiative that makes it so helpful.  By starting a blog right now, you are getting dumped into a shared space with lots of other budding bloggers, and a huge chunk of the blogging community is paying attention to you.  For example within the next few days I will be starting up a special blog roll again just for the NBI Class of 2014 giving each new blogger prime placement in my visual blog roll.  Similar lists are going to be spread throughout the verse showing you as someone they should be checking out.

One of the hardest things I find about making a successful blog is the self promotion aspect.  It is the piece that feels the least genuine and the most needy.  By entering the Newbie Blogger Initiative you are getting a bit of a pass on this one… at least for a little while.  We the established bloggers are going to be doing your promotions for you.  All you need to do is sit down and focus on producing great content.  There has been talk over the last few years that blogging is a dying art form.  While I don’t necessarily agree with the dying part… I do agree that we are in desperate need of fresh blood in our community.  So much of what we do is fed by interaction with others, and we need an ever widening circle of people to talk with.  There are moments when I swear I have had the same discussion with the same bloggers multiple times… and the more of us IN that conversation the less that is going to happen.  Won’t you please join the madness that is blogging, and leave your mark upon our community?

#NewbieBloggerInitiative #NBI2014 #GettingStarted #JoinUs