Category Archives: JoCoCruiseCrazy

Guest Blog by Shane Nickerson: Endgame

Shane Nickerson is a guy who does stuff. He writes every day at nickerblog.com.

So, I never told you the Vegas story and now we’re out of time. Dammit. You would have liked it. It had laughs and drinks and delicious meals and gambling and foibles.

I have no idea what foibles means.

Point is, I’ll leave the Vegas story for another time. Unlike Wil, I didn’t take detailed notes all weekend in my Moleskine. Also, I don’t have a proper picture of three grown men holding giant plastic party drinks at a Let It Ride table because someone in the group (name rhymes with Bil) thought it would be hilarious and insisted on sticking with the bit even when we begged him for the bit to be over. BEGGED! I eventually paid our friend Ryan [drunk amount of] dollars to pound one of the stupid drinks in under a minute. He did. Like I said, there is video.

Also, there was a running Telly Savalas joke that I barely remember.

VEGAS!

Worst recap ever.

If my calendar is right, Wil and the rest of the singing, dancing, sunburned booze hounds aboard JoCo Cruise Crazy are almost home. Alas, my time here is at an end. It’s been fun borrowing Wil’s audience for a week. Will and Stepto and I did our best to keep his chair warm while he was gone. We were the Joan Rivers to Wil’s Johnny Carson. 3 or 4 of you will get that.

Thanks for having me.  This community is amazing. WWdN is an epicenter of creativity and connections, and it has always been one of my favorite places on the Internet.

If you need me, you know where to find me.

TELLY SAVALAS FOREVER!

See? Makes no sense.

Guest Blog by Will Hindmarch: Flow

Will Hindmarch is a writer, designer, and mooncalf. You can find some of his stories for sale online at Amazon, DriveThruFiction, and other sites. Long ago, in ages past, he wrote things at wordstudio.net.

(Update: Looking back, I feel sort of silly sharing this. To be clear, I don’t think my changing relationship with video games is due to the games or gamers—not really. I’m just musing here, wondering why it is that I can’t dive into games like I used to. I still don’t know what’s up there. So it goes.)

Listen, can I confess something to you? Lately I’ve been having some trouble with video games.

I’m super excited to play some of the games on my to-play list but I don’t know when I’m supposed to do that. The impulse that used to signal me to play video games often gets met by different pastimes right now—for me, at least. By the end of my day, when I might otherwise power up my console, I find myself torn.

  • Music: “The Last Man,” from The Fountain, music by Clint Mansell

It’s a multifaceted problem. For comparison’s sake, consider how I operate at my desk. When I’m there, I’m almost always doing two things at once, whether I’m working or not.

When I’m working on something largely visual, like the layout for a book, I listen to podcasts at the same time. I listen to Wil and friends talk gaming with Gabe Newell and Co. at Valve. I listen to writers talk shop on the Nerdist Writer’s Panel. I listen to Ken Hite and Robin D. Laws talk about stuff. I get to take in know-how and stories at the same time I get to create things. I like that.

When I’m writing, I put on music. I get to absorb music and generate prose at the same time. This helps me escape my environment a little bit and put myself into a headspace that’s a few mental clicks away from the pressures of the blank page.

I often devise a playlist for the project I’m working on. For example, while writing “A Desert is Implicit,” I listened to a playlist I called “Future Desert,” populated with things like the soundtracks from Halo: ODST, Journey, Caprica, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Other playlists, like “Futuristic Operatic,” “Mission Driven,” and “Epic Fantastic” get played for a variety of projects that sort of sync up thematically.

  • Music: “Goodbye Renegade” from Tron: Uprising, music by Joseph Trapanese

These sorts of support structures aren’t necessary, though; they’re luxuries. They give me a chance to do two things once and get more day out of my day. They help work feel more like play.

I say this because it’s important, in my experience, to be able to write without rituals. I don’t need music to write. One way I know the work’s going well is when a playlist runs out and I discover I’ve been writing in silence for an hour. That’s flow.

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Guest Post by Stephen Toulouse: A Mythending Adventure Ends in Fiasco for Munchausen

This guest post is by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. He made a comedy album you can get on Bandcamp (cheapest option), iTunes or Amazon and wrote a book called A Microsoft Life. He blogs at Stepto.com.

If I had to pick three of my new favorite games my gaming circle has introduced me to this past year, it would be Fiasco, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Mythender. All three of these games involve basic improvisation skills and TERRIFY ME BEYOND ALL BELIEF. They are also terribly fun not just to play but to kibitz as well. (note I’m using the non-dick meaning of kibitz where you don’t constantly interrupt the game.)

The problem is I travel in some circles that involve people who write or perform for a living, so playing Fiasco with Wil, or Munchausen with Pat Rothfoss and Mike Selniker, or Mythender with Ryan Macklin can be mega super daunting. I’ll give you a for-instance: during a Fiasco game, Wil’s character was to meet my friend Eric’s character in a cheap bar. It was not the kind of place Wil’s character would ever go if he didn’t have to. Here’s how Wil opened the scene:

“I sit in the seedy bar, noting with disdain and disgust the rips in the vinyl cover of the dirty booth. With a sigh I slowly stir my cheap blend scotch rocks (the best this place could offer) with my finger watching the oily swirls of the cheap booze and the water. The tumbler is dirty and heavy, made from some poor cloudy looking glass. The smell of greasy beef coming from the kitchen well within view of the dining area is making me sick. I see [Eric’s Character] enter from the side, he looks shabby as always.”*

I mean, that’s how he opened. Eric played up to it perfectly but if you’re playing these games and people who have a lot of fun and a background of creativity and improv are playing with you, it can quickly put you in performance anxiety mode.

Thusly, I have tips for playing these games. These aren’t improv or story telling tips, they are just tips centered around the game experience itself.

#1: Don’t feel like you have to play to win.

Yes, most of these games have a form of scoring. But their structure is far more oriented towards everyone enjoying the game itself. I’ve “lost” many a game of Fiasco but much like losing at Chess I had a great time playing and learned something. I find I can relax my mind in these games quite a bit by simply not caring if I win.

#2: Role playing skills vary widely among people, don’t force yourself to try and play at the level of others.

This is by far the handiest tip I can give you, because it helps me the most. So when someone at the table absolutely knocks a scene or moment out of the park, don’t let that little voice who says “Well, I shouldn’t even speak at this point that was so good” stop you. I’ve played Fiasco games where the best role player or improv person actually didn’t win. It’s not about who can consistently turn their scenes into Shakespeare.

#3: Embrace the absurd or impossible when it’s presented.

This is by far the hardest tip to do. During a session of Munchausen, Pat was explaining how his rudimentary space ship reached the moon when Mike interjected and introduced a game challenge:

“But sir, what I do not understand is how you managed the trip being dead the entire time!”

Had I gotten that challenge I would have locked up and probably pushed back the challenge (you can do that in Munchausen), but it’s such a good challenge the other players would have forced it back on me. Pat took it in stride and wove a quick aside of what it truly means to be dead. I saw a similar scene in Fiasco where one character started off the scene describing the other character standing over their character’s own dead body, bloody knife in hand. This forced the other player to completely change what they were planning and explain how the situation came to be.

This is a hard piece of advice for these games because situations like this can happen often and force you into total and pure improv even if you already felt good about where you wanted to go. Take a moment, think about how you really would explain such a thing, and go for it.

#4: Have fun. It’s perfectly ok to stumble a bit or fail.

The most frustrating thing about these games is when people want to play them but feel they just aren’t good enough. Chances are if you are playing these games you are playing them with friends or, believe me, soon to be friends. If you take a moment to react to dialogue, or feel a story you are telling just isn’t working out, that’s ok. Sometimes there’s great fun in these games to playing in a more minimalist fashion with story telling and instead play the role of kingmaker by using your challenges or points to decide the winner. The point being if you’re going to sit at the table because this looks like fun, no one wants you to feel like this 20 minutes into it:

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I hope those tips help. If these games are new to you and you have no idea what I am talking about try watching the episode of TableTop featuring Fiasco!

Stepto

*I exaggerate only slightly. That’s more or less how Wil opened the scene. It was hysterical.

Guest Blog by Will Hindmarch: Tabletop’s Dragon Age, Part Two!

Will Hindmarch was one of the guys next to the guy who did the thing. No, to the other side. Yeah, that guy. Will used to blog at wordstudio.net.

I imagine Wil would want you to know, as I want you to know, that the new episode of Tabletop—featuring the exciting conclusion of the two-part star-studded Dragon Age adventure—is now live online and you can watch it online because it is live online right now, online, here.

Go and watch and subscribe to the channel and if you like the video click Like, like you do. Okay? Okay.

Guest Blog by Shane Nickerson: bombed

 Shane Nickerson hates the word “selfies.” He inhabits nickerblog.com.

bombed

I know I joked about posting compromising photos of Wil, but let’s be honest, there aren’t any. Instead, here’s one of my favorite photos on my phone from Wil’s epic 40th surprise birthday party. A multi layered photo bomb featuring Wil (holding the coolest Dalek stein ever), Chris Mackenzie, Jesse Mackey, Philip “Photobomber” Plait, me and a few others. It was the best surprise party I’ve ever attended. Anne set the bar so high on throwing a surprise party that no one should ever even attempt to throw another one ever for the rest of time forever and ever infinity. That category is now closed out.

I seriously cannot get enough of photobombing. Please everyone keep doing this to pictures ALL OF THE TIMES.

 

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Fireworks Outside

Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer and designer who co-produces the occasional off-shoot event with Story Club Chicago. (New South Side shows are coming this spring!) It’s possible he drank the last of the almond milk.

(Now and again, I plug into Chicago’s rich and varied live lit scene. Watching people tell their stories live—and trying to tell my own—has taught me a lot about story construction, audience dynamics, and how to let people into your work. The following is the first thing I ever read at one of these events. I read it at Dana Norris’s amazing Story Club series in Chicago. Though I’d read in front of audiences before—on stage, in bookshops and auditoriums, on the radio—the experience with the audience there was a delight. If you can find storytelling events in your town, maybe give them a shot as audience or reader.)

(You can also hear me read a variation of this piece on Installment 4 of the Broad Shoulders podcast, for grown-ups.)

In summertime, the sky above my neighborhood gets loud. Explosions live there. They set off car alarms. Sometimes the echoes of the explosions get drowned out by cheers or laughter, sometimes by what sounds like panic. Most of the time, they’re followed by silence. From my desk, I hear the blasts whistle and pop, crackle and boom.

I’m inside, at my computer, making a big deal out of stuff someone wrote on an Internet forum or on Google+ or wherever. I fret and fidget and dwell and obsess. I mistake forum posts for, pardon me, actual writing. I sometimes spend time trying to get the language and nuance of a forum post just right, to reward a deep reading for context and subtext and what I didn’t say in addition to what I did say. I craft tweets to work in series, to counterbalance doldrums with guffaws, to modulate the ups and downs to convey the ongoing arc of the character I portray online. I open the browser like it was a leather case and I fiddle. It’s like busking, except I tweet out in the hopes that others will send tweets back. I tweet for tweets and wonder why my novel’s not finished.

And my modem keeps cutting out, like it’s trying to spare me from something, like it’s trying to hide a newspaper from me at the breakfast table. For a few days, I dreaded what was happening on the Internet without me. What gags and dramas passed by? What glimpses into other people’s lives? Was I falling out of the conversation, falling behind the discourse?

Outside, a firework booms.

Fireworks are both grand and nerve-wracking for me. I like my fingers. I want to keep my fingers. Yet I don’t think too hard about the explosions going off outside my building. They zoom and pop and light up the night for a second—just a second—and then they’re gone. I think of them as atmosphere.

But I’m sitting at my desk, facing the Internet, when another big boom rattles the joint and knocks a thought off a shelf in my head.

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Guest Blog by Shane Nickerson: Start

Shane Nickerson is a guy on a couch. You can find him at nickerblog.com.

You don’t have to start with something perfect, but you do have to start with something.

As someone who struggles daily to actually believe that I am an artist, I am constantly inspired by people who push through the darkest hour of creating new things: the self-doubt phase. It’s a gloomy time right after you have a big idea, because all of those negative brainbots activate to convince you that it won’t work/isn’t good enough/has probably been done/shouldn’t happen/is stupid. I’ve had an idea, gotten excited about it, let my mind imagine the possibilities, registered a relevant domain name, then murdered the idea in cold blood when that negativity prevails. All in under an hour.

The alternative, which is much more difficult, is to have faith in an idea. That faith, a firm belief in something for which there is no proof, becomes essential when the dark voices start piping up with the “dude, don’t bother!” or the “who are you kidding, you’re not an artist?” It carries me through the murky transitional zone between “ZOMG IDEA!” and “BEGIN BUILDING IDEA.”  Anyone can think of something. Doing something is much more difficult.

If you listen to critics of art and begin to believe them, you will never make anything. Critics are everywhere. They slam movies, writing, ideas, creative decisions, people, past work, future work and at their worst, assume they understand someone else’s motivation for creating something. They’re on Twitter, on Facebook, blogs, at your work, sometimes in your family. These people shit on other people’s efforts because being a critic is easy. It requires no skill, no effort, and no faith. Most of all, being critical justifies those dark voices in their own heads about why their ideas aren’t good enough. If you’re not careful, it will justify your own as well.

One of the loudest voices in my head, the real dick of all the voices, likes to tell me that what I’m making won’t be perfect. It’s an impossible standard to live up to, perfection, and is therefore an effective weapon against my own creativity. I’m often tempted to give up before I begin. But I’ve tried to stop doing that. After 41 years, I’ve finally begun to realize that you have to start. You have to begin to make something before you can worry about how it’s going to end up. If you don’t start, you have nothing.

I want to be like the people who keep pushing forward, in spite of the critics, self doubt, and uncomfortable odds. They try new things. They take risks. They eat shit sometimes. They get back up and try other new things. Their successes are widely embraced. Their misfires are lonely. Most of all, their art is inspiring.

If I’ve learned anything in my shaky life as an artist, it’s that you must stop talking and spinning and whining and start making your thing today. Pick up a camera. Pick up an easel. Open your laptop and turn off your Internet connection while you write. Find a starting point. Ignore the voices. Ignore the critics. Reward yourself for having ideas by valuing them enough to believe in them.

Failure does not exist.

Guest Blog by Stephen Toulouse: Starting a Conversation, Video Games and Violence

This guest post is by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. He made a comedy album you can get on Bandcamp (cheapest option), iTunes or Amazon and wrote a book called A Microsoft Life. He blogs at Stepto.com.

Warning: Serious post is serious. I know right?  Should be totally non-controversial.

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi stated what a lot of us already know and research has shown: That video games don’t instill violent behavior.

Video games are an easy scapegoat for the results of real world violence. Before video games became so realistic, violent films were the scapegoat. Our American culture is unique in its embrace of violence. The entertainment industry is consistent in its reaction to these events, wrapping freedom of artistic expression in the first amendment as the gun industry wraps itself in the second amendment.

I’ve been a gamer all my life and in the industry for the past six or seven years and I think someone needs to say it: As an industry we need to stop turtling up when these terrible events happen and stop insisting that any discussion omit the impact of violent entertainment or culture on those in whom violence may be already present. We need to be part of the conversation and we should not be afraid of where it leads.

Let me tell you a story about why.

Like any discerning gun user, I was noodling over whether I wanted to switch from my SCAR-H to my new Magpul PDW-R. There were important considerations here: stopping power, range, fire rate, recoil, whether I wanted to switch to NATO 5.56 rounds from the larger 7.62’s. I had to think about the number of rounds per magazine, number of magazines I could carry, and whether or not it was a good weapon for close encounter firefights as well as longer range ones. I was hardly going to be an asset in a situation where a gunman surprised me and my friends unless I had the optimal tool for the job!

I’m 40 years old, never owned a firearm, and I’ve never touched an assault rifle. So why do I know so much about assault weapons? Video games. I was choosing the above weapons as my loadouts for Battlefield 3. I have an incredible education and wealth of knowledge about such weapons due to games like Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty. It is an education I would not otherwise have. Likewise I have an education in single or squad combat tactics, understand enfilade and defilade, trigger discipline, conservation of ammo, and suppressing fire.

In short, I have a basic level of combat training that a hundred years ago would only be available to those in the military. (Note that I’m not saying these video game skills would make me an effective combat soldier in the actual terror of a firefight. I’m saying if you wanted to train me to be a soldier, I’m already part way there) Now granted, I could also learn a lot of this from movies, Youtube videos, or books or the Internet in general. But to actually practice the execution of those concepts is easiest through games.

Worse than that, I’ve virtually massacred dozens of innocent people as a mass shooter in a Russian airport in the Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 mission “No Russian”, an emotionally wrenching mission that I can say I did not enjoy playing but I understand its place in the narrative.

Now, I’m not about to snap. I feel pretty strongly confident about that! But let’s say I began to deteriorate over months, obtain guns and then commit a terrible crime.

Is it unreasonable to ask the question of whether or not I was impacted by entertainment, or made a more effective killer because of it?

I don’t know if the answer is “yes” or “no” to the latter question, but I believe it is not unreasonable to ask it. And yet my industry tends to react with howls of outrage when it’s brought up. To be fair, it’s often brought up alongside the trigger question of “Do video games in and of themselves cause violence?” However the defensive reaction to even the idea that money should be spent looking into this has been as consistent as is the NRA’s opposition to having gun control be a part of the discussion. We (myself included) roll our eyes at having to have this argument again.

I thought a lot about myself when I was choosing those weapons in Battlefield 3. I realized that I contained a lot of knowledge uniquely specific to the killing of other human beings when I was weighing those options in the game, and it bothered me deeply. I do not believe the concept that these games are “murder simulators” (paintball would be more effective at that, video game levels and physics are meticulously designed for fun factor and aren’t terribly realistic). But the idea I had all that knowledge in my head bothered me.

So I think that we as an industry need to be a part of this conversation much more than we are right now, or we can’t expect those we think will have a bigger impact to be a part of it either. I was proud to see Electronic Arts and Activision and other companies talk to Vice President Biden on the issue. I think the reaction so far to the latest round of violence has been far less defensive than before. I also saw a lot of opinion pieces and forums posts stating it’s a waste of money to study it. I still saw some of the old defensiveness.

I think the industry should be leading the discussion, given the success of games centered on combat violence involving guns, especially real life weaponry.

To be clear I know tons of responsible gun owners, I think the problem of violence in our society is complex and multifaceted. There are no easy answers here. And perhaps I’m not seeing the measured voices of reason in the industry who want to take a look at this, or hey maybe I just have this whole thing wrong. I’d love to know what you guys think in the comments.

*One side point, I play and enjoy Battlefield games and Call of Duty games. I’ve assisted in making them and other “shooter” games better during their development. I’m not suggesting they are bad or a threat to society or anything like that. They are used here simply to illustrate a point: that video games can be very powerful educators as well as entertainment. It’s worth looking at what they are educating us on and any impact that might have.

Guest Blog by Shane Nickerson: Your Turn

Shane Nickerson is a great speller, but he makes up his own grammar. You can find him at nickerblog.com

If you live wrong for long enough, you can forget how to get back.

I’ve spent a significant portion of my life trying to impress people who barely know me. It’s a curse, I think. Unjustified vanity. I suppose it’s what drove me into a career in entertainment. It’s also probably why I blog, tweet, Facebook, Instagram, G+, Vine, and [insert new social media fad here]. It’s clearly what’s driving me to write this entry. I’ve heard theories about why certain people spend most of their lives trying to gain all of the social acceptance they missed out on as kids. Alas, understanding the character flaw does nothing to eliminate the character flaw.

Part of getting older is the discovery that there is no end plateau you eventually reach where everything is finally perfect. Maturity is a myth. You spend the first half of your life chasing maturity and the second half figuring out how to be escape it.  By the end of 2012, I was feeling lost. A show that I produced had recently ended after five seasons, I was on the tail end of a six month decline into party/pig mode, and I started to feel like I didn’t have a lot of real friends in my life. Three kids and a busy job make it difficult to invest time into old friendships, and before you know it, years have gone by and you’ve drifted into deep, lonely water.

Wil and I actually don’t see each other very often, IRL. He’s busy, I’m busy. It’s nothing to lament; it’s how life works. He is, however, one of those people who makes it easy to pick up where we left off, even if it’s been months (or years) since actually hanging out. Friends like that are important. They can, in an instant, remind you how to get back. They can help you to remember what matters and who you are. They can make it clear to you that you’ve been spending too much time trying to impress the people you barely know at the expense of the people you actually do. They can do all of these things without even knowing they’ve done them.

In spite of our separate schedules, we’ve always managed to stay in touch via email, Twitter and blogging. Each time I visit WWdN feels like visiting an old friend. I’ll bet most of you feel the same way…

What keeps you coming back here? His writing? His acting? Did TableTop change your life? Is beer also your spirit animal? Did he sign your boobs at a convention? (PIX OR IT DIDN’T HAPZ)

Now’s your chance, while he’s away at sea. What’s your Wil Wheaton story? What is it, specifically that connects you to him?

Guest Blog by Will Hindmarch: The First RPG

Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer, game developer, and graphic designer.

Listen, I know you’re busy, but let’s talk about how you can help me out.

Some of you, maybe a lot of you, play roleplaying games like Wil and I do. Maybe you’ve just recently given them a shot after seeing things like Dragon Age or Fiasco featured on Tabletop. (You’ve seen those episodes, right?) Maybe you’ve been playing for years and the first RPG you started with has faded into legend.

Either way, I want to axe you two questions:

  1. What was your introduction to roleplaying games?
  2. What do you want in an introductory RPG today?

If you think these questions don’t apply to you, please reconsider. Don’t play RPGs (yet)? How did you first hear about them? What would you want an RPG to be to get you to give it a shot—faster, cheaper, more or less digital, more or less random?

I want to be smarter. Give me your knowledge.