Preliminary plan: You and I playing online game, with podcast style commentary
All gameplay footage, us voiceover
Can possibly work contacts to get industry people to join us
Scratch that, definitely find devs to join us
Start indie, build from there
This is happening
The thing about a muse is that they really just do not give a fuck. I’d liken them to a taxi driver with dementia. If you’re outside on the corner, bags packed, ready to go, the muse will give you a lift and get you on the road. But if you’re dallying inside, double checking whether you packed an extra pair of socks, the cab will pull up, the driver will get out, open your door, lean against the car for a minute or two, promptly forget who and where he is and what he’s doing, hop back into the cab, and speed off on his merry way. Or her.
What I’m saying is, always carry a means to record your thoughts, because one day you, like me, may find yourself at the Berkeley downtown Y, working at a Smith press, in a nadir of both squat and spirit, when your addled old muse rolls up and says, “Yo.” Saying “Piss off, I’ve just got two more sets” to your muse is not an option. Saying “Convalescence, you jerk! Convalescence!” to your muse is not an option. Saying anything other than, “Do need pen, holy jesus, must to get out with the thoughts” to your muse is not an option.
Hence, the above text messages, which were sent to an unresponsive friend I’ll call Scooter.
Here’s one problem: As most people are aware, or can at least imagine, getting laid off is pretty much entirely bullshit. D-Day for me hit around 10:15 in the morning on that Monday, and so the wound still felt rather fresh. Truth be told, getting pushed out at GameSpot, I’d liken it to a wild goose winging me in the junk as I strolled down 2nd Street. I was that surprised. Jarring and emotional. Devastating, really, and I’d promised myself and others that it wouldn’t kill me to just hang around my house without pants on for the rest of April.
Also, I went to Mexico. There, I drank a lot, read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, largely without a shirt on, and I drank a lot. My brother-in-law (whom you’ll hear more about in Act II) brought his chess board, and reacquainting myself with that game served as a welcome distraction.
Quick tangent into the realm of chess. To be clear, I’m a terrible chess player, and that’s been the truth ever since I learned the game from my brother when I was 10. Staying out of mate? Easy. Mating an opponent? Not so much. Actually, you know what? Fuck quick tangents, let’s do this. I’m going to talk about chess here for an extended period of time.
I’m sitting on a canvas bed with my brother-in-law on a crowded beach in Mexico, topless, plastic travel chess board dividing us as only a man and another man who’s having regular sex with the first man’s sister can be divided. Which is to say, it’s sitting right there between us, and I’m thinking about how there’s this element of never giving ground in chess. And also of trying to steal the advantage.
Say your rook is threatened. You can flee, or you can trump the threat. You raise the stakes so that it becomes less attractive to attack, ideally forcing the other player to react defensively. And if they, like a blind, blundering fool, order a cavalry charge consequences be damned, you position yourself to gain more than you lose. You fall back on that old journalism maxim: Cover Your Ass. And you CYA by always making sure your frontline pieces are protected, that they have back up. A knight guards a bishop’s ass, a rook stands ready and willing to save the queen. What else? Push forward and establish board dominance by having as many pieces in play as possible. You bring the fight to the opponent, so as to make them accommodate you.
What’s interesting is what you do when you’re down, when you’ve got a queen and a rook all up in your business, preventing you from making an aggressive play on the opponent’s king. Two strategies spring to mind: strategic retreat and what I’ll call dynamic flux.
First, strategic retreat, or the idea of backing off your attack to put out the fires in your own backyard. It’s the idea of ignoring the king to put a hit out on the queen, or neutralizing the threat in advance of launching a counter. It’s a tough strategy that only seems applicable when you’re up against an opponent with measurably finite resources. Or, have a lot to lose.
To dynamic flux. The strategy as I see it is essentially where you shift the playfield to undermine the efforts of your opponent and force a change. (This Malcolm Gladwell article informs this idea.) The action has to be substantive, and you have to commit to it completely. It’s essentially a high-risk desperation move that involves making a sacrifice that your opponent believes you’d be unwilling to make, letting go of something with significant perceived value. What is a sacrifice my opponent believes I’m unwilling to make? Traffic, and by extension money. We quit talking about chess awhile ago, by the way.
A day after I get back from Mexico, I head to the Philz on Shattuck and order a Philtered Soul, fixated on the idea of how David takes out Goliath. There’s a common area above the coffee stations that is at all hours of the day inundated with Mac users, granola-crunching hippies, Cal kids of all genetic makeups, and your occasional unemployed purpose-seeker. One thing I’ll say about Phil: The man’s got a deviant’s fascination with the letter “Z,” but a glorious penchant for puns and brews a mean cup of coffee to boot. Do yourself a favor the next time you’re in the Bay Area and drop $3.50 on a cup of coffee at Philz.
Here’s three hours of navel gazing, sampled liberally from my journal: I want to be working on creating something meaningful and beautiful. I don’t want to be working solely for money. I want to be constructive. I don’t want to chase an audience. I want to entertain others. I want to make others’ lives better. I want to create a safe place where people can share ideas in a constructive, candid, non-judgmental way.
And from here: I want to tell good stories, and I have a number of means available to me. Text, video, games. The interesting thing about games is, conceivably, I could record me playing the game that I’ve created, and then post that video online.
Bring me home, Mr. Frog!: An artistic work is defined by the creator’s circumstances. I want to know these circumstances so that I can more fully understand and enjoy the artistic work. I want to know the people who make the games. And I want to write about them in a way that satisfies the intelligent and the curious.
So what have we got? A developer-centric podcast, a mod show, and comprehensive developer profiles. In the medical field, that’s what they’d call an ossature. Now it’s time to put some meat on those bones.
Up Next: Gaze into the Brand Eye of Sauron.