Today's the final day of Zarf's Kickstarter drive. It hit 300% funding weeks ago, and we're vying to get him over $30,000 (and nearly 400%!) before midnight.

I wrote more about this over on The Gameshelf. Summary: supporting this work isn't just a pledge to help improve the state of modern interactive fiction. It also helps prove that passionate (read: obsessed) game creators really can turn their dreams into reality without starving to death, and in so doing enrich the world with more and better art. Art! That's right, I am dropping the A-bomb here.

Now's the time to help wrench videogames out of the mainstream doldrums of adolescent power fantasies, inspiring independent creators to redefine the medium while the world watches. Even a just couple of bucks will help. Play the (eminently safe-for-work!) teaser, and then check out the Kickstarter page (featuring a video directed and edited by yours truly).


Why, yes, it is only ten minutes long. More details in the show notes.
Today's Gameshelf column: Similar Journeys in Very Different Games, on how a puzzle hunt I played over the weekend is like Shadow of the Colossus. I like it.

I have quietly modified my internal definition of The Gameshelf to be less the home base for my video series of the same name, and more the home of my weekly-ish column on games. I have lately been regarding this regular column experiment as the best personal decision I've made since incorporating Appleseed.

I will continue to work on video projects, as inspiration strikes. In fact, I don't plan on making this change of tack "official" until after I publish the video I've currently got laid out on the editing table, and which I hope to have done before June. (It'd be sooner, but I have to prepare a presentation on Planbeast first, whee.) But I have come to accept that, while I love working with video, writing is the only creative endeavor that I can actually accomplish with any regularity at all.

When I titled my first LJ post about my new columns "Yay I shipped something", I wasn't just being flippant. I was actually thrilled to have started and then completed a creative project within a reasonable amount of time. Since then, I've written several more columns, some of which I actually like, and several of which have netted some nice and unexpected feedback from various sources. It's encouraged me to start pitching column ideas at magazines and other websites, and I feel optimistic about where that in turn might lead.

Clearly, I'm pretty good at this, and I like doing it. Just as clearly, would be foolish to not react appropriately.
I've been continuing to write columns every week for The Gameshelf. I still spend a solid work-day laboring at each one, but have yet to regret my time so spent.

Most recent work:

My Vicarious GDC Takeaways

St. Gulik Added You as a Friend

Then PAX happened, and I didn't write anything the following week. Then I wrote only about PAX for a while:

What I Bought at PAX East 2010, Part 1

PAX East 2010: The IF Videos (Mostly)

What I Bought at PAX East 2010, Part 2

I posted that last one today, and I think it wraps up everything I had to say about the expo, finally. This does not count the many column ideas that came from conversations had or overheard at PAX, and with luck and fair winds I'll be digging into those presently.

Egoboo OTD

Friday, 19 March 2010 01:17
Kotaku, a very popular video game fansite, picked up my most recent Gameshelf column, reprinting it (and modifying the headline somewhat) with my permission. Though I put on airs of being a snootypants indie game critic, you know that this made my day.

Because it's Kotaku, this version of my column actually has comments. I find myself at peace with letting them just spool out as they will, with no further comment from me. (The column involves some dork flapping his gums about comic books to a crowd of video game fans, so the average level of immediately resulting discourse is... unsurprising.)
• Final bizcard design. This is the actual image I sent to yesterday; I expect to have a bucketful of cards by PAX day. Thanks be to various Arbitrarium denizens for helping me fine-tune it.

I wrote another column on comics and video games. It's a bit wanky and therefore everyone seems to have ignored it, but I had fun with it anyway. (Because: wanky.)

• Spent the weekend in DC with Amy, visiting our friend Monica and eating things and looking at things. I'd been to the city before, but never for its own sake.

The high point was our tour of the monuments on Sunday. Walking through the (very) different war monuments put me into an unusually quiet and receptive state, and perhaps I should have paused before moving on to the Lincoln memorial. But I did not, and so suddenly finding myself standing in the presence proved such a crescendo that I nearly broke down. I had to exert real effort not to sob loudly as I scuttled, trembling, behind one of the big pillars. It took me long minutes before I could look directly at the statue, and even then I had to sidestep slowly from behind my hiding place, making its revelation gradual.

I have never before experienced such a reaction to a piece of static artwork.
I'm two weeks in to a writing experiment, posting a long opinion piece about games every Monday to the Gameshelf. I'm not limiting myself to Mondays only, but the rule is that there has to be something there on Monday no matter what. The columns I've written so far are Farewell to Megaton and Shelf Space, intended to be my first couple of steps in a series of columns about the state of online gaming (and my own relationship with it). I don't necessarily intend to keep writing about online games week after week, and might switch to some other topic for a change of pace before I've said all I intend to say about that.

So far I'm not super happy with my output. It's not like the TF2 column, which really wanted to be written and punched its way out of me. I know that if my deadline wasn't there, I'd have said this isn't going anywhere in both cases, and abandoned them. Instead, I spent hours and hours on each, working and refining until I finally ended up with a structure that had approximately one focus and seemed to stand up by itself.

More than anything, the experience so far reminds of one of the most painful things of working as an editor for The Maine Campus, the student paper that defined my life in the middle 1990s. One of the rules for being an editor was writing an opinion piece on a regular schedule, weekly or biweekly. As a group, we'd occasionally write a real goodie, but usually we wrote vapid stinkers just to take up the column-inches. Sometimes we openly apologized within the column itself for having nothing to say that week. But, you know: deadlines. Hope you're enjoying your lunch, anyway!

I guess I'll see how I feel after a month of this.
I wrote a column about stuff I learned from playing Team Fortress 2, more introspection of my own identity as a gamer than anything objective about the game. In other words, typical overlong jmac blather on childish fripperies. I hope you enjoy it!

WRT stuff I wrote about over the weekend: conversations I've had since then have put more gas in the Gameshelf tank, and opened my eyes to the fact that there's approximately no chance I will have a game fit for publication by the time PAX comes around. So I have stopped climbing the walls over that.

I've also reminded myself that Planbeast is not a by-myself project, and was never intended to be one, so I should stop trying to cover all its bases alone. But I do need to get back to finding help for it, once more.
Earlier this week I created a new Google Group called "The Gameshelf Players", which I plan to use for announcements and discussion relevant to folks interested in appearing on future episodes of my show.

Now's a peachy time to join, if you'd like, since I am presenting composing my first post to that group about the talent I'll need for the upcoming episode. I plan on continuing to use LJ for talent-trolling, but I reckon that the group (with its attached mailing list) will be a better place to have any resulting discussion.
Howdy, Gameshelf Players and other friends,

I'm looking for some folks who would be willing to play the extremely silly tabletop game "Action Castle" on-camera for the next episode of the Gameshelf. It's a one-shot party game that spoofs circa-1980 text adventure games, where the GM plays the text parser, and all the players take turns "typing in" commands to make the hero stumble through the map in an attempt to rescue the princess.

It's quite unlikely you've even heard of this game before, and so much the better. It's a one-shot deal, and the rules can be digested in a minute. The footage of the gameplay is going to fit into a segment of larger episode about how interactive fiction is perceived within gaming culture.

No shooting date or location is set yet, but I'd like to have this happen on this side of the Yuletide gravity well. The time commitment is relatively light - I'd estimate four hours on the day of the shoot, with no rehearsal necessary. If this sounds fun to you, please let me know. Thanks!
Excerpt from a recent letter from me to the Gameshelf crew:
If I may offer an aside, take a look at this:

It's an example of something I've been looking for for a while - a television-quality, web-based series on some nonfiction topic that isn't straight-up comedy (or games), but uses comedy to ease the topic along. In this case, it's a show about men's clothing. Seeing it makes me very happy.

The fundraising and sponsorship stuff evidenced is quite interesting, but it's the format that has me really on the edge of my seat. I watched the whole thing, and felt full - smarter _and_ entertained - and only ten minutes had gone by. And indeed, I'm not sure I would have sat and ate through the whole thing if the timer at the start had read, say, 30:00 rather than 10:00.

This show, and my experience of approaching it as audience, is the first hard evidence I've encountered for an argument I haven't properly had with myself: whether Gameshelf episodes should be shorter - a _lot_ shorter. I never really revisited the question of show length, even though I started considering the Gameshelf more of an internet-based TV show than a literal watch-it-on-a-television TV show. Seeing an excellent show like "Put This On", which aims way higher than typical YouTube fare, and yet still keeps to a YouTube-friendly length, is a strong argument in the make-it-shorter column.
I'm going to experiment with this for the next episode.


Sunday, 25 October 2009 19:44
Before I start talking about some other damn thing: warmest congratulations to my dear friends Jess ([ profile] dictator555) and Nate-of-no-real-social-media-presence on getting married yesterday evening. I was pleased and honored to be in attendance for the relaxed and friendly ceremony out in Western Mass, which turned into kind of a con (of the fannish variety)... eventually nobody was left except a gaggle of gamer geeks staying up late, and many of us slept over. (The venue had a B&B conveniently attached.)

I just realized that this now means more than half of the seven players from the Diplomacy episode have gotten married since we filmed the game in early June. Wow. And they call that game divisive?
Thanks for all the feedback re: cut tags on (non-LJ) blogs! I've instituted them on Gameshelf and am cautiously optimistic that the site's bounce rate has decreased as a result. It's still pretty crappy even so, but there's other fixes I've got in mind for that.

Bounce rate, in Google Analytics-ese, represents the percentage of people who stay on a site for five seconds or less - in other words, they load the site, say "meh", and move along. Some bounce is inevitable: there are regular readers who don't use RSS and visit the site between updates, and there are folks who breeze in from search engines and decide that we're not what they were looking for. Based on research, I'd like to get our bounce rate down to 50 percent. It's been hovering around 80-85 percent, which suggests that we're losing a lot of potential audience that should be more interested in us, but the site looks so boring that they have no reason to stay...

In other news, for the last week I've been trying to set up Time Machine in our home so that both my laptop - which speaks to the internet only via WiFi - and my Ethernet-using desktop Mac can both benefit. (The Intellish laptop is my main work machine, and the desktop, a rusty ol G5, performs various labors appropriate to a sessile machine: print server, Torrent torrenter, etc.)

First, I purchased a 1.5TB external hard drive last weekend, connected it to the G5 via USB, and net-mounted it on the laptop. The G5 took to it immediately, and after some groveling, I got a setup where the laptop was also backing up to it - but the Time Machine browser failed to ever show any history for the laptop. It acted as if no backups had ever been made, even though they were all there and accounted for on the backup disk, with new patches getting added every hour.

I couldn't find a solution to this on the web, though I quickly got the impression that was I was trying to do was quite unorthodox, and might work better if I acquired an Apple Airport Extreme router, and plugged the drive into that. So yesterday I visited my friendly local Apple store and had a conversation about this with one of the experts there. Was told that what I had in mind wasn't an officially supported solution, but the fellow had set up something similar in his house, and if I didn't mind getting my hands dirty it should work fine. OK, sold.

So am how having both machines perform their initial backups over the network, to the hard drive that is now plugged in downstairs, under the television, piled in with all the game consoles and DVRs and the new Airport router. They've been going at it for close to 12 hours now, and have miles to go, but that's expected; there's a lot of data. (Yes, I excluded the enormous Final Cut Scratch directories and such from the backup process. There's still a lot of data.) We'll see how well this works.

Side question: if any locals have a FireWire cable they'd be willing to lend me, it may help reduce the laptop's backup time from a few days to a few hours. (Its Ethernet port is busted, alas.)
If you're bored at work today, please consider suggesting the Diplomacy show ( as a link du jour to Boing Boing (

(Yes, cross-posting from twitter / facebook. I don't do this every day! I thank you for your patience, as well as any flogging of my links you can spare.)
The thing about the Diplomacy show was that it had the weight of a thesis, for me. Even though so many other people were instrumental to its production, the invisible (I hope!) work of editing took up the vast majority of the raw labor involved, and that was all performed by Y.T. . So now that it's done, I wanna take a vacation. But instead, I have my day job waiting for me! For now I must settle for the celebratory dinner at a favorite restaurant that [ profile] classicaljunkie treated me to a couple of nights ago.

It's hard, though. I want to spend some time removed, and recharging. I spent a little too much time yesterday obsessively reloading my stats pages on, YouTube and BGG, and bouncing with delight each time I got five more views. Fun, but pointless. It's been a while.
Finished the first draft this evening, after putting another full weekend of work into it. Showed to it a focus group ([ profile] classicaljunkie), and now have a bullet list of 17 fixes to make before release. This is good, but, goddamn I'm tired of this thing. This, too, is good. The burning sensation means it's working, etc.

The thing that's made this such an albatross is the lack of control. The gameplay was totally unscripted, and since I had no first-hand experience with Diplomacy going in, I had no plans for the show's structure once the cameras started rolling. This is not good. In my case this was 18 hours of raw, completely undirected footage of not good. It's at least tripled the amount of work I've had to put into this, compared to an "ordinary" episode. I will not knowingly make this mistake ever again.

I'm bummed because I really thought I'd be done this weekend. I'm not going to say when it will be done. I will surprise you. I just want this off my plate so I can move on, because I am excited to start applying everything I've learned to a fresh canvas.
Notes on a talk I led on game criticism, and a list of links I dropped in the middle of other peoples' talks:
I didn't meet my original goal of publishing the Diplomacy episode by GameLoop, but I did manage to put a teaser for it together:

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