Beside Myself

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you’re probably aware that I’m looking forward to the release XCOM 2.

Okay, that’s a huge understatement. I’ve been going nearly crazy with anticipation, and it’s only intensifying as the date gets closer. It’s understandable, I suppose. My first real memory of getting into a digital game in a big way was Julian Gollop’s Laser Squad on the Commodore 64 back in the late 80s (yes, I’m old). Not so coincidentally, Mr. Gollop also was the creator of the original X-Com back in 1994, but I somehow missed that one when it was new. I did not, however, miss Jagged Alliance 2, Silent Storm, the UFO After[word] series, or a number of other games in the genre. Including, of course, the new XCOM released by Firaxis a few years back which, despite a Steam library that’s bloated with bundle games, I have put right around 200 hours into. XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within is one of my favorite games of all time, and the sequel looks to be more of the same with further levels of Firaxis polish on it, so yeah, I’m really stoked about it. I have purchased the deluxe version of the game on pre-order, and I have requested vacation time around the release date (postponing a traditional post-holiday week of vacation in the process). I’ve spent a bunch of time watching lets play videos (something I virtually never do) and have scoured the website for information. I’m trying to get as much of the experience as I possibly can before I get the game for real.

I go through something similar, albeit on a much less intense level whenever a new Magic: the Gathering set comes out. Once spoiler season starts for the new set, I eagerly check to see what new cards were revealed on my lunch break at work and start thinking about what decks those would go into or what new decks they’d suggest. By the time the prerelease rolls around, I’m pretty excited. And the same is almost always true when I get to start a new RPG campaign (especially if I’m GMing and get to share the world I’ve made with my players).

There are people who will will say that the anticipation is more fun than actually getting the thing, but I’m not one of them. When the waiting period ends and I get The Thing (whatever it is), the anticipation often seems to intensify the enjoyment I get out of it, but usually the fun of digging into all of the complexities and possibilities of The Thing far outweigh the fun of imagining what it’ll be like. The stuff that really grabs me is almost always something I have to dig into and interact with in a major way – I used to feel the same way about Lego sets when I was a kid.

Oh, by the way, I’m 37, married, and have a full-time job, a car payment, and I serve on two volunteer boards. I’m in management at my job. I have responsibilities and obligations – adulthood has happened to me, with all of its freedom and all of its shackles and all of the paradoxes that those two concepts imply, and I do take it very seriously.

In a lot of ways, new games give me a way, however briefly, to reconnect with the excitement of being a child, and I think that’s extremely valuable. Adulthood can be a grinding experience, as many (if not most) of you reading this will know. When the various things from the last paragraph start stacking up, I can get some satisfaction out of doing them well or handling them efficiently, but oftentimes there’s not much in the way of joy or excitement to it. I go to work, pay my bills, and otherwise handle my obligations because it’s the right thing to do on my good days and because I know that there will be consequences if I don’t on my bad ones, but I seldom get the same giddy “I can’t wait!” feeling except for when my hobbies are involved, and that in and of itself is one of the best arguments for having them that I could think of.

As always, I’d love to hear what any of you have to say – I’d love to hear about the stuff that gets you all giddy with excitement, and (of course) if any of the rest of you are going to be playing XCOM 2, I’m certain I’ll be plenty excited to talk about that after Friday.

-Peter


Episode 77 – Surrender


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Grant and Peter tackle a pervasive problem afflicting gamers everywhere: A collective inability to handle surrendering PCs and NPCs properly. It’s a topic we’ve had on our to-do list since we started the podcast back in 2012 (Grant credits Fear the Boot #268 for inspiration), and it turns out to have important ramifications for how we play our games. Plus, Grant and Peter briefly discuss the Microscope RPG and issue a call to action: Listeners, fill our mailbag!

Scripture: Jeremiah 38:17-18Philippians 2:5-8


Starting a Podcast, Part 4: Standing Out in Crowded Spaces 2

Hey, folks—Grant here, making a rare blogging appearance! I wanted to follow up on Peter’s “Starting a Podcast” series with my own suggestions. This won’t be as formalized as Peter’s multi-step procedure; rather, I want to touch on a few specific points which need serious consideration. So, let’s start with the most difficult.

Standing out in crowded spaces

Here’s the bad news: Statistically speaking, when you start your podcast, it’s a good bet I won’t care about it.

I keep a close eye on /r/podcasts, and that particular subreddit is constantly barraged with “We just recorded our first episode, tell us what you think” requests. I’ve never found any of those podcasts interesting, and after thinking about it, the fundamental problem is that they don’t have a unique voice. I call this the “two guys talking about stuff” problem. So many podcasts are two people with no particular expertise and an unoriginal approach to their topic or topics, which appeals to basically nobody. Many don’t even have a particular subject to podcast about, instead talking about “whatever”—and I can hear the same irrelevant chatter waiting in line to place my lunch order, without cluttering up my phone.

Nailing down that unique voice requires you to think hard about two related components of your podcast’s identity: What are you talking about? And what differentiates you from other podcasts in your niche? (more…)


Two Types of Paladin 4

Quick shout out before I get on with the rest of the blog post: in keeping with my resolution to get out and play games in meat space more often, I made it to Commander night at my local FLGS this evening. Troy and DJ – it was great gaming with you guys. You really made me feel welcome and I had a ton of fun. -Peter

I’m about 3 years late to the Diablo III party. I’m about 16 years late to the Dresden Files party. Ah well. Better late than never. In starting to consume both at the same time, however, I noticed something: Diablo III has a fair bit to say about Paladins, and I think some of it is really useful for making an oft-maligned class actually fun and interesting in games.

First some quick background, though. The self-righteous, overly-zealous, utterly inflexible, or otherwise just plain insufferable paladin is a stereotype as old as the proverbial hills in gaming. A lot of the time, paladins in fantasy games act a bit like Space Marines in the Warhammer 40k universe: violent, loud, and constantly spouting terms like “heretic,” “smite,” and “cleanse.” While this can be fun for a certain type of game, the perception has crept in that this is the “right” or even only way to play holy warriors, and, well, that’s just not true.

Diablo III, of all things, quietly hangs a lampshade on this. I played my first run through the game as a Crusader, the “Paladin” class of the game – a big brawny guy encased in armor and using a shield and an enormous weapon. Early in the game, you recruit a Templar as a companion – and at that point, the contrasts become evident. The crusader comes from an order that revolves around mentoring a single apprentice who takes everything from the mentor – including their name – when they die. In addition, the Crusader is a fairly calm, soft-spoken, and even-handed sort. The Templar, on the other hand, is more the Space Marine archetype. Loud, wrathful, zealous, and a little unstable. Where the Crusader seems to look at all the fighting he has to do with a kind of patient resignation, the Templar revels in violence and seems to be constantly chomping at the bit to get back into the fight. And his order took him as a criminal and basically tortured him until he forgot his past life, then rebuilt him as they saw fit. The Crusader is audibly disturbed by this and tells the Templar “they left you empty, friend.” And then there’s Michael Carpenter, the Knight of the Cross from The Dresden Files. Michael is a family man – a married father of several children – who still goes out and risks his life fighting supernatural evil because it’s the right thing to do. He is kind, patient, and when tries to correct the behavior of others (particularly Harry) it’s done in such a way that makes it obvious that he’s saying something because he cares – not just about the ambient moral purity of the world, but about the life of his friend and the quality thereof. He prompts Harry to be a better person at least in part to make Harry’s life fuller and more meaningful.

Two other fictional characters also go well into the mix: Nick Valentine, the detective from Fallout 4, who in the middle of a pitched battle will shout things like “Are you sure this is the last mug you want to see?” and “This doesn’t have to be the day you die!” even as he’s ducking for cover and returning fire (and so many other things that I won’t spoil), and the Paragon variant of Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect trilogy, who despite being a person with an unbelievable amount of responsibility piled on him, still finds time to talk a distraught former slave down from hurting herself, comfort a grieving mother in a lawless slum, and heal a criminal dying of a terminal disease who just seconds before had cursed him and waved a gun in his face. These kinds of multi-faceted good people who actually embody the description of love Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 not only are more tolerable for other players at the table, but they’re ultimately more interesting characters. They’re also much more authentic and believable paragons of virtue than a lot of people play paladins as.

I’ve kind of taken a break from playing outright holy warriors for a bit – but some of these new examples make me want to pick the archetype back up again. In the meantime, if you’ve seen any particularly good or bad paladins in your gaming history ad want to share, please comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Bonus Episode 8 – 2016 New Year’s Resolutions


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Grant and Peter are back with a STG New Year’s tradition: A review of their resolutions for the upcoming year, broken down into “personal”, “gaming”, and “faith”. Plus, Grant drops some information about a Patreon campaign we’re working on, and we discuss the most interesting (and STG-relevant) Christmas gifts we received this year.

Mentioned in this episode: The Blue Devils in Italy: A History of the 88th Infantry DivisionA Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels; Habitica; Electric City Comic Con; Clearing the Backlog

Scripture: James 2:14-17, Revelation 3:15-18


Starting a Podcast, Part 3: Production

Welcome to the third and – at least for now – final part of the Starting a Podcast series. In the first and second posts, I covered mostly behind-the-scenes processes – decisions that you had to make to get some idea of what your podcast was even going to be, how you were going to record it, sand so forth. In this final one, we’ll actually get to producing some content! For the chart I refer to in the bullet points below, see the first post.

Production Phase:

This is where you’ll finish making your behind-the-scenes decisions, record an episode, and get it out there for the world to enjoy.

  • Determine Editing Standards [R]: This is more of a decision than you might initially think. Some podcasts go for an ultra-produced, slick presentation where every long pause, “um” or “uh” and every digression or verbal flub is edited away, leaving nothing but a silky-smooth stream of highly-refined content. This certainly has its advantages, but it can also lead to content that sounds inauthentic, and it increases editing time by a substantial degree. Still, some editing is good. You’ll want to take the edges off of certain things like Blarey the Podcast Train or other, less in-jokey background noise, and when you have one of those moments where you completely trip over your own tongue, it’s useful to be able to say it over again and edit in the usable version for clarity, if not for pride.
  • Determine Editing Staff [S] and Determine Editing Schedule [T]: This also varies. Some podcasts have one of their hosts edit (like Grant does with ours or Dan does with Fear the Boot) and some use an outside producer (like Gamers With Jobs and The Command Zone). In any case, you’ll want to determine who is doing the editing, and how much time they’ll have to do it before the episode drops. It bears mentioning that audio editing is a non-trivial task. To be even more explicit, it will take you between four and eight times as long to edit something as it did to record it. This is why Saving the Game is on a two-week release schedule, by the way. I suspect it’s also a major source of “podfade.” Getting together and recording a conversation is easy. Doing post-production work is substantially less so and is also a lot less fun. However, it’s manageable – that there are plenty of podcasts that have been around for years should be all the indication you need that editing is manageable, it’s just something you have to account for properly.
  • Set up Recording Environment [U]: As I alluded to earlier, this doesn’t need to be anything fancy. You just want a place that’s as quiet and free of interruptions as you can make it and you want to be able to sit comfortably and still talk into your microphone properly at the same time. In addition:
    • You really want to wear headphones if you’re podcasting with somebody who isn’t in the same room, and you want to make sure they don’t “leak” much sound. The “echo” effect is nigh unto impossible to get rid of in editing and is really distracting to listen to.
    • Consider plugging your headphones into your mic if you can. Apparently this helps get rid of certain verbal tics and makes for a more comfortable recording experience. You probably won’t even notice the difference, but it will help your audio quality.
    • Some kind of articulating mic stand will come in handier than you think.
    • Buy windscreens and pop filters for your mics and use them. They don’t cost much, but they help a lot.
  • Set up Home Page [V]: Get your web presence set up and ready to go. Specific technical advice for this is beyond the scope of this blog post, but if your web hosting provider is worth their salt, they should have some good documentation for you to use.
  • Determine Release Schedule [W]: Figure out how often you’re going to release your podcast. As a guide, record an “episode zero” (you are going to be horribly nervous and awkward, and that’s completely fine) and edit it. Then Extrapolate from there how long it’ll take you to record and release a typical episode and then take a very clear-eyed look at the rest of your life. From there you should be able to get some idea of how often you can release.
  • Record Episode [X]: This is it! Your first episode! Pick an interesting topic and get to it!
  • Edit Episode [Y]: Specific editing advice is beyond the scope of this blog post (though I’m hoping to talk Grant into writing a post or two about editing at some point) but the podcasting community is generally pretty friendly. IF you really get stuck, send a polite email to a veteran podcaster and they can probably get you un-stuck.
  • Release Episode [Z] and Post to Social Media [AA]: Put that edited episode out there for people to enjoy, and don’t forget to promote it on social media!

And that’s it for part 3: Production. I hope this series has been useful to you. As usual, feel free to ping us with questions or comments.


Starting a Podcast, Part 2: Preparation 1

Welcome to part 2 of the Starting a Podcast series. In the last post, I laid out the process we went through in the Conception phase of the podcast. This post assumes you’ve got your concept and that you’re ready to start getting down to the technical aspects of your podcast. These are the steps to get ready for the production aspect of the show. For where these steps fit in the overall scheme of setting up a podcast, refer back to the chart from part 1 of this series.

Preparation Phase:
This is where you’ll set up the necessary hardware and software for your podcast. It’s also where you’ll make some decisions about procedures and logistics.

  • Select Recording Software [H] and Acquire  Recording Software [O]: Over the years we and our guest hosts have used a number of different programs to get audio files for episodes, including the WIndows Sound Recorder app. You can use basically any program that allows you to record sound files, but that’s not to say they’re all equal. The RPG segment of the podcasting community, at least, has more or less standardized on Audacity. There are several reasons for this: it handles both recording and editing, it’s relatively easy to use, it has a decent number of features, and (perhaps most importantly) it’s free. If you are going to use Audacity (and after almost four years of using it, I’m pretty confident saying you should) you’ll want to get the LAME codec (it’s actual name, not a quality judgment) so you can encode your audio files in MP3 format. The reason it’s a separate codec and not part of audacity has to do with open-source licensing and file formats. It’s a legal issue, not a technical one, but you’ll only need to take care of it once when you install
  • Set up File Hosting [I]: You’ll need a place to host the audio you’re going to be producing. We actually found out the hard way early on in our podcasting career that you definitely want to use a hosting provider that specializes in podcasts. (If you don’t you may find that the first time one of your episodes takes off, there’s a very real possibility that you’ll be scrambling to get your feed back instead of celebrating.) The two big names in the business right now are Podbean and Libsyn. Either one of these services will work fine, but Libsyn is generally regarded as being a bit better; they tend to be slightly more reliable and have been talking about Spotify integration, though that seems to still be “early days” as of this writing.
  • Set up Social Media Presence [J]: As notoriously lousy as I am at social media, even I can acknowledge that these days, your podcast needs a social media presence. At a bare minimum, set up a twitter account, but also think about Facebook, Google+, etc. In addition, if you’re part of the community of another podcast (and if you’re thinking about starting one, you probably are) it’s worth putting the word out to that community about your venture.
  • Select Editing Software [K] and Acquire Editing Software [N]: As previously mentioned, the ideal is to have your recording and editing software be the same program. If they’re not, you may want to reconsider Audacity unless you have a compelling reason not to.
  • Select Recording Hardware [H] and Acquire  Recording Hardware [O]: This is one of the places where aspiring podcasters tend to get stuck, which is a shame, because this really isn’t that big of a deal. Let me set the record straight: you don’t need a mixer, you don’t need a mic that costs hundreds of dollars, and you don’t  need a recording studio. A decent-quality USB mic is just fine; Grant uses a podcasting standard, the Blue Snowball and I use an Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB. It IS worth getting a windscreen and a pop filter for your mic, and you will find it a lot more comfortable to record if you mount it on something that doesn’t require you to loom/hunch over your desk like a podcasting vulture.
  • Establish Recording Procedures [M]: For Saving the Game, we set up our outline’s “bones” ahead of time, and then finish it off either right before or in the first few minutes after we get on a VOIP call and open up Audacity. We typically both record 10 seconds or so of random chatter just to make sure we’re getting good waveforms, then delete that from the project. When it comes time to record the episode proper, we do a countdown from 3 and hit “record” more or less  at the same time, then acknowledge verbally that we’re recording. After that, we sit quietly for 30 seconds for “room tone” and then typically launch into the episode. You may want to do something similar or different, but work it out ahead of time.
  • Set up File Sharing Resources [Q]: If you’re able to record in the same physical space with the other folks on your podcast, this isn’t all that important. If you’re remote like we are on Saving the Game, however, it is absolutely critical (audio files are typically way too big to be emailed, and you need to get everyone’s track to the editor). Once again, this needn’t be something expensive or time consuming; Grant and I use Google Drive and have been very happy with it. I know of several other podcasts that use DropBox. Once again, there’s no one “right” solution, just find something that works for everybody involved and use it consistently.

And that’s it for Part 2: Preparation. Look for Part 3 on Saturday.


Starting a Podcast, Part 1: Conception 2

 

I listen to a lot of podcasts in addition to being on one, and one of the most common questions that every podcast gets asked is “how do you start a podcast?” While I can’t speak for everybody else out there, this is the process Grant and I went through. The chart at the top is a piece of recycled homework from my intro to business class last semester – it shows, from left to right, the rough order things need to be done in and which things need to be done more or less together. In addition, it’s color-coded; after determining what the podcast is (light gray) you’re going to have staff (blue), podcasting hardware and software (yellow) and your internet presence (pink). (Click on the graphic to blow it up to a size you can actually read.) Processes that use more than one of these are in colors formed by mixing two of the colors (green or purple) or all three (brown). The diagram flows from left to right. Hopefully it’s not too hard to follow. In addition to the chart above, I’m going to break the steps down into three phases: Conception, Preparation, and Production. Each one of those phases will form a separate blog post.Podcast CPM

Conception Phase:

This is where you’ll need to figure out what your podcast is going to be about, who your hosts are going to be, and what you’ll call yourselves.

  • Determine Podcast Niche [A]: Spend some time figuring out exactly what you want your show to be about and what kind of topics you’ll discuss. This doesn’t have to be completely etched in stone, but the more specific you can be, the better. For Saving the Game, we decided that we wanted to do an explicitly-Christian tabletop RPG podcast and talk about ways that gaming and faith intersect and interact. Over the years, we’ve also added some focus on storytelling technique and using games as a means by which to do good works.
  • Recruit Hosting Staff [B]: This may take place at the same time as determining the podcast niche, or somebody may get an idea and then recruit co-hosts later. Figure out who you’re going to be recording with and whether you’ll have a more-or-less fixed group of hosts like us, KARTAS, and the Gameable Podcasts, or a rotating pool of hosts like Fear the Boot and Gamers With Jobs. You’ll want to select people that it’s easy for you to have a conversation with, that you’ll actually want to talk to for a few hours on a regular basis, and that can be trusted to show up. How many people you have is going to vary from podcast to podcast, but you should have at least two. Monologue podcasts are notoriously very hard to keep going, and having at least one other brain to pick generally tends to make the process easier, richer, and more fun.
  • Select Podcast Name [C]: This is a surprisingly brain-bendy activity, or at least it was for us. You want something that conveys what you do and/or who you are, is memorable, and that has an indicative URL available for registration. We picked Saving the Game because it had the dual connotations of fixing a game that’s going awry and the obvious Christian connotations that go with the word “save” and its variants.
  • Register Domain Name [D]: Take the name you just picked and figure out a URL that’s memorable that goes with it. Then register that domain name before somebody else does.
  • Establish a Recording Schedule [E]: Pick a time when you and the other host(s) can reliably sit down and record. For Saving the Game, we typically record on Thursday evenings, but I think over the years we’ve been doing the podcast, we’ve recorded at least once on every day of the week for one reason or another. As you can tell from that last sentence, some flexibility is good, because something is going to happen that messes with one of your voices, computers, or schedules at some point.
  • Select Communication Tools [F]: If you’re fortunate enough to be able to sit down in the same physical location with the other folks on your podcast, this will be less of an issue for you than it is for us, but you should be able to reach your fellow podcasters in at least three different ways and at least two of those should be in real time. It’s also useful to have a set place to communicate various official business about the podcast, and if you’re recording remotely, you need a good, solid VOIP connection. Grant and I used Skype for a while, but it hated one of his prior computers, so we switched to Google Hangouts a while back and have stayed there.
  • Establish Show Format [G]: Figure out what kind of structure you want your show to have. We have always had a pretty tightly-structured show – we do our announcements and a quick greeting and check-in, and then move on to scripture and then to our topic. We also make extensive use of outlines, something that other podcasts don’t always do and that we get a bit of ribbing for on Game Store Prophets. In any case, figure out what kind of format you want to do and how much – or how little – structure works for you.

And that’s it for Part 1: Conception. Check back on Thursday for the next part of this series.


Episode 76 – Manichaeism (Historical Heresies, Part 3)


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Grant and Peter are back at it with part three of our Historical Heresies series. This time, we introduce a major competitor to Christianity in the Western Roman Empire, and a particularly interesting (read: complex and imaginative) Gnostic tradition: Manichaeism! We also provide one last plug for this year’s fundraiser for The Bodhana Group, and remind everyone to rate and review us on iTunes, Stitcher, and anywhere else you listen to our podcast on.

Scripture: Psalm 119:25-27Matthew 28:19-20


Merry Christmas!

This is going to be another short one, because it’s a very busy time of year (“hustle and bustle” translates to “chaos, pandemonium, and/or anarchy” when you work in retail) but I’d be remiss if I didn’t wish you all Merry Christmas!

Also, while I’ve got you here: Grant and I will be recording our annual New Years bonus episode the next time we sit down to record, so if you’ve got any resolutions of your own you’d like to share with us, get them to us via comments or social media in the next few days.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, everybody!

-Peter