Music of March 2015

So as mentioned earlier, going to try and aggregate/curate/collate some of the music I listen to each month. I usually go back and forth with a friend of mine about this, and some co-workers as well. I even go so far as to write some small words about each piece; so it would seem most of the legwork is already done. Some of the songs I didn’t list because I lack confidence in them, don’t care too much, or I just didn’t listen to them very often.

The ways to find it collated together:



Here it goes, music on my March 2015 playlist, in no real order. Though most songs are added as I find them, so this would most closely relate the order in which I discovered them.

  1. Coming Back – Dean Ray  Ridiculous video aside, I enjoy the rhythm of it overall. All I can say is that it is catchy.
  2. All of the Pieces – Reigan I dig the harmony in the background, it builds a simple thing into something with a bit more weight. The synth helps with that too.
  3. Three Fingers – Rival Sons They were featured prominently in some earlier playlists last year. But an article I was reading about new prog rock/rock that’s making waves and they were mentioned so I gave ’em another spin. Also I mean “I’m on my feet and I’m running the plaza, the matador is holding the red, but I’ve got the horns, I’ve got the speed, This motherfucker’s going home dead” Gotta love that.
  4. City Lights – The Soft White Sixties It’s funky and has plenty of energy. This always gets my feet tapping. Also pointed to in the aforementioned blog.
  5. Under A Rock – Waxahatchee  Referred by a friend, but I will say it may not be for everyone. I find it hard to pin down, but I think what I like most about the sound is that it feels the right amount of dirty like it is more genuine than something else I would find normally.
  6. She Lit A Fire – Lord Huron Another referral. It’s a simple song, I like the tone overall, it’s unimposing and easy going. It’s not the most boastful love song I’ve ever heard, which I appreciate. The echo-ey feeling makes it easy to let it kinda slide past you.
  7. When My Time Comes – Dawes (Referral) Not only is the writing and content of the song awesomely zen, but god damn if the belting out the chorus isn’t fun as hell.
  8. Black Sun – Death Cab For Cutie  (Referral) This should pretty much go without any sort of explanation. It’s fucking Death Cab.
  9. No Room In Frame – Death Cab For Cutie (See #8 for more info)
  10. Messidona – Driver Friendly  (Referral) I really enjoy the energy, it’s something that reminds me of the alt numbers of my highschool years. A real manic feeling.
  11. Twin Sized Mattress – The Front Bottoms (Referral) It took me SEVERAL listens to come around to this, but it got it’s hooks in. Even past the shitty theme and whiney tone, I still like it. I could not really explain it.
  12. FourFiveSeconds – Rihanna and Kanye And Paul McCartney (Referral) What can I say, I love Rihanna’s voice. Paul McCartney rocks. Kanye is hard for me to stomach mostly. But the message and other bits seems to outweigh his presence enough. Though this is hardly without precedent. Jay Z and Rihanna carried me through Run This Town some years back. 
  13. Eraser – Young Statues Hits a similar cord to Messidona, and as such it makes the list.
  14. Hum – Tigers Jaw  Reminded me a bit of  early work of The Hush Sound if they pulled the piano bits out of The Hush Sound. Not amazing, but I’ve just been listening to it and it hasn’t gotten on my nerves.
  15. Real Love – Clean Bandit I love electro with nice clean female vocals. If I have a spot that is the equivalent of belly rubs for dogs. That exact spot is it. I realize I’m late to the party on this, Rather Be was on my lists last year, but somehow just caught this one. Unknown how I missed it.
  16. Nobody to Love – Sigma Good rhythm and I like the tempo of it, jumps frequently between the smooth vocal harmonic to the house type synth.
  17. Am I Wrong – Nico & Vinz  I like a lot about this song, the video, the vocals, the sound, the lyrics, all of it really. This song is great.
  18. Waves – Mr. Probz Late to the party again. This one lands in between a few different spaces for me. I think that is why I like it so much. It’s slow melody really just puts me in a very relaxed state. His voice is soft but has a bit of gravel on his upward inflections, it gives a hard edge to a lot of the lines. It’s a small thing but it makes the lines feel a bit more pleading.
  19. I’m So Sorry – Imagine Dragons Won’t even lie about this one, totally got it from the Battlefield Hardline launch trailer. It’s good power rock with driving chords. I’m down with it.
  20. Habits (Stay High) – Tove Lo (Referral of sorts) I am in agreement with a lot of people about Tove Lo, she can sing it. No question.
  21. Youth – Daughter I’ve listened to Daughter many times, this another great one. Nice minor key stuff, they have such a melancholy sort of rambling sound. I always think of their stuff as music to listen to in the rain, which works out here in the Seattle….
  22. Faded – ZHU  It’s good club music, nothing truly exceptional. But it is great for zoning out at the gym or at the office. For that alone it gets an add.
  23. Walk – Kwabs I was fairly obsessed with this song for the last half of March. Kwabs has an amazing voice, really good power and incredible intonation, I mean it is crystal clear at ALL times. Very good soulful tone and a nice driving beat behind it. It definitely get’s in that hip-hop vein.
  24. I See Fire – Ed Sheeran Ed Sheeran? Check. Lord of the Rings? Check. Acoustic Guitar? Check. No further questions.
  25. Boll Weevil – Punch Brothers You won’t see much country on here. But I guess since this is technically blue grass it gets a pass. I love the size of it this song just feels ‘small’ and for some reason that resonates with me.
  26. Please Beware – Dirty Sweet Let it never be said I don’t enjoy solid rock music. Good crunchy chords and a nice reeling vocal style. I would, at the risk of being pedantic, describe this as ‘dirtily sweet’.
  27. Hunger And Thirst – Typhoon A new album from an old stand by. They are a pretty big (in size) alt indie group. Their sound reminds me a bit of Snow Patrol. They have a good range and sound (11 person ensemble gives some flexibility). I really enjoy the groups ability to shift entirely throughout the song, it feels like two experiences in one.
  28. 100 Years – Typhoon Another good track of the previously mentioned album.
  29. Slow Motion – Phox Found this one through AudioTree. I think this is a neat little group. Good upbeat sound, and the singer has an amazing voice. Very good timbre. I’d recommend just watching that whole Audio Tree.
  30. Seeya – deadmau5 WHAT DID I SAY ABOUT FEMALE VOCALISTS AND ELECTRONIC. (Also the whole song is about dreaming, that’s fucking rad).
  31. Humbling River – Puscifier  You cannot go wrong with Maynard James Keenan anything in my house. This has got some great moodiness to it, and the typical preaching style of MJK. Good writing and impeccable execution.
  32. Come Alive – Hanni El Khatib  Heard this one in a movie trailer as I recall. It’s got a nice kind of punchy sound to it, never fails as a pick me up.

Musical Foray

So I was thinking about doing something new, hopefully something I could stick with. In the past I’ve enjoyed throwing out the odd idea; unfortunately they were few and far between. So keeping a structure to stick with it was hard.

I do something in my everyday life that I already (kind of) curate and write up, so transitioning it to this space seems easy, reasonable, and maybe a not totally un-fun.

I’ve never really liked the Top 40 all that much and I don’t regularly (or at all) listen to the radio or sources of popular music. As such I’ve looked to different ways of finding new music for listening. I regularly exchange music recommendations with a few friends and co-workers. I’ve always much preferred the search process experienced when using the discovery-based music projects. Starting with Pandora back in 2006, when I started on that service, or the numerous alternatives that have waded into the space. In college I started using Google Music as a storage mechanism for my larger-than-normal mp3 library. Eventually they added the Google Play pass where you can pay to have access to their entire music catalog. I’ve been using that for a few years with no real direction. My lackadaisical listening habits were changed recently when I was turned onto a music curation method by a friend.

Essentially I just go through the normal means of music exploration and listening. Using Pandora, Google Radio, keeping an eye out for samples/uses in TV or Movies, and of course talking with friends. Each month I create a playlist for that month. So currently I have a March 2015 playlist in my Google Music. Any song that comes through my headphones that I really enjoy, I add it to the playlist. Eventually by the end of each month I have about 35-50 songs that are tied to that space and time. It’s an interesting system, and it’s led to some really good listening. It allows me to listen to songs I vibe with, over and over, but then quickly move on before burning them out. In the past I would fixate or attach to a song, play it repeatedly for months, and then lose all interest in hearing it ever again. This method strikes a nice balance, it also allows for more directed exploration. If I find a song I like, and add it; then I will put that through Pandora and Google Radio to see what musical counterparts get spit out.

As I the year goes on, I start a secondary, passive playlist. This is a ‘mega’ or ‘recap’ playlist that acts as a big bucket for the year. So at the end of each month I close out that month’s playlist, add it to the Mega playlist for the year, then move on to the next month, with no carry over. The songs of March will stay there, un-listened, and new songs will begin for April. Fresh new music always, with just enough repeat to fall in love with stuff. And at the end of the year I have an actual account of what I liked and can listen again if I want to. Music and sound have strong ties to memory and even though I’ve been doing this for just about a year now. I can draw connections to many memories with just the one mega playlist I have from 2014. It’s a bit more specific than Spotify’s year in review feature. I am satisfied with that completeness.

So guess this is a heads up of sorts. I intend to post the playlist for the month at the end of each month. With a short description (1-2 sentences) as to why the song was added, what I liked about it, or where it came from. I’m unsure the best way to share the actual music itself. I know that my playlist on Google can be listened to by anyone (who has a google music access pass). I’m not currently on Spotify which I know is the preferred platform for most. I could also do a few minutes of work and build a Youtube playlist with the songs, that is hardly ideal because of the rampant ads on Youtube. I’ll think on this. The first post (March), will probably come with a few of these options to see what the best is.

Kickstarter: An education in reality

So I wrote this but a good long while ago. Back in late 2013, but at the time elected not to publish it for various reasons (some work related). I didn’t want this to mis-interpreted by readers either in the community or at my former employer Microsoft Studios. As I no longer work there and I’ve had a bit of time to edit this and come back to it, I feel confident putting it out there. 

I have recently gained a new appreciation for Kickstarter. I was always a fan of the system. I am as excited as the next person. The idea of directly donating funds to products or projects which hold your interest is a novel one. Kickstarter delivers the instant gratification of voting with your wallet. Participants and users can elect to put their money forward and immediately feel invested, or they can pass on a project and fancy themselves the discerning investor. I personally backed several projects through Kickstarter at its outset. A handful of which were video game projects, so I have some skin in the game here.

However, my new appreciation of the service has come from a recent realization. It was prompted by a few events, but the clarifying moment came with the announcement by Chris Robert’s Cloud Imperium Games that the dogfighting module of their crowd-funded Star Citizen was going to be delayed. Cloud Imperium were simply adjusting their development schedule based on changing situations. As a developer I understand this completely. But there was significant backlash from those who backed the project. They felt as though they were investors and therefore entitled to answers. What I realized is that Kickstarter is so interesting because it is the standardized introduction of Micro-publishing. Kickstarter projects create a financial situation and an overall atmosphere where the gaming community and anyone who backs a project has adopted the role akin to a singular amalgamated publisher.

What the introduction of said micro-publishing / crowd funding achieves is three very important things; it manifests and amplifies the struggle of publishing a game, it educates the community about game developments budgeting and scheduling, and finally it underscores the degree to which the games market is driven by supply and demand.

Publishers take a pretty serious beating in the games press. They are called unethical, greedy, and incompetent on a very regular basis. Kickstarter brings a small bit of schadenfruede to industry folk by making every backer painfully aware of what it feels like to be a publisher.

Are you a backer on RSi’s Star Citizen or Double Fine’s Broken Age?

When it was announced that said project would be delayed due to unforeseen development issues, were you mad?

Did you feel angry or cheated?

Yes? Good, you have now experienced on a micro-scale exactly what most publishers experience multiple times every day. Professional game development is a fickle and transient process; projects are in a perpetual state of flux. Some things happen in due time, sometimes projects are behind schedule, but what is constant is some unforeseen and immutable problems. This very public and messy exploration is why I am such a huge proponent of the crowd-funding and transparent development process. It succeeds in educating many of the community members on just exactly what it is like to build games. When a project misses the mark or screeches past a deadline, backers get nothing. What’s worse is they hold no leverage or ability to make demands in that situation, they are left to sit and stew.

When the same thing happens with a publisher there a few more options. The publisher, if they are funding have the ability to push the project back potentially disrupting their portfolio timelines (which can cause large scale problems) or they can kill the project. Either way their investment has been lost and there is not much that can be done, its simply mitigation at that point. A third option is possible, that is to launch on unfinished game, which happens far more often then people may think. Often these games are called ‘bad’ or the developers are called ‘incompetent’; the truth is something more complex, chances are the game is at its core good, but is rotten in terms of coherence or polish. The primary reasoning behind this is because most games, being the sum of about a billion moving parts, do not always function perfectly the first time you turn them on. As a result most developers and publishers attempt to build in ‘polish time’. Essentially this is a surplus of time at the of the development schedule (usually more then 3 weeks and no more than 3 months) to allow the team (programmers, designers, and all) to work on those kinks in the machine. But when a project falls behind schedule, often the call is made to eat that surplus time to finish putting the machine together enough so it can turn on, but no time to smooth out the issues. What users get is a game that hardly functions in an optimal way.

Secondly, Kickstarter is effective at illustrating just how large gaming budgets have become. Community members will complain and rant about the cost of games increasing, the superimposing of subscriptions or Microtransactions on existing games. The reality of the situation is that many games have such large budgets and operating costs, that enabling some motivated users to pay more money is one of the most effective ways to ensure a product just achieves its return on investment. This is not to say that the large budgets of most games are appropriate, but they are the current reality. Understanding just how much these games cost can explain why consumers are seeing a rise in pricing and other monetization schemes. So when they shake their head a smaller scale game with a  decent feature set asking for $1milllion dollars, what they don’t realize is that amount of money is actually quite LOW by industry standards and that most games are well above and beyond that. Tim Schafer recently responded on twitter to criticism about the Broken Age budget which was nearly $3.5 million, but failed to deliver a whole game at that amount. Check it out here:

Finally, the surge and growth of crowd-funding is a blatant reminder that fans and enthusiasts will pay for anything, truly anything. Kickstarter is a quick education in extrinsic value propositions and monetization. Please, take a moment and peruse some of the ‘reward tiers’ for any game Kickstarter out there. Note that these promotions, are not an inherently bad thing, in fact it’s quite liberating. Gamers in the community are getting very upset recently because of the introduction of different monetization schemes. While some of them are poorly implemented and truly exploitative, there are many examples of fair and valuable monetization done right. Downloadable Content, Microtransactions, Collectors Editions, and Merchandise can all provide great value to players who are looking for it. Funny enough though, these same vocal players seem to be willing to pay for these more material based Microtransactions up front, before the game is even completed, because of how it is framed. In many cases it seems like an altruistic act of charity, helping out the struggling developer to make their game, as opposed to the filthy patronage of someone who has already paid for their game. They will put up money to get their name in the credits or to get a cool signed poster, but the collectors edition of the game is seen as money grabbing. In all it takes a certain cognitive dissonance to place the two purchases in totally different categories. It also requires a certain level of ignorance to continue believing this is the way of things. That developer who you refuse to patronize because they already got their money and made their game, is in so many cases on borrowed time. They have funded said project through private investors or publishers, both of which fully expect to be repaid, or said developer will suffer greatly.

This is one of the great things about Kickstarter, it allows developers to fund their projects upfront, keeping themselves in the black, so that they can remain solvent as they build. Instead of over extending themselves only to fail when they don’t hit the sales requirements / recoup number in their contract.

But hey, as long as games keep getting made, and more people understand how they are made, that’s just fine with me.

Reference on the Star Citizen Delay:

Alien: Isolation – now this is how to reveal a game.

So if you were watching the games presses Monday (1/7), or my twitter feed. You saw that Sega & Creative Assembly announced a new Alien game. Alien: Isolation is the latest game installment of the film franchise started by Ridley Scott in 1979.

I have to say I am just really impressed and pleasantly surprised by this announcement. The game itself has me excited to be sure, but that’s not really what has caught my eye.

Truthfully I think the manner in which they announced the title hits just about every key point of a clean game reveal. I’ll break down what I mean.

Firstly Sega/CA did a competent job of keeping this project quiet by minimizing leaks. It probably helped that Aliens: Colonial Marines burst into flames so publicly; effectively blinding the community to any other mentions of the word ‘Alien’. However, when it comes to confidentiality they executed wonderfully on the plan of “If you have to keep things quiet. Keep quiet.”

This game pretty much slid in under the radar until it was just upon us; a well orchestrated maneuver for building hype with surprise.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of this announcements is that, by all press accounts, they let the game speak for itself. They sat members of the press in a darkened room with surround sound and put a controller in the hands of journalists, unleashing them into the demo.  There was no faffing about. No sophistry.  Simply put the game in the hands of reporters and answer questions when asked. This method of ‘show and quietly tell’ does well to dispel much of the speculation and misplaced hype that can torpedo game at launch (ie Aliens: Colonial Marines). Creative Assembly has demonstrated that the value of saying little is more valuable than saying a great deal.

The reason I feel comfortable saying that this ‘demo’ is more legitimate than other vertical slices is driven by the fact that all indications point to this being a Alien: Isolation is near being finalized. Showing the games final engine with a stable and playable build speaks volumes about Sega/CA’s desire to assuage consumer fears of another debacle of misrepresentation (ie Aliens: Colonial Marines).

Arguably the best part about the entire reveal is the perfectly precise nature of the showcased gameplay and selected conversations. Creative Assembly clearly understands what experience they are trying to deliver in Alien: Isolation. Their reliance and insistence on the fear-inspiring, suspenseful, and dreadful atmosphere of the original 1979 film is apparent. In the game segments shown there is a focus on moments of slow and weary exploration of an eerie space station. The attention to detail in these moments is an incredible. As CA mentions, they faithfully recreated the art style of the film by ruling out in-game assets that couldn’t have been reasonably manufactured in 1979 for the original films production. These tense times of wandering are punctuated by moments of startling noises and terrifying glimpses of the Xenomorph. Every dark corner becomes a danger, every time you turn your back an overwhelming sense of vulnerability takes hold of you. The ominous reports of the motion tacker stop you heart with every beep. The team at Creative Assembly made damned sure that players were aware of how these moments of gameplay drive the overall experience. There was no need to stand on ceremony, buzzwords, or mention of graphical fidelity.

By sharing a complete press package of trailers, in-engine footage, hands-on demos, hi-res screenshots, and straight talk the CA/SEGA team have introduced a skiddish community to a promising game that respects its origins. They have laid the groundwork for a game that focuses on a compelling experience which is not trying to be anything other than what it needs to be: a horrifying, suspenseful, and engaging survival tale without the distraction of needless features or content.

Bravo to the teams at Creative Assembly & SEGA. I’m not one to place pre-orders, but rest assured you have my attention. My undivided attention.

A million times: Yes.

I watched Adam Sessler as a kid on G4. I always liked his quirky ways and insight on games. His coverage on G4 was one of those things that got me more into gaming.

But he has truly come into his own after joining Rev3Games. He seems happier, more vocal, and seriously on point with his editorials and reviews. It has been a pleasure to watch.

So when I heard he and another jurno-guy I respect Jim Sterling had done a panel chat at SGC I wanted to watch. I found the stream and what I saw made me stand up and applaud while sitting at my own desk in my own home.

Adam Sessler with fiery indignation rips into the trash talking, exclusionary, rape-y/misogynistic culture of games and dismantles it in under a minute and a half. It is glorious. Please watch the whole stream, but if not. Take 1:30 (starting at 32:59) to listen to Sessler’s response.


Below is a quick transcription:

“I am assuming no one would attest to be one of those guys who are in this room right now. But there seem to be a lot of them. Maybe a lot of them are in junior high school. If you know some one who does this, could you stop playing with them? Could you call them a douche?

I mean it really does ruin the experience. I mean when I hear, ya know, clearly a young person using racial epithets and derogatory terms for homosexuals it just makes my stomach churn.

The idea that we are supposed to be a culture of people who at one point if not now, felt already on the margins of a greater society, then you just see this behavior that replicates the same thing with a different target. It really makes the whole affair seem deflated and defeated. It really does. And don’t even give me that ‘First Amendment’ nonsense; you have every right to say it, and I have every right to call you a fucking asshole and try to find your address to put it out there. [Sterling nods vigorously in agreement]  

And one more thing: Are any of you people part of this absolutely ridiculous ‘mens right’ reddit/subreddit thing? This-this word misandry which is thrown around with the frequency of Rip Taylor’s glitter its just got to be – you don’t get to flip the argument back to you, okay? You are the problem. Acknowledge it. Go home and think about how shitty you are. End of story. “

Thanks for saying what all of us sane people were thinking.

One hobby please. In a tall glass.

For the love of beer.

You see it on the Sam Adams commercials and I for one never got it. Love beer? I scoffed. Not likely, beer  tastes nasty, its taboo, and its unhealthy.

Or so said the younger version of myself.

I can honestly say, I am starting to get it. Over the past year I have started to experiment with beer. I drank beer before then, though I would hard qualify what I drank as beer. Yes, they had  the word beer printed on the front. Yet they were not really a beer.

But with my new found liberty when I turned 21 I started to try some beers. (Because lets face it, you can’t get good beer when you are underage). I found a few I liked. It started with the wheat beers, the sweet soft kind. But over time it developed as I found more that fit a flavor profile I enjoyed.

A hobby?

It became a hobby. That’s really the only way to describe it. People have asked me how or why it could become such a large part of me. I don’t recall a single moment where it happened, it was a gradual integration into my everyday life. I have asked myself why I enjoy beer so much and here is what I came up with.

Beer is old; very old. It was discovered in the early centuries BC. It has since played a large role throughout civilization, and as such it has a long history. I have always loved history. I find the history of beer very intruiging: the various uses, legendary recipes and styles, numerous bans, and its contributions to technology and civilization.

Beyond its history which is long, beer is varied. There are scores of different styles, hundreds of different ingredients, thousands of breweries, and millions of recipes. There are enough unique beers that you could drink a new one every day of your life and never have all of them. Anyone can find a beer they like, or so I believe. It is simply a matter of exploration.

The Unending Search

Exploration is a huge part of any hobby. Learning the ins-and-outs. Going deeper than most. Understanding the process, the entire thing. And as with all hobbies there is a thrill of discovering new experiences in that narrow portion of what we obsess over.

There is a thrill to finding a new favorite. Something that strikes you in all the right ways. A sense of reflection when after re-examination an old classic is found wanting.  There is a sense of surprise in finding that the over-designed/beautiful bottle is filled with crap; while the bottle adorned with a kinkos ready-to-print sticker tastes of pure delight. Beer provides all this and more.

Do It Yourself.

You can make beer, its actually quite easy. Its not to expensive. It only takes a little time and effort. Which is not true of all hobbies. A simple internet search of any beer style with the word ‘recipe’ appended to it will yield you plenty of fine options to start with. The ingredients can be purchased at a local beer store or shipped from online. A few plastic barrels for storage and big pot for boiling and you basically have yourself a DIY brewery. From there you can make and ferment your own brew.

When making your own beer you can experiment. Add spices, fruits, whatever you like, make it your own. You can contribute and expand that hobby that you love. Make it personal.

What’s mine is yours.

After brewing your own beer, all that’s left is to share it with the world. Have friends try it, give it away to strangers, whatever you like. You can share this labor with others, share the hobby with more people.

It is in this generous and kindred spirit people find joy. All for the love of beer.

Talk to me.

‘Let’s get a beer’, the ultimate socializer. Most people enjoy a beer. People will gather just to drink them. The great thing about a beer is that it is just quick enough to be brief, but long enough to be worthwhile. Then there’s always the second round if you want a bit more time.

It is undeniable, people socialize over drinks all the time. I do it all the time. Everyone can get to a bar, have a drink and just chat. You can often tell a lot about a person by the way they order a beer. Some people drink beer to get drunk, those people are probably not order the weak sweet wheat beers. They are grabbing the highest ABV or lightest body beer then can and slamming them. Some people like beers that remind them of other tastes they enjoy, the coffee porters, tea like saisons, the wine like barrel aged beers, the chocolate stouts.  Others just have what you’re having.

And why shouldn’t I?

Everyone has a drink they enjoy: Coffee, Juice, Soda, Wine, Tea, Smoothies. Why should beer be any different? I enjoy beer for the flavor, the aroma, the feel, and the warm fuzzy feeling is just a bonus.

We all love knowing things, obsessing over them and sharing that obsession with others. Its why you can’t stop gushing about your favorite musician, inviting everyone to your rec squash league, or why you can’t stop yourself from uploading pictures of your new pickup truck to Facebook . And that’s it, you love these hobbies and you want to share that with others.

The good thing about beer is, most of the time people don’t mind when you share.

Stop Trying To Use ‘Companies Are Greedy’ As An Argument. Just Stop.

Recently I was on Kotaku, a place which I often try to avoid due to the content of their comment boards and editorials. Nonetheless I came across an editorial that just miffed me. This particular article was entitled “Stop Trying To Use ‘Companies Exist To Make Money’ As An Argument. Just Stop.”

This article was essentially a concurring editorial posted in response to an editorial penned by Jim Sterling, someone for whom I have much respect. The Kotaku op-ed itself was authored by Patricia Hernandez. Aside from the fact that 40% of the piece is quoted from Jim Sterling’s piece, what it succeeds wonderfully in doing is illustrating the most profound lack of understanding of the games industry by a ‘journalist’.

What do you mean by that, Connor? Well allow me to explain. The main thrust of Hernandez’s article, which is ripped directly from Sterling’s, is that game publishers are greedy robber barons. That these companies are leveraging their control over the market to charge an exorbitant price for content that should be free.

Alright, I suppose I understand your point. I mean I understand the point Jim Sterling made (and made it better), but I still get it.

Do I disagree? Not entirely, no. I admit I see products being pushed that are inferior quality and priced up to a premium. However I think the intent of this article is entirely misdirected and comes from a place of ignorance. It assumes that there exists no Downloadable Content (DLC), Digital Rights Management (DRM), or Microtransactions (MTX) that actually provide value. It goes on to imply that any person who says otherwise in defense of such systems is “stupid”, “spineless”, and “a fanboy”. Interesting. I’ll move past the insults and directly answer the first part by saying: there are surely some pieces of DLC, DRM, and MTX that have value. To suggest anything to the contrary is to discredit things like Steam’s DRM, MTX for games like Blacklight Retribution, LoL, or World of Tanks, and the DLC on games like Borderlands 2. I believe such a quality speaks for itself.

Continuing on that train of thought, if you are so offended by the implementation of such services, you could simply not involve yourself with them. Sterling’s article was much more clear about this, there is nothing wrong with being a happy consumer, and there is nothing wrong with being a disgruntled customer. I agree, you have every right to speak your mind about what you see as unethical or exploitative behavior. In fact I encourage you to do so! As a game designer, I see a baseline for quality. Your product must be of _this_ quality. I think that a company who falls short of that is not doing their job, and should be reminded of that. But I do not believe it is fair for consumers to rant and rave at companies who happen to make a product that users simply don’t like. I believe you have the right to expect a certain level of quality, information, and respect. I do not however believe consumers have the right to be entertained by every product. Often when I see people who attack companies for being greedy, it is totally misdirected at a publisher based solely off a personal dislike and not any real objective lack of quality.  So I would ask Jim Sterling the same he asked of me. “I’m not telling you that you definitely have to support a company/product — but don’t tell others they can’t.” I would as for one more thing, if you are going to call a company greedy and exploitative, do it from a position of certainty and reason. Not just a the default reaction when your personal fancies are satisfied.

Moving on from that immediate context, I think this rant gets to a larger issue about game companies. The implication is that the products being released serve no end, other than the financial exploitation of consumers. Let me just squelch that fucking thought there. Are there companies that put out products so that they can profit from them hand over fist? You-fuckin-bet. Is that every company and every product? By no means.

I’m going to let you in on a secret. That game you love, the one that you’ve spent hours playing, the one that you love to chat about with people, and the one for which you recoil in disgust when people don’t recognize the name; yeah that one. That game lost money. I mean, that game cost X dollars to make, it made Y dollars, and Y is less than X. Long story short, the only reason that game is ever getting a sequel is because some behemoth of a blockbuster game was published. Between the retail and DLC the blockbuster raked in 400% of its investment. After that money was used: to recoup the enormous costs from development,  pay employees, cut bonus checks, and saved away for the next iteration of that blockbuster; the remaining dollars were set aside to fund other projects. Projects like the game you love so much. What am I saying? I am saying that the success of other products and their monetization that you find so distasteful paid for the financial failure that is your favorite game.

What does this mean? How could this be possible? If these greedy capitalists only do things for money, how could they possibly make a sequel to a game that made no money? Because they give a shit. As much as it may strain the fabric of you tenuous argument, developers and publishers actually care. They create products not just to line their own coffers, they do it to provide entertainment.

And frankly, as someone who has in the past and will in the future worked at a publisher in the games industry: it not only offends me that you think so little of my motivations, but it just makes you sound ‘stupid’ when you characterize an entire organization off of your flawed understandings.

Financial viability means an awful lot in games production. If something can’t get its money back, its very difficult to get it made, regardless of its quality. That is just how things work. If every developer made every game they wanted, they would quite frankly go broke. Its very difficult to sustain titles that do not have broad appeal.

So what am I saying? The games industry is not black and white, no matter how much so called ‘journalists’ try to pigeonhole it. There are bad or derivative games that have a positive result. There are companies who disrespect their consumers. There exists quality DLC and MTX. Finally, there do exist limits to your entitlement as a consumer, you are in fact not always right. Especially for those who haven’t the slightest idea about the cost and commitment required to develop video game.

Disclaimer: I have worked for, and accepted a job offer from, Microsoft Game Studios. My views expressed here are my own and no one else’s. I represent myself. 

Reduce, Refine, Perfect

After accepting an offer for a full time job, I have been thinking and talking with friends.

I have concluded that there is a need for me to simplify my life. 

I will be adding a lot to my plate in the next 6 months. More people, tasks, and responsibilities. I need to reduce the excess, focus on what I have, and make it great. What that means is eliminating some of the distraction of social networking. For me, some of the experience has become very antisocial and impersonal.

For that reason I have decided to reduce the number of my connections on Facebook. My Friends list will be reduced to about 1/10 of its current size. This is in an effort to minimize the number of connections I have on Facebook and remain connected only with those people to whom I speak most frequently.

Please do not be offended if you notice sometime next week that I am not on your list of friends. I am just making Facebook easier for me to use. Please, do get in touch with me through e-mail, Twitter, or if you are abandoning social media like I am, then text me.


Please feel free to contact me through other channels:

  1. email (,
  2. phone (email me and I can send it to you),
  3. twitter (@CaptKerberos).

I have elected these channels for 2 reasons:

  • they are more personal and direct
  • they are more manageable

To those of you that will take this personally. I am sorry. I do not mean to offend you. Just realize that I am trying to make my Facebook presence a much more private one.


Musical Growth

I am a huge fan of music, always have been. I grew up with music and have been developing my own musical tastes since before I can remember. I am thankful to my father for having good musical taste and imparting it on me. I listen to music nearly all the time. I would say about 75% of my waking hours have some level of music happening. (I’m listening to music as I write this)

Image by ShirtWoot

When I hear music from days past, the feeling of nostalgia strikes me like anyone else. I remember all of the good times and memories associated with the music. I can’t listen Matchbox Twenty’s Long Day without thinking about reading Dinotopia on Christmas listening to the Yourself or Someone Like You album on repeat with a Sony CD Walkman. Ah, the 90’s.

Musical nostalgia is double edged sword, though. It is good with equal parts narrow-mindedness. I often find that this pining for the music of old ends up hurting our musical appreciation in the long run. It is a subconscious struggle we may not even realize at first.

I am a huge fan of The Mars Volta and have been for many years (about a decade). They recently released a new album NoctourniquetSince I heard in late 2011 of its impending release, I marked the date and closely watched its approach. Finally it arrived and I quivered with joy as I loaded it into my music player. I was in a break between classes and had the 64 minutes required for a single playthrough, so I gave it a straight run-through. It is not often get the chance to immerse myself into an album in this way at the outset. If you have the chance to do so I would recommend it. Radio, Music Videos, and popularized music delivery (Web) often tramples on the idea of musical albums as stories to be experienced. Most albums lack innate progression, narrative, and any real impetus to listen to an album start to finish.

What I heard while listening to Nocturniquet for the first time was strangely foreign. It was distinctly Mars Volta, to be sure, their sound is unmistakable. However it had a strange energy to it. The music was more electronic and more frantic, which if you know TMV that is really saying something. It felt simply uncomfortable for me. This isn’t a feeling unknown to me; new music always takes time to break in. Still, something was off about Noctourniquet. I listened to the album a few times through over the next week and it didn’t break in, it didn’t grow on me, and I didn’t really enjoy it. Every time I tried to listen to it, I ended up turning it off and returning to the older TMV albums. I eventually let the album collect dust in my digital library.

I would only return to it a few months later, with a different perspective. I had happened across an interview by a musician who has been very influential in my life: Maynard James Keenan.  It is an older interview from Keenan, and I had seen it before. Maynard delivers an idea that has stuck with me for a very long time, but had receded to the rear of my mind. It really gets at the heart of musical performance, and art forms in general. There is a very apparent selfishness to a majority of music floating around these days, music that preaches the basest selfish emotions: greed, violence, abuse, misogyny, and hate.

However there is a different kind of selfishness, one that has an indirect but an altruistic result. Keenan’s desire to performing/recording is not to directly entertain fans: it is to learn, heal, and grow through his self-expression.

At around 1:50 Maynard responds to a question about fans bemoan Maynard’s departure from his older, much angrier, music. He explains:

“Well for those that miss that type of music, that’s why I recorded the old stuff, if you want to listen to that, go back and listen to the first albums. If I can’t heal and grow from my art, then how can you? I suppose I could repeat myself over and over and over again but what’s the point of that?”

While Maynard’s reasoning for performing may be at first self-centered, his work benefits his fans by joining them into the healing process. Through this exercise both the artist and audience can grow together.

I never thought about musical performance in that light before. People often respond negatively to new recordings by their favored bands, and I began to realize it may not be the artist’s fault but instead the listener’s musical obstinacy. Artists continue to grow, experiment, and hone their craft. Yet we refused to grow along with them, and we are left behind with only our nostalgia and dusty albums to comfort us.

Hearing this simple observation I decided to replay through Noctourniquet. What I found was that with a different mindset, one not bound by the expectation of old Mars Volta vibes, I enjoyed the album more with each listen. I can honestly say that it is a great album; it just took me some thinking to realize it. Some people may not want to ‘think’ about their music to enjoy it, that’s their choice. However I will approach my music as I always have, in a way which Maynard explains in another great interview:

“There are several ways you can go into music. You can just kind of click out and just kind of use it as a backdrop and not really think about what’s going on in your everyday life. Or you can use music as a catalyst to do some searching, to do some soul searching, to do some growing. And that’s the kind of band that we are. […] that is the kind of music that we perpetuate […] something that is going make you get involved.”

So the next time one of your bands drops an album that doesn’t exactly click with you: try to appreciate the musical growth that the artist has undergone.

Don’t forget though, there are artists who just lose touch and make shitty albums.

FTL: Faster-Than-Light

FTL game is one the best games I have played in a very long time.

FTL is a space combat survival game. Its made in the style of many indie games of late, 16-bit graphics and sprites. For those fans of pixel art, FTL is a prime example of pixel art done right. There are a few scaling issues with text, but unless you are looking for such problems they are unnoticed. Visually it looks great. The 2d overhead view of your ships and its crew lets you see everything you need to. The game’s survival element comes into effect in a few different ways. The core mechanic will resonate with fans of the Battlestar Galactica series, the player takes control of starship that hails from a civilization who has just suffered a catastrophic attack. The player’s vessel is tasked with  traversing the galaxy to reach a rendezvous point where the remnants of their Federation will rally. Your ship is carrying information vital to the war effort. However the evil aggressors are hot on your tail, so the player must push through the galaxy will continually FTL jumping away as the enemies just enter the sector (see BSG  Season 1 Episode 1 “33”). The player must also micromanage the systems and subsystems of the ship. They can diverting and forward power to the different systems (which can be upgraded over time from resources gathered in-game). These systems include: Engines, Shields, Weapons, Life Support (Oxygen), Flight Control, even Door Controls and Sensor arrays. The micromanagement of systems provides intense gameplay where you can reroute power away from oxygen just to squeeze a few more seconds out of your shields to prevent total destruction; or divert all power from thrusters, leaving you dead in the water, to the guns to pummel the enemy before they can hit you. The leveling up of different systems and crew (who man the systems and gain skills for the systems they use the most) is an engaging progression that keeps you hooked. It also attaches you to the crew.

If you want more background on the game feel free to check out the numerous review floating around the web.

The main elements survival here are crew management, ship integrity, and travel. You need fuel to keep doing FTL jumps (1 fuel per jump). You need crew to operate your ship. You need hull integrity  because you can’t damn well play the game without a ship. These survival keys come into play a few different ways that are really intriguing and it is actually why I became so enthralled with the game.

FTL surreptitiously teaches you about what kind of person you are. At first you start the game out. Everything is peachy, relatively safe and stable. You have a clear mission, and a direction. You are the valiant commander of a Federation ship who is tasked with saving an entire civilization. You can do no wrong. You jump through a few systems and come across survivors, you lend them aid as you are flush with supplies and resistance in minimal. You encounter a few rebel pickets, they put up a fight but soon surrender as your superior firepower withers their shields. Being an upstanding captain, whose primary directive is to save lives, you grant the rebels their lives and allow them to surrender. As the game progresses though, it changes pace and forces you to make choices that you never expected to make. Soon you are facing down enemy vessels with technology you don’t know how to combat. After surmounting these obstacles, you go further into uncharted space. You encounter deceitful pirates, slavers and rebels. It becomes unclear which distress beacon is trap and which is not. You grow more suspicious of every vessel hailing you with peaceful intentions. Eventually you lose one of your crew to a stray missile, or a hull breach. You mourn and move on. Then your supplies begin to dwindle, you have enough fuel for a jump or two, but the rebels are closing in. Finally you expend your last bit of fuel to keep yourself just one jump ahead of the Rebels. You drop out of FTL and see a civilian trader floating harmlessly in space. Desperately you ask for them to give you some fuel, but they have none to spare. You now have only one option, you have to get your data to the fleet. Surely the lives of the entire Federation outweigh one crew. You fire on the ship and strip it for fuel and parts. You heave a sigh of relief as you jump through the next few systems with the gather fuel. Looking back in horror you realize that you have done the unspeakable, you have taken an innocent life to further your own. It was with good reason, you assure yourself, but it doesn’t make you any less of a murderer. The next system drops you into heated combat with the insect-like Mantis. You send one of your crew to fight off the boarding party, but a fire is spreading through your ship and he is losing fight. You need to keep the ship afloat, you’re forced to vent the ship killing the fire, the attackers, and your crewman. You’ve save the ship, but at what cost? The lines between right and survival get blurrier every jump you make. The slow degradation of your morality and the vicious survivor FTL turns you into is a great way to show the player just how deluded they are.

FTL loves fucking with you. The randomly generated galaxy throws twists and traps at you with joyful abandon. However, it delights at the fact that: When you die, it’s usually your fault. You will die in a number of ways: ship fires, hull breaches suffocating your crew, boarding parties tearing through your ship, enemy vessels blowing you up, asteroids destroying your hull, and the Rebel fleet descending upon you. However, at almost every loss, you can find an error in your ways. If you had jumped to a different system, you wouldn’t have encounter this ship. If you had built up your shields a bit more, that laser wouldn’t have shredded the hull. If you had just paid more attention when you vented the ship, you would have noticed the boarding party attacking the door control and depriving you of your only way to close the airlocks. Every time, the blame for failure rests on your shoulders.

To be fair there’s a decent amount of chance to the procedural generation of events, this makes for some difficult game setups. But the ultimate player control and finality of the game is consistent. The experience is something to be appreciated.

I recommend this game to any and everyone one who enjoys strategy games, or rogue-likes, or space games, or RPGs, or just about anything Sci-Fi related.

I kept a ship log of one of my playthroughs. Take a peek to see the type of shit you run into in the game. And the type of crazed internal monologue of someone who really loves space sci-fi. The entire account is what happened in my game, with a bit of embellishment for dramatic effect.