NBI 2016 – Kill Hippy GIFs With Fire

The topic of animated GIFs came up in the NBI Discord this morning so I thought I’d write a little bit about it.

I hate animated GIFs.

That is all.

No, really, I hate them. I lived through the 1990s World Wide Web, so I have vivid memories of the days when every advertiser put obnoxious blinking animated GIFs in every web ad, making every web page into some crazy dystopian night-time Las Vegas scene with blinking neon signs in every direction. (There was an early Futurama episode that captured this very well–I think it was A Bycyclops Built For Two.) It was horrible. It was so bad it birthed the entire ad-blocker industry.

Then there was Geocities, where every web page had an animated opening-and-closing mailbox for an email link and an animated construction-worker-with-a-shovel icon to indicate the page was still under construction.

Not to even mention that from a technological standpoint, it’s really a horrible format. I’ve written code to read GIF files (back in the 1990s). It’s the silliest way to encode an animation in the entire world. It was tolerable when all the animations were hand-drawn 16-color pixely creations made with Microsoft Paint, but now everyone makes full motion video animated GIFs, and I stagger to think of all the wasted bytes going into those files.

So I still have a possibly PTSD-related visceral reaction to animated GIFs. Something like: Nuke them from orbit. Kill them with fire. Drown them in … I dunno, water I guess. That kind of thing.

I don’t remember when or why animated GIFs came back into web culture, but I was never consulted about it and if I had been, I would not have approved it. Maybe this is the real issue that separates the Old Internet Generation from the Young Internet Generation. Get off my lawn, you damn hippy GIFs.

That being said, the entire issue for me could be solved with one simple checkbox in my web browser of choice: Do Not Play Animated GIFs Until I Tell You To. Yet for some reason, presumably a secret pact between the Big Animated GIF Lobby and The Web Browser Consortium, that most basic of user interface settings remains missing.

Oh, wait, I just Googled how to disable animated GIFs in Chrome and apparently there’s an extension for it. Sweet! Nevermind. :)

I shouldn’t get too excited, though. It doesn’t fix the Twitter app on my Android phone, which feels no shame in showing every animated GIF in the world without my consent, forcing me to disable images entirely. (Twitter looks very different when you turn off pictures btw–it’s mostly a gibberish of hashtags and links.) Nor does it fix any other app on my phone, which is apparently a territory that remains under the exclusive control of the Young Internet Generation.

P.S. I’ve really amused myself with the notion that future generations will be divided not by liberal or conservative political issues, but by how they perceive animated GIFs.

P.P.S. Okay, some animated GIFs are pretty cool. But it’s like 1 in 1000.

NBI 2016 – Thoughts On Blogging

nbi2016

The first rule of blogging is not to blog about blogging. However, June is the Newbie Blogger Initiative here in the game blogging community, so this is the month where we throw out all the rules, talk about the craft of blogging, and try to recruit and encourage new bloggers.

I technically started blogging in 1998, when I put some random notes up on my first ever web site, unless you count some Quake match updates I posted on the clan’s page in 1997. I didn’t really start blogging with any regularity though until about 2002 or 2003. The point is that I’ve been at this hobby for a while now, so I have at least a little sense of the landscape.

For the most part, starting a blog is fairly easy. Grab a free account on WordPress or Blogger or whatever and just start posting. The hard part is getting anyone to read your blog–a topic I clearly haven’t yet mastered–but generally speaking you do this by posting comments on other peoples’ blogs, posting on forums, posting on social media, sending out blog links to an aggregator like @mmoblogosphere, or participating in community events like the NBI.

Do you have what it takes to be a blogger? Almost definitely. All you need is a little bit of time to write, and the courage to post what you write. If you’ve ever posted comments on someone else’s blog or written forum posts, then you are already 90% of the way there. Even if all you’ve ever done is read blogs, you’re probably about 50% there. Avid readers tend to excel at writing, too.

Speaking of which, there are many kinds of bloggers, but a lot of them are writers. (I would count myself in that group.) For them, blogging is merely a convenient publishing platform for the writing they might otherwise do in a vacuum. If you have any kind of passion for writing, fiction or non-fiction, you are automatically a perfect candidate to be a blogger. (In fact if you have any past writing experience I wouldn’t even call you a “newbie” blogger.) Blogging is just about the easiest way to practice writing and perhaps even more importantly it’s a great way to practice having people read and react to your writing, which in my experience is the more grueling part of writing.

(That’s not to say you have to be a great writer to blog. Blogging is extremely informal.)

As a blogging newbie, you may find yourself hoping your blog is successful, but I would caution newcomers that the concept of “success” is very ephemeral in the blogging world. You can define success by the number of hits you get, or the number of dollars of ad revenue you make, or by the number of comments you receive, or any combination thereof. But I have observed that most newcomers are pretty disappointed with their blogs when they try to track those things early on. I know I was.

By the way, stop now if your only goal for blogging is to make money. Nobody is making any money by writing a blog. The best you could hope for is that your blog might give you some exposure which might lead to a content writing gig somewhere else, but the chances of that are slim and content writers tend to get paid quite a bit less than a living wage anyway.

One piece of advice that is often given to new bloggers is that whatever else you do, you need to post often to build and keep an audience. There is a certain amount of truth to that, but I’m not sure it applies as much today as it did in the early days of blogging. Back in the dark ages, people had to make a conscious choice to load your blog in their browser to find out if there was any new content there. The “update often” philosophy was borne from the fact that if people went to your site but didn’t find anything new, they would lose interest, forget about you, and go somewhere else.

Today, however, I think a lot of people will just drop a link to your blog into their favorite RSS program, or follow you on Twitter or some other social media. In other words, I don’t think readers spend a lot of time visiting web sites any more to find out if there is new content to see. Readers now get an instant notification whenever new content is available, so even if you only post once a month, people will still see it.

As a side effect, for better or worse, I invest very little time on the look of the web site itself (by which I mean the theme, the widgets on the sides, etc.), and make the assumption that everyone is reading my posts through an RSS feed or some other mechanism like that. It’s just my opinion of course, but a lot of the time spent on the fonts and layout of a blog page is wasted. I tend to go for a minimalist look that is easily readable in case people reach my site through Google searches.

A constant source of consternation for new bloggers is what to write about. (It’s particularly concerning when you’re also told that you have to post a lot.) It’s very common to think that you have nothing to say, but that should never stop anyone from starting a blog. Believe it or not, most bloggers tend to steal topics from other bloggers or news sites. :) By which I mean that we’ll see something interesting on another site and then write our thoughts about it as a blog post. Most bloggers (including me) tend to have a long list of other blogs they read for inspiration.

As far as the more inside-baseball aspects of blogging, there are a lot of mundane details that you’ll probably want to learn eventually, and which I’m sure are abundantly documented elsewhere in the NBI, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much at first. Things like how to optimize your posts and titles for search engines, how to end your posts with a question to encourage readers to comment, and how to make sure your posts have pictures so that they don’t look weird in aggregators. I find those aspects of blogging to be very much a chore and I often ignore or forget them.

So to summarize, blogging is cool! All the cool kids are doing it! You should totally do it too.

nbi2016discord

@newbieblogger2

PvE, PvP, and Racing

The topic of discussion from the NBI Talkback is whether or not PvE and PvP mix in MMOPRGs. At long last I have some time to write about it, now that everyone else has moved on.

Racing cars

The answer is no, they don’t mix. Thanks for reading.

But seriously, we’ve all seen the sharp divide between the PvE and PvP communities within any given MMORPG. In my opinion, it’s not because of the games or the players. The problem to me is that PvE and PvP require two entirely different competitive mindsets.

Competition is the basis of all games at some level, but there are different kinds of competition. Sometimes you are competing with yourself, such as when you play solitaire. Sometimes you are competing with other people, individually or in teams, such as when you are bowling or ski jumping. And sometimes you are competing against other people, such as when you play tennis or volleyball.

To further illustrate the different kinds of competition, I will use a weird racing metaphor.

I’m told that there are people in the world who participate in activities that aren’t on computers, so imagine driving cars as a sport. Let us assume that this is analogous to the “sport” of playing MMORPGs.

At the most basic level, you can enjoy the sport of car racing by getting in a car and driving down a road. You enjoy the wind whipping through your hair on a sunny day. You enjoy listening to the radio. You don’t care if someone in a Maserati passes you at the speed of sound. You don’t care if you have to swerve around an old man with his blinkers on. You just like going fast. You’re not competing with anyone. You are a casual PvE player.

As you get more serious about your car racing, you might start to care about how fast you’re going. Maybe you want to try racing on a track. So you go down to the local race track on the weekend and drive 10 laps in your car. You do this every weekend, and start to record how long it takes each time. You start to compare your times from weekend to weekend to see if you’re getting better or worse. You’re competing against yourself. Maybe you put on better tires or replace your carburetor to go faster. You’re still a PvE player, but maybe you’ve installed a DPS meter and you’re trying to play as best you can. I think the unofficial name for you is a “midcore” player.

Now you want to take your racing to the next level. You start to enter some time trials with other drivers. Each driver takes a turn at the track and does their best. In the end, you compare the times and the fastest one is declared the winner and gets a cash prize. You’re technically competing with other people, but you’re not racing with other people. You’re still a PvE player, but now you’re in a hardcore raiding guild and you’re trying to beat all the other guilds to the world firsts.

Finally you decide to enter a real race. Your time trials qualify you for a pole position. (Is that a real thing? I don’t know. :) Now you’re racing against other people on the same track at the same time. Now it doesn’t matter so much how fast you go, just so long as you are ahead of all the other racers at the end. This puts the racers in direct competition against one another. You have to adjust your tactics based on what the other racers are doing in real-time. Now you’ve become a PvP player, albeit of the more casual sort, playing in battlegrounds.

If you’re still not satisfied, you might turn to a demolition derby. Now there are no rules, and anything goes. (Sort of.) Now you’re not only trying to beat the other racers, you’re trying to knock them completely out of the race by smashing their cars to bits so they can’t race again tomorrow. Now you’re a more hardcore PvP player, perhaps playing in world versus world events or structured PvP matches.

But wait, there’s more. After the apocalypse, you still need your demolition derby fix. But now there are no more laws, and nobody to enforce them even if there were any. You attach thick, bullet-proof metal plates to your car and sharp spikes to your hubs. You don’t care about competition anymore, you just want to destroy things. You drive into random neighborhoods and start ramming minivans and mopeds, tossing grenades through windows and blowing vehicles into flaming fragments, shooting at defenseless people walking by on the street. You join a gang and terrorize whole towns together. Now you’ve gone as far as you can in an MMORPG: You’ve gone into open-world, full loot PvP, and you probably play EVE or you think Ultima Online was the greatest MMO ever made.

Hrm. That metaphor works, right? Well, it’s something along those lines.

I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with PvE or PvP. The point is that each of those examples is a different kind of competition with different emotional risks and rewards, and they don’t all appeal to the same group of people. That’s why there isn’t just one kind of racing sport in the whole world. There’s a bunch of different ones. I’m assuming. I’m not much into racing.

Yet modern MMORPG games typically try to jam most of those styles of competition into their games, with varying degrees of success. Instead of focusing on one core style of gameplay, they divide their attention across a dozen different styles. Inevitably, something suffers, or the game changes completely when you enter different phases.

For myself, I generally don’t play MMORPGs to compete against other people. I play them to chill out, and competition has the exact opposite effect on me because I must win all the things all the time. Ahem. Honestly I don’t consider PvP in most MMOs to be a legitimate form of competition anyway, because there is almost never a level playing field on which to compete. It’s always a competition of group size. And if you’re unlucky enough to be stuck in an even 1-on-1 matchup, it’s mostly a competition of class stun abilities and gear. (I am coming from a Quake background, where everyone had the same abilities and gear and there was no crowd control except when you hit the floor at someone’s feet with a rocket and bounced them across the room, like God intended.)

Did I have a point? I’m not sure any more. I think it’s this: It takes a certain mindset to play PvP, and it is antithetical to the mindset of the typical PvE player. In my opinion, studios should develop one game for PvE, and another game entirely for PvP.

But then I’m not a game publisher trying to keep players and appease shareholders. From a business perspective, you would want all players in your game no matter how they play. So in that case I would keep them separated as much as possible. I would probably go so far as to have PvE classes separated from PvP classes, and you couldn’t go into PvE zones with a PvP character and vice versa. (Like for example at character creation you could make a “Warlock” class that can only level in PvP, or make a “Wizard” class that can only level in PvE. Something like that.)

Many other great thoughts on this topic can be found in these posts:

Co-existence of PvP and PvE

NBI Talkback, pvp-pve mixing!

Memories of PvP!

To PvP or not PvP, that is the Question

And I’m sure many more that I have missed, sorry!

Blogging The Hardest Way Possible

In honor of the Newbie Blogger Initiative, in this post I’m going to talk about “how” I blog for Endgame Viable. That is, the actual process. I don’t recommend doing it this way. :)

First, I play some games. Usually they are MMORPGs. This typically happens on weeknights and weekends.

After I’m done playing games, the next morning I often go to a place where I can’t play any games, which is a place that rhymes with the surname of a famous Star Trek captain. There, if I have time, I read some blogs and tweets about what else is going on in the gaming world.

By this time I have some ideas of things I want to write about. I might want to make an observation or vent about something that happened in my last play session. I might want to report about something new I did. I might have an opinion about something I read on the Internets. Most of the time, these are not particularly earth-shaking thoughts, and quite possibly not in any way unique or unusual.

I open a plain text editor window and resize it to be fairly small. It usually stays open throughout the day. (At this time, I’m using WriteMonkey, but it doesn’t really matter.) I prefer writing in plain text like this because it’s unobtrusive on the screen and I’m a software developer by trade, so I’m very comfortable using text editors.

I start writing with some topic in mind, possibly with some point I want to make. Most of the time I write a little bit, then I stop and do other things, then write a little bit more, then stop again. Sometimes this happens over the course of a whole day. Sometimes I write a lot more than I need to, and I ramble and get side-tracked on unrelated topics. I try to write in a casual tone that is easy to read, possibly even understandable to people who aren’t gamers, and I usually try to inject some dry humor. I imagine that I’m talking to an audience, and anticipate what kinds of questions that audience might ask about what I’m saying, and answer them in the text. (This whole post is an answer to a completely fabricated question about my blogging process.)

At some point I will stop writing about the topic. Then I’ll read over it a number of times and try to make it better with some editing. This is where most of the grammatical changes happen. There’s usually a fair number of typos and … what’s the word for thinking one word but writing a different one from muscle memory? Interposing? Juxtaposing? Anyway, it’s when I write “you” when I meant “your,” or “the” instead of “then.” I’m also very bad about putting in too many fluff words, so I edit out tons of pointless modifiers like “really” and “kind of” and “sort of” and “mostly” which sometimes work in verbal sentences but don’t translate to writing. (Example: “The gameplay is really kind of awkward.”)

At this point I decide if the post is finished or not. Sometimes I run out of time to write, so the decision is forced upon me. To me, a finished post not only has a completed subject, but also has at least three or four moderate-sized paragraphs. I would say a minimum of around 250 words, but rarely as long as 1000 words unless I have a lot to say. I prefer to have a good ending sentence, but sometimes I just stop as if the post has a cliffhanger.

If I feel like the post is finished, I will then add in some WordPress post-by-email shortcodes for title, category, tags, excerpt, and delay. That last one is the most important: I add a [delay +10 days] tag so that it’s not posted immediately. I then copy and paste the text from WriteMonkey into Google Mail and send it to my WordPress Post-by-email address. The post will then be scheduled to publish ten days later and go into my Posts list. The important thing is that it isn’t posted right away.

If what I’ve written isn’t finished, then I copy and paste it into an email and send it to myself. Most of the time I never look at it again, but occasionally I resurrect them. (This very post was resurrected more than once.)

Once the text is emailed, I delete the text out of the editor document and start again. Sometimes I write one post a day, sometimes I write three or four a day, sometimes I don’t write anything. I usually write more on Mondays and Fridays, because I had more gaming experiences over the weekend, and Fridays are usually very quiet and boring.

As I said above, when I’m writing these drafts, they are 100% plain text with some Markdown formatting. I use the WordPress Jetpack module for Markdown to translate into HTML, but it is finicky and sometimes does weird things. I have major problems with links, for example. The typical Markdown syntax for linking randomly does not work, so sometimes I just paste the link into the text directly, with the intention of going back later and editing the post to fix it up the way it’s supposed to be. This is one reason my posts rarely have many links in them. (Another reason is that it’s too time-consuming to look up web references.)

Sometimes I remember that I took a screenshot to illustrate something I’m writing about. (Screenshots or game visuals will sometimes inspire a post, but not often, because at the time I take the screenshot, I am not thinking about writing.) In that case I put a little note in the text that creatively says “(insert screenshot showing the thing here).” Because I don’t have access to any screenshots at the time I’m writing post drafts, and I’m quite sure that I wouldn’t be able to insert them correctly with Markdown syntax anyway.

After writing many posts and scheduling them by email, I end up with a decent-sized list of future posts collected on WordPress. Back at home on my MacBook Air, or sometimes on my smart phone with the god-awful WordPress app for Android, I look over that list and decide the order to publish them in, and set them all up for weekdays at 11:00. I try to move time-sensitive things like launches up so they publish sooner, and push general “have you ever noticed” posts farther away. I also read over them and do another editing pass. (A lot of times this is when I notice text that is “too volatile” and try to tone it down.) Sometimes I decide that a post is terrible or irrelevent or incomplete and remove it from the schedule entirely. Those posts tend to sit in Draft status forever.

I mentioned that I usually write and edit posts on a MacBook Air. This makes it somewhat inconvenient to add screenshots. If a post needs a screenshot, first I move the image from my gaming PC to a folder on Dropbox. Sometimes I have to convert the screenshot to JPEG before I can use it (I’m looking at you, BMP-saving ESO). Then I move over to the MacBook. I use the Add Media feature and select the screenshot from the Dropbox folder to upload and insert it. I find this process dreadfully awful and time-consuming, so I don’t do it very often. I wish it was easier, though, because I know I should attach some kind of image to every post. Plus I find it amusing to put funny captions on screenshots.

By the way, if I didn’t have Big Brother watching me all day, I would probably look for something like Windows Live Writer to use on the Mac, and it would simplify this process considerably. (It’s not so much that anyone would care about me writing blog posts, it’s that I don’t particularly want anyone to know I’m writing about gaming.)

That, in a nutshell, is my blogging process. It sounds horrifyingly complex, but for some reason it has a rhythm that I find relatively easy to keep up with. Much easier than trying to sit down and write a new post every morning, or something like that.

Scheduling Posts

I saw this excellent post from Belghast a while back: Thumper Logic.

The first part of his post got me thinking about my own publishing schedule, and as it is NBI month I thought a meta-blogging post would be a good topic.

I too have tried to write one post a day–in the past. I applaud the effort, and anyone who can do it is far better at this than I am.

The problem I encountered when trying to write a new post every day was: Not everything I write is publishable. Sometimes I can write for hours and produce thousands of words of nonsensical dreck. In fact, that’s pretty common. (You could probably make the argument that what I publish isn’t publishable either.)

I completely agree with the philosophy that one should practice writing every day. That’s the only way to get better. But pushing myself to write something publishable every day is more than I can deliver without stressing myself out.

That’s why I try to maintain a “buffer” of posts by scheduling in advance. A lot of times I do write a post every day. And sometimes I write two or three posts a day. But sometimes I write two or three posts a day and throw them away, leaving nothing. Sometimes I don’t have time to write anything.

You might wonder why I would care about missing days. There’s a few reasons. First, I’m trying to practice being a writer who can deliver a reliable stream of content.

Another reason is that this is still a fledgling blog. If I were a famous blogger with thousands of devoted readers, it wouldn’t be a problem to miss days. Readers would probably still come back. But since I’m still a nobody, missing posts is more of a big deal. Nothing will drive away site traffic more than failing to post new content.

And while I’m not trying to create the blog of the century here, I am at least trying to create the opportunity for a successful blog. I’m not sure what “success” means quite yet, but at the moment it means publishing something at least moderately entertaining or informative every weekday at 11.

So keeping a buffer of scheduled posts is the best way for me to achieve that success, because it eliminates all of the pressure of writing “on demand.” If you’re curious, I try to stay three or four days ahead. Longer if possible. (That’s why my topics aren’t always “timely.”)

Writing ahead also gives me a second or third or fourth chance to re-read and re-edit my posts before they are published. I try not to do a lot of editing, because I’m also trying to train myself to write better on the first try, but sometimes it’s necessary. (Basically my editing involves removing unnecessary modifiers from my writing. Like that word “basically” back there. Actually, I’m really quite fond of “actually” and “really” too. And “quite,” apparently.)

Know Why You’re Blogging

There’s a lot of great advice going around about blogging this month for the NBI, and if you are new to writing or blogging (or not), you should read all of it. Thankfully many of them are summarized in the Newbie Blogger Initiative Week #1 Roundup, so I don’t have to. The only thing I can add is my own personal philosophy on this blog.

But first, if you want to start a blog, just start it, and do whatever you want, and to hell with everyone else and what they think. It’s your blog and nobody can tell you how to run it (unless you violate the terms of service, that is). I mention this only because a lot of “how to blog” guides tend to focus on the “business” aspects of blogging. They tend to assume you want to blog to make money through advertising. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not the only reason to blog.

For this blog, I have a fairly specific focus. I imagine the target audience to be gamers at work looking for something to read when they can’t play. I have set myself a goal to post something related to the games I’m playing every weekday at 11:00 Eastern, which will allow most people to have something to read over their lunch break. I know I’ve always liked reading blogs about MMOs at work, so I figure somebody else out there might, too. Hopefully my posts will be mildly entertaining and occasionally relevant to what’s going on in the gaming world.

The goal is one thing. But it’s not enough (for me, at least). I’m not getting paid for this. I haven’t even taken the first step toward trying to get paid for this. In fact, it actually costs me money to blog, because I bought a domain name and I’m using a web hosting service. There is no tangible reward for having this blog whatsoever, so why bother?

Knowing why you’re blogging is very important, in my opinion. If you try to blog (or write) for the wrong reasons, it probably isn’t going to last.

For me, I like to write. I want to get better at writing, or at least not get worse at it. The only way I know to maintain and improve one’s writing ability is to read and write regularly, and blogs are one way to do that.

Another reason is that I want to practice and get better at writing on a schedule. That is, forcing myself to write X amount for publishing on Y date and time. I have long-simmering aspirations of someday getting paid to write, and I sense that meeting deadlines is a crucial job skill in the field.

A third reason for this particular blog is that I have nobody else to talk to about MMORPGs. (Cue sad violins.) I’m the only gamer I know in real life, and having a hobby that everyone else finds at best weird or at worst an alarming sign of depression is an awkward, lonely position to be in.

So in a nutshell, this blog serves me as much as it might provide entertainment for readers.

In another post I’ll talk about the torturous physical process I use to write this blog. If I ever finish that post.

Trying New Things In May

The Newbie Blogger Initiative runs through May, so, to celebrate, I thought I would try a couple of new things and see what happens.

T-Day Streaming

I’m going to do a regular stream during the month of May. The stream will run Tuesdays and Thursdays at roughly 7:00 PM Eastern Time for about an hour, starting on May 1. You can find me at http://twitch.tv/endgameviable.

Why would I do such a crazy thing? Well, everyone else is doing it, and we are all slaves to trendiness. I often talk to myself or the game while I’m playing anyway, so I might as well click on the “broadcast” button while I’m doing it. Also, I want to create an example of the kind of stream that I prefer to watch.

What kind of stream is it going to be? Well, it’ll be MMORPGs, obviously. And pretty casual. Possibly informative and/or amusing. My target audience won’t be hardcore gamers.

At this time I am planning to stream ArcheAge, because it’s all the rage. Other possibilities include ESO and … well, that’s about it. ArcheAge or ESO. Maybe I’ll alternate between them.

NPC Fiction

I saw that one of the topics for this year’s NBI is “Creative writing articles and guides.” I wouldn’t presume to try tackling the vastness of a guide on creative writing, but a while back I had an idea for some writing exercises, and this seems like the perfect time to give it a try.

The goal of my project is to write very short pieces of fiction, perhaps as little as 1,000 words each. The inspiration for the fiction will come from a random NPC in an MMORPG, preferably one who doesn’t otherwise have a part in a quest. You know how you sometimes run across an NPC who doesn’t seem to do anything but add atmosphere to an area? He or she may not even have any lines to speak, or may not even have a name beyond something generic like “Pact Soldier.” Those are the ones I mean. Why are they there? What are they thinking about? What are their dreams? If you could interact with those NPCs, what would they say? What quests might they give out?

So I will try to publish a short fiction related to those NPCs every Sunday during May. (I suppose technically it would be “fan fiction.”)