Archive | October, 2011

Three Months On The Job

23 Oct

Friends, honored guests, Pawneeans: I have some time this Sunday and I thought I would look back at my first three months writing for Kotaku. It has been an intense, often overwhelming, extraordinarily educational, stressful and rewarding time. It’s taken this long for me to even get a sense of what the hell I’m doing there, and how it is that this particular job best gets done.

Since starting in August, I’ve covered two conventions, attended a dozen or so San Francisco press events, reviewed two big games, and been at the center of a couple of internet controversies. I’ve made some people laugh, pissed some people off, and made some people think (I hope?). I’ve written around 200 posts, which may sound like a lot but by Kotaku standards is a fart in the wind. Some of those posts have been good. Some have been not so good. But I like to think my batting average is holding up okay.

We’re in the height of the fall rush right now, with more great games dropping each week. That said, I feel like I’ve got some sort of window now that I’ve finished Batman: Arkham City (it is excellent) and have a couple of weeks before Uncharted 3 and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Whoo buddy, when Skyrim comes out, I don’t even know what the hell I’m going to do.

Anyway, here are some articles that I’m proud of.

I’ve only done proper “reviews” of two games, both of which I liked. Deus Ex: Human Revolution got a more holistic treatment, and I tried to articulate how the game felt like a playable love-letter to is many influences. I also really liked Gears of War 3, though I got much more specific in my review. That was a very difficult review to write, for whatever reason.

I’ve started or fanned the flames of a few controversies, most having to do with how games represent women and minorities. My very first post as a staff member concerned the Facebook beauty contest that determined the appearance of Mass Effect‘s female commander Shepard. It was the beginning of a longer story, and as it progressed I even got to interview Jennifer Hale, the exceptional voice actor who plays Commander Shepard.

Two other posts generated similar noise–the first, a response to Evan Narcisse’s takedown of an offensive black stereotype in Deus Ex, and the second just last week about Arkham City‘s weird fixation on the word “Bitch.”

With both of those posts, particularly the Batman one, I was surprised by how many people angrily told me that I had no right to be addressing the topic at all. Several of my professional peers suggested that I’d written that “Bitch” post in a cynical bid for pageviews. I can assure them that I did not, and I can further assure them that I’m not the only person to notice that aspect of the game. I was just the first to comment on it in a far-reaching publication.

But even if I had been the only one to feel that way, it was still something I thought, and these days I’m paid to write what I think and show it to people. I appreciated everyone who engaged in the discussion, but I was bummed out by fellow writers who publicly questioned my motivations for writing the piece.

Speaking of interviews, I was happy with an essay/interview I wrote entitled “Felicia Day is Just What Gaming Needs.” Speaking with Ms. Day, I was struck by her enthusiasm and creative energy, and how willing she is to do unconventional and goofy videogame things. She’s a force for good in gaming, and I think we could use more people like her. I was extraordinarily depressed by the comments on this post. That’s a subject for a separate discussion.

I was so happy to reunite with my letter-writing buddy (and buddy in general) Leigh Alexander to tackle the classic 2000 PC game Deus Ex, in what we called “The Deus Ex Letters.” Leigh was hesitant about getting on board with the “greatest PC game of all time,” and given the reactions I’ve come to expect from PC Gamers on… well… just about everything, I don’t blame her. But we had a good time, and I think we shined light on some worthwhile topics.

Not everything I’ve been doing at Kotaku has been news, criticism, or other serious(ish) stuff. I’ve been writing goofy-yet-hopefully-enjoyable things as well. Right at the outset I wrote a fake novelization of The Witcher 2, which wound up being some sort of weird mix of humorous criticism and fanfic. I’m not sure if our readers knew what to make of it (I’m not sure I know what to make of it). I do know that I had a good time writing it, and I plan to do more.

Game previews are something we do a lot of at Kotaku—our readership is very interested in upcoming games, and we get to play a lot of games pre-release and share our impressions. Preview events tend to run from “uncomfortable” to “goddamned uncomfortable” for me. Trying to get a real sense of the game is all but impossible, since you generally see exactly what the publisher wants you to see and nothing more. Furthermore, playing a game for the first time while someone watches you, with a (well-intentioned but also intrusive) PR person hovering in the background is just… it’s not very close to my ideal gaming experience. Though often there are cookies, and I do like to eat cookies while I play games. (Also, Milk Duds.)

Sometimes the PR folks at press events practically write your headlines for you, and sometimes that can get you in trouble. (*cough* Batman *cough*) (I actually plan to address the whole “Joker-Gate 2011” debacle, but I’ll do it this week at Kotaku and I don’t want to steal my own lede here.)

Writing previews can be fun, if you’re creative about it. I had a good time writing this goofy rhyming preview for Saints Row 3, a game which deserves a poetic preview like a German Shepard deserves a plate of foie gras… which I guess is a good reason to do it? It’s a riotous, dumb game, but it’s not particularly lyrical. Anyhow, I had a good time writing it.

It was cool working with our commenters to assemble this collection of Deus Ex hidden secrets and easter eggs, which did over 1 million pageviews. That is a big number! The last hype-related thing I wrote that I liked was my analysis of the whole Dead Island trailer thing, where the emotionally impactful (blerg worst phrase) ad for a game was substantially different than the game itself. I talked about what I thought that meant, and invoked Don Draper while doing so.

I was happy to get to share some more bloggy, critical stuff, including my well-received “Kill your Mini-Map” post about Grand Theft Auto IV that has been brewing in ma’ brain for a long time, and a post about “The Thrill of the Hunt” in games, and how much fun it can be to hunt… people… and kill them. Uh. In games. It’s nice to pause and take a look back at games that everyone has already played, and allows for much more critical perspective. I hope to do some more of that in the future.

I’ve also covered some “current events,” in that they were things that were happening and I wrote about them. I was happy with my coverage of the Foxconn iPhone game that got banned, as well as my takedown of Fox News’s uninformed take on Fate of the World. I’ve actually kinda become Kotaku‘s unofficial Fox News hatchet-man, which is a role I’m prefectly happy to assume. If you malign video games on TV, beware! I will probably make fun of you for it.

Me at E3, ignoring Jane's Addiction in favor of trinkets.

So there you have it! Some of my favorite things I’ve written in my first quarter-year at the biggest, weirdest, wildest videogame blog on the planet. The fall rush is halfway over and all my convention-attending is done, so I’m hopeful that I’ll be writing more focused, critical pieces in the coming weeks.

As always, if you’d like to keep up on my writing but for whatever reason don’t want to sift through the tons of content we run every day, you can subscribe to my RSS feed, follow me on Facebook, or track me down on Twitter, where I tend to share my biggest stories.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank all my friends for reading my stuff and supporting me. Getting a full-time gig writing about games is a very cool thing, and I feel fortunate to have this opportunity. But it can often feel lonesome, and the job hasn’t always been easy. Working from home, writing super-hard all day, addressing a mob-like comment section of shouted, conflicting opinions; dealing with doubt and isolation, as well as the occasional anonymous social-media anger of people I don’t even know. It’s all tough. Due to the full-time nature of this job, I also somewhat unexpectedly left my music teaching position at Urban, and I miss teaching every day. It has been a significant challenge for me to balance my life without my students in it.

Every reader who has sent in a note of encouragement, every friend who has retweeted my work or said nice things, everyone who’s joked around with me on IM and teamed up with me for some late-night zombie destruction… thank you. My life has never been weirder than it is right now, and thanks to you, it’s also never been more fun.

Thanks also to my editors and fellow Kotaku writers, all of whom are maniacs who work their asses off every day. Special recognition to Stephen Totilo, who has kept me sane and been a massive help in upping my game. He’s a great editor, a funny guy, and he’s a phenom when he covers a conference. It would take another 1500 words to even begin to list the things I’ve learned from him.

Emo stuff complete! Time to play some more of this game I’m reviewing for next week. It’s not gonna be pretty. But then, “pretty” ain’t what they pay me for.

At least, it’s not entirely what they pay me for.


Time! Is Marching On!

8 Oct

Well, that’s what happens when you begin to blog for a living—your personal blog takes a bit of a breather… for two months. But today? Today is my birthday, so I’m taking a break from working to write this.

What am I working on, you may ask? Next week, I’ll be attending the Game Developers’ Conference in Austin, a second GDC to the one we have here in San Francisco called “GDC Online.” I’ll be covering the event for Kotaku, but while I’m there, I’ll also be giving a microtalk on videogame writing as part of a critics’ panel with some of my favorite games writers, including Kill Screen editor/guru Chris Dahlen and my friend and co-letter-writer  Leigh Alexander, as well as Hit Detection’s N’gai Croal, Ben Fritz of the L.A. Times, and John Davidson of Gamespot. I’m beyond humbled to get to present alongside such a bunch of ballers—this is not token humility, I’m super honored—and I’m both nervous and excited to do my thing. I think my talk is going to be good. But I better practice!

Anyhow. This was really just an excuse to get a post up, and to say that I’m going to start coming back here to share things more often.

And as for today, well…

You’re older than you’ve ever been
and now you’re even older
and now you’re even older
and now you’re even older

You’re older than you’ve ever been
and now you’re even older
and now you’re older still.

Hope everyone out there is doing well!

(New header: Raz from Psychonauts)

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