The Madness Continues

AggroChat #58 – Eight Is Enough?

This week we explore the age old question of podcasting.. just how many hosts can you have before a show descends into madness? As the title suggests we ended up with eight hosts on this weeks AggroChat and I think for the most part we exited on the other side with our sanity still in place… or what little we actually had of it to start. This week Ashgar and Kodra are both travelling, and as such I made plans to cover for them if they were unable to make it for the show. However because they are the consumate professionals that they are… they figured out a way to podcast remotely. This left me with the choice of either backing out on the folks I had arranged or just push forward into madness. Like usual I chose the path of madness.

This week we have quite possibly our longest show to date as we aske the question if Eight is Enough? This week we talk about Kodra’s trip to Canada, and his descent into Pathfinder Online. This spurs a discussion about the recent crop of MMO nostalgia titles and how they all somehow miss the boat on what made those early MMOs so interesting. Since all of us literally are playing Final Fantasy XIV we spend a good deal talking about our two groups working on turn nine of the Second Coil of Bahamut, as well as contrasting WoW and Final Fantasy raiding experiences. Grace talks about her experience leveling a ninja and how this game causes us to play things we didn’t think we would ever like playing. I talk about my complete and total embrace of the black hole that is the crafting system and how I have managed to push all classes to fifteen this week.

On top of this we talk Sword Art Online in both the Anime and Game forms. We talk a bit about how each of us is trying to wrap up our time in Shadowrun in preparation for next weeks show. We talk Mad Max Fury Road and to a lesser extent Orphan Black. Ashgar talks about his continued experiences with Radiant Historia, and Thalen ventures into Broken Age. Dallian and I talk about our experiences this week playing Witcher 3, and how the Hearthstone mobile app doesn’t work nearly as well as we would have hoped it would. Finally we wrap things up with some discussion about Moonrise and the impending steam early access. It was without a doubt one of the biggest shows we have recorded but also extremely enjoyable to participate in. It seems we somehow were able to juggle eight people on a show without complete chaos.

The Madness Continues

ffxiv 2015-05-19 19-04-12-406 The insanity that is the Final Fantasy XIV crafting system continues.  It was a rainy day here in Oklahoma so I spent most of it curled up on the couch watching television and banging away slowly on crafting.  As of yesterday evening I had managed to push every single crafting profession to fifteen, which essentially signals the end of “easy mode” crafting.  During those first levels everything you need can be purchased off of a vendor and it is simply an act of brute forcing your way through the levels.  Now I begin a trek through the dark territory that involves copious farming of materials.  Last night while podcasting I farmed up three stacks of allumen and aldgoat skin for the purpose of leveling leatherworking.  I was not sure just how much Aldgoat Leather I would ultimately need to get through to 30 but I suspected it would be quite a bit.  Towards the end of the podcast and while editing I crafted up the entire stack of materials, making some 410 Aldgoat leather and it pushed me from level 15 to level 21.

In theory if I can just find something like this to farm at each step of the way I might make it through the 50 levels of crafting with ease.  It seems that in leatherworking at least there is an item like that every 10 levels that can be mass farmed and crafted up.  The ones that I worry the most about are Alchemist and Cullinarian because they seem to be the most fiddly of the professions.  Right now I am farming up Limestone and Fine Sand to make a ton of Mortar because I actually need some to hand off to Cylladora to craft a Moogle themed wallpaper for me, for my personal room.  Yesterday in the mix of things that I ran I helped some guildies get through Good King Moggle Mog and managed to get the rare crafting material to drop.  Who doesn’t want Moogle themed wallpaper for their personal room?  Anyways I am finding the whole crafitng thing oddly soothing but it has absolutely consumed every last moment of my play time.  Now that I am having to farm up materials however I am at least venturing out in to the world some.

Poking My Head Out

ffxiv 2015-05-23 17-12-44-17 Yesterday was quite literally the first day I have done something other than craft for the last two weeks.  Maybe it isn’t quite that drastic, but the majority of my time in game has been working on some craft or another.  Yesterday I ran Haukke Manor with some guildies and got to play my rogue.  I have to say that class is just fun to play in that the animations are amazing.  While it is only 28 right now I am thinking it might be the next class that I push to 50.  A huge chunk of this desire admittedly is the fact that I have a pair of Moogle themed daggers waiting for maximum level.  Mog weapons make everything more enjoyable, as I am using the mogfork on my dragoon and mogaxe on my warrior.  Other than Haukke I ran an expert with Grace and Tam, and then later that night ran the Battle at Big Keep and The Chrysallis with guildies.  It was good to actually stretch my warrior muscles a bit after all of the crafting.  I feel like at this point I have more than I could ever actually accomplish still to do before the launch of Heavensward.  There are only twenty six days until the Heavensward head start, and there is no way in hell I am going to finish a lot of my side projects before then.

Quite literally I feel like I could take a month off and focus on nothing but Final Fantasy XIV and still have things that are left unfinished before the expansion.  Right now it seems I have opposite problems between Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft.  In Warcraft there is nothing I really want to do, but in Final Fantasy I have what feels like dozens of competing desires.  It is actually hard getting used to the notion that I will be going into this expansion with a lot of unfinished baggage, but I guess in the grand scheme of things that gives me reason to keep poking my head back in on the old world.  The things that I absolutely want to finish before Heavensward is that I want to complete the Post Moogle storyline.  I feel like I really just need a good afternoon to work through all of that content, so I am wondering if maybe that is going to be my mission on Monday.  Put on Orphan Black on the television and quest my way through to one of the coolest hats in any game.  Even writing this… I am realizing just how much content there is in this game yet to do.

Fear of the Unknown

MMO Nostalgia

pathfinderonline One of the interesting subtexts this week that we will likely talk about on tonight’s AggroChat is Kodra and Pathfinder Online.  He has begun the descent into this game and been trying to drum up a certain measure of interest from the rest of us to join him.  The problem is that as I listen to him talk about the game I realize that I have already played this.  In fact I gave three years of my life to Everquest, and everything about Pathfinder Online feels like a nostalgic throwback to that era.  I am sure it is a perfectly awesome game, but while I miss the sense of community we had back then there are many things I don’t miss about it.  This is all the more relevant since right now the Ragefire server is open in Everquest and folks are flocking there for their own hit from the nostalgia pipe.

The thing that I don’t miss about that era is the way I felt chained to the computer.  Every time I set foot in the world I had a tangible fear of losing everything that I had worked so hard to attain to that point.  There was always the fear that you might take a death in a place where you could not recover your body.  Over time the items on your body started to decay and disappear, and eventually there was a point where things were simply no longer recoverable.  The problem is when you took a death your entire mission in life became about getting that body back.  I’ve known people that skipped major events in their life all because they were in the middle of trying to get back their virtual items.  I’ve personally gotten calls on the middle of a Sunday afternoon begging me to go home and log in and go find them so that I could resurrect their body and give them back some of the lost experience.

Fear of the Unknown

kithicor-thecrew So while I don’t miss any of that bullshit, I do the constant and tangible sense of fear.  The problem being that the modern games seem to have missed the boat in what exactly caused this fear.  Right now so many of these sandbox games take the cheap route and make every player afraid of every other player.  The problem with this is that it is counter productive to building a community.  You want your players to band together, rather than avoid each other like the plague.  What caused the fear was that the world was this scary and unknown place.  There were no in game maps, there were no mob statistics…  and it was the lack of information that made the world frightening.  We didn’t know what we didn’t know… and often times our imaginations invented a far scarier scenario than the game servers were possible of creating at the time.  We imagined complex plans within plans… and that the server was quite literally out to get us.

There were situations like Kithicor Forest in Everquest, where during the day it was a friendly low level hunting zone, but at night all manner of maximum level undead spawned and started roaming.  The truth of Kithicor is that there were far fewer undead spawning than we realized and that we were never in as much danger as we actually thought we were.  In all the times I ran through the zone at night, I never once died to the undead…  but I was constantly in fear of it.  I “knew” death waited around every corner and because of it I tiptoed my way out into the world constantly aware of my surroundings and constantly afraid that at any moment the server would reach out and smite me for my impudence.  The fact that it never actually happened, didn’t really matter…  because I lacked the data mined information to tell me exactly what the spawn rates were and where the roaming paths were located at.

Players Together, Not Against

watching_sat We are quite literally overloaded with information about the games we play.  Knowing the amount of hit points a given mob has is just expected now, along with knowing every other intimate piece of information about the game.  We know the attacks a creature is capable of making, and how exactly to counter them…  before we even see said creature take a swing.  Where this modern incarnation of Everquest nostalgia falls short is understanding that it was our lack of knowledge that made us afraid to venture into the world.  It was not necessarily the harsh death penalties, and it most definitely was not that we were afraid of other players…  it was that the world was cruel and unknown.  The focus on PVP as a way of providing cheap content always seems to miss the point of why the original games worked.  Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot worked more than anything because it caused players to be willing to look for help from anyone who would offer it.

When you expect the world to strike you down at any moment, you are willing to accept assistance from anyone willing to lend it.  Especially in Everquest it felt like every player in the game was on the same team, that it was us versus the world.  Sure there were territorial squabbles over spawn camps and the like, but more often than not each server had its own hard and fast rules for dealing with this sort of thing.  We the players made order out of the chaos, and there was protection in numbers.  There were many zones that you didn’t go to because you knew there were not likely to be other players to help you out if something went wrong.  By the same token these untouched zones became the perfect place for a group of friends to go off exploring on their own.  This is what we need in the current crop of nostalgic games, a sense of why exactly the first games worked and a certain measure of ignorance to make us all fear the darkness.

Don’t Believe Your Own Hype

Strange Dreams

Last night I failed miserably to attend the World of Warcraft raid.  For whatever reason I have not slept amazingly well this week, so by the time I got home yesterday I found myself incapable of sitting up straight in my office chair.  From there I attempted to game on the couch from my laptop, but before long was finding myself dozing off.  So around the 7:30 start time of our World of Warcraft raid I was ultimately taking a nap.  It looks like they put in ten solid tries on Blackhand without me, which is pretty awesome.  Hopefully this coming week we can manage to down him and take his candy.  I am not sure why I am apparently sleep deprived but after all the napping on the couch I still managed to sleep a fairly full nights sleep.  Admittedly I woke up several times during the night, but each time I was able to get right back to sleep without much issue.

I did have a really strange dream during the course of all these wake ups.  It was at some banquet for Blizzard Entertainment, and somehow had gotten chosen to say a few words.  When it came to me and I introduced who I was and what blog and podcast I am from…  there was a sheer look of horror from the stage.  It was like this overwhelming wave of “What is he doing here?” sweeping over the fine folks from Blizzard.  I proceeded to say a few words about my love of Blizzard and I am not really sure what happened next because I woke up.  However I do remember having this general feeling that I did not belong there.  The funny thing is…  that in order for the dream to function I would have to be well known, and this is something that I am not willing to accept.  I don’t think anyone at Blizzard has a clue who I am, let alone enough of a clue to be horrified that I would be speaking at their banquet.   I am just a guy that does a thing, and not terribly important for doing it.

Don’t Believe Your Own Hype

One of the interesting things about being a blogger or a podcaster is that you are forced into the often uncomfortable role of self promotion.  This aspect of blogging names my skin crawl because ultimately whether your like it or not, you are building a brand.  The brand is made up of you, the image you project of yourself and the content you create.  Most of us adopt a persona of sorts that we break out when it comes to interacting with the world and our readers.  For some of us that persona is really damned close to the real thing.  For me it is like a super hyped up and self confident version of myself, and the odd thing is that over time the REAL me has become more and more like the “Rockstar” me.  For the most part this is harmless, because “super” me probably is far more enjoyable to be around than the sulky and moody “actual” me that exists sometimes.  The problem is it is really damned easy to lose your sense of self on the internet.

In the decade or so I have been serious about socializing online, I have seen more than a few people lose themselves in their own hype.  They start to believe that they are legitimately famous and as such somehow separated from the “common” folk because of it.  If you ever find yourself with the strong desire to utter the phrase “Don’t you know who this is?” then chances are you have already gone off the deep end.  As strange as it sounds this is a constant fear of mine, that I will end up becoming one of those empty self promoting husks.  I spend most of my time trying to actively deny the fact that I have any sway over other human beings, and that I am ultimately just talking to myself.  The reality is somewhere between because apparently as much as I try and deny it the whole #BelEffect thing that I am cursed with is apparently a legitimate thing.

Find A Grounding Force

The reality is that on a daily basis I have somewhere between 500 and 1000 readers of this blog when you combine direct hits and folks that read it through an RSS reader.  I am by no means a large presence on the internet, but I do have a niche following.  I do everything in my power to forget that I actually have readers, largely because I am scared to death of turning into one of the people that I have been frustrated with in the past.  I just want to be me, doing the thing that I do… and sharing that thing with other people.  Essentially what has worked thus far is to surround myself with people that are not buying into my own hype in the least.  While my friends like to grief me with things like that hashtag or trying to claim I am some media personality… they are also the first people that would call me on my shit if I ever started to believe any of it.  More than anything the biggest grounding force in my life is my wife, who is not part of the gaming universe at all.

I realize this is a strange post as far as Newbie Blogger Initiative tips goes, because if you are just starting out you are in that phase where you are struggling to gain the courage every single day to post anything at all.  There comes a time however when those fears go away and you are able to interact freely.  I’ve tried my best to stay grounded and humble as this blog has grown from something a couple dozen people followed to the readership it has today.  The problem is that not everyone does, and I have watched this whole process go to folks heads.  I am no one special, and thanks to the support of my wife and friends…  it is my intent to keep it that way.  Self promotion is a necessary evil, and the “rockstar” version of my personality will more than likely always need to be there as a coping mechanism for the stress of dealing with other human beings.  It is my sincere hope that I can keep from falling into the trap of believing in my own hype.  It is also my hope that as you go through your own rollercoaster of success with your own blogging endeavors that you too can keep from believing your own hype.

Witcher 3 Impressions

Losing Time

witcher3 2015-05-20 19-43-32-94 Last night I had these plans of coming home, and hopping into Final Fantasy XIV and working on crafting once again while chatting away with my Free Company folk.  However when I got home absolutely none of that actually happened.  I had left the GOG Galaxy client up on my screen during the day, and when I sat down at my machine it was the first thing I saw.  I had fixed myself a sandwich and chips and I thought to myself…  I will just play Witcher for a bit while I eat dinner, and before my wife gets home.  It seems like moments later she had gotten home and was hollering up at me.  When I say it seems like moments, it quite literally feels like I had just sat down at the screen.  In reality about an hour passed between starting Witcher and taking a quick pause to see my wife off to church before returning to playing again.  Then next thing I know it…  my wife is back home and heading to bed and I have managed to lose another several hours.

To say the game is immersive is a bit of an understatement.  The last game that I can remember losing entire nights to was probably Skyim, and that is a fairly apt comparison at least on a few levels.    The funny thing is I have just now moved to the “second” area of the game.  I say area because while the game has open world aspects it is not exactly completely open world.  The first “zone” is called White Orchard and it is made up of this huge sprawling seamless area with lots of villages and locations to explore.  This gives it a traditional open world Elder Scrolls feel, the problem being that the entire location has a bounding border drawn around it.  While I have not pushed my luck when the game starts telling me to turn around…  I am imagining that there is some sort of “slaughterfish” like mechanic that you encounter.

Gorgeous Environment

witcher3 2015-05-20 19-07-30-38 The real triumph of the game is the environment, and just how real it feels to be roaming through.  What makes the game world so compelling is the fact that everywhere you look there is action going on.  Nothing is static, and the weather patterns effect every last blade of grass it feels.  The only problem with this is at times you feel like you are suffering from a bit of sensory overload.  Like I said yesterday once I started playing I pretty much hopped off the path immediately and this is very easy to do, and at the same time rewarding.  When they were pitching this game I remember them saying that it would take either 20 hours or 200 hours depending on your gameplay style and after finishing White Orchard I can see why this is.  The main storyline in the zone was relatively straight forward and only actually required me to complete a few quests to get through it.  However I spent the next four hours working on various treasure hunts and exploring the world.

The map system works very similar to Skyrim except that you have missions of interest that you have yet to explore marked as question marks.  Now these are not ALL the locations in the world, and there are a number of other “hidden” things that you can find wandering the countryside, however if you explore each question mark it seems like you will get most of the content you would care about.  That is ultimately what I spent my night doing was wandering around completing these question marks.  The game has a waypoint travel system that allows you to pop from road sign to road sign, and I used the hell out of this functionality allowing me to get close to the destination that I was looking for and either taking my horse the rest of the way or just wandering of foot.  Pretty much anytime I saw monsters on my minimap hud I dismounted and took them on.  After some gear and some levels things like the Drowners and packs of Wolves became trivial, but the big monsters were still insane especially anything that spawned near a “guarded treasure”.

The Story Is Good

witcher3 2015-05-20 21-52-48-37 The thing that I find most interesting is that the game manages to make the narrative just as interesting as the free form exploration.  There is some crazy shit going on in the world of the Witcher, and as this game is my first experience of that world I am trying to soak it all in.  The game does an awesome job of giving you just enough of a primer in the setting for things to make sense, but also is unapologetic at times for talking about things that you have NO clue what is going on.  There was a point in the game where I had to answer a series of questions, each of which I think represent choices that were made in earlier games.  Knowing nothing about the setting I made my choices and it was interesting to see just how they played out in that discussion.  I have a feeling that those choices will ultimately color what the final results of the game end up being.

There was talk at one point of them rebooting the earlier Witcher games using the Witcher 3 engine… and I really hope this happens.  The engine itself is extremely robust and I can see the modder community is going to have a ball with this game.  This might dethrone Skyrim in that department, pending the game itself is that extensible.  The best review that I can give the game is the fact that I had to pry myself away from it last night to go to sleep.  I alt tabbed and noticed it was 10:30 and realized that if I did not stop then… I would likely end up playing until after one in the morning.  The funny thing about this game is that it literally came out of left field for me.  I had no intent to purchase it, and am only now playing it because I got a free copy with my video card.  Now I am looking forward to playing through everything the game has to offer and will more than likely purchase the season pass so that I can play the DLC as it releases.  I keep harkening back to this, but I think if the game keeps up at this pace and level of quality that it might very well be that go to game like Skyrim for losing myself in the world.  The only fear I have is that since this is so narrative focused, I am not sure if it will have the same sort of universal replay-ability that the Elder Scrolls games have had for me.

Mistakes Were Made

Thing that Happened

shiny_new_car The last few days have been extremely strange for me, in that I have been processing a sequence of events.  I wrote over the weekend that we had a bit of car trouble and found out there was a recall on our Pontiac Torrent related to it.  In a sequence of events we also found out that an earlier repair was in fact the source of a recall as well, so in theory we should be getting reimbursed for that work also.  Monday we scheduled an appointment with our local GMC dealer to get the new recall taken care of, but in the meantime my wife started looking at vehicles.  Both her Torrent and my Jeep Grand Cherokee had been paid off for well over a year and we were just reaping the benefits of no car payment.  Other than the recent recall however hers was in extremely good condition.  Mine on the other hand had some issues.  All of which were largely minor:  cracked windshield, broken drivers seat, and in desperate need of new tires.

As a result I had been looking for some time and kicked around all sorts of ideas for vehicles.  That said I have always been extremely happy with the Pontiac Torrent and fully intended at some point to get around to looking at the Chevy Equinox the modern cousin.  In my wife’s searches she stumbled across a phenomenal deal,  the kind that you can’t really say no to.  So part of me felt like the time table of events was extremely quick, but by the same token I also felt like we had to jump on the deal while it was available.  As a result I am now the proud owner of a shiny new 2013 Chevy Equinox with a truly silly list of amenities that I never actually expected any vehicle I owned would have.  I mean this has silly things like heated seats and a backup camera that makes driving a car kind feel like an arcade game.  I have yet to even figure out half of the things that are in it because I really have not driven it enough for it to feel “really” mine yet.  Last night I turned over the keys to my Jeep and I admit I was a little sad to do so, mostly because I guess I was more attached to that vehicle than I realized.  I think more than anything I am just trying to wrap my head around the notion that I have a new car.

Crafting to Eleven

ffxiv 2015-05-19 19-04-12-406 Before the World of Warcraft raid I managed to pop into Final Fantasy XIV long enough to push Culinarian to eleven.  This means I now have every craft to that tier, and can start getting rid of my early gear.  In fact it just dawned on me that other than fishing I have started literally every class in the game.  Right now my sights are set on pushing everything past fifteen, which is apparently where the interesting and unique abilities come into play from each crafting profession.  Up until this point they have all seemed to have exactly the same things: a success buff, a durability heal, and an ability to increase quality.  The positive about this setup is that right now all of my hotbars look essentially the same, so through muscle memory I can hit the ability that I need when I need it.  One of the things that I do like about crafting is that your control points seem to regenerate each time you craft an item.  I was half expecting them to work like gathering points and regenerate over time or per harvest.  This makes crafting a much shorter game, which I like significantly better.

While I have joked for some time that crafting in Final Fantasy XIV is a black hole…  I am here to report that this is actually a literal thing that happens apparently.  I cannot tell you the last time I ran an expert dungeon for poetics, nor can I really tell you the last time I was in non-crafting gear.  Because of the whole automobile thing, I ended up at a car dealership Monday night instead of attending our raid.  So quite literally for the last several times I have played the game I have done nothing but crafting.  The thing that shocks me is just how surprisingly “okay” I am about this thing that is happening.  I am finding that I really do enjoy the crafting system, and there is something oddly gratifying about it.  I expect by the time I hit 50 in every profession I will have a serious hatred for some aspects of it, but other than the fact that it is a constant gil sink…  I am completely fine with turning money into crafting ability.  I keep thinking about the final destination being an amazing place where I can craft anything I need on a whim.

Mistakes Were Made

witcher3 2015-05-20 06-00-32-71 I did a thing last night that I knew better than to do…  but ultimately did it anyways.  First off I feel like I need to get some baggage out of the way.  The Witcher franchise and I have a very checkered past, namely I have been told by friends that I trust that it is this amazing experience…  then I attempt to play it and it feels like shit.  The first Witcher game without a doubt has the most cludgy controls I have ever experienced, and I quite literally have not made it out of the tutorial fight even though I have tried to play it multiple times.  So I thought I would just skip the first one and start with the second…  the problem being for whatever reason I cannot get Witcher 2  to load on my machine at all.  It will boot up, but never actually starts and apparently this is a known issue with Windows 8 and that game.  So I had planned to completely write the series off and skip the third one, given my lack of success with the previous two.  Then several weeks back I ordered a new video card, and low and behold it came with a free copy of Witcher 3 delivered through the GOG Galaxy client.  Of note I have to say I am a big fan of the Galaxy client so far, it is extremely clean.

Last night after the raid I decided to fire up the game, expecting to play for only a few minutes.  The end result is that I played for an hour and a half without pause, and also without realizing it.  The game is really good, like Skyrim good and runs beautifully on my system.  There is a certain amount of narrative faffing that happens in the first few minutes of the game, but quickly you are dumped into a living world setting with only some vague suggestions on what you should be doing.  From there you can choose to follow the directions on the map, or just wander off on your own finding interesting things in the countryside.  Given my history with Elder Scrolls Games, I immediately hopped off the beaten path and started wandering around.  I found a Wraith guarding a place of power, defeated it… claimed the power of the location and apparently earned my very first ability point.  The entire sequence of events felt extremely natural and engaging.  Additionally I completed a handful of quests that involved using my “Witcher powers” to find clues.  Again it felt extremely nice, and I am finding myself getting enamored with the game without actually meaning to.  I’ve been switch hitting between 360 controller and mouse and keyboard, and honestly I think I like the 360 controller the best so far.  Looking forward to playing a good deal more of this over the coming nights.

NBI Talkback 3 – What Made You A Gamer?

Early Beginnings

searstelegames I had an extremely strange couple of days, so instead of talking about that I thought I would tackle the third talkback challenge.  For this one my good friend Jaedia posted a prompt on the Newbie Blogger Initiative website asking “What Made You A Gamer?”.  This is one of those topics that I have thought long about for years, and I am not really sure what the answer is.  I am not sure if there is any one thing that makes someone a gamer.  I think you are either born with the natural proclivities in that direction or you are not.  My earliest memories of gaming are pretty clear however.  My parents had a Sears and Roebuck version of the Atari Tele-Games console system…  aka Pong.  I remember being completely enamored with being able to move the bar on screen to intercept the square bouncing around the screen.  I don’t necessarily remember playing this all that often because well… it was my parents toy and not mine, but I remember the desire being real.

A few years later thought my parents purchased an Atari 2600, and that is the system I remember being “mine”.  My mom was a teacher and I guess one of her students was selling theirs used.  This is important because it sets up a long tradition of me buying console systems second hand that I continue today with my Craigslist finds.  The console came with the base system, several well worn controllers and a dozen or so games for the big price of $50… which actually was quite a bit of money back then.  I was enthralled by the games and while they really had no story to tell on their own, it didn’t stop me from making up stories.  Even the most generic game could be a vehicle for me to tell tales of valor and bravery.  I remember for whatever reason that Sea Quest was one of my favorite games at the time, which was this simple game about going down in a sub marine to save divers.  In my head I was this crack submarine pilot fighting off sharks to rescue my troops.

Discovering Role-playing Games

DaveTrampierPlayersHandbook At this point we are going to take a bit of a detour, because I was happily an Atari kid for years making up stories to fill in the gaps that the games were not providing for me.  Then an event happened that literally changed my trajectory permanently.  As I have said before I grew up the child of a teacher, and that means a bunch of things.  Not the least of which is that you end up spending a lot of time up at school waiting for your teacher parent to “wrap things up”.  I knew all of the janitorial staff by name and they were a kind of family that I hung out with as they did their things, and I waited on my mother.  At the end of the school year there was a tradition, the great locker cleanout.  On the last day of school, anything that was left in the student lockers at 4 pm was going to get dumped in the ground and thrown out, to clear the lockers to be cleaned for the next school year.  I learned my scavenging instincts at a young age, and this was pretty much a magical time for me as I wandered around through the piles of debris picking up gems.

Most of the treasures I found were in the realm of nifty “stationary” items like binders or notebooks, but I remember during second grade I stumbled upon a book that quite literally changed my life from that point onwards.  That seems like a fairly bold statement but finding a dusty well worn copy of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook was like opening a whole other world to me.  To say I was obsessed with this was a bit of an understatement.  I poured over the pages of the tome soaking in everything I could from it.  While I didn’t understand anything about the game itself, it provided for me a structure of types of heroes, types of weapons, types of magic that imprinted upon me.  I loved the artwork and the next year at school it dominated the recess games I played with my friends.  We were a band of warriors, and the fact that the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon started around this same time only served to fuel the fire.  The only problem being that we lived in the bible belt, and “Dungeons and Dragons” was an evil thing.  So instead I got wrapped up in the Marvel Super Heroes game also by TSR.  For some reason my friends parents could stomach them playing a game based on comic book heroes, so long as we never referred to or referenced it as being “like” D&D.  We had to go so far as to hide the dice needed to play it, so as a result I became the game master because my parents were cool with all of this.

The Nintendo Christmas

nintendo-nes-mario-console-boxed The next major event in my game development came with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Up until this point I had been doing everything I could to squeeze the joy out of a combination of the Atari and my scattered pen and paper role playing games.  Then my cousins came to town with their Super Mario Bros and completely destroyed my world.  Everything about the NES was just better.  There were stories being told through the games, and with characters that you could actually recognize as characters.  I grew up in a pretty small town and the arcade was a less than savory place.  So my exposure to Arcade games to that point was pretty much limited to the occasional lobby of a department store.  While I craved playing them, and begged my parents for a quarter anytime we were near one… it was not something I really got to do all that often.  When the NES came on the scene I was completely blown away by the graphical fidelity and my entire existence became about getting one.  This was the Christmas that the Nintendo was universally sold out around the country.

I had to be the most annoying kid because I kept tabs on which stores had them, which stores were rumored to have them… and which stores were sold out.  I kept my parents up to date on my findings, in hopes that they would rush out and get one.  So as Christmas rushed towards us and there was no Nintendo shaped box under the tree…  I was completely devastated.  Then Christmas morning happened… and I had put on a good face and was prepared to swallow down the disappointment.  There under the tree was sitting a gleaming Control Deck box just like the one above.  This was probably the most joy I had experienced to that moment, and if my parents had a video camera it probably would have looked a lot like the N64 kids.  This was the single best and worst Christmas I had ever experienced.  About two hours after getting my Nintendo…  we lost power due to an Ice Storm that was raging… and we did not get power back for three days.  So while I had the object of my desire…  I had no power with which to actually enjoy it.  The rest is pretty much history, games like Final Fantasy were able to merge my love of RPGs and my love of games, and now I spent most of my time playing MMOs.  I still think however that people either are inherently game lovers or they are not, and there isn’t really much that can “make” a gamer.

Madness Intensifies

No Getting Used to It

ffxiv 2015-05-17 22-31-40-498 By the time yesterday afternoon rolled around I had well passed my stress quota.  If I were a pinball machine the tilt sensors were going off.  The previous week had been one of the more stressful experiences in part because I don’t really handle change as well as I could.  That said my workplace right now is in a constant state of flux as we are going through a fairly massively floor rebuild.  We have folks tearing down one cube only to take the pieces that were used to make it, and use it to build up a brand new cube.  The positive is that I now have a pretty sweet set up with a more private cube that has an entrance hall of sorts, but getting to that process involved moving out of my office before going to lunch one day… and moving back in a few hours later.  When you combine the fact that we had to cram all of the mothers day festivities into this weekend, we had car troubles, and had at least one partially sleepless night due to dodging tornados by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around I had just checked out.

So as I was sitting there on my sofa mindlessly crafting away last night it was pure dumb luck that I happened to look down and notice that the tell I had just received was from an actual person and not another gold spammer.  It turns out that I happened to be sitting there crafting in the Alchemists guild in Ul’dah next to someone who was apparently an avid reader of my blog.  I’ve been lucky enough to experience this a few times now, and each time it is this mixture of pride, awkwardness and confusion.  I have somehow lulled myself into this state where I feel like I don’t actually have any readers, so when I write my post each morning I can be just as open as I want to… because I am ultimately just talking to myself.  So when I am confronted with the fact that this is absolutely not the case I never know quite what to do.  I snapped a photo with my reader and told him that he would have to be less of a stranger in the comment thread, also threw out a friend invite and said to holler if they needed anything.  My friends joke about me being “THE Belghast” but man…  that is not a thing I will ever get used to.  I’m just a guy who does a few different things and tries to squeeze as much enjoyment out of the games I happen to be playing as I can.  The big point of pride however came when my reader said that I was for the most part the reason why they were playing Final Fantasy XIV right now, so if my joy can be infectious then maybe I guess it is okay.

Madness Intensifies

MadnessOfBel_11s The only real concentrated playtime that I had this weekend were either during the podcast on Saturday evening or starting about 4pm on Sunday afternoon until I went to bed.  During that time I focused on getting all of those tradeskills that I managed to get to level 5/6ish the other day up to 11.  At the point of going to sleep last night I had managed to get all of them up there except for Culinarian, which I will hopefully take care of tonight.  I will say that so far I definitely agree with the notion of this being the ideal way to level tradeskills, but man…  it also means that my entire life right now is pushing tradeskills.  There is no way in hell I am going to cap my poetics especially since they have now doubled the cap to 900 per week.  The positive however is that I am actually finding myself really enjoying the black hole known as crafting.  I like the fact that I am for the most part relatively self sufficient.  This was always the big reason why I pushed crafting up in other games is that when I wanted something for an alt… I didn’t want to have to pester someone else to make it for me.

It is going to be so amazingly nice to be able to repair my gear while we are in instances, or knock out random glamour prisms as my whims suit me.  Right now I am taking no small amount of pride in the fact that I have been crafting all of my upgrades WHILE working on crafting.  The cool thing is that each time I hit a plateau I can have a fire sale of everything that I used to get to that point.  So when I finally bring Culinarian up to level 11 I will be shedding all the early level crafting gear that I have laying around.  The other nice thing about doing it this way is that I have been able to select the cash reward item from each of my crafting quests.  The negative is…  that I am struggling to remember which quests I have actually completed.  I am pretty sure there are one or two of the level ten quests that I still need to go back and do.  I am really enjoying the chill nature of crafting, and I am liking that it gives me plenty of time to watch some Orphan Black.  I managed to watch through the first seasons and just started the second season last night before stopping to watch Game of Thrones.  I doubt I will make it to cap before Heavensward but I am hoping to at least get close.

Forced Engagement

ffxiv 2015-04-25 20-53-28-59 The biggest problem with crafting right now is that it is feeding my instincts to check out mentally.  When I am stressed I tend to disengage from the world, and while I am so focused on crafting my way through the levels…  it is all too easy to simply not watch free company chat or anything else for that matter.  One of the things I am going to have to work on this next week is trying to find a happy medium between my super engaging “lets run all the things” side and my “lets just nest and craft” side.  I am hoping that now that my group at work is done with the moves that I can start to chill back out once again.  The fact that every single day my world was changing significantly made me want to cling to something calm and relaxing in my game world.  Tonight will be a return to my raid schedule so that should help significantly.  There is still some stress in the real world around a potential car purchase that might be happening, but hopefully the big stressers are past me.

Mostly I want to apologize to anyone who was looking to run anything this weekend.  I managed to run a Sunken Temple of Qarn with Liore, but past that I pretty much ran nothing at all.  I had all these grand hopes of doing some pony farming, but that fell through when we tried to cram a visit with my folks in Friday night.  Saturday was pretty much an entire lost day other than rushing home to podcast under the threat of severe weather.  Hopefully as the week goes on I can do more fun stuff with the Free Company because I could use the activity to get my mind off other things.  As we talked about on the podcast Saturday night, I really hope we down turn nine tonight… but in the grand scheme of things I think we are still a few weeks away.  We are just now consistently getting to the dive bomb phase, now we just have to figure out what to do with the dive bombs.  On our best attempt I think we  got to around 35% which isn’t too shabby.  I hope you all have a great week, and please if you are an avid reader of the blog…  don’t hesitate to ping me in game sometime and say hi.

Half Sleeping

AggroChat 57 – Preparing for Heavensward

Tonight we have Belghast, Ashgar, Tamrielo, Kodra and Thalen and once again we felt like we didn’t have much to talk about.  However once we dug in a little bit I noticed a trend.  Each of us was busy working on this item or that in relationship to Final Fantasy XIV each with our own goals that we have been trying to finish before the expansion.  Ashgar just finished his Nexus weapon after the length grind, and talks about how it compared up against other grinds he has completed.  Kodra talks about working on Turn 9 with two different raid groups and how he hopes we can get through it within the coming weeks.  I talk about my own quest which involves me descending into the dark madness that is crafting and slowly stair stepping each and every crafting class five levels at a time.

In addition to this there is some more Shadowrun talk as we each continue our play throughs.  Kodra goes into yet another dark place by playing some Demon Souls and talks about those experiences.  He and Tam spent a good deal of time this week watching the first season of Sword Art Online and we get into a discussion about that as well.  I talk about my experiences working on the Blackhand encounter in World of Warcraft, and we talk a bit about the lackluster numbers released by NCSoft regarding Wildstar sales.  Yet another night of varied topics here on AggroChat.

Automotive Struggles

It is now officially “weather season” here in Oklahoma and over the last few weeks we have been deluged in rain storms.  In fact we skipped Mother’s Day last weekend due to the fact that there was rampant flooding in the area of the state that our Mothers live in.  This meant this weekend we had to make up for that fact and venture out to see all three mothers.  Friday night we met my folks for dinner and chatted with them for a good while, and then Saturday we ventured to the northern part of the state to see my wife’s mothers.  The only problem with this notion is that there was the constant fear of bad weather hanging over the day.  The national weather service had used the term “life threatening” and “super cell” in relation to the storm that was supposed to be arriving that night.  To make matters more tense we opted to drive my wife’s Pontiac Torrent because it is more comfortable on long trips.  That said it has also been having some issues lately.

There is a point between second and third gear where it “chugs” for lack of a better term, or as my wife calls it “hiccups” while trying to change gears.  This seems to hit most often on inclines but over time it has gotten worse.  While driving north on the turnpike it happened again around 75 mph and this time had a corresponding check engine light.  I pulled over to the side of the turnpike and shut down completely, and upon powering back on everything seemed happy.  We were just outside of town, so we popped off and went to the local GMC dealer.  While the service department was not open, the shop foreman just happened to be working on his mothers car and was able to at least hook up the Torrent to the computer and tell us what was happening.  Turns out that the engine was misfiring and after some research there is a factory recall that we were never notified about.  He promised that our vehicle would not strand us, but instead it would just get horrible gas mileage until we got it taken care of.  Nonetheless with impending weather issues it made the rest of the day feel far more tense than it normally would have.

Half Sleeping

The national weather service originally predicted that a huge batch of Tornados would be hitting the Oklahoma City area around 3pm CST.  The storm however stalled out over the state and by the time we started up the podcast last night it still had not fully hit us.  The problem with a late night storm is that it pretty much destroys any semblance of sleep.  Today I am completely dragging ass because we did not get the “All Clear” until about 4:30 in the morning.  This means it was yet another night of sleeping with the television blaring the weather so that if something went horribly wrong over night we would hopefully hear it.  Sleeping while half paying attention to the television means you don’t actually get much rest.  I have a feeling I will be taking a nap at some point because right now I am struggling to get through my morning blogging routine, let alone do anything more productive.  The good news is that for the most part we made it through the storm unscathed.  The bad news is, that not every suburb in the Tulsa area can say the same thing.

The Broken Arrow area seems to have gotten hit the hardest from last night.  Earlier on the news they showed footage of what like the remains of a trailer part strewn along the country roads.  At that point the reporter was uncertain where exactly the debris was coming from, but there was a lot of it.  My hope is that everyone made it out alive.  It is always surreal to talk about Tornados because they are equal parts commonplace and revered here in Oklahoma.  Everyone knows someone who has been effected by one in the past, but at the same time… when you spend every spring dealing with the warnings it also seems “commonplace”.  For years I used to wonder how the folks on the west coast dealt with Earthquakes, but since we also have those…  I am guessing it is much the same.  When you are used to a natural disaster, it just becomes a bit less scary.  Right now it seems like most of the issues happening today are just massive flooding.  After years of drought, I had almost forgotten what “real” rain was like.  At this point all of the rivers are well over flood stage, but fortunately I don’t live in an area that actually floods.  Expect normal gaming blog posts to resume this week I hope, but today…  was all about the weather.

The Podcasting Bug – Part 3

Putting it Someplace

Today is the final post in my series highlighting some of the decisions that you need to think about when starting a podcast.  In the first post I talked a bit about various formats, casting options and some of the design aspects.  In the second post I dove straight into recording your podcast and editing it.  In this mornings post I plan on handling the least exciting part of the equation…  hosting it somewhere that other people can listen.  If you wanna be a rock superstar and live large…  well you are going to have to dump those shows somewhere reliable and fast.  There are so many options here that it will make your head spin but I am going to try and do what I have done to this point and just talk about a few of the potential paths.

Dedicated Podcast Hosts

When I ventured down this road I noticed that pretty much all of the podcasts I listened to had one thing in common… they all seemed to be hosted by a service company called “Libsyn” so for ease of use that is who I chose to use for AggroChat.  These companies are dedicated to a upload and forget it business model automating a lot of the process to make it easier to integrate with services like iTunes and Stitcher radio.  One of the things you are going to realize quickly is that you have no real idea just how much space you need.  For example the basic Libsyn account is $5 a month for 50 megs of monthly storage.  What that means is that you can upload roughly 30 minutes of new audio each month before incurring additional overage fees.  For a weekly show I knew without a doubt that this was not going to be enough.

When I set up the AggroChat account initially I went with the $15 a month 250 meg of monthly growth account, thinking that surely this was going to enough.  The problem there is that there were a few weeks where I quite literally had to wait until after the monthly reset before uploading that next episode.  Finally I have settled on the $20 a month account for 400 mb of storage.  This gives me some breathing room, and allows our podcasts to fluctuate in length naturally without being extremely concerned about running out of space.  Ultimately what you are going to have to figure out is what works for you.  If you figure 50 meg per 30 minutes of podcast that means you can record at a decent bitrate and hopefully have a bit of wiggle room when it comes to your monthly allowance of space.

LibSyn

LIbSyn honestly seems to be the gold standard for podcast hosting.  The problem is it is rather pricy as compared to say a normal blog web hosting account.  In part this is because they work slightly different.  For starters LibSyn has no concept of maximum monthly transfer.  They are only concerned about how much file growth you are generating each month.  Additionally they host your back log and archive indefinitely, which is extremely nice.  We’ve recorded 56 episodes and all of them are available to listen to on demand, which means they are hosting roughly five gig of audio for us.  The other big thing they provide is really good statistics and analytics about who is listening.  I would highly suggest if you consider them at the very least going with the $15 a month 250 mb plan.

PodBean

In every market there is a “Bargain Provider” and just like that statement usually means… you ultimately get what you pay for.  When you compare I am paying $20 a month for 400 mb worth of monthly growth through Libsyn, it seems like an absolute steal that you can get an $8 a month unlimited bandwidth and unlimited storage account through PodBean.  The problem is that they have a fairly abysmal reputation for reliability.  The Better Business Bureau has them listed as an “F”rating, so you are more than likely taking at least some risk.  However if you really cannot afford a better option this is there.  I would love to hear thoughts if any folks out there are actively using this service and liking it.  Most of the complaints I have heard centered around customer service.  Considering the price I looked at it seriously for “Bel Folks Stuff”.

SoundCloud

The service I am the least familiar with to be honest is SoundCloud but from what I can tell a lot of folks are having good luck with it.  In part the way its pricing is structured allows you to ease into using it, and as such get your feet wet before committing to a monthly fee.  The free account allows you to upload 3 hours of audio.  Now this is not per month, but this is 3 hours of audio period.  For $6 a month you can get a total of 6 hours, and then upgrade to unlimited to $15 a month.  When you compare the raw hosting power to my Libsyn account this seems like the clear winner, but for me personally LIbsyn still comes out ahead in the number of things it just takes care of for me.  SoundCloud offers basic RSS support but from what I am tell it is not quite as optimized.  Still this is a really solid option especially if you are considering hosting multiple podcasts off the same account.

Self Hosting Audio

You can at least in theory host your podcast off a traditional blogging account.  The problem being is that when your web host sees the usage of folks constantly downloading MP3s from your site, chances are that they are going to hit you with some sort of bandwidth overage fee.  Because of this what might be a perfectly reasonable and awesome place to host your blog, might be exactly the wrong sort of place to host a podcast.  Libsyn is not terribly flexible when it comes to adding new podcasts without adding additional subscription fees.  So when I started kicking around the notion of “Bel Folks Stuff” I opted to try and host this myself.  For some time I had a cheap unlimited storage and bandwidth hosting account that I used for some development on the side.  As a result I opted to simply host my MP3 files there, and link to them directly from WordPress.

The problem with this is once again you get what you pay for.  While my unlimited host is cheap… and unmetered it is also sluggish at times.  As a result I am telling you about a method that I am contemplating abandoning or at the very least tweaking how I do it.   The host I am using is Arvixe which offers a $4 a month unlimited transfer and unlimited storage account.  Overall it works well enough for my purposes but I have noticed that roughly once a week I have at least one minor outage in service.  These outages are usually less than five minutes according to my wordpress uptime monitors, but they still happen.  Now this could be for any reason including legitimate maintenance… or simply because they have over sold their resources.  In whatever case it is something you should be wary of when looking at any “unlimited” account.  There is almost always a small measure of “snake oil” in those sales pitches.

BluBrry Powerpress

The heart of this process relies upon a WordPress Plugin called BluBrry Powerpress.  In its free form this plug-in takes care of the functionality that Libsyn does with its iTunes optimized RSS feed.  In its paid subscription version it also adds in the robust analytics and statistics.  For “Bel Folks Stuff” I chose to simply use the freebie version.  I manually upload the MP3s to my web host, and then once activated I can link to the media in a traditional wordpress post.  The end result feeds out as a podcastable rss feed, and visually embeds a player on the page.  This works pretty flawlessly, and were I using a different host I would even maybe think this is the preferable way of dealing with a podcast because it gives me the maximum control.  The nice thing about this plugin is that when I chose to create my own custom AggroChat.com wordpress site, I can still use it to cleanly embed media from libsyn into posts.

Advertising The Show

Now that you have your hosting set aside and hopefully your website created to embed your work, now it is time to talk a little bit about getting your show out there.  This is something I honestly do a pretty poor job of myself.  I just happened to stumble into an affiliate network through the close ties I made thanks to the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  The Gaming and Entertainment Network was essentially formed out of NBI in a way, and were it not for that happening my shows would likely still be unaffiliated.  I do a pretty horrible job at the business side of blogging and podcasting, so hopefully someone will come along after writing this guide and tell you all how to actually recuperate your costs.  That is something I have yet to master, because this hobby is absolutely a money sink.  Regardless though you are going to want some listeners and I am going to talk about a few of the avenues I use.

Twitter

Twitter is an absolute no brainer.  Make an account for your show, and syndicate every new show over twitter.  You can get as complicated here as you want or be as generic as you like as well.  Ultimately in a perfect world you want to hashtag in some of the topics you spoke about during the show.  I have yet to really master the art of this without making the advertisement sound anything other than smarmy.   We publish on Sundays, so I tweet out the link early that morning.  Then on Monday I tend to re-tweet it again for anyone who missed the first posting and is looking for something to listen to at work.

iTunes

I do not use iTunes at all, but man it seems like every other person on the planet does.  There is apparently a meta game to getting your podcast placed in iTunes perfectly and there are all manner of guides to timing the launch just right.  Truth be told mine is only up there because my friend Jaedia asked me to put it there.  The act of getting it up there is relatively simple and Apple provides a list of specifications that the podcast needs to follow in order to qualify.  From there you simply have to wait the requisite three or four days before it shows up in the index.  I think for me it happened in about two but depending on backlog of podcasts it has been known to take as long as a week.  Like with anything you can get higher placement if you convince your friends to go into iTunes and vote it up.  I was shocked to find out that apparently our podcast has a five star rating.

Stitcher

The other big player in podcasting directories seems to be Stitcher Radio.  Just like iTunes they have a series of requirements for getting a podcast listed, but have a handy dandy FAQ outlining them.  Essentially it reads your RSS feed and re-syndicates it on their network.  The only problem with this is that it seems to absolutely butcher my podcast.  It sounds like a garbled mess running off their servers, whereas iTunes seems to leave everything as is.  Just like with iTunes someone asked me to list my podcast there because they liked using the stitcher mobile client to listen to podcasts so I did just that.  Really uncertain if I am actually getting any traffic from this but it can’t really hurt.

Go Make a Podcast!

So over the course of these three guides I have done my best to share the small amount of knowledge I have about how podcasting functions. The thing is I am still very much learning as I go because I don’t feel like this is the sort of the thing you can actually “master”.  You might be sitting back and thinking…. god that is a lot of information to take in.  The positive is that I knew absolutely NONE Of these things before I dove head first into recording our first episode of AggroChat.  So my hope is that I can give someone who is on the edge and considering jumping into this world a bit of a head start.  These are the things I wish I knew beforehand, and I have talked about some of the choices I might have made.  Ultimately podcasts are extremely unique beasts, so yours can be whatever you want it to be.  Again if you have any direct questions I am more than happy to answer them, but my hope is that maybe just maybe someone is going to read this mess and get the courage to start.

The Podcasting Bug – Part 2

Making it Happen

Yesterday I talked at length about the design that goes into a podcast.  While sure some people quite literally just start recording without much forethought, the best and most successful podcasts put quite a bit of effort into figuring out just how they want to go about the process of making their vision come to life.  No matter how much prep work goes into the planning, there comes a point where you have to sit down and functionally record your podcast, and there are all manner of issues that arise.  Most of us that go down this path lack the formal training with audio engineering to fall back on, so there is quite a bit of “sink or swim” that happens.  Having gone through some of these decisions myself I thought I would talk about some of the hurdles that comes from the recording and editing of your podcast.

Recording the Podcast

The hardest part of the equation quite literally is how exactly you are going to record.  If you can get all of the people you are needing to record in the same room it is a relatively easy situation of setting up a bunch of USB microphone inputs and having them all get recorded by a single piece of software.  The problem being most podcasters have no physical contact with their co-hosts meaning that we are somehow going to have to make this whole thing work over the internet.  When dealing with the internet you have all the standard problems of latency and network stability.  Today I am going to cover some of the methods of recording remotely that I have seen or heard working very well.

The Skype Standard Method

Skype has managed become the gold standard as far as internet telecommunications software goes.  While this started off as a relative rogue horse with the acquisition by Microsoft it has become absolutely ubiquitous.  The problem being…  it was not designed to record audio with.  In fact Skype has no default method for recording either side of the conversation, and I would assume this is by design to keep away from any potential legal hurdles.  The other negative is that excellent sound recording software like Audacity was not designed to work with something like Skype.  As such you have to figure out how precisely you are going to make this work.  Essentially the first hurdle you have to decide is if you are going to try and record individual speaker tracks or if you are going to record the resulting mixed audio.

Single Audio Tracks

Recording individual audio tracks is without a doubt the “purest” method of recording a podcast.  This means each person is recorded separately and then can be mixed at a later date to create the final merged product.  This means you can do all manner of post processing on audio levels, clearing up jitter and pops without effecting the integrity of other tracks.  The problem is…  isolating each speaker.  There is software that will supposedly help you with this method but more than likely you are going to need to do a significant amount of research and testing to get it working correctly.  The most tried and true method that I know of for this is the “everyone records themselves” method.  Meaning that essentially each participant launches their audio recorder of choice and at the end of the show passes off their audio track for editing in later.  There are a number of issues with this concept, not the least of which is that uncompressed waveform audio is way the hell too large to email.  Secondly editing in multiple tracks is a mind numbingly boring process.  If you record an hour long show expect to spend one hour per participant plus another hour or two on miscellaneous issues while trying to merge all this audio together by hand.

Merged Audio Tracks

The far more common method is that you simply “get everything right” before you start recording and record one merged audio track that represents the basis of your podcast episode.  Generally speaking this involves getting a test call going first, and then setting up again to record the “real call” that will be the final product.  Of note… my experience with Skype comes from co-hosting on other podcasts, and I chose not to go with this method myself.  Some of my advice may not be absolutely accurate so before you set down this path do some legwork and research it yourself.  The idea is that you start a Skype call and then have a third party software “catch” the audio and record it.  Since this has become the default way of doing podcasts for many people you can imagine there are a lot of options out there for recording.  Here is some of the software I have heard decent things about.

Voice Server Method

The method that I never really hear anyone talking about that has worked very well for me personally is recording off of a voice server.  Both Teamspeak and Mumble offer the ability to record client side audio of what is actually being said on the voice server.  Both servers we have used had their positives and negatives.  The key negative of mumble is that all of the audio is recorded in a mono format, making the sound a bit hollow.  The positive there however is that you could choose to record each participant to their own audio file allowing you to merge them together manual later.  Teamspeak offers stereo output but merges all speakers into the same audio stream.  Ultimately you have some of the same issues that arise with Skype in that you need to make sure that all of your speakers are as “clean” as possible before you actually record.  Since we record on the voice server that we quite literally hang out on every single night, then this portion was pretty simple for us.  There are a few things you really need to think about before going down this path.

Audio Codecs Supported

The server that we happen to record on supports a large number of audio codecs.  This allowed me to set up a custom server channel and tweak the audio settings until I got a product that I was happy with.  Currently the channel we record in uses the Opus Voice codec with a quality rating of 8, and this is something we had to tweak down a bit until we found a happy place.  In order to maintain that quality of stream you need an uninterrupted 7 KB/s transmission but thankfully for the most part all of our participants have really solid internet.

Lock Down Your Channel

If you are going to record on an existing server that is already active, it is important that you have to lock down your channel.  It is extremely easily for some well meaning person to pop into your channel out of curiosity and completely destroy your podcast.  In theory you could get by with just naming your podcast channel something obvious like “Podcast Channel”, but I suggest taking the extra step of password protecting the channel.  This allows me to hand the password out to regular guests and simply drag limited hosts into the channel manually.

Turn Off All Audio Queues

This one is absolutely important.  Sure it is nice to know when someone leaves or joins the server but for the purpose of recording a podcast make sure you turn off all of this stuff.  Someone popping on and off the server will be recorded in your final output stream.

Priority Speaker

This one has bit us in the ass a few times, but if your voice server uses a priority speaker system… make sure that ALL participants in the conversation are artificially elevated to priority speaker status.  How priority speaker works is that it essentially lowers the volume of low priority speakers to make sure that the priority one is heard.  This works great in a raid situation where one person needs to be delivering orders, this does not work well when you are expecting multiple people to be chiming in on a conversation.  I am administrator on our voice server so I cannot turn off priority, so I just elevate everyone else to the same level while in the podcasting channel.

Google Hangouts Method

This is the method I honestly know the least about but I believe this is how Cat Context has been recorded for eons.  You can check out this guide but I will try and cover the basics.  The idea is that you start a Google Hangout On Air inviting all of the members of the show.  This is recorded and afterwards you can export the video in MP4 format.  From there you can take the MP4 and edit in an audio editor like Audacity and extract the audio only portion that then becomes your podcast.  The benefit here is that instead of only having audio you also have video recorded of the hangout that can be uploaded to a service like YouTube allowing you to tap into a completely different audience from the traditional podcaster one.  The negative is that you are putting all of your faith in Google Hangouts and hoping that the service will not have any hitches during the recording.  In my own experience playing games over Hangouts, and having people drop in and out of the call…  this one makes me more than a little edgy.  I just wanted to throw it out there as an option because I know lots of people make this one work, and work extremely well.

Editing The Podcast

No matter how pristine you think your final recording is.. you will ultimately need to edit it somehow.  Ultimately you can easily spend ten times as long editing the podcast as it took to record it.  I personally go for a minimal editing process to safe my own sanity, but I know some folks that can take upwards to a week to get the final edit ready to go.  The more you edit the faster you get, so expect your first few podcasts to take a significant investment of your time as you get used to your tools.  My suggestions will be based on Audacity the extremely flexible open source audio editor.  It works equally well on Windows, Mac and Linux and actually does an amazingly clean job of letting you edit just about anything you could ever want to edit.  To make it even more extensible it supports a number of standard audio plug-in formats.  Like I said above I take a pretty minimalistic approach to editing AggroChat so I am going to focus only on the features that I actually use.

Normalize

image The very first pass I make is to normalize the audio.  This helps to minimize the difference between the loudest volume speakers and the quietest volume speakers.  Now you can completely squash any difference in volume if you really like but you end up with robotic sounding audio.  I have personally found that I like the defaults pretty well.  This is an extremely fast edit so should not take a lot of time, but the final result can be very noticeable.

Noise Reduction

image This pass is primarily for if someone I am recording with has a significant amount of white noise or audio “hum” when they record.  For the majority of the time recording Aggrochat this was actually “me” that I was having to edit.  This pass is a little trickier because of the way this tool works.  Ultimately you need to highlight an area of the recording where the noise you want to extract is evident and use it as a sample using “Get Noise Profile”.  From there you run the complimentary command of “Reduce” to essentially cycle through your audio and filter out that noise.  It does a fairly good job but the more noise you filter, the lower the overall fidelity of your recording gets.  This really needs a fine touch because if you filter too much you end up with washboard sounding audio as a result.

Truncate Silence

image If you have ever edited audio the thing you notice after the fact is just how many awkward pauses we make as human beings.  Going back and finding these and eliminating them is pure tedium.  I spent weeks doing this manually until it finally dawned on me.. that this should be something that is pretty easy to automate.  After a little research I found the “Truncate Silence” tool and it is going to be your new best friend.  What it does is essentially even out the silence in your track truncating any silences over a set amount and padding any that are under a certain amount.  These are the settings that I go with for AggroChat, for Bel Folks Stuff I move it up to 400 and 600 respectively to allow a little more room for contemplative silence.  Ultimately you will have to figure out what setting “feels” best to you.

Limit Your Futzing

You can literally spend hundreds of hours if you really wanted to obsessing over the wave form audio.  I have stared at ours enough that I can literally tell you which person is speaking at any given moment from the shape of their waveform audio.  Basically the end result is going to need to be something that you can live with, but at the same time does not take over your life as you keep editing and re-editing.  To make my life easier I have created these files that I refer to as the “Canon” file that includes everything a show needs minus a given weeks audio track.  I set these up once and then just paste the new audio into them before saving them out.  You too are going to find little tricks that you can do  to speed up your process.  On a good night I will have the MP3 audio of our podcast ready to post within thirty minutes of finishing recording.  The longer the recording the longer the edits will take, especially as you start doing things like noise removal.  Those take a significant amount of processing time.  Now that you have your audio recorded and ready to go, you are going to need a place to put it.  Tomorrow I am going to cover the hosting of your podcast and some other bookkeeping tasks like publicizing.  My hope is that someone will find this whole process useful and maybe it will spur on a few new Newbie Blogger Initiative podcasts as a result.