Positivity & Quality, the Mikey Neumann Way

For me this week has been marvellous, two projects that I’ve been anticipating for a while were released, and both delivered. The first was by Max Landis which I wrote about in The Passion of Landis, the second is Mikey Neumann’s video on John Wick 2. I appreciate this somewhat abandons my normal anti-hype stance, but there are both in that rare category of constantly delivering.

After I watched Mikey’s video on John Wick 2, I know I wanted to write something about Mikey and why I think his work and positivity is of such a high quality. I was introduced to the amazing Movies with Mikey via this statement:

 “Mikey is a wonderful human being, so it kind of adds up that he would make one of the most celebratory film review shows on the Internet.”

Extra Credits. 22 Dec 2016.

After such a good recommendation I checked out Movies with Mikey, which is on the Chainsawsuit Original channel, and I was not disappointed. I believe that Mikey Neumann wonderfully highlights the many things that can make a film great, even if the film has some substantial flaws.

For example: the film Sunshine received a lot of criticism, and Mikey doesn’t ignore how the second half was a problem for some viewers. Crucially Mikey also talks about the film’s incredible music (it truly is!), the cinematography, the gravitas of the plot, the human drama. Even though I have seen the film and thought it was a good but flawed, after watching Mikey’s video I now have a much better appreciation for Sunshine.

When I discover a new YouTube channel that impresses me I prefer to go to the channel’s beginning and watch everything. I appreciate that normally earlier videos tend to lack the production quality, but even his old videos like Ninja Turtles have the quality and voice of his later work.

One of the fun things that Mikey does with his videos is quirky segues. Granted there is nothing too unusual with that …

But Did You Know? Previously Mikey Neumann was an actor and writer for the games Brothers in Arms and Borderlands.

Mikey’s video on The Force Awakens is a great example of digging into a film that many people have intense opinions about. I loved the Star Wars setting as a kid, as well as the numerous games (computer, tabletop role-playing, etc.) I still like the setting now, but I am somewhat guilty of being sick of the hype Star Wars gets, in particular by those that claim it is on the only thing; these days I restrain myself at least. Personally I thought the film was okay, there are bits in it that I found annoying and things that I enjoyed, nothing special there. After watching Mikey’s video I found myself reassessing the film, and I came away from the summary with some extra appreciation for The Force Awakens.

I had a similar experience with Mikey’s overview of Interstellar, a film which I had really enjoyed, albeit with a few niggles. Mikey presented a wonderful rationale about the power of love and how it relates to events in the plot, which cut through my complaints. Whilst I consider myself open to persuasion, like most people it takes a lot to persuade me, and that’s a power that Mikey has.

Now when I see a film, I have the added pleasure of looking forward to the hope that Mikey Neumann will make an overview of it. I am intrigued as to what Mikey will say about it, what redeeming things will he highlight?

I adored the film Arrival, and Mikey’s analysis was a second helping of film love. Mikey’s overview of John Wick helped me overcome a creative barrier with a role-playing game that I have been working on; I will blog about this after playtesting the ideas some more. Thus I was heavily invested in Mikey’s analysis of John Wick 2.

It’s Going Down For Real!

And here’s the thing, I think appropriate positivity is important, as is being fair, but these concepts are so vague that we all have different opinions about them. So I think it’s valuable highlighting that some of the fun and quirky things he puts in his videos might be off-putting to a few, and like all good art there are differences of opinion. Give one of his videos a full viewing, I think for the majority of people that time will be well spent. Mikey’s introduction to John Wick 2 is a case in point, I wasn’t a fan, yet I was pretty much smiling the entire time. Oddly I was in no rush to get to the detailed analysis that I had been looking forward to for months, I simply enjoyed the moment, his creativity and fun. I later decided to look at the comments section, and I was amused by a few people being negative about Mikey’s rapping. Certainly any regular viewers should appreciate his style, and stay positive themselves. I found the rest of the video to be amazing, with some very interesting points made.

But did u knnnooow?

Mikey has Multiple sclerosis (MS), and his ongoing battle with health is quite the tale. This is part of the reason I felt compelled to write about someone I only know through their art. Some time ago I wrote a blog about Wallowing in Positivity, and given my own ongoing health problems I can somewhat appreciate Mikey’s much more severe condition. Managing any work whilst ill is impressive, never mind high quality work; this is not about implying perfection, I am sure Mikey has many varying emotional responses to things. I originally wrote a lot about how being ill typically makes everything not just physically by psychologically more difficult, partly because I’ve met people who dismiss this as untrue. My point is better served by stating that I think it’s inspiring that Mikey is able to radiate such positivity; to read more about Mikey’s health check out “The Road to Here…”

Like most people I have a bunch of things that I criticise, and whilst I always strive to be constructive, I can often feel like I’ve been too negative when discussing something. My own bed rest provided me a lot of thinking time, this led me to re-examine how sometimes it is more constructive to be positive, to focus on the good, instead of starting from a negative point. In a world filled with critics offering typically negative heavy analysis, it is great to have people like Mikey offering something different. Discovering Mikey’s work has brought great joy to my life, and emphasised a life style approach that I aspire to embrace more myself. Check out more of his work at http://chainsawsuit.com/

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Bestseller Experiment & Gingerbread

Back in April I wrote the Bestseller Experiment podcast in a post called Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment. If you are unfamiliar with the podcast then I’d recommend reading that first.

Since April a lot has happened with the two Marks, I’m not going to write any major spoilers here, although a minor spoiler is perfectly fine 😉 As their big deadline approaches the work on their novel has continued and really blossomed, along with an ever increasing sense of urgency. So the chaps were recently surprised by needing to make a major decision, whether to release the work under their own names: Mark Stay & Mark Desvaux, or a pen-name, since the story has a female lead, and their names are clearly male. Once again the two Marks do a wonderful job of discussing the situation, as well as presenting feedback from their editor. Given that there is no easy answer for this dilemma, the drama of this curious experiment has reached an interesting twist; definitely check out Episode 48 for more information.

It was a surprise to receive a bonus episode last Friday, they normally come out on a Monday. Episode 50 was to announce a writing competition with the charity Gingerbread:

We’re the leading charity working with single parent families. Supporting, advising and campaigning with single mums and dads to help them meet their family’s needs.

The competition is:

Are you an aspiring writer with experience of single parent family life?

We’re thrilled to be launching the ‘One in Four’ new writer competition, in partnership with Trapeze Books and The Pool. Together, we want to find a new talent to write a novel that celebrates single parent families.

I was raised by my father in a single-parent family, so I have plenty of personal experience in regards to the sorts of problems that a single-parent family faces. In particular the time and financial constraints, as well as the social stigma, which exists even to this day. My own story has what sounds like a scene from a movie: when I was very young my dad had to go to court to fight a custody battle with the state, which was planning on placing my sister and I into the care system. I assume this is no longer the case for single-parent males, but this highlights an important point about how it is easy to assume social stigmas have been beaten back in our lifetime. In reality I have no idea, and maybe it hasn’t, because so many social stigmas still exist, as well new ones being added. Like most things in life, we typically take an interest when it affects us, since we all normally have so many concerns already. Another thing to research 🙂

Fortunately for me, a few months ago I made notes about a character from a single-parent family in my current writing project, so I was immediately hooked on the idea of entering this competition. The Bestseller Experiment episode’s conversation highlighted how writing about such personal experience could be emotionally difficult, but also rewarding. So another project has been added to the pile, but with an all-important deadline, so the top of the pile it goes.

If you’ve ever pondered whether to give writing a go, even a few seconds, then I highly recommend checking this great podcast out, all of it 😉

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http://bestsellerexperiment.com

#RPGaDay 13

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 13th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 13 #RPG, balancing challenges & avoid being too epic.

I have tried to keep growing over the years, both in relation to myself, and also how I play/GM RPGs, I have often reflected on how fortunate I was to role-play with so many different people. From being 11 and the silly amount of D&D sessions at school, to playing with much older role-players when I was 16, to being mentored by people at my local games shop, and the great influence by gamers at college. Like other gamers, I am sure this question can result in a floodgate of reflecting and cool stories. Thus there were a few different answers that I started writing for this, each competing for the limelight. I also wrote some blog posts last year about some of my early RP experiences that fitted this question:

d6

The first role-playing game I ran greatly influenced how I saw the hobby. It was shortly after my first role-playing session, so I was still extremely new to the whole concept of role-play, and of course an inexperienced 11 year old. I came up with a very simplistic adventure idea, since I was pressed for time to prepare the game. Due to my lack of experience I struggled to balance encounters, and I escalated too quickly to being epic about things!

Thankfully one of the players appreciated that I’d been willing to run the game, since everybody had wanted to play.  Sadly I forget the person’s name now, but this 11 year old gave surprisingly sophisticated feedback, explaining why he thought my session had been clearly run by someone struggling and going overboard. His explanation was roughly:

  • It quickly became obvious to him which were my weak and tough encounters, thus the party acted accordingly. He advised mixing things up, tough goblins and monsters near death, and to give clues to this.
  • The party gained too much loot at the end. If one gold coin is valuable than a hundred is a treasure, whilst thousands is ridiculous.
  • The plot reasons I’d come up with were silly, and it was all to epic, making it even sillier.
  • He added that whilst giving out lots of treasure did make one player happy, who at the time was running around the room bragging, but for him he felt it was worthless, since it was all too easy.

This advice started my journey in thinking about plot, balance, character meaning, value and the near-paradoxes of gaming. In turn I have passed on this advice, along with other ideas, to new players and GM’s:

Explore and enjoy low level things when they are new, don’t be in a rush to throw epic encounters in.

This also led my 11 year old self to try and appreciate what was happening in a game at that moment. Not to fixate on what loot we would find, or when we next levelled/spent XP. This of course applies whether the party are 1st level D&D characters, neonate vampires, poorly equipped Solo/Street Samurai, etc., or  powerful versions of those characters.

During my teenage years this advice led me to appreciating little character details. Whether playing Warhammer or Cyberpunk, etc., that as a player epic-ness is my character’s story, and the decisions I make. That as a GM, to allow players to explore their character details, to make decisions and have an impact, and not just to ram my epic plot down their throats. The big plot event down the line will mean more to players who are invested in their characters.

#RPGaDay 09

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 9th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

My answer is: #RPGaDay 9 #RPG, any game can work, don’t feel restricted by setting or system. Use the opportunity.

The following explanation provides more detail for my short Tweet answer. It also builds upon the answer that I gave yesterday, for #RPGaDay 8, so I’d recommend reading that first.

I believe that all RPGs are toolkits that form the basis of a game. They provide suggestions of how to run that game, the rules are important but always optional. To clarify, I am also a big believer in group stability, so any changes are best discussed first with the players, since they are generally agreeing to play a particular rule system. As all RPGs are about imagination and freedom of expression, then all systems can provide this framework regardless of our individual preferences.

As part of my daily checking out of other peoples’ opinions, I have come across quite a diverse list:

Primetime Adventures, Shadow of the Demon Lord, Shadowrun, World of Darkness, Traveller, D&D 5e, Call of Cthulhu, or Pendragon, Call of Cthulhu 7E, Cyberpunk, Mutants and Masterminds 2nd Ed, Phoenix: Dawn Command, Paranoia, A Song of Ice and Fire, Red Aegis, Ryuutama, 40k Dark Heresy, any D&D, and many more.

The previous paragraph is a wonderful list of games, I’ve played most of them and I agree with them being recommended; this is also partly why I don’t feel the need to add a few more suggestions. What is interesting is how specific some people are regarding editions, which I would guess is likely to do with how they feel rule variations impact game flow/style. I mention this because I think such a diverse list helps to underline my point above, that all RPGs provide a framework.

d6

The topic of RPG design, and how systems affect game play, has been an area of much discussion over the decades. By emphasising certain words and overall concepts, a game designer can influence how some players will initially perceive a game, and thus how they play the game and discuss with others; in psychology this referred to as Priming. There is definitely something to be said for an RPG being specifically designed to focus on a particular aspect of role-playing, be it combat detail, social options, flow, etc. For example: Primetime Adventures is a quite different style of RPG, it explains the idea of running gaming sessions like a TV series, and so if I was forced to pick a specific system to answer this question, then I would pick that. But as I wrote yesterday:

Whilst systems certainly matter, how they are implemented matters more.

Although RPGs are generally considered to be open ended, there is nothing stopping a campaign being short, and even a single session (one-shot). For example: one the RPers that I follow on Youtube, goes by the handle Nolinquisitor. Today he posted this interesting explanation that most of his group’s games are 10 sessions long:

This is a great suggestion by Nolinquisitor, since I think he and his group provide a great example of how get to play the ever increasing list of RPGs.

#RPGaDay 08

#RPGaDay 08

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 8th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

My answer is: #RPGaDay 8 #RPG, any game can work, don’t feel restricted by setting or system. Use the opportunity

I am not trying to dismiss the question with my answer. The question is certainly a good one, since not every role-player is a veteran; also, not every veteran has the same opinion or experiences. From my experience, and from chatting with others, any game can definitely be run in a way that makes it great for a 2 hour or less session, even games renowned for having system mechanics that are quite time consuming.

I believe that whatever the duration of a gaming session, all the normal considerations for running and playing an RPG apply. When determining how time affects a gaming session, I have presented three key considerations with responses:

  1. How much time a group spends on mechanics, and in particular combat.

I have known gamers play rules lite games and spend a lot of time processing things, whilst other gamers quickly process more complex systems. There all sorts of ways to help a group learn a complex system, and play it easier. Whilst systems certainly matter, how they are implemented matters more.

I’ve known role-players that like to embrace the ritual of dice rolling, making the process longer. As well as groups were all the participants excitedly discuss possibilities before the roll, cheer/boo the results, and delight in chatting about the new implications.

  1. How flowing everybody normally is in regards to decision making and describing their actions; this includes the GM.

I don’t believe that a role-player needs to be very experienced to be able to quickly make decisions, or stay focused on a game. Whilst I appreciate gamer experience helps, as will familiarity with other participants’ gaming styles, I am highlighting that I’ve met a few novices who have grasped proceedings quickly.

Role-playing and flow-state is something I have been thinking about for a while, but I’ll go in to depth with this another time. This is a subject I have been researching for my role-playing guide for years.

  1. The amount of non-game conversation.

The dreaded RP issue of a game being plagued by people talking about random things. Whether it’s the usually referencing of films/TV, debates about rules/powers, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing, after all having fun is surely the main goal of a game, but for most players I assume they also want to play the game. I’ve had many different groups, and groups that have changed its requirements over time, and I’ve even had ‘hardcore role-players’ want to mostly socialise on odd occasions. Ideally discuss ideas before a short session (see below); one never knows if players fancy a change, maybe just this once.

Interestingly, having a deadline can greatly help with regards to keeping the game focused. By discussing with my group that there was a time issue for that particular session, we were able to decide on plans, and then get promptly started. It’s not always fully worked, but having a deadline was still a positive aspect.


Options

A possibility is for the GM to design encounters that are almost guaranteed to be a lot of dialog. Keep mechanics to a minimum, especially if mechanics are normally a bit of time drain in your group, but not if that is what the players typically love. Part of the skill of GMing is to avoid be railroaded by your own ideas, you can always use what had been planned another time; any encounter can be tweaked and even used in a radically different way, so don’t worry about having wasted any preparation time.

Even if the session is in the midst of a campaign, then maybe for this particular short session there all sorts of possibilities:

  • If the GM has big time pressure, maybe let someone else run something.
  • Use the opportunity to try out something new. Many games include pre-generated character, and an introductory story, which is ideal for this sort of thing.
  • Use the opportunity to flesh out backstory, flashbacks to something that was skimmed over, maybe a dream sequence. All of these ideas can be cliché, but can work wonderfully if handled well (avoid being too epic, keep it personal).
  • For some games the session could maybe be used as a downtime/blue-book session. This will be a chance to work out things, maybe each player details characters connected to their PC.
  • Role-play different characters in the setting, maybe relatives or allies of the PCs. Maybe the relatives/allies have found vital information, but since the PCs are in a dungeon, or at sea, the chat is about what to about things. If rarely done this can be a nice way of foreshadowing things.
  • A lot of other ideas, I am sure you get my point 🙂

As there are plenty of posts by other role-players giving system recommendations, I went with my gut reaction to this question. I believe this question raises a deeper issue regarding how gaming styles, session plans, and system mechanics combine to influence what is considered ‘good’. I hope that by highlighting the above I have been helpful to a few people.

I’ve not called any system out, as per my blog mission statement and the guidelines for the RPGaDay event about keeping to positive answers:

 

Health Before Word Count

Recently I’ve managed to make a blog post weekly, but this week I’m a few days behind. I have done some RPG design work, but as I wrote about an idea I realised I needed to be explain something else first. The next part of my series Role-Playing Game Types is a summary of things that I wrote years ago for my role-playing guide, but those ideas were about 200 pages in, which is why writing a synopsis has proven so time consuming for me.

On Monday I had the urge to rush something out; the thought kept stressing me out. Even though I had written things, I wasn’t going to complete anything in time, and I was trying to stick to a deadline about posting at least once a week. Sadly the stress caused a severe pain spike to my normal pain levels, meaning more breaks were needed. As I mentioned in Healthy Pacing for Deadlines, personal goal setting can only work if the person is realistic about the pace they can set for their work, which also has to take into account health considerations. Estimating how much that is, is a daily struggle, as my health can still fluctuate a lot each day.

Whilst my improved workload is not a return to the vast amount of work I used to do, like a lot of 80 to 90 hour weeks I did whilst at KJC Games, at least things are a bit better than they were a few months ago. I think I am getting better at the daily appraisal in regards to determining how much work I can do before further aggravating my body. The Spoon Theory is a good way of explaining energy management, it mostly applies to my situation, but explaining what my thoughts on this is a blog post all to itself; yep another one for my TODO list.

BatIdeaLoop
A dangerous loop to avoid, finish things, iterate, iterate, iterate.

Thankfully one strategy that improves my odds of reducing problems is to lie down whilst dictating. Sadly this method only really works for my fiction writing, or when discussing a design idea out loud with myself, since I don’t need to keep looking at a screen. If I had the money, maybe I could setup a screen on a very adjustable stand. Or something outrageously expensive:

I am also doing a lot more around the home, as well as looking after my dad whose health recently has rapidly declined, all of which takes time and energy. Each activity is a chance for me to do a bit too much, and as per The Spoon Theory to run out of energy (spoons). I believe the fact I am doing what I’d previously consider to be pathetic levels of physical activity is the area that I have been badly estimating, but I am thankful that I am doing more in general.

I have blogged about The Bestseller Experiment before Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment; I am still thoroughly enjoying the show and will blog more about it soon. Word count is a subject that has been discussed a lot, and the many outstanding authors being interviewed have given great advice about this subject, which so many writers obsess over. So, even though I know about the arbitrary nature of tracking my word count, I still fall victim to it. I really appreciate Ben Aaronovitch’s advice, which is roughly that quality words are what matter.

Although it’s been a year since I wrote my mission statement for the blog, I haven’t changed my opinions for blogging, and what I am slowly building towards. Life still comes down to carefully allocating priorities. Although I’m not in a position to return to professional game design and writing yet, I am striving towards that goal even if my work rate is currently terrible. I was amused that the writer Max Landis, whose work I love, posted this video whilst I was contemplating this blog, and what to do about the days when I end up with a low word count.

Healthy Pacing For Deadlines

As I attempt to slowly escape from my pain tunnel, and return to a consist level of health, I have resumed working on projects that have lain dormant for years. This is in addition to my very slow writing. Whilst speech recognition really helps, it is also annoying since there are still errors and navigating is a pain, plus I used to be able to type so quickly, thus it just feels slow.

Over the last two years whilst I’ve had a lot of bedrest I contemplated how best to make use of my time once I was a bit better; sleep deprivation didn’t help with thinking, but at least I did have a lot of time to think. Making plans was difficult, since for a long-time I had no discernible improvement. When I did have a day where I felt a tiny bit better, there was an urge to instantly declare it a breakthrough. I eventually learnt that those days were not something to base plans upon. So ultimately I made plan making itself a goal, to make small goals, to make tiny notes.

Healthhourglass

I am now at the stage where I can work at a computer for a short while without instant agony. I came to realise that my problem about goal setting is not much different from a healthy person’s situation, that it’s all about pacing and being realistic. Clearly I need to be more careful, to take constant breaks, and keep to small tasks. If I am lucky I can manage what used to be a few hours of work, is now spread out over the whole day, maybe even a week. Doing work like this is also a form of physiotherapy, I need to get used to being more active, and since my level of activity is so low, this makes a big difference.

This means I am now able to implement realistic deadlines, albeit feeble ones. As I get a better understanding of my new pathetic work rate, I can alter my deadline projections to better reflect things. Then as my health hopefully keeps gradually improving, I can adjust further.

The urge to do more is ever present. I have already plenty of experience of slowly healing, then carefully going back to work, to find out that it was too much. It’s odd to think that whilst being careful, I was in fact rushing. There is a difference between a typical injury, even breaking a bone, and chronic problems, but understandably most people have not grown up with chronic problems so we haven’t learned about the differences, and how that affects recovery. When long-term bedrest, and thus atrophy, is a factor, things are further complicated.

health chart

I made the chart above to help remind myself to be careful. The vertical axis represents a hypothetical percentage of health. I didn’t think there was any point tracking my progress over time, since my healing has been so slow, and it’s only recently I can realistically do a variety of things. Even when I get to a theoretical average health level, I’ll be far from fit. I have broken the habit of exercising a lot, but my mind still wants to make comparisons, and of course reminisce about my old healthy days; as much as people say mind over matter, and focus on positive thinking, I am not in a position like I used to be of simply training hard to get stronger.

My recent story writing has been very slow, due to doing other things. It’s not that I feel burnt out, it’s that I have a deadline for the end of this month to make progress with my Elemental role-playing game I am started running in May. Although I started work on this project thirteen years ago, there is still way too much to do, my own fault for designing something astronomical in scale. I have also started work on a comic for a PBM style role-playing game. More on these two projects soon.