NBI: New Blogger Initiative launches!

It’s the first of May, which means it’s time for May Poles (are those still a thing?) and the time to celebrate Beltane for my pagan friends. But for bloggers and in particular wannabe bloggers, May 1st means the start of the New Blogger Initiative (NBI).

So what is the NBI? It’s a program run by Syp of Biobreak that strives to invite new writers to try their hand at blogging (and to give them some help and guidance getting started). Maybe you’ve been meaning to try your hand at blogging but you’re not sure where to start, or even HOW to start. Well then the NBI is for you.

During the course of this month you’ll be seeing NBI posts pop up all over the blogosphere: Syp says over 70 blogs are participating! All of us existing bloggers will try to share what we know (or even what we don’t know) in order to help you get your blog off the ground.

But I’m going to spoil the event on you and tell you the deep dark secret of blogging: There is NO SECRET! If you can write a comment or an update on Facebook, you can blog. If you’re worried your writing isn’t strong enough, don’t be. First of all you’re probably better than you think you are, and you’ll continue to improve with practice.

OK end spoilers.

As a participant, I’ve agreed to write at least one post during the month giving advice on getting started. I’m aiming for the middle of the month for mine. (If all 70+ of us write just one post, that’s still going to be plenty of advice.) So who am I and why am I qualified? Well I’m qualified because Syp asked me to participate!

If nothing else I have longevity going for me. Dragonchasers is celebrating its ten-year anniversary this month. My first post was in May 2002 (though there’ve been big gaps at times when I took a break from writing for a while). Before Dragonchasers (long before it) I was associate editor of a now-defunct PC gaming magazine, Strategy Plus and executive editor of a multimedia magazine (it came on CD) called Interactive Entertainment. I’ve also done some freelance writing and in addition to Dragonchasers I write a personal technology blog for ITworld.com.

And that’s all I’m going to say about me, because NBI is about you: the person who has something he or she wants to say and is thinking a blog is the right place to do it.

So how do YOU get involved? Step one is to head to the forums set-up for the event, NBIHQ, and register there. Then head to the Newbie bloggers instructions thread and follow the steps to get started. It’s easy!

I can’t wait to read your new blog!

Lemons and Lemonade

This week has been a challenge for me. I *really* want to be playing Fallen Earth, Champions, and the new EQ2 game update, but this thing with my arm continues to plague me. I logged in to Fallen Earth on launch day and lasted maybe 10 minutes before the ache became uncomfortable enough that it forced me to quit playing.

So still no MMOs for me (in theory I could play Champions with the gamepad but when I tried I kept ending up back on the keyboard typing, which sorta defeated the purpose of using the gamepad). But on the bright side, I’ve been playing my consoles. I set up an elaborate tower of pillows on the couch and rest my arm on it ‘just so’ and I can play without any pain. In light of this, I’m changing some of my near-future plans. Games I was planning on getting for the PC (Borderlands, possibly Dragon Age: Origins) I now think I’ll get on either the PS3 or XBox.

So this week I’ve been playing The Beatles: Rock Band and Need For Speed: Shift on the PS3, and I picked up Halo: ODST on the 360. TB:RB I can only do for a little while because the aforementioned tower of pillows doesn’t work too well with a plastic guitar. But the other two I can play as much as I like.

So I think I’m going to start doing more write-ups of single player games here, since I can’t say too much about MMOs if I’m not playing MMOs. Plus there’re a lot of single player games coming out that I want to play. In addition to the two I mentioned, there’s Demon’s Souls, Brutal Legend, Forza Motorsport 2, Modern Warfare 2, The Saboteur, and I’m betting I’m forgetting a couple. It’s going to be a good season of gaming coming up!

The one that got away

I hooked a striped bass that must’ve been 35 lbs if it was an ounce. I had it right along side the boat, net ready, when the line snapped…and there it went. It was huge though. One of the biggest stripers I’ve seen.

Last time I saw a fish like that, it was caught by some noob doing summer stock at the John Drew Theater in East Hampton (where I grew up). Guy had no idea what he was doing and he reeled in this monster while surf-casting. Don’t think he caught another fish the entire summer. Not having a clue what to do with it, he gave the beast to me. I had to ice it down in my bathtub while I gathered the prerequisite number of fish-loving party goers, then I butchered it, fired up the grill and they feasted (ironically I’m not much of a fish lover). It was a good spur-of-the-moment gathering, at least.

The 2nd paragraph is a true story, BTW.

Anyway, back from the virtual fishing trip after a shorter-than-expected break. Part of the reason I cut the break short is that it just felt like a self-imposed gag order. I just like to talk, in case you haven’t picked up on that. 🙂 [Except in-game where I rarely speak up. What’s up with that?] Second was the amount of negativity being directed at Champions Online (though I’ve procrastinated to the point that has died down a bit, but more on that later). Thirdly was a post made by Professor Beej that reminded me of something I already knew. I wasn’t replacing blogging with any other kind of writing, so that meant I just wasn’t writing (well, other than a daily blog post for ITWorld). And that’s no good.

Anyway, I’m still tired of arguing, but I think know there’s a place for positive blogs, like MMOQuests and OverlyPositive. So I’m going to try to blog about the good side of gaming and let the bad stuff be handled by others.

Thing I realized is, negativity is important. I came to this rather obvious revelation during the aforementioned Champions negativity. Right after launch, people were really slamming Cryptic and the game for a last minute patch that folks felt nerfed a bunch of characters too much. Additionally, the cost of retconning (respeccing in the CO vernacular) was much too high.

I was having a great time and was kind of dismayed that so much bandwidth (somewhat in blogs, but more in forums and in-game) was being devoted to slamming Cryptic and the game. My instinct, being a hot-headed internet denizen, was to try to shout down the people promoting the bad aspects of the launch. But I knew that’d just lead to arguing and no one changing anyone’s mind, so for once…for this ONE TIME, I actually kept my mouth more or less shut.

The irony of all this is probably not lost on regular readers of Dragonchasers, because 2 weeks ago I was ready to burn Cryptic HQ to the ground over their yanking of the Lifetime Membership option. And I ranted and raved about it like an f’ing lunatic. All too frequently we don’t see ourselves for the comic & hypocritical entities we are until after the fact.

But this time I caught myself and I finally realized that negativity is important. Users and potential users voicing their unhappiness over a company’s policies or game design decisions is what gets the company to reconsider those policies and decisions. If a bunch of us hadn’t gotten really really mad about the premature end of the 6 Month & Lifetime special offers, would Cryptic have decided to re-open them? Probably not.

Cryptic has also promised to get early entry players a free respec of their characters so we can rebuild them under the ‘new rules’ that came in the Day 1 patch. Would they have promised this if the outcry hadn’t been so loud? Again, it is doubtful.

The flip side of the coin is that we, the consumers, can’t just assume that if we scream loudly enough things will change. We need to find that point where it’s time to let go and move on. I’m not sure where that point is, and I’m sure it changes on a case by case basis.

But all that negativity is *tiring* isn’t it? Well it is to me at least. I don’t like arguing, in spite of the fact that I do so much of it. It drains me. So for now at least, I’m going to pass the Baton of Righteous Indignation on to someone else, and try to focus on what’s good in the world of gaming.

Right now I’m playing Champions Online (I did spring for the Lifetime Membership once they re-opened it…how could I not?) and I’m having a blast. I’ve pre-ordered Fallen Earth, mostly because I got caught up in the moment when Ethic from KillTenRats was talking about it (jeez, I hope it’s Ethic who runs the KTR twitter account) and it was a digital thing — moments after reading his tweet I’d pre-ordered, before I had a chance to think fiscally, but what’s done is done and I’m happy to be supporting a small developer and seeing how the game came out. I’m in the Open Beta of Aion but that’s not going too well for me, but I didn’t really expect it to. But its so darned pretty! And of course my Lifetime sub to LOTRO and my EQ2 account are both loitering in the background waiting for me to get over the latest infatuation.

I’ll probably be talking about Champions for a little while at least. I think the game makes a tepid first impression and that a lot of testers never got into the good stuff, so it’ll be my mission to expose some of that goodness to Dragonchasers readers.

There’s a hole (MMO shaped) in my mind

I didn’t really make a Decision to stop playing MMOs. It just kind of happened, mostly due to an economic crunch that has since eased. I keep thinking “Now I can afford a sub again!” and Angela would love me to rejoin her and our friends in EQ2, and I keep saying I will… but I don’t.

I missed MMOs for a few weeks, but then I started feeling a kind of lightness of being. Like some weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It has taken me a while to figure out what’s going on, and I think it has a lot to do with the out-of-game cost of playing an MMO, namely keeping up to date on changes and feeling a vague pressure to ‘keep up’ (or ahead) of the curve, or even just feeling like “I’m paying for it, I should play it.” At least I think that’s what’s going on. I’m still not 100% sure.

Maybe I was burnt out without realizing it, and this feeling is just the burnout lifting? Whatever it is, it feels good, like a long-standing care has been lifted.

But what’s even stranger is the social impact this has had on my life. Now keep in mind I’m a die-hard solo player in MMOs; one of those people that is often told he should be playing a single player game since they’re much better than playing an MMO solo.

First of all, they aren’t better. Not for me. I keep starting single player RPGs and finding them unfulfilling. Even critically acclaimed games like Fallout 3 just feel empty and dead. I haven’t gotten very far in Fallout 3, just in Megaton, but when I hit that town and all I see are NPCs following their pre-programmed wander routes, it just feels lonely and pointless in a way that MMOs never do, even when I’m not talking to or interacting with other players. Other players add life to the experience, even without direct interaction. Single player RPGS just aren’t as compelling. (Though I loved Fable 2, but I think the difference was that I was also playing an MMO at the time, so I had that ‘living world’ itch being scratched elsewhere.)

Anyway, back to the social impact. My RSS feed is filled with MMO bloggers. Lots of them have been writing long, well-considered posts about MMO design, how to move the state of the games forward, what’s broken and how to fix it. Really thought-provoking stuff.

And I just don’t care.

And that makes me really sad, because a mere few weeks ago I was enjoying the hell out of debating these points with these smart people. And now, I just find I have nothing to add to the conversation, and even find myself sometimes thinking these people are wasting their energy in debating this stuff. Huh? Where are THOSE thoughts coming from? I *love* being an armchair game designer! Anyway, this all leads to my standing on the sidelines watching, and I no longer feel like part of the community of MMO bloggers. That carries a great sense of loss.

And, as an add-on to that, I’m not posting a lot here, either. Now a big part of that is the blogging gig at ITWorld. My ‘word bag’ has only so many words in it every day, and I’m finding it’s pretty low on words by the time I get done a day at work, a day of twittering, and written a blog post or two (9 posts in the past week over there). My ‘hour bag’ runs low, too. I’ve been meaning to write this post for several days but just don’t find both available time and available energy intersecting conveniently.

On the bright side of all this, I’m re-discovering the joys of (non-rpg) single player games. I’ve been playing the hell out of this little “Aquia” game on the new DSiWare platform, and am finding Rune Factory Frontier (the latest “Harvest Moon” game for the Wii) to be incredibly compelling.

I think I need to just follow my muse and morph Dragonchasers into a single player gaming blog for a while. I’m not sure what that will do to the audience…will having ‘off-topic’ posts drive away people who would stay subscribed to a quiet RSS feed? I guess I’ll find out. I mean I’ve always been a little bit ‘all over the place’ with my book reviews and the odd “check out these neat thing” posts, but Dragonchasers never really took off until I really started focusing on MMOs.

Every day brings new adventure, though. Doing the ITWorld Blog has felt incredibly rewarding and is, I think, helping me to slowly get my writing chops back. And the money from it is what ended the financial crunch I referenced above, so both artistically and fiscally, I’m very, very grateful that gig fell in my lap. Maybe some day I can transition to writing full time. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

PS Props to anyone who got the B5 reference in the title of this post. Vorlons FTW!

Syp’s other blog


I’m probably the last one to learn this but just in case….

Syp of Waaaaaaaaaagh fame (is that too many “a’s”?) has a non-Warhammer blog, Bio Break, where he talks about games beyond Warhammer. He must have started it after I stopped reading Waagh! and all the other Warhammer blogs.


New Widget curtesy of Tipa and XFire

Over in the right column you’ll see a new widget I just added: “Playing on PC”. (It’s the 4th chunk down as I write this, but I move stuff all the time.)

That’s a widget that Tipa from West Karana coded to import data from XFire.

Installation is a snap and it works as advertised! Obviously you need to be an XFire user to put it to any use. 🙂

Thanks Tipa!!! Very much appreciated!!!

Re-Imagining Dragonchasers

Regular readers may have detected a change of tone around here lately. I hadn’t detected it until my last post, after which I scrolled back and saw a lot of ranting and a few brief news items.

At which point I thought… “Yuck.”

This might be a good time to explain where the name of my blog comes from. Feel free to giggle, but one of my favorite movies is George Romero’s Knightriders. It’s about a traveling troop of modern-day knights that roam the country re-enacting jousts, only on motorcycles rather than horseback. Their King is played by a very young Ed Harris, and he is an idealist. He really is trying to recreate Camelot, while some of the other members are just having fun doing stunts on their bikes. Anyway, not really the point. But in one scene, Harris is trying to explain what he’s doing and how much it matters to him and he yells “I’m chasing the dragon!!”

I always interpreted this as ‘chasing a romantic [in the classical sense of the word] dream’. Chasing adventure, wonder, heroics… So that’s where dragonchasers comes from. The tagline (which no longer displays) is “A thoroughly mundane fellow’s quest for adventure.” And of course I chase adventure through games. 🙂

Two notes: 1) Harris might actually say “I’m fighting the dragon.” but when I created the blog I hadn’t seen the movie in years. 2) I’ve since learned that “chasing the dragon” is a heroin user’s term!! No correlation to drug use is in any way implied!

Recently a friend of mine told me he’d formed a WoW guild called DragonChasers and he felt a bit weird about it since he knew that was my blog’s name. He’d decided on his own what the term meant, and his feelings (I don’t think he reads this blog) were right in line with mine, so I guess the term does evoke what I originally meant it to invoke.

Anyway…I’ve been struggling lately with getting anywhere close to this theme. I’m conflicted in a lot of ways. I’ve been writing a tech blog for IT World (and I think that’s going really well… my posts have made the front page of Google News and Slashdot and traffic is really good, I’m told) and enjoying it so much that I start to daydream about those days when I was writing for a living. And I’ve been sort of enviously watching other bloggers getting noticed by PR people from various companies. Y’know, the Warhammer Valentines are one example, and folks getting review copies of games and stuff are another.

And I lost my way at some point, and started quasi-writing Dragonchasers in a more controversial way. One thing I know well is that pissing people off gets a site page views. [My 9-5 job is working as a web developer in online publishing.] At the same time, I’ve been making half-hearted attempts at being more ‘newsy.’ But not really committing enough to that to make it matter.

This is getting wall-of-text-y, sorry. Add to all of this some personal stuff going on with my mom, who seems to be rapidly slipping away from us, and I’ve just been being very unpleasant in a lot of my posts, and for that I’d like to apologize.

It took the comments in reply to my sneering last post to make me take a look in the mirror and see where I’d wandered to. I’d really like to thank Tipa, Werit, Green Armadillo and particularly Scott — who took a good chunk of his time to give me some solid advice — for helping me see the blog through the eyes of readers. And of course, to thank Angela for always having my back.

So I think it’s time to step back from this blog for a little while, and rediscover the magic of chasing dragons before I start posting again. When I return, I hope to once again be sharing my love of ‘adventures through gaming’ with whomever happens to come by to read me.

In the meantime, I’m pretty active on twitter (pasmith) if you feel like chatting. There’s a pretty nice community of gamers there, having an ongoing and slow paced conversation about the games we all love. Please come and join us!

Blogger flockers

I find it interesting, and by that I mean sometimes fascinating, other times depressing, how MMO bloggers seem to travel in packs at times (and I’m pointing at myself just as much as at others). The past week or two, Runes of Magic seems to be the place to be. For a while it was Wizard101. Then of course it was the WAR -> WOW transition.

Why do we travel in packs like this? RoM isn’t news…it’s been in open beta since December. The WAR thing made sense; it was a brand new game and everyone was curious. Ditto those in Darkfall now. And the bunch of folks going into CoX to play together is different, too. That’s a bunch of friends looking for a game they all feel like playing.

I’m talking more about this hive-mind mentality that suddenly some MMO that’s been cooking along is the kewl place to be, even though the various bloggers playing don’t seem to be actually playing together.

It’s just weird, and for some reason tonight, it really kind of bugs me. I guess because I don’t understand it..it’s a mystery I can’t unravel. Why Runes of Magic, now? The game’s been in open beta since December and no one deemed it worthy of a second glance until the last couple of weeks. Now suddenly its The New Thing. Why? What changed?

It baffles me. I hate stuff that baffles me… 🙂

Change is Life (An Open Message to my blogging friends)

It’s been a little over a week since I started my job blogging for ITWorld.

Today I noticed my XFire Profile:

“This Week: No Games Played” Huh. Now in all honesty this isn’t accurate because I’ve played 8 hours of Too Human on the XBox since I bought it last Saturday morning, but the bulk of that time was on Saturday and Sunday.

I’m finding it an interesting challenge to come up with 1-2 tech-related topics to write about every day. Some days, like when Facebook changes it Terms of Use, the topic is obvious. Other days I have to stretch a lot more.

I feel strongly that this experience is good for me as a writer. It’s enforced discipline to put butt in chair and *write* every day (well, except weekends…my contract only covers week days) and to expand my knowledge of technology, which is one of my ‘natural’ passions anyway.

But in order to feed the muse, so to speak, I’ve had to expand my cloud of Twitter Followees and have added a ton of tech-related RSS feeds to my news reader. My posts tend to be a mix of condensed and regurgitated tech news & research mixed with my opinion, so I need to be in constant scan mode to know what the big story is on any given day. Then I spend a good chunk of time doing the research (sometimes I have to do very little because its something I already am well versed in, other times I have to do a lot) and finally I write my posts.

All this scanning, researching and writing is taking a lot of time, and by the time I finish that, then catch up on all my “personal” (aka, gaming-related) RSS feeds, it was time for bed. Some nights I don’t even get caught up before midnight comes creeping around and then I was starting the next day with a backlog.

So last night I just had to give in and start deleting feeds that I’m not super interested in. Warhammer bloggers, for instance. I’m not playing, don’t plan to go back to playing, and had to make the tough choice to cut people I really enjoyed reading just because their topic was no longer relevant to my life. I feel really guilty about this, like I’m letting friends down, though I know they won’t know I’m not reading them anymore. But *I* know.

So what’s the point of this post? I guess I just felt like I needed to explain why I’m not reading and commenting on your blogs as much as I used to. (Actually, a lot of you might see that as a blessing, not having Pete S gumming up the works all the time!!) It just occured to me, this is a bit like when Ysharros talked about people leaving a guild with no explanation. I feel like I’m leaving a “guild” in a way, and I just wanted the chance to explain why. It isn’t that your blogs don’t still rock, because they do. It’s just a question of a finite number of hours in any given day. By cutting down the number of gaming blogs I read, I hope to free up time to actually do some gaming. I hope you’ll understand this decision.


A few people have asked, here and elsewhere, what this new freelance gig is, and I realize I was being unintentionally mysterious about it. Basically I wanted to get a couple of posts done before I shared much, just in case I totally botched something and made a fool of myself (which is bound to happen sooner or later).

The site is ITWorld.com. The ‘beat’ is pretty open…anything related to IT or tech that I feel comfortable writing about. My goal is 1-2 posts a day, and they know I have a 9-5er, so the expectation is (I hope!) pretty modest as far as length and so forth.

I think I said I was blogging, and I initially thought I was going to be, but that’s not really how the site is organized. Which kind of opens up a whole question of “What is a blog?” To me, a blog is a blog because of the organization of the posts as much as because of the content of those posts. Your definition may vary. But I feel like I’m writing blog posts, but not for a blog. Confused yet? LOL

You can, however, easily find all my posts here. Though I’m not sure they’ll be very interesting to most of my Dragonchasers readers.