Just a Thought: Competition Vs. Community

Back in 1997 when I was barely 19 years old, the internet wasn’t anywhere even close to what it is now in terms of an entertainment source. Television and terrestrial radio were still the most viable options, and Howard Stern was considered the “king” of the radio airwaves. Here in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Stern was just arriving to the market. I wasn’t hugely familiar with his radio work outside of the E! Network TV show he did, and the autobiographical movie Private Parts – which I actually really enjoyed and found humanized him – but his local debut was still an event that I looked forward to witnessing.

I had grown up listening to the local ratings champ The KQ Morning Show for years up to this point. They were very good, and the host Tom Barnard was always one of my major influences in terms of radio and creative ventures. So much so that I even pursued and was granted an interview with him a few short months ago. When Stern eventually arrived, I decided to check out his first show here in Minnesota. I didn’t expect to be pulled from KQ completely, but I thought that it’d be a nice thing to check in with every so often, and if it did win me over, I felt that I could like both equally for different reasons.

* * *

These days, my preferred media of choice is largely podcasts. I listen to anywhere from 8-15 per week, and I wish I had time for more. It takes me back to those old radio morning shows I loved where the banter was great and the personalities varied across the spectrum. The benefit now is that we can choose what topics we want to hear about. Video games, music, politics, comedy, advice, sex, comic books, etc… all of it is fair game and there’s an audience for each topic and show.

One of the best discoveries I made along the way were community podcasts; independently-run shows from fans of a genre that just wanted to talk about the things they liked. Hearing these shows influenced me to want to do my own program even more and I eventually started the BlankShowCast with my friend, Tim, whom I met out of a mutual podcast fandom. While many of these shows were of similar topics, they each had their own flavor and were able to share real estate in my mind as separate yet equal entities.

* * *

When I remember back to hearing that first Stern show, I remember not being entertained at all. There were long periods of dead air, the comedy wasn’t as great as I’d expected, and it just didn’t seem to have any flow. Perhaps the most standout aspect of it was when Stern and his gang dedicated a large amount of time to trashing the KQ Morning Show and picking apart its programming. Not only were their assessments totally false, but they were overly cruel and attacked parties that weren’t even involved in this newly-formed ratings battle.

KQ’s response was simple; “do nothing.” Somebody at the station had the foresight that acknowledging the drama wouldn’t do any good for them, and so they left it alone. Meanwhile, Stern and his goons continued to fire potshots at them in the hopes of garnering a response. This was Stern’s M.O. in every market he arrived in, and it was often the retaliations from his opponents that would become their undoing, making them look petty and scared in the process.

Terrestrial radio was highly competitive during that era, and for good reason. For the stations, it was all about ratings and profit and with two big names battling for market share in a small market like the Twin Cities, being #2 meant a huge difference in revenue for each of them. You had to win and win BIG in order to succeed because the number of ears on your airwaves was limited.

That is no longer the case in current times. With the growth of the internet and social media, an audience is no longer limited to one city and its surrounding suburbs. Youtube videos, podcasts, livestreams, blogs, fandom sites, and their ilk can reach anyone around the world. Supporters can number in the millions for a particular creative outlet and it happens regularly. Fans of internet entertainment can consume media whenever they like and can be into a number of different and/or similar things of their choice. The viewer/listener has total freedom.

Sadly, there are still some creators who either fail to recognize this or perhaps just choose to remain in a competitive mindset. They see other shows comparable to their own as threats or as outright “thieves.” It’s a thought process that feels antiquated and a bit regressive. Whenever you see two online ventures go toe-to-toe in some sort of clash, one or both parties can often come out of the ordeal looking petty, vindictive, or downright foolish.

***

In 1999, after the two-year Morning Show War was all said and done, the Twin Cities chose their champion. The locally-grown boy from North Minneapolis and his friends had defeated the self-proclaimed “King of All Media” and sent him packing. The tactic of silence worked in their favor. By remaining unresponsive to Stern’s prodding, Barnard and his crew dedicated their efforts to creating a quality show for their listeners and the show retained its loyal following. All the while, the cockiness and brash behavior of Stern and his troupe became off-putting and abrasive to the public. It was only a matter of time until the station that brought Stern to Minneapolis/St. Paul decided that his presence was unnecessary and unprofitable.

Here in 2013, media is taking the opposite approach. Programs of various styles are beginning to see that community wins over competition, and that there is a place for everyone to produce content and find a following. Prolific vloggers on Youtube – collectively known these days as “youtubers” – are seeing the benefits of collaborating. Appearing on each other’s videos only spreads good will and popularity and usually boosts the audiences of any and all creators involved. People like Grace Helbig (DailyGrace) constantly feature other vloggers like Hannah Hart, Felicia Day, Harley Morenstein, and others in an effort to help out their peers.

We are even now at the point where Youtube hosts themed weeks of programming, such as Comedy Week or Geek Week, in which they have a number of notable creators contribute to the theme and promote said videos as a group effort. The crossover can only benefit those involved. The same has also happened in podcasting, to an extent.

But again, there are those who seemingly want to exclude. The other night, I witnessed someone state that they felt as if one of their ideas had been plagiarized. Normally, this could be a notable accusation among content creators, especially if it’s one based on an intellectual property or other artistic vision. In this case, however, the idea in question was merely one of basic format and scheduling.

While these two groups may share a number of viewers, there is very little reason for them to compete with each other. Both are independent productions and are not monetizing their content in any way (as far as I know), so for there to be any kind of clash between them is pointless. Each endeavor should be free to establish an audience and attempt to thrive however they choose, free of the environment of accusations and publicized grumbling.

How this specific situation will play out is up to the parties involved, but if the video gaming community and, by extension, the streaming community want to grow as a whole, there has to be a mentality of inclusion within them. If two or more outlets want to create and happen to share a schedule for their work, then it falls to their supporters to decide which they choose to watch and when. Luckily, most outlets archive their stuff so that we can elect which to view live and which to go back to after the fact. Either way, creators must allow each other to produce content without discouraging one another from doing so. Embracing others’ efforts can only serve to establish positivity and a stronger community for all participants. Being competitive and possibly divisive will only lessen the sense of inclusion, and would likely intimidate newcomers from becoming a part of the fun.

* * *

Currently, the KQRS Morning Show is on its presumed final stretch, according to its host. Barnard tires of terrestrial radio and its outdated revenue model. However, he still loves performing for his loyal fans and friends, and so he has also dived into the podcasting world with his own show, The Tom Barnard Podcast. Recently, he has taken the show to a live streaming format similar to radio but without the ad interruptions and incessant station messaging that usually goes with it. His embracing of social media and its power to reach a wide audience has inspired him to produce something that he enjoys doing without having to worry about ratings and ad sales and my butt of corporate machinations hanging above him. He’s even reached out to other radio personalities and former “enemies” – except for the aforementioned Stern – to appear on his show as guests. In his eyes, he also wants to help build the community he is now a part of.

And that’s really the underlying message that I feel should be focused on. If you want to produce content, do it because you enjoy doing so; because you like the process of creating and showing what you’ve made to the world. At the same time, others are probably doing something similar but instead of getting catty about it or wanting them to disappear, we as creators should embrace that growth in both our respective media and the communities that surround them. It’s a whole wide world out there on the web, and we all have plenty of room to coexist and still have fun doing what we do. Let’s actually practice this message of inclusion that we hear so much about and maybe we’ll all be better for it.

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Hey Everyone, It’s Tuesday…

Those four words were the official start of what quickly became my favorite gaming podcast in a matter of weeks. Led by Ryan Davis, the Bombcast over at giantbomb.com was not only hilarious but super informative about everything you wanted to know when it comes to video games.

Joined by a cast of friends and cohorts, Ryan guided the conversations to anything and everything. They’ve talked lawn darts, ham radios, pizza, hummingbird feeder masks, and just about anything else you’ve ever thought of. Oh, and also video games.

But make no mistake, these guys know their stuff. Ryan and Jeff, being the senior leads of the site, have had their hands in almost every facet of games since their inception. To hear them talk is to hear them not just give their opinions on things, but to know and understand that they had the knowledge to back up their views.

Listening to the Bombcast every Tuesday was a ritual I’ve had for at least 2 years. Every week, I look forward to Davis’ voice bellowing out those words that would kick off 3+ hours of zaniness.

After today, everything will be different…

Ryan Davis passed away on July 3rd, 2013. He was 34 years old.

As much as I looked up to the man and wanted to meet him and chat with him and pick his brain, that is the least of my concerns. What I keep witnessing as the news spreads through the web is how almost everyone loved him so. The knowledge he shared, the laughs he inspired, the joy he gave to everyone he knew… all of it just proves that he was a special person with an indescribable energy.

It is an energy that partly made Giantbomb what it has become. A vibe that permeates the Bombcast with hilarity. A presence that made all of their PAX panels an event that had to be seen and made you upset when you missed out, as I did back in 2011.

And now, I can only feel regret over that, since the man is no longer a part of this world. Where my heart is at, however, is with the numerous friends that he had in the biz – not to mention his wife, who he had only just recently wed – and seeing them all express their deepest love for the man. They are the ones truly at a loss.

There was a recent time when I wanted to cover games as a career. If anyone had ever asked me which people within the industry were the ones I looked up to the most, Mr. Davis would have certainly been at the top of that SHORT list. As a gaming podcast host, I am also influenced by the way he performed in almost every way. He never once upset me in how he handled his role as a part of video game coverage.

As this blog clearly displays, I am not that eloquent of a man. When it comes to serious matters such as this, I am even less so. But there was no way I was going to let the day pass by without letting the universe know in some fashion how much I respected this wonderful person and everything that he did to entertain and inform us on whatever subject he’d chosen. I may not have known him personally, but it’s easy to see that his light brightened the lives of those around him. Hopefully, his family, friends, and fans will keep that light shining forever.

Thank you, Ryan Davis, for sharing yourself with all of us. You were one of the great ones, and will truly be missed on this Earth.

Rest in Peace, good sir.

Boots’ Top 10 Video Games of All-Time #8: NHL 94

The following is a part of my list of my Top 10 All-Time Favorite Games. There may be spoilers ahead, so read with caution. Please make note that I rated these games not out of quality relative to other titles but in the order of how much fun I had with each of them and how important they are to my personal gaming history.

When I was but a wee lad of 13 years, my brother kicked me off of the SNES one afternoon to play goalie for him and his friends in a game of street hockey. They had bought a small net and I guess it wasn’t enough for them to shoot balls into an unguarded cage. I begrudgingly turned off the console and assumed the role of netminder, unknowing to the effect this would have on my life.

The sport of hockey grabbed me like nothing ever had since video games way back at age 4. There was a certain satisfaction in making mind-boggling saves and leaving my opponents befuddled. Of course, it was only inevitable that I would also get into hockey video games as I tried to combine my two biggest loves.

I had played both Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel on the NES, and while I had known of the greatness of NHL Hockey 91 on the Sega Genesis and NHLPA Hockey 93 on the SNES, it was NHL 94 that became the proverbial “nail in the coffin” for me and video hockey.

Let’s. Play. HOCKEY!!!

My brother and our two best friends – who are also brothers – were obsessed with the sport by late 1993, and this game only served to further our addiction. After playing NHLPA 93 for so long, the next year’s installment was a huge step up in quality. Players seemed to maneuver far better than previous EA NHL games, and even the smallest touch of having both licensed players AND teams added a huge dimension to the game overall.

In terms of new features, NHL 94 hit it out of the park. This was the first of the franchise to feature one-timers; a quick shot taken directly off of a pass from a teammate. This new tactic opened up a whole new set of scoring possibilities and gave the game a more realistic feel to what you’d see in real life. Playoffs and Shootout modes were also added for variety, but perhaps the most important addition was the inclusion of a few team-specific goal songs. You don’t know real hockey history until you’ve heard a digital representation of Brass Bonanza after scoring with the Hartford Whalers.

While the game kept a basic set of stats on its virtual scoreboard, we took it to a whole new level by keeping track of goals for each player, goalie GAA, and a few other numbers. In the summer of 1994, since these games were yet to feature a “season mode,” we even went as far as to find a copy of the upcoming NHL schedule and create our own “league” play in which we each chose a team and played out the schedule they were given. I fail to remember how far into the playoffs I took my Buffalo Sabres, but I know I enjoyed every second of it. Well, that’s not entirely true.

You see, my brother had discovered a gamebreaker. At first, it seemed to be a fluke. After repeated usage, it became a nuisance. We simply called it “The Spot.”

Basically, you could take just about any player with a decent ranking, skate him just over the blue line slightly off-center, and hold Down on the D-pad while ripping a full power slapshot to score almost eighty percent of the time. Some players in the game were more successful at the technique and, since my brother had discovered this, he was the first to employ it liberally with said players. At one point, he was not against using Sergio Momesso of the Vancouver Canucks repeatedly for this very purpose. Every time the puck would slide through the goalie, he would assuredly scream out “MOMESSO POWER” in honor of the event.

Eventually, we had to take action and create limitations to using this tactic, especially while playing head-to-head games. Future years’ titles would have their own bugs to govern, but “The Spot” would always remain the one that none of us would ever forget. Even to this day, whenever we see a real NHL goal of similar fashion, we all either yell out “THE SPOT” or “MOMESSO POWER” in tribute.

Hockey games have become more realistic over the course of time, and have certainly taken on a more authentic feel, but in terms of fun and satisfaction, I don’t think any of them can compare to this one. It had all the makings of a great game that was easy to pick up and play, and the memories I created with my friends will never leave me. I have yet to have as much fun in a sports game – or any other competitive game – since, and it is those factors that put NHL 94 at the number eight slot in my Top 10 of All-Time.

The greatest hockey game ever

PS – To this day, I continue to play hockey. It’s probably right beneath video games amongst my interests. It is also the source of my nickname of “Boots,” but that’s a story for another time.

Boots’ Top 10 Video Games of All-Time #9: WCW/nWo Revenge

WCW/nWo Revenge

The following is a part of my list of my Top 10 All-Time Favorite Games. There may be spoilers ahead, so read with caution. Please make note that I rated these games not out of quality relative to other titles but in the order of how much fun I had with each of them and how important they are to my personal gaming history.

Wrestling games were always hit-or-miss back in the day. Too many different developers worked on the many iterations of World Wrestling Federation-licensed games and most of them presented the combat more in the vein of fighters or brawlers. Sure, it worked fine, but it never really captured the right feel of what I was seeing on the television.

See, I was a on again/off again fan of “sports entertainment” for a long time in my childhood. I was maybe seven or eight years old when I saw my first wrestling Pay-Per-View, and I remember loving every minute of it. A couple years later, The Undertaker debuted at a Survivor Series and I was captivated. The guy had presence, mystique, and he somehow instilled a fear in me that nothing had at the time. It was a turning point in my interest level, for sure.

Fast forward to the late 90s, when the nWo storyline began in World Championship Wrestling. Former WWF greats were leaving that company and heading over to Ted Turner’s promotion, but the angle was that they were intending to overthrow everything that WCW was. They cut promos like they were truly rebellious of the system, pissed off the right “good guys,” and even turned a few over to their cause. The movement was infectious.

The nWo

These guys were just…too…SWEEEEEET!

The WWF also began what is know as “The Attitude Era” during this time in response to the competition. This saw the beginning of Degeneration X, the growth of Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the rocket-like rise to power of Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock. It was a grand time, and I grew to appreciate the medium for what it is; a display of charisma mixed with physical prowess.

But the games never reflected this, and it was difficult to deal with. There were a couple titles that got close, but didn’t quite get it right. Then, out of nowhere, a miracle happened…

The Nintendo 64 ushered in a new era of wrestling game thanks to publisher THQ; one that was unmatched in quality and customization while doing a wonderful job of capturing the atmosphere. Graphically, not very impressive, but it was the wrestler creators in the latter titles that I fell in love with. After setting up the basics, diving into the move list was worth the effort. So many of the roster’s signature moves were available and I loved being able to pick the best that fit my character. Nothing was better than beating my opponents down and putting them out with the Outsider’s Edge; a move pioneered by the great Scott Hall.

Hey, yo.

There were a few games made of this type. The original was WCW/nWo World Tour which was great, but featured a roster filled with fictional characters. It would be its follow-up, WCW/nWo Revenge, where the games found their stride. A roster consisting entirely of real grapplers, the ability to build custom characters, real theme songs… everything just came together perfectly to make for the greatest games to feature the wars within the squared circle.

Which takes us to the in-ring action. The devs of these games did such a fine job of making them easy to pick up and play. Reversals were a simple button press as long as you timed it just right, and the grappling system was perfectly designed. Press A for light, hold for strong, and then a direction plus A or B to execute a move. This gave each wrestler 16 basic grappling moves, not to mention strikes, turnbuckle, and special moves. I had many a battle against friends and never hated a second of it.

When the WWF regained their supremacy among the companies, THQ moved over to them for the final two games of this style, but Revenge will always be the one that I consider my favorite. If you have an N64 and any interest in the “sport,” I implore you to check out this game. It’s a total blast and, as Diamond Dallas Page would say, you’ll certainly feel…the…BANG!!!

DDP

He teaches yoga, now. I’m not kidding.

I just wish they had made a proper kickass Extreme Championship Wrestling game. That would’ve been sweet.

Boots’ Top 10 Video Games of All-Time #10: Mega Man 2

The following is a part of my list of my Top 10 All-Time Favorite Games. There may be spoilers ahead, so read with caution. Please make note that I rated these games not out of quality relative to other titles but in the order of how much fun I had with each of them and how important they are to my personal gaming history.

The year was 198X…

My brother and I hadn’t had our NES for very long but we were burning through games left and right thanks to a local Mexican food store and their kickass game rental policy. Video stores were offering rentals at $5 for three days, but this place was doing five days at $4. Considering that my family shopped there all the time, it only made sense to stick with them out of loyalty.

Somewhere along the lines, we had gotten our grubby little hands on the first Mega Man game and we instantly loved it. The game was a master class in simple-yet-effective design and had a challenge that only the best could get the hang of. Between my group of close friend, my brother was the only person I knew who could finish the game back then.

Of course, when the sequel came out, we were all giddy and ready to (have our parents) buy this game at release. Sadly, because we were such strong renters, our parents never saw the need to really buy games so we were relegated to waiting for it to be available at the food shop. However, our friends – who also were brothers – were able to get a copy. They had arguments about who was going to play it first and how far the other could get before handing the controller over.

They don’t really look like robots on this box art.

Once I was able to play the game, I was in love. It once again followed the same basic principles of design as the first game, but this time it had MORE bosses! I remember vividly that I first chose to face Air Man, which I later learned was a huge mistake. Still, I was able to defeat him and get his Air Shooter… which is a terrible weapon in the practical sense.

Stupid choice aside, I was still happy to see that the difficulty was slightly lowered, but not to a point where the game was a breeze to get through. Each boss had a set pattern that one can easily discern if they pay enough attention, and the joy of finding out which weapon was most effective against them was undeniable. Those discoveries put a smile on my face, and nothing was better than equipping the Metal Blade against Metal Man and discovering that it only took ONE HIT to defeat him.

The other great aspect of this game was its amazing soundtrack. Back in the NES days, a lot of games featured a ton of memorable music but, for whatever reason, Mega Man 2 always stood out as one of the best, in my mind. Even the intro song just ingratiates its way into your heart within 5 seconds, and then escalates into what is easily one of the most memorable themes in all of video games.

I replayed this game as much as I could before returning it to that store. Both my brother and I finished it within those five days, and the younger of our friends was the first of them to defeat Dr. Wily. Needless to say, the older brother wasn’t too happy about that. I think they fought over it.

Mega Man, your blue suit and giant eyes will always have a special place in my heart over the course of all your games but Mega Man 2 is easily the best of them all, making it my Number 10 Favorite Game of All-Time.

Hey, Mega Man... what's up with your eyes?

Hey, Mega Man… what’s up with your eyes?

Tacos + Burritos = Love… and Guilt

Today, my brother bought a crapload of food from Boca Chica, the local taco house. Anyone from the neighborhood knows that this is the greatest place of all time for tacos and other quick-hit Mexican foods.

Prepare to be devoured.

It was so delicious. Being poor, it sure beats the diet of instant ramen and/or eggs and potatoes.

But goddamn, do I feel guilty. At least, that’s what this pressure in my gut probably symbolizes. Now I have to eat like a rabbit for the rest of the day. And probably tomorrow, too.

Ugh.

Classical-Vania

Anybody who knows me well is aware of my love for music. Of course, as a videogame addict, I have developed certain affinities for specific game soundtracks over the years. One of those special soundtracks is for the original NES Castlevania.

Looking back on that time, I’ve come to notice that most of young Boots’ favorite soundtracks come from Konami/Ultra-published games. Something about the sounds that their chipset created just resonates so well and has a spectrum that just burrows into my ears like one of Khan’s Ceti eels. If Justin Beiber made songs with those sounds, I’d probably like it.

I’m also a (very poor) guitar player, and my love for the instrument leads me to find sweet guitar covers of game music all over the place. Obviously, plenty of games are covered in this manner, but when I stumbled across this video, I just about creamed in my jeans

I effing love the sound of a sexy flamenco guitar, and this one has some lovely tones. The songs just translate so well. It’s a huge credit to the composer (whom I recently discovered was a female… very rare, especially back in that era).

These guys do some pretty good work with other games’ music as well, so go ahead and check out the Super Guitar Bros youtube channel for more badassery.

…and if you still don’t believe that Konami sounds are the shizz, check out this version of Dream Theater’s Overture 1928 (aka the BlankShowCast theme song). It’s pure perfection.

I told you.