Ten Questions: Matt Barton

Matt Barton is one of the smartest and most interesting people you can find online discussing, loving and showing off old & new games. Now, although you should preferably get to know him via his work on Matt Chat, the Amrchair Arcade and some rather impressive books, reading the following interview should be both enlightening and considered as an appetizer.
dungeons and desktops dragon-1
1. Matt, care to introduce yourself to the merry retro loving lot that are the Gnomeslair.com & Obsolete Gamer readers?

I’m Matt Barton, host of Matt Chat, a weekly YouTube show dedicated to classic games. I’m also co-founder of Armchair Arcade and author of Dungeons & Desktops and Vintage Games (co-authored with my friend and colleague Bill Loguidice). I’m also an assistant (soon to be associate) professor of English at St. Cloud State University, where I teach classes in writing, rhetoric, and new media.

2. And what would you say some of your favourite games are? Any particular love for a genre or a gaming machine?

My favorite genres are adventure games, role-playing games, and strategy games. Some of my favorites include Baldur’s Gate, Pool of Radiance, World of Warcraft, Civilization, and the Nancy Drew series of adventure games. I have many consoles, but my favorite gaming device is the PC. Going further back, I will always be an Amiga and Commodore fan at heart.

3. So, Armchair Arcade, how would you describe the site and what’s the story behind it?

We were friends on a forum dedicated to Shane R. Monroe’s Retrogaming Radio show. We talked about putting together an online magazine, and eventually set it up. For awhile we focused on “issues” and tried to make it look like a retromag. We were amazed by how much attention it got, frequently mentioned on Slashdot and many other sites (even Slate and the Discovery Channel). Eventually, though, we morphed into a blog format and started selling our features to other sites (especially Gamasutra). Now we use AA as our home base for communicating to fans and fellow retrogamers, talking about our latest projects, and so on.

4. Same question on the incredibly well produced Matt Chat episodes… How did you decide to start a video show on retro games, and what would you say is this little something that makes Matt Chat unique (for, believe me, it is unique)? By the way, love that gaming wall you got in the background.

Matt Chat has come a long, long way in a short time. When I first started, it was just me and a webcam trying to hawk my books. The production quality was terrible! But I wanted to learn more about videos because Bill and I are producing a feature documentary for Lux Digital Pictures (Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution). I figured I needed more experience with videos to really handle a project like that, so I kept learning and experimenting, trying to refine my techniques. If you notice, I usually try to put in one more technique or one more refinement per episode, so I’m always learning something new.

I don’t think Matt Chat is unique. There are many, many other YouTubers out there doing similar shows. For instance, ianwilson1978 does great work on the Sega Genesis and Marlin Lee covers a variety of games. I guess one thing that makes my show special is that I feature games from all platforms, especially covering PC and computer titles that the others miss. Most other shows are dedicated to consoles, especially Nintendo classics. I figure those games already get enough love, so I try to cover ground that is not covered by the other shows–such as Dungeons of Daggorath for the Tandy CoCo, Tunnels of Doom for the TI-99/4A, or even the PLATO platform. I also feature interviews with classic developers, such as John Romero and Al Lowe. I’ll soon release my interview with Chris Avellone.

5. Really, is it tough producing something of this quality on a weekly basis?

It can be. Sometimes my editing program (Sony Vegas Platinum) crashes so much during rendering that I’m tempted to just give up. I would really love a better setup! The other big problem is capturing footage from games, especially old Windows games. Even with fraps, virtualdub, and the rest, it can be a nightmare sometimes capturing decent footage.

Other than these purely technical problems, though, it’s not hard at all. I can easily come up with things to say, and I like researching the games anyway. I also enjoy inserting inside jokes and humor, and interacting with the fans is a real joy.

6. How about your books? They are two on games and one on Wikis, correct? Do you feel gamers actually bother reading?

I think most gamers are highly intelligent; at least the ones I talk to. I know plenty of professors and graduate students who are serious gamers. But, of course, there are many who never pick up a book. That is sad, of course, since I couldn’t imagine living life without good books to read. It’s really important to read good books, not just newspapers and such. You can always tell when you’re talking to an avid reader, because he or she will be more knowledgeable on a broader range of topics–plus, I think it makes you more articulate and, frankly, intelligent. I had a friend who read War and Peace just for fun, but he told me later he felt more intelligent after reading it. Some people laugh at comics and graphic novels, but they are actually much more sophisticated now than they used to be. You could certainly learn a thing or two from Moore‘s work.

There’s really no excuse for being ignorant. So read!

7. Now, let’s focus a bit on the rather epic Dungeons and Desktops. Why CRPGs? Could you briefly describe the book? Has it sold to your expectations? Did you enjoy writing it?

It’s pretty much what it says; the history of computer role-playing games. I tried to talk about every important or even remotely influential game in the book, describing what makes them fun and how they fit into the grand history of the genre. I tried to show connections across eras and styles, so you could get a sense of the diversity. Someone may have heard of Baldur’s Gate, for instance, but be unaware of Planescape: Torment, Pool of Radiance, or Eye of the Beholder. I meet people who may know all about Zelda and Final Fantasy, but have never heard of Ultima or Lord British. That bothered me, so I thought it was time to write a book on the topic.

The book has sold well. Of course, something like this won’t be a bestseller. But I wrote this book for people like us, not the mainstream. By “us,” of course, I’m talking about people who love games like Wizardry and Fallout and enjoy nothing more than talking and thinking about them.

8. Should we expect more books from you? Maybe even a new project or collaboration?

Almost certainly, though it’s very hard to find publishers interested in game books. I have been dying to write a book on adventure games similar to D&D, but no takers so far. Bill and I have been talking about a book on the Atari 2600, and I’ve got one on virtual worlds that needs development. We will probably also write a book based on our documentary.

9. And now for something that interests me quite a bit on a personal level. How did you really manage to -effortlessly, it seems- combine an academic career with all this quality work on computer and video games?

In a sense gaming is my job. A professor is expected to research as well as teach, and game studies is an important part of new media. I’m presenting on aspects of gaming at two national conferences later this year (Computers and Writing, Rhetoric Society of America). People tend to think of “English” strictly as literature and grammar, but it’s far more than that! There are many of us studying games as well as other technologies like wikis and social networking. All of these things involve communication and rhetoric.

10. Finally, have you thought about actually creating a game yourself?

I have, though I’m not satisfied with the results! But a few years ago I taught myself C++ out of some books and made a simple adventure game, which I entered into the Interactive Fiction contest. I was shocked that it was 28th in the 12th annual interactive fiction competition. At any rate, it was fun learning C++, and I’d love to try something more ambitious one day.

Introduction: Pen and Paper RPG’s

PenandPaperrpgs
So, uh, let’s start with a disclaimer, shall we? Lovely. If you are one of the few proper pen & paper RPG gamers frequenting this site, then you really don’t need to read any further. Really. You’ll probably know all there is to it. If, on the other hand, you are video gamer or preferably a video gamer that can appreciate the intricacies of Fallout, the vast worlds of Morrowind, the demented setting of Planescape and truly enjoy your average (or garden) video game RPG, then you might just be interested in finding out a bit more on them pen & paper RPGs, the sources of inspiration behind every CRPG from Ultima to Fallout 3, in which case you should probably read on.

For starters, in an ideal world, nobody in their right mind would ever dream mentioning pen & paper before the RPG bit. The later should be enough, mainly because the vast majority of computer/video game RPGs (CRPGs) lack the actual roleplaying bit, at least in the more traditional sense, which of course you wouldn’t know unless you had already played a real RPG, something rather impossible as you wouldn’t be reading this very article, would you now? Anyway. All a CRPG ever did to earn its role-playing title was borrow some ideas (e.g. character creation), game mechanics (e.g. combat, hit points, to-hit modifiers) and/or setting (e.g. The Forgotten Realms, Shadowrun), but never came close to emulating the true, traditional, wholesome, imaginative, wholly satanic and ridiculously time-consuming RPG experience.

So, what is an RPG? Well, it’s a role playing game, that’s what it is. Players assume roles and act out impromptu parts -following certain rules and in thoroughly defined settings- much like actors in radio theatre. Only, this is interactive theatre. You not only take part in a story but actually help tell it, as you’re absolutely free to do whatever crosses your mind.

How is this achieved? Simple. One of the players assumes the very important role of Game Master, Storyteller, Dungeon Master, Keeper, whatever. Let’s call him -as most RPGers do- the GM. Well, said GM’s job is to act as the other players’ senses, describing everything they see hear and smell, as the general organizer of play, as the narrator of the main plot and as the ultimate rules referee. His or her job, essentially, is to be what a PC or games console is -say- to an Oblivion gamer: the screen, the speakers, the physics engine, the enemy A.I., the voice of Patrick Stewart.

The major difference though is that a GM, unlike even 2 PS3s supported by a Pentium 5, can react and adopt to absolutely anything a player might come up with…Hence the importance of the rest of the players in the storytelling part. They are free to experience, twist, enrich, play through and ultimately shape the GM’s plot, always following some rules, not unlike those a video game would impose on a gamer. Rules, that determine whether a player kills a monster, is stealthy enough to bypass a drowsy guard or even adequately desirable to organise an orgy. What’s more, and just like in the vast majority of CRPGs, players get to create a character, an in-game persona, typically called the PC or Player Character, as opposed to the NPC or Non Player Character, obviously played by the GM.

 

What must absolutely be understood is that the GM is not the adversary of the players. He or she is just an instrumental part of a group of people enjoying a storytelling game. After all, there is no antagonism among players. Nobody can win in the traditional way and the game never really needs to end, as PCs grow older, more experienced and set forth for new adventures (in true MMORPG fashion). RPGs are collaborative, social, storytelling, imaginative affairs, totally unlike board and war games, even though they might share the use of dice -usually to determine the success of an action, be it combat or not.

Now, provided you’re even slightly intrigued, here are some pretty popular games/systems/settings (they usually come in the guise of books, you know, them nice papery things) to get you started. Surely you’ll recognize some of the names… Dungeons and Dragons (the father of the modern RPG, pretty complex, but perfectly balanced rules, huge variety of mostly fantasy settings), Call of Cthulhu (simple rules, fantastic insanity system, spawn of Lovecraft, brilliant and comfortably short scenarios) Vampire / WoD (simple and extremely versatile rules, Gothic feel, excellent prose), Shadowrun (very tactical, smart hacking mechanics, cyberpunk meets fantasy setting), Rolemaster (more complex than an accountant’s spreadsheet, but weirdly enjoyable) and the utterly notorious Aftermath!.

Anything else you care to know? Well, that’s what the comments section is for, you know…

Curt Hartung: CCP

CCP_on_black

Name: Curt Hartung

Company: CCP

Profession: Programmer

Favorite Classic Game: Ultima IV

Quote: I spent over a year plumbing this game right after its release, on my apple //c, from start to finish, with no internet or cheat guides or outside help. The minimalist graphics and rich sandbox-like content allowed me to become a part of the story in a way that no other game ever has. I don’t lament the advances in computing and graphics, but would be lying if I didn’t admit that some small part of me pines for the days when the details of epic battles and special effects were supplied by imagination alone. I wager I am not alone when I see modern renderings or updated graphics of those worlds and think “that’s not how mine looks”. It was a game that required note-taking, imagination, introspective thought and interaction that wasn’t “pick one of these two answers”.


gog.com Sale – Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity for $8 total

Divine Divinity
Divine Divinity

gog.com Sale – Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity for $8 total

You can get both Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity for $8 total from gog.com this weekend only.

I’ve played Beyond Divinity the most of these. They are action RPGs similar to Ultima 8, Sacred, and even Diablo.

Click here to go to the sale.