Saturday, June 30, 2012

Now Available: "The Online Gamer's Anthology" Podcast Episodes!




Back in 2007...before I would later be on the "Through the Aftermath" podcast talking with Shawn about emergency preparedness, avoiding suicide after watching the movie "Threads", and doing intro skits about cold-war propaganda, I started in the podcast world with an online-game podcast called "The Online Gamer's Anthology". To this day, it's one of the things I look back on the most fondly.

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, here's the internet description:


Hosted by Jonathan Morris, "The Online Gamer's Anthology" was a podcast that focused on massively-multiplayer online games of the past and the games that influenced the genre. Featuring interviews with industry greats such as "Dragonlance" author Tracy Hickman and "Pool of Radiance" developer Brad Myers, it took a nostalgic look back at online game originals like "Meridian 59" and "Dark Age of Camelot" and early influences such as the "Fallout" series, the Commodore 64 computer, and INFOCOM's ground-breaking "ZORK" text adventure series.
"The Online Gamer's Anthology" ran for a total of 21 Episodes between 2007 and 2008 . It was also the first podcast to feature Jonathan's signature comedy "intro-skits" that parodied the gaming world.
Jonathan later went on to co-host the post-apocalyptic-themed "Through the Aftermath" podcast with "Guildcast"-host Shawn Shuster, and ironically STILL yells "ding" whenever someone uses the phrase "Back in the day".



It's hard to believe that was 6 years ago when I was talking about all my gaming memories and interviewing people like Tracy Hickman. Who would have thought the moment I chose to do a podcast for the first time would later explode into a second show and a lifelong friendship with so many good people...anyone from my Aftermath co-host, Shawn Shuster...to Brent, Darren, Troy, Karen, Julie, and all the other fantastic people from the VirginWorlds podcast collective. And who would have thought a crazy little idea to do a comedy "intro-skit" to start each episode would later become one of the main trademarks of how people would remember the shows.

And, of course, my friendship with all of you, my listeners-friends.  For without you, the show would never have had an audience.  No seriously, it would have just been a badly-edited MP3 with people yelling "DING" every time someone used the phrase "Back in the day".  I kneel humbly before you for listening to my shows all these years. I hope they brought you entertainment and a some good laughs along the way.

Okay...the way I'm wording this sounds like I'm about to cry. I better show you where this is going.

I've had quite a lot of you ask for copies of the original podcast episodes of "The Online Gamer's Anthology" since they were no longer available through iTunes.  Well, your patience has paid off, my stalwart friends, because that day has finally come! In the same way that our good friend Megaton of PostApoc.net archived the episodes of the "Through the Aftermath" podcast, I have now done the same for the Anthology episodes as well.

So, my friends, here all 21 episodes of "The Online Gamer's Anthology" in all their original glory:

THE ALMIGHTY LINK

So go and download them! And enjoy!

And try not to laugh at how inexperienced I totally sound or the fact that I sound like I may wet my pants at any given moment as I interview Tracy Hickman. I mean, DUDE!! It was TRACY HICKMAN!! Seriously, people wait in line for hours at DragonCon just to get his autograph and somehow I got an interview because he just happened to live a few miles away from my house and I run into him at a Del-Taco!  The odds are so scary, I have to believe there was divine intervention there or something!

You know, as I listen to these episodes of the Anthology, it's sad to see so many of those games and subjects I spoke of in the show are either now gone or fading away. Pretty soon, those eras will just be a faded memory. I guess that's why I look back on that show so fondly. It's like freezing my own memory in time or something.  Here's to hoping it did its job.

(wait, that sounded really sappy)

So enjoy, my friends!

 And may the memories of the old days of goofy-looking sprite characters of "Meridian 59", the hardcore fun of waiting for the boat to arrive in Freeport in the original "Everquest" days, and the long hours of typing "KILL TROLL WITH SWORD" in text-adventures like "ZORK" never die! ;)



Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Through the Aftermath" Podcast Episode 47?! WHA-WHA-WHAAAT?!?!


  
Episode 47?!   We were done with the show!!  What new devilry IS THIS?! 

Fear not, my friends.  You aren't dreaming.  You aren't being punk'd by Demi Moore's seemingly-under-aged-late-husband.  There is indeed a new episode of "Through the Aftermath" we just released!  Thanks to the encouragement of some of our listeners, Shawn and I decided to go ahead and do a "catch-up" episode to let you know what we've been up to, talk a bit about the upcoming "Wasteland 2", and a ton of info on the upcoming "Through the Aftermath Mega-Mod" for Fallout: New Vegas.

There's also a new intro-skit of course.  Just wouldn't be right without one, you know. ;)

You can listen to it HERE or download it from our blogsite HERE.  And a special thanks to our friend, Megaton, at PostApoc.net for helping host it.

So give 'er a listen.  And rejoice in the fact that I talk too fast when I'm talking about mods, and pronounce the word "homage" like "HOMage".  No, seriously.  Someone pointed it out.  I totally did that.  It's totally reminiscent of that time in 4th grade when you realized you were inadvertently swearing when you held your tongue in your fingers and said "my uncle works in a shipyard" and then the kids laughed and you got in trouble and...

...Wait.  What was I talking about...?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Making the Aftermath Mod - Part 1: "The Power of Detail"



  As we get close to the mod's release here, I thought it would be a cool idea to show a bit of "Behind-the-Scenes" on what I've been doing with it, and how I actually made the mod.  For one thing, it gives me a chance to finally show you all of the things I've been up to with it and why I've been...well..."off the grid", if you will...and also shows you what kind of work goes into making a mod.  

Like a psycho amount of work.  Like a SERIOUSLY psycho amount.  Like, I forgot what the sun looks like. (What month is it, by the way?  And now that you mention it, I don't recognize my neighbors, either.)

So as we get closer to our ever-glorious moment I release the mod to you, I'm going to take you behind-the-scenes of what I did to make the mod and some cool stories on how it all came to be.
For the first part of my "Behind the Mod" series, I thought I'd take you for a look at the kind of detail I've added to the mod.  When I first sat down to design the mod, I had some pretty specific ideas of what I wanted to have in it and it quickly became clear that most of the ideas were going to require a boat-load of custom artwork and textures.  Sure, anyone could just taken the easy way out and simply limit themselves to using only the stock-resources that Fallout: New Vegas already had and just redo them into some new area and call that a mod.  
I could have said "See??  It's a vault with all the same enemies, sure, but this time the hallway goes LEFT!"
But I have a belief that if I'm going to do this, I want to do it right.  And I'm a sucker for details. I'm apparently also a sucker for pain as well, since it's taken a crazy amount of time to do it all.  But I did it anyway.  And I have high-hopes that you'll agree that my choice was the right one.  See, you aren't just getting a plain-jane looking mod.  You're getting a full-fledged world I've added its own life to.  It's got it's own story to tell, its own background.  You'll get a glimpse of what some of these new areas were like before the nuclear war took place.  Heck, it's even got details down to the custom store-front signs...I kid you not!

I know, right?  It's crazy! 

You know I've always been a fan of both the 1950's-era and the whole Cold-War-era (hence why I love the Fallout-series) so I wanted to make sure I added my own creativity reflecting that, into the world I built.  I have a good time with this stuff!  So, I'll show you a glimpse of how I did it.  You'll also get a sneak-peek at the backstory in the mod, which is cool.  I hope you enjoy this look at what I've done. 

Now I need to give you a bit of the mod's background story, so you can understand what you're looking at.  I'll give you a quick, "Reader's Digest" version of the mod's background.  Some of this backstory you may have already already heard, so forgive me if this is a recap in certain parts.  I'm going to only touch briefly on the story since the story probably almost deserves its own "Behind the Mod" entry.
As you know, the primary goal of the mod is unravel the mystery of who is trying to shut down Aftermath Radio, trying to kill Shawn and I, and also help us rebuild the radio station so it can be listened to while you are out in the wasteland.  Along the way, you'll visit quite a few new locations.  

You've probably heard me mention this before, but one of the main locations you'll visit is what's left of the city of Barstow, California.  In real-life, Barstow is not only a main hub between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, it's also houses the Marine Corps Logistics Base and is the closest city to the Fort Irwin Military Reservation.  In the Fallout-world (I wanted to this mesh perfectly with the Fallout canon) this would have been a major tactical target for all those reasons. The Chinese would definitely have seen this as a way to take out 2 major military bases and also cut off the travel route to Los Angeles (which was one of their biggest targets, as you see firsthand in Fallout 1 and 2).

 In Barstow, the people would have been well-aware of just how big of a target they were, much like the people who lived in the town of Hopeville in FO:NV's "Lonesome Road" DLC.  In "Lonesome Road", the developers did a great job of portraying this, by what you saw there.  Hopeville is where the U.S. military houses one of its largest nuclear stockpiles and its people went about their lives well-aware they were likely a major target to the Chinese.  Just by seeing the posters and billboards, you get a sense of what their lifestyle was like.  

Barstow follows this very same mentality.  In our mod-story, the people of Barstow went about their normal lives with the constant threat of nuclear war shadowing everything they did.  They were a prime candidate for attack and they were all-too-aware of this fact.  If the escalating war against the Chinese ever came, they weren't going to live to see the day after.  And sadly enough, as the Fallout-canon describes, that's exactly what happened on October 23, 2077 for most of the world.

Since the Fallout world is an "alternate universe" based on what the people in the 1950's pictured their future would be like, the Civil Defense program is still very much alive in Barstow.  In fact, because the people know they are going to likely be a main target, Civil Defense is commonplace.  There are public shelters in case the attack finally comes, and posters on the walls of the city's buildings reminding the people of Barstow to be prepared and "Be Vigilant!" if the attack ever does take place
  Of course when you play this mod, you're looking at it from the point-of-view of knowing all of this happened just as they feared.  You're seeing this 200 years after the bombs fell.  I wanted you to really feel that.  I wanted you to be able to stop and really get a glimpse of what the world was like in Barstow, and really SEE this city for more than just a radioactive ruin.  To get a sense of what these people thought and did, and especially what went through their minds when that dark hour finally came.
Sure, it's an extra layer of realism beyond the normal layer of the game (and yeah, most of the time you're in the city, you have a bigger problem looming anyway) but it gives you a connection to that world that makes it THAT much more believable.  
It's like that part in Fallout 3 when, despite the dark-humor of the world you've been in, you find that diary of a Red Cross nurse that just saw the bombs fall and is now witnessing, first-hand, what the horrors of nuclear war are like. You're reading the account of a woman who was dying of radiation sickness 200 years ago, and are now looking out at the very same ruins that used to be her city. It gave you that connection!  It was impossible to not feel a sense of overwhelming sadness as you read that Red Cross nurse's diary.  But that's the brilliance of the way the Fallout game are done.  And I made sure my mod followed those same rules.  The trick is to be able to tell you the story of a world-that-was as you play the game, both in the things you see, read, and witness.  

Now you see why the details matter.

Now I get to show you what I mean.  And to show you the scope of the details I've added to this mod, I'm going to show you 3 specific examples.
The first example is one of a few of the newspapers you may come across in some of the locations you visit.  Sure, you might just pass by it in a hurry, but if you're looking close, you'll find there's alot of information to be gained by stopping to look.  I wanted newspapers to be a main source of backstory because it does such a good job of showing exactly what these people were reading the day the bombs fell.  By watching these, you can really get a sense of what was happening in the world at the time.   
Here's a picture of the newspaper:

It took a crazy amount of time, but I actually put this together by hand.  I used elements based on real newspapers, and used Microsoft Expression and some stock pictures to create the "Barstow News", their local newspaper.  You can even read the fine print if you look close (click for the big screenshot).  There's even some humorous "Easter Eggs" all over the place in this mod if you look close.  I do so love that stuff. :)


To portray the "Civil Defense" mentality that the people of Barstow all share, I went for the real-world examples.  I'm an avid fan of the cold war-era posters and the media they had back then.  I scoured the Internet for good examples that would fit the setting and set to work remaking them our own Fallout-world.  In some of the posters or papers, I just re-worded or restructured parts and added new pictures...in other instances, I did all of the design from scratch.
Here's a small example.   This is an actual Civil Defense poster from 1959:


Here's my own "re-done" version of it.  



Again using Microsoft Expression (I LOVE that program for this kind of thing), I redid the poster with a new picture and new font-work.  In this case, the poster is very close to the original, but in other cases -- like the one I'm about to show you -- it's all new.

In this particular case, I created a poster for the fictional "Junior Civil Defense Cadet Corps", which -- in my mod's world -- would have been the equivalent of the Civil Air Patrol.  In my mod's backstory, the people of Barstow would definitely be aiming recruitment at the younger generations, so this would be the group that a 15-year-old boy would join to help his local Civil Defense chapter...almost like a Civil Defense-themed "Boy Scouts".  It's even entirely possible that the people in our version of Barstow would possibly have foregone the Boy Scouts altogether in lieu of Civil Defense, since they likely knew how close to nuclear war they were at the time.

Now I just needed someone to be our "poster boy" for the Corps.  Tammy -- a friend of mine at work -- has a son named Tyler who is currently in the Air Force ROTC program at his school.  One day, I noticed one of the pictures she had on her desk was one she'd taken of him standing proudly in his uniform.  He looked like he was right out of a 1950's recruitment poster.  With their permission, I redid the picture and a few hours later had Tyler on a recruitment poster adorning the walls of Barstow's city buildings, proudly telling all of the young people in 2077 Barstow that they could still "Do Their Part!" for their city.  Pretty cool, eh?

  While these are just 3 simple examples, you can see that each of them has their own purpose and way of showing Barstow's backstory.  All of them make the world much more tangible and real to the player. I've always believed in that kind of immersion is an extremely important piece of the player's experience and one that many triple-A titles still screw up.  Sure it takes alot of time to add detail like that, but I think the pay-off far exceeds the time it takes.   Even for a one-man team like me.

They say the devil is in the details, but I think they have it backwards.
- Detail succeeded when you first laughed after noticing the "TPS Reports" on the desk in the office-map in "Counterstrike".  
- Detail succeeded when you shivered when a face-hugger started running along the ceiling at you in "Aliens vs Predator", when you never saw a game try that before.
- On the flip-side, detail did NOT succeed when someone thought it would be amusing to have your life-meter be a tattoo on the cleavage of your female character in "Jurassic Park: Trespass".  
Well...then again, maybe it DID succeed there, depending where you're coming from on that one.  
Yeah, crap...maybe that last one wasn't a good example...
  
So at the end of all this, I hope you've gotten a taste of what this mod has in store.  Not so much to build "hype", but more to give you a bit more insight into the world I've tried to create.  If you're the type of player that blows through a game fairly quickly just to get to the end, you'll still enjoy this mod.  The story is a hoot and you'll still get a kick out of all of it.  
But if you're the kind of player who can appreciate the details you see -- the posters on the wall...the newspaper on the table -- then you'll get a much bigger sense of the world that Barstow once was. And maybe you'll see why this project took so long, but that taking that long was definitely a necessary thing.
If not, I think I'm probably going to hurl.
I'm looking forward to showing you even more "Making the Aftermath Mod" features very soon.  

Stay tuned, my friends. And Stay Alive Out There!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Aftermath Mod" Status Update! Be A Hit At Parties!



Yes indeed! As by request,  I do believe it's time for some updates and to bring you all up to speed on the "Aftermath Radio" mod for Fallout: New Vegas.


Ah hold on...I saw that look on your face. You were bracing for some bad news, weren't you?  You were concerned the lack of news lately meant something had happened or maybe the mod was on hold.


No, you won't hear any bad news at all, in fact, just the opposite.   The mod is totally cranking full-speed right now.  I kid you not when I say I've been working each and every day (sometimes until 3am, no joke) on getting it complete and locking everything in.  Even on Christmas Day.  Trust me...my 5-year-old had Hexbugs and Minecraft...he didn't mind!  
As most of you who ever have done modding know, it takes a sick amount of time to make one.  In this case, it's kind of a "double-mod" because it's a fully features radio station AND a full-blown side-questline.  It's crazy how much time it takes to make this all work. I mentioned last time we were close.  We're even closer now.  So here's the status:


- THE RADIO STATION:  Ohhhhh nelly, was THIS a project.... I essentially revamped the entire radio flow.  You ever notice how Radio New Vegas starts to repeat fairly early on and kind of loses its flow after a bit?  I wanted to avoid this.  Some of the repetition I'm sure can't be helped but I wanted to try to push the bar way higher.  It was a pain in the arse, but I think I pulled it off.  Even despite a few GECK kit bugs.  Right now, almost all the dialog is recorded and locked. All of this was the majority of the time that this mod has taken.  This is why I've been off the grid for 2 months.  I had to take around 80 hours of recorded show and dialog, convert and re-edit them, and link them piece by piece into the GECK.  That's a frightening amount of editing.  I think you'll really dig what the extra effort went into, though.  I wanted this radio station to be done right.  I could have settled for having it just play non-stop podcast replays back-to-back, but I wanted this radio station to be something you want to listen to constantly.  Not something you'll get bored of after hearing the same thing a few times.  I wanted it to be dynamic enough to actually sound like Shawn and I are out there in wasteland broadcasting to you.  There are commercials, podcast episodes (I've divided each episode into 4 parts to help break it up a bit), random clips, and also the news reports.  And even some new intro skits.
  Oh, the news reports...speaking of other things that took alot of work.  This radio station has almost 70 news stories that play based on your current quests. Not just like Radio New Vegas, but even more.  Some of them will be similar, since they involve the major quest parts, but I've even added a bunch for smaller questlines such as the "Sunset Sarsaparilla Legend" quests and the "Tops Talent Quest".  You'll get a kick out of them.  You'd swear it was our podcast and we were reacting to what you were doing.  Like I said, I think you'll appreciate all the extra effort.


- THE QUEST LINE:  I tweaked the questline a bit...that's also been part of what took longer.  This story quest has essentially been a real-time version of our podcast intro skits.  It's insanely trickly to put an intro skit into an interactive form that keeps the action going without being annoying.  Things on paper don't always play well in-game.  Some of them you don't actually realize until you see it in the game and think "Frak, saying I'm not wearing pants sounded funny on paper but in-game I'm frightened."   When I ran the questline through, I felt like it was missing some things (no, they weren't pants).  So I went back and made some adjustments.  I feel alot better about it now.  I wanted it to have alot of the same humor as our intro skits, but also have an element of seriousness to the overall feel.  You'll really like the quests, if for any other reason than they fit into the overall Fallout lore and make sense.  I didn't want to just do a "kill the raiders" quest with jokes and all and be done...I wanted to add a bit of new content to the Fallout world.  All of the locations are based on real-life locations and are new ones you haven't been to yet in Fallout. More on this soon.
  Recording the dialog is almost done on this as well.  We had to record dialog for not only the overall script, but also the sounds Shawn and I do when we travel with you and fight.  So you have a ton of sounds just to have us be companions with you, like the "hit the deck!" things companions yell when you throw a grenade.  I also scripted alot of interaction to make things feel more realistic.  We'll be recording dialog with our post-apocalyptic guru-friend Megaton in the next week. If you don't already know who he is -- and shame on you if not -- he oversees the almighty "postapocalypticforum.com" and "postapoc.net"...so repent now and check the sites out.


  Oh, I didn't tell you Megaton is a main character did I?  Well, there's some teaser info for you.  Megaton is one of the main characters who helps start the questline and a big part of the story.

 So now the big question you're probably thinking.... how long till you can play it?  What's our release date?  Tough to say, since it's insanely hard to predict a timeline on a mod you're building (especially when you're a one-man-team) so I'm not sure I can give a definitive answer to that.  That said, I'll try.  I'll tell you what my personal goal is:


I want to have this in beta-testing within the next month or so.  And hopefully, in your hands, dear gamer, right after that.  So let's say.... hmmm...why don't we try for "before Easter" as a release date.  The majority of the mod is done, and it's just a matter of fine-tuning the rest, but you never know how long that can take.  


Does that mean something could happen that stalls the release goal?  It's possible.  Do I anticipate it?  I don't think so.  I'm hopeful this is going to click together just fine in this last stretch.  I've gone to some crazy lengths to make sure this mod plays nicely with a minimal fuss.  I'm hoping it pays off in the end with a smooth testing phase.  I suppose the main bugs that could likely pop up would be ones where I still continually have to work around actual bugs in the GECK kit and FO:NV engine itself.  But I remain optimistic after all I've done so far. Heck, I've got 4 times more dialog than Wayne Newton did in the game and that's sounds cool when I say that to people who don't know what that means!


The whole project has taken a while but that's always the game-design world, isn't it?  It's mainly because I want this mod to shine and I hope you all feel the same when you play it.  I think you'll feel that way.  If not, I'll throw up in my mouth a bit.


Watch for some more updates here in these last few weeks.  I've got more things planned to show you.  Also, if you have any requests for things you'd like to see, let me know.  


We'll talk again soon. 


 In the meantime...Stay alive out there!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

And At Last, the Mod's Storyline....


When I started making this Fallout: New Vegas "Aftermath mod", there was a few reasons why I chose to do it.  One was to give back something to the TTAM community for all the years they listened to our podcast.  Another reason was because it gave us a chance to continue to be part of the Fallout world and even group up with you, even if it was in a virtual sense.  The third was that it was a bit of closure (those of you who have podcasted will likely agree that you never really feel closure all the way) and also a way to bring the whole TTAM story full-circle.  The mod in itself accomplished the first 2 goals for the most part, provided I made sure I gave the mod everything it deserved.  The last one was a bit tricky.  So how do I bring the whole "broadcasting in the wasteland" story all the way around and make it great fun for those who listened to the show, and not just another questing mod?  You're about to find out.

  Ever since Shawn and I started the podcast, we've always role-played it as having an underground bunker where we broadcast our radio signal.  As the show went on, our episodes found us attacked by raiders who wanted our dish, having power issues with the antennae array, getting lost out in the wasteland and having to hide in wooden crates, finding bio-weapons we thought were apple-flavored air fresheners -- and of course -- the running joke that someone was always trying to take out our forums.
  Ah those forums!  I don't know what happened back there, but someone really liked hacking the crap out of our forums. Shawn and I were constantly banging our heads against the wall about it.  In the end if you recall, the hacking got so bad, Shawn took the forums down and now our good friend Megaton helped integrate it into his own great forums at postapocalypticforum[dot]com.  But wow, did our jokes fly before that.  "Skynet's after us!" or "Whose computer did we piss off??" was a constant joke for months after all was said and done.  The last teaser screenshot last week even has Shawn's angered words on the bunker chalkboard (you DID notice that, didn't you??).  Even the beginning of several of our shows talked about "those hacked forums".

  Well, my friends... THAT where the story-hook for the mod begins.  When you first run the mod, you're going to get word from a friend of ours that something bad has happened at our Radio Bunker.  Shawn and I are missing and you have to find out what happened and where we went.  And let's just say, you'll finally get to see who is the one responsible for attacking our forums all those times.  And along the way, you'll come across the raiders who wanted our radio dish, quite a few more friends, an apple-flavored bio-grenade, and a ton of jokes.  And in the end, you'll help us put the Bunker back into working order, which will make the "Through the Aftermath Radio Station" a permanent signal on your Pipboy radio.  You'll get episode replays, new commercials, and a chance for Shawn and I to help you on your own Fallout NV journey as a companion.

  Does all that sound like a worthy closure to the Aftermath legacy?  I'm crossing my fingers you'll think so.  I've put a crazy amount of time in the last few months into making this the crown jewel.  Many Bothans died to bring you this thing. And maybe, just maybe, all those times I said the word "Fallout" on the show will finally be redeemed.

...okay, maybe not, but at least you can hear me yell "SOOO GOOOD!" as I help you shoot Benny.

Stay tuned, my friends.  We're nearly there.  Watch for more teasers as we go. :)

Aftermath Mod Teaser Screenshot #3

 Our third teaser screenshot is an example of one of things that I thought would be cool to "go the extra mile" and add to the mod.  After all, you can't have a New Vegas game and not have a "Through The Aftermath"-themed slot machine that you can actually play, right?  ;)

(click on the pic to see it full-sized)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Aftermath Mod Teaser Screenshot #2

  The work continues non-stop on the Aftermath mod as we get closer to when I can finally let it loose in the wasteland.  And with that, I give you yet another sneak peek at the Radio Bunker.  It's a great example of the amount of detail (and Aftermath podcast inside-jokes) I have in the Bunker.  Believe me when I say I've tweaked nearly every texture I've used so that this thing can be everything that made the podcast great.  Even the magazines on the tables have meaning.  And there's even a little "mini-game" where an object from just about every skit from the show is somewhere in the bunker (some obvious, some not-so-obvious) and you get to see if you can remember them.  Can't wait to show you. You're gonna love this. :)

(click the pic to see it full-sized)