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Community Interviews: djnealb Puts The Needle To The Record

Welcome to the fifth entry in the revived Community Interviews series!

You'll notice a slight tinge of formulaic formatting throughout these interviews as you read through them, and that is that there are repeated questions that every person must answer.  The reason for this is simple: those questions are what form the foundation of the interview.  Once those questions have been answered, other questions are asked that are tailored to respond to the answers given.  What you will be reading is the end result, conversationally compiled.

Without further ado, let's get started.

I sent him a questionnaire, he said some stuff, I said some stuff, you know how a conversation works.

Tonight, we're spinning wax with djnealb!

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What drew you to videogames as a hobby, and more importantly, what has kept you there?

If anything really drew me to games, I guess it would the fact that it was something that I could not only do by myself, but something that I could do that wasn't lessened by doing by myself. I hope that makes sense. I'm the youngest of 3 children, and the only boy. My sisters are 8 and 11 years older than I am, so we've NEVER had anything in common. On top of that, I was always a bit introverted, so when my mom hooked up my sister's old Atari 2600 to a black and white tv and showed me Pong and Frogger, I was hooked. 

As far as what has KEPT me in gaming, I would have to say it's evolutionary (and yet circular) nature. Games are always evolving. Think about it: 25-30 years ago, we lost our shit over a little dude running left to right and jumping on turtles and mushroom thingies. Now look at where we are today. Games like Journey, The Last of Us, The Walking Dead, etc. have transformed gaming in new and beautiful ways. Yet (to get to that circular bit) we will still lose our shit over a little dude (albeit much prettier than 30 years ago) that runs left to right (and sometimes all around) and jumps on turtles and mushroom thingies.

There is a certain timelessness in simple mechanics - do you think that videogames grow more as they leave the nest of established gameplay conventions, or do you think they hit their peak when they really nail their fundamentals?

Both. I do think that they keep growing, so long as new mechanics are well thought out and serve a purpose and not just added for the sake of doing it (like adding Kinect or Vita or WiiU gamepad functions when it's not really needed). Going back to my Mario example: all he did was run from left to right and jump. Then along comes Metroid, where you go left to right, right to left, and up and down with different weapons. Then comes Zelda, where go can go everywhere and are given a captivating story. All of these games did something different, and the entire industry benefited from them. Then you have games like the WiiU version of Arkham City that just adds a few extra bells and whistles to the original game, but those bells and whistles are pointless and completely unnecessary. They were only added because "Hey, we have this new gamepad with a screen that we need to do something with." That, in my opinion, is detrimental and benefits nobody. 

What do you consider to be the most important aspect of a videogame?

Story, gameplay, graphics. I know I'm cheating by saying 3 things, but I think if any one of those items is total shit in a game, then it ruins the whole experience. If a game has a great story and interesting gameplay, but the art is isn't very good (even in a retro game), then I probably won't play for long. The same thing can be said, for me anyway, for the other two items.

Is it more about the sum of the parts, or the individual level of quality of the separate parts? Would you be more forgiving to a game that lacked decent gameplay and looked decidedly 'less-than" if the story was of the highest caliber? Or would they have to sing in chorus in order to even be considered a decent product overall?

It's about the game being MORE than the sum of it's parts. Yes, a game can have a stellar story and a truly innovative mechanic, but if it's a complete eyesore (not just lackluster or mediocre), then that brings the entire experience down. And of course there are exceptions to the rule, as well, like sport games, racing games, etc. which have no story...unless you count your team's season or your race history/progression as a driver as your own, personal story. I guess an argument could be given for those. My point, though, is that those three mechanics (story, gameplay, graphics) need to harmonize (to use your chorus metaphor) to truly make the game not just good or great, but something special(I should also add that I would include sound/music in with graphics).

Do you think that controversy (sexism, violence, etc.) helps or hurts the medium?

I think it helps. Controversies like those help to bring a critical eye to the industry not only from the outside, but from within as well. I believe that it is only under scrutiny that the industry will be able to better itself.

With that said, do you think the industry will better itself? I mean, all of our entertainment thrives on sex and violence - hell, when they're at their best and their worst, the two are likely to be intertwined. Does controversy only give the industry a quick reminder of something rather than a lasting impression, like telling someone that they have a loose thread on their shirt rather than telling them that they're wearing a godawful ugly outfit?

I wish I could answer that, but I just honestly don't know. Remember several months back when women in the video game industry took to twitter to air their grievances and injustices they've witnessed with #1reasonwhy. Everyone who pays attention to gaming caught wind of that, and I really hoped that the industry would have learned from this. Sadly, I don't think it has...yet. 

Let's go outside of videogames for a moment - what's the most important thing in the world to you as a person?

My wife, friends and family.

That's awesome to hear, I'm a bit of a family man myself (cue the Guile theme). Do they share your chosen hobby, or do they split off into their own pursuits?

Several of my friends are gamers. My family isn't, but they do understand that I'm pretty passionate about it. The same goes for my wife. That said, she LOVES Katamari Damacy. Every so often I'll walk into our living room to find her rolling a big 'ole Katamari.

My wife seems very similar. Do you have any children, and if so, are they following in your footsteps?

Nope, no children. No plans on having them either. For now, anyway. My wife already considers me to a big kid, so no need to bring a small one in to the mix :P. If I did have kids, though, I would hope that they would share in my passion for games, or at least show an interest in them. Although, I would also have to be mindful of when I actually introduce them to games.

I find that music is a fairly accurate barometer of an individual's personality. What music makes your day?

I love me some Electronic Dance Music, especially House music.

Okay. On a completely unrelated side note here, I used to listen to an album by a one-man operation called Les Rhythmes Digitales. I listened to it incessantly in 2000-2001. Have you ever heard of it?

I listened to some of his stuff on YouTube. It's alright, but not what I would usually listen to. Some of my favorite artists are Kaskade, Deadmau5, Sharam, Gabriel & Dresden, Miguel Migs, and a lot more. For those reading who know these artists, they'll probably realize that they are all incredibly different. 

Do you feel that the videogame medium is evolving, and if so, is it going in a positive direction?

I think that I answered the evolving bit earlier. As for if it's in a positive direction...I think that it is, overall, but I also think it's slowed down a bit. Nowadays, it seems that everything is either a military FPS, an action/adventure game with a really, really good looking hero (and, sometimes, heroine), or something with a number at the end of it. While sequels, FPS, and action/adventures were certainly commonplace in the last gen as well, I also seem to recall a lot more ingenuity as well. That said, we are also at the end of a console cycle, so I have a feeling that that is playing into it as well and am very excited for the next generation.

Do you see hope in the indie scene?

Y'know, when I answered that question, I honestly didn't even think about indie games. Yes, I do see hope in the indie scene, albeit indirectly. Indie developers are doing some pretty great things, but nobody is hearing about it because they don't have the massive advertising budgets that AAA games get. So why do I have hope in the indie scene then? Because some of these games go on to be something really special. When a game becomes special, then the designers and programmers and directors get noticed by the big guys (Sony, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, etc.). When they get noticed, not only do their indie games get advertised, but those designers, programmers, etc. may have the chance to work on something even bigger and better, and THAT is where I think the true evolution in gaming will come from.

If you said that someone just had to play a particular game before they died, what game would that be?

Oh wow. That's really hard. I'm sorely tempted to say something profound like Okami or Psychonauts (both of which I've played, but haven't finished) or even Tetris, but all I can think of at the moment is a game that I recently played for the umpteenth time, and that was Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. I was playing the HD collection and I just couldn't believe how well those games still stand today. 

What about that game makes it stand out? What gives it such a timeless quality to you?

It's just one of those games that is more than the sum of it's parts. The story is fun, it has that classic Insomniac humor, the visuals and the music still stand out, the level design is still amazing, and the controls and mechanics are still fun. By no means am I saying that this is the best game of all time or anything like that, but I do think that everyone should play it at least once.

With so many sites in existence, and the internet having no shortage of places to hang one's virtual hat, why Destructoid?

Two reasons: the personality of the front page and the community. 

Yeah, I could go to other places to get the news about games and the gaming industry. However, Destructoid likes to report the news and make it more personable. Other sites will report "X game is now introducing Y feature which will let you do Z while playing." The Dtoid writers like to say what that means to them, whether its just through a joke or how they think it will affect the game or the industry. When I'm reading a Destructoid article, I feel like I'm actually talking to a friend with the same passion in games.

Second is the community (specifically the forums). I've tried other gaming forums/communities in the past, but there's just something about the Dtoid community that makes me feel like I actually matter. Like when I say something, it will be heard, even if it hasn't been responded to. And honestly, I have no idea what that something is, but I know it's there.

It's what's kept me here for so long, too. Do you perceive a disconnect between the forums and the frontpage, like two countries with a semi-common language, or is it a north/south divide? Or, is there no dissonance at all between the two from your point of view?

I would say it's more of a north/south divide than it is those other two options. I think that it's a pretty fair assumption to say that everyone on the forums (and the Cblogs for that matter) would not be here had they not first been interested in the Front Page. There are even those who are still quite active in the comments on the FP or in the Cblog community. However, we all know that we are all still very separate communities who happen to be connected through this amazing thing called Destructoid.

Are there better ways to bridge that separation? Is it even necessary, and if so, would you have firm ideas on how that could happen most effectively?

Actually, I don't think it's necessary to make that bridge. The way I like to think of it is by comparing us to the United States. The Front Page, the Forums, and the Cblogs are all the states in the Dtoid country. Yes, we're separate, but still connected. We all visit the other areas. I still make comments on the Front Page articles when I think I have something to add and I've even dabbled once or twice in the Cblogs, but my home state is the Forums. It's where I'm the most comfortable and it's where I feel like I belong. If anything, I think it would be nice to showcase the forums from time to time, as I do feel that the Cblogs do get more of the spotlight. However, I think that the Communitoid podcast does pretty well at showing the entire community off equally, and I hope that this series of interviews that you're doing will do the same (especially for the Forums).

What do you think about Huge? Do you think that Destructoid has the capacity to become largely self-sufficient? Do you think that will inspire or allow changes in the site to take place, and if so, what would you like some of those changes to be?

I think it's a great idea, but very risky. I know we have a large community and that we all, more or less, love Destructoid overall. However, I believe people can often act differently, very differently, when it comes to money. I do plan on joining HUGE soon, but whether or not it has the capacity to allow Dtoid to become self sufficient? I don't know. I think it really is 50/50 right now. I do think that, if it succeeds, then it will allow for changes to take place. Money talks. And if enough members really want a change, then the powers that be would be smart to make that change, lest they risk losing those members and their money. As for me, I'm a pretty easy guy to please, so as long as the overall experience is improved, then I'll be happy. One thing that I hope is changed soon, though, is the image viewer. Those articles that feature a bunch of screenshots are usually pretty terrible, in my opinion. I know that they made a new image viewer not long ago, but it was barely an improvement.

Is there anything you would change about Destructoid? Anything you'd preserve at all costs?

Within the forums, there are a few things that I miss or at least would go back to how they were. For instance, the Offtopic section within The Bar used to be called 20 Questions. I know it's silly, but I kinda wish it would go back to that. Also, the Official game threads section used to be within the General Discussion section of Gaming, but now its outside. It's just little things like that. 

I also remember what I like to call the Great Forumacolypse of 2008 (or 2007, I forget the specific year) when Destructoid tried to build it's own forums instead of using vBulletin. I thought that was such a great idea, but it just failed because it was too slow and rather buggy. I would be completely behind them if they tried to do that again, just so long as they kept the vBulletin forums going until they were sure everything was smoothed out on the new forums.

One last question: Who do you think you are?

No one special. Just a 29 year old married dude who loves games and calls himself a DJ, even though he hasn't practiced in who knows how long.

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About Community Interviewsone of us since 7:24 PM on 08.20.2010

This blog is currently under the control of community punching-bag, Chris Moyse! (OrochiLeona)

Current interviews in this series can be easily accessed by consulting this list.

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