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Community Interviews: Breaking Risk With VagrantHige!

Welcome to the eleventh 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.

You'll also notice that there are some new questions in the mix, and completely new to the interview process as compared to the previous entries.  I am starting to throw a few new things into the recipe, please let me know if these are welcome additions.  Honest feedback is very welcome.

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 breaking risk with VagrantHige!

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How old are you?

What do you do for a living?
Applications Developer/Programmer.

How long have you been around at Dtoid?
Just shy of two years, actively speaking.

In your opinion, what is the coolest thing about yourself?
Personally, I think I'm a little boring, so I dunno about "coolest."  But, if you want to go random, I once juggled hammers while on a pogo stick.

Oh, come on - that's fucking awesome.  Totally stealing from Lipton here: What's your favorite word? Your least favorite word? Why?

Favorite Word: Mukluk. It's fun to say....mukluk.

Least Favorite Word: Most things pronounced in Pittsburghese. I'm only 15 minutes outside the city, but damn, some of the things Yinzers say sound incredibly stupid. 

Examples: warsh = wash, gum band = rubber band, dantan (the a's pronounced like you would in "at") = downtown, slippy = slippery, Stillers = Steelers, and yinz = you all.

For our overseas friends and those who don't know Pittsburgh has it's own little dialect much like Boston, Jersey, etc. Yes, it sounds just as dumb, but only people who were actively born and raised in the city (not the suburbs) seem to speak it fluently aside from a few choice words. Those who speak it are known as Yinzers.

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

I grew up playing games with my mother on the Atari 2600 and NES. It really is some of my earliest memories that I have of spending time with my family and her specifically. We would play a lot of different games together, but puzzle games seemed to be our favorite. To this day we are pretty even when it comes to Tetris-style games. She always beat me when I was younger, but I can hold my own pretty well against her now to this day. Hell, she beat the original Legend of Zelda long before I ever did, but we shared hidden locations and secrets together while watching each other play.

One of my favorite memories of playing games with her was actually watching her play Columns on the Genesis. The game would speed up with every level and then slow down after every six. She would continuously get close to death only to get a lucky block or a big cascade chain to stay alive and level up to the slow down where she could clear the board and get ready for the speed to go back up. I watched for close to an hour and a half. She reached level 99, the level cap for the game and it has no slow down. She played for ten to fifteen minutes and quit to make dinner. She let herself die because her role as a mother was more important to her than continuing the game. I still have that game and her highscore actually saved successfully (something rare for older cartridge games), but her unspoken lesson of family first still sticks with me.

As for why I still play, honestly, I think I find the industry and the mechanics behind the games just as if not more interesting than actually playing the games themselves. I am a programmer and web application developer by trade and have dabbled in game making with my best friend for a little over a year now. As such I love hearing about the stupid little "hacks" that developers have to make just to get things up and running. Mechanics that are awesome hidden inside a game that is awful make me especially happy. I love dissecting games to see what makes them tick. This is probably where my love of fighting games has come from in the last five or six years.

My mother and I share a very similar story - except my Dad was the Zelda player. Your mother sounds like she was able to achieve what I call "zone," which is a zen-like mindstate when you are perfectly in sync with whatever thing you are doing at that moment. I believe that we all are able to achieve it in varying degrees, are there any particular genres or types that bring you into zone?

For me it would probably be music/rhythm games. I've always been a fan of them going back to Guitar Freaks, Beatmania and Bust a Groove on PS1. I can't really recall too many prior to that, but it is one of those genres that I seem to be at my best when I have kind of zoned out. Especially games like Beatmania and Guitar Hero/Rock Band. I find myself not looking at the notes in particular but just kind of focusing at the middle of the screen slightly above the impact zone and reading everything with my periphery. It's hard to really describe.

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

Gameplay is arguably the most important thing just from a usability standpoint, but from a programming perspective I love to know how the engine itself is designed. A well designed framework can make so many more things possible than one that is poor and requires a bunch of hacks in order to make stable. Not only that, but it really helps in understanding why seemingly random things may happen while you are playing. 

I don't find it shocking at all when I hear that the first three years or so of a major project are spent almost solely on developing the tools and base engine. In fact that makes me happy to hear. It should mean that the end result will be more stable and technically proficient and as such, better to play. 

What would you equate that to? A house foundation? A car frame?

As far as something tangible? I guess anything that is meant to be upgradable or have parts that can be swapped out. If the base product allows for that with a wide variety of additions then that is always better than being stuck with the stock parts forever. Though your suggested examples work just fine too. If the house's framwork is shoddy then trying to build an extention or remodel will require significantly more work to do later than would otherwise be needed.

From a software/game perspective it is from personal experience as much as theory. My best friend and I have been dabbling with various game making middle ware for about two years now (GameSalad, GameMaker, and most recently Unity) and have tried prototyping several different things. The one we spent the most time with was a rhythm platformer that basically generated the paths you could take based on reading the players movements for specific patterns. When we tried to expand upon what we could do with it, we realized the main engine that we wrote to handle all of that (movement, logging movements, generating blocks, etc) didn't allow for us to do much more without getting overly complicated. We took the time to step back, reevaluate the logic we used and realized that we were able to make it much more flexible by rewriting the whole thing. It ended up being about half the length too code-wise. 

Games that seem to not take the opportunity to try and optimize the engine will have to cobble together more "hacks" to make additional mechanics work properly. That leaves the door open for far more things to break potentially and can really cause the game to perform worse overall. I guess I just like the theory behind a well crafted engine because of my coding background, but it can make all the difference between a good game and a bad one quite easily. Even if no one ever really sees it.

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

I think in the long run it helps. It can be a massive headache at the time to many people, but I think every single medium (or art if you believe games are/can be art) goes through this period. If nothing else, I think the debates serve to at least expand the scope of what games are capable of doing and providing. 

I am a firm believer that you can't eliminate something that can be considered offensive just because some people complain about it. If something goes too far over the line of decency (something like RapeLay for example) it will be deemed such on its own merits and businesses will refuse to carry it or do business with the company. That act in and of itself then creates the deterrent to keep other companies from crossing that line as well. If a game crosses that line then it will fail. If a subset or group disagrees with content that is portrayed in a game, by all means please explain your objections and have a dialogue about it. Feel free not to buy the game to make a statement. Just don't think that it should be outright banned or outlawed because it touches on something that is questionable. 

Having those debates will make a difference over time and while it may not outright eliminate the type of content in question, it will lead to an expanded variety of genres, gender representation, gameplay, stories, and whatever else the debates focus on. 

Something for everybody should be the goal more than one thing for everybody.

In your opinion, how would you go about providing "something for everybody?" Is this principle just the other side of the double-edged sword, or is this a completely separate ethos and totally unrelated to "one thing for everybody" lines of thought?

I guess depending on how that is read "something for everybody" and "one thing for everybody" can be interpreted to be exactly the same, but what I mean is that there is something available across all the genres, age groups, and systems so that anyone who wants to play a game should be able to find something that they can enjoy. There is this current desire among many companies to have that one game that gets everybody in. The "Call of Duty killer," if you will. Well, that's all fine and good, but when they start ignoring other markets completely, things start to go stale and the medium as a whole suffers for it. 

I think that is largely why we see the rise in the indie scene as much as we have recently. Major companies are shoveling too many resources into one product which, if you look at something like Resident Evil 6, is actually a way riskier business proposition then diversifying. Capcom wanted something for every style of RE and found something in the middle that lacked vision. Even though it sold really well, they lost a ton of money because they dumped it all into one project that could never have made enough to turn profit. 

If people identify a place in the market that is lacking and make a demand for it (varied styles of protagonists for example) then someone should be trying to make that happen. If it is too expensive to risk on a large "AAA" game then make it for a smaller budget with more focus and see how it does rather than say it can't work before anyone tries. That's what the indies have been doing for the most part and many have been quite successful as a result.

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

Not to get sappy and sentimental, but my family and my fiance. I've made my mistakes and screwed up just like anyone else, but my parents have always supported me throughout. In many ways as I've gotten older I have realized just how lucky I was in that regard. 

My grandfather from my dads side passed away two years ago. He actually was taken to the hospital from my sisters wedding reception and then passed a week later on my other sisters birthday. We were pretty sure he held on longer than he otherwise would have solely because he was asked to speak at the wedding (which he did). Once that was done it just kinda escalated quickly from there. It wasn't the first death in the family, but it is the first where I am old enough to really internalize it so that has stuck with me quite a bit.

Now I am planning my own wedding for 2015. I want my grandmother there, but I hope my grandfather didn't set a precedent for how weddings in our family are gonna go. So family is a big focus for me know because I know that I am hitting the age that I will be losing some people, but at the same time I am going to be getting married and starting my own. 

Wow. That's quite powerful. I've had brushes with that sort of event chain myself, so I can totally relate there. Do you look forward to the concept of parenthood?

Personally yes I do. My fiance wasn't so sure at first, but that seems to not be the case anymore. We're thinking 2, no more than 3, but you never know. It's still a ways off yet, but the plans are forming bit by bit.

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

I have music for every mood possible. I will pretty much say that for the most part I will listen to pretty much anything though I don't care for most country or rap music. There are always exceptions, but for the majority of it that seems to be true. I love orchestral music, I played the trumpet for 8+ years and should really pick it back up now that I think about it. It's been a while.

For me, when it comes to music I focus more on the writing behind the music be it the lyrics or musicianship. Sure, a good catchy pop song is all well and good every now and then, but the majority of things that I will go out and buy tend to have more focus on the songwriting itself rather than the catchy hooks. I guess some examples across genres that I have that illustrate this would be as follows: Coheed & Cambria (so glad Ascension and Decension are closer to the older cds than Year of the Black Rainbow was), Imogen Heap, Sia, Sean Lennon, the Perishers, Etro Anime, AWOLNation, Muse, Streetlight Manifesto, River City Brass Band (local Pittsburgh based brass orchestra), Shina Ringo, Tsukiko Amano, various game soundtracks, Bloc Party, Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, Project 86, Chromeo.

A pretty wide swath of sounds and moods.

You sounds like you enjoy intricate, quality composition quite a bit. What about these groups / tastes do you think is the unifying factor that draws you to enjoy their works?

For many of them I think it comes down to being able to tell that a lot of thought and care went into making it. It wasn't just like a lot of modern pop music where the artist is handed a song written by a professional songwriter and is told to sing it. I'm actually glad to see somewhat of a rise in the singer/songwriter category again. Even though some of them aren't that great at least they are trying to make something that is personal to them. I think you can tell when someone is just going through the motions for a paycheck and isn't really invested in what they are doing anymore. 

Though that being said, an infectious beat is infectious regardless of the origin. Nothing wrong with that.

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

I think from a storytelling standpoint there is more evolution coming out of the indie scene for sure. Even though when larger companies acquire indies it can be seen as a death knell for that kind of creativity and innovation I like to believe that the people behind those ideas can still slowly evolve the way main stream games are made. 

From this point forward I feel that the evolutions will need to be made from a design standpoint first and foremost. Up to this point, consoles were moving from generation to generation, and the tech leaps were what was really driving the changes. Even though this coming generation has its tech leaps, those improvements aren't going to cause a sweeping change in any given genre in terms of how they play or are structured. To keep things from becoming stagnant at this point it is going to rely on a bit of risk taking to create new mechanics, new ways of compelling player interaction and creativity, new story telling methods, and a focus on the player and their role in the world being created. 

There will always be a place for the current styles of games and those shouldn't go away, but I think there will be a lot more variety coming out of smaller studios as the indie scene continues to grow and be fostered by console makers this generation. The good ideas will bleed into other productions and that is where the evolution will come from.

If you were to choose games that had exemplary evidence of mechanics / plot / etc. that drive that concept forward, what would they be and why?

One game that I would actually point to that did some really interesting things that I would love to see more studios attempt is actually Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. It was very different from the rest of the series in obvious ways (no combat specifically), but what really interested me was how the game changed the story as you played. 

Between every major area you found yourself back in a psychologists office and he would ask you a series of questions. Based on how the player answered the next area would change its designated path and events to reflect those choices. Did you answer in ways that were sexual in nature? Well maybe you'll run into this woman in a dire situation and find yourselves close. Maybe you'll never run into her at all otherwise. It didn't change the larger story, but crafting the world to fit the players actions is something that I wish was explored more.

I also think that a certain sense of discovery needs to come back to larger games. It's one of the reasons Demon's Souls was so engaging when it first came out. Fez is another great example of this. So many modern games will handhold you through every tutorial in the world to explain some pretty rudimentary stuff. It's like developers don't trust the players capability to figure anything out for themselves. 

If the game is truly made well the mechanics will explain themselves as you go. Super Metroid was a great example of this. You get a new item, you immediately need to use it to get out of the area you got it. You now know how to apply it without having to read a three page dialog box. 

As far as other games with some unique and promising ideas:

Storytelling: Dear Esther, Journey, To the Moon, Papa y Yo, Stanley Parable

Experimenting with gameplay: Super Hot, MirrorMoon EP (they explain nothing at all), Ibb and Obb (one player, two characters, only using the sticks), Deep Sea (we won't ever get to play it, but it is both physically and mentally draining from the sound of it)

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

I am torn on this one. Vagrant Story is one of my favorite games ever due to its story and amazing translation and writing, but it is far from the best playing game and can be very divisive. For that reason I can't recommend it to everyone (but maybe read the story at least). If I had to pick one, I think I'd have to say Shadow of the Colossus

There is something to be said for the amazing complexity that the game manages despite being incredibly simplistic in description. I mean, there are these giant monsters that you must kill to bring your loved one back from death and that is really all there is to the game. Pretty simple right? The way that game makes you question the very nature of a hero and his impact on the world around him is something that many games have tried, but so very few have managed to do as beautifully and effectively as Shadows did. Even when the player has a realization of the greater implications of his actions as the game progresses, we keep going even though it makes us feel continually worse as it progresses. It's the silent narrative that happens in the player rather than the game that really makes it unforgettable and everyone should experience it at least once. 

I always felt that having a weak protagonist helped the player sympathetically bond with Wander; you weren't this muscle-bound, faceless Space Marine, but a scrawny kid with a very deep-seated crush on a girl taken before her time - and this forged that bond between player and avatar on a purely psychological level in a very subtle, nearly imperceptible fashion. What made this game stand out for you, exactly? Was it the loneliness? Was it the monstrous sentient challenges you had to eliminate?

For me it was the combination of self discovery in terms of gameplay and story primarily. You really start to identify yourself with Wander because he knows just as much as you do throughout the game. He is coming to this place for the first time, knows nothing about what he is being asked to do, doesn't know how to find the collossi let alone how to slay them, and is just as in awe of the world. It more than any other game I feel lets you really get that sense of discovery and allows you to really project onto the character more than any other I can recall. Hell, I honestly love Agro the horse to this day in a way that Epona could only dream of. 

As the game and story progress you know deep down that there is something wrong, but you personally feel that resolve to keep going despite it. They don't tell you about Wander's resolve and determination through some cutscene because it isn't just Wander's thoughts, they are yours too. You know what he is thinking at all times, because the player truly does come to inhabit that character more than any other I've ever seen.

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

Destructoid certainly wasn't the first site that I have created an account for and posted or participated in, but it has been the one that I have made it a point to get around to almost every day. I used to go to Gamespot all the time. I wrote reviews, participated in forums, but the exodus of the writers and personalities that I loved drove me away. Naturally I kept following those guys and ended up on GiantBomb. I was a beta member and am still a member today, but I don't write for the wiki anymore. I don't post anymore. I love the content they provide and follow it avidly, but the community is almost too big to really feel like you belong in a sense.

Destructoid strikes a great balance. The community is large enough to have a fairly diverse set of opinions and viewpoints that make the conversations great (with people who prefer to converse rather than flip the hell out, but everywhere has those). I've only been an active member for a little under 2 years, but there is a pretty large number of users that I feel like I have gotten to know pretty well. You learn peoples personality types, who you can joke with, who prefers what consoles or genres and as such you can approach conversations and debates with a mutual understanding (and you know when the biting sarcasm isn't just an attack on you). That and the fact that I find many others with my sense of humor and sarcasm makes it much easier to joke around without fear of being taken too far out of context.

I don't mean to make you pick sides, but which of the community trifecta gives you more of that interaction - the frontpage, the cBlogs or the forums?

The front page gives a good overall sense of the majority opinion, but it doesn't allow for too much of a legitimate back and forth discussion. I'm sure many have seen me try as much as they have, but it usually devolves into name calling and accusations rather than the intended result. That's not to say the forums don't have their share of mud slinging but it is far easier to carry on a conversation for multiple days if you so desire to. I don't use the blogs as much as I'd like, but it is really good for getting a nice exposition dump out there and clearing your head on a topic. 

I think all three have their uses, but from a satisfaction level I'd probably say the forums since it allows me to be more detailed and explain my opinions more than a short blurb in the comments if I so desire.

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

I would like to see the blogs and forum better integrated into the site personally. As I said, I've been around for nearly two years now and I had not touched either the blogs or forums until July of this year. It's a shame really because there is some great content being created by the users in the blog area on a fairly regular basis that people should really pay more attention to. They are also places where it is easier to have a good discussion rather than trying to flood the comment sections of an article with tangents that just clutter the relevant information (I've been guilty of this too, I know).

As such, I would want to preserve the community more than anything. There is a pretty large focus on it here on Destructoid when compared to many other sites. I really do think it is the biggest unique characteristic that Dtoid has and is one of the primary factors in my being here now. Stay awesome, community.

About the cluttering of comment sections: everyone's guilty of that shit.

Do you have any thoughts or ideas about how to make that more cohesive unification take place? Saying what is only the first half, it's the how that counts, after all. So, with that said, how would you go about it? Don't be afraid to speak your mind, every idea is a good idea at first.

That's a really tough one. I guess I would like them to have a bit more of a space on the front page in some sense. As it is now, there is the navigation header, and the small content box for recent blogs. There is nothing about the forums listed anywhere there even though there is a widget on the cblogs page that shows forum threads. I don't know why that can't be on the front page side bar as well to at least give it some sort of presence.

The only other idea I can think of right now is the news ticker at the top. I realize it is used to drive views towards popular content, but there are currently six tabs on it half of which are four or five days old news. I realize that there are probably algorhythms set up to determine what goes there, but maybe reserving two spots on there (one for a current/popular cblog and the other for a new/popular forum thread) could help draw more interest to them. If you don't want to cut out two news articles from the ticker then add two more tabs. You'd have to shorten your labels or shrink the font size, but it could potentially help.

What do you think of Huge? Is it possible for Destructoid to become a fully self-sustaining thing? What do you hope to see come from it?

I think it is possible. Destructoid has a good sized community and has a recognizable name so it wouldn't be as difficult as, say, a Youtube start up site would be. I think the thing that needs to be done for me personally to jump in on Huge would be more original content. 

The only site that I actively pay for is GiantBomb and while they are backed by CBS Interactive now, when they launched the subscription plan they weren't. The reason I continue to subscribe there is that each week they put out 5-10 hours of original content only for subscribers. Exactly what the content is shifts from time to time, but there is always something there that you can't get anywhere else. A couple of good videos or features a week would be a huge boost for Huge in my opinion.

One last question: Who do you think you are?

I think I'm a lot of things. Though at times I tend to think I'm a lot of little things that are of little importance. I've never been the most confident of people, I tended to just run the middle ground all through school growing up. I am capable of being able to engage in conversations with people from almost any background, clique, or social status on an intelligent level, but just as capable of doing something really dumb (I knocked myself unconscious trying to do a diving front roll over a couch once). I always considered myself the average jack-of-all-trades but master of none kind of person in life. Nothing special, nothing awful. 

Though recently I have been coming to realize that it is that exact diverse range of skills that makes me unique. While I may never be the best at anything, I can deal with almost anything you throw at me. I hate a lot of things that everyone else loves and I love a lot of really dumb things that most people hate and that is fine. 

I used to think that made me a boring person. Hell, I went to work instead of prom (never went to a single school dance (my choice, not just lack of a date)), I am happier sitting at home doing a puzzle book than going to the beach (and if I do go to the beach, doing a puzzle book instead of going in the water). Just yesterday while leaving my fiance's house I spent a couple minutes staring at the washing machine (it has a clear lid) contemplating how it is working. I am a boring person. My favorite food is bread for heaven's sake. 

I may never make a big splash or wave for the world to see, but I may just surprise you every now and then. You never know.

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Community Interviews   
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Scary Granules   1
VagrantHige   1
ninjapresident   1
Steven Hansen   1
Ben Davis   1
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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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This blog was formerly administrated and curated by LawOfThermalDynamics.
The banner was created by Falsenipple.

You can find a list of the old interviews here.

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This blog is about interviewing members of the Destructoid community. If you think someone deserves to be interviewed, please contact either us via a PM to this account, or our private ones, if you feel so inclined.

The opportunity to be interviewed does not necessarily depend on amount of time spent here, number of published articles, etc. - only if our interviewer or a separate nominee thinks you have something really interesting to say.

So, if you think someone else out there could use a little community shine, speak up and let us know! They could very well be the next victim interviewee!