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Rift's personal ramblings.

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Shattered Rift

I got home from school one day and sat down at the computer. It was part of my normal routine to flip on the TV for some background noise, so I did. Color buzzed to life and showed Yugi staring down Kaiba's Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon. It was a classic story of a protagonist facing hopeless odds against a superior opponent. But it reminded me of of Dragon Ball Z, full of the same verbal banter occasionally interrupted by fierce action. The villain had his own motivations, however flawed, that made him believable, and even our protagonist cared about him. That was what it was for me: Yu-Gi-Oh! had tapped into that same kind of drama that Dragon Ball Z had, and I suddenly understood what so many of my classmates saw.

Then, one day at school, a friend of mine was talking about playing a Yu-Gi-Oh! game on Neopets where the characters were throwing duel discs at each other like frisbees. I had only seen a few Flash Games before, and that was what I envisioned as she described her role playing experience. Someone had made some kind of crazy game inspired by what I was seeing on TV. Her enthusiasm showed how good it was, and it sounded too crazy not to check out.

So I signed up for Neopets and jumped onto the Role Playing Chat as fast as I could. Finding out that the game was text-only was a little off-putting, but soon my character Ryuen was born. His Millennium Star gave him the power to become a warrior out of Legend of the Dragoon. That's how it was back then. There were all kinds of crossovers. Final Fantasy, a lot of Inuyasha, and anything else we needed or just wanted to include on a whim. Stealing and killing for more Millennium Items was the great challenge, and we all lived in fear of Crowley, the great demon who had killed and stolen more than anyone else. I remember my first role play where Puck joined in. (Crowley's role player was a different Puck from the one on Sparkbomb.) I commonly started with Ryuen sitting on a park bench, and two others joined the role play where I would quietly watch as Crowley had some interactions with the other character and Ryuen was mostly ignored.

It was so simple, and it was completely insane. I don't remember my first role play with Nebiros, but I had thrown out a neofriend request to her afterward, and when I started a guild she was the only person to accept the invitation. Nor do I remember my first role play with Liz, but it was around this same time. She included a nutty Eternal Darkness inspired plot for Ryuen and Tallakahath that spanned several months of back-and-forth neomail.

I became so enthusiastic about role playing that I went through my entire AIM contacts list and asked all of my classmates if they were interested in joining the fun. Only one was interested, and she and I went on to be good friends for several years that followed.

I finally got my first cards at the end of November. My childhood best friend had gotten both the Yugi and Kaiba starter decks, and I paid him about ten bucks for the crappier half of the cards. It was enough to get me started playing on the bus and during lunch. We were all bad, the rules were murky at best, and the threats of cheating and stealing lurked around every duel. After all, the anime was chock full of cheating and stealing, so why wouldn't that carry into real life? Add in the King of Games element on top of that, and you had a group of kids all clamoring to be the best. And I needed to prove I was the best too.

I remember one of those early games. A good friend of mine had me against the wall, his field full of monsters ready to wipe me out on the following turn. But he had summoned a Time Wizard. There was one card in my deck that could save me: Change of Heart. That was the first time I used the so-called 'Heart of the Cards' from the show, promptly yelled, “Someone give me a quarter!” and wiped out his field.

My first improvement at the game started with a friend who had played Magic: The Gathering before getting into Yu-Gi-Oh. A group of us were over at his house one day, and he said that forty cards in a deck wasn't enough. You needed another ten or so for more options. It made sense. We rarely questioned things like that back then, because none of us really knew what we were doing, especially if we weren't active in the tournament scene.

But then one day I read something completely different on Edo's website: “Every card over forty is one more turn until you draw the card you need.” That made sense, too. Which was right? I asked myself a simple question: if I was going to cut down to forty, which ten cards would I take out of my deck? As fortune would have it, almost every one of them was a stall card. (I still remember Labyrinth Wall and The Shallow Grave being included among them.)

That was when things changed for me and I became one of the 'good' players. I still ran bad cards, including a full playset of Solemn Wishes and a one-off Sanga of the Thunder, but I could consistently beat most of the players at lunch. That sort of thing meant respect, of a sort. I made a couple of lucky trades along the way, too, scoring a Mystical Space Typhoon (that I thought would negate cards it destroyed) and a straight across trade of my Mage Power for a United We Stand.

The allure of a real tournament was inevitable. One day I walked into Batcave Games and paid my entry. It was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life, filled with older teenagers and adults who were so serious and seemed effortlessly confident when they played the game. Round one had me paired against the man who had won the tournament the week before, and this tournament was single elimination (meaning a loss here would knock me out of the tournament). All I remember is that I had him on the ropes in the third game, he set a monster, and I activated Shadow of Eyes to flip his Magician of Faith into attack and negate its effect. Somehow, I had beaten the player who had won the week before. It was beginner's luck to be sure, but it made for an unforgettable beginning.

I went on to lose the next round. I attended tournaments when I could. I remember the release of Legacy of Darkness, watching someone pull and auction a Yata-Garasu while the store quieted and watched with interest. I remember the shift to Advanced Format, requiring a whole bunch of cards that I didn't own that cost much more money than I had, that took several of the fun cards out of the game while simultaneously lowering their prices.

Each night was filled with role playing. I wrote two and a half terrible fanfics. My grades suffered. I became the best player at lunch. The school year was filled with more drama than I ever had or ever would experience again.

The friend whose Time Wizard I had turned against him had his deck stolen four times that year. Everyone knew who the thief was, yet he went unpunished. I was the best duelist at lunch, but it was still a sort of wild west where some things were known, some weren't, and most people didn't care about anything besides themselves.

One day I finally had a chance to duel the best player in the school. We had had different lunches for most of the year, but an opportunity finally came to play against him. I won a closely contested duel, but it easily could have gone either way. He had done well in real tournaments, after all, and despite some beginner's luck I had not.

High School

Yu-Gi-Oh! set the course for my life. It got me onto Neopets, which in turn got me onto IDB and through IDB led to Sparkbomb. I continued to role play. I reconnected with Liz shortly after Sparkbomb was created, and during the coming years role players made up a fair but often passing minority of Sparkbomb's membership. I played in the occasional Traditional Format tournament.

I also spent a lot of money on cards. I regret not picking up a few more PSX games back then (that are now so cheap on the Playstation Network that it doesn't matter in retrospect). I remember dropping $30 on a playset of Spear Dragons. During one Fourth of July weekend, I swept a small tournament with my favorite Scapegoat plus Mataza the Zapper plus United We Stand combo, beating out the riffraff and the one good player at the event. When the good player pulled a Spear Dragon from his single prize pack and I pulled jank, one of the kids commented, “He pulled the Spear, so it's like he won anyway.” I could only respond, “I already own three.”

Role playing changed as I started to engage in fairer 'Shadow Games' to compete for fictional millennium items. I would play against players at games on Neopets, or I would even play in online duels. There was no way to completely prevent cheating in those duels, but I did have my opponents state how many cards were in their hand and on their field at the end of each turn. It limited their cheating, and most of them didn't play in tournaments in real life so I had an edge.

At the end of freshman year, the last week or so of PE left us to do whatever we wanted without much supervision, and I stumbled across a kid (Tyak) talking about the Memory World arc, which was still a couple of years from airing in the US. I didn't know whether or not to believe the story—it was easy enough to make things up with little way to fact check—but it was fascinating to listen to, and he was the first person I had met at the school who expressed any interest in Yu-Gi-Oh.

During sophomore year, I hosted a Werewolf game at lunch. To make things interesting, some of us pitched in money and cards for the winners. One day I was at the card shop at the mall, talking to the manager when Futureguy (James) walks up to me, hands me a couple of cards, and says, “This is for the pot.” I'll never forget that moment.

During my junior year, I gambled my Legendary Ocean deck in a mirror match against a friend. The match got split up awkwardly due to lunch schedules and skipping classes, tallying life points and starting the game over with current life counts when we needed to, ultimately leading to a third game loss where I had drawn into a full playset of the deck's signature card. I never gambled cards after that.

Most important of all was how playing Yu-Gi-Oh! steadily changed the way I was looking at games and at life. “Every card over forty is one more turn until you draw the card you need” was the beginning. By the end of my eighth grade year I had realized the simple fact that “speed kills,” which to me meant excluding tribute monsters from my deck. That summer I applied the same concept in the original Final Fantasy, realizing the strength of a team of Fighters and Red Mages at the exclusion of other classes was the superior approach. Those are all basic concepts today, but reliable knowledge was scarcer back then, and I was reinventing the wheel in my own little intellectual corner.

My high school was arguably the worst in the district, and coming out of Challenge in middle school (a program for so-called “gifted” children), I was stagnating intellectually. Yu-Gi-Oh! had fueled my direction for a time, but playing Traditional Format wasn't teaching me things in the way that the Neopets Battledome and Sparkbomb were. It wasn't until Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championship 2007 was released on the DS that I fully embraced Yu-Gi-Oh! again with the mindset of being the best.

In the middle of the Demise/Chimeratech format I had developed an anti-meta deck that trounced the major decks of the format. Demise burned through its own life points. Triple Solemn Judgment (still disregarded in the competitive scene) among other cards I ran dealt with the single-card monster threat of Chimeratech. In the bubble of WC07, I had a deck that could win.

Instead of gaining the confidence to purchase the deck in real life and compete in Shonen Jump Championships, I descended into an obsessive rage. Disconnecting opponents were common, Monarchs were a bad matchup, and online games were single duel affairs. In a fair system, I was certain that I would dominate the standings, but with opponents disconnecting, Pulling the Rug sitting in my useless side deck, Sparkbomb's Winter War in my recent past, and my senior year of high school going poorly, it all boiled up into an eventual rage where I had to walk awat from the game completely.

College

I never expected to get back into the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game after that. Once in a while I glanced at the card section of the local Target, I think I bought another DS game or two, and Rex and I enjoyed playing the Demise format on occasion, but otherwise Yu-Gi-Oh! was a part of my past. It was Swing Club of all things that brought me back into the game. One day we walked upstairs in the PUB Building, and there was a group of Yu-Gi-Oh! players sitting there at the table.

Getting back in the game came with a goal: it was January of 2011, and the Portland regionals were in April. Part of me still needed to know that the deck I had created back in 2007 wasn't a fluke and that I had been right about its potential. It didn't matter that it was four years later and formats had come and gone. I had to know that I was right.

Learning four years' worth of cards was another matter. Instead of doing practical research online and playtesting against Rex over YVD and Lackey, I started trading for cards that were in the decks being played locally at Batcave. My anti-meta deck was dated, but it could still keep up with most of them, losing out a little more often than it won.

I was nervous about regionals, but I managed to persuade Tayler (Shadow) to go with me. We both went 3-4. Despite poor performance (not that we expected to do better), it was a great experience and ultimately contributed to the tight-knit group of players at Clark College. When Batcave closed for the summer and Dice Age Games opened, it became the go-to store for Team Sparkbomb.

At the time, there was no question that I was the best player on our side of the river. I played the best, I knew the metagame the best, and I knew the rulings more clearly than anyone else. When we started clamoring for tournaments, small as they were with only seven or eight of us showing up, it was natural for me to assume the role of player-judge. I started running Sorosh Saberian's Fabled Ragin OTK deck from YCS Providence 2011, and its combo-based nature prevented me from winning every tournament outright, keeping things fair because I was limited by my deck choice.

There was no contract, no arrangement, no deal involved in hosting tournaments for Dice Age. I later realized that Roy, the owner of Dice Age, had offered a 20% discount on related products to other event organizers, but that discussion never came up between us, and it only mattered a couple of times. I didn't buy many cards. I had already been conscientious of how much money I spent on the game years ago, and I was keeping careful track of my finances now.

I read Ryan Murphy's articles about making money in Yu-Gi-Oh! at the end of 2011, and I vowed never to lose another dollar on the game again. I also set myself the lofty goal of making back all of the money I had spent by the end of the year, as well as the “impossible” goal of profiting as much as I had spent. Breaking even was easy. When Dice Age became an Official Tournament Store, I couldn't play and judge simultaneously, but with such a small crowd (about a dozen at the time) judging gave me more opportunities to trade and thus make money.

Tournament attendance started to increase around March, and that was the point where I really gained momentum and started filling in the financial hole that I had dug. The players were mostly respectful, Chris (Aramil) and I alternated judging when necessary so that both of us had opportunities to play, and the game was expanding in Vancouver for the first time in years.

If I had gotten into eBay around that time and started making money faster, things probably would have happened differently. But I wasn't really thinking that I could do Yu-Gi-Oh! as a self-employed gig. Roy mentioned the possibility of a job down the line, and I naively believed that he might deliver on that someday. In the meanwhile, I was only earning a little more than enough money to sustain my hobby. It would eventually become a modest income while remaining too small to compare to formal employment. All the while I was doing enough work to earn more than my pay for an employer.

Another store, Hero Support, opened that summer and offered a reprieve of casual tournaments and easy trades where I could play with less competitive decks and still handily win. The downside was that it, like the Portland stores, was just too far down the freeway to really be practical on a gas tank.

Chris and I got accepted to be floor judges for Sam during Portland's April 2012 regional, the last regional the Portland area would have. Both of us made good impressions, Chris with his cool composure and me with my comprehensive ruling knowledge, that we were easily accepted at the Seattle regional that followed in September. Our goal was to get on the team for YCS Seattle/Tacoma in November.

I got into Magic: The Gathering around the same time, hoping to improve my marketability to a potential employer. I experienced some modest local success but never quite enjoyed playing the game.

Meanwhile, Dice Age's tournaments had boomed, eventually peaking around 32 players. I could uncomfortably manage twenty-some on my own, but the larger tournaments absolutely required Chris's assistance. Disrespect and raucous behavior became the norm for the players. I had started using eBay and was on the verge of breaking even. Meanwhile, Dice Age was making a modest income from Yu-Gi-Oh, much of which came from my work in running events and telling Roy which products to order and in which quantities.

Increased attendance pressed the question of whether I could continue to play or had to judge every tournament. It was a decision I felt that I had to make, especially looking at it as a potential job, and the decision to judge felt inevitable.

The tournaments were a toxic environment, and none of us realized it. Chris and I valued freedom of speech on the Facebook group and didn't care to censor anyone. The store was Roy's, so as long as players did what we asked as judges, we left it to Roy to solve other problems or occasionally ask us to tell the players to calm down, which we did. I had been running tournaments for the store for about a year by this point, and I was privy to the inventory numbers. While Roy continued to complain about the Yu-Gi-Oh! players, about their bad manners and how they didn't bring in any money for the store, I silently ran the numbers to see for myself.

In the beginning, Chris and I had always been consulted about store policies as they affected Yu-Gi-Oh! players, but in the space of a month or two we were handed two new rules without being consulted. The first was that all players would pay to enter tournaments, a fair decree that we disagreed with. The second was that players would no longer be allowed to buy and sell cards to each other inside the store. In a store with its own singles inventory this kind of thing made sense, but Dice Age had no such inventory and would not for months to come.

With so much of my income coming from my personal purchases and sales, that was the last straw for me. I was a few months out of college with no plans to go back for more education, and I had hit break-even with every sign pointing to an increasing income doing something I enjoyed. Roy's attitude made it clear that one of two things was happening: either he had no idea how much money Yu-Gi-Oh! was bringing into his store, or he was blatantly lying to me about it. Out of respect for him, I assumed the latter and walked away.

Players, former friends, criticized my decision, and to some degree it's true that I could have handled the situation more maturely and helped transition events to a new judge. But the fact is that you get what you pay for, and I hadn't been paid a dime for over 300 hours of work that had earned the store more than ten-thousand dollars in profit.

Memories

On a whim, I wrote an article about a Watt deck that had topped the European Nationals and sent it off to Jason Meyer. Months passed before I sent a followup email asking if he had read it, shortly before YCS Seattle/Tacoma, and he ran with the article and posted it on TCG Player.

Meanwhile, I didn't have a locals, and I was enjoying the reprieve now that I was out of the toxic environment. Rex and Nebiros used YCS Seattle/Tacoma as an excuse to fly into Portland to meet me, and I spent two of the best weeks of my life with two of my closest online friends. We drove up to Tacoma with Team Sparkbomb, getting there in the middle of rush hour and needing to head straight for the venue instead the hotel room that Chris's parents were kind enough to cover.

When pre-registration ended and it was time to clear out players for the night, I remember shooing them out somewhat bluntly alongside other judges doing the same. One of the players pointed out that if we would ask politely, explaining our reasons of wanting to get some sleep before the event, it would have been nicer and made more sense. I did that for the rest of the evening, and it's a small detail I've never forgotten.

I was very nervous that night, and I was even more nervous when Chris and I went to the judge dinner. Sitting there at the table with a wonderful meal in front of me, I felt the same intimidation that I had felt over a decade earlier when I had first walked into Batcave and encountered experienced players for the first time.

And then, as Chris and I were leaving the restaurant, I called the other half of the group so we could meet back up with them. While I was on the phone, Sam and Jason walked by. Jason said hello, I automatically replied in kind without thinking much about it, and it wasn't until I got off the phone that Chris said, “Jason Meyer just said hello to you!” My greatest regret of the weekend was not finding the opportunity to shake Jason's hand.

We had an awesome split-level hotel room. Nebiros claimed the king-sized bed upstairs while Rex and I took the queen downstairs and the others took couches and cots. I thank Chris to this day for letting us have the beds.

Saturday was an unforgettable blur. Seven-hundred some-odd players filled the convention center and the event served as my first insight into the highest competitive level of Yu-Gi-Oh. I also got some insight into judge politics, hearing and learning about things going on well above my head that impacted the game in ways the average player knew nothing about. At one point on the floor, I remember a player walking up to me carrying a booming mini-speaker, seemingly without a care in the world, and I politely smiled and asked him to turn it off. I want to believe he had that song playing just to make me smile.

I didn't judge on Sunday, so I missed out on the true judging experience of the full weekend, but it was nice to relax during the slower day. I got to just hang around with friends, watch people trade, and veg out in a place that I really enjoyed being at. Rex clearly remembers Sorosh Saberian walking away from his loss in top four muttering, “Forty-three card deck... forty-three card deck...” and I wish I could remember it too. I got some insight into how desperate some of the pros were to make sufficient trades and sales to cover their travel costs, under pressure from their sponsors to prove their worth. I also watched vendors dump valuable cards on the cheap so that they didn't have to carry too much inventory back home.

It was never quite that good ever again, not that I could expect anything to compare to two of my best friends flying into town for a major tournament. I was immensely proud of being published on TCG Player, and I enjoyed each article I wrote, but I never quite managed to write the articles that I wanted to write and eventually gave it up. Hero Support was too far from Vancouver to become a suitable locals for me. CCG House, the local store where I had played Magic, was unwilling to host Yu-Gi-Oh. And the Portland stores were too far away to convenient.

Somehow, despite my loss of connections from cutting ties with Dice Age, I was still making steady income from the game. I set new ambitious profit goals for 2013 and met them. I briefly judged at a store out in Gresham before realizing, for no reason I have been able to identify then or since, that it wasn't where I was supposed to be. I judged two more Seattle regionals. Despite a strong reputation with Konami employees, my unwillingness to work Sunday kept me from flying to future YCS events.

The lack of a local store, combined with the steady realization of how toxic the Dice Age crowd had been, was what ultimately took me away from Yu-Gi-Oh. Time passed, the game changed, and it all shifted from a day-to-day part of my life to become memories. Years later, I would come to find that the experience and skills I had developed in Yu-Gi-Oh! would help me with my job as a dance instructor. The professionalism I developed while judging had become a part of my character. Business savvy learned from trades and sales was second-nature. Showcase and competition events ended up being surprisingly similar to regionals, and I spent most of my first showcase on a nostalgia trip feeling like I was back home at a regional.

Getting into Yu-Gi-Oh! in eighth grade was integral to everything that followed. Getting into Neopets eventually led to Sparkbomb. I started to rethink the ways I saw the world. I developed a foundation of professionalism that has carried into my career. I was published and paid for my writing, something that had been on my bucket list growing up. And I experienced one of my favorite hobbies from both the consumer and retailer standpoints. The person I am today is a result of flipping on the TV and happening upon one of the greatest Yugi vs Kaiba duels. Yu-Gi-Oh! may be in my past, but I'll never forget it.

Shattered Rift

For those who aren't aware, I left my job at the dance studio and am currently traveling through Idaho and Utah to visit family and explore career opportunities. I'll likely be traveling elsewhere this summer as well. It's a sort of vision quest: I realized during the course of my work that I had lost sight of why I was living in the Portland area and what I wanted out of my career. The one certainty was that I loved it. I can recall perhaps three times where I actually felt like I was working, and the feeling often passed quickly (or within the 45 minute block I was accustomed to counting my days in). Usually I simply ended each day with a feeling of content exhaustion. To anyone wondering what loving a job means, this was my answer. I spent the day doing something I often found enjoyable, and at the end of each day I merely felt exhausted. The exhaustion was a reminder that it had been work, though it rarely felt like work.

I'm in the Boise area right now. There are about four studios/instructors/routes for me to pursue dancing here, if I chose to. One is a studio that is serious about technique and competition (perfecting the art, so to speak). Another seems to be a somewhat lackadaisical social studio that teaches in a very social manner. I didn't make the time to explore the other two. From what I've heard and researched, one is a woman who primarily works with couples from a social standpoint. The last seems to be a pair of independent instructors who run a primarily social setting.

As Sparkbombers, I think that many of us fall into a competitive intellectual archetype. That's not true for all of us, but for me this manifests as a thirst for knowledge and a desire to prove myself to myself. Whatever I care to do, I want to be able to do it at a competitive level, but I don't need to use the competition and results to prove to myself that I can. In Yu-Gi-Oh!, this meant that I needed to be confident that I could earn my invite to nationals if I participated in a regional, though I always ended up judging such events rather than playing in them. As a dance instructor, this means that I want to work at a studio that teaches technique and understands the nuances behind it. This is the arguably the most difficult course to take, as it's the most narrow career field.

Yet, what I see as I explore Boise are opportunities for independent or socially-minded instructors. A very modern and artistic piece of architecture called JUMP caught my attention as I cruised into downtown. I love urban skylines and the views that can be seen from vantage points in a city, and JUMP summoned me like a beacon. Sadly, I was relegated to the lobby and don't think that I'll be able to attend a tour given my schedule, but the brief visit was a reminder that my creative side is still very much alive. The next reminder came as I visited the socially-oriented studio in a downtown shopping center. Despite a fantastic location and good atmosphere, the owner and instructor both came across as quite lackadaisical. I saw squandered opportunity and potential.

Meanwhile, I assisted my brother in playtesting a Transformers-based card game that he's been working on as a pet project for some years. In offering feedback, my mind reflected to Turf War. It was those thoughts that led me to write this ramble, as I realized that my creative drive is still very much alive. Dance is my love, my passion, my career, but the creativity that drove Sparkbomb for years is still very much alive, even if it's sleeping at this moment in time.

I don't know how to incorporate my creative drive into dance. Nor am I certain that I want to. But it's been the first thing that I've discovered for a certainty on this journey. I still very much love to create. I still very much love to work on projects. Some of this will come together for this year's All-Stars game in a couple of months. Beyond that, I'm not sure.

Shattered Rift

It's been four months since I promised an announcement, and I still haven't delivered. I had every intention to do so. Turf War was a success, even if it didn't fill the niche I had hoped that it would. I knew what I needed to tweak, and I knew the approach I needed to experiment with to see if it could flourish, even if in a different way from what I had originally hoped for. The necessary modifications wouldn't take more than two, maybe three weeks, and a second game could have begun in mid-to-late January. Yet I didn't.

Why I didn't is something that's taken me a long time to understand, and I'm still not completely sure that my understanding is correct. At first, it didn't make sense. I had a business model that I planned to unveil in a video announcement: Sparkbomb would focus on gaming, and to that end I would be developing new games for at least the first half of 2015. Each game would start out as a simple but playable construct (like Turf War) and include obvious avenues for additions to be made. In Turf War's case, that would have included new actions, a class system, new Invent options, Achievements, Leader Boards, and other possibilities that I've either forgotten or weren't well enough planned to list here. Donations would become explicit crowdfunding: once certain benchmarks were reached, I would develop and release additions to the games.

Realistically, this would have resulted in perhaps one or two additional games being released by mid-2015. Conceiving of good game ideas is difficult, and I'm a bit baffled by how Turf War came together so quickly in my mind (with a lot of sound boarding off of Rex). I've always been better at springboarding off of existing systems (such as with the Spark Game).

These games would have also been released on the IPS Marketplace to serve as an additional revenue stream.

I don't know if this would have been a financially sustainable model. It was certainly a stronger plan than I'd had throughout 2014, but I don't know if it would have worked. I suppose it would have depended on the game I released to follow Turf War.

I've considered several possible games during the past four months, and I began to draft out ideas, including digging up my fairly extensive notes from Anarchy to see if it might be adapted in some way. However, none of the ideas felt right. When Turf War started coming together so easily, I knew it was the right idea even if the implementation ultimately left something to be desired. One idea came close to feeling right, and I was working on it a little over a month ago, but it, too, never quite gained the right traction in my mind.

Perhaps the best approach would have been to take any one of these ideas and run with it. After years of working on the Spark Game, I'm well aware that the behind-the-scenes work is rarely noticed or respected, but it is forgiven when a product hits the shelf. My empty hands today may cheapen this account, but the explanation is long overdue.

During these past four months, I've given some serious thought and begun to pursue a career as a dance instructor. This past month has been spent in interviews and training. I haven't received a job offer yet, and I wanted to hold off on saying anything until I did, but it feels like today is the time to give an account for the past four months.

Training has opened my eyes much more than I ever expected, both with the limits of my dancing ability and what I had been overlooking and not doing while running Sparkbomb. As much as I thought I had been focusing on the person-to-person elements of Sparkbomb, I think I had forgotten them, or I haven't pushed them strongly enough. It's something that's always been a struggle for me (coding and writing aren't particularly interactive, and they're quite time-consuming), but I had mistakenly thought that joining in on Werewolf games when I could was making enough of a difference in this regard. A foray into role playing PTU with Dyl, Blacjak, Nell, and Rex have reminded me just how far from the ground I've been.

There's also the fact that the Internet's landscape has changed immensely during the past decade. Sparkbomb's done a good job of surviving where many of its sister sites have ultimately become memory, but I've overlooked some of the ingredients necessary to truly flourish. I made an effort to adapt and expand, but it wasn't done in the right ways.

Once I receive a job offer (and I'm confident that I will), I'll have more to say about the future of Sparkbomb. For today, I simply wanted to give an account and an idea of where my head has been at these past four months.

Shattered Rift

I just got done posting in the New Years Resolutions thread, and I think that's gotten me near the mindset to write this entry. I should probably make this one A Reflection on Year 1 as well as A Reflection on Month 12. We'll see what happens. (You'll also notice this didn't get posted until the following day. I tend to let my Reflections sit overnight and do a quick proof-edit before posting them.)

Around mid-November, Pandoya got me playing on a virtual pet site. I've spent a fair chunk of time recently joining various games (briefly or for the long run) and seeing what can be learned from them and applied to Sparkbomb (as well as the usual having fun with a new game). Turf War came from the thought of creating a simple-to-play daily turned into a more detailed multiple-times-a-day thing, and most of the games I've played (however briefly) in recent months have given me something that might be applied to Sparkbomb someday. This particular site feels noteworthy because it's the first one I've given serious playtime to besides Neopets, even though I quickly garnered all that I felt could be garnered from it. Meanwhile, I continue to neglect my backlog of video games, which continues to be disappointing in its own way. It's an interesting contrast to notice. A year ago... no, probably two years ago, I made a New Years resolution to finish one game each month. I certainly didn't do that in 2014 (and only did it for a while in 2013).

December was a good month for dancing. We had one of the more memorable swing finals at the college, as well as a more memorable group of people than usual. Normally I forget the faces—they all blend together after a while unless they do something to really stand out—but there were a fair amount of people I spent time with this time around. And the class at the community center is going well. The group tends to be small, which probably doesn't bode well for job security, but it's a good group and tightly knit as a result of its size. The transition to being in an official teaching position (rather than planted as an experienced lead in the class) is going well too. I'm getting better at narrowing down to a single piece of advice to help people improve and ignoring the dozen others my mind is swimming with. (There are about a million and a half different elements to dance technique.) The New Years Dance I went to last night was a lot of fun. I didn't get as much dancing in as I should have, but it was one of those dances where everything felt right.

Christmas was enjoyable, and I learned how annoying it is to only have a smartphone to access the Internet. It's very convenient for reading and keeping up, but typing takes too long. It always made sense that chatspeak developed as a shorthand, but I had never realized just how much the time requirement plays into it. I've never been much of a texter. I probably still spent more time on my phone than I should have, but it felt like I was more present with my brother and his family than I might have been if I was checking my laptop every so often. This was the first year in a long time where my brother and I didn't find a game to play together. Nor did we really have a serious conversation about anything. It's not particularly common for us to have one, but as I think back on it now, I'm trying to figure out what we spent our time doing. I think I might have spent more time with my niece and nephews than usual. Perhaps that's where the time went.

I was very amused by one of my brother's comments about the Dragon Quest games being released on Android: “I have a dream that one day we will have all Dragon Quest games on one device that we carry with us at all times.” Dragon Quest is probably his favorite video game series, and it's one of my favorites as well. It was also the first time I really started to understand the shift of gaming to the mobile device.

It's interesting how Christmas changes with age. The gift-giving part of Christmas seems to be for the children, about the excitement of what you get and how many gifts you get and such. Adults get each other one gift each, sure, but the emphasis for us seems to be on being decent people this time of year, and this sense of being decent shifts to becoming better when New Years resolutions roll around. It's an interesting transition and approach to the season.

I had hoped to find some time during the holiday to sit down and properly reflect on Sparkbomb. Even as I'm writing this right now, I still don't feel like I've really found that time. Some ideas started to come together with Turf War. But consolidating them has been difficult. Coming up with a correct implementation. I've been withholding an announcement thread (which may end up being an announcement video) to properly discuss things moving forward. That's what I'm trying to figure out right now.

As for Turf War's beta run (as I consider it), I think it had mixed results. The response seems to have been positive overall, but I don't think the game fills the role I had intended. The original goal was to have a daily (or multi-daily) on Sparkbomb, but Turf War is insufficient at providing this for more than a handful of players. The unbalance found in the two team version will only be amplified in the three team version, and this contrasts with the fact that I think the three team version will have the strength to stand on its own if I can implement it properly. I think the necessary approach will be to run one or two hour games of Turf War, perhaps during Sparkbomb Hour or the like. The alternative of having a longer cooldown period (8 hours, 12 hours, or 24 hours) seems like it would make gameplay too slow. Another game with 4 hour CD will probably need to be done on a shorter run (perhaps two weeks).

In the meanwhile, I need to get the updates coded, and I'm hoping that updating the ACP settings and the skin isn't going to be as much of a nightmare as I expect it to be.

I hadn't really reflected on the year as a whole until now either. I've been taking things in one month or two month sized bits since last January. I've gone from relaunching the community and working on The Mansion and SparkWiki to regrouping more people than I thought could be found for All-Stars to developing and releasing Turf War. I remember wondering around this time last year if the donations would cover more than hosting costs. Right now, the site is financially sitting very close to break-even (including 2015's hosting cost). Break-even was my goal for six months ago (and it was accomplished then), but if I'm not earning more in six months I'm not going to have the time to be actively involved with the community. That's something I'll talk about more in the announcement.

This past year has been one of the most rewarding of my life, and a large part of that is due to Sparkbomb. I may not have done any work on The Mansion recently, but the episodes I did write were some of my favorite pieces of writing, especially in how the story steadily came together over time in ways I didn't expect. The creation of Turf War makes it clear that, in The Mansion, it's the project Rift is working on while the treasure hunt is going (as well as a smaller project that'll be shown when I get around to Episode 6). Getting such a large group together for All-Stars was a great experience as well, despite the bumpiness along the way. And the coordination and camaraderie for Turf War made the past month one of the best of the year.

I don't have the 2015 game plan completely figured out just yet. I need to do more work on SparkWiki. I want to finish Series 1 of The Mansion. Turf War needs to be updated and become a regular event. And more beyond that needs to be done. I'll do my best to get my thoughts sorted out and have that announcement up by the end of next week.

Shattered Rift

With all the excitement of Turf War, I nearly forgot that it was time for a Reflection. There wasn't much to say during October: I worked on Turf War, and a side project fell through a bit harder than expected.

There's something surreal about having finished Turf War. I was completely out of practice with programming when I started working on it, not having coded in three years and not having written anything substantial in four. There were a few rough points while coding where Rex's help was invaluable (in addition to his help with game balance and numbers), and there was a day long nightmare at the end as a result of the shortcomings of IPS's documentation.

I can't say that I've ever enjoyed programming. I've admired the power of programming languages, and I respect the talent it takes to write code, but the art form (if I can call it that) has always been a means to an end for me. I wanted to work on the Spark Game years ago, so I learned to program. I wanted to implement Turf War now, so I spent two plus months and some 200 hours on it. Now that it's done (so to speak), I'm simultaneously exhausted and excited. It's difficult to say that the Spark Game wasn't my game. Nearly every item was custom designed and written by me. I even put tweaks on most of the standard items to make them unique. But the concept of a forum economy long predates the hand I took in shaping one on Sparkbomb. Turf War, on the other hand, is entirely mine from start to finish. Rex's thoughts were absolutely invaluable to the process, and I couldn't have designed the game without him, but a large part of what he did in helping me design it was prompting me with exactly the right questions to help me shape an idea that was already formulating in my head.

I said it in the announcement, and I'll say it again here. I also owe a thank you to the Sparkbomb Supporters. For the past year I've been crowdfunding in a fairly vague manner. The only direct reward for donating was inclusion in The Mansion. But my vision was incomplete. The Mansion was a far cry from the length and number of stories I had hoped for at the start of the year. SparkComic was put on hiatus. Werewolf, despite sporadic downtime over the years, was nothing new. Turf War fills the gap. To those of you who donated more than simply to help subsidize hosting, this is the project your money went towards.

I'd also like to thank those who were patient with me these past few months as I dealt with medical issues and neglected the forums to work on Turf War.

I'll have more to say about Turf War over the coming weeks. For now, some might find it interesting to know that I consider the current release to be a sort of late beta version. The core game is functional and complete, but minor improvements still need to be made. A handful of log errors have already quietly been fixed since the game launched. Issues still exist when players heal or clean themselves. (The log displays twice, and it displays incorrectly on both counts.) Balance tweaks are going to need to be made. And then there's the back-end... the ACP is a complete and total mess that's only good for starting games. Quite a bit of work on that still needs to be done in the back-end.

For now, I'm enjoying the camaraderie of my teammates and the friendly competition with Red Team. It's good to jump back into the social side of Sparkbomb. All the while, the thing I most hope is that enough people become interested in Turf War for us to be able to play the three team version of the game. I think that's when things will get really interesting, but I think we'll need at least thirty players for that.

Meanwhile, outside of Sparkbomb, I got a part-time job teaching dance at one of the local community centers. A few other friends have started teaching over the years, but despite having five years of dance experience, it feels weird to be teaching. I never competed, though not many of my friends who live here have. And the majority of my time has been spent helping beginners rather than dancing for myself. I know that's the most suitable experience to have for teaching a beginner class, but it makes me wonder where my limits and blind spots are. I've had an excellent teacher who has all of those experiences I lack, and she's my best frame of reference for what's expected of me.

Halloween saw an updated take on Hipster Rift at a harvest dance. Sadly, I spaced on getting any pictures taken, so there wasn't anything for the People Thread. Sorry guys.

I picked up Digimon All-Star Rumble for PS3 a few days after its release. It's the first game I've picked up in months (the last being Mario Kart 7, I think, or maybe something via Humble Bundle that I probably haven't played yet). I'm still not sure how my opinion of it compares to its predecessor, Rumble Arena 2, but I was able to get a dozen enjoyable hours out of it. As an aside, when did GameStop stop having sealed copies of new games? Or is it just the copies they keep on the shelf that aren't sealed? Copies of ASR were few and far between, and buying a “new” copy only to see them pull a mildly worn case off the shelf and slapping on a sticker to “seal” it doesn't really inspire me with confidence.

I realized going into the holiday season that it's been a slow year for gaming in general. I'd love to own a Wii U if they were cheaper, or more specifically, I'd like to play Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, but there's nothing on the X-Box One or PS4 that's caught my eye. I normally look to video games to fill my holiday wants, but all that's catching my eye this year are a scant handful of 3DS titles. Maybe that's what happens during the first year of a new console generation, but I feel like there was a lot more catching my eye around this time last year. Or maybe it's just that I picked up a 3DS at that time.

Thanksgiving was spent with a quiet meal with my parents, followed by several nights of leftovers. And a cold that can't make up its mind about whether or not it's going to make me sick.

I reread Death Note recently, and I was subsequently (re)disappointed with the second plot arc. More than that, I'm disappointed that there doesn't seem to be a good analysis of the series on the Internet outside of discussions about the philosophical elements. I'd really like to read something about the logic flow, believability of certain interactions, etc. It's bizarre that such a rich story seems to be lacking that kind of analysis from the fanbase. Or maybe I just don't know where to look?

I'm looking forward to December. Turf War's commencing its first run, which is already giving me a lot of insight into just what I've created. And it's great to be back into the social swing of things, both in Turf War and in looking forward to Sinical and Rox's game. It might be strange to say, but it feels like the end of Year 1 (or Year 9, depending on how you want to count it) is going to be peaceful. And after two months of pouring time into programming, peaceful's just what I need.

Shattered Rift

It's been a long two months. Possibly the longest of my life. Looking back now, it's strange to think that my August game plan was to work on SparkWiki and The Mansion, two things that I didn't end up working on at all. Instead, I got to host Mansionwolf 2: Duality and do the first Werewolf game with video plots. It was something I'd been thinking about for a while, and it was a lot of fun.

During that game, however, the prospect of surgery was weighing on me. Most of it was just nerves, but it ended up being a lot more justified than I expected. I was only supposed to need the one surgery. There was always a chance I would need the second, but a low chance is always just a statistic until it happens to you. I had expected to be able to get back on top of Sparkbomb a week after surgery, by the end of August or very beginning of September. I hadn't expected surgery to hit my body nearly so hard. I hadn't expected circumstances to stop Trajectory from hosting his game a second time. (He's been a reliable host in the past, and I felt he was one of the best choices for the post-All Stars environment.) And I hadn't expected the looming prospect of a second surgery overshadowing the few days that I felt halfway decent after the first surgery.

During this time, I took to playing a few mobile games. My concentration had been rather poor, so it was one of the few times I understood the appeal of non-competitive, mindless clicking games. Sometime during this process, the thought occurred to me that I might be able to use IP.Content to set up a rather simple game without needing to write a full add-on (an incorrect assumption), and I began to design an incredibly simple game. When I ran the idea by Rex, his response was, “Yeah, I think this could actually be interesting if you would expand it to give it some ambiguity.”

I both hate him and love him for where this conversation led. Rex and I have had some good conversations over the years, but I can't think of a time where ideas came together like they did this time. It was a case of Rex asking me all of the right questions to get me thinking, and somehow amidst detoxing from the medications I'd been taking my brain was able to spit out answers to his questions and immediately form new ideas as a result of those questions. I had wanted to expand the Spark Game's paintballing system for years (something that we saw to a degree during 2009's Paintball Competition), and all of those previous thoughts came together with new ones to form the framework for a new project. S:TW will be a browser-based paintballing game where users join teams and compete for control of key areas in the Sparkbomb Mansion. It will draw upon elements from the Spark Game, Color Gangs, and introduce a few new ideas that haven't been seen before.

I can't begin to explain how stoked I am for this project. Sometimes, there's a moment where you're working on something, and suddenly you know it's the right idea. Rex and I hit that point when we started hammering out the numbers and then debating strategy. We started asking each other what we would do in certain situations, and then we'd give different answers, or we'd say, “I think I'd do this, but I'm really not sure.” And that was the point where I knew we had it.

However, S:TW is going to take time to complete. I've already been quietly working on it for a little while now. I had wanted to be a bit further into the process before announcing it, but now feels like the right time. I'm hoping to have a screenshot or two to post sometime late this month, and I expect to launch the game by December. I'm shooting for earlier deadlines than these, but I'm confident that I will achieve both of these deadlines even if I fail to meet the earlier ones I have set for myself.

It's a surreal feeling, in some ways. I've been frustrated at various moments during recovery at how much time I've lost to my surgeries. It parallels with the time I lost earlier this year, and that had been an unsettling thought. But if not for the surgeries and the mindless mobile games, then I wouldn't have had the idea. (In fact, the original intention was to avoid working on quite so large a project to use this one as more of a trial run, but Rex had to go and make me expand it into something awesome.)

It also has me programming again, which is something I detest. There's a small joy that comes out of working through the logic necessary to write a program, but the actual process of writing code is quite tedious. I enjoyed working on items in the Spark Game because of how much fun people had with them. It was fun coming up with new ideas. It was fun watching people enjoy them. And the Competitions were some of the most enjoyable times in Sparkbomb's history. In each case, the joy came from the result, not the process. (That's not to say I don't enjoy coming up with ideas. That part's quite fun, too) And here I am, at least three years out of practice. It's taking time to get it back. But it's coming. And S:TW will be the result.

Shattered Rift

July was an intense month. I think All-Stars thoroughly exhausted everyone involved, and that's without accounting for the administrative side of things. I've spoken about the problems that went into it elsewhere, but I'll cover them again here. All-Stars is always a difficult prospect: several people are coming into the community, several of whom are here only for the one game before they disappear until the next year's game. Rules are often relaxed at this time for the simple reason that typical punishment (giving warnings) is ineffective. Either a punishment warrants moderating posts, suspension, or banning, or it doesn't. And doing any one of those things risks interfering with or even compromising the game.

Meanwhile, in this year's game more than any other, the variety in players was extreme. It was always possible that there were going to be some conflicts, but some of the problems that emerged were completely unexpected.

Meanwhile, Neopetsmom, who rose to the challenge of hosting the first 45 player game we've seen in three years, dealt with difficulties of her own in managing the game. In the past, I've often sat out Werewolf games in case an impartial administrative authority might be needed. Off-hand, I can't recall a case before this game where it ever turned out to be necessary. And for better or worse, this was a game where I was resurrected and nigh immortal during a period where the game would have benefited if I had been able to be completely out of the game.

At the start of the year, both community and Werewolf rules were put back into place largely unchanged from their previous iteration, with the notable exception that the warning system was altered to eliminate warn reduction. This was never intended to be a permanent solution. Rather, it was the initial response to an uncommon occurrence in the past. The warn reduction period was so low that some users would willingly take a warn to be “allowed” to break a rule, knowing it would be nothing more than a permanent mark on their warn history. It's also noteworthy that since the beginning of the year, only a small handful of warns had actually been assigned.

All-Stars saw a shift in behavior that was completely unexpected. Blatant flaming has been rare over the years. Most rule breaking usually occurs in regards to the spam and swearing rules, and those were the things that were intended to be given a slight pass during All-Stars. Instead, we saw some of the worst flaming in Sparkbomb's history. Despite it calming down after the early game, it erupted again during the post-game.

During each of these events, I contacted and spoke with the members involved. At this point, I also think I've contacted the majority of the players who participated in All-Stars. If I didn't contact you, or if you want to discuss matters further, my inbox is always open.

I expect to make an announcement at the beginning of Traj's game. Stay tuned for that.

My month was equally busy outside of Sparkbomb. There's an annual conference for singles in my church during the summer, and it's always one of the highlights of the year for me. This year's was pretty relaxed, except that I had quite a bit of pain during it. A month or so beforehand, I had a bizarre flu with identical symptoms to those I woke up with on the Saturday morning (the main day of the conference). Perhaps against better judgment, I decided to go anyway and spent a fair chunk of the day on painkillers. Sunday wasn't much better. I spent the next four days in and out of the doctor's office, and I now have surgery planned for later this month. I don't really want to go into more detail than that, but suffice it to say that this happened shortly after I was resurrected in All-Stars and about the same time certain events were occurring behind-the-scenes in the late-game.

Granted, that was the last thing to happen during the month. The beginning of the month started with me selling off a large portion of my Yu-Gi-Oh! collection. It was a somewhat surreal feeling, having spent upwards of a full two years building it up and trying to find employment that way. I owe Zen a thanks for keeping me company during that day.

I also finally upgraded to a smart phone. I've been using a flip phone for the past eight years, so it was pretty exciting to finally catch up, so to speak.

As for the Sparkbomb Gaming League, Clucky and I had an enjoyable night of playing Mario Kart 7 and having a few really close races. Trouble in Terrorist Town during Sparkbomb Hour went over less well: getting a dedicated Sparkbomb server will probably be necessary if we want to give that another try in the future.

Coming out of All-Stars, I want to spend the this month getting back to writing. Episode 6 of The Mansion is long overdue, and I'd like to get involved with some of the role plays. SparkWiki is ready to have more of its articles written and published. While I'm focusing my attention on those things, I'm hoping that the Staff applications will see a few of you taking care of the forum-wide activity.

Shattered Rift

All-Stars is the thing at the front of my mind, so I suppose I'll start by talking about it. We hit 45 players, and it was such a large turnout that NPM had to put a cap on the number of players that could be let in! I don't think anyone could have expected such a good turnout. It's so great to see old friends, and I'm glad that so many people could still be contacted after so many years. It's been over ten years since EvilGenius hosted the first Werewolf game on IDB, and this is where we stand today, with Neopetsmom delivering what looks like one of the most intricate games we've ever seen. If the ambitious store system is what we get to see at the start, who knows what other surprises are waiting?

I'd also like to thank the people who helped to spread the word about All-Stars. A lot of effort went into this, and there's a lot of thanks to go around. I'd go listing off names, but I don't want to risk forgetting anyone.

Managing such a large group of people is also a daunting task. I wish I'd gotten the Reunion Chat up sooner. Having so many people around the site has also been very rewarding. I haven't taken the time to speak with so many people one-on-one in a very long time. I feel like I've gotten to know a few people much better than I have in the past, and that's something I very much want to continue doing.

Before All-Stars, we had Nightless Werewolf to gear up. I've said a lot of my thoughts about it elsewhere, but suffice it to say that it was good to play such a bare bones game as preparation for All-Stars. I'm hoping that it'll give me a little more insight as I read through the All-Stars posts, and it's also a cautionary tale about how easy it is to jump to conclusions that might not be correct.

futureguy got married on Wednesday. I know he hasn't been around recently, but some of you might remember him from the Debate forum back in the day. He might be the first Sparkbomber to get married (or the first semi-active one to do so). He and his wife are quite happy, the wedding was very well done, and I really wish I could think of more to say. I've been invited to quite a few weddings during the past couple of years or so (attending about three or four a year, I want to say), and this was one that I was very excited for.

The Sparkbomb Gaming League has been a lot of fun. So far we've only played Monaco, and it's made for some enjoyable nights with Dyl, Nebiros, Rex, Nell, Cel, and Blacjak. I think this is the first consistent gaming experience we've had on Sparkbomb (outside of Sparkbomb Hour) since the Minecraft server was up back in the day.

Hitting break-even was a great feeling. When I started the reboot, I didn't know what to expect on the financial front. I was giving up six to eight months to dedicate to Sparkbomb on a dream. I had told myself near the beginning of the year that if I didn't hit break-even within six months, the site probably wasn't financially sustainable. (And I think several of you know how difficult it is to manage a community on top of full-time work or even an unenjoyable part-time job.)

That also makes this a time to reflect on how things have turned out. I can say, beyond a doubt, that purchasing the IPS software was the correct choice. The forum software is excellent. IP.Content allowed the set-up of an excellent home page and provided for both SparkWiki and SparkComic. IP.Blog is still a bit more questionable, as it's only been used (so far) for these Reflections and The Mansion story (both of which could have been posted in the forum). Our host has been fairly good to us with minimal downtime and only a few acceptable hiccups. Nearly every dollar put into the site has been well spent.

IP.Board v4 isn't even in beta yet, and I'd been hoping that it would be released by now. Right now, I'm uncertain if it will even be out by the end of the year, and it will cost us to renew the license to be able to make the upgrade. The new software looks like it will be beautiful, though, based on all the previews.

At the beginning, I had expected to be release an episode of The Mansion each week and a Sparkverse story each month. Today, there are five episodes of The Mansion, a Mansionverse role play, and no Sparkverse stories (despite a small pile of crumpled up papers). The Mansion became something much bigger than I expected it to be. I had planned on writing a story similar to my forum plots of the past with short, light-hearted entries, without too serious of a plot. Instead, it's had longer entries and has a much richer plot than I'd ever considered when I decided (largely on a whim) to start writing it. On the other hand, the lack of a publishable Sparkverse story is very disappointing. Meanwhile, today, I'm being reminded of how difficult it can be to juggle multiple tasks. I'm very focused on the forum and community elements of the site, so I haven't yet drafted Episode 6 (despite having thought about the events of that episode for something like three months now). It's something that I'll need to find a spare evening for, and I'm acutely aware that I'm back into the old balancing act that's been so difficult in the past. (The only difference is that in the past it was about finding time to code Items or Competitions for the Spark Game. Now it's about finding time to write.)

Nebiros' schedule becoming too busy to work on SparkComic was another disappointment. I'll leave it to her to say what she will about this subject. I believe I've said before that if SparkComic returns it will be only featuring Shiftone (and probably no followup on The Mansion comic). I still jot down notes from time to time on comic ideas as they come to me, so there's no shortage of material waiting to be given life.

So what are the long-term plans? SparkWiki needs to have its Werewolf elements completed. That's another thing I need to make some time for. I also still want to get an actual canon Sparkverse story posted. But right now, in the midst of All-Stars, I'm focused on building up the community. It's all a balancing act, trying to get one thing taken care of long enough to work on other things before needing to go back to the first thing. That's something that, in many ways, I've been reminded of this past month (seeing the IDB history a month ago, being reminded of some Sparkbomb history, rereading some X-Evo history, and seeing some other things). Right now, everything's about All-Stars. Maybe next month there will be a bit more normalcy.

Shattered Rift

I meant to write this Reflection earlier this week, but I wanted to release Episode 5 first. But Rex's feedback required some sizable edits, and then he hasn't gotten back to me since about whether or not it's ready to be published.

Needing to rewrite most of Episode 4 was... humbling. I suppose that's the best way to put it? The original draft had Nebiros in a much more observational role than an involved one. Cel and Kirby were just sort of there to be noticed. Others rolled in but felt disconnected. All the while, Nebiros was just kind of watching this all happen. And then there were a ton of inside jokes that didn't deliver well and had to be cut. I think I had some similar jokes in Episode 5's first draft (but was able to make a few of them blend acceptably). The rewrite came at the bonus of being able to include Bed, and I was glad to be able to let the two artists have their moment at the start of the episode. I enjoy being able to allude to the history so that newer members and those who aren't as familiar with the history can experience it vicariously.

The interaction was what made the rewrite work, I think. We got to see Nebiros interact with Bed. Rather than just sort of notice Cel and Kirby as she passed by, Nebiros made a point of saying hi and chatting before finally looking for a spot to film from. It created a good contrast to Liz, who wasn't as inclined to speak to Nebiros.

The speech itself was another funny thing. The original version was poorly written, but the revised version largely borrowed from the original. I love being able to maintain pieces of an original draft whenever possible, because there's usually a purity to an original draft that starts to get lost if you mess with it or rewrite it too much.

I didn't expect the TRSR HNT to take off nearly so well. I thought it would be enjoyable and set the stage, but the funny thing is how late the idea came to me. Writing the first three episodes, I wasn't entirely sure what Rift's announcement would be about. I've known from the beginning how Series 1 will end, but I hadn't always been sure how to get there, and now the Relics will make it possible. It's really neat how little things along the way can make an idea come together. I think that's been my favorite part of writing The Mansion.

The Mansionverse role play has been a ton of fun, too. I hadn't fully thought through several of the rooms, so a lot of my posts involved coming up with things on the spot. I didn't expect the GM approach at all, either. I had expected a fairly simple “Everybody's chillin' in the Mansion,” and I hadn't thought through how the TRSR HNT would affect things. It was such a late idea, and the role play was one of those things that I knew I needed to have up but hadn't given a ton of thought to. It's turned out really well, and I look forward to seeing how it goes in the future.

Though not directly related to Sparkbomb, Cel threw a party on the 17th (that Bed and Ward attended), and we got to play a few quick games of Mafia. A few days prior, I'd gotten to host a quick game with a few friends (three(?) of whom were at Cel's party) to get back into practice. The MCing helped to center some of my thoughts on the difference between online and offline games. At Cel's party, even the quiet players were engaged, and it's a huge difference to know that quiet players are interested in the game compared to the forum setting where we're wondering if they're trying to lie low or if real life has interfered. The second game was especially fun. I was a werewolf (along with Ward and someone else), Cel was Witch (a single use rez OR single use block on the werewolf attack), and Bed was Cupid (binding Ward and another player). I tend to be pretty good at reading Cel, so I immediately turn to her and ask her what her role is. She just sort of smiles at me, and I instantly know she's Witch. Unfortunately, after Night 1, the MC announced that Cel had been protected (clearing her). Fortunately, she did own up to being Witch (a mistake on her part, in my opinion). You'd think she would have picked out that I had read her that well. Suspicion fell on Bed, who announced himself Cupid and the two players he had bound. Somewhere along the way we (the werewolves) picked off Cel and Bed (as they were cleared). For the final Day, there was a ton of suspicion on Ward. I was scrambling to find another valid target to shift the vote to when I realize I hadn't been paying attention to the players sitting next to me on the couch. So I turn and sort of give each of them a serious look, and when I gave Cel's brother a look he busted up laughing. Perfect! I proceed to vote him for being unable to keep a straight face, majority goes to him, and werewolves sweep the game. Of course, the following game, we failed to hit any werewolves, the person sitting on my other side tricked me into thinking she was Protector (even though it should have been obvious to me that she wasn't), and innocents were swept. I'd thought being MCing had given me enough of an edge about what people's playstyles were, and while I'd gotten some insight, I was tired. Subsequent Mafia games are just as exhausting as subsequent rounds of Yu-Gi-Oh.

I had largely dismissed the idea of having All-Stars this year. How were we going to get in touch with the extended community after a forum reset that many people didn't respond to and IDB being gone? I don't entirely remember what persuaded me to go for it, but it was definitely the right call. Apparently I had only reached out via IDB in 2010 (the game that Ryguy hosted that lasted forever and had 54 players), and I hadn't reached out via the other communities in 2011 (for Rex and Traj's game that had 52 players). But after thinking about it, I thought it would definitely be possible to hit 20 players, and a goal of 30 wasn't too lofty. And since we haven't seen a game of that size in a couple of years, why not? We've had 20 people show up so far. I know that not all of them will be able to join in, but I definitely think we'll hit the 30 goal, and we might get lucky and push 40 when all is said and done.

While I've been happy to see so many old friends, the thing that I've appreciated most as people have shown up is having the opportunity to read through some of the old IDB threads. The Werewolf history is nice to have (though everything before October of '04 is lost), but more important to me is that I'd forgotten how much my time as an IDB Rater meant to me. Looking back a few weeks ago, I would have just said, “Yeah, I became a Rater in summer of '07, I put some time in, had a ton of fun with The Return of Dr. Sloth battleplot, and that was it.” But seeing the professionalism I had let me see a part of myself that I didn't know existed before I was judging Yu-Gi-Oh. And seeing the threads and enthusiasm I had makes it clear that I really did enjoy the time I put in. It's been so rare for me to see myself as part of a team (outside of Yu-Gi-Oh), and it was a great experience.

I had hoped that opening the blogs section up would get some interest, and I'm a bit disappointed that it hasn't. Perhaps that's been a too little too late thing, or perhaps there haven't been enough people who have thought about it yet.

I haven't had a whole lot going on outside of Sparkbomb this past month. I mentioned Cel's party already. I only made it out dancing a few times. There was an excellent dance held at the college this past Wednesday. I also had an enjoyable dance date two or three weeks ago. I could really use a blues fix, though. There was a fairly stressful Monday where I had to clock several hours in Dragon Quest IX before the Nintendo WFC closed down. I had lost track of how little time I had left and only realized the day before, but I still got it done in time. I haven't been doing much reading. Or playing Sacred 2.

And that's about it for May. I'm looking forward to June, and I'm especially looking forward to seeing where we're at when All-Stars begins.

Shattered Rift

I know it's only been a month since my last Reflection, but it feels like so much longer. I've had several ideas for roles while working on the Werewolf element of SparkWiki, but it was the idea of switches that finally persuaded me to host a game. It just so happened that shortly before my game I realized the need to be more directly involved in the community. This has been a difficult thing in the past: there's always work to be done behind the scenes, and and it's a simple truth that things can be slow on the front-end while they're being worked on in the back. (This was especially problematic with the Spark Game). So I think it was very fortunate that two other hosts fell through and it was my turn to MC sooner than expected.

I'd forgotten how rewarding MCing can be. It was just as time consuming as I'd remembered and feared, but it was the enjoyment that caught me by surprise. The switches bringing valid Day 1 discussion was a bonus. The game ending poorly was a disappointment. But most importantly, I walked away getting a lot out of it. Especially for SparkWiki.

SparkWiki has been at the front of my thoughts for some weeks now. The biggest reason for this is that it's a completable project that is constantly justified by a steady stream of releases. Search engine results, a factor that hasn't been relevant in the past, is attainable and encouraged through SparkWiki. Here I was, finishing up the powers section and getting the roles section underway (unpolished as many of the pages may be). I know that most of you are familiar enough with Werewolf that you're not using SparkWiki yet, but Rex caught a couple of hidden gems in my descriptions of powers, and new members should start benefiting from our on-site wiki going forward.

Coming out of my game (or maybe it was once my game started), I was completely focused on Werewolf. I was rapidly forgetting that some members of the community aren't big on the game. I had somehow gone from my January mindset of Werewolf being one element of the site to Werewolf being the site. I'd fallen into the trap I'd been working so hard to pull others out from. I'm very grateful to the two people who reminded me that not everyone cares about Werewolf.

So where are The Mansion and the Sparkverse stories? I'd hoped to have Episode 4 of The Mansion up on Saturday evening, but feedback during the editing process made it clear that it needed to be scrapped and rewritten. That's something I plan to work on today. As for the Sparkverse stories? They're getting caught up in the same delay. Writing's difficult, and I tend to get intensely focused on one thing at a time (Werewolf being that focus right now). I'm disappointed that I haven't been living up to my original plan of a weekly The Mansion release and a montly Sparkverse story. It's clear now that that that original release schedule was unfeasible, and the current release schedule is certainly too slow.

By the way, once Episode 4 of The Mansion is released, I plan to immediately follow it up with a Mansionverse role play. This is the episode I've been waiting for to properly set the stage for what the Mansionverse is, and I'm looking forward to seeing how all of you interact with it.

On the real life front, I finished rereading Children of the Mind. Normally, Card's writing is easy to get sucked into and I find myself losing several hours or a day reading his work, but somehow Children didn't have that effect on me. Going into it, the only parts of the story that I remembered were the bits about edge nations and center nations and an off-hand joke near the end of the story that was so emotionally-charged as to make it unforgettable. Everything else? I almost wondered if I had ever read the book before. Yet despite the feeling of newness, I still didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the rest of the Ender Saga. Ender's Game? Classic. Speaker? Excellent. Xenocide? Great philosophical points. Children? Eh. And that eh makes me sad.

I also rekindled my Sacred 2 addiction. It has an absolutely massive world (some 22 square miles), and that world is a pleasure to explore. I mentioned in a recent status that I'd explored 12.8% of the map. I think I'm up to 15% now. And that's at upwards of 30 hours of play time. I've covered more than that in past playthroughs, but it's been some years since I last played the game.

And that's... it. I had the chance to hang out with Bed on Saturday for the first time in a couple of years, and he and I played a bit of Sacred 2 last night. I've still got the usual dancing going on. But I don't feel like there's much else to say right now, and that leaves this blog entry a bit shorter than the others. Shorter when I feel like more has been getting done on the site. I suppose that's how it goes. Update the home page and I've got a million things to say; write a bunch of wiki articles, host a Werewolf game, and all of my thoughts have already been shared elsewhere.

Until next month!

Shattered Rift

At first, I wasn't going to do a Reflection on Month 3. My real life schedule only cleared up at the last week of March, and I wasn't expecting to get very much done. But during the past week I got several things done that needed to be done, so here's your monthly Reflection.

Episode 3 of The Mansion had been drafted a month before, and I finally had the time to get the edits done so the episode could be published. As many of you realized while reading, this episode was very much a reflection of my mental state working on Sparkbomb over the past three months. It incorporated a part of that first week (the exhaustion I felt after two full days of getting everything up and running as well as the exhaustion since), the frustration of the spambots (a relevant fact during those first two days), and the hosting issues of the first two weeks. I'm a bit disappointed that Marcus' (Coaster's) cameo came across so casually. I had hoped to pay proper homage to him, and the feedback I've gotten is that his brief appearance made a weak impression. I suppose that's how it goes sometimes.

The other thing worth saying about Episode 3 is that it was an episode brought about by feedback. In my original notes, I had planned to skip over the basement scene and simply pick up with Rift heading up to the Staff Room. The spambots would have been incarcerated off-screen, Sparkbot would be off bumbling around somewhere, and Rift would have been doing something adminy for the entire episode. The conversation with Coaster likely would have been extended. All in all, the original idea would have been the wrong one, and the episode as it reads was definitely the right approach.

I think I had originally hoped to have the Staff Team reassembled in early February. It had been clear for some weeks that I was late about getting some moderation powers out, and it was a pressing need that wasn't met a moment too soon.

There aren't many of us left who are able to be active. Code's caught up in real life. Lixyl's been caught up in real life for a while. Yoshi, while active in the discussions just before the software update, disappeared after reregistering. That left Rex, Stratus, Nebiros, and me. (Nebiros schedule will hopefully be freeing up again soon.) It's a bit bare bones, and I expect to be opening Staff applications in the near future.

The part that took me a while to figure out was how to handle Code and Lixyl. Both have offered invaluable thoughts and insights over the years, and the single most valuable aspect of any Staff member to an Administrator is found in the thoughts and feedback of a Staff Team. During the past three months I've tried to keep every discussion public, and I've tried to involve as many members as possible. Even today, there's not much going on in the Staff Room. (All you guys are missing out on is a discussion about the Warning system and discipline.) Code and Lixyl aren't missing much, and I knew that it was inappropriate to keep inactive members on the Staff. Suddenly, I had the thought of the Staff Emeritus usergroup. I spent an evening reflecting with Rex upon nearly a decade of Sparkbomb, particularly reminiscing about old faces (some of whom we had forgotten were Staff at some point). I knew that each of them had played their part over the years, and I wanted to remind everyone just how rich Sparkbomb's history is. The Staff Emeritus usergroup seemed like a spiffy way to give our former Staff some respect.

It's been quite a month for the home page. I can barely remember how it looked a week ago, let alone how it looked a month ago. On the 5th I realized that I had easy access to the left-hand column, so I moved Recent Entries and Recent Articles over there, drastically improving the balance of the page and putting both the blog entries and SparkWiki articles into noticeable view. If not for the thought weeks later of putting the Current Werewolf Game on the home page, I would have let it be. If there's one thing the Internet has made clear, it's the fact that “content is king,” and a serviceable layout wins. A serviceable layout that looks good is great, but it's not necessary.

But I did have the though of adding the Current Werewolf Game. And then I realized just how ugly Recent Topics was looking, especially because it drug the page down so far. (Another site I've been visiting recently is having a similar problem by letting content force the page to scroll down much farther than it needs to.) So I compressed it to match Recent Posts. Then, because Current Werewolf Game seemed to definitely be the right choice, I added the Newest Episode of The Mansion. At the same time, I shifted Posts/Topics to the left and blog Entries to the right while dropping Recent Articles entirely. This was the point where the home page went from serviceable to good. But it needed a little something more, so I added the Newest SparkWiki Article to complete the center of the page. The balance was there, and all was happy on the home page. Rather than go to sleep for the night like I should have, however, I kept playing around with things to see what else the feeds were capable of generating. While screwing around with a section similar to Recent Topics, I realized that it was loading slightly different topics. Clucky had been requesting from the very beginning that Recent Topics and Recent Posts be merged, a thought I've wholeheartedly agreed with, and I thought the possibility had been overlooked in the programming. Well, it had been overlooked: by me. Recent Topics/Posts fused to become Active Topics, and Recent Entries was balanced to maintain the symmetry of the home page. I knew there was still a little bit of work to be done with the Newest SparkWiki Article, and while lying in bed I remembered that it was possible to pull a random entry. For a brief moment, we had a random SparkWiki article every time the home page was loaded. It was quickly tweaked to became our Article of the Day.

Normally I detest the grunt work necessary for something like this. I'm a dev guy, after all, not a graphics guy. But our home page looks good, I'm proud of it, and I had fun making each of these tweaks. It still needs some graphics to balance out the center of the page, and it's going to look great once it has those.

Meanwhile, outside of Sparkbomb, this was a month for reading. I reread Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Xenocide for the first time in over ten years. (I listened to an audiobook of Ender's Game late last summer.) I went into this with the plan to pay attention to Card's writing style (having How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy insights rattling around in my head), but it's so easy to just read Card's work. Speaker was still excellent. Xenocide was much better than I had remembered. The philosophical aspects were just so good. The strange thing is, I don't remember Children of the Mind. At all. The scant details I remembered about the end of the series all happen in Xenocide. So I look forward with some giddy anticipation to Children. (On the other hand, I'm a tad burnt out from reading, so I might not be getting around to it as soon as I'd like.)

I played through Beyond: Two Souls at the beginning of the month. I hadn't played a movie-style game before, and I was quite impressed with the storytelling that's possible in such a game. Beyond's plot was strong, and I enjoyed the adventure with Jodie and Aiden. Jumping around in the timeline was a little bouncy at times, but it was probably necessary for pacing. All in all, I'm glad the movie-game genre exists, but it's probably not something I'll purchase ever again. Watching a playthrough on YouTube will be sufficient, as there's not really replay value there.

Near the end of the month, I found out about the free Pokemon X/Y download for anyone who registered a 3DS and a Nintendo title (that sadly excluded A Link Between Worlds). I was able to pick up Mario Kart 7 five bucks off (and would have picked up Mario 3D Land otherwise), and so Mario Kart goodness accompanied nearly all of the work on the home page. You're welcome to reread my ramble about the home page updates, and when you do, also picture me taking a break between each update to play some Mario Kart. Or a little more frequently than each update, more like also between small tweaks and looking for buttons in the ACP and such.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to play some more Mario Kart.

Shattered Rift

February started off as a strong month. The first episode of The Mansion was released, SparkComic was officially launched, and Sparkbomb was poised to hit the ground running. I knew that Episode 2 of The Mansion might take a couple of weeks: Sam still had to finish the third page of Episode 1 before she could start drawing Episode 2. I knew that I needed to try my hand again at the first Sparkverse story and see if the second draft stuck. And, having gotten some releases out, I knew that it was time to take care of a couple of the things I had neglected during Month 1.

After some final thoughts, the Rules were up by the 6th. While I was working on the Werewolf Introduction and Rules, SparkWiki's Werewolf section filled the forefront of my thoughts. Several Mafia/Werewolf wikis exist on the Internet, and while a fair amount of roles and powers and terminology are standardized, several vary from place to place, and layouts are a mess everywhere. Celairiel had criticized the wiki layout when I first explained this project to her, but I had never disliked the wiki format until I started looking at how others were doing the job. It's not that the design is poor, it's the fact that navigation is frequently terrible. If you don't know the name of what you're looking for, you can't find it. Navigational pages are few and far between.

Roles and powers were the biggest problem. Mechanics could usually be found without too much trouble. But the name of a role or power varies from wiki to wiki, from site to site, and the same problem was going to exist on Sparkbomb. I opted to solve the problem by boiling Werewolf down from the MC or game design perspective. Powers are a mechanic. Roles are... fluff. You need to mention roles, of course. They add flavor and excitement to games. They create identity. But mechanically, the game is all about powers. Roles are just a way of thematically collecting one or more powers into each player. And so I started by breaking the game down into powers.

It was a lot of fun to realize that Werewolf is largely comprised of about two dozen powers. For all the variety and wonder of a Werewolf game, it's the dozens of variations on a handful of powers that makes the game so great. I hadn't worked on roles or powers in years (I can't even remember how long it's been since I last hosted a Werewolf game), but I found myself jotting down the occasional idea as I went along. I don't know if any of them are new or unique—almost everything has surely been tried at some point—but it felt good to be working on Werewolf again.

I only wrote a handful of articles from the 11th through the 18th. Finding the right balance, what to put where, was and is a bit daunting. Many articles, like the stub of the Kill power article, are quite incomplete from what I expect them to become. And I haven't even touched navigation, the problem that will need to be solved before all is said and done (and has the potential to make SparkWiki stand out from the rest of the pack). But the work is begun.

The 11th was a particularly good day. I had gotten extensive feedback on Episode 1 of The Mansion, and while Episode 2 was waiting for Sam to have the time to draw, I sat down to write Episode 3. And the writing flowed. In the past two months, I haven't before or after found the creative clarity I had that afternoon and evening. I give my gratitude to those that offered their feedback and were willing to answer my extensive list of questions about Episode 1. I had originally meant for Episode 3 to go in a slightly different direction, but the feedback convinced me of what the episode needed to be. I don't know if it's any good, but I know that what I wrote was what needed to be written. (I'll try to release Episode 3 by the end of this week.)

The rest of the month was something a bit more complicated. I've been debating for a few weeks how much I should or shouldn't say about certain personal and family matters. For now, I hope an apology will suffice. While I had attended to financial concerns before relaunching Sparkbomb, certain matters that weren't anticipated have been eating at my time. These matters are the reason why I glazed over a certain no progress week at the end of January. And they've continued to be problematic throughout February.

Meanwhile, I haven't been in as close of contact with Sam as I'd like to be. Her day job has been draining her completely, and I assume that's the reason I haven't heard much from her (and why Shiftone and The Mansion haven't had any followup comics). Episode 2 of The Mansion was delayed so long for that very reason: I'd been hoping to keep releases concurrent with her schedule, but I released Episode 2 when it became clear that, at least for now, that's not possible.

For those who are curious about my adventures outside of Sparkbomb, I finished Bioshock Infinite, and I've gotten into blues dancing. Bioshock Infinite didn't impress me nearly as much as it seems to have impressed everyone else. I glazed over a certain dream about New York at the beginning of the game, and I started to assume that Infinite would be about watching the downfall of a “great city” (and while that happens, that's not what the story is about). It also felt very much like a pure FPS and lacked the stealth and exploration of the previous two games. Rapture was dark, confined, and had mild horror overtones. Columbia's openness was... nice in its own way, but the gameplay never took me. Nor were there any big daddies or big sisters to contend with (and only a few handyman encounters). It wasn't until a certain mission involving guns that the story finally captured me, and around the same time I started putting a few of the pieces together (though by no means all of them). Finishing the game, I was impressed by the plot, but I don't feel like I'll properly appreciate it until I replay the game, and I simply have no plans on replaying it anytime soon.

Blues dancing, on the other hand, is something I'm quite excited about. Ballroom and swing are very structured. There's definite footwork, and both are very... stiff, in a way. I suspect this is more in the way that they're taught (or that I've learned them), and I've only begun to “just dance” swing, by which I mean that I finally know how to simply enjoy myself and lead whatever I end up leading rather than thinking too hard about it. (Normally I'm a perfectionist with dance steps. There's a difference between dancing to be perfect and dancing for the enjoyment of dancing.) Blues, on the other hand, has no steps in the traditional sense. It's much more focused on musicality and lead/follow connection and technique. Steps and moves exist, but they're largely improvisation. One of the disappointing things about dance, at least for me, is that I have a hard time leading someone who has no dance experience (as a result of the perfectionist in me while dancing). There are “correct” steps in my mind even when I know not to expect perfection from whoever I'm dancing with. For blues, it's different. There are no “correct” steps. I can simply lead. In learning blues, I'm rounding out my technique, concentrating more on musicality and on the connection between me and my follow. I tend to be a very soft lead. I fall within the acceptable range, but soft is still soft. This softness is a welcome change of pace for many follows who are tired of the frequent overly strong leads on any given dance floor, but it means that there's something in my dancing that's left to be desired (at least for me). Moreover, it also gives me a familiarity with dancing that will hopefully allow me to “just dance” with women who have no dance experience.

I finally got around to seeing the Ender's Game movie. My blu-ray player decided to die, so I was stuck using my PS3. (I dislike using game consoles for anything besides gaming, as I'd prefer to spend the console's full life expectancy on gaming.) Considering that my main complaint was “Why the ****** is Bernard in this movie?” a complaint that I uttered every time I saw Bernard from the Dragon Army intro onward, I'd consider the movie to be a success in my book. Pacing was iffy, there was too much Petra, there wasn't enough of the rest of Ender's Jeesh, there were the two scenes that followed the fight with Bonzo, and there was the awkward final two scenes of the movie that leave a question of how a Speaker for the Dead movie might follow and still include Valentine, but each of those things are minor. Ender's Game is still one of the best book-to-movie adaptations out there.

Going into March, I don't yet know how things will go. As I said, certain matters have been and may continue to eat up more of my time than I had ever anticipated. I apologize for that, and I apologize for not offering a better explanation. My goals and focus largely remain the same: SparkWiki's Werewolf section, releasing more of The Mansion, and releasing a Sparkverse story. Here's hoping the Month 3 report is full of excitement.

Shattered Rift

It's a little bit past 10:30 PM on January 31st, so now seems like the right time to begin writing “A Reflection on Month 1.” I've been thinking about this for a while, since about mid-month or a little bit earlier, particularly so that I could keep mental tabs on things I didn't want to forget. I have probably forgotten details, and some things will get more or less attention than they deserve, but I hope that what I do tell will be sufficient. I also don't plan to edit this down to a more reasonable length, so if you want to read this be ready for a bit more rambling than I usually do.

I made the decision to go for it in the early hours of December 13th, and I sent the first message to Marcus at 2:50 AM. I'd been considering it long before then, working on the Sparkverse off-and-on, but I took a particular interest sometime in August. I spent September and October working a project that ultimately fell through, but I was slowly working my way through salamoor and lucian history in the meanwhile. When I made the decision, I didn't yet have a plan. Nor did I feel that I had one when I brought the Staff up to speed, though one had started to develop by that point. The idea of SparkComic had been tossed around for years. SparkWiki evolved from a sense of posting general information about the Sparkverse. In the early hours of December 19th, I had the inspiration to write short stories, and that was that thought that convinced me that I had a solid plan.

The first task was to decide on forum software. Our old version of IPB was riddled with seemingly unsolvable problems. SMF and MyBB offered what seemed to be the best of the free solutions, but IPS was the only company that seemed to be thinking beyond the scope of a forum to integrated community software. I may have started off with a bias in favor of IPS, but it was that focus on community-oriented software that sold me. Picking up the Blog software felt right, providing an avenue to post plots outside of the forum itself, and it also offered the potential to open blogs to users (a question I still haven't decided on yet). The Content software was something I didn't fully understand. I had heard of WordPress but had no experience with it (or any CMS for that matter, which is effectively what the Content software is). I was able to recognize its potential, I knew that it could probably provide a framework for SparkComic, I liked the thought of a content-driven home page, I liked the articles section, and I ultimately gambled on it.

Christmas was a week frozen in time. While I spent an enjoyable holiday with family, I only made a little bit of headway on Sparkbomb (spending some time redesigning the Mansion).

I got back into town after Christmas, trusted my gut to go with IPS, likewise trusted the Blog and Content software, and moved forward. I wasn't confident about that choice at the beginning. Coming into the new year, momentum was the thought in my mind. On reflection, I should have completed the hosting transfer first or even just updated the DNS servers. Of all the potential obstacles, I never expected the hosting transfer to be one of them.

I had wedding receptions to attend on both Friday and Saturday the 27th and 28th. Since I was going to be dressed up anyway, I decided that would be the time for me to record the news announcement. I'm well aware that the expectation is to edit out any pauses or hesitation, but I wanted the reality and sincerity of a single take. And that took time. Attempt after attempt after attempt. I was all kinds of nervous, I think because actually giving the speech made everything real. And I was having trouble getting started without tripping over the words. After several failed attempts, the speech was becoming so familiar that not only did I start to remember it on occasion, it was starting to feel fake in that way that a too-rehearsed speech does. And that bothered me: I had to capture the same sincerity I felt while writing it. Sometimes words are my friend, but speaking rarely is.

The first successful recording was nearly fifteen minutes long. I was running late for the first reception. I was upset at myself for that and for not having done a better job of the speech. So I gave it another go the following day, before the next reception. After a few tries, I was able to cut it down under ten minutes (meeting my goal), and I had a successful video announcement.

I know this part of this story might matter the least to most of you, but it was so important to me that I was doing things right from the very beginning.

The original plan was fairly straightforward: install the new forum, archive the old forum, install SparkWiki, get SparkComic up, and switch the hosting along the way. When the hosting transfer got delayed, I realized that SparkWiki would be delayed as a result. I remember making a post about the delay and thinking to myself, “Crap, I can't work on SparkWiki. This means I can't work on SparkComic either.” Which, as I realized in the next ten or so minutes, was completely wrong. I couldn't work on SparkWiki, but I could work on SparkComic. I think it was Wednesday or so by that point, and I spent the rest of the first week creating the layout for SparkComic and learning what the Content software was capable of. It was a huge change from what I'd been expecting to work on for the second half of that week.

That first week was much rougher than I expected it to be. Monday and Tuesday were exhausting. I've done a tiny amount of programming since mid-2010, and I was feeling very out of practice (and still am). Tuesday was New Year's Eve, and I remember going to a dance completely drained. Somehow that night was even more draining, but that's an episode in another crazy story.

By Saturday night or so, I had a functional part of the site ready and waiting for SparkComic. However, the first week had been more exhausting than I'd ever imagined. The obstacle of the hosting transfer weighed heavily on my mind, and the number of practical and programming-based things to be done made it difficult to switch from a “get things set up” mindset to a “work on creative content” mindset.

Erica (HummingGillz) coming into town was a welcome reminder of what everything was all about. Where my motivation came from. She's the eighth Sparkbomber I've had the opportunity to meet in person. It's a surreal, amazing feeling to finally meet friends you've known online for years. The only downside was how busy I was getting things up and running. It left me a bit scatterbrained, and each day I was out with her I wondered if the hosting transfer would go through and cause me to cut the day short. For better or worse, it wasn't until Sunday evening (the 12th) when the transfer finally completed.

To diverge for a moment, I'd like to discuss a couple of other things that have gone into my personal plan. Keeping physically active and maintaining a portion of my social life was part of it. My natural disposition leaves me much happier interacting with friends in person than online. It's something that that disappoints me (because I'd like to dedicate myself to all of you without any negative effects to my well-being), but it's very positive in being a force that drives me to tear down the online boundaries (through activities like Sparkbomb Hour). Exercise is also critical. I volunteer in dance classes twice a week and try to attend dances when I can. A person's mind isn't as sharp without physical activity, and that's certainly true for me.

I also get a fair amount of creativity going through reading, television, and gaming. Reading is something that I've neglected during the past few years, and it was something I knew I would need to start doing again regularly. During the past month, I reread the second half of How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card (whose writing advice is invaluable), continued reading Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress (a book I had started reading while working on Sparkbomb: Anarchy), read a little bit in Boom Start by Gary Rhoads et. al (a book recommended to me by a business major friend, though I haven't found much use in it yet), Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman (as part of becoming more acquainted with the history of my religion), and a crappy novel whose title and author aren't worth mentioning for how bad it was. Though I will say it's reassuring to know there are writers out there who I can surpass with my rough drafts even when my writing feels lacking.

On the television front, I rewatched season four of Gossip Girl. Dan shifts back to writing during this season, which was something that I resonated with quite a bit. I also watch a few shows on the CW, the only good one being Arrow. On the gaming front, I played through A Link Between Worlds and finished it sometime into Week 2, I think. A Link to the Past was one of the first two SNES games I owned (Mega Man X being the other) and is one of my favorite games of all time. It was a wonderful nostalgia trip and an excellent game. Sadly, I haven't made much time for gaming otherwise (and I have Bioshock Infinite sitting around unloved).

Going into Week 3, I felt like I was a week behind schedule. I had hoped to have the transfer, the old forums, and SparkWiki all up and running by the end of the first week. Instead, I had the new forums up and running, SparkComic's layout ready, the first episode of The Mansion written, and ideas floating around my head for the first Sparkverse plot. The old forums were (and still are) having a compatibility issue. (I think it's a compatibility issue.) SparkWiki, of course, decided to be an obstacle. Going into it, I knew that two things were essential: users had to have one login for both the community and SparkWiki, and SparkWiki needed to share the same header as the rest of the community. Rather than taking a single day to get up and running, SparkWiki took two days only to be discarded in favor of the articles section of the site.

Halfway into the month, I was finally at a point where it felt like things were coming together. A lot of the stress was temporarily gone, and I was finally able to transition into the more creative mindset I had longed for since making the decision.

I hadn't given the articles much thought until SparkWiki was up and running. I had assumed that the informative writing I had done for TCG Player would prepare me to write in a wiki-style. Writing the early articles was a struggle, in part because it made me realize which pieces of the lore weren't finalized or weren't ready to be revealed, and in part because I was simply having trouble writing. Celairiel was kind enough to offer feedback as I tossed article drafts at her. She knew a few bits and pieces about the Sparkverse, but she was uninformed enough to be invaluable in the process of writing articles that needed to be readable by someone entirely new to Sparkbomb. Another real life friend gave me feedback as I posted the articles, assuring me that they were comprehensible without a Sparkbomb background.

I finished drafting Episode 1 of The Mansion by the 10th, a week ahead of schedule as hoped (to leave time for Sam (Nebiros) to draw its corresponding comic). It was one of many cases, however, where my expectations clashed with reality. I had expected The Mansion to be easy to write. I thought I could just churn out episode after episode on a whim, not needing to think too deeply about it. I realized early on that that was a mistake. I'm rusty with writing, and if The Mansion is going to be a great story then it will need extra time and effort.

My thoughts turned, more than once this month, to my Digimon fanfic Illusory Memories. I've never since found the motivation I had while writing it, and I put a great deal of time and effort into the story. The writing was imperfect, flawed as I go back and reread it now, but the soul is there. And the soul is what is needed for a good story. I've been struggling to find that while writing this past month.

Shiftone and The Mansion comic ultimately fell behind schedule. A very early draft of The Mansion comic (mocked up before the end of December) had set the tone for the chapter, but its redraw was being held up while Sam tried to figure out a way to draw the stained glass window. It's one thing for me to describe, in words, a rainbow-colored piece of stained glass art whose colors don't clash. It's another thing to actually create such a thing. The first Shiftone strip was submitted, redesigned, and finished on time, but The Mansion wouldn't make the deadline. I felt that I needed to release all three simultaneously to have the desired impact, and being a week behind schedule was acceptable at the time.

Weeks 4 and 5 are a bit of a blur. On the 23rd, Sam finally showed me what the holdup was on The Mansion comic: rather than the four panel early draft done in a style similar to Shiftone, she had two pages of arty goodness sketched out. Sadly, they wouldn't be finished until the evening of the 1st. In the meanwhile, I worked on The Mansion. I worked on the first Sparkverse plot. And I think I ended up falling into a trap I had desperately hoped to avoid. For about the last week of the month, I didn't post on Sparkbomb. I slipped behind the scenes the way I have in the past, working on content (primarily the Sparkverse plot) without popping my head in to properly say hi and post in threads. This had been my MO in the past while coding, so it's not very surprising that it happened here, but it's something I feel terrible for. And to those of you who told me that you understood I was busy instead of asking why I had disappeared, I thank you.

Saturday the 1st was a busy day. The first Sparkverse story had been plodding along, and progress on it was as slow as ever. I finally sent a a copy of what I had to Rex, and he rightly pointed out the problems with it. The result is that I'll be scrapping some 2800 words (and keeping maybe 400), but the story will be stronger for it. Sam continued to rush towards the deadline while I debated my options if she wasn't able to finish. I couldn't afford to push back The Mansion much longer, but it needed its comic, and there was always the option of launching Shiftone on its own. Sam pulled through by completing two of the three pages of The Mansion.

I'm not sure what to say of things going forward. Episode 2 of The Mansion could easily be delayed. The draft hasn't been finalized, Sam's still working on Page 3 of Episode 1, and we're not yet sure what the norm will be for The Mansion's comic. It certainly won't be three pages per episode, and it could be as few as one per episode (with special episodes possibly having more). Shiftone should release on schedule. As for the Sparkverse story, who knows? Scrapping most of what I had written isn't easy even if I know that it's for the best.

As for Month 2, it's starting at a time when things are coming together. Having the first episode of The Mansion and Shiftone out was a benchmark similar to having all of the new software/areas of the site up and running. I've still got some cleaning up around the forum to do (finalizing rules, creating the stickied threads of each forum, etc), but I'm largely ready to settle into the creative mindset completely and simply gauge what the release schedule will be.

All in all, Month 1 was harsher than I thought it would be, but I'm excited about Month 2. I'm looking forward to giving you guys more of what you've been waiting for: stories.

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