Critical Distance 2012 End of Year Extravaganza

For the third year in a row I decided not to enjoy my winter break with video games, but drive myself to exhaustion doing the Critical Distance end of year projects. Episode 11 of the CDC Podcast – The Talking Dead and the 2012 This Year In Video Game Blogging round up. Both did not go as smoothly as planned.

The CDC podcast this time around was longer than any I’ve done before. Even by cutting the cast down to only 4 people (Myself, Kris, Alan and Ian) it still ended up longer than last year. 9 and half hours of audio got cut down to a 7 hour podcast. To mitigate the recording process and ease up on the editing duties, I figured splitting up the sessions into two would be a good idea. One on a round up of events and the other on the month by month chat about the game releases. I had about a week in between where I got around to doing no editing despite the whole purpose of the exercise. Well that and making scheduling easier by locking down smaller blocks of time across 4 different time zones.

I must be getting better at editing or at least my panelists have learned enough about the magic of editing and how to conduct themselves to make my job easier. Things that were to be cut out were focused on the cut topic and declared as such in recording. People would repeat themselves if someone else was talking. And a number of other little things (Kris’ rants) that allowed long stretches of audio that didn’t need fixing.

I’ve listened to other year end podcasts and none come close to the breadth and inclusiveness of discussions that the CDC podcast does. And that included the almost 2 hours of “umms,” “errs,” “likes,” stuttering and white space I cut to clean it up. I go to lengths most other chat based gaming podcasts go to. I don’t quite go to the lengths as normal in the end of year podcast, because it is more relaxed, which is why there are so many tangents that tangents end up having tangents. Also why I want Alan back next year.

A note on the title and the beginning of part 4. In case no one noticed and most likely no one has, all my podcast titles from episode 7 on up are puns. I don’t know, that’s just how I work. They usually come to me immediately, but this year it took some effort. Kris and I stayed after recording had finished to hammer one out. Eventually we stuck with “The Talking Dead.” Not just for the The Walking Dead, but how Alan sounded at the end of each session. I kept him up, he had work the next day and I am so sorry. It also spawned the idea that ended up at the beginning of part 4. The previously on segment was an idea that came to me right after we nailed the episode title and I just had to do it. I don’t know if Kris thought I was serious and it added another 10 hours of work, but it was oh so worth it. It will probably go down as my best creation in 2012.

Why did it take so long? Recording “Previously on The Walking Dead” from the game was easy. Finding a point in the game where Lee says the word “talking” not so much. This was also after I wasted several hours trying to adjust the tonality of my voice to fit the “previously on.” Eventually I scaled back my search to looking for the word “talk.” I eventually found it and inserted it as best as I could. After that it was a matter of scouring the first three episodes for appropriate quotes from everyone. My one annoyance was that I talked over Ian’s final word when he was expressing his philosophy towards laughter in such a pitch perfect morose tone. And yes, those violins are from the main theme of the TV show. I could not have planned that ending “thump” right before Kris’ “objectively evil” line. It went over really well.

I’ve also added embedded players for every audio file in all of the podcast posts in November. This was during my phase to make the podcast process easier. The plug in didn’t work in the RSS department, but on the other hand I learned how to write an XML file to iTunes specifications when trying to figure out why. The entire process is now under my full control. Yay.

PS. There are outtakes after the final episode’s ending theme music. There almost always is. I don’t know if I should bother anymore though.

As soon as I was done with the podcast I had to immediately get on with TYIVGB. I was two days behind when I planned to released it, which gave me one day to read and curate the shortlist and one day to write it and I still ended up publishing it late.

This year TWIVGB had amassed over 1000 links. The first time Critical Distance has achieved such a distinction. Reader suggestions were also through the roof by a factor of at least 10. 1080 TWIVGB links and 150 reader suggestion links. I tried a new method this year. Instead of reading every single link and evaluating it I started from a different point. Earlier that month I began compiling a short list in my head of stuff that would go in regardless. This was from memory. Later on I would wish I had written in down so I wouldn’t have to recreate it at the last minute. There were about 12-15 links that were going in. Obvious stuff, Killing is Harmless, FiveoutofTen, Rise of Zinesters, Feminist Frequency, Patricia Hernandez’s Fallout 2 piece, Kate Williams E3 post, the Gamasutra audio examination etc etc. Didn’t help that I didn’t have the title to some of these pieces.

After that, with limited time I began a tactic I’m calling “slash and burn.” I read through all the TWIVGBs and if I didn’t recognize the piece from the link I didn’t click it. If I did I would open it and insert it into the short list. This may seem overly harsh and possibly leaning a little too heavy on the first of my criteria for inclusion, but in the end it got me a short list of a little over 100 links. That’s where I would be if I did the standard method 4 times. It allowed me to skip so much work and get right into the culling. By which time I asked for the reader suggestions.

When I say no essays I meant no fucking essays. A sentence, maybe two to explain the choices. Some of your lists were longer than the entirety of last year’s suggestions. You know who you are. Audience participation may be something I shouldn’t be angry with, but I have a deadline and clearly posted instructions. Actually my happiest moments going though those emails was finding everything suggested was already in my iron clad list or full short list. No one suggested Killing is Harmless or Rise of the Zinesters though. Too obvious?

From there it was too much and enlisted Kris on her day off to help over Skype. I shipped off about half the links for her evaluation. It was random. If she said no, I closed the tab. If said yes it lived for another round of cuts. This may seem harsh, but I had to do it. The first year was 60 links, than it was 79 and now its 83. Hard to believe the original goal three years ago was 30. This is also the first year where I didn’t target posts on particular games. The Mass Effect 3 posts, the Borderland 2 posts, Halo 4, or The Walking Dead. Even Journey, by far THE most talked about game by a long shot only got two inclusions. There was a lot of talking, but nothing that rose above to stand out. It’s more like the amalgamation of many posts came together to create a post worthy of curating in one’s head, but didn’t exist on paper. That and a lot of great discussion and insights this year moved into podcasts.

The same thing happened to #1ReasonWhy. The movement was about the preponderance of evidence rather than any one single link.

After finishing with Kris and saying good night, I went to bed. I began work the next day after 12 hours of sleep. I hadn’t really slept between editing, mixing, uploading and posting the podcast. During the writing process I cut two more pieces and wondered where the hell three of the links went. See I reread everything on the final list before writing. And while writing I didn’t feel comfortable putting two of them with the rest. One of which was my own that Kris had given the ok to.

Aside: For my own links I set all of my pieces in TWIVGB aside in a different list. I then get a different editor, in this case Kris, to tell me what goes in and what doesn’t. She said three links. One of which was because of her bias towards graphs. It left and the others were one of my Driver: San Francisco pieces that went in and the other was my Papo & Yo piece I didn’t feel comfortable putting in because it was a counterpoint piece, but the none of the points had made it in.

Then I looked around and wondered where the hell three posts that were in my mental list, one in my iron clad list, had gone. This is why you shouldn’t rush things. I had forgotten to add their links to the list. Quickly rectifying that I finished typing it up and submitted for editing. I realized during this that not even Kris knew everything that was in the final list. So editing it would be somewhat of a surprise to her as well.

She added in the BLotY section that I had forgot we had decided on earlier in the month. To me the Blogger of the Year was always something that was just obvious. No parsing of how much they wrote or judging quality. It was something that fell off of one’s tongue because it was so obvious. This year was no exception. If you’re curious: ’09 – Ben Abraham ’10 – L.B. Jeffries, ’11- Kirk Hamilton and Kate Cox.

Kris also changed the final round up section to including the pictures rather than just linking to them in our media file. Click on them for the larger image and full details. You really need to, to see the subjects’ full expression.

So that was the Critical Distance year end projects. Podcast and round up both. Hope you enjoyed them. I’ll be going back to my “fuck off I ain’t doing anything” week now.

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