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Studying Video Essays

I’m a great proponent of the internet as a tool for delivering easy to digest learning materials, and yes, YouTube is awash with exactly the kind of tools I’m talking about.

Movies especially have an abundance of video essayists who talk at length about films and the film industry, taking wildly different approaches to the art form. Nerdwriter is a current favourite, whose short discussions that may dissect a single scene in a film, deeply explore a particular technique, or occasionally delve into a different topic. Lindsay Ellis does extensive studies that delve deep into the industry, historical relevance of certain creative choices, or shed light on some behind the scenes processes you might not have heard about before. The Closer Look, Every Frame a Painting, Lessons from the Screenplay, there are many of incredible students of film out to share their thoughts and insights.

For academia in general, Kurzgesagt, CGP Gray, some of the extra vlogbrothers content like SciShow; for literature Tale Foundry, and to an extent Terrible Writing Advice; for tabletop RP, Monarchs Factory, Matt Colville; these are the talking heads, the voices of people who have learned enough to want to share and impart what wisdom they can. Though most of it is heavily slanted by the perspective of the author/essayist/YouTuber in question, most strive for an objective approach and back their opinions with research or extensive experience.

I have been spending vast portions of every day studying the talking-head genre, because some time before the end of this month I’m hoping to put my own videos out there. Not something you’d think I’d consider too difficult, I’ve written 500-2000 word articles twice a week, almost every week, plus Top 10 entries, and most of those have been released on time (here, the author coughs by way of acknowledgement that this does not include today’s piece). I also like talking, especially to an audience, be it a half dozen gamers sat at a table, or a hundred or so gamers who are fool enough to want to listen to my opinions.

So where’s the hang-up?

First of all, a moment of gaming the algorithms on YouTube, what I need to produce has to last for ten minutes. After some experimentation playing around with an autocue generator, I’m estimating a minimum of 2000 words, and I – unfortunately – have a tendency to write concisely, too concisely. So it has been a lesson in padding and drawing out subjects without making it dull listening. This also presumes a script, which I’ll come to momentarily.

Second… talking to a microphone is a world apart from talking to an audience. I invested in a moderate quality microphone, poor audio quality is a killer for videos like this and frankly my webcam was proving inadequate. But here this thing sits… glaring at me, unresponsive. As someone who – by necessity – feeds off the reactions of the audience to inform the content, a microphone is a maddeningly passive audience.

Do I improvise, or do I script in full? I know there are plenty of talking-heads who do one, the other, or both. In my early attempts I tried to strike a balance, writing my script as if it were a D&D game plan, a few notes on talking points, a rough idea what I want to talk about and when, enough to structure without being restrictive, but I learned afterwards that I have a maddening idiosyncrasy that makes editing that style of essay impossible: when I’m thinking, I draw out syllables so that the space in between is almost non-existent. So effort two reads straight from a script, and, while better, I find I stumble over the words that I have written. I entered into the idea thinking it would be the perfect for someone who enjoys talking as much as I do, and here I find I’m learning to talk all over again.

When I put down my keyboard I’ll be trying again, and again, to get this right, possibly trying a few other approaches. I write purely to vent, this is a topic on which there are a thousand answers, none of which right for everyone, it falls within the category of “practice making perfect” and “finding what is right for you”.

I’ll be back when I have a right answer.

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Journey Quest Season 4 – Kickstarter

This is a campaign is trouble, so this is a short article to reach out to anyone who wants to hear it.

I’ve talked Journey Quest before, it’s a series set in a D&D world without going so thoroughly referential as Order of the Stick or Goblins, more that the internal logic of things like character roles and systems like magic and the relations between races, the nearness of the divine powers, and the presence of undead, orcs and ogres and that kind of ilk. (more…)


Tales of Alethrion – Season Two Kickstarter

Very early in my D&D playing career, I ran a heavily sea-focused campaign in Eberron. Among my players was a man by the name of Eddie, one of my all time favourite players and dungeon masters. I cannot remember the name of the first ship they sailed in, I remember that it was a rundown junker, splintered and warped wood, ragged sails and frayed rope, but the figurehead was pristine, and clearly made of different material, a pale narwhal complete with ivory horn. Might have been the Icebreaker? Can’t recall. The first thing Eddie’s character – a druid called Wren – did was straddle the narwhal. (more…)


Old Viral Videos (That Still Make Me Laugh)

Memes used to not be called memes – Rather they were called Viral Videos. These were hugely successful videos which, during the earlier days of the internet, usually only took off because they were universally funny. It feels like these days anything can be a meme. “Oh that meme is self aware haha”, people will say as they look at an image someone put together, specifically mocking something their little group of 100 people likes to mock. Very good, folk, very good. Now move aside whippersnappers, here are some classic viral videos – Which of these do you know?

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Top 10 – Fan Created Products

GeekOut Top 10s

You may be wondering how much content genuinely has been made by fans that we wanted to make a list about and the truth is – There’s a lot. We could get specific by saying best “fanart”, or best “fanfic”, or even best “fan made game”… But the truth is, there’s a lot of great content out there by crazy talented individuals. This week, we dedicate it to the fans who make their mark on the world, by taking something they enjoy and running wild with it.

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Kickstart Highlight – Critical Role: The Legends of Vox Machina

Ok, we started Kickstarter Highlights to shine a light on smaller or lesser known projects that we wanted to see shine, or managed by people we love, but occasionally we like to talk about projects that we love that really don’t need the help. Case in point, Critical Role, the series that broke MCM London, a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors who play Dungeons & Dragons live on the internet for a few hours every week and draw massive viewership and crowds, and have been partially responsible to the exponential boom in popularity of the hobby!

I’ve talked about them before. They’re a good – if inaccurate – representation of the hobby, vastly more entertaining to watch as it’s being played by actual performers, voice actors who know about taking turns when talking so that there’s no cross-talking, who can totally immerse themselves in their character so deeply that we can more clearly envision the action, and who get visibly emotional about the narrative, reacting appropriately to every moment of drama and capable of deftly improvising moments of their own.

So it makes sense for a bunch of actors with characters that they love and live, with connections in the industry who also love D&D, to club together and make a cartoon! One to go alongside the comics written by Matt Colville, and all of the other products, the books, the art, the live appearances… you get the idea they’re doing well.

The project will be supported by the studio Titmouse Inc, famous for shows like Metalocalypse, Venture Bros., Tigtone that I put on my to-do list lately, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, alongside a host of other major projects, so the animation will be in excellent hands. The cast will be played by themselves, with Matt Mercer serving the bulk of the NPCs… or rather those characters who are not the protagonists.

The test will be how well a D&D style narrative can be translated into a linear format, as it rarely crosses well into other formats – at least those that endeavour to capture the spirit of tabletop RP. As this project is dedicating itself more to existent characters and a well developed and explored world, things could be very different.

So, to the campaign itself. The target is $750,000 to fund the actual animation to a high standard, with a projected release of late 2020. Backer rewards do not include access to a digital stream or download of the final result, rather heavily implying that the final product will be available for everyone to enjoy, likely via their (newly independent of Geek & Sundry) YouTube channel and probably Twitch as it is their principle platform.

The rewards backers receive are instead encouraged to pledge for loot, some digital downloads of music uniquely composed for Critical Role, including a piece written and (partially) performed by the cast. Dice, sticker packs, art prints, cuddly toys, accessories for roleplay and memorabilia, and of course the upper echelons include personalised artwork by Titmouse, producer credits, and when you hit a five figure sum you get a studio tour and more.

Those upper echelon rewards? All gone. I would not be surprised to find a lot of D&D executives towards the top of that list, and possibly Matt Colville himself. The campaign? When I started writing it was at about $2.1 million, it’s now approaching $2.4M, and the campaign started less than five hours ago. IGN managed to squeeze out an article last night a few minutes after the project passed $1M, and I won’t be publishing this for another ten hours, who knows how much money might have poured into the pot. Stretch goals are disappearing, and the twenty-two minute animated short will be treble the length before I go to bed, and will be a feature length film by morning unless pledges slow down.

Sam Riegel and Travis Willingham have apparently been talking to producers for a while, and the attachment of the hobby still makes studios reluctant to engage with projects, presumably offers may have been made with limitations or changes. Crowd funding may lack security for the consumer… fairly certain the same group have ripped me off twice now… but it does put creativity in the hands of those passionate about a project. The CR team have proven time and time again that they are capable of producing high quality content. Here’s to another one.

Oh… there goes $2.5 million!


Side note…! Hot damn, 514% funding on Lasers and Liches!! Go check out this awesome project blending sci-fi and D&D, and adds bonus dinosaurs, perfect for anyone wanting to RP their way through Kung Fury or a Shadowrun Rave. You still have a week to get involved, and there are still stretch goals left to reach.

~Text message from Tim~

What do you mean it was made by a “different Chris”?


Skip – The Art of the Five Second Advert

Advertisers today have an incredibly difficult new premise to abide by: Grab my attention in five seconds.

Advertising remains a necessary evil, it keeps alive those forms of media that have no other practical means of gathering revenue, but we – the consumers, the YouTube watching generation – still find it to be annoying, intrusive, and too easily dismissed and ignored. We are not so captive an audience as the TV watching public, stuck to the couch while we wait for our desired viewing to return, perhaps vanishing into the kitchen or bathroom to attend to our plumbing. We can scroll past, we can install an ad-blocker, we can wait five seconds and skip… (more…)


“Watch Later” – Where Good Intentions Go To Die

File “Watch Later” in the same place as all of the books you bought and intend to read, and all the unplayed games in your Steam library, all of those Magic decks you’ve been meaning to build, and all of your unpainted miniatures yes I’m calling you out. I’m calling you all out! And I don’t get off lightly in this lecture, I have more books than I have bookshelves, and a terrible habit of not reading anything that isn’t a role-play accessory of some kind, I’m a terrible person. (more…)


The Streaming Half of Strongholds & Streaming

I may have mentioned… repeatedly, that I am a tremendous fan of Matthew Colville, and that I gave to the Kickstarter that was ostensibly to get a streaming series up onto Twitch and YouTube, but for the purposes of putting a product into the hands of backers, it was also for the Strongholds & Followers supplement that he had hinted at repeatedly in his “Running the Game” videos that a few fans had been asking about.

Well the MCDM stream began last Wednesday, and aired on YouTube (where I will be watching) over the weekend, and I squeezed in watching between games I was running, and as I already reviewed the book, it’s only fair I have a look at what else our generously given donations have yielded. Side note Strongholds & Followers has had an update with extra artwork and some fault-fixes! Version 1.1 is available for download now, and free if you’ve already got 1.0. (more…)


Pro Wrestling and YouTube

The longer title of this article was going to be ‘Pro Wrestling and YouTube: A Look At How YouTube Has Helped All Wrestling Promotions, Large And Small’ – And then I realised how ridiculously long that title was. Pro Wrestling is definitely an interest of mine, as many of you will be aware. With the Royal Rumble coming up at the end of the month, I thought I’d do one of my usual rare talks about how ridiculous a show can be – But instead of focusing purely on WWE, I thought that it might be interesting to talk about how YouTube has played such a massive role in helping with what is effectively a boom of interest.

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