Sunday, January 30, 2005

I'm still alive!

Three months??? The whole point of changing to this blog format was that it was supposed to be easier for me to post updates. *sigh* I'm hopeless.

I've been really, really busy. Got that impression? I still am, and it's 1:30 A.M., so this isn't going to be a long update, alas. A couple of quick things:

One reason I've been so busy is that I'm working on a novel! It's an Eberron novel, and I can't really say more than that. It's my first novel, and despite the hundreds of thousands of words of gaming products and articles I've written in the last decade, I find it very intimidating and difficult. Primarily I'm insecure about it. Our culture shrouds The Novel in quite an aura of mystique and prestige. It's a bit daunting to enter the realm of people who are working on a novel. I count myself quite lucky to stand among those people holding a contract for the book in my hand and a deadline hanging over my head, but I still feel like a trembling first-time novelist hoping to write something at least halfway decent.

Earlier this month I hit an important milestone, though. When I submitted my novel outline, the editor came back and said, "Yes, we want you to write this novel, and would you like to do a short story as well?" So I submitted a first draft of that short story a couple of weeks ago, and my editor really liked it. So I'm starting to believe that I really can do this and write something worthwhile. My hope is that it will be an enjoyable fantasy novel but also more than that. It's not the Great American Novel, by any stretch of the imagination, but I hope that it goes beyond the standard fantasy novel.

That's all I'll say about that right now.

Another reason I've been so busy, and a big part of the reason I'm not where I want to be through my novel, is World of Warcraft. Man oh man, but that's a good game. You have to understand that I have been largely immune to the lure of electronic games. And before you crack any jokes about my choice of computing platform, let me point out that I have in the past played SimCity until I saw buildings going up behind my eyes when I finally went to bed, I had to give up Tetris for Lent my senior year in college so I could get my honors thesis done, and I've played quite a bit of Civilization over the years. It's not that the games haven't been available. And I've certainly had periods of heavy addiction in the past. But really for like the last 8 or 9 years, I've been doing so many other things that I just didn't have time for computer games. Work all day, come home and spend time with the family, do freelance work once everyone else is in bed, repeat ad nauseum. 

Well, it might perhaps be clear by now that I have something of an addictive personality. So I began my inexorable descent several months ago when Wizards set up an RPG R&D account in City of Heroes, so that we D&D designers could get familiar with the cutting edge of MMORPG technology. With Atari working on D&D Online, our bosses felt that we should have some grounding in that world. Yeah, City of Heroes was a lot of fun. I played through lunch a lot of days. But it's Windows-only, so there was never any danger of my bringing it home. I always figured that was a good thing.

Then I started seeing people playing the beta of World of Warcraft. Then I learned that it would be Mac-compatible. Then I had to promise myself I wouldn't get involved.

And for a month after the game's release, I was strong. Everyone around me was talking about this game and had been for months. When it came out, several people in the department took extra time off before Thanksgiving so they could play... IN THE OFFICE! We're talking die-hard, here. But I remained aloof, feeling slightly superior, while telling myself that when my novel was finished I would get World of Warcraft as a reward.

I couldn't wait that long. The day before the office shut down for the holidays, our manager let us go early. But I had made plans to hook up with my family after normal work hours. What to do? I wasn't going to get any work done, and it didn't make sense to go home and then turn around half an hour later to go back out and meet them for dinner. So I went and asked Dave Noonan whether the department City of Heroes account was still active. "No," he said, "but you should totally play World of Warcraft." He set me up on his account and I spend the next hour playing a tauren. Then I went and met my wife for dinner and told her I had to have this game.

I rationalized it really well. See, I have ways to avoid things. I had been really good about working on my novel: I'd set the alarm for 6 A.M., get up and write for an hour or until my son woke up (whichever came first), then get ready to go to work. Then I'd come home from work in the evening, have dinner, tuck my son into bed, and at that point I'd be too tired to do any serious writing. So I'd putter an hour or two away playing games on Neopets , for crying out loud. Nothing against Neopets—those are some fun games—but I'm hardly their target audience, you know? 

So my reasoning went like this: Look, I'm not writing in the evenings anyway. I'm playing games because I'm too tired to write, all written out for the day. (Ooh, this is a great song. It just came up.) So why not play World of Warcraft instead of Sutek's Tomb?

I'll tell you why not. It's much easier to stop playing Sutek's Tomb.

It was a great theory. But what's happened is that I'll stay up until 3 A.M. playing World of Warcraft. "Oh, I'll just do one more quest." "Oh, just a quick trip to Ironforge to learn mining instead of leatherworking." "Oh, I'll just kill a few orcs before I turn in for the night." JOMT—Just One More Turn—is the technical term for this phenomenon, according to Rich Baker. These guys at Blizzard know what they're doing. And when I stay up until 3 A.M., it's a whole lot harder to get up at 6 and sit down to write for an hour.

Now, a month into the game, I'm getting my addiction under control. I knew better, for example, than to start playing when I stopped working at 1:25 A.M. (Over a half-hour ago, now!) And for the last week or so, I've been getting up early and going into the office, because I've been working on an exploding project—which is the last thing keeping me very busy. So I think it's OK... the novel will still get written on time (so if you're reading this, Mark, relax!), I'll get this project at work finished, and I'll find a happy balance in my life again. 

But man, it's been a crazy month. Anyway, if you happen to be on Hyjal and see Rieta wandering by, give me a wave. (The real reason I made a female night elf warrior, though no one believes me when I say this, is that my son had seen a picture on the Neopets site of a Neopets staff member dressed up as a female night elf warrior for Halloween. He was on my lap when I made my first WoW character, so that's what I made. It has nothing, nothing at all I say, to do with night elves being hot.)

No D&D game in November. I need to write updates for December and January, but that's not going to happen tonight. I'm going to bed (it's now 2:06), and I'm going to get up early and go work on my novel for an hour or so before church. My exploding project can wait until nightfall.

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