Friday, July 10, 2015

Podcasts: Is there anything they can't do?

Several weeks ago, I decided to watch the Acquisitions Incorporated series from the beginning up to and including the most recent content. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it's a quasi-celebrity game of Dungeons & Dragons. The core group of players consists of three online comic writers: Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, and Scott Kurtz, the writer for PvP. They have rotated in a few other "nerdy" celebrities, including Wil Wheaton of Star Trek fame, fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss, and former G4 host Morgan Webb.

As a guy who likes humor and D&D, this is basically right in my wheelhouse. I discovered it by accident some time ago while skittering around YouTube, and I was immediately enthralled. Obviously I enjoy the role-playing and fantasy aspects of the game, but what was most appealing about it was the way the players were able to play off of each other, and create not just a player-character but a true character in their roleplaying. And of course, these are all really, really funny people, so the humor is nigh-transcendent. I find myself laughing out loud more often watching/listening to them than with almost any TV show or movie I've ever seen. It's really, really exceptional.

Anyways, while I could go on and on about how great Acquisitions Incorporated is, there's a second part to this post. Acquisitions Inc. started out as a series on Wizards of the Coast's D&D podcast. The game was/is DMed by Chris Perkins, a longtime D&D creator and all-around nerd badass. So, in order to listen to these podcasts, I downloaded them through the Podcasts app on my iPhone.

Now, I've never been much of a "podcaster," or whatever the appropriate term would be for someone who listens to podcasts. There was always a lot of searching and file management involved, and I didn't want to to spend all that time and then find out whatever podcast I chose sucked. I am, by nature, very risk-averse. But now I had found a podcast that I already knew I would most likely enjoy, so it opened up my willingness to do the necessary work.

When I say "work," I mean such considerable tasks as finding an aux cable for my car, or searching for podcasts on my phone while I'm already sitting on my phone. You know, really challenging stuff.

So now we're circling back to the actual reason for this post: what podcasts am I listening to now? Well, there are four main ones I'm listening to somewhat regularly. Here they are.

Marek vs. Wyshynski
Hockey Talk

Every year, when the Capitals are eliminated from the playoffs, I find myself hungering for hockey discussion. As the playoffs progress, you get more and more invested and focused on what's going on, and then suddenly, when your team is eliminated, you're left with all of this focus and nowhere to direct it. I always end up diving into the upcoming offseason, looking at potential signings, releases, and trades that could fix whatever that year's "one big problem" was. This year, it was "skill right-winger," but that's not really important.

What's important is that there's a vacuum in my attention span, and a hockey podcast is the right thing to fill it. Local sports radio is 90% Redskins, 9% Nationals, and the remaining 1% is split between the Capitals and Wizards and whatever else is convenient that day. Marek vs. Wyshynski is a Yahoo-produced podcast that's run by a couple of die-hard hockey fans who manage to get some high-end guests to join them for reporting and discussion. It's a national show, but that's okay. I like to know what the national take is on the Capitals, and this is a perfect way to get it. They're fairly funny and pretty self-deprecating, a good entertainment combination.

The Dungeons & Dragons Podcast
D&D Talk

This was obviously going to be the first podcast I had exposure to, since it's the one where Acquisitions Incorporated could be found. But the reality is that D&D is one of the things in the world that draws my attention the most. It's cooperative, it's creative, it's got swords and spells and traps and dragons. There's a stigma out there, sure. But I'd venture to say that, with the success of the Lord of the Rings movies, Harry Potter, Felicia Day, YouTube, and Game of Thrones, we're entering a "golden age" for D&D. Or at least, that's what I like to believe.

Either way, it's got a fan in me. The D&D Podcast offers a behind-the-scenes look at all aspects of Dungeons and Dragons. Obviously this includes stories about the development of the game, the evolution of rules and classes, and general tips on DMing. But it's also got information about miniatures, marketing, cross-product integration, related products, and any other sort of secondary concept you can think of. As someone who likes the idea of board games in general, it's a great window into the minds of the people who made the world's greatest board game. It's very informative, and fairly entertaining.

Geek's Guide to the Galaxy
General Nerdy Media

I actually listened to a couple episodes of GGttG a while back, but forgot I had subscribed to it on my phone. Eventually, I had some update come down and my phone said, "You don't have enough storage space to download this update." After some searching, I realized I'd been downloading every episode of this podcast for like two years. So I went through and deleted the ones regarding topics in which I have little-to-no interest, and kept the ones that piqued my interest.

Anyways, the podcast. It's run by two authors who I know nothing about. They apparently do mostly short stories and anthologies, with some other composition mixed in there. They seem to have read most books between them, and obviously there's a lot of overlap as well. They're definitely nerds, and they have a style of laughing and talking that's somehow both awkward and condescending at the same time. It's like if you were to walk into a darts tournament and there were a couple of darts aficionados hamming it up for the general darts fans. It's like, okay we get it, you know a lot about darts. Maybe scale back the insane talk about release angles and whatever.

Anyways, while the guys are a little bit smug on certain topics, the topics themselves delve into a lot of content I love hearing about. From Game of Thrones to Star Wars to Left 4 Dead, there's a lot of stuff that's both nerdy and mainstream, and I enjoy hearing people tackle it. They are able to make a lot of nerdy references, many of which I get, and because it's a podcast, they can approach topics from creative angles if they choose. Overall, I do enjoy the podcast, though I think I'd enjoy it more if it were run by gamer guys instead of book guys.

Drive to Work
Mark Rosewater's Magic the Gathering Podcast

After I started listening to the other podcasts for a while, I knew there was one that I wanted to check out. Spoiler alert, it's this one. Many of my fellow "Good Point Bros" have mentioned the podcast in the past, and now that I was listening to some, it was finally time to check it out.

And I love it.

The basis for the podcast is that you're basically riding with Mark Rosewater (head designer of Magic the Gathering, basically the king of Magic) on his drive to work. He records the podcast literally on his drive to work, so every episode is about thirty minutes. Rosewater's passion for Magic is evident with every sentence, and his gift for working his passionate creativity into the structure of acceptable Magic cards has got to be one of the most important pieces of why Magic has grown so much over the years.

The content of the podcasts (at least so far, I've only listened to a few) focuses on Magic sets and concepts from the past, and talks a lot about the evolution of that particular set/mechanic/card. The second episode (which is when I knew I was hooked) was a quick run-through of the creation of Zendikar, possibly my favorite set. Rosewater talks about the original idea of the set ("lands matter"), and how that idea evolved into Landfall, full-art basic lands, Ally cards, and the specific equipment in the set. It's just amazing fun to hear the process from a guy who was there firsthand, and as someone who dabbles in game development, I find it inspiring.

What Else Should I Listen To?

Obviously I've only begun to scratch the surface of what's out there. A friend recommended RadioLab, a science-ey podcast that touches on a wide variety of topics. Another friend (or twelve) immediately suggested Serial. I know it was a phenomenon, so I suppose I'll check out at least the first episode at some point. And my cousin Mike is always trying to get me to listen to Comedy Bang Bang. From the few clips he's played for me, it does seem pretty funny, so maybe now that I've got the whole setup, I'll finally give it a whirl.

What else should I listen to? If you've got any suggestions, I'm all ears. Leave notes in the comments section below!

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