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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Interview With Dan Amrich of One Of Swords


I'd like to start this post by thanking Dan for taking the time out of his busy schedule to take part in this interview with me it was a pleasure , Lets get straight down to business.

Ross - I first became aware of your work on the Oxm podcast where you co hosted the show with Ryan McCaffrey how easy is it to get in front of a mic and just do a show like that ?

Dan - For me, it's not hard -- I am actually more comfortable behind a mic
than I am in person. Part of this comes from having done radio, and
before that, live theater. You learn that you're in the moment, you
have to own it -- just commit to whatever you are going to say and
you'll be fine more often than not.

As for KOXM, Ryan and I have a good chemistry from our friendship.
We're on the same page, but often have different outlooks on the same
things, so that leads to great open discussions. There's also just the
right amount of friendly competition -- we want to make each other
laugh and we both agree with that "commit to the moment" thing.
Podcasting with him is effortless.

Ross - How much games journalism did you do before the Oxm days ?

Dan - I started out writing pro in 1993. I got serious about writing during
my senior year in college, and actually started in music -- I did
record reviews, I interviewed a few up and coming bands. I landed a
job at Country Guitar magazine -- I love guitar, not so much on
country, but I certainly came to appreciate it -- and started looking
for freelance work in gaming around the same time. I got good exposure
writing one-off articles for Wired and TimeOut NY, and was on staff at
Flux magazine and an AOL area called Critics Choice. Those really
helped establish me before I moved to California for a startup
magazine that didn't really start. I joined the staff of GamePro in
1997 and wrote under the name Dan Elektro for seven years. I
ultimately moved over to help launch GamesRadar in the US, then
shifted to OXM in 2006. My first big review was Gears of War, which I
gave a 10 -- only the second one in the history of the magazine. No
pressure, new guy.

Ross - After Oxm you made a short job change to the Official WOW Magazine before becoming the community manager at activision how difficult a decision was it to make those  two pretty big job changes in a relatively short space of time ?

Dan - Very. I wasn't even sure I wanted to leave OXM; we had a nice balanced
staff and we all worked well together. But I also wanted to be able to
run my own show -- I'd never been Editor in Chief of anything, and the
WoW magazine was looking for someone who knew the game. I'd been
playing for four years at that point -- I actually started playing at
launch and didn't like it, then came back and saw all the upgrades and
started over. It just seemed to be the right opportunity at the right
time.

And literally the week that I moved my desk, I got a call from
Activision saying, hey, we have this new position that we're creating,
and we want to see if it's something that would interest you. It was
loosely described as "our version of Major Nelson." I said, "You know
I just started a new job, right?" But I knew it was worth discussing
with them because it was such a great opportunity. The longer I worked
on that first WoW issue, the more I realized this was not a good fit
for me and wasn't something I would be comfortable doing long
term...and the Activision opportunity was getting more and more real.
It got to the point where the only downside was having to move to Los
Angeles, because I like Northern California and the SF Bay Area.

I have always prided myself on not jumping around in the industry -- I
like committing to things, like GamePro for seven years and OXM for
three. I didn't want to be one of those people that you'd see at an
industry event and say "Who are you with now?" So having three jobs in
the same 12 months was really quite uncomfortable to me, but you don't
get to pick your windows of opportunity. Mine just happened to open
next to each other.

Ross - Is your current role at activision something you saw yourself doing when
you started in the video game world ?

Dan - Not really. Well, for one, the kind of role I now inhabit certainly
didn't exist when I started reviewing games like Total Carnage for
SNES and Eternal Champions for Genesis. I mean, when I started, the
person who gamers connected with at the company that made the games
was a blue hedgehog. The fact that the industry has evolved to the
point where publishers and developers can interact on this kind of
direct level is really encouraging, and I'm glad to be on the front
lines. But it's also scary, because while Major Nelson has clearly set
the standard, I'm also making up my particular version as I go along
-- and it's an awfully big stage for that kind of improv.

Ross - As a avid listener to talk radar i recently downloaded the episode
containing the Dan Amrich Roast , aside from all the jokes the talk radar
guys showed genuine affection towards you ,  how does it feel to have
affected the lives of other games journalists ?

Dan - That was a very special show. I didn't expect it, and quite honestly,
I didn't think I DID have an effect on other people. I really have
always felt that I was only as good as my last article and ultimately
I'm not as important as the game I'm covering anyway -- I am a
conduit, I am easily replaced. So to find out that all those guys
really felt that way -- that they cared enough to articulate it, and
that they had these tangible ways...it was very surprising, and truly
moving. It was very humbling to find out that I had any impact at all,
let alone that much. It certainly made me a lot more conflicted about
leaving.
Ross - For your One Of Swords podcast who long does it normally take to put the
show together record/edit and publish it ?

Dan - I try to produce it more or less in real time. The interview segment
is recorded separately from the co-host segments, but the raw
recordings are generally about two hours total -- that includes
equipment setup and connecting on Skype and general chatter. I try to
edit directly after the co-host segment is recorded, while it's still
fresh -- if there are things I need to bleep, I don't forget them.
That's about a half hour, tops. Then it's another 20 to 30 minutes to
export, tag up the MP3, and write the show description. After 30 shows
I have it down to a rhythm so I actually try not to waste any time, so
it rarely takes more than three hours a week. I'm trying to make it
even less by doing shorter shows, which in turn make it easier for new
listeners to jump in.

Ross - With a normal Palette-Swap Ninja song how long does it take for one of
them to come together from idea to release ?

Dan - It's generally a few months at the minimum; the shortest song we ever
turned around was one month, and that was to support Maximum PC's
100th podcast. Part of the reason it takes so long is that my musical
cohort Jude Kelley and I are both gainfully emplioyed and work on the
songs in our spare time. The other is that we don't want to rush the
comedy. We both really like the songs to be funny but also to tell a
story. Generally one of us will come up with a core joke -- for Viva
Pinata, it was the chorus; for Halo ((All I Play Oh)) it was the
simple rhyme of "Hey Oh" and "Halo." We rarely start with a song and
say "let's do a joke for that" -- it works much better the other way
around. What's the story to tell, what's the joke, and what song would
fit it?

Generally we kick emails back and forth. When the lyrics are there or
mostly there, then the serious work begins with learning parts and
programming drums -- Jude does that all in MIDI because he's the MIDI
master. Meanwhile I'm off learning guitar and bass parts. We build off
the drums and swap a Logic Express file back and forth in FTP until
it's all there. Sometimes that can take several weeks depending on how
complicated the song is and what else is going on in our lives. Jude
is a teacher so his summers are a little less busy, but my January to
March is a little easier in the game industry. So...it's a crapshoot

Ross - Any plans for the next video game parody song ?

Dan - Yes -- we're finishing up a live-action video for "Arcade Gaming
Shrine," but we are working on two more songs right now. One needs
lyrics but we both like the core idea very much, so we're going to try
to tackle that first. The second song just sort of came in a rush --
we have the full lyrics, but really don't have the time and focus to
do more than one song at a time, so it's just waiting in the wings. I
might revise the lyrics too, because now I'm thinking I want to change
the story a little bit. After that, we have discussed doing something
more ambitious; we're kicking around ideas. I have one crazy one but
it would require a herculean amount of effort, and it might just not
be worth that much trouble. We might be able to do something better in
the same amount of time.

Ross - Who are some of your musical influences ?

Dan - Jude and I are both huge fans of Devo, They Might Be Giants, and of
course, Weird Al Yankovic. Everything we do clearly stems from the
trails he has blazed; he proved that parody music could not only be
funny but, if created with enough care, worth hearing for years and
years. Jude and I met in an 80s cover band so we both like the
big-hair, big-synth, big-fun era of music, when MTV showed music
videos.

Ross - Is music something you could realistically do professionally ?

Dan - Short of what Jude and I did in our 80s band, probably not. We played
weddings, casinos, block parties -- they were good, paying gigs. But
for Palette-Swap Ninja, going any more "pro" than we are now is not a
goal -- like, our ultimate goal would be to play PAX or something.
We're not going to quit our day jobs and try to "make it." We do it
because for love more than fame. We want what we make to be worth
hearing, but that's out only real goal.


Ross - If you had to choose one and only one what would be your favorite game of
all time ?

Dan - I hate this question.  :)  It's impossible to choose, but I do keep
gravitating to Robotron 2084, because that's a game that still
challenges me -- hell, still scares me -- every time I play it. And I
have been playing it for literally decades. I have had lots of
fantastic, moving game experiences but Robotron is relentless and
every time I play it even now, I want to be better than I am.

Ross - Of all the current gen consoles which one sees the most playing time in
the Amrich house ?

Dan - I just got a PS3 a few months ago, so that combined with my years at
OXM building up a 360 library means I do play 360 more often. I play
PC a lot too -- Borderlands, L4D2, PvZ, and of course WoW. It's at
least 50/50 between PC and consoles, maybe more PC lately. 

Ross - Do you feel a MMO like WOW could ever work on the 360 or Ps3 ?

Dan - Yes. I haven't seen it yet, but I want to believe it can and will
happen. I am eager to see DC Universe Online on PS3 for this very
reason -- I am a comic nerd and want to live in that world. But the
trick is that the MMO has to be designed for the console in mind, and
I think that's DCUO's first smart move. So I'm hopeful.

Ross - What are your feelings towards Kinnect and Move ?

Dan - I preordered Kinect -- Dance Central is the kind of thing that I want
to play, but my choreographer wife wants to play even more -- but I'm
taking a wait-and-see on Move. Nothing wrong with the tech, just
looking for what game will give me the excuse to invest. It's never
about the tech anyway -- it's always about the games that make you
want the tech.

Ross - Which is your favorite gaming system of all time ? 

Dan - Arcades. Seriously -- I grew up on the Atari 2600, loved my Genesis,
and was thrilled to cover the 32-bit era on the front lines, so I have
strong memories. But to me, nothing beats a 400-pound plywood box that
has been created to play ONE GAME, and play it better than anything
else in the world. This is nostalgia talking, but then again...show me
a home version of Tempest or Atari's 1983 Star Wars or Robotron 2084
that is as good if not better than the coin-ops. 

Ross - And finally is there anything you'd like to plug or link to ?

Dan - Always! :) One of swords -- that's my portal for all the social
media stuff from inside Activision. All the Palette-Swap Ninja info
and the free MP3s are at palette swap ninja. And I don't blog much
on bunnyears lately, but that's my portal to all my personal weird
interests -- making Ghostbusters outfits, digging into puzzles,
telling the stories of how I got my Xbox 360, stuff like that. It's
rated M for Mature.

Once again i'd like to thank Dan so much for taking the time to participate in the interview with me it has been a brilliant interview if i do saw so my self so enjoy and please feel free to leave comments with your feedback 

1 comment:

  1. awesome interview a really good read.

    ReplyDelete