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JournalistI'm Austin Walker, the editor of VICE's Gaming Site. Let's talk about why we play. AMA!

Dec 8th 2016 by TheCalcutec • 36 Questions • 749 Points

EDIT: Hey everyone! Wow, thanks so much for all of the incredible questions. I really loved answering them, and I'm now pretty determined to turning this sort of Q&A into a larger feature over at Waypoint. (But also, we'll def do some proper AMAs again in the future!) Thank you so much for your support. If you want the question you didn't get answered here to potentially show up in an episode of Waypoint Radio, make sure to email [email protected] with the subject "Question"!

Thanks again y'all. Hope you have a good night. See you for the podcast tomorrow morning. Peace!

My name is Austin Walker, and I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Waypoint, VICE’s new gaming website. (And hey! Shoutouts to the Waypoint subreddit!)

At Waypoint, we do everything from long form feature articles (like this piece on inmates who play Dungeons and Dragons) to documentaries (like this look into the creation of Hyper Light Drifter, one of my favorite games this year!), and I’m lucky enough to get to put a creative hand on just about everything that we do. Thankfully, every now and then I still find the time to do a little writing of my own. We also do a lot of streaming at Waypoint—check out this clip of me and Senior Reporter Patrick Klepek suffering through Superman 64 in the late hours of the night.

You can also catch me on your favorite podcast player, hosting Waypoint Radio (our twice a week podcast about games and culture) and Friends at the Table (a tabletop RPG podcast focused on critical world building, smart characterization, and fun interaction between good friends.

Before I got here, I was a member of the Giant Bomb family, and just a year before that, I was a broke freelance writer and a grad school student. Time moves fast, huh?

In any case, I’m super excited to be here and can’t wait to answer some questions. So hey, ask me anything!

Proof: https://i.redd.it/nciitjle302y.jpg

Q:

When are you going to play Knack?

A:

Look for when the sky is clear, And the sun is back. Patrick and I will share some beer, And play some Knack.


Q:

Hi Austin,

What sort of planning went into you and Dan sneaking food into the e3 panel and whose idea was it? I was dying

A:

Here's the bit in question.

Dan was really, honestly, asking me if I wanted a twinkie the first few times. Then during one of the downtimes, we just both sort of excitedly talked about how much we loved it and wanted to escalate. One thing led to another... and then another thing led to a coffee machine.

Jeff was... an enabler.


Q:

Has there been a difference in the management style from Giantbomb to VICE? Giantbomb always seen pretty laid back in how they go about things.

What do you hope see out of the Nintendo Switch?

Thanks so much Austin!

A:

The major difference is that I'm in a different role! At GB I was responsible for writing news & some reviews, being on videos and podcasts, and managing the freelancer program. Here, I'm hands on with all of that, but also have to take to much broader perspective on things. I was in a meeting today planning out things as far away as June. I just didn't need to be in that sort of meeting at GB, you know?

The other big difference is that we're a new site, which means that everything needs to be managed a little bit tighter. While overall cadence is important (as I said in another answer), this close to launch means that every post, every stream, every podcast ep... everything we do will have that much more attention on it, and it will be that much more precedent setting. So I'm definitely being a little less relaxed than I would be otherwise.

Re: The Switch, I really want to be able to play for an entire flight from the NYC to SF or LA! Other than that, I'd really love if third parties are given a good reason to support it. Would love to have a Nintendo console that isn't just my "Nintendo Game Machine*.


Q:

Hi Austin, I enjoyed your work on the beastcast and am happy to see your rise to waypoint. Personally, one thing that I admired about you was your academic background. I believe I was introduced to your work as I myself was finishing up my graduate degree. You similarly, were working on your doctorate. You lamented the struggles of finding work in your field (and of the shrinking availability of jobs therein) which mirrored my own experiences and I imagine, many of the experiences of recent graduates. I can’t speak for your grad school experience but many of my classes consisted of roundtable discussions of the week’s academic reading, critiquing and dissecting the works. I went straight from undergrad to graduate whereas many of my peers were adults with jobs and families of their own. A few were foreigners for whom English was their second language. Some, current and former military, both women and men of varying races. They had diverse backgrounds, no two were quite alike. As you would imagine, the perspectives and experiences of these individuals differed greatly which fostered lively but respectful debates.

This gets into the heart of my question and critique. Having listened to you speak a great deal on the beastcast and on your own twitter, it seems obvious that you greatly value diversity and interesting new takes on video game discussion. I’ve seen you tell prospective writers for your site to investigate whether their take has been done to death or not. However, the viewpoints of you, Danielle and Patrick never seem to diverge from each other nor really my expectations of what they will be. Often on the Beastcast on more contentious topics, Vinny would act as the devil’s advocate and even you would sometimes try to present the opposing viewpoint in the best possible light. Since it wasn’t your viewpoint, sometimes you fell short in presenting the position but you made an active effort to recognize that perspectives outside of your own existed.

1)How do you reconcile your desire to foster new discussions and interesting unique viewpoints with the criticism that your staff’s beliefs diverge very little?

2)Your site right now lacks a comment section, when it was Vice Gaming, it had one. At times the comments could be quite negative. Is the lack of comments a response to that? Do you believe that removing the comment section presents the reader with a one-sided viewpoint without risking the author’s perspective being challenged?

Let me be clear this isn’t a call for you to stop writing about the topics that are important to you or your staff. Instead, my appraisal of you is that you’re the type of individual who has given a lot of thought to this dilemma and I’m curious what your thoughts are. Thank you for your time and I hope you have continued success for your site.

A:

Hey Laterkid,

The first thing I'll say is that our site is still very small, and that there really hasn't been much in terms of topic to make us "butt heads." That said, if you go listen to the question-only Waypoint Radio episode from a few weeks ago, you'll actually hear us disagree a lot. It's just that disagreement doesn't sound like fighting. As much as I was a fan of 1UP Yours back in the day, I'm just not looking to shout at someone who disagrees with me. Still, as we continue to hire up, we'll continue to hire people who have broader interests and feelings about games and the world.

Re: Comments. Partly, that reflects the fact that our Content Management System (or CMS, shout outs to the product & dev team!) , just doesn't have them built in and instead opts for the infinite scroll design. Because of that, we've found other ways to interact with our fans and readers: Things like this AMA, Twitter, our subreddit, our fan Discord, etc. That said, we very much wanna start a letters to the editor section (a la Motherboard), and we also want to look into forums—I've been really impressed by what Discourse can do, and wanna investigate that for sure.

Also, lol, discourse.


Q:

What's REALLY good?

A:

What's really, really good, internet?


Q:

What do you think is the line between story and gameplay in terms of game quality? For years we have seen games with masterful gameplay and subpar stories (MGSV comes to mind) get extremely high scores, while games with great story and subpar gameplay (Mafia III) have reviewed more poorly. Do you think this is right? Should game journalists give more emphasis to story, or do we already have a good balance? Thanks for taking the time to do this!

A:

There isn't a single answer to this. If anything, I'd like to blow up the dichotomy between "story and gameplay."

Thsoe categories are super useful for us as shorthand: "Yeah, the story was good," is easier to say than "The game has really solid characterization and the plot is exciting and the setting is really evocative!" But when you push yourself to be a little more specific, suddenly you see how "the gameplay" and "the story" are overlapping categories.

Many of my favorite games weave their storytelling through the game's moment-to-moment mechanics. Even something like Doom (2016)'s story about a demon-killing super-marine is emphasized by the player's own empowerment. That story just doesn't have punch without the combat being so mobile, the player such a devastating force.

I have my own tastes, obvs, but, I don't think game reviewers should give more emphasis to this or that at all. I think they should be radically honest about their own experiences and try to understand why they like and don't like the things they play. I'm not out to tell someone who skips through cutscenes that they should pay more attention, and I'm not here to tell the player who lives for Lore that they should care more about gameplay balance. That way lies boring dogmatism.


Q:

Thanks for the answer! So maybe instead of asking "is gameplay more important or is story more important", I should be asking "how do we better merge the two?" Thanks again!

A:

Maybe! I think what we should be asking is "Does the thing that the game makers did work for us." I don't think a game like, say, Zach Gage's Bad Chess (or even Far Cry 2) needs more story to be good—in the same way that I don't think Picasso's "Guernica" needs more color.


Q:

Hey Austin! What's your favorite anime that's not a mech anime or set somewhere in space?

A:

Oh, good question.

While I'm a big mecha and sci-fi fan, my actual favorite anime director is Satoshi Kon. So in terms of series, Paranoia Agent, probably. Once we're talking films, people will probably tell you (and they're not wrong) that Paprika, Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, and Millennium Actress are dope, and they're not wrong. BUT DO NOT SLEEP ON MAGNETIC ROSE, Kon's short film in the Memories anthology. It's so good. (Also, it has space in it, so I guess apologies.)

Beyond that, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is like my favorite "smart junk food" tv. Blend of easily digestible, crime-of-the-week procedural stuff with some heady ideas tossed in for fun. Also: robots. Whoops. I guess the Tachikomas count as mechs.


Q:

What about the sad cat anime tho?

A:

CHI'S SWEET HOME IS VERY GOOD


Q:

If Patrick is Scoops, what would your nickname be in the morning zoo radio format?


Q:

Austin what do you think makes a good GM (as a good GM yourself)?

A:

Being open minded and invested in figuring out what the group wants, and knowing where their own strengths lie. Frankly, if my group wanted to do an old-school dungeon crawl, I'd probably not be the GM to give it to them—though I totally think that type of campaign has its merits.


Q:

If you had to make the DiveKick version of your favourite game, what are the two buttons?

A:

I was going to say that it's Crusader Kings 2, and that the two buttons are "Yes" and "No." Then I remembered: This already exists, and it's Reigns.


Q:

A while ago on the podcast you mentioned that, among a number of things you were juggling, you wanted to find the time to watch Luke Cage. I just wanted to ask, did you ever get around to it? I remember being curious what you would think of it.

A:

I haven't! I did manage to watch all of Atlanta in the last week though, and I really liked it.


Q:

Hey Austin, big fan! If you could take 3 games with you to a deserted island you're stranded on (power but no internet, for some reason) what would they be?

A:

This is a very difficult question.

  1. Dwarf Fortress
  2. Invisible, Inc. for all the reasons I outline here. Please don't push the Austin button.
  3. The Witcher 3, with DLC, because then I'd finally have the time to actually play through that whole thing.

Q:

Besides WinRar, what kind of tools and programs should someone have going into the field? Can you just get by with basic word processors for awhile?

A:

I do basically all of my writing & editing in Google Docs! Really, really long form stuff is aided by some additional programs (and I'd be interested to hear people's productivity & writing suggestions!)

Beyond that, though, the things I use the most are communication tools like Slack & Discords and organizational tools like Trello.


Q:

What tabletop RPGs are you excited about but haven't yet gotten to play?

Any established favorites you're especially keen to get back to?

Could you shout out a favorite bit of game design in a tabletop RPG and why you like it?

A:

There are so many. I really wanna play Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine and Ryuutama: Natural Fantasy RPG, because anime. I really want to play Fantasy Flight's Star Wars RPG, but without hacking it for another system, it won't work for Friends at the Table—we're pretty committed to staying in our own fictional worlds.

Oh! Very excited to play Ben Robbins' Follow, sometime soon, I hope!

I already miss Blades in the Dark, which we used for season 2 of FatT. That's also one I'm thinking about hacking for a future season!

My favorite bit of tabletop design is the way ammo works in Dungeon World (and many other Powered by the Apocalypse games).

So, there are a lot of ways to do "ammo" in a game. Some games attempt to evoke a simulated sense of "reality," so you make players track ammo manually and tightly control their access to more. Others play fast and loose with ammo, only counting "special" arrows or bullets or whatever. In Dungeon World, the focus is on cinematic storytelling, so (like in a movie or a great piece of fantasy fiction) "ammo" comes up whenever things get hairy.

Every player with ranged weapons has an ammo number—this tends to be low, like between 3-5. The way you attack with a ranged weapon is a "move" called "Volley." Volley states:

When you take aim and shoot at an enemy at range, roll+Dex. ✴On a 10+, you have a clear shot—deal your damage. ✴On a 7–9, choose one (whichever you choose you deal your damage):

You have to move to get the shot placing you in danger as described >by the GM You have to take what you can get: -1d6 damage You have to take several shots, reducing your ammo by one

So you roll to hit and you land a full hit? No problem, you're like Legolas in pretty much any scene in Lord of the Rings. You roll a 7-9 though, and things get tricky—and maybe you have to take a few more shots than you'd like to, reducing your ammo.

It's an abstract number, but also a very real, material one. I love it because it illustrates the wide range of possibility for storytelling in games like this (and because it shows that a roll can change the entire tone of the game!)


Q:

If you could choose Patrick's desert island game what would it be? Keep in mind Patrick would choose Knack for you.

A:

Dwarf Fortress.

Wait. No. No. ALSO KNACK

If we go down, we go down together.


Q:

Have you had any more info from the Sigil Master?

A:

No! I actually got some outsider information that made me disengage totally from the Game Detectives chat and everything around it. I KNOW TOO MUCH (and don't wanna ruin the fun for other people.)


Q:

I ran my first game of Dungeon World the other weekend. It was very fun, but I had some trouble coming up with interesting results for when the players missed or got 7-9 on Defy Danger. You have any favorite go-to moves for those results?

A:

Always keep your player's inventories in front of you. They have something they like? Let them decide if they want to succeed at the cost of that thing being taken from them (at least temporarily).


Q:

Hey Austin!

I don't really "get" Invisible, Inc. As it just came out as part of Playstation Plus, I'm interested in giving it another shot. Do you have any valuable tips for understanding how it plays? What am I missing?

A:

Constantly ask yourself, out loud, "Okay, why am I doing the move I'm about to do?" and when things go wrong, take a page from Alex Navarro and ask "What did we learn?" Invisible, Inc. (née Incognita), is very much the sort of game that rewards care and attention, and punishes bad habits.

To do well at Invisible, Inc., you need to get information. But to get great at Invisible, Inc., you need to know exactly when take risks instead of wasting time gaining more information. Learning that balance takes time (and is why it's one of my favorite games ever.)


Q:

Hey Austin,

I'm actually a grad school student right now, and I'm hoping to be an editor one day. Any tips for getting into the gaming journalism scene?

A:

I've answered this a bunch of the years, but my best answer is probably still this post on my Giant Bomb blog.

Number three there is my biggest "tip:" Write. Write a lot. Write long form and short form. Do interviews, reviews, essays, reported pieces, retrospectives, archival digs, news repots. Stretch your writing muscles and find out what you're good at and what you want to be better at. Find someone to give you honest feedback.

Beyond that, though, and this is maybe not the most sunny answer, is that everyone who wants to be in games journalism should really think through their desire to be in games journalism. I love my job to death (and loved my time at GB too!), but I've been incredibly lucky.

My time as a freelancer—and almost anyone who wants to break into traditional games journalism will spend time as a freelancer—was incredibly stressful, exhausting, and trying. I was dead broke (and that was when I had an additional income as a teacher, too), and I spent as much time trying to find outlets for my writing, chasing down paychecks, and filing paperwork as I did writing (maybe more!)

Then, if you manage to find a full time gig, well, it's full time. And there really is something about turning your hobby into your job that can dull some of the polish. I've said it before, but I think I can count the days I've spent "at work" playing games in the last two years on my fingers. Mostly it's meetings and planning, drafting and editing, fighting with recording equipment and coordinating with other departments.

My experience isn't everyone's, for sure, but I do think that it's instructive, a reminder that being a games journalist is a job, not an escape from the stresses of work. I think about this Lester Freeman speech a lot. "The job will not save you." (And if you're looking to pay the rent, and who isn't, there are better careers to follow.)

That said: If you still wanna be a games journalist? Fucking do it. There is nothing that gets me more pumped than finally understanding the thing I want to say about a game, or being able to really dig into the design and background of a game with one of its makers, or being able to elevate the ideas of amazing writers who are looking for a platform. This is very "do as I say, not as I do," I know, but really, it's an important step to take.


Q:

What kind of perspectives and stories are you most interested in including at Waypoint and what have been the most exciting so far?

A:

I've kind of explained the first bit before, but here's the list of stories I send around when someone asks me what sort of stories I'm interested in publishing:

Obviously there are dozens (hundreds?) of other articles I love by writers like Kate Gray, Jack de Quidt, Yuseff Cole, Julie Muncy, Cameron Kunzelman, Chris Schilling.... the list goes on and on and on and on. But these represent a great collection of the sorts of articles I love publishing.


Q:

Do you feel liberated working at (and running, of course) a site more focused on writing?

A:

Not "liberated," really. It scratches a different itch for sure, and I love being able to give a platform to great written articles (both long and short). But I wasn't chaffing under the yoke of Quick Looks or anything.


Q:

What was the last anime you watched all the way through? Do you still have any time at all, now that your running your own space?

A:

I honestly don't even have the answer off the top of my head and that is very sad. I think probably... the first season of Aldnoah.Zero? There's SO MUCH that I've started and dropped off of because I haven't had time. Watching anime is tough because it's mostly subbed, and that means that I actually need to give it full attention (which I rarely have these days).


Q:

Hey Austin, I've been a fan of yours for awhile. What is one non-videogame thing that you think somebody should watch, read, or experience?

A:

This is such a big question, and not really the sort that I have an answer for. I know what things influenced me, but I don't think that there's some silver bullet, canonical answer to a question like this.


Q:

If you could cosplay as any Dynasty Warriors character, which would you choose and why? I am in no way bias to your answer.

A:

Zhou Yu was my first favorite, but over time, I've become a Lu Xun dude.

Regardless: Wu For Life.


Q:

I've really been enjoying what Waypoint has done so far, but I'm curious about your editorial philosophy. In a world where that is little actual reporting in games media, how much news reporting do imagine Waypoint doing at its peak? Patrick has been one of the best games reporters, so do think the site will become more news or commentary? Or is there a perfect balance you're looking for?

A:

i think the balance we have now is about where I'd like to be going forward, with perhaps a little more short form reporting to supplement the great long form stuff we have now!


Q:

Hey Austin, what has been your favorite moment of Friends at the Table? Could you talk a bit about the prep and play leading up to it?

A:

For the uninitiated: I run a tabletop podcast called Friends at the Table, in which I run RPGs for my friends (and which features the incredible music of Jack de Quidt.

Favorite ep we've done is probably all of "An Animal Out of Context," (from our mecha/cyberpunk/noir season COUNTER/Weight) in which we learn the secret history of the massive, terrible super robot named Rigor. It was super experimental in format, and it was using a still-in-development tabletop game that I and one of the other players had co-designed. So the prep was, technically, years long. The result was something really, really special. Real highlight of my year!

But my favorite individual moment is when we realized the truth behind Brandish's pirate fleet! Earlier on in the campaign, we used this cool little mechanic called "love letters" which let's the GM fill in the gap of a character's backstory or downtime. In this case, we had a rad warrior named Hella who had come up against a pirate king named Brandish. A roll of the dice determined how well she defeated him, and what sort of reward she got for doing it. Based on her roll, she was able to take three of the following four things: The food & money he'd stolen from Hella's city, a special spyglass, a map to a mysterious island, and Brandish's head. She took the first three.

Jump forward a few episodes, and the group has found their way onto a boat. A few bad rolls later, and guess whose ship appears over the horizon...

"I defeated him, right?" asked Hella's player. "You did, you did, but you didn't take his head..." I responded, and at that point in my mind, he had just managed to escape that previous encounter with his life. Then another player in the game, asked a big question:

Keith: "When you're saying 'she didn't take the head?', are you saying she didn't cut off his head, or that she didn't take the head with her after she cut it off?" Me: "That's a really good question!" Keith: "Yeah. Okay. Undead pirates. Fuck boats. I said no boats!"

Now I could've just said "oh, no, he's fine. he's a regular pirate." But it's way more interesting for: 1. Him to be a zombie pirate, 2. Me to have to figure out how and why he's a zombie pirate. From that "yes and..." moment, I was able to totally redirect the remainder of that campaign, taking my party to a city frozen in time, where the undead and living worked side by side. It's very much one of the moments that first helped me conceptualize the vibe of the whole show!


Q:

Hey Austin! for the link formatting to work, the URL needs to be complete. Try

[incredible music of Jack de Quidt](http://www.notquitereal.bandcamp.com) 

Thanks for the wonderful AMA so far!


Q:

What does Brad do all day?

A:

Like everyone else at GB, work his fucking ass off. The business of working in games journalism—especially at a site with only a handful of people at it—means getting a lot of stuff done that is totally invisible from the outside. Endless meetings, tons of paperwork, editing podcasts, prepping features, writing. There's a always a ton to do.


Q:

Hey Austin, big fan. Waypoint is a site about games and gamers. What I really miss (from most gaming sites) is articles about fringe genres (like, for example, simulations).

Do you think this lack of articles comes just down to the fact that less people play this games (and thus also less writers) or do you think that many of these articles just won't get published, because their contents are often not of interest for the average player?

A:

One way to think about it: Take a major game. How many of its players both really, really understand it well and also can write cogently (and insightfully or entertainingly) about it? That's not a diss to those who can't or don't do that, only a matter of numbers.

Now take a game with a much smaller audience. What's the chance that one of its players is also a writer? Obvs this changes from game to game, but it really is a numbers game at some point.

There is also the question of broader interest, but if something is really interesting about a niche game, places like Waypoint, Giant Bomb, and Paste are all super interested in covering them! The question for the aspiring niche writer is "How do I make this accessible and interesting to a wide audience." (And that's not to say that all writing should be accessible—I come from academia after all! But writing for a mass audience does need to consider approachability.)


Q:

Austin, what is your favorite thing about Theodore Horst? Besides keeping it wavy, of course. Did you have any inclining that he would become such an intrical part of Mako's story arc when you were coming up with him?

A:

ZERO idea. And again, Lazer Ted is a huge example of why tabletop RPGs are great when things emerge naturally from play. Ted didn't exist before Keith said "I want to call on one of Mako's old contacts," and he didn't exist AS "Lazer Ted" until Keith called him that. And then I heard the name. And then I knew exactly who Lazer Ted was.


Q:

Are you caught up on Gundam? Been watching Origin, or Ironblooded Orphans?

A:

I'm not! I never found the time to even finish IBO part 1. Haven't seen any Origin! I know, I know, I KNOW!


Q:

The UC life is the only life.

A:

UC >>>>


Q:

Knife or bat?

A:

I have always been team bat. Reach is important.

But... knives...


Q:

first off, I know you're planning to do a Marielda postmortem at the end of FatT Season 3, so apologies if you don't want to answer this one here, but.

Marielda felt much tighter to me on its conception of the nature of divinity than the first Hieron season did. What changed about that direction between the season 1 finale and today? Or was it always intended to be like that (more or less) and Marielda offered the chance to explore it?

A:

The thing that changed was that I got to run COUNTER/Weight, which generally made me a more invested and careful storyteller!

That said, Marielda also meant taking more control over the story from my players. So, think about the Samot & the Wolf story in Season 1: I had no idea how that would go. I was sure the animal chasing Samot would be a dragon, not a wolf! In Marielda, I didn't let my players give those sorts of details, I laid them out in front of them and asked them to respond. Giving a very tight, prescripted sense of who Samot & Samothes were was important for future things in Hieron.

Just wait...