Koobismo Interview: Game Connoisseur
For folks who haven’t been to your site, could you describe what it’s all about?
It’s been a few things over the past two years, though primarily a publication venue for the Marauder Shields series, an ongoing webcomic offering an alternative ending to Mass Effect 3. The site is slowly becoming a platform for various original projects of my own – a rather sluggish development, mind you, but I’m getting there.
Is it just you that runs the site or is there a team you’d like to mention?
The Marauder Shields audiobook publications have been developed and co-authored by an incredible cast of incredible people – hopefully we’ll be able to get back to that someday. We’ve also had a bunch of guest writers and friends sharing their work on the site, though most of that dried up when I focused on my game, pressed by my professional problems and financial woes. Right now the site’s run by myself and Signo Vir, the master of all web mastery, as we crawl towards having the new stuff up and about. We’ll have much more to offer later this year.
Where did the name ‘Koobismo’ come from?
An old inside joke that seeks explanation in the name of a certain poisonous tree frog. Its skin secretions are highly hallucinogenic, allowing you to disregard painful cultural experiences as simple delusions, phantasms of a damaged mind, doped out on bufotenin… The true story behind it is as boring as they come: my name’s Kuba, short for Jakub in Polish, with the “ismo” appendix inspired by the naming practices of cheap-ass dime-a-trick street magicians. People who Gandalf would refer to as “actual conjurers of cheap tricks”, before telling them to shove those marked cards up their rear.
I’ve been following Marauder Shields for a while, and I’ve enjoyed your tie-in a lot more than the conclusion to the Mass Effect series. How did you these ideas come to you?
Truth be told, there’s no specific method in play here… There rarely is. When creative people try to explain their processes, they superimpose these complicated, overarching systems of idea excavation and development, making it seem like it’s almost something scientific. It seems unprofessional to just lay it out as clearly as “yeah, I had this idea and then I wrote it down and worked on it some”, but that’s usually what happens.
Anywho, I threw together something that seemed logical, took a few days to polish it, addressing specific things people had problems with in the original ending: from the significance of London, to the use of the Crucible. Pretty happy with how it all came together, with causation and effect fighting off casual randomness. Or at least that’s how it works on my whiteboard.
Of all the things you could have done (write an angry letter, troll the BSN, etc), you chose to create a web-comic with your own ending. Why?
It’s incredibly easy to paint people with legitimate concerns and criticisms as “entitled whiners”, associating them with the stereotypical image of a basement-dweller who has never done anything creative in his life, and thus should be shunned from having opinions about the creative work of others. It’s a cheap trick used to certain success in internet PR, and one that infuriates me to no end. It’s also something that was very much present in the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy, as many media outlets – including some uncomfortably partial to it all – disregarded the arguments and criticisms, choosing instead to attack those that brought them into daylight. My reaction was to show them all a big, pointy finger by doing something that actually did require a bit of creativity and devotion. It turned out many people appreciated that, and I appreciated their appreciation in return.
Do your readers provide decent feedback? Have they influenced your work at all?
A massive “yes”, on both accounts. The feedback has been invaluable in defining the presentation of the story, which, I believe, has significantly improved since the first batch of episodes… Although the story remains pretty much the same as my original first draft – aside from little things here and there – huge improvements have been made in regards to its clarity and focus. One of the biggest things influenced by the community? Dropping the meta-jokes and pop culture references that were all over the place at one point.
Have you gotten any exceptionally negative remarks about your work?
Sure I did, as is to be expected with any kind of creative work.
How do you handle it?
Negative feedback can be as useful as its positive counterpart, with the assumption that “ur stupid lol” and “ur mistaken cuz I disagree” cannot be classified as such. However, if someone actually provides you with a properly constructed argument against your work – one that doesn’t take intellectual shortcuts to try and take a jab at you personally – the only way to “handle it” is to read it, think about it and respond to it, in that order. People who aim at your psychological well-being – little do they know, smirk, smirk – and assholes who issue physical or actual death threats are fair game. No one will complain if you’re an asshole to them in return, as long as you keep it entertaining.
Do you have plans for other comics?
I do indeed. I was quite far into the pre-production of my original series, Safehaven, when I lost my job, which effectively destabilized pretty much everything going on in my life, especially stuff that required a budget and vast amounts of free time. Once I’m fat and rich enough to be able to create stuff for free again, I’ll get back to it. Once it happens, I hope you’ll check it out. We’ve had copious amounts of fun working on it with Phil Hornshaw, and I believe it’ll turn out pretty neat.
What have you taken away from your time as a storyteller?
Hulk almighty, you make it sound as if rigor mortis was already setting in, buzzards pecking at my eyes! I do hope that my time as a storyteller is just beginning – my professional experience as a writer has been rather… limiting, to say the very least. Right now I’m struggling a bit with financial limitations, but I hope as time passes I’ll find a way to do the stuff I want, using methods I’d like to use. Once I get there, please, do ask this question again.
As of my current experiences… It’s absolutely amazing to see and communicate with someone enjoying the things you came up with – it gives me a kick, a jolt of happiness, something that helped me in a grim period of my life, one that has thankfully passed. If I’m to distill my thoughts into a nicely rounded sound bite, I’d say that storytellers should be thankful for the attention of their audiences and never, ever take it as granted. It’s a two-way relationship, and many make the mistake of under-appreciating the side that doesn’t have a name on the cover.
Do you have a comic book series that you enjoy or have enjoyed in the past?
I grew up as a comic book maniac, a kid from Eastern Europe with an irrationally deep connection to the American comic book universe. Batman, Punisher, Heavy Metal, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Watchmen… I actually learned German to be able to import X-Men comics from our western neighbors. As I got older, I yearned for more complete comic experiences, and managed to find some at a flea market in Berlin, Watchmen and Maus amongst others. Thanks to them, I started appreciating comics as an art form, a medium with something relevant to say, not just a form of entertainment. I believe I started approaching games in the same manner shortly after.
What would your ideal story look/sound like?
I’ll tell you in about ten years, once I’m in the process of making it. In all seriousness, it would probably be a lot quieter and un-epic than you might expect, assuming you base your expectations off Marauder Shields.
With the exception of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bioware has remained quiet for some time. Bioware Pulse disappeared, and so did Casey Hudson. What do you think will come of DAI? What about the new Mass Effect title?
One has to remember that PR decisions are up to BioWare’s management, which is most likely following a very specific business and marketing plan. I’m sure there will be plenty of both Mr. Hudson and behind the scenes programming once the proper time comes, when BioWare’s marketing team decides to push for more attention. In fact, the recent E3 “teaser” could be considered an early sign of that, even though it was little more than hype and call for nostalgia.
As far as Dragon Age Inquisition and the new Mass Effect are concerned – I’m looking forward to both of them. Cautiously, more so than I did in the past, but, nevertheless, still very much interested in checking them out. BioWare seems to be in the process of shifting their business model, going after audiences I’m not exactly a part of nowadays… Nothing bad about that, mind you, but that does mean I’m waiting for their games with less excitement than I did a few years back. But, yeah, even though I’m concerned about their shift in direction, my love for the Mass Effect universe didn’t just disappear overnight.
What games, if any, are you looking forward to in the coming months/years?
Alien: Isolation. I’ve been a huge Alien fan since forever, which is about the same amount of time I’ve been an advocate for giving the license to someone who understands that being a colonial marine is probably the least interesting thing about the Alien universe.
I’m also wildly excited about Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity and inXile Entertainment’s Torment: Tides of Numenera. Once Wastelands 2 comes out of Early Access, I will for sure be checking it out as well – waiting to get the complete and polished experience. And, hey, it seems someone is working on a fan remake of Jurassic Park: Trespasser, which sounds absolutely neat!
Did you pay any attention to E3 2014? If so, what did you think of what was shown? If not, were you avoiding it?
I didn’t keep close tabs, truth be told. I’m a bit put off by the amount of hyper-hype the AAA gaming industry lives on nowadays, the semi-hysteria it expects from both its members and audience. If you want to be a gamer, says the industry, you gotta’ piss your pants over this latest trailer, you gotta’ squee your lungs out over the announcement that yes, gasp, there will be a sequel to a franchise raking in millions. Better pre-order now, or you’ll miss your chance on getting this super-duper thingie that we would traditionally throw in for free to keep up your interest!
I usually try to keep my knickers dry, which pretty much excludes me from being a part of the target audience of these huge, expensive events. I don’t mind, of course, if you feel excited by them, nor if anyone else does. What I’m saying is this, however: the hypertonic setting is less than pleasurable for myself, and I’d rather discover the cool stuff on my own clock.
Do you have a Youtube channel or website that you frequent often?
I do indeed, quite a lot of them, though I really doubt your readers would be interested in browsing my favorites tab… It’s boring, there’s mostly well-known things on there, as I’m usually the last one to discover cool stuff around the web.
So, how about Superbunnyhop on YouTube? What? He’s already greatly popular? Fine then, nietzschefamilycircus.com, where you can get your daily dose of Friedrich Nietzsche quotes, paired with random Family Circus pictures. Oh, and if you’d like to check out some creative spooky stuff, google out the SCP Foundation, to which I was recently introduced. Smooth toast.
In your opinion, how have video games changed for the better or for the worse?
They changed… for the different.
If I’d say they changed for the worse, I’d be ignoring the unreal technological progress that occurred in gaming during the last decade. Storytellers were given incredible tools, toolsets that rival those of other storytelling media, and – very often – go far beyond. At the same time these tools come with a hefty price tag attached, one that puts businessmen in control, not artists. Budgets are skyrocketing, and with the amount of money involved, often coming from public trading, expanding your audiences becomes more important than keeping up with your most loyal few. Games became streamlined, simpler, even more action-focused, as boxes are ticked to meet a common denominator. Some enjoy that, some do not. The latter are out of luck, unless they’re willing to move onto smaller experiences, developed by indies, with indie budgets and indie responsibilities.
As for my own preferences… I enjoy single player campaigns, disregarding multiplayer almost completely. I prefer organized and planned experiences more than those coming from emergent gameplay and open worlds. I don’t think replayability or “bang per buck” categories are as important as the personal experience one gets from a game, especially one derived from its story. I care little for graphics and am utterly ignorant about the technical side of things – I don’t know nor care what’s new and hot in the world of hair simulation. I don’t think the first person perspective is the only way to go about introducing immersion. I despise the idea of cutting out content that feels like a part of the experience and packaging it as an additional product. I despise treating players as mindless cows, ready to be milked through complicated systems of introduced dependence as seen in most Free 2 Play titles. I care little for Hollywood celebrity voice actors. I don’t mind reading tons of text. I often feel numb about too much action being put in front of me without a breather in-between. I think that the epic arms race is destructive and games should only be as epic as their stories allow.
Knowing all that, guess how I feel about most of today’s AAA titles?
I’m excited to see the stills from the game you are creating. Can you describe what it’s about?
It’s a game designed by one governing principle: “to hell with it all, let’s make shit I’d enjoy myself, to the best of my abilities”. The Sci-Fi Interactive Theatre (which is a title I was told I should not use, for marketing reasons) is a mixture of an adventure game and an interactive novel, story-heavy and story-focused. I doubt it will be anyone’s best game ever, and I don’t think I’ll manage to create something I myself will consider perfect, nor close to, not on my first take… But I do hope that it will be a thing I will be proud of. Paraphrasing the famous quote by Ray Bradbury, that is so often attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, “We must always jump off cliffs and develop our wings on the way down.”
The first episode of the game opens with the players marooned on a mysterious desert planet, as one of two survivors from a crashed flight to an unknown destination. By exploring your surroundings and living through flashbacks, you’ll have to find out more about your mission, about what happened to the ship and whether or not a chance exists to get off that goddamn planet. All of this plays out in the background of a much larger conflict rippling through the galaxy, one asking you about the possible cost of choosing extreme utilitarianism over traditional, deontological ethics. Or, mayhaps, the other way around? Either way, I hope the players will get a kick out of the story, especially that it pulls a few maneuvers that would be definitely “ill-advised” for a bigger development company. I’m hoping to use my indie freedom to serve you something that tastes just a bit different.
How long have you been working on The Sci-Fi Interactive Theatre?
I’ve been kicking the idea or something similar for quite some time, but this particular project – and story – are rather new. I sat down at the beginning of the year, after losing my job, counted up all the pennies I had around and asked myself: what’s the coolest thing I could do with the time I can buy for the money I have or could realistically obtain? My long-planned space-opera RPG, StarSignal, was not an option, as it required amounts of money I probably won’t see in quite a while… So I came up with something new, got excited about it, and started putting it all together, as fast as I can. I can only hope that there will be people out there who will enjoy it as much as I do. If there will be… I’ll get to do more.
You probably get this question a lot, but when do think it will be ready?
Oh, I don’t get this question enough, not nearly enough. If I manage to secure enough finances to get it rolling a bit faster, the first episode of the game should be released before the end of the year. If I’m not able to do that… Well, let’s not get onto that barrel of doom, tar and general unpleasantness yet. The Indiegogo campaign is right around the corner, I’ll let you know when it rolls out.
Speaking of gaming, name one aspect of gaming that you’d like to see improved or axed. Or do you have more than one?
I think the gaming industry has a huge problem with Hypocrisy (capital letter intended). There is a constant aura of dishonesty floating over this industry, and it stems from an almost unparalleled misalignment between the statements and the actions of its biggest participants. Don’t get me wrong – a lot of video game companies adhere to strict business ethics, and can be proud of doing so, and thus this critique isn’t aimed at them in the slightest. Others… not so much.
Those who offer us sameness often call themselves leaders of innovation. Free2Play titles are developed as money grabs, using psychological traps and casino-inspired tricks to milk hundreds of bucks – sometimes thousands – off of people who would otherwise think twice before paying more than 40 bucks for the same experience.
Pre-orders and season passes are used side-by-side with so-called “vertical slices” – beefed up demos aimed at selling you a product that doesn’t, in fact, exist, nor will it ever, at least not in this exact form. The funniest part about it all is that a “vertical slice” is an actual development term, meaning an “unpolished but feature complete” tech demo – and definitely not an overpolished, scripted presentation, filled with pre-baked lighting and other features that are there to deliberately trick you into excitement. We’ve grown so accustomed to bullshots (doctored screenshots) that we actually stopped pointing them out, and thus the industry took it upon themselves to develop bullshots that are actually moving and somewhat interactive.
From DLCs to DRM, to online passes, to other clear examples of anti-consumerist decision making, giants of the gaming industry care little about giving gamers any semblance of respect, as long as they shout the loudest about loving them immensely. Gaming companies adapted a PR stance of friendliness, of direct contact, which in huge part – as far as the all-known behemoths go – is little more than a facade. Are awesome people working in the industry on all levels and positions, creating great stuff? Yes! Do they have a lot to say about what actually gets made, how it gets made, how it’s marketed, and whether or not you’re the focus of their work? Nope. They’re all “listening to your feedback”, of course. Little changes, but at least you’re being listened to. That’s something, right?
Companies exist to make money, and that’s okay. It’s pretty much the most obvious statement one can make. The problem is, there’s little honesty to their way of making that money, which many also pretend isn’t their main objective at all. “Hey, look! Here’s another paid DLC that we made as a very special treat for you, a gift, a lick of ambrosia, that has nothing to do with us wanting to get just a little bit more out of your pocket. $15 off your credit card to buy a ‘love letter to you’. Ain’t life grand?”
Sorry about this lengthy rant, but this is a definite pet peeve of mine. My little “to be improved” suggestion? My little unachievable dream? A bit more honesty. Doubt it’ll happen anytime soon, seeing how the list of best earners is usually quite similar to the list of companies that abuse these practices… But a man can dream, can he not?
Gaming has had its ups and downs, but the overwhelmingly negative response from the gaming media and the overall silence of the Bioware staff [about ME3] was extraordinary. What do you think customers can learn from that? Is that just the way it is or can it things change so that everyone is happy?
With Mass Effect, BioWare was telling not one, but two stories. The first one was of Shepard’s, the one told in the game, in its narrative. The second one was the meta-story of player involvement, of community outreach, of how the fans and the players shaped the experience, how they ‘owned a part of that story’.
“Of course they will be given 16 different endings,” the voice from the other side said. “It was about ending their story the way they wanted after all!”
Both these narratives, the in-game and the PR one, came crashing down with the fiasco that was Mass Effect 3’s ending. I believe that as bad as the ending was, the reaction wouldn’t be as massive if it weren’t for the second narrative still being at play there, being exploited even during the outrage. To many it became a problem of personal disillusionment. Of, simply put, being lied to. Players felt betrayed – whether you agree with that feeling or feel it was substantiated or not.
I think there’s a valuable lesson in that, one learned by many, and one connected to what I’ve said about the gaming industry as a whole. Enjoy the products, be weary of the promises and don’t trust the hype, especially the “centralness of you”, the marketing concept pretending that the products in question are tailored to your personal satisfaction, for which you should not only pay for, but also be grateful for. PR statements might sound mighty fine sometimes, but as long as they’re made in the name of a bulbous, impersonal entity – they’re little more than a sales pitch. Hell, I just caught myself: they’re not even “little more”! They actually *are* a sales pitch!
When did you start gaming?
In the early 90s… 1992, I guess? After being introduced to gaming at my cousin’s place, I fell in love with pretty much anything game-related. Rambo, a cheap Atari knock-off, was my first gaming console and my point of pride. I then got to enjoy my first PC, my Sega Mega Drive, my Game Boy, a few barely working consoles bought at a second hand pawnshop in Germany, working as long as no one touched the AV cable. UFO Enemy Unknown – known as X-COM: UFO Defense to you yanks – was the first PC game of my own, not borrowed or copied, not belonging to my cousins or friends, but actually mine. I keep playing it yearly to this day.
Do you prefer gaming on a PC or a console? And what is your favorite console?
Definitely PC. I do own an Xbox 360, but I haven’t played it in a while, ever since my second Red Dead Redemption playthrough. My favorite console… I, ugh, oh, eh. Don’t know, really. Some of my fondest memories will be forever connected to my SEGA Mega Drive, which blew my mind at the time. I got it with Sonic & Knuckles, soon scoring Taz in Escape from Mars and Ecco: Tides of Time, which became one of my all-time favorites. What most of you guys reading this think of Zelda – that’s how I feel about Ecco.
What is your favorite video game franchise at the moment?
Really hard to tell, I’ve never been too good at this “favorites” game. How does one think about franchises? Does one incredible game make up for a mediocre one? How about a bad one, does it bring down the entire series, even if it was responsible for at least a bunch of your favorite gaming moments? Does the fact I couldn’t give a single shrug about the Old Republic invalidate the times I’ve replayed KOTOR 1 and 2? What if…
Screw it, Star Wars space flight simulators. Between X-Wing, TIE Fighter, TIE Fighter 95, X-Wing: Alliance and a bit of X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, it’s probably a franchise that did not disappoint me even once, even for a fraction of a second. Same goes for the Wizards of the Coast-licensed Infinity Engine games – Baldur’s Gate I and II, Icewind Dale I and II, and – first and foremost – Planescape Torment. If that whole bag of games can be considered “a franchise”, of course.
What is your opinion on kale?
Seems to be a popular vegetable nowadays. I don’t think I ever tasted it.
Can you describe your fondest gaming memory?
I have way too many. To this day I can hum the entirety of Betrayal at Krondor’s soundtrack, mostly due to finishing up the game a hundred times, starting it from the beginning a hundred more. I’ve wasted days upon weeks upon months on the hot seat in Heroes of Might & Magic II, and then III. Both Knights of the Old Republic and the first Mass Effect were revelations to me, as was Mass Effect-inspiring Space Control 2 before them.
Then there’s the Ultima series, Lemmings, Daggerfall, Morrowind, oldie LucasArts and Sierra adventure games, Red Alert, Settlers 2, System Shock 2, Jagged Alliance I and II, the first two Resident Evils, getting scared shitless by Silent Hill 2, the kick I got out of the first two Broken Sword games… Finally, there’s the aforementioned Ecco: The Tides of Time, a mind-bending experience at my younger age. If I would be allowed to make a blanket statement, I’d say that my fondest gaming memories are made up mostly from the games released prior to the year 2002, think of that what you will.
What are your thoughts on the next-gen consoles and what is to come?
The industry needed the new consoles more than the players did, if you ask me. There seems to be some interesting stuff out on them, but little to warrant the price tag for myself. Once I’m un-broke, I’ll probably invest in a new PC first and foremost, as this one’s almost five years old now, and without a single upgrade since the day I bought it.
What have you been watching lately?
Catching up on Breaking Bad and Deadwood, recently been enjoying HBO’s Silicon Valley and True Detective. I’m trying to get my SO to watch Babylon 5, but so far my pleading has little effect, despite her being a BSG and Star Trek fan. It’s the Centauri hair, you know? She can’t get past it.
Do you have any advice for folks looking to create or build their own site?
Create and serve content regularly, or the attention of your viewers will dwindle, regardless of their overall sympathies for you and your opinions. I know what I’m talking about, I’m absolutely the worst at this, the least timely person in the Western world.
What would you like to say to your followers?
Love you. No, seriously, I do. I’m humbled by the fact that people would even call themselves that, and I do hope to deliver something cool to them soon enough. And as for all you non-followers reading this: why not join the party? Seek me out, I make stuff. You might like it.
Thanks to the awesome Koobismo for taking the time to speak with me. I hope that things only look up from here!