Saturday, January 15, 2011

A year in the life

Wow, I haven't posted here in a year? Seriously? It doesn't seem that long, but when I look back and read what I was writing a year ago, it's funny because I seem to be back in that write-it-out mood again. I'm attributing it to the time of year, and the fact that, once again, we're snowed in. In fact, we just got our mail delivered yesterday for the first time in a week.

So, looking back at my New Year's "Revolutions" from last year, I have to chuckle a bit. I don't usually like going back and reading what I've previously written, because it often feels like a different person's writings. But I'll make an exception in this case.

1. Giving Vegetarianism another try. Yeah, that didn't work out so well, but I am still on a health food kick. And by health food, I mean I only drink water or 100% juice and I'm cutting way down on sugar in foods. The Xmas goodies were a minor set-back, but I'm moving forward.

2. I won't let people get to me as much. Well, I think I have made improvements here. I can at least sleep at night when someone makes personal insults at me in a comment, but I don't think I'll ever fully get past this. I'm working on it though. That balance between loving my job and not caring about what people make up in their minds is difficult, but there's a bigger problem here. I just need to keep my mouth shut about how it bothers me. We'll cover that later in this post when I tell my 2011 resolutions.

3. More networking. Yeah, I've certainly done this and I'm happy with it. I'm moonlighting as a columnist at a tech website and I have some interesting prospects for side jobs this year. So I'm excited about that. It will be nice to not deal with one topic 24/7.

4. Less stuff for 2010. I held on to this one fairly well, too. We got a storage unit while our house is on the market and we've discovered that everything in that storage unit is not really needed. We gave a TON away, sold some at flea markets, and will probably give even more away once the weather gets nice again. So this is an ongoing project.

5. MOVE! Yeaaaaah, see the thing is... We have our houses listed for sale, so I'm certainly trying. It's just that it's been 4 months now and no one's buying it. I live in a really bad neighborhood though and one neighbor's house is condemned and another across the street is abandoned and falling down. My new plan involves renting this house out, if I can get approved for another mortgage.


So there you go. Win some, lose some. Now for this year, the goals are similar, but refined:

1. First and foremost, I'm going to try to be more positive. Especially in public, where I often regret my little dramatic tantrums, I need to remember that I have much to be thankful for. Despite my ex-wife's insanity with trying to take my kids away and the negative feedback I get every day about my job, I have my health, I'm newly engaged to the most wonderful woman and I have two amazing daughters whose well-being is my main focus. I shouldn't care that a few dozen people think I do a poor job running a website.

2. Eat healthy. I'm working on it! One of the main reasons I want to move away from the ghetto and into a more rural area is to grow my own food and get away from preservatives and chemicals. So this is a long-term goal that may take much longer than I'd originally hoped.

3. MOVE! Yep, still a goal for this year. At least now the house is ready to go. But even if I have to rent it out, I'm going to move into another house (that *I* get to pick out this time).

4. Establish a stronger relationship with God. I was raised Christian and consider myself very religious. There was a bit of time there when I was confused about all of the details and differences between the many sects, but I've come to realize that I can't let things like that distance me from having a core belief and turning to God more when I have problem (or when everything's fine).

5. Focus on getting one of my novel ideas outlined and started. I know I won't finish a novel in a year, but I have a few ideas that I think are pretty good, and I'd like to see them fleshed out a bit.


And that's really it. 2010 was a really great year for me. I left the country for the first time. I lived in a tent on a farm for a week. I completely rebuilt my kitchen. I've done a lot of things that I've been meaning to do for years and years. So far, I've started out 2011 on the right foot by become engaged to Sarah. So let's hope 2011 sees even more growth in Shawn Schuster -- spiritually and mentally.

Going along with the "more positivity", I plan to write more here, especially when I'm feeling down. I can use this blog as a way to focus on the good things in my life my writing them down. Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The day the lights went out in... Tennessee

So I've lived in southeast Tennessee for 10 years now, and I've seen snow probably 3 times. Every time it was an accumulation of an inch or less, and was melted by 10am.

This month alone it has snowed twice to where the accumulation exceeds 4 inches and it stuck around for more than a day. This wouldn't be so bad if we didn't live on a very steep hill along a sidestreet where the town has no snow plows or salt trucks.

Friday afternoon I got word that there was a huge snowstorm coming and schools were being let out early. I got the kids home just in time for us to watch white-out conditions from the comfort our our little home. Not so bad, right? Kinda cool, even. We took some video, pictures of the girls making a snowman in the backyard -- the usual.

Then the power went out.

I'm not usually one to whine about such an event, as I'm well-prepared for this type of thing. We have a fireplace with plenty of wood. Candles, crank-powered flashlights, board games, books... the whole nine yards.

Well, during this time, we also noticed our 3-year old cat Max acting strange. If it were under any other circumstances, we certainly could have paid more attention to his wheezing and strange meowing, but for now we had to write it off as a hairball and hope for the best. Even if we wanted to take him to the vet, we couldn't leave our driveway unless we wanted to make sure our downhill neighbors wanted a small car as a living room decoration.

The next day we all woke up to find Max laying in the hallway looking pretty sick. I picked him up and he was slow and just didn't seem like his usual vibrant, curious self. We still knew we couldn't leave the house, so ... what to do?

About an hour later he went through his little kitty door to the basement (where we have the litter box, food and water) and heard him tumble down the stairs. Ok, now this is serious. We need to do something.

We called the vet who said we needed to hurry because they were about to close due to the weather. We drove him in, sliding the whole way (it was just warm enough now to where the snow was sludge instead of ice). After some in-depth explanation by the vet about urinary blockage and a bladder the size of a baseball, we were given a choice. Emergency treatment that *could* work for now, and have a chance of coming back... all for the low low price of AT LEAST $2,000, or euthanasia.

Here I am, sitting in this small veterinary clinic exam room staring at a cat who can't even keep his head up and trying to imagine how I could ever pay $2k for anything right now. My only mode of transportation isn't even worth $2k. On top of this, AOL decided to suddenly move our pay periods back 2 weeks this month. I don't have credit cards anymore, I don't have $2k in the bank and there's nothing we could do.

It really tore me up, but mostly because I just kept thinking about how the girls would respond. They loved that cat more than anything. When they would come over on weekends, he would run to the door for his manic petting, handling and kisses. While our other cat ran downstairs to hide from them, Max embraced it. He was a good cat, and to make matters worse... they picked him out when he was a kitten.

So on the ride home, I told them that the clinic needed to keep him for awhile. They really missed him and kept saying how they hoped he's ok. I didn't know when I was going to tell them at first, but I knew I had to. We returned to our cold home, threw some new logs on the fire and played board games in the only warm room in the house. A few hours later, I broke the news and explained that the doctor had to put Max to sleep because he was in too much pain. They understood at first and took it quite well, I thought. About an hour later then came to me crying, one at a time, saying how much they missed Max. All I could do was hug them and tell them it will be alright, and that he's in kitty heaven scratching up the furniture up there now.

This morning the power came back on, but the girls are already back at their mother's. She was going out of her mind thinking about her poor babies being in a house without power (hers had power) so she came to get them. That equals about the 3rd thing I've been undermined on this week alone.

It really is times like this when you reflect on what you have and what you need. We were fine without power. We probably could have made it a few more days just fine. But despite those conditions, the loss of a good pet and the horrible weather, I had the three people with me who mattered the most, and it put things into perspective. All week long I read comments from people who tell me I'm stupid or Massively is horrible and they're going to stop reading the site forever because it's become a cess pit of horror that is ruining their lives, but when I have a weekend like this, it really forces me to step back and consider the frivolousness of it all.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My New Year's Revolutions

1. I will give Vegetarianism another chance throughout January. Hopefully, it will last longer this time.
There are several reasons why I don't want to eat meat anymore: health, weight, animal cruelty and I'm so sick of scrubbing grease and fat out of cooking pans.

2. I won't let people get to me as much.
I realize that most of the reason I'm a perfectionist and I overwork myself is because I really care what others think. I want the people around me to be happy, and I want people to enjoy the things I do for a living. Now I just need to constantly remind myself that most of the population will never be happy, and the negative ones will always make their displeasure known first.

3. I need to do more networking and sell myself more.
No one ever knows if their job is truly secure these days, but I've fallen comfortably into this rut of being dedicated to one role. This is not exactly working out for me, for many reasons to which I will not explain here. I just need to network with like-minded people and really establish a name for myself because I KNOW there must be other people like me with the same passion as me who are willing to do much more than simply write as little as they need for a paycheck. I'm just so sick and tired of unmotivated, lazy people.

4. Less stuff for 2010!
One of my resolutions last year was also to get rid of STUFF around my house, and I accomplished that... a bit. There's still so much I need to get rid of, and I know I need to just give it away or something. I miss the days when everything I had fit in the back of my small Ford Ranger.

5. MOVE!
In conjunction with getting rid of my stuff, I've set a goal for myself to move by the end of the year. It might be a lofty goal, but I'm focused on it. The house I live in now will be a rental property and I will be a landlord for the first time in my life. I'm excited!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Opinions are like what, again?

Reviewing or previewing a new game is not a difficult concept. Yet, each blogger, gamer or gaming website approaches it differently. Some are perfectly content playing a game for a few hours and slapping a numerical rating to that bit of time. Others wouldn't touch a rating system until they've finished the game.

For me, I tend to stay away from reviews -- especially for MMOs. First impressions are another thing entirely, as I'd be happy to relay my initial thoughts to anyone who may be interested in hearing them. I'm not telling you to buy or not buy the game, just saying that this is how I felt.

Something related to this is... let's say, influences. At Massively (and the whole Joystiq Network), we have strict policies against accepting anything that could potentially sway our opinion about a game or a game studio. It doesn't matter if the promises of free dinners, free subscriptions or free travel would actually sway our opinion, it's the fact that it could be perceived that way. Do I think this is a good policy? Well, it has its advantages when you want to fall back on credibility and honesty, but I don't think it's the best way to handle things anymore. Sometimes I feel like a food critic who is invited to sit and watch the other food critics eat away, and then expected to give my impressions of the food based on the table scraps that fell to the floor.

Do I sometimes feel resentment for those people at other sites who are flown around the world to see the newest and shiniest games? Hell yes I do. They get the exclusive and no one says anything about how they got that exclusive. Their traffic numbers go through the roof, and it's a win-win for their site. It's really hard to stay competitive in a market like that.

Related to this is the very real issue of reviewers getting paid or 'influenced' to give a game a little higher score. Does this happen? Hell yes it does. Have I seen it happen directly? Nope, and I hope I never do.

Many game studios (especially the smaller ones) will do what they can to make you as comfortable as possible while playing their game. Want a few extra items from the item mall? Hey, no problem. Whatever we can do to help! Professional game journalists know that this is just the way things go, and they roll with it. They're getting paid regardless of the outcome of their review. Smaller bloggers who may run a self-funded hobby site about what games they love to play might see this a bit differently. Whoa! Free stuff in a game! And all I have to do is review their game? They'll even give me a free subscription and free box copy! I love this studio! Now I'm going to play this game and write a review of this awesome game from this wonderful studio that I love! Whoooo!

You can see how that could be a problem. I'm not saying that all small-time game bloggers are easily bought and sold, but to me, it seems that they're much more impressionable. Heck, any time an ArenaNet developer even acknowledged my presence when I did GuildCast, I'd flip out.

So now, what I do is only talk about the games that I enjoy. I recently gave a raving first impressions "review" of Allods Online. Is it because of anything the studio did? Nope, not at all. I even went into that game expecting crap, and was pleasantly surprised. So I wrote an article on it and made a short video. I think it deserved it. On a side note, it makes me happy that so many other bloggers are now starting to check that game out. Hopefully I had some influence in that, even if they'd never admit it.

When I play a game and don't enjoy it, I'm not going to trash it all over Massively. I will simply give it minimal coverage. If someone else on the team enjoys that game, more power to them. I realize that everyone has differing opinions on different games, and that's just the way life is. When there's a game that has been popping around the other sites here and there, and we're not talking about it... it's because no one enjoys the game. We're certainly not going to lie and say we like a crap game, no matter how many free in-game horses or paid subs are offered.

I really think we're doing it right. I often wish our more skeptical commenters could take a look 'backstage' sometimes and see how this all works, but it's really not as complicated as many make it out to be. We like a game, we rave about it. We hate it, we don't rave about it. We're not in the business of trashing games, but I think we are in the business of telling people what we like.

I can sleep at night knowing that I am being honest. And I'll take those table scraps.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Interwebz speedz

I have a confession to make.

I am still on a low-speed internet service. I know, I know. My job relies on a proper internet service, right? I have what Comcast calls 'Performance Lite", which is 4mbps/512kps line as it was all I could afford for a long time.

This horribly slow internet is why I lag so much in games and have huge problems with voice comm in games. It's also one of the main reasons I'm so quiet in Vent or TS, because when I talk, it's delayed by 10-15 seconds and it always interrupts someone. I'd rather just stay quiet and not interrupt.

But yesterday, I received a letter from my local electric company saying that they've installed fiber optic lines in my old neighborhood and I can get internet up to 50mbps!! I'm not going to fit the bill for that, but the lowest package they offer is 15 mbps for the same price I'm paying Comcast for 4mbps.

I'm very VERY excited about the possibilities here. No more horrible lag in games (hopefully). No more hiccuping Skype recordings. No more long delays in Vent or TS. No more keeping quiet (ok, I'll probably still do that.)

Take that Comcast, you monopolizing effers.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween 2009

Well, Halloween was fairly uneventful. Sarah and I went to a local costume party we saw on Facebook, for a local theater group. We thought it might be cool because they might respect effort put into costumes, and also we have no friends. There was a costume contest and the prize was $200, so we figured we'd try for it.

Well, I really don't want to sound too bitter (hint: I didn't win), but it was mainly a popularity contest among people who were already friends. We soon realized (after being asked several times who were were and how we were associated with the theater group) that we were not at a public party afterall. Anyway, we paid our money, so we were staying.

I received more than a few comments about how my costume scared the Snow Whites and the Tinkerbelles there, but there were a few really nice people who I talked with about how I made my costume. They were impressed.. or possibly not. They were actors, afterall.

When it came time for the parade of costumes, we were asked to walk up in front of everyone (probably 40 people) and stand there while they said our names. Hey, no problem, right? From here, they chose the Top 10, of which I was included.

For the second stage, we were told to go up front and act out the role for our costume. Well, anyone who knows me knows that I am horribly scared of being in front of crowds. So I beat on my armor a bit and yelled. There were a few claps, but mostly scared stares. I'll take that!

When they announced the next stage of voting (for top 5), they said that now they wanted people to go up front and do a monologue about their costumes. Remember, these are actors and actresses here. These are people who LIVE to be in front of a crowd and they're very witty and clever. I was terrified. I was actually praying to God that I would not be in the Top 5, because I would rather walk home without $200 than to embarrass myself in front of these people (who I will never see again).

Well, God answered my prayers and I was not chosen for the Top 5. We left not long after that, but I honestly can't remember the last time I had been so scared. Highschool, perhaps? I don't know. I'm a 34 year old man and I can't deal with being in front of groups with nothing to say. Sure, I did it at Dragon*Con during my panels, but that was different. I knew the topic and I was among friends.

So now I pack away the costume, dream of ways to improve it for Dragon*Con 2010 and move on. I can't wait!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My post-apocalyptic costume so far

For anyone who followed along on my post-apoc costume previously, I will consolidate the progress here and post new photos as well.

To catch everyone up who hadn't been following along, basically I saw an amazing panel at Dragon*Con this year with Kenneth Reising where he described the process involved with making a post-apoc costume. I had always loved costuming stuff, but never knew how to get into it. This panel really inspired me to get something going, either for Halloween this year, or next year's Dragon*Con.

I scavenged Goodwill, other thrift stores and local flea markets for parts and pieces for my new costume. Ironically, much of the costume has come from junk I had in my garage or basement, as well.

What's that? You want to see pictures? Sure thing!