This week I did another interview! This time I talked with Jonathan Holmes, a co-host from Podtoid, creator of “Talking to Women about Videogames” and “Sup Holmes!” as well as an Associate Editor for Destructoid. He has a passion for games like no other, and below you will see what I mean.
Damnit Slam: First and foremost, thank you very much for taking the time to answer these, I know how busy you are!
Jonathan Holmes: OK, going to try to do this!
Damnit Slam: How did you first get into gaming? What are some of your fondest memories and cherished games?
Jonathan Holmes: I first got into gaming when I was pretty young (definitely younger than 4) with the Atari 2600 and arcade games like Pac-Man. It was Pac-Man that really sold me on gaming as a medium. The seemingly endless different ways that a given game could play out, the contrast between the fear and powerlessness you feel when escaping the ghosts and the rush of excitement and thrill of victory that you get from snagging that power pellet and turning the tables on your persecutors, it doesn’t get much better than that for me.
When life is at its best, it’s exactly like Pac-Man
D: What sort of games do you play, what types of games would you love to get more into or learn more about?
J: I mostly play games that rely on tension that comes from limiting the players capacity to handle the problems before them, leading them in evocative, eye-opening experiences in the process. That could be everything from a game like Metal Gear that forces you to hide from your enemies instead of taking them on in a frontal assault, to a game like No More Heroes that compels you to work crappy jobs and masturbate in the corner in order to eventually achieve greatness.
The essence of game design is problem design. A game designer expresses their outlook on the world around them, and their own internal world, with the problems they design their games around. That’s true of any genre.
As for game’s I don’t play enough, it’s definitely games on the iPhone iPad. There are tons of games I’m missing out on there, because I don’t have an i-device, and even when I do get access to one, the amount of stuff on that marketplace is just overwhelming. One of these days I’ll battle through that sea of crappy $1 apps and mine gold that I know lays in wait for me.
D: By far the most interesting thing about you is your background. I have heard it hinted to you that you were a model, on the real world, and most awesome is your day job. How interesting is it to live the life of Jonathan Holmes?
J: How interesting is my life? I have no idea. It’s the only life I know, so I have nothing to compare it to. I try to get to know people as hard as I can, through writing, talking, making videos, music, and playing videogames. That’s what I find interesting. For better or worse, it leads to some pretty interesting stories.
Did I ever tell you about the time my best friend patted my balls to keep me from boiling my own hand? It’s a true story.
D: Hah! That sounds like a future podtoid.
D: For a long time now, you have been working for destructoid, can you give some of the listeners who aren’t familiar with your work an idea of what you do and how you came to work with Tara on the Dtoid show as well as Max, Jim, and the rest of the crew later on?
J: So here is a mini-bio of my history on Dtoid. I started working for Dtoid in 2008, after begging our Editor-in-chief at the time Nick Chester for a job for many months. I started doing videos for the site shortly thereafter, staring with this video coverage of a pre-release Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament. From there I kept doing videos and writing for the site. I did a video at E3 2010 that Niero really liked, which helped me to get the job of co-hosting the Dtoid show after the original host, Rey Gutierrez (now working for Sony on the Playstation blog), had to quit just before the first episode was shot.
I kept at it for as long as I could, but for a variety of reasons, I had to leave the show after just a few months. I hand picked Max Scoville to be my successor, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Max and I became fast friends during my time in San Francisco, and I think he’s the perfect host for the show.
As for Jim, I’ve known him since he started at Dtoid, but it was around E3 2010 that we really got to know each other. He is easily one of the most talented people I know. I’m lucky to know him.
D: When TtWaV (Talking to Women about Videogames) first came around, was it something out of thin air, or something in the works for a long time? Did it ever evolve into something else before you actually started filming?
J: Talking to Women about Videogames was a show I was doing for a while back in 2011, and I hope to be able to do it again this year. I didn’t plan the show at all. It was one of those things I felt the urge to create first, without much initial understanding of why I wanted to do it. I’m still not exactly sure why I wanted to do it, but I know I was hoping to reveal ridiculous things about myself and “gamer” culture, and game journalism in general in a non-threatening, affectionate way. Hopefully I did that.
D: Are you happy with how the series/season ended up? I know you have gotten a ton of responses, are those what ended up making you start up other things like “Sup Holmes!” or was that another idea you had alongside TtWaV?
J: I’m pretty happy with how Talking to Women about Videogames season 1 ended. I’m particularly touched by home many people (both professional composers and Dtoid readers) contributed to the Talking to Women about Videogames album (currently 46 tracks in total). Of course I wanted the show to be better, and I hope to make better episodes in the future, but I don’t have full control over making that happen. Finding people that are willing to be on the show, not to mention a video producer talented enough to help me churn out one episode a week, isn’t easy. The show was also a lot more work to get together than it probably looked. The features that went a long with each episode were particularly tough to churn out.
That said, I loved making the show, and am touched that so many people seemed to enjoy it. if all goes well, we’ll be doing season two before summer hits.
As for Sup Holmes, the honest truth is that the show only exists because Hamza Aziz (Director of Communications at Destructoid) wanted there to be a show called “Sup Holmes” before Dtoid put out t-shirts that said “Sup Holmes” on them. I’ve wanted to do a live stream talk show with game developers since 2010, when we did a special stream with Massimo Guarini and Akira Yamaoka of Grasshopper Manufacture. It’s a fairly easy show to do, and I really want to help game developers get themselves out there.
Game developers are way more interesting people than your average famous person, but they get almost no press. Even though Sup Holmes is a very small show, I hope it’s at least a step towards showing the game industry and gamer culture that our developers are worth treating like Hollywood treats movie stars.
D: Honestly, and I know you didn’t want to answer this before, how much of the TtWaV is written beforehand or preplanned? To the viewer it seems like you have to get a guest to do it as well as permission, but then there was the last episode that seems as if it floated out of thin air. Can you shed some light on how it all comes together?
J: The process of making TtWaV was different with every episode. The only constant is that the guest on each episode HAS to be 100% happy with how they look in each episode. Otherwise, I won’t air it. The fact that they are willing to put their public image in my hands is a responsibility that I take very seriously. I know what it’s like to have your public image tampered with by others for their own benefit. It’s not the best feeling.
Other than that one rule though, anything goes. That’s part of what made the show so exciting to do. We really did throw it together by the seat of our pants. The fact that we managed to get something at least remotely watchable with every episode is testament to the fact that the luck of babes and sucklings is alive and well in the world today.
D: A few weeks ago you started up an hour long talk show, called “Sup Holmes!” and in my opinion it is damn good. Are there any plans to have multiple guests and treat it as more of a late night talk show, or is the format pretty much set?
J: The format of Sup Holmes is DEFINITELY not all set. In fact, I’m going to do a set redesign ASAP because I had so much crap behind me in the last few episodes that our bandwidth couldn’t take it, which made my video feed extremely choppy. Apparently you should have an extremely simple backdrop when you do a live stream show, as the less busy your picture, the less “tiny little particles” you have to push through your internet connection.
So yeah, the show will hopefully keep getting better from a technical standpoint. I will hopefully also keep getting better at talking to guests and making the show fun to watch. It’s the first time I’ve done a show like this, so I’m trying to be easy on myself with the whole thing. If the show isn’t awesome by the end of the year, that will be a different story. For now, I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and hoping for the best.
D: For my taste I would love every podcast or discussion to sort of end itself instead of simply ending when time is up, are there any plans to make extended episodes of the show when time permits and the topics or discussion is there?
J: Sadly, Sup Holmes currently has a time slot on the Twitch.tv/Destructoid channel, and we absolutely have to end promptly at 5pm EST in order for the next show to start up. If we start earlier, we’d have an even harder time getting guests on. The farther away we get to the morning, the more likely people are to participate in the show (especially in California).
We’ll definitely change that if we can. Personally, I’d love to have the show on at 7pm EST every Wednesday. Maybe someday!
D: I’m not sure if it is your first foray into editing, pretty sure you mentioned something about it a few weeks ago, but how has editing “Sup Holmes!” been? By editing it yourself, do you get any sort of deeper appreciation or understanding certain things more clearly when it comes to the recording aspect of podcasting or creating your own shows?
J: Luckily for me, Conrad Zimmerman does all the editing for Sup Holmes. I just pick out the clips to be posted later on Youtube, and Conrad adds the music, titles, etc.
I could do the basics myself, but Conrad volunteered to do it for me, and I’m grateful for that. Video editing is fun, but intimidating when you already have a billion other things going on. Luckily for Conrad, the show hasn’t required a whole lot of editing thus far. if it ever does, I’m not so sure Conrad will keep wanting to do it. Wish me luck!
D: When you talk about games, there is always what seems like a deep and heartfelt passion during the discussion. Is it because of your work background, perhaps a scenario where you are more analytical and trying to understand others thoughts and mindsets, is it simply a deep love of games, or perhaps both?
J: I’ve always wanted to understand why things affect people the way they do. That goes for the psychology of how people perceive themselves and each other, why anyone bothers to do anything, how the art of communication via text, image, and sound can have an impact on the human mind, the whole deal. It’s something I can’t help but think about. I’ve been thinking about games in this way for as long as I can remember, though when I was five years old, I couldn’t get much farther than “What makes us scared of that dragon who looks like a duck?!?”
It’s particularly fun to apply that kind of analysis to gaming, as it really doesn’t make any sense that anyone would bother to play them, and yet we do. This is especially true of the hard ones. The fact that game developers can make a game that is gruelingly difficult like Dark Souls, or filled with potentially mind-numbing repetition like Pokemon, such compelling experiences speaks to both their genius as designers, and the peculiarities of the human mind.
What is the difference between a challenge and chore? How can a game developer take me into his/her mind with his game, and how can I come to understand myself better through the act of playing through their virtual art installation? Why do some of us feel compelled to play a certain game, while others find the same game to be completely worthless? These are the kinds of things I find endlessly fascinating.
D: There have been a lot of games that attempt to tell a philosophical or sociological story, whatever that means. In Heavy rain, the story didn’t make sense for some, and in a game like Deus Ex: Human Revolution the “story” amounted to 2 minute clips at the end of the game that the player chose. There are also games, particularly RPGs from Bioware that try to make decisions matter, but in actuality it amounts to a black and white decision that… sort of… removes interesting philosophical elements and replaces them with some sort of reward. Considering your background it seems fitting to ask you about these games, whether a well done game with philosophical or sociological elements interests you, and what do you think it will take for a good one to be made?
J: I think that games about sociological and psychological elements have been done, but rarely with the “choose your own adventure” style gameplay that we get from a lot of Western RPGs. Like I mentioned before, No More Heroes did a pretty good job of showing the dichotomy of the experience of a gamer, feeling like a bad-ass hero when you’re in the game, and a powerless, working stiff loser when you’re out of the game. There are plenty of games like that out there, but unless they hit people over the head with the fact that they are games about “morality” or “real drama”, they don’t always get identified for what they are.
I think the key to making a game that’s really about sociological/psychological/philosophical ideas is to make the gameplay and design a metaphor for real human experiences. For me, the first Metroid is much more like real life than Heavy Rain. In Metroid, you’re dropped in the middle of nowhere with no map and no direction, in a world where the only constant seems to be that nothing is handed to you easily. The game is unforgivably hard and confusing, as if the designers were intentionally trying to troll you. To me, that’s real life.
On the other hand Heavy Rain, makes everything easy, from driving a car through traffic, to cutting off your own arm. By gameifying these real situations, the game trivializes them and itself in the process.
The fewer games like Heavy Rain that the industry churns out, the better.
J: The game is a much better metaphor for what it’s like to engage in real conversation than anything in the Mass Effect series. http://radstronomical.com/media/FlirtOffPublic.html
D: Did you start up “Sup Holmes!” as a way to have a more serious game discussion than what was on Podtoid? Do you feel like the medium as a whole needs more serious games discussion that is about the games rather then news, press, and simply directly from the fans on things like youtube and podcasts?
J: Sup Holmes started because I really wanted to give developers another opportunity to get themselves out there. It really didn’t have anything to do with the fact that Podtoid is so packed with irreverence. We actually might start having more developers on Podtoid as guests, now that Jim had such good response from the Jaffe episode, and Max has opened up the 3rd chair on the show.
That sounds great to me. I really don’t think we could put out too many podcasts that allow the gaming community to get to know it’s developers.
D: A lot of Destructoid fans tend to joke around in the extreme, things like “Is it pedophilia or not?” and asking what is your ethnicity. While I can bash Jim for bringing this about, I think the best way to put it is that it just makes us all laugh. I know sometimes it is taken extremely out of context and you get some pretty extreme messages. Do you see this as a bad thing, as someone who really doesn’t know what they are doing is wrong, or simply as someone trying to take a joke to the limit?
J: I am 100% OK with all the ethnicity jokes, “pedophilia expert” jokes, and other jokes that Jim and the community throw at me. These things aren’t offensive to me unless they are meant to be offensive. When Jim and the community attempts to make me uncomfortable, it’s more like a friend making fart noises in the background while you’re trying to take a Math test. It’s a harmless way to try to get my attention and to get a rise out of me, with no offense or harm intended.
I’d be much more offended by Jim if he just ignored me, or worse, was polite and contained towards me. That would be a sign that he didn’t fell comfortable with me, because that’s not the real Jim. The more real people are with me, the more they must respect me, and being respected is the opposite of being offended.
D: Alright, time for the tough question’s… When will there be another TtWaV and do you have any other things in the works? I guess what I am asking here, what on earth are you going to do when you produce too much awesome? There is only one of you and you already have your fingers in a ton of pies!
J: I think I already answered this question, but just in case I didn’t, I’ll say that I really hope to do another season of TtWaV, but I can’t be sure. I also hope to bring back Constructoid and Sunday’s with Sagat. They are all fun shows to do. If anyone wants to help me to make more of them, let me know.
D: What is something you want to improve on, perhaps with your reviews, shows, etc.? Is there something you have personally set towards improving, or is it more of a natural progression scenario with the things you do?
J: Generally speaking, I’d like to get better at making my content (writing, videos, etc) more concentrated. I want to be able to evoke more by using less. That’s why a game like Pac-Man is so impressive. It does so much, but uses so little to do it.
If I can do shorter, clearer, more expressive videos and articles, I’ll be happy. I want every second to count in everything I do. I want every part to be “the good part”. That’s certainly easier said than done though.
D: I know I have asked you 100000 times over twitter, but would you ever be up for sitting down and recording an episode with me?
J: I’d be happy to record a thing with you on Skype sometime! It’s hard to say when I’ll have time (currently have 3 games to play for review and two features to finish) but as soon as my current responsibilities clear up, I’ll be there!
D: Thank you very much for the time man, and by all means necessary keep up the great work!
J:Thanks so much for taking the time to ask me these questions. It was a lot of fun! I hope you got to know me better through the process. I love being known better!