Dec 01

Gaming podcasts

So what podcasts do I listen to that aren’t about technology news? Well, several of them are about games. I stumbled across the Sci-Fi Podcast Network early in my search for more podcasts, and that site provided me with lots of shows to try out. But not the ones about science fiction or comic books, even though those are interests of mine. Money has been tight this year, so I haven’t been going to movies or buying comics. And my volunteer schedule at Raleigh Little Theatre has left me with insufficient time for watching TV. So I have to steer clear of the podcasts about science fiction and comics if I want to avoid spoilers.
But quite a few of the TSFPN shows are about gaming. Not computer or video gaming (which I also don’t have time for), but tabletop gaming: role-playing, board, and card games. And where games are concerned, spoilers aren’t an issue. In fact, I actually want to hear about games I’ve never played, because that’s a good way to identify games that I want to try.
So my exploration of TSFPN podcasts focused mainly on shows about gaming. I started with All Games Considered and Have Games, Will Travel. Those shows provided me with more leads, because podcasters frequently mention other podcasts that they listen to and provide links in their show notes. In this case, I learned about some gaming-related shows that are not part of TSFPN: Board Games to Go, The Dice Tower, and the OgreCave Audio Report.
Of all these shows, my favorite is Have Games, Will Travel. It’s a one-man show that consists of Paul Tevis reviewing, analyzing, and explaining games. The most obvious quality that makes HGWT stand out is Paul’s vocal delivery. He has a pleasant, well-modulated voice and speaks in a relaxed, unhurried way that’s very easy to listen to. His podcasts are entirely free of stammering, awkward pauses, gap-fillers like “uh” and “you know”, or verbal mistakes of any kind. This may just indicate that Paul edits his show very carefully, but I think a lot of it is because he just speaks really, really well. I don’t know whether he scripts his shows, because it’s impossible to tell — every episode is focused and moves along without digressions, but also sounds spontaneous and unforced. All aspiring podcasters should listen to this guy, because they could learn a lot from him.
But it’s not just Paul’s vocal style that makes me love his show; the content is excellent as well. I particularly enjoy his game reviews, because Paul has a knack for explaining the rules and mechanics of a game in a way that’s clear, concise, and doesn’t cause your eyes to glaze over, yet leaves you with a genuine understanding of the game. For example, take the review of the boardgame Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean in this episode. At the beginning of the review, I knew nothing about the game — but when he finished, I felt that I understood it and was ready to sit down and start playing. And that I wanted to, because Paul communicated the flavor of the game so well that I know I will enjoy it.
The other gaming podcast that I listen to regularly is Mark Johnson’s Boardgames to Go. Mark doesn’t have Paul’s natural gift for speaking, but he works hard to make his podcast interesting and informative. I initially sampled his show by listening to this episode about the care and feeding of local game groups — a subject I find interesting, since I’ve been a part of several such groups (some more successful than others) over the last quarter century. I enjoyed that episode enough that I decided to start with the first episode of BGTG and listen to them all in order (my usual practice with podcasts that I subscribe to). As I listened to the first couple of episodes, I started to think that the show wasn’t as good as I thought, but then I realized that Mark had simply started out as a novice podcaster and had improved steadily over time.
And that’s come to be one of the elements of the show that I enjoy: observing as he learns by trial and error (and feedback from his listeners) and hones his craft. (He also shares what he’s learning with us. In fact, this episode is the best tutorial I’ve encountered on how to record and edit a podcast with simple, inexpensive tools.) I do find some episodes of BGTG more interesting than others, but it’s almost always worth my time. And it continues to get a little bit better and more polished with each new episode.
As for the other shows I listed earlier, the jury is still out on them. The OgreCave Audio Report seems to focus more on news about the gaming industry, which I find kind of dull, so I don’t think it’s going to become a favorite of mine. All Games Considered and The Dice Tower seem to be hit-and-miss; I’ve heard at least one interesting episode of each, but then listened to other episodes and found some to be dull, depending on the topic. I probably need to sample them more before I decide.
In my next post about podcasts, I’ll talk about some others I like that aren’t about technology news or gaming.
UPDATE (2 Dec): The folks at Steve Jackson Games posted an item about gaming podcasts this morning, and it spotlights my two favorites.

Oct 30

Tech-news podcasts

At a recent gathering of friends, the subject of podcasts came up. I promised to write something about the podcasts I listen to, particularly the ones covering news and information about technology.
If I’m going to talk about tech-news podcasts, I probably should start with the best-known one: This Week in Tech. TWiT is Leo Laporte‘s attempt to revive his former TechTV show The Screen Savers in podcast form, and he did a pretty good job of it. The best thing about TSS was always the rapid-fire discussion of tech topics by the ubergeek cast of the show, and that’s what TWit consists of.
Unfortunately, the show has been getting out of control lately. It was originally recorded in a pseudo-studio format, with the various commentators talking to each other via Skype or some other VoIP connection. This format made it comparatively easy for Leo to edit the show to keep it tight and focused. But recently, TWiT has shifted to a recorded-live-with-an-audience format. The number of people participating also has increased, and the result is too chaotic for me. The participants get excited and all try to talk at the same time, or interrupt each other constantly, and the discussion is frequently sidetracked by irrelevant digressions or inane blather. And Leo doesn’t seem to be trying to edit the show at all anymore. As a result, TWiT has been losing its appeal for me. I still listen to it, but it’s not at the top of my list anymore. When the show was new, I would have given it a grade of A, but nowadays it only rates a C.
So what other tech-news podcasts do I like? Well, first of all, I highly recommend a TWiT spinoff called Security Now! This show came into existence because TWiT‘s new format requires all the participants to meet physically in San Francisco. Steve Gibson had been participating via Skype, but he can’t attend in person. So Leo created a separate podcast that consists of just him and Steve discussing computer security. SN gets everything right that TWiT is doing wrong. It involves just two people (one of whom is a technical expert who does most of the talking), so the discussion is orderly and focused. There’s no live audience to introduce ambient noise that might make editing difficult. The show has a clearly defined topic, so Steve and Leo aren’t tempted to digress or waste time on trivial banter. And the show is short: typically, 20 to 30 minutes devoted to one security issue. Security Now! gets an A+ grade from me.
For broader coverage of tech news, I’ve become quite fond of the Power User Podcast (PUP for short). This show uses a round-table format, so it’s theoretically like TWiT — but only three or four people are involved, so the discussion stays on track most of the time. Host Kristin Hatcher is smooth and professional, and does a good job of keeping the other participants in line (although Brad Wardell seems to slip into standup-comedy mode occasionally). And the shows tend to be a bit shorter than TWiT: about 30 to 45 minutes, which strikes me as just about right. PUP is informative, entertaining, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I give it a B.
My exploration of podcasts began with technology-oriented ones like these, but since then it has expanded into other subject areas. I’ll write about those in another post.