Watch Out for Notes!

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I've considered streaming the games I play for Watch Out for Fireballs!, but it would be unwatchable. Not strictly because I'm bad at games -- which I am -- but because I constantly stop to take notes... and that's bad television.

The banner image you see above is a photograph of the notes I took for our recent episode on Killer7. In total, I filled eight 7.5" x 10" pages in a leather-bound pretentious artist's notebook (gridded, obvs).

Writing things down is a habit I've nursed for a long time. Getting information out of my head calms me down. Turns out, this is incredibly useful when you're playing a 20 hour game, and then talking about it for 3 hours.

Watch Out for Fireballs! was always supposed to be a book club for games. Excepting the tweet that started this endeavor (my proposal that we do a 30 minute podcast about retro games), the show has stayed true to that initial pitch. We want to talk about the experience of playing these games, good or bad, and draw broader conclusions from the tiny details. For that to happen, the tiny details need to be captured.

I play each game with my notebook at my side. Whenever something happens that I want to remember, I write that down. This can be events in a cut scene, something weird about the play of a particular area, or a comparison or summary that pops to mind. This is also useful in adventure games for puzzle notes, and such.

 I do all of my writing in BBEdit with Markdown.

I do all of my writing in BBEdit with Markdown.

This doesn't sound so spectacular, but these notes aren't the ones we directly refer to on the show. Prior to each recording, I transcribe my handwritten notes into a Markdown outline for reference on the show. The process of poring back over the notes, discarding the irrelevant ones, and putting everything into a structure that reflects the experience of play (in a way that's easy to talk about) helps me prepare to talk about the game in an extemporaneous way.

Wha? Yep. The notes work best when we don't have to use them at all. I write it down so I don't have to read it back. For as much time as we spend in the weeds, it might be surprising to find out that we spend very little time referring to these exhaustive bullet points.

The final outline is a great safety net, always open in front of us if we need a quick refresher on what happens when, or if we need to pull the ripcord and find a new topic. Exhaustive notes and conversational tone aren't mutually exclusive. In my experience, they support each other.

Other things make their way into the notes during this process. I do the research for the opening paragraphs of each episode during the note-taking time, looking for facts and relevant pieces of information. I also write up the plot summaries, where applicable, and collect/edit all of the responses for a particular episode.

Pre-production and preparation are important to our process and format, and it feels good to capture all of these thoughts and file them away in my journals and on the show. It's time consuming, but absolutely worth it when an episode goes well.