The LittleBigKast | Buzz Blog

Friday, January 1, 2016

The LittleBigKast

Diving into the Playstation with this Ogden-based podcast.

Posted By on January 1, 2016, 6:54 PM

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Video games may have their diehard fans, but so do gaming consoles, and those loyalists are more rabid than any superfan of Halo or Call Of Duty you'll ever find online. The bulk of them resides in three camps: Nintendo (which has slid to being third in the wars), Xbox and Playstation. (Don't look at me like that, Steam users. When a Steam Machine actually becomes popular and affordable, we'll talk.) Some loyal Playstation fans have devoted a good portion of their time to celebrating everything Sony with their own podcast, The LittleBigKast. We sat down and chatted with the four panelists about their love of gaming, starting the show and where they hope to take it. (All pictures courtesy of LBK.)

Drew Tyler, Jeff Hawkes, Robin Haislett & Rachel Hernandez

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LittleBigKast.com

Gavin: Hey everyone, first off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Drew:
I’m an old man who can’t stop playing games. I have three little girls that I make every excuse to play with, often. For my 9-5, I’m an instructor of Digital Media at Weber State University.

Jeff: I’m married with two kids. I have a 5-year-old girl named Olive and a 6-month-old named Aero. I handle marketing and business development for Whiteclouds 3D Printing out of Ogden.

Robin: I'm an instructor at Weber State University like Drew. I'll be finishing my Ph.D. in Media and Communication from Texas Tech University in the summer with my dissertation focused on independent game developers. I'm a mother of a 7-year-old gamer, Laila, who just earned a Nintendo 3DS for Christmas. I'm in the beginning stages of planning a wedding with my graphic designer fiancé, Scott Kendall who will be moving to Utah in February.

Rachel: I just graduated college, and I'm working, and I'm just kind of figuring myself out. I have lived in Utah my whole life, and some people say I have the personality of Daria. So that should paint a pretty good picture in your head.

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Gavin: How did each of you get into gaming and what were your favorite titles growing up?

Drew:
I grew up in the '80s, so my earliest games were Arcade games and PC games like King’s Quest. As I was growing up we’d spend our longer vacations in Idaho with our cousins. They would spend countless hours playing puzzle games on the computer. The younger cousins would have to wait for the few hours of the day when the older ones were taking a power nap to get any time to play ourselves. That and fording the Columbia River in The Oregon Trail got me started.

Jeff: Oh man that’s a big question. My earliest video game memories are of the NES and Genesis. I grew up playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES and Golden Axe on the Genesis. When I was probably 9 or 10 my cousin got an SNES with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time and we spent hundreds of hours playing that together.

Robin: I began playing on little LCD handheld titles when I was about 10 years old in the '90s and then graduated to GameBoy and Game Gear handhelds. I was gifted a PlayStation and Final Fantasy VII when I was 13 and it snowballed from there. Gaming was something I could play on my own and have a sense of accomplishment and it was something my friends could play alongside me. My favorite titles were Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Final Fantasy IX. I also loved Crash Bandicoot and a few role-playing titles.

Rachel: My brothers are 10, and 13 years older than me. So ever since I could hold a controller I've been playing. They had a Nintendo and a Super Nintendo growing up. Paperboy was my jam, and so was Super Mario All Stars. As I got my own consoles, Kingdom Hearts ended up being my favorite title for a long time. I also played a lot of Halo 3, and yeah!

Gavin: What would you say drew you more toward the Playstation and its titles?

Drew: 
We’ve each gravitated toward Playstation for our own reasons. For some of us, it’s because it was the one we started with and it has more diverse titles in different genres. For others, we’re drawn to the stories being told. Sony's always been the stronger piece of machinery and better customer support for us as well. Sony never pigeonholed itself into a specific genre or a specific type of game player. Microsoft and their FPS focus allowed them to zero in on a specific genre, making it easier to be the leader in graphics, but with the PS4; that's no longer the case. Several of us still own multiple consoles, like the Xbox One and Wii…though they don’t see as much action.

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Gavin: When did the four of you first meet each other and become friends?

Jeff: 
Weber State is the catalyst for us. Rachel and I had been toying around with some podcasting ideas for a while and had recorded several different beta episodes for a gaming/entertainment podcast. While discussing it with Drew we sort of all came to the conclusion that we should be doing a show together. About eight months later Robin was interviewing for a teaching position and we all just sort of meshed well. She sat in on the show early on and met Rachel who understands the way Robin games a little too well and we've all continued to work just as well as we did when we started. The thing that works really well for us is that our priorities are very similar. We don’t place playing games or recording a podcast over the demands of life. I think that's why we get along so well: we understand that our passion for playing is only a part of life and it's where we get our tagline of "four players finding the game/life balance." Plus, we all share the same sick sense of humor.

Gavin: How did the idea come about to start your own podcast, and why the Little Big Planet reference for the title?

Rachel:
I think all of us have a passion for podcasting. For a few of us, that started with shows like Radio Lab and other story driven programs. Then Jeff found several gaming podcast that he really enjoyed and was constantly thinking that he could have added to their commentary. So he decided to give it a shot first and started building a team. As far as the name goes I think we just wanted something that felt connected to the PlayStation ecosystem. Little Big Planet was a game that really resonated with the PS community and us as players—it really just felt like a great fit.

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Gavin: What was it like gathering equipment together and creating up a proper recording setup?

Robin:
This wasn’t too difficult for us. We originally launched our show while Jeff and Rachel were still in school, so there was a lot of equipment available for us in the way of mics and mixers. Drew teaches Digital Media, and Rachel worked for the campus radio station [KWCR], so production is in our blood. As the first summer came along we each picked up our own cheap mics from amazon and continued the show from our homes by Skype-ing into a friend’s setup, where he could mix all of our pretty faces at once. Currently, we all have our own mics and arms, but we’re borrowing space and a mixer. We’re constantly trying to improve our gear and use our Patreon funds to add things to our collective equipment so we can be more self-sustaining.

Gavin: What were the first few months like starting out as you were finding your voices on the show?

Drew:
I think the phrase, "fake it till you make it" would explain a lot here. We tend to be pretty critical of ourselves and projects that we work on. When the three of us, Rachel, Jeff and myself, first began getting together we used a Google Doc to set out the structure of the episodes. That helped us be on the same page. Every couple of episodes we will talk about things that could be going better, or where we could improve. We actually often turn this monthly discussion into a bonus episode for our Patreon supporters. We call it our Phò Show. The show is still evolving and (hopefully) getting better with each episode.

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Gavin: How did you go about choosing topics and picking games to discuss as a group?

Rachel: 
We talk about games all the time, and we also talk a lot about balancing our gaming with real life. Three of us are parents with six kids between us ranging from an infant to a 9-year-old. So topics naturally arise in our “backchannel” chat. There’s also a lot of humor in there, it gives us a place to vent about work and that elusive game / life balance. We’ve covered topics like the best remakes, our favorite gaming experiences, our take on paying extra for DLC and what we think of movies made into games. Many of our show topics come from the news we cover. If one of our news items is about the release date of Uncharted 4, we’ll expand that into a discussion about our favorite game series. As for what games we discuss, we talk a lot about the bigger games we’re all playing at once, like Destiny, The Witcher 3 and lately Fallout 4. But we also have a segment twice a month we call the “Indie Game Of The Week.” We set up a schedule where we each pick two indie games, shuffle them up and assign them a week to cover. Then we have "homework" to each play that game and bring our thoughts on the mechanics, story, enjoyment factor etc. We then grade the game similar to Metacritic. As a team, we have different tastes, so this helps us give a pretty balanced review of the games.

Gavin: What was the initial reaction like from people during the show's first year? Did you get any attention from Sony or game companies while working on it?

Robin:
We had consistent show growth in the first year and most of what we received feedback wise was positive. Would we change some of the things we did that first year? Absolutely. But considering it was new territory for us we’re really happy with where we are today and the direction we are headed.

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Gavin: Knowing the ups and downs Sony tends to have with its own games and publishers, how much of a challenge is it for you to discuss gaming and the industry itself as fans while still keeping things balanced?

Jeff: 
We keep the balance on the podcast by knowing everything can be improved. We are very realistic with our expectations about Sony. When they've had issues, we haven't held anything back in our criticism. We aren't unbiased, but we are practical. I think we are eager to jump on problematic topics because we are fans. Games are important to each of us and they're a part of our lives, so when there is something like mistreatment of developers or a broken game launch, we want to talk about it and discuss how it can be fixed as well as pointing out the problem. Being critical of something means you're paying attention to it and appreciating what it is as well as what it could be. If we want to be a part of the industry as consumers, creators, and fans, we have to take care of it and treat it as the serious $22.4 billion industry it is.

Gavin: What would you say is the biggest dynamic to the show that keeps all of you together?

Drew: 
The biggest dynamic is how different we all are. We have two professors, two students of those professors, some of us are married, some of us engaged, some of us moving out of parents house. Rachel used to play Xbox so she knows a lot about transferring to a different console. Jeff has been in the military, Robin likes indie games, I have the most experience in the world out of all of us. We really are just all so different in many ways, and everyone can relate to at least one of us somehow. We genuinely like each other and we like laughing about odd things. We have our group messages filled with obnoxious memes and inside jokes and they're not all about gaming. We make fun of each other in a light-hearted way. When one of us is having a tough time and is stressing out, we see the outpouring of support from everyone to try and take the pressure off. I think if we were all just business about the show, it would fall flat and people would see right through it. Another aspect is we all have different experiences that we can speak to on different topics. Rachel and Robin have a different perspective on streaming Let's Plays on Twitch because as women they have different perspectives. I can speak to incorporating games as screen time for his three girls and wife as family bonding. Jeff and Robin do the same to a lesser extent, but Jeff can talk more about community building through the game Destiny than any of us. We disagree on some issues and it gives us more to think about. The best quality we have is how we listen to each other. Yes, it's a podcast, which means lots of talking, but we've become better at letting each of us have more room to talk with each other instead of talking at each other. It's a huge quality to cultivate in any relationship! #LBKLifeAdvice

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Gavin: Is there any interest in doing live shows or taking it on the road to conventions?

Rachel: 
Currently we do broadcast our shows live on Twitch. Then we cut out the segment breaks where we interact with the chat and throw in some minor production music and send off the mp3 to our LittleBigFans. When occasion permits we have been known to take the show on the road. For our 50th episode, we streamed live from one of our favorite shops in Ogden, Pearl Milk Tea Club. We were also able to record one of our episodes on the Sony stage at CES. That was a blast! We climbed into their director’s chairs, kicked on the lights and had the entire Sony booth as our backdrop. Drew is a geek when it comes to live streaming, so he’s often looking for excuses to do the show live. It takes a lot of planning and hard work, so we’re looking for a show producer to help us do more live things.

Gavin: Do you have any major plans for format changes or additions, or keeping the show as-is for now?

Jeff: 
We have discussed a couple of different additions to the LittleBigKast lineup but we don’t know that we currently have the time to implement them. Stay tuned! There are some things we would love to see happen if we can find a producer to take on some of the more non-glamorous aspects of show producing.

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Gavin: What were your thoughts coming out of PSX and the year ahead?

Robin: 
We love events like PSX where a lot of the big names get to showcase what they're doing to everyone. We think those events are exciting for fans, but also a huge motivating factor for the development teams as well. I can't imagine how much adrenaline the team is working with after their piece is shown and they get to see the audience reaction! We are cautiously optimistic about the use of VR and how it's being adapted. They demonstrated a lot of application in that, but several of us are more focused on the continuation of immersive experiences that VR can enhance, not ones they create themselves. Games have been a great place for people to experience things they wouldn't normally. We worry that VR is going to trivialize the need to create stories by focusing too much on creating environments. As for big game announcements that have us excited, seeing the footage in the Final Fantasy VII trailer was super and we’re really looking forward to Ni No Kuni 2. Jeff and Drew played through the original with their daughters and it was a great bonding experience for them. We would love to do a show there eventually.

Gavin: What games are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

Jeff: 
We try my best to not buy into hype and promises of game releases. If we've learned anything about game development, it's that titles get delayed. We’re among the few (but we're growing!) who welcome the delays. Developers have job stressors we can't even process and if they need more time to perfect a game we'll love, then they need to take it. Developers have an industry lifespan of only five years (Casey O'Donell, 2014. Developer's Dilemma) and we want the teams who make our favorite games stick around longer to improve that genre or bring pieces of it to other teams with other games. The games we are excited for in general are the Final Fantasy VII  remake, Ni No Kuni 2, Uncharted 4, Cup Head, Mass Effect, Mirror's Edge Catalyst, Horizon Zero Dawn and Dreams from Media Molecule. There's probably a bunch of other titles we’re missing, but that’s a solid starter list!

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Gavin: What can we expect from all of you and the show during 2016?

Drew: 
You'll see a bigger push for additional content to our supporters on Patreon and a more expansive website with more one-off reviews and pontifications on that game/life balance. And Jeff has promised you will get a little less Destiny. His personal goal is to get caught up on the backlog that Destiny created for him!

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