Monday, January 30, 2006

The Varied Ages of Myst

The Myst community never ceases to impress me. It occurred to me the other day while chatting with one of our newest members via Skype that the age range between the youngest and oldest members of TCT is currently about fifty years. Dalken Starbyne is fifteen, and SuperGram is -- well -- a Gram, for goodness' sake. I've spent many enjoyable hours speaking with and working with Tyion, and he's the same age as our son. There really aren't many hobbies, technology-based hobbies in particular, where the age of the participant is immaterial. "The Called" have come from many countries, many cultures, they speak many languages. We span time zones, we span years... it's amazing!

Shorah,

Mowog

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Backstage

My wife and I are great fans of musical theatre, and are very fortunate indeed to have "The Muny," aka the Municipal Theatre Association of St Louis, near at hand. Here's a link to their website, which is well worth a look: http://www.muny.org. I mention this because I've always had a desire to see what happens backstage. As longtime Muny subscribers, we've seen many spectacular shows from our vantage point in the seats, only imagining the bustle of activity behind the curtain. I'm hoping we can finally take one of their backstage tours this year.

All of this to say that there's a very similar quality to The Cavern Today. You, our fans, hear the finished podcasts, which are an assembly of voices, sound effects, music, and so on. There may be interviews, dramas, book reviews, poetry readings, you never know. Sometimes we don't know...

So just for fun, here's a backstage tour of The Cavern Today. As mentioned before, this whole thing started with Ruby O'Degee from Jacksonville, Florida. She has many talents, among them being storytelling, drama, and working with teens as an acting coach. As a major Uru fan, she'd been mulling over the podcast idea as another way of evolving the story in Uru, as well as showing her teen drama group just what happens when you gather together a group of enthusiastic amateurs from all over the world for the purpose of telling a story via the Internet.

A post from Ruby in the Ubisoft Uru forums was our first invitation to join the project, and since that day in August '05, the staff has now grown to include a multi-talented collection of enthusiasts from all over the globe.

Ruby is still the main organizer behind the project, and as such, is responsible for many of the themes we feature in our podcasts from month to month. She does most of the storyboarding, outlining what each 'cast will include, and ordering the segments in the sequence you'll hear them. In the private section of our forum, there are sections for upcoming podcasts, where these outlines are posted for comment by other staffers. Sometimes we volunteer to do features, other times we're requested to do them, but the overall mood is one of cooperation.

Some of us are better in some areas than in others; for example, The Cavern Players were formed so that some of us could concentrate on script writing, editing, acting, and assembly. But in the same way, we've tended to "cast" ourselves according to our talents, and assignments are handed out accordingly.

The solo features, such as book reviews, are recorded by the assigned staffer, and the files are then sent up to the Cavern server so they can be dropped into the podcast during final production. Occasionally, the assembler might edit the piece, add music, whatever. Our drama, Journey of the Called, is acted out by the players over Skype, while each actor records their track. These files, again, are uploaded for assembly later, at which time music and sound effects are added. Our interviews are a bit different, in that they are recorded live. We've used Skype while recording each track separately, and once (for GreyDragon) using Gizmo, with its built-in recording feature. For future interviews, we hope to make use of Skype with the PowerGramo plug in, which captures all voices in the conversation with very good clarity.

Musical contributions, such as those you've heard from Mateus and GingerDiva, are sent in as finished MP3s and added to the podcast during assembly.

A recent development of The Cavern Today has been the video studio, headed up by Veralun. For our Cavern Christmas Carol, we acted the scenes out in various Cavern locations while Veralun captured the action using Fraps. The resulting video was then combined with the audio side of the story to produce a very entertaining video using Uru as a backdrop, and our avatars as actors. I wonder if Cyan ever imagined this sort of thing happening?

Needless to say, with so many people each contributing their own bit to the podcast, there's a fair amount of prompting that goes on as our deadlines approach! Having to squeeze all of this in with Real Life makes it a challenge sometimes, and occasionally features have had to be dropped or put off until the next program when they couldn't be completed on time. Our forum gets pretty lively as release time approaches! But all in all, the Cavern staff usually takes it all in stride. We're very sorry to have lost some of our staffers for various reasons, but sometimes real life responsibilites take precedence.

In a way, the biggest part of the job commences after all of our segments are complete and uploaded, for then our producer has to take all of those contributions and put them together into a coherent whole, editing perhaps 45 minutes of audio into a broadcast-quality "radio show." Kudos go out to Ruby, Donahoo, and all others who have filled this role!

I guess one of the most amazing things is that none of us have ever met face to face, with very few exceptions. We did run a thread in our forum once, inviting staffers to post real-life pictures. Some of us responded, but others are still known only by their Uru avvies. I entertain the thought that one day we can indeed all meet face-to-face, but the logistics would be huge; we have staffers from all over the USA, England, The Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and France. A few of us are hoping to travel to Spokane for this year's Mysterium, and hopefully some great audio and photos will result. But for the most part, we know each other only through our voices and avvies.

Anyway, we hope you enjoy our work! We certainly have fun producing it.

Shorah,

Mowog

Thursday, January 26, 2006

For Aquila


(Thanks to The Lysts and the DRC Site for text and picture)

(Katie writes:)

Dear fellow Myst Community members, It is with great sorrow that I share with you the word of Aquila's passing. I, like all of you I'm sure, was shocked at this sudden and unbelieveable news.

Aquila, James, was at home, feeling well all morning when he suddenly became very ill (nauseous). His sister Sharon went out with their mother to an appointment for an hour, and when they returned he had been gone for some time - enough time that he was never able to be revived.

They are waiting to hear from the coroner but the assumption is that it was his heart. I spoke at length with Sharon this morning, and she and her mother are doing as well as can be expected. Sharon, like her brother, is kind and gracious and I wish desperately that we could have "met" under much different circumstances.

There are no service arrangements yet, but I will post details of these when there is more to tell. I have also offered Sharon condolences from everyone in this community. James was brother to us all, the way he gave every day, encouraged, supported, and loved. I offered to share Sharon's email address in order for any Myst fans to send her their sympathies, tributes for him, or a donation via paypal (using her email address). She has agreed to this, and so for those who wish it, you may donate and/or correspond with Sharon via: Sharcarzimm at sbc global dot net.

Sharon has asked me to tell you all that if she does not reply to your messages right away, it is because she has a lot to do and a lot on her mind. I told her that everyone understands this very well and to take her time.

The reason I stressed Paypal with her is that I knew James well enough to be privy to some personal information, including that it was not always easy for his family financially. I would ask that anyone who is able to do so, please send what you can in order to help his mother and his sisters defray the costs and ease their burden at this difficult time. I know, if James were here, he would do the same for all of us. If you wish to learn their home address to send flowers or anything else, please contact me off-Lyst / off-Forum and I will send it to you privately. To those of you who are wondering if this is a hoax, I will say now, I wish to God it were just that. I miss my friend, and will mourn this loss for many years. But this is real, and James' heart, though large enough to hold this entire community within it, wasn't strong enough to sustain him past 44 years of age. James, we will all miss you dear friend and brother. May God keep you in his house for all the days to come. (Katie)

Shorah,

Mowog

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bot Lessons

Whilst visiting possible locations for sets for an upcoming film, I came across the bots Madge Millicuddy and Mr Polt swimming in the sheltered pool of Ahnonay. It appears that Mr Polt has been using the Age for the past few days in order to teach Madge how to swim before filming starts, as her part calls for her to swim. In private he told me that progress is slow, though hopefully Madge will be ready in time or I'll be spending the next month editing out her water wings.

Shorah,
Stellaflora

This One's for the Noobs

For those of you who've just tuned in, and are wondering what The Cavern Today is all about, read on. I'll admit the whole thing may seem a bit daft at first, but be patient!

Obviously, it all started with Myst, the ground-breaking computer adventure game that appeared in 1993. That game, and the series that followed, built a tightly-knit community of fans. But with the release of the multi-player Uru in late 2003, the term "community" took on a whole new meaning. For the first time, adventurers could explore together. With its realtime 3D, free motion, and multiplayer online feature, we could finally meet our fellow explorers face-to-face in the Cavern of D'ni, or collectively enjoy the beautiful Ages at our disposal. The Uru forums were alive with new friendships; even with new rivalries, as the multi-layered nature of the story began to develop. Uru promised a truly amazing, and constantly changing, experience. But unexpectedly the plug was pulled, apparently due to financial straits, and the interactive side of Uru -- Uru Live -- was shut down in February of 2004, before it had truly begun. But the story wasn't quite over yet. A few months later, after impassioned appeals from the fans for some kind; ANY kind; of online Uru, Cyan authorized the revival of Uru online. True, this new incarnation, known as Until Uru, was a limited version, running on fan-based servers. But the magic was still there, in sufficient quantity to keep the community alive and well throughout the remainder of 2004 and 2005. It was in August of 2005 that one of the fans, a certain Ruby O'Degee of Florida, posted a message in the Ubisoft Uru forums asking if anyone would be interested in teaming up with her to produce a regular podcast to provide entertainment and information to the Uru community. The ball began rolling very soon afterward, and steadily picked up momentum. As of this writing, we've produced eight podcasts, and are working on our ninth. We've already featured two interviews with Cyan staffers, hopefully with more to follow. Our forum boasts over ninety members, and our production staff currently runs around twenty-five. A subset of that staff has formed The Cavern Players, a troupe of actors and producers who are focusing on the dramatic and comedic segments that are proving quite popular with our listeners.

So stay tuned! 2006 promises to be a very exciting, and unusual, year for The Cavern Today. Join us for the adventure, and to our subscribers and fans: "THANK YOU!!"

Shorah,

Mowog

Swelling the Ranks

Wow, word's getting around! We've recently added several new members to the Cavern Today staff, and we'd like to welcome everyone! Eleri, AllMyst, Dalken Starbyne, DatokerJ, Toraneko, Alhon... the list goes on. We look forward to adding these new voices and talents to our podcasts!

CCN is more of a collective talent pool than an organization. Many thanks to Ruby for riding herd on the rest of us and taking care of the tedious organizational duties, and for working so hard to coordinate a loosely-knit gaggle of talent into something you'd like to listen to each month!

Shorah,

Mowog

Friday, January 20, 2006

Being Official, and how it feels

Ruby O'Degee sure knows how to surprise a person. Today she posted a message in the actors' area of our forum containing a full set of Cavern Actors' Guild cards she had created for all of us who have performed in Cavern bits to date. It sort of blew me away... I had to take my glasses off, rub my eyes, and chuckle for a while. It looked funny at work, but hey.

I proceeded to print my card, and it's now laminated and residing in my wallet. Silly, I know, but I guess it hit me like it did because I never in my life expected that my name (or nickname at least) would ever be associated with acting. You just don't imagine something like that when you've stuttered most of your life. But the funny thing here is that once I power up my microphone, it's like another person talking. It's a controlled situation, a performance; and for whatever reason, I'm fluent while performing. Folks with normal speech can only imagine how liberating that is!

I guess I feel sort of like our departed friend "Pepsi," who could run and explore in Uru while confined to a wheelchair in real life. I've always been very frustrated with my speaking voice, but now, thanks to The Cavern Today, I'm somehow able to not only speak... but to create characters and bring them to life. It's kind of neat to discover a new talent at age 49!

So that card in my wallet is something of a certificate of achievement, stating that I'm doing something with my voice that I can actually enjoy, and enjoy very much. And hopefully, our fans will enjoy it too!

Shorah b'shemtee,

Mowog

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Great Shafts, Rabbit Holes, and So Forth

An interesting outgrowth of The Cavern Today has been the formation of The Cavern Players. It all started with Journey of the Called, the Cavern's own radio drama. With each new episode, we realized that we were really enjoying the process. So The Cavern Players have taken it upon themselves to produce original (or at least derivative!) new works for the entertainment of the Myst community.

Our first production was the Cavern Christmas Carol, our holiday special that aired in late December. Based on the Dickens classic, the story was given a rather Mystian twist by Mowog and Ruby O'Degee. And as fun as the audio version was, Veralun's excellent Cavern cinematography brought the story to life in video as well.

Next on our slate is Alice In Wonderland, again with a slant toward Uru; but unlike our Christmas program, we're hoping to do a "straight" version as well, essentially an Alice audio book performed by our international cast of actors, complete with music and sound effects. We're hoping that the authentic Alice will reach beyond the Myst community, and will lead to other such efforts. The acting bug has bitten us!

As for Journey of the Called, the final episode in the first series is partially recorded, and will appear in a podcast in the near future.

We'd like to sincerely thank all of you who have either subscribed to our podcast (2,000 plus!), or who have downloaded it directly. It's a labor of love, and the enthusiasm of the fans is what makes it all worth it.

Until next time,

Mowog

Stay Tuned...

Many apologies for the lack of recent updates! Back when we first started The Cavern Today, this blog was our main source of collaboration. Then our forum went online back in the fall, and we all went scampering over to our shiny new forum. In all our excitement, we sort of forgot about the blog.

Anyway, we just noticed all the dust on the blog, and we'll be paying a little more attention to it after this. Plans are for me (Mowog) to do the words, and Stellaflora will provide the pictures.

Thanks for visiting! And don't forget our website and forum at http://www.thecaverntoday.com.