The Walking Eye Review

At first glance there is nothing special about The Walking Eye podcast. No single part of their show is unique. Plenty of other podcasts do actual play. There are countless podcasts that have discussions about gaming issues and design. Many podcasts talk about comic books and even podcasts that interview game designers and creators are not particularly rare. What makes The Walking Eye special is that they do all of these things and that they’ve found a perfect format to combine them all.

Generally, a portion of The Walking Eye begins with a variable number of actual play sessions (usually 3-5 depending on the needs of the game) of a given game, followed by an episode of the hosts breaking down their experience with the game followed by an interview with the game’s designer(s.) This format allows listeners to get a feel for the game from the actual play, some deeper analysis from the hosts and then some behind the scenes information from the designer(s.)

Although actual play sessions are notorious for being boring and confusing, the Walking Eye has cleverly chosen an area of gaming that avoids these issues. While it would no doubt be dull to listen to a group of people play D&D or Warhammer Fantasy or Rifts for four to six hours straight, the Walking Eye plays only the “indie,” story type games which have become so popular. These games are generally rules or at least math light and revolve more around plot and dialogue than combat. By their very nature they are more descriptive than more traditional games. Instead of listening to people figure out the math behind an attack and agonize over tactical decisions, the audience gets to hear a group of people putting together an interesting story using a shared set of rules. The actual play sessions of the Walking Eye are also relatively short. Though the magic of editing prevents us from knowing exactly how long they play each week, most of their actual play casts come in around the 2 hour mark, meaning that they end about the time the audience’s attention really starts to drift, anyway.

But it’s the last two types of shows that make the Walking Eye really interesting. While most shows that discuss gaming discuss games in general, the game reviews given by the Walking Eye are focused tightly on a single game at a time. This means that these discussions are less about what works in every game and more about what works and what doesn’t works in a given game. While it is all well and good to say that one dice mechanic or rule is useful, it is much better to be able to say the dice mechanic or rules in a specific game works not for that game. And, as the hosts of the Walking Eye have said, their actual play helps other people avoid mistakes and gain clarifications of the rules because the hosts have already made those mistakes and clarified those rules on air.

Of course, the designer interviews are just as interesting and useful. On at least one occasion, the game designer has informed the cast of the Walking Eye that they played his game wrong. It is interesting to see this dichotomy between what a group of players conceive a game to be and what a designer intends a game to be. While the adage “if you’re having fun while playing, you’re doing it right” pertains, seeing the creator’s intent and viewpoint often adds depth to the games that are played. It can only help you enjoy a game if you know what the creator of the game wants you to get out of it. It is also fascinating to listen to people who make a living crafting games. Seeing the thought that goes into creating game mechanics, formatting and even descriptive text is a vivid reminder that a really good game does not happen by accident.

The hosts of the Walking Eye have become excellent interviewers and it shows that they’ve had quite a bit of experience in the interview process by this point. The hosts’ understanding of game design has grown noticeably since the beginning of the podcast as well. Though they began with approximately the same amount of knowledge as the average gamers, peeking behind the curtain for so long has given them an insight into game design that allows them to quickly and concisely cut to the core of a game and determine how well the mechanics work and how well they support the setting.

And then, there is the sheer cool factor of being able to talk to the creators of games. It is a great reminder that one of the awesome parts of our hobby is that even the really successful members of the profession are very down to earth people who are not exceptionally famous and that even the exceptionally famous people involved in the industry are still in touch with their fans. For instance, after recently finishing a game of the Dresden Files, the Walking Eye interviewed not only Fred Hicks, the driving force behind Evil Hat productions, one of the most influential indie game publishers, but also Jim Butcher, the bestselling author of the books the game is based upon. It is hard to imagine an amateur podcast doing the same thing in the world of sports, music or movies.

The work that the Walking Eye has done should not be undersold, however. The hosts of the Walking Eye are not simply walking up to creators and designers and getting interviews. In fact, they have spent years now developing their credibility in the industry and their interviews are always respectful and incisive. These are not a bunch of fanboys or trolls getting together to drool over a designer or bash him, but rather a group of people who have a proven track record in playing games and have put a lot of effort into trying new games and understanding what works in a game, what doesn’t and what just makes a game cool. Game designers who have listened to the show have to know that when they come on they are going to have a lively discussion about their game with people who are knowledgeable and who are genuinely interested.

Recently, two of the hosts, CJ and Dan, have begun releasing comics casts as a supplement to the RPG casts that regularly drop. While I get my comics news primarily from the podcast associated with this website, it is interesting to get other viewpoints on what is going on in the world of spandex. The Walking Eye comic casts are monthly rather than weekly so they are looking at a bigger chunk of the comic world at a time, as well and many times there have been noticeable and fascinating differences between how the hosts of the Walking Eye view a book or plot and how the hosts of Funnybooks with Aron and Paulie view them.

Listening to the Walking Eye has re-taught me a number of things I already knew. For example, I’ve been reminded that if there is a set of rules, someone can find a way to take advantage of them. Power gaming is just as prevalent and at least as easy in the newer games that revolve around story as it is in more traditional, tactical games. I’ve also been reminded that I want to avoid serious, character driven LARP’s like the Camarilla like the plague. It’s not that begrudge them the way that they have fun, it is simply that I am just not as dedicated to deep RP as they are and that dichotomy could only lead to disappointment and trouble. Finally, I’ve been reminded that Girl Gamers can be just as violent and bloodthirsty as Guy Gamers can. Often, they are noticeably more violent and bloodthirsty.

The cast of the Walking Eye has been impressively stable since its inception. It has continuously been various combinations of the same five people. These five people are obviously all friends and mesh well.

Kevin is the driving force behind the podcast. He generally leads the interviews, often GMs the games and has been on almost all if not all of the normal episodes. He’s also the one who most often goes out looking for interviews and edits the episodes.

CJ is the only other member of the cast who has consistently been on since the beginning. He’s probably the most laid back member of the cast, but he often comes up with really interesting characters and plot points, both vital traits for any player of a story teller type game. CJ does not passively let the games go by but throws his characters into the middle of the action.

Dan is also featured in quite a few episodes. If the show has a joker, it is Dan and he always seems to be laughing about one thing or another. He takes the games that the Walking Eye plays seriously however, never bringing too much levity to some of the serious issues they address and dark themes they use. Dan has partnered with CJ in hosting the Walking Eye’s comics cast and, due to work constraints that is all the podcasting he is able to do. Unfortunately for the show’s loyal listeners, he is no longer able to play in the regular sessions.

Jen is a roller derby girl (or grrrl, I’m not sure of the correct spelling) who just happens to also like gaming. She is a mix of smart and brassy with a bit of raunchiness thrown in for good measure. Though she can joke around as good as any of the boys she can be quite intense when it comes to gaming and has an impressive ability to get into the heads of her characters. She recently returned from a long leave of absence with harrowing tales about her experiences with the Camarilla in her area.

Brandon is the malcontent of the group. He seems to take a perverse glee in being contrary and in having his characters do horrible things to the other players’ characters. While this undoubtedly a bad idea in many games, in the story type games that the Walking Eye plays, it only adds depth and complexity to the plots that they develop. For many of us from a traditional gaming background, the idea of purposefully impeding our fellow players is alien, but after hearing how well it works for the Walking Eye, it is obviously a good practice to take up if we plan on playing the kind of games they feature. Recently Brandon has left the podcast because he grew tired of playing games and characters for only a handful of sessions before abandoning them and picking up a new game. As someone who is relishes wringing every session out of a character and campaign possible, I am sympathetic.

Of course, with both Brandon and Dan gone, the Walking Eye seems to be facing something of a crisis. With only Kevin, CJ and Jen around to play, one has to wonder if they’ll be able to play test any games at all. After all, four players is a decent sized gaming group. Three players is potentially too small to do anything. Assuming they play a game that requires a GM it would only be two players working with and playing off each other. Even with games that do not require a GM having only three main characters pushes the boundaries of playability.

Here’s hoping they can find at least one more person to round out their gaming group and keep the Walking Eye going.

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