In defense of Wil Wheaton, even though he’s completely capable of defending himself

wil-wheaton-tabletopAround the same time Marty and I were starting PTG Felicia Day started Geek and Sundry. Will Wheaton, a friend of Felicia’s, proposed a show called TableTop for G&S, the idea behind the show being a group people (celebrities) would get together play a game and talk about what-not. Simple, kind of like “Dinner and a Movie” but with a different board game every week instead of dinner. I was curious but I didn’t understand why anyone would sit around and watch other people play a game when they could get a group together and play their own game. I watched the fist season of TableTop and it was okay.

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My take away was an understanding of the shows purpose. Wil’s focus was not on the hard core or regular gamer and he’s very clear on this point. We already understands the enjoyment of spending a couple of hours face to face playing with friends. His focus was to expose the non-gamers or occasional gamers to the fun of board games in an open inviting way. He succeeded.

TableTop’s third season was funded on Indiegogo with just under 1.5 million nearly 3X the $500,000 needed with over 22,000 supporters. A ringing endorsement for Wil’s concept and proof that there is a growing audience for this kind of content and here’s where it gets a bit bumpy. Wil’s been taking some heat for season 3, seems it didn’t go as well as anyone wanted, Wil’s words not mine.

TableTop’s videos routinely break 500,000 views.  Most people will never know what goes into making film/video content and as a result some people have no problem telling you that you project sucks. Some of the comments are typical troll fodder but others are down right mean. I’m okay with that, freedom of expression is part of what we’re all about, but sometimes the rush to judge doesn’t allow you to see the big picture.

A well funded project is a double edged sword. It allows you hire capable people to handle the various jobs that go into producing a show but for every person you hire there’s an element of control that is lost. Marty and I handled all of the technical aspects of Play the Game  in the early days, website, interviews, shooting, editing. We both have film backgrounds and it’s a mountain of work to create a decent show. The upside is, if we had a problem or started going off the reservation we only had to deal with each other and as we’re both nice guys we worked it out relatively quickly. Not so on bigger productions where everything is compartmentalized. A show like TableTop can have dozens of people working on it and they can vary from season to season. Check out the IMDB for TableTop. Every Production has a key core of people that keep track of the details and this is where season three’s problems began.

During season 3’s Indiegogo campaign, Wil teased, if funding went over one million he would develop a show focused on role playing. From Seasons 3’s troubles something unique was born. Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana.

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As Wil turned his focus to his new show, Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana, he trusted that the logistics for TableTop would be handled in the same professional manor as previous seasons. Wil has addressed this a few times on his blog (1) (2) (3) and I don’t want to feed the rumor mill.

Let me be clear, a production is not you and your buddies deciding “hey lets put on a show” and every one is magically on the same page. Every professional production is basically the same. The titles people have i.e. Producer, Director, Editor have clear responsibilities and expectations. Sure, on very small productions the lines are blurred a bit but its safe to say you’re not going to have your editor or camera person lining up your talent or in Wils case making sure the rules of the game you’re playing that week are correct. Was it incumbent on Wil, as host, to make sure he understood the rules for the game he was hosting every week, maybe, maybe not. It depends on the structure in place for getting him up to speed on the rules for each game. Anyone that’s read the rules for a new game knows there’s a learning curve and that curve takes time, something in short supply during production. I’m not going to judge, clearly there were problems but lets focus on something positive that came out of season three.

I didn’t think Wil’s new show, Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana, would hold my interest. Lets just say I went in highly skeptical but he hooked me like a fish. Not Netflix Dare Devil or Sense8 hooked but I did find myself looking forward to the next adventure, here’s why.

If you’ve played RPGs you know that a successful game has some key ingredients. Good story,  good people, a rule system that doesn’t get in the way and good snacks. Titansgrave has three out of four, not sure about the snacks.

Wil stacked the deck for his new show. He drafted people that are charismatic and comfortable performing, Hank Green, Laura Bailey, Yuri Lowenthal, Alison Haislip as players with Wil as GM. titansgrave-aankia-kiliel-lemley-slethkkEach player brought something different to their character and as a result the group created an experience that was a cross between improv, stage play and audible book. He took what is essentially theater of the mind and turned it into something we can all watch, understand and would like to take part in. By combining artistic graphics during the story elements with on screen stats during encounters he lets us see the essential mechanics without distracting from the story or characters and in a weird way you’re invested in seeing the outcome of the die roll. Dare I say, kind of like watching sports.

In my opinion,  while all of the players were good, Lemley-square-croppedLaura Bailey was the stand out. She brought an enthusiasm and “I’m all in” attitude that made for some truly memorable moments for her character, Lemley. The other stand out was Wil’s story and game mastering. He’s been doing more  voice work and it shows when he takes on the role of NPC. In his adventure he blended character motivation, action, problem solving and suspense into a serial journey that made me want to experience more of his world. Wil put a lot of time and thought into how the show would work as well as writing the story for the adventure and I can see why season three of TableTop suffered. There are not enough hours in the day for one person to handle the details of two shows at this level of production, something has got to give. If he continues to grow these two shows he’s going to need a dedicated show runner.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m looking forward to watching other people play a role playing game in his next installment.

Here’s to “Five Gold and a Party!” 🙂