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One Life Left at GDC

On One Life Left, a radio show that's sort-of about videogames; why we started it, what it is, why we're bringing it to GDC and what you're going to hear...

Ste Curran, Blogger

March 2, 2012

9 Min Read

[On One Life Left, a radio show that's sort-of about videogames; why we started it, what it is, why we're bringing it to GDC and what you're going to hear... more information via this Gamasutra article.]

Here are two secrets, Gama, because I trust you and I know you won't tell anyone else. The first is that I couldn't care less about "games as art". I am happy that our medium is so fun and it feels important sometimes, too, but I think labouring that point with non-believers gets tiresome and is dangerous. I think if you don't do it right you put off more people than you attract and doing it right requires forethought, grace, intellect that I am not sure I possess.  

And here's the second secret, related to that. While I can elegantly arrange the various parts of my life to look as if it's a carefully constructed journey, from writer to developer to co-founder of a studio, I feel like a fraud when I do. I am just muddling through, trying to do things I like and hoping other people like them too. I have no grand plan. Do you, Gama? Do others? I know some pretend they do, at least, but for me there is only The Next Thing and an endless chain of distractions behind it: a dancing queue of shiny objects I want to make, talented  people working with me to make those objects better and stupid jokes tumbling down all around. I really like stupid jokes.

The stupidest joke of all involved both of those secrets: one day I decided I wanted to make a radio show about videogames that didn't take games seriously and was aimed as much at people who don't play as those who do. I said we'd use games as a starting point and then wander so far from that point, through forests of tangential two-minute features and special guests and stupid jokes, that it would be almost impossible to find our way back. And I pitched all this to a UK radio station famous for cutting-edge arts, music and documentary broadcasting. Ell oh ell.

But Resonance 104.4FM, our beautiful, brilliant, tolerant hosts, specialise in commissioning the unexpected and Ann, Simon and I have been producing One Life Left, an atypical chat show about videogames, for them for six years now. We've grown along the way, become (somewhat) better at what we do, and moved from a cautious, stumbling hour in the afternoon through to a prime time Monday evening timeslot. We flit in and out of the iTunes charts, we've been nominated for (and won??) awards and been covered by national and international media. Throughout it all we've remained resolutely independent. We don't get paid to do the show but our adventures are our own.

That means that outside our scheduled sixty minutes a week we take OLL wherever we want to, wherever it will fit, often where it won't. We get to decide and we make that decision based only on what sounds fun in that instant. So we've done videogame stand-up comedy. We've put on a chiptune clubnight. We spent six months trying to get OBEs. We've broadcast from conference rooms and in fields as guests of music festivals and in a bed at a curry house. We've written and performed 'videogame karaoke' (and will be doing that again at our sold-out* AOPATAD party on GDC's Wednesday evening) and presented awards to 1000 bemused Scandinavians. 

And now, now, now. Now we're going to GDC to record and broadcast from the show floor and I'm typing this on the flight to the the West coast, half a radio station in the plane's hold. Gama, whom I trust, suggested it might be a good idea to write a piece explaining what One Life Left is and the most tempting thing is just to write "out of its depth". Again.  But we always have been, right from the start, so...

Here's some background. Resonance 104.4 FM is a London arts station. Publicly funded, its output is beautiful, mad, unpredictable. Tune in across the city or on their website and you will hear lovingly produced documentaries on topics outside the bell curve, hour-long audio art installations, music on the fringes of every genre imaginable and live single-subject nonsense like One Life Left. In short, Resonance broadcasts the things lesser radio stations can't work out how to cover and that's why they seemed like the perfect place for our videogame show.

Who are we? I used to work at Edge Magazine, writing serious, overwrought pieces about how I saw the future of gaming. Ten years later and I exist on the fringes of that future, working on collaborative independent projects under my Secret Crush (http://www.supersecretcrush.com) brand and as Creative Director at a start-up studio in Brighton called Echo Peak (http://www.echo-peak.com). Simon has been in the industry for even longer than I have and leads the games division of a PR agency in London. Ann does not work in the industry and knew absolutely nothing about games when she started. Cultural osmosis means she knows some stuff now, like how to say Miyamoto and what a Cliffy B is, but she still represents the other side of the divide. 

One Life Left (current tagline: "Videogame radio for the easily entertained") isn't like videogame podcasts. We cover the news, five stories a week, largely stolen from Eurogamer by Ann with her pithy outsider commentary added on the end. We have guests but without an endgame; they're anyone we'd like to chat to, journalists, indies, veteran publishers, just as likely nothing to do with the games industry at all. It's not a show about exclusives (though we've had them, usually accidentally), triple-A announcements  or the number of weapons in the next military first-person-shooter. We do have a review section. Every game has received 7/10.

And 7/10 could be our calling card, actually: both a four-character statement about the craziness inherent in assigning an arbitrary number to a subjective medium; and general numerical weariness.  Our audience have seen it all before or nothing before but either way they're not interested in the hard, cold, frightening core of the games industry. There are so many broadcasts for that world already; for those who are squinting so, so hard to see the future and for the people who are just passionate about calling each other names online. Elsewhere, the old, the jaded and the ignorant meet at the same point: unexpected things and stupid jokes, laughing at the ridiculous and falling in love with the new. 

Along with our our wandering, addled chit-chat the show is littered with bursts of brilliant chiptune music and short, sub-two minute segments recorded by friends and anonymous industry contributors. We have bleak, gaming poetry from our in-house poet Craig "The Rage" McLelland, gorgeous acoustic sonnets from elusive house-band the doyouinverts, game character medical vignettes,  gambling tips, junior game designers, Wikipedia article breakdowns. Our longest standing feature is Free Market Economy, One Life Left's take on the charts. In this segment Derek Williams, a market-stall trader from Doncaster (a town in the North East of England), takes a look a what's selling well this week as he plays self-composed instrumental pieces on his synth. That tells you everything you need to know about OLL.

So yes, we talk about games but more than that One Life Left is a space for us to build stuff around them. I could make a case that we're not about the rockets themselves but observing the explosions from afar and producing things from the cultural fallout. But I'd feel like a fraud because we both know we're muddling through. We do things we like, tell stupid jokes and work on the understanding that most games, like most literature and most movies and most people, are silly and disposable**. Acknowledge that and your attempts to get people to play the ones that do matter gain so much more credibility.

At GDC we're going to be running two shows a day. The lunchtime version, recording from 1PM in the lobby area, will be One Life Left: Live. It's our attempt to capture the spirit of the show outside the studio, an informal discussion broken up with music and chat, all trying to capture the atmosphere of being at the conference. We'll have scheduled guests, games, themes, gossip, nonsense. We're not planning all that much beyond that: we'll turn up, start recording and we'll react to whatever happens. Will there be much to see? Possibly not, but come by and say hello anyway. We'll be editing these pieces first, then broadcasting them on Resonance FM and on our podcast stream over the next three Mondays.

In the evenings, from 6.30pm in a private room to be announced, we'll be hosting One Life Left vs Gamasutra, a panel-style preview of the next day's conference lineup. We'll have a handpicked selection of superstar conference guests looking at what happened today and what might happen tomorrow. This is the 'smart' show, broadcast as-live on Resonance 104.4 FM, and assuming all goes to plan it'll be available for download on Gamasutra within the hour. There will be a handful of free tickets to watch this and the best place to get your name on the list is by visiting us during the lunchtime show.

If you want to hear our voices in advance you can do that here. We recorded a special rambling introduction last week and there'll be another special on Monday afternoon.  For a more typical OLL experience you should rewind straight to the beginning of the last series, here. The new series, our eighth, starts in April. We should probably start thinking about that but for now we've got something else on our minds.

And we're really excited. This, for us, is the culmination of six years of poking at the fringes of the games industry -- a chance to talk to the people we love about the things we love and sure, to make stupid jokes with and about them, and hopefully to bring part of what makes GDC special to the airwaves. You'll be able to hear whatever happens soon. Apologies in advance, keep up to date with what we're doing by following our Twitter and see you at the foot of the escalators.

* Apart from the ticket we're auctioning for charity... (which you can find out more about on the radio show) (or just email us with your bid).

** Not a pejorative. Some of my favourite things are silly and disposable, not least the radio show itself.

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