Looking Back on Chapter Select Season 2 – God of War

It’s time to put away the Blades of Chaos because Season 2 is done!

I am so proud of this season and the show on the whole. We successfully executed our vision of two seasons in one year. We were on time and had a great time creating the show. As I said in the Season 1: Paper Mario wrap-up, this show has been my creative highlight of the year.

With a second season under our belt and a total of six months of data, I wanted to pull back the curtain on the production and reception once again. I think this type of analysis and behind-the-scenes enriches the show’s own narrative and, personally, helps me learn how yo make the show even better next time.

We slightly shook up the format this season. Instead of a true “first release to most recent” bouncing back and forth formula, we placed the most recent game (God of War, PS4) at the end of the season. This was Logan’s idea and I am immensely glad he convinced me to do so. At first, I was against the notion, insistent on adhering to the show’s purest structure. After thinking about it and listening to Logan’s reasoning, I agreed to make the change.

I could not be more happy that we did so. The show would have been worse off if I had vehemently stuck to my guns. It let us have a rich evolution of discussing the Greek games without being bogged down by a fresh play-through of the reimagined entry. It also gave listeners a little bait to stick around to the end of the season for what we imagine is the most desired game in the season. Plus, it leads perfectly into God of War: Ragnarök, which we plan on making an episode about once it releases sometime this year.

I recently was reminded of the saying “kill your darlings.” Chapter Select’s pure bouncing back and forth is my proverbial darling. It makes the show unique and leads to new conversations. Being convinced to tweak it slightly led to a better season. This doesn’t mean that the structure is being thrown out — far from it — but it does give me breathing room I didn’t think we had before.

Numbers and Performance

The show started well enough with a growing base, transitioning from Paper Mario to God of War. November had a sizable bump to 1,206 downloads. I pegged this to mostly SEO blessing us with “God of War 2” pulling up our show for those Ragnarök searches.

What neither of us expected was a surge nearly four times larger in December to a whopping 4,605 downloads. Even when signing up for the advanced stats from Libsyn, I couldn’t quite figure it out. The top download agent was Safari at the time I checked with over 3,000 downloads. The next closest was Chrome at 113. I find it hard to believe that so many Safari users are downloading the show. I’m certainly not opening the show that many times on my devices. Podcast numbers are tricky to be precise. I wish I could figure out a way to truly get actionable data.

Arguably the two largest providers of podcasts are Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Both provide numbers, but not terribly well. Apple Podcasts Connect doesn’t seem to update data too often, with some episodes not having any data. Apple reports the shows all time numbers at 426 plays with 13 listeners, as of this post.

Spotify reports 216 “starts,” 88 “streams,” 82 “listeners,” and 7 followers. I can assume the difference between “listener” and “follower” is a subscriber. That makes sense. I wonder what the threshold is for turning a “start” into a “stream” or a “listener.” How long into an episode is that cut off? Why are downloads not accounted for on Spotify? It seems packed with the wrong kind of terminology. I would prefer “downloads,” “streams,” and “subscribers.” If retention is going to be tracked, I’d prefer concrete numbers over popular terms. Spotify does share a “wrapped” summary for podcasters like they do for music. That seems trendy and I like it.

One other avenue of performance to look at is YouTube. I’ll touch on the video production process below, but bringing the show to YouTube seemed like another popular and accessible avenue for listeners. Currently, all the episodes for this season total 283 views. By far the most popular episode is S2E7 – God of War (2018) with 168 of those views. That’s no surprise considering it is the most popular entry and the PC release is this Friday.

Guests

Our guest plans for this season didn’t go quite like I hoped. We were only able to get one person to join along with us this time, which somewhat surprised me. I totally thought people would be more willing to play these short action platformers over 30~ hour RPGs. Grant Huff joining us for God of War II was a treat, especially for one of the best games in the series.

For these first two seasons, we recruited guests with a cold call-to-action tweet so we could preserve the surprise of the season’s focus for launch. We’ll continue to do that for now, but I also plan to politely reach out to friends I feel could be interested in certain seasons/games. This may help us expand the range of voices you’ll hear alongside Logan and myself.

Audio

The show’s primary medium is still an audio podcast. Delivering a high-quality sounding podcast with chapters, art, and show notes is the driving force behind production. I make all decisions for delivering the show through this lens (or rather through this filter? Speaker? Insert your sound analogy of choice here). I tried something new by pre-recording show credits. I like the idea of it as padding between the show and any easter eggs. It also can let us put Twitter handles and sites in credits to not clutter the natural end of the show. I’m still feeling this idea out and will experiment more in season 3.

I invested in some new audio software to help clean up rougher audio. I bought iZotope RX 8 Essentials on sale to help remove clicks, hums, and pops. I am certainly unqualified to use this software, but it has definitely helped make some audio better. I’ve even used it to clean up six year old episodes of Millennial Gaming Speak to use as clips.

Video Production

The biggest addition to the show’s production this season was video versions of the episodes. As I said above, the focus is audio, which is why you don’t see our faces in the video versions. This allows me to make the cuts and edits I want without it looking weird with so many jump cuts. This also allows for parity between chapters and show notes

Since I have to play the games for the podcast, I figure I could easily record the gameplay and splice together video versions to make the show accessible on YouTube. This process has been a great opportunity to flex some creativity. I take notes while editing the audio to know what clips or scenes to layer over when I make the video version.

It has been so much fun. In S2E4 – God of War: Ghost of Sparta, Logan offhandedly mentioned how the plot was “Mortal Kombat levels of ridiculousness.” Listening to the show, that carries its own weight in humor. But while researching for an episode, I stumbled across the announcement that Kratos was added to Mortal Kombat (2011). Remembering this in the editing process, I included that trailer over Logan’s joke to amp it up, to great effect I think. This editing process lead to plenty of easter eggs that, at the very least, made me chuckle.

Another angle of the video version was the visual quality. I made the decision early on to not stretch or scale footage beyond its original resolution. This resulted in three different resolutions used; 720p60, 1080p60, and 4K60. While this definitely impacted file size, I enjoyed working in the native resolutions. I’m a stickler for quality and trying to have the best in whatever medium I’m working in. I didn’t want to stretch footage without a proper way to upscale footage to 4K across the board. Maybe in the future it should all be the same resolution and framerate for consistency, but I like the range as an accurate representation of the gameplay when we did these episodes.

Originally, I wanted the God of War (2018) to be presented in HDR alongside the 4K60. I edited the entire episode in that 10-bit color space. Unfortunately, pushing the M1 processor to export nearly 2 hours of 4K60 HDR proved to take too long: After nearly two hours, the export was only at 2%. I couldn’t wait (theoretically) three days just to export the footage, especially when YouTube takes over four days to process 4K60 HDR footage in my testing.

Art

Once a season’s focus is locked in, I spend the early weeks planning the look for the art. I want unified styles that tie together the franchise and the individual game being discussed. Paper Mario was easy with the crumpled paper background and textures. For God of War, my mind immediately went to the Greek gods and statues. There are plenty surviving pieces of art from ancient Greece. I thought having a statue of the game’s main god would be a neat way to showcase the games while unifying the season visually.

I liked the idea, but high quality and royalty free images of these statues proved to be not as accessible as I expected. So I pivoted to real images of objects or places that tie into the games’ themes.

I knew Episode 1 – God of War had to be burning coals or ash. The curse placed on Kratos defines his character, design, and motivations. For Episode 2 – God of War: Ascension, I wanted to find something to convey the multiplayer aspect. Thankfully, I found this wonderful picture of toy Spartans charging into battle. It was a dream come true.

Episode 3 – God of War II uses a statue of a winged man holding an hourglass. It totally captures Icarus and the time travel introduced with the Sisters of Fate.

The picture I chose for the Ghost of Sparta episode is not actually from Unsplashed. It’s a screensaver on the Apple TV. Being underwater captures both Atlantis and the pressure Kratos was under to save his brother.

The other PSP game, on the other hand, is an open field bathed in golden light (or as my wife calls it, “golden hour”). It reminded me of Elysium, which was essentially all I remembered from Chains of Olympus before we played it for the show.

I don’t think Episode 6 – God of War III could have had better art.

The finale’s art was the episode that I designed the most. I found the picture of a boat in Hardangerfjord, Norway. The body of water looks surrounded by mountains reminded me of the Lake of Nine. The boat is shaped similarly to what Kratos and Atreus use. Knowing the picture was taken in Norway made me feel a level of “authentic-ness.” I added the reflection of the logo in the ripples on the water to give it just a smidge more omph than the others.

The Future

Season 2 has an interesting cloud looming over it in the form of God of War: Ragnarök, set to release this year. Our plan from the beginning was to make an episode when that game is released and to add it to this season. In fact, that was an element that led to us shaking up the recording formula a bit and placing God of War (2018) at the end.

As for Season 3, the series was decided quite a bit ago. Just like between Seasons 1 & 2, we’ll have a few months off here to work, play other games, and then jump into full production for the next season. This one will be a shorter season, like I’ve previously discussed.

We realized that we ought to work on longer games and/or series throughout the year, banking episodes and keeping that season for the back half of the year. As for the front half of a year, that can be a season focusing on a shorter series, whether in game quantity or actual game length. You will definitely see that approach taken for seasons 3 and 4.

Looking Back on Chapter Select Season 1

Season 4 has a few ideas, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I’ll announce Season 3 shortly before it makes its own debut.

God of War has been a blast of a season to tackle. I haven’t played some of these games in a decade, while others I’ve replayed a few times. Revisiting the entire series with the current context of the franchise and PlayStation has opened my eyes to the lasting legacy that has had to evolve to survive.

Plus, getting the Platinum trophy is every game back-to-back was oh so satisfying. Now, I only need to play God of War 1 & 2 on Vita for all the Platinum trophies…

Each season we’ve done so far continues to prove to myself this is the right type of show to be making right now. I’m proud of the improvements we’ve been able to make in just one season and am looking forward to what we release here in 2022!

PixelFX Has Big Plans for 2022

Pixel FX Year in Review

In celebration of the company’s one year anniversary, PixelFX has provided insight both to their journey throughout 2021 and for their future. The big news is details on their scaler dubbed Morph and an entirely new product called the Infinity Switch. 

The Morph now features BNC connectors and HDMI ports (one input and one output, I believe). Previously, it was to have component, VGA, and S-video. By pivoting to BNC, the Morph is now a module scaler. It can accept numerous video inputs and evolve over time.

This is all further expanded upon by incorporating the Infinity Switch, a plug ’n’ play switcher with modules to let customers pick the inputs they want for their scaler. You could have your entire console collection connected to and running through the Morph at once. Users can use multiple methods to switch inputs turning them all into one output through a presumably powerful scaler, based off the N64Digital.

Set to launch in Summer 2022, this is going to be huge for retro game scalers. Between this and the RetroTINK 5X-Pro, we have truly entered the next-generation of retro game scalers. Hot dog I want to get my hands on one of these.

Max Frequency Year Two in Review

That’s a wrap on year two of Max Frequency! I’ve had a blast developing and refining this site throughout 2021. It’s been a creative haven during a year we all arguably thought was going to return to normal. 

Last year’s “In Review” called out the introduction post when I launched Max Frequency. This year, I want to highlight a specific passage within:

It also opens up the possibility for audio content if I ever get behind the mic again.

I got a bit ambitious going behind the mic again this year…But before all that, per tradition (because I can say that now), let’s look at the site’s numbers in 2021. For reference, 2020’s total site view count was 2,619 with 1,702 visitors and 260 articles published.

Total Site Views – 5,546

Total Site Visitors – 3,729 

Most viewed articles:

  • The Home Page had 1,004 views
  • Analogue DAC Thoughts and Impressions – 603
  • My Journey to Playing with Super Power – Thoughts on the Super NT – 313
  • MiSTer FPGA Thoughts and Impressions – My Tool for Researching the Past – 280

Number per top countries:

  • USA – 3,438
  • UK – 344
  • Canada – 309

Most downloaded item:

Chapter Select Season 1 Announcement (CtS Edition) – 28,300~

Total Articles published – 304 (Plus 91 more imported from Go Left Gaming, PlayStation Insider, PlayStation Wire, and DualShockers)

The overall increase is more than double! It certainly helps having a back catalog of a year’s work for people to find while you create new things. Clearly, the big trend on my own site was FPGA gaming and those FPGA consoles that Analogue makes. 

The article count nearly tripled, thanks to increased output on my end along with finally merging my previous online writing to Max Frequency. I felt like I wrote less this year, but it turns out I wrote 50 more articles than last year. Maybe that is in part to not having one 18,000 word story done in the year.

The most baffling number is the 28K downloads on the Chapter Select Season 1 Promo I uploaded to the Chasing the Stick feed to just cross promote the show. I talked about it briefly in the Chapter Select Season 1 look back post, but these numbers just don’t make sense. If anyone knows why this particular WordPress hosted podcast feed spiked, I’d love to know.

Speaking of Chapter Select, here are the overall numbers for both it and The Max Frequency Podcast. You can find more on Chapter Select‘s performance in the seasonal breakdowns (Season 2 – God of War will be live next Wednesday [01/12/22])

Chapter Select Total Downloads – 6,480 with 15 episodes published

The Max Frequency Podcast Total Downloads – 2,190 with 20 episode published (7 of which are Behind the Pixel)

If you tally all the totals together (besides the mysterious 28K), over 12,300 people engaged with Max Frequency in some way this year. I’m super proud of these numbers. Really, I’d be psyched with just one person, because the element I am truly proud of is the work itself. 

Here’s a small collection of the posts and projects I am most proud of throughout 2021. Year 2 had a theme of creativity. I wanted to expand back out of writing into podcasts and video. I did just that with two new shows and rediscovered creative vigor. Thank you for taking the time to read or listen to my work. I truly appreciate it and hope you have enjoyed. Onto Year 3!

Chapter Select (duh)

The second of two podcasts I started this year, but its cool if I start with it, right? This was far and away my creative highlight of the year. It was engaging, rewarding, and satisfying to play, record, and produce the first two full seasons of Chapter Select. The pairing of Paper Mario and God of War is even better than we initially thought now that the year is over, I think. Very excited for this year’s seasons!

The Max Frequency Podcast (duh)

If Chapter Select was the cannonball of podcasting creativity for myself, then The Max Frequency Podcast was dipping my toes back into the podcast world. I am disappointed in myself that I wasn’t able to upkeep the original vision of three episodes a month, instead regressing back down to one a month. Expanding the pool of guests is still tough. I am happy to have put Behind the Pixel back out there and even touch base with some of that’s show’s guests for the new show. It’s comforting to have a neutral podcast feed that I can play around and experiment with.

Restoring Millennial Gaming Speak and Redesigning Max Frequency

A big plan I had for the site this year was to migrate to Squarespace and redesign the look; add some modern features that I’ve wanted from the beginning. None of that went according to plan, but it did lead me to finally merging my past writing at my first blog Go Left Gaming along with shared freelance posts, all searchable in an archive. This then led me to reviving the Millennial Gaming Speak podcast feed and creating back-dated posts to save nearly 150 episodes where Logan Moore and myself cut our podcasting teeth. 

Reviews Thoughts and Impressions

Scattered throughout the year, I reviewed some games, a piece of hardware, and another book! All except for Death’s Door, I was fortunate enough to be given review copies. I’ve never taken these opportunities for granted and am always humbled that folks would be willing to work with me like this, especially on my own. Here are the reviews, or as I call them, Thoughts and Impressions, I wrote this year.

Preserving my Game Collection

The major theme in my game collection this year was preservation combined with accessibility. It all started when the PSN store was going to be shut down for the PS3 and Vita. Thankfully, that decision was reversed, but it did lead me to finding ways to back up my save data and games. Nearly my entire retro collection is now backed-up digitally. 

Then I went down the MiSTer rabbit hole, before prices spiked and availability was scarce. I absolutely love the MiSTer project. With the PSX core on the horizon, there really is not a better all-in-one machine. 

We cannot forget unlocking all of the PS TVs potential. Now I can finally play Uncharted: Golden Abyss on my TV. Some day…

Analogue Coverage

Analogue has had quite the 2021 with delays, restocks, and finally delivering the first wave of Pocket consoles. My top articles this year were posts I wrote last year about Analogue. People are passionate about this company and FPGA tech. If I had to pick one Analogue post from this year, it’d be the deep dive into Analogue OS and trying to gauge Analogue’s first real software offering. Right now though, it’s all just a check waiting to be cashed on the Pocket sometime here in January 2022.

Delta Thoughts and Impressions (Plus using the N64 Controller with an iPhone)

I tweet a lot, but if I had one favorite tweet, it was sharing a video of me using a real N64 controller with the iOS emulator Delta. I whipped up thoughts and impressions on the emulator; another way I focused on preserving and accessing my game collection.

Tom Olsen on the Big Shell – MGS2 20th Anniversary

I can’t think of a better celebration of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty‘s 20th anniversary.

Nailing Predictions

I’m fairly confident I crushed my 2021 predictions, but you’ll have to wait and see for my tally when I share 2022’s own set of predictions (or just find the 2021 post and figure it out yourself).

PlayStation VR2 Specs Revealed


PlayStation VR2 and PlayStation VR2 Sense controller: the next generation of VR gaming on PS5 by Hideaki Nishino for the PlayStation Blog

Sony has provided more details on the next iteration of PlayStation VR, including officially calling it PS VR2. At CES 2022, the company provided hardware specs on the headset for the first time and the previously revealed controllers. The headset sounds great! I wanted to take a look at the specs and compare it to what I’d consider the top of the line current VR headsets — the Meta Quest 2 and the Valve Index. 

The Quest 2 is by far the most popular VR headset thanks to its wide availability and ease of use; just slide of the headset and go. The lack of friction is paramount to the Quest 2’s dominance.

The Valve Index is the powerhouse VR headset, even after nearly its release three years ago. I’ve not had the fortune of trying one out yet, but as far as I can tell, it is still the top dog in the PC space, possibly paired alongside a Quest 2 with the PC link cable.

Here’s a quick summary of those headsets main technical specifications, along with the PS VR1:

Quest 2 has a resolution of 1832 x 1920 per eye with an LCD panel. It supports 72/90/120 Hz refresh rates, with the 120 being an experimental feature as of publication. It’s Field-of-View (FOV) is 90°. The Quest 2 requires no wires for standalone play and comes with two controllers. It uses inside-out tracking via four external facing cameras to gauge where your controllers or hands are in the space. There are built-in speakers. The Quest 2 is currently sold for $299 or $399, depending on the storage size chosen. It was originally released in 2020.

Valve Index has a resolution of 1440 x 1600 per eye with an LCD panel. It supports a wider range of refresh rates at 80/90/120/144 Hz. It’s FOV is 130°. It connects to a powerful enough PC via one cable. The tracking is done with base stations, providing room-scale VR. There are built-in speakers as well. The price ranges from $500 to $1000: the headset alone costs $500, controllers $279, and a single base station costs $149 (two are required). The complete bundle costs $1,000. The Index was originally released in 2019.

PlayStation VR1 has a resolution of 960 x 1080 per eye with an OLED panel. It supports 90/120 Hz refresh rates. It’s FOV is 100°. It connects to a PS4 and a necessary processor unit. The tracking is done with lights on the headset and controllers through the 3D camera accessory for the PS4. There are no built-in speakers. The price started at $400 with no camera or controllers, but is currently bundled with the required accessories and a couple of games for $350. PlayStation VR was originally released in 2016.

The Quest 2 and Index will reach two and three years of life here in 2022, respectfully. The tech is older, especially in a rapidly developing tech space. Their viability is a testament to their design with the foresight of where this space was going in the near-future, particularly in the realm of tracking hands accurately and reducing the barrier to playing in VR.

Here are the specs for PS VR2:

PS VR2 will have a resolution of 2000 x 2040 per eye with an OLED panel, providing 4K HDR picture quality. It will support 90/120 Hz refresh rates. The FOV is 110°. It will connect directly to a PS5 via one USB-C cable. PS VR2 will have inside-out tracking and eye-tracking. It’s price is not yet announced. It does not seem to have built-in speaker, but it will have haptic feedback built into the headset as well as the new PS VR2 Sense controllers. It does not have an official release date yet, but I suspect it will be released in 2022.

The leap in technical specifications over all three of these headsets makes sense for a new consumer headset in 2022. As the technology gets better and smaller, more can fit inside a head-mounted device. 

The standout features are eye-tracking and haptics in the headset itself. I’ve yet to experience eye-tracking in a VR headset — I’m not even sure of a consumer headset capable of it — but the promise of a new, natural form of input is exciting in a literally immersive gaming experience. Moments like looking in the mirror of Batman: Arkham VR can have added realism not previously possible.

The PlayStation 5 is leaning greatly into added layers of immersion through 3D audio and the insane haptics of the DualSense. It makes sense that the new PS VR2 Sense controllers would feature similar haptics, but I was surprised to read that the headset itself will also have haptic motors in it. I am incredibly curious to feel this in action. It’s not quite a synesthesia suit, but this combined with the controllers definitely sounds like a major step forward in physical feedback.

Given how impactful the PS5’s 3D audio has been, I imagine the experience in VR will be sensational.

On paper, PS VR2 sounds like the next generation of VR, not just for Sony, but the current landscape of consumer, gaming-focused VR. Meta is hard at work on their Cambria project, which promises features like eye-tracking and face-tracking. Who knows when and if Valve will make a new generation of the Index or if that expansion slot will ever be truly tapped into. I am eager to try out PS VR2 and get my head and hands on one as soon as I can.

Chapter Select: Season 2, Episode 7 – God of War (2018)

Photo by Wes Grant, designed by Max Roberts

The Season 2 finale takes our hero Kratos to an entirely new realm. After nearly 15 years, Sony Santa Monica Studio attempted to prove both the God of War franchise and the studio itself could change. Max and Logan examine this pivotal title to find out if change is for the better.

Download (48MB)

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God of War

Metacritic – 94/100


This episode was originally recorded on December 20, 2021.

Max’s Twitter

Logan’s Twitter

Researcher, Editor, and Producer – Max Roberts

Hosted by Logan Moore & Max Roberts

Season Art Statue Photo by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash and designed by Max Roberts

Episode Cover Art Boat by Wes Grant on Unsplash, designed by Max Roberts

I’m Done Being a Content Creator – insaneintherainmusic

I’m Done Being a Content Creator. by Carlos Eiene (insaneintherainmusic) for YouTube

What a transparent and honest way to kickstart 2022. Carlos’ words ring true with my own story of realizing I didn’t want to play the game of chasing games journalism. I have a passion for writing and video games, not the game of making it my job (as that game currently stands). Carlos has worked extremely hard and is fortunate enough to have actually make producing these covers his job. He’s made a big move to start 2022, which sounds like the right one after listening to him.