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Umloud! Interview With John Seggerson

Post Umloud 2011 Interview

Ãœmloud describes itself as "a night for gamers to get together, rock out and raise money for Child's Play charity. But really, Ãœmloud! is the rockingest night of your life. " This year's event takes place December 9, 2010, on the main stage of San Francisco's DNA Lounge.

Any readers who may be under the impression that Ãœmloud! is basically Rock Band bar night for a good cause, think again. From the event's official website:

"Imagine playing Rock Band 3 on stage at one of San Francisco's hottest music venues, DNA Lounge. Imagine that you're plugged in to a serious sound system, and that laser lights and fog machines are swirling all about you. Imagine a crowd of screaming fans."

Multiple performance packages are available: the Headliner (sold out), the Ultimate (sold out), and the Standard (sold at the show). Ultimate Band nets participants some excellent swag along with photos of the performance. The truly extravagant Headliner Band package comes with an extensive number of rock-star trappings, including a custom made "rockumentary" about the band. It's a $10 donation to get through the door, and all proceeds go to Child's Play.

Game Rant recently had the chance to sit down with John "Seg" Seggerson, a content programmer for Telltale Games and board member for Ãœmloud. Seg, a member Ãœmloud house band Baby Dog Time, spoke about the event's creation, execution, and plans.

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Game Rant: So, John Seggerson.

John Seggerson: "Please, just call me 'Seg.' Easy, short, marketable."

GR: What's your general background in the game industry and business?

JS: "Jeez, where to start? I work at Telltale Games where I make videogames with computers. I went to college at Emerson College in Boston and am the first recipient of the Bachelor of Fine Arts in New Media."

"While I was there in Boston, I actually got invited to playtest at Harmonix (they're in Central Square). One night I go to their office and sign a NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) which I think is OK to break by now and was put in a room and given a plastic guitar. I was to playtest Guitar Hero 1. Played it and I believe one of my comments on the sheet was, 'this game isn't about score, it's all about the performance. It's about rocking out.'"

"Since then, I always wanted to have an event where it focused on the performance and not on the competition. I found that more exciting to me than a point competition. As a result, it's a lot more accessible, a lot more entertaining."

GR: It's more about having fun as opposed to being concentrated on a score.

JS: "I'm not saying those kinds of events shouldn't be done, but it was not what I was interested in."

"Chris [Kohler] and I met up and I pitched him the idea of instead of 'let's go to a bar night' to 'let's make an event that focuses on the performance, rent out a proper venue for it, and have these band packages that would excite larger donations.' The band packages would also serve as advertising in a way where if people put down money ahead of time to do this thing, they're going to try and get as many people as they know to show off in front of."

Umloud Interview with John Seggerson

GR: What were the numbers for last year's event?

JS: "We wrote the check to Child's Play for $7000."

GR: Did the event go as planned?

JS: "First, it was really difficult to communicate the concept of the band packages because the first thing people thought was, 'Oh, it's a competition?' And we're really trying to be clear on that, because when people thing it's a competition there's going to be that one guy or gal that is crazy stupid better than I am in this game and there's no way I can compete with that and then you'll only get the outlandishly foolish or the outlandishly foolish-good crowd. Who cares about watching people just trying to grab for score? We really had to drive it home that it was about performance and it's about how you perform on the stage. It's a different situation than where you're playing at home because now you actually have to be a rock band with your friends."

"With Ãœmloud, we get people to make the show for us. To make the entertainment value. We give them the platform and we hope the people who get on that stage use that platform to their advantage. Thankfully and luckily, we did last year. There are some rules and guidelines, both our own and the venue's, but we encourage bands to take it from there. Some bands were more engaging than others, but we really didn't know what was going to happen."

GR: It's very like going to a party. You guys are there putting up the place for people to go to and it's up to them to make it better than what it's supposed to be.

With Rock Band 3 just released, do you think it will be better for the event with drop-in/drop-out ability and the extra instruments?

JS: "We'll see how it all plays out in the end. I was very afraid of the Pro Guitar. Because there was instrument switch (in Rock Band 2) for one and that business is atrocious. Like we said before, it's not a competition, and we don't people to think they have to play on Pro to be perceived as 'good,' whatever that actually means. Initially, I just wanted to take it off the table because it's too confusing, but we got it in our hands and the instrument switching has seen a big improvement. We're putting it in, but we don't know if anyone has chosen to use it."

GR:I was talking to my friends about it last night and they were wondering if I was going to go for it. I told them that means I have 4 weeks to learn guitar, basically, and if I did, I would want to learn the song on Hard or something.

JS: "With the bands, I always stress to them, go with the difficulty you're comfortable playing on in front of a live audience. That means, if you usually pick Expert, but you manage to squeak by, pick Hard. No one's going to care if you do a lower level and perform well, however if you pick a higher difficulty and have trouble with it, that's not going to read very well on the stage. You don't have anything to prove by playing it on a hard difficulty."

"The 'success' of playing at Ãœmloud comes from how much it looks like you guys are a rock band. The idea you're playing with plastic instruments, if that melts away, you've done your job. You've completed the goal by making it a rock concert and not just a performance of Rock Band."

Umloud Interview with John Seggerson

GR: At Ãœmloud!, you ARE the cover band.

JS: "You are the cover band, but not even that, if you could really make the performance your own. Vocals for example, we forced all vocalists on Easy last year, and we looped the sound from the game through the house sound system where the an engineer has all the tools required to make you sound good. The game isn't designed to work vocals in a concert stage environment, it's designed to work at home, with a USB mic, in an otherwise quiet environment. That allows a lot of freedom because the vocalist isn't slaved into being pitch-perfect for the game, so you just have to sing in a way that's convincing to the audience."

GR: How is fan-base/community going?

JS: "The fan-base has been absolutely amazing. Here's one way to judge it: We put 20 Ultimate Band packages on the block, last year we had 15. When we flipped the switch, we had 7 packages sold immediately. I was looking at Twitter and seeing who's talking about Ãœmloud and was interested and that night of launch (November 11) we sold 9 total. As the days went on, we got down to having 3 left. The fact that in a 72 hours, we're mostly sold out of them, and we didn't get any real media mentions at all about packages. The first real one was GamePro, so to get to that point with just Twitter, Facebook, and the site's e-mail list, is great."

"Harmonix helped us out last year by making Ãœmloud a press event for them, for the 'Rubber Soul' album on The Beatles: Rock Band which wasn't released at that time. Harmonix put out the press release of  'if you want to preview this Rubber Soul, you need to come to this event called 'Ãœmloud.' That connected us with a lot of local media who were originally there for the album preview and went 'what the hell's going on here?' That benefited us greatly."

GR: Are you fearful of everyone vying for a particular song and missed out? I know the song reservations are first come, first serve. For example, I know 'Rock Lobster' was already taken, much to the dismay of others, I'm sure.

JS: "It's funny you mention that song, because a buddy of mine missed out on getting 'Rock Lobster.' I warned him too. To answer the question, last year, we asked for each band's first and second choice because I was going through e-mails and using a spreadsheet and the only conflict we had was one band's first choice was another band's second choice."

"This year, I am anticipating conflicts, because the landscape changed enough. There's over 2000 songs, yes, and we're not expecting a problem there, except for Rock Band 3 songs with keyboard. You get a large reduction in the songs from over 2000 to about 75, that's a very small pool of a new thing and it happened. The policy is clear though on first come, first serve. We only gave preference to the Headliner band."

"What we're going to do though, one of the items on the silent auction block, will be an Ultimate Band package and it will be the first thing to close. It serves as an escape valve for people who just showed up and it will be the same package as advertised."

Umloud Interview with John Seggerson

GR: What did the Headliner Band go for this year?

JS: "I think $760? $750-$760? So $100 per person, more or less? They had 7 people donate, but they'll be a 4-person band. We have it set as a 7 person package, because if someone picks a Rock Band 3 song with harmonies and keyboard, it's easier to work with."

GR: Yeah, cause my band was thinking about just bringing someone on to play a cowbell the entirety of the song. Cause the Ultimate Band package allows entry for seven people, so why not?

JS: "We will be providing a cowbell and a tambourine. God, that cowbell, so Kohler wanted the 'More cowbell' SNL licensed cowbell and the day before the event last year and he and I were calling around looking for it. We found out that Urban Outfitters had it in and we got it and put it out for use. The problem was, it was a cheap novelty item and by the end of the night, that thing was a metal plate. This year, we will be getting a bit more of a professional quality cowbell. A cowbell-cowbell."

"The reason we're providing a cowbell and tambourine is because when those segments come up in the song, you're required to hit the mic. Not good when you're actually using a real sound system. It's more for the singer to use when those segments to come up and they can feel more engaged."

GR: And it's also just more entertaining, too.

JS: "It is more entertaining and it does prevent the singer from doing the bad thing. There's a few things I hope people do. I would love to see people play guitar and sing. I would love to see someone do a mash-up. Speaking of, we have A+D spinning for us from 7pm-8ish, the opening hour before band performances, so I'd love to see a mash-up, or a 'Weird' Al rendition of a song."

GR: Is there anything else people should know about Ãœmloud?

JS: "We provide the platform for you to properly rock the **** out."

GR: There you go, that's the quote. (Seg and I bantered a bit more and then he had this to say for Child's Play)

JS: "It's for sick kids and their families in a sense that the materials Child's Play provides isn't just for the sick child. There's a couple aspects to it, for one, it engages the family with the kid in something that is not the medical part of it. It gives them a break away from...the legitimately serious matter. Even if the family member isn't playing, they're still engaging with their kid through the media."

"Obviously, we would much rather have them play outside, but they can't. Literally. Having the tools to still give the chance of play for kids who are severely limited in play, that's what Child's Play is all about. Also providing these resources to the siblings who are in the hospital, who aren't sick, but have to be there, and that's a strain on them. The stuff the Child's Play provides helps not just the single child, but the family that's going through probably the most difficult time of their lives and to that end. I am humbled and honored that I'm able to take an event that's one of the most amazing points of people's lives and use that energy to help better a situation that is probably the worst moment of people's lives and try to, as much as I can, improve upon that. That's why we do this."

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Many thanks to John Seggerson for taking the time to speak with us. Ãœmloud! will be taking place at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco, CA on December 9, 2010, at 8:00 PM.  Can't make it to the show but still want to be involved with Child's Play somehow? Visit their website.

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