The List of Frequently Asked Questions And
Answers For the GIA's Double Agent Column,
Everything You Never Wanted to Know About DA And Were Afraid
Someone Would Ask,
"How I Learned to Stop Obsessing And Get My Letter Printed."
Before we get into this FAQ, a couple of things should be pointed out. First off, this
FAQ is being written by me, Chris Jones, exclusively for the columns that I put up. These
rules do not apply to Andrew Kaufmann's weekend columns, or to the occasional substitute
staffers that may fill in for either of us. These are not the rules that Allan Milligan or
Drew Cosner used when they ran the column, and these are probably not the rules that my
eventual successor will use. This FAQ is not intended to be holy writ on the way
letters columns should be written, it's merely a glimpse into how I like to write them,
intended to help people write more publishable letters, or merely satisfy the curiosity of
people wanting to know how things work behind the scenes.
I'd also like to point out that none of the guidelines I list below are going to be
100% enforced. In general I prefer well-written, thoughtful letters written in an
intelligent tone of voice about substantive gaming issues, but if a letter is poorly
written by a moron about nothing at all, I may still post it if it's really funny, or just
on a whim. That's not to say you should completely disregard this FAQ - I'd say I follow
my own rules about 90% of the time, if not more. But I figured I could use an escape
clause for the eventual day where somebody yells at me for not posting their letter, which
follows all the guidelines, and posting someone else's letter, which follows none of them.
On the plus side, I hope that printing these rules will cause more people to follow them,
which will make exceptions to the rules even less likely.
Q: Who are you?
A: My name is Chris Jones, and I write the weekday (M-F) letters columns for the Gaming
Intelligence Agency, also known as the Double Agent column. I'm 24 years old, live in
Austin, Texas, and work as a computer engineer.
Q: If you do the weekday columns, who does the weekend columns?
A: That would be Andrew Kaufmann. I'll let AK (as he's also known) write his own blurb
later if he wants, but it's worth pointing out that AK is probably the longest running RPG
Q&A guy on the Net, starting way back in 1998 on the UnOfficial SquareSoft Page with
the seminal Q&AK column, and continuing to the present day as the GIA's weekend guy.
Q: So does it really matter who I send a letter to?
A: Absolutely. Each of us has his own, separate letters account: I'm email@example.com, and AK's firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of this, I don't get
letters addressed to me sent to AK's account, and vice versa. We try to make sure
the email links on the side of the page point to the right person for the next day, but
regardless, if you send the agent account a letter on the weekend, I won't put it
up until Monday. The same goes for AK and weekdays.
Q: But you do get the letters, right? I can email you just to talk about something
on weekends at the agent address? And what about other email addresses?
Yes, I get letters at that account 24/7, and I generally check my email several times a
day. You can also contact me personally by emailing email@example.com,
which is my personal account, completely separate from the agent account. However, I am
under standing orders not to print anything in the column that isn't sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me repeat that for effect: I
cannot and will not print anything in the column that isn't sent to email@example.com. That goes for firstname.lastname@example.org, and also for my various non-GIA
addresses, which I often use to send personal replies from. So DO NOT send me any column
submissions at any address other than agent.
Q: Non-GIA addresses?
A: Yeah, I've got a couple of them. Because of various technical restrictions I can't
send anything from my GIA address, so I often use my personal addresses to reply to mail.
No, I'm not telling you what they are, I'm just pointing this out so you don't suspect
someone of impersonating me if you get a reply from "Chris Jones" at a non-GIA
Q: So do you personally reply often to letters?
A: Generally not, so don't get upset if your letter isn't printed and you never hear
from me about it.
Q: Ok, so what do I have to do to get my letters printed?
A: Good question! In fact, it's so good, and so complex, that I've devoted an entire
separate section to it. See Submission Guidelines below.
Q: Fair enough. But I'm still curious about the behind-the-scenes stuff. How do you
write a column? What's your schedule, and what hardware/software do you use?
A: I use a Dell laptop running Windows to write the column. I'm a laptop fiend, because
I've found that the ability to get work done anywhere far outweighs the performance hit of
not being on a desktop. As to what software I use, I get my email with Microsoft Outlook
Express, and write the column with MS Front Page. Yes, I know Microsoft sucks, but I've
got to be on Windows for work, and their stuff has the advantage of being cheap and
relatively easy to use. I do know straight HTML, so I can (and have) code columns directly
with Notepad, but I prefer Front Page because it provides a relatively clean, word
processor-like interface and useful tools, such as spell check and thesaurus. Front Page
has crashed on me before, but largely I find it to be fairly solid, especially if I save
often. And since I spend about 3 hours on each individual column as it is, I feel no guilt
whatsoever for using time saving tools.
As for my schedule, well, like I said, I work as an engineer, which is a 5 day a week
job with relatively flexible hours. I get to work around 9 - 9:30, and work until 6 -
6:30. I do check my mail, including stuff sent to the agent address, during the day, but I
mostly just skim through the GIA stuff while I'm working. Lately I've been starting the
column from my desk immediately after work, and writing the whole thing up in one sitting.
This is a fairly key point, since I stop accepting letters for that day's column when I
stop doing real work, if not slightly before. In other words, If you send your
letter in after about 5:30 PM, Central time, it won't go up until the following evening,
even if that day's column isn't up yet. Most of the time the column will be
updated around 9 PM Central. However, I may decide to go home or hang out with friends in
the middle of doing the column, so sometimes updates will not occur until 12 midnight, or
later. Personally, I don't feel guilty about getting the column up as long as I do it by
1, so sending me emails about not having things done by 11 won't make me write any faster.
The actual column writing process works as follows: first off, I look through the
letters I've gotten for the day, reading each letter completely through at least once. I
try not to select letters at this point, but just get a feel for what's out there. I then
fire up Front Page and perform some general housekeeping stuff - archiving the previous
day's column, coming up with a column title, hidden message, and email link. I'll look
around the web a bit to find out if there's any interesting news from yesterday/today that
I can talk about in the intro. If not, I just wing it. Once the intro's out of the way, I
start selecting letters and replying to them, and write until I think I've done enough.
This length varies depending on how fast I'm writing, how much feedback I've gotten on
that day's topic, and how many really good letters I feel I just gotta put up. Then I dash
off closing comments, do some HTML level stuff to change Front Page's output to generic
code, and put it up on the site via FTP. End of story.
Q: Fascinating... NOT! Aside from the submission guidelines below, will there ever
be any more useful/interesting information in this FAQ?
A: Dunno. There might be, depending on what feedback I receive from internal/external
GIA sources. I'd also like to add on a brief history of the column for those letters I get
every so often asking "Where's Drew/Allan?" but I won't do such a thing without
their input and support. Also, if anyone sends in any good questions that have just
totally slipped my mind, those will be added as well. But for the moment, what you see is
what you get.
To start off with, let me recap some key points I've already touched on:
QAK and AGENT email addresses: I don't get letters addressed to me sent to AK's
account, and vice versa. If you send the agent account a letter on the weekend, I won't
put it up until Monday. The same goes for AK and weekdays.
Other email addresses: I cannot and will not print anything in the column that
isn't sent to email@example.com. The
corollary to this is that I can and will post anything that gets sent to agent.
If specifically asked not to include something in a post, generally I won't, but I make no
guarantees. In general, if I don't like what I see I'll simply not print the
letter, rather than censoring it, but there are some exceptions. (See sigs below.) Either
way, be careful what you send in, it just might get printed.
Submission times: If you send your letter in after about 5:30 PM, Central time,
it won't go up until the following evening, even if that day's column isn't up yet. Don't
assume your 7pm letter has been skipped over if it doesn't show up that day.
Some other guidelines and their rationale:
Length: As a rule, I don't like to print letters over 500 words. I
have been known to make exceptions for really interesting letters (which, unfortunately,
seem to run long most of the time) but I'd rather not, since every long letter I print
gives somebody an excuse to send another one. And while I don't mind reading through many
really long letters, it kinda kills the momentum of the column for most folks. Since I've
gone to the trouble of writing this up, I'll probably start enforcing it more, so please: Don't
send emails over 500 words. For the most part you can cover one topic quite
thoroughly in that space, and if you're sending an email that long on multiple topics, you
probably shouldn't be.
Language (warning, foul language used as examples): While I have no
moral compunctions against cursing, and the disclaimer at the beginning of every column
gives me a certain amount of leeway, I'm still not a big fan of bad language and probably
won't post it. Again, I'm somewhat flexible on this: I'll say damn myself plenty of times,
and every once in a while I'll let a fuck or shit slip through when it seems appropriate.
(What's appropriate? Well: "Square's not shipping Final Fantasy XII to the US, ever?
Those fuckers!" If it's somewhat cleverly done, I'm also ok with it: "Frankly, I
find his comments reek of conceit, up there with Kenji Eno's self-fellatory comments about
D2.") But by and large, I find cursing just makes you look stupid, so Try not
to curse or make lewd comments in your submissions.
Questions: I tend to see the column more as a (supposedly)
entertaining moderated discussion forum, rather than a Q&A area, but If you've
got a question on game trivia or are having problems playing a game, send it in. The
only two caveats I have are as follows: If it's a recently released game, check
the previous few weeks columns for the answer before sending your question in.
I'm not going to be a happy camper if you ask me how to beat the final boss in Vagrant
story, a few days after I finished conducting a week long series of columns on the game.
Also, Make reasonable attempts to research the question yourself before you ask
me. www.gamefaqs.com alone can probably
answer 90% of the questions you want to ask me.
On topic vs. off: I like topics for many reasons - they increase the
letter count, they make writing more focused, and they generally make for a more
interesting, readable column as people with axes to grind face off against each other. On
the other hand, 8 letters at 300 words apiece on the topic of Mitsuda vs. Uematsu is
enough to make any RPG fanatic run in fear, so I also like to spice things up with the
occasional off topic submission, which could be anything from a one line non sequitur to a
five paragraph essay on Chu Chu Rocket. This isn't designed as a slight to those who do
stick on topic, since I generally get many times more good submissions than I can possibly
print. But it cuts both ways, in that I may print nearly a fifth to a quarter of the on
topic letters I get, but only one or two completely off topic rants out of a pool of many
dozens. Thus, Your chances of getting printed are much better if you stay on
topic, but it's not impossible to get an off topic letter printed. In other
words, an off topic letter either has to hit me just right, or be damn good to get posted.
Replies to letters in previous columns have a better chance of getting printed than
totally original letters, but still not as good as an on topic letter.
Signed names: I like them. One way or another, I find it somewhat
cowardly to send in a popular or unpopular comment unsigned - if the idea was important
enough to write up, it's important enough to sign your name to. (Note: I do not
automatically append your name onto letters you send me. What you send in is what (may) go
up.)And since I don't print email addresses, don't allow personal insults in
reply submissions, and never take a discussion into email myself unless invited (and very
rarely then) there's really no reason not to sign your name. Even a pseudonym is better
than nothing. In other words, Your chances of being posted decrease dramatically
when you fail to sign your name and stand behind your letters.
Sigs: I don't print email addresses, even on request. As a rule, I
won't make a link to your website in your letter. I also generally don't care for sig
quotes in submissions, since they're rarely germane to the point at hand. (However, they
usually don't hurt your chances of getting posted, since I just stop copying the letter
before I get to that point.) That said, I don't have a problem with you including
your organization or your website after your name. As I've said before, it can
say a lot about a person one way or another to take a look at what else they've done on
line - people will probably think more or less of you after they take a look at your
website, so keep this in mind. If you've got a really good website you feel expresses your
personality and opinions really well, by all means include it. On the other hand if you've
got a crappy website you just put up and you're trying to scrounge up some hits for it by
writing to DA... well, chances are I wouldn't post it anyway, unless the attached letter
was really good, but if I did and people visited your site and found it to be crappy, then
their opinion of you and your letter decreases significantly. Either way, Think
about it before you submit your site address. And if your web address doesn't get
printed, chances are it's either because I stopped copying your letter prior to that
because of an email address or sig quote earlier on, or because I visited your site
myself (which I often do) and found it to be inappropriate to link to. (This is one of the
few cases where I'll censor a letter, rather than just not printing it.)
Praise and other feedback: I greatly appreciate praise, and I gladly
accept any criticism you send my way. However, I'd appreciate it if both were sent
separately from any game related letter you send. Writing a kickass letter about Taoist
symbolism in 16 bit RPGs and finishing it off with "And lastly I'd just like to say
what a great job you're doing with the column and how much I enjoy reading it" puts
me in an awkward position, because while I appreciate the sentiment I can come under
criticism of playing favorites for printing letters that could be construed as
ass-kissing. On the other hand, I enjoy printing (and refuting, if possible) criticism
about the column and the way I'm handling it. But mixing your comments about my
mismanagement in with a long string of curses about how stupid I am because of my take on
Chrono Cross dilutes your point, and makes it less likely I'll print it. Either way, You're
better off sending compliments or criticism as separate from your main letter.
Chances of getting your letter posted: Don't feel bad if you
don't get your letter posted, and don't take it personally. On any given day,
regardless of the actual letters count I seem to come up with many times the number of
printable letters I need to write a good column, and I see this less as a testament to my
own writing skills than to those of my readers. At any rate, this means that many
perfectly good and legit letters get wastebasketed by me, not even receiving a reply. This
isn't a personal comment about you. Often it's just random chance that I pick one letter
and not another. Had a few electrons subtly changed velocity, it might have been you that
got printed. I try not to play favorites, and try to keep a rough mental tally going so I
don't continuously pick one person over someone else, all things being equal. On the other
hand, I can't deny that some people tend to get more posted than others, which is only
fair, since, like it or not, some people are better writers than others. I ultimately make
my selection on how good the ideas in a letter are, and how well those ideas have been
expressed, and better writers will tend to rise to the top, I think. If it makes you feel
any better, consider that a person who gets a letter printed every two or three days is
probably sending just as many letters I don't print. Remember, you only see what goes up,
not what doesn't. Also, Don't whine or beg or plead with me to print your letter.
Every so often I will take pity on someone, but mostly it just makes you look dumb, both
to me when I don't print it and to everyone else when I do.
Wow, that was longer than I thought it'd be. If there's anything you feel I missed,
please send it in and I'll try to add it in to the FAQ, and if there's any questions or
comments about the rules in the FAQ, let me know and I'll try to sort it out. Like I said
before, I hope this mostly acts as a guideline to help you get your letters posted, but if
you find all of this too confusing and overwrought, let me know and maybe I'll decide to
just go back to winging it. Either way, I hope this has been useful for you. Later.
-Chris Jones, 7/3/2000