Video game writer, coder
Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Chris Dahlen and I write for videogames, including Klei Entertainment’s Mark of the Ninja. I used to write about games and edit other people’s writing, at places like The Onion AV Club, Variety, Edge, Pitchfork, and Kill Screen, which I co-founded. I also write code.
What hardware do you use?
This’ll sound dull, but I use Dell - I have an old Dell laptop, I don’t even know what model, and a new Dell desktop PC. I just need a computer that boots in under five minutes and gets me to a browser and Microsoft Word. I haven’t used a Mac since I was in college and using PageMaker.
My favorite pen is the Pilot Precise V5, in black and red: black when I’m taking notes or jotting down ideas, and red when I’m marking up a piece. These are great, reliable pens that are comfortable to use, but they will explode in your pocket if you leave them in your pants on a cross-country flight. Sometimes I wish I were more like my dad, who had a fountain pen that he used for his entire adult life. He replaced the nib once, but otherwise, he kept the same pen. But if I had a pen like that, I would probably lose it.
Also from Staples, I use their reporter’s notepads, which slip right in the back pocket of my jeans. I also use a basic Quartet dry erase board to keep track of my assignments. It’s lo-tech but hard to beat.
I carry an Android - an HTC myTouch, which is a horrible name - but I also have an iPad. I used to own a BlackBerry and I still miss the physical keyboard. Again, I feel like I should use - or want to use - some kind of Apple fetishware with retina-scan display and telepathy text entry, but I’ve always used boring, business-grade stuff. Maybe I don’t think I deserve anything nicer? Maybe I’m just cheap.
But my most valuable possession is a bag of Dancing Goats coffee from Caffe Kilim, here in Portsmouth, NH. I don’t brew it in anything fancy; it tastes good coming out of anything. I drink at least five coffees or espressos a day. I don’t even feel the caffeine anymore, until I get in that end-of-the-afternoon state where everything I pick up just crumples in my hand.
And what software?
I’m on Windows, so I use Microsoft Word. It’s a robust word processor and it does a pretty good job of tracking changes and comments - perfect for editing. Microsoft Excel is still the pride of the Office suite, and I use it sometimes for design documents, but when I collaborate on a project I end up using Google docs spreadsheets - which are way more limited, but way easier to share. I was a writer on the Facebook edition of Where In The World Was Carmen Sandiego? (now defunct), along with Rob Dubbin and Jay Katsir, and we had upwards of a hundred different spreadsheets in there - 66 for the city clues alone.
All my stuff lives on Dropbox now, where anyone could just hack in and find a really bad first draft of a short story about a toilet overflowing on a space station.
What would be your dream setup?
My wife and I are patching up an office in the attic, and as soon as it’s done, she’s moving up there, and I get her old studio. (I’m married to children’s book illustrator Teri Weidner.) I’ll use my dad’s old table as a desk, where I can spread out all my papers and coffee cups. And best of all I’ll have two big walls for books, records, toys, old Chris Ware prints, my kid’s drawings, and any other weird promotional or hand-made stuff that I’ve picked up over the years. That stuff shouldn’t stay in boxes.