Alan "The Alchemist" Maman's discography is one of the most prolific in hip-hop history. What's the story of the man behind the beats?
What’s your first encounter with video games? Where did the fascination begin?
It’s kind of hard to pinpoint the exact moment; it’s not like there was a time before I played video games. The earliest memories I have are with an old console, an education console, called the [VTech] Socrates. Shortly thereafter, the [Nintendo] NES. I just absolutely loved games, so much.
I was a very intense little kid. If you want something that you can focus on for hours and hours at a time, games are a really great way to do that. Also the success/failure loops; you try something, it doesn’t work. You try again, you get better, you keep trying, and you finally achieve it. I found that to be incredibly satisfying. Right away, Nick [Tasteless, Sean’s brother] and I were into games. My mom was very supportive of us getting into various things, whether it was sports, or games, or me wanting to play the piano. She was just like “sure, yeah, let’s go all-in on this,” you know?
As we grew older, we’d ask for games for Christmas. We’d want to install games on the computer, and our mom bought us a bunch of stuff to let us do that. From there, I just have played games ever since.
Where does StarCraft come into the mix?
We had played Warcraft II, which was amazing. We had also played Diablo I, which was amazing. Even back then in the early days, Blizzard had a very strong reputation for making really amazing games. StarCraft came out in ‘98, and that game had a ‘woah, shit, this is really fun and awesome’ feeling. The whole idea of playing games with friends was… the early days were still ongoing for us in 6th grade, so you’d meet the kid with the SNES and tried to find a way to go to his house to play it. That sort of era.
StarCraft was one of the first games where Nick and I were able to play multiplayer against each other. It’s what I would describe as a high fidelity game.
There are party games on the SNES or whatever, but there’s not a “rich” sort of using-all-the-input-controls that you’d experience with StarCraft. We had a cable that literally went from one computer to the other. We played against each other from there. I still remember early on… this would have been about ‘99; within a year of release, Nick and I were able to hop on Battle Net. Let me tell you, that is a fuckin’ education right there.
I’m not talkin’ like, “oh, it’s so revolutionary,” I’m talkin’ like… “holy shit, I’m getting fuckin’ OWNED by somebody and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
This is something kids really, I think, every child needs to experience. Try your absolute best, and you cared deeply, and you got demolished. I still remember the first game, I joined a free-for-all [FFA], and everyone allied against me and killed me. I felt a sickened sense of betrayal, how could they be so cruel?
From there I got more into 1v1’s, and from there I didn’t play many games for about… from maybe ‘98 to, Jesus… maybe, 2012?
That was essentially the only game I really played, and when I say that, I’m sure there were others that I played.
Sort of the focus, right?
More than just the focus; there was maybe once or twice a year I would play another game, like Fallout or something. I didn’t buy an Xbox, I didn’t buy a PlayStation 2.
What is it about StarCraft that makes it so interesting and not repetitive, such that each new game is a new adventure?
It’s one of the only games out there where you, the player, are… you get to tell your own story. If I take something like Overwatch; the story of every game is ‘push the cart’ and the challenge is that there is someone defending, and you must overcome that obstacle.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that game, but if you play a bunch of games of Overwatch again and again and again, you’re still doing the same basic story. Yes, the heroes could be different, yes the hero you’re playing could be different, but the story of the match and what it’s about is fixed. The developers are in charge of that. StarCraft is very free-form, in that, the developers don’t really tell you what you’re supposed to do. It’s one of the reasons it’s very hard for players to start playing the game, because they ask ‘what should I do?’ and the answer is always ‘it depends!’
So, it’s this really fun mix of freedom and challenge and expression and problem solving. So much so, that to the point where I when I would play Brood War, I could watch a player’s gameplay and not be told who the player was, and still more or less identify who it was, just because of how expressive and unique the gameplay was.
Speak a bit about how Day9 TV came about, and where that idea came from. Why did you want to start broadcasting and reach out to a larger audience?
I find nowadays, there’s a lot of people that have almost a rigidity about they’re thinking about what they want to do. “Hey, I’m thinking of broadcasting, what advice would you give?” Fuck it, just go live. Go live in an hour, just go live. Broadcast something, you know?
It doesn’t need to be good, you can just do it. I was in grad school, and typically with StarCraft, I would need a few hours a day to maintain skill, let alone improve skill. I was focusing more on my graduate school studies, creating projects for myself, and doing work on educational research games to help kids learn math. Running out of time to sit there and grind out and practice, I still wanted to do something with just my love for StarCraft. I still wanted to watch the pro matches; I didn’t miss a single pro game of anything, for 10 years.
Not live, but I would go back and go through every single game, this was pre-YouTube. About 2003, 2004. So I thought about what I could do; well, one of the lessons I was learning in grad school was, in my undergraduate degree which was math, they tell you what you do for homework.
There’s so much work to do at Harvey Mudd, that you’re almost performing triage. When I went to USC [for Masters degree] it was a creative program, and they asked me what projects I would come up with for myself. In my second year, I was just trying to come up with all sorts of projects I could do, so I thought I’d try out this idea of video broadcasting. I’ll just go live, and talk about StarCraft, to get my fix of StarCraft. So, I did an episode a day, five days a week.
There was not really a structure for livestream broadcasting; I had done an audio podcast, but I found it difficult to describe micro. Video was a more native format to talk about it. I don’t know why I chose live opposed to pre-recorded.
Do you like live versus pre-recorded, or?
I don’t know if my answer is based on the fact that I’ve been doing live for so long, but I hate pre-recorded shit, man. I love being live. I can think more clearly, I like the pressure of getting only one shot to do everything you’re saying at any point in time. Live is where it’s at.
Let’s talk about Marcus’ impact on the esports scene. I know that you’ve worked with him in the past. Could you speak on that?
Marcus is someone who I admire so much. He’s deeply passionate and cares so much about what he’s doing. Fearless, in a calm way. A lot of times when you think of someone as fearless, it’s almost that they’re full of fervor and determination. Marcus is like “yeah, we’re gonna do it,” and he’s always very calm and poised. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get nervous or anxious, ever. He seems absolutely unflappable. There’s this sort of fear that you think about when you have a piano recital, and you gotta stand up and play a piece.
"Ooh, I don’t want to mess up!” There’s that sort of fear, but then there’s a more basic one, which is… “Ugh, I don’t want to do this thing, this is going to be a pain in the ass.” Marcus was doing broadcasting long before there was a concept of live broadcasting. Long before a concept of it. The way he was able to do that was just say, “let’s do it and figure it out,” and how did he figure it out? Endless failure, which totally seemed not to bug him at all.
He just managed to make it all work. There were a lot of shows that he worked on which were a complete disasters, and he literally kept plowing forward, plowing ahead… and it’s one of those things where, when I first started talking to Marcus about 2009 and 2010, when I was starting my own broadcasts and it was starting to get big, I’d go to him.
[impersonating a nervous/hesitant voice]
"Hey, this is Sean, I was wondering if you could give me some advice about this stuff.”
He literally knew just an insane amount of stuff about how to host, how to broadcast, how to speak. Deep, passionate thoughts about the games, communities, how they should be treated respectfully. Tons about video and coding bullshit, tons about equipment, how to do networking, the business side of things.
He just knew everything and was never shy, ever, about anything he had to know. If you’re someone like Marcus that knows so much, he could literally talk to be for 4 hours about so much, and have years of contents left. He’s someone over the years where, if I’m seeking insight, I’ll ask Marcus’ advice on things. Always, always, always, always.
He’s very straightforward, honest, reasoned, and calm. He’s the best.
I want to rewind back to MLG Columbus 2011, where there was perhaps one of the most infamous moments in StarCraft II history, where IdrA quits a game that he essentially had already won, against MMA. What was going through your mind during those few seconds where you saw IdrA quit? Did you have any conversations off-camera about it?
That was the talk of the community for weeks, for months afterwards. I feel like it was a magical moment, because I feel like some of the beauty and insanity that you get in StarCraft, you still don’t get that in any other game, even remotely. You’ll get someone who maybe chokes a key engagement, or perhaps in Counter-Strike they’ll think the opponent is here instead of there, and they peak the wrong corner and get picked off or a sequence of clutch shots, but again… those games, the stories are prescribed by the developer.
You have to go to the bomb site and plant or defuse the bomb. In StarCraft, you’re trying to navigate the story of what I’m trying to tell versus what the opponent is trying to tell.
It’s so touchy-feely, kind of weird to put your finger on what’s happening, and in the same way that people’s personalities get expressed via their styles, that’s where you got to see the personality of IdrA through his departure of the game. It was just so weird, because it was just one of those moments, as a host and broadcaster…
Marcus and I were essentially two dudes who played StarCraft in that moment, just thinking… “What, the fuck… just happened?”
It was so good. Everyone talked about that for a long time.