Sam & Marisha Meet the Creators of Midst! (Midst Roundtable)

"Sam & Marisha Meet the Creators of Midst! (Midst Roundtable)"
Miscellaneous episode
Episode no.Episode 22
AirdateAugust 16, 2023 19:00 PT
Running time1:06:59
Links and related articles
Episode chronology
"Crafting a Mystery with Matthew Mercer" (Mx21)
"Rose City Comic Con 2023" (Mx23)
List of miscellaneous episodes

"Sam & Marisha Meet the Creators of Midst! (Midst Roundtable)" (Mx22) is a Q&A hosted by Sam and Marisha with Third Person, the creators of Midst.

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

Sam and Marisha introduce themselves and turn on the teletheric so they can hear Third Person. The members of Third Person introduce themselves as Xen (they/them), Sara (she/her), and Matt (he/him). Sam and Marisha tell Third person they are drinking Midst-tinis, to represent the planet of Midst sitting on the Mediun. They then begin the questions!

How would each of you describe Midst in three words?5:01

  • Xen: Fun weird sound
  • Sara: Experimental, immersive, personal
  • Matt: Freaky sci-fi story
  • Sam: Mysterious futuristic...past?
  • Marisha: Audio acid trip

How did Critical Role and Midst become a partnership?7:09

Third Person remarks on how surreal and incredible it has been, and Sam tells how it happened: Ben Van Der Fluit recommended the podcast to him, and he listened to a few episodes while walking his dog before telling Ben that it was a great story and a great fit because it was also friends making up a story together, much like Critical Role. Marisha remembers Sam recommending it to her and finding that she particularly liked the disagreements the narrators sometimes have as it shows the collaborative aspect.

How did [Third Person] start doing this?9:48

Xen, Sara, and Matt all went to college together and met in a creative writing class, and as the fans of genre fiction within that class began to collaborate and worldbuild together. It was often GM-less and system-lite (or systemless) TTRPG improvisation. Midst came from an experiment in which they all simultaneously tried to both play and GM the same game. After a few sessions they realized this was a strong story, and wanted to share it, and a podcast was the most attainable way to do so.

Did [the game from which Midst came] have rules and structure?12:48

It was mostly vibes-based, but the setting of Stationary Hill on the islet of Midst was very well developed prior to them beginning the game (and later, the podcast), and was expanded as they played. For example, Matt was interested in bringing in "bureaucracy horror" and developed much of the lore of The Trust.

What made you all really start to cement yourself in this kind of sci-fi, western, anti-capitalism horror?14:04

A lot of the themes emerged as they told the story; the anti-capitalism came from the general Millennial experience. The space western aspect was more accidental.

What was it like when [Third Person] decided to join forces with Critical Role? Were there any reservations?15:48

Definitely - it's a part of the artistic experience to worry that you are either selling out or becoming subject to the demands of a large corporation that controls what you can say, but the Critical Role crew was very validating. Sam notes that everyone involved, both from Third Person and Critical Role, is very passionate about storytelling in all its forms, and Marisha adds that their intention was to provide space and resources without "breaking" Midst. The members of Third Person note that they respect that Critical Role is also an independent creator-owned company and as such respects and appreciates that artists want to have creative control of their own work. Sam and Marisha joke about notes for the next season and a Moc Weepe pie-eating contest only to be told that pie does not exist in the Midst universe.

Can you tell us about the process of transforming [Midst] from three friends sitting around the table to three friends sitting around the table with microphones?19:41

By the time they actually released the first episodes of Midst, it had been around in some form since 2013 and they'd done a number of recording tests. They first tried the triple narrator technique in episode 2, and they spent a lot of time as fans of audio drama finding their own voice and methods rather than sticking to the conventions. Eventually, they decided to try to abandon an idea of perfection and allow themselves to interrupt each other and that's how they developed the style.

Sam brings up that sometimes they'll switch the voicing of a character mid-sentence, which is true, but when he uses Moc Weepe as an example, Matt points out that their one rule is that each member of Third Person has their own protagonist, and only they voice that character, even though everything and everyone else is fair game. Matt voices Phineas Thatch, Sara voices Lark, and Xen voices Moc Weepe. The switching elsewhere gives a sense of multiple perspectives, while still allowing a throughline of the protagonists.

(In response to Xen mentioning Midst is mostly improvised): How is it?24:19

The story is loosely outlined, but is otherwise improvised - they know where they are going but the exact details of how they get there are made up as they go along. It's not dissimilar to a TTRPG in that there's planning, but the characters may surprise you, and this is true for a lot of creative fiction work: details come out through playing or writing the character. Moc Weepe's nutcracker scene, for example, was improv; they knew he'd have some small inconsequential gift but the exact detail arose through the storytelling.

Do you add the sound effects after you record? Also, you do everything - music, editing, sound, etc. Who does what?26:40

Yes, there's no live foley but everything is done by Third Person. Xen does the sound (music, editing, and sound effects). Sara is the artist - until they joined Critical Role and had the light animation on the YouTube videos, all visuals were made by her, and she still did the character art and logo herself. Matt writes the appendices and comes up with the ideas, but Xen and Sara contribute to the layout and visuals associated with those.

What are some of your favorite appendices? Are there any easter eggs?29:30

Some come after season 1 and would be spoilers, but the one from "Mica" (Midst 1x03) from the Trust handbook was a lot of fun to make and develop. The Trust is really Matt's specialty. With that said, he, Xen, and Sara all assist each other and seek feedback in their own creations, and the letter from "Convert" (Midst 1x09) is a great example, because Xen, as Weepe's player, did a lot of the graphic design and writing, but the handwriting is Matt's. Third Person is keeping quiet about any easter eggs though.

The episodes vary in length from a little under 15 minutes to some nearing 40; how much recording is actually done for an episode before it's cut and edited?33:50

Most are about an hour long in the raw recording. They might try having a different narrator play a character or do a second take of a line, or realize that the improv left out an important plot detail, but they are pretty tight!

And you already talked about being inspired by radio theater and classic radio and stuff, but are there any movies, games, anything that sort of inspired you for this project?35:16

They are influenced by a very wide range of things, but Xen mentions Perdido Street Station by China Mieville as a particular inspiration, as a major touchstone within the "New Weird" genre. Sara and Matt agree that it's a great book and that the three of them all bonded over their enjoyment of it. Sara also recommends the comic series Saga, which both Sam and Marisha also enjoy, as a story that's both tackling serious topics, but also contains a number of one-off jokes and fun digressions, and is also a good example of a weird, modern space opera narrative that isn't afraid to be overflowing rather than restrained.

What was it like seeing other artists jump in and start to collaborate and bring the world of Midst to life?38:07

Godlike! Overwhelming and nuts but good - because Third Person is a small group, they have a lot of visual ideas that they aren't able to explore fully, so working with other artists is such a great experience and they're all incredibly excited when new art comes out. They also appreciate that it is multiple artists so that the look of Midst is varied; Sara was the only previous artist and she saw her work almost as fan art. Podcasts, in her opinion, should allow for multiple visual interpretations because they are an audio medium. So having no single vision of the world but rather a range of perspectives is really appropriate to the entire concept. (Sam jokes about providing some official art before admitting that his Pub Draw experience led him to believe visual art is not his forte.) Marisha points out that the art is all different styles but united by a very warm and bright color palette, which is a pleasant surprise because western, sci-fi, and horror all lend themselves to more desaturated palettes, and asks where that comes from. Sara says she likes color and doesn't want to limit herself, and Xen adds that while the story is a western in many ways, it takes place all over a diverse cosmos and the color adds to that sense. The brightness helps set off the darkness; Matt likens this to a rollercoaster, where the highs accentuate the lows.

How did you feel about seeing the art pieces? Were there any pieces from Season 1 that spoke to you?43:14

The first episode holds a special place in their hearts because it was the first time having these visions realized, and it also shows Lark's cabin in both the light of the Un and the dark of the Fold, and shows the Unrise, which is cool to have animated and visualized. Marisha notes that she loves Lark's cabin and would love to live in one like it out in Joshua Tree. They all joke about where Third Person may be speaking from.

Can you speak to the anonymity factor?46:00

Some of it was shyness, but it was also an early realization that the story was most important and the personalities behind it were not. Sara also points out that none of them are famous from anything else; they are not people you would recognize unless you know them personally as a friend. They are not necessarily extraverted and appreciate having that distance and privacy, especially since in the very early days they weren't counting on any sort of audience. It was a shock that Critical Role was aware of them because at the time it was a hobby they were fitting in around their lives and day jobs.

Now that you do not need to have those day jobs, what's it like shifting into a full-time creator role?48:36

It's absolutely surreal that they are able to devote themselves to Midst full time! It's also a new form of stressful because they care very much about their jobs now. In the earlier days of Midst they were really only able to get everything out because they had deadlines, but that in turn only came about because they finally allowed themselves to release the idea that had existed for so long in private.

Before moving into teasers for Season 2, they call out a few of their favorite pieces of art! Sara provides several favorites. One is from "Missions" (Midst 1x05) by Sam Bosma as it shows a busy street scene of Stationary Hill with extraterrestials and strange birds. Another is the one from "Gala" (Midst 1x08) showing the high fashion of the Upper Trust, by Annalise Jensen. Still another is "Coda" (Midst 1x12) by Lenka Simeckova, featuring the most attractive depiction of Moc Weepe and a very neon nightclub scene that fits the Black Candle Cabaret perfectly, as well as slightly different instruments. Xen likes the art by Will Kirkby from "Loose End" (Midst 1x13) showing Fuze's cabin and from "Garage Sale" (Midst 1x16), showing Goe's Garag and referencing the corresponding appendix about boculars.

Tell us a bit about yourselves!56:26

(after Sam has made a number of joking location-based queries)

  • Matt: Huge fan of videogames, a podcast for your hands and face.
  • Sara: Big fan of perfume, particularly strange indie scents. She has a spreadsheet with notes about all perfumes she's sampled.
  • Xen: They really like inventing weird TTRPG systems, and also compose music outside of the show.

What can you tell us about season 2 without spoiling it?1:01:26

Season 1 was the tutorial level getting you used to the setting and characters. Now the characters are going to be in Situations and new places within the world.

They then sign off and show the trailer for season 2!

References[edit | edit source]