This piece, which I’ve had planned in my mind for some time now, has proven intensely difficult to begin. In many ways, it signals a door closing. Perhaps that’s why I get a general sense of foreboding in its writing. On the other hand, while we’re certainly turning our backs on the past, it’s also indicative of a potential corridor of new doors opening up for us. Leaving the metaphors aside for one moment, Secret Cave is changing. To put it another way, we’re evolving.
In actuality, we’ve been evolving since our inception just under a year ago. At first, we were nothing more than a listless domain name; the site on which you read these words was a mere clotheshorse for the abject literary whims of its co-founders. Consisting of Benjamin Brandall, Ben Mulholland and I, we began throwing up short articles purely as something to do. To be clear about our scattershot beginnings, I didn’t even know who Mulholland was and hadn’t seen Brandall in person for four years. We just wanted somewhere to put our unfocused thoughts; an aesthetic that shows in our earliest publications.
— secret cave 🏞 (@_secretcave) April 13, 2017
Now, dedicated reader (after all, you’ve made it to the third paragraph), it’s worth stating exactly what this particular article is going to cover before it spirals off on its own winding paths. Essentially, it comes from the need for us to publish show notes to our podcast episodes. Usually, this takes the form of a transcript or, in some cases, a long-form article on the subject. Since the episode in question with this post doesn’t feature a guest, neither of those approaches are appropriate. With our finale taking a speculative tone throughout, often touching on our own development, I wanted to strike similar notes. Considering that our upcoming print zine, Issue #1: Birth, is just around the corner, it’s all too perfect an opportunity to discuss our ongoing metamorphosis.
Eventually, this article will take a look at the subjects discussed in the podcast, more in-line with a traditional set of show notes. Before then, it’s interesting to me to look at our roots. Formative though we still are, there was a period when our work was of a markedly lower standard. It’s not my place to comment on the shortcomings of my co-founders, but I can condemn my own output. In those months, roughly between August and December of 2016, we were a ten-a-penny digital obscurity with little more than cannabis-hazed retrospectives and lazy features.
Many of these features centred around video game coverage. In fact, it was often woefully outdated. I was stabbing into the internet, trying to find myself a niche. This meant that I used my PlayStation’s “broadcast” button more often than my latent creativity. The results were a string of First Impressions videos, and tie-in articles. Many of these are still available at our YouTube, but they’re clearly adorned with the thicker brushstrokes that come with a lack of experience. Around these, I would write short – yet somehow meandering – textual ditties about television shows, films and music I like. In short, I was blogging. For posterity, even the use of that term makes me shudder.
Surrounding my haphazard work, Brandall used Secret Cave as an outlet for whatever drifted into his consciousness that week. Mulholland, meanwhile, barely posted at all and has since left our ranks. Our first major change came with No Man’s Redemption, an article I penned about my intense dislike for No Man’s Sky and its effect on my respect for games in general. The work, in which I spoke at length about No Man’s Sky‘s shortcomings, struck a chord with those who had a similar experience. After receiving a modicum of attention through Reddit, we saw our analytics spike drastically. This was the first time I got a sense that people may be interested in Secret Cave as a concept.
Reading it back, it still doesn’t shape up to our current standards. It’s messy, unwieldy and clearly unaware that anyone would pay it attention. There’s an amateur tone that rings loudly from its structure, but I’ll be forever thankful for its existence. I made a pointless rant video to go along with it, and continued resting on my self-assigned laurels with little more than some extra verve. Not long after, Benjamin and I attempted a podcast as yet another wild slash into the digital abyss. Occasionally accompanied by Mulholland, and once by my father, this first season would turn out in a similar fashion to our writing of the time.
The problem was, we never really gave it enough thought. This had the effect of rendering the results about as valuable as every other small, independent podcast on YouTube. There are some conversations that stand in my mind as highlights, but it’s a season only worth hearing when you’re already deep into our rabbit hole. However, though our view counts were low throughout the eight episodes, it did have some positive aftershocks. In general, I felt more exposed; though our “hits” told another story. Regardless, it forced me to attempt some different voices. Notably, this resulted in some intriguing articles about such disparate subjects as Luigi’s inferiority complexes, the increasing irrelevance of Batman and marketing in the Christmas period.
Each of these received more attention than their podcast counterparts. Spurned on by this, my tone became ever more refined. This lead to our next major “event”, if you will. Following Oddworld‘s alternate reality game surrounding their upcoming release, SoulStorm, I documented it in a short and sycophantic post. Picked up by Oddworld themselves, it received more buzz than I could have predicted. When it got cited in their own blog, that was all we needed for a few eyes to start paying some serious heed. Inspired, I was lucky enough to hit upon The Yellow Brick Road of Internet Hysteria. Following on from my documentation of Oddworld’s ARG, I presented an in-depth analysis on the evolution of ARGs across the 20th and 21st centuries.
It proved a minor hit, within the intended community. With two well-received articles in quick succession, I felt inspiration like nothing before. I even finally settled on a tone for my writing. The whole atmosphere engulfed Brandall too; his work followed suit, with fascinating arcs bubbling up between his pieces. His focus turned to the use and implications of internet bots. He scooped up his own set of impressive views in this time, making Secret Cave more and more viable by the day. In fact, his interview with director Andrew DeYoung still sits as one of our most profound learning experiences.
We followed up this interview with our official second series of podcasts. I wanted it to become known by the snappier moniker SCP2, but that got lost somewhere along the way. Inspired by On Cinema, as well as some other sources, our opening episode took a different approach to its predecessors. Brandall and I had spent a lot of time discussing to set the mood for SCP2. What we came out with in that first episode, entitled Gay, was close to my imagination, but not quite there. It featured our three founding writers, with myself as one of them, discussing the use of terminology like “gay”, “retard” and other potentially offensive words. We were playing exaggerated characters, and that’s something I’d like to have a more disciplined go at.
SCP2 quickly became an entirely different beast. Thanks to DeYoung’s appearance, we felt compelled to seek further interviews. The success of our olive branches surprised us, as we saw an array of respected and interesting creatives guest on our podcast. With an avalanche of scheduled spots coming over the course of a couple of weeks, our initial ideas saw themselves disregarded. The concept of an exaggerated-character offshoot of our first season suddenly seemed base. As such, our concentration shifted to more grounded conversations with our invited guests. Inevitably, this brought us even more exposure.
I can say with confidence that both Brandall and I understand the increased responsibility that comes with people actually reading our work; even if it’s still on a very small scale. Though hard graft on our podcasts became key, we tried to make secretcave.co itself live up to our increasingly integral podcasts. I feel the quality of our posts improved in-line, but I think we’d both admit to our writing’s pace suffering throughout SCP2. In full Schindler’s List mode, we could have done more. Regardless, the season is something we’re both intensely proud of.
Brandall was even able to take SCP2 and curate an entirely new form of content for us. The SCP Mini, which debuted with an extracted story from my interview with David Kear, has grown into one of our favourite forms of expression. By compressing certain sections of podcast dialogue into two minute videos, Brandall is able to make a guest’s point saliently and with the help of some beautifully edited footage. These act as fantastic ways to signpost a more fickle generation towards our much longer form material. It’s Brandall’s care that helps them stand on their own too. Recently, we released one with Rather Good creator Joel Veitch, about his “undesign” philosophy:
We’ve brought SCP2 to an end now for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we wanted a break to put the onus back onto our writing. Secondly, we began to speak very seriously about releasing a print edition of our content. Ironically, this second reason is going to make things even quieter here at the site for a month or so. We’ve been much quieter than we’d like already, but we hope that anyone who enjoys our site can bear with us for a greater product down the line. As we now put every ounce of our creativity into making Issue #1: Birth a reality, this will be the final post at Secret Cave for some time.
The work we’ve done on the zine is already extensive. We’re close to completion, with it mostly hinging on a final few submissions from certain contributors. It’s something that we think will signal the greatest change yet in our development. Full to the brim of writing from Brandall and myself, along with photography, artwork and an exclusive interview with Vic Berger, we’re certain it’s something that our fan-base will appreciate. We’ll even be packaging it with an as-yet unannounced surprise that we’re extremely excited to unveil.
For the first issue, you’ll be able to enjoy its contents completely free. If you haven’t already, you can sign up for it (without even the need for card details) here. From there, we’re hoping to make our zine a regular feature throughout the year; funded by Patreon subscribers. The work will always come first with Secret Cave, and we’ve thought long and hard about the kind of things we can offer subscribers alongside the zine itself. Output will always come before monetisation at Secret Cave, and we intend to treat every issue with the same reverence we’re affording its debut.
In the future, we see this humble site as far more than a place for journalistic posturing. We have a particular interest in publishing music, as well as producing our own short films and documentaries. Along with a number of collaborators that we’re incredibly fortunate to be aligned with, we’re sure that – with community support – we can grow into something vastly beyond our roots. The internet is far too full of cynicism and paper-thin editorial. Most sites pay the largest dividends to coercing you onto their mailing lists. It’s that we want to remedy and, if it’s something you’re sick of, we’d like the cure to be hidden in our cave.
To facilitate our movement into new ground, we recorded a finale of sorts for SCP2. This post is also supposed to make our digital hiatus less cold and unexplained; it will, after all, be our last post on the site until the zine sees release. Within the finale podcast, Brandall and I spent some time talking over our journey. In an attempt to understand for ourselves, we go over our past year speculatively. Afterwards, we brought my dad back in to try and capture some of the magic of his first turn in SCP1. Through stretched tensions, we cover a variety of subjects; largely, I was experimenting with a more casual atmosphere. It may just act as some indication towards the sound of SCP3, but that’s currently too unpredictable.
Before I present a list of topics covered in the finale episode, there are two last points I’d like to cover. One also nods towards the impending SCP3, so it would make most sense to begin there. Just one day before writing this, I spoke to the aforementioned Vic Berger. As one of the internet’s most championed voices of late, speaking to him was hugely intimidating. As a matter of fact, when Brandall and I first started with our interviews, we each considered an interview with Berger to be a kind of holy grail. It seems, therefore, fated that a conversation with him will be the opener to our third season.
It’s a wonderful episode, showing Berger’s unfiltered personality in a way that’s very rarely seen. Ordinarily, we would want to release something of that weight as soon as we can. Yet, in an exercise of restraint, we’re going to try and hold it back until we can get our hands around the construction of SCP3. We’re expecting that to be in November, but excerpts from our talk will be an important feature of our zine. To give people another glimpse of our upcoming season, and Berger’s interview, Brandall’s already put together an SCP Mini:
As my last item on the tablet, to return to the metaphorical styling of my first paragraph, I’d like to give thanks. Our readership, and viewership on YouTube, is still low. We remain an obscure and fringe entity. I’m not deluded into thinking that Secret Cave is now, by any means, “big”. I doubt that I’d want it to be. That said, we have seen an ever-upward trend in our analytics as we strive harder for unique content. Obviously, that’s something we’d like to continue and, most importantly, for us to prove worthy of. For us to have even gotten to any kind of a point where I feel the need to write this post, there’s some gratitude required.
Brandall and I could not have gotten Secret Cave here without a multitude of people. In particular, we’d like to thank anybody who has spent their time reading our writing, or listening to our podcasts. Our audience, no matter of size, is something we want to treat with the greatest respect. Some of you have been steadfast in your support and, if you’ve made it to this point of the article, I’d like to get across how much I owe to you all. In tandem with that, I’m at the service of all our podcast guests. Each of them were gracious, friendly and forthcoming in their appearances. Following the recordings, they did much to spread the released product, and their companion articles, around. Without them, many of our readers would never have stumbled across our quiet cabin. To everyone who has helped us through contributions, our deepest appreciation.
— secret cave 🏞 (@_secretcave) August 7, 2017
With, I believe, everything brought up that I wanted to analyse, it’s about time we turn our attention to SCP2‘s finale episode. As one of the longest episodes of the season, it may come as some surprise that it was actually culled down from a three-and-a-half hour dialogue. In its unedited form you could find, amongst other dead ends, a rapturous argument between my dad and I. Someday, that may just see release. We want our currently enigmatic map to be an exploratory place where we can hide such relics, but I didn’t want to close the season on an argument. Therefore, we spent the majority of the edited results discussing all-sorts of in-key topics. Distinguishing it from the other guestless episode of SCP2, Gay, we also spend fair time smashing at fourth walls.
Usually, for episodes like this, Brandall would write a weird little set of show notes. It would take the form of a couple of paragraphs outlining the general areas of conversation, before providing lists of “topics” and “mentions”. Personally, I found some of it quite unwieldy. His lists would often be a little too comprehensive. In opposition to that, I’m going to try and make my list more brief. I’m also going to jettison a round-up of “mentions”.
There will be some radio silence here for a while, but we’ll be ever active with updates on our Twitter, further SCP Minis on YouTube and don’t forget to get signed up for the zine. We’ll be posting out news as and when we have it. Until then, here’s the finale episode to SCP2, and we hope you’ve enjoyed our first year of activity. Join us for future years, and we pledge to keep providing a unique and honest voice in the terrifying world of the internet. For us, despite having two seasons of a podcast under our belt, this is only the beginning. With every step we’ll need your help, so know that the satisfaction of our fans is always paramount. Until Issue #1: Birth is posted out, goodbye. For one final time, and as the most important reflection, Brandall and I both thank you.
- Differences between SCP1 and SCP2
- The evolution of Secret Cave in general
- Our future
- Dad’s early attempts at viral fame
- Growing old
- What media outlet to trust
- Fake news
- Netflix vs. Television
- Illegal downloading
- Distribution models
- Job security in the UK and the overabundance of higher education
- Patreon and content creators monetising their output
- The potential of the internet and social media
- What is Secret Cave?