As may be obvious, getting out more than one post a week is proving challenging, so expect that as the current pace for the moment. Unfortunately, despite not having the time to write multiple posts, I still find the need to discuss multiple topics, so expect the following to be long, meandering, and occasionally incomprehensible.
When Good Meta Goes Bad
T Campbell writes about a number of webcomics that have recently tossed meta-humor into their strips… often with terrible, terrible results. There isn’t too much I can say he didn’t already cover – he even cops to the fact that his own work doesn’t so much dabble in metahumor as dive in head first, and that any criticism he tosses upon others is also a warning to keep a close eye on his own comics.
But the things he said needed to be said. Least I Could Do seemed especially in need of being taken to task, wherein what starts out as some clever tongue-in-cheek self-mockery suddenly turns into Sohmer explain how his comic is awesome, and everyone else sucks.
Hint: If you need to brag about how cool you are, you’re doing it wrong.
You know what is cool? Dead Winter. I’ve mentioned the comic before, ever so briefly – but at the time, the comic was only a few months old, while now it has had a chance to much more firmly establish what it is and what it is all about.
Interestingly enough, things don’t appear to have moved all that quickly – our main cast has mostly come together and is making their way out of the zombie-infected city that used to be their home. But we’ve learned quite a bit more about some of these people, and the stakes have continued to rise as they try and find their way to safety.
What I love the most about the comic, though, is the fact that the zombies are rarely the threat, in any given circumstance. They are omnipresent, constantly seen in just about every single update, even if as no more than misty figures in the background… but right now, our protagonists are less concerned about the zombies, and more worried about Frank, homicidal chef and all-around unpleasant guy.
The zombies are… an obstacle. A dangerous, deadly part of the scenery. But they are, in classic zombie style, slow enough to be avoided in most circumstances. A danger only in numbers, or if you get cornered. A danger when you are distracted. But they aren’t the villain of the scenario – just a hazard that keeps the cast on the move in their search for safety.
So, in the past few days, I have played through and completed On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 1, which is the first in potentially a long series of Penny Arcade video games.
The game itself isn’t bad – it is short, though with new episodes planned, from the sound of it, four months apart, the length is entirely reasonable. The game system is straightforward, but with enough quirks to avoid become redundant (at least during the 5-6 hours of play.) It isn’t an especially difficult game – I only died once or twice in the entire thing, and there is absolutely no penalty for defeat, as you just get bounced out of a fight and have to start it over again, sans any consumables used during the battle.
What the game is, however, is wholly and unabashedly Penny Arcadian. Every random bit of dialogue, the hundreds upon hundreds of little details and jokes scattered throughout the game, the storyline and the art – all bring together the best elements of the comic strip and the skills and talents of Gabe and Tycho. The game is incredibly funny, from the most profane depths to the most profound observances. The vulgar jokes and toilet humor fit side-by-side with a brilliant apocalyptic tale about clockwork robots, cannibalistic hobos and a cult of mimes that worship “Yog Sethis, the Silent One.”
That’s really the success story of the game. Penny Arcade has fully translated itself into the medium of a video game, and indeed, provided the strongest element of the game in its sense of humor, characters and story.
Given how many other attempts for webcomics to branch out into other media – such as the attempted animation series of PvP and CAD – have met with a somewhat tepid response, and have suffered from difficulty capturing the heart and soul of the comic in a new format… I find the solid first step of the Penny Arcade Adventure line to be a definite milestone for webcomics as a whole.
Admittedly, it has never been argued that Penny Arcade has established itself as a brand well beyond what most other webcomics have – the success of PAX and Child’s Play make that exceptionally clear. But I still feel this sets the stage for more attempts by webcomics to push their boundaries ever further.