This week, Yahtzee takes apart the making of a successful gaming webcomic, or: how to make millions of gamers happy with the minimum amount of effort.
The thought occurs that for all my banging at the "games are art" drum, art is only as good as the culture that surrounds it. A game could give the most extraordinary emotional experience in the entirety of human culture and bring tears to the eyes of a jaded war veteran with no eyes, but it's all for naught if it's not surrounded by self-important bearded tossers who read too much into things for a living. And since I'm one of gaming culture's alpha self-important bearded tossers, I thought I'd discuss the trend of internet gaming humour. And by that I mean the trend of gaming webcomics. And by "trend", I mean "plague".
So you've looked at Penny Arcade, seen the massive amounts of money, prestige, and money those guys get for nine panels a week, and decided that you want in on that. Many gaming webcomic artists have thought the exact same thing - in fact, let's not beat around the bush, all gaming webcomic artists (except Penny Arcade, obviously). The first thing to do is to be, or move in with, someone who can draw, forcefully if necessary. If you don't know anyone who can draw, and you yourself draw like a flipper-handed freak child who just discovered MS Paint, don't fret, just write excessive amounts of dialogue and hide the hideous art with huge speech bubbles. If you don't know how to draw or write, are a functionally retarded quadruple amputee and can only communicate by banging your head against a Wacom tablet, that's still no reason to quit; you can wipe your arse with a page of Mega Man sprites, and there'll still be someone on Comic Genesis who will tell you that it's brilliant.
The next thing you need to do is create your main character. And since it's important to write what you know, the main character will obviously be you. But while you are a repressed, socially retarded dullard who no one would ever honestly admit to liking, your author insertion character is a fantasy, so they will be a charismatic eccentric who is unconditionally loved by everyone, even while he's setting their dog on fire. The secondary character is the straight man, whose job it is to play comic foil to the other character's bullshit, and inexplicably tolerate his behaviour, when any sane person would be checking the Rooms To Rent pages with one hand and slamming the idiot's face in a drawer with the other.
The third character is The Girl. You know, girls? Those mysterious creatures you see on the bus, who have their own bathrooms, and spray stingy liquid in your face. If you don't know much about girls, because your conversations with them don't last for more than a few minutes before the police are called, just use your mum as a frame of reference, characterizing the female as a disapproving, eye-rolling nanny who tolerantly wipes up the whoopsies of the idiot man-children and chastises them with the occasional spanking. And since your ego should be swelling nicely by this point, she should also become the main character's girlfriend somehow, because she finds something adorable about the way he gets hypnotized by her breasts.
Now you have to make your comic funny. And reading most existing webcomics, one could be forgiven for thinking that humour is entirely optional, but believe it or not, there are people who laugh at that stuff, even if it's just the author's mum. Fortunately, the advantage of running a gaming webcomic is that gaming humour is incredibly easy. All you have to do is apply video game logic to the real world for comic effect. For example, in say, Gears of War, you have to push the analogue stick to move forward, when in real life you have to continually put one foot in front of the other. This might not sound like "A" material, but trust me, phrase this right, and there's a fortune to be made in Cafepress shirts. If that doesn't work, go for the edgy crowd, and do a comic implying that Mario does Luigi up the arse. And if that doesn't work, just go on about the cake being a lie.
So, now your comic is squatting on the Internet like a sewage plant on the river Thames, but you're still not popular, because you're competing with every other hack with a Playstation and a messiah complex, so how do you stand out against the crowd? Well, you're forgetting the most important ingredient: drama. I'm not talking about dramatic storylines, although that can certainly be part of it. Let's say, for sake of example, that you're sick of making Companion Cube jokes, and suddenly do a serious storyline about your female character having a miscarriage. Obviously, you'd need to have several blood clots in your brain to think this is a good idea; you're established as a wacky humour comic, so this is going to be an awkward tonal shift at best and hugely disrespectful of the subject matter at worst. Your most hardcore supporters will feebly attempt to go along with you on this, smiling nervously at each other as they would around a mentally unstable friend with a shillelagh, but mean-spirited, embittered cocks are gonna call you out on it. At this point, there are many ways you can respond. "I don't see you doing anything better," "I can do whatever I want with MY comic," "You're just jealous because I get more readers," and other equally flawed arguments. But above all else, never admit defeat, because the bigger a douche you are, the more traffic you get, as spectators line up to see you jump around the monkey cage, screaming and flinging your poo.
Drama is the mortar that holds the webcomic community together, and there are so many wonderful ways to create it. Make absolutely no effort to improve your horrible drawing style, act like a prick at a convention, respond to constructive criticism with hostility, and just generally behave like the kind of monstrous egotist that blossom like mushrooms in the darkened trough of shit that is the Internet. And if anyone really pisses you off, depict them in your comic as a ridiculous strawman and mock them with infuriating self-righteousness. You know, kind of like exactly what I'm doing now. So your gaming webcomic package is compete. All that's left to do is gather it all together and throw it in a fucking bin, because you're a talentless cultural pollutant who deserves to suffocate to death on a bag of porridge.
Again, very much aware of the hypocrisy, thank you: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Note that I mentioned no actual names in this article so if you think I'm talking about you and your comic then that says more about your feelings than mine
Cheese monkey ninja pirate robot ha ha random