(Video) Dissing the Bomb Squad (and other PAX misadventures)

  

   
An experienced convention-goer knows that it is vital to make a schedule, or at least a list of places to stand in line, and to have enough time to see everything.  This was my first PAX.  I was not an experienced convention-goer. 
 
Touching down at 6:00 PM Friday, with only a day pass, I made a mad sprint to the convention center.  There were small streams of PAX-peoples walking in the opposite direction, their red tags and traffic-cone helmets a dead giveaway.  I finally arrived at a sharp-looking building, checked-in, took the escalator downstairs, and was completely floored by the Expo Hall. 
 
There were dozens and dozens of exhibits, and thousands and thousands of visitors.  To my sides, games that were previously mystical entities reserved for Internet trailers were being played and enjoyed by an endless mass of gamers: Duke Nukem Forever, Portal 2 (which looks especially sick), L.A. Noire, Ocarina of Time (which had the longest line), Battlefield 3, Mortal Kombat, and Gears of War 3.  I emphasize "endless mass" since because of them, I didn't get to play any of these games.  I was practically plucked off the Portal 2 line, as the Expo Hall was closing early.  That hurt.  
 

Mega64 STRIKE A POZE
 
It wasn't a complete shitshow, mind you.  I earned an audience with none other than Super Giant Games' own Greg Kasavin, who was naturally showing off Bastion (available this Summer for XBLA and TBA for PC) and handing out branded bandannas.  (An excerpt is available in the video above.)  We chatted for well over ten minutes, both about the game and his journey from GameSpot to EA to a garage.  I even detected an almost-fatherly pride Kasavin holds towards that site, and how everyone stuck together when the shit hit the fan.   GameSpot, for the uninitiated, was in its prime while Kasavin was Editor-in-Chief. 
 
Kasavin and Cunningham

 
The game itself is surprisingly fun, with intuitive controls and tight pacing.  And it's gorgeous!  The narration, as effective and clever as it is, was a bit too meddling for my taste, and repeated itself on a few occasions.  I wouldn't dare mention that to the team, however, since Logan Cunningham - the narrator himself - was also present. 
 
I elected to hang out in the Manticore theater, where the Bombcast would be recording in an hour.  Jon Drake, of Harmonix fame, was giving a presentation on how game developers are using facebook to interact with the community, and the problems that arise with this approach when dealing with semi-hardcore games.  It was interesting, but not enough to hold my interest for over a half-hour.  I snuck out the back doors, only to be greeted with a sea of people, maybe two-hundred in number.  An enforcer holding a white board explained it all: "GIANT BOMBCAST LINE STARTS HERE" 
 
It was great getting to know the people on line, many hardcore Whiskey Media members, others dragged along by said members.  Everyone was plugging away at their DSs, which freaked me out for a bit.  "soundandcolour" was standing next to me, with his Giant Bomb-virgin brother, and we struck up one of the nerdier conversations I've had in my life. 
 
Within the hour, the Manticore theater had been converted into a makeshift rock concert.  Phil Reno and the Harmonix band greeted us with a booming entrance, complete  with the sickest rendition of the Bombcast theme ever.  As Ryan described it, "that was the coolest shit ever!" 
 
The Bomb Squad were in top form, hilarious as ever.  I'll try not to spoil anything for those planning on listening to the show tomorrow, but suffice to say, there are special guests, and an emergency departure ("'cause you can't stop the train, baby.") 
 
Q&A was the highlight for me, both good and bad.  There was the usual collection of serious-question --> silly-answers, as well as ones that were utter nonsense ("Raynor's Cabin or Nunnelies?")  I had been preparing a couple of questions for the crew for over a month, which made it all the more painful when I blanked at the microphone. 
 
My directions were simple:  
  1. Say hi
  2. Thank them from coming to the East coast a week after GDC
  3. Tell them that you've been a fan of their work since you were seven
  4. Ask JJWeatherman's question
  5. Ask how they resist the urge to compare all modern games to older ones, much like Yahtzee does weekly
 
They came out as follows: 
  1. Mutter something that sounds like "Hi."
  2. Awkward pause
  3. Call the entirety of the staff "old"
  4. Ask an obvious copyright question
  5. Ask how they are not jaded, being old and all
 
I wanted to shoot myself.  A guy behind seemed like he was keen on shooting me, too.  Even with the polite answers by Gerstmann and company, I was still greeted with dirty stares on my way back to my seat (or at least, I imagined they were dirty stares.)  
 
The show ended soon after, and I had planned to make a swift escape, head hanging in shame.  I had caught Davis saying the crew would hang out outside the theater for those of us willing to skip out on the concert.  I figured this was as good an opportunity to apologize as any. 
 
Surprisingly, only about a dozen people stayed behind.  The crew split up into corners of the lobby, and I made my rounds to each, starting with Vinny. 
 

 And all was right with the world.
Thank you so much, Giant Bomb!  You guys are cooler than I ever imagined.  And this Super Meat Boy poster looks baller with all your autographs in tow. 
 
See you at PAX Prime!
 
(P.S. if I took your picture after the show, hit up my gallery for your screenshots.)
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Concerning "Concerned" (and Gaming Webcomics in General)

This is partly a reposting of my comments from this thread, which in part voices my dismay over the decline of gaming webcomics, in relation to their steady uprising.  I have, however, added substantial commentary in this blog post.
 
No webcomic will ever fill the void left by Chris Livingston's "Concerned: The Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman."   
 
Its secret, I've found, is based on two principles: first, its humor is unabashed in depending on its readers having thoroughly enjoyed Half-Life 2.   But more importantly, it at no point specifically sets out to be funny.  Funny happens; it reports. 
 
There's subtle humor right from the get-go, with a train that arrives months over-schedule, an obvious lampooning of how distinctively patient Valve fans have become.  Livingston isn't afraid to break the fourth wall, drawing attention to its ultimately hackneyed existence in the realm of gaming webcomics.  But Concerned is peerless in its sharp writing, with most of its jokes skillfully woven in just six panels.   It is almost of a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" variety, walking us through a notable work of art, and riffing it into the trivial ones and zeros it really is.    
 
Gordon Frohman, a foolhardy but dangerously optimistic citizen, may be the main character, but the real star is the Half-Life 2 Universe itself.  Throughout, Frohman is charted along an abridged retelling (or maybe pre-telling) of Gordon Freeman's, our, adventures.  He stumbles upon valleys of explosive barrels, antlions, the gravity gun, and Lazlow, the "finest mind of his generation."
 
Take, for example, comic #7, a simple chuckle-worthy joke in its timing and oddity.  But its added value is in that it instantly harkens back to many gamer's first experience with Half-Life 2.  I personally recall wondering if, perhaps, even my mighty gaming rig had failed to render the graphical complexity of Gordon's hands.  When I finally wielded a crowbar, it started to get weird.  Other strips are painfully brilliant, such as comic #172, tapping into what everyone secretly wonders about first-person shooters in general, while comic #173 can be self-deprecating.   
 
Livingston isn't afraid to lampoon other mediums.  In comic #160, he positively nails the coffin on the countless, Michael Bay-esque action movie characters: how they meet, how they talk, what their fate has in store.  Despite this strips long-winded nature, each joke is expertly interspersed and efficient, all in tune with the running gag, the ultimate joke.  So many webcomics feel the need to flood a page with volumes of dialogue, notably Ctrl-Alt-Delete.  This isn't to say that Concerned merely treats us to an outline, or shies away from the lyrical, colorful way characters should speak, but he makes every word tell.
 
So much of Livingston's humor is unnecessarily clever.  All the chapter names are jarring puns of real chapters from Half-Life 2, such as "Pointless Insertion" ("Point Insertion") and "Water Haphazard" ("Water Hazard").  These titles also bare a strict appropriateness to the plot of each chapter.  "Follow, Frohman" deals with Frohman's antics as he tags along with a band of rebels lead by Dr. Freeman, no doubt playable in the chapter "Follow Freeman."  In the chapter "Anti-Citizen 101," Barney Calhoun begins to recruits scores of rouge citizens for Gordon Freeman to march into battle.  This is markedly ingenious, simulatenously hypothesizing how the City 17 armada came to fruition, while question why exactly, each and every one of them feels compelled to remind Freeman to reload.  The Cast page, in particular, is utterly hilarious, employing several comedic conventions.

Lesser webcomics - ones that limit themselves to the Penny Arcade formula (2PSTART!, Dueling Analogs, Brawl in the Family) - systematically set up a reality in panel one, break it in panel two and/or three, and make a snide, hopefully clever remark in the final panel.  Penny Arcade is skillful in interweaving understated gaming political statements, and doesn't necessarily strive to be funny either, and for the most part, it isn't.  Much of its accolades owe to its age and legacy, with little to do with the actual quality of its humor, or its accessibility.  Penny Arcade is popular because it is popular.  Had it been founded today, it would surely recede into the background of other comics.
 
But Concerned is funny - perhaps the funniest - because of the obvious attention and care that went into each and every panel.  And because of Livingston's obvious affinity for Half-Life 2, expressing his extensive knowledge of every facet of its design.  And because he does all this, not in the hopes of making us laugh, or that we will buy merchandise, or exalt him into internet stardom, but because he felt that Half-Life 2 deserved the highest quality webcomic he could muster.  That attribute, unfortunately, is sadly unique. 
 
Sincerely, 
a concerned citizen.
 
How do you guys feel about the gaming webcomic lexicon?  Are there other webcomics that you feel fit my criteria?  Am I right in charging other comics as a hackneyed, uninspired bunch?  Or am I simply demanding too much out of my free entertainment?    

1 Comments

A Rousing Success or a Magnificent Failure

Giant Bomb reminds me of the power/danger of Wikipedia, perhaps the single greatest achievement created on the internet.  It is almost entirely dependent on the community and its willpower to work towards a common goal: creating a site for gamers by gamers.

Only time will tell if Giant Bomb reigns supreme, and if it will survive the plague of spammers and trolls soon to come in the upcoming year.

But until then, happy gaming.

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