Vigorous poking encouraged

Pooooonies

Monday, November 26, 2012 | 12:32 AM | by

My wife is a fan of My Little Pony. She and her sister have been collecting ponies since they were kids. These days it has calmed down some, with mostly just the rare ones sought out. But we still have a room in our house that is full of them and more in storage. I've long gotten used to being around ponies. So it was absolutely no surprise when my wife recently began hogging the Kindle so that she could play the new My Little Pony: FIM game from Gameloft.

I sat down to watch her play it a little bit, and on the surface it looks like a Farmville knockoff. And there are certainly a lot of similarities. It follows a similar "freemium" model, in that it basically presents you two options for "completing the game". Feed it five-hundred hours of your life, or a few hundred bucks from your wallet.

Most things can be obtained simply by grinding out the necessary mini games and regular tasks, or you can speed everything up by purchasing gems. So far my wife has managed to resist clicking the "Fuckton of gems for $99" button, but I'm certain the thought has crossed her mind.

It's an iPhone/iPad/Android game, so the controls are nearly 100% tapping and swiping repeatedly. You tap to play mini games, you tap through the menus, and you absolutely tap like a madman to get the game's various structurs to cough up their sweet, sweet bits (coins). Most, from what I've seen, won't give up the goods on the first tap. Or the fifth. Some you have to downright fervently and borderline innappropriately jab at some of these structures over and over until they finally relent and splooge forth their golden bounty.

Gameplay-wise, things look a little thin. Not in the unlockables/shit to waste your time trying to get department... no, that stuff is almost ludicrously deep. The number of ponies you can unlock, apparently even including very minor characters from the show, is fairly impressive. There's a lot to see here. But it also doesn't look like there's a lot to do in order to see it. From what I've read there are only three mini games, so I'd picture that getting a little tedious in a fairly short about of time.

However, I do have to admit to being pretty impressed with the production value on the game. All of the ponies (curiously enough, as you'd think 2D would be the natural decision) are fully rendered 3D models. They even feature most of the actual voice talent from the show, I'm told.

The music is cool (also from the show I think) and the entire package, at least from the perspective of an over-the-shoulder observer in this case, looks pretty well put together. I'm not sure it's something I would necessarily pick up and play, since I don't have a connection to the franchise, but it was entertaining to watch. And I have it on authority that if you are a fan of MLP, well then, it's just the bees knees. If not for any actual engaging gameplay, but for being a pretty solid opportunity to mess around with your own little Ponyville.

Endings

Monday, November 26, 2012 | 12:37 AM | by

The following blogposts accompanied last Friday's comic, and the end of "Ctrl+Alt+Del" v1.0", but I am reposting it for anyone who hasn't seen it and may have questions.

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So to start off by answering the BIG question hanging in the air... yes, this is really the end.

Sort of.

To be a little more specific, this is the end of Ctrl+Alt+Del in its current incarnation. What's that mean? It means it's time for a good ol' fashioned "Hollywood reboot".

This is a decision I came to over two years ago, and have been working and planning towards since. As you might imagine, it is not a decision I made lightly, and in the following blogpost I'll try and walk you through the many different factors that contributed to it, as well as where I see things going from here, and why.

"Why end the comic?"

I have, as of this fall, been creating this comic strip for ten years. Ten years, 9.2 of which it has been my full-time job. Ten years... and when I started it, I wasn't sure I'd still be doing it in tenweeks.

It was something I started for fun, for practice... I tossed it up online thinking maybe some other people would get a kick out of it. There was no long term plan... I didn't need one, right? I was just going to be doing it a few months...

Except obviously that's not what happened. People started reading it, I loved writing it, and I just kept going. Suddenly I had gotten to a place where I realized that this is something I was going to continue to do, for years and years to come.

At that point I'd started dabbling with storylines and as I've always really loved telling stories, it's something I wanted to continue to do. So I sat down and started to flesh out where I wanted to take these characters, what sort of major life events I wanted to explore with them. I planned way ahead, years down the road, so that I had things to work towards. And that's fine, except for one little problem...

I'd spent the entire start of the comic strip (and many years afterwards) using Ethan and Lucas as a vehicle for whatever jokes came to mind. Random ninja assassinations, video game jokes,whatever. If it made me laugh, I went with it. And that's all well and good, but what I really didn't understand at the time is that it all starts to inform an idea of who these characters are. It begins to create a personality for them that may not necessarily be entirely planned or thought out.

So now I had to come up with lives for characters that were already in place. A perfect example of the sort of problems that can cause would be the mess I got myself into with Scott.

When I introduced Scott, I was thinking in the "now." That I had a couple of funny jokes involving a new linux-loving roommate showing up and how Ethan would react. So I threw him in, told the jokes and... then what? Now this character was in the comic strip. And later on, when I started trying to develop a story for these characters, I had to deal with that. So I retroactively came up with the storyline for him that you now know. And I loved that storyline... but that's all Scott was. That storyline. That ultimate reveal. So apart from that, he was largely ignored and forgotten, because I didn't know what else to do with him.

But I planned out all of these story ideas for the characters, and things were fine for a long time... but eventually as I began to grow as a writer and wanted to try new things, I started to crash up against the boundaries of the characters and their established personalities.

That lead to becoming dissatisfied with the characters, and starting to feel stifled by them. That'snot a place any writer wants to be. I had grown as a writer, noticed ways to make the characters more well-rounded, deeper, but couldn't come up with any graceful way for them to, let's say, have a sudden and noticeable personality change.

I still loved my job... I loved waking up and getting to work on a new comic... but I began to find myself more excited about the stories I wished I could tell, than the ones I was able to. I did alleviate this in some ways (the Space Archaeologist stories are an example). But I still had the main "story" that I was growing increasingly uninspired by.

I had also begun to ask myself "If I were starting my comic today, knowing everything I know now... could I do it better?" The answer was a resounding "Yes." I have learned so much in the past ten years, and I'm continuing to learn and improve all the time. I started this comic when I was twenty-one... I'm hardly even the same person I was then. I've seen more of the world, I've experienced more... So of course if I were able to start from scratch with this knowledge, there are things I would do differently.

And then I thought to myself "Well wait... why can't I start over from scratch?"

"What comes next?"

I'd made the decision to get a fresh start with the comic, and I was eager to do that, but it wasn't something I could rush into, else I'd wind up back in the exact same position ten years from now. So for the last two years I've been working to not only wrap up some loose ends (Scott) and write a big finale storyline for Ethan, but also begin writing and fleshing out my plans for what comes next.

So what's that?

First and foremost, Ctrl+Alt+Del is going to refocus on being a primarily video game and pop culture comic strip. It's where the comic started, and it's still something I love to do. It's also simply the best use of the format, but we'll get to that in a second.

You'll see the Players take up a more prominent and regular role in the strip. I first introduced the players because I needed characters to star in the more violent comics once it no longer made sense for Ethan and Lucas to be killing eachother. The Players have become some of my favorite characters, and I'm psyched to bump them up to "main characters of the comic" status.

Now that Ethan and Lucas are gone, the Players will step up again to fill the role that Ethan and Lucas started the comic in: vehicles for jokes (and not just violent ones, though that will still be there). That means they'll get a little bit more inviduality and personality, but that's where it ends. No long storylines. I'm not ever going to feel the need to answer questions with them such as "How do these people afford video games? Do they have jobs? What are their hopes and dreams?"

I also intend to make an effort to relaunch the Sillies after the new year, with new updates on Tuesday and Thursday, the days the regular comic doesn't update. Maybe Saturdays too, we'll see. Mostly I just want to get on a regular routine with them.

Now, some of you love the characters and the stories though, and you're probably asking "Wait, so you're done with storylines?"

No, of course not. I'll always be a storyteller. You will see Ethan and Lucas again, though not quite exactly as you knew them. There are some changes that I'm incredibly excited about. I've been spending a lot of time (and will continue over the next few months) crafting their new adventures. It will be a while, since I want to do this right, but you will see them again.

However we (I) have to admit that the current format, and update schedule, simply do not work for these storylines. There was a time that it did... but things have changed over the course of the past ten years. I started doing little itsy bitsy storylines in the comic, and in the past few years my ideas have been big, and complicated.

I think that somewhere inbetween there was a sweet spot, where storylines were falling at exactly the right length to be tolerable at three updates a week, but honestly, we've blown past it. This storyline that I just told took nearly three months. That's kind of ridiculous. I love telling stories, but telling them like that is just frustrating for everyone involved.

It's frustrating for me, because I've already written them/know how they end, and I have to chip away at telling them to you. I have to feed you one bite at a time instead of giving you the whole meal. It's frustrating for you because you have to wait a day inbetween pages and there are cliffhangers all over the place. And it's especially frustrating for the readers that don't like the stories, because it takes so long before we're back to one-shots.

And that's fairly frustrating for me as well. I enjoy telling stories, and I certainly don't mind taking a month off from joking about video games from time to time... but when you hit three months and games are coming out and I'm playing them, and I can't comment on them in comic form...let's just say I'd like to not run into that problem anymore.

So then the question is "How do we alleviate the problem of format?" By changing it altogether, obviously. The first thing I'm doing is approaching the story as an ongoing comic book series. What I mean by that is that each story is a 22-24 page comic book, and then there are over-arcing story threads that cross multiple issues.

But more importantly, I'll finish these in their entirety ahead of time. Then when an issue is finished, I can simply publish the whole thing. No waiting days between updates, no storylines taking months at a time. Even if I release one page a day, every day of the week, it still takes less time and is easier on the reader.

Not only that, this now gives me an even clearer separation between one-shots and stories. Before it was... too muddle, I think. You'd see Ethan and Lucas pop up in a comic, and you didn't know if it was a one-shot, or the start of a two-month storyline. There wasn't enough distinction. Now there will be. For you and for me.

I have always loved that I get to do so many different things with this comic strip. That I get to make jokes about games, and that I get to tell different kinds of stories. It's what has kept me interested in this for ten years, what has kept me from burning out. And that's what I want to continue to do: have it all. I think I can continue to do that... just in a better way.

Hopefully after reading this you'll have some understanding of why this was something I needed to do. It's a change, for sure. And having worked on the internet for the past decade, I am extremely familiar with how reluctant people can be to change. However it's my hope that you'll agree with me that this is for the best.

I think that I can tell better stories, with more interesting characters, and in a better release format. I owe it to you, and I owe it to myself to try.

It's nearly 7:00 AM as I write this... I've been up all night trying to make sure I'm saying everything in this blogpost that I think you need to understand where I'm coming from... and now I can't decide if I've been too elaborate, or not elaborate enough.

However I'm fairly certain I can be clear about this: Thank you. Thank you so very much for the past decade. It has been a daily joy and honor to draw and share this comic strip with you, and you all are the reason I've been able to continue to do that. No words can ever really express what a wonderful ten years you've given me, what wonderful memories you've given me, or what a wonderful life you've helped me make for myself.

Whether you're on board with my new adventure or not, thank you for everything.

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"Why end the comic like this? Why this way?"

It was tempting when I first made the decision to end the current story, to just have Ethan get hit by a truck. I was so anxious and excited to get started working on a revision. But not only did I need time to get my ducks in a row re: what I do afterwards, I've spent a third of my life with Ethan, as flawed as he is. If he was going out, I wanted there to be a reason.

I know that this is not a "clean" ending. There are a lot of unknowns. A lot of "Well, what if's." I could tell you all of that... I could tell you whether he's still alive, trapped inbetween time, I could show you Lucas and Lilah reacting to him suddenly disappearing, I could tell you what I think happens to past Zeke now... but I also like the idea that you decide what might happen. Because either way, it's still over.

Doing a "happily ever after" ending just didn't feel right for the comic strip... it didn't feel right for Ethan, as much as I wanted it to. Ethan has spent the last ten years doing incredibly stupid and dangerous things, with very little consequence. The end of him had to be, ultimately, a result of his own doing. And this was the grandest way possible I could think for that to happen.

This way I feel like you know that he really has nobody but himself and his own decisions to blame, but it's removed just enough that it still feels a little bit unfair... so you still feel a little bad for him. And more importantly, it gives him an opportunity to take responsibility in the biggest way possible, something that he hasn't done a whole lot of. He gets to go out making a sacrifice to protect the people he loves... protect them from a situation he set in motion, sure. But a sacrifice nonetheless.

It's a little sad. It's a little messy. But there's closure there where I think it counts.

"I'm worried that the Players aren't well-rounded enough to be main characters."

You're correct. In their previous state, they were not. They were basically there to deliver a joke. But we're starting over here. And that means the Players are being rebooted as well. When they come back, you'll begin to see some more individuality amongst their personalities. They'll have likes and dislikes, and interpersonal relationships. My goal is to create a dynamic between the four of them that can support character-based humor and interaction. Very similar to Ethan and Lucas. I don't intend them to be solely mouthpieces for video game jokes.

The difference is creating these characters without feeling the need to also operate within the boundaries of (mostly) reality. The idea that they can have personalities, but don't necessarily need real-world responsibilities. While that's fun to write, I'll have the other story, with Ethan and Lucas for that.

With the new Ethan and Lucas (and yes, Lilah)  story, they'll be in a setting that is appropriate for me to explore not only humor, but drama, action and romance as well. Because I now know going in that those are things I want to write (something I didn't when I first started this comic), I can build a world for them where that is all appropriate. Where it doesn't seem sudden or out of place. The new setting will support these things better than this one did.

The Players, however, are for humor. But just because they won't have long, engaging and dramatic story arcs doesn't mean they can't become new friends. After all, most of you got attached to Ethan and Lucas before they started having big dramatic adventures as well.

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These two forum posts also contain discussion on the topic, here and here.

 

 

...and new beginnings

Monday, November 26, 2012 | 07:40 PM | by

First of all, a big thank you to the many, many people that contacted me over this past weekend with their opinions and their support. I enjoyed hearing from all of you, even if I couldn't respond to everyone personally.

After talking with so many people, and doing a lot of thinking, I spent the last couple of days drawing another three comics (well, one big one, anyway) to follow Friday's comic. I went to my original drafts of this story, and put together a series of panels that I hope will help people find closure with the end of this storyline.


I was happy with the open ending, but I've also been living with the knowledge that this was coming for years. The characters live in my head and I never had any doubt that Lucas, Lilah and Zeke would end up alright in the aftermath of Ethan's sacrifice. If drawing a few more panels can help some of you reach a similar level of comfort and closure here, then that's something I'm happy to do.