Once again, Powers provokes thoughts in his comments to today’s new strip:

Two things:

1) I like the original one better. And partly that’s because of 2):

2) Mark is FAR more likely to have made this comment than Sam. At least as far as the original characters were concerned.

Powers &8^]

First, a quick note about the punchline: Obviously, I think both are funny, which is why I included the original in the news post.  I make no secret of the fact that I like to talk about the process behind creating the strip because I think that some readers might enjoy reading about the fairly organic, seat-of-the-pants way that Dave and I craft the strip.

Now, for the second point.  I’ve made no secret here that many of the characters in the strip were not created by me.  The Towne Pub comic is based on a long running story that a bunch of my friends and I wrote together online while students at RIT.  Here’s a quick list off the top of my head:

  • Dave Grabert – Marc Trebarg
  • Matt Dolins – Savage, Dude
  • Matt “Powers” Wilson – Nate, Sam
  • Sue Meredith – Cap’n Hooter
  • Kim St. Jacques – Taruga

When I first started the strip I tried to make very clear that I would always attribute creation of these characters to their original authors, but I would make them my own within the universe of the strip.  I understand that sometimes the characters will do or say things that they would not have if written by the original authors.  I can’t help that.  For me, the main characters of this strip are Phinn, Trebarg, and Savage.  The duality of their natures (being heroic adventurers in alternate dimensions while being clownish buffoons within the Pub itself) is what interests me, and what I want to write about.  The rest of the characters in the Pub are supporting cast members meant to be homages, but never exact copies, of the original creations.

And this most recent strip is an extreme case: Sam exists solely as a foil off of which to bounce the punchline (it is, after all, a gag strip).  It can’t really be said that her line is out of character, because in the strip she really hasn’t been developed as a character.  I get that the original Sam was brash and crass.  She also wasn’t (as far as I recall) a dimension hopping, sword wielding, genetically engineered samurai warrior (and licensed Fidotron pilot).  What can I say?  Liberties were taken.

I do recognize that there is a dearth of female characters in Pub, though, and those that are there are meant to be strong women, but I don’t want them to be strong by acting like men; (e.g. brutish, arrogant, and rude).  Well, except maybe Taruga, who I expect would be lighting her farts right next to Trebarg.

Damn!  Missed opportunity!  I could have had Phinn mention “the light show!”

But I digress.   I think that there is more to being a strong female character than drinking, burping, and farting along with the guys.  The last thing in the world that I want to do is upset anyone by using their creations in a way that makes them unhappy, uncomfortable, or disappointed.  But, at the same time, I can’t promise to climb inside the minds of other people and write these characters as they would have.  It’s an impossible goal.  I also recognize that it can be upsetting to see your characters misused so if anyone feels that way, please talk to me about it and we can discuss how to handle it within the confines of the strip.

All that being said, I think this strip can be fixed!  Maybe?!  We’ll see…

Short Version: Deeply flawed and disappointing, especially in the first third of the game.  Fortunately, things really begin to pick up in the final two acts, and the game ends with a satisfying conclusion.  Couple a much better-than-average story for an FPS with the (sometimes too) familiar game play of the first BioShock and the result is a game that is definitely worth 10-15 hours of your time.  The new “Little Sister’ mechanic is so good that I can’t help but wonder what they will do in the inevitable BioShock 3 to replace it (assuming that you won’t be playing as a Big Daddy again).

Much Longer Version: It will be difficult to discuss my thoughts of BioShock 2 without some spoilers.  It will be impossible to discuss it without spoiling the first BioShock game.  If you haven’t played the original yet, well, what are you waiting for?  It’s great, and you can get it for, like, 5 dollars.

Anyway, in the first game you played a plane crash victim that finds himself swimming in the middle of the ocean near a lighthouse on a small island.  Upon entering the lighthouse, you quickly discover an elevator that leads deep under the surface of the ocean to the underwater city of Rapture.  There you are guided through the city by the mysterious Atlas, who communicates with you via radio.  The opening sequence of the original BioShock is one of the most memorable of any game I’ve ever played.  In fact, after downloading the demo and playing through the first few minutes I immediately stopped playing, and pre-ordered the game, without even bothering to finish the demo.  It was that good.

This meant that BioShock 2 had some pretty big shoes to fill, right from the start.  It would be difficult, if not impossible, to top the first few minutes of the first BioShock and unsurprisingly, the game fails to do so.  In fact, there is a naked attempt to shock the player in the first few moments of the game that mostly fails.  People playing this game, for the most part, know what to expect.  They know what Rapture looks like.  They know what splicers are.  It’s going to be hard to whip up the same kind of excitement and fear.  So, what do you do?

Well, first, you pander.  You give the players everything they want, and more.  You throw the kitchen sink at them, starting with the ability to play one of the first game’s most difficult adversaries: The Big Daddy.

Some of the impact of this twist on the core game play is hurt by a few things.

First, those that finished the first BioShock will remember, the final act of the last game featured a lengthy sequence where the player disguised himself as a Big Daddy.  Given that fans of the series already spent some time stomping around in a Big Daddy suit, it’s hard to get excited about doing it again in the second game.

Second, the Big Daddy that you play in BioShock 2 (called “Delta” throughout most of the game) plays almost exactly like the main character from the first game.  You unleash plasmids from your left hand, and fire weapons with the right.  Sure, you get a nifty drill (which has limited utility), but most of the other weapons are standard FPS fare with a twist.  The spear gun, for example, plays just like a sniper rifle.  The rivet gun is like a powerful pistol.  Other weapons, like the grenade launcher, shotgun, and machine gun, all play like they do in every other FPS.  To make matters worse, the game eases you in through a series of tutorials that are shockingly similar to those in the first game.  These include using your lightning-bolt to flip switches and open doors, using telekinesis to fetch far away objects, and using fire to melt ice that is blocking your way.  I don’t mind reusing the powers from the first game, which makes sense, but presenting players with the same exact series of obstacles and puzzles early in the game feels tired and overdone (especially given that these mini-puzzles rarely show up later in the game).

Third, and worst, your Big Daddy is a wimp.  At the beginning of the game you have few weapons, only a little health, and a minuscule store of EVE (the resource needed to power your “plasmid” abilities).  In fact, other than the drill jutting out in the lower right corner of the screen, it doesn’t feel like you’re playing a Big Daddy at all.  In the early parts of the game small numbers of splicers present a real threat to your survival, forcing you to run, duck, and hide just like any other normal human.  Contrast this with the other Big Daddies from both games, which you often see fighting 5 or 6 splicers at a time without breaking a sweat.  Still even worse is that you are not a match in one-on-one combat with any of the other Big Daddies in the game; you will find that you need to plan your strategy, set traps, use cover, run away a lot, and pop health packs like candy in order to beat a Big Daddy, especially in the first third of the game when your health and EVE reserves are low.  From a game design perspective, I think that the Big Daddy mechanic in BioShock 2 comes off as a total gimmick; it’s not implemented very well at all.  The excitement that comes from the idea of playing a Big Daddy stems from the fact that they are so big and powerful in the first game.  Simply slapping a Big Daddy texture over the same kind of weak player really stings.

And the problems of BioShock 2 don’t end there.  The controls are great, except for the all-important research camera.  The camera, which you get fairly early in the game, is used to record your enemies while you fight them.  Record a specific enemy enough, and you will unlock research that benefits you in some way.  Examples include new gene tonics, plasmids, learning which weapons are most effective against that enemy, or simply increasing the damage that you do.  It’s a really neat mechanic, but it’s implemented poorly.  First, in order for you to start recording, you must switch to the camera like you would any other weapon.  On the 360 this involves holding the Right Button (RB) down, which pauses the game and brings up your weapon wheel.  Now you can use the analog stick to select the camera.  While the camera is out you can use plasmids, but you can’t fire weapons.  The good news is that, once you start recording, you will automatically switch to whatever weapon you were using before you equipped the camera.  The bad news is two-fold: 1.) if you have already completely researched an enemy, you can’t start recording, and therefore you can’t auto-switch weapons, and 2.) sometimes the weapon you had equipped before was lame and ineffective against the enemy you’re facing now (e.g. the “hack tool” used to hack into computers).  It would have been far better to assign the camera to its own button (like, say, a click of the right analog stick) to allow players to start recording without futzing with weapons.

I’ve said an awful lot about what makes BioShock 2 less than stellar, but I want to take a moment to say now that I really enjoyed the game.   The first act was essentially a carbon copy of the same segment from the first game, but the story really starts to pick up steam in the second and final acts.  Despite the rumors surrounding the pre-release of the game, you discover that you were not the first Big Daddy per se.  Instead, throughout the game you discover that you were the first Big Daddy to be successfully bound to a specific Little Sister; previous attempts had failed, resulting in insanity or death in the Big Daddies.   I don’t want to spoil anything for those who are planning on playing through the game, but I will say that the story builds up to an incredibly satisfying conclusion, with a lot of really “gee whiz, that’s neat!” moments in the final act.  Like the first game, the ending of the story depends heavily on how you treat many of the other characters in the game.  Unlike the first game, and this is one of the places where the sequel really improves, the outcome of your decisions is not mostly isolated to the final cut scene.  Throughout the game you will encounter several characters that you will be given an opportunity to kill.  They are all more-or-less at your mercy, and some deserve a nasty fate more than others.  How you treat them will greatly affect  how the story plays out, not only in cut scenes and dialog, but in other aspects as well, including in some cases the appearance of the levels.  It’s definitely worth considering how you want the game world and the characters that inhabit it to reflect your choices.

Another really great improvement over the first game is the way that you interact with “Little Sisters.”  As anyone that played the first game will remember, Little Sisters are brainwashed little girls that have been genetically modified to be able to sense corpses containing “Adam,” the material that makes granting powers and abilities with plasmids possible.  In order for a person to use a plasmid that grants the ability to shoot lightning from their fingers, for example, they must combine the plasmid with Adam, which helps to rewrite their genetic code.  Little Sisters are responsible for finding dead bodies that contain Adam, and for extracting the Adam from the bodies using giant, nasty looking syringes.  Of course the splicers and various degenerates in Rapture want to get their hands on as much Adam as possible, and so they hunt down Little Sisters.  This is why the Big Daddies are needed: to defend the Little Sisters from anyone that would do them harm.

In the first game your interaction with the Little Sisters was somewhat limited.   First you needed to kill the Big Daddy defending the Little Sister.  Then you would be given the choice to either save the Little Sister (let her go) for a small amount of Adam, or harvest the Little Sister for a little bit more Adam.  These choices are what determined whether or not your character was “good” or “evil” and affected how the game ended.  In the sequel, things play out very differently.  You start the same way: killing the Big Daddy defending a Little Sister.  Then you are given the choice to immediately harvest her, or to adopt her.  Should you choose to adopt the Little Sister, she will ride around on your shoulders as you make your way through the level.  This can be fun when she makes comments as you fight your way through waves of enemies, some of which can be darkly disturbing and funny (for example, after you set someone on fire, she’ll say “Ooooh!  Marshmallows!”).    While a Little Sister is on your shoulders you can ask her to lead you to a corpse containing Adam.  She doesn’t leave your shoulders, unfortunately, but you are provided with an ethereal white trail of mist that you can follow to the body.  Once there, the fun really starts.  You can tell the Little Sister to harvest the Adam from the corpse, but once you do splicers will begin attacking from every conceivable direction.  The game pulls no punches: it will throw the biggest, baddest splicers you have seen up to that point in the game, and they will keep coming.  The goal of the splicers is to kill you, and kidnap the Little Sister, but not necessarily in that order.  Your job is to keep the splicers away from her until she’s done.  You can choose to stand over her and just attack anything that comes at you, or you can use the various weapons, gadgets, and plasmids in the game to set traps  and only pick off the stragglers that get through your defenses.  My favorite tactic was to drop a few mini turrets, lay trap rivets in arcs around the Little Sister, place a few proximity mines and a Cyclone Trap or two, and then use the Hypnotize plasmid to charm the first splicer that shows up to fight on my side.

Once you have used a Little Sister to harvest Adam twice, you will be given the choice to let her go, or a second opportunity to harvest her.  Like the first game, choosing to harvest will grant you an immediate bonus of Adam.  But also like the first game, should you choose to let Little Sisters go, you will be rewarded later (with care packages left for you filled with Adam, plasmids, money, and other goodies).  In the end, I don’t know which path gives your more Adam, though I suspect that harvesting comes out ahead.  However, saving the Little Sisters grants plasmids and gene tonics you would not be able to get otherwise, not to mention a warm and fuzzy feeling from being a swell guy.

Beyond all that, the game plays in much the same way as the first BioShock.  You are being lead around by mysterious strangers who communicate to you in various ways including radio transmissions, televisions, telepathy, and PA systems.  Most of the back story is revealed through tape-recorders that you find scattered throughout Rapture.  While I love listening to these, I find this habit of the citizens of Rapture to be hilarious.  Each of these diary entries is left on a full-sized tape recorder.  Most are not more than 30-60 seconds.  The idea that everyone in Rapture is carrying around a few dozen tape recorders so that they can capture random thoughts before leaving them on the side of a random hallway is pretty funny.  All that being said, you get tons of background and history for Rapture, the major characters from both games (including those long dead), and even some references to the events of the first game.  This is also where you get most of the back story surrounding the Big Daddy program, and your involvement therein.  Unfortunately, because many of these are hidden and/or easy to miss, if you don’t find certain, important tape recorders, you will be missing big parts of the back story.  I didn’t even find 100 out of the 138 scattered throughout Rapture, so I’m fairly certain that I missed some pieces of the puzzle.  It’s unfortunate because, unlike the first game, you can’t really backtrack to previous levels, so if you miss something, you’ve missed it forever.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed BioShock 2, though it took me several hours of play before I really got hooked.  A lot of this had to do with the expectations set by the game and the pre-release buzz.  Much of what the game promised was implemented poorly (i.e. playing a wimpy Big Daddy), and there were a lot of misleading rumors and speculation about the story that didn’t play out (e.g. there is only one Big Sister, you are the first Big Daddy, etc.).  Once you slog through the opening act, though, you’ll start to remember what it is about the first BioShock that you loved so much.  The core gameplay is almost completely intact, and there are some really nice additions that make BioShock 2 its own game.  Is it as good as the first?  No.  But how could it be?  Discovery and surprise were much of what made the first game great, and it would be impossible for BioShock 2 to have the same impact.  But, what you do get is a fun, if familiar, game.  And that’s what really matters.

My friend Matt “Powers” Wilson, the creator of the Sam and Nate characters from the Classic Pub strips, posted some pretty excellent feedback to today’s strip:

Not that I have any right to tell you how to do your comic… but I wonder if you could have excised the second panel and pushed the monologue into the other two. As you note, space is at a premium in comics, and so sometimes you have to show your action in as few panels as possible.

I have mentioned repeatedly that I struggle with “panel density” in these new strips, especially given the dearth of updates (one per week) which means that there is a long wait between comics.  This presents difficult problems for keeping readers engaged, and so I want to try to get more panels, more dialog, more action into the comics.  So here, Powers has definitely tapped into something with which I struggle often.  The biggest problem for me is that I do not like working small.  I dislike drawing small, and I don’t like putting small font into the comic.  It’s bizarre because, when I am reading comics, I don’t even notice when there are 8, 9, 10 panels on a page.  The art looks fine, and everything is clear and readable.  I don’t know why I have trouble with it myself.

I will say that I am writing the script as clearly defined pages, which is something I’ve never done before.  In the past I would write scripts panel-by-panel, and decide which panels (and how many) to include on a page when the time came to sit down and plot the page out.  Now, I try to capture a logical sequence of action to “fit’ a single page.  A great example, I think, is the “I have had enough of you” page, and the following “jetpack ignition” page as well.  I would not have wanted to break that action sequence across multiple pages, especially if that meant starting it half way through one page, and ending it half way through another.  I’m trying to make careful, thoughtful decisions about what is going on in a single page.

So, as I said, this page was supposed to be 6 panels originally and I struggled with that for a day or so when trying to do the rough layout.  I could NOT figure out how I was going to fit Trebarg, the cats, and the dialog into 6 panels.  Not without making some dramatic concessions.  So, the next logical question was, how do I break up the page to make the new, individual pages, still work as individual units?  As it happens, the logical point of separation was the half way mark; 3 panels on this page, and 3 on the next page.  I absolutely hate talking about upcoming strips in any detail before we actually post them, so I’ll refrain from getting too specific as to why I felt that way, but I hope you’ll trust me :)

That being said, Powers’ comment is absolutely valid: these three panels absolutely could have been condensed into two with some success.  The action between panels 2 and 3 (which basically shows several of the cats pulling out knives) is fairly subtle.  I would still have some misgivings about fitting the dialog into two panels, but I probably could have made it work.    The problem then would be what to fill the remaining space with.  I could pull a panel from the next page, but that would leave me with only 2 panels for page 11, unless I started sucking panels in from page 12.  This would begin to affect the flow of the script, and how I’ve decided to break up the action from page to page.  Would anyone even notice besides me?  Probably not.

Suffice it to say, these are things that we really do put a lot of thought into.  On some days it feels like we have no time, and that we are churning these pages out at a breakneck pace.  As readers I can understand why it would feel slow and tedious between pages, but for us we are literally working on these every day.  We make decisions by the seats of our pants and hope that you’ll just bear with us.  But, feedback is always good, and I want folks to know that we don’t make even simple decisions, like how many panels to include, lightly.  Knowing what readers would like to see definitely factors in, though, so in the future I’ll try to work a little more outside my comfort zone to pack more into each page!

Yeah, so, Dave asked me to post something right before he logged out and dashed home from work around 5 today.  I then also rushed home and then forgot all about it.  I feel pretty bad about it, because Dave spent the better part of the afternoon working on some spiffy new wallpaper.

When we were working on page 9 of the Reboot to the Head saga, we really wanted to make the background feel like a real bar.  That meant filling the walls with the kind of stuff you’d see in a bar.   The first thing that sprang to mind for me was the Captain Morgan Poster that we’ve all seen like a million times.  Of course on a planet of feline aliens, we can’t have a normal looking Captain Morgan.  And so, Captain Felix was born.  You can spot him on the right wall, in the back of page 9.

I knew I was going to be needing the poster in several panels over the next few pages, so I drew it in a separate file, at fairly high resolution and quality.  Then Dave colored it, and added the textured “old parchment” background and border.  Dave was then able to insert the poster into the background and adjust for the perspective.  We had always planned on posting the full sized poster image today to give people something amusing to look at, but then Dave went above and beyond and made some really spiffy wallpaper, which you can find on the Goodies page.

Sorry that this isn’t more substantial.  I’m a bit distracted at the moment.  Either way, please enjoy!

Hi all. Happy Tuesday.

So while we are on a bit of a break between chapters I thought that it would be a good time to talk about the first chapter a bit.

Bob and I have learned a ton over the last 8 strips. So much has changed since we first launched the strip back in 2000. Hardware, our methods of drawing and creating the strip, our methods of collaboration… It’s all very different from where we started.

We have talked about a lot of this again and again, but I thought that I would take the time to talk about each of the first eight Reboot to the Head strips.

Reboot 01

Well, of course I can’t find it, but this strip originally looked a lot different. Instead of a sleek, modern skyscraper that Phinn was busting out of, the first panel showed a window into a stone-walled building (looked like an old English cottage, or a classic Irish Pub). Second panel had the cracks on the window and the third panel was, well… blank at the time.

Bob redesigned and we get to see that these Cat-creatures-things live in a futuristic world with flying cars instead.

The first strip is the only one where we see a neon sign on the side of the buildings. Bob originally was thinking something like Blade Runner, I think, with neon signs all over the place.

Let’s be frank. It was too much work to try to put that amount of detail in, so we stopped with one. I’m pretty sure that the Neon Sign in the first strip says “Your Ad here” in Kitty-ese.

You will also notice that none of the buildings are lit, and there are nice reflections of the buildings across the street in this one. Maybe we are just very lazy.

Reboot 02

Not much else to say about the second strip that we haven’t already written here. Take a look at the Behind the Scenes page when you get a chance.

Reboot 03

This is the strip that nearly killed us. It looks pretty simple. but the problem is that while a lot is happening, the scene does not change all that much. It was a lot of tedium getting everything drawn and colored correctly so that it looked consistent. It also suffers from what a random internet person referred to as “Color-form” syndrome. There isn’t a lot of apparent depth of field because we are lined up perpendicular to the buildings in the background.

At one point I was blurring the backgrounds to create some depth of field. Below is a test of what that looked like.

We didn’t like it one bit.

You will also note that this is the first strip where we “lit” the buildings. It’s a great effect. It started to really pay off in the next few strips where we were able to put less detail into the buildings in the panels where it wasn’t as important and focus our time on the foreground.

The second panel here drove Bob nuts. He redrew it at least twice. It came out great in the end.

Reboot 04

I love the first panel here. I think that we just nailed it. :)

The second panel shows the less detailed, but even more effective, in my opinion, buildings in the background.

You will also notice in the second panel the brand of Phinn’s shoes. It’s a call-back to previous strips. D’OH brand shoes. Multiverse favorites!!!

Reboot 05

Not a lot to say here except that we forgot to add in the grapple-line falling in the last panel. Phinn in the last panel is a great drawing!

Reboot 06

Jetpack gets lit! I did about eleventy-billion versions of the color on the rocket nozzles. The final version is much cleaner and looks great.

The last panel was sketched by Bob on paper, captured on his handy-dandy iPhone camera, and added it to be digitally inked. Nifty!

Here is the shot of the drawing that we added in.

Reboot 07

The first strip that we missed getting posted on Friday. Darn Superbowl…

We were a bit slap-happy to get this one and 8 done as on-time as we could after we missed the strip 7 date.

We generally have versions of more than one strip being worked on simultaneously. While Bob was finishing up strip 7, I was doing some color on the parts of strip 8 that I could.

One of the cars there just looked to me like a Ferengi Marauder. In all fairness, it doesn’t but that “car” was sort of colored like one and was referred to as the “Ferengi” car from then on.

So, that sets us up for Strip 7 stupidness.

So Bob was worried about the last panel. In that panel, Phinn is bathed in light from oncoming headlights from the truck that ends up blowing him up in strip 8. (GOOD RIDDANCE SAYS I! TOO MANY COLORS ON THAT ONE!)

The concern was that it wasn’t obvious. Bob decided to put in the “sound” of a horn honking.

I decided to do it myself first. Take a look at the last panel. I also snuck in a new car design up in the first panel…

Bob then did me one better. Take a look at the first panel in the final version of the strip. A stylized Klingon Bird of Prey. Yeah baby!

Reboot 08

The last chapter, or as I call it, the one where Phinn goes Boom.

If you look under the truck in the first panel, you will see those pesky Ferengi. :)

Also, if you didn’t notice, take a close look at the last building on the right in the panel. Happy egg-hunting!

What… back so soon? Yeah. It’s obvious.

We have done it before and will probably do it again.

We hope that you enjoyed these strips.

Sorry about blowing up Phinn. It had to be done.

Come back soon to find out who we blow up next!