Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Midnight Gamer, by Richard Dunn, is a machinima comic that utilizes Sims 2 as its “art,” so to speak. The jokes, although solid in terms of set-up and punchlines, are altogether bland and predictable, the sort of faire average comics churn out their first years. However, the two most noteworthy features of the comic is that it uses Sims 2, and that nearly each comic comes with a half newspost, half commentary blurb.

Using a game’s graphics as the “art” of a comic is only as effective as the person pulling the strings. For every Concerned, there’s a “Half-Life: The Lost Host.” It all depends on how well the author can manipulate the game to execute the writing, and likewise have the common sense to not write past the game’s technical abilities, which is where “Midnight Gamer” has most of its issues.

In particular, panel 3 of this strip is where Machinimation (for Sims 2 in particular, anyway) reveals its shortcomings. In Panel 3, the character is expressing incredible disdain for reading spoilers to a movie. However, the character making the exclamation simply sits placidly with his hands at his sides, with no visible emotion whatsoever. Because there’s such a schism between the two, whatever humorous effect the creator was going for is lost.

Likewise for this comic. Characters are playing cards at the table, but Sims 2 apparently doesn’t have the capability for that. Instead, the author copies and pastes flat images directly onto the comic, either because he doesn’t know how to skew or doesn’t recognize the difference.

As you can see, there’s no sense of perspective. Cards would be flat against the table, not standing upwards at an angle that perfectly faces the camera at all times. I mean, it’s Sims 2, not Doom.

Technical troubles aside, more particularly bothersome are the newsposts (which are more commentary than anything else) that accompany each comic. Commentary’s a hard thing to do: talk too little, and you might as well say nothing at all. Say too much and you either end up explaining (in as many words as possible) a self-explanatory joke, or come off as a self-congratulatory prick. It’s a fine line, really. I’ve only seen a few comics add commentary to their comic, and even fewer do it well.

But, "Midnight Gamer" chooses to, and it falls in the camp of giving background info for self-explanatory jokes. Here’s a snippet of the commentary for this comic (at the bottom of the page), for example:

“I do really enjoy comic books, and yes, I DO know the difference between Marvel and DC.”

This is a trap that beginning webcartoonists fall into. In naming the main characters after themselves and their friends, authors are restrained by how they portray both themselves and their friends in the comic; with a real-life person to base the character off of, they sometimes feel the need to explain away any discrepancies. To relate all that back to the original commentary snippet, yes, we know. We’re sure that you, Richard Dunn, are well aware of the differences between the two comic book companies. Why, that’s such a laughable mistake it sounds like the action of a character… in… a comic strip.

Comics starting off with main characters named for themselves and their friends have a particularly difficult time finding their voice, especially when they try to treat the characters as themselves instead seeing them as actual “characters.” Having the commentary available really lets you see into this kind of mindset because every time you read a joke that’s fairly humorous, you have to read a disclaimer like this:

“This comic came from a conversation with a friend. However, it is not the same conversation, as I’ve changed some of the dialogue to make for a heightened comedic effect.

I hope you will forgive me.”

Other strips’ commentary adds insight to the author’s view of his own comic:

“I haven't actually gotten very many comments, or indeed, any comments, about the strip's lack of focus on gaming, but it's been on my mind.”

… proooobably because you don't have many readers, if any at all. At least, certainly not a large enough number to include the small majority that would contact the author to begin with. That’s a big problem with commentary that addresses a non-existent audience. You make predictions and assertations based on what you imagine your audience will say, but when and if they ever do show up and don’t behave the way you think they will, you’ll probably come off as presumptuous (go figure).

More than that, reading the commentary gives you an idea of the kind of kick using Sims 2 gives for non-artists:

“I am proud of many of the things I have done as the creator of Midnight Gamer, but I do not think anything can surpass Darth Jimmy.”

I think we’ve all played the Sims at this point, haven’t we? You know, where character creation is as simple as choosing a head and a body? I find it rather pompous of Dunn to be so taken by the pairing of the character “Jimmy’s” head to the Darth Vader body. They’re just skins. All you did was put a Sim together, parade it around, and take pictures.

“Midnight Gamer” isn’t immune from its own share of smaller technical difficulties as well. Dunn doesn’t quite have the hang of bubbles, for one. In these three comics (the first panel in middle and the second panel in the latter), the incorrect positioning of the bubbles causes the audience to read the bubbles in the incorrect order.

Typically, in a western culture, people read from the left to the right. Here’s a nifty guide on how to place bubbles in such a situation:

Regardless of which character says it, you’re going to read bubbles “1”, then “2.”

Then, there's logistical errors. This strip is first in the archive, and this is second. However, the first strip is based off a situation that the second explains. Switching their places in the archive would clear up this trouble.

After that, is there a particular reason why the “i” after the “D” is capitalized as well? It seems more likely Dunn can't spot that he held the "shift" key a bit longer than he intended, as the same capitilization trouble appears where he "signs" his name in nearly half the archived comics.

And finally, while this isn't a techincal difficulty, I find it rather odd for "Midnight Gamer" to have a Fan Art section in which the only art is contributed by the creator of the strip. Is he that big of a fan of his own creation? Well, good for him I say.


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