Global Game Industry News Blog

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Getting Sappy about Penny Arcade

I can't really help myself. I get sappy when I think about Penny Arcade (PA). If I'm a "fan" of anyone in the video game industry (and it's really hard to think about them as "in it," because in many ways they're are both at the margins and in the center at the same time.), I'm a fan of these guys.

I guess it goes back to my undergrad years. These guys started PA when I was an undergrad sort of in the video game industry sort of not. I was coding a lot and playing a lot of games. I was still living in the dorms, the CS computer lab had just gotten a super sweet color laser printer. I managed to print too many of these comics, which I periodically pasted on the door to my room.

While I was at JPL they were a staple of my coding diet. When I was working for 3D Pipeline it was like water. When I was doing tools development it was like air. It just makes me happy to see that they've done so well for themselves, bootstrapping PA from what it was to what it is now. Time and again they continue to tell it like it is.

I was sad that their ire managed to fall recently on some developers which I'd spent nearly three years with, but I also understand what they were saying.

Anyway, the following interview on The Onion's AV club is fun. It is interesting to see them making the transition more to the development side. I'm sure it will totally change their perspective on games.

The Onion / AV Club - Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik
AVC: At the same time, do you ever think, "Maybe we should be a little clearer about this," or "Maybe we should make it easier to understand this reference?"

JH: It's rare that we ever do that. I mean, there are a lot of jokes we do where we'll look at each other and say, "Is this a little too obscure? I mean, are people really aware of this game, or this particular game issue, this news clip?" And it comes down to, if the joke is funny, if we laugh at it, we just roll with it, and sort of trust that our readers will do their homework to find out why it's funny. Or we [explain it] in a news post, or something like that. It might sound silly, but we really focus on making the joke first, and then we don't really worry about, "Well, how is this going to come across?" If we laugh, then—that's so hard to do. It's rare we ever turn down a comic, man. If we've got something that makes us laugh, we just have to go with it.

AVC: And it is nice to have the news post to refer back to.

JH: The news posts are good because game news, like the gamer consciousness, is constantly in flux. And the news is worthless even two or three days beyond its shelf date. We started doing the posts sort of on accident, like we had to fill some space on the site, but now, it's absolutely critical if you're going back through the archives.
AVC: Would you like to do more things with the Web or the technology it offers?

MK: I think it goes back to what Jerry said. We're not really very ambitious.

JH: Which is true.

MK: We want to enjoy ourselves.

JH: Yeah. We're not trying to revolutionize or change anything. So we never really think about that.
AVC: What are your roles on the development team?

MK: Jerry is writing everything, the whole game. I designed all the characters, and the enemies, and the environments—pretty much everything you see, I drew at some point. And we know Penny Arcade better than anybody, so we're involved daily with the developers talking about the game and how it should play, and that sort of thing.

But we really are trying to leave the actual gameplay up to them. They're the experts in that field. We can make it look like Penny Arcade, and we're trusting them to make it fun to play.

AVC: As you work on this, are you finding it's harder than you expected?

MK: The amount of work and planning is really overwhelming. We're used to conceptualizing a project, completing the writing, and then finalizing the comic in the space of four or five hours, total. And we've been writing and drawing for this game for how long?

JH: Months! I mean, from the very first storyboards and stuff, probably a year. [Long sigh.] It's been a learning experience to actually see how a game like that comes together. I mean, it really is sort of like a trip through the sausage factory. We were not prepared, I don't think, for the process.

AVC: So are you more sympathetic to developers now?

MK: Absolutely.

JH: Well, I think… Well…

MK: I am.

AVC: The gaming community doesn't have many spokesmen, and since you're essentially writing an editorial cartoon—and getting into fights with Jack Thompson—you seem to be filling that job. Are you comfortable in that role?

JH: I'm comfortable speaking. The gaming community is too vast to have a spokesperson. I definitely think that the things I say represent a viewpoint that exists in the gaming community. But the gaming community isn't monolithic, in that way. I don't think it can have one spokesperson.

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