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Terrence Marks

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May 17th, 2010

The Survey

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(I need to figure out how to simulcast these things from the YSiF Blog to here...)

What have I learned?

Firstly, I want to say thank you. You guys rock. I mean that. I know we don't have a lot of interact-with-each-other stuff here, so you might feel like you're the only one reading this. You aren't. You're part of a movement. There's a bunch of other people with you. And they're cool.

I was amazed at how nice everyone was. The comments - I read them all - were all positive. Nobody said that we suck. So this either means that we don't suck, or that people who think we suck were seriously under-represented in the survey. And in my experience on the internet, people who think you suck aren't shy telling you so.

We also didn't get anyone who put "much less" for all the characters. I was expecting that. I was going to post a version of today's comic with just backgrounds, no characters and call it "Hey, Joey - this one's for you" or something like that. Didn't happen.

Secondly, how much are we taking from the survey? Some. It's tough, as a creative type I can't really go with either extreme. We have a vision here and believe in it; I'm not going to just scrap everything and change directions. But I'm also not going to act like I know everything, that there's nothing I can learn here. That's why I did this - because I think I'm doing pretty good, but I want to get better.

I hope I asked the right questions to get the answers I'm looking for. I spent a while thinking about the distinctions between liking characters and wanting to see more of them. I mean, Ms. Taylor isn't a villain, or exactly an antagonist, but she's not always very pleasant. But she's interesting.

Thirdly, what were the results? I've tallied the votes for who you'd like to see more. I've got it in a big spreadsheet that really makes me wish I paid more attention in statistics class.

This isn't American Idol, but if it were, Emily and Bram would've been voted off. Brisbane and Kimberly were the least disliked, and Silver_Blossom and Sandra were the most liked. The two best-received stories were Date-Night In and The Troublesome Troubles of Ms. Taylor.

Singles Cruise was both the #3 favorite and the #1 least favorite. I expected that. When I was writing it, I thought that if we had a forum, it'd cause arguments. No other story got more than a single vote for least-favorite.

(Why wasn't David on there? He hasn't shown up in over four years - if you say you want to see less of him in the comics, what does that even mean?)

Fourthly, most of our readers: seem satisfied with the website*, suggest reading Unlike Minerva**, read both comics***, think Kevin & Kell is the most similar comic, and like the more domestic stories****, use Firefox, and read a lot of webcomics.

So, once more - thank you

*: Which we don't get much feedback on. If it were lousy, who would send me an email just to tell me that?
**: Isabel and I are too close to the source material to have any kind of objective opinion on it. The options were "Yes. One should start with Unlike Minerva and read everything in order.", "Yes. But after you read You Say it First first.", "No, You Say it First stands on its own", "No. Unlike Minerva isn't very good" - I agree with all of them, usually at the same time.
***: I check the stats - there are a lot of people who read Namir Deiter but not You Say it First. One of the reasons for the survey was to figure out what was up with that without having to directly ask. Seriously, what's up with that?
****: Which I jokingly refer to, collectively, as "Brisbane and Kimberly sit around the house, talk about doing something, but don't".

April 19th, 2010

...but is it art?

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So, are video games art?

Roger Ebert (still) says no. But they might be, eventually. But not in any of our lifetimes. Now, this is a medium that has gone from Space Invaders to LittleBigPlanet in 30 years. When I first started playing video games, it would slow down if there were too many items on the screen. I've gone from games where the story only appears on the side of the arcade cabinet to games with real-time cutscenes and fully integrated stories. I don't feel comfortable predicting the future of gaming.

The reaction to this is (still) a mixture of outrage and dismissal. Why? Why does it matter to me whether or not video games are art? Why does it matter to me whether or not Roger Ebert says so?

To deal with those questions in reverse order: Roger Ebert is a very good movie critic. He is insightful, writes very well, and I believe he's right more often than he's wrong. I'm sure we disagree on some things - I say that Up is the best movie ever made. He'd probably go with one of those "safe" picks like 2001 or Citizen Kane.

He knows about art. I'm less certain that he knows about video games; he seems to have played around ten of them. I'm not certain that I could speak definitively about movies after seeing ten, even if they were the ten best movies of all time. A genre either builds on or subverts expectations created by previous works in the genre. I'm also of the opinion that, perhaps, he has played the wrong ten.

On the other hand, this totally reminds me of when I tried to convince my English teacher that Pink Floyd lyrics were too poetry*. I forget how that one ended: either they weren't poetry for reasons I couldn't understand or, less likely, that they were poetry but not relevant to the course curriculum. To me, art has always been something defined by other people. Something that is declared "worthy of attention" for reasons I either don't understand or don't agree with, the implication being that the other things I devote my attention to are less worthy. I suppose I'm overreacting a bit. I work in webcomics, which get even less respect than newspaper comics, which get even less respect than comic books, which don't get much respect at all.

Why does it matter if games are art or not?

Well, there I was thinking that maybe I should stop listening to the hippy-dippy nonsense** I usually listen to and get some real music. I went to the library, took out some John Coltrane albums, and listened.

Three albums later, I realized that I didn't enjoy a minute of it, and couldn't tell brilliant free jazz apart from random noise. I tried. I wanted to wear a beret and tell people that I really dug jazz***. It was art, as defined by the relevant art-defining authorities. It meant absolutely nothing to me.

So I went back home, put on a Monkees album, and never looked back. I'm sure people think that if I listened to the right jazz albums, I'd get it. It's not that I don't care for art. I don't care about art. When I tried to put all the good songs on my playlist, it was impossible. When I tried to put the songs I liked, it was easy.

Now, Ebert cites wikipedia's definition of art. For various reasons****, I do not feel that it is an appropriate resource to define so nebulous. I cite my own work - art is what gets assigned to precocious tenth-graders so they can misunderstand it. By that definition, video games are not art. Tenth graders will find and understand video games without help.

By that definition, pre-calculus is also art. This was not my intention, but is tolerable and does not invalidate the definition. Pythagoras would say that it strengthens it*****.

Also, my uncle John would, when he was teaching Computers, would send students to my website in the hopes that they might learn something from it. Hopefully they did, but I won't speculate as to what. This means that Unlike Minerva is also art. Does that invalidate my definition? Of course not. Or not very much, I hope.

Are videogames art? Is art necessarily great? Ebert says no (because if there the player influences the game, that lessens the statement made by the artist. If the player does not influence the game, it is not a game), and yes, to these questions. I say yes (because subjective interpretation is all we've got; how you perceive any art is influenced by your perspective; games can merely make that explicit.), no (because that would mean that it's my fault for not liking Coltrane [or any other designated artist], rather than me making a valid decision to reject a work whose difficulty exceeds its reward).

Do videogames have to be art? Not to be enjoyable, they don't have to be. I think that Super Smash Bros. Melee is a well-crafted fighting game, but I'm not sure it communicates anything beyond "Damn, this is awesome". But I think some of them - Grim Fandango for instance - definitely are art.

So, where am I going with this? Every time Ebert does this, people list a variety of games that are art - Ico, Planetfall, Mother 3, and a number of other games I haven't played. So I'm going to play them. I'm going to make a list of the games that are, for artistic or other reasons, essential and, for as long as it takes, play through them. Maybe they are art. Maybe they aren't. But

I want you to help me make that list. Not the good games. Not, perhaps, the great games. The masterpieces. Games that it would be an injustice if nobody got to play them again.


*: Phil Ochs lyrics? Totally poetry. If I had "Tape from California", I would've won that argument. Take that, My-tenth-grade-English-teacher-whose-name-I-probably-should-remember.

**: I'm not just saying that Pink Floyd is hippy-dippy nonsense. It's just that that genre was seriously over-represented in my music collection at the time. Still is. But I like it, and I try not to give anyone guff if they like things different.
But seriously, listen to "It Would Be So Nice" and tell me the label doesn't fit.

***: Not all the time. Just once. Maybe for Halloween. But I wanted to be able to talk the talk if someone called me on it. The Soft Machine, Volume 2 is precisely as free as I care for my jazz to be. I can't predict it, but I understand it. It makes sense to me. It is, as they say over at Writing Excuses, "surprising but inevitable"

****: I don't believe the people moderating wikipedia are any more entitled to define art than I am. Possibly less so. Too lazy to provide proper links here. I mean, I have five footnotes.

*****: Yes, here I am putting a reference to Pythagoras and Ancient Greek mathematical mysticism in an essay about rejecting cultural shibboleths. I think even putting the word "shibboleth" in here invalidates my argument a little. I'd say something about being large and containing multitudes, but that'd just ruin it.

January 5th, 2010

(no subject)

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The first two entries mostly concern various changes of mood and acceptance of the past. The third, finally, touches on stuff that actually happened. If you read our comics, you will find this entirely appropriate. Most of our big stories were more internal than external.


So, what happened in comics?

Tipper and Charles finished getting married. Falco, Isaac, Cedric, and Joy's relationships went from less complicated, to more complicated and appear to have stabilized, at least for the moment. Falco and Cedric moved to Durri, then moved in with Taimoor and Dahlia. Joan started going out with Gabby, moved in with Tipper and Charles, and
did some remodeling. Isaac met Joy's family, and spent some time with his niece


You Say it First has added Caleb's manager, Michelle Hickman (note to self: put her last name in the comic some time) and Bram (note to self: give him a last name). Sofia and Patrick broke up. Dan and Lola seem to have hit it off. At least one of the lounge guys is good at something. Brisbane and Kimberly finally redecorated their apartment. And Brisbane and Kimberly have a better understanding of their pasts.


And there have been quite a few Spare Parts comics over at NamirDeiter.net. Todd and Shandra's relationship appears to have made significant progress.


We'll have an offsite backup within a week or two (30 DVDs! And it'd be more if we still had the high-quality files for the first few years of ND and Unlike Minerva).


There were some issues with NamirDeiter.net last night; everybody had to log back in. This was because I set the cookies to expire on January 1, 2010. Back when I designed it, this seemed far enough in the future that I'd never have to worry about it. Or far enough in the future that I'd be able to install a more elegant fix before the deadline hit. My point is that the indefinite future became the definite future.


We've got a lot planned for the next year. Including finally updating the cast page and FAQ in You Say it First, finishing up the FBAORPG arc over at NamirDeiter.net. I've got ideas for two large arcs and one medium one, once the Singles Cruise reaches port. We're going to take vacations; we're still discussing the details, but expect us to take a week off in some form. We're going to look into reprinting our old books, opening the store, and maybe getting some new books made. Then there's the secret plans. And I'm going to play through Super Mario: RPG.


Happy New Year

December 28th, 2009

Our year in review, part 2

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Kevin & Kell is runs in color in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Now, I don't claim any credit for this. That goes to Bill Holbrook, the paper's editors, and an Internet campaign. When you contribute to a comic in some way, seeing it in print is awesome. The Sunday comics look amazing in print, and I'm glad to be a small part of the process. (The dailies look ok; there's always a 1mm offset between where the colors are and where they're supposed to go; it's a limitation of the technology).

Secondly, we started doing promotions this year. Santa Blue giving you stolen library books, letting everyone back in for December, the $4/month subscription we had going for the fourth anniversary of NamirDeiter.net. I enjoyed it. I appreciate the turnout and thank everyone who helps support the comics.

We had gotten away from that kind of thing, I think around when we stopped going to conventions. If you look back at my old news (which you can't, easily, because they're scattered throughout a large number of sites [to do: put all my news-updatey things in one place]), you'll see that we've been to a few cons but didn't have too much fun at most of them. A few years ago, we decided that it wasn't them, it was us. Since then we've been fairly quiet online, putting out the comic and letting it speak for itself. I think we're going to take a more active role in promoting the comic next year.

And to follow up with the last Year in Review post, the count in 2008 was 172 - 153, with Isabel in the lead by about 19 (and I say "about" because there are enough times when one of us contributes strips, punchlines, or ideas to the other's stories that there's a margin of error here). In 2007, it looks like around a 2:1 ratio; I'm not sure about all the arcs (there were a lot of 1-2 week stories that year). I know that Some Day, and The New Guy are mine, and there are a few that neither of us are sure about. I think that we wrote A Good Question together, which is fitting since it's the engagement story. Normally, I'd say that it was because I was working on Spare Parts, except that's not much of an excuse. Firstly, Isabel was working on Namir Deiter, herself. Secondly, she wrote more Spare Parts than I did that year, too. 2006 was 145 of mine to - 123 of hers if I'm counting right (with 9 comics that are 50/50 collaborations). But then, I think she wrote all of Spare Parts that year. And, as always, all of Namir Deiter. And most-all of the bonus content on NamirDeiter.net. Now, this is all just trivia to most of you. I'm not asking anyone to pick out what I wrote or what Isabel wrote. But to me, it's an important reminder that I'm (usually) an equal contributor. I mean, Isabel is one of the hardest working women in webcomics. She's not easy to keep up with.

December 20th, 2009

Our year in review, part 1

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Firstly, we've both been doing the online comic thing for ten years now, both together and separately. Mostly together, and I'm glad for that. I've been thinking a lot lately about how many of the cartoonists I knew back then are still doing it and how many of them aren't. I'm glad we're on the "still doing it" side of the equation.

Secondly, it looks like I'm writing exactly half of You Say it First this year. To date, Isabel wrote 161 comics, and I've got 148. This story will go on for at least two more weeks (we're at about 4 PM on the second day of a three-day cruise), which will put us at 161-162. No, this doesn't mean that I win. Isabel also wrote every single Namir Deiter and a majority of the bonus content at NamirDeiter.net.

(This is a count by story arc; I wrote a few comics in Isabel's stories, and she wrote a few in mine. If we were to go comic-by-comic, I figure it'd mostly balance out)

I'm proud of this - my first guess was that I wrote a third of the comics. I haven't counted up previous years and this may be a high point for me with two big stories, Minervacon/Ten Minutes and Singles Cruise, and I'm proud of both of them. I was hoping that Professor Marvello would have shown up at the convention, but I didn't have any lines for him besides "My oriental magic is powerful,I say! Powerful!".

Thirdly, 2009 saw the rehabilitation of Unlike Minerva and commentary on almost the entire run. Some of it, I genuinely had nothing to say about. I know I'm not the only person who did commentary on their series, and am amazed that others haven't run out of things to say. It was different than I remembered it. Better in certain places than I remembered it, and worse in others. (Or, rather, some of the parts I expected to be horrible were bad-but-fun, some of the parts I had been proud of, I do not regard fondly upon rereading). Anyhow, I like to think that I learned from it, both doing the comic and re-reading it.

November 25th, 2009

Black Tuesday

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I was at Best Buy today (Tuesday) and there were two people camping outside for Black Friday. That's a three-day wait, by my count.
Firstly, I thought what great publicity that was. Even if I had no interest in their Black Friday deals, I'd still give them another look - here's some people who think they're worth sitting in a tent for 72 hours. If I ran a Best Buy, I'd pay people to camp out just to make it look like my deals were that awesome - you know, better than 1% of your entire year.


Secondly, I realized how long it's been since I had three days I could waste like that. (And it is - the 20 minutes of actual shopping they do may be great, but the three days of waiting is wasted). I never camped out in line, and the last time I had that kind of time, I couldn't afford a TV. (Didn't have one for a few years - how do you think I had so much free time?). Now? I've been meaning to update the You Say it First FAQ for months. It says the answer to "Are Kimberly and Brisbane sleeping together?" is "Probably not". They've been married for a year and a half now, and trust me, it would've come up if they weren't. We owe you a con report from two weeks ago. The only reason this is getting written tonight is because it's rather time-sensitive.


I was telling Isabel all this (I talk a lot. If it's good, I write it down.) She reminds me, "You do realize you went to Strategicon about three months ago, right?".

"Well, yeah. Three days of gaming. But I didn't get to play the first day."

"And whose fault is that?"

"Mine. And I could have bought a TV instead, but my point stands".

Anyhow, if they started a game now, I bet they could get to ninth level by the time the sale starts.

August 24th, 2009

D&D4

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So, I picked up D&D 4th edition a week ago. I used to play first edition AD&D, and have followed the second and third editions. What do I think of the new one?

Day 1: Whargbl! They killed Dungeons & Dragons! What happened to lawful neutral? I can't build an int rogue! Two kinds of elves? That's either too many or not enough - maybe both!

Day 2: Wait a minute. They've already ported over bards and gnomes. There's a lot of setting fluff and some of it is quite good. They'll probably bring over everything else that got cut, eventually. Or a third party will make a supplement. I mean, that's what happened with Ravenloft and Planescape in the third edition. Or you could just use the old settings and adjust things yourself. I'm sure that in two more years, they'll have added a dozen types of elves back in, and only a hardcore elf-nerd could actually tell you the difference between High Elves and Grey Elves.

Day 3: I still don't understand warlocks. Are they like sorcerors? Or are wizards like sorcerors now? Spell memorization is gone, right? You can cast magic missle as many times as you want? Is that legal? But it never was that fun being the wizard with one spell who had to stand in the back while the fighters did all the fun stuff. Or, ten levels later, being the fighter who still did 1d8+2 damage while the mages did all the fun stuff.

Day 4: I mean, I never really got gnomes. I mean, as far as race archetypes, I'm totally drawing a blank. I understand dwarves, elves, halflings, goblins, kobolds, and two or three different types of orcs. But gnomes? Ask me to describe gnomes, and all I've got is "short". Not that dragonborn look like a winner at the moment, either.

Day 5: Action points? Neck slot items? Defender and controller character roles? Picking character stats instead of rolling 3d6? Is this D&D or a pen-and-paper version of a MMORPG? It doesn't feel like D&D. But what is the D&D feel? Twenty mildly different types of polearms, monsters attacks that have a 30% chance of killing you (saving throw? not this time. Flat percentage chance for everybody.), and psionics rules that give you a 3% chance of having a massive advantage. I mean, on one level it's the same as replacing "Players have a 40% chance to find the hidden lever" with actual mechanics for spot checks. But seriously, neck slot items? And there are terms they don't define until a hundred pages later. I read about powers doing [W]+3 damage and can't figure out why thieves are hitting things using Wisdom.

Day 6: I still miss lawful neutral. I'm sure modrons will be back, but I want to play a hero who stops the lich-king from destroying the universe because the lich-king hasn't filled out Form 837/b (Removing a Tree from Municipal Property), on the grounds that destroying the universe would remove one or more trees.

Day 7: I realize that all of this, and more, has been discussed by online over the past year or so. If you look at my taste in music, "one year behind the times" is as close as I've gotten in the recent past. I really ought to actually roll up a character - wait, I mean stat out a character using one of the chosen attribute blocks. Yes, I know - the alternative is you end up gaming with the guy who swears he rolled all 18s. I want to like it, but it seems strange. The advantage of waiting a year is that I can see that other folks seem to like it, so it can't be all bad. D&D seems decidedly not-dead at present. When I get time, I'll give it a shot

August 10th, 2009

Discworld

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So, what have I been up to lately, besides not updating the blog? Those of you who follow me on Twitter have seen that I've been listening to music, working overtime, and reading. I've been in a state of "too busy to blog", as opposed to "plenty of time, nothing to write about" - I'm usually in one state or another. In the last few months, I've read about two-thirds of the Discworld books, and I recommend them. After reading them, I tried to find out which of the books people liked most and couldn't (though I get the feeling that I like The Amazing Maurice more than most other people do). So here's my list, from favorite to least favorite:

  • Mort

  • Night Watch

  • The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

  • Guards! Guards!

  • Men at Arms

  • Interesting Times

  • Wyrd Sisters

  • Going Postal

  • The Truth

  • Pyramids

  • Hogfather

  • Lords and Ladies

  • Carpe Jugulum

  • Jingo

  • Monstrous Regiment

  • Reaper Man

  • Making Money

  • Feet of Clay

  • The Fifth Elephant

  • Thief of Time

  • Thud!

  • Maskerade

  • The Last Continent

  • Faust Eric
  • What say you?

July 23rd, 2009

(no subject)

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I just found out that The Chocolate Watch Band's "In the Past" is a We The People cover. I assumed it was the other way around, kind of like how I had to double-check that "The Girl in the Park" was by (the British) Nirvana and not The (British) Smoke.

I really like it when a moderately unknown band covers another moderately unknown band. I hadn't thought about it much before. I don't really like it when small bands cover popular songs. I've had enough covers of Hey Joe, Baby Blue, and Gloria to last me for a long, long time.

May 31st, 2009

(no subject)

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Isabel and I are back playing Maple Story after taking a year or so off. One of the things they've added is the Maple Trading Service (MTS), where you can buy and sell in-game items for cash money. I'm still trying to decide if this is a good thing or not.

That's bad. I'm the target audience for that kind of thing. I have a job, which means I can spare five dollars more easily than I can spare five hours. The game's demographics skew young, and I don't imagine people like me are in the majority.

Why do I like it? The MTS is searchable. The in-game markets are not*. Since they take a 10% cut of anything sold in MTS, that's not surprising. Since the in-game markets aren't searchable, they tend towards higher-value items - it's not worth your time to try to find anything else. There's a lot of stuff in the MTS that wouldn't be worth buying or selling otherwise. It used to be that if I really needed an item, I'd have to spend half an hour combing the markets for it, and the moderately common items wouldn't be worth anybody's trouble to sell. Now, if I'm catching up on old quests I can just go in and buy them for a quarter or so.

The problem is that there is now an exchange rate between cash and game currency ($1 gets you between 3,000,000 and 5,000,000). That really rare item I found and sold for 2 million? Used to be totally awesome. Now it's about 50 cents worth, which isn't nearly as exciting.

This also means there are two prices for everything. It's a moderately inefficient market, and it's very tempting to spend a few hours coming up with price lists to try and make money via arbitrage (buying items cash-cheap items, selling them for game money, which I use to buy cash-expensive items, to sell for cash). The problem is that, again, I'd probably be making well under minimum wage. I don't really need another job, especially at that price.

So, will I use it? Yeah. I admit I bought some very nice equipment for our characters; most of it is going to be a part of our end-game gear, and worth a few dollars. It's too useful to ignore. But I don't like it.

*: Or, rather, it you can buy the search-the-market items for about 70 cents per search. The cheap stuff goes for 21 cents in MTS, so you can see how that goes.
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