In 2011, with the help of a handful of friends, I produced, shot and edited the pilot episode for PortsCenter. The process from early idea to finished edit was surprisingly short, sparked from a conversation I had with Kyle LaCroix about the PSone port of id Software’s Doom. I wrote the first episode over a couple of days, purchased two grey PlayStation consoles and two copies of the game (with kind help from Teri Fisher and David Lewis, who chipped in funds for the pilot at a time when money was thin on the ground for me), and roped in a bunch of friends to help me shoot the episode and capture the game footage.
Two years later, I’m in the final stretch of the first season. 2013 has seen PortsCenter join Retroware TV as a featured show and signed with Screenwave Media, a YouTube network that has been incredibly kind and supportive of the show. But most importantly, we’ve nearly completed our first full year of production on the series, with twenty completed episodes and a further four left to produce before the new year.
Over the last year I’ve learned a lot, a lot, about producing content for the internet. I’ve learned a lot about what I need to do to make PortsCenter work. I’ve no idea how much of what I’ve learned is going to be applicable to others, but what the Hell, I’m going to write it down anyway.
#1: Keep your mouth shut.
It’s a fool who tells the world what he’s going to do before he’s actually done any of the doing of it. Don’t tell the world you’re going to climb Everest before you’ve bought your gear. Or before you know how to climb a mountain, for that matter. Do your research. Study. Figure out what you need to do in order to do the thing you want to do. Then, once you’ve done that, keep your fucking mouth shut until you have something to show the world. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
I’ve made this mistake often over the last fifteen years as I’ve hopped aimlessly from one pipe-dream creative endeavor to another. I still made that mistake with PortsCenter, by posting the complete list of games I intended to look at for the first season. You’ll notice games on that list that I sadly didn’t get to this season - Perfect Dark, Street Fighter II, Gears of War: The Board Game. The Gears episode is my biggest disappointment, because I’d announced plans to look at it before I’d figured out the logistics of filming four people playing a board game.
For season 2, I’ll be keeping my planned titles close to the chest. No list, no episode list complete with intended release date that I have to keep editing to shift stuff around. Just the show, and the episodes I release.
#2: Tell the world.
You may think this contradicts my previous point, but it doesn’t. You’ve got to plug. You’ve got to be on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, everywhere talking about the video you’re filming, the song you’re recording, the comic you’re drawing. Then you’ve got to do it again when it’s released. Then you’ve got to do it again so you catch the people who didn’t catch it the first time ’round. Then you’ve got to do it a third time. Then you have to do it all over again when you’re getting ready to release your next video, or song, or comic, or whatever. If you don’t tell people what you’ve released, how is anybody going to find it?
The trick is not to be obnoxious with it. I try very hard not to drown people with “WATCH PORTSCENTER!” messages on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook every five bloody minutes. I use a rule of three – the day the video drops, the night the video drops, and then later in the week as I’m working on the following episode. This may seem excessive, but remember for every person who saw your first post, there’s probably someone who missed it who’ll catch it in one of the later posts. This is the internet. It’s global, and not everybody is going to be online or even awake at the time you make your initial post.
Occasionally I’ll post something from an episode currently in-production – a photo of my monitor showing part of a script, or a voiceover outtake. Something fun, so it’s not all promotional. I mean yes, ultimately this sort of stuff is promotional, but it’s fun too. There’s a world of difference between a tweet that says “Episode 21 drops tomorrow!” and another that says “Wow, Ben can’t even get his lines out of his mouth without accidentally beatboxing.” Again, the key difference here is that I’m not stating an intent to do a thing. I’m showing you the doing of it.
#3: Give a shit.
If you’re talking about a topic, be it for a podcast or a video series, or just for your Tumblr blog, make sure it’s something you genuinely care about. I’ve seen people, occasionally friends, make videos solely to attract an audience, often about a topic they have no genuine heartfelt interest in. It shows in the work, and people will see through it, whether you’re making a simple YouTube video, or a blockbuster movie.
On the flipside of this: If you have a genuine, heartfelt love of the project you’re working on, don’t phone it in. A “That’ll do” attitude isn’t going to result in a fun game, or a decent video, or a song worth listening to. It’ll be crap, nobody will give it the time of day, and you’ll wonder why you bothered.
The point is, a labor of love has got to be exactly that. It’s got to be hard work, and it’s got to be something you care about. Forget just one of these ingredients, and it’ll just be a thing you did.
This may sound silly, but I care deeply about video game ports. I’m fascinated by them. Almost obsessed. The version of myself I portray on the show is a little more aggressive about his fascination with ports than I am in real life, but the passion is still there. Ultimately, without that passion, PortsCenter wouldn’t be what it is. If I were just making this show because there aren’t other shows about game conversions on YouTube, it’d feel hollow. I think that’s an important distinction to make.
#4: Push your limits, but know your limitations.
Plan to make stuff outside of your comfort zone, outside of your knowledge level, because in doing so you’ll learn new tricks and techniques which will make your work better. You may fail, but you’ll still learn something and you can use that knowledge in the future. Or, as Thomas Edison allegedly put it, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
That being said, keep in mind your resources, talent pool and technical ability. It’s one thing to write:
A giant robotic spider lurches over the city, firing lasers from its eyes and swatting down aircraft like flies.
It’s another thing entirely to actually film it. If you know you can, do it. If you think you can, go for it anyway. If you know you can’t, or think you won’t be able to, scale it down to something more manageable and realistic. Remember to push yourself, but don’t overdo it and don’t try to run before you can walk.
That, ultimately, is what bit me in the arse with the Gears of War: The Board Game episode. I have no bloody clue how to film it. I still don’t. I want to include the episode in the second season, and I’m working on how to make it happen, but it’s nowhere near as simple as pointing a camera at my couch and making jokes about it. Mind you, two of my webseries projects for next year are going to be… well, not exactly simple. Yikes.
#5: Make the sort of content you want to see.
This is an extension of sorts of Point #3. If you want to see a webcomic about a sentient cheeseburger trying to make it in a world populated by anthropomorphic geometrical shapes, start drawing it. If you want to watch a webseries about a guy with rabbit ears applying for a business loan, get writing. Write, draw, film and record the sort of stuff you wish existed, because either you’ll spend the rest of your life waiting, or someone else will beat you to the punch and you’ll regret not acting sooner.
PortsCenter exists because nobody else was making a show about video game ports, nobody else was making a video game show with this kind of sense of humor, and the one person I secretly hoped would make one, Charlie Brooker, seemingly had no plans plans on following up his single Gameswipe special, although in a few days his next gaming project, “How Video Games Changed the World”, airs on Channel Four in the UK.
So that’s it. That’s what I’ve learned. Except that I’m lying, of course – I already knew all of this. The trick is remembering it, and acting upon it. Here’s hoping that next year, be it PortsCenter, Dalek Gary or the other projects I have in the works, I’m able to keep a firm grip on these words.
Webcomics are important. Or at least, they are to me – not just as a source of entertainment but culturally. For the last two decades cartoonists have been able to cut out syndicates and publishers entirely and get their comics out directly to readers, and that is phenomenally important. It means comics are not longer constrained by external editorial forces demanding that they keep their comic simple and homogenized. Dumbing of Age probably wouldn’t run in a newspaper. Girls with Slingshots definitely wouldn’t.
Unfortunately I’m noticing a growing trend with webcomics of keeping the comic strip out of their RSS feed, replacing it with a tiny, unreadable thumbnail or, in some cases, a simple link.
If your webcomic’s RSS feed does this, I’m probably not reading your webcomic anymore.
My morning ritual is simple. I wake up, get out of bed,
drag a comb across my head and jump onto my RSS reader to check the sites I follow. It’s nice, simple and convenient – I can read blog posts, news articles and, yes, webcomics without having to have a hundred different tabs open, without having to browse over to each site individually. My RSS reader allows me to quickly digest the online content I want to digest. It’s brilliant, and I’m able to read more blogs, get caught up with more news and read far more webcomics now than I could a decade ago.
But now that some cartoonists are opting not to include their strip in the feed, I’m simply not reading the comic anymore. It’s easier for me to hit K on my keyboard and skip to the next one than it is to open a tab and check out the comic. I’m not unsubscribed from the feed, so I find myself skipping past a bunch of comics that even as recently as a few short months ago I was reading voraciously, but I am reminded that, yeah, I don’t read that much anymore.
I don’t begrudge the decision to omit their comics from their RSS feeds. Ultimately they need to get eyeballs on their website so people can see and possibly even click on the ads they’re running, and this won’t adversely impact a comic with a large fanbase like PvP and Least I Could Do because there are enough readers who will click through and read on the website. And yeah, I’ll admit that there are a small handful webcomics that I will click through to read – Penny Arcade, Wasted Talent, and the aforementioned Girls with Slingshots are the ones that come to mind.
But when your time is limited, when your morning routine is locked to this narrow band of time like mine, eventually you’re just going to stop reading these webcomics because you’re not going to click those links. There is a very small list of people who will click the link to every comic they follow on their RSS reader. Most will be forced to pick and choose what they read. That’s when webcomicry becomes a competition, and it really shouldn’t be.
One of the last things you want is for someone to stop reading your comic, because that’s one less person who could be buying merchandise, going to book signings, and sharing your work with their friends. But worse than that is having someone stop reading your comic, and realizing they don’t miss it.
Because if they don’t miss it, they’re never coming back.
Last week I tweeted about a song that had been stuck in my head that I discovered was, in fact, this piece of music from Ocean Software’s Jurassic Park game for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy:
LaserFrog tweeted back at me that actually the piece of music was lifted from a Konami game called Comic Bakery for the Commodore 64. BEHOLD:
The answer, as it turns out, is on the Amiga. See, we didn’t buy most of the games we had when I was a kid. We copied friend’s games, and we had an extensive library of pirated titles. Most of these titles’d had their copy protection circumvented (or cracked, for some reason) by cracking groups like Fairlight, Paradox and Skid Row, and they’d often slap a fancy intro onto the disk which would appear before the game itself loaded. I got very used to seeing these intros as a kid, and some of them featured some very snazzy animation and catchy music.
It turns out that much of the music was catchy for a reason – it had been lifted wholesale from other games. Check out this crack intro for Crystal’s release of the Team17 platformer Superfrog:
I don’t remember ever watching that intro all the way through, but I must have done because that tune was lodged in my head for a long time, resurfacing earlier this year. Then there’s the weird chain that led to my discovering where this piece came from – hearing it in Jurassic Park, learning it originated in Comic Bakery, then realizing I’d heard it in Superfrog, where you’d not hear it at all if you owned a legit copy of the game (as I now do, of course).
That absolutely fascinates me. This goes beyond my love of video game ports – I wonder if there is other brilliant video game music I’ve heard in cracking intros like this?
In the highly unlikely event that you subscribe to this blog but not, say, my Twitter feed, Tumblr page or Facebook Page, I should point out: PortsCenter launched five weeks ago, and has been doing rather well. Two episodes have been featured on the front page of Screw Attack, and the show has received positive write-ups from Nukezilla and VelocityGamer.
I haven’t been posting the show here on the blog because it’s so much easier to disseminate stuff on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter et al. but in case you wanted to see the five episodes we’ve produced so far here’s a handy-dandy playlist. It’ll auto-update with new episodes too, so that’s nice.
If you’re in the LA area for the Doctor Who convention Gallifrey One, I’ll be there all weekend dressed (hopefully) as the Eleventh Doctor. Hooray! I’m also participating on a panel called “The Next Doctor”. From the Gallifrey One website:
We all know it’s coming… some day, whether next year or a few down the road, Matt Smith is going to leave the show. So, who would be the best actor to take his place? Should it be another youngster, or is an older actor worth looking at? What sorts of companions would be a bonus for these actors? And, let’s just face the question: should it, in fact, be a woman? What does the future of Doctor Who really hold?
This panel takes place in the Program D room on Sunday from 11:30am-12:30pm, and it should be a blast. See you there!
Oh, and this weekend we’re shooting a top secret Dalek Gary project. Don’t tell anybody!
I’ll be hosting a comedy panel at Subject 5 Con happening in Hollywood on Saturday, February 9th.I can’t announce who else will be on the panel, mostly because I don’t actually know, but it’s a comedy panel. Comedy. It’s going to be funny. You should be there.
Subject 5 Con is part anime/horror/scifi/animation/anime/entertainment convention, part launch part for the webseries Subject 5. The event will also feature an anime panel and at least two horror panels. They’ll also be raising funds for charity, I’m told. Which is nice.
Other attendees include voice actors Richard Epcar (Legend of Korra, Ghost in the Shell, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe), Dino Andrade (Hellsing Ultimate, Batman: Arkham Asylum, World of Warcraft), and JB Blanc (Beware the Batman, Bleach, Marvel Anime).
Admission to Subject 5 Con is only $10 online, or $15 at the door. Head over to the Subject 5 website for more details and to purchase a ticket.
So! So. Lots to do in 2013. Launch PortsCenter. Write and film Dalek Gary. Commence work on at least two other webseries, and polish off a sitcom idea I’ve been sitting on since 2007. That’s not to mention the project I’m pitching to a production company this month – which reminds me, I need to actually start putting together my pitch. Wow. This year is looking pretty busy.
I want to get out of some bad habits, which means I need to let go of some things. This includes webcomics. I’ve been webcomicing since 2003. My first webcomic, Fried, ran for three years and updated sporadically – even moreso once I realized I actually hated drawing. The second webcomic, Jump Leads, has come to an unceremonious end in part due to troubled art schedules, and Deadlong is on hiatus for similar reasons (though we’re filling the hiatus hole with some new material starting later this month). Other attempts to start webcomics, including a project with my friend Ray, have not been particularly successful.
It’s taken me a while, but I’ve realized webcomics isn’t where I want to be and it’s not what I want to do. Not to say I don’t enjoy webcomics, but I’ve been focusing my energy in the wrong place, and it’s time to reassess. Once Deadlong is finished, I’m done. Out of the game. Deadlong will be my webcomic swansong.
I think, truthfully, that I’d prefer to pour my energy into video content, and I want 2013 to be the start of that. I plan on trying to produce original video content throughout the year, starting with PortsCenter , then moving on to other projects. I’m developing a webseries with Mac Beauvais that should be a lot of fun, and I’ll be working with Michelle Osorio on new projects for Kill9 including Dalek Gary and at least one other thing that’s still sort-of in the woiks.
Another thing I want to do that’s important to me is to the stand-up into a proper paying gig. I need to do that, which means I need to get serious about it. I need to hone my craft, I need to get better at working off-book, and I need to actually book some actual gigs. In addition to this, I want to develop an hour of material over the course of the year which I’d like to debut at GMX Vol. 5, assuming they want me back.
Time to stop being passive. Time to stop expecting the new year to be a better one, and time to start making it so. Here’s to making things, and here’s to you. Happy New Year.
In compliance with the Internet Narcissism Act of 2004, I’ve created a Facebook Page where I’ll be posting updates about my writing projects and stand-up. It’s a little bare-bones right now, but it’s early days yet. Give me time, stop pestering me! God, you’re so impatient!
Wreck-It Ralph opened last month, and I may well have become obsessed with it. I’ve seen it three times now – twice in 2D, once it 3D. I’d love to see it a fourth time at the El Capitan before it vanishes. It came at a pivotal time in my life – in September I had what I can only describe as a small breakdown, in October I lost my job, and in November my girlfriend and I parted ways. My life is in a state of upheaval right now.
At a time in my life when I’m questioning every action I’ve taken, every decision I’ve made, that has led me to this point, and when I find myself wanting more out of life, Wreck-It Ralph speaks to me.
About two weeks ago I was with some friends discussing what a possible sequel to Wreck-It Ralph might be about. Director Rich Moore has all but confirmed that they’re doing one, and he’s suggested he’d want the follow-up to explore console gaming and online gaming. That got me thinking: How exactly would they do that?
As I was talking, the story I’d write for a Wreck-It Ralph follow-up basically fell out of my mouth. It was, I thought, basically perfect, though not strictly speaking accessible. Literally no one at Disney would want to make my idea. Nevertheless, I’m going to share it with you now. Mild spoilers for Wreck-It Ralph follow. (more…)