Jokes, The Public Domain And Storytelling

Have you heard about the constipated mathematician?

Have you heard about the constipated mathematician?

[Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, but I know a few lawyer jokes].

Although this is another one of those subjects which other people have almost certainly already written whole dissertations about, I thought that I’d share my views on it. I am, of course, talking about what jokes can tell us about storytelling.

I started thinking about this after I read an absolutely hilarious joke on the internet about an old man waiting outside the gates of heaven (it’s at least slightly irreverent, and possibly even vaguely blasphemous, so I won’t repeat it here).

Anyway, I later ended up telling the joke to someone else and, whilst I was telling it, I noticed that I was embellishing parts of it and describing things differently. This is, of course, nothing special – it’s how people tell jokes. After all, delivery is everything.

But it made me think about jokes in general. After all, I had essentially created a new version of this joke. A new retelling which was slightly different from the one that I’d read. Again, this is nothing special. It’s part of what jokes are. Every time they’re told, someone adds something different to them or changes something slightly.

Apart from a few jokes which have been told by stand-up comedians, no-one really knows who wrote most of the jokes which exist today. In other words, most jokes don’t really “belong” to anyone. And, most interestingly, there isn’t really a “definitive” or “authentic” version of any particular joke – there are just lots of slightly different versions.

Anyway, since most longer jokes are basically very short stories, this can teach us something about storytelling.

Like with old folk stories (where, again, there are lots of slightly different versions and retellings), most jokes are essentially part of the public domain. As I said earlier, they don’t usually “belong” to anyone (unless, sometimes, if people write them down).

As such, they get passed around verbally and everyone creates their own slightly different version of the joke when they’re telling it. Instead of reciting them from a book, people usually tell their favourite jokes in their own words and in a way that they feel will be the most amusing and dramatic.

Back in the old days, the same used to be true for stories as well – then the printing press was invented and copyright laws were passed. Now, even with old stories that have gone out of copyright, there’s usually only one “definitive” version of a story. And, with newer stories, no-one else is allowed to re-tell them. In essence, stories went from being part of the collective imagination to being private property.

Although this isn’t really an article about the many faults of modern copyright law (does anyone really need to keep their copyrights until seventy years after they have died?), centuries of ever-expanding copyright laws have changed how we see and understand stories.

After all, these days, a story is something which is told in one way by one person. We say that a story “belongs” to a particular writer rather than just seeing the story as a “thing” in and of itself. Again, there have probably been whole books written about this subject and I’m probably not exactly saying anything groundbreaking here.

Jokes, on the other hand, give us a brief glimpse into how storytelling used to be. The only things that really matter when people tell jokes are that the main events of the joke have to be the same as other versions of the joke (or have to be replaced by something even funnier) and, most importantly, whether the joke is told well or not. Even the most cheesy one-liner can still be funny if it’s told in the right way by someone who knows how to tell jokes properly.

The same is probably true with stories. Because, these days, only one person is allowed to tell a particular story – there isn’t any room for embellishments and dramatic re-tellings by ordinary people.

Yes, a story might get turned into a movie and a lot might be changed but, even then, people will usually compare it to the original. Not only that, only film studios with a huge amount of money and resources can really adapt a lot of stories and, even then, they usually have to pay quite a bit for the rights to do so.

If you’d gone back four hundred years and told Shakespeare that he couldn’t put on any of his plays unless he paid large amounts of money to whoever came up with the original stories which he based his plays on, you would probably be laughed out of the ale-house.

Now, most of Shakespeare’s plays weren’t his original ideas, but he’s still famous over four thousand years later purely for the way that he re-told those stories and made them his own. For his version of someone else’s story.

What I’m trying to say is that, when it comes to stories – how you tell them matters as much as what the actual story is. So, if you’ve come up with a good idea for a story, then make sure that you tell it in a way which does it justice.

Because, even the most hilarious joke in the world [insert Monty Python reference here] can still be dreary and boring if it’s told with terrible timing and very little emotion.

And, whilst I’m kind of sad that there won’t be numerous re-tellings and different versions of all my favourite stories (and I can’t make any of my own), it’s a fact of life these days that only one person can tell a particular story. So, if that story happens to be your story, make sure that you tell it as well as you can. Because no-one else will.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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“Damania Lite – Cancelled” (comic)

"Damania Lite - Cancelled" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Lite – Cancelled” By C. A. Brown

Well, all good things have to come to an end and I’m sorry to say that this is the last comic in my “Damania Lite” series (don’t worry, “Damania” will probably return in some form or other at some time or other in the future – it always does).

I’m kind of annoyed that I had to finish this series before it even got started, but working on four daily things turned out to be more time-consuming and stressful than I thought it would be. And, most of all, I found myself focusing more on the other daily posts than on this one, so I reluctantly decided to finish the series here.

I’m really sorry about this but, as I said earlier, “Damania” will probably return sometime or other (it’s one of those comics that I only seem to work on for a while and then pick up again a few weeks or months later)

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If you’re interested, more “Damania Lite” comics can be found here. But, if you want to read the original comics (which have more panels and slightly better art), then they can also be found here.

Today’s Art (28th December 2013)

Well, both of today’s drawings ended up being concept art for an unfinished comic I tried to make a little under a week ago. I’ll post the rest of the concept art tomorrow and then the comic pages that I actually made on the 30th and the 31st.

As usual, these two drawings are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

" Comic Concept Art - Cartridge" By C. A. Brown

“Comic Concept Art – Cartridge” By C. A. Brown

"Comic Concept Art - Encroachment" By C. A. Brown

“Comic Concept Art – Encroachment” By C. A. Brown

Nostalgia Review: “Gadget: Lost In Time [PC Version]”

2013 Artwork Gadget Lost In Time Review Sketch

First of all, I’d like to say thanks to my Dad for finding my old copy of this game 🙂 As I mentioned recently, I’ve been looking for this old game for a while and, now I’ve had a chance to re-play some of it, I thought that I’d review it.

Since there seems to be very little about this classic game on the internet, this article will probably be more of a historical essay than a conventional review. I don’t think that there are many second-hand copies of this game floating around (there seem to be a few copies of the Amiga version of it on the UK eBay site at the time of writing this review) and I don’t know if it was ever released outside of the UK, so it’s probably fairly rare and extremely obscure these days.

I should also point out that, although I completed or almost completed this game when I was a kid, I got stuck on level six (out of ten or eleven) when I re-played it for this review. So I only took the screenshots in this review from the first six levels.

A more comprehensive gallery of screenshots of the Amiga version, covering all of the levels, can be found on this website. The only difference between that version and the PC version seems to be that the level titles have animated backgrounds in the Amiga version. The website also contains level passwords too, although I kind of wanted to play the game through without cheating, so I didn’t use these.

Anyway, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “Gadget: Lost In Time”

Mad Gadget Titlescreen

Mad Gadget options screen

This PC/Amiga game from 1993 is based on Chris Winn’s “Mad Gadget” cartoons – these were a series of cartoons about a boy called “Mad Gadget” who invented ridiculously convoluted and bizarre gadgets.

Each cartoon would show a picture of Mad Gadget using whichever gadget he’d made, with lots of interesting details and coded messages hidden in the picture. These were published in a supplement which came with the Daily Telegraph and they were also collected into a (probably out of print by now) book too.

Anyway, “Gadget: Lost In Time” is a strange fusion between a 2D platform game and a quiz game. You play as Mad Gadget who, after inventing a time machine, finds himself stranded several million years into the past and must find a way back home.

Each level takes place in a different period in history and you have to find and correctly answer five trivia questions (about the time period you’re visiting) in order to unlock a crystal which can then be used to power your time machine and take you to the next level.

One of the trivia questions from level one. The answer is "B" by the way...

One of the trivia questions from level one. The answer is “B” by the way…

The crystal you find at the end of each level.

The crystal you find at the end of each level.

In order to find each question, you have to find one of five bouncing objects and then press “down” in front of it.

Each of these objects resemble something from the time period in question – for example, they are dinosaur eggs in the first level, they are the ark of the covenant in the second level, they are ancient Greek scrolls in the third level etc….

Or a bouncing shield in the "viking invasion" level.

Or a bouncing shield in the “viking invasion” level.

You can only find these objects in a particular order and, if you get a question wrong, then you will have to answer it again when you find the next object. You will then have to answer the final question in the location where you answered the first question and so on.

Basically, one of the most important things you must do in each level is to memorise the locations for each of the five questions, in case you get any of them wrong and have to answer more questions.

Once you’ve found the crystal, you must carry it back to your time machine in order to complete the level. Not only that, some levels also have level bosses that must be defeated before you can get the crystal.

Spyro the dragon was no match for my fire extinguisher...

Spyro the dragon was no match for my fire extinguisher…

In addition to this, you also have a different gadget which you can use in each level. This can be accessed by pressing the “u” key and each gadget serves a different purpose in each level. For example, in the first level, your gadget is a remote control which can be used to trigger several moving platforms which you need to use in order to complete the level.

Interestingly, in some levels, your gadget is a rather unusual type of weapon which can usually only be used (or even drawn) during a boss fight.

The strangest one of these weapons is probably in the third level (Ancient Greece) where you get a box with a pop-up mirror in it. Whilst you can use it throughout the entire level, it is pretty much useless until you encounter the final boss.

Grrr...

Grrr…

I remember that this Medusa boss almost drove me insane with frustration when I was a kid. She fires projectiles at you and, if even one of them hits you, then you turn to stone and die (regardless of how much health you have).

If you use the mirror (which requires fairly precise timing) when you are a fair distance away, it will deflect her shots towards the ceiling. The only way to actually defeat the Medusa is to stand very close to her and use the mirror when she fires at you. Since you will only have a few lives and this requires split-second timing, expect to be frustrated by this level.

However, the most challenging part of this game is both the level design and the “ordinary” enemies. As well as “anachronisms” (which are floating clouds containing enemies from other levels), each level contains an assortment of stylised mythological and/or (mostly) historically accurate enemies.

ACTUALLY, ninjas didn't dress like this! The only reason everyone thinks they do is because this black outfit was based on the outfits that "invisible" stage hands wore during kabuki plays. Actual ninja assassins tried to blend in and look as "ordinary" as possible in ancient Japan.

ACTUALLY, ninjas didn’t dress like this! The only reason everyone thinks they do is because this black outfit was based on the outfits that “invisible” stage hands wore during kabuki plays. Actual ninja assassins tried to blend in and look as “ordinary” as possible in ancient Japan.

Although the enemies mostly behave in fairly consistent ways in each level (eg: there’s a fast enemy, a slow enemy and a weak enemy), the combat system is kind of interesting.

Basically, you need to jump on one of the basic enemies once or twice. When you do this, they will be temporarily “squashed”- you then need to stand in front of them and press “down”. Gadget will pick them up and, if you press “Ctrl”, then he will throw them – meaning you can use them as a weapon against other enemies if you want to.

Did anyone order a Minotaur pizza?

Did anyone order a Minotaur pizza?

This often requires precision jumping and timing, since it’s extremely easy to miss and take damage from the enemy you’re trying to jump on. Since you only have a limited number of lives and can only take about four hits before you lose a life and have to restart the level, it’s a good idea to be cautious.

And, whilst you can occasionally gain extra lives (by scoring enough points etc…), there are no “health” power-ups in the game. So, again, play cautiously. However, your health gets refilled at the beginning of each new level.

One annoying thing about “Gadget: Lost In Time” is that it relies on a very old-fashioned password-based saving system rather than a proper saving system. So, you will need a pen and paper handy if you want to “save” your game. Interestingly, the amount of lives you have is also encoded into the password. I’ll provide a list of my own passwords so far [for the PC version] at the end of this review.

For an old game from 1993, the level design is surprisingly good – all of the backgrounds are fairly well-drawn for the time and I absolutely love the background art in this game too.

... Plus, it's the only game I've ever played that features the white cliffs of Dover too.

… Plus, it’s the only game I’ve ever played that features the white cliffs of Dover too.

Most of the levels are also fairly non-linear too. In addition to this, many of the levels also contain a couple of additional buildings and rooms which you can explore. One minor criticism I have of the level design is the fact that the levels are all relatively small. Although, saying that, they seemed a lot bigger when I was a kid and, since you’ll be running back and forth for most of the game, the small levels aren’t an entirely bad thing.

Some levels also contain secrets too- for example, if you walk to the bottom left corner of the second level and wait there for a while, then coins will start falling from the sky:

I discovered this by accident when I was a kid and it still amazes me even to this day...

I discovered this by accident when I was a kid and it still amazes me even to this day…

As for the background music, it is fairly similar throughout the game and it mostly consists of a single song played in a loop. You will either find this song to be incredibly annoying or, like me, find it to be a surprisingly wonderful piece of childhood nostalgia.

All in all, “Gadget: lost In Time” is a surprisingly challenging and very playable game. Yes, it has a couple of flaws, but the nostalgia and fun value of this game far outweighs these minor problems.

Personally, I feel that it is an absolute shame that this timeless and fun game from the best decade in gaming history has drifted into obscurity and rarity these days. “Gadget: Lost In Time” is just crying out for a modern re-release (Steam and GOG, I’m looking at you).

On a purely technical level, and trying to put my nostalgia aside for a minute, if I had to give this game a rating out of five – then it would probably get a four. It’s playable, challenging and fun, but a proper save system and a few health power-ups would have been a very welcome addition.

Anyway, as promised, here’s my password list for the first six levels.

“Gadget: Lost In Time” PC version level passwords (levels 2-6):

Level Two – 5BFB962D7

Level Three – 8BG9D5HC

Level Four – 212445J843 (one life left)

Level Five – 6FGF9C685 (one life left)

Level Six – 6FFFBHC13J (no lives left)

“Damania Lite – Doomed” (Comic)

"Damania Lite - Doomed" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Lite – Doomed” By C. A. Brown

If you’ve ever played any classic 1990s FPS games (like “Doom”) then you’ll probably know that picking up most of the keys in every level will cause an alcove in the wall to open and a creature to emerge. I’ve always wondered exactly how long exactly those creatures stay in the alcoves, because it’s a pretty random thing to build somewhere.

Oh, by the way, “Damania Lite” will probably finish tomorrow. I’ll explain more in tomorrow’s post.If you’re interested, more “Damania Lite” comics can be found here. But, if you want to read the original comics (which have more panels and slightly better art), then they can also be found here.