Why Creative Mediums Are Better In Their Early Days – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Why Are New Meidums Better In The Early Days

Although this is an article about creativity and history in general, I’m going to have to start by talking cynically about computer games for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes apparent later.

A while back, I was going through yet another 1990s computer gaming nostalgia phase. That is, to say, I was feeling slightly more nostalgic about the golden age of computer games than I usually am.

As usually happens during one of these phases, I started to think “Computer games were way better in the 1990s!” And they were.

There’s a reason why, with a few exceptions, I mostly play actual 1990s games (and modern 1990s-style indie games) these days and it isn’t just because many modern games have ludicrous system requirements. Although games may have been less “graphically advanced” back then, they actually contained a lot of creativity.

In the 1990s, “point and click” adventure games were filled with humour, fascinating locations, beautiful artwork and/or interesting characters (then again, they still are today). 2D platform games were still a major genre. Even first-person shooter games not only had a sense of humour about themselves, but they often featured a wide variety of imaginative locations, level designs, challenging battles, outlandish weapons and unique monsters.

Not only that, some game designers provided fans with the things that they needed to extensively modify their games and/or encouraged people to share these modifications with others (I mean, there’s a reason why I’m still playing “Doom II” in 2016!) Back then, computer gaming was cool. It was fun. It was rebellious. It didn’t take itself so seriously.

Although computer games are more popular these days, this has come at a large cost. Almost every major game uses bland photo-realistic graphics, the gameplay in some genres of games has been heavily simplified, games companies are always looking for new ways to milk their customers (eg: “DLC”), games take themselves too seriously, games companies don’t boldly stand up to controversies in the way that they used to etc…

But this isn’t just the case with gaming, a similar case could possibly be made for comics aimed at more mature audiences.

Although I only really discovered this type of comics in 2008-11, the examples I saw showed me that my views about media being better in it’s early days are certainly true – albeit to a lesser extent than with games, since some of the more modern comics I read then were actually kind of good.

When comics were a relatively new medium, a lot of people in America produced astonishingly good horror comics during the 1940s and early 1950s that were filled with imagination, dark humour and wonderfully grotesque artwork. Of course, these got banned on both sides of the pond during the mid-1950s and “comics” soon became a synonym for the kind of generic, bland, sleep-inducing superhero stuff that still monopolises cinemas to this day.

In the 1970s-90s, comics aimed at mature audiences made a comeback in the UK (and via British writers working for US companies too). So many great comics, with a punk sensibility, were made back then. I’m talking about comics like “Tank Girl”, “The Sandman”, “V For Vendetta”, “Transmetropolitan”, “Judge Dredd” etc.. Comics were badass, comics were punk, comics were awesome.

I suppose that this attitude kind of lives on in some webcomics to this day, but comics just don’t seem to be as punk as they seemed to be in their earlier days. Not only that, many (western) comics often seem to use the same kind of almost photo-realistic digital artwork. Whatever happened to the days when “serious” print comics from Britain and America looked like they were actually drawn by a person holding a pen?

So, why are things often better in their early days? Well, it’s probably because of a number of factors. The first is that people who are new to a genre are either trying to rebel against what came before, or they’re trying to make an equivalent of the things that they love (from other mediums) using this new medium. I mean, there’s a reason why a lot of old early-mid 1990s computer games contained copious amounts of movie references, in jokes etc…

In addition to this, when a medium is new, the people making things in it are a small group of dedicated fans. The audience for the new medium also consists of a relatively small group of dedicated fans too. These are the only two groups of people that a new medium has to appeal to in it’s early days. In other words, it can be geekier, more complex, more edgy etc.. for the simple reason that the only people reading, playing, watching etc… are people who absolutely love the genre.

When something becomes more mainstream, it often has to be watered down in order to appeal to a mainstream audience quickly. In addition to this, when something enters the mainstream, it becomes part of popular culture and is held to the same stern and judgmental standards (whether conservative and/or liberal) as everything else is.

For example, if it was a new comic that started today, “Tank Girl” would be banned within a month or two. Both liberals and conservatives would probably be outraged by it for different reasons.

But, thankfully, “Tank Girl” didn’t start today. It started back in the days when comics that weren’t aimed at children were still a relatively “new” genre. It started in the days when these kinds of comics had a smaller audience that actively sought them out. It started in the days, when mature comics were ignored by the mainsteam. If something is ignored by the mainstream, then this usually equates to more freedom of speech – which equates to more creativity and individuality.

Finally, another reason why things are better in their early days is because there’s less money. Since there’s less money for people to spend on the superficial parts of the new medium, they have to focus on the things that really matter in order to attract (and keep) customers. Likewise, in the early stage of something, there aren’t that many corporate middle managers who want to maximise their revenue by playing it safe and making things as “mainstream” as possible.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Introducing “Acolyte!” The New Interactive Story By C. A. Brown

2015 Artwork Acolyte! Cover poster version

Well, thanks to a combination of enthusiasm and insomnia, I am very proud to announce that the secret project I mentioned earlier has now been published online and should be viewable. So much for waiting until Halloween…

It’s a free online interactive horror/comedy story called “Acolyte!“. If you remember playing “Choose Your Own Aventure”, “Fighting Fantasy” and/or “Give Yourself Goosebumps” gamebooks when you were a kid, you’ll feel right at home here.

Although I should warn you, this gamebook is a lot more cynical (and challenging) than the ones you played back in the 90s. In fact, it’s pretty much a parody of these books.

If you want to jump right in, then you can start right here.

If you get stuck, then there are two (two!) walkthroughs here.

Have fun … and good luck, you’re going to need it 🙂

Today’s Art (23rd June 2015)

Ha! I’m feeling inspired again! And, I have computer games to thank for it!

Bascially, I’ve recently started playing an old FPS game from the very early 2000s called “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” (it might be a while before I review it though) and it was a perfect reminder of why I really love old FPS games.

Although there seem to be some signs that the FPS genre is gradually returning to it’s glory days (eg: the previews of the upcoming “Doom” game), it’s still got a long way to go.

Plus, in case anyone is wondering why I’m criticisng console FPS games (despite my cynicism about PC gaming snobbery in this cartoon), it’s because many modern PC FPS games apparently incorporate features which are more useful on consoles (eg: Regenerating health, checkpoint-based saving, only carrying two weapons etc..) than they are on a PC. If you’re releasing a FPS for the PC, it should be designed for the PC.

As a blog exclusive, I’ll also provide the “Work in progress” lineart for this cartoon too.

As usual, both images in this post are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Why Old FPS Games Are Better" By C. A.Brown

“Why Old FPS Games Are Better” By C. A.Brown

And here’s the lineart:

"Why Old FPS Games Are Better (Lineart)" By C. A. Brown

“Why Old FPS Games Are Better (Lineart)” By C. A. Brown

Mini-Review: “Coming For You” (New Single By The Offspring)

2015 Artwork coming for you mini review sketch

When I read about this on the internet a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t quite believe it. The Offspring would be debuting a new single on the 31st January. So, naturally, when this glorious day came, I ended up scouring Youtube for it.

After all, this is where new Offspring songs usually appear first – I have fond memories of watching grainy concert footage of “Hammerhead” and “Half-Truism” in 2008 on Youtube and of watching the eventually-unreleased alternate live version of “Days Gone By” (called “You Will Find A Way”) on Youtube in 2009.

I remember the sheer nostalgic joy of seeing the first live concert footage of “The Future Is Now” on Youtube in early 2012 and I remember laughing my ass off when “Cruisin’ California (Bumpin’ In My Trunk)” was released on Youtube a few months later.

Ususually, this has the slightly underground feeling of listening to a bootleg CD. But, obviously The Offspring know that their fans tend to do this, so they actually put a high quality version of their new single – “Coming For You” – on both their website and obviously on Youtube too .

[Edit: The video no longer seems to be unlisted on Youtube, so I’ve linked to it – it can still also currently be seen as an embedded video on their site too. Plus, since I posted the original version of this review a couple of hours ago, they’ve also now started selling “Coming For You” as a digital download too. Unfortunately, this seems to be the only commercial release of this song, so if you’re like me and you prefer buying music on CD, then you’re probably best waiting for their next album.]

But, is “Coming For You” any good?

One of the surprising things about this song is how much the intro to it reminded me of “Conspiracy Of One”-era Offspring, it’s a slow drum-heavy and bass-heavy intro that sounds a little bit like a heavier version of the intro to “Special Delivery” from that album. Dexter’s vocals near the beginning are also slightly slower than usual too, which is slightly rare for an Offspring song.

The chorus to the song is fairly “bouncy”, “jagged” and “catchy” – this is about the best way I can describe it. It rhymes, but it sounds a bit different to what you might expect after listening to the beginning of the song.

Plus, the chorus contains the wonderfully bizarre line “a sold-out, blow-out Donkey Kong“. Obviously, Dexter Holland was desperately searching for a rhyme when he wrote this song. The vocal style in the chorus of this song also reminded me of a slightly lighter version of Dexter’s vocal style on the “Splinter” album too.

But, hey, it’s an Offspring song, the lyrics don’t always have to make total sense. What matters most is how the song as a whole sounds and, overall, this is a fairly “classic” Offspring song that also sounds very slightly modern.

Although I would have liked to see more of the return to the Offspring’s early-mid 1990s sound that we got to hear near the end of their “Days Go By” album, this song seems to be more of a return to their early-mid 2000s sound.

All in all “Coming For You” isn’t the best Offspring song that I’ve ever heard, but it’s far from the worst either. The first singles that the Offspring release are rarely indicative of their upcoming albums as a whole – just look at “Cruisin’ California (Bumpin’ In My Trunk)” from their last album for a good example of this.

As I said earlier, it sounds like The Offspring are going back to something very slightly similar to how they sounded when they made “Conspiracy Of One”, or possibly “Splinter” – and this can’t be a bad thing 🙂

If I had to give this song a rating out of five, it would probably just about get a four.

Three Ways Writers And Artists Can Use The Power Of New Things

2014 Artwork new Things Article Sketch

I don’t know if this is a general thing or whether it’s just me, but people seem to be “wired” for novelty. New things (or old things we personally haven’t seen or read yet) interest and excite us in a way that familiar things don’t. As a writer or an artist, it’s important to be aware of this – because it can be very easy to take advantage of.

Yes, everyone has their favourite film, their favourite novel, their favourite painting, their favourite song etc… which they can happily revisit as many times as they want to. But, there’s something inherently fascinating about going out into the internet or going shopping and hoping to find something even better.

So, how can we – as writers and/or artists- take advantage of this in order to both expand and keep your audience. Well, here are three basic ways to do this:

1) Little And Often: If someone is interested in your work, then they are probably going to want to see new examples of it as often as possible. So, especially if you’re drawn to creating shorter projects, it can be a good idea to release smaller or shorter things more often than to release longer things much less often.

Think of it like this, television shows and webcomics often have more devoted fans than film series do (obviously, there are exceptions to this rule). If a TV show is shown every week or a webcomic is updated three times a week, then there is more of an incentive for people to keep returning to it regularly.

Yes, there may be less content in a 45 minute episode of a TV show or a three-panel webcomic than there is in a feature-length film or a full-length graphic novel. But, because new parts of it appear far more often, it’s a lot easier for fans to make looking at it a regular part of their lives.

2) Previews and extracts: Ok, so you’re writing a 400-page novel. This isn’t something that you can complete in a week, a month or even six months. So, how can you put some new content out there quickly in order to make people interested in your work?

Simple. Release a short extract from your novel every once in a while. Yes, you shouldn’t choose a part of your novel that gives away too much of the plot and you should probably save the very best parts of your novel for the finished product. But, if there’s a good part of your novel that is fairly short and reasonably self-contained, then it might be worth thinking about releasing it as an extract or a preview on your website or blog.

Obviously, if you’re planning to publish it professionally (and have already received an advance), then you should probably ask the permission of your publishers first. But, releasing previews of your upcoming work can increase your audience by providing them with a small amount of something new, with the promise of much more new stuff at a later point in time.

Likewise, if you’re working on a large painting which will take several months to complete, then think about releasing things like unused preliminary sketches or small details from the unfinished painting itself. Save the best bits for the finished product, but don’t be afraid to show off a few good parts of the thing that you’re working on.

3) You don’t have to reinvent the wheel: Just because something is new and interesting doesn’t mean that it has to be totally different from everything that has come before it. Yes, if you’ve somehow got a completely original idea – then use it. But, don’t let the lack of a completely original ideas put you off from creating new content that your audience will enjoy.

As I’m sure countless people have said before, there’s no such thing as a totally original idea. Everything has been done before. Nothing is new under the sun.

But, although there may not be many (or any) completely new things in the world, why do we still feel fascinated when we see a film or a read a book that we haven’t seen or read before?

Well, it all comes down to interpretation and presentation. Every creative person interprets and presents whichever ideas they use in their own unique way.

For example, thousands of sci-fi writers might all write stories about the Earth being invaded by aliens, but each of these stories will be interesting because the characters will be different, the exact details of the plot will be slightly different, the settings will be different, the narrative voice in each story will be slightly different, the aliens will be slightly different etc…

At the end of the day, all that “new” content really means is “content which your audience hasn’t seen before”. As long as it’s different in some ways from the other things out there (eg: it isn’t plaigarised), then it’s new.

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Sorry that this article was so basic, but I hope it was useful 🙂