Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: Bioshock Infinite

Wow, I can't believe this is the first review I've ever done on this blog.  You would think I would have done one or two in the time I have started this blog, but considering the fact I've only made thirty posts in more than two plus years, I guess that makes sense.  I could say that I was busy, or that I am working on figuring out a video format for these blog posts to make them a little bit quicker to make (which I am), but I know that wouldn't exactly be true.  I really just couldn't find time to update this blog as much as I wanted to.  I'll try to change that.  Maybe.  Probably not. 

However, I think it's somewhat significant that my first review would be of Bioshock Infinite, a game I had been looking forward to since its reveal trailer one or two years ago.  But, despite my waiting, I truly tried to avoid the hype train surrounding the game, due to bad past experiences.  There have been too many times where I have been so impressed by a game's good press that I have been thoroughly underwhelmed by the actual game (see Dead Rising 1 and every Bioware game since Mass Effect).  So, to avoid the same fiasco with Bioshock Infinite, I had a media blackout with most, if not all, reviews and promotional material for this game.  I watched the official promos of the Heavy Hitters, but kept away from reviews.  Even when I heard of the constant 10s and perfect scores given to it, I kept my expectations grounded.  There have been many a time where a game has been loved on release day, only to be criticized week, or even days, later by the same people who reviewed it (see Grand Theft Auto IV).

 
So, with all of this in mind, what is my general opinion of Bioshock Infinite?  It's good, if not great, and maybe even excellent.  But let's be little more blunt here.

  • Is it a "good" game? Yes.
  • Is it a "perfect 10" game?  No, but I have never seen one of those in my life, so I don't think any game is deserving of such a score.  But it is definitely farther from a 10 than Bioshock or Red Dead Redemption are.
  • Is it better than the original Bioshock?  In some ways, it is; however, in other, significant ways, it is not.  
  • Did I like it more than the original Bioshock?  No.  
  • Does it show an evolution in the medium in a story-writing and technical sense?  Yes.
  • Is it the game to define a generation?  Possibly, but my vote is on no.
It would be hard to truly examine this game without comparing it to the original game, so as we go forward, I'll be comparing Infinite with it's predecesor (not Bioshock 2; while I liked that game and felt it did somethings better than the first Bioshock, it didn't exactly bring anything to the table that can be truly seen as exemplary.  I might make some comparisons to it, but it will not be the main focus of the article).

Let's look at gameplay, since my thoughts on this aspect of both games are little bit more simplistic.  To put it plainly, Infinite's gameplay is radically superior to the first Bioshock.  This not only has to do with the helper you have in Elizabeth, who hands you ammo, salts (this's game's EVE (the ammo for plasmids)), and money.  Elizabeth herself is a technical marvel, being an escort partner that can be by herself and be useful, rather than a hindrance to the game.  She alone will make this game a significant chapter in the evolution of the technology of video games.  The addition of Columbia's skyrails made travel and combat more entertaining and visceral, as opposed to simply walking around, though I wish there was more fighting while on the Skyrails.  

Knock knock, motherfucker.
The enemy types are also more varied.  While the first Bioshock had only two Big Daddies and all the splicers (the more advanced of each were only designated by a cosmetic change, such as a simple hat designating armor), Infinite had close to a dozen enemy types.  Some only show up once for story based reasons, and it was something I actually liked.  They still left an impression, but didn't wear out their welcome.  
The Handyman, while rare, will wreck you if you are not prepared.
In fact, all of Infinite's gameplay could follow this template.  While the game is quite short (I'd say around 6 to 10 hours), it never feels repetitive or boring like the first Bioshock did near the entire last third of the game.  There are over a dozen different guns, with achievements tied to each of them, making variety almost necessary (THIS IS A GOOD APPLICATION OF ACHIEVEMENTS, GAME INDUSTRY).  Even the plasmids, while fewer in number, are there for a long enough time, and have radically different effects that you want to sample them all to find your favorite combos.  All the guns and plasmids have the proper weight and feel to them to make you feel powerful.  But the enemies are powerful enough that the game doesn't become a breeze.  It really finds a perfect balance.
Everybody DANCE!
The gameplay is so well done that I only have a few gripes.  The first is that vigor upgrades are too damn expensive, almost twice the cost of a gun upgrade.  I suppose I could have waited, but the ridiculous cost of the vigor made me just spend more on my guns than my vigors.  I would actually catch myself thinking "eh, my vigors are powerful enough." This would be less of a problem if there was a "New Game Plus" mode or something where I could carry my upgrades from my last play through to the new one (which Infinite could probably justify through story, given it's whole emphasis on time travel and multiple story lines), but as it stands now, it just stands as a huge roadblock for upgrading one's vigors.
These machines rob you, with no real way to lower prices.
The second big problem is the game's side missions.  There's nothing wrong with them in themselves, but it can be hard to actually want to follow them through when you have no idea where to go.  The game uses an "arrow" navigational system similar to Dead Space to let you know where to go, and this helps in your exploration habits (if you are going in the opposite direction of the arrow, you know you won't walk into a story event and miss out on loot, which is nice).  But, these arrows only point to the main story mission and cannot be adjusted for the side missions.  This would not have been a problem if Infinite provided a map like Bioshock 1 did, but looking for a single store in the crowded streets of Columbia become even more of a headache if you have no basic clue where to go.  
While not always easy to read, these maps gave you some clue of where to look.
This problem is extrapolated by the fact that Columbia is simply not as visually memorable as Rapture was.  That is not to say it wasn't beautiful - quite the opposite - but the bright lights and Unreal Engine made it so every building blends into a muddled and unmemorable mess of tans and yellows.  Compare this to Rapture, which featured neon signs of varied colors to help leave mental notes.  The environments of Rapture popped more due to these signs, as well as the green color of the ocean, which differs greatly from the brown of Columbia.
This, while beautiful, doesn't stand out as much as...
This.

However, besides these gripes, the gameplay is probably the best I've played in years.  It's fun, varied, and visceral.

That means my problems with the game mainly rest on the game's story, right?  Unfortunately, that is the case.  The story isn't bad, per se, it just pales in comparison to the first Bioshock.  The main problem is the lack of focus.  Let me explain, but BEWARE: THIS DISCUSSION MIGHT HAVE SPOILERS FOR BOTH INFINITE AND BIOSHOCK 1.  I TRIED TO AVOID THEM, BUT I MAY HAVE SUBCONSCIOUSLY REVEALED SOMETHING.

In Bioshock 1, the main conflict of the game was the fight between city founder Andrew Ryan and his main point of conflict Atlas/Frank Fontaine (one replaced the other, but it was still ONE vs. ONE).  Even in Bioshock 2, it was still one person against another, but just replaced Atlas/Fontaine for psychologist and eventual cult leader Sofia Lamb.  The conflict still felt focused, the player was simply there to intervene.  Even the issue the game wanted to tackle in Bioshock 1 was more focused: it dealt with personal agency and the responsibility we have in our decisions.  That was it.  And with a fairly long game, these conflicts and messages all received the proper time and explanation.

Most of Bioshock 1's plot in one image.
Infinite, on the other hand, tries to tell several more stories and messages in a SHORTER amount of time.  The conflicts include Booker vs. Elizabeth (while mainly friends, they have their back and forth of arguments that make their relationship more complicated), Booker vs. Daisy Fitzroy (a firebrand leader of the working class), Booker vs. Comstock (the founder of the city, who wants to have Elizabeth as his heir), Comstock vs. Fitzroy (the upper class vs. the lower class), Elizabeth vs. the Songbird (her mechanical captor), Elizabeth vs. Lady Comstock (her mother, who supposedly locked her in a tower and hated her).  And that's not even getting into the side characters!  And the messages include particle physics, forgiveness of past sins, the dangers of capitalism, the dangers of revolution, the multiple world theory, the subjectivity of history, the horrors of violence, and several others.  To try and do all of this in so little time left many potential explorations of the topic feel unfinished or overly simplistic.  Maybe if one or two of these elements were cut out, maybe it would have felt more focused.  But the fact that Songbird showed up once in the very beginning of the game, only to reappear several HOURS later, to the point where I forgot about him, shows a bit of lack of focus in the story.
When this moment happened in the story, I was wondering more of where the fuck Songbird had been the last three or four hours rather than focusing on the emotional moment.
I guess the problem stems from Levine's new tactic in crafting the story, where he had the voice actors for main characters Booker Dewitt and Elizabeth (played by Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper, respectively) in a studio, with a basic frame of the game, but changing it slightly due to what sounded or fit best during those sessions.  Like Tom Hooper's attempts at "Live Singing" in the movie version of Les Miserables, it's a nice idea, but still needs a bit of the kinks worked out.  Sometimes the mood would whiplash in the exchange between the two characters (Elizabeth would be depressed one moment, then chipper the next), and I feel the main story suffered as a result.  Simply put, if things are up in the air, you may lose track of all your story elements.  It would have worked better if Levine tried this new tactic with a story that did not have SO many elements all playing together at once.  


Another big problem of the story is the lack of memorable side characters.  Infinite's side characters (like the Lutece twins, Cornelius Slate, and Jeremiah Fink) are no doubt interesting, but nowhere as memorable or sympathetic as Bioshock 1's.  They just kind of blended together, or I simply referred to them as their stereotypes (corrupt businessman (Fink), crazy revolutionary leader (Fitzroy), overly proud military man (Slate)), rather than their names.  The problem is that the Audio Diaries are more cryptic this time around, making them not as fun to listen to, and not as important to side character development as in Bioshock 1.  In Bioshock 1, there were some characters that you knew ONLY THROUGH audio diaries, yet I connected with them infinitely more (pun not intended) than any of Infinite's characters, regardless of whether I saw them or not.  I'd much rather recount the depressing tale of Sullivan, Andrew Ryan's security head, than the life of Jeremiah Fink.  There are some interesting ones in Infinite, such as Preston E. Downs, a hunter who reminded me of Saxton Hale and has a change of heart to his violent ways, but not many.
Downs has a pretty great and tragic story, but...
It doesn't come close to the torture Sullivan puts himself through.
The biggest downgrade is the main villain, Comstock.  "Yahtzee" Croshaw summarized the problem best in his review of Infinite, where he said the best villains are people you can agree with and seem like completely rational people.  They are the people you fear because they make sense.  Andrew Ryan had some bizarre moral views, but he could eloquently justify even the most heinous actions, like capital punishment for petty crimes.  That's a villain you could sympathize with and fear.  Comstock, to put it frankly, is just a religious nut full of sermons and nonsense.  His speeches blend together in their cryptic, biblical babble.  All you see is the evil stuff he did, without having anything to justify him.  He becomes this kind of cartoonish villain that's hard to take seriously.  

The fact that he looks like Santa Claus doesn't help.
Then, there's the ending.  Now I liked the ending, personally, but I felt that a) it came WAY too soon, and b) explained way too much in a little time.  The problem with a story that has so many twists and turns and mysteries is that you will eventually have to explain them (unless you're Damon Lindeloff, who does whatever the fuck he wants and pisses me off for it).  But Infinite has to keep the mysteries going for so long that you have to have a giant explanation dump for ALMOST EVERY question that has been bothering you since the very beginning of the game.  In about 15 minutes, I'd say about 90% of the mysteries were explained.  It would have been better to have the mysteries a bit more paced out in the story's unfolding, rather than to have to wait until the end.  Some mysteries weren't even extrapolated upon earlier on in the game, including an "AD" brand that is on Booker's right hand.  It has an end-game story significance, but is never really detailed on beforehand.  It's the reason people chase him, since it designates him as the person who will bring the end times to Columbia, but he never explains how he got in in the first place.  In many ways, it's just there.  It still makes me think, and has a great somber tone and memorable moments, so I felt it was the best moment of the game.

The ending still has some great moments and quotes, however.  This is one of them, accompanied by Elizabeth saying that "There is always a man, always a city, always a lighthouse."  It's chilling, and sets the stage for many more Bioshock games.
But, once again, that's not to say the story is BAD.  In fact, it's great.  Booker (a voiced protagonist, much to my pleasure) and Elizabeth are grealy entertaining, have great banter between themselves, and are the absolute star of the show.  Elizabeth is the best character I've seen in decades, with a natural evolution of character who presents a great mirror to how fucked up violence in gaming is.  Booker's sarcasm and jaded outlook leads to some great lines, some of which I genuinely laughed at.  The Lutece twins are another gem, with their back-and-forth, Chesire Cat archaic dialogue that always entertains.  The atmosphere is also great, with a few "anachronistic" songs, like Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" being reworked with a 1910's sound.  But when compared to the focused, sniper-shot story of Bioshock 1, Infinite is more like a shotgun.  It's still effective, and covers more ground and area, but it doesn't penetrate and leave as quite as a distinctive mark  as Bioshock 1 does. 
This scene caught me completely off guard, and made me sympathize with Elizabeth to the point where it felt like I was doing it to an actual friend, not an AI.
So, overall, Bioshock Infinite is a fantastic game.  It just doesn't resonate with me the way the first game did.  And it's not like I have nostalgia glasses for the old game; I'm perfectly willing to admit the game's flaws, such as its repetitive gameplay and the way the third act of the story pretty much shits the bed, and falls apart into cliches.  But Bioshock 1 did so much more right than Infinite did in the story and atmosphere department that I just didn't enjoy Infinite as much as I wanted to.  If I had to give a rating, Infinite would be in the higher realm of an A-, while Bioshock 1 would be a steady A.  I enjoyed both games, but I would still recommend a bathysphere under the sea to Rapture over a rocket to Columbia.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Interview with John Kleckner of Hejibits



John Kleckner (Self Portrait from his Twitter Page)
Even if you don't recognize the name John Kleckner or the name of his webcomic,  "Hejibits", chances are you have seen many of his comics floating around the internet.  With his combination of puns, silly faces, and cynical commentary on the video game industry, Mr. Kleckner's comics have made millions laugh (or cringe) at their humor.  His comics have even inspired several popular internet memes, such as "Boardroom Suggestion" and "Haunter Used Mean Look."  In this interview, I ask Mr. Kleckner about the origins of the comic, his artistic and comedic influences, and his views on video games.   I would, of course, like to thank Mr. Kleckner for his time.  Check it out!

1.  How did the idea for the comic come about?  You are an art student, but how did you decide to create comics and put them online?
I had a pretty annoying roommate in my freshman year of college, and I found comics to be an amusing outlet to vent my passive aggressive frustrations. My friends liked them, and encouraged me to start a webcomic. "That's a dumb idea," I said. Joke's on me, I guess!
One of Hejibits' earlier comics, featuring John's infamous roommate,
2.  Are there any artists that your art style is inspired by?  Your art style for the comic is very simplistic, but, as seen from your Twitter and uploads from your days at Art School, you have the potential to do very detailed and realistic work.  What made you decide the simplistic style?  Just for the sake of time and energy?
I can't really say I take direct inspiration from other artists, but there's definitely some subconscious influence happening behind the scenes. As a kid, I was creatively inspired by cartoons like Courage the Cowardly Dog and Ed, Edd & Eddy. Most of my comic punchlines rely on dumb faces, which I don't think works that well with a realistic style. I'm also extremely incompetent with proper drawing software, so I'm somewhat restricted to the 'cel-shading' (for lack of a proper term) style of Adobe Flash.

3.  What is the process for creating a comic? How do you decide which kind of joke to make?  Do you plan out how the panels will look before drawing them?
Most of my video game ideas stem from my frustration with a game, or from a stupid thing in a game that I can poke fun at. I have a running list of comic ideas on my computer, which are generally just a short summary or a couple sentences of dialogue. I don't really plan that far ahead; when I start a comic I usually just pick an idea from the pile (either the most topical or the most amusing), and start drawing.

An example of puns and funny faces, two of the things in which Hejibits specializes.
4.  Your humor often fluctuates between puns and commentaries on the video game industry, but both have a very (at least, from my perspective) cynical point of view.  Do you feel that your humor was influenced by any thing or person, or do you think your humor comes only from yourself?
My dad is a very cynical dude, always finding things to complain about. My mom is a very sarcastic lady, always making fun of dumb things. I inherited both of those traits on an exponential level.
And a little bit of commentary on the video game industry. 
5.  What do you think draws people to your comic?  The silly faces?  The puns?  The sarcasm and cynical humor?
I don't know! I have such a weird range of comic topics that it's a wonder I have any consistent readers. I just make the comics I want to make, and some people dig that, I guess!

6.  Have you ever given up on a joke because you found you couldn't draw something or just couldn't figure out how to properly visualize it in the panels?
All the time!  Sometimes, I still go through with bad comic ideas, against my better judgement. Making bad comics is part of the learning experience, I suppose!

7.  Having a popular webcomic like you do brings you in contact with not only a lot of fans, but other online creators as well.  How have your experiences been with both groups?  Any horror stories or awesome tales?
I'm extremely humbled to have a handful of super talented web[comic] artists reading my stuff, which is super great and inspiring.  Weirdly enough though, I haven't had a whole lot of terrible fan experiences. One time a kid on Twitter was personally offended that I don't "follow back." That was a thing.

The comic that features the famous "Haunter's Mean Look" Image
8.  Can you give us a small inkling of what games you like and don’t like?  To get a better sense of what kind of video game player you are?
I play pretty much everything except MMOs and sports sims (I don't like games that don't end), but I love me a good platformer. Recent-ish/upcoming games like Rayman Origins/Legends, Super Meat Boy, and the obligatory Nintendo platformers tickle my fancy like nobody's business.

9.  What makes a game “good” to you?  A focus on story?  A sense of fun? 
Focused game design is important to me. Lately I've been straying away from games that waste my time by padding out game time (JRPGs, story-focused games with unnecessary filler, etc.). That's why I like platformers. Concise, and to the point. Well, except Super Paper Mario.

Probably the most well known Hejibits comic,  which spawned an exploitable meme that comments on other shady or just plain confusing business practices.
10.  What video games are you looking forward to, especially after E3?
Oh man, where to start? Super Mario 3D World, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Super Smash Bros. 4, Final Fantasy XV, Mirror's Edge 2, to name a few. I still have at least a bajillion games on my backlog as well, no thanks to Steam sales and PS3 HD collections.

11.  Where do you think the comic will go from here?  Will you pursue Webcomics as a career, or just continue it as a hobby and side project?
I would like to pursue a career in animation (as it is my major); probably in the 3D field. Webcomicing is a fun hobby, but I don't see myself doing it for the rest of my life. Depending on where I end up working, maybe I'll keep doing comics if I have free time!

Come back in the next few weeks, where I'll be uploading even more interviews with famous Internet celebrities like SuperPsyGuy and Ethan Nicolle, the creator of Axe Cop.

LINKS
The Hejibits Website: http://www.hejibits.com
The Hejibits' Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/hejibits
The Know Your Meme Page for the "Boardroom Suggestion" Meme: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/boardroom-suggestion


Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Interview with Zach Weinersmith and James Ashby of SMBC and SMBC Theater


In terms of presence on the Internet, the name Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (or, better known by its acronym, SMBC) is one that stands out, being constantly found in most forums, Reddit threads, and even Facebook posts.  A daily webcomic written and drawn by Zach Weinersmith, SMBC exploded in popularity due to its zany, intelligent, satirical and sometimes crass humor.  As one of the Internet’s longest running webcomics, Mr. Weinersmith joins other well-known webcomic titans like Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade and Scott Kurtz of PvP. 
Zach Weinersmith
In 2009, Zach and his long time friend, James Ashby, created the SMBC Theater, a sketch comedy channel on YouTube that shared the comic’s social satire and adult humor.  The channel now has almost eighty thousand subscribers and over 20 million views.  In the following interview, I interview Zach and James about the origins of the comic and the Theater, their comedic influences, the workings behind the Theater, and their Internet fame, as well as one major upcoming project from SMBC Theater.  I’d like to thank Zach and James once again for their time, and ask that everybody check out the comic and the channel.
James Ashby, King of SMBC Theater

SMBC Comic
How did the comic come about? 
Zach Weinersmith: [The comic] started long ago in high school as a way to write things and make fun of friends.  Years later, it became the only way out of a very shitty job. 

An example of Zach's more intellectual jokes.

The art style of the comic has definitely improved as time has gone on, but remains quite distinct in its simple, yet effective portrayal of characters.  How do you think you have grown as an artist in the years of drawing SMBC?  Have certain shortcuts or computer programs come out that have made your life easier, or does a daily comic just make art simpler?
ZW: I'm more of a writer (i.e. my art sucks), but yeah, it's incrementally improved over time. I recently got a tablet and manga studio 5, which has been a godsend. I was getting very painful hand cramps for a long time, and now I can work faster without the pain. 


Are there any artists in particular that have inspired your art style?
ZW: Parking Lot is Full, perhaps. 

And a bit of social critique.
Have you ever had to give up on a joke because you found that you couldn’t draw a character or object, or just couldn’t figure out how to visualize how the joke would look?
ZW: Not really. If it works in the writing phase, it'll work in the art, unless you write yourself into a corner or something. Now and then I've fucked that up. Some things are easy to say and hard to visualize.  

How do you keep up doing a daily comic?  How do you keep thinking of material?  How do you keep up your drive and motivation?
ZW: I try to read a lot.  If I'm behaving myself, at least 3-5 books a week, plus some deeper studies for perspective.  I'm very motivated by the idea that I don't want to have a real job.  

The humor of the comic has definitely evolved over the years as well.  Originally starting as one-panel, bait and switch humor, the comic has definitely become more intelligent, discussing concepts like philosophy, physics, government, and other topics.  What inspired this change?
ZW: Generally speaking, the comic reflects what I'm currently interested in.  I used to try to just do gags, but I found that people actually liked some of the more thick stuff now and then. Since I do dailies, I have a bit of latitude in terms of nerdiness.  That is, if today's joke is too in depth, I can do a joke about boners tomorrow. 

An example of Zach's "bait and switch" joke style, where the caption betrays the image.

Do you think the change to the humor was well received?
ZW: Not by everyone.  I could probably have more readers if I stuck with something, but I think it'd get boring after a while. 

Who has inspired or influenced your humor? 
ZW: Early on, I really liked Glen Baxter and PLiF.  I loved the understatement in Dilbert.  I don't read too many comics, but in terms of humor authors, Mark Twain and Stanislaw Lem are awesome. 

My favorite SMBC comic.
How do you feel about being one of the longest lasting, and most influential webcomics on the Internet?
ZW: If there were a cash prize for that, I'd feel great.  Honestly, I kind of live in a bubble (on purpose), so the numbers are a bit abstract to me. It's nice, but it also offers a temptation to relax a little, which I want to avoid. 

Where do you think the comic will go from here?
ZW: No idea. I've been getting into political theory and some more advanced (for me) physics lately; oh, and Robert Burns, so maybe something hideous amalgam of those is coming. 


SMBC Theater
Whose idea was it to create the Theater?  Were these ideas that Zach felt he couldn’t properly convey as a comic?

ZW: James and I had wanted to do it for ages, way before the comic was a "thing." At some point we just barely had the resources to pull it off, and voila.  In terms of ideas, not really. James and I wrote them together, which already gave them a different flavor. Plus, comics and sketches are pretty different. In comics it's very easy to control composition in timing. Video is harder. But, in video, you have Real Live Humans, which means you can get a lot more out of expression.   
James Ashby: Yeah, we never wanted to try to recreate the comic.  Comics are about a perfect moment captured as well as possible.  Sketches are about pacing and delivery and performance and a number of intangibles. Zach and I had tried to do some film work in our early 20's when we lived in a bachelor apartment with another friend and Zach's un-spayed cat, but we didn't have any money or connections.  6 years later I graduated with an MFA in screenwriting from Carnegie Mellon with some prize money and Zach had a trickle of income, so we decided to spend it on sketches instead of health insurance.  

Who comes up with ideas for the sketches?  Does it vary?   Does the person who came up with the idea also write it, or have there been times where a person comes up with an idea, but has someone else write it?
ZW: James and I, 50-50. For a given sketch, it varied a lot. But, we had a big honkin' list of ideas we'd grind on every 2 weeks. 
JA: We've been doing this so long it gets muddy.  Zach and I have written together since we were in our late teens (NO ONE EVER GETS TO READ THAT STUFF), so at this point it's mostly a tag team sifting for funny through email. One of us will have an idea for a joke, another will write half a page on it then pass it off, etc etc.  Then we fight for a week about the last line.



How do you cast each video, given the pool of talented actors you have?  Do some people just play certain characters well, so they are always cast as such?  Like JP Nickel as a news anchor or creepy dad?
ZW: James can answer this better than I. We *did* have people who were really good at certain characters, but I think we also tried to vary a little. 
JA: We have a few recurring tropes (JP Nickel as a newscaster is always funny), but we have an all-volunteer army so there's an availability factor that comes into play.  I never cast anyone I don't feel is right for a part, but we have some very talented people who can do some really wonderful work when given a chance to stretch. 

You have created a persona for yourselves in the SMBC Theater canon.  For example, James (now the “King of the Theater”) is portrayed a disheveled, sociopathic, schizophrenic slob.  How do these personas get developed?
ZW: James can answer this better than I.  I think early on our personas were sort of exaggerations of the real us from a few years ago. 
JA: Zach and I like to write about the id and jerks because we're very polite in person, and the ability to say things bluntly is a great comedic tool.  Slobby James and King James can say things that make people laugh, so we can say interesting things without being boring or pompous.



You also have a new project, a science fiction series called Starpocalypse, can you give us a hint of what the show is about and when can we expect to see it?
ZW: This is King James territory. 
JA: THIS FALL!  It's called Starpocalypse and an AWESOME team of artists have put in hundreds of hours of work to bring it to our audience. We're really proud of this dark, weird, crazy space comedy. It could only have been made through crowd-funding.  The major plot thrust: God is a space alien with a fetish for watching humans fuck and murder each other.  



Other topics
It often seems like everyone on the Internet knows each other, as illustrated by your constant collaborations with the 5secondfilms crew.  How did you all meet?
ZW: King James again. 
JA: Michael Rousselet and Kelsey Gunn came to do a cameo for Starpocalypse and seemed awesome.  They invited me to come have a beer during a 5secondfilms shoot and I met a ton of other awesome people.  The rest is history.

Having an Internet presence like you two do brings you in contact with not only a lot of fans, but other online creators as well.  How have your experiences been with both groups?  Any horror stories or awesome tales?
ZW: Ha!  If I have horror stories, there's no way I'd tell them.  James knows more about the YouTube/vid community than I do, but the comics community is pretty tight.  Almost everyone who's a professional knows every other professional. 
JA: I've found following the rule of only networking with people I like and respect has really worked out nicely for me.  I'd say we actually have a very supportive fan base.  Some dudes might be a little awkward when they come to meet us, but Zach and I are kinda awkward. Who's judging? 

Snowflakes is a comic you both do with your friend Chris Jones, and features a very different sense of humor than we see in SMBC and SMBC theater.  It’s much more mellow and childlike. How did this comic come about, and how do you keep it in this more innocent, less racy tone?   

ZW: As I recall, Chris Jones and I had recently finished Captain Stupendous, and wanted a new project. And James and I wanted to work on a comic together. I think perhaps it was Chris who suggested a kids' comic, but honestly I don't exactly recall how the final decision was made. 
JA: Chris wanted to do a children's comic and had this vision of kids in an orphanage in the snow.  Zach and I developed characters, then I did story structure, plotting, and character development while Zach focused on dialogue and Chris made us look way better than we deserved.   


LINKS
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Comic: http://www.smbc-comics.com
SMBC Theater's Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/smbctheater
SMBC Theater's Twitter Page: http://www.twitter.com/smbctheater
Zach's Twitter Page: https://twitter.com/ZachWeiner
James's Twitter Page: https://twitter.com/jsandlinashby
Parking Lot is Full: http://plif.courageunfettered.com
Snowflakes Comic: http://www.snowflakescomic.com