Anatomy of A Daily Victim
Fargo: Every day we run a feature here on GameSpy known as [cues drum roll machine] THE DAILY VICTIM. It's the subject of this week's column!
Gabriel: When did we get a drum roll machine?
Fargo: We nabbed it when we bought Mplayer. So, Gabe, would you like to read from your mailbag?
Gabriel: Sure -- I got this note from Ovi "graphix" Demetrian:
i've printed the first 100 or so of your daily victims drawings at school and am kinda trying to do some drawings and stuff, but i was wondering if u could do me a favor... like the next daily victim u draw, can u like scan it in the steps u use to draw it? like after u finish a step, then scan it, then do the next step and scan it and so on? and then send me the steps to see how the magic happens?
Fargo: We thought it would be fun to do a whole, "Creating the Daily Victim" column. We'll start with the creation of the image -- 'cuz that's sexy -- and then we'll go on to how I whip up the writing. Maybe it will inspire you. Maybe it will delight you. Maybe it'll pass some time while you're microwaving a burrito. Anyways, today we're going to look at the frozen guy, who was just posted yesterday and scored really high in the voting.
From the Beginning:
Gabe: The creation of a Daily Victim usually starts out with Fargo sending me an idea for a headline. The other way it can work is that I just draw something wacky and send it to him.
Fargo: I keep a stack of yellow notecards by my desk at all times. Often I'll be talking to someone about something and we'll say, "Hey, that sounds like a Victim."
Gabe: In the case of this victim he sent me the headline about a guy who's coworker keeps turning up the AC. So I drew this sketch of a dude looking very cold and scanned it in. You can click on these pics to blow them up:
Fargo: Well, they don't really, "Blow Up," per se. They just get bigger. I wouldn't want our readers to get disappointed or anything.
Gabriel: I should tell you right now this is the way I work and I'm sure it's not the only or even best way to do this sort of thing. Once I've scanned the sketch into Photoshop, I bring down the opacity on the sketch layer so that I can trace over it on another layer.
Fargo: Take a pic of your Wacom tablet. Gabe does everything on a Wacom tablet, a big giant one, he hardly uses his mouse anymore.
Gabriel: Okay, yah, here's the tablet:
Gabriel: The sketch is just there as a guide, lots of times I don't even stick to it. I like to use a real thick line for the outside edge of my characters and smaller lines for the detail work inside. This is a common practice as far as cartoons go and I'm sure if you go to school for this sort of thing they will even tell you it has a name.
Gabriel: Once I have my "inks" done I adjust the Brightness Contrast setting. I like to call this part adjusting the Brightness/Contrast setting. Basically I just drag both sliders all the way down. The reason for this is two fold: First so that when it comes time to color the pic I don't get those nasty white edges around my lines. You photoshop users out there know what I'm talking about. Second...hmm I guess it was only one fold.
Gabriel: The next and probably most important step in this process is to load up Front Line Force and do my damndest to kick some rebel ass. Uhh, but don't tell Fargo that.
Fargo: Don't tell me what?
Fargo: Then he emails the "inked" drawing to me. At this point, Gabe is done; he's just gotta hope and pray that I don't screw it up. Isn't that right?
Gabriel: [Is already playing Front Line Force.]
Fargo: So, Gabe sends me a final, inked version of the Victim. I don't do anything more with the art -- I crop out the head to make the thumbnail image for the front page, but that's about it. Then I open up the image and put a text editor window beside it -- that way I'm inspired as I write. GameSpy peeps love to stroll by my desk at this point to see what's cooking for tomorrow's feature.
It takes anywhere from ten minutes to a half hour to write the Victim -- usually because I already have an idea in my head before I start writing. There's nothing technically exciting about how I write the victim ("Remember kids: always hit the 'enter' key at the end of every paragraph") so instead I'll talk more generally about the kind of stuff people ask me in regards to the column.
Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
One of the first places I check is our mailbag where people are welcome to send in ideas. Occasionally I'll see one that'll get me going, like when someone told me the story about the Naked Guy. In at least one case, the dude practically wrote up the victim himself -- as was the case with the Tribes Hand.
But for the most part ideas just come from observing stuff around you. The reason I started the feature is because the gaming community is just so frickin' funny to begin with. Who hasn't run across some jerk in the Diablo forums or the guys secretly running a server against campus policy? Real people can be really funny, you just have to spot 'em.
Most of the ideas come from stuff that happens to me. Yes, there really is a Matrix action figure sitting on my monitor. He does make me feel badass. One time I had a terrible cold, and a victim was the result.
And so it was with this last victim. I moved my desk recently, and encountered a new problem. GameSpy isn't the best with climate control here, so when the sun sets, the air conditioner keeps running, and I freeze my wedding tackle off. One night I was having trouble typing, I was so cold. I tried using a space heater and with a "pop" I blew a fuse and plunged a whole corner of GameSpy into darkness (possibly the topic of a future victim?). Some people would get angry. I got inspired.
So I had some vague idea of a freezing guy for a Victim. In order to get things focused on gaming, I had the frozen guy's game performance suffer. It occurred to me that having some guy whine about an air conditioner wasn't funny, which is why I threw in another character named Crenshaw, who was doing it on purpose -- now, the fact that someone ELSE is turning on the air conditioner just to win at Quake, now that was funny. Most of my ideas come from real life, then I tweak them around until they strike me as plausible, but ridiculous. :)
How Do I Get Good At Writing?
Fargo: People occasionally hit me with this question in my email. I'm afraid the advice I have isn't really exciting -- just read a lot and write every day. It's good to be more than a writer, too. You want to have a lot of background to draw from. The fact that I study history, know how to program computers and design webpages, and helped build a start-up company from the ground up gives me a lot of raw material to work from. Especially now, when making fun of the dot.com industry is so trendy.
True story: I wanted to sharpen my skillz as a writer, so I thought I would make myself write a short piece every day. Even if it was just a character sketch. Somehow, when I was working this idea out in my head, I decided I should write about gamers and actually post the content so that people could see it. Voila! The Daily Victim was born. But if you're serious about writing, write something every day, even if you don't post it anywhere.
Don't Be Afraid to Go All Weird
I think the biggest problem people have when they're writing or doing any kind of art -- the so-called "writer's block" -- is because of self-censorship. Somewhere in the back of their head there's a little kid coming up with all sorts of cool ideas, and before they can even think about making it happen, part of their brain says, "No, that's too Weird." "...too gross." "...too stupid." "...too juvenile." "...will make you look bad." "...might offend anyone who happens to be friends with one-legged armenian cab drivers." etc. etc. Sadly, especially here in the United States, a lot of kids are trained that way from school, where often it's more important to be like everyone else and turn in exactly what the teacher asks. Thank God for the few teachers out there that actually encouraged me to break some rules!
Anyways, don't be afraid to play around with really whacked ideas. Imagine for a second Steven King sitting in an easy chair brainstorming ideas for his next novel -- you think he's sitting there thinking "too weird, too weird?" No way! He's running with everything until he finds an idea he likes. Work with weird things and you can make weird things work.
That brings us back to the victim we're working on, by the way (and you thought I was just rambling.) In real life, people rarely spend a weekend rigging up complex networks of plastic hamster-tubes (which, if I were president, I'd change immediately.) In the end, it made for a funny story though -- so I ran with it.
Different Victims for Different Folks
Fargo: Once I have an idea for the Victim there are a few different ways I can go with it.
The first is what I call the "Character Profile." I take a funny premise and just sorta flesh out the character around it. The Beaver-Teeth Tech Guy, The Chick Defending the Flag, The Guy With the Really Small Monitor, or The Wimpy Guy Who Really Wants to Smack Talk But Isn't Very Good At It. Often I write these when the concept behind the character is funny enough as is. I really like these, but they generally only get mediocre scores from you cretins. (Oh, sorry, I meant that in a nice way. ;)
Then there's the "Story" ones. These take a little longer, because I actually have to think of a beginning middle and end and wrap it all up in a few paragraphs. The story about that guy's calamitous Worms Armageddon game is a good example. The story about The Kid Who Got a Puppy Instead of Team Arena is another classic -- one of the highest ranked ever (I think people are morally opposed to giving cute puppydogs low scores.) In general, the Victims that actually tell a whole story get ranked WAY higher. All along people have been saying that nobody wants to read on the web, but I guess it kinda goes to show you that people LOVE stories.
For holiday specials I experimented with doing "Group" victims. These seem to get really high scores (people love when previous Victims get together) so I'm going to keep doing them on occasion -- the Christmas Special is both a story and a group piece and proves my point about not being afraid to be weird. It's the highest ranked Victim ever!
Finally there are the "non-traditional" victims. These often come from Gabe drawing a picture so bizarre I don't know what to do with it. The Force Feedback Guy is weird. One of the best weird ones is The Quake Pig. Go there now and look at the voting -- funniest graph ever! A lot of times these Victims score really low, but I love throwing them in there. You know. The best part of this feature is not knowing what you're going to see every day.
In the case of our friend the frozen guy, a character sketch just didn't seem like enough. I mean, the title basically gave the whole joke away. I needed to take it a step farther, and the obvious way to do that was to have him plot revenge against the air conditioner guy. We had everything a classic story needs: Characters, conflict, and a resolution. Who da man? Why yes, yes I am.
Posting the Victim
We have an admin system where I just cut and paste my story into along with links to Gabe's images. Because it's a daily feature I couldn't afford to have it eat away too much of my day so this way basically as fast as I can write it, it's online.
Then, I watch the scoring. Sometimes I log in at midnight just to watch it get posted and to see what people think. Usually the first 100 votes pretty much sum up how everyone will feel. I watch the numbers closely because it gives me great feedback on what you want to see more of ... there's also some weird voting psychology there that I don't understand, which makes it all the more interesting to watch.
I consider anything that scores less than a 7 to be pretty much a loser for everyone involved. Anything above 8 I consider a success. Anything that hits a 9 or above is a smash hit -- that's a rarity! Soon we'll have forums hooked up to the victim so you can comment on it.
Fargo, You're Boring Us
Sorry. I'm done. Go check out the Daily Victim!