On Winemaking ep2

Draft · 4 min read

April showers give way to May flowers. Perhaps April stress also gives way to May grapes? April was an extraordinarily busy month for everyone involved in the vineyards. The MUD jam got underway, the MCG newsletter was rediscovered, this publication got its start and the Titans of Text podcast really got going. Aside from all of the media pushes Grapevine is making amazing strides in providing a secure, robust, and feature-rich portal for the entire genre.

This isn’t an uncoordinated effort but it’s also not exactly my, or any one else’s, new idea. Just over two weeks ago I went on a bit of a rant in the MUD Coder’s slack in private to Eric, the head vintner himself, about Penny Arcade. The tale of Penny Arcade is not unknown nor has it been lost to history but I feel like in the face of how big they’ve gotten it’s easy to put aside how two creative nerds, one with a penchant for words and one with a brush in his hand, built one of the largest small media empires we enjoy today. That isn’t to say I think there is any hope of building anything as vast as that for MUDs or even text gaming as a whole but applying it is what I intend to do.

The neighing and braying of animals

I will admit Gabe’s art is well refined and in many cases brilliantly executed. His work on the Thornwatch series is beautiful and rife with context and purpose; the art for the D&D spoofs is playful and intricate; the character designs of Gabe and Tycho are clean and instantly recognizable but the early art was not.

The early art by comparison to other online comics at the time was not bad. They weren’t the first online comic strip by any means, nor the most prolific being one/three-a-week, and the subject matter the strips covered wasn’t anything more than gaming jokes wrapped in sarcasm but the strips had context. There were loads of gaming comics in the early days but there was only one gaming comic that was paired with a rant that by linguistic quality and tone felt like it belonged in a late night HBO talk show.

I didn’t like the comic in the early days. There was the occasional strip that I could identify with, like this one. Yes its crude but pretty much everyone of the right age bracket with a PC that played, well, video games at all identified with this one.

Moving on, I didn’t like the comic but I did read the rants. Penny Arcade presented an age old scenario of two embattled roommates. Tycho and Gabe were the Felix and Unger of our time. The Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau of the gaming world. It wasn’t entirely clear if the real world counterparts to Tycho and Gabe were embattled too. Some of the comic strips more or less broke the fourth wall and the rants constantly positioned Gabe as an idiot.

The point of all of this is that Penny Arcade offered something more than a comic strip. They appealed to a broad basis of people albeit mostly just gamers but all gamers. They were also fully prepared to capitalize on their growing influence and not just to make money. Penny Arcade was not only a comic strip and a sarcastic rant about life and the industry. Penny Arcade was one of the first true tastemakers of online gaming.

This status, along with Gabe’s evolving art style, lead to new deals. Commissioned comic strips for prerelease hype; introduction of advertising and endorsements of specific games. They weren’t seen as shills because they were ubergamers. They were us just more famous with contacts in the industry. And somehow they grew that even bigger.

Next would come partnerships and the release of their own properties. The Thornwatch TCG, various tabletop elements, new podcasts and collaborative comic strips and eventually PAX. As consumer confidence waned in the schlock, lies and booth babes of E3 and other AAA game conferences PAX embedded straight into the heart of the gamer culture. It was a conference for us by us with that second us being, of course, Tycho and Gabe.

To say PAX was a success is a wild understatement. Once PAX was proven successful the end game was reached. Gabe and Tycho could be public figures as themselves: Mike and Jerry. They could have families, children, and everything else their peers were having and separate the media of Gabe and Tycho who were still portrayed as young and without much responsibility from themselves: the middle aged, kind of dumpy, average looking American gamers.

I don’t have any doubt Mike and Jerry were fully poised to make this happen early on in Penny Arcade’s life. Perhaps not in the year 2000 days of burning ideas and sticking games down their pants but the rise of their media empire is not by random happenstance.

This is what is fueling the media push around the MUD Coder’s Guild and Grapevine. There will be announcements in the next few weeks involving another, story and community focused podcast; a project several months in the making as well as some other things I’ve been tossing around for quite a while.

This is the time of cultivation; of ideas and realized goals. The time of harvest will be soon.