The Daly Planet Podcast – Episode 75: The Adventure Zone!

This week hosts Scott and Matt nerd out about The Adventure Zone, a D&D Podcast and one of the finest examples of long-form storytelling the two have ever seen. The first half of the conversation is devoid of spoilers, so if you’ve never listened to The Adventure Zone, tune in and let us convince you that you’ve made a huge mistake. Also news and what we’ve been watching/reading/doing.

Spoilers for The Adventure Zone are clearly noted and begin at 45:00 and end at 1:04.

Check out The Adventure Zone

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Scott’s Twitter:@scottdaly85
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  • Wolftamer9

    Okay, I think I need to preface what I’m about to write with an apology- I am so, SO sorry for the thing I am about to say, I’m sorry for the enthusiasm and detail with which I’m gonna say it, and I hope you two will hold it in your hearts to forgive me, but… I think after Worm, you guys should read Homestuck. Now hear me out!

    One of the cool things about TAZ and Worm that makes them different from some of my other favorite media is that they’re accessible to a pretty wide audience. It’s hard to have your favorite things be a wacky cartoony anime about pirates and a bizarre webcomic that’s nearly impossible to explain, with fans that for a long time had a reputation for being, well… the worst. It bums me out knowing there’s all this good stuff out there that people might like if they were to look past the surface, but that it’ll never happen that way. (Incidentally, there’s a One Piece live TV adaptation coming to America, and I’m silently willing it not to be terrible and to draw in lots of fans. Homestuck has also supposedly been through some sort of licensing hoops that imply something big may be coming in the distant future.) That’s why it makes me excited to see Worm getting more popular and think about the potential for a TV show, or Titus Burgess tweeting about his interest in playing Taako on TV, or the fact that the webcomic Nimona is being adapted into an animated film once it gets out of development hell.

    Buuuut, it’d be nice if all those other things got fair recognition too.

    People have often jokingly referred to different works of art and fiction as “the new Homestuck”, drawing parallels between the works, or more often just between overlapping fanbases. Well, The Adventure Zone is something that fits that mold in a humongous way, by some enormous coincidence. That’s why I’m hoping you guys would like it.

    It started as the fourth installment of Andrew Hussie’s series of webcomics called MS Paint Adventures, suggestion-driven, online forum-based webcomics intentionally made in the style of those old text-based adventure games, in which forum users would suggest commands for things for characters to do next (in the style of, say, “> Dungeonman: Get ye flask” or whatever). Kind of similar to forum games like the popular comic Ruby Quest, MSPA got big when the third story, Problem Sleuth, took on a life of its own and became popular as a webcomic, with lots of improvised, user-suggested wacky antics. When Homestuck came along, though, it was exponentially bigger.

    This was something that started out with a fairly simple concept- what if there was a video game like the sims where you could alter or add to the construction of a house, only it was real and you were messing with your friend’s home? And then Andrew built it into this enormous, ridiculously complex story beginning with the end of the world, and spiraling out into this universe full of alien troll teenagers, time-travel and universe-destroying demons. Not so different from Griffin’s work with the Adventure Zone.
    And though user suggestions stopped being a thing once HS got too popular and the number of suggestions to sort through made it pointless not to just write the story without them, it was the fans that helped Homestuck become what it was. People suggested character names, suggested actions became recurring inside jokes, and fans’ ideas took characters (like the Wayward Vagabond and his decision to become the “Mayor of Can Town”) in directions that affected the whole story. Even when the suggestions stopped, Andrew made a point of including jokes based on fan-memes, and even major characters based on the archetypes of the Homestuck fandom, the “hatedom”, and yes, popular actor and Homestuck fan Dante Basco, who notably played Rufio in the movie Hook. Even a major group of characters, the Midnight Crew, were originally designed by a fan and included as bonus content for Problem Sleuth as a donation reward.

    The style is strange, “like nothing ever done before”, you might say- it’s mostly character sprites meant too look like they were made in MS Paint, sometimes in animated GIF form, and, okay, weird, but fine. The dialogue is more interesting- it’s done in the style of online chat logs, usually between internet friends, and even near the end when the storytelling rules start to break down and people actually talk to each other, the text is still presented in the same way. On very rare occasion, there are playable flash games that the reader needs to complete to continue through the story, which some people do find exhausting, but that’s why they’re rare. There are incidences where the reader has to go back to a previous page and enter a password to get to the next part of the story, there are times when the fourth wall breaks and the site’s theme either changes or is literally whacked out of place with a crowbar. It’s just a fun, overly-meta mess. And, when plot points coalesce, or it’s time for a twist, we get flash animations with music, like this one (spoilers!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spz7WW5dlg8 ….which can be highlighted as major dramatic turning points and climactic events. The 14-minute-long End of Act 5 animation, [S] Cascade, was such an anticipated event that its release crashed Newgrounds.
    Though Hussie made the music at first, fans quickly came in and started contributing AMAZING music, compiled into like 10-20 albums. (does it help if I mention that Toby Fox, of Undertale fame, made music for HS for YEARS, and literally made a huge chunk of UT in Andrew Hussie’s basement??? Or that one Adventure Zone fan whose music was included in the podcast has also made Homestuck music?)

    That’s something that makes it hard to explain, but a unique and amazing experience.

    The often simple, symbolic format also contributes to audience participation in pretty much the same way as TAZ, because depicting characters as various different races and body types, or as being transgender, is easy when you’re working with simple, cartoony characters depicted in black and white. And just like the McElroy brothers, Hussie eventually encouraged that kind of variety of interpretation, utilizing that same advantage.
    You can see Hussie’s writing improve as he gets better and better at creating different voices for different characters through the text medium, not only because of differences in typing styles (the trolls almost all use Leetspeak, sorry), but because he became a better writer and each character expressed themselves differently.

    The humor in particular is something that makes me wonder if Andrew and the McElroys were separated at birth or something- the nonsensical, pseudo-ironic pop culture references especially, but also uses of irony, and any allusion to ghosts, horses, or sex. You just KNOW that the Penis Ouija scene (Spoilers, starts at http://www.mspaintadventures.com/?s=6&p=006609) could have been thought up on a MBMBaM episode.
    And something that both Hussie and Mcelroy alike excel at is starting with a basic, silly comedic concept and building it up into these serious situations- just like you can have Taako’s search to invent the taco or the fans’ obsession with bringing back Barry Bluejeans culminate in very serious character drama, you also can start with the protagonist’s joking hatred of the Betty Crocker brand because he’s sick of his doting father’s constant baking, and later reveal that not only is the aforementioned Batterwitch a real person, she’s actually an aquatic, immortal alien troll empress who slowly turned future earth into a dystopian hellscape in servitude of the Big Bad, and Guy Fieri and the band the Insane Clown Posse are the despotic figureheads she used to take power. Could an army of robotic Tom Bodetts teamed up with Merle’s summoned helper Della Reese defeat them? Who knows!

    The characterization and the dark turns work in HS too- you come to like these characters, and when they die, when things start getting killed off, you care, even despite the fact that deaths often seem cheap thanks to numerous plot points. You want to see these people succeed and be happy.

    One thing I absolutely have to concede is the ending. Back when [S] Cascade came out, people realized it was worth the wait. It actually tied together every loose end brought up until and through Act 5, with some major twists topping it off. The end of Act 7 though, was pretty unsatisfying. So many questions went unanswered, and even the End of Act flash left people confused as to what even happened. I think, with working on the video game and the legal drama, Andrew might have been too swamped to coordinate a good ending, but I don’t know.

    Anyway, sorry to ramble so much, sorry to clog your comments section, I hope I explained that well. Not going to nag you guys into reading it, especially because it’s such a commitment, but it’s certainly something unique that might be worth exploring if you think it fits with your tastes enough.

    • Wolftamer9

      (oof, that was way longer than I intended it to be, sorry! Please don’t take it too seriously just because it was long.)

    • That was very long! I appreciate all the info though. I’ve honestly never heard of this, though I suspect Matt might have. Your passion comes through in this post and it’s got me excited to at least give it a look.