« Time for the yearly Wikipedia bitching-out. After all, they've been *so* successful in the past, right? | Main | Four words that have me very hopeful for tonight's episode of Studio 60. »

Eric: We remember the Frohman... we travel quickly... in the other direction....

Concerned

(From Concerned: The Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman. Click on the thumbnail for full sized fade to black!)

There are two philosophies you can adopt, when doing a creative project.

Well, okay, there's actually several thousand philosophies you can adopt when you're doing a creative project, but come on. Work with me, here. Let's focus this down specifically to webcomics, since after all that's what we're discussing today.

One philosophy is the Open Ended Approach. You might have a specific beginning, middle and end in mind for your webcomic, but you're not so concerned with outlining down to the thousandth decimal place. You have any number of side-roads (or side quests) you can take the strip on in the process, and for the most part you're thinking in terms of years to get things accomplished. At its ultimate expression, the Open Ended Approach is just that: open ended, going forward for all eternity.

The other philosophy is the Project Approach. You have one project you want to accomplish. When you're done with that project, you move on to other -- generally unrelated -- things.

Obviously, the two have overlap, but for the most part webcomics fit in the first philosophy. Yes, something like Narbonic might have a six year plan, but there is breadth and freedom during those six years. Garrity can do whatever she wants, with only those hooks she feels necessary to keep the over-arching plot churning along.

Christopher Livingston, on the other hand, was solidly in the Project Approach with Concerned: The Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman.

Concerned was meant to be a parody of Half-Life 2. There would be some nods to Half-Life and to the extended Half-Life culture within it (including a couple of brilliant Counterstrike parodies), but for the most part Concerned would lock itself down to the events in Half-Life 2, period. Each "chapter" of Half-Life 2 had a corresponding chapter in Concerned. In many ways, Concerned set itself up as a prequel to the game, setting up the various (often implausible) situations the game itself deals with.

And of course, there is Gordon Frohman.

Gordon Freeman, for those who came in late, is a brilliant action-adventurer scientist who operates almost out of a Doc Savage vein. He is the hero of Half-Life and its sequels, played by the player in first person mode. He never speaks, and over the course of many years of alien occupation he has become a legendary figure.

Gordon Frohman, on the other hand, is a moron who won't shut up.

For two hundred and four strips, we have followed the "adventures" of Gordon Frohman as he systematically makes the world he lives in worse. In the wake of Gordon Frohman, peaceful communities become overrun by nightmarish zombies, docile antlions begin attacking every creature that comes near them, and pretty much everyone who isn't necessary to the actual plot of Half-Life 2 dies a horrible death thanks to Frohman.

The strip was meticulously produced via machinima -- the process of taking video games and other extant virtual tools and using them to stage and shoot comics or videos. Livingston is an expert at the process, posing and adjusting his models' positions, facial expressions and situations with the exactness of a sculptor. (In a lot of ways, machinima is a kind of digital sculpture anyhow -- you take your elements, shape and adjust them, then photograph the results). Further, Livingston's writing is absolutely spot on -- he knows how to execute comedy and do it well. Further, between his writing and a series of excellent annotations, he's able to take someone who neither plays Half-Life 2 nor wants to play Half-Life 2 -- like me -- and still keep me giggling the entire time. This is a downright good strip.

And now, it's done.

It wouldn't have to be done, of course. Gordon Freeman's adventures have already continued on into Half Life 2: Episode One, a shorter sequel designed as a rolling release into Half-Life 3 (by the time all the "Episodes" are released, they will fit together into the whole of Half-Life 3, or so Valve says). But Livingston decided right from the beginning he was going to parody Half-Life 2's events and that would be that. The subtitle of the series was "the Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman," and by God he was going to stick to that.

And so, here we are, at the end. Fade to black. The Frohman is dead.

It is a credit to Livingston that I don't want that to be true. I want Gordon to bounce back up, full of nimwitted cheer, and say "hah! Just kidding!" only to discover that while he was playing dead, some kind of mutant thing had started eating his leg or something. For one thing, Frohman was a brilliant character -- a really stupid person written really intelligently -- and you could accept almost any boneheaded thing he might do. At the same time, you liked Frohman. There was something deeply endearing about an alien oppressor's fanboy who never quite understood any of the situations he was in.

Plenty of other people have e-mailed Livingston, telling him how much they like Frohman and Concerned. Plenty have asked that Gordon find some way to make it, to get to the sequels, to keep annoying and screwing up the world that everyone lives in.

But, Livingston refused. He had his project. He did it. It's over. He's moving on. He's ending on a high note as well. And I have a hard time faulting that.

But even as the Frohman dies, his legacy will live on. Whenever a cluster of explosive barrels is stacked up next a bridge, Gordon Frohman will be there. Whenever a gravity gun is used to lift a toilet seat, Gordon Frohman will be there. Whenever a headcrab starves to death or a strider scrapes a dead guy off its tripod leg? Gordon Frohman will be there.

God help us, we're all doomed, aren't we?

Posted by Eric Burns-White at November 1, 2006 2:50 PM

Comments

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 1, 2006 4:01 PM

Dammit, Eric, I was right smack in the middle of the archives. The site was fine after Fleen linked to the finale (that's how I learned of Concerned in the first place). It was fine after Comixpedia linked. But nooow ...

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 1, 2006 4:14 PM

You know, I'm fairly certain it only counts as machinima if it's actually animated, like Red vs. Blue. Otherwise, I think we'd have to consider a wide range of comics based on video game sprites machinima. Of course, concerned isn't really a sprite comic, which is what we usually call such creations. Maybe a polygon comic?

Anyhow, all hair-splitting about definitions aside, I wouldn't be surprised if Frohman showed up one day down the road. After all, if there's anything that first-person shooters like Half-Life are known for, it's respawn points.

Comment from: larksilver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 1, 2006 11:05 PM

I used to read this comic, but it got lost in the Great Crash some time ago, along with several other bookmarks. I'm not sure now whether to be thrilled to have found it again or sad that it's over. Wait, I'm both! ha!

Comment from: Doug Wykstra [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 1, 2006 11:31 PM

This may be the end of Frohman as far as Livingston's concerned, but I wonder if he won't be put in in a minor role in one of Half-Life's upcoming episodes. I find it hard to believe that this comic would escape the attention of all of Half-Life's developers, and I'm guessing one of them may have liked it enough to want to put something in at a later date. This wouldn't be unprecedented. Bungie loves Red vs. Blue, and according to recent reports, Halo 3 may come with a "movie maker" mode- something that is probably a direct reaction to the folks at Rooster Teeth. Also, some of the new Halo 2 levels have soft drink machines with the Red vs. Blue logo on them. I could see Valve paying homage to Frohman in a similar manner.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 1, 2006 11:37 PM

I could see Valve paying homage to Frohman in a similar manner.

There's some indication it's already happened -- Frohman was a great lover of Doctor Breen's propaganda broadcasts, and some of the rebels in Episode One mention that as little as they miss Breen himself, they do miss the show. It seems like an oblique shout out.

Comment from: Tyck [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 2, 2006 5:31 AM

You know, I'm fairly certain it only counts as machinima if it's actually animated, like Red vs. Blue. Otherwise, I think we'd have to consider a wide range of comics based on video game sprites machinima.

I don't know if machinima is quite the right word for something done in stills- this seems to be a good opportunity for somebody to coin a better term- but it'd be very hard to expand machinima enough to cover sprite comics. I think the basic difference is a machinima is produced using the game engine, while sprite comics are most often made by taking the game's art and recomposing it outside of the game itself.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 2, 2006 8:27 AM

Given how easy it is to tweak the engine of video games that were sprite-based, I'd have to say that machinima would still cover them if Concerned counted as machinima. That's why I'm proposing polygon comic - though know that I think of it, rendered comic might work better.

Comment from: aaronbourque [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 2, 2006 2:24 PM

How about "machinigraph"?

Comment from: HydrogenGuy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 2, 2006 3:32 PM

Machinimanga!

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 2, 2006 3:42 PM

Machinimanga!

New! From Hasbro! Collect them all, then connect them together to form the colossal Animaton!

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 2, 2006 5:53 PM

Pitting the Shonenbots against the Shojocons?

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 3, 2006 8:40 AM

There had better be a tentacle or hentai upgrades to go with these Transformers, 32.

I've noticed it's a big thing with 3-D polygon games now, being able to see the characters actually move their mouths, which isn't really as big of a deal as it seems to be. I saw this with the new versions of Guild Wars and Neverwinter Nights 2. Now, if they only spent that much time making the games actually good!

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 3, 2006 6:34 PM

There's a Lego ExoForce joke waiting to be made here, but as is I'm already having nightmares of Terrorcon slash that I'm certain someone has already written.

Well, as a video game reviewer, let me put it this way, Miyaa - would you ever expect the guy who builds movie cameras to make the best cinema possible? I mean, sure, there's a chance, but odds are, you're going to see very good technique coupled with very poor storytelling.

Comment from: Gabe [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 5, 2006 5:07 AM

There's also definitely a Half-Life: Full Life Consequences joke waiting to be made here, but I won't be the one to make it.

Comment from: neongrey [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 6, 2006 11:06 AM

Heh, Miyaa, Guild Wars: Nightfall seems thus far to be worlds better than Factions. :P

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 6, 2006 5:38 PM

And actually, it is. I do like Nightfall, a lot. Love the portable heroes concept. They act far better than your typical pathetic henchmen.

The saddest thing about Guild Wars is the dance routines you can have your player dance to based on his or her primary class. It seems like the programmers spent more time on the dance routines than anything else. Are we as gamers that pathetic and sad? Sure, there other lame emotes you can have your character do, but it seems like the majority of the time you see characters idly dancing, sometimes for hours at a time. (It seems like hours seeing some of the dances.)

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 6, 2006 6:13 PM

"Are we as gamers that pathetic and sad?"

After attending E3 six different times, I can confirm that yes, we are.

Comment from: Prodigal [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 7, 2006 12:51 AM

You have seen the "Thriller" video somebody did,yes miyaa? If not, it's totally worth the trip to YouTube.

Comment from: Sean Duggan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 7, 2006 1:23 AM

Sad that it's over. On the other hand, it was a good comic, and it reminded me to check out Playing with Dolls (http://www.webcomicsnation.com/spike/playing_with_dolls/series.php) again, another comic Eric recommended. Sadly, said comic has not been updated lately.

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


Remember me?