Friday, August 14, 2009

Comic 623: Headed South

today i bring you HateBottles. i think you and hatebottles would be good friends.

you have died of stupid-tery
Hi, everyone. HateBottles here (anyone remember me from the three days I posted in the comments?). I signed up to give this review because I felt I'd be a little left of center, trying to find the good in the comic and give some kind of insight into how today's XKCD is better than it seems, yet still in need of a keen critical eye.

That said, when I read today's comic, I seriously considered abandoning my post.

Then I thought about it some more, and you know what, I DO have something constructive to say. But I have to start off with something I'm sure everyone here has heard before: Where's the joke?

It's easy enough to get the reference. Oregon Trail. It's obvious from a quick scan; there's the word "Oregon", there's a covered wagon, boom. Reference spotted. But the joke could really be two things:

A) In the past, life was really like this, and isn't it funny how the game was accurate?
B) Someone who only knew of the Oregon Trail from its videogame might think this is all accurate.

I think the answer is... it's supposed to be both? At the same time? It's not really clear, though. We have an inaccurate timeline that relies entirely on a videogame reference. That's it.

Now, I told you I'd find something good in this comic. Let me take a brief tangent for a moment and talk about how something funny is created. Comic strips, stand-up acts, films, quirky music... any kind of funny things. There are two very, very (very) broadly-defined steps. In fact, let me work backwards from Step 2.

Step 2: Execute on the situation in a funny way.

Randall has failed us here, folks. He has given us a timeline, sterile and inert. A few stick figures, a whole lotta words, and virtually no action.

So what's Step 1, then?

Step 1: Come up with a funny situation.

This is what really grinds my... biscuits. Yes, Randall has played with the differences between humans and machines in the amount of exactly one shit-ton, sure. That would be fine if he cared more about the universe he was creating, rather than letting it rest on a silly joke.

See, I actually think the scenario is awesome. In the hands of a more experienced artist, this could have been a period piece, set in the 1800's, where the characters act like people shittily playing Oregon Trail, the game. It could be awesome. It could be a poignant look at how people interact when social structures (and basically all of reality) aren't really issues. It could be fun, interesting, witty, and really sharp.

Instead, Randall Munroe has given us a timeline, landing on his front page with a barely audible "fuck it".

Maybe I'm getting a bit bent out of shape over what is essentially one man's random doodles. He's never been one to really flesh out a full universe, only the little gags that pepper them along the way. But something like this really makes me wish for more. He has an interesting idea, one that few people would have ever considered expressing. And he totally drops the ball in the expression.

Does he know he's actually clever? That sometimes, his ideas are witty? It looks like he came up with the Oregon Trail joke, realized it had nothing to do with XKCD as a whole, felt bad about himself, and covered the whole thing up with a safe, easy timeline. It's basically a chart, and XKCD has a lot of charts, right? Meanwhile, the clever idea is lost in the folds, begging the reader to dig it out.

People on this blog like to say Randall should convert his comic to a semi-regular picto-blog, and I like to agree with them; however, I would like to propose a corollary: He needs an editor, a co-writer, or whatever you want to call a second god-damned person for him to use as a sounding board. It's like his own comic about an Audio Preview for YouTube; does he even realize his jokes don't come out right? Maybe if he had to pitch them to someone first, he'd hear the magic words, "I think a timeline would be really lame, actually. Why not inhabit their world through the characters, instead?"

Or, "I don't think you need this panel. It's basically dead weight."

Or, "If you're going to have a pun, don't point it out."

[Or, "You spelled 'Dysentery' without the second 'e.' "

Or, "your motherfucking proof is wrong." -carl]

I genuinely hope he finds someone close to him who'll keep him honest. And heaven knows he's not listening to us, we're just his detractors, sitting over here... detracting. But he needs someone, bad. I don't think he wants to be the kind of guy that settles for less, and dammit, he's too smart to be that guy anyway.

HateBottles out. Peace be with you, and stay the fuck away from nails.


  1. This review rocked. I know I have complained before about a guest review not being funny and now I feel really bad about it, because this review didn't try to be funny and ended up being amazing, very clearminded, accurate and relatable. It was dead spot on, no exaggerations, no needlessly asinine points and no unnecessary rudeness.

    Now that you mentioned it, I realised that this idea DOES have a lot of potential. I mean, I'm a complete dunce about Oregon Trail and I never saw the jokes around the Internet (or maybe I saw them and never recognised them), and I neved played the game (it wasn't popular in Brazil, people -- I'm NOT living in a cave, as much as Brazil feels like a cave sometimes), but I suspect the attempts at truly fleshing out the concept were quite few. And Randall truly wasted an interesting idea. This wasn't even a "bad comic" -- it was a dull throwaway, a hack job, and worse -- it was nostalgia pandering ONCE AGAIN.

    I'm getting truly, truly sick of xkcd. I think you guys succeeded: you turned me into an active detractor. And I AM NOT REGRETFUL.

  2. He fixed dysentery.


    Your post is spot-on, and I would like to grope your butt a little.


  4. This > latest xkcd:

  5. Also, Bizarro tells us today how to defend against an attack by a stick figure! I'm sure this will come in handy to you guys.

  6. That's why Oregon Trail III > Oregon Trail II. 500 pounds of candy, 12 bonnets, and a grandfather clock? I call that an adventure!

    Also HateBottles, I keep imagining that you look like this and it just makes your posts even funnier.

    Also, please update Nail-Watch soon

  7. HateBottles, I eagerly await your next nailwatch post.

    Also, bravo on making Fernie feel badly about himself. I feel like this wins you one free Internets.

    All in all, a thoughtful review, and I'd like to see you guest post more often. And I agree, he seems to have the beginnings of good ideas, and then doesn't care enough to really complete his thoughts. I guess he was aiming for the "look you guys Oregon Trail was based off a sad thing, and you had fun with it as a child" kind of joke.

  8. There's no place to say this un-ironically on Nail-Watch itself, but I actually scraped my finger on a nail the other day. I guess nails, as a culture, don't much appreciate my jive.

    Thanks for the nice comments, guys. For some reason, it warms my heart to know a few fellow overly-critical nerds find my rants interesting. (And I mean that in the best way possible.)

  9. don't worry, i saved a copy of the misspelled comic and will upload it later. Also did that for yesterday's fucked up comic.

    also, who hacked fernie's google account and is using it to write nice things?

  10. Way ahead of ya, Carl.

    You know Randall, some cartoonists actually work hard for a living. What YOU do, by contrast, is draw stick figures, almost all in black and white, three times a week, on any subject and in any style you choose, without the burden of publishers or print syndicates holding you to any sort of standard- and yet you JUST can't find the time to proofread the damn thing?

  11. what was wrong with yesterday's comic? (i mean besides from the obvious suckiness)

  12. HB, nice post. I didn't like the first part, but the rest was awesome.
    But I still maintain that there is no joke in this comic. Randy came up with a potentially funny situation. That's all.
    It's like a sitcom with no jokes.

    Maybe they'll hire randy to do the Friends remake.

    When Fernie's talking shit about the comic you KNOW it's REALLY terrible.

  13. Nail-Watch needs a post about the dangers of nail oxidation and Tetanospasmin!!

  14. Am I really the only person on this blog who does not find Fernie obnoxious?

    Anyway, I have to concur with everyone. Really good review.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Fantastic Review. WTB more from same guest poster :).

    Also, update Nailwatch, as has been said.

    Carl: I know you hate C&H (referenced in other posts), but I found [url=]today's[/url] rather entertaining :).

  17. Jozrael: Use HTML.

    Surely you can use the preview feature, rather than waiting to see the post?

  18. Cyanide and Happiness is ok in my book because of

    Tim Buckley, oh how I hate you.

  19. Tim Buckley is such a dick and I've only ever read that one storyline from him.

    when the c&h guys call you a dick, you are a dick.

  20. He is an egotistical, arrogant, perverted, self-righteous, unfunny paedophile who happens to be a complete jerk to his fanbase and rules his forums with an iron fist.
    His comic is a lame rip-off of Penny Arcade. The art, the premise, the jokes...
    Ethan is a warped Mary Sue wish fulfillment character. His "wacky" antics aren't endearing, they're annoying.
    Lucas' only personality trait is that he is sarcastic and fat. That's it.
    Lilah loves Ethan despite the fact that he's a psychopathic manchild.
    Zeke is a robot who wants to kill all humans.
    Chef Brian. Oh my God, Chef Brian. You do not know the depths to which Buckley will sink until you see this... this ABOMINATION.

    Nothing about his comic is even slightly original or entertaining.
    Every character has the same B^U face. Even though he draws his comic with a 6000 dollar tablet.
    B^Uckley does not have characters, he has props.

    But, for some reason, his comic's immensely popular.

    All you need to know about Tim Buckley.

  21. I still don't get what the joke is with this comic. A timeline? Really? I could look in my textbook for that and much better drawings to go with it.

  22. Anon, there is no joke. Unless you consider randy's attempt at making a humorous comic to be a joke.
    Which most of us probably do.

    And I happen to like Fernie, even if we don't always agree.
    I like everyone here. Even Willy.

  23. explosm has massively jumped the shark, though. Their comics used to be pretty good, but now they all suck balls and some of them don't even make any fucking sense anymore

  24. If this strip seemed bad enough already, try comparing it to Achewood's brief Oregon Trail arc.

    Although Achewood itself has been shaky lately... at least it's still well-written.

  25. Oh man, that arc.

    <3 Achewood

    CAPTCHA: Prizes

  26. Oh. My. God. I didn't get that miscarriage C&H, so I started doing a little googling, and holy shit. Tim Buckley is a grade A cockwing.

  27. HateBottles: good post!

    You ask in your post whether Randy knows that he is sometimes clever--I would posit that the answer is yes, and this is precisely the problem. Randy has taken his occasional cleverness and come to assume that everything he shits out is brilliant. He doesn't spend any time to stop or think or make it good. He thinks up something he likes and then just makes a comic.

  28. Kinda makes me wonder why there's no "CAD Sucks" blog, when B^Uckley is clearly a MILLION times more of an unfunny, talentless hack than Randall.

    Maybe it's just that much of a foregone conclusion by now?

  29. CAD had an entry on Your Webcomic Sucks, and the Animated Series got torn apart on Me and You and Mary-Sue.

    Also yeah foregone conclusion.

  30. hey, i always thought randy should have an editor too! get out of my head hatebottles!

    Xkcd makes me kinda sad, really. It has potential. Randull actually does have clever ideas. He even tries to put mroe than one clever idea in the same comic, which has potential for really good comedy.
    But then he phones it in, leading to crap like this.

    It's like a gourmet chef with a lot of really great recipes and the finest ingredients you've ever seen. Taken by inspiration, he cuts up some chicken, starts mixing a delicious cream szuce, throws in some tomato and basil... and gets bored, says "Screw it" and tosses it on the stove for two minutes.

    And then you're served a nice steaming plate of mostly raw chicken in a creamy goop with a couple large chunks of tomato and basil leaves on the side. Because he's too lazy to take the time to mince the concept up fine, to blend his ideas into a harmonic whole, to let the comic simmer in his imagination before he serves it.

    And he STILL gets five stars, because the raving fans are all "Chicken in a tomato/basil/cream sauce? Oh, that sounds delicious! Randall, get..." um... "get that dish into my head?" Or something? "Oh, Randall! Haiku, classic math proofs, and sleep deprivation? What an amazing combination!"

    I'd go on, but I've suddenly gotten rather hungry.

  31. Actually Randall's more like a chef who has a good idea for a dish every once in a while, but at some point he promised to all of his customers that he'd come up with three brand-new dishes every week without fail, and when he discovered that he couldn't quite meet that expectation, he just started heating up a bunch of TV dinners and sticking frilly toothpicks in the mashed potatoes. And then the fans are all "OMG Chef Randall, how did you know I loved TV dinners as a kid, GET OUT OF MY PALATE"

  32. That's... actually pretty good. ("Get out of my palate"? Genius.) Although he still does have a good idea every once in a while. He just doesn't give a rip even then.

  33. Oh dear...Randall is now selling an xkcd tie.

  34. All this comic needed was something halfway through to give you a hint that he's talking about the video game. My issue is that I made it all the way through without picking up on the reference and after reading through it again, I noticed how funny some of the dates could have been.

    Perhaps if he changed his wording a little? He mentions a wave of 500,000 people arriving, but isn't the point of the joke that people never actually *make* it to Oregon? Because they suck at playing the game? The rest of the jokes all seem to imply that they're happening to people who have already settled there. That's what initially threw me off the video game reference.

  35. Jozrael:
    At first I was wondering what you meant, as that Cyanide and Happiness had nothing to do with Calvin and Hobbes.

  36. I didn't get this comic until I went to the forums, because I'm not American. But then it brought back nostalgia about the Aussie versions of these edutational school games, such as the one about crossing the blue mountains, the maths circus one, and the one about the gold rush. =D

  37. This was the first comic XKCD has published where I actively sought out XKCD Sucks, and that's AFTER the Race arc. It's... bad. I honestly thought it was a real description of Oregon history. I was considering going to Wikipedia and seeing if there was indeed a time where overhunting caused the Territory to be temporarily closed or ceded or what not. I noticed the "Oregon Trail" reference, but honestly thought that that was just a one-off reference to the game and not the premise of the joke. This time, an OREGON TRAIL, MOTHERFUCKERS heading would have been helpful.

    Has anyone mentioned that the title is stupid? Yes, we know it's about fucking Oregon, Randy. Literally one more word in the title, "Oregon Trail", would have made the joke, well, RECOGNIZABLE. When I realized that it was a parody of Oregon Trail, I chuckled for about a second total. Yes, Oregon Trail was ridiculous. Been sitting on that joke for twenty years?

    One of the last times I loaded up a MAC II emulator and played it was at a LAN. I entered in many of the LANners' names, drove them to starvation with great cruelty, and embellished their horrible fates to them at great length. That would have been a funnier comic. ANYTHING would have been a funnier comic.

  38. Doesn't *everything* have potential? That's why it's 'potential'. But I don't agree that xkcd has potential in the sense that you all mean. It HAD potential, I don't think he has great ideas and just fails to execute--I think his ideas generally suck. I'm sure that people have done better Oregon Trail jokes, because I've read them. (i was more partial to Carmen Sandiego myself). Anyway, I'm a full-blown xkcd hater. Shit, even phdcomics is heads and shoulders above this crap.

  39. This was rubbish.

    Over in the UK we never had the Oregon Trail, so I never had the experience with it, but I still found the Achewood arc funny*, and the Something Awful Let's Play was hilarious.

    A boring chart with a few illustrations at the side? Put some fucking effort into it Randall. It's proven that the source material can be used to make something funny. You need to put work into it though.

    *Getting funnier each time I think of it.

  40. Whee, some people actually tolerate me!

    Actually, I admit I have been deliberately annoying here, but I regret that. As much as there are some kinds of comments that I can't stand ("hurr hurr, Randall's sex life with Megan TOTALLY matters to me"), there are plenty of very sensible people and I'd be stupid to keep a trollish attitude.

    Okay, maybe sometimes. Man, I TOTALLY want an xkcd tie.

  41. There is something that has always bugged me about the merchandise featuring just characters, not jokes. You are essentially buying stuff with stickmen on it. Generic stickmen. You could give some white t-shirts and buttons to your little brother and he can do the same thing for you, for free. xkcd has no artistic appeal whatsoever (with the rare exception that happened more often back in the day), why would you just buy a button with a stickman that is wearing a hat on it? Do you really think that looks good? "Oh yeah today is like the perfect occasion to wear my generic stickman button. People will totally get that I bought this from xkcd, and didn't let me 6 year old son make it for me"

    But that's not even all! If it weren't stickmen, if it was a comic with actual characters, like for example qwantz. (Not the best example. Fill in whatever comic you like) I wouldn't want a button with just t-rex (character) on it. That's stupid

  42. I could make a point about stick men drawings being Randall's unmistakeable trait, but I agree with you. The sad thing is that xkcd merchandise is essentially "geek" sub-culture, something that is instantly recognisable among certain circles, therefore having a "cool" factor. And maybe I'm one of the very few who see a glaring contradiction in that, because "geek" originally represented a complete disdain for the "cool". "Geek" used to be counter-culture, but now it ceased to be, and Randall has contributed largely to that. The "geek" culture has suffered pretty much the same thing the "emo" culture suffered in this decade: what once used to be a genuine, no bullshit attitude has become an idiotic fashion statement.

  43. It's not unmistakeable, since lots of people draw crappy stick figures.

  44. I know what you mean, Fernie. Like when I see sigs that have this "geek code" bullshit in it (which is basically just a bunch of pointless abbreviations with the word code slapped in), it's just so fake. It's like "look at me, I'm a geek. The ladies hate me. Great with compuers. Using linux."

    I feel I can't call myself a geek legitimately, because of the bullshit that is associated with it now, so I avoid that word like the plague.

  45. This is going to sound silly, but when Randy puts a little effort into it he does draw somewhat distinctive stick figures. I think his proportions are slightly unusual, and the stroke he uses for the head is not common, so when he can make his strokes obvious the resulting stick figures are pretty recognizable as Randall's stick figures.

    Although, this is a non-anglophone making a ton of assumptions about anglophone graphology (and the one I'm familiar with is very different from it, as far as I have observed).

    Fernie: I do remember being a bit annoyed by your comments waaay back, most of the latter were mostly "I don't much like this guy, bet his post will suck... Oh wait, this isn't so bad. Why don't I like him, anyway?" =p Well, sorry about the prejudice. And yes, this blog does seem to have that effect. I wonder if it means anything.

    HateBottles: That was a great post! Your alternative about the period piece would be awesome, at least the way I'm imagining it. Of course, I'm imagining it with well selected colors, detailed clothes, lots of detail, maybe 3 or 5 parts, a proper plot, natural sounding dialogue... Yeah, it's not happening. =( But why not, dammit!? It would even make sense: History wouldn't be distracted since the narrator would accompany the protagonists, not be an omniscient historian.

  46. This comment has been removed by the author.

  47. Oh and, if you're wondering, here's the kind of style I'd have liked to see for this comic. (only imagine the artist doesn't suck at drawing)

  48. "This is going to sound silly, but when Randy puts a little effort into it he does draw somewhat distinctive stick figures. I think his proportions are slightly unusual, and the stroke he uses for the head is not common, so when he can make his strokes obvious the resulting stick figures are pretty recognizable as Randall's stick figures."

    Yeah, indeed. I always felt there was something distinctive about his drawing style. Also, a couple of people I know have said before that his stick figures can be uncannily expressive. I *do* think he deserves praise for his style, but that DOES NOT compensate for or justify the recent comics, much less that atrocious tie.

  49. i agree with that, but regardless, it's still just stick figures. Be they unique (I think part of it comes from stick figures usually being drawn fairly stiff, with no curves)

  50. Well script is even less than stick figures, but hey. Calligraphy.

  51. This was the first XKCD that honest-to god simply sucked.

  52. i'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there. what about 46?

  53. You gotta admit though, it has nice art. I mean, sure it's not awfully creative, but at least it's... Competent? It takes competence to copy well. >_>

    And anyway, I haven't really heard of this Kurt Halsey person except for what Google told me, but it seems his thing is that he writes these mushy little notes on his drawings. If that's the case then 46 is a legitimate subversion, and I think a clever one at that.

  54. Also, what about *7*? I mean, okayish drawing, especially for Randall, (although the ones before that were all fairly good sketches) but it fits the CarlCriteria alpha ("Where's is teh funny?") and gamma ("Shit, creepy!"), I think.

  55. Gah, #7 is fucking horrifying. It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that he was just stone cold drawing some random sleeping chick. 'Oh hey you are asleep, I'm just going to stare at your ass for a while.'

  56. It's another thing I never figured out, you know. Why is she sleeping on the floor? What the hell kind of Spanish class (or high school) is this, anyway? She doesn't even look like a hobo. (Not that hobos sleeping in Spanish classes makes any sense)

  57. It coulda been a REALLY REALLY dull spanish class.

  58. This comic is humorous because you're at first led to believe that the timeline is an accurate historical account. Then the narrative begins to vary from reality to extrapolate what WOULD have happened if the game Oregon Trail actually represented real life.

    "children and adolescents" -- the game Oregon Trail was played in grammar schools. The trail wasn't actually populated by children.

    "500,000+ settlers" -- a joke about the fact that the game always took place during 1848. The number of times that the game was played far surpassed the actual numbers of settlers that year.

    "cartloads of bullets" -- in the game, the most effective way to find food was hunting (and the hunting minigame was also quite a bit of fun). Everyone I know who played the game didn't bother to bring any food from town, but stocked up entirely on bullets. This choice was based on childish exploitation of the game engine and would never have worked in real life. The thought of people *actually* leaving for Oregon with nothing but a wagon-full of ammunition is rather comical.

    "overhunting begins to devastate ecosystem" -- again, EVERYONE hunted in the game. In the *game world* there was an infinite supply of creatures to kill...

    the list of epidemics -- the only real epidemic occurring at that time in North America was Cholera. Just wikipedia "list of epidemics." Five different diseases causing epidemics at the same time in the same region is completely unrealistic... but it definitely happened in the game. There's also a bit of nostalgia pandering going on here... everyone remembers being frustrated when several members of their party died from different diseases for no reason.

    "all mammals larger than squirrels wiped out" -- in the hunting minigame, the larger animals moved the slowest (easiest to kill) and gave the most meat. In the real world it'd be much easier to kill smaller animals -- easier to kill, easier to butcher, easier to carry, less chance of attack. But by the rules of the game world, only large animals would be wiped out.

    tragedy at the end -- extrapolating from the game world, we have overpopulation, no food supply, and five separate epidemics affecting the settlers. The (ridiculous, thus humorous) conclusion is that everyone dies and flees the territory. Hint: in real life, things didn't turn out quite that way.

    And then the alt-text is a little meta-humor about the video-game that WOULD have been made if the original video game had been the story of what actually happened.

    TL;DR the above. In conclusion, some xkcd comics aren't very funny. Some, like this one, are hilarious, but still get bashed because people don't understand the premise of the humor or don't like the style/execution. It's disappointing that there isn't more objectivity around here.

  59. fun fact: bad execution = bad humor. an idea is not alone to make anything good, at all.

  60. not enough, whatever, fuck you

  61. what is this "oregon trail video-game" of which you speak?

  62. Wow. You really think we didn't get it? And you really went through and wrote a full fucking page explaining the non-joke.


  63. This comic made me smile as I comptemplated how it would be if Oregon Trail (a computer game, not a video game :P) had happened in real life. Therefore the comic is a success. You're right that it becomes the reader's job to make it funny in their head, but I guess I don't have a problem with this.