Gilead Pellaeon knows Penny Arcade. Penny Arcade is a friend of his. And Press Start To Play is no Penny Arcade.
But while Press Start To Play has much in common with Penny Arcade, PSTP is much more than another PA clone.
I don’t think anyone can deny the footprint that gaming comics have left on the world of webcomics. They began as one of the flagships of the craft, and largely drove it’s growth. The fledgling demographic known as the "gamer" wanted to see jokes about their particular hobby, and all the newspapers cared about were golf and dieting.
Where did they turn? To the Internet, a domain which at the time was wholly owned by the geek, and so it was only natural that comic strips devoted to the geek would arise there. And to this day the heaviest hitters in the webcomics industry remain the gaming comics.
Penny Arcade, Ctrl+Alt+Del, 8-Bit Theater, and PvP (which, as we all know, has outgrown its gaming roots, but still, it was a gaming comic when it first came into being, and gaming has shaped its face). These are the webcomics that have deals with major publishers. These are the webcomics producing their own animated series, the ones who throw their own conventions.
So it’s only natural that there’s a lot of them. They tend to fall into one of two categories: comics about characters in a game, and comics about people who play games. These two subcategories of gaming comic are actually quite different, as the comics with characters in a game tend to play out kind of like a game would, with long storylines, battles, and drama. As such, they tend to resemble adventure and fantasy comics more than gaming comics, although they do typically make a lot of jokes about the cliches of their particular genre of game. Good examples of this style of comic are RPG World and Bob and George. The other subcategory, about people who play games, tends to ring truer to the gamer demographic, because the gags move from one game to the next, riffing on every quirky game that comes down the pipe. The creators also step into the gameworld occasionally, but only for a single gag joke and never to build any sort of momentum. A good example of this is VG Cats.
Of course, many gaming comics are pretty awful ripoffs of the popular comics I mentioned above. How many crappy sprite comics are there that try to be 8-Bit Theater or Bob and George? HUNDREDS. Thousands, maybe. And how many comics are there about people who play video games? Well… not as many, but the number is growing.
So what then? Does that mean any gaming comic that’s just getting off the ground has no hope of ever being anything greater than a cheap ripoff?
Not at all.
Adam Law’s and Darryl Walker’s Press Start to Play is a Penny Arcade clone. It’s two guys, hanging around, making riffs about video games. No storyline, only vague continuity, a real sense that in any strip, anything could happen. It has the same sort of pacing in the jokes as Penny Arcade. It’s pretty clear that Press Start to Play is not trying to be a knock off of Ctrl+Alt+Del or VGCats, because those strips both have a pretty clearly defined sense of style and pacing which differs greatly from Penny Arcade. Heck, the PSTP guys even list Penny Arcade as their main influence.
From the FAQs: Penny Arcade are the father of webcomics, and we’ll always try to listen to the advice they give, and try and hit in on whatever they’re using to be so damn funny. I’d like to think our humor isn’t too far off that of Penny Arcade.
But you know what? I don’t care. Press Start to Play is like Toasty Oats to Penny Arcade‘s Cheerios. Sure, its trying to copy off the success of another product, but at the same time it’s got its own unique flavor. Maybe not quite as good, but certainly not bad. Press Start to Play is not a cheap knockoff. Press Start to Play is not stealing Penny Arcade‘s jokes. They’re copying their style. This is an important distinction to make. The jokes in Press Start to Play are fresh, they’re unique, they cover a different range of video games than Penny Arcade covers. Sure, they look and sound a lot like Penny Arcade comics, but they’re not. They have their own artistic flavor, they’re own set of kooky characters, their own set of crazy plotlines.
To me, Press Start to Play represents the next logical step in the gaming comic genre. At this point in the game, you’re not going to get anyone who’s doing something absolutely unbelievably groundbreaking and new like you would have gotten eight years ago. The groundbreaking has been done. The foundation has been laid. What remains is for people to build on top of this, to expand and add their own personal touch. That’s what Press Start to Play is doing. They’re building their own part of the structure.
And it looks like it’s going to be good.