It makes sense that if Scott Kurtz and the Penny Arcade guys are co-inhabiting the same workspace, they’re gonna start churning out some product together. The result is last year’s announcement of The Trenches, a webcomic from the perspective of game testers. The trio write the strip while Kurtz does the artwork (Krahulik assists). News about the strip went dark for almost a year, but it finally emerged from the sea of simulation and we’re treated to what may be a very interesting series.
Instead of the initially announced three comics a week, The Trenches is posted in Penny Arcade’s off days, Tuesday and Thursday. The look is very clean and Krahulik’s design influence is easily recognizable in the comic’s blobby, amorphous characters. Unlike Penny Arcade (no, I can’t make any PVP similes), the strip is designed for long-term, dreaded continuity. Now, I’m not saying they need to run themselves off the deep end on a daily basis like Questionable Content’s soap opera-y antics, but two three-panel strips a week is a pretty sluggish pace to present it. At this rate, it’s going to be a year before we get to even see any story or character arcs form. The comics are amusing in and of themselves, but unlike other strips unrestrained by its serial anrrative, it can’t rely on non-sequitors and tangental humor to let each individual strip be as funny. Strips with long-term continuity tend to be mopey and expository as they start out because we don’t understand their characters, so it’s precisely how I feel The Trenches will be until they can really start getting into it.
Which, y’know, may be forever.
Tales From The Trenches
Rather than publish an obligatory news post or behind the scenes malarkey with each strip, The Trenches take a different tack by including real-life stories from anonymous game testers past and present. I’d hate to spoil any of them here, but from endlessly testing a Ken Griffey Jr. game on the Super Nintendo to spotting a console-bricking bug when saving a game, they’re all endlessly admirable anecdotes. The problem is their weird layout: rather than being tied to individual strips, they’re actually on a sort of sub-site that’s independent of the strip. On the same page. It’s bizarre.
Anyway, The Trenches is a very polished, amusing strip about gaming that takes a different tack than the standard anthromorphic game console robot/stupid, stupid, stupid continuity that the industry currently resides in. While the pace reeks of ‘stop reading for six months and then catch up’ and there are some anomolous navigation quirks, it’s certainly worth your time.