The evolution of Viviana and the Shadowdancers

When Gaia was developed as a campaign for the PC game Neverwinter Nights 2, important parts of the story were completely different. The role of Viviana and the Shadowdancers has probably changed the most with respect to the already published chapters:

  1. Viviana was a regular member of the Shadowdancers who only joined the group of heroes right before the jailbreak.
  2. In the subsequent chapters, Viviana was the least important member of the group. She had the fewest appearances and practically no impact on the overall story.
  3. There were no romantic feelings between her and Ilias at all.
  4. The Shadowdancers were a classical thieves’ guild led by a shady middle-aged guy as you’d expect it from a D&D campaign. Their members were in general much less likable.
  5. It took the heroes much longer to convince the Shadowdancers of helping them. Ilias & Co. had to carry out several dangerous quests for the Shadowdancers. I still really like some of the quests, but the pace of the story would have become way too slow with more than just the short party quest.
  6. The party quest was written by my mother, by the way. Just like a huge part of the rest of the original story. However, almost none of the lines written for the game have ended up in the comic since it would have become way too wordy otherwise.
  7. The heroes’ contact person at the Shadowdancers was an apt female thief named Jael Nightingale who did not appear in later chapters. Viviana in the comic is like a mixture of Viviana and Jael Nightingale in the game. That’s the main reason why I’ve chosen Jael as Viviana’s given name.
  8. The country of Ileasaar did not exist in any shape or form in the game, not even in such things as item descriptions.
  9. Instead, there was a criminal rebel group in Aracona which played an important role as antagonists of the Shadowdancers.
  10. There is a reason why Viviana has these visions and it will be (partially) revealed in this chapter… dun duun duuuun. 😉

I think that Viviana has become a much better character in the comic than she was in the game and I’m proud of the result of her transformation.


Webcomic review: Fey Winds

Below, you can find the first fantasy webcomic review, written by Elena Cordero. Please note that we’re still working out some details about the structure of the reviews, so future reviews may look a little different.

  • Comic: Fey Winds (1st page) by Nicole Chartrand
  • Reviewer: Elena Cordero
  • Status: Ongoing; 1 new page per week; 401 pages as of 27 November 2015

Tone is one of the most important aspects in a work of fiction. It is what keeps the audience immersed and conveys what the writer wants them to feel. Without proper tone, a fictional work can feel disjointed, confusing, unengaging, or just plain unpleasant. Thus, tone is arguably one of the most important things to decide when beginning a story. In reviewing Fey Winds, a comic by Nicole Chartrand, I’ve run into an dilemma.

Fey Winds

Like most fantasy stories, Fey Winds begins with a much lighter tone than what it will eventually become. Typically, these stories will leave hints of what’s to come, which Chartrand does succeed in; that’s not an issue here. The Fey Winds site has more than one page dedicated to providing information on the characters, races, and regions within the story, and the comic itself opens up with a rather serious history lesson regarding an ancient war, albeit, a very brief one.

Fey Winds succeeds in getting viewers engaged right away, there’s no denying it. It’s premise is quite simple. Long ago, a mystical being called the Sylphe ravaged the lands during a great war. Eventually, she turned on her masters and disappeared from the world, but not before leaving behind trinkets of great power and value. Our protagonists are a group of adventurers in search of these trinkets. Why? Doesn’t matter. The readers are thrust into a story that’s eager to get started, full context or not.

Within five pages, the setting, backstory, and our main characters are introduced, all in mere sentences. Our cast consists of a fox who was turned into a human, a swordsman magically bound to go wherever she does, an elf who’s routinely possessed by ghosts, and a runaway prince who can turn into a dragon.

The humorous tone of the comic is quickly set alongside our unusual protagonists, complete with The Legend of Zelda references and silly faces. Throughout the first couple of chapters, it quickly becomes evident that our main heroes are not afraid of cracking one liners and jokes at the expense of themselves and the fantasy tropes they come across. Now as I said, it is incredibly common for fantasy stories to display their lighter side up front, and Fey Winds is smart enough to present itself in a more serious light for those with the habit of checking “About” pages prior to reading.

The art also helps, with a bit of manga inspired style that’s flexible enough to fit any tone ranging from silly to deathly serious. As the story progresses, the art evolves enough to get some good action scenes thrown in. Panoramic shots and magic filled page spreads become slightly more common, character designs get a surprising amount of detail despite their sillier origins, and you eventually get an acceptable level of lush art most would expect from high-end fantasy.

Fey Winds

So our tone is now set: lighthearted goofy fun that’s not afraid to get serious as we eventually go more in depth. All in all, we have here the recipe for a fairly enjoyable story that, at the very least, promises to be of acceptable quality. You have your jokes that know when to poke fun at cliché but still necessary aspects of fantasy storytelling, and following this, you have the bare minimum of lore to make the fairly well drawn world feel whole.

So where’s the dilemma, you may ask? What is the fly that spoils this solid recipe I’m praising so much? Clearly I will pull a 180 and reveal the flaws that drag this comic review into the ground, because that’s what cynical critics do, right? (See that? That’s called lampshade hanging, and you’d best develop a taste for it if you wish to enjoy Fey Winds.)

Fey Winds
Exhibit A

Well for starters, the humour can be a bit much. It’s hard to say the balance of humourous and serious tones is maintained well when phrases like “le sigh” and “omg hax” are sprinkled in ever so infrequently enough to feel jarring every time they pop up. It could also be because the lore presented alongside the comic is hardly ever touched upon in the comic itself, serving more as a glossary than anything else. Or maybe I just don’t like how the pages felt too small at times and the border surrounding the comic is just bright green space, making early pages a bit of an eyesore. It could be a lot of things.

For me, the real kicker is that, a mere two chapters into the story, out of what is currently 12 and counting, everything established is thrown out the window.

After getting little to no time to see our heroes interacting with each other, we’re introduced to our first main villain. Backstories suddenly become complex, revealing connections surprising enough to be consider spoilers despite happening so early in. Our villain’s goals and the main protagonist’s role in it are suddenly brought out and change what little we know about the story completely. All at once, the comic’s more serious tone comes charging in at full force.

And now, some readers give their best “ahhhh now I get it” as my nitpicking comes full circle. My introduction to this comic felt like it was establishing a lighthearted adventure with a touch of serious mode thrown in. Despite the characters being a bit too silly or on-the-nose at times for me, I was still relatively sold on the premise. What I at first thought was a cheerful fantasy adventure, though, was in actuality a very lengthy and extended prologue, setting up our characters and who they are before the plot literally ambushes them when they least expect it.

I return to what I said at the beginning of the review. Fey Winds has presented a dilemma to me. One that makes a standard review formula quite difficult, to be honest. You see, it can be a problem when a story just shifts tone suddenly. Some people might think it’s jarring when we have enemies called “The Minionz” in the exact same chapter as one where a character is violently tortured by our true antagonist. Others might feel it was not necessary to establish backstories that will become completely irrelevant or exposed as flat out lies a hundred pages later. There’s a lot in Fey Winds to make you raise an eyebrow.

But this doesn’t have to be an issue, in all fairness. I can’t exactly blame the comic completely for my own expectations. The humour doesn’t outright stop once the plot kicks in, and the lore and setup was all there, making sure I knew exactly what I was getting into. What really matters is how the story develops after it gets going, regardless of the time it takes to get there, so a sudden tone shift less than a quarter into the story is a rather minor offense, is it not?

Fey Winds
Our heroes seem to agree, at least.

But the thing is, nobody likes it when a story holds off on the main course for too long. A solid start and fairly developed follow-up can and will be ruined if the transition between the two is too sudden and awkward. For some, the warning of how abrupt these shifts are is concerning, regardless of how interesting the resulting storyline is. For others though, they are minor nitpicks that don’t detract from the big picture, as long as all you care about is the overall experience and knowing there aren’t bigger issues plaguing a comic.

This was my dilemma. Fey Winds has good art and a unique world. The characters are likable and the story goes interesting places, even if it doesn’t explore those options as much as one would prefer. There are flaws, but they can range from deal breakers to minor infractions, depending on why you read webcomics in the first place. The comic delivers exactly what I expected from it and provided an adequate adventure once it eventually got the misshapen ball rolling. How far that gets you will have much mileage. It will not be your new favourite, but there is enough here to potentially overlook its flaws for a rainy day.

Fey Winds is, at the very least… acceptable.

Strengths:

  • Quick and simple start

Weaknesses:

  • Awkward tone shifts/clashes

Rating:

  • Story: ★★★☆☆
  • Artwork: ★★★☆☆
  • Website: ★★☆
  • Overall: ★★★☆☆

* Note that our rating system is much more strict than most and 4 stars are already reserved for comics which are significantly above the average in the specific regard.
* Note that the overall rating is not the average of the other three ratings, but represents the overall impression of the comic.


Do you have a backup strategy?

I’d like to take a moment to talk about a topic that’s very dear to my heart: What’s your backup strategy?

A hard drive can fail at any moment, and it’s often hard or even impossible to rescue all the data on it. While most people don’t have data on their hard drive that is as valuable as mine, in particular the original PSD comic files, there is still a lot of data on most hard drives that is very hard or time-consuming to recreate.

Therefore, you should have always have a relatively recent backup of all your data! Here is a summary of my current backup strategy:

  • All my personal files are within a single folder on the hard drive. This makes it easy to create a complete backup of them.
  • I have a complete backup of this folder on my second PC at my parents’ house.
  • Every second weekend I copy all changes to the second PC. So even if a fire should destroy my flat, I will still have a recent backup of all my data.

This simple strategy could certainly be improved. But it’s already significantly better than having all your data in just one physical location.

If you want to inform yourself about the topic, you can find a lot of articles about reasonable backup strategies on Google. If you want to use a cloud service to backup your personal data, you should consider encrypting the files first before uploading them so that nobody else can look at them.


OMG! New website feature!

Miracles do happen!

It is now possible to get to the next comic page by clicking on the current comic page.

Now if this isn’t a good reason to re-read the entire archive, I don’t know what is. 😉


Welcome our new webcomic review team!

I received a lot of promising applications for the job as webcomic reviewer and I want to thank everyone who applied again. In the end, I decided to hire the following three people and I’m confident that they will write webcomic reviews with a quality you won’t find elsewhere after the discontinuation of El Santo’s famed Webcomic Overlook.

  • Robert Howard: Robert was the author of the defunct webcomic review and analysis blog tangents.us (Archive.org link) which featured extensive commentary on selected webcomics.
  • Tom Speelman: Tom is a freelance writer who has written articles and comic reviews for publications such as Comics Alliance, Sequart and The Mary Sue.
  • Elena Cordero: Elena is a rookie in the world of webcomic reviews. However, she wrote a convincing application and so I’m hopeful that she will be an excellent addition to our review team nonetheless.

I received a lot fewer applications for the position as TV Tropes article improver. If you’re interested in that position, you can still send your application to novil@gmx.de.