Because as Woody Paige would say, I am a solutions-oriented guy!

Josh Hamilton had a fantastic performance in the Home Run Derby – but didn’t win. As a result, there are now a lot of calls to reform the HRD.

I don’t support making home runs from the first two rounds carry over to the final. In this year’s Derby, there would have been no reason to keep watching after the first round. Hamilton would have had the title pretty much in the bag already. Nonetheless, it is true that the Derby tends to be anticlimactic. By the time of the supposedly pivotal final, everyone is worn out and barely hits anything.

The Small White Ball blog appears to have a promising solution: carry over first and second round totals to the final, but have second round balls count double and final round balls count triple. Hamilton would have been able to benefit from his first round performance, but the final round still takes on momentous importance.

Thoughts? Criticisms?

No, this isn’t because David Morgan-Mar always comments whenever I post about one of his strips.

(From Darths and Droids. Click for full-sized pawns.)

I’ve talked before about Darths and Droids, and on both those occasions I mentioned that I found it a superior strip to the one that inspired it, DM of the Rings. But I don’t think I’ve done the distinction between the two justice.

You know how sometimes, a company will come along and become the pioneer in some new field, and possibly popularize it to the general public, but a second company will become more famous, expose the true potential of the field, and become virtually synonymous with that field? It’s similar to how I described Irregular Webcomic! as a pioneer but not the definitive multi-webcomic. Atari virtually invented the video game console as we know it today, but self-destructed along with the rest of the video game market in the 80s, allowing Nintendo to define video games for my generation. Netscape brought the Internet to the masses but everyone uses Internet Explorer now. Lycos and Yahoo made search engines popular with the general public but only Google managed to turn itself into a verb. Bob and George didn’t invent the sprite comic, but did inspire most of the others, including 8-Bit Theater, which truly transcended its origins to create a strong comic in its own right (it is no insult to call 8BT a poor man’s Order of the Stick). And so on.

Well, DM of the Rings is the Atari to Darths and Droids’ Nintendo, which is odd because it means Darths and Droids is in the opposite role as Irregular Webcomic! DM of the Rings asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Lord of the Rings were an RPG campaign?” That was really the extent of what it was trying to do. Not only is the DM a railroader, but as much as I hate to say this, the characters make Ctrl+Alt+Del‘s characterization seem deep. Through the first 70 strips I think we know the names of two of the players, and one of them, Dave, plays Frodo and leaves less than midway through the whole strip’s run. But even all of that pales in comparison to DMotR‘s real problem:

DM of the Rings was a comic about a role-playing game.

Darths and Droids is a comic about Star Wars.

The funny thing is, it’s also still about a role-playing game, which is the beauty of it. The conceit of DM of the Rings was that Lord of the Rings still existed in that universe, it’s just that, somehow, the DM was the only one in the group to have heard of it. Darths and Droids literally is Star Wars as played by a group of role-players. Whereas DMotR used the Lord of the Rings plot as a backdrop for wacky hijinks and commentary on Things You Experience When Playing Role-Playing Games, Darths and Droids appropriates the Star Wars plot as its own, while also containing its own metaplot involving the gamers playing the characters. Just look at how often the DM of the former is interrupted or talked over by the players, with the result that we don’t get to know Gandalf anywhere near enough to know why the players hate him so. If the LOTR trappings were removed from DM of the Rings, it wouldn’t be much different, which suggests the LOTR setting is little more than a gimmick. It’d be hard to imagine Darths and Droids without the Star Wars trappings.

As DM of the Rings became popular, and flaring up again closer to the end, people flooded Shamus Young’s inbox with calls for him to skewer other popular movie or book franchises. As it was winding down, Young wondered why, with how popular DMotR was, no one else had decided to marry movies and RPGs in a biting satire. One of his fans suggested that the reason why was that it was rare for the kind of person who wanted to spoof popular culture to coincide with the kind of person willing to put in massive amounts of effort into creating a webcomic.

That discussion prompted Morgan-Mar to create Darths and Droids, and now that we’ve seen it, I can’t help but wonder if the real reason was twofold. First, because DMotR was more about role-playing games than about Lord of the Rings per se, there wasn’t much left to skewer; DMotR had done it all. Second, DMotR made the concept look juvenile, and a potential sure sign of a sub-par webcomic. If the person willing to “spend time and effort making a high-quality webcomic” rarely coincided with the person wanting to spoof Star Wars, it was because a comic spoofing Star Wars not only looked like it was hardly going to be high quality, it exposed that person to potential legal threats. After all, webcomicdom is a haven of geekdom.

Darths and Droids starts out remarkably like DM of the Rings, with complaining players trying to figure out the GM’s dense plot. The major difference, as becomes apparent early on, is that the game world is largely made up by the players on the fly, with the GM constantly having to revise and make contingency plans to fit in everything the players try to do, rather than force them to do what he intended as the DMotR DM would. But a difference just as profound but not nearly as played up is that (unlike in DMotR) there is a difference between the players themselves. Jim is the wacky, aggressive, offensive one, while Ben is the smart, calm, collected straight man who has to deal with Jim’s wackiness, which often involves coming up with more sensible explanations for Jim’s actions. Still, the two of them together aren’t much different from the players in DM of the Rings, constantly nitpicking the science (Obi-Wan/Ben), going into foolhardy charges (Qui-Gon/Jim), and thinking up ways to outsmart the GM (both, but especially Obi-Wan).

Things change virtually the instant Sally is introduced and plugged into the role of Jar-Jar Binks. The Comic Irregulars have explained that one of their chief goals was to make Jar-Jar likable, and well, you’d certainly never tell a 9-year-old she needs to be blown out the airlock. More to the point, Sally brings a perspective not only on this game, but on all of roleplaying, that was sorely absent from DM of the Rings. Sally is being brought into the game solely to keep her amused while Ben is ostensibly babysitting her. In most of her early appearances, the GM and the players spend a good amount of their time easing her into the game. Eventually she gets into the hang of the game more, but never loses her childlike innocence.

But in a development of more importance to the strip itself, Sally has the imagination of a 9-year-old, and so allows the Comic Irregulars a place to attribute all the more outre and ridiculous – in short, Lucased up – elements of the Star Wars movies, with the additional justification that the players and GM don’t want to make her cry, so they run with her ridiculousness. Jar-Jar? Sally. An elected 14-year-old queen? Sally. An underwater path straight through the core of Naboo? Sally. I can’t help but wonder if Sally will stick around for the rest of the prequel trilogy, disappear for A New Hope and Empire, and somehow get shoehorned into Return of the Jedi to bring us the Ewoks.

I talked before about the introduction of Darths and Droids’ other non-traditional player, Annie, but I want to reiterate the broader importance of her playing Anakin. Darths and Droids has had, at least since Sally’s introduction, some form of master plot (the Comic Irregulars integrate the players’ quest for the “Lost Orb of Phantastacoria” so seamlessly with the movie’s plot you find it hard to believe they just made it up if you’re not familiar with the movie) and subplots (Jim is convinced that Sio Bibble is a traitor in the making, mostly because of his goatee, so naturally he probably finds Senator Palpatine completely trustworthy), not to mention relationships with and between the players, all of which is completely absent from DM of the Rings and the latter of which is impossible without Darths and Droids’ differentiated, rich characterization. But Anakin’s development not only looks to have a profound impact within the game world, it could have profound impact with the players as well, as the GM and the players try to figure out what to do with a player who’s hijacking the game for her own tragic story.

Darths and Droids has a bunch of elements that DM of the Rings does not. A tolerant GM (perhaps excessively so). A GM and NPCs that aren’t overshadowed by the players. Differences between the characters that go beyond “are you sure Legolas isn’t a hot chick?” A grand, overarching, real plot. Subplots upon subplots. Real integration within its milieu. Sally. Annie. In short, Darths and Droids has taken the interesting concept Shamus Young thought of, and ran with it as far as they could make it go, creating a pretty darn interesting webcomic in the process. No surprise, then, that it’s attracted a collection of devoted fans, no small portion of which is probably crossover audience from Irregular Webcomic!, with most of the rest coming over from DM of the Rings. But especially as it goes on, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a large contingent of fans with connections to neither strip, mostly from Star Wars fandom, who can’t help but wonder what Annie does to Anakin, how the players put up with that, what the players end up doing as they are forced to switch characters between movies, and so on and so forth.

And who knows? Maybe it’ll even spawn a horde of imitators.

Update on the Random Internet Discovery

Well, I’m running a new Da Blog Poll alongside the other current one, which I will refresh presently. This one asks if I should select between all the StumbleUpon topics, pick only the ones I like, or poll you for the ones you like. (The latter may end up being hosted on the Web site. There are 78 topics?

The poll will run through next week’s RID. I’ll think of something else to get us through this week’s RID. And I may have to use that something else to get through all subsequent RIDs as well.

My webcomic write-up for tomorrow is finished, so I can spend tomorrow either recreating my Truth Court announcement or working on next week’s webcomic write-up. Who says I don’t have a job?

Important Webcomic Post Update

I was going to post on Robert Howard’s Tangents on Tuesday, but its current host is shutting down, and Howard’s plans to move it to an independent host were not far enough along yet for him to implement. So it is currently being hosted on LiveJournal and is archivefree. That last bit, plus my reluctance to link to a temporary site, means you get something completely different (as in, an actual webcomic) on Tuesday.

I will make a post on Tangents when it moves to a permanent host in “a couple of weeks”, though I may have a week delay to actually read the archives and write the post. I have at least three comics which I’ve read enough of to make it through any delays, plus a second post on Order of the Stick, so I’m good through August 19. Now I need to get to actually writing them. Throw in another webcomic blog, a fourth comic I have some things to say about even though I’ve actually read none of it, and a third OOTS post and I’m good through September 9. I can probably throw together something on Penny Arcade or User Friendly if I need to after that.

In other blog news, I made a change to this week’s Sports Watcher upon being reminded of something.

The first in a series of Me Go Crazy posts.

I’m trying to write a post and all the yakking in the library becomes absolutely insane. Well, at least, it’s driving me absolutely insane. And I complain about it, and I get handed a “code of conduct” flyer because of complaints about, among other things, me talking loud. I’m showing my frustration in a number of ways but talking loud isn’t one of them! Where’s the person (other than me) to tell, among others, the librarians to shut up?

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 7/19-20 (UPDATED)

All times PDT.

Saurday
11:30-1 PM: AVP Crocs Tour, AVP Crocs Slam Brooklyn, men’s final (NBC). Yes, despite the British Open we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel this week.

1-4 PM: MLB Baseball, regional action (FOX). Tune in immediately upon the end of volleyball. Because it didn’t end in a tie I originally wasn’t going to comment on the All-Star Game, until people on TV started commenting on it anyway. The “this time it counts” era was supposed to prevent this sort of thing, and it’s obvious that it didn’t. Now there’s a lot of hand-wringing about adding more pitchers to the roster, but how about tackling the problem at its source? Here are the problems with the ASG and their sources:

  • The players and managers treat it like an exhibition, instead of as a source of pride for their league. “This time it counts” was supposed to fix that problem, and strangely, it’s being credited for fixing that problem. We may be able to attribute to “this time it counts” the fact we could have gone into the 16th whereas 2002 ended after 12, and the managers were prepared to use position players to pitch instead of ending the game in a tie.
  • The managers feel obligated to use every player that’s willing, to mollify them but even more to mollify their fans. In the old days, it wasn’t uncommon for position players to play the whole game.
  • Teams’ concerns about overworking pitchers.
  • The rise of middle relievers and closers. Have a look at the 1968 All Star Game, the year before saves became an official stat. You see the same pitching carousel we see now, with a few more multi-inning pitchers – but every last pitcher was a starter, in an age where it was rare for pitchers to fail to go seven innings. The 1967 All-Star Game went 15 innings with no problem; Catfish Hunter pitched the final five innings for the AL (and ultimately lost), a feat that seems inconceivable today. Now teams protect pitchers more and gobble up large chunks of their rosters with relievers. Now pitching is not a position where players are interchangable at will – replacement pitchers have specific roles in theory – and thus is not a position well suited for all-star games. The NBA All-Star Game may well be the best all-star game, followed by the NHL, because their games actually feel like real games, unusually strong offense notwithstanding.

I’m not sure if anything can be done about any of that at this point, but if anything can, it’s worth thinking about.

6:30-9:30 PM: NASCAR Nationwide Series racing, Gateway (ESPN2). Because I rarely get a chance to put up a Nationwide Series race and there’s no Sprint Cup action this week.

UPDATED 7/19: ALTERNATE: 6-9 PM: Ultimate Fighting Championship, Fight Night (Spike TV). Not sure how highly to rate this since it’s not what would normally be considered a PPV, but I don’t want it to go unmentioned. Live on both coasts, so 9-12 on the East Coast.

Sunday
5-10:30 AM: PGA Golf, British Open, final round (ABC). If there’s a golf tournament, and Tiger isn’t playing in it, does it make a sound?

10:30-1 PM: IndyCar Racing, Honda Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio (ABC). Last year ratings were inflated by the British Open. Look for history to repeat itself.

12-2 PM: LPGA Golf, State Farm Classic, final round (ESPN2). Girl Power Sunday again!

2-4 PM: US Open Series, Bank of the West Classic, women’s singles final (ESPN2). Girl Power Sunday and Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel Weekend again!

6-8 PM: The ESPY Awards (ESPN). Because there can exist nothing for which there is not an awards show of some kind. And no network should have to go without an awards show.

Rant. Rant. Rant.

Every day I walk down here to the library because it’s the nearest place where I can use the Internet for any lengthy period of time.

There are two places where I can plug in my laptop, and one of them is merely a corner that happens to have a table near some plugs. Generally I try to avoid that area because it’s near the picture and other kids’ books and the kids are often not old enough to know to shut up.

Sometimes I’m driven to that corner anyway. Groups come by and start yakking. People are loud at the library front desk. Cell phones go off. Today one of the reserved computers had some sort of music playing loud enough to hear. Sometimes people cough or otherwise show their illnesses.

Isn’t the library supposed to be a place where people are quiet?

(The sometimes inconsistent at inopportune times Internet connection doesn’t help either.)

Hmm. Here’s another feature I’m stumbling on.

Well, it turns out that part of the reason the StumbleUpon Demo draws from such a small pool of sites is because, once the Toolbar is installed, it requires me to select several interests before I can do any stumbling.

So either I select a long list of “interests” that don’t interest me at all, or the Random Internet Discovery turns out not to be so “random” after all.

I’ll think this over over the weekend.

Shit.

Can you believe I had my entire announcement of Truth Court all written up and ready to go, and I click to have my post get published, and my connection HAS to drop at THAT INSTANT, and it turns out that Blogger NOT ONCE saved a copy of my post, and I had to be a dumbass and not give it a current saved draft – WHY did my brain choose THAT MOMENT to brainfart on me?@ lj !!!!!!!!!

If it doesn’t come up in the next few moments I’m waiting until next Thursday to announce Truth Court, if I don’t wait a few months, if I end up doing it ever.
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(And this isn’t just a loss for me. This could end up being a loss for all of America. Because of a stupid screwy library Internet connection and how badly Blogger’s autosave function sometimes deals with not having an Internet connection anymore. Shiiiiiit.)