Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 23rd of May 2015
Ribs were tickled, bellies were busted and chortles were had on the Vidfest stage in the Cyanide & Happiness Panel featuring co-creator, writer, actor, animator and producer Rob Denbleyker. The panel took its audience through the growth of the hugely popular web comics, from stick figures to animated shorts, showing exclusive clips from their video vault and a few fan favourites to top it off. Their YouTube channel houses over 120 videos and has gathered an incredible following, with over 4 million subscribers. During the panel, Rob revealed the origins of Depressing Comic Week, his animated inspirations and the rewards of collaborating.
The panel began by showcasing one of the first Cyanide & Happiness video shorts, ‘The Sign’, a simple animation with a kicker of a punch line (sorry), following it up with one a clip from one of their latest efforts, the slickly-animated and completely hilarious Cyanide & Happiness Show. He explained the steps the Explosm team took to make their show a reality, starting from how they made their entry into the world of animation.
“We have actually been animators since way before the comic even started. When I was 14, i ‘borrowed’ a copy of flash from the Internet and taught myself how to animate some Newgrounds stuff. It’s actually where a lot of these guys started like Eddsworld and TomSka. It was a little hotbed of creativity where you post your first shitty animation and people would tell you you sucked and you made another one and you got better and better.”
After posting their first few Cyanide & Happiness shorts in 2007, they decided to seek help with production. “Around 2010 we decided that we were being held back by making these ourselves… We collaborated for the first time and made a sequence of shorts including Beer Run.” The YouTube channel began to take off, jumping to 600,000 subscribers and there was some interest in making a Cyanide & Happiness TV show. After about a year and a half of discussions with two prospective producers of the show, the team decided to go a different way, as “any contract they showed us involved us giving up all of our rights, so we’re were like, ‘screw that – we already have a fanbase online!’ At the same time, Kickstarter was becoming a thing, so we decided to go that way instead.”
The generosity of the Cyanide & Happiness community came through, and the Kickstarter target of $250,000 was exceeded. Instead of the proposed 8 episodes of The Cyanide & Happiness Show, the team ended up making 11, as well as an entire year of video shorts in the lead-up with the Explosm team having full creative control. Watching these videos is enough to convince anyone that the investment was worth it, and Cyanide & Happiness regularly produce some of the funniest and most original videos you can find online.
Following the presentation, Rob opened up the floor for a Q&A. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion:
Guest: How long does it take you to think of these ideas?
Rob: Most ideas just come from hanging out with friends…It’s very collaborative, especially the comics.
Guest: Who came up with the baby in the trunk sketch?
Rob: That was Kris. We almost didn’t made it because we were trying to figure out a good way to end it, but when we came up with the ending, it was the finisher we needed.
Guest: How do you know which ideas will work?
Rob: I think it’s something we’ve gotten better at over the years. I think the key is collaboration: when you’re in a group of 5 people and they have the same sense of humour, you can trust your sense of humour if it makes the room laugh.
Guest: Do you have any advice for anybody who wants to do something similar?
Rob: Just do it. The tools are available and it’s becoming cheaper and cheaper. All you need is Flash and YouTube… If you enjoy something just do it, don’t worry about the business, just worry about making it funny or moving or something you genuinely are interested in.
Guest: Is there a future for Ted Bear?
Rob: There is a Ted Bear 3 in the works. I just started writing it.
Guest: What was the story with The Depressing Episode?
Rob: It started out as Depressing Comic Week in 2006… I sent this comic to Dave. I wasn’t sure about it so asked him, and he said it was a good comic, but it was more depressing than funny. I said, ‘Hey, we should do a whole week of depressing comics!’ And he said, ‘That’s a terrible idea, let’s do it!’ And there’s been a Depressing Comic Week ever since. There’s also a Depressing Comic Book now. The episode was a special.
Guest: How long did it take to make the Lunk episode?
Rob: About 5 months. That was one of our longest ones. The Lunk one began as a sketch. Kris drew the most ridiculous messed up version of Link and he just titled it Lunk.
Guest: Will you ever make a full-length feature?
Rob: We have an idea for a musical, but it’s a bit too much for us just yet…
You can meet Rob Denbleyker at the Cyanide & Happiness stall (number P3), stock up on Explosm goodies and commission a sketch of your own this weekend, only at MCM London Comic Con.
Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 28th of February 2014.
With the announcement of their open beta launch and after a hands-on with the game MCM Buzz catches up with Ryan Bednar, Turbine’s lead designer. We talked about his break into the gaming industry, MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena) tactics and their upcoming DC Comics project Infinite Crisis.
Me: So you are the lead designer on Infinite Crisis, that’s exciting.
Ryan: It is pretty exciting!
Me: What inspired you to work in the videogames industry? Was it something you always wanted to do or something you just came across?
Ryan: So I went to university for Industrial Design, graduated in 2003, and I knew my entire life that I was always into videogames. And I remember the year before I graduated I was talking to my parents in my kitchen and I was kind of figuring out or trying to figure out what I wanted to do after college, and I decided out of the blue then and there I wanted to try and get into the games industry somehow. Really at the time there wasn’t really any clear road to actually making that happen at all. You didn’t have any friends who were like, “Oh, this is how I broke into the games industry,” ’cause everyone who wanted to do it was kind of scattered all around. So I moved to Boston, because there were a couple of industrial design firms up there. About a couple of months after I moved to Boston, Turbine posted an internship for Lord Of The Rings Online, the MMO they developed a while back. I applied for the internship, I got it, and I’ve been there ever since. I started out as an intern on Lord of the Rings Online, became a world builder, then a lead world builder, then a lead systems designer, then I moved over to this project as the lead designer.
Me: It’s got to be exciting working with all those incredibly different worlds. The Lord of the Rings universe to start is tremendous, and now you’ve got the DC Universe, the DC Multiverse even!
Ryan: We’ve had some great opportunities to work with the best IP (Intellectual Property) that are possibly out there. We’ve just been really fortunate in that regard.
Me: Have you always been a fan of DC comics? Was this something that you were excited to do?
Ryan: I would say that I’m a medium fan for DC Comics, and I say that knowing that a bunch of people on our team are superfans! My level of comics knowledge does not compete with theirs, but it takes a team to make a game and we have the people that are super-into the comics doing the back-stories, the writing and the character development side of things. My area of interest and expertise was on the competitive MOBA side of things, so we all collaborate together.
Me: How do you think the DC Universe translates to the MOBA genre?
Ryan: It’s perfect! When we were deciding to build a MOBA at Turbine we were looking to build on a new genre. MOBA seemed like a great thing for us to get into with the RPG background we have. The MMO’s translate really well into managing all the systems and advancements that you have, and that’s worked out really well for us. When we were acquired by Warner Brothers, the DC Comics IP was something we really wanted to build games with, and we saw that as the perfect marriage of genre and an IP. The main content of a MOBA is its characters, and DC has fantastic characters. If you add the concept of the multiverse in on top of that, then we have an opportunity to make our own characters. For people that are super into the comics this is the thing they’ve wanted to do for their entire lives, the fact that they can take a character like Green Lantern and get two versions of him, it’s been a ton of fun and everyone loves working on the project.
Me: It’s great the way that instead of the standard class systems this is implemented into different versions of the same superhero, it’s a smart way to do it.
Ryan: It’s really interesting that if you’re a Batman fan one of the great things about having this multiverse is that you have three Batman’s, and they all have a different skill set. So if you’re a Batman fan who likes to play a bruiser character, you play Batman Prime. If you like ranged attack characters like marksmen, Gaslight Batman’s your guy. If you like assassins, Nightmare Batman. You can really be a fan of the IP and still find a play style that suits you.
Me: One thing that’s noticeable is that this game is catered to fans.
Ryan: Yeah, because we’ve had all these different people working on the project, people that add the really tight competitive balance in the game, and people who are working on the voice and video that’s driving all the action between the characters. When Green Arrow ends up fighting against Batman they’ll say something as they are fighting, so when Batman gets low on health Green Arrow will have some line to say in response to Batman being on the other team or his health bar. There’s all these interactions; you might not be super familiar with all the characters that are in the game, but because they’re always talking to each other and about what their state of mind is in the game you get an insight into their backstory without having to read a book.
Me: Right, even in-game it definitely gives the characters personality. Now Turbine has been at the front of online gaming since the very start, you guys have been doing this since dial-up.
Ryan: (Laughs) Yup! Asheron’s Call has been around since Ultimate Online and Everquest, those were the big three that started everything MMO, eventually that genre evolved into what it is today. We saw MOBAs gaining the same kind of traction and [when] we really got the chance to play a bunch of them ourselves we realised that was something else we were very passionate about and I think that’s why we’re here, we were excited to make this for ourselves.
Me: And that’s part of why Turbine is so exciting, you guys are at the forefront and it gives you opportunities to build on what you have already done and tweak it.
Ryan: We have a lot of experience in managing online games and keeping them running and pushing out updates and figuring how to take a game that you’ve launched and evolve it over time, and that’s something that we’re really excited about in this game. We’re getting to the point where it’s in open beta, we don’t have a long list of features that we really really want to add to the game. There are no features that are notably absent from the game. Now we’re just polishing it up, and then we’re into the world of live content, that’s what we’ve been really good at for a long time and we’re excited to get there. We are kind of already there with the champion releases that we do, they’ve been steady for a long time now every three weeks, we are about releasing three of them at a time, we have a backlog of about 20 that are in development in different stages so that’s starting to get going and then there’s going to be even more content available afterwards.
Me: That’s what’s interesting about designing an online game, there’s not really a point where it stops.
Ryan: No, it just keeps going and going; Asheron’s call is still going! We have thousands of people that are still playing that game and are die hard fans. We’re just getting started with this one and we plan on keeping it going for a very long time.
Me: Do you feel like some of the features in the matches themselves put a slight spin on the MOBA genre?
Ryan: The big thing that we’re pushing for in this game is aggression. If there’s one constant that we’re trying to steer everything towards, we want to build a MOBA where it’s okay and incentivised for you to go fight the other players. We’re making a game where Batman faces off against the Joker, and you can make that game and have it be about Batman fighting tiny robots for 15 minutes and then he finally decides to fight the Joker, or it can be that Batman’s there and the Joker’s there and they have a lot of reasons to actually fight each other right out of the game. You can see that with the currency drops we’re doing, as the tiny robots fight each other, if you don’t last hit them they just drop their coins to the ground. You have to walk over there to pick them up, when you walk over there the other team can either spend their time attacking robots or they can start attacking you, and if they do you’re probably going to attack them back. It’s all there to drive that point of tension between two or four people in your lane to fighting for the resources that are available to you. In addition to that in standard MOBA’s, you can only buy items at your base, for us we wanted to give people the opportunity to get stronger whilst playing without having to recall and then walk all the way back. You can actually buy artefacts, which are the items in our game, at your turrets themselves. That gives someone the incentive to potentially be lower on health but not go all the way back to base, actually to stay out there and try to get stronger while also running the risk of getting ganged by others.
Me: It can be a numbers game that’s for sure, if you’re on your own and there’s five people around you, you’re done.
Ryan: Oh yeah!
Me: It is great when you’re in that group though.
Ryan: Yeah, when your team shows up and you get a couple of kills and just push forward and seeing how far you can get. That’s part of the cadence of a MOBA too, and I feel like that’s why they’re so popular, because the game starts off slow and less is happening because everyone is distributed pretty evenly, and there will be those stand-offs where people are fighting against each other, and then all of a sudden it evolves into play between two or three people fighting for objectives. One thing that is specific to our latest map Gotham Divided, there are objectives out in the jungle between lanes, and if you kill these creatures they give out beacons that a member of your team can pick up. What happens is they get a new skill that they can use that drops that beacon pretty much anywhere in the map. You’ll be top lane, someone from your bottom lane can pick up a health pack and drop it that you can pick up, and that might be enough to can swing the battle in your favour. We want to make sure that as people are getting those objectives there is a lot of opportunity for skillful play, that you’ve got this thing that you can use in a variety of different ways.
Me: Are there any plans to bring social features voice communication to Infinite Crisis?
Ryan: Voice definitely helps, we don’t have any plans to integrate voice at the moment. MOBA communities can be kind of all over the place with these kind of features. So we are hesitant to investigate voice, but it’s something that we’ve done in the past and we could see in the future. Turbine has a lot of experience in developing social features. I think something like a Guild would be great to add to a MOBA, just to give you a social identity right out of the gate, it also gives you a great way to meet other people that will be supportive of you, there’s a lot of comradery there and I think there’s a great opportunity for us to have that. At the same time too we have a whole range of audiences, there are a bunch of people whose friends might want to play the game or people who are curious about this new genre, and a Guild-type atmosphere you could have players to help new players. Perhaps even implementing a game mode with less stress for new players, something like that that would be great.
Me: I guess with this being a DC Comics game, there will be a lot of people who may be new to the genre but fans of the universe?
Ryan: We have a lot of people who have checked out the game but never played a MOBA before because they like Batman or Superman, and they want to play the game. We want to make sure those guys have a fun time too.
Me: One last question, if you could have any superpower from the DC Universe, what would you choose and why?
Ryan: (Laughs) I’ll take Aquaman’s ability to talk to sea-life! I’m curious, who knows what could happen!
Infinite Crisis goes is out now on Steam.
Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 26th of October 2013
It was early on the first day of MCM London Comic Con when crowds began to filter through the doors in a flurry of excitement, and we managed to catch Rob Denbleyker in his natural habitat, at the Cyanide & Happiness booth. As one of the terrifically twisted cartoonists for the wildly funny web comic, we were grateful that he jumped in between sketches for a quick chat.
Me: So how did you get involved in Cyanide & Happiness, was it all planned out or did it just seem to happen?
Rob: There was no plan whatsoever, my friends and I all met online doing animations together and we decided that, after a while, comics were a lot easier to make. So we figured we could get more ideas out there if we started doing comics together instead of animations. So we started doing this daily comic in 2005 just for fun, just entertaining each other and about 200 people that were reading it. Over time that 200 became 2,000, 20,000 and it started growing until the point where Cyanide & Happiness just became our full time jobs in 2007. So we’ve been trying to stay at it as long as we can, because at this point we figure we can’t be hired. Our job prospects are kind of done (laughs).
Me: I think this would be alright on a CV.
Rob: I couldn’t see myself sending faxes.
Me: Is there anything that you have posted and thought “Should we have said that”?
Rob: We try to be funny before we’re offensive. If it is offensive so be it, but we never try to be offensive for the sake of antagonism. It’s kind of a side-effect because we have very few barriers, but most of the stuff that I do I’m proud of; I don’t put stuff up unless I am.
Me: Is this your first time at MCM London Comic Con?
Rob: I came here last year, and it was so crazy that I had to come back again.
Me: Is there anything you’re looking forward to, do you get a chance to leave and look around?
Rob: A little bit. Last year I met some of the Eddsworld guys, so I try to have drinks with them at least once when I’m here, but I always have a good time here and I always make new friends, especially in the comics community. It’s a really fun trip.
Me: It’s an amazing atmosphere here.
Rob: It’s great, it’s really casual. Especially after the show’s over and you can just wander round and get to know people, and strike up conversations with people whose work you admire.
Me: If you had to choose any of the Cyanide & Happiness members (Kris, Matt and Dave) to…
Me: (laughs) Well I was going to say snog, marry or kill!
Rob: I would kill them all, marry myself and f*** the consequences.
Me: Good answer! Thanks, you’ve been great.
Rob can be found all weekend at the Cyanide & Happiness stall at MCM London Comic Con until the 27th of October, and for rib-tickling comic strips, video shorts and more be sure to visit explosm.net