Interview: Chris Livingston of Concerned, 1Fort

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Christopher C. Livingston is a wonderful man. This is a plainly observable fact. Creator of the hit webcomic Concerned and non-adventure blog Living in Oblivion, he’s spent most of his time recently blogging over at 1Fort. If you haven’t read any of his work you should probably do so now. In between banging on about the virtues of Team Fortress 2 and inadvertently teasing us about his next project Chris was kind enough to have a bit of a chat with us here at The Irish Gamers. His amiable meanderings are below.

The Irish Gamers: First off, are you a Chris or a Christopher?

Livingston: I’m a Chris, though my wife calls me Christopher. I once considered going by “Kit” but that never really panned out, so most people call me Chris, or, if you’re my boss, “CHRIS!!!!!” He yells a lot. The president of my company calls me “Peter” because he’s confused me with someone else, presumably someone named Peter.

Reading through some of your older stuff on Not My Desk it’s not surprising that your newer projects have been so entertaining. But what on earth made you want to try and be funny on the internet in the first place?

Well, I had started writing these essays about my temp jobs but I didn’t really know what to do with them. I was actually printing them off and mailing them to people I knew, like it was the Stone Age or something. And, they seemed to like them, and about that time I fell in with a crowd of nerds who all had websites, so I got a copy of Microsoft Frontpage and put up a website so my nerd friends could see how damn funny I was. They were kind enough to overlook the fact that I was using Frontpage while their sites were built on hand-crafted HTML. And they seemed to enjoy my humor.

The web is great and terrible because you get instant feedback. On the one hand, you can show things to people and they can enjoy them and let you know how much they like it right away. On the other hand, you can slave over something for days or weeks and within thirty seconds of posting it someone will comment: “Meh.” And that just destroys your soul. But it’s good to have people out there waiting for you to post things if you’re the type of person who lives and dies by deadlines, like I do.

You’re best known for creating Concerned. When you conceived it did you see comics as sort of a next step up, or were you just looking for something new?

I’ve always wanted to do a comic of some kind. I used to draw superhero comics all the time as a kid, back when my artistic ability was advanced for my age. Unfortunately, my age overtook it – I still draw like I’m eight. But the dream was rekindled when I started seeing web comics made with video game screenshots.

I was toying with doing a comic using screenshots from the original Legend of Zelda, but I wanted mine to be a little different. Rather than just have Link popping up talking to Octoroks and stuff, I wanted to follow the story the game gives you. Start with Link at the beginning of the game and have my comic run right along with it as he captured pieces of the Triforce and progressed, just like when you really play it. I never actually did anything with Zelda, but I kept the idea in my head of doing a comic that followed a game from start to finish, which I eventually did with Half-Life 2 and Concerned.

What drew you to the Half-Life games specifically?

I’d been playing First Person Shooters, as many as I could get my hands on. It started with the Doom series, and games like Duke Nukem and Rise of the Triad, and then I heard about Half-Life. I didn’t know anything about it except that it was supposed to be good. And it just blew me away.

It was such a departure, especially the beginning of the game. All we’d seen were games that would dump you in a corridor or a street and monsters would immediately attack you. But Half-Life put you on this train ride, and then into the lab complex, and nothing was happening. You were just going to work. There were hints that something might eventually happen, and it’s such a staple of games these days, the slow build to the event that unleashes monsters upon the world, but back then it was so unusual and tense, just wondering what the hell was going on. When was something going to happen?

Apart from the tension of walking around, waiting for monsters to appear, it was also incredibly arresting to be walking down a corridor and some scientist walks by, sees you, and says hello or maybe has a couple lines of dialogue. Again, it’s commonplace now but it was so amazing back then to just have an NPC notice you and say something without prompting. The rest of the game was equally as amazing and surprising. Half-Life really set the standard, and you see games coming out today that are still trying to match up to it and can’t.

The only game that ever really topped it, I think, was Half-Life 2.

Were you surprised by the strength of the reaction to Frohman? And now he’s dead and gone, are you happy with how the saga turned out? One of your May posts on 1Fort would suggest otherwise.

I knew people would be interested in a comic about Half-Life 2, because there were tons of them around already. Most were little one-shot deals or humor comics that just took place here and there in the game. I wanted to try my idea of following the storyline of the game start to finish, but it seemed a little daunting, never having done an online comic before. What I was picturing would take a lot of time and effort and sticking to the storyline of the game meant I’d really have to plan it. I couldn’t just skip ahead and do some Ravenholm strips, and then bounce back and do some City 17 jokes. I’d have to sit on my Ravenholm material until I got there, and once I left, I couldn’t really go back and do more. It seemed pretty
challenging.

Then I saw a comic strip called Apostasy, which was a drama, a very complex and well put-together comic, a graphic novel, really. And I thought, here’s a guy who’s not making excuses, he’s really going all out. And I decided to stop making excuses and just do my comic.

I am a little surprised it was so popular. I thought only real HL2 fans would get it. Not just people who played the game once and went on to other things, and definitely not people who never played it, because so much of the humor was very specific not just to the HL universe but very specific moments in the game and in the history of the games. But I frequently hear from people who never played HL2 but really like Frohman.

I’m happy with how some of it turned out. I think overall, it was a good strip, but it’s lacking in places and the presentation is a bit crude. There are a few things I wanted to include but didn’t and plenty of things I included that I wish I hadn’t, but I guess it turned out pretty good for the most part. I actually haven’t read it
since I finished. Maybe I’ll like it more if I give it a look-through. I think I focus on the bad stuff more than the good, like probably most people.

Your other blogspace, Living in Oblivion, is proving to be even more of an oddity than Concerned. How is Nondrick getting on?

I haven’t seen him in a while! I tend to play for about an hour or two and get through five or six days of game-time, and then it takes me a month or so to get caught up with the blog, so I don’t really play as much as I’d like. I’m almost caught up now, so I should be able to actually play the game again in a week or so.

The blog has got such a strange concept behind it – completely turning its back on what the designers intended to instead do something that is, on the face of it, mundane. Yet it works, and it’s hilarious. Would you say you’ve found another game within the game, so to speak?

Concerned is, when you really look at it, a bit of a love letter to the people who made the game. I think LiO is probably the same thing. It’s true, I’m not playing the way it’s intended to be played, and really, it’s a terrible bore walking around picking flowers sometimes. But it’s really remarkable that it’s possible to play a game in a way that wasn’t intended. It speaks to the design of an adventure game that you can actually get by without having any adventures. I love that freedom, and it’s very rare in games. Usually, the designers have their hand on your back pushing where they want you to go, so it’s great to find a game where they’re sort of shrugging and saying, “Hey, go wherever you want and do whatever you want. There’s stuff here to do if you get bored, but in the meantime, walk around picking mushrooms if that’s your thing.”

LiO has, like Concerned before it, turned up in the likes of PC Gamer UK. Do you see it having the longevity or popularity of Frohman’s odyssey?

I sincerely doubt it. It’s a lot of reading and I can’t make Nondrick hit someone with a shovel. He doesn’t even talk. I try to make the blog as interesting as I can, and I know there are people who really enjoy it. I certainly enjoy writing it. But I don’t think it’s as accessible as Concerned was, and there aren’t really any punchlines.

It’s fun for me, though, because I really have no idea where it’s going or how it will end.

You’ve seem to, like myself, become a huge fan of Team Fortress 2. What appeals to you most about the game?

Probably that I’m good at it! Not great, but good. And I think just about everyone is good at it, at least with one or two of the character classes. I think it’s also the first multi-class online shooter where I enjoy just about all of the classes. Even with TFC (Team Fortress Classic – TIG), I stuck with just soldier or medic, but with TF2 I enjoy just aboutevery class, even if I don’t think I initially will.

I started with mainly playing Demoman, but one day there were a bunch of demomen so I went soldier, never thinking I’d enjoy it. But I loved it! I stayed soldier for a while, and then I thought I’d try out the spy, thinking I’d never really get the hang of it. A couple hours later I was completely addicted to the spy. Nowadays, I’m into sniping, which I’ve never, ever been good at or enjoyed in other games, but I love it and I’m actually pretty good at it. And the other night I started playing Heavy a bit more and I feel an addiction coming on for that. I think it’s pretty remarkable that they managed to make all the classes a lot of fun and pretty easy to pick up the basics with.

1Fort is your primary blogspace right now. With the possible TF2 comic, you seem pretty determined to get it just-so before ever letting it set foot online.Can you tell us what it looks like in your head at least? How much of it is written?

Well, I’m gonna keep mum on the subject of what 1Fort is about for now. I have lot of the details and storyline planned, but I’m still trying to decide on a few elements and find the right tone. It’s not really going to be a straightforward humor comic, because, honestly, I don’t see the point of doing a straight comedy with TF2. The game is already hilarious and ridiculous, no need to pry humor out of it. Just play it and you’ll get plenty of laughs.

One thing about Concerned that worked, I think, was it was this goofy, upbeat comedy in a fairly dark and disturbing world. The game had moments of humor but the setting is incredibly bleak, and Frohman was fun because he was sort of happy-go-lucky despite the sheer horror going on around him. He sees a charred corpse covered in blood lying on a newspaper and he thinks, “Hey, free newspaper!”

TF2, on the other hand, is a bright, cheery, cartoony world, so I don’t think a bright, cheery comic strip would have much of a point. So, I’m thinking more along the lines of a melodrama with a lot of intersecting storylines, but something that would still be fun to read and get into. I’m just trying to tie up some of the storylines and find the right tone to present it in.

Do you feel any sense of obligation, given the reaction you got when you first tentatively suggested you might be doing a TF2 comic?

Yeah, I feel bad that I haven’t started it and, honestly, don’t have any real idea of when or if I’ll ever start. I hope it will be soon, but I want to make sure I’m really ready and know what I’m doing
before I even begin.

Finally, could you describe your relationship with “The Valve“?

The Valve has been very nice and supportive to me. Everyone I’ve talked to has been great, and I’ve gotten a lot of e-mail from them about Concerned, plus, an actual letter from Marc Laidlaw, which I now have framed.

They even made a big effort to get a Concerned book made to sell on their website, but unfortunately, I screwed the pooch on my end. My comics weren’t high enough resolution to just print off and stick in a book, so it would have required me to completely rebuild each comic from the original screenshots, many of which I hadn’t saved, re-do the word bubbles and text and effects and all that, and I just couldn’t put the effort together to finish the new comics as well as recreate the old ones concurrently (this was taking place near the end of the comic).

Weeks and weeks went by and I just wasn’t getting it done, and I didn’t communicate my problems to them, I think probably because I was incredibly embarrassed that here were these talented and creative people wanting to collaborate with me, and I was failing to keep up on my end. Needless to say, it’s a huge regret for me, a huge missed opportunity, and I hate that I let down the people at Valve who were trying to work with me. Not to mention, I let down my fans who have been hounding me for a printed version of Concerned almost since I started the comic.

Sooo… not really the most uplifting end to the interview, huh? How about one more question so we can go out on an up note?

You’re right… Er, where do you see this all heading, if anywhere? Concerned was a stellar success, 1Fort probably will be too. Is this something you see yourself doing for a living eventually, or will it always fight for time along with your ‘real’ life?

The websites and comics and blogs are just an outlet for me, a way to be creative and try out different ideas, since I don’t really get the chance to be creative at my real job. We’ll see if they lead anywhere. I enjoy writing, and I hope one day to have a career that involves some aspect of writing, and I obviously enjoy games and would love to find a job somewhere in the gaming industry. Of course, if I could sit home all day blogging and making comics and somehow making a living from that, believe me, I would!

Thank you very much Chris.

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5 Responses to “Interview: Chris Livingston of Concerned, 1Fort”

  1. Smellbow Says:

    Awesome interview, huge fan of chris’s work.

  2. Platty Says:

    very nice read!
    love this guys work, always nice to read.

  3. The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun Says:

    […] site the Irish Gamers have an interview with Chris Livingstone, the webcomics author of Concerned. I did a screenshot comic once for Gamer. It’s more work […]

  4. Davik Says:

    Great interview! Who actually did the interview? I’m impressed, guys – well done.

  5. The Monthly Wrap-up: July « The Irish Gamers Says:

    […] months down and it’s been a blast so far. Not counting what I fondly like to call “The Livingston Hiccup” traffic spike in June, our total number of visitors is up on last month so we haven’t let ourselves down so […]

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