Originally Appears in Issue 6
In each issue Declan Aylward dives head first into the weird and wonderful world of the web, and reports back with his findings.
Three decades ago, London was stolen by bats. That, intriguingly, is the stage-setter for Echo Bazaar, a ‘10 minutes a session’ browser game that bases itself on your Twitter or Facebook account, but won’t gain you the pitying and vaguely irritated looks a Farmville addiction can bring on from your friends and co-workers. Part of this is because Echo Bazaar keeps its spamming of your friends to a discreet minimum. It’s more a polite cough of an aged butler than a raucous, marketplace screech most of its ilk use to announce their presence. Mostly though, it’s the setting that will get its hooks into you. Set in an underground, alternative world that feels like Neil Gaiman and Terry Gilliam collaborated on a HP Lovecraft theme park under the supervision of Terry Pratchett, the curiously genteel Fallen London is rife with flirtatious devils, melancholy curates and, of course, the mysterious Masters of the Bazaar themselves. The game is essentially card-based and once you’ve been dropped into the Neath you use the opportunity cards you draw to find accommodation, earn what passes for money this close to Hell, uncover hidden plots or even invite your friends to social events in your spiffing new lodgings. The game’s focus on storytelling and intrigue over violence and mayhem has even earned it attention from a mainstream gaming industry fast becoming bored with hulking space marines mowing down hordes of hapless aliens. Pay a visit to the Bazaar and, who knows, you might even hang up the blaster rifle yourself in favour of an expertly wielded bag of fierce mint humbugs!
Has anyone else been wondering what Kevin Smith is up to these days? Well, apart from writing and directing a pretty creepy looking horror movie called Red State, he has been hiding out at a place called Smodcastle. Billing itself as the world’s first and only podcasting theatre, Smodcastle is Smith’s LA venue for a whole host of internet events that those of us too pasty and freckled to spend time in the City of Angels can catch at smodcast.com. Every day of the week a new podcast is available on the site. Some are recorded live at Smodcastle, some rare ecorded studio-style off the premise. But all are hilarious, interesting and, needless to say, very offensive to the lemonade-and-buns brigade.
The podcasts on offer cover a host of topics, but whether you’re listening to Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier shooting the shit in the titular Smodcast, catching up with movie industry news in ‘Hollywood Babble-On’ or indulging an inexplicable ice-hockey fascination with Puck Nuts, the banter will have you chuckling to yourself like a crazy person on the bus. If you really crave your Jay and Silent Bob fix, every Wednesday ‘Jay and Silent Bob Get Old’ gives you a chance to hear about how our heroes are doing now that they are both settling down and maturing. Mature is a relative term though, and anyone who doesn’t find endless, graphic dick jokes entertaining should really pass this site by and renew their subscription to Justin Bieber’s no-doubt squeaky clean podcast instead.
He may not have a psychedelic van and a talking great dane, but Colonel Randall Thaddeus Winchester IV of the Mystery Solved! webcomic certainly gets the job done. Created by Zack Kruse and drawn by a different artist for each of his adventures, the good Colonel and his trusty manservant Jenkins travel the globe investigating and disproving phenomena like alien cattle mutilation, bigfoot and fairies. The comic delights in showing the wilful ignorance that must persist for most myths to survive, and contrasts this with the Colonel’s sound science. I would be lying if I said that sharing a smug sense of superiority with our intrepid investigator wasn’t part of the appeal. The fact that each adventure is illustrated in a different style keeps the comic fresh. It’s fun to watch how far in the air each artist manages to stick Jenkins’ nose, but the wacky, almost Beano style writing maintains a firmly consistent feel. While it might not have the cutting edge satire of Penny Arcade or the relevance to modern singletons that Girls with Slingshots has mastered, Mystery Solved! is a reminder that sometimes it’s nice just to settle back for a simple Scooby Doo style adventure and a pat on the back to ourselves for never believing in ghost stories in the first place. The comic is updated every Thursday so check back regularly to keep abreast of the Colonel’s most recent debunking.