Session Two: Make Like a Tree and Leaf

5/28/09 – 6/29/09

pages 214 – 311

Rose doesn’t get enough love. I knew I liked her from the moment she first pestered John, and her proper introduction into the narrative only confirmed my earlier convictions. I disagree with people who say the cast are nothing like actual kids. That might be true in a practical sense, but I think the main four embody the idea of young teenagers in a way that feels familiar. I didn’t just like Rose from the start, I recognized her. In preparation for writing this blog, I skimmed (skimming was all I could bring myself to do) through my notebooks from 2010 and had to laugh; let’s just say that the comparisons to Rose’s walkthrough are over obvious. Rose, with her creative writing and the fan drawings on her wall, is the sort of character anyone who had artistic aspirations in their youth can relate to. Mike from the PBS Idea Channel said Rose was initially his favorite, but Dave ended up replacing her (at least at the time the video was released back in 2012). This struck me as a probably typical scenario for a variety of reasons that we’ll get to in due time. Rose tends to get overshadowed, and that’s a shame because she is clever, cynical, insightful, subtle (when she’s not going for the eyes), and all around adorable.

Back in recap land, a meteor is heading straight for John’s house and Rose’s house has lost power due to a vicious thunder storm. She must locate a power source and a strong wireless signal in order to resume her role as server player and save him. This part of the story always summons up fond memories of Day of the Tentacle, a game I played back in the days of my (extreme) youth. My family didn’t get a computer until I was in my teens, so my experience of point and click adventure games comes entirely from erratic sessions undertaken at my friend Brittany’s house. I vaguely recall wondering around a Gothic mansion looking for a generator and collecting pennies, a lot of pennies. There’s something of the same tone happening here.

Rose’s mom had a mausoleum built for their cat, make of that what you will.

Rose uses a tree modus for her sylladex. This is one of those clever references I don’t get. It was explained, sort of, in the book and I still don’t get it. My love of overcomplicated and uncooperative inventory systems continues unabated however, which is just as well. Homestuck is establishing another of its patterns, and after the intro page and some captchaploguing (a verb I think I just invented), we’re off to explore the house.

I realize that I am using the word “love” quite a bit in this entry, but I can’t help it, at least not without resorting to a thesaurus. So, something else I adore is the introduction of Mom.

Wait for it…

One of Hussie’s special gifts is imbuing characters with a strong sense of personality. The whole of Problem Sleuth relies on this ability. The characters are little more than stick figures with titles for names. Nevertheless, by the final battle, the reader recognizes and cares about each one of those ridiculous, wiggling, caricatures. That talent is reapplied in a new and interesting way with the NPCs in Homestuck. The Guardian figures lack eyes, the feature that most cartoonists rely on to convey humanity and emotion. We come to know them entirely through their actions and what the kids have to say about them. All we know about Mom is that she built a mausoleum for a cat, collects ornamental wizard paraphernalia, and that Rose describes her general demeanor as a “haze of gin and derision”. These tidbits, plus a shape silhouetted in a window, are enough for us to start piecing together a mental picture and fitting it into a stereotype we believe we recognize. It’s not an entirely false picture either. One of the great things about Homestuck is how things we know about the characters generally remain true, but our knowledge of motivations and our perceptions deepen and change with time.

Meanwhile, Rose makes her way to her mother’s observatory and accesses the wireless connection of the neighboring laboratory. She contacts John, who is trapped in his bedroom by a bathtub.

I had totally forgotten.

It’s easy to forget that this comic originally owed quite a bit to The Sims. John needs Rose to use her Sburb cursor to manipulate his environment so that he can use to the alchemizer to scan the carved cruxite and create his entry object. The object in question is quite a familiar one.

Do I even need to mention the symbolism?

We see a flash animation of the count down and the meteor streaking towards John’s house. There’s a flash and all we see is the mushroom cloud explosion. Act 1 ends and we cut… to the future.

Which is not a reassuring sight.

There’s a link to a scrolling image of an as yet unnamed shrouded figure making a mysterious discovery. This seems to have been Hussie still playing around with the medium; I don’t recall many more of these links, though they are a sign of more to come.

The animation that opens Act 2 does a marvelous job of conveying what’s happened to John’s house. We see establishing shots of John and Dad (so we know both of them made it), meanwhile the windows grow dark and glowing eyes appear in shadows. Then we zoom out to see that the house itself is standing on a pinnacle of rock in a black void. Intriguing, to say the least. Next the kernelsprite divides into two, leaving behind a ghostly presence, and glowing circles appear over the roof. Then John begins to hear voices.

Page 253 is the first of the interactive game pieces that actually allows us to explore. This is a great way of getting across a lot of information (everything from the disappearance of Dad to establishing that computers still work even though the power line is dangling from the side of that house) that would have been tedious to detail page by page. It also sets up the dynamic between John and the voice in his head. The captions switch from second person to third, establishing that we, the players, are now playing as someone other than John, someone we have yet to identify. This change in delivery is just as much a use of the webcomic as a medium as the mini-game, a possibly even more effective one. Note how the pesterlog with Rose subtly establishes that it’s not her issuing the commands at the bottom of the screen.

John losing track of his various computers is an on-going thing throughout the comic. Have I mentioned that? His and Rose’s attempts to retrieve Dad’s PDA help establish more parameters for the sever/client capabilities, i.e. how far Rose’s cursor can reach and what it can, and can’t, pick up. Also, we see a snippet of Dad’s friends asking after him, which is troubling considering what’s going to happen to the rest of planet Earth. After that, we finally establish who has their finger on the command key now.

“Finger.”

And now that John is more or less safe, we start establishing some dramatic tension for Rose. We can see where this is going, right?

But before we can move on, we have to finish prototyping the kernelsprite. Some things to note, I forgot that it was considered the server player’s responsibility to prototype the sprite. This first attempt at it is straight up slapstick. I love appreciate how in this scene we have three characters interacting, one represented by a cartoon sprite, one by a house shaped cursor, and one by the headings and links titles. Anyway, we probably all saw where this was going.

Urns toppled: 1

Dave chimes in at this point with more strange poetry. It’s actually an interesting piece of cultural observation, but none of us have any time for it right now. Meanwhile, Rose is trying to retrieve the car with John’s server disc inside.

With predictable results…

Jade (GG) pops up to remind us that her birthday present to John was also in that vehicle plummeting into the void. John recruits Dave to get his own copies of Sburb and rescue Rose. Being the sort of hero he is, Dave is of course reluctant.

We’re back to Rose and it’s time for her to pick her weapon of choice. Not even something as abstract as the strife specubus will allow her to equip her grimoire as a weapon (too dangerous). She goes for her knitting needles.

She could filet a fish with those things.

Rose’s interests have a much more long term affect on the plot of Homestuck than the other kids. Some of Dave’s listed hobbies never even come up after his introduction page, but Rose’s interest in zoologically dubious lore has long term consequences. I enjoyed this parody of the Cthulhu mythos, and the cute little pictures and descriptions of the horrorterrors of the furthest ring, from the start. Though I was confused by the reference to Problem Sleuth on my first read.

These windows are actually super important to both stories.

Rose’s little cinematic, meant to parallel John’s, brings to my mind ideas about her Class, the Seer of Light. “Somewhere a zealous god threads these strings between the clouds and the earth, preparing for a symphony it fears impossible to play. And so it threads on, and on, delaying the raise of the conductor’s baton.” More on this once we’ve collected more data.

Right now it’s time for Rose’s confrontation with her mother. Except, psyche, it’s not. It’s actually the end of this session. Next time, our adventure will continue in the company of a really cool dude, promise.

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