Session Six: The Mayor of Can Town

9/10/09 – 10/11/09
pages 614 – 758

We’re back to being the other guy and suddenly I understand why John and Dave are such good friends.

Kill joy

We get down to some serious punch card alchemy at last. I’d forgotten that carved cruxite dowels are referred to as totems (and that it’s an alchemiter, not an alchemizer, woops). The controls on that cursor are apparently fine enough to allow a client player to work the buttons on all the devices. There’s also the atheneum, a name I always loved, in which to store things. So much of Sburb is only useful at the very beginning when everybody is still in the house. It leads me to believe that Hussie thought more of the story would take place actually inside the kids’ houses (and then there’s name too). I seem to recall reading somewhere that he thought the kids would need to construct towers in order to read Skaia and the battlefield. The idea reminds me of the tower in Problem Sleuth. Or maybe I’m on the wrong track and having Rose do things was just a time saving measure.

I find the precision of these grist counts suggestive, building must have been meant to play a larger role.

When I read this section for my notes, the page where John first creates the deformed rocket pack wouldn’t load. I’ve actually run across a couple of pages that had this problem. I was going to write something about the fragility of data and how surprisingly easy it is for media that relies on technology to disappear. I was going to mention Kid Radd, which is something of a spiritual predecessor of Homestuck, and how newer browsers made it unreadable. But when I went back the page loaded up fine, so now I don’t know. And when I Googled Kid Radd I found an unofficial mirror site that had updated it.

The loss of this moment would have been a tragedy.

The excerpt from ‘Wise Guy’ is one of the amusing little bonuses that make Homestuck interesting; it’s just so odd. The art tends to be quick, and sometimes messy, for the sake of the fast paced update schedule so it can be easy to overlook the amount of work that went in to creating this comic, the dedication to detail it took. Also, the excerpt provides us a way into exploring the true brilliance behind punch card alchemy.

Now we’re getting somewhere.
Behold the glory that is the Pogo Hammer.

Rose pesters John to get an update on his doings and John borrows a line from Dave.

EB: well bottom line is…
EB: he’s awesome
EB: that’s really all there is to say on the matter!

I wonder if this was an impromptu paraphrasing or something that has been repeated often already? The way the kids repeat each other’s words is common behavior, especially among younger people. Groups of friends, families, and communities tend to develop an internal language over time. I’m reminded of this every time I have to explain to someone eating dinner at my parents’ house what a “snaffler” is and it’s inherent differences from a “sniffler”. As I mentioned a post or two ago, Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff was meant to aid in the creation of this kind of internal reference. This is a rapport that the readers are invited in to as we spot the repetitions, and maybe even start using them ourselves.

Back in the recap, John tests out the Pogo Hammer on the imp on the Pogo Ride and ends up catapulting himself into the air, and I spot another retcon.

If I were a more invested person I’d create some sort of counter.

Rose rescues John from a nasty fall and there’s pretty cool series of vertical panels showing us the state of the house and leading up to an ominous reveal.
Uh-oh X 2 combo!

The ensuing chat between John and Rose is interesting, not just because it establishes that Rose can’t use the Sburb cursor to interact with anything John is touching, but for what she has to say about it.

TT: The game probably regards that as a kind of cheating.
TT: In a way, thieving you of your free will as an adventurer, and the need to advance by your own skill and ingenuity.
TT: The server player is just a facilitator.

This is curious considering everything we will learn about the nature of the Light aspect. Without rules you don’t have a game, or a story, but it is worth pointing out that Sburb is actually curbing the players here, insisting they follow the quest path laid out for them to achieve success. All the characters break with this established route in one way or another.

Also, Rose doesn’t trust Dave.

TT: I have no idea what the hell Dave is up to, or if he’s any closer to recovering the game.
TT: There’s some stuff I’d like to try, in case he doesn’t come through.

That’s a grim thing to say given that Rose heard… Wait, did Rose hear what Nannasprite had to say? She knew about it even before John stopped throwing his tantrum. Maybe she read the spritelog. Anyway, Rose knows the earth is doomed, and even if it wasn’t her house is on fire, and she’s still invested in experimenting with the game.

While John drifts off, Rose checks the Excursus which keeps track of the recipes for every alchemy combination. I had this fan idea that someone, say Sollux, could create an Excursus Compendium for every player in the game, then combine it with his program that allows him to decode captcha code. Anyway, Rose attempts to get the code for the Sburb disc and finds out that it’s unreadable. Do me a favor, gentle readers, and keep these things in mind for later.

And then her generator dies.

John has a dream full of foreshadowing and wakes up to have a chat with Jade. He’s finally on to her. We see one of John’s weirder traits at work in this conversation. He calls Jade out for knowing things she shouldn’t, and then dismisses Rose and Dave’s claims that she has spooky powers. Jade is coy and really rather obnoxious in response, though she does have the courtesy to alert John to the fact that his roof is about to be invaded.

The first boss battle is about to go down and John is on his own. He scurries around trying to prepare for battle, noticing that his trick handcuffs have gone missing, and then he’s cornered at the highest point of the house. And… it’s time to go see what’s up with Dave.

Because you were dying to know.

Unlike poor John, Dave gets a cool flash animation to show us his ascension to the highest point in preparation for his battle. Dave is just cool like that. This ascend theme is going to become one of the recurring images in the comic. I’ll discuss it next time we see it. Right now we have to deal with the results of this X2 psyche combo.

This moment is disorienting even now; it must have been so much stranger for the people who were reading at the time. I love it. It’s firmly in the territory of old text games, for which confusion was a core component of play. This is where the user generated commands reach their epitome. We explore this new setting and the captions become more reminiscent of old games than ever.

You are now holding a can of gravy.

There’d been a lot of speculation as to who this guy was and the comic goes out of its way to establish that the Wayward Vagabond is not an imp, and to provide us with clues as to his true nature.

Poor WV, captchaploguing is for humans.

We know that he does not have fangs, his carapace isn’t strong enough to break through metal cans, he has a bar code on his wrist that brings back unpleasant memories, and he is very hungry. This perhaps excuses some of his earlier behavior.

The Mayor of a Ghost Town trope over on TV tropes used be called Mayor of Can Town (a much snappier title), which is what led to someone entering the “Become the Mayor of Can Town” command as joke. Yet, this is another valuable clue as to sort of character our Wayward Vagabond is.

Fairly elected mayor’s are good.

WV has seen the ugliness of monarchy first hand.

We explore some more and WV consumes a few more non-food items. He picks up some chalk and I realize just how fundamental characters scribbling on walls with colored chalk is to this story.

He also finds a light shining in the ruins.

WV uses the chalk to expand Can Town. The caption makes a joke about blue trees (the green chalk is missing, ahem), but when I think about it I’m not sure that WV would have ever seen a green tree. He expands westward, laying out his new city is the pattern that seems most reasonable to him.

He can’t help himself.

WV’s drawings are always important. We see the entire layout of the Incipisphere in chalk long before we do in the comic. He even includes Prospit and Derse, which have barely been hinted at before this point.

In addition, I find his drawings to be rather pretty.

There’s also the enigmatic monitoring device WV was using to communicate with John. I’m still not sure I understand everything about these monitors, though I feel strongly that they have something to do with transdimensional windows.

I don’t know if the fact that Sburb seems to rely entirely on a mouse while the monitoring modules only have keyboards is significant in any way. Maybe Sburb is a newer technology, though when it comes to this game the word “newer” probably has no meaning. We establish the reality altering powers of the device again when the tab button unlocks a second hatch.

Prospit spills forth its bounty.

WV can barely contain his joy and hastily consumes quantities of diet cola. I feel obligated, nigh fated, to mention that one of the things that dimmed Tab’s popularity were suspicions that it was carcinogenic. Anyway, the Tab cans are naturalized into Can Town and WV, logically enough, tries the escape key next.

Which brings us to the log, a feature that I have found very useful indeed. I feel like this scene is meant to tie the action of the comic directly to us and our own computers.

WV tries switching to the other four monitors, which are locked so that they show only staticky images.

This serves a double purpose, it indicates that this is Rose’s monitor and shows us that Zazzerpan (or whatever his name is) has lost a hand.
We see that the other monitors are not locked into the same timeline as John’s.

Entering the command “Home” starts a count down at 4 hours and 13 minutes.

Because of course it would.

This also locks WV out of the keyboard. He rather desperately reverts to being the mayor and ruling the cans with a carapace fist (firm, yet polished, and supple as the situation demands). He sets up a militia on his district and enacts a training battle.

It’s a chessboard. Yes, I know it’s a chessboard. The captions dance around ever calling it that. We haven’t actually met the chess people yet, and it’s interesting to contemplate what they think of the game chess. Do they know of it or is it simply ingrained in them by instinct? WV is a character who has tried hard to break from the patterns of his kingdom, and yet he can’t help being trapped by them. When he plays out his game, white loses. WV is so upset by this that he breaks a black pawn.

Meanwhile, there are mere minutes left on the timer. We skip ahead to meet another new character.

The Peregrine Mendicant.

Back inside, WV has decided it’s time to leave. In fine adventure gaming tradition, trying to exit causes a metal grate to block the ladder hatch. WV uses a touch screen menu to access other parts of the facility. One room is locked, but a room indicated by some interlocked triangles is available. We’re about to learn the fine art of appearifying.

Is appearify a word that WV just made up? Think about it. It’s in the caption; he’d have no way of knowing the official terminology. Or is this word being communicated to us by someone else, a narrator perhaps.

Anyway, he appearifies a pumpkin. Pumpkins are the easiest things to work with in terms of materializing and dematerializing, as we have since learned.

Appearifying seems more complicated than alchemizing, in my estimation. It involves determining coordinates in both space and time. Fortunately, WV has a gift for judging distance. He is able to use the appearifier to retrieve his stuff. We establish that appearifiers cannot deappearify things, that would be too complicated, obviously. He uses his trusty “knife” to carve open the pumpkin and eat the innards but the narrator spares us the sight of this. WV is so good at this point that he’s able to rescue the firefly from the amber.

We’ll call her Serenity, for no reason at all.

He then attempts to obtain the rotten pumpkin that “disappeared” after he was first introduced, and we see what happens when you try to use an appearifier to create a paradox.

Slime is another thing that will turn out to have unexpected importance to this comic.

Among WV’s many talents is an ability to translate Morse code on sight. Serenity uses it to tell WV to stop fooling around and get out before the timer finishes counting down. He uses the appearifier to remove the grate and attempts to make his escape, to no avail. The comic attempts to leave us with a 5X cliffhanger combo but it doesn’t go. It looks at though we have no choice but to do it. We are making this happen.

The song here is “Explore”, one of my favorites. This animation is also one of my favorites. It’s the first time we see the scope of this story that spans time and space. First off we establish that the facility WV has been messing around in is on the site of Rose’s house (note the wizard hand), which means that the barren wasteland outside is Earth. Next we learn that it didn’t take many years after John’s house was destroyed for the planet to be reduced to this stage. A tree, reminiscent of the one that allowed John entry into the Medium, grows on the site of his house and sprouts a metal pod with the Sburb symbol that the Peregrine Mendicant is approaching. The action travels back in time to show  one of the spirographs we’ve been seeing around, notably during the Sburb download sequence and in animations of Skaia, send a meteor towards Earth. This is the first direct confirmation we get that the meteors aren’t just coincident with the release of Sburb, but directly tied to it. A frog temple is built on the site of the meteor impact, beside a volcano, the pterodactyl flying overhead is a nice touch. We then go back to the characters we know, connecting their actions with everything we just saw. Furthermore, this is the first time we get a proper look at Bro. Finally, WV touches down at the frog temple and walks outside to explore.

Phew, that was a lot. But it’s the end of Act 2.

And also the end of this session. Join me next time when we finally get a look at our fourth Sburb player.


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