Shenanigans in a Magical Forest: Postmortem
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And so Create.swf Adventures #1: Shenanigans in a Magical Forest is finally complete, a little under ten months after it started. (This article assumes you've read it, so I'm not going to hide spoilers.)
Although just about every act ended up with a different postmodern spin, my main goal at the beginning was a deconstruction of the fact that MS Paint Adventures, and by extension all audience-driven stories which copy MSPA's format and formula verbatim, have a sort of love-hate relationship with the fourth wall. Sometimes it's there; sometimes it's like Andrew Hussie hates the very idea of a fourth wall; sometimes it's definitely present, but it has been heavily vandalized. Problem Sleuth and his cronies visit the GameFAQs page for their own game; the Homestuck kids have an inventory-management system which they are aware of, and they remark on it to each other; even Andrew Hussie himself shows up to derp around a bit from time to time.
I decided to create a story which have an in-universe explanation for the "commands sent in by readers," as a plot-device. While I didn't have all of the specifics in mind at the time, I always knew that it would involve mushroom-spores, which would eventually coalesce to form a NEWBORN YOUKAI named Masha Kinoko; the plan was for her to be the final boss. The characters (who are nominally in a setting which is decidedly not an "audience-driven story" and does have a Fourth Wall) would not like having their free will messed with, thus resulting in ... conflict. The readers, meanwhile, would be just immersed enough in things that they'd try to "fight back," as it were. And this reaction was perfectly in-character for the as-yet-unknown spores: they kept thinking it was literally "themselves" they were protecting.
And this went exactly according to plan. My greatest overall triumph was that not once did anyone consider the possibility that this was anything but a good idea, and simply tried to "acquire more characters."1 In fact, I could say that this was absolutely perfect, uh, right up to the bit where Masha turned out to be much too cute and sympathetic to be the Final Boss.
Actually, my "greatest triumph" is probably the creation of an Original Character in fanfiction who got a highly positive reaction from readers, rather than the revulsion or indifference they usually get. See, when people read fanfic for pleasure (as opposed to, say, parental loyalty, or proofreading, or whatever), it's because they know they're interested in the established series and characters, and want to see more. They want to read about Marisa and Reimu, or whoever the fic happens to focus on. For that reason, if a totally new and unfamiliar character shows up who doesn't exist in canon, the reaction is liable to be one of immediate "WHO'S THIS DOUCHEBAG?" unless the author has put in extra effort towards making the reader give a damn — effort which you don't need when normally making fan fiction. I believe Masha got a positive response for a number of different reasons, foremost among them the fact that the readers were actually present for her birth; it was okay that they didn't know anything about her, because she didn't know anything about herself, either. She was also freaking adorable, to boot. There's also the fact that I was exploring hitherto-uncharted territory within Touhou canon: how Youkai come into existence. She just hit all the right buttons, it seems, and as a result, Masha was pretty much the high point of Shenanigans in a Magical Forest.
Anyway, I didn't actually expect to have more than "one and a half acts." The second act was originally meant to be a brief bit of character-establishment leading up to Masha becoming the final boss and trying to consciously use her control-via-spores, followed by the ending sequence with Independent-Doll-Shanghai's "birth." Trying to expand upon this and use other villains, frankly, was the major contributing factor to why sort of fell apart in the end.
Because I was married to the idea of having some Final Boss, I replaced Masha with Team ❽, my Gensōkyō's version of the Midnight Crew; their concept had been lurking in the shadows, much like Team ❽ themselves, almost since Mima's introduction. I also brouht up the yatagarasu consumed by Utsuho, who had been already established as wanting to set things on fire.
And so, to establish Yasora's character, I started "Shenanigans in a Fiery Netherworld," the equivalent of Homestuck's "Hivebent" chapter. (I was doing lots of things with the intentions of mirroring MSPA; you might spend some time looking for callbacks.) The "postmodern" aspect of this Act was that, rather than controlling a character directly, Yasora was relaying commands to Utsuho, though Utsuho wasn't really getting them. Much like Hivebent, it was focused on a different set of characters from the ones we knew already, it jumped around in time a bit, and it wasn't very well recieved by everyone (this last bit was not my intention). As Sect on Maidens of the Kaleidoscope commented, it felt like it dragged on despite being the shortest Act. This was on top of Yasora's character being ... less-than-compelling, particularly compared to Masha.
The "final boss battle" was another failure-to-entertain. The postmodern-bit — that I-the-author was playing this as an actual video game made by KirbyM, who was a different person from "Walfas" — wasn't particularly interesting. The fight itself was lengthy, predictable, and lacked either comedy-value, dramatic tension, or anything really interesting. As Cleric put it in the comments, "this is just another incident resolved by danmaku. We've been here." Worse, while I was putting the dialogue together in the pre-battle "Strife-Modus: Converse," I'd left out a single sentence in Yasora's speech which made it clearer that she wanted to just burn Gensōkyō even after dealing with Yukari, and this made it a lot less clear that fighting her was actually justified, and I didn't realize this until after it was already over.
Oh well. The climax wasn't a bang, but a whimper which was way too long. A whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimper, perhaps. So, what's the lesson here? First, when your plans change, it's better to make it shorter than to make it longer if it's already a perfectly cromulent length. Second, in an audience-driven story, a lengthy straight-up fight scene just isn't interesting by itself. The previous fight-sequences were good because they were short and mostly comedy-driven.2 That, if I was going to have any "Final Boss," was how I should have done it. The problem was that I felt that a "Final Boss" should be a bit more, y'know, dramatic and stuff. Well ... the problem was that I thought a "Final Boss" was mandatory for what I wanted to do, but I've covered that already.
All in all, though, I'm ultimately more or less satisfied. I mean, for all the words I spent harping on the negative above, I don't want to sound like I didn't have fun making it, or that I wouldn't want to do something like it ever again. Apart from anything else, whatever else happens, I now have the experience to do better next time, and I will use it to (hopefully) make Create.swf Adventures #2 an improvement. For that matter, I actually finished my first audience-driven adventure; according to Brickman on the MSPA forum, this means Shenanigans in a Magical Forest technically outpaces Andrew Hussie's track record in that regard.
As for everyone who's wondering what's next ... Well, first of all, I'm going to take a break, and then I'm going to get back to what I've still always thought of as my "main comic.". Chronologically speaking, it is now two years behind RL, to say nothing of the fanfics I've been neglecting, um, since I started writing them. There's also these games I want to make, and stuff like that; I have way too many ideas, some of which I can actually make on my own (with help from Shintear etc.)!
For Create.swf Adventures itself, though ... I dunno, I've got a few ideas. From here, it looks like #2 will have, as its player characters, what I call the "Future Kids": Sacchin Hakurei, Carroll and Shanghai, and Kon Yakumo. I made this plan before I really understood the stigma of Original Characters, however, so I'll certainly have to tread lightly, and if I do go that route, I'll prepare myself for a smaller ... turnout, as it were.
In any event, this page can be used for a Q&A, if anyone has any particular questions and concerns they want raised, or if any plot points need any further explanation. I hope enough has been explained within the story, and that any questions raised were ones that would be better handled in sequels and other stories (i.e. "WTF is up with Konngara!?"). Credits are on the main CSA page. Other than that, feel free to ask away here, so we can have it all in one place.
CREATE.SWF ADVENTURES: SHENANIGANS IN A MAGICAL FOREST
- 4 Acts (+1 Epilogue)
- 616 Pages
- 767 Images
- 6.1 Songs
- 11 Player Characters
- ~9.5 months
- 0 Precious Things Recovered
- 0 Stable Time-Loops Fulfilled
- 0 Foundlings Rescued
1My greatest individual triumph was "You are now the MUSHROOM." Second greatest would be Formica Archonis and others trying to second-guess Yukari's line "I'm not going to eat you!" just because "eat" was italicized.
2The six-month-final-boss was fine in Problem Sleuth, because "the final boss" was practically just the backdrop against which a whole lot of other silly things were happening. Homestuck, meanwhile, sequesters the more interesting fight scenes in Flash-animations, which only rarely take up more than one individual page.