Community heroes: Chris Livingston, Concerned


This week on the site, we want to celebrate some of the heroes of the PC gaming community. People who've devoted huge amounts of their free time to making something awesome for the rest of us to enjoy. Today we're talking to Chris Livingston, creator of the very funny Half-Life 2 webcomic Concerned , the extremely funny Oblivion diary Living in Oblivion , and the hilarious mock gaming news site The First-Person Observer . Whatever he does next, it had better cause diagnosable hysteria.

PC Gamer: So, the first thing I know you from is Concerned, your Half-Life 2 comic made in Garry's Mod. How did the idea of using a mod to make a comic come about?

Chris Livingston: I cleverly hit upon the idea to make a G-Mod comic after seeing roughly 8,394 other G-Mod comics. I thought the world definitely needed 8,395. Most of the comics I was seeing were little one-off humor comics or completely original stories built into the Half-Life universe, and I thought maybe I could bring my own character in but follow the same structure as the game instead of inventing a completely original story, because it would be less work. It turned out to be a lot of work anyway.

I'd had an idea a couple years prior about doing a comic using screenshots from the original Legend of Zelda for the NES, and my comic wouldn't just be Link appearing here and there in the different game environments, but it would follow the progress of the game from start to finish, so Link would initially just have his little wooden sword, and by the end he'd have explored all the dungeon levels and gotten all the weapons and stuff.

I never did anything with Zelda, but when I started playing with Garry's Mod, I thought maybe I could use the same idea with Half-Life 2: a comic that followed the structure and beats of the story you play through in the game.

PC Gamer: What made you choose that particular face for the hero Gordon Frohman?

Chris: I basically just lined up all the NPC models along a wall like it was a firing squad, and shot them all in the face with the G-Mod expression tool, to see which face I liked the best. There was just something about that one model I liked better than the others. With apologies to the actual person he was modeled from, he was sort of harmlessly goofy looking. He had ain instantly likable face, and I think that's why a lot of other comic makers used him as their main character as well.

PC Gamer: What's the longest you ever spent posing one frame in Garry's Mod?

Chris: There's one comic where Frohman is trying to dispose of thousands of explosive barrels, and there are Metro Cops helping him out by stacking them up around bridge supports and rolling them off trucks, and there's sort of a lot going on in the scene. I posed the whole scene and it took a couple hours. Just as I was finishing, I accidentally shot a barrel -- I thought I was holding the remover tool but I was holding the pistol -- and they all blew up. On the one hand, it was an awesome explosion to witness, but on the other hand, it was about midnight and I had to basically recreate the entire scene, which took even longer because I was afraid of blowing everything up again. Which I did. While swinging a ragdoll around too quickly, I hit another barrel and blew everything up a second time, so I had to start over yet again. That was probably a total of six or seven hours for a single panel. I don't think I actually went to sleep that night.

PC Gamer: Were there any strips or plotlines you tried but decided against?

Chris: Yeah, there were tons. There was a whole deal with that English guy, Odessa Cubbage, who gives Freeman the rocket launcher in the game. I had an idea that he hated Dr. Breen because Cubbage had been married to a English woman who Breen had seduced, and she went off to live with him in City 17. And now she's the woman who does all the loudspeaker announcements in the city. There were going to be some scenes of Breen in the Citadel talking to her, and how she was mad because she was suddenly incredibly busy making announcements now that Freeman was around killing everybody. And Breen wouldn't hire anyone else, because this is science-fiction, and in science-fiction, all broadcast voices have English accents for some reason.

I also had a big backstory for G-Man that never made it in. I saw G-Man as a patent lawyer for an alien civilization that had invented teleportation technology to deal with their stifling traffic problems. G-Man's job is to protect their patent, and his civilization's legal system is based around basically killing anyone who infringes on your patents. So, he goes to Black Mesa to sabotage the teleportation experiments there, and that's why he sets Freeman loose in City 17, to destroy the Combine's teleporter in the Citadel, and basically, the en tire Half-Life storyline revolved around G-Man trying to protect his teleportation patent.

I just couldn't boil that stuff down into a few six-panel comics.

PC Gamer: Obviously Concerned satirises a lot about Half-Life 2 - did you create it specifically to do that, or were you more interested in telling your own story?

Chris: I was interested in poking some fun at a game I loved, and also trying to celebrate it, and in telling a story within the confines of the game's existing story. I liked that idea because it had a clear start and finish, and because it meant I had to build my ideas into the confines of their script, which seemed like a fun challenge. I had to think up reasons Frohman would follow the same path when he had an entirely different agenda than Freeman. So, I came up with him looking for an apartment in Ravenholm, and going to Nova Prospekt because he wanted to join the Combine. Having him walk through most of the game ahead of Freeman also meant I could explain why the world is the way it is, with explosive barrels and saw blades lying around everywhere, and make other jokes about the nature of the game.

PC Gamer: For a long time you were working on another comic, made in the Team Fortress 2 universe. How far did you get with that, and why did it not pan out?

Chris: I didn't get far at all, mainly because I couldn't really find a tone for the comic that worked. I sort of wanted it to be really melodramatic, like a soap opera, which I thought would wind up being funny considering how silly and cartoony the whole game is. And there'd be these deep, dramatic stories that would wind up being ridiculous because it's a cartoon. It seemed pointless to do a comedy when the game is entirely comedic in nature. Ultimately, I just never felt like it would really work. I wrote a lot of the story and posed a few pages worth of comics, but was never really happy with it.

I'm glad I didn't bother at this point, because Valve is putting out their own comics and creating back-stories that are a lot more fun than anything I was coming up with.