Datel Corp. is a British company that makes cheat devices for video games, such as the one I had for the Gamecube. At the time this story takes place, I was checking their website every day to see if they'd finally posted a cheat code for Sonic Adventure DX that would unlock everything. Invincibility was nice, but it didn't save me from having to play as Big the Cat.
I was beginning to think they would never do it when the site posted that they were looking for a cartoonist. "Send in a strip idea," they said, "and we'll consider making it a feature on this site." This wasn't the code, but it had my interest anyway. One of my most employable skills is that if I'm given a vague idea of what someone wants, I can usually draw up exactly what they want in a short period of time. I thought to myself, "I can probably give these guys what they're looking for." There was one stipulation, however: the comic had to relate to "cheating."
So I started thinking. The
"cheat subject" limit was workable, but since this was
a commercial website, they would most likely bite at something
that used their product directly, yet was still funny, and at the
same time not mocking it.
The challenge with THAT was that nothing's funny about hacking devices. They're more annoying than anything else, with their unintuitive interfaces and the fact that you have to enter about 600 garbled letters and numbers into them, carefully, to get them to unlock one thing.
I had to look at it a different way. I thought about hack codes for games that made the music off-key, or let you jump 50 feet, or distorted the backgrounds. Some codes can do pretty weird things.
That was it! Weirdness is ALWAYS funny. Within a few hours I had the sample strip ready.
I sent it in and waited. And waited...and waited. I wondered if they'd forgotten about the contest, until one night when I went to the site and suddenly found this:
They decided to be cute and make a Simon Cowell competition out of it. I hadn't known it was going to be a contest, and nothing here mentioned how long the voting period would be. I panicked and immediately told everybody I knew online to get to that page and start voting for me!
I checked out the rival entries and...they were all rather weak. Just like I figured, several people just copied the Penny Arcade formula of two slackers in an apartment room sitting around and talking to each other. "Steve the Security Dog" was even more dull; the claims of charisma and personality were all lies.
Then I clicked on the last one.
This was clearly breaking the previously-set rules and had nothing to do with cheating, but it was so striking and well-paced that I knew I was sunk for sure. How unfair. Mr. Collazo would easily win this, despite the fact that there was no way Datel could use it as a series.
If it had been just the editors judging, maybe mine would have had a chance, but their biggest mistake was letting everyone else vote. Sure enough, I looked at the results one week later, and--
--WHOA! Never mind!
I was absolutely thrilled with this chart, but then I read that it was only part one of three. The readers were allowed to vote once for each round, and I worried that perhaps I was just that high because I had told so many people to vote for me. For round two, I told no one to vote, and dreaded the results.
Another week passed, and to my astonishment I was STILL cleaning house. You couldn't have knocked the smile off my face with a Ronco Smile-Knocker. At the time I was entering my final year of college, and I had The Moment happen to me--the moment when you're in college and you show your work to one of your superiors and that superior says you have no hope of making it out there. When it happened to ME, the day after Round 2, I just brought up this graph on her computer screen and shoved it in her face. BOY, that felt good.
A few weeks later I got an expected Email from the editor saying I had won and that they were interested in making the Random Codes idea an ongoing strip. They offered the graphic novels as well, but I said I didn't care about those, I just wanted to draw for the site.
I started sketching ideas for more strange codes, and started planning out the look of the webpage the strip would appear on. Being one of the few entertaining features of a heavily-trafficked website, it was going to get a lot of attention, and I wanted to use that attention for good. I divided the prototype page into a section for the strip, a section for a newspost, and a section for a Link of the Week where I would call attention to other online strips. I would accept Emails from readers who needed help finding their audience, and give them a good boost. Now that I had gotten my break, I wanted to aid others with it.
All this was rejected by the editor, who simply made a page on the site that looked like all the others, and slapped the strip onto it. He argued that Random Codes was fine on its own and didn't need a newspost or anything else. I came to think he was right about the newspost, but not getting to do the Link of the Week was disheartening.
It was just the first letdown of many. When the strip began, I looked for a link to it on the main page, or in any other part of the site. There was nothing at all, and I complained that the strip was impossible to find. They said "We've been linking to it from our weekly newsletter, and we send out half a million of those! Your strip gets plenty of readers." I wasn't buying that. All the "newsletter" was was a bunch of sales pitches, and the link to my strip was somewhere near the bottom. The mailings were spam. Nobody reads spam.
There was always a post in the Codejunkies forum announcing the latest strip was up, and this was the only other way to get to it. But though the forum posters had been following the "e-comic idol" competition, barely any of them ever posted a response. Usually, the only guy who showed up was someone on the Datel staff who hated the strip and only came to mock me.
Eventually I got tired of him, and made a post telling him to get a life and that the strip was not that bad. He returned with a blistering multi-paragraph essay on how the art, writing, and my existence were all horrible abominations. This wouldn't have stung as badly had it not been for the fact that many other forum members finally posted after that, saying "Yeah, he's right, this is garbage!"
The reason they never said anything wasn't because they were ignoring it. It was because they all hated it. Ouch.
Even worse: I found out this was the hacker who owned the site "The Rare Witch Project," and who found many amazing unused functions and items in the N64 Banjo titles. This was actually someone whose talent I'd admired. All I was getting out of this strip was thankless work for no pay, and the knowledge that the guy who found the Ice Key in Banjo-Kazooie hates me. The joy was over.
But I'm not the kind of guy who quits easily. I wasn't giving up until they changed their minds, nor was I letting Datel just bury my strip anymore. I complained to the editor that Random Codes was not getting enough exposure, and that they should think about adding a button that leads to the strip on the main page. Fortunately, the editor supported the strip when no one else would, and he agreed to bring this up with the big guys at the company.
All he ended up doing was giving those suits the knowledge that the strip was there, and they didn't want anything on the site that wasn't actively selling Datel products. So they ordered that it stop. (Which begs the question; why even ask for a strip in the first place?)
Now......it was really over. But he said I could make and send in a couple more, to properly wrap things up. Which I did--only to find that I couldn't get them to him. I'd had problems with this in the past--the Emails he gave me often had full inboxes or just plain didn't work, so he'd have to give me another address, which would also quit working after two strips. I had no way to contact him anymore, so the irony is that the strip would have ended here anyway.
The management around Datel's website was horrible. The updates to my strip were very erratic, and the truth about the forums was that I was amazed anyone was there anymore because it went through three revisions in the six months my strip ran, and with each one everybody's accounts and posts were deleted. The company was a mess, and I'm just glad I never actually worked for them.
And I'm still waiting on that Sonic Adventure DX code.
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The Final Resting Place of All 19 Produced Random Codes Strips.....