Aperture R&D is a new webseries, chronicling the lives of the men and women (but mostly men, apparently) who work down in the underbelly of Aperture, the fictional company nesting at the sweaty, rotten core of the gaming masterpiece, Portal, and the superb sequel Portal 2.
It's hard, however, for me to discuss it. I know Aperture R&D is machinima, and I know that it's a labour of love from fans. And as a fan, I care deeply about the gooey, succulent marrow that lies within the bones of fan service; I want to suck it out, dammit. I just want to suck. It. Right. Out.
Grotesque imagery aside, often times machinima is cringe-worthy. It's less obvious when the machinima in question utilises in-game graphics; in these cases, it can be completely bonerifically excellent (look at Red Vs. Blue). But even fan films made using the graphics engines of the games being paid tribute to, there's typically one thing that falls flat.
As a fan, I care deeply about the gooey, succulent marrow that lies within the bones of fan service.
Now I'm not a comic genius by any means -- my schtick is, typically, me combining references to unicorns, erections, glitter and explosions, and hoping it somehow doesn't come out a complete mess. But I am also a paid performer, having done Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Perth Fringe and Adelaide Fringe runs for several years now, and I do my (incredibly middling and still evolving) comedy 'thing' on TV, too, so I'd like to think that I at least have a modicum of appreciation for when comedy hits, and when it doesn't.
Which might be why Aperture R&D chafes me so much. The sets are lovely, the amount of care poured into the project is awe inspiring, and the whole thing is polished. Polished with technical know-how I couldn't even begin to muster up myself.
But where it falls down is on the comedy front; it's funny (in my opinion) in the same way that a first year law review sketch is funny, in that it doesn't hit punchlines, and doesn't innovate. It's by no means bad, but this is Portal. Portal is a nuanced, subtle fusion of minimalist sci-fi and, vitally, properly concise and biting comedic timing.
The aim of the entirely subjective critique is not to dump on the guys at Wayside Creations. They've done a great job on so many levels here, they really have. The aim is, instead, to ask a question: can gaming and comedy work together?
On the one hand, there's this argument: gamers intake frightening amounts of games, all of which are filled with characters, events and place names. Gamers therefore enjoy comedy rife with references which, when it comes to actually making jokes about gaming, means the jokes themselves are nothing but references, meaning the material falls down when viewed through the lens of good comedy.
The other argument is that we're hitting a point where gaming and comedy are making sweet, noisy love, and giving birth to games like Borderlands 2, or the recent Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3, both of which exhibit objectively warm, witty chunks of comedy goodness. And if this keeps happening, then maybe comedy will become something that gamers, game makers and machinima makers turn into a legitimate strength, rather than just a hobby they swat around lazily from time to time.
By Paul Verhoeven