Once Felicia Day showed that web video could be a safe place for nerds to fully express their love of gaming, there were plenty of imitators to follow. But the indie series Gold was one that managed to find its own voice, focusing not on the world of video games, but the world of old-school gaming: Bags of dice and character sheets. And while the series, created by David Nett, never landed the same sort of fancy deals that The Guild did, it’s still finding ways to keep going.
Gold: Night of the Zombie King, which began releasing episodes last week, is a miniseries taking place within the world of Gold (a world where table-top role-playing games are a lucrative and prominent pastime for players) but separate from its main narrative. Essentially, it’s a way to keep the show alive for Gold fans (who have been waiting for a follow-up to Season 1 since July 2009), but on a smaller scale than a full-length season.
This approach is worth highlighting because not only is it an original solution to the problem of keeping an audience engaged, it’s a testament to the flexibility that a web-based distribution strategy offers. Compare it to television, where shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men go off the air for nine months at a time, with nothing except the occasional web installment to keep them active in the audience’s imagination.
The story is simple: A group of friends, who used to play role-playing games together in high school, gather together to pick up where they left off after Jaz (a minor character from Gold, played by James Ellis Lane) returns to town. However, when Jaz left, he left a whole lot of unresolved drama behind him — and it’s all catching up with him as he and his friends attempt to finish the adventure they abandoned 15 years ago.
The level of authenticity brought to the series is profound — the rhythms of rolling dice and calling out character actions are perfectly captured — and production values are solid. There’s not a lot of time devoted specifically to character development, but the personalities of Jaz’s old friends find ways to pop during the action, and there’s a maturity to the action which is refreshing.
The series’s biggest flaw is its dependence on context. Not only is some familiarity with the world of role-playing games important to understanding the action, but while the series is, technically, a stand-alone adventure, being up to date on the first season of Gold is necessary in order to understand specific story moments and flashbacks. It’s definitely a treat for the Gold fan base, but there’s a missed opportunity to leverage NOTZK as a discovery engine for new audiences.
Via email, Nett says that he and the Gold team are “doing everything in our power to make certain GOLD Season 2 gets shot in 2011. The story needs to be completed. The fans want it and we want it, and we’re trying to make it happen.” In the meantime, though, Night of the Zombie King makes for an intriguing placeholder.
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