MS Paint Adventures is a catch-all term for several webcomics by Andrew Hussie which are all, as the name suggests, made entirely in Adobe Photoshop and later, Flash. The Trope Codifier of the Interactive Comic genre, each is written in the style of an Interactive Fiction game, where each panel is accompanied by a text description, and the link to the next panel represents a player's command entered into a Text Parser. It originated in 2006 as a series of games run on the Gangbunch forums, a small gathering of artists and miscellaneous people from the Penny Arcade forums which later became the current MSPA Forums, and were played by a group of Hussie's online friends; it graduated to its own site and effectively became a webcomic in in 2007.Originally, all of the commands (barring "Next" and "==>" command continuations) were originally suggested by the readers back in Jailbreak, but over the years this decreased and major plot events were generally planned out ahead of time, culminating in Homestuck simply closing off its suggestion boxes entirely. However, the readers still have a lot of influence on the story through the community discussion, with Hussie admitting he likes reading theories and employing ones which he likes and which make sense.It is comprised of four series:
Jailbreak is the original adventure, where the player is a prisoner trying to escape from an incredibly illogical jail that is completely devoid of pumpkins. Andrew Hussie began it as a forum game many years ago, and one of the rules was that he had to pick the very first suggested command for each move, no matter how unfunny or preposterous. One of its central gags (namely, that You Can't Get Ye Flask because the game denies that the flask even exists) reappears as a Mythology Gag in Problem Sleuth, where the game repeatedly insists that Problem Sleuth's gun is actually a harmless key, and vice versa. It was abandoned until September 2011, where it was capped off with an ending.
Bard Quest is an experimental comic where each panel has multiple branching paths, much like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. It has been abandoned completely.
Problem Sleuth concerns the antics of three especially hard-boiled detectives (Problem Sleuth, Ace Dick, and Pickle Inspector) in their attempts to foil the dastardly plots of Mobster Kingpin and to escape from their room. It parodies various point-and-click adventure and JRPG mechanics and tropes (such as Stat Meters and Turns Red) and features increasingly complex animated panels depicting Super Move Portrait Attacks, Summon Magic and Wave Motion Guns galore.
Homestuck is the current series. It begins with 13-year old John Egbert, who's trying to get around to to playing a hot new video game called "Sburb" while contending with a poorly-designed inventory system and his father, but snowballs very quickly into an epic of children trying to survive After the End in a world predestined to work against them. While still happily displaying the energetic imagination and lightheartedness of Problem Sleuth, it has increased focus on deep characterization and dialogue, dramatic moods and a wildly twisting plot. It was initially done entirely in Flash, before Hussie decided to switch back to Photoshop because Flash is a pain to write comics in, though Flash is still occasionally employed for animated sequences and brief exploration games.
The New Reader page notes itself to be out of date. The claim that Problem Sleuth is 'by far the longest adventure' is crossed out and followed by "(Homestuck is now much longer)", and the section about Homestuck has a link to a more up-to-date primer at the top of the old description.
The secret page also counts, as it lists Andrew's Formspring account, which is now out of service.
Aborted Arc: Both Jailbreak and Bard Quest end abruptly and are now abandoned.
Jailbreak subverted this by having an ending written for it years after it was originally stopped.
The comic apparently exists in the Homestuck universe, with the pre-Scratch kids being able to read it, along with the "real" Midnight Crew on Alternia (who the in-universe comic is a reflection of) being able to read a reflection/parody of Homestuck.
Art Evolution: From the first panel of Jailbreak to Homestuck, the art has increased dramatically. However, all of the art in the comics has always been below Andrew's skill level, and in fact he's lost some of his skill simply because he never uses it anymore. Nonetheless, the writing and pacing have increased by magnitudes.
Artifact Title: The only image on the entire site to be drawn in MS Paint is the very first image in Jailbreak. Andrew Hussie very quickly abandoned it for Photoshop due to MS Paint's inherent limitations. The story also hasn't been under fan control ever since Homestuck became a breakout hit in Summer '10. See also Never Trust a Title.
Cerebus Syndrome: Very noticable over the course of the comic. Jail Break was driven completely by user suggestions without regard for quality, and as a result is completely nonsensical and gag-driven. Problem Sleuth was still largely user-driven, but managed to incorporate characters and a plot (albeit a comedic, cartoon-y one). Homestuck has a pre-planned story arc and serious themes mixed in with its humor.
Darker and Edgier: While still being pretty comedic, Homestuck is much darker than the other three "canon" adventures, partially due to the fact that it actually has a story and plotline (Jailbreak was just Rule of Funny without any over-arching plan, and while Problem Sleuth and Bard's Quest do have plots, they're completely goofy and aren't treated seriously).
Eldritch Abomination: Fluthlu. And possibly the lesser "terrifying beasts" as well. Not to mention the entire Noble Circle of Horrorterrors.
Around the time that Problem Sleuth ended, an impressive number of member-run MSPAs started showing up in the MSPA forum. For his part, Andrew is highly supportive of these: participating in some, linking to the more popular ones in a newspost, and creating a separate subforum in his forums to organize them.
MSPA's influence has become so broad that a number of comics with similar formats such as Silent Hill: Promise and Aetheria Epics have sprung up independently of the forums.
Funnily enough, the grandaddy of these fan MSPAs, Bird Wizard, had a suggestion from Andrew Hussie ("Squawk like an idiot and shit on your desk.") that made it into Homestuck (though the character resisted it).
Problem Sleuth has this as a major element in the form of each characters weapons, which are also mundane items like a ring of keys or a lipstick tube. Most of the time, referring to an item as its counterpart seems to get around this (e.g. using the keys on the door shoots it with a gun), except when working normally would be more frustrating and funny. It's explicitly described in universe on GameFAQs as a bug.
Homestuck does the same thing with the Midnight Crew's decks of cards / storage items, along with troll Kanaya Maryam's lipstick / chainsaw.
The comic used to look like it was made in MS Paint (see the first page of Problem Sleuth), but by a couple hundred pages later the style has evolved and it's quite a bit more complicated, to the point where being able to draw such things on MS Paint would be pretty amazing. Then, around a year later, we're at the point where we have interactive flash pages, elaborate animations, and almost every page in full color. The truth is: the comic was made in Adobe Photoshop from day two. The author does say right in the FAQ that only the very first page of Jailbreak was made in MS Paint. Everything else has been made in Photoshop and/or, more recently, with Flash.
Not only that, but the titles Problem Sleuth and Homestuck only reflect the initial circumstances of each adventure, and don't give a very good glimpse into what the actual story will be like. In Problem Sleuth, no cases are solved, clues found, or culprits apprehended instead, the plot evolves into sort of a pastiche of Eastern RPGs, culminating in a final battle where the entire universe is at stake. On the other Hand, Problem Sleuth was the protagonist, so the title at least made some sense.
Homestuck was nearly an aversion. Andrew had at one point considered naming the series Sburb, which is what the series is about, but decided it wasn't nearly as distinctive. The name "Homestuck" is basically a nonsense word that only describes the initial conditions of the protagonists, as mentioned above, as a Shout-Out to old-school Adventure games. It also is sorta-synonymous with Earthbound, which had an enormous influence on Homestuck.
Andrew is a very intelligent author. He spends most of his time talking to the fanbase trolling them.
He also wrote this, and writes recaps from memory.
One-Man Army: In Problem Sleuth, Andrew did all the work himself and posted around 5-6 pages per day for a year. In Homestuck, he does the majority of a workload for an entire animation team and manages to keep the 5-6 pages average per day. While there is now a dedicated art team which assists him in the Flash animations, there are still the hilarious moments in which he says he'll be slowing down for a while... and posts 80 pages in the span of a week.
Stylistic Self-Parody: the characters are usually drawn sans arms, leading to a running gag throughout the series, consisting of the command "Quickly retrieve arms from _____" with the character responding by gesturing with whose arms and the message "You already have arms, stupid!" (or some other insult). This is subverted early on in Homestuck. And again thereafter.
"Quickly retrieve arms from cinder blocks." "Nah."
THEY'RE RIGHT THERE. IN PLAIN SIGHT. LOOK, THEY ARE FLASHING RED.
At one point, a character literally has to retrieve an arm (from an inadvertently dismembered corpse.)
Another instance involves retrieving firearms.
Stylistic Suck: The unrefined, aliased art style allows for swifter drawing, allowing several panels to be published per day. That doesn't stop Andrew Hussie from doing incredibly refined and detailed drawings, however.
The stride does slow significantly when Hussie is utilizing Flash for pages in Homestuck.
Problem Sleuth and Homestuck each use this. In Homestuck, each of the main characters has a guardian, something weird that guardian collects, a world etc.. In Problem Sleuth, each of the detectives and the Mobster Kingpin has something trapping them in a room, a kingdom in the fantasy world etc..
Some more detail on things the kids in Homestuck each have one of here.
They Plotted a Perfectly Good Waste: Done repeatedly with reader suggestions, with hilarious (and often plot-crucial) results. The rather silly idea of building a fort out of a desk in Problem Sleuth actually developed into a major game mechanic of the series.
The pumpkin. Of course, when you attempt to get ye flask of whiskey, it works fine. Also, when you attempt to get ye key, you get a gun... and ye key disappeareth.
It's sort of applied logic: in Problem Sleuth, one of the commands would be to grab something (gun, knife,) and it would immediately turn into something else. Any time you bring it up, it will turn back.
It was so common that it even got an official name "Innocuous Double" and a page on the wiki detailing all the doubles.
You can also get ye rope, despite it actually being a cable.