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Webcomic / The Trenches

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Isaac: The amount of work they're expecting to wring out of us is herculean. Honestly, I think Hercules would find this difficult.
Cora: At least we'll never get any recognition. And we'll probably be fired.

The Trenches is a webcomic initially created by Scott Kurtz, Mike Krahulik, and Jerry Holkins, and later featuring the work of Mary Cagle, Monica Ray, and Ty Halley. Each strip was released with a story "from an actual tester about their experiences in the industry".

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Former game developer Isaac Cox has been brought low... somehow... and is forced to find a new job in a tough economy. He ends up as a tester for an MMO based on a 80s cartoon Show Within a Show called Lawstar, and has to deal with being on the bottom rung on the development ladder while also dealing with his co-workers.

The comic has been on hiatus since January 2016.


The comic provides examples of:

  • Accidental Pun: Marley uses a MMO tie-in geolocating phone app to "claim" a bunch of drug dispensaries... in the name of the High Elves. He didn't get the joke until Isaac pointed it out.
  • Adaptation Decay: An In-Universe example. Cora's father entrusts Q's company with the game rights to The Rhymeblade of Ballad-Ur on the faith that a hardcore fan and his own daughter would keep it faithful to the source material. He is not pleased with their results.
  • Art Evolution: The strip has gone from flat regions of color to more detailed shading. This was not a gradual process, but done when Mary Cagle took over the art duties starting with this strip. Later, the strip started incorporating more perspective into the drawings. As of May 2014 the strip has had four different artists (Scott Kurtz, Mary Cagle, Monica Ray, and Ty Halley), each with a different style.
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  • Bearer of Bad News: Probably best not to deliver such news while in a PvP area in front of a Powder Keg Crowd...
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Cora, while a Nice Girl, is also absolutely adamant about ensuring that the player base not get screwed over.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Gwen reveals herself to be this upon being promoted.
  • Brutal Honesty: Cora's nice, but she's blunt.
    Isaac: I feel like I should thank you for being so nice to me today.
    Cora: You really should. Everyone hates you.
    Isaac: Thanks.
    Cora: Anytime.
    • Subverted when she works as the go-between for Q's management group and the QA group.
    Cora: Okay. Guys, seriously. Hashtag, real talk. I know we're all nervous about stuff. I'm not gonna sugarcoat it.
    Cora: *forces a smile* It's looking good.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    Q: Here is the complete series (of Lawstar). I want you to absorb it.
    Isaac: Really? Blu-ray?
    Q: I know. Technically, only the laserdiscs are canon. But those never leave the humidor.
  • Confusing Multiple Negatives: See Telegraph Gag STOP.
  • Cool Car: Sadly, also Isaac's current living space.
  • Decision Darts: Mr. Credenza needs to fire someone, but who?
    Credenza: Normally I just throw a dart.
    Isaac: You know what? Let's do that.
    John: (gets hit by dart) Oooh! Ow! What! Whyyyy?
    Credenza: Who is that screaming? John? You're fired, John.
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  • Deep-Immersion Gaming: Used whenever the cast is playing the game. Played with when the news of the rollback was just broken to the playerbase:
    Isaac: [to Cora] They followed you! They're out for virtual blood! Run! Fucking run! Put on your quick spurs!
    Gwen: [back in the real world] Then what?
    Isaac: Well, then we remembered that we were sysops and logged out.
  • Doorstopper: The Rhymeblade of Ballad-Ur is described In-Universe as each book being "like an dictionary" in size. One of those books is actually a literal in-story dictionary. On top of that, the entire series is 15 books long.
  • Expy: Cora's father is one of George R. R. Martin, in appearance and career.
    • The Show Within a Show, Lawstar is an incredibly unsubtle one of 80's cartoon Bravestarr, right down to the robot horse and horrendous animation.
  • Fee Fi Faux Pas:
    • Q happens to be a really big fan of Lawstar. Isaac learns this a few minutes late.
      Isaac: This is that shitty space cartoon from the eighties. He rode around on that fucking rocket horse.
      Q: (pissed) Justice. His name was Justice.
    • Upon being told to Google a Jewish tradition;
      Isaac: More like Jewgle it. (raises hand for high-five) Hooooo!
      Cora: (blank look)
      Isaac: You're Jewish, huh?
      Cora: Half. So I'm only half offended.
    • Isaac, what is wrong with you?
      Q: The developer has asked one of us to come over to their side, and work on their side of things. So I'm...
      Isaac: Oh, thank god. I'm free. It's been real educational down here in the trench. It's been grim and real. I'll use all this when I get back to developing games.
      [some unrelated dialogue]
      Q: So anyway I'm going to take the job.
      Isaac: Good on you man, you earned it. Now, does anyone have a gun or a belt?
    • Q pulls one later on, though he confirms in the next strip that he's only joking.
      Q: A few of us came away with genuinely frightening bonuses. I'm using it to start my own thing. I'm going to need a QA Department I can trust. I was hoping you guys might know some people who are actually competent.
  • Feed the Mole: Q's plan to reveal The Mole was to tell each tester a different way he intended to smooth things over with the player base concerning the rollback, and see which story ended up getting leaked. Isaac caught on, and leaked the story Q told Marley before Cora could leak hers.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Yes and no. Marley wasn't the mole, but he was the one who was responsible for the Infinite Gold Bug getting released. Isaac considers letting him take the fall to be karmic justice. Cora, the actual mole, disagrees.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: In-Universe. The plot focus of the second season, as an infinite gold glitch is discovered and screws up the game economy badly enough to force a rollback.
  • George Jetson Job Security: Played with. One can get fired on perfectly reasonable (or unreasonable as the case may be) grounds, but thanks to Credenza's little management quirks, getting re-hired is as easy as applying under a different name. Eventually subverted, as when he thinks Marley is a mole he fires him and takes precautions to ensure he won't be re-hired this time.
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: Mr. Credenza:
    Mr. Credenza: What you're telling me is incredibly frustrating and I don't like hearing it.
    Isaac: That's why I brought it to your attention, sir.
    Mr. Credenza: No, this is what's frustrating. That you are bringing it to my attention.
  • Hollywood Game Design: Averted. The inspiration for the comic came from stories shared by the many people who worked in the games industry (quality assurance in particular) that the authors knew. Any breaks from the norm of an actual software development cycle are more due to Rule of Funny than anything else.
  • Homage: To Lord of the Flies in "Descent".
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Despite being the lead for the test team (only one step above the bottom of the ladder,) Cora is demonstrated to be a very effective project manager.
  • In the Name of the Moon: In "Referendum" here, before provoking a mass player protest:
    Cora: My name is Cora. And I fight for the users. TRON reference.
  • Ironic Echo: Marley expresses with a drawn out expletive at having his mind blown by not realizing a connection until Isaac points it out. Next strip, he suddenly realizes something has gone horribly wrong, and expresses the same expletive in a much more panicked way:
    Marley: Oh shiiiiiiii--
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Q, the Test Lead.
    Isaac: Probably better with spreadsheets than than he is with people.
    Cora: He's super nice. He made soup! His grandma's recipe, I guess. He put it on the wiki. Search for "delicious".
  • Klatchian Coffee: The "Punch".
    Q: No, no. Use a glass. It eats through the plastic ones.
    • Appears to be made with absolutely horrific quantities of Bawls, 5-Hour Energy, and who knows what else mixed in.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Characters often follow up Shout Outs with "___ reference." (Such as, "I did it a half hour ago. Watchmen reference.")
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Gwen copies Rhymeblade out of frustration of not being allowed to come up with new ideas... and then falls victim to one half of game design philosophy: there are no new ideas.
  • Limited Advancement Opportunities: Averted pretty hard. Characters can and do get promoted to other positions, or even get fired in some cases (creating new openings for other characters.) Of course, the promotion a character might get is not necessarily the promotion they want.
  • Magic Music: Used in The Rhymeblade of Ballad-Ur, and therefore part of its MMO adaptation. Cora explains it.
  • Man in a Kilt: Q is (almost) never seen without his Utilikilt,note  even while cosplaying as Lawstar. He gets endless crap from Cora's father over this.
  • Mathematician's Answer:
    Credenza: Ever been arrested?
    Isaac: Once.
    Credenza: What for?
    Isaac: Breaking the law.
  • Motivational Lie: Cora has to deliver one here, after being told that most of game development is built on a foundation of PR, buzz, lies, and bullshit.
  • Mushroom Samba: Marley gets some help from the Snuffler while on a combination of "The Punch" and Dayquil.
    Marley: On a related note, do not combine Q-juice and Dayquil. Unless you need help from the Snuffler.
  • Mythology Gag:
  • Nice Girl: Cora puts up with Isaac no matter how much of a Jerkass he is, and continues to try and show him the ropes. That said, her patience does have limits, and after one of his uglier displays in the middle of Season 2 she's fed up with him.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: As indicated in the second comic, "Once More Unto The Trench", Everywhere Isaac tries to get a job, the interviewer tells him he's "overqualified", and turns him away, so he resorts to this.
    Isaac: Use small words, Isaac. Use small words.
    • Note that companies use "overqualfication" to describe people who are attempting to simply use a job as a stepping stone to another position, making the training the company would give them pointless. This... is more or less a word-for-word description of how Isaac views his job.
  • Off-Model: Isaac's hands are missing in the first panel of "Forbidden".
  • One-Word Title: Most of the comics' names, possibly enough to earn its own page:
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Cora gets fed up about people saying she's serious and uptight, so she's tries to act more "Chaotic Neutral" like the rest of the employees. Instead, it comes off as Chaotic Stupid, and it freaks everyone else out.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Mr. Credenza
  • Precision F-Strike: Cora doesn't swear often, but she lets a Cluster F-Bomb loose here after a massive Game-Breaker is discovered.
    Cora: I save all my F-Words for bullshit like this. This scenario? It's Fuckworthy.
  • Protagonist Title: The first comic: "Isaac".
  • Punny Name: Isaac's characters in Lawstar Freedom, including "Orranj Julius" or Starfukr.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    Q: Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you... our Announce Trailer! This just went out to all worthy sites. Except Penny Arcade. Fuck those guys.
  • Sell-Out: Cora's father objects to Q's desecration of his beloved book series, The Rhymeblade of Ballad-Ur, when Q chooses to add a race of sloths for mass market appeal. That is, right up until the point he sees the giant royalty check he got from fans of the Ballad-Ur game checking out his books.
  • Series Hiatus: In-Universe. The comic will be taking sitcom-style "season breaks".
    • The comic became increasingly prone to Schedule Slip even during "seasons." Fans had some hope of seeing new installments on a more consistent basis once Mary Cagle took over art duties, and then once more when the comic was handed off to former Penny Arcade Strip Search contestants Ty Halley and Monica Ray, but in 2016 the comic seemingly stopped updating for good. As of 2022, all links to The Trenches site have been removed from the main PA site.
  • Shout-Out/Take That!: Lawstar is a send-up of Bravestarr.
  • Show Within a Show: Lawstar, an 80s cartoon show. The strip later moves on from an MMO based on that to one based on The Rhymeblade of Ballad-Ur, a series of fantasy novels.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Isaac reveals this side of him during The Reveal at the end of Season 1.
    Isaac: Oh yeah. Steel Coffin? Me. Starfire Saga V: Laserion? Also me. ME!
    Cora: Didn't all those games bomb?
    Isaac: "Bomb" is relative.
    Marley: Is your name not Isaac?
    Isaac: (smugly) Does Icey ring a bell?
    Marley: Yeah, a jerk bell because Icey was a stupid jerk.
  • Space Western: The setting of Lawstar takes this literally.
  • Spirit Advisor: Isaac gets visited by the ghost of Credenza when put in charge of new hires. Considering that Credenza is still alive as far as we know, this is likely Isaac's own stress manifesting as a Helpful Hallucination.
  • Start My Own: Q managed to make enough money from Lawstar Freedom to start his own studio, and is actively recruiting his old co-workers to form their QA team.
  • Stealth Mentor: After being made to test hundreds of doors by Q, Isaac learns that the feature he's testing was Dummied Out sometime before he even started. He confronts Q, but while demanding to know why he didn't just use shortcuts like making a bot test the doors instead of making him do it, he realizes the entire point of making him do it was to get him to realize these shortcuts are there.
    Q: I just Miyagi'd you. It's a verb now.
  • Stylistic Suck: Lawstar.
    Lawstar Narration: Captain Sheriff Law Star holds the Law Star... whose points represent Law, Justice, Order, Fairness and Lawfullness. Lord Hate Star weilds the Hate Star, which stand for... Revenge, Evil, Lying, Meanness and Not Law.
    Isaac: Oh my Jesus!
  • Sudden Name Change: One of the game devs in Q's company, who self-identifies as a bat, has his name changed from Tony to Wayne to Bruce.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Cora lands one right here.
    Cora: Seriously, they're just like us. Their workstations are way normal, and none of them hang upside down like bats.
    Gwen: Why... would they do that?
    Cora: Exactly.
  • Take That!: Lawstar's MMO eventually goes free to play, rebranded as Lawstar Freedom and boasting 10 cosmetic hat slots and 12 customizable belt slots.
    • When Isaac learns that The Rhymeblade of Ballad-Ur includes music that could kill someone, his response is "That can happen in real life, too. Have you ever heard Tim McGraw?" Subverted in the next strip, where we find that Isaac wasn't just taking a cheap shot, he really thinks that Tim McGraw music killed someone; but it's clear to the reader that the music wasn't responsible.
  • Team Pet: Mr. Toots, a game-testing rabbit.
  • Telegraph Gag STOP:
    [Red Robin] has bottomless fries STOP
    But when I say "stop" I mean that's the end of the line not that the fries stop because the fries don't stop STOP
  • The Tetris Effect: Isaac begins to experience this after staying up all night testing Portallis, the City of a Million Doors.
    Isaac: I did like, five-hundred, then I couldn't tell what I was looking at anymore. All I see is doors. Are you a door? You have to tell me. That's Portallis law.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Credenza asks Cora to hire "Young people with no commitments, kids won't be missed... the sort of person a cult might look for. Oh! And one fiery latina."
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Cora in Season 3. She's gone from a nice girl who can sometimes overstep herself to a bitch who screwed with Q because "he's a know it all jagoff", something she'd never do in earlier seasons. She also decides to outright be a bitch to Isaac instead of just being blunt with him about his less likable qualities and actions. It turned out that she misunderstood the group's "do what you want to do" mentality as "be jerks to get what you want", and she went back to normal shortly after realizing this.
    • Isaac started as an at least somewhat sympathetic character with flaws, but has gradually been getting slimier and slimier, as if he took a level in Jerkass and then decided to make it his primary class. As of Summer 2015 he's bordering on sociopathic, plotting to get Marley to do something that will get him fired just so that Isaac can meet a couple of girls.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Virtual torches and virtual pitchforks. Fortunately, you can just log out.
  • Unfortunate Name: Isaac Cox. Lampshaded in Youth:
    Credenza: Err... uhh... Mister Cox.
    Isaac: Present.
    Credenza: Wow.
    Isaac: Yeah. Junior High was very difficult.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Working as Intended" is dev-speak for "Fuck off".
    • Unfortunately, if the bug is particularly egregious (as is the case in this strip) then this euphemism is pretty close to Truth in Television.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Sorry Isaac, no Big Damn Kiss for you today.
  • You Are Too Late: The rollback has already started. Immediately lampshaded as a Watchmen Shout-Out.

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