If you'd like to jump right into reading something, I think Problem Sleuth is a good place to start, personally. But it's a pretty long read, so be sure to have the save game feature handy!
But before you jump into an adventure, a little background on the site would probably help. There are two key points to understand! They are:
1) MSPA stories exist in the format of "mock games", specifically text-based adventure games. You advance through the pages of the story by clicking links which sound like commands you would type in a text prompt to get a character to do something. Generally, the character will respond to that command on the following page.
2) MSPA stories are largely "reader-driven", in the sense that most of the text commands were supplied by readers through a suggestion box. I would select a command from the list, and then illustrate the result of the command.
When I say "largely reader driven", I mean this approach has undergone a lot of evolution from adventure to adventure, and continues to even now. I'll try to give a sense of what the process was for each adventure.
Jailbreak: This was the first adventure, one I started well before the MSPA site existed. I created it on a forum, where people would post suggestions in replies to the thread. My policy was to always take the first suggestion no matter what, which naturally lead to a very haphazard feel to the story's progression. I also experimented with "branching" the story at one point, splitting it into two paths. But then I quickly brought those two paths back together.
I left Jailbreak unfinished. And it's probably fine that way, as a sort of rambling, silly initial experiment with the storytelling format. I doubt I'll go back to finish it.
Bardquest: This was the first adventure I started after launching MSPA.com, back when I had the "choose your own adventure" format in mind for the site as the primary storying device, in addition to the reader-driven feature with a new on-site suggestion box. But the multiple paths turned out to be quite difficult for me to keep up with, and overall, probably pretty hard for readers to digest as well, especially with a longer story.
Mercifully, this one never made it that far. I chalk it up as an interesting failed experiment, and one that I surely won't go back to finish. After halting BQ, I left the site to gather dust for about six months, then started it up again with Problem Sleuth.
Problem Sleuth:By far the longest adventure (Homestuck is now much longer), and only complete one to date. When I started, I revised the approach, completely scrapping the multiple paths concept except in a few minor instances. I also started being more selective with the suggestions, not necessarily always picking the first one in the box. This made for a more controlled style of action, allowing elements of planning and puzzle solving, while still creating a pretty whimsical feel to the adventure.
But I feel MSPA evolved in many more ways than that over the daunting span of Problem Sleuth (exactly one year, in fact). The nature of the parody drifted away from text-adventures exclusively to playing off many other sorts of gaming genres, like RPGs, fighting games, etc. The visual style progressed as well, as I started incorporating more and more animated frames and over the top battle sequences. And the reader-driven element shifted very gradually as well, especially as the story took on more readers.
When a story begins to get thousands of suggestions, paradoxically, it becomes much harder to call it truly "reader-driven". This is simply because there is so much available, the author can cherry-pick from what's there to suit whatever he might have in mind, whether he's deliberately planning ahead or not. But as it happened, I was planning ahead much more as the story neared its end, and I would tend to A) pick commands that suited what I had in mind, or B) just call a spade a spade and outright MAKE UP a command for an idea I had, which I did most often for many of the later attacks (like the Sleuth Diplomacy variations, Comb Raves, etc).
Toward the end, the suggestion box was mostly used as a go-to for the frivolous, funny tangential stuff, and rarely anything story-changing. I've come to view this as the only realistic practice for a site with this format, with this many readers. This practice carried over to the next adventure, right from the start.
The adventure I'm currently working on, with a pretty radically different approach from the way the previous adventures started, mostly in the sense that many elements are already preplanned. I don't know if I intended to make a big point of this as huge a paradigm shift for the site. It was more that I started getting ideas for the next adventure well before Problem Sleuth ended, and those ideas just kept cropping up. Much like with crafting the conclusion for Problem Sleuth, the planning just couldn't be helped!
So the use of user commands has been handled in a similar way, insofar as they contribute to a direction I want the story to go in, or to simply produce a humorous tangential effect (which can sometimes lead to story developments I don't anticipate anyway!) But the point is, the reader-driven aspect of MSPA is still in a state evolution, and truthfully is probably drifting away from being a very important factor in the way the story is structured.
It is manifesting in other interesting ways though. With HS I introduced the incorporation of music into the story, and the production of this music has been a collaborative effort among readers. Other ideas and resources like funny images, game mechanic concepts, etc, have made it into the story outside of the institutionalized structure of the suggestion box. I also picked the characters' names from reader input. There are lots of ways I will inject reader input into stories, and finding out how will be the fun part. But it will almost certainly never resemble the madcap charades of Jailbreak or early Problem Sleuth.
The bottom line is, the MSPA format always seems to be in a state of flux, and I will surely continue to bend my own rules in various ways. Honestly at this stage, I am less excited about the reader-driven aspect than I am about the format that has emerged and somewhat crystallized, which is: telling a story through the vehicle of a mock-game, complete with somewhat convincing and detailed mechanics, but without losing sight of it as a parody. That format has been augmented with the use of Flash animations and interactive pages, which is something I'm sure I'll keep exploring.
Anyway, if you really are a new reader, I guess that was a lot to digest! But even if you're not a new reader, I'm sure you gleaned some insight from that.
Let's see if I can "tldr" a few things up top, since this news item might begin to nose dive dramatically through the vertical space of this web layout. Am I finished HS yet? Um, nope. But I think enough is probably enough on the site's indefinite period of hibernation, so it's likely I will just start posting some stuff I have anyway, starting next month. Either mid or late October, let's say.
I said it would be a long pause, didn't I? Let's face it, a gigapause is just one big ass pause. It contains the smaller word "giga", which, in addition to literally meaning "one billion", you will find to be the root of the word "gigantic", which as we all know, means super huge. This intriguing fact reminds us that in our culture of words, we hold the number one billion as the indivisible quantum of general bigness, as a matter of principal. Food for thought!
We're coming up on almost a year since I paused. So that means I got like, SO much done on the story, right? Wow, no. Innumerable unspecified problems happened which badly prevented this from being true. I'd estimate out of those 12 months, I maybe squeezed in a grand total of 3 months worth of work on HS in there. Kinda dribbled across the year in the most frustrating way possible. So, I'm just gonna cry uncle on this dogshit pause and start posting stuff, but probably in a regimented way so I don't blow through everything I have too fast, thus giving me some time to work on the rest.
Back at the onset of the pause, I said I'd just post everything at once. (I was oversimplifying. I had always intended to stagger the final content to whatever extent, so as not to destroy the server.) But also that "post everything at once" idea was predicated on actually sorta... having it all done. Which as I have already culpa'd, is not the case. So I'm improvising at this point. I'll (probably) relaunch the story next month, come up with some kind of update schedule, and we'll see how it goes.
What have I been doing all year? Let's chalk it up to, in this order of relevance, a swirling multitude of Daunting Life Challenges, a flurry of accidental weird adventures causing me to thrash wildly across the nation, and the escalating complexities of running a business while tending to peripheral creative projects, not the least of which has been overseeing the development of an expensive video game. Actually, all things considered, I'm surprised at how much I actually HAVE gotten done this year. It just happens that "making a ton of HS pages" isn't one of those things.
What were the problems? What were the adventures? Sorry, nothing to see here. Me and the General Public just aren't that tight, and wild sob stories ain't my bag (unless they pertain to visits to the Olive Garden). Well, maybe I'll mention some things some day. But definitely nowhere in the proximity of a virtual stage adjacent to the sphere of rhetoric which could conceivably be construed as a series of excuses for why a mammoth load of free entertainment hasn't been finished yet. Did you follow that? Look over there. (When you look back at me, I am slowly rolling into a pile of trash.)
The good news is, I'm still all about horses. Did you know that about me? It's true as shit. Horses; wow. Pretty good weird big animals? Or pretty GREAT weird big animals??
What else should I say here. Oh.
We've also been chipping away at upgrading the server over the last year. It's been surprisingly complicated and slow-going. Actually, prior to the pause, it was one of the most difficult things about updating, having an insufficient server that was GUARANTEED to crash every time I posted something. This was even after many, many upgrades over the years. It gets a little demoralizing trying to make tons of cartoons every day for a small nation of lunatics when the server constantly struggles to keep up with the ever-burgeoning readership, no matter how much I upgraded it. This was one of the (lots of) factors which contributed to me finally just saying, fuck it, time to pause.
Hopefully it can handle it now, but guess we'll see. It all runs on fancy clouds and such now. Which has been tricky to configure for such a complicated site utterly dependent on all the garbage ass-backwards code I've written over the years. Maybe... maybe once I start updating again, nobody will notice?? Man, wouldn't that be sweet. It will just be me and like a cozy little clique of 50 randos and 10 web bots, just like the old days. We'll bring this sucker home together, then hit up the local bargain Italian restaurant to celebrate. (Then a horse nuzzles me out of my sleepy dream fantasy, and the hammock flips over and dumps my screaming body on to the lawn.)
Feels a little odd even TALKING about revving up this monstrosity again. It's been pretty serene on the web these days. I've been reluctant to even drop a pebble into the pristine glass-like state of the fandom, before being good and damn well ready to. Why wake the beast prematurely? We'll enjoy more than our share of blistering pandemonium when all is said and done. We are slowly building to a particular moment I foresee on the horizon. It's not just characterized by the end of the story, though that should be a factor. It's more than that. Things I have planned, and some other things we'll say may be fortuitously aligned. Invisible pieces of a heinous machine all snapping together, mechanically congealing with a grim sense of purpose. I'm tentatively branding to this moment as The Rapture, and it will be more than you can bear. More than anyone can. And everyone won't.
Happy 4/13, a.k.a. 5 years of Homestuck being a thing! Since I know how much you like things, to celebrate I thought I would show you another thing that's been in the works for a while.
It's a new webcomic based on Homestuck, called Paradox Space! Have a look. That is all I will say about it here. But if you would like to know what the heck this ACTUALLY IS, here is a permalink to the news post where I talk about such matters.