I knew SoulCalibur had a flexible character creator, but I'll be seeing this Donkey Kong in my dreams for the rest of my life. Just look at it. The strange, voluptuous 'thiccness' of his muscles, the dead eyes, the distressed red tie that was so cleverly shaped from the unwilling contours of a rigid character creator. My favorite flourish, by far, is his pleated banana peel sword, which should be adopted into the Donkey Kong canon.
This atrocity was uploaded by a Twitter user named 'DarkNemeZis666' last November, and it immediately gained 12,000 retweets and 33,000 likes. It's the sort of tweet that passes through your timeline and gathers up a bluster of ironic and absurd comments before disappearing into the ether forever. But I wanted to know more: Who was this character creator genius, and what other monsters had they designed?
I don't know a lot about the character creator scene—or if a scene even exists. But I do know that for what it's worth, DarkNemeZis666 is the most talented video game character creator I've ever discovered on the internet. His demonic Donkey Kong is the tip of the iceberg. Peruse his YouTube catalog and bear witness to a truly demented shop of horrors. Here, for instance, is a delectably springy vintage Wolverine, which repurposes Voldo's trademark knifehands as adamantium claws. Here is a bot match between a mutant Mario and a mutant Sonic, like a twisted Smash Bros. showdown in hell. (Oh my god. Sonic's weapon is a razor-sharp ring.)
Here is Ryo Hazuki—the guy from Shenmue—making his way to the squared circle in WWE 2k18, with his primitive Dreamcast-textured leather jacket perfectly in place. Finally, the chance to force Ryo to take endless Stone Cold Stunners. FanFiction.net weeps.
DarkNemeZis does not want to tell me his name, but he is willing to reveal that he is French. (He answers my questions in English through the translation efforts of a friend.) NemeZis' character creation efforts began, in earnest, after 2012's SoulCalibur 5—a fighting game that packed an unnecessarily complex creator module that let you alter the appearance of an entire roster of fighters. It was a surprisingly open-handed move from Bandai Namco since publishers are generally wary of letting users completely sabotage a closely guarded fiction. But NemeZis was able to go crazy and push against the outer limits of what could or should be possible in the confines of a character creator.
Over the course of five years, he's increased his subscriber count on YouTube to a solid 6,000, and today stands as probably the most famous character creator on earth. "I'm glad my subscribers are still here for me and enjoy my creations," he says via translation. "I'll keep trying my best for doing a better job and satisfy them."
NemeZis' process starts, as always, with a reference photo: Some screenshot of Goku or Deadpool, pruned from Pinterest or Google Images. "I try to find images from movies, videos games and stuff. I also take my inspiration from cosplay and fanart of characters from Marvel, Nintendo, or Mortal Kombat, then I try to find which character would be fun to create," he explains.
Sometimes, says NemeZis, he'll spend hours and hours trying to perfect a model in the lab, only for it to not come to fruition for being too uncanny, too vague, or just too weird. (Recent examples include Donald Trump, and a Spongebob model who never managed to find the right weapon.) Those characters aren't uploaded to the channel, because NemeZis would "never want to post anything [he's] not proud of." Art is never finished, only abandoned.
Still, the characters that do make it are phenomenal, and NemeZis is even kind enough to leave instructions for those wanting to dip their toes in his craft. If, for instance, you want to bring Dragon Ball Z's Bardock to the fold in SoulCalibur 6, you can follow along with the step-by-step guide on his YouTube channel. It is here where NemeZis will show you the exact magnitude of girth he injects into arms and legs, the exact shade of metallic blue for Saiyan power armor, the ideal positioning for a power scanner. It is like Bob Ross, if Bob Ross preferred multiversal showdowns to snowy forest scenes.
"You have to start with a combination of equipment or clothing, it can give shape-based character ideas," he continues. "But the most important thing is to be patient, a good creation is not done in five minutes, and even if you thinks your creation is done, keep trying to modify everything, clothes, stickers, to see if it improves the creation."
NemeZis prefers creating characters in SoulCalibur to the WWE games, even though 2K offers a greater level of modular elements compared to Capcom's suite. (To be specific, there are only eight layers of textures you can edit on a SoulCalibur creation, versus the near limitless potential when you jump into a modern create-a-wrestler tool.) But NemeZis tells me he enjoys that challenge. "It's more rewarding to manage to reproduce a character [in SoulCalibur]," he says. We all have our own metagames. Some people dream of winning Evo. Some people dream of squeezing every drop of blood they can out of in-house creative tools."
That's what I will think about now, when I'm drawn back in to that monstrous, unreasonable Donkey Kong. It was put on this earth to make us laugh and scream, but you shouldn't doubt the craftsmanship behind it. It's worth considering in our highly accelerated 2019, when art (and specifically fan art) seems more disposable than ever—there and gone from social media in a flash. Thank god we have people like DarkNemeZis666 who gets their rocks off by breaking character creators in two. The wealth of virtuosic weirdness in the games community is impossibly deep.
"I trained a lot, I got used to use creation modes, it took me years and years, cause at the beginning my creations wasn't that good," says NemeZis. "But I persevered, and now here I am. Never give up."