Ever watch one of the hundreds of house flipping shows on TV? According to them, the strategy is simple: buy the worst house on the block, repair and renovate until it's the best house on the block, cook up a little drama before each commercial break ("These custom cabinets don't fit!"), resolve it quickly after the commercial break ("The cabinets do fit after all!"), then sell it quickly before the monthly mortgage payments eat up all the profit.
House Flipper, which comes out on Steam on May 17, is like being on one of those shows, only instead of scraping off a bit of ugly wallpaper for the camera and then having an actual renovation crew do the rest of the work off-camera, you're all alone, knee-deep in the filth and detritus of disgusting and depressing houses, and you have to do all the work yourself.
I begin my house flipping adventure by entering my 'office', a one-bedroom, one-bathroom, zero-anything-else house. It's basically a wood box filled with garbage and smeared with filth, to act as a little practice area for all the mopping and straightening and cleaning I'll be doing.
You can even hang pictures. Using your tablet you can take a screenshot, then frame it, buy it, and hang it on the wall. I take a picture of my disgusting bathroom and hang it in my disgusting bathroom. It only costs me like $100, and the memory will last a lifetime.
My office also has a desk with a laptop to look at real estate listings on, but I can't quite afford to buy a house to flip (buying a picture of my bathroom didn't help), so I check my email and take a few small jobs first: clean a messy house, replace a few radiators and a sink, tidy up a dirty garage.
Most of these jobs involve throwing away garbage strewn around the place by clicking on it, and mopping, where you sort of just hold a mop over anything dirty: floors, walls, tables, ceilings, doors, dishes, whatever. It's slow and fairly dull, and you're only done when the game has determined you've gotten 100 percent of the dirt, which is often tricky because the remaining grime is sometimes just a hard-to-see smear on a doorjamb or a smudge in a corner behind some furniture. Unlike Viscera Cleanup Detail, this isn't a fully physics-enabled game: objects don't move unless you decide to pick them up and place them somewhere. That takes away some of the potential fun, but probably also cuts down on frustration.
House Flipper is a bit of an RPG, because as you work you gain skill points you can spend on the various house-flipping disciplines. Clean stuff for a while and you can begin to sense dirt (by adding dirt smudges to your minimap), or get a better mop, or mop a bigger area in less time. After hours of mopping up sludge you can become a real Filth Wizard. As you play you can get better at painting, installing appliances, and shopping and bargaining.
Eventually, I've earned enough as a maid and handyman to buy a small house and attempt to flip it. I drop $30k on a single-story house, excited to begin my career. Then I open the front door and step directly into hell.
It's just a nightmare. Trash everywhere. Mold on the walls. Tiled floors that look like they've been attacked by a mob of chisels. A bathroom where someone shit everywhere except in the actual toilet. A kitchen where someone started shitting because someone else was busy shitting all over the bathroom. It's appallingly gross and I don't even know where to begin.
And yeah, those were roaches you saw scuttling all over the kitchen floor. I deal with them first, using a vacuum, which I guess is an interesting idea. My choice would have been to spray them with poison while trying to hold my breath or to detonate a small nuclear device from a safe distance, but the vacuum works pretty well.
With the bugs gone, I walk around clicking on all the trash, then pick the least offensive room, which appears to be the dining room, and attempt to make it less of a living nightmare.
I buy some paint—feeling deep in my heart that just painting over huge black mold stains isn't really the moral thing to do—and get started. Just having some fresh paint up makes me feel a bit better, though it's a long, slow process where you have to dunk the roller into the paint can and then paint for a few seconds, and then repeat. I do notice a rather amazing talent of mine: I can paint without disturbing spider webs.
With the room mostly painted I rub the mop over every last corner and wash the windows (another lengthy process of moving a squeegee over each pane of glass until every last smudge is gone). It takes a long, long time to do this one room, and just when I think I'm done I spot another stain or unpainted edge somewhere, and when I move onto the bedroom I'm already feeling the dread of repeating everything I've just done, only more of it because it's a bigger area.
Well, there's one way to have fewer walls to paint, and that is to have fewer walls to paint. I grab my sledgehammer, figuring the future owner will appreciate not having to walk through the dining room and kitchen to use the bathroom. Presto, a new doorway, a huge giant gaping doorway so they can relax in bed with an unobstructed view of the toilet.
After another long round of painting and cleaning the bedroom, I buy and install some radiators, at which point I run out of money. I've spent nearly every dime on the house, and now I can't afford to buy kitchen tiles and enough paint to finish renovating it. Even after selling a few things from this home (by pointing my magic price gun at the bed and spare dishes in the kitchen), I still need more money. I return to my office, open the laptop, and take a few odd jobs, which I'm dismayed to see require more painting and cleaning.
I accept an email from a woman who is expecting a baby girl and wants to have a nursery painted. She also asks if I could clean the rest of the house while I'm there. I visit the house and note with horror it's just as filled with garbage as the abandoned house I bought.
What the hell is wrong with these people? With an abandoned house squatted in by heroin addicts, I guess I can understand there being mold and trash everywhere. But this is a house people are currently living in and are going to bring a child into? I'm legitimately furious at these people and their life choices.
What's worse, I'm halfway through painting the nursery when I run out of money to buy paint. I point my price gun at some of their furniture, but the game unfortunately won't let me sell their stuff, so I head back to my office and sell my bed, my desk, even the doors of my office. The precious framed picture of my filthy bathroom I have hanging in my filthy bathroom? I sell that too, to pay for nursery job so I can pay for my house renovation.
Exhausted and back at my own renovation, I buy and install a new shower, which is just baffling in the amount of detail it contains. It's too long for a gif, so I've included a video above. I'm genuinely confused as to why there's so much detail included: It feels like some sort of industrial demonstration video made by a shower manufacturer that someone got their hands on and put into a video game. All I do is click and hold on the things it highlights to turn all the screws, attach all the fixtures, doors, rails, knobs. At points I travel inside the shower, as if I have been shrunk down to ant size, to guide the various fittings into place. I don't know, I just find it weird.
There's still tons to do just to make this house livable. I laboriously chase down every last smudge of dirt on the minimap. I mop and wash windows and paint walls, I re-tile the kitchen floor, I replace the front door. The place looks clean but still weird, what with an entire wall missing between the bathroom and bedroom, and awful tile walls in the kitchen, but I've run out of money again and I honestly can't take another moment in this house. I decide to sell it at auction.
As the various locals bid on my house, they tell me what they like and what they don't, and almost everything they tell me is weird. Many seem shocked and delighted that there is one bedroom, but in a way that suggests they've encountered houses that have slightly more than one bedroom, but not quite two bedrooms.
"Exactly just one bedroom," one guy says. "Perfect: One and only one bedroom." says another. "I like that there is only one bedroom" says a third. I guess it's just hard to find ways to compliment this dump.
Complaints are weirder. One woman wishes there were pictures in the rooms, though I'd think you want to live in a house with your own pictures, not someone else's. "There is no place for my books in this house," one guy says. Well, I know I don't have any built-ins, but you can buy your own bookshelf or, hey, just throw your books on the fucking floor along with the mountains of trash and filth you'll wind up leaving everywhere, since every house in this town is inhabited by vile garbage monsters. "I don't know what I need this kitchen for!" one guy exclaims. Just think of it as a second bathroom. That's what the last tenants did.
Eventually it sells, and I've profited a whole $6,000. My renovation costs were essentially nothing, since I only bought a shower, a few radiators, and some paint, and I sold everything else lying around, including the doors to my office. I guess that's sort of a successful house flip.
I don't think I'll try for a second, though. There's a definite satisfaction in taking a gross room and making it look nice, and it's pretty cool that you can knock down (and rebuild) walls, but I just don't find the act of slowly and mechanically painting and cleaning much fun, especially with the knowledge that my actual house could do with a bit of that. If you want to try for yourself, House Flipper releases on Steam on May 17.