From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random games back into the light. This week, a handful of much-requested games get their turn in the spotlight. Or firing line. One of the two. Whichever.
As part of our dives into the obscure, we've looked at over 200 games that people have probably never heard of, and a few that it's a surprise so many people have. (Goodness, was I not expecting so many people to be aware of Tongue of the Fatman.)
Some games however are, while not the kind of thing you're likely to see on GOG or anywhere any time soon, so famous or well-explored in their relative obscurity that devoting a whole week's column to them seemed a little excessive. But every dog has its day. And so too does every dog's dinner. Today, by popular request, is that day.
You know you're dealing with a true shooter classic when you fire up a game called "Extreme Paintbrawl" and see the developer logo is a switchblade next to the bleeding words "Creative Carnage". Truly, there has been no finer synergy twixt company and its product since Atari announced that the new Alone in the Dark game would be called "Illumination", and also a co-op shooter.
However, if there is a fault here, perhaps it is our own. Genius can be difficult for regular people to understand, and Extreme Paintbrawl is nothing if not an example of that. I mean that literally, of course. What conventionally sane mind would create a DOS game that uses a Windows launcher and configuration tool, both of them buggier than a go-kart track in the middle of the school holidays?
But wait, perhaps there is more to the tale of this, considered the worst shooter of all time in a world where games like Doom 3 and also some other rubbish ones exist. Could it be the developers were so shamed that they sought to keep their creation from the world, locked forever behind a protective shield of shit programming that even the combined force of multiple virtual machines cannot penetrate? Were they perhaps the digital versions of those people who make the tombs Indiana Jones explores, full of death traps and skulls placed there to say, "Seriously. It's not worth it. Turn back!"
I can think of no good argument against this theory. Oh, except that they made three sequels. And also that the creator infamously wrote to PC Gamer US to explain that minor issues like "no AI" were not in fact a crime worthy of six percentage points, but merely an inevitable consequence of having thrown this together in two weeks and the publisher shipping in it in a state so unfinished it's a wonder it wasn't just a copy of the Build engine, a Starbucks card, and a little note on the disc saying, "Game Goes Here."
Even so, it definitely could have been worse. It could, for instance, have formatted players' hard drives, like a bug in Pool of Radiance. That would have been bad. It could have come printed not on a CD, but a solid chunk of ebola with a label. Possibly worst of all, it could have worked, stealing from its players that most precious of things—hope.
Hope that when their mother bought them a copy of Extreme Paintbrawl for their birthday rather than that nasty Duke Nukem game with the strippers, they could show her the broken screen and get something with boobs in it instead. Or at least Lemmings Paintball from 1996, which was surprisingly not crap. More than you can say for the other spin-offs.
Really, I think what we should take from Extreme Paintbrawl is its indie spirit and truly inspiring lesson: that it's possible to get an engine, and two weeks later have a completed game ready to hit the shelves. Not necessarily one that should be, but what do you want? Blood?
Because if so, I'm fairly sure that one took quite a while longer.
Honestly, I don't see the problem. Big Rigs does just about everything you could possibly want in a PC game, and indeed, pioneered vast amounts of what so-called "better" games have done since. When Saints Row 4 presented us with a glitchy virtual world full of crazy physics and super-powers, everyone leapt at it! But when Big Rigs gave us a world where you pass through objects like Shadowcat, drive faster than The Flash can think, and therefore drive the only truck badass enough to make Optimus Prime look like Shittimax Loser, everyone just laughed. Gamers!
Really, Big Rigs' only crime was giving us everything we wanted, and in doing so showing how sad and meaningless our desires are. Like being shipwrecked on a chocolate island by a cove of candyfloss, we consume, yet still we grow contemptuous and a little bit sick. Is the point of games not to win? Well, in Big Rigs, that moment of elation was the entire experience. Yes, because the other drivers it offered to race against couldn't move , but come on! If you've ever complained about rubber-banding in racing games, here was the one that dared to be different—to not only give the opposition absolutely no cheap advantages, but no petrol. This was innovation! Like Infogrames!
And it was even educational! Would any player ever again have trouble with apostrophe's after seeing this?
People are too critical of this classic. They say for instance that with all the clipping errors and ability to drive vertically up roads, you can't crash. Nonsense! Just try loading the later tracks. Right back to Windows, faster than you can say "Ingracious cur!" They complain that games like Dota 2 take too much time to learn, despite shunning a game so considerate of your time that sometimes you could drive over the start line and think you'd just finished the race.
And that's before we talk about the sheer size of the world. You can drive for hours and hours and hours through Big Rigs, at close to the speed of light if you go in reverse, and never see the end. True, it's mostly an empty grey void. Still, more character than most of The Elder Scrolls Online. Ahead of its time, was Big Rigs. Truly ahead of its time.
Plumbers Don't Wear Ties
Look, I'm not going to pretend that Plumbers Don't Wear Ties is the greatest comedy romance photostory about a plumber, even amongst the many released back in 1994. But let's not merely concern ourselves with whether the game itself was good, or bad, or a true obscenity whose existence proves that while the devil has the best tunes, he has terrible taste in games. Let's instead ponder the good times.
How much entertainment has Plumbers Don't Wear Ties given the world since it was released, both casually, in sentences like "It's bad, but it's not Plumbers Don't Wear Ties," and those who played it simply enjoying the look on their friends faces as they tell them of this game that exists and is real in which halfway through a narrator in a chicken mask is beaten up and replaced by a kung-fu lady who wants to more tastefully guide the story of plumber John and not-plumber Jane getting it on like Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong and a very resilient furry, anyway.
Just pondering these moments I can't help but feel just a little better about the world we live in; both as a place of wonder where such things can happen and develop a life beyond anyone's dreams, and also not so bad about about its inevitable doom and destruction. That may not be much, but it's more than I can say for anything that happened in, say, Farscape: The Game.
There's more to it as an experience though, which also deserves a moment. Looked at in a certain way, Plumbers Don't Wear Ties is in many ways a Dada-ist masterpiece. Specifically, that way is not in terms of the art style as the sound a baby makes when bashing a keyboard, but still.
And there's a raw charm to its charmlessness; a confidence in its insanity. It knows exactly what it is, and while what it is is a game that entirely exists because its creator was willing to ask a girl to be chased through town in her bra and a skirt while he took pictures, at least it's clear that someone was having a good time in the seven minutes and twenty seconds it took to conceive of, design, film, and release.
If you just want to witness the amazing story in all its... glory... here's a recorded version.
But I know what you're thinking. I have magic powers. Unrelated, I know what you're probably also thinking—while this game is absolutely the classic that it so obviously is and totally isn't at all, what about the games that aren't up to its level. Are there any other games that on the surface seem as lazy as an unfinished comparison, but on closer inspection
There are. There are indeed. And here's just one that makes Plumbers Don't Wear Ties look like Day of the Tentacle. Meet Slaughtered Roommates. Not a snuff game, but it kinda feels like one.
Truly, a demonstration of minimalism in action. Slaughtered Roommates is the tale of three young ladies being murdered by a drug addict. And absolutely nothing else. The entire game consists of little more than choosing options like "STRIP" and "GET SHOT" as the three very quickly naked victims make gamers everywhere glad that Jack Thompson never stumbled across this little slice of horribleness. So, if you want a game where you can watch a helpless damsel be suffocated and otherwise repeatedly murdered by a killer for your amusement.... uh... please just take the money and leave, OK? OK.
Next to this, the silly naughtiness of Plumbers Don't Wear Ties just doesn't seem so bad, does it? There's even some nice wholesome nudity in it as Jane takes a shower, just as long as you don't mind also seeing John towelling himself down. Or vice versa. Your preference! You choose!
Limbo of the Lost
Come on, people! Look, if Blizzard came out tomorrow and announced that they'd spent 15 years creating a game that was going to combine, amongst others, The Elder Scrolls, World of Warcraft, Thief, Diablo, Unreal Tournament, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, and Beetlejuice, you'd be excited. And that's what Limbo of the Lost did!
OK, it did it by shamelessly stealing assets from all of those games as if nobody was going to notice, and then stitching them together into an adventure so boring that you could stick it on the end of a drill and punch through a glacier made of diamond, but still!
Quite deservingly, Limbo of the Lost got more attention than just about any other indie game of its time, proving that there's no such thing as bad publicity, unless you want your game to be pulled off the shelves and companies like Disney to turn around and go "They stole WHAT?! " Certainly, it created a unique experience unlike anything we're ever going to see again, as well as truly fine babble that will go down in industry legend. Like, for instance:
"The backgrounds are created in 3D GAMESTUDIO A6, they are textured, lit and then I place a camera at a certain position and grab a still. This becomes the initial background plate."
And then after being caught, blaming outsourcing. On a project that it was later demonstrated was, well, not exactly new at borrowing from people. That version of the demo incidentally is also one of the only games ever to seemingly draw inspiration from the original Knightmare games. There is a reason that people borrow from them very often. It can best be summed up as "They played them."
But come on, let's cut the game some slack here. It did at least give us the greatest ending ever.
As well as so many fond memories, it would take a full forum playthrough to fully document them. Say what you want about Limbo of the Lost, the tale of the captain of the Marie Celeste finding himself in a hellish underworld in which he is compelled to go up to people chained against the wall and being tortured for unspoken sins and ask them if they know where the exit is, it's an ambitious game!
What really stands out beyond the asset theft is its sense of scale and scope, bouncing from exploration, to murder mysteries, to a battle to somehow save humanity, to dealing with truly terrifying children, to doing puzzles we have to assume exist solely because there was a model available on a 3D props store that made someone go "Aha!", all presented with a certain childlike innocence. The kind of child who looks at pure undriven snow and thinks "Ash from a furnace where they burn people and rend their flesh!" Both creepy and a little bit stupid. A crap Antichrist, perhaps. And should you believe in the Antichrist, clearly, a crap one is what we should hope for. Even in a world protected by Bibleman.
Limbo of the Lost. It was on sale so briefly, yet its flatulence burned so burning bright that its legend shall live on forever. How many so-called "better" games can claim as much? Not many. Not many at all.
Myst is still shit.