Sexy Hiking was the original game about having to climb obstacles with a hammer controlled by a mouse. It was infuriatingly difficult. Back in August of 2007 Derek Yu, now known as the creator of Spelunky, wrote it up for his website TIGSource, saying "every new area seems totally impossible at first, and there is NOTHING THERE TO HELP YOU SAVE YOUR OWN GRIT."
This strange game about a cartoon man with floating hands was made by an enigma from Poland known as "Jazzuo". Jazzuo released a string of B-grade games online, small and ugly and odd things with control schemes that seemed designed by aliens. While rarely remembered today, they were an important influence on the indie games that would follow—most obviously Sexy Hiking's spiritual sequel Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy.
We asked Yu and Foddy to talk us through the strange world of Jazzuo, and B-games in general.
PC Gamer: How did you get into Jazzuo's games? What was the first one?
Bennett Foddy: I read about Sexy Hiking on Derek Yu’s TIGSource website back in, oh, 2007 or so. Even then it had been out for a number of years, but Derek revived it with this post. As he anticipated, it was an extremely controversial title in the TIGSource community. Adam Saltsman (of Canabalt and Overland fame) called it "the single worst game I have ever played". Honestly, at the time I dismissed the game, but it became something of a meme among indie game developers, and I never really forgot about it. Years later, I changed my opinion of the game when I showed it to my students at NYU, as part of a class on games by European developers, and I realized how timeless the design was.
Derek Yu: The things I loved about Sexy Hiking are what I assume people love about Getting Over It now—a unique and frustrating challenge coupled with a bizarre premise. Sexy Hiking does beat Getting Over It in one particular category, however, and that's the title. While "Getting Over It" is a good name and Bennett was, for a long time, considered an expert namer of games on the TIGSource Forums, I think even he would agree that "Sexy Hiking" is one of the best game names of all time.
BF: Definitely one of the best titles! Other than Sexy Hiking, the best ones are Sexy Hand and GM Golf. Be careful, some of his games are in extremely poor taste!
What are the most essential ones to play—what's 'the Jazzuo canon'?
DY: He created another game in 2007 called Hermies the game that was very similar in concept to 2016's Genital Jousting. I have no idea if the creators of Genital Jousting played Hermies, but either way it's proof that Jazzuo was ahead of his time. He made the game for the TIGSource B-Games Competition (which was partly inspired by him) and it won 4.5% of the votes but did not win the competition.
What makes Jazzuo's games so special to me is how raw they are. When I play a game by him or a similar creator, it always feels intimate and honest. As a game developer, it's tempting to start obsessing over polish and making sure the player has a nice, comfortable time, and his games are a reminder that we're also artists trying to express something of ourselves. I think Getting Over It is great because it brought outsider art to the masses in a respectful way. But it's still worth experiencing the original, since there are some aspects that can't be polished without losing something.
BF: People also talk very fondly about his Star Wars Episode VII, but it’s not online anymore and I haven't tried it. I recommend his other 'Sexy' game, Sexy Hand II, which is a golf game with a similarly unusual control scheme, and GM Golf which is like a fusion of Sexy Hiking and Sexy Hand. He made games that were completely unconnected to this series, but personally I think his experimentation with mouse controls led to the most timeless work.
Bennett, how did those students at NYU react to Sexy Hiking? And what is it you hope they get out of it?
BF: They reacted in much the same way as indie developers did in 2007—they were polarized. Some of them became angry at it and refused to continue playing it, a few were captivated by it. I have showed so many old games to students, and honestly usually they can only take a dry academic interest because norms of user interaction and game design have moved on so much from the 80s and 90s. If they get really engaged in playing a game for enjoyment you know it must be timeless. Those games are really in the minority… obviously people still enjoy Mario and Mega Man, but it's a real joy to me if I can find timeless games that American students are entirely unaware of: Alexei Pajitnov's Shawl, David Braben's Zarch, Mike Singleton's Lords of Midnight.
What is it about Sexy Hiking in particular that appealed to you?
BF: I'm a big fan of messy, realtime physics puzzle games, going back to Elasto Mania (the original Trials physics game) and Ski Stunt Simulator. That's a huge area of inspiration in my own work. But more than that Sexy Hiking just makes a very arresting first impression; there's something really unusual about how it looks, even though the quality is very low. I'm a big believer in the power of games that have an original and powerful 'first screenshot'.
Sometimes people who make B-movies end up becoming almost folk heroes, like Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau, but that doesn't seem to happen in games. We don't have the same appreciation for B-games we have for B-movies. Why do you think that is?
DY: Videogames are still young compared to movies and it takes time to foster that kind of appreciation. But Jazzuo is certainly a folk hero to a lot of people in the indie game community and there's a YouTube video of someone beating Sexy Hiking which has over 128,000 views as I'm writing this. Hopefully Getting Over It will keep bringing him to people's attention.
BF: Culturally we just don't recognize the individuals who make games, even in the cases of solo-authored games. Of course there are exceptions, like Jonathan Blow or the great Japanese auteur designers, but generally game reviews and previews don't talk at all about the designers, game players don't know who the designers are, and game designers work actively to make sure their identities are invisible in their games and sometimes even in the credits. This is one of the main reasons I decided to insert myself in Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy.
would it be wrong if I made a sequel to Sexy Hiking? Given that I am not actually Jazzuo (as far as you know)June 15, 2014
Jazzuo's a bit of an enigma, having disappeared from games entirely. Would you like to follow in his footsteps some day, just move on and leave a baffling legacy?
BF: Well, times are different, and I have given enough interviews now that I think people would have a pretty good idea of who I was and what I was trying to do, if I suddenly broke contact and moved to the mountains. But no, I hope to potter along making games, most of which will be pretty unpopular.
DY: I plan on staying in games for a long time, but I understand wanting to dissociate from the industry at times. I try to only read and interact with the parts of gaming that are positive for me mentally. I realize that I'm fortunate to be able to do so—not everyone has that luxury. A baffling legacy sounds awesome, though!
What are some other B-games you think are interesting?
BF: I think the other god of B-game development from Jazzuo's period is MDickie, whose magnum opus is The You Testament, a game about Jesus. Other than that, well… B-game is a pretty loosely defined term, which blends into other groupings like "kusoge", and I think the heart of it is games that are deliberately unpolished. I love Pajitnov and Pokhilko's Magnetic Crane from 1989, but it predates developers who thought of themselves as making B-games. I like that Cactus game Dungeon, and Messhof's game You Found the Grappling Hook. I love the Japanese B-Game Super Panda Ball, kind of like a B-game version of Zany Golf. And I guess even though it costs money, we could also count Justin Smith's Realistic Summer Sports Simulator, one of my favorite games of all time.
DY: I highly recommend checking out the work of Ikiki, MDickie, and thecatamites. If I had to pick a game from each to try first, it would be Nikujin, Hard Time, and Space Funeral, respectively. Ikiki's Hakaiman is also great and was a major inspiration for Hotline Miami.