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The Remarkable Notability Of Old Man Murray

Featured post It's ridiculous how long these take me.

This is something special.

If you saw Wednesday’s article about Old Man Murray’s temporary deletion from Wikipedia, you’ll know that it was originally deemed “not notable” due to a lack of references. That’s been fixed now, thanks to the very hard work of Wikipedia editors. (It’s probably wise not to dismiss one of the greatest works of humanity over a single, dodgy admin settling personal grudges. Compare and contrast with when we turned our attention to Fox News. Nothing changed. Wikipedia addresses the issue professionally within 24 hours.) And we want to help it stay that way.

Since Rock, Paper, Shotgun is regarded by Wikipedia to be a notable source for other entries, we thought it would be a good idea to ask some leading industry figures why they hold Old Man Murray in such high regard. To create the ultimate citation. So we approached people in the games industry to tell us why the site was important to them. Below you can see, in no particular order, responses from the likes of Gabe Newell, Harvey Smith, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Martin “GoldenEye” Hollis, and many others.

Two paragraphs.

Gabe Newell – Co-founder and Managing Director, Valve

“Old Man Murray were the Velvet Underground of post-print journalism.”

Chris Baker – Senior Editor, Wired Magazine

“When I first got to San Francisco ten or 11 years ago, the game devs and game journos I met cited two sources with Talmudic reverence: Penny Arcade and OMM. Any conversation about Seaman, Shenmue, American McGee, Daikatana, point-and-click adventure games, or Serious Sam inevitably led to a reference to OMM’s definitive pieces on those topics.”

Matthew Breit – Lightbox Interactive

“OMM will be immortal to me, as it probably is for a lot of level designers, for the “Start to Crate Time” review system. It was the first actual critical look at a level design trend I remember ever reading, and by God it saved my career. (Being a rude parody only made it so much more effective.) I used to treat crates like a kind of industrial landscaping tool – any time a design in my head called for a more intriguing shape than “big empty room,” my solution was to make a big empty room and pile crates all over. I once made a Q2DM map with a secret vent in it, and there were crates *inside the vent*. They were bigger than the vent opening, for God’s sake, they wouldn’t have even realistically fit in there to begin with. What was I thinking?

The start-to-crate-time review system made me self-conscious, and it made me self-critical, and that made me better. In fact, I took it so far I’m basically a hopeless art-game hipster now who won’t play anything less original than Dear Esther rendered in software. If it weren’t for OMM, I’d still be manufacturing Aliens fan-wank levels. Thank you, Old Man Murray.”

Bryan Lee O’Malley – Creator, Scott Pilgrim

“As far as I’m concerned, Old Man Murray invented the internet, and also invented making jokes about video games, two things which are maybe the foundation of everything I hold dear. I think it may be fair to say that my somewhat-notable “Scott Pilgrim” books couldn’t exist in a world where OMM never did.”

Eric Church – Ass. Lead Designer, EA LA; Lead Designer, BreakAway Ltd

“As one of the designers on Medal of Honor: Frontline and Call of Duty: Finest Hour I can honestly say that Old Man Murray, in particular the Time to Crate review system, had a direct effect on our level design. Sometimes as a point of criticism, sometimes as a point of homage. I don’t think there was a designer of first person shooters from the time who wasn’t influenced by OMM. It was satire at its most effective. It triggered serious thought and discussions about the assumptions of game design.”

Stephen Robertson – Senior Game Designer

“I have fond memories of Old Man Murray because Chet was a massive fan of the I-War space sim game (Called Independence War in the US), which I was fortunate enough to be involved with as a designer at Particle Systems working on the US release. The Old Man Murray site gave the game some great publicity after getting hold of the original European release, and then followed its US release closely, and even ran an I-War competition.

My boss Michael Powell went to E3 to demo the game for the US release in 1998 and met Chet. I remember seeing some photos of my boss and Chet on the I-War stand. I think we gave him a T-Shirt. It’s a long time ago so my memory is kind of fuzzy :) Ah, here it is – confirmed that Chet loved I-War and met Michael Powell at E3.”

Tyler Sample – Designer, Cavewars

“I was one of the devs on Cavewars, and was and am a big fan of OMM. I also think they are responsible for why the industry is what it is today. I’m speaking somewhat of development, but more so of marketing. I’m also not entirely sure it was all a positive influence, but to say it wasn’t notable would be insane. However, I remember being more relieved than bummed that we weren’t mentioned on OMM. Their negativity could get pretty over the top… Hilariously so, provided it wasn’t directed at you.”

Mike Wilson – Co-Founder and CEO of Gathering of Developers; Devolver Digital

“I can tell with absolute certainty that OMM’s article and interest in the original Serious Sam demo was the reason GodGames found Croteam (via our partners at 3DRealms) and signed the game as quickly as we did. Which is important, since surely someone else would have signed the game eventually, but there’s no way Croteam would have been allowed to retain the IP rights with another publisher, nor made a truly fair share of the money from the games. And therefore, the series would likely have died in the hands of whatever internal team the property was handed to, rather it being revived and continued by the guys who created it in the first place.

OMM was something we looked forward to reading every time it was published, even though some of us were the ones getting raked over the ingeniously incendiary coals from time to time. ;) They are truly missed, and the idea that they aren’t regarded as ‘important enough’ to remain on Wikipedia is ridiculous considering the number of gaming sites they paved the way for and the type of writing they pioneered for our industry.”

Harry Miller – CEO Ritual Entertainment; Devolver Digital

“Well said Mike.”

Kieron Gillen – Former Deputy Editor, PC Gamer; Co-Founder and Director, RPS Ltd.

“Anyone in a generation of writers worth giving a fuck about worshipped them. Or, at least, the ones I knew. From Big Jim McCauley shouting over the office when they’d update to Ste Curran and me crouching in a dingy venue and yelping like schoolgirls when they came up in conversation, OMM were basically as cool as they got. Their key innovation was an embracing of a wildfire idiom that personified an age suddenly grasping what the Internet really REALLY was about (for studiers of the form, look at their use of image in their stories and remember this is 12 years ago). They clearly saw the difference between being funny and joking. They’re easy to overlook as critics because of the stylistic flourishes, but they had a genuine impact in how people thought about games (something which few more serious critics can even dream of claiming)

No-one was vicious and cruel in such a balletic way before in front of a US audience. If you want the bad side of OMM’s influence, you’ll find it there there, and the half-formed nihilistic spunk-stains doing bad pastiche of others’ bad pastiche of genius. Oh yeah – when I coined the phrase New Games Journalism a few years later, I suspect I’d have got in far less trouble if I linked to their annihilation of the Deus Ex’s demo rather than the more pseudy examples I leaned towards.
Frankly, PCG tried to give them the biggest compliment we could. We tried to get an interview with them, which they started and never finished. Which I stopped chasing because I realised that, on some level, it was only right they avoided it, and we were trying to steal a little lightning from their bottle. I know that Mr Newell has described them as the VU of post-press games journalism, but that’s a lot like how it felt (though I’d have said the Stooges rather than VU). We’d have never have asked any other journo for an interview. And we were happy for it not to appear, because they were frankly too cool for us. We’ve been catching up ever since.”

Martin Hollis – Director, GoldenEye 007; former Head of Software, Rare; CEO, Zoonami

“They were very funny, but so offensive it was difficult to recommend widely. They used a picture of Ayn Rand as a bit of visual interest on one of their pieces. They captioned it: This way to the gas chamber, retards. The fact that I can remember this years and years later says a lot about their writing. I loved them and I miss them.”

Dean O’Donnell – Assoc. Director of IMGD, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (US)

“I’m neither a developer nor a journalist. I’m a college professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the Interactive Media and Game Development program.

OMM is notable, and specifically Death of Adventure Games is required reading for my freshmen students in the IMGD1000 course, Critical Studies of Interactive Media and Game Development. I use it both as a great piece of analysis and as a basic design lesson for my budding game designers.”

Rod Humble – Former Executive Vice President, EA Play; CEO, Linden Lab

I loved the “great moments in game writing”. That style is common nowadays, but back then it was new and OMM was the first place I saw them. My favourite was,

“The first sentence of a recent Deus Ex 2 preview on pc.ign.com: ‘There’s a tendency among the press to attribute the creation of a game to a single person,’ says Warren Spector, creator of Thief and Deus Ex.”

Greg Noe – Owner, The First Hour

“I started a game review site in 2007 called The First Hour which is, hopefully obviously, a site that plays the first hour of video games and answers the question on whether they’re worth playing or not. It was inspired a bit by OMM’s Crate Review feature and includes a time on “Minutes to Action.” My theory is that gamers can only spend so long reading walls of text and watching cutscenes when they expect to be playing a game, and this first impression can leave a very bad (or good) taste as long as they keep playing.”

Ed Stern – Lead Writer, Spash Damage

“OMM. Even its initials lent it a meditatory incantational air, best intoned while slowly nodding, lit from within by paradigm-shattering revelation and nested gags. To be honest, I was intimidated by OMM at the time. It was usually too hip, too polished and too raw for me. At the time, much to my own detriment, I was merely an intermittent reader: I was too busy familiarizing myself pedantically with the peaks from the foothills to deal with OMM kicking those selfsame peaks over to demonstrate which were just flat cutouts held up with a belief-stick. Going back since, cursing myself for not having immersed myself in it from the start, even allowing for insta-nostalgia, it’s hard not see it as some sort of golden age. The writing was just so damn good. I still don’t really understand how they did/do it. I’ve spent innumerable (OK, 12.3) hours puzzling over how they manage to get not just three jokes, but three entirely different kinds of joke into simple subject-verb-object sentences, with the joke-images time-delayed to all explode at the same time. Leaving aside this current Trollplay Wiki-Eek, OMM’s actual merits, relevance and influence are clear. Illuminating, rigorous and vivid, supplying as much Why as What, OMM was – and is – a high water mark. Take this, where Faliszek and Wolpaw enthuse about some screenshots. You suspect roughly how it’s going to go: comic exaggeration, parodic fanboyism, extreme imagery possibly tempered with pace-defeating you-see-what-we’re-doing-here specificity. But look how they array the laughs and syncopate the crescendo.

Chet: “Get out the drool cup!”
Erik: “In use, my friend! Drooool!”
Chet: “Then break out the scraper, because someone’s gonna have to scrape my jaw off the floor!”
Erik: “That’s also in use, to scrape my spooge off the monitor! Spoooge!”
Chet: “Ouch! Fetch me my eye medicine, because I have an eyeache from watching a whole mixed bag of eye candy!”
Erik: “All of the eye medicine’s already in my eye! I’m done with the scraper, though.”

This, friends, is writing. But where are Chet and Erik now? They were so promising. Anyone heard from them? Anyone? LALALALALALAH”

It's Harry and Roman! An 11 year relationship started by OMM.

Roman Ribaric – CEO, Croteam

“Doing a garage development for a long time and with only limited self-funding, if it weren’t for OMM and especially my “crate” interview with Erik, I am pretty certain we (Croteam) would most likely close our garage before finally nailing that much needed publishing deal for Serious Sam. OMM hamered all other big game sites for not noticing us, which resulted in us finally getting some press attention – and brought GoD. Thank God to OMM. And after 10 years we are still working with the same ex GoD guys and still talking about OMM, waiting to do that promissed third interview. Btw, Erik, yes, there will be no crate in Serious Sam 3: BFE.”

Ian Smithers – Developer, Squeaky Cow

“I remember way back I used to read OMM a mere games tester, clawing his way up through the ranks. OMM was one of my regular readings, and one of my favourite articles was the Rainbow Six one, especially because the game failed on the TTC review system as I believe you started off in one level facing a crate, which was quite hilarious. But Rainbow Six was a game I played in a clan, it was a super-realistic, hard as nails tactical shooter, where 1 bullet killed, and if you stepped off a ledge too high, you suffered a broken leg and had to limp noisily around the levels. Teamwork was paramount. However OMM played it differently, his words, and I’m paraphrasing here, but I recall their message went along the lines of – “If I reached the end of a level, and there were surviving members of blue team, I had to ask myself, had I done enough to ensure my own survival?” which became somewhat of an in-joke with our clan, and who can forget the death of adventure games, probably another favourite!”

Greg Kasavin – Executive Editor, Gamespot; Creative Director, Supergiant Games

“My perspective on Old Man Murray is unusual in that I believe I was the first editor in the gaming press to see past Erik and Chet’s shocking irreverence and offer them paying work to write for a so-called professional outlet (GameSpot in our case). My editor at the time, Ron Dulin, agreed that OMM was beyond brilliant — something whose insight was so sharp and use of language so efficient that it was, undeniably we thought, the best writing about games in any medium. OMM was bursting with profanity, though, while GameSpot was clean and dry — so it seemed scary to offer Erik and Chet some freelance work, even more when they said yes. Erik became the more prolific of the two and went on to write dozens of smart, funny reviews for the site. When he called me one day to say he didn’t think he could write for us anymore because he was offered a job at a company called Double Fine, I was very happy for him because I had a feeling his unique voice and talent would be better served writing for games.

My favorite Old Man Murray pieces were the more experimental ones, things like Final Fight Stratego or the filtered Voodoo Extreme that kept the news but removed the editorializing. To me this stuff wasn’t humor… it was art. It changed the way I thought people could communicate about games. And today I continue to hold Erik and Chet’s work in the highest regard. I don’t know if their memory of starting work for GameSpot matches mine but if I’m in any way part of their journey of getting into game development, then I’m very thankful for it. Their work continues to be an inspiration to me. And Erik is the best writer I’ve ever known.”

Daniel Stubbs – Independent Developer, Organiser of Plymouth Game Jam

“I’ve introduced dozens of people to OMM. Its critiques of gameplay are still 100% relevant, and some of the funniest, intelligent and most observant videogame writing out there. CRS was one of the all-time classics, along with Death of Adventures games, Alien vs Child Predator and the Alice and Mortyr reviews. I’ve used the Wikipedia page in the past, and directed other people to it, so the fact that it was deleted by those with bullshit grudges has me ever-so-slightly annoyed.”

Robb Sherwin – Forum Manager, Caltrops

“OMM’s solution for all the extra blood donated after 9/11 was to airdrop it on the fleeing Taliban. When tasked to play with a “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” shovelware title, they threw the box at each other. Every time they updated, it was a glimpse into a world funnier than ours, filled to bursting with brown-colored sewers. OMM blended the best comedy and game criticism writing in the world, and everything I’ve ever tried to write has been against their standard. I fall short. We all fall short. But those of us who write about games anyway take a shot and hope that Noam Chomsky playing goal for Al-Qaeda doesn’t block it.

Lastly, I run a forum filled with OMM fans. When the Old Man Murray forums were disabled, we created a place to bloviate among ourselves, because the site attracted intelligent, witty, creative people. We agree on nothing, save for the deft, nuanced genius of Chet and Erik. I have received legal threats, cease and desist orders, everything – and I don’t mind, because being around people who have a love of OMM means so much. The Wikipedia needs Old Man Murray more than Chet, Erik (and Marvin) need any Wiki.”

Samrat Sharma – Associate Producer, Ubisoft Singapore

“OMM made me want to make videogames, and better ones. I spent the first three years of my career making an aborted FPS where the entire studio was given a recitation of the crates article by me whenever I saw one in any level. We managed to ship it as a budget title with great difficulty, but by God, it had no random crates. But ultimately it’s not the criticism or lessons learnt, it’s the humour – the legacy of the website is that the industry and fans of it can at times look at it from a distance and laugh at the absurdity of it. It’s the anti Digital Foundry – instead of getting deeper into the machinations of videogames, OMM’s legacy is the power to distance yourself from your hobby – something that stokes no small amount of passion – and bemusedly see it for what it is (the very essence of good comedy).

All of the videogame commenters I enjoy (RPS, OLL, some of the Eurogamer staff, and I realise there’s a lot of overlap here) are in varied degrees the product of that thought process. As a developer, it has helped me and my friends gain that ability to laugh at our own absurdity and contribute that humour or a vision that is tempered with that dissonance to everything we have made. I forever will remember that site that taught us that, and I thank you for having the wherewithal to stand up for it.”

Harvey Smith – Lead Designer, Deus Ex; Game Director, Arkane Studios

“Obviously, Old Man Murray was a hilarious part of game culture. But specifically I will always love OMM for the Deus Ex walkthrough.”

Jack Monahan – Gausswerks Design Reboot

“I need not tell you what it is to have been in (American) high school from 1996-2000, playing Quake, and reading OMM. A chord that was struck that sustains and reverberates to this day; it reminds me a bit of how there’s talk about which bands are the new Talking Heads. The Talking Heads are still the Talking Heads, just as Old Man Murray is still the Old Man Murray of games-related commentary and review. We do better – speaking as both a game player and as a game developer – when we invoke the spirit of OMM. (Hint: that spirit is admonishing us for our crates and assorted laziness.)

Anyhow, a couple of years ago I sent a belated celebration/tribute of the 10 year+ anniversary of OMM to Chet and Erik. Response was positive though brief (a single word: “awesome”). Marvin, the hateful mascot of OMM, as well you remember is from the dystopic distant future, which I wanted to portray. If this puts me into dorky fanboy territory, they’re among the only few for whom I’d deem it an honor. I’d like to believe Marvin has the same message to impart from the future, now, to short-sighted wikipedia editors.”

Click to see the full pic.

[Click to see the full, amazing image]

Thank you SO much to everyone who got in touch with comments. It’s an amazing mix, and an article that makes the notability of Old Man Murray pretty undeniable. And thank you Chet Faliszek and Erik Wolpaw, for having been such a source of inspiration and humour for us all. Stress: “having been”. They’re terrible now.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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