Hands Gingerly On: Revenge Of The Sunfish 2
Like a cattleprod
RPS. DO YOU WANT TO EXPERIENCE SOMETHING WEIRD AND UNSETTLING? SOMETHING HORRIBLE AND WONDERFUL? SOMETHING AWFUL AND GROSS? SOMETHING ENTIRELY TESTING YOUR HUMAN CAPACITY FOR UNDERSTANDING AND EMPATHY?
I, Dame Cara of Ellison, am here to guide you through something that will shock you, surprise you, make you afraid, SCARE YOU BEYOND THE CAPACITY FOR RATIONAL THOUGHT.
Or I hope so I spent ages playing this mad mindfuck gamespew Revenge of the Sunfish 2.
In the far reaches of the psychedelic interwebspace, at the end of the net, there is a man who has been working on his fucked-up nineties surrealist nightmare for more than five years, on and off, idly messing with the magics and mechanics of that dark art of gameage. Drugless, though producing something that has an effect on a brain like a cattleprod, Jacob Waldemar Buczynski worked broadly in dirty rainbow colours, in Hunter S. Thompson punctuation. He ate raw shock and disgust in huge mouthfuls, and then spat them lovingly towards the screen. He is like a videogame Brian from Spaced.
Journey long enough and far enough and through enough clicks (maybe one click, if you click here but I would prefer if you made it difficult for yourself - pretend you are Brendan looking for an Eve Online celebrity) you might come across a garish website called doubleyoodoubleyoodoubleyoodotrevengeofthesunfishdotcom. It is awful. It is a remnant of the nineties drifting in cyberspace. It’s like a Geocities website. REMEMBER GEOCITIES? Oh my god. I made a Geocities site that turned your cursor into a slowly rotating sunflower and had a mouse trail of goddamn glitter sparkles. Anyone who stayed for more than five seconds was immediately fucked-off and reported it for deletion.
The Revenge of the Sunfish website is something that hasn’t changed since that era. It’s like digging in your back garden and finding a bald Furby: you once thought it was beautiful and valuable, but now you’re like who the hell would like this. It’s weird and ugly and why are its eyes looking at me like that. The site itself has centred puke-orange text over some sort of weird brown-black texture, occasionally accented by a hard-to-read purple text for emphasis. Then it has screenshots of the game overlaid. These screenshots are not very encouraging.
But read the text and it becomes clear that the game designer has intended for this to be a weird, alienating experience. This is what starts to make your trip into the messed-up wormhole worthwhile - when the author actually achieves what he set out to do, in pretty much every way - including his website design. He describes his time making his first Revenge of the Sunfish game as such:
During my time working on ROTSF I developed a set of guidelines that the game was meant to follow. This was somewhat influenced by the Kubus manifesto, a manifesto written by game designer Kimberly Kubus and published on his website. The gist of the manifesto was about going against and/or breaking well established game design rules, exceeding/breaking player expectations, not respecting the player by designing games that where easy to follow, understand or even play. A theme of excess, and overkill. In essence breaking the rules that game players take for granted. Actually I might have missed the point of Kim’s actual manifesto but this is what I extrapolated from it anyhow. I started to apply these ideas to ROTSF.
This is actual disrespect he is showing us. On purpose. He couldn’t give a shit about us. What a scream! We spend all our time being entitled and being like, oh the controls weren’t right, or I didn’t understand, or, where is the tutorial, or, (if you’re me or John) the story was shit. It seems like Jacob spent most of his time constructing something that deliberately made all of that come into relief. Well, not relief, but like, fear and loathing or something.
“Overtime I developed other ideas, which became critical to my vision of a ROTSF game. these ideas are outlined as follows:
Players should not be able to get stuck at any point in the game. If the player dies a certain number of times they are sent to a latter stage to prevent it from getting boring. I don't have a problem with this. People have asked me, "if you can pass a level by losing then what’s the point in trying to beat it properly" my answer is that passing levels properly leads to different levels, levels only accessible by beating the level properly. That’s the incentive.
this leads to the next important condition, ROTSF is supposed to contain multiple paths and have a dynamic, non linear level structure. If possible it should feature self modifying levels and emergent game play.”
So I sat next to Jim’s game Sir, You Are Being Hunted, at Rezzed, and played Revenge of the Sunfish 2. You start off in a zoo that has a wheelchair in one of the cages - the whole thing looks like it has been drawn in MS Paint by a really messed up child. Then you navigate via arrow keys to the women’s toilets, in which you encounter some weird thing whose name I don’t remember and you are magically magicked through a hole in space time and then you are in one screen where there are A MILLION THINGS and you are a mushroom and you have to avoid things and then aliens and LOUD NOISE how do you win OH FUCK I’m on the next screen where am I, am I controlling this thing - RUN AWAY I failed okay I’m on the next game HORRIBLE FACE IN YOUR FACE
Oooh look a dolphin
I could go on. Each of these Warioware-esque minigames that follow don’t quite make sense, are disconnected from each other, their narrative (if there is any) is hard to parse and the minigames keep coming thick and fast and have terrifyingly bright colours and ear-melting sound. Nathan interviewed Jacob at Rezzed, and told me that Jacob based them on nightmares he had. It really feels like that. I don’t know how to win any of them. And each game brings you down a different path to another nightmare, whether you win or lose. Finally, if you lose too much, like I did - completely overloaded - you are sent to a sort of Return of the Sunfish 2 purgatory, a screen where you are on a bicycle and you must jump over crevasses that have giant dumpsters with the label “AIDS NEEDLES” on the side to progress. If you miss the jumps you are treated to a horrible animation of your character screaming with a needle in his face.
Look, I don’t know either - but Jacob said it was because he can’t ride a bike and Melbourne is full of drug addicts.
You might balk at almost everything in this game. There is nothing to lend it that friction-kicked gameplay you and I admire in the neon heat of Hotline Miami or from the feeling you get when you fire a gun cold in Counter Strike. Instead your amorphous avatar, ever changing, slides across each lurid screen oblivious, betraying you. The art is 2D and childlike, but with horrible nightmarish expressions, monster grimaces fucking your eyeballs, weird amoeba racing around the screen.
EVERYTHING is likely to put you off. Spoilt on beautiful 3D graphics in particular, we PC gamers are likely to turn away. But don’t. Face it. FACE THE NIGHTMARE HILARITY. This game is garishly beautiful in its own way. This is a game that will make you feel weird and make you laugh. How many games can make you feel uncomfortable-amused until you are slightly nauseous? How many games can consistently shock you, surprise you, immediately elicit laughter and make you feel that ultimate feeling of revulsion that you get with this one? Everything Jacob has produced is like wandering into the most convoluted Ren and Stimpy plot. It is like being in Ren’s mind. And it's hard to describe whether I actually like this game - because I'm not sure it's fun, but I really did have fun with it. And that makes as much sense as the game itself.
You can play the first Sunfish game here for free, which is incredibly similar, though smaller in scope than Sunfish 2. The second is due out soon, which Jacob plans on selling for $5 Australian.
Here is a Jacob Waldemar Buczynski seizure page you can click on to have a seizure. [seizure warning].