For those of you not familiar with the video game faux-velopers called Digital Homicide, here’s a quick explanation. Gaming critic and personality Jim Sterling partly makes a living by finding, displaying, and ridiculing the worst games and game-like programs sold on Steam. He’s probably the name that comes up most often when discussing ‘asset-flipping’, which is when someone fancies themselves a game developer but does little more than buy pre-made artistic assets and resell them with minor (or nonexistent) changes under a different name.
The most egregious of these asset-flippers is Digital Homicide. They’ve had a long-running conflict with Sterling ever since he posted unaltered gameplay of one of their ‘games’: The Slaughtering Grounds. The rest of this now years-long conflict (which consists entirely of Digital Homicide being shady and childish while Jim responds with laughter) has included Digital Homicide banning critics from their forums, operating under many different names, and now… a lawsuit against Jim for millions of dollars. Since they will be representing themselves (crowdfunding for their defense had to be canceled thanks to joke-donations that cost more than they brought in) and Jim Sterling has something called a real lawyer… I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
The lawsuit is the inciting incident for this post, but no the focus. No, I want to talk about Digital Homicide as a ‘developer’ and how their track record is so poor, so one-dimensional, and so disgusting that I think it is literally vital to revoke the word creative from them.
Indeed something you’ll notice when watching Jim’s videos is his tendency to pause when using the word ‘developer’. That’s because, as you can see plainly in the links, the works of Digital Homicide are so far off the mark of the natural flow of a video game that it literally does not feel right to refer to them as developers. They develop games in the same way a child ‘completes’ a coloring book, including the occasional involuntary veering of the crayon off the page and onto the wall or floor.
The excuses people would use to defend them are easy to predict: there’s nothing wrong with buying assets to assist production, your low opinion does not equate to everyone’s low opinion, it’s not different from people who remix existing content on places like Youtube into transformative works, etc…
Only the middle one presents any kind of challenge in its refutation. As for the last one, just watch the videos of some of their games. Their games are not transformative because they don’t build on any sort of idea. Think of it like this: if clipping out magazine pictures and rearranging them into a collage is a transformative work, all Digital Homicide does is cut up the magazine, lose a few pieces, and then try to reassemble the exact picture with a sputtering hot glue gun and only their chins to manipulate it.
As for the first excuse, the use of assets in game development, it’s only true to a certain degree. If a developer purchases grass and stone textures people aren’t likely to notice. Digital Homicide does not make distinct original environments, characters, or enemies. The assets do not enhance their production, they are the production; even worse, they’re all thrown in together from different sources, creating nightmare worlds full of creatures that bear different art styles.
The middle excuse, that someone somewhere probably enjoys their games, is in my opinion irrelevant. What we’re talking about here is an entity so dense, so selfish, and so driven to an end that is not artistic accomplishment that any joy they may have inadvertently caused does not do anything to justify their creations. I think the joy I gave myself by writing this is more than the collective joy created by their work.
The most important statement I want to make is that Digital Homicide lacks creative intent. They have at no point in their attempts to get twenty or so ‘games’ onto Steam displayed any kind of creative vision or inspiration. (I’d like to point out it usually takes talented developers more than one year to put out a game and Digital Homicide apparently made tens of them in the same amount of time.) Let’s talk about a few of their ‘ideas’.
One of their ‘games’ is called Azzholes. It plays like Agar.io, except nobody else shows up. The colorful circles are replaced with flat food pictures and an ass with a mouth attached. While Agar.io is composed of colorful circles on a grid, Azzholes somehow shows less artistic vision. One must wonder: what epiphany created this? What did these fools think they were making? I’ve got it; let’s make Agar.io except with butts. I’ve got it; let’s put eyes on a toilet and a mouth on a rectum. Does that sound like an act of genuine creation to you?
Another one of their ‘games’ is called the Extra Large Testicle. It involves an object, certainly not a testicle by the looks of it given its coat of black fur that somehow looks both matted and jagged, rolling over people. The ‘game’ exhibits no signs of goal, structure, or level design aside from a few vestigial bits and pieces of those aspects.
They have attempted to release three games onto Steam Greenlight that have identical gameplay, including two that claim to be part of the same series. The only real difference was the assets. Again, it could not be more obvious that there is no inspiration involved.
Another good way to describe this phenomenon is the lack of actual criticism that can be applied to their work. There’s an odd water-off-a-duck’s-back effect to them because of how far off the mark they are. It’s the uncanny valley, but for video games themselves. Analyzing their work like an actual idea comes off like yelling at a pile of loose mannequin legs and heads that, even when combined, don’t create a sensible human silhouette. Digital Homicide is the equivalent of a shopping cart full of left mannequin legs and right mannequin hands that absorbed the smells of the street: rotten pizza, rat droppings, and dried drunk vomit. There is a whiff of the organic, but there’s nothing more artificial.
I can give plenty of examples of real criticism, both for professional developers with tons of resources and one-person production teams. I can look at Blizzard’s new shooter Overwatch and accuse them of poor character development because the lines the characters spout sound less like something that a character would say and more like something that type of character would say. Overwatch is still a game though, just one with flaws.
I can accuse Scott Cawthon of misunderstanding the advantages of his own ideas when Five Nights at Freddy’s becomes a curious pointless offshoot of its original goal of scaring people with possessed animatronic critters; it doesn’t change the fact that he made original material. I can even point out negative aspects of his production work that are distinctly human, rather than reeking of the tick-like opportunism of Digital Homicide. Scott Cawthon pulled one of his games after bad reviews, added improvements, and put it back up for free. That is a distinct, original, uncommon human action. It stands in stark contrast to Digital Homicide, whose downward spiral has never been anything but predictable.
I’ve followed the situation since Jim’s original video and even back then I had the feeling they would eventually attempt a lawsuit. (My personal opinion now is that, in the end of the end, Jim Sterling will successfully get a restraining order against one or more members of the company after they show up at his home or a place he frequents.)
As you can see Digital Homicide does not deserve to be called a developer, an artist, or a creator. Their work does not contain significant deviation from the things they purchase in the realms of level design, character design, enemy design, gameplay, or story. They’re idiotic attention-hungry children confusing a price tag with legitimacy. You get the distinct sense they’ve only ever been interested in money or fame, and video games as the focus of this drive is merely a coincidence of circumstance. They could just as easily be American Idol contestants who can’t carry a tune or fan fiction writers who change a character’s hue and call it original.
I for one will only call them faux-velopers from now on.