In the course of my journalistic duties for TPK magazine I am occasionally required to see things that others would describe as ‘weird’, ‘illegal’ or ‘people on fire’. But few things have been as ‘people on fire’ as my trip to see WA-based developer Gristlethwacker’s innovative sea-bird crimping simulator: Penguinbender 2005.
‘We actually started development in ‘06, but we wanted to appeal to the retro crowd.’ Said Hank Garfunkel, Gristlethwacker CEO and sole employee.
‘I see,’ I said, staring intently at the man’s hat, which seemed to have been made by hollowing out a stuffed penguin, severing it’s head and sewing a cap brim to it. Its glass eyes asked: ‘why?’
‘The problem with the commercial games industry is that they’re so busy chasing the fratboy dollar that they don’t have time to cater to the true connoisseur. We see a deplorably large gap in the market that we are determined to fill’ he said, motioning me into the Gristlethwacker offices, which looked to the untrained eye like a second story room in an hourly rate motel.
‘Behold, the nerve centre of my empire!” he said, stepping over a stack of National Geographics and gesturing to his workstation. As nerve centres go, it was pretty unimpressive. The walls were plastered with pictures of penguins, drawings of penguins, maps of penguin migratory patterns, skeletal diagrams and detailed depictions of flipper hydrodynamics. He saw me looking at the last and hastily added ‘Purely for research, you understand.’
‘Of course,’ I murmured, writing “totally batshit” in my journalistic notebook. At this point he rooted around in the noodle box containers and empty Mountain Dew cans that covered most of the desk and came up with a device that looked like a huge white dildo with a hinge in the middle. ‘The rubber sleeve accepts two Wii remotes for the control hardware, it was the cheapest off the shelf solution we could find to our… unique interface problem.
I gingerly took the alarming device, unsure what the hell I was supposed to be doing with it. Hank indicated that it was to be held like bicycle handlebars. A muffled squawk made me look up. ‘still having some problems with the sound engine,’ said Hank loudly, firing up the game. ‘Here we have the penguin select screen. There are over 17 species of penguin in existence, and by the end of development we hope to be able to simulate them all, currently we only have the major Antarctic species though.’ I hesitantly waved the disturbing controller toward the screen and a big fat penguin lit up. ‘Ooh, the emperor. You have a refined palette, sir.’ said Hank, giving me a knowing wink and a feeling of participating in a sex crime. Either his speakers were installed in the cupboard or there was definitely something squawking in there. I decided to ignore it and do my best to get out of there alive. ‘What do I actually do?’ I asked, as the view changed to a recumbent emperor penguin on a rocky beach.
‘Up top is the stress meter, you want to keep that low, ideally. Just gently bend the penguin and try to rack up the best score possible.’ Finally divining the purpose of the bizarre jointed controller, I hesitantly moved the ends inward. The on-screen bird arched its back in every sign of avian enjoyment. ‘Oh yes, that’s it.’ Hank whispered. ‘You’re a dirty bird, aren’t you?’ I leaned away from him, the old fear growing in my guts. There was no way this was going to end well. ‘Umm, what’s your target audience?’ I got out, as the cupboard squawking got even louder.
‘Why, all gentleman of discerning tastes of course. The alt.penguin.bending newsgroup has over three hundred members, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.’ He stood like a man about to speak a manifesto, and I knew that my day was about to be irrevocably ruined. ‘For years they have mocked us, spat on us, called us deviants. But no more. When first I tried to spread my message of the sacred love between man and flightless sea-bird, I was ridiculed, laughed out of the university. But we’ll see who’s laughing when my game is the most popular form of entertainment on the planet!’ he cried, yanking open the cupboard door and revealing the rows of cages within. ‘I had to get the birds, of course.’ he muttered, fumbling with his keys. ‘it had to be totally realistic, or it wouldn’t work. Do you have any idea how hard it is to motion-capture penguins? Do you?!’
‘Umm-’ I said, lowering the controller to the ground and backing away. I was pretty sure I could hear sirens.
‘They kept eating the ping pong balls, but I got there in the end. Perfectly simulated, down to the last oily feather. Soon the world shall know of my genius.’ He finally found the key he was looking for. With trembling hands, he opened a cage and took out a pair of very pissed-off looking penguins.
‘Mr Garfunkel! This is the police. Come out with your hands where we can see them.’
‘You’ll never take me alive, fascists!’ Hank screamed, and jammed the penguins down the front of his pants with a rapturous expression on his face. I was already climbing down the rear fire escape when I heard him smash through the second story window, a couple of half-hearted gunshots and it was all over.
So there you have it, Penguinbender 2005 coming this spring. You may never look at tailfeathers in the same way again.