JDL @ GameX in Philadelphia

November 3, 2009 | Posted by John De Large

Hey all. I got to visit the Games and Media Expo, also known as GameX in Philly last week and thanks to the efforts of one Jesse Collins, I got in for free.

Here are some cool things that caught my eye:

-Free merchandise and swag! I grabbed a lot of free merchandise and scored some buttons and sweet shirts from the Halolz booth. Halolz even had these sweet magnets in the shape of game characters made from beads.

-There were at least two independent gaming stores who’d set up shop and had a WALL of PS1 games available for purchase.

-A rather opulent looking Bayonetta display (complete with demos) that looked like it’d been hijacked from E3 stood proudly in the middle of one room, had there not been a long line to play the Devil-May-Cry-with-tits shmup, I might’ve tried it also.

-The Steamgear and art commanded my attention for a good hour.


…and this one too

-Lastly, there were also some cosplayers running around dressed as Final Fantasy and Darkstalkers characters who I chilled with for a bit. I don’t usually get along with cosplayers, but I can make an exception for a chick dressed as Morrigan, especially since she had Morrigan-esque proportions.

While I enjoyed everything the expo had to offer, I came for one reason, really. To meet and interview a very important and influential guest at the convention, Ben “Yahtzee,” Croshaw.

Ben — or as his friends call him “Yahtzee,” — is quite the toast of the internet thanks to his scathing series of game reviews, Zero Punctuation.

Even though his throat was hurting him, Yahtzee still made time for me and the 411 audience, which was very classy of him. I gave him a Watchmen pin in exchange for his Imp pin, “a fair exchange,” as he and I put it. Even though things were off to a good start, I made sure to ask him if he’d ever struck an interviewer at all, to which he replied “Not physically.” I quickly pondered if that means he has some kind of magical or telepathic power he could exert over me, before I moved onto my first question.

Everyone has to start somewhere, so I asked Yahtzee when he started writing about video games and when he started getting paid for it. Yahtzee told me about how when he was younger he would come up with ideas for games and then turn those ideas into comics, a humble origin as any and one a lot of gamers and would-be developers can relate to. As for getting paid, Yahtzee said that while he considered himself an on-again-off-again professional for a while, it wasn’t until a year before Zero Punctuation started that he really considered himself a full time professional.

Next, I asked Yahtzee a more personal question, whether or not he ever received any opposition from friends or family from his line of work. While he didn’t mention any friends, girlfriends or significant others giving him
grief, he did say that his mother wishes he’d pursue a different career.

After we discussed Yahtzee’s humble beginnings, I asked him about The John DeFoe Saga which is a series of homemade point and click adventure games (and one stealth platformer) that Yahtzee made himself. The games protagonist is a gentlemanly thief named Trilby; being a fan of Trilby and the DeFoe saga, I asked Yahtzee a) which of his games was his favorite to create b) exactly where he got the inspiration for the now notorious cult hero and c) if he is done making games.

Yahtzee started by saying that creating and developing games in general is his hobby and that he has lots of ideas for games that will be seen and experienced, although right now, he just doesn’t have enough downtime to develop everything. Out of all of the John DeFoe games, his favorite game to make with was Trilby’s Notes; he loved coming up with a text parser where you type phrases to solve puzzles, rather than just try different item and environment combinations. Yahtzee also said that he loves challenges and programming the text parser was a big challenge, so he found enjoyment in that. As far as inspiration goes, Trilby was inspired by lots of things, namely the Thief series, and AJ Raffles novels, meanwhile, Trilby’s appearance (and likely namesake) was inspired by a Trilby that Yahtzee’s dad owned and a pinstripe suit that Yahtzee used to wear.

Once we finished talking about his games, we talked about his game reviews — or in other words, we talked about Zero Punctuation. I asked Yahtzee how he manages to keep Zero Punctuation fresh and what the most difficult kinds of games to review are. Yahtzee said that a bad game is funnier to review than a good game, which makes a lot of sense. He also said that a boring generic game (see also, space marine and WWII FPSes) will usually be more difficult to review and require a degree of creativity to make fun and interesting, with games like these being the impetus for reviews conducted via limerick. When it comes to games that are hard to review (either for their difficulty or because criticism would be hard to articulate), Yahtzee immediately named Valkyria Chronicles. Faithful ZP fans will know that JRPG games are not exactly Yahtzee’s thing, but what they might not know is that Yahtzee feels he could have given the game more of a chance, even if it belongs to a genre he dislikes. My last Zero Punctuation-related question was if Yahtzee had ever talked to the developers of any of the games he had criticized. Yahtzee surprised me, by telling me that many of his friends are developers in the industry and that the developers notes frequently match his criticisms, but then publishers tell the developers that there is no time to make changes.

I also asked Yahtzee about Game Damage and how it began. He told me that a producer had approached Matt from Game Damage about doing a show in a live format along with Yahtzee. I was surprised how relatively simple the origin of the show was. Yahtzee also told me that he thought the first pilot of the show was a little rough and unfocused, but he seemed undoubtedly proud of the second trailer and spoke highly of it. Something else I mentioned to Yahtzee was that to get an interview with him in the first place, I had to call a PR rep, who in turn had to speak with “Yahtzee’s people.” I asked him what it felt like to come so far and to have “people.” His response was that it felt weird to have representatives and that he never thought he’d get this to this stage of popularity. He reflected briefly on all the hard work he’d put into getting this far and how it had affected his ability to stay put and relax, that he’d become accustomed to working so much. I suggested that maybe it’s that he feels like he needs to earn his downtime through hard work and maybe he isn’t sure when he’s worked long enough to earn a break.

Wrapping up, I asked Yahtzee if he had any advice for other game journalists and would-be critics out there. Yahtzee’s advice? Whatever it is you’re doing in the field, do it a lot, do it yourself and do it until you know your work backwards and forwards. He also said that there is a limit to what you can learn at schools and college (although there’s no harm in attending them) and encouraged other writers and artists to get better through experience. He also offered this quote: “Every artist has 5000 bad pictures that they need to work out of their system,” which coincidentally echoes a quote I found over at his website: “YOU MUST FIRST STRAIN OUT THE POO BEFORE YOU CAN SHIT GOLD.”

So with that, I shook Yahtzee’s hand, wished him luck (which he very nicely reciprocated) and began the long journey home to New York.

Oh, and we took THIS picture.

THE 411

The convention was awesome! Free swag as far and as wide as the eye can see, great networking opportunities and lots of cool steam punk art! From retro gaming to cosplaying to even displays with some of the newer games, this convention had something for everyone.

If you’re thinking about going next year, stick to getting a one-day ticket, since you could probably see everything there is to offer in one day.

As for Yahtzee, Yahtzee is just a cool dude. Smart and really relaxed, he’s just very real and very nice, without being a pushover or a shrinking violet. Hopefully I get to interview him again, maybe next time I can ask him about his upcoming book.


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John De Large
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