Based on the popular online video series, Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures is a take-off of all the games James Rolfe, aka The Angry Video Game Nerd, has critiqued throughout the years. Joe Donnelly caught up with videogame journalist turned developer, and Screw Attack head honcho, Craig Skistimas to discuss The Nerd’s adventures which see him indulge in expletive-laden parodies, insanely offensive humour and even porno levels.
Let me tell you the awkward story of the first time I met Craig Skistimas, the owner of Screw Attack, and the man behind Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures.
It was day one of E3 2013. I had scheduled my first appointment with indie outfit SemiFormal Studios to talk about its upcoming MMORTS Ensemble Online. Prepared with a list of questions, I approached Jackie, SemiFormal’s PR rep, who then introduced me to ‘Craig,’ who I assumed was going to talk to me about Ensemble. We found a space tucked away from the hubub of the show floor, and Craig began to unpack his laptop. “So, how much do you know about The Nerd?” Craig asked. The who, now?
There had been a mix up. SemiFormal was also running the Indies Crash E3 campaign – many of whom I was expecting to speak with over the course of the conference – and Jackie had inadvertently sent me in the wrong direction.
Shit, I thought to myself, this was the wrong guy, and the wrong game. But this Craig fellow did seem incredibly enthusiastic as he discussed his work – a retro-inspired Megaman meets Metroidvania-type sidescroller. And why wouldn’t he be? It was day one of the world’s biggest annual gaming expo – his first on the other side of the journalist/developer divide – and I was his first customer of the day.
Now, I’d heard of The Angry Video Game Nerd web series, I’d even watched one or two episodes way back when it started out in the mid 00s, but I was by no means well-versed. In an attempt to salvage at least some smidgen of professionalism, I picked up the controller and began playing. Of course, it was immediately obvious I didn’t really get the in-jokes, but the lighthearted crude humour made me chuckle nonetheless, and what unfolded was one hell of a tough – yet incredibly compelling – game. “The most difficult game at E3,” Skistimas almost smugly assured me. Two days later, I was able to confirm his words.
Amongst all the confusion, it wasn’t until Craig handed my his Screw Attack business card at the end of the demo that I realised who he actually was.
Two months later, after several hours spent in front of Cinemassacre’s YouTube channel, and a couple of re-scheduled appointments, I caught up with Craig Skistimas once again to quiz him about The Nerd from a more enlightened perspective.
Skistimas’ chipper manner and upbeat buoyancy I recall from our first engagement has vanished when we speak again on Skype. He sounds a tad deflated, and by the tone of his voice alone, I can tell he’s tired. But as is the all-consuming life of the videogame developer, I suppose. “Yeah, I think it’s a natural jump for us,” says Skistimas in making the switch from games journalism to games development. “Everybody has videogame ideas right? If you have the opportunity to do that, I think it is the next natural step. Was it everything we expected? I mean look, we’re neck deep. An hour and fifteen minutes ago, AVGN Adventures just went live for pre-order on Steam, so yeah, it’s hard and it is tough. It is not easy by any means. I mean, we never expected it to be easy, but man, it’s definitely exciting.
“It takes up so much of your time, and it is literally my full time job. We had a meeting the other day and I was like, ‘Listen guys, you will not see me for the next six weeks, this is my life.’ I’ll tell you what: once it’s done, once it’s complete – the progress we’ve made with it is so outstanding.”
AVGN Adventures sees The Angry Video Game Nerd, trapped inside a retro-inspired sidescrolling platformer – akin the ones which he reviews on the show – whereupon he must locate his friends; all of whom are also lost in this 16-bit pixelated nightmare. The typical balls-out humour also found in every one of Rolfe’s AVGN shows hinges on the fact that The Nerd is well aware of his incarceration, and that the player is to blame for each and every single thing that goes wrong.
Skistimas’ tone lifts swiftly, “So, the game’s going to have four characters,” he says excitedly, as if suddenly inspired by his work. “There will be The Nerd, Guitar Guy, Mike [Matei, co-writer of the series alongside Rolfe] and Bullshit man. All the characters have their own attributes. Mike is kind of the scout of the group. After you find him, he’s not as fast – I’d say he’s the second fastest of the group – but he can jump the highest by far.
“As opposed to a projectile, like the other players, he actually uses a laser sword, and when he uses the sword, it’s not as strong as the other players. His attack isn’t very strong, but the biggest thing with him being the scout is that he can actually unlock and find secrets that the other players can’t see.
“As you go around he actually has an aura around him that turns other blocks certain colours. Mike sees these, but if you switch over to Bullshit Man, or The Nerd – they can’t see them, and only Mike can destroy those blocks with the sword. So it could lead to different paths, shortcuts, secrets, power-ups, cameos, all sorts of stuff like that.”
As the interview goes on, I begin to understand why Skistimas talks with so much enthusiasm: it’s not only because he’s poured his blood, sweat and tears into his first venture into games development, but because he wants you, the player, to enjoy the final outcome as much as he’s enjoyed making it; something at the heart of indie games development.