"Ninja Gaiden 2 is part of a dying breed, so I'm inclined to be nice towards it as I would towards anyone else with a terminal illness." -- Ben Croshaw, creator of Zero Punctuation.
Zero Punctuation is the greatest online video show about video games that didn't come out of GameSpot. Anyone who disagrees is almost certainly ill, so feel sorry for them. For five minutes each week, Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw unleashes some of the most quickly executed verbal abhorrence towards the most odious of new games, all illustrated with brilliantly crude on-screen animation.
With enough venom towards embarassingly bad creations to make Charlie Brooker proud, no amount of swearing, insulting, sexual referencing, back-handed national stereotyping or digs at religion is off limits. "I try not to censor myself, 'cos God knows the Internet has never had a problem with being shocked," he explains.
Take the following 13-second introduction to the game Yahtzee considers the worst game ever made -- Too Human: "The root problem with Christianity is that their God is supposed to be all-powerful and benevolent. It sounds like an easy sell, but when life turns to s*** you have to come up with all kinds of whacked-out reasons for why kindly old Jehova saw fit to run over poor Timmy with a combine harvester and leave him in a state of perpetual limbless agony for 18 years."
The beautiful animation to illustrate this attention-grabbing intro were images of God in a sunflower with a huge grin on his face as the Earth split in two, a boy being devoured by the blades of a combine harvester, and the same boy laying bandaged in a hospital bed, covered in sores -- not the conventional imagery associated with video game reviews. And it's for this reason Zero Punctuation is admired: for its relentless approach to 'telling it like it is'. But enough of our fawning introduction. Let's meet the man himself.
Behind the scenes
So how does a lone Australian-based Englishman produce so much bilious genius, so quickly, so regularly?
"I use my laptop, Photoshop, and a headset mic I bought from a budget store. I tried buying a better headset but the sound quality was crap. It takes two days to do the script, three days to put the images together, and about one morning to do the rest."
But the show is weekly, and a crucial element to reviewing a game -- unless you're most of the gaming sites on the Web, it seems -- is to, y'know, play it. "Generally I'll try to play a game to the end if I can get it done in a week," Yahtzee tells us. "Sometimes a game bores or frustrates me enough that I'll stop playing, but I usually say so [in the review]".
The rise of iPhone games
"I hate the Wii's controls, but I do like the Nintendo DS, and the iPhone is following in similar footsteps. A lot of my game-developer friends have made some very crucial income with iPhone apps, so I'm interested to see where it leads. There can definitely be room for them in gaming's multifaceted sphere.
"Having said all that, no," he adds, after we asked whether we could see iPhone games reviewed on Zero Punctuation. "I'm a bit of a luddite when it comes to the newest tech. It took me long enough just to get a normal mobile phone. I've got enough to worry about with games on PC, consoles and handhelds."
Yahtzee has been making Zero Punctuation for The Escapist for just over two years. He says "there are no plans for a DVD as far as I know," but the success of the show has opened up other doors for him as a writer.
"I'm working on a novel that recently got announced, Mogworld, which is getting published by Dark Horse Books next summer, which definitely wouldn't have been possible without Zero Punctuation."
The comedic fantasy novel tells the story of Jim -- a character in an MMORPG -- who is brought back to life by a renegade necromancer, 60 years after his death. The book will be released in August 2010. Yahtzee is also involved in a new video game TV show, Game Damage, which is currently looking for international funding -- you can see the pilot here.