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Saboteurs, Smugglers, And Stowaways

June 7, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Hot Copters

As the old cliché goes, helicopters are like catnip for gay male bikini models. But when Maxis programmer Jacque Servin took it upon himself to incorporate this particular truism into shipping copies of SimCopter, he was summarily dismissed for his efforts. Dismayed by the gratuitous inclusion of scantily-clad (albeit crudely rendered) women in the game, Servin decided to counterbalance these with some eye candy of his own by adding in muscle men in equally skimpy outfits.

These low-poly hunks, garbed only in Speedos, were not easy to miss. According to the particularly vivid description provided on Wikipedia, "their fluorescent nipples were drawn with a special rendering mode usually reserved for fog-piercing runway landing lights." When a player landed a helicopter, droves of these amorous bikini men would swarm around it enthusiastically, kissing each other to the accompaniment of a conspicuous "smooch" sound effect.

The only problem with Servin's alteration was that it worked a little too well. The bikini men were intended to appear rarely, with Servin programming them to show up only on his birthday, his boyfriend's birthday, and (in an eerie twist) Friday the 13th.

However, Servin evidently forgot to carry the one, as a bug in his code led to the bikini men appearing much more frequently than anticipated. As a result, Servin's attempts to enact gender equality within the populace of SimCopter were quickly discovered and patched out of subsequent editions of the game. It took less than a week for Servin to be identified as the culprit and fired from Maxis.

In the ensuing swirl of controversy, Servin offered a number of conflicting accounts of precisely what had inspired him to introduce the bikini men into the game. Initially, he maintained that his intention was to offer a rebuke to the "bimbos", which Servin claimed had been a feature mandated by his "aggressively heterosexual" boss.

However, Servin later clarified that the primary impetus had little to do with either gay pride or protesting sexism, but in fact stemmed from his frustration with the excessive crunch and onerous working conditions at Maxis.

"If it hadn't been for that," claimed Servin, "I would have been a lot more interested in keeping my job and might not have put in the kissing boys. Exploitation is bad business, at least when the exploited workers are in control of the product and can easily find new jobs."

Regardless of his original intentions, Servin has since managed to expand his initial act of defiance outward into an entire cottage industry of subversive activities. Working under various aliases, he has continued his legacy of provocation on a number of fronts, most notably via the "culture jamming" activist group known as The Yes Men, whose elaborate impersonations of corporate spokesmen have been documented in two separate movies. Servin has also sought to foster a spirit of rebellion within students in his role as an "assistant professor in subversion" at Parsons in New York City.

Muddled motives aside, Servin is indisputably one of the most prominent game development saboteurs of all time. However, his recipe for mixing advocacy and self-promotion still owes a heavy debt to an early pioneer -- a man who set the precedent for disgruntled developers of all stripes.

Adventures in Anonymity

While many modern game studios are highly secretive, even the most tight-lipped among them are downright gregarious compared to Atari in the early days of the console business. Back in the 2600 era, Atari notoriously instituted a policy that strictly forbade developer credits in all of their games, in order to minimize potential talent poaching by rival companies and quash any bargaining clout that their designers might gain from attaining "superstar" levels of notoriety.

This in turn led to the formation of Activision by a group of disenchanted ex-Atari employees who grew weary of toiling away in obscurity. The oppressive atmosphere also led to what it widely regarded as one of the first video game easter eggs.

Inserted into the game Adventure by creator Warren Robinett, the Easter egg consisted of a hidden room that displayed the developer's name in large, flashing letters. As the sole developer of Adventure, Robinett was able to keep the secret under wraps until well after the game had shipped. By the time Atari became aware of the "credits cave", Robinett was already long gone. Since Atari did not pay royalties to its creators at the time, they lacked any substantial ability to censure Robinett, who was able to successfully flout the company's restrictive mandate without suffering any repercussions.

Robinett's actions illustrated that Atari's anti-crediting policy was unenforceable in an environment where game creation was the province of a single individual. Along with the aforementioned staff exodus to form competing companies, the Adventure easter egg was undoubtedly a contributing factor leading to the abolishment of Atari's impractical crediting ban.

Without Robinett's efforts, professional game developers might still be languishing in anonymity to this day. Adventure, meanwhile, went on to sell over a million copies, and Robinett's howl in the dark has only served to enhance the game's legacy as a historical landmark.

While the majority of the preceding examples of subversion arose from developer frustrations about working conditions, the next instance was seemingly born from an altogether different set of frustrations: namely, those of a sexual variety.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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