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A Once And Future Thing: More About Schadenfreude Interactive

Following last month's Age Of Ornithology postmortem by noted German developer Schadenfreude Interactive, this month's 'Schadenfreudian Slips' column has the company's CEO, Karsden Mörderhäschen, presenting a history of the firm, from Wurstzeit to Dung Ho!.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Following last month's critically acclaimed Age Of Ornithology postmortem by noted German developer Schadenfreude Interactive, which was described by at least one tearful reader as 'the Citizen Kane of avian RTS analyses', we have invited the company's CEO, Karsden Mörderhäschen, to comment further on just what makes his firm so 'special', and present a history of the seminal game creator, as part of the continuing 'Schadenfreudian Slips' column.]

Introduction

As our great German philosopher Nietszche said, “History is just all the things that have happened before now, but written down because they would otherwise be too difficult for everyone to remember.” I think it was Nietszche... it may have been my Uncle Reiner from Stuttgart. He also had a way with words. He was the one that told me, “You cannot learn to play accordion without breaking a few Hummels” (he was a very enthusiastic accordionist). I took his message to heart when I founded Schadenfreude Interactive in 1995, as it was a long and Hummel-strewn path to get to where we are now.

After some success in the 1980s with my Commodore 64 arcade clone Wurstzeit (Sausage Time), I founded Schadenfreude Interactive with my best friend and fellow programmer, Bruno Schwartzritter. Bruno is the author of Mutantkameleschlagen, a delightful game inspired by Jeff Minter's Attack of the Mutant Camels. We are all very proud of Bruno, as he is here considered to be the Alexei Pajitnov of the Black Forest.


wurstzeit.gif
Wurstzeit (Sausage Time)

I wrote my first game on a borrowed Amstrad in the garden shed while sitting on a milk can. Bruno wrote his first game in his father's autogarage -- he simply pulled up a chair and set his monitor on top of a Fiat Topolino (he is 6'5”)! I still have the milk can, but Bruno does not have the Fiat Topolino... I have the better of the bargain, as both the milk can and the Topolino are small and made of metal but at least a milk can is good for something -- it can hold milk!

That story gets a big laugh here in Europe , but I think something is lost in translation.

A Delightful Name?

Speaking of translation, in German, “Schadenfreude” means something much like “delight in the suffering of others.” Many people question why we chose such a strange name. But do not all game companies have bizarre, freakish names, such as “Electronic Arts?” I am reasonably happy with our name, although most people cannot spell it, including four of our employees (the goat is not among them).


office.jpg
The Schadefreude Office in Ludvigshafen.

Our office here in Ludvigshafen was quite a bargain, for it was originally a barn. This worked out very well, as the concrete pig stalls made perfect cubicles for our programmers and artists. The place even came with a goat... we tried to get rid of him, but he kept returning.

Late one night we left him at a farm a few miles outside town, but he found his way back! This was not surprising to us, as we had the same result when we tried it with our art director. Now both Lothar (the art director) and Ziggy (the goat) are full-time staff, and we would be lost without them.

All that our new office needed was a roof, and after we published Nazgul Thunder 2003 we were finally able to purchase one. But even so, working only on days when it did not rain, we were able to finish Nazgul on time. And where, I ask, is Duke Nukem Forever? Perhaps its developers are spoilt with their fancy office chairs, fancy foosball tables and fancy roof over their heads!

From Schnitzel To Riches

In 1998, we became a game publisher as well as a developer. Since then we have been doing everything ourselves, from package design, to retail merchandising, to putting customers on hold when they call with technical support questions and then accidentally disconnecting them. But do not imagine Alles lief wie am Schnürchen.

We got our first batch of game CDs at a significant discount, but they arrived without holes in the centers. This problem was easily overcome -- we had Crispin Frosch, our intern, drill a hole in each of the many thousand CDs. Crispin has been with us for more than nine years, and he is learning more every day. Soon we may promote him to game tester.

As for the future, this Spring we will be releasing what I believe to be the first zombie U-boat simulator. Bruno is a fan of highly technical and realistic sub sims (you may have played his late 1980s Amiga game, Das Reboot) and our art director is a big fan of Romero (the director, not the game god -- although Lothar admits that one “is rather dreamy, especially back when he had the long hair”). I think the game will be great fun for anyone who is not afraid of blood, gore, and a 2,584-page manual.

However, it has caused a great deal of controversy here in Germany, and ultimately pressure from the BPjM (our federal agency that reviews games and other media) forced us to replace all the blood and gore with green bubbles. As you can see in the character comparison below, the game ended up looking like what happened when I foolishly put dishwashing liquid in the dishwasher instead of dishwasher detergent (a subtle distinction, but, like the difference between H2O and H2SO4, a critical one).


zombie_comparison.jpg
A comparison of the before and after effects of BPjM regulations.

Gung Ho On Dung Ho!

The PC game is still thriving here in Europe, but we have made some steps towards the console market. Two years ago we had a console game in pre-production entitled Dung Ho!, which allowed one to play as a dung beetle rolling a giant ball of -- the name says it all, ja? I got this idea while watching an Animal Planet special on dung beetles in the wee hours of the morning (I was perhaps delirious, having eaten some bad sauerbraten). Although it was a completely independent invention (I had not heard of the Namco game)

Dung Ho!'s game mechanics were indeed very similar to Katamari Damacy, and so we could not continue development for fear of legal repercussions. It is a shame... dung beetles are fascinating. So industrious, so determined, so focused. If only we could teach them to program in C++! Ah, but you are right, they would be happiest in the marketing department.


dung_ho_screen.jpg
Dung Ho!

Conclusion

As for the future, we plan to horribly mismanage our money and end up bought out for mere pfennigs by Take Two. Ha! I am only joking. We are practically solvent and have many exciting projects in the works, as well as this column for Gamasutra.

Much like in Tetris, these imminent columns will hopefully present you with both joyous anticipation and some minor nervous anxiety. Watch out for those tricky green L-shaped ones.

Aus nichts, wird nichts,

-- Karsden ([email protected])

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