The Casual Games Association paid for Daniel Crawley’s trip to Casual Connect Europe, where he moderated two sessions. Our coverage remains objective.
There’s a new mass murder game on the scene, but this one’s okay to love.
The big winner at Casual Connect Europe’s Indie Prize ceremony was Party Hard by Ukranian developer Pinokl Games. It raised a few eyebrows when it picked up the Critics’ Choice award because Party Hard is a game about killing your neighbors. The main character has had enough of the noisy party next door, so he goes in with a knife and stabs everyone to death. At least he tries to, anyway. When I first played Play Hard, the cops came and arrested me while my first victim was still warm.
Party Hard takes a stealthy approach to slaughter — you can hide in plain sight by doing a creepy little dance, and the cops will usually arrest whoever is closest to your freshly-stabbed victims. You can actually check out an early build of the game in your browser, but it’s missing some features, like the option to dance.
While I was skulking around in Party Hard’s demo level at Casual Connect, stalking people in the bedroom, and sneaking up behind popular YouTuber PewDiePie to stab him in the back — the developers included him as a non-player character in the game — a guy came up and asked what I was doing. “I’m killing people,” I said. “How?” he asked. “With a knife. You just press the button to use your knife,” I said. “Why?” he asked. “Well, I think that’s what the game wants me to do.”
The guy in question — a developer of educational games, it turned out — walked off scratching his head, saying it was a strange idea for a game. Part of me had to agree, so I decided to speak to the developers to find out more.
Delivering a message
“We just wished to deliver a message,” said Alexandr Potapenko, one of the team behind Party Hard. “The message is the killing of people is not the best way to solve issues.”
Party Hard delivers that message through the act of repeatedly killing, but there is a story behind the violence. “There was a very quiet neighborhood, but some guys moved there and started making parties every single night, and our main character just went crazy and lost his mind. He’s had enough so he started to kill everybody at this party.”
There’s only one level at the moment, but the finished game will have a number of different parties — even one hosted by fans of the killer. And no matter how many times you evade the police, you’ll always get caught in the end, according to Potapenko: “He can win every single level. But when the game will be finished, he can’t just go away. He’ll be punished.”
I wondered what sort of reaction he’d been getting from players at the show. “Most people are really amazed, but someone asked is it quite moral to kill other people,” he told me.
He realizes that not everyone will find it easy to take the way that Party Hard delivers its message. “When you have a message, you can deliver it in very different ways,” he said. “This is our way to deliver the message. So people can like it, some will dislike it, but the message will be delivered anyway.”
A few months back, there was huge controversy surrounding another game about mass killing. Hatred, by Polish development team Destructive Creations, even got pulled from Steam Greenlight — the portal that lets gamers vote on which titles they want to see in Valve’s digital store — before being reinstated with a personal apology from Valve boss Gabe Newell.
“There was a moment when Hatred was kicked out of Steam, and we became scared because we are trying to make a project, and it can just be pushed out,” Potapenko told me. “Without Steam, we can do nothing.”
But Party Hard’s 8-bit pixel art style does somehow make it less shocking than Hatred’s more realistic approach to mass killing. “It is not so realistic,” said team member Igor Arterchuk. “It is pixelated and it is some kind of cartoon violence. So it is not so gory as Hatred, and it is not so cruel as it could be with more realistic graphics.”
And Potapenko is happy that there’s a place for games like Party Hard in the world of gaming. “People get fun from killing in other games,” he said. “It is a way for us to give up our bad emotions after a hard day. Kill someone in the game and then just relax and spend good time with your family.”
A YouTube “Let’s Play” of Party Hard with over 600,000 views shows that he’s not alone.
Winning the Critics’ Choice award is a pretty big deal for Party Hard, especially as it’s only been development for a short time. I caught up with the Indie Prize director, Julia Vakhrusheva, as the conference was drawing to a close to find out why Party Hard was so well received.
“The Critics Choice award is given by decision of the most judges who played it — and we had female judges as well — and everybody said, ‘Yes, that game is fun to play,’” said Vakhrusheva.
But did she have any worries about it being a controversial choice?
“People are people, and they can find any game controversial,” she told me. “I don’t see that this game is targeted at audiences that would find this game controversial.”
Vakrusheva said that none of the critics were thinking about murdering people as they were playing. “This game is a stealth game,” she said. “Lots of stealth games, you walk around, you murder people. But here you can also get arrested — and you will get arrested. That’s why the guys [Potapenko and Arterchuk] were wearing the cop outfits because they were making sure that nobody gets killed.”
It’s true that the developers were walking around Casual Connect dressed as cops — “Caps have special power!” they told me enthusiastically, pointing to their headwear.
“They put in people’s heads the thought that there is a higher power,” said Vakhrusheva, “which is a cop in this situation, so you’re afraid of the cops. So it’s sending this subconscious message to people that there is always somebody that will come up to you and eventually will find you. Busted.”
So, is this the 8-bit mass killing game that it’s okay to love? “Yeah, I would agree,” she said. “This is one of a kind, and it’s easy to love.”
The Hatred perspective
I wondered what Destructive Creations thought of Party Hard’s award success, given the controversy that surrounded their own game’s reveal, so I got in touch with chief executive officer Jarosław Zieliński.
“First of all, I’m glad someone has balls to make a game like this, and sincere congrats for the award,” he told me via email. “I have to check it out. But the second thing is the fact I’m highly shocked with people’s hypocrisy, and I just don’t get it.”
Zieliński doesn’t see a huge difference between Hatred and Party Hard, despite the way the characters are represented visually, and he’s kind of annoyed by the way the two games have been treated so differently.
“Suddenly it appears it’s a great thing to make a game about killing innocent people, yes? Right after throwing tons of shit in our direction for making actually THE SAME THING? Someone will tell me now, ‘It’s pixelart, it’s different,’ but I would tell him to f*** off, because what is the difference between killing pixels and killing polygons? None. At all. It’s harmless for the real world in the same way.”
Zieliński’s taking some solace in the fact that Hatred’s look and feel marks it out for negative attention. “If we wouldn’t have enough production values in Hatred, no one would give a damn; it wouldn’t meet so much of an outrage,” he said, before wishing the Party Hard team future success.
“All hails for the creators of Party Hard. I hope they’ll earn millions of dollars!”