As subtle as a punch in the mouth, Serious Sam 3: BFE is an action-game anachronism that arrived in a gory explosion of circle-strafing, health packs and a trigger you may as well just tape down. It is everything that conventional 21st-century shooters are not, and so it’s not entirely surprising that Fork Parker, the Chief Financial Officer and public face of publisher Devolver Digital, isn’t the sort of executive you typically see at boardroom meetings and yacht club lunches. He’s brash, profane and fiercely dedicated to his wife’s funbags.
“I started at Devolver Digital roughly eight months ago after the former CFO passed on during an unfortunate autoerotic asphyxiation accident in the break room,” he told me recently, explaining how he came to be involved with the company and the project. “Prior to that, I ran a series of previously lucrative businesses into the ground out of pure spite, jealousy and, on one occasion, lust. These chumps at Devolver Digital brought me on to manage the influx of cash and glory that comes with launching a sweet-ass game like Serious Sam 3. Most of the team is seeking to reinvest the profits into promising game concepts from talented developers but I’m taking my cut of the action and overhauling my wife’s bouncy parts.”
With formal introductions out of the way, I decided to go straight to the most obvious question: In an industry dominated by franchises like Call of Duty and Gears of War, why Serious Sam? And why now?
“I genuinely believe that it is the responsibility of every publisher and developer to push the medium of videogames forward. We make it a point to seek out games that stir the emotions of the gamer, bringing to light the art and beauty found within each of us,” Parker explained. “Just kidding! I wanted to sell a an assload of videogames so I can raise enough money to start an all-lady kickboxing team that travels the world competing in tournaments by day and executing elaborate museum heists at night.”
It was at this point that Roman Ribaric, the CEO of Serious Sam developer Croteam and a man who’s been around since the release of the original game a decade ago, decided to interject. “We created the original Serious Sam at a time when first-person shooters were more focused on player-controlled action that was fast-paced and frantic. Any gamer around during that time would probably agree that it was somewhat of golden age for shooters and we wanted to bring back some of that glory,” he said. “While the shooter genre has shifted over the past ten years to a design philosophy that favors larger set pieces, scripted sequences, two gun limits and more cover-based gameplay, there is no way we could make a Serious Sam 3 game within those parameters.”
And while Croteam doesn’t necessarily see anything wrong with the more modern approach to shooters, it’s not at what Serious Sam is all about. “We see Serious Sam 3: BFE as carrying the torch for classic shooters like Doom, Quake, and the classic Serious Sam games,” he added. “Someone has to keep the ‘shooter’ in first-person shooter, right?”
To most gamers, Serious Sam 3 is the “other” throwback shooter of the year, behind the infinitely more famous Duke Nukem Forever. They do share a a few surface similarities – trash-talking lunkheads in t-shirts and sunglasses single-handedly fighting off an alien invasion of Earth being the most obvious – but Croteam has taken a fundamentally different approach to its lead character. Duke Nukem is unquestionably the star of DNF and the focal point of the franchise, but Sam Stone is more of an anonymous avatar, a hook on which players can hang their murderlust. Most players probably don’t even realize his last name is “Stone.”
“The real star of the Serious Sam games has been the gameplay, the humor, the setting and the fantastically bizarre cast of enemies that gamers have to take down at a rapid pace,” Ribaric said. “If you ask a fan to list their favorite or most memorable part of any Serious Sam game I believe that most wouldn’t get to Sam himself until later down in the list. Serious Sam is more of a representation of a style of first person shooter than it is the specific character.”
Nor has Serious Sam been dogged by the complaints of misogyny that plagued the Duke, despite the presence of “naked bird ladies” and a very in-your-face display of unclothed [and, it must be said, impressive] bouncy parts in the game’s rogues gallery. “Needs more tits!” Parker said, snapping back to attention and inviting a flood of those complaints the game has so far managed to avoid. “Tits make everything better!”
“Regarding the Scythian Witch Harpy, a.k.a. naked bird ladies, they’re an enemy character that appeared in the very first Serious Sam game,” Ribaric cut in, once again bringing things back on track. “With all this fancy new tech we were able to make them a little sexier and a little more terrifying at the same time. The close-up on their, as Fork would say, ‘bouncy parts’ was one of those thing that just happened when fooling around with the camera angle and we left that in because it made us all laugh.”
Although the Serious series is generally considered a PC franchise, previous games have in fact found their way to the original Xbox, the PlayStation 2, the Gamecube and even the Game Boy Advance. Serious Sam 3 will likewise come out for consoles sometime next year, but I couldn’t help but wonder how the sprawling, overcrowded and highly pyrotechnical run-and-gun experience will hold up game systems that are starting to grow a little long in the tooth.
“The PC has obviously surpassed the current generation of consoles in terms of raw power but our proprietary Serious Engine 3 allows us to bring Serious Sam 3 to consoles with little to no sacrifices,” he said. “One of the things we did prior to Serious Sam 3 were the Serious Sam HD games which were upgrades of the classic titles built with Serious Engine 3. Both Serious Sam HD titles were released on PC and Xbox 360 and the only significant changes were a reduction in the number of co-op and deathmatch players the game would allow at once time. Visuals, sound, effects, physics and overall gameplay were nearly identical to the PC counterparts and we expect the same kind of performance in the console versions of Serious Sam 3.”
“Consoles are definitely an important part of our plans,” he continued. “We’re a great PC development house and our tech was first built with that in mind but we know there are a lot of Serious Sam fans out there clamoring for a console version and we don’t want to leave them out.”
But for now, Ribaric said Serious Sam 3 is doing very well for itself as a very-long-timed PC exclusive, helped out by a ridiculously over-the-top pre-release PR campaign. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve been following along and if you haven’t, it’s worth going back to catch up. Even Parker got into the action, making his very own promotional trailer shortly after the game came out.
“Those [pre-release] videos were pretty sweet but I did some consumer research at a nudie bar prior to Serious Sam 3 launching on PC and the feedback was pretty clear: the ladies wanted more Fork,” he explained. “So I answered the call, fired up the editing program on my wife’s laptop and knocked out the single greatest video ever made. While I can’t prove this with science, the video I edited is probably responsible for 80 to 90 percent of all sales so far.”
Ribaric said the team is thankful for Fork’s efforts but seemed more inclined to put the success of the game down to, well, the game. “When designing Serious Sam 3 our team built it around the elements that made Serious Sam: The First and Second Encounters so successful and beloved over the past ten years,” he said. “The fantastic reception traces back to the decision to maintain the fast-paced gameplay, insane hordes of enemies, great mix of powerful weapons and the always-chaotic 16-player campaign co-operative modes. These elements all come from the original games.”
It was around this time that Parker started to get restless. “I was told we’d get to meet Yahtzee or Jim Sterling on this visit and all we’re getting is questions,” he burst out. “Can I order like a club sandwich and a scotch or something? Are you even listening to me?” It was clearly time to wrap things up.
Ribaric said Serious Sam 3 has met with a very positive response from both fans and the gaming press and is selling very well, which he admitted was a relief given the uncertainties involved in putting a game like this out on today’s market. With any luck, this won’t be the last we hear from Serious Sam.
“I think this just re-emphasizes our commitment to continue the Serious Sam franchise and keep the series grounded in its arcade-style shooter roots while adding in new, unique gameplay elements where they make sense,” Ribaric said. Parker, for his part, was a little more succinct. “I’m up to my eyeballs in straight cash, homie,” he said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pick up my velvet-covered jet skis from the repair shop. Peace, nerds.”
And peace to you too, Mr. Parker.