There are many factors that go into making a good game, and there are some brilliant ones out there to choose from. But, what about the ‘bad’ games that are also out there? What is it that actually makes a game bad? And then, if we know what makes a bad game, could we somehow harness that, and make something that is, by the nature of its very badness, actually quite entertaining too?
Enter Carsen Rapp, a man who has purposely set out to make “the worst video game of all time” with a little help from his TikTok community.
Rapp has been making video games since he was 14 years old, but has been sharing videos online since he was 11. By 12, he was one of the most popular YouTube streamers for Adventure Quest Worlds. “I’ve been doing this for a while,” Rapp tells me over Zoom. “It led me to work in the tech industry, I used to be a web developer. Now I have a boring ’email job’ in the tech industry, but I have kept making games.”
Many of these personal projects, Rapp admits, remain unfinished, but he hopes to buck this trend with his latest endeavour: Creating the worst video game of all time. “I decided with this project, I just want to do the most ‘fun’ parts of making a game, which is implementing cool new features. Those things that are kind of hard and boring… I don’t want to do those,” he laughs, telling me a lot of his video game development knowledge has been self taught. “You know, things like polishing the game, finding and making good graphics, making things make sense and context. Making a good game is really, really hard. But, making a ‘bad’ game, now that’s fun.”
Rapp started sharing his progress on TikTok a few months ago, with bite-sized reels showing his creative process. The first few videos initially didn’t get a huge reception online, with Rapp telling me there were only a handful of comments to begin with. But he had faith, so kept going. His perseverance paid off, and before long things began to pick up momentum. People were curious about this person who was spending so much time making something they openly declared to be the worst of its kind.
Rapp and his budding community went on to name the game Monster Sniper Season 3, a 2D platformer starring a badly drawn rat with a rocket launcher. Together, they have steadily been suggesting a slew of video game features to include that many of us will baulk at: underwater areas with stress inducing oxygen levels, bats, an auto-scrolling escort mission, an unintuitive control system, a poisonous swamp. The list goes on. The most infuriating feature, however, has to be the dog that bursts into a swarm of ants when you pet it. That is just cruel.
“There are so many features that everybody knows are bad,” Rapp says with a grin when I mention this. “Gamers are very knowledgeable about what they do and don’t like. There are so many universally bad things that I get in my comments. One right now is that ‘you need to add a battle pass, you need to add loot boxes’. Everybody knows they are bad, but they are still so common.”
As to why so many releases these days include features that many consider ‘bad’ – such as those aforementioned water levels – Rapp believes they are still an integral part of a game’s anatomy, even if they almost feel anti-Darwinian in nature. “Yes, people don’t like water levels, but it’s so important to change things up in a video game, because it’s such a long thing. You have to chop it up, so you put a water level in there… there are reasons people do these things,” he hypotheses. We both think back to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s infamous Water Temple. Even with this often punishing inclusion that sees Link raising and lowering water levels numerous times over, the game is still beloved by thousands of people, myself included.
But, as Rapp says, even if a game is considered ‘bad’, that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a lot of fun. “Deadly Premonition, now that is a bad game,” he laughs. “Objectively. Like the shooting is bad, the gameplay is bad, the game’s really janky. It’s glitchy, it’s too long. But, I love it! It is so unique and special, and the badness makes it more interesting.”
Rapp actually considers Deadly Premonition’s director Swery65 one of his inspirations. “To be clear, his new games are very good,” he says, “he is a genius.” Other influences within the industry include Binding of Isaac’s Edmund McMillen (Rapp actually has an idea for a game he describes as ‘Binding of Isaac meets soccer’. “I don’t know why, it is just in my head. I have made a prototype of that about six times – I really have to finish that one day!”).
“I watched Indie Game: The Movie when I was about 15, and was like, ‘I want to be him. When I grow up, I want to make weird video games.’ And, here I am. I guess I did it,” Rapp says. I ask Rapp if he considers Binding of Isaac to be a ‘bad’ game, and he ponders this for a moment. “The first Binding of Isaac is very well designed. And it changed the roguelike genre. I played 2000 hours of it. No, it’s not bad,” he replies. “But people say it’s bad because it was made in Flash. And, the game was so broken that it created new, interesting ways to play it. Like, you could duplicate items by moving in between rooms and you could do all these glitches to make yourself really powerful.
“And it felt like you’re casting black magic, because the game was so broken and weird. But, that made the game better. I played it so much. I really think there are a lot of things that are – on their face – bad, but that can make a video game actually good.”
Rapp believes the worst sin a game can commit is to be boring. “I say I am making the worst game of all time, but I actually think it is better than other games I have played,” he tells me. “The worst game is a game where you open it up and you play for 10 minutes, but it just doesn’t grab your attention. So you uninstall it. Yes, there is stuff out there that is poorly made, but there are lots of games out there that no one has even heard of, because they are so boring no one has covered them.” Rapp also has no time for games that require money after they have been purchased. “Anything like battle passes and microtransactions… none of that is fun,” he says.
Rapp believes some games and mechanics that have once been labelled ‘bad’ could in fact just need to find the right audience. “Factorio is a great example of this,” Rapp considers. “It’s so ridiculous – you are building a factory and mining materials, and it is like, who would buy that? Who would play Factorio? But now, it’s sold hundreds and thousands of copies. It is incredibly popular.
“With some of these games, Dark Souls is another that comes to mind, it can be like ‘I’m not going to spend 300 hours to get good at this game’. And then, six years later, it’s actually like, ‘yeah, this was worth it. I love this.’ It really just takes time for some of these games.”
But, what is Rapp’s end goal when it comes to Monster Sniper Season 3? Yes, he is making the worst video game of all time, but it is not something that is broken beyond playing. There would be no point in that. So, while he is pushing the limits of what many of us find enjoyable, this is still a game that can be experienced and eventually – in theory – completed.
“I am trying to keep a level of pleasantness to it,” Rapp says. “I am fighting to keep that in the game, because I want people to play it. Even though it is bad, that’s the joke… I still want people to play the game and find some sort of enjoyment. It would be so easy to make the game so unpleasant that you just close it after 30 seconds. I mean, I could add a 30 minute death cutscene, or make it run at 10 frames per second. That would make the game really bad, but I still really want that pleasantness level in there.”
“The big secret is, I don’t want to make a bad game,” he laughs. “I want to make a funny game… and this really comes across when I am live streaming. I am making a monster right now that shoots slime at you, and it makes you really slow and slippery. It’s a really frustrating monster. And, some people are like ‘Oh, you should make it so that when it hits you, you can’t move at all!’. But, I say ‘No, we can’t do that. It’s too much, it’s too much’ – I am always saying it’s too much. I can’t let myself make it too bad, I am always trying to make it fun and interesting.”
But even with this element of fun, Rapp knows Monster Sniper Season 3 is never going to be a game someone can play casually. “As a challenge, as something you can play to challenge yourself or speedrun, I think it could be very fun in that way,” he says. “There’s just so many bad things together, so it’s interesting to go through them all.”
Rapp wants to make at least 100 videos documenting Monster Sniper Season 3’s development, and then hopes that his game will make it to Awesome Games Done Quick in some form or another. “That’s my loftiest goal, I would love that to happen,” he tells me.
“But besides wanting to hit 100 videos, I am just seeing where it goes.”