Seeing the ESBR’s rating description of Lost Planet 2, as always happens when something mentions moving body jiggly-bits in videogames, led to me immediately screaming “UNREAL FLESH ENGINE!” into the nearest relevant comments thread. It occurs to me now that a lot of people won’t be familiar with this story. That was never the plan. It was supposed to go global.
The scene is Develop Conference, in Brighton, last July. Develop is the UK’s answer to the Game Developers’ Conference that occurs in various other parts of the world. It’s the leading UK games conference, at which an assortment of industry luminaries gather to share tips on game development and show off their latest work, and journalists get to probe and press and see cool new stuff to report on. The most interesting observation I made at Develop was nothing to do with games – it was that its attendees were very obviously split into three categories. There were the designers and developers: smartly dressed, very cool, many wearing sunglasses, meandering around quite rightly looking like they owned the place. Then there were game design students: wide-eyed, eager, networking like crazy. Finally, the journalists, who mainly spent day one organising parties and day two recovering from them.
So, clearly, myself and the people I knew there were basically all in the final category. And the scene is day two, at lunch time, nursing hangovers while listening to the One Life Left folks recording a podcast.
We need a bit of fun. Something to liven us up. Simon Byron of OLL and Barrington Harvey has a plan. At an agreed time, the assortment of games journalists in the room are going to make up a complete lie of a games-related story, and try to get it on Kotaku. The rule: we’re only allowed to do this via Twitter.
We brainstorm. If we want the story to go global and hit the biggest relevant blog on the planet, it needs to be something big. We start thinking about who the most famous person at the conference is. We decide it’s probably Epic’s boss-man Mark Rein. He’s been spotted sauntering about, despite not having been “officially” there. Brilliant. It progressed. If he’s not there on “official” business, then perhaps he could be there to showcase something in secret. What could it be? Got to be something to do with the Unreal Engine. It’s all he ever talks about. A brand-new Unreal Engine, perhaps? No, too predictable. Too plausible. This needed to be something ridiculous. There needed to be no way in hell anyone would ever publish the story, which would make it all the more hilarious when Kotaku did.
I forget who, but someone has the best idea ever. It’s an update to the current Unreal tech, that adds realistic physics to body parts. The Unreal Flesh Engine.
We were set. So, at just before 3PM, we all logged into Twitter and slowly started to post messages. We were outside Mark Rein’s hotel suite, we said. We’d all just been collared individually by the conference’s PR people and told we’d been invited to see some new technology from Epic. We were all waiting outside, and no one seemed to know what it was about. Then we let our Tweets go dead for 15 minutes or so. And then we started posting cryptic messages.
“…This can’t be real. Seriously? Realistic breast physics?”
“Well, it has to be said, those boobs really did look real.”
“I can’t believe what they’re doing to the Unreal Engine. A step too far?”
And finally, “Well, folks. The Unreal Flesh Engine is the most surreal thing of the show so far.”
It nearly worked. It felt so close.
People were replying to our Tweets almost immediately, wanting to find out more information. People were Re-Tweeting pretty heavily. A buzz started to grow around the conference. In the press office, people were asking about it. “Have you just been to see Mark Rein? What’s this Flesh Engine stuff about?” And then, spectacularly, Bastion PR (who were in charge of publicity for the conference) posted about it on their own Twitter feed, right alongside all the real news from the event. We were in! Surely! It was going to go huge!
It never did. A couple of hours later, the interest had dried up. I don’t even think anyone caved. I just think it never quite buzzed up enough to truly work. Or maybe Kotaku just have a little more common sense than we’d hoped. Either way, no game blog (to my knowledge) ever picked up on the story. Mark Rein did, though. He wandered into the Opinion Jam rants session later on, and immediately started asking around, searching out for the culprit. I don’t think he ever did find out. He was good natured about it, though, and laughed along. I met him shortly afterwards, and found him to be utterly lovely. I even felt a pang of guilt.
So no, nobody ever picked up on it. However, Googling just now to be sure, I do find this thread on Quarter To Three, which seems to suggest we had a good 24 hours of people being at least intrigued to know whether we were just making it all up. Which is fabulous! Next year, we’ll have to aim bigger. We’ll manage to piss some people right off, we will.