PressSpotting: Ramblin' with Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw

Most often, it takes years of work and hundreds of bylines for most game reviewers to reach the point where they even start to get noticed by the average gamer. British-born, Australia-residing author, humorist, and game designer Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw got there virtually overnight. Since launching...

Most often, it takes years of work and hundreds of bylines for most game reviewers to reach the point where they even start to get noticed by the average gamer. British-born, Australia-residing author, humorist, and game designer Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw got there virtually overnight. Since launching the Web magazine The Escapist last August, his Zero Punctuation series of animated video reviews have gained a massive following for its rapid-fire deliver and razor-sharp send-ups of such games as Medal of Honor: Airborne, Halo 3, Guitar Hero III, and, most recently, Turok. He also runs his own blog, Fullyramblomatic.com

Last month, Croshaw's celebrity was given official recognition at the 2008 Game Developers Conference. He was commissioned to do both a series of comedic shorts for the Game Developers Choice Awards and a typically motormouthed recap of BioShock for 2K Boston head Ken Levine's keynote.

I chatted with Croshaw via e-mail about how he got start, his rise to fame, and what he thinks of the state of game journalism today. (Note: I've done freelance work for The Escapist in the past.)

PressSpotting: How did you come up with the idea of Zero Punctuation? How did The Escapist discover you?

Ben Croshaw: I'd been watching a lot of YouTube videos at the time and the idea occurred to make a video using no actual video-making equipment, with just still images and narration. The fast-talking thing came out kind of by accident. I'd recorded the voice in what I thought was a normal way, but when everyone commented on how fast it was, I deliberately kept that going in future reviews.

The Escapist discovered me on YouTube, as everyone else discovered me, and were the first of many organizations to offer me a contract. I went with them because they were the first and I had no idea I'd be so sought-after, but on reflection, I lucked out. The Escapist are good people.

PS: Are you surprised by how big Zero Punctuation has gotten so quickly? What do you think is the key to the appeal?

BC: I think the appeal lies in firstly that they're funny, and secondly because, as well as being funny, I genuinely try to make valid points. When you're trying to get a point across, humor is always a good midwife, as most political cartoonists would tell you.

PS: Whose reviews do you enjoy? What do you look for in a review?

BC: Growing up, I read a lot of game reviews in magazines, especially the British magazine PC Zone, and I found I always preferred reading the negative reviews because they tended to be funnier. So I enjoy reviews that do the same thing I do, I guess--humour and negativity. One of my favourite writers from PC Zone, Charlie Brooker, now has his own TV show which I've been watching diligently, and he's probably my biggest influence. As for Internet reviewers, my personal favourite is Noah Antwiler of Spoony Experiment. I challenge you to not enjoy his video review of The Thing.

PS: Your reviews tend to put a lot of focus on the annoying and/or just-plain-bad bits of games. Do you think the games press in general goes too easy on games? Are they just writing for a different audience than you are?

BC: I do think there is a tendency for most gaming press to go easy, especially on big-name titles, because I think there's a feeling that ensuring the success of really popular games helps the industry as a whole. I seem to remember growing up that whenever a console was dying out, the associated magazines would always start awarding the few remaining games with bigger and bigger scores... My own position is that we're living in the early days of a new art form, and that the cruellest possible thing you can do to an artist is tell them their work is perfect when it isn't.

PS: Being of England and Australia yourself, do you notice any differences between the American and foreign games press?

BC: There's definitely more of an emphasis on humor in English and Australian gaming media. PC Zone was generally big on this.

PS: Do you think developing your own games makes you a stronger reviewer? (photo credit: Australiangamer.com)

BC: I think so. As a designer myself, I have very clear ideas on what makes a game fun, and the ideal balance of story and gameplay. I tend to review gameplay design more than any other aspect, with original storytelling coming in second. I'm rarely one to be impressed by cool physics or amazing graphics (Crysis review notwithstanding) when the game is not essentially fun to play.

PS: What are your thoughts on the state of humor in the video game media, specifically in other game review videos found online?

BC: The trouble with the video game media is that it's mostly on the Internet, which has no quality control. Gaming humour on the Internet usually means gaming webcomics. And Penny Arcade is the only good gaming webcomic. Everything else is a rip-off of PA or just plain rubbish. Ctrl-Alt-Del is the Rubbish King, sitting proudly on a throne of rotting meat. As for other game review videos, I've already mentioned that Noah Antwiler is good, but I've been unimpressed by the other really popular ones. I watched one Angry Video Game Nerd once and that was enough for me, thank you. This is starting to sound really arrogant, isn't it?

PS: You've done a lot of written reviews on your personal site. Do you prefer straight writing or the video format, and why?

BC: They're actually very much alike, because Zero Punctuation has to start out as a straight written script before I can start animating it. A lot of my written reviews could probably pass for Zero Punctuation if I read it out loud and made funny pictures come up. So I guess I prefer straight writing to making videos, if only because it's less work.

PS: Is online video going to kill plain, written game journalism?

BC: Well, it's easier, more convenient and free, so it'll almost certainly kill print game journalism, if it hasn't already. As for online written game journalism, I have no idea. Maybe if everyone forgets how to read, which considering kids these days, is a possibility I wouldn't totally discount.

--Kyle Orland

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Discussion

138 comments
Amoric
Amoric

Yahtzee is the Jeremy Clarkson of video games, albeit more juvenile.

Shinkada
Shinkada

Also: "Skinn_E_G He either 1) takes a terrible game and points out obvious flaws or 2) takes AAA games and trashes them for shock value." This is a PERFECT example of the EXACT kind of people who don't like Yahtzee. The idiots who are so up their own rear ends that they only think he's being serious when he's bad-mouthing a game they don't like. I loved Assassin's Creed and Bioshock, and thuroughly enjoyed Devil May Cry 4. Was a SINGLE thing he said about them untrue? No.

Shinkada
Shinkada

"My own position is that we're living in the early days of a new art form, and that the cruellest possible thing you can do to an artist is tell them their work is perfect when it isn't." If only more game reviewers (very much so including you, Gamespot) would realize this. As for Yahtzee himself, frankly I don't care what he thinks of a game because he gives his honest viewpoint. We'd probably argue like all crap if we were to meet. My standards aren't quite as high as his (which is a REALLY scary thought) and I'm a little bit less cultured in the way of PC games (which may explain my adoration when it comes to, say, Bioshock). But, he speaks his opinions, and his opinions are logical. I didn't find No More Heroes fun because the battle system was too simplistic. He found it fun because he isn't too big on the complex fighting thing. Fair enough. I didn't mind DMC4 because the main weapon was extremely suited to my play style and I make use of how complex the fighting system can be. He doesn't care about that and probably wasn't fussed about (maybe didn't even know about ) the more technical side of the sword. Fair enough. Frankly, I wouldn't care if Yahtzee was a huge fan of my most-hated games franchise, Final Fantasy. If he could back it up (a hypothetical, since nobody can logically back up a love of Final Fantasy) then I'd respect that. So, screw all of Yahtzee's detractors. He's funny and he's right, if occasionally egocentric. But, everyone's guilty of that, so shut your hypocritical mouths.

linmukai
linmukai

I love this guy's work. After watching one of his reviews I grabbed a coke and a snack and proceeded to watch every other one i could find a link to on The Escapist. Great stuff and right on the money. I almost fell out of my chair laughing at times they were so funny. At the same time I don't recall any points being made that were not true in all their negative glory. Personally, I find this telling it like it is refreshing.

crisissuit3
crisissuit3

ah good old yahtzee. my first review was his assasins creed review that someone on my forums posted a link to. i enjoyed it and every other of his reviews. my brother personally doesnt like him for some pretty dumb reasons 1. he says he talks to fast and its hard to understand him 2. he shows no gameplay 3. no score 4. he only points out the bad things yea, my brother is pretty biased

Vaan99X
Vaan99X

I watch Yahtzee's reviews every Wednesday! He's hilarious! Even if he flames a good game he still makes me laugh, and it doesn't even matter which game it is either. "Our SSBB fights could have easily been re-simulated by hurling the controllers down a flight of stairs." ~Yahtzee~

Sheik_Yerbouti_
Sheik_Yerbouti_

"Look! There's someone jeering at our sacred cow! How dare he?" "Surely he's mad!" "He's not mad! He's a *genius*!" "Aye, he's the only one who dares to tell it like it is! He's the Mr. Dangerous of gaming!" etc. Why am I oddly reminded of the movie "Network"?

lt_crash
lt_crash

YAHTZEE OPENED MY EYES AND IM NO LONGER A BIASED REVIEWER AND I THINK YOU ALL NEED TO SUCK IT UP BECUASE HES BEING HARSH BUT HONEST ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE GAME IM RATHER HARSH MYSELF BUT NOT AS MUCH AS HE IS NOT THAT THATS A BAD THING

Tailscoolio
Tailscoolio

Zero punctuation is really funny and i'm glad that there's at least one video-game reviewer that doesn't award games with prizes for doing absolutely nothing at all. His "no-nonsense" attitude is nice to see nowadays and if you don't already watch "Zero punctuation" then now's a good tim to start...

poetsoul
poetsoul

I'm a big fan of this guy. He may be pretty harsh on games, but frankly, I look to Zero Punctuation for entertainment rather than reviews.

Android8675
Android8675

Yahtzee's reviews are awful.... because.... well... shoot... oh, got it, the credits at the end, typeface is too small. Hey, he said ya can't say an artists work is perfect. It's a disservice. I do love his Trilby games though.

bulletsword
bulletsword

wow, he's right. negative reviews ARE funnier. no joke about it.

isthisnametakn
isthisnametakn

I have to say that Yahtzee is probably the funniest reviewer out there. Even I laughed at the H3 video. However, I laugh less and less at each review. Also, I have to say that after I stop laughing I find it very easy to say, "F-ck 'em." He's insanely critical and he always nit-picks the tiniest things to death. He's also too opinionated. "I don't give a flying sh!t about MP." Well a lot of people do and many games are designed specificly with MP being the main focus. In saying that he's just given a possibly good game a bad score. He can also be half-assed. He'll slam a games plot but make no attempt to understand it.

Chaos13579
Chaos13579

I love Yahtzee. He's brilliant ;-;

TheFurryChicken
TheFurryChicken

I for one am a fan of ZP and Yahtzee. He amuses me. Reading many of these comments criticizing him, I can see your points. Yes, he nitpicks about everything, and I think that's what makes his reviews fun. He finds little nuances and exploits them. And he isn't ALL negative. He is mostly negative, granted, but he will give games credit where they are exemplary. For example, Crysis was a load of... well, you know... but the graphics were well done on the correct system. Yahtzee makes mention of both. He reviews to his tastes. Not everyone is a fanboy of FF, or drools when the next patch for WoW is announced. He makes this well known. And I would put partial thought into his reviews before buying a game, but like with everything, one source isn't going to cut it.

Foolz3h
Foolz3h

dannyodywer: He can write quality serious reviews as well. ;)

galduke
galduke

Gee, wow, Ctrl+Alt+Del really does suck. PA is about as funny as your average news paper funny on a weekday, but WOW, CAD was just crap.

ronnet
ronnet

His reviews are hilarious but the more I see form the actual person the more I get the feeling that he's a rather unpleasant person. Maybe him hating CAD, the only gamingcomedie that I laughed more at then his Zero Punctuation has a lot to do with it aswell.

vroenis
vroenis

I think the key is to not take them as serious reviews. I've disagreed fully with some of his comments, but that doesn't stop me from laughing heartily at them. He highlights things that aren't as good as they could be and expands them into something funny, which to be honest, is a really good way of providing constructive criticism. For as long as we're all laughing, the industry stands in good stead to greater perfect their products. When we all become angry and (perhaps even more) jaded, then we'll actually be at a point where we stop playing - and indeed paying for - games. I watch Zero Punctuation as a comedy show that I can laugh at, and will always play a game myself to get a true idea of its merrits; afterall, that's all a review is, the response of one person. Everyone will have their own experience of a product, hence all reviews should be taken with a healthy grain of salt.

rosen22
rosen22

Text based reviews will never die. because the review is written then orated. Great interview. didnt have to be a video interview to be entertaining and interesting zero punC is amazing

deadstarr
deadstarr

I think he is a funny guy, and his reviews are fun to listen to, and quick witted. I wouldn't ever change my mind about a game just from listening to him though, Part of his gig is ripping apart games in a comical way, so In a way I don't even see it as a game review at all. But still, glad to see an interview with him on here.

Skinn_E_G
Skinn_E_G

He either 1) takes a terrible game and points out obvious flaws or 2) takes AAA games and trashes them for shock value. He critizes the gaming industry for not being progressive, yet when changes are made (like health regen instead of health bars) he craps all over it calling any gamer who prefers those changes retarded. And yet what has he offered to the industry? nothing. Lets see, he hated Mass Effect for having too much story, Halo for being a multiplayer-centric game, Uncharted for being too much of an action adventure game, and Zelda for....staring Link? and yet people love him.

okassar
okassar

This guy is awesome,but,even though I don't even think they're really supposed to be,but his reviews aren't really credible,they're for hilarity and there might be some truth from what I've seen.In the Halo 3 review he talks fast lol,good stuff.But if he was to be credible in the review,maybe he needed to play the first 2 games or at least try to understand the game.But he didn't and that's part of why he's a funny guy in being so negative like that.

wytefang
wytefang

Don't find him terribly amusing at all. Also...in the immortal words of the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons....dumbest...name...ever.

sinister_id
sinister_id

This guy is funny, but he does usually point out aspects of games most other reviewers gloss over.

KittenToes
KittenToes

I love it on wednesdays when you remember there will be a new review!! they are sooo funny!

DrKill09
DrKill09

Zero Punction put my thoughts on Halo 3 best "It is not a "bad" game, it's just average, run of the mill, boiler plate." I'm glad he finally got noticed on a gaming news site, but why have Gamespot never mentioned the Angry Video Game Nerd? He's been around for over twice as long. I like both equally, I'm just sayin.

betatester
betatester

dannyodwyer: "Id just appreciate a more balance oppinion sometimes." That would defy the whole point, you go to watch his reviews knowing he's obviously going to look for the weak spots in games and pay the crap out of them to everyones amusement. If you want relatively balanced reviews that's why you come to sites like this. It's his angle, being an **** is great as long as your' e a funny **** Maddox anyone?

BringTheBlood
BringTheBlood

i dont think hes that great, kinda over rated if you ask me. we can all bash games, its not like hes doing anything new. and i would never listen to him when i was thinking of buying a game.

F4ll3n_1
F4ll3n_1

I cant say I agree with what he says about online video making and online journalism killing print journalism. If you just have a quick search, you can find some figures for Future publishings profit increase over the last year, and its by no means small. The thing is, people do still go out and buy magazines; I do, it gives me something to do. Plus I cant look at Gamespot on the bog (I dont have a laptop). Even when they have access to online journalism....people still buy magazines because...they just do, simply.

Sephiroth99000
Sephiroth99000

Challenge me to not enjoy Noah Antwiler's review of The Thing? Challenge met. Not funny at all. But Zero Punctuation is. Best damn reviews ever.

allgeorfedup
allgeorfedup

"Apocolypse_Cow "Ctrl-Alt-Del is the Rubbish King, sitting proudly on a throne of rotting meat." I agree with this whole heartedly. And yet, I continue to read that comic. The question fast becomes, "why?" Dude, wow, i was just thinking the same thing, i think CAD has made me smile like,once? in the last year. And i don't know why, but ive always gotten the feeling that the guy that makes it is probably an @$$hole in real life. (not to mention most of his opinions on what games are good and what games arent are usually pretty @$$ backwards)

Onmi-SIash
Onmi-SIash

He seems to pompous. I guess only he knows what a good game is, we're just stupid. With that said, I can't wait till he reviews Brawl. That would be hilarious.

lemaclmc
lemaclmc

Congratulations on your success! You deserve it with your wonderfully entertaining and honest reviews.

ultima_weapon05
ultima_weapon05

Noah Antwiler is so funny, I urge anyone who hasn't seen him in action to do so. I'm glad Yahtzee seems to agree with this!

Nkenobi
Nkenobi

I used to like his reviews; I was into them almost from when they started. However, as of late, I have gotten rather bored of them. His reviews are all the same and his points are drifting farther and farther away from the truth in the name of humor.

phase_1337
phase_1337

I'm personally a fan of Zero Punctuation but the whole "taking the piss out of every game" whether it be good or bad is starting to seriously annoy me. Sure i still get a laugh out of it, but in the end all the review blogs are becoming more and more critical and not actually even supporting the good games. I say take it for face value, have a laugh, then find a more constructive review.

smitacular
smitacular

I thought this column was supposed to be controversial and you were going to blow the lid off the gaming media. This was just a lame interview.

jeivindr
jeivindr

I'm not sure this was at all necessary, most of this stuff you can read it at The Escapist. Plus, doesn't it feel like weird and out of place? Like when you see Radiohead on MTV.

Tacticus1
Tacticus1

I never take what he says seriously...especially since he didn't recognise halo:CE as one of the greatest 'gun w*nks' ever. He also throws GoW in with a group of FPSs...he only focuses on the problems of games and very very rarely shows any ounce of intelligence in his comments...i recently just stopped bothering looking them out. If you read my post, really quickly, you have something of an equivalent to one of his clips.

The_Symphony
The_Symphony

Spoony got a shout out! His video reviews, of Final Fantasy 8 in particular, are awesome. And CAD got lambasted, which is even more awesome.

jakob_187
jakob_187

@dannyodwyer: ARE YOU KIDDING?! You want a MORE BALANCED opinion? YAHTZEE IS THE BALANCED OPINION!!! Yahtzee shoots it straight. When all the reviewers and kiddies out there were dropping loads of purple sherbet in their pants over Halo 3, he was the one person willing to say it sucked...AND IT DOES! Halo has been bad since day one, and the only reason the console market has grasped onto it and leeched the marrow from its bones is because the console market just doesn't get any good FPS games like the PC crowd does. Yeah yeah, sure...go ahead and say "well, CoD 4". That franchise started on PC...where it belongs. "Well, Bioshock"...and again, started on PC with System Shock series. "Oh, well, there's still Killzone"...and if that's your basis of a GOOD FPS game for consoles...then I would suggest a .357 and a hollow point. o_o Moreover, he said he LIKED Burnout Paradise. He did, however, point out the glaringly big problems (a lack of on-box multiplayer modes was something he didn't mention, which honestly hurt the game tremendously). He also said he LIKED Assassin's Creed and Bioshock, as well as Super Paper Mario and Super Mario Galaxy. However, where people are going to praise at least 3 of those to no end (people have that damned mixed opinion on AC)...he's going to get to the point and cut out the BS! Thank you, Yahtzee, for making popular what me and my crew used to do all the time at BonusStage and could never get recognized for. I'll stay tuned week after week as long as you don't start sucking.

HardcoreBunni
HardcoreBunni

I have a friend of mine who watches Zero Punctuation every week and gets all his gaming information(or 90% of it) from him. So every time I talk to him about a game, he says stuff about it that make it seem like we're talking about different games. Yahtzee is very funny, I laughed my a** off when I saw his Halo 3 review, but no one should take him seriously. He's like the gaming's Micheal Moore, but he doesn't have any facts.

HardcoreBunni
HardcoreBunni

I have a friend of mine who watches Zero Punctuation every week and gets all his gaming information(or 90% of it) from him. So every time I talk to him about a game, he says stuff about it that make it seem like we're talking about different games. Yahtzee is very funny, I laughed my a** off when I saw his Halo 3 review, but no one should take him seriously. He's like the gaming's Micheal Moore, but he doesn't have any facts.

john1912
john1912

Wierd I stumbled onto zero punctuation last night, didnt know there was a GS article.