25 - Pimps at Sea
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It began as an impromptu April Fools' Day gag, but Pimps at Sea was the joke that kept on giving. This is the story of how a chance encounter on the streets of Chicago led to a semi-annual tradition, an industry/fan-favourite insider joke, and a cult classic multiplayer game.
As you'll hear in the episode, Pimps at Sea went through many iterations and received several "development" updates on the way to defining much of the design for Xbox 360 game Age of Booty. You can find the original website archived on the Wayback Machine and see a few highlights from the years that followed below.
The highlight of the initial joke was arguably the "behind the scenes" video, which you can watch on YouTube via this embed:
In 2002, they had pimped-out grunts...
And 2003 brought the special Pimp Controller with PimpWheel and PimpStick, as well as the PimpCom headset, for those wanting the true Pimps at Sea experience.
There was a movie, too.
The PimpsVille Facebook game was a delightful return to form in 2011. Be sure to check out the press release with a hilarious Pete Parsons quote, which is still available on Bungie's website.
Thanks as always to my supporters on Patreon — especially my $10+ backers Vivek Mohan, Simon Moss, Wade Tregaskis, Eric Zocher, and Seth Robinson. If you'd like to become a supporter, for as little as $1 a month, head to my Patreon page and sign up. Or for one-off donations you can use paypal.me/mossrc.
Please remember to tell other people about the show, and to leave a review by following the links at ratethispodcast.com/ltvg. For more episodes on humorous moments in gaming history, check out Wololo, Bug Salad, and Hogs of War.
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[Welcome to The Life & Times of Video Games, a documentary and narrative-style podcast about video games and the video game industry — as they were in the past, and how they came to be the way they are today. My name is Richard Moss, and this is episode 25, Pimps at Sea.]
VIDEO EXCERPT: When they find out about this one, everyone’s going to forget about Halo. So when they make a movie out of this, we got people — [SECOND VOICE] Yeah, we have toy figures like lined up…
Through all the lockdowns and quarantines and spiralling tolls of coronavirus victims around the world, you may not have even noticed this year when April 1st passed with barely a whimper. April Fools’ Day is cancelled, I saw one person joke. The world right now is far weirder and scarier than any April Fools’ pranks or gags could possibly be. So why bother?
And I’m sure some of you will be thinking ‘good riddance’ to that. Many of the most successful online pranks in recent years have been awfully mean-spirited, after all, and there’s frankly enough meanness on the internet on the other 364 days a year that we don’t need a special day for it.
But there was a time, in what seems now so long ago, at least in the video game industry’s corner of the world, when April Fools’ Day was about having fun. It was about jokes, whimsy, and satire, and just trying to make people laugh.
Case in point: our story today. A game — or more specifically a fake game — called Pimps at Sea.
Matt Soell: Hi, I’m Matt Soell, and from 1995 to 2003 I was a community guy and…other things at Bungie. *laughs*
We’ll come back to Matt shortly. First, a quick history lesson: Bungie Software had built its reputation making high-quality computer games, first just for Mac, then for both Mac and Windows, with deep storylines and advanced 3D technology and a smattering of slightly-twisted humour. Bungie’s Marathon and Myth franchises were widely recognised as being among the best in their respective genres: first-person shooters and real-time strategy and tactics. And in June 2000, after a decade of independence, they’d been acquired by Microsoft to make games for the Xbox — and specifically to make Halo, their next game, an Xbox exclusive.
Many Bungie fans cried out like it was the end of days, a travesty of apocalyptic proportions that would surely ruin their favourite games. Big evil Microsoft couldn't be trusted not to dismantle everything that made Bungie special.
In reality, Bungie and Microsoft's union had plenty of teething pains, but the management at Bungie went to great lengths to protect their team from interference during the transition. And so within Bungie it was very much business as usual, which meant lots of jokes and a fair amount of infantile humour.
Our story here begins in March of 2001, around eight months before the Xbox launched with Halo as its tentpole title, when Matt Soell was part of a team at Bungie tasked with being the bridge between Bungie and the denizens of the Internet. Which besides its serious functions also meant having a laugh or sharing jokes with their fan community wherever and whenever possible. Hence this Pimps at Sea thing.
Matt Soell: We were looking for an idea for an April fool's joke. And I'd had the Pimps at Sea idea a couple of year's previous, when Bungie was still in Chicago. I was walking through the city across the bridge over the Chicago River on State Street. And I happened to glance down and there are these businesses, like these boat charter things that you can get on and go for a ride on the Chicago River.
And there were these two couples that were getting on one of these boats, and they were all dressed up to the nines. I mean, they were just very gaudy. And the man in particular had these incredibly colorful suits. And I looked down and it just — the phrase flashed into my head, Pimps at Sea. And I didn't know what to do with it, but I thought it was hilarious.
And so the next day when I went into work, I was telling everyone, 'Hey, I had this idea yesterday: Pimps at Sea. What do you think?' And everyone just kind of stared at me like I was nuts. But, you know, a couple of years later, when we were looking for an April fool's joke, I remember we were sitting around the cafeteria at Microsoft, sort of banging ideas back and forth. And I remember saying, ‘well, we could do Pimps at Sea. We could announce that we're doing Pimps at Sea as an actual game.’ And I remember Max Hoberman, who was the head of what was called the online team at that point. You know, he was like, yes, that is the one, that's where we're going. *laughs*
And so that's how that got started. That was the moment when we decided to do it.
User interface and webpage designer Dave Candland was there, too, and he filled me in on a bit more of the detail of Pimps at Sea's beginning:
(For more, including the tale of how Pimps at Sea was (not?) made, what Matt Soell and Dave Candland think of the success of their joke, and how it led to Certain Affinity's (real game) Age of Booty, you'll have to either just listen to the episode or sign up as a supporter on Patreon — everyone who pledges $3 or more a month gets access to full episode transcripts [amongst other things].)