Ichiro Lambe names his games how like unconventional parents might name their children. “My wife has an interesting thought about naming babies,” said the founder and president of Dejobaan Games, a curious name itself. “Doesn’t it make more sense to meet the child and learn a little more about his or her personality before naming them? I think the same is true of games.” Through this method, Lambe and his team have become the proud parents of Elegy For A Dead World, 1… 2… 3… KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like An Ugly Baby), and AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!—A Reckless Disregard For Gravity.
All media have their share of silly or awkwardly titled works. Just look at the upcoming movie/Supreme Court case Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. Video games are no different. But lately, for every wonderfully nonsensical Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance or Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, there are a dozen Medal Of Honor: Warfighters and Battleborns, bringing dull, focus-tested titles to store shelves. Fortunately, with their artistic freedom, developers outside the major publishing system are keeping hope alive for weird video games names.
Consider the shooter Drunken Robot Pornography, another Dejobaan game. “Before we really even started development of that, the name Giant Robot Pornography really jumped into our heads,” Lambe said. This runs counter to how the studio typically chooses titles after getting a better sense of how the game plays. “It turned into Drunken Robot Pornography because there was a little bit of alcohol involved.” But given the game’s story featuring a homicidal robot bartender and its 12 “mechanized centerfold” allies, at least no one can accuse the game of being misleading.
Naming a product initially seems like the most obvious distillation of art versus commerce—pick something that will sell well or stay true to your heart. But Lambe doesn’t believe it’s that simple. “I think artistic freedom and marketability can largely be the same,” he said, citing the increased press coverage and player interest Dejobaan’s games receive because of their ridiculous names. “Go into Steam Greenlight and crazy titles are a lot more common.” And speaking of Steam, Lambe said Drunken Robot Pornography’s peculiar moniker is what ultimately sold Valve on the game: “I was sitting at a table at an event with them, and I’m like, ‘Hey guys, I want to pitch you my next game. It’s called Drunken Robot Pornography. Here’s what it’s about. Do you want it?’ And they laughed and said, ‘Yeah sure.’ So I think that did its job.”
Along with the laughs, these titles represent Dejobaan’s creative ethos. “Games often, historically, have taken themselves so seriously. You get names like Doom, Modern Warfare, and Final Fantasy,” Lambe said. But his works return to a time when Donkey Kong and Princess Tomato In The Salad Kingdom were perfectly acceptable names. “We have a lot of fun developing games,” he said. “So if you see our titles in a list of other games that are kind of boring, I hope it’s eye-catching because it conveys the joy that we’ve experienced while creating them.” However, he slyly notes, “In some ways, we just want to see what we can get away with.”
The best weird game names aren’t just some non-sequiturs slapped on the box, however. Like any good title, they accurately describe the work—just in a more amusing—or explicit—way. In Momma Can I Mow The Lawn, players mow the lawn for their mother. In Aqua Teen Hunger Force Zombie Ninja Pro-Am, players go golfing and fight undead shinobi with the cast of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. And in The Magical Realms Of Tír na nÓg: Escape From Necron 7—Revenge Of Cuchulainn: The Official Game Of The Movie—Chapter 2 Of The Hoopz Barkley SaGa, the upcoming sequel to the 2008 role-playing game parody Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden, the creators promise players will experience everything that name implies.
“It was going to be this murder mystery, and Cuchulainn is tormenting you. Because he’s Irish, he’s in the mystical realms of Tír na nÓg,” said Brian Raum of Barkley developer Tales Of Game’s. As he breaks down the title, he explains how the game uses the mythological figure Cuchulainn in the same way Final Fantasy appropriates deities like Ifrit and Shiva. The game even has a Square Enix-esque alternate title, Barkley 2: Queklain No Vengeant, for a hypothetical Japanese release. “It’s all terribly mispronounced.”
Liam Raum, Brian’s brother and fellow Barkley mastermind, continues the explanation. “You’re on the spaceship Necron 7, which is actually a giant space ziggurat,” he said. “The original Barkley ends on Necron 5, so we leave the player to decide what happened on Necron 6.” Along with establishing the larger scope of the Barkley trilogy, “SaGa” reflects the team’s love of Square Enix’s SaGa series.
While the first Barkley adventure was largely composed of unoriginal art and a title that was barely changed from an existing game, Tales Of Game’s wants Barkley 2 to better showcase its own unique ideas. In addition to referencing obscure Power Rangers knock-offs, the new title demonstrates just how many crazy concepts they’ve come up with during the six years of development. “The process of making the first game was fun because the whole universe of it was already set up by the inception.” Brian said. “The title Shut Up And Jam is absurd to begin with, and then with Gaiden added on the end, the name kind of writes the game itself. But I think this second one is more rewarding because of the amount of work that’s required to flesh out the title and make it make sense.”
Some of the sequel’s ideas even predate the first game, which first featured the title as a final tease. However, this occasionally creates some hurdles as the team remembers gags that may have outlived their shelf life. “We wanted to make the game title as long as possible, and King Kong for 360 came out,” explains Brian. “Official Game Of The Movie was a cutting edge joke in 2008, but now… it’s nostalgic.”
But while Tales Of Game’s crams titles with as much information as possible, for a developer like Sophie Houlden, sometimes no meaning is the most meaningful thing of all. “Runcible Sky was actually a name I came up with that had nothing to do with the game,” she said in an email, describing her meditative interactive-fiction game on life and death. “I just wanted something that sounded interesting and maybe had a certain feeling but that didn’t mean anything itself, so it’s not giving anything away.”
With games like Lesbianage, Bang Bang Bang!, and Am I Happy?, Houlden embraces the artistic freedom her independence grants. “It’s just another place for me to be creative,” she said. “My goals in picking a name aren’t something that is marketable. It doesn’t need to be focus tested or appeal to a certain demographic. It’s just me naming my personal work.” Houlden’s games tend to be more esoteric, which provides some benefits. “No game I make has a chance of being a ‘hit,’” she wrote. “So why worry about if what I call it will have any effect on that?”
Sometimes she even uses her titles to have some fun at the player’s expense. “I do like Dinosaurs Didn’t Have Keyboards…But if They Did, They Wouldn’t Break (Like Yours Is About To) because it’s a nuisance to type, by virtue of being very long, and I like being a nuisance sometimes.”
Titles aren’t just weird for weird’s sake (unless that’s the point of the game itself). Rather, they provide a lens through which creators magnify the core of their art. For Shawn Allen, developer of the upcoming “tactical brawler” Treachery In Beatdown City, that means expressing some complex, radical themes. “The game is supposed to invoke action tropes, and I wanted it to sound like a game that could have come out in the ’70s or the ’80s because the art style was going to be that way,” he said. Allen, a former Rockstar Games employee, looked at names like Liberty City and Vice City for inspiration on what to nickname his game’s East Fulton location. “It says, ‘Oh yeah, this is a not-so-good, violent place.’ There’s a deeper lore to the city,” he said.
As for the treachery, Allen said this part of the title describes the broader urban violence, racial tension, and vague political paranoia the game seeks to capture—the same climate that defined his New York City childhood. “People thought my mom was a cop because she was a white lady living on the block in a Latin neighborhood,” he said. “That’s what the ’80s and the ’70s in New York looked like. People see someone and they don’t trust them. They’d see me, this weird darker-skinned kid walking with his mom, and they’re like, ‘Who are these people?’ My mom was poor, but people still thought she was this encroaching force.”
Despite its retro look and feel, the game has themes that resonate today. “Some of the characters that you fight—they have this entitlement,” Allen said. “There’s weird racial discrimination or racial profiling… It’s something that’s happened to me even in the games industry. I get mistaken for someone else.” The ambiguity is the point. The title conveys that, even if its earlier name—Punching Until The End Of The World—is pretty entertaining too. “Unsettling stuff happens on a lot of different levels. What is the treachery going on in Beatdown City? It’s presidential kidnapping. It’s gentrification. It’s a lack of trust. Paranoia.”
Silly or serious, brief or bloated, these names show how much room for creativity there is outside the narrow purview of blockbuster games. And for anyone concerned about possible pretentiousness, know that, whatever their other intentions are, the people behind games called Monster Loves You!, Pinapple22, and The Sewer Goblet: The Wu-Tang Clan And The Wu-Tang Baby are very much in on the joke. “Part of it is to be kind of stupid and long,” Allen said. “People are like, ‘But that fails the elevator pitch!’ I don’t care.”