"So Turok has this grumpy friend who looks like a cross between Gimli, son of Glóin, and Popeye the Sailor Man and whose voice indicates that he is a) incapable of human emotion and b) a recent victim of cranial drill intrusion. Out of curiosity I went on IMDB to learn what amateur dramatics wannabe voiced this gobshite and found that to be none other than RON FUCKMOTHERING PERLMAN?! A Ron Perlman, I can only assume, who realised early on what kind of dross he was working with and vowed to bring this across in his performance and if Ron Perlman thought Turok was shit who are you to argue? Did you ever warm the frozen hearts of audiences worldwide in City Of Lost Children? NO? WELL, SHUT UP THEN."
Zero Punctuation is an ongoing series of short videogame review videos which leapt more or less fully formed from the forebrain of Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw on July 24, 2007 when he submitted this video to YouTube. The blurb beside it describes it as "a short experimental film using only recorded speech and static images" and this sums it up adequately; it is a combination of a very rapidly-delivered audio track of Yahtzee himself reviewing the Playstation 3 demo of The Darkness and an only-slightly-less-rapid sequence of still images illustrating each of his points.
The initial video was successful enough that in August 2007 Yahtzee put up an additional video explaining that he had been comissioned by The Escapist to create a new video review for them every Wednesday. This he has now been doing for some months and the full list can be found here. The format only underwent very minor revisions: opening titles and closing credits were added; split-second pauses between sentence clauses were now edited out of Yahtzee's voice track for a yet faster delivery; and the "Zero Punctuation" title was introduced for the first time.
None of this has actually told you anything about the videos themselves.
Zero Punctuation has become astoundingly popular by catching the attention of the idle videogame-loving internet user in a number of ways:
Accent. Yahtzee is an Australia-dwelling Briton with a pleasantly listenable British accent and excellent diction. I, for one, could listen to him all day, and have been.
SPEEEEEED. The typical videogame-loving internet user is an impatient and angry individual who considers two hundred words to be a "long article" and will click away if a video takes more than one and a half seconds to finish buffering. Zero Punctuation caters to this demographic by cramming hard information into the viewer's gullet faster than any other review in any journalistic organ in any medium on the face of the planet throughout history. Yahtzee speaks substantially faster than I can comfortably read and the montage of images accompanying the voiceover is not only demonstrative of his points but loaded with visual gags of its own. I am deadly serious when I say that nowhere else on Earth have you EVER been able to get more information in less time and here in the Space Year 2008 that takes some doing.
Visual style. ZP is not animated but takes the form of an anarchic PowerPoint presentation mostly taking place on a Simpsons Yellow backdrop with Yahtzee using black and white stylised cartoon men to illustrate himself, player characters, baddies and his many colourful metaphors. There are occasional bursts of white text on Screen-Of-Death Blue. There is no game footage and games themselves are represented by anthropomorphised game boxes with white blobby hands and feet, but the point gets across and it's funny and distinctive and memorable and unlike anything currently available elsewhere.
Bile. Yahtzee is a jaded and foul-mouthed gamer and it's a very rare game which can earn even a grudging thumbs-up from him. He explicitly acknowledges that it is far more entertaining for everyone involved when he focuses on the subject game's negative points but there is a deeper message here: for most of the last two decades the majority of videogame review outlets have been sponsored by the manufacturers of those same games and as a result have come to rate games on a drastically warped percentage scale where anything below 80% is apparently unplayable. ZP by comparison is relentlessly negative and offers no score whatsoever.
Humour. Rather than take the Wikipedian path of deconstructing and thus utterly destroying the joke all I will do is point you at the ZP quotes below. Yahtzee follows the footsteps of such giants as Amiga Power, PC Zone and Digitiser: entertaining writing first, gaming second.
But what this all adds up to is a less tangible but far more important product and that is honesty. Yahtzee comes across as a guy in an abusive and paradoxical relationship with his videogames: he attacks their flaws with such venom only because he loves them and wants them to be better.
Zero Punctuation leverages an extremely powerful formula and the real surprise is not that it works but that it's never been tried before. This time next year there will doubtless be a dozen imitators, and would that necessarily be a bad thing?
"There's a final boss sequence in Condemned 1 in which you run through a dark claustrophobic labyrinth with a serial killer in hot pursuit. It's really intense and genuinely terrifying and part of what makes it so effective is that it takes place in a normal house like oh say for example YOURS!! Right down to the psychotic serial killer who lives under your bed and is standing right behind you right now but don't look 'cause that'll really piss him off! Condemned 2 by contrast ends on a stupid sci-fi tower thing resembling something the Combine would throw together if they were all drunk and a piss-easy final boss fight in which you win by shouting at him so hard his BRAIN EXPLODES. I WISH I WAS FUCKING KIDDING."
"I hadn't played a Sim City game since the very first Sim City on the Amiga which I was never any good at. I remember wondering why no one ever wanted to live in the nice houses I built next to the nuclear power station. It made sense to me: it would mean the electricity wouldn't have to travel so far and as such would be less tired and more efficient. I also had difficulty grasping the notion that further-away buildings had to be connected to the power station with wires. I just assumed that the little flashing lightning bolt icon meant that the people in the house were listening to AC/DC."
"Of course, with amazing graphics comes the inhumane treatment of processors. Crysis is apparently designed for some hypothetical future computer from space."
"Quake wasn't exactly easy on the eye. Which was your favourite level, the brown castle, the greenish-brown temple or the other brown castle?"
Zero Punctuation: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation
Yahtzee's website: http://www.fullyramblomatic.com
For best results read this writeup out loud at very high speed