Old Man Murray was a video game humor website popular with a significant segment of the PC gaming population around the late nineties and the Turn of the Millennium. Noted for being unbelievably offensive and also unbelievably funny, this no-frills website (white text on a black background, a few screenshots and basically nothing else) was disproportionately influential, both in the world of game development and the world of internet comedy.
OMM was co-written by Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek, who formed a kind of hyper-offensive comedy duo comparable to other web comedy duos of the time. These two were joined by a fictional third character, the site's time-traveling mascot, Marvin. Together, they tore apart bad games and lampooned the cliches and foolish design decisions that ran rampant in PC game design of the day. The site never took itself particularly seriously, and all information offered was understood to be heavily biased toward Rule of Funny (see the Freedom: First Resistance review where the game loses points because Erik's monitor dies in the middle of playing, and he blames the game).
The site was surprisingly influential, with industry bigwigs such as Valve Software's Gabe Newell claiming to consider the site's opinion when designing a game. OMM was also among the first successful humor websites, and had a broad-ranging influence. Many of the internet's most renowned comedy acts were contemporaries of OMM (Seanbaby, Bad Candy, Fat Chicks In Party Hats, etc.) or were directly influenced by the site (David Wong, current editor-in-chief of Cracked.com, claims to have started writing because of OMM, and Tycho of Penny Arcade has called Erik Wolpaw the greatest video game humorist of all time.)
Sadly, the site stopped updating in mid 2001, although it remains online for archival purposes. (Note: Definitely NSFW.) The story does have a happy ending, though, as both Chet and Erik were hired on by Valve Software and have jobs writing in the games industry. Erik Wolpaw in particular has become something of a game dialogue writing legend.
This website provides examples of:
- Accentuate the Negative: But of course, this is an internet comedy review site.
- April Fools' Day: On April 1, 1999, Old Man Murray sold out to a Japanese whaling company and became Salaryman Murray
- Attract Mode: As part of a series of articles on viking game Rune, Erik comments on a picture that is clearly not of either of them, claiming that the small child in the picture is Chet, and that he reviewed Rune "how Chet plays every game. He watches the attract mode, fiddles with his "eemcas" controller and squeals."
- Brick Joke: The site's longer articles were often intricately woven together with running gags, and something mentioned on Page 1 could come back to be a punchline at the end of Page 5.
- Catharsis Factor: One of their favorite reasons to like a game. They once wrote that they didn't understand the general infatuation with thinking as recreation as a sign of intelligence, and that they want to play "the action man's Robotron - a game like Robotron but with much less thinking."
- Constructive Criticism: Surprisingly offered up with some frequency, in between all of the hateful, hateful jabs. Gabe Newell was once quoted to the effect that his development team was instructed to think "What would Old Man Murray think of this?" and then get back to work. (paraphrasing)
- Crate Expectations: In fact, this site invented the infamous "Start to Crate" ratings system here, calling it "the world's first completely unbiased review methodology". They assert that the first crate encountered in a game "represents the point where the developers ran out of ideas".
- Easter Egg:
- 8.8: One of Chet's pet peeves was developers throwing tantrums when they received only almost-perfect reviews instead of the perfect 10s they felt entitled to, likening it to a smart girl in high school complaining about getting a B+ on a test.
- Eldritch Abomination: A running joke is that Roberta Williams, creator of the King's Quest series of games, is actually some kind of horrifying super-Satan, responsible for all the world's suffering.
- Electronic Entertainment Expo: The team did all sorts of weird stuff for E3 updates, most of which had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual show. They would claim to go on magical adventures with Dolemite or pretend to have been in a traveling band in the 70s.
- Four Point Scale: Chet makes a huge point of lambasting this during his review of Rune, pointing out all of the very high marks given in reviews that read like they didn't like the game.
- Gag Penis: "Now, I'm not a big man. In fact, I'm a small man attached to a large man's penis..."
- Game-Breaking Bug: Ruthlessly called out in games like Daikatana and Ultima IX.
- Game Mod: The site was most active during the golden age of mods for PC shooters, so they actually reviewed several of them.
- Gameplay Derailment: All of their "strategy guides" for various games are more about dicking around, trying to get reactions out of the game's characters or other players than actually playing the game.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Obviously not a concern for the website itself, but Chet wrote a satirical article on how to properly do so in light of Paul Steed's bombastic public persona.
- Indie Game: Erik actually made a couple of them, Cratemaster and Alien Vs. Child Predator. The latter actually got him a job in the games industry somehow.
- Media Watchdog: A feature wherein they were questioned by members of the Secret Service in the wake of 9/11 due to some of their... edgier jokes about harm to certain public figures. Much of the account is obviously fabricated, but how much is anybody's guess. We know that it was based on a real occurrence, and that's about it.
- Most Gamers Are Male: They gleefully make fun of this attitude, and then go on to gleefully make fun of people who get too uptight about this attitude, in particular James Wagner Au, who had the audacity to call out the crassness of E3 Booth Babes while writing for Salon magazine in the days when they basically had a glorified pornography section.
- Murder Simulators: In one of the site's more oddly introspective pieces, in the wake of 9/11 Erik laments that, contrary to all of the hype and moralizing, he realized that video games had not actually taught him how to shoot a gun or do anything useful at all, and would not help him defend himself or anyone else in case of catastrophe.
- Note From Ed: Both Chet and Erik would insert these into each other's articles from time to time, although Erik seemed to have more of a liking for it.
- Obvious Beta: Erik called out Ultima IX for being one of these, calling it "...a game in which programming errors battle each other gladiator-style for the privilege of crashing my computer..."
- Rule of Fun: Given the games they claimed to enjoy (notably Giants: Citizen Kabuto) and their general reviewing standards, they were big proponents of this rule. Everything doesn't have to make sense all the time or be super grim or gritty or crazy; just fun.
- Rummage Sale Reject: In their odd review of Asheron's Call they dress their character in as ridiculous a fashion as they can manage, just to creep out the other players.
- Running Gag: They had several, such as never posting a picture of themselves and instead substituting the most ludicrous pictures of other people that they could find, and treating Roberta Williams like the devil. They actually had to retire a running joke after Jason Hall made a decent game.
- Refuge in Audacity: Marvin's newsposts were renowned for being completely psychotic. For example, the update where he kills Erik's pet monkey, buys another one to replace it but winds up killing the second monkey on the car ride home, then decides to clone a new monkey that will mutilate Erik. To that end, he travels the country looking for a laboratory that can perform the feat, only to find himself disgusted at what he sees as the craven cowardice of modern scientists after one of them gets upset after lighting his own eyeball on fire with mercury bisulfate. He then draws a penis on the emergency eyewash station, and delivers the moral that, "...it's not a lack of knowledge that's holding you people back, it's a lack of will."
- Slow-Paced Beginning: Brutally savaged in universe in every review of a game that features it. They were definitely not fans of this idea, stating that since they already do awful work at shitty jobs in order to buy the video game in the first place it's a kind of insult to require them to do more work they don't like to get to the entertainment.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: A lot of their "walkthroughs" for games turned into this sooner or later, especially their SWAT walkthrough, which just consists of shooting innocent people in the leg over and over while sending your own men in to bad situations to die.