Yes, nipple rings. A rather large group of Killing Floor 2 fans thinks that nipple rings are very important. Specifically, they think that one of the game's characters should have them, and they have spent nearly a year campaigning to get them added.
First, some background. In popular Steam horror shooters Killing Floor and the new Killing Floor 2, there's this enemy called the Bloat. It's a bulbous, decaying monster type often covered in its own vomit, like a rancid watermelon with legs. Oh, and it looooooves swinging meat cleavers everywhere. You'd probably know one if you saw it. But in Killing Floor 1, the Bloat had one other defining feature: nipple rings. They were perfectly placed and immaculate — a stark contrast to a chest that had seen much better days. Did they signify the Bloat's rock-and-roll personality? Were they a joke played on the beast by the mad scientists who engineered it? No one knew for sure.
Once footage and screenshots from Killing Floor 2 started making the rounds, fans quickly noticed something: the nipple rings were gone. In a game that promised countless grotesque monstrosities, that was the greatest horror of all. No. More. Nipple. Rings.
Marphy Black, a dedicated Killing Floor player, decided that this would not stand. In June of 2014, he kicked off a campaign — one that would run until, well, a couple weeks ago. The campaign was titled "BRING BACK THE NIPPLE PIERCINGS," and its mission statement was as follows:
"A great injustice is set to be committed in Killing Floor 2. A glaring omission has been present in all of the preview media we've seen of the game. The grievous absence of this critical component is tearing the community apart, and if it does not return, I predict nothing less than riots in the street."
"Join me, my fellow Bloat nipple piercing lovers, in my campaign to get our voices heard: BRING BACK THE NIPPLE PIERCINGS."
It began as something of a joke, but it picked up steam, eventually attracting hundreds of supporters. As the months went on, Black produced videos, threads, hashtags, and even DLC proposals. While always remaining tongue-in-cheek, the joke grew until it was kinda sorta almost serious.
I had to know: why? Why all this time and effort for what at least, on the surface, appears to be such an insignificant detail? Black explained that, when he first noticed the nipple rings after hours and hours of play — hours of being too caught up in the game to pay attention — it was a strange sort of revelation.
"The in-universe logistics of how this obese, puking cloned specimen could end up with nipple rings was funny in and of itself," he told me via email, "but what really amused me was seeing the reaction of other players once I pointed out their presence. They, too, had wiped out hundreds if not thousands of Bloats without a second thought in their Killing Floor careers, but once I mentioned the nipple rings that had been staring at them like headlights all along, it was suddenly the only [thing] they could see."
"It proved to be a little detail that surprised us all and a laugh that we could share together and with others, and that was what enamoured me to the concept," he continued. "More than his immense girth and cadaverous yellow skin, more than his incessant vomiting and his trusty meat cleaver, even more than his proudly displayed poop stains, the nipple rings became the Bloat's defining characteristic to me."
It might sound kinda strange to say, but the Bloat's nipple rings brought people together. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence either.
As soon as Black realised Killing Floor 2's Bloat had shed its community-uniting bits of boobalicious bling, the campaign began. At first it was a simple forum thread, but he grew it slowly, methodically.
"My intention wasn't to inundate either [Killing Floor developer] Tripwire or the community with incessant spam," he said. "Hence, all the updates I made were not-so-coincidentally timed with the releases of new KF2 media. Apart from the nipple rings, I was naturally very interested in keeping up to date on all of the hype regarding the game itself. However, while others were scrutinising the screenshots and videos for new weapons, characters, and other exciting gameplay features, I was keeping a close eye out for shinier, danglier things. This new media provided the fresh and topical fodder for any campaign doings, and I essentially winged it along the way, improvising whatever absurd idea I could come up with on the spot."
Over time, the campaign grew surprisingly large, picking up followers even as Killing Floor developer Tripwire seemed content to leave the Bloat's nipples naked and cold. Ultimately, Black's awareness campaign reached the eyes, hearts, and possibly even nipples of thousands:
"The Tripwire forum poll I created received about 200 votes while the thread itself received over 13,000 views, still currently among the top ten viewed threads in the KF2 section," said Black. "The campaign artwork I uploaded to the KF1 and KF2 game hubs on Steam have received a combined couple hundred upvotes. There have been dozens and dozens of comments made to the threads and image uploads, and there were even a few tweets with the #KF2BloatNipplePiercings hash tag. Of course, there are also the many unaccounted more who simply viewed the content without leaving direct remarks."
Black believes the campaign even took on a life beyond him. That's what makes him happiest of all.
"What really struck me," he said, "was seeing Killing Floor-related discussions on different sites and even the occasional in-game remarks, places well removed from where I had posted to, where people would casually bring up the Bloat's nipple piercings and the lack thereof in KF2 with zero provocation on my part. While I can't know for sure if this knowledge stemmed from my campaign, I'd like to think I've had some success in bringing greater public awareness to the matter of nipple rings in Killing Floor."
In the end, however, the campaign failed. Killing Floor 2 is out (at least, in Early Access form), and there are still no nipple rings. Developer Tripwire decided to keep them out of the game. But that's not to say they didn't notice Black and co's efforts.
"There have actually been several acknowledgements from Tripwire!" Black enthused. "The poll itself has five votes from Tripwire employees, including their own vice president Alan Wilson, all voting in favour of returning Bloat's the nipple piercings. zYnthetic, the music composer behind Killing Floor since its origins as a mod, posted a couple of blithe remarks in the thread. Creative director and company co-founder William Munk left a particularly supportive comment sympathetic to the cause. I didn't learn about this until later, but their art director David Hensley tweeted about the thread in a quite positive manner. I also happened to run into their character artist Andrew Quintiliani in-game who kindly entertained my nipple-related inquiries."
So then, what gives? There was a big campaign, developer support from high-level members of the company, heart/nipple-felt conversations, and yet... no nipple rings. Based on what Black has heard, artist Quintiliani wanted to put the nipple rings in Killing Floor 2, but other members of the team weren't so into the idea. Here is an interview where Quintiliani says pretty much exactly that.
I asked Tripwire for more details, but have yet to receive a response. However, I did some digging and came across this Reddit thread that pretty much explains it. Key quote: "The nipple rings from the original Killing Floor were removed to reinforce the idea that all Zeds were made from the same source Clot and then later modified with bio-mechanics or genetic mutations." So basically, story reasons.
Still though, it's a shame. Nipple rings lent the Bloat an odd sort of personality, a character other faceless video game bad guys don't possess. That endeared it to people, gave them all something to laugh about together. And that's why Black's not giving up. Not yet. He's still got one last ace in the hole: modding.
"Modding in the Bloat's nipple piercings was always a potential fallback in the grand scheme of things," he explained. "In fact, I just recently released a Pepsiman-based Scrake reskin for KF2. It garnered a great deal [of] attention, but the primary intention behind that was to test the waters of KF2 modding which is still very much in its infancy. This test was a resounding success, and it paves the way for the possibility of creating some fan-made Bloat nipple piercings myself. I am absolutely looking into this right now, but as this is a matter held dear to the hearts of myself and many others, I want to make sure it's done in a satisfactory manner."
But still, in his heart of hearts, Black hopes that Tripwire might reverse their decision. "I still don't discount the chance that Tripwire may yet have a change of heart and grace us with some officially blessed nipple rings," he said.
We can only hope.