On Steam, Bad Rats is infamous. It's a janky physics puzzle game that people gift to their enemies. Earning all of its achievements is considered a masochistic badge of honour. It's the butt of joke after joke. And yet, seven years after the release of the original, it just got a sequel.
I've always wondered: Is the game's developer, Invent4 Entertainment, in on the joke? Are they cool with their game frequently being called Steam's worst, with mountains of joke reviews declaring it a masterpiece because people think it's so, so bad? Despite a slight language barrier, Invent4's Augusto Bulow told me, essentially, yes.
"I'm completely OK with the game situation," he said via email. "I feel happy with all the people that love (and hate) Bad Rats series."
"The original Bad Rats was a game planned to be funny," he added. "If people are laughing while playing the game, that's fine. The game reached its objectives."
Then he said a bunch of stuff about his aunt and dinosaurs and, well, I'll just let you read it.
"My aunt after playing asked me, 'Why such violence? Why kill cats?'" he said. "And the answer is simple: because they are rats. As the human being exterminated the dinosaurs, because they were putting our lives in risk, the rats, in this hypothetical parallel universe are exterminating their predators as well."
It's widely believed that dinosaurs and humans did not inhabit Earth at the same time, nor did they engage in a bitter war for evolutionary supremacy. But maybe Bulow was joking? I'm pretty sure he was joking.
Over the years, the original Bad Rats ascended to the lofty heights of meme-hood. While Bad Rats has been knit into a faintly vomit-scented portion of Steam's shag carpet fibre since 2009, Bulow says it actually only really took off a few years ago.
"I like all memes and all comments," he said. "Actually I think it took [a long time] for the game to be perceived. Seven years ago, when it was released, I was expecting more [of a reaction]. It was one of the most violent and offensive video games released [in the] past decade. And it's one of the funniest games too. It's a paradox, and with this paradox the Bad Rats game grown up."
"But actually, the game started to be really discovered when some big YouTubers published some infamous reviews about the game a few years ago," he explained. "They said bad things about the game, but five per cent of their audience perceived it different, bought Bad Rats, and entered in love with the game."
The percentages did not end there, though. Are you ready to go on a percentage journey? Because Bulow laid it all out:
"Actually perhaps, according to our super-precise measuring methods, only five per cent of people who play Bad Rats will really understand [its full] meaning, will be OK with the Rats, and will love the game," he told me.
"Other 90 per cent can hate the game by the simple main premise: the game is about killing cats. Other 10 per cent can hate it simply cause it's produced in Brazil. Another 10 to 20 per cent of people will hate the game same without playing it. 30 per cent will hate or not depending on what their favourite YouTuber has to say. I know, this calculation went above 100 per cent, but it's OK if we are talking about Bad Rats."
In Bad Rats, all is permitted.
One of my favourite things about the original Bad Rats' cult of personality is the way it emerged from a different era of Steam. It's not actually that terrible of a game (which is not to say it's good, either...), but it somehow managed to get precious virtual shelf space back when Valve heavily curated Steam's selection. It was this curious little thing that felt like it escaped from the late-'90s in gameplay style and humorous sensibility. It was a rickety, ragged, raw outlier.
"Bad Rats [came before] the Greenlight era," Bulow explained. "We never asked a community to vote in our game, we never paid for votes or whatsoever (what some will say, can be common nowadays). We entered by the front door. We submitted our game and got Bad Rats approved by the Steam staff."
He added that, to his knowledge, the Valve employee who approved Bad Rats has not been fired.
"Perhaps Bad Rats is some kind of miracle," he continued. "How does such a low budget game sometimes have more active players than other big productions? This kind of questions I leave to you journalists to answer. The fact is, a game can't just sustain good sales seven years after its release. Or the people are crazy, or the game is good. Anyone can have it own judgment, and we respect all opinions here."
So then, why a sequel? Why now? Well, apparently a sequel was always in the cards. But not this one. It's, uh, kinda confusing. Bulow explained:
"Bad Rats was planned to have a sequel from its start," he said. "It wasn't exactly planned as the Bad Rats Show. It was supposed to have cats and dogs. But this is the way the universe chose, and we are pretty proud of our new game."
These days, Steam is different than it was when Bad Rats first achieved infamy. It's a machine, largely automated but running on user-driven systems. Thanks to programs like Greenlight and Early Access, less-than-stellar games abound, as do ones that are weird, retro, and poorly translated. Bad Rats doesn't really have a claim to fame these days beyond, well, being Bad Rats.
Bulow isn't sure the sequel will be capable of similar infamy, but he's not too concerned. Whatever happens, happens, basically.
"We are not too worried with [reactions to] the new game," he said. "Considering the ingredients we added, people who loved the first will fall in love with the new one. Those that hate the original surely will have more motivation to hate this new one. Yin-yang."
"Being the best or the worst game is just a point of view. What some will say is the best, others will hate. And this is the magic of life."