“A Bloodlust game was clearly a Bloodlust game,” Bloodlust visual artist Ethan Petty told me. “Some people loved it. Some people thought it was visual torture. I was with the second group, but hey—we had to keep creating. It was what we loved.”
Of the many fascinating things about Bloodlust Software and its emulators—NESticle in particular, but also Genecyst and Callus—was that there was a distinctive visual style that went along with them. For what effectively was a technical utility, this was a total anomaly, and few other emulators came with their own distinctive look along the lines of what Petty and Icer Addis created for the Bloodlust emulators.
As part of my research and interview process for my recent Motherboard piece, I had a chance to talk at length with David Wolinsky, the mastermind behind the ongoing video game interview series Don’t Die, in an effort to offer something of a bridge between the past and the present day. During our two-hour chat in February, we spoke fondly of the roots of NESticle, along with how the culture of 1997 differs from the what we see out of mainstream gaming now.
In many ways, the art in Bloodlust’s work speaks to those differences.
“I think something that has been forgotten in the last few decades is that video games were always a haven for the marginalized, and the weird, and the socially awkward—not in a negative way,” Wolinsky told me, adding that as gaming has become more modern it has become more serious.
“I think as video games have gone on to take themselves very seriously they’ve turned off a lot of people who have felt on the outside of this stuff all along,” he added.
My freewheeling chat with Wolinsky went in a ton of directions, for example pondering the nature of the small cultural phenomenon that suddenly goes big (both The Velvet Underground and Arrested Development comparisons were thrown out), why the game-modding scene that NESticle brought to life may eventually hit a wall (game development is simply becoming way too complex for modding to keep up), and game companies’ modern attitudes regarding retro gaming (in some ways, the attitudes suggest companies see old games almost as competition).
Wolinsky also drew a comparison between NESticle’s visual style (which he frequently used to play Mega Man 2) and a similar ‘90s-era gateway drug, WinAmp.
“I didn't really understand why the program was the way it was, but it did the thing I wanted, so I was I was fine with it,” he recalled. “Like it didn't seem that weird to me, and I guess in hindsight like it's weird that it didn't seem weirder. Because certainly compared to something like … when you first download it and WinAmp is like, it's much more neutral.”
(Well, until you get to the “It Really Whips the Llama’s Ass” clip, at least.)