‘First Person Sludger’ – Sludge Life 2
Written by Andi Schmitz
To put it bluntly, and in the words of one of its creators, Doseone, “Sludge Life 2 is only hard if you’re not an intrigued mother fucker.” The game is an iteration of Sludge Life, which came out in 2021, and is a chronological progression that maintains the original game’s staunch grittiness. Its creators, Doseone and Terri Vellmann had more twisted creativity brewing, releasing Sludge Life 2 in 2023, adding even more jaded and salty NPCs, obscure tagging spots, and subversive fuck-the-man vibes. The game pulls from the graffiti subculture and contains similar anti-capitalist undertones and punk values without trying to be the “true voice” of these social movements.
“Sludge Life 2 is only hard if you’re not an intrigued mother fucker.”
A self-described “eccentric borough ripe for exploration,” visually, Ciggy City Suites and the surrounding industrial carnage smack you in the face like sunlight does a hangover. You play as the first-person sludger, Ghost, and wake up in a hotel bathtub after a bender that, according to the Ciggy City Suites concierge, incurred 50 noise complaints. The pixelated and fluorescent graphics and quick FPS movements need a few blinks to take in fully. The first NPC is stationed on the balcony of your hotel room, which has been assumedly trashed in the aforementioned party, and lets you know that Big Mud, your friend and local rap legend, is missing.
As Ghost, you must piece together the typically rude comments and bizarre statements hurled at you as you engage with the dizzying world on your quest for Big Mud. NPCs are essential and comical in Sludge Life 2, depending on which character you talk to. Prepare to be offended, talked down to, opened up to, and weirded out by the massive amount of characters in Ciggy City; like humans in the real world, they are unpredictable. The interactions with the NPCs in the game are paramount to your experience, not only for the clues they may provide but because they are the heart and soul of the absurd sludge culture. The creators ensure skin tone and gender diversity in their donut-lipped characters, including fellow taggers, rabid Big Mud fans, riled-up protestors, and anthropomorphized beings in some form of existential crisis.
Terri Vellmann and Doseone have been creating games together for ten years, their first creative forays being Heavy Bullets in 2014 and High Hell in 2017, two colorful and flashy FPS where you can parkour around the world and whose gameplay you’ll recognize in Sludge Life 2. Both creators have roots in street art culture, Doseone spraying and rapping in Philadelphia, PA, and Vellmann painting murals in San Paolo, Brazil.
Vellmann describes their collaboration: “The essence is we share and go back and forth and work, and then the process takes a couple of years. It’s really slow and kind of simmers a lot, and we find out what the game is and the details. It’s really, kind of iterative, this slow and fun process.”
The graffiti subplot is a device to force players to explore the map, cleverly enticing them to find all 100 tag spots. As Ghost, your tags include a slimy green ghoul, your name in a toxic waste font, and various collaborative pieces with fellow graffiti writers. Taggers include Slug, a giant lady banana slug; Peep, a guy with a tiny pigeon head; and Ovni, an alien character whose name means “UFO” in Brazillian Portuguese. While graffiti and tagging aren’t the game’s main focus, the creative energy and motivators of the subculture are twisted in humorous ways.
Vellmann gives more insight into their absurd ways: “We intentionally try to be as stupid as possible. I think it’s a good sign, keeping things cartoonish because you kind of detach from reality, and people can then interpret the details in their own different ways.”
“We intentionally try to be as stupid as possible. I think it’s a good sign, keeping things cartoonish because you kind of detach from reality, and people can then interpret the details in their own different ways.”
Cops that are one-eyed pigs called “clops,” cigarettes are currency, posters advertising cigs for kids (now with vitamins!), talk of genetically engineering a double butt-holed stork and some toxic radiation, constant reference to subverting authority, and radios everywhere blasting various synthy tunes distinguish this world’s dizzying griminess.
Music is a unique feature of Sludge Life 2 and will stick with you every time you walk away from a session, especially the Doseone and Big Mud track “Dubble Bubble.” Doseone’s soundscapes sharpen your experience as you search for the angsty rapper, and if you ever find him, your reward is a mind-altering rap performance. The lyrics in Big Mud’s songs are provocative and re-emphasize the collective discontent felt by the masses in Ciggy City. In “Doubble Bubble,” he paints this lyrical picture,
“Die, eat, work, smoke, sleep
Artificial day life long week
Lost in them Ciggy City suites
Consumption crumpling your peeps
Radical sad running deep
Out in the weeds of they needs
Not pleased, greed fire feeds
Burning briar dire deeds.”
Doseone and Vellmann are eloquent in their desired mood for the game and its origins in street art and culture; it’s palpable as you play without being what the game is all “about.” Like the fearless graffiti writers their game emulates, they are daring in their creations and poignant in their subversive messaging. I asked the duo about the graffiti scene’s adverse reaction to the thought of selling out and whether creating a game emulating it is doing what its members hate the most.
“Terry and I are tongue-in-cheek and openly play with the rules. When it comes to art, whatever you do, you must subvert, you must steal, you must take back, you know? Selling out is using your creativity in opposition to where your creativity comes from and why you use it. If anybody deserves a payday, it’s the people who do art illegally.”
“Terry and I are tongue-in-cheek and openly play with the rules. When it comes to art, whatever you do, you must subvert, you must steal, you must take back, you know? Selling out is using your creativity in opposition to where your creativity comes from and why you use it. If anybody deserves a payday, it’s the people who do art illegally,” says Doseone. I am inclined to agree.
The two are not trying to obtain commercial success with either Sludge Life. Instead, they fulfill an intrinsic desire to create this world, scratching a shared creative itch. The wild and in-your-face alternate dimension that is Sludge Life 2 is one of Doseone and Vellmann’s best lovechildren.
Andi Schmitz is a writer, artist and recent American expat. Born in Dublin, Ireland and raised in a smörgåsbord of places, she has recently relocated to Berlin, Germany. Lifelong writer and artist, she is recovering from former corporate fintech life by self-induced art immersion. Her hobbies include painting, a good whiskey sour, and exploring art as a form of social outcry.