Schmaxilla was a third person adventure/horror game for the Lubion Audio-Video Console (LAV-C), released in early 1980. Schmaxilla was one of two launch titles for the LAV-C, along with Uberfriends: Penultimate Decline Urban. The game is most notable for its dedicated cult following; its uneven tone vacillating wildly between messianic, twee, slapstick, and German existentialist; its creative and infuriatingly hard stage bosses; and its legendarily abysmal marketing campaign and sales.
Schmaxilla follows the the protagonist, a sharpshooting cybernetic swashbuckler named Axil, on a quest to rescue the Orange Key from the forces of Dark Tremor, who wishes to use its strato-scientific power force to unlock the mysteries of the universe and harness them for Zoroastrian evangelism. Axil's main weapon consists of launching his own shoulder blades, which can be augmented with a variety of power-ups.
Development and Marketing
In addition to the protagonist Axil, Schmaxilla featured a wide range of allies, enemies, bosses, and interestingly, several then-famous systems science academics. Notable characters include:
Although infamous for many difficult stage bosses, one of the best known of these was Nil the Specter of Cultural Fatigue. It is believed that this boss battle was designed almost entirely at the mistaken direction of Hans Kunstmaler (see Development and Marketing above) who dictated the entire concept to a confused programmer from under a moist towel he was using to treat one his frequent depression-induced migraines.
The "battle" with Nil occurs at the end of the game's fifth stage after Axil has successfully led a flock of shoulder-less space orphans to their mothers, whereupon the happily reunited mother-orphan pairs surround Axil and begin chanting his name, or so the strategy guide printed in Issue #1 of the Lubion Radical Sentinel explained. Due to the technical limitations of the LAV-C, the sound is rendered in an oddly hypnotic square wave two tone pattern. Through the combined faith of the rescued orphans, Axil is lifted into the air as the screen fades to black. After several minutes (a time delay that the programmers swear was intentional), the screen lightens and Axil is found in a gray room containing a pit and Nil, standing in a black turtleneck on a platform high above Axil.
Again, the 8-bit sprite leaves much to the imagination, but the artist rendition accompanying the strategy guide article (it is rumored, but not confirmed that it was drawn by Kunstmaler) depicts Nil as a lithe, Prussian-looking man with blond hair, wearing a black turtleneck and sporting a distinctly bored expression.
The difficulty of the battle resulted from the fact that it was simply not possible to actually reach Nil, no matter what combination of Shoulder Blade Upgrades, Enraptured Souls, or Banana Peels the player had obtained up to that point. The room was designed so as to make reaching Nil with any attack impossible. While falling into pits in any other part of the game results in death, the pit in Nil's room simply deposits the player back in the corner of the room where he started. There are only 2 methods for passing this battle that have been found to work:
- The player must jump over the pit and fire Axil's shoulder blades with complete existential indifference. The LAV-C controller actually contained a rudimentary electrode which monitored the player's rough emotional state through things like skin temperature, conductivity and moisture as well as the pressure with which the buttons were depressed. Combined with an algorithm that analyzed the rapidity of the player's button pushing to determine if he was too invested, this sensor determined if the player was nihilistically detached enough to defeat Nil. If so, Nil's sprite would simply disappear after which the player would have to toss Axil down the pit, which would finally kill him, forcing him to start the stage over again with one fewer life, but with the Nil encounter removed.
- The other method involved trying futilely to defeat Nil for over an hour, leaving your Lubion on for over 3 hours and then pulling the plug out in despair. If the player waited over a week before trying again, the Nil battle would be removed from the end of stage 5, as above.