TRISTAN AND JANNIK
(or, THAT'S THE THING ABOUT, THAT'S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT, THAT'S THE THING ABOUT, THE THING ABOUT FOOTBALL)
Tristan Llewellyn, a computer programmer and sports enthusiast from the town of Ammanford in Wales, first came to the attention of Disenchantment Games with a series of self-produced sporting simulators for the ZX Spectrum, including TLG Rugby (released in 1987 when he was only 15), TLG Cricket, and TLG Cricket: Lindwall’s Valhalla, best known for its introductory screens depicting former Australian fast bowler Ray Lindwall’s death and arrival at a cricketing afterlife in which the front-foot no-ball law was never enacted, thus allowing him to continue the back-foot dragging delivery that had brought him so much glory in the mortal realm. Llewellyn’s games were technically brilliant, but what really impressed the Disenchantment higher-ups was their personal touch: each game had scenes between matches in which star players would visit your house or meet you at a restaurant for lunch, asking you about how your life is going and listening to your opinion on their performance. Honest and thoughtful criticism would lead to noticeable improvements both on the playing field and in your continuing friendship. This human element in an often cold, details-obsessed genre was unlike anything else on the market. In October 1993, Disenchantment gave Llewellyn a talented staff, a large budget, and a converted colliery in Llansamlet to use as a studio, and he became creative director for their brand new sports game division, Disenchantment Swansea.
They certainly hit the ground running. In their inaugural press release, Disenchantment Swansea announced that they had commenced work on You’re Really There! World Cup Football ’94, which would feature the actual photographic likeness of every player from every competing national squad, moving and playing with such fluidity and detail as to be totally indistinguishable from a real match. They invited some 700 possible World Cup participants to their studio to be photographed performing every necessary physical action (run, kick, slide tackle etc.) and emotional expression (disappointment at missing a penalty kick, disappointment at being eliminated from the competition, disappointment at winning the World Cup final for the first time and still feeling nothing but the dull ache of resentment at having spent one’s entire adult life punishing one’s body and learning no skills or information useful past the age of 40, all in the service of a slow and expensive random number generator, and even the numbers being generated are very limited in scale, etc.)
Test sessions using Disenchantment staff, however, soon showed that their magnificent ambition would exceed cartridge size limitations many times over. Llewellyn was faced with two choices: either reduce the total number of photographic frames for each player from 4000-odd to just six (which would also have the effect of reducing the emotional spectrum to just two points: boundless ecstasy, and total spiritual disintegration), or release the game on 24 separate cartridges, one for each team (failing to confront the issue of how, precisely, the teams would be made to compete with each other).
But there was a far greater obstacle: five months had passed, and not one footballer had accepted their invitation to come to their studio and be photographed. Could it be that taking time out from World Cup training and preparations to travel to Wales and spend an afternoon miming every conceivable physical element of their chosen sport in front of a camera and a gawking gaggle of video game developers, with no expenses covered except for the fare from Swansea City bus station and dinner at the pub down the road, was just too much to ask? In blind desperation they tried other methods: photographing the players from the stands at their club league matches proved too blurry and indistinct, while photographing them covertly at their own homes produced results that were both legally questionable and almost totally unrelated to the game of soccer.
Then, the fateful day: the arrival of a belated but eager response from Norwegian midfielder Jannik Juul. He would be passing through Swansea on personal business later in the month, and was the offer to appear in the video game still open? Now, it bears mentioning that Jannik Juul was no superstar, and even within Norwegian circles his skills were seen as intermittent and unreliable, his place in the World Cup squad only secured by the good fortune of a brief upswing arriving just prior to final selection time. But he was coming to their aid at a time of deep disappointment and shame, and that was what counted. They paid for his flights to and from Oslo, spent the better part of a weekend digitally capturing his full physical and emotional range, and after a celebratory night out, got straight to work on the retitled Jannik Juul’s World Cup Football ’94. Each squad was technically accurate as far as names were concerned, but only Jannik Juul, rendered in stunning detail, was given an even remotely humanoid appearance; every other player, including Juul’s Norwegian teammates, was portrayed as a four-foot-tall rectangular slab with two brick-like feet, distinguished only by its team colour, name and number. When Juul is in possession of the ball, he alone is bathed in sunlight; when any rectangular slab receives the ball, it begins to quiver, as if on the verge of tears.
The promotion and hype around Jannik Juul’s World Cup Football ’94 was built on a single audacious bluff: buy this game, because you won’t get Jannik Juul like this anywhere else. Big Cup ’94 featured no real player names at all; the Jannik Juul in Pass! Kick! Goal! World Cup USA was just a stock player sprite of average size and build with short blond hair (not tall, broad-shouldered and strawberry blond, as the Disenchantment team so elegantly captured); even the World Cup itself proved to be a letdown for everyone who bought into the Jannik Juul cult of personality, as he played only the final 18 minutes of Norway’s nil-all draw with the Republic of Ireland and added nothing of value. By the end of the year, Jannik’s game had sold over a million copies, and Jannik’s star was on the rise.
A follow-up was inevitable. Aside from minor technical tweaks and improvements, the only notable new feature of Jannik Juul’s Encroachment Football ’95 was an increased focus on Juul’s personal strategy that gave the game its title. In an interview for Kicks Monthly he described “encroachment football” as “just getting up really close. Too close for comfort, you might say [laughs]”. There were no updates to Juul’s digitised sprite, as invitations for him to return for another photo shoot went unanswered, despite Tristan Llewellyn’s desire to capture his new, fuller hairstyle and increased muscle mass. However, eighteen players from various nations had contacted Disenchantment Swansea in the course of the preceding year offering to undergo a similar photographic treatment, having witnessed the effect it had had on Jannik Juul’s notoriety; Llewellyn’s response was to rename each of these players “FAREWEATHER” (sic - presumably implying that in waiting for the game to be a massive commercial success before asking to take part, they were being “fairweather friends”) and to give their rectangular slabs a sickly green tinge.
Jannik Juul’s Encroachment Football ’95 sold well enough for Disenchantment Swansea to officially make the Jannik Juul games an annual franchise, and along with that decision came a broadening of scope. Jannik Juul’s Top Bloke Football ’96 (known in North America as Jannik Juul’s Great Guy Soccer ’96) was best known for the introduction of a then-innovative Story Mode, a very selective Jannik Juul autobiography of sorts, consisting of three playable pivotal moments in his career: Jannik Juul, aged 2, encounters a soccer ball for the first time and successfully kicks it down a hill into a pond; Jannik Juul scores three goals to secure a win for Norway against the United States in the 1991 World Cup final in Guangzhou, China (two glaring factual inaccuracies here: the United States won the match 2-1, and Juul did not participate, being, as it was, the Women’s World Cup; to Disenchantment Swansea’s credit, Tianhe Stadium is rendered in stunning period-appropriate detail, right down to the snack menus and the early-’90s fashion of the spectators); and lastly, a piece of sports game postmodernism unparalleled to this day, in which Jannik Juul arrives at the Disenchantment Swansea studio in 1994, performs all necessary physical motions for the cameras, and takes part in a drunken, raucous night out with Llewellyn and the rest of the development team, during which they successfully hide all of a local pub’s billiard balls in the toilet cisterns without anybody noticing, and place a traffic cone on the head of a statue.
The following year saw the release of Jannik Juul’s Avenging Angel Football ’97. The competition soccer elements were given a rudimentary polish, but the vast majority of development time had clearly been devoted to the game’s Poetic Justice Mode, a curious misreading of the concept of “poetic justice” in which Jannik Juul takes revenge on real-life enemies of Disenchantment Swansea staff members — one developer’s romantic rival, another’s hated brother-in-law — by kicking a barrage of soccer balls at their houses in the dead of night, breaking their windows and valuable possessions while shouting phrases such as “Let the punishment fit the crime!” (the punishment bearing no relation to, and also being wildly disproportionate to, the so-called crime) and “A taste of your own medicine!” (ditto). Incidentally, Juul spoke very little English and had a harsh, reedy voice, but for Avenging Angel Football and its successors he had a rousing, heroic voice provided by the actor David Rintoul; this perhaps marks the point of total separation between Jannik Juul the flesh-and-blood man, and Jannik Juul the video game character.
In 1998, Disenchantment Swansea were putting the finishing touches to their new World Cup game (working title: Jannik Juul’s Singlehanded World Cup Victory ’98) when they learned two shocking pieces of news: first, Jannik Juul had not made the cut for the Norwegian squad; and then, days later, Juul’s girlfriend phoned the studio to say that Juul, the day he learned he would not be playing in the World Cup, had disappeared without explanation, taking only his shoes and backpack, and being such old and solid pals, had they heard from him at all? Llewellyn had to admit, sheepish amid the panic, that the only contact they had ever had was the weekend of photography and boozy celebration back in 1994. His friend and mascot had vanished without a trace; perhaps he had never truly known him at all. There’s a haunted, mournful air to Ruined World, Worthless Cup: A Prayer for Jannik, described by Electric Buttons Magazine as being like “if Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here was a football simulator”. Matches begin in a spirited fashion but are soon enveloped in a depressive fug, with waning drive and minimal interest in the ball from each side’s players — still rectangular slabs, but now with sad, tired eyes, tinged red with sleeplessness and recent tears — and chants from the stands giving way to weighty sighs. Playing as Norway is even more emotionally gruelling, as Øyvind Leonhardsen, playing in Jannik Juul’s favoured position of centre midfield, runs from the field in the opening minutes, twisted up inside from his own particular form of survivor’s guilt. Disenchantment Swansea, it seems, had lost all hope that Jannik Juul would ever be seen alive again; at the risk of building needless anticipation for information which follows this sentence immediately, they couldn’t have been more wrong.
On a quiet afternoon in April 1999, Harry Kleinveldt, owner and proprietor of Food Times Cafe in Johannesburg, served a roast chicken salad to a familiar-looking gentleman seated at a corner table. The odds were minuscule, and the beard and short cropped hair didn’t match the man he remembered, but he couldn’t walk away without asking: “Are you Jannik Juul?” The customer got up and bolted, sprinting across the street, down an alley and out of sight. Watching through the cafe window, Kleinveldt was more certain than ever of who he had seen; this was the run, after all, that had been digitised in phenomenal detail in his favourite game series. Jannik Juul was alive and well and living in South Africa. Juul returned to Food Times the following morning to apologise. He explained that he was trying to put his football career behind him and was ashamed to have been recognised, though he gave no details regarding his disappearance except that he had been living homeless in Johannesburg for several months. Even after Kleinveldt and many other local Juul-heads raised enough money to buy him a plane ticket back to his home in Trondheim, his whereabouts between his World Cup rejection and arrival at Food Times remained almost entirely unaccounted for.
His refusal to elaborate caused his loved ones a great deal of concern, but Tristan Llewellyn saw an opportunity for a whole new level of mythmaking: Disenchantment Swansea’s new game, Jannik Juul’s Miraculous Survival Football Against All Odds ’99, eliminated competition football entirely (they had, after all, brought the genre to its logical conclusion the previous year) in favour of a story-driven action-packed adventure. Jannik Juul travels to the dark heart of the Uruguayan jungle to meet his old mentor, masked footballing guru “Dr. Mubongo”, in the hope of regaining his footballing prowess through a strict regimen of hallucinogenic brews and increasingly complex drills, but soon becomes embroiled in civil war and works with US-assisted rebels to overthrow the corrupt dictatorship of Generalissimo Sanchez (revealed in a final-act twist to be an unmasked Dr. Mubongo; Juul then renounces all the footballing techniques he was taught by his old mentor, swearing to develop a new style of football based on democracy and freedom). In the early stages it’s easy to look past the game’s nonsensical retellings of old racist tropes and focus on the remarkable soccer-based combat and puzzles, but there comes a point when you haven’t seen a soccer ball for hours and you’re just mowing down hordes of anonymous Uruguayan soldiers with an American assault rifle, the generic world-music soundtrack drowned out by gunfire and Speedy Gonzales death-cries, and it all becomes a bit hard to stomach. Particularly troubling is the choice of Uruguay, a democratic constitutional republic ranked first in all of South America for democracy, peace, press freedom and lack of corruption, as the setting for this story; interference from the parent company’s CIA contacts with an aim to provoking civil unrest in the nation has long been suspected, and the game’s hidden ending (found by collecting all of the Golden Janniks) lends weight to this theory: Juul wakes up under a tattered sheet on the Johannesburg streets, and proclaims, “Ah… such a wonderful dream! A dream of a new Uruguay! Now… how about a roast chicken salad?”
The seventh game in the series, Jannik Juul’s Honest Football in the Face of Jealous Persecution 2000, saw Jannik Juul on the trail of an international egg smuggler, kicking soccer balls at his head and body to obstruct him while gently kicking eggs to safety. It was created in response to Juul’s arrest on charges of being an international egg smuggler; he would allegedly travel to distant locations with camouflage, climbing gear and incubators, steal the eggs of rare and endangered birds and reptiles, and sell them at a high price to dealers and collectors elsewhere. In fact, there was evidence to suggest that, far from being homeless and penniless in Johannesburg, he was at the Food Times Cafe waiting to meet one such collector, willing to pay an exorbitant sum for a clutch of Seychelles wolf snake eggs, when he had the misfortune of being recognised by a Jannik Juul Football superfan. His case was tricky to prosecute, as he claimed to have perfectly innocent reasons for his transcontinental movements and could provide witnesses for each occasion; to make matters worse, the case suffered several mistrials after jurors became fundamentally unable to differentiate between the evidence and submissions presented in court and the details of the Uruguayan insurrection storyline of the previous year’s Miraculous Survival Football. Even finding new jurors became difficult after the release of Honest Football, which ended with Jannik Juul finally subduing and capturing the egg smuggler, being mistakenly arrested himself, but still emerging triumphant after pummelling the judge, jury and prosecution counsel with firework-loaded soccer balls, to the tune of Morrissey’s “Sorrow Will Come In The End”.
Jannik Juul, without even trying, had attained a peculiar hold over Tristan Llewellyn and the good people of Disenchantment Swansea. In exchange for a single weekend’s visit and photo session in 1994, they had done wonders for his public profile in a way that his footballing skills had never quite managed, kept a ten-month vigil during his disappearance, and been his staunchest defenders during the many iterations of his criminal trial. But in 2001, the spell was finally, irreparably broken. Juul’s defence team asked Llewellyn to appear as a witness and speak in great detail about the two weeks he spent with Juul back in March 1994; believing the exaggerated time period to merely be an attempt to bolster the credibility of his judgement of Juul’s character, Llewellyn agreed. But the real reason was more legally and morally questionable: aside from the 1998 charges, Juul was also accused of stealing a total of nineteen peregrine falcon eggs from various nests, all located — a pause for effect, if you wouldn’t mind, as we’ve been building to this for a while now — within a ten-kilometre radius of the Disenchantment Swansea studio.
Llewellyn was hit with two devastating truths at once: Jannik Juul was, guilty as charged, an environmental criminal of the lowest kind; and his generosity to the Disenchantment Swansea team was intended only as a plausible excuse, in case it was needed at a later date, to have been present in the south of Wales during the peregrine falcon’s egg-laying season. He recalled the curt replies to his eager questions during the photo shoot about professional football and life in Norway; the media interviews in which he claimed not to play video games and gave them no credit for his personal success; the years of unacknowledged birthday and Christmas cards. Jannik Juul was not, and never had been, his friend.
What more is there to say? Jannik Juul received a 30-month custodial sentence and a life ban from FIFA, thanks in part to Tristan Llewellyn’s testimony about Juul’s rucksack full of climbing gear when they met at the bus station. Disenchantment Swansea released their very last football simulator, Never Meet Your Heroes Football 2001, in which you briefly control a tall rectangular slab with a soccer ball at its feet, before the slab is pecked with such speed and persistence by falcons that it breaks into pieces, which are then carried away by the falcons, leaving the ball to roll neglected in the breeze. In 2002 they commenced work on Chip Cavern’s Even-Keel Lacrosse, but their heart wasn’t in it, and before it could be completed, Llewellyn accidentally locked the only set of keys inside the studio and never quite got around to calling a locksmith.