Emily Guendelsberger Emily is City Paper's arts editor. She enjoys writing about feminism, opera, television, arts ecosystems, music theory, people with weird jobs and pretty much everything involving money. You can also find her writing at the A.V. Club and other fine publications.
You may be familiar with the game on those touch-screen bar-game consoles that’s colloquially known as Nudie Photo Hunt — in it, players race the clock to spot five differences between two side-by-side, near-identical softcore porn images. The game has a definite sense of kitschy humor that defuses potential creepiness — the images seem to have been picked specifically for the silliness of their concepts and early-’90s aesthetics, and the Photoshopping could generously be described as, uh, unsubtle.
City Paper was recently thrilled to discover that , the company that makes the touchscreen game consoles you find in bars and the games on them, is headquartered in Bristol, a mere 20 minutes up 95, and that the source of the game’s silliness is happy to hear from fans. Jim Hartman, the company’s head writer and content manager, worked his way up from Nudie Photo Hunt to head the department in charge of trivia and photo games. He’s been clone-stamping semi-nude women with giant hair for 13 years.
City Paper : I’m just going to refer to it as Nudie Photo Hunt, because calling it Erotic Photo Hunt sounds too weird.
Jim Hartman: [Laughs.] There’s a few different versions. … The old version was called Erotic Photo Hunt; I think that was the first game I ever worked on. I don’t think we’ve updated the content on that in at least a decade. The newer machines have the Penthouse Photo Hunt; that’s a little more risque.
If you play the older version now, those pictures are pretty dated; they’re at least a decade old, and it’s kind of funny. We’ve always had an in-house argument as to who plays those games. … I think everyone automatically assumes it’s creepy old guys at a bar.
CP: I disagree!
JH: I disagree too! I see more women play that game than guys. All my female friends play it. I think women want to play that more than the [male-photo] version.
CP: Well, that may be because the Chippendales version is noticeably easier. Why is that?
JH: Well, there were very limited content choices; they just don’t have a gigantic library of pictures. We were sort of stuck with whatever they had at the time. And with the women, they’ve usually got a bra or jewelry or something on; if a guy doesn’t have anything on, it’s really tough to find five things to change. The women’s photos we have thousands to look through; with the men, the last batch we bought has about 200 photos, of which we could use about 120. It’s just very hard to find, uh, quality male erotic content. [Laughs.] Which is a weird sentence, I realize.
CP: There’s some really bizarre photo shoots in the women’s photos — where do those come from?
JH: [Laughs.] We try to pick stuff with a lot of stuff in it to make it a little more challenging for players, and for us it’s easier if there’s more stuff in it to Photoshop. I mean, I was hired as a writer. I didn’t even know what Photoshop was when I started here; I had a really quick training thing on it. So my Photoshop skills are not the best — which I think is one of the attractions of the game, how goofy the changes are?
We used to have to go to Penthouse’s New York offices to look through their old slides. At first I was, like, “Oh man, I’m going to Penthouse, wow!” [Laughs.] And we get up there and, of course, it’s an office space like anybody else’s. I was so disappointed! We just went into a small room with a light table and you’d sit there bent over the table going through 40 years of slides.
My directive as the manager of the department is to always try to pick the strangest picture. ’Cause I don’t think anybody plays the game to sit there and leer; I think they play because it’s funny and kitschy and goofy. The weirder the picture the better, in my opinion.
CP: Any favorite weird pictures?
JH: [Ruminates.] There was this one with strange clowns … like, two clowns and four marionettes. [Laughs.] It was so creepy!
The best Chippendales’ one we never used: It was probably 12 Chippendale models in a men’s lavatory, laughing, like, “Ha ha, this is the greatest thing we’ve ever done!” And then there was one random guy in there who wasn’t facing the urinal in a normal fashion, he was spun around — like, he was sitting in it? [Laughs.] It was so strange! I could see if it were an outtake and they were just goofing around, but they gave it to us to use. [Laughs.]
[Later, Hartman kindly sends the photo below with a note: "I've been reminiscing with some former co-workers about good old pics and one of them had a pic of this odd "Model Train" set which was always a weird favorite..."]
CP: Do the models know they’re in these games?
JH: I don’t think a lot of them know, because when they do their photoshoots for Penthouse, for example, I guess Penthouse can do whatever they want with those pictures as long as they have them. A while back we used to have a company blog, and we came up with the bright idea to do the 10 hottest women to ever appear in a Megatouch game, and when we put that out, I tweeted it out to a bunch of the people who were on the list, and at least three of them were like “Hey, that’s really cool, I didn’t know that!” So I’m assuming the majority of them don’t know.
CP: Any insider tips?
JH: The hairdo’s always a good place to start, especially on the female version; the models in those pictures almost never have short hair, and it’s easy to work on that stuff. Don’t go for the breasts first, it’s almost never that unless they’re wearing something. That was kind of a mandate of mine, not to change the nipples. [Laughs.]
Another place to look is bracelets, jewelry and shoes, because that’s pretty simple to do. Other than that — I used to stick to background things. When I first learned to do this game, all my changes were one in each corner and then one in the center somewhere. As I got a little more advanced I tried to change it up, but if you’re playing an old machine, that’s where you wanna look.
CP: I only ever saw this once, but I did see one with three nipples.
JH: I’m sure if we saw it we all laughed at it or something. But we don’t do stuff like that very often. We could take eyes out or all sorts of weird stuff — especially when we started to partner with Penthouse, I wasn’t sure what they would think if we changed what the model actually looked like. So we stayed away from that sort of thing. I’m sure in the older version there’s more of that sort of thing. Sometimes if they’re not wearing anything, you just have to do what you have to do.
CP: How many people do the Photoshopping?
JH: At one point there were five of us; now we work with freelancers, aside from me, there’s three other people doing it.
CP: What’s the funniest Photoshop job you remember?
JH: One of the people who used to work here, she was a little more advanced at Photoshop than the rest of us — at one point she put a cat in the picture shooting lasers out of its eyes. [Laughs.]
CP: Shut up. Really?
JH: Yeah! [Laughs.] That one was beyond my skill, it would take me forever to do that.
CP: Oh my god, is that still in rotation?
JH: Yeah, it’s out there somewhere. [Laughs.]
CP: How many photos are in the rotation?
JH: The old version there’s gotta be close to a thousand in there; for Penthouse we’re probably close to 2000. For the general Photo Hunt, we’ve got a rotating crop of about 3000 photos that we keep replacing every now and then. It takes up too much space to put any more than that.
CP: In this of a champion Nudie Photo Hunt player, he mentions that it gets really hard after level 26. Is that a real thing?
JH: I’ll have you know I spent the entire morning trying to find that answer because I was curious about it myself; I’d never heard that about round 26. Every round, the timer will go a little faster; our games are designed to be, like, three-minute intervals, but if you’re good enough to keep going, obviously we’ll want to crank up the difficulty a little bit. Everyone I asked said there’s not a set time when it starts getting difficult then; I think it’s just the longer you go, the harder it gets. It’s not that the picture difficulty gets any tougher, you could get the same picture in round 27 that you would get in round 1. It’s just that the timer is faster and you’re probably out of hints by that point.
CP: Have you ever been at a bar and wanted to say, like, “I made that!”
JH: Yes! It is a fantastic way to meet people. Everyone I’ve ever worked with here has said they’ve tried to pick up someone at a bar by telling them that — you can pull up the credits and your name’s in there. Especially if you'r really good at it — I’ve made so many changes that you’d think I’d be amazing at the game, but I’m not. But some people who are really good at it, if somebody’s standing there staring and you go up and help them out, it’s a terrific icebreaker.
Oh, and another tip — apparently the way to get really good at Photo Hunt is if you look at the pictures and cross your eyes. It makes the changes stand out. I’m fairly certain that’s what the guy in the article does to be that fast.
CP: [Mind blown.] Oh!
JH: Yeah, there’s video of a guy online who — we’ve seen him do this in person — can go through a picture in under five seconds. I’m unable to do it, but I could never see those little pictures where there’s a bunch of colors and you’re supposed to see a spaceship or something, either.
CP: Oh, man, I am so going to try this after work today.
UPDATE: It is much harder than it sounds.