- HBO Grants Game of Thrones Epic Season 4Posted 50 days ago
- Dispute Gets Game of Thrones Actor The Tyson VS Holyfield TreatmentPosted 56 days ago
- Game of Thrones: George R. R. Martin Makes a Cameo in Season 4Posted 60 days ago
- Jon Snow & Ygritte Get Cozy In Game of Thrones Portraits!Posted 62 days ago
- Watch The Newest Game of Thrones Trailer!Posted 64 days ago
- Game of Thrones Season 3 is a Beast Waiting to be StirredPosted 65 days ago
- Game of Thrones Recap: Get Caught Up On Season 2Posted 72 days ago
- Game of Thrones Extended Season 3 Trailer Has Bears, Sex, Flaming Swords and Everything ElsePosted 79 days ago
- Game of Thrones: Shadowed Cast in New Season 3 PostersPosted 80 days ago
- Game of Thrones Season 3 is Chaotic in New Teaser from HBOPosted 100 days ago
Geek Girl Navigating the World – Food for the Geek Stomach and the Geek Soul
Last week I was with a friend getting food before we went to play an RPG with a group who were just starting a game. We ended up deciding to go to Taco Bell. I expected tacos and an iced tea as big as my head from the experience because that’s pretty much why I go to Taco Bell. It’s never about atmosphere and usually directly related to how much money I have available to spend on food. Also? I really dig the Doritos Locos Taco. It’s kind of one of those things that’s sick and wrong in all the best ways. It should be repulsive and disgusting. Instead, it’s like junk food heaven.
So, I walked in figuring that I’d get my taco and my iced tea and go happily on my way none the worse for wear. Instead, I walked in and saw a poster on the wall that had a little logo for the kids’ meal up in the corner of it and four squares with a red and white Atari symbol front and center. Each of the squares had a game title that I recognized plastered across the front of it. Suddenly, I felt myself getting both excited and very hopeful.
My friend and I were the only ones ordering food at the time, so, I approached the counter and asked the poor guy standing there, “So, are those computer games as the kids’ meal toys?”
He just blinked at me and said, “Uh-maybe?”
His voice indicated that he probably wasn’t sure what they were and that he had no idea why I was asking him about them. It might have been fear. I’m not sure. I don’t think it was fear. I think it was confusion.
So, I decided to just explain to him why I wanted to know. “Look,” I started, “I’m a big ol’ Geek. If those are computer games, I’d really, really like to know if I can just buy the games individually or if I’m going to have to buy four kids’ meals to get them.”
“Uhhhhh,” he answered.
I could see that I was probably going to have to start a conversation with someone else who maybe wasn’t quite so confused by my request. Just as I was getting ready to ask, the manager of the store popped her head around the corner and saved the day.
“Yeah, those are games, which ones you want?”
“All of them,” I told her, “I’m a Geek.”
She actually laughed as she told me, “We can sell them to you individually. Let me get those for you.”
The kid who was making my tacos leaned around the corner and enthusiastically blurted, “I love those games. Centipede is my favorite. Which one do you like? Aren’t they cool?”
So, I chatted with him while the store manager got me my shiny new games and explained that I had, in fact, played Asteroids on a real Atari and I kind of missed the old joystick because new gaming controllers have so many stupid buttons that I spend too much time trying to figure out how to get them to work. That probably explains quite a bit about my aversion to modern gaming. I can appreciate the graphics and the storylines that go into them, but when it comes to trying to actually operate them, I end up at a loss more often than not.
I was charged about a dollar each for the discs. I’m completely unashamed to admit that I was more than a little gleeful as I tucked my haul into my bag. I took a good look at the Centipede disc and let out a happy squeal when I saw what it said in the little orange oval on the front. Not only had I just scored four games, there was a bonus game included. As soon as I got the games loaded on my computer, I would be able to play Pong, too.
Real life, of course, intruded on my efforts at Geekery. I had to repress my inner starry-eyed little sprocket and make the difficult decision not to load my new games as soon as I got home. I knew that once I started playing them I was going to end up staying up far too late and, in order to afford new games, however cheap they might end up being, I have to keep my job. It’s one of those perils of adult life that is pretty much unavoidable.
Finally, this weekend, I got the time to sit down and install the games. My computer installed them in a matter of seconds, which is always a welcome turn of events. Once I got them onto my computer, it was time to finally start playing them. Each game touts that there are three levels of difficulty on them, which is nice. What I didn’t see advertised on the packaging was that each game comes with the original version and the “evolved” version. Naturally, in the course of testing them, I had to play both versions of each game.
The game that I had to play first was, of course, the one that would, naturally, have to be classified as my favorite. Centipede is one of the first and still one of the only video games that I can say I’m reasonably proficient at playing. The controls are simple, the concept is easy to grasp, and there’s really only so much you can do in the context of the game. One of the things I love the most about Centipede is the simple fact that if you’re ever in doubt, just shoot things. You will not be wrong in your bent on random destruction. It will earn you additional points and you might just win.
The original version of the game has the same clumsy graphics that still occasionally haunt my dreams. The mushrooms sort of look like mushrooms and the centipede itself looks like a group of flattened, marching ping pong balls. With each level you conquer the color scheme changes, just like it did in the arcade version. The scorpion and lizard things wriggle across the screen and you use your arrow keys and space bar to take aim at them and fire.
The evolved version has slightly better graphics more indicative of bioluminescence, though the centipede still looks pretty much the same. I can’t really say that the lizards and scorpions look much better with updated graphics, either. I actually found it more difficult to play the evolved version because the ship was a little bit harder to see and therefore not as easy to control. I kept trying to move into position to fire and ending up a little to the side of where I thought I was.
Still, the port to PC doesn’t seem to have caused much change in playing the game for anyone who might be familiar with it. The roller control from the arcade version isn’t available, of course, which I really do miss. I seemed to be able to coordinate moving and firing much better when I could operate the game with those. Even the joystick version of the game that plugs directly into the TV (which I do have), seemed easier to use than the arrow keys. If you let your fingers drift, even a little, you’re going to end up frustrated because you’re hammering at keys and not getting any results. Or, I suppose, I should say that I did for just enough time to get my little ship run over by a stray centipede head. I was trying to figure out how a simple little game that my computer was more than capable of running could generate lag when nothing else was going at the same time. It’s kind of embarrassing to realize that the problem was actually between the chair and the keyboard, even as I felt a weird sense of relief that I wasn’t going to have to make this a “don’t bother” column.
The next game on the list to try was Asteroids. This was another game that I was pretty familiar with from my starry-eyed little sprocket days. A relative had an Atari and sometimes I used to get to play it. Asteroids was one of the games that he had that I understood how to play.
The original version has the white graphics on a black background. The ship is that tiny, odd acute triangle and the asteroids are comparatively massive. When you shoot them, they break into smaller versions of that same weird shape and go in the opposite direction. The evolved version has a pretty galaxy background and a rudimentary attempt at making the asteroids themselves kind of look a little bit rocky. It looks like a beginner’s attempt at AutoCAD rendering. The ship has a blue aura around it so that it stands out against the background. It helps it to stand out, but doesn’t add much to game play.
To be honest, given the choice, I would skip the evolved version of Asteroids in favor of the original one. There’s kind of a Zen quality to the slow drift of clunky 2D rocks and the simple process of breaking them into smaller pieces. I can see this one being excellent for those days when I want a little stress relief and just want to spend a little span of time blowing stuff up and breaking things. I can just start up the game, put it on easy mode, find the spot on the screen where the asteroids never go (it’s just a little to the left of center) and start shooting the big, nasty rocks coming to get me until they disappear.
Lunar Lander was the next one that I tried to play. I only vaguely remembered it and I am pretty sure that I never played it when I was little. When the game started, I did recognize the original version’s screen. It brought back a lot of memories of swearing from various family members when they tried playing it. When I attempted to play it, I began to understand why they’d been swearing.
The concept of the game is very simple. You are supposed to land your little lunar module on the rugged terrain presented to you. Various spaces are designated with bonus points if you can manage to make the module touch down there. You use your arrow keys to control the module by turning it and selectively using your thrusters to slow it down and try to point it towards a landing spot.
The graphics are much like Asteroid. They’re very simple white on black. It’s very much just a pixelated line drawing. It’s not difficult to see where your landing module is and it’s not hard to see where you’re supposed to land it. On the other hand, trying to aim the thing and getting it to stay on course turned out to be far more of a challenge than I had expected. I made a whole bunch of craters. Most of them were 5 miles wide, but I managed to make a couple that were only 2. I’m pretty sure the game designers never intended for a player to feel like making a 2 mile wide crater and still killing the entire crew should be an accomplishment, but let me tell you, I was definitely feeling that way. I can now definitively say there’s a reason I’m not an astronaut. I haven’t had a single successful moon landing yet and I’m not even trying to operate a decent simulator.
I was pretty sure that the evolved version wasn’t going to make any kind of impact on the way that I played the game, but I thought for the purposes of writing this column, I should at least make the attempt. Lunar Lander Evolved is actually cooler in its evolved version. The module looks more like an Apollo lander instead of a bad grade school drawing of a Dalek and the terrain looks more like cartoon mountains than a line on a heart rate monitor. It’s prettier, but it’s still just as hard. After wasting a lot of time doing the “research” for this section of the column, I’ve decided that not being able to make a successful moon landing is a challenge and I will defeat the stupid game before I die. It’s bringing out stubbornness in me that I’ve come to accept. I have a goal and I’m determined to meet it.
It’s probably good that I did not leave Lunar Lander as the last game that I attempted because I would probably still be playing it in an attempt to win just once instead of moving on to the fourth and final game. The last game that I tried was Breakout. It was another game that I had not played as a starry-eyed little sprocket and was pretty sure that I didn’t recognize. Once it started, though, I soon discovered I was mistaken. I have played Breakout under other names, most frequently on my graphing calculator when I was in college (but never during class, Mom, especially not during Calculus, I swear!).
At the top of the screen there is a row of blocks. At the bottom of the screen is a thick flat line that represents some kind of paddle. That paddle is the only thing standing between the ball used to break the blocks and the Void of Death. Oh, how I have missed dealing with a Void of Death. They used to be in every video game, that blank space beyond the graphics where there is Nothing. There is no hope, no return, and, especially no points to gain. Once the ball is in play, you’re supposed to use the paddle to deflect the ball so it doesn’t go careening off into the Void of Death. I actually kind of assume that the Void of Death is, in reality, the gaping maw of Cthulu. It makes me feel better when I miss the ball to think, “Oh, well, Cthulu must have been hungry. There you go, Boy, have a treat.”
I do not, however, make any sort of assumption that if there should be an uprising of the Great Old Ones (and recent events in Florida that have made the news make me inclined to believe that may really happen), the regular feedings of little bundles of pixels will, in any way, endear me to them. I’m not stupid. I read the Lovecraft and many of the homages and a whole lot of the New Weird in that vein, I’m just saying that it makes me feel a little better to not think of it as failing to stop the ball and once again succumbing to the harsh realities of physics.
The evolved version of Breakout doesn’t look much different at all. The ball is shinier. In fact it has a halo of seemingly twinkly light around it so it kind of looks like you’re bouncing a firework around the screen. The paddle is still a thick line, the blocks are still multicolored, and things pretty much move at the exact same pace regardless of which version you’re playing. I was more successful at Breakout that I was at Lunar Lander. That may not be saying much, but I’m going to take the small victory where I can get it. When I want the large victories, I’ll go back to playing Centipede.
But what about Pong, you may feel inclined to ask. Of course, I tried playing Pong, too. I should mention, at this point, that when I was a starry-eyed little sprocket the very first video game that I ever got to play was Pong. The game console that I got to play it on was an ancient Pong set that had belonged to my mom. It was older than I was. For those unfamiliar or uninitiated with Original Pong, it was a brown box printed with fake wood grain that was about half the size of an original Nintendo and twice the thickness. The joysticks that came with it were permanently attached. You had to use a butter knife or a screwdriver to loosen screws on the back of your TV to hook the thing up so you could play.
The graphics were essentially three lines and a little box. The box moved back and forth and you had to use a line that could only move up and down to try and send that little box careening towards your opponent. The computer, even then, cheated horribly if you were playing Pong by yourself. What you really wanted to do was get someone who wasn’t very coordinated, ideally some unsuspecting little kid who has yet to develop much hand-eye coordination, and have them play the game with you. It probably goes without saying that I was usually that unsuspecting little kid. Despite that, I have fond memories of playing Pong and seriously considered buying the “build your own” kit offered by ThinkGeek.
So, I started Pong on my computer. The graphics are as simple as ever, although there’s a yellow border around the game so make it look like a really old fashioned bubble screen TV. The paddle still only moves up and down and you’re still trying to get the little box to go hurtling past your opponent. The computer still cheats horribly, so it’s nice to know that some things remain consistent. You can play it in a two player mode, which makes me think that maybe I need to find some unsuspecting and uncoordinated friends to come and play Pong with me sometime.
All in all, I’m pleased with the $4 extra that I spent at Taco Bell. The games are fun, they’re easy to play as far as the controls are concerned, and they’re very close to what I remember when I first played them. I went in to Taco Bell expecting to just feed my stomach. I hadn’t realized that I was going to get to feed my inner starry-eyed little sprocket and my Geeky soul as well.