Watch me ollie!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved

This game has been driving me nuts. I've been playing it more than anything else for a few weeks at least now, and I'm not even sure if I enjoy it.

Geometry Wars first turned up as a neat Easter Egg in Bizarre's magnificent Project Gotham Racing 2. It's a bit like the genuine classic Robotron 2084 (which is still enormously playable today), except that you can shoot and move in every direction rather than just 8, thanks to the advent of the analog stick, and it doesn't have distinct levels or little human people wandering around that you can rescue.

When I first discovered it, I thought "blimey, what an awesome little extra", played it for maybe half an hour, enjoyed it, but never went back.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved is pretty much the same thing except with a tiny bit of scrolling and extra sparkly bits.

So why am I playing it obsessively this time around? There's a global online leaderboard. That's it. I'm not very competitive by nature, and I officially don't care about high scores. But I'll be damned if I'm not obsessed with beating the other bastards on my "friends" list at this stupid little game.

So it is that I'm sitting in front of a $650 console, with several $100+ games laying idle on the shelf, wirelessly and expensively hooked up to a broadband connection, on a high definition LCD TV - playing a slighty questionable "homage" to Robotron that I payed something like $5 for, and can fit on a memory card.

Geometry Wars is pretty and colourful, and seems to hark back to a simpler time, when games were all about "gameplay", without all the tacked-on rubbish that we have to deal with these days. There's not even a sentence of text to place the action in any sort of context - even R-Type told me that I was out to defeat the evil Bydo Empire or some such nonsense. There's no-one to rescue, there are no levels to complete, and there are no changes in scenario or setting. You never get anywhere.

You're a little shape, in a flat plane. You can never leave that plane, despite the fact there's a detailed, 3D scrolling starfield beneath you, taunting you with a false promise of space and freedom. You're placed in this tiny, constrained rectangle until you die. There is no end, no possibility for success - you will die. All you have for company and for comfort is a number in the corner of the screen that goes up a bit for every other little shape you manage to destroy before it's all over for you. The larger that number is before you lose your last "life", the better. That's it.

It's bleak and depressing stuff - a sort of interactive existentialism. There's nothing but suffering and an inevitable, violent death at the end of it. The best you can hope for is to stave it off for as long as possible and take as many other bastards down with you as you can while you're there. There's no upside, and there's no end. It's both pointless and futile.

At least Robotron gave you little people to save, and a sense of progress. In Geometry Wars, you get three different types of pats on the back:

1. As your score goes up, you get an extra life or an extra bomb at certain intervals.
2. If you manage to reach (or survive) a certain number of points or collect a certain number of lives or bombs, you get an "achievement".
3. You also get a special "achievement" if you manage to survive for 60 seconds without shooting anything.

1 and 2 are basically the same thing. Survive as long as you can, don't use bombs any more than you have to and don't die. 3 is mildly interesting, but is really a simple one-off task that isn't really compatible with the rest of the game.

So it's clearly the high-score table, filtered to show those on my "friends" list, that's the real drug at work here. I'm not here for the gameplay, and I'm certainly not here for the game design. I'm here to perform a repetitive, frustrating and time-consuming task slightly better than others. I want to see their names below mine, not above. Whenever I turn on the 360, even if it's to play something else, I'll just check to see that nobody's posted a new score that betters mine. And I've got that one guy in front of me - I need to make sure he's not pulling further ahead, as I steadily close the gap between us.

There's something compelling here, and it's something to which I thought I was immune. I still don't understand it, and I'm not even sure I like it. But I'll be damned if I'm quitting before I'm at the top of that list.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I've let this thing slide for ages, haven't I? Ah, well. It seems that about half the non-porn internet consists of pages like this. Sporadic nonsense, links to a bunch of crap you've already been forwarded more than you'd like, and periods of prolonged silence followed by excuses and promises. Bah.

So let's continue this tiresomely formulaic exercise, eh?

This time around, I'm mostly going to be blathering on about videogames.

But first, a few self-indulgent tidbits, continuing on from some themes I set up during my traditional "New Year's Resolutions" phase.

1. The health/fitness thing. At the half-year mark, I give myself about a 6 out of 10 on this front. I've sort of managed to run and exercise off my own bat in a semi-regular fashion, and I've also joined a soccer team and play once a week. I never thought I'd be drawn to organised sports, but there you have it. It's a whole new thing to me, and I'm actually thoroughly enjoying it. I've had an extremely easy introduction to the game, since the team I play on is made up of excellent players, and we routinely trounce our opposition, despite my own personal ineptitude. I'm usually nervous and twitchy before the game, surprisingly aggressive and competitive during it, and then exhausted and apologetic once it's all over. I guess that's mostly as it should be.

On the whole, I'm feeling a lot better, and have become aware of a few muscles I didn't know existed, including this one long thin one that sort of goes up the outside of your lower leg from the ankle to the knee, and which hurts like a motherfucker after kicking a few soccer balls. I'm still way too fat, though, and I think it's because of the booze. I love a drink, but I'm going to give it a rest for a couple of weeks or so and see if that makes a difference.

2. On the writing front, I can't really give myself better than a 4 out of 10. I wrote another magazine article earlier in the year, but just between you, me and the lamppost, I think it was a bit shit. The childrens book I was working on was going quite well for a few months, but when some crunch time came up at work, I simply didn't have any time to devote to it. Then, when my schedule went back to normal, I had lost my momentum. In the meanwhile, I've picked up on another idea that I prefer (which is actually for adult fiction), and am now a bit torn. Once the World Cup is over, I'm going to go back to scheduling a couple of sessions a week for writing, and go from there.

There's been a lot going on at work lately, but I'm not going to talk about it here anymore. There's just so much that I have to omit - anything I put here is going to sound like a statement from the government or something. Sorry.

I'm also going to attempt to leave the emo bullshit at the door from now on.

Here are some things that I'm enjoying at the moment:

1. The new Sodastream record.
2. Xbox Live. I get it now.
3. The Mighty Boosh. I'm extremely late to the party, but still.
4. Ridge Racer 6. Massively underrated.
5. Baddiel and Skinner's World Cup podcasts.

I'm hoping the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie will be awesome, too.

Oh, and my Xbox 360 apparently has its own blog now. Bless.

I've recently developed an almost unhealthy obsession with Lou Reed's Transformer - it's one of the best records I've ever heard, and I can't believe I only recently discovered it. Word is that Lou's back catalogue is a bit patchy - if anyone can offer any advice as to some other good records of his to pick up, I'd greatly appreciate it.

That'll do for now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In which I lazily post a link to something stupid. Again.

But come on. This is pretty cool.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

This has got to be a hoax. Surely.

Most of you won't understand why this signifies the beginning of the end of civilisation.

But it does.

Don't forget where you first heard it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Heh. "Boner."

This is apparently a Japanese ad for porn UMDs for Sony's PSP. It looks pretty innocuous at first glance, but look more closely at the bloke's crotch. Tent pole!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sega does what Nintendon't

Well, no posts for a while, etc. Head up my arse, busy busy. Yawn.

I might fuck off this Game of the Year thing, actually - I'm not sure I can be bothered. To break the suspense, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow was going to be #1. It's really neat, and you should play it. It has awesome 2D graphics, and it taught me that I'll put up with any amount of backtracking and respawning-enemies in a game (which I usually hate) so long as you throw me a few XP and let me see the words "level up" every once in a while.

You should also look at this website, if you dig on Sega. It made me go all warm and squishy on the inside. What an amazing bit of nostalgia. There's just something about those old Sega print ads - they're imprinted on my brain, somehow. Getting a Megadrive (which is what we called the Genesis in these parts) was like getting pubes. Except better.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dear The Internet

Please shut up about Chuck Norris.

We get it.