Thursday, August 22, 2013

Video Games Do It Better: Boomerangs

If you want to know what makes video games truly shine, look no further than the boomerang.

Yes, the boomerang.

Left: Throwing Sticks. Right: Crazy Magic Tools Of Power!

Now, I could point to jet packs, time machines, or any number of fictional or hypothetical objects that only exist within the confines of a game world, but boomerangs are great because they're based on a real life object that they outclass in every possible physics-defying way.

Video game boomerangs might be considered mundane by video game standards, but they're actually pretty amazing. Gamers take them for granted as an early reward we forget about as soon as we have a hookshot, a Bat-Taser or some other more exciting toy, but think about how awesome the even most the basic video game boomerang is for a second. It acts like an extension of your avatar's hand - toss it safely anywhere in the game world and test your boundaries with a satisfying fwip fwip fwip. Is that wall real? Fwip fwip fwip. Is that statue really a statue, or is it a very still stone golem? Fwip fwip fwip. Will the game allow me to smack innocent old ladies in the head? Fwip fwip-yup, it will, and boy is she pissed!

The boomerang follows the same exact arc every time you throw it, and no matter what it will always come back to you. On the return trip 'ol boomie gains an uncanny level of determination that gives it ability to travel through solid objects and even people in order to make its way back to you. Even if you were to toss one way into the distance then leave the area without bothering to wait for it to come back, it will still somehow manage to find its way right back into your hands. That my friends, is a helluva stick...or a curse, maybe, I guess, depending on how you feel about it.

These digital tools also have powers real life boomerangs could never accomplish. They can hit objects and creatures, breaking or stunning them while also still making its way back to you. Somehow the Zelda series even got away with having them pick up things along the way, like a loyal, inanimate dog. How on earth can a simple curved stick stun an octorok, pick up rupees and still return back to Link in a single toss? Video games motherfucker, that's how.

I tossed a real life boomerang once or twice in my life. Talk about a disappointing experience. As it turns out, the damned thing requires a precise throw in order to return back to you. You're not going to get a boomerang to even begin to fly back your way unless you spend at least a few hours practicing throwing and, inevitably, retrieving a stick that you've tossed with all your might. How awful is that?

Now before all you RL Defenders out there get on my case about the value of learning a skill, or impart on me the difference between pushing a button and holding a tangible physical object in my hands with a weight, a smell, or a feeling against my hands - don't even bother, mate. It's just a boring old, dolled up non-magical stick. And learning to throw it, as a skill? Please. I don't know how to fix a pipe, a roof, or like, any part of a car. Those are the skill I'd should actually learn (but probably won't) before learning how to properly throw something that, no matter how much training I undergo, will never be able to collects coins off the street along the way before returning to me. What a waste of time!

Video games took a semi-interesting object in the real world and improved upon it in every single way.   They've successfully taken the concept of the boomerang, and digitally perfected it.

So thank you video games. Like our friend the boomerang, no matter how many times I give you up, I'll always keep comin' back.

-Matt


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Factions


I've been playing a lot of Factions, the online multiplayer mode in The Last Of Us. I find the combat incredibly addicting, though I'm actually not very good at shooting other people. I mostly run around healing my teammates and crafting items for them. There's something kind of funny about being a video game medic, desperately trying to stave off the endless cycles of death all around you. I mean, I still get awarded lots of parts for my efforts, so whatever.

I love games like I love nothing else and I take them all very seriously. Some might argue too seriously, though I would certainly disagree with that. It's an old habit from childhood that I don't really care to change, much like my unwillingness to lower my voice in public settings.

If you and I are hanging out in a group and the suggestion of playing a game comes up (most likely from me) and you don't want to play any games, this will upset me. Why would you not want to play games? Games are great. Games are fun. Why do you dislike great fun?

If you agree to play a game, but then show no investment in said game, this will upset me even more. Why are you not taking this game seriously? Games only work if everyone takes the game seriously. Why do you enjoy ruining everyone's fun?

The key to winning in Factions is finding a solid group of players that all are willing to work together. Ideally they all have mics so they call out or respond to tactics, and no one plays Rambo and runs off on their own. I always play the de facto leader of the group, but if someone pushes hard for the role, I will happily acquiesce. After all, you are showing a level of commitment to the game that I have the utmost respect for.

One of the players on my friend list is a guy who goes by the handle BCity. I am RCJester, which is short for Royal Court Jester. I don't know what 'BCity' is short for, but if I had to take a guess I'd say Bliss City, 'cause BCity is always in a good mood.

"Yo, you fuckers just got schooled!" someone on the opposing team shouts into the lobby after we've lost a game.

"Hah - you seriously trash talkin' after one game? That ain't nothin'," BCity says.

"Check the scoreboard bitch," the voice responses.

"Uh, how about you check the scoreboard, bitch - look at my goddamned level and tell me I haven't won more games than you."

This is great because I mostly stay quiet during the post-game whether we win or lose since I don't want to ever come off like a hypocrite. At most I'll pretend as if I've heard "good game," and return the imagined sentiment.

"Hey BCity - do you think you're tough because you're black?" the same voice says to him. Now I kind of wish BCity hadn't said anything because we're about two sentences away from the n-word coming out.

"Why do you think I'm black? Is it because that's the color of the guy who fucked your mama last night?" BCity says, all with a casual tone. He's clearly handled this kind of comment before.

Our opponents log off and it's back to just me and BCity in the lobby.

"Haha, damn. Can you believe those kids thought I was black? That's fucking hysterical."

"Hah, yeah, seriously," I say. I also believe BCity is black. It's the kind of thing you can tell in a person's voice. He's either black, or he's a very talented and committed performer.

One of my favorite things about online gaming is that once the game gets going you can't pause it or take a time out to interrupt things. If anything in real life comes up and you have to put the controller down your character is now just helplessly standing there in the game world, fully exposed and likely soon dead. It's pretty much the highest level of commitment you can find in a gaming experience.

What I love about BCity is he's one of the few players I know who's never disappeared in the middle of a game. Even I've had to step away on occasion and I hate myself for it. I always apologize profusely when I come back and make sure to craft extra gifts for my teammates to make up for my absence. But BCity doesn't stop for anything. Even when his young daughter is screaming in the background for his attention.

"Yo Kaitlin - shut the fuck up and let daddy play his game," BCity tells the little girl who sounds no older than two. "I told you I'll feed you when I finish a few more rounds, okay?"

The idea of a grown man yelling at his likely starving child (whose real name I now know) is mildly disturbing, but also this game is really close and BCity is our best killer.

"Language, BCity!" I say jokingly, hoping a polite teasing will sink in later when he's not playing. Plus I have my own reputation to uphold. They don't call me RCJester for nothing. Well, I mean, technically I named myself that, but also there's this persona that I maintain. Whatever.

"Haha, it's cool man. She don't know what the fuck I'm saying."

I drop the subject and focus on the game. We wind up winning handily. Back in the lobby, BCity bursts into a rap that I don't recognize. I offer up some beatbox sounds in support.

"So, you gotta go now BCity?" I ask, assuming his time is up.

"Nah man, I'm good for a few more if you're around."

His child cries in the background. She sounds pretty upset. But also, we're officially on a streak now.

"Yeah, definitely. Let's do it up."