U.N. Squadron

January 18, 1919: The Paris Peace Conference opens.

June 28, 1919: The Treaty of Versailles is signed.  The world is at peace once more.

January 21, 1920: The Conference comes to an end with the inaugural General Assembly of the League of Nations.

September 18, 1931: The Imperial Japanese Army begins its invasion of Manchuria.  The League of Nations says:

"Hey, don't do that!"

January 30, 1933: Adolf Hitler is appointed Chancellor of Germany.

March 16, 1935: Hitler reintroduces conscription to Germany, openly flouting the military restrictions of the Versailles Treaty.  The League of Nations says:

"Hey, don't do that!"

March 27, 1933: The Empire of Japan withdraws from the League of Nations.

September 19, 1933: Germany withdraws from the League of Nations.

October 3, 1935: Italian armed forces invade Ethiopia.

October 7, 1935: The League of Nations says:

"Hey, don't do that!"

July 7, 1937: Japan begins a full scale invasion of China.  As a final measure, the League offers only its “spiritual support” to the Chinese.

December 11, 1937: Italy withdraws from the League of Nations.

September 1, 1939: Germany invades Poland.  The League of Nations says:

...

Nothing.

World War II begins.  The League fails its primary directive: to avoid any future world war.

October 24, 1945: The United Nations officially comes into existence.

57 YEARS PASS…

March 20, 2003: The United States of America begin their invasion of Iraq.

The United Nations clears its throat, about to say:

“Hey–”

America pushes past, hollering:

"YEEEEEEEE-HAAAWWW!!!"
Meanwhile: UN Headquarters, Turtle Bay, Manhattan...

Kofi Annan gazes grimly over the surface of the East River.  His left eyebrow twitches.  The capillaries in his eyeballs burst like test tubes overheated.  His lips quiver, not out of fear, but in a fit of holy rage.  His fingers clench to make a fist, as he brings it down hard upon his desk.  Kofi Annan says:

"Let's rock."

Enter the UN Squadron:

Justice is served, bitches.
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Troy Aikman NFL Football

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Words cannot express the alienation I feel when I play an NFL game. So I thought I’d make a Jason Rohrer game about it. I call it “Troy”:

OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGODOH
WHATAMIEVEN--
Oh.
OOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHH

Fin

TNN Bass Tournament of Champions

Sadly not the precursor to Guitar Hero.

Fish are boring. The pursuit of fish is boring, and often, futile. So what brainiac thought it’d be a good idea to faithfully replicate this experience and put it in a videogame? TNN Bass Tournament of Champions consists of taking your boat out onto the water, picking out a spot, watching, waiting, and catching nothing. It is terrifyingly realistic.

OH GOD NO PLEASE

I would be curious to know the statistics surrounding fishing-related deaths each year – just how many people fall asleep, capsize, and drown when participating in this “sport”? How many people are literally bored to death? Fortunately this game is not portable; it’s 16-Bit Lemsip:

DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY DURING OR AFTER CONSUMPTION.

If you played this while driving a wheat thresher you would not come out the other side. Well, you would, but…

MAKE THE HURTING STOP

What kills me most is the central conceit behind the two most boring games on the planet: golf, and fishing.  Both are so-called “gentlemen’s sports” – constructs devised by bored husbands to escape from their wives and families.  Which brings me to my threefold scariest question of all:

  1. What sort of terrifyingly boring family would drive a man to do this?
  2. What sort of terrifying boredom would drive a man to make a game about it?
  3. And what sort of terrifying boredom would it take to drive a man to play that game?

Garry Kitchen’s Super Battletank: War in the Gulf

It's War. It's Super. It's Garry Kitchen's.

This is the lesson I have learned from Garry Kitchen’s Super Battletank: War in the Gulf:

Videogame approximations of recent, real-life wars are only offensive if they’re accurately and thoughtfully portrayed.

Take Six Days in Fallujah, for instance.  Atomic Games were developing training tools for the US Marine Corps, but the Marines they consulted with were sent to Iraq a few months into development.  When they returned from Fallujah, said Marines asked them to create a videogame based on their experiences there.  The team interview over 70 people – Marines, Iraqi civilians, ENEMY INSURGENTS, war historians, and senior military officials – just to get it right.

So the game picks up steam as the first first person shooter based on honest-to-God experiences in war, and Konami picks it up for publishing.  All is well and the Marines involved are proud to have their story shared with the world through a new, exciting medium.  Konami are proud too, and show it off to the gaming press, only to be railed on by war veterans and soldier’s families (“how DARE you document true war in a toy?!”), and just one week later, Konami pulls the plug.  The words “too soon” were thrown around a lot.  This was nearly five years after the Second Battle of Fallujah had ended.

Which brings me back to Garry Kitchen’s Super Battletank: War in the Gulf, set in the first Gulf War, released just ONE YEAR out from the conclusion of said war.  Try playing Space Harrier from inside a mailbox and you’ll have an idea of how this game plays.  Apparently reducing the entire war to a flat, sandy carpet dotted with poorly drawn and re-drawn tank sprites, is NOT offensive.

Under the radar.

Alright people, I think I’ve got a handle on it now:

Trivialising war via crude reductionism = OK
Empathic storytelling via realism = Not OK

Oh wait, there was those movies The Hurt Locker and Green Zone.  Let’s try again:

Trivialising war via crude reductionism = OK
Empathic storytelling via realism IN A VIDEOGAME = Not OK

Does that work for you?

Pac-Attack

Run for your lives, it's a Pac-Attack!!

Some things, however beautiful, were never meant to be together.

For instance, I happen to believe that choc-chip cheesecake and a nice, hot sauna are two of the finest things life has to offer.  Does this mean that my idea of a perfect day is eating choc-chip cheesecake IN a sauna?  Hells no! In fact, I struggle to think of much worse.  Not only would the cheesecake rank among the worst-tasting cheesecakes in the History of Man, the sauna would likely be the smelliest.

Likewise, Pac-Attack proposes to combine the games of Pac-Man and Tetris.

Like Tetris, pieces composed of four blocks cascade down the screen, and like Tetris (and Hollywood after-party attendees), you are trying to make lines.  Here’s the rub: each ‘tetris’ contains a mixture of normal blocks, transparent blocks, the Pac-Man himself, and ghosts.  Before long, you’ll find yourself building Pac-Man levels and lines at the same time.  This all sounds very cool in theory, but in practice, the two goals are quite counterproductive.

This game looks like an abortion.
Be careful what you wish for...

See, you can only form a line with normal blocks.  And Pac-Man can only gobble ghosts one-way in a single, straight line.  So, blocks are coming down while you’re trying to clear out ghosts with Pac-Man so that you can fill those ghost-gaps with normal blocks so you can make a line. Sounds pretty easy, huh?

This would have worked far better as a Baku Baku-style game where different members of the Pac-Man family and their favourite foods (cherries, pills, et cetera) drop down; and if, say, Ms. Pac-Man made contact with cherries on all sides, she would race back and forth and wakka-wakka them all up before zooming off the screen.

But to have a game that worked was clearly not the goal here.  Probably Namco noticed how popular Tetris was and decided that Pac-Man + Tetris = even more popular.  They were two bullet points on a design document that needed to be ticked.  They were two of the world’s most elegant game designs stitched together like a pigeon to a rat.  Like sardines and ice cream.  Like choc-chip cheesecake in a sauna.

On the Ball

“Hello, hello (¡Hola!)
I’m at a place called ‘Vertigo’ (¿Dónde está?)
It’s everything I wish I didn’t know
Except you give me something I can feee-lll!
Feeee-EEE-llll!”

~ Bono

On the Ball is the recipe for vertigo. There are scant few videogames on God’s green Earth that make me sicker than this one. There’s the obvious case of Mode 7-sickness in NHL Stanley Cup which I’ve already touched upon; there’s indie darling Tag, which has one running up walls and under ceilings like Peter Parker on pills; and then there’s Gears of War. There are two very important differences between On the Ball and Gears of War: one is that Gears of War is actually good; the other is that Gears of War makes me sick after five hours of continuous play – On the Ball by contrast, makes me sick immediately.

BLURGGGHhhh!!!
Three buckets* of vomit were expelled before the taking of this screenshot.
* 4 Litre ice cream containers.

(I am of course referring to sickness in the motion sickness sense; the kind that you feel in the pit of your stomach, otherwise I would have brought up the obvious example of watching my own head get sawn off slowly and deliberately by a paper-bagged zombie with a chainsaw before watching blood spray forth from my neck hole and my lifeless body slump to the floor in Resident Evil 4. The on-screen message that follows declaring “You Are Dead” is banging you over the head with it, really, if you even had a head to be banged over with anymore.)

 

Exhibit A:

On the Ball is like one of those tilt-ball contraptions that fit in the palm of your hand. Whereas most developers deem the tilt-ball simulator to be mere mini-game material, these savvy fellows saw fit to make a full-priced game of it. One would be forgiven, then, for expecting that these boys were all over this whole tilt-ball ‘thing’; and would deliver one of the most finely-crafted tilt-ball simulations ever committed to cartridge. One would be forgiven, but ultimately, be wrong.

The title is about all they got right: “On the Ball” sucks some serious nut.

The ball doesn’t roll like a ball ought to, nor does the level ’tilt’ so much as it turns on a dime. The ball simply drifts downwards as the level rotates around it. I can think of at least two examples of this done ‘right’, or at least better, than it is in On the Ball, neither of which comprise the entire experience they appear in. One is the special stage from Sonic the Hedgehog, and the other is the tilt-ball mini-game from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (which admittedly, gets really old really fast).

The only foreseeable benefit of playing this game would be if you had accidentally swallowed poison, or overdosed on drugs, and consequently needed to purge the contents of your stomach immediately.

Otherwise, if you’ve never been sick from a videogame, please, please, PLEASE don’t let this be your first.

Nobunaga’s Ambition

Nobunaga's Tax Return
Military Strategy for the Seasoned Salaryman.

Full respect to this Nobunaga character.  Any man that can look at this screen and make heads or tails of it is a man worth knowing.  Maybe he can do my tax for me.

No, THIS one goes here, THAT one goes there!
All I know is that I'm way in over my head.

Look, all I’m saying is that Nobunaga was pretty bloody ambitious, and even he didn’t manage to pull it off.  The ‘Unification’ [read: Domination] of Japan didn’t come until his two successors came and finished the job.

Now if he, with all his ambition, and a lifetime of constant military struggle, could only conquer one-third of Japan, what hope do youlousy, good-fer-nuthin’ couch potato on welfare, I presume – have of conquering the whole damn thing? And in what time do you expect to achieve this amazing feat?  Ten, twelve, twenty-four, maybe eighty hours?  I hope you’re not planning on playing any other games in the future…

CONSTANT MILITARY STRUGGLE. And don't you forget it!
Nobody knows when the warring will end. NOBODY.

I can think of maybe twenty people in all of human history off the top of my head that managed to achieve more, militarily speaking, than this guy did: Otto von Bismarck, Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Salah ad-Din, et cetera.

And guess what?  All of them are better than you. So don’t even try.