Games That You Should Try Again
If you've read other entries in this column -- "Real-Time Reactions" -- you can safely skip the following introductory paragraphs (those before the first screen shot). I'm including them in every applicable article, so they never get separated from their context.
While writing The Classic-Gaming Bookcast and, for the Orphaned Computers & Game Systems website, more than a year's worth of articles (from May 21, 2015 to August 15, 2016), I went to great lengths to compose prose that flowed more smoothly and rhythmically than anything else ever written about video games, sparing the reader textual speed bumps like misspellings, grammatical errors, redundancy, unnecessary word repetition and inapt punctuation, and even exhibiting the audacity to implement alliteration, clever-clever humor and, would you believe, lyricism. Every chapter or article entailed endless editing and eternally deliberated word choices.
On a related note (just trust me; I'll tie the topics together in a jiffy), I'm incessantly insistent with myself that I live in the moment. Time is never recoupable, whereas, say, money always is; so the very process of any creative undertaking must be enjoyed, the importance of the finished product recognized as fallacious. Rushing to render results for the recreation of others destroys one's own present. I consequently consider myself to be my own primary readership. Who knows; I might go back in a few years and attempt to read my stuff objectively. It's especially true, then, that pressuring myself into "just getting it done" would defeat the purpose, turn my live-in-the-moment pleasure into fill-in-the-blanks labor.
I managed to stop having fun writing articles anyway, owing to a different kind of self-pressure. I had to be honest with myself about this. You see, knowing what a persnickety reader I am -- especially of my own material -- I grew fixated on getting every phrase absolutely perfect, every joke indubitably fluid. When one has reached a very high standard (as you probably know), he can't go back to being so-so. He must abruptly behave in a most uncharacteristic manner if he wants any hope of changing work back into enjoyment. Fun is always recoupable, too, but only if a radically different approach is taken, at least in cases like this.
What you're about to bite into, then, are the fruits of a new method. I'm hoping to make the process fun for myself again. While playing the game under discussion, I now record myself talking about it (also filming the game-play for the hell of it; this isn't to mention that the camera has a decent mic), extemporizing endeavors at being enlightening, descriptive and / or, at the very least, goofy. I then transcribe the audio word for word, leaving out the "uhs." Even if it doesn't always flow seamlessly, involve the best word choices or, for that matter, make much grammatical sense, what I type is what I've said. It yields prose that's just as original as before, I think, even if it's not as instructive; I'll include a link to the game manual whenever possible.
As my writing is obviously better than my speaking, given the time spent on the former vs. the improvisation of the latter, there will doubtless be some accidental humor at my own expense. The truly funny part, however, is that this sort of article might well be more fun to read than those on which I've worked tremendously hard. If it's not, however, then it's not. I can't care. Video games are fun, so writing about them should be, too, if one is going to bother at all. I really like to write, so I'll keep bothering for my own amusement and, perhaps, Adam's. Enjoy the first be-bop game literature you've ever read!
The following commentary was recorded during a few games of Atari VCS Beany Bopper, which Grady Ward designed and programmed for Sirius. 20th-Century Fox licensed it for late-1982 release by its Games of the Century division.
This is one of my favorite Atari 2600 games, at least out of those by Fox. Other great ones are Fantastic Voyage, SpaceMaster X-7, Crash Dive and Flash Gordon (whose later Atari-computer conversion was named Spider City, as Sirius presumably wasn't able to use Fox's movie titles when it released games on its own). Beany Bopper, in whose title the word "beanie" is misspelled, is a deceptively simple-looking shoot-'em-up that contains a few uncommon elements, along with deft interaction between them. It's a unique and possibly surprisingly involved game, and it feels good to play. I really like it.
I'm gonna see how well I can do before I check my old best score. I'm almost entirely positive that I've got one recorded in my long-ass Word document full of high scores on all the different platforms I've used throughout my life. I don't like to discolor my in-the-moment fun with frustration by caring too much about the score while I'm playing. I tend to check afterward. Whenever I happen to beat a prior personal best, it's just a nifty extra.
Here's what you do: Shoot the Beanies in order to freeze 'em, and then collide with 'em before the scroll forces their motionless forms through the bottom border. If you let that happen, they'll become animate and deadly again, and emerge from the top like before. When you collect a frozen Beany, you get a present. This comes from the top, too. Also like a Beany, a present can be frozen with one shot, if you want more time to grab it before it reaches the bottom. If it does, it'll be replaced with a Beany. There can only be two things on the screen at once: either two Beanies, two presents or one of each.
Amazingly, you're controlling a detached stomach. That's what it looks like to me, anyway. There's a lot of graphical variety: The type of present changes every couple of thousand points, and the scrolling barriers are randomly sequenced. This stuff keeps the eye interested. Oops! I'm not gonna make it [to the present on the far side of the playfield, before it falls through the bottom border].
One of the uncommon elements I mentioned is the changing layout of the walls [i.e. the non-lethal barriers that scroll vertically through the playfield, blocking player and enemy movement]. Now the presents are people with parachutes on! The 'chutes don't work very well. Those folks are falling pretty fast.
Unlike a present, if you collide with a Beany before you've frozen him with one of your -- I don't know -- stomach shells, you become an ex-stomach. Wait; did I just get an extra stomach? I think so! Now I can eat even more of these nose-diving airplanes! Hold on...hmm.
You have automatic rapid fire, along with Gorfian firepower: You fire continuously to a fixed distance when you hold the button down, but you can let your projectile go all the way to the screen border if you don't keep the button pushed. I know I can do better than that [16,390].
The weird barriers turn the game into a hide-and-shoot-out affair. Wait; check it out! Rival stomachs! Anyway, your own stomach obviously can't go through the barriers, and the Beanies bounce off of them as they fly around the screen like the mad hats they are.
The rival stomachs must represent an intermediary round of sorts. Interim. Whatever. I love how a seized Beany sounds so disappointed. That's a funny noise. Meer-maww! It's like, "How dare you touch me! Do you know what I am?" Yes: a propellered hat with a face.
It's a good thing you have eight-way movement and firing. The angles at which [the Beanies] deflect off the barriers and screen borders make it very tricky to blast 'em. They can come in at narrow angles and sneak right past your defenses. But I'm not afraid of hats! You Beanies just wait until I get the antacid power-up!
Whoa. Very close. Hey; now you poor people don't have parachutes! It doesn't really matter, of course. You fall fast either way. What's cool is that when a present makes it to the bottom, the new Beany emerges from the top. So when you're near the bottom and you barely haven't reached the present in time, it won't "turn into" an enemy that you'll crash into.
See; look at the variety in the scrolling barriers. For some reason, it makes a difference. Maybe it tricks the brain into thinking that this is a more complicated game than it is. I don't know. It sure is fun, though. As usual with Fox, control responsiveness is perfect. [After colliding with an active Beany:] So I can only blame myself for that one.
They start out slow again. That's pretty cool. They don't return to their proper speed for this point in the game until a present gets to the bottom and a new Beany replaces it. Damn; I didn't turn around in time. All right: 37,610. I'm gonna beat that score, and that'll be it.
Boy; there's a lot of risk-free points if you can keep collecting presents over and over. Can you get squashed by the scrolling barriers? Against the bottom border, I mean? I wanna see. Get outta here, Beany! I'm performing an experiment! Okay; you just get shot back to the bottom center of the screen. No stomach loss. [To the Beany:] Gotcha!
It's not as easy as it sounds to grab both presents, even with your freezing power, 'cause they're clearly programmed to appear on opposite sides of the screen quite often. Sometimes, though, they give you a break and come out on the same side. [To a Beany:] Well, you didn't live long, did ya! You just got your first taste of the sweet air of Game Land, and then I went and turned you into an airplane.
The presents are perfectly aligned to miss all possible barrier positions. That's some well thought-out shit! So only the Beanies bounce off barriers. And that's how they getcha, 'cause their angles vary. There seem to be particular vertical paths that the presents can fall along: two or three to the extreme left, same to the right, same near the center. A lot of thought went into the details. This was no rush-job. The action itself never gets predictable or monotonous. [To a Beany:] Get away from me! I don't like you that much! I like killing you; does that count?
I see: You can collect the rival stomachs even when they're moving, as if they're presents. Well, that's cool. It is like a bonus stage. They're not rivals after all. They bounce around like Beanies, but they're just a couple more harmless scoring items. Also like the presents, they turn into Beanies when they've happened to hit bottom; but the new Beanies come out of the bottom in this case, exactly where the stomachs have exited. So that's when it's risky to try grabbing a bonus thingy just before it gets away.
Maybe these airplane-shaped presents are models. 'Cause if they were real, they'd be flying much faster than that. Or diving or whatever. They'd all get away. And mine would be the stomach of a giant! [After colliding with an active Beany:] Yeah, try that without the hat on. Actually, I guess you are a hat. No wonder you don't appear daunted by my threat! Baldy Bopper could still be the name of the sequel, though. Nah; that doesn't make any sense. It's not as if someone's bald just because he's not wearing a hat.
I've noticed something obvious. Truly obvious things don't immediately tend to be noticed. The Beanies never chase you. They're just going about their business, whatever the hell it is. In fact, they seem to be oblivious to your stomach's presence, just like most of us are when we're around each other.
The size of the playfield is just right, relative to the speed of everything versus the sizes of the Beanies and presents and bouncing stomachs and stuff. Well, and your own stomach. Speaking of which, if your character gets a stomachache from all this hasty movement, his whole body hurts!
Perhaps the Beanies can choose their angles, and they pick ones that are dangerous to you, just to be jerks. Or they could be protecting their relatives. Y'know -- their Sombrero cousins, their Fedora great-uncles, their Top Hat second grandfathers. Maybe we're scrolling through a giant haberdashery!
[To a Beany:] Whoa! Slow down, spaz. Is that your propeller power? When you can't reach a present, at least its existence buys you a bit of extra time before a new Beany shows up. There's a lot of intricacy between all the elements and tactical matters in what appears to be an almost crudely straightforward game. There are countless possible tactics. You can take your own approach instead of following a particular strategy that you know the programmer prefigured for you. That's what I dig about a lot of old games, actually. Along with the creative risks that were taken, of course. And there's a bunch of original stuff in this one. Plus, as usual on the 2600, everything's moving very smoothly. Well, except for the barriers, which are clearly supposed to be scrolling intermittently.
So much Beany death, just to protect a bunch of fez step-aunts. Anyway, this is one of the few Fox games that don't have computer equivalents released by Sirius itself, sometimes with different titles. This one's exclusive to the VCS.
I'm having fun. These Beanies, on the other hand, are about to stop having fun. I will immobilize them and take them away from Game Land! Come on, Beany. Let me take you away from all this. By killing you.
I'm still getting new presents, 50,000 points in. Good show, Mr. Ward. These presents appear to be angry jars. Well, I'd certainly be angry if I were a jar.
In the case of this bonus wave or whatever, the moving walls help you. 'Cause your tummy brethren often bounce into you instead of falling right to the bottom. They take longer to get there, in any case, since they fly diagonally like the Beanies. Y'know, a lot of games are like this; they're bird's-eye, but you see side views of the characters and objects. Kind of a neat alternate reality, right? We just take it for granted.
Another awesome thing about this game is that it's very, very easy to get even with your enemies. Well, I'm at 76,000-something, and the presents are still jars with disgruntled faces on them. Maybe this is the last type of present. See, now I'm doing really well, after some practice. You always need at least one practice game. 'Cause I haven't played this in a couple of years, at the least. Well, there's a lot of games, right? The immense variety is a large part of what makes this fun. [With an exaggerated southern accent:] This here game explorin'!
You get a lot of extra lives. I like that. [The player can have up to three, not counting the one in play; a new back-up arrives whenever four Beanies have been frozen and captured, on condition of player survival throughout.] Look at that: I'm back up to three. Very nice. Whoa! Blackout [at 99,000]! No; the barriers blink on and off now.
They stopped when I flipped the score. So the haberdashery electricians got the lights working properly again when I hit 100,000. Solid.
Well, that didn't last long. Now the lights are off permanently. They flash briefly whenever I grab something. Well, it doesn't matter. That was my last stomach. 100,610. I've bopped many Beanies indeed. In fact, this can be called a jazzy game. I'm a B. bopper!
I've just checked, and I scored 101,370 on September 8, 2002. Pretty good! Anyway, time to get even. Vengeance phase initiated!
There we go. You're both frozen. [After turning the game off:] Now you are both my hostages forever. Even has been gotten! Yeah; I know, I know. But a lot of my brain really lives in each of these alternative worlds when I go there. Why be half-assed about anything, right?
Beany Bopper is an intense game with extremely fast action and a lot of unique elements. I'm glad I've played it again tonight. That was a blast. Not for the Hat People, of course.