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 -- which you'll find on our main page (www.orphanedgames.com) -- 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, 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 finished product recognized as less important. 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 and 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. Knowing what persnickety readers my eyes are -- especially of my own material -- I grew fixated on getting every phrase absolutely perfect, every joke indubitably fluid. When one has reached a 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 "ums."
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 almost exactly what I've said. It yields prose that's just as original as before, I think, even if it's not quite as organized. I'll include a link to the game manual whenever necessary / 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!
It occurred to me the other day that I had yet to cover another favorite Atari VCS game of mine, Revenge of the Beefsteak Tomatoes. It's one of 20th-Century Fox's "Games of the Century."
It features beautifully abstract, so-called primitive graphics (my favorite kind) that are allegedly crude, but which demonstrate a particular type of inventive skill and require great ingenuity. I just really dig the blocky graphics, because you have to shape the relatively large pixels into stuff, and to me, that beats the filmed and digitized graphics of modern games. They're actually two completely different types of entertainment. There's no real better or worse here, but I'm more into video games that know they're video games, rather than interactive movies.
The game itself is a lot of fun. It feels good to play, and it's original. It's Breakout in reverse, to an extent; but there's no ball involved, and you have to match colors while also contending with enemies.
What's unique here is that if the Left Difficulty Switch is on "B," you get unlimited Tomato-Poison Sprayers -- or whatever your character / weapon is called -- and I didn't know that when Adam gave me the cartridge in 2002 or '03. I couldn't figure out why my game wasn't ending. I'd been killed many times, which is the sort of statement that's only possible to make truthfully when you're talking about a video game.
I don't know if I figured it out on my own or read it in a transcription of the manual a few years later. Anyway, the Right Difficulty Switch controls the speeds of the enemies and their shots. For what it's worth, let's see what the Wiki Rumor Page, as Mike James rightly calls it, reads.
"Revenge of the Beefsteak Tomatoes is a video game for the Atari 2600 written by John Russell. It was published by Fox" -- that wasn't the whole name of the company at the time, you retard -- "in 1983." This might be wrong, considering the '82 copyright.
"The back of the box reads, Perhaps it was a form of protest against bottled ketchup, or maybe they were provoked by acid rain. However they came into awareness, tomatoes have become killers" -- now we're apparently in the present tense -- "that cannot be destroyed by mankind's weapons. The tomatoes can only be trapped by building brick wall."
Maybe that was typed up by somebody whose first language isn't English. [Speaking in a Russian accent:] "Tomatoes can only be trapped by building brick wall!" Anyway, you can blast the tomatoes that are flying around the screen, and I'm pretty sure my weapon is one of mankind's, so whoever wrote the prose on the back of the box just didn't think it through.
"It is believed that the title and concept of this game were inspired by the cult movie Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." Well, sure. 1978. It had several sequels. I only know these two things because I've looked them up. I wonder if the movies are funny. Anyway, near the bottom of the page, it reads: "Marketing," which is a dull subject and completely irrelevant to the game itself, of course, but I'll read this bit of weirdness anyway:
"During Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena, California, Fox staged a publicity stunt for this game. Two people dressed as giant tomatoes were seated near the end zone, and spent the game picketing with signs that read, 'Beefsteak tomatoes demand revenge.' Fox's vice president of marketing said of the stunt, 'The idea was to pique the public's interest and establish a kind of mascot for the game.'" Dumb.
"The tomato 'models' received a positive response from the surrounding crowd..." What does that mean? Were sports fans yelling, 'Yes! We should be ashamed for eating so many of those largest-variety tomatoes'?
It goes on: "...although one, named Jane Attention Whore" -- I admit that I've taken some creative license with her last name -- "mentioned that some fans had tried to squeeze her, which she disapproved of." You whiny bitch. Count your blessings. At least you're getting touched. You're dressed like a tomato. What kind of guy did you think you would attract?
Here's a few key excerpts from the manual: "Tilt the joystick in any direction" -- well, that's not gonna do any good! -- "to maneuver your All-Purpose Tomato Sprayer around the screen. The joystick button is used to capture and release bricks, and also to destroy tomatoes and tomato plants."
The latter isn't entirely accurate. You can't destroy the plants that move back and forth along the bottom of the screen and fire at you, but you can kill the plants that randomly sprout from the bricks you've placed. As they grow, they eat into bricks until they wipe 'em out, along with themselves, those idiots. Those vegetables, you might say! Anyway, you wanna blast 'em first.
It goes on: "Your objective is to trap the tomato plants at the bottom of the screen by building three walls above them." Well, they actually can't fire at you anymore once you've completed the lowest wall: the one directly above them. You need to construct all three walls to beat the current round, however. "At the same time, you must avoid or shoot down all Flying Tomatoes, dodge Tomato Bombs" -- i.e. enemy bullets -- "and stop the Brick Eaters." Those are the plants that eat into bits of your walls.
"The walls are built by capturing bricks and dropping them into place across the lower half of the screen. To capture a brick, you must shoot it ONCE" -- don't ever yell at me again, John, or there's going to be trouble -- "with your All-Purpose Tomato Sprayer as the brick moves across the top of the screen. A 'beep' will sound when you hit a brick. If you succeed in capturing it, your Sprayer will turn the color of that brick. The brick may now be placed in a wall."
Well, that's a funny way of wording it. The walls aren't there already. The bricks are the walls, when you place them beside each other.
"Aim the Sprayer toward the desired position in the wall and push the fire button. Only green bricks may be placed in the bottom wall, only pink bricks" -- hah! You fags -- "in the middle wall, and only gold bricks in the top wall. You can aim from underneath or on top of the wall, but you cannot place a brick by firing horizontally."
You can fire horizontally when you're vertically between the walls, though. That's usually how I destroy the brick-eating plants. It's one of the cool parts of the game: navigating through the crude maze you've created in order to line up with a so-called Brick Eater and take it out before it eats through your beautifully smooth masonry.
"Also, you cannot drop a brick through an existing wall." Well, if you could, the game would be far too easy. You'd no longer be required to aim diagonally when placing bricks in walls below those that you haven't completed yet. You can be systematic about it, taking care not to place any bricks above a wall until it's been entirely built, but that would take forever.
"You must guide the Sprayer through openings in the upper walls to reach any empty spots below. Careful, now! You only have one chance to place a captured brick. If you miss the wall, you lose the brick." It's not that big a deal. If you've accidentally fired upward a second time after blasting the brick to "capture" it, it's easy enough to just wait until another brick of the same color shows up at the top, and capture that one.
"No wall can be completed if one of the walls beneath it is incomplete." That's just as well. You'd be screwed! "You must avoid the bombs from the Tomato Plants at the bottom of the screen..." What kind of bomb is dropped upward? It just goes to show ya, anything's possible in Game Land! "...and from the flying Cherry Tomatoes at the top. Colliding with either a Beefsteak Tomato, a bomb from a Cherry Tomato or a bomb from a Tomato Plant will result in the loss of one Tomato Sprayer."
I dig how manuals are always trying to complicate things. Even with just a bunch of tomatoes, they've managed to make the enemy roster sound more elaborate than it really is. Look: The small tomatoes that fly horizontally across the top of the screen, sharing a row with the moving bricks, fire at you. The larger tomatoes -- the ones with faces -- can fly horizontally across any vacant part of the screen. They don't fire, but you won't survive a collision. Well, you will, I'd imagine. Your Sprayer won't.
After reading all of that, I wonder why the game isn't called Revenge of the Beefsteak and Cherry Tomatoes and Various Destructive Plants. Not as catchy, I guess.
"In [some game variations], Brick-Eating Tomato Plants will occasionally grow on the walls." Translation: One plant at a time will randomly sprout from a brick you've placed, and gradually grow taller. "The Tomato Bombs" -- enemy shots, that is -- "will turn green if a Brick Eater is growing somewhere." Nifty. I didn't know that. I still think it's easier to notice the newly existent Brick Eater itself than the color of the bad guys' bullets, though. I guess it's cool that John gives you that extra alert.
"If [the Brick Eater is] allowed to reach its full height, both it and the brick under it will disappear." Well, at least it dies, presumably from indigestion. "Shooting a Brick Eater or completing any wall will stop the plant from eating the brick." In other words, the Eater will vanish.
Farther down, it reads, Revenge of the Beefsteak Tomatoes will begin on Level 6. You can choose a different play level by pressing the Game Select lever before starting the game. After you complete a round by building all three walls, you will be challenged with another round of tomato warfare on that same play level." This just means that the term "level" is being used, rather confusingly, in place of the usual "variation."
Looking at the list of so-called levels, I want to play on the sixth anyway, as it contains all of the enemies, and the game grows "increasingly difficult with each round." That makes sense to my '80s-trained game brain.
Here's a few hints from John Russell, you lucky Sprayer player, you: "A Brick Eater will always grow on the wall containing the most bricks." That's something else I didn't know. Cool. "If there are two walls that have the same number of bricks, the Brick Eater will grow on the upper wall." These aren't exactly hints, but they're useful anyway. "Don't stay at the top of the game screen..." As opposed to which other screen? "...as it is easier to capture bricks when you are farther away from them."
Yeah; that's the only bit of this game that takes some getting used to. The controls are responsive and precise, and holding down the button gives you continuous fire, but when you're near any border -- the upper limit being the significant one here, of course -- you fire twice in a row if you keep the button pushed for more than a split-second.
You can only have one shot on screen at a time, but it travels quickly. If you've shot a brick ("captured" it), you'll throw it away with your next shot unless you're aiming at one of the empty wall spaces. Now you've lost that color and you're back to regular, non-brick-placing shots.
Anyway, that's why John is suggesting something that's frankly not tough to figure out on your own. I'll explain it better than he did, regardless: If you maintain some distance from the top of the screen, across which the bricks you're trying to capture are flying, it's much easier to avoid accidentally firing twice and discarding a brick immediately after "capturing" it. It's also easier to evade the Cherry Tomatoes' shots. Again, those are the smaller tomatoes that share the uppermost screen row with the flying bricks.
Y'know, it's just occurred to me that this game gives a new meaning to the phrase "spray with bullets."
All right. Let's make sure these damn tomatoes don't get their revenge! For what is still unclear. Look at that -- the game just starts right away when you turn the console on. I'll change the Left Difficulty Switch to "A" before I restart. Okay; here we go. [While the three firing plants are rising from the bottom border:] These damn FMV sequences!
The ability to move in eight directions, rather than only four, goes a long way toward making certain games enjoyable, including this one, of course. I'm trying to build the lowest wall first -- that's the green one -- so I don't have sections of the higher walls getting in my way. You can gradually extend them all as the round goes on, of course, if sticking to one wall gets tedious; but it's best to ensure that the lowest is always the longest.
In any case, when you're hoping for a certain-colored brick, you don't have to wait while a brick of another color flies to the border. A new brick instantly replaces one that you've shot, so you can just blast 'em over and over until one arrives that's the color you want.
Placing sections of wall obviously gives you shields above which to position your Sprayer so you don't get shot from below. Just watch closely when you wander out into the open, as the enemy shots are small and fast. What I'd like to know is: Who's the helpful person throwing bricks across the sky?
That leads me to my usual inclination to make up my own story about any game, when I even bother to think about it. It's usually just for the purpose of being funny in these articles. The game is the story, after all. It needs no narrative justification.
Just for fun, though: This tube of toothpaste that I'm flying around wants to feel needed, so it considers food without sugar its enemy. At the moment, it's destroying all vegetables in the vicinity, starting of course with sentient tomatoes, which are trying to avenge the veggies already fallen. The tomatoes have grievances of their own anyway. Against Campbell's.
One great thing about playing a video game is that you're truly living in the moment. It's the same with playing music. Hey! I actually got shot! That seldom happens. Well, while I'm playing a video game, anyway. Wow -- you get a whole lotta score for beating a round.
The enemy shots aren't really Tomato Bombs. They're spitting seeds. Come on, John! That plot element was right in front of ya! [After continuing to play for a while:] At least your toothpaste tube isn't destroyed when it collides with a Beefsteak Tomato that you've reduced to death dots. They'll block your movement, however, along with your shots and the enemies' -- until they disappear a second later, obviously. They basically have brick properties during their brief existence.
The plants can accidentally kill their flying, red comrade up there. They just happen to fire at the wrong time once in a while. Well, the right time for the player. They fire at regular intervals, rather than aiming at you, so you can anticipate their shots and zip between them. Which of the three plants fires does appear to be random, however. It's too bad they have unlimited seeds. Talk about being genetically modified! Whoever did that to them is the real enemy.
What happens if I try to complete a wall before the one beneath it is done? I see: Nothing. My colored shot just flies right through the space where the last brick would go. By the way, you're awarded an extra tube every time you beat a round. This isn't mentioned in the manual. The tube you're currently controlling counts as one "life," and the hyphens in the lower left corner, just below where the three Tomato Plants move back and forth -- presumably on leaf-shaped feet -- represent your back-ups.
My sentient toothpaste tube goes after other kinds of vegetable in the sequel, Revenge of the Sadistic Celery. Well, I guess that should be Attack, since the celery isn't sadistic if it simply wants revenge for something.
I hate to repeat myself from prior articles, but not enough to stop myself from stating this: Originality will always cause me to give the game in question a huge chance, until I've really figured out all of the nuances and truly determined whether or not the game is fun to play. To me, of course. Taste is personal. This is why, as I love to point out often, any kind of so-called critic is useless. At best. [To a Beefsteak Tomato:] You hold still, smiley! I need tomato paste for the sauce I'm making.
My elementary-school teachers lied to me. You veggies aren't good for me! Why, you almost shot me just then! Sheesh. No manners. Well, one thing is certain: I'm bad for you. [Evil laugh]
Sometimes, it seems to take forever to get the color of brick that you currently want. I'm sure glad there's not a time limit. [After a "capture":] Atta game. That was what I wanted. And rarely do I want a pink brick. In fact, I don't think I've ever said that. I'll take all of the golden ones anybody wants to get rid of, though.
Once you've built the lowest wall, and there's no longer a projectile threat from below, the round immediately becomes much easier. Y'know, even with simple games, it's really all in the details, isn't it. For instance, this game wouldn't be nearly as much fun if you did lose a toothpaste tube when you ran it into the temporarily present remains of a blasted Beefsteak Tomato.
As any Brick Eater disappears when you've completed a wall above it -- because you obviously can't shoot it anymore -- I like to think that my wall cuts off its oxygen and suffocates it. Same with the bottom plants. That's why they recede into the bottom border at the end of a round. They're wilting. Hey; a war against healthful food ain't pretty.
Now I'm cookin'. Tomatoes, that is. Damn -- that was corny. Something sneaky that John included, and which is another element representing attention to detail, is that you can't just hang out in one place, firing at the same spot to destroy brick after brick. Even though they're confined to a single row at the top, each appears in a different column, if you will, before flying toward the nearest side border.
A very common tip for video-game playing definitely applies here: Stay away from the borders whenever possible -- the left and right, in this case. Unlike the firing Cherry Tomatoes, the Beefsteak Tomatoes aren't restricted to any particular row, so they can just fly onto the screen and crash into you before you get the chance to dodge or kill them. Only one type of flying tomato exists at once, by the way.
It doesn't look like I get any points for Beefsteak Tomatoes that the firing plants below have accidentally shot. Of course, for all I know, they're doing it on purpose. "We want to be the ones to deflate the toothpaste tube!" Maybe they're just jealous that the other bad guys get to fly.
Sounds like something that you'd read in a lame book by some California douchebag: What Are Tomatoes Thinking? Y'know -- the type who would usually write about Yoga and walking on coals and all of that hocus-pocus shit. It would be a brief book, of course. It turns out that what tomatoes are thinking isn't much more complex than "Die!".
Amazing that you never run out of toothpaste. You don't even have to roll up your tube from the bottom. Now that I'm looking more closely, the so-called Sprayer looks more like a syringe than a toothpaste tube. And it's a mighty syringe indeed that can suck up bricks and spit 'em back out.
Great sound effects. Especially the firing and explosions. Very percussive. Die, Brick Eater! Eat dirt! Or anything except one of my bricks! You can grow your own way. Take a hike. Oh, wait. You can't. You don't have legs. [Another evil laugh]
This variation does grow in difficulty as specified, but very gradually. I'm definitely not complaining. What sucks is that you have to keep count of how many rounds you've beat, as there's no indication on the screen. To me, getting farther into a game than last time is more interesting, or at least more worth keeping track of, than scoring higher.
Holy shit! The tomatoes and seeds are really fast on Round Whatever! I think I've made it to 6. By the way, that's known at kickin' ass. Kickin' tomato ass! What's that you ask? Why, of course tomatoes have asses! How else would they sit in stew?
Yes; I'm aware that was a dumb joke. They can't all be gems. Or even bearable, evidently.
Cool -- I've cleared 30,000 points. Anyway, awesome job, John Russell! Too bad you went on to cowrite Pigs in Space instead of creating another original, inventive game. Credit must also go to 20th-Century Fox itself, for resisting the temptation to sign some lame, cooperative cross-over deal with Round Up Weed Killer.