Thursday, December 10, 2015

4.54. The Grand Allusion

The 1980 arcade game Star Castle,
produced by Cinematronics

Screen Burn

November 12, 1982

Water rushed across metal brackets and pullies, ran along spouts and into buckets, through gears and over bells, eventually splashing against four large pendulums, one to each side of the towering clock. Woodgrove Center had opened only a few months earlier, and The Water Clock was both impressive and bizarre. I glanced over the glass enclosure, towards the pool at its base. Beneath the surface, along the tops of the submerged blue tiles, hundreds of pennies came in and out of focus, while the clock churned on -- water filling up buckets, overflowing then dumping into the moat, forever maintaining motion. Plenty of pennies...but no quarters.

The clock kept my attention for all of five seconds.

"Can I?"

Grandma gave me a nod and a smile. I was gone.

Speeding towards the food court, I craved no Orange Julius, hungered for no Taco Time. I ran past the the families in the midst of chowing down, until the hallway narrowed. Faint sound effects could be heard, filtering out from the end of the hall. I slowed, approaching the dark entrance.

They'd really gone overboard with the sci-fi theme at this new arcade. Tubes of running-board lights lined the edges of the floor, illuminating the path to righteousness. Screens flickered and burned a glow out into the darkness. A bright blue light radiating out of the TRON arcade controller caught my eye, but only for a moment. There was more to discover. I'd be back for the lightcycles.

Figures towered over me as the scan continued. Teenagers and adults all melted together into a haze, their backs to me, blocking my view of the screens. I was a short kid, but not too short to step up to an arcade game. I already knew the drill. Get your quarter on the glass to hold your spot. I'm next. What's it to you?

Donkey Kong Jr., Satan's Hollow. Some machines looked familiar, some not so much. In the back, a bizarre cabinet: two steering wheels -- one in the front with a seat, the other in the back, forcing the player to stand. What is that? A two-player fire truck driving game? I glanced at the screen. Black and white. Wow. What genius brought that relic in here?

I turned from the fossil and zeroed in on a cabinet whose screen seemed to pulse with blues, yellows, and oranges. I immediately thought of Asteroids, a game with a distinct look: simple shapes comprised only of lines whose endpoints seemed to glow like the running-board lights of the Arcade itself. But Asteroids was black and white, another relic like Fire Truck. When had they added color to these line-drawn video games?

Once I got a closer look, the trick became clear: there wasn’t really any color at all -- the illusion of color came thanks to blue, yellow and red cellophane-like overlays covering the screen. Nice try.

I leaned in closer to examine the multi-colored overlay, which is when the shields caught me in a hypnotic stare. A spaceship, nestled safely in the center of the screen, was protected by a series of rings, rotating opposite one another. The innermost ring rotated clockwise; its immediate parent ring rotated counter-clockwise, repeating a third and final time.

My eight year old eyes stared blankly at the three rings, spinning in opposite directions, permanently burning their mesmerizing pattern into my brain, and into the very phosphors of the screen itself.

The 1991 video game Pilotwings,
produced by Nintendo

Flight School

September 6, 1991

VHS tapes wallpapered the inside of the rental store. "Hot" titles were a nightmare to get your hands on. No matter how many copies the store’s owners planned to stock, it was never enough. I tapped my foot, wondering how much more time the clerk was going to spend, and eyed the wall’s latest title gap.

Edward Scissorhands had already been out on video a few months. Seen it. Home Alone was just the month prior. Meh. This month's hottest release: Dances With Wolves. An entire row of tapes, missing in action, snatched up by the Moms of the town, desperate for the chance at escaping to some fantasy with their boy-toy Kevin Costner.

I couldn't care less about movies at this particular moment.

The clerk emerged from the back room, carrying a silver briefcase-like container. "You got it?" I asked, tapping my fingers on the counter like an addict entering the first stages of withdrawal.

"Yep. Brand new, never been rented." The clerk was nonchalant and it drove me mad. Even a shill would be better than this apathy. C'mon, man. Do you realize what you hold in your hands?

The clerk swung the silver case up and onto the counter, flipped open the buckles, then gently raised the lid. Inside sat a small white box. Gray lines accented its cubist design. Near the front, two large purple buttons sat parallel to each other; one was marked "Power"”, the other, "Reset". Inset between the two purple buttons was a dark gray eject button, for popping the cartridge out of its slot. I inhaled deeply. It smelled of plastic, fresh from the mold.

"This is probably the only Super Nintendo in this entire town!"

"Probably," the clerk nodded, unimpressed, "you'll be the first to rent it."

You couldn't care less, could you? It's all just "kids stuff" to you.

"So whaddya got for me?" I rubbed my hands together.

"Well, we only just got the two games to start. Super Mario..."

"...World, yeah, yeah, I know," I grew impatient, "it comes with the system. What else?"

"Uhhh….hmmm, it looks like...."

Please be F-Zero. Please be F-Zero.

The clerk pulled up the cartridge from behind the counter, showing off the label. The title was written in shiny purple cursive, floating amid billowy clouds. In the foreground, a ring of green dots could be seen. I glared at the option with disappointment and disgust.


You have got to be kidding me.

"Yeah, you fly through courses."

"I've seen the reviews in EGM. They're marked with these dots, and you fly through rings. It's like an airborne slalom."

I hated skiing. I hated sports.

"Yep, that's right. Boy, the kids were up all night playing this one. Beat it and everything."

Your kids are like, what...8 and 9?

"I thought you said I was the first renter."

"Oh, you are. But, we took it home the night it arrived to let the kids have a go."

Son of a...

I shook my head, staring at the cartridge I wouldn't otherwise go near. But I wasn't about to let a couple of toddlers show me up.

"Fine. I'll rent both."

The clerk smiled as I shelled out twenty bucks for the system, six bucks for the two games...and another twenty for a damage deposit, in the off chance it might return to the rental store smashed into little fragments of cream and purple colored plastic shards.

Now, why on Earth do you suppose they would think that might happen?

Artwork by Cargorabbit

A Moltres of Our Own

July 8, 2011

[From: Vexx] I'm losing it!!

I smiled as I typed my reply.

[To: Vexx] lol. This is only the first night!

[From: Vexx] Don’t understand why people are having such a tough time with tornadoes. It’s so easy!!!

[To: Vexx] This is nothing. We used to spend weeks on a boss.

[From: Vexx] This feels like weeks.

We'd been at it for two-and-a-half hours. Hours earlier, Blain clarified expectations with his own state of the union post:
A quick poll of our raid will quickly show that a good number of our current raiders would rather try to gear up and slowly overpower content through the acquisition of new gear from "farm" bosses rather than a yearning to be on the forefront of the content in older gear. With that understanding of our raid members I began to resent some people for their raiding philosophy and that resentment has been hovering over me through the last raid content. Personally I was disappointed in our progression team in BWD and BoT. I know we struggled with a solid, consistent group of folks but I still felt we should have had at least 2 additional heroics down prior to 4.2. As a leader I chose to take the more popular route of attacking the bosses we had on "farm" and leave the other stuff for when we had additional time. This choice was based off of a prior post that I made concerning raid direction, feedback for players, etc and I personally believe I failed you all by going along with the masses and giving up on harder heroics just because of the complaining naysayers.
The part that caught me off guard was Blain accepting responsibility for the lack of progression in the previous tier. Blaming himself for not keeping to his original plan of pushing raiders as he had in the days of yore wasn't a way I would typically characterize Blain. Yet in this unorthodox move, Blain cleared the raiding palette. Mistakes were made. We account for them. We move forward. No more excuses.

It worked. When Blain extended the raid lock that evening so that we could push past the four bosses we flattened the week previous, not a hint of snark could be detected. Nobody on the progression team pushed back or complained of "missing out on loot upgrades". They took the extended raid lock, and rushed headlong into our next challenge, determined to spend the entire evening working on Alysrazor.

We needed it.

World of Warcraft's version of Moltres was broken up into three phases. Phase one divided the group into two ground teams, working on opposite sides of a ring. Each tank stood next to a fiery egg, which exploded into a Voracious Hatchling -- a skeletal bird engulfed in flame. These birds imprinted onto their nearest target, so anyone (particularly those not paying attention) could quickly find themselves tanking. Voracious Hatchlings would occasionally fly into a rage (as hungry newborns often do), and sating their hunger was fulfilled by dragging the baby birds to their nearest lava worm. The hatchlings' rage subsided, and the flow of lava spewing from the worm was stanched in the process.

Back-up continued to arrive throughout phase one, in the form of Druids of the Talon. I broke off with melee to deal with these, as they had a tendency to wind up a Pyroblast and (if not interrupted) begin chain casting them with ever increasing power. Hells and I worked as a team on one side, with Jungard and Bonechatters on the other, taking turns interrupting as we burst them down.

High above us, Alysrazor circled the arena, and a third air team followed closely behind, "swimming" through the air. Thanks to Alysrazor's molting, players could touch burning feathers and (with three stacks) take flight, DPSing the bird while airborne. In order to maintain flight, players had to fly through burning rings that appeared through the air, as if navigating a course.

One might go so far as to describe it as an airborne slalom.

The 25-Man spent the first couple of hours getting accustomed to phase one. Gotchas kept slipping through. A druid of the talon might get off the occasional Pyroblast, and for some targets, it meant instant death. The voracious hatchlings had to be killed...but not too quickly. Killing them early would force Alysrazor to lay more eggs, in turn, forcing us to drag hatchlings with us into phase two, which was suicide.

In phase two, the attention of every individual player had to be turned to one thing, and one thing only: avoiding tornadoes. Alysrazor summoned Blazing Winds, a series of fiery tornadoes that moved quickly across the landscape, picking up anyone caught in their path. They moved too quickly to run away from. We could not cheat by pressing ourselves up against the edges of the map and avoiding them altogether. There wasn't a clear way to help each other; sharper players couldn't really help out players that weren't "getting it". Every single player had to avoid the tornadoes...or die.

Alysrazor's Blazing Winds moved in a very predictable, easy-to-understand pattern. The outermost tornadoes moved clockwise. The next set of tornadoes, falling into a narrower circle, moved the opposite direction, counter-clockwise. The third set, narrower still, moved in the same direction as the outermost set...again, clockwise, and this repeated one more time, for a total of four rings. Four concentric circles of fiery tornadoes, rotating across the playing field. Find the gap between the tornadoes in each ring, and move between them. That's all there was to it.

It was not a new pattern, but the team was falling victim to its mesmerizing grasp.