Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Question of the Week: Addicted to Rageohol

By GM Staff

You're fifteen minutes past the last checkpoint on what feels like your twentieth attempt to take out some insanely cheap and frustrating mid-game boss. The last two hours of your life have been spent watching the same unskippable, maddeningly enthusiastic cutscene and then dying while trying to figure out a workaround. And just when you think that by some combination of blind luck and pattern memorization you might finally end this depressing chapter of your life, the game snatches victory away in the cruelest way possible.

It's the last straw. Veins pop, fists tighten, strained invectives fly, new curse-word combinations are invented. Vows are made. Games are sworn off forever.

We're mature, reasonable folk here at Gamer Melodico, but that doesn't mean we haven't experienced our fair share of game-related anger. We're guessing that some of you have some pretty good stories, so feel free to share. We won't judge you.

Annie:  I was maybe 7 or 8, and my dad had given me "King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella". We'd gotten a new computer, and I'd discovered the hard way that the new MS-DOS operating system did not support my old favorite "The Black Cauldron", which was considered pretty ancient by then.

However, I was soon hooked on Rosella's quest to save her father and the kingdom of Daventry from certain doom. There were evil fairies, unicorns, and ogres to be dealt with in this game. Unfortunately, there was also a difficult scenario which involved maneuvering Rosella across a bottomless chasm in the dark, and if you forgot to light your lantern or put one foot out of line (and the line was difficult to see within the confines of EGA) it meant Game Over.

Well, I was somewhere near my 10th frustrated attempt at this, sitting in my dad's darkened office with a smuggled juice box when the phone rang and caused me to jump, making Rosella fall to her death yet again. The only difference this time was that I finally reached my breaking point, and dropped an F-bomb right as my mom was passing by. This caused her to drop the laundry basket, enter the den and discover that I had an illicit juice box in the office on top of the fact that I'd just uttered the only word I'd been specifically forbidden from saying. I was grounded from the computer for a whole week, and this was before I'd figured out that it could be hooked up to the phone line.

David: Only one game has prompted me to throw down my controller in frustration - Diddy Kong Racing. Here's a game that lures you in with cute characters and fun places to explore and race - it was Rare's foray into cart racing, and I loved it.

It looked gorgeous on the Nintendo 64 and unlike other racers, you got to race planes and hovercraft in addition to little carts. It also launched the careers Conker and Banjo. Conker would end up having a very bad fur day in a future game that even to this day I think is completely unique and raunchy, especially for a Nintendo game. Banjo got together with Kazooie and now they are hanging around the XBox.

To get to the end of Diddy Kong Racing, you have to beat the main baddy, a gigantic magical alien pig creature named Wizpig. Exciting right? Well, except for the fact that in order to beat him, your entire race has to be absolutely flawless. You must hit every "Zipper," you must master every turn, you must pick up as many speed-up bananas as possible. And oh, how Wizpig vexxed me.

I can't say how long it took me to defeat him... eventually, the cuteness of the characters seemed to mock me in my attempts to bring peace to the land. Several times, I regret to say, I chucked my controller during the final race in Diddy Kong Racing. It was a collectable golden controller that was exclusive to Toys-R-Us and I still feel pangs of guilt from treating it the way I did. Never before and never since have I thrown a controller.

But despite all the times I failed, I finally did win that race. And yeah, I was alone, with no one to celebrate with me or even appreciate my grand accomplishment, but I didn't care. I'd finally stuck it to Wizpig.

Dan: Truth be told, I’m just not an angry person—it always seemed a little childish to get super pissed at a game. In 1987, a cousin once loaned me a copy of Castlevania II that had been through the wringer—its previous owner liked to cool off after frustrating gaming sessions by taking it out of the Nintendo and throwing it across the room. I was excited to borrow it, but when no amount of “take it out and blow on it” could get it to work, it became clear to me that anger and video games were not well matched.

But nothing lasts forever. By 1989, I had found something truly amazing sitting at the family Commodore 64 and playing through the catalogue of Infocom text adventures. Namely, a set of experiences as literary and engrossing as anything I could find at the library or on TV, and far more vivid than the eight-bit console platformers of the day. I played them endlessly and without discrimination. Infocom's games helped introduce me to the rhythm and beauty of language and helped convey critical reasoning skills far beyond what my limited experience actually living could afford.

Until I went to load up Zork III one day and... nothing happened. “Did you move it?” my father asked, after my first unsuccessful attempts to boot our family C64. Had I? What if I had?  “You can’t move it,” he said, “or the thing that reads the disk comes loose and breaks.”

I never found out whether this analysis was accurate, but one this was certain: my beloved C64 had shuffled off this mortal coil, taking with it my entire catalogue of Infocom games. Over the course of the day, I progressed through each of the stages of grief. Denial (“Nooooooo”), bargaining (“Maybe I can fix it myself”), and yes, anger (“@#$(*&!”). I couldn’t believe it; I never had a chance to say goodbye. My Commodore 64 had been eaten by a grue.

Kirk: In fifth grade, I got my first gaming console - an original Nintendo GameBoy. I remember loving it SO much - the case that came with it, the fact that it had that little speaker built in on the corner... it even came with its own headphones! You knew it was nice! And of all the games I played on the little gray dude, the one that sticks with me most is Terminator 2. Because that was the game that killed my GameBoy.

I loved the film T2 - it was pretty much my favorite movie from fourth through eighth grade. So when I got the game, I played the living crap out of it. It was hard, I remember, probably owing more to the fact that it was a lackluster movie tie-in than to any sort of diabolical game design, but damned if I didn't make it all the way through. Through the early levels as frail future John Connor, through the unforgiving motorcycle level, blowing the top off of the T-1000's semi, then do the exact same level but with a helicopter instead of a semi, all the way to the final level in the steel mill, when a damaged Guvernator had to blow his liquid metal nemesis into a vat of molten metal. 

Well, in theory anyway - in practice, it was a really dicey level that required as much luck as skill. As I recall, this was before saved games and checkpoint respawns, so if Robert Patrick stabbed Arnie in the face more than a few times, it was back to the start. Of the game. So I'd play through the story, pausing it for hours when necessary so I wouldn't lose my game, and I'd always die at that last stage. And my frustration mounted, and mounted further, and then for one glorious moment I finally thought I had him. I was so close, I'd hit him with the grenade launcher, he was all blown-up and weird looking and ready to fall back into the lava... and he... didn't fall. No, he actually healed himself and fucking killed me. Hours and hours of play boiled over into my very first gamer-rage as I dropped my head onto the GameBoy with more force than I'd intended.  When I raised my eyes, the Game-Over screen was shot through with vertical lines of varying thickness, the green and gray candy-stripes of failure.

I swear, there is no worse feeling in gaming than when your in-game failures cause you to render your system inoperable. Somehow or other I saved up the money to replace my GameBoy and I finally beat that fucker, but the damage to my psyche was done. For me, Terminator 2 the movie and Terminator 2 the game share a single, unequivocal message - machines hate us and are out to kill us all.


Jake Mix said...

Definitely the guitar battle against Satan on Expert at the end of Guitar Hero III. Fucking impossible. Otherwise, probably Battlefield: Bad Company 2 online. All my roommates were out, so I was slamming fists and screaming obscenities all afternoon one day.

Daniel Bullard-Bates said...

Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure, just recently, made me more upset than any game has ever done in about twenty years of play. I played the entire game, crazy difficulty curve and all, up to the final boss. I loved it, too. It's an incredibly creative game, and the balance of puzzle game and platformer is very well-implemented.

Things started to turn south in the last couple of worlds, with enemies intentionally placed right on the edge of platforms that were already difficult to reach. I should have seen it coming.

And then: the final boss. Multiple phases, many one-shot kill attacks, and almost no telegraphing of what would happen next. Every time I completed one phase of the battle, the next one would kill me instantly, until I could figure out how to get past it, at which point the phase after that would kill me instantly as well.

And every time you die you start the entire battle over again. Even if you know how to beat each phase, to do so requires precision, timing, and perfect use of the puzzle screen. I died many times on phases I had already beaten, starting over and over again.

I fought the same boss for about three hours one day, put the game down in anger, fought for another three hours the next, and then started to wonder what I was doing with my life. About four or five phases into the battle on about my hundredth try, I sold the game.

It was the one time I have ever admitted defeat to a video game. I am somewhat ashamed, but it was cruel and I was no longer having fun. There is no reason to put up with that in our recreational activities.

Kirk Hamilton said...

Daniel - Oh, that is the worst, when a game is so infuriating that I just give up entirely. That boss sounds excruciating, jesus.

I cannot deal with it when I finally beat one insanely cheap boss phase (usually with a sliver of health remaining) only to have it shift to a new phase that is even cheaper. Nothing will send me looking for FAQ exploits faster.

Tim Mackie said...

Most of my stories I will share here are fairly recent and also relatively tame compared to what they could be. I've never broken any game systems or games (though not for lack of throwing things), but I have gotten pretty pissed off. Recent examples:

-When I first got Street Fighter IV, I had a sort of honor code while I was unlocking all the characters: I did not want to turn it down to "easiest" difficulty with one-round battles. I always played on medium. Of course, unlocking the characters means you have to beat the game with everyone. And I really, really suck as Dhalsim. I think I finally beat the last boss about two hours and 50 Game Overs later, but I was most definitely wringing the controller and literally seething through several of those. (Tangentially related observation: To this day when I play SFIV, I freak out when my opponent picks Dhalsim. If they bothered to pick him in the first place, it means they don't mess around. I don't believe I've ever beaten a Dhalsim player in an online match.)

-As a general rule, I tend to ragequit in online team games (particularly TF2) when the team fares poorly and I am explicitly blamed. Unless I know I deserve it. In which case I depressedquit.

-Fire Emblem can get really, really rage-inducing on later levels because you can't save in the middle of the level and death is permanent for all characters. I have several stories from this series; I remember once I was playing the first GBA one released in the US, I was almost done with the level, and a faceless goon got a critical hit and killed one of my guys on a 1% chance to do so. The real rage-inducing thing about dying in that is that it's almost always entirely preventable, so you know that if somebody dies, it's nobody's fault but yours.