Like A Nerd Elephant

« May 2007 »

Memo to Bizarre Creations and Electronic Arts: DON'T THINK I'VE FORGOTTEN YOU.

Don't get lulled into a false sense of security, fuckos. The only reason you've gone almost a month without being taken behind the digital woodshed for polluting my 360 with Boom Boom Rocket is that it's taken this long for me to dampen my nerdrage down to a level suitable for the general, possibly non-game-playing audience for this column. That's how much you pissed me off with this thing.

Boom Boom Rocket is a game for XBox Live Arcade. See, if you have a 360, and it's hooked up to the Internet, you can buy little games over it that sit on the console's hard drive. And you can try them for free. Most of them are either old arcade games or crappy PC puzzle games, but one of the few really good ones was a shooting game called Geometry Wars, from Bizarre Creations. It had great, old-school visuals, tons of intensity, and was a giant neon pile of fun.

This is important because it explains why I was less than entirely skeptical when I heard the following upon the announcement of Boom Boom Rocket: ACTUAL MARKETING TIME!

"Boom Boom Rocket is an addictive and original challenge for all types of gamer, and we're enjoying working with EA to create this unique Xbox Live Arcade experience. Our teams love both working and playing on Xbox Live Arcade, and we're looking forward to releasing another innovative title on this platform with Boom Boom Rocket." - Martyn Chudley, the unfortunately-named managing director over at Bizarre Creations.

"This is a perfect time to bring such a unique and custom-built arcade game to Xbox Live Arcade gamers. We've crafted Boom Boom Rocket to offer an intensely fun entertainment experience for the thriving community of hard core and casual gamers alike on Xbox Live Arcade." - Chip Lange, vice president, Electronic Arts.

Now, this isn't my first fucking barbecue. I'm well aware of how far you can trust a game company press release. But I'm not talking about believing the hype here. I was just under the impression that these quotes were written in English, and thus, when certain letters are strung together in certain patterns, those patterns are supposed to represent a shared form of meaning, and not some strange Bizarro purple monkey dishwasher.

Addictive. Original. Unique. Innovative. Unique again. Crafted. Fun. Entertainment. These words have meanings even to bullshitters writing marketing copy. Plus, the name of the game deliberately invokes another game, one that actually does live up to all those adjectives - the Dreamcast puzzle classic Chu Chu Rocket.

I expect press releases to lie. But I don't expect to be offered a double-fudge brownie and, when I agree, to have someone take a steaming shit in my mouth. Because Boom Boom Rocket got finished, and the trial version dutifully traversed the series of tubes to my game console, and when I tried it out, there was definitely corn in it, is all I'm saying.

To start, take Dance Dance Revolution. If you don't know how Dance Dance Revolution works, go look it up. Now imagine how much fun DDR would be if, instead of playing it by jumping around on a pad, you instead pressed buttons on a controller. Me, I don't have to imagine how fun that is, because I've done it. These days everyone's got Guitar Hero, but back in the late 90's, if you liked music games, there wasn't much to choose from. DDR with a controller is fun in exactly the same way that SkyMall is fun when you're at 40,000 feet and you forgot to bring a book.

But that kind of fun is exactly what, in 2007, EA and BC decided to build into Boom Boom Rocket. Arrows fly up, and when they hit the line, you press the corresponding button. That's it. That's 95% of the entire game mechanic. Arrow go up, you press button. Press enough buttons right, and you get to press another button to boost your score for a little while. That's the other five percent.

Oh, the arrows are supposed to be fireworks, and the Bizarre Creations people painstakingly crafted a bunch of different explosions to go off when you press the button right. But all that does is make it tougher to see the stupid fucking arrows you stopped caring about ten seconds in anyway. Oh, and there's music to provide the beats that the fireworks are sort of exploding to - ten rip-roaring classical music pieces given a synthpop makeover that should make the sound team hit their fucking knees and thank God every single day the vengeful zombified corpse of Tchaikovsky doesn't batter down their door and eat their brains.

Its awful. And the only thing more awful than how awful it is, is the fact that every single person involved in this game cannot, in any way, have been so deluded as to think they were working on the faintest shadow of the masterpiece it was being pimped as. There's just no way. You can't work in games, have been responsible for actual, respected work in the art form, and not know that Boom Boom Rocket is textbook mediocre banality. (I'm talking Bizarre Creations here - I'm guessing that Chip Lange, as a vice president for Electronic Arts, probably hasn't even played a single video game in the three months since he slid, fully formed, out of Vat #8 in Redwood City.)

The whole point of Live Arcade and similar services is, from the gamer's standpoint, to allow small developers with interesting, original ideas to produce the kinds of games that would never get made if they needed a two hundred person team, a $20 million budget, and had to fight the Spider-Man 3 game for shelf space at Target. And if anyone ever MAKES a game like that, we can take it and put it in an engine with Boom Boom Rocket and use it to power our warp drives.