Monday, August 30, 2010

Ear Whacks - I Apparently Suck at Game Show Pilots

Right then, this is the start of a new series I've been meaning to do for some time in which I highlight some of the podcasts and other audible musings I keep myself entertained with. Over the summer, I whittled my backlog of unheard podcasts down to nil, and wanted to celebrate by reporting on some of my favorites. However, this past week, I was at band camp, and the backlog is now back up to twenty unheard podcasts. Kinda unfair, really.

Anywho, the first podcast I wanted to highlight was a little game show podcast called PinPoint. This is the second podcast game show put out by Alex Davis and company, who run the immensely popular (if you're into game show news) game show news site, Buzzerblog (see also: Double Cross).

The object of PinPoint is to guess the results to survey questions, trying to come as close to the actual percentages as possible. The questions range from interesting and topical, such as how people feel about the proposed Ground Zero mosque, to the bizarre and thought-provoking, such as what people think about s'mores and Ouija boards. The contestants play for Oodles, which are GSN's (formerly the Game Show Network) online virtual currency redeemable for prizes and whatnot. The farther you are from guessing the correct percentage, the more Oodles you lose, and the greater danger you're in of leaving the game.

The weird thing about this game is that I had a very small hand in its production. I was involved in two test pilots, and I had a blast playing. I was also relatively good at the game, nearly nailing a couple of questions on the nose. In both cases though, I lost in the final head-to-head question, missing by a major margin. I wouldn't have won anything for taking first place anyway, but I got some major harassment from my friends when I tried to explain the show to them the next day. (Now that the show's finally available to the public, these friends can hear how tricky the show can be. And subsequently start apologizing. Use the comments box below, thanks.)

PinPoint is a fun game for people who think they know people, and is rather easy to play along with. I was initially critical of how the game is split into three separate podcasts over the course of the week, but the fifteen-minute segments are just the right size for a quick dose of fun and really manages to effectively stretch the suspense over the week. (By the way, definitely listen to week three's game, the entire game is really intense and it had some of my favorite questions of the series so far.) Bob Hagh does a great job of keeping the game moving while bantering with the contestants, and gets right into the heat of the game along with the players. On the whole, PinPoint is a great listen and makes reading America's mind fun (so long as the questions don't involve politics, they kill me every time).

iTunes Link - Official Site

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Does Ms. Pac-Man Know He's Seeing Other Women?

Have you ever had the indescribable urge to try something just because it sounded so amazingly terrible that it had to be hilarious? Old movies seem to have a knack for being a target of this sort of humor (heck, who could forget Mystery Science Theatre 3000 which practically mastered the art of ripping up terrible movies), and many talent shows on television capitalize on humor from terrible auditionees (American Idol and America's Got A Fleeting Desire To Act As Though It Has Talent Other Than Singing are two examples). This same joy of snobbish mockery can even come from games, if you look hard enough.

At some point in time last week, I ran across a banner ad for PAC-MAN Pizza Parlor. As I read through the game's description, I instantly thought to myself, "Mystery Science Arcade 3000". For perhaps not the first time but definitely not the last, I came across a game that looked so terrible, it had to be pathetically hilarious.

The game, in a nutshell (and forgive me for lacking on the exact details of the plot): Cathy's father has lost his memory, and it's up to her to maintain the family business until he can get better again. Naturally, assistance for Cathy comes in the form of a basketball-sized yellow man with a giant nose that happens to pop out of an arcade machine. Naturally.

So in terms of the actual game itself, customers place orders on the left side of the screen, Pac-Man (not sure why it's capitalized in the title) fetches the individual ingredients on the right side, and you assemble and deliver the ingredients in the middle. You start off by serving drinks, then salads, then in a traditionally tertiary object of priority when owning a pizza parlor, pizzas. Mr. P, on the right side, needs to not only collect the ingredients for foods in a specific order (no pepperoni before the dough, no tomatoes before the lettuce, etc.), but also avoid running into ghosts (which randomly turn into fruits for bonus points) and stay away from the edges of his section, as it turns out that he's on a conveyor belt that moves periodically, possibly dragging him off the edge and causing you to lose time (whereas Cathy's only limitation is that she can only carry two objects at a time).

Honestly, there are some pretty cringeworthy parts to this game. The plotline, presented in click-to-see-the-next-frame-even-though-it's-already-in-front-of-you form, seems to be held together with imitation maple syrup (two random guys in suits come looking for my dad with the intention of breaking his legs, only to walk away in near-tears when they find that he's already been hospitalized, and a random old acquaintance shares his honey for use in recipes for no reason other than... well, heck if I remember). The customers seem to always wear exactly one emotion even when angry, and happiness seems to be always expressed with a wink and an accompanying gesture. When a customer orders more than one item, you have to deliver them in a specific order, even though the ingredients pop up at the same time and you can fairly easily assume what some people want in larger orders. Even some of the in-game text seemed to be presented in Engrish, and the freaking fairy (a nickname I assigned her) taught you how to make every single item in the game with robotic repetition, as though we couldn't figure out that a salad with tomato is different from a salad with egg because one has tomato and the other has egg. I want to guess that this game is aimed at a younger, less game-experienced demographic than whatever group I'd be in.

Yet somehow, in some very odd way, it's really not that bad of a game.

Perhaps I'm completely out of the loop when it comes to these time management games that seem to frequently take place at restaurants, hotels, and other service-related industries. Honestly, the last TM game I played was Diner Dash (the original one, which is probably over five years old), which just has one character running around doing every job on the floor of a 'raunt. Somehow, the divide-and-conquer method of splitting up the action into two halves of the screen works well, and it's rather challenging to make sure you don't get too far ahead or behind on either side to keep everything flowing. Perhaps this is an incredibly old mechanic that I've just never seen before, but for now at least, it's really a new thing for me. (In retrospect, there is Arcadia which divides your attention in four directions, but that's different in that the games are independent and doing something in one doesn't really affect what happens in another.)

I guess the $64,000 question left to be asked is why. Why is Pac-Man our assistant throughout this journey? Why is he working on a moving conveyor belt that can kill him if he doesn't move quickly enough? Why do the ghosts randomly show up in the restaurant? You could quickly answer any of these questions with "because it makes it more challenging" or "because it adds to the plot" (it's definitely not the latter). But still, it seems like the developers of the game (which includes Namco, which explains a lot) came up with a semi-feasible premise for a game (girl in pizza parlor), but needed some other schtick to justify some other challenges in the game (stock arcade character helps her). When your justification for making such a terrible tie-in is "to make the game work," perhaps you need to reconsider why the game is broken to begin with. Playing this game with Pac-Man on the other side of the counter feels like awkward product placement. Playing with someone else, let's say Cathy's sister, would be a lot less painful.

Would I buy this game? Likely not. Perhaps my pint of admiration for this game is because it's one of the few time management games I've played in way too long. I definitely wouldn't buy this game because Pac-Man is in the title, and I hope no one else would either. I would recommend it on the fact that despite its numerous annoyances, it's still an interesting take on the time management genre, although possibly one that's overdone and I don't even know it. On the whole, definitely try it before you buy it.