Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Halp! Brain abducted by pegs.

When I was busy self-righteously telling Ubisoft to stop alienating woman gamers, I tossed off the line, "It's not all Peggle out our way."  Indeed, at the time I wrote it, it was never all Peggle out my way -- I'd never actually played the game, but landed on it as a quick one-word, recognizable casual title that would allow the sentence to flow.

But shortly after that post, the Amazon AppStore had Peggle free for Android for 24 hours.  Nataurally, I simply had to download it to my phone.  A couple of weeks after that, Peggle Nights was something like $4 on Steam.  I'm a big fan of putting my money where my mouth is when it comes to supporting any creative industry, and I thought I owed PopCap a few bucks for how much I'd been playing their mobile ports.  And, well -- better not to ask how many hours I might have spent flinging virtual balls at orange pegs, over the last two months.  It's not a number I'm willing to admit in public.

I really, really hate this level. Flames... on the side of my face...

Why do I do it?  Why does the rat in Psych 101 keep pushing the lever in his cage?

At first, it was straight-up fun.  PopCap knows what they're doing, and playing gave me juuuuuuuuust enough reward and satisfaction in return for an incremental increase in difficulty.  The gentle learning curve and consistently encouraging tone made the game experience pleasurable in a very basic sort of way: I was solving simple problems and, as a reward, getting points, congratulations, and slightly more difficult problems.

Eventually, though, the pleasure started to wear thin.  Instead wearing a thoughtful expression punctuated by the occasional grin of triumph, I became a picture of grim determination.  The adventure mode in both games had to be completable, after all; Peggle is not designed for the hardcore crowd (however loosely we define that term) and if players significantly older, significantly younger, and generally less dextrous than I were the target audience (as they are), surely I, too, could find a way through the hell levels.

Eventually I did.  And yet I still became unable to stop playing entirely.  Because there are challenges to complete, trophies to earn, and records to break.  The Ace scores can't all be impossible, right?  And having earned 100% completion on two or three levels, surely I can manage it on at least half of the remainder...

I've come quite close to 100% on this level more than once, but I use Renfield.

The truth about myself that PopCap have laid bare before me is both a lovely and an ugly one: if you give me a challenge, I will assume it can be beaten and I will keep going until that challenge lies defeated at my feet.

On the one hand, this is an invaluable attribute in my career, or in the learning of new skills.  I assume that I can update my web-design knowledge to include HTML5, and so it will be done.  I assumed I could find some measure of success as a blogger and as a writer, and lo, each month I meet some new milestone I didn't know awaited me -- and I continue to enjoy doing so!  But on the other hand... sometimes you really do need to know when to fold 'em.  There were classes in college I failed rather than withdrew from; relationships I watched wither (or explode) rather than pull out of.

A game doesn't need hundreds of hours of my life, even the casual hours waiting for a train or waiting for my turn in the bathroom, just because it presents a challenge.  Challenges will always outnumber me.  But making US government work, ending world hunger, and getting international relations sorted are challenges that will always lie well beyond my scope.  So I keep filling my attention with challenges I can actually resolve.

1 million point challenge -- I am coming for you.  After that, though, I think I'll take on the challenge of exploring other pastures. 

(And of writing a more difficult piece I'm avoiding by meditating on Peggle.)


  1. If it makes you feel any better, I have both the 360 and Android versions of Peggle, because ... um ... the Android version was free? (I don't have it for Steam. yet.) And because I like the game, and because I like achievements and such. (GamerDNA.com has an online version of Bartle's test. 80% achiever - not a surprise.)

    So I keep track of the levels on which I have 100%, and the ones I've aced on the Android version, and the challenges, and I'll go after the next challenge until I beat it or until the frustration exceeds the fun ... so I pick another challenge or just put the game away and come back later. Add enough games to the list, and I've always got something I can work on and enjoy.

    FWIW, I did get 100% on 3-3 with the pumpkin, or at least that's what my notes say. (On the 360 version. No notes for Android yet.)

  2. yeah after finishing Bastion and getting kind of put off by From Dust I realized I never finished Peggle Nights on the xbox. I'm not saying that those damn dragon levels lead me to ragequit peggle last night, but... okay i'm saying i ragequit peggle because of a cartoon dragon, yes.

  3. Okay, so I had to go take the test, once you mentioned it.  ;)  Came out, unsurprisingly, as explorer.  In further unsurprising news:

    -20% on reward-driven
    100% on exploratory
    10% on thoughtful
    40% on social
    -46% on competitive
    -10% on sadistic

    ...which are interesting metrics to pick.  (Then it summed me up as Explorer Killer, Explorer Achiever, and Explorer Socializer -- and that last one pretty much defines everyone I played with, as my home MMO server of choice was EQ2 Test, and it takes a certain kind of personality to stay there.)

    Related headlines: Sky Blue, Bears Poo in Woods.

  4. I got the Plants vs. Zombies disc version for the 360 for garpu over the weekend, and it has Peggle and Zuma (like Bust-A-Move combined with...something else) on it. Peggle itself didn't look particularly impressive when I watched garpu playing it, but I'll probably take a look at it soon. Not Peggle Nights, but I assume the game is basically the same.

    Once nice thing about Plants vs. Zombies is that I haven't run into any cliff face challenges. It's been fun the whole way through, even if it's been relatively easy.

  5. Plants vs Zombies is exceptionally good at being exactly hard enough.  Each level I played I thought for SURE I wouldn't be able to beat, this would be the one that finally got me, I was sure to lose on my first try -- and I was thinking that about each level from late in World 2 straight up through the final boss fight.

    Remember, though, about you and I not being the target audience.  My mom had to call me to ask about what the hell she was supposed to do with the final boss, because the entire language of "boss fight" and all of its conventions were alien to her.  She didn't realize you'd have to repeat a successful tactical attack three times.

  6. Well, I agree that the difficulty of the main game is tuned to a less competitive player than we are (even if it's just competitive with ourselves) but I'd disagree that we are not the target audience. If it's fun to play, you're probably part of the target audience.
    I can't say I have yet found the main campaign hard...really ever. The only times I've restarted were when I spaced and picked the wrong mix of plants for the opponents, or misjudged what exactly the new zombie does. That's more because I'm a die hard former RTS and TCG junkie. Most Plants vs Zombies players do not spam buttons to try and get another sunflower planted the instant the resource total updates, or calculate the efficiency of their "deck" and build patterns as ruthlessly as I do.The extra modes however can be nasty. The first level of Wall Nut Bowling I won by the skin of my teeth. No mowers left, the last zombie in the process of crossing the threshold from the lawn. That's partly because there's less planning available, since you're presented a random deck of plants.

  7. I was completely Peggle-obsessed for a week or so when I played it. That doesn't sound like long, but it was seriously all-peggle-all-the-time. I think I skipped meals! Then, the fever broke, and I haven't touched it since.

    Fun game, though!

  8. I have Peggle on my iOS device for .99 from a sale and you're right about addiction mostly on breaks at work I take out my iPhone and I'll get either fustrated or cakewalks due to some later levels that makes you want to bang your head. Worth every bit! 

  9. For me, I was highest on reward-driven, negative on exploratory and thoughtful.  I'm one of those gamers that skips over why I'm doing the quest and looks at the reward for doing so.  There's no way I'd do so many side-quests if there wasn't loot or experience to be had. 

  10. I went to gamerdna and took the "Bartle Test" but only got ratings in Explorer, Socializer, Achiever, and Killer.   Nothing about competetive or sadistic.   Was there a different test, or did I just miss a joke?