Arcade Birds

Dear J-

Now that I think about it I used to play a game like Angry Birds, though with considerably more mess around the house. That particular game, if you haven’t been suckered into the US$1 cost, has you slinging various birds (you start out with the red strictly ballistic birds, moving on to the blue splitting ones, the yellow accelerating triangles, the black bombs, and the white egg-bomb dropping hens) at structures the nefarious pigs have built to keep themselves safe. The mechanic is remarkably simple: on a touchscreen, pull (drag) the bird in the slingshot to send them flying towards the structure, and tap to activate the special power. Yet it’s the most compelling waste of time I’ve had since Plants vs. Zombies.

Part of it is no doubt nostalgia for my childhood, when I’d build various playing card-based structures (generally single-level starting with a T, though I wasn’t averse to mixing portrait with landscape for card orientation) and then using a launcher, proceed to knock it down with a 2×3 LEGO block. With my borderline obsessiveness, I’d be able to spend several hours, up through high school, after school building and destroying. Part of me liked seeing the elegant structures fall into the initial signs of decay and ruin under the shelling — and besides, really, what else was I going to do with the flashcards I’d had for simple arithmetic?

That presents an opportunity, I suppose, for a serious upgrade: it would seem simple enough to build a level editor for the game, whether it’s a module within the application or a desktop editor. The developers have done a marvelous job with physics and mechanics so the game plays intuitively, and sure, there’s going to be levels like the Lode Runner levels I made that aren’t tweaked just right to sustain the experience — but it makes the game more replayable. I have to say this about the old endless arcade games: there may have been no story, but the mechanics had to be right in order to induce you to pump quarters. Having an Angry Birds in my pocket is like a roll of quarters and an afternoon off.

Mike

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