The agony of buyer’s regret
One man’s race against time, one of the world’s busiest airports, and mental maths that was destined to leave him in the lurch.
Gaming by Paul Taylor
Afew months ago I escaped the black hole of the office and went travelling round the coastal fringes of Eastern Europe. It was beautiful. An unexpected paradise of winding cobblestoned streets and houses built with the graft of hands more accustomed to wielding imposinglooking tools than tapping at a smartphone or mashing the buttons of a gamepad. All of it was lazily sandwiched between dramatic green hills and azure blue seas – tragically, I couldn’t help but notice it would be an ideal playground for the next Assassin’s Creed.
Then, it was over, and I was on the wrong side of customs and a delayed flight leaving Heathrow for Sydney. A year prior in similar circumstances I wound up on the plane with a dead phone and a book still drying out after being soaked in a mystery fluid. This year, thanks to new regulations, all tech had to be fully charged and able to turn on at a moment’s notice, lest the men and women in the scary black uniforms thought my Macbook was rigged with explosives rather than an embarrassingly large folder of cat gifs. Failure to comply meant I risked not being able to take them on the plane. At all.
That particular airline had an eclectic collection of games, and one that stood out was a favourite from my youth MDK2. It’s a third-person shooter made by BioWare, an off-the-wall affair mixing punishing platforming, patient sniping and rudimentary puzzles. The cast was comprised of a man in what looked like black latex and a pointy helmet, a comedic professor and an anthropomorphic dog. Whoever had the contract to supply games had decided to snub the usual tried and tested PopCap gems and went for this port of the PC game and a few others from a bargain bin circa 2003.
While I’d had fond memories of MDK2, this port was a shambles. Imagine trying to play Half Life 2 on a SNES pad, and you have a rough idea of what it was like. You could look in any direction you wished, or you could run, but not at the same time. Shifting between these two essential functions meant holding down a button to then gently dab at the D-pad, snapping in and out of each function. Strafing was a no-go. It turned what should’ve been exercising a reflex into a crash course in learning how to walk.
That wasn’t going to happen this year. So I turned to Google Play and thumbed through my wishlist. The time was right to download XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2K’s strategy title. Sadly, the file was 3.63GB.
Approximately 191,000 people travel through Heathrow every single day, and it seems like they all collide there to use the Wi-Fi at the exact same time. Some mental maths later and I figured out it would take nearly five hours to download. My plane was leaving in two.
So, then, a substitute, and fast. With my smartphone in one hand and the last of the data from a UK SIM searching for something less monolithic, and the tablet balancing on my knee connected to Heathrow’s glacial but stable Wi-Fi, I found Shadowrun Returns for much more reasonable 801MB. It could be mine in 70 minutes. To reward myself for prudent research I thought it was time for a late dinner and a quick beverage. You can see where this is going already. One burger and two beers later, plus pausing to gawp at the highlights of the World Cup, I was rushing towards the departure gate while the screen blinked FINAL CALL.
So instead I played Flappy Bird for 24 hours straight. And I’m still awful at it.