Trig­ger Happy

Where’s the line be­tween retro and ripoff, asks Steven Poole

EDGE - - SECTIONS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

For a hand­held con­sole – or any kind of con­sole, ac­tu­ally – Vita has an aw­ful lot of con­trol op­tions. A touch­screen, dual sticks, a D-pad, but­tons, mo­tion sens­ing, and the rear touch­pad, which al­ways makes me feel a lit­tle bit like a ’70s ra­dio leg­end try­ing to put his hand up an un­sus­pect­ing teenager’s skirt. And yet with all these con­trol op­tions, there’s an­other one that now feels miss­ing. Trust that goat-fan­cy­ing vi­sion­ary Jeff Min­ter to make me wish Vita had a ro­tary pad­dle as well.

I am play­ing TxK, of course, a beau­ti­fully waxed Fer­rari of what Yak him­self calls the “neo-retro ar­cade shooter”. The only prob­lem is that when the con­trols of a Tem­pest- alike game are left-right rather than clock­wise-coun­ter­clock­wise, they ef­fec­tively get re­versed when you’re up round the top of a cir­cu­lar level – push­ing the stick left makes you go right and vice versa. Cue in­nu­mer­able far­ci­cal deaths as I shunt my­self with alacrity right into an en­emy in­stead of into the powerups in the other di­rec­tion.

But grad­u­ally I get used to it. And ev­ery­thing else about the game is pure psy­cho-elec­tronic opi­ates. Yes, TxK is the best game of Tem­pest you can pos­si­bly play with­out own­ing an orig­i­nal Tem­pest cab­i­net. And even then, many things about TxK are more fun and charm­ing than the orig­i­nal. The ec­stat­i­cally re­peated cries of “Yes yes yes yes yes” when you ace a level, as though James Joyce’s Molly Bloom were on an LSD-in­spired in­ter­stel­lar odyssey. The overwhelming sense of re­lief and power when you ob­tain the abil­ity to jump. Plus Lla­ma­soft’s bril­liantly player-friendly ‘Restart Best’ sys­tem. Yet, of course, it’s still ba­si­cally Tem­pest.

TxK is a re­make of and im­prove­ment on Min­ter’s own T3K and Tem­pest 2000, not to men­tion Space Gi­raffe, which were all re­makes of Tem­pest. And yet no one bom­bards Min­ter with death threats for his re­lent­less work of dig­i­tal homage. This is what artists in ma­ture art­forms do: Michael Ny­man plun­dered Pur­cell; Wil­liam Shake­speare nicked sto­ries

This is what artists in ma­ture art­forms do: Michael Ny­man plun­dered Pur­cell; Wil­liam Shake­speare nicked sto­ries

any­where he could find them; Heat, Michael Mann’s mas­ter­piece, im­proves in ev­ery way on its in­spi­ra­tion, Mann’s own ear­lier film LA Take­down. And so on. So what is the dif­fer­ence be­tween TxK and

Flappy Bird? Why does Jeff Min­ter get the (thor­oughly de­served) plau­dits, while Dong Nguyen was hounded by mo­ral­is­ing pedants claim­ing he’d ripped off the iconic Nin­tendo pipe de­sign, to the point where Nguyen tem­po­rar­ily re­moved the game from sale?

When this sorry story broke, many videogame com­men­ta­tors en­gaged in var­i­ous more-or-less hu­mil­i­at­ing acts of pub­lic self- flag­el­la­tion, won­der­ing why they and their cul­ture were so nasty. Was there an el­e­ment of racism in the bar­rack­ing of an ob­scure Korean guy, where an all-Amer­i­can bro­gram­mer might have been em­braced by the ‘com­mu­nity’? Pos­si­bly.

But I think the crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence boils down to the dif­fer­ence be­tween the games. Where TxK is de­lib­er­ately more friendly and ap­proach­able than Lla­ma­soft’s un­com­pro­mis­ing pre­vi­ous out­put, Flappy Bird is so hard that it makes ‘hard­core’ seem like a re­ally floppy word. It’s so hard that you can spend half an hour on it with­out scor­ing over five points. But while be­ing amaz­ingly hard, it’s also amaz­ingly cute. There is real artistry in the pixel-per­fect per­son­al­ity of your bird. This much dif­fi­culty and this much lov­abil­ity should not co­ex­ist. Über-hard games are usu­ally block­ily util­i­tar­ian ( VVVVVV) or ab­stractly, ge­o­met­ri­cally beau­ti­ful ( Su­per

Hexagon), but rarely car­toonily nice. Hard and cute does not com­pute.

Flappy Bird is so cute-hard, I think, that people who got ad­dicted to it sus­pected that they had been tricked. (Dudes, of course you were tricked! Psy­cho­log­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion is a fun­da­men­tal com­po­nent of any art­form!) And this trick­ster guy, who had tricked ev­ery­one into play­ing his stupid im­pos­si­ble game, was re­port­edly mak­ing $50,000 a day from it. Ob­vi­ously, that was just not fair. And so jeal­ousy en­tered the equa­tion, too. The App Store is the Cal­i­for­nia gold rush of our day: people move out there and dream of mak­ing un­told riches. This guy did, with a trick game so sim­ple any­one could have made it. But he did and I didn’t. Bas­tard.

These, then, are the real rea­sons why Nguyen was hounded into near-si­lence, while Min­ter is justly cel­e­brated. TxK is a por­tal into outer space, daubed in ex­cit­ing colours and with a mor­eishly bang­ing sound­track. But

Flappy Bird was a mir­ror into the trou­bled, an­gry souls of its play­ers.

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