Monday, August 04, 2008

I couldn't score in high school, either

Above: Paging Matthew Gallant.

After my first session with Geometry Wars 2*, I was astonished to find that I'd taken over the top spots on all six leaderboards. Maybe, I thought, I had some preternatural ability at this game. At long last, I'd found the one thing I was put on this earth to do -- the one thing I could do so well, I could rightly call myself the baddest man alive.

I probably don't need to mention that, at the time, only two people on my friends list were actually playing GW2. And, no, I didn't really think I was some sort of top-down shooting savant. The lack of competition suited me just fine. When I mentioned, both on Twitter and on a message board, that I was perched comfortably atop my leaderboards, naturally I ignited some competitive fires and received several friend requests. In short order, I'd been put in my rightful place.

Now, one of the fun things about Geometry Wars 2 is that your score seems to increase exponentially as you pick up multipliers. Destroying any given enemy is worth more points the deeper you progress into a game. As more and more foes show up, the faster your score ratchets up. It takes about as long to go from 0 to 100,000 points as it does to get from there to 1,000,000.

Even so -- I cannot freaking believe these scores. People are insane.

My top score in Evolved mode, which is the classic style, is a shade over 9,000,000. As of my last session, the number-one player on my leaderboards had clocked a cool 33,000,000. That was on Friday. I expect to see 9 digits when I log on later tonight, now that people have had a whole weekend to grind me into pulp beneath their shoes.

I had still been pretty competitive in Pacifism mode, with over 14,000,000 points. According to commenters on a related MTV Multiplayer post, at least one videogame Chuck Yeager has already broken 1,000,000,000 points. If your eyes glaze over at the sight of so many zeroes, as mine do, that's a billion.

Here's the surprising thing: this is killing me. I really enjoyed occupying the top spot of a randomly selected subset of geometric warriors. It was easy enough to ignore the little numbers indicating my place in the entire Geometry Wars hierarchy, as long as the large-print friends list looked so tasty. Now? My fallibility has been confirmed.

I have long insisted that high scores and head-to-head gameplay don't interest me. I'm a tourist. I play games to participate in a narrative, to travel through new worlds and partake in innovative interactive experiences. High scores are a relic of a bygone era.

I'll just admit it now: I say those things because I'm not very good at video games. Or, at least, the gulf in ability between me and the best players is so vast as to be untraversable. Usually, I like to think I'm at peace with this. It shouldn't affect my enjoyment of a game. The strange thing is that in this case, it's making it more fun. Geometry Wars 2 would probably be a blast on its own, to some degree, but the emphasis on competing high scores is what makes it impossible to put down, even for a hopeless case like me. I don't expect I'll get the top spots back any time soon -- okay, or ever -- but I'll be damned if I don't claw my way up at least a little bit.

Or I could delete everyone off my friends list, buy a big foam finger, and parade around shouting "I'm number 1!" But what use is it if no one can see?

*Can we clear this up? Is it Geometry Wars 2 Retro Evolved, or is it Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2? Or can we just call it Geometry Wars 2 and leave it at that?


Omari Akil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Omari Akil said...

Sadly, I use the exact same excuse for my pitiful placement among my fellow gamers on various online leaderboards. I usually attribute the ridiculously high scores of others to the "fact" that they only play that game and nothing else, but a quick look at their gamertag will swiftly put that theory to rest. If their score really bothers me, I check their overall gamerscore to see if I can put them to shame on that front. I may even go as far as to comparing individual game achievements in some desperate attempt to pull myself from the dregs of loserdom. But you are absolutely right that this constant beating can ultimately make the games you are playing more fun. Even if I am at the bottom of the totem, I can usually spot a realistically attainable position. I set that as my goal, and play my heart out trying to reach it.

Quinn said...

Geometry Wars 2: Electric Boogaloo. Someone had to say it.

I think being a videogame tourist can be tough sometimes when we come face-to-face with the natural human instinct to compete with each other. I consider myself a tourist as well, and when I got GTA IV I never even gave a thought to playing it online. Then my (one and only) Xbox Live friend got a Gold membership for a while, and since he had GTA as well, it seemed reasonable to get out of the Silver ghetto and play with him for a stretch. I did, and it was fun, but to my surprise I started playing total strangers online as well, something I'd never had any interest in doing before.

Suddenly I cared about winning, and got angry when I lost, and actually compared my gamerscore to other people's for the first time. All these emotions from my childhood came surging back and took a while to subside. We all want to be good at what we do, but that desire can grow a great deal stronger when we suddenly realize someone else is doing better than us.

Matthew Gallant said...

As a fellow tourist, I went through the exact same process! I'm currently sitting at the bottom of nearly every leaderboard ><

I have a coworker who recently picked up an Xbox 360. I had been ranting about how good Geometry Wars 2 was, so he downloaded it a few days later when I was over at his house. He beat my high score on the first run. That certainly put me in my place!

Finally, I'd definitely file the use of glow/bloom in GW2 under the "aesthetic choice" category. That being said, it does get in the way of the gameplay more often than not.

Daniel Purvis said...

Dammit people. It's all about Super Stardust HD! I'm ranked number 2135 in the world.

And, as you have said, I have a strong desire to rise in the rankings. My goal is to break 1000. Then screenshot it. Then blog it. Then drink heavily.

Since the Trophy system has been introduced on PSN, the one console I care about, I've been been roped in to the ePenis Expansion Competition (EPEC - I just made that up). Basically, I WANT that 10x multiplier, not just so I can careen, like a bat out of hell, upwards through the ranks (where the highest score is like 2,000,000,000 or something) but also to grab that elusive Gold Trophy.

And to think I never cared about Gamerscore, all it took was Sony to get in the game.


Mitch Krpata said...

Omari, I know the feeling. You always want to try to rationalize why someone might have a better score. "They must have no life!" is a common one. But I have no life, and my scores are still pitiful.

Quinn, do you find that your experience is better or worse -- or just different -- when the competitive fires are stoked? I find myself getting furious at games like Geometry Wars, which doesn't happen when I'm making my way through an easier, narrative-based game in which failure isn't really punished.

Matthew, the overuse of bloom has had me wondering if something's wrong with my glasses at times. The menus in particular really don't need it.

Daniel, godspeed.

Quinn said...

I don't generally like the way I feel when I get competitive - the lows of defeat are much more extreme for me than the highs of victory. So I'd say my gameplay experience is worsened when I'm put in a competitive position. On the other hand, I usually try to offset that by not taking the competition very seriously (which takes a concerted effort), so sometimes I actually get less frustrated than I do during the single-player game. I didn't wake any neighbors during my GTA IV multiplayer misadventures, but I was yelling things at my TV during the final mission in single player that would've made a sailor blush.

CP said...

The same thing happened to me with Audiosurf... and i thought high-scores were so 80's. Oh how wrong i was... High-Scores are AWESOME!

Daniel Purvis said...

@CP Actually, I found myself logging on to defend my crown on a number of tracks in Audiosurf. I found that the email system that let you know when you had been "Dethroned" was catalyst to that.

As soon as I saw that someone had knocked me down, I felt the need to reassert my superiority.