720 Degrees Hints and Tips

Following on from the Defender tip video I linked, here’s a high-level tip video for a “radically” different game, Atari Games’ wonderful yet challenging arcade skateboard adventure 720°.

It’s really different, not just from space shooter games, but from just about everything else, even from other skateboarding games. In some ways it’s much like an early, 2D version of a Tony Hawk game, with an open world to explore between events called Skate City. But it also has a bit more going on than that: you have to earn points in Skate City doing tricks in order to earn Tickets, which allow you access to the four parks at the edges of the big isometric area, and you can earn money by doing well in the events to earn gear upgrades for your skater. Yes, there’s an equipment system in this 1986 arcade game!

Exploring Skate City isn’t a laid-back experience, however. It’s timed, and when that expires a now-iconic voice proclaims SKATE OR DIE, announcing the arrival of the killer skateboarder-hating bees, which get angrier, faster, and more Warner Bros. cartoon peril-like as further time elapses.

The only way to “die” in 720° is to be caught by the bees, all other defeats and injuries are harmless, but the bees still end lots of games: on default settings, you need 10,000 points to earn each Ticket, which is quite a lot! You are spotted a Ticket when you continue, but it’s not a gift or purchase, but a loan: the game will increase the points needed for the following Ticket by 10,000 when it happens, so you’ll have to score even more points to make it to the following Ticket. But lest you think this is a naked ploy by Atari to force players to credit-feed to see the later parks, you only get two of those continues! It’s best to think of continues as failsafes, in case you have a Ticket but get stung before you make it to a park.

720° is particularly interesting because of its unique joystick. It’s a standard 8-way stick, but its mechanism forces it to point in one direction at all times, so instead of pushing where you want to go, you spin it. The video contains a lot of that spinning. 720° is a very physical game because of it. In most games, arcade or otherwise, the controls could be considered just a way to communicate your intentions to the game, and missed inputs where you had intended to act feel like a betrayal by the hardware, but games like 720°, and Namco’s Alpine Racer, and Atari Game’s Marble Madness, the controls feel like an intrinsic part of the fun.

In the first class of these games, a brain interface might possibly be welcome for getting the controllers out of the way and removing any question of what your intent was, but 720° would be an entirely different experience that way. Physical execution is essential to the experience. It’s also a different game when played in emulation, because of it.

720° was designed by one of Atari Games’ most successful teams, John Salwitz and Dave Ralston, who also designed Paperboy, Cyberball, and my favorite of all of Atari’s output, probably my favorite arcade game of all: Rampart. Sadly, it looks like Rampart, while successful (at least judging by how many ports it got), was the title that marked their departure from Atari Games.

So relax for half an hour, or however much of it you can stand, and watch a 720° master demonstrate how to win over this uniquely challenging arcade game, on a physical cabinet no less. It’s a world where you earn 500 points from knocking over a bodybuilder, and isn’t that a place we’d all like to live in?

Atari 720 Degrees Play Through & Tips (Youtube, 30 minutes)

Blaseball’s End

Sadly, it seems the struggle to update Blaseball for a new era was too much effort and not enough income to keep The Game Band, the game’s creator and maintainer, going with it, and they’ve made the decision to end it.

It’s a shame, but it could be that it was something of its time. It got started during the big lockdown period of COVID (as opposed to the long haul, pretend-it’s-not-happening period we’re currently in), when everyone was obsessing over this strange fake horror-themed baseball sim and Animal Crossing New Horizons.

I’m sure in the decades to come people will look back fondly at that time, as a moment when we could afford to be so focused on a small number of particular cultural monoliths instead of our regular diffuse fixations. Maybe a moment such as that will come again someday. But it’s not now, and Blaseball has ended.

It’s worth noting what a cultural phenomenon Blaseball was for awhile. They made a number of Youtube videos for the second era of the “splort,” called The Blaseball Roundup, that are worth watching for their own sake. And the Seattle Garages was a seriously good band that arose out of Blaseball’s pandemic enthusiasm.

Farewell Blaseball! You will be missed.

Breaking Madden: The 1,500 Point Super Bowl

I promised I’d explain the origin of the Football Fetus. It’s from the Breaking Madden Season 1 Super Bowl, which is still one of the funniest bits of game writing in memory. Jon Bois does good work.

Half Denver Bronco, half Seattle Seahawk, all madness. It was spontaneously generated by Madden 2013 when Jon Bois set up an experiment to engineer the biggest drubbing that the software could generate. The Broncos fought the Seahawks for the Super Bowl that year, so he set up a match between them, and decided randomly which team would be the Gods, and which would be the Worms. The Gods, the Seahawks, would all have maximum stats in every category. The Worms, the Broncos, would all have the minimum stats.

Image from SBNation

In particular, all the Broncos had the minimum stat in Awareness, which affects their AI, and which seems intended by the developers to create improvised video game comedy. A low Awareness saps a player of the ability to function on any competent level, for any football-related purpose. A low Awareness produces people who willingly walk into tackles. A low Awareness stat produces men who can only say huh.

Further, durability stats were all minimized for the Broncos, so they kept getting injured, but they ran out of replacement players they could field, so they kept on playing, getting more and more hurt. Infinitely hurt. People don’t die in Madden. It would have been a kindness if they could. Oh also, all the penalties were turned off.

Just to make the obliteration complete, Jon took control of the Seahawks. He began to rack up points. Before the first quarter was over, he discovered that Madden 2013, a game for the Xbox 360, still tracked scores with a single byte. The Seahawks’ score froze at 255, although some places listed it as 256. I suppose we should be thankful it had bounds checking, and didn’t wrap back around to zero.

So Jon took a cursory count of score himself. Somewhere around 1,500 points, the game called a penalty even though they had been disabled. Viewing the footage on the play presented, not video, but a single frame, locked in time, of the Football Fetus, resting in the center of the field. A creature of chaos. A mandala of nonsense. Procedural generation at its finest.

While entertaining, still, things like this shouldn’t happen. Jon Bois is generally careful not to tear too hard into EA’s programmers, and truthfully I don’t want to either, they only have jobs to do. But EA Sports is the only source for sports games for multiple fields. If you want to play with pro players, if it’s the NFL, you can only get it from EA Sports, and it’s been that way since 2005. It’s a monopoly, and it’s inevitable that craftsmanship would decline. 2K Sports, these days, is the same with the NBA.

How sports games have been ruined by monopolies is a story for another time. There’s an article from a student newspaper from 2021, by Blake Malick, decrying their sorry state. Presumably I’ll weigh in in more detail myself someday, but that would require caring about sports games, which is something I am not prepared at this time to do. I will leave that to Jon Bois and the other inhabitants of the Fumble Dimension.

Anyway, still, bad craftsmanship in a game can be hilarious, and so it is in Breaking Madden. Please, enjoy. And here’s the rest of Breaking Madden, which includes the saga of Clarence BEEFTANK. Ah, BEEFTANK. We should look back on his storied career at a later time too.

In NHL 2022, Secret Base makes the most violent NHL team of all time

EA Sports says you must accept this. EA Sports says this is your god. Your malformed football god.

Jon Bois has been an internet favorite ever since Breaking Madden, his series where he strained mightily to upturn all of the assumptions that the Madden football games make to present reasonable game experiences, and in so doing revealed those games are made out of cardboard and paste.

Modern EA has long been on the outs with me, but discovering that this company that has locked up the exclusive rights to make official games for multiple sports, for decades now, makes terribly buggy, broken product, has caused me to see them as a force for evil in the world. If you want to play with NFL teams, it’s either the Football Fetus (see above), or nothing. I know, capitalism sucks, but this is a particularly egregious example. But that’s beside the point.

(The only reason I’m not linking to an explanation for what the above thing is, is I’m saving it to post later. Keeping up a daily gaming blog is a marathon, not a sprint, and there is no reason to wind myself.)

Jon Bois and sitemate Kofie Yeboah now hold their game breaking adventures over at Youtube channel Secret Base, which also has a homepage. They mostly work in the medium of video now, which I can kind of understand? Youtube ads probably pay more than web page banners. I still miss their text output though. But that’s also beside the point.

What is the point? They have a new video where they tried to adjust the stats on an AI team in NHL 2022 with the sole purpose to get them to the end-game shootout, which apparently happens in the NHL in the primary season if overtime ends with a tie score, as often as possible. In the process they incidentally cause and win an epic number of fights and eventually take the Stanley Cup. And in the process, in typical EA Sports fashion, game bugs cause players to slowly skate with the full speed animation and sometimes put a spurious extra player on the ice in overtime for no discernible reason. Here it is:

Watching these videos and reading their old articles almost make me want to forget about my long-standing disdain for both EA Sports and pro sports games in general and get one just run crazy experiments like this. But only almost.