Saturday, January 1, 2011

Geometry Wars 2: My 2009 New Year's Resolution

Catching Up
I've been getting enough requests over the months from friends, fans, and strangers for more SHMUPtheorizing. The reason I haven't posted in over six months is not because I ran of things to say. Nay, I still have much to share, probably more at this point. I've simply been busy. Since my last post, I've moved across the country, gotten a professional job making videogames at Namco, competed in two Flash game competitions (sorry, not shmups), and took part in various other activities that pushed this blog further down the priority lane. HOWEVER, the mere existence of this post should be more than enough evidence to convince you that [SHMUPtheory] is in no way dead. In fact, I'd like to release a new post every first of the month, and so I will. Starting today (Happy New Year, btw).

The celebrate, I'd like to share a milestone in my little world, a New Year's Resolution that I set for myself over a year ago. Actually, I think I made this promise to myself in December of 2008...

The Purchase; The Promise
I got my XBox360 a little late in the game, first signing into Live in December 08. My first purchase - without even debating it - was Geometry Wars 2. I had played the first and frothed over videos of the sequel. Though I also had Mirror's Edge (♥) at that time, I had to jump into the world of geometric bullet lust ASAP.

The achievements in GW2 were actually pretty quirky, usually requiring the player to pull off unorthodox playstyles (as was done in the first game if I recall correctly). The one that immediately captured my heart (i.e. time) was "Wax On, Wax Off", an achievement requiring the player to hug the entire perimeter of the gameplay walls in Pacifism mode not once, but twice. This was an ingenious way to trick the player into learning some advanced techniques of enemy manipulation fairly early into the experience. Once I got that achievement, I was hooked. There really wasn't a reason to play the other 5 modes (hyperbole, but still...).

The Challenge
Simply playing Pacifism for chuckles is not enough incentive to become obsessed. The true drive, as you all well know by now, is the Leaderboard. At the time, the highest score was just under 3 billion points (:O). My best was 300 million (._.). Needless to say, I had a ways to go. I decided at that point that if I surpassed one billion points, I would be content with my success, being placed comfortably among the top 100 players in the world. To attempt to get any higher would be to aim for first place, a feat that would never end as players continually gain skills over time.

For those unfamiliar, Pacifism mode sees the player not shooting, but dodging endless waves of blue rhombuses that spawn from the corners. To combat their growing forces, orange dumbbell gates appear randomly throughout the playfield, creating a proximal explosion when you fly through them. As vets know, the real challenge is in trying not to die by flying into the dumbbells and not so much getting swallowed by a sea of blue predators (though that is usually how the top scorers meet their end).

False Positive
I had spent almost a year working steadily on my dream score, only managing to come up with 478 million. The thing to keep in mind with this mode is that the score increases exponentially as your multiplier increases more linearly, so I was actually only a few more cycles away from my goal. The only problem is that after 100 million points, the amount of enemies spawned each time is significantly high enough to warrant a change in strategy, resulting in hurried movements, snappier decisions, and less time to react to sudden gate appearances.

One day I couldn't connect to Live, so I played around for funsies offline. Lo and behold, I had a shot at the title; However, I got a little too excited at my accruing success which led to my demise at roughly 780 million points. How did I almost double my score out of nowhere? It's a combination of both that exponential increase in score as well as my lack of pressure, thinking this was "just a practice run". There apparently is never just a practice run. Unfortunately for me, offline scores couldn't be uploaded to the Leaderboards upon reconnection, but who cares since it wasn't even a billion? If it were over a billion, I would have sold my Xbox and taken up a life of fly fishing. Okay, that's not true.

Really? Like this?
So then one day, sometime in October 2010, I broke not only my record, but my goal I had set almost two years earlier. And what was I doing? Chatting with a friend on Skype. Not paying attention. Not stressed. Just messing around with an analog stick while I talked long-distance with an ole chum. And yet I scored 1.2 billion points? Sometimes I don't understand how the mind concentrates and behaves under varied conditions. It's an accomplishment like this that tends to force one to reevaluate the training regimen required to accomplish a taunting task. Perhaps the next time I want to pull off something amazing, I should not even be focusing on it, instead relying upon chance, fate, ease of mind, and the warmth and positivity found through comradery.

What Now?
Well, I'm about done playing Geometry Wars 2, at least Pacifism mode. I may not be in the top 100 like I had planned - as players' scores have surpassed the 9 billion mark - but I still feel more than satisfied with my accomplishment. As of this writing, the top score is trailing the rest of the world with 9.123 billion points. Second place is at 7.819 billion, while I am #296 with 1,274,579,875 points. To be in my original goal range of the top 100, I'd have to surpass 2.162 billion points. While that would just be awesome, it's probably best to smile, enjoy the moment, and move on to something else.

I still really want to beat Ikaruga on one credit, though. Once I accomplish that, I won't have any more reason to say there is something in this world I cannot do. My success in Pacifism mode has rewritten what I had originally thought was the ideal state of mind and body in which to attempt a highscore/perfect run. It looks like I'll have unpredictability on my side to help me complete the game, namely Chapter 4.

Because the game has no replay mode, it's pretty cool that this guy recorded himself getting one of the highest scores in the world. Note how he swoops into his gate explosions to collect as many multipliers as possible, tempting the Game Over Gods. Great stuff:

Next Time, on [SHMUPtheory]
As I mentioned earlier, I plan to have a new [SHMUPtheory] post every 1st of the month, so hopefully I'll be able to keep up for a good while so you don't have to be disappointed when any given 2nd of the month rolls by without an update. Let's call this one of my New Year's Resolutions of 2011 :]

Also, for those interested in playing my Flash game competition entries I mentioned earlier, here they are, including my game [Yesterday] which recently won 1st place!
[cross-posted on Gamasutra]