Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)





Vol VII Issue VI

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Knock 'Em Out: A Game Review

By Tom Rhoades
I’ve never been much of a gamer. Even in the late 80s, when my classmates in the 6th grade were busy with their Super Mario Brothers, Sega or Nintendo entertainment system games or whatever they played, I never really got into it. The closest thing I came to having a personal game system was getting the race car game “Need For Speed 3” on CD-ROM and going out and buying a game controller to play it about three years ago. While my friends in 1988 were having fun playing their high tech console games I preferred the small “button games”. Think “Tetris” and the like.

I remember finding a small obscure game once that actually was handheld but looked like it was made in 1982 or something since it was a simple liquid crystal “digital” screen about 1.5” by 1.5”. The game was a bizarre scheme where your “spaceship”, a black triangle that resembled a >, moved across the screen and shot ***** at diamond-shaped things. I’m serious. That thing fascinated me enough until it finally broke one day. Maybe I was too busy doing other things as a kid to be a big time gamer or maybe it was because I sucked at it. Either way, I avoided the major gaming culture but always had a weakness for the simple games such as Tetris, race car games, or simple arcade games.

All Because of Banner Ads

Most banner ads I flat-out ignore – yet about a month or two ago I saw one that seemed too enticing not to click on. Yes, you’ve probably seen it, the “Smileys” program. I forget the exact name of the web company that produces the software, but I’m sure that less than two minutes of searching on the web will find the company that makes the emoticons shown in the picture. Notice how cheery and cute they all are, except that disturbing dark purple bug-like thing in the bottom row. Spooky. After a few minutes of having fun with the Smileys program, I was sure that by installing the program I had introduced all kinds of nefarious “spyware” that would run on my computer in the background.

My experience with the increasing ad-crazy world of the Internet is that anytime I go to a site that begins spitting out flashing, pop-up ads and those little windows that have slogans like “DO YuO WAnT tO MakE mY PiPMP$ sItEZZZ_BAllerBOi YuoR hOmEzPayGE?” as well as a window that asks me if I want to install some kind of program, I get wary. The people running these sites are trying to pull a fast one on the average Internet user with these little requests to install programs to run in the background on desktops. I'm sure millions of Internet users install programs like Hotbar, Gator, Xupiter, or Bonzai Buddy on their computers. As a result, their computer’s processing power gets used to generate ads, their privacy is compromised, and they see a ton more ads taking over their computer. Uninstalling these programs is often an insurmountable task. I remember spending hours about two years ago trying to get Gator off of my Dad’s computer. Awful.

So, just as I thought, I did notice that my web browser contained an additional toolbar on it, and a LOT more pop-up ads were being blocked by my pop-up blocker program. At this point I stopped using the smileys, dismayed that the price to pay for using such a cool program was getting bombarded with more popup ads and having my computer get filled up with junk and possibly causing it to crash. In addition, I didn’t want the people I sent emails to with these goofy emoticons in them to get curious and install the program themselves, and perpetuating the cycle.

After ignoring the smileys, I did take a second look at the new toolbar on my Internet Exploder browser. The smileys program partnered with a search engine service that presented results from Google, AltaVista, Hotbot, and other search engines. Of course, there were some search results that were the result of paid advertising and paid search placement, a smarmy practice in my opinion. I saw a button labeled “Games” and got hooked.

Knock ‘Em Out (AKA THE most addicting arcade game ever made) 

The games button led me to a page full of dozens of java applet games that run in any java-enabled browser window. Arcade games, vintage games, pinball, everything was there. I played a few but settled on a particularly fun one - Knock 'Em Out. A variation on the classic game Pong, the object of Knock 'Em Out is to knock out a bunch of floating multi-colored bricks with a vertically bouncing ball. The ball gets bounced with a grey “cursor” device that you move horizontally with your mouse at the bottom. As you can see in the screenshots to the right, some of the bricks, when hit by the ball, produce a bonus piece that you need to pick up with your mouse while at the same time keeping track of where the ball is. The bonus piece below, a red “M”, produces multiple balls. That means you can juggle! Yay! The shot on the right below shows my favorite bonus in the game, a firing device that knocks out the bricks en masse. Notice I'm shooting at the metal blocks which are impregnable to the bullets. That's how frustrated I was playing this game. 

Other than making sure you don't miss the ball that seems to bounce faster and faster as time goes on, there isn't much to the game besides trying to capture the bonuses that fall on you when you hit certain bricks. Some of the bonus things were wonderful like the firing gun and the multiple ball tool. Another favorite was one that turned the ball gold, therefore obliterating every brick in its path without bouncing. POOF! Bricks were vaporized, regardless if they were colored, metal, or white. Metal bricks had to be hit from a certain angle (where there were no bolts) and the white stone bricks had to be hit two or three times before they disappeared. Supposedly the white stone bricks had the same properties as the metal ones, since they made the same noise when hit by the ball, but last time I checked, things don't go “clink” when they collide with stone. Right? Another annoyance was catching what you thought was a bonus that would turn the ball gold or give you an extra life but all that would happen was seeing the words “BONUS” flash at the bottom of the screen.

The levels themselves also get worse as time went on. At Level Three, you have to sit through a minute or two of what sounds like someone taking a jackhammer to a railroad track and try to catch the ball as it bounces even faster because the bricks are a lot closer to being dropped past you. What is this terrible noise, you ask? The game designers decided to get clever and put an extra ball with an abnormal amount of bouncing energy inside a hole surrounded by metal bricks. Until you break all the bricks loose below it to “free” it, you will hear this cacophony. Add to this the higher-than-normal default game volume level and you realize why I don't play this game anymore. In Level Five, there are two of these evil little balls rattling around inside separate holes at the top of the game, so you’ll hear even more noise. Worse, sometimes there is a “sound lag” (probably due to the game using all 356 MB of your 256 MB of memory) so you'll still hear the hammering noise long after both balls are set free.

Besides the most important lesson that I learned from this (that video games are a monumental waste of time), I also came to the conclusion that the problem with a lot of the games I’ve played is that they’re just too hard. Lunch is on me to the first person I can personally witness defeating level seven of the game. Unless you have the motor skills and hand-to-eye coordination of a cyborg, this level is where you meet your bitter end. After a while I was pleased that the game was a lot less pointless due to this barrier I couldn't hurdle. The game is addictive, it is a click away, and awful fun if you get that gun thing that shoots all the bricks away. For a while I could juggle 3 or 4 balls at once, and I felt I had the game beat until I reached the unbeatable level.

Perhaps my frustration threshold for video games is lower than the average person, or my motor skills are out of whack. I’d tend to lean a bit more towards the first one since my experience with Need For Speed Three resulted in smashing both the game CD and the controller to pieces I bought for $15 at Best Buy against my apartment wall one day after realizing one bad turn on the racetrack resulted in ALWAYS losing the game, no matter how well you drove after your slip-up. I also surmised the game could be played a lot better with one of those super-expensive steering wheel style game controllers, and I wasn't about to go out and buy one of those. Either way, to me, it doesn't seem to be a huge accomplishment to be a video game champion.













Full of Santas and Satans
(Click on images for larger sizes.)



Don't ever install this program.










Pure evil. Note the bolts on ALL sides of those metal blocks. That means the only thing that will break them is one of those gold balls. Good luck getting one of those at this level. Once you reach seven, it’s over.

Look, it’s a lego house!