After a long bout of laziness and simply not being very keen on sitting at the computer for a couple hours taking screenshots and writing, The 3rd Party Memory Card (and my community blog) makes a return. I had fully intended to continue in the past couple weeks, doubly so since Chad has left us with a big gaping void not seen since hello.jpg, but ended up ripping him off even more than I am already (if you can believe that's possible) with my own de facto hiatus. This ends now. The hiatus, that is, not the theft.
Eye-catching title, eh? If you guessed today's featured game would be the NES classic Bubble Bath Babes, you're wrong!
It's not Gals Panic, either, but you are somewhere in the neighborhood. Not the neighborhood you may be expecting. Get your mind out of the gutter.
It's a puzzle game. You may have heard of it:
It's kind of a big deal.
I wanted to have some kind of suspense and not give it all away in the title of the post. As the cat is almost certainly out of the bag now, onward!
The ultimate game for the obsessive-compulsive in all of us, Tetris is all about stacking blocks. Surely, you know the rules: stack blocks, make horizontal lines across the screen to clear them, don't let the middle of the stack reach the top.
The title of the game itself refers to a certain technique for scoring points. Clearing lines one-by-one is no way to earn the big numbers, and certainly isn't difficult or terribly satisfying. No, you must clear multiple lines at once.
And to do that, you need to stack, stack, stack those blocks.
Now, clearing two or three lines at once is certainly better than one, but there are many setups for both of those goals. What you want to do is make a complete wall (or two) of stacked blocks that cover 9/10ths of the playfield's horizontal distance, leaving a narrow channel at least four lines high.
Then, you wait, and continue stacking on top of the wall, leaving the channel open. What you are waiting for is one particular piece out of the seven types that appear in Tetris:
The straight line.
-The Moment- The trap is set, here comes the net!
Drop the line piece into the channel.
Clearing four lines at once is called a tetris. It is the largest number of lines that can be cleared with one piece, the best way to score a lot of points, and can only be done with the line piece. It's also usually accompanied by the screen flashing wildly and a nice, loud sound effect, as if you're playing The Price Is Right pinball machine.
It's also pretty awesome.
When I first thought about writing up this particular moment, it was something of a joke. It still is, and it's funny in my mind, so shut up.
As I thought about it, though, I realized there is indeed more to this moment. Sure, part of the joke is that it seems a bit silly to call this a "moment," compared to an opera
or hitching a ride on flaming death
, or other very deliberately crafted sequences in more narrative games. What's more, scoring tetrises is something you do multiple times in any given round of Tetris (well, if you're at all competent at the game), which runs just a tad counterintuitive to the definition of "moment."
Now that I've explained the joke and ergo thoroughly killed it, let's continue.
What Tetris presents to the player with its eponymous game mechanic is one of the defining and most addictive risk/reward systems in videogames. In order to score lots of points, you need to build the stack to a certain height. It's only 1/5th the height of the playfield, so that isn't the real risk. What's risky is that out of seven possible pieces that the game can throw at you, only one scores a Tetris. While you wait for the coveted line block to show up, more blocks are being dumped on the playfield, and you have to continue stacking them, with three goals in mind:
1) Keeping the stack from reaching the ceiling
2) Leaving as few gaps as possible to maximize chances at additional tetrises
3)Not screwing up like this:
"Like bullseyeing womprats," my ass!
Once your stack climbs halfway up the screen, all three of these considerations interact quite madly. If you mess up on one point then the other two become harder to manage as well. Furthermore, screwing up on number three will usually result in a line piece coming right after the next one. There is a God, and He mocks your Tetris playing.
Of course, the truly satisfying tetrises come precisely after such screw-ups, when one manages to reopen the carefully built channel, and the very next piece that drops is a line. Never has a human being felt such sweet vindication, nor felt like such a badass.
Sometimes, if the mystic random algorithm that governs the block dropping order aligns just right, two or three lines will appear in a row after a long period of none. With so much time having passed, the player has built a truly impressive stack, and BAM BAM BAM, Stealers Wheel cues up on K-BILLY and the player does a victory dance as three tetrises are scored.
Oh, but there's more.
I haven't yet mentioned the 2-player (or more, depending on your version) mode, and this is where the risk one takes versus the reward truly shines bright. The goal is not to gain points, but to cause your opponent's stack to rise to the top of the screen before your own. Clearing two or more lines at once adds "garbage" rows with a one-block wide gap at the bottom of the other's stack, with two and three line clears adding one and two lines, respectively. A tetris will dump four lines.
With a little luck and speed, a player can build their stack and send a mountain of garbage at their opponent at once with a few tetrises very rapidly, pushing them from the bottom to almost to the top of the screen . To do this very quickly, however, you have to build a large stack to sustain multiple tetrises. If the other player manages to get a tetris before you, you'll soon find yourself stressed out with a lot less room to maneuver than you had a second before, possibly none at all. When both players are playing greedy and reckless in this manner, it's an awesome spectacle.
There's even more to it. The way garbage lines stack creates a continuous gap for every ten lines just ripe for tetris exploitation by one's opponent, should they clear the opening. This opens up a viable strategy where one can play conservatively against a reckless opponent by not dropping blocks as fast as they can, instead waiting for the garbage. This necessitates watching the opponent's side of the screen to determine when a line piece can be expected (as both players get the same blocks in the same order) to anticipate and prevent too sudden of an onslaught, but if the other player has been too wreckless, then one tetris facilitated by the very ammunition they had used against you can win the battle.
Finally, one more multiplayer Tetris phenomenon, what might be called Tetris Tennis. With two players dropping blocks at similar speeds (or, rarely, with one player a fair bit farther ahead in terms of blocks dropped), a point may arise in the match where both players get several lines in a row almost simultaneously. What results is garbage blocks quickly passing back and forth between the players as one scores a tetris, then the other scores a tetris off of the resulting garbage, and so on. It isn't always strictly alternating, one player may pull off two tetrises in a row before the other manages one, and that's what makes it exciting.
That, and the screen flashing and the buzzer playing.
And that, gentleman and ladies who are actually gentleman playing buxom characters looking for free phat lewt from lonely nerds who don't know any better, is a pretty damn thorough explanation of why getting a Tetris stands with your unexpected character deaths and cutscenes scored with soaring music as a memorable moment. Narrative? Production values? Fuck 'em.
In closing, here's a bonus video:
Catch up on episodes you missed before the DVD boxset hits fine retailers everywhere!