Sunday, August 28, 2011

The most shameful moment of my gaming life to date.

Minesweeper is one of those titles that we have all played, if only because it is built in to Windows and at one time or another we have all had a PC that was so old it could only play either that or Solitaire. The basic premise is that you utilise logic to find the mines in a grid, by determining from the information given the likelihood of any individual square containing a mine. Every square on the grid is covered up, and by uncovering the square you will either find a mine or a number. The number tells you how many mines are in the immediate surrounding 8 squares, so theoretically if you see a 0 you know you are safe whereas an 8 means you are GOING DOWN, SON!

The system works pretty well, apart from one quite egregious flaw. It has always frustrated me somewhat that click #1 is basically a shot in the dark; without any clues at all you have an even likelihood of getting a mine or a number.

Other than that, though, the game itself works perfectly well. Assuming you hit a free square on that first click, you are then ale to go through the rest of the grid never clicking a square until you know for certain that there isn't going to be a mine in it. Even better, squares without 0's in them are automatically cleared, so your first click might reveal half the board with a little luck.

It's the kind of puzzle that is a perfect fit for a handheld game, and even more so for a mobile phone game. It should therefore come as no surprise that Microsoft have seen fit to release a version for Windows Phone 7. If there is a surprise, it is that they didn't build the game into the phone. Surprise #2 comes in the cost - it is completely free to play. You get adverts at the top of the screen, but by now we have all developed the required skills to just not look at that shit, so they are completely unobtrusive. If you were to hold my mother at gunpoint and ask me to name any of the ads I was shown, then I'm afraid that would be all she wrote for the old girl, because I genuinely cannot recall any of them.

This is a VERY un-Microsofty way of doing things! Giving things away? It gets even better for us consumers, though, because it isn't even the standard Minesweeper that we have all only played in moments of sheer "MUST. PLAY. SOMETHING!" desperation over the years. Nope, this one also has a special speed mode added in as well. The standard tweaks can be applied in terms of how big the grid, how many mines, and ... ok, so that would actually be all the things that can be altered. It's still nice! (And there are powerups in it, as well, but I don't really know what they do because IT'S SODDING MINESWEEPER AND I HAVE BETTER THINGS TO BE PLAYING!)

But the best addition is that it is now also an XBox Live enabled version. Which means gamerscore, leaderboards, and achievements.

Sadly, this is also where the game makes its first mistake. For, one of the achievements is a nasty one indeed.

Entitled "Click click BOOM!", it is unlocked by triggering a mine with your second click.

Think about that for a moment. Your second click.

SECOND click!

Now, obviously, anyone can and eventually will trigger a mine with the first click. This is completely unavoidable as the first click is simply always going to be a guess. Sooner or later, you will hit a mine because simple law of averages tells us that. So, it was nice to put an achievement in that rewards this the first time when it happens. But, the second click is a different story. The second click is not a step into the unknown, as it were. For on the second click, there absolutely must be numbers present. Which means that you are, and even should be, able to work out exactly which square not to click on next. Or, to put it another way, if you trigger a bomb on click #2 you are either incapable of playing the game, or have chosen to mess up just for that "Ploc" sound and a measly 5 gamerscore.

Is this what the world has come to, MS? Do you think that we care so much for your arbitrary reward system that we need to be spoon-fed praise even when we just proved we were blathering idiots? "Here, player, you're a moron but have these 5 points anyway!" NO! Stop this crap, the clue is in the name ACHIEVEMENTS. We should only get them when we do something good. Who the hell wants to earn a trinket for shooting themself in the foot? I DON'T WANT REMINDING OF MY FUCKUPS, THANKYOU.

Of course, maybe there are players out there who care so much about their gamerscore that they are going to look at the numbers, see that there is a bomb right THERE, and then deliberately choose to click on it just for that PATHETIC virtual reward. Who are these people? Who the shit would choose to lose just so they have another box in another game filled in? Achievements mean NOTHING when they are just thrown at you. Gamerscore has no consistency when you get the same score for LOSING as you do for earning a Killing Spree in Halo Reach multiplayer.

I submit, then, that anyone who has this achievement is losing at life. For they are either so debilitatingly incompetent that they can't count to 8, or are so debilitatingly addicted that gamerscore has actually come to have some kind of meaning to them. That they would do such a thing to themself beggars belief.

Of course, I have the achievement. I chose it. I saw it, wondered, and then started a game with the sole intention of getting this most banal of achievements. Even if it was only to get it out of the way, I tried to kid myself into believing. When the truth is that I wanted the "Ploc" more than I wanted the pride. And for this, I hate myself.

But not as fucking much as I hate Microsoft.

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