Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bowling for beginners

Bowling is known to many nowadays as a fun and novel offshoot of the popular Wii Sports title. Like LARPing, it has attempted to bring a social and imaginative activity into the "real world" through the use of special equipment and as few rule adjustments as possible. Its remarkable level of success is due in part to its notable inclusion in The Big Lebowski (still considered by many critics to be the Citizen Kane of 20th century film) that caused the game's popularity to skyrocket in the mid-70s.

As a player who regularly cracks at least a hundred bowl-wickets per session (often in as little as 20 balls), I thought it would be nice to introduce beginners to this fascinating modern ballgame. Here's a few pointers that everyone would do well to learn:

- One of the most frequent problems that beginners face is the matter of ball selection. There's a wide range available and it can take a while to figure out which one you'll be most comfortable with, but a general rule of thumb is matching the ball's Rolling Value (RV) to your shoe size. The RV should be prominently displayed on the ball's surface, though the occasional Mystery Ball is manufactured without this number displayed. This is the bowling corporation's way of keeping players on their toes and you can usually find at least one of them in every pack.

- Don't make the mistake of using your thumbs for the bowl itself. More experienced players will see this as a sign of weakness and attempt to attack your pins earlier than usual, sometimes even during your own turn.

- As a beginner, you should also take care when YOU decide to attack an opponent's pins -- it can backfire easily and most decent players are quick to punish any mistakes you make. It's generally best to play defensively until you get a little more comfortable with your own bowling ability.

Diagram of typical bowling lane. Markers (a) and (b) denote pin and player positions respectively, (c) is an attacker's slip-lane and (d) is the Lagrangian Point. Nobody knows what (e) is.

- Approximately 20% of a bowler's success lies in how they place their toss, while the rest is down to manipulating the ball's path through emotive gestures and fluid dance techniques. the art of post-throw influence is deep and nuanced, but professional bowl-swingers generally agree that the most important modifiers are your shoulder positions, hip swings and overall sexiness (The Big Lebowski was able to subvert this through extensive use of facial hair, but its value in actual high-level play is questionable at best).

Having a nice butt helps.

- It should be noted that the above is a good reason to secure a decent pair of bowling shoes. Flexibility, support and low friction for the more advanced dance manoeuvers are all essential. Bear in mind that you want to preserve the aforementioned match of shoe to ball RV -- if you find that such a pairing isn't possible, consider temporarily changing your shoe size.

- If you want to bowl a straight ball for the middle pin, make sure that your throw is fluid, leading into a graceful release pose that can be maintained for at least three seconds (five if you bowl a slow ball, seven if someone is attempting to take a picture). If the middle pin is the only one left and you know how to moonwalk, you may opt to try that instead. Be mindful of other bowlers behind you, as a disrupted moonwalk can spell disaster for your long-term strategy.

- Dealing with split pins is a simple matter of bowling a curve ball with your off hand, aiming for the most laterally inverted pin first. As soon as the ball leaves your hand, begin the process of bending your body in the direction of the second target -- and don't forget those hips! From here, it's all about moving at the correct pace: bend too quickly, and you'll waste your empathic energy before the ball has enough chance to curve. Bend too slowly, and you may wind up in the Alligator Grotto. Tread the line carefully.

- Gutterballs are a tactically important but emotionally draining technique used by players of all levels to get ahead. If you plan on making these a significant component of your strategy, make sure that someone in your group has a kitten. Its soft fur and gentle eyes will offer you the support, comfort and resolve needed to face the challenges ahead.

Do not bowl the kitten.

- Throwing the ball, turning away and putting on sunglasses like you're an action hero walking away from an explosion will not earn you any extra points in standard tournament play. It will, however, look absolutely amazing in the event of any real explosions in your bowling lane.

That should be enough to get you started. Sally forth to your nearest bowling ring and try these techniques for yourself -- though far from perfect, they'll get you going in the right direction and you'll have oodles of fun in the process.

Happy pin running!

Friday, March 9, 2012

GDC: A guide to caffeine satisfaction

The annual Game Developer's Conference (or GDC) is a bitchin' yearly event in San Francisco which has people like me flying halfway across the world to experience a unique and uncomfortable blend of jet lag, American culture and industry peer engagement -- often without the assistance of even the most rudimentary illegal narcotics.

Didn't get violated by US security on the way in, but there's always hope for the journey back.

For many, this will be a simultaneously exciting and draining experience. And if you're not psyched enough to fight off the despair and/or Thai food poisoning, you're going to get doubly fucked over. Techniques for beating back the madness differ from person to person -- a little "time out" here and there, an extra hour of sleep per night or maybe just a simple hotel bathtub filled with custard and/or rabbit blood.

But let me tell you this right now, dear reader: if the mere thought of caffeine deprivation has you in tears faster than watching
The Descendants on a (hypothetical) booze-soaked international Emirates flight, then don't make the mistake of coming to San Fran unprepared.

Until approximately three hours before writing this, I hadn't touched coffee in a week. I regretted this decision more than the time I punched that kid in seventh grade. I was on a miserable anti-binge of socially disastrous proportions, and the GDC Moscone Center provided me with just the fucking remedy for that:

Bottomless. Motherfucking. Coffee.

Look at that shit. LOOK AT IT.

And this isn't just some whiny, bitch-ass "yeah I'll spinelessly sit down at some restaurant forever and be happy with it" bottomless coffee. No, we're talking about a smooth $12 flask that bags you a right to refill it forever.


As long as you're packing one of these metallic-finished tickets to heaven, you can haul ass to one of several stations that exist throughout the conference, shove your face under the taps and begin chugging your way to a medically irresponsible oblivion of caffeine intoxication. I have seen it with my own eyes, brothers and sisters: Jesus has returned, and he's baptising kittens in the fucking Cafe Mocha river.

Now, you may just be thinking right about now: hey, that sounds pretty nice dude, but it's not as if I'm saving enough money to snort coke off a hooker's ass or anything. And you can just shut your brain the fuck up right now because IT IS WRONG.


So you're nice and cocky, and you think that you can get by on, say, a single cup of Starbucks magic per day. Just spend a little bit here and there and that'll do you, right? Yeah, good luck with that -- especially if you're swinging over from a place like South Africa. A single drink from Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe can cost up to ten US dollars -- in SA money, that's approximately seven hundred thousand million BILLION Rand. This is bullshit, and you should get that damn bottomless coffee already because it will also turn you into a fucking viking.

It turned me into a fucking viking too. Look at that damn hair.

If I don't start seeing more of these glorious orange-and-metal flasks doing the rounds at GDC tomorrow, I will *officially* declare the whole conference a failure and do my best to single-handedly ensure that the entire industry collapses upon itself out of sheer shame.

Developers, I am coming for you.

These damn flasks were formed from the steel-coated titty hairs of Odin himself, and have been single-handedly responsible for bringing the light back into my life. Thank you, GDC 2012, for definitively showing me the true joy of being a game developer.