Video games when you’re sick

I’ve been really ill for most of January and February. Moomin’s dad has taken care of him most of the time, bringing him to me on weekends. I don’t have a lot of energy so we’ve been spending time reading, playing video games, and watching Sarah Jane Adventures episodes.

Moomin got very obsessed with a game on the iPad called Peggle.

Screen shot of iPad game Peggle

Peggle is a bit like pinball, but you shoot the balls from a device you can aim, and have to eliminate different colors of pegs on the game board. There are a lot of cheesy special effects and temporary powers and FEVER!!! point multipliers. But the best bit is that as you finish every level, the ball goes into slow motion as it hits the final peg. “Ode to Joy” starts to play. Fireworks go off! Stars and explosions! A giant rainbow shoots across the sky! It’s incredibly hilarious. When I first played it I laughed my head off because it perfectly expresses the happiness and satisfaction of finishing a level of any silly game! It raised our self esteem a few million points every time the fireworks went off. After several levels and a trophy Moomin declared, “OH MY GOD I AM A MASTER ! OF! PEGGLE!!!!”

Before I became more interested in the Egyptian protests than in gaming I was learning to play Elite, in an open source version called Oolite. It’s a bit hard to play. Elite was a space trading and combat game from the 1980s for BBC Micro and Acorn computers, with 3-D graphics. After watching Oblomovka play it for a while I installed Oolite on my Mac and then some expansion packs to make the spaceships and planets have niftier textures. It took me a while to learn how to fly a spaceship with pitch, roll, and whatever the 3rd axis is (yaw?) and the display in which everything seems backwards. After a while and a lot of shrieking in panic I got the hang of it.

I love games, but try not to play too many of them anymore, because the repetitive motion hurts my hands very quickly. Playing nethack is a huge treat I let myself have when flying somewhere on a plane. So I was a bit afraid Elite would mess up my hands. It turned out to be okay.

Docking is quite hard! The space stations rotate, and you have to line up with the docking bay exactly from a nearby beacon, get close, then match rotation. It feels weirdly retro and exciting. Here’s what it looks like as my Cobra Mark III lines up for docking:

Screenshot from Oolite of a Cobra Mark III docking

I loved the trading aspect of the game and am gung-ho to earn enough galactic credits to upgrade my combat lasers. But I also just love going to the different planets, seeing their market rates for Radioactives or Furs or Food or Jewels, keeping track of their government types, and all that sort of record keeping. It made me think of old style Galactic Conquest or Master of Orion. There is also an enormous Oolite Wiki in which directions on how to play the game are unclear on purpose, with references to the Elite *novels* and fanfic.

New commanders are named “Jameson” by default. Oblomovka made me hiss with outrage at one point when I was complaining I couldn’t find a docking station. “Soft eyes, Jameson, soft eyes…” OMG.

I don’t think Moomin will like Elite yet. Far too frustrating when you blow up your ship or get shot by pirates. He was a total wizard at Plants vs. Zombies, playing it all the way through twice. He is unsure about Angry Birds. If you have any other good game recs for us, let us know!

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