My friend Potter and I always play Halo games together. SEGA knows why since we spend the entire time killing each other whilst I shout a lot and get increasingly angry. It is a strange thing, but we keep on doing it as they keep releasing more sequels.
We had already committed to a previous weekend of the game and blasted through about half of the campaign on Heroic difficulty before we succumbed to drunkenness and fatigue. Admittedly we also spent a fair bit of time with Arcana Heart 3 (I swear, given Potter’s predilection for anime girls the game feels as if it were designed with the insides of his brain projected into every development meeting; that or he was at every test group meeting they ever held and wrote “more anime girls in school uniforms” on the survey sheet every time) which pretty much stopped us from finishing Halo 4.
Following our solemn declarations to finish the game, we immediately experience one failed attempt because Potter’s foot is stuck behind his neck or his pet Labrador is breathing on his face; something like that. I can’t remember. Seriously, he is the worst when it comes to making plans.
We reschedule for the weekend after I get back from Barcelona and Potter manages to give me a rough estimate of arriving “sometime between 3PM and 6PM”.
Come Saturday it is still no clearer when his arrival time is. I send him an email around midday. My housemate asks if I want to go climbing, so I try calling Potter.
My first attempt at telephoning him ends after the twelfth ring; I give it a few minutes and call him again. This time he answers within a few seconds, sounding alert and responsive.
‘Hey, it’s me,’ I say in reply.
He recognises my voice: ‘Oh, hello.’ His previous alacrity has vanished and instead I hear his real state: the sentence is a groggy grunt of an acknowledgement. I can actually picture his posture sagging back into his pillow as he realises he doesn’t have to pretend.
I take the piss out of him for a bit, as it’s obvious he is in no mood to talk, and then ask him when he’s going to be around.
‘Yeah, I’ll be there by three.’
‘So you’ll be here in two hours?’
‘What?’ He sounds shocked. ‘What time is it?’
‘I’ll probably be there later then.’
‘And when’s that?’
‘Errr…’ He pauses for a second as if calculating something, possibly a response that sounds least like a lie. ‘Six?’
He knocks on my door at around seven in the evening, apologising because his taxi driver refused to drive down our hill due to the recent snowfall – a joke to anyone who has witnessed a Canadian winter. 4 inches of snow is nothing compared to 60.
‘Did you get my email?’ He asks as he pulls a bottle of Old Speckled Hen from the fridge.
This is the email he sent me:
Sure! How about I arrive late afternoon on Saturday, somewhere between 15:00 and 18:00? If 15:00 is too early, let me know and I’ll aim for closer to 18:00.
I promise you it won’t be as late as last time, but my arrival time obviously depends on how smoothly the trains are running if there’s really going to be snow over the next two days. In the unlikely event that all the trains are cancelled on Saturday, I probably won’t be able to make it because I’ve had trouble in the past trying to jog 43 miles through the snow. I would say my max stam-limit is around 35-40m on a cross-country run (with about 10m of cooldown) before my anaerobic or lactate threshold peaks, even after I’ve given myself 3-4 weeks of tapering beforehand and carbo-loaded to optimal glycogen levels – but that would only be true if I omitted all the preparation stuff and the “m” in my measurements stood for “metres”.
I’ll keep an eye on the trains and let you know if there are delays/cancellations or if the entire public transport system has collapsed again because of 1cm of snow. ;)
‘Yeah, I got it.’
‘You ignored all my references to exercise; I had to go on Wikipedia to research it. Making sure I was carbo-loaded.’
‘I laughed my arse off when I read it,’ I reply.
‘Good. I was worried it wasn’t funny. You kind of just responded with a “whatever” and changed the subject.’
My housemate – we’ll call him Mr. Spoons for the sake of anonymity – comes in as we are setting up. I can tell he’s pumped up.
‘What’re you guys doing?’
‘Playing Halo 4. Want to join in?’
He hesitates before saying ‘Sure, why not?’
It takes a painfully long time to get things set up; for some reason Spoons’ profile gets corrupted and that completely screws us over for almost half an hour.
I feel it is necessary to explain the choice of pseudonym for Spoons at this point.
There is a night club/bar in our local town that we – my housemates and I – frequent. It is a seedy meat market of a venue with cheap drinks and even cheaper people. The music is a confused mess of pop, techno and, painfully, Rage Against the Machine.
You can’t help but love it.
I need to stress that I wasn’t present for this particular exhibition of Spoons’ performance, but I have enough witnesses to know that the account is true.
It began while they were at the club on a Saturday night to celebrate Spoons’ birthday. According to some unspoken rule in this public house, sitting at a table is a token of eligibility and this means that ladies are wont to approach in the hope of securing a mating partner for the evening.
On that very evening, with my housemates ensconced at a table, two young women did enter their frame of view with that same intent. These ladies, who could be politely described as ‘festively plump’, targeted my housemates and one of them took a shine to Spoons.
I wish I was fabricating this next bit, but I am not: with the promise of food these corpulent members of the fairer sex came back to our house with one firmly holding the belief that she would be bedding young Spoons. To the point where upon him leaving the room – to make the spare bed no less – she confided to one of my other housemates that she would be bedding him on the hour.
Spoons, on his own terms, had decided that he was having none of it.
Upon returning to the room and re-entering the general fray of frivolity, Spoons espied the lady and realised his predicament. It was at this point that he confessed to her, loudly for all the room to hear, the immortal line:
“I’m not going to sleep with you, but I will spoon the shit out of you.”
And thus, Spoons.
I am told that later, while in repose, the maiden did attempt to solicit a kiss, whereupon Spoons patronisingly patted her on the head before rolling over and going to sleep.
Gawd bless ‘em.
When Halo 4 is running at full tilt it is easy to see what has made the series so popular. The instant and dynamic action is exhilarating and rarely equalled by modern shooters that often relegate themselves to pop-and-shoot doldrums.
‘I’d happily stare at those rock textures all night,’ Potter declares at one point.
‘They really are pretty phenomenal,’ I agree. ‘The art design in this title is great, although I’m not sure I like how muted the colours are.’
‘They certainly have managed to squeeze a lot out of the X360’s architecture which is impressive – ouch, ouch, who is shooting me?’ Potter cuts off mid reverie to enquire. Spoons is very quiet.
I manoeuvre my avatar away from the conflict as Spoons and Potter start taking chunks out of each other.
Very little stands in our way as we stomp through Covenant and Promethean forces alike. With three players Heroic difficulty does not feel difficult enough. The only level that causes us any real discomfort is one where we race through a tunnel, like the trench run in Star Wars, but that is because neither Potter nor I can use non-inverted flight controls.
We spend a long time thinking aloud about how the worlds of Mass Effect and Halo exist in the same universe (I’ve been calling the Prometheans from Halo “Protheans”, the name of the ancient race in Mass Effect). For some reason Far Cry 3 also occupies the same universe; I’m not sure why. It might have been so that we could quote “You go girl” and “Ammo over here y’all” in the accents of the awful characters in that game’s co-op mode. Incidentally you have to be careful because white people using street slang is potentially racist and offensive. Just ask twitter.
We reach the final boss at which point Potter relinquishes his controller to one of my other housemates. He disappears for a cigarette. By the time he gets back I’ve pressed the three buttons required to kill it and he gets to watch the final cutscene.
‘So do you reckon it’s pretty disgusting inside that suit?’ Potter asks.
‘I reckon. I mean there must be layers of shit inside there,’ Spoons points out. ‘How long was he in that tube?’
‘I think it was five years.’
Satisfied, despite the game’s tepid ending, Spoons retires, leaving Potter and I to do some serious gaming.Namely Mindjack. That’s right, it’s 2013 and I’m bringing Mindjack back like it never left.
‘So I’m going to write about this evening,’ I say as we hack into some poor unsuspecting level 1 player’s game.
‘Really?’ Potter replies, warping into a vehicle colloquially known as the “nausebot”. We call it the nausebot because it has no weapons but is almost impossible to kill, making it great for harassing – “nausing” – other players, usually by getting in their way or trapping them in corners.
‘Yeah, it’s for this New Year’s Resolution thing I’m doing, but I can’t really talk about Halo 4.’
‘What’s it going to be about then?’
We pause to giggle as Potter manages to push the confused human player back into a corridor while he is being fired upon from all sides. The player keeps trying to shoot Potter’s blastshield but is doing no damage due to it being so heavily armoured. The giggles turn into full blown laughter as the player panics and runs away while the nausebot continues to trundle after him, eventually cornering the player and ramming him. He in turn starts to wildly fire in all directions.
Tears are streaming down my face by the time the player disconnects and kicks us both out of his game.
I sober up and continue while we try and find another game: ‘Well, I figured that the article would be a series of anecdotes around the game rather than about the game.’
‘Fair enough,’ Potter nods. He’s found another game of Mindjack so we try to jump in. ‘That makes sense.’
‘Did you know that my dad used to teach creative writing?’ I ask.
‘I didn’t, no.’
‘His advice was to always write about what you know. For example, this one kid was tasked with writing exposition about a major event but couldn’t really think of anything. His main occupation was working with his father in a restaurant. After some coaxing my dad got him to ‘bend’ the story.’ While talking we located another game with three players and got stuck in.
‘So, he just wrote about the restaurant?’ Potter asks.
‘Yup, the kid referred to a bike race that was happening – that being the major event – but the rest of the time it was the day-to-day dynamic in the restaurant’s kitchen.’
‘Smart. I will say one thing though – ouch, ouch, oh, I’m dead,’ Potter yelps. For some reason when he gets shot/attacked in games he will squeal out as if he is in actual physical pain. I don’t know why he does this but I’ve grown accustomed to it and don’t question it.
‘It’s a bit cheeky to make up this entire last half of the conversation,’ Potter posits. ‘Also, do I really make that many noises when I get shot?’
‘That’s fair but without this fictional conversation the article doesn’t really have a punchline; me giving you shit for the way you freak out and jam the thumbsticks on controllers so hard that you break them isn’t as funny. Also, in regard to the whimpering and shit, yes you do it all the time as well as the weird body spasming.’
Potter glares at me. ‘If I’m editing this article, I’m going to take those last few sentences out.’
[The NYR articles are part of a larger series of pieces. If you enjoyed this loosely linked assortment of non-sequiturs then check some more out. Next Week: The Dreamcast Duo: Jet Set Radio HD and Virtual-On Oratorio Tangram.]