Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mopping Up Culture Vomit: Zen and the art of "Big Buck Hunter"

My dad always says you can tell a lot about how a man's life is going from the way he plays pool. Is he bearing a broken heart? Did he just lose his job? Did he just get done, uh, making whoopie? It'll all come out in the game.

It's hard to argue that pool isn't about confidence, at least to a certain extent. Unless you're either an ace geometer or have a perfect shot every turn, you're going to have to take some chances. You've got to bank on an iffy angle or run the risk of scratching, or you'll never pull ahead.

But because I, post-whoopie or not, absolutely suck at pool, I can't properly test the validity of my dad's theory.

Luckily, I've found my own barometer of self-confidence in a much geekier form: yardstick of personal well-being, thy name is Big Buck Hunter.

A quick look at the Big Buck Hunter leaderboard can tell me how my life's been going over the past few months: there's where I got my job, there's where I lost my job, there's where I became so unemployed that I started considering Twittering a job.

The object of the game is simple: you have a silly plastic shotgun (which, like a non-silly real shotgun, needs to be cocked), unlimited ammo, and three bucks to bring down in each round. Your biggest obstacle? You can't shoot the does (the ones without the horns). That, and them bucks is quick.

But like the great arcade games of yore, Buck Hunter is easy to play and difficult to master. Any buck will come down in three shots, so it's easy enough to squeeze off as many shots as you can and get three bucks in most rounds. But then your accuracy score will be in the toilet; intuitively, higher accuracy = more points.

The does become a much thornier obstacle as the game goes on, as well. They'll position themselves in front of the males, tricking you into bringing them down (thereby ending the round). Or they'll run interference for the bucks, making it difficult to hit them unless you're a crack shot.

It's later on, then, that one's angst starts to have repercussions on his game. The worse your mood, the more likely you are to take down a doe early on or take unnecessary extra shots to make sure you bag the buck.

Luckily, though, Big Buck Hunter has much to teach the man in a bad way. Sure, you can let your crappy day wreak havoc on your score. Or you can remember the five habits of highly-effective buck hunters, get a few hunter heroes (a.k.a. high scores), and improve your non-computerized life in the process.

1. Be patient.

This will go a long way towards both improving your accuracy and decreasing the number of does you hit. Don't simply fire off a barrage the second you see the buck onscreen: this will kill your accuracy and practically ensure you hit a doe in the process. Line up your shot carefully and then begin firing. And because of the does' aforementioned habit of standing in front of bucks in later rounds, you'll end the round automatically if you shoot prematurely (snicker, snicker). Keep your eyes open and wait for the right opportunity.

2. But don't wait around forever.

Those bucks do dash off-screen eventually. And if you spend too long waiting for the perfect shot, you'll end up with high accuracy and zero bucks. You can't fail if you don't try, after all. So if a buck is about to escape, swallow your pride and fire off as many shots as you can (a process a friend of mine dubbed "spamming"). It won't be what you hoped for (i.e., a good accuracy score and a dead buck), but it'll be better than nothing. It's the Buck equivalent of taking a job at Blockbuster because nowhere else is hiring.

3. The little things make life sweet.

There's one thing I left out of my initial description: critters. Critters are non-buck animals that give you extra points (up to a maximum of 1,400 for seven critters, a feat I've never seen accomplished). If you focus just on the bucks, you'll miss the rabbits, foxes, and birds that increase your score.

4. But don't forget the big picture.

Focus on them too much, however, and you'll miss the bucks. And you only get extra points for critters if you take down at least one buck. And a single critter can net you a maximum of 350 points (if you get that seventh one which, again, almost never happens), whereas a downed buck routinely nets 300 points and gets you closer to the perfect-round (i.e., three-buck) bonus. IRL terms? Go to those midnight movies, drive three hours to see Modest Mouse, but don't forget about the important things (jobs, kids, The Wire).

5. Remember: shit happens.

The placement of bucks and does is randomly-generated, and sometimes you just have bad luck. Maybe a tree will obscure a buck's trajectory for the majority of the time he's onscreen, or maybe you'll get zero critters. Or, most infuriatingly, maybe a doe will come out of nowhere and get in front of that perfect one-hit-kill you had lined up. You could do everything right and still end up with a crappy score. Nobody's perfect, and you have to accept bad luck as such. It ain't always your fault.

These five simple lessons will help you master both Big Buck Hunter and Big Life Hunter. Or maybe just improve your Big Buck Hunter game to such an extent that the rest of your life goes to shit.