Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bowling in Video Games

I have a great interest in bowling, although I don't own my own ball or shoes. Part of the game's appeal for me is that it's simple in premise but there is great depth to it. This also explains why I like the Katamari games and Tetris. The physics of bowling is complicated, but not so much so that you can't get your mind around everything that's happening. This is the sort of thing that makes a game a likely candidate for video game simulation. However this has not been without some major missteps.
Bowling for the Atari 2600 was a joke - one of my bowling teammates from school had mastered it within weeks. She explained to the rest of us that as long as you stood in one particular spot, you could get a strike every time. That feature notwithstanding, it also rarely left spares typical of actual bowling based on where the ball hit the pins. I ignored bowling video games for a while, hoping they would eventually catch up. I picked up Gotham Games' Big Strike Bowling out of the PlayStation 1 bargain bin, only to find that they incorrectly spaced the pins making it basically unplayable. One of the Spiderman games for the PS2 had a mode where Spiderman swung down the lane, swinging into a group of webbed-up enemies arranged like bowling pins. I think Bruce Campbell's voice-over was better than the game, but to be fair I am a big fan of Bruce Campbell. I was somewhat satisfied with Tekken Bowl in Tekken Tag Tournament. Despite the fact that the pins were top-heavy and the lanes had no gutters (errant curve balls just head off into the crowd), it felt a lot more like bowling than a lot of the previous games that I had played. Even so, I managed to bowl at least one 300 - since I figured out Gun Jack's aiming system.  Now, some of you will probably mention that they had come out with some serious bowling simulators that I should have been more satisfied with - for whatever reason I passed on all of these, instead opting for only semi-serious bowling games. This is in keeping with my overall character with a gamer - on the golf side, I like Hot Shots and Outlaw Golf a lot more than that Tiger Woods game. I also enjoyed the bowling modes in Super Monkey Ball, SMB2, and SMB Junior . There was still something not quite right about these games, but there was not a real way to fix it - after all, it's not like they could rig up a mock bowling ball full of sensors and let you swing it around the living room or anything.

So, that brings us to Wii Sports - or if you are just now playing Wii, possibly Wii Sports Resort. Each has a bowling mode in it, but they are not the same. Wii Sports has a fairly simple interface, and the controller doesn't really allow for too much nonsense with how the ball is released down the lane other than liberally allowing you to loft the ball. Wii Sports Resort, since it uses the Wii Motion Plus controller, is a little more advanced in its interface and allows you a choice between manual ball release and automatic ball release. If you played the original Wii Sports, you are already comfortable with the manual ball release.  Automatic ball release it what it says, I will discuss it no further other than to say you lazy slackers should be using manual ball release.

For those that are unfamiliar, here's the basic motion. You start by holding the Wiimote upright (the nose of the controller where the IR sensor is pointed at the ceiling) and holding the B button. (It's the trigger-shaped button on the back.) You swing your arm back like you would if actually bowling, and your character starts walking forward on their own. As you swing your arm forward again, you release the B button to let go of the bowling ball. The speed of your forward arm swing and the timing of the release determine the initial velocity.  Here's where it starts to diverge between the two versions.

In Wii Sports, a somewhat late release of the B button will give the ball some loft - in other words, it will carry through the air a little before it lands and  the static roll angle of the controller (presumably at the instant you release the B button) determines how much spin there is on the ball.

In Wii Sports Resort, a late release of the B button does not appear to yield any loft, as I have been unable to do it at all.  Spin on the ball is determined in a more dynamic fashion, by how much roll and in what direction happens to the controller during your throwing motion.  A slight amount of tilt on the controller yields almost no spin now, or a negligible amount.  Let's imagine the face of a clock, and the hour hand is the normal vector to the plane of the surface of the Wiimote where the all of the buttons (except for the B button) are located. If the controller were face up, we'll call that twelve o'clock.  If the controller were face down, where the only recognizable feature was the B button, we'll call that six o-clock.   For example, if in Wii Sports you were curving it a couple of dots to the left by angling the controller to ten o'clock, in Wii Sports Resort, you would have to go from twelve o'clock  to ten o'clock during the swing to achieve a similar effect.

This simple change, going from a static to a dynamic input for curving the ball, makes Wii Sports Resort even a little bit more like actual bowling.  The amount of curve you were able to put on the ball in Wii Sports was not anything like what you might see from a pro bowler.  Now, the experience of cranking a killer hook deep into the pocket can happen in the living room without one of the kids breaking a lamp. (Maybe.)  My typical hook is from ten o'clock around to four-thirty - I have to stand way to the left to make that work, but the pin action is much more impressive than if I just throw a straight ball into the pocket.

My other favorite addition to the bowling in Wii Sports Resort was the 100-pin game.  It's still ten frames, but it's 100 pins instead of 10.  The score is computed the same way, so a perfect score is 3000 instead of 300.  Converting spares of more than three pins are nearly impossible unless they're clustered together.  And what's even better, is that this awesome bowling game comes with a bunch of other games - Ping-Pong, Archery, Basketball, Beating Cartoon Avatars With a Bamboo Stick Fencing, Wakeboarding, and a few more.  So, if you have a Wii and liked Wii Sports, you should get it.  If you don't have a Wii yet but want to get in on the bowling action, the new bundles include both Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort (unless you get the Mario 25th Anniversary Red Bundle in which case I would guess you're not going to be doing much bowling even if you do get the regular Wii Sports).

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