Thursday, November 13, 2014

8th-grade Elevator Pitch: The Cosmos Annihilation Matrix

As I remember it...

It wasn't technically an elevator pitch, because we weren't in an elevator.  Also, I was fourteen years old, and had no concept of what a "pitch" was - let alone the elevator version of one.  Still, that's what it was.  

I was waiting in line at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, with my mother and my younger brother, who were busy negotiating the dining and/or treats in our future.  We were queued up to see "To Fly," on the 5-story-high movie screen that would later be called "IMAX." The gentleman in line behind us had overheard our prior conversation about Atari games - and how we would improve them.  He asked me to describe in two minutes what I would put into a game if I were in charge.  

[Blogger's note:  It was 1981 so, you know, cut me some slack.]

"In my game, you're a baby owl, so you can't fly, but you have roller skates, but if you get hit, you can lose them, but you can get them back if you eat enough mice from the barns along the way, and..."

The man, who seemed to me to be about 99 years old, when in fact he was probably 28, interrupted. "Wait.  Is this a first-person shooter, or is it a scroller?"

"It's both," I said. "When you're the baby owl, it scrolls right-to-left, but later, when you learn to fly, and when you fight the mother ships, it's first-person."

"Do you have inanimate obstacles, active enemies, or both?"

"Both.  If you hit a tree branch, or a car, or a squirrel's tail, you lose energy, and if you lose too much energy, you go extinct.  Also, there are theater majors with a creative writing minor, and they try to grab you and use you as a prop for their soliloquies.  They squeeze you over-dramatically and kill you 'cause your eyes pop out.  Plus, there are these cats that are, like, part cat and part over-ripe plantain, and they're all named TJ, and they're friendly at first, but eventually, if you don't buy a universal life policy from them, they turn sort of passive-aggressively hostile, and they start to subtly call your manhood into question, until eventually, the only way to get rid of them is to hold down the Fire button and waggle the joystick left and right as fast as you can.  Then, your owl says, 'Fuck off, TJ,' and it works, but your owl feels bad that it had to be rude, and you lose more energy points.  But then, after a few seconds, your owlet starts to resent TJ even more, for putting it in the position where it had to resort to telling him to fuck off, and it chases the ghost of TJ off the screen, throwing stuff at him.  There's a cutaway instant-replay of this action, where you can clearly see that what your owl is throwing is poop - and not owl poop, if you know what I mean..."

"Wait.  How old are you, kid?" the stranger asks.

"Fourteen," I say, "Why?  It's okay for me to say the F-word, if it's in the gameplay description."

"No, no - I'm okay with the language.  I'm just wondering how you're going to get simulated speech from an 8-bit processor."

"A what?"

"An 8-bit processor.  Some of the new arcade consoles have 16-bit chips, but if you're talking about your little Atari set at home..."

I held up a confident, let me finish hand.  "Ah, I'm not worried about that. If the voice can't be emulated, I'll just have a dialogue bubble pop up above the owl."

"Okay.  So, what's the goal?  Is it just multi-level, never-ending, or is there a boss villain - an end?"

I hadn't thought of that.  I said, "I thought of that, sir.  There's a giant robotic alien guy at the end, and he looks like Joan Lunden and R2D2 had a baby - all gleaming blue and white and metal, but with a cute blonde bob, and thin, professional, no-nonsense on-air lips.  He fires dirt missiles and intestine-shattering jokes that can't be unheard, plus some deep-fried bowling shoe guacamole balls, and reaches out with long, vector-graphics tentacles and grabs you as you try to dodge the projectiles.  He pulls you into his freakish plastic mandibles and eats you, and you lose."

"And?" the man said, shuffling forward as we began our march into the massive theater.

"And what?  Game over."

"How do you win?"

I tried to be polite, but I could feel my brow furrowing into its What are you - stupid? shape.  "You don't," I said, matter-of-factly.

"It's un-winable?"


"What are you calling this thing?"

"It's called The Cosmos Annihilation Matrix, because if you don't collect all the coat buttons in the coat-button phase, everything that is, or ever was, or ever will be... winks out of existence in one fell scream of ultimate horror and suffering."

"What?  No extra lives?"

"Nope.  Finito."

"Wait - what coat-button phase?  You must have skipped that part," the man said, somewhat bemused.

"That's 'cause I just thought of it.  I realized that there was no transaction education element, and our future capitalists really need that, you know?"

"Yes.  I'm fully aware of that.  Anyway, you had me until you said 'vector graphics,' kid.  You can't do vector graphics on a regular TV.  No sale."

"Okay."  I pretended not to be heartbroken.

"Maybe you should think about a career in accounting or something."

"Um... okay..."  Soul... crushed.

"Enjoy the movie!"

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