Published: Dec 5, 2012 12:00:00 PM

In short, TNNS can be described as Super Pong Bros. 3, and can only be played on a touch-screen.


TNNS is a decision-engine, but not for you. Your decision is a question with one answer that is asked every half-second.

Is the ball coming at you? If "yes," put your paddle on it.

If "no," then the question will be asked again in 0.5 seconds.

If you can answer that question, The Game Will Continue To Exist. The objective is to continue. Right? Right! Right. People with salaries are looking at spreadsheets right now (probably in California!), trying to figure out how game-ify things that people would rather not be doing. The theory goes, those some people might be alright doing those undesirable things if their actions were being quantified with numbers. They're ostensibly trying to make "continuation" more tangible -- to make it a finer grade of sand.

Being is boring. The infinite number of decimal points between integers 1 and 2 is not. Right? Right?!

Intangibility is for broads and dames, man! Dude, add some numbers onto that shit. Check out that Facebook program on your personal computer or Apple iMac -- now you have a number! Like, finally! A report card for friendship will be the springboard to this discussion. So, okay, for example, maybe you over achieved with your numbers this week, and you've got more Facebook friends bound to you, or you might have more connections on LinkedIn, or followers on Twitter -- this is called social media "reach" and it's an actual, valued number attached to your person that businesses that offer full medical insurance have to take into account during their hiring process. There is a scoreboard for connections nowadays, if you're interested. For the sake of argument though, maybe they're low on your connections this week, I dunno, it's possible, but eventually, all those numbers are gonna be added up and tabulated, maybe in a spreadsheet app that Apple has made available on the iOS App Store for $1.99, and you're going to see if you've won.

Won what, exactly? What you've composed right there is a never-ending string of report cards where you are the grumpy student, you are the chain-smoking public school teacher, and you are the disappointed parent. That's the only way you can feel -- that endorphin-spike of handing somebody a numerical manifestation of you! You're saying, "I wanna be your robot (baby). You can verify here and here that I'm a very good robot (angel). So how about it, want me to show you how flexible the binary computing language can be (precious)?"

Beep. Boop.

Do you continue to exist now? With dem numbers? How existential. How inhuman.

TNNS is the response. It's designed existentialism and it's all derived from that one question: Is the ball coming at you? If "yes," put your paddle in front of it. It will strike the paddle, and you will continue.

TNNS is Super Pong Bros. 3. Remember Pong? Shit, I don't. What an old game. I remember Super Mario Bros. 3. That game's old, too, but, yeah, it's great, because it existed within and without itself. You could play it as a dead-ahead Mario game, to be a hopper, a bopper, a Goomba-stomper and a boredom-stopper, or, you could find the bacon bits and potato skins crushed up into this freaking, great-big mashed potatoes bowl.

Did you ever find the White Ship in Mario 3? Oh, gosh. It's a surprise handshake from Bill Murray in a shared cab heading uptown. Nobody's gonna believe you.

Mario 3 had the raccoon tail, and it could help you fly, and you could beat the game without it, but by mastering it, it gives you more game. How much more game? Shut up, that's not a good question. Ask a better one.

Well, was it fun mastering the raccoon tail in Mario 3? Fucking heck, yes, it was. You never would have discovered the Warp Whistle in the Mini Fortress in World 1 without it. You never would have seen those levels.

TNNS-1.pngSince TNNS has got soul, it has stuff like this. In this game of Pong v3.0, you control a paddle at the bottom of your touchscreen, available for either Apple or Android device of various makes and models. Your objective is to bounce the ball with your paddle into the rotating box with the star on it. If you strike the box with the ball, you are given a reward of stars -- these stars are you measuring stick, and they are your currency to Power Up (more on that later). When you hit a box, the board is instantly wiped, the color pattern for the board changes randomly to remind you that you're moving on to a new level. A new array of white, unbreakable and immovable blocks, and loose, movable black blocks, are set in your way between the paddle and the box with the star on it.

Sometimes these blocks move in patterns. but you'll quickly learn that the game is difficult. The paddle is small and it's easy to miss the ball. The ball can be sped up or slowed down, depending on the angle it strikes the blocks, side-walls, and your paddle. With some limited skill, you can add spin to the ball when it impacts your paddle, just like tennis (TNNS! OMG!). This lets you loop the ball around blocks so it can reach its goal.

But you're going to die. The game will end. You'll miss the ball, the game will tell you how many stars you picked up with the ball, how many levels you cleared, and how long you lived. There's a big button on this screen: AGAIN. Yeah, that game was fun, I wonder if I can get further.

You start back at zero. The first level is always the same. Your skill has increased, you know that, or you at least have a desire to increase your skill. Lets say for the sake of argument, your skill has increased.

With your skill having increased, you might be able to get further and see more levels. You might overcome more levels. While playing and beating levels though, you've been collecting stars -- the only non-superfluous statistic that is tracked. Acting as your currency, you can buy power ups in the shop.

At first, this feature stank of the shops in games like Jetpack Joyride -- random-ass shit that you can buy to make yourself invincible for a bit. My opinion has changed though. TNNS' power-ups are more like the Toad's House in Mario 3.

Want to be fireball for this go-around on this level in Mario 3's World 6 (Ice Land)? Get a fireflower from Toad and blast through it with glee. You'll get to See More Game. Or you might get dead and the time will be squandered. Well, no, you get entertainment in your life, so, again, shut up. Your TNNS skill, reaction speed, and ability to spin the ball, along with level familiarity also increased. These levels aren't "random." A guy, designed them. This isn't Jetpack Joyride. There are levels out there, you guys! More, crazier levels!

I saw one with a giant, black brick once!

Is it never-ending? I dunno. It keeps changing though, and those uncharted waters need to be explored.

With the presence of the power-ups in hand, earned by your ability to get stars, you begin to see more of the game -- you're now in terrifying territory, like World 8, Mario 3's Dark Land. You see shit you never could have imagined. Fortunately, you brought a barrier power-up, or a multi-ball power-up, or something that might help you Go Further! Always, always, always, though, you will be sent back, with nothing but stars and skillz to show for it.

Somehow, this here version of Pong has become an simple, highly-skillful, exploratory game. Suddenly, being, wanting to go on, is self-propelling. You've learned that the means to progress are two-fold: skill in answering the question (Is the ball coming at you? If "yes," put your paddle on it.) and powering-up. The power-ups don't make you invincible. They give you a better fighting-chance for when shit goes down, and you need to plan when to use them. Don't throw a barrier power-up when you've got 6 balls bouncing around the board, the barrier will get nuked in a heartbeat. Plan. Get good. Figure out how to navigate the ball in and around the levels. Go forward.

Oh, yeah, there are two power-ups that you can collect in-game and on the fly. First, the multi-ball, which spawns you three extra balls to bounce and keep track of. It's the sensation of dipping a giant paintbrush into a can of house-paint after doing calligraphy all afternoon. You'll throw the chaos around. And you can keep hitting these multi-ball power-ups. I think my record is in the high-teens for most balls on screen at once (Balls.). The second power-up is the barrier. It gives you one free-pass if you miss hitting the ball with your paddle. I like the sound it makes when the ball hits the paddle. It's like a tennis (TNNS!) ball hitting a wooden baseball bat. Good Foley work, Action Button Dot Net and Rabbx Inc., programmers of games.

Also, the the announcer's voice telling me things have happened is pleasant.

The fact that you are brought back to level 1 when you and your last ball die is vital. People get all uppity in big-budget AAA games with HD graphics when they have to repeat a level. Why? That's a good question. The answer is that the level probably wasn't very much fun to play, and they'd prefer not to have to do it again. Did anybody reading this buy Medal of Honor: Warfighter for $60 and play its single-player mode more than once? That's a terrifying thought, but in reality, you should fear having to replay a level because it was difficult, threatening to send you back to level 1, a much more tangible loss. TNNS contains the threat of tangible loss. That's a rare commodity in games. Most multiplayer shooters offer only minute, tangible progression -- you're always "progressing your bar" and unlocking shiz. However, you don't Get To See More Game. No relationship can develop with an imbalanced game, and until your Quantum of Unlocks in a multiplayer FPS, the game is not balanced, but isn't the game ostensibly "beaten" at that point? You'll be playing for Bar Progression for so long and suddenly the meaning for being changes once everything has been made available to you? Okay, but you can also buy all of the unlocks with straight-up American cash-money, like in Battlefield 3 (TNNS also allows you to do this, but that money goes to a guy, not to a Swedish person).

This ain't no museum. You can't donate money to it to see all of the game -- TNNS is too skill-based, too expansive, too focused, too binary, too creatively-designed, too well-read, and too much of an isolated system to give you a Merry Birthmas present that you can identify the moment you unwrap it.

Final score: 3 oranges out of banana.

-- @Alex Crumb (originally published 12/5/12)

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