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I guess I just like liking things

Two years ago I bought a Windows Phone, a Samsung Focus. My experiences with it are fodder for another entry some day, but the important thing about it for now is that Windows Phone has Xbox Live games that let you earn achievements. Sure, achievements are totally worthless (well, up until recently, at least), but they add a different level of fun to games that you can enjoy or ignore at your leisure.

When Angry Birds was released for Windows Phone, I was excited to finally be able to play through it. Yes, everyone else had already played through it several times, and, yes, it cost more on Windows Phone than it did anywhere else, but I was finally going to be able to play it on my phone and it would get me achievements. Bonus!

So I bought it and played it. Then I went back through to get three stars on every level. I had to watch videos on how to beat some levels, for crying out loud. I’m not proud, I did what I had to do. After a while, I had all the available achievements except for one: Smash Maniac.  Smash Maniac earns you 15 gamerpoints… by smashing 250,000 blocks in the game. If you’ve played Angry Birds at all (and I know you have), you have some idea of how many levels you would need to play to smash 250,000 block.

I did some reading and some looking around.  People were cowed by this one. The more I read, the more I wondered if I’d ever get it. See, there’s a certain sense of accomplishment you get when you “finish” a game, getting all available achievements for it. On an Xbox disc-based game, there are 1,000 Gp available, with more possible via DLC. Arcade and Phone titles are usually 200.  I generally go into a game knowing I won’t be able to get all of the available Gp. I’m not a good enough gamer. I love gaming, but even when I was younger I couldn’t play games on hard, so forget about it now.  I tend to do well on games that aren’t fast moving. I’ve 100-percented several LEGO games, for instance.  But this, this seemed ridiculous. It took me a long time to get the Block Smasher achievement, and that was a measly 50,000 blocks!

But I had to try. I was so close! -from a percentage point of view, at least. From a time point of view? Nowhere near close, but I didn’t know it yet.

The best level for getting the most blocks at once with the least amount of effort was Golden Egg-14, a bonus level you had to unlock before you could play it. Once you had it unlocked, you could play it and restart it as many times as you want. Here’s what Golden Egg-14 looks like:

Image taken directly from the imprints on the back of my eyeballs

It’s a simple level, really. Hit the first tower the right way and the dynamite boxes take over and, boom, three stars. And if that’s all you’re playing for, congrats. But if, like me, you are playing to become a Smash Maniac, it’s a whole different story.  There are 63 breakable blocks, with one Big Red bird to throw at them. One chance to get as many as you can. And then, once you’ve done that, do it again. And again. And a hundred more times. And then 500 more times.  Let me put it to you this way: if you could break all 63 blocks every time you played this level, and you only ever played this level (which, again, is the best level out of the whole game for trying to get this achievement, which means that the other levels have fewer blocks or require more tries), you would have to play this level 3,969 times.


I… did not do that math before I attempted this. In fact, just now was the first time I did the math, and I wish I hadn’t.  I mean, I knew it took me a long time to get it, and I know it didn’t take me that many tries since I already had at least 50,000 blocks broken, but it’s still crazy.

And it did take forever. Months. Every so often I’d go back and read what other people had to say. Many speculated that the achievement was broken, unattainable because of some glitch. There was no counter, so no one could tell how close they were. Some thought you had to play the level through completely, letting everything settle and be counted or it wouldn’t work, but this was bad news because that added precious seconds to each attempt, prolonging the weariness. Others, like rays of sunshine, swore that, no, you could restart and all the blocks broken would be counted!  No one knew for sure, no one had proof, but there were people who had the achievement, so it seemed doable.

For months I tried. Spare moments here and there while waiting for a computer to reboot, while waiting for a friend to show up for lunch, while waiting to be tired enough to fall asleep at night. Big Red after Big Red, flung against the battlements of my very being, wearing me down to a sad shell of a man with no hope nor any sign of progress. Even Sisyphus could look back once in a while on the valley he had ascended from!

For a while, I flung birds indiscriminately – “Faster is better,” I said. That bored me quickly, and I started aiming more specifically – “What will happen if I hit there? How about there?” I became John Nash, recognizing patterns in the destruction that surely meant something. Then, again, I would lose hope. Two birds hitting the same exact spot would produce wildly different results. “Conspiracy!” I cried. “The game cheats, and this is how they keep you playing!” I had stumbled onto the very meat of the game, the secrets that were meant to be shrouded by toucans and exploding birds and pigs that wear crowns for no discernible reason. Yet still I played! I was a slave to the very thing I knew I was a slave to, and I could feel the laughter of the pigs on my neck and I understood so very deeply just exactly why these birds were so angry.

On February 28, 2012, the Smash Maniac achievement unlocked. 262 days after I unlocked the very first achievement in Angry Birds. Eight months and 17 days. 72% of a year. I don’t even remember it happening. You’d think I would remember where I was or something – anything about that day. I don’t. Not a thing. I had to look up on my Xbox account just now to see when the achievement popped.

I didn’t open Angry Birds again until just now today. Yes, I’ve played Angry Birds Space and Angry Birds Star Wars, but I didn’t touch the original game again for nine months. I opened level Golden Egg-14 and threw Big Red and immediately felt like no time had passed. I watched the blocks start to shatter and the dynamite start to explode and for a moment I thought, “If there was an achievement for doing it all again, I could do it. I would do it.” And, just as quickly, I hit the back button and closed the game with a shudder.

I’ve looked at the achievement list for Space and Star Wars, and both have an achievement for playing the game for 30 hours. I shake my head and laugh, because this releases me. There is no way I’m playing either of them that long. I haven’t even popped the 5-hour achievement on either one, so there’s no way I’m hitting 30!

But then I see that Space has a Smash Maniac achievement, only this one’s for 500,000 smashed blocks. And then I realize two things: 1) I know how a person can get the 30-hour achievement; and, 2) I’m in a lot of trouble here.

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