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Sunday
Jan062008

Every Extend Knitting

The Xbox Live game Every Extend Extra Extreme (E4) isn't so much a game as it is a thing you do--like whittling wood on your front porch, or knitting. In this, uh, "software experience" your main action is to destroy your own cursor which causes a chain reaction of other explosions. The floating things that explode then leave powerups (loot!) for you to pick up.

There are several strange aspects to that. First, there are no "lives" so you can destroy yourself over and and over forever. Next, after you destroy yourself, you have three seconds of total invulnerability to pick up the powerups--and these three second bursts are the only times you actually play the game. If you get hit by enemies (as opposed to detonating yourself), then you lose all your powerups, which greatly reduces your ability to earn points. There is technically no reason you'd ever die this way though, because you can always detonate yourself within the 3 second shield period and never be vulnerable the entire game.

The gameplay actually involves collecting the powerups in the most efficient way possible. For example, you'd like to collect a few powerups that extend your invulnerable shields a couple seconds, then pick up the time extender and various bonus multipliers. The only way the game ever ends is if you run out of time, but you can pretty much always focus on collecting the yellow time powerups to keep your time remaining at an acceptable level.

The very first game of E4 I played, I got my bearings and figured out what was going on. The second game...well I'm still playing it. It's been 2.5 hours so far with no sign of stopping. At some point I paused the game to answer the phone. At another point, I went to the grocery store. Now I stopped again to write this post. But my session of E4 is still there waiting, ready to go on forever if I like. I have 28 trillion points right now (yeah, trillion). I know you have BusyBeaver(7) points or whatever, so you don't have to tell me.

I'm not actually knocking E4. Like Rez, I enjoy it as an experience. I was totally shocked to see that my game session lasted 2.5 hours, because I didn't remember playing it for so long. It's a hypnotizing synethsesia that gives an overworked brain a vacation from itself for a while.

Another interesting property of the game is that on the one hand, it requires almost no skill because a very simple and obvious strategy allows you to play virtually forever. On the other hand, there is a skill in knowing when and where on the screen to detonate, when to cancel the chain reaction, and which powerups to get if you are trying to *efficiently* get a high score. That actually makes it nearly an ideal game to be used for crafting goods in an MMO. Anyone could play forever to get enough "magic essence" or whatever MMO quantity, but dedicated E4-crafters would learn to play efficiently and sell their greater wares to others who would rather spend their time killing monsters...or playing the Rez crafting mini-game to make green stitched linens or something.

I think E4 is going to be greatly misunderstood by the gaming public. As a relaxing flow experience, it hits the mark. Unfortunately most people probably don't understand the mark it hits.

--Sirlin

Update: I got to 126 trillion with no sign of it ever ending, but finally I wanted to play Rock Band with my girlfriend. Too bad I couldn't save and quit to continue the pointless, ProgressQuest-like journey. Instead I had to just let the time run out and lose. Anyway, E4 is quite an experience. Something compels me to keep staring at it. It's by far the best screen saver I've ever played.

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