Lucky Wander Boy: A Novel
"It was important that someone begin to peel back the layers of meaning beneath the games' colorful surfaces, because they were a crucial strata in the bedrock on which a generation was built. Hollywood movies are considered important enough that, in many circles, interminable discussions and serious commentaries on them are acceptable. As a place where America has been distilled and redistilled to the point of toxicity, Las Vegas has been subjected to numerous sociological, psychological, literary and critical incursions. Yet in 1981, the video game industry's $5 billion take was more than Hollywood and Vegas combined -- and so much of it was taken one quarter at a time."
"The more I began to suspect that there was no way to win, the less I thought about winning, and abandoning the compulsion to win was a great relief. Unlike earlier games, I saw Lucky Wander Boy as an accurate analogue to real life, where a similar suspicion of the grand, monolithic importance of winning -- or perhaps of my own chances for same -- was beginning to foment in my mind.
After a while, though, a feeling of entrapment set in. I could go wherever I liked and do
whatever I liked, I could run or Jump! or Warp Skip! or stay still until the arcade closed, but this
freedom obscured an ominous possibility: the possibility that, do what I would and try as I might,
I would never make it out of this place.
What had I gotten myself into?"
LWB is an arcade cabinet game from 1983. The creator's name is Araki Itachi (Japanese, female). The game has three stages. The first is a platform game that
starts out extremely easy and ends up maddeningly difficult by the third screen.
The description of the first level is as follows, more or less.
"It seemed nearly impossible to die on the first board. The Lucky Wander Boy moved three times as fast as his four antagonists, the Sebiros, who inched along like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead. The board's eight horizontal platforms were as straight as those on the first Donkey Kong board before Kong stomped them askew, but they were not representations of a building site, or any recognizable real-world space. Their colors were in constant flux, black to red to blue to green in a mood ring swirl, and impressive background graphics gave the impression that Lucky Wander Boy was running along the edge of an improbably deep book shelf, or a file cabinet with the drawers taken out. Three lift-shafts carried the player up and down between the platforms. The "Jump!" button did as advertised, the "Drop!" button allowed the player to fall through the floor to the platform below, and the "Warp Skip!" button sent him hurtling into the screen towards the convergence point of whatever platform level he was on, then back to the plane of play on a different level, determined at random, but always out of harm's reach. The only way a player could conceivably lose a man on the first board would be if, lulled into overconfidence, he glanced away from the screen long enough to confuse his man with one of the Sebiros. It was easy to do, as they were absolutely identical to Lucky Wander Boy, except they had black, blue, purple or red hair instead of the hero's blond, and wore what looked like gray business suits instead of the hero's blue-gray space captain jumpsuit.
All the Lucky Wander Boy had to do to clear the first board was to avoid the Sebiros and collect the items that appeared at random on the screen, which close inspection revealed to be handcuffs and very short pencils. When he collected enough of them ? between 5 and 10, determined at random ? a fourth lift shaft appeared at the top of the screen to carry him up to the next level. As he entered the shaft, five Japanese kanji bounced down upon his head, and a synthesized female voice would shout down their translation, in Japanese-inflected English, "I am waiting for you, Lucky Wander Boy!" The speech synthesis was cutting edge for the time, far ahead of Q*Bert's gobbledygook pseudo-profanities.
"At first glance, the second board was identical to the first. The moment Lucky Wander Boy grabbed his first pencil, however, a new species of Sebiro appeared less than a body's length from him to the left, one twice his size with a bird's beak on his human head. This Mega-Sebiro was faster than Lucky Wander Boy, and whether or not he immediately caught the hero depended entirely on whether the Mega-Sebiro first turned left or right. In the coming weeks, I would hear of numerous "tricks" or "cheats" to make the Mega-Sebiro turn left every time, away from the Lucky Wander Boy, but none of them worked. The Mega-Sebiro's behavior was entirely random, beyond the sphere of human influence. On this second board, the Lucky Wander Boy could not jump high enough to vault the other Sebiros the way he could on the first board, and the "Drop!" button only worked on the first, third and fourth platforms. The receding background shifted gradually, each level swaying out-of-sync with the others, one listing right, another bending left, the top level's far end coming closer then pulling farther away. Anyone who stared at the screen for more than a minute began to suffer from a form of electric seasickness, and you had to stare at the screen and keep that Mega-Sebiro under close surveillance to have a prayer in hell of reaching the next level, for he could "Warp Skip!" too, and his "Warp Skip!'s always put him on the same level as you. Sexy actually had to quit one of his games and walk away clutching his stomach, although that might have been the pizza and popcorn.
"This level defeated us handily, all of us save one. Rob Nixon was four years older than us, and a Peacock's regular. Legend had it that the pockets on one side of his Army jacket were reserved for drugs, and the other side for weapons. I had about as much interest in spending time with this Nixon as my Democrat father did with the other one, but Peacock's was public property, and convergent desires had made him a member of our party. Cursing, ignoring the No Smoking signs and trying unsuccessfully to run his fingers all the way through his tangled hair, Nixon made it to the third board one time. He didn't last long, but it was enough for me to figure out the screen's basics.
"The tentacles of randomness had been extended to envelop the very physics of the game world. The variables in the equations that determined the parabolas of Lucky Wander Boy's Jump!s, the rate of his Drop!s, the number of seconds before the horrible Photo-Sebiro came out with his zoot suit and a camera where his head should be ? all were subject to the whims of random-number-generating subroutines, themselves modified by other random-number-generating subroutines. The beleaguered hero could always Warp Skip! away, of course, but he was also forcibly Warp Skipped! at random intervals, usually to the bottom of the screen. All the Sebiros moved quickly, and had been further differentiated from the Lucky Wander Boy by the identical sinister grins that had been pixel-carved into each of their faces.
"After about 20 seconds, Photo-Sebiro caught up with Nixon's Lucky Wander Boy and flashed him into oblivion."
You can find out more about Lucky Wander Boy at www.luckywanderboy.com