Monday, 28 June 2010

Roll Out the Barrel.

Nothing stings harder than an 8-bit barrel.
Barrels. The ultimate videogame staple, from Doom to Donkey Kong. But have they become a by-product of lazy design or should they remain a vital component?

Well, barrels are fairly abundant in real life, so why shouldn't they be represented? Any outdoor stroll (where I come from at least) will yield one or more of these abandoned sentinels and, quite frankly, they beg to be interacted with. Be honest with yourself, have you ever not been in the company of a barrel, (not biscuit or beer, silly, but one of those fifty-five gallon jobbies) without feeling an irrepressible urge to whack it with the heel of your shoe or hoy a brick to see what sound it makes? And does it not unfailingly produce a deep, satisfying toll, to dredge up all kinds of race memories from the deepest caves of the tribal psyche?

It's a fact that barrels in videogames always make the same sound. But they don't in real life do they? It varies between a 'dong' or a 'clong' or 'clang' or even 'dung', always with that protracted, 'GGG...' on the end, though, in THX-quality reverb. Experts say this is likely to be a result of its contents - the viscosity and volume of liquid, for example, or the degree of decomposition of the unwanted kittens or dead prostitute within. Which leads to a secondary instinct that invariably kicks in once you've established what sound it makes. You know it's almost always going to be some kind of disgraceful substance. After all, very few people use barrels to store Objets D'art in do they? But you can't resist a peek and a niff anyway, if only to provide your companions with some light relief at your comedy gurning or spasmodic death-jerks from chemical inhalation.

Barnet's oil drum formation team could only manage
a disappointing sixth this year.
A chance encounter with a lone barrel in a field then - does that not fill man and boy alive with a marvellous sensation of serendipity? How about a clutch of 'em, huddled round like tin druids worshipping nature; metallic celebrants of the thing they can never be - truly alive.

But before we meander off into that whole other universe of pretend sorcerors and golden footpaths, I guarantee you that, after some funny-coloured mushrooms, a big outdoor poo and several hours perfecting 'Let Your Yeah Be Yeah' with a couple of rocks or (where I come from) the grisly remains of a runaway's scapula on this improvised drum-kit, you will rush straight home, drag a posse of unemployed Dudley suburbanites out of bed and form a gash reggae-fusion ensemble on the spot.

That's my specific 'beef' then. Not with the incendiariness or otherwise of barrels; not with their existence per se, but with the lack of tympanic variety these receptacles impart when pushed, shot or hit in the game world. No, they either crumple ineffectually, explode one by one with a pleasing chain reaction or do nothing at all.

Games are all about realising your dreams. Piloting a vehicle is simple and requires no training. All martial arts women wear revealing clothes and have great bodies, Most guards forget you unsuccessfully tried to strangle them after walking around for 20 seconds. So it's not unreasonable, is it, to expect to be confident of smacking a bunch of barrels around (not the ones coloured a vivid red, of course, or carrying the appropriate toxic symbol) and attaining some sort of rhythm approaching either a Ska classic or tellies being dropped randomly into an empty council skip. Something like that.

With the possible exception of Banging trash can lids for an hour then, there can be few things more solidly entertaining than barrels, I think we've just become a bit blase about them. Wait till they're gone, though. You watch, it'll be like Jade Goody and Woolworths. What was christmas like this year, eh? Turgid.

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