Thursday, October 1, 2009

Box Office

It's almost 1:00AM as I write this and I'm still up for a reason that only baby Jesus knows, but since I am awake and as lucid as I ever get, here is this week's Big Mean Flash Gamer. The target of my never ending rage this week is a title from our buddies at Free World Group. Now, usually I'm a fan of FWG; their games are never overly complicated, well-designed, and generally entertaining. They don't produce many games that I'd call all-time favourites of mine, but I have enjoyed a lot of their stuff. However, it seems that on an almost weekly basis Free World Group release a game like Box Office: a title that perfectly captures the soul-sucking, mind-numbing reality of life in the retail industry.

Box Office puts you behind the counter at the refreshments stand of a cinema - pretty much the worst job outside of chasing away the bums who sleep in the screening rooms. As customers step up to the counter it's your job to put together their orders, clicking on icons around the stand to collect popcorn, drinks and tickets. The goal of each level is to earn a certain amount while pleasing as many customers as possible. Naturally, this is done by getting orders as quickly as you can before pocketing the cash.

On a related note, while I'm well aware that cinemas charge an exorbitant amount for refreshments, this place is just taking the piss. $560 from maybe a dozen customers? That better be some damn good popcorn! Every level is the same monotonous pattern of jumping from one corner of the box office to another, only with more customers and shorter time periods as the game progresses.

As soon as you start raking in the dough you'll be able to buy upgrades such as different movies, new and more varied snacks and special items such as VIP tickets. You'll need to buy a few of these things as it means more money from customers, but it's not like it grossly raises the difficulty. And one thing I've never been able to figure out about games like Box Office - how come you can buy all sorts of crap to sell, but you can't hire some staff? I'm making all this money; are you trying to tell me there aren't any acne-riddled sixteen-year-olds I can have come in on Saturdays? I guess not - even though I'm investing in this one box office, I'm still clearly so low on the ladder of power that I can't even hire a part-time assistant. Either that or my character is paranoid that any new employee might steal his job. I'm pretty sure a committed lemur could do this gig, given the right training.

And so on it goes, with each level marginally more complicated than the last. There's no real puzzle or strategy involved; it's all just based on reaction and your speed with the mouse. It's one long, continuous chain of repetitive, pointless effort. If Box Office is supposed to entertain, it fails miserably. Indeed, the only thing it did do was remind me how much I hate working in retail.

I mean, look at that facial expression. Anyone who's ever worked in customer service will instantly recognise it as the rictus grin of a man who is dead inside. This is a character who's one difficult customer away from pulling out a shotgun and hitting back at a cold, oppressive world. Why would I want to play a person like that? Hell, there have been occasions when I was a person like that, and it sucks balls. So not only is Box Office a tedious waste of time, it also perfectly captures the feeling of helplessness experienced by anyone wearing a name tag and hairnet. Thanks for opening old wounds, Free World Group. Thanks a whole lot!

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