I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at playing video games. However, every so often I’m handed a beatdown that makes me question the decades I’ve spent clutching a keyboard, mouse, and controller. Sometimes, the drubbing comes at the hands of pimply teenagers with youthful reflexes and the free time to spend all day honing their aim in online multiplayer shooters. Their juvenile trash talking inevitably stings, but I can’t complain about losing to the better man boy. Due to a combination of age and neglect, my mad skillz simply aren’t what they used to be.
Of course, there are also times that I’m bludgeoned into submission by the game itself. Humiliation at the hands of a machine is somehow harder to swallow than losing to another person. I mean, it’s not like I’m taking on Watson or Deep Blue. I’m going head to head with a standard PC, and sometimes it’s not even a particularly powerful one. Beat is a rhythm infused respin of classic Breakout gameplay turned on its ear. Runner brings a similar rhythm component to 8 bit parkour platforming that feels like a marriage of Super Mario Bros, Excitebike, and Mirror’s Edge.
At first glance, the game looks simple. The world scrolls by at a constant speed, while one jumps, slides, blocks, and kicks to negotiate a series of obstacles, enemies, and gold bars. Timing is important, but the levels are tightly synchronized with the music, whose beat provides a cue for each button press. Steam tells me that I’ve spent more than three hours with the game, and I’m not even a quarter of the way through. Heck, I haven’t even encountered a boss battle or been introduced to the game’s blocking move. However, it’s unusually abusive for something that was first released on the Nintendo Wii, a console whose audience seems to be dominated by small children and senior citizens. The core problem is the game’s lack of tolerance for anything short of perfection. Mis time a jump, hit slide when you meant to kick, or otherwise let your focus lapse for a second, and you’re booted back to the start of the level. There’s no margin for error. No checkpoints.
After being brutalized by the game’s first few levels, I wondered if perhaps I was playing it wrong an Xbox 360 controller hooked up to the home theater PC in my living room. Switching to a keyboard and mouse didn’t help, and neither did moving to the desktop in my office. Apparently, the pressure associated with a steep penalty for failure makes me even more prone to mistakes, after which I want to pitch the keyboard through my monitor. Make too many, and the game plunges into black and white, giving players one last shot at redemption before slamming the door. Runner has no time for second chances. Collecting power ups, which are deceptively shaped like 3D red crosses, won’t increase your health. Instead, asics running they jazz up the music and sprinkle a little more eye candy on the game’s funky visuals. Even the difficulty settings have no real bearing on how easy it is to get through a level seemingly there just to dictate how many gold bars are available for collection. Those bars are only good for increasing your score and gaining access to special bonus levels that are even more difficult than the standard ones.
Perhaps the most frustrating element of Runner is the fact that the game is quite fun when you’re doing well. The well implemented rhythm component makes it easy to get sucked into each level, however briefly. I’m also quite fond of the old school art style and imaginative backdrops that surely were created with the aid of industrial strength hallucinogens. Of course, I’ve seen most of Runner’s environments through screenshots published by the developer rather than in the game itself. I haven’t made it far enough to encounter much in the way of diversity, and I probably won’t.
As enjoyable as Runner can be at times, the frustration associated with being kicked back to the start of the level for the smallest infraction is enough to sour me on the whole experience. Even when I manage to string together a perfect sequence of moves to complete a level, I feel more relief than elation or accomplishment. Really, there’s nothing to brag about. At that point, all I’ve managed to do is master a relatively short sequence of keystrokes, prompted by both visual and audio aids it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to do so. Rather than feeling motivated to master it, I’m eager to move onto something with a softer touch. like getting my ass handed to me in Counter Strike by someone half my age.
11:36 PM on March 10, 2011
For more than a decade, I lugged my notebook in a simple shoulder bag. I suppose you’d call it a messenger style bag today, but I got it before fixed gear bikes were seen outside of velodromes being ridden by men wearing skinny jeans from the women’s department. In those days, it was just a bag one that accompanied me to and from class every day.
When I joined TR, the bag came with me to trade shows and press events. It held everything I needed for business trips: my laptop, charger, mouse, MP3 player, headphones, and point and shoot camera. There was even room for associated accessories and show floor swag. Then I got a DSLR Rebel T2i quite a bit larger than the old point and shoot. Whi asics running le the Rebel can easily be stuffed into the bag, it’s hardly a perfect fit. The camera just sort of bounces around in the biggest pocket along with everything else. That just wouldn’t do for my new baby, so I set my sights on a replacement carry all. Christmas morning, my girlfriend obliged with a Timbuk2 Snoop messenger bag designed to swallow a notebook and SLR.
My snoop is the smaller of two available sizes, with official dimensions of 15.9″ x 9.6″ x 4.7″. That’s pl asics running enty of room for a 13.3″ laptop, an SLR, and several lenses. The medium size measures 19.3″ x 10.4″ x 7.8″ and should accommodate beefier notebooks plus additional camera gear.
Perhaps because it’s a relatively fresh model, the Snoop is only available in a couple of pre baked color combos. This black and grey version is the most reserved of the options, and it looks professional enough for my purposes. I wish the Snoop could be customized like some of Timbuk2’s other bags, though. The company offers scores of different colors and prints in addition to lightweight, tarpaulin, and faux leather alternatives to the standard “ballistic” nylon used in the Snoop.
Although the ballistic nylon is unlikely to stop a bullet, it feels nice and thick. The textured surface provides a little bit of grip for your fingertips, and it looks tough enough to endure years of abuse. A layer of waterproof material sits behind this nylon exterior to provide a measure of weatherproofing.
Your first hint that the Snoop is designed for shutterbugs is the pair of tripod straps that grace the undercarriage. At about a foot in length, the straps should be long enough to secure larger tripods. Unfortunately, there’s no mechanism to prevent all that webbing from hanging loosely if you’re not using it. Add in the longish straps attached to the buckles that secure the main flap, and you’ve got four little tails to swing in the breeze. Looping the straps around themselves nicely cuts down on the dangling, but it would be nice if the bag came with some clips or additional buckles to consolidate the excess webbing.
If you’d rather not use the exterior buckles, the Snoop has a set of Velcro strips to keep the flap secured. This quick draw configuration is perfect for paparazzi hipsters cruising the streets in search of the celebrity flavor of the week buying groceries, pumping gas, or staggering drunk outside a night club.
A pair of fabric strips neatly covers the Velcro if you’re going the buckle route. Beneath them sits a collection of exterior pockets that includes the Napoleon. This zippered pouch is easily accessible when the bag is closed and the flap secured, making it great for passports, airline tickets, and anything else you might need to grab quickly or with regularity. Brilliant!
There are three zippered pockets in addition to the Napoleon, including one with a clear exterior that’s especially useful when digging out smaller items. A key chain sits at the end of that bright red ribbon, which is anchored inside the top pocket. If only there were more room in the pocket to easily accommodate the fistfuls of keys I see some people carrying around. The exterior pockets all sit on top of each other and have little capacity to expand, making them better suited to slimmer items.
Fortunately, the Snoop’s main cabin is plenty roomy. The laptop sleeve is large enough to take a 13.3″ system from a couple of years ago, and slipping one in hardly eats into your storage space. I do wish that the laptop sleeve had some padding, though.
At least the Snoop offers cushiness elsewhere. A zippered insert for the main compartment has a fleecy interior with four padded partitions. Users can arrange these Velcro laced walls to snugly hug their SLR, lenses, and other accessories. This seemingly simple feature really makes the bag for me. Not only do the partitions give my Rebel a padded home that’s exactly the right size, but they also do a great job of keeping the bag’s contents organized without shutting everything away into separate pockets.
The padded pouch is poorly suited to documents, but those can be slipped between it and the laptop sleeve. That’s where most of the hard copy press materials we picked up at CES ended up. Meanwhile, the rest of the bag held everything else I needed for the show: my notebook, SLR, power adapter, MP3 player, headphones, notepad, pens, several flash drives, and my flight information.
I carried the Snoop all around CES and quickly fell in love with the Napoleon pocket, which was perfect for quickly stashing business cards and flash drives. The padded strap was asics running comfortable to shoulder after carrying a fully loaded bag all day. I’m even more impressed by the nifty buckle that lets you easily switch between two strap lengths. You can synch the bag up tight when you don’t want it moving around or let it hang loose when you want to get at the Snoop’s contents. A single lever locks the buckle’s grip on the strap, making it easy to fine tune things on the fly.
While traveling or at trade shows, I typically like my notebook bag hanging off one shoulder. To spread the load, I’ll often switch shoulders or carry the bag with one hand. Unfortunately, the latter is a little difficult because the Snoop lacks a handle. You can compensate by making the shoulder strap really tight, but it’s not the same.
To test the Snoop’s messenger credentials, I took it for a spin on my fixie in the cold, wet misery that is Vancouver in February. Rain pelted the bag for roughly three hours while I rode around the city getting sprayed by traffic and soaked by the occasional downpour.
Before heading out, I battened down the Snoop’s hatches in anticipation of the wet weather. The camera compartment was zippered shut and all the exterior pockets closed. I also folded in the top portion of the flap to prevent water from seeping in. Although the Snoop’s waterproof liner should keep water from soaking through the exterior, there is potential for water to trickle into the bag through the flap’s folds.