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August 14, 2011 / jwaxo

POD – Planet of Death (Braking)

Many years later I would conclude this game had nothing to do with the band POD.

It is late and I have had a full weekend that included driving twelve hours and going to a wedding (not mine, but just as exciting as it was between two very good friends of mine) so I will probably keep this rather brief.

We’re here to talk about driving.

As adults, we are all familiar with cars. Driving is just as easy as biking and just as easy as walking, almost. Sure, sometimes you need to drive your friend’s car and it’s weirdly unfamiliar and it takes you a few minutes to get used to it, but it’s only as uncomfortable as slipping into a new pair of shoes.

To little kids, though, cars are this magical, crazy means of transportation. They don’t know how they work, exactly, other than you have to sit behind the steering wheel and you control how fast it goes. There are a lot of tiny parts and gauges and they all mean something to your parents and it’s all interesting but really why aren’t you at the store yet this drive is taking forever.

Cars were both extremely boring and the ultimate mystery. We saw them everywhere, parking lots and streets and garages. Everyone had one (at least), many of them easily identifiable. But there was something menacing about them, something that we didn’t understand. What did all of it do? When our dads lifted up the hood and did things, what was he doing? What could possibly go wrong with a car, after all? And finally, that most pressing of questions: why do you need more than one pedal?

Grills are obvious: they are there to be scary in dark garages.

I’m serious about “one pedal” thing. Dead serious. Remember those times I mentioned I was horrible at Mario Kart? It wasn’t until around 1998 that I figured out why I was bad at Mario Kart. Or at least why I had always been bad at it when playing Mario Kart 64 at a friend’s house.

What happened in 1998? I hope you’re savvy enough to answer this yourself, but, quite simply, we got POD. The internet tells me that it’s an acronym for Planet of Death, but we just called it Pod.

POD came into our possession the same way that Red Alert did: through my brother’s best friend. We were at his house one day when we found his little brother playing this crazy, futuristic-looking racing game. Several hours later my brother and I knew we had to have it. Our friends were lucky enough to apparently get this great game with their computer, but dollars changed hands and we went home happy children.

You look at the graphics now and you cringe: you could cut yourself on those edges, the textures are so blurry you can’t tell the difference between the street and the walls, the cars are ridiculous and useless. But we played, as usual, the heck out of this game.

Split-screen racing with one keyboard is difficult.

My brother was awesome at it and quickly grew bored with the flashing lights and repetitive laps. I was horrible at it and, stupid little knothead I was, pressed on with playing it. There was a rudimentary story: the participants in the races are the last survivors of a dying planet, racing for the rights to ride in the last spaceship off of the planet. I had to be that winner. The survivor of the planet.

But as I said, I was horrible. I stunk. I couldn’t win. I pressed on through the tournaments and watched the game over screen, in which the camera tilts up to watch the last spaceship leave as lava pours all around, so many times it wasn’t even funny.

Eventually I stepped back and analyzed myself. What was I doing wrong? How could my brother be so good at this game, all of the computer players be so good at this game, yet I could not? I smashed through the levels, taking damage to my car with no care, falling off of edges and ramming into walls. I could not drive as smoothly as anyone else and I had no idea why.

The answer’s obvious. Really, it’s the most obvious thing. But 10-year-old me had no idea what it was. Why would you ever stop accelerating? That would slow you down! You would lose by an even greater margin!

Finally, when careening around a massive parking garage-like structure, I tried a new technique. As I approached a corner, I would release the forward button and, gasp if you must, press on the brake button. Then, after cornering, I would accelerate the heck out of there.

I was winning races before I knew it. And thank goodness, too, or who knows how I would have reacted the first time I got in a real life driver’s seat.

Still doesn’t help me win at Mario Kart. THAT STUPID GAME.

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