Back when I was younger, I was addicted to Joust. Recently I discovered a (mostly) true-to-life version on, and I’m hooked again. As I play it now, though, I’m noticing some of the diabolical things the game does to kill players. Here are some examples; some are excusable, some are just examples of the programmer being a jerk. None of them will make sense if you haven’t played the game.

  • Have you ever noticed how important the shape of the computer players is, compared to your own shape? You have your head over your lance, effectively making it very short, while their lances stick straight out unimpeded so they can reach under that middle island and poke you from a distance. You have little stubby wings, while they have these huge things set way up high, almost like having a second lance in the back. Cute, huh?
  • Anybody who has played at all knows that that every computer-controlled bird is stronger than yours. Here’s what you probably didn’t know: their birds are even stronger when they’re near you. Yes, that’s right. Have you ever noticed how that enemy who’s been struggling to get free of the lava troll for the whole level suddenly gets free as soon as you’re about to kill them? That’s not coincidence; your proximity is what gave them the extra “juice”to get free. This little fact also explains that incredible “kick” an enemy sometimes gets from bouncing off a stone island when you’re nearby, or how that enemy you totally had beaten suddenly gets above you just as you meet.
  • Closely related is the fact that enemy birds don’t actually flap. Instead, the game decides how much lift they should have, moves them appropriately, and then moves their wings (if possible, which it often isn’t) to match their vertical motion. Their movement remains perfectly smooth, unlike yours which involves lots of bouncing up and down as you flap. The most obvious manifestation of this is the infamous “superflap” that allows them to stay right at the very top of the screen with their wings a blur. This smoothness also allows them to sail under the middle island to get you, in a way that you with your need to flap could never manage.

No list of complaints about Joust would be complete without a dishonorable mention of Digital Eclipse, the company that obtained the rights to the game and licenses their port to Shockwave. DE’s port is simply broken. What happens is that, when the game is busy, it queues up to a half-second or so worth of keyboard events, then either executes them all in a flurry (resulting in a most unwelcome burst of motion, usually lateral and often getting you killed) or just drops them entirely (resulting in you dropping like a stone and often getting you killed). What’s really annoying about this is that there’s not even a support address or anything you can use to alert them to the problem. They’re apparently more interested in playing with their sickeningly cute website than in fixing – or even hearing about – major bugs in their licensed products. Such people are a disgrace to the programming profession.

On a different note, does anyone else think Joust would be the best starting point for a video-game version of Harry Potter’s “Quidditch”?