• Brainwashed!
07.25.12

Brainwashed!

Aside from its candy-coated presentation, Outwittersthe new iOS game by the creators of Tilt to Live—is a typical strategy game for two or four players. Each turn, players spend resources called Wits to create, move, and attack units, the goal being to eliminate the enemy base. Like in most modern multiplayer games, turns are taken remotely. Ryan Kuo (twerkface) and Richard Clark (deadyetliving) corresponded between turns, but kept their notes hidden until the end, when they saw what was left unsaid. 

/ / /

Turn 1: twerkface
My desk, 3:56 p.m. Sunday

Each team in Outwitters has a unique special unit. The Adorables have a transporter and the Scallywags have artillery. The Scrambler is team Feedback's special—a floating brain that converts enemy units into your minions. 

I'm still angry about the unfunny, unwarranted, and unlikable dubstep comment you tweeted at me, unsolicited, last week. So I am playing with Feedback because I want to publicly embarrass you with the move I pulled in our last team game. My concern is that I’m going to win before getting the chance. At seven Wits, the special units are the most expensive to produce and don’t usually appear until around 10 turns in. Rich, I’m trying to say, perhaps in the most passive-aggressive way possible, that I am mad at you.

Turn 2: deadyetliving
My computer (when I should be in bed), 12:44 a.m. Monday

The theme music plays louder than a jet engine when I start up Outwitters. I figured I could knock out this turn before I sleep. Now my ears are ringing and these bright colors are too much. I am adding 15 minutes to the amount of time it will take me to sleep tonight. And why would anyone want to play as the Adorables? Their teddy bears and playthings are utterly unsatisfying compared to the robot team, which has the most satisfying sound effects of all—grinding gears and electric discharges. 

All I can see—because of the fog of war—is that you've captured the bonus space that gives you more Wits per turn. I'll do it too. But I like to play defensively, to wait and see. Thankfully, Outwitters actually rewards inaction, letting me save my Wits for later turns. Next turn I should have four extra! 

Turn 3: twerkface
The toilet, 9 a.m. Monday

The blip of an asynchronous game plays an important role. A game occurs in the space between our occupations, and the clarion call must move us to abandon them. The Outwitters blip is unlike Ascension’s mystical chime and Carcassonne’s eager herald. It’s a pair of ascending tones that feels both inhuman and effortlessly modern, a proper bell for a smartphone. 

So I got your notification. I’m late for work and you were unusually late in returning the turn. Because you didn’t take my lure—the Runner dangled near your Soldier—I’m sending it to kill your Medic, which you seem to have left unused. That Medic’s health boost saves units. Without the boost, a single blow from my Heavy will destroy your Soldier lurking below. 

The slow dance of this hex game brings me back to UniWar, one of the earliest async games on the platform, which stole my 2010 summer along with the World Cup. I’d sit with a beer in Berlin cafes and exchange rounds with friends in Cardiff and Sydney for an afternoon. 

Turn 4: deadyetliving
The office, 10:06 a.m. Monday

I don't use the Medic well, anyway. He seems like such a waste. My Runner will barely make a dent on your Soldier, but at least he'll distract you from the bigger guys closer to my base. 

This turn is being interrupted a lot by emails and notifications, which is actually nice. It's fun to move, take a break and think, and then move again, as opposed to playing the turn straight through. But then a guy literally came into the office and distracted me for about 20 minutes. I have no idea what I'm doing now, so I guess I'll just end the turn. 

Turn 5: twerkface
Someone’s bedroom, 10:34 p.m. Friday

It’s cold here in Somerville, Mass. I haven’t packed a sweater. How has it gotten so cold? We’ve been through a lot of drama the past few days. I announced I’m leaving and you responded intensely. Despite our open conversation, I’m not sure where we stand with each other. Now I’m looking for a new place to live. This game feels like an unambiguous way for us to interact—a shared experience that is totally separate from everything else between us. 

But it’s also precarious in its own way. Outwitters is colorful and cute, but the one-tap moves are a deceptively heavy commitment: since the fog of war hides enemy activity, you can't undo your smallest mistakes.

Your moves in broad daylight are also enigmatic. This is the central question of any Outwitters game I play with Rich Clark. Do you know what you are doing, or do you not know what you are doing? Your Runner bounces off my Soldier like a jellybean on the sidewalk, and is as good as dead. I’m heading to your base on the boardwalk up above. Since the bases only have 5 points, there's no reason waiting to make a hit.

Turn 6: deadyetliving
In bed, 4:27 p.m. Sunday

I hope you appreciate that I'm taking time out of my Sunday—a particularly unique one when my mom is in town to visit—to play asynchronous iPhone games with you. Do you appreciate this, Ryan?

For a moment now we’re in sync, and I’m watching the way he responds to my input, seeing that I’ve quickly altered his world.

In truth, I'm tired and exhausted from being on tourist mode. Yesterday we saw some big bridges up close from a boat. Today I drank a bourbon barrel-aged stout at a bar that was also an aquarium. Nothing is better for rest than asynchronous games, where I can doze off between strategic maneuvers if I like. I mean, I didn't, but I could. 

You sniped my Runner—this makes sense to me. I've saved up enough Wits to spawn a Scrambler, which will hopefully have a chance to brainwash one of your minions and turn them against you. Yes, that would be spectacular! I've positioned him just out of sight (hopefully) behind a soldier. 

Turn 7: twerkface
A kitchen stool, 1:24 a.m. Monday

I’m back from a long day of apartment hunting and The Dark Knight Rises and I’m listening to Yelawolf videos in the background. And now you’re telling me you like dubstep? Your counterattack on the boardwalk feels feeble—notice how my Medic-assisted Heavy elbowed past yours, and is a step from cracking your base in half.

Turn 8: deadyetliving
Lynn's Paradise Cafe, 10:54 a.m. Monday

I'm not sure, but I think I just pulled off something pretty great. Here I am, figuring I'll take a quick turn in the middle of this world-famous breakfast restaurant in Louisville. I'm sitting in the gift shop, waiting for my mom and her friend, and realize that my expensive Scrambler has paid off. 

The Scrambler brainwashes your Heavy, and then my original Heavy and your brainwashed Heavy gang up on your Soldier, destroying him swiftly. This is, I will say—extremely satisfying. 

"You ready?" my mom says. 

"Yep," I answer. 

Turn 9: twerkface
My own bed, 12:51 a.m. Tuesday

So I wasn’t expecting you to use my own trick against me, though it seems obvious now. I didn’t see the Scrambler hidden in the fog of war. Apparently you can rush the special units on the production line if you’re economical with your early Wits. Well played.

On top of this shit, we’re late wrapping up this article and I need to post it Wednesday morning. I’m now relying on this game to end soon—and even as I push you back, I am desperate that you aren’t going to respond, that it’s my fault for waiting all day to take this turn, and you won’t see it until tomorrow morning, when you’re busy at your "real job." Please play.

Turn 10: deadyetliving
The office, 11:38 a.m. Tuesday

I’m back at work, which is depressing. But it made my day when I opened the app and saw you had written "O.m.g." in response to my last move.

My goal at this point is not to get too excited and try to destroy your base too early. I'm going to work on clean-up, taking out as much of your guys as I can, so that I can attack the base later on with little to no worries. I think I'm onto something. 

Ryan ... are you scared, Ryan? I hope you are scared. I hope you are afraid of losing your first game of Outwitters to me in front of all of your dear readers. I hope one of the last things you write for Kill Screen will involve you losing to me—possibly the worst Outwitters player in existence. 

Turn 11: twerkface
The office, 11:41 a.m. Tuesday

You shouldn’t be throwing your Scrambler into the line of fire like that. Don’t use it just because you can, because it’s going to hell this round. Why is your Heavy just standing there? I suspect you’re getting cocky. I would feel smug if I didn’t deeply need you to play this game with me.

Turn 12: deadyetliving
The couch, 12:24 p.m. Tuesday

Lunch is my favorite time for asynchronous gaming. I usually play during the interview portion of The Daily Show, as I am doing today. 

It looks like you're hanging in there, but your moves seem more desperate and predictable than I'm used to. Ryan, you've expressed an interest in "wrapping this up today." Are you sure you're ready for this?

Turn 13: twerkface
The office, 12:36 p.m. Tuesday

Some think Outwitters is an unbalanced game—that it’s too easy to pump out Runners, which cost 1 Wit and can cover the whole map in two moves, like a poor man’s Zerg rush in StarCraft. But as others have pointed out, you spend those Wits on situational awareness. A well-placed Runner would have spotted your Scrambler five turns ago because it sees the furthest. When we started this game I assumed I would see through your crap, and now I’m paying for it with one Medic versus your whole army.

Turn 14: deadyetliving
The office, 1:56 p.m. Tuesday

You have a Medic and a Runner. I have you surrounded. It's time to give it up. Run into death's open arms. Accept your fate.

But I’m creating a Soldier for good measure—I have a feeling that Runner's going to be up to no good.

Turn 15: twerkface
The office, 3:23 p.m. Tuesday

Back to the Runners then. As it turns out we’re doing a lot of running in DayZ, which Tom spent all yesterday downloading and installing on the office PC. We’ve just exited the little house and realized that the zombies run—straight at you—and now we’re running on the pavement that looks like the country road where I grew up. I abandoned PC gaming long ago because of things like having to extract seven separate packets to run a zombie mod of an army simulator I never wanted to buy, but I have to admit this feels like a much more pressing issue at the moment.

Turn 16: deadyetliving
The office, 4:05 p.m. Tuesday

I definitely spoke too soon.

Turn 17: twerkface
The office, 4:07 p.m. Tuesday

We finally found a 12-gauge shotgun in an empty barn and blew a zombie to pieces! But we were killed by an unseen bandit and the game is over. It turns out humans are the real monsters. Meanwhile, I think this Outwitters game is turning around, now that I have landed on your Wits pipeline. I really just want to distract you from my own base.

Turn 18: deadyetliving
The office, 4:28 p.m. Tuesday

I'm not letting you win, Ryan. You think you can just brute-force your way in and it's not happening. 

Turn 19: twerkface
The office, 4:28 p.m. Tuesday 

Of course it worked.

Turn 20: deadyetliving
The office, 4:31 p.m. Tuesday

Oh my gosh. I had no idea you could sit your Runner on top of my base and keep me from spawning guys. And now you've done it at a most unfortunate moment. I will never forgive you for this.

Screw it, I'm taking my Soldier and gunning for it. 

Here are other things I'm doing in the same moment: applying for a job, texting my girlfriend, finishing up my work. But in this moment, all I really care about is hearing that two-toned notification sound. Ryan, I want to beat you so bad. Do you realize how much this will mean to me?

Turn 21: twerkface
The office, 4:35 p.m. Tuesday

Your strategy is finally transparent. You want the Soldier, your one remaining unit, to blow up my base before I destroy yours. It’s sound math: We both have 4 points left; your Soldier can bring it down in two turns, while my Runners are half as powerful, and one of them is busy occupying your factory. But it’s a somewhat desperate strategy, a last shot. 

It’s lovely when the opponent’s faraway intentions emerge, the uncertainty gone. For a moment now we’re in sync, and I’m watching the way he responds to my input, seeing that I’ve quickly altered his world.

We’re not done, but the second-guessing, the cat-and-mouse, has ended—but for one move.

Turn 22: deadyetliving
The office, 4:34 p.m. Tuesday

Two notification sounds blare at once: my girlfriend's text and your latest move. Which do you think I checked first?

Oh my gosh you didn't do anything. I mean, obviously, you did something—maybe out there in the fog of war—but what? My Soldier deals 2 damage each turn, so you need to kill him next turn to win. I hope you know what you're doing. Wait, of course I don't. 

One more turn and this could be over. OH I HOPE SO. 

Turn 23: twerkface
The office, 4:40 p.m. Tuesday

GG. It turns out Outwitters is not only about tactical awareness and quick strikes, but about regional dominance. When my Scrambler brainwashes your Soldier, you lose by default, even though the “score” is 4-2. Even I am surprised, because I’ve never made an indirect win. You’ve lost control. 

Turn 23: deadyetliving
Sitting in my car, 4:40, Tuesday

This is how I found out I lost this game: I was walking down the hallway, leaving work, feeling pretty good about myself, when I heard the voice of a small child proclaim: "You lose!" The voice came from somewhere in my pocket. 

I'll be honest, I have heard this sound numerous times before. But this time it caught me somewhat off-guard. I was sure I'd had you. There was no way you could have destroyed my base this turn. It just wasn't possible. But then I sat in my car and watched as you brainwashed my very last Soldier. Because you had a Runner stationed over my spawn point, I was unable to create a new one, and the game was over. 

I hope you are satisfied, Ryan. It was, in fact, close. But I don't know—winning by a technicality. Is that really how you want to go out?