Saturday, July 5, 2008 | 2 a.m.
It started innocently enough. A couple of Las Vegas guys wanted to make a video game out of a simple college sport.
You know, beer pong. You toss a pingpong ball into the red, beer-filled plastic cup and the other guy has to drink it.
The inventors of this electronic adaptation had a perfect platform for it in the Nintendo Wii, a game system so simple anyone can play. Plus, the motion-sensing controller would allow players to mimic throwing a pingpong ball into a cup of beer. Should be easy enough, figured Vince Valenti and Jag Jaeger, the alliterative co-founders of JV Games. A quick and easy game, they thought.
The first problem was the name. It had “beer” in it. And the Wii, you see, has a family-friendly, so-wholesome-it-squeaks image.
“We had a little discussion with Nintendo and there were some angry parties,” Valenti said.
“And we wanted to focus on the sport of beer pong, not the alcohol that’s associated with it,” Jaeger explained.
And so “Frat Party Games — Beer Pong” became “Frat Party Games — Pong Toss,” which is weird, but whatever. The cups are still red, even if a direct hit makes a rattling sound instead of a splash. The crowd around the table still says authentic college-ish things like “Loser,” “What was that?” and “I’ve got the munchies.” Of course they did have to change the throw-power meter from a glass of beer to a bullet, which doesn’t make sense until you realize the bullet is about the same size and shape.
“We didn’t expect that kind of response, just because we used the word ‘beer,’ ” Valenti said. “ ‘Beer’ — just like you would hear in any movie or on TV.”
The other problem Jaeger and Valenti ran into was the motion-sensing controller, which Valenti said is “simple to use but complicated to program.” Trying to get the throwing motion right involved a lot of trial and error, “like alchemy.”
But almost everything’s done and JV Games hopes to have the game finished and available for download onto your Wii by mid-July, at a price to be named later. Eight bucks, maybe.
Fine. But is it as good as real life?
Well, yes, actually. Maybe better.
For one thing, you don’t have to worry about the setup and the cleanup of all those red Solo cups and all that cheap keg beer. For another, if you do improve the game’s authenticity by drinking beer, you don’t have to drink beer that some sweaty-fingered drunk has hurled a dirty piece of plastic into (the well-known “nasty ball” problem).
And the throwing motion feels right, except for the not-letting-go part. After a few practice tosses, it’s easy to start sinking balls. A little too easy.
“Well, we didn’t want to make it an exactly lifelike game,” Jaeger said. “We made it simpler, so anyone could play, from an 8-year-old to an 80-year-old.”
Fine. But one question: Who’s going to hold onto the remote after a few beers?
Whoa. First, you don’t have to drink beer to play “Pong Toss,” Valenti said. Anyway, they’ve been lucky and never thrown the remote. They always wear the Nintendo-recommended controller wrist strap.
“But we’ve had some other people, we’ve heard, toss it. Maybe they were cooking and had some grease on their fingers and it just ... slipped.”