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♫...Bus...Desert Bus!...♫
November 14, 2011 2:40 PM   Subscribe

In 1995, Penn and Teller were the creative forces behind the-ultimately-unreleased Sega CD game Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors, which contained several minigames designed to prank or torture your friends...or yourself. The most notorious of these mini-games is Desert Bus, a game vicious in its intentional monotony.

The objective of the game is to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada in real time at a maximum speed of 45mph. The feat requires 8 hours of continuous play to complete, since the game cannot be paused.
The bus contains no passengers, contains little scenery (an occasional rock or stop sign will appear at the side of the road), and there is no traffic. The road between Tucson and Las Vegas is without exception completely straight. The bus veers to the right slightly; as a result, it is impossible to tape down a button to go do something else and have the game end properly. If the bus veers off the road it will stall and be towed back to Tucson, also in real time. If the player makes it to Las Vegas, he will score exactly one point. The player then gets the option to make the return trip to Tucson—for another point (a decision he must make in a few seconds or the game ends).


For several years, the folks at Loading Ready Run have been playing the game annually for charity (their best time so far is 5 days, 16 hours), and this year's installment is just a few days away.

And yes, you can play it yourself online.
posted by mreleganza (34 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
The game is actually more entertaining than the actual drive, trust me.
posted by atomicmedia at 2:47 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is kind of like what MeTa has been like these past few weeks
posted by wheelieman at 2:48 PM on November 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


Ha, a good friend of mine is a childhood friend of Graham's, so I've been hearing about this for years. My favourite story about it is that apparently the first year, if I'm remembering correctly, Penn found out about it, wound up calling them to find out the details, and suddenly, every so often, food would just start appearing at their door. Like some kind of....magic.

(One day I'm going to make a video game called Desert Prof. Basically you grade for 8-16 hour stretches, broken up by lectures, and then a few weeks later your bleached bones are found.)
posted by ilana at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


Huh... I'm surprised this seems like the first ever Desert Bus focused FPP here. A cursory search through the archives shows mentions in lots of comments, but never a main post.
posted by kmz at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2011


Desert Bus sounds like a lot of game and film ideas my friends and I came up with in college-- little thought experiments or cultural installations that are interesting because they exist, not because of the experience they create. Like my friend Pete and I wanted to make a film adaptation of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that was a single shot of the crazy old mariner grabbing the wedding guest and then reciting the entire poem to him (which is what happens in the poem).

That people actually play the game is interesting in that it represents a sort of gamification of gaming: The point and challenge isn't to experience the game, it's to have experienced the game. Sort of a version of the site-level points system on Kongregate.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:02 PM on November 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


Iliana, I can't find it now, but I read something saying Penn's been a pretty big donor (not just in terms of pizza) for their charity efforts.

KMZ, I was kind of surprised too, but the only one I found was four years ago, and it was deleted 'cause the poster knew the guys in LRR.
posted by mreleganza at 3:08 PM on November 14, 2011


For my money, Mofo the Gorilla was a lot more fun than Desert Bus.

I worked at Absolute as an animator/artist for a couple of years after Smoke and Mirror's development. I played Desert Bus once -- or tried to -- and found it excruciating.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 3:27 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


found it excruciating

Isn't that exactly the idea?
posted by found missing at 3:29 PM on November 14, 2011


Yeah. Nobody's playing Desert Bus for fun.
posted by kmz at 3:38 PM on November 14, 2011


Reading the description of Desert Bus is the first time Wikipedia has ever made me laugh out loud. I think it was the part about the bus being towed in real time, how hilariously grueling. I wonder how a video game designed by Samuel Beckett would play.
posted by joinks at 3:41 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Desert Bus sounds like it makes Go Right! look like a Game of the Year.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:47 PM on November 14, 2011


I once personally saw someone beat a bootleg CD of Desert Bus. Well, it was actually a team of people that (carefully) traded off and took the wheel.

It may help to mention that these people were staying up all night smoking weed and playing videogames anyway. This was a normal weeknight at this place. There were multiple TVs and game consoles hooked up. At the time I think people were playing Mario Kart 64, so that was going on on the big screen, and next to it people were playing PS1 games. Probably Tekken or something.

But on the third screen someone had hooked up the Sega CD and was messing around with the lame full motion video games when someone pulled out the bootleg of Smoke and Mirrors and loaded up Desert Bus.

If you lost at Mario Kart, Tekken or whatever other competitive multiplayer that was going on - you had to play Desert Bus until it was your turn again. Those were some of the fiercest Mario Kart battles I've ever seen, and we were all really, really good at MK64. And there was an incentive to not fail at Desert Bus. If you ran off the road and stalled, you were sent home. No one ran off the road.

8 hours later we finally beat it. I don't think anyone ever even dared to pull that game out ever again.
posted by loquacious at 3:58 PM on November 14, 2011 [43 favorites]


I am entertained.

By the notion, that is.
posted by entropone at 4:11 PM on November 14, 2011


I'm not sure DB is much different than grinding xp in an average rpg. You do get to level....but I guess it's all about moving pixels around.

*goes back to Go Right!*
posted by hot_monster at 4:14 PM on November 14, 2011


Nothing can beat the year that the almighty Octopimp showed up and won the greatest auction of all time.
posted by cerulgalactus at 4:23 PM on November 14, 2011


Don't Shoot the Puppy
posted by Navelgazer at 4:41 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why would anyone in 1995 want a video game presented by a Vegas magic act?
posted by Yakuman at 4:51 PM on November 14, 2011


Anyone else eager to see a Progress Quest / Desert Bus hybrid?
posted by kithrater at 4:59 PM on November 14, 2011


Why would anyone in 1995 want a video game presented by a Vegas magic act?

No, that's not the point.

Penn And Teller had quite a few of these "play jokes on your friends" offerings back in the day.

How To Play With Your Food featured all kinds of ways to do odd recipes which could yield interesting reactions from friends if presented right. I remember most clearly their instructions on how to make a jello mold heart which would bleed when you cut into it. I believe it also included advice on how to trick your vegetarian friends into eating meat. (the secret was to bribe the kitchen staff to put meat into a vegetarian meal.)

Cruel Tricks For Dear Friends was nothing but a collection of things you can do to bother, bewilder, annoy, and freak out people you know. If I remember, it came with a videotape which you would put in and play and then complain about how dirty the screen was, and if you timed your wiping right and had learned the right pattern to clean the screen, you'd appear to be wiping the picture all over the television tube. I seem to remember it had a trick outer edge to the book where you could flip through the pages quickly but never see anything but these grey pages covered with very small print. Of course, the real content of the book was contained on the pages which had slightly shorter edges and wouldn't be noticed if someone were just thumbing rapidly through the book.

Apparently there was another book along these lines, How To Play In Traffic. I've never seen this in real life, so I don't know what it contains, but it's obviously part of the same series.

AFAIK, none of these books were written with the intent that the purchaser actually DO any of the cruel things described in the pages. They're mostly there to read for the comedy value. They're pretty funny, too.

This unreleased videogame is obviously part of the same concept.
posted by hippybear at 5:02 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Kids, this is exactly what the career in rock and roll you fantasize about is going to be like in real life.
posted by spitbull at 5:31 PM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Man, is this really the first post about Desert Bus? I guess it is.

I realized the other day that if there were a videogame where you just drove along interstate highways, I would get podcasts and audiobooks and snacks together and just sit there playing it for hours.
posted by silby at 5:51 PM on November 14, 2011


Here's a video of the spectacular ending once you reach Los Vegas. That link is to the 48th video of a "Speed Run" of Desert Bus!
posted by Deflagro at 6:26 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


silby: "I realized the other day that if there were a videogame where you just drove along interstate highways, I would get podcasts and audiobooks and snacks together and just sit there playing it for hours."

That's about a hair's breadth from the story I heard of a guy who'd play Silent Hunter 3 exclusively in real time and with the sound way up so that if the sub came across an enemy while he was sleeping it would wake him up and he could go and kill it and then go back to sleep.
posted by Copronymus at 6:28 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


AFAIK, none of these books were written with the intent that the purchaser actually DO any of the cruel things described in the pages.

Oh, shit. Now you tell me. I had Food and Traffic. I used one of the fake cookie fortunes ("The chef spit in your food. ") I did the bleeding jello mold trick, except that they didn't have heart molds in the cooking shop, so I got a Barney the Dinosaur, and used purple jello. Everybody at the party wondered why I had made something so silly, until the knife went in Barney's side, and the delicious, delicious blood came out.

The physical gimmick inserted in How To Play In Traffic enabled you to have the Virgin Mary (or, alternately a 3 of clubs, of course) appear on a Polaroid photo straight from the camera. Which came in handy the time I was on a team in a high-stakes scavenger hunt, and the list included "a miracle". The judges had a hard time denying us the points on that item. Especially with Our Lady looking over their shoulder.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:50 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Like my friend Pete and I wanted to make a film adaptation of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that was a single shot of the crazy old mariner grabbing the wedding guest and then reciting the entire poem to him

I will pay to see this, but only if its called My Dinner With The Ancient Mariner.
posted by chaff at 7:53 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I will pay to see this, but only if its called My Dinner With The Ancient Mariner.

I don't care what it's called, as long as it stars Bill Murray.
posted by brennen at 10:51 PM on November 14, 2011


I don't care what it's called, as long as it stars Bill Murray.

As the wedding guest, obviously. His reaction shots over the course of the movie could make the project actually work.
posted by hippybear at 10:58 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


As the wedding guest, obviously. His reaction shots over the course of the movie could make the project actually work.

Water, water, every where/
And all the boards did shrink/
Water, water, every where/
Nor any drop to drink.

posted by eddydamascene at 11:07 PM on November 14, 2011


For tedium, Desert Bus has nothing on the (so far as I know still) fictional game Alpha Centauri from Terry Pratchett's Only You Can Save Mankind, which consists of a rocket trip to Alpha Centauri in real time (several tens of thousands of years) followed by a message: "you're there, now go home again".
posted by MartinWisse at 11:35 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


@Copronymus: That's immersion, right there. Were I single I might haveta give it a try. As it stands I don't think the SO'd be too happy to be awoken by klaxons...
posted by word_virus at 7:50 AM on November 15, 2011


This sounds like typical MMO gameplay circa 5 years ago.
posted by unigolyn at 3:55 PM on November 15, 2011


"Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
...and NO ONE WILL EVER BELIEVE YOU!"
posted by MrBadExample at 7:56 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the game Braid (SPOILERS FOLLOW) there's a bunch of hidden stars to collect, one of which takes 2 hours to complete as you wait for a slow moving cloud to traverse all the way across a level. Thankfully, unlike Desert Bus, you don't actually have to do anything while waiting so you can do something else for an hour and forty-five.
posted by 6550 at 10:54 PM on November 15, 2011


Man, I'd hate to be the one to screw up after, like, 90% of the way in.

Interesting that it's in the same month as NaNoWriMo. If one played Desert Bus solo, I wonder which task would be more likely to make them a danger to themselves and others?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:39 AM on November 17, 2011


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