You know those dreams you sometimes have where reality morphs into an old-school arcade game? The ones where the clouds turn into giant two-steppings bugs that descend in heartbeat rhythm while you rollerblade back and forth, firing long, spongy cloud-dissipating tracers into the sky with an over-the-shoulder Nerf cannon?
Google’s lastest Easter egg isn’t that, but it is kind of cool just the same, and all it takes to fiddle with is a browser tuned to Google Images and the words “Atari Breakout” in the search box.
What happens next is something those of you old enough to remember may not have experienced since the 1970s, when Atari’s Breakout first hit U.S. arcades (in April 1976, claims Wikipedia — making this roughly the game’s 37th anniversary). In the original, players used a dial to shift a Pong-like paddle left or right along the bottom of a screen, catching a bouncing ball on its rebounds from destroyable, color-coded layers sectioned into bricks. How you caught the ball off that rebound dictated the angle at which it bounced back.
In the Google Image version, the image results themselves cleverly morph into the colorized layers, and you can use your mouse/trackpad or keyboard’s arrow keys to shift the paddle left or right (the arrow keys feel more precise). You’ve got five shots before it’s game over, after which you can pimp your score on Google+.
I’m pretty sure, weird as it sounds, that this actually qualifies as skeuomorphic gaming: That is, the game takes the form of the actual search mechanic (no, it doesn’t matter). It’s also oddly recursive, as images snapped of the game being played are starting to take over the echelons of destroyable image-bricks.
Don’t worry image hunters: For all three of you who genuinely need to find a decent static image of Breakout today, Google’s included a “Return to image search” button that flips you back to Google’s functional picture-filled rows.