Title text: The ball's density also varies, but players don't learn the value until after choosing their raquets. The infamous 'bowling ball table tennis' region of the parameter space often leads to equipment damage.
This comic depicts the game of parameterball, a "raquet" game. This is a misspelling (creative or unintentional) of the sports equipment that is spelled "raquette" in French (probably from the Dutch for the action of "striking back"), was adopted into English as "racquet" and later acquired the alternative (and extremely common) form "racket" (etymologically distinct from the noise/"protection racket" use of that word).
There are a number of distinct racket sports, which generalise to various forms of opposing players hitting a projectile between their respective zones of control. These are usually two-sided (2-or-4 players) point-scoring games using a delineated court/playing-surface, with a net or markings defining either side's control of play. The projectile is often a ball of some kind (or equivalent, such as the shuttlecock), which must be hit with a racket(/'paddle' bat). Often, the objective of the game is to hit the ball so that it bounces on your opponent's side, in a legitimate manner, that cannot then be legitimately returned. Two notable examples of this kind of game are Tennis and Table Tennis (also known as Ping-Pong), which demonstrate the potentially different scales of playing area, ball and net.
In this comic, a game called "Parameterball" is proposed, where net size, ball size, and court size are randomized every quarter. There are 4 different instances of Megan and Cueball playing this game, each in one corner of the comic, so we can assume all four of these were used within the same game of Parameterball. The different examples provide insight into the absurd games that may be played in Parameterball, depending on how mismatched the racket, court, and ball size are.
Such kind of parameterization is typical in designing video games. Typically, the main premise of the game is written in code with several parameters added to the logic to fine-tune the feel and balance of the game by trying different values. In this case, the main premise of the game is hitting a projectile back to the opponent, as noted above, while the parameters are the size and height of the court, ball, and net. The comic, in its extreme absurdity of parameter range and selection, illustrates the wide range of possible games by tuning a few parameters. Some video games similarly also provide alternate modes that provide a minor tweak in parameters to provide a different feeling game. Video game designers often talk about the arduous process of selecting the ideal parameters to tune the game exactly so the game is fun and challenging to play. Here, the aspect of playing random variations of the parameters itself is part of the game, rather than playing a finely-tuned set of parameters by someone else perfected for enjoyment.
The title text mentions that the ball's density is also randomized, and refers to instances where the net size, ball size, and court size were similar to that of a Ping-pong match, but with a ball as dense as a bowling ball, which not only led to equipment damage, but does so regularly. Despite this, the participants do not learn the density until after their racket is chosen, meaning that they have no way of determining whether the racket they chose is durable enough until it's already too late. (Conversely, choosing an excessively robust item could be a bad decision when trying to play with a light ball, as it would be detrimental in reacting against rapid volleys by a more aptly-equipped opponent.)
The mention of this 'region in parameter space' may reference the 'bowling ball on a sheet' metaphor sometimes used to try to illustrate how the gravitational fields of objects, often more specifically black holes, 'bend' spacetime around them. If the parameters of the game allow for balls with densities such that they create a singularity, this would indeed seem highly likely to damage not just equipment, but players as well. More simply, though, a 'parameter space' is the theoretical n-dimensional mapping of all theoretical combinations of individual variables - the specific variable of ball density will render an entire slice of this 'gamespace' problematic (irrespective of the other slices, or covarible regions where everything else might work or otherwise).
Note that the players can choose their own racket, and can do so after finding out the three parameters given in the main comic. Only the density of the ball is unknown when they choose the racket. Thus this indirectly leads to some randomness in the selection of racket also, as the players try to guess what would be best for a random choice of ball density.
It’s unknown whether the parameters of Parameterball are unlimited or limited to what human players can reasonably work with, although the fourth phase of the game as demonstrated in the comic certainly seems to represent an extreme of both net height and ball size that appears to be causing problems. But if the comic shows the outliers then the table below lists the limits for the parameters.
Randall may have been inspired by Pickleball, a type of racket sport rising sharply in popularity in the US at the time this comic came out. Pickleball is a middle-ground of tennis and table tennis, with an intermediate-sized ball, court, and net height. Randall may have noticed the distinct parameters of pickleball’s elements compared to its cousin sports and was inspired to imagine a scenario in which such parameters might be randomized.
This comic is reminiscent of 2663: Tetherball Configurations, also four different settings for the same sport, that makes it more or less playable. Randall also invented more unusual ball games with 1507: Metaball, 1920: Emoji Sports, and 2705: Spacetime Soccer
The parameters of the game being randomized is reminiscent of the "Calvinball" game in the Calvin & Hobbes cartoons, which is never played twice with the same rules.
Table of limits in the comic
Assuming that the comic shows the full breadth of options, here are the approximate, apparent upper and lower limits of the four parameters mentioned:
|Parameter||Apparent Lower Limit||Apparent Upper Limit|
|Ball Size||Ping pong ball||Human hamster “Zorb” ball|
|Court Size||Large board game board||NHL ice hockey rink|
|Net Height||Soda bottle||Giraffe|
|Ball Density||Ping pong ball||Bowling ball|
It is unclear what rules, if any, there are about the size below which the court will be elevated on a table.
From what is shown, racket choice appears to be limited to those commonly in use in other existing racket sports.
- [Megan and Cueball are playing a game that looks similar to tennis or table tennis in four different settings, one in each quadrant of the comic. Each setting has different parameters for three parts of the game, the size of the court, the size of the ball and the height of the net. In each case Megan is on the left and Cueball is on the right.]
- [Top left: The court is much smaller than a normal tennis court, each half slightly wider and deeper than a person is tall. The net, however, is a fairly normal height, maybe a bit higher than in tennis. But the ball is much larger, even bigger than a beach ball but with curved 'seam' to it similar to certain types of more robust balls. The ball has just bounced on Cueball's side and he is about to hit it.]
- [Top right: The ball and the net closely match that of a regular tennis game, but the court has a size much like a five-a-side football field. Cueball has just hit the ball, which is currently flying towards Megan's side, but could seem like it will barely make it all the way over to the net. Both players are thus very small, compared with this huge court.]
- [Bottom left: The ball, and net are basically the same as in table tennis, and the rackets also looks like table tennis bats. But the 'court' is a much smaller tabletop. The ball has just bounced back up on Megan's side, and she is poised to smash it back. This is the only case in which the court has been elevated and the players are not standing on it.]
- [Bottom right: The court is slightly larger than the top left, but the net is much taller than the humans, more than double their height, thus much higher than in for instance volleyball. Also the ball is several times larger than a beach ball (with the same curved seam). The ball is larger than Cueball, like a human hamster ball. Cueball is apparently fighting to push the huge ball high enough to get over the net, indicated by movement lines in which he is barely managing to keep the ball on the racket itself, not to mention he has only gotten the ball halfway up the net. Megan is just standing on the other side waiting to see if Cueball manages to get the ball over to her.]
- [Caption below the panel:]
- Parameterball is a raquet game divided into four quarters, with ball size, court size, and net height randomized each quarter.
- A Pong-style video game, implemented in Godot, has been inspired by this comic: https://github.com/sdfgeoff/parameterball
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