Trouble Thinking

July 21, 2012

Steam Summer Sale 2012: Days 9 & 10

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 10:47 am

What to get in these last few batches of sales?

Day 10

-Batman Arkham City: Yep, yes. Well worth the $10. Not as much of an innovation or improvement on Asylum as it could have been, but amazing.

-Dawn of War II: There’s a big following for these games, but they’ve always struck me as the dumb cousin of the Company of Heroes games. There’s just less satisfaction to be garnered. I’d give it a go if you like the universe a lot. $7.50

-Torchlight: Preorder Torchlight II instead. It’s worth it, but preorder Torchlight II because that will be even more worth it. $3.75

-Indie Bundle X: Nah, just buy Machinarium. It’s an adorable little adventure game. The other stuff on offer here just isn’t all that much fun after the first few minutes.

-Quantum Conundrum: A slightly different Portal with more FPS jumping puzzles and less innovation. Which is to say it’s probably still great but also eh. FPS jumping puzzles, ugh. $9

-Prince of Persia (2008): I liked it! It’s got a lot of troubles, like how it basically surgically extracts a lot of the challenge of the older games, but it’s beautiful and charming and engaging. Worth $2.50 definitely.

-Fable 3: I loved Fable 2, but I never bothered with Fable 3. I think the moral-choice BS and the ultimate goal of establishing a large savings account never jibed with my idea of fantastical adventure. If it were as big a leap forward as 1->2 I’d care more but nah. Plus please man, still originally priced at $50? Fuck you. $12.50

-Evochron Mercenary: In the tradition of space games like the X series, you’re a mercenary in a big, kind of empty galaxy looking to make your way in the world. These things always depend too much on dogfights to interest me. $6.25

-Arma II: Hey, you can play Day Z! Grab it if that sounds fun. $18

Day 9

-Driver: San Francisco: I’m seriously considering this weird game. It’s an open-world driving action game, where you race and stunt-jump and generally cause chaos with a car. What really interests me is that you play as a coma patient who can leap to new bodies, but only other drivers. So you can slow down the person you’re chasing by leaping into some civilian cars and making them T-Bone in front of your quarry. That’s so weird! I want it. $7.50

-Magicka: Yes! Grab this. It’s weird, it’s fun as hell particularly with friends, it’s pretty and funny and it has the best implemented magic system I’ve had the joy of figuring out. Completely worth $2.50

-Red Orchestra: Heroes of Stalingrad: If you’re itching for WW2 action, go for it. It’s only worthwhile if you’re into the multiplayer, but it looks pretty solid. Plus, I like things that focus on the Russian front, they get too little play. $5

-Dungeon Defenders: Cute fun with friends, if you’re all into tower defense games. I find Sanctum easier to do with strangers, but these things usually wind up fun if you’ve got the requisite pals. $3.75

-Civilization V: Yep. It’s not perfect, but it’s a dang good world-conquering game, and if you get it cheap now you can probably afford the new expansion if it turns out you really dig it. $7.50

-FEAR 3: Eh. I mean if you really really are hard up for a new FPS, sure. But it’s a horror game without any horror. Maybe if you have a friend who’s willing to buy it as well. Then you could check out the co-op mode, the only new idea they had. $5

-Crysis 2: I’d get Crysis 1 for $6 instead, it seems like a better time in a more open environment. But Crysis 2 got decent reviews. For some reason neither of these games really appeal to me though, they seem fluffy and indistinct. Tech demos labeled “SHOOTER”. But whatever, better choice than FEAR. $12

-Deus Ex Human Revolution: Absolutely buy this, it is entirely worthwhile. It doesn’t quite deliver on being the original only better and smarter, but it gets so damn close. It’s a lot of content, a lot of ideas, a decently told story, and a lot of very entertaining stealth and gunplay. Get this now. $7.50

-Indie Bundle IX: This is the one! This is it! Get it! So gooood. Jamestown is a great old-school shmup with a fun theme, Capsized is a fun, weird sort of metroid-y platformer, Revenge of the Titans is great Tower Defense, VVVVVV is an amazing open-world platformer with a great hook, and Zeno Clash is a surreal fighting game that’s well worth the entry fee. $10

July 11, 2012

Endless Space: Spacey Good

Endless Space came out last week, it’s made by Amplitude Studios and is pretty neat! It is a great Space 4X that you should give a try because it’s like $30 and what like you’re really so flush with Space 4X games that you can’t afford to try another? I mean I guess Sins of a Solar Empire, sort of, but that really boils down more to RTS mechanics than 4X mechanics.

But let’s talk a bit more about Endless Space and why it’s worth a shot.

Endless Space is a game about taking control of an alien race (or plain old humans if you’re boring), and guiding them from humble beginnings in their home system to becoming a massive Galactic Empire. You begin with a single colonized planet, a colony ship, and a scout ship. To accomplish galactic domination, you need to do several things. First of all, you need to Explore the galaxy, finding out what planets are nearby, what routes connect to them, where the wormholes are (as we all know wormholes are pretty common in Game Space) and whether or not there are any nearby alien races. As you explore, you’ll find new planets that look just as good as home, if not better. That’s where you drop the Colony ship! You basically keep doing this at each new planet that looks decent. At first you can only colonize reasonably temperate planets, but you’ll unlock the ability to colonize asteroids and gas giants later. At first your new Outposts will be a bit low-producing, and they won’t expand your imperial influence, but over the course of around 30 turns at first and 10-15 later Outposts turn to Colonies that may eventually outstrip even your home system in production.

As you Expand further, you’ll find new resources to Exploit. In Endless Space resources are divided into those that are necessary for production of certain improvements and ship systems and those that provide useful benefits for your imperial economy. Access to a resource allows any connected system to use them, as well as allowing you to trade any excess to other races. If you manage to get 4 or more of any resource, you get a unique bonus, like +60% to the movement speed of your ships. As you grow, you’ll research new technology, which will allow you to build new structures that usually serve to either increase your production or increase your influence, with some having unique effects based on the layout of your system (+2 production per colonist on Gas Giants for instance). When you inevitably meet other races, you can talk them up a bit. You always start in “cold war” which means that so long as you’re not in each other’s respective influence areas you can fight, take over Outposts, generally be dicks without consequence. You can choose to make Peace official, though, and eventually start trade agreements and alliances. Pretty standard Civ-style diplomacy.

And that’s it! Explore, Expand, Exploit resources, research and conduct diplomacy and oh also murder like most of the people you meet. Combat in Endless Space is interesting. It’s a compromise between the Civilization style of just having stacks hit each other with rules governing who wins, and the Master of Orion method where you actually control fights. You design ships by choosing from different size “platforms” and then attaching whatever modules (usually weapons and shields) that are going to be most useful. Then you produce one ship at a time, stack them together in groups of 5 (with research you can increase that number) and send them to different systems. If there’s an enemy ship stack in that system, you blow them to hell. If you take manual control of the fight, you see a nifty automated space battle that you can use “cards” to affect in 3 stages. Each card counters some other type of card, so you can play Barrier (increases ship armor and health) to counter Sabotage (decreases accuracy), and you come out of it shooting straight and nice and well protected for that battle stage. There are three stages, and three weapon types with each weapon favoring a certain stage. Kinetic weapons do well up close, lasers at medium range, and missiles hit very hard right at the end of the first stage. All fights take place at systems, there’s no intercepting fleets en-route. You can, however, prevent someone from leaving a system by setting a fleet to “intercept” at that system. It doesn’t mean they need to attack, or you do, but it does mean that they can’t move their ships unless they take out the intercepting fleet.

So all this hangs together pretty damn well! There’s really not much else to say, if that sounds like fun to you you will definitely like the game. There are a few weird issues that I do think they could do with fixing up. First, the game isn’t “turn-based” in the sense that each player gets to move, then the other, it’s actually simultaneous turn-based. So it can be hard to tell when a thing is going to happen. You might see enemy fleets seem to move during your own turn because you’ve taken a ship off Intercept and suddenly that move order from last turn is viable and the enemy leaps right out of the system where you thought you had them trapped. There’s also an issue with the combat, in that the enemy AI doesn’t seem to quite make decisions fast enough to fight effectively. It heavily favors Kinetics and Missiles, which means that if you take the cheapest lasers, and put them all on the cheapest ships, you can usually overwhelm their ships (as you might be defenseless, but so are they against lasers) with fleets of shitty craft. Building up to the super-cool Dreadnaughts doesn’t necessarily grant enough of an advantage. Dreadnaughts don’t have any real unique ability to overwhelm smaller ships or provide fleet bonuses or anything, so they wind up being the equivalent of 6 shitty ships, which are all cheaper and can be thrown up once a turn. But this does seem like something that can be fixed with a few data changes.

The other issue is that frankly diplomacy is too easy! You basically can just be a nice neighbor, and suddenly you’re on your way to victory because it’s 3 against 1 in any war. There’s no real conflict unless you’re directly next to each other early on, fighting for planets. I wouldn’t mind slightly more in-depth consequences of allying with someone, or manners of frustrating your enemies beyond simply denying them the pleasure of your company.

Also, I haven’t actually played Multiplayer yet, so I can’t comment on that.

The nice part is that between the Games2Gether voting system and the forums, they seem to be addressing these issues pretty quickly. So basically, definitely buy this game if any of the previous description appeals to you at all. It’s pretty as hell, it’s fun, and the issues with it are pretty minor at this point.


Edit: Oh and it is $30, so for goodness sake it’s a dang budget half-price game. Can you believe that? Look at the screens and say that looks like a budget game. It’s beautiful.

July 4, 2012

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is Good.

So I’m a fan of the comic Penny Arcade. I’ve played all three Penny Arcade games, and this is the first one I can recommend to people who are not fans of the comic.

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3(OTRSPOD3) is what you remember RPGs being like on the SNES, but with most of the horrible bits surgically extracted. I say surgically extracted, because the genius-types at Zeboyd Games have managed to remove all the little cruft that you thought was integral to an old-school RPG without damaging a dang thing. In fact, when they sewed it all back together it wound up being a lot more wonderful than the Final Fantasy standard model.

The gameplay is solid as hell, with battles usually being nicely-paced affairs. Each character has a certain speed rating, and that determines how quickly they’ll take their next turn. Until you start to really specialize, this usually boils down to a few of your characters going, then a few of the enemies. It gets more interesting as the game progresses and, for instance, your insanely-fast character is able to throw a heal down on a critically injured ally in the time between the enemy selecting their action and actually attacking.

You begin with a single “class”, which provides a small set of skill-attacks to perform and often some passive bonus to a stat. As you progress, unlock both more classes and eventually 2 extra slots which allow you to mix and match for an extensive skill collection. You rarely use anything but skills to attack, as the skills use MP that counts up rather than down as the battle progresses. So every turn you can use a skill costing 1 MP, or do a normal attack or defend and wait for your 2 MP skill. Until the late game, few skills cost more than 2, and some even cost nothing.

During fights, you can also use items, which heal, cure sickness, damage enemies, etc. Rather than purchasing “a potion” and slapping 99 in your inventory, you purchase a use. So if you’ve bought 5 potion uses, you can use a potion 5 times every battle, with them being restored (along with health) after every fight. I cannot tell you how much better an idea this is than the RPG standard-bearer of having to purchase a cruise ship’s worth of supplies to dole out over fights, greedily hoarding each one because who knows when you might need them? It removes none of the tactical decision-making, but makes the game a hell of a lot less annoying.

Speaking of annoying: no random battles! You see every enemy on screen, and you can decide who to engage when. In a move I’ve been wishing for since I was introduced to the genre, they’ve removed the grind. That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of battles, there are hundreds! But instead of being a stunning number of randomly-generated beasties repeated over and over until you’re leveled enough for the next area, they’re more a series of timed puzzles. You’ve normally got maybe 10 turns max to kill someone before they get you due to each turn increasing the Enemy Power bonus, so you tend to figure it out or croak quickly. And if you do croak? No problem! You’re only kicked back to where you were, no lost progress. It’s the first RPG where I’ve spoken to people about “that one fight with 2/2/2 Swipewriters/Visor Misers/Fleshreapers” instead of a boss. Because that’s it, that’s the one fight with that enemy configuration. It’s incredibly smart and exactly what every game of this sort should have figured out long ago.

The writing is also top-notch tongue in cheek shit the way I like it. Enemy designs and descriptions are all funny, as are the classes and skills. I would say the dialog is probably not necessary for enjoyment of the mechanics, but it’s well considered and a pretty good Cthulu-ish storyline of vast cosmic malevolence and hidden motives.

The only real issues I have are with the manner in which Zeboyd accidentally recreated the horrible old menus at the same time they recreated other aspects of the old-school. The menu system is servicable, but unintuitive. Nothing auto-saves, ever. Which can be a problem in an RPG, no matter how often you’re reminded to save often. You cannot view all the classes easily, you can only select the “view” command on classes that are equipped. Many skills are stat boosters, but you have no way of telling how much they actually do, because stats aren’t displayed in any manner during a battle. There’s no real explanation of the keyboard controls, which left me randomly pecking to find that “q” opens the entirely separate “quit menu”. A lot of little UI issues could do with improvement. BUT Zeboyd knocked this one out of the park. It’s officially some of the most fun I’ve had with the genre, which says a lot when technically you’re making a parody. It’s the “Shaun of the Dead” of RPGs.

November 3, 2011

Bastion is Great, Buy It After The Steam Sale Ends.

Filed under: Game News, Game Reviews, Video Games — Tags: , , , , , , , — Durandal @ 11:53 am

Bastion is such a danged excellent experience, I recommend you pay more than $7.50 for it. In fact, not only should wait until you have the opportunity to pay $15, you should send Supergiant games an extra $5 to thank them.

Briefly, Bastion is a beautifully rendered dungeon crawl/action-RPG. Less briefly, Bastion tells the story of a young man who wakes up to find the world has shattered around him in the night and sets out to put everything back together. He’s guided… well, you’re guided, by the voice of an old man telling the story of how he does it. The narrative conceit, added late in the development apparently, works amazingly well. You’re gently guided to the right paths, you get commentary on your actions that can be pithy or surprisingly touching. There are also some very well done bits where the old man can only tell you what he thinks may have happened, which is a nice way of turning the previously omniscient narrator into a portion of the story.

Bastion is a triumph of form over function. It’s a game type I’ve played dozens if not hundreds of times before. You walk, you smack, you gather, you build. But with an astoundingly deft touch, the writing and art direction manages to make you care so much more than you expect in a game like this. It comes, appropriately, in both big and little pieces. The beautiful painted landscapes that rise out of nothing to meet you as you run, the spare lines of text that hint at a society you wish you could have seen in full flower, the way the narrator seems ashamed of the fact that he needs to send a kid to do the dirty work, the distant music from a time you’re trying to bring back. All of these pieces of design lift what could have been a standard slogging kill-fest into something simultaeously melancholy and heartening.

This is one of the few games where the compulsion toward completionism that I tend to feel regardless carried some emotional weight. I wasn’t making sure I had all the upgrade structures, I was putting back the pieces of a shattered world so that a hard-working kid could finally rest. I wasn’t getting achievements, I was paying tribute to the people that would be forgotten without me. Its a game with few characters, but it makes you feel for all of them. Including the beasts you need to kill to make your way in the world. It’s not mawkish or sentimental, either. It just presents you with a situation that is unfortunate and too few options to fix it.

Through these touches Bastion achieves one of the best game narratives I’ve seen, using subtle strokes to tell a story bigger than the part you play in it.

The best recommendation I can give is that immediately upon finishing it, I wanted to wipe my memory and start again from the beginning. Hell, it’s got a newgame+, I may do just that.

Buy Bastion at Half Off!

June 29, 2011

Proun: Free, Fast, Fun, Fucking… Really Good

Filed under: Game News, Game Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 1:56 pm

So hey! Hey, I’m not really what you’d call a Race Cars Fan. I don’t know that you’d ever call anyone that, now that I think about it. I feel like there’s probably a less stilted way of saying it. No don’t tell me I don’t even care god.

The point is: I don’t love racing, but I love Proun more than your parents love you. It’s exhilaration in a tiny, simple and very beautiful package. It’s difficult to describe, but here:

That’s it. It’s a beautiful abstract landscape unlike anything you’ve seen set to a jazzy soundtrack that allows you to experience speed that makes your hair fly back. And the landscapes are really beautiful at full resolution with all the bells on. Simple, obviously, but crisp and bright and clean and man just nice. Little graphical tricks that don’t do much to improve games that are trying to mimic reality really make the tracks in Proun shine.

And that’s the whole thing! It’s an experience in trying to quickly react to changing environmental hazards in order to shave time off again and again until you can do the level such a ludicrous speed that you’re less reactive than precognitive. There are, of course, online leaderboards to track your progress. You can even race your friends locally, on the same computer and even same keyboard if you feel like it.

It's just, it's really pretty. Even more pretty in motion, too.

The online community has also already started churning out extra maps in new and strange abstract landscapes, something I hope continues to pick up pace. Hell, are you an artist? Make something for this and I guarantee you more people will be excited about your work than are currently pretending to be.

The best part about all this? It’s free! Well, actually it’s pay $whatyouwant. If you’re somehow completely unable to find joy in the gameplay video and screenshots, you can simply download the whole game and give it a go. If you’d like a neat little bonus track to play, you can donate money to the author. I gave $5, which seems frankly unfair. I may give more later! You should see the game for youself and give it the money you think it deserves. And if you don’t think it deserves any money, you’re dead inside.

March 30, 2011

Dragon Age 2 Sure Was a Game

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 1:54 pm

It's... right behind me, isn't it?

So I finished up Dragon Age 2, and if I had to boil the experience down to two words I would probably say “No, I can’t do that. Go ahead and kill the hostages.”

Massive spoilers follow , so, you know.

It was basically a good time, most of the time. The only real problems with it were the plot, the role-playing opportunities, and the combat system.

Wait that came out wrong. Basically, like the previous game Dragon Age: Origins, I obsessively completed everything and was glad to have done so but also have just just a completely crazy number of complaints large and small. I’m not really certain that most of them are constructive either, but I’m getting these down on internet anyway because all of the things I’ve ever thought are important to every one of you mouth breathers.

Okay so first a bit of a rundown of the game: Dragon Age 2 is the second in a series of RPGs that I assume is really hoping to be this huge ongoing story, they’re not indicating the sort of three-parter story structure that has become standard when you do well enough to warrant sequels. The game lets you choose to be a mage, rogue, or warrior and then you’re plopped into the shoes of [First Name you choose but no one ever ever uses ever] Hawke. You’re a refugee from the Blight, a Fantasy World Bad Thing that has totally screwed up British Fantasy Place “Ferelden”. So you and your generally prickly and annoying family are forced to hit the trail and head to the port city-state of Kirkwall, where you’ll need to make your name.

The narrative is split into three parts, each separated by a time-jump of three years. The idea being to show you the consequences of your actions over a longer timeframe and allow you to see less of a straight “hero arises, defeats big bad” story and more of a story about the life of a particularly cool person.

There’s a framing narrative thing that the whole game is a story being told by one of your companions, Varric, but as they do precisely 2 interesting things with it over the course of the entire game, one at the very beginning, they may as well have not done that at all and just gone with a narrator and no extraneous explanation of the timeskips beyond “and then…”

So let me get down into what I disliked about the game, because what I liked is boring stuff like “it was a pretty well-made version of a genre I enjoy”.


February 9, 2011

suteF: Weird, Good, Oddly Scary.

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 9:46 am

This time things will go better, right?

suteF is a game that feels wrong the moment you begin playing. It’s Whimsical Platforming, it’s an indie game, it’s got pixels coming out of every orifice. It shouldn’t be disconserting. And yet it manages to make me feel uncomfortable in ways the blandly horrible Dead Space 2 wasn’t even able to attempt.

It’s a really simple game: you control a blue man, who tries to get out of places. Usually, that means climbing toward a giant television playing snow. Death only resets the level.

Usually.  Much like my favorite creepy game, The Void, suteF makes the most of the fact that it’s a game by pulling the rug out from under you. You’re taught the very minimum of rules to progress, and you can’t help but find yourself making assumptions. You progress slowly ahead in terms of level complexity and available tools and assume that you’ll hit a plateu when you have access to all your tools and start hitting harder and harder levels, then a boss or something. But that doesn’t happen. Instead, you get thrown into situations that continually redefine what it is you need to accomplish in order to survive while always managing to present a puzzle that’s engaging to confront. As you play, little hints of exactly how terrible a situation you’re in get thrown at you. You start to notice more and more corpses that look oddly like you.

It’s as though someone took Super Meat Boy, and made the evil mirror universe version. Slow instead of fast, brain-teasing instead of reflex-testing, horrific instead of delightful. Frankly, it’s worth playing. You can get it at, a tiny indie developer who will appreciate you taking the time to check out his cool game idea.

Also, the game has a Computer Bear, which is when a Bear is also a Computer.

January 28, 2011

Burn, chibi, burn?

Filed under: Game Reviews, Sports, Video Games — Tags: , , , , — Katherine Barclay @ 5:38 pm

So, I’ve avoided the Wii ever since it came out. I’ll admit, this had a lot to do with the fact that I was broke, and anyway, I never play games, so why exactly would I need a new console? Also, it asks you to, like … do things to make things happen on the screen, and ‘point and click’ is simple enough of a computer but gets remarkably confusing when you ask me to do it to my television. It also didn’t really help that the only games being made for the Wii  were tack-ons to franchises that I never really got involved with in the beginning — the ninth Zelda thing is probably a lot of fun for people who know who Link is, but for me he’s just That Guy Who Came Before Legolas, and it’s not really all that thrilling.

The one thing that did intrigue me was Wii-fit, mostly because it seemed too cute and soft and fluffy to be any good. I mean, everyone knows how exercise is supposed to work — you run around your dingy block fifteen times, or you go to your dingy gym, and struggle to figure out how the equiment works before the scary muscular guy waiting behind you decides you’re wasting his time and kills you over the leg press thingy. This soft-edged white board with it’s encouraging child-like voice is in complete contrast with that, and the adorable cartoon pictures that guide you through the exercises seemed too … well, silly, to be any good.

Seriously, what's up with these soft happy grey people? That's not exercise, it's interpretive dance!But my friends just got a Wii, and with nothing better to do with my evenings I bribed them into letting me try it, to see what all this fuss was about.  And, much to my surprise, I’ve actually found it to be remarkably … well, exercisey.

Sure, it took a while to get there – the gateway into Wiifit seems to be balance games, mini games that involve you throwing your weight around like a crazy person to walk a tightrope across a gap, or float a bubbleboat down a river without crashing into the rocks, or trying not to get hit in the head with flying soccer cleats. Each game seemed simplistic and a little big juvenile, but I quickly discovered that “doing my best” got me a measley one or two stars, and the unimpressive title of Amateur. In order to do well at even the simplest of these little games actually takes work, and muscles were aching the next day that I didn’t even really know I had.

And that’s the easiest of the options – if you’re feeling a little bit braver, the Aerobics section is full of equally chibi-looking childlike exercises … except that these ones actually make you work. A reasonably simple-looking hula hoop game that makes you swivel your hips like an idiot ended up with me panting after a minute and a half and their step-aerobics game requires a deceptive amount of precise muscle control (combined with a healthy amount of luck) to get the balance board to think you’ve done it perfectly. And if you’re feeling slightly more hardcore, there’s also free running, measured by putting the little remote thing in your pocket, and boxing, which involves flailing at the screen like an idiot while a deep-voiced black chibi man yells at you. Each of these last two start off reasonably short, with a 2-3 minute run and a 4 minute boxing set, but doing each short game a few times unlocks a longer version. And while four minutes of non-stop boxing seems easy enough, I quickly discovered that eleven minutes was hard.

No, it probably doesn’t match up to going to a gym and actually hitting the machines, but mixing and matching a combination of strength exercises (pushups still kill me, but I’m surprised by how well I did at the leg ones) and yoga and the aforementioned aerobics, I actually left the game feeling like I’d accomplished something. Sore muscles  on day two eventually started to fade, and a week later I can do a ten minute run without getting out of breath, where a week ago four minutes killed me.

It’s baby steps, but for someone with no access to a gym and a burning hatred for running around blocks, I’m surprised to say that I’m actually really enjoying this thing. Anyone who already has a Wii who’s looking for an easy-to-commit-to exercise regime that doesn’t feel like a chore might do well to check it out!

January 21, 2011

SpaceChem is the Only Puzzle Game Worth Your Time

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 2:27 pm


So you’ve played puzzle games, right? I mean, obviously. If you haven’t, you’re odd and no one cares about you.

Most of them divide into two groups, basically: Games where you match bits to other bits like Tetris and Bejeweled and whatever and games where you use logic to figure out the proper solution like Sudoku or Picross. And I guess adventure games, where you just guess at things and curse. All good games that are fun to play. SpaceChem, by indie producer Zachotronics, makes each of them look like more of an insult to your vast, all-conquering intellect than the last.

Puzzles in SpaceChem are about taking chemical input from point A and turning them into output at point B. You do this by slotting instructions into either of two assembly lines in a Reactor. Here, it’s easier with a picture:

See? Simple!

You can use either Red or Blue to create chemicals, grab them, bond them to other chemicals, drop them, and output them. You’re given a specific set of input chemicals to work with, and a goal for your solution. There’s also a few restrictions in terms of what can be double or triple bonded. The idea is to get things working so that you not only get a single chemical output right, but so that you can leave it to run hundreds without a hiccup or a collision. Obviously, they let you speed it up to Crazy Fast in order to test that bit. Eventually, you begin requiring multiple reactors like this connected together, constructing a complex chemical in a chain of input, assembly, and output.

Even easier!


Rather than giving you a puzzle with a solution, SpaceChem gives you some goals and a few tools then demands that you figure it out. You might find one of the hundreds of possible solutions, and find out that yours is a kludgy horrid ugly thing that everyone else is laughing at. You took 40 parts? What are you, a moron? Ugh.

Finally! I've got H-H figured!

SpaceChem encourages you to not just manage to solve the puzzles it presents, but to come up with a clever way of doing it in the most efficient manner possible. As you move through the game and into multiple reactors working at once, it’s fascinating to see the little graphs presented post-leve l-which chart your solution against all other recorded ones based on number of instructions, time taken, and number of reactors used- open up. One level was completed by some clever jerk with a quarter of the instructions my solution took. How? Well… I’m going to have to figure that one out.

It’s a sort of puzzle game I haven’t seen much of at all, and I feel pretty comfortable saying it’s the greatest single idea conceived in human history. The ability to actually innovate in order to solve a problem is incredibly engaging, and makes you feel clever as hell when you finally get something right. Particularly if you see you did it with above-average efficiency.

You might not think you need to buy it but that’s just a last-ditch effort by your brain to keep you doing anything other than figuring out puzzles. You definitely need to buy it right now.

January 19, 2011

Star Trek Online: Engaging!

Filed under: Computers, Game Reviews, Video Games — Tags: , , , — Katherine Barclay @ 3:04 pm

I know, I know, terrible pun. Let’s just move on from that, shall we, because I’m about to make a point that I never thought I’d make.

Star Trek Online

I have long hated MMOs. No, I’ve never had a subscription to that WoW thing that so successfully ensnared so many people, and maybe that makes me unable to truly judge, but the point of the matter for me is that I’ve never wanted one. I’ve watched people play, and I’ve watched people play other MMOs, and at the end of the day, they have always seemed massively unappealing to me. The dual points of the game seem to be a) get as high level as possible as quickly as possible, because that’s where all of the fun things are, and b) to get yourself as deeply burried in a guild as possible, because those fun things often end up being really hard to do alone.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with either of those notions, especially if you’re the sort of person who’s looking to put hours upon hours into his or her game of choice.

The problem, for me, is always what each part implies: levelling, to the best of my observation, tends to involve a lot of monotonous repetition of mundane if not utterly tiresome game elements, all leading up to the chance to actually access the interesting parts. Do people really enjoy killing porings that much? Did porings traumatise you as children, that they must now be hunted down and slaughtered to a head? It reminds me of Pokemon, and how you’d have to spend hours walking around this one little square of grass to get your entire party from level 2 to level  49 — only at least with Pokemon, there were no other trainers walking around, laughing about how long it was taking you to do it, and whether your pokemon were 5th level or 55th, in the end you were still just a kid.

And as far as guilds go, it has always seemed to me that they make gameplay much more restricting than they do freeing, from a (vaguely) objective point of view. Those guild-attached players who I have had the pleasure of witnessing (anecdotal evidence is 90% of the law?) always seemed concerned, if not downright obsessed, with how their guild would perceive their actions. Gameplay now had to happen Just So, and at such specific times because of in-guild actions of various sorts that even the least obsessive people I know tended to start treating it like a job. A job they really enjoyed, but a job nonetheless, with the fear of being fired if you don’t perform to the boss’s standard.

Which is why I resisted as hard as I could, when I was offered a month’s subscription to play Star Trek Online … and why I’m surprised as all hell to have ended up enjoying it thoroughly. (more…)

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