All posts by Josh Weinberg

Beneath a Steel Sky

This game was a nice, entertaining, casual gaming experience. The puzzles were really not too hard but at the same time I never felt like I was just reading a story. The graphics and backgrounds were really pleasant to look at. Very simple animation of course but they really took the 256 color palette to the limit.

The story was enticing. I could not get the game to play the intro animation for me so I was a bit confused at first. Apparently you crash your helicopter and end up at the top of a scaffolding inside a building. That never did make sense to me but I’m sure it’s covered in the intro.

The “sidekick” trope was exploited to the fullest with your little friend Joey who follows you around in various guises throughout the game. His presence was never gratuitous and a number of puzzles involved some special ability that he had.

The game started off giving me the impression that it was going to be a Blade Runner type knock-off. Especially with the trench-coat and all. Actually it also reminded me a lot of Brazil (the movie). I was concerned I’d be sneaking around afraid of the cops the whole game. Luckily that’s not the way it works out and you meet all kinds of amusing characters who generally don’t give a shit that you are the fugitive that the police are looking for. It made for a nice surprise.

What Worked

The game was just very entertaining. The dialogue was funny and the characters were well developed.

What Didn’t Work

I got bogged down a few times. The cyberspace world had one time-sensitive puzzle which I feel is always a bad idea in an adventure game. Barring that one puzzle and the fingerprint puzzle I was able to complete the game without hints.

 

Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror

Random Thoughts While Playing

I immediately remembered the feel of the first Broken Sword game and fell right back into the characters. I continue to love the “cell-animation” graphics and the high quality animation.

The initial scene was a bit ridiculous. Tied up in a burning house while being attacked by a poisonous spider? OK… But luckily things got a little less over the top.

They have removed the map for navigation and you just follow an essentially linear story-line. This seems to work well.

I again appreciate the ‘mini-games’ within the larger game. ie you are placed in a location and can’t leave until you have solved the puzzle. This removes those lingering suspicions that you need some piece from some other area to solve a puzzle.

I continue to dislike Nico as the love interest. She never shows a shred of interest in George. No idea why he’s so head over heels for her.

Ketch’s Landing – The worst puzzle ever

OK… the puzzle at Ketch’s Landing has me stumped and a little annoyed. It seems like I need to get this red ball from the cat so I can use it in the slingshot to hit the surveyors target so the surveyor will leave his map to come fix it so I can look at his plans. I am a grown ass man and I can’t take a ball from a cat? OK well I’ll go through the puzzle and figure out how to get a fish from the kid on the dock. Done… OK i’ll use it to lure the cat away from the ball. No actually I’ll just feed it to the cat, watch as it eats the fish and never grab the ball. So WTF. Even if this isn’t the solution to the puzzle (and it’s been hinted that it is), he should at least be able to grab the fucking ball while the cat is eating the fish, not to mention he could just grab it to begin with. This puzzle is lame.

OK I had to use the hints to solve it. The answer is to use the inner tube on one of the flag poles and put the fish on it. Here’s the problem – I already did try putting the inner tube on the flagpole before I had a fish. It just hung there and did nothing. It also gave me the option to remove it ‘I guess this wasn’t a good idea after all.’ it said when I removed it. I thought that was weird at the time because it was the first time I’d seen such an extensive red-herring. Usually the game would just stop you from doing something if it was a blind alley. OK whatever I thought and then I put the inner tube on the tree. Bingo! That must be where the inner tube is supposed to go because A) it solved the mystery of the ‘U’ shape in the tree and B) once I had attached it I couldn’t remove it. I COULDN’T REMOVE IT. Fucking idiot game. I would classify this as a bug. I wouldn’t mind this so much if the game had set the precedent early on that it would let you paint yourself into a corner and require a restore. But this game has gone to great lengths to avoid that. So the lesson is: your user is not just paying attention to the puzzles but is building expectations from the game based on the type of puzzles and the solutions already found. When you so drastically cross a boundary like this one – allowing the player to screw themselves after a full game and a half of not allowing that – they will see it as misleading and unfair.

OK I finished it. The game was good over all. The ending was a bit of a letdown but overall I did enjoy the game a lot.

Broken Sword 1: The Shadow of the Templars

Gimme an ale

Gimme an ale

Random Thoughts While Playing

Immediately this game stands out for its unique graphical style. Smooth hand-drawn animations for all the characters and backgrounds and a seemingly endless supply of natural actions for all of them. The world seems very authentic because of this, more like watching an animated film than a video game. The artistic style is very beautiful as well – obviously a ton of work went into the visual design.

The dialogue is excellent. All the characters in the game have their own personality. From the gruff street worker to the randy British aristocrat, all the side characters feel well developed and authentic.

So far (early into the game) there are very few actual puzzles. Mostly its just a lot of working through all the dialog options with each of the other characters. More like reading a book than playing a game currently.

This game is very slow but it’s also very enjoyable. The puzzles are fairly simple although getting into the crypt in the castle was pretty convoluted. There are still some long sections where you just have to iterate through a dialogue tree with some character or another. It still feels like reading a book and less like playing a game at times. The story is pretty well done (especially the dialogue) although the plot is a bit overused.

The puzzle in the museum was fairly lame. I never found the window mechanism – didn’t do enough mouse roll-over hunting. Once that was found, the rest was easy. In fact too easy – Nico is apparently a Navy SEAL in addition to her job as an out of work photographer.

The puzzles in Syria and afterwards in the excavation dig and in Spain were very good. Difficult but not so much that I gave up.

This game is very well done. The story is well written and is a major part of the game, not just an afterthought. I do wish the scenario was less cliche but it’s well done nonetheless.

I like how this game forces you to solve a puzzle in a particular place and won’t let you leave until it’s completed. For example, once in Syria you can’t just hop on a plane back to France until the puzzle is complete. When you are working on the Excavation puzzle you can’t even leave and go back to the Paris map. This removes the uncertainty that you don’t have all the required items to solve the puzzle and forces you to concentrate on what is there. In other games which don’t do this it’s too easy to have lots of open puzzles lying around with no reason to focus on any of them.

The ending was just OK – puzzles were fairly simplistic.

The love interest angle of this story could have been dropped entirely. Nico was just annoying and never did anything which would have made George fall in love with her. But there he is at the end talking about ‘the girl i love’. Other than that the story was well done.

This game was unusual – great graphics, slow pace, good story (mostly) and good dialogue. There were really only a few solid puzzles though. Most of the time things came easily by just trying some obvious inventory items.

What Worked

The puzzles were tightly integrated into the story and the plot. I never once felt that I was taking actions that the character himself wouldn’t have done or wanted to do. Nor was I prohibited unreasonably from doing things which I would have wanted to try.

It was only possible to get killed in situations where it was very obvious that George was in real danger. This let me save games before hand and not feel blind-sided by random deaths.

There was no way to get ‘stuck’ (like in Zork Zero and many others) where the game lets you do something which later keeps you from winning the game.

There were people in this game! Lots of secondary characters with lots of authentic dialogue and believable actions. This is so much better than many adventure games where you feel like you’re living in a depopulated wasteland.

Although there were a few annoying ‘pixel-hunting’ puzzles they weren’t show stoppers.

The story was good – outside of the love interest angle – and the dialogue was really top notch.

I really liked how you would be restricted to small parts of the game once you had entered them and couldn’t even leave until you had solved the puzzle at hand. This reduced the normal frustrations where you always have a lingering feeling that maybe there is some item from another part of the game which is needed to progress. So you wander aimlessly looking everywhere for shit instead of focusing on the details of the current situation.

What didn’t work

As mentioned above this game was very slow and the extensive dialogue trees felt like I was reading a novel at times and not playing a game.

The love interest subplot felt like an afterthought.

Only a few of the puzzles were really difficult. Most were solved easily once I had explored the available area and picked up the right pieces.

Maniac Mansion

Random Thoughts While Playing

I was only half-heartedly thinking I would play this game. I started it up just to see what it looked like and planned to move on to something more recent. After playing for about 10 minutes though I’ve gotten hooked and now I’ll probably play the whole thing.

I can see why this game was popular. Especially for like 13 year-old boys. It’s a little weird, a little campy, a little sexy (well for an 80’s video game, we’re not talking anime tits here). The puzzles are fairly silly but not obnoxious or unfair so far.

I’ve figured out the idea that you need to use multiple characters at once to solve these problems. I think it leads to just trying everything with all your players though.

This vacuum tube in the old radio is annoying. It’s quite obvious I need to get it into the CB radio in the upstairs bedroom but all my kids are like ‘I don’t understand how this thing works!’ Who cares how it works dumbass… pick it up and put it into the damn radio.

Some weirdness… when I kill the power in the nuclear reactor room the pink tentacle comes to fix it and then it grabs my kid and throws him into the dungeon. Then it bounces off screen to the left – towards the Sekrit Lab door. But my other kid is standing right there and doesn’t seem to see it go in there. Also why would it come down the stairs but then leave to the left… weirdness.

I missed a key when I was trying all my keys and didn’t get the pantry door open. That led to a huge waste of time as I tried everything else and couldn’t progress.

So I’ve played through about a third of the game. It has some difficult puzzles which I feel probably were more acceptable at the time that now. I remember being a kid and playing games like this and having the time and patience to just try everything under the sun.

I do like this game for it’s silliness and relative complexity. Of course the graphics are super bad and all but the idea of switching between kids and getting them to work together was fun.

Nethack

A very different kind of Adventure Game, Nethack is massive, monstrous, insanely complicated, challenging, infuriating and hugely rewarding. I played Nethack before I started my Epic Procrastination Adventure Game Research Project but I wanted to make some notes here because I expect it will come in handy when designing TWDAG.

Nethack

Banter

 

Nethack is brutal. I already have complained in here about games which let you do stupid things that will come back to haunt you. Nethack is the uncontested king of this kind of behavior. Not only will it let you outright kill yourself in every way imaginable, in Nethack there is no such thing as a “saved game”. In other words you can’t save before trying something and then restore if it didn’t work out. If you die, you die. That might mean starting over from scratch hundreds of times before you even get a character to the Quest (mid-game). Nethack doesn’t fuck around.

I basically got addicted to it which I suspect is the only reason anyone would play it more than an hour or two. How bad was it? Let’s look at my stats.

My Stats

I played on nethack.alt.org and have played 469 games. Of those games I ascended (won) 4. That’s a 0.85% win ratio and I’m fucking proud of it.

stats1

How long did I play? My first ascension took over 50 hours of game play. The other three took about 25 hours each. So just the four games I won took over 125 hours of actual gametime. My total? In 469 games I spent 669 hours. That’s 27 days of actual in-game playtime. What the fuck is wrong with me?

stats

Apparently whatever is wrong with me is also wrong with a lot of other people. My 27 days of gameplay didn’t even crack the top 250 timewasters list. The “winners” of that competition have spent literally over a year of in-game time actively logged in and playing Nethack. That’s goddamn ridiculous.

Complexity

Nethack is complex. To try to quantify it, the NetHackWiki which is the go-to source for details on all aspects of the game has over 2000 pages in it. Those are web pages, son, not book pages and most of them include a lot of specific technical detail. Take the Weapons or Spellbook pages for example. Completing this game requires an in-depth comprehension of a wide swath of this material and even then you must continually look up specifics in the reference guides.

Ridiculous

So, what lessons can be drawn from this? Why do people get so addicted to this game? Partly I think it’s an ego thing. Nethack is hard as fuck and beating it is like climbing the Mount Everest of gaming. Part of why I stayed with it past the brutal learning curve is that I knew it had a reputation and I knew beating it would be a real achievement.

Additionally it provides something I call “perpetual incremental progress”. Once you get past the initial phase of the game and you aren’t quite as likely to die every second you get into a pleasurable phase where you are slowly and steadily building your character into an unstoppable force of destructive power. With every level-up and every new resistance you are more and more powerful. This feeling is fairly illusory of course – you can still be beat down pretty quick by something more powerful than you but the feeling is important.

My stats: http://alt.org/nethack/player-stats.php?player=mastrchief
My games: http://alt.org/nethack/player-all.php?player=mastrchief
 

 

Zork Zero

Fucking Flamingo

Fucking Flamingo

Random Thoughts While Playing

OK I don’t know if it’s because I just slammed a cup of coffee but this game has a killer opening. Immediately you are thrust into the action: shoved this way and that, pushed into the scullery and the kitchen and then back out to the castle dining hall where you witness Megaboz casting curses and blowing shit up. The King is Dead! … cue big giant title screen: ZORK ZERO. Plus it’s funny. I’m immediately psyched about this game.

The interface is better than any other text adventure game I remember playing. The map is really nice. The colorful borders which update based on your location are a nice addition and help make the game nicer to look at without being cheesy.

There aren’t many other characters in this game.

The plot is pretty thin so far. After the really great opening which felt like the beginning to an epic story it’s just been a lot of exploring and picking up tons of items with no idea what to use any of them for. Here’s a list of all the shit I’ve picked up at the current moment and have little or no idea what to do with:

A sceptre, a glove, a cloak, a metronome, a funny paper, a
ceramic perch, a dusty slate, a cannonball, a red clown nose,
a ceramic pigeon, a package, a ring of ineptitude, a scrap of
parchment, a bag, a worm, a scroll, a steel key and an iron
key, a memo, a drinking straw, four unique torches, a walnut, a toboggan, a screwdriver and a zorkmid coin…

And this is with 134 out of 1000 points – so like a 1/10th of the game complete.

The story, if there is going to be one, hasn’t really started yet.

I’m about halfway through now if the score is a good indicator. There is no “story” to this game. There is a very detailed world and a general scenario of collecting the Flathead’s items to overcome the curse but there is no plot or arc of any real kind. It’s just like the other Zork games now that I remember it (and just like Adventure in this respect). You wander around solving puzzles and getting items which you place somewhere to get points.

The Flamingo

So here’s the problem I’m having currently. There are some things I did early on in the game (like feed the bar to the flamingo) which I didn’t get any points for and I probably shouldn’t have done but are irreversible at this point. So I am having this ‘mis-trust’ feeling where I think maybe the game is one which will let you screw yourself and not tell you until much later where you discover the game is un-winnable. I’ve also managed to dump out the contents of my cup and I definitely needed that. I think it happened when I fell down the shaft off the mountain but there was no message stating specifically that the cup was spilled so I don’t know. I’m so far along now that the thought of going back and re-doing things is daunting. Thus I’m losing interest in the game and thinking of using hints at the least or quitting at worst.

Yeah… fucking flamingo and the cup. I made it 95% of the way through the game and now I’m fucked because of that cup and the flamingo food bar. Pretty much the first thing I did in the game was feed that flamingo the food bar. Nothing happened and I was like… whatever I’m sure there was a reason to do that. Well there wasn’t and now after playing for five days I realize I’d have to re-play the entire game to rectify that one move. Fuck that shit. Sadly I won’t be seeing the end of this game.

What Worked

This game was entertaining, I’ll give it that. It’s a puzzle game and the puzzles were clever and engrossing.  It was fun to see the world open up and solving the rebus felt like a real accomplishment. For the most part I never felt like I didn’t have some place to go explore and I never got too stuck for long. The UI and graphics added a lot to the text adventure and weren’t cheezy like in some of Infocom’s other attempts at using graphics.

What Didn’t Work

This game has no story. It’s just like all the other Zorks where you find treasures and store them somewhere for points (and like Adventure as I mentioned above). There was a very detailed scenario and lots of back-story and history but the “plot” itself was paper-thin. Just find all this shit and throw it in the cauldron. The world is essentially static and your actions don’t change it the way being a real character in a story would.

The final problem I had that kept me from completing the game was a real drag. At the least they could have segmented the game so that once you get past certain checkpoints you definitely have everything you need to continue. This shit about fucking up on move 50 of a 5000 move game and then being expected to restart to fix it is bullshit. I don’t have time for that.

The huge number of objects in the game was a problem. Some of them never seemed to have any use but still for every problem I had to think about everything and imagine some way it might work. And since your inventory was limited sometimes I just lugged some items over to a problem area and tried them all and then restored if nothing worked.

Using the score as a feedback mechanism to tell the player what was “correct” or not is a little hokey.

Over use of the “feelies”. I’d like to play the game please, not read a huge pamphlet (although it was entertaining), searching for clues.

The world was almost totally vacant of people. There’s the Jester and a few side characters who talk to you a bit but for the most part you’re wandering around a ghost town. I felt this could have been improved.

At some point around 3/4 of the way in I got bored and it was more of a chore than a game. I think this cleared up once I got into the Oracle but still there were points where I was just slogging through to cap it off. Sadly I never saw the ending.

Anyway, I used to love Infocom games growing up and this was certainly not a bad gaming experience overall but I did find it taxing and annoying in parts.

Space Quest IV

Random Thoughts While Playing

This game is not much better than Space Quest I. Still the same use of real-time action puzzles with a crappy user interface.

This man-eating slime puzzle is terrible. I found out from hints that you are supposed to catch it in the jar. But there is no reason you would ever do that without playing through the game and discovering later that you need it. I would need to be stuck in the sewer with no way out to try that. I just assumed it was there to kill me (like the zombie and laser robot on the surface). This puzzle is terrible.

Ugh I’m not going to play this one out. Maybe I’ll come back to Space Quest later but these games (I and IV) both seemed low on creativity and high on frustrating puzzles.

Space Quest I

Hooboy this game is old and sucky. I realize it’s the first in the series and all but the puzzles are simple and the interface is aggravating. Why were the “smell” and “lick” icons there? I never used them once but I had to cycle past them every time I needed to switch from walk mode to using an item.

Also I realize it’s supposed to be a farce and spoof of sci-fi movies but some things felt more ripped-off than spoofed.

Again with these real-time action sequences. It makes the flaws in the interface come to the forefront and pulls you out of the game.

Luckily this game is very short. I finished it in a few hours.

Kings Quest VI

KQVI has a reputation as the best game in the Kings Quest series and I definitely enjoyed it. The puzzles were good and highly motivated by the plot. The story was really well done and the characters were varied and real. I got a bit confused by the multiple solution paths aspect because I played out part of one and got stuck and then went back and ended up on the other track so I was always kind of wondering when they would converge again.

Random Thoughts While Playing

This game has good “feel”. I really am pulled into the story and the world of the game. Nothing feels out of place – the items I can access and the actions I can take are well motivated by the environment. None of the puzzles so far have felt arbitrary or bizarre.

The game is more “serious” than others I’ve played in the sense that it strives to maintain a consistent story and world. There are no asides to the camera or jokes about adventure games. The third wall is intact!

What Worked

The game manages to avoid the problem where you have too much shit you are carrying around and you feel like you just have to try every inventory item on every in-world object. The puzzles gradually opened the world up and provided inventory when needed and then consumed them for the most part once they were no longer needed. This reduced the frustration of having some item clogging up your inventory the whole game on the off chance it holds two uses.

I love the idea of the pawn shop where there are four items available but you can only “check out” one at a time.

The beginning of the game is nice and small with a limited number of locations and items you need to work with. It allows you to really get into the story and meet some of the recurring characters before you are faced with anything too difficult. The book seller tells you a bit about the island and suggests you talk to the ferry captain and visit the castle. Immediately  at the castle the core dramatic conflict of the story is revealed. Cassima is supposedly going to marry this sketchy Vizier. You know that dude is up to no good but it will take the entire game to figure out why and what to do about it. Now the game has your attention and it really opens up – the magic map you get right now lets you visit three more islands.

This limited opening which forces you to meet the main characters and sets up the fundamental challenge of the whole game is an excellent way to begin.

Where I got Stuck

The book worm puzzle was very confusing to me. I hadn’t noticed the book of spells on the counter of the bookshop so I never had the rare book conversation with the book seller which kept the bookworm from talking to me. So I kept trying to apply the boring book to the bookworm puzzle. No matter what I did the worm just told me to go away so it wasn’t clear at all what I needed to be doing. This could have been alleviated by making the spell book more obvious on the counter or having the bookworm change his response to something which hinted at the solution after a few tries.

I’m always thrown when a game like this has small parts which are time sensitive. Most of the game feels almost turn based but some of the puzzles require a quick response. This is how I failed to figured out the spider web puzzle. I pulled the loose thread in the web but then didn’t immediately try to get the paper when the spider moved.

This also kept me from pursuing the short-ending where you need to put the song-bird decoy in the hallway. I got so sick of being caught by the guards when I tried to hide in the alcove and try different things that I just figured there had to be an easier way. I had actually tried putting the bird at the end of the hall but since the error response was just general (“you don’t need to do that” kind of thing) and didn’t give a clue like “The guards wouldn’t see it there” then I just gave up. This problem has happened in other games as well – where you need to do something in real-time but the consequences of failure are a long wait or restore (especially the cottage in The Secret of Monkey Island II).

 

Kings Quest I

This game is a classic. I remember playing it in a computer store when I was a little low res kid. Still fun though!

Random Thought While Playing

This game has a really friendly narrator who tells you in a polite way when things aren’t going to work or if you’re doing something stupid.

nice narrator

I’m really interested in the text / graphical interface combination. I totally forgot that this was part of the game – is this the way all those Sierra Online games were?

I like how the puzzles can all be solved in multiple ways. I let the goat out of the pen but that never made any difference because I could get across the bridge by bribing the troll with one of the many treasures. My score wasn’t optimal but that’s fine – I could still complete the game.

On the other hand there are things (like the little dwarf stealing your shit) which can cause the game to be un-winnable and you need to save/restore all the time to avoid that. Not to mention the little walking puzzles where you fall off shit and die all the time.

I like this game – it’s short and sweet and although I got stuck and had to get hints a bit I didn’t feel looking back that the puzzles were illogical or bad. There was some pixel-hunting and some of the puzzles would have been easier if I knew anything about fairy tales.