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braid

I realise I’m a bit late to the party with this one, but I just finished Braid. The game came to PC in April, and I didn’t play it for a couple of reasons. Mostly because Jonathan Blow has always struck me as being a little self-important, and given to writing awful poetry. So, I wasn’t really interested, despite the colossal amount of praise Braid had received.

This was probably a bit silly. The other reason, of course, was  lack of money, for which I feel I can be forgiven. Anyway, it recently appeared in a Steam sale, so I bought it, and finished it in an evening.

Even without playing it, I knew Braid was an incredibly important videogame. It introduced a lot of Xbox players (not exactly famed for their sophistication) to the validity of independant games, games as art, and in many cases the importance of 2d games. That’s quite an achievement. So I knew Braid was important, but I didn’t realise how good it was.

It’s good! There are, as I see it, two competing schools of thought when it comes to this kind of puzzle game. On one hand there’s things like that other great game from 2008, World of Goo, in which you figure out the general solution extremely quickly, but things act unpredictably, so you have to correct as you go. On the other hand, there are games that run like clockwork. Braid runs like clockwork, and is incredibly frustrating for it. Almost every five minutes I would come across a puzzle that I was sure was impossible. You have to solve every puzzle to beat the game, so it would turn into an excercise of throwing myself against the rocks over and over until I stopped for a moment and thought, and I saw the solution, and for that moment I was the cleverest person in the world. So Braid is frustrating, but gratifying. So gratifying.

The game is beautiful as well, of course, and has an amazing soundtrack. It’s something that reaffirms my belief (just like World of Goo, actually) that mainstream videogames abandoned 2D games far too quickly, and that perhaps 2D games are just a little bit too obsessed with 8-bit graphics and sound. A little more variation, please.

And the story! Oh, the story! I didn’t like the story. Does this make me a bad person? I should say, I didn’t dislike it for its pretensions. I see absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to art. My problem was that I didn’t think it was very good, not that it was rising above its station, or something. A central theme is the idea of “learning from one’s mistakes without having to live with them”. This isn’t deep, and what little prose there is in the game is just badly written, in my opinion. I have no problem with the rest of the storytelling. Gameplay and story are melded beautifully. The problem is, the story is something I might have written three or four years ago, and I should point out that I am a 6th form student. It’s immature, and uninsightful, and boring. It’s like a Coldplay song.

So Braid isn’t quite fine art, but it’s an amazing puzzle game. That’s fine too.

You can find Braid for PC on Steam, Greenhouse, and Impulse, and the Xbox version on the Xbox 360 shop thing. If you disagree with any parts of the mostly non-italicised bit at the top, that’s cool, it’s entirely subjective, are you stupid.

Wow, haven’t posted round here in a while. Man.


Picture 3

But I’m here now! Actually, being on holiday, not much game-playing happening round these parts. Saw this on tigsource, though, and thought I’d write about it in lieu of something actually interesting.

Zing! Actually, When Pigs Fly is pretty interesting, but not a huge amount of fun, I’m sad to say. You play as a small flying pig, trying to escape some cave system or other, and you die if you touch a wall. So it’s kind of a mix between that helicopter game (you know the one) and a side scrolling platformer. You die a lot.

What I’m going to actually compare When Pigs Fly to, though, is Mirror’s Edge. Bear with me, it’ll make sense in the end. You see, like Mirror’s Edge, WPF is kind of fiddly to control, and frustratingly difficult in spots. However, it also has some pretty amazing moments, where you get through 5 or so screens, somehow without dying, and it is then the best game in the world. On the whole, though, I don’t feel those moments make up for the rest of the game. Ah well.

D.

You can find When Pigs Fly here. You might like it.

Bummer.

Bummer.

I’ve been playing a lot of adventure games lately. I pretty much completely missed out on all the Scumm stuff, so I tried Secret of Monkey Island (excellent) and Maniac Mansion (less impressive). The Longest Journey is pretty much universally praised, and I’m nominally interested in creator Ragnar Tørnquist’s new MMO The Secret World, so I played that. Then, of course, Ben Ward and Dan Marshall of Zombie Cow‘s latest adventure Time Gentlemen, Please hit the internet, so I downloaded Ben There, Dan That, which is free, and made in Adventure Game Studio. And really, really good.

Ben Chandler’s Heed is also free, made in Adventure Game Studio and really really good, but there any comparisons with the Ben and Dan games pretty much stop. For a start, Heed takes itself extremely seriously. Where Ben and Dan race through madcap adventures so they can be back in time for Magnum P.I., Heed’s nameless protagonist engages in a search for purpose, and something called the Force Source.

It’s sober stuff, but it’s competently written, and contains some fairly unexplored themes (at least when it comes to video games). For once, the quasi-religious stuff isn’t centred around (looks down upon, in fact) any idea of destiny. Life is, in short, what you make of it. Okay, it’s maybe a little shmaltzy, but look at what it has to compete with. It’s neat. It’s also very well drawn, and has a soundtrack consisting of out of copyright recordings, which works very well and is probably the way to go if you want a ‘fessional sounding score with a non-existent budget.

There’s only one cursor and no inventory, which makes puzzles (for me at least, maybe I am an adventure game god) a little simple. They’re mostly centred around chasing a fly around the screen, and talking to ghosts. It’s all well done, but there’s little challenge involved. For the last portion of the game, though, it does a good job of switching things up, and the last puzzle is easily the best.

Heed, then. It’s short, easy, and interesting in a couple of ways. It’s a good way to spend the ten minutes or so that it takes to finish.

D.

You can get Heed here. Ben There, Dan That is pretty ace too.

Bustin': Makes you feel good.

Bustin': Makes you feel good.

Glum Buster is a rather wonderful little game from the brain of Justin Leingang, who goes by CosMind. You are sucked into a parallel world, in which you whizz around busting glum, after finding yourself a little depressed. There isn’t a huge amount of story from what I can tell, but it’s atmospheric and really pretty, and you should play it.

The game is split up between side scrolling platformer, and serene twin-stick shooter, in which you shoot glum baddies in the face, then click in a triangle around them to turn them into fairies, or something. It is both chilling and relaxing. One might go so far as to describe it as chillaxing. It’s a pay-what-you-want affair, with a large portion of the proceeds going to the Starlight Children’s Foundation.

D.

Hey look, I’m posting, we’re not dead! You can find Glum Buster here.

rise_koipond_pano

I don’t generally go in for much in the way of anime. You’re better off asking Alex about that sort of thing. The Japanese language and its three distinct scripts are very interesting, however, and… Well, that’s an entirely different realm of geek to the one this blog deals with, so I’ll just stick with saying I don’t much care for most nonvideo-gamey things Japan.

Although…

I quite like Ghost in the Shell. Somehow, by mixing up Tokyo, the future, cyborgs and invisibility suits, Masamune Shirow seems to have stumbled upon the recipe for pure style. Sure, the stories for the movies and the comic were at worst terrible and at best pedestrian, but, well, look at it. Which brings me nicely round to NeoTokyo, a Half-Life 2 mod made by some people calling themselves Studio Radi-8.

I’ve played a bunch of HL2 mods in the past few weeks, and this is the first one in which you shoot a gun. Polaris and Dear Esther were very much artgames. NeoTokyo is a Video Game. You shoot mans.

Pink Crabs - Endemic to Japan

Pink Crabs - Endemic to Japan

And, naturally, you look good doing it. It’s all very GitS (and Akira, apparently? I can’t really comment). There’s only one mode I have seen any server running, Capture the Flag, which is a bummer, but I would like to note that the flag is the cyborg torso from the end of the first Ghost in the Shell film, and it’s called the “ghost”.

It’s quite neat, actually. The person holding the torso is able to see the location of all the enemies, yet cannot attack, so once the flag has been grabbed it basically turns into a game of VIP. This helps to stop the game getting monotonous. The weapon choice is a little weak, in that all the mid to high tier rifles seem to be exactly the same futuristic bullet-spewer, and the shotgun seems fairly useless.

The game all feels very Counter-Strike, what with the one spawn each per round, and (sorta)Terrorists versus (sorta)Counter-Terrorists setup. However, there are a number of advantages I can see:

  1. It looks rather nice.
  2. Not everyone with a mic is a complete dick.
  3. The scout class can do a super jump.
  4. Heads explode just so. Cathartic.
  5. Your guys can turn invisible, with a very nice flash bzzzzp effect.

There are also various vision modes, which are actually pretty useful, and certainly atmospheric. Which is really what I like about NeoTokyo. Atmosphere.

D.

NeoTokyo can be found here. It requires a source game to play.

Oh, the wolves have gone. Panic’s over, people! You can stop worrying, they… Oh, wait. New panic. I have heard somewhere that rooms bigger than seven squares by seven squares will eventually collapse. A lot of my rooms are bigger than seven by seven squares. Shit.

I sit for a while, pondering my predicament. What is there to do? Hmm. Well, single walls have  a strange circle symbol, which suggests to me they also act as pillars. I hope this will do:

Is this enough?

Is this enough?

Problem solved, I hope. Not so sure, though.

As a side note, I’d like to point out just how insanely detailed Dwarf Fortress is. For example, here is part of the file which describes a cat:

“[BODY:QUADRUPED:TAIL:2EYES:2EARS:NOSE:2LUNGS:HEART:

GUTS:ORGANS:THROAT:NECK:SPINE:BRAIN:CAT_MOUTH]”

Yeah. I have no idea what would happen if I removed, say, the spine from this line, but I wouldn’t be surprised if all my cats were to suddenly become “Extra Floppy”, or similar. There is a skill called “Small Animal Dissection”, so maybe we can find out later without having to mess with data files.

Anyway, I have decided to make use of my newly arrived peasentry, and build a metalsmith’s forge, a wood burner and smelter. This way, I can burn wood to make charcoal, then smelt metal ores, then forge weapons and other metal stuff. Cups, or something, I don’t know. At least, that’s the plan. The problem is, none of my dwarfs have skills in these, so they’re bloody rubbish at it. Hurry up and make some charcoal, Stefana.

Stefana, hard at work.

Stefana, hard at work.

Gah, who decided the job list shouldn’t be arranged alphabetically? I need a furnace operator. Ah, found it.

While the new migrants bumble along making iron, I order up a rock throne.There just isn’t enough of a sense of grandeur about the place at the moment.

Oh, I suppose the new guys need a place to sleep. They were late to the party, so they get smaller bedrooms. They do get to live lower down in the proper rock, though. This is a big plus.

Living spaces sorted, I take account of the things we need. I then build a kennels, a barracks, and most importantly, a dining room fit for dwarfs.

Hmmph. A cougar has appeared. This time, we’re prepared. Get out the iron axes, boys. Oh, wait, how do I attack things? Huh. You got away this time, Cougar, but we’ll see who gets the better of who in our next encounter.

Yeah, you'd better run. Stupid Cougar.

Yeah, you'd better run. Stupid Cougar.

D.

Storm

Storm is a physics-based puzzle game, by Terence Lee, and I like it quite a bit.

The game is centred around using weather. More specifically, using it to send little white ping-pong balls down holes. You have three weather effects, wind, rain and lightning, and each allow you to interact with the environment in different ways. Wind is by far my favourite, with a lovely effect and what looks like some pretty complicated physics to get it to “flow” down surfaces. Rain is really a bunch of blue coloured ping-pong balls, from what I can tell, and doesn’t look great. Using it to float things around is till fun, though. Lightning just pushes stuff away.

You get a set amount of “ammunition” for each of the powers, and more can be collected by sending the white balls into them. I personally would have preferred to have the puzzles designed around infinite uses of powers, but whatever.

The music is pleasant enough, if a little unmemorable. Let’s call it ambient.

Storm is very pretty, but something about the art style rubs me the wrong way while playing it. Putting that one down to personal taste. Also, Lee used comic sans in his game, which I find really kind of ugly. This is a prototype, so we’ll let it slide, just this once. Terence Lee, you have been warned.

D.

Storm was made in two weeks with XNA. We should really work harder on Colour Game, huh? Anyway, you can download Storm here.

Well, my game is still running.

First things first, I decided communal bedrooms are for chumps, so I designate eight rooms for my seven dwarfs. I figured the chief dwarf requires at least two bedrooms.

Jeez! More talc!

Jeez! More talc!

I install doors, and beds, and everyone’s happy. Never let it be said I don’t look out for my dwarfs.

Next, I set about constructing a throne room in the lower levels, and am informed that I have once again struck talc. This whole mountain appears to be made of the damn stuff.

Good news! Two of my female dogs have had puppies. I’m still a little worried about security, so I build a kennels in order to train up some war dogs.

Shit. Too late. I have spotted on my map, a pack of wolves. Look at their fangs, it is terrifying.

Bugger.

Bugger.

In other news, my cats all seem to have chosen now as the time to have kittens. In order to avoid a “catsplosion”, I mark the newborns for eating. One narrowly escapes death by adopting the approaching hungry miner. Crafty feline.

Oh! The trade caravan came, as well as a diplomatic liaison. He is “Mighty”, “Extremely Agile” and “Very Tough”. Perhaps he can sort out the wolves.

Nope, he’s gone again. Pity. I remember I have a mason, and have him build and construct a bunch of dolomite blocks, and a door. I’d like to see any lupine predators get through that!

Ha.

Ha.

Oh! MIGRANTS! Now, this is exciting. I have a bunch more dwarfs to do things with, and also see off wolves. My new arrivals include a metalsmith, to make weapons, and a soapmaker, to clean wolfblood off the weapons.

D.

Back again! I’ll jump straight back into things.

I designate a stone stockpile, and have my dwarfs clear this fortress of lumps of bloody talc.

DF_03

Stupid Talc.

Oh My. My entire fortress has been flooded with purple, which cannot be good. It is apparently “Miasma”. A quick trip to the DF wiki tells me that, while it is not dangerous, miasma causes Dwarfs to think bad thoughts. It seems that it is being exuded by all these dead bat corpses I keep finding, so I set up a refuse pile far away, on the surface.

The bad stink sorted, I get back to clearing out the fortress. It seems that the workshop no longer has the beds I ordered queued up. I sumrise that they have in fact been built, but I have no idea where they are now. I try ordering for them to be placed in the fortress.

Aha! The beds have arrived. At least the dwarfs seem to know where things are kept around here.

With the fortress cleared and accomodations sorted, I set my farmers to work planting mushrooms in the upper levels. Dwarfs are apparently huge fans of mushrooms. Who knew?

Oh no! A cat has fallen foul of a lump of dolomite, and is now extremely injured. How this happened, I do not know. Rockfall? In any case, his dwarf is now very sad. Oh, the cat is now dead, and the dwarf even sadder. His friend doesn’t seem to mind, however, and dumps the cat remains on the refuse pile.

The remaining cats keep bringing “little presents” to their owners, who fling them on the rubbish heap. Realism!

It’s now summer. This area is classed as “warm”, so I’m slightly apprehensive that my dwarf’s only current source of water, the brook, might dry up. That reminds me, dwarfs need beer. I set up a still near my mushroom farm. Apparently you can build these things out of talc? This makes little sense, but it’s nice to find a use for the stuff. In any case, apparently brewing does not require water, and dwarfs much prefer alcohol anyway. Problem solved! I set my carpenter building barrels in which to store the goods.

I really wish these stupid cats would stop dumping dead rats in the bedroom.

I am getting a little worried that the fortress is quite undefended, so I set up gates on the surface to at least slow down any intruders. Gate built, my dwarfs step back to admire their handiwork. Here is their handiwork:

Not certain how long this will hold. Oh well.

Not certain how long this will hold. Oh well.

My fortress now feels a bit more like a fortress.

D.

Oh no!

Oh no!

It would appear that all you need to be featured on this blog is a funny name. Dadaists Gone Wild is a funny name. The game’s pretty cool too.

DGW basically takes Dada‘s celebration of random, and runs with it. Turns out this can make a pretty fantastic videogame. Style and play changes around about every 30 seconds, from sidescrolling platformer to top down game to side scrolling shooter to ostrich race in which you avoid giant ears, and find out that, in fact, there was never an ostrich. Scary. There’s also a nice trick that plays with which surfaces kill you, and of course a run-in with Death, but I won’t spoil that too badly.

Dadaists is punishingly hard in places, which might be a statement of some kind about the first world war, but is probably just a case of haphazard level design.

Fun for ten minutes or so, and then it’s done.

D.

Dadaists Gone Wild was drawn by Ben Evans and Alec Stamos, and programmed by Alec Stamos. You can download it here.

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