Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Zugg's Journal: Day 5

Zugg is my Dungeons & Dragons character.  He is a Chaotic Neutral, Half-Orc Druid with a animal companion wolf, Snarl.

Day 5

In the morning, as we were eating breakfast, the elf came in.  Good to see she made it out alive.  We start discussing our next move and decide to go back in and see if we can find out where that dark mist came from.  The elf leads us back to the secret door she exited the tunnels from and we start backtracking to the prison cells.  We pass a few junctions when we start hearing moaning coming from all around us.  The halls are only big enough for us to stand in pairs, so Foldout and Tanner guard one side while Seebow and my wolf, Snarl, guard the other.

Pale men come shambling towards us from both sides and trap us between two intersections.  I start summoning more wolves to try to keep our escape route clear, while Tanner and Foldout keep them from pushing us from their side.  They seem to be holding off the zombies, but Snarl gets grabbed by one and pulled into the mess of them.  My other wolves and Seebow try to clear out the other zombies so Snarl is safe.  Suddenly, the dark mist comes back from Tanner and Foldout's end of the battle.  It seeps past the zombies without touching them and reaches Tanner and Foldout.  It seems to try to grab them, but they keep managing to escape.  Seebow turns the remaining undead so that we have a way to get out.  Snarl loses consciousness as the mist grabs the elf who ran in from of Tanner and Foldout for some reason.  It also manages to grab Tanner as he tries to rescue the elf.

I quickly say a chant to heal some of the wounds on Snarl, just enough for him to regain consciousness.  As Foldout tries to rescue both Tanner and the elf, Seebow, Snarl, and I run back to the entrance.  A few moments after we're back in the sunlight, the rest of the group come running out.  It looks like Foldout managed to save them all.

While resting for a few hours, we discuss what just happened.  Both times the dark mist has come after us, it has snuffed out any torch it has come across, but it doesn't seem to follow us into the daylight.  We make a plan for a third trip into the tunnels; two of us will go in tied to ropes the others outside are holding.  When the mist goes to grab the two, they will try to produce magical light to see if it affects the mist.  If not, the rest of us can pull them out.  I have my misgivings, but I see no better plan of action.

To be continued...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: Dismantlement Series

I have always been a fan of quick and clever flash puzzle games.  A couple examples are the escape the room games and word games.  I especially love it when talented people make a continuous series of these games because then I immediately know I will like it when I see them.  One such series that also doesn't really fall into one of the above categories is the Dismantlement series from Gam.eBB.  There are now 16 of these Dismantlement games and I've played each of them at least twice if not more.  Unfortunately, there's not much replay value in puzzle games if the puzzles themselves don't change, but that's one case where it's great to have a crappy memory like mine.

The goal of the game is fairly simple.  You are given an object (ranging from a toaster to a radio to a lunch box) and you need to dismantle it with a screwdriver.  Unfortunately, most of the screws will only be uncovered once you solve a puzzle.  The clues for the puzzle are always found somewhere on the object and most of the time, you don't need to do any pixel hunting (warning TVTropes link) to find them.

The games are made in Japan (if you didn't catch that from the URL, the Dismantle Tea Canister, Dismantle Box Lunch 1 and 2, and Dismantle Mikoshi should give it away) and the earlier ones suffer a bit from Engrish, but you never really need to read anything of consequence anyway.  There is no story here; there is rhyme or reason to what you're doing.  Just dismantle things!

Friday, May 25, 2012


Balancing is a part of game design I've never been terribly good at.  Difficulty is the core result of balancing.  Difficulty is how easy or hard it is to achieve a winning situation in a game at any point.  In video games, this tends to adjust the number of enemies, health levels, amount of ammo/resources available to the player, deadliness of enemies (how much damage they do and how often they hit successfully), etc.  In board games, this tends to affect how possible it is to come back an win from an underdog situation.  On the one hand, you don't want players to ever feel like they can't win.  On the other hand, you don't want a player in the lead to feel like taking another player down a notch is completely meaningless.  Poorly balanced games can suffer from either being too easy or too hard and from what I'm calling "rubberbanding".

Too Easy

It may seem like it would be fun to play a game that takes no skill to win.  And for a little bit, it actually can be a nice little diversion, but if a game never becomes a challenge at all, then it will get very boring.  At some point, the player will realize they aren't really needed to play the game, if something else pressed the inputs or moved the pieces, the game would play itself.  Some examples of this are Candy Land (is there ANY thought or choice in that game?) , Chutes and Ladders, and most Kirby games (the difficulty is when you try to find all the game's secrets, otherwise the game is painfully easy).

Too Hard

When a game becomes too hard, the player feels they cannot win.  Sometimes they know this going in, in which case it's okay (arcade games or games with high scores tend to be this way).  If they reach this point too often, however, the player will start to feel incompetent and get very frustrated at the game.  This is generally when controllers end up inside of televisions or smashed to a thousand pieces on the ground.  There does seem to be a niche for games intentionally built this way.  Personally, I can't stand games that frustrating.  One tricky thing I've noticed is trying to distinguish between a game being super difficult and me just not getting used to the controls/game actions.  If I'm stuck due to the latter, that means I can get better and overcome the fight, which gives me the rewarding feeling that designers want players to feel when playing their games.

I think an ideal game has a mix of areas that border on Too Easy and Too Hard so that you can have a roller coaster ride effect while playing the game.  For example, immediately after a tough boss battle, you should get some piece of equipment that makes taking down normal enemies a piece of cake.


Rubberbanding is when a player in dead last can very easily recover and win the game despite any setbacks that have occurred previously.  Although, this feels great for that player, it makes the rest of the players feel like everything they did in the game was pointless.  The most frequent instance of this is in the Mario Kart series.  I've always felt the computer cheats in that game and recovers too easily, but it's gotten more and more ridiculous as new Mario Kart games come out.  Especially since the accursed blue shell made its appearance.  Carcassone can feel like it has this problem, too, if someone's strategy is putting Meeples on all the big fields since it looks like they have no points until the end of the game.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Zugg's Journal: Day 4

Zugg is my Dungeons & Dragons character.  He is a Chaotic Neutral, Half-Orc Druid with a animal companion wolf, Snarl.

Day 4

I'm not sure how much time passed exactly while I was trying to figure out a way out of my cell, but after awhile, I hear a bunch of people walk in.  I look over and see Foldout and everyone else being escorted into a separate cell.  At least the band is back together, I guess.  One of the humans that was at the dinner - I think his name was Tanner? - was with them as well.  Foldout must have said something wrong because he's being escorted out of the prison somewhere else.  Tanner keeps messing with the door, I guess trying to figure some way out.  The guards come in with some gruel.  I tell them to bring some meat for my wolf, but they ignore me.  So, I sit there calmly eating gruel waiting for a chance to escape.  Suddenly there's a ruckus over in the other cell.  I look over and can't see the gnome anywhere.  It seems he must have escaped somehow.  The guards unlock the door and as they open it, Tanner picks the whole thing up and pushes the guard who opened it into the cell with it and now Tanner is outside.  I guess now is a good time to strike, so I start summoning dogs around the other guards in the hall.  I'm still trapped, so I try to do it subtly so no one notices.  My dogs' bites seem to only annoy the guard; this could be trouble.

Right when I'm starting to fear that this isn't turning out well, a strange black mist starts pouring out one of the doors.  When it reaches one of the guards, he seems to get pulled backwards into the mist by something. Everyone seems to notice this and the guards start running.  Tanner helps me open my door and we all start running the other way.  We start to follow the running guards when Snarl starts going down another path.  I trust him way more than any of the humans, so I start following him.  Seebow and Tanner follow me, but the elf is nowhere to be found.  I guess she kept following the guards.  After a couple more twists and turns in this strange labyrinth, we see a couple more guards cross our path.  We try to ask them if they know what's going on - while still running, of course - but they just keep screaming and running.  That is not a good sign.  We stupidly follow them to a dead end, but fortunately, the black mist wasn't that fast, so we double back and see light coming from a nearby stairwell.  We run up there as fast as we can, but based on the screams, it sounds like most of our guard friends didn't quite make it.  One is still with us and as we run outside.

Once outside we stand on either side of the door and peer back inside.  It seems the mist isn't following us anymore, but we hear some groaning coming closer, so something is following us.  The guard with us tells us there's an armory nearby, so we rush into there to re-equip ourselves.  We come back out and form a line just in time to see six men come out of the doorway.  They look very pale and seem to be shambling.  They come straight for us, so we have no choice but to attack.  I've used all the chants I can remember, so I just send Snarl in to attack.  The first man he reaches, he bites its leg clean off and it falls to the ground.  Tanner and Seebow charge forward to fight the rest.  The guard with us is whimpering uselessly next to me, not that I'm much better.  With no chants, I use my sling to try to hit these men from a distance, but instead I hit Tanner in the back of the head.  Eh, I'm sure he deserved that for something.  Eventually, despite my help, we manage to finish off the men.

We head back to town to regroup and figure out our next plan.  Tanner tries to explain to the city guard what was going on, but they seem to ignore him.  He suspects something bigger going on, so we head back to the stable (apparently owned by Tanner) to talk in safety.  Foldout finds us there and while he's explaining what was happening to him - something about being told to go to some mountain somewhere for something or other - Tanner says he knows some trustworthy people in the city guard we can get to help.  I guess he said something wrong because Foldout hits him square in the face with his shield and knocks him out.  He says he was warned not to trust anyone from the city guard and starts tying Tanner up.  Seebow and I explain how he fought next to us against those pale, shambling men.  Foldout unties Tanner, but leaves him knocked out in the stable, while he and Seebow go get rooms for the night.  I find an empty spot in the stable and go to sleep for the night.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: Baccano

The closest thing I can equate Baccano to is Lost because both of them would raise more questions every time previous questions got resolved.

Baccano is a 16 episode anime about the lives of numerous people in 1930s (mostly) and how they intertwined during a train ride on the Flying Pussyfoot.  Some are on the train to hold a Senator's wife and daughter hostage, some are there to kill people in the dining car for some great sacrifice, some are there to rob it, and there's the Rail Tracer who just seems to be out to murder everyone on board.  Oh and I guess I should mention that many of the characters are immortal.

Baccano had me hooked from the opening theme song (most of my favorite animes have amazing music, I'm not sure if there is a correlation or if there is, which way it goes).  This is one of the few times I had to watch the opening theme for many episodes because it shows most of the characters names and it was a good way to try to keep track of things early on.  That's really the only downside to this anime, you really have to pay attention.  There are so many characters and the story takes place in four separate times (1711, 1930, 1931, and 1932) and it starts to jump back and forth pretty freely between each one of those.  So it can be very tough to keep things straight.

All of that doesn't matter, though, because of Isaac and Miria.  I promise you, that you will be cracking up every single time they are on the screen.  These two, I think, are trying to be Robin Hood-esque thieves to try to atone for their previous robberies that weren't so good.  They're usually hindered by the fact that their logic is less logical than even mine can be:
"We once tried to steal an entire museum as well."
—Isaac to Miria
"That proved impossible though."
—Miria to Isaac
"Yes! So at least, in order to make it impossible for people to enter, we stole the entrance [door]!"
—Isaac to Miria
"It sure was heavy!"
—Miria to Isaac

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: Paladog

Paladog is the perfect example of why I'm not allowed to have a smartphone or tablet of any kind.  This game has now kept me up late two nights in a row, which for a Flash game is pretty impressive.

In Paladog, humanity has been wiped out long ago and replaced with sentient animals.  These animals only knew peace, so the demons had no one to corrupt.  So instead, they decided to invade en force.  Being so peaceful, the animals weren't prepared for war, so they couldn't fight back.  That's where Paladog comes in on his trusty (I guess non-sentient?) steed.

Paladog is what I would call a side-scrolling RTS game.  The vast majority of it has you controlling Paladog, summoning various combat-trained animals like Hood the Rabbit, Rooky the Kangaroo, and Defensive Turtle.  Paladog can also equip up to 3 maces that cast different magic spells based on their type.  The goal is to wipe out the army coming from the right side of the map and destroy the base they are coming out of.  Units are bought with food and spells are cast with magic, both of which regenerate automatically.  Killing enemies gives you both XP (used to upgrade Paladog) and money (used to upgrade your units).  The unit upgrades are merely more health and damage for a given unit, but Paladog's levels allow you to choose one of three randomly selected stats to upgrade.  These can be anything from the food regeneration rate to Paladog's speed to getting more money from enemy kills.

This game type isn't really anything new in the Flash realm, but every third level gives you one of four other different game modes.  In the first one, the buttons for spells to cast and units to summon are randomly selected and come out one at a time, letting you store up to 8 of them.  Paladog does not move and your army must stay on the right side of the screen for a certain amount of time.  The second one, is just like the regular mode, but you are escorting a wagon to the right side of the map instead of trying to take out a  base.  The third one, is essentially Plants vs. Zombies.  The final mode is identical to the regular mode, except after killing the base, a boss character comes out with some unique ability and you must defeat him.

Generally, each stage takes between 1 and 3 minutes and you're almost always guaranteed one Paladog level per stage, so this game very easily falls into to the "just one more" problem of addicting games.  "I didn't get the upgrade I wanted that level, I'll just play the next stage to see if I can level up again."  "I almost have enough to upgrade my rabbits, just one more level should do it."  This is the dangerous mentality of most casual games, but what's even more dangerous is that this one is still fun.  Most of the time, once I realize a game is doing this to me, I'll stop immediately, but there's something about Paladog that just kept overriding that safety measure of mine.

Paladog is also available on iOS and Android systems, which apparently give you even more content.  I wouldn't know, since, as I mentioned, I don't have any of those systems.  I would definitely recommend giving this a try to see what you think, but be very careful you don't lose too much of your time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Zugg's Journal: Day 2 (Continued) and 3

Zugg is my Dungeons & Dragons character.  He is a Chaotic Neutral, Half-Orc Druid with a animal companion wolf, Snarl.

Day 2 (Continued)

After licking our wounds, it was time to head to this dinner.  Upon entry, all my other companions were disarmed, but seeing as I just carry around a large stick and a piece of cloth for weaponry, they left me alone.  We get into the hall and sit down at a large table.  There are way too many humans here for my comfort.  But I guess that means they can't pull any treachery unless they're going to kill everyone or everyone here is involved.   I pushed my food around to appear like I was eating, but I don't trust these humans enough to actually eat.  Once I finally get back to the woods, I'll hunt down some nice, juicy rabbits.  Finally, after what felt like forever, the dinner was completed and we were "invited" into a back room with the Mayor, his adviser, and various other humans.

Once there, Snarl kept looking over at the adviser uneasily.  Fortunately, I had memorized the chant that allows me to speak with Snarl earlier.  So I talked with Snarl to find out what was wrong.  He said the adviser was very powerful and that something wasn't quite right about him.  So I decided to go have a chat with the adviser to see if I could figure this out.  At first glance, it did seem very strange that he was wearing such a heavy jacket inside a building on such a nice evening.  I asked him where he was from, to which he replied south of the druids.  That's definitely very strange that any outside would know where our enclave is, but maybe one of our younger druids wasn't careful and got spotted near the enclave.  It's also very strange because the only thing south of us is a large desert.  I've also been hearing rumors from other druids that something powerful is in the desert that we need to watch out for.  I'm beginning to suspect he may know something about this, but based on what Snarl said, I don't think I can just directly confront him about it.  I excuse myself and go to a corner to see if I can tell if this guy is magic, but after chanting to detect magic, I couldn't sense anything.  Looking at Snarl, he suddenly seemed very relaxed, so I guess whatever was bugging him has resolved itself.

The rest of the evening is fairly uneventful, so we all head back to the inn and discuss our plans for the next day.  That cave we visited earlier isn't sitting right with me, those creatures didn't seem like they would be there naturally and I know I can't explore it by myself, so we decide we'll head there tomorrow.

Day 3

The next day, after breakfast, we head out towards the cave.  On the way, Snarl suddenly runs off after something.  I've learned to trust his instincts, so I leave the group to follow after him.  He seems to be digging at a particular spot on the ground, so after careful inspection, I discover a trap door hidden here.  Snarl seems very eager to head down it, so I follow him in.  He seems to know where to go except for a few times when he stopped.  The first time it happened, I kept walking and suddenly a bell up above us started ringing.  The second time, I kept walking and took an arrow to the knee....I guess I really should pay more attention to when Snarl stops like that...unfortunately, I didn't have any time to redeem myself as a group of well armored humans suddenly approached us and shortly after more men came up behind us.

Suddenly, I recalled something that old man said about there being some sort of rebellion under the town that we're supposed to be helping.  I mentally retraced our steps and I think we may be under the town now, so these must be the rebels!  I tell them that if they are who I think they are, I'm on their side.  Snarl seems to be shaking his head, but it's too late.  I'm immediately escorted into a nearby prison cell.  I guess these weren't the rebels I was looking for...

Monday, May 14, 2012

How the Wizard of Oz Characters Are In Every Great Team

When writing the review for The Avengers, specifically making the list of his character archetypes, I realized the archetypes could all be classified as characters from the Wizard of Oz and I've formulated a hypothesis that any story involving a team needs the following characters at its core:

  • The Scarecrow (a.k.a. The Brain) - The genius character who is pivotal to following the clues the villains leave behind to figure out the master plan and how to stop it.  They're often a little clumsy and fall apart easily under stress.  Examples: Willow (Buffy), Topher (Dollhouse), Simon (Firefly), Bruce Banner and Tony Stark  (The Avengers).
  • The Tin Man (a.k.a. The Heart) - The character that keeps the team sticking together when things start tearing them apart.  They may seem unemotional at times, but at their core they are more passionate than all the other characters.  Examples: Xander (Buffy), Paul and Echo (Dollhouse), Kaylee (Firefly), Captain America (The Avengers).
  • The Cowardly Lion (a.k.a. The Courage) - This character is never afraid to get into the thick of things in order to help save the team.  Usually ends up giving courage to the other characters through their actions.  Especially susceptible to becoming a noble sacrifice.  Examples: Angel and eventually Spike (Buffy), any of the dolls (Dollhouse), Mal, Zoe, and Jayne (Firefly), the entire team (The Avengers).
  • Dorothy (a.k.a. The Girl) - This is the strong female character that just wants to get back to a normal life, but isn't afraid to do what needs to be done.  Examples: Buffy (Buffy), Echo (Dollhouse), Inara (Firefly), Black Widow (The Avengers).
  • Toto (a.k.a. The Mouth) - This character's only purpose seems to be to generate one-liners.  Examples: Xander (Buffy), Topher (Dollhouse), Wash (Firefly), Tony Stark (The Avengers).
  • The Wizard of Oz (a.k.a. The Mentor) - This character is older and seems like they have the team's interests in mind, but they are hiding some dark secret in their past.  Examples: Giles (Buffy), Boyd and Adelle (Dollhouse), Shepherd (Firefly), Nick Fury (The Avengers).
As evidenced by some of the examples, this isn't a 1:1 model.  One character can fill many roles and many characters can fill one role.  Also, it's not necessarily a permanent model.  That is, one of the archetypes can switch for an episode or two to give them more depth (Xander is easily the best example of this).  I think you can add other archetypes to this as well to mix things up, but you must have these elements at the core.

Non-Joss Whedon Examples:

The A-Team:
  • The Brain - Hannibal
  • The Heart - Murdock
  • The Courage - B.A.
  • The Girl - Amy the news reporter chick
  • The Mouth - Face
  • The Mentor - Hannibal
  • The Crazy (see?  a new archetype!) - Murdock
Star Trek: TNG:
  • The Brain - Data and Geordi
  • The Heart - Riker and Troi
  • The Courage - Worf
  • The Girl - Crusher and Troi
  • The Mouth - Riker
  • The Mentor - Picard
  • The Crazy - Barkley (I just wanted to get Dwight Schultz in again)
Naruto (first 50 episodes or so):
  • The Brain - Sakura and Sasuke
  • The Heart - Sakura and Naruto
  • The Courage - Naruto
  • The Girl - Sakura
  • The Mouth - Naruto
  • The Mentor - Kakashi
Naruto (rest of the series):
  • The Brain - Shikamaru, Shino, Neji
  • The Heart - Naruto, Rock Lee
  • The Courage - Naruto, Kiba, Choji, Rock Lee
  • The Girl - Sakura, Ino, Tenten, Temari, Tsunade
  • The Mouth - Naruto, Kiba
  • The Mentor - Kakashi, Jiraiya
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • The Brain - Donatello
  • The Heart - Raphael
  • The Courage - Leonardo
  • The Girl - April O'Neill
  • The Mouth - Michelangelo
  • The Mentor - Splinter
I could go on, but I think you get the point.  I'm sure I'm stretching it in some cases, but can you think of successful/popular teams that don't fit this?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Zugg's Journal: Day 1 and 2

Zugg is my Dungeons & Dragons character.  He is a Chaotic Neutral, Half-Orc Druid with a animal companion wolf, Snarl.

Day 1

I was tasked by the other druids to pick up the provisions we needed from town.  I hate getting stuck with this job.  Villages are just so unnatural...not to mention filled with lousy humans.  I got sidetracked in the forest awhile, so I didn't make it into town until evening.  By then, the general store was closed.  I checked the inn to see if he could help.  Inside was an obnoxious human who kept spouting, "I'm a noble!"  Fortunately, he didn't seem to notice me as I walked in and talked the innkeeper into letting me buy some provisions from the back.  Unfortunately, he spotted me on the way back.  I agreed to share a drink with him to see if that would shut him up.  It didn't.  His name is Foldout Couch (pronounced Fulldoot Cooch).  He turns to talk to a very tiny man sitting next to him (I have never seen such a small man before!) named Seebow Stumbleduck.  I take this distraction as a chance to escape.  I manage to get outside the inn and am trying to leave the town when five tough looking men block my way.  They all were fairly well armed and I didn't see a way passed them, so I reluctantly headed back into the inn.  As I walk back in, a female elf beckons me over to a corner table.  Thankfully, Foldout is not with her, so I join her.  She seems to have gotten Seebow to join at the table as well.

At this point, the bar goes completely silent (except for that idiot, Foldout) as some men enter.  Foldout spots them and immediately beckons them over to tell them that he's a noble (at least he's consistent).  It's pretty obvious to see that these men are getting upset and are not people to trifle with, so the elf and I try to coax Foldout over to our table and away from these men.  I really didn't want to get involved in a bar fight, especially with these guys.  I was getting enough odd looks from people who noticed I'm a Half-Orc who can actually speak intelligently...On their way out, the leader of the group of men comes over and invites us to dinner at the mayor's place tomorrow.  It's fairly obvious this is an offer we can't refuse.  It's getting late, so I ask the innkeeper if I can spend the night in the stable.  I'm far more comfortable in there with the animals than in a room.  There's a pony stuck in here with the other horses with a missing shoe.  It probably belongs to that numbskull, Foldout...

Day 2

As soon as I wake up, I leave town.  I know my way around the forest much better than anyone else, so they'd never be able to stop me once I'm there.  Once I'm in the forest, I notice that I'm being followed.  I start walking in circles to see if I can lose the tail when I trip on a root, stumble through a bush, and flop down in front of the elf from last night.  I'm not the most graceful creature, even in my natural habitat.  Foldout and Seebow meet us as well, so I tell them about my follower.  We formulate a plan to catch him by having the elf hide in the bushes while the rest of us keep walking on.  The plan works perfectly and with the elf holding him with a knife to his throat, we find out he's been tasked with keeping track of us to ensure we go to that dinner tonight.  Guess I just can't escape...he says he'll be killed if we don't go and he loses us, so Seebow and Foldout promise him we'll all attend.  I'm still trying to find a way out of this mess...

The elf tells us we have to visit a farm nearby, but doesn't explain why.  Since I don't feel like having the three of them hunting me down, I join them.  The elf keeps giving Foldout the cold shoulder and ignoring his questions, so he leaves us to go rest under a tree.  I'm beginning to like this elf.  We go inside this building and talk to some old man.  I don't really pay attention because I'm still trying to come up with a way to escape.  Something about the town being taken over by a Thieves' Guild...king killed...blah blah blah human problems.  After what feels like ages, we finally leave.  With plenty of time to kill, the elf and I try to find the guy that was following us before.  We head back to where we left him and I start tracking him.  Suddenly, a bunch of giant spiders come out of the bushes and attack us.  They are probably just looking for something to eat, but I can't let that be me, so I sadly end up killing them, but not before one takes a chunk of my flesh...Feeling a little woozy, I head back into town to try to heal my wounds.  I run into Seebow who apparently is some sort of Cleric.  He prays for my wounds and that instantly heal.  I guess he's not so bad.

There's still plenty of time until that dinner, so we all go back to the forest to find that guy who was following us earlier.  We find a trail of blood where we left him and follow it to a cave.  Inside the cave, Snarl's ears start to perk up and he looks around.  I try to follow his gaze, but I don't see anything, so we keep going.  Out of the darkness, a spear whizzes past us as we suddenly we realize we are surrounded by kobolds.  A harrowing battle ensues with six kobolds, three in front and three behind.  I do my best to help, but without Snarl's aid, I would be completely useless.  Eventually, we kill the kobolds and as the elf starts looting them, Foldout gets a very focused look as he peers further into the cave.  Suddenly he passes out!  We're not really sure what just happened, so we grab his limp body and head back to town to nurse our wounds.

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: Fez

Fez is a very clever platformer game for XBLA with incredibly devious puzzles.  The twist on the platforming aspect, is literally that, a twist.  You can twist around the view to see your 2D world from a different perspective (so you can see the front, sides, and back of all objects only one face at a time).  I burned through the game in two days and loved most of my time with it until the end.  So, I think I'm suffering from the same thing when I played Super Mario 64: trying to get everything severely marred the experience.  So if you're not a Collector like me and can leave things incomplete and if you like to really exercise your brain, this game is for you.

One of the beautiful things about the game is that other than some basic interaction instructions, the game doesn't teach you anything.  Not only do you have to figure out how to solve puzzles, but in most cases, you have to figure out what exactly the puzzle is to solve.  This game did a very good job at teaching through experimentation.  There's an entire language and numbering system that you have to decode on your own and the game's Rosetta Stone is quite funny once you figure it out.  As long as you're observant, the clues aren't too hard to find and most of them are very subtly clever.

So where the game fell flat for me were four different game design flaws that severely marred my experience.  In one room, there is a clock with four different hands on it.  Each hand travels at a different rate and the puzzle is to be near the clock when each hand gets to a specific point.  Sounds like a clever puzzle, except two of the hands hit this point once a day or once every two days respectively.  So the two ways to solve this is to happen to be playing at the right time (which may be in the middle of the night) or set your system clock to the appropriate time.  Neither solution makes the player feel rewarded.  The former is boring and you're not really playing the game, the latter makes you feel like a cheater.

At three locations in the game are QR codes that offer solutions to puzzles if you scan them.  The problem with this is if you don't have a QR code scanner, finding the solutions are infinitely more difficult.  You have to find two halves of the clues in two different locations and somehow figure out how to piece the two halves together. This wouldn't be so bad if the QR codes gave you a similar puzzle to piece together, but they just give the solution, punishing players for not having a smartphone.

Sometimes when you enter a room, random black holes appear in the middle of the room making it more difficult to traverse an area you have already been to.  This would be interesting if it was persistent in a given room adding a permanent new puzzle to a room, but you can always make the black holes disappear by leaving the room and coming back.  So really, these black holes just make it even more annoying to backtrack through previous areas rather than more interesting.  Not to mention that the black holes have only the slimmest explanation why they are there.  And that explanation doesn't even fit in with the rest of the game...

Lastly, there are three puzzles not required to complete the game 100% that aren't so clever as they are just brute force solutions with the slimmest (or in one case, none at all) hints.  These puzzles are more puzzles for the Fez community than any individual player.  I like that idea a lot, so the problem with it comes in the fact that the rooms with these puzzles are marked with secrets the exact same way as normal rooms, so if you don't know about them, you'll waste your time trying to solve a puzzle you'll never be able to on your own because the room still claims there's a "secret" in it.

TL;DR Version


  • Clock puzzle that requires you to play the game at specific times of day
  • QR codes that give solutions to otherwise unclear puzzles
  • Pointless black holes that make backtracking even MORE annoying
  • Community puzzles that are marked in game exactly like other puzzles even though they aren't required to complete everything in the game


  • All the other puzzles in the game
  • The subtle clues for solving puzzles

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: The Avengers

At it's core, The Avengers is about a team of superheroes uniting together against a foe bigger than any of them could handle alone.  That's the idea, anyway, but in actuality, this team is incredibly dysfunctional with each individual having his own issues to deal with.  Tony Stark does not work well with others and is incredibly narcissistic.  Bruce Banner has...anger issues.  Steve Rogers is from a different era and does not feel like he belongs here.  Thor is still trying to reconcile things with his brother, Loki.

This is precisely why Joss Whedon was the perfect choice for this movie.  There is no one that is better at writing dysfunctional teams with the perfect amount of action, humor, tension, and drama.  Joss Whedon stays true to form with this movie.  There is the wise-cracker (Iron Man), the strong female (Black Widow), the mentor with the mysterious past (Nick Fury), the leader (Captain America), and the brain (Bruce Banner).  The greatest thing about this movie is that Joss Whedon manages to make every character have any equally strong voice throughout the movie.  There isn't a single "main" character.  He even managed to make me like Thor, The Hulk, and Samuel L. Jackson as much as Iron Man and Scarlett Johansson.

And, of course, there's plenty of fan service throughout the movie in subtle ways.  Famous lines are said in a slightly different manner, Stan Lee makes his appearance (I was the only one who laughed when he came on, so maybe I'm the only one in the audience who knew it was him?), and the after credits clip that sets up the next Avengers movie stars someone that I don't think many people recognize/know, but I was certainly excited.

I left the theater feeling super stoked and wanting to both watch the next Avengers movie and watch this one all over again.  I don't think I can give it a higher recommendation than that...

TL;DR Version


The fact that I was in the very first row of the theater because I underestimated how busy the theater would be.


That Robin Scherbatsky was in the movie.  She'll need to star in many other things before I don't see her as Robin.


Joss Whedon, the entire cast, Superheroes, every single part of this movie.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Teaching Your Players: Common Mistakes

Educating your players to play your game can be very different between video games and board games, but there are a few areas where I've seen the same mistakes from both places: consistency and easy access to information.


These problems tend to fall in the "don't make the player feel stupid" category.  Whenever you teach a player a new ability or rule, you have to be consistent about its use.  Never make the player only use an ability one time in a game.  At the same time, make sure if the ability isn't necessary often, that you make them use it frequently enough that they remember it's there.  My least favorite puzzle in God of War was one where you have to push a box against a treadmill that has a giant spike wheel at the end.  If you stop pushing the box, it will get eaten by the treadmill.  Oh, and enemies attack you while you're doing this, which interrupts your box pushing.  The part I had a problem with is that after I struggled through and finally got the box to the end and made it, I remembered that I had the ability to kick boxes a large distance at a time.  I didn't remember this at the time because I never had to do that a single time after being taught I could do that.  So the puzzle itself wasn't a problem, but the fact that I had forgotten about the ability was.

Another issue with consistency is if you do make the player do something a few times and then suddenly make them do that again in a completely different situation.  For example, in Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, you were required to stop something rushing at you in its tracks (first goats, then boulders).  Every time you did this, you were in your human form and it was made fairly obvious that the boulders had to be stopped the same way as the goats (when you were taught about this ability).  The problem came at the very end of the game when I'm fighting Ganon.  He comes barreling at me as a giant boar much like the goats and boulders.  So I strap on my Iron Boots and repeatedly try to stop him, but it's just not working.  After 30 minutes of this, I get frustrated and look up what to do.  It turns out that somehow I'm supposed to know that my wolf form can ALSO do this stopping maneuver even though it doesn't have any hands to stop things with.  It also is apparently stronger than me in my human form with Iron Boots on?  Not once was I ever given any indication that my wolf form had the same abilities as my human form.  Probably because except for that one case, they didn't ever have the same abilities.

In board games, I come upon this more when designing the board game or finding special cases that aren't defined in the rule book of a game.  Whenever you find you have to make your own rule, the key is to figure out what is most consistent with the other rules of the game, the theme and spirit of the game, and doesn't give a ridiculously unfair advantage.

Ease of Access

Ideally, your game is either simple enough or well explained enough that players don't have to look up any information on how to play once they have learned the first time.  However, this doesn't mean you should assume the player has figured out something the first time or that they will remember everything when they stop playing for a few months and come back to the game later.  This is why players should always have easy access to information about how to play the game.  In video games, this usually takes the form of Help menus or Move Lists.  In board games, this just re-iterates the idea that the information in the rule book needs to be well separated and laid out.  If the player needs to find out what to do when they die in a game, they should be able to find that information quickly and easily.  There's nothing more boring/frustrating to other players than waiting on a player looking up something in the rule book.  So make sure that when this does happen, the amount of time they spend looking is as little as possible.

Are there other common areas where lack of information or misinformation has ruined a game for you?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Happy Characters

Maybe it's because I've noticed that Joss Whedon seems to hate happy characters, but I've noticed a trend that in most TV series, characters aren't allowed to be happy for more than an episode.  I know there has to be some drama to inspire conflict because otherwise the show would be very boring.  What I mean is almost any time two characters start a romantic relationship in a show, they have roughly 2-3 episodes before something happens and they break up.  Even the shows I can think of with exceptions only have one long lasting couple.  Scrubs had Turk and Carla.  How I Met Your Mother has Lily and Marshal.  The Office has Jim and Pam.  Friends (eventually) had Monica and Chandler.  Lost had Sun and Jin.  But none of the other characters seem to be able to maintain a consistent relationship for very long.

This pattern makes it hard for me to ever really care at all about whoever the other main characters are dating, especially if it's not a main character.  But I guess in most cases it just fizzles with no or very little repercussions.  When Joss Whedon takes out a happy couple, things get really really ugly.  I'd put links to various examples, but I don't want to spoil anything in case you haven't watched Buffy, Firefly/Serenity, Angel, Dollhouse, or Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog.  And if you haven't watched any/all of those, go do it!  Do it now!

I don't know why I love Joss Whedon making me so sad...but I do...