Thursday, December 24, 2009

Print This Out and Put It Where A Loved One Might Find It

Dear Honey,

Hi, it's me, ________________. I know you're probably still searching for the perfect gift for me for Christmas. Time's running out, you know! However, my good friend Steve recommended a very good list of games that I think you should buy me. And everything's on sale on Steam until January 3! After all, that jewelry/sweater/other: ________________ you already bought is really ugly, and I was going to take it back to the store and use the money to buy Borderlands anyway.

Steve Strongly Recommends I Get These Games:

Braid - $2.49 - Steam - JiG review
Steve said that this was one of his favorite puzzle games that he played this year. The time-based puzzles are fun, and quite a challenge to wrap one's head around. Plus, the music and artwork are soothing and gorgeous (respectively), and the ending could change how you see life. Deep stuff.

World of Goo - $4.99 - Steam - JiG review
Steve said that we are basically unawesome until we've played this game. World of Goo was the winner of several indie gaming awards, and rightfully so, as its innovative gameplay and riotous sense of humor have made it a tremendous joy for Steve to play. Seriously, we're behind the ball on buying this one. I think that's why the neighbors have been letting their dog pee in our garden.

Audiosurf - $2.50 - Steam - WLWLOH review
I hate going to the company Christmas party because my coworkers all make fun of my ability to get down to the music. Audiosurf would be an excellent game for helping me find my inner groove while jamming out to the music I already love. Okay, this game might not help me learn to dance, but Steve said it's fun, a'ight?

Chains - $.99 - Steam - JiG review
Oh, come on, this one's only a buck! Steve said that Chains has a very interesting twist on the match-3 and samegame genres, and a variety of challenges to match. He also said that he had french toast for breakfast this morning. (Irrelevant, but I'm having a hard time coming up with any other quirky things to put at the end of these mini-reviews.)

The Wonderful End of the World/AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA! Combo - $11.24 - Steam - JiG review of TWEotW - A! review forthcoming
Steve said that the fine folks of Dejobaan Games have outdone their previous 75 years of video game design with these two astonishing games in one convenient, bite-sized package. We both said we liked those Katamari games on our son's PlayCenter thingy, and TWEotW captures all the fun we had with that and put into a computer-able game. And AaaaAA! is probably the closest we'll come to going skydiving considering our age. I wonder if there really are floating buildings up there?

Steve's Friends Who Are Also Very Knowledgable About Games Would Probably Recommend These Games As Well:
Machinarium - $9.99 - Steam - JiG review
Trine - $7.99 - Steam - WLWLOH demo impressions
Time Gentlemen, Please!/Ben There, Dan That! Combo - $2.49 - Steam - JiG reviews for BTDT, TGP
Crayon Physics Deluxe - $9.99 - Steam - JiG Review

Hope this gives you some ideas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Rule of Thumb Actually Involves Thumbs

And it's quite handy too. You're welcome.

Any game in which a glitch is formed where your thumbs become fused together inside a chain-link fence is generally not a good game.

Mirror's Edge, then. I downloaded it over Thanksgiving break because it was on sale, I'm probably going to give up on it over Christmas break. Why? Because it's just starting to irritate and bore me.

Okay, you have to admit, it's a sexy game. The developers have paid a lot of attention to visual details, and the result is clear. The world is drop-dead gorgeous, although very white, which really should be considered cheating since they can fall back on simple gradients rather than trying to create intricate artwork, but we'll forgive that. But beyond the eye-candy of all the intricate levels to explore, there's a sense of aggravation looming in the darkness.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mirror's Edge, a plotline summary in 50 words or less: Faith is a "Runner" who uses parkour to try to clear her sister's name. Oh dear, that was only 14 words...

First off, I understand that in a certain sense, Mirror's Edge is a puzzle platformer, although not in the same sense that Portal and Braid are puzzle platformers. You've got to get from Point A to Point B, lather, rinse, and repeat. Usually, your Point B becomes the new Point A, and you've got to work out where the next Point B is. This is all fine and dandy, except either certain levels are designed to obscure your target destination in whatever ways possible, or I'm generally too stupid to figure out the ways to get there. There's a "Runner's Eye" system where objects that you need to use turn red to catch your attention, but this does not occur in all instances, and sometimes finding the way to a red object is half the battle. I kid you not, there have been times where I've sat putzing around in a corridor trying to find a way up onto a higher platform for literally half an hour, only to find that the answer was in a one-inch ledge on a wall that I never really realized was there before. I mean, who could have missed! the one inch ledge on a wall above me. Naturally. Unrelatedly, this Faith girl clearly has the strongest fingertips known to mankind.

If it's not the puzzle aspect that seems a bit unintuitive to you, maybe it's the combat system that seems a bit off-kilter. Occasionally, you will encounter police officers (of varying levels of experience or expertise, apparently) that you must disarm and/or kill. Since your character is unarmed, you've got to use only fists and feet to get the job done, unless you manage to rip a gun away from someone trying to shoot you (although there exists a statistic for your save file that counts the number of people you've shot, which I want to believe is significant later in the game, so I've been trying to avoid that route). However, Super Smash Bros. this ain't, as all you can really do are kick, punch, flying kick, sliding kick, and that's pretty much the lot of it. Thus, my melee strategy is just to mash buttons whenever I meet someone in SWAT armor. (Oh wait, it IS Super Smash Bros.!)

However, the kiss of death in this game seems to be how long it is. Or rather, how long the chapters are. One key thing about gaming and me is that I can't stand long sessions of the same thing over and over again. Team Fortress 2 is incredibly tolerable, because the game is constantly changing, and if it's not, you can change your character as you see fit. Half Life 2 is painful, because the chapters are incredibly long, but at least you can save and walk away at any time during the level. (Still, I've been wandering around in Ravenholm for hours now, and I'm wondering if that level ever ends.) Mirror's Edge is particularly painful in that there are checkpoints to return to if you die, but you can't save in the middle of chapters. Some chapters are stupidly long to begin with, not to mention the fact that I'm clearly too thick to get certain puzzles, so they take twice as long for me, so having to quit in the middle of any level is tremendously aggravating. I can't stick around for long periods of time to finish a single level, and I can't be bothered to return any time soon when after an hour and a half in a level, you get a glitch like the one above.

I will concede that Mirror's Edge is visually stunning, and that it does turn a lot of conventional platformers on its ear with a versatile parkour-style navigation theme. There's just too many things that drive me batty about the game to make me want to continue, and that's a bad thing. Did this make sense at all? It's late, which is part of the reason why I'm not bothering with links this time. In a nutshell: Mirror's Edge, not worth it unless if you've got a higher tolerance for this sort of aggrevation than me.


Edit: I think it's only fair that I include this little addendum. The post above was written while incredibly tired, which I think I mentioned. However, in fairness, I should also mention that the only reason for writing the post was to vent rage about a glitch at an irritating moment in the game. In other words, you could call the post the equivalent of writing emails to your boss while drunk. In no way does it end well, except it's something your co-workers can laugh at the next day.

Now that that's out of the way, and now that I'm a little less tired, I can tell you in good conscience that the above negative review stands. I think I can justify it a little more coherently now.

I understand that there's a certain amount of skill to play any sort of game, and the skill required varies from game to game. In the case of Mirror's Edge, you could say it's about half coordination/skill/timing and half puzzle/problem solving, and the reason that I put them at a 50/50 split is because there are parts where both are required and parts where one definitely trumps the other.

On the puzzle/problem solving side of the coin, much of the challenges involve figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B, as I mentioned above. The main problem that I have with this is that the solution for getting there isn't always clear, and at that, you might not even know where you're going to begin with. You can get a little help by tapping the Left Alt key, which automatically turns your head to look at where you need to go/what you need to do. (By the way, don't do this while moving, you might accidentally walk off a ledge because of the sudden turn of your motion.) The (other) problem with this is that the guiding system doesn't always respond to your cries for help (as if to say, "C'mon, the solution should be obvious, just go down this hallway"), or it tries to show you the solution too many steps in advance. This is often the case with trying to climb upward in narrow corridors, like mentioned above. Hitting Alt pretty much makes you look straight up, which doesn't help much when you need to figure out which wall to wallrun-jump off of to grab on to which pole to swing to which ledge and so forth. Similarly, there are instances (particularly outdoors) where hitting Alt points you to a building far away, where your goal is to get to a door on the other side of the building (but you don't really know that until you get there). To sum it up, when you need help the most, it's not likely you'll be able to get it.

Then there's the coordination/skill/timing side of things. Once you figure out what you need to do, doing it is a completely different matter. You occasionally have to make large jumps over certain-death heights, and these jumps always seem to require that you get enough speed and jump at the exact right moment, or else you plummet downwardly. Even when I've had to repeat certain jumps due to dying shortly thereafter, I still find myself missing the previous jumps due to the accuracy needed to complete them.

In the same category of skill/timing, I need to cite this example of another frustrating thing about this game. In a certain level, which I forget, you encounter a certain character, whom I forget, and have basically a mini-boss fight. To start the fight, the character delivers a surprise blow as you arrive at the top of a flight of stairs, grabs you, and throws you down to a lower roof on the building. The character then jumps down, charges you, and attempts to beat you with a pipe. If you fail to disarm the man just before he strikes you with the pipe, he hits you, then grabs you again, holds your helpless body up for a moment while he flashes another evil smile, and throws you to the street below where you die. An exciting scene, yes, but it becomes significantly less exciting when you realize that every time you die, the exact same sequence starts again. From stairs to concrete, it's about 40 seconds (estimate from memory, sorry if I'm off). To beat the boss, you're supposed to (1) realize that you need to disarm the man when he charges you, (2) find the exact moment to disarm him (which can be aided by using the R key, which slows time down for a bit), and (3) actually do the disarm. Prior to this stage, I had never disarmed a man in the game, nor had I used the R key, so it took me quite a while to even remember how to do either. The sad bit is, after at least 20 tries (and I'm not exaggerating that), I finally managed to disarm the man, and watched carefully for the next part of the fight... but disarming him also disoriented him, and he basically ran off the edge of the roof. Boss fight over, and I only had to click once at the right time. What the heck? After wasting way too much time figuring out what to do, it all came down to one well-timed click? Sloblock, that. It's instances like this that make this game frustrating, and you actually feel for a moment as though you've been wasting your time.

There are other instances of ire which I won't go into (as it's once again becoming late, and I'll just slip into my incoherent place once again), but just know that these moments of frustration and helplessness and illogic make Mirror's Edge an unpleasant experience for me. Maybe your mileage will go farther, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I don't know if I'll be returning to it anytime soon, but if you feel so inclined to give it a try, you might as well download it now on Steam, as it's now on sale... More on that later. I've got a cold, so sleep is a higher priority than last night. Stay tuned...

Friday, December 11, 2009

"In Case You Missed It...." Round-up 2

What happens when a quiet radio station gets swarmed by a crew of unruly staff members? About the same thing that happens on most other radio shows on WNTE. But in this episode (from last week), "In Case You Missed It..." opened the studio doors for a visitation day, and several other hosts came for the fun. And chaos ensued.

Check us out at, or listen to this week's clip to find out who is the reason why we can't have nice things.

Save a Horse, Ride Joe Thomas

Whenever I travel, I like to have a certain CD in the car with me. Well, two CD’s, actually. One is the Maria Rita CD that I seem to mention every time I do a longer entry on here. The other is a mix CD that I’ve labeled the “Feel Good Mix”. I tend to pop it in on the last leg of my journeys, and for whatever reason, “Jessica” by the Allman Brothers Band always seems to come on when I’m arriving in the town of my destination.

Music, in this sense, seems to be a vehicle of sorts, controlling the emotions we feel, taking us to certain highs and lows. There are moments of excitement during the drive, and moments of relaxed cruising. And while I acknowledge that this is a terrible way to set up the game I’m about to review, you could see how music is like a road to travel on.


Right then, Audiosurf. A couple of months ago, I bought Audiosurf on Steam (it was on sale… as are most of my game purchases anymore). Audiosurf is a game that takes your music and makes an interactive “road” to travel, challenging you to pick up blocks and make combos for points.

Each song that you put into Audiosurf goes through a quick analyzer that finds the song’s high points and low points, basic rhythm, swells in the music, and changes in volume. Through whatever mysterious process, these are all taken into account when making the “path” of that song. In slower, quieter parts, the path tends to go uphill, and in faster, louder parts, the path goes downhill. It’s like a musical roller coaster, if you would.

Except I now redact the roller coaster simile to return you to the “road” theory, as along the road are “cars” (ie, colored blocks) that correspond to the rhythms of the music. You play as a spaceship of sorts that collects (or avoids) the cars in order to make clusters of similarly-colored blocks in a grid beneath you, which makes the entire thing feel a lot like Guitar Hero mixed with a match-3 puzzle. Larger clusters score more points, but also, warmer colors (which pop up more often when the music is more “intense”) also get you higher scores. If you gather up too many blocks and overfill a row, your ship is temporarily paralyzed, and you have to wait a bit to be able to collect blocks again.

There are (if I remember right, I’m typing this up on a different computer) 14 different “characters” (spaceships) to play with, spanning three difficulty levels and six specialized skills. Playing a “Mono” character means you’re collecting any colored block while avoiding grays. Playing an “Eraser” character lets you remove blocks of a certain color from the grid, then throw them back up later to grab some extra points. Other characters let you randomly shuffle the grid, shift blocks before they land, and even let a second player join in for co-op play.

In a nutshell, that’s Audiosurf. This game literally lets you “ride your music” (catchphrase, that) with a pretty trippy neon roller coaster theme that’s engrossing and fun.

Unfortunately, you also realize how boring of a human being you are.

Way back when I used to geocache (man, I need to get back into that again), I was on a cache trip with a friend where we discussed his iPod, and my reluctance to get one. If I remember right, my primary arguments for not getting one were (1) cost, (2) I have the tendency to doom myself to be the last to catch on to most tech trends, (3) there was always something slightly unsettling about having a portrait of your personality (via the music you listened to) that could be seen by anyone who touched the thing. I still don’t have an iPod, but I’ve got iTunes, and taking a look at my list, I don’t have much to be ashamed of. It’s mostly jazz with a few scattered oldies, high of 69. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) There are a couple whole albums of classical music and liederwhatnots, mostly stuff I purchased when I was still a music major, but likely never listened to (except the Debussy album, that’s a good one). I suppose if there’s anything that would stick out as “abnormal”, it’d be the more ethnic bits, like some Portuguese jazz, zydeco, or a group known as “Slavic Soul Party!” (Really, they’re good. Look them up.) Since I really don’t host any social functions in the rooms where I keep my computer, my iTunes list stays pretty well under wraps, and if I need music, I throw some good stuff onto a CD (or use the ones mentioned at the top of this post). On the whole, you could say that my music is fairly easy listening, if not outright relaxing.

However, Audiosurf is a game that’s dependent on fast guitar riffs, heavy drum beats, and loud singing for a lively (and therefore higher-scoring) ride. You can play through your slower songs and still have fun, but after a while, you begin to feel the slowness of your music, which becomes apparent after a string of slow songs. On rides like these, you might average about 30k-40k points, which pales in comparison to the 700k scores you see topping the high score charts on “more exciting!” songs. Granted, if you’ve never heard of the song, you can’t blame yourself, but you wonder what it’s like on the heavier side of the game.

To counter this sense of boredom (and to create a sense of community), the developers of Audiosurf select a few songs every week or so that are available for download and playing within the game. They usually pick a good mix of songs, often all by one or two indie artists, and occasionally fitting a theme. There’s usually a longer techno/RPM piece, a guitar-heavy fast piece, maybe something slower but still active to change things up, and a few other treats thrown in for good measure. If you like what you hear, links are included to download or purchase the songs. So everyone has a chance to hands on some more active music, if you don’t mind the weekly shuffle.


That all said and done, I have one more complaint to file about this game. Songs that rely less on guitars and vocals and more on the percussion and bass tend to “jerk” along as you play the game. Since the drum beat is what registers as the more dominant sounds in the song, they will be what the program makes the faster portions of the song. When every quarter beat is just a smidge faster than every eighth and sixteenth beat in between, the road usually moves very slowly, but incessantly speeding up and slowing down. In certain modes where avoiding certain bricks is key, this is intensely annoying.

It’s also worth noting that you won’t gain tremendous amounts of musical ability by playing this game, so I wouldn’t recommend it for use in a music classroom, or at least not more than I would recommend Guitar Hero or other faux musical ability games. It’s basically DDR for your hands, except the rhythm of the song is taken only as a suggestion for the actual patterns of movements you make. It’s a shame though, because unlike so many other music games on the market, this one doesn’t jeer at you for doing a less-than-stellar job. Even if you suck something fierce at this game, it never insults you, and you’re always allowed to continue playing the song and finish racking up more points. The only exception to this is if you decide to play in “Ironmode”, where your abilities are more limited and overfilling a column automatically ends the song. (Frankly, I don’t see the point of using Ironmode. The game only suggests that Ironmode is done “for the bragging rights”.)

Other than a couple minor quibbles and the self-induced paranoia about your music collection, Audiosurf is a good game and worth every penny of its (low!) price. If you’re still trying to come up with some good gift ideas for Christmas, this might be something worth giving to the music fanatic in your life. It’s simple to get the hang of and family-friendly (well, pending the music you use, of course), and good for quick ten-minute breaks from working. Whether you’re a hardcore music nut or just someone who likes to sing along with the radio in the shower, Audiosurf is well worth a shot when you just want to have some fun with your music. The hard part is resisting the urge to throw your hands in the air when you go down a hill.

Official website
Steam website