Monday, February 27, 2012

My Nanoblogging Is Your Microblogging - Episode 5

This post was mostly written while watching an episode of Castle. It's really hard to write while watching Castle.

19. On Jan Berenstain
Here's a story I've never really told anyone before. I can't remember what semester it was, but I took Composition II, which was more like "Do a Bunch of Book Reports for a Grade 2202". We read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. Not a bad book, really. The first two-thirds of the book, talking about the science and culture of food, are a bit dry, but the latter third where he discusses the things one can do to one's diet sparked a few interesting discussions in class. After a really good chat one day in class, I walked out the door and thought to myself, "I really want to interview Jan Berenstain."

I have no idea why that thought popped in my mind, but it did. I mulled over the idea for a while, and I decided I would try interviewing her. I thought up a shortlist of other people I'd love to interview. I figured, set up Skype so that I could record the calls, then share the interviews here on this blog. Unfortunately, due to procrastination and technical incompetence, none of these interviews ever happened.

Tonight, I found out that Jan Berenstain has passed away. This is sad news on multiple levels. One, rather selfishly, I know I've blown my chance to get that interview I've always wanted. Two, more importantly, a huge part of my childhood has passed away. Our family has a huge stack of Berenstain Bears books sitting on a shelf somewhere, all of which I'm sure I've read at least a few dozen times each. I understand that Stan and Jan Berenstain's sons have gotten involved in the family business, but it'll still feel weird knowing that such a huge part of my childhood is gone. Thank you, Jan, for your hand in my upbringing, you will be missed.

20. Ped Xing Reboot
In case you missed it, I finally rebooted my personal portfolio website, Ped Xing Productions. The only thing I think I'm missing is the Contact page, as I'm still trying to figure out the best way to post contact information in a way that won't bring in tons of spam. If you have any suggestions, contact me via the Conta-- oh. Leave a comment here, a'ight?

21. 1000 Letters on 1000 Amps
1000 Amps is a puzzle platformer released last week on Steam in which you control a little robot bloke, trying to restore the light in a world of darkness. As you move around, the blocks you touch are revealed; hopefully you can stumble on the all-white light blocks that set the entire room aglow if all are found. Your ability to move around and fight off enemies relies on how many light blocks you've uncovered. As such, each room starts out as a guessing game, where you've got to deduce where it's safe to walk, or else you might fall through a hole to the next room below. This is a rather frustrating mechanic, considering you usually have to trek around five or more rooms just to get back to that point to try again, though if you can't remember how you screwed up six rooms ago, you're doomed to repeat the same mistake. Worse, the power-ups you get over the course of the game are really hard to anticipate, so you can't tell when you should just desert a room and come back to it when you're better prepared to handle it. On the whole, 1000 Amps is an okay game, but the incessant trial-and-error-ness of the game is irritating. I'd recommend grabbing this if it's on sale, but be prepared for some frustration.

22. The Assassin's Dilemma, Revisited
Assassin's Creed 3 will apparently be released on October 30th. Will I set aside the money now in an envelope and hang it on my bedroom wall until preorders are available? Eh... Well, I've posted more about the AC series on this blog than any other game franchise (unless if you count the dozens of subtle nods to Portal), but I think my love for the series is starting to dry up. Just as Ezio was young, fun, and playful in Assassin's Creed 2, which I consider the highlight of the series so far, Ezio feels old and cranky in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, which is where I'm stuck right now. I'm having a hard time forcing myself to finish the game, especially when the plot feels far disconnected from the rest of the franchise (and I say this knowing full well that the previous games very logically lead to this point). I don't have any hatred for the series as a whole, but I'm just having a hard time getting the motivation to move forward with it. So, sorry, Ezio... No envelope for you. I'll likely end up getting it, but I'm in no rush.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Quick Review of Q.U.B.E.

Dear game makers, please make more games that start with the letter Q so I can keep recycling this title setup.

Q.U.B.E. (Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion) is a first-person puzzle game that borrows heavily from the Portal aesthetic of clean white walls and playing your way through tutorials disguised as spatial puzzles right until the end. Instead of the famous portal gun, you're now given fancy gloves that can manipulate blocks on the walls around you. These blocks are color-coded so you know exactly what they do. For example, red blocks can be pulled straight out of the walls (up to three units long), while yellow blocks come in clusters of three that must all be pulled out at once, but at different lengths (making a staircase shape). Using these blocks, you've got to move objects around the rooms and climb your way to the next level.

The above is a bit of an oversimplification of the puzzles in Q.U.B.E. Really, they're quite complex, in that Portal sort of way where you have the tools, but you have to figure out new ways to use them, particularly as new elements are introduced (balls that have to be filtered into different holes, cubes that have to be positioned correctly to redirect beams of light). The mix of puzzles is quite satisfying, save for one annoying section of puzzles done in the dark, as the darkness doesn't add anything but unnecessary difficulty.

The story, on the other hand, is far from Portalesque. In fact, as much as the game tries to gesture at a story being there, I just can't find it. You wake up in a room, just like Portal, but you don't have the benefit of GLaDOS to give you the basic instructions as you go. Perhaps the game assumes that everyone is familiar with Portal, and that the clean white walls instantly signals your goal is to escape from whatever facility you're in. This is, in this case, true, but even after having completed the game, I don't feel satisfied that I've accomplished anything more than solving the puzzles and getting to the next room umpteen times.

At this point, I should throw in that I'm a bit bitter about this game, as I worked my way through much of the game pretty quickly, but upon resuming one day, the game would only crash when I tried to load my save file. It took a while for the developers to fix this issue, and when the patch finally came, it turned out that I was stuck right before the final puzzle in the game. I lost a hearty chunk of love for this game right then, having to wait for an unsatisfying conclusion. It's taken me a couple of weeks since that patch to start writing this post.

Despite the lacking story and the glitch I had to deal with, the puzzles more than carry this game. Is it enough to justify a $15 price tag? Absolutely not, but considering it's an indie start-up title, it's forgiveable. I'd personally recommend waiting for a good enough sale to grab it, but whatever you do, please be sure to grab it at some point in time and play it if only for the puzzles alone. If you loved the progressing spacial puzzles of Portal, Q.U.B.E. will feel right at home for you.