Category Archives: Games

Review: Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa)

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It is surprisingly refreshing to play a game where we just relax and immerse ourselves in a folk tale of another culture. Especially so when every single time a game features a non-white-male protagonist reactionaries and Gamergaters would cry foul over “misandry” and “white genocide”. Fortunately for us, this game seem to have escape the attention of these nutjobs, and we can just play the game without the distraction of external controversies.

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The problem with these “physics of [video game]” articles

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Super Mario Bros is a popular case study in discussions of physics and gravity. The acceleration of gravity in the Mario universe has been studied extensively in relation to fan theories in Youtube videos by Game Theory and PBS Spacetime, articles in Wired, Business Insider, and Techradar. It has even been frequently used to teach physics in actual classrooms, some of which has resulted in publications in education journals.

The results obtained by all these studies give us something that is hardly surprising. The gravitational acceleration in the Mario universe is not the same as in the real world, which should be 9.8 m/s^2. The obvious answer to this is that video games are not supposed to represent the real world. If we apply real-world laws of physics to a video game, it is inevitable we will get non-sensical results. So why do physicists keep trying to apply Newtonian mechanics to 2D platformers?

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Prepare to Try: Playing Dark Souls

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Dark Souls is a game that is famous for its intense difficulty. Yet, many gamers and critics alike seem to have nothing but love and admiration for its impressive game design. It is ‘tough, but fair’, as they say. Even the tagline of the game itself tells us to Prepare To Die. With the lore and opening cutscene that feels more epic than Lord of the Rings, I was intrigued enough that I picked up the game, took a deep breath, and Prepared to Die. I was surprised to find that I didn’t die as much as I expected…

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Game Review: The Room 2

Following the formula laid out by The Room, its sequel The Room 2 continues with the unraveling of the mystery introduced in the first game. While the puzzles are thematically the same, the scale of the game has evolved from focusing on a box to a room. In this room, you will be required to work on a few, thematically linked items.

I love The Room for its concept and the design of the box. In this sense, The Room 2 was a bit disappointing. The larger scale of the game meant that there are more things to work on, but it also meant that our attention was divided over the few items. I suppose the same thing happened to the developers/designers, because the items in this sequel were a little ordinary in design. Compared to the ornately designed box in the first game, I was disappointed.

This is not to say that the game is bad. It still has plenty of mind-boggling puzzles and intriguing parts that kept me going through chapter after chapter. However, it sure did lose a little of the novelty found in The Room. Part of it was due to the scaling up that I mentioned previously; while pretty much every part of the box in The Room played a part, I get the sense that there are a lot more to be discovered in each item here. Yet, it turns out that disappointingly, we will only use one or two parts of certain items.

The Room 3 is touted to be longer and at a bigger scale, but I am not entirely sure that ‘bigger’ means ‘better’. Still, there is only one way to find out, and I will definitely get my hands on it.

 

 

Game Review: The Room

The Room is (literally) a locked room-uh, box game in which you have to solve puzzles to advance. The premise is rather simple: you are following the footsteps of your friend who has disappeared, but has apparently dabbled in alchemy prior to that. He has left behind a box that has multiple hidden compartments and locks on it, which will provide clues as to what had happened to him.

I love puzzle games, and I got interested in this game from watching a ‘Let’s Play’ video of it. As far as puzzle games go, The Room is engaging and addictive. Part of its appeal lies in the wide variety of puzzles, from using a special lens to find hidden messages to getting tokens across a set of obstacles, so that you are not likely to be bored. However, I believe that the most impressive aspect of this game is the design of the objects in the game. It is a visual feast, especially if you like ornate designs like these:

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This game is close to perfect, but not quite so. Story-wise, the game is just so-so, reiterating the plot of someone dabbling in the supernatural and courting the sinister, which further convinces me that it is the visual design of the game that sets it apart.

Another grouse that I have about this game is the obligatory zooming in and out for every single action you want to perform. Want to place a key into a keyhole? You have to zoom in to the keyhole, put the key in and turn it, and then zoom out again. Given the amount of actions you will perform over the course of this game, that quickly gets tiresome.

Finally, if you ever get stuck on a particular puzzle or ran out of clues as to what to do next, there are hints provided to guide you. That brings me to my next complaint: the hints only show up after a certain amount of time. I understand that this is to encourage the player to keep trying, but it is annoying when the first hint provided is rarely helpful. For example, once you find a key or a cog or some random piece of metal, but are unsure of where it can be used, the first hint is usually along the lines of, ‘That can be used somewhere’. No shit, Sherlock! In return, you will have to wait even longer for the next hint to be available.

Still, the game itself is engaging enough for me to finish it in two sittings (only because I started the first session quite late). It was so addictive that I was disappointed when the game ended, which prompted me to immediately get The Room 2 (to be discussed in another post). There is undoubtedly a sense of satisfaction in solving some of the puzzles, the feeling of joy when something clicks. Another added bonus: this game is available for USD4.99, which is not too bad for about 4 hours of gameplay. I can’t vouch for its replay value, since it’s too early for me to try playing it again, but I suspect that I would have forgotten most of the solutions to the puzzles, so it will still be engaging if I play it again.

If you like puzzles, go for this game. It’s as good as it gets. Finally, let me conclude with my favourite part of the game:

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Game review: Transistor

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For all its possibly divisive qualities that people may disagree on, there is one thing about this game that no one can deny: Transistor is absolutely beautiful. Almost every frame is splashing with lights and colour that breathes life into Cloudbank, the futuristic cyberpunk world where this game takes place.

Transistor is made by Supergiant Games, who previously released the highly successful Bastion. So it’s hardly surprising that Transistor plays a lot like Bastion, but with a lot of added features. Both games are isometric games with melee and ranged combat. But while Bastion plays mostly like a hack-and-slash, Transistor is more of a hack-and-slash and turn-based RPG hybrid.

You play as Red, a singer whom we first meet in media res as she discovers the Transistor, basically a talking sword, or sword-like object that she wields to fight off machines which the characters call The Process. With the right trigger (RT), you can pause the game and plan out your actions. Then hit the right trigger again to execute your plan. Combat proceeds in real-time as your cooldown restores your option to go into pause/plan mode again. It’s a nice balance for someone like me who isn’t typically interested in turn-based combat, and a bit reminiscent of Bioware games like Mass Effect which has a similar balance of paused-planning vs real-time combat. The game also have a huge variety of Functions (essentially, the game’s jargon for weapons), which, in the context of the story, are characters whose consciousness are uploaded into the Transistor.

These Functions can be equipped as one of your four main weapon slots, or be used to augment other Functions or as passive enhancers. So with all the various Functions available, there’s a multitude of ways you can mix and match all the different skills and upgrades to your attacks. It’s quite fun trying out the various combinations to see which ones are best suited for my play-style.

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The story, or its narrative devices of Transistor is the kind of thing that different people might have differing opinions on. To me, I do find the premise and world-building to be excellent and gripping. But the actual story that runs within it leaves something to be desired. Many elements of the plot are vague, perhaps intentionally so. But the cost of this vagueness is that we lack the emotional investment of the characters. The main voice acting comes from the Transistor itself, talking to the mostly-silent Red (she lost her voice), and making comments about the things she sees and does throughout the levels. But during character moments, like when the Transistor talks about Red’s past actions, or hopes, or desires, seem vague and out-of-context. So it wasn’t as easy to care about the characters as I did in Bastion.

Almost all other characters besides Red and the Transistor are encountered when they’re already `dead’ and absorbed into the Transistor as the aforementioned Functions. While each of the character/Functions have their own backstory, we only learn about them through flavour-text within the in-game menu. So, it’s kinda sad that we hardly ever see Red or the Transistor interact with the other Functions. This was quite a departure from Bastion, where we do meet some side-characters, and even get to interact with them.

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Nevertheless, the artwork and music more than makes up for it’s lack of story. Every single level was drawn with exquisite detail and the entire game looks breathtakingly gorgeous. I found myself taking screenshots of the game every few minutes as potential desktop wallpapers.

Despite it’s vague story, the gameplay and beautiful art style makes Transistor a great game. It’s not often that I like a game for its mechanics more than its story, and its game mechanics is definitely an improved and expanded version  of what they did in Bastion. And so far Supergiant has maintained a solid track record of making great looking games in fascinating worlds across different genres. I can’t wait to see their next game.