(7) Wed Aug 25 2004 11:05 PST User Stories:
Explain to me why, outside of a puzzle, someone would boil eggs and then not use them and instead put them back in the fridge and somehow get them confused with non-boiled eggs and need a way of distinguishing boiled from non-. Who needs to stock up on hard-boiled eggs days in advance?
(12) Wed Aug 25 2004 13:30 PST Also, You Can Only Use A Barometer:
Since the last entry got so many comments, I would like to make this entry another in the same vein, because I like comments. How many ways can we come up with to distinguish hard-boiled eggs from regular eggs? No cost is too high, no preparation too elaborate. My contributions:
- The one from the previous entry, where you buy brown eggs especially for boiling and white eggs for leaving alone and not boiling.
- There's some way of distinguishing good eggs from bad eggs by holding it up to a candle or other bright light and looking at the size of the yolk or something. You should also be able to use this to distinguish boiled and raw eggs.
- Just crack the egg and, if it turns out to have been raw, go back in time and stop yourself from cracking it.
(11) Wed Aug 25 2004 20:14 PST Hubristic Game Roundup:
The good news is that, despite the presence of a couple of clones,
this Game Roundup has some of the best ideas and some of the nicest
implementations I've seen in a while. The bad news is that apart from
the fabulously bizarre but lightweight Komi and the unassuming
icebreaker, these games have Greek-tragedy-quality flaws--sometimes
trivial flaws--that make the games not worth playing. I will start
with the greatest tragedy of this roundup:
is a great Roguelike with Omega-like nonlinearity, excellent character
development for a Roguelike, and many wacky touches like randomly
generated dialogue, which throws it all away by being a mecha
game. Because it has the potential to be so great and its fatal flaw
is so simple, I am going to take this opportunity to make a detailed
argument about UI design which you can skip if you find it boring.
In case you came late to the party, a mecha is a Godzilla-sized
robot (such as, well, Mechagodzilla) operated by a person who is
usually riding in the robot. The point of a mecha game is to do a game
on a large scale, where you can crunch through entire cities wreaking
havoc. People who like mecha games also seem to like drawing lots of
pictures of mechas (mecha? mechae?), which is not my cup of tea, but
that is not relevant to this discussion.
In your standard Roguelike game, you push buttons to control a
simulated person. When you play a mecha game, you are pushing buttons
to control a simulation of a person pushing buttons to control a
second machine. Sometimes people have wacky ideas about what it would
look like to have a video game about playing a video game. Well, here you
have it. It looks like a mecha game, and it is annoying.
It doesn't have to be this way. Mechas are, by conceit of the
genre, vaguely humanoid. The best interface is therefore the one
you've spent your whole life using: your own body. Forgo the buttons
and use motion capture and force-feedback to tie your mecha's movement
to your own, as in Fiasco. Indeed, some mechas are refered to
as "suits", implying this very mechanic. In game terms, this would be
implemented by letting you use the same commands to move your mecha in
battle mode as you use to move yourself in non-battle mode.
If you absolutely need to simulate additional clunkiness (eg. so
you can have a notion of "current facing direction", as Gearhead
does), do it by reducing the directional key controls to the Clunky
Three: rotate left, rotate right, and thrust (move forward). This
time-honored trio shows up in innumerable games all the way back to
Spacewar, and nothing does a better job of connoting "the thing on the
screen does not represent you, only a machine you control". I don't
play a lot of mecha games, but this was used in the only one I ever
liked--a DOS play-by-modem maze chase that Andy and I used to play.
Gearhead, in the worst mecha game tradition, forgoes both these
mecha-motion strategies in favor of a menu system. When you're
just walking around with your feet, you can use the arrow keys to
move. But when it comes time to stand and fight mecha-style, you can't
directly move your mecha at all. Instead of letting you use the arrow
keys for left, right, and thrust, there is a menu system which
has options for left, right, and thrust. You use the arrow keys to
select your option from a menu, and hit enter to rotate or move. It's
Microsoft Mecha 98. Just don't do this! There's no reason to! Factor
out the aggravation for a better game.
Someone who likes mecha games might say that this is part of the
the game; the human is subsumed into the machine and must operate it
in clunkiness. I would say that misses the point. You are already
interacting with a machine in a clunky way. It's just that it's a real
machine, not a simulated one. Treat the player sitting at the computer
as though they were the character sitting in the mecha, and you've got
big mimesis wihout sacrificing usability. You can bet the character in
the game is not selecting "Rotate left" from a menu; it's not
that bad to drive a mecha. Take advantage of the clunkiness of
the standard Roguelike controls and kill two robo-birds with one
I've picked on Gearhead enough. As I said, I pick on it not because
it's a bad game but because it's a really, really good game made
virtually unplayable by a bad UI decision. It's a game where talking
to the world-weary shopkeeper is quick and fun, but where even small
battles play at a crawl. Admittedly I have a preference for the
world-weary shopkeeper type interaction, but that doesn't mean I want
the battles to be slow and hard to play.
- icebreaker is interesting
because of the skill with which it uses nice iconic graphics to
conceal the fact that it's another Qix clone until you actually start
playing. There's also a convenient
webpage which details all the ways in which this game is different
from Microsoft's Jezzball, pioneer of the mouse-based Qix clone.
As previously mentioned, this is a lot better
than KBounce. It has penguins--the bouncy balls are penguins and
you're trying to cut up their ice floes so they can be transported to
zoos or some lame excuse like that. I like the penguins, but I don't
like the linear way it gets harder, adding one penguin each time.
- Freebooters: Lovely
nonsensical name disguises a game that is more atmosphere than game by
a wide margin. It's set in the Caribbean region, and who's to say but
that certain piratical impulses might be indulged in the course of the
game. That's what it promises, anyway. What it delivers is a game
where you, a legitimate businessman, go from port to port buying and
selling rum and other commodities (in a welcome deviation from
realism, there is no slave-running). Occasionally you run into a
pirate ship and have it out, but the having-it-out action scenes have
weird controls and look like boats fighting in a bathtub. It reminds
me of a nautical version of North And South, but not as good. Great
graphics in the non-real-time parts of the game, though.
This game is a clone of "Pirates!", one of Sid Meier's
pre-Civilization games. There was a real chance here for the clone to
improve on the original, but it just plays like early Sid Meier, the
kind of game that would be fun if it were the late 80s and similar,
better games didn't exist yet.
is not actually a Qix clone, but I can't shake the feeling that it's
somehow homomorphic to Qix. You are a frog with an arbitrarily long
tongue, a frog who lives in a swamp--of madness! Alien spaceships and
vicious robins patrol the air, protecting the yummy fireflies that are
your food. To retrieve these morsels you must dare to expose your
tongue to the alien/robin joint assault for as long as it takes to
move your tongue up the screen and then back down--but wait! The water
itself teems with vicious herons who will peck at you, and fish that
will gobble you up! I'm taking liberties as to what the sprites are
supposed to be; they don't look like herons or fish or fireflies (but
they do look like alien spaceships). The web page says you are a
"space frog", which might explain things even as it makes things more
confusing. Anyway, it's very hectic and it's fun for a while.
- Laby: Fun
roguelike, very customizable with skillset. Has a kind of SNES feel to
it. Hard to find items, instant death got me twice. Really feels like
there's something missing in terms of game balance, but I still want
to play even though I know I'm just going to die. A little work could
turn this into a classic.
Mobsters has a great idea (mobsters come back from the dead in a
Marley-esque quest to undo the damage they did while alive... okay,
it's not quite that good) and excellent funny graphics, but it's way
too hard. The undeath factor explains the old video-game conundrum of
how you can take ten bullets to the chest and still live, but it
doesn't explain why your un-undead opponents have the same ability.
It's doubly frustrating when your opponents can fire off those ten
bullets all at once, while you're stuck with the crappy
one-bullet-on-the-screen-at-a-time gun they issued you in Mobster
Hell. Fix this, and you've got a fun shoot-em-up.