Greg Hunter

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Hoggy vs. VVVVVV

In Games on January 12, 2010 at 6:54 PM

It is too much for them to imagine that a discovery as remarkable as the telephone could arise in two places at once. But five people came up with the steamboat, and nine people came up with the telescope, and, if Gray had fallen into the Grand River along with Bell, some Joe Smith somewhere would likely have come up with the telephone instead and Ma Smith would have run the show. -Malcolm Gladwell, “In the Air”

If game design is an academic subject—and, let’s stop kidding ourselves: it isn’t—then John Raptis and Terry Cavanagh are this season’s Newton and Leibniz. Both recently released platform games (Raptis’s Hoggy and Cavanagh’s VVVVVV) centered around one single mechanic: instead of being able to jump, you have the ability to flip gravity, sending your protagonist from the floor to the ceiling or vice-versa. But while their central concept is the same, the two games really couldn’t be more different in execution.

As you'll note in this level, Hoggy's gravity-flipping doesn't affect enemies or other objects.

Hoggy, released a few months ago for the iPhone and iPod Touch, is very much a puzzle-platformer, and you guys know how I feel about puzzle-platformers (hint: I love them). The game comprises some 45 levels, which are accessed by jumping into jars scattered throughout a cavernous overworld, much like more recent Mario games. Each level holds some number of fruit, and the eponymous hero’s goal is to eat all of them.

The gameplay leans much more heavily towards puzzles rather than action. Hoggy moves left and right when you tilt the device, so Raptis kindly refrains from throwing too many timing- and precision-oriented challenges at you. In particular, the protagonist will refuse to ever jump off of an edge. Sometimes this is helpful, but often it forces you to take more circuitous routes via gravity-flipping. Read the rest of this entry »

Flashback!: The Lost Vikings

In Games on September 14, 2009 at 11:57 PM

Lost VikingsWe haven’t had an inaugural post in a while, have we? Here’s Flashback!, our new series (maybe) of articles on pretty old video games. Technically every game in this series will also be a GGYCPFF, assuming you’ve bought a computer since, like, 1997. But this one’s also about history, man. Starting us off is the The Lost Vikings, a game I knew about way back in the day thanks to Nintendo Power, but never actually played until last week. This is probably for the best: Jonah circa 1992 would have been crushed by a game like this.

In a schtick that’s become more popular lately, you control three characters with different sets of abilities. “Abilities” might be too generous, though, because each of the characters is seriously crippled compared to your average video game hero: Erik the Swift can jump (the other’s can’t), run faster than others, and headbutt certain objects and enemies; Baleog the Fierce can swing his sword and shoot arrows; Olaf the Stout has a shield which protects him (sometimes) and can be used to glide. Combined, they’re almost as powerful as Link after two dungeons of Link to the Past. Read the rest of this entry »

BOXGAME: Induced Epiphanies

In Games on August 27, 2009 at 9:06 PM

BOXGAMEI have maintained for a while that a good puzzle is one in which the maker notices something interesting, then tricks the player into noticing it as well. In some sense this is what cryptic crosswords are all about: each clue comes from a linguistic pun, and by decoding it the solver rediscovers the pun for himself.

There’s a scene in the crossword documentary Wordplay which only makes sense when you look at puzzles this way. Cruciverbalist Merl Reagle is shown driving around and commenting on interesting features of the words he sees: DUNKIN DONUTS, when you move the first D to the end of its word, becomes UNKIND DONUTS. NOAH’S ARK, with two letters transposed, becomes NO! A SHARK! When I watched this with some less puzzle-inclined friends, they chuckled at how insane the guy sounds. And this is true, until you realize that each of these bizarre facts is simply a puzzle that hasn’t been written yet.

So far, I’d only really thought of this model in terms of word puzzles, because that’s where it makes the most sense. It’s true that the maxim could also apply to most logic puzzles, because by solving these one discovers the sorts of lemmas I talked about earlier. But this sort of misses the point, because those lemmas aren’t usually observed by the creator beforehand. What I’m more interested is how puzzles can be used as a subtle communication of facts, and that communication is less exciting when the message is an inadvertent one.

That’s why I was delighted to discovered BOXGAME by indie developer Sophie Houlden. (You’ll have to install Unity to play, but don’t let that stop you.) While it plays like your average puzzle-platformer, you’ll need to make an interesting geometric observation if you want to be good enough to finish the game. This might be a good point for you to go play it for yourself, and see if you can figure out what I’m referring to.

Read the rest of this entry »

Challenge: Cosynonymous Names

In Puzzles on August 18, 2009 at 7:04 PM

Every now and then I’ll post a problem whose answer I may or may not know. In this case it’s more open-ended, but your job will always be the same: post solutions in the comments. For now, “winners” just get to feel smug, but later I might think of some kind of prize. (Whatever it is will be distributed retroactively, if that makes sense. So your early efforts won’t go unrewarded.)

A cosynonymous name is a full name in which the first and last names are not synonyms of each other, but are both synonyms of some other word. I first thought of this when I heard the name Rob Stein: both of his names are synonyms of “mug”.

Other examples include Josh Child, Bill Storm, Frank Savanna, and John Spaces. For each of these, try to find the linking word without consulting a thesaurus.

Reasonable female versions are harder to come up with, since most common female names that are also English words have very few synonyms, often falling into the category of flowers (Rose, Daisy, Amaryllis) or gems (Crystal, Ruby, Topaz). The best I’ve come up with is Dawn Flinch. Unlike the rest, however, I can’t find any evidence that someone with this name actually exists.

Challenge: Can you think of others? Bonus points if there’s a real person who has that name. Post your best results in the comments.

Grow vs. Lock & Key

In Games on August 17, 2009 at 9:27 PM

I think many of us in the puzzle world tend to underestimate how much of an impact thematic choices can have on the way a puzzle is solved. Today we’ll discuss two games (the first is really a series of games) whose underlying mechanics are logically very similar, but whose cosmetic differences significantly alter how the solver tackles them.

Grow CubeFirst up is Grow, an increasingly large set of puzzle games by ON. You may be familiar with these games already, as they’re rather popular in the casual gaming scene. (Heh.) The general idea is that you have a set of items which must be added to the playing field in a certain order. After each item is added, previous items can “level up” and interact with each other in certain ways. The goal is to choose the one correct order (though sometimes there are several), at which point… something will happen. It’s usually up for you to determine what the goal really is, and to figure out how the items interact. Read the rest of this entry »

Logic Skills, General and Specific

In Puzzles on August 12, 2009 at 9:23 PM

Logic puzzles, perhaps more than any other type of game, are an inherently solitary activity. Word puzzles such as crosswords are fun in groups; video games, even single-player ones, are prime topics for discussion and commiseration; single-player board games (Solitaire, for instance), invite spectators. But nobody ever wants to talk about logic puzzles for particularly long.

So the circumstances under which I’m now starting to blog about these puzzles are somewhat bizarre. The talks I’ve had with people about logic puzzles have been mostly summary: “Oh, you play Kenken?” “I used to be really into Minesweeper.” “You should try Honeycomb Hotel. It’s all I played after getting my wisdom teeth out.” Discussions of the finer points are rare, and attempts to solve in groups often lead to conflict, with one party accusing the other’s markings of being too sparse or too messy. All of this means that I have no idea what the general population knows about puzzles, so I apologize if the material herein is too basic or too esoteric. Please correct my course in the comments, if necessary. Read the rest of this entry »

You Really Should Be Playing Interactive Fiction

In Games on August 11, 2009 at 10:01 PM

Hear me out on this one. Interactive fiction, or the “text adventure”, is a terribly underappreciated form. It’s also one of the primary genres I’ll be blogging about, so this post will serve as an introduction.

Perhaps the best way to get introduced to the form is just to play it, so I’ll start with something of a beginner’s guide. First, you’ll need to get yourself an interpreter, a desktop client that you’ll use to open most IF files. For the Mac or Linux people (that’s all of us, right?), I recommend Zoom. For everyone else, if you exist (in which case: hi!), try Gargoyle. I hear that one’s good too.

Then you’ll need some games. Let’s see: Read the rest of this entry »