Greg Hunter

Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

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 »

A Toy A Day Keeps The Doldrums Away

In Comics, Games, Personal Tech, The Internet on December 20, 2009 at 5:42 AM

Revisiting your childhood playthings means preparing for disappointment. Play-Doh doesn’t taste as good as you remember, or you realize that Legos are basically lots and lots of choking parts. So how does a member of the working world blow off some steam without tarnishing the past–or worse, resorting to the incessant clicking of a Newton’s Cradle?

Stop it!

Luckily, there’s a blog for that. Toy-A-Day posts downloadable blueprints for paper toys you can assemble yourself with some simple cutting and folding.

Cut loose, DIY-style, and without the baggage. Even if you’ve outgrown Doctor Octopus (I haven’t), you can make your own Mr. Natural!

Or Gorbachev.

Game Review: Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!

In Games on October 5, 2009 at 8:24 PM

headerDangerous High School Girls in Trouble! purports to be a lot of things–a board game, a role-playing game, a morality play. More than any of those things, though, it stands out as one of those rare works that doesn’t just defy such classifications; it redefines them. It’s influences are numerous and easy to spot, yet it never plays like any other game, or unfolds like any other story. It’s a portrait of a bygone era, a celebration of female power, and a condemnation of the societal forces that try to cork that power. Oh, and it’s really, really good.

At its heart, DHSGIT is a Scoob n’ the Gang coming of age story along the lines of Harry Potter or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At the beginning of the game, the player selects a primary avatar, or “queen”, from a list of available characters, and is plopped down in 1920’s-era Brighton High School to build up her “gang” of henchwomen. The school seems dysfunctional enough, but Brighton’s problems run much deeper, and extend much farther, than the girls (or the player) could possibly expect. As the girls leave the schoolyard, mysteries of malfunctioning bleachers give way to malfunctioning police forces, marriages, and social mores. It’s a dark and sordid tale, for sure, (one online retailer even refused to carry it due to its content) but the game’s winning sense of humor cuts through all the black. Like all the best comedies, DHSGIT frees author and audience to stare down some seriously ugly demons, and laugh. Read the rest of this entry »

Game Review: The Shivah

In Games on September 15, 2009 at 9:00 PM

_resizeThere are a lot of reasons I’ve been playing mostly adventure games, lately (and I’m going to save most of them for a later post) but one of the more practical reasons is that there are a lot of them are either free or very cheap. Since the heyday of the genre ended about ten years ago, and demand is low, even new games are inexpensive compared to the latest Rockstar release. Also, thanks to the freeware Adventure Games Studio, anyone with enough time and basic coding knowledge can develop his/her own point-and-click adventure and post it on the AGS website, usually for free.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been poking around AGS forums looking for the best of the best. Among these games, two developers’ names come up often, Ben Croshaw, author of the Trilby survival-horror series, and Dave Gilbert, founder of indie adventure label WadjetEye Games. Both are very good, but in my opinion, Gilbert, one of the few AGS devs to charge money for his games, is the best.

Gilbert’s most famous game, The Shivah, is a mainstay in the ongoing discussion of “games as art” and mature gaming in general. Said discussion is mostly useless, in my opinion, and “art-gamers”, as they like to call themselves, have a bad habit of putting heavy-handed writing and high-mindedness before fun, but The Shivah really is something special. Rarely have a well-written, thoughtful story and immersive gameplay been combined so effectively. 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 »

Great Games You Can Play For Free: Ben There, Dan That!

In Games on September 9, 2009 at 5:27 AM

Ben There Dan That 1It’s no coincidence that the second installment in GGYCPFF is, like the first, a send-up to a bygone age of gaming. For the past few years, nostalgia has fueled a lot of young developers’ early projects. Necessity is no doubt an inspiration for these kinds of projects–“retro” is cheaper and easier to code–but a deep, abiding love for the games of the past resides at the heart of all of them, good or bad.

Unlike games like Cave Story, whose retro facades cover more sophisticated designs, Ben There, Dan That! wears its heart on its sleeve. It is, unabashedly, little more than a LucasArts adventure game tribute. And that’s totally okay, because at its best, it’s every bit as novel and entertaining as classics like The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle.

In keeping with these classics, the games’s premise is casually absurd. After being struck by lighting trying to tune into the latest rerun of Magnum P.I., Ben and Dan (avatars for the game’s real-life designers, Ben and Dan), are abducted by aliens and imprisoned in a hallway full of doors to other dimensions. Much adventuring ensues. Read the rest of this entry »

Introduction to the Legosphere

In Games on September 8, 2009 at 2:24 PM

Picture 6

This was the headline photo a few days ago from the Times. I thought this is as good a time as any to give an introduction to the wide world Lego enthusiasts have built for themselves on the internet (Go here to read some reactions to the article. Favorite quote from the comments: “I was surprised that only 10% of sets go to adults. Bugged that lego calls us bizarre but, yeah I guess they’re right.”). Some of them take themselves too seriously, but most are a jovial lot of middle aged men (usually engineers and high school math teachers it seems) who just never got tired of building with legos. While half of the works I’ve seen fall into the corny and mediocre, the overall quality and artistry is surprisingly high. Below are a list of my favorite blogs:

The Brothers Brick: The Target of Lego blogs. They’ve got everything, and it’s all a little nicer than Wal-Mart. Most of the posts feature photos of user-submitted creations. They’re impressive, and the site has impressively organized them. Interested in Star Wars diorama? Perhaps abstract sculpture? It’s tagged there. In addition to user content, there are copious interviews with prolific and skilled modelers and occasionally some breaking Lego news…

LEGO Fun: Some Lego enthusiasts are particularly interested in the minifigs that Lego produces—you know the knobby headed, smiling, yellow Lego people. In addition to modifying Lego’s own creations, they make their own somehow. In addition they photograph them in different situations.

Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Play: Canabalt

In Games on September 4, 2009 at 10:22 PM

No Kung-Fu, just jumping

TIGSource friend and solo developer Adam Atomic has put together a great one-button flash game called Canabalt, in which the protagonist, a mysterious man in black with Matrix-esque running and jumping capabilities, attempts a daring escape from some sort of urban dystopian disaster site. He runs, you hit the jump button. Mesmerizing, really.

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 »

The Illustrious Archives of Dragon Magazine

In Games on August 26, 2009 at 1:27 AM

Want: ice-breathing robo steed (I have no idea why this caption keeps appearing at the top of my post)

Definitely imagined doing this four or five times.
I never subscribed to Dragon–at the peak of my Dungeons & Dragons mania, I was a year or so out from my first real job, and needed that $14.95 for essentials like the Epic Level Handbook and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, books that cost roughly quadruple that–but every once in a while, I picked up an issue to fill the gaps between bigger purchases. Still, even such minimal contact with the magazine ranks high on my list of nerdiest acts of nerddom, mostly because the magazine was so bad. Reading Dragon was never informative, indeed it was rarely even enjoyable as most magazines are meant to be. It was a stopgap, a quick fix, an excuse for thinking about D&D when I couldn’t actually play it–it was RPG porn.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic to find a few old issues at a local flea market, dating from 1989-1991. (For anyone who doesn’t know, flea markets are home to some of the greatest concentrations of early nerd artifacts anywhere.) Along with a timely review of the recently re-released Curse of Monkey Island (original retail: $69.95 with VGA graphics upgrade), I found a few pages I thought were worth sharing. More, including a *Free Printable Crossword Puzzle!*, after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »