Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Scanner Darkly (BOOK)

A Scanner Darkly is a SCI-FI novel written by Philip K. Dick, who has established himself as a renowned sci-fi author along with others such as Isaac Asimov.

The plot goes something like this: Fred is an undercover agent who is trying to find the source of an illegal drug called Substance D. Bob Arctor is a Substance D addict, but he is really Fred undercover. However, it gets confusing as a story since you don't really know when Fred knows he's Bob Arctor, or when Bob Arctor knows he is Fred. It appears that he knows his double role at the beginning of the story, but by the end it is finally made apparent that Fred doesn't know he was Bob Arctor at all. This is due to Substance D splitting the brain into two distinct entities.

The plot progression, if there's any, is almost non-existent. The whole story is basically four druggies talking nonsense and driving around Southern California being spaced out. There are a couple of memorable scenes, but other than that, it's hard to find a real plot.

The ending was good, although I expected it right before it happened.

Overall, it's a decent book, but I found it hard what to figure out what point of view the author was trying to give the reader. It's hard to understand the situation when you don't know the characters' identities.

Worth Reading? You can skip it.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

La Croix Pan Nominations

So AGS has an award ceremony every January/February for the most distinguished AGS games of the past year. And, the nominations for this award ceremony have just been announced. There are a total of 17 categories and I'm happy to say that La Croix Pan has five nominations, but they are in the categories I expected.

Best Background Art
Best Short Game
Best Animation
Best Programming
Best Use of Sound
La Croix Pan


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Friday, January 25, 2008

LA Has Weather

I actually added up all the numbers to make sure it was one-hundred. And I know some of you out there will be all like, 'but dry and windy is the same thing!'


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Beneath a Steel Sky

Beneath a Steel Sky by Revolution Software (1994)

One interesting thing about the graphics is that most of the backgrounds use vanishing points that are well off the top of the screen. This allows the characters to walk around quite freely without scaling--an interesting design choice.
Another thing I noticed is just how short the game is. It can probably be beaten in 2-3 hours, but then again, so can most old adventure games nowadays.
It's also interesting to note the direction of the game's atmosphere. The story and themes itself are quite dark, but many of the character sprites and music tracks are comical in nature. I'm not sure if these two balancing acts are a good or bad thing.

What's wrong with this game
The Intro: it doesn't really explain what's happening. You are a prisoner being taken back from the wilderness when your helicopter crashes, but for all you know, it could've just been a joy ride by three happy-go-lucky mechanics on lunch break.
The Puzzle-Design:
2 instances (out of many) where the puzzle design fails -
1 - You are supposed to go inside this cathedral (but the game never tells you that, it's just one of those problems that you solve out of knowing it's a problem) blocked by a guard. So in order to do so you must:
- Take a videotape of a cat from a fat man's apartment.
- Tell a lady that you are the long lost son of her old friend (which is true by the way).
- Go up into her apartment since you now are friends.
- Use the cat video tape on their television in order to distract the dog.
- While the dog is distracted you must take a biscuit from his dish.
- Back outside when the dog is on a routine walk you must put the biscuit on a seesaw device.
- When the dog goes for the biscuit you must pull up the lever and launch him off the seesaw.
- This causes the lady to scream for help, so the guard comes to her rescue and you are free to go into the cathedral for which you have no reason of entering.
And that's all for distracting a guard, of which you have no real reason to do in the first place, nor even the logical incentive to complete any of those tasks above and connect them together.
2 - You need to get past an enemy android who is in the next room, so you must:
- Go below that room and loosen a grate.
- Repair your broken computer friend by inserting his data chip into a new robot shell.
- Tell this robot to open a tank of liquid which will create a mess.
- Now that the mess is there, enter the room with the enemy android.
- Since the enemy android sees that there is a pool of liquid on his closest route to your destruction, he decides to side-step that route into the loose grate that goes into a lava pit of doom.
Now, you had no idea of knowing that the mess of liquid would block the android's path, among other things.
Other Puzzle-Design Problems:
Unnecessary pixel hunts, in at least two locations.
Sudden deaths without any prior warning.
An increasingly linear middle section that uses seemingly unconnected puzzles to advance.
Doing many things without knowing why or how they help you reach your goal.
The Story Progression:
Not enough is explained at the beginning, and your goal changes from getting out of the city to saving it quite unknowingly.

In conclusion, Beneath A Steel Sky is an immersing game with some good ideas but fails to execute them into an enjoyable experience. The story as a whole is great, but its progression suffers somewhat. The game play has some good ideas with Joey and the computer world, but most of this is negated by other illogical puzzles.
Worth Playing? If you are a sucker for atmosphere, and can stand illogical puzzles.

Beneath a Steel Sky

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Friday, January 11, 2008

New Story

I wrote a short science fiction story. It's only dialogue.

It's called Chat Room.

Read it please. And comment.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Logan's Run (1976)

The more I watch SCI-FI, the more I see the same plot-lines and elements repeating themselves. No, I'm not bashing any specific movie here or accusing them of copyright-infringement--I just thought it's interesting to see how these same plot elements continually resurface in the SCI-FI genre, either by accident, or because it's just an integral part of the genre.

Other Works that have something in common with Logan's Run
Minority Report - Both have the main character do a job, then become the victim of his old job, and then try to run away from it.
Blade Runner - Both main characters are contracted to kill special beings.
The Giver - Both main characters live in a perfect world that has a dirty secret.
Portal - You're in a dome, and you must escape by going through the unseen sections of machinery and junk.
1984 - Living in a world with no escape, you hear of a rebel organization on the outside and must escape.
Planet of the Apes - Dystopian future that uses famous landmarks to showcase time's effect on the world.
Aeon Flux - The whole world is trapped in a dome and people become "renewed."
Minority Report and 1984 again - Right before the end the main character seems to be on the losing end, and miraculously gets out of the jam (or in 1984's case... *SPOILERS! NOO!*)
Brave New World - Babies in bottles, absence of marriage, something else I can't remember.

There's probably more, but that's ALOT of stuff in common with only one movie, Logan's Run. As for the movie itself, it was okay, I liked it, but everything it did has been done better in other movies, books, and video games... namely the ones above. And I was thinking, if this movie was remade, it would probably be better, and then I was like, "Woah!"

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green (1973) is a science fiction movie set in New York around 2015. It stars Charlton Heston who must solve the murder of the director of the world's most valuable food product, Soylent Green.

The movie has lots of interesting ideas, but it felt to me that they could've payed off in a more interesting and developed screenplay. The first 30 minutes basically have Charlton Heston going around trying to do whatever he wants because he's a selfish guy who doesn't get enough to eat at night. Then the next 30 minutes have him interrogate more suspects which isn't really that interesting. If you can sit through the whole exposition, the ending is worth it.

Basically, Soylent Green is a worse version of Planet of the Apes, the latter of which is a totally awesome movie.
Worth Watching? Only if you have the patience to sit through to the end where the only real pay-off is.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Star Trek 25th Anniversary

Star Trek 25th Anniversary: A Review
(It's a video game.)

The Good:
- The puzzle design for the most part is good, but most of the solutions are unnecessarily vague and too brutal for the common player.
- The ship combat is well-done and an inventive way to incorporate more Star Trek Elements into a Star Trek game.
- Creating multiple solutions and choices that have meaning in each mission is a great idea. The only downside is that two seemingly equal good choices can have drastically different effects on the outcome of the mission. This is bad for perfectionists who must get 100%.
- Continuing the 100% mission rating, there are some things that you must do in order to get 100% that you would never do beforehand unless you had a walkthrough or some-odd.
- The other characters that come with Kirk are well utilized in game-play by using them on other objects, and as sidekicks.

The Bad:
- Kirk and the gang would constantly walk to the center of each room after entering or completing a task. This is an unnecessary feature that just irritates me when I need to get places faster.
- The character's walking ANIMATION unnecessarily slows down with the walking SPEED when scaled down, both of which should probably be raised. Also, the rooms were poorly designed so that the characters scale upwards of 100% creating blocky shapes.
- The interface requires too many clicks for each simple task. First you have to right click to select your action. Then you have to move your mouse and left click to select your cursor. Then you have to find your hotspot to use it. If you want to do so again or with another cursor mode, you have to repeat it. That's 3 Clicks for every potential different action. Lucas Arts had a two click, or keyboard + 1 mouse click system, and Sierra had a pop-up GUI for a two-click system, or a right click system that would stay on the mode you chose. When you play an adventure game for hours, every little click adds up. ST25's interface just takes up too much time in the long-run for the entire span of the game.
- Having both an inventory item for McCoy and Spock, and the ability to use them on any object seems redundant. You don't know whether you should be using the device, or the character on the object you're looking at.
- Sometimes using characters on objects would be backwards. I tried for the longest time to have SPOCK interact with a science console, when I really needed KIRK to interact with the console, so then SPOCK would go over there when I had told KIRK to go there.
- Too many actions that seem to make sense give no feedback to the player, leaving him in the darkness of what to do.
- It's too hard to tell what hotspots are interact-able, and to distinguish between the interact-able ones, especially when they are grouped together in one blob. You don't know if it's a single hotspot or several hotspots touching each other. Fix this by adding a hotspot indicator GUI.
- More often times than not, I have no idea what to do or how to do it. The player is often times only told once of his goal, and forgetful people like me need reminders otherwise I have no clue what I'm doing. In one situation, I THOUGHT (because in this game, the designers want the player to come up with their own goals by interacting with the environment, which might be fun if the interface wasn't as unresponsive as it is)--I was saying, I THOUGHT I had to make a poisonous gas. But I had no idea how to do this. I was presented with several consoles and machines, and different ways of using them, and the only way I could figure out how to use them was by using Dr. McCoy on them, but he just gave me some unintelligible answer that needed to be described in LAYMAN'S TERMS for me. Most of the mission goals were just so vague and I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing.
- Many of the exits are poorly designed, leaving no sense of direction to the player, or letting them know that another room even exists in that direction.
- It's too hard to tell that you can combine inventory items. When it doesn't work, the game just switches to the other inventory item, causing me to think that the combine feature never existed.
- The difference between USE and GET is indistinguishable. Sometimes both are interchangeable, other times not so.

Anyway, I'm sorry to say I wrote this review without completing the game, because the final space battle is ridiculously hard, and it took me about fifty tries to go from 3 (enemies) vs me, to 1 on 1, and then it took me about twenty tries to give up, because the enemy was circling me and sitting on my head the whole battle. He would only pop out about once every 3 minutes, for a two second interval. And then, I didn't even know if my damage was properly registering, or he was just healing and recharging his shields every pass, causing all of my actions to be futile, thus inciting my choice to give up.

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Kingdom in 5 sentences

Some terrorists kill people in Saudi Arabia and merrily have a kid record it on a cam-recorder (after a 5 minute history lesson intro).

For thirty minutes, Jamie Foxx and his friends talk about why they should but cant go to Saudi Arabia.

Jamie Foxx and his friends go to Saudi Arabia and sit in a Gym while talking about solving crimes and catching terrorists.

Jamie Foxx and his friends exit the Gym and go around in black SUVs trying to enact an episode of CSI.

After one hour and thirty minutes of barely anything happening, there's a 30 minute action scene that contains all of the trailer footage for the movie.


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