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I haven’t used word press for a long time. Yes, I am still around.

Lack of Compassion

While I’ve seen many disturbing things the last six months (“secret” highway building, etc.), I think nothing has been as disturbing as the growing lack of compassion I have seen in family and friends.

?!? What the #$%^? has been my reaction to this.

The times are scary, so I can see why when one is worried about finances, sure, one tends to worry about oneself first. And as far as I can tell everyone is worried about finances: falling house values, losing equity loans, losing money in the stock market, lay offs, worries about one’s job, less ready cash to spend, foreclosures, extremely high unemployment, paying more on your mortgage than your house is now worth, rising rents, shrinking pensions, store closures, bank bailouts, the new homeless, etc., etc.

BUT IT IS HAPPENING TO EVERYONE. It is not just YOUR worry – it is happening to everyone. In other words, we are all in this together.

So you would think there would be compassion for those in need, for those laid off, for those foreclosed on, for those on the brink. Only that is not what, on the whole, I have been seeing. I’ve seen fear, yes. I’ve seen anxiety, yes. I’ve seen busyness, yes. I’ve seen obliviousness, yes. It is like people are trodding down their same old paths and trying very hard to ignore what is going on. Pretending things will be okay. Pretending it is only happening to “them.” Not here, not right now to me, not to us. I’m okay, we’re okay. Sure, we lost (fill in the blank), but we are hanging in there. Okay, I made some mistakes, but I am recovering. Or I have a plan for recovery.

Seeing what is happening as a personal misfortune or misstep may be partly why there is an increasing lack of compassion. If you don’t see it as happening to all of us, if you don’t see it as all of us being in this together, then it’s a us-them situation.

So many people are one paycheck away from disaster. So many people WERE one paycheck away from disaster. They are now in the disaster area.

Two examples.

I go to a church that is big on compassion, right wingers call us secular humanists, but we are big on compassion. At a luncheon about four months ago, a group of us got together that had once been in a bi-monthly discussion group. A woman, there, older, was complaining about the homeless woman that was sleeping in her yard now and then. I had always seen this older woman as compassionate, but now, no, she wasn’t. She was more worried about the inconvenience, than having any concern about the woman. Somehow the homeless woman had lost her job and then her apartment, and she wanted to stay in the area, so she could visit her mother who was in a local nursing home. The older woman could have directed the homeless woman to local social services, a local non-profit that helps the homeless, our church, anything. Instead, she wanted her out of her yard and refused to talk to her.

Okay, maybe, bottom line it was fear. The older woman lives on a fixed income. But she has two sons that help her out, so she is not likely to become homeless herself. Although the fear could be there.

Her lack of compassion astounded me. So I directed the conversation about what could be done for the homeless woman. Others piped in.

The next instance was another woman at my church, again, older. She wanted to start a class on sustainability for our environmental group. Then she decided against it, because it was really about living within your income and she saw most of our church members as being too well off to care. I had a discussion with her after church one day, and we discussed all the foreclosures and she said it was people’s attitude toward money that had gotten them into trouble. That SHE’D always stayed within her income and others SHOULD too. I was rather astounded at her lack of compassion too.

There is some truth what she said. On the other hand, I am sure lots of people who were foreclosed on were one paycheck away from disaster. Then they lost their jobs and disaster hit – they could no longer pay their bills, including their mortgage.

According to recent government figures there are currently 10 million unemployed in the US.

10 MILLION, 10 MILLION, 10 MILLION.

That makes me blink. Does that make you blink?

Can’t we do better than “blaming the victim?” The victim of circumstances beyond their control? Of massive shiftings in the national/global financial world that seem beyond anyone’s individual control? (See above for the long list.)

We do seem to all be in this together.

So I say, let’s bring back compassion.

Some New Health Stuff

I occassionally read some trashy women’s magazines, low-brow, the ones next to the supermarket check out counter (Woman’s World, First). But what I get a kick out of is the health stuff strewn through out these magazines in side boxes and sidebars. Interestingly I have found most are accurate and up-to-date reports of recent studies. (Some editors obviously subscribe to several health somethings and grab information as fillers.) I have always been interested in  health/medical advances.

Insomnia — Nightwave light — Watch an expanding/contracting blue light projected on the ceiling to ease yourself to sleep. Harvard study has also found blue light can reset ones body rhythms. I have not tried this.

http://www.nightwave.co.uk/

http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2006/02.09/01-blue.html

Menopause/Hot Flashes – A new procedure called the Stellate Ganglion Block may end hot flashes forever. Actually it’s not a new procedure, it’s been used in the past as a nerve block for neck and shoulder injuries. An anesthetic is in injected into the stellate ganglia (which also regulates internal body temperature) and it can reset the body’s thermostat (which is what seems to go haywire when women’s hormones drop off to nothing). Less anaesthetic is used than for a nerve block and feeling is not reduced. This is very promising. I have not tried it.

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jwh.2005.14.737

Q-10 – Not that new, but relatively new. Co-enzyme Q-10 as a heart protector and energy booster. Deals with free radicals. There has been some research done on this, but I am not going to google it to give you a link (google yourself ;-)). I am pretty sure there are no negative side effects. I have tried this and my energy level definitely seemed to increase. I have to add that I am not very suggestible (I have high sales resistance) and tend not to try something unless some study has been done to indicate it is worth while and not total hype.

That’s it for now.

IF Comp 2007 – Lost Pig, Across the Stars

 Voting

I said I had two more games I wanted to play. Well, it was Across and one another. But I finished the other one so quickly I decided to play a few more. I have played a few more, but I am only going to review/critique/comment on two more.

Also, as we near the end, I tend to adjust my votes. Which is why my numerical votes are not published here. Before when I did comp reviews, the last seemingly six years ago, I wrote them all up with numerical scores and only published them in rgif once the deadline was over. I used a four point judging system, the four P’s:  plot, prose, programming, and puzzles. I would award 1-10 points for each. Add the total and divide by four to arrive at a 1-10 overall score.

This year, because I started writing as I played and voted (because of the change in the comp web page), I knew I would change some of my numerical votes up or down later. So there was no point in publishing them, because they would have changed.

I adjust my scores to help ensure the one I wanted to come in at the top comes in at the top, and to help ensure the one I wanted to come in at the bottom comes in at the bottom. Not that one vote can affect the outcome, but I try. ;-) I also adjust to spread out my own votes — I tend to bell curve, with maybe one ten and one one and the majority hovering around above and below five — what I consider average. Though I don’t usually have that many fives, because not that many games are really average.

This year I found myself adjusting Pack Rat much further up than its programming really warranted, simply because I enjoyed it more than most. I also adjusted I am Jack Mills up further than I felt its shallowness warranted, because I also enjoyed it more than many others. I also adjusted some others down and up, but those two benefited the most from my final adjustment.

In the end, there were really only a handful of comps games I enjoyed. Sure some were okay, and some were not too bad, but in the end, I look for enjoyment above all else.  (And when I used the four P method, I’d find myself adjusting for enjoyment as well, which made the four P method  questionable, since I’d have to adjust one or two of the four P’s up or down to compensate.)

So I enjoyed…

Lost Pig

It wasn’t very long before I was into this game that I knew an experienced Iffer had written it. It had a “zarfian” quality, in other words, it had a response to everything I tried. And not just “that doesn’t accomplish anything” type of response (although I ran into one or two), more along the lines of “you try that and blah, blah.” Those paying attention to Live Journal will know who the author is, I don’t, so I didn’t.. at first. It’s not zarf, but it is someone who has been around the Iffy block.

You are Grunk, an orc, big, green, and stupid, and you’ve lost a pig. And not your pig, so you have to get it back. At first the dumbed down dialect annoyed me, but the more I played (and ALL the responses had Grunk-speech, not default library messages) the more I liked it. Especially when chasing the pig around, which I suspected might be a bit smarter than Grunk. Grunk also ends up being rather endearingly child-like, curious and good-natured. After all, its not his fault that he’s big, green, and stupid — it just comes with the territory.

I found the other NPC in the game not nearly as well-drawn, although he is mainly a talking head, sitting in one place to answer Grunk’s questions. But I felt he could have been made to have a tad more character as well. Grunk really overshadows him.

Because this game has a response to just about everything (I would say everything, but I didn’t try everything), it is a good game. The sort of game one can trust. This is what Infocom games had going for them that modern IF often lacks, trust. Trust that the game isn’t buggy, trust that you can work at the puzzles, trust that you can solve them by trying different things and finding out what will work from what doesn’t work, and trust that the puzzles will be well-clued and not some obscure idea in the author’s head. So I leaned back, relaxed, worked at the puzzles, and enjoyed the game.

However, I still got stumped about 3-4 times. But I suspect if I didn’t feel in a rush to finish games and had more time to work at it, I would have solved most of them on my own because all the hints are there. Although sometimes the depth of response ended up being very misleading, creating red herrings. SPOILER ON. I put the green pole in the statue’s upraised hand. And because I could, for a long time I thought that was the proper solution. Yes, there was a hint elsewhere that that was not it, but I could do it! I am not sure if this level of response shouldn’t be fine tuned to allow only one proper solution, or if the author wanted to mislead. And I am unsure if I would recommend changing that or not. Because in real life more than one solution will often work. I remain undecided about it — but it was often misleading. SPOILER OFF.

It is nice to see such a very well-crafted game in the comp. Overall I enjoyed it and seriously wished there was more. This could easily have been double the size, triple the size — the larger the better – I would have enjoyed it more with more. But a nice feature of Lost Pig is that one can win without getting all the points. I won with 6 out of 7. I am unsure what point I missed, but suspect where it was because there was a clue I never used.

I will give this high marks, but not top marks, because once I hit the main playing area, I felt it was a tad too short. Not quite complex enough. That seems a funny reason not to give it top marks, but the level of complexity in the game, the responses for everything, led me to expect more. That is one downside of excellent crafting. ;-)

Across the Stars

This isn’t really a two-hour game, at least, not for me. I have not finished it yet, but I have to move on and finish up my reviews and voting.

I started this game, failed at the first puzzle, and then put the game aside to play last. Because the first puzzle showed me that the puzzles were going to be difficult, but with decent cluing, and I really like spaceship scifi. However, I ended up enjoying it less than I had anticipated, mainly because it goes from science-fiction to a more obcure sort of fantasy. In fact, this game seemed unable to decide what it wanted to be — Star Trek, Indiana Jones, or The Illearth War. This overlapping of genres makes the puzzles much harder to solve than the authors probably thought they were, because there are clues in the prose. Only one is often unsure how to use them — go for a straight scientific approach?, go for a fantasy approach?, or go for a daredevil approach? It turned the fantasy approach would not work, but there is nothing really in the game, at least for quite a while, to say if it it will or will not.

There is a very good hint system, emphasis on hint (although solutions are offered too), and by use of it I was able to progress as far as I have to date. Sometimes all I need is a hint and that is why I hate having to resort to walkthrus. But I don’t like having to resort to hints either, and not so often.

I didn’t find any bugs, although I found some areas that could be improved, so it’s a pretty decent game overall. However, a great many of the puzzles are too difficult without either a lot more game play and/or a lot more cluing in the text. Several times I would go to hints and it would appear the authors felt I had been clued in the text, but I had missed it. It wasn’t obvious to me. SPOILER ON. Box – I had to ask someone how to get in the secret compartment to not be caught, even with hints and a walkthru. Why? Because once I took the card out of the slot, the box was rewebbed anyway. And if I unwebbed the box and moved it, I could not move it back. So there didn’t seem any point in going to such effort to reweb it and I did it the easy way. Something was wrong there, either I should have been able to move the box back, or the rewebbing sequence should have mentioned it also moved the box. Rune – The rune in the secret alcove wasn’t even mentioned in the room description. It was also not mentioned in the worm description, so I didn’t know there was a rune there to scan. I kept scanning the one outside the alcove. APU – when I went into the cargo hold, and asked Adar about the APU, she said it was aft, except I couldn’t go aft then. That response was appropriate for when I was in the cockpit, but not the cargo hold. There were quite a few things like that that could be caught with more betatesting and more work, more writing — those were just the only ones I wrote down. SPOILER OFF.

The game borders on the trite, I suppose, but not enough to worry me. I will give it decent marks for being a decent game, but I feel it could use more work. Not in the programming area, not even in the puzzle area, but in the prose area — to make the world encountered more believable and to add clues to the puzzles into the PROSE rather than into the HINT SYSTEM. A good hint system is simply great, but it is not really a substitute for good game writing and with Across I feel the authors ended up relying on it too heavily.

IF Comp 2007 – More Brief Mentions (Jack Mills, JDX, Mishmash)

Some of these mentions will be very brief. If you start from the beginning of my reviews, you can probably tell that I am running out of steam on analyzing games.

 The first I am voting for.

I am Jack Mills

I don’t have much pithy to say about this. I rather liked it, as I am fond of mysteries. I also rather liked encountering a “film noir” type of detective in the comp, but in the end I felt this game fell short of its promise. It is short and sort of shallow (not thin, but bordering on it), and a bit obscure. Overall, there is nothing seriously wrong with it, but it does need tightening up. That would raise it higher, closer to the “good” game bar.

You are a P.I. looking for a valuable, stolen Roman coin. The time period is not explicitly stated, but it could easily be the 1940′s/1950′s. However, as the player trying to find the coin, you may have to resort to walkthru more than you would like.

I liked how driving the car worked (the PC has to know of/about some location before he can drive there), I liked Jack Mill’s voice overs (not too intrusive, appropriate to the plot development, the player learns more because of them, and they are in italics to distinguish them), but I still found the puzzles too hard. Some of this was due to guess the verb, some was due to actions that seemed illogical, and some was due to the fact that there wasn’t really quite enough to do. So I feel this would be hard to win without the walkthru, although the walkthru isn’t required for every action/puzzle. However, I think this could be fixed. I would also suggest a little more “attitude” for the PC, so we get a better feeling of him as a character. And maybe more for the NPCs as well. More writing would add more meat to the story and improve it.

SPOILER ON. Guess the verb – When I encountered the container and the fire escape, I though, aha, supposed to get on container and climb ladder. Why not just call it a garbage can, by the way? Plastic containers were not prevalent in earlier time periods. But get on container would not work, etc., etc., so I had to look at the walkthru. I did see later that the in-game help commands mentioned climb, but a synonym of get on would be better. Opening the window with the knife – I tried opening the window and breaking the window with the knife. Some hint there would help because that is almost a guess the verb problem. Maybe a voice over from Jack after the player tries it two times, “The latch looks worn and old, probably the knife could pry it open.” Illogical — It seemed counter-intuitive for me to go and confront Geigner at the night club. I already knew he was a thief and a hood, what would confronting him with those facts get for me except broken knee caps? Somehow the idea of masquerading as someone else needs more lead in. I had to look at the walkthru there too because I am not fond of getting beat up, in games or elsewhere, so I tend to avoid it. :-) And actually, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to photograph someone through a window where they would spot me. Branches – I am not sure either that the plot branching works all that well in this game. I only played one, Violet’s offer, but it seemed to make the whole game way too short. SPOILER OFF.

This isn’t a “bad” game, but it also isn’t quite a “good” game, either. However, if the author will take more time to expand it a little more — more writing and attitude and tighten up the puzzles and plot inconsistencies, then I feel it just might fall into the latter category.

Jealousy Duel X

Nice graphics, some cute ideas, looks like it was a lot of work to make/write it, and not-my-cup-of-tea, again. In fact, many IF players will probably not like the CYOA/graphic approach. I also didn’t like the attitude toward women that seemed to be expressed in this game. Sorry, I didn’t. I know the PC is supposed to be bitter, but the girls at the bar were bad reflections also.

I only played long enough to cover the initial game map and to figure out that I probably could win it if I kept playing (although it seemed difficult). The goal was sort of stated, but it still wasn’t clear to me at first. However, I wasn’t really enjoying the laborious puzzle solving (being restricted to such simple choices makes it harder) and had no desire to keep working at it, er…, playing it.

Mishmash

And, boy, is it! This game irked me, though I didn’t take a strong dislike to it like I did to one other. I was more disappointed than disgusted.

The writing wasn’t bad, the plot seemed promising with intriguing ideas, I like science-fiction, I can even stand all the reruns of “Starship Troopers” on TBS, and I like virtual reality science-fiction. But, uh, after more than a couple of turns I wasn’t sure what this was. Or wasn’t. I suspect thought went into this, but be warned, when it comes to science-fiction, vagueness is no substitute for clear, good writing.

What is a cold suit? What is a node? Was I trooping? Was I virtual realitying? Was I the ghost in the machine? A computer bug?I don’t know. I had to use the walkthru for everything and after about 15-20 turns I gave up. I like to play, not watch (having to use a walkthru is watching). Also, not only was the surrounding reality, or lack of it, unclear, so was the goal. How the author expected me to deduce what to do is beyond me. SPOILER ON. How was I supposed to know getting into the crate was a good idea? Because how did I know that penetrating the factory further was what I wanted? SPOILER OFF.

In sci-fi one does not have to explain HOW some technology (unfamiliar to the reader/player) works, but, at the least, they do have to explain what it IS. There may be a good game here somewhere, but I didn’t find it.

P.S. Note that this is another game where more beta testing would have helped the author clarify the plot — another game that would have been greatly improved by it. See Ferrous Ring review.

IF Authors get a big break in the comp, because many judges are committed to finishing games regardless. Or finishing the games they started. Or finishing some games. But when a game is released outside the comp there is another standard, a more “real life” standard. When player confusion outweighs player motivation and/or enjoyment – the player simply stops playing.

IF Comp 2007 – Two Brief Mentions (Gathered, Press Escape)

I still have two games I want to finish playing, but I thought I would briefly mention two others.

Gathered in Darkness

This is a Quest game. I am not sure I have ever played a Quest game before. The interface is different (than I7 or TADS), but not bad. Actually, I was surprised to not dislike the interface.

However, I did really dislike the tiny red text on the black background (bad choice). Fortunately, through options that is changeable.

The writing seemed fine, the programming adequate, it didn’t feel buggy, but I soon stopped playing. Basically the story is not-my-cup-of-tea. Well, to be truthful I had inkling what kind of story it was going to be, so I took a quick look at some reviews and, yup, not for me.

Since I don’t like marking a game down based just on its content alone, and I didn’t really play this long enough to explore its writing and programming competence further, I will not vote on this.

Press Escape to Save

This game is seriously flawed, and yet it has some interesting/off beat ideas, and it seems good natured.  However, I couldn’t play far without resorting to the walkthru, and when it got even more complicated the walkthru essentially became required, not optional.

This game needed a lot more beta-testing to catch guess the verb problems, crashing problems, and obscure puzzle problems. Play testers can tell one when one’s puzzle ideas are not clear, and they need to be CLEAR, even if hard. Mushy puzzles are too hard for the player to get — if they are mushy in your own mind they will be mushy in others’. SPOILER ON. Guess the verb — Grab hand worked while take hand and hold hand did not. So I had to look at the walkthru to even get that verb right. Crashing — The game crashed on me when I went to sleep, woke up, and found the person touching my shoulder. I tried talking to him and it tried to go back to an earlier conversation (some flag set wrong), and produced endless screens of errors (array). That’s crashing, because I couldn’t undo it. Puzzles — The infinite corridor puzzle is non-intuitive, since touch wall is something most will not normally do and since so many other objects in the game yielded nothing unusual to the touch or could not even be examined. Therefore, that’s quite a leap. Also getting away from Jimmy, going backward, seemed counter-productive and I also had a lot of difficulty staying ahead of him, even with the walkthru. SPOILER OFF.

I liked the weird and inventive concepts in this game, but it needs LOTS more work before it will be a really playable game. However, since I stuck with it long enough and far enough, I will vote on it.

IF Comp 2007 – Orevore Courier

I have started a few more games I haven’t mentioned here, and voted on a few more games than I have mentioned here, but I am getting a bit tired of writing reviews. So it goes. Also I guess my reviews are really more critiques, intended for the authors, rather than reviews intended for players. Or an odd and uneasy mix of both.

There are two other two games as well that I have started and want to finish. Since the contest end is drawing nearer and I have other things to do, I suspect I will just play those two and let the rest go. But we shall see.

Orevore Courier

I didn’t make any notes while playing this so I could easily be off on something.

I enjoyed this and found it funny. Not wildly funny, but funny enough to have gotten a laugh or two out of me.

You are on a spaceship in the security control room with a console and buttons. This is actually a one-room game, but because other things happen in the rest of the ship, because there are NPCs, and because you can affect some of what happens on the rest of the ship, you really may not notice it at all. Anyway, this is one one-room game where I didn’t mind the one-roominess.

Game play is fast and the game is short. It also seriously violates an old axiom, expressed in Graham Nelson’s “A Game Player’s Bill of Rights” (but an axiom that he didn’t originate and one has been agreed to by many), that a player shouldn’t be able to learn some things only by dying first (i.e. not winning). Pshaw. This game almost makes that old axiom look silly. However, if the game was any longer then it could be very annoying. So the author cleverly keeps it just short enough that dying over and over (or not winning over and over) to gain new information seems okay, or at least not too irritating. So this is an unforgivable game the player can easily get it into an unwinnable state, things must be done in the correct order, miss one and you’re dead or fail.

If you play this over and over you probably can win, as you find out more with each failure. I enourage you to play it over and over. What you do with the console board is crucial. Also I found most of the dying (or not winning) amusing and it seems to differ based on what you do. I always like games where the dying is creative and amusing. Since it’s only a game, why not?

Basically, within this small story and short game there are several branches. I only made it through to three failures before I decided to go to walkthru. My time is limited, but I sort of wish I hadn’t done that, because when I did do the walkthru I had several Ahas! In my opinion, good puzzles have Ahas! (I don’t think all puzzles can have Ahas!, but it nice when a preponderance do.)

One thing I thought should have been better explained, SPOILER ON was the copy and xmit buttons. I thought they were sending it outside the ship to home base or something. I really, really missed that. Maybe it said something somewhere — probably if I examined the buttons. However, because the bad stuff starts happening quickly, I never really had time to X all the buttons. I think that might be improved a tad. Yet, on the other hand, the game does have to be kept short. Maybe just another turn or two allowed for examining at the beginning. SPOILER OFF.

I found no bugs, everything seemed to work well, it has slightly off the wall sense of humor, good and pretty good puzzles, and several branches. Although the writing is sparse, I felt thought had gone into it.

Worth playing and I am giving it fairly high marks, but not top marks because it IS short and… unfair. ;-)


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