Monthly Archives: April 2008

Planet IF blog aggregator

Chris Armstrong has started up a "planet" aggregator for interactive fiction news: Planet IF.

This is simply a site which automatically distributes a whole range of IF-related blogs and news sites, including Brass Lantern, Emily Short's blog, Grand Text Auto, and many others. Bookmark Planet IF, or drop your favorite RSS reader onto it, for regular updates on the text adventure world.

(Nothing directly from me, but that's my fault; I don't have any IF-specific feeds.)

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Review: Cursor*10 (Flash)

Don’t be fooled be the simplistic black and white vector shapes. Cursor*10 is a very quick unique and challenging puzzle game that can be played in any web browser as long as it has Adobe Flash installed.cursorx10title.gif

Cursor*10 is a flash game made by Yoshio Ishii, who has made numerous games for Nekogames, using a simple point-and-click control scheme and a simple visual style that reminds me of old DOS and Atari games. Even though the website is Japanese, the game is in English and doesn’t require anyone to learn button combinations or advanced tactics. All the player needs is quick reflexes and a basic understanding of the game’s objectives.

The object of every level in Cursor*10 is to click on the staircase that goes to the floor above, eventually reaching the 16th floor. There is no main character to speak of; however your own mouse cursor could be considered a character in this game. When you start a level, there is a timer at the bottom-right corner that starts at 650 and continues to fall down towards 0 increasingly faster as the player tries to move through each floor. When the timer reaches 0, the first cursor explodes, the message “Cursor No. 2 ready” is showed, and the player restarts the entire game from the beginning. However, this time, Cursor No. 1’s movements and clicks are being replayed as Cursor No. 2 continues to move around, and when No. 3 is ready, its predecessors will be replayed and this continues throughout all 10 cursors. This gameplay mechanic is first used where there is a button on the ground that reveals a set of stairs when the button is pressed and disappears when that same button is released. This forces the player to use Cursor No. 1 to hold that button down until it explodes, then Cursor No. 2 repeats those floors, but this time, Cursor No. 1’s movements are being replayed, which includes holding that button down, giving Cursor No. 2 the chance to go up that flight of stairs and get closer to the 16th floor. The multiplicity strategy is used multiple times, such as another situation where a box needs to be clicked 99 times for the next staircase to be shown but there’s not enough time for 1 cursor to do it, so another cursor must sacrifice its life so the next cursor can make it through.

Out of all the games I’ve ever played in my life, I don’t remember a single one that uses this concept of the player dying and as they use replay the game, their previous actions are replayed in real time in such a way that they help themselves out. It’s a very short game that can be finished in less than 15 minutes once you understand what needs to be done to get to the staircase to the next level.

This makes me wonder if this concept of multiplicity can be implemented in future games; there’s been many interesting puzzle games involving changing your visual perspective of objects (e.g. EchoChrome, Crush, Super Paper Mario), matching specific color blocks (e.g. Audiosurf, Lumines, Dr. Mario) and even blending adventure with puzzles (e.g. Zack & Wiki, Professor Layton). Whatever happens, I’m glad that the puzzle genre is no longer limited to jig-saw puzzles, crosswords and Tetris-clones.

Cursor*10 is a short, fun and original flash puzzle game that is easy on the mind and can be easily played from beginning to end once the player remembers where the stairs are and where the buttons are.

Link: Cursor*10

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For folks with access to cable TV in Somerville, MA, I'll be appearing on an upcoming episode of Inside SCAT, a new show about stuff going on around the community access TV station that helps me produce The Gameshelf. The show airs Tuesday evenings at 7:30 on channel 3. I'm on either next Tuesday or the week after, depending upon how quickly stuff gets edited. Hurrah for community access TV!

I also got a chance to meet Danny Martinez, a Somerville High student who produces a weekly live TV show about video games called S'Ville Games. It airs every Tuesday at 3:30, and features call-in segments. Give it a watch, if you're in town!

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Aquarius drifting into the ether

According to the game's official mailing list, Looney Labs is letting Aquarius drift out of print for the time being, so that they can concentrate more on their core products, like Fluxx and Icehouse Treehouse.

This is kind of a bummer; when I first became a Looney fan around 1999, the game was their most recent release, and so it's always been closely tied to the company itself in my mind. It's the single game that best visually personifies the Looneys' "Hippie Game Company" self-image, with its colorful, Peter Max-esque artwork. And, while a lot of hobbyist-gamers I know roll their eyes at its many random factors, it's definintely the only Looney game that I can consistently get anyone in my family to play!

But, business is business, and I totally understand their decision. In the meantime, you can take Aquarius for a spin online at, or via Kory Heath's Javaquarius. If you dig it enough to want your own real-life deck, your best bet is to grab one from the Labs' online store, since they've stopped distributing it to retailers.

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Quick Links (Spring Cleaning Edition)

Not so much with the posting lately; a new (game-related!) project that I can't talk much about yet has sprouted in my middle of my life like a delicious and fecund springtime mushroom. You see what it's done to my sense of metaphor? You don't want to see my writing right now, anyway.

But for now, it's time to close some tabs!

The fellow got his hands on an ancient hard drive from the offices of Infocom, the long-defunct (but Cambridge-based!) publishers of the most well-known text adventure games in the 1980s. He shares some details from "the best parts", including design notes and swirling, dramatic internal emails regarding a never-released sequel to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Because this received so many links from more timely game-news blogs (cough), a lot of the Infocom alums mentioned in the story showed up in the attached comment thread to flesh out the details personally, and one of them's apparently been move to pen his own view of the saga for Wired magazine. (See? There is an advantage in waiting a week to link to it. Mm-hmm.)

Lost Cities is out for XBox 360 now (as a US$10 download), and here's a video (using some whackjob MS-proprietary format, sorry) about the team adapting the tabletop party game Wits & Wagers for the platform. Word on the street that the numba-one game on Microsoft's "Live Arcade" downloadable-game service is not any sort of action-fighty game, but Uno, which has put away around 1.5 million copies through it.

So, yes, Microsoft has thrown down and put forward this console as embracing the world of tabletop games that are more obscure to American audiences than Risk. The examples I've gotten to see so far have been fairly decent and faithful adaptations, so I cautiously salute this.

Archaeologists in Iran have indentified some grid-shaped rock carvings on Khark Island as being the play surface of a millenia-old board game. No word on what kind of game it was, though the article seems to imply that it could be some relative of Backgammon. No additional commentary from the original designers this time, sadly. Anyway, an interesting antidote to the last time Iran showed up in this blog.
Andrew at Grand Text Auto describes another interesting never-was game from the 1980s, an Atari VCS game where you had to program an on-screen robot to complete tasks, such as navigating a maze. Yes, it looks like a totally bomb-ass cool version of Secret Collect. I would have loved this. Apparently the original designer is releasing some homemade cartridges with the game software on it; see article for details.
Via Play This Thing, we see that several of Joe Dever's Lone Wolf pick-a-path adventure game books from the 1980s have become free downloads. I played and enjoyed these as a kid, and as Greg notes in that post, they're an important evolutionary step in the development of single-player role-playing experiences, even though nobody(?) is publishing books like them nowadays.
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As promised, the content of my April 22 presentation:

Game Genre and Game Interaction

Thanks to Joe Gilbert of the Scholars' Lab for inviting me to speak at UVA.

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Annoying Scientology with Battletoads

Do you remember the game Battletoads? It is one of the most difficult games I ever played in my life, and like Contra, you need a second player if you want to get through it without cheating or dying excessively.

The reason why I am mentioning it is because there has been a sudden explosion of rumors regarding a new Battletoads game for the Wii. The second I saw the YouTube trailer, I immediately suspected it was false. At first, I noticed that their fake trailer is simply composed of other Wii-related video clips and stolen 3D videos slapped together, with a announcer talking as if he was a monster truck derby. Also, they took clips from a Red Steel trailer, so a player is slashing the Wii remote like a sword, then they show a clip of one of the Battletoads jumping in the air. This makes no sense. They even mentioned that Battletoads would be on Virtual Console soon, which also made it seem more like a scam.battletoads1.gif

Battletoads was developed by Rare, who has left Nintendo, and is now making games for Microsoft! There was talk of having GoldenEye 007 on Virtual Console some time ago, however there are many legal rights between Microsoft owning Rare, Nintendo owning the game made by Rare, and Activision now owning the James Bond franchise itself. So in order for Nintendo to get GoldenEye 007 on Virtual Console, Microsoft, Rare, Nintendo and Activision must come to an agreement which they must all abide to. This is no different than if it was the Battletoads game, or even Banjo-Kazooie or Perfect Dark. They even made Perfect Dark Zero and currently working on a new Banjo-Kazooie game for Xbox 360 with no legal issues since Rare owns all the characters and they are both new games and not remakes or ports.

battletoads2.gifOn the fake preorder website, there is a phone number that changes randomly every time it is refreshed. Each number is a Church of Scientology in multiple cities. The idea is that the unsuspecting person calls their church, and when they say "Thank you for calling the Church of Scientology", the person would say "Scientology? I thought this is the number for preordering Battletoads" Can Scientology still operate if they get all these calls about Battletoads? Yes they can! survived a wave of Denial of Service attacks and they'll survive this wave of annoying calls.

I decided to write about this because this actually brought back good memories of when I used to play Battletoads & Double Dragon on SNES. I loved the soundtrack and it was cool to have more players to choose in this one. The giant toad fist that finishes off an enemy is always entertaining and never gets boring. The beat-em-up style and weird punk-style characters made the game stand out very well in an already-crowded video game market.

In summary, I don't believe a single word until Nintendo or Rare makes a statement proving otherwise.

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Interview with Rand Miller on Uru

Quick pointer to an audio interview with Rand Miller, conducted by Julian Murdoch of Gamers With Jobs, the day after Uru Live shut down.

Here's a text transcript by Uru players Generator, CrisGer, and Mara.

Not a lot of new specifics, but it's the best braindump we've gotten recently from behind Cyan's magic curtain.

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A rather frank Diplomacy ad

Diplomacy ad.pngHere's the top half of a banner ad for the latest edition of Diplomacy that I just spotted on BoardGameGeek. It's unclear whether this was designed by the BGG folks, or by Avalon Hill / Hasbro themselves, though there's no reason to think it isn't the latter case.

Even if that's so, I'm guessing it's a custom-produced ad for BGG, a very popular site with a huge slate of semi-apocryphal group-knowledge; all BGG fans know that Diplomacy's a great game that you should never play with anyone you care about. Even so, "buy this game because it will make you sad and alone" still seems an odd message to make so overt in your ad copy. It'd be like seeing an ad for Fluxx on BGG using the site's general attitude about that title: "Everyone in the world hates this game! How the hell have we sold almost 400,000 copies! Get yours today!"

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Bow Street Runner

Via Wonderland, I see that the web-based adventure game Bow Street Runner is complete, after growing in chapter-based installments for a while. A production of the UK's Channel 4, it's an interactive and deliciously lurid dramatization about the birth of the modern police force in 18th century London. It begins with your proto-cop sighing over a dandy who's gotten himself dead in a bad part of town, so off you go to interview the local prostitutes and drunks, and root through garbage troughs. I love it.

Its overall production quality is at least as good as any "CD-ROM game" one might have purchased 10 years ago, when many more companies were trying to turn a dollar by churning out the next big Myst-style hit. But in this case it's free and needs no installation, so I encourage you to give it a whirl if you like this sort of thing too.

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Kandy-Kolored custom dinos and other stuff

Starting to edit footage for the next couple of Gameshelf episodes. This is the first time I've done editing since launching this blog, so expect me to post some fun scraps from the cutting room floor while I work.

While I'm here, lemme close a couple of tabs that have been open in my own RSS reader for a while:

evoboard.jpgOn Boardgame News, Mary Dimercurio Prasad writes about customizing board games by making her own pieces from polymer clay, and includes a HOWTO guide. I would totally play Evo again if I got to use those extra-cute dinos.

From Play This Thing we learn of Ulillillia, a young man who creates deeply analytical/obsessive videos of digital game play. He narrates them with a bright drawl and subtle humor that reminds me of coming across intriguing radio stations while driving around rural Maine at night. Here is his YouTube channel, which includes his 20-part walkthrough of Ultima: Exodus, amongst other things.

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R.I.P. GameCube Memory Card

I've been playing lots of GameCube games on my Wii, mostly Animal Crossing and Super Smash Bros. Melee in particular. I also managed to get some new GC games such as GUN, Killer7 and Chibi-Robo. I realized that I was running low on space, so I decided to walk to the Wal-Mart near my house and buy a new one, or at least buy one of the third-party memory cards to save a few bucks.

I walked around the Wii area and the small GameCube area and I couldn't find a single memory card, official or unofficial. They still had their PlayStation 2 stuff since it's not actually dead yet. After a few minutes of wandering aimlessly, I decided to ask one of the Wal-Mart employees.

He looked me in the eyes and said, "We don't have them anymore!" I was boggled, they still sell their GameCubes at $70, and their GameCube games, but they have no memory cards or controllers!Memory Card.JPG

When I inserted my memory card into my Wii for the first time, I assumed that it could use its own storage space and having an actual card is optional, but I was wrong. So usually, I leave the card in its side port in case I ever feel like playing a GC game. It was a slap in the face when Wal-Mart stopped selling the GC memory cards and continued selling the consoles and the games themselves.

I even went to to order one directly, but their store page is gone. So if I really wanted a GC memory card, I'd either have to go to a used-game store or eBay.

It just boggles me though. If a kid buys a GameCube game, they might forget about the controller or the memory card entirely, and they'll feel ripped off after realizing that they can't be easily bought anymore. The only game that actually comes with a memory card is Animal Crossing (low capacity), but I bought a cheap used copy, so I never got that card. It wouldn't have made a difference, because that card is only enough to save one game, Animal Crossing! I understand that the GameCube has been replaced by the Wii, but how can they still sell the GameCube games while discontinuing the sales of controllers and memory cards? My guess is that Nintendo decided to discontinue them and Wal-Mart decided to sell them all away without restocking, which is why they only have only GameCubes and GameCube games left. The controllers sold out as a result of Smash Bros. proclaiming that the "GameCube controller is the best way to play" since the Wii Remote and Nunchuk don't make extensive use of the motion sensors.

So, I guess that's it for GameCube Memory cards. I don't desperately need one now; I just wanted one as a backup. There's also a GameCube SD Card adapter that uses SD Cards like memory cards, so I might get my hands on that if things get desperate.

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Zarf shall speak: Game Genre

An upcoming thing: I have been invited to participate in the University of Virginia Library's speaker series on digital scholarship. Nifty, eh? I will be giving a talk at UVA (Charlottesville) on April 22. I'm not sure of the exact location; I understand it's the "Digital Therapy" grad student luncheon series.

Game Genre and Game Interaction -- noon, April 22

This is not a huge sweeping tapestry of ludological theory; it's just my notes on what the heck we mean when we say "game genre". Show up if you want to hang out. There will be food, as befits a luncheon. Casual food, as befits grad students. If I know grad students, cookies are a good bet.

EDIT-ADD: It happened. Yay! See here for a link to the text.

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