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This is a monthly archive page for the period of April 2006. If you came directly to this page, you may want to check all recent posts.

April 2006 Archive

What's in a name?

The Nintendo "Revolution" is now the "Wii" and as you can imagine, the world wide web is abuzz about it. Abuzz with purile jokes, mostly, which says more about the core gamer demographic than about Nintendo's branding decisions. That central group is one that Nintendo wants to seperate itself from anyway.

The name is getting a lot of flak for being unconventional, but that's exactly what they need to convey. They are no longer in the same game as Microsoft and Sony. They are going a different route -- less focused on hard specs -- and want a name to break free of the molds of the current generation. Molds that, really, from a branding standpoint are really stale. Here you have five, six consoles, devices meant to be enjoyed and played with, named after "boxes" and "stations" and "cubes". These sterile nouns are more suitable for shipping terminals than play.

The thing about "Wii", apart from being a nonsense word, is that (because it is a nonsense word) it is more universal than "Revolution" and it is better suited for design. The word itself, as in the arrangement of letters, is something that can be played around with a lot. Nintendo already does. There's a lot more that goes into choosing a name like this than "can it be used in dick jokes?".

"Wii" is weird in the context of other game consoles, but if it were a Web 2.0 company or application, it'd be right at home. Personally, I like the direction of the name but I'm not yet sold on the final decision. That will take time to determine, and it's one of those things that might make more sense and look better in hindsight -- like Google or Yahoo. In the end, it's not the name that will determine the success of Nintendo's device, it's Nintendo's device that will determine the success of the name.

Posted: April 27, 2006. (Comments: 1)

Another World

I purchased the high-res Windows port of Another World / Out of this World. Surprisingly, this is only my second ever digitally distributed game purchase. The first was Half-Life 2.

The price (a mere 7 euro, which is less than $10 CAD) definitely had something to do with. I could buy two copies of Another World and a beer for less than it would cost to purchase derivative shit like Zuma. Maybe the replay wouldn't be as big, but at least you'd own something far more creative, original, and worth owning. And that's more than you can say about anything PopCap produces.

I don't know why it took me so long to buy an independent game like this, but I'm sure that my familiarity with Out of The World (played in on the SNES) helped me overcome that aversion. Nostalgia is a good selling point.

Now if only I could overcome these fucking caves.

MORE...

Posted: April 14, 2006. (Comments: 3)

Tetris DS is broken

Nintendo has done the unthinkable, they have broken Tetris. Tetris DS, the package, is still good. It has a varied bunch of game modes, a lot of puzzles to solve, good multiplayer, online play, and a fantastic multiplayer "Push Mode" (the best thing to happen to Tetris since Tetris happened.) Unfortunately, "Classic Mode", the very essence of Tetris, is irrevocably broken.

Classic mode has a lot of new features that ruin the gameplay of Tetris. The first is that the preview now shows the next six pieces. Secondly, you can now press a shoulder button to "hold" a piece for later. When you need it, you just hit the shoulder button again to swap it with the current falling piece. This ruins the whole risk and reward aspect of trying to clear four lines since you can just hold a long piece and bring it out whenever you have a large enough shaft. You don't have to wait and hope you don't screw up.

Worst of all, and this is the one that breaks everything, once a piece touches down it doesn't instantly stick. They can be moved and rotated even after the tetrominoes have touched down. In the Tetris of yore, the instant that a piece touched down it was out of play and the next one dropped. The whole point of original Tetris was to move falling pieces into a favourable spot while they were still dropping. The further you got, the faster they fell, the more it tested your reflexes until, eventually, you just couldn't keep up. Everyone lost in the end. The trick was to balance survival time with scoring. That was what made Tetris fun.

Now that you can move pieces after they have landed, the time it takes for the pieces to drop becomes irrelevant. This becomes painfully obvious once you reach level 20 (the attainable goal for the "Classic Marathon", which unlocks "Endless" mode.) On level 20, the blocks no longer drop. They hit the bottom instantly. Once you get used to that idea and you get it into your head to constantly keep blocks in motion (even if back and forth) and you learn to build upwards in the middle and never along the edges (so that instantly falling pieces don't get stuck), you get used to dealing with this. Level 20 becomes very beatable.

That is where the problem lies. Pieces can't fall any faster than instantly, so once you can beat level 20 you can beat level 40 or 400. There is no difference. When you reach that point in your Tetris DS prowess, you are no longer fighting against impossible speeds; you are fighting boredom.

I have a game going right now. It's paused. I started it Sunday before 5pm and I played for a good hour, handily beating my previous record. I made it far. 6pm was time for Battlestar Galactica, so I paused it. When I resumed I was surprised that I wasn't throw off by the delay. I played a little while longer. I was getting bored. I paused and put the DS into sleep mode as I packed my stuff and left for home (I was at my parents' place at the time).

A couple of hours later, at home, I unpaused it and played some more. My hand was cramping. Then the battery light turned red. I paused and plugged the DS into the charger. Later, I played a little bit more. Then another short session in the night as a distraction from other commitments. I slept with the DS paused and charging. After waking, I played it a bit more. There was no sign of a pending game over. It did not get any harder. In fact, the more I played the easier it felt. It was a truly neverending game of Tetris.

By now I'm sick of seeing Tetris blocks. I'm bored to tears with it. I keep playing it, in brief spurts, out of pure masochism. Speed is no longer a factor and the question as to whether Tetris can be played forever comes into play.

While it might be mathematically and theoretically possible to play forever, it is not humanly possible. Not by a long shot. It's no longer fun. It's no longer challenging. It's no longer Tetris. It is broken. Thus, I commit Tetris seppuku, forever ending this one game and symbolically ending any future "Classic Mode" play from me. They'll have me again when they fix it (or if I play the classic NES or GB -- or Tengen -- games), but until then... Tetris is dead to me.

The final tally. Level 428. Over 4280 lines (it maxes out at 999). 11,025,010 points.

Tetris DS game over
Posted: April 04, 2006. (Comments: 10)

Mario Blocks

Just because del.icio.us won't let me re-link something: the original site for the Mario blocks, How to Make Your Own Totally Sweet Mario Question Blocks and Put Them Up Around Town, has updated with a response to the idiocy in Ravenna.

WARNING: Question blocks in Ravenna are considered harmful and may bring about the bomb-squad and cause you to get charged. It's as though that city is the Lost Levels equivalent to the original Mario Blocks' home, Toronto.

Posted: April 03, 2006. (Comments: 2)

Waldschattenspiel

Boardgaming and boardgame design is alive and well. Or so I hear. As far as anyone knows, the market is virtually dead. All there is are old Hasbro owned games like Scrabble and Clue and the many, many (boring) variants of Monopoly; various puzzle games that aren't really "board" games per say; and maybe Settlers of Catan (and its many variants). Other games don't often show up and when they do, they are pretty much relegated to a pretty strong niche. Sort of like Interactive Fiction.

Boardgames have long since interested me, but it's always been a distant fascination. Sometimes I hear about them and I read about them, and I get curious about their mechanics and design, but I rarely touch them. Videogames are my substitute. They might require more expensive hardware, but their social requirements are more favourable to those with deficiencies. With videogames, if I'm below the requirements I just buy a new videocard or a new console. Easier.

Recently, in some online community that I'm in, somebody posted about Waldschattenspiel. The game is described as such:

(from the instructions) The dwarves hide in the shadows of the trees from the wandering light. The burning tea-light [adult player] moves through the dark forest [mostly randomly] and tries to find the small dwarves in their hiding places. If a dwarf is touched by the light, it is frozen and not allowed to move anymore. The other dwarves try to release it. To achieve this they must wait until the light has gone far enough so that one of them can join it in the shadow. All the dwarves try to unite under one tree while the candle tries to freeze the dwarves. Who will win, the light or the dwarves?

What is interesting is that the main avatar is a lit candle and all the gameplay occurs directly because of the light and shadow that it creates. The board is the game's world, but the gameplay comes as a result of its contact with the physical world cast upon it by a burning wick. Something about that fascinates me a great deal, but I can't explain why. Perhaps because it's the kind of interaction that videogames, even the light-sensing Boktai, have a very hard time reproducing. For videogames, anything in the physical world is really nothing more than an interface for controlling its virtual world; it never involves it (save for the odd installation based games.)

It's too bad that I'll probably never play this game.

Semi-related: Deflexion. A game of laser chess.

Posted: April 01, 2006. (Comments: 4)
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