Sunday, September 28, 2008


I'm a Sad Samba Monkey

I rented Samba de Amigo for the Wii. And... I've decided that I can't get into the control scheme.

Goodness, I can't blame those guys for trying! I know they had an uphill battle in store for them, trying to track position using, what, a tilt sensor? But... they just couldn't make this game Samba. And I'm not sure that I want to pay for Not Samba right now.

I'm sorry.



DS Redesign Rumor!

Man, these Nintendo DS redesign rumors just keep getting more and more exciting! Two prominent internet people came forward this morning with exclusive information about this top-secret game system that Nintendo has been preparing.

The new model DS is rumored to boast some features that really put the current DS Lite to shame. When fully compact, it will be smaller than a U.S. quarter, but it will fold out to reveal not two, not three, but fifteen touch-sensitive screens! Each screen will measure 15" long, and they will be brighter and with a higher resolution than the original DS screens.

Also revealed, the battery has been given an upgrade, with an estimated 200 years of playtime from a single five-minute charge. That time is based on having all screens on the highest brightness setting and the volume playing on maximum. This is good news for gamers who want to "keep it portable"!

The rumors that the GBA slot would be removed from the new design have been squashed; in fact, the new Slot 2 will be compatible with all classic Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. In fact, new ports have been added for compatibility with Virtual Boy, Sega Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color, PSP, and Pokemon Mini (!) games. In addition, the new model will feature a hard drive and allow players to download software from the Wii Shop Channel, including all Virtual Console and Wii Ware games.

And I guess Nintendo decided to throw in a bunch of random crap that always seems to show up in these rumors. Camera, phone, DVD player, MP3 player, printer, toaster, time machine, etc, all that kind of stuff.

When will Nintendo unleash this new design? It's actually out right now! In fact, it's been on sale for over sixty years as of this writing! And in addition to compatibility with all existing and future game systems, this game device has its own library of over 25 million games that really take advantage of all of its features.

This is probably the most exciting news that anyone has ever posted on the internet! Now all we have to do is wait to see how much of it is true. Keep visiting my blog over and over again in the run up to Nintendo's big conference, where we'll have detailed impressions of Nintendo's new DS Lite provided any of it is actually true.


Saturday, September 27, 2008


Battle of the Bands

Here's the thing about Battle of the Bands, the rhythm action game for the Nintendo Wii.

It's bad.

The graphics are bad, the gameplay is bland at best and unbalanced at worst, and the whole thing is tied together with a boring presentation that screams "SHOVELWARE".

Buy it anyway.

There are two very good reasons why I just bought a copy of Battle of the Bands, and you should too.

First and foremost, this is the only game in town that lets you create a situation where a college marching band battles an undead mariachi band to the death with weaponized musical instruments for the privilege of playing a cover of "Master Exploder" in their respective musical styles. If that's the sort of thing you want to see -- and it is -- then this is the only place where you can go. And thanks to its status as a critical and commercial flop, there's not likely to be any sequels or imitators. This is all we've got. They've cornered the market.

Give credit where it's due -- there are 153 full-length musical tracks crammed into this game. Each of the game's 30 songs had to be recorded in five different musical styles (plus three more for the game's unplayable boss character) in order to accommodate the game's hook -- it's a two-player competitive rhythm game where the song is played in the style of the band that's controlling the match.

I've always been fascinated by listening to music played in different styles. Symphony orchestras playing contemporary rock and rock bands playing classic orchestra pieces. Weird Al Yankovic setting pop lyrics to polka music. And now, Battle of the Bands, where you can hear a country western cover of Whoomp There It Is, a Spanish language version of Feel Good Inc., a marching band rendition of Spoonman, a Hip Hop version of Blitzkrieg Bop, and a rock version of That's the Way I Like It.

In a move that can only be described as classy, the developers gave us a complete jukebox with on-the-fly style selection. Completely open from the start. You never even have to play the real game. See, they knew what we were getting into this for.

Once you get over the novelty of hearing familiar songs played in new ways, put it away. But do so with the understanding that you will want to pull it out again a couple months down the line. This stuff gets under your skin.

The other good reason to buy this game right now is because it was a bad game that sold like crap, and now that retailers want to make room on their shelves for the big holiday games coming up, it's been priced to move. Like Cooking Mama, Harvey Birdman, and Wario Ware: Smooth Moves, Battle of the Bands is the ideal bargain bin rescue. It's exactly playable enough that you can enjoy the gimmick, and the enjoyment lasts exactly long enough to justify your $10 investment. You'll be happy you tried it, and you'll feel all smug for not buying it at full price like a chump.


Friday, September 26, 2008


There's a Snake in the Bathtub

Well, it's been two years since I finished There's a Snake in the Bathtub, and as near as I can tell, it hasn't found an audience the way I had hoped it would. Don't get me wrong, I was tickled pink that no less a person than Emily Short would discover it and write a somewhat positive review. Still, I figured I was an exceptionally clever asshole for some of the stuff I did with this game, and my bimonthly Google search has lead me to the conclusion that nobody's going to write the article about how much of a genius I am.

So I guess I'll just have to do it myself.

The game was meant to be experienced without warning or preparation, so if you have any interest in playing it at all, do that first. You can download it here. You'll need an interpreter.

I Secretly Hate Interactive Fiction

Well, I do. It sucks. It just does.

Part of the problem with TaSitB is that I discovered the Inform system and the community dedicated to producing interactive fiction way back when I was in college. And when I did, I noticed that these people were in love with a gentleman named Graham Nelson and his two electronic masterpieces, Curses! and Jigsaw. And maybe they're good games, damned if I'll ever find out because I can't figure out what the fuck I'm supposed to be doing in either one.

I came away from these games with the impression that IF fans are masochistic jackasses, and that if I ever wanted to be worth anything to them, I would have to make a game that was really really difficult.

One game I did like was Kissing the Buddha's Feet, a cute little story where you have to help your college roommate study for an important test by removing the various distractions that were killing his concentration. The solutions struck this beautiful, elegant balance between being especially imaginative and being something you could actually figure out on your own instead of spending five damned hours wondering if there's any point to anything you're doing GOD DAMMIT I HATE CURSES! but anyway the point is it was a really good game.

So one night, after having a particularly rough time at my part-time restaurant job, I decided that the one thing that would make me happy would be to take a long, hot bath. To my dismay, I found that events were conspiring against my plans, but it gave me the idea to make a game where the object was to take a bath. Like Kissing the Buddha's Feet, it would be a game where you would have to seek creative and unlikely solutions to your problems.

Unlike Kissing the Buddha's feet, it would feature aliens and anacondas and dragons and alternate realities.

It took me several years with quite a few aborted attempts to get from a concept to a working game. This was partly because Inform 6 was not a very fun system to program in and partly because I have no business whatsoever trying to write interactive fiction and I know it. But in the end, I had something that I was proud of.

I had an interactive headfuck.

The bathtub.z5 Experience

In a perfect world, people would have discovered There's a Snake in the Bathtub in much the same way that I've found my favorite adventure games of years past, such as The Multi-Dimensional Thief. They would find a file with an odd name -- it's released as "bathtub.z5" -- and decide to try it out.

There's no title screen. The game immediately jumps into a prologue that establishes your character as a fry cook in desperate need of a bath. It gently nudges you home from your job and suggests that you visit the bathroom. And as you open the door, ready for your reward at the end of the day, you discover...


No explanation. This is the sort of experience the player has signed himself on for. And it's only going to get weirder from here.

So the player, encouraged by the objective suggested in the prologue and the title of the game, may decide that his first objective should be to remove the snake from the bathtub. And since the snake can eat the player's character, the snake should probably be subdued in some way afterward.

This is a harrowing task to be sure, but the execution is actually relatively simple. Perhaps a bit too simple. Maybe the player is proud of his achievement and believes he's won because the title villain is dispatched. Or maybe he's worried by the number of items laying around his house that he didn't touch yet and suspects that something is up.

Regardless, he returns to the bathroom for his bath and is told that he'll have to fill the tub first. But if he tries to run the faucet, it comes off in his hand. A different solution is required. This time, it will require thinking outside the box a bit.

Once the tub is finally full, the player discovers that the water is ice cold. The water heater is acting up. So he'll have to find a way to heat the water up. But now the player will have to go to some relatively insane lengths to do it.

But then the water is hot. And it's just a matter of disrobing and stepping into the bathtub. But there's one last problem.

The player's clothes have been fused to his body and cannot be taken off.

It is perhaps the most ridiculous obstacle that's been put in the player's way yet. A bathtub full of anaconda is perhaps improbable, but it doesn't have quite the same feeling of problems arising just because the author is a total prick. And the solution? Equally ridiculous.

Those are the four main obstacles in the game. They can be accomplished in any order, but that is the order that the player will encounter them in if he sets out to play the game as it guides him. If he can overcome all four trials, he will face one final challenge before he can get his bath.

Now, if that was all there was to the game, it'd just be this fairly plain little text game where weird things happen and you're asked to think outside of the box fairly often.

However, there's something demonic hiding in this game. It's so insidious, so twistedly perfect, that I feel kind of bad about actually giving it away. I daresay that the entire game is about giving the player this moment where he realizes what's going on here and just how badly he's been fucked with.

So seriously. Guys. If you want to have this experience, turn back now. Go play the game. Try it for a while. When you've reached a point where you're of the opinion that the game is not just difficult to figure out but cannot be completed, come back. And I'll tell you the big secret.

My Beautiful Headfuck

This is gorgeous. I love the hell out of this. It just works so well for me on so many different levels.

You begin the game in the restaurant. Your job is described for you, and your boss tells you to make an order of fries. And you're given control of your character.

Cooking the fries is not difficult. The entire process is described for you in the first paragraph of the introduction. In fact, the situation is designed so that you can type in the first paragraph of the introduction, verbatim, and succeed at the task. For cooking french fries, you are awarded one point.

The whole thing seems like a tutorial. A warmup for the sorts of interactions that you can expect in the game. You even earn a point for it.

You dig a little deeper into the game. And you find, as Emily Short did, that the game stops after 100 moves. The reason? Well, you have to get up for work the next day. If you don't stop and go to bed, there's no way you'll be able to do it, so the bath must be postponed.

Do you know the answer? Have you figured it out?

There is a lot of psychological pressure put on the player to cook the fries in the beginning of the game. The situation looks like a tutorial, and we've been trained, as players, to follow tutorials. We're rewarded a point for succeeding, and we've been conditioned to think that anything you earn points for in an adventure game is worth doing.

And the scene -- following orders dictated by a boss -- is familiar to most players. We think that, since we are playing the role of this character, that we must perform the task as if we were this character. The fries must be cooked because we are playing a fry cook and that is what is being asked of us. If we don't follow the orders? The boss character starts to grow impatient with the player's character. If something goes wrong -- the fries are burnt, a plate drops and smashes, or the player simply runs out of time -- the boss grows angry and the player's character is fired.

A player who reaches this sad conclusion to the opening scene, whether on accident or by willfully screwing around, is likely to conclude that he has "messed up", that the game has gone wrong somehow, and that he should restart. Even worse, the player may dismiss the prologue as time-wasting fluff and create a save file after the fries have successfully been cooked and always restart from that point to save time.

This is a game about thinking outside of the box. If the player is going to win the game, he has to realize that only one thing is being asked of him: he has to take a bath. One of the obstacles in his path is the time limit that's created by the player character's obligation to his job. The solution?

Lose your job.

Pick up a plate. Drop it on the floor. Watch it smash. Walk out the door. You'll find that the move limit is gone; you can stay up all night trying to get your bath going if you want to.

In order to win the game, the player must do something that seems completely irrational, both to the player and to the player's character. Heck, it's not even obvious that you can lose your job by botching the tutorial unless you have the curiosity to try screwing it up. You have to disregard your normal values and focus on exactly what you're trying to accomplish.

I was hoping that this would be a difficult thing for most people to do. Judging by Emily Short's review, I was right. And I'm damned proud of it. I've made a game where the player must not only think outside of the box with respect to how to accomplish his goals, but he must also think outside of the box with respect to what he actually needs to do.

But it gets better. There's one last layer to this onion, and it's my favorite one of all.

The game can be completed with a perfect score.

Even allowing for the random behavior of the snake and various other details that are different every time you start the game, it is possible to cook the fries at the beginning of the game to earn the first lousy point and then to optimize your behavior in such a way that you complete every other obstacle in the game and end with "TAKE A BATH" as your 100th move.

Once you're intimately familiar with how the game world works, you get one last puzzle to solve for extra credit. The entire game is a giant Rubik's Cube, and if you really want to, you can work out how to untangle it. I leave that as an activity for folks who enjoy working on speedruns and optimized walkthroughs to enjoy. And I wonder if anyone will ever figure out a 99-move solution...

All Well

When it comes right down to it, "There's a Snake in the Bathtub" is probably not the sort of game that I'd really enjoy playing. So it's hard to get too upset about the lack of attention the game has gotten. I've been thinking of rewriting it in Inform 7 as a practice exercise, but when it comes right down to it, I doubt I have anything meaningful to contribute to interactive fiction as an artform.

Still, it would be nice to think that someone out there decided to try this game out on a whim, had the patience to reach the "lightbulb moment", and thought to himself, "Hey! I see what he did there! Huh, neat."


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?