All posts by Beau

Pixel Perfect Memories: 3 Cards to Midnight

Release Date:  May 7, 2009
Platforms:  Windows

While I conceded the fall of sprawling adventure games to first-person shooters and the more economically sound casual game market, one concept I've had difficulty wrapping my head around is the hidden-object game.   The whole concept (here's some objects, click on them) is on par with word-finds for intellectual and emotional stimulation.   My first experience with such games was Escape the Museum.  It was so nauseatingly boring that I quit after ten minutes and went outside to watch boxelder bugs procreate.   Then I discovered there are hundreds upon hundreds of games much like this, with no challenge, a threadbare plot, and selling like hotcakes.

In 2009, I came across a good one, all by accident.  Chris Jones and Aaron Conners are relatively big names in the industry, for they were responsible for the immensely popular Tex Murphy series.  Jones starred as Tex Murphy in one of the few positive uses of full-motion video, blending film noir and adult themes with solid adventuring.   So when I found out they had started their own company, Big Finish Games, I knew I would buy whatever game they produced.  It wasn't until after I ordered their first game, 3 Cards to Midnight, that I realized it was a hidden-object game.  [redacted!]

But I was pleasantly surprised.  Rather than simply finding lists of objects on screen, the games requires you to think.  For example, the game might give you a word like "Shark."  Instead of looking for Jaws, you may need to look for the ace of clubs.  Ergo, card shark.   Or click on a tiger.  Tiger shark.  Or an aquarium.  Shark tank.

Not only does the game require thinking, there is actually a fleshed out plot, cut scenes, and voice acting.  It's nothing to write home about, but at least it tries.  There is also a sequel, 3 Cards to Dead Time, that is even stronger in the puzzle department if weaker in the story and acting.

I still prefer just about any other genre to hidden object.  But Stefanie loves such games, and if we're going to play them together, I need to find some that don't immediately make me catatonic.  If anyone has recommendations, I'd love to hear them.

Whatcha playin?

Pixel Perfect Memories: Beyond Good & Evil

So, this may become a 4th Tuesday thing if you alls is up for it.

I own a Wii and a DS (both gifts), but unfortunately cannot afford a Playstation yet, which I desperately want. Thankfully, some great games are also made for the PC as well.  This is one of them.

Release Date:  Nov. 11, 2003
Platforms:  Windows, Xbox, Playstation 2, GameCube

One of the most engaging, charming games I have ever played, Beyond Good & Evil certainly earns a spot in my hall of fame.

The labour of love from Michael Ancel, BGE takes you to a world where citizens are in a war with aliens and must rely on the powerful military to help defend them from brutal attacks.  As a young woman named Jade, you are compelled to help in the war effort when your orphanage is attacked by the aliens.  Naturally, however, you go it alone with the help of your “uncle” Pey’j (a pig mechanic, no less).  While the plot itself is fairly straightforward (with only some minor twists), the story never slows down.  And the characters, backed by some excellent voice acting, carry you the whole way through.  It is tough not to care about the people you meet here, which goes a long way in providing an entertaining game.

While there are some adventure elements, this is more or less a strategic action game.  Enemies are rarely shot at and are mostly avoided by stealth, timing, and distraction.  You’ll be doing a lot of crawling, side-stepping, and wall-hugging to avoid detection (and since you are often far outnumbered, it is essential to survival).  What makes this game unique is that most currency (to buy upgrades, health restoration, etc.) is acquired by taking photographs of different species (benign and otherwise) on the planet for archival.  You sometimes have to photograph your enemies before you attack them!

For those who are comfortable with action games but don’t consider themselves to be experts, there is a reasonable learning curve.  Moreover, if you die while on a mission, you will be restored to a predetermined checkpoint (often only one or two minutes back), so even if you are unable to save the game for a while, you don’t lose all of your hard work.  My only complaint, and a fairly significant one, is that the PC version does not support game controllers, which is idiotic and unfortunate for those who are not keyboard inclined.  I was able to become fairly adept at the controls, but it would have been significantly more comfortable to play with a game pad.

The game is short, about ten to twelve hours for the average gamer to complete.  And while there are secrets to be found, the only significant replay value comes in simply wanting to see the story again.   For those who like the focus of their actions games to be more on story (without endless cut scenes), Beyond Good and Evil will not disappoint.

A sequel is in the works, though no release date has been confirmed.

Okay, what have you all been playing?  Should I beg someone to buy me Portal 2?


Pixel Perfect Memories: Bureaucracy

We have a book day, a movie day, and music every day.  I was thinking, "How come we don't have a video game day?"   And so it begins.

My goal is not to discuss games that most of you geeks have played or know a lot about.  So you won't see me reviewing the likes of Tecmo Super Bowl, Zelda: A Link to the Past, or MLB: The Show, despite my love for all of them.   My hope is that I may reveal a gem or two that you haven't played.

In return, hopefully you can do the same for me.   While my taste tends to lean towards adventure games, I dabble in all genres.  I don't know how often I'll run this.  Once a month, at least.  Perhaps more often if the market warrants it.

The first game you may not have played is a brilliant text adventure by Infocom titled Bureaucracy.  Released in 1987, it was Douglas Adams' second game with the company (the first being the more famous Hitchhiker game) and arguably the better of the two.

Normally, descriptions written by the company on their boxes are horribly exaggerated and sometimes not accurate. In this case, Infocom does a better job than I ever could of describing the game. Here's the plot, in a nutshell.

Once upon a time, a man moved from one apartment in London to another. He dutifully notified everyone of his new address, including his bank; he went to the bank and filled out a change of address form himself. The man was very happy in his new apartment.

Then, one day, the man tried to use his credit card but couldn't. He discovered that his bank had invalidated his credit card. Apparently, the bank had sent a new card to his old address.

For weeks, this man tried to get the bank to acknowledge his change of address form. He talked to many bank officials, and filled out new forms, and tried to get a new credit card issued, but nothing worked. The man had no credit, and the bank behaved like, well, a bank.

It's a sad story, one that gets replayed every day for millions of people worldwide. Of course, sometimes it's not a bank at fault: sometimes it's the postal service, or an insurance company, or the telephone company, or an airline, or the Government. But all of us, at one time or another, feel persecuted by a bureaucracy.

You begin in your new house. As per the letter in your package, you will fly to Paris just as soon as you get some money to take you to the airport. That money should be in today's mail, so you should be off soon... unless, of course, there's been some problem with the mail.

Oh by the way: The man in our story about the bank was Douglas Adams, the principal author of this game. The bank did finally send him a letter, apologizing for the inconvenience - but they sent it to his old address.

What ensues is comic madness, and unless you are a very good puzzle-solver, it will lean towards madness. As your blood pressure rises while playing the game, so does the character's. Yes, there's a blood pressure gauge at the top of the screen that goes up for every mistake you make. And yes, you can have a heart attack if it gets too high.

I did need a few hints to win this one, but even I was amazed at my persistence with some of the puzzles. The game's tightly developed plot and brazen humour kept me away from the hint book several times. While there are a couple of instances where the game seems unfair, with a possible "walking dead" situation, you will be duly rewarded with the genius that was Douglas Adams.

I do not believe the game is freeware, so I will not link to any downloadable versions. But you can still find copies of the game or the entire Infocom collection from various Activision compilations.  The original packaging came with some of the best "feelies" of all time, including a carbonless application for a credit card that was not the same on every page.  For example, on the white sheet was a line labeled "Annual Income."  On the yellow sheet it was "Spouse's Weight."  And on the pink sheet it was labeled "pancakes eaten today."  The entire game is filled with similar bureaucratic jokes.

So, now talk about this, whatever you're playing, or about your secret obsession for your Commodore 64.