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A Review of The Room

The Room is a secret-box game in the tradition of Room Escapes, Deconstruction games and so forth. It is available on Steam for 4.99 and was originally on iOS game for .99. It has sequels and a light horror fiction atop it’s gameplay.

The Room is beautiful, inventive, and dull as a door-knob. Which is to say not entirely dull, not without charm and interesting little bits and bobs inside that make it tick yet ultimately simple and unmysterious. This is not a puzzle game; not really. It doesn’t ask you to invent clever solutions or solve difficult mysteries. I began the game taking notes, hardened by years of advanture games, room escape games, and so forth. It turns out the game never asked me to do anything unexpected. There were a few genuinely clever puzzles but only a few in a game that is entirely built around this sort of thing. That’s a real shame—I find it’s a bit odd to approach difficulty in these sorts of games because what is obvious to one is not obvious to another; suffice to say what challenge this game does have is primarily observational–it rarely tests your memory or your problem solving or your abilitiy to make hypotheses or logical leaps. Merely your ability to notice. For my part I found it easy and a bit boring. I kept hoping it would surprise me and prove fiendish but the only difficulties I ran into were moments when I knew I just hadn’t clicked the right one of about ten things I knew I could click yet.

It’s a shame because games like this really shine when there are multi-lateral puzzles; multiple paths you can start moving down at once that feed back into each other, sure, and coallesce to a single point but that nonetheless allow you to move back and forth in a slightly less linear fashion, creating both a greater sense of journey and baking in the “let’s take a break and see this from another angle” phenomenon that is so key to solving a puzzle so the player feels invested in the puzzle the whole time rather than needing to yank themselves out of it to gain that perspective. The trouble of course is that one designers leap of logic is another player’s bloody-stupid-“who-the-heck-would-have-thought-of-that-nonsense?-that-doens’t-make-any-sense!”

That acknowledged, I think The Room should have pushed much further into that territory. It wasn’t a challenge and the puzzle was never interesting. The movements and animations certainly were … but there were so many points when it could have used expansiveness to make it’s simple solutions more challenging–but once you leave the large safe you leave it for good, progressing ever forward and never looking back to do intersting things with old, familiar objects. Failing that, I wish it had been a little more weird. A little more “clever” and illogical such that the puzzles felt more difficult to me more frequently. It’s effort to remain sensible and understandable, I feel, undermines it’s function. Forget for a moment the idea of being a puzzle and leave us with exploration–the exploration of the device was not quite alien enough or mysterious enough for the fictional premise. Our guide assured us our intelligence would see us through but all that saw us through was explicit codes written on the box in UV ink (close enough). No clues, no riddles no references as promised by the tutorial sequence. Even taking this game as a breezy secret-box sort of thing rather than a true puzzle, I feel it wasn’t inventive enough in the right way to meet it’s own mini-fiction square-on.

It’s a lovely object but not worth the asking price. For the .99 it costs on tablets and smart phones? Perhaps! It’s quite pretty and certainly outsrips a York Peppermint Patty for entertainment value for me. I’ve played games that walk the lines this game walks in more interesting ways, though, and some of them cost nothing. I cannot, then, recommend it in terms of relative value but in terms of absolute is-this-99-cents-worth-of-cool/fun/whatever I can certainly recommend it at it’s original price on mobile devices.


Musings At the End of a Long Ride

Finished ME3.

So. I think I understand why people were upset about the ending. But benefiting from the extended cut and a general disinvestment with the Reaper side of the plot in general, I didn’t find it overly grating. After reading spoilers I’m confused as hell as to why Leviathan isn’t part of the main game, quality aside as I haven’t played it and don’t intend to.

I chose the left-hand path. It made the most sense. It felt like the choice I had the most right to make, and while it was a great personal sacrifice, it felt fulfilling. I can see why people would have been let down by the non-extended cut version where basically everything goes to shit in what is functionally the same way no matter what you choose. Being prepared for the final fight felt like it mattered, and after a perusal of the wiki to see how the other two endings would have panned out and how EMS factored into it … I think that feeling was accurate.

I think this Kotaku article put one thing I felt really well.

The larger problem for the ending, though, is that it leans on the series’ least interesting theme, and even then disregards everything that the games have conveyed on the subject.

I’m not sure I agree that the organic/synthetic thing is the least interesting theme in the series, but it’s not in my top two either. The article goes on to say:

After all, the genuine synthetic intelligences present throughout the series have generally not been inimical to organic life. The robotic Geth, although initially presented as aggressive foes, are later shown to have been the victims of preemptive attacks by the Quarians. Even the ones that joined the Reapers in the first game did so out of a desire for self-advancement, not out of intrinsic malice towards organics. The other true AI the series presents is EDI, whose voluntary aid repeatedly proves crucial in helping Shepard’s missions succeed, and who might even be in love with Joker. Though the game undercuts itself by almost always placing synthetic lifeforms on the business end of Shepard’s gun, in dialog and plot the synthetics are neutral, or even allies.

This expresses one of my major disconnects with the second game. After coming to an understanding of who and what they Geth were … they continued to show up as enemies even with Legion in tow, long after the Omega relay jump and the events on-board the Geth satellite thereafter. This sort of inconsistency could have been smoothed over with explanation, commentary, or some efforts to emotionally disinvest me from the Geth. As it was, I felt my new investment in them was being betrayed because the context of their presence had changed and I was expected to behave the same way as before. One thing I appreciated so much about the absolute insanity of The Citadel (DLC) is that it was unabashed. It had moments of poignancy and moments of joking. Some of both fell flat, but I don’t think it ever goofed becasue it took itself too seriously or misunderstood elements of pacing.  When things were inconsistent in the DLC, it was because the game very decisively set consistency aside.

While it relied on some tired “lampshade but keep on trucking” humor, it had many more isntances of genuine self-subversion and parody. Perhaps I’m reading it completely wrong, but the use of paragon/renegade interrupts for a menial slog of a task when hanging out with James Vega in the apartment was both both cute and elegant; you could stop just by taking too long and missing the prompt, and you still would have gotten the joke. But if you keep going to the end … the payoff isn’t some big hilarious joke. Just … the normal response you’d expect following the in-fiction activity. Which in turn both makes the scene feel more authentic and has a little layer of meta-commentary about the Paragon/Renegade system embedded in it. That kind of slick, dual-purpose design was found throughout. The Citadel DLC and it made me quite happy.

It was refreshing to know that the dev team understands why their games keep going haywire at the end, and that they can make fun of their mistakes without compromising their pride for their successes.. It’s disappointing that they weren’t able to commute that into tightening up the endings to Mass Effect 1 and 3, sorting out the thematic and tonal heart of Mass Effect 3, smoothing gaps between gameplay and fiction in Mass Effect 2, and avoiding their most grevious plot contrivances (really, not a shred of self-awareness about using the SAME space-thing as two different space mac-guffins in two different games in the trilogy?).

All in all, it’s been a good ride. The best. By rights I should have cried in a few places I didn’t … but there was just something missing. And that’s enough to make me disappointed even as I heartily commend the team for a damn spectacular trilogy, and keep Martin Shepard and company close to my heart.

I was going to end there, but I realized I have an excellent excuse now to shoehorn one of the best parts of The Citadel LDC meaningfully into the shoe I cobbled in the preceeding paragraphs:

i’m self destructing i admit
i make so many bad bad choices
here’s the thing that i admit
i always know they’re bad choices

Falling with Style, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Tomb Raider

A Tomb Raider Review

Tomb Raider is an odd game for me. It very much comes out of the CoD generation of games with it’s efforts to ape films, the splashes of water and blood onto the third person camera lens from time to time, the regenerating health system, the familiar “rpg elements”: simple weapon upgrade system, XP and simple character upgrades. I’m by no means a proponent of the Old School or Bust crowd finding plenty of tediousness in a lot of older titles, but I’m not a particularly big fan of the generic, soupy, sloppy feel than most of these shiny, cinematic games have and I hate that they feel like they play themselves. I’m fond of linear games, adventure games, IF games and a host of other sub-genres that limit player agency but I simply don’t enjoy the way these “new school” games do it. I did, however, enjoy Tomb Raider. Let’s look at why.

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What’s in a Game: Gamasutra on Fun

As I am attempting to enter the discussion about establishing a gaming lexicon, this recent link from the Sunday Papers over on Rock Paper Shotgun seems appropriate. This Gamasutra article tackles game-related discussions of “fun” and the language of those discussions.

It’s a bit of a mess from a writer’s standpoint, but it establishes a number of important ideas in the name of clarifying game-related discussions and provides some rather useful links for myself and anyone interested in the subject. Some of the stuff I’ve found through this article is going to make an appearance further down the line, I should think, though probably not in the impending second part of my mechanics piece.