GeraBlog

A devilish combination of video games and crisps

Tile Driver
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I can't be bothered to find the proper links for this, so you'll have what you're given

Tile Driver is the first game made for both PC and as an Xbox Live Indie Game by the tiny British company Independent Dreams. It’s a puzzle game in the legacy of Pipe Mania, but with cars and a road-rules philosophy that says stick to the path or you’ll explode in a hideous ball of flames. It’s overall a standard set of rules to play by: move the tiles to make a safe path for the car to travel as a clock counts down, then watch as the car spontaneously combusts almost instantly because of how fucking hard this game is, even played on Easy.



Tile Driver is an experiment to see how many seconds it takes for me to start sobbing all over this grid of car .GIFs. Independent Dreams must have managed to make some kind of ultramodern system of trephining drills and paper cups to extract from my brain everything that would make me capable to play this game.

The difficulty settings are just baffling. In the game’s favour I’m glad they implemented these settings at all; having the ability to choose Easy to begin with is a windfall. But it’s a false sense of security when the game’s difficulty directly relates to how much time they leave on the clock for you to shift tiles in the right order, and the ratio between how many tiles and how long you have to fiddle with them remains the same no matter what difficulty you’re even at.

Even on its Easy Arcade-Mode setting trying to reorder an 11x11 grid of tiles in 90 seconds to create a passable car journey through a sleepy, nameless English suburb has about the same level of stress as trying to diffuse a bomb in the backseat while some Middlesbrough kids are breaking into your Toyota. Road tiles are scattered throughout the grid and you must sift through them using your arrow keys then attempting to herd the tile you want to its respective place by displacing all of the tiles around it, in what amounts to trying to play field hockey with a knitting needle. As far as controls go this is surprisingly tricky to get used to, especially when up against a clock. The countdown clock ranges from 90 seconds to 45 and then to 15, depending on the difficulty. The harder the difficulty the fewer the tiles, the less time you have ticking down on the countdown clock, and the more ‘specialty’ tiles which offer traffic symbols and force your car to speed up or backpedal in the opposite direction and explode. However even when the car begins to follow the path you’ve created for it you are able to continue fiddling with tiles, which is incredibly helpful. What doesn’t help is that there is no actual way to pause mid-game, because the pause button they give you only stops the time, then inexplicably forces your car to start puttering forward into a head-on collision with a bit of exploding road.

However Tile Driver has a number of features that could be genuinely fun if it were polished up a bit. The game offers two different game modes: an endless Arcade mode and a 60-level Mission mode. Both of these are fairly identical, although the latter mode lets you ride through a map of the UK, choosing areas to play the puzzles in a geographic system of levels that feature unlockable items. I actually really like the idea of a mission mode, and it would have been an especially impressive feature if it involved actual proper missions rather than simply being Arcade mode with a bonus map.



On a visual level the game is pretty straight forward. With 60 different areas to play through in Mission mode there’s no real way to differentiate Hexham from London because all grids look nigh identical. Arcade mode also offers three interchangeable backgrounds for reasons unknown, ranging from City to Farm to “American” that are functional and to the point.



You see a strange combination of game design practices here: a standard puzzle game combined with the kind of old school philosophy that once pitted the designer against the player. Tile Driver is similar to this old arcade era of gaming where designers would try to outwit the player instead of providing casual entertainment, to measure the player’s skill. These would traditionally make it hard for players to survive in-game, forcing them to replay and keeping the coins coming into the coin box. But in a simple Pipe Mania-style game this just gets incredibly frustrating and ends up feeling more like a strange suburban variation of the brutal arcade game Sinistar. If you like gruellingly difficult puzzle games then I highly recommend you check this game out at only £2.99. Tile Driver has all of the right ideas, but it’s not for you if you’re looking for an easy pick-up-and-play puzzle game.

Machinarium Review Rubbish for site thing/I bore myself
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After its real peak in the lighter half of the nineties the point and click genre felt almost instantly out of date. It was hit by a kind of grass-is-always-greener philosophy and where the FPS genre was green the point-and-clicks were like trying to find golf turf in Dune. By that point the genre began festering away behind flashy advancements in graphics systems that allowed for further generations of successful 3D titles. And just as the graphics started to lag further behind, the love for the humble 2D adventure game became a seven-year-itch relieved by more progressive likes of Doom and Quake.

To be fair even around its peak the Point and Click industry was beginning to seem technologically stuck.

The genre was always a bit rubbish at improving on itself. Between 1984’s King’s Quest and its 1990 re-release you had a nice little advancement in graphics but beyond that the genre hadn’t really seen that much significant progress for the rest of the early nineties. Hell, it took until 1997’s Blade Runner before we saw developers begin to play with real-time 3D models. But they never really disappeared. They’re the gaming world’s Spaghetti Bolognese lodged somewhere in the back of the freezer since ’93. They’re Betty White's face. Point and Clicks just sort of got stuck in time somewhere in the nineties and then never really aged.

In the last decade and a half we’ve had a real increase in the market worth of nostalgic gamers. And with the industry capitalising again and again on much loved series’ from the mid-nineties we’ve had the likes of Monkey Island and Sam and Max revived and wheeled out like some aging stars in a Nevada showroom for years now. So really the recent release of Machinarium has come right in the middle of a small-scale renaissance of old school adventure games. Much of that has been steamheaded by the handfuls of new episodic releases coming out of Telltale Games and the like.

However in Machinarium’s case we have a game that goes beyond the safe, soft nostalgic references, helping to prove that this renaissance can go further than polishing the bits of old gold from over a decade ago. Where games of the nineties were criticised for being technologically dead in the mud next to their immersive 3D counterparts, Machinarium takes basic production material like Flash and pushes it to its artistic and experimental limits.

Developed over a period of three years by the tiny, independent Czech studio Amanita, this award-winning game is obviously a labour of love. In it you’re playing as Josef, a little scruffy robot named after Czech painter and initial inventor of the actual term “robot” Josef Capek. You’ve been accidently ousted from your robot city and are trying to work your way back in to save your girlfriend while stopping a gang of robot hoodlums from setting off a bomb.

It’s a bit of a nebulous plotline but the focal point of the game is really the artwork. The game is cute. It’s scarily cute. With a smoggy, coffee-stained steampunk flavour the game is like an H.R. Giger puppy. The art is cuddly but with enough cracks and pointy metal edges to make it feel like it does more than simply cater to the Internet's infatuation with saccharine Wall-E bots. Like his previous work with Samarost and Samarost II, designer Jakub Dvorský used Adobe Flash as a multimedia platform while combining bitmap character models and hand-drawn background art to help overcome the artistic limitations of Flash. What you get is a gumbo blend of old and new animation techniques. Where 3D models can be easily modified, the stylistic choices call for over an hour of frame-by-frame animation and a patchwork of photographs scanned in and cut into textures to give the game a finely organic atmosphere. Point and Clicks might have seemed past their due-date when compared to immersive 3D games but here two dimensions becomes an artistic principle. Intentional or not Machinarium helps to underline exactly how point and clicks can stand out on a technological and artistic platform without seeming like the also-ran of game genres.

The game also veers away from having too many standard “combine-these” tropes by incorporating a vast amount of minigames. You’ll get variations on Connect 4, tile arrangement and lever puzzles. Take Josef into an old, dusty arcade and play a coin-operated minigame. Search through the brain of a robot in a top-down shooter. All of these bring a nice level of scope to the game, consistently offering you both a micro and macro level of gameplay. Beyond that you do get a taste of the traditional standards of the genre. The game’s plotline is largely held together by your typical combine-these puzzles and Fedex mini-quests.

Like many modern adventure games Machinarium has an in-game hint system. This is a two-tiered system; the first hint coming in the form of a light bulb icon that, when clicked, opens up an ink-drawn thought-bubble doodle giving you a broad idea of what you’re meant to do in the current screen. The second isn’t so much a hint as much as it is an actual walkthrough, written entirely in pictorial form like all other in-game information. But just to keep you from constantly reaching for the walkthrough, the game forces you to first play a short Defender-like minigame.

Unfortunately it’s the basic click-to-interact system that occasionally gets the better of it. Where the game seems to have a refreshing take on what a modern point and click can look and feel like, Machinarium isn’t really the sort of game that has learned from the frustrations of its predecessors. The point and click headaches are all still there, with a few new ones thrown in for added kicks.

Basic exploration is painstaking. Push, pull, prod Josef and you can interact with your surroundings. As a robot his actions fit his roll, each of them creakily robotic in their own way. Josef can be stretched or shrunken down to fit through tight spaces, with each size having its own walking speed. If you’ve accidently directed Josef to walk across the page when shrunken down like a pile of flapjacks he’ll wobble across your monitor screen like he’s suffered a stroke, and with no easy way to put a stop on actions you’re stuck staring at him miserably hobbling over to your cursor. That’s especially fun on screens that require timed actions. Good luck if you’re trying to switch back to your default size in a pinch; it’s often a slippery process when you’re in a rush. Because he doesn’t easily snap to size it’s more like trying to manhandle jelly when you’re trying to get him back to default. Beyond that there are silly foibles that make the game seem more user-unfriendly than it needs to be. Just try clicking something across the screen and Josef will shrug at you aimlessly because unless you’re directly next to the object you want to interact with you’re not going to be making much progress.

But that’s a small stumble in an overall amazingly crafted game made by such a tiny team. Retailing at £11.56 on the Machinarium website, this is a brilliant way to spend eight hours or so.

Pointless Review of Coil
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Back in 2005 Rod Humble came out with The Marriage which has since become the card up the sleeve of everyone in the Are Games Art? debate as an out and out art game. He did the blog circuit and wrote something or other on The Escapist about it. The draw was the use of formal game rules as a tool of representation, which he detailed over here, making it one of the weightiest examples of conceptual art in video games.

That was a few years ago and whether games can be art or not is old news. Of course they can be; you’d be hard-pressed finding anyone in the industry saying otherwise these days. Art Games, News Games, Serious Games. The independent game industry is swimming in genres and games that are trying to legitimise the medium, and it’s fraught with the potential to make valuable artistic statements in strikingly new and engaging ways.

But there is a dark cloud, a shadowy gorilla that we’ve refused to acknowledge: A lot of Art Games suck. For every talented game Auteur of our generation there are the leagues of screaming idiots waving their Computer Science degrees around, continuously spamming Gambit’s mail pool with that bit of concept art they once drew where they replaced Chung Li’s face with Ayn Rand; A lifetime's collection of weird brother-in-laws rattling on about how the world needs a game about the plight of Esperanto speakers or something just as nebulously poignant. Art Games often get slack for ideas that don’t seem as well-rounded as they probably should be.  Braid’s bizarre Atom bomb/broken romance idea that Blow refuses to explain, most of Tale of Tales’ work. The modern Art Game feels like the products of a flawed critical standard in an industry that laud ideas, any ideas, more than well-developed artistic talent. An industry that perpetuates the philosophy that on a long enough bell curve even unintelligible ideas look impressive when you're comparing them to Wet.

And with that in mind here’s Coil.


 

Coil is an example of a game that is quite interesting for as many legitimate reasons as it is for just being almost pointlessly incomprehensible.

This is the 2009 IGF nominee for Innovation by designer Edmund McMillen, the guy that did Super Meat Boy. It's a short flash game made up of six mini-games that are all held together by an ongoing prose story which carries on between every segment and it looks like this:



It’s fitted in a kind of slow and sombre style, full of dark organic artwork and a kind of broken music box soundtrack.

The gameplay is filled with a number of interesting bits. There are no actual instructions given at any point in the game, so discovering what exactly you’re meant to be doing each level, let alone what controls you’re meant to use, is part of the appeal. You’re essentially dealing with a set of traditional minigames throughout, from shooters to basic puzzle games. However without instructions the aim of discovery in the game becomes the primary aspect of gameplay and that really helps invigorate the fairly bog-standard minigame tropes you’re working under. In fact for many of the levels it took me a good five or ten minutes per level before I recognised what sort of game I was even playing. Beyond that the resonating aspect of the game is the atmosphere throughout which feels incredibly foreboding as if you’re committing some kind of terrible act when you successfully make it through each level.

It’s also has this thing in it:

WTF ARE YOU

This is McMillen's self-described experimental, autobiographical art game. More than the gameplay itself, the focus turns to the symbolism and plot that’s been integrated into the game. The storyline, from what I can tell, is a metaphor for rape when it’s not about a sperm that turns into some sort of flying alien squid. At least I think that's what’s happening. Where the prose seems to suggest a woman hitting the bottom, the visuals invoke the story of sperm that shoot each other in the face with weird sperm arrows.


The interpretive difficulty of the game is no fault of the prosey story woven through out. In fact that’s only reason I have any clue of what's happening at all; the language in the game is the best figurative tool McMillen has to work with. Unfortunately for him I’m not sure that’s something you’d want in an interactive, visual game when the visual cues the game gives you feel impossible to even begin to interpret.



Without the short story tacked on throughout the actual premise of the game is so impenetrable it feels like McMillen is guarding it like a fucking Templar secret. I noticed that particularly once I hit level four and the aim appeared to be to manoeuvre a giant sperm thing by repeatedly clicking on a picture of a spleen.

There's a thin line in the world of art between quite interesting and deceptively rubbish and Coil sits somewhere between the two. The consensus has been that the genre is just too affected, hell even Anthony Burch thought The Path should tone it down a notch. But I don’t think pretension is really an adequate critique in this situation. Pretension is the kind of thing that needs to be reserved only for Vice parties or guys who brew their own hemp lager, not the sort of people who can script in Python.  What makes a bad Art Game isn't necessarily the designer with delusions of grandeur; it's that Art Games become exempt from criticism on the basis that the baffling and indecipherable might just be art.


Sims 3 Experiment: Part 3
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*Part 1/Part 2

Arise fair Havisham


Havisham smells like hot banana and secretes rare biofuels.  If you rub her right she can run your car a block just by collecting dew from behind her knees. She’s a gentle pink siren and she wants you to know how hard her love can be:  Your nose touching the tip of her nose, your hands exploring her every lump as you stare into her eyes until you become so sexually aroused you are literally levered off of her body.

Havisham wants you to lay your eggs in her, then she’ll recharge and refuel on the liquid in your spine.


Morrissey and Havisham are star crossed lovers, crossed mostly because Havisham is fucking out of her mind while Morrissey’s heart beats only for the sound of passable but largely rubbish mid-eighties rock. It’s a complicated relationship and like any 90lbs schoolboy in his position Morrissey treats their hideous, unemployed, unhappy, unloving love with the scared eyes of a large lost deer, bolting between the two giant passing vans of Havisham’s hammy thighs.

As I explained back here somewhere their house is a handsome combination of a room with a guitar in it, a bar and a toilet-kitchen with beds I would later delete as part of a sinister test to see how many phone-ordered babies it would take to break Morrissey down.


The house that love built

I posited that he’d turn to the drink in a matter of days, hoping it would turn in to a slightly interesting simulation commentary about Simclass situations undermining Simtalent and how it effects the Simwill-to-live or something but instead he just spent most of his time outside in a park, taking hour after hour to perfect his guitar skills while slowly starving to death. Unemployed and generally useless he spent most of his time pissing about in town where I couldn’t be bothered to scroll around looking for him. After a day and a half of him trying to avoid Havisham, his SimAtrophy finally kicked in and I found Morrissey a couple of blocks away passed out on a bench and drenched in his own stinking fluids, just like a real New Wave star.  

In the meantime, Havisham had already begun to accumulate her spawn over the phone, along with the free maternity leave cash the game provides when Sims start churning out kids. Luckily Sim Government laws are lax enough to not bother enforcing any sort of adoption check-up that might look into if she’s melting their babyskin into lamp covers.  When the adoption agency shows up to the door with a basket in hand Havisham just entices them with the womanly charms of someone who injects frogurt into their ankles and no questions are asked.


Because the Havisham/Morrissey cash flow was put largely into the purposes of buying those outdoor flamingo things I never got around to buying basinets so Havisham lovingly assembled all of her new babies like a chicken finger platter all over the floor.

The adoption service came by on an hourly basis until their carpets looked like a bioluminescent ocean floor with babies growing out of it like stinging fronds and I had to move out most of the furniture to make room. Then the game stopped letting me order babies.

Evening sets on Sims 3.

After pressing something in Build Mode Havisham and Morrissey’s dole bunker now opens out onto a spectacular view of lawn jutting out through SpaceTime from a cosmic forge in their front yard. Thanks to the truly amazing customisation options now their patio pond towers like a giant weird finger over the neighbourhood, keeping silent watch over the nine baby Nigerians.

Baby JohnMaddenXXL gets left in the specialty leaking shower room

Like the devil himself Havisham has many faces, but the most prominent one is unconscious on the floor. Since getting babies she pretty much spends the rest of the game passed out after gorging herself into a wintery slumber on one of the plates of food left on the ground at some point. 

Havisham’s deep outdoor hibernation is peppered with occasionally waking up from her induced coma to spend time making a Geocities shrine for the actor who played Andrew on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

 

Unlike Havisham Morrissey less Faye-Dunaway-shrieking-about-wire-hangers and more like an awkwardly vacant Haley Joel Osment who’s fallen into an tar pit. Overall he represents the least notable of video game characters: The unemployed seventeen-year-old New Wave father of 9; the tiny shetland pony of the rock music farm. It’s a shame because it’s a niche idea that’s got to have a demographic  to match. While Havisham is busy with her sugar coma Morrissey inexplicably becomes the brains and driving force of the family even though I designed him to be incredibly self-indulgent and fixated on his career. Now instead of busking in a forest he spends hours on end aimlessly holding babies which is pointless because as I’ve stated before Simbabies don’t seem to actually require food or attention. It wouldn’t be that bad if he wasn’t literally dying while doing it but I guess childcare is enforced by some kind of brain implant in all sims. Even Havisham would suckle the nearest Simbaby she was next to when she was conscious. They would do this for hours when awake, moving from one baby to the next like an endless toddler production line.

VISUAL METAPHOR

He hasn’t touched his guitar in days. He does not sleep. Morrissey wanders the moors of his offspring and takes five hours trying to get from the fridge to the shitter while avoiding the stacks of plates and newspapers that have been accumulating like a defensive border made from bits of stuff found in an olympic vomitorium. The ground is crusty with newspaper that hasn’t been recycled since they bought a TV.

His vital signs have plummetted and he hasn’t been able to eat since the kids created a human wall by sleeping in front of the fridge until I finally just deleted it when it got to the point that nothing was happening and I was bored. Havisham never complained about it because she was mostly passed out on a sidewalk around this point but I guess food matters because the fuzz ended up coming to the door about the kids.

Soon after the Nigerian babies managed to get whisked away into some sort of portal bathysphere by an adoption agent played by Lionel Richie. Apparently when they reach toddler stage you’re meant to feed them and not tab out mid-game. Then with only salad made weeks earlier to sustain them Havisham and Morrissey died. It was a bit sad because they were fairly pitiful looking by the end of it but to be fair they were mostly assholes.

 

SHATTERED DREAMS

Silence now covers their house like a large, boring blanket. Morrissey’s tombstone sits next to his untouched guitar as a totally natural and not pre-thought visual metaphor. The game lasted about two actual days and in the end didn’t really prove anything other than the poignant “children make you die” conclusion. And the added footnote that having kids in Sims 3 essentially will negate any original characteristics you’ve given your Sim in its creation; turning your sim in to nothing more than a miserable, slowly dying bot, forced to go through its pitiful life picking up stinky babies as their clockwork winds down. Just like real life.


Tomorrow's Forgotten Games -- Today!: Time Gentlemen, Please
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Adventure games stem from a proud tradition of trying to rub a steel pipe against a courgette and watching as they fail to actually combine in to anything. Fun or not the puzzles were rubbish; a kind of special synergy of inventory trial-and-error and baffling Rube Goldberg logic. Open the door by pasting bits of film tape on to a midge, melt down a Shetland pony into pixie glue then use it as custard, that sort of thing.

Yet back at its very height, LucasArts, Sierra, and even Adventure Soft were still managing to churn out some of the most enjoyable games of the decade. These were the kind of games that boasted classic Tim Schafer dialogue along with some of the most dynamic and memorable characters of any game era: The Guybrush Threepwood’s and Sam and Max’s that defined a generation of gaming and burrowed themselves into the heart of anyone who had one.

The whole genre is a weird oil and water mix of the brilliant and the tedious. But no matter how much you loved them the puzzles were still rubbish. Even back when games could be solved largely by sweeping your cursor over the entire surface area of your screen it would take an aptitude for wading through ten minutes worth of 2D junk just to find that one lizard rune. And there you are in 1993, up at 3am with the slight cologne of flat Pepsi on you from hours of basting next to your CPU, just trying to look up a walkthrough that’s not written entirely in Korean.

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Time Gentlemen, Please, however, is made by the kind of people who clearly know and understand the headaches of the genre. This has to be one of the only adventure games that sticks to the traditional absurdist guts while having entirely logical puzzles. Imagine that, point and click puzzles based on actual relative sense. Consider this an exercise in reducing frustrations by going against the grain and allowing user-friendly puzzles and a robust little hint system hidden within character banter. Try not to swallow your tongue in baffled glee.

Writer/designers Ben Ward and Dan Marshall penned this as a sequel to last year’s award winning AGS adventure Ben There, Dan That. BTDT is free to download so you can give it a go, although Time Gents still ostensibly functions as a stand-alone game. Both are clearly labours of love. You might actually recognise Dan’s name from his PC Zone column How To Make A Game which described the development of an independent release from the ground up. For the record, being an indie designer is hard. Some generations have their Nam, indie designers have bills and pink eye which is mostly as bad. So when you’re looking at Time Gentlemen, Please you’re seeing a game that was made by two guys who clearly have inherited nothing but a love for and wealth of knowledge of adventure games after decades of play.

The story is a bit of Day of the Tentacle mixed in with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Ben There, Dan That introduced Ben and Dan as a couple of time travelling layabouts in an expansive world of mid-nineties allusions and references to bad TV. Following up on BTDT’s plotline is Time Gents’ extremely savvy 21st century homage that harkens back to the early traditions of point-and-clicks in a way that only true slacker connoisseurs could manage. This is the story of two Brits travelling through time and accidently influencing history to churn out WWII-era robot AI and Nazi dinosaurs.

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It even feels like the kind of thing you’d cook up back when you were at uni, a sort of back-to-basics throwback to the days of armchair programming, and that’s because it essentially is. This is a game made by gamers for gamers. And needless to say, dinosaurs and Nazis are things all games should fucking require. It’s testament to the kind of instinctive reflex Ben and Dan have toward the internet culture of twenty-something gamers; the type of people who are fully willing to accept the awesomeness-to-Nazis gaming ratio that instantly makes any game a good 10% better than most. That might seem like a pretty nebulous point to make but the reality that Ben and Dan know their audience bloody well is the real strength of this game.

Time Gents is a compact adventure game that takes you through a six decently-sized puzzles over the course of about 8 hours. By the opening you’re given a chance to run through fairly simplistic controls before you’re thrown in to the pulp of the game. It’s a standard left-click action system that allows you to interact with the environment, however what differentiates this from most is how integrally tied every action is to the game’s massive reservoir of comedy dialogue. That really is the meat and bones of it all. Even though the game does requires the slow-going experimentation of any classic adventure games it also engages in an ongoing and highly meta running-commentary throughout that pokes fun at the model of gameplay it has adapted. This happens with both Ben and Dan acknowledging every piece of nebulous game logic in extended dialogue between the characters. So when by the first real puzzle you’ve fallen in to a rough industrial basement, within minutes you’re already ankle-deep in allusions which were custom-made for the jaded and nostalgic. “I’ll keep an eye out for any more hand panels, lightswitches or Chuckie Eggs for you,” Dan will say. You’ll get stuck trying to figure out how to pry a nail out of a board and get slapped with the mildly sardonic “I’d better use something out of my INVENTORY!” When you are left to deal with the usual tropes of old school gaming it inevitably becomes part of an overarching, self-flagellating joke.

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When it’s not skating on blatant memories from the nineties it’s turning out puzzles that are new variations on old themes. From taking a page out of Monkey Island and laying out multiple-choice dialogue puzzles to trying to collect objects off of mice that dart in and out of walls. You’re dealing with standard puzzle constructs but using different methods to figure them out. The characters will talk about what’s happening around them in depth and so solving puzzles in Time Gents seems less based on random luck while flinging objects at other objects and more to do with paying attention to the characters and what they’re chatting away about.

The amount of writing that must have gone on before this game came together is truly fucking boggling, because there is as much dialogue as there are object combinations to click through. Instead of leaving you sweating blood as you spend twenty minutes trying to use a key as a spanner, they’ve stored up pages of those self-deprecating lines that double as both a running commentary for nearly every possible user-action and a genius little hint system for when you hit what seems a stunningly perplexing task. It’s a 180 degree turn-around from the days of stilted, canned responses regurgitating the same “You can’t do that” response even when you’re an iota away from successfully solving a puzzle. Ben and Dan on the other hand will hint you through it with smirking lines to the effect of “That looked like it nearly worked; I did an animation thing with my hands”. In fact it’s worth spending a good quarter of the game simply clicking through things just to see the enormous amount of work put in to the writing of it.

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There’s not much you can actively dislike about the game but to be fair it’s always easy to excuse independent games for slight foibles. Yeah, the animation is a bit weird sometimes. The character animation in particular has a sort of odd staccato quality that comes off like you’re staring at your cousin’s Flash experiment. Try and ignore the mouths when they’re talking. Yeah, the audio is pretty non-existent. There’s a running soundtrack throughout but audio effects are at a real minimum and there’s no voice-acting to speak of. But those are pretty mindless criticisms, especially for this style of game. Any of those foibles end up seeming like genuine non-issues as a whole just because they underline that quirky, shaky-handed LucasArts style they’re trying to command. What did grind me a bit was the actual style of humour. Some reviewers called it absurdist or surreal and technically it is. But that’s really part and parcel of the comedy adventure game genre. A lot of the actual punch-lines that were written into the puzzles ended up just coming across as cheap gags that played like forgotten Ren and Stimpy B-sides. Take for example a side-character dead after getting shot in the cock, followed with a little animation of blood filling his nappy, or a task to get a mouse to fuck a dead mouse corpse. It’s comedy but it’s often sloppy comedy.

Even then Ben and Dan are still the kind of indie game designers that represent the impossible dream of being players first, designers second, all while actually being quite good. They’re the novelty comedy mallet that can both delicately extract the DNA out of the best parts of LucasArts’ then annihilate the classic gameplay pains out of the genre. And beyond that there really are few companies these days who attempt to carry on with the genre. Retro-styled adventure games are a spectacularly lonely niche and Time Gentlemen, Please offers a modernised variation of everything you adored about the point-and-click dynasty once dominated by the likes of Tim Schafer. And that torch has ostensibly has been passed straight down to Ben and Dan.

9/10
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Havisham and Morrissey: Meet Havisham
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In the middle of June I started the episodic Sim epic Havisham and Morrissey, first introducing the story’s sulking kitchen boy, Morrissey. Morrissey was the struggling Northern artist-cum-father of about twelve Kenyans adopted over the phone, as part of a DEEP and IN DEPTH look into VERY REAL and A BIT RACIST Simulated class fatalism. Today I introduce Havisham.

 

Havisham is Morrissey’s horrorwife.



Havisham is like what you would get if you crossed The Penguin with a sticky theatre curtain from Nevada rockabilly club, or like Beth Ditto if she had a flaccid cock hanging from her face. Her personality traits were essentially meant to make her the worst person imaginable: a sort of venomous, black eyed widowmaker who is too lazy to cook
actual meals so she just eats fly-laden leftovers that were never thrown out because I forgot to buy a sink. She briefly worked as a cook when I accidentally clicked something.

As far as I can tell, once your sim has a job, at any point that you manage to get a baby you’re automatically given a weekly allowance as some kind of child care policy worked in to the game. Also part of the EA child rearing policy is that baby-ordering is run through the same service as pizza delivery and that all babies are BLACK.



Out of Africa

Other useful true-facts:

  • Babies don’t eat!
  • Babies can’t die!

Unlike in real life or in that bit in Trainspotting, Sim babies are never dead or slightly off. The game forces you to be responsible for weird immortal doll things that, as it turns out, don't even fucking eat food unless you gavage them. In fact you could probably lock one up in a room until its toddler years and they only seem to come out of it lightly unhinged as evidenced by a previous game where I tried this and he just grew up to be actor Steve Buscemi:



Having given Havisham the personality points of Lazy and Hates Children Morrissey was put in the position of responsibility of taking care of the babies while Havisham continued to pursue her own personal interests which include A Chair and Buying Babies. This basically would work against the character programming in the game from when I first made Morrissey to only be interested in arts-oriented goals. In fact even though Havisham was programmed to hate babies her character  automatically coos and picks up the nearest horrible, dead eyed Victorian doll-faced adoptee she’d see when it would begin to cry. So regardless of how the character’s traits were formulated all Sims are identical in how they react tenderly to the endless deathpit of baby screams. What resulted was a pointless treadmill of coddling and forcefeeding weird immortal highlander babies over 18 hour stretches, pushed by the game's inherent pro-baby protocols and resulting in mass tragedy.



Tune in next time for...When there is actual plot exposition


Havisham and Morrissey: A Sims 3 Story (Part 1)
gerablog
Imagine the magic spawn of Xtreme sports enthusiasts and guys with proto-aspergers and you basically get Robin Burkinshaw's Sims drama "Alice and Kev". Alice and Kev is an Xtreme minimalist playthrough of Sims 3, a kind of mawkish human interest story about fake homeless people. Now imagine the homeless Sims competing to see who can stand around idly for the longest without inevitably dying from insufficient waffle intake or something. That is the plot arc of Alice and Kev.

Apparently just leaving your Sim in a pool and deleting the ladder is passe and the only way that'll get you thoroughly wanked over by gaming virtuosos is by creating a blog based on watching Sims develop a thick crust of piss fumes around their torsos over the course of months. So I figured while I'm scratching the bottom of the barrel for Geralog topics I may as well make a weird, desperate grab for attention by repeating more or less the exact same thing.

So hey Robin Burkinshaw. I see your rubbish Alice and Kev and I raise you Havisham and Morrissey. Yeah! And the pictures on your blog loaded a bit slowly for me one time. How does that taste?



Like any Greek tragedy Havisham and Morrissey is a multi-layered story about adopting fifteen babies and succumbing to exhaustion and disease after I briefly walk away from the computer. On its deeper, more pulpy level it is a commentary on socio-economic issues in Northern England and therefore much better than whatever is happening here. Unlike Robin's in-depth study of the harsh realities of finding waffles in your neighbours house, Havisham and Morrissey was an attempt to see what effect totally fake class fatalism had on pre-programmed SimSuccess so I built a house with three rooms and forced Havisham to repeatedly order babies from the adoption agency to rack up unemployment cheques.

The main protagonist of this story is really Morrissey: a struggling musician who is probably quite good but it's impossible to tell through his thick veil of twat.




For the most part he spends his time standing about and looking like a bit like a 13 year old Winona Ryder while his wife uses her free time to loiter up against the kitchen counter for the three hours that's required to make an Orange Shake.

I started the game by giving him the ambitious and musically-inclined loner traits which basically forced his reptile brain to pick up a guitar the minute he entered the house, then spend the rest of the afternoon strumming for 15 hours to get to the end of one verse of Hot Cross Buns. In fact for the first three days he really just spent his time standing in a corner creating rubbish rock tunes while speaking to no one at all, only stopping occasionally to agonisingly piss himself, just like the real Morrissey. Had I not soon intervened by trying to order thousands of babies on the telephone Morrissey would be destined for stardom instead of spending his last days mopping his and Havisham's piss from in front of the lounge chairs. But naturally this was all just part of the Gerablog XTREME social experiment to see whether family life would cause his dreams become dashed on the rocks like a tiny baby seal. The answer, poetically, was actually that he would starve to death in front of a herd of toddlers who wouldn't move out of the way of the fucking fridge.

Stay tuned for more on...Havisham and Morrissey!

Twittererer
gerablog

With my finger firmly on the pulse of the Internet I’ve started my very first Twitter account only nine months after Dog Whisperer Cesar Millar - So now you can watch me fail to regularly update another one of my accounts. I had hoped to make a sort of fictional concept piece but was having trouble coming up with anything really decent so amuchmoreexotic  suggested I run with the first idea I come up with. This led to my rubbish opus MolyneuxBrain. MolyneuxBrain is the heartwrenching story of world famous Peter Molyneux whose brain is haunted by a ghost.  It is narrated by Molyneux' brainghost and follows their George-and-Lennie-esque relationship. Later on his brain will become haunted by other ghosts who enter in through his pons medulla (which doubles as a doorway to the dead, naturally). This will lead to a GHOST WAR. Stay tuned!


MolyneuxBrain


Weblining
gerablog
Yesterday I watched a homeless man have a yelling match about the quality of music he was belting out during his topless meth high. To be fair, HM suggested "You shouldn't judge me if you haven't heard me really sing" which seemed sensible if you ignore the bit afterwards where he ran after someone for about two blocks shouting visit my website while spelling out his entire URL which I immediately scored onto my arm like a sneaky Michael Herr. People often complain about the extent that technology has saturated culture but if it weren't for the Internet I would have made the false assumption that Elvis Nelson was just a normal man with bits of food stuck to his hair instead of realising that really he and I are just alike with our shared ability to recreate circa 1997 AltaVista sites. Realising the poor are on the Internet is one of those moments where you know you're living in the future, with all of its electric toothbrushes and aliens depositing their eggs into your chest cavity.

The Yahtzee Quotient
gerablog

Continuing my theme of being at least two years behind Internet trends here’s a video of Yahtzee’s television show pilot.


Game Damage
is one of those ideas that was probably quite good to begin with but was conceived during a horrible lapse of judgment. The end result of the show seems to more or less be two Australians and a Brit competing to see who is the most wrigglingly awkward while trying not to look as if they've been preserved in a veneer of their own sweat. It’s probably one of the most unsettling review programmes I’ve ever watched just because of that; they all look like some sort of House of Mirrors cross between Me and Lloyd Christmas dipped in shellac:




It's the kind of set up that was likely meant to be a response to programmes like Electric Playground who had discovered the rubbish material-to-wankable host ratio pretty early on in the game. EP made more or less of a career from parading Jade Raymond's uncanny valley face around enough times to distract everyone else from the kilos of mindless next-gen rhetoric they'd pile into their scripts. Game Damage on the other hand is the kind of thing that you or I would make if we had the sort of hubris necessary to bill a television show about Australians doing sketches from a rented couch.



The show's wildcard is Internet-famous Yahtzee who's unfortunate fatal flaw in person is that he's a cock. It's a bit of a weird twist considering Zero Punctuation was always a perfect example of how to pull off Angry Nerdo comedy without seeming like the sort of person who was slightly unhinged.
It's like one of those moments where you realise Lou Ferrigno has started shopping at Tesco and he's one of you after all, only that Yahtzee takes it one step further: bypassing the cache of minor Internet celebrity by dressing as if he's part of some kind of pantomime re-cast of The Maltese Falcon and speaking as if he's never heard actual human language before.

Game Damage is like watching Yahtzee attempting to win a talent show by impersonating Yahtzee; punctuating every word with weird over-pronounced sarcastic Yahtzeeisms. Most people don't actually talk the way they write but human-Yahtzee recites every line in an eery Yahtzee character-voice. Sadly he's not even funny cock. He just wafts of angry proto-aspergers nerd cock, like stumbling into a sealed room operated by The Lone Gunmen just as "Ringo" Langly begins yelling something about the original BSG being more 'pure' and then starts calling you a queer. Some of his purebred comedy lines include overly pronounced gems like:

"Rated PG for PRETENTIOUS GIT" and "Peter Molyneux should shut his big fat GOB for once"

If you're not already pissing over your flaccid cock in laughter then maybe watching someone in a Master Chief costume aimlessly wander through a market for about eight minutes worth of film will do you in. Crack a grin as he spends 15 entire seconds pretending to eat crisps through a mask, guffaw as he tries to buy a cheeseburger but comedically forgot his wallet in his other awful bargain costume. Feel your ribs literally split through your skin as you buckle over and die when tries on a sun dress. Bask in the unending Benny Hill-like music loop.



Taste the warm rush of saliva when you quickly realise at 1:18 in the video that Yug literally wants to fuck Yahtzee*

*If you can be bothered to make that into a gif for me then I might get you a super secret reward prize, but I probably won't.


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