Saturday, August 31, 2013

Color Zen Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

I was introduced to this fun little mobile game by +Brian Mitchell. Much like Dots, it has a very minimalist visual style and a very soothing sound design.

Unlike Dots, Color Zen is a puzzle game. The goal of each level is to fill the whole screen with whatever color is around the border. The first level looks like this:

It's pretty hard to fail; you just move the triangle up to the circle and when they touch they both expand to fill the screen. Great success! Next level.

Still simple. When you move the pink square to the pink circle, it fills the background with pink, but the blue shapes are still there. It works just like the fill tool in MS Paint.

Things get interesting when they add more colors and start nesting them within each other.

In Chapter 2 they introduce white objects, which can be used with any color. I also gather that later on I will encounter black objects, which remove anything they touch without expanding it.

I paid $1 for the "Classic" pack, which includes six chapters, each with 20 levels. There are two more packs that are available, each more challenging than the last. It is definitely a reasonable price.

Color Zen is available on Android and iOS.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tomb Raider Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

+Ian Decker played Tomb Raider and reviewed it on Eight Bit #30: Genuine Russian Mail-Order Bride and I have now finally finished the game. I've actually been playing it on and off for at least five months, what with working at camp and everything.

Tomb Raider is a single-player cinematic adventure game (there's a multiplayer portion as well but I ignored it). It is so cinematic, in fact, that about two hours into the game I turned to Ian and jokingly said "Well this has been a great 3D movie."

As a reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise, it follows a young Lara Croft who is fresh out of college and has never really been on an adventure where everything hits the fan. Obviously in this game it does.

Lara goes through a lot of hardships on her journey to becoming a badass, and a lot of it is pretty gruesome. The most gruesome are the many death animations for Lara, which become short scenes of their own.

The game is a third-person shooter with a lot of climbing and puzzle areas thrown into the mix. The climbing sections are very well put-together with lots of visual clues on where you need to climb next. Unfortunately there is almost always only one way to get to where you are going.

The combat is pretty challenging for a variety of reasons. The aiming isn't very tight, even with mouse and keyboard. It seems to me that this may have been an intentional decision by the designers to convey the fact that Lara is not an experienced shot through gameplay. Lara also does not run around with her weapons drawn all the time. She only pulls them out when you right-click to take aim. The game is not a proper stealth game, but I enjoyed trying to go for as long as possible without being detected and getting stealth kills with the bow.

As you progress through the game you acquire more gear to upgrade your weapons and tools with. That is the most tangible reward for exploration, but even if you don't explore at all there are still fixed points in the story where you will receive new gear. I was squealing like a little school girl when I got that compound bow.

Also optional are the tombs scattered just off the beaten path. Each tomb features an environmental puzzle and no enemies. The only reward that I noticed was some experience and the personal satisfaction from completing them. I think there might be an achievement in store if you finish all of them.

I felt that the story was well-developed and it was refreshing playing a game that wasn't afraid of killing off a few characters for the sake of Lara's growth as a character.

As far as graphics go, this was a gorgeous game. It was built with 3D in mind, and despite the fact that Crystal Dynamics partnered with AMD for things like Lara's "fancy hair" technology, Nvidia's drivers caught up by the time I started playing the game. I experienced very few performance issues, and I didn't find any other technical issues with the game.

I'm always happy when my favorite moment in the game is the ending. An even better sign is when I am shouting "YES! YESSS!!!" During the final battle.

I would definitely recommend this game to anyone with a system that can handle it. It took me 14 hours to get through the story, but I didn't explore quite as much as I could have. It costs $50 currently, but it shouldn't be too hard to find it on sale; I remember it being $12.50 during the Steam summer sale.

Check out the rest of my screenshots.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I Hate Adventures

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

Moving back to college is always exciting, but even I wasn't prepared for the amount of excitement yesterday brought me. The initial plan was to take two cars and spend the evening showing Morris to +Eric Buck+Amy Buck, and +Ian Decker. Then Ian found out that his family had bought tickets to the Science Museum, so he was out of the picture. We also managed to fit all of my worldly possessions into my tiny 1996 Ford Escort, so mom and dad didn't have to spend their entire afternoon and evening helping me move in.

They understandably warned me to drive carefully because I couldn't see out of my rear window, but I was pretty confident that I would be fine.

Everything went well for over an hour. I was having a great time jamming out to Portable Sounds and was passing through the St Cloud area when my car started vibrating and making this weird sound. It sounded kind of like a flat tire, so I pulled over and checked my tires. None of them were flat, so I got back in and kept going, but a little slower than before. The vibrating kept going, so I stuck my head out the window to see if I could see anything wrong. Of course, my hat flew right off of my head.

Well great, that just ruined my day, I thought to myself. Then I looked in the side mirror and saw that the hat hat hooked itself on the handlebar of my bike. Crisis averted. Just then my tire shredded itself.

Luckily it didn't blow itself out, and I was able to pull over without panicking too much. Changing the tire involved taking a whole lot of stuff out of the trunk and watching the semi trucks very carefully as they came hurtling at me at 75 miles per hour.

I have never done anything so terrifying in my life.

I got everything packed up again and took the next exit to try to find a mechanic open on a Sunday. Hint: mechanics are not open on Sundays.

So I ended up driving the remaining two hours to Morris on a spare tire. I was amazed that it handled fine at 60 miles per hour, because the impression that I had gotten was that driving over 45 on a spare is dangerous.

I got to Morris 3 and a half hours later than I had planned, but in one piece.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dots Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

I first heard about Dots: A Game About Connecting through +Ryan Rampersad. Since he called me a "pro-gamer" I had to check it out.

After a quick 30-second tutorial you can jump straight into the game. You are greeted with a nice minimalist grid of colored dots.

As the title of the game suggests, you get points by connecting dots of like colors. Those dots will then disappear and all of the dots above them will move down to replace them.

Like so.
If you create a square (of any size) you will clear all of the dots of that color. Strategically clearing dots to create squares is an excellent strategy.

Being that this is a free-to-play game, there obviously has to be some sort of in-app purchase to support it. Those would be the special abilities you see at the bottom. They can stop the clock, eliminate one dot, or eliminate all of the dots of a particular color. They are purchased with dots, which you can get by playing games or by paying a bit of money. If you are worried about it being pay-to-win, you can relax; you can only freeze the clock and eliminate all dots of one color once per game, and the abilities are cheap enough that I have always had a few of each available.

There are two modes: timed mode and moves mode. In timed you have 60 seconds to connect as many dots as possible. It's pretty frantic. In moves mode you get 30 moves. I prefer moves mode because I can plan out my moves and get the best score possible.

Since this game is all about getting high scores, you can connect it to your Facebook and Twitter accounts to compare scores with your friends. It is also easy to share a link to a page with your high score on whatever medium you prefer.

The game's simplicity is both a strength and a weakness. I had a good time with it, but I have quickly become bored with it. I'll probably revisit every once in awhile to see if I can beat my high scores, but it hasn't sucked me in the way Super Hexagon did.

Dots is available on Android and iOS.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Super Hexagon Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

I reviewed Super Hexagon way back in Eight Bit #24: I Only Lasted Fifty Seconds! and I have completely neglected to make a written version until now.

This game is very well suited to mobile platforms. It is simple, easy to pick up quickly, each game doesn't last long, and it is very addicting. The soundtrack is also a very catchy trio of chiptune songs by Chipzel.

The point of the game is to maneuver a little triangle to avoid hitting the brightly-colored lines that are making their way towards the middle of the screen. The control scheme consists of tapping the right side of the screen to rotate clockwise and the left side of the screen to rotate counterclockwise. That's it, there isn't anything else to it.

Of course, avoiding the lines is easier said than done. The game is so aware of its incredible difficulty that the first stage is labeled as "hard". Initially it seemed impossibly fast and I usually lost after only a few seconds. But over time I started to see patterns and I got better at picking my fingers up quickly, and my high score slowly began climbing.

If you do not like this kind of challenge, this game is not for you.

Every ten seconds a female voice calls out a new polygon. Point, Line, Triangle, Square, Pentagon, and finally Hexagon. I have never been happier to hear the names of geometrical shapes.

Initially there are three stages available: Hexagon, Hexagoner, and Hexagonest. They get progressively faster and feature different patterns for you to master. Once you make it to sixty seconds in one of them, a faster version of that stage unlocks (for a total of six stages). Currently I have completed the first two stages and I am working on the third.

The best thing about the game is that it is entirely skill, reflex, and speed based. So when you improve on your high score you know that it is entirely because you have improved your skill at the game, not because you unlocked some arbitrary ability that helped you last longer.

I would definitely recommend getting Super Hexagon on your mobile platform of choice. It costs $3 and is available on AndroidiOS, and Blackberry and on Windows, Mac, and Linux through Steam or

One last thing: don't try to play this game while spinning in an office chair. You will probably throw up.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Dream: My Body is Made of Stone

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

Last night I had a fever. It wasn't an extremely bad fever, but I had a feeling that it was going to give me interesting waking dreams.

It first started with the sensation that I was falling backwards into my pillow. Then my body started feeling really heavy. I could feel my weight pressing down on the mattress more than usual. Then I realized that I couldn't move my arms or legs and my fingers felt fat and a little tingly. It actually felt a little familiar because I sometimes had the falling sensation and fat fingers while falling asleep as a child.

I sleep in a cabin with four other guys here at camp, and I wanted to alert them to the fact that my body was made of stone. That was when I realized that I couldn't talk either. I panicked a little and tried even harder to move, but of course the more I tried the harder it was to move.

Frankly it was kind of terrifying.

A part of me realized that this was only happening because I actually wanted to lie still. Eventually I made the conscious decision to stop panicking and trying to move. Eventually I fell asleep and the next time I woke up I could move again.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Podcasts at the Speed of Thought

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

Ever since I started my podcast I've been listening to more and more podcasts. Being that most of them are weekly and each episode is an hour to two hours long, it's a big time commitment.

Luckily BeyondPod recently came out with an update that now supports multiple playback speeds. I didn't think much of it until I tried it out and realized just how much of a time saver it is. And the best thing is that even though I couldn't comprehend what people were saying at 2x speed at first, I am slowly making my way up. I started at 1.3x and am now up to 1.45x.

Of course speeding up a podcast works better for some shows. I have found that At the Nexus and Control Structure are quite easy to understand (and I bet my show would be too) because we're not professional podcasters and we don't talk very fast. Same goes for the PC Gamer Podcast. The Besties talk a bit faster, and The Nerdist is extremely fast (although it does depend on the guest.) I was also recently introduced to Welcome to Night Vale and I haven't decided if I want to listen to it at increased speed because a huge part of the humor of that show depends on his monotone delivery and timing.

The weirdest part of listening at 1.4x speed is the theme song that typically happens at the beginning of a podcast. In the case of Control Structure, where they have a musical transition between sections of the show and occassionaly music playing under their voices, it gets even weirder.

Overall I really like the ability to speed up podcasts because it is a more efficient use of my time and it makes me feel more like a pro.