Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why Hidden Object Games should not make you feel stupid - part 2

Another example of why hidden object games should not make you feel stupid. This one from Rite of Passage: The Perfect Show.

There is a screwdriver in the game. But instead, we are supposed to saw off the screws from the screw-mounted anchor -- and using a handsaw for wood, instead of a hacksaw.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Game Review - Tales from the Dragon Mountain: The Strix

Game Review - Tales From The Dragon Mountain: The Strix
Score: +1/-7
Summary: Old school adventure game with the right settings. Otherwise no redeeming features. The sequel, "The Lair", has VASTLY improved graphics and animated cutscenes.
-- Compared with contemporary games, the artwork is primitive 3D. Since there is basically no critical animation involved, they might have been better off going for a superior static 2D artwork like most casual hidden object games. Character artwork is also too simple/featureless to compete in the current market.
--- Bad art and gameplay can be rescued by a fantastic story. However, here the clichéd story is badly executed with (among other things) poor pacing, lack of tension, and anticlimactic events.
- Cringeworthy dialogue. Not sure if this was the result of something lost in translation.
- Glaring errors. Just the one main one involving fish, but it is so obvious that they should have fixed it. In the pictures below, the left screen shows the type of fish moving around in the fountain. The right side shows the fish you catch when you click on one of them (see bottom inventory bar, right side, the fish in the circle). What you get is nothing like what was in the fountain!

+ Probably the only redeeming feature is the ability to set the amount of user-interface hints/feedback you receive. You can nearly absolutely nothing, even, if you use system cursors and do not get contextual cursor changes. This means you can play the game without any real direction -- just as if you were the protagonist thrown into the situation. There is something "realistic" in the resulting difficulty from lack of prompting--Which is a different sort of challenge as you are not so hand-held as with most games into knowing what can be clicked on and what you need to find.
-0 Initially, objects are often found in plausible locations (e.g., a spare gear sitting on a shelf) but as the game progresses, however, objects are found in increasingly implausible locations in an attempt to make the game challenging. This unfortunately detracts from the "realism", but it is not properly counted as a negative point because the genre is full of this sort of nonsense.

Sample Artwork:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Game Review - Nevertales: Smoke and Mirrors

Game Review - Nevertales: Smoke and Mirrors
Score: +6/-4
Summary: Interesting and fantastical story. Pacing and variety is good. Interesting use of Achievements for replay value. Unlimited casino games for even more replay value.

In many ways, criticisms in review will apply to many contemporary hidden object games, and are not to be taken as faults unique to this game.
+- For the most part artwork is very nice, but character animations when speaking, through the use of image distortion instead of actual facial animation, make the characters look disturbing rather than realistic. This is much improved from previous Nevertales games, however.
- Fuzzy cutscenes, especially if you play on higher resolutions.
+ Convenient replays of hidden object games for achievements involving spotting "morphing items". Because this unlocks achievements and further features, it really helps to have the replay available without having to replay the entire game. Also, if you are only missing a morphing object in a hidden object game, you can just locate that object in the replay instead of completely replaying the hidden object game scene.
+ Achievements for replay value: You can replay hidden object game scenes to score achievements with better time and accuracy -- unlike other games, where you typically can't rollback to redo a scene unless you located and backed up your savegame first.
+ Casino games for even more replay value. None of these are hidden object games, but rather a mix of casino games and arcade games.
- Some sloppy hidden object scenes, such as this one with a non-intuitive answer.
+- Interesting story with a variety of environments and some tense cutscenes where you really don't know how you will end up. They do try hard to keep the momentum and tension, although this is pretty impossible to do in a hidden object game where you can have as much time as you like. However, implausibly hidden items (e.g., a musical instrument hidden behind a stone in a castle outer wall) make you take the hidden objects games less seriously and pull you out of story immersion.
+-0Good use of unexpected choices in the game. For a fuller review of this feature, see our previous blog post. Although ultimately it falls short of its potential, it is still a novelty in the hidden object game market at this time.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nevertales: Smoke and Mirrors Review - SPOILER WARNING

In this post we will discuss one of the innovative features in Nevertales: Smoke and Mirrors (and Dark Parables: Ballad of Rapunzel), the third game in the Nevertales hidden object game series.


Stop reading if you want to play the game and don't want it to be ruined for you.

In general, hidden object games are linear stories with unlimited time for you to solve each puzzle. It is standard now to allow you to skip puzzles.
For these reasons -- particularly the fact that you have the luxury of time because these are meant to be "casual" games -- there is often little or no ability to inject real tension into the game.

The earlier Nevertales tried hard to invoke this sense with surprising turns of events and sudden "danger" to the character you played. I say "danger" in quotes, because in general you have unlimited time to figure out what to do, so the sense of danger and overall story immersion rapidly deteriorates.

Something that they added in Nevertales: Smoke and Mirrors was choice. In various scenes, you are given a choice of what to do. This is typically non-existent in hidden object games because the story is typically linear (probably to make sure you do not accidentally progress too far by picking up the wrong object or solving the wrong puzzle too soon). When you are suddenly presented with a choice, such as whether to tell your mother the truth or lie to her, it invokes not only the shock of novelty in a hidden object game, but the promise of consequence.

And here is where Nevertales ultimately fails, because there is NO consequence to your choices.

I think there could have been great potential here if your choices did ultimately have some effect, even if in just the end-game cutscenes. Of course, it would be even better if your choices branched the game into completely different tasks, even for a little while before going back to the main story.

This was actually done in Dark Parables: Ballad of Rapunzel, where your choice determined the outcome. There were other minor choices in the game as well, again ultimately of no consequence to how the game played out, but at least there were different scenes to be seen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why Hidden Object Games should not make you feel stupid

This is a random example (in this case, from Nevertales: Smoke and Mirrors) of why you should never be made to feel stupid by a hidden object game.

The "puzzle" involves opening a lamp locked by screws. The "solution" is to use a coin found in a nearby fountain -- instead of looking for a screwdriver in the toolbox already in your possession. DUH.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Game Review - Nevertales: Shattered Image

Game Review - Nevertales 2: Shattered Image
Score: +4/-6
Summary: Interesting and fantastical story. Surprising plot twists and events keep it interesting.

The structure of the game is essentially identical to the first game in the series, Nevertales: The Beauty Within so Nevertales 2 gets basically the same score of +4/-6. If you are hoping for innovations and improvements, don't look here. All you are getting is a completely different story.

The artwork, particularly for the characters and their animation, continues to disappoint -- depending on what you are expecting. There may be various reasons for this, such as not wanting to have mainstream everyone-is-gorgeous casting. And if they are not aiming for a mostly male demographic, which speculation is supported by the substantial number of male characters and the strong and proactive female lead in the story, and also a male character who isn't entirely passive and who does have heroic roles to play (and which are controlled by you).

Still, there is also support for the explanation that the artwork is basically not very good, such as for the very young daughter (below, left). That said, some supposed deficiencies may seem off, but it is not necessarily so. For example, the daughter looks like she has an oddly shaped body, especially her arms, but overall it is actually not bad, if some mannequin models are to be believed, such as this one from DollsTown (below, right).


Easter Eggs are still to be found, such as the Heroes of Might and Magic V Sylvan Faction dragon shrine, and Han Solo and Princess Leia of Star Wars fame.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Skyrim Mod - GQ Combined Books

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod:
GQ Combined Books
download version: 2014-Nov-30
Requires Dawnguard DLC and Dragonborn DLC

Adds recipes to the Tanning Rack for special books made from:
  • Compilations of book series or books of the same theme
  • Compilations of skill-training books
  • Compilations of spell books
Some book compilations will teach spells.
Skill book and spell book compilations can be converted into wearable no-item-slot items for bonuses.
Most can simply be sold for much more than the individual books.

Installation: Copy .ESP into Data directory

Uninstallation: IMPORTANT - Remove any items from this mod that are being worn. Save game, then remove mod.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Skyrim Mod - GQ Research

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod:
GQ Research
download version: 2014-Nov-30
Requires Dawnguard DLC and Dragonborn DLC

Adds an Armor item that lets you conduct research in the Magick skills. The resulting Research Papers can then be crafted into various items. The basic options are:
  • Destroy item for [Res]earch - Opens a container. Items put in are checked against research lists. Valid items are destroyed and Research Papers given to the player. The rate is 1 paper per 10gp value rounded down. All other items are left in the container and can be retrieved at any time. Accepted items are vanilla Potions and Scrolls.
  • Use [Alc]hemy Research for special ingredients - Trade Alchemy Research Papers for XP or to make special 1-effect ingredients.
  • Learn or Scribe Spells - Trade Alchemy Research Papers for XP, learn new spells, or scribe Spell Tomes or Scrolls for spells that are already known. Learning and Scribing require 1 Roll of Paper, 1 Quill, and 1 Inkwell.
  • Manipulate Soul Gems and Staves with [Ench]anting Skill
Alchemical Essences
  • "Alchemy Research" also includes an unspecified amount of reagents, which are used in various functions for Alchemy Research.
  • Alchemy Research can be traded for Essences and Catalysts, which are ingredients that have thematic alchemical effects at 3x the magnitude of typical ingredients.
Learning Spells
  • This simulates the player researching knowledge of a spell from scratch. Spells of up to Master level can be researched but the effective cost is quite high.
  • To learn a spell, prerequisite spells (if any) must be known. These are typically lesser versions of the spell (e.g., Ironflesh requires knowledge of Stoneflesh and Oakflesh)
  • Craft the Spell Tome with 1 Roll of Paper, 1 Quill, and 1 Inkwell, and a number of Research Papers equal to the base magicka cost of the spell (with some exceptions).
  • Poisoned Rune is learned through Alchemy with the Poisoner perk.
  • Some spells can be further researched into a Lesser Power version, typically with half duration (if applicable).
Manipulating Soul Gems (Enchanting Research)
  • Soul Gem Fragments can be converted into Petty Soul Gems by first standardizing them into a single type of Soul Gem Fragment
  • Empty soul gems can be merged into higher-level soul gems.
  • Grand Soul Gems can be converted into Black Soul Gems if you have Malyn Varen's Grimoire.
  • Soul gems can be filled (or re-filled, in the case of player-filled soul gems) to maximum with Conjuration Research and Conjuration spells. Except Petty Soul Gems, player must have expertise in Conjuration.
  • Pre-filled soul gems can be emptied and the magicka contained used for Enchanting experiments and research. The player must have the Soul Squeezer Perk. Otherwise, gems can be used for research using the Destroy item for Research option.
Publishing Research
  • Accumulated Research Papers can be compiled into a book for "publication" (i.e., sale). Creating this Research Folio through one of the Research stations gives you XP toward that magic skill.
  • Staffs can be disenchanted into Empty Staves through Enchanting Research.
  • Alchemy Research can be used in ALTERATION Research along with the Transmute spell and (sometimes) specific perks to transmute ordinary items into different types of ingots and weapon/armor crafting parts.
.ESP, .BSA, and .BSL files go into the Data directory.

To get the Research item, first find the ID using console command help "[Research]" 4
Use the console to add it to the player: "player.additem <id> 1"
Hotkey the item and equip it that way to access the research menu.

  • For a Lesser Power to cost magicka, the Charge Time must be 0.0 instead of autocalculated. This is the same setting as the Casting Time under Spellmaking in the MGEF for the spell.
  • Magicka costs for Lesser Powers are not affected by the character's skill. Normally, magicka cost decreases to slightly less than 60% normal at 100 skill.