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Update 20 MAY 2017

This week's fun thing was starting to play Möbius Final Fantasy on my tablet. I'd originally got interested reading about it on Steam, and tried downloading it for the PC, but got a message saying "this isn't available for your platform" (presumably the PC version doesn't work on Windows 10?). So I decided, sod this, I'll get it on the tablet instead.

Ramble/review of FFM beneath )

Other than that: winter continues apace - it started raining yesterday, and is forecast to keep raining for most of the next week or so. I've regained a lot of my spoons from the past few weeks - I'm back to cooking again, and I'm starting to get back into the routine of housework. Given we're forecast to have a rental inspection at some point this month, that's just as well, really. Oh, and one of the cabinet doors for the cupboard beneath the sink fell off - the weight of the door pulled the screws holding the upper hinge out of the wood they were anchored in. Given the doors have been falling out of alignment for a while now, to the point where closing them meant lifting them up and into position, I wasn't particularly surprised when it happened. Again, this place doesn't appear to have had any serious maintenance or non-urgent repair work done since my age was in single digits, so it's not surprising that when you put a couple of hefty doors onto a door-frame which is designed for something much lighter, the blasted things work themselves off in less than a year.

(For my non-Australian readers: welcome to the joys of renting in Australia, where asking the landlord for maintenance on the property can be essentially asking to find a new landlord - landlords evicting tenants for requesting maintenance is a known Thing here. Judging from the string of names - never the same name twice - we've noticed on the mail coming into the mailbox, it seems rather unlikely most tenants in this place stayed longer than about the standard six to twelve months of a fixed-term tenancy. Oh yes, that's another thing about renting in Australia - maximum fixed-term tenancy is twelve months at a stretch).

We're still continuing with the Caterpillar Cull, although the numbers are dropping somewhat. Their latest point of entry into the house is the bathroom, apparently through a finger-width gap in the skirting board down near the bathroom cabinet. Himself sprayed the area with surface spray yesterday, so we're going to see whether that works as a deterrent (it seems to, up to a point, in my room) and just keep picking them up and drowning 'em. These past couple of days, it's mostly been in the twenties per cull, so there's that. I've wound up buying a separate dustpan and brush set for the front verandah, so I can scrub the caterpillar guts off the existing one for inside the house.

We've also had the Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos coming by for their final shot at the under-ripe berries from the Cape Lilacs - which means the trees, which are starting to drop their leaves for winter, are starting to look just a tad bedraggled as a result. I hauled up a sucker from one of the front Cape Lilac trees earlier in the week, and I'm going to have to go and have a look around for any others.

Uni continues apace. I have one essay to finish, one five hundred word rationale and reflection to write, and a 1500 - 2000 word short story, personal essay, or feature article to write. The essay and the rationale/reflection are both due Monday week (29th of May), the short story is due the following week (8th of June). All of which is within my ability to do in the allotted time, so I'm not particularly worried about it. The more irritating item is being expected to find a feature article from a newspaper for my "Introduction to Writing" tutorial on Tuesday - mostly because I tend not to buy the newspaper on the grounds of it not being worth the money one spends on the wretched thing. Given the standard of Australian print journalism these days, I rather doubt there's going to be a feature article in the wretched thing anyway. Wonder whether my tutor would accept something from the online Grauniad - I know they do feature articles - quite a few of them, in fact.

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Current Mood: chipper chipper
Skinner Boxes: Reviews from a Pigeon

For those who are confused about the title, a Skinner Box is a piece of behavioural psychology experimental equipment - basically it's a box with a button (or lever), and slot by which a reward is delivered (usually food). You put an animal such as a pigeon or a rat in there, and the original experiment was to find out what worked to get the animal to push the button on a consistent basis. Turns out inconsistent reward is the secret to getting the most consistent button pushing.

This knowledge has been put to good use by the designers of various flash-based and mobile games (not to mention the designers of slot machines and other such gambling games) for human use. You keep the pigeon pushing the button, and hint the frequency of the reward might be greater if they, for example, prime the pump by contributing a few extra dollars, and voila! You have a money-making machine right there.

I decided in a fit of boredom to get involved with a couple of different Skinner box style games over the course of the Easter weekend. One of them I'm still playing, the other I've largely left alone. The games were the Android version of Marvel Avengers Academy (AA), and the browser game GoodGame Big Farm (BF).

Now, both of these games require you to click on things and set events in motion, and then wait a certain amount of time for those events to complete, then collect your reward. Some events are fairly fast - two to three minutes. Others can be eight to ten hours long. In both cases, you can speed up the progress of whatever you're doing by purchasing the in-game premium currency (Infinity Shards in AA, Gold in BF) and using that to fast-forward through things. Of course, in both games, the premium currency is given out in dribs and drabs as a reward for gaining enough experience to go up a level (about 4 shards per level in AA, about 50 gold per level for BF) but you can get access to more by spending real-world currency to purchase the premium currency through their store.

(The stores largely sell this currency for round amounts of US dollars. I'm not in the USA, and the Australian dollar is not doing too well against the US dollar at present. Plus I'm on the dole, which means my spare income is not so much minimal as non-existent. I haven't been seriously tempted by either of them).

The reward for completing tasks is usually the in-game standard currency (or something you can sell to receive the in-game standard currency in BF), and possibly a few collectible bibs and bobs which go toward helping your heroes get some special character or perform some special action. In AA, you can get textbooks (which help you acquire new characters) or Pym Particles (which help you clean up the debris on new areas so you can place more buildings and create more facilities), as well as whichever bits of tat (I've seen Jetpack upgrades and Asgardian jewellery so far) are required to get your new character on side. In BF, you get various collectible bits and pieces which can help with generating collective missions, or earning various bits and pieces to decorate your farm. The rate at which you get these things is inconsistent and hard to predict (although the tasks which take longer will tend to drop more), and there's the "inconsistent reward" part of the Skinner box.

Now, of the two, I find I'm much more comfortable with AA - I can set my characters to doing something that will take 30 minutes, 2 hours, 4 hours, 8 hours, and just switch the tablet off (or set it to charge, which takes about 5 hours) or go to sleep, and check back in again when I have a bit of a break and pick up my rewards. There's only been one time-limited task (recruiting Pepper Potts as Rescue - and for that one, you pretty much had to spend real cash to buy shards, because the in-game time limits weren't achievable[1]) in the game so far, and that means there's no pressure to be constantly checking every few hours. It isn't anxiety-making, and for me, that's a good thing.

BF, by contrast, is one time-limited short-term task after another after another, and to meet the goals for those tasks, you pretty much have to be sitting and watching your farm constantly, and calculating whether or not you're going to be able to meet the goals they're setting. I got to the point where my mood was suffering (I have depression with co-morbid anxiety, which means anything which makes me anxious triggers the depression) and where I was starting to feel stressed out by the pressure of keeping up with the game. To the point where I wound up making a folder specifically for the bookmark for the game so it wasn't sitting there in my "visited often" list reproaching me. I'm tempted to head back to it today, but I doubt I will. The game is, for me at least, a worse time-sink than TV Tropes, and RationalWiki combined, and it doesn't leave much time around the edges of things for doing anything else. I don't know about other people, but I have a life outside my web browser.

The other big difference for me is AA has another source of inconsistent reinforcement - it has an interesting storyline, which gets advanced when you perform certain tasks, and which acts as the equivalent of an ongoing serial. So I find it's easy to get into a routine with that game - log in, collect the rewards from the last lot of tasks, catch up with whichever new bits of story have been generated by those, do the easy (short-term) tasks for each character (and pick up rewards as available), then get them going on the longer-term stuff (prioritising who gets to do what if there's a clash). It's also worth noting if you have the same activity on multiple quests, you only have to do it once - so if, for example, I have Tony Stark required to get in repulsor practice on the firing range for two different quests, provided I've opened both quests, one fifteen-minute bout of repulsor practice will get the job crossed off on both. So if, for example, I have Black Widow required to research at the Archives for two hours for three different quests, while Tony Stark is required to do archive research for eight hours for one, Black Widow gets priority.

So, of the two games, I'd argue for me, Avenger's Academy is the more successful Skinner Box, in that it'll keep me coming back in the long term. I don't mind the long waits between each activity, and I also don't mind the slow pace. The storyline is enough to keep me going for now. Big Farm, by contrast, is a bit too frenetic and busy for my liking - the rewards aren't worth the stress of constantly pushing the buttons.

[1] Once I realised this, I stopped worrying. Establishing a task as impossible always makes things a lot easier.

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Current Mood: geeky geeky
Game Review - Eternity

Game Genre: Hidden Object
Story Genre: Science Fiction/Steampunk/Time Travel
Developers: Lazy Turtle Games
Cost: 4 WildCoins to rent; 20 WildCoins to buy

Game Play: This one varied wildly between "oh good grief, I should have put my brain in a bucket before starting" and "oh good grief, just give me a useful hint, drat you!".

I found I consistently needed hints in hidden object scenes. I also found I was consistently needing hints in the main game itself, and the game hints are ... less than helpful. I certainly didn't find them very useful in most cases.

The game itself is pretty straightforward, and if you know the conventions of the hidden object genre, it's all pretty self-explanatory. There are a limited number of scenes in each "area", so to speak, and you can't leave an area until you've completed its objective. You can't complete the objective without clearing the area in each of the scenes you're looking at, and the in-game "map" (you can select the scenes from a maximum of about five in a rotating wheel) is very easy to master, and shows clearly which areas you've cleared.

The non-hidden object puzzles are a nice mixed bunch, including one "Tower of Hanoi" and a few interesting "match three" style puzzles.

Plot/Tropes: Simple almost to the point of absence, the storyline can be summarised as "complete tasks at various improbable points throughout fictional history in order to obtain clues regarding the location of your eccentric inventor grandfather".

I think my biggest "grr" about it is the description on the Wild Tangent site lists it as being "historical". The "history" in this story is fictionalised and bland to the point of ridicule - about the only genuinely historical figures you meet are Christopher Columbus (who is depicted as being greedy for gold) and Pharaoh Amenhotep (building a pyramid). You meet both Perseus and Theseus out of Greek myth, a stereotypical Mayan shaman wanting you to conceal their secret knowledge and become The One, a stereotypical Viking raider, Robin Hood and King Arthur, D'Artagnan of the Three Musketeers and the Compte de Monte Cristo, not to mention one of Jules Verne's characters and a stereotypical caveman. Each of these "historical" interludes is shallower than the average puddle, and anyone with any historical knowledge whatsoever will tend to cringe rather thoroughly.

Effects: Not much by way of animation (what there is tends to be paper doll style) and no voice acting (all text based). I'm willing to give them a pass on this because they clearly knew their limits and didn't try to go much beyond them. The majority of the animation budget is spent on the front "attract mode" screen.

Overall: Four out of ten for game play (I would have marked it higher, but the wildly inconsistent difficulty told against it); two out of ten for storyline (sorry guys, I'm a history buff and anachronisms make me itch), and six out of ten for effects (because they knew their limits and stuck within them). I'd suggest this one for kids more than adults - it certainly isn't aimed at adult plot level. If you have some nine-year-olds you want to keep busy on a wet Sunday afternoon, this game might be fun for them.

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Current Mood: exasperated exasperated
Review - Queen's Quest: Tower of Darkness, Platinum Edition

Producers/Creators: Brave Giant Studio
Cost: 4 WildCoins per play
Game Genre: Hidden Object/Puzzle
Plot Genre: Fairytale/Fantasy

Game Play: The hidden object genre tends toward two extremes - either fiendishly difficult, or pathetically straightforward. This game is the latter. The hidden objects aren't particularly well hidden, the puzzles are largely solvable through brute force and ignorance (really guys, one sequence-themed puzzle per game is plenty - having one after another after another really takes the gilt off the gingerbread), and the collectable elements are less than apparent.

I should explain. The hidden object scenes are generally pretty simple to find everything (to the point where I frequently didn't need to use the hint at all, and I'd pretty much given up on this game and put my brain in a bucket after seeing the opening animation). The puzzle mini-games tend toward toward 6-component "do things in the correct sequence" types, which means you need a maximum of 15 attempts to solve things (at 1 attempt per second, this means you're finishing most of the puzzles before your 30 second wait time for skipping them is completed). About the only challenging part is the "collectables" mini-game, where you have to collect four different types of object (one for each zone of the game, not that anything really clarifies this for you) in order to furnish a "throne room" area.

Plot and Tropes: The player character is a queen who has married her handsome prince and is just about to get her little baby daughter blessed by the court wizard. There's an evil wizard, a steampunk-styled dragon, a kraken and a gryphon to battle. This is a fairy-tale themed fantasy so generic it's ridiculous.

It also has one of my LEAST favourite game plot tropes - the "you have to hurry" plot, with no actual time limitation. Seriously, designers, if your plot is telling me to rush to save the baby or the world or whatever, you need to actually find a way of injecting this urgency into the game play. Telling me "X will happen if you don't hurry" when I know full well I could walk away from the game (while leaving it running on my system) for an hour or two, or even a week, and nothing will advance until I get back... well, it loses all impact. I know I'm going to be able to complete the challenge in time, so having the villain repeatedly tell me I won't isn't really cutting it as a threat, or even a realistic plot device. Why not go with "you'll never stop my fiendish plan" instead? At least that has the advantage of being plot relevant.

Aside from that the plot is so linear you can clearly see the end from the beginning, and there aren't even any interesting twists or bends along the way. The resolution of the main plot is vastly unsatisfying, and really did not enthuse me to play the "bonus" chapter (during which you presumably work to resolve the biggest dangling plot thread).

Effects: Imagine the cheapest paper doll animation you've ever seen. This is the standard this game uses. Very pretty pictures from magazines, cut out and moved in rather jerky stop-motion fashion. To be honest, if you're going to use such good visuals and such poor animation, I'd prefer if the animation wasn't going to be played "straight", as this was.

There's voice overs which die out about a quarter of the way through the game, and they're never in synch with the actual mouth movements (which may have been an English-language localisation issue, but is still rather annoying to view). The maps are primitive, but then, they aren't really needed from one scene to the next.

The voice acting is okay, but it loses a lot from the poor quality of the animation. Again, if you're going to have very poor animation, the least that could be done with it is making it into a feature rather than a bug - put a lampshade on it, play around with the whole business.

Overall: I gave this game 2/10 for game play, 1/10 for plot, and 1/10 for effects. Very poor, positively enjoyed deleting it off my system.

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Current Mood: disappointed disappointed
Game Review: "Mysteries and Nightmares: Morgiana"

Game Genre: Hidden Object
Plot Genre: Fantasy
Producers/Creators: Wild Tangent Games, Little Gaming Company
Cost: 4 WildCoins to play (68c Australian based on 50 WildCoins for $8.50)

Gameplay: The "hidden object" genre of games tends toward two extremes of gameplay. On the one hand, there's the games where you're going to be led by the nose from plot point to plot point, with very clear instructions all along the way. On the other hand, there's the games where "what should I do next" is as obscure as all get-out, and where the gamer spends a lot of time clicking wildly on just about anything in frame in the optimistic hope of finding out what they should be doing now. "Mysteries and Nightmares: Morgiana" fits itself extremely firmly into the latter category.

You're given a couple of general hints on whether there's something you need to be doing in a particular scene in the gargoyles which support either side of your inventory tray - if their eyes are glowing, there's something you can do here. Trust me, you will NEED those gargoyle hints, because the actual "hint" hint itself is about as vague as a political promise from a candidate who is seeking broad-base support from a rather apathetic electorate[1]. The "map" function also proves helpful here - learn to love the map, you're going to be referring to it a lot.

Why are you going to be referring to the map a lot? Well, unlike other games of this type, if you're in a room where you can't do anything at the moment, clicking on the hint will merely get you the information either that you can't do anything at present, or you've completed all the tasks in that room. Given you get that information from the gargoyles, this is no help whatsoever (other games of this type will at least let the hint button point you backwards out of the room). On the map, however, you are able to discover that a room you entered about five, ten, or fifteen pages back has something you can complete (and it allows you to jump directly to that room, rather than walking there the long way) which will, hopefully, trigger other options elsewhere. Or at least let you complete a hidden object puzzle to find the mcguffin which will allow you to move on to the next plot point.

Your tasks and notes are kept in the notebook, accessible through clicking on your heroine's portrait in the upper left corner of the screen - the number below the portrait is the number of outstanding tasks you have waiting to be completed. As per genre rules, the resolution of one or more of these tasks is tied up together. Unlike other examples of this genre, you aren't able to access your previously completed tasks, or your notes on previous sections of the plot.

In the actual hidden object sections, there's a pleasing lack of the "disguise things as other things" visual trope which tends to bedevil some examples of the genre[2] - instead all the player has to contend with is the challenge of knowing what to look for. For example, when the list of objects says "bow", do they mean "bow as in Hawkeye or Green Arrow's weapon-of-choice (longbow)" or do they mean "bow as in loopy knot (bow tie/ribbon bow)"? This is a pretty common thing in the genre, and is (for me) the cause of at least some swearing when, after spending ages chasing down everything else on the list, I eventually click on a hint and get taken to something I've been looking right at, but know by a different name. This is basically the developers exploiting a bug (or possibly a feature) of the English language, and it's pretty genre-typical.

Plot and Tropes: Okay, we have an amnesiac heroine who has been captured from their home and dumped down in a decrepit castle and has to figure out who she is, what she's supposed to do, and how to get home. There are magical talking animals (well, one talking mouse), magical wands, and whole heaps of creepy statues, skeletons, and torn tapestries all over the place. The furniture doesn't talk, fortunately.

Essentially, it's a story which is about sisterhood and rivalry. The female characters are so generic they just about come plain wrapped (one dark haired, red-eyed, pale-skinned evil princess who wears dark red; one blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned good ditto, wearing pink), there's only one masculine speaking role (the aforementioned talking mouse) and the resolution of this plot is rather hackneyed and hasty - it's as though the writers basically got told "we need a four hour storyline - no more, no less" and when they reached the four hour mark, it got chopped off short. It's a pity, in some ways, because there were some interesting plot hooks which could have yielded some fascinating developments had they been further examined (for example: we're told using magic sends the users insane; one of the things the player character is required to do on a regular basis is to use magic to achieve certain effects...).

Effects: There were some animated cut-scenes, and some reasonable voice acting, although the accent tended to wander around a bit (trying for English, occasionally drifting to northern USA). The voice actors at least did appear to be acting, rather than reciting things blankly off the page, so that was a nice change; also the CGI scenes didn't veer too far into the uncanny valley space.

Overall: It was interesting, but not that interesting, and the frustratingly opaque nature of the gameplay really did decrease my enjoyment of the game. Compared against other games of the genre, I'd give it three out of ten for gameplay, six out of ten for plot, and five out of ten for effects.

[1] You know the ones - "We may well do some unspecified thing at some unspecified time provided it doesn't annoy anyone too much".
[2] If you've ever played a hidden object game where the ruler or pencil you're supposed to find is disguised as part of a ceiling beam, you know sort of stuff I'm referrring to here.

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