Monday, August 25, 2014

Game Retrospective: Hex Cell Plus

Okay, so the long form build up to my currently played game wasn't working. Some would see that as a sign that I should stop trying to talk about videogames on the blog. Well, I see it as a sign that we should talk about slightly different videogames. Recently, I asked my FB friends to pick random numbers that corresponded to positions on Steam account. And then I would play them, and talk about them here. The results: Shelter (badger mommy sim), 10 000 000 (bit runner meets match 3), Zuma's Revenge (marble blasting), and HexCells Plus (minesweeper puzzle game). The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, and Hammerwatch (pixel-based fantasy tactics thing). 

I didn't have the heart to tell the poor dears I already did 10 000 000. Mostly because I'd like to play it again. 

Anyway, a review of the first one I finished, HexCell Plus, after the break.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HULK Smash-hit: Incredible Hulk 201-300, pt 1

In one of the more questionable uses of my time, I've recently read a hundred issues of the Hulk #201 to  #300--that's the period from 1976 to 1984. Most of the period is Bill Mantlo's time as writer on the title, and it's... an odd bag. Join me, then, after the break, for a general discussion of issues 201 to 220, as we talk about such things as deadbeat magicians, over-eager landladies, and the special love between villain and henchman.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Judging Judging Books By Their Cover

Question: is there a correlation between a fantasy book's perceived quality and the quality of its cover?

The answer which may surprise you below. Warning: surprise not guaranteed.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Match 3 part II: The Matchening

Man, July was a sparse month for blogging. Well, we'll fix that. We will blog it faster, stronger, better. Or at least sooner. Continuing where last post's videogame travelogue left off, I was slowly, slowly edging towards describing Battleheart: Legacy, and listing all my match 3 substitutes. Let's try that some more, after the break.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Swappin' Blocks: A Match Three Tale about a game that is not a match 3 game

All right: as promised, a game-related post. What a radical departure! Battleheart: Legacy, Little Big Planet, Reign Maker, Costume Quest, Sunless Sea, Cosmic Encounter, and Dark Souls II,all after the break. And when I say they're after the break, I mean the first post where I didn't get around to talking about any of them at all was so long I've decided to do this in pieces.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Adventures in Cat-Sitting

I've got yet another game post in the near future, but for now: cats, cats, cats. After the break.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Google Custom Search: Customize Your Frustration

A few weeks back, I'd hoped that Google Custom Search would help in my efforts to track down well-written but nonscholarly game criticism. Yeah, not so much, as it turns out. It worked great for Nier, and produced a fairly full body. But when I started to use it for better known games, the cracks started to appear in the system. There were two major problems:
 1) Too much of the same. You know that little notice Google sometimes puts at the bottom of your searches, the one that says they've omitted similar results? Well, Custom Google does not omit that, and isn't the better for being more thorough. When it searches a site, it'll find the most prominent page featuring your search term on the site. Then it'll list it again in the site's monthly archive. Then again in the total page set search. And again. And again. When my first dozen or so results are variations of the same page, that gets frustrating.
2) Cut off point. The other issue is that, even with (or maybe because of) these repeated searches, it's truncating my list. The first page says that there's thousands of entries found, but the time I hit page two, that same number is twelve, and my search is abruptly over. Worse, it's clearly missing some entries; searching "Elder Scrolls" and "Skyrim" brings up results that aren't in just a search for "Elder Scrolls."

At this point, I'm basically stuck with my original method, using the site: search option to check promising sites out individually, which is hardly an optimal method, when you've got just under a hundred sites in your total list. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there's some sort of threshold limit for the number of sites you're searching, and I've passed the ideal amount, creating all the noise in the system.

If we're going to insist on making this a teachable moment, then this is a good example of mental models in action, or failed action. This idea comes up in HCI (Human Computer Interface) a lot, and it involves how we respond to stimuli. Essentially, humans rarely really understand how the world works. What we do is we create mental models of how we think a given system works, based on how it responds to us. Frustration with a designed product often comes from a moment when we realize our mental model doesn't actually match an object's reality. (Although frustration can come from plenty of other sources too.) A big part of design--and game design, specifically--is how to cater towards players' expectations, or even push their expectations in certain directions. Skeuomorphs are one such tool; making some new technology deliberately look like older technology, so people will go to it thinking they understand its function. Computer design is littered with these; an easy example is the Word spreadsheet--it's really not very much like the print spreadsheet at all in terms of all the extra stuff it can do, but it's useful to start by thinking of it as a spreadsheet. The downside to skeuomorphs is that often people never go any further; they assume the tech just models the tech they know, and never learn what else it can do--or learn where the new version falls short, until it does.

In a nutshell, my mental model of the Google Custom Search was that it functioned like the regular google search I was familiar with, but it looks like it doesn't. Perhaps even worse, it may be that the fault is also that my mental model of the regular Google search was flawed to begin with. It may be time to upgrade my knowledge of how a search engine works--but that still doesn't guarantee I can fix the custom search to work more like I want it to, so it may not be worth the effort.

Mostly, this post is just an excuse to take a break from searching through pages on Elder Scrolls that I don't need. You'd think more people would be talking about the use of scrolls in the game. I mean, it's right there in the title and everything.

Later Days.