Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Mini-Review: Dream Chronicles click fun

Just spent a leisurely-yet-fun last hour playing through the demo of Dream Chronicles by PlayFirst. (N.B. The demo from the link says it's half an hour - I downloaded the one over at macGamesStore.) Looks like it's a Mac game, but there are options to play on-line and something about a PC version at that first link. (What did you expect, me to go and find out or something? ;)

The story: an evil fairy queen (or someone) has cast some kind of sleeping spell to put everyone to sleep. You're in a weird dreamland chasing clues left by your husband, to get to the Queen and break the spell.

In terms of style and interaction, the game is very reminiscent of Myst and its brethren, with some other nods to Escape the Room type games. That's to say, the artwork is pretty nice, and there's a generally nicely-done fairyesque feel to the whole thing. The music definitely reminded me of Myst, in a good way.

The puzzles are obviously the main thing here though. The game is played as a series of "Chapters", or screens within which certain activities have to be completed. These start out fairly easily - find item X, apply it to Y to open the door and move on. Expect lots of clicking to pick up objects and use them - some of it is a little random at times, but for the most part it's fairly quick to advance. If you're really stuck, keep an eye out for "twinkles" on the screen that guide you towards needed items.

A few screens in, the puzzles are more drawn out, more complicated, and quite possibly more surreal too. It's usually quite clear what you need to do (even if it wouldn't necessarily make sense in a non-dreamworld). This is probably a good thing for a quick-delve type game, but does mean the majority of what you're up to is clicking stuff to find it, or putting items down in the right place. Still, each level/screen is different enough to keep the interest going.

Kind of a random review, this one, but having spent a little while being amused by it, I thought I'd throw it out there in case others fancied a look.

The full version of Dream Chronicles seems to be $19.95 from the main site, or $14.95 from the MacGamesStore. (See links above.) Maybe the latter is out of date.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Puzzle Balance: From Smithy to Santa

I'm sad to see that it looks like the smithy111110 arg trail may be over, for now at least. It was great fun with some nice little (not too easy, not to difficult) puzzles in it, an interesting mix of topics (UFOs, the occult, Lovecraft) and some fun voice acting. Maybe (hopefully?) I'm jumping to wrong conclusions, but the thank you message seems to wrap everything up like the end of a Scooby Doo cartoon.

Fortunately, perhaps through some divine providence for puzzle balance, the We Love Puzzles Christmas Conundrums Competition is on instead. Just over 3 weeks to come up with some fun - no prize, of course, but such motivation should never be needed - especially over the festive season...

Of course, that'll have to wait until I've concocted something suitable for visiting Bookmore with. Muahaha.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Currently playing...

Guinness' Tipping Point - a Flash-based code-hunt to tie in with their new advert. A nice mix of searching through video, Googling, and random puzzles (some are easy, some difficult, some just hidden), although Flash does annoy me at the best of times. Still, there's prizes being given away, so don't forget to register (or "join") if you're playing along in the UK.

Also been pointed at smithy111110's photos today by Bookmore. Not sure how deep this rabbit hole goes yet, but managed to get an early (and bunny-eared) name check already ;) So far, conversation is happening (albeit slowly - which is never a bad thing) over at We Love Puzzles and on the Unfiction forum.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Ideas: Gaming in a Web 2-point-O Land

I mostly hate the term "web 2.0" as I think it tries to encapsulate something - an idea, a trend - when all the best ideas come out of not being constrained in such ways. Still, it has some merit, so I continue to use it to refer to "modern" web services that focus less on websites and more on content: information, users.

With that in mind, and knowing that the likelihood of me actually getting round to doing either of the following for a while, here's 2 suggestions for stirring things up a little in modern "games":

1. An API for Wii Miis. Currently you can create your own Mii - an avatar for yourself, as a player - using a Wii, and then use that avatar in games that support it. You can also travel around via the Internet, or via a Wiimote, to other people's Wiis. Looks like you can also edit Miis on the web by loading and saving extracted binary files.

Why not skip this middle man (XML files and Flash editors), and open up Mii characters to all kinds of services via a standard API? In the beginning, it may make sense to limit it to read-only, but all of a sudden the Mii becomes not just a Wii thing, but an avatar for all occasions.

2. Twitter-based gaming. Hey, it's being used to keep track of who owes who beer, as well as for storytelling, so why not some simple games that are less "intrusive" (e.g. do one thing per hour, or per day, by sending a text) or take mobile interactivity into account (e.g. enter the code at a certain place).

This was kind of inspired by news of mobile gaming in the West taking a beating. Video is touted as what people really want, but if you look at it, people are quite happy with voice and texts. Twitter does texts for free, and provides a handy API for tying it into lots of lovely custom functionality, so why not use that as a platform for entertainment? (See also Boxr (and previous post on it) which seems to have its own own Twitter feed too.)

So there you go, 2 things that could be fun. Make it so.

Gamasutra at Essen

Not too much detail going on, but Gamasutra has a small report from the recent Essen board game show, including a mini-look at Eurogames such as Kingsburg, and some different concepts such as Seigo, which ties together Japanese characters with territory.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Perplexorum Looks to the Big Sleep

Today's downer news (well, Monday's - I've been busy) is that the Perplexorum forum will be going into suspended animation on Nov 11th. The site will be kept up for reference, but no new posts will be allowed. The Perplex City chat has obviously been minimal since the game was put on hold. Since then, the forums have been buoyed by discussion around the Golden Jigsaw and Alice is Lost games, both of which are now "over", one way or another.

There's still the unforums and the We Love Puzzles forum (for the time being ;) for all your ARG and puzzling needs, but hearty thanks go out to the Perplexorum team for doing a great job. Maybe we'll see them again next year if Perplex City gets going again... Watch this space?

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Phurther Fantom Phlummoxing

Added another Halloween-themed puzzle last night: Ghostly Presents. Funny how you can spend ages trying to mull over a new idea, but then a completely different one just pops into your head, ready to go. I call this "the voice of the hidden setter" and am off to Tikitiki to track it down and bottle it.

Friday, 19 October 2007

New puzzle: The Monstrous Magic Square

With the demise of Perplex City and Alice is Lost, I've been a little detached from on-line puzzlers recently. So I was delighted when the esteemed Bookmore pointed me to the We Love Puzzles Halloween Haywire Puzzle Competition. (WLP is what remains of PXC for those not in "the know".)

There are some great little puzzles already submitted which I'm looking forward to going through at some point. I got back to grips with the temperamental WLP puzzle-creation system to come up with "Monstrous Magic Square".

Even though it's Halloween, I didn't feel like being too demonic, so this one's more treat than tricky. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Alice: 1 ARG enters, another ARG leaves

And bah, just read that Alice is Lost is Dead. Bum. Maybe we'll get some reasons at some point.

Design an ARG for Cancer Research

This has big, big potential: Adrian Hon launches a new project together with Cancer Research UK: And Let's Change the Game is exciting on 2 levels. Firstly, the main goal is to employ an immersive game to encourage awareness of cancer research. Secondly, the competition, or challenge, perhaps, is to design this game.

On the whole, I think, using games for "serious purposes" is probably a good thing, even if it highlights the notion that it's difficult to take things seriously in modern culture. People put way more effort into games and communities than into, say, politics which they feel disengaged from. Adrian says the main challenge of designing the ARG will be to raise funds. In a way, this isn't so different from what PXC was doing - at the end of the day, the ARG relied on a private company which relied on cash income, so generating revenue from interest (and intrigue) basically = success! It's not hard, then, to look at the success/failure of PXC and take some lessons from it.

If I were designing an ARG for this (which, hey, I might well do yet ;), I'd be looking at ways to piggyback these ideas - interest and funding - on to the back of something which people can a) get into quickly/"loosely" and b) enjoy without feeling it's "for a cause". If you know you're involved in something primarily because they want your cash, you're more likely to not do it in the first place, no matter how good the story is.

So storytelling is an imperative, and if we go down that route then having some kind of personal run-in with cancer will be a huge advantage. ARGs rely on building emotions, and being able to draw on real ones is a big boon. Any team designing something should make sure they have at least 1 such person on board.

The interesting question, for me, in this is: how much emphasis on building a community should there be? Community breeds "stickiness" and - as Adrian says in his post - opens up huge new opportunities for what challenges can be set. But it can also act to put people off, as with big communities come big social investments - either you have both feet in, so to speak, or none at all. (That's not to say a multi-tiered approach isn't possible, but it does contribute to more work, and work which is nothing to do with planning the story such as possible community resources and moderation.)

I don't gots an answer to that one right now, and I'm not sure there's a particularly 'right' one anyway. Getting people hooked is important in this case, and it may be better to go down a more loosely-connected path. Or it may be better to get a viral campaign going and get more people hooked without necessarily spending your own marketing budget. One thing's for sure - the judges will be wanting to see some fresh ideas.

Addendum: CRUK have some useful pages on what they want/inspiration, an example submission, and their own forum.

Update: The Guardian have an interview with Adrian who has more advice for those entering. Some useful tips, including greater emphasis on what people will be doing, rather than just what the story is. Sounds like researching both cancer and CRUK, and merging that into everything, may be a good ploy.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Stone Heads Appear in Yorkshire

ARG or Art? 12 Stone heads "pop up" in Yorkshire.
Each of the heads, which are up to a foot tall, looks different but all feature the same carving - which appears to spell out the word "paradox" - and a note bearing the riddle: "Twinkle twinkle like a star, does love blaze less from afar?"
Update:, created by One to One Productions, looks like the "answer". Linky props to them for generating such huge publicity...

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Image Puzzle over at Ironic Sans

Hmm, so it's been a while since I posted here. With PXC out of the picture, I've been less active on the puzzling front. Still need to catch up with the last couple of episodes of Alice is Lost, in fact. Maybe that's just Summer for you.

Fans of hiding-stuff-in-images might like Ironic Sans' Puzzle. There are spoilers in the comments, but my only hint is that it reminds me of a puzzle from the NIN ARG. (Is that still going?) That shouldn't help too much...

Thursday, 28 June 2007

6op wiki brings you saviour from ugglebrain

Instead of a summary of what's been happening in 6op 1 libra, here's a link to the wiki we've started on it - there's even the start of a timeline as a way of introduction. I might still do a quick summary here at some point though, if I get time.

Why am I so interested in it? It's not like it's the only ARG out there, after all. I guess because a) there are only a few of us working on it at the moment, which is always nice, and b) the game seemed to "follow" me (or "stalk" perhaps) for a while. Soon after the initial sites were found and e-mail contact was made, a link to Sussex Uni's Informatics dept came up, followed by the phone number for Magpie. Having been a part of both these places in the last few years, it was only natural to be intrigued.

A couple of people I know have been "implicated" as part of the plot, although I'm still uncertain just how much they're involved. Still, the experience goes on.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Quickfire Post - 6op 1 Libra

If you're looking for something to do over the weekend, why not catch up with this thread on unfiction, and help us work out what the frooping hull 6op 1 Libra is all about. It's been a pretty odd few days - I'll write it up in a few days...

Monday, 18 June 2007

So you wanna be a Boxr?

Quick first-liner: Alice is Lost! has been updated with a second "intro-chapter", and accompanying hidden puzzle. Onwards...

An interesting game concept comes flying out of London's Hackday at the weekend: Boxr. (Shouldn't that be "Boxer?" "No." - web2.0 ed) The idea is basically a "capture the zone" run where teams compete to "tag" an area and then hold on to it (along with as many others as they can) for as long as possible. Each minute an area is owned, you get a point - simple. The fun bit is that each "zone" is a telephone box within a specific area, so running from phone to phone is the order of the day. Get to a phone, ring a number and dial in your ID to Pwn Dat Box!

Fun must ensue when you realise someone's making a call on the box you really need in order to win the game. Can violence be too far away? ("Peg off, Granny. Team 1337ZR needs to make a phone call...") And the game should progress faster and faster as players become increasingly less encumbered by carrying round a huge bag of 10 pence pieces in their pocket/on their back/in a trolley. (Do they still sell phone cards?)

Maybe something like the Payphone Directory could help in terms of getting a list of numbers together... Or maybe you actually only need, say, 5 phone boxes so long as other goals are introduced which force you away from the boxes regularly. Or something.

I guess it'd be easy enough to port the game over to other places - perhaps once the rain clears up, a match in Brighton should be arranged (although satellite images, on Google Maps at least, are a little poor).

(Via Vex Appeal.)

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Scott Reviews, Alice *still* Lost

If you look over on the left, you'll see a couple of links added. First up, I discovered Board Games with Scott, wherein Scott provides a cornucopia of videos reviewing various board games. I like his style, and am now seriously thinking of ordering a copy of The Pillars of the Earth. Still plenty of episodes to get through though, so maybe something else will swing my cash.

Secondly, I've stuck an extra, pictoral link into Eric Harshbarger's Alice is Lost!, just to show how excited about this one I am. If you haven't checked it out since last time I posted it, you may want to head over and have a look at the prologue. Various groups are also mobilising into action around it as well - continue perusing the site for links. Many thanks to Eric for letting me use the image, too.

This weekend I have mostly been playing Poker.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Perplex City: We hardly knew thee?

Not got much time to blog at the moment, but the big news of the weekend was that the second season of Perplex City has been postponed indefinitely, with the story team laid off. Having worked on coding projects in the past, I guess I have my own speculations about why this is, but they're probably wrong, and mostly unimportant anyway. For more information, speculation, and links to blogs (both in-game and out-of-game), have a read through the Perplexorum thread.

Still, sometimes there's a silver lining hidden round the bend. Eric Harshbarger of Mind Candy has announced his "side-project" called Alice is Lost!. Set to launch in Autumn, an Alice-themed ARG was always going to be inevitable. Personally, I can't wait...

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Competition: They think it's all over... It is now!

Well, it looks like my last round of hints did the job - we have a competition winner! The first to figure out what convoluted contortions to go through was Lysithea, so big congrats, global parcel delivery and a strange, monochrome photo to her...

Rather than posting the answer here, I've decided to put up a separate page with details of how to solve it. If you don't want to know, then look away now.

Big thanks to all who entered, and anyone that even had a look at it. Hopefully there'll be another giveaway (less PXC related) some time in the future...

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Blatant Clue, Blatant. (Competition Time again)

So it looks like my previous assistance didn't help too much. The competition is still on, and sounds like some of you are getting a little desparate now ;)

Firstly, gargantuan sorries for not updating it sooner - those of you running on term times will know how frantic it gets around this time of year. Still, that's no excuse. (Really I've just been playing Super Monkey Ball, but shhhh.)

Secondly, it's time to start giving the game away some more. Reminder: first one to mail me the correct answer (brute forcing it won't count) gets the goodies as promised. Now, I'm not sure which part people are stuck on, so here's a handful of hints: Key order is key. If your collection isn't up to scratch, this site may help. Ignore the middle ground - the edge cases will give you the 'initial' clue, but you may need to fill in the gaps a little.

Practically speaking, if you're not adept with photoshop or the gimp, there's nothing wrong with a little paperwork to get things in line.


Thursday, 3 May 2007

PXC S2 Preview Tomorrow

Following on from the "official announce", ARGNet reports that a Perplex City "preview episode" will hit the web on Friday (tomorrow, at time of writing). Sounds like it might be a way to keep old players ticking over til June, plus a nice introduction to things for newbies.

As details on the way season 2 will work are still pretty scant, this should be interesting to see. Video, I guess, will be used, but the interactive part remains a mystery. In particular, how will it balance individuals vs groupwork? I have much work to do, but will be keeping an eye out tomorrow for sure...

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

First come, first served.

It's Wednesday, I haven't seen any correct answers, so first one to get it right gets the stuff from now on. I'll post a hint later - probably tomorrow as I have no net access at home at the moment :( I'll probably also add a card or two to the stash.

In the meantime, enjoy xkcd's Labyrinth Puzzle.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Take your time, don't hurry... Loser!

Apparently American boardgame makers are making games faster to play, so people can cram them into their busy schedules. The article mentions a lot of examples, which I think can be split into two kinds of "speedplay".

First up, there's the games that have been designed or re-designed for the IMPATIENT. Like Monopoly/Scrabble express. I'm not vehemently anti-these, but they do seem to just "cash in" on the idea of playing a game. "Ooh, let's play Monopoly, only not." ish. I don't wish to be militant about it, I just think we should remember that playing a game in itself is something to do, not just a time-filler. Maybe the fact that we're still talking about Scrabble and Monopoly - classics though they are - just proves how "uninnovative" the US/Brit games industry is. Apparently the best way forward is to just churn out sponsored/tie-in versions of these, as seen with the move towards Visa [TM] cashcards instead of paper money, and a hundred bazillion versions of both Monopoly (including making your own, for endless enjoyment) and Risk (hi, PXC players ;)

Compare them to, say, Settlers of Catan or Carcassonne (of course) and it makes you wonder where all the new "classics" are - the ones that you really don't mind spending an hour or two with, because they're fun and novel.

Having said that, there are certainly some games out there that could benefit from some streamlining. Trivial Pursuit often drags on a bit (as does its "sibling", the Perplex City boardgame), and I've even played some games of Cranium that were getting a bit tedious by the end. Good game design is tricky to get spot on.

Second, there's the games that get their fun from the speed. The article mentions "grab scrabble", which I've played variations on, in which spotting things first is of the essence. Set is another example of how speed maketh the game, although Slam/Spit has to be the greatest.

These are a different breed though, and one of the attractions is that you can play a few games, and people have a greater chance of winning at least once. The race aspect gets the adrenaline going - something which merely replacing paper with plastic doesn't aim for.

Despite all this, I know it's always horses for courses (or courses for horses, I can never remember which way round it goes). I like to take an evening to play a game or two, relax into it like Poker. But do you find yourself playing more speedy games, and leaving the "big, proper" ones on the shelf? Do we need to make time to play games more these days? Or is it just the Americans? ;)

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Competition: Extension. And Some Help.

It's time - high time - for an update on the PXC competition from last week. Tomorrow's the ultimate deadline, and a few entries have been winging in, but alas either I've made a mistake, or you've all been guessing.

So as nobody's got the correct answer yet, I'll offer some hints. "Fortunately" (for some), the PXC Stories site has been delayed until June, so the urgency of sending out keys doesn't have quite the same.. um... urgency. As a result, I'll keep the competition open for another week and a half before turning it into a "first correct solve wins" effort. That means the deadline is now Sunday 15th April, giving you Easter and a weekend.

A hint then? Hmm, ok. Well, the puzzle's a 2-parter (as I hope some of you have worked out...), and some graph paper may help you to expand upon the 2nd part. On one level, you will need to ignore what you see. Finally, if you're new to PXC, the wiki may be of use for identifying characters...

I'm far too kind. Go forth and solve.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

New ARG-centric t-shirt designs available

Pretty quiet day, so I've added a few designs to the Scribewear shop. First up, there's the tinag-eye designs - with and without teardrop in case you want to choose between showing off your manliness, and proudly displaying your sentimental affinity with nu-literature...

These are both available as normal shirts, cheap shirts (no idea what the quality is like on those...) and ladies' tops.

Then there's the equally-obscure [SPOILER] design on dark blue, available with an opening tag only, or complete with closing tag on back...

Maybe they'll hope to mop up the news that PXC stories has been delayed til June...

Monday, 26 March 2007

Competition Time! Win a PXC Key and other random bits

(Update 3: It's all over! See this post for the winner and the solution.)

(Update 2: Two sets of hints have now been added: see the first and the second.)

(Update: Oops, forgot to set up the e-mail address for entries. Looking through logs, I can only see one entry, but if you sent me mail and I haven't got back in touch, then pleeeease send it again. Sorry about that... [goes off to weep] )

There's nothing better than a bit of altruism, except perhaps for some altruism that's been passed through a puzzle filter and made into a sweaty competition of brains and scissors. So, in celebration of season 1 of Perplex City, the start of season 2, and my feeble attempt to clean out my house before moving, I've decided to hold one of these adrenaline-filled contests. Think 300, but with more clothes and (hopefully) less pits.

This started out as a way to give out a spare key, as inspired by AgentLex, but in the true spirit of "I have too many things", I'm throwing in some other bits that newbies to the ARG may not yet be enjoying. Thus, the list for successful winning is as follows:
  • 1 Perplex City Key, for use very soon over at perplex city stories

  • 1 CD of the Viard album, The Silver City

  • "24 hours in Perplex City", a short tourist's pamphlet introducing you to the city

  • 1 lot of 4 stickers with the now outdated legendary "Lost. The Cube. Reward..." message on

  • 1 copy of "Perplex", volume 0 - "the magazine of Perplex City", with all kinds of fun and games in

  • Most importantly, 1 photo of Coxtin, Idlemichael and Dragonscales DJing at the recent end-of-season-1 party. Take it with you and get it signed by everyone you know!
Oh, yes! I can hear you leaking in anticipation already! So we need a puzzle to get things moving... OK.

Of all the fine people that have appeared in the first season of PXC, which one do these keys hold the key to?

There, that's all you're getting for now. Some handy rules to help you along:
  1. E-mail your answer to on or before Wednesday 4th April Sunday 15th April.

  2. You can e-mail me more than once, but only your latest answer will be used.

  3. I'll do a random draw thing on the 16th, and the first one out will get the stuff.

  4. If nobody's e-mailed me the right answer by the Monday, I'll post a(nother) vague and cryptic clue, and make it first-correct-wins, although any random guessing/brute force will be frowned upon...
Right. It's not that difficult. Stop reading, and go get on with it.

Japanese Puzzles 2.0

CNet has an article on the "democratisation" of puzzle-creation by Japanese puzzle magazine Nikoli. The article goes into how people/readers can submit their own, freshly-invented kind of puzzle for consideration, as well as into some history and reasons for why Japanese puzzles came about.

I, for one, welcome any new Slitherlink overlords that may happen to infiltrate us.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Get out of *that*!

OK, I admit it, I'm stuck.

Sphere - "Escape from the locked room" - is a simple point-and-click puzzle thing, with the object of the game being pretty clear. You can click on things to interact, use objects you pick up by clicking on them, look at them closely by selecting the magnifying glass, etc. I've got a fair way in (I think) but I've run out of ideas now. Thankfully, you can also save and load your position to come back to it later.

All in all, a great fun little game - very reminiscent of Myst et al, but any hints as to how to proceed would be greatly appreciated... ;)

Monday, 5 March 2007

New Puzzle number 2

I decided to give the Perplex City "Create-a-puzzle" engine another spin, so this new puzzle is up over there. It's rated a blue:

Countdown to...?

Sunday, 4 March 2007

New Puzzle

Have put a new, fairly simple riddle up over here: Three of a Kind. No prize, no points, just for fun.

It's the third in a series, in case you want to catch up :) More to come soon...

Friday, 2 March 2007

Perplex City 2.0 is Go

So, once again I've been neglecting my blogging duties, tut. The new Perplex City website has been launched a little while ago, featuring a veritable plethora of puzzles that are free to play. These include Japanese puzzles, so all you sudoku, hitori, hashi/bridges/"ponturu", etc fans can get an interactive fix. In addition, there are plenty of word-based puzzles such as crosswords and rebuses (rebii?), various visual puzzles, and some rather addicitive flash games lurking in the sidebar too. Phew. Ought to keep you going for quite a while.

Regarding the ARG and the cards, which were the part of season 1, these look like they're being "separated"s lightly. The first wave of new puzzle cards were released yesterday (and can be bought from many places, including Firebox), although it looks like the PXC technical team are working their socks extra hard, as the functionality to actually enter solves on the site has been delayed until today. (5pm, apparently.) Meanwhile, the ARG side of things is set to go in April, over at Perplex City Stories, with fancy new video and everything. Could be an interesting ride.

So, opinion? The new site has a great range of puzzles that have kept me clicking for hours now. There are a lot of nice and easy puzzles, but a few ones that look pretty evil too. Alas, it does seem that quite a few of particular puzzle types - e.g. wordplay ones - have been taken straight from the board game, so some possible deja vu/spoilers there. What's great though is the integration of the puzzle creation tools. It looks like you're still limited to multiple-choice, which is a shame in a way (although maybe this is for future use in some "Slamboozle" feature they mention...), but it's nice to see the community aspect continue. The cards themselves are looking just as devilish as ever, too. The map of Perplex City on the back has gone, but I won't give away what's replaced it.

So go have a play with it all, if you haven't already. More free puzzles, who can complain? :)

Thursday, 15 February 2007

An Update on NIN: Year Zero "arg"

The NIN Year Zero "ARG" (unfiction thread) is continuing apace into ever more intriguing climes. 3 days ago, one of the tracks from the forthcoming album was found on a USB key in a toilet stall at a gig. Static at the end of the song reveals an image of The Presence, which is lurking darkly beneath the ARG-like story so far.

Interesting times...

Friday, 9 February 2007

Cubed: A Beginning and an End.

The PXC Sentinel reports, after many years, that the Receda Cube has finally been found, bringing Perplex City's first season to an end. Unfiction member Rand0m (listed as 'astro_random') was the lucky (read "dedicated", although it was a close-run thing) locator.

Useful links:
Join us at the party on the 24th :)

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

A time of Great Change

So, it seems, February brings great upheaval. Apart from MindGames dripping out of the ear and running off into the night, rumours are that the Receda Cube has been found by an unknown party. The Malice Box Quest is set to finish on the 12th (and looks like I have some catching up to do...) Other ARG, Vanishing Point is wrapped. All good things, apparently, come to an end. But an end is just a beginning in disguise...

Anyway, this post is a semi-reminder to myself for things to post later. Here's my todo list...

  • Slyly advertise my new T-shirt "store". (Done. More designs to come. So many more...)

  • Maybe give away a T-shirt.

  • Run a competition to win my old Rubik's Linky Ringy Deluxey Thingy.

  • Reviews! Polarity and Fluxx will hopefully follow.

  • Some stuff on Season 2 of Perplex City, as it's imminent now...

Sigh. So much writing, so little time. Watch this space, anyway.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Boo and Hiss - MindGames mag cancelled

Disappointment of the week is the hugely annoying news that the BBC's MindGames magazine has been cancelled after only 9 issues. The past 6 or 7 months have really got me back into puzzles (possibly to the not-so-beneficial impact on reading and working...), and this magazine had the largest, most diverse monthly set of puzzles I could have hoped for (rather than concentrating on Sudoku, or Japanese logic).

Still, it was admittedly a brave (but beautiful) move on behalf of the BBC. The sudden and surprise rise of Sudoku (and the emergence of other puzzles, such as Hutosiki in the Guardian and Brain Training games) was cause for some hope in the never-ending effort to get people thinking. While there any many magazines exploiting this fact, it was only the BBC that really took on the possibilities. The opportunity to introduce logic puzzlers not just to new variants, but also to cryptic crosswords, general knowledge rounds and all other codes and quests was adventurous and inspired.

But perhaps it was just before its time. The world likes little distractions, maybe, and MindGames was a fair undertaking within the limited time of a month. The true puzzlers are still relatively few and (importantly) far between, so its hard to tell how much of the inability to sell was merely a lack of advertising support.

Or maybe it simply tried to do too much. Cruciverbalists have their Times and Guardian daily dosage. Similarly with Sudoku fans. And pub quizzes provide a ncie social setting for those wishing to show their general knowledge prowess.

Still, I think there is a niche out there for a magazine like this. There seem to be plenty of people putting together puzzles, running blogs, and discussing the latest fashions. Perhaps a smaller magazine would be plausible. Perhaps even, in this day and age, some kind of community-run version would be a possibility. (Although, while the Net is great, I do like my puzzles printed - but I don't like printers... Paradox!)

Anyway, while we wait to see what the future brings for the puzzling world, raise a glass to toast the passing of another fine magazine.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

The Malice Box Quest has started

Meant to blog this the other day, but ended up going away instead. Oops. Ah well, I don't think it's too late to sign up for the Malice Box Quest yet.

The basic premise: The Malice Box is bad, but needs Red Gold to go off. By locating the 7 locations of Red Gold around the Earth, you can stop it going off. 7 rounds of 3 questions/puzzles each are released over a month. The more questions you get correct, the better your chance of getting the Red Gold's location correct. The 7 locations then give you a clue to where the Malice Box is, so the better your location guesses are, the more likely to find the final location (+ the more chances of guessing you get).

Nice idea, and nicely implemented - you browse around Google Maps to place your guesses. So far the puzzles (1 round) have been quite varied, plus even if you can just Google them, you still need to do some digging to work out how the answers fit together for a location. Plus it's only a month...

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Games/Puzzles vs the "Real World"?

So a post over on 'The Frontal Context' on Puzzles, Mysteries and the nature of Science explores the link between information, discovery and the unknown. But (for me) it also sparks another question: what links are there between puzzles/games, and the 'wider world'? How applicable are gaming aand puzzling skills to real, every day life?

There's a lot of discussion, for instance, over the effectiveness of 'Brain Training" style games, especially for the young, the old and, um, Carol Vorderman. But the more sceptical of us are wary of such a "straightforward" link between simple mental "exercises", and how quickly/deeply one's brain may be able to think. (I must admit here that while I'm sure there may be plenty of research into the area, I haven't had the time (or, indeed, inclination) to look any of it up.)

Experience suggests to me that puzzles offer a drastically diverse range of mental "exercise". Many Japanese logic puzzles, for example, are attractive because this logic offers us an extremely linear solution. "If A, then B. If B, then C." - There is little need to choose anything subjectively, or for guesswork. At any stage, you should know if you are right or wrong. This is one, very specific kind of exercise.

Other types of puzzle - random sums, and timed puzzles, for example - naturally lead to slightly different skills. But the issue of everyday applicability is still questionable.

By contrast, I offer an anecdote. Go is considered by many to be the greatest game around - greater than Chess, due to its simplicity, and the complexity that arises from this. Still, the same principle applies to Chess, nonetheless. After heading home from my 4th or 5th session of getting into Go, something clicked in my head and I realised that of the various traits needed to get off the ground, the ability to sacrifice was a hugely important one. The complexity of Go led to very important, but equally very basic strategy such as this, and the basicness of it, I find, makes it also very "transferable" into real life situations - sacrifice and compromise need to be considered at all times, whatever the aim.

This is, perhaps, an extreme, but it hopefully highlights the very real role that games and puzzles can have within a much wider existence. If life is one big puzzle/mystery, then what ideas and revelations can we take forth from "trivial" pursuits? What types of game and riddle do you find to have a much bigger impact on your train of thought than you ever expected? Do you notice the difference that games like Brain Training make in other activities at all? Do you even find that experience in life changes how you play games or solve puzzles?


Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Monitoring Progress

Just spent a fun few minutes going through Fields of logic, a game of, uh, logic - "work out what to do one each level" kind of thing. Took me less than a quarter of an hour, apparently, so nice little timewaster. On to its predecessor, next... Oh, and a big thoughtful post coming soon, I hope :)

(Via Jay is Games.)

Friday, 5 January 2007

MindGames podcast out

January's edition of the BBC MindGames podcast is out, with the usual mix of pub trivia questions and magazine plugs ;) This month, test your knowledge on children's TV, fat-fighting, pop music and celebrities. I admit to get a rather appaling 7 out of 20, and missing the "Weird News" round. Ah well :) You can find it/subscribe over at the MindGames Podcast page, or download it directly.