Thursday, January 31, 2008


The short version: don't bother with Arkhart.

The long version begins now: Arkhart is another incomplete game. They got the engine functioning, if not complete, but there's no real game here, and it's a bit annoying to toy with.

This is a 3D isometric RPG, which looks vaguely like Diablo would have if it had come out a few years earlier than it did. There's a backstory involving the arrival of some alien insects, and a rogue priest who starts a war between the 'humans' and the aliens, centuries ago, but in this demo sorta dealio, that doesn't really matter.

The biggest problem with this game is that it's not done, resulting in the main quest being about ten minutes long, and only that long because walking around is painfully slow and there isn't a run button. Outside of that, there are a few other things that make it not even as good as you would expect from that level of completion.

The developers were French, apparently. This results in the French equivalent of Engrish mostly, with some parts not translated at all, and therefore entirely inscrutable to my mostly monolingual self (I took Latin in high school, and German in college; I understand less than nothing of French). The font the game uses is a bit hard to read in the first place, and badly translated + badly rendered = hard to understand, if occasionally unintentionally amusing.

As far as I can tell, the only controls are the arrow keys, for rotating the camera and moving forward (you can't move backwards, which makes for an unintuitive experience from the getty-up), and the left mouse button for... clicking on things. Most things do nothing when clicked upon, but you can initiate conversations with NPCs via clicking on them, and I think clicking on a flower picks up some leaves of the flower, although I couldn't tell as the dialog box that comes up is entirely in French. I needed to collect two things, one of which I got from an NPC. I can only assume I got the other one from clicking on the flower.

The sound gets a little old (it's just one song that loops) but is nice enough. It has that fantasy film score vibe, only less so.

All you can do is talk to NPCs and walk around. I didn't do much exploration after it told me that I'd finished the demo, so there may be a massive world here, but if so, it's not worth your time to examine it. Which is a shame, because the graphics are crisp if a little old-school, the engine seems to work at rendering the environment, and with a little work it could have been used to build an actual decent game. I think.

But first they'd have to add a run key. The character walks at an amazingly slow rate; if they'd made the same game in the 2D tile-based Adonthell engine, it would have taken approximately a minute and a half to finish the quest, but it takes like ten or fifteen minutes here. The difference comes solely from the time it takes to walk from place to place.

Since this game hasn't been updated since 2003, I think it's safe to assume that you're really wasting your time if you bother downloading it. It's not a game, it's a tech-demo, and it's not even a particularly engaging tech-demo. If you're a member of the dev team that was putting it together, wasted countless hours making it work, and then somehow stopped before adding a plot or any real gameplay, I beg you to reconsider. It seems like you got the hardest part over; why not make something fun out of it?

Angry, Drunken Dwarves

On the basis of the title, if nothing else, I approve of Angry Drunken Dwarves. Honestly, that's just a great title. And it relates to the gameplay about as much as the word 'bobble' does to Puzzle Bobble. Actually, probably less. I don't know what 'bobble' means, so it may be very relevant to the Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move games.

This isn't actually a drunk dwarf-fighting simulator, it's another puzzle game. It's basically a mashup of Puzzle Bobble and Tetris. Rather than firing colored bubbles at the field of play, the colored pieces drop down, and you can rotate them. Eliminating blocks of these pieces places pieces in the opponent's playfield to contend with.

There are some nuances and whatnot that add more depth to the game, but it's basically just Puzzle Bobble rules with Tetris mechanics. It's a lot of fun, though I prefer Puzzle Bobble (or even Snood). This is just personal preference; I enjoy the shooting/guesstimating-style gameplay they offer to the rotating and concrete gameplay offered by Angry, Drunken Dwarves.

Graphically, the game is a weird mix of Windows 3.1 shareware aesthetics and really nice-looking professionally-developed-game style. The main menu is pretty much of the former variety, while the actual game is mostly the latter. The character portraits (did I neglect to mention that? You pick a character from a number of amusingly biographied options; it affects gameplay in the same way it does in Puzzle Bobble: different characters throw different patterns of blocks at the enemy when you're successful) are a bit of each.

Sound wise, C&C Music Factory is all over the title-screen. Seriously, every time I start the game, that's what I'm reminded of. It's a really well-done soundtrack, but the music is (intentionally, I think) laughable as all get out in the context of drunken dwarves. Typical dance music from the 90s is the only way I can think of describing it, although it does veer from that description a bit during gameplay.

The game features unlockable features, but it wasn't enough of my thing to actually unlock any of them. I actually did plan on playing until I unlocked at least one thing, but with my chosen character (he's a pirate!) I kept hitting a brick wall at a certain point, and apparently hitting a brick wall a half-dozen times doesn't unlock anything. I apologize to the programmers for not trying harder and/or being better at their game, but honestly, while I respect it for what it is, it's just not my kinda thing.

Make no mistake, I do respect it for what it is. It's a well-done game, that's a mashup of two very popular styles of games, both of which have been ripped off endlessly; that this one does something relatively new makes it an homage rather than a pathetic attempt to take credit for someone else's idea. There was a sense of humor behind this that I definitely like, and the art-direction is solid if not awe-inspiring. I can't really say anything bad about this game, which - I think - says something very good about it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Ack! This game is scary!

Anagramarama needs a new dictionary file. One that isn't batshit-insane (okay, I'm not going to use that phrase anymore; I know we all miss Hunter S. Thompson, but I can't go a day without reading it somewhere). The basic game is one we're all familiar with - you're given a random set of letters, and you have to make as many words out of them as you can. You can play it on the MegaTouch at the bar, you can play it at Yahoo! Games, and it's probably been done a thousand times as a shareware or mobile game.

Normally, the complaint with this type of game is that the dictionary is too small. They went the other way, with this one. Anagramarama has tons and tons of words that are not words. If can only find one dictionary that mentions it, and that dictionary mentions it as an alternative spelling from 17th century Scotland, I'm sorry, but that's not a word. I know there are words that I don't yet have in my vocabulary, but honestly, I'm pretty good at games like this. This thing uses medical terms, technical terms, archaic terms, slang... all kinds of terms that aren't typically included in such games.

This basically means that it's impossible to fully complete a board by filling in all the possible 'words' unless you resort to trial and error, which is frustrating. If the game were more complete, it would be worse, but as Anagramarama has no high-score list, and doesn't allow you to carry your score onward from one 'level' to the next, getting a high score is rendered irrelevant.

So if you're desperate to build words from letters, Anagramarama is a decent outlet for that. But you'd be better off playing Text Twist at Yahoo! or heading down to McCormack's and playing Wordster on the Megatouch machine. Order a Pain, if Mac's working, and enjoy yourself.

Alien Arena

Alien Arena could proudly do battle with retail software on an even footing. It's really pretty, and it also feels really polished. This totally blew me away - I was expecting something vaguely like Unreal Tournament only crappier. Let's face it, nine times out of ten, the free open source option is usually substandard as far as graphics go, and often as far as features go, in comparison to its retail equivalent.

Not so, this time around. Alien Arena is fast-paced and frantic, with four-star look and feel (alliteration!). It's great. Primarily for multi-player, it features a number of varied game-types with the option to have AI bots playing in the multi-player maps. I didn't actually play with anyone else(*), but I played against bots on a server-game I hosted, and it worked fine. The basics like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are all available, and it also had a couple of game-types that sounded bizarre (but may be mainstays in the genre; I played UT and UT2004 a handful of times, years ago, so I'm not an expert).

From looking at the website, there seems to be an active community. There are rankings, clans, tournaments, and all the meta-type stuff that makes for a more immersive multi-player experience. For an entry price-point of zero dollars, this is an awful lot of bang for your buck.

The single-player experience is not as fully fleshed-out, but it almost seems unfair to dock it points (imaginary points, since I'm not actually scoring anything) for that. My biggest complaint is that there doesn't seem to be any way to save your progress, so you always start at the same level, and have to work your way through the maps from the beginning each time. Outside of that, the biggest thing it was missing was versatility as far as game type goes. As far as I could tell, the only thing available to single-player was Deathmatch.

Graphically, it's very nice-looking, although a bit stereotypical as far as dark steel corridors n' neon lights go. The website likes to talk about its retro sci-fi art-direction, but honestly, the only thing that's retro sci-fi about it are the character models. There are vehicles, though I didn't mess around with that much.

The weapon models are all quite nice, and the weapons themselves are unique, with visually impressive attacks. I found most of them to be a bit annoying, as most of them have long delays for powering up before discharging their ammo (exceptions being the chaingun, and a few of the beam weapons), but they were quite powerful to make up for that, and also just a lot of fun to look at. Every weapon has an alt-fire, which is always nice.

I think the designers struck a good balance between power and speed that allows for a lot of variability in the play experience and allows players to have favorites. The choice of weapon really matters a lot; in days of yore when I was playing FPS games multi-player at LAN parties, too often it seemed like there was the rocket launcher, and then there was everything else. Weapon-balance has come a long way since then, and it shows in this game.

The level-design didn't strike me as particularly creative, but it was also never particularly lackluster. The levels are varied, though they tend to feel like retreads of levels I've played before in other games, visually. They're certainly good enough to impress me with the game overall, graphically and fun-wise.

The soundtrack is nice, and the sound-effects are good as well. It's typical battle-techno type stuff, but it's well done, and sets the mood quite nicely. (If you do a manual install, run the file 'crx.sdl', and not 'crx', to start the game; 'crx' messes the sound all up, or at least it did on my system)

One minor note: the version that Ubuntu installs is 6.05 - the most recent version is 6.10, which came out in October of last year. Presumably Ubuntu's packages will catch up with the next major release? I'm not sure how that works. I tried both (You have to manually download 6.10 from the website) and the only thing I noticed that was really different, outside of an additional weapon, was that I didn't like the font the pop-up messages use in 6.10. They were larger and easier to read, so it's probably just a question of form vs. function. There are some minor changes to the rules (items spawn quicker, etc.) in an attempt to alter the flow of the game, and apparently a great improvement as far as the network code goes, making lag less problematic.

If you're looking for a UT-style multiplayer FPS, you really ought to give this one a look-see. It costs you nothing, it runs flawlessly on my slightly outdated Athlon XP system, and it's damn good. It's probably not as pretty as the latest iterations in the QW or UT franchises, but you wouldn't kick her out of bed. Trust me.

*See the inaugural post on this blog. I'm not interested in playing multiplayer games.


Hrmn. I wonder how many incomplete games I'll be running across over the course of this seemingly never-ending quest? This is either the first or the second, depending on how you reckon it. The last game I looked at, Adonthell, was technically incomplete, but offered a complete storyline, and even a credit-sequence, so you could consider it a finished product of sorts. Airstrike doesn't go that far.

It's really pretty, though.

I expect that when it's done, it will be something like that game Combat for the Atari, with a little more depth. As it stands, there are two players: left (red) and right (blue), named for which side of the screen they start on. They're biplanes. The object of the game is get five kills before your opponent does. First one to do that wins the round.

Since the game is unfinished as all-get-out, there's just the one level, replayed over and over again. There's no sound, and there's very little point, as it doesn't even keep a score (it doesn't even keep key-mappings, actually; there's nothing saved from session to session), but it's endearing nonetheless. Mostly because the graphics are relatively high-res for a Linux game, and really well done. It vaguely reminds me of Orisinal, though a bit less cutesy.

Besides the two bi-planes, there's a ground-based cannon that can kill either of the players, and a seemingly random number of balloons, hot-air balloons, and zeppelins. Occasionally the zeppelins would blow up, but I could't tell if that was because I was shooting them, because I was running into them, or because they're on a timer. It seemed pretty random. There doesn't seem to be any documentation either.

I'm tempted to say they shouldn't even really include this on their list of installable apps (hide it in Synaptic's full-featured version; don't showcase it in the easier-to-reach menu that's theoretically for plebs and offers fully featured software) but it really is the prettiest game so far, and if my roommate weren't passed out, it probably would have been fun to relive the old Atari days and shoot at each other while hovered around the same keyboard for a while. If and when they finish the game, and add network-play support, this could actually be a fun multiplayer game.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Adonthell: Waste's Edge

The best of the lot, so far, despite the fact that's it's basically a tech-demo for incomplete technology. Adonthell is a game engine that is eventually (we all know how open-source development tends to go, right?) going to be used to craft an old-school console-style RPG set in an epic Tolkienesque world. Waste's Edge is a module that demonstrates where the engine is at right now.

While the final product may aspire to the heights of great SNES RPGs such as Final Fantasy II (IV in Japan, I think) or Earthbound (Mother 2 in Japan, I think), Waste's Edge plays more like an extremely simplified adventure game that takes those old-school RPGs as inspiration for its user-interface. There is no combat, and no inventory system (although that is deceptive; technically in two spots your character actually picks up an item - but it's done solely through text and plot-triggers, and doesn't involve an actual inventory system).

What is there? Well, there's a solid story and the enter-button. That's right, one button. You use it to activate people and objects. Basically, if you're in front of an object, you press enter, and it looks at it (or, in rare circumstances, interacts with it). If you're in front of a person, it initiates conversation. You use the arrow keys to move around, but outside of that, the only key you use is the enter-key.

It's relatively short - call it an hour or three - but because of that, the simple system never really gets old, and it actually works to make the experience more gratifying than some RPGs by not making you waste tons of time grinding to level up so you can beat a boss-character, or doing all the "realistic" things RPGs tend to require, like buying potions or resting. Despite the fact that the game consists entirely of walking up to people and talking to them, then using what they've said to figure out who you need to talk to next, it's fast-paced and a lot of fun.

Since the bulk of the game is just reading conversational text, it helps that the writing is consistently at the higher level of fan-fiction type stuff. It's readable, and has a lot of personality, and doesn't descend into frightening levels of cliche very often.

Before I continue, one caveat: just like Abuse, this one requires you to do more than simply install the game from the 'Add/Remove...' window - after you add it there, you have to open up Synaptic and install the module 'Waste's Edge' as well. Actually, you should probably just install both simultaneously from Synaptic; there's no reason for you to do things as backwards as I do. With that said, on to the specifics:

Graphically, it's not exactly the bee's knees. It's striving for that old-school CRPG feel, and that's what it achieves. No more, and maybe a little less. The only thing really bad about the art-direction is that the main character, a (presumably) male half-elf, looks like a waitress in a '50s diner. Outside of that, everything's great for the resolution at which it operates, and the character portraits that show up during dialog capture the personalities of the characters they portray.

The soundtrack is delightful. 8-bit sounding drums with a bunch of piano and strings that's really soothing and pretty, and some nice melodic synth-guitar. It's apparently available here, but I'm not sure which tracks are from the soundtrack to Waste's Edge and which are unrelated.

This was fun. Especially since I've been so story-deprived since I started this blog. There's a charming sense of humor, accompanied with the kind of fleshed-out-by-inference sort of world that allows the game to seem serious enough to be engaging. It's unfortunate that everyone with dwarves n' elves in a game has to make them dislike each other, but oh well. It's worth mentioning that there's a lot of backstory available on the game's website, that probably fleshes out the world a lot and adds more depth to the plot of this little game, as well as setting the state for the epic RPG to follow. Some day. I look forward to it, personally...


I was lookin' forward to this one: Abuse is a dystopian sci-fi sidescrolling platformer. It is the opposite of Sudoku. You play a dude who was wrongfully imprisoned in the kind of prison you don't want to be wrongfully imprisoned in, i.e. one where they perform experiments on the prisoners. Thanks to an ill-timed riot and (presumably) an accident of some sort, everyone in the prison except for the player-character gets infected with a drug called Abuse that makes them batshit-insane and also makes them look like they were designed by H.R. Giger.

There are two types of open-source games, generally speaking: games which were developed by the open-source community, and games which were originally developed for retail sale, and eventually had their code released. This is one of the latter - Abuse was a quasi-successful game back in the dizz-ay (1996), and at some point later on in the 90s, they released the source-code. What I'm trying to say is that this is not a game that was recently released; I don't think it's even been worked on in a number of years. The game is basically unchanged from the original 1996 version, and hasn't been touched at all since 2000, near as I can tell.

Art-direction wise, it looks pretty good considering the state of the art at the time. The graphics are a bit pixellated but they manage to convey the creepy sci-fi vibe that they're undoubtedly going for, and it has a cohesive and consistent look. The game basically looks exactly like a Genesis game I played back in the day, based on the Alien franchise. Which is high praise for a shareware PC game.

Sound was the first problem with the game. I installed this from the 'Add/Remove...' option on the 'Applications' pull-down, not from the more powerful 'Synaptic Package Manager'. I will be doing so with all of the games I look at. The sound didn't work. So I looked at the entry again, in the list of available games, and saw no mention of it needing extra sound-files, as some websites seemed to suggest. This lead me to assume that it was a complete installation, and the problem must be with my soundcard.

After hours of struggling, I managed to confirm to myself that my soundcard was working perfectly, and so I looked in the 'Synaptic' manager, and saw a sound-pack for the game. So much wasted time... but worth the effort, nonetheless. Laser-guns are much more satisfying when they make that zappy sound, and hearing creatures before they show up onscreen makes for a useful warning.

Control-wise, the game is almost as broken as Gnometris. It's got a relatively novel system of mouse-keyboard support, where your mouse aims your weapon independent of your movement, which is controlled with the keyboard. Only, for some reason, it's difficult to shoot straight forward to the right, and virtually impossible, to the left. Even when your gun is pointing straight ahead, and the cursor is directly level with it, the gun likes to shoot toward the floor and rebound.

The main effect of this problem is that if an an enemy is above you in a narrow corridor, you can shoot it with no problem. But if it's standing on the ground right next to you, you shoot the ground, and the laser rebounds over its head. So you basically have to either move closer to it, taking damage, or hope that it will jump up into your shot. This is bad enough when there's just one enemy on the screen, but when you're being chased by four or five speedy little buggers at once, it's insane. My general strategy when being chased by things is to back away while firing, but that doesn't work when firing at things that are chasing you is impossible.

So the game is basically unplayable. I couldn't find any mention of this anywhere else, which means that either I'm the only one with this problem, or the game's just so old that no one plays it anymore. My guess is that the libraries the game relies on have changed in some way since the game was being actively developed, and one of those changes broke the aiming.

I tried switching from software-rendering to OpenGL mode, which took a lot of work to get working (what finally did it was reinstalling the restricted nVidia driver), in the hopes that it would fix the problem, but it didn't. It was still impossible to shoot anything that was next to me on the left, and virtually impossible to shoot anything next to me on the right. You would think that placing the cursor directly over the creature, at least, would work. No dice.

The game looks better without anti-aliasing on, in my opinion, as the anti-aliasing just makes everything extremely blurry. So keep that in mind if you're going to try it out. This game was probably awesome when it came out, but if it's as non-functional for you as it was for me, it's not even playable. This is a shame, because it seems pretty neat. It offers infinite lives, and you restart after death from the last save-point, so you can still brute-force pretty effectively by replaying spots until you get lucky and the monsters get into the areas where you can shoot them, but that takes an awful lot of effort.

The Quest So Far...

I think this is my problem with most of these games: When I look for entertainment, I want something that will engage my mind, and not just my brain. I don't demand a storyline of any particular quality in my gaming experience, but I demand an experience, not just a test. Tetravex was as fun as most of these games have been but, now that I'm looking at the end of the first round of games, few of them have been what I consider a video game.

Super Mario Bros.
doesn't have a storyline in any real way, but it's fun. Because I'm constantly doing stuff. My mind is engaged, trying to figure out the best way to do something, working with that whole hand-eye thing to make it happen, taking in what I'm seeing and adjusting accordingly... I'm playing. When I'm looking at a Tetravex screen or playing GNU Chess, I'm just... looking. And thinking. I'm not saying chess makes for a bad game, mind you. It just makes for a bad video game. When I'm playing it in person, I'm looking at the person, I'm talking at 'em (trying to distract them, because I suck at chess), I'm engaged in playing them. There's no real play in Sudoku or Tetravex or Klotski or Mines.

I think that's the difference between the games I enjoyed and the games I didn't. The stuff that was fun (Four-in-a-Row, Five Or More, Same GNOME, etc.) allowed me to keep reacting in a semi-fast-paced sort of way to the things that were going on in the game. Since they had no real story or progression, they weren't anything I would choose to play a lot, but they did at least let me play. The games I didn't care for didn't allow for that. Most successful casual games (all of the ones I can think of at the moment, anyway) also allow for that. You get to do stuff, on the basis of what's happening, instead of simply planning for stuff.

Thankfully, this chapter of my time with Linux gaming is over. While the next chapter promises to hold just as many godawful mind-games as this one (I've looked at the list) there are, at least, some games that look promisingly like what I have come to consider a video-game. Starting with the first one on the list, Abuse.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


The name is a bit misleading. I thought Tetravex would be something like Tetris. It's really quite unrelated. Since I am an English major, I can use context clues to extrapolate the meanings of words; I've heard the prefix tetr- in two contexts, namely Tetris and Tetravex. I'm going to guess that it means '4'. In Tetris, each piece consists of four blocks. Tetravex, while being nothing at all like Tetris, uses as pieces squares divided into four sections. See? It makes perfect sense.

Otherwise, I have no idea what tetr- means. But that's not important, is it? You want to hear about the game. Barring that, I want to tell you about the game. And use italics as much as possible. Anyway, Tetravex is for fans of Sudoku, I think. It's not a real-time puzzle game, it's a timed logic-puzzle. Each square is divided into four sections, each of which has a number. Squares can only be placed on the play-grid next to pieces whose numbers match.

It's a game that grows exponentially more difficult, as you increase the play-grid size, which actually seems like an obvious thing to say. 2x2 is ridiculously easy. 3x3 is for fun but quick gaming. 4x4 and up (it maxes out at 6x6) is for training your brain, I think. At that level it really does play out something like Sudoku.

Basically, there are two grids. At the start of each game, one is empty, and one is randomly filled with square pieces that are divided into four sections. You have to drag them from the filled one to the empty one, until you have emptied the filled one and filled the empty one, if I can describe this game in as redundant terms as possible.

I haven't quite gotten a real strategy for this one yet, but I like to start with a piece that has at least one side that matches no other pieces on the board, and build from there. This tends to be less possible in the larger grids, but at 3x3 it at least gives me something to go with. If I were the type of person who enjoyed these things, I would probably just solve the damn thing in my head before I moved the first piece, but I like to interact with my interactive entertainment. If I wanted to stare at something, I'd watch more episodes of Scrubs.

In short, Tetravex is another decently conceived and implemented game that I find not very much fun, even at its most fun degree of difficulty. It scales fine (I don't know why I keep mentioning that, but at this point, it almost seems like I have to). It has a 'Hint' feature, and the option to have the computer solve the puzzle for you, if you get totally stuck (I can't imagine that ever happening; you can just brute-force them out if worst comes to worst). And it's got a high-score list that differentiates between each of the available grid-sizes, with the time it took you to solve the puzzle serving as your score.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Fresh from admitting that I'd never played Sudoku before, I bring you my latest confession: I've never played Yahtzee, either. Tali is apparently modeled closely after Yahtzee (or, under the alternate ruleset, Kismet, which I have never even heard of), the classic game of dice n' whatnot that I'm not qualified to speak about due to having never played it (see above).

Basically, there are 13 ways to score, and thirteen rounds. Each round, you pick which way of scoring you want to use; if you actually have what you need to score in that manner (poker hands, multiples of a kind, etc.), you get the score (either the total of the relevant dice, or the total plus a bonus). If you don't, you get a zero.

So it's a sort of strategy game, where you have to decide where you want to give up the possibility of scoring better in the future, and whatnot. "Should I put my 4 sixes in the '6s' category, or the '4 of a Kind' category, or the 'Chance' category?" That sort of thing. Each move closes off a move, so you want to fill in the harder-to-get ones first, if you can.

It was actually kinda fun. I won every game against the computer, which was empowering, even if it was on the 'easy' difficulty. Tali allows up to six players, who can be in any combination of computer AI players and human real-life players, but the humans have to share the same computer. I find it odd that some of the other games had network play and this one didn't as it seems both a perfect fit, and also a bit easier to implement, in this kind of turn-based setting, than in a semi-action game like Nibbles, for example.

Graphically, Tali is mostly a wall of text. A wall of numbers, really. It looks like a Yahtzee scorecard, if my vague memory from eons ago is accurate (I said I'd never played it; I didn't say I'd never seen it), in that it's a grid of possible scores that are filled in, one after each turn, by each of the players. The only pictures are the dice, which aren't animated but look nice, all smooth n' appealing. In 'regular' mode they're all red with white dots, but in 'colors' mode (the mode that takes after Kismet), the dice are white with red, green, or black dots.

With a bunch of people this might be fun, but I'm guessing most of the fun of Yahtzee comes from the cursing and interacting (dice games are universal in this respect, are they not?), which you don't get when you play against the AI players, so I mostly found it an unrewarding single-player experience. Solid enough execution, but it's not really a video-game as much as it's a free Yahtzee enabler for people who don't own the (board?dice? How do you describe it?)game.


I've been hearing about the paper version of this game for years. Looks sort of like a mathematical crossword puzzle. Thanks to GNOME Sudoku I now know that it is, in fact, basically a mathematical crossword puzzle. To those of you who (like me) are unfamiliar with the actual rules, I give you the following:
The rules of Sudoku are quite simple. In order to complete the puzzle, you must fill each square with a number between 1 and 9 such that every row, column and 3x3 box on the board contains the numbers 1 through 9. Stated another way, you must fill each square such that no number appears twice in the same row, column, or 3x3 box.
So now that we've got that cleared up, how does it play? Mostly, like you'd expect. Rather than writing numbers into the grid, you can use the keyboard and type them in, or click on the square, and a handy-dandy numeric keypad pops up in the square, allowing you to select the number you want without using the keyboard (and also allowing you to clear a square of a number you'd previously inputted).

This is basically another logic puzzle, so you know already I'm not too into it, but it's also such a simple game at its heart, that there's not much to say about how it's implemented. The ability to do everything with the keyboard, and alternately do everything with the mouse, probably adds accessibility for the handicapped and lets you play however you're most comfortable. Outside of that, there's nothing remarkable about the mechanics or gameplay.

While it may be more 'natural' to play the game on a piece of paper, playing it on the PC does come with its privileges. The game will let you know if you've screwed up by turning all conflicting numbers a nice bright red. It also has a nifty highlighting feature that points out all the squares that will be affected by whatever square is currently activated. Most amusing (and most morally questionable) are the 'Fill' and 'Fill all squares' commands. The 'Fill' command puts the logically necessary number in the activated square, if there is one, and the 'Fill all squares' does the same thing for the entire board. At the 'Easy' difficulty-setting, it tends to just solve the whole puzzle with the click of a button.

Your little book of Sudoku puzzles certainly can't do that but, really, what's the point of playing if you're going to cheat? Mind you, I would ask "What's the point of playing?" and ignore the question of cheating, but I imagine that anyone really into this type of game would not particularly care to use those features. Nice to have a safety-net though, I guess.

Another triumph for Linux, mostly. If it's your cup of tea, you'll find the leaves were hand-selected and perfectly dried, to finally be steeped in water that had been taken just to the cusp of boiling without actually hitting the boiling point, making for the best possible cup of Sudoku tea. I totally broke that metaphor, didn't I? It works, it has extra features, and yes, it will blend.


Another fun one! Color-matching ball games are always fun, right? Same GNOME is one of those. Simple to learn and hard to master, it's definitely comes from a casual-game background, rather than the logic-puzzle or strategy camps that have been the norm so far.

Or maybe they just seem to be the norm because I got so mad at them; regardless, this one's decent. The field of play is a grid, completely filled with balls of three different, randomly-distributed colors. You click on a ball that touches another ball of the same color, and all the balls they're connected to of the same color vanish (think Puzzle Bobble). The more you take out at once, the higher your score. The goal is to get a high score; the game is over when all the balls are gone, or there are no more possible moves.

The playfield has three sizes: small, medium, and large. At the default (small) setting, it's easy to take in the whole board at once, and come up with some kind of strategic approach to clearing them. Upping the size of the playfield offers exponentially increased complexity and game-length. I had more fun at the smallest setting, most likely due to the fact that I am not very bright (if this blog has taught me anything, it has taught me that).

Visually, the default tileset is an appealing collection of orbs, coming in red, green, and blue. The other tileset that 'ships' with the game is called 'Planets' and it's neat in theory. Rather than three colors, there are three planets; I'm thinking they're Earth, Mars, and the Moon (but I'm no astronomer, and also not very bright (see above)). They look just similar enough to make everything seem chaotic to the eye, and I couldn't bear to play more than one game with them. Since whichever mass of balls you have your mouse over revolves, that effect was quite neat with the 'Planets' tileset, but couldn't make up for the busy-ness that made it suck to play.

The only button used to play is the left mouse button, and it's easy to get the hang of. Same GNOME has that addictive, "I know I could do better than that next time," play experience that all casual games shoot for. I call this one a success.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


What I just said to my room mate: "I kind of think they were inspired by Dr. Who or something. But not very inspired. At all." The Dr. Who reference is questionable; the lack of inspiration is not. Only it probably is, because Robots is probably inspired by some classic game on platform I never played, like the Amiga or the Spectrum or something.

I don't care; it's a stupid game. Not because I'm not good at it - I thought at first I wasn't, then I figured out what the teleport button did, and discovered that a monkey could be good at it. It's just boring. It's a turn-based game that kind of wants to be an action game, but mostly just wants to scream "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!" at the top of its lungs while boring you to death.

You are a dude. There are robots. Each turn, you choose to move, stand still, or teleport. Each turn, the robots move towards you. In regular 'Robots' mode, they move one square each turn, just like you. In the default 'Nightmare' mode. from the getty-up there are robots who move multiple squares to your one. If a robot can move onto your square, you die, game over. Since it defaults into a mode where you aren't allowed to move into a square that would allow you to be gotten, you pretty much just move around until it beeps (signalling that move is not available), see if there's anywhere else you can go, and if there's not, you teleport. Which in most games takes you to a random spot. Eventually, you will teleport next to a robot, resulting in death/game over.

There is a play mode with a limited number of "safe teleports" which will guarantee that you won't land in one of the spots which would result in a game over. I didn't play it. It was boring enough without the added security. Admittedly, since you can earn more "safe teleports" by doing certain things, that might make it a little less random and allow for strategy. But I'm guessing it wouldn't change things much, and it's just boring.

There are multiple tile-sets, such as the 'boo' tileset, which makes your character look like a tiny Zorro, and makes the robots be 'scary creatures' like ghosts and bats. That was interesting for like thirty seconds. The different rule-sets may include a game that's fun to play, but I played three of the five, and they all sucked. The only cool thing about this game was the scream that happens when you die. It's appropriately horrific. I'm guessing they mic'd a room, told a guy to play the game, and waited for him to die. Then they told him he had to play it for another 24 hours straight, and recorded the scream he made.

Honestly, this is cute, and well-executed, but just totally a horrible idea. God, I can't wait to get to Battle for Wesnoth or Civilizations or something that's not just total utter crap. They might be totally crap as well (well, not Civ, but the other one, that I haven't played) but at least I've heard good things. I think that in the story vs. gameplay debate, story wins, but Robots definitely loses, as it has neither.


The last time I played Nibbles, it was under the name Nibbler in QBasic*. I was impressed by a BASIC program that had lots of colors (relatively) and sort of had graphics.

This time around, the graphics are better, the gameplay is deeper, and the colors are... higher in number? I started strong but finished not-so-great, there, I think. Oh well.

You're a worm-like thing that eats gold rings to become a larger worm-like thing. If you run into a wall, yourself, or another worm, you lose a life. This is the closes Linux has come to something I would consider a real video-game, so far, though it still has a non-existent storyline, no real characters to speak of, and a very arbitrary and linear progression.

It was easier in the QBasic version. While it scales like the rest of these games (with, for the record, no noticeable slowdowns or distortions) in general your worm is smaller in comparison to the playing field in Nibbles than it was in the good ole' days. Which makes it a bit harder, and when the window's not maximized, causes a bit of eye-strain. I pity the fool that plays this at a resolutions higher than 1024x768.

Level-design-wise, however, this one comes off as superior. I don't think I ever got very far in the QBasic version, but I don't remember as much creativity as far as the levels go. For one thing, they do that PacMan thing a lot of the time, where going out of the window on one side pops you back up on the other. That's always fun. And there are some fun levels that have a lot of stuff going on, and basically, after the first one or two, the obstacles make you make a choice as to where you're going to camp out. The gold rings appear randomly, and if you're in the wrong place, you have no chance of picking them up.

It's not really a question of strategy - the randomness makes it impossible to have an informed opinion on where you should be relative to where the rings will appear - but where you are makes a real difference, and on some levels, there are places that are easier to reach any given point from, and places where you're very limited in your options from. It's just an additional level of complexity.

Speaking of complexity, the items other than rings add even more depth. I don't think there was anything other than worm-food in the QBasic version, or the Intellivision version I vaguely remember playing even earlier. This one's got hearts n' cherries n' diamonds n' whatnot. Theoretically, they all do different things to either your or the other players, such as an extra life, or shortening your worm, or making all the other players reverse direction. That last one will mess you up, and timing when you use it is probably really fun in a multiplayer game against human opponents.

This is another game that offers support for network play, and in all, the game supports up to six players simultaneously, be they local, networked, or AI. I didn't actually play a game with anyone else, but there were a few people online when I checked to make sure connecting to the server worked, so it's a step up on Iagno.

This game may be buggy. At one point, I became invincible - rather than walls taking me out, my character took them out - and there were some scoring discrepancies I couldn't explain (how did I end up with over 5k in points by level three? Typically, I got a couple hundred each level) but I'm assuming these things were due to items I or other worms picked up during playing, that I didn't notice. The help-file refuses to list the effects of the various items, or even give a definitive list of what items there are, presumably due to the unholy influence of NetHack (hey, I wonder if I'll get to play that before I'm done with this project?).

Full-featured version of yet another classic that I don't think anyone in their right mind would want to play, but it was fun enough, and as close as we've come to an "action" game that wasn't totally broken. It was a welcome change, after Klotski making my brain hurt.

*UPDATE: Actually, apparently, the QBasic version was called Nibbles as well. Apparently I remember wrong. If you can't trust Wikipedia, who can you trust?

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Mines is the GNU open source take on the Windows classic Minesweeper. As far as gameplay goes, it's exactly the same as the Windows version, so I don't think there's any reason to describe it; no matter what platform you're running, it's highly likely that you can pull up some version of the game.

Aesthetically, it's a little... clumsier looking? Not in a bad way. It's just that the graphics seem more stylized, in a child-like, thick-lines, rounded edges, sort of way. The Windows iteration is crisper. But the Windows version doesn't upscale to match the size of the window you're playing it in, so that's probably part of the problem. Everything designed back when 640x480, 256 color was the standard looks uber-crisp when you look at it at high resolution in a tiny little window. Mines grows with your resolution.

A nice touch is the smiley face above the field of play. In the Windows version, as far as I know, it's either smiley or frowny. The Linux version has like 8 different faces, reflecting your progress. I never would have noticed if I hadn't started reading the help files for every game I play, in the hopes that I'd discover some more jokes and/or interesting trivia in them, ala Iagno.

All of the features of the Windows version are represented; there are three default playing-field sizes, and a 'Custom' selection for making it as hard or as easy as you want. The game keeps seperate high-score lists (your score is the time it took you to complete the board successfully) for each size which, as the help file notes, is useless for the 'Custom' boards, as there's only one list so someone who plays a custom game with only one mine is on the same list as someone who plays a game with 50.

Once more, solid implementation of a classic, this time with a few extra frills compared to the original.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


At last, a short one. This is my favorite form of solitaire, and I've played at least four or five versions. For the record, Mahjongg is the single-player "match like tiles" form of mahjongg, not the multi-player pokeresque form. Matching tiles removes them from the board, but only the tiles that have at least one side not touching another tile can be played. The point is to get rid of all the tiles.

Only two tilesets, so it's not as fancy as other versions I've played, but the two tilesets are nice-looking traditional styled, and anything else is just window-dressing. The controls are the same in this version of mahjonng as they are in every other version I've ever played: click, click. There are around ten different formations you can play in, so there's a decent amount of variety, but all you really need is the default one.

One interesting thing about this version is that the status bar keeps a count of how many different moves you have available at the moment, dynamically updating every time you make a move. This is handy if you're like me and like to just willy-nilly click on whichever ones you see first; if you notice that you're running out of options, you can take your time and make sure you're making the wisest move.

It looks alright, it plays fine, it has some nice features: Mahjongg is mahjongg. Good job, guys. It's not broken like Gnometris.

I apologize for that.


I have figured it out. I'm not actually playing Linux games at all. Instead, I'm stuck in some horrible brain training nightmare. That's the only possible explanation; over the course of the past week, I've identified patterns, attempted to out-think algorithms, developed strategies and tactics, attempted to predict future behaviors, been forced to think fast - one at a time. I'm used to having to do all those things at once, in a real game. But this week has been a collection of mini-games which each attempt to make me do one thing really well. That's what Brain Age is, right?

I present my final argument: thanks to Klotski, I now have a vague idea of who Cao Cao was, and how he was fundamental to the development of China during the Three Kingdoms period. I know I should already know this, but I've never played Dynasty Warriors.

Allow me to explain: Klotski is a logic-puzzle that kind of reminds me of those "arrange these blocks" IQ tests I learned about in Psych 101, or alternately, those little cheap plastic toys that have a scrambled up picture divided into tiles, with one free space, so you have to slide them all around to unscramble the picture. The point is to move a marked object from one place to another, in an extremely limited space, by moving other objects to create a path for it.

And it's the kind of thing I absolutely hate. But after spending forever trying to beat the first puzzle, entitled "Only Eighteen Steps" in only 18 steps (I gave up when I beat it with 19; I think I just accidentally took two drags to get the piece out), and then spending forever and a day (literally) going through the next three puzzles, I was ready to dropkick my computer, boot back into XP, and blissfully lose myself in what Rock, Paper, Shotgun says is a flawed but amazing FPS-experience.

But I was curious as to why the first collection of puzzles was entitled "HuaRong Trail", which lead to Google, which in turn led to this Wikipedia article. This totally changed the game for me. I double-majored in English and History; my History major was made almost entirely Southeast Asian history courses, and my favorite of those were the ones on China. But I never took any courses covering the time before the Qing dynasty, because I'd already filled my prerequisites and it was time to graduate.

This silly reference made the game interesting to me again, so I slogged on through it some more, wasting another forever on a few more levels, before getting horribly frustrated again, and taking a break to write this review.

Aesthetically, the game's fine. It's also challenging, and the "score" feature (the number of moves it takes to finish a puzzle) adds replayability. It's a frickin' logic puzzle, so it's not very fun for me but if you're the kinda cat that's all over rubik's cubes and sudoku puzzles (god, I'm dreading that one) it's right up your alley.

Mechanics-wise, more genius from the Keep It Simple, Stupid school of design - drag n' drop is the name of the game. Or rather, the control mechanism of the game, but you get what I'm saying. That's all there is to it. Drag pieces around.

Perhaps because I hate this type of game, but perhaps because doing something that's challenging is innately rewarding, it was really, really pleasurable to win. I had a euphoric buzz that lasted until I started the next level and hit another brick-wall to think through. Generally something like 20 seconds to two minutes. It did feel really good whenever I finished a level, though.

I will probably keep at this every day for a little while each day until I beat all of the first "mission-pack", at least. I have to save Cao Cao from Guan Yu, after all. Yes, I am that desperate for a game with story-line at this point. And I can't help but think that I'm creating new neural-networks and strengthening existing pathways in my mind, the more I struggle with and visualize these damn shapes shifting around.

Worthy of mention is the fact that of the Linux games I've played so far, this one up-scales the best. Maximized, everything is still clearly defined and there's no decrease in performance.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Okay, I got a bit hysterical there with that Gnometris review. Not a lot of sleep, a hell of a hangover, and (let's face it - there was some truth there) an abysmal port of a classic game will do that to ya.

Iagno is much better. It's a port of Othello and it's well implemented, with a decent (minimalist) interface, nicer graphics than it needed (it could have just been a bunch of circles; instead it's like, a bunch of texture-mapped circles with wood-grain around them, or at least a couple of tiles that look that way), and more features than I expected.

I should mention that I'm not sure what I'm going to do when I hit the multi-player only games, as I really have no interest in playing multi-player games. I know they're all the rage these days, but I cut my teeth on single-player CRPGs, and while I make occasional forays elsewhere, I generally don't venture anywhere near the online-only offerings that Microsoft is determined to destroy solid franchises with (I'm lookin' at you, Shadowrun) because... well, I'm not social. I don't want to get to know you better, and I don't want the guilt of letting you down while I learn the ropes.

Which is to say, I decided to test the 'Network Play' of this game only to discover that the game (and anything else that uses the same gameservers, apparently)
doesn't get much network play. The default server had two people on it, and one of them was called "ServerBot" which sort of leads me to believe s/he wasn't a people. Sigh of relief! I don't have to awkwardly approach someone and ask them to play Iagno with me.

The game itself is the Othello you remember from your childhood, if you're old enough to be from an era when people still played board games. I kinda suspect that outside of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit no one really does, anymore. Obviously, those board-games which are marketed to my friend Doug and have zombies or ancient battles don't apply; I'm talking about straight-up old-school board-games. And I'm really talking a lot about irrelevant things, aren't I?

Chin up and onward we go! There are two players, black and white. I'm not going to bother explaining the basic rules because a.) I think most people know them already, and b.) I tried and it was very wordy and not very helpful, so I erased it. You click on the board to place a piece; it tells you if a piece can't be placed there, which is always nice. There are appealing smooth animations every step of the way, and appropriately subdued sound-effects. It allows for alternate tile-sets, although there are only two by default, and the other one is a hideous red n' yellow combo. What's up with all this yellow in Linux-game tilesets?

To sum up, this is yet again more of the same. I am beginning to regret starting with the games that come with Ubuntu because they're all marketed at... well, boring people. I can't imagine what sort of person comes home from a 9-hour day at work and says to himself "I think I'll play Othello against my computer." Unless they have set themselves to playing every game available via Ubuntu's default sources, anyways. It's just not fun.

Mind you, it's a solid enough time-waster. If Solitaire didn't exist, this would be something I wouldn't mind playing while I waited for a download to finish. As long as it was a short download. But with its pass/fail nature, playing multiple games in a row turns tedious rather quickly, as opposed to addictive, and it just seems kind of sad. If I were playing against my room mate, I would probably enjoy it, but setting up another Linux box in the living-room just to play Iagno against a real human opponent seems even sadder.

In short, while it's well done, I don't see any reason for this to exist. I'd rather play it on a real board, or not at all. It does, however, get bonus points for a.) an amusing making-of story in the help-file, and b.) stating that its 'known bug' is that the computer opponent is too easy. I suppose it goes without saying that the computer opponent mauled me pretty regularly.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


My first thought was "This shouldn't take long; how do you screw up Tetris?" Then I played it, and immediately thought "OMFG! How do you screw up Tetris?" Out of the box, Gnometris is basically unplayable.

Why? The controls lag, jerk, and totally suck. It was at its worst when I was holding "down" to try and speed up the falling of the block a bit. At least a third of the time, the block would continue its sedate fall (while still responding, albeit sluggishly, to the left, right, and rotate keys), settle in place... and then the next piece would fly straight down as soon as it appeared.

Other times, it would stick going one direction or the other, and not accept any commands. It was as if my machine wasn't enough for it. I played Bioshock on this admittedly old POS machine, for god's sake. It didn't run very well when there were more than three or so bad-guys on the screen, but it ran better than Gnometris. Seriously. For all intents and purposes, I got a better framerate out of Bioshock.

I did a quick search on Ye Olde Internets and discovered that it's a common problem, and it has an easy fix: change the tileset to the simple, old-school one and most of the laggy problems go away. Armed with that knowledge, I played some more Gnometris, and sadly, the controls still sucked, they just didn't lag and jitter. The sensitivity was still way too variable for anything like a decent play experience; if your controls don't consistently do the same thing, you're relearning how to play the game with every piece. It was much better using the old tileset, but it was still the worst Tetris-clone I've ever played.

This is a sad day for open-source software. Seriously, guys. This is the single-most-ported game in the history of video-gaming, except for maybe Pac-Man (and Pac-Man had a ten-year head-start), and it works fine on every version I ever played for Windows, it worked fine in DOS on my old XT and the 486 I upgraded to, it plays fine on the Gameboy, NES, DS, Genesis, SNES, Dreamcast (okay, I'm guessing here; never played it on the Dreamcast, but the Dreamcast emulates the NES version fine), Playstation, and Playstation 2. Not to mention my crappy mobile-phone, and every other consumer electronics device ever invented. I'd bet money there's a refrigerator out there somewhere with a decent port of Tetris on it.

But the Tetris that comes with Ubuntu is broken out-of-the-box? Get your shit together, people.

Outside of its complete unplayability, it's another minimalized approach to interface-design and it looks alright. If it worked it would be a decent if boring port of Tetris. As it is, Gnometris is an embarrassment to mankind and the open-source community.

FreeCell Solitaire

I'm a little at a loss as far as this one goes. This is the exact same FreeCell as is available for play in the AisleRiot Solitaire game which is also installed by default. It's the same engine, the same cards, the same fonts, the same version number, the same programmers, the same copyright date.

To see if there was anything different at all, I played a game of FreeCell in each. In AisleRiot the icon next to the program name is different from the icon that shows up in that spot while playing FreeCell.

I can only assume that this special double-availability of FreeCell was given so that Windows users could find their favorite program already waiting for. As if grumpy old women are only holding off on installing Linux because they are afraid they won't be able to find a copy of FreeCell that works in Linux, or something. This really seemed pointless, and it made me spend time playing two extra games of FreeCell to look for differences, and I hate FreeCell.

It's odd that they make special mention of FreeCell by having it as a stand-alone entry in the 'Games' menu. Unlike regular solitaire, which compares favorably to its Windows sibling, or the other solitaire games which have no Windows analog, FreeCell is decidedly worse in its Linux incarnation.

Since it utilizes the AisleRiot engine, it doesn't have support for any of the handy-dandy ways that Windows FreeCell makes your life easier. Generating a game from a number, so you can always recall it? Not doable. Double-clicking a card sends it not to the stacks where you're trying to get all the cards, but instead to the one-card slots in the top left, which is both annoying to Windows users, and annoying to people who've played other games in the AisleRiot engine.

Also, I spent a few minutes wondering if my copy was buggy because it let me pick up stacks that should have matched another card, and drag them to the card, but wouldn't let me place them. I eventually realized that it was because I didn't have enough open slots; the Windows version makes that clearer, if I recall correctly. In all fairness, I might not recall it clearly, but I don't ever remember having that problem in Windows, even when I was learning the game and didn't know the rules.

The interface is prettier in the Windows version, as well. Something about the beady little eyes of that king who follows your cursor around is comforting, and the way the slots for storing cards and the slots for winning are seperated just makes it look cleaner; it's more organized. Loading up FreeCell in Linux is an intimidating looking beast because there's no clue to what's what in the layout.

I will probably update this post the next time I dual-boot back into XP, so I can clarify exactly what's superior in the Windows edition, but basically FreeCell in Linux is, while functional, very inferior to the version that ships with Windows. If Windows FreeCell is grade-A uncut pure heroin, Linux FreeCell is a godawful 10th-person-down-the-drug-foodchain, cut with arsenic, nastiness that may get you through if you need a fix, but certainly won't satisfy.

UPDATE: Yep, confirmed. It looks better and plays better in Windows.


Everyone knows Connect Four, right? Four-in-a-Row is GNU Connect Four, basically. This is an old nemesis of mine. I've installed Ubuntu three times on my system, and every time I've wandered over to Four-in-a-Row eventually, and I have yet to win a game. I've played the PC to a draw once, but other than that, I lose. Every time. I've had friends play it, just to see if they can win, and none of them have, either. Not even my friend who works at the Pentagon.

Which either means that Four-in-a-Row at the easiest setting is harder to beat than terrorism, or that we're in a lot of trouble. I'm going with both, actually.

Other than its impossible level of difficulty (at the "Level One" setting on the computer player - it goes up to three), this game is perfect. Actually, I'm going to go ahead and say the level of difficulty is perfect as well. I'm playing Connect Four, which is almost checkers for dumb people, or tic-tac-toe for smart people at best, and I'm thinking about the moves I'm going to make in the future. I don't even do that when I play chess, as much as I do with Four-in-a-Row. Which is why I also always lose at chess, but I'm betting that if I ever beat this game playing against the computer, I will beat the computer at chess, because although in both, I try to anticipate the computer's moves, it feels manageable in Four-in-a-Row. So it's the perfect training ground for developing that Kasparovian mental discipline. It's like training wheels.

When I make a successful bid for world domination, I will have Four-in-a-Row to thank for making it all possible.

Graphically, they changed the default tileset from that hideous red and yellow that I had been playing with the last time I installed Ubuntu to some milky-looking marbles in red and blue, which is a very positive step. All of the themes it comes with are attractive, actually, although the "High Contrast" ones made my brain hurt to look at, and also belittled me (they're X's and O's in black and white - a reminder that I was losing at glorified tic-tac-toe).

The controls are a minimalist's wet dream; you just click on the column you want to drop a check/marble/whatever in. Absolutely nothing extraneous is going on here, but also absolutely nothing that is needed is left out. If you need to, you can play with the keyboard; the keyboard controls are equally intuitive.

This is yet another casual, click brainlessly or click with a brain, but just keep clicking sorta game, but it's absolutely perfect. They hit this one out of the park! I mean, it is just Connect Four n' all, so how hard can it be?, but as far as the default-installed games under Ubuntu, this is the best so-far where form meeting function are concerned. And it's a worthy foe, much like Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes, or ham to turkey at holiday dinners.

Five Or More

At last, something based on something I'd never played before. It's still a game of the "casual" type, and not the kind of thing I usually play, but it was a welcome diversion none-the-less. In its default "balls" mode, it had the most appealing graphics of anything I've played in Linux so far. Which does not say much at all, but for what it's worth, Five or More looks good.

It's a matching game at heart - you have to get five or more of the same type of tile (default tilesets: balls of different colors, and shapes of different colors; the balls look much better, the shapes look like everything else in Linux gaming so far) in a row, vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Each turn you can move one ball, and after each turn three balls are placed on the field. The grid on which you're playing doesn't expand, so eventually (unless, of course, you are godlike and lucky) the grid fills up, which results in the end of the game.

You're awarded points on the basis of how many in a row you clear; 2pts each for 5 n' 6, and from 7 on up you get bonus points as well. I found it hard to get more than 8 with any consistency at all, but more power to ya if you can better that. Just not my thing.

This is another time-waster. It's a casual game, but like the rest of these casual games with Linux, if you want to, you can make it a strategy game full of complexity, though not too much complexity as your options are limited and you can only see one move ahead as far as the drops go. Five or More is no PopCap game, but it's nice-looking, with a simple concept and a bit of that addictive-replay-value that all casual games of any decency have (and that wears thin for me after a dozen playthroughs or less, personally).


I'm going nuts; it's been days since I played a game with a storyline. And I'm really tired of playing games I've already played before, without a PC even. I'm not sure I even consider these games.

Still, Chess is a winner. I was dreading this, because I remember playing Battlechess in CGA when I was like 10, and I remember the games taking forever to play. Playing GNU Chess at the age of 27 did not match that experience - either I'm worse at chess than I was at 10, GNU Chess is smarter than Battlechess was, or my sense of how long "a really long time" is has changed immensely.

Probably all three. Anyways, I had a blast getting my ass kicked by the computer in this chess game. I was using about as much strategy as, I dunno, an earthworm lying on the sidewalk after a big rain, and the computer player made me pay for it, so I assume it's a competent opponent. I should note that I had the difficulty on "Normal" so it's probably even better on "Hard" - I don't think it could possibly get checkmate quicker than three moves, which it did to me (twice! the same way! ouch!).

As far as basic functions go, this game is pretty much perfect. It's a no-frills, eminently usable interface for playing chess. Nothing more, nothing less. In 2D mode, the pieces are easy to distinguish and aesthetically appealing if not
exactly impressive. The only real feature that isn't a chess-piece and a chess-board is the board numbering, which was useful for me as I learned that the letters go from right to left, for some reason, but otherwise unattractive and pointless.

Activating 3D mode required installing some packages through Synaptic for OpenGL support, and proved to be totally not worth the effort. On my Athlon 2000+ XP with a 512MB nVidia AGP card, it was sluggish, ugly, and very jagged looking. Rather than black and white, they were two different colors of brown (I assume they were supposed to be wooden; they couldn't spring for the virtual onyx n' ivory? Or whatever they're traditionally made of?), and I've never been a fan of brown, but they were also kinda hard to distinguish at times, and the texture that was mapped to them was really ugly.

My issues with 3D mode may have been user error - for all I know there's some anti-aliasing setting in some text-file that configures OpenGL to not look like utter crap when being used to display static chess pieces. But if so, it wasn't mentioned in any of the menus for configuring the game, and since I got no errors, I'm going to assume my OpenGL is working optimally. In which case, just avoid the 3D mode; it blows.

Outside of that, this is a solid port of the classic board game chess. There are snazzier, prettier versions of chess, but this one is free, comes with Linux, and plays single or two-player chess just fine; all the rest is unimportant.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Fairly competent and full-featured version of Blackjack, but with such a simple game (where the house inevitably comes out ahead, making repeated play punishing by default) some graphical flair or personality would have gone a long way towards making it not something painful to play.

There are a couple different variations on the rules of play ("Vegas Strip," "Atlantic City," "Downtown Vegas", etc.) but their impact on my virtual cash was minimal. I lost more than I won, regardless of which area's rules I was playing by. Interestingly absent is a reset for the player's balance - I assumed that "New Game" would reset my cash to the original starting value ($400 or $500 I believe) but it doesn't. I'm sure I could just edit a text file somewhere but not having a way to reset it within the GUI simply seems kinda lame.

As far as the gameplay goes, it all feels a bit clumsy. There was an annoying lag between cards coming to the deck, that I was able to turn off in the preferences, but rather than having buttons for "Draw" or "Stand" or what-have-you, they went with an efficient and minimalist interface that was confusing at first, and prone to my clicking the wrong thing from time to time when I was just trying to zip through some games.

For example, you click your pile of cards to hit, and you click it to deal a new hand, and you drag it to split. No worries. Except clicking on your chips changes function as well - in between hands, it adds a chip of that denomination to your bet, but if a hand has been dealt it doubles your bet and asks for one card, ending your turn automatically. In the heat of frustrated gambling, I would accidentally click my pile of cards an extra time, resulting in dealing a new hand, and not realize it until I had tried to change my bet. Because instead of changing my bet, I would be looking at a fully played hand that cost me double.

That happened less once I cut off the card delay, but it was still an occasional annoyance. Basically, I understand the aesthetic beauty that comes from an interface with no extraneous buttons, but I don't feel it's as functional from a user-friendly standpoint as having separate buttons for each command. Indeed, as far as keyboard shortcuts go, there is a separate key for "Deal" and "Hit" so on some level, the programmers were aware of this. Last and least, I didn't notice any way to add or remove chips using the keyboard, so the keyboard support is not fully implemented.

Blackjack on Linux is frustrating and flawed, but competent enough if you are desperate for a casino-blackjack experience. I will probably never play it again (although the fact that my ending balance is 2k in the hole will probably lead me to try to get back to zero at some point in the future; I'm OCD like that).

AiseRiot Solitaire

Wow. I didn't expect this to take more than a few minutes of me going "Shit, I'm bored with Solitare in Windows, and now I can safely say I'm bored with Solitaire in Linux." Then I discovered the "Select Game..." option, and found out that there are way more variations to solitaire than I had ever imagined, or even wanted.

I briefly flirted with the idea of playing all of them, but quite frankly, solitaire is not my gaming cup of tea. It's a thing you do when you're waiting for your place in the queue at FilePlanet, not something you do for fun. Or even for scholarly gaming research reasons. That said, AisleRiot Solitaire in Linux is definitely a better experience than playing Solitaire in Windows.

For two reasons: the first one I've already mentioned, namely, the variety. Some of these games made my head hurt, not aided by the fact that I was playing them while intoxicated. I take back every thing I ever thought but didn't have a chance to say about the lack of complexity in casual games. 'Agnes' is my new favorite solitaire-game. It's over quickly, it's easy to understand, and it's a game you play for points, rather than a game you play to win or lose, which adds deeply to the addictive-replay thing. (full disclosure: you can play it to win or lose, but since I always lose, I play to maximize points; if solitaire is your life, you may win more often than not, though I doubt it)

The other reason? The features! First thing I noticed is the card-size scales to the window-size. If I maximize the game, I'm playing with bigger cards, not just playing with the same tiny cards with a lot more space between them. I've always been annoyed by that in the Windows version of Solitaire; when you're at 1024x768 which is actually pretty low resolution these days, you've got an ass-ton of empty green space and tiny little cards. Not so, in this AisleRiot thing. The cards are constantly re-evaluating how they should look so as to maximize the space available. It's a small thing (is that a pun?) but it was immediately apparent.

Then you've got the hints. When you're totally brain-dead - which is really the only time playing solitaire on the PC is anything like a fulfilling experience - it's nice to be able to hit a button and see a move. Mind you, it's not like there's a lot of AI behind the hit system. It just gives you a possible move. Not always the best move, and it doesn't seem to go any deeper than the obvious; it can't differentiate between "You can move some cards around and win this!" and "You can move some cards around, but you'll still be fucked!" but for a simple (or not-so-simple) game of solitaire, I think any more advanced hint-system would ruin the game.

Downside? The backs of the cards aren't readily changeable. There may be an option for it I didn't see, but I did look around a bit, and there wasn't any obvious way to change it. I like to play with the roses on the cards in XP. Due to the scaling nature of the cards, they're often kinda fuzzy looking. Graphically, it's not as crisp or as easy to customize as the version found in every Windows environment from 3.1 on. But the gameplay features, and the scalability, totally make up for that. Linux wins the nonexistent solitaire-war.

Bonus points for the name making me think about shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

Friday, January 11, 2008

In the beginning...

... there was MS-DOS. Then there was Windows. And nowadays, Linux is being touted as an option. This, at least, is my personal experience with PCs. Linux, whence last I toyed with it, was not only full of hardware-support issues, it was empty of gaming options. Since gaming is one of the two things I spend the most time on my PC doing, Linux wasn't an option for me. It's all fine, well, and good to have the functional guts there, but if I can't amuse myself with it, I want nothing to do with it. Windows, for all its detractors, works well enough. And it's got games!

But I get the urge to try out Linux from a music-production point of view (the other main use I have for my PC) every once in a while, and the bug just bit me recently. I figure that while I'm at it, and I've got Ubuntu hanging out on the PC, I'll check out how gaming in the Linux environment is coming along. Hence, the creation of this blog.

The plan is simple: play everything available for Ubuntu Linux from the default available sources; when I click "Add/Remove..." under "Applications" and select "Games" I get a list of everything that is currently supported as a gaming option by the Ubuntu people. I know there are other games out there, but the list of games that I could find on the web is probably near infinite, while the officially supported stuff is a finite list I can actually make my way through.

So I'm just going to do it in alphabetical order. With one exception: I'm starting out with the games that are installed by default with a fresh install of Ubuntu. After tackling those in alphabetical order, I'll start with the A's and go down the list in the package-installer thingybobby (a technical term).

I feel no compulsion to play games to completion; I will play games as long as I'm compelled to, and report my reaction here. I suspect a lot of these will be really short - how long does it take to analyze Four-In-a-Row, for example? As I run into games that are more like the fare I consume in my Windows-world (i.e. complex games often featuring narrative) the posts will run a bit longer. I'm not setting any specific timeline but I'd be stunned if I didn't go through at least a few games each week. With rare exceptions for the engrossing and complex titles that people assure me I can actually play on Linux, these days.

Alrighty, then. Onward!