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Thoughts on Limbo

Posted on Jul 30, 2010 in Blog, Now Playing | 3 comments

I haven’t been away from the game long enough to write a formal deconstruction, but I’ve been talking to a lot of friends about Playdead’s Limbo recently. My opinion differs from the majority (not to say I’m on my own), and I think writing it in the blog is the best way to articulate the angle I’m coming from. In doing so, I hope I’ll be able to get some feedback on why the things that bothered me made the game better for everyone else. Art Style The first thing everyone talks about when they see Limbo is the unique minimalist art style. It’s looks absolutely beautiful in motion, and it creates an incredible mood for the game’s world. It evokes all sorts of emotions without the use of language, and it undeniably leaves an impression with the player. Unfortunately, I found a huge drawback to this art style in the context of Limbo‘s gameplay. It’s not always clear what the player can and can’t interact with in each area, and the VFX often work against it. The majority of the times I got stuck in the game were because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be interacting with (i.e. pushing buttons on signs that change the direction of gravity). I’m all for a cool look, but it’s a design failure when it interferes with the player’s ability to understand their environments. It’s not “clever” or “innovative” to confuse the player about what they can and can’t interact with in the game world, and a few too many puzzles fell into that category for my taste. Death Like Another World before it, Limbo has an obscene number of graphic death scenes. It’s no secret that, no matter how attached to their characters, players love seeing them get mangled in creative and unexpected ways – take a look at Dead Space or Resident Evil, for example. There are “all the ways to die” videos on YouTube with millions of hits, and artists clearly put a lot of effort into making sure players are satisfied. The difference between deaths in Dead Space and Limbo is that the player doesn’t always...

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Game Deconstruction: Robot Unicorn Attack

Game Deconstruction: Robot Unicorn Attack

Posted on Jun 28, 2010 in Decon, Feature | 1 comment

Open your eyes, I see. Your eyes are open. Wear no disguise for me, come into the open. When it’s cold (when it’s cold), outside (outside), am I here in vain? Hold on, to the night, there will be no shame. When I was trying to decide which game to deconstruct next, I listed the games I’ve been playing the most recently. Then I pulled out my phone to send a text message and Robot Unicorn Attack stared back at me. I stopped playing just long enough to write this article. Robot Unicorn Attack Developer: Adult Swim Games Platform: Browser (link) / iPhone Genre: Imaginary Metacritic: N/A Price: Free / $2.99 (iPhone) Robot Unicorn Attack is a completely unoriginal game that managed to be better than its source material in just about every way. It clearly followed the example of indie darling Cannabalt, which is still a great game on its own. Whereas Cannabalt’s audience was limited to the hardcore gaming community, Robot Unicorn Attack made the gameplay more complex and found a much larger audience (over 27 million players according to the developer). It’s a rare failure of the K.I.S.S. principle. What’s so magical about this game? Gameplay The objective of Robot Unicorn Attack is to live as long as possible. The game instructs the player to “make your wishes come true” at the beginning of each round, with the subsequent reminder that “you will die.” The core gameplay consists of jumping, double jumping, and dashing from across floating platforms as the unicorn automatically runs to the right. The player’s score increases at a rate that grows every 5,000 points, and additional points can be earned by running into fairies or dashing through star-shaped rocks. The wish ends in a fiery explosion when the player runs into a wall, falls off the map, or hits a star without dashing. The two button gameplay (jumping or dashing) is deceivingly deep. The player’s success or failure depends on the timing of each jump or knowing when to double jump over an obstacle versus dash under it. The game’s increasing speed makes reacting to each obstacle even more difficult. The camera can be problematic,...

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Only at Tech Hacked

Posted on Mar 31, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

Around 11:30 PM last night, the Only at Tech team became aware of malicious code that was being served through our website. It does NOT appear that this code downloaded any sort of malware to our users’ computers (our virus scans have turned up negative), but we have reason for concern because one of the affected files contained the login information for the site’s database. This means the attacker(s) could have gained access to a list of our registered users’ email addresses and hashed passwords. The offending code has been removed. We believe this was an automated attack, and in most cases the attackers do not do anything with the users’ data. It was likely targeted at multiple sites running the same backend as Only at Tech. That doesn’t mean you should be careless if you use your Only at Tech password on other sites with sensitive data. To be on the safe side, we would recommend you change your passwords on Only at Tech and any other sites where you use the same email/password combination. We apologize for our failure to secure your information on our side, and for any inconvenience this causes you. We’re currently in the process of upgrading to a more secure backend as part of a major site update, but in the meantime, we’ve taken some precautions to prevent this from happening again. Technical details on the attack are below for those of you who are interested. This is Tech, after all. Only at Tech as it appeared on Google. We love "Dancing with the Stars" as much as anyone, but... Around 11:30 PM, routine social media monitoring of the “Only at Tech” phrase revealed an oddity in the Google search results page.  Instead of the usual Google snippet of the homepage, we encountered a link to a spammy pdf file.  Further research revealed that our site returned an HTTP 302 redirect to a randomly generated URL, but only when accessing the site with a Google user agent string. We discovered that malicious code had been inserted into two of our files — a config file and an include file.  Both of these files...

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Game Deconstruction: PixelJunk Shooter

Game Deconstruction: PixelJunk Shooter

Posted on Mar 29, 2010 in Decon, Feature | 1 comment

Back in August, I committed to doing one decon per month. It only took two months for me to fall off track. Now I have to play catch up…but better late than never, right? This month I take a look at another downloadable title, this time for the PlayStation 3. I briefly played PixelJunk Shooter at E3, and although I was impressed with its visual style and ease of use, I didn’t know how long the game would be able to keep my attention with its simple mechanics. I picked it up based on the developer’s reputation for quality, and although it was a bit on the short side, it does a lot of things very well. PixelJunk Shooter Developer: Q Games Genre: Shooter / Puzzle Metacritic: 86 Price: $9.99 Length: 4-6 hours Background PixelJunk Shooter is the fourth entry in the Q Games’ PixelJunk series of PSN titles, following most recently the critically acclaimed PixelJunk Eden. It follows suit with the series’ reputation for high production value and polish. On the surface, the game isn’t very special – it’s a space-cavern exploration adventure along the lines of Subterrania for the Sega Genesis (I feel like this dates me), but its puzzle design is so innovative that it creates a very fresh experience. Its difficulty stems from its fluid-based physics puzzles, all of which force the player to think carefully about every move. The game isn’t particularly difficult, but it’s extremely clever. Gameplay Shooter consists of three worlds that have roughly five levels each. Each level is broken up into a handful of areas where  a handful of crew members from the ERS Piñita Colada have been stranded. The player is tasked with rescuing all of the survivors in each area, without letting more than five die during the course of a level. All survivors must be rescued or killed (no one gets left behind) before access to the next area until the the final area is reached, where an escape gate opens to leave the level. The player cannot backtrack to areas they have completed without replaying the entire level. In the final area of each world, the...

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