Sunday, September 11, 2016

Game Review: Potion Punch by Monstronauts

I play all sorts of games - from board to mobile to console and everything in between. Recently I came across a game called Potion Punch by Monstronauts. I stumbled across it  while I was looking for something else and found I really enjoyed it.

I had been playing Diner Dash, which I've played in various incarnations over the years, but there were some things I didn't particularly gel with in this version and decided to find something similar but that I would find more enjoyable. I was looking for a game I used to play called Coffee Buzz which was time management-esque game with a matching element. I didn't find it, but I did find a few other games that I installed and played and then uninstalled that very same day. Some just weren't engaging enough or weren't visually interesting or had interface issues that made it difficult to play.

And then I stumbled across Potion Punch from Monstronauts. I thought I'd give it a try thinking I'd probably end up uninstalling it as I had so many other games that day. But no, it surprised me and it is still on my phone and I am still playing it on an almost daily basis.

Potion Punch is a fun resource management game where you mix potions and grill up geckos and roots and serve them to customers. The longer you take, the more the customers lose there patience.

The opening is done in a comic panel style. There are no words but, like its comic influences, it doesn't need them to get across the story. It starts off pretty easy with a gnome showing you the ropes and filling customers' orders. As you earn coins, you can buy upgrades for items and venues. As you progress through the days, the difficulty ramps up (perhaps a little too quickly at times, but never game stopping.) Besides the theme of a medieval/fantasy tavern that serves potions, its art style is visually pleasing and it has a vibrant color palette that draws me in. While it does feel like it ramps up fairly quickly, it is not game-stopping or game breaking. You can continue on with your game whether you hit your goal or lose a few customers, you just won't earn as much.

When I first got the game, there were only two locations open but there has been an update since then and another location and more challenges have been added.

Also, did I mention the game is free? Yes! It is free and it is available for both Apple and Android devices.

You can find out more at Monstronauts website

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Automated Levels

My boyfriend got me Super Mario Maker for my birthday last year. In Super Mario Maker you can create levels and you can also play other people's levels. Creating levels is a lot of fun and you get
new resources every day. You can upload your levels and the only caveat is you have to be able to beat it.

One of the ways to play people's levels is by going through the 100 Mario Challenge. There are various difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Expert. You get 100 lives to pass a certain number of levels in a difficulty level and you get a costume as a reward. You can only do it so many times on easy mode before you won't get any more costumes and you have to go to a more difficult mode. There are a wide variety of skill levels and imagination from so-so to amazingly well done.

And then there are automated levels.

In these levels you do nothing. It takes you through the whole thing and drops you off at the finish line. From a creative standpoint, they are very clever (most of the time.) For the most part, they are masterpieces of timing and creativity and it is obvious they worked very hard to get the timing right. But from a player viewpoint, I hate them.

I struggle with this in some ways because I understand how much work often went into them, but at the same time I don't get to play. They haven't made a level, they made a YouTube video. There is no interactivity in them, there are no choices to make, the only way you can fail is to try to move on your own. These aren't levels. It isn't a partnership between their skill as a designer and the player's skill as a player. The success of these levels is only possible by the player not doing anything, lest it throws off the timing.

Do I think these should go away? While they annoy me, it is still how someone wants to play the game and I wouldn't take that away from them. And while I think the space is big enough for a little bit of everything, including automated levels, I don't have to like everything. I will still probably cringe every time I see a title along the lines of "Stand Still" and "No Touchies."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

DCU Theory

I saw Batman V. Superman, and saying it had some problems feels like a bit of an understatement.  But there are plenty of reactions and opinions and you probably have enough of your own, so I’m not going to focus on that.

From this point on: there may be some spoilers and I am going to make a theory for Suicide Squad and the cinematic DCU, particularly focusing on Batman and Joker. There are also some spoilers for the comics, but if you haven’t read them by now, what are you waiting for.


So in the new Batman V. Superman movie, we have a much harder Batman. We have a Batman who kills, who is obviously haunted, and is a much darker version of Batman. 

It has been brought up to me that if we have a Batman who kills, there is no way the Joker would still be alive.

So what happened?

The Joker is dead.

In the movie there is the Robin costume with the message to Batman. In the comics, Jason Todd was not a very popular Robin and there was a vote to kill him off. The Joker beat Jason Todd to death with a crowbar.  And this is where the cinematic universe veers into an alternate timeline from the comics. In the comics, the Joker is alive, but in this timeline, Batman killed the Joker.

It would explain why he doesn’t have as many qualms about killing and why he is a much more haunted Batman. Not only is this after Jason Todd was killed, this is after he broke his rule and killed the Joker.(Note: if you want to go back to Batman's inception, yes, he did kill. But in the current form that a lot of people accept as Batman, he has his rules and one of them he doesn't kill)

And then we get to Suicide Squad. Joker is definitely in that, but is he in the timeline we think he is? Are all those times that he’s shown actually in the present? He’s not really shown with most of the Suicide Squad, I recall him being in the trailer with Harley Quinn. And there were a lot of clips of him by himself. And there was his laugh that the team reacted to, but that could’ve been editing or that he isn’t as dead as Batman thought he was. Everything he is wearing looks somewhat dated.
A very dated look
So what does this mean for the future?

I’ve heard they might do the Red Hood and, it was pointed out to me by someone who is more up on Batman than I am, this might put a wrinkle in my theory. But could it still work? Yes. So now we have a Batman who doesn’t have a problem getting his hands dirty, but part of the problem Batman has with Red Hood involves his willingness to kill. But if Batman doesn’t have the problem with killing, he would still need to have some reason he doesn’t agree with Red Hood’s methods and a reason why they would clash. And here is where they make it take a more psychological turn. The reason Batman and the Red Hood clash now isn’t because of their difference in methods – it is now because Batman is seeing himself in the Red Hood and doesn’t like what he sees. The reason we dislike something so strongly in another is often because we possess that trait ourselves and don’t want to face that reality. This telling would have Batman recognizing the Red Hood is really just himself. Perhaps in this retelling, it is him while he’s blacked out from one of his “Knightmares.” Whether it’s him or who it is in the comics (I’m not going to spoil everything), it would be an interesting look at his psyche and also a way to get him back on his path.

But then, all of this is just a theory while I while away my time waiting for Suicide Squad.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tell me your fears

"What are you afraid of?" asks the clown looking down on me from the billboard, as if he didn't already know.
Oh he knows. He KNOWS.

I have a lot of fears, and many of them are not super rational. But if I were to dissect my fears, they are the symptoms of my real fears and not really my actual fears. My two biggest fears are clowns and getting swarmed by butterflies or spiders. (Note: I am not afraid of spiders, just by being swarmed by them.) Both of these are symptom fears, they are the runny nose of a much bigger flu.

Awhile ago my friend took me to an acting class. She had been trying to get me to go for awhile and I had finally relented. I had stepped away from the theatre awhile back and knew how easy it would be to fall back in. When you first start class, they give you a student interview where everyone gets to ask you questions. We were on the last question and two people raised their hands, my friend and someone else. I called on the other person because I figure my friend either already knows or has a question I don't want to answer.

Eventually my curiosity gets the better of me and I have to ask what her question was.

"What is your greatest fear?"

I thought about it for a moment. Really thought about. Evil clowns? The dark? Being swarmed? Monsters in my closet? Yellow balloons? Getting trapped somewhere? Getting lost and not being able to find my way back? Some of them touched on it, but none of them really sent a shiver down my spine until I looked at their theme and then I had it.

"What do you think it is?"


This was not it. I don't like failing, but I'm not afraid of it. I've failed before and I'll fail again but I pick myself up and learn. Heck, I'm more afraid of success than I am of failure. The only part of failing that instills fear in me is that I won't be able to pick myself up or I won't learn and I'll be stuck. And there it is, my real fear.
Tell me your fear

Evil clowns is a symptom fear of the much larger fear of trusting people. That people are not what they seem and are hiding something, but this is still one of my minor fears. Most of my fears are symptomatic of one specific fear.

Almost every symptom fear is really my fear of stagnation. Of staying forever where I am and watching the world change around me, but never changing with it. To be stuck.

So, what are you afraid of?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Game Review - Cartoon Edition

Recently I decided to play some games based on cartoons I love: Phineas and Ferb and the Quest For Cool Stuff, Penguins of Madagascar, and Ducktales: Remastered. I steeled myself. A lot of times, when games are based on movies, they come out pretty terribly. I was prepared for the worst, but I was hoping they were at least playable.

Phineas and Ferb: Quest For Cool Stuff

This is a 2D platformer where the player collects items and defeats enemies by jumping on them or using a spin attack. There are 2 stories going on, Perry’s and Dr.
Doofenshmirtz’ story and the kids’ story. This is very much like the cartoon where there are two stories going on and they intersect at times.  The tutorial with Perry the Platypus is nicely done and immersive. The difficulty ramps up at a good pace and there are different unlockables you earn as you go that help you access new parts of levels.

Verdict: The game was fun and surprisingly well done. The animation was a little bit off but it didn’t detract much and the other elements of the game more than made up for a small bit of off animation.

Penguins of Madagascar

This is another 2D platformer where you play as the penguins and use their strengths to get through levels. The basic story is that you are collecting Cheesy Dibbles and completing missions. I wanted to like this one, I really did and it wasn't really a bad game, but I put it down after only an hour. The game itself was actually fairly decent, but it really needed the penguins' voices to make it work. Juicy is when your game has aesthetic elements that give your game character and life. This game lacked juiciness. One thing I did like is that you can switch between the four penguins while playing. If it had been a purely aesthetic switch, it would've been cute and nice to be able to play as your favorite penguin but they took the concept and made it better, it went beyond aesthetics. Each penguin had a different special move and each one had specific skills that you had to use to get past the level.

Verdict: It's not a bad game, but it's really not a good game either. What pushed it into being good was being able to switch between the penguins and use their abilities. Unfortunately, the lack of voices brought it down to mediocrity. I wouldn't buy it.

Ducktales: Remastered

Ducktales is, yet another, 2D platformer. In this one you play as Scrooge McDuck and collect treasures and coins while defeating enemies. This is based on the 1989 NES game, which I unfortunately didn't play. The original scenes are all in there with some expansions and two new levels, a vault tutorial and a volcano level. The characters have all been hand-drawn and the game is fully voiced. It's a fun game and the voices are a nice touch. Once you get past the vault, you can do any of the scenes in any order with the exception of the volcano scene, which doesn't open until all the other scenes are done. This makes it a little bland on ramping up the difficulty. There is a bit of a glitch on the volcano level where your character disappears whenever you do a pogo jump. It's not game-breaking, but it is disconcerting. For me it was probably about 4 hours of gameplay, for others it would probably be more like 3.

Verdict: It’s a fun game that plays on nostalgia and is really decent game. I probably still wouldn't buy it because I finished it in 4 hours and felt like there wasn't that much more I could get out of it.

Both Phineas & Ferb and Ducktales worked and Penguins would have worked with the inclusion of voices. I think part of the reason these games worked was because they had the essence of their source material without copying it. The reason most movies don't make the transition as well has a lot to do with the execution. A lot of times movie-based games are treated as a money-grab, "the movie is popular so let's capitalize." Enough time and care isn't given and/or they rehash what was already done in the movie. We don't need a rehashing; we know how that story went. To really work, besides time and care, we need the essence of the material. We need a continuation of the story; we need to be part of something that didn't already happen.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Heroes and Villains

Note: Spoilers on Disney's the Hunchback of Notre Dame ahead. But seriously, if you haven't seen it by now, do yourself a favor and Netflix it and then come back.

My favorite Disney movie used to be The Little Mermaid. I knew all the songs and dialogue and I could name every single character. When I went back to college, every once in awhile they would have me dissect a movie in an essay. I think I exclusively stuck to Disney movies. Why? Because they are a great study of setting up characters quickly and of nonverbal communication but also because a lot of their more complex aspects tend to be a lot more accesible than in other movies. Plus, I find I pay attention to them more than live action movies. I used Little Mermaid for quickly setting up characters and Tangled for nonverbal communication. In psychology I had to dissect a movie for shadow and cognitive dissonance. The first that came to mind was Hunchback of Notre Dame. I'd watched it many times before, but had never considered it a contender for being one of my favorites. And then I really watched it.

I've been coming to the realization that, over time, it has managed to push aside Little Mermaid to become my favorite. And the reason? Because it changed with me. When I was a kid a lot of the stuff with Frollo made me really uncomfortable but then the gargoyles were there to put me back at ease. He was a great villian, but the levels of villainy was a little deep for me but now I can see what a great villain he is. I liked the gargoyles when I was a kid, but I'm no longer as fond of them. I've grown out of them; they were never made for me now, they were made for me back then. Little Mermaid never changed for me, it never changed with me. It remains a nostalgic piece that always takes me back to the moment I was sitting next to my mom at the theatre and we were both crying because all hope was lost. Hunchback has taken more, and more persistent, holds in my memories. 

One of the reasons I think Hunchback may be one of the best Disney movies is because of it's main villain. In almost all Disney animated films, the villain is what make the most impact. The hero can only be as good as its villain. Why did Pocahontas and Tarzan not have that much impact on me? They had a poorly done villain. Here's a little secret: I prefer the direct-to-video Pocahontas sequel to the original. In the original, Pocahontus wasn't a very good heroine because she didn't have a good foil. Governor Ratcliffe was just greedy in the first one and he really didn't have much impact. He had little to no direct interaction with the main character. In the second one, they were on his turf. He had power, he had the home advantage, he had direct interaction with the main protagonist and the movie was better because of it. 

Probably won't believe it, but this guy is the villain
Frollo was unlike many of the Disney villains I've seen before or since. He was an evil man, he did deplorable things, but he never saw himself as evil. To the contrary, he saw himself as a good and righteous man fighting the evil surrounding him. He didn't revel in his evilocitude like Ursula or Jafar. He is someone who is relatable because we can easily see people like that around us. Though most of us would prefer not to admit it or do not see it, we may have those traits in ourselves. That is a very scary but relatable thing and it can be very uncomfortable to have those thoughts. If you speak to most people, you will find out they see themselves as the hero and those around them are the villains, but there's a good chance they are the villain in someone else's story. Very few people think they are the persecutor, it's the world and everything else that is against them. They couldn't possibly the one doing anything wrong. 

While it is easy to tell in Hunchback who the heroes and villains are, but in life it's a lot harder to tell who are villains and who are the heroes. This is probably because we are neither and both. Unless you come with the best song (such as Hellfire), then you are most definitely the villain.

Currently, Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame is on Netflix. It is definitely worth another viewing and it has a great soundtrack. And when you watch a "kids" movie, don't be dismissive and think it has nothing to offer you on the basis of it being animated because it just may surprise you.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wait For It...Procrastination

I was lamenting to a coworker that I have a lot of projects but I procrastinate a lot. He found this hard to believe based on how I am at work, but I am a different person at home than I am at work. At home I procrastinate all the time, have horrible time management skills, and I am indecisive. In work and school, I am the opposite of all that.

I am getting frustrated with myself.

I currently have:
  • 5 plays in various states of doneness
  • 3 stories including one with an entire outline and ending
  • a video project that I've already outlined
  • several pet/organization projects
  • a bunch of online classes/ tutorials I want to take 
  • Plus need to send in my application for the Amtrak Residency due on March 30
I keep adding more projects and when I get home, I am either too tired from work or I can't decide between projects. I get so caught up in my indecision that I don't get anything done. This needs to change. I've said this before and I have tried making plans and even sticking to them for a short time before I get lax again. This is the first time I'm putting this in writing and dissecting the tactics that work for me in work and school in order to apply it to my personal projects. With this, I am holding myself accountable.

A little background. I have always been a little bad about my indecisiveness but it has been coming out more and more as I've gotten older. This may have to do with having less free time or because I keep adding projects without finishing other ones or it might have to do with realizing my own mortality. It could be a combination of all of these. I used to work on 3 projects at a time. Sometimes more, but usually I'd keep it at 3 and when I finished one, I'd replace it with the next one on my list. I would flit between the 3 projects depending on my mood. I would usually have a comedy and something a little darker for certain moods and an organization project for when I needed to channel and control my neuroticism. (Note: this may be why I've been a little more noticably neurotic lately) This 3-project system worked well for me in the past, but I seem to be having trouble narrowing it down into 3 projects. 
The biggest motivators for me in both work and school are deadlines and being counted on. I hate the thought of letting peopole down because I didn't hold up my end of the work. Deadlines always help me understand the end point. I've heard many people say you shouldn't put deadlines on creative people (though I've also heard the latter) but I tend to not agree. I feel they do tend to help more than hinder, but I also think some people (Me) who make an art out of procastinating need deadlines or we just don't get anything done. Nobody is really counting on me, but I can make deadlines work for me.

Another thing that helped me, especially when I was a payroll specialist, was making lists. I'd have one week that was only for payroll and whatever came up and then I would have an off week. When I finished running payroll, I'd compile my list of tasks for my off-week and I'd color code them based on priority. Whenever something came up, I'd add it to the list and color-code it accordingly. If there was a lot (and there usually was) I'd number within each of the color coded sections.  It took a few minutes to compile but save me a lot of time and kept me focused. It also came in handy when my supervisor exasperatedly exclaimed: "I don't even know what you do all day!" and I handed her the list leaving her speechless.

One of the most important things I learned through my courses was scope. How big is your project? What does it entail? This is probably one of the most oft overlooked concepts even though it was consistently drummed into us. It's taking your project and seeing how big it is and making it manageable with your resources. If you have 3 days you can't write your big space epic, but you should be able to write a pretty good short story. It is basically looking at what you want to do and what your resources (including time) are and aligning them. What do you need, what can you cut? What are the most important aspects and what are the things that would be nice to have but are not necesssary?
I think I can find a way to stop wallowing in my indecisive Libra ways and stop procrastinating if I can combine the methods that have worked in the past.

-   Look at the scope of each project 
-   Determine which projects go with which mood
-   List them by priority in category of mood
-   Give myself milestones/deadlines 

By going through this process, I am hoping to work through my paralyzing indecisveness and work on my projects. Working on projects helps keep me a bit more balanced. When I don't have them I tend to get more neurotic and indecisive along with some other stuff. This is an effort to get myself back to a more balanced state.