Thursday, October 12, 2006

Beguiling the Time

Computer games bore the bejabbers out of me. Ennui overtakes me as I watch over Freddie's shoulder, his avatar striding some war-torn landscape engaging in hand-to-hand combat that he is eventually guaranteed to lose. The instant he overcomes his adversary, another one pops out of the bushes and off they go again. What's with all the agitá? What do these cartoon figures have against each other? Wouldn't they all be just happier if they knocked off the Warcrafting, rolled some doobage and told tall tales about chicks? Well, son, I think, there's four hours you'll never get back.

Yesterday, citing a sore hip, I slagged off work and took to my bed. (It really was sore; I'm beginning to knuckle under to the inevitability of a replacement -- but enough of that for now.) A look at the books on my bedside table stirred no excitement, and my thoughts rather unexpectedly strayed to a copy of Myst IV: Revelation I'd been given some while back. I'd laid it aside because it crashed on my old Mac laptop; but this new, more testicular one might handle it better. What better way to beguile the time on an unexpected afternoon in bed? I found the box on a shelf, threw on the software, and presently found myself blissfully, meditatively enthralled, wandering through a beautiful house built around a desert-canyon lagoon while soothing New-Agey music played unobtrusively. Sure, there were puzzles to solve, a backstory to unravel, but -- and this is the vitally important point -- nothing was trying to kill me!

I just hate it when things are trying to kill me. Don't you?

The appeal of the Myst series for me how unhurried the gameplay is. Rather than sock-pow frenzy, you're invited to explore these quite stunningly rendered landscapes at your leisure before you even bother to try to solve the puzzles and move on to the next level. I was quite tickled to find myself really admiring and envying the kitchen in the fantasy house in Tomahna, the first world: So simple! So austere! Yet so sumptuous! I really wish my kitchen were cantilevered impossibly out over a lagoon like this! I could really get some cooking done in a kitchen like this one! Yes, sir!

What? Puzzle? Save Achenar's daughter from the evil clutches of her malign brothers, destroyer of worlds? Who cares! Dig this kitchen!

But, as ever, my training as an interface designer also kept trying to assert itself -- to my chagrined amusement. I know the devices and doohickeys that one's meant to solve -- machines you have to repair in some way, codes you have to break, natural-world science you have to apply -- must necessarily obscure their own functionality, else they'd be pretty piss-poor puzzles. But in my "waking" life, as it were, this is precisely the sort of thing I'm paid to work very hard at avoiding. I kept asking, "Really, Achenar? You'd design a whole electrical system such that two obscure little symbols engraved on a terminal device provide the information necessary to run it, and the key to the symbols is to be found in a drawer in a desk in your bedroom all the way back on the other end of the house? Wouldn't it have been a more practical matter to simply put up a little sign?"

Or, "Really, Achenar? You'd build a lovely home clinging to cliffs over a lagoon, and then make inter-room navigation dependent on a single bridge that changes position to connect rooms depending on which way you push a control device? What if you really needed to go to the crapper all of a sudden? Is that really great design?"

Ah, well. In these games nobody ever has to go to the crapper. Maybe that's their problem over at Warcraft. They're all plugged up. They should relax, let go. Second door on your right. What's that? How do you open the door? Ah... I shan't tell you and spoil the puzzle!

(Later edit: I once wandered into a video-game store in a shopping mall, to placate Freddie's pleading. Remembering how much I'd enjoyed the Playstation version of Myst III, I inquired of the tattooed clerk (who could easily have been played by Jack Black) if there were any games in his shop that weren't about killing, mayhem, bloodlust, and the skillful manipulation of unintuitive, thumb-intensive combinations of R-1 and X and Triangle buttons. Games like, you know, Myst.

(After staring at me as though I'd just sprouted a penis from my forehead, he just grinned and shook my hand. "No," was all he said.

(I find this less than credible. I put it to my wise and cultured readership: Are there any other games in this vein? No killing, no anxiety, no obscure button combinations to be found on page 125 of the manual? Just, you know, puzzles. And trippy landscapes. Surely there must be!)


Employee of the Month said...

The label on the bottle reads: "Drink Me."

Bobby Lightfoot said...

your blog has interesting aspects on kitchen design and home ergonomics. I'll visit often. Check out for some great gift ideas!

Anonymous said...

i went to; they have fabulous curtains. i purchased a hydraulic bridge-switcher while i was there. it comes highly recommended.

Neddie said...

...And in the kitchen, there's a sarcastic blogger who says "EAT ME"....

Goes down well with some



Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

I'm also not a gaming guy, save for a rare round of chess or hand of solitaire (and, admittedly, I did spend an entire work day once playing something called Bejeweled on Yahoo). Aside from that, I'm all about Excel & PageMaker (oh sure, and Photoshop). However, a while back, I happened across a CD collection of all of the Infocom text adventures that I grew up with -- the Zork trilogy & all the rest. I snatched it up, of course (knowign full well I'll never have the time to play them). Even though there were NO graphics, some of the more vivid memories of my youth relate to those games. And hell, that's how I learned to type -- one of the classic geeks from the 80s, I can hunt & peck about 75 words per minute.

Highlander said...

MYST drives me batshit. Figuring out puzzles drives me batshit. Makes me feel stooopid. Me not game when games make me feel stooopid.

I mostly use my X-Box to play music, but will admit, I'm avidly seeking the merest scraps of information on when the next KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC will come out. Frustrating and limited though I found both of the first two chapters, I still enjoyed them enough to want to play more in that particular setting. And it's fun to be a Jedi.

J. Andrew Boyle said...

Ah, Myst.

They nights I lost sleep over Myst when it came out so long ago. Even had to put an alarm on my old Centris 650 to tell me to go to sleep at 2 AM.

Not sure of many other present day non-violent games. I hear the final episode of Myst is spoiled by adding computer generated beings instead of that great old Hypercard like window movie.

Zork was there back then. Buried in Time is Myst-like. What was the name of that game with the train that was early on?

Happily, in between bouts of ATV crashing and Star Wars Lego slicing, my 6-yr-old actually likes to play Riven.

Anonymous Bosch said...

Yeah, there's a large number of the 'kill everything that moves' type of game, which don't do a lot for me, but every so often I stumble across one that makes me think that Games can actually be engaging and thought-provoking.

Recently: "Beyond Good And Evil", the story of a young woman on a distant planet, caring for War Orphans, who becomes a photo-journalist. Halfway through i was shocked to realise how emotionally invested I was in her character.

Stranger still, the game brought up notions of an unjust war, civilian victims, the use of propaganda to motivate a population and the power of the press to find the truth. By the end of it, I'd felt like I'd watched an animated 'V For Vendetta' and thought 'this is what teenagers *should* be playing'.

I barely can describe 'Psychonauts', which is simply one of the most creative and clever 'stories' i've experienced in *any* form of media. The stupid CGI animated movies Hollywood keeps pumping out should be half as entertaining.

ade said...

If you have a PS2 then I recommend you buy ICO, Neddie. I believe it's kicking around as a cheap "platinum" release at the moment.
There is a bit of killing, but it's only light killing - not full-on slaughter. There's a sprawling mess of beautifully desolate Gormenghast-style crumbling masonry and windswept landscape to explore between the puzzle solving. Most importantly there is no backing music - just the sound of the wind blowing through the towers.
At heart it's still an "explore the castle, save the princess" type game; but the level designs, the simplicity of the controls and the beautiful, beautiful art of the derelict castle and the animation of the characters make it an incredibly immersive experience.
If you haven't got a PlayStation2, then I've just made a total cock of myself.

Akatabi said...

You'd probably enjoy Leisure Suit Larry Magna Cum Laude, if only for the Foghat tribute band. Gameplay is Pong-like, voicings, characterization and inside humor make you want to explore all the wrong avenues. Unfortunately, no Mac port that i can come across.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

Shem said...

I'd second the recommendation for Psychonauts. There *are* some fighting elements, but of the cartoony kind, and the gameplay is deeply bizarre and inventive, with lots of freedom to bounce around and just look at cool stuff.

Since you're a Mac person, you might want to go old skool and wander over to Cliff Johnson's site ( and help yourself, free, to The Fool's Errand, 3 in Three, and At the Carnival, three of the best puzzle games I've ever played. TFE is more oriented toward verbal/wordplay puzzles, 3 in Three is more logic and number puzzles, and ATC is appropriate for kids, with lots of word searches and put-the-picture-together puzzles.

Employee of the Month said...

Katamari Damacy

Trippy and no robot monster eye stabbing rotating knives.

Jeremy Cherfas said...

I used to have some fun playing Theme Park, but it never kept me going all that long.

Then there's always fdjgme, where you get to slaughter a person spinning and mixing annoying tunes, but I supposes that's too close to slaughter and mayhem.

Anonymous said...

Check out And though it's PC-based, find a copy of Amber.

Frank in Boulder said...

Have you looked at Birmingham Hip Resurfacing? I am going to a seminar in a couple of weeks to see if it is a solution for the osteoarthritis in my left hip. My thinking is that they can always go replace the hip if this doesn't work, but if it does I keep as much original equipment as possible.

Neddie said...

Yeah, Frank, I have read about the resurfacing option. Keeping your bone is certainly an attractive feature.

However (I should update the post), I've been back to the doc, and despite continued inflammation, the ball of the femur actually shows signs of improvement -- bone actually is growing back. He's put me on anti-inflammatories and I'm back using a cane, and we're deferring any decision on replacement until December.

The pills do help enormously, and the cane -- sexy!

Thanks for the info! It was rllydp!