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How To Make A Living Writing Short Fiction – can it be done? Yes.
Book Review: Lord of the Flies – all about Ralph and Piggy and Roger
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Game Review: Apples to Apples
Apples to Apples game
Before last weekend, I had seen -- but had never played -- the card game Apples to Apples. Gary and I went to a Labor Day barbecue at a friend's house, and we arrived to find all the guests in a circle on a picnic blanket under a tree in the back yard. Everyone was playing Apples to Apples. At first, the game seemed a bit confusing, but I took over someone's hand when they had to run an errand, and it turns out that it's pretty easy to learn.

I never actually saw the game box, so what I describe may be different from the official rules. Anyhow, the game contains green cards that each contain a single adjective (luscious, dirty, funny, glamorous, etc.) and red cards that each contain a single person, place, or thing. Everyone playing draws a certain number of red cards (this apparently varies depending on the people playing; with 6-10 people playing, our game maven had us all draw 7 cards) that they keep hidden like any other playing card hand.

The game progresses as you go around in the circle with each person taking a turn drawing a green card. This becomes the topic for the turn. The person drawing the green card announces the topic, and everyone else has to pick a card from their hand that they think best fits the adjective (or hilariously deviates from the topic) and lays their card face down in a widow in the middle or the table (or picnic blanket as the case may be). The person holding the green card then picks up the discarded cards, shuffles them, and goes through them and picks out what he or she feels is the "best" card for the topic. The person who threw in the pick of the kitty is then awarded the green card, and the person with the most green cards at the end of the game wins.

When Gary and I entered the game, most of the fun came from the green card holder snarking on the card selections. Sometimes you'll end up with nothing that matches the topic -- for instance, when the green card was "glamorous", I think I had "log cabins", "rocks", "oxygen", "my parents' house", "spilled milk", and "Ernest Borgnine" in my hand. Nothing glamorous there, so I had to try for something that might seem hilariously inappropriate, so I threw in ol' Ernest. I didn't win the turn, but everyone got a laugh.

Not being a champion snarker, when it came to be my first turn to draw a green topic card, I ended up telling a little story with the widow cards: "So the Rolling Stones were traveling down the highway when they got a flat outside Waco, TX and they were approached by a group of choir boys carrying a pregnant woman who was about to go into labor on a trampoline ...." People got a bigger kick out of the silly stories than the random snarks, so we all started trying to make stories out of the cards before we made our pick.

So, anyhow: Apples to Apples is a fun, silly party game, and makes a nice icebreaker for any gathering of geeks. But it also struck me that it could be used as a creativity exercise. Stuck for a plot? Draw some red cards and see what relationships and conflicts you could draw between them.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Game Review: Apeiron

Apeiron is a Macintosh game that ranks as one of my absolute favorites. If you enjoyed the old Atari arcade games Centipede and Millipede, you're likely to find Apeiron downright addictive.

In this updated version of those old classics, you control a crystal shooter you use to blow away sneaker-wearing pentipedes, goggle-eyed fleas, grouchy scobsters, and flatulent geckos that zip down the mushroom patch, determined to do you in. The patch's landscape is altered by the occasional visit of a flying saucer. Game play is livened up by "yummies" such as psychedelic shrooms and bouncing gold coins that give you special powers such as machine-gun fire, guided shooting, an invulnerability shield, and additional lives (you get a maximum of eight shooters at any time).

The graphics and animation on this game are excellent and the sound effects are gleefully obnoxious. Game play is simple; use your mouse or trackball to move your shooter and press the button to fire (you can also use a keyboard or other input device). Everything you see on screen is worth shooting. There's nothing to get in between you and the pure arcade adrenaline that kicks in around Level 5 and doesn't let up until your last shooter shatters.

The first version of this game was developed in 1995 by Ambrosia Software's founder Andrew Welch and rapidly became a big hit for the fledgling company. Newer releases have addressed OS and hardware upgrades (the introduction of USB rendered the older version of the game unplayable due to system conflicts). The game's name comes from the Greek word for "countless", which refers to the number of enemies you'll face.

A very-playable shareware version of this game is available for tryout at www.ambrosiasoftware.com.

Game Cheats

The game can get tough, particularly after Level 12. But please note that if you use any of the cheats listed below (except pause) your score won't count towards the high score tally.

To abort the game because your boss is coming: Escape
To pause the game: Caps Lock

The game must be paused in order to apply the following cheat codes
  • SNAPPLE - locks in whatever "yummies" you've accumulated
  • PERNTS - adds points to your score.
  • NALA - give you the "sprinkly shield" of invulnerability
  • SQUISH - machine gun fire
  • USMC - adds 5000 to your bonus score
  • DJARUM - lets you pass through mushrooms
  • HECTOR - maxes out your lives to a total of eight
  • NICE BOX - give you guided shots
  • MORRISON - moves you ahead 12 levels

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Monday, October 22, 2001

Game Review: Myst III: Exile
The Visual Language of Myst III: Exile
a review by Jenise Aminoff

In Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, Severian the Torturer tells us that physical objects have meaning as symbols, meaning that transcends individual experience and in fact stems from the grand collective of human history. If Wolfe believes his own character, then he would have loved Myst and Riven, by Cyan Software. Myst remains the best selling computer game of all time, attracting a wide range of players, many of whom were non-gamers lured in by rich, textural graphics and intricate puzzles. The sequel, Riven, was built upon Myst's foundation and added astonishingly beautiful graphics, action sequences, and even more complex puzzles, all within a coherent, self-consistent plot.

Now, as Cyan transforms itself into Cyan Worlds and focuses on gameplay across broadband internet (including the possibility of multiplayer games), they've farmed out the next installment in the Myst series to Presto Studios, makers of rather unremarkable games like Star Trek: Hidden Evil and Steven King's F13. Okay, they're good at working with other people's worlds. But can Myst III: Exile live up to the incredibly high standard that Cyan has set?

Well, that depends on what you liked about Myst and Riven. Myst III does do an excellent job of recreating the stunning graphics and atmosphere of exploring an entirely alien landscape. Some of the worlds are downright disturbing, including a world in which you regularly interact with weird living things, both flora and fauna, in a landscape that looks like wind- and water-worn bone. Similarly, if you like puzzles, you won't be disappointed by the plethora of tricks and teasers of varying complexity.

One major advantage of Myst III is that it uses a completely immersive interface. While you'll still step from frame to frame as before, you can now look 360 degrees around you, up and down and sideways and slantways and any ways you can think of. While this sometimes makes it difficult to manipulate objects like journals, you can simply hold down the shift key to release the cursor. Not everyone will think this is an improvement, however. My husband gets thoroughly motion sick after watching me play for just a few minutes.

Sound is also an important component of the game. The soundtrack expands on its predecessors and includes an interesting range of styles. I'm particularly fond of the music with Middle Eastern influence. In a few places, I found vocal background music jarring and kept looking around for the source of the song. Sound plays an integral part in several puzzles, so make sure your sound system is up to snuff. I played Myst III on a Macintosh G4 with OpenGL. If you're on a Mac, make certain you go to www.apple.com and get the latest version of OpenGL to install. After having been stumped by the final puzzle in Riven because I couldn't distinguish a couple of sounds, I invested this time in a surround sound stereo system from Cambridge Soundworks. It made a huge difference and helps to immerse you in the game. And I'll admit, I love cranking up the subwoofer for an extra dose of musical angst.

Having said all that, Myst III does lack one important feature: a driving plot. In Riven, Cyan broke new ground by integrating their puzzles into the culture of the people in their ages and the character of Gehn, the game's villain. The plot, to capture Gehn and save Catherine, gave Riven a mood of urgency and purpose that Exile lacks. In Myst III, Atrus's latest creation, in which most of his people, the D'ni, now live, is stolen by a victim of Atrus's wayward sons, Cirrus and Achenar, featured in the original Myst. The victim, Saavedro, is on a quest for revenge on Atrus (played by Myst co-creator Rand Miller) for allowing his sons to destroy Saavedro's home. He leads you on a wild goose chase through five worlds just to get Atrus's book back.

But the brilliant moments of character interaction that made Riven so riveting are missing from Myst III. Aside from the occasional recording of Saavedro taunting Atrus, you're left alone to muck about in the worlds as best you can. Even more striking, though, is the lack of semiotic content. Riven did an amazing job of reinforcing the plot with visual symbolism and mood-setting. One scene in Riven, a spidery gold cage in a dark room of rough hewn stone, literally made me jump out of my seat.

By contrast, Myst III is merely beautiful and mysterious. Wandering around the initial world, J'nanin, in which Saavedro claims to have been trapped for so long, you start to wonder what his problem was, living on an island of Frank Lloyd Wright-ish stained glass and cute little white bunny-like creatures. Where is the devastation caused by Cirrus and Achenar? Where is the aura of loneliness and abandonment? And why all the cheerful choral music when you're nearing the lair of a grief-crazed psychopath?

Presto Studios has done an excellent job of imitating the style of Myst, but it has failed to capture the substance. Where Myst and Riven are guided by narrative, Exile is guided by a deep need to reproduce the real thing. Myst and Riven are among my favorite examples of multimedia, interactive storytelling. The visual language Cyan uses draws you in on a semiotic level that rivals the fiction of Gene Wolfe. Without that visual narrative, Myst III is just a game.

Still, it's a really good game with a lot of engrossing play and satisfying problem solving in it. In my opinion, it's a better game than just about anything else on the market right now, and it certainly makes for a satisfying stopgap while we wait for Cyan's next project, a non-Myst 3-D Internet-based game, code named Mudpie, to reach completion.

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I'm Lucy Snyder. I'm a Worthington, Ohio author and former magazine editor; on this site you'll find my writing as well as features from my husband, novelist Gary A. Braunbeck.

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