Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Orange Box & Puzzle Quest... Oh, my!

Well, it looks like I may need to add Puzzle Quest (for XBLA) to my currently playing list. And, sadly, Overlord may have to be demoted to the "done with" section before I finish it because of the goodness that is Orange Box and my soon to be delivered Ratchet & Clank: Future Tools of Destruction. I just can't play as many games as I used to :(

Puzzle Quest is quite fun. Even though I skip through the story elements of the RPG (thank goodness the cut scenes are skippable), I do enjoy the strategic outergame that has been layered on. I haven't plumbed its depths, yet (I'm just getting started) but it seems like there will be some interesting layers of strategy to discover.

Orange Box just keeps getting better. I played through Portal a second time to try and find all the security cameras (I missed two) and had the pleasure of sharing the end credits sequence with my girlfriend. Hilarious. It's on "the youtubes" if you don't mind seeing a delicious spoiler. It reminds me of the fun we had recording the credits music to Rise of Legends and adds a level of polish that is truly Valve-worthy.

I then started up Half Life 2 again. I'd already played through he PC version, but wanted to show my girlfriend the opening sequences. It's as good as I remember it and I'm now at risk of playing it through again before engaging Ep. 1 and 2 (which I haven't played yet). Valve gets the importance of writing, learn-as-you-play, and polish. The only potential fault I can find is that their games are still not quite accessible to the complete newb to first person shooters. They're close, but not quite ready (I watched my girlfriend fail at Portal after getting so tantalizingly close to really "getting it"). Part of it is the really hard-to-solve issue of what to do with your right thumb (people who don't play FPS games like to hover over the face buttons instead of dual wielding the right stick to make look/move more fluid). Part of it is the lack of some sort of fail-safe tech where people can go for an explicit walkthrough of a puzzle/combat situation in order to keep moving forward when they become blocked and frustrated. Bioshock actually did a decent job of this second part -- offering 2 levels of help on objectives: "within fiction" journal entries (that didn't break the 4th wall) and hints for folks who were stuck (that had more explicit instructions without the fiction attached).

These are the delicious issues that the "usability guy" in me loves to sink his teeth into. Start with an already fun and polished product and take it to that next level.

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