Starcraft 2: From Worse to Bad — Control Groups
Sep 7th, 2010 by Pinback

SC2! This installment is called:

Putting Your Buildings In Control Groups

That sounds like a terribly dry, boring title, so it may surprise you when I tell you that this is the most important installment that you could ever read, if you want to be a not-quite-as-terrible SC2 player. Stick with me.

If you’ve ever watched a replay of a professional (or even half-decent) SC2 match, you will notice two things:

1. Something has gone horribly, horribly wrong in your life, because you’re sitting there watching replays of other people playing video games.

2. Somehow they’re able to move their armies, attack with precision, AND build new units and buildings and upgrades at the same time!

I could never figure out how that was possible. I’d either be base-building, getting a bunch of guys together, while the guys I’d already built just sat around waiting, or I’d be taking my big group of units and attacking, while my base just sat there doing nothing. There are names for these things! You may have heard them, and if you watch a replay, you will definitely hear them:

TERM: "Micro"

DEFINITION: "Micro"-management of military units. Moving them around, having them scout or attack enemies.

USE IT IN A SENTENCE: "He’s micro-ing really well, see how he sent those marines around to the other side of the (whatever, etc, etc.)"

TERM: "Macro"

DEFINITION: Economy building, Base building, Unit building, etc.

USE IT IN A SENTENCE: "That one guy micros better, but he just got overwhelmed because the other guy out-macroed him lolz gg omfg"

To restate my problems above, I could micro or macro, but not both at the same time. And that amazing thing the pros do? Microing and macroing at the same time. That is the number one key to becoming a only-a-fraction-as-awful SC2 player. And the number one key to microing and macroing at the same time is:

Putting Your Buildings In Control Groups

To review, a "control group" is when you assign a clump of units to one of the number keys on the top row of the keyboard. If you got ten zerglings, and you want to attack, you’d put them in, say, the "1" control group. Then whenever you wanted to select all of them, you’d just hit "1". If you wanted to center the camera on them, you’d just double-tap "1".

That’s fine. But the key thing here is, you can put your buildings in control groups too!

Before I explain how to do this, I will give you an example of what it looks like:

1. Hurm, durm, here I am with my little army on control group 1, I’m gettin’ close to the enemy, this’ll be fun!

2. Oh, I should probably build some more guys back at the base, in case this doesn’t go well, cuz I suck at micro.

OLD WAY: Leave your army sittin’ there, scroll back to the base, select the production building, click on the little Marine picture (or whatever), then double-tap 1 and go back to moving your army around.

NEW WAY: Let’s say you’ve grouped all of your production buildings on the "5" key. You hit "5". You hit (hotkey for Marine). You hit 1 to go back to controlling the army.

Holy crap, right? You just started building a guy, and it took two keystrokes, and you never had to move the camera. You were looking at your army the whole time, confident that back at your base, a new guy was being built. If you had two production buildings, you’d go 5, q, q, 1, and it would automatically make one building start building one guy, and the other the other. You made TWO GUYS in less than a second, without having to take your eye of your army. Oh man.

This gives you the idea of why this is so important.

I will just tell you how I do it. You can play around with it and configure it more to your liking.


I put "town hall" buildings (Command Center, Nexus) on 4. All of them. Any time I need a new worker, "4, q". Boom. Need a few? "4, q, q, q". BAM. BUILDIN’ WORKERS. Also each of the town hall buildings has its own little special abilities which you’d also activate this way. As Terran, want to scan the opponent’s base? "4, x, (click on where you want to scan". KAPOW. (Note, all of these examples assumed the "Grid" hotkey system, see last installment.)

I put production buildings (any building that makes units) on 5. I already gave you an example of this. This also, though, makes rallying easy. Want to rally ALL your newly created units to one spot? "5, (right-click on rally point)". Holy Jesus, you just rallied like twelve production buildings to one spot with one key press and one mouse click! HOLY CHRISTING LORD!!

I put "upgrade" buildings (those that you don’t actively interact with except when you wish to do research to do upgrades) on 6. Want to research Warp Gates but are too busy to click around to find the Cybernetics Core? "6, z". KERSPOWW!! JOB’S DUN!

That’s it. I use 4, 5, and 6 because 1, 2, 3 I reserve for groups of military units. Note how awesome this is, though. Using the Grid hotkeys, with these control groupings, I literally never have to move my left hand to do ANYTHING IN THE GAME that you’d ever need to do.


Zerg is slightly different because the "town hall" building is also the only unit production building. So they stay on 4, but 5 is instead used for grouping all the "queen" units, which have special abilities you need to be constantly using — particularly "spawn larvae". Need to spawn larvae at two of your hatcheries with your two queens? "5, x, (click on minimap hatchery), x, (click on other one)". BOWFF!!! Now that’s some fine larvae-spawnin’!

Alright. That’s about it for today’s installment, see you nex—

"HEY WAIT A MINUTE, PINNER! There’s ALL SORTS of production and upgrade buildings! If you have them all grouped together, how do you select a Barracks to build a Marine, vs. a Factory to build a Siege Tank, vs. a Starport to build a Banshee? And if all my upgrade buildings are on one key, how do I research Zergling speed at the Spawning Pool vs. Air attack +1 at the Spire? Etc., etc.?"

That’s the question, isn’t it. And there’s a very special key on the keyboard that has the answer. I will give you a hint as to which key it is:

Did you figure it out? It’s the "Tab" key. And the reason it’s the Tab key is because SC2 has something called "subgroups". You may group a bunch of different types of buildings together, or types of military units together, but SC2 will secretly distribute them into "subgroups", based on their type.

So when you select "5" to select your production buildings, can you guess which key will select the next "subgroup" in your main group? Can you?

I’ll give you that hint again:

Here’s the real life example, which will BLOW YOUR FRIGGIN’ MIND:

You have two barracks and two starports, all on group 5. You’re fightin’ a battle, but quickly want to get two marauders and two medivacs building back at your base. Check it:

"5, w, w, TAB, w, w".

Your mind? FRIGGIN’ BLOWN. First you selected the whole group (which defaulted to the barracks), built two marauders with the "w" hotkey, tabbed over to the starport sub-group, and built two medivacs, with the same hotkey. And since SC2 distributes your requests to all available buildings, each of your four buildings is building one of those units.

And it took you one second, and you never had to look at your base.

I guess, to sum up, I’d say that the most important thing to learn to do as you climb the ranks of the eternally mediocre, is:

Putting Your Buildings In Control Groups

Starcraft 2: From Worse to Bad
Aug 28th, 2010 by Pinback

SC2!Welcome to SC2FWTB, the thread in which I will TEACH YOU, the horrible SC2 player, how to rise to the ranks of the merely bad! I feel qualified to dispense this advice, because I am a bad player. However, I used to be terrible, and have made tremendous strides by following the advice I will now begin to give you!

I will do this in installments!

Today’s installment is called:


Make no mistake! Without using hotkeys, you will always be horrible. Your first and only job, as a horrible player, is to learn to use hotkeys.

Not only that, but you need to learn to use hotkeys exclusively. A good training exercise for this (which will eventually become the way you actually play) is to play games against the computer, without ever touching the little selection menu in the lower-right. NEVER!

This takes work, as in the beginning, it will be much quicker for you to use the mouse to click on an icon than to recall the hotkey. But this is necessary.


If you already know the standard hotkeys backwards and forwards, skip to “CONCLUSION”.

If you still haven’t learned any kind of hotkeys well enough for them to be second nature:

I want you to immediately click on “Options” in the SC2 menu. Then I want you to click on “Hotkeys”. At the top of this screen is a dropdown, called “Profile”. I want you to click on the dropdown, and select “Grid”.

What does this mean?

This replaces all of the default hotkeys with the “Grid” hotkeys, which are so much easier to use that you would have to be an insane person not to learn them.

Essentially, it makes the fifteen leftmost (or rightmost, if you’re left-handed) alphabetic keys on the keyboard correspond to the fifteen little icon boxes in the lower right of the screen.

This has three tremendous benefits:

1. If you don’t remember a hotkey, you can just look at the icon, see where it is in the selection menu, and PRESS DAT KEY.

2. The hotkeys for all three races are now PRETTY MUCH THE SAME! No more “e” for probe, “s” for SCV, and… whatever the hell drones were. Now any time you need a worker for any race, “q” is where it’s at.

3. More importantly, you never have to move your hand. You always wondered how the pros could do fifty million things at once and it never looks like they’re flailing all over the keyboard hunting for hotkeys? This is why.

If you’ve ever dreamed of not being horrible at SC2, AND of being able to sit there calmly, your hand comfortably resting in the “home” position, being merely bad, then the Grid hotkeys are a must. There are two complaints you might have about Grid as a horrible player, which are are:

1. “The hotkeys don’t make any sense!” REBUTTAL: Like they made sense before? Now you have to press “q” for a marine, instead of… “a”. ?????

2. “‘a’ was always the attack-move command! The most important command in the game! Now it’s ‘t’!! Arg!” REBUTTAL: Look. If you are right handed, and you’ve got your hands in the right position, “a” is located so you have to curl your ring-finger back to get at it. “t” is right where your index finger is. Now all you gotta do is MASH THAT T. “But ‘a’ stands for ‘attack!!'” REBUTTAL!! Trust me, after the first ten thousand times you hit ‘t’ for attack-move (2 games), you will thank me.


In conclusion… hotkeys!

Flack’s Top 15 Games of All-Time
Aug 17th, 2010 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Flack had been counting down his 15 favorite video games in the JC BBS for a month now, and he recently completed the list. Down to #1, at least. Confused? Don’t be! Look, just click on this goddamn list.

Apr 28th, 2010 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I’ll admit I had my doubts when I started to play a spirited round of ATC-SIM: The Web-Based Air Traffic Control Sim. I had doubts because I am a highly-functional retarded person who is is quite aware of his own limits, to where I know better than to play an ATC game in case some Ender’s Game shit is going on and I kill thousands of people and some Americans.

Then Pinback told me that there’s such a thing as “Ted Stevens Airport” up in Anchorage, and frankly, anyone who is allowed to fly on planes when convicted felons can get airports named after them deserves what they get from that industry. There’s two people who could MAYBE get stuff named after them in Alaska: Curt Schilling and Will Riker, and every word that’s come out of Schilling’s mouth since the bloody sock game has been intolerable objectivist horse shit.

And Riker is a fictional character. (crosses arms)

“Fine,” I said to Pinback, “I’ll try to land ONE plane.” After all, Pinback has done me a fine solid over the years, playing such dear games to my heart like Knight Orc and Front Page Sports Football. Well, he didn’t vote for their page deletion in the Wikipedia, and that’s close enough.

I went to the ATC-SIM website and picked “Heathrow” because it was the one available airport I’ve been to for more than thirty minutes that didn’t make me want to drown myself in the Captain’s Club toilets. The first time I was at Heathrow, there was an announcement to not crowd the plane that was going to take me and 40 students to Edinburgh. As the oldest person on the flight and lone American, I instantly felt responsible in ensuring everyone followed the disembodied voice’s orders. However, the students crowded the plane door without any regard to order or instruction. I was shocked, nothing had at all prepared me for this, this… this Anarchy in the U.K.! Nothing! It was unheard of.

The instructions to ATC-SIM aren’t on the actual page you play the game on. You might think this meant that I had to use either notepad.exe or my own nootropic-fueled memory to play, but I did neither of those things. I asked Benjamin ‘Pinback’ Parrish for instructions in real-time, as he alt-tabbed away from his OWN game to help me. After figuring out the controls, my long experience as a gurgling text gamer came into play: I got ONE plane down onto the runway. Hooray! I am being absolutely serious when I say that landing the plane in ATC-SIM is a fun experience that actually made me happy. Like, I’m not doing schtick for a second: it was fuckin’ cool.

By this point I had a terrific backlog of departures. There were three planes that had the abbreviation “DET” next to them. I assume those three planes were going to Detroit. Why were three planeloads of questionable Britons headed to Detroit at the same time? Was Australia full or something? I’ve read my history, gents, I know the intent. I never let those planes depart Heathrow. They’re STILL there – go dump your human garbage on Mars, Lady Byng!

Anyway, in the time it took me to beg Pinback for simple instructions, he had a terrible disaster in his own game. He was kind enough to take a screenshot. Remember when he said you couldn’t crash the planes? Well…

Pinback: I cleared two planes to 2000 feet, sent them to the same fix.
Pinback: Once then got there, they both started circling it.
Pinback: Meanwhile I was yapping at you.
Ice Cream Jonsey: Hahahah!
Pinback: They ended up circling right into each other. I have a screen cap.
(screencap is sent)
Pinback: Your fault.

Bwa-hahahahaha!!!! Move over Osama, it’s time for something meatier!

“These blast points are too accurate for Sand People.” — Ben Kenobi

Anyway, there are now exactly THREE Flash games that are not only good, but great: Nanaca Crash, and ATC-SIM. Four stars and, so far, the best game I’ve played in 2010.

Jun 6th, 2009 by Pinback

An earlier time, call it 1988. A young Pinback gets his first real computer programming job in a real office (the US Treasury Department building in downtown DC). 21 years ago. So many memories.

Well, no, fuck that. A few hazy recollections of eating lunch at the goddamn food court across the street and nearly getting fired several times for coming in at 10:30, a practice now generally accepted throughout the IT world. A trailblazer to the core, this one.

The one lasting, vivid memory, though, was when I first discovered something which would stay with me from that day, to the very present:

Holy shit, you can play games at work instead of working.

Again, trailblazer, since I don’t think any IT shop in the world anymore actually does any work. But back in ’88, there was only one guy in the Treasury building not getting anything done, and that was your boy, Pinner.

The game I was playing, the only game I was playing, was called “Begin”. The worst- or best-named game in history, depending on your appreciation of irony. The full name was “Begin: A Tactical Starship Simulation”. The colon separates a noun and a verb which have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I think that’s what first attracted me to it, its completely inappropriate name. It still kinda makes me chuckle.


The version I grew up on was Begin 1.65, and in its time, it was the best starship simulator of its time.

Oh, the times we had. It was totally an 80s game — all text, and you controlled your starship by typing commands. A particularly ambitious coder could probably turn it into a zcode or Hugo game. I played it to death, but at some point you have to grow up, and I did, and forgot about it.

Then a couple weeks ago I saw the new Star Trek film, and liked it a lot, and then got all nerdy and started looking for a Trek video game. The only recent one I could find was Star Trek: Legacy for the Xbox 360, which had two things working against it: 1) the reviews were not altogether glowing, and 2) nobody has it.

Then the memory banks finally offered me a withdrawal, and I remembered Begin, and did a Google search.

The weirdest fucking thing that’s ever happened on the internet was seeing that “Begin 3.0” had been released… in 2009.

Fucking game hadn’t had an update since 1993 (when “Begin 2.0” had been released haphazardly after the authors apparently just abandoned the project and put out what they had.) And then here it was, my past coming back to life.

Begin 3. Holy shit.

Just to give you a sense of what 25 years of technological advances can bring, Begin 1.65 looked like this:

Flash forward to present day, and watch how Begin magically becomes transformed into the multimedia extravaganza which is Begin 3:

Finally, Begin has graphics befitting a game that was released in the decade that it was originally released in.

And look again:

21 years after I first found it (and 25 years after it was first released), it is still the best starship tactical simulator available on any gaming platform.

There is no point and click. You still have to type the commands. The Windows port is a bit clunky, as the massive graphics update actually makes the interface slower and less responsive.

It is essentially the same game it was in 1984, but the shit works. It has everything it should. Power management, system management, multi-armed tactics, team tactics, tension, and various Star Trek requisites like boarding parties, transporters, tractor beams, and all that. The only game I know that ever came close to this was Starfleet Command, in the late 90s/early 00s, but countless bugs and an atrocious interface doomed that one.

As insane as it sounds, and as wrong as it should be, Begin still fucking rules. And the new, state of the art, cutting edge Begin 3 just makes it better than ever.

Here are some links:

The Begin Wiki
Ben Hallert’s Begin page, the fansite which ended up lighting a fire under the original author to keep Begin alive.
Tom Nelson — author of Begin 3 and co-author of 1.65 and 2 — started this site along with the release of Begin 3.
Begin Yahoo group, surprisingly active.

And now look once more:

Micro Foundry BBS Archive

This is the BBS where the authors and fans of the game would hang out and discuss stuff. This archive spans the years 1988 to 1990.

Right around page 5, you can see an 18-year-old Pinback come in and start taking over.

Misty, watercolored memories!

Pinback’s World o’ Subs
Feb 10th, 2009 by Pinback

It all began with this thread in which a commitment was made to find a sub game, and to play it. Why a sub game? I don’t know. I think the idea has always appealed to me because it combines so many things that I enjoy. The open water. Piloting things. Hiding from those who seek to do me harm until such time that it’s possible to sneak up on them and destroy them. These are things which I definitely think define “Ben Pinback Parrish”, and why the idea of a sub game had always struck my fancy. But many years had passed since I last played one, and even then I’m certain I didn’t “delve too deeply”. That’s a sub pun! Yaaay! 

Anyway, Steam had Silent Hunter IV available, and that seemed to be the latest, greatest sub sim everyone was playing, so I downloaded it and fired it up. Long story short, since then I’ve become a submarine FIEND, and have done little else in my spare time than play submarine games, read books — both fictional and non — about submarines, and cook dinner for Robb. All three of these things have been very rewarding, but since this is the thread about subs, I will only cover two of them. 

And now, some mini-reviews about the various sub games and books that I have experienced in just the three short weeks since this craziness began! I will do it in chronological order of that I experienced them: 

NAME: Silent Hunter IV: Wolves of the Pacific 
TIME SPENT WITH IT: Hours and hours 

This was the perfect place to start. It was just what I needed to really light the spark which would eventually end up in this stupid thread. More than anything else in this list, SHIV really makes you feel like you’re there. The creaking of the ship as you descend into the depths. Trying to sneak a peek through a periscope as waves crash over the lens. The satisfying sound of distant explosions and metal grinding as you hide in the depths, listening to your latest victim sink into the sea. It’s what it’s all about, man. Of course, when I say you feel like you’re there, I guess I mean you feel like an actual sailor in wartime, put on a submarine, but without having been trained or given any sort of education about what it is you are there for or are supposed to do. Never has a 100 page manual been quite so useless. If they had replaced the entire thing with a post-it note that said “just check the internet to find out how to play”, it would have been better, because then you could have saved the time it took you to realize that the only way to figure out how to play it is to look online in user forums. A shameful display on the part of the publishers, made worse by the fact that the game had a history of being notoriously buggy. Even in the latest (likely last) patch, while everything “pretty much” works, there’s just enough little idiosyncrasies and weird things going on that the whole product, while overall excellent, seems a bit held together with duct tape. However, if you put the time in to figure out how to play, and overlook some of the rough edges, this is as compelling a sub game as you’ll find today. 

RATING: Three and a Half Stars 

It was compelling enough that it actually made me want to read a book about the subject, which leads us to: 


NAME: Take Her Deep 
AUTHOR: Admiral I. J. Galantin 

It may be the best compliment you can pay to SHIV that this book, a real-life account of the story of an American WWII sub in the Pacific, serves as a pretty decent manual to SHIV. A story more exciting than any fiction could muster, told expertly and effortlessly by the captain himself, it is the definition of “page turner”. Mixing all the humor, boredom, jubilation and terror that must have been a part of being a submariner in WWII, the book educates as much as it titillates, and every night after reading, I would go into SHIV and try out some of the tactics that the captain of the Halibut tried in the book. My success rate increased remarkably. A flawless, wonderful book! 

RATING: Four Stars 


NAME: Shells of Fury 
TIME SPENT WITH IT: A couple hours 

This is a bargain-priced WWI sub simulator, with bargain-level features. The graphics are kinda weak. The sound is pretty weak. Absolutely nothing about it will wow you. But it is the only WWI sub simulator available, so if you’re interested in the topic, you get to play Shells of Fury. Take it or leave it. After reading generally bad reviews of it, though, I was surprised to find what really isn’t a bad little game, as long as you’re not expecting Silent Hunter-like production values. And the manual, though 1/3 the size of SHIV’s, is much better. The tactical highlight of this game for me is the fact that sonar hadn’t been invented, so when you’re underwater, you’re really hidden! It adds an interesting dynamic to the whole cat-and-mouse dynamic which sub games tend to excel at. Ah well, if it wasn’t a bargain title, I’d be less forgiving, but it is, and it ain’t that bad. 

RATING: Two and a Half Stars 


NAME: Final Run 
AUTHOR: David E. Meadows 

This may be the worst book of all time! My first choice for sub fiction was a poor one. Even if you can overlook the grade-school level writing, even if you can overlook the story, in which not much happens for the first 95% of the book, and even if you overlook some of the most ridiculous, over-the-top, obnoxious, dislikeable characters ever put in print, it is the sloppiest book I’ve ever read. And I can’t overlook any of those things. But, still… I’m no history major, but I am pretty sure that 1956 was not “twenty-one years after WWII ended”, as one character muses. And later in the book, a fire breaks out in the aft torpedo room of one of the subs. Wait, I mean the forward torpedo room. Wait, I mean the aft one — the book changes which end of the sub the fire is on just about every page. It gets so bad at the end that the word “AFT” is eventually put in caps, as if the author was trying to remind himself where that damned fire was. Did anyone read this pile of shit before shoving it out the door? Inexcusable. But like I said, even if you clean up all the many, many mistakes, you’d be left with a really, REALLY bad book. Worst sub book ever! And I’ve read three of them already! 

RATING: Zero Stars 

Anxious to get that bad taste out of my mouth, but afraid that all sub fiction was this bad, I gave it one more chance: 


NAME: Voyage of the Gray Wolves 
AUTHOR: Steven Wilson 

Whew! Five pages in, I was relieved to discover that not all subfic was as atrocious as Final Run. Here is a book about WWII subs, from the German perspective, that is written well, that has enjoyable, interesting characters with depth, and that moves along from beginning to end. Still nowhere near as riveting as the nonfiction variety, but a fine read, when you just gotta have your sub fix. And I gotta have my sub fix!! 

RATING: Three Stars 

But man cannot live on WWII alone. It’s time to get MODERN! 


The following three titles come bundled together: 

NAME: Jane’s 688(I) Hunter/Killer 

I fired this nuclear sub simulator up, played through the tutorial, and then realized that Sub Command, which it came packaged with, was its sequel, and included the 688(I), as well as two other types of subs, an updated graphics/sound. 

NAME: Sub Command 

I spent about a week reading the 200+ page PDF manual for this game, before finally firing it up and trying to get through a scenario. That’s when I realized that Dangerous Waters, which it came packaged with, was its sequel, and included not only these three boats, but more subs and even surface and air units. 

NAME: Dangerous Waters 

I actually haven’t done much with this other than fiddling around and looking at a couple of the screens. First thing I did, though, was to make sure that there wasn’t any sequel to this hiding out there. Second thing I noticed was that the 688(I) sub part of the game looked/sounded identical to Sub Command, so I think this is really just Sub Command, spruced up with a couple more platforms and a wider-ranging campaign game. 

It’s manual is 600 pages long, and it’s a long 600 pages. I can’t stand reading PDFs, so I shelled out the extra $20 to get the printed manual mailed to me. Should be here in a couple days. In the meantime, here are my impressions: 

This is the hardest of the hardest core sub simulation available. The various electronic doohickies seem to be modeled in excruciatingly exacting detail. You will learn things you never thought existed in the world to be learned about, just going through the tutorials. 

With only functional graphics and sound, this game will not make you “feel like you’re there”, unless by “there” you mean a laboratory or an accounting office. Make no mistake, you will be spending most if not all your time looking at things like this: 


Dangerous Waters wrote:


…instead of things like this: 


SHIV wrote:


And yet, underneath all the gadgetry and blinking lights and obscure acronyms, the thrill of the chase is still there, and it is awfully satisfying when all those blinking lights come together to betray your enemy’s location and you shove a torpedo up they butt, all from the safety of the silent ocean and pages and pages full of lines and numbers and weird circles and stuff. It also has the benefit of loading up in a couple seconds, as opposed to games like SHIV, which I’m still waiting for it to load. It’s definitely the most comprehensive sub simulator ever made available to the public, but your affinity for it depends on how patient you are to learn it all. 

RATING: Depends on how HARDCORE you are 


But we’re just getting started here at Pinback’s World O’ Subs! Why, a bunch of new books just showed up from Amazon in the last half hour, and surely as a result of this thread, sub simulations will once again become financially viable to develop, and the gaming landscape — or seascape (that’s another sub pun! Yaaay! <3 <3 <3) — will be completely revolutionized! 

The Golden Age of Subs begins now!! 

Yaaaay!!! <3 <3

Pinback Reviews Various Indie Games & Demos
Jan 26th, 2009 by Pinback

Over the past week or two, I’ve played quite a few indie games and demos. I will now give you some thoughts on these indie games and demos.


THOUGHTS: I would describe this as a mix of Galcon, Phyta, and the Little Prince. Artsy, abstract minimalist presentation features “asteroids” (circles) which you have to conquer with your “seedlings” (little mosquito-lookin’ guys that grow off trees on your asteroids). This is all set to a serene, new-age background score. It all makes for a somewhat hypnotic experience, and it’s artful presentation makes you forget at first that this is really just straight-ahead 4X, almost like Galcon in slow-mo. The lack of depth and languorous pacing hurt its replayability, but it’s definitely a new aesthetic take on 4X, and worth a look if you are a fan of the genre. TWO AND A HALF (**1/2) STARS

INDIE DEMO: Defense Grid: The Awakening

THOUGHTS: I am a veteran of the tower defense genre, in the sense that I have played almost all of the demos ever made for these games. I’ve never purchased one, or completed one, simply because by the end of the demo, I’ve pretty much had enough of it. I doubt that will change with Defense Grid: The Awakening, but if I was going to buy one, this would probably be the one. Nice graphics, good interface, and some actual quality, humorous voiceover work, which is unusual in the indie scene. But past that, you know what you’re getting. Set up towers. Kill baddies. Set up more towers. Kill more baddies. Upgrade towers. Wash, rinse, repeat. A “pleasant diversion”. THREE (***) STARS

INDIE GAME: Crayon Physics Deluxe

THOUGHTS: I saw the pre-release demo of this which gave you a little taste, and the taste I had made me think this would be the most amazing puzzle game I’d ever seen. Now the full version is out, and I’m not sure it isn’t. The goal is to get a ball to a star. Everything is drawn in crayon. And the way to get the ball to the star is to draw whatever you want in crayon, and everything you draw will behave according to Newtonion physics. You can draw a car, and it will roll down hills. Though there may not be limitless solutions to each puzzle, it sure as hell feels like there could be. You can draw anything you want! You don’t have to pick from a palette of doohickies, or pre-built mechanisms. If you can think up some contraption which will help get the ball to the star, you can just draw it, and it will behave like it should. This game might not be “in your face”, but this quiet little gem may just in fact be the most amazing puzzle game you’ll ever see. FOUR (****) STARS

INDIE GAME: Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy

THOUGHTS: Let’s get this straight, I only got this because Pirates! stopped working on my machine. To call this “Pirates! Light” is getting close to it. It is Pirates!, minus the dancing and the swordplay, minus the few nods to realism that Pirates! gave you, and with the addition of some of the most obnoxious, ridiculous voice work you’ll ever hear. In the recording studio, I just imagine the producer yelling “NOT PIRATEY ENOUGH!” after every take, so the final product is so over the top and embarrassing that you just feel bad for everyone involved. And about that realism. At least Sid Meier put in things like wind, and different types of ammo, and stuff like that. None of this is on offer in Buccaneer, where you sail your ship like you’d drive a car. Including “reverse”. So it’s all very silly, and yet I’ve spent more time with this one that everything else on this list combined. I attribute this to the fact that I am just a sucker for this kind of gameplay, and Buccaneer manages to not quite be awful enough for me to not play. TWO (**) STARS FOR MOST, THREE AND A HALF (***1/2) STARS FOR ME.

My Top Five Favorite Games of 2008
Jan 23rd, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Here are my five favorite games from 2008. I’m throwing Crayon Physics into the 2009 category, since you couldn’t buy the full version last year. I should also state that I did not have the time to play any text games released in 2008. Nor were there any Vectrex games released in 2008 that I purchased, and those are two genres/platforms I usually enjoy.

5. Space Giraffe (PC)

Space Giraffe is that it is the only video game I’ve ever played that tries to take the visual element, the frigging graphics, out of the game… and get you playing on a different level of consciousness. Looking at it, it’s clearly a mess – you can’t perceive any sense after the first few boards. But the idea is that you’re both picking up clues on where danger is through sound (and to that end, I always turn the music down and the effects up) as well as the part of your brain that tends to only speak up when you are “in the zone” with a pleasurable activity.

For me, the first few minutes of play are totally wasted, and I can’t have any distractions while playing it. I would not want them all to be like this, of course, but this is a marvelous experiment.

4. Left4Dead (PC)

I enjoyed this game at the following ratio:

10% of the enjoyment came from the gameplay, level design, art direction and general sense of hopeless doom.

90% of the enjoyment came from the hilarious people I played with, thanks to the voice chat.

I’m not saying that, if I played with voice off, that the game would get a 1/10 or anything – but what I am saying is that my friends are incredibly witty, and I was giggling throughout. L4D is just as cheesy as it needs to be. I am willing to give Left 4 Dead credit for this, because two of the developers ran a website that caused me to meet my fellow players in the first place. This is some serious New Games Journalism shit right here.

3. Persona 4 (PS2)

It’s 2:02 AM. I want to play a little of this game before I go to bed. I was optimistically hoping I could get ten minutes in and call it a night.

Well, we find the mirror image of Yosuke. And I’ll give the game credit: at 2:20 in the morning, mirror-Yosuke with the fucked-up eyes was a neat little effect. Leading up to it, where the girl he is sweet on does the “pain in the ass” routine — that was actually a good scene with okay writing in a video game, which is pretty rare these days. The fight drags on, and now it’s almost three and I really want to get to sleep.

Everybody finishes up, I kill the enemies JRPG-style, and the girl-next-door of our party, Chie, gets pissed and runs away. This is not an uncommon experience for me, with females and particularly late evenings. At any rate, it looks like I am going to be able to save.

But then, boom, out of nowhere, the pretty brunette student drops in and makes an appearance with (back of hand to forehead) howhorribleher life is. ALL I WANT TO DO IS GO TO BED and there’s that gal finally deigning to talk to my character when I really had to go. But, of course,she had been the most difficult character to get to know because she’s not around all the time. Forget save checkpoints – I kept playing because I wanted to know more about her. One constant in my life is that I seem to be attracted to women that are emotionally, physically or otherwise figuratively unavailable to me in some sense, and here is a fucking video game, thirty-years after the most complex one in the world involved shooting line-drawn rocks in space, making a subtle gambit for my soul, casually and en passant, like it was no big deal. This frigging game played upon the qualities of my empathy, playing melike a violin in the process.

It was the realistic experience I’ve ever had in a video game. I’m nowhere near finished with Persona 4, but it seems to be a great game. However, from here on out I’m treating it like a mogwai, there’s no way I’m fucking around with it after midnight. And yet, it plays sooooo good at night.

2. Gravitron 2 (PC)

I love arcade games, but they don’t make them much any more. This is a PC game, but it would fit perfectly in a wooden cabinet taking tokens. I wrote more about it here. The only other thing I’d add is that it’s a perfect game for playing in an airport.

1. Fallout 3 (PC)

There are games you might feel all right talking about with non-gamers. Fallout 3 is not one of these games. It’s a dork and nerd’s paradise ofshibboleths. I feel like a moron for bringing it up with people who like games, but simply haven’t played this one. Fallout 3 gives us one of the best-developed virtual worlds, and does the best job of any game in the world at letting us deal with the consequences of whatever random decisions we feel like making.

It’s a beautiful game, of course. My video card doesn’t do it justice, but even with the settings low it’s a serene backdrop for brutality and violence. The new gameplay elements like VATS and the Mysterious Stranger perk are two things I’m going to wish all subsequent games had. There’s just so much… content in the game – it really is impossible to get bored. I just love little touches like suddenly wandering around a unique enemy called “The Torcher” who has a flamethrower, since it is a microcosm of the care and craft that this game was built with. The cherry on top is that it returns to its Wasteland-of-1986 roots, offering the ability to walk around in a nuclear-ravaged world that we couldn’t do in 1986, thanks to the limitations of the hardware at the time. This is one of the ten best games I’ve ever played.

Fallout 3 is far from being that magical “game in your head” that all gamers would like to create. But it’s probably the closest representation of that free-form ideal I’ve played so far.

Jan 14th, 2009 by Pinback

Brainpipe is the latest offering from Digital Eel, the fine folks who brought you the world- (or at least geek-) renowned Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space.

And this time, they may have brought you the weirdest world of all.

This is a game, like Space Giraffe, where psychedelia is the key between a rather humdrum game and an experience. Unlike Space Giraffe however, in Brainpipe it works. (Opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the SysOp.)

The game is simplicity itself. You go down a long tube, supposedly a twisting maze of neural pathways in your own brain, leading deeper into consciousness itself, ultimately reaching a level of awareness which allows you to transcend humanity and consciously choose your own next evolutionary paradigm. Or some shit. The story and atmosphere is as bizarre as you’re likely to find in a game this well put together. But really, with your mouse and your left mouse button, your job is just:

1. Avoid the obstacles.
2. Gather some little good things which give you points.

You steer with the mouse, and can slow down periodically with the mouse button, should you need to pull in the reins a little. That’s it. Without the trippy-dippy graphics and sounds, this is dullness epitomized.

Whether the sound and fury which accompany the basic game mechanics work on you or not, you’ll just have to try the demo to find out. Me, I was enthralled. The game is not difficult in any real sense — I got my high score, and completed all ten levels of the game, on my very first try. You can always go back to get a better score, and there is a terribly difficult “bonus level” awaiting you at the end, but a consistent challenge, this game will likely not provide for too long.

What it will provide at length, and what keeps me going back to play (and starting on level 1, intentionally) is just the visceral experience of playing it. It is some sort of frantic meditative exercise, mixing swirling lights and shapes with eerie, echoing sound effects, spacey music, fractured dialogue snippets spinning around your ears like a nightmare…

There are subtle touches here too, though. As your “ship” (or whatever it is) delves deeper into your mind, level after level, the sounds — ostensibly reflections of memories and thoughts swimming past you — become more and more lucid, more urgent, more specific. At the beginning, random sounds and rudimentary tones, but as you get closer and closer to the root of your own consciousness, echoes of Broadway showtunes make their appearance. Slot machines ringing in symphony. Hysterical screaming. A rambling Timothy Leary type exhorting you to flush your mind. Musings on death and fear. Discord. Cacaphony.

All the while, you are still just dodging obstacles and collecting the little whatsits.

It has neither the depth nor staying power of Weird Worlds, but if you ever use games as a short-term injection of surreality and escape, even just for 15 minutes, Brainpipe might be right up your alley.

The demo offers two of the 10 levels, though it will let you go into a third level (“Coma”) which is so brutally difficult that it essentially functions as a “demo over” indication. A cute, if confusing way of doing it.

It Sure Will Be Nice to Have an Upbeat Game Like Fallout 3 for the Holidays
Nov 3rd, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Fallout 3 is the first game I’ve been determined to play through to some sort of ending since BioShock, and unlike BioShock, this game is not a six-hour venture that even I can knock off in a week. Oh no. Bethesda makes video games like Oppenheimer makes bombs: glorious, expansive, and filled with a lifetime of pain for the consumers. Fallout 3 will be taking me straight through Halloween, right through Thanksgiving and into Christmas, and but for the grace of God do I not succumb to the dismal horrors presented every second in the Wasteland.

I can’t even adequately explain how depressing this game is, so let’s start off as to whether or not it’s fucking awesome. Here’s a quick Fallout 3 FAQ:

Q: Is Fallout 3, the third Fallout game, completely fucking awe-

Q: …

Q: … Can you attach a screenshot that shows some of the —

That screenshot doesn’t even do the combat system justice. Bethseda have outdone themselves with the thing they are calling “V.A.T.S.” — essentially, you enter this mode to target some of the freaks in the Wasteland, and then the game adopts a sort of slow motion, pseudocinematronic delight of the camera, to show what should be the absolute horrors of war, but what instead comes off as the greatest combat engine that’s ever existed.

I can’t even write straight right now. I’m just filled with all the cool things in this game – how you can detonate a nuclear weapon in one of the cities, how this is the first game where “repairing” a weapon doesn’t make me want to get the game disc in a state where it itself needs to be “repaired,” how one time my player was shooting a Raider in the chest with an assault rifle, and she JUMPED IN THE AIR to get the angle right as she unloaded a burst of weaponry into the poor bastard.

I’ve purchased Wasteland, Fallout 1, Fallout 2, the Brotherhood of Steel games and so on and so forth, but the most fun I’ve ever had was actually with the original (Wasteland). I actually think that it is just as true to Wasteland as it is (or isn’t, according to many of the posters at No Mutants Allowed) to Fallout. the VATS system really does seem to translate the original turn-based combat of Wasteland… and I love it.

Really, the nice little details in this game have me hooked. The unit of currency is bottle caps. There is a healing object in the game called Nuka Cola. If you drink some cola… a bottle cap is added to your inventory. I just love that someone thought of that, went, “a-ha!” and they were able to put it into the game.

The intro to Fallout 3 is terrible, but once you get past that, it really does pick up. The graphics are drop-dead gorgeous, and it has a perfect balance of ammo, money and enemies. They also resisted the monster closet issue that plagued Doom 3 – when you secure an area in Fallout 3, it seems to stay secure.

I do apologize for not updating my website the last week… but honestly, this is where I was.

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