Logic puzzles, overexplained

By “logic puzzle”, I don’t just mean puzzles involving logic, but rather a specific genre of puzzles, whose most famous types are Sudoku and Picross. There are many other types of such puzzles, and creators of logic puzzles can create entirely new types, if they are so inclined. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, or if you’re just interested in finding logic puzzles, at the bottom of this post I’ve included a list of places you can find them.

I’m fairly good at logic puzzles. I’ve done the US Puzzle Championship for over a decade, and I placed in the top 25 once? So not like top-of-the-world good, but decent. And I’m a generalist, which is to say that relatively speaking I’m not very good with Sudoku, and I do better with other types of puzzles, including entirely new types.

My goal here is to overexplain my understanding of logic puzzles, and solving strategy. I am not confident that this is actually helpful to someone trying to get better at solving logic puzzles, but that’s not really the point. The point is to explicitly describe what would otherwise only be understood intuitively.

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Conference notes from QGCon 2020

QGCon is a queer games criticism conference that I attended in 2013 and 2014, because it was next door, and it made a pretty big impression at the time. Not entirely in a positive way, but it was just so out there, it was fascinating. I’ve also been to GaymerX before, and the contrast is stark, with GaymerX being geared towards the player (“gamer”) community, and QGCon being a weird intersection of academic queer theory, academic games studies, and very indie game devs. I come from a player perspective, but I appreciate the academic stuff.

But QGCon moved away, and I never attended again. I recently realized that it has been putting its talks online, so that I can attend even years later, without travel. So, I took notes on the QGCon Online 2020 sessions, and I’m sharing them.  There are even more sessions I didn’t talk about–often because I was critical of them or didn’t have anything to say.

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Why have choices that matter?

Last month I played and discussed Tell Me Why, but today I want to discuss the genre that Tell Me Why is part of. The Steam storefront calls it “choices matter”–and just because Steam gives it a tag doesn’t mean we need to think of it as a genre, but I think it’s a hell lot more informative than just calling it a walking sim. After all, the major form of engagement with the game is not walking, it’s choosing.

“Choices matter” is a genre that could encompass many games, from The Walking Dead, The Stanley Parable, Undertale, and Mass Effect, to (some) visual novels, and choose your own adventure books. In all of these, you make choices, and the game responds to your choices in a significant way, or at least appears to. However, choices don’t always serve the same purpose. I’ve identified at least 4 distinct purposes.

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Trans representation in Tell Me Why

Tell Me Why is probably the highest profile example of a trans character in video games. Not the biggest game to feature a trans character, nor the game that places the most focus on trans characters, but something in the middle. A game with a trans protagonist, but not about trans issues, which was made by a medium-sized studio.

I didn’t think I would be playing this one, because I did not care for the writing in DONTNOD’s seminal game Life is Strange.  But, there’s a free giveaway for the month of June on Steam. Furthermore, I was intrigued by the controversy around the game, most clearly expressed by Dia Lacina’s review, “‘Tell Me Why’ Smothers Its Representation in Bubble Wrap“. Despite Lacina’s critical stance, it only made me more eager to form my own opinion.

cn: mild spoilers for events in the early game
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Challenging puzzle game tiers

I play a lot of challenging puzzle games. For others who are interested in the same niche, I’ve made a bit of a tier list.  Rather than using the classic S/A/B/C/D/F tier system, I’ve chosen more evocative tiers, which are not necessarily organized from best to worst.

The list only includes games that I’ve played and that I remember well enough. I’m also using an arbitrary definition of the “challenging puzzle” genre. (Honestly, Zach-like programming games ought to qualify, but I didn’t put them in this list so.)

Games winning my highest praise

Baba is You – This critically acclaimed game combines an entertaining and clever premise with amazing level design. Puzzlers looking for a challenge will also enjoy the optional puzzles, which go quite deep.

Recursed – A hidden gem, rough around the edges, but absolutely mind-blowing once you get into it. Chests within chests within chests within chests. Chests that contain themselves, or each other. Recursion beyond my wildest dreams!

Toki Tori 2 – The best metroidvania puzzler I’ve ever played. Instead of gaining new abilities, you gain new insights into the mechanics, finding new branch points and solving clever puzzles.

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Game Diary: April 2021

I’m doing one last game diary, and I’ve already decided that next month I’ll move it back to my other blog.  Or maybe I’ll stop entirely, and invest more time in my other hobbies, like blogging.  In any case, please enjoy this commentary on several games all across the spectrum.

Salad Fields

So I was browsing the LGBT tag on Steam, which isn’t exactly a cohesive category, but an interesting way to get a random selection of games. You get a few big budget games like Life is Strange, and a whole lot of dating simulators and visual novels. And I was thinking, “Where are all the LGBT puzzle games?” I’m being facetious, but I also have in the back of my mind that one game about fitting a poly triad onto a bed (Triad, if you want to look it up). But then I saw this game.

Salad Fields is a queer furry game that combines difficult sokoban puzzles with a surreal setting and story. Visually, it juxtaposes pixel graphics with 3D art that resembles abstract sculpture. Narratively, it’s mostly a bunch of disconnected stream-of-consciousness dialogues. The dialogues are not usually directly related to queerness, but they reflect the cultural values of (I presume) the authors’ personal experiences as queer furries–most every character is a weirdo and knows it, and there’s also an open and relaxed attitude towards sex.

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Game Diary: March 2021

This is a little series where I talk about games that I’ve been playing lately. I had this series on Pillowfort, but moved it here while Pillowfort is down. I haven’t decided whether I’ll keep it here when Pillowfort returns.

This month: two narrative games, two automation games, and two puzzle games.

Spiritfarer

Spiritfarer is a game about death. Your role is to ferry the dead to their final rest, listening to their stories and completing tasks in the mean time. The impact of death is also mechanically enhanced by having each character teach you some new mechanics, which continue to be associated with that character even after they are gone. I explained this premise to my husband, and he balked. “Sounds horrible.”

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