A puzzle snob reviews The Witness

(Content note: this is a spoiler-free review, though I can’t speak for commenters.)

The Witness is a puzzle game created by Jonathan Blow, famed creator of Braid. The central mechanic of this game is a path-drawing puzzle, which looks like this:

Several grid-shaped puzzles in a row

When I first saw this mechanic, my reaction was, “So adventure game designers finally discovered Nikoli-style puzzles, eh?” Nikoli is a Japanese publication that popularized a certain genre of puzzles using numbers or symbols on a grid. The best known puzzle of this genre is Sudoku, but there are many others, like Fillomino, Heyawake, Numberlink, Masyu, Slitherlink, and Nurikabe (almost all of which I think are better than Sudoku).

Outside of Nikoli, you can find many more created by Grandmaster Puzzles, and you can try the annual US Puzzle Championship. I should mention that I am fairly competitive in the USPC.

The advantage to Nikoli-style puzzles is that they’re scalable. Contrast with the Myst series, where most puzzles revolve around poorly-designed user interfaces for fantastic mechanisms. Could you really pack hundreds of such puzzles in a game? It would be too hard to write all those puzzles, much less make the graphics to support them. And since there are so few of those puzzles in the game, you have to make sure each one counts for every player, without being so challenging that players start looking for solutions online.

On the other hand, as far as Nikoli-style puzzles go, dedicated puzzle-crafters will have video game designers beat. Sorry, Professor Layton! What I want to see in a video game are puzzles that could only be done in a video game. Luckily, The Witness passes this test, being a lot less like a Nikoli puzzle than it first appears, and not just because solutions are non-unique.
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Everything is my football

This was originally posted on The Asexual Agenda last week, and is thus written explicitly for ace audiences.  If you want to see ace responses, you might find the comment thread over there enlightening.

Sometimes in college, I would persuade people to play a game. Name a movie. I probably didn’t see it. If I saw it, I probably didn’t like it. It would usually take over a dozen tries before anyone could name a movie I cared for.

It’s not just movies. I don’t like most television shows, books, or music. Or at least, I probably won’t like any particular example. I’m not snobby about it, and I am not embarrassed about the things I like. I’m just not a fan of pop culture. Or most other culture for that matter, but pop culture tends to be most relevant.

Put it this way: every year, geeks have a competition to see who can be most loudly uninterested in football. I don’t participate, because everything is my football. If you like most of pop culture except for a few things, you can afford to be a jerk about it. I cannot afford to be a jerk about absolutely everything, so I try not to be a jerk about any of it.

There is no identity label for this experience (I don’t consider myself “indie”), but I still feel there are thematic resonances with asexuality, outlined below. After all, asexuality is also about not liking something that is popular.
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