Thoughts: Pandora – First Contact

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I pulled a muscle in my neck last week. Shortly afterwards I came to the realisation that you don’t truly appreciate how many things you use your neck for until you’re suffering searing, agonising pain every time you move it, even if it’s just the tiniest fraction of a millimetre. It got so bad that I had to take a day off work, and with an afternoon of enforced sitting very, very still in front of a computer doped up on painkillers lying ahead of me I decided to try to alleviate both my pain and my crippling boredom by buying one of the many, many games I have on my Steam wishlist 1 . As luck would have it Pandora: First Contact’s number came up, which I think conclusively proves that the universe is out to get me.

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  1. This isn’t quite the glowing accolade it might seem, since if they’re on the wishlist it means I wasn’t sufficiently convinced to buy them in the first place.
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Thoughts: Shadowgate

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When you start your first game of Shadowgate, it’s likely you’ll do exactly the same thing I did. You’ll sit through the tutorial that walks you through the first and second rooms of the game, picking up keys and torches while an evil wizard does his Guardian-From-Ultima You’ll-Never-Defeat-Me schtick, and then when you get to the third room the game cuts you loose and leaves you to sort things out on your own. There’s a collection of verbs along the top of the screen that represent the ways you can interact with the room you’re in, which contains a statue of a hooded figure holding a book, flanked by a couple of candles. Now, if you’re anything like me you’ll immediately start experimenting by doing the usual adventure game thing of using VERB on OBJECT. LOOK at the statue. OPEN the book. LOOK at the book. LOOK at the candles. TAKE the can-

And then the floor opens up beneath you and crushes you under ten tons of stone. You have spent less than two minutes in game, and you’re already staring at the Grim Reaper’s death screen. Welcome to Shadowgate. Fuck you.

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August Hiatus

lied

You know when I said that the spotty period was over and that I was going to be posting more regularly?

I lied .

Well, I guess I didn’t really  lie as such. I just forgot that August is traditionally crazy for me what with Space School sucking up my free time for the first two weeks, and then work has seen fit to send me to San Francisco for another week so I can’t even think about writing until that’s all out of the way. It’s a shame to leave the blog for that long as I’ve been at it for long enough that it’s become something of a habit and feels kind of weird not to write anything, but important life things must take precedence. All being well, Scientific Gamer will return the week of the 25th August — we have a bank holiday that weekend, so I will have absolutely no excuse for not posting something . See you guys then.

(Oh, and I would also like you to know that even though finding time to respond is difficult these days I do appreciate the comment threads on here. I shall try at least to work through the most recent ones tomorrow.)

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Thoughts: Sokobond

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Sokobond is a puzzle game that tripped several of my alarm bells when I bought it. Indie darling, with suspiciously high review scores from the usual suspects? Check. Use of the words “minimalist” and “elegant” – which too often turn out to be synonyms for “shallow” and “vapid” — to describe the game on its Steam store page? Check. Co-opting of a science-y theme to make itself seem cleverer than it really is?  Check. This didn’t exactly augur well for Sokobond, but on the other hand its molecule-arranging gameplay did remind me of SpaceChem and SpaceChem was awesome, so I decided to give it a whirl.

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Thoughts: Divinity – Original Sin

div_market

Apologies for the spotty posts over the last month or so. Normal service should be resumed from this point onwards.

It’s possible that writing this review right now is a bad idea. I’ve just ragequit from Divinity after encountering yet another drastically unfair difficulty shift in the combat, and am seriously considering giving up on the game altogether as its frustrations have been outweighing its better qualities for quite some time now.  This probably doesn’t put me in an entirely objective frame of mind for assessing Divinity as a whole, and so I am liable to put the boot in a little more enthusiastically than I might do otherwise. On the other hand, that I can even consider up and quitting after investing more than thirty hours into what had appeared, during the first dozen hours, to be the best game I’d played all year? That’s a situation that needs some explanation, and one which I think says a lot about Divinity’s darker side. You can read dewy-eyed coverage of the return of the old-school RPG at your other, more respectable gaming websites. This review is going to contain a lot of bitching, because god knows Divinity gives me a lot of things to bitch about.

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Rods From God

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It’s been over a year since the last science post, so I had probably better either a) make another science post or b) rename the site . What I’m about to talk about is more science fiction than proper science, but I was wondering about it and did the research and it’s close enough to the real thing to pass for it if you squint a bit, and most importantly it ends the science drought.

The hokum military fantasy plotline of Call of Duty: Ghosts is kicked off when the baddies hijack a US space station to drop a number of very heavy objects onto the continental United States, devastating the country and providing the developers with an excuse for one of the more mediocre first person shooters I’ve played in recent years. As with most concepts explored in Call of Duty, while the way its portrayed in the game is complete nonsense the idea of launching weapons into space that can bombard targets below is a legitimate one that’s been around for a very long time –since before we actually got into space in the first place,  in fact — and Ghosts even references a specific one: its Loki satellite has an obvious link to Project Thor, a proposal originating from the 1950s but which was being mentioned in news reports as recently as four years ago under its sexier nickname: Rods from God.

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Thoughts: Rise of Nations Extended Edition

Posts have been a bit spotty on here recently, which is entirely down to work suddenly rearing its ugly head and leaving me with precious little time to play games, let alone write about them. I shall attempt to rectify the situation this week. STAY TUNED.

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Despite my misgivings last year it seems like the Extended Edition is a concept that’s here to stay. I’m cautiously in favour of giving older games a spruce-up with some modern quality-of-life features and then setting them loose on various digital distribution channels just so long as the resulting product doesn’t come across as a low-effort cash-in on a beloved classic’s nostalgia value. There’s a couple of reasons I’m happier to see the extended edition of Rise of Nations pop up on Steam than I would most other games, though, and they are in no particular order:

  • Rise of Nations is well thought of by those who played it a decade ago, but that’s not a very large number of people – even I missed out on it at the time. While successful it wasn’t a smash hit like Age of Empires, and so there’s a decent argument for resurrecting it in digital format and presenting it to a much larger audience.
  • Rise of Nations has been genuinely unavailable to buy – at least in the UK – for a couple of years now (unless you count the dodgy Ubisoft copies you can find on Amazon that may or may not come with a CD key). This situation has been exacerbated by the legal uncertainties following the implosion of RoN developer Big Huge Games; there’s been an entry for RoN in the Steam database since at least March last year, but (I presume) it’s taken until now for the rights to be sorted out to the point where somebody can actually release it.
  • I really, really liked Megalomania, and aside from the execrable Empire Earth RoN is the only game I can think of that’s really run with the concept of an RTS covering the whole of human history divided into distinct technological epochs.

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