Thursday, June 22, 2006


Name: Blackshift
Author: Robin Allen
License: Freeware (donation requested for hints)

A new update to Blackshift came out about a month ago. Over the last year, I have played it on and off. I would quickly get frustrated and put it aside. This time, I decided to buckle down and finish it off. You see, Blackshift is part puzzle game and part action game. The balance between puzzle and action in Blackshift is right on the border of what I consider acceptable. Actually, it is probably just over the line. Peaking at the hints page, you will see that the hint for level 36 is "go really fast." That proves my point pretty well.

Another problem with Blackshift is the mushy controls. When you hit an arrow key, your rover will sometimes move two space, which can cause you to move next to a bomb which then blows up. This means you have to start the level all over. This is a very annoying sequence of events. On some levels, there are checkpoints which allow you save your progress. You have to learn to quickly tap the arrow keys.

My next complaint is the usual, you have to complete the levels in order. To be fair, there is a way to skip really annoying levels in Blackshift. Every ten levels, there is a nuclear bomb hidden in the level. You can collect these nuclear bombs and used them to "solve" later levels. Also, if you want to cheat, open up the file progress.dat in a hex editor. By altering byte 5, you can skip a level. If you really want to cheat, you can add some nukes by altering byte 9.

Maybe I should describe the game. Blackshift is a Chip's Challenge like game. You control the blue rover robot thing. Your job to locate and destroy the frozen alien in each level. The levels are filled with bombs, keys, guns, missiles, mirrors, enemy robots, teleporters, and more. A big part of Blackshift is exploring and learning about all of the various items. The manual is initially vague.

Blackshift comes with 100 levels. While some require fancy finger work and careful timing, there are some good puzzles in the mix. This is why I kept coming back. As you work your way through the levels, new items are regularly introduced. The best part of the game is determining the effect of these items as they appear. A level editor is included.

While I cannot give it my full endorsement, Blackshift does have its moments. It is a very well-done, polished, and bug free game. Given that it is free, it is certainly worth a play.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Name: Enigmo
Author: Pangea Software and Mumbo Jumbo
License: Commercial

A time honored tradition among PC gamers is diving through the bargain bin. Usually off to the side somewhere in your local software store there are a bunch of old games selling cheap. The packaging is often only a jewel case. If you are lucky the instructions have been scanned and are on the CD-Rom. The bargain bin is real mixed bag. Here you will find many awful games which never should have been made in the first place and are not worth even $5. There is some shovelware. I have even gotten one disc where some third party purchased rights to a good, but old, game and bundled it with spyware for the bargain bins. The bargain bin is not for the timid.

On the other hand, the bargain bin can be great. There are older classics which have been marked way down. It is often a little sad to see a game which you loved now relegated to the bargain bin. But, the real reason we keep coming back is because every now and then we find a gem, a great game which we had never heard about. Of course, for every gem, there are five to ten dogs.

This week's game is just such a gem. I found Enigmo in the bargain bin at a CompUSA for $4.99. This is one of my best bargain bin purchases. It comes in a jewel case. No luck, they only include a short readme text file to explain the game.

Enigmo is an Incredible Machine style game. The goal of each level is to get 50 droplets of liquid from each of the droppers into each of the appropriate containers. Each level comes with a fixed number of bumpers, slides, accelerators, and sponges. You have to carefully place and orient these items so as to guild each liquid to its container.

The effect of each item is reasonably logical. For example, there are three types of bumpers, soft, hard, and super. The soft bumper absorbs most of the energy of the droplets. The hard bumper absorbs a tiny amount of energy for an almost inelastic collision. The super bumper adds energy. Using a super bumper, you can get droplets to go higher than their initial height. Here is a small hint. Placing a super bumper at the base of a sloped wall, you can have drops hit the same super bumper several times adding more energy each time.

There does seem to be a slight bit of randomness thrown in. Different drops will follow slightly different paths.

There are a couple of other fixed items. There are doors and keyholes. In the screen shot, there are three pairs of doors and keyholes. In order to release any droplets at a door, another droplet must pass through the keyhole of the same color. You have to route the flow so that droplets pass through each keyhole. There are also dropper switches to start the flow of oil and lava droppers. In the screen shot, there is one in the lower left corner. If the blue water droplets where not hitting this, the green dropper would not be releasing green oil droplets.

There are fifty levels. You have to complete the levels in order. I keep harping on this, but it is annoying. Besides this, my only real complaint about Enigmo is the sensitivity of the physics model. You often have to position and rotation the items just right in order to the drops to go where you want them to go. A minor complaint is that it saves games to files. You have to manually reload these the next time you start up, and sometimes it forgets which directory they were saved in. So, you might have to hunt around a bit.

Enigmo comes with a level editor. Several fan made level sets are available. These are all written for the Mac version of Enigmo. I have not tested them all, but the few I tried did work with the PC version. However, there are a couple of hurdles. First, most of the level sets are compressed using a proprietary compression algorithm called StuffIt. If you register and thus agree to receive email/spam from these StuffIt people, you can get a PC program which decompresses StuffIt .sit files. The second problem is that after decompressing the extension is wrong. You have to rename blah.egm to blah.enig.

Enigmo also comes with 20 kiddie levels. Here you have unlimited items to place. This mode is useful to learn the effects of all the different items. Or, if you a kid.

If you are out trawling the bargain bin and come across Enigmo, I suggest you grab it.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

One Year

This is the one-year anniversary of this blog. I have written one entry a week for a year, fifty-two entries total. Over that short time, one thing which I have noticed is that some games have very loyal followings. DROD and Laser Tank come to mind. These games have large numbers of fans who make new levels, give hints, suggest improvements, and generally form a community around the game. This is almost always a sign that it is great game.

Other games, often great ones, do not have the same following. I do not really understand this. So, this week, I am going to try to help some deserving games out. Below is a list of nine games which I have written about over the last year and do not have large followings. I want everyone who reads this blog to pick one game which they have enjoyed playing and make a set of ten levels for it. Think of it as giving back to the community.

Once you have made, tested, tweaked, refined, and perfected your new ingenious level set, send it to the developer and to me. I will update this page with all the new levels and give people credit. Let's see how much of an impact we can make.

If there is a great logic/puzzle game out there which is not on the list, does not large following, and you want to make a level set for it instead of one of the games listed below, tell me about it.

Zeps Dreamland

Aargon Deluxe

Touch Puf


Snake Slider



Puzzle Bunnies

Nuclear Age

There are two other games for which I want more levels to play, but they do not come with level editors. So, if you want to perform some serious community service, decode the file format, write a level editor, and make a set of levels for one of these two.

Bod Blob


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mood Meeps

Name: Mood Meeps
Author: SwainGames
License: Freeware

This week's game is not the greatest logic game, but it does contain an original and interesting idea. It uses finite state machines (FSM for short) as an integral part of the game. A FSM consists of several states and transition rules for moving from one state to another. In Mood Meeps, each character, or meep as they call them, is a FSM. Of course, the game does not use FSM terminology, but I will in describing the game. I found this to be a great idea, but the execution in Mood Meeps is lacking. I still suggest everyone give this one a play. Hopefully, someone will be inspired and figure out how to transform FSMs into a really great logic game.

In Mood Meeps, each meep is a FSM. The states correspond to the "mood" of that character. This chart gives the various states.
StateColorMove Freq
evilblackcan't move

Each turn you move one meep one space up, down, left, or right. The frequency with which you can move a meep depends on its mood. After moving, each meep may change its mood/state based a set of build in transition rules. Here are a couple of transition rules.
  • normal and no neighboring meeps -> lonely
  • normal and not moved for 4 turns -> jealous
  • jealous and not moved for 4 turns -> angry
  • angry and not moved for 4 turns -> evil
  • jealous and moved three times -> normal
  • normal and next to evil for 2 turns -> scared

While not obvious, the transition rules are well-defined and do not depend on the order in which the meeps are considered. A key point to the transition rules is that evil state is a sink. You can never transition away from the evil state. The goal in each level is to eliminate all of the meeps. On each turn, after the transition rules have been applied, any meep next to a meep with the same mood is removed from the board.

There is one more major facet to the game: magnets. On most levels, you have a certain number of magnets which can place placed around the edge of the board. Any moving meep will be pulled towards a magnet in its row or column. If you start a meep towards a magnet, any other meep behind the first one in that row or column will also start moving. This allows you to start a train of meeps moving around the board. If the meeps are lined things up correctly, several meeps in such a train can be removed in the same turn. Between turns, the magnets can be repositioned in any fashion.

There are also portals and money. They do not add much to the game, just a little randomness.

Mood Meeps contains 80 levels. The first 10 or so level are introductory. The remaining levels form the heart of the game. You have complete each level to gain access the next one. Oh, and there are passcodes to keep track of. I am going to be good and not say anything about either of these features of Mood Meeps.

However, there are several things which I did not like and am going to mention. Basically, Mood Meeps is not a lot of fun. I solved many of the levels by performing a completely mechanical search. Since the number of moves needed to compete a level is given, the search space is not all that big. In any case, this is not a good sign for any game.

Another problem is that the number of turns since a meep moved is not displayed, nor is the number of turns until a meep can move. You have to keep track of these critical values in your head. I wish they were displayed. In reality, there are more states in the FSM than listed above. There should really be states called "normal, moved one turn ago", "normal, move two turns ago", and so on.

My next major issue with Mood Meeps is the magnets. What happens when a meep falls under the influence of two magnets? After completing all 80 levels, I still cannot tell for sure. The general rule is that a meep will change direction if possible when it enters the pull of another magnet. The full implications are hard to compute. It is also possible to get meeps going around in circles.

One last annoyance. It can happen that there are no meeps which can move at the current turn. You might want to "pass" and not move anyone this turn, but you cannot. You just lose.

Despite all of complaints, I still suggest you try Mood Meeps or at least the introductory levels. I really like the idea of logic game based around FSMs.