Saturday, August 26, 2006

Four Quickies

This week, I am going to mention four fun little games. Each is a good way to pass a few minutes, but none deserves a full review. All four a free.

Anry Domino Patience

Domino Patience is a standard puzzle. You have to pair up neighboring tiles so that each of the 21 possible dominoes occurs exactly once. Note that the orientation of the pips does not matter, see the 6-6 in the upper right-hand corner of the screen shot for example. Once you get a couple filled in the rest follow pretty quickly, assuming you do not make a mistake. The interface in Domino Patience is good.


Another computer version of a standard puzzle. You have to place the letters A, B, C, etc on the board so that each row and column contains exactly one of each. Around the rim, you are told the first letter in that row or column (spaces do not count). At first it might seem impossible, but there is only one solution to each puzzle. With experience, there are some interesting inferences which you can make. Playing on a 5x5 board with 3 letters usually gives a good five minute puzzle.


The goal is to locate the flag in the fewest clicks possible. Clicking on non-flag squares usually reveals some information about the location of the flag. An arrow tells indicates the direction of the flag. Numbers tell how far away the flag is (distance = round to nearest integer (sqrt(x*x + y*y))). Bombs hide all the info already displayed. A good memory helps with this one. As you advance, the blank tiles which give you no information increase as so the bombs.


This is one of the oddest little games I have ever seen. Each level is a maze using various Java GUI elements. Your goal is to eventually click on the "close" button and make the window disappear. Clicking on buttons, checking boxes, and moving slides causes other elements to activate. It requires Java. Imagine the nasty popup ads this guy could foist upon us!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Armadillo Run

Name: Armadillo Run
Author: Peter Stock
License: Commercial

Armadillo Run is a great example of an indie computer game. It shows what one programmer with a good idea can do. Armadillo Run is basically a sophisticated physics simulator turned into a game. The quality and realism of the simulator is impressive.

The goal of each level is to guide the basketball, which they claim is an armadillo, to the blue region. It must stay in the blue region for a few seconds to complete the level. To do this, you have to build a contraption using rope, cloth, metal bars, metal sheets, elastic, rubber, and rockets. The physical properties of the items are modeled remarkably correctly.

To make things interesting, you operate under a budget. Each level comes with a limit on how much you can spend. The various items each have a different price tag. Staying using budget is the hard part. You actually want to come in under budget on enough levels. Every time you accumulate $1000 of unused funds, one of ten bonus levels is unlocked.

On top of the tutorial, there are 50 levels. Even though the goal in each level is the same, the mechanisms which you build vary greatly. In some levels, you just have to build a ramp. In others, you have to build a jump, swing, see-saw, catapult, or scoop. The variety of structures shows the robustness of the model.

Armadillo Run is not perfect. The levels must be completed in order. Most of the levels require precision placement of the pieces. Even when you have basic idea right, you often have to fine tune it to complete the level. The graphics are minimal, but functional.

One of the best things about Armadillo Run is its fan support. There are best solutions to each of the levels. You see how your solutions compare with the best. You can also sneak a peak if you get stuck or want to unlock a bonus level. Then are a wide variety of additional levels. Some of these are really hard. There is also a forum where you can get a hint.

For a little background on Armadillo Run, check out the postmortem at Gamasutra.

There is a series of bridge construction games by Chronic Logic which are similar to Armadillo Run: Pontifex, Bridge Construction Set, and Bridge It. The goal in these games is to build a bridge which can withstand the weight and stress of traffic (car and train) passing over it.

I learned about Armadillo Run from Fun-Motion, a blog specializing in physics based games. This is a great gaming blog by Matthew Wegner. He puts a lot of effort into his site. His reviews usually include video clips instead of screen shots. Well not all of the games are logic/puzzlers, Fun-Motion is worth a regular read.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Name: Laser
Author: Assembler Bot
License: Freeware

This week's game, Laser, was commissioned by Becherovka, a Czech liquor. It contains a small amount of in game advertising. I am very opposed to ads in games, but the amount in Laser does not put me off. Still, I wanted to warn people. There are two Becherovka signs in the opening sequence and none in the real game. There are many more games at the Becherovka site, most with far more intrusive product placement.

This is going to be an odd review. I am not going to review the game you will play if you go to the website above and download the game. Instead, I am going to review the game I played, a much better version of the game. The game you will play has a huge flaw: each level has a time limit. The time limits are not bad until level 10, which has a 30 second limit. I have no idea how level 10 can be solved in 30 seconds. So, I did what I always do, I figured out where in the level information file DEFAULT.dat the time limits are stored and changed them all to unlimited. Given that the game is not open source, I cannot distribute my modified version. Sorry, you will have to work it out on your own.

On to the game. Laser is a 3D version of Aargon. To complete a level, a laser beam of the appropriate color must reach each of the detectors. The big difference is that there is a third dimension.

Each level comes with several elements to help route the laser beams to their targets. The simplest element is the mirror which turns a beam 90 degrees. You do not get to place the mirrors. Similar to Puck, you slide them around. When you start a mirror in motion, it keeps moving until it a wall or another element. You have to carefully plan your moves using one mirror to block for another in order to get them to their desired location.

The interface is simple and very efficient. Left-clicking on a mirror selects it and causes arrows to appear. Clicking on an arrow starts that mirror into motion. Right-clicking and dragging rotates the view. The mouse wheel zooms in and out. It is very natural and never gets in the way.

There are several other elements which cannot be moved. Combiners merge two beams into one following the usual chromatic rules, red and blue become purple for example. Filters remove a pigment from a beam. A yellow beam passing through a green filter leaves only a green beam. A multiplier takes in a beam in one direction and sends it out the other five directions. There are few more which I will let you learn about on your own.

Another big difference between Laser and Aargon is that you cannot rotate or reorient the elements. You can only slide the elements about. This means that there are actually 12 different mirror types.

Laser comes with a 23 level tutorial and 80 regular levels. Even without the time limits, there are some tough levels. I found Laser to be a good challenge. The pacing of the levels is a little uneven since each level designer's levels are kept together. A sorting of the levels based on difficulty would improve the game.

Laser does make the usual mistake. You have to complete the levels in order. Then there are the passcodes. As you complete the levels, they are written to a file codes.txt for you. Every time you start the game, you need to peek into this file first for your last passcode.

Even though the website is in Czech, Laser has both English and Czech menus.

In the end, I highly recommend Laser assuming you can figure out to modify the level configuration file.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Name: StroQ
Author: Luc Vo Van
License: GNU Public License

I was recently going through the puzzle games projects at the sourceforge and come across StroQ. It is a nice Polarium clone. Actually, it is clone of only the puzzle mode. It has simple rules, a simple interface, and some good hard puzzles.

In StroQ, you make one continuous stroke (get it?) on the grid. Your path cannot loop, cross, or touch itself. Once you hit F5, all of the white or black squares covered by the path toggle colors. The border orange squares are not effected. After this toggling, a level is solved if each row, again not counting the border, is either all white or all black.

There are two parts to solving a level. First, you have to decide for each row whether it will be a white row or black row. Then you have to find the path which passes through each of the squares which have the wrong color. Often when trying to find the path, you get stuck and have to switch your target color for a row in your mind. This can open things up. Of course, it might cause problems else where.

StroQ comes with 125 levels. The levels can be played in any order. The first few levels are easy, but they quickly become difficult. This is an enjoyably challenging game. The length of the shortest successful path is recorded. It would be nice if there was a list of "best" or "par" scores available for an additional challenge.

As always, I have a few minor complaints about the interface. I wish there was a button to click on instead in having to hit F5. It is easy to extend your path from the end, but if you want to add a square on at the beginning, you have to start over. It would be nice if you could extend your current path from either end. Given that StroQ is an open source project, I shouldn't complain. I should download the source, fix these things myself, and recompile.