Saturday, October 27, 2007


Title: Gate
Author: Quinn Dunki
License: Freeware

Games Magazine recently released their Top 100 Computer Games of 2007 just in time for the Christmas buying season. Once again, PC puzzle gamers came up short. But the 2008 Independent Games Festival Entrants were also announced recently. It contains a whole slew of puzzle/logic games. I have not had time to go through all of them, but I did play Gate this weekend.

Gate is your basic program the robot game. If you are a regular reader, you know that I am a sucker for these sort of games. The goal is to program the robot, the white sphere, to reach and stop at the goal, the black and yellow stripped square.

The inputs are the four side sensors. They sense whether or not there is a mountain on that side of the robot. The outputs are the four side thrusters which move the robot. You can fire multiple thrusters at the same time to move diagonally or counter act each other. The program which you construct is a circuit diagram of and, or, xor, and gates wired together. Gate also includes a toggle switch which acts like one bit of memory. You wire together the input and outputs with a circuit, then turn it on.

The pictured level contains additional switch tiles which when passed over, lower certain mountains. The circuit below uses the toggle switch to cause the robot to move back and forth, left to right triggering each of the switch tiles. Once it reaches the goal, the activation of the top and bottom sensor causes the robot to stop. Well, actually, it fires both the left and right thruster and effectively stops.

The actual mechanics of creating and wiring a circuit is a bit clumsy. It takes a little getting used to. But Gates does a nice job of teaching the basics of circuit design.

There are 30 levels which must be solved in order. The first 10 or so are more of a tutorial. Then they start to get difficult. There were a few that made me think. Given that I am comfortable with circuits and wiring diagrams, it is hard to me to judge how the difficulty of Gate for other people. It could imagine that this game might be quite difficult to most

There is a level editor, but I do not know of any user made levels.

My one tip is to play around. Try something, hit the power switch, and see what happens. Gate graphically shows what is happening with the sensors and the effect of your circuit. There is no penalty for failed attempts.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Title: Portal
Author: Valve
License: Commercial

I have to get this out of the way: in order to play Portal, you have to use the steam client. I hate steam. I hate the ads that pop up when I shut it down. I hate that it collects supposedly anonymous data and reports it back to the mother ship. I hate that it has root privilege. I hate that people have come to accept this sort of crap. I hate that to play a great game like Portal, I am willing to allow steam to run on one of my computers.

Portal is an amazing 3D puzzle game using the HalfLife2 graphics/physics engine. Your goal is simply to get to the exit. Your tool is a portal gun. Using it, you can open a portal opening on a wall, floor, or ceiling which allows you and certain objects to pass through to some other part of the map, the other portal opening. The entertaining part is that your orientation can change while passing through a portal and cause a change in the direction of gravity. Often, you can look through a portal and see yourself, from a different angle.

The maps contain obstacles. Some have switches which need to have boxes dropped on them to activate. Other switches need a ball of energy to hit them. Portals can be used to redirect these balls. Sometimes, you just need to figure out how to place the portals so you can get from A to B. There are also objects to avoid, laser and poisonous floors.

There are several great ah-ah moments in Portal where you start to understand the game. It is worth it for these moments. There are only 19 levels which feel like a tutorial. The portal effect does take some time to get used to. Just as I was really feeling comfortable, it was over. I hope that more levels are on the way. A level editor is not included.

The graphics are amazing. The audio is amazing. The background computer voice dialog is great. The only down side, besides the evil steam and small number of levels, is that some levels require timing and quick thinking. For example, you have to do a timed platform jumping. However, it is not too difficult.

You are purchase Portal directly through steam. It is also included in the Orange Box.

Anybody who likes Portal, will probably also enjoy Kiki The Nanobot, and vice-versa.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Crocodile Garden

Title: Crocodile Garden
Author: Anahara Masataka
License: Freeware

One of the best feelings is finding a new, simple game with good puzzles. Such games push you and stretch your thinking. I am always looking for these games. This means downloading a lot of junk. Mixed within the junk, I recently found this gem. It has weak graphics and no sound, but it does have simple rules and good puzzles. I probably like it more than most people will, but I highly suggest everyone play it.

The readme file calls Crocodile Garden a sokoban-like game. While true, this sells the game short. The objective is to move each crocodile to a different pool. The problem is that there are these holes which your character cannot cross. However, there are balls which when pushed into a hole, fill it in, and make that tile passable. How do you push a ball? With a bulldozer of course. Each bulldozer moves either left-right or up-down. You enter bulldozers on either side and can push balls or other bulldozers with its blade.

There are 40 levels which are arranged in 10 groups of 4. Once you complete any of the four levels in a group, the next group of levels becomes available to be played. The quality and pacing of the levels is very good. The first group of four levels is really a tutorial. The levels slowly become more difficult. In the end, they become difficult.

The later levels require careful planning. Bulldozers are often needed to push other bulldozers. The chain of required moves gets completed. This is where the fun begins, figuring out what has to be done in what what order. All the while, you have to make sure your little guy does not get trapped. One hint, you can pass through the bulldozers by entering on one side and exiting the other. However, you cannot pass enter a bulldozer while holding a croc, an interesting constraint and those dozers can get in the way from time to time.

I have no real complaints about Crocodile Garden. The only minor problem I ran into is that the help file WANI-EN.HLP could not be read on my computer due to a language support issue. I did read it in a hex editor and learned a few commands. Use the space key to drop a crocodile. To change direction with stepping in that direction, use an arrow key while holding down the shift key.

Crocodile Hunter comes with a nice level editor. If you make any good ones, send them to me.