Best Games - Puzz Loop / Zuma
This is a tough one. I think Zuma is one of the best games of all time, but its core concept is also lifted from another game, Puzz Loop.
The problem I have, is that Puzz Loop is good, but not great. Zuma is great, but not original. So who do you give the honors to.
First, let me describe what we are working with here. Zuma, like Puzz Loop, is an action puzzle game. Think Tetris or Bejeweled. Three in a row, color matching mechanics, but with a ticking clock. You are trying to combine three orbs of the same color. Simple enough right? A snake of different colored balls travels along a set path. In the case of Puzz Loop, a spiral. In the case of Zuma, a slightly wiggly spiral that sometimes crosses over or under itself. In both, you operate a device in the center of the spiral that spits out different colored balls. You fire the balls out, lodge them in between segments of the snake, and, if you did it right, you match three of a kind, and they blow up. There are lots of little powerups and mechanics that add to that, but really that’s the core of both of these games. Shoot balls at other balls to make them go away before they reach the center. When they reach the center, the game is over.
Puzz Loop could have been a great game. It had all the features of a great game. Fairly simple to learn, high skill cap, lots of ways to approach the same situation. Unfortunately, it’s good, but not great.
Zuma took the concept and ran with it.
At the most basic level, just changing the path that the snake of orbs travels down is pretty profound. Both Zuma and Puzz Loop incorporate a travel time into their ball firing mechanic. When you shoot, it will take a moment for that shot to get to where you are aiming. This means that you will, however slightly, have to lead your targets. The further away they are, the more you will have to predict the path your shots will take. As soon as the snake starts to take a curvy, non-uniform, path, the skill requirement on your shots goes up. You are rewarded for playing better.
There are other, surface level, things that make Zuma better, like better graphics and sound. Those aren’t strictly tied to the quality of the game, but they are nice to have.
The real kicker is platform. Puzz Loop is an arcade game, and it lives in a standard arcade cabinet. The default control scheme for arcade machines are the venerable stick and buttons. While it works fine, Puzz Loop on a stick and buttons just can’t compare to Zuma using a mouse. The speed and accuracy of mouse control is tough to beat. It’s like going from a working concept to a full-fledged production model. Zuma is just a better game.
So what do you do when one developer lifts the ideas of another developer, but rather than creating a crass clone, actually enhances the core gameplay. It happens all the time in other genres. For a long time, first-person shooters were called Doom clones. RTS games were referred to in publications as ‘like Warcraft’ even though warcraft was like Dune II and Dune II was sort of like Herzog Zwai. Developers taking inspiration from a game and then pushing that ball further down the field is sort of how things have always been done.
Puzz Loop is en extremely simple game. The core mechanics can be intuited from a single image. It’s a good concept, but someone had to push that ball further down the field. There is a Puzz Loop 2. That game doesn’t advance the concept. Zuma does.
So, Zuma might be one of the best games, but Puzz Loop is one of the best game concepts. When offered the choice, I would pick Zuma every time.
Quite a few years ago, I decided to write something and post it up here at least once a week. So every week for at least four hundred and eighty-two weeks, I wrote (and occasionally drew or painted) something and posted it. At first, none of it was fiction. I didn’t know how to write fiction.
Then, slightly fewer years ago, I decided to write fiction. I’m not really sure why. I had an idea for a story, so that’s what I wrote. I wrote something short, because I thought that would be easier than writing something long. In one way, I suppose that is true. Since there are fewer words, you can look it over and see all the things that you want to change and wish you had written better in a shorter span of time. In that way, it’s easier. In another, much more real way, shorter stories aren’t easy at all.
By now, I have written somewhere around twenty short stories. And a few much longer ones. Most of them are finished. A few of them I am still working on. One of the unfinished ones is about a third of a book. In a lot of ways, writing that one is a lot easier than the short ones. In a longer story, you have more room to breath. You don’t need to be as precise. The words don’t need to be as densely packed.
In all this time, for whatever stupid reason, I haven’t been reading short stories. I have been reading novels, but I read fairly slowly, so I don’t plow through dense tomes or epic series. It didn’t occur to me that I could read short stories.
As soon as I decided to try to sell a few short stories, I figured I should read some.
Surprise, surprise, short stories are freakin great. They can get weird in ways that a novel rarely could. Exploring single topics fully without getting bogged down in too much extraneous drama. They usually take less than an hour or so to read, and if one of them doesn’t fully hit, you can probably move on to the next pretty easily.
I realize that it seems obvious and idiotic, that if I was going to write short stories, I should also read them, but what can I tell you, It honestly didn’t occur to me.
Also, it seems, the world of sci-if shorts, at the very least, is extremely punk. In all the good ways. In all the counterculture and nonconformist ways that you want good writing to be. That’s probably not me, since I am a pretty bland white guy, but I sure do like to read it.
If what I have been reading is any indication, the future of genre writing is a lot less bland and white. I’m 100% here for it. If I can slip one or two of my semi-optimistic adventures in there with all the punks, I will be grateful.
After I did NanoWriMo I took a bit of time off. I put the files away and didn’t look at any of the words I wrote for a good couple of weeks.
I think that’s a pretty natural impulse. I had worked on one story every day for a month and I needed a bit of distance from it before I came back to assess where to go from there.
I’m not super precious with my words, and I won’t hesitate to throw away and rework large chunks of text, if I think it will make the story better. Still, sometimes I think I need some time away from a bit of writing before I can really look at it and figure out what I can do to improve it.
Not what’s wrong. Imagining that something is ‘wrong’ with a piece of writing supposes that there is some way to make it right. I don’t think there is. I think there are ways to strengthen and improve a bit of writing. I think that you can make something better by reworking it, or rewriting it. But that isn’t a destructive act. You aren’t taking out what is broken and replacing it with something you fixed. You are refining a sketch.
Right now I have a bit over 50000 words of sketch. Some of the lines are very clear and I can just leave them as they are. Others wander all over the page and don’t really connect up to anything. The forms are undefined and the contrast between forms isn’t as strong as it needs to be.
I won’t use any color metaphors, since I’m no good at color in painting either.
In drawing terms, right now I have a line of action and some ill defined shapes. I have built up the faith in myself that if I were at this stage of a drawing, I could probably finish it. I don’t really have that with writing yet. I think I will get the story to where it needs to be, but I needed to take a few weeks away to regroup and refocus.
Now that I am back, looking at it again, I think the base sketch might be alright. I’ll keep working on it.
Best Games - Aliens TC Doom Mod
I realize this isn’t a game.
No. I’m not going to go that far. It is a game. It is a fully formed game. Not a wholly original work, but that’s not important, is it?.
It’s a mod. A mod of Doom.
The Aliens TC (total conversion) Doom Mod uses all the built-in content of Doom, controls, gameplay, a fair bit of the graphics and sounds, but it also adds a lot of its own additions.
There is no doubt that the movie Aliens had a massive impact on game development in the early 90s. Games where you battle against unstoppable hordes of monsters were nothing new, but the thrill ride mentality of Aliens was an easy bleed over to the newly minted genre of first person games. Doom already had a lot of Aliens in its DNA.
Licensed games in the early 90s were a bit of a crap shoot. Most of the ones made during that time were cross marketing tie-ins with little or no intrinsic value. There is a tragically large library of 8 and 16 bit licensed games that are absolute junk.
Making a game built on the Doom engine that follows the events of Aliens, seems like it would be a no-brainer. Space marine walks down darkened hallways shooting monsters. It’s surprising there wasn’t ten of them. Of course, due to the track record of movie tie-in games, they would probably have been awful.
So what’s to be done about it then. If you’re Justin Fisher, you pick up the Doom modding tools and do it yourself.
Aliens TC includes a full campaign of custom levels, sounds and graphics ripped from the movie, and reskinned and tuned weapons made to resemble the ones in the film. There had been game mods before Aliens TC, but none of them took the base of a game and built an entirely new one on top of it. There are games like Heretic, where Raven software took the Doom engine and built something else entirely out of it, but that was an effort on the scale that a single person could never have accomplished it. For the most part, the Aliens TC was made by one guy.
It was a good mod, and that is great and all, but why is Aliens TC important at all in the history of video games? Mods don’t typically deserve much mention in the history of the medium.
Aliens TC wasn’t just good. It was a fundamental shift in the way people thought about games. This was a massive effort, but one that could be accomplished by a single person. The tools that the original game developers used were available, and sometimes they shipped on the disc with the game. The separation of engine and game had just hit a pivot point, and one guy decided to take advantage of it.
For anyone that thought about getting into game development, there was before Aliens TC, when you needed a comp-sci degree or 10000 hours of bedroom coding on an 8bit computer, and there was after Aliens TC, when anyone sufficiently dedicated to the task could learn some tools and make a mod.
Even if you had no interest in making games, Aliens TC was an extremely fun way to play a game you already owned all over again. Only this time you get to shoot xenomorphs.
Aliens TC for Doom is one of the best games.
I’m almost done editing up one story, and I have another that is about fifty percent done. I don’t know if they will find homes anywhere, but I think at least one of them is pretty ‘marketable’. It’s short, concise, but presents a sense of place and time that is the sort of thing people look for in short stories. At least it’s the sort of thing that I look for, and last I checked, I was people.
That was all last year stuff. My goal for this year is one short story a month and finish the 70k or so words left in the book I’m writing. I’m much too far into it to stop now.
I think one short story a month is a pretty good pace for me. If I was writing all the time, I think I would go faster, but that seems like a totally workable pace.
I definitely have no lack of ideas. I have about twenty short story ideas in a document here, and that’s only the ones I already committed to digital paper. I probably have a notion for one or two new ones every week. Now, most of them suck, but there are a lot of ideas.
I have mostly focused on sci-fi stories and speculative fiction stories, because that is the sort of thing I like. I think I might branch out a bit though. I also like some other genre fiction. Some horror or fantasy. Mostly, I will continue my trend of writing characters that are, by a lot of people’s interpretation, bland. They will be mostly kind or nice, and if they are ‘the bad guy’ they will have to have a good and valid (to themselves) reason for it. There will be no moustache twirlers, dark lords, or Darth Sidious’s on my watch. I find those characters dull beyond reckoning. They are not the opposite of a moral protagonist. The opposite would be someone who chooses a malicious path because they can somehow justify the ends. That might be bland or not larger than life, but I will like them. Since I’m the one writing them, that’s what they will be.