Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pushing the Limits of the Humble GIF

Truth be told, I'm just a little older than the GIF.  

The GIF was originally just supposed to be just a flexible and easy format to use for the Web, then it began saturating webpages with its colorful, flashy, blinking, moving graphics to inform early web users where things are supposed to be, Click Here, Mailbox, Page Under Construction, etc.

Eventually, it became nice to play around with, spurring memes that ranged from whimsically fun to insanely hilarious, from snarky to political, from mesmerizing to annoying.  Still tacky, yes, but they do a good job of sending the appropriate message.

Despite the existence of other superlative formats such as PNG, JPEG, and Adobe Flash, the GIF, just like its inherent persistent nature, stuck around.  More history of the GIF here.  

Thankfully, some people have created another use for GIFs, which is art.  Enter Micael Reynaud, a French designer who's been churning out lots of neat stuff with the format.



Courtesy of ThisIsColossal.com



This carousel GIF reminds me of a scene in Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.  The eternal whirl and whir of that carousel at dusk, ugh.

I've never really liked the early GIFs.  The Nyan cat is plain annoying, while that Dancing Baby from Ally McBeal is just creepy.  All others fail to have a lasting impact on my memory, which is good because then that would be horrible to relieve over and over again.

But the Reynaud GIFs are memorable.  They're something else.  They're crazy yet brilliant, insistent yet not painful to watch.  And there's a story embedded in it, waiting to be deciphered.



Courtesy of Wired.com


More mind-bending GIFs from Micael Reynaud


And oh, by the way, GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format.  I have to remind myself of that from now on.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Jollibee and Friends Puts on the Dance Moves

Here's something to start off December: Jollibee and his friends in a dancy mode.  I've never really liked mascots, (except for the Energizer Bunny) but I'll give it to these dancing guys in the big, bulky, hot suits.  Okay, I still don't get Mr. Yum's and Twirly's and Popo's costume. Hetty's is all right.  But still they look fun to watch.

This is where Jollibee trumps McDonald's.  Jollibee dancing is sure fun to watch, but Ronald McDonald is just downright creepy.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

They Hanged Ernie!


Poor Ernie.  Found somewhere in a parking lot of a mall.  Took a couple of photos, then left without doing anything.  It wasn't my business to rescue hanged plush toys, especially if it's not mine.  





But looking back now, I should have cut off the damn string.  Or at least stuck an eggplant inside the exhaust pipe.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Ways of Counting



Somewhere in Bulacan, me and Edge saw this:  A counting poster, adamantly plastic, sold for PhP 20.  Notice the Two (2) cellular phones.  Lovely!


Counting 101


So this is how we're teaching kids to count these days.  Before it would have been 2 giraffes or 2 pandas.  Now it's gadgets.

Anyway, the animals are lumped together under number 11, just like the fruits and vegetables.  So you can teach kids how to count, what each thing is called, and what their general category is.

Actually, this one is already a better deal than that other counting poster we saw, also just this month.  It's a Frozen-themed poster which uses the Frozen characters as discrete countable objects.  Instead of eight reindeer for example, the poster says eight Svens

There were also nine palaces. Or was it six? Who makes up these things?





Count von Count of Sesame Street, was a great deal funnier. Like those silly posters, his penchant is counting weird, random things too like sheep flying in the air or telephone rings, but we love him.



Saturday, October 25, 2014

My Ten Favorite Minimalist Games for Android

I'm always on the lookout for minimalist games at the Play Store.  The flatter the design, the better.  It also helps if it's lightweight enough for my phone.  (It's a circa 2011 Sony Ericsson phone, so memory is sometimes an issue.  Not that it's lame: Badland, Riptide GP, and even Plants vs Zombies plays on it fine.)  

But you gotta admit, these minimalist arcade and puzzle games have that succinct beauty in them, fuss-free and no-frills, which the other graphics-intensive games don't have.  They look good on my phone, they rack my brain plenty enough, and the best part of all, they're free!

Duet
| by Komobius




Just when you thought the endless runner genre has been exhausted already, Duet comes along, with its seemingly simple yet frustratingly tricky gameplay.  

Here, you guide two orbs that revolve around each other in sync, while avoiding various blocks that come your way down. Master the choreography for every game and you’ll be okay.  Or else, you’ll hit those obstacles all the time, splattering red and blue splatter stains on the blocks, (just like a Pollock painting), until they’re too messy and you can’t take it.


Mastermind
| by Filon



There's no official Mastermind game on the Play Store, but this one is the nicest of the bunch (The other Mastermind games all look tacky). This one is lovely with its simple flat design, and a gorgeous UI.  The variously colored discs are pleasant to look at.  You can play with up to 8 colors for a more head-scratching decoding experience.  Dragging the discs can be laggy sometimes, but that's a small price to pay. 


Pew Pew

| by Jean-Fran├žois Geyelin  




Pew Pew is the retro space shooter that's as minimalist as you can get, simply a classic. You get Tron-like stripped down neon graphics, smooth excellent FPS, an energetic soundtrack, and four game modes for endless fun. Your play is even automatically recorded so you can watch it afterwards.  Dragging the video from side to side gives you a full 360 degree view, nice!  What's more, you can watch how other players from all over the world have fared.  (Those gamers are so good, so be prepared to have your self-esteem shattered.)

For an even more exciting gameplay (campaign mode, etc) there's Pew Pew 2 for a modest fee, although the F2P Pew Pew, in our opinion, is already top-notch 



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Delayed Reaction: My Favorite Plants in Plants Vs. Zombies

Now that there's Plant vs Zombies 2 (which is good, except for Crazy Dave's new friend, that very chatty time machine.)

Okay, so what are my favorite plants in the sequel?  I guess I can only name one or two among the roster of new plants: the Citron because, well, plasma.  And the Coconut Cannon because I like it plants that pack a blast.





I'm still I die-hard Squash fan though, and I'm glad PopCap didn't alter Squash one bit because we love it just the way it is. I love it when Squash lets out a satisfying ahem before heaving itself up and mightily squashing the zombie in question. Whack!  Every time my squash sits flat on a pesky zombie, I feel immense satisfaction 

Okay, I love the Melon-pults too. Self-explanatory. They're melon plants hurling melons that crack on zombies head. Lovely piece of act. Not to be tried in real life, of course, even if there are some people you would just want to lob a melon onto. Just get your dose of vicarious violence through the trusty melon-pults of PvZ. 

The best part of playing Plants vs. Zombies is that I don't get all OC about who'll clean up the mess, and despair over the wasted uneaten melons.




My other favorite plant is the Gloom-shroom, also from the original game.  It's the upgraded version of the Fume-shroom, which basically is proof of the destructive power of a fart. Gloom-shrooms are actually great to use in Endless Survival mode.  It being a morning scene, you'd have to first wake up the Fume-shrooms with the Coffee bean, then upgrade into a Gloom-shroom. Costs a lot, but they're worth it. 

Gloom-shrooms: they're truly nasty. I line them up along the pool. Five in every row, and the wading zombies don't stand a chance. 




Then there's Tall-Nut. Brave, sturdy, sacrificial Tall-nut, ready to be devoured.  Apparently, there's a latent confused homoeroticism going on when the zombies chomp on it.  Ugh. Maybe.

I wish the new PvZ had Ferns.  They've been on earth since time immemorial. They rubbed elbows (or toes) with the dinosaurs.  Ferns look nice especially when they're just starting out as a tendril, slowly uncurling.  Also, a certain kind of fern (the fiddlehead fern) is edible and goes nice in salads, but can be mildly toxic, so eat in moderation.  Just saying.

Monday, October 6, 2014

5 Point-and-Click Adventures You Ought to Be Playing


Yesterday

Satanic cults and inquisitions that date back centuries makes for a rich fodder for a point-&-click adventure, no surprise there. But a lot could go wrong too with such a complex storyline.  Thankfully, Pendulo Studios has made a terrific job with Yesterday--the game runs like a noir comic book that's been breathed into life, dark, mysterious, and treacherous.




So you've got an intriguing lead character who has no idea who he is and how he got there (voiced by the amazing Doug Rand), an unlikely sinister villain, exhilarating flashbacks and flashforwards that mess up with your mind, nifty puzzles along the way, and a possible love story as well. The dialogues can feel a bit tedious at times, while some characters feel stereotyped, but we can let that pass. As if getting to the source of the mystery wasn't enough, Yesterday gives you three different kinds of endings--all with inevitable life-changing consequences--which depend on the decisions you make. It's that good, we wish there was a part two.


Machinarium
What is it that Dan Mangan sang about robots?  And really, what's not to love about robots, especially if he's as cute as the lead character in Machinarium. 




Amanita Design has proven here and in their other games that point-and click adventures can be artful in their own right.  And so Machinarium's art is a nice quirky blend of cartoony goodness and gritty decay.  It's set in a dystopian world inhabited by robots with attitudes, imposing their own strict societal rules upon each other just like humans do.  Your goal is to save your loved one, a la Super Mario, but you'll have to get through various head-scratching puzzles to reach her.  All in all the lovely grungy graphics and an oh-so-rich soundtrack make this such a great journey of a game.


Xon Episode One & Two


If Edgar Allan Poe said that premature burial is the greatest tragedy that can befall a person, then he knows not that other intense tragedy--the hopeless feeling of being stuck in an unknown place, all alone in the utter emptiness.

An abandoned futuristic world is the eerie setting of Xon. It could be on an alien planet, or right here on our own, there are trees, flowers,grasses and chirping birds, but the technology and architecture just don't fit. 




That's to say ImagoFX has done a good job creating the gorgeous world of Xon, all yours to explore in full 360 degrees--even the sun glinting at you is a sight to behold.  It's very much inspired by Myst, but succeeds in creating an entirely new atmosphere. Your goal is to find your way out of this walled compound, rotating various orbs to unlock that one exit door you need. There's no time limit, but the price of transgressing that wall without completing the puzzle is a fate worse than death.



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tangled Metals Redux

Just when I thought those tangled metal puzzles called Kaisiqi were already phased out, I chance upon this at National Book Store. They've just been rebranded. 



The new name on the package, Professor Sense Sizzler's Puzzle, puzzles me to be honest.  What's so wrong with Kaisiqi.  Then again, Kaisiqi was never that memorable to begin with. 

But anyway, puzzling names aside, the good thing is that it's still roughly the same price, and the same tangled goodness inside.

Of course, the puzzle's replay value is very low.  Once you discover how the two pieces separate, there's not much fun anymore. Still they make nice gifts to friends (at P27)!, and lovely bag danglers.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Deal with Monopoly Deal


We had to retire our old Monopoly board because it got torn in half--a lovely design blunder by Hasbro which gave us boards that fold into quarters instead of just in half. True, we could just tape them back together, but then frankly who has the time to play Monopoly these days? The game takes forever to finish. With our generation's short attention span, that requirement of dedication and time is just not going to fly.

So I bought this.



Monopoly Deal. Only P150 at Toy Kingdom (who had the good sense of slashing the price from a ridiculous P350.) Unlike the classic board game, this one uses cards. You can finish a game in just fifteen minutes or so. And it's very portable, perfect for taking with you at camping or killing time in between pigouts at buffet. 

Hasbro has done a good job translating Monopoly into a card game.  It's so easy to mess up with such an iconic game.The custom typography in particular is a nice touch, giving it a classic, nostalgic vibe. Your goal here now is to be the first to complete three full sets of properties in three different colors. 

So in this way, we finally have a clear sense of ending in Monopoly. In the old game, there's really no proper ending. You might get bankrupt beyond all reason, but you could always just borrow from the bank and work your way back up.

  

There's still money involved in Monopoly Deal. They're now rendered as stiff glossy cards along with the properties. The tiny plastic red and green hotels and houses have been converted into cards as well. And yes, the tokens are gone. (I can't play the Thimble anymore.)


Monopoly Deal introduces to us action cards which cleverly move the game along. Our favorite Pass Go is still here, although there's no Go to Jail anymore. There's Rent, It's My Birthday, Forced Deal, Sly Deal, Just Say No, and the killjoy Deal Breaker

I'll let these two guys explain how the game is played because frankly they're just lovely to watch.



So my only gripe about the game is that the Deal Breaker is too powerful, it tips the scales on your favor with just one easy move. (Unless your opponet lays down Just Say No.) 

Since your goal is to collect three full sets, and the Deal Breaker lets you steal a full set from any player, that card has already taken care of 1/3 of your goal. Edge insists we still play by the rules, but I say there's no harm in modifying them if only to make that card a little less potent.

1. For two players, a goal of five full sets of properties instead of three, just to dilute the Deal Breaker's power.
2. Or instead of the power to steal a full set, the Deal Breaker can only take three properties in different colors, even from already full sets.
3. Or instead of three cards, the Deal Breaker can steal just one card from a full set. 
4. Or make the Deal Breaker card only good as money.
5. Or just take the Deal Breaker out of the deck in the first place.



Monopoly Deal has been around for quite a while now. If we had only known it'd be this fun, we'd have gotten ourselves a pack a long time ago. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: Swing Copters | Flappy Bird’s Creator Is Still Having Fun at Our Expense

(Not surprisingly, Dong Nguyen's new offering is a frustratingly hard arcade game in the same vein as his massive hit Flappy Bird. But Nguyen is still having fun at our expense.)


Dong Nguyen is at it again, with a fresh new game called Swing Copters. It’s still 8-bit style, still obstacle-filled, but this time around the difficulty factor has been crazily upped, it’s almost impossible. (I got a high score of 1 and never bothered again.)




Swing Copters lets you navigate a bulging-eyed character with a propeller on his helmet, up through the sky, with steel bars and swinging hammers blocking your way. Even the sides of the screen are off-limits. What makes the game devilishly hard are the unwieldy controls and the unforgivingly screwed up physics. There is no such thing as narrowly missing the hammer, you will hit the hammer whether you like it or not.

Already, vile comments of frustrated players have cropped up at the Play Store. If frustration and high-blood pressure were the goal of the game’s creator, then hats off to you for a job well done.


* * *

The trouble with Swing Copters, Flappy Bird, and all the obligatory clones out there is NOT that they’re frustratingly difficult to master. The element of difficulty is a must—frustration tempts us to try again and again, and failure only fuels our desire to go at it one more time in the hopes of finally winning. (It’s the same principle at work in casinos.) And okay, there’s also bragging rights.

But no, the insane difficulty is not the problem. 

THE PROBLEM LIES IN THEIR LACK OF A STORY.  

All the great games are propelled by a story: Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, Halo, God of War, Grand Theft Auto, Left for Dead, Resident Evil, and more recently Badland, Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery, Reaper, Plants vs Zombies, to name a few—all these have a compelling story to tell.  Other games let players create the story themselves: The Sims and Minecraft for instance.


Scene from Superbrothers Sword and Sworcery


Even Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, for all their mindless fun violence, have a story. The endless runner game Temple Run and Cut the Rope also have a loose plot line more or less. Or consider Another Case Solved, it could have been just another Candy Crush clone, but it deftly added an engaging detective story, and that made all the difference. 

The story is important; humans are innate story-tellers since the dawn of time—from the caveman and their cave wall paintings to the cat photos we post on our walls today. 

The story invites us gamers to dive head on to the various awesome universes provided for us. The characters have motivation, we relate to them and to their cause and goals, we fight their fights.

Okay, granted Swing Copters is a pure game, an arcade game where your only goal is to move your character from point A to B. Does that mean there’s no story to tell? Well that should have been a challenge to the developer.

All the serious and honest game creators want to share the story that they’ve carefully crafted in their games. They might put all sorts of obstacles along the way because life’s like that too, but at the end of the day they want us to win, to defeat the baddies, to save the Princess, to survive the odds, and experience the story along the way. These games were created for our enjoyment, and not at our expense.  

Clearly, Dong Nguyen doesn’t take his audience seriously.  

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