By Mento 2 Comments
New game today! But before I go into that, some more about a couple of previous entries:
Ultionus is starting to get a bit too tricky for me. I'm not going to throw in the space towel just yet, but I didn't want to make about ten minutes of progress over a couple of hours of failed attempts and have that be the entire day's update. Rest assured, like Life of Pixel, I'll return to it intermittently and edge ever closer to a completed state.
The Room went as quickly as anticipated. Each of its puzzles last around 30-60 minutes, though I'll admit I got stumped for a few minutes with one particular element of this epilogue puzzle box. I didn't look it up ahead of time, but that last puzzle felt like one the developers added especially for the Steam version, given that it didn't move the plot forward much at all (the ending "there's more yet to come" note could've easily happened at the end of the previous puzzle) and was about as complex as the second or third puzzle box, rather than the crazy orrery light show that the fourth puzzle became. Still, though, there's something wonderful about that game. The way things whirr into life whenever a puzzle is solved, and the way I never needed a hint despite coming close a couple of times suggests some well-balanced difficulty. Well, if they were balancing it for me in particular anyway. I'll have to watch out for the sequel if it ever comes to Steam.
Miasmata is a fascinating game, in that it tasks the player with taking in two aspects of the survival simulator - orienteering and botany - that few others bother with. The rest are all fine with rudimentary crafting and food/fatigue meters, and usually zombies. The process of triangulating one's position using landmarks is one of those things that initially sounds complicated, but you'll find yourself pulling off with relative ease as you get your head around it. Those tend to make for the best game mechanics, because that small barrier to entry is the sort of thing that still terrifies big publishers who want to assume that the vast majority of consumers will be too dumb to figure anything this complicated out. Obviously, you don't want your games to be too obtuse, but it's rare (and usually the domain of Indies) for a game to not talk down to you by allowing what would normally be an acquired survival skill in real life. It'd be like having to start your own in-game fire in a way more complicated than simply hitting a function key near a stack of properly piled-up twigs.
The orienteering involves finding a high place, picking out two familiar landmarks (insofar as that they're on your map - you don't need to have visited them previously) and having the two lines intersect to find your own position. You can then draw other lines to unfamiliar landmarks, such as those outside your map's boundaries: move a little further and repeat the triangulation process, and you can draw another line to that unfamiliar landmark and find out where it is. In practice, it's a little easier than I'm making it sound, and vital if you need to go off the beaten path for rare flowers.
Which leads to the botany. The player character is a scientist (one assumes by his familiarity with science equipment) that has contracted a plague and is dumped on a remote island for the sake of everyone else's well-being, a bit like the lepers in Hawaii. (That's still a thing, right?) The game's chief quest-line (at least initially) involves finding the three ingredients necessary to permanently cure this plague, keeping at bay with medicine in the meantime, and synthesizing a cure. Other plants can be picked up, analyzed for their medicinal properties, and then synthesized into medicine the player takes with them. Some also provide temporary stat buffs that help you out in certain circumstances.
The game really leans on its survival aspect. The player character gets thirsty and tired, and eventually feverish, so the player needs to keep these aspects balanced. The protagonist is also as frail as a lamb for this early part of the game, weakened by his disease and prone to falling over his own feet and drowning as soon as he hits a body of water he can't stand up in. Some medicines will actually permanently increase his stats, rather than boost them briefly, but I've yet to find the ingredients for any of these. I don't doubt that they're better hidden than the regular medicine flowers.
So far I've been milling around the island a bit. Each new piece of map points the way to a hut or tent with another map, so the progression's been fairly linear. I got turned around and ended up at the beginning at one point, leading to fifteen minutes of backtracking to where I was, so the game established the importance of the compass fairly early on: it doesn't matter if you run out of landmarks to triangulate yourself with (you'll go blind if you do it too much) as long as you know which direction the next checkpoint lies and have the compass out to guide you. At least, that's how I've been going about getting places.
One last thing: the game developers determined that simply walking around an island looking at things wasn't interesting enough (what is this, Dear Esther?) so they added a big green pointy panther to the game to stalk you. The one time I met this fellow he wasn't particularly hostile, but I wonder if he'll start to become one of those horror game unkillable pursuers as I get closer to crafting a cure. Basic video game escalation would suggest that he'd start becoming deadly after I pick up the one of the three ingredients I need - the first of which is very close. I really don't care for ticking clock systems like these, so if the game suddenly decides to switch gears from gentle exploration to running from bestial terrors in the dark with the sickly, clumsy protagonist I've been lumped with, I might just call it quits early. Wouldn't be the first time this month...