Does Fez deserve so much praise for its cryptographic depth?

First and foremost, since people reading this will be wondering: I've got my 209.4% completion rating, and yes, I did look up the translations. No, I don't feel bad about having cheated. I'll explain why.

Looking at Fez as a platformer, it has everything I love. Bright colors, great music, cute characters, charming animations, the works. The spacial puzzles were loads of fun. As a game, I think Fez has great style and is genuinely enjoyable. As a game.

My issue with Fez, and why everyone seems to love Fez so passionately, is the cryptography. It doesn't really "fit" into the world. After having an epiphany (or finding the "rosetta stone") and realizing the markings actually represent the alphabet and the groupings are all English words, it just becomes a time-intensive process of converting messages one by one. It's busy work. Not to read too far into it, but without this unnecessary layer of obfuscation, the game would have been a complete non-event except for the one poorly constructed main riddle (the "security question") that requires fourth wall-breaking information to complete it. (Ok, this is getting a little silly. Let's assume some minor spoilers at the least about the nature of the puzzles from here on in or this entire blog will end up redacted.)

I was kind of hoping the ancient culture of Zu would have their own language, but instead, it's like going back to ancient Egypt only to discover they all actually spoke English and the hieroglyphs were just them being really keen on Wingdings as a font.

I guess it does work as a cryptography "puzzle," but the framing device is a little weird. Considering the point of crypography is to hide things, yet they printed it up on huge walls and made signs out of it, it doesn't make much sense. This big-headed Zu society still speaks in it. It's like finding a colony of people speaking pig latin. It's just plain odd. The number system was also a little strange, considering it was just new symbols but still base 10 math, but that's outside of the scope of this blog post. (The directional system was great though. It was incredibly clever and true to the world, like a cursive tetris language.)

I'm not sure what I expected or wanted out of Fez when I learned about the writing system. Perhaps a more organic way to communicate through signage in Fez might have been to introduce a fictional, but fleshed-out language. Or Phil Fish could have done everything exactly the same, except made the language an encoded form of Esperanto, making the English the village folk speak a more believable evolution from a block-based root language. (Esperanto -> English).

Or he could have taken the Myst route like Cyan did with the creation of the D'ni language . Tolkien did it too, with all of his works, especially those taking place on Middle-Earth. He was quoted as saying about his work, "The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse." That doesn't seem to be the case here. The Zu language isn't really at the core of anything and really feels like it was added on late in development to provide some superficial depth to the world that people might get caught up in. It certainly succeeded in that regard, but I don't know if I feel it was really deserved.

After the initial feeling of victory of puzzling out a cipher, it just becomes busy work. One moment of realization, and then slow, laborious work, instead of what might have been more appropriate: context clues to understand a new language with everything you need as far as vocabulary and a basic grammar somewhere in the game world. The game is missing that linguistic rush you get over and over when figuring out things in another language on your own, sometimes getting by on the skin of your teeth with only partial understanding of what you're reading or saying. I guess the closest you'll see in most modern games is the unapologetic naming of Witcher 2 spells, when you start adding that vocabulary in your head of what "Aard," "Igni," "Yrden" and "Quen" mean in the context of the game. Sure, they could have said "Fireball" and "shield," but the world would have felt less alive because of it. (It's also why Goku sounds like more of a badass yelling "Kamehameha!" instead of "Turtle Destruction Wave!")

All due respect to Phil Fish, I know I definitely couldn't have made this at all, but it's just the implementation that gets to me. When so many things in this world are legitimately greater than the sum of their parts, to me Fez appears to be the exact sum of it's constituent parts. The whole thing just struck me as something that could most likely only be manufactured by someone who only speaks English, and most fully be appreciated by those that only speak English. If we're being reductive, all he did was create an illegible font that might look at home in the block-derived world of little Gomez.

Ico's Runes
Ico's Runes

The closest comparison I can come up with is Kei Kuwabara's work in Ico, creating an otherworldly-sounding language for Yorda, both spoken and written (the subtitles are in a strange runic language). What he ended up doing was converting the Japanese to Romanji (Japanese symbols to the phonetic pronunciation using the western alphabet), flipping the order of the letters around, adjusting the spelling so they're pronounceable, and converting the roman characters into basic pictographs similar to the origins of Kanji, but using English words as the root. A very simple drawing of an ant represents the letter A, a small bird represents B, and so on. It adds the complexity of multiple languages, but in the organic way borrowed words become butchered by the limitations of the phonemes in a language and vocalization tendencies of speakers. Just the act of mirroring words and creating a somewhat logical pictographic language is pretty fascinating.

No Caption Provided

Even just unexpected random mirroring can be appreciated in the right light if very little emphasis is placed on it. For example, it was kind of the (hor)crux of the first Harry Potter movie (hoho), thinly veiling the true nature of the "Mirror of Erised."

Here's the TL;DR: There are 3 locations in the game world that give you the cipher for all of the written language in the game, assuming you're aware of what you're looking at. It's a needless level of complexity added for the sake of making the game more complex that also makes a lot of assumptions about the player. I don't think it makes Fez a bad game at all, I actually really loved everything else about it. The problem is that back half of Fez is completely unplayable by people who don't speak English or speak English as a second language, specifically if they don't know the main cipher phrase, no matter how dedicated they are. It fails in the promise of a logical means of progression when everything else in the game points to logic being at the core of what Fez is.

Put another way, would anyone have enjoyed this game nearly as much if the developer was a French Ubisoft team, for example, and instead of needing to know the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" the phrase was "portez ce vieux whisky au juge blond qui fume" (Carry the old whiskey to the blond judge who smokes.")? No one could reasonably be expected to know that. Even in English, how many people have heard "Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow"?

Fez 2..?
Fez 2..?

Just saying.


The really geeky list of Mass Effect nitpicks (spoilers)

Since the trilogy concluded, I've wondered about a few things regarding the Mass Effect fiction, especially the stuff brought up in ME3, but no one thing specifically jumped out at me as worthy of its own thread or blog post. Instead, I figured I'd just post a whole bunch of them at once. I can't be the only one wondering about some of this stuff, so feel free to add your own nitpicks or potentially answer some of these, if you're able to.


Why is Udina on the council and Anderson still in the military regardless of what I decided in ME1?

Why is it that Cerberus needed an autistic numerical savant to interface with the Geth ship in Project Overlord, but Legion is able to use the Deckers chair from Saints Row: The Third to allow Shepard to easily interface with a primary Geth sever on Rannoch?

Why didn't more Cerberus scientists put two and two together during initial trials of indoctrination? Once all the subjects started having Illusive Man eyes, I'd imagine they'd probably start figuring something was off.

If EDI is a collection of computer hardware aboard the Normandy and is only remotely controlling the EVA body, Wouldn't the fact that the ship got torn in half and is very obviously completely offline mean she's effectively dead?

Better question: How did Joker of all people survive a crash landing without shattering every single bone in his body, let alone him being the first one out of the airlock? Must have been one pillowy-ass landing.

Why is Tali so nonchalant about sex with Shepard now? That line about "synchronizing" or whatever is kind of BS. Even if she somehow managed to become immune to everything Shepard had crawling all over him during their first encounter, he's been on dozens of planets since then and a slew of spaceports, no doubt picking up thousands of viruses, mold spores, and bacteria from all corners of the galaxy. Even if he hadn't, his bedroom isn't sterile. If Tali got naked alone in there she definitely would have gotten incredibly sick, so Shepard's presence and him being a living, breathing disease culture shouldn't help matters. I think people would have been happier with a Pushing Daisies relationship for the two of them.

What happened to the Collectors? I find it kind of hard to believe the only Collectors in the galaxy were hanging out on that base in the middle of the galaxy. Isn't that.. a little small? For an entire species, I mean.

Inside the derelict Reaper of ME2
Inside the derelict Reaper of ME2

Reapers: Who built who? Did the Reapers build the Citadel like ME1 states, or did the Catalyst/Citadel create the Reapers, like ME3 states?

Reaper interior
Reaper interior

Better question about the Reapers: They're sentient ships, something that seems to have been forgotten. Saren was flying around the galaxy in Soverign with Benezia, a bunch of Asari commandos, and scores of geth for all of Mass Effect 1. So, if the only purpose of the Reapers is to kill organics every 50,000 years, what was the point of having an internal atmosphere, standard temperature, and an internal structure designed to house an entire crew? It's not for the husks and cannibals and brutes and stuff, they don't need to breathe anymore, based on the fact they were being deployed on Volus ammonia planets and the Hanar homeworld. It hardly seems like the most efficient design.

The process of impaling humans on Dragon's teeth in ME1 drained them of all of their fluids and allowed the Reaper nanotechnology or whatever to take rapid hold. And that's cool, drained of most moisture and dry out all the fat, and men and women look almost exactly alike. So... does that mean all Banshees are Asari with silicon implants..?

Quite possible this used to be a chick.
Quite possible this used to be a chick.

What sense did it make for the Geth to join in on the war against the Reapers? The collective seems above all else to be interested in group preservation. The Reapers had no interest in the Geth other than a very pragmatic attempt to use them as free foot soldiers, and there was no indication they'd ever try to wipe them out (which in and of itself is a little weird, given the Catalyst logic, seeing how they're unchecked, evolving AI...). Still, especially in the scenario where the Geth are forced to wipe out their creators, there's zero reason for them other than gratitude to take up Shepard's cause when it might result in their annihilation.

Speaking of the Quarians, why would they turn their Liveships into Dreadnoughts? I get that they're big ships and you can put big guns on big ships, but for the large confrontations with the Geth, and then the Reapers, but especially the Geth, why would you put them into combat like that? There are only three of them and they're the core of the fleet, to be protected at all costs. They're pretty much the sole source of sterile food for every Quarian in the galaxy. It would be like slapping turrets onto a giant greenhouse. Why then, bring those into battle, when an enemy that knows your limitations (like the Geth) would spot them instantly and just suicide bomb a few ships into them, almost guaranteeing you will all starve?

The Quarian Liveship is the big backward snail looking thing. On the front lines.
The Quarian Liveship is the big backward snail looking thing. On the front lines.

If Miranda's sister Oriana is genetically-engineered from her father's Henry's DNA just like she is, why is she such a spaz who is always getting kidnapped and doesn't seem to be able to do biotics or anything? Also, why don't they all look like Yvonne Strahovski instead of generic Mass Effect people? I mean, seriously, I was expecting to see Miranda with a moustache when I found that dude, not Conrad Verner with graying hair. And why is he working for Cerberus? I thought he was just an egotistical and wealthy business man, not a mad scientist specializing in xenotechnology and mind control. I really hope they weren't working at Cerberus at the same time, those interoffice emails and company picnics would have probably gotten pretty awkward. If he's a new recruit for Cerberus, why would he opt to work for the organization that kidnapped and hid his daughter(s) from him?

I can sort of understand the logic of shopkeepers charging me, potential savior of the galaxy, for weapons and supplies. What I don't get is why I'm being charged such exorbitant amounts for Spectre gear in ME3. What kind of military organization functions like this? Does James Bond have to put down his personal Amex for gadgets from Q? Who else are they selling these to? I'm very confused. I just saved the Council? Again? Hello? Free gun or two, please? They should commission a gun in my honor, not charge me for them.


I'll just keep adding more to the end of this as they occur to me.

First: What happened to Geth Hoppers? They were the most annoying, but most amazing enemy in the first game, and served an important narrative function. They were the first geth that the Quarians had nothing to do with designing, and a true sign of them evolving into something more. They could jump around the room like Spider-man and stick to walls and shot you with lasers from their camera eye. Super cool! I'll miss you, hoppers.

Honestly? Kind of what I pictured Tali looked like naked.
Honestly? Kind of what I pictured Tali looked like naked.

How the hell did the Reapers get the Citadel to Earth? Is there no size limit to what the relays can transmit through the zero-mass channels they open? Can you even send a relay through a relay? I mean, it had to go through a relay due to the timing. There's no way they'd get to Earth in under 6 months from the Serpent Nebula the Citadel was located in using FTL, I'm going to guess, assuming the Citadel even has any sort of FTL propulsion. According to the games, though, the Citadel is about 45 km long, and at least 10 km wide (based on the size of the Presidium ring). The largest ship class in the galaxy, Dreadnoughts, are between 800-1000m. Maybe the Destiny Ascension, the most powerful ship in the combined fleet, at most, is twice that. Even Sovereign, the largest class of Reaper, is only about 2-3 km long. At the end of ME1, he was arguably relatively about the size of a gumball in a gumball machine, if not a little smaller, perched on top of the Citadel tower overlooking the Presidium. I'm assuming these sizes aren't arbitrary, they probably would have gone larger if Mass Relay technology allowed it, otherwise we would have seen mention of space stations being built near planets with resources, and then sent off to unpopulated areas of the galaxy in order to establish a presence. Size can't be an arbitrary thing, otherwise, why bother making the relays as large as they are?

I know this is a leap, but I'm going to have to assume that E=mc2, so more energy would be needed for more mass or greater distances to move that mass. It makes sense based on the ginormous size of the Citadel and its purpose as being a relay connected to one outside of the galaxy in "Dark Space," and the tiny size of the Prothean conduit. If the size of the relay didn't matter, than Sovereign would have used the Conduit to get onto the Citadel, not tried for a frontal assault. This is kind of a perfect example here, since the relative size of Sovereign to the mini relay is around the proportions of the size of the Citadel to a standard relay. I couldn't find any measurements on them, but we see the size of Mass Relays next to the Normandy about 500 times in each game, so we have a general idea.

Beyond that, how did they move it at all? They have no control over the Citadel, based on Sovereign's actions. The Catalyst can't manipulate the Citadel, based on previous inaction. I doubt husks can operate machinery, and the Keepers, thanks to Prothean meddling, no longer respond to Reaper commands. They pretty much would have to clamp onto it and drag it to overcome the inertia, hundreds of Sovereign-class Reapers. As far as I know they haven't introduced tractor beams in Mass Effect fiction, and we definitely haven't seen Reapers using it before. That says nothing about the effort it must have taken to put the citadel in a geosynchronous orbit over London. (incidentally, if they had just put it over a small island in the pacific, even with their stupid beam, they would have been fine.)


Logistics aside, for what purpose then? That's a huge freaking effort to get that thing to Earth. Again, why? What does that accomplish? WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THE BEAM? It's like they did everything they could to make it possible to defeat them. I suppose it sort of functions as a "test" of sorts, to make it at all possible for organics to defeat them and thus prove the cycle ineffective, but what does getting to the beam mean? You know, since that was the only real challenge, they couldn't plan on The Illusive Man showing up in every cycle. It seems like the three things that influence if you're able to get to the beam would be either your shielding technology, your stealth technology, and your sheer numbers. But then, that just means you'd be really good on American Gladiators, not that the Reapers need to rethink their plans.

"...and in red, we have John Shepard, for the fate of the galaxy AND A NEW CAR!"

Draw Somethings with Randoms

How is it possible that the Draw Something forum is almost completely devoid of threads..? It's criminal not to have it be more popular, what with all of the great content GB as a community is probably cranking out on an hourly basis.

I've slowly but surely come to hate the random people I play against in Draw Something. Sure, there are the jerks who just write the word, like the guy to wrote out "squirrel" (dude, really?) for me in one match, and the ones that can't spell (Had a guy try to write "kangaroo" about 4 times before getting it right.), but with only a few exceptions, it's been pretty miserable. Figured I'd vent and share.

No Caption Provided

Here's one I drew for a random match. Probably my favorite incorrect guess ever. She ultimately decided to pass and broke the streak. Of 1.

No Caption Provided

This second one I drew for another random, this time the word "Password." Watching the replay, the guy was confused until I drew the post-it note. As a security-conscious IT guy, it made me fairly unhappy.

Anyone else have good ones?


Ubisoft DRM: an analogy

Reading just now about Ubisoft justifying their excessive DRM practices lately, this time for the new Driver game, made me think of an analogy. The game industry today is like a great big movie theater. DRM is like an army of ushers patrolling up and down the aisles, flashing lights in everyone's faces, and pulling people out mid-movie into the lobby if they misplaced their ticket stubs until they're able to produce it. All in an effort to prevent the one or two idiots from sneaking in the back way.

This is so frustrating that many former moviegoers just go to the unmarked shady-looking movie theater next door where the guy in the projector booth sneaks copies of the movies over. You find it by word of mouth. Turns out there's no admission, the popcorn is free, the theater seats give great massages, they even serve free beer. You secretly wonder why anyone would go out of their way to make these things freely available to you. You enjoy it, but you still know deep down it's wrong. The only price you pay is the guilt that you're taking revenue away from the management in the legitimate theater who ordered all those ushers to shine flashlights in your face to begin with. Not a huge deterrent to a lot of people, unsurprisingly.

Customers hate being treated like potential criminals. The more publishers do it, the easier it is to make that moral leap to piracy for people who can easily afford their products. Everyone knows how to get them for free, after all, so whose benefit are they doing all of this for? Most of their customers pay in spite of their restrictive DRM efforts, not because of them. Someone just needs to look at The Witcher 2 to see that a game can be a success on PCs even without DRM. Or in general. People recognize quality in entertainment and want to support it. That's human nature.


E3 wishlist

Mostly doing this for the points, but I'm most looking forward to:
Portal 2
Portal 2
and... I forget that third one.