How To Play Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On

Yeah, it’s another Youtube video, but there’s an important difference this time: I made it myself. It’s seven minutes long.

I’m new at this kind of editing, and I spent a lot of effort trying to give viewers enough time to read all the text, but I failed somewhat in that regard. I suggest pausing the video if you need to catch up. It’s about the recently released Switch version of Pocket Card Jockey, a horse racing and breeding simulation that search-and-replaced all the fiddly HORSE RIDING parts with CARD GAME: a form of Solitaire called Golf, a.k.a. One Foundation.

Yeah, I’m new at this kind of editing. It was good practice though!

Game Freak has mostly had its legacy taken up by The House that Pikachu built, Pokèmon. Pokè this and Pokè that. But they had a history before they made their absurdly popular critter catching/fighting RPG, beginning as an obscure  Japanese fanzine from 1983, and they sometimes publish a game that has nothing to do with their monstrous progeny. The best known of these is probably the Gameboy Advance game Drill Dozer, but lately they’ve sallied forth into mobile gaming with a title called, in English, Pocket Card Jockey. It got a 3DS port beloved of the few that tried it, and now an update of that is on the Switch ($15). It seems a bit easier now, but it’s still wonderful.

I’ve seen Pocket Card Jockey described as not complicated, and rarely do I see a take that I disagree with more. Pocket Card Jockey is very complicated, each horse has almost a dozen characteristics to be cognizant of, each race is full of tension, and success in G-I (the hardest type) of races usually comes through executing a good strategy. I’ve also seen people say that it must have been easy to make, and I disagree with that assumption too: I think it must have been terribly difficult to construct, and most of that difficulty was in design and playtesting. Games like this don’t just happen, not if they’re any good, and Pocket Card Jockey is good.

Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On has an extensive tutorial, with three whole practice races, but there’s still a lot to learn. That’s why I made this video, to try to infect you with some of my own 100-level enthusiasm for it. I know of few games that work better in practice. You should give it a try.

Gamefinds: POOM

We love it when we find weird and unique indie games to tell you all about! Our alien friends to the left herald these occasions.

Found by Varyag on kitsunes.club, this may be the ultimate version of the Pico-8 version of other game phenomenon, not a remake of a classic arcade game but of id Software’s DOOM itself. And it has a great name: POOM. It’s made by freds72 on itch.io, and it’s free to download and play. Its levels are not ports of the original room, unless my memory is faulty, but smaller versions, but the general sense is still there. It even has a good remix of the first level music.

It’s a really good name

Nintendo Direct 2/21/24 Quick Takes

Here is the whole video in case you missed it:

Here is the list, with personal hype level expressed in stars, none to five:

00:30Grounded. Your characters are “shruken at the hands of an evil corporation.” First, corporations don’t have hands, their employees do. Second, it’s interesting to see how corporations have joined mad scientists, sorcerers and alien emperors as “the evil.” Anyway, this looks mostly like Generic Action-Adventure Game. “Work your way through the campaign to uncover the mysteries of the back yard.” Like, where they buried the water pipe? Good luck with that. Two stars.

01:37ENDER MAGNOLIA: Bloom in the mist. Big contrast to the previous trailer. It’s a “return to the Ender Lily’s world,” just assuming you know what that is. From the trailer I assume the “Ender Lily” must be a really bad flower, because everything is dark and grim, but especially dark. “This once flourishing country sits atop a wealth of buried magic,” yet somehow it looks like Blade Runner. Points for using the word homunculi (16 points if you have the tiles for it) and not inventing another bullshit video game word like “the Aeinsward,” or “the Valarath” or some crap like that. Your character is told early on that “your eyes says[sic] that you long for death.” Sometimes the winning move is not to play. I feel bad about talking down the work of so many hard-working developers, but I don’t think it’s possible to make a game less appealing to me, personally. One star.

03:04Arranger: A Role-Puzzling Adventure. “Role-puzzling” is not a thing. Looks like it might be okay, but I’m rating my enthusiasm as generated by the trailers, and they give me flashbacks to the PULL word in Baba Is You, so: Two stars.

03:45Unicorn Overlord. Oh, I want to play the fantasy title game too! Gargoyle Emperor! Chimera General! Minotaur President! Looks to me like a Vanillaware joint. Checking: I was right. Reading the transcript, I’m struck by the word unleash, one of those overused videogame words. It literally means to let go, but because it sounds good it gets used for all kinds of things. But really, if it ain’t a dog, it doesn’t fit. Vanillaware’s cool though, so I’ve talked myself into looking forward to it. Three stars.

04:23Monster Hunter Stories. “Monster Hunter” brings to mind fighting dragons and behemoths. “Stories” suggests Scenes From A Marriage. Combined, I’m imaging getting hitched to Smaug. (This is probably the backstory to the classic anime Dragon Half, come to think of it.) Anyway, it’s Monster Hunter. You hunt monsters. It’s a remake of a 3DS game, discarding the (mostly) realistic look of other Monster Hunter games for cartoony human characters. I have a previous Monster Hunter on my shelf but I’ve never played it, so I can only rate this One star.

05:00Disney Epic Mickey: Rebrushed. I remember when Epic Mickey games filled the discount bins at Walmart, but I always liked the idea, and the internet-viral concept art that inspired them, and they were “directed” by Warren Spector. One thing that always confused me about Epic Mickey, of which the trailer reminds me, is the opening positions Mickey as an innocent interloper, but the content of the Epic Mickey games clearly indicate that these worlds are about him, as a character. He’s not a plucky underdog, he’s the center of the Disney-pocalypse. And yet, that’s interesting. Three stars.

06:07Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance. The title logo makes it look like it’s called Shin Megami Tensei V: Engeance. This being a remake, I’m just glad they didn’t call it something like Revengance, hah wouldn’t that be stupid. I don’t remember at this point whether a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game has ever appeared in English before. Maybe on the Playstation or Playstation 2? Sounds about right. (Checking: it was recent! 2021! Huh.) I think it defies belief that this isn’t yet another Persona game. Two stars.

07:41STAR WARS: Battlefront Classic Collection. Okay I was wrong, it’s not possible for me to be less interested in this. It’s exciting to some people or else they wouldn’t have made this, but I’m writing this, and I say, One star.

08:24SOUTH PARK: SNOW DAY! When your franchise stars a character who was once grounded by his mother for “trying to exterminate the Jews,” I submit that there is something deeply wrong with it. No stars.

There’s so many games here that I’m going to skip around a bit from here on.

10:23Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble. It’s an article of faith now that there have been no good Monkey Ball games since Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, and the recent Banana Mania, which was primarily content recycled from the old games. I just picked up Banana Mania a couple of days ago and was reminded why I like the Gamecube-era titles so much, so what the hell, Three stars.

11:40World of Goo 2. World of Goo was beloved of many people, myself included, and I’ve also liked everything Tomorrow Corporation has done, so I’m really looking forward to this, even if World of Goo is a very hard act to follow. Five stars.

14:03Another Crab’s Treasure.That’s a great title. The trailer, itself, actually calls this game a soulslike, which I guess is just the word we use now when a game is meant to be hard. The game does fix my main issue with Souls games, their relentless dourness. It’s whimsical and charming! Three stars.

15:32Penny’s Big Breakaway. From some of the people who made Sonic Mania, which itself makes it worthy of examination. A 3D platformer in 2024 that isn’t Mario, who’d have thought it possible. Three stars.

16:13Suika Game Multi-Player Mode Expansion Pack. I’ve been a bit outspoken that I don’t really like this version of the concept, prefering Cosmic Collapse on itch.io. Paid DLC that lets you play against others does nothing to improve the concept for me. One star.

16:57Pepper Grinder. It looks a bit interesting, but it feels a bit like a cheat that the tunnels you dig close up behind you. Two stars.

17:26Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On! Originally a F2P mobile game by Game Freak as one of their occasional non-Pokemon titles, like Drill Dozer and Part-Time UFO, which always seem to be terrific. They released a 3DS port that was one of those games that critics (including myself) couldn’t stop gushing over. I’m so hyped for this that I’ve already bought it, as of this writing it’s on my Switch back at home waiting for me to get back and play it. Five stars.

18:16Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley. A Moomintroll game! One where you play as his enigmatic, vaguely Link-like friend Snufkin! I’m in! Sadly its trailer is really brief. Four stars.

19:26Rare Games Added to Nintendo Switch Online. Five games are added: RC Pro-Am (NES), a classic; Snake Rattle & Roll (NES), challenging and a bit underrated; Killer Instinct (N64), which I never cared for but some people will like; Battletoads in Battlemaniacs (SNES), likewise; and Blast Corps (N64), which is very underrated, a launch game that helped define its system. All of these games except Battletoads in Battlemaniacs were previously collected in Rare Replay for Xbox One, but there is a feeling of coming home here. Overall: Four stars.

These releases are notable all because of Hiroshi Yamauchi’s decision not to buy Rare from the Stamper brothers at the dawning of the Gamecube era, which lost Nintendo Rare’s then-formidable reputation and coding prowess. Nintendo sold its 49% stake to Rare, and Microsoft bought controlling interest. The Gamecube took a substantial hit to its library, and Rare has never been the same. Despite a few distinctive hits (Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Viva Pinata and Sea of Thieves) I think Microsoft has never really used them well. For a time they were basically devoted to making Kinect games! (Checking: in fact, Rare’s Kinect Sports was at that time their best-selling game since Microsoft acquired them! Shame that its being tied to an abandoned peripheral means it has had practically no lasting legacy.) I would suppose the return of these titles to a Nintendo system is part of the deal that enabled Goldeneye 007 to come to both Xbox and Switch, but that is only speculation.

RC Pro-Am and Snake Rattle & Roll, are extra notable for their copyright notice by Rare Coin-It, a Miami-based subsidiary of Rare, that seemed to be devoted to games that had arcade pretensions. I don’t know that, but a lot of their games released with that copyright have strange arcade affectations: attract modes, high score lists, and arcade structure. In particular: Slalom (which did get an arcade release, as Vs. Slalom for Nintendo’s Unisystem arcade platform), Wizards & Warriors, RC Pro-Am and Cobra Triangle. But these weren’t the only games that bore the Rare Coin-It copyright. I really don’t know why; maybe they were assign games that Rare thought might have potential as arcade games.

Back to the Switch Online collection, this move gives me hope that the Wizards & Warriors games, especially the first, and its sequel Ironsword, will make it there someday.

Project To Completely Finish Super Mario Maker 1 Enters Home Stretch

Super Mario Maker. Not the one for Switch, with the Master Sword power up and Superball Flower and the like. The one for WiiU, with all the Amibo characters and that formerly had the website listing all the levels, that Nintendo took down because it is a company of good and bad, and for them software preservation is among the worst.

Super Mario Maker survives, for now, but its online services will be shut down in April, removing the vast swath of levels that players made for the software, because Nintendo can’t be assèd to preserve it. That sucks epically, gigantically, humongously, brobdingnagianly. But it’s Nintendo. They always do what they want, heedless of the opinion of others, and as I said, that’s both good and bad.

Remember Super Mario Maker? Most players used it to construct hyper-lethal deathtraps, literal abattoirs of Marios. (Tip: don’t Google image search the word “abattoir.”) Sure, I tried constructing reasonable levels of fair situations, but saying that online is like claiming I don’t watch television: it sounds pretentious. In practice everyone made at least one Smiling Hellscape, and yes I did make at least a couple.

But on the other hand there is speedrun culture, who attempts to overcome any challenge in a game no matter how ridiculous. In order to upload your level to the SMM servers, you have to complete it. That means it must be completable, even if it’s ludicrously unfair. In addition to the usual kaizo gauntlets, some players created levels that rely on prior knowledge to finish, and tackling one of those if you don’t have that information can be Promethean exercise in trial and error, emphasis on the trial.

That brings us to the Discord server of Team 0% (invite link). There mission: to show every level created for Super Mario Maker some love, and by love I mean, at least one completion, before the servers go dark for bad in a month’s time. SMM helps out by offering to give players uncompleted levels. And so they play on, no challenge to great, no gimmick too obscure. Recently they finished every level made in the year 2019. And they’re down to their last 1,000 levels overall!

One month to go. 1,000 levels to finish. Can they do it? They finished 1,000 levels back in the first week of their project, so it’s definitely possible. We’re watching them on their epic quest, and wish them luck. The good kind!

7DRL 2024 Coming Up Soon

I never finished my recap of 2023’s highest-ranked 7DRL entries, and 2024 is rolling around already, set to begin on March 1st! Here is it’s itch.io page, and Cogmind creator Kyzrati’s Mastodon mention.

7DRL, the 7-Day RogueLike challenge, is one of the oldest still-going gamejams out there, and still among the most interesting. Every year a number of surprisingly interesting games come out of it. One year, back when @Play was on GameSetWatch, I took it upon myself to look at every game that succeeded at the challenge that year. I think it was 2011? Even though it took weeks, enough time that I vowed I’d never review every game again, even some of the lesser ones had some interesting aspect to them.

This year will undoubtedly add yet more game to that backlog, hooray! That was a sarcastic hooray, I won’t deny it. But it was also, in a sense, an honest one too. More interesting and unique games mean more fun for everyone, fun that doesn’t cost $60 + DLC prices. And making them means more experienced gamedevs making things they like, things that don’t rely on multi-hundred dollar triple-A outlays of cash to realize, and that helps us, very slightly yet perceptibly, reclaim gaming culture from the wash of monotonous big-money content with which we’re all inundated.

It all starts March 2nd, so if you’re interested in participating, get ready to make! And it all ends, mostly, on March 11th, so get ready to play! (I say mostly because technically the challenge isn’t absolutely time-locked. But it’s a good period to aim for and build hype around.)

Super Mario Sunshine’s Substitution Cipher

Are you surprised by that title? It isn’t obvious that there even is one, but Youtuber 2CPhoenix makes a strong case that there is, that’s (mostly) consistent across the game’s signage! Here’s their video on it (9 1/2 minutes):

These kinds of ciphers aren’t to common in games, but they’re not unheard-of either. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker uses one for the Hylian language, which it even translates for you if you play through the game a second time, and there’s at least one other such language that’s used in Breath of the Wild for Shiekah artifacts. And of course, working out a cipher that’s used in many locations is a major late-game puzzle in Fez.

The “language” of what are possibly the Noki in Sunshine Mario Sunshine is one of those things where, like Bubble Bobble’s Bubble Alphabet, the letters are actually heavily stylized versions of our familiar Latin alphabet, meaning, if you kind of take your brain off the hook slightly and just try to read the glyphs like they were words, you can get a bit of a sense of what they’re saying. Or at least I can. A little.

It’s enough to make one want to take a second look at the fakey-letters in some other Nintendo games, such as the Splatoon and Pokemon series….

An Ad From Compute Magazine #001

This is an ad, on the first page of the first issue of Compute Magazine, for “the pet program” from “softside software,” names all in lowercase. I have no idea if any copies of these programs remains in existence in our universe, but two places to look would be zimmers.net’s FTP archive and the Silicon PET Archive, and even in this era of the internet there are a fair number of PET software archives remaining.

Softside was far from the only company to put out its hopeful shingle through the pages of early computer magazines. At the time, magazine publishing worked with a lead time of several months. It is possible that Softside Software had gone under even by the time this ad saw print, but then again maybe not. A forum thread on AtariAge mentions several BASIC games sold by a “SoftSide,” apparently an Atari 8-bit magazine-on-disk, but they were based in New Hampshire, and the Softside of the ad was in New York.

Notes on the programs proffered:

  1. Graphics Pac 2: I’m not sure what they mean, as the reference I’ve found claims the PET didn’t have a bitmapped display, but there were several models, and further add-on cards that added bitmapped displays, an 80-column mode, and even (gasp) color. A simple “Microsette” itself would not be enough. We are near the end of the PET’s reign as Commdore’s core product though.
  2. Assembler 2001: It is easy to laugh this off nowadays when assemblers are mostly free software (and thank frog for that), but this was before that, and before the internet. $16 is a great price for an assembler from that time.
  3. Bike. Apparently it was a Hammurabi/Lemonade Stand style game, where you made business decisions through simple menus and entering figures. Maybe someday someone will write such a game about running Commodore. You might scoff at the warning that “Bike is dangerously addictive,” but standards were lower then. It was 1979; Wizardry wouldn’t be published until 1981. “Worth a million in fun, we’ll offer Bike at $9.95.” I admire their chutzpah.
  4. Pinball. “Dynamic usage of the PET’s graphics features” would have meant using its hardcoded, unchangable ROM graphics character set, with no sprites. “With sound!” That would mean its simple piezoelectric speaker. Don’t expect Raul Julia’s voice, or even Gorgar’s, to talk to you from the machine.
  5. Super Doodle. Certainly of no relation to Omni Software’s popular Commodore paint program. Super Doodle lets you use any number of colors so long as they’re black or green, and a resolution of 40×25 characters. “Why waste any more paper.” Well probably because loading your notes off of tape would take too long.
  6. Driving Ace. Offers two games for $9.95. The description doesn’t give a good sense of what they were like, but there are essentially only three kinds of racing game: scrolling in one direction (Monaco GP style), one screen or scrolling all around (Sprint style), and 3D (Pole Position through to Ridge Racer to F-Zero). I presume one of these is like Sprint and the other is like Monaco GP; I don’t think the PET was capable of even a slight approximation of 3D, but then, Pole Position’s hardware shouldn’t have been capable of what it could do either.

The ad is from Compute Magazine, most often stylized as COMPUTE! with an exclamation point, grew out of The PET Gazette in 1979. That former publication centered around the computing devices from Commodore International’s subsidiary, Commodore Business Machines. CBM had been around for over two decades up to that point as a maker of typewriters, adding machines and calculators, but in a maverick move by its co-founder and president Jack Tramiel, they bought MOS Technologies, which had just startled the nascent computing world by creating an ultra low cost microprocessor, the 6502. Tramiel had learned from a bit of a bastard move by Texas Instruments, who used their ownership of much of their supply chain to release a line of calculators that sold for less than Commodore’s production costs. Now, Tramiel owned the company that produced the chip that would soon launch the personal computing revolution, and could make other chips too, and Commodore was set to soon pull off Texas Instruments’ trick on the home computer industry with the VIC-20 and Commodore 64.

But until then they made other computers. They made the KIM-1 “single board computer,” and the PET 2001 and other machines with the PET branding. The PET Gazette’s audience was originally those machines, but burgeoning success convinced them to publish a more generalized 6502-focused magazine, and that magazine was Compute.

I have more to come on Compute, which in many ways was the archetypal type-in program magazine. It was far from the only one; other magazines offering type-in software at the time, names now even more obscure than Compute’s, were Creative Computing, Family Computing, and Commodore’s own publications Commodore Magazine and Power Play. Compute would for a while languish somewhat in the shadow of its own sister publication, borrowing part of its name from its predecessor, Compute’s Gazette, which focused on Commodore’s computers, the VIC-20, the Commodore 64, and later the Commodore 128.

The PET Gazette was founded by Small System Services Inc., and was published out of a shop, the Corner Computer Store, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Presumably that changed as the subscription rolls increased. Eventually Compute would be sold to ABC Publishing, a subsidiary of the broadcast network, and it would continue happily for several years. When its fortunes began to wane it was sold, first to Penthouse Publishing (really!), where its logo was redone to resemble that of its own publication Omni, then later to Ziff-Davis, who only wanted its subscriber list anyway; I don’t think they ever published an issue. As it became clearer that the future would be MS-DOS and Mac, its focus shifted, but they kept up their small systems focus for surprisingly long. I don’t think the Penthouse era provided any coverage that wasn’t DOS, Windows or Mac, but it would take time to check. Corrections later, if necessary.

Technology Connections Examines Pinball Machines

Back in October, and again last month, the popular Youtube channel Technology Connections, which in the past has explicated the workings of the popcorn button on microwave ovens, an 80s home TV censorship device, and the marvels of heat pumps, among many other topics. The channel is great, a primary example of how to do Youtube explainer videos right. But, we’re mostly about games here, and they don’t often cover those. Until he recently did some videos on old pinball machines!

October 2023: How the 70s-era “Aztec” Pinball Machine Works (50 minutes)

December 2023: The Step-by-step Logic of Old Pinball Machines (43 minutes)

Sundry Sunday: Stop-Motion Promo for Metal Slug Awakening

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

I’ve always been a little ambivalent about Metal Slug. Not about its gameplay, which is excellent, but about its theme. It’s been said that it is impossible to depict warfare without glorifying it in some way. I think there is some truth to that, and there is no question that the Metal Slug games depict the hell out of it.

I think the Metal Slug makers recognize a bit of that, because of how humanely the enemy soldiers are depicted. They’re all trying to kill you, but they’re far from snarling villains. When not actively trying to bring about the end of Marco and Tarma (and Fio and Eri)’s lives, they’re chatting with each other, having a meal, sunning themselves on the deck of a ship, using the toilet or just hanging out. When they spot the invading players, they often react in terror. Sometimes you don’t want to shoot them, even when they’re climbing on your Slug and trying to throw a grenade in the hatch. Even their leader, General Morden, is not the typical villain. His backstory says that dissatisfaction with corruption in the Regular Army’s ranks, along with the loss of his wife and daughter due to an act of terrorism, was what caused him to launch his rebellion, and his solders admire his leadership.

It’s almost enough to make one want to overlook the questionable aspects of his army’s symbology, for which I can only thank my lucky frog the usual suspects haven’t latched onto. Morden is rehabilitated a bit in the endings of Metal Slugs 2 and 3, where he’s betrayed by the Martians he joined forces with, and helps the player’s commandos defeat, but its true that he’s always the antagonist at the start of each later game. Metal Slug, for all its sci-fi, zombie, magic and other trappings, is still a game about depicting conventional warfare, no matter how one-sided and improbable it may be.

Ah, as is often my habit, I used the subject of the post to write a short essay on some aspect of gaming. I hope you don’t mind. Here is the video, a stop-motion recreation of a typical Metal Slug scene, made by official entities to promote a mobile game. It seems appropriate to the subject.

Metal Slug: Awakening | Full Stop Motion Video (Youtube, 1 1/2 minutes)

Sublime Games: Stephen’s Sausage Roll

Stephen’s Sausage Roll (homepage, Steam $30, Humble $30 – Increpare gets the most money if you buy it here, plus you get a Steam key)

This is the beginning of a series of reviews of sublime games. The sublime is, as described on Wikipedia, the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic. The term especially refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement, or imitation. That’s a lot to live up to for a videogaem!

I’m using that term to describe games that feel like they stretch out your brain just by playing them. Usually this doesn’t mean by difficulty, although Stephen’s Sausage Roll has plenty of that, but by there being some special aspect of it. I think what I mean by that will become more evident as this series continues, but Stephen’s Sausage Roll is rather foundational. Both Jonathan Blow (Braid, The Witness) and Arvi Teikari (Baba Is You) have claimed it as inspirational. Sublime things tend to inspire people a lot.

It’s easy to miss the quality of Stephen’s Sausage Roll if you play it casually, because it’s not a game that really lends itself to casual play. SSR doesn’t ease you into its puzzles, right from the very start the game demands thorough knowledge of the consequences of its movement scheme, knowledge that can only come from failing at its puzzles many times. Stephen’s movement is reminiscent of the porter from Sokoban, but he’s got this dang fork sticking out of him, and every movement must take it into account. Steven can only move forward and backward without turning to the side, which rotates the fork around him.

Understanding how to move that fork around is essential to shoving around the sausages in each level. To solve a level, all of its two-tile-long sausages must be moved over grills exactly once in four locations: once on each tile of one side, and once on each tile of the other. Leaving a sausage on a space doesn’t overcook it, but you can’t move it so a cooked spot touches a grill again. One move for each sausage on each tile of each side! Burning a sausage, or dumping one in the water, immediately fails the level.

This playthrough of one early level demonstrates how it works:

This description is not all of Stephen’s Sausage Roll’s tricks, not by a metric mile, but it’ll stump most players for a good while. It starts out hard and gets harder.

There are no tutorials, not even instructions other than an early sign that tells to use the arrow keys to move, Z to Undo, and R to Restart a puzzle. (These hotkeys have become a bit traditional, and work in other games.) You can’t even read the sign until you realize you have to swing your fork around and walk alongside it. Stephen does have other moves, I have come to learn from reading pages about the game, but it’s impossible to activate them in early levels.

When I read writing about puzzle games, the writer often talks about how smart the game made them feel, sometimes in a paragraph that also mentions dopamine hits, like they were Skinner boxes that give players treats. I dislike game criticism that tries to reduce them to pop neurochemistry. Besides, these days dopamine is not in short supply. It’s available on every Steam corner, plus you could get it just as well from food, an interesting novel, a movie, or pornography for that matter. Difficult puzzle games make you work for it, and where is the fun in that?

The fact is, puzzle games are not interesting for being a dopamine administration mechanism. They are about improvement, about learning to overcome challenges on your own. Once you learn how to do Sokoban puzzles they lose their appeal, because solving puzzles isn’t as much fun as learning to solve them.

Stephen’s Sausage Roll does not make the player feel smart. It makes them feel perfectly stupid at first, but by the end of it they may feel smart. They may, because by completing it they may have become a little smarter. The improving aspects of playing video games is not often mentioned these days, but it is one of the main reasons that I enjoy them. Thinking through a difficult puzzle can help one learn to think a little better, and because of that these sausages are no mere empty calories.

But the difficulty, and the novel take on Sokoban rules, aren’t the only reasons I’m writing about this in a series about sublime games. Each of the game’s little puzzles is a small portion of a larger world. When you enter a level, most of the world sinks beneath the sea, leaving you with a tiny portion of it remaining. When you properly cook all of that level’s sausages, the world returns, but pink walls, where the sausages were, will be gone, allowing you progress. This means the very terrain of the overworld is made of the puzzles you’re solving, which is an unexpected elegance in a game about cooking sausages. And mirroring that fact, there is a deeper meaning to the sausages you’re cooking and eliminating from the world, one that is revealed slowly, as you solve each excruciating puzzle.

SSR is a game that makes a mockery of the very concept of review scores, as most sublime games do. The graphics are purposely done in a PS1 style, intentionally ugly by current standards, and the sounds are simple steps, swishes, and the occasional “ugh” that may have come from the game or the player. And it’s gameplay, while great, shows that play can be about subtracting, taking away all extraneous elements, rather than adding unnecessary new things. In what world does taking away things add points to a review score?

Stephen’s Sausage Roll is not an extremely popular game. While it inspired big hits like The Witness and Baba Is You, and is rated Overwhelmingly Positive on Steam, it hasn’t sold as well. But it hangs on, quietly enlightening new generations of players and designers. It may inspire you too, if you were to let it.

The End of Blaseball Blexplained

It has now been over seven months since the end of Blaseball, that shining star of lockdown that burned brightly but ended suddenly. Stories will be told of its brief reign, and memories zealously hoarded. I’m amazed that no one else has definitively moved in to take its place with their own take on splorts, it seems to be an opportunity waiting to be filled, but until such time as it happens, the concept, along with the game itself, continues to Rest in Violence.

The planets orbiting Blaseball’s many suns continue to orbit, their surfaces unwarmed but still hosting faint signs of life. The Blaseball Wiki remains online, explaining the absurdly twisty intricacies of a game that no longer exists, and The Society for Internet Blaseball Research still hosts statistics and information related to that dearly missed pastime.

One of those planets is Blaseball Blexplained, a Youtube series that doggedly and diligently presented season recaps of Blaseball’s many crazy seasons. Since Blaseball’s ending, they’ve slowly continued their recaps, and have now finally finished their last Expansion Era summary, of the Hellmouth Sunbeams. It is around 16 minutes long. It present the final recantation of the nearly un-understandable events that marked the final seasons as did all the others, throwing out references to Black Holes, Feedback and Fax Machines, counting on you to know what the hell all those things mean. You do, don’t you? ‘Course you do.

So, one last broadcast from Blaseball Explained, favorite fake sport summary channel, now broadcasting exclusively to the Hall of Flame.

Farewell, Blaseball. In your memory, I proclaim: hail Namerifeht.

The Monitor, friendly guardian of the Hall of Flame and concessions operations
(Image from blaseball.com)

P.S. The Society for Internet Blaseball Research (SIBR) has a page of information on how the fates of Blaseball, early on, intersected with that of the Pacific Salmon Treaty of 1985, and of a mysterious face named by fans Salmon Steve. Here is that page.

Dark Arts of Pinball: Deathsaves

So we covered bang backs back on Saturday. Let’s look at another tournament-illegal pinball maneuver, the deathsave. Here’s video from PAPA showing a couple being successfully performed (1 minute):

It’s another trick that involves the machine being bumped forcefully from the front in a specific way, this time to save balls going down the right outlane. I’ve never done one myself (even if I could muster the force, I don’t really want to). There are tables, including Rocky & Bullwinkle and The Last Action Hero, that are even set up to recognize when they’ve happened and reward it, or at least inform the player: I saw what you did there.

It prioritizes players with sufficient strength to shove the machine hard enough, and risks damaging it, so it’s illegal in tournament play. Due to the nature of tilt sensors, which are typically plum bobs with a conductive ring around them, depending on the details of the table it need not even incur a tilt warning, although it could run afoul of the slam tilt sensor, a separate device. Tilt sensors exist to allow some nudging but punish excessive use, and tilting results in the loss of a ball and any bonus. Slam tilt sensors are designed to protect the hardware itself, and immediately end the current game, which forfeits even the chance to enter initials. Essentially it resets the game’s computer. So, be careful with that.