Keyboard Geniuses

Street Countdown

Countdown Conundrums

Highlights from the week’s comment threads.

By John Teti • May 25, 2012

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

Payne-ful Memories
Max Payne 3

Russ Fischer’s review of Max Payne 3, the latest release from Rockstar, prompted a compare-and-contrast observation by Effigy_Power, who’s a fan of the Hitman games:

I have nothing but good memories of the first two games, and Dan Houser has been okay in my book since his work on Grand Theft Auto 3, where he wrote the best ever soundtrack (the radio channels). The age progression is a great feature in a world where action heroes or protagonists in general seem to be stuck in time from game to game.

That said, Max Payne never really achieved the kind of fun I had with Hitman, the most comparable tragic-figure, gun-totin’, somber-voiced anti-hero. There are the obvious differences between [Max Payne’s] balls-out bullet-fest and [Hitman’s] sneaking, wardrobe-switching gameplay, but the characters clearly have some correlation. Both are shallow characters, scrapbook pages from decades of action movies and graphic novels, but both have their appeal because the source material was chosen well.

P.S.: Both games were graced with movies that had no connection whatsoever to the overarching story of the games. Whenever I think of a movie that would have fit Max Payne, I think of the Clive Owen vehicle Shoot ’Em Up. It’s more Max Payne-y than Max Payne ever could be.

The Myriad Faces Of Countdown
Countdown

My series of British game show reviews turned this week to Countdown, which I argued is the most British of all game shows. I had hoped that readers would fill the comment threads with links to some of the many Countdown parodies that have graced U.K. television screens over the years, and they didn’t disappoint. TonyInchpractice paid tribute to the show’s original host, Richard Whiteley:

R.I.P. Richard Whitely, the jovial Yorkshireman whose brand of gently inane humor defined the show for more than two decades. It was satirized nicely by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in their third A Bit Of Fry & Laurie series.

Then RagingBear linked to a clip of the famed “Street Countdown” scene from The IT Crowd, and DMBarrett posted the infamous “wankers” incident from the early 1990s. Tom Foxtrot provided a link to a fun moment from Channel 4’s recent “Mash-Up Week,” in which the cast of the comedy panel show 8 Out Of 10 Cats played a match of Countdown. Here’s part one and part two.

Gameological-ize Your Life
Steam

This is so cool. A couple of readers have organized a couple of places for the Gameological community to play games together. First up: Fyodor Douchetoevsky has started a Gameological group on Steam, the distribution service for PC and Mac games. Join up to see what other folks are playing, organize a little multiplayer, and of course to chat about games even more than the Gameological threads might allow.

On a related note, Aaron Riccio has been plugging the Gameological Crew—whose four-letter ID is GLOG—for use in the multiplayer mode of Max Payne 3. If you’re playing Payne, join up! Word is that Rockstar will be using the Crew system for future games, too, so this can be the beginning of a beautiful, murderous friendship.

Thanks, Fyodor and Aaron!

For The Syphilitic Completist
Decadent: The Man Who Would Be King

The theme of Drew Toal’s Decadent feature this week was “the man who would be king.” As usual, if you give Gameological readers a premise, they run with it. Shain Eighmey suggested another classic game for aspirants to the throne:

I think it’s worth considering Mount & Blade in this family of ideas. You start off as someone without any particularly special characteristics, but if you so desire, you can become king of the entire country on the backs of vast peasant armies. Of course, you can also be a bandit, trader, or anything else you decide to be, but king is definitely the looming goal, as the only reason you can’t become king is because you’re not trying hard enough.

Game recommendations are a common topic in the discussion threads. They even pop up when you least expect them. Caspiancomic found his interest piqued by the lurid elements of Drew’s choices

I’ve never played this Lords Of The Realm of which you speak, but any game in which accusing people of having syphilis and lying to the clergy are viable strategic avenues has my attention.

…and GhaleonQ was there to help:

Have you played the Leisure Suit Larry series? Same thing.

That does it for another week in Gameological. We’re off for the holiday weekend; see you on Tuesday.

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1,243 Responses to “Countdown Conundrums”

  1. Matt Ford says:

    I wish AVClub.com did this too.

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      Noooo, it’s so pristine here. Commenting is like walking on fresh snow.

      Over at AVC, it’s like walking on…well, y’know.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      I think it wouldn’t be practical, considering the amount of comments even the Newswire gets. This will probably get less practical the more popular Gameological gets.

      • Enkidum says:

        They did have a We Read What You Wrote There feature, but it died after they introduced Discus for some reason.

      • Asinus says:

        The obvious solution is to become hostile toward new posters and to advise our friends to stay away!

        • HobbesMkii says:

           I plan to actively hunt newcomers for sport, especially those with insightful and thought-provoking comments.

  2. HobbesMkii says:

    Sierra Entertainment must have had a thing for sexual jokes. We lost a great developer/publisher when Activision shuttered them four years ago (although, they’d been a shadow of themselves for about the decade prior to that).

  3. Mr. Glitch says:

    Hi everybody, Mr. Glitch here with another classic game (related thing) review!

    Late last week, I received my very own ROB, The NES Robot in the mail. Well as usual, the eBay gods giveth and they taketh away, because he looked like he spent the last 25 years at the bottom of the ocean. However, with a little elbow grease, a couple of minor solder burns and two fingers super-glued together, I got the little bugger working again.

    ROB, or Robotic Operating Buddy, was an accessory included in the original NES Deluxe Set in 1985. Retailers, still reeling from the video game market crash of 1983 were reluctant to devote shelf space to another failed game console in potentia, so Nintendo hedged its bets by shopping the NES as not only a game console but a toy that could be shelved in the toy section. That’s where ROB came in. Ostensibly, he was an accessory used to interact with certain NES games, but in reality, he was just a sales gimmick.

    ROB can slide his torso up and down, rotate side to side, and close his arms to grasp and hold certain objects. He receives his instructions from the NES via a series of flashes on the TV screen that are picked up by a photocell in ROB’s head. Along ROB’s base are a series of slots used to attach the unique accessories that each game uses. Speaking of games, a whopping two ROB games were released: Gyromite, which was bundled with ROB and Stack-Up. When the NES gained popularity, ROB was dropped from the NES lineup and quickly forgotten, save for a few cameos in later games.

    In  Gyromite, you play as Professor Hector who has somehow locked his dumb self in his lab with evil dinosaur-things called snicks, and a whole bunch of lit dynamite. Your goal is to avoid the snicks and collect all the dynamite. Controller one moves the professor, while controller two slides columns up and down that allow the professor to pass, reach heights and squish snicks. How does one person play with two controllers, you may ask? ROB is player two! Yep, just as soon as you attach all those damn accessories. To start, you slot the NES controller into a holder with a couple of levers used to actuate the A & B buttons. Then, you attach an electric spinner used to spin weighted tops, called gyros, up to speed. Finally, you attach a holder used to keep the gyros in place when they’re not being used. The whole goal of this Rube Goldbergian assemblage is to use ROB to place a gyro on the spinner, get it up to speed, pick it up and drop it on the actuator level with the color corresponding to the color of the column you want to move–and you have to accomplish all of this before you get cornered by a snick, because Professor Hector can’t jump or defend himself beyond briefly distracting the snicks with radishes. What fun!

    By itself, Gyromite is an amusing, but very simple arcade-style puzzle platformer. Unfortunately, all of the game’s challenge comes from manipulating ROB himself. He moves at a glacial pace, and his moves can’t be canceled before they complete–frustrating as hell if you accidentally tell ROB to move in the wrong direction. The gyros he picks up will often slip out of his claws and skitter across the floor or lose momentum and fall off the actuator’s button. I get the feeling Gyromite was adapted for use with ROB at the last minute, since he never makes an appearance in the game, and all of ROB’s functions could have been performed by the A & B buttons on the first controller.

    A copy of Stack-Up complete with all of its accessories is one of the hardest 1st-party NES titles to find, so unfortunately I don’t own it and have never played it. As I understand, it plays a bit like the old Tower Of Hanoi puzzle, wherein you use ROB to move stacks of multicolored pucks, one puck at a time, from one platform to the other. You’re scored on how few moves you take to complete the puzzle, but it’s a complete mystery to me how or even if ROB knows when you’ve succeeded. Maybe it’s the first video game to be played on the honor system! Much like ROB himself, that would be an interesting footnote in gaming history.

    Thanks for reading my review! Next week, the battle for Arrakis begins with Dune II!

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      I’ve always wondered about ROB. I never expected it was any fun, but I’m a HUGE sucker for gimmicky accessories for games. Especially when they’re used in creative ways (i.e. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat on the Gamecube).

      So in Gyromite, ROB actually manipulates an NES controller by placing spinning tops on the A and B buttons? That sounds kinda awesome! Even though it doesn’t work in practice, I would love to play around with that. Reminds me of that TV show/game that was featured in a story here a while back.

      Very interesting, thanks!

      • Mr. Glitch says:

        Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. Thanks for setting up that Steam group, too.

        Yeah, basically you use ROB and that whole crazy setup to just press buttons on an NES controller. It’s hard for me to describe in words, so here’s a picture of the whole mess:

        http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/nintendouk,review-28587.html

        The NES controller fits into that holster thing in front of ROB. It is pretty cool to watch him in action, but it has to be the single most awkward way to play a video game. After a while, I moved ROB out of the way and started pressing the levers with my feet.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          That is actually kinda cool looking. How much did that lil guy set you back? I’d really love to get my hands on one.

        • Mr. Glitch says:

          He cost me 60 bucks plus shipping. FYI: you’ll need to use an old-school CRT television with ROB, as he doesn’t work with any other type.

    • Enkidum says:

      My friend Stephan had the original NES with ROB, and I guess we played Gyromite on it (I was 9, I don’t remember it that well). I do remember that unless you were positioned exactly right relative to it and the screen, the viewing experience was pretty awful. 

  4. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    Everything’s comin’ up Douchetoevsky!

  5. doyourealize says:

    Speaking of Steam (let’s watch membership #s climb now!) and recommendations, they’ve got a ridiculous amount of games on sale right now, and a lot of games I thought about getting at some point (Cave Story, Dredmor, Vessel, Dungeon Defenders, Stacking, Darwinia, Breath of Death/Cthulu Saves the World), so I figured this might be a decent place for any game recommendations if someone’s played something especially inspiring that’s nice and cheap this weekend.

    I’ll start with Beat. Trip Beat. A really simple, addicitve, Pong-type game that can really get you bobbing your head to the music.  You might not play for hours at a time, but for a short session it’s a lot of fun.  At times, the shapes can get distracting and cause you to mess up, but overall it’s an enjoyable experience.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      The one game I cannot plug more than enough is “SpaceChem.” I had to quit playing for a while, since I was spending crazy amounts of timing working through the late-game puzzles, all of which require hours of effort, regardless of skill. Then again, I’m into stuff like that . . . I’m in the process of playing an online puzzle hunt called “The Black Letter Game” and let me tell you, the hours fly by.

      “Binding of Isaac” is a rouge-like must-have, especially with the expansion releasing early next week. (And if you don’t have “Super Meat Boy” yet, get on that.) And while I’m not sure what else is on sale, “Anomaly,” “Aquaria,” “Blocks that Matter,” “Hamilton’s Great Adventure,” “Jamestown,” “Sequence,” and “Saira” have brought me hours of fun — and are pretty damn unique in their own ways.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        I’ll go ahead and throw some more love on Binding of Isaac. Really fun game, great for a medium sized gaming session.

        • Maudib says:

          A warning to would-be purchasers of the Binding of Isaac: there is no save.  Each game is a one-off run where you either defeat the last boss or die en route.  Either way your character is wiped out and you start all over again from scratch for the next game.  Each game lasts an hour and despite no save and the short run time, the variety of items/randomized enemies and maps provides repeat playability.

          People following the recommendation have been thrown off and discouraged by not knowing this ahead of time.

      • doyourealize says:

        I actually have SpaceChem. While I really wish I could get into it, I got to the fucking tutorial level with double bonds and couldn’t even come close to figuring it out. Maybe I’ll just Youtube it so I can get it, but it made me feel pretty stupid.

        I also have Binding of Isaac, and while I haven’t had any particularly inspiring moments playing it, I do enjoy it every once in a while, although I have yet to beat it.

        And I’ll check out Sequence again.  I’ve heard good things but got distracted by something else last time I started playing (plus the voice-acting is “Great Performances with Arthur M. Gameological III” bad).

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          Yeah, that’s SpaceChem for it. It’ll make you feel really, really stupid. But the satisfaction once you finally figure out how something works — that’s divine. Forget YouTube, though, check out: 
          http://spacechem.net/leaderboards

          Seeing the “shortest” solution maps should reveal some of the advanced tips (dead-end-loops and rotational pauses) that are necessary to master, and I don’t really consider building off of what others have done on levels you DID complete to be cheating. (That said, I gave up on some of the optional levels; SOOOO hard.)

          • doyourealize says:

            Checked out that site, and while it’s interesting, I need to figure out the basics before I jump in with all that advanced bullshit. I did look up the solution on Youtube, though, and realized my problem. For some reason, I thought I had to create the bond, drop it, grab two more molecules and bond them, then bond both of the bonded molecules together (does that make sense?). I was making it way more complicated than it needed to be. Hopefully now I can make some progress, since I really like the concept.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          @doyourealize:disqus Makes perfect sense, much like the game (which is why I love it). If you can master SpaceChem, you’re probably meant to be a programmer at heart — just learn a different language, no? — because the game keeps adding logic patterns (if/then splitters, nested loops) that parallel coding. Rock Band and the like get a lot of credit for making learning an instrument look cool (I’m speaking more of Pro mode and the Expert Drums); it’s a shame more credit isn’t given to games like Mavis Beacon for teaching typing or SpaceChem for really drilling logic into your mind. 

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Civ V is having a free weekend, meaning you can download the full game a and try it out for the weekend, and it’s also on sale for like $7.50. I haven’t tried it yet, but it is a Civ game so it can’t be all bad.

      As for all the indie games on sale, Braid is obviously a good buy at $2.50 if you haven’t played it yet. I can also HIGHLY RECOMMEND Psychonauts at $5, just a great game all around. I think Double Fine has the rights to it now so the devs actually get money from it instead of whoever the publisher was. There are a few more Double Fine games in there that should be worth a buy (Stacking and Costume Quest).

      Dungeon Defenders is a pretty cool Tower Defense/3rd person hack and slash affair with coop. Has a loot system if you’re into that. More importantly though, I own it already and don’t have anyone to play with! If anyone is interested, I’d definitely be up for some multiplayer.

      Ohhh, and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Frozen Synapse. It’s an asynchronous turn based strategy game. You plan out the next five seconds of the game in your turn (which guys go where, what direction they face, whether or not to crouch, etc) while your opponent does the same thing. After both turns are submitted the game plays out the plans that you both submitted at the same time. It’s a TON of fun. The meat of the game is multiplayer and the battles are 1v1, but you can have multiple games going at once. So you open up the game, take your turn in whatever games you have open, and then you can exit out. It’s like future chess or something. It’s great for quick bursts, or you can hang around and find some people who are actively playing games. I’ll be up for playing people in this too, if anyone is interested. I think it also comes with a giftable copy of the game to send to someone, so you could find someone to pair up with and halve the cost, or just give it to someone, or use it in a trade. 

      Dungeons of Dreadmor is also a pretty solid casualish roguelike. I had a pretty good time with it, and it’s very cheap.

      Holy shit I just wrote a lot more than I was anticipating.

      • HobbesMkii says:

         Also having a free weekend: Red Orchestra 2, for people into WWII shooters (now that the market’s over-saturated with “modern” shooters, WWII is fresh again!)

      • The_Misanthrope says:

        Neat!  I suspect my wimpy little netbook isn’t beefy enough to play Civ 5, but for those prices, I’m willing to give it a try.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          Just download it before you buy it! The free weekends are great for seeing how well a game will run on your computer. I remember hearing about how it was unoptimized when it was released and ran poorly, but it may have been patched by now. Good luck! Also, Steam has Civ III and Civ IV if you want a Civ fix and your tech is holding you back. IV is my personal favorite, though I haven’t tried V yet, it looks a bit simplified (no religions!).

      • HobbesMkii says:

         Hrm…looking at Dungeon Defenders. Now that I’ve finished Orcs Must Die, I could go for another 3rd Person TD. And the fact it’s on sale is drawing me to it.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          DO IT. I seriously need some people to play it with. I got it in the hopes that my friends would play with me, but one friend got Orcs Must Die instead, so i never even got to try the multiplayer. I haven’t sunk much time into it at all (maybe a few hours) but I’d totally be willing to reinstall if some people were up for a game sometime.

        • HobbesMkii says:

           @Douchetoevsky:disqus Well, I just bought it, so I’m firing it up right now and checking it out.

      • doyourealize says:

        Kind of had an eye on Frozen Synapse.  Maybe I’ll see what that’s all about.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          It’s really just a great package. The presentation suits the gameplay perfectly, and the gameplay is tremendously fun and satisfying. 

      • Asinus says:

        Oh man! I need to get home to my stemputer and get ahold of Civ V! I just played through the DOS version the other week and it really revived an urge to play Civs! I still think that II is my favorite. IV is great, but really requires more attention than I sometimes want to give a game.

        DOS Civ is PURE dice roll. I lost 3 or 4 battle ships to settlers. That used to make me yowl in rage, but now I’m used to the hilarity of it. Yeah, even Civ II uses a roll system, essentially, but with hit points, it’s virtually impossible for a settler (or almost any other unit not behind coastal defenses) to fight off an attacking battleship. It had a bit more micro managing.

        III Sucked.

        IV is great fun and introduces a 3D world! what was tons of fun was using 3D shutter glasses with it. The world looked like it was below the UI and that the UI was more of a HUD projected on the window between the world and your god-like perspective. The best advance was the introduction of many ways to win. It really encouraged trade, treaties, etc. In the earlier civs, treaties were mostly annoyances in my opinion.

        Cant wait to see the hex-grid of V and see what else there is under the hood.

        DOS civ is still special. MT-32 music and sounds are fantastic.

    • Raging Bear says:

      Ooh, thanks for the heads up. I’ve been waiting for Cave Story to go on sale for a while.

  6. Shain Eighmey says:

    Hey! I’m really honored for you to have chosen my comment to be worthy of highlight. Thanks you and please keep the insightful articles coming! It’s fun to discuss topics beyond the extreme surface level of most websites reside. 

    • Effigy_Power says:

       I on the other hand feel perfectly entitled to be immortalized in this form, as almost every 9th or 15th comment I post is not just haphazardly assembled out of sticks and bird-poo. The rest is pretty much goo.

  7. jessec829 says:

    I apologize in advance for how extraordinarily off topic this is, but I can’t think of any better place to ask:

    So the other day I started playing Persona 4 on PS2 (I know, I’m late to every party). Anyway, I was totally digging the game, but then suddenly my console could no longer read the disc. Pissed that my brand new copy of the game was broken, I bought another copy so I could keep playing. Again, I played for awhile, things were going great, I died (whoops), and . . . the console stopped reading the disc. My console doesn’t seem to have problems with other PS2 games (including other SMT games), but it steadfastly refuses to play either copy of P4 anymore (the first calls up the swirly red screen ordering me to put in a PS2 disc, while the second recognizes that I have put a PS2 disc in but defaults back to the memory card or disc select screen after trying to read it). Does anyone have an explanation/cure for this phenomenon, or do I need to 1) give up on playing P4, or 2) invest in a new PS2?

    Again, sorry about all this.