The DigestVideo

Games Of April 2012: Fez

Two critics with divergent impressions of a hyped indie release.

By John Teti • May 7, 2012

In this month’s edition of The Digest, Chris Plante joins me as we discuss a few noteworthy games that hit consoles in April: Fez, Trials Evolution, and Prototype 2. Chris is an editor-at-large for Polygon, which is in its pre-launch phase, operating under the umbrella of technology site The Verge for now.

We start out with Fez, one of the most anticipated indie games ever. I love Fez. Chris doesn’t. So we hash it out over a couple plates of delicious Stouffer’s french-bread pizza, the pizza that may or may not have pizza sauce.

Our friends at Brooklyn Comics & More were busy preparing for Free Comic Book Day, so we taped this installment of The Digest in Pete Strackmeier’s living room. It’s actually pretty nice once you get past the cat smell.

Tomorrow: Trials Evolution.

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  • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

    Aww man. Should have gone with pepperoni…

    I’m so hungry right now.

    • HobbesMkii

      Frozen pizzas always seem like a good idea, but then you’re stuck eating frozen pizza.

      • Aaron Riccio

        Well, hopefully you’re stuck eating unfrozen pizza at that point. If not, then I see a larger problem.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       It’s making me a bit nostalgic. I grew up in a town with a big Stouffer’s plant (is that the right word? ‘factory’? ‘distributor’?) that had an outlet where you could get bulk/cheap Stouffer’s frozen shit. Most of my self-prepared summer vacation lunches came from  the massive pile of massively discounted Stouffer’s frozen lunches (including those pizzas) in our garage freezer.

      • Raging Bear

        ‘Mine’?

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          “My God, we’ve hit the mother lode of chicken carbonara!”
          “And with that vein of mac and cheese we found yesterday, we’ll be rich!”

        • Raging Bear

          @Merve2:disqus Remember the news of that terrible cave-in? The miners nearly managed to eat their way out before they all died of hypertension-induced heart failure. Tragic.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          Reminds me of an old “Ask Dr. Science” skit where he insists that Triscuits and pretzels are not made, but mined from various caves.

        • The Guilty Party

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus This so-called ‘Doctor’ Science sounds fraudulent to me!

          Everyone knows Triscuits are farmed in the Andes mountains.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Triscuit: now with 75% less llama feces!”

        • Aaron Riccio

          @Merve2:disqus : Right, and 0% pink slime! (At least, we hope.)

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @google-19efbd0104cbaffa5782aef5b7104019:disqus: I don’t know about you, but the pink slime was a selling point for me.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          I just gave you a couple of likes.  You should now be ahead of me in the ratings.  I was tired of my rule and want to be able to fit in with the commoners again.

        • Raging Bear

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus Ha! Now we’re tied! Clearly, we’ll always be close regardless of who’s pulled ahead at a given moment, so the thing to do is share the title. But I call 60/40 on the groupies.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus and @Raging_Bear:disqus: Sorry, this lucky bastard already got all the groupies.

  • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

    I understand why someone would want something to be more streamlined but I admire any game that just gives you a situation and let’s you figure it out yourself. When I played through Uncharted 3 I tried to hurry and solve things before Drake would tell me what to do next just so I could have the satisfaction of doing it myself. Zelda’s Navi was a good compromise but some of her stand-ins (let’s face it they’re all just Navi in disguise) have been frustratingly too helpful.

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Agreed. I’m working on a piece about that very phenomenon you’re talking about in Uncharted 3 (although from a slightly different angle) and why it’s problematic.

      • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

        Cool. I look forward to reading it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

        Oh, man, I can’t WAIT until the Uncharted 3 piece. After the hype has died down it’s gonna be great to talk about it and the very real disappointment that the game possesses.

    • caspiancomic

       Yeah, in the last five or so years games seem to be struggling to develop a system that will clue players into their next goal in case it’s not clear (or has been forgotten), and not a lot of studios seem to realize that you need to balance something like that so that it isn’t insulting your intelligence by giving you unsolicited advice every two or three minutes. Suikoden V had a nice system, where the main character is always followed by a supporting character who can be spoken to in order to remind you about what it is you’re supposed to be doing. But anything where the characters think aloud to themselves about what their next objective is, especially if they do it more than once, unprompted, in a very short time span, makes me feel like game designers think I’m an idiot.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I haven’t played many puzzle games recently, to be honest, but one that has a good hints system is Stacking. The game won’t give you hints unless you specifically ask for them. Each hint you ask for reveals more of the solution. The first is cryptic, like a riddle. The second is vague, but more straightforward. The third practically gives away the solution.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          That sounds almost identical to the hint system from the Professor Layton games on DS. Also, I really need to try Stacking, I love me some Double Fine.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus: Stacking is a lovely little game. It’s clearly made for a “family” audience, and at times, it leans quite heavily on burp-and-fart-related humour, but the puzzles are a lot of fun, and some of them have very clever solutions.

          Also, it’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. It doesn’t use a whole lot of complicated effects; you should be able to run it at max settings at 1920×1080 on a mid-range computer. But the art direction is just fantastic. Playing the game feels like walking through a magical land of toys, almost like a dollhouse come to life. And I just love the whole silent film aesthetic they used.

      • HobbesMkii

        I hate it when a game keeps sending you alerts about things it thinks you should be doing. I was playing Company of Heroes (which, frankly, isn’t the world’s most fiendishly difficult game) the other night and every few minutes the guy who briefs you will very forcefully suggest that you need to carry out the primary objective. Seriously? No shit, Sherlock.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           Some of the Telltale adventure games, even with hints turned down, will do that to you, and it’s annoying. Sometimes I’ll be freely exploring, intentionally directionless, and the character will muse to himself, spoiling a puzzle I haven’t even started dealing with yet.

      • The Guilty Party

        The problem is not finding the magic balance. The problem is that the magic balance point is different for every person. A game that is insultingly obvious to one person can be bafflingly opaque to another.

        But alongside that, yes, companies are still managing to get both ends of it screwed up. Look at Skyrim: you either have arrows pointing exactly where you need to go, or *nothing*. Many, many quests are so vague that if you did not have the magic arrow on the map, you would not be able to carry out the task.

        • caspiancomic

           Good point, actually, which I think bolsters the idea that a player-driven hint system (or one that can be toggled in the menus, like the control tutorials and Omochao hints in Sonic Generations) is probably the best solution we have so far.

          I think the ideal model is Professor Layton’s hint coins: they just sit there taking up space until you really need them, you’re never penalized for taking advantage of them, they’re never necessary to solve a puzzle, they never offer unsolicited advice or solutions, and the more of them you use on any given puzzle the more straightforward their advice becomes. Completely optional, the player decides when and if to use them, and they’re coy at first but eventually give way to basically offering you the solution on a silver platter. Damn near the perfect hint system.

          (although I think Level 5 could stand to adjust the number of hint coins in the game. I always have multiple hundreds of coins by the game’s end, and over the course of the series I’ve gotten to the point where I use them fairly liberally)

          (then again, I guess the games are designed to be as accessible as possible to non-gamers and young gamers alike, and there are probably people who use four hint coins on every puzzle just to advance the story and experience the great narratives and music and whatever, so maybe the abundance of hint coins is actually a more deliberate design decision than I’ve given them credit for)

        • Aaron Riccio

          @caspiancomic:disqus : Yes, I think you’re answering your own question here re: the hint coin system. They hardly even need to bother making you search for them (I find the tap-everything-mechanic annoying, and taking away from my enjoyment of the illustrated world); just allow us to unlock hints at any time, which is basically what ends up happening in any case. 

          I like a challenge in my game (as I mentioned a few weeks ago when we were discussing the validity of “cheats” in a game), but I would never want to hold anybody *else* back from finishing a game. 

          I do, however, feel as if hints are too readily available, and I’d extend the mechanic from Pendulo’s “Yesterday” (I don’t think they were the first, but it’s the first that I can recall): at any time, you can click for a hint. But you can’t get another, more specific one, until you’ve first actually TRIED a few things. My extension might be to place hints on a timer, so as to force players to remain stuck for a certain amount of time BEFORE interjecting a solution. (This is what others are complaining about above with Uncharted 3, which starts giving you the solutions, but long before you’ve asked for them.)

          Some balance between these two models, perhaps? In summary: don’t even make a player PERMANENTLY stuck — but don’t simply allow them to STROLL THROUGH, either. I can’t help but feel that something is lost at either of these two extremes.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

          I prefer Dark Souls’ suggestive approach to Skyrim telling you exactly where to go.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

        The Monkey Island remakes have a pretty good hint system. They prod gently at first (Do you have something that you could trade with the Prisoner?)

    • HobbesMkii

       I think there’s an accessibility that can’t be underestimated. Games have a problem that most other media don’t: you have to learn how to play each game. You only have to learn how to read a book or watch television once (or twice, if you delve into non-linear narratives).

      Portal for instance, introduces a unique mechanic and says, “here’s how you do this, here’s how you do that.” Then it stops providing help, and the science really begins. Certainly, the later levels provide a lot more satisfaction than the early ones, but it you hadn’t played the early ones, it would have been like someone setting you down with all the parts for a jet engine and saying “build it” without telling you what each one did.

      • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

        I think Portal is a great example of a game that finds the right balance. I do like harder puzzle games but I would never accuse Portal of “holding your hand”. 

        • HobbesMkii

          I think it’s a great example of a lot of things that ought to be better done in videogames.

        • 3FistedHumdinger

           I used to think Portal was brutally hard, then realized no, it’s just glitchy as hell.

        • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC

          I don’t really remember it being that difficult or glitchy. What platform did you play it on?

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Maybe I’m misinterpreting what @3FistedHumdinger:disqus is saying, but in the original Portal, there was far less portal placement adjustment, so you had to make sure to aim your portal gun at exactly the correct angle, or the conjectured solution might not work as intended. Portal 2 fixed that up a bit by adjusting portal placement so that firing “near” a solution would automatically place the portal exactly where it needed to be for the solution to work.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I don’t think that’s really a glitch though. Also, I think the only part of Portal 2 that they made foolproof was the last portal you shoot is always the correct color, no matter which button you press, or something like that. 

          I remember reading that the console releases could be glitchy (particularly the PS3), but I played on PC and it was flawless. I love that game so much.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus: I remember that from the developer commentary, and I think it only applies to a couple of locations in the game. In one of the last levels, there’s a part where you’re travelling through an excursion funnel above a deep chasm, and the last portal you fired is behind you. You have a very short window of time in which to fire the next portal, and they found that playtesters often couldn’t remember the colour of the last portal they’d fired. So, in order not to penalize them for that, the developers made it so that as long as you reacted quickly enough, the correct portal would fire.

      • stakkalee

        I definitely think you’re on to something with the issue of accessibility.  I’m remembering all the old Sierra games like The Black Cauldron or Zak McKracken – once you’ve played one Sierra game you basically understand the interface and how to use it, and then the game just gets out of the way and lets you figure out what to do next.  Unless you used the hint book, you cheater.  (I used the hint book all the time.)

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          The biggest problem with a lot of the old adventure games was the classic inventory item combination puzzle.  Making a “puzzle” out of combining inventory items in a way that wasn’t remotely intuitive was really aggravating. 

          Return to Zork was the worst example of this.  The damn incinerator/underwire-bra thing especially…being about 13 at the time, how the hell was I supposed to know a bra had an underwire in it?

          The original Sam and Max also had incomprehensible item combinations, but they were all humorous, so I excuse them from this judgement.  (The extendable zombie hand being used repeatedly was genius!)

          I think I mentioned this in a comment a while back, but that’s what made Full Throttle so much fun to me.  Locked door?  Forget going through 15 steps to find or make a key, just kick it down!  And the puzzles that did require items (like fixing your bike) made logical sense.

        • caspiancomic

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus One game that came up with a creative solution to the whole “hopelessly illogical inventory item combination puzzle” phenomenon was Capcom’s Zack and Wiki. They solved this problem on multiple levels, as well. First, the game is split up into multiple “levels”, each with their own puzzles to solve, instead of having one long narrative with puzzles necessary to solve along the way in order to progress. Second, instead of having dozens of items with one use each, there is a smaller number of items that reoccur throughout the game and which each have multiple uses. Third, Zack doesn’t have a traditional inventory at all, and can only pick up and carry one item from around the stage at a time. It’s actually a really great, sharp, well-designed game. Shame Capcom seems hellbent on not following it up with anything.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          @caspiancomic:disqus  – Oh yeah, I played the first level of Zack and Wiki, and remember that mechanic pretty well.  As I recall the game has a pretty decent sense of humor, too.  I’m not sure why I haven’t played more of it…I’ll have to see if I still own it, or if it was one I got during my brief GameFly membership.

        • Aaron Riccio

          @caspiancomic:disqus : If I remember Zack and Wiki properly, my one complaint with that game was that you could die, and it wasn’t always easy to make the game execute your commands on cue. I hated having to redo *EVERYTHING* in a level just because I’d whiffed one thing at the end, and I’d certainly call myself a fan of liberal checkpoints — enough to create a challenge, not enough to make me rage quit. 

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus : Full Throttle was fantastic, but I’d actually say that yes — while kicking the door down seemed far more direct, it was probably even harder for experienced puzzlers who would never, ever in a million years think of something so obvious. Then again, some real-world puzzles — like the siphoning one — were only obvious in retrospect (how many of us, after all, have ever done that?), and let’s not forget the sillier puzzles, such as the navigation of a mine-field via Energizer bunnies, or the demolition derby’s purposeful destruction. (To your point, though, even these things seemed wholly logical.)

          Games like “Return to Zork” and a few others (I think it was a King’s Quest or Quest for Glory) irritate me in that they have timing-specific events, whereas if you’ve crossed a bridge too many times or forgotten to water a plant, etc., you’ll be unable to finish the game. I don’t appreciate that.

        • caspiancomic

           @google-19efbd0104cbaffa5782aef5b7104019:disqus Yeah, Zack and Wiki isn’t perfect, and being able to die is a bizarre and unnecessary feeling design choice. Plus it introduces never before used mechanics in its final stage and expects you to literally live and die by them, which is one of my personal bugbears of game design. But pound for pound I think it was a really great title.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

        Fez has an easy mechanic. Rotate world. What could be simpler than that?

        • HobbesMkii

           Well, I haven’t played it, so I don’t know that anything could be. I’m sure the mechanic is pretty simple (it certainly looks simple). My point was simply in reply to @ShitMcFuckensteinAVC:disqus’s about games that teach you to swim by tossing you into the deep end. I didn’t mean to impugn Fez’s reputation (I did that in the comments for the review already).

    • feisto

      Yeah. I can’t help but feel that this trend is overcompensation for the opacity that you used to get in a lot of NES and SNES era games. At best, you’d have a fun world to explore at your own pace, making unexpected discoveries in gameplay and the game world that made you want to keep exploring. At worst, you’d be running around in circles until you found out through luck or strategy guides that you needed to talk to a random dog three times for no good reason until it stopped barking and told you what you needed to do next. (I may be exaggerating slightly.)

      But now that developers are contending with huger budgets, it’s like they’re almost afraid to implement any obstacle that might frustrate the average gamer’s progress and lead to bad word-of-mouth. The worst culprit in recent memory was the DS Ni no Kuni, which basically gave away the solution to every puzzle before you even had a chance to tackle it on your own.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        Well, that’s because it was a game intended for young children and a broad audience.  Now, throw in the facts that 1. children are capable of greater deduction than that, as you mentioned 2. sales were poor, ESPECIALLY for that design strategy and 3. Lightning 11 and Cardboard Troopers are megahits in and out of the demographic AND are much more complex, and you’ve come up with the real problem.

        I get doubting a broad audience if the developer is new, but why do so with a proved track record?

        • feisto

          Oh, it was definitely geared to younger gamers, I’m not denying that, but it was weird how the game seemed to want to believe that gamers who could grasp its somewhat strategic combat system wouldn’t be able to figure out its simple logic based puzzles without the game waving the answer in their faces. On a side note, you could write a whole essay on that game’s peculiar design choices.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

        There were a lot of brutally difficult puzzles very early on in NES era games. Part of that comes from the fact that “the rules” hadn’t really been established. In Crystalis, for example, I got stuck because I didn’t realize that I needed to level up my character to make him able to damage the boss. In Final Fantasy, it took me a couple of frustrating hours before I learned how to equip weapons and armor. 

        I get annoyed when game reviewers say things like “This isn’t my first videogame!” when criticizing a tutorial. Odds are, this is someone’s first video game. 

        • feisto

          I also lean towards the idea of tutorials being a force for good, but I think that once the general rules are established, the game should let you have at it, undisturbed. If there’s a bombing mechanic in the game, and the tutorial does a thorough job of teaching you how to set and trigger bombs, I don’t want it telling me when I find myself in front of a brick wall that seems to be blocking the only way forward, “Hey, look at that brick wall! Maybe you can set a bomb by it and destroy it!” It’s all about balance, I think.

        • Aaron Riccio

          @feisto:disqus : Right. Good game design teaches you the game in as unobtrusive a way as possible — using specific “tutorials” only if absolutely necessary — and then backs off completely. As I said elsewhere, I’m in favor of implementing a hint system for those who *do* need an extra push, but I can think of no logical reason for not giving players the option of turning hints off.

    • Staggering Stew Bum

      I understand your point, but Uncharted is not about puzzle solving, it’s about murdering bad guys. The puzzles are there to remind the player that Drake is an intelligent treasure hunter who has researched everything about the MacGuffin and jots down the clues in his little Henry Jones Sr Grail diary, he’s not just a wisecrackin’ guy who turns up and shoots everyone.

      From a gameplay perspective these puzzle sections give players a brief break from massacring waves of witless mercenaries. But the developer doesn’t want players to be bogged down in a booooring puzzle when they would prefer to be shotgunning pirates in the face, so they make the solution prompt pop up relatively quickly ensuring that the ADHD sufferer doesn’t throw their controller at the wall in frustration and switch it out for Black Ops (I think that prompt can be disabled anyway now that I think about it).

      It’s not like the puzzles are particularly mentally taxing, though I still have no idea how you’re meant to arrive at the solution to that one in the basement of the chateau in Uncharted 3.

      • Raging Bear

        I rather liked that puzzle (thinking of the one with the grid of symbols on the wall, which I could spoil for you if you like, unless you meant another one I’ve forgotten), although the one slightly earlier with the suits of armor particularly struck me as clever. It didn’t even occur to me until now, but their solutions are even thematically related. All the more shame the way the game devolved into utter brainlessness toward the end.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

          There’s so much to talk about Uncharted 3 that I don’t even know when to begin. Teti’s upcoming write up on should only touch upon everything that was problematic about the experience. What makes it so egregious is that the game is brimming with ideas and they fail to execute them in any engaging fashion, and even failing the little things.

          I’m starting to agree with the AVClub’s C- grade, although not for any of the reasons the review mentioned.

      • caspiancomic

         Shotgunning pirates in the face is all well and good, but puzzles are not boring, like, intrinsically, they’re boring if they’re poorly or lazily implemented, derivative, or pointlessly or artificially difficult. We’re not trying to bag on Uncharted or anything (at least, I’m not, I haven’t even played it), we’re just saying that if a game is “about” murdering bad guys, make it about that properly, and don’t dilute your game with puzzles if your heart’s not really in them.

        If I was playing a straight puzzle solving game, I wouldn’t want the game to throw a bunch of bad guys at me and then just kill them all off without me having to do anything.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          This is exactly what I was thinking as I read that comment. “Ugh, these puzzles suck, let’s have the character blurt out the solutions, because that will make it more fun somehow.” That’s shitty design. You could rationalize it so much better than that. 

      • Aaron Riccio

        I strongly disagree: that’s like calling Tomb Raider a game that’s primarily about shooting T-Rexes and leopards. Uncharted lived and died by its Indiana Jones-like atmosphere and pacing, and the puzzles made up a larger part of that. If the designers were truly worried about losing audiences to Black Ops, they would’ve just made yet another FPS. Then again, this might be wishful thinking on my part, and it would totally explain why the 3D Indiana Jones franchise (Infernal Machine and the like) died out to be replaced by the action-heavy Lego series.

        • Staggering Stew Bum

          What I was trying to say was if someone is looking for a game with decent puzzles then Uncharted is not the best place to look. The primary concerns of Uncharted are combat and traversal… the occasional puzzles are secondary.

          An interesting note (and why I referenced Black Ops) is that for Uncharted 3 the developer tweaked their multiplayer by making it more COD-ish, kill streak rewards, customisation! and all that shit, to appeal to a broader audience. They failed.

    • The Guilty Party

      One of the many problems with ‘ok, solve this situation’ is that game worlds aren’t real. Every interaction has to be programmed in. So if you think you should be able to wedge the door open with your dagger, the programmer better have thought of that. Or hacking into the lock with your axe. Or shooting out the window and going that way. Or lighting it on fire.

      I’m not saying you’re wrong, really. It would be utterly awesome to be in a virtual reality but with lasers and unicorns and dragons. But programmers have to provide a finite number of solutions to problems, and thus they need to nudge you in a correct direction or two. The degree to which they make their preferred solution obvious to the player is the degree to which they’re good game designers, I guess.

  • HobbesMkii

    I wonder if I would even have the patience for Myst these days.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      *Sierra fanboy moment*  This is the thing that always got me about deathless puzzle/graphic/text adventure games’ critics.  Deathless games count on that reaction and design around it.

      Sierra games used death and textual descriptions the same way our body uses the pain response.  We know we’re doing something wrong when our fingers are chapped to bleeding or if, I don’t know, we’re looking at our guts on Kiz Urazgubi.  By expecting those moments, we think more carefully and act more decisively.

      I love austerity in my art, but Myst and Fez are outright sensory deprivation tanks.  You’re given the most basic guidance, but because your actions have no consequences, you’re free to fiddle around until you happen upon the answer.  Experimentation fills in the ”context” for you instead of narrative or observation.  If we want games to have “unity of purpose,” the testing should be in your head, not on the screen.  If it’s not purposely abstract, I find it lazy.

      (I do enjoy a lot of the Myst series, that written.)

      • HobbesMkii

        Don’t give the books the last page! That’s your consequence.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         The deaths didn’t bother me as much in those games as their penchant for becoming quietly unwinnable. And unlike the deaths, there was often zero indication (or no indication until it was far too late) that you had gotten stuck or what you had done to do so. Which is an even more catastrophic lack of feedback than the choice to have no negative consequences at all, in my opinion.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Sure.  And, of course, we’ve discussed it before.  2 new contentions:

          1.  Yeah, but I hear “unwinnable” far less than I hear “random deaths” or “obscure, far-reaching puzzles.”  The former can be debated, but I find the latter 2 unfair.  It’s the notion of failure, not the method, that disturbs so many.

          2.  I swear this isn’t an apologia, but multiple save states and game-wide puzzles make you consider a game as a whole.  To use Telltale as my example again, using “levels” or “stages” in graphic adventures allows the player to turn off his brain once he’s reached a safe space.  “I got the 1 item I need from this path (of 3), so I’m done clicking.”  Streamlined games where each screen’s puzzles are self-contained are even more intellectually limiting.  Admittedly, a couple unwinnables seem more like walkthrough bait, but most simply REALLY make you consider the environment the way you would in a shoot-’em-up.  The background is less scenery than something to master.  I mean, graphic adventures are 1 of the few genres where the player-character generally has the same abilities at the beginning of the game as he does at the end.  Why not force a player to apply his investigative skills from minute 1, then?

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @GhaleonQ:disqus
          Re: point 1, I think the “stuck”-ness is definitely the bigger design offense. Later Sierra games (SQ6, KQ7), where you could die but not get stuck weren’t as egregious (though they may have had other design issues), and The Last Express pretty masterfully turns back the clock automatically to before your “last mistake” upon any death, meaning there are consequences and a fairly complex system to interact with, but the feedback the game gives you is quite useful!

          I largely agree with point 2, as well, though I typically found that sort of thing – complex worlds, with ornate puzzles, requiring multiple saves – was much better done in (just as unforgiving) Infocom-style text adventures than in the Sierra stable of games.

          Part of that may just come down to the interface – text games can advance as fast as you can type, so while it may have taken you three hours to get to your current stuck/dead state, it could take a minute to two to get back to that point after a re-load/re-start simply typing commands and skipping the descriptions. It’s relatively short work to re-load from multiple save states and try new things. In a graphical adventure game, reloading from a relatively early point costs you lots of time traversing the world in real-time, re-watching animations, etc. And if you’re not sure exactly what got you stuck/killed, or when you sealed your fate, multiple re-loads and experiments can become a chore.

          Admittedly I came to text games as an older and more systematic thinker, rather than the elementary schoolkid I was when Perils of Rosella was abusing me and my one save state (I followed console convention, and, like Zelda, just had one “save game” under my name – BAD IDEA).

          A part of it came down to the quality of the content, too – I think I’m a bit more content-biased, whereas you’re a bit more of a formalist, especially when it comes to puzzle design (though perhaps my favorite text game – Nord & Bert – does some great formal stuff only possible in a text game, namely PUNS!!!). The text adventures typically had decent to great writing and ideas, sometimes done by established genre writers, that were compelling enough to keep trying at. The KQ games’ fairy-tale pastiche was a bit more cliched, and the SQ games’ sense of humor was a but more cheesy, and weren’t really stories I felt invested enough in to advance.

          I think the reason the classic LucasArts games suit my ideal is that they have that complexity, and those world-sized puzzles, but the never-stuck-ness and lack of death permitted you to keep experimenting, with the primary motivation being the compelling/funny story rather than the evasion of death. I suppose the carrot is not objectively any better than the stick, though. Maybe a complex system of consequences like Last Express (or the Sam & Max episode parodying it – perhaps Telltale’s highlight) is the most satisfying solution both in terms of formal and narrative concerns.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          I agree.  Once you get used to them, it can actually be fun to find all the ways to die.  Especially in the humorous games when they took the time to program in specific death sequences.

          My first Sierra adventure was Space Quest 4, and it was full of those.  It was kind of a shock where within thirty seconds of starting the game, I died by a cyborg zombie-summoned security droid.  I probably died four or five more times from that damn thing before I figured out that I could hide behind scenery to avoid it.  (Silly me, thinking that I shouldn’t be able to hide behind an object when, if it were reality, I would still be directly in the cyborg’s line of sight!)

          Here’s some of the ways to die in the game.  (Video could use a bit of editing, IMHO.)

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR-xyxO24eY

        • green_gin_rickey

           There’s a Sam & Max episode parodying Last Express? I didn’t like the mechanics of the one Telltale game I tried, but I think I can get past that for a parody of one of my favorite adventure games ever.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           @green_gin_rickey:disqus : If memory serves, it’s the second episode of the third season (which I’d say is worth playing – there are some more ambitious narrative and game structures than the previous Telltale games, even if the writing isn’t up to “Hit the Road” levels).

          The central conceit is that the characters are watching a series of film reels of their Victorian ancestors. This frees up the game to do neat stuff like have death/loss states (afterwards you “re-spool” the reel, like rewinding in Last Express), and to do nonlinear narrative (you can play the reels out of order, and sometimes have to to get necessary information to advance).

          I was really surprised by it, and it’s probably the best thing (or most ambitious, at least) Telltale has done.

        • caspiancomic

           @bakana42:disqus Re: games becoming quietly unwinnable, one of the biggest offenders in this category for me is The 7th Guest. There was a special room in the mansion that you could visit to get a hint about an unsolved puzzle, but if you use the room too many times, the true ending of the game gets locked out with absolutely no fanfare. I think the game gives you an extremely cryptic warning about not using the hints too flippantly, but I mean really. I think that game D might have had a similar system, where if you look into your hints mirror one time too many it shatters and makes the best ending impossible to reach.

          (I was debating sticking this into the conversation about the ideal hint system, and how this isn’t it, but I think it fit better here because of the whole “games getting mad at you for asking for too much help and then giving you the silent treatment on top of it” thing. Apologies if this all seems a bit scattered.)

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           @caspiancomic:disqus : That kind of sucks, too, though that may be a bit of a different thing. When you say the best ending was closed off, do you mean the game was still completable, just with a different ending?

          The type of unwinnable state endemic to old adventures is slightly more maddening, and locks you in this awful state of uncertainty where you know you’re stuck, but you don’t know if what you’re doing now is the reason you can’t proceed, or whether any action you have or haven’t done at any point in the past is the reason you can’t proceed. It’s maddening.

        • caspiancomic

          @bakana42:disqus The 7th Guest became literally unwinnable, I believe. I think there was a certain door that led to the final area of the game that, if you “abused” the hint system, could no longer be opened. D just locked you out of the game’s good ending, I think. I know a lot of games lock you out of their best ending if you fail to meet certain criteria (well, technically speaking I guess they do the opposite, and only allow you to access the best ending if you complete certain tasks), but something about offering players a hint system and then punishing them for using it seems a bit sadistic.

          And I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where “failure” to collect some object or jump through any specific hoop led to a literal no-win scenario (except T7G, natch), but it sounds like the kind of thing that would drive you into a cannibalistic frenzy, particularly in the pre-GameFAQs days.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Good posts, all!

      • feisto

        What Girard said. Plus the pointless, move one-pixel-at-a-time-or-you’ll-die obstacles courses in the early games (especially the one in Space Quest II).

        • The_Misanthrope

           @GhaleonQ:disqus :  By “investigative skills”, you mean “sweep the screen methodically with the pointer until you find all the 2-pixel-by-1-pixel items” (or if the game is more forgiving “look for all the items that stand out from the foreground”), right?  This isn’t training “investigative skills”; It’s training compulsive hoarding (“Why did you pick up that rubber chicken?”  “Because I’ll probably need it for a puzzle later on, that’s why”).

          While I am definitely bothered by games that become unwinnable and don’t bother letting you know after, I am even more bothered when you have no way of knowing *beforehand* that a particular course of action is necessary to make the game winnable.  Infocom’s Deadline is a really good example, since many of the actions have to be performed at a specific time or else you don’t have the chance later.  The one “window-of-opprotunity” event that really bothered me (if I’m remembering the game correctly) took place right after the will reading early in the game:  you have to follow a specific guy or else you lose a crucial piece of evidence.  Yes, he was acting anxious and if I had an assistant, I would have surely tasked him to follow the guy, but I had other more promising leads to chase down at the time.

          My god, I stumbled upon this while doing some  cursory research on Deadline (mostly to make sure it was Deadline I was remembering and not The Witness or Suspect):

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmJSlWNrVIM

          What the hell is the point of this?

        • The_Misanthrope

           An unwinnable scenario I did like:  being told that you had “severed the threads of prophecy” and were consigned to a “doomed world” when you killed a plot-important NPC in Morrowind.  I kept a save in that unwinnable world just for kicks.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          @The_Misanthrope:disqus They’re playthroughs, naturally!  *laughs*

          See, I’d actually throw that accusation right back at you.  If you do pixelhunt in Sierra games, you’ll eventually die.  It’s deathless games that are just wars of attrition.

          Naturally, not every investigation is a winner (a couple of timed ones in King’s Quest and Gabriel Knight come to mind), but hunting in the perilous junk freighter in Space Quest III: The Pirates Of Pestulon required bravery and thoughtful investigation.  I adore that whole capsule sequence.

          I don’t remember Deadline that well (shame on me), but that happens in a lot of smaller companies’ 1990s games.  K.G.B. had it, too.  Typically, a timed choice makes you choose between two clear options.  The end of King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow does that (AND has at least 2 “1-time only” puzzle conclusions), and it’s such a great payoff.  “Man 1″ and “Man 2″ are indistinguishable to the player, as you wrote.

    • LimeadeYouth

      I started playing myst for the first time a couple of months ago. I nearly quit with the friggin organ puzzle. That’s. Not. Fun. I still enjoyed the game. Contemplating on whether I should get the series package through Steam.

      • green_gin_rickey

         The piano thing in the spaceship? I always had to get my mom or my sister to do that puzzle for me, because I never learned piano and no sense of pitch.

        Eventually I figured out how to beat the game without ever leaving the main damn island, and was all the happier for it.

  • caspiancomic

    I struggled to come up with a really cool and insightful example of a game that doesn’t hold your hand and in fact borders on total opacity in its exploration and puzzle solving mechanics but without crossing the line into being frustrating or obtuse, but all I really want to talk about is Teti’s amazing jacket.

    • HobbesMkii

      I’m pretty sure I saw Pete Campbell wearing that on Mad Men.

    • LimeadeYouth

      I think he’s either a distant cousin of Dolly Parton or a descendant of Joseph.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    John, could you go into why you think the world’s ”coherent?”  Maybe you were just referring to the mechanic, but that castle is 20 times less coherent than the worst Iga castle.  It seems clearly, clearly designed piecemeal to me.

    What marred an otherwise good episode for me was the binary discussion around “out-of-game” planning.  “People who like it will like it and those who don’t won’t!”  That’s not true for me, John, Chris, or anybody.  Some people won’t do role-playing game spreadsheets, others wouldn’t do a dungeon crawler until the DS allowed for in-game map-drawing, and graphic adventure/puzzle game manuals were real complaints before The Wave Of Infantilism came around.  I backed Chris’ position in the review topic, which is, “These people would complain if this wasn’t hyped, as they have before.”  To fans: is it simply that the game’s aura enticed you into solving (as Chris said) puzzle book puzzles?  Would you have solved 20 hours of them instead of _ hours?  Is there something about your history or their design that made you like them?  If you’re the sort of person who wants unity of purpose in your game design (no cutscenes, gameplay reflective of themes, consistent universe, et cetera), how are the 2 types of puzzles any more connected to their world than, say, Professor Layton’s?

  • Captain_Internet

    The “puzzles” in Skyrim were mostly a joke. Once you’ve solved one “Nordic puzzle door” you’ve solved all of them, and they even released a video showing you exactly what to do at E3 2011. 

    Most of the other puzzles were variations on ‘find the symbols in the room and rotate the spinny block things’. All the puzzles in the College of Winterhold quests gave you the solution before you even got there. Use the hot spell on the thing that needs to be hot, and the cold spell on the thing that needs to be cold.

    The only exception I can think of is one puzzle where you had to get the symbols for a the spinny block things from a poem. But it was still really all about the spinny block things.

    • Staggering Stew Bum

      Well if it isn’t my old friends….whale, snake and hawk. Again.

      Totally unnecessary mini time wasters when they could have had a mini boss fight for a door key or whatever.

      • HobbesMkii

        The doors that could only be opened with claws were also a fucking waste of time. If you need the specific claw to open the door, why isn’t the claw itself the key? Why do I have to rotate rings?

      • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

        or some actually tough puzzles

    • HobbesMkii

      There was one puzzle where you had to do a certain combination of lever pulling and the poles blocking a passageway would retract, but only if you did it in the right order. 

      Anyhow, by the time I got it, I’d done so many whalesnakehawks that my mind had kind of shut down and I went “fuck this bullshit” and just started pulling levers at random until everything was clear. It didn’t take as long as it could have.

  • Chip Dipson

    I’m really unnerved to see a Stouffer’s product eaten in a situation that doesn’t involve solitude.

  • Chip Dipson

    So I finished playing Fez this week. I didn’t get every cube, but I did manage to open the final door, and I was, without spoiling anything, surprisingly affected by the ending. I think what the game does better than most I’ve played, is capture through the graphics, sound, and gameplay, a very contemplative, thoughtful approach to exploration. And in the end it’s a very moving experience.

    I only have two criticisms of the game. It would have been nice to have a more streamlined level navigation system introduced once you start a new game plus, as once you’ve discovered all the areas, it becomes bothersome to get from one place to another. I also wish there was added incentive to complete all the puzzles. The simple mechanics of wondering what was behind a door once you got enough cubes was a great motivator to keep me going and find and solve more in times of frustration. I think if there was another one of Phil Fish’s forbidden closets of mystery to uncover, I would be still playing the game. I know for some players the puzzles themselves are enough to keep going, but I always appreciate a game that gives you some incentive to get to 100% (or more in this instance).

    • The_Misanthrope

       Me, too!  Once I got that 32nd cube (29 regular and 5 anti, for what it’s worth), I made a beeline for the ancient city (or I would’ve, if I hadn’t gotten lost, but I did get there).  I have no real problem with puzzles, but only I have a handle on how to reach a solution (plus I’m not going to get a smart-phone just to have a QR code reader, just so I can figure out a puzzle).  All told, I probably “solved” very few puzzles by the finish (although it all depends on your definition of “puzzle”):  the given away in the Achievements one), a couple of the “long string” ones (where you have to rotate and separate the input-code, the telescope one I just accidentally got, the “place the blocks to complete the circuit” one, and the vibrating-controller one. 

      Question for the windtalker:  Is there any specific hint in the game of how to decipher the “cube” language or do you just have to work it out Cryptoquip-style?  I found a cipher guide on GameFAQS because I had some curiosity  about what the cuboids were saying (and a suspicion that they were saying mean things about Gomez).  Spoiler:  They mostly just speak in RPG-townfolk banalities (“Hello, how are you?”  “What a nice day!”, ad nausem).  By the time I finished the game, I had actually gotten pretty good at translating the cube-speech without constantly referring back to the guide.  And my eyes were tired from straining to make out which Tetris-factory remnant was which.

      Another petty gripe about Fez:  the blessedly few but very annoying precision jumping bits.  It is alright to have your protagonist an unwieldy fathead if your jumping bits are manageable.  But when you have a block coming down on you and your little fathead is slowly pulling himself up because you just missed the platform, it is incredibly frustrating.  They were a few platforming bits that relied on switching to another perspective quickly, which makes more sense, since the perspective switching is quick enough for that to work.

      The secret of the sauce:  Bring your own damn sauce!  You can go as cheap or as fancy as you want with the sauce, but even a cheap Ragu to dip your French bread pizza in will work wonders.

    • http://twitter.com/herrzrbo herrzrbo

      There’s a bit more incentive to complete all the puzzles. Did you find the hidden door that requires all 64 cubes to open?  Then there’s the really hidden red bits you can find that don’t appear in your inventory.  I think there’s a secret ending affiliated with those red bits, but I’m not sure.

      I didn’t find the level navigation system to be a bother, the warp gates were enough to get to each of the main zones, plus there were those occasional secret doors (marked with two little cubes) that moved you to another area.

      I do have to agree with Misanthrope about the (very few) precision jumping bits.  That part in the lava dungeon was a total nightmare, luckily I used to power you gain in New Game+ (a power the game doesn’t even bother to tell you you’ve earned) to bypass it, but damn that was frustrating.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

        That lava bit was annoying, but otherwise most of it was a bit too easy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

      I’ve got 33 cubes, and I’m going to open that door today. I’m a bit annoyed that it only took me a few hours.

  • LimeadeYouth

    “It’s so CRUNCHY!” best context free moment. Could even be a site tag line.

    Oh and I think you put the pizzas too close to the top of the oven. (Unless you toaster ovened them and didn’t have a choice) I’ve had those pizzas maybe twice but they never came out with cheese quite that brown.

    Either way, you’re better off buying a baguette and applying your own sauce and cheese, plus it’s psychologically easier to add whatever fun edible stuff you have lying around the house. (I like mushrooms, myself.)

    • ToddG

      What is this, the Pizzalogical society?

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        It wouldn’t be a gaming website without a discussion of salty, high-calorie snacks.

      • caspiancomic

         God dammit, @BreakingRad:disqus, why you gotta make me laugh like that. I’m in public here.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         You know, throw a little cheese on the Gameological logo and…

  • Aurora Boreanaz

    I’m going to use a really bad segue here, but:

    The graphics in Fez remind me a bit of Minecraft – on which I spent the majority of my weekend building a castle-and-keep out of stone blocks.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but from the time I was little, any time I’m attempting to build something, hours can pass by without me even realizing it.  I used to do the same thing with Legos – get a picture in my head of something I wanted to make, and six hours later I’d be halfway done and realize I need to stop and eat.  A large portion of that time would be spent sifting through a giant pile spread out on the floor and sorting pieces I either knew I needed or thought I might need.  I never really got into sorting pieces ahead of time.  I did that once, and the next large project I built I ended up dumping the pieces all together again afterward.  Inefficient certainly, but sometimes it was fun just searching as well.

    Now that I’m married and have two small dogs running around the house, I don’t have either the time or space to deal with Legos.  (Plus I made the horrible decision to sell off my collection back in 2004, and have accumulated back maybe 1/3rd of what I used to have.  Thankfully my wife loves Legos too, so no need to ever sell them off again.)  So when I find a program or game that allows me to build my own creations, I love it.  (Sadly, the Lego Designer program itself is too limited to work very well.)

    I was late learning about Minecraft, and ended up trying out Terraria (a 2D side-scrolling Minecraft clone) first.  I liked it, but got tired of it fairly quick.

    I finally picked up Minecraft just over a week ago, and have been hooked ever since.  The experience of survival mode reminds me of the old days of Lego building – but instead of searching through a pile of pieces on the floor, I’m searching through a hundred tunnels for more coal to fuel my furnaces while trying not to get blown up by creepers or shot into lava by skeletons.

    I made the decision to construct my castle out of stone blocks…which, if you’re unfamiliar with Minecraft, requires these steps: Mine stone, which gives you cobblestone, which you then fire in a furnace back into solid stone, and then combine into bricks.  It takes 8 pieces of coal to fire 64 stone blocks.  My castle walls are 32 blocks on a side, 8 high at the corner towers, and the keep itself is 12 blocks at the base, and 16-20 tall.  I’ve used well over 50 stacks of stone bricks, and plenty of wood (for floors) and dirt/gravel (for filling insides of walls) as well.

    Next I figure I’ll go ahead and try to finish the “quest” of survival mode.  I’m trying to find more diamonds to make armor and a sword for more difficult fights.  I’ve found a whopping FOUR diamonds so far, enough to make one diamond pick, and no luck getting any more yet.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/7434UGH3EEMU2AUKTGMU3NLDZA JoshJ

       Dude, builder mode because FUUUUUUCK CREEPERS.

      I miss the mining for material, but I’ve got a megalithic dragon house that would never be finished before I got burned out otherwise.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        Heh, thankfully one of the first things I crafted was a full set of iron armor, so even a direct creeper hit only does about 5 points of damage, and I obsessively drop torches near me everywhere underground and inside my construction to avoid nearby spawns.

        So, upon looking around at other castles people have made, mine is very conservative by comparison, but I still had to do it the old fashioned way – none of this flying around with ulimited blocks bullshit.  =)

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       I definitely get into a similar headspace when working on certain projects – usually creative projects, or sometimes a really engrossing academic project. There’s a Hungarian psychologist with an insane name ( Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) who’s coined the term “Flow” for that type of intense, insane focus where the hours fly by and you forget to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom.

      Occasionally a game will do that to me, but not so much anymore.

  • SandraKLevinson
    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

      • ToddG

        Well, great, your interest got the comment removed.  THANKS A LOT, @Merve2:disqus !

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Well, you should’ve subscribed to his newsletter. :P

        • ToddG

          @Merve2:disqus   I know, but… you just… you just always think there’s gonna be time for that later, y’know?  And then one day, bam.  Comment removed.

  • Maudib

    Seeing John’s nifty little book of notes and solutions, I feel inadequate as a gamer that I don’t do that.  It shouldn’t be for every game, but I certainly should have done it for Baldur’s Gate 2.

    And Chris brings up a very good point.  Why don’t you all scan your notes to share and show off?

    • Shain Eighmey

      I did that for Deus Ex. It’s kind of fun, I have all of the key pad codes listed as well as the passwords, which gives you rather funny access to things well before you’re ever intended to have such. 

  • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

    Oh, Chris Plante. He’s such a typical game reviewer. He blames all the problems of the product on his own incompetence. The reason the bread doesn’t look like it does on the box is because you overcooked it!

    • HobbesMkii

       Which is to say, you cooked it.

      • Aaron Riccio

        I’m glad I refreshed my screen after reading all these comments; you totally beat me to the punch on this one.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=805657 facebook-805657

        You read my mind!

  • Aaron Riccio

    I sort of wish there were video equivalents of pull-quotes; the line I liked the most from the video was this one: “I recognize that it takes a certain type of compulsion to engage with [some games].”

    I haven’t played Fez, so I may be off-base on this, but from what I’ve read (and now seen) of the game, it seems as if you can play through — the gameplay hasn’t taken any flak, at least not from you two, and only a few minor dissents about the platforming elements in the comments below — without needing to “engage” on a deeper level than that. To me, then, it seems as if there are actually TWO games in Fez: the one that applies to the Everygamer, and then the one for the Ubergamer, or the Metagamer (the gamer’s gamer). If that’s true, that seems like a really adequate compromise for appeasing the “masses”: make something that everybody can play through and enjoy, then add layers for those who truly want to “engage.” 

    I assume that you’ve already taped your segment on Trials Evolution, but I sort of hope you two discuss(ed) the hidden Easter eggs in Trials HD (there are links to them in the comments of the review you guys posted last week). To me, that’s a clear example of a game that is able to be played casually (i.e., to completion), masterfully (i.e., to perfection), and then anally (i.e., to Lost-like levels of obsession and extrapolation).

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Couldn’t agree more with your remarks on Fez. Very well put. I actually said something along those lines in response to Chris during the taping, but it got cut, probably because I wasn’t as eloquent as you were here.

      One point of clarification — what I said was that I recognize it takes a certain kind of compulsion to engage in the type of note-taking and patient puzzle-solving that I did. I wasn’t saying that such compulsion is required to engage WITH or enjoy Fez, or to play a certain kind of game. In fact, I think you can eschew that type of scribbling and puzzling altogether and still get a hell of a lot out of Fez. Chris disagrees; he was pretty insistent that type of engagement is necessary to the experience of Fez, because that was the impression the game gave him. I was surprised by that, because I think Fez is clear and elegant in the way it sets out those different “levels” of its play, as you point out.

      • Aaron Riccio

        Yeah, my transcription skills are not always that good, so thanks for the clarification on that; thankfully, we still both wound up on the same page, in that there’s a split between what’s required to play through Fez and enjoy it on that level and in what may be required to access all of its secrets. (And how fitting, too, that there are all these facets to a game whose central concept seems to “revolve” around the fact that there are different dimensions to the world.)

        This is definitely the next game that I buy; any word on whether it’ll come to the PC?

      • http://www.facebook.com/ChrisBrimstone Christian Brimo

        I ‘engage’ with Fez on the level of ‘game pretty!’. I jump and do the easy QR code puzzles.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I don’t want to put words into Chris’s mouth, but I think he takes issue with the fact that in delineating its “levels” of play, Fez has created tiers of experience. There’s a difference between providing players with a selection of difficulty levels, each of which allows 100% completion but with varying levels of challenge, and providing a set of extra-challenging puzzles that are optional but nonetheless alter the narrative – or more broadly, the experience – of the game.

        Now, I haven’t actually played the game – it’ll come to Steam eventually, right? – so I might be way off base here, but as far as I understand, these extra crypto and/or QR puzzles aren’t mere collectibles. They’re not like collecting 100 coins/stars/bananas/what-have-you. So I can see why someone who doesn’t care to collect every figment in Psychonauts or every Riddler trophy in Arkham Asylum might feel as if these puzzles are screaming “Do me!” Concealed treasures are easy to ignore. Visible puzzles – even if some of them are camouflaged in the landscape – are harder to pass by. So while they might not be required to finish the game, the player may feel that by choosing not to do them, he or she is missing out on a portion of the Fez experience.

        We saw something similar earlier this year, when BioShock: Infinite’s “1999 mode” was announced, and there was a mini-backlash. Admittedly, part of that was due to the perceived elitism of “hardcore” or “old-school” gamers – and Ken Levine’s comments on the subject didn’t help matters – but I think some people were annoyed by the idea that Infinite might end up being a tiered experience: the typical experience exemplified by the regular difficulty levels, and the “true” BioShock: Infinite experience of “1999 mode.” People don’t like the feeling of being left out, and I think that’s why they sometimes react against these tiered experiences.

        For Fez, it boils down to this: are these puzzles necessary to play the game? No. But are they necessary to experience the game? I think that’s a far more subjective question. What’s sufficient for one player might feel unsatisfying to another, especially if there seems to be another world of possibility just out of reach.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          I don’t think that was Chris’ point — he actually said that the game’s puzzles are well-concealed and that you’re not liable to find them unless you’re seeking them out — but it’s a very insightful perspective nonetheless.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=805657 facebook-805657

          Yeah, that wasn’t my point, but it’s a darn fine point. I’ll gladly take it from you and call it my own. 

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @JohnTeti:disqus and @facebook-805657:disqus: Sorry for misinterpreting what you guys were saying. If the puzzles are well-concealed, how does one stumble upon them? Are they found by accident, or do you find them by exploring? I’m asking because I’ve heard so much from a lot of sources about the mechanics of the game – the crazy puzzles and the rotation of perspective – but I haven’t heard so much about what it’s actually like to play Fez.

          Now, I might be way off base again, but I think that on some level, even knowing that there’s a whole other portion of Fez one won’t be able to experience without breaking out a notebook and a Caesar cipher wheel can be a turn-off (not that it was for either of you guys). To borrow a term that @google-19efbd0104cbaffa5782aef5b7104019:disqus used upthread, the “Metagamer” is more likely to be aware of this aspect of Fez than the average player because he or she is more likely to be tuned into the online conversation about games.

  • bunnyvision

    This shit is charming

  • JReich

    I think Chris nails it when he expresses his surprise with the
    critical reaction. I didn’t read a single review that in any way
    suggested Fez might ask me to get out a pencil and paper and spend hours
    copying substitution cyphers off of my TV screen. Once that part of the game revealed itself, I immediately lost interest.

    I had a great time with Fez for as long as it took me to find the first 32 cubes but I was unwilling to engage with the game beyond that, not because I wasn’t interested in seeking out the puzzles but because I knew once I found them, they would require a lot of boring copying and coding. Grunt work dressed up in a pretty package is still grunt work.

    • emgeejay

       I’m guessing that’s because the critics played up to getting the first ending and then called it a day. Jim Sterling, the reviews editor of Destructoid, tweeted that he was sitting down with FEZ and then tweeted that he had finished it a few hours later.

  • Knarf Black

    I never felt smarter playing a game than when I figured out how to decode the language. (Then, when I had to give up on the numbers and look online, I never felt dumber.)