Hidden Object Game mini-reviews: City of Cyan and Curse of Briar Rose

I’ve finished playing two more Hidden Object games in the past couple weeks (one last night) and I wanted to get down a few brief thoughts.

City of Cyan was the worst attempt at a story I’ve ever seen. It started out with a bit of potential but had absolutely hideous voice acting that just didn’t stop. That should have been my first clue. I don’t even remember the puzzles because the attempt a story was  just nightmarish. The protagonist would wonder aloud why she was doing ridiculous things, comment on stuff that didn’t make sense– and there was a lot more than some hidden object scenes that made no sense. Flee far away.

I have another game in the series, Meteorite, that I will probably also play. Because I have it. If it is also really awful, maybe I’ll do a detailed blogging of my playthrough just so I feel like I got my money’s worth.

The next game I played (started and finished last night) was Dark Parables:Curse of Briar Rose. Because I’d felt so burned by City of Cyan I started with the worst site reviews on Briar Rose and then hesitantly picked it up.

It was fine. It had a lot of Hidden Object scenes, except they were Fragmented Objects instead, where you find broken pieces of some object you need to open a gate. I’d heard about that before and I think I like it; I like the feeling of cleaning up a location. The music was mildly atmospheric and the story was presented in a way I suspect is ideal for a hacked-out HO game.

Basically, in the beginning I was given a kind of silly motivation by a voiceover. And then… that’s basically it, save for what I put together looking at the scenes. There were a few inscriptions here and there. My viewpoint character never spoke. I can see now why the ‘Mystery’ framework is so popular for HO games. Being allowed to tell myself the story through the scenes I encountered was just splendid. Sometimes I built up suspense for myself that didn’t pan out (“what’s in that chained and locked cabinet in the princess’s room? Oh, her Mom’s Scepter, that’s all”)  but when any possible plot point turned out to be just another use of the primary game mechanics, I… didn’t mind. Right now I have a vague story in the back of my head about what happened to Briar Rose and her family and it’s… pleasant. It’s not as good as a great story told to me but it’s significantly better than a terrible story.

It also managed to convey an excellent sense of pacing. I remember Drawn doing this well (but not how it did it) and Awakening had a little of it and City of Cyan not at all. In Dark Parables’ case, it worked because there were several elements of a few collection-based progress locks scattered throughout the game. As I acquired the pieces to complete the locks, so I got closer to the end of the game.  It definitely contributed to a mild sense of urgency that kept me up much later than I’d planned to finish the game.

It wasn’t a perfect game by any means: the final puzzle was a new mechanic (always bad), I only tolerated the reuse of the same scenes for new HO collections, and some of the evocative locations were lessened by a truly silly map layout and the utter randomness of what was hidden behind progress locks. A little rearrangement could have done wonders for the self-narrated story.

But if it’s a choice between City of Cyan and Curse of Briar Rose, run, do not walk toward Dark Parables.



I have a garden!

I have a garden!

It's two plots. One was at the house when we arrived and is really awkwardly shaped: 8×9 feet or so. I used to grow pumpkins and squash in it but this year my husband asked me very nicely to skip the pumpkins. I was okay with this because last year I expanded my repertoire from tomatoes/pumpkins/zucchini to snow peas and beans and broccoli and I wanted to expand on last year's successes.

I'm also usually a container gardener. I have a lot of largish containers (5-8 gallons, I think) and I usually grow tomatoes in them. But this year instead of having a container we turned last year's auxiliary bed (which hosted the cauliflower/broccoli experiments) into an intensive 4×8 raised bed. So far all my containers are empty. We'll see if this lasts.

I also have a pallet I, uh, found in a parking lot unattended. I have some herbs and lettuce in that.

So this is what I have and plan to have: 1.5 8 foot rows of snow peas. Several teepees of pole beans. A couple square feet of bush beans. 3 cauliflower and cabbage plants (grown from starts because I planted too late last year). Various forms of lettuce. Radishes. Carrots (I forgot, some carrots are in a pot, but that's for my son.) Zucchini and summer squash. I have 3 tomato plants, and an eggplant coming from Territorial Seed. And I have a fair amount of basil and other herbs planted here and there, in the pallet and the cement blocks edging the raised bed. (Lemon verbena, 5 kinds of basil, marjoram, dill, chives, French tarragon, thyme, green onions, if you're curious.)

I'm very excited and I'm hoping to have a great harvest this year.

#blog   #garden  

Gendered Book Covers

OK, start here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maureen-johnson/gender-coverup_b_3231484.html

This leads eventually to a discussion of book covers and how the perceived gender of the author influences the cover design (and thus who picks the book up). 

Even if you're not digging the premise, the covers are worth looking at. And the Tumblr tag below is keeping the discussion going.


coverflip | Tumblr

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Interpreting historical gender relations

So, elsewhere on the internet, I've been sort of involved in a discussion about feudal fantasy cultures and whether it's 'unrealistic' to put gender equality into those. And, eventually, what would need to be considered in order to make gender equality 'convincing' to these so-focused-on-realism readers.

There's been a lot of rhetoric about how men are just stronger, and men want to consolidate power for their own sex and how it's just impractical to have women at war, in differently fitted armor, requiring more training to make up for their weaker bodies, etc. They keep talking about how physical considerations make up at least half of the issue, no matter how much other people talk about cultural consideration offsetting many of the 'practical' considerations.

You can probably guess how I feel about these discussions.

But what I find interesting is that all of their 'physical considerations' seem to spin around men being stronger and women being weaker. And not, for example, around the fact that women died and died and died in pregnancy and childbirth.

The more thoughtful among these 'realists' will admit that sufficient magic (or guns) can certainly equalize the sexes in a fantasy culture. But that's still focused on power rather than species (or cultural) survival. I think it's not a coincidence that some of the most egalitarian fantasies I've read have had easily available nearly perfect birth control and medical care equaling or surpassing late 19th century care. I even find myself wondering how much more magic is really necessary.

In any case, an interesting personal lesson in how bias in asking questions can lead to a very narrow set of answers.


Born criminals are not actually a thing.

Today, I am thinking about the vast numbers of people who cling to the belief that only bad people do bad things. Bad, irredeemable people who would do those things even if measures were put in place to stop them. Rapists are aggressive, violent monsters who stalk their prey carefully, and whom you can identify with a trained eye. Murderers are hardened professional criminals (or insane!) who can only be stopped by superior weaponry. It’s like the label precedes the event: rapists and murderers are that way at birth, apparently.

There’s a grain of truth in that theory of People, and it’s this: no, you can’t stop people determined to do wrong, not by any regulation or law and only occasionally by education (but then usually by the close personal encounter variety). You can’t stop somebody who truly believes information should be free from stealing your novel or your song. Somebody who really wants to murder somebody will find a way. Somebody intent on dominating and torturing somebody sexually will find a target.

But most crimes aren’t a matter of cold-blooded planning. They’re a response to a moment of strong emotion. I need that song it’s not fair I have to buy the whole CD. She led me on. Oh god, he saw my face. I thought he had a gun too. That fucking cheater. God, why do I have to pay Comcast AND HBO to watch GoT when they post it on their website? I could make a killing if I stopped compartmentalizing my financial knowledge for a moment.

And intelligent regulation and general education DOES help with crimes like that. Not all of them, of course. But many, many. Because labels don’t precede the actions that earned them. People make choices. If we help, they can make informed choices.

Remember: most people want to do what’s right as they understand it. But there’s a reason the Christian devil is associated with temptation.


I am playing Awakening: The Dreamless Castle (via Big Fish Games), after a quite pleasant experience …

I am playing Awakening: The Dreamless Castle (via Big Fish Games), after a quite pleasant experience playing Drawn: The Painted Tower. It turns out that ‘hidden object’ games are exactly what I’m in the mood for these days: gorgeous, lavish fantasy illustrations that I’m rewarded for looking at closely, with stories that, if not amazing are at least compelling and evocative. Yes, what used to just be hidden picture puzzles are now more like Myst, with puzzles as well as things to find!

Big Fish Games and their ‘hidden object’ games fascinates me because it’s clearly a huge part of the gaming market; Big Fish is thriving and publishes new games almost every day (not all are HO games). And yet among the various gamer circles I intersect, none of them ever even mention this kind of game. I didn’t even know it existed until recently! There’s this massive divide, it seems like. And hidden object games seem like… like the romance genre equivalent within the game industry.

Anyhow, I have to go back to helping Sophia escape her magic castle. I really wonder what she needs all these weapons for…

ETA: OK, so it’s a popular trope so far: tiny girl sent away from her parents for magical reasons and so she can eventually save the world (I think?) but in both Drawn and Awakening there are so many images of the loving parents who gave their child up that it’s really quite melancholy from the perspective of the mother of small children. I know it’s just a standard storytelling trope but the melancholia definitely adds to the compelling nature of the stories for me.


Self-Publishing and Royalty-Only Publishing

I am not, shall we say, a self-publishing advocate. It's a method of getting work out there, but just like other methods, success requires either a great deal of luck (in having the right book at the right place at the right time– and I've seen those successes, they do happen) or hard work (in producing and promoting your book) or money (to produce and promote your book). Probably, it takes two of those most of the time.

No, you won't find me scorning publishers and talking about how self-publishing is the future, it's so easy, everybody should do it, success is TRIVIAL. My dozen or so sales of a self-published book make it clear that success is not, in fact, easy.

I like having a publisher, even if it's a very small one who, no, doesn't pay advances. The publisher is quite invested in making sure the books sell and does more promotional work for the books she's published than I've done for the ones I've published. The publisher comes with an extremely gentle time-limited contract that takes only the minimum rights required to legally distribute my work as a book.

I like having a publisher.  The froth and foam of the loud self-publishing advocates kind of disturbs me sometimes, frankly. I'd be firmly in the camp of the traditionally published who sometimes dabble with self-publishing, if I could be.

Except they don't want me. You see, because I accepted a gentle, time-limited contract giving up only a few rights in exchange for only royalties, I'm not a serious writer. Possibly I'm stupid or ignorant and to be pitied, and my publisher should be pilloried. The fact that my publisher sells more books than I do is irrelevant. They say: You didn't know that would happen when you signed the contract. You took a chance on a percentage of nothing.

It's true. I did. I researched the publisher and its staff exhaustively and then I decided that it was a time limited contract and it was worth seeing what happened. Because a percentage of nothing was exactly what I was already getting when the book was sitting on a hard drive waiting to impress an agent via a query. I'm not good at self-promotion, not at all. I'd much rather spend my time working on the next book, which I really feel is my personal best angle on improving my readerbase.

It's weird being where I'm at in this ongoing reshuffling of the publishing industry. Among the self-published, I feel like I'm a supporter of The Establishment, the way I let somebody else pick out and pay for my covers and do my editing. Among those who earned advances, I'm arguing that the Establishment also has the wrong end of the stick. It gets a little hot sometimes, between the fire and the stone.

(I guess now is where I point out that plenty of royalty-only presses don't offer gentle contracts. Read your contracts. You don't have to sign bad ones. But it's okay to experiment, too, as long as you don't think of your book as your baby.)

And despite a trend in the conversation swirling around the writerly blogosphere right now, I actually respect my work so much that I wanted to get paid for sharing it with you even though it wasn't something agents thought big presses would pay me for.

Yes: I do in fact want to be paid for my work. I want you to tell your friends about my books. And I want you to know Infinity Key, coming out in the autumn, is the best, most fun book I've ever written. Let's make it big.


I wonder if I should start doing linkspam posts (on the blog). Two reasons I don’t blog as much as possibly…

I wonder if I should start doing linkspam posts (on the blog). Two reasons I don't blog as much as possibly I should is that I'm not great at making my personal life entertaining, and I tend to only write posts when I'm inspired AND I feel like nobody else is saying exactly what I think. For example, I wrote a little minirant on Twitter the other day inspired by Popehat's bullying post. But I don't need to talk about people misusing the term 'bully' myself because so many other people do. Right? But possibly I could do a link round-up on the topic (or another topic of interest to me) instead.

Hm. I've never been a linkspam kind of person but it does fill space and express opinions….