July 29, 2009
The month is winding to a close and I don’t like for an entire month to transpire without making sure I play at least one strange new (old) game. So I picked one that I have had my eye on for quite some time due to its natural mysteriousness: Sky Island Mysteries. See? “Mystery” is right there in the title. Combined with sparse cover art and no manual, it sounds intriguing.
As usual, my interest was quickly dashed when I dove into the actual content. It’s another Macromedia Director-driven educational kids game. One thing I’ve finally started to notice about these games is that I’m pretty sure I’m hearing a lot of the same sound effects among various Director-derived games. I’m beginning to suspect that Director comes with a library of royalty-free sound effects that authors are allowed to distribute in their games.
So here I am, enlisted as a special assistant to one detective Joe Clue-steau. At Clue Central, he describes an outbreak of criminal activity and how I can help gather clues. (Brief aside: I wonder if I’m the only one who has been trained to cringe at the word “clue”? In the last decade, the word has so often been used in the context of an epithet.) The method for gathering clues is to solve puzzles unique to each of 3 sky islands. This doesn’t actually have anything to do with sleuthing, from what I could discern. After solving enough puzzles, some snake creature goes and retrieves a clue for us.
One type of puzzle — seen above — is the rebus found on, well, Rebus Isle. I had never heard of this before but it was certainly interesting. Based on the pictorial and animated clues, add or subtract sounds to develop words that answer the joke riddles. The one above was the most complicated that I encountered. It seems that rebus puzzles require a decent command of English phonetics.
Then there was Airshow Isle as shown above. To be honest, I was completely baffled by this one– something about organizing the logistics and flight plans of an entire airshow. Aren’t we supposed to be catching criminals, darn it? I just took a screenshot and moved on to Stadium Isle, home of — you guessed it — the stadium. The puzzle involves something called “Fripple”. The game doesn’t make it entirely clear what a Fripple is. Depending on the context I heard the word used, it could either be the sporting event being played in the stadium, or the race of misshapen creatures gathered for the event.
The player’s job during these puzzles is to place different creatures in seats depending on certain ad-hoc rules for those creatures. E.g., the cheerleaders only feel secure cheering when their sitting near other cheerleaders.
I was left a bit frightened of the consequences when the game challenged me thusly:
I assure you that, despite your overactive imagination and cynical worldview, the Fripples do something quite innocuous.
Somewhere along the line, these inane puzzles were supposed to net me enough clue currency to whittle down the list of suspects and solve various mysteries. No one has ever accused me of being very civic-minded and I didn’t care that much about taking a bite out of crime. I guess that makes me part of the problem rather than the solution.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Childrens Games,Educational Games,Mac Games,Windows Games | Comments (0)
April 17, 2009
M&M’s The Lost Formulas is a story about corporate mismanagement, wanton workplace hazards, and math. Yes, this is meant to be an educational game focused on math skills. It succeeds in being the harshest math experience I have had since the AP calculus exam in high school.
The red and the yellow candies are all set for their tropical vacation when Red thinks to ask Yellow who is in charge on the candy factory in their absence. Turns out it’s the M&M’s Minis who, to put it gently, are not qualified to perform the task. Yellow is charged with returning to the factory pronto and putting things back in order. The first level has him hopping in his ride and racing back to work.
The math comes in with math formulas posted on the side of the road. Soon afer, there will be 3 crates on the road. Choose the one with the correct numerical answer and smash through; the crates with the wrong answers are made of steel.
So you’re driving at an uncontrollably automatic high speed (scratch that– it’s possible to manually accelerate in short bursts to even higher speeds) in a car with tenuous steering at best, and then you have to worry about solving math problems in real time or smash up against a steel crate. It’s sort of a “scared straight” style of math instruction. All those math tests in school don’t seem so terrible when compared in this context, now do they?
The first stage driving will feel safe and secure in comparison to the horrors that await you at the candy factory, which fails to adhere to most occupational safety requirements. There is more high-speed driving in later levels (including on a forklift). But several levels are influenced by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Yellow has to solve math problems in order to advance to the next numerical platform and avoid whatever workplace hazard is down below.
Yellow takes a lot of static from Red. Indeed, Yellow’s mannerisms are in keeping with a complete buffoon during the cutscenes. But he is an extraordinarily gifted acrobat as seen during the assorted 3D platform action levels as he effortlessly somersaults to and fro. Certain stages have Yellow on a conveyor belt marching towards a platform with 3 numbered doors. What door holds the correct solution? For this one, you have to be paying attention as you were hauled down the belt. There are various monitors with numbers in a certain pattern. Find the number that fits the sequence.
It must be noted that The Lost Formulas was developed by an outfit named Boston Animation. Another notable game they have to their record is Darkened Skye, a fantasy game infamous for its tie-in to another popular candy– Skittles. The credits for this game proved nearly pointless to process. While the Simon and Schuster (the publisher) credits were easy enough to understand, when the credits roll down tot he Boston Animation credits, every person gets a photo but most of the names are obfuscated.
Based on the MobyGames credits for Darkened Skye, I was able to positively identify a few of the photos and submit them to the database for posterity. But I decided against trying to enter the entire set. I don’t quite understand the motivation for this– The Lost Formulas is a fairly decent and well-engineered game, even if it’s a bit traumatizing in the educational department. They shouldn’t want their names stricken from the record over this work.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Action Games,Educational Games,Licensed Schlock,Mac Games,Windows Games | Comments (0)
October 16, 2008
Tonight’s title is extremely confusing. I was trying to keep with the theme of commercial tie-ins. I remembered picking up a Campbell’s Soup CD-ROM. The confusion alluded to in the title derives from these facts:
- There are 4 software titles on the CD-ROM and on the sleeve
- The titles imply that all 4 will be available on the CD-ROM (3 educational games and a calendar creation app)
- The CD-ROM displays a volume label of TMUNCHER; the closest any of the listed titles come to this title is Knowledge Munchers Deluxe
- There is clearly only 1 game on the CD-ROM — not 4 — and it has something to do with munching
So out of the 3 games that could have been on this disc, I fortuitously came to own the disc with the one game that presently has no entry in MobyGames — Knowledge Munchers Deluxe, which the title screen explicitly notes used to be known as Trivia Munchers Deluxe. So I guess when I get around to adding this game, I will have to list it as that latter title with the former title as an alias. And I will have to add this cover art set as a 1999 Campbell’s Soup re-release.
I am glad that my curiosity is finally satisfied pertaining to the ultimate payoff when saving Campbell’s Soup labels for education, something that many of us did as children (oh, please don’t tell me I was alone in this).
It occurred to me to search for ‘muncher’ titles. Turns out that there is a whole series revolving around a protagonist named Muncher. Muncher is literally hungry for knowledge. It is your job to guide him to the correct answers so that the little green glutton can gleefully gorge on them.
And that’s really all there is to the game. Our hero has 2 weaknesses– wrong answers (apparently poison) and adversaries, collectively known as Troggles, such as the overgrown slug pictured. The creators were obviously quite pleased with the various Troggles as they meticulously named and animated each one.
The trivia on offer is incredibly configurable and features levels 1-4 and ultimate. Within each category of trivia, the player can select sub-categories of trivia to be asked (or not).
One more interesting detail: this game has an original copyright date of 1996. What month was it released? Maybe this computer chip, embedded in the game over screen, serves as an Easter egg for video game historians?
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Educational Games,Licensed Schlock,Trivia Games,Windows Games | Comments (0)
October 13, 2008
I picked up Arthur’s Wilderness Rescue at my favorite thrift shop, still shrink-wrapped. While originally published in 2000, this was distributed as part of a nutritious Wendy’s kids meal earlier this year. I really need a better way to keep on top of these fast food/video game promotions. I honestly don’t want to be eating at all the popular fast food restaurants on a regular monthly rotation just to be able to catch these. And don’t even get me started on the breakfast cereal promotions.
Moving right along, this is my first experience with the Arthur series, of which I already have several other titles. Only 2 Arthur games are presently in MobyGames, so guess who gets to fill in the rest of the series? This, like the insufferable Mr. Men and Little Miss series, are aimed at a very young set. Ordinarily, that would bother me. Thankfully, this game can be made to move along a little more quickly with extra mouse clicks.
So Arthur’s teacher, Mr. Ratburn, takes Arthur and his various anthropomorphic classmates on an educational camping trip to scenic Mt. Rockslide. The hands-on learning begins in earnest when old man Ratburn trips over a log and becomes incapacitated. Arthur is the one in the big glasses. You might be tormented as I was at the question of what animal Arthur was supposed to be– sort of a Goofy-type conundrum. In turns out he is supposed to be an aardvark.
Anyway, the schoolchildren, perhaps not fully understanding the peril of their situation, nonchalantly put their heads together and come up with 3 separate ideas for how they might possibly alert the outside world of their predicament. The player gets to select one of the ideas and then carry it out, exploring the wilderness to try to piece together the plan and accomplish a number of secondary goals along the way.
Meanwhile, there is learning afoot. The above screenshot depicts Arthur and his bunny pal Buster finding a bush of wild berries. Apparently, it’s quite safe to eat wild berries, and delicious to boot (for the record, not where I grew up). For our next lesson, we’re going to go over the cliff clearly marked with a rockslide warning sign:
Whee! Such fun, remark the children at the bottom. Later, Arthur and Buster find a shack that has a fallen tree in front of it. After procuring a saw that happened to be laying about in the wilderness, they remove the tree, enter the shack and practice the time-honored “finders-keepers” ethos:
Do breaking, entering, and theft count as separate merit badges, or are they combined into one? It’s interesting to note that you don’t actually need all the junk on offer. I surmise that if I try to approach the game using another solution, other items in the shack would be applicable.
Irresponsible wilderness lessons aside, I have to give the game credit for its marvelous art style. Look carefully– all of the scenery is crafted to appear as watercolor paintings. There is also a trove of information to be unearthed as you photograph the sundry flora and fauna. After doing so, the game regales the player with trivia regarding the subject of the photograph.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Childrens Games,Educational Games,Licensed Schlock,Mac Games,Windows Games | Comments (4)
September 6, 2008
Try this on for size: A 4-player, tabletop, educational video game:
Click for larger image
I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California, USA today. This was one of the many exhibits. My friend (on the right side of the picture in the white jacket) played while I marveled at how many tech spec boxes I could check in a MobyGames database record, if only I could figure a way to get the platform approved. The object of the tabletop game was to navigate a pair of colored feet around the large game map using your joystick. Then, it was possible to interact with the environment and take pictures by using your local touch screen.
They also had a mission control-themed exhibit. This room rotated through a few films playing on a big screen about some phenomenon relating to marine biology and technological advances that were being made to study it more carefully. Meanwhile, there were a 1/2 dozen terminals up front that had a brief game at the same time that the related film was playing. One film described investigating sunken whales:
Click for larger image
In this game, a bunch of creatures were coming to feast on the carcass of a dead whale (how about that– not all deceased aquatic creatures float to the surface). Your goal is to photograph as many as possible in the time allotted by pressing on the creature using the touch screen.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Educational Games | Comments (0)
July 23, 2008
As always, I have a huge stockpile of educational games that are conspicuously absent from MobyGames. DJP Mom and I continue to answer the call. Tonight, I attacked 2 different, early Macromedia Director games. In both of them, I felt that something was missing. Like, animations. Both games wanted archaic versions of Apple QuickTime that I was unwilling to install. Some games fail to run if they don’t get their desired versions of QuickTime. Tonight’s pair just silently refuse to play animations which makes certain junctures a bit confusing.
The first of the pair is Wishbone and the Amazing Odyssey. Wishbone — apparently the canine star of a late-1990′s, PBS-produced TV show — finds himself washed up on an island where a city is burning in the background (turns out to be Troy). Pieces start falling into place and he figures out that he seems to have taken on the role of Odysseus in Homer’s classic epic.
This could have proved to be quite an educational experience (I don’t know much about the literature). However, the game kept throwing this error:
That’s “Script error: Handler not defined … #FileIO” (reproduced textually for the benefit of search engines). That prohibited me from getting too far into the tale. Too bad, too, because the credits go on for pages. A lot of people really wanted to make this game successful.
The second game is Fisher-Price Great Adventures: Wild Western Town. It’s by Davidson & Associates, which strikes me as familiar. Ah yes: They were responsible for another Fisher-Price licensed title: Learning in Toyland. The first thing to understand about this game is that the game assumes that you might not know how to read. Also, the installation process offers an fascinating bit of nostalgia:
Ah, modems; remember those? Anyway, you’re a deputy, the bad guy goes by the name of Bandit Bob and his dastardly crime is hiding gold bars all over town. Your job is to find the gold.
Along the way, there are a number of minigames and other activities, as is customary. This one is the Barrel Boot:
You get to drop barrels into this automatic boot device and launch them at random citizens — and you’re the deputy lawman, remember. Hitting a target always has comical, good-natured results in this kids’ game. I didn’t get the full effect with a number of the targets. The screen would temporarily blank and I could tell that the game was trying to invoke the QuickTime Player to handle a more detailed animation.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Adventure Games,Childrens Games,Educational Games,Mac Games,Windows Games | Comments (2)