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    jp's Scribblenauts (DS)

    [September 21, 2010 04:36:20 PM]
    So, not only was I cognitively frustrated, but I was also distraught by the difficulties I had interacting with the game itself. Essentially, I felt I was facing a problem where experimentation was onerous. Not only was there a significant time delay when re-starting a level (significant being a relative term here, mostly I'm referring to the time you have to spend watching the "hints" again, and again, and again), but the imprecision in the controls often results in "stupid" deaths and restarts that are unrelated to your "experiments". For instance, by having the character (whose name I've since forgotten) walk over a cliff to his death because you clicked on a location hoping he would interact with it. Or you're trying to drag an item around, and he ends up walking somewhere instead. It doesn't help that Max (ooh! I remembered his name) seems to have limited health (I never could tell how much) and thus dies. Sometimes. There's little feedback on when he's taking damage, and how much more damage he could take. In sum, not only is it complicated to figure out what do, but then it's actually hard to do it.

    I guess my thoughts and impressions seem largely negative. However, the game is still as charming as it is ambitious. While playing it I was definitely surprised and amused at times. For instance, when creating a "teleporter", you are teleported to another level in the game! (which has no exit other than coming back to the original one you were on). I enjoyed that. Especially when I realized that the target level varies depending on the character skin you are using at the time!
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    [September 14, 2010 11:28:27 AM]
    I was really excited about this game. I imagined it as a Crayon Physics Deluxe, but wordy. In other words, open puzzles with tons of different solutions. I just had to be creative enough to think of the right objects (and words) and presto! the game would do its magic. In my mind, Scribblenauts was sort of like the evolutionary successor of the adventure games of yore.

    My frustration with many of those games had to do with the arbitrariness of the solutions to many of the puzzles. E.g. you had to use the banana to get the man to slip on the floor, any other thing wouldn't work. It HAD to be the banana. Some games worked their way around this issue by severely limiting the objects you could interact with (or pickup), while others helped you realize that the pre-determined object was the best one for the job leaving no other alternatives. Scribblenauts promised to solve this. From a design perspective, this is a really hard problem to solve: your nightmare player is MacGyvver. He can do anything with anything, right? While I'm no MacGyvver, I wasn't expecting to have as many problems as I did. I'm still trying to figure out what happened, but I have a few ideas.

    It's possible that I was over thinking some of the puzzles, but I get the sense that the difficulty level isn't uniform. Some puzzles encourage you to come up with something novel and clever (within a reasonably constraint), while others have something more specific in mind. There's a tension there that I had a hard time navigating as a player. Should I think of the "obvious" or is the solution obscure? I guess I was having a hard time trying to understand what the designers were communicating. I assumed that the early puzzles would "set the tone" of what to expect and how to think about solving them. I feel like I was getting mixed messages all the time, which only frustrated me. For example, there's a puzzle with a broken down car you need to fix and then drive to a house. You can tell the car is broken down because there are a few smoke clouds floating up from the car's bonnet. The hint said something like "Power it up!".

    First I tried GASOLINE. That didn't work. Then I though, it must be an engine problem (with the smoke being the clue). So, I tried ENGINE and then CAR ENGINE. Those didn't work either. Thinking of the clue, I tried BATTERY and CAR BATTERY. No luck. Eventually I discovered that LIGHTNING worked as well as STORM. (both result in a storm cloud from which, after a few seconds, lightning strikes). Also, CABLE (twice) worked since I could connect the cable to a powerline to the right of the car. I was trying to come up with ways to fix a car, but I was supposed to think of ways to get electricity into a car. So, was the smoke from the engine a red herring or simply a way to indicate that the car was broken down? Why would a powerless car smoke anyways? Was the power line a hint or was I simply lucky? In another level I had to procure an egg and fire for a caveman. The fire was easy, but the egg...well, there were some dinosaurs outside the cave next to a nest. Ah! The egg! I spent some time trying to figure out how to get rid of the dino so as to procure the egg, when I realized that the dino egg hatched a baby dino. So, I spent some more time trying to figure out how to prevent the egg from hatching while dealing with mama dino and so on. After all, that, all I had to do was write EGG and done. Nothing outside the cave mattered. So, was everything else a red herring? Was my solution the "clever" one? Or not? I was mostly confused at the end, to be honest. Good game design helps the player to learn what is expected of him. It makes the player feel smart for figuring things out and so on. I like to think of it as a conversation of sorts: the player also needs to work and try to meet the designer in the middle, as it where. (so, if things don't work, try a different approach). All I've felt so far is that I've tried different approaches and sometimes they work, other times they're wrong and, after all is said and done, I've made little progress. Each puzzle is a complete black box.

    The result of all this is that, for a game that seems to be about creativity, I end up trying the same solutions all the time. If I need to fly, I'll write WINGS, if I need to eliminate something, I'll use BLACK HOLE. And so on. LAND MINE is another favorite. The irony is that I've gone back to tactics I had to use when playing not-so-good adventure games of yore: combinatoric playing, or using everything you have with everything until something works. (in this case "everything" being objects I've used that have proven useful in the past).

    I'll write about the physics engine in a later post...
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    jp's Scribblenauts (DS)

    Current Status: Stopped playing - Got frustrated

    GameLog started on: Tuesday 7 September, 2010

    GameLog closed on: Tuesday 21 September, 2010

    jp's opinion and rating for this game

    Great concept, very ambitious, but doesn't quite make it. Ultimately was more frustrating than enjoyable for me.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstar

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