Tag Archives: math

I’m not smart enough for ERROR: Human Not Found’s computer-science puzzles

I’d like to think I’m not afraid to admit when I’m not good at something, but that’s probably not the case one hundred percent of the time. So, in that honor, here is a short list of activities and skills I can confidently say I absolutely stink at and you can silently judge me all you want from your side of the computer screen because that’s the Internet for you, all stares and snippy comments:

  • Cooking
  • Running
  • Confronting people
  • Arm wrestling a bear
  • Sports
  • Walking on snow
  • Mathematics

Now, it’s that last listed item there that plays a part in today’s blog post, which is all about ERROR: Human Not Found, a free point-and-click/visual novel adventure on Steam that examines that differences between humans and artificial intelligences. Certainly not breaking any new ground, and yet I continue to be unable to stay away from this subject matter, fascinated by the themes and characters in things like Battlestar Galactica, Ghost in the Shell, and Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, to provide a few examples. I mean, as Black Mirror has rightfully and accurately predicted, we’re moving ever closer towards a technology-driven future, and it is going to be both sleek and shiny and bleak as hell. It’s best to start prepping for it now.

In ERROR: Human Not Found, you play as sassy Grace Fortran, a computer scientist stationed on the Noah Sphere, a space-based research station. There’s celebration to be had, what with the first artificial intelligence being successfully uploaded into the physical body of an android. Yahoo and wahoo. Alas, no time for cake and cheers just yet, as Grace must quickly move to clear her name in the mysterious death of this very AI who is murdered not twenty-four hours after the upload. She’ll have to work together with Ada, another AI body-bound, to search the station for clues, question suspects, and solve various computer-science related puzzles to get the job done. Grace will ultimately need to determine the fate of AIs while exploring their relationships with humans and the world at large, and it’s all pretty standard stuff, save for the hints that they might be better at running the government than the flesh-and-blood models.

This is interactive fiction, with a stronger emphasis on fiction than interactive. CelleC Games’ ERROR: Human Not Found is broken up into different chapters, and each one contains the same style of gameplay. You’ll have conversations with Ada and other members on the station, make a couple of dialogue choices, explore a limited environment (usually consisting of a couple of screens) for clues, and then take on a puzzle or two. Rinse and repeat until the story concludes, so long as you can get past the puzzles, which are, more or less, logic gates. I mean that both literally and figuratively. Now I was able to fudge my way through the bulk of them, guessing here and there, but the last one, which is based around binary code, stumped me for a bit, forcing me to walk away from the game for several nights. Then, because I can’t stand starting something and not seeing it through, I went back for one more hard, stubborn-drive swing, to finish this off.

Would you like to know how I solved the final computer science-themed puzzle? Well, for starters, I had The Descent: Part 2 on in the background, and let me tell you something…it’s a terrible sequel to a strong adventure horror film about a group of young women getting lost inside an unexplored cave and discovering a race of flesh-eating subterranean humanoids. It’s fine to listen to, but don’t waste your eyeballs on it. Instead, I had the game open in a window, as well as the notepad application, and I jotted down each successful attempt to match a number with the what-I’m-assuming is its respective binary code, because you only get so many tries. For instance, 8 is 1000 or 14 is 1110. Again, if you are currently salivating and ready to jump down my throat and call me stupid because this is so obvious to you, please remember that I started this post by being honest about the things I’m no good at, and this is one of them. The more I knew ahead of re-starting the puzzle, the further I got, and it took me ultimately six attempts to finish.

Evidently, there are three different endings to see in ERROR: Human Not Found. I’m fine with the one I got, though I can barely remember it now, some days later when typing up this post. I appreciated the game’s love for all things scientific and mathematics, with a number of nods at popular players in these fields, like Grace Hopper and Isaac Asimov. There’s even an exhaustive database full of profiles on these characters if you want to read more. However, I can neither recommend it to those looking for a story-driven game or something puzzle-y, as it doesn’t truly succeed in either of those departments.

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The future rewards those who press on in Read Only Memories

gd early impressions for read only memories rom

Well, the newest videogame bundle to make your eyes pop out of their sockets is the Humble Narrative Bundle, which, at its “pay whatever you want” tier, is handing out copies of Her Story, Cibele, and Read Only Memories. Yowza. I already have Broken Age, but the next tier contains that, plus 80 Days and Sorcery! Parts 1 and 2. I don’t really know what those last two ones are. Oh, and if you drop $10 or more, you’ll get Shadowrun: Hong Kong – Extended Edition. Sorry, I don’t mean to sound like a hypnotized ad man here, but this bundle is phenomenal, especially if you like games built more around stories than crazy upgrade mechanics. Y’know, like me.

Despite Her Story being on my list of games I just didn’t get to in 2015 yet really wanted to, I dove into Read Only Memories first. It seemed…well, to be honest, a smaller adventure, and perhaps something a little easier to digest in small chunks, as I wasn’t intending to play through anything on one single sitting last night despite there being a Steam Achievement called “Iron ROM” to do exactly that.

I’m going to do my best to describe the story or at least the setup, but like all things cyberpunk, there’s a lot of jargon and acronyms to wade through. Read Only Memories takes place in 2064, where most people have their very own personal robot, commonly known as a relationship organizational manager (ROM). These AI-driven bots act as interactive personal computers, but are limited to their programming. All that changes with Turing, a ROM made by the protagonist’s old friend Hayden, which is much more advanced. to the point of being sapient. Turing breaks into your apartment in the middle of the night after Hayden is kidnapped, requesting your help. Not because you are some superhero, but rather, according to Turing, the most statistically supported in getting the job done. Trust me, it did the math.

And that’s all I really know, having completed the prologue and am somewhat into chapter one. You’re tracking down clues as to the how and why Hayden disappeared, all while learning about Neo-San Francisco and its colorful cast of characters. It’s very much a retro point-and-click adventure title, with lots of things to interact with in a given scene, as well as plenty of throwaway text written for silly combinations, like using spoiled milk on a parked car. Normally, in a game like The Blackwell Legacy or A Golden Wake, you’d probably get a “I don’t think so” or “That’s not going to work” kind of comment, nothing else. Here, in Read Only Memories, you get a response, which only encourages me more to try everything on everything. I guess this previously thought smaller adventure is going to take me that much longer to finish. Sorry, I can’t not click on stuff that potentially holds fun flavor text.

Writing is key for Read Only Memories, much more prevalent than puzzle solving so far. Be prepared to read. Thankfully, the writing is strong and fun, if a little long in parts. Turing is a cute robot that can also be frightening when you realize it knows next to everything about you. Well, me. I made Turing address me as “Pauly” and use the pronouns of “him/his.” Also, I have an omnivore diet. It’s nice to see a game include such options and openness, as well as a future were LGBT characters face less discrimination, but then again…this is San Francisco. In actuality, this is a queer-inclusive videogame, and its developers are also involved with the GaymerX series of LGBT video gaming conventions.

I’m definitely interested in seeing this mystery unfold, as well as trying more drinks at the Stardust bar. Then I’ll move on to Her Story. Or maybe Cibele. Regardless, more story-driven adventures are in my future. Also, Read Only Memories has reminded me that I need to check back in on Matt Frith’s work and see if he’s done anything else to Among Thorns, which certainly shares some similarities with the darker side of technology.

The versatile, grandiloquent mix that is Frog Fractions

gd final thoughts on frog fractions

Look, I took a genuine stab at Frog Fractions back when it was all anyone on the Internet with a Twitter account or blog-posting machine could talk about. It was spoken about loudly and in enthusiastic tones, with the insistence that it was more than met the eye. That it harbored some surprising secrets beneath its initial educational slant. I got as far as the text-based adventure game, getting stuck in one of the three rooms and unsure of how to proceed. Which is a shame, seeing as there wasn’t much more to go after that. Anyways, I can now say I’ve seen it all, even if I don’t understand it all.

I’ll do my best. Frog Fractions is a browser game developed by Twinbeard Studios, a company composed primarily of founder Jim Crawford, released to the innocent and unaware public in 2012. A quick glance at it reveals it, more or less, as a spoof of the edutainment game genre, of which ones from my past that I absolutely ate up were Number Munchers and Oregon Trail. Y’know, interactive things that taught you smart stuff as you went. In this game, the player begins by controlling a frog who eats bugs to stop them from destroying fruit. After each successful round, the player can then spend points on upgrades to improve the frog’s abilities, and these upgrades range dramatically and include a back-and-forth dialogue over the merits of auto lock-on versus straight tonguing it. In fact, Frog Fractions does not actually teach the player anything about fractions except for the fact that the player’s score, which is seemingly inconsequential, is given in fractions.

If you’ve not gotten around to playing Frog Fractions and that hodgepodge of a summary job above piqued your interest, by all means, stop reading this post and go play it. Because I will now be moving into “meets more than the eye” territory, and boy oh boy is it bonkers. Yeah, totally nuts.

Okay. Buckle up, readers. Remember those upgrades? Well, after you collect enough fruit, you can eventually purchase a warp drive, which allows the frog to ride a dragon through an asteroid field to Bug Mars. That’s the planet Mars now run completely by bugs. Before you get there, you have to do battle with an alien robot squid that is reminiscent of a bullet hell shoot ’em up, like R-Type. After this, you go to court and must answer some multiple choice questions in order to obtain a working visa. Then it’s back to what you already know, eating flies and protecting fruit, except the bullet hell aspect is back; however, this time, you can dip under the water to escape playing any more “traditional” Frog Fractions and instead learn some totally fake history about how the sport of boxing came to be. After this relaxing maze, the frog activates a spaceship and must maneuver through a text adventure game to return to Bug Mars. Last time, this is where I gave up. Upon completing this, you are given some fake-as-fake-gets credits, which are quickly followed up by an impossible-to-play mockery of Dance Dance Revolution as you run for…president. No matter how good or bad your fancy footwork is, you’ll acquire the role of presidency of Bug Mars. Then you have to do a business simulator that is all about insect porn. Once that is done, you get the real credits, which features heavy metal music and pictures of bugs doing the nasty with their inappropriate bits pixelated.

Whew.

As you can see, Frog Fractions is more than just a spoof of edutainment titles from our nostalgia-driven days. It spoofs a number of genres, and stacks them one after the other, in ways that seemingly don’t make sense. Some worked for me, and some didn’t, but it’s the not knowing what comes next aspect that really propelled me forward this time around. The wackiness and sharp turns are equally enjoyable, especially if you truly came to this hoping to experience some good ol’ fashioned fun with fractions.

I’m glad that I finally sat down and saw Frog Fractions through to its conclusion. Despite the subject at hand, I actually enjoyed the insect pornography simulator mini-game. Though I’m glad I won’t have to hear that frog “slurping” up those flies ever again; it’s the sort of sound effect that lodges itself in your brain and makes you shake your head instantly upon hearing it. All that said, I’m ready for Frog Fractions 2. Whatever it is. Perhaps it’s already out there and I played it, but I kind of doubt that. My closest guess is…this.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #26 – Frog Fractions

2016 gd games completed frog fractions flash

Fractional scoring
Leads to unconventional
Journey to Bug Mars

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Mining again with the perennial Minesweeper

Minesweeper GD thoughts

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that everyone, most likely, has played Minesweeper at one point in their lifetime. It’s been around for a long time, with its concept dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, its been written for a good number of system platforms, generally free to find, free to play. You name it, it’s there–basically, pretty unavoidable. And if I’m wrong and everyone hasn’t experienced what it’s like to be a mine-remover, they are at least familiar enough with the title to know what it is. Which is to say, a game of math.

I’m still enjoying my Windows 8 phone and not feeling guilty at all over picking it against an iPhone or Android thingy. But just like with other phones, there are a ton of free games to download, and Microsoft even offers a handful of Xbox Live ones that are tied to your Gamertag, which means Achievements, leaderboards, and so on. I’ve downloaded a bunch–Flowerz, Sudoku, Tetris Blitz, and so on–but the one I’ve actually spent the most time with is, perhaps strangely, Minesweeper, our topic du jour.

As always, Minesweeper for Windows 8 phone offers multiple grid sizes to play on: 7×7, 9×9, 12×12, and 16×16. There are also two types of play; Classic is your standard game mode of yore, and Speed has you racing against the clock to clear a minefield before time runs out. Each grid is secretly filled with randomly positioned mines. When you touch a square, either a number is revealed or a mine, which causes you to lose. The number indicates how many mines are next to each square, turning everything into a logic game of working out where mines might or might not be. Deduction is your best friend, but if you need a little more, there’s also power-ups. These include Verify, which verifies all flags are placed on mines, XP Bonus, granting a 25% bonus for completed minefields, and EMP, which reveals a large amount of squares, automatically flagging any mines detected, among others. Ultimately, you can equip up to three power-ups, but each one costs a specific amount of tokens to use, which regenerate over time.

It’s not a very hard game, even on its largest grid, and the really surprising thing is that I like Minesweeper. By that I mean to say that I hate math. I’ve never been good with it all my human life; in fact, just over the weekend, I saw my high school math teacher/tutor at my sister’s wedding, reminding me of how bad I am at figuring out averages and solving X for Y in place of Z and showing your work. Really, the other side of my brain gets more me-time, thanks to the day job of copyediting and everything else being artistically-driven. But for some reason, I love figuring out how many mines are touching a square, clearing out empty squares with confidence; I guess we could all see this coming with my quality time with Picross 3D. I don’t know; there’s certainly a satisfying feeling after clearing a minefield, even if the sound design is left wanting more. I’ve reached the highest rank and unlocked all the Achievements, so there’s nothing really left for me to do, save for solving more fields faster. Think I’m good.

Much like with zombie films, my favorite part of Minesweeper is the very beginning. The calm before the storm, you might say. An untouched abstract minefield brimming with badness, waiting to be unearthed. You click a square, and hopefully watch it open up the playing field. Sometimes it does this in a big way, sometimes a small–it’s never predictable. The worst is when your first unguided reveal is a mine. If you’re wondering, I’m a big corner guy, going for those first before seeing what I can open up in the middle of the grid.

Now to figure out what I’ll play next on my phone when I got ten minutes to kill. Or maybe I’ll just sit in silence, contemplating the meaning of life. Or the meaning of phone games. Yeah, one of those.