Tag Archives: robots

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Ultratron


I’m trying to think of what the first “bullet hell” shooter was that I ever played or, at least, the first time I came to know the term. It might be U.N. Squadron. Or maybe 1943: The Battle of Midway. It was definitely something back on the SNES, because I remember cementing my dislike for the genre early in my gaming history. Though I’m sure some could argue that those titles don’t necessary meet the definition of a “bullet hell” shooter. Regardless, clearly from my examples there, it is a genre I don’t play often, and I could blame it on a strong lack of eye-hand coordination–which is also why I don’t play many fast-paced first-person shooters–but the truth is that I simply do not find this style of gameplay all that interesting.

Anyways, this post is about Ultratron, another “bullet hell”-esque shooter from Puppy Games, the same company that put out Titan Attacks!, which I previously played and uninstalled from my PlayStation 3. For lack of a better description, Ultratron is a twin-stick arena shooter inspired by classic arcade titles, updated and improved for the 21st century. The story is uninteresting and thus: the last human in the universe has been slain by evil killer robots. As the only remaining humanoid battle droid left, you’ll be fighting through over 40 arcade levels to take on the four giant boss robots of the apocalypse to…I don’t know. Get revenge? Make them go away and feel bad about their decisions? Grow as a metallic entity? Spoiler: I’ll never find out, as I only got slightly past Bellum, the second boss.

Ultratron‘s main goal is to obliterate wave after wave of incoming robot hordes. As you progress further, these tiny robots become tougher, rocking shields, explosive firepower, and other ways that they can damage you. However, as you destroy them, they burst into gold coins that you and your little pet droid can pick up, and there’s a shop-like screen at the end of each wave that lets you purchase new shields and smartbombs, along with special abilities and power-ups to increase your firing capability. They get tougher, you get stronger, rinse and repeat until your wiring no longer works. Also, there are a few challenge levels between waves, tasking you to dodge all enemies or, shockingly, shoot all enemies, with the money you earn at the end being determined by your performance.

Aside from this, there’s not much else seemingly to do in Ultratron. Which is a shame because it looks super slick. The game, without a doubt, takes its old-school style and runs for the hills with it; there are flashy gun effects, glossy animations, and a confined, stylized arena motif that truly makes you feel trapped and on your own to survive. That said, this ultra bright aesthetic often made it difficult for me to discern what was happening in the arena, with fruit trails blending into one another and swarms of teeny-tiny robots getting lost in the action. Also, text pops up in the bottom left of the screen, which is already condensed to begin with, in the middle of a dogfight, making it next to impossible to read while fighting off an enemy or dodging bullets.

Lastly, every time I typed the name Ultratron for this farewell post, all I can think of is the theme song to Ultraman. Enjoy.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #19 – ERROR: Human Not Found

Death of a robot
Sparks an investigation
But first, logic gates

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

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.

The BackDoor series is unpredictable, except for the puzzles


The BackDoor series, which comes from a creator called SolarVagrant and so far consists of two games, namely Door 1: The Call and Door 2: The Job, is a small thing, with large ambitions. To me, especially with adventure games, that’s good. Respectable and well-intended. After all, Sequoioideae redwoods start as just a seed in the ground. Blackwell Legacy from Wadjet Eye Games and Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! both started small, in humble territory, but contained more than enough material and ideas to burgeon into larger, more mainstream experiences. I think, with enough time, this too could become a series you hear about more often. Naturally, I’m getting ahead of myself, so on with the summaries.

For Door 1: The Call, you begin as a young man…falling. After what seems like far too much falling, you find yourself in a strange house. The only person who might know what is truly going on is a mysterious individual who contacts you over the phone…or might actually be the phone, seeing that it talks to you and has sharp, untrustworthy teeth where the number buttons are. Turns out, this strange house is on the moon. Your best plan of attack for now is to escape, and that means solving puzzles by finding items, combining them correctly, and examining everything in the environment to use them on. Pretty standard stuff, save for the part about being on the moon and trapped between different dimensions.

For Door 2: The Job, things pick up immediately where the previous game left off, which, for a sequel to a 2013 release, is great for me playing them back-to-back, but others might have forgotten some details, especially like why some items are still there in your inventory. No biggie. Through more guidance from your phone friend/foe, you find yourself in a strange city of a robots. You are tasked with finding a specific robot called Aert, and you’ll know him by his unique scarf. Along the way, you’ll interact with a number of other robots–some more friendly those humans than others– in this familiar city hub and do the traditional thing of collecting items and using them just right to solve puzzles. Eventually you learn that Aert is kidnapped by a gang of goons for the sole purpose of tricking his girlfriend to date the leader.

The first game is obviously much smaller in scope and mechanics. Door 2: The Job really feels like something grander, with colorful characters and world-building and plenty of things to interact with and examine. Let’s call the experienced…enriched. I felt more invested in my tasks, such as catching a rat, fixing machinery, or tricking the shopkeeper to sell to a smelly, untrustworthy human, even if I couldn’t follow the larger, outer layer plotline all that much. Maybe whatever Door 3 ends up being will explain why this animated phone is dictating your duties and mocking you all at the same time.

Many of the puzzles in Door 1: The Call and, much more so, in Door 2: The Job are pretty obvious. From a solution standpoint. For example, you find a locked ventilation shaft grate and know that you’ll need to get by it somehow. You need something to take the screws off. The rub is figuring out how to accomplish that task. Some puzzles even require a bit of trial and error, especially the time-based ones right near the end. Thankfully, when you fail them, the game resets to a checkpoint in the previous room, so it is not too punishing, save for wasting time.

Visually, not too much has changed from Door 1: The Call to Door 2: The Job, and that’s okay. There are stylized and entertaining cutscenes. The pixel art, especially the character portraits, reminds me greatly of Cave Story, and the city, while not huge, does have a personality and some areas to explore. Also, the color palette seems to have switched from soft blues to light yellows, browns, and greens. Don’t let the screenshot at the top of this post fool you as I had to mess with its color to get my large, blocky white letters to read well on top of it. Regardless, while it might be some time until we see Door 3: [Subtitle], I’m eagerly looking forward to it. That said, I’ll never trust an anthropomorphic telephone.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #5 – BackDoor Door 2: The Job


Left moon for city
Robots here, phone says find Aert
That’s your job, human

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Antenna’s quadrupedal machine searches for answers to loneliness

gd final impressions antenna game

The really dangerous part of playing numerous short, free indie games is that, if I don’t get to writing about them immediately, I forget a lot of details. They lose that initial woah impact, and my memory is not all that it is cracked up to be these days, and I blame knowing too many Game of Thrones family trees on that. For example, I completed Antenna a couple weeks ago and, other than a tricky puzzle involving matching rhythmic audio tones, I’m having trouble remembering much of what unfolded. Or maybe that’s exactly what LWNA’s Antenna is supposed to be–a mysterious adventure into the unknown, where the darkness hides the light, where you are just as lost as the quadrupedal machine you control.

In terms of story, it’s more of a question–am I alone? This is what our leading robot ponders and then sets out to answer. It scans the radio spectrum for answers, hoping to be heard, while also wondering if it is meant to be heard. There’s a lot of ambiguity to Antenna, and this is especially clear in some of the radio chatter you pick up, which hints at life elsewhere, but never stays long enough to prove the theory true. I’m okay with there not being a whole lot here, as it is, in this case, more fun to wonder than it is to know.

Yet here’s what I do know. The game has a simplistic, but stunning look, one that continues to impress me since the hey-days of 2010’s LIMBO. The forefront is all dark silhouettes and white pupils, and the backgrounds are misty, murky swaths of muted color. Just enough to make you believe there is more in the distance, even if you’ll never get there. Antenna‘s in-game world is not massive or that diverse, but you’ll move your four-legged tank beast across empty plains where radio towers grow, as well as underground, and your imagination will fill in the necessary gaps. I imagined this place as some failed project to build a station on another planet that all got left behind, with our little WALL-E wannabe left to keep things going.

Naturally, a large part of Antenna‘s world and mechanics revolve around sound, which comes from…Arddhu. Not sure if that is a person or company or magical lost city in space. Either way, make sure you have the volume turned up, though I did find a few parts of the radio static hard to listen to or just a wee bit too sharp for my delicate man ears. When not solving puzzles based around specific sounds, there’s a good amount of atmospheric, ambient sound, like drips of water on metal pipes or the cling-clang of the robot’s legs as it walks.

Interestingly enough, the game requires extensive use of a keyboard, as well as the mouse wheel, to be played. No controllers allowed whatsoever. Originally, I tried playing this in bed on my laptop, with no mouse, not realizing how essential it was to even begin the game. You’ll do a lot of holding in keys and pressing other keys simultaneously, and at one point it felt like a game of finger Twister as you tried to keep everything in place, but still do one more action. There’s also some puzzles to be solved, but they most involve finding a particular pitch or tone and matching it with another to turn on some machinery or move to the next scene. Alas, the game didn’t run great on my ASUS laptop, stuttering from moment to moment and dropping audio occasionally, but I was able to see the whole thing through regardless.

I don’t know. Antenna‘s a neat thing from newcomer studio LWNA, and it’s free, so I can’t not recommend you at least give it a try and see if the sensation of uprooting a tower piece by piece using the powers of your fingers and keyboard gets your senses all thingy. I mean, it did for me, but to each their own. I might not have picked up on the game’s meaning or subtleties, but I like its look and courage the developers have for dropping something like this out into the wild with not much behind it in terms of description. May we never be alone, surfing the airwaves, praying that someone else is out there doing the same exact thing. Though I’d be totally okay with being a spider-esque, tower-building robot.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #32 – Antenna

2016 gd games completed antenna

A machine ponders
Searches dark for sound, signals
Mouse wheel required

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.

When I look at stars, I will always think of Starbot

gd starbot thoughts game97

I truly have a soft spot for stories about robots and what it means to be alive, to be living. Blame Ghost in the Shell for changing me at a young age. Granted, games like Machinarium and Secret Agent Clank didn’t explore this concept too deeply, but they starred cutesy automatons and got an easy pass. The only real standout example of myself questioning where the future of artificial intelligence can go is with KOS-MOS, which stands for Kosmos Obey Strategical Multiple Operation System, from Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht. And no, I do not believe Claptrap is progress forward. However, Starbot from developer Cloudhime tackles issues of friendship and loyalty in an adorably sweet way, pushing cozy over sermonizing.

Here’s how this little indie adventure goes: two scientists have created a work-in-progress robot in order to fetch parts on additional satellites. While powered down and in a mysterious dream-like realm, this robot befriends a star. Together, they will travel to other satellites, all while avoiding dangerous sloths. In the same vein that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince explored companionship and loss in an absurd, surreal world, Starbot does this twofold, both with its robotic and human characters, namely Lilli and Mat.

Gameplay is exploration-based, using the arrow keys to move Starbot around and some other button to interact with people and things. It might be space and it might be Z, but I can’t remember now. Since this is built in the RPGMaker program, you have that typical stat screen menu that does not need to exist, though it does show you a list of any items you’ve collected. The dream-like realm is more of a maze, often asking you to go through the right door, collect a number of keys, and avoid crossing paths with sloths. Otherwise, it’s all about talking to NPCs, listening to what they have to say, and moving on. Don’t forget to dig through everyone’s trash bins like it’s a Pokemon game.

Now, not everything is clear in Starbot, and maybe that’s done on purpose. For one thing, the use of “egg” never gelled with me, and I still don’t understand what it meant in context to these people, this world. I mean, most houses contain a painting of an egg or multiple eggs, so clearly they are important to people, but I’m not sure how. Or why. Also, even though I read every e-mail between Lilli and Mat, I’m not sure I comprehended everything about their relationship, especially the metal arm bits. As is often the case with smaller indie titles created by a single soul, a solid round of copyediting would help strengthen the already strong, wistful writing. And yes, I’m available for hire, thanks for asking. Just be prepared for me to add about ten more puns to everyone’s dialogue.

Overall, Starbot took me about 45 minutes to get through, and that was me not rushing, really taking everything in, examining all items, listening to the retro soundtrack, and speaking to every NPC multiple times. You might be able to burn through it faster, but I wouldn’t recommend it. After all, good friendships take time to grow.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #5 – Starbot

2015 games completed starbot game

Befriending a star
Digging through trash cans, e-mails
Le Petit Prince shines

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #2 – SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt

2015 games completed steamworld dig 002

Investigate mines
Unearth secrets long buried
Dig, dig, dig, dig, dig

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.