Tag Archives: The Descent

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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Mining my experiences as a cowboy steambot in SteamWorld Dig

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I’ve never gone very far underground in my thirty-one insipid years on this planet we share, and that’s fine. A few family vacation one-offs where we’d explore a cave with a tour group or something like that, but never any personal expeditions. Much like the ocean, the underground is terrifyingly expansive and filled with too much unknown. Also–very dark. There’s a 2006 horror movie called The Descent that seems like the most scariest thing possible, as it follows a group of British spelunkers down into the deep dank depths of some labyrinthine caves in North Carolina; on top of that alone, they get pursued by flesh-eating monsters. No thanks.

If I was to go underground, I’d hope it would look more like SteamWorld Dig, all colorful and bouncy and peppered with kooky characters like Lola, who runs the bar in Tumbleton and acts as a respawn point, and Hank “Cranky” McCrank, a repairbot who helps you upgrade your digging tools. I mean, just look at the game’s hero Rusty; with his cowboy hat and big, green metal hands, he appears more than confident to handle whatever is lurking deep beneath the town, and so I’d go with him, though still not too far down.

The story here is slight, but solid enough to give Rusty a reason to dig deeper into the mineral-infested ground. Rusty the steambot wannabe-cowboy has inherited his uncle Joe’s mine after Joe apparently lost his life plunging into its depths for secrets. Naturally, curiosity screams, and Rusty takes up the call (and pickaxe) to continue his uncle’s journey. That’s it for now, and the characters aboveground in Tumbleton are essentially menu options and quest-givers at this point, but that could all potentially change down the line.

There’s a cycle to Rusty’s cavernous adventuring, and it is thus: dig down into the mine, gather as many minerals as you can hold, return to town, sell your stash, purchase upgrades to help you dig deeper, gather more resources, and survive longer. Much like Rogue Legacy and Spelunky, it has that “one more run” vibe to it, because even if you don’t get far or gather too much, every piece of trashium or copper sold is all feeding back into making Rusty better, stronger, more awesome, which promotes sojourning a wee further. You can really only go so far as your tools allow, and eventually you’ll run out of lantern light or hit dirt you can’t dig through yet. Or maybe even some tough critter-crawly enemies. Either way, you have to hightail back to sunlight, and you can either climb back up the hole you dug or find a fast travel point along the way.

On your way down below, you’ll also come across special cavern entrances that basically lead to a platforming section or ability-testing area. You can find some good valuables in these spots, as well as new abilities, like special drill arms, wall-jumping, or boosting upwards from a stationary position, which uses steam, a finite resource to also keep an eye on. These aren’t very tricky so far, and often give you a reason to travel up, left, or right rather than simply down all the time.

Right. I’m one of those crackpots that thinks Super Mario Bros 2 is a more enjoyable time than Super Mario Bros 3, and a favorite section of mine is when you have to travel downwards through layers and layers of sand. You do this by digging, by hitting the “pick up object” button, and the Princess–who else would you even bother playing as, honestly–will lift the sand beneath her feet away, causing her to fall into the next line. Keep doing this, and eventually you’ll get through it. You make your own path, and the enemies will even follow along it just like you. That same idea applies to SteamWorld Dig; how you dig down to the caves or map indicator is customizable, but you also have to be thinking about reverse directions too, about what would make it easier for Rusty with no light to find his way to Tumbleton. Unfortunately, returning to the surface, especially once you really get deep down, is where things become less fun and more of a slog. I thought I read that the underground is randomly generated, so if that’s true, the replayability is at least very strong with this one.

For those with a PlayStation 4 and subscription to PlayStation Plus, SteamWorld Dig is a freebie for the month of November. Even if it wasn’t free, I’d heartily suggest checking it out. So long as you don’t mind a whole lot of digging.