Tag Archives: Valve

Not sure if Professor Fitz Quadwrangle’s nephew can solve this Quantum Conundrum


Here’s the radical truth: every time I scroll past Quantum Conundrum on my interminable list of PlayStation 3 games, most of which were acquired through PlayStation Plus, it scares the crap out of me. Not because it is from the horror genre, where jump scares and messed-up imagery reign queen, but because a song plays the fraction of a second you idle on its name. That song is this song, and, while catchy, it starts so suddenly that, depending on how high I have the volume on my TV, it’s like meditating in a quiet room unexpectedly rocked by a massive explosion. Or maybe I’m being dramatic and just whining about being scared easily. Either way, I want it gone sooner than later.

Again, this is not a horror game. It’s all about puzzles and using your noggin. You play as the non-speaking twelve-year-old nephew of the brilliant and peculiar Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. You’re sent to stay with Quadwrangle, who is unprepared for your arrival and deep in some experiment. Alas, the experiment goes sideways almost immediately, which causes Quadwrangle to become trapped in a pocket dimension. He has no memory of what went wrong before, but is somehow able to watch and communicate you. The results of the experiment leave portions of the Quadwrangle mansion stuck between four dimensions with alternate properties. It’s up to you to restart three separate power generators and bring back Quadwrangle safely.

Quantum Conundrum is a first-person puzzle game, much like Portal. That should come as even less of a surprise when you learn that it was designed by Kim Swift, the project lead on Portal. You’ll notice many more similarities between the two beasts: a wearable device to alter physics in a room, a silly yet omniscient narrator, and lots of buttons to push. By using Quadwrangle’s Interdimensional Shift Device, you can manipulate the objects around you by shifting any given room into one of four different physical “dimensions” at the press of a button. You must use these dimensions in varying ways to solve puzzles throughout the mansion and restore the power. There are four dimensions to mess with, though I only just got up to the third one: fluffy (makes things lighter), heavy (makes things heavier), slow motion (slows down objects in motion), and reverse gravity (self-explanatory). With these varying properties, pieces of furniture or safes become your best tools.

Puzzles aside, the writing is pretty funny. Every time you die, which seems to be most commonly from falling into an endless pit inside this mansion because videogames, you’ll see a darkly snarky death message about something you’ll never get to see now that you no longer exist among the living. There’s also a lot of books with punny titles to examine, as well as amusing paintings on every wall. I especially like the one of the dachshund that stretches across multiple paintings and walls. I do wish that Quadwrangle, as our constant narrator, offered more hints, especially after you spend enough time in a room and can’t figure out what to do next. I solved a couple puzzles already through sheer luck and tossing boxes/switching dimensions until everything lined up perfectly, but I know that technique won’t get me to the end.

At this point, I’ve only fixed the first of three generators in Quantum Conundrum, and I didn’t have to look up any puzzle solutions online. I consider that a great victory as I am–and I’m not afraid to admit this–not the greatest mind to ever walk this spinning planet. However, I do believe this is only because the puzzles start off slow and simple, and the more dimensions you gain access to, the more involved the solutions will become. Couple this with the sometimes wonky physics, like when a box you are carrying suddenly touches a sliver of the wall and freaks out, as well as the less-than-ideal platforming moments, and I’m worried that I won’t ever see Quadwrangle back in the real world. I’ll certainly continue to try, but this mansion might turn out to be more of a prison in disguise.

A day in The Stanley Parable’s life is hilariously sad

the stanley parable gd final impressions

My first run through The Stanley Parable–er, more like slow walk–was pretty straightforward. I simply listened to the narrator’s instructions and followed them exactly, never questioning a single demand. I was a good, obedient lab rat, and for that, I received an ending that rewarded my mind-controlled actions with a glimpse at freedom, of blue sky, billowing trees, and a cool breeze. Sure, there were puzzles still left unanswered, like where had all of Stanley’s coworkers disappeared to, but I liked it nonetheless and immediately dived back in to see what I could do differently; maybe inaction was the key.

The Stanley Parable tells the story of, well, Stanley — an everyman office drone whose mundane existence is interrupted one day when he discovers that all of his coworkers have mysteriously vanished. As you take control of the protagonist and begin exploring the abandoned office building, a snarky British narrator (voiced by the wonderful Kevan Brighting) explains each of your decisions before you make them. Or talks at length if you simply stand around for too long, admiring a waiting room or well-watered plant. Either way, the narration drives the plot, and it is up to you to decide whether you want to follow along or rebel.

The Stanley Parable plays from the first-person perspective, similar to Gone Home and Dear Esther. The player is able move around and perform interactions with certain elements of the environment, like pressing buttons or opening doors, but has no other controls. You can’t even jump, though I do suggest everyone tries at least once. It’s a game about choice and choices, and you can follow along with the narrator or discover your own path through the game. You might think that something as minor as taking the door on the right instead of the left wouldn’t have a great impact on things, but it does. Everything matters, and, in a sick sense of mind, nothing matters.

Have you ever been in a large office space all by yourself? I have. Let me tell you–the feeling is strange. Walking around, seeing empty desks and lights off in certain areas. Yet you are still there, existing, interacting with the world, and everyone else is gone. While I hated seeing all the spilled coffee at the Picus Communications headquarters in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I loved walking around looking at everything before baddies showed up. There’s voyeurism, and there’s a general curiosity about examining how other people decorate their home-away-from-home workspace. This is the my favorite part of The Stanley Parable, going through those first few rooms, looking for clues on the cleanest desks ever created.

I discovered a few of the endings myself, but looked up the remainder of the ones I missed. Spoilers: there’s many ways to conclude Stanley’s journey. It’s not that I don’t mind replaying the same short experience again and again, it’s just that I wasn’t sure I was performing the right actions to see a different conclusion. In fact, I ended up stumbling into the “freedom” ending once or twice by getting locked inside Stanley’s boss’ office with no other way out. Either way, they are all neat and amusing, if depressing in tone. The Stanley Parable isn’t a happy game, especially when I look at myself, a cubicle-dwelling working stiff just like Stanley save for the voice in his head, but it is fascinating to see unfold and peek behind the curtains. It starts out perfunctory, it ends in ridicule.

Gordon Freeman loves exploding Striders and collapsing portals

half-life 2 ep 2 overall thoughts gd copy

Well, looks like I’ve finally caught up with the videogaming community, having to now join the hordes of many waiting for Valve to release Episode Three for its Half-Life 2 series. Or the hordes that have given up waiting. Take that, you sneaky headcrabs, bullet-sponge Hunters, and dozen-plus Striders from the final battle. No, really, take it, and never bother me again because that final fight was a bit overwhelming.

Yup, that’s right. Over the weekend, on a random whim–are there really any other kind?–I popped in The Orange Box, loaded up my last hard save for Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and remembered why I walked away from that game some many months ago. First, for those keeping score at home, I played through maybe fifty or sixty percent of Half-Life 2, but ended up getting stuck on the “Nova Prospekt” level due to a nasty switch glitch. Bummed out on that, I simply skipped over to Episode One, and burned through that adventure rather fast, enjoying it quite a bit, especially for its bite-sized aspects. I don’t remember when I started Episode Two, but it probably wasn’t directly afterwards. I’d check Achievement dates, but I’m too lazy; now there’s some stark honesty for y’all.

According to my last manual save, I stopped playing at the part where two large and very aggressive antlions are attacking Gordon, Alyx, and one of those Resistance-friendly alien dudes. If he/she/it had a name, I no longer remember it. Gorbak? Zymla? Naaaah. Anyways, took me three attempts to figure out how to kill both antlions effectively without losing too much health and ammo. Once they were out of the way, the path was pretty clear, and Freeman and Alyx hurried down it, eager to reach White Forest and pass on the data they had, which could help in closing the Combine’s looming sky-portal. Along the way, there was a bridge puzzle, some seriously great zombie sniping by Alyx, a short bit of sneaking, really bad driving from points A to B to C, and then a pretty tough final fight with a lot of to and fro and frantic shooting. I had to try that final fight two more times before I got it right.

Despite being released about six years ago, Episode Two still holds up extremely well, mostly from a story and pacing perspective. The graphics are fine though clearly dated to what most current gen titles can produce, like how boxes break into large, polygonal chunks. Some gameplay elements like no third-person view for driving and a lot of first-person platforming feel stiff and unfriendly. Also, you can’t zoom in with all the weapons and shoot, which is a bit weird, considering every FPS these days at least lets you look down ironsights. Also, this is one of those rare games where I actually used the shotgun more than any other firearm, and that’s because it can take down enemies wielding headcrabs in one clean shot. Pistols were complete junk, as was the Gravity Gun, surprisingly. The Magnusson Device, which is introduced during the final fight, is not easy to pick up, especially since you mostly have to guess how to arc the sticky bombs; I would have appreciated getting it earlier on to test it out on the field against live, moving targets. Oh well.

Thanks to Alyx, D0g, and Alyx’s father, the story is emotionally engaging, which makes the adventure to White Forest feel burly and vital, and like I mentioned, once I got past those two antlions, I burned through the remainder of it all, having to see it through. I appreciate that for most dialogue, Freeman is free to walk around and explore the area while still listening to whoever talk. Sometimes, like with Alyx’s father, I just stood there, locked into his words, but it is nice to know that you are not forced to. Shame the whole story ends on one crazy big cliffhanger…

Maybe one day I’ll go back and see how Half-Life 2 played out, though I kind of already know from Episode One and Episode Two. And now we wait…

Portal is great and free, but just not for me

In case you’re curious, you’re supposed to read this blog post’s title in a sing-songy voice.

So, the big news is that Steam is now available for Macs, and that everyone can download a free copy of Portal (from now until May 24, that is) to celebrate this triumphant moment. Sounds like a sweet deal, right? Between the Humble Indie Bundle and this, the Internet’s been pretty kind to us gamers as of late.

I use a MacBook at home, lovingly nicknamed Macaroni, a laptop I’ve never considered gaming on save for silly little Facebook applications and, uh, Chess. Yes! The computer always wins, but whatev. That is until I got Aquaria, and that runs like a professional marathoner. So I figured what the hey, and downloaded the file to get Steam a-going. Took less than a couple of minutes to get set up with my name and profile and all that junk. Then I clicked to download my free copy of Portal. And then I waited. And waited some more. And made dinner. And took a shower. And grinded some more in Pokemon HeartGold. And checked to make sure it was still downloading. It was. I watched a little TV. And then it completed downloading…after around five hours. Hmm. That’s fine and all really, considering it’s a free game and I was downloading it a few hours after it was announced publicly.

Unfortunately, I get a message from Steam saying my video driver card thingy is not up to snuff for Portal. Bugger that. They offer me a link to download an upgrade. I click it, and nothing happens. I click it a few more times…still nothing. Finally, I just say screw it (not out loud, mind you) and run the game with what I got.

At quarter to midnight, I loaded up Portal, excited to play. That feeling faded fast when moving the mouse on the start menu felt like dragging around those boulders muscle men lift onto podiums for random peen tournaments on like ESPN. Uh-oh. Not to be confused with Ho-Oh, my kick-ass rainbow Pokemon. I thought this thing could run on Macs from the get-go. I start a new game, which opens into tutorial levels.

I only manage to get to the one room where a machine shoots a ball of fire/energy. The lag was so terrible, and I tried switching all the settings to be as least demanding as possible, but nothing worked. The sound was fine, with the robot’s audio coming in clear and crisp. Alas, controlling our leading lady was sluggish and unfriendly, and getting her through portals was like leading a cat to the bathtub. So frustrating. Such a shame.

And this is why I’m a console gamer, through and through. With a console, you have everything you need to play a game, more or less. You don’t have to upgrade video cards and alter settings to get a smoother performance. It’s just frustrating that I’d have to jump through all these hoops to even get Portal moving at a sane clip. I’m not interested enough for that. Besides, I could always pick up The Orange Box for Xbox 360 and play lag-free then. And now there’s really no point to me keeping my Steam account as I’ll forever be afraid to buy a game and then discover it won’t run well on Macaroni.

I guess if I want to play Portal, I’m going to have to stick with the Flash version for now.