Archive for the ‘games’ Category


16 January 2009

When I was first given my Nintendo DS, I knew that in Japan people used them to learn English.  Now THAT’s useful, I said to my husband, who of course was the one who told me about it.  They should have a program so I can learn Japanese.

Well, now they do, so I bought it.  I can say yes, no, bad, good, hello, goodbye, and thank you, and I am learning how to correctly pronounce karaoke, karate, futon, ninja, anime, manga, tsunami, and samurai.  “Futon” is difficult for me!  It is more of a sound effect than a word, as I hear it.


One of the really neat features is that you can listen to the nice Japanese lady say each word, then record your own pronunciation, then listen to your pronunciation, then listen to you and the nice Japanese lady saying the word in unison (or not in unison…darn futon!)

There are silly little games, like whack-a-mole, well, tap-a-gopher, where you have to tap the correct gopher according to the words shown on little placards below each hole.  And word search.  The first time I looked for kamikaze in a word search, it was tough!  The letter combinations are not what I’m used to!

So far I have only done the very tiniest first bit.  But there are supposedly 10,000 vocabulary words and 1,000 lessons.  You can use it to learn to write kanji too, so maybe I will learn that as well.  There is a dictionary/phrasebook contained in the program for use when you travel to Japan, and if you fail to speak you can use the sketchbook function to draw a picture of what you need!

I do not have any current plans to visit Japan, however.  Maybe someday!

Awesome Week

18 July 2008

Lets see…

  • Sunday: Picnic lunch and short hike with friends I’ve known for 20 years
  • Sunday-Wednesday: Visiting the science camp where I made the decision to become a teacher and where I met the man I married
  • Monday-Wednesday: Kids who loved learning to program with vpython
  • Thursday: Putting Grammy Wilma’s cedar chest in our bedroom
  • Thursday: The usual collection of yummy fresh vegetables from the CSA
  • Friday: I learned of Joss Whedon’s new internet musical comedy: Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog
  • Friday: My husband acquired Dance Dance Revolution Universe 2 for XBox 360 (and hacked the pad connector so we can use our fancy Cobalt Flux dance pad with it) and we learned it contains the song Safety Dance by Men Without Hats

I’d say its been awesome, yep.

Here’s the veggies:

There are tomatoes, green beans, onions, beets, rainbow chard, zucchini, cucumbers, potatoes, romaine lettuce, a large green bell pepper, and cherries!

Nintendo, revisited

8 July 2008

After I wrote my initial post about the Nintendo Party I attended (here), Marisa pointed the party organizers to my blog and they were sorry that I hadn’t enjoyed the games I played. To apologize, they sent me two more games to try: Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.

I was very very surprised.

In the meantime, my husband used his Gamefly membership to get me Planet Puzzle League, a discontinued DS game. So, with the initial game Brain Age 2, I now have FOUR games to go with my Nintendo DS Lite.

You might wonder how I have fared with these.

By far, I have spent the most amount of time with Brain Age 2 and Planet Puzzle League. I am down to a “brain age” of 25, and I have played BA2 enough times to have “unlocked” all the different activities and I’ve gotten about a third of the way through the “Intermediate” sudoku puzzles (40% of all the available sudokus, according to the game.) Planet Puzzle League has caused me to almost miss my train stop, but only once.

Brain Age 2 lets you have a “stamp” on each date on the calendar that you train your brain. This is a method that works with me, and though I don’t feel beholden to the game (there are plenty of days I’ve ignored it) I have still picked it up over 20 times since getting it. That is way more than I have played the other games. It is quick if you want quick, I have gotten better at poking the piano keys, and I’m pretty good at the game where they give you a clock face that is not in its usual orientation and maybe also seen from behind (imagine clear clock innards so you can see the hands, the hour ticks, and one number). And I have

discovered I like sudoku to the point of looking for a sudoku DS game every time I walk into a Target or a Walmart or other store that sells games. I haven’t found one in a store yet, however, and Gamefly is being annoying (they won’t let me get an account separate from my husband), so I may just have to order one on

Planet Puzzle League has several different (yet similar) games, involving little colored squares that march slowly up the screen. When a row of squares gets high enough, you can manipulate the squares by exchanging the places of two squares horizontally. You can exchange the places of any pair of adjacent squares, but if 3 or more squares of the same color wind up touching each other in a vertical or horizontal line, those squares disappear and the squares that were above them “settle” downward into their vacated spaces. If you are quick enough, you can sometimes slip a square into the empty space after one square disappears but before an upper square settles. You get more points for making more squares disappear at once, and for “cascades” in which settling squares wind up in rows or columns that can disappear, causing more squares to settle.

PPL is enough like Tetris or Bejeweled to keep me very occupied for a half-hour or more at a time. Of course, I really think Nintendo and PopCap should get together and make a deal…Even though I have already bought and downloaded some PopCap games, I would be very likely to buy them again (especially as a multi-game package) for the DS. In particular, Bookworm Adventures Deluxe and Bejeweled. Maybe Peggle.

Of course, I really really want there to be a Boggle game for DS. A GOOD one. There is one that you can buy through that has several games packaged with it, and the reviews on are TERRIBLE! They say the dictionary for the Boggle game is too limited and the Boggle game itself is buggy! That is two killers, right there. I need there to be a good dictionary and smooth gameplay. I don’t need sound. I don’t need fancy graphics, just “good enough” graphics, big dictionary, no bugs. Is that really so much to ask for?

Mine uses English

The game I have spent the next most amount of time with (several hours, cumulatively) is Professor Layton and the Curious Village. This is a puzzle game with plot. Literally a puzzle game. Will Shortz should have had this game when he was 12 years old! Well, maybe 10. Professor Layton and his sidekick (his “apprentice,” a boy of indeterminate age but definitely hasn’t had his voice change yet) travel to the village of St. Mystere, where everyone they meet hands them a puzzle to solve and where strange things are going on. The puzzles range from trick questions to the “move one matchstick” or “find the shortest path” or “draw without lifting your pencil” types of puzzles. The trick questions can be pretty easy, especially since if you are playing this game you start expecting there to be a trick, and if you expect a trick and are good at literal interpretation (this is easy for a physics teacher), there is hardly any difficulty at all.

Unfortunately, I am not that interested in these puzzles. They are a little too easy. The plot of the game does not draw me in, nor do the characters. I remember playing Planetfall from Infocom back in 1989…I LOVED my in-game sidekick robot Floyd! And I could relate to the character I was playing as, in the game, because I was thrust into the role. In PL&tCV you are not playing as the professor and you are not playing as the apprentice, but you are supposed to keep them happy by finding them furniture for their hotel room…yeah. Why didn’t their hotel room come with furniture to begin with? This is in addition to solving individual puzzles and the overarching puzzle of the game. The game encourages you to poke all over each scene to find “hint coins” which are a different sort of currency from the “picarats” you earn for solving puzzles. Plus, some puzzles will give you a scrap of a painting or a “gizmo” (or furniture) in addition to picarats once you solve them.

I feel that this game is trying too hard. Maybe somebody thought the idea of a puzzle game was too simple, so they put the plot around it. And that was still too simple, so they added the hint coins and the picarats. And once they started adding elements, it was hard to stop, and cooler heads in game development prevailed too late to prevent the furniture, gizmos, and painting scraps from being added. Or maybe there used to be even MORE stuff and some was deleted! Anyway, I’ll play PL&tCV again if I am desperate for entertainment…maybe the next time I am on an airplane or train.

The game I have played the least is The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. I played until I got stuck in the temple that sucks all your life out of you and you die. That isn’t very far into the game.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is an adventure game in which you play a little elf dressed in green with a little glowing butterfly for a sidekick. You can pick up things and throw them until you get a sword, and then you can hit things with your sword. If I had never watched my husband playing a Zelda game on the Wii, I would never have guessed that once you get the sword you should spend a lot of time hitting stuff, like barrels and tufts of grass. Why? Money pops out of some barrels and some tufts of grass when you mow them with your sword! (Is that why my husband mows the lawn? I thought it was because I told him I wasn’t going to mow…) You need money to buy things like bombs or health potion.

The characters in TLoZ:PH are very cartoon-ish and exaggerated, and even less realistic than in PL&tCV. There are maps, some of which you can “write on,” and you have to figure out puzzles like in Myst: what is the correct sequence of levers to pull to make something happen, for example. Plus you have to kill things with your sword. As in PL&tCV, you also have to go around and talk to people to get information which will eventually help you accomplish your goal of rescuing princess Zelda.

Unfortunately, I am not particularly inspired to continue playing TLoZ:PH, though I don’t rule it out entirely. I did try the temple puzzle several times and failed, and my next best guess of what to do is go mow a lot more lawns to earn enough money to buy healing potion in the port town and see if I can glug enough of that to be able to stay alive in the life-sucking temple. I’m really not into lawn-mowing. Well, we’ll see.

Aside from the necessity of mowing lawns, it seems to me that too many plots focus on rescuing princesses, and not enough princesses have fun adventures. Zelda tries to have an adventure, and is brave, but still winds up needing rescuing. I took enough Women’s Studies courses as an undergraduate to see the inherent sexism in this, which maybe Nintendo should think about as it tries to get more women playing DS. Plus, I put my name into the game, when it was asked for at the beginning, and the game uses male pronouns for my character which sounds funny with my name. I don’t see why you can’t designate yourself as a girl as long as you are also getting your name into the game.

I feel a little bad for disliking the free games I was sent, so I started thinking about the kinds of games I like and how to design a game for me (and people like me). Fist, what games do I like? Well, I like casual games like solitaire, Bejeweled, Planet Puzzle League, tetris, and sudoku. I like word games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Bookworm Adventures Deluxe. I like some console games, like Dance Dance Revolution and Katamari Damacy. I liked Myst and several of its sequels. And I really liked several of the old Infocom text-adventure games, like the Zork series, Planetfall, Stationfall, and that one I never got very far in, because it was hard…um…it took place in a university…there was an evil custodian…Oh well, if you know it, I’m sure you will tell me.

Hmm. So, casual games, word games, DDR, and adventure/puzzle games. No swordfighting. No gender-bias. No puppies (sorry, little sister). Stamps for accomplishment are a good enough reward. … I’m not feeling like I’m getting anywhere with this train of thought.

Honestly, I am not a game designer and have no desire to be one. I like a lot of games, just not the ones Nintendo thinks I ought to like. I do think casual games and word games could be good “female-friendly” directions for Nintendo to go with this. Happily, I can rely on my husband to keep his finger on the pulse of electronic gaming, and if a game comes out that he thinks I would like, I will certainly hear about it. You will probably be able to read about it too, at his site Positively Gaming. In the meantime, Nintendo, are you listening? Do you have any cash for paying consultants? I could consult for you and tell you if a game is any good for people like me, before you try to market it. Call me.

Nintendo DS lite

9 June 2008

Nintendo DS Lite

You may know that Nintendo is marketing its DS lite handheld gaming system to women. You may have seen the ads featuring America Ferrera or Carrie Underwood. We are a vast, untapped demographic, apparently. So one way they are trying to entice us women into gaming is by having young hip urban women become “brand enthusiasts.” This means they get a free DS and they get to invite all their young hip urban female friends to a party.

I am not a “brand enthusiast” for Nintendo, but my friend Marisa over at Apartment 2024 and Fork You is. The Nintendo people picked her as one of several local women bloggers for their current strategy. She invited me as one of her hip young urban female friends (it’s OK, you can laugh) to a “Girlfriend’s Guide to Gaming” party, which was held last Friday in a rented loft in an older part of the city. Free parking was provided.

There was wine, and cheese, and fruit, and other more complicated hors d’oeuvres. There were four sectional sofas each arranged around a coffee table with a particular theme to its decor. Each coffee table also had a little pile of black DS lite game systems. After getting a charm bracelet from one of the Nintendo employees (young women dressed in black and all playing pink DS lite systems) and some wine and some little bits of this or that to try, I sat down next to someone I recognized from Marisa’s birthday party. After some chatting, we picked up the DS’s and learned how to play Nintendogs with help from one of the young women in black. First: how do you turn it on? Then, what do you do?

I played with “Spotty” the dalmation. This was pretty dull. Virtual pets are not my cup of tea. Buzz is much more fun, plus my husband converses with Buzz often, which is very entertaining as well. So far, I was not sold. I folded up the game and held out my wrist for the charm: a dog dish with a bone in it.

The next game I tried was MarioKart. Still not fun, a little stressful, and I could see how one’s thumbs could be in a lot of pain in very short order. It’s a racing game, and you play against a lot of little characters who I have no interest in, since I have no interest in any Mario-related games. I know he’s a plumber, but beyond that I have no idea. Charm for MarioKart: a black-and-white checked heart.

The third sofa I tried featured the game BrainAge 2. This game tests you to tell you how old your brain is, based on the research of some Japanese brain researcher. I had the youngest Brain Age in the room, and on a Friday night! After testing, you can play little games that are supposed to make your pre-frontal cortex more flexible and strong. There is a word scramble, a couple of math-related games, a piano-playing game (which is tricky because you are poking a little picture of a piano with a little stylus on a little screen…I didn’t like that mini-game), and a game where you make change. OK, well, not too bad. Charm: yellow puzzle piece.

Finally, I made it over to the Cross WorDS (get it, the DS is capitalized because you play it on a DS!) which was the final sofa. These are not the NYT Magazine Sunday Puzzle. I had a hard time getting into this. There is an anagramming option on this game, which I found annoying because it didn’t accept some words that Online Boggle accepts! I hate playing a game that has a smaller dictionary than the one in my head! However, the young woman in black at this station had a copy of a game called Planet Puzzle League, which I did have a good time with. It was her personal copy, and she said Nintendo was discontinuing it. That figures: the one I like is the one I can’t play. Well, I can play it if I buy it soon. I collected my final charm: a pink shoe (go figure?).

Then, since all the guests had pretty much tried all the games, the young women in black came around with the prizes we’d earned by playing all four games: we each received a black DS lite system and a copy of BrainAge 2.

What does Nintendo get in return for giving me $150 worth of merchandise (not including charm bracelet or wine and appetizers, or the cost of renting a loft and paying my parking)? I’m thinking that they hope I will buy more games, maybe some accessories, and be seen as a hip young urban woman playing their game system by other women who might then get the idea that they might want one too. I’m considering. I’ll try a few games through my husband’s gamefly subscription, and see if I want to buy any of them. If I find myself using the DS often, I might buy a case for it. The black shiny plastic case shows fingerprints in a big way.

My brain age so far is 32. Apparently I’m supposed to be aiming for 20.

M, T, T, E, G, F, S!

27 March 2008

I really like playing word games. I didn’t think I play word games that often, but I took stock and found that in fact I do play often. I confess to a little freerice vocabulary-building every week, and I usually try some online boggle every week as well. I have a stash of crossword puzzles from the Sunday newspaper going back a full year, and while I don’t finish one a week I occasionally go through bursts where I do several in a day or weekend. Plus I do a lot of them in the summer.

I also play fictionary (it involves the players making up definitions for an unknown word, then voting on the definition they think is correct) over e-mail with a group that I’ve been playing with for about 15 years. We recently tried defining the words “gnammas” and “tafoni.” I did not win, which is just as well. The winner (whoever gets the most votes) has to choose the next word and run the next round. Once all the players have submitted their definitions, the person running the round has to compile them into one file, make them all have the same format, remember to put in the real definition, and send the ballot out for votes. Then they have to count all the votes without losing track of anyone’s e-mails, and announce the winner. It’s a great game! Usually when I run the game, I have to go through 3 or 4 words before hitting on one that nobody else thinks they know. The players in that game have really good vocabularies!

While I am a physics geek, I think I have a pretty good vocabulary (if I say so myself) and I like to show off sometimes. For example, I have been on level 50 of freerice more than once. I’m pretty sure I got this vocabulary from reading too many books…a topic I will write about some other time. I like to play Scrabble®, Boggle, and Bananagrams® (though I don’t have my own bananagrams set yet…). Unfortunately, I generally think of myself as “too busy.” Well, that is not entirely true–I could be playing a word game right now but I am writing in this blog instead.

Last week, while I was on Spring Break, I played Scrabble against my husband. While I think I have a slightly better vocabulary than he does (I play freerice at a slightly higher level than he does, usually), my husband is an excellent gamer. Gaming is what he loves. He is a whiz at determining winning strategies, and even seems to win games of chance (cribbage comes to mind) more than chance might lead you to expect. He can look at a Scrabble rack of M, T, T, E, G, F, S and scope out the board, and all of a sudden there’s a tiny word snuggled next to another word making two more words and he’s got another 23 points! He’s an expert anagrammer, has a great memory (especially for things like the list of acceptable two-letter words), and is a superb strategist. Here is our board from last week’s game, which he won by over 40 points:

Scrabble Board March 2008

We were pretty pleased with ourselves–our combined total was only a little shy of 700 points, which is a nice total for two-person Scrabble!

Do you like word games? Which ones do you like to play?