Real Stars Skybox

Real Stars Skybox Plus

Note: Real Stars Skybox Plus is now available for $5 at the Unity Asset Store.

So, I’ve made a thing, and am very proud of that thing and am going to shout about it a bit! Actually, I’ve made two things.

The first thing I’ve made is a skybox of the celestial sphere. Skyboxes are 360 degree panoramic images used in computer games to easily create a distant background. Usually they’re pictures of pretty skies and distant mountains. I’ve made a 360 degree panorama of (almost) all the visible stars in the sky using real astronomical data.

I took a giant star catalogue, found the 5000 brightest, and used my favourite 3D modelling program (POV-Ray) to simulate their positions, colours, and brightness. With a lot of tweaking, I tried balance realism with the beauty of the stars. Finally, I added names to some of the stars and drew outlines of the constellations to help find your way around.

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The Medieval Puzzle Collection and homogeneous linear equations

The Medieval Puzzle Collection by Tim Dedopulos

The Medieval Puzzle Collection, A Fine and Perplexing Tome of Riddles, Enigmas and Conundrums, is one entry in a long list of Carlton published puzzle books by Tim Dedopulos. Similar titles include numerous Sherlock Holmes themed books, Tutankhamun’s Book of Puzzles and even A Game of Thrones Puzzle Quest.

I think this particular book, published in 2014, is a cheaper black-and-white reprint of the full colour The Medieval Puzzle Book from 2013. Suffice to say, Tim has churned out a lot of these books over the last 10 years, and there’s probably not a huge amount to tell between them.

Short version: I think this book is downright poor, though not quite as poor as The Great Global Treasure Hunt on Google Earth, also by Dedopulos. I don’t hate all his books – I quite enjoyed Sherlock Holmes’ Elementary Puzzles – but Medieval is both dull and badly edited. I’ll try to explain why, finishing with a mathematical foray into the world of homogeneous linear equations. Ready? Read on!

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Detective Di: Review and Analysis

Detective Di PDC
Detective Di with Puzzle Dependency Chart

Detective Di: The Silk Rose Murders is a Kickstarter-backed point-and-click adventure game. After reaching its funding target in March 2015, the game was finally released in May 2019.

Unusually for me, I picked up a copy almost immediately after release. It was on offer on Steam and looked interesting, with the promise of a detective adventure requiring the player to deduce the identity of the killer.

I didn’t get what I was promised, the deduction mechanic obviously being shaved down to almost nothing over the 5-year production cycle. But Detective Di is an otherwise well-polished game, with engaging story and characters, and a few interesting puzzles to while away a couple of long evenings. Overall: 3 out of 5.

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Puzzle Dependency Charts

The Dig PDC crop

Shame on me for failing to post anything for over a year. I’ve been working on some puzzles and ideas of my own, but have nothing to reveal yet. As part of that work, I’ve been expanding my knowledge of Puzzle Dependency Charts so will instead share some information about them, including two full charts for LucasArts flawed masterpiece, The Dig.

Puzzle Dependency Charts (or Graphs, or Diagrams) are an excellent tool for designing and refining interconnected puzzles. Online discussions usually focus on their use in the classic LucasArts adventure games since Ron Gilbert of Monkey Island fame developed them to help design his games. But they are not limited to computer games and would be helpful for designing physical Escape Rooms or any multi-stage puzzle.

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Elvenar and Guest Races

Elvenar header

Human or Elf in Elvenar

Every once in a while I try a new free-to-play, massively multiplayer online Flash game. You know, those games advertised by clickbait, starring Kate Upton’s cleavage. Games that are free to play, but offer endless opportunities to buy in-game currency to speed things along or get a fancy orange shield.

Many of these MMOs are completely interchangeable. They feature inconsequential, badly translated plots and throw in random mini-games to keep you occupied as you wait for your stamina to recover so you can click through another encounter. All in the hope that the incoherent story might, one day, come to an end. The sheer quantity of artwork some of these games contain is astounding, with thousands of weapons and individual pieces of armour available to buff your chosen warrior.

Once in a while, though, a game is interesting enough to capture my attention for a year or more. At the moment, that game is Elvenar by InnoGames. This is fitting since InnoGames’ Tribal Wars was my first MMO back in the early noughties.
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Unlock! Escape Games and Free Demos

Unlock box

Unlock! Mystery Adventures

I recently picked up a copy of Unlock! Mystery Adventures. So far I’ve only played the tutorial adventure, so don’t worry about spoilers or solutions in this post.

I’ve tried some real life Escape Rooms over the past few years, and they’re usually fun, though I was so disappointed with Breakout Manchester, that I couldn’t even be bothered to blog about the experience! But as we and our friends get to that age where young children start interfering with the adults’ playtime opportunities, organising a group outing gets harder.

Unlock!, Escape The Room, and the critically acclaimed Exit: The Game series offer the chance to try out the Escape Room phenomena in the comfort of your own home and are more suitable for smaller groups, or even solo play.
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The Bus Game app for Android

the bus game

the Bus Game

I’m delighted to report that I’ve just released The Bus Game as an Android app to the Google Play Store.

I first developed The Bus Game back in 2016 as a prototype for my nephew. You can read about its development here: The Bus Game.

There’s also a print and play version that you can test out here: The Bus Game: Print out and Play.

And, finally, you can get all the graphics, resources and code for the app from the Unity Asset Store for $5, here: The Bus Game – Asset Store.

I hope you have as much fun playing it as I did creating it. I’d love to receive some feedback and suggestions for improvements.

Xmas eXcavation – a game for Christmas

game screenshot

Xmas eXcavation

A merry Christmas to all, and to all a good 2018.

In celebration, and to give everyone a fun, indoor activity away from the cold, I present Xmas eXcavation (click to play).

The game will be familiar to any Minesweeper players, but with one key difference: you’re trying to locate and uncover presents hidden under the snow, while avoiding the dirty lumps of coal. Double click (or tap) to uncover a patch of snow. Single click to mark a suspected piece of coal. Good luck!
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Multiple Puzzle Solutions in The Witness

The Witness

Perspective tricks are all over The Witness

The Witness is a computer puzzle game from 2016. It’s great to look at, with challenging but satisfying puzzles and a few moments of genius.

Despite its high points, it has to be said that I was massively underwhelmed by the game overall and bored before I reached the end. The attempts to make the game deep by throwing in an assortment of philosophical sound and video recordings sits somewhere between lazy and insulting. Wired have already done an excellent dissection job, though I would choose the adjective “hollow” to describe the experience of playing The Witness, rather than “empty”.

The distinction is subtle, but the game really does look great on the surface. Its desert island setting is covered with perspective tricks and puzzles requiring you to be standing in just the right place so you can trace paths between separate buildings or across vast landscapes. The design of the puzzles in general is great, with LOTS of them, and a minority that are pure frustration. It’s a worthwhile reward at the centre of it all that’s missing, and the game falsely implies you’re going to receive one with its enigmatic wrapping suggesting questions to be answered come the end. Instead, the only reward for solving puzzles are more pretty graphics and more puzzles.

But if you want a challenge, I’d still recommend picking up a copy of the game. Just don’t expect to find meaning, or plot, or satisfying conclusions in it. Most importantly, if you get bored, walk away and come back when you feel in the mood again. Pushing through the game because you’re expecting something to happen rather than because you’re enjoying solving the puzzles will just suck the joy out of the experience.
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Cat And Mouse from BePuzzled

Cat And Mouse puzzle

Impossibles: Cat And Mouse

Reporting on another charity shop find: a BePuzzled “Puzzling Puzzle” from 1994, “Cat And Mouse”.

This is intended to be an ultra-hard jigsaw puzzle, and has also been marketed under the “Impossibles” brand. The various ideas for making jigsaw puzzles harder are great. There are no edge pieces. The picture is repetitive and is not fully revealed by the box art. There are 5 extra pieces that don’t fit into the puzzle. And there’s a extra puzzle to solve once all the pieces have been put together: find the mouse hidden among the cats.
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