Where I Attain the Opportunity to Demonstrate Immoderate Verbosity (Bookworm Adventures Deluxe)

No, I didn't know what a Stymphalian was until I played this game. Hercules' Sixth Labor, apparently.

This was the game that sat on my shoulder like a devilish imp, prompting me to finally pick up the entire Popcap bundle during a seasonal sale, despite already having played Plants Vs Zombies, the main popular anchor of a pack stuffed with a lot of other cheaper, cheesier, mainstream-y casual games.

After playing the demo, I just couldn’t get over how goddamn FUN it was.

And how much I wanted to keep playing until I completed the game.

In Bookworm Adventures Deluxe, you guide the main protagonist Lex the Bookworm on his epic quest to save the day and rescue the girl.

If you can get over the cartoony graphics and initial cheesiness, you’ll find that they hide a pretty exciting hybrid between an RPG and Boggle.

Yes, all game mechanics become more fun when we put an RPG wrapper around it. (We can talk about Puzzle Quest (bejeweled+RPG) and Defenders Quest (tower defence+RPG) another time, cos I have those games too.)

It’s crazy, but it works. You make words out of the letters on the grid given to you, and the longer your word, the more damage your excessive grandiloquence does to your opponent.

Given how fond I am of playing with vocabulary, this is a match made in heaven.

And the game is anything but easy.

It starts off simple, and you can get away with making three or four letter words to swiftly beat up the initial opponents, who clock in at about 3-4 hearts. In the earlier chapters, your amusement may derive more from seeing what non-kid-like words the game’s dictionary will let you get away with.

No, the F word doesn’t work. Oh well. Sex does!

Or how long a word you can spell.

Or how ironically appropriate the word is.

Then the complexity ramps up. You win treasures that act as weapons and armor, each with their own altering mechanic. The Bow of Zyx above gives bonus damage to words using the letters X, Y and Z. A Hammer of Hephaestus obtained in a much later chapter ramps up your damage, especially if you spell metal-related words, such as iron, bronze, melt, etc.

Some equipment offers you partial or full protection from special attacks that the more advanced monsters do, such as stunning you for a turn or three while they get free attacks on you, or adding poison or debuffing your strength and so on.

(Really, we’re spelling words here, what is this talk about debuffs and status effects! That’s the RPG component at work…)

You’re limited to bringing only three treasures with you, so choose wisely for what you’ll face. Helpfully, the game will tell you beforehand what special attacks the next chapter’s enemies are fond of using, so it does involve strategy, rather than boiling down to a trial-and-error guessing game.

And yes, there are Boss Battles at the end of every chapter.

Before long, the amount of hearts the enemies have is… staggering, to say the least.

Though it doesn’t stop me from… see above.

Some monsters have the ability to destroy tiles for several turns, making them useless in terms of contributing damage. You can choose to use them up quickly and cycle in new tiles, or just leave them be and work around them. Later, enemies may even Infect certain tiles, and those can spread to adjacent tiles, encouraging the strategy of using them up as quickly as possible.

And then you get the Gem Tiles. By spelling longer words of five letters or more, you get bonus gemmed letter tiles that, when used, give -your- attacks special status effects, such as freezing the enemy for a turn, or adding poison, or debuffing the amount of damage the enemy does (very important!), in addition to buffing your total damage.

Adding to the increased sophistication is the special three-letter word immunity certain bosses sport. Yep, those simple words don’t work no more. No more “Yes” “Sit” Bat” and so on. Four or more letters to do damage, and frankly, if you stick to four letters, you’ll probably get very beat up and use lots of healing potions in the process.

Death is not excessively punishing. You lose all your accumulated potions. If you want more, then you play a few minigames that may win you some bonus potions. And you continue from where you left off.

The setting for the first book was well-chosen, the trials of Ancient Greece, so you face fairly recognizable enemies and tropes (like venturing to the Underworld, a seven-headed hydra, etc.) Being a wordy sort of game, you may also stumbled across sly puns and a easter egg or two.

*cough* *cough* If you can’t recognize the reference, we must really talk about Interactive Fiction in subsequent posts in the future. (Prolixity on purpose.)

The final boss at the end of chapter 10 is no pushover. She was the cause of my first death, and the amount of hearts she has… well, it SCROLLS down as you go through the rows and rows.

I wanted to ask if she was “jilted” but I lacked an E. Close enough. She didn’t take kindly to the inquiry.

All the previously mentioned mechanics are in full play here. You can see the status effects on both of us. The first green tile is a gem that heals me for two hearts when used. The second is an infected tile I was getting rid of as soon as possible. Using the letter Y boosts my damage, thanks to the bow I’m carrying. Look at the amount of specials she has, sheesh.

Challenge level: Not exactly a kid’s game. A smart, brainy one, maybe.

Lemme tell you, any kid who plays this game, I will have tremendous respect for. It is fiendish in how hard it pushes your vocabulary to the limit.

The ten chapters took me a Herculean three hours of rewardingly fun mental effort in a marathon sitting, and I was all ready to claim the girl as my prize after whomping Medusa.

… And then they tell me, you’re only -just- done with Book 1.

There is a Book 2. (No, no, not the sequel Bookworm Adventures Deluxe 2, though there is one. But as in, in this singular game, Bookworm Adventures Deluxe, there is not just ten chapters of Book 1, there is also a Book 2, and presumably ten more chapters?!)

And I checked the main title screen and sure enough, some other feature only unlocks after you’ve completed Book 3.

TWO MORE BOOKS in this one game? Are you telling me it gets EVEN harder from here on up? And that I have another SIX hours to go?

I decidedly to mercifully end the marathon before my back killed me, but wow, I was impressed. It’s going to last me some time yet.

Book 2: Arabian Nights, here we come.

CoH: Why I Love This Summer Blockbuster Event

Summer at the Movies: Is this also a Nemesis Plot?

And now for something I do like from City of Heroes, lest you think I am a sour grapes and am just using the poor aging game as a whipping boy.

I know it seems that way. I’m honestly not happy with my sudden ennui and frustration. I joined it in the end of 2004, and my loyalty didn’t waver until last year’s track record shook it badly. (It was obvious the company culture and certain devs had changed hands.)

I have the equivalent of 84 months – 7 years – of veteran rewards. I don’t want it selling out to become the worse of F2P (slippery slide down the slope of lottery and gambling for big profits) and the worse of WoW (slippery slide up the repetitive grind shiny gear-chasing ladder).

It still does do -some- things right. Though sometimes I’m convinced they were happy accidents of fate.

The Summer Blockbuster Event neatly encapsulates a lot of the good things I do like. I don’t know how much of it is purposeful design and how much is just bonus, but there’s a lot to describe and break down.

It’s an event designed for a group of 4 players. It is begun by queuing using the LFG turnstile system and you have a choice of PUGing it (a pickup group) or forming your own premade group of 4 to start.

You begin in a Theatre Lobby, which builds in some breathing space for slow zoning players, getting to know your new group and discuss strategy and tactics or teach anyone if they’re new. The Lobby also sports helpful inspiration vendors, masquerading as steampunk popcorn vendors, and acts as the hospital for defeated players.

Theatre Lobby

The all-important surprisingly non-overpriced refreshments

It also has a nice immersion easter egg, winning player-created movie poster designs for folks to admire. (I believe the vendor is also a winning player costume design.)

From left to right: Magical Dream Unicorns The Movie, Brass Monday (it’s all a Nemesis Plot), Ascension (impossible just got easier), IT Came From Beneath The City

From left to right: The Guard (not all heroes need powers), My User Dave (ever get the feeling you’re being watched?) Hero One (one mission, one chance, one way), DFB (Death From Bologna)

The event comes in two parts, representing the movies Time Gladiator and Casino Heist. Whichever part starts first is random, which brings a small but nice touch of variation to the party. They are covered in detail in two separate posts as linked.

A loadscreen sets up the two movies, aka minigame-like missions

There are so many reasons why I love these Summer Blockbusters.

1) A New Innovative System

This used to be what City of Heroes stood for. Each Issue, they’d experiment with something new, something not seen before, something that pushed the envelope of what they could do with their aging MMO engine. That’s why I kept up a subscription year after year, even if I took a break for several months, because I wanted to see the devs continually surprise us with good stuff.

These Summer Blockbusters are an intricate complex arrangement of mission mechanics that were probably first built for the Incarnate Trials, and all I can say is, it’s about fucking time that they brought some of it down to the small group level.

2) Flexible Paths to Success

There’s one perfect ideal path. The path that gets you all the ten badges in one run in the shortest amount of time possible. When it happens, it is a really good feeling that all the players are in sync with each other, perfect score, awesome team, very nice job, all that congratulatory business. But you know what?

You still get the shiny IO reward at the end as long as you can complete the entire thing, even if people take alternate routes, even if people screw up, even if you don’t get a perfect badge run. And that is as it should be. That rewards persistence, not giving up, forgiveness of mistakes (your own or other people’s). No big loss, it’s just a badge you can get at another time, assuming you didn’t already have it.

Even if people inadvertently disconnect and drop out of the team, the event is completable with less people. I’ve done it with three (from scratch, a dark def, a dark corruptor and a scrapper), and even two (that was halfway through that folks crashed, so it was the casino heist left. The biggest problem was Sylvia’s regeneration rate that my lone stalker couldn’t beat. A scrapper joined up by chance using the LFG queue and that extra damage was sufficient to overcome her and ultimately leave us both walking home with the Universal Damage IO reward.)

The only issue is that the casino story doesn’t quite line up properly and you’d have to wait for the phases to time out and forgo the chance of perfect badge scoring on that part.

3) Small Group Dynamics

The only thing I do kinda wish is if they managed to scale it down to soloability, just to be inclusive, but I’ll seriously take four-person teams over 24-man Incarnate trial raids ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

It’s small enough to be aware of the role of each person and allows for chances for group synergy (who’s tanking, who’s doing damage, who’s supporting, and hybrid versions thereof.) It’s not so chaotically messy.

I rather like that they chose to exemplar us down to lvl 29. Too high a level is a little exclusionary for those who don’t have higher leveled characters. And those of us with higher leveled characters, well, when we exemplar down to a mid-range,  most of us lose all the gap filling powers and set bonuses that allow people to run around heedless of archetype soloing things tankmage style, and have to fall back a little more on the fun group dynamics of City of Heroes.

As a guy on the forums mentioned, his support characters actually felt valuable, like they could shine in true support, rather than be overshadowed by the thousandth and one uber-Incarnate scrapper. Scrappers and even brutes are squishier at lvl 29. Good support helps them shine. In turn, squishy classes ARE squishy at lvl 29. Proper tanking and holding aggro really makes life easier.

I also really appreciated the lack of purple triangles on many of the AVs and bosses. Control classes have a good chance of stacking enough control to make a visible, noticeable difference. This stuff matters. This stuff lets players feel their characters are effective.

I took my support characters out of the deep freeze (270 days and counting) to play the event and it felt good to make a noticeable difference, something I simply wasn’t feeling in Incarnate trials.

4) It Encourages Alting

There’s a 20-hour limit on one character to earn the desirable IO shiny via the event. I think this was meant more to limit the rate at which the shiny is earned, but it is a happy accident that this encourages the digging up of alts to run multiple playthroughs.

I’ve been unearthing more and more alts to run them through the event and it feels like meeting old friends again. This nostalgic fondness for characters long forgotten, but still up to performing well as muscle memory kicks in.

And with different alts, comes different playstyles. This is the true essence of CoH. People can run the same mission repetitively because they’re playing with different powersets and playstyles, and with different people – which makes you adapt and change to fit what the group needs at that point in time.

I’ve had picture perfect optimum role runs where everyone fell naturally into CoH’s hybrid version of the holy trinity (with extra buff/debuff and cc love!)

I’ve had runs where a secondary class can fill in roles in a pinch, with others’ support (my scrapper was tanking with the leadership buffs from a Soldier of Arachnos), or the more nonstandard but still good combinations (the controller used phantom army to tank)

I’ve even had the eyebrow-raising “ooh er, this is tricky” runs. Namely, one run with all squishies, two controllers who didn’t have invulnerable pets, a dom and a blaster. We all got tossed around and three-shotted over-and-over by the first AV in the arena as we established none of us had true tanking capability as is. At which point, I rolled my eyes, bought a bunch of purple Lucks from the popcorn vendor and acted as volunteer tank by virtue of stacking three of them at once for effective defence and just unloading on the damage till I drew aggro. Things stabilized from there, and yes, we got the shiny at the end.

Or the run with my ancient low-damage stone tank, two lowbie brutes who also seemed not that well-slotted on damage, and an illusion controller. I went in expecting to be all tanky, and then I realized that everyone was survivable, the controller’s phantom army was tanking half the time and one of the brutes the other, and the total amount of damage everyone was outputting was scarily miserable since the three melee types were sucking wind on endurance issues. So three quarters of the time, I ran around toggle-less in order to save endurance and do normal (for a tanker) levels of damage to contribute and everyone stopped for lots of blue candies at the inspiration vendor later. We managed, pretty painfully, but managed.

5) Short and Sweet, Fast and Furious

On the whole, excepting the rare cases above, each event is exactly that, short, sweet instances of fast furious fun and action where you get to beat up some AVs in a small group. It’s like the Imperious Task Force (everyone’s all-time favorite TF) in miniature.

6) LFG Tool is Actually Working For Once

Wait time is minimal. I presume this is because critical mass of 4 people is much easier to achieve than presuming 16-24 people have the patience (or lack of sense) to stand around queueing hoping that an Incarnate trial will start, utterly leaderless and still succeed.

And success is easier to come by and the mechanics easier to learn and more forgiving, which yields positive feedback into the loop and encourages more players to keep queuing because hey, these random groups of people can still  succeed and they’re fast and convenient to get into, and no one needs to lead. Everyone just needs to do their part.

ATITD: The Bijou (and Gem-Cutting)

Water mines used to look like pretty glass screws until they got uglified. (We will get around to discussing the very obvious epeen in another post someday.)

Before I played this game, I had no idea such a word existed. And to be honest, I only looked up the definition when writing this post.

bi·jou [bee-zhoo, bee-zhoo]

noun, plural bi·joux

1. a jewel.

2. something small, delicate, and exquisitely wrought.

Etymology: 1660s, from Fr. bijou, from Breton bizou “(jeweled) ring,” from bez “finger” (cf. Cornish bisou “finger-ring,” 13c.)

Welp, learn something new every day.

Despite my ignorance of many things French, the Test of the Bijou produces one of my favorite minigame puzzles to play in A Tale in the Desert.

You are presented with a target gem cut to achieve (top left, on the sticks.) A cuboidal gem sits on the Scholar’s Gem Cutting Table. Your job? Cut the gem to match the target gem cut.

Essentially, bijous (the player-created puzzles) are like training wheels for the skill of gem-cutting.

Similar to blacksmithing in ATITD, which involves actually hammering polygons towards a target shape and allows for true player skill development (unlike typical wussy progress-bar increment blacksmithing in most MMOs – I’ll cover blacksmithing in a future post, in the meantime, you can check out Van Hemlock’s old old post about it which first got me involved with the game), gem-cutting involves cutting (or subtracting) away at polygons until you reach the desired shape.

I find gem-cutting slightly easier than blacksmithing, in the sense that the cuts are more predictable and less pixel-finicky.

What’s less fun is that mistakes cannot be taken back. If you cut wrongly, that’s it, you’ve screwed up, and you’re one cuttable gem down.

Cuttable gems are obtained by waiting around for a water mine to spit one up every ~4-20 minutes (definitely on the longer side most of the time) and there are seven types (that the mine appears to rolls randomly from) so waiting for the exact type you want can be an exercise in significant patience and time.

Gem cutting is also reliant somewhat on luck. The cuttable gem you start out with has a defined set of flaws, and certain gem cuts must have flaws in some pattern to achieve. If the gem you placed on the table didn’t have those flaws, tough luck, you can’t cut that gem, go look for another best possible gem cut to make with the existing gem and try again with the next gem.

Bijous shortcut all that. You’re guaranteed that the gem it presents you with is one that you can achieve the solution at the end. And you don’t need a cuttable gem to start a bijou puzzle, nor do you get any product from it. All you get is some satisfaction and a little better at gem-cutting.

The best guide to gem-cutting that I’ve found so far is on the Tale 3 wiki page here. (This may not be obvious to many new players, but the later wikis Tale 4-6 sometimes take shortcuts with explanations because the veterans are already quite familiar. I find browsing back to the Tale 2 and 3 wikis can sometimes provide a clearer explanation to newbies just gettingthe  hang of things.) There was even a school in Tale 3 that set up a bunch of bijou tables to teach gem-cutting to people, which makes me wish I was clued into ATITD a lot sooner.

But well, we do the best with what we have. Some day, I’ll work through that immense list of gem cuts. For now, I’ve just about progressed to the point of being halfway competent at basic cuts and able to solve bijous like these.

First off, orientation. People normally stand facing Disc 1 like so. There are three discs. Disc 1 does a complete horizontal or vertical slice in the same plane as the saw disc showing.

Disc 2 does a kind of diagonal slice. And disc 3 does the other kind of “angled” diagonal slice.

(The technical wiki explanation for those who find it more helpful: Each disc will remove all the outermost vertices along a plane. Disc 1 removes the left side of the gem. Disc 2 removes the diagonal plane touching on the upper and front sides of the gem. Disc 3 removes the diagonal plane touching on the upper, front, and right sides of the gem. )

Me, I just got turned around by the wiki after a while. You have to try it to get the feel of it.

Rotating the gem is also a “by feel” thing for me. The J and K keys rotate the gem left and right. Technically, this is “rotating the gem along the Z axis” as pictured by my cruddy diagramming above.

U and I rotate the gem up and down, or ahem, “rotating the gem along the Y axis.”

The last set of keys O and L rotate the gem left and right along the unseen faces in the picture above (or “along the X axis” for those more comfortable with 3d modelling terminology.)

Now that we can move the gem around, we can get to cutting:

Step 1 – Find the flaw that matches the target gem cut

The target gem cut as pictured above has that particular shaped flaw. Rotate the cube about looking for it.

Here I’ve already sped things along by showing it in the picture… except it doesn’t quite match up. There’s some other ugly flaws in the way.

This calls for a straight slice from Disc 1.

Tada! That looks a lot more like it. Just um, upside down.

We can fix that. Rotate rotate.

Step 2 – Cut away excess layers to approach the target shape

We don’t need the other stuff in the way, so disc 1 to the rescue again, keep rotating the gem to face unwanted planes to the saw and trim it down to the appropriate size.

Wheeee! Done?

No, I lied. I didn’t show you the other camera angle yet.

This target gem cut actually has 4 symmetrical “angled diagonal” faces behind.

Step 3 – Choose the correct blade and trim the other faces to match.

This always throws me off, I’m just about getting better at it, choosing between disc 2 and disc 3. In this case, I made a guess that disc 3 would be the appropriate one and did a hail mary cut.

Phew. It was the right blade. Now that face matches.

From here, it was a matter of rotating and using the same blade to clean up the other three sides.

In similar vein to the other thought tests, I won’t show the final steps, but it’s quite easy from here. I’ve also gone into a bit more detail with showing you all this bijou ‘solution’ because frankly, it’s a lot easier described than done. A good part of the challenge is in the gem manipulation, managing camera angles,  and the not accidentally over-cutting :)

Here’s a peek at another bijou:

See the flaws and the shape of where the target gem cut should lie?

Trust me, it’s easier when I show the correct face to you here, rotating to look for it from six possible faces is a bit less easy. :)

What disc(s) should be used to chop it to its super duper thinness?

Disc 1 was the correct answer, getting rid of all the stuff behind it essentially. Now which other disc to clear the remaining junk?

That would be last disc we haven’t used in this post as yet.

And soon after that… done.

One more recognized bijou, and one more level.