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.

TSW: Quests That Make You Think

One of these things is not like the others...

Having a good time in The Secret World with the plethora of innovative quests that don’t mind leaving the player stumped or running around in circles perfectly poised on the knife edge between frustration and conviction that the answer is here, somewhere, if only I could figure it out…

So what are these innovations that move TSW’s quests beyond the simple kill-X-whatevers, defeat-alls, click glowie objects, Fed-ex parcels back and forth and escort quests we see in every MMO out there?

All the above still exist in TSW, by the way. It’s just mixed with a good helping of the stuff below, which makes the story and quest path more interesting. So far, I’ve encountered:

(Minor spoilers follow. That is, you may find out that such-and-such type of quest exists, and I may allude to some methods of solution, but no direct answers or walkthroughs. If you want to be completely in the dark before playing the game yourself, then stop reading now.)

1) Pay attention to the scenery (I mean, the world)

It’s such a small thing, but what a world of difference it makes. Quests casually refer to places or things that are near another place and leave you to figure out where to go and where it is.

If you recognize the address of where some shop is, or some other notable landmark in town, you can head directly there feeling good that you know where things are in this world, rather than spend all your time following arrows and waypoints from the minimap radar.

TSW generally follows the LOTRO style of waypointing, where the waypoint chucks you at the ballpark area so that you’re not completely hung out to dry, and then leaves you to go and search the area however you like. More than once, I’ve had to do the casual version of a grid search across the entire highlighted area because the item I’m looking for is not terribly obvious.

Fortunately, they are kind enough to highlight important items in yellow if you get close to it, so that it does not devolve into a frustrating pixel hunt. (If you were masochistic enough, you have the option of turning it off. I wouldn’t dream of it.)

This style of quest encourages you to observe your surroundings more closely and generally pay attention to the world as a world, rather than pretty but unimportant scenic props.

In investigation quests, TSW doesn’t hold your hand at all. The easy-mode waypoints go dark. Hopefully you were paying attention on the earlier kinds of quests.

One memorable quest had me running in and out and around the Kingsmouth Church for a good half hour or so, ready to tear my hair out and taking it out on any nearby zombies that got in my way. I was supposed to find out what song was going to be sung on a particular Sunday, and it was baffling me good and proper. I kept talking to the pastor there, wondering if he had any clues in his dialogue. I kept looking for hymn books lying around on some convenient table. Nothing, nada, zilch.

This view does not contain what I was trying to find.

I was just about ready to start Googling for hints, when by chance, my camera angle shifted and I really -looked- at what was on my screen.

What I exclaimed was not fit to be said in that church.

In retrospect, it was obvious, and it fit. Which is the best kind of adventure game puzzle solution.

2) Follow the Trail of…

Blood (a perennial favorite,) dirt, even metal traps.

Or Illuminati signs. This shows up in the intro tutorial, so you immediately get a sense of the kinda place this is going to be.

Again, it’s a simple thing, but it feels good. It’s like you get to play really simple CSI and follow the red blood splatters until you get somewhere.

For some quests, the trail in question is phased in. For other quests, the trail has always been there, embedded into the scenery you keep running past without a second glance.

(This ain’t completely new. I’ve seen Runescape do it specifically for certain quests/skills that require tracking animal tracks. For all I know, there are other MMOs who do stuff like this for footprints or whatever. But we need to see more of it, because it’s something else to do besides just follow the waypoint dotted track that has no real existence in the world. )

A very neat touch and more advanced spin on this type of quest is the Siren’s Song in the main story quest. Trigger an item, and your view changes, including a waypoint path that you have to follow. Except this waypoint path represents the song you are hearing being sung. The audio also sends atmospheric chills up your spine, in a good way.

Dooo doooo…. La lala la lalala…

3) Find the Safe Path (or ANY path at all)

Sort of a variant on the jumping puzzle, just less vertical and with a touch more lateral thinking. Bunch of scary red lasers, or piles of green radioactive goo or electrocuted water in your way. How are you going to get from here to there?

The same question and challenge also applies to awfully high items that you can’t reach, or things that sit around taunting you with a fence/barrier blocking your way

How the heck do I get in there?

Kind of a more sophisticated version of the thing you do in City of Heroes when you get to the waypoint and can’t find the mission door because it’s either above or under you.

4) Riddles

Obscure wordplay. ‘Nuff said. Pretty fun, but I am a wordy kind of person.

LOTRO also dabbles with these.

5) Triangulate to a Location

Seriously, wow. I was NOT expecting any other MMO than A Tale in the Desert to make me even attempt triangulation (lemme tell you about frog catching in ATITD some other time.)

You get a radar thingummy. It pings more frequently and beeps louder as you get warmer and closer to the desired location. Figure it out.

Ping! Ping ping! Ping…

Fortunately, the location was nearby and I didn’t have to do any coordinate calculations unlike *ahem* a certain other sandy MMO, which was good, cos I hate math.

6) Solve Morse Code

*@#@)!*

I confess, this one defeated me. I am naturally as far from an auditory learner as you can get. Anything that requires me to pay attention to sounds, memorize them and their rhythms, and replicate them is going to kick my ass.

I gamely tried to pause the visualization and go frame by frame to decode it, but the poor UI controls in the game frustrated me to no end. Nor did looking up a Youtube recording of it help, even though I could rewind and fast forward. I got as far as three letters, garbled up by an extra imaginary dot where there should be nothing, threw up my hands and started Googling for help.

I even tried downloading an automatic Morse Code decoder as suggested by a forums-goer, but was stumped by all the technical audio references and terms in the program, and also discovered my seldom-used mic was definitely not working.

(I was, however, quite impressed as to the ingenuity of the other puzzle solvers. This sort of program use harkens back to my MUD days, where some of us would indulge in ‘cyborging’ – my term for the use of such programs to help a human solve these kinds of quests at a much faster rate than manually puzzling it out. I still know where to go for anagram and cryptogram solvers, fer instance.)

So I eventually cheated via Google-fu and found some kind person who had spilled the answer to this puzzle online.

I don’t feel a speck of guilt for doing this though. It’s up to each player to choose the difficulty level they desire. This is still an MMO, and the ‘multiplayer’ component has to play a part somewhere.

Sure, maybe we’ll get to a point where an expansion is released and no one knows the answer to some new mysterious investigation quest or ARG that just launched. Then I’ll be glad to pool my mental power with that of everyone’s in trying to puzzle it out together.

Ultimately, we are living in the age of an interconnected global mind by courtesy of the internet. It would be foolish not to harness its power.

P.S. For anyone who still has not encountered this amusing Zahada riddle website yet, feel free to enjoy doing stuff similar to (or slightly harder than) what The Secret World is asking of its players right now. You may thank me for wasting a week of your time later.

(Our workplace lost about that much productivity time when we found it and attempted solving it together.)

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.