27 August 2010

Review: Picross 3D

I really enjoyed playing the 2D version of this when it came out. I picked it up as a bargain knowing little about it and didn't play it for a while then got really hooked. Not only that but I also got my wife hooked on it. So when the news of a version in 3D filtered out, being that I work in 3D as well, I was very pleased.

I bought this new version as soon as it was available in France. I was pleased to see the four slots for players but the stylus-only navigation was a bit slow. Playing the games themselves was fine - you have to chip away at a large block gradually revealing the shape concealed within using logic and deduction. Since you only have five chances, you cannot simply guess at whether a block can be destroyed or not.

Rather than the patterning given in the 2D version, where a column would be headed by a sequence of numbers (3, 2, 5, 5) and you would have to determine where the spaces lay, with Picross 3D you are only given one digit on a side of a block and that digit carries through the row, column or side. There are two exceptions. Numbers in circles represent not a solid block of the number shown but split into two not necessarily equal halves. Numbers in squares mean that the group is split into at least three sections. Now for a 2 in a circle or a 3 in a square this is simple enough - you know that the blocks on either side of a block you have selected cannot be used, so they can be destroyed. It gets more complicated when you have larger numbers in circles or squares and usually you find them by process of elimination - once you have cleared the single section blocks they become more obvious.

Sometimes you can recognise the object you are slowly revealing and you can chip away knowing that the object is symmetrical, but in the later levels the objects cannot be counted on for their symmetry. Often times in later levels you have no inkling of what you are trying to uncover so only brute force can reveal it. Obviously, in later levels where the puzzles can consist of as many as 1,000 blocks you are going to need to be able to navigate in rows and columns in the interior of the block to uncover your object and a red and blue slider will help you narrow down the sides, but there is no third slider to go from top to bottom.

The game is very addictive, like its predecessor, but it feels like more of a grind - you spend ages robotically using the sliders to go through the block picking off individual blocks or marking them up and sometimes it just feels like a slog - it doesn't stop you from playing hence the addictive bit, but the other downfall is that the progression is very stepped - the order hasn't been arranged carefully enough to give you a real sense of achievement, some of the puzzles on the very last level feel easier than ones two levels down. Of course, it may just be that by the end you are such a Picross expert that the levels just "feel" easier, but that still shouldn't be the case. Also, I had completed two levels of the tutorial right at the start of the game and it said "congrats, the easy puzzles are now open", so I went and did those, then the Normal ones and then the hard and yet although I had competed the game, there were some puzzle collections that were incomplete and I was at 344 puzzles when the box said "over 350 puzzles" and I wasn't sure why. Upon revisiting the Tutorial section after attempting to tease out the remaining puzzles from the game's Random Puzzle function, I found that there are in fact additional levels to the Tutorial section and a total of 369 puzzles to play.

If you have finished the game, it's still not over since you can build your own puzzles with the included editor or go for some downloadable content in the form of additional puzzles from Nintendo or other players and challenges online (I haven't tried those although I have reduced my router to having no security for WiFi for the time it takes to download a new batch of puzzles before putting the WPA2 PSK-TKIP walls back up).

I've written a lot of words for a game that left me less satisfied than the 2D original. It's still a very addictive game but I guess I wanted more from it - not more puzzles, but more challenge. 3/5

PS. There is a website where you can try bits and bobs and see a trailer for the game

26 August 2010

Skype goodies

Just a quick post (I still need to do reviews of the Harmony 700 universal remote, Picross 3D and the Philips BDP-3100 Blu-Ray player). Since I am a journalist for various publications I use Skype all the time for conducting interviews. Text chatting is great because it means that you can copy and paste quotes directly but understandably people don't have all day to type, so I found two things to help...

The first is the excellent MP3 Skype recorder. This free bit of software does exactly what its name implies and records a conversation of any length to your hard drive in a quality that is good enough to transcribe (you can up the quality if you'd like, but you don't need to, the default is perfectly fine). Now all I need is automatic transcription software that's free and works... :D

The second is perhaps even better. Ring2Skype gives you a real phone number in over 100 cities in the world and you can have as many as you like for nothing. The phone number costs you nothing and it means that your contacts should only have to pay for a local phone call to get to you, cutting down their costs too. In combination with the MP3 recorder it makes a perfect duo for journalists.

21 August 2010

Second scuba dive

Same place as before, just the one dive this afternoon and everyone was really kind to me, making sure that my bottle was taken care of so I didn't have to trudge through the sand, etc. Down at 20.1 m this time for 45 mins and again I felt completely at home. The visibility was still not great although it had apparently been really good this morning (there were speedboats around all day, that can't have helped). Saw pretty much the same stuff today, apart from the additions of a jellyfish (that I didn't go near since I was diving without gloves or socks today) and a lionfish. We also saw some triggerfish that Fran├žois who guided me last time told me bite if they get riled and they really dig in deep, so I'm glad I just gazed at them and went "ooh" (in my head) rather than tried to make a new best friend. Talking of which, spent some time with squid and was amazed to see how fast they changed colour, it really is instant not the slow flow from one shade to the next I was expecting.

Many thanks to Bruno Pommepuy who was my guide today. There was a misunderstanding about my medical certificate. I had asked if the one I had been issued in June was okay, he'd said yes, but it was only afterwards I thought he'd meant that that one would be fine if I re-presented it, but I had already given it over to the club's monitor, Marc Bazot, the first time I dived. I had a sinking feeling that the fact that I didn't have it with me (because Marc had it) meant that I wouldn't be able to dive but Bruno said he'd sort it, hurrah!

Only two more dives to go now to get my Level 1 qualification. The question is if I can afford to do Level 2 in both money and time?