“The Blackwell Epiphany”

"The Blackwell Epiphany" — Kimia Wood

The Blackwell games are point-and-click puzzle adventures in the paranormal detective genre.

The premise: Rosangela Blackwell (and her aunt Lauren Blackwell) and “mediums” who seek out troubled spirits, help them realize their death, and send them to “the light” of the next world. Joey Mallone is their snarky “spirit guide” who bridges the gap between spirit world and living world.

The first four games blended humor and creepy with some excellent writing, then ended on a little bit of a cliffhanger (especially if you knew there was a sequel).

Blackwell Epiphany is that sequel. While it’s not all I might wish it to be, it ends the series on a high note of emotional story-telling and professional game design. Continue reading

“Myst IV: Revelation”

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood I fell in love with the Myst games a long time ago. The photo-realistic worlds and the tantalizing hints of deeper things always left me wanting more.

Until now. Myst IV: Revelation has…finished Myst for me. It is concluded…I am satisfied. And for once, I don’t need to weep at the parting. (Well, maybe just a little.)

The World

The central premise of Myst is that a civilization called the D’ni could create worlds by writing books, and then visit those worlds physically by linking through the books. (A person must bring a return Linking Book with him when he goes exploring, and any book you link through doesn’t come with you – it stays in the first world.)

From a first-person perspective, we point and click our way through these “Ages” to unlock doors, uncover passwords, power machines, and solve puzzles. And, of course, soak in breath-taking landscapes, vistas, and architecture."Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

Whatever else I can say, the world is still incredible. Hydraulic locks, levers and buttons, rotating bridges and elevators…it’s like an engineer’s playground. These real-world mechanics mix, of course, with magic crystals, strange animals, bizarre cultures, and the Age-writing Art of the D’ni.

The Progress of Technology

Myst was released in the dark ages of computing, when graphics cards were limited, the in-game animations were tiny and limited, and the curser was a 2D hand (that changed shape for different interactions).

Revelation seeks to take full advantage of the progress of computer technology, and offers a 360º, 3D-rendered environment to explore.

This means that the world around you doesn’t always look as photo-realistic as it did in Myst, or Riven. The camera also has a tendency to focus in on the foreground, or the background, depending on where your cursor is. I think this is to mimic the variable focus of the human eye, but it’s distracting.

As for the cursor, it’s a 3D, CGI hand. It waves vaguely wherever you point it; extends the fingers to indicate a direction you can move; whips out a magnifying glass if something can be examined more closely; and stretches the fingers subtly if you can unroll a map, pull a lever, or other similar action. This final characteristic can be easy to miss, and if it’s not obvious something is there to manipulate, you can easily miss some interactions.

Atrus’s Family

If you haven’t yet played Myst or Riven, SPOILER ALERT! (Also, go do that.)

Way back in Myst, we met two characters trapped in books that they had thought were Ages: Sirrus and Achenar. Their dad is Atrus, and he is a descendent of the fallen D’ni civilization and a writer of Ages.

If you played through Myst, explored the Ages that link from it, solved Atrus’ pretty un-secure password manager, and uncovered the truth about what happened…you’ll know that Sirrus and Achenar trapped their father without a Linking Book home, distracted their mother, burned most of Atrus’ library of Books, and used the special Books he had warned them never to touch.

Blam! The books trapped them. And once you free Atrus, he burns those books to keep them from ever escaping.

Until now.

Revelation!

Fast forward twenty years. Atrus invites you (his nameless, faceless, gender-less “friend”) to his new home, where he is attempting to spy on the Prison Ages and decide if his sons have repented of murdering the inhabitants of the Ages and are ready to be released.

Yes…we can see this ending well, eh?

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

Turns out, he and his wife have already written visiting capsules into the Prison Ages. That way, they can link into the capsule, have a visit through bars, and link away – leaving the Linking Book for their own home out of the reach of the prisoners.

The prisoners can’t possibly escape! Why would you worry about that? Atrus only built complex machinery and houses and scientific equipment by hand in his various Ages…what makes you think his sons could do the same thing from scratch?

Yeesha

Did I mention? Atrus also has a ten-year-old daughter now.

Maybe it’s her dialogue, or maybe it’s the delivery of the actress, but Yeesha is clearly supposed to capture our sympathies and feel like a dear friend (even though we’ve actually only just met). Y’know, one of those annoyingly perfect child-characters.

Especially as the “mysterious circumstances” start piling up, you really start to feel that Atrus is a clueless dupe who should have stuck to books, and not attempted children.

Puzzles

I should say something about the puzzles.

We have our classic Myst fare here, with locked doors; passwords in journals; machines that need power; etc.

It made me wonder if Atrus has a constellation-based color-combination lock on the bathroom…and then I realized that his house has no bathroom.

Also contains one or two pixel-hunts, although that might be due to the mechanics of the cursor-hand (see above).

Messin’ with Memory

Added to those familiar hurdles is a new mechanic. Yeesha has a magic necklace that shows memories."Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

This, along with the journals that every member of Atrus’ family conveniently keeps, lets you piece together the motives of the various actors, solve some of the puzzles, and generally be the worst thing to happen to Sirrus and Achenar!

M’whahaha! If you wanted to forge an evil plot, you shouldn’t have invited the Stranger-from-the-Starry-Void!

Seriously, though, this mechanic gives you hints for solving the puzzles, plus valuable information at unraveling the sinister plot being woven.

Who is plotting what? Who is evil? And who should I trust?

Being able to view people’s secret memories is very handy for that…

A note on story tension

My family mocked me for this, but I’ll bring it up anyway.

Whenever you linked to new Age in Myst, you had to solve the Age’s puzzles and get things working again to unlock the Linking Book and return to Myst.

In Riven and Exile, you plunged into an unknown world without a ticket out, and had to solve your way forward to find any way to escape. (And in Riven especially, Atrus’ wife’s fate hangs on your success.)

In Revelation…your first task is to “oh, get the power back on, will you?” Your second task is, “Feel free to check out my Linking Books if you like…oh, and make sure Yeesha does her homework.” Ha ha.

Beyond that, though, every single place you visit has a Linking Book back to Atrus’ home right there at the beginning. You don’t need to venture into predator-infested jungles, or brave bottomless shafts in wind-swept fortresses…you can say, “Forget this,” and hop back home.

Obviously, I bought this game in order to play through the puzzles, and feel smart, and uncover the story through journals and clues. And my family helpfully pointed out that this gives the game a less linear structure. You can solve this Age, or that Age, or stay and futz around the first Age…or jump to this new Age…

Solve puzzles in whatever order you want. Travel when and where you want. Stop and go back to a place you especially liked if you really want.

True, this gives the player much more freedom in how they play and the order they play puzzles in (and the sequence in which they unravel the story).

However, it also saps some of the urgency from the story. You are not trapped, and hunting for an escape. Later on, you’re kind of searching for Yeesha, and trying to uncover what happened…but it’s not like there’s a rush. There’s plenty of time to ransack the Ages for anything marked PRIVATE DIARY. And, well, there’s not the same level of narrative tension.

(Perhaps if I hadn’t thought Yeesha was an annoying Mary Sue who was also try to kill me via collapsing bridge, I would have felt more invested in the rescue mission. But again, when I could back out at any time and return to Atrus’ house… “Hey, I’ll make some tea or whatever your culture drinks…Hope it all works out, Atrus! Maybe you should spend more time supervising your children than leaving them in the care of your ‘friend’ and dashing off for machine parts.”)

Serenia…or, the 1960s New Age-y Age

Revelation gives you four Ages to explore. The final one is Serenia.

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

As if the rest of it wasn’t weird enough…

The outside of Serenia is beautiful — full of twisty, hard-to-map paths; flowing, conjoining streams of water; butterflies that look like organza pixies; and trees that release dandelion-poofs on the wind.

The inhabitants’ culture is based around giant mushrooms that store people’s memories when they die, so their loved ones can travel to a mental space called “Dream” and “visit” the dead ancestors again.

(As one of the female tenders of the mushroom says: if you don’t heal the “Memory Chamber”, “we may never be able to visit our loved ones again!” I bleed for you says the gal from a world where people stay dead…and we don’t have memory spheres to help hallucinate a spirit visit.)

Back to the culture, the “Protectors” have somehow seen your arrival prophesied (y’know, you – the protagonist) and help you find a spirit guide (from the air, fire, or water spirits that play in the forest) so you can travel to Dream and find out who kidnapped Yeesha.

They also wear a stripe of face-paint down their noses (and have creepy, African-esque masks). And the puzzle in Dream is like musical color-matching on evil steroids!

Atrus was always an apologetic, kinda nerdy guy…but lately he seems to just assume you’ll help dig him out of whatever hole he’s gotten himself in. And these all-knowing chicks in Serenia are even more pompous and touchy-feely.

Even if I hadn’t heard such dismal things about Myst V: End of Ages…this “New Age” spiritualism is enough of a departure from the original heart of Myst (nuts and bolts, analog passwords, and the science-based “magic” of the D’ni Art) to make Revelation my last Myst game.

Climax Catharsis

Yet I said I was satisfied. Why am I satisfied?

Well, without laying bare the resolution…the climax of Revelation hinges on you choosing to believe one of Atrus’ children over another. This choice is based on what you have learned by reading their journals, listening to their memories, and piecing together the Evil Plot (and who is probably responsible for it).

Got the right answer the first time. (Thank you, thank you, no need to clap.) And the conclusion that is spun from that –logically, inexorably – brings the plot-line to a perfect and reasonable end.

While the writers did a bit of ret-conning to bring Sirrus and Achenar back into the story, the way they handled the two of them (and Yeesha) was believable, appropriate, and entirely conclusive.

In a way, they un-did the ending of Myst…and yet, in another way, they built onto it so naturally and understandably that Revelation is really a good end for Myst – the game and the series.

My Last Myst Game

When I played through Myst again several years ago (in the updated and expanded RealMyst version), I loved the Ages and the visuals as much as I always had…and left hungry to play Riven.

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

A secret journal? Must read!

I re-played through Riven: The Sequel to Myst, and I loved it even more than Myst (not only is it longer and more complex, but it feels like less of the history is buried or off-screen). It also left me longing to play Myst III: Exile.

I have not yet played through Exile a second time, but I know it left me eager to try Revelation.

And now…

Part of it is the bad reviews my brother tells me about from Myst V, and part of it is…the story is complete.

I have scratched my first-person point-and-click itch. Myst created a game type never before seen…and now Revelation has brought the story and the world full-circle.

The ending is bittersweet, poignant, and appropriate. It is also, I think, The End.

(Though I already bought Obduction, which is by the same developers/writers, but set in a different universe. We’ll see how that one pans out…)

As always, I highly recommend the Universal Hints System to give you just the help you need…and no more.

In Myst IV: Revelation, the next chapter in the greatest adventure saga of all time, you’ll travel through environments pulsing with life to unearth a treacherous scheme involving two of Myst’s most sinister villains.

Find the game on GoG.com (DRM-free!), Steam (which includes DRM in their software), and on Amazon if you really need a disk (though paying over three times the price for digital download sounds ridiculous).

Wish-list it on GoG to be emailed when it goes on sale!

What a WoW Player Must Know When Playing AD&D

What a WoW Player Must Know When Playing AD&D

So you’re an experienced hero of World of Warcraft, but now you want to go back to the roots. Old school. Really old school.

Dungeons and Dragons, Advanced Edition.

Well…brace yourself for culture shock.

There are a couple…minor…elements that you should be aware of before diving in, sword blazing. In fact, before you even settle on what class of character to roll, you should check out these five crucial differences between WoW and D’n’D. Continue reading

The “Blackwell” Bundle

In an attempt to recapture the gaming experience of Gemini Rue, I hunted through its developer’s catalogue. The Blackwell series caught my eye, and I took advantage of a sale to snag the bundle (because who buys anything at full price?!).

TL;DR for the series? It’s not as amazing as most of the other puzzle games I’ve played, but it was definitely worth some #SiblingTime.

The premise: Rosangela Blackwell’s life turns upside-down when she discovers she’s a medium and inherits a spirit guide from her aunt. Her guide – the saucy ghost Joey – teaches her of her mission in life: helping spirits come to terms with their death and “move on”.


Not my usual genre at all…but half of “paranormal detective” is detective, right? Continue reading

“Chronicles of Amber” by Roger Zelazny

 The “Chronicles of Amber” have long been my dad’s example of what inspired him to write. He told us that Zelazny’s writing was so bad, he figured, “If he can get published, so can I.” And, at the same time, the story Zelazny was telling was so gripping Dad had no choice but continue.

Now, I’ve had an opportunity to form my own opinion. I agree about the story part…but the writing wasn’t that bad. If Zelazny had gotten an editor who could actually read, we’d have nothing to complain about.

But let’s talk about the story.

Who Is “I”?

Our first-person protagonist starts the story in a private medical institution, with no memory. As he makes his escape and tracks down his past, we’re eased into a fantasy world unlike any other.

Corwin is a good traveling companion. While he has to grow in several areas, he’s got enough deprecating humor, goodwill, and smarts to make us root for him. Continue reading

“Bells of Paradise” by Suzannah Rowntree

"Bells of Paradise" by Suzannah Rowntree — Kimia Wood — fairytales The fairytales of modern times tend to be, well, modern. They are full of princesses in fluffy tulle dresses, and fairies with wimpy wings that wouldn’t lift a butterfly — and fairies that grant wishes to all and sundry without making any demands.

You would have to go to Andrew Lang or the Grimm brothers for the strange fairytale punishments of being rolled in a barrel of nails until dead – or to meet fay-people (cp. to “in a fay mood”) as grotesque and magical as a gothic cathedral – or to see the fairy food that can only be eaten at the forfeit of your soul.

And where could you find a hero as noble as he is faithful, who is drawn into the quest through no fault of his own – a romantic hero with a remarkably steady head on his shoulders – who ends the tale triumphant, unsullied, and glorified? No fairytale of modern craft would portray that, surely…heroes must be “flawed” to be “realistic”.

Ms. Rowntree has changed that. Continue reading

Get More Than You Pay For With Free Books

Get More Than You Pay For With Free Books

Over the past year or so, I’ve been downloading and reading free ebooks from a number of sources – partly because I have a weakness for free, partly because I want to find greats reads for you that you don’t have to shell out a penny for!

But sometimes “you get what you pay for”. Sometimes a book is free because we wouldn’t slog through it for any other reason.

Is that the rule? Are the reading-gems the exception? I’ve dug back through my review archives to figure out which books are worth reading (and worth paying for, even if I didn’t have to).

Note: All deals are listed as of this writing. Authors naturally have the prerogative to change how they charge for their works. By that same token, some books that I loved but couldn’t list because they didn’t qualify might become free again later 😉! Continue reading

“Poison Kiss” by Kendra E. Ardnek

Poison Kiss by Kendra Ardnek — Kimia Wood — fairytale You must pick up a fairytale with open eyes. The well-worn road to fairyland is practically paved with princesses, curses, and talking cats. Yet for those not too “grown-up” to venture into the land of fairies, ogres, and millers’ sons, Poison Kiss offers a quick, entertaining read that delivers exactly to genre.

Everyone’s heard of the “Sleeping Beauty” story, so when the king hears that his daughter is to fill the role in the next cycle of the tale, he deliberately snubs the evil fairy and prepares to ban all spinning wheels.

When the fairy responsible for the curse brings originality to the course of events and switches the cure for the curse, the horrified kingdom is left to fear “love’s first kiss” – and wonder how a spinning wheel will help reverse the whole thing. Continue reading

“Grim Fandango: Remastered”

There’s something rotten in the Land of the Dead. Manny Calavera, travel agent to the recently deceased, is desperate for a big commission so he can pay off his dues to the “powers that be” and start his own “four year journey of the soul.”

When he tampers with the system to steal a client from his rival, he falls into an adventure that will have him pointing-and-clicking all over this hilarious Mexican-inspired landscape. Continue reading

Eris: The Tale of the Story

Let me tell you a story. It’s a story about a story.

July 6, 2009, is the date I have recorded that the story first emerged as recognizably itself:

Eris: the Tale of the Story — Kimia Wood — story

How we did story-boarding in the dark ages.

A human prince – Eris – is banished and branded, but accompanied on his wanderings by his elf and dwarf best friends.

As I usually do, I took the seed to my dad, who is an expert in taking my infantile premises and giving them plots. Continue reading