Posts Tagged ‘games’

Oh, Check My Flow

It all started so innocently enough.


Two paddles.  A square ball.  Black and White.

And then came Asteroids and Space Invaders.  PAC Man and Frogger.  Tetris!  Super Nintendo and Super Mario.  I don’t even know or understand what is out there today . . . Guitar Hero?  Assassin’s Creed?  Halo?  Hello??? McFly!

Somewhere along the line, Bill Gates invented the computer and there was Solitaire.  And it was good.  And Hearts.  Even better.

Then, Al Gore invented the Internet.

So much technology.  So much programming.  So much time of my life wasted.  Curse you Angry Birds!

And while my true addiction still lies in playing MahJong on Facebook, I have recently discovered a new game to keep me from spending time with my family, or working and earning a living, or eating, or breathing, or blogging, or pretty much anything else.


The concept, like Angry Birds, is so simple, yet the game is somehow compelling.

A grid is displayed.  As you play and move up levels, the grid gets larger–5×5, 6×6, 7×7, 8×8, oh I think you get the picture, and more colored dots are added.  Is it politically correct to call them colored dots?

On this grid, the computer displays pairs of colored circles.  The human must then connect these colored circles (blue to blue, yellow to yellow, etc.) without crossing another other color and leaving no squares unfilled.  (No square left behind!) It’s like a color based Sudoku!  Actually, it’s eerily reminiscent of Twister where you have to connect the green circle with your right hand and the red circle with your left eyeball, except in Twister, you did get to cross other people, and if you were lucky, they were of the opposite sex and cute.  Or drunk.  Or both, which is even better.  (Okay, for some people, it didn’t even have to be the opposite sex, and I don’t want to imply that there might be something wrong with that since it’s politically impolite to offend ANYONE these days, and it appears I have seriously transgressed digressed here.)

Back to my FLOW.Flow

My general requirements for a game these days is that it is FREE, easy to understand the rules, FREE, and doesn’t require me to play with any other human beings.  It’s not that I don’t like other people.  I really want to like people.  But most of them are just so damned stupid and ignorant, that I can’t possibly like them, let alone play a game with them.  Let’s face it, most people are alive because it’s illegal to kill them.  I really think that’s why some of the video games my kids play are so popular.  They get to kill people–without being thrown in jail or fried for it.  And I have digressed again.  Did I mention that the game has to be FREE?  OK–doesn’t have to be–I tried the FREE Angry Birds, and you just know that I ended up buying the full version like some crackhead purchasing his fix.  And even though there is no killing involved (even Angry Birds involves blowing things up with kamikaze birds) Flow fits these criteria well.

This is all my daughter’s fault.  She asked me to help her with a level while we were waiting for our food at a restaurant.  Five minutes later, I was hooked.  Does that make her a pusher?   There ought to be warnings on these games.  Support groups.

I’d discuss the game and strategy more, or maybe seek some professional help, but I really feel the need to go and play it right now.


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My son was playing this video game called Minecraft, and he was telling me that his fountain that he built (he can’t even make a grilled cheese sandwich, so I don’t know how he built a fountain) had squids in it.  Actually, he makes a pretty good sandwich . . . me on the other hand, well, that’s another blog entry all itself.  But I know I can’t build a fountain, with or without squids.  And I digress.


Apparently this is a common problem with fountains in Minecraft.

So like any good father, I used this opportunity for teaching . . .

When life gives you squids. . . make calamari.

He doesn’t like calamari.  But neither do I.  But I’m sure there’s a valuable lesson in there somewhere.  Sell the calamari to someone who like it.

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The Internet is a wonderful place to learn about new things and connect with people from around the world.  There is a wealth of information and data literally at our fingertips.  The end result is that never before in the history of mankind have we been able to do so little with so much or to waste time so efficiently.

Given the choice of research that will make my life better or playing a game . . . I play a game.

It all started with PONG back in the seventies.  Then it was Asteroids, Space Invaders and PAC Man.  Frogger.  Tetris OMG!  I remember going to bed at night and closing my eyes and I could still see those pieces falling.  Then along came personal computers which opened a whole new world of games.  My old MAC-plus had a game called loderunner with a little stick figure guy that you had to work through a series of like 100 different maze levels. I think I spent more than eight hours one day trying to get through those levels!

I can’t imagine playing a game of solitaire–with an actual deck of cards!  I love Hearts, but have not played that game with actual cards–and actual people–since high school.  Game consoles brought games like Super Mario Brothers.  I won’t even begin to ennumerate the vast numbers of games available today.  You can even play games on your phone–the latest craze is the Angry Birds.

I have not yet succumbed to this heinous addiction, mainly because my cell phone is pretty much just a phone. I am so 2000-late. I can conceivably text, but I have to use the numeric keypad and quite frankly, it’s easier just to CALL someone than to vex myself trying to text.

But I am not without my obsession. Lately, I have been playing Temple of Mahjong II on Facebook. I was already familiar with the game MahJong Titans that came with the games package on my PC. Titans had several layouts to choose from and the game is actually challenging.

The Facebook version was different, though. It offered a much wider variety of layouts and themes. You earned points as you completed games. You could win new layouts and win tiles to open new themes. As you won more games, you moved on to higher levels. Sometimes they offered extra point days where your point values would be multiplied by 5 or 10. That meant you could move ahead even faster toward the next level.

The game also allowed a series of “cheats” which are perfectly legal.  You could get a hint (I rarely ever used or needed this one), reshuffle the tiles two times (so when you got to a point where there were no matches, you click and it changed the tiles without starting a whole new game), and you could pocket a tile for use later.  The game also had bonus tiles for 2x, 3x, 4x and 5x the score. Simply making a match earned you 100 points.  With the multipliers you could get even more points.  There was a timer, and the faster you completed the layout, the more bonus points you could earn at the end.

I think the cheats were like lifelines on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which endeared them to me all the more.  Using these other options, I almost never was unable to completely clear the board of tiles.  There are some of the MahJong Titans layouts that I can only clear 20% of the time because they are more difficult and there are no reshuffling features.

Facebook also allows you to compete in tournaments against other players–from around the world.  I don’t know why, but there are a lot of people in France that play Mahjong.  Sacré bleu!  In these tournaments, you play against 4 other players–you don’t get to choose.  All five participants play the same layout.  High score wins (either Level points or free tiles).  I was able to win more than 90% of the time.

My passion for this game got me to the highest level, Level 80 or Fakir Monk.  My total score is 95,362,745.  I have played 4,630 games.  Most games take me around 3-4 minutes (the timer gives you ten.)  At 4 minutes per game, thats over 308 hours of playing time!

But then the powers that be decided to make changes.  Most human beings avoid change by nature.  Progress obviously has it’s growing pains, but without progress, we’d still be scratching flint together to make fires in our caves.  You would not be reading this without it, and I would never have become addicted to this on-line game.  In retrospect, living in a cave might have been preferrable to playing Mahjong.

Apparently, the original version of the game had some problems with it.  Occasionally, when you were playing a tournament, the score at the end would not be sent and after the timer expired you were given a zero.  This would be particularly frustrating if the score you had in the game would actually have won the tournament had it not been lost somewhere in cyberspace.  This happened to me often enough to make me angry, but not enough that I’m thrilled with the changes they made.

When they attempted to fix the game, they addressed another issue: some computers ran the game at different speeds.  I had noted that but never was sure why.  Playing on my wife’s laptop was the best.  (Not sitting in her lap but using her computer.)  The whole game ran slower and you had time during the bonus periods to clear more tiles and earn more points.  The desktop PC at home was the fastest and the one in my office at work was intermediate.

So now, the game supposedly runs at the same speed on all computers.  As far as I can tell, this is true on the computers that I use.  Unfortunately, this new speed is faster than I was used to.  Prior to the change, I could routinely score above 20,000 (my average if you do the math above was 20,600.)  My high score is 36,650.  Now I am lucky to break 15,000 and it takes a maximum effort to achieve that.  I don’t think I’ve scored over 24,000 since the change.  I’m working harder for less–it’s as bad as Medicare!

Score is worse; same result.

But these changes appear to hit everyone fairly equally, as I am still able to win most tournaments.  But there are other changes that are more subtle.

In the old game, if you matched a 4x mulitplier with a 5x mulitplier, you would get 4x the points (400 per match) until the bonus timer expired.  If you then clicked the 2x and the 3x multipliers before the first bonus timer expired, it reset the bonus time–but still at the 4x level.  In essence you get twice the number of 400 matches.  If you then reshuffle, the computer would restore all the mulitpliers back on the board somewhere so you could reuse them again.  If you matched up both 5x or both 4x, then you wouldn’t get them back.  As long as you used only one of each, you’d get the full set back.  This enables you to get much higher scores.  Now, the reshuffle doesn’t guarantee you that you will get them back.  You might.  You might not.  In fact, it seems might not happens more often.

Cant clear the board like I used to!

It also seemed like the old reshuffle gave you a better chance to clear.  When the tiles were reshuffled, it seemed like the layout was set up well to clear all the tiles.  In other words, one tile did not sit on top of its match to block it.  Thus, you were almost always assured of clearing all the tiles. Since the change, it is more common for me not to be able to clear the tiles.  In fact, sometimes you come down to two remaining tiles and they do not match.  There is no way to actually clear the board.  Skill has nothing to do with it.

What was once a fun game has now become painful to play.  Imagine if the timer were changed on PACman so that you couldn’t kill the ghosts for the same length of time.  Or if Mario lost his superpowers faster.  Or if in Tetris, when the shapes start falling faster, they fall even faster than you expect for a given level, and sometimes they drop new shapes that don’t even fit with the old ones.  That is how I feel.

And yet I still want to play. I still want my fix. But each time I log back in, I become more frustrated.

I am becoming an angry bird.

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