by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Gaming”

Still Helping the Villagers Solve Their Maths Problems

Posted 25 June 2008 in by Catriona

Actually, I’ve had a good run on Professor Layton and the Curious Village this morning.

I managed to figure out how to cross from island to island while only visiting each one once—they allowed me to build a bridge, but I’m still quite proud of myself for figuring that one out.

(But last night I had to get Nick to help me figure out how many of twenty people trapped on a sinking boat I could save if it took the five-person life-raft nine minutes to make a round trip to a nearby island; it never occurred to me that it would be halfway back to the island when the ship actually sank. Of course, it also didn’t occur to me that one person would have to stay on the raft to pilot it. And, carrying on the tradition of creepy messages that began with the dead-dog puzzle, this one ended with the message “Let’s spare a thought for the two who lost their lives.” This aspect of the game is starting to freak me out.)

I also managed to figure out two of those “If you give me two years, I’ll be twice as old as you” and “My age is your age plus half my age” maths puzzles, which I’m feeling pretty smug about.

I completely failed to figure out how many coins, interspersed among a twisted rope, I would be allowed to keep when the rope was pulled taut, if I were only allowed to keep the ones above the rope. I did try and follow the pattern of the rope, but it was so twisty I became thoroughly confused as to which was top and which was bottom.

But I did manage to complete an eight-piece sliding puzzle to make an apple with a worm in the middle. Of course, according to the ticker at the top, it took me something like six hundred moves.

But it was the mouse puzzle that made me realise that I’m not cut out intellectually for these sorts of puzzles.

The mouse puzzle pointed out that mice reproduce at twelve babies every month, and baby mice can reproduce once they are a month old. So, the puzzle asked, if you buy a mouse the day after it’s born and bring it home, how many mice will you have after a year?

I didn’t try any complicated multiplication, you’ll be happy to hear. I figured there wasn’t any point, since I was never going to work out the correct answer, and it occurred to me that knowing the genders of any subsequent babies would be necessary for correct calculations.

Then I had what I thought was a brainwave.

What, I thought to myself, if my mouse is a boy? Then I won’t have any baby mice at all! And I’ll only have one mouse at the end of the year.

(The mouse clearly wasn’t a boy. In keeping with strict gender roles, it had a pink bow on its head, the poor thing.)

The answer was one, of course.

But I could have saved myself a lot of effort had it only occurred to me that mice—whether male or female—can’t actually reproduce asexually.

Maths is Not Exactly My Strongpoint

Posted 24 June 2008 in by Catriona

In fact, I can’t say that I’ve never passed a maths exam, but it was certainly a rarity. Whenever I have to do any kind of counting, or adding, or figuring out percentages as part of a tutorial, I make sure that I tell my students that I am a walking example of the benefits and disadvantages of specialisation.

That way they’re prepared for the fact that I rarely get the same answer twice when I have to do a maths problem on the fly.

That’s why trying to play Professor Layton and the Curious Village has given me a splitting headache.

In fact, my general attitude towards the game right now can best be summed up, as usual, by this Penny Arcade comic.

I’ve been wanting to play this game for a while, on the grounds that it looked like my sort of thing: no button-mashing combat, no time restrictions, no chance of your avatar suddenly dying and you having to start the game all over again even though you’ve already forgotten which direction to go in.

Instead, Professor Layton is an archaeologist and puzzle expert (nice specialisation, if you can manage it) who ends up in the village of St Mystere after its late squire leaves a mysterious will. Mysteries are, oddly enough, the focus of life in St Mystere, and you can’t do anything—and I mean anything, not even opening most doors or getting instructions—without first being asked to solve a puzzle.

And that’s fine. I’m not great at puzzles, but many of them revolve around lateral thinking, and I’ve made enough futile attempts to complete cryptic crosswords in my life to make a stab at most of them.

So I managed to ferry three wolves and three chickens across a river, two at a time, without allowing the wolves to eat the chickens. (Well, to be honest, without allowing them to eat the chickens too many times. A subtle distinction.)

I managed to spell the word “Food” in matchsticks. (It really was more complicated than it sounds. The puzzle didn’t just say “Take these matchsticks and spell the word “Food.”)

I managed to turn four cubes into three cubes by only moving one matchstick.

I managed to separate seven bloodthirsty prize pigs by partitioning them off using only three ropes. (I failed that one the first time, and had to try again. “Have you ever seen a pig fight?” the game asked me. So, no pressure, then.)

I even managed to solve yet another matchstick puzzle in which I had to move two sticks to turn a picture of a dog into a picture of the same dog after it had been run over by a car. I had to read the instructions twice before I could be sure that that was really what they were asking me, but I finished the puzzle. (Horribly, when you get the puzzle wrong, you get the following message: “Remember the dog has been hit by a car. It’s very sad, but try and think of what the dog will look like after the car has hit it.”)

But what I hadn’t taken into account was the sheer number of mathematical puzzles.

For example, I came across one puzzle that ran along these lines, more or less:

Rodney and Alan have been hired to sow seeds on a 10-acre farm. They divide the farm, and each plow half the land. Alan can plow twice as fast as Rodney but Rodney can sow seeds three times as fast as Alan.

There was more, but I didn’t read on.

There’s something about that kind of puzzle that terrifies me. It can only be, I suppose, the memory of dozens of hours in exams, wondering whether it was worth simply guessing the answer, only I couldn’t, because I had to show how I arrived at the solution, and I didn’t have the faintest idea how to go about it.

I admire people who have good, all-round intellects. I don’t and I never have had.

I’m happy to play around with rearranging matchsticks and trying to spot the logical traps in puzzle questions.

But if the people of St Mystere don’t lighten up on making me solve their maths problems, they might discover that Professor Layton, archaeologist and puzzle expert, also has an unsuspected homicidal streak.

Things I Have Shouted At My Nintendo DS This Weekend

Posted 10 June 2008 in by Catriona

1. “Damn it, stop blocking my spells, you daft Fire Elemental! I’m only trying to relight the Elvish beacons! Don’t you want to help the Elves?”

2. “Why do you get all the skulls, just because you’re the Undead?”

3. “Stop killing me!”

4. “I love you, Patch, you sneaky little rogue Gnoll! Stab more people in the back!”

5. “Hang on, why have I just missed five turns in a row?”

6. “Well, what does that spell do, then?”

7. “No, wait—why are you draining all my mana? I need that to cast spells!”

8. “Stop stealing the gems that I want!”

9. “Why do the Undead get all the cool spells?”

10. “How am I supposed to kill you if you kept attacking me?”

11. “Seriously, stop blocking my spells! I don’t think you realise how annoying that is.”

12. “How can a Wyvern be such a rubbish mount?”

13. “Look, do you want me to win this game, or not? Because it’s very difficult for me to win if you won’t let me have any skulls!”

14. “Why are the Elves angry with me? I was only following the quest! And, anyway, it’s not as though the giant, magical eyeball originally belonged to them.”

15. “You know, I’m getting pretty sick of teaching these Minotaur slavers a lesson.”

16. “Hang on, did I just torture that Harpy? Oh, well.”

Ah, RPG gaming. It’s good for the development of your moral code and for your temper.

I May Have Miscalculated, Slightly

Posted 5 June 2008 in by Catriona

You see, my marking is beautifully spaced out this semester, with three weeks between the two main pieces. So I have a little time in the afternoons for some leisure activities.

So I thought I might drag out Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords.

I played it through last year as a Druid, so I thought I’d try another character class, maybe a Knight.

That was yesterday.

I’m Level 17, now, and this time around I defeated the two-headed ogre in significantly less time.

Puzzle Quest has no significant storyline: you’re a knight (or druid, or one of two other character classes that I haven’t played yet, because I can’t bring myself to delete my lovely Level 50 Druid), who’s trying to defeat the incursions of Lord Bane and his army of the Undead into your peaceful kingdom.

Nothing new there.

As you work through individual sets of quests, you move further and further through the map—you don’t need to go back into the early areas unless you have a specific purpose in mind.

(I, for example, am trying to defeat a Griffin three times, because then I can capture the next one and use it as a mount. I currently only have a Giant Rat, which has the power of Rabid Bite, sure, but is also really slow and annoying. The Griffin, on the other hand, has a Power Swoop, which . . . but, you know what? That’s not important right now.)

But the story is not the main point, here.

The point is that for the first time I actually understand why Nick frequently says “I’m just going to game for a little while” and then disappears off the radar for six or seven hours.

I thought, this afternoon, that I’d just try and learn the Charm spell from a captured Harpy. It’s a “very hard” spell to learn—they are ranked from “very easy,” like the Skeleton’s Chill Touch, to “very hard”—but I thought I’d spend a little time on it.

(It occurred to me halfway through that, since I have this Harpy in the Mage Tower in my Citadel and I’m trying to encourage her to reveal her secrets, there’s probably some torture involved. But then I decided to stop thinking about it.)

So, the Charm spell should have given me a short period of relaxation.

Next thing I knew it was 2.30 in the afternoon, and both my legs were asleep.

I think it was about noon when I sat down.

I have no real idea what it is about this game that compells such long periods of focus. It might be the ease of the combat engine—even I can range coloured gems in lines of three or more.

But I do know that now that Bones has finished, I’m going to see about uniting those warring Orc clans.

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