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Game Review: Hidden object games Letters from Nowhere and Special Enquiry Detail: The Hand that Feeds

So in my last blog post about hidden object games, I jokingly said that I’d approached and failed to get a response from a number of game vendors to see if I could get commercial consideration for featuring their games on my blog.

Obviously a joke, right? Because who, aside from myself, cares what appears on this blog?

And to be totally honest, there are days when even I don’t care.

But, lo and behold, a representative of a gaming company commented on that blog entry!

Either A) they have really good search bots combing the internet for references, any references, no matter how obscure, to tablet games, B) my reputation as a blogger is more impressive than I realized, or C) the rep being acquainted with my wife has something to do with this.

I prefer the middle option, but I’m not kidding myself.

So now that I have their attention, I feel like I should review some games.

I’m still fairly new to the hidden object game genre, but now that I’ve started a few and finished a couple, I think I can reasonably offer my opinions on the ones I finished.

First up, Letters from Nowhere.

I really liked this game. The description implied a supernatural element, which I admit didn’t excite me, but I downloaded the free trial anyway. And was hooked.

The hidden object puzzles were challenging. Objects are not always to scale, which means when you’re looking for a postage stamp, it could conceivably be the wall of that house in the distance. My first thought was, “Hey, that’s cheating!” but I quickly came to realize that it made for a more challenging, engaging game.

The game also makes good use of color as camouflage, blending hidden objects in with like-colored items and making finding everything a real exercise in concentration.

I’m a writer, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these games have a plot driving the action. Letters from Nowhere is no exception. The plot pushes you from search location to search location, and clues found in those searches open up additional levels.

That said, as a writer I don’t just want a plot, I want a good plot. The storyline in Letters to Nowhere isn’t going to win any literary awards, and there are events where, in the real world, the protagonist would say, “Huh, I appear to have a stalker. Time to call the police” instead of “Oh, I better go to the abandoned museum by myself and search in the dark, since my apparent stalker told me to.”

I understand why the plot has weak points – going to the police, for example,  would stop the game. You have to be a bit forgiving and remember this is a game, not a book, and let that sort of thing go. It’s just a bit harder for me.

Fortunately, the quality of the puzzles more than make up for any shortcomings in the plotting.

I will point out that this game is really Letters from Nowhere 1, and when you reach the end, you don’t get all the answers. For that, you need to play Letters from Nowhere 2. I enjoyed this game immensely, but was a little annoyed that I can’t have all my answers right now.

That said, I’ve started the sequel, and so far, it’s good too…

Special Enquiry Detail: The Hand that Feeds

I downloaded the trial for this game, and when I reached the end all too soon, I was all, “Nooo! Now I have to buy it!”

The first part plays very well, and the game expands on the hidden object genre by throwing in some forensics, interaction via email, and in general seemed like a game working ‘outside the box’.

The police procedural stuff seemed a bit light on authenticity, but there wasn’t enough for me to properly gauge it in the trial.

So I bought the game.

Things went downhill from there. If you read or watch police procedural shows, you will not like this game. The main protagonists are two detectives, and they keep doing things cops can’t do. Just involved in a shoot out? We’ll do the hidden object search rather than call for backup. In the middle of an interrogation and about to get an important disclosure from a suspect? Well, the Chief just called so never mind.

It drove me crazy. And yes, I said you have to be a bit forgiving of plot when reviewing Letters from Nowhere, but this was in-your-face wrong, and just booted me out of the game every time.

The quality of the puzzles was a bit of a letdown too. Sure, there were always one or two objects that were a (reasonable) challenge to find, but most were not. In some cases, the object would be on the floor, or on a table, surrounded by nothing else. And other objects were infuriatingly hard to find, because more than two-thirds were off the screen, and you couldn’t see the first third unless you zoomed in on that portion of the screen.

The game also has puzzles, including one mini-game where you have to sneak around an apartment building. It had a very PC game feel to it, and wasn’t what I was looking for. Watching the credits at the end confirmed that impression – Special Enquiry Detail was adapted from a PC game.

Another issue I had with this game was that sometimes the dialogue screens didn’t make sense – the words were all in English, but the order and choice of words just left me confused. This was fairly rare, but each time it happened, it pulled me out of the game.

I have to give the creators kudos for trying to expand the scope and feel of the hidden object game, but can’t help but feel let down by the poor attention to detail (some broken English, inauthentic police procedural, throwing in red herring suspects out of nowhere, some text scrolling off the screen so that the last letter or two of a word was missing).

Also, I found it disconcerting that while interviewing people, such as the murder victim’s parents and best friend, that the graphic of that person was smiling and not looking utterly crushed.

The trial portion of the game did a good job of hooking me, but the rest of the game disappointed. By the end, I didn’t care who the killer was. That said, I hope the developer continues to explore expanded the scope of the hidden object game as was done here, but while paying more attention to all the other details.

I have been comped some games, and once I’ve finished them, I’ll review them here as well.

 
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Posted by on 23 March 2013 in Reviews

 

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Are You Critiquing My Novel, Or Do You Just Hate Me?

Here’s a question for all you writers out there who are or have been members of critique groups. How do you critique the books you read?

I ask because I thought I knew how, but a recent experience has made me question that certainty.

When I first started writing, I was excruciatingly nervous about what other people would think of my work. To the point that I often revised the work to the third or fourth draft stage before I would show it to anyone. And, I’m ashamed to admit, in the very early days I did not react at all well to negative feedback.

As I grew into my craft, I learned a lot. A lot about writing and a lot about criticism.

I learned that yes, negative feedback is hard to hear, but it is also extremely valuable. It gives me glimpses into how people not close to the work and not intimately familiar with its creation react when they read it. It shows me the flaws I cannot see myself.

(This is much like parents’ inability to recognize that they have produced an exceedingly ugly child. They need friends (and strangers!) to walk up to them and say, over the vomiting, “Oh my God, that is a hideous child! Did you spray acid on its face right before you clubbed it with an oversize cheese grater?” You’re performing a public service: the parents learn never to take the child out without a paper bag over its head, and everyone else is spared having to look at a really ugly baby.)

My critiques evolved the same way. Very tentative, gentle, and for the most part, useless in the beginning. Over time, as I gained more experience and learned the value of honesty, I was more honest and less worried about offending.

So until this recent experience, I adhered to the philosophy, “Be honest. Be brutally honest. Do not lie, hold back, gloss over, or otherwise let any issue or flaw you see skate by. To do so is intellectually dishonest and a disservice to the author, the intended readership, and the craft.”

Given the level of impersonal rejection that an author faces when attempting to find someone to publish their book, you need to have a pretty thick skin to succeed in this racket. Thick enough to endure that rejection, and thick enough to not only face down this sort of critique, but to say ‘Thank you!’ afterwards, even if you’re choking on your own bile as you say it.

(And yes, I have experienced the delectable flavor of my own up-chuck while saying ‘Thank you!’ to a reader who found a lot to dislike in something I’d written.)

However, there is a risk to this approach. You risk so upsetting the author over a few serious issues that they completely reject the entirety of your critique, and they take away nothing from the time and effort you spent on their book.

Now the seasoned authors I’ve worked with, including one who will be having his third book published by a major house in the near future, have received and handled critiques that, at times, were devastating in their frankness.  And said ‘Thank you!’ after it was over.

But I’ve also dealt with writers who took the critiques very personally. Their response was to be defensive, histrionic, and so busy trying to refute my feedback that they didn’t listen to it.

(I know, I know, how can you refute something if you aren’t listening? I don’t understand it either, but I’ve seen it happen more than once – usually in Congress.)

Honestly, my view is these writers aren’t ready for prime time. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen, right?

Wrong.

We now live in the age of easy access to print-on-demand self-publishing where the cost of entry to the author, aside from the time spent writing, is zero.

Think about that. You can write a 1000 page book that consists of nothing but the phrase ‘Mmm, pie!” typed over and over again, upload it to Amazon, pick a generic freebie cover with the words, ‘Mmm, pie!’ on it in a large, friendly font, and put it up for sale. I bet I could do it in less than ten minutes. (Well, get it to the proof approval stage in less than ten minutes, anyway. And I’m guessing Amazon wouldn’t refuse to offer that book for sale as long as the formatting met their standards.)

I know agents and editors at publishing houses like to tout themselves as ‘gatekeepers’ of quality. While I think the traditional publishing system makes it a little too hard to break in due to economies of scale (X agents, X times 1 billion writers), there is some truth to that argument.

But now anyone can go on CreateSpace, Lulu, and a host of other sites to arrange for their books to be printed on-demand, or use free software like Calibre to create their own e-books, all of which can be sold on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Which means authors going the self-publishing route can entirely bypass the editing process.

Now I’m not knocking self-publishing. At the end of this year, that’s exactly the route I’m going to be pursuing for one of my books. So I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.

What I am saying is, if self-publishing is ever going to completely lose the stigma associated with it, we need a very high ratio of polished manuscripts to poorly rendered rough drafts.

Which takes us back to critiquing. If I’m working with people who are self-publishing, and I give honest but brutal critiques that trigger tantrums rather than thoughtful contemplation, I’m not just not doing any good, I’m actually making things worse for the self-publishing scene. Because now that author has decided I hate their book, I don’t get their book, I’m a complete idiot, or some combination of all three. And that means they will disregard everything I say, even the points that would normally be considered non-controversial.

So what should I do? Should I scale back the intensity of my critiques? Should I try to get to know each individual I’ll be critiquing before I read their book, so I can gauge just how much honesty I can get away with? Should I try to cushion the blows with excessive praise and compliments elsewhere, even if it isn’t fully deserved? Because I’d rather do some small amount of good than no good at all.

(It would also be nice not to be considered ‘the villain’ of a cohort because I give the ‘meanest’ reviews.)

So writers out there, what do you think? How can I save the legacy of English-language publishing in the 21st century, one critique of the time?

(No pressure.)

 

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