Archive for August, 2009

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned a couple of games that are near the top and middle of my all-time ranking, but what sort of game is just barely good enough to make it onto my list of 80 favorites?  I’m glad you asked!

The answer is A Boy and His Blob for the original Nintendo, which is at the same time one of the most creative games ever and one of the most poorly made.  The hero in this game is the eponymous unnamed boy, who happens to have a pet blob from another planet.

The pudgy, white blob (named “Blobert”) follows the boy around everywhere, either out of loyalty or because the boy keeps feeding him jellybeans.  He loves jellybeans (unless they are ketchup flavored, and really, who can blame him for that?).

Each flavor of jellybean causes the blob to transform into a different object, which introduces the puzzle aspect of the game.  For example, a licorice jellybean will turn the blob into a ladder, a punch-flavored jellybean will turn him into a hole in the ground (punch a hole; get it?), and a cola jellybean will turn him into a giant bubble.  There are about 15 flavors of jellybeans in all, which is a good thing, because the boy is pretty useless on his own.  He can’t even jump.

What little story exists in the game goes like this:  You need to search the caverns underneath New York City for treasure, which you can then use to buy vitamins at the store.  Then, you can turn the blob into a rocket and travel to his home planet of Blobolonia, which for some reason is overrun by candy-based enemies.  (Hence the need for vitamins, I guess?  The game’s overall position on the “healthy vs. unhealthy” food debate seems a bit murky, since jellybeans, peppermints, and vitamins help you, while marshmallows, cherries, and popcorn kill you.  Besides that, everything makes perfect sense, of course.)

Here’s a sample of the gameplay:

There are some things to like about the game.  The puzzle aspect can be a lot of fun.  Also, it’s cute the way the blob follows you when you whistle.  Especially funny is how the blob’s smile instantly turns into a frown if you throw a jellybean that he can’t catch.  I also like how the game plays little musical stings sometimes when the blob transforms.  (On the other hand, the entire game uses basically the same tune with just a little variation once you reach the blob’s planet.)

But you don’t have to play the game long to realize its flaws.  When confronted with enemies, the boy’s only options are to run past them or die.  Deciding where to punch a hole is a process of trial and error, since there’s no way to know how long a drop there will be aside from painful experience in prior lives.  And it’s way too hard to control that bubble underwater!

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Much Afraid

Jars of Clay - Much Afraid

Sometimes I can become frustrated with myself when it seems like I’m not making progress in my life, or not “growing up” the way I expected.  But other times I am reminded that I really have grown in a lot of ways over time.

I recently bought an old Jars of Clay album, Much Afraid (released in 1997), and I’ve really been enjoying listening to the songs I remember from years ago.  I’ve been playing the album in the car, on headphones as I work around the house– I’m listening to it right now, in fact!

I’m not that great at reviewing music, so I’m not sure if I can come up with the right words to describe what I like about the album– it’s mostly the sound of the music.  I think a lot of the songs in this album have some relatively creative chord progressions, which makes it fun to try playing them on the guitar.  (Eventually, I did get tired of playing 3- and 4-chord songs!)

In some of the songs, the guitar is accompanied by soothing strings; in others, by jazzy keyboard riffs.  Several of them make excellent use of vocal harmony.  Then you have the pensive lyrics.  A lot of them I haven’t figured out the meaning of, but it’s as if the music and the words together give me a very blurry image of what the song is about.  Does that happen for anyone else with their favorite music?  These are some of my favorite songs on the album:

  • “Fade To Grey” — I think this song could describe the moment just before God reaches in and saves someone; the voice in the song is a person who can see that they are trapped and alone, and they want to be free– maybe– they’re still scared and wavering, and they aren’t even sure if God will or can help them.  The wonderful truth is that Jesus answers prayers from people in that situation.
  • “Crazy Times” — This is one I haven’t figured out, except that it’s about someone whose life is crazy, and they don’t like it, but they’re not willing to do what it will take to address the problem.  And it has a solo in the middle that would be fun to be good enough to play.  : )
  • “Frail” — A meditation on the singer’s human frailty.  I love how this song is carried by a haunting chord progression that goes for at least a minute before the singer comes in with almost a whisper.
  • “Portrait Of An Apology” — This has to be my favorite song on the album– I only have the faintest idea of it being about someone revealing their heart to a close friend using the metaphor of a painting, and finding that the picture of their heart is shriveled and dry.  “But I remember it much redder, and I remember it much brighter,” he says.  But he still hopes that his friend will stay with him.
  • “Truce” — OK; I’m afraid I don’t understand this one at all; I just like it.  I made a custom Guitar Hero chart for it.

Let me try to get back to the original point of my post.  : )  I bought the album and am enjoying it for a couple of reasons.  One is that it is nostalgic for me to hear these songs I remember from about the time I graduated from high school; it’s like returning to a comfortable room.  Another is that I enjoy the music (though I’m not all that good at explaining why.)  I think the fact that I am enjoying the album shows a way that I have changed since it first came out– I would go so far as to say that I have grown.

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Another thing I found interesting in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was the character Christopher’s description of why he dislikes reading fiction.  When I posted about the theory of mind explanation of autism, I said that the description of children on the autistic spectrum as not engaging in imaginary play didn’t seem to apply to me.  I played make-believe a lot as a child, both alone and with my brothers– we would go outside and imagine that we were exploring another planet (with our pets being the aliens) or build Lego castles and mount attacks on the enemy, for instance.

But back when I was first learning about Asperger’s syndrome, I came across the idea that one of its traits is a lack of connection with fictional or imaginary things like stories.  For example, one (admittedly not rigorously scientific) online quiz for evaluating the likelihood of having Asperger’s includes the following items:

— When I’m reading a story, I can easily imagine what the characters might look like. (with the answer DISAGREE indicating that one is more likely to have Asperger’s)

— I find making up stories easy.  (expecting the answer DISAGREE from an Aspie)

— When I’m reading a story, I find it difficult to work out the characters’ intentions (expecting AGREE)

— When I was young, I used to enjoy playing games involving pretending with other children (expecting DISAGREE)

As I said, I don’t think I have much difficulty in these areas (except for “making up stories easily,” since that involves writing, and my few examples of fiction when I was assigned to write it in high school are hideous!  I hope any copies are buried somewhere deep!  🙂  )

But the character of Christopher, the narrator in the novel I read (who is, of course, himself fictional) had an interesting explanation for why he dislikes fiction in general, and it actually made me realize that I do have some hangups of my own about reading.  (I’ll get to them later.) Continue reading