Her Story is a New Kind of Interactive Murder Mystery


To start, all you see is a computer screen displaying a version of Windows from the early 90s. This is the interface for a police archive of interrogation videos, and you dig up the videos by typing terms into a search bar. To start with, the search bar is already filled with the word “Murder” and inputting that search gives you four video clips. They all show a woman being interviewed by the police about a murder. However, the clips are very short and don’t depict the whole interview. You will have to type in more search terms based on the scant clues provided in the videos you’ve already seen, and doing so turns up more videos for you to watch to help you figure out what happened.

Where it all startsn
Where it all starts

This is the setup for Her Story, a new game that has just been released on Steam and mobile platforms. Actually, to call it a game would be a stretch for some people. There is no enemy in the traditional sense, and you can’t even influence events. All you can do is keep entering search terms and watching videos. Can a search bar really be a game? Perhaps in the sense that 20 Questions is a game. In the end, Her Story is an experiment in a novel form of storytelling, and whether it works for you will depend largely on how well you accept its premise and the gimmicks that make it work.

Continue reading Her Story is a New Kind of Interactive Murder Mystery

5 Ways to Improve Arrow Next Season

The finale of Arrow has aired, and the consensus view is that this whole season has been a mess. I certainly don’t disagree with that, and in fact I am probably harsher in my outlook than most people who are still watching. I think that current head writer Marc Guggenheim is simply a bad writer who seems to think that we should find the show to be awesome just because it depicts comic book characters.

Some of the ways to make the show better next season are pretty obvious: make the dialogue better, get a good villain portrayed by a strong actor, write character allegiances that actually make sense, and next time you say a character won’t forgive something, make sure they actually don’t forgive it when it actually happens. They are certainly necessary, but for this post, I’m going to concentrate on some of details that I think people are discussing a little less.

1. Give the women some independence and agency

This season was just a bad one for women. Sara was unceremoniously killed just to motivate the characters for the first half of the season (the fact that she’s coming back for Legends of Tomorrow may indicate that the writers realize how stupid that was). Thea was manipulated at every turn and then was also killed in order to force Oliver to join the League of Assassins (she got better, but she was still reduced to being a plot point). And Felicity’s primary function was to be a love interest for two of the characters. Before this season, all three of these characters had rich backstories and interesting motivations. In Marc Guggenheim’s hands, they became pawns to be moved around by the men.

Ironically, the most independent-minded woman this season was Laurel. I thought her motivations were really stupid and that Katie Cassidy was incapable of selling her as an action hero, but at least she was going her own way without being mind-controlled or told what to do.

2. Bring back the ridiculous cool archery

Remember in the pilot episode when Oliver threw a bunch of tennis balls in the air and then nailed them all to the wall with arrows before they hit the ground? Or how about that time he shot an RPG out of the air? Those moments have mostly disappeared this season, and that’s been to the show’s detriment. It’s Oliver’s defining characteristic. Yes, it’s unrealistic, but that concern sort of goes out the window in a world with the Flash and a pit of water that can resurrect the dead.

In the comics, Oliver Queen has been known to curve the flight of arrows, fire them backwards over his shoulder, and shoot an arrow right down the barrel of a gun. How awesome would it be to see that happening on your TV screen?

3. Stop with the secret keeping

It just doesn’t work. It always ends up making people look stupid. Cut it out.

4. Make the stakes smaller

In season 1, the eventual big threat was an earthquake machine which would destroy a big portion of the city. In season 2, the threat was an army of superpowered soldiers overrunning the place. In season 3, it was a biological weapon. At this point, I think the trope has been played out and has nowhere else to go (incidentally, this is the same criticism I have of the Marvel movies and why I’m strongly unenthusiastic about the upcoming Infinity War). There’s only so many times you can threaten Starling City with utter destruction before it just gets boring.

There are plenty of other ways to generate dramatic tension. You could put one of the character’s lives at risk by infecting them with some disease so that our heroes have to spend several episodes searching for the cure. We still haven’t resolved Detective Lance’s feelings about costumed vigilantes (and he did have some good points when he was allowed to articulate his opposition to them). And how about Oliver’s unknown baby? The revelation could do all kinds of interesting things to the character dynamics.

5. Have some fun

Arrow has always been on the darker side of TV shows, but this season has gone a little overboard. Remember when Felicity would babble too much and inappropriately say what she really thought? Or when Diggle complained about always being cast as the chauffeur during undercover operations? Remember that moment in Season 1 when Oliver and Felicity were in an elevator with a guy hitting on Felicity and Oliver deliberately spilled the guy’s papers in order to get rid of him? Now try to think of a similar moment from this season. The closest we’ve gotten is Nyssa being pleasantly surprised at how good milk shakes taste.

I’m not saying Arrow should be a comedy. But it did allow humor to show up sometimes, and behind-the-scenes videos have shown that all of the cast members are pretty funny people. Humans living in even the bleakest environments have nonetheless usually found something to laugh at. It’s how they survive. Relentless tragedy and grimness just gets monotonous after a while.

Supergirl: Hero or The Devil Wears Lycra?

Our first look at Supergirl is here, and the reaction seems to have been decidedly mixed. On the one hand you have people who think it looks like fun, the special effects are pretty good, and the lead seems very appealing. On the other hand, a lot of people are disappointed or even angry that the show seems to be a light rom-com. Take a look at the trailer below and see for yourself. Then follow me below the fold for my thoughts.

Continue reading Supergirl: Hero or The Devil Wears Lycra?

Secret Word is How Not to do a Censorship Game


Truthfully, the vast majority of you are never going to see this game and probably would never have heard of it if you didn’t read this review. I’m really just writing this to express my frustration and annoyance with it. If you want to know whether you should give this game a chance, I’ll just tell you right now to turn around and walk away. It’s worthless.

At first glance, Secret Word seems like a call back to Blackbar which I reviewed very favorably a few months ago. The game presents you with text with certain words blanked out, and you advance by guessing the words to fill them in. The difference is Blackbar was a unique work of art which used the medium of mobile gaming to tell a story in a new way while Secret Word is just a cynical cash grab.

Ads are not a problem by themselves, but the unfortunately there are a lot of other attempts to extract money from the player
Ads are not a problem by themselves, but the unfortunately there are a lot of other attempts to extract money from the player

The game has ads running across the bottom of the screen. That in itself is not really a problem. The developer has to make money somehow, and it’s not that hard to ignore an ad. But in the screenshot above, you’ll also notice a coin counter. You use the coins to buy hints which either give you a single letter or an entire word, depending on how much you spend. The game gives you 100 coins to start, but when you run out, you have to buy more with real money. And Secret Word does everything it can to try to make sure you have to spend that money.

Let me know if you can figure out what the other two words are. I’m out of coins.

Blackbar essentially played fair with its puzzles, setting things up so that you could figure out the missing words if you employed a little lateral thinking. In Secret Word, however, many of the puzzles are a complete guess. It’s clear that the developers are only interested in trying to get the player to spend coins and pay real money.

The core story behind the game isn’t even very interesting. And as a final straw, the game periodically sends annoying notifications to try to get you to keep playing if you haven’t opened the app in a while.

I’m not sure why I’m still wasting time on this review. I’ll just leave it here and tell you these developers don’t deserve your money.

10 Questions for Arrow

  1. If the Canary jumps off the rooftop of a building with no way to save herself and the Arrow doesn’t manage to grab her hand in time to save her, does she become the Splat Canary?
  2. If police officers are chasing a deadly archer and they find him along with several other archers on a rooftop, why would they just let those other archers go?
  3. Along the same lines, why does Captain Lance trust the word of someone who kidnapped him and employs a bunch of really obvious archers who could be the copycat of the Arrow?
  4. Why is Oliver taking responsibility for Laurel’s decision not to tell her father about Sara’s death?
  5. Why did Laurel think it was a good idea to march three uncostumed, really obvious Arrow associates into police headquarters to see Oliver? And why didn’t Captain Lance arrest them?
  6. Did Shado never tell Oliver about her twin sister that entire time on the island?
  7. After Oliver learned his lesson about the power of telling the truth from Shado’s sister, why did he spend the next two years of his return to Starling City busily keeping every kind of secret imaginable?
  8. Are the police really going to believe that Roy Harper is the Arrow when he’s noticeably smaller and skinnier?
  9. Why does Thea keep disappearing at random throughout this episode? Doesn’t she at least want to visit her brother in lockup?
  10. What exactly was the point of the Ray Palmer storyline when all this other stuff was happening?

The Trace Is a Sterling Whodunnit (That’s Too Short)


There’s no shortage of murder mystery games on iOS, so any new entries in the genre will have to do something pretty new and do it well to get attention. The Trace came out just a few days and immediately started attracting buzz on blogs and on the App Store, so I decided to give it a look.

Arriving at the scene of the crime.
Arriving at the scene of the crime.

Continue reading The Trace Is a Sterling Whodunnit (That’s Too Short)

Agent Alice Brings the Annoyance of Freemium to Hidden Object Puzzles


Ask any serious gamer about what they disdain most in the industry and at some point they will probably mention hidden object puzzle games and freemium pay-to-win games. And that’s with good reason. Hidden object games are fundamentally kind of lazy with not much of a gameplay element, and what gameplay exists is often ridiculous (why exactly do I have to point at a raccoon, a fedora, and a keychain before I can examine the bloody glove?). And freemium games are despised because they look like a bait-and-switch with a not-too-transparent cash-grab. So a game like Agent Alice which combines the two genres would not seem to hold much promise at first glance.

Well something is certainly disastrous.


I’d like to tell you that Agent Alice does better than expected, but it doesn’t really. I can actually see some potential here, but the irritating freemium aspects of the gameplay just don’t work. And there aren’t enough other good qualities to get me to keep playing.

The story is more or less a murder mystery told through cutscenes and static dialogue boxes. Whatever else you might say about the game, the art really is quite well done. Characters are well-designed, and there’s never any trouble seeing anything.

Freemium games generally use two tricks to get players to pony up cash. One is to put some obstacle in the way which requires an item or a certain rating in order to pass. Theoretically the player could come up with the necessary requirements by grinding away at something, but many would prefer to just pay cash to get past it. The other freemium trick is to set a timer that counts down and which the player must wait out before proceeding (for example, building times in Farmville and the like).

Agent Alice uses both of these tricks in its efforts to get money out of you. Most actions in the game require stars to perform, and you earn stars by completing timed hidden object puzzles. Doing a hidden object puzzle itself requires energy which slowly replenishes over time. And then some tasks just outright require you to wait a while before you can complete them unless you want to pay money. The actions are part of the story of Agent Alice’s investigation, but they all tend to be very small and mundane such as “read the letters” or “talk to the witness.” Meanwhile, the wait times can sometimes go on for literally days.

Spending a hard-earned star to “Patch Wanda up” will take all of ten seconds, if that.

All of this would be fine if the story was worthwhile, but it really isn’t. Dialogue is very sparse, and characters are completely flat. There simply isn’t any emotional investment in what’s going on. You talk to a witness and get a completely functional line like, “She was in love with her co-star” and that’s it.

The thing is I can actually see a way to make this format work. Agent Alice is free, and if the cash-grabbing was less blatant, I would even be tempted to throw a few bucks at it in exchange for a few hours of entertainment. But instead the game just reaches for too much. As a business model, I would call it an interesting experiment. As a game, it’s not worth recommending.


What You Should Know About iZombie

Tonight is the premiere of CW’s latest show based on a DC comic: iZombie. If you never heard of it and didn’t know that there was actually a comic book series, don’t feel bad. It wasn’t widely publicized and only ran for 28 issues. But to prepare for the pilot episode, I’ve read the entire series run. I’m not writing this as a review of the comics (but if you want one, you can start here). It’s more to give you my observations about the comics and how they might apply (or not) to the TV series. For starters…

There are more creatures than just zombies

The iZombie comic series contains a whole host of undead creatures besides zombies. There are also ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and at least one mummy. In keeping with the overall tone of the series, though, most of them just want to hang out, live their undead lives, and be left in peace. The comics often come across as a slice -of-life story until the main plot involving a dastardly villain trying to destroy the world kicks in.

It’s not clear if the TV series will include any of these other undead, but if it doesn’t, that would be a shame because…

Continue reading What You Should Know About iZombie

Does Jewelry Get Outdated?

The Apple Watch has been fully unveiled with a launch date and price point. Lots of pixels are being spilled about whether it’s going to be successful, whether we should buy it, and whether wearables really are the future of technology. As I said last time I talked about the Apple Watch, it’s a device that I can see the utility of and that I certainly want. Just not now.

One of the big pieces of news coming out of the show yesterday was the price point ranging from $349 for the basic model to $10,000 for the limited edition 18k gold model.   Understandably, that bigger number has gotten a lot of attention. The gold Apple Watch Edition is clearly a product for the very wealthy who wouldn’t think much of dropping a year’s worth of car payments on a status icon.

Except the thing is the Apple Watch Edition is now essentially a piece of jewelry. And people usually buy jewelry as an investment or as a family heirloom that’s going to last decades or even generations. So how does that work with a piece of consumer electronics which will eventually grow obsolete?

It’s not that the Apple Watch will necessarily have a yearly lifecycle like other iOS devices do. By this time next year, the Apple Watch will still keep time, count how many steps you take, and talk to your phone. It won’t have whatever new features the Apple Watch 2 has, but it will still be viable.

But what about five years from now? Will an Apple Watch you buy today still be able to sync up and work properly with an iPhone 9? Is there going to be same way for Apple to switch out the innards and update the software? Or is the Apple Watch going to end up much like the iPhone 3g — ultimately disposable. I don’t know that the public is going to be convinced that a watch is something they can switch out every two years. It makes more sense to me that Apple will instead introduce new Watches to appeal to different segments (maybe a kids’ version or a version specifically designed for medical professionals).

These are all issues that I’m sure Apple has considered. It will be interesting to see what their solution is.

Where Have You Been?!?

Yep. I’ve been missing in action. I needed to take some time to figure things out.

You see, my episode recaps just weren’t working. In order to get them out in a timely manner, I would have to spend a lot less time and thought on them, and that’s just not the way I write. Moreover, for some episodes I just didn’t have that much to say. And finally, I just plain don’t like some of these shows, and it’s a little wearing to write about them. I’m doing this all to practice my craft, after all.

Arrow has been a mess since the beginning of this season. I’ve often written about what a mistake it was to kill off Sara Lance, and it didn’t help when they brought her back as a hallucination in order to essentially say what the viewers are thinking (that Laurel is terrible at being a superhero and that Sara didn’t have to die to put her in the role). The storylines have also been a complete mess, and it’s all too obvious that the writers start with the end result and work backwards from there. Thus, Laurel will become the Black Canary, all logic and suitability for the actress be damned. Oliver will end up working with Malcolm and alienating his friends regardless of whether that actually makes sense. And Thea’s opinion of different people seems to switch every episode.

Meanwhile, Agents of SHIELD continues to demonstrate that only hard-core Marvel fans should give a toss about it. The characters are still poorly sketched out (nobody really cares about the agent who died). And this current plot is an attempt by Marvel to get us to care about the Inhumans even though there’s nothing about them that’s particularly interesting or noteworthy (the Inhumans are similar to the X-Men except without the relevant social commentary. There’s a reason most of us can name several X-Men but can’t name even one Inhuman off the top of our heads).

There just isn’t much joy in writing about these shows, and if you really want timely recaps for them, there are other places to look. So I’m going to stop. For now, the shows I review will be The Flash and Gotham with occasional commentary for other shows if I see something interesting to say. And I’ll also be reviewing iZombie. Look for a preview coming soon because I have been reading through the original comics that the show is adapted from.

And I also want to get back to reviewing games, so this new schedule should free up a lot of time for me to do that. I’ve got a few in the works that should appear in the next few weeks.

But first, let’s talk about a tech announcement…