October 31, 2005

Shine and Shine and Shine and

by psu

I picked up Lumines for the PSP and have been playing it between levels of Shadow of the Colossus. I don't have that much to say about the game. Others have already provided much more verbiage about this title without, er, illuminating why the game is fun and interesting. I can't possibly add many more words to that discussion. I have just noticed one interesting aspect of the gameplay: I do better when I don't know what I am doing.

To those who might not know, Lumines is like Tetris with a dance floor. Blocks fall from the sky and music plays. These blocks are made up of four sub-blocks which are one of two colors, and you can move them side to side and turn them in 90 degree increments. The goal of the game is to match blocks of the same color. When you land blocks together so that you get a 2x2 or larger area that are the same color, those blocks disappear sometime later. There is a sweeper line that picks them up and deletes them as it goes past. You have to be aware of this timeline, as it can both help you and hurt you in various ways. There are also special mega-blocks that clear not only blocks from the initial area, but also all other blocks of the same color that are connected to the initial area. This is all cool, but it is best not to think about it.

What you should be aware of is the rest of the game. The blocks shine with color and light and your actions have subtle effects on the rhythm and content of the background tracks. From time to time, the color scheme and music change as you progress from level to level. The different levels all present distinct moods and textures. The speed and rhythm of the music provide subliminal clues about how you should be playing the level.

My best games of Lumines seem to happen when I am completely oblivious to what I am actually doing, and the game just keeps going by itself. This has happened twice so far, and each time my maximum score in the game more than tripled. In addition, for a period of weeks after each of these games, I never came close to managing a similar score again. In fact, I believe that I may never match my current high score. I've managed to do a bit more than half as well, but not much better than that.

While trying to regain former glory, I have discovered a lot more about various strategies in the game. There are cool ways to chain bonuses together, there are ways the timeline can completely ruin your life, and there are various strategies for using the "special" blocks in the best way possible. But, none of this really helps, because it causes me to think about the game too much while I'm playing. So when I really need to act quickly and correctly, I'm doomed.

What I don't really understand is how to obtain that perfect insight into the game, where the rhythm of the music and the blinking of the lights automatically just automatically lead you to the right actions at just the right time. It seems like the only way to do it is to keep playing the game over and over and over and over and...

Which, I suppose, is a sign of brilliance in the game design.

Posted by psu at October 31, 2005 07:25 PM | Bookmark This

I've noticed the same thing when I play pinball. If I come to a new machine, one of my first three games will be incredible. I have no idea what's going on, but I'll have an excessively long game, extra balls, replay, everything. I'm IN THE ZONE.

And around that time I start to figure out the flow of the table, what the different modes and bonuses are, what shots are worth going for...and that knowledge screws everything up. It'll be weeks or months before I ever approach my score where I was just flailing about and didn't know what was happening beyond the basic pinball "shoot stuff, don't drain" ruleset.

Alas, I still haven't played Lumines, since there just aren't enough good PSP games or hours in the day for me to justify a purchase.

Posted by Adam Rixey at October 31, 2005 10:27 PM

I remember playing Killer Instinct on the fourth difficulty setting, button mashing and winning. I dropped down to the third setting to learn the game, and worked out all the combos. Went back up to the fourth setting... and couldn't win any more even though I was "better" at the game.

Not sure if that's good design (immersion makes you better, too much knowledge ruins the flow) or bad design (button mashing is a viable tactic).

Posted by Andy P at November 1, 2005 06:44 AM

I had the reverse experience with Rez on the Dreamcast: I started out trying to think too much about the game. Several attempts at playing led only to frustration, until I realized that the game was designed for ravers who take a lot of drugs. When I shut my brain down and tried playing without thinking about the game mechanics, and just let myself groove to the music, my scores improved dramatically.

Posted by rlink at November 1, 2005 01:30 PM

I got the game a few weeks ago, and the same happens to me; except I sink into 'The Zone' much more often.

WipEout:Pure for the same platform is essentially the same game but with cars; just watch the shiney colours. You can only win the faster speeds by being in The Zone.

For some reason, Unreal Tournament (DM only) does this to me as well.

Also the same when playing a musical instrument.

If you've ever read 'His Dark Materials' Trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Phillip Pullman, you'll notice that Lyra can only read the altheiometer by sinking into the same kind of trance. If you've not read these books, then do.

Posted by Willberg at November 12, 2005 02:55 AM

In fact, we've even reviewed the book:


Posted by peterb at November 12, 2005 08:28 AM

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