Scribenautics

Is it bad form to apologize on a blog for a lack of updates? I think it may be, but I still feel responsible to anyone who happens to wonder to this site. So, if you visited this weekend, I apologize that only my lame eldritch horror drawings were there to greet you. It won’t (will) happen again.

But! Work was acomplished! I made some headway into my Gamespite obligations and I should be finishing my proposed articles in the next few days. I also made the mistake of reading some Silent Hill Let’s Plays. I am endlessly fascinated by these games. I also am the biggest wuss to ever wussy it up. Just reading about the games prompted several nights of jaw-clenching terror. I would lie awake in bed, not daring to sleep, because I knew there was a Patient Demon outside and that it was going to get me.

The real joy of the weekend was the acquisition of Scribblenauts. Except now I’m poor and can’t afford food. Such is the price we pay for our hobby. I should have just stuck with the free text adventures. In any case, Scibblenauts is a fantastic wonderful game and a hell of an accomplishment.

Scibblenauts is a puzzle game where you write words to summon objects. Almost any word is summonable. Sure, the developer, Fifth Cell, couldn’t fit EVERY conceivable word into the game but they did manage over 22,000 of them. It’s really quite remarkable.

One of most common things I’ve heard about it is that it’s a fantastic toy but only an okay game. This doesn’t really make sense to me. Now I might be arguing semantics here, but it seems to me that the game and the toy portions are both part of the same whole. It is this whole that the title should be judged on. When people talk about it as a toy and it as a game they are talking about two different approaches to interaction. The meat of Scribblenauts is made up of a couple hundred puzzles where the hero, Maxwell, either has to accomplish a task (help the lumberjack, paint a portrait, stop the ninjas from killing the royal family) or collect a Starite (the game’s macguffin). This involves writing words to summon objects to solve these puzzles. Scribblenauts also has a sandbox mode (in the form of its title screen) where you’re encouraged to explore what is possible and how objects interact. This is what people mean when they talk about the Scribblenauts as a toy: exploring the game’s possibilities without any specific goal.

It seems odd to break up Scribblenauts into these two parts. In Grand Theft Auto we don’t draw a distinction between the missions and the free roaming sandbox emergent gameplay. Both are part of the same whole. So it should be with Scribblenauts.

I think the main reason that people like it less as a game than as a toy is that the puzzle levels can be very obtuse. You get the feeling on some of the harder ones that despite having having access to everything ever you need to think of what specific words Fifth Cell had in mind. Also, when solving puzzles more mundane items like ropes and baskets come in handy much more often than fun things like cthulhu or keyboard cat.

This isn’t to say that the puzzles aren’t fun or compelling. They are! And I think Scribblenauts would have been just as fantastic if there had been no sandbox mode. The puzzles, for the most part, are very open ended and can be solved in a verity of ways. In fact the game encourages you to replay puzzles and solve them in new ways. The fact that you can simply sit back and explore on your own is a fun extra.

There are some control issues, but I feel they pale in the fact that you can summon a pack of corgis, or create an undead army with the necronomicon, or give an atheist a magic wand to smite god, or any other thing you can think of. It’s really amazing how much Fifth Cell crammed in the game. Scribblenauts, in both its parts as well as its totality, is a huge accomplishment and one of the most exciting and fun games I’ve played all year.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Scribenautics

  1. I can most definitely divide my opinion of GTA between the sandbox world and the missions. And do, frequently! As for Scribblenauts, my biggest beef is the lack of contextual AI in the game. Why can’t the maid use a mop to clean up a mess? Why can’t a chef bake with an oven? Creatures generally exist to bump up against each other until one vanishes in a puff of smoke. And giving ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING physics is ridiculous. Of course the vehicles should behave that way, but why is my fucking house bouncing around?

  2. Metal Man Master

    While I haven’t had the opportunity to play Scribblenauts a chance yet, I’m willing to give it a shot after looking through the K section of the dictionary online. Any game where I can summon a kinkajou is alright in my book. I’m actually surprised the li’l mammal made it into the dictionary.

  3. CJ

    The reason I stopped playing Scribblenauts is because I was tired of trying to find the sweet spot of the Venn Diagram where my ideas overlap with the ideas of the developers.

  4. Metal Man Master

    Alright, I’ve finally got Scribblenauts! I haven’t delved into the puzzles yet, but the first thing I summoned on the title screen was indeed a kinkajou. I also summoned a fig, honey, and a tree to see if the li’l procyonid wanted to interact with any of them, but after ignoring those I tried throwing the fig at it. Then it got pissed off and started attacking me, and I summoned a shotgun to blow it away in one blast. Oops. ^^;

    The all-touch interface will take some getting used to, but I can already tell I’m gonna love this game. Summoning a polar bear to eat a penguin and then taking the big guy down with a tank is alright in my book. =D

  5. I like the premise behind Scribblenauts, it’s a great concept I only wish they could have built a fun game around it. I don’t even enjoy it as a toy or sandbox…

    22,000 is a lot of words, too bad I only need about ten (maybe 20) of them to solve every puzzle I’ve come across so far. This coupled with control issues and a general inability of the game to recognize my unique solution to some puzzles makes it only useful and enjoyable in small chunks. I’m hoping Scribblenauts 2 will be the game I (and a lot of others) though Scribblenauts was going to be.

    • Metal Man Master

      Upon further play, I’ve had some control issues myself. It would’ve been very helpful if movement and choosing how to interact with stuff weren’t both controlled with the stylus. When I click on something I want to throw a tranquilizer dart at, it does not mean I want to run into my intended target like an idiot and get shot/stabbed/pummeled/etc.

      Still, I gotta admire the game for its variety of stuff, even if it isn’t all helpful, or that mongoose/weasel/mink/meerkat/ferret/kinkajou all summon a mongoose, and whatnot. I’m still enjoying it, although it feels like a love-hate relationship sometimes.

      I’ll see how I feel after completing many more puzzles.

  6. Philip Armstrong

    Despite all these flaws I still think the game is amazing. The fact that it does what it does makes up for the fact it’s a little hard to move around. Or that a weasel and a stoat have the same graphic.

    • Metal Man Master

      While the control flaws may annoy me, I still gotta admire the work that went into Scribblenauts. The game’s solid enough that I’m already looking forward to a Scribblenauts 2.

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