Reaction based games have never really been my strong suit. Ever since the brutality that is the Battletoads bike level I think I’ve been left scarred, the flashbacks of the nigh impossible stretch haunting my thoughts whenever I face a similar challenge. There is something to be said for those kinds of challenges though as, given enough tries, you will eventually succeed. However there are other reaction based games which have no such safety net, forcing you to develop strategies to cope with the unknowable path that lies before you. Linea is an example of these kinds of games, one where a random set of obstacles must be overcome in order for you to be victorious.
The idea behind Linea is simple: avoid all the obstacles for 60 seconds. This is, of course, much harder than it sounds as whilst the objects you need to avoid a telegraphed before they’ll reach you it’s not like you have forever to make up your mind. Hesitate, or make a wrong move that you try to correct, and you’ll likely collide with something, sending you all the way back to the start. However once you start again the pattern of objects will change which means there’s no amount of memorization that will help you succeed. Instead you have to learn to understand the visual cues being given to you and, critically, translate them into the right kind of movement.
This is where Linea’s minimalistic aesthetic is both a blessing and a curse. Whilst there’s little extraneous stuff to distract you there’s just enough to trigger you to react in the wrong ways. The level below, for instance, has obstacles that you will avoid automatically if you do nothing. However should you only look at the top or bottom half of them chances are you’ll think you need to do something to avoid them and, unfortunately, hit them. Whilst there are some repeating patterns within the randomness (or that could just be me noticing patterns in RNG, I’m not 100% sure) you’ll need to hone your reflexes in order to beat Linea, something which I simply haven’t had the patience for over the past week.
Although this doesn’t count either way in terms of my review one thing I did think would be cool would be to code an AI to play the game for me. The games simplicity lends itself well to a first time project and would cover all the basics of visual processing, input management and look-ahead algorithms. This could also just be me thinking it’d be easier for me to code something than to actually, you know, beat the game myself but it’s one of the few games in a long time where I thought that would be an interesting thing to do. (For the record the last one I can remember wanting to do that for was Super Meat Boy).
Linea is a challenging reaction based game that’s sure to delight fans of the genre. The core game is fast paced with minimal downtime, ensuring that you’re not doing much else but bashing your head against the game’s primary challenge. The minimal visual aesthetic is great to look at but also a punishing part of the core game, making it that much more difficult to visually distinguish everything on screen. Whilst it might not be my usual cup of tea I was surprised I played it for as long as I did, especially when I started craving after a few achievements.
Linea is available on PC right now for $1.99. Total play time was 1 hour with 62% of the achievements unlocked.
The question of where life came from on our Earth is one that has perplexed scientists and philosophers alike for centuries. Whilst we have really robust models for how life evolved to the point it’s at today how it first arose is still something of a mystery. Even if you adhere to the idea of panspermia, that the original building blocks of life were seeded on our planet from some other faraway place, that still raises the question of how that seed of life first came to be. The idea of life coming arising from the chemical soup that bathed the surface of the young earth is commonly referred to as abiogenesis but before that process took place something else had to occur and that’s where chemical evolution steps in.
We’ve know for quite a while that, given the right conditions, some of life’s most essential building blocks can arise out chemical reactions. The young earth was something of a massive chemical reactor and these such reactions were commonplace, flooding the surface with the building blocks that life would use to assemble itself. However the jump from pure chemical reactions to the development of other attributes critical to life, like cell walls, is not yet clear although the ever closing gap between chemical evolution and regular evolution suggests that there must be something. It’s likely that there’s no one thing responsible for triggering the explosion of life which is what makes the search for the secret all the more complicated.
However like all scientific endeavours it’s not something that I believe is beyond our capability to understand. There have been so many mysteries of the universe that were once thought impossible to understand that we have ended up mastering. Understanding the origins of life here on Earth will bolster our searches for it elsewhere in the universe and, maybe one day, lead us to find a civilization that’s not of our own making. To me that’s an incredibly exciting prospect and is one of the reasons why theories like this are so fascinating.
Everyone can relate to the frustration of having a drawer full of batteries that are in an unknown state of charge. For most people the only method they have to deduce whether they’re good or not is to try them out in a device, something that inevitably leads to frustration when your spares show up dead as well. The inclusion of battery testers on the batteries themselves (or in the packaging) seemed like a great idea however it never seemed to catch on presumably due to cost factors. Whilst geeks like myself might have a voltmeter handy to get accurate readings in an instant they’re not a ubiquitous device and an effective way of testing batteries still eludes most.
That is until they see this video:
Honestly when I saw this video I was pretty sceptical as the video, whilst highly informative, is anything but scientific. Instead of having 2 batteries from the same brand (and preferably from the same batch) for comparison the effect could be explained by differences in manufacturing between the two. I didn’t take the opportunity to test it myself however, even though I do have a drawer full of batteries that are all in unknown states, but after seeing this video parroted around various life hacking sites I figured that if it was total bunk someone would’ve called shenanigans. It seems that the video is accurate and the science behind why empty batteries bounce is very interesting.
It’s not, as many have speculated, related to a reduction in weight between a full battery and a discharged one. Batteries like this are a closed system, chemically speaking, so save for a few milligrams here and there due to handling or (more catastrophically) a breach in them batteries don’t change their weight. Instead it’s a quirk of the manufacturing process and the change in densities of the various materials inside the battery, all of which result in it becoming bouncy.
In a typical alkaline battery the chemical reaction that takes place to produce charge also results in the materials shrinking. The reason for this is that as the battery discharges oxygen molecules from the cathode (negative ) manganese oxide terminal migrate to the anode (positive) zinc anode, producing zinc oxide. When this occurs the total volume decreases as the oxygen atoms are able to pack themselves much tighter on the zinc oxide terminal than they can on the manganese oxide. This results in the internals shrinking somewhat and, as a consequence, tugs on the side of the pressure seal on the bottom of the battery. This causes it to bow outwards providing a spring like structure which results in the bounce when dropped.
Now I haven’t looked at a lot of batteries recently but I can image that some other designs might make this trick fail due to the design of the cathode terminal. This also means that the trick is probably unique to the cylinder style batteries (A, C, D, etc.) as whilst other types of batteries have similar chemical reactions their construction is vastly different. So I wouldn’t recommend dropping your car or latern batteries to try and test them out, lest you want to spend some time in the chemical burn ward and paying for a large chemical spill.
Reaction based platformers are like kryptonite to me. Initially I revel in the challenge, figuring out how the mechanics work with each other and eventually getting good enough at them that I feel like I could master anything thrown at me. Then, inevitably, the difficulty of the game increases and I find myself floundering, my newfound prowess laid to waste at the developer’s hands. This usually then leads onto a rather self destructive spiral where I’ll continue playing until I get past the point that’s blocking me but of course I usually can’t leave it there and the descent into madness continues. You’d think then that I’d avoid this genre altogether but when something like Element4l crosses my path I was too intrigued to say no.
Element4l puts you in control of a curious little creature, one that’s made up of the 4 different elements that drive its world. Your quest is simple: you are on a mission to create sentient life and in order to do so you have to seek out soulparts that have been scattered around your world. You start off by being a small bubble of air, floating on the breeze, but as you seek out more soulparts you’ll be able to transform yourself into ice, rock and fire, enabling you to soar to ever increasing heights. To succeed you’ll need to use all of your abilities in concert as you will not progress without mastering them all.
The artwork of Element4l is simplistic but very beautiful, reminding me of other games like Journey. There’s really not a lot to it but the combination of different effects and lighting makes Element4l quite a nice visual experience. This is then elevated even higher by the amazing soundtrack that accompanies it which seems to swell and fade at just the right times. Sure it didn’t always line up, especially if I had been struggling on a particular section for some time, but let’s just say I’m glad the developer left the soundtrack in MP3 format in the game folder, it’s just that good.
Mechanically Element4l is a momentum based platformer where keeping your speed up as much as you can is the main aim of the game. Initially it starts out as just a helicopter based game where you have to keep yourself from touching the sides but as you unlock more elemental powers you eventually find yourself spending most of you time sliding around, looking for dips/rises in order to ramp up your speed again. There’s also a few other mechanics thrown into the works to spice up the latter half of the game, adding in a good level of frustration even when you’d expect such a power to make the game easier.
Each of the different elements has a specific property associated with them that’s advantageous in a certain way. Air allows you to float and pulse yourself upwards. Rock allows you to drop and stop really fast, something which you’ll need to use often in order to build momentum. Ice allows you to slide on nearly any surface and has the peculiar attribute of not using any energy, allowing you to transform into it at any point. The last one is fire which is the only ability that can directly contribute to your momentum in the X-Y plane, giving you a small boost to the right hand side of the screen. They all sound simple enough and indeed the reason I was attracted to Element4l in the first place was the apparent simplicity but the way the mechanics interact with each other is anything but simple.
Initially you’ll be able to fumble your way through most sections as the amount of momentum required to make it past certain obstacles is usually pretty low. However there are quite a few tricks you can use in order to boost your momentum up and whilst some puzzles don’t necessarily require you to use them you’re usually far better off doing so in order to give yourself a little more leeway.
For the most part it’s about timing your transformations and abilities to capitalize on the momentum you’ve already created. So for instance say you’re heading up and you need to go higher, usually you’d wait until you got to the peak before using an ability in order to get the maximum effect. In Element4l the forces are additive and so you’re much better off using your puff ability (in air form) on the way up in order to generate more upwards force. The same goes for rock as that lets you drop incredibly quickly, very handy for when you’re going down a ramp. Fire is tricky as whilst it gives you a little boost of speed if you don’t transform out of it quickly you’ll end up losing it (or dying). Thus I found transforming into ice immediately after fire was usually the best way to keep my speed up, unless I needed to be in fire form for one reason or another.
The latter additions add an interesting twist to the base game play, usually forcing you to think of novel solutions to the problems presented. Probably the most interesting one was the sparks that gave you 5 seconds of unlimited energy, something which you’d think would trivialize any puzzle, but in fact it makes them quite a lot more difficult as you can get yourself into a whole mess of trouble in no short order. The same can be said for the little sparks that refill your energy bar as, sometimes, you’ll be able to complete a section without using them but others will require you to use every single one to progress.
Thankfully the experience is pretty much bug free although there are couple mechanics that have some emergent behaviour that I don’t think was intended. For instance when you get turned into water (although it kinda looks like bubbly steam) turning into air directly afterwards shoots you up with a lot of force, far more than it does with any other transformation. Additionally should you respawn whilst you were in steam form any momentum you had at that point will be transferred to you upon respawning. This sounds like a great way to break things, and indeed you probably could, but the times when I happened to me would send me shooting back into a lava pit behind me. Apart from that though the game is glass.
Element4l is one of those games where it’s simple understand yet incredibly hard to master. Much like Super Meat Boy before it I spent the vast majority of my time stuck on puzzles towards the end, running them time and time again until I managed to get my timing perfect. Therein lies the challenge, frustration and ultimate satisfaction that comes from these types of games and whilst I might dread them initially it’s hard to deny that awesome feeling you get upon completion. If you’re a lover of this type of game or love highly polished indie experiences then Element4l is for you.
Element4l is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was 4 hours with 60% of the achievements unlocked.