Farewell, Kazuhisa Hashimoto, Creator of the Konami Code

We talk about codes a lot in this blog. We’ve discussed codebreaking, hidden messages, encryption, spycraft, and password protection in the past. But we haven’t talked much about another kind of code, the sort that grants secret access to new abilities, powers, and other benefits.

In the video game world, these are commonly known as cheat codes. There are various famous ones from different eras of gaming, but one code stands head and shoulders above the rest: the Konami Code.

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[Image courtesy of Newegg.]

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.

Ubiquitous in the 1980s and 1990s, the Konami Code was named for Konami, the video game publisher whose games utilized this code. It was first used in the Nintendo version of the arcade game Gradius in 1986, giving the player the full set of power-ups (rather than forcing the player to earn them throughout the game).

You see, the video game designer and producer working on converting the game, Kazuhisa Hashimoto, found the game too difficult to play during his testing phase. He then created a cheat code to make the game easier, allowing him to complete his testing. The code he chose became known as the Konami Code.

It’s most famously associated with the game Contra, a side-scrolling platformer that pitted Rambo-inspired heroes against an invading alien force. The game was famously difficult because one hit could kill you, and you only had three lives for the entire game. Entering the Konami Code granted the player 30 lives and a much greater chance of success.

(I, of course, could beat it without the Konami Code. But this article isn’t about me and my old-school video game wizardry.)

The code became part of video game pop culture, continuing to appear not only in Konami games, but all sorts of other games, up through the modern day. Often with different results.

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, you got extra lives. But if you used it in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, it would unlock a playable version of Spider-Man. If you use the code in Assassin’s Creed 3, a turkey will wear the character’s famous hood, weirdly enough.

The code has transcended gaming as well, not only becoming the name of a famous wrestler’s gaming-centric YouTube channel, but appearing everywhere from Family Guy and Wreck-It Ralph to Dance Dance Revolution and Rocket League.

It even allows for a bit of festive fun on the website for Bank of Canada. On the page revealing the new $10 bank note, inputting the code hilariously activates a rain of money-confetti and plays the Canadian National Anthem.

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Sadly, the reason that I’ve got the Konami Code on my mind today is that Kazuhisa Hashimoto passed away this week. The veteran game designer was 61 years old, and after being hired by the company in his twenties, spent nearly 30 years working for Konami, first on coin-operated games and later on console titles.

There’s not a huge amount of information readily available about Hashimoto or his life outside the world of video games. In fact, some articles about Hashimoto claim he was 79 years old at the time of his death. And the one photo I can find that’s attributed to him appears to be a picture of Star Trek actor George Takei instead.

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We here at PuzzleNation mourn the loss of this influential designer and contributor to pop culture. May both his games and his famous code live on as fine, smile-inducing examples of his hard work and playful nature.


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Intuitive vs. Non-Intuitive Puzzles

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[Image courtesy of The Spruce Crafts.]

Sometimes, when you look at a puzzle, you know immediately what to do and how to solve. In my opinion, a great deal of Sudoku’s success is due to its intuitive nature. You see the grid, the numbers, and you know how to proceed.

Crosswords are similarly straightforward, with numbered clues and grid squares to guide new solvers. (The “across” and “down” directions also help immensely.)

That’s not to say that these puzzles can’t be off-putting to new solvers, despite their intuitive nature. I know plenty of people who are put off by crosswords simply by reputation, while others avoid Sudoku because they’re accustomed to avoiding ANY puzzle that involves numbers, assuming that some math is involved. (I suspect that KenKen, despite its successes, failed to replicate the wild popularity of Sudoku for similar reasons.)

But plenty of other puzzles require some explanation before you can dive in. A Marching Bands or Rows Garden puzzle, for instance, isn’t immediately obvious, even if the puzzle makes plenty of sense once you’ve read the instructions or solved one yourself.

The lion’s share of pen-and-paper puzzles fall into this category. No matter how eye-catching the grid or familiar the solving style, a solver can’t simply leap right into solving.

Thankfully, this won’t deter most solvers, who gleefully accept new challenges as they come, so long as they are fair and make sense after a minute or so of thought. Cryptic crossword-style cluing is a terrific example of this. At first glance, the clues might appear to be gibberish. But within each clue lurks the necessary tools to unlock it and find the answer word.

Brain teasers often function the same way. You’re presented with a problem — a light bulb you can’t see and three possible switches for it, for instance — and you need to figure out a way to solve it. It might involve deduction, wordplay, or some clever outside-the-box thinking, but once you find the answer, it rarely feels unfair or unreasonable.

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[Image courtesy of Deposit Photos.]

But, then again, there are also puzzles that can baffle you even once you’ve read the instructions and stared at the layout for a few minutes. Either the rules are complex or the solving style so unfamiliar or alien that the solver simply can’t find a way in.

In short, puzzles as a whole operate on a spectrum that spans from intuitive to non-intuitive.

Want an example of baffling or non-intuitive? You got it.

GAMES Magazine once ran a puzzle entitled “Escape from the Dungeon,” where the solver had to locate a weapon in a D&D-style dungeon. A very small crossword puzzle was found in one room on a paper scroll.

But the solution had nothing to do with solving the crossword.

The actual solution was to take the crossword to a magician who removed letters from the fronts of words. Removing the C-R-O-S left you with a sword, completing the overall puzzle.

That sort of thinking is so outside the box that it might as well be in a different store entirely. Video games, particularly ones from the point-and-click era, have more than their fair share of non-intuitive puzzles like this. You can check out these lists for numerous examples.

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And as escape rooms grow in popularity, more of them seem to be succumbing to less intuitive puzzling as a result of trying to challenge solvers.

For example, in one escape room I tried, various fellow participants uncovered two stars, a picture of the three blind mice, and four different items that represented the seasons. Amidst all the locks to open, puzzles to unravel, and secrets to find, it never occurred to any of us that these three unconnected numbers would have to be assembled as a combination to a lock. By asking for a hint, we were able to figure out to put them together and open the lock, but it’s not a terribly intuitive puzzle.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for a puzzle constructor — be it a pen-and-paper puzzle, an escape room scenario, or a puzzle hunt dilemma — is not creating a dynamite, unique puzzle, but ensuring that finding the solution is fair, even if it’s difficult or mind-boggling.

This sort of thinking informs not only my work as a puzzlesmith, but the designs for my roleplaying games as well. If my players encounter a gap, there’s some way across. If there’s a locked door, there’s a way through it. Oftentimes, there’s more than one, because my players frequently come up with a solution that eluded me.

In the end, that’s the point. All puzzles, no matter how difficult, exist for one reason: to be solved. To provide that rush, that a-ha moment, that satisfaction that comes with overcoming the clever, devious creation of another sharp mind.

And non-intuitive puzzles are tantamount to rigging the game.


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Last Kickstarter Roundup for 2019!

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

For years now, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been hotbeds of innovative puzzle and game design, and I’m always happy to spread the word about worthy projects that I think will delight and intrigue my fellow PuzzleNationers.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest!


The first is Peter Gordon’s Fireball Newsflash Crosswords.

Culturally timely clues and entries are a hallmark of this marvelous variation on Gordon’s long-running Fireball Crosswords brand, and you can rest assured that each Fireball Newsflash Crossword grid will be well-constructed and cleverly clued.

With twenty puzzles sent to you by email — one every two to three weeks — you’ll always have some terrific puzzling to look forward to.

Gordon has a knack for melding flowing grid design with sharp, topical entry words, and much of the time, you’ll not only be impressed by how much material makes it into the grid, but by what major and minor events you’ve missed recently! Gordon’s history of topnotch puzzles is all the incentive you need to contribute.

75% funded with 5 days to go, this project is a yearly favorite of mine, and I always look forward to supporting it.

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Our second project is a game called 13 Monsters.

A game that takes the strategy of a monster-building game like Bears vs. Babies or Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards and adds a memory component to the gameplay, 13 Monsters requires luck, skill, and tactics in order to assemble monsters and battle your fellow players for dice-rolling, monster-making supremacy.

Because you can only build your monster by finding matching pieces — which you do by flipping tiles and remembering where matching parts are, like in Memory or Concentration — experienced players and newbies have an equal chance at the game’s outset of making moves that seriously impact the game.

With fun mechanics, delightful art, and a clever premise, 13 Monsters looks like a blast.

77% funded with three days to go, 13 Monsters could easily cross the finish line in time, and if more people watched the incredibly charming How to Play video on the Kickstarter page, I think they’d be funded already.

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Our third project adds an artistic touch to a classic game tool: dice.

Dragon and Celtic Laser Dice allow you to augment your games — or your game-centric decor — with beautifully designed and intricately realized wooden and metal dice. With laser-cut precision, these dice are eye-catching and could inspire the creation of whole new games just for these dice alone.

Understandably, the project has already reached its funding goals with 24 days to go, but I still think it’s a gorgeous product that will appeal to game fans all over.

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Our fourth and final project today doesn’t focus on game fans all over, instead opting to focus on game fans in one particular area: Chattanooga, Tennessee.

You see, the dynamic duo of Gina and Janay want to open a gamer-friendly coffee shop — The Game Over Cafe — that mixes classic store elements with video game regalia and programming.

Proposing to be a “Gamer-friendly establishment offering quality coffee and beverages, delicious tea, snacks, and sandwiches,” The Game Over Cafe has potential to be a marvelous new business and networking spot for games and gamers.

A quarter of the way to their funding goal with 29 days to go, I think there’s a solid chance this project will find support and fulfill its mission.


Have any of these games or projects hooked you? Let us know which ones you’re supporting in the comments section below! And if there are any campaigns you’re supporting that we missed, let us know!

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A New Maze Experience with a Ghostly Twist!

pacman1

[Image courtesy of Pixilart.]

Whether it’s a hedge maze or an escape room, an inflatable obstacle course or a murder mystery dinner, there’s nothing quite like life-sized interactive puzzling. It’s an immersive experience that can challenge you both physically and mentally, creating memories of challenges conquered and victories achieved that will last a lifetime.

And next year, the citizens of Houston will get to test their puzzly mettle in an iconic scenario: the Pac-Man maze.

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[Image courtesy of Pinterest.]

That’s right, thanks to The Maze, intrepid puzzlers will take on the role of Pac-Man and try to outmaneuver Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde while collecting various pieces of fruit around the play area.

But as it turns out, that’s not all!

From the write-up on The Maze’s website:

You can get lost in a huge arcade-style maze that will have you and your friends dodging ghosts left and right and trying to collect different pieces of fruit. Collecting fruit isn’t your only objective though, you’ll need to complete a coded “Puzzle”! If you’re the first to finish the puzzle and gather all the fruit, you’ll be at the top of the leaderboard and crowned the ultimate winner!

BUT, if you get caught by a cheeky ghost, you’ll lose a life (not a real one, thankfully) – lose three and you’re out!

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[Image courtesy of Gamespot.]

I can’t find any pictures from a previous Maze event, so I’m not sure what it will look like. Of course, as you can tell from the picture above, this isn’t the first time Pac-Man has ventured into the third dimension.

In 2015, a life-size Pac-Man game was created for a Bud Light “Up for Whatever” Super Bowl commercial (but without the additional coded puzzle advertised for the upcoming Houston event).

And if Houston is anything close to this, it’ll be an absolute blast.

Would you like to test your puzzly skill against the dreaded ghosts of Pac-Man, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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PN Video Game Review: Untitled Goose Game

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[Image courtesy of USG.]

A game review? We know, it’s been a long time. Yes, we often discuss the puzzly aspects of video games both new and old, but it’s rare that we review them.

Thankfully, friend of the blog Jennifer Cunningham — puzzler, artist, musicologist, and former Tabletop Tournament Champion — offered to step up and review a puzzle game as clever as it is subversive, one that’s already made quite an impression across social media.

So, without further ado, let’s turn things over to Jen for her take on Untitled Goose Game.


On September 23rd, 2019, a new video game release took the Internet by storm.

Untitled Goose Game, an independent stealth and puzzle game from House House, has a straightforward description: It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose.

That’s it. That’s the tagline. And yet it has already won the hearts (and memes) of many.

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[Image courtesy of Polygon.]

Yes, players take on the role of a rogue goose, being mischievous and causing mayhem in a quiet English village. The objective of the game is to complete a series of tasks to advance to the next area of the town. Players are given very simple abilities as the goose: you can waddle and run, you can grab and pick up items with your beak, you can honk, you can duck (pun not intended), and you can flap your wings.

With these skills, players must determine how to complete their “To Do List” tasks, while avoiding being thwarted or chased away by the village’s (perhaps justifiably) irate citizens. Such tasks include “get into the garden,” “break the broom,” and “be awarded a flower.”

Unlike many video games, there are no hints given to players such as flashing or highlighted items, arrows, dialog, etc., so players must experiment and problem-solve in order to accomplish the vaguely-described tasks.

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[Image courtesy of Goose Game.]

Since there is no life system and no time limits, players are free to explore the world and see what sticks. Sneaking around, hiding objects, and sometimes deliberately calling attention to your goose-self are required to succeed. It is completely up to the player to figure out how to approach each endeavor. Additionally, players will discover some hidden tasks as they experiment and try to solve each task’s unique puzzle.

Untitled Goose Game is fun, farcical, and highly entertaining. It will make you think, laugh, and almost wish you were a rebellious goose yourself. But a word of warning: it is a relatively quick game. Players can easily win the entire game in just a few hours.

While there are bonus tasks that open up after winning, there isn’t must incentive to replay the game over and over unless you’re determined to beat your own personal timed record. We can only hope that the developers come up with a sequel or expanded gameplay in the future.

Untitled Goose Game is available for digital purchase in the Nintendo Switch Store and for PC/Mac at Epic Games.

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[Image courtesy of EuroGame.net.]

Ratings for Untitled Goose Game:

  • Enjoyability: 4/5 — This game provides a high level of entertainment despite the limited world. You truly feel as one with the goose. The varying difficulty of tasks is well balanced to allow players of all puzzle-solving abilities to accomplish the game’s objectives.
  • Puzzle incorporation: 4/5 — Completing tasks requires the player to determine how to use your basic goose skills to achieve them with no clear directive on how to accomplish them. Prepare for a lot of trial-and-error. It is truly a problem-solving puzzle game.
  • Graphics: 3/5 — Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is an indie game so the graphics are not on par with most PC/Switch video games or franchises. The graphics are somewhat flat, similar to paper cutouts. But at the same time, that is part of the game’s charm (much like its non-title title) and detail is certainly not lacking. The colors are muted but calming, the world is crisp and clean, and movement is smooth.
  • Gameplay: 4/5 — The drive to sow a little chaos lives within all of us, and this game lets us play out that devious urge in perhaps the most innocent way while challenging players with puzzly goodness. If you’re going to cause trouble, might as well be a cute goose just doing its goose thing. The satisfaction that comes with completing a task is extremely gratifying, as is the sandbox-esque freedom of being able to cause mayhem for no honkin’ reason at all.

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A Shift in Puzzly Perspective

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I’ve had 3-D puzzling on the brain for a few days now, after a conversation about video games with a well-informed friend of mine.

What do I mean when I say 3-D puzzling? Well, I don’t just mean a puzzle that exists in three dimensions. I mean a puzzle where the solving experience requires all three dimensions.

Think about your average maze or a jigsaw puzzle. Although they’re three-dimensional objects, the solving is two-dimensional. Yes, there are certainly variations on these themes, like maze cubes where you navigate a marble from one place to another, or 3-D jigsaw puzzles that allow you to reconstruct famous landmarks. But these still rely heavily on two-dimensional solving.

Compare that with the iconic puzzle video game Portal, for instance. Portal requires you to accomplish different tasks, and you can only do so with your portal gun, a device that allows you to connect two different locations on the map.

[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

That requires a complete realignment of your perspective, because you can walk in a straight line through one portal and emerge above, below, or at a 90-degree angle from where you started. This isn’t two-dimensional thinking anymore.

Between 3-D printing techniques and the constantly evolving engines behind video game systems, we’re seeing more and more examples of three-dimensional thinking in puzzles, and I’m perpetually amazed by what creators and designers come up with.

Check out this video of gameplay from the new puzzle game Etherborn:

Your character navigates elaborate three-dimensional landscapes, and gravity is wholly dependent on how your character is oriented at the moment. So you need to be clever enough to use the landscape in order to move your character in very unorthodox ways.

It’s fascinating, a step beyond some of the puzzles seen in previous games like Portal and Fez. (In those games, gravity still only worked in one direction, whereas Etherborn breaks even that fundamental baseline.)

I think this sort of puzzling appeals to me so much because the change in perspective that comes from solving in an additional dimension completely rewrites the rules we thought we knew.

Imagine for a second that you’re inside a corn maze. Now think about the paper mazes you’ve solved. See the difference? In the first scenario, you’re beholden to the meager information you get from following each path, whereas in the second, you can plan a route from above because you have much more information. You can see dead ends and avoid them.

The three-dimensional scenario is far more challenging than the 2-D solving you’re doing with the paper maze.

ThinkFun managed a similar feat with Gravity Maze, a puzzle game that required you to move a marble from the starting cube to the ending cube. The main challenge was that you had to build the path with only the given materials, and then just drop the marble in. All the puzzling happened at the beginning, and then you became a bystander as the marble traversed the solution you built.

This isn’t just plotting a path like in a normal maze, it was understanding a chain of events you were setting in motion, like cause and effect. It’s like building a simple Rube Goldberg machine and watching it go.

But whether you’re manipulating portals, shifting perspectives, dropping marbles, or solving corn mazes, you’re pushing your puzzly skills into new dimensions. And that’s just the puzzles we have now. Imagine what comes next.


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