Echochrome Arrives Today

It’s not often that a totally different new game appears that just knocks my socks off. Back in the late 80s it was Tetris, a game that totally justified buying a GameBoy. A decade later it was Space Channel Five on the DreamCast. And a couple years ago it was Lumines on the PSP. And today a strange and wonderful little game called Echochrome will be released for the PSP.

Echochrome is a 3D game in a world with rules designed by M.C. Escher, where the laws of physics and perspective twist your brain in different directions, and perception is reality. In this world, if there’s a point of view where two unconnected things look like they line up, then they really do line up. For example, in the drawing below the stairs lead up to a beam that extends to the left, the end of which is obviously not connected to the L-shaped beam at the bottom of the stairs:


BUT! If you shifted your point of view up and to the right a bit, you could look down on the model, where the top and bottom beams look like they’re closer together:


Move just a wee bit more and you can get the two ends to line up exactly, and at that point magic happens in the game: they actually do connect, and one could easily walk from one beam to the other. From that point of view the model would be a continuous loop, where you could climb the stairs and walk back around to the stairs and climb them again, forever and ever.


These games of perspective and point of view are at the heart of may of Escher’s drawings and woodcuts, but to turn them into a playable game is shear genius. The game involves changing your point of view so that beams line up, gaps in beams are hidden behind other beams (if you can’t see a gap it doesn’t exist, and the little guy can walk right over it), and a guy falling thru a hole in a beam lands safely on a beam below it. The levels get complicated as you learn the rules of this world, pretty soon the levels start looking like this:


A demo of the game has been out for a while now, but it only offers a half dozen levels, but rumor has it the released game will have 56 levels. The game isn’t available yet, but then it’s not even 9am yet. Must… be… patient…

Watch the Echochrome trailer


Some of my favorite videogames are music-based games. The first was Space Channel Five on Dreamcast a few years ago, and more recently I’ve been playing a lot of Lumines on PSP. Both games were designed by the same guy (no surprise), and each is wonderful in its own way.

My latest game obsession and guilty pleasure is Dance Dance Revolution on the PlayStation 2. The idea of the game is pretty simple. You have a mat on the floor with up, down, left and right arrows. The videogame plays a song, and arrows scroll up the screen in time to the music. When an arrow falls on a beat, you step on the corresponding arrow on the mat. Points are awarded not only when you hit the correct arrow, but also by how close you are to hitting it exactly on the beat. At the end of each song the game grades you (A, B, C, D, or E) and shows you details of how you did (how many perfect hits, misses, etc).

The game starts off relatively gently on Beginner level, with an arrow coming up few beats so you have time to figure out which foot to move, how to balance so you don’t fall over, etc. As you get the hang of it you can bump the level so that arrows come faster, and sometimes you step on two arrows at the same time (appropriately called a “jump”). At more advanced modes the arrows come fast and furious, with lots of jumps and even a few half-beat arrows thrown in.

I’m still on the “Light” level, one step up from “Beginner.” I’m decent at that level, and have been working the last few days on getting my accuracy up (hitting the arrows exactly on the beat). I also discovered Training mode, where you can slow down the impossible, higher-level songs to better practice them.

On the left are two measures of steps at “Light” level from “Break Down,” an infectious J-Pop dance tune that plays at a frenetic 190 beats per minute. The steps are on the beat: Up, right, down, rest, left+right, rest, left+right, rest. At a little over 3 beats per second, that’s some quick stepping, but it’s doable. On the right are the same two measures from the next higher level, which they laughingly call “Standard” level. Same crazy fast beat, but notice that those pleasant little rests are gone, and instead of a couple left+right jumps with a rest in between the second measure is now up, left+right, left, left+down just to make sure you’re paying attention.

The only way I can keep up with the (ha ha) “Standard” level is to slow it way down. Even slowed down it’s exhausting, but it’s still a lot of fun, and a great workout. I gotta say I’ve lost a few pounds because of this game! I took a peek at the highest level (“Heavy”), and they’ve thrown in arrows on the eighth beat (1, 2, 3, 4 becomes 1 and 2 and three and four) for twice the number of steps in the same amount of time. Short of using some kind of bullet time, I can’t imagine how anyone could do that, but I hear people do. And get scores of A and better. Me, just I aspire to being able to do Standard level without dying.

I’ve discovered I’m not the only one who enjoys the game, Calvin’s picked it up and when Tom and Pam came over the other night they had a blast playing it as well. Who’da thought?

A side effect of the game (along with feeling more fit and having sore leg muscles) is all these fast-paced dance songs going thru my head all day. iTunes has some of them, like Heaven and Will I?, but I had to dig harder and resort to P2P to find my favorite little “Break Down.”


Sony’s PSP (Playstation Portable) was released yesterday, and I picked one up because of one game: “Lumines”:1. It’s a block-based puzzle game, like Tetris (which I got hooked on back in the late 80s with the original GameBoy).

Lumines adds color, a soundtrack integrated with the game, and background animations and visuals that add a few new dimensions to the genre. The game was designed by the same guy who brought us Space Channel 5 (loved that too), so I knew it would be good. And it is. It’s a piece of art, where music and video and gameplay become a thing of beauty. I like it a lot.

The PSP itself is pretty amazing, too. The screen is big, bright and beautiful, and the controls are a pleasure to use. But those you expect. They managed to squeeze in a CD-like drive, wireless networking (which tied into our TinyTunes network quite painlessly), USB port and even an infrared port for some unknown reason. The drive not only loads games, but plays music and even movies and looks stunning.

And the built-in rechargable batteries are giving me over four hours of gameplay.

Thanks to my new obsession, the unread headlines in NetNewsWire are starting to stack up.

Time for one more game…

The Puppy Dog Close

I understand there’s a technique in sales known as the “puppy dog close.” Imagine a family going into a pet store “just to look.” The sales person says “No problem, I know you don’t want to buy anything today, but while you’re here why not hold this just for a minute” and proceeds to put a puppy in the arms of the kid who’s only too happy to play with it. Of course the kid and the puppy hit it off instantly, and the dad grudgingly gives in to the inevitable. In other words they go home with the puppy. **That** is the puppy dog close.

Shareware and try-before-you-buy software are based on the puppy dog close, but all too often I find it surprisingly easy to walk away after trying it. This past week, tho, I bought three different pieces of software as soon as the trial period ended.

The first program, Dangerous Mines, is an addicting Minesweeper type game I’ve been trying out for the past month. Of the three game variants, my favorite is Gauntlet, where you have to complete a level in a limited amount of time to proceed to the next level. The Hard game, which seemed impossible to play just a few short weeks ago, I now tackle in the morning while the coffee is brewing. Maybe I play it a little too much (are my mouse fingers supposed to feel numb?), but I just got a high score over a million so I’m lucky I can quit anytime. Really. The game is well done, tho a little pricey at $25 (PC version, Mac version available as well).

The second program is the fine NetNewsWire, an RSS aggregator I’ve got collecting feeds from about four dozen websites so I can stay on top of new posts without having to visit all those sites all the time. I love the interface, and how it can be customized, and it keeps getting better. I’m using the beta of version 2, highly recommended at $25 (Mac only).

The third program is Panic Software’s Transmit, a fine little FTP client. I’ve been using Fetch forever to do FTP, since 1995 I think, when Robin introduced me to the internet (“Too geeky” I said, “it will never catch on with the masses.” She felt differently, and Once Again, She Was Right). Fetch went commercial with the OSX version, and I ponied up for it. It’s gotten a little long in the tooth and hasn’t kept up with the times. Panic, on the other hand, did a fine job with Transmit, and I’m a sucker for a nice user interface anyway. Nice utility, does what it’s supposed to and even looks pretty, $30 (Mac only).

Past Lives: Milton Bradley's Championship Baseball

This email came in a couple days ago:

Dear Dave,

    I was talking with Mike L____ who mentioned that you programmed the “Championship Baseball” game for the MBX system back in the early 80s. I currently run a TI-99/4A video game website on the Internet and would love to hear from someone such as yourself that was involved with the industry back then, especially working on the incredible MBX system! Championship Baseball was the most famous out of all the games made on the MBX, so it should be a blast to hear from the actual programmer! In addition, if you might be interested in talking with Mike again after all these years I can pass on his contact information. Should be fun talking! BTW, I just completed a review of Championship Baseball on the Internet for the Classic Videogaming Magazine called Retrogaming Times, it’s coming up in the February issue.

Bryan Roppolo

MBX Championship BaseballMy last “real job” was twenty years ago working for Milton Bradley in their Electronic Games division, and the last project I worked on for them was the above-mentioned Championship Baseball game in 1983. I was never quite sure if it made its way onto store shelves (such is the nature of game development). Google even turned up another review of the game!

I’m reminded yet again that once created, these things take on a life of their own.