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The Secret of Monkey Island Returns

One of my favorite video games of all time is The Secret of Monkey Island, an adventure game published by Lucasfilm Games in 1990. Monkey Island successfully combined humor, adventure gaming (walking around, picking stuff up, talking to people), and terrific music. It was also notable in its emphasis on fun and puzzle-solving -- you can't die, and puzzles are always solvable. It's sort of a low-key game in that sense: though there is some light swashbuckling, it's never about jumping or clicking fast or shooting. And it's genuinely funny. That's rare in a computer game.

So the big news for Monkey Island fans is that there's a reissue of the original game coming to Xbox 360 and the PC later this year. The art has been repainted in HD -- a bit of a step up from the original 320x240 resolution -- and the interface has been updated. In a recent blog post, Monkey Island author Ron Gilbert played through the original MI and recorded his notes, along with some screenshots. It's a great read for old-school gaming fans, and gives some insight into his game design decisions. For example:

While Insult Sword Fighting is one of the first things people think of when they hear Monkey Island, I thought it seemed little tedious (but fun) as I played though it again. There is a point where you say "I get it", but your [sic] still forced to go though the motions again and again. If I was going to do Insult Sword Fighting in a future game, I'd make it more free form allowing the player to be clever and construct their own sentences.

During the early stages of the Monkey Island design, we would watch old Errol Flynn era pirate movies. One thing that stood out was during the fights they always taunted each other with insults. I knew we needed to have sword fighting in the game - it was about pirates after all - but I didn't want to introduce any action game play and the old pirate moves provided the perfect solution.

So now that you're pumped up with nerdy anticipation, preview the Monkey Island reissue, read Ron Gilbert's notes on the original, or watch this amazing video in which someone plays through the entire Monkey Island game (the Amiga version). The whole thing. On YouTube. It takes two and a half hours. (Though it took me weeks.)

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Cahoots Malone
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Revisit Your Favorite '90s Screensaver With This Free Game
Cahoots Malone
Cahoots Malone

In the '90s, a significant amount of computing power was devoted to generating endless brick mazes on Windows 95. The screensaver has since become iconic, and now nostalgic Microsoft fans can relive it in a whole new way. As Motherboard reports, the animation has been re-imagined into a video game called Screensaver Subterfuge.

Instead of watching passively as your computer weaves through the maze, you’re leading the journey this time around. You play as a kid hacker who’s been charged with retrieving sensitive data hidden in the screensaver of Windows 95 before devious infomancers can get to it first. The gameplay is pretty simple: Use the arrow keys to navigate the halls and press Q and click the mouse to change their design. Finding a giant smiley face takes you to level two, and finding the briefcase icon ends the game. There are also lots of giant rats in this version of the screensaver.

Screensaver Subterfuge was designed by Cahoots Malone as part of the PROCJAM 2017 generative software showcase. You can download it for free for Windows, macOS, and Linux from his website, or if playing a game sounds like too much work, you can always watch videos of the old screensaver on a loop.

[h/t Motherboard]

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Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests
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iStock

Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]

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