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It's all gibberish to me, but that's kind of the point.
- The Real Brickroad
- 07/09/2009 04:26 AM
- 1251 views
Creator: SDHawk and Thrasher
Sample Time: three hours
The hero of Lexico is a nameless, faceless spaceman whose ship crashes into a mysterious factory powered and maintained by cryptic robots. The factory is peopled, for some reason, by a colony of space hippies. None of these characters, including your own, is at all important to the story. Several of them are important to the game in small ways, but not in a way that makes any of them particularly stand out.
The graphics in Lexico are entirely original, I believe, drawn specifically for this project. The graphics look pleasant, if a bit drab, and since the game world is so tiny it doesn't need very many of them. Every character in the game is represented by one of four sprites (hero spaceman, male space hippie, female space hippie, or drill robot) and the only decorative object to be found is an important puzzle clue. Areas of the map are differentiated by the color of their walls rather than their individual tiles.
As for the graphics themselves, they're not going to win any awards. They pass, you can (generally) tell what stuff is, and anyway they're not that important to the meat'n'potatoes of the game. The hero's walking animation makes him look like he's ice skating. None of the hippies have any animation frames outside of just standing there. But they're not important to the game either, so that doesn't matter. Most of what Lexico is takes place on one of the factory's many computer monitors, and it's never a question where those are or what you can do with them. (There might be a question as to what they're doing, but that's the puzzle, isn't it?)
Dialogue boxes fade in and out very, very slowly. They do this even in between individual pages of a space hippie's dialogue. I kinda hated that a lot.
Lexico doesn't have music so much as ambiance. It sounds nice, but it's not something you really notice. Different sections of the factory have different ambiance, but you won't notice that either.
The sound effects were loud and crisp. Most of them were the various bleeps and bloops of computer terminals, which means they were at least somewhat important; when playing around in a computer system where you can't read any of the commands and the buttons are all labeled in gibberish, sound is the only feedback you have to work with. Generally, I felt this feedback worked.
Lexico doesn't really have any characters or any plot. It has a slight bit of backstory which serves as a nice reward for solving the game's first couple puzzles, but (and I keep repeating this, I guess) it's not important. I'm pretty sure you can walk passed it without repercussion.
There are a couple dozen hippies littered around the factory. Some of them relay important information, some nudge you towards clues or solutions, some just add a bit of flavor text. Exactly one has a silly accent, which I thought was entertaining. (And for some reason made absolutely perfect sense. Of course one of them is going to have a silly accent!)
There were a lot of text orphans. You'd scroll through an entire box of text, watch the dialogue box fade out, then back in, then print one more word to finish the hippie's sentence, then fade out again. I don't think there was ever a need for a hippie to have more than one message box worth of stuff to say at any given point anyway, so having the odd hippie throw an extra box at me always felt jarring.
If it seems like I'm kind of rushing this review, it's because I'm trying to get to the part that matters. The gameplay in Lexico is based around one simple concept: there are strange glyphs that mean things. It's your job to figure out what. Get to it, spaceman.
We'll start with the interface. You walk around with the factory with the WASD keys instead of the arrow keys. I don't know why. I wanted to use the arrow keys, but they were disabled. I was a little miffed at this at first, but it turns out my gamepad was compatible without resorting to Joy2Key trickery, so I just used that instead. You use the spacebar (or, rather, your controller's X button) to interact with things. Escape brings up your menu, complete with automap and glyph database. Nothing tricky about any of that.
Once you get into one of the game's computer monitors, though, the interface changes. Now, suddenly, your keyboard does nothing and you need the mouse to interact with the game world. You click on buttons to Do Stuff, or right click on a glyph to attempt to translate it. You exit these screens by walking away from them.
Going constantly back and forth between mouse and keyboard would have been annoying enough, but since my arrow keys were disabled I was having to go back and forth between gamepad and keyboard. I would have preferred an entirely mouse-driven interface; click to move, click to interact, click click click. You'd still need the keyboard to type your translations in, of course, but that happens infrequently enough that it's not a big deal. Getting stuck and having to go the mouse every time you play with a computer monitor is a big deal. The last thing I need when I'm stuck in a game is a clunky interface, and Lexico's interface was plenty clunky.
The spaceman walks about two-thirds as fast as it feels like he should walk. The factory's small enough that this probably won't be a deal breaker -- you can get from any point to any other point within about ninety seconds -- but, again, when you're stuck there's not much to do besides walk around. Keyboard/gamepad solution: add a dash button. Mouse solution: click to walk, double-click to run.
So about those glyphs, then. The short version is that the glyphs are the game. The answer to everything in the game is to understand what the glyphs mean. Actually no, wait, that's the answer to almost everything in the game. The answer to one thing in the game is "figure out how this crane works". (And the crane operates with some pretty janky controls itself.) But glyphs are the answer to everything else.
The game starts in a dark room with a closed door. The first thing you do is check the monitor on the wall. It has two buttons, each with a unique glyph on it. One button turns on the lights, the other button turns them back off. There's a second monitor near the door. It, too, has two buttons. One opens the door. The other closes it again. So right away you can add "on", "off", "open" and "close" to your glyph database. The game does a great job teaching you these right off the bat.
That's not the only thing it teaches you though; it teaches you "this is how you learn glyphs". You see a weird button. You press it and see what happens. You experiment. You put things together. You play with machines, without understanding what they do. Once you understand how the machine works, you understand what the glyphs mean. You can then apply that knowledge to the rest of the game.
There's just one small problem here... after on/off and open/close, Lexico doesn't quite attain that level of clarity ever again. Most of the machines don't give you clear feedback. usually, when you press a button, the lights don't come on. Or the door doesn't open. Usually what happens is the machine spits you a series of glyphs. Sometimes these are the same glyphs as on the machine itself. Sometimes they aren't. Sometimes they appear on a red background with a warning klaxon. When this happens you know nothing happened. Each machine that gives you an error message uses different glyphs in said error message, so even screwing things up doesn't give you enough information to assign "error" to any given glyph.
My first pass through the game was just exploration. I didn't want to assign anything (other than on/off and open/close, which were obvious). I figured that first sweep of the factory would give me enough context to start putting things together on my second sweep. And in some ways it did. I had vague ideas of what maybe a half dozen glyphs meant. I found a few pieces of what I figured was directions, or a password. I talked to all the hippies. I didn't achieve any great level of understanding, though, so I buckled down and started my third pass.
Applying what I now knew about the game world, that third pass enabled me to assign exactly three new glyphs.
I admit that I was stuck partially because I had a mental block in place. There was one set of glyphs (which I hadn't yet assigned, because I wasn't confident enough in their meaning) I thought were going to be related in some way. And it turns out they were: just not in the way I was envisioning. I was so set on the glyphs, collectively, meaning one thing that I couldn't see that they meant something else. I was more careful on my fourth pass, and whipped those into shape. I assigned them the proper words, or rather, as close to the proper words as I figured I could get.
And that's the issue here. Outside of that first room, no glyph has a set meaning. Every guess you assign will be simply a guess. You can never be certain of your answer, and because you can never be certain you can never say "There. That glyph is translated. I know what that means now, so next time I see it, I'll know what I'm looking at."
Such was the case in the second or third major puzzle in the game. Big machine with lots of glyphs and fancy buttons. I felt like I had enough understanding to make it work, so I started experimenting. I decided to limit myself to two of the machine's six buttons at first. I played with them until I realized what I could do with the machine, and felt pretty good about it. I still didn't know what half of the glyphs were for, or even what was going to happen once I solved the puzzle, but I had cracked the machine's ruleset and felt pretty good about it.
Then I started playing with the other buttons and immediately solved the puzzle.
It happened totally by accident. I still don't know what I did, or why. The puzzle was solved, and after that the machine gave me nothing but a string of error messages. Over half of the glyphs on it were still untranslated. They could have meant anything, really; I didn't puzzle out the machine's rules by studying glyphs, I did it by playing with buttons. What's worse, I didn't know what solving the puzzle accomplished until I got fed up with it and went for another walk around the grounds, and discovered that a previously closed door was now open. Beyond that door was another big machine with a new set of incomprehensible glyphs.
The whole game was like that. I discovered a puzzle. I played with the puzzle. I learned how it worked. The puzzle clicked into place and I walked away, never getting any closer to translating the glyphs involved. The glyph I had labeled as "down" could have also meant "next". Or "south", depending on which machine was interpreting it, and depending on the context of the glyphs around it, which in turn could have meant one of several things themselves. I felt like I was constantly building a precarious stack of cards with these glyphs. If I interpret this glyph that way, it means I can interpret that one this way... but then this glyph which I've been interpreting this other way must be wrong. Everywhere in the game.
At one point one of the space hippies used my glyph database to translate a display as "crate blocking passage down", which he declared to be wrong. After some careful introspection I think I'd have to agree with him.
The solution probably isn't easy. Maybe I wanted the game to lock a glyph in place once it was properly translated. But then the game becomes more about vague guessing than actual understanding; "let me try this list against this glyph and see what sticks" instead of "where have I seen this glyph and in what contexts?" On the other other hand, though, none of the puzzles seemed to hinge on understanding anyway. At least, not until the one I gave up on.
You can walk through the crates on the conveyor belts. This probably isn't a bug; after all, the author didn't want you to get smushed between the crate and the wall. But it's weird and I'm making a note of it.
Some of the password entry monitors seemed to exclude some of my glyphs. I had thirty-something in my database and only twenty-five showed up in the monitor. This does seem to be a glitch.
Why I Quit
Eventually Lexico runs out of neat machines to play with and puzzles to track down, and resorts to just locking doors behind password inputs. The passwords are, of course, glyphs from your database. The first one is easy, although boring to solve. The second one is easy too, as it relies on observation rather than understanding of glyphs.
The third one does rely on understanding glyphs. Which, for reasons outlined above, isn't exactly possible. Since I only had a vague awareness of what most of my glyphs were getting at, this puzzle ended the game for me. I knew what it was the game wanted me to do, and had I been able to get more of my glyphs nailed firmly into place I think I could have made the solution work. But when you're staring at an input screen with eight spaces, and you've got a massive pile of possible combinations, and you can't ever be sure which combinations make sense and which don't... you've got a severe disconnect on your hands.
I got some mild feedback from a couple glyphs, and I tried everything that made sense to me. Then I re-checked everything in the game world to make sure I wasn't overlooking anything, but that didn't give me any more understanding. What made sense to me before still made sense to me now, but the game still seemed to silently disagree. No matter, one poorly-designed puzzle won't break a game; I figured I'd hit the walkthrough that is helpfully provided on the game's page here on RMN.
The walkthrough is useless. It didn't tell me anything I didn't know (or hadn't already inferred) about the puzzle. I wanted the solution, the guide told me nothing. I had no choice but to quit.
As Seen From Space
Lexico is a fantastic little puzzle game. If you're willing to work hard at it and you aren't afraid to make guesses and then attempt to solve puzzles based on those guesses, you'll probably get to the exact part of the game I did. I was stuck almost the entire three hours I played, but here's the kicker: I love being stuck in games like this. It just means there's something out there left to discover! Overall I feel like I discovered a great deal in Lexico and, though I could not finish the game, I left feeling quite pleased with myself.
"That's weeird... ze door, she duz not werk eeven win it lukz as tow eet shuld..." - Space Hippie #214, Lexico
It is weird that your score is four when your review is essentially paragraph after paragraph of well reasoned...I almost want to say "excuses"...why you didn't like this game.
I'm not comfortable with any idea that can't be expressed in the form of men's jewelry
Uh, you must have read a different review than I did, Max. He glosses over all the stuff that isn't important and focuses on the past that is. Then As Seen From Space, he says he felt quite pleased with the time he invested with the game.