Electron Dance
13Dec/1616

Wot I Think: Recursed

recursed-temple-screenshot
I thought it was about time I wrote something again for Rock Paper Shotgun. Right now you can read my Wot I Think about Portponky's difficult yet brilliant puzzle-platformer, Recursed. I've been playing this on and off for a few months.

If you found Inception’s dream within a dream within a dream too difficult to follow, you’ll be hopeless at brain-shredding puzzle game Recursed by Portponky. In Recursed, you can easily find yourself inside a room inside a room inside a room… while, uh, carrying the room you’re in.

Go read it!

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  1. Oh, great, you’ve once again inspired me to spend my hard-earned dollars on Steam! Thank the good lord who only looks down on me from shopping center loudspeaker systems this time of year that you like games that don’t cost enough of those hard-earned dollars to cut seriously into my Christmas budget. Now I just have to talk Amy into letting me gift her a Mac game over Steam so that I can stop hearing that damned theme from Cookie Crumble or Candy Crunch or whatever it is she keeps playing on her iPad. It probably won’t be Recursed, though. She loves puzzle games and is better at playing The Room than I am, but after we got into a serious fight over whether HBO’s Westworld was a fair puzzle or cheated too often with timeline crossovers, I’m not sure exactly what kind of puzzle to get her. And I didn’t check to see if Recursed has a Mac port, so maybe Gone Home instead…

    Seriously, once I finally got the pun in the title of Recursed (and you’d think after all the time I’ve spent explaining recursion in my paid writing work I’d have been quicker on the uptake) I had to buy a copy just to celebrate that moment of divine revelation. Now if only I can figure out enough of the game mechanics to get out of the first screen…

  2. Chris, there is a Mac build but I don’t think it’s been updated with all the most recent fixes yet. (at least I didn’t convince you to buy The Witness which is a bit pricier!)

    Recursed is an odd one because it is so incredibly hard but the difficulty is of such a deliciously fresh variety that I can’t get upset with it.

    Funnily enough I got stuck on the first screen because I couldn’t remember the controls!

    And I have to ask because I’m not sure it came up before – who is Amy? Wife? Daughter?

  3. When I say “fixes” I mean mainly eliminating certain alternate solutions as opposed to crashes, for example.

  4. Amy is my wife in the sense that we live together and girlfriend in the sense that she’s, well, my girlfriend, but I usually don’t bother to call her anything because that’s too complicated. (I’ve found throughout my life that having an erratic freelance writer’s income is not conducive to getting women to accept a marriage proposal.) She’s commented, while watching me play the Bethesda RPGs on my XBox, that she’d like to play something like that without all the violence, so I’d like to push her in the direction of Firewatch or Gone Home, but she never plays games on anything except her iPad, so The Room games and Plants vs. Zombies are the only things I’ve ever been able to push her into (and she’s better than me at both, to my chagrin). But there would be so much more she could play on her Mac.

    I figured out the controls and basic gameplay on Recursed (before taking the brief tutorial), then got out of the first screen. Now I’m in the second waiting for a sudden flash of insight that would move a box over a barrier I can’t carry it over.

  5. Actually, you did convince me to buy The Witness (when I caught it on sale) and I’m somewhere in the middle, but I’ve got so many games I’m also playing that I haven’t finished it yet. So many games, so little attention span. I still haven’t finished The Talos Principle. (And I read an article on Jonathan Blow that encouraged me to go back and work on Braid again, though for some reason I lack patience with that game — which I guess is why I call it “work.”)

  6. My wife loves Thief and puzzley type stuff but feeling under constant time pressure, she stopped playing The Witness partway through and always had trouble remembering the rules between sessions. But if I’ve made Jonathan Blow money I think I should ask for a kickback retrospectively.

    In Recursed, you’re just missing one of the actions at your disposal from the Primer.

    I always found Braid slightly indigestible. Some of the puzzles are great but occasionally it’s inscrutable. Ending is fantastic though. The whole challenge took get the stars wound me up.

  7. Your Recursed advice worked. I had been having trouble distinguishing throwing the box from simply dropping it, which is still what happens half the times I try to throw it. A matter of timing, I guess. Once I got that, I immediately started making my way through boxes, and boxes inside boxes. I had also completely missed out on the tutorial perfume bottles. (Maybe hint-y perfume bottles — just a hint of perfume? — would be more to the point.)

    I don’t think Amy’s ever played a game where you move in 3D space, unless you count Q-bert, an old arcade obsession of hers that she revived when I pointed her to the MAME emulator. But nothing using the WASD mechanic to navigate. That’s next to impossible on an iPad, which is why I’d like her to get back to gaming on a Mac. I’m curious how she’d respond to the sort of real-world problem solving in a game like Gone Home as opposed to the more formal puzzles in The Room. Then again, I’m not sure she’d have the patience for a game where you go through dozens, perhaps hundreds of objects trying to piece together exposition with only the occasional audio commentary to give you positive feedback. Of course, she’s turned out to have almost infinite patience with things like getting every achievement in Plants vs. Zombies and then making up new achievements just to keep playing, where I didn’t have the patience even to finish all of the mini-game puzzles.

    I think we each have patience, but with different things. The more embedded a puzzle is in real-world logic, the more patience I have with it, which is probably why I’ll actually finish The Talos Principle when I get back to it. (My playing was interrupted by a major move between houses, which is still offering real-world puzzles that I find I’m not very good at.) The Witness may actually turn out to be more Amy’s kind of game, with its formal puzzles embedded in a real-world veneer. (Now I suddenly find I’m having a problem conflating half-played puzzle games in my half-formed brain. Is The Witness the one with the plateau of frozen people on top of the mountain? Damn, I should just settle on one of these games and play nothing else until I finish it. I wasted more than an hour last night trying to nudge Lara Croft into moving barrels of Greek fire across a stone barrier and still haven’t solved the damned puzzle because she keeps kicking the barrels in the wrong direction and landing them in the water. Clumsy Lara!)

    You made Blow some money for The Witness, though I was being bombarded by enough commentary on that game from all sides that buying it was inevitable. I want to pick away at Braid a while longer, because even if I don’t finish it (perhaps I should abandon my reluctance to check online walkthrus for the more inscrutable parts) it’s given me an idea for a blog post — or a new spin on a post I’d been writing on and off for a couple of weeks but couldn’t find the right angle on until I started replaying Braid.

  8. Perfume bottles? Interesting – I saw them as rings. (I’m not actually sure what they are or, er, why rings would be a recording device.)

    “Is The Witness the one with the plateau of frozen people on top of the mountain?” Yes.

    Playing multiple titles in parallel while not having that much game time presents a unique problem and shows up one of videogames’ issues: trying to remember how to play them. I worked on AI War for hours but then forgot everything and never went back. I started Duskers again last night and the memory of the commands was all lost – so it was a true restart. My wife just cannot remember the rules of The Witness from day to day, so not sure how she’s going to continue it after leaving it fallow for a few months…

  9. Honestly, I think there are puzzle-solving rules in The Witness that I’ve not so much forgotten as never actually understood in the first place, even when the game was patiently trying to teach them to me by example. I bluffed my way through a few of the puzzles by repeated trial and error, finally solving them without being quite sure how I’d done it. So, naturally, the more advanced puzzles are probably harder for me than they should be and I really ought to go back to the beginning and work my way through the “tutorials” at least one more time.

    But what startled me when I remembered the frozen people on the plateau was that I hadn’t realized how far I’d gotten into the game or how much of the underlying story I’d uncovered. So now I actually want to get back into it and see how much farther I can get, even if it requires starting over from the beginning. Now I just have to convince Steam that it wants to run the game. It’s amazing how often I have to “Verify the Integrity of the Game Cache” on Steam to get it to launch a game I’ve already been playing on it for dozens of hours.

    I finally asked Amy if I could gift her some Mac games through Steam and she said “Sure” in that tone of voice I’ve come to realize means, “Oh, my God, he doesn’t actually expect me play them, does he?” It’s the same voice she uses when I suggest we binge watch a season of, say, Doctor Who on Amazon Prime and that ends up with me watching it alone after she goes to bed. I think I’m just going to give her the free opening installment of Life Is Strange so I don’t actually have to spend any money for a game she’s never going to get around to playing. But I still think I might risk gifting her a copy of Firewatch, because it gives you enough painless exposition at the beginning that you understand immediately why you might care about what happens to your character.

    Rings? Now I wish I could remember why I thought they were perfume bottles. Rings were used as an expository recording device in the 1960 George Pal film version of The Time Machine, one of those childhood memories that’s lodged so deeply in my long, long term memory that it’ll never go away. But those didn’t have inset gemstones on them…

  10. Now I’m playing The Witness again and rediscovering the rules (or trying to figure them out for the first time) by looking at puzzles I’ve already solved and trying to deduce why the solutions worked. And guess what? Some of those rules are as opaque as ever. Now I’m at the end of the metal bridge, where I’d already solved every puzzle except the last, and I still don’t know what that horizontal pattern of three squares is trying to tell me. I think this is where I got stuck last time. But I shall defeat thee yet, Jonathan Blow! I shall defeat thee!

  11. Yeah, I find bluffing through puzzles is a dangerous strategy that reminds me of some blog post I read a few years back on learning mathematics. If your understanding is never quite there, it’s always 90%, you still can get through this year with that knowledge. But t slowly these errors of understanding accumulate until one day it becomes a massive gap between what you know and what you ought to know. You can’t move through this barrier because the “mistakes” are way back and it’s impossible to target them. These kind of accumulated errors are a real problem in puzzle games. With Snakebird I was getting through a lot of puzzles without really understanding what made them tick and eventually reached the point where I realised I just wasn’t getting it. And I stopped.

    You can restart a game of course! All my lost knowledge of Duskers has come back quite quickly and it’s fun to explore the verb space of this game again together with its unsettling, unpredictable environment.

  12. I’m leary of a restart because I’ve gotten so far. But studying my previously solved puzzles finally started paying off. I figured out what the three horizontal blocks were trying to tell me and solved the puzzle at the end of the bridge. Now I just have to figure out what good that did me…

  13. You were right. My mathematical (or symbolic) skills were not thoroughly grounded. I’m starting The Witness over.

  14. Sometimes it’s for the best. Sometimes it can be painful letting go of all that progress!

  15. I have to admit, I’m having fun restarting. The island seems less confusing, the wires easier to follow, and the puzzles easier to solve. Well, most of them.

  16. That’s the way of many games, particularly the puzzle variety. I’m working through A Good Snowman is Hard to Build and it has this clever thing where it gets you to reflect on your puzzle building from the beginning without needing a restart…


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