I realized the moment I fell into the fissure that the Book would not be destroyed as I had planned. It continued falling into that starry expanse, of which I had only a fleeting glimpse. I have tried to speculate where it might have landed, but I must admit that such conjecture is futile. Still, questions about whose hands might one day hold my Myst book are unsettling to me. I know my apprehensions might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written. -- Atrus

Saturday, March 18, 2017

My Thoughts on Quern: Undying Thoughts

First of all there are spoilers below, so you know what to do: read or move on. 

Second: the tl;dr version is I generally liked it and I recommend it if you have the resolve to spend a lot of time figuring out puzzles.  Though, I did find some flaws (mostly because I'm a dummy).  Dear Quern, It's not you, it's me!

I played Quern lazily because I wanted to play it to escape thinking and this game really makes you think!  Most of the time this was in a good way, but I admit that some puzzles and non-puzzles annoyed me to pieces because I thought they were outlandish.

Let's start with the positives, of which there are many.  I should state here and now that I give this game a 88-90%.  I admit that I cheated my way through it because I didn't want to be bothered too much with the more difficult stuff, such as finding random objects I didn't know I needed.  Also, I didn't bother taking notes, which likely would have helped significantly.  Like I said, I played lazily. 
I haven't played too many different games in my life, and when I began Skyrim it was something like a culture shock.  Quern began, for me, confusingly because all these objects you're meant to throw into an inventory and carry around until it finally clicks that you need it was a tad overwhelming.  The pine cone bowl was a huge question mark for me and I tried to put it everywhere before I discovered its purpose based on the drawing in one of the buildings.  


1. Anyway, I said I'll do the positives first.  For some reason, one that I really liked was the letters puzzle toward the end.  I thought that was delightfully clever, maybe because it was so simple. 

2. I also enjoyed those panels where you have to make the lines complete, though I don't really count those as puzzles.  They don't require much thought; you just connect stuff and no biggie. 

3. The rotation puzzle of the mechanics building was equally not puzzlish, as, again, it was just moving stuff around.  One may compare this to the gateway puzzle in Riven (as I understand the inspiration was for this game?), but it lacks the "geometry" method of solving.  Down underground where you have to rotate it again is more clever, having to deal with all the crazy numbers.  I needed a cheat on that one. 

4. Inside the mechanics building, the panel with the five cylinders was a good one, though I gave up after a few tries haha!  I told you I was a lazy player.  In all honesty it wasn't a game I was prepared to play for a couple hours and then put away.  I just wanted to finish it.  

5. What I liked best was the blue torch.  That was great, though sometimes I didn't realize I needed it, so I had to consult the internet. I got better about remembering to pull up that torch later on, though.  But yeah, the blue torch rocked.  It helped with knowing when to use the white torch.  

6. It was fun mixing stuff to make potions, and was also fun to drink poisonous stuff.  I needed help with knowing which plant to use because it wasn't clear to me.  The paper said berries, but I didn't know what plant was the berries plant; I didn't exactly pay attention to berry shapes when I was trimming the verge.  Again, my fault.  It never occurred to me to bring it back to the control room and read the numbers.  And talking of, using those same numbers to open the cave door was also clever (and happily for me, quite obvious!  Yay!  I like that he easy ones). 

7. There was that one puzzle--perhaps inspired by Voltaic--where you needed to get the correct number of bars to reach the white line, like the pressure puzzle in Voltaic.  That was a sinch, also.  What followed was more or less straightforward, but I didn't realize how to operate the machine that makes the white torch haha! I found out I was trying to use the dials in the opposite way they were supposed to be used. Which puzzle is this one like in the Myst games? I'm trying to remember. There is one. Seems like one you'd find in Voltaic or Spire.

8. Other good ones were the green light beam ones.  Where you first use the do-dad that opens the windows on the mountain faces that reveal the symbols to insert in the telescope was buggy at first.  It's always a problem with puzzle games when you encounter a bug.  I was on the right track, then encountered the bug which caused the first spot where I pinged the sound stick ( I clearly have no idea what to call these things obviously, so sorry if you're here for hints!!!) not to open.  This was extraordinarily frustrating.  With a restart of the game it worked.  Getting all of that hooked up was really neat.  Time consuming, but quite fun.  I like the ones that don't require me to do too much thinking, apparently haha!  Later on, the second green beam puzzle was a good one, too, but I consulted the internet for that one also.  The third one irritated me for reasons I'll mention below.

9. The story was charming and basic and I had no problem choosing the right answer.  The M guy (forgot his name) was suspicious from the start, and became more so when he was bashing the blue light chick without even saying what it was she did to deserve his hostility.  Plus there's that whole lie about (among other things) no other humans having been there, and yet you have all these Myst fans who had scrawled their names on the wall.  Hmmmm...red flags there.  Or shall I say red crystals?  It was neat that everything led back to the original place.  It was all very tidily put together.

10. Let me finally mention the frequency puzzle.  This is a good one and so Myst inspired it's not even funny.  Sound puzzle (the second in the game) = Selentic, and the crystals = exact replica of the crystals in Rime.  I mean, it's unmistakable. An homage, I'm sure.  I reiterate, it's a good one and contains a lot of parts to figure it out.  One of the good things about it is all the parts to figure it out are in one place, which doesn't always happen in this game (as I'll say more about below).  My hearing is not the best, so matching sounds that sound, to me, the same to drawings of arrows was a disaster.  Definitely looked up the answers to that one.  The cart ride in Selenitic sometimes proved a problem for me also because of the sound, never mind that blasted keyboard.  But those who are tonally gifted must have had a great time with this one.

11. As a bonus: the funny little Las Vegas slot machine was amusing.


I'm sure many of the negatives are due to my dummy-dumb incompetence and inexperience in gaming.  Let's make a list of games I've played since the dawn of Briana time: Super Munchers (loved this one), that DOS apple-eating snake game where they can't run into the wall, pinball, solitaire, SimCity 2000, SimFarm (a favorite!), SimAnt, SimTower, the Oregon Trail, all Myst games, Pharaoh, Rome Total War, Civilization 4 (blah!), and more recently: Obduction, Skyrim (whoa dude!), Predynastic Egypt (strategy), and I touched on Children of the Nile (strategy).  Which of these matches Quern?  To me it's Myst (puzzles) mixed with Skyrim (inventory, carrying tons of crap around for ages).  Remember, I only recently started playing Skyrim, too, so, yeah...  I'm still getting used to having an inventory!  Lolz!  Too many things!

1. The problem with the inventory is you collect a bunch of things and then forget you have them or you forget, because you've been carrying them around so long without using them, can't think of which puzzle they are meant to belong to.  Maybe taking hand-written notes would have made this better.

2. The notebook: every time you open it you have to re-find the page you were using.  Couldn't there be a feature where it stays bookmarked on the page you were using?!

3. The various crystals and telescope: it never crossed my mind in the slightest that I was meant to put the red and green crystals on the metal stick and to put that stick on the telescope in the watchtower.  A diagram somewhere would have been really helpful.  Unless I missed one?  I had forgotten all about that flag you have to burn to get the code for the second code in the cave because it had been so long since I had encountered it.  Also, I had no idea I should've been looking for a green crystal portal in the mountains.  I, for some reason, never found it in the first few times I looked around through the telescope.  Yes, I know it's not the dev's fault for me not knowing how to solve these things. What I'm saying I don't like is how there are so many puzzles to solve at one time that it's not always clear what you should be paying attention to to solve one of them.

4. Opening the mechanics building tower: I'm not quite sure what about this puzzle annoyed me no end, but I know it has something to do with the polygons on the canisters.  They just seemed pointless to me.  They're meant to give an indication of which canister you're using, but I think it complicated it beyond what complication was actually necessary for the puzzle.  I think it would've been better to have the chart inside the control room rather than only inside the mechanics building.  That way you could forgo the polygons.  Or have the polygons indicated in the mechanics room also.  I'm not sure.  There's just something about it I found silly.

5. The first sound puzzle with the jars: again, for those with poor hearing it could have been a good idea to have had some kind of diagram to indicate which pot would make which noise, such as matching the painted bands on the vessels to the lines drawn on the sound chart.

6. The "mastermind" puzzle: I'd never heard of mastermind before until I sought the internet for hints about this one.  I felt it was more trial and error rather than puzzle-solving.  I found it a problem that the number sequence resets entirely after 7 tries with the same number.  This made it unnecessarily time-consuming.  The same holds true for the crystal skull puzzle.  It's not altogether logical.  I mean, you get the idea of what to do (match the patterns in the two columns of circles in the correct way), but I did not feel any sense of true puzzleness.  As I mentioned above, there were other non-puzzles, but those ones were logical.

7. That fourth quarter pie piece for the box with the lock inside.  How the blazes are you supposed to make the connection with the white torch and the globe devices?  The globe devices were a finished puzzle, so why would anyone think to spoil a good thing?  I'm not annoyed they hid it there; I'm annoyed there was no indication to find it there except by dumb luck while playing with the white torch.  It was like the white page in the marker switch in Myst, but in Myst there was an indication it was there.  It's an essential piece in the game, not an Easter egg, so there should have been some guidance.

8. And I'll stop here: my sharp proofreader's eye (unless I'm editing my own stuff--you know how it goes) spotted the wrong use where.  They used where instead of were!  It's a minor point, but I grade my students very harshly on the confusion with these words, so the angry professor in me wanted to mark off points hahaha!  There was a typo elsewhere...in the credits maybe?  Can't remember.

Closing Remarks

Like I said at the beginning, I recommend this game!  But please take your time.  If you do you will appreciate it all the more.  This is a game you want to take slowly to avoid getting angsty about it like I did.  Do not play it to cruise around aimlessly, like in Skyrim (haha!).  It's a really good game and when you finish it you will be very satisfied not only in the game but also yourself.  The graphics are quite lovely, too.  You almost want to set the green crystal and open the portal so that there's a promise for a sequel, but alas, that's not how the game works in the end.


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