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A Beauty Cold and Austere

by Mike Spivey profile

2017

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Member Reviews

5 star:
(12)
4 star:
(13)
3 star:
(1)
2 star:
(0)
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Average Rating:
Number of Reviews: 6
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1-6 of 6


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
True Fun with Math., December 9, 2018
When I finished this game, in 3 not-long-enough sittings, I had the feeling that I had once again put yet another great IF game under my hat. And it's one of those of which I can truly say that I learned some very interesting things. I may be biased, because I have a background in mathematics and enjoy solving problems in math and physics, but I think this game also entertains--and enlightens--the math lay-person.
The game takes the player through mathematics in history, beginning with the ancient world, and the player advances by solving puzzles pertaining to the major discoveries. The player actually meets some of the historical personalities involved and learns something of their work.
I'm going to leave off discussing many of the particulars, because I feel like I would be spoiling it for the reader, but I really enjoyed how the game seemed to show, symbolically, how mathematics lies at the very root of existence, as a fundamental part of the universe. Also, if you have a keen eye for math humor, you'll find plenty of such references in ABCA.(Spoiler - click to show)Some examples--the log table, which is an actual table made of logs (if have used logarithms in math, you'll spot this one); the square root, which actually is a square made from a root; one puzzle involved Descartes's famous saying 'I think, therefore I am.'--reminding me of a puzzle in my own game 'Bullhockey!'; an 'empty set'--your holdall; even the game's initials seem to allude to a triangle in trigonometry, made by segments ABCA etc, etc.
I really don't have any real complaints about this game. The closest I can come to one is--(Spoiler - click to show)this game has a number of levels, each of which has a central room, from which there are a number of exits--not all of which may be obvious or usable at first. The more you advance on a level, the more 'clear' this central room becomes, and the more exits open up, plus at one point, an exit to the next level opens. I didn't realize this at first, I felt a bit dogged when the room seemed to change on subsequent visits. But this isn't really a complaint--there is a logical reason why this would happen and the player will figure it out.
I think that ABCA is well-suited for being part of a course in the history of mathematics, and I wouldn't be surprised if it indeed is. I honestly think that if a student who balks at taking a math course played this game, s/he would want to learn more about math as a result.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
YMMV, May 21, 2018
by Marco Innocenti (Florence, Italy)
ABCaA is an incredibly polished game, with complex mechanics that perfectly work and some good writing. Its major "flaw" is that it requires too much knowledge from outside of the game. The 4 stars are an average between these two contexts: 1) you are not into mathematics and want a game whose puzzles can be solved "from the inside": 3/5 because the game is very, very strong in many aspects but you shall eventually never finish it; 2) you like maths and are good at them: 5/5, because the game is a romp which is frankly perfect.

Very nice mathy adventure, December 10, 2017
by _eMMe_ (Milan, Italy)
I liked it very much: most of the puzzles are based on classic memes of popular mathematics, but they are well designed and sometimes able to surprise even when known. In fact, a bit of familiarity with math is needed to enjoy the game.

I must confess that in a couple of cases I needed to peruse the hint system, which is well designed and very useful without too many spoilers.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A good attempt, December 2, 2017
by ikdc
"A Beauty Cold and Austere" takes its player though a tour of freshman-level mathematics, from the basics of combinatorics to touch the beginnings of cardinal numbers. If unfamiliar with the relevant concepts, this game might take a while to complete, but if you know the math then you shouldn't have much difficulty. The puzzles were tasteful and well-designed, though I had a little difficulty determining which puzzles had already been solved and which had not. I have one complaint about some of the puzzles, such as the Hotel puzzle, which used character knowledge instead of player knowledge. This felt jarring - like I had been robbed of some agency - since I knew the answer but I had to find a way to force the player-character to figure out the answer for himself.

As for the main point of this review: I think this game falls short of its eponymous cold beauty. All of the math is at the high-school or freshman level. This isn't the problem - it's a positive, since it makes the game accessible. The issue is that it emphasizes the same ugly parts of math that are taught in these classes: matrix algebra, trigonometry, calculus. At one point the player is even asked something along the lines of "What's the third important topic in calculus after the limit and the integral?" But the limit, integral, and (Spoiler - click to show)derivative are hardly conceptually interesting together. The only relation between them is that a calculus class would allocate each of 3 sections to them.

These aren't the beautiful parts of mathematics. They are the ugly results of condensing math into something useful which can be applied to introductory physics. I felt like I had entered a world not of mathematics but of math class.

I want to qualify these feelings because they're a bit too harsh. I really did like the game despite its shortcomings, and I think it's worth playing and thinking about. This game sets high expectations from the very start, and though I think it fails to reach them, it remains an enjoyable and provoking experience.

A large mathematical journey of a puzzlefest, November 16, 2017
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours
I beta tested this game several times, and work with the author.

This is one of the best big games released in recent years. It's a mathematical puzzlefest, and it's huge; I'm a math professor, and I used the walkthrough, and it still took me 4 hours.

You travel through the history of mathematics, or more over a mind-map of theoretical concepts: the number line, arithmetic, algebra, all the way up to fractals.

The game is completable by non-math majors, according to several reviewers.

This is an old-school game; puzzles are unabashedly complex, each room is its own set-piece, NPCs don't engage in deep puzzle trees. I liked it, and I especially like that people are still making 'big games'.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A very challenging tour, November 4, 2017
by Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.)
This is a traditional-style text adventure set in a sort of mathematical wonderland, populated by mathematician NPCs and puzzles based on physical manifestations of mathematical concepts. You can tell it comes from a place of deep love of the subject.

I was a decent math student. I made my way up through calculus, and was able to memorize and apply formulas, but I can't say that I truly understood the concepts underlying all of them. And that was 25 years ago. So this game was not exactly in my wheelhouse. I managed to solve some of the puzzles on my own, but there were more than a couple where I stood no chance without the walkthrough.

That's OK. A Beauty Cold and Austere is well-written, polished, and witty, with modern amenities and forgiving gameplay, even if the puzzles can be trying for math mortals. My favorite amenity is the ghost who can tell you if an object you're carrying is still useful. I would pay cash money to port this ghost over to a game like The Mulldoon Legacy.

My main complaints:
1) It takes too long to acquire the carryall. There's no reason to delay that, I don't think.

2) The game is several times the size of a normal comp game. Math majors might be able to finish it in four or five hours, but I doubt anyone could complete it in two. Near the end, it's possible to tap out early with what seems to be a successful ending, but it takes quite a while to get there. I would have liked a structure a bit more like Shuffling Around's, where you can get a successful ending within two hours, and then return after the judging period to explore the rest. Do enough to get a C, in other words, and come back later for extra credit.


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