The Humans on the Bus

I’ve once again taken to playing on a laptop during my excessively long commute. This is something I was doing for previous games this year, despite the inconvenience it made for mapping, but I had stopped with The Humans for three reasons. First, there was the installer, which, as you may remember, gave me problems. I couldn’t run it inside DOSBox, and that meant I couldn’t run it on my Macbook. But this was easily solved by installing it on my desktop machine and copying over the directory it was installed to — since it’s a DOS game, it doesn’t have registry entries or shared DLLs complicating matters.

Secondly, there was the key disk copy protection. This wasn’t a serious problem. The game recognized the CD in my laptop just fine. I just don’t like using CDs in my laptop. My reasons are minor and irrational: concern for battery life when moving parts are involved, fear of something untoward happening when the bus jostles the machine while it’s reading, distaste at the sound it makes. This was solved by copying the CD to my hard drive. (Which also has moving parts and is probably more vulnerable to jostling than the CD drive, but is also easier to forget about.) I couldn’t make an ISO out of the disc with standard tools, presumably because it has some kind of copy-protection bit set. I could probably find a more hackerly tool, but in fact it was sufficient to copy the files off and make a fresh disk image with the same volume name as the CD.

Thirdly, there was the sound. The sound works fine, but the bus is not the ideal place for it. Well, actually there are no sound effects in this game, so sound is not crucial. The only audio content is the background music, which I do think is an important part of the experience of the game. But after a week, I think I’ve heard enough of the background music. Even if the game is silent, I can hear it in my head.

So now that my installation is perfectly bussable, how is the experience? The graphics certainly don’t lose anything — if anything, the look better on my laptop’s screen, smaller size making the pixels finer — and, lacking mouse support and being essentially designed for a digital gamepad, the controls are basically unchanged. The one inconvenience it poses is that it’s realtime. It only occasionally requires any precision of timing on the player’s part (those occasions being the bits where you have to leap onto flying pterodactyls or make a jump on the loathsome wheel), but the clock is always ticking down. My commute is full of micro-interruptions where I look out the window to see how close we are to my stop (or even just to enjoy the scenery), and the typical level takes between five and ten minutes to play to completion, or even to fail. Really, it seems to me that the ideal commuting game is turn-based. It makes me wonder how Tetris on the Gameboy became such a hit.

But then, in a way, it’s the ideal kind of game for a bus, or a waiting room, or any other situation where there’s nothing else to do, but you don’t want to get so involved that the interruption at the end will leave you unsatisfied. Once you’re past the point where the designers run out of new tricks, gameplay is very methodical and by-the-numbers. It engages the higher brain just enough to distract, and not enough to enthrall.

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