Gaia 3D Puzzle
When I was a much younger lad, I used to love jigsaw puzzles. I used to borrow them from the local library, which was fine unless there were any pieces missing (which was occasionally the case). The dining room table was often utterly taken over by jigsaw pieces, gradually taking shape over a few days.
I don't do many jigsaws now. There's the issue of finding new ones (I can hardly do the same one over and over) and there's the bigger issue of finding the space - I live in my own home now, and it's nowhere near the same size. Space is valuable property. Yet I still enjoy the challenge of assembling a picture from the connection of disparate parts, and this leads me inexorably back to the game I'm supposed to be reviewing while I'm wandering down the back alleys of memory lane.
Gaia 3D Puzzle is, in effect, a virtual jigsaw puzzle maker, and a rather powerful one. The trial version features three sample pictures - the full version also allows you to use any pictures on your computer or to download new ones. You can then specify how many pieces to divide the puzzle into, as well as the style of piece - do you want square or rounded pieces, or the classic knobbly ones, or even a mixture? This all allows you to tailor the challenge to suit your needs - if you want a quick 150 piece puzzle or a 2000 piece extravaganza, it's up to you.
Gaia also features other options that I hadn't even considered until I played. Do you want pieces to be rotatable? By default, all pieces are the right way around - you can turn on rotating pieces and be faced with the problem reality always offers - how to orient the piece? There's also a range of more usual features, such as a timer that counts up how much time you take to solve the puzzle, a range of different backgrounds (environments) and a preview window that is the equivalent of the box lid - that said, the preview window didn't seem to work for me, but that could just be the desktop machine being awkward. You can also move the view around and change the camera height, etc - all the expected gubbins.
Graphics are impressive - the default pictures come from a free desktop wallpaper site that hosts a wide range of natural beauty, as well as the occasional digital image. I cannot, however, judge the graphical abilities of Gaia through these - you could use any images! - but instead must rely on how it handles the processing of these images into jigsaw puzzles. I am pleased to report - rather well! There are controls to adjust your view and see your puzzle from all angles, and if your pieces don't match, they won't connect, so you'll know straight away if you've made a mistake.
Be warned, however, that Gaia is VERY resource intensive. Options exist to lower framerate, graphics quality and even remove the shiny sheen that makes pieces look more realistic. If your computer has less than at least half a gig of memory and still dreams of one day owning a 3D accelerator, you may well find such options useful if not essential. Don't try running anything else at the same time, either! This at first seemed quite bizarre for a game with no action, no flashy animation sequences and virtually no sound. Those 3D effects and high resolution images really eat up your system resources.
This potential chugging of the system may go some way to explaining the sticky controls I experienced - it could be quite difficult to pick up pieces, for instance, and I instead often ended up selecting a block of pieces. I was also initially constrained to a very low view with my nose almost touching the puzzle, which made looking for and moving pieces rather tricky - the tutorials that pop up on startup didn't explain how I could change this and I later found out in the Help system. I did not realise I could change the zoom for a little while!
Controls are otherwise very good - if not necessarily always intuitive. You pick up and place pieces with the left mouse button with the traditional "drag and drop" method and you can move your viewpoint with the right mouse button. You can do both at once, too. You can also drag and drop blocks of pieces, either connected or disparate, and there is nothing stopping you placing pieces on top of each other. Beware losing them that way! Options to rotate pieces and the board are less obvious and will require consultation with the Help.
This is, overall, a very good idea and rather well executed. It suffers slightly in one respect - jigsaw puzzles involve a lot of staring. Real ones are much less wearing on the eyes than onscreen ones! The option to save puzzles (not available in the demo) means an end to space problems and Gaia also very kindly gets all the pieces out of the virtual box and lines them up for you. It's a very open ended game that allows a lot of variety, and it fulfils its purpose with panache, but I do wonder if perhaps this is a form of entertainment that doesn't translate so well to virtual form.
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