Tuesday, January 2, 2018

FAMILY GYMKHANA 2017


As every year in my family gathering, I organize a group activity for my nephews. It was originally a kind of gymkhana, then transitioned into a treasure hunt

However this year I tried something different, because I wasn´t sure if the weather would be favorable, and secondly because hiding the clues for the treasure hunt was a lot of work and the kids fully expected that to a point they looked for them hours before the event started

So I tried a small competition on a series of challenges: I asked for a couple of captains (generally the older ones), gave them a recap of the trials and asked them to choose teams among the rest of kids, and assign one “champion” per challenge. That would make the teams root for/against, and keep them interested

The trials themselves were easier to arrange than other years: Some were simplified versions of board games (Trivial, Pictionary, Brainstorming) or well-known party games such as the balloon race or beer pong. Every challenge rewarded a number of tokens to the team

By the end, each team had around 90 tokens. Somehow it balanced it itself, although I´ll admit some trials gave much more benefits than others. I asked them to participate in an auction, so they would bet on the gifts I had bought. I prefer this approach to just assign prices to each present, since an auction prevents “exploits” – I can see some gifts being too cheap or expensive when confronted to the kid´s real interests

One additional challenge every year is to update the rewards, since the kids are growing up and most of them are too old for child games. But if you tempt them with gift cards or apple/android credit then the interest increases. This year I gave them both Carrefour and Game credit, as well as mobile phone money

It went well, although there wasn´t much excitement for being a captain in the first place, and some trials/rewards were unbalanced. Also a bunch of gifts didn´t get much attention so I saved them for next year. But ey, it´s about kids having fun, so mission accomplished

Friday, December 22, 2017

DEVICE 6 (iOS)


Highly praised by its text-based approach to puzzles, I purchased it some time ago, played for a little while and then abandoned it. Only recently I found the time to complete it

It´s not long, and it´s indeed a very fresh take on text adventures. The visual design is elegant and puts to the test the way you interact with your device (an iPad in my case): Screen rotation is a must, as well as using swipe with precision to find clues

I´m a bit torn since I generally value a lot originality, good graphic design and puzzles, but honestly I didn´t enjoy the game a lot. I had to use internet walkthroughs several times and that makes me feel stupid. Puzzles can only be solved in a certain way, and some of them are a bit obscure, twisted or even unfair (the clues you´re given may change depending on latter actions without telling you, forcing you to fall back often to see what changed in the scene)

I don´t want to sound negative, I think the way they approached the puzzles is part of the proposal. I presume they didn´t have the production manpower to make a long game so they deliberately chose to make puzzles complicated to secure a decent total playtime. It´s just that I like what I call “Hollywood challenges” – Like in movies, the main character (me) is given an apparently unsolvable problem... which can be overcomed in a matter of minutes

The story is intriguing and evocative, and I value the fact that some art forms (like this game) makes you challenge your concept of reality. We could use more of those

In summary, a great proposal. Not my time of game, but surely there´ll be a good number of people out there who will find it indispensable

Thursday, December 21, 2017

HAUNT THE HOUSE: TERRORTOWN (PC)


Hidden in my Steam library it´s been waiting for months (years?) until I recently decided to give it a try. I´d be happy if I can finish all games I have, although it does sound like a fool´s errand…

Haunt the house is short (I finished it in 2-3 hours) and cute. You control a little ghost who can possess pretty much any object in the scenario. When possessed, these objects can play scary animations that will make human inhabitants flee from the place. Once you get rid of all of them, you beat the scenario. That, and the charming visuals, is pretty much the game

The game´s hook is the cute graphics and animations. They´re really charming and the possessions are varied and funny. I imagine the game was conceived by an animator / artist, and from that point of view they can say “mission achieved”. The game has visual personality, and watching all possessions becomes a goal for you

However the game has some deep gameplay issues. The worst of all is the complete lack of control over the NPCs: When you spook them, they tend to go around the place randomly except for where you want them to go. You eventually have to chase them across the place activating objects and see if they´ll eventually decide to go to the exit. I tried to understand the AI patterns that govern them, but failed. Maybe there are hidden “scared” bars making them behave differently depending on the level they´re at? Maybe also it depends if they´re adults of kids? Do different objects have different AoE ranges? No idea

Second issue (less important) happens when you´re controlling an object and play an animation: You have to wait until the anim ends, you cannot stop or cancel it. Very often you´re trying to chase up an NPC (see point above) and this slows you down for using the nearest object. I can imagine the creative direction of the title was in the hands of an animator, this “animation vs responsiveness” is a classic gameplay issue when designers are overridden by other disciplines

Third problem I´d mention is the lack of level design novelties. The game has 4 levels and they´re all essentially the same. There are no new mechanics added, no new challenges…  Just new cute animations to play. Again it looks like the game´s focus was on creating cute visuals and the basic “possess and spook” loop and that´s all. Thankfully the game is short, otherwise it´d have made itself repetitive fairly soon

Other than that, like I said, the visuals are really nice, and the spook animations are nothing but charming and funny. It truly deserves 1 hour of your time, but more than that… you´ll probably get bored

Monday, December 18, 2017

RESISTANCE 3 (PS3)


And here comes another PS3 game I didn´t really cared much, but got so cheap I thought "well, I´ll have to play it :)". I tried the first Resistance a bit as part of some game design research (I was working at Pyro at the time) and liked the concept but never felt it was distinctive enough from other shooters to make it truly unique

Resistance 3 creates the same reaction in the user. It is by all means a solid work of experienced developers, but from a high level perspective its unique selling points are not that special. This is mitigated by the superb weapon design, which eventually leads to a contradictory feeling of "I like what I´m doing, eventhough I don´t care much in the long term"

On the plus side, as mentioned, the weapons are extremely solid and satisfying. Seriously, Insomniac makes great weapon designs and this is no exception. Enemy abilities are interlinked with your own, creating a matrix of options for the player to be particularly effective against some enemies if certain weapon is used. When you nail this (and R3 does) the gameplay is always fun. On top of that the weapon progression system makes failure rewarding: You don´t feel you wasted time when dying, since the gun you were using leveled a bit in the process

On the so-so front, the story is a good-enough vehicle for you to move across the US chasing down baddies, and the graphics are acceptable but not particularly ground-breaking. The level design is ok as well, but I could have used more wow moments. The setting (an alternative 1950 US invaded by aliens) is distinctive enough to make you feel a bit curious, but I don´t think they exploited all possibilities it offers

On the minus side the game does a poor job of making you feel you´re doing something special. Everything is adecuate but not "oh my god I´ve never seen anything like this". The story creates the minimum motivation for you to move forward, but that´s all, and the whole game becomes a bit predictable in general

I had fun playing, though. A shooter with good weapon systems is always satisfying, and if for some reason you´re into the game fantasy it´ll probably double the fun!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

SOUTH PARK FRACTURED BUT WHOLE (PS4)


Just finished South Park Fractured but whole, and I honestly didn´t expect to enjoy it so much. The previous South Park game was good, but the sequel has managed to fix some minor gameplay inconsistencies to the point of making it really addictive (at least for me)

I think the biggest improvement has been the short-term challenges. Much like the previous game, the world extension is limited but packed with small content in form of collectibles. This time those are linked to character progression or crafting, as opposed to achievements. Also they seem to be everywhere. In addition to that mini-puzzles are common. As a consequence you always have that feeling of "ey, just 5 more minutes so I can check out that corner"

The combat system has been expanded to support movement on a 2D grid. It´s a good addition but the camera is a bit too low so sometimes you miss some combat perspective, and AoE abilities are a bit underpowered. Overall it works perfectly fine, though. If you add the minigames, exploration and puzzles you´ve got all the game scope. It´s well balanced and keeps the humor and visual style from the first game and series.  The story insists on making you meet all possible characters because of reasons, but it´s interesting nevertheless

I liked it so much that I not only completed the game but also got the platinum trophy. That was another nice improvement from the other game: This time you can unlock them when you´re free roaming after the main story. Good game!



Saturday, November 18, 2017

MASS EFFECT 3 (XBOX 360)


Having played the previous 2 games, and since I got it almost for free, it was always an option to complete the trilogy at some point. To be honest I wasn´t hyped on it because I favor 10-12 hour games, but I´d heard a lot of buzz about the ending (surprisingly I managed to avoid spoilers) so I thought it was time to end the “Shepard cycle”

On the plus side the classic sci-fi elements are all there: Worlds to explore, fascinating alien cultures, human kind in distress... The RPG and combat aspects didn´t change much from previous titles so they´re still solid, and the story was reasonably compelling. Good achievement design, also, since you can complete some of them either in single or multiplayer

On the minus side the mission journal was openly misleading, animation bugs were common in the cutscenes, the level design is as repetitive as the previous games and I found difficult to believe all the “take your time” situations the game allows while you´re supposed to be working against the clock to save the galaxy

If you like the Bioware-type of games, RPGs in general or sci-fi games you should enjoy it. If not be aware you´ll be required to spend 30-40 hours to see that debated ending (which I liked, by the way :D)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

HOTLINE MIAMI (PC)


As many other Steam games, I´ve had Hotline Miami waiting in my library for a looong time. As I often do I played 2-3 levels in 2014 and then abandoned it. I gave it a try some weeks ago and liked the fast turn-around of trying and dying over and over. Just yesterday I managed to finish it

It´s an interesting indie game, with the usual advantages and inconveniences of that sort: You can expect daring decisions, some of them turn out fresh some others sort of frustrating

Overall the game doesn´t lie: It´s a fairly hardcore experience where you have to kill everyone on sight on different houses using all weapons at your disposal. You´ll die a lot, and 90% of the time will be your fault. However the enemies react to your presence or noise a bit randomly, and you can expect weird reactions or undesired situations over and over. It´s difficult to come up with a real strategy since an enemy coming out of nowhere will fuck up your entire plan. However the levels are so small that you can try again immediately, so that´s essentially the game loop: Try, die, repeat until you get it

The story is kinda confusing to me. But since I haven´t played continuously maybe it´s my fault. It does have that 80s appealing and bizarre violence that makes it unique. The pixel art visuals do their work, and the music is appropriate but often too loud and annoying. Interestingly I found it easier to control with keyboard and mouse than gamepad. Generally games that require 360º orientation control are better used with a pad

Overall, if you like indie games is almost a must. At least trying it. If not it´s a fairly niche product which will appeal to a small but very passionate group