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


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

CASTLE OF ILLUSION (PC)


Out of nostalgia - and a bit because it was on sale - I got Castle of Illusion on Steam. Back in the days I played it on my Megadrive and have some good memories of it, so why not?

For context, we´re talking of a 3D reboot of a 2D platform game. While most reboots are questionable, this one came out better than expected, since the game offers several substantial advantages over the original. The most notorious being checkpoints: If memory serves in the original if you ran out of lives you had to start over. In this new version completed levels are saved, so you can continue playing from the last completed checkpoint. This makes a world of a difference from the original, which was a good platforming games with some fresh ideas, but it was fucking hard to finish. I don´t think I managed to do it

But this new version not only upgrades the game to 2.5D graphics but also adds some interesting camera variety, while keeping the excellent level design ideas. It´s still fairly simple in its proposal: Mickey can walk, jump and throw apples. That´s pretty much it. Each scenario is somehow unique, with lots of exotic gameplay elements. This is a rare luxury in these days where budget constraints favor reusable systems. Another advantage is that, since the mechanics are that simple, you can´t blame the game for your failures. It´s all on you

On the minus side I´d say the ending cinematic was underwhelming, much like if they ran out of money at the last minute, and the game was a bit short. Presuming the game has the same number of levels than the original it´s understandable: Since the player is not forced to start from scratch it´s easier to run through the game. That also makes the “Lives” system a bit superfluous, I see the game being clearer without them

Anyway, good fun and some impressive levels. A great platformer, highly recommendable for those interested in the genre or Disney characters

Friday, August 25, 2017

LIFE IS STRANGE (PS4)



I´ve been interested on interactive storytelling games since like forever. That was one of the reasons why I took that job at Quantic Dream. Some ex-employees of that company founded Dontnod some years ago, and created Life is strange. And thanks to a PS4 store sale, I had the chance to finish it

As it´s common in this genre, the story takes priority over game mechanics. However, while David Cage´s games use gameplay as a short relief in between story beats, Life is strange does a better job not only to give its game systems the opportunity to shine, but also the nature of them (rewind back time) is well integrated into the story, and supports the feeling it´s trying to build

Split in several episodes, the game tells the story of Max, a student of a prestigious photography academy, who has a vision of the future where the city is destroyed. At the same time he finds herself in the possession of the superhuman ability to go back in time at will, which is the main tool in most puzzles. While trying to win back her friend Chloe, they both get involved in the disappearance of another student... and all that happens afterward

The game offers a number of different scenarios and characters to interact with, through simple interaction puzzles and dialogues. The rewind ability gives uniformity to the whole game and it´s the main tool to solve the most complicated enigmas. The second theme is photography: Max is an aspiring photo artist, and all achievements are related to taking pictures of picturesque situations


All together the game is consistent with the genre, offers a moderate step forward in terms of gameplay, and delivers a reasonably interesting story. On the minus side, I´m not sold with the world visual style and sometimes I could use more variation on the puzzles. But if you like story games, it´s kinda a must

Sunday, August 20, 2017

SOUTH PARK THE STICK OF TRUTH (PC)


The South Park game sequel is on its way in some months and since it´s developed by Ubisoft I got a nice discount. I´ve had the first game waiting on Steam for years and thought it´d be a good idea to finish it before the new one arrives

Truth is, I thought it´d be a short one. But it actually took me 30h to complete it. Admittedly I´m a compulsive collector and also spent time doing some unusual achievements, but since the game map is not that big I initially pictured it as one of those 8-10h long games

That speaks well of the game´s design and particularly the combat system. The world space is condensed but packed with content, and quests usually require you to move around enough to find optional challenges. At the end you often have that feeling of “I have so many different things to do… which one should I try first” that I only find in bigger games

Another interesting aspect to highlight are the visuals, particularly how well they´ve captured the look and feel of the original series. Honestly, you soon become one on this Colorado town, and the game is like an interactive episode of the series. On top of that all the characters are present one way or another, and if you dig their type of humor it´s also really funny

The combat system is a classic JRPG turn-based system but with a Southparkesque paintover. It works fairly well although I didn´t have problems to beat almost all enemies on the first try, including the final boss. Don´t remember if there was a difficulty setting at the beginning, but there are no achievements associated so I´m not interested in trying others. But even if there were I would have chosen the mid/normal bracket, and would have expected to be a bit more challenged

Also on the minus side I´m not convinced on the design of some of the UI screens (it´s an RPG after all, there are many) and controls. I think it could have been done in a more intuitive and nicer way. Also some of the subsystems (i.e. buddy abilities out of combat) were poorly explained


I´m currently trying a couple more achievements before deleting the local copy, but generally speaking I can say it´s a must if you´re a fan of the IP, and recommendable if you like role games in general. Now go ahead and kill Kenny, you bastards!


Monday, July 31, 2017

MONUMENT VALLEY 2 (iOS)


I consider Monument Valley the best game of 2014, so when I heard a sequel was available I purchased it immediately. Truth is I find difficult to play on mobile/tablet normally, I just favor PC/console. But it´s perfect for trips! So I managed to finish it on my way back to Malmo, and here are my impressions:

First thing is: If you played MV1, you don´t need much more to understand the sequel. It doesn´t add much in terms of game mechanics. They put more effort on the scenarios being more dynamic, and the little twist of controlling 2 characters simultaneously. Other than that the basic principles of the original game are still present: Escher-esque environments, small story hints – More to suggest thoughts than a real plot – and “find the exit” puzzles without any possibility of dying

The game is so similar to the original that it could have been marketed as an expansion. Also I think it´s shorter than the original – Or maybe I found it easier. Only 2 hours of gameplay for me. Overall it´s still enjoyable and suggestive, but I expected a bit more from a sequel

But if you liked the first one, you´ll surely cherish this one. And since the original one was so good, that´s no little thing

LOVE YOU TO BITS (iOS)


I often collaborate as a jury on different Spanish awards. Last year Love you to bits was one of the contestants. Despite some good remarks I didn´t see it particularly outstanding… but I got a free copy. It waited at my mobile´s desktop for a year until I gave it another chance, and my opinion about it changed drastically

The design is surprisingly mature and self-contained: It´s essentially a graphic adventure without relying on any text. Your character can move around the scenarios (never too big) without the possibility of dying, using the objects you can find freely, and it´s not possible to get stuck. This provides a stress-less experience, knowing the solution is always available and you just need to spend a bit more time to find the way

Although this basic principle could be too basic, and risks a repetitive experience, the dev team does a good job in iterating over the main mechanic to create always fresh content. Also the difficulty is fairly well balanced - not too difficult, not too easy. The proof is I don´t recall to have used any internet walkthroughs to find solutions (only for collectibles, I gotta admit)

Visuals are very nice. Cartoonish but with its own style. The music is amazingly evocative, too. All together the game has a high level of polish, with plenty of little details that clearly shows the team knows what they were doing – or they had a lot of time to spend on it

Not much on the minus side, to be honest. I guess some of the “time travel” levels were a bit obscure to understand, and I didn´t like some collectibles can be missable. Other than that it´s one of the best games I played this year for sure. Highly recommended for all ages and genres!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

UNTIL DAWN (PS4)


As part of an upcoming Gamasutra article I'm writing, I’m checking some narrative games and one was Until Dawn. I didn’t have it so I borrowed it from a workmate (Thanks, Patrick!) and had the chance to finish it. Well, finish one branch that is. It's one of those storytelling games whose ending changes based on some key decisions you make along the plot
Overall it's a variation of the Heavy Rain model: It lacks exotic gameplay but the story is much more polished, centered and digestible. That would be the first "plus" on the list. Aside from that it's a nice adaptation of the teenage horror movies into a videogame - which feels fresh - there is a good amount of story background through dialogues and collectibles and graphics are well executed
One thing I particularly valued was the branching journal, which explains all the decisions you made so far. Similar to the choice recaps at the end of Telltale games, but more nicely presented and always available
On the minus side it doesn't add so much in terms of game mechanics to the genre, and the homage to how those movies are resolved make it a bit predictable. Is still a good game, excellent if you like the genre, particularly if you consider that the tone of both Quantic Dream and Telltale products is extremely dramatic: No matter which decision you make, you know the characters will be doomed to an uncomfortable outcome. Also in those games most of the golden path is pre-defined, and trick you into petty choices to make you believe the plot has actually changed when actually it hasn’t that much

In Until Dawn you can either save all characters or they can all die, so the decisions seem to be more meaningful, and actually there is a “Happy ending” you can achieve. In short, highly recommended for the storytelling genre lovers, or people interested in entering into that type of games. Not sure about other type of players, though

Saturday, June 24, 2017

MURDERED SOUL SUSPECT (PC)


Years ago I had this idea for a game: You start as a ghost. Your body is on the ground, you were assassinated minutes ago. A number of friends/relatives surround the corpse. You don´t know which, but one of them killed you. They all leave the scene and from that moment you start an investigation to find who of them murdered you. It would have been a game about talking to other ghosts with unfinished businesses, unlock new areas and puzzles using paranormal powers: Possession, telekynesis, etc. I also had a fairly good final story twist

Never got the chance to pitch it, though. Then I found Murdered soul suspect, which plot is surprisingly similar to what I had in mind. I got it reasonably cheap at Steam, played a bit but left it for other games for 2 years. Only recently I decided to finish it - and even did all the achievements

It holds a 51-59 in metacritics, and I fail to understand why. User rating is around 70, which sounds about right. Admittedly gameplay is not mainstream, it´s all about investigation and collectibles. And you can probably finish the game in 4-5 hours if you focus on the main missions. But still if you dig that type of experiences (there aren´t so many investigation games in the market, after all) it´s very enjoyable and the plot is reasonably good. And the setting feels very fresh to me

I personally recommend it to anybody who likes detective stories / gameplay, or collectibles (there is a gazillion of items to find). Critics were unfair with this game, I believe

Sunday, May 28, 2017

RAGE (PS3)


Knowing that PS3/Xbox 360 will be discontinued (as well as its online services) some day, I´m still trying to finish some old games before that happens. In the last months I´ve been playing Rage, and honestly it´s been a bit of a testing one...

Fairly hyped before its release, it was met with mixed reviews. I personally consider the PS3 version (don´t know about other platforms) as a technical failure. My reasons are:



  • LoD popping everywhere. Worst game I´ve seen
  • Don´t undertand why they had to instance dungeons. Streaming technology should have made it possible, and honestly the game as a whole it´s not so detailed
  • Forces you to save all the time. Checkpoints are non-existent in some areas, or simply ignore the "no more than 5 min lost" rule

All things considered it felt to me like a game conceived for PC, and at some point someone told the dev team "Ey, you do remember we´re supposed to deliver it on consoles as well, right?"


Design wise is not bad. If you like Mad-max settings it´s probably appealing. The shooting mechanics are well implemented and the game balance is adecuate. I´m not too hot about the AI movement options, though, since some enemies move too fast both horizontally and vertically. For PC is probably ok, but in console I had some issues targeting. Also not totally sure if the collisions shouldn´t have been more indulgent, I would often miss when I´m almost sure it should have been a hit


Aside from the core mechanics, the game offers some acceptable (not particularly new) racing challenges, crafting, mini-games, and side missions. In terms of content delivered it´s solid, it took me up to 21 hours to finish the game, plus 90% of the trophies (I am of the completionist type)


Anyway, not a bad game but definitively not a memorable one

Sunday, April 16, 2017

HIDDEN FOLKS (iOS)


Looks like I can find more time for mobile games than console/PC. Particularly during flights, where you don´t have many leisure options. That´s the case of Hidden Folks

It´s a hidden object game, much like the old "Where is Waldo" books: You´re presented with a gigantic 2D scenario and a list of objects/people to find, along with a hint per each. I presume the biggest challenge for designers was to find the sweet balance between how much info you give to the player, to make it challenging but not impossible

Overall I´d say the game is brilliant in that regard, since I managed to finish all scenarios but one without going to internet walkthroughs. And on that one, I missed only one of the objectives. So all things considered, I´d say the game does well in the difficulty curve

I gotta say I love the visual style. It´s unique, simple, fits the purpose of the game and still has personality. Good work! There are also a shit ton of animations to make the world feel alive, and also whenever the player interacts with the canvas. On the other hand, I think that affected performance negatively, particularly in some of the bigger levels

I think it could have done better regarding rewards: Whenever you find one of the items there is little celebration, nor a list of achievements to make. You just keep going finding more stuff, until the game allows you to move to the next level. They can probably do better in that sense

I certainly recommend this game to anyone willing to test his observation skills. If you´re not, then it´s probably not for you, but still it feel fresh to anyone willing to find something different in their mobile gaming!


Monday, March 20, 2017

SUPERMAN RETURNS - A POSTMORTEM



Very interesting article about what went right / wrong during the development of Superman Returns:

Click here

My favorite part: "In retrospect, we had the tough combination of new game/new engine/new team. Generally you want a maximum of one of these things for a project. Two becomes difficult. Three is damn near impossible"

Enjoy!

Monday, January 23, 2017

ASSHOLE-DRIVEN DEVELOPMENT

An interesting article, I can soooo totally relate to some of my previous companies:

Asshole-driven development

Take a look at the comments, too. Some of them are even better than the original

Saturday, January 7, 2017

TREASURE HUNT 2016


Like every year, I organized a treasure hunt for my nieces and nephews at the family reunion. Each time I try to do something different, with the additional complication of kids growing older each passing year. This means the challenges and rewards need to be updated

There were around 13 kids. I chose 2 captains based on seniority, and each selected their teams by turns. Somehow girls ended up all together plus one of the boys, so they asked him to be moved so it was girls vs boys. It was unfair since it´d be 5 against 8 but that´s how they liked it

I had previously hid poker chips all around the house. The 1 dollar pieces were at plain sight, 5 dollar chips a bit more hidden. Then the 25 and 50 dollar pieces were fairly hidden but the kids could use some hints written on paper (no more than 5 hints active per team). There were also two 100 chips particularly hidden, one per each team, also with paper hints

I gave them 30 min to look around the house and try to find as many chips as possible. I would say they found 70% of them. Girls outperformed the boys here, and despite being less they got 40% more currency. Go girls!

These chips would be used on the second phase: The auction. They were supposed to use that currency to bargain for the presents. This year I went to Flying tiger, trying to offer “more adult” items. I bought around 30 little items raking from 1 to 3 euros each. On top of that I also got 3 gift cards of 10 euro each for the older ones

The auction went like this: I showed briefly all gifts to them, then gave some minutes to come up with their strategy. Then I would go gift by gift asking them what they wanted to offer from the chip pool they had. They would commonly raise the stakes trying to beat the other team. Boys were more aggressive than girls and actually used better their resources. They got the majority of gifts and by the end have used almost all their chips. Girls were much more conservative and the auction ended with half of their chips being unused. Still they got the gift cards which is what they wanted, so everybody was happy ;)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

STREAMFRAME


Months ago I gave it a try to a new management tool: Streamframe. Now I finally found the time to share my opinion about it, so let´s go with it ;)

It´s essentially a videogame production tool in the form of a social network. In other words, it´s like Facebook has been adapted for tracking tasks. It´s web based and although couldn´t find confirmation, I suspect it´s possible to use it on your mobile phone (ala Slack)

The visual design is probably one of their strongest points. It´s really nice to see, elegant and relaxing. Aside from that it offers a wide array of small tools to support your organization efforts: Task creation and tracking, calendar, notes, messages and chat. They also added the possibility of "liking" other people´s posts

However it seems to have the same issue than most other production tools: It´s only fully useful for 2D assets. Maybe animations too (ala Shotgun) but for 3D and code there is no way you can review work into the tool. Can´t blame them, no other tool does afaik. Aside from that there were some weird decisions about how you interact with the tool (i.e. you can´t do anything unless you create a "space" - other tools don´t require you to do that -, couldn´t find a way to move an existing task to a new deliverable, no drag & drop, doesn´t update info particularly fast...) that makes it feel like a public Beta, waiting for some usability improvements

It probably works great for small teams where everybody makes an impact on the product, particularly with young / hipster users, other than that I don´t see it working on a big production, tbh