Tuesday, August 7, 2018

How '80s culture trickled down into the design of Crossing Souls

In case you missed it, here is an interesting interview in Gamasutra with the developers of Crossing Souls, an Spanish indie game I reviewed some time ago

If you like the mood of 80s teenage movies is a must ;)

Click here for the Gamasutra article, which includes the video

Friday, July 27, 2018

XCOM 2 (PS4)

Not always, but some months my Playstation Plus subscription has an interesting game for free. This time it was Xcom 2. I played the first one on PC, and I thought "let´s see how it feels on a pad"

In short, it does feel good. Turn-based games often work fine in consoles. Aside from that I don´t remember 100% the previous game but I think both are consistent in the good... and the bad things

On the bright side, the combat system works really well, much like in the previous title. The upgrades and technology research options usually enhance it, offering more abilities and supporting different playstyles. New enemies, new combat behaviors... generally speaking it works like a charm. I think the "conceal" system is new, which is a good addition since you can decide when to start the fight. Visually speaking I believe it has been a big step up (but tbh I don´t have a good eye for graphics)

On the dark side, I suffered the same problem I had with Xcom 1: The golden path is extremely narrow, so much that if you make a minor mistake at the beginning of the game (i.e. lose 1-2 soldiers) you can be blocked hours later and it´d be extremely difficult to  be back to a situation with a chance for victory. You have to rely on save/load A LOT. Likely the top game in the market in this aspect. And loading a saved game can take up to 2 min...

Aside from this, I noticed extreme framerate drops too often, I believe mostly associated to loading the map (really? they aren´t so detailed!) and too many simultaneous particle effects. They were so obvious that made me question the ability of their programming team

Anyway, I certainly recommend it for strategy, turn-based aficionados. Particularly if you´re a bit hardcore you can easily fall in love with this game

Sunday, June 24, 2018


Thanks to one of the frequent Steam sales and my wishlist, I gave a chance to Subsurface circular. I´ve heard it was short and very narrative driven. It didn´t disappoint

To be honest, it felt a bit like an over-developed Twine game: All about dialogues and decision branches, you can´t lose in any way and it´s indeed short. Since I´m generally interested in the genre, I thought I´d enjoy it more. Since it delivers what it was promised I cannot say it´s bad in any sense, but there weren´t any novelties in the proposal. Being indie is a bit to take chances, but I didn´t feel SSC took any. It is polished, graphically modest but well finished and plays nice. But the story wasn´t particularly compelling, being so text-based makes it a little tiresome and doesn´t offer much replayability

Still, I´m a believer in short experiences (i.e. 3-4 hours) that cost accordingly. In that sense, SSC is to be praised. And if you do like storytelling experiences you probably won´t be disappointed

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Frankly I don´t remember how I got Killzone 3. It wasn´t a game I was particularly excited to play not even when it was released. Either someone sold it to me almost for nothing, or was left as "first come first serve" at the company kitchen. Anyhow it´s been waiting at my "Games to play" shelf for months if not years

Some weeks ago - after A LOT of time spent on open world games - I developed a need for some linear experience, so I gave it a try. I´m also trying to finish old games (i.e. PS3) before they become unsupported, servers closed and such. So I said "why not?"

Overall is a solid shooter, but there isn´t anything remarkable on it. The story is fine but can´t help to think the writers had to "revive" the baddies for the sake of milking the franchise cow (didn´t I finish with the Helghast in the second game already?), weapons are satifying to use and AI behaviours and scripting (both enemy and friendly) are adecuate. The scenarios are mostly ok - I presume they reused city assets from the previous game - and even they take you to some new locations for no good reason other than visual variety (which is not bad, though)

There is simply nothing bad on the game, if you like shooters you´ll likely enjoy it. But I struggled to find anything I could find memorable other than some cutscenes and a couple boss fights. In short, a nice experience but a bit of "was it really needed?" feeling. Since they made Killzone Shadow fall afterwards, I presume they made some good bucks out of it, so nothing to complain. Good business is good business

By the way, just when I had finished the campaign I tried to play MP and found out the servers were closed 2 months ago. Yay

Sunday, May 20, 2018


I don´t recall having played many dual stick shooters in my gaming life. Maybe a bit of Geometry Wars years ago. Thing is a friend and former workmate has a small indie studio called Eclipse Games, and he released some time ago Tachyon Project, his own interpretation on this genre

In short, it´s very similar to Geometry Wars but with an extra RPG layer - You can choose between different weapons, and some powerups. It´s a dual stick shooter that plays well, the balance is adecuate and it´s definitively enjoyable. To add an extra twist there is a short story and some replayability options. After finishing the campaign, I even spent some time grinding achievements, they´re reasonably easy to obtain

The price is cheap, it´s fun and you´d be helping a small studio. If you´re interested in the genre I personally recommend it

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Thanks to my PSplus subscription I got Mad Max for free. When it was released I was moderately interested in the game since it´s based on a movie IP I mostly enjoyed, but not so much as to buy it. But if it doesn´t cost a penny then what the hell

The game enjoyed good reviews but not superb. It was criticized for being repetitive, but it does have enough gameplay findings to make it enjoyable. I think both points are accurate:

On the plus side, I appreciated how the world and gameplay fit the IP core elements. You do feel into the Mad Max world, and even though the character model is a bit generic you feel like playing the leading role of one of the movies

Car fights are fairly good implemented, and some of them are challenging. The game characters are also very consistent with the IP: Post-apocalyptic punk enemies, crazy visionaries, desperates of all sorts, lone survivors, helpless kids, people who lost everything and expect very little from life... The story itself is not particularly punchy, it´s just a kick prior to let you free-roaming, not unlike most other open world games

And to be honest, the game is a completionist paradise. There are all sort of collectibles and you´re properly informed where to find them and when you have completed a location. It is much appreciated and probably the reason I decided to finish the game

On the minus side well, it can be indeed repetitive mostly on optional goals. Main missions have some variety or enough eye-candy scripted events to make them stand out. But anything else (camps, scavenging, races, etc) feels like a copy-pasted template dragged around all game areas to fill up content as cheap as possible

The combat system is a decent clone of the Batman´s series melee fights, and thanks to not being over-used it does serve its purpose better than it did in Ryse (works better when it´s supposed to fill up 30-40% of the total gameplay time, but if you try to stretch it longer than that it starts to feel repetitive). Still I´m not too hot about combat because:

  • It didn´t feel completely responsive, some UI prompts were actually not usable until animations had finished
  • The camera often left enemies outside from my view
  • The “Fury” subsystem – a damage buff you get after doing certain combat actions – often triggers too late in the fight, and not because of the player´s direct decision
  • After you´ve obtained all upgrades, combat prowess is irrelevant since you don´t get any more rewards. I don´t think the progression design had the end-game in mind-        
I can´t be sure about it but I suspect the game loops were originally conceived to be more punishing but the final balance lowered the difficulty: The game does contain one of the distinctive elements of the IP - Food/Water/Gasoline are scarced – and the player is supposed to manage them. However in the shipped gameplay you practically don´t have to worry about them at all. I think the designer who conceived them was left heart-broken to favor a more “casual” approach

I can´t help to think the game world could have had some more visual variety. Don´t get me wrong, the wastelands look awesome and very detailed… but after 100 hours of playtime you get bored of the same dune/rocky mountain stravaganza. I know, the movies don´t go much beyond that, but I think they should have pushed the boundaries a bit more with abandoned cities, huge scrapyards, etc

Other than that, the game plays well, it´s fairly enjoyable and if you like open worlds or the Mad Max series you should consider it. And if you like both then it´s a must

Sunday, May 6, 2018


An interesting article over the commonly unknown creative process in Nintendo (click here):

“The thinking that guides us is: what can we do to pleasantly surprise players? It’s not that we’re consciously trying to innovate; we’re trying to find ways to make people happy. The result is that we come up with things other people have not done”

Sunday, March 11, 2018


Crossing souls is an indie title developed by a small team in Seville (Spain). It combines several elements that make me want to purchase a game: Set in the 80s, featuring a group of teenagers (Goonies?), an indie developer, Spanish and cheap. So I decided to give it a try. I don´t repent it since they did more good things than bad. However there are some caveats for anyone tempted to buy it

Let´s start with the good things: The visual style is charming (a combination of pixel art and 80s cartoons), you get a lot of content for your money, the game mechanics principles are good (you can swap characters at will, each has some unique ability that forces you to use them all in not-too-difficult puzzles and exploration), and the spirit of those 80s teenage movies is well-represented (particularly at the beginning)

There were some things I found detrimental for the final quality: Even though the game only has 8 chapters, some felt as unnecessary padded. They didn´t help progress the story, characters or gameplay, it was more like "well, we need one more hour of gameplay so let´s get the player get lost in the woods for some time"

Also mixed feelings about the story: It starts very promising, homaging some movies I cherrish from my childhood and including plenty of pop references. But at some point they put all the focus on some (imho) not-needed Egyptian mysticism that only distances the player from believability, and loses touch from the world logic. This problem of stories that get crazy at the end happens from time to time in teams lead by story-crazy directors (maybe this was the case?), I call it the "Indigo prophecy" effect (if you played that game, you know what I´m talking about)

And one final thing: For a collectible aficionado such as myself, I found inexcusable the lack of replayability options when you finish. If you didn´t find all hidden secrets you need to start over again (not even sure if the ones I found are saved to your profile, even)

I believe this is the first game done by the team. If so, I think it´s very promising and I personally recomment it if you´re attracted to any of the elements I mentioned above. For future titles I hope they learned some lessons and I´m sure they´ll be able to achieve something remarkable

Sunday, February 25, 2018


Her Story has been praised for its unique storytelling, and since it´s one of the aspects I´m commonly attracted to I purchased it for my tablet. Like I often do, I left it there for a year, waiting for its moment... which came in a recent trip

It is indeed new. Not even sure if categorize it as a game, since you just run queries on a simulated video database, looking for the clips that add new elements to the story. Some of them contain the highlights, and once you collect enough of them you´re given the option to resolve

In terms of mechanics I actually found the "game" a bit janky, since the tag system didn´t really worked for me, and you´re limited on a number of clips you can favorite. Also I couldn´t find a way to delete those, so I eventually have to use my mobile notepad to track keywords

The inclusion of real-life footage is a nice touch, not many games do that. It´s fairly short and certainly keeps you interested in the events behind, and since you need to extract them out bit by bit it felt a new territory to explore in terms of interactivity. If you are into new ways to tell as story - as I am - I strongly recomment it

Thursday, February 15, 2018


In short, Spheroids is “Pong meets platforming”. It´s an indie game made by a friend and former colleague, with a fairly small team. That´s where most of its merit falls, since it does look like it has been done by a bigger group of developers

Gameplay wise works smoothly: You jump and shoot a hook that destroys “evil balls”, tool that is later upgraded to allow swinging. Nothing in the game is really revolutionary but instead evolutionary, so the core systems feel natural by default. There are some mechanics to learn/master and enemy iterations, but nothing that requires much thinking. You just sit, play and enjoy without much trouble

You will find some story bits in between worlds, but don´t expect too much out of them. I don´t think the developers did either, they just provide an excuse for moving on, a quick chuckle and that´s all

The game difficulty is appropriate and generally well-tuned, with novelties here and there to keep your interest up. On the minus side I could have used some more checkpoints: Some sections where not necessarily difficult but became really tedious because you were forced to re-do a big chunk of the level multiple times

Being an 8bit kid, I found the visual style charming, mostly when the camera is distant. It´s a 4-5 hour game, which I appreciate since I can easily make that fit into my daily routines. Some may find the music a bit too-present, but I liked it. In short, if you like classic arcades with a twist you will enjoy Spheroids, and since it´s not expensive it becomes a great choice for any rainy stay-at-home night

Sunday, January 28, 2018


One of my favorite games of all times is an isometric platformer (either Knight Lore or Head over Heels, not totally sure). Not because I still like to play them but because the fascination created on the teen me by those rooms full of secrets and the fake 3D effect

Partially out of nostalgia I purchased Lumo, another isometric platformer but a modern one released in 2016. I was somehow disappointed: Not by the game per se - which is actually a fair attempt to revive that genre´s glory - but because it stroke me with some huge issues those old games had and was never conscious of

Back in the 80s your perception of gameplay was different: You would normally assume the game was perfectly designed and balanced, and if you had problems progressing it was YOUR fault. That´s why a couple of issues inherent to isometric view vs platforming were not obvious to me:

The first one is the uncertainty about your character´s position. The camera angle doesn´t give you a good reference of the distance against (commonly deadly) world objects. This is even worst when mid-air, when your shadow disappears in most surfaces. Dying is common because of this

Lumo is affected by this as well. Platforming involves a lot of dying. Gameplay works fine when you have to move objects around the room or you have second chances, other than that you die a lot. It´s not too frustrating since you immediately respawn almost in the same spot, but it´s not for everybody´s taste

The second issue I noticed are framerate problems. In my MSX times I remember the performance of most games changed dramatically depending on the room you were. I never thought it could be done differently. Today I know the game was not optimized enough

Lumo´s framerate performance often drops for no good reason as well. Some big rooms with several enemies and particles run smoothly while some other small ones are almost unplayable. Seemed to happen randomly at different game sessions, which makes me think the game wasn´t bugfixed properly

Aside from the above, the game is enjoyable and offers a bunch of nostalgia references. Menus are sketchy and I could have used an option to "select chapters" enabling achievement hunters, but the overall game structure is solid and generally flows naturally to the next unexplored area. Since I tried some achievements while progressing I might have died more than I should, and in any case is not a long game. I believe it was done mainly by one guy only, which has A LOT of merit

In short, if you are missing those good old Filmation-style 8bit games, Lumo will give you the chance to have a good time

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


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