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2:53 PM on 04.18.2013

The Woes of Being an Amateur Game Developer: Part 1, The Idea

Oh hello, I didnít see you there, welcome, take a seat, warm yourself by the fire for a while and talk of battles past. Welcome to a new and (hopefully) long series of blogs documenting my first ever venture into the world of game development. Iím not expecting much to come out of this but hopefully it will be entertaining enough and maybe a good game will rise from the ashes at the end.

Yep, thatís a phoenix

Lets start off with a bit of background info about me (stay with me here, there wonít be much). Iíve been a gamer most of my life, against my parentís will who think it is a total waste of time. I started with Nintendo and the GBA, moving on to the DS, followed by the Wii and then eventually PC via Steam. Realizing that my PC wasnít powerful enough to play much other than Portal I moved over to indie games and with indie games I stayed. They give off a promising aura, one that made me think that even I could make a game, finally I would prove to my parents that gaming wasnít a waste of time, that I could achieve something. I had decided, I will make a game.

For the record, I'm not chinese

I started out on my humble quest slowly, brainstorming ideas for games on paper: some simple; some more complex; and some fairly good. I had some pretty solid ideas down, I developed a few a bit further, but one came out on top and this is the game I am currently making. The game is called Dungeons and Deadlines. It is an exploration based game set in a modern day high school. There is a catch though, everything is fantasy. The students are hobbits, dwarves and elves; lessons include blacksmithing, magic and rune scribing; dragons power the furnace; and trolls are the dinner-ladies. It could best be described as a cross between Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter and Bully.

Imagine this, but with dwarves!

My goal for the game is to encourage exploration and secret finding. The environments will hopefully be totally interactive with many secrets hidden withing. The secrets in question will be collectible cards for an in-game card game. It will be able to be played with students in the game co-op or competitively and hopefully it will also be able to be played in real life. A meta game where in-game play gives you a bonus in real life. If this all sounds a bit random and unsure thatís because it is. I havenít refined any of these ideas yet.

Iíve already started on some art and general planning for the game, which I will be making in Flash, but the programming is holding me back from making any concrete progress. I knew that this would be an issue but hopefully I will get better as I go on. I would love to hear you thoughts on the game so far and the next part doing more of a detailed overview of what I have planned will be coming, maybe even with some art. Stay tuned.   read

12:55 PM on 02.20.2013

Hotline Miami and audio-visual trickery

I recently finished Hotline Miami, Iím going to assume you know about it so Iíll save some space and not explain it. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, Iím usually against unnecessary violence in games (probably because Iím not technically allowed 18s) but this game was different. Every time I died, my rage grew, I was crying out for pixellated death, and it was beautiful. I found myself grinning with pleasure when I finally smashed one of the more annoying guards head so hard his brain leaked onto the floor. At that point I stopped playing for a while, I was slowly turning into an expert serial killer, and I loved it.

The ultra-violence is only one part of this game though, I think the main reason I love this game so much is itís art styling and music. The pixels, bright colours and slowly pulsating backgrounds melted into the 80s inspired chiptunes to create an acid trip styled aesthetic. Iím gonna stop using big words now and put in a picture.

The game looks good, sounds good and has brilliant gameplay, but my favourite part is the story. The story is very well told, with subtle clues to tell you the majority, occasional visits from scary men in animal masks and seemingly innocent phone-calls It was the revelations that occur after the main ending that won me over though, I wonít spoil so donít worry, but lets just say that you need to pay attention during the start. Hallucinations are also present in the game, empty bars you visited earlier now have headless corpses talking to you, peoples faces all seem the same and dialogue gets slowly more strange. And this brings me on to my main topic, when games destroy your expectations.

I enjoyed Hotline Miami because it didnít follow my expectations, I didnít think Iíd like the violence but I did, that made me like it. The story constantly tricks you and hallucinations are awesome, that made me like it. Itís the same in other games as well. I really enjoyed Lone Survivor last year for the hallucinations that he has, especially when the (spoilers kinda) ďpartyĒ he visits turns out to be a figment of his imagination and everyone turns out to be dead. Also in Antichamber (more on this later) when staircases disappear and you turn around and the room has changed. Maybe Iím just crazy or a drug addict in the making but these moments are what make games for me.


3:27 AM on 02.19.2013

Sword & Sworcery and the death of adventure games

I've had a rocky history with adventure games, I really want to like them, but I just can't. The only adventure game I've ever loved has been Botanicula and I've already written about that
I bought Sword & Sworcery last year because I had heard lots of reviewers saying how amazing it was, how it would reinvent modern adventure games and how revolutionary it is. Itís really not that good.

Adventure games have a very simple structure, explore around a place by walking very slowly, talk to people, find items, combine items in ludicrous ways to solve puzzles. Adventure games are one of the oldest genres because people used to have much more time for games, they had fewer games, and spent more time on individual games than getting new ones. The puzzles were usually about, combining items that you find by clicking randomly on the scenery and using them on a switch half way across an island. This seemed like a good way to make people spend more time on the game and people used to do that. My friendís dad has a notebook that he used when he played Myst, with codes and maps that he had drawn out himself. In my opinion this is what more games should be trying to replicate, the feeling of true exploration, discovery and documentary. When playing through Monkey Island for the first time last year (Iím young, get over it) I decided to keep a notebook like my friendís dad did. I got to the end of chapter 1 before I stopped out of boredom. The puzzles just donít make sense, itís a good idea to keep track of what youíve seen, in a sort of Nathan Drake way, but this was absurd. Maybe Iím missing something.

I tried more adventure games in the hope of capturing the wonder that those gamers of old had. In ĎBen there Dan thatí I did not keep a notebook, because I thought it would take up too much time. Itís basically a love letter to Monkey Island and as a result the puzzles were stupidly obscure, the walking was slow, and the verb selection system was annoying. The redeeming factor however was the dialogue. Itís a very funny game, not laugh out loud funny, but witty enough to make me smirk. Humour is meant to be one of the mechanics in an adventure game, such as the insult sword fighting in Monkey Island, but donít other games have that as well. In ĎMachinariumí I used the notebook to help me, making a map on gridded paper was fun and jotting down codes and item locations was very useful. Perhaps this is what itís all about, but still, some puzzles were just illogical, some puzzles I could not solve with the help of my notebook. This is what letís adventure games down, the puzzles that only the designers could solve.

Now onto Sword & Sworcery. In an interview on the Double Fine Adventure documentary one of the Superbrothers said, Sword & Sworcery was created to be an adventure game without the puzzles. Sounds good to me, maybe Iíll finally see what all the fuss is about. Sadly, I didnít. Sword & Sworcery is a good game, definitely for the art and music alone. The story was interesting and the mythical landscapes were actually stunning. But even without the puzzles it maintains the adventure game qualities. I just donít understand, maybe when I inevitably play the Double Fine adventure game Iíll find the answer, but to me, adventure games are a thing of the past that we need to forget about to move on it the future. Adventure games donít make good games, good games make good games.   read

4:21 AM on 02.18.2013

Little Inferno - the fireplace that gets in your mind

So, I got Little Inferno as a gift at Christmas and obviously I had read stuff about it saying that it was a disappointment. And I agree, but only if you want it to be the next World of Goo. Iím guessing that most of you know about Little Inferno but in case you donít hereís a quick run down. Itís an interactive fireplace where you burn items that you purchase and unlock more items to buy and burn until youíve burnt everything and you finish the game. It was created by some acclaimed indie developers, eg. Kyle Gabbler, so it has some expectations behind it. I can safely say that it is not as good as World of Goo, but, it is pretty awesome when you really look at it.

The gameplay itself is satisfying enough, the objects you burn each have a different outcome to being set on fire, for example a toy bus has screaming passengers and egg sacks spew baby spiders. The game does have fairly dark undertones and the art style is just so good, I wouldnít mind getting the game just for that. It does get repetitive though, quickly. Around the fourth catalogue, I was ready to stop. Burning things and buying more things to burn isnít fun forever. Youíll have to stop eventually. But I kept going, and Iím glad I did.

The story is told to you through letters sent to your post box, the little bar at the bottom of the screen where your toys are also sent. There are three main characters: your neighbour, a little girl named Sugar Plumps; the owner of the little inferno company Miss Nancy, and a weatherman. The letters tell you of a post apocalyptic sort of world where the weather just keeps getting colder and children burn all of their possessions to keep themselves warm. The letters do have some seriously creepy dialogue in them but the story is so well told that at the end, I was pretty shaken up. When you reach the final catalogue the game just gets really deep. The story is really good. Really good.

Now we edge into spoiler territory, I wonít spoil the ending but I will say something about the overall message. When you finish the game, you realise that everything that youíve been doing was a waste of time. All games that you play are just a waste of time. Buying more and more items until you need to get more, itís all a waste of time. And then you stop, and nothing has changed, it was all pointless. It really impacted me in a way no interactive fireplace ever could, I just felt empty at the experience. Not just because of the lack of gameplay, but because that was what the game was trying to achieve. Itís very clever and hurts your brain a little bit. The game justified its high price to me, by telling me that I shouldn't have bought it, and to me, thatís a good enough reason to have bought it. So, I suppose, I win. But have I really?


2:21 AM on 12.31.2012

Botanicula - some short thoughts

Another year, another Steam Winter Sale. Having spent far too much in the autumn sale I decided to give this one a miss. I failed, obviously, and Botanicula, a pointíníclick adventure game by Animata (Machinarium creators) was the casualty.

I really, really like this game. It does everything an adventure game should do perfectly, the narrative is very nicely portrayed and there are constant funny moments leaving me smiling. There is also no dialogue, in my opinion this greatly helps the game, giving it charm without lines of text or dodgy voice acting, it keeps up the fast, random nature of the game and leaves you with a clear picture of the situation without having to wait 5 minutes for characters to stop talking. The story itself is very simple: tree is good, spider is bad; and thatís all you really need, the plot develops around the environments you find yourself in and objectives become clear as you play. The characters have their own personalities thanks to the wonderful animations and the world they live in is buzzing with quirky creatures, making the game feel fresh and exciting all the time.

The puzzles are almost always contained within one room, this really helps the pacing of the game and avoids the classic feeling of complete confusion that most adventure games induce. You will find no inventory combinations here! Many of the puzzles involve using the mouse in innovative ways, changing the game into a collection of mini-games at some points. The game never tells you what to do either, you are left to figure it all out yourself, and even though there were no real brain-benders, I felt smart after figuring out the solution to a few puzzles. Pixel hunting is also not a problem, if it looks like you can touch it, you probably can, and the reaction will almost certainly be hilarious.

Also, if you havenít already noticed, the game is beautiful. The art is unbelievable and the world feels alive. When your cursor drifts over a leaf, the leaf rustles when it hovers over a worm poking his head out, he pops back into his hole. Itís very simple but it is very charming. The subtle background colours and the unique animations of every character work perfectly with the gameís music. A mish-mash of quirky percussion and harmonicas make up the soundtrack and changes with the actions you perform, itís very catchy and quirky and brings together the home-made styled artwork.
Botanicula is charming, quirky but too short , clocking in at around 3 hours for a full playthrough. This does not include completing the gameís collection of tree mythology you build up as you progress and there are many secrets that you can hunt for on secondary playthroughs. I know that I will play it through again to try and 100% it, and Iím quite an impatient person! At full price I would highly recommend it and if youíre quick you can get it in the sale for £1.78 or regional equivalent.

3:31 PM on 12.06.2012

Braid: shoots for the stars, but misses


If you have not played Braid then leave now, go outside, read a book.

Ok, theyíve gone. Right. Braid is awesome, but you already knew that.

The flawless if slightly impossible puzzles; the beautiful art and soundtrack; the surprisingly emotional story. Itís brilliant and everyone knows. What most people donít know about though is the secret ending.

Wait, what, a secret ending. Yes. I had no idea either until I found it online. Basically, you have to find 8 impossibly hard stars, which the game doesnít tell you about whatsoever. One of which can only be accessed by playing from the start, presuming you have already finished it, because you have to rearrange puzzle pieces in order to create a silhouette of half of a star. Obviously.

Another is only found if you wait, no joke, 1 hour for a platform to move across the stage letting you in to a secret area you canít even see. The other stars are obtainable by solving very hard puzzles, and by hard, I mean really really hard. These puzzles are in a league of their own: juggling goombas into a space above the screen, precisely timing piranha plants to allow goombas through in order to jump into a space off the screen. And not only are they tough, thereís no way to tell whether a level has a star, let alone where it is.

If you havenít collapsed on the floor frothing at the mouth, well done. Itís stupid. Creating things like this is insane, itís quite impressive but no one will find it. Not only that, but unlocking all the stars will unlock another version of the final level, with a final ending.

This makes the original ending, one of the best endings of all time in my opinion, completely meaningless. If there is a different ending, a real ending, the first ending means nothing. This basically shuts off most of the gamers playing your game and most of the game itself.

Looking on the positive side, the final ending is very good, and concludes the whole experience very nicely. Iím sure Iíd feel very differently if the stars were easier or even possible to achieve; even playing with a walkthrough I have not managed to get all the stars, theyíre just so hard. It just really is a stupid way to design a game. Jonathan Blow, I now speak directly to you: youíre pretentious, but you make damn good games.

If you shoot for the stars, you might land on the moon. Or create unnecessary secret endings.   read

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