Seraphim Automata, More Game Reviews

Seraphim Automata

seraphim5(Taken May 27th. The game isn’t nearly this fast in real life… I think my GIF software is broken.)

This is a screenshot of my current project, Seraphim Automata. It generates music with cellular automata. I started developing this on May 16th, taking the keyboard from an old project and adding the cells, music notes, and colors. Then I added key changes and just intonation (I’m looking into other temperaments I could use).

Then I added a main character with attacks and a health bar, along with a pause menu that displays the controls. The biggest accomplishment was probably getting the keyboard to synchronize with the cells, showing which notes are played.

I’ve also been working on a few short stories I’ll hopefully be ready to share soon.

 

Game Reviews

I only reviewed 6 games this time, since these reviews seem to be getting longer. Maybe I’ll switch up and try reviewing movies in the future. Or books, TV shows, manga, anime, etc.

nidhogg3x

Playing Nidhogg is the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Too few popular indie games are as immediately satisfying as this one. The sword fighting is a nice change of pace from your usual battle systems.

One feature that really makes it stand out is the lack of a health bar. The tug-of-war style gameplay allows you to make plenty of mistakes and still recover from them before the match ends. The enemy can push you to the brink of defeat, only for you to make a massive comeback. This adds a real nail-biting element that most games don’t have – even when you are dying left and right, there is still hope.

A lot of interesting things can happen in a single match. Sometimes the enemy will kill you with your own sword (or vice versa). Sometimes you’ll both lose your swords and resort to fist fighting. This is tricky because if you win, the enemy will respawn with a sword while you have none. The 12th boss seems particularly fond of this strategy. My favorite: sometimes the enemy will kill you and throw their sword, which kills you again as you respawn.

I hear the multiplayer often suffers from lag, which is a real shame when single player is so fun. I wholeheartedly recommend getting Nidhogg.

super_crate_box

Super Crate Box is a free game on Steam by Vlambeer, which is a clone heavily inspired by the original Mario Bros game from 1983. The crates cause you to randomly change weapons, which can be helpful or disorienting depending on what you get.

Since the game encourages you to collect crates, you’ll be randomly switching weapons several times in a single match. You can’t last forever: enemies will eventually flood the screen, or you’ll get the wrong gun at the wrong time, or a mix of both. The constant weapon swapping reminds me of Downwell, though in that game you could at least skip weapons you don’t like. It can be fun once you unlock better weapons.

Like most Vlambeer games, the screenshake can be absolutely migraine inducing for me, and it’s why I don’t play their other games. More games need a “disable screenshake” option.

limbo1
(The timing in this puzzle can be very difficult, even once you’ve figured it out.)

I’ve always liked the atmosphere of LIMBO. The strange machinery and creatures of the world, the dark blurry visual style, and the unsettling music all complement each other well. The 24 FPS helps add to the film noir aesthetic.

Some of the puzzles can be aggravating, especially when you’ve figured out the solution but cannot nail the pixel perfect timing. One of the biggest problems I have with LIMBO, like many dark horror games, is that many times I just can’t see well. While the background graphics certainly add to the game’s inner world, it can be annoying trying to grab a dark rope on a darker background.

The main problem I have with the gameplay, like many linear puzzle games, is that there are many points where I simply get stuck and don’t know what to do. There are no hints and very few visual cues to follow in the game.

Back in the old days, before the internet made online strategy guides popular, these would be the points where I would either spend hours trying to find a solution, or shrug and give up playing. Now you can look up the solution to almost any puzzle. It’s nice when necessary but if you rely on it too much, it can rob the satisfaction of figuring things out for yourself. I do recommend LIMBO if you like puzzle games, or creepy games in general.

alpharunner2

Alpha Runner is a pretty simple 2D platformer, but it’s cheap and entertaining. The levels are randomly generated, which adds replayability.

Obstacles can sometimes be difficult to pass, but most deaths can be attributed to human error. Platforms slowly disappear beneath your feet, so you can never stand in one place for a long period. Movement is very retro and has no acceleration or deceleration. While that annoys me in certain games like Rogue Legacy, it fits the style here.

tsam

I’m still not sure why Daniel Linssen chose The Sun and Moon to put on Steam, as there are other projects of his that would simply make for better purchases (Roguelight, Planetarium). The controls for this game are unintuitive and often get on my nerves. Despite having a game mechanic that demands experimentation, the levels often only have one path to victory. The levels are just too linear, and the branching menu isn’t much compensation.

This would have been a great game for open world exploration. I see a lot of potential here, but I can’t recommend it in it’s current state unless you’re a big fan of hardcore 2D platformers.

beginnersguideend

Though I initially intended to buy The Beginner’s Guide, I ended up just watching it on YouTube. I couldn’t justify spending $10 on a one-hour experience that takes 8 GB to download. Because I live in rural Alabama, I only have 15 GB of bandwidth every month. So I feel like large games like this aren’t even meant for people like me.

Many people are in similar positions because of the digital divide. I’m annoyed when game developers don’t bother to optimize their games for size. Especially when I get a 2d platformer that’s 2 GB or something asinine.

Anyway, there were some things I really liked about The Beginner’s Guide and some things I didn’t. It’s a completely linear experience, so there’s basically no replay value beyond reliving the same story. The excessive mystery that people surround the game with doesn’t help it. Not discussing the ending is one thing, not discussing the entire premise is another.

The Witness did this and when it came out in January, I was arguably more disappointed than if I had seen previews. Because that lack of information allowed me to build up much higher expectations than I should have. The same applies when people refuse to discuss any details about The Beginner’s Guide and its storyline. So here we go (no ending spoilers).

Beginners-guide

The Beginner’s Guide is an interactive experience about a game developer and his projects, through the eyes of a friend, the narrator. As you would expect from the creator of The Stanley Parable, it’s very meta and self-referential. “How well can you know a person just by looking at their work?” The trailer asks. My favorite moments were when it confronted that idea, the nature of identity.

I personally didn’t think the ending was very good. The journey is worth more than the destination, since the game is at its best when the narrator is questioning the game developer’s motives, and by extension the nature of game development itself. The graphics and music, perhaps by necessity of the story, are nothing to write home about. Overall I enjoyed the experience, but I’m also glad I didn’t spend $10 on it.

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About Dylan Franks

My name is Dylan Franks, and I'm a game designer and musician. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. View all posts by Dylan Franks

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