Steam Reviews #3, NanoTone Notes

I watched the finals for women’s basketball in the Rio Olympics. The France vs. Serbia match for bronze was really amazing, and I was glad to see Serbia winning their first medal for women’s basketball. They certainly seemed happy about it. 🙂


NanoTone Synth (Dev Blog)

I wrote this dev blog for my music making tool, NanoTone Synth. I apologize if the following is nonsensically technical.

I began developing NanoTone Synth on July 12th. Most of the math centers around calculating the “nth root of x”, x being 2 for an octave (2:1) and n being the temperament. So I drew the inner circle around 12-TET, and I drew the outer circle around 53-TET. Then I added the harmony lines for 3 and 5 limit ratios, which are basically base 2 logarithms of the ratios wrapped around the 360 degrees of a circle.

The next day I added 7, 11 and 13 limit ratios. Then I took a break. I picked it back up on July 23rd, and added a system to show how perfect the fourths and fifths are in any given temperament. Over the next few days I added more ratios to this “approximator” system, and tested the software out in HTML5. I started adding menus for the harmonics on July 29th.

Then I took another break – this time to make the proof of concept Celody Life. I added more ratios and menus to NanoTone over the next few days, then tested it on my Android tablet and cellphone on August 10th. The next day I added the comparisons menu, found an icon, and released the music making tool on, just under a month after starting the project.


A week later I figured out how to properly upload the HTML5 version onto Thanks to Leaf for helping me out with that. 🙂


Game Reviews


While Outland doesn’t add much to the 2D platformer genre, it does what it sets out to do very well. It has some very typical platforming elements like wall jumping, avoiding spike pits, etc. The character and enemy animations are very smooth, and the environments are gorgeous. Boss encounters are mammoth. The ability to switch between light and dark forms plays a big role, and reminds me of Jak 3.

The game has a very mysterious, tribal atmosphere. The soundtrack is often just the sounds of nature, sometimes accompanied with light percussion. The story is given to you in brief bits of text which you can choose to read or skip. Unlike many newer games, the gameplay never takes a backseat to storytelling here, which I find refreshing. I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of platformers.


Dust: An Elysian Tail is well known for being a polished game made by one person, so of course I had to try it out. The visuals are extremely vibrant and colorful, almost like a Disney film. Lots of little touches, like animated butterflies, fireflies, swaying trees and bushes, help add to this feeling of being in a very “alive” world. Not enough games bother with these kinds of little extra details.

The main character’s attacks are also very well animated. The hack and slash game play more often feels like mindless button-mashing though, which is unfortunate. The game looks and feels very professional, but it’s also very conventional.

One element this game could use is more showing and less telling. Whenever I finally seem to be getting into the gameplay, I’m interrupted by the three main characters speaking 20 lines about how I just leveled up, or there’s something up ahead. Or just unnecessary “character development”. There’s simply way too much dialogue. I loathe the voice acting, and there’s no way to disable it in the options menu. I’m sure I’ve skipped important information just to avoid the voice acting.

Even worse, the cutscenes are unskippable, and can drag on for a while. I recommend this game only if you like well-animated indie platformers, and/or if you like anime-style games with anthropomorphism.

vvvvvv logo official

VVVVVV was looking and feeling really promising – up until I got caught in an escort mission and had to restart the whole game. One feature VVVVVV could really benefit from is multiple save slots. The tightly packed, spike-filled rooms are typical hardcore platforming. The gravity switching feature is neat, but doesn’t really change the gameplay that much from similar games.

The game is fun when you’re just exploring in the open areas. The music is also really nice. I definitely prefer You Have to Win the Game, which is inspired by VVVVVV and also is free. I wouldn’t recommend VVVVVV unless you’re just insanely good at 2d platformers.


Vertical Drop Heroes HD is yet another game that seeks to be the next big roguelike platformer, without offering anything new to the genre. The random level design is obviously inspired by Spelunky. The graphics are pretty bad, even by indie game standards. The dark shading in the corners is annoying and unnecessary. I really hoped this would be better, but like a lot of games, it seems to be just cashing in on the popularity of the genre.


Waveform is an interesting side scroller game, and it’s nice, but the controls are just too damn weird. You don’t control your ship directly, instead you control the path it takes, shrinking and widening the sine wave to collect items and avoid obstacles. It has one of the toughest learning curves of any side-scroller I’ve ever played.

The gameplay is unconventional, but it’s nice if you can figure out the controls. The bosses are awful though – constant screen shaking. So I don’t recommend it.


Her Story is an inspiring interactive fiction about a murder mystery. You use keywords to search through a series of interviews between the police and the wife of the murder victim. The more you dig into the details, the more this seemingly straightforward story turns complicated.

The “gameplay” essentially consists of you searching through a collection of short video clips, jumping from keyword to keyword. It’s definitely influenced by 90s point-and-click games, so it’s not for everyone. But personally I really love the interactive element of searching through archives, and the nonlinear way the story unfolds. By putting you in the role of the detective, the mechanics drive you to think of the words and phrases in the wife’s story very carefully. Any little detail could potentially be a clue in a larger mystery.

There is no real “ending” to the game either. You’re finished when you’ve drawn your own conclusions. The game is unconventional, but very refreshing and different. The only real downside is that it feels too short – I’ve already seen over 75% of the video clips in about 2 hours. But in its defense, I don’t think this unique style of gameplay would be suited for larger stories.

In terms of channeling a traditional detective story into a game, I’ve experienced nothing better than Her Story. I highly recommend it.



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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