Another LD48!

25 Apr

It’s that time of the year again: Ludum Dare 48-Hour Game Development Competition.

I’m participating on this one again, and I’ll be posting updates on this blog, and on Twitter (@shadowcovenant, if you want to follow me), and also on the LudumDare website…

I’ve updated my basic LD48 framework with some stuff I think I may need (nothing game related, just some stuff most engines have out of the box)…


You can download the framework here, if you want to use it (it has some sample applications that show most if not all the features). Current features:

  • D3D9 initialization and some helpers
  • FMOD interface for sound
  • 2d Sprites (with sprite caching, etc)
  • 2d Particle System
  • Simple UIButton for easy menus
  • Text (through FreeType 2)
  • 3ds file loading (only tested with 3ds generated by 3d Studio Max). Loads lights, meshes and cameras.
  • Small simple math library (vectors and quaternions)
  • Simple 3d camera handling system (just with a “look at” operation)
  • XML loading/saving (might come in handy for configuration files, load/saves, etc. The XML loader was created by Frank Berghen, not me… the writer is all me, although the loader also has save functions, but I’m too lazy to figure out how they work)
  • 3d particle system (based on the 2d one, so very rudimentary)
  • 3d sprite system (quads that always face the camera)
  • LUA library support (it’s actually ripped from my engine, so it’s a good support system for LUA)… Last time I used cutscenes and scripting, and loads of the game code was much simpler because of that…
  • DDS image loading for an offscreen buffer (just supports A8R8G8B8 images). Might be useful for some level design stuff, although I’ll probably go back to my old days of text files.
  • 3d Tilemap (Kind of a blocky heightmap with an automatic texture atlas generation and partition of the map in chunks for possible culling (not implemented)).
  • Voxel system (almost fast enough for realtime regeneration)
  • Simple geometry generation (quad, cube, spheroid, caps and cylinders)
  • Special effect objects (sparks, explosions, although the explosion require some authoring)
  • Full-screen effect systems (to implement glows, or invert the colors, or add displacements, etc)
  • Full shader-based rendering system (no fixed-function pipeline), with simple lighting system (only shadowless point and spot lights, although directional lights should be easy to implement, just a matter of adding to the shaders). Shader system is built with uber-shaders in mind, with easy to add per-material properties (material color for example) and system-wide constants (ambient light, for example).
  • Launcher functions (a dialog box that pops and asks for resolution, sound volumes, window/full screen, etc, in 3 easy lines of code)
  • Simple navigation mesh generation and path finding (based on Recast). It enables to add objects to a NavMesh object (not all objects work yet), and it will build the navigation mesh, which can be queried… It’s easy to extend, if you know how to use Recast. This component is on a separate library, so you “opt-out” of it easily.


On the tools side, I’ll use:

  • Visual Studio 2010
  • Photoshop CS5 (for 2d graphics and textures if I decide to adventure into 3d, and for map creation, etc)
  • 3d Studio Max (for modelling if I go 3d, or for title screens and such otherwise)
  • sfxr (or Bfxr) (for audio effects)
  • Live Writer for blogging
  • Everything I get my hands on…


No idea what I’m going to use for music, but probably what I’ll go the same route as last time, asking a friend of mine to use his gear… if he’s available, of course… Smile

My expectations for this compo are fairly high… My last attempt was on the top 10%, so I want to do better this time (although the competition is stiff). The remaining themes are also not very inviting, except for Glitch (that would allow me to make the cyberspace action game I’ve been thinking about!)

Probably going for my usual 48-Hour compo drill… Go to bed at normal hours, wake up at 3am to see the theme and go back to bed… then start working early in the morning!


Splinter Cell: Blacklist

26 Mar


Finished playing “Splinter Cell: Blacklist” the other day.

Point one: although traditionally I play 3rd-person action games on the consoles, I bought a Logitech controller, and I bought this one on Steam, and even with my 3-year old video card, the game looks and plays very well. More and more I’m questioning the use of a console (except for exclusives, of course).

This one is the logically extension of “Splinter Cell: Conviction”, which I loved. All good things about the first one are there: multiple paths in missions (stealth all the way, or just shoot everybody), stealth that actually works and it’s not boring (looking at you, MGS) and a nice espionage story (not ground-breaking, but competent).

There’s some glaring balancing issues, in my opinion (missions range from stupid easy to insanely difficult and back to stupid easy really fast), and the emphasis on co-op detracts of my gameplay experience (I’m not a social player, so I don’t want to play with anybody in this sort of games). The co-op becomes mandatory to unblock certain stuff, which annoys me…

Anyway, it’s a very competent game, very well executed (even if you might feel that it’s a little bit “stale”, not enough innovation going on, but to be honest, not all games need to be ground-breaking in that sense).

My major criticism of the game is the stupid Ubisoft UPlay software that has to be installed. This really annoys me, I already have Steam, don’t need to have another game launcher system. Steam gives me a tangible benefit for my usage type, UPlay doesn’t…

So, if you liked Conviction, you’ll like this one, the story even has some surprising moments! Smile8/10

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Papers, Please

14 Mar


“Papers, Please” is a game where you are a guard in a border crossing in a soviet-era-inspired fictional country. You have to check the papers travellers hand you, check for discrepancies, validity, etc of documents and approve or deny entrance to the glorious republic of Arstotzka.

Excited yet?

As dry as the game sounds, the description does it no justice… From a gameplay standpoint, it has a very “real” feel to it… You feel like your shuffling papers, checking dates, etc, which leads to a big connection between the game and the player.

Errors are heavy penalized, but you get paid by each person that you let through, so you want to let through as many people as you can, but if you let people in that have mismatching information you eventually get fines and can be judged by high-treason… So, you have the never-ending conflict of letting people pass, and doing your job right.

Add to this a series of moral conundrums (you let the husband pass, will you stop the wife because her passport was out of date? Will you let dissidents into the country so they’ll pull down the corrupt government you know leads you?), and the need to not only support yourself but your whole family, and you have a recipe for a pretty tense game…

I was very skeptical about the game at start, but everyone was raving about it, so I thought I’d give it a try, but even though I started playing thinking “don’t know what’s the big fuss about this”, I ended up feeling very tense every time I let someone through, dreading to receive the fax saying I’d made a mistake and that I was getting docked on my payment.

Finally, the game not only does a great job in gameplay and narrative, but also in the context… it makes you feel oppressed, bordering on the depressed while playing, which might seem weird to exalt when talking about a game, but it manages it perfectly…

Final verdict: It’s a great game to waste some hours (think I spent about 8 hours with it, seeing alternative endings, etc), which for its cost is a great bargain! 9/10

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Dead Space 3

05 Feb


Since I was very disappointed with Dead Space 2, this one really surprised me, since it was way better than the one before (and maybe even on-par to the first one).

In this one, the story actually evolves and more is found out about the Markers… The characters are a bit grating and one-dimensional; Isaac is particularly one-dimensional: “I won’t do it… Oh, the girl wants me to do it? That’s ok then!”… Love triangle in the middle of a gruesome horror infection story: nope, it doesn’t work, it’s not believable. Human beings are driven by their hormones, that’s true, but fear/terror overrides that, it’s just the way we’re wired from a biological standpoint!

Anyway, the game itself is more of the same: shoot infected monstrosities on the limbs, find out about the mystery-de-jour. They’ve added a “make-your-weapon” mechanic, but it’s so terribly implemented from a game design perspective that I just stuck with the initial weapon (modded with circuits), upgraded the body for the “Planetary”-something for more circuit slots, and after I got the probe-gun, I just used that…

Designing your own weapons might be nice, if it wasn’t so trial-and-error… I build a weapon (with very little information on the results along the way), then I tried, found out it was terrible, rinse-and-repeat, and in the process lost precious resources. So, I gave up on it after a bit, really… Seems like a system suited for the “pay-to-win” thing they have (which I don’t care much about, but didn’t spoil my fun).

Boss fights on this one were not as stupid as the last one from Dead Space 2, but they weren’t interesting… I feel like I’ve been fighting the same boss over and over again (and I think I was, the story was too broken for me to understand that).

Lastly, the terror component is not present since the first game… I understand it’s hard to keep the tension when you have to let people actually shoot stuff (instead of the solitary stalking on the first “Alien” movie), so it’s kind of a difficult position to be (making the 3rd game in a terror series). So, Dead Space became a new shooter, just a bit different because it’s not space marines…Maybe a cosmetic change, but a welcome one.

It might seem that I didn’t appreciate the game, but it was actually enjoyable (I’m just hyper-critic). It entertained me for 14 hours or so, although it’s a highly repetitive game (horror stories aren’t usually very complex, revolving around a mystery, so it’s hard to stretch them out, and without story, you’re just working as a errand-boy).

Although EA is just milking the franchise at this point, it hasn’t lost that much quality, so I guess that’s a win… This one is definitely better than the second one, and only worse than the first one because the terror isn’t there anymore. Isaac is now too much of a necromorph killing machine to actually feel scared, I’d say. 7/10

On the development news, give a jump onto the Spellcaster Studios blog… not much going on, but we’re still working!

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Long time no see…

15 Jan

Well, this is has been another long hiatus…

Reason for it was (obviously) the Christmas vacation, and a lot of work on the DayJob after that.

Hopefully in the coming weeks I’ll get back to game development for real, but I’ve been so tired/fed up with work when I get back from the DayJob that I don’t feel like coding (or even gaming, for that matter)… I just put my feet up and watch TV shows…

Lately, I’ve been re-watching my all-time favorite TV show: Stargate SG-1.


Yes, I love this more than I love Star Trek or Star Wars… for all its flaws, it was a really fun show to watch, with a good mixture of preachy and good, old-fashioned high-adventure! For me, fan-favorite “Firefly” has more in common with Stargate SG-1 than with the other big sci-fi shows… Good humour, enjoyable characters, and a sense of evolution: Star Trek and Star Wars are completely static from a technological perspective… Star Wars is just a storyline, and Star Trek is (with some notable exceptions) happening in a very static universe… Stargate showed us a mythos in which humans started knowing very little and improved their know-how and technology to rival the arch-enemies! You can observe as the characters themselves evolve, and even the cast changes didn’t spoil the main purpose of it: fun! In a very different way, it’s very “Doctor Who”, which is a big plus!

“Stargate: Atlantis” was also pretty fun (also very good and interesting characters), and “Stargate: Universe” could have been great as well (if they didn’t screwed it up with terrible casting and a story that went nowhere).

I really miss “Stargate SG-1”… maybe one day we’ll be able to see a reboot, remake or even sequel, but until then, I’ll have to make do with rewatching the whole thing! Open-mouthed smile

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XCOM: Enemy Within / Wolf Among Us / Alien Breed

10 Dec

Well, I’ve finished a lot of games in the last couple of week…

First off, “XCOM: Enemy Within”:


As you might have noticed from my previous blog entry, this one was pretty good… this is how DLC should be done, even with all it’s faults… It improved the game marginally on all fronts (graphics, bugs, etc), added some new gameplay mechanics (gene mods and mechs) and another storyline (parallel to the original). Would have liked to see that other storyline better worked… I didn’t get some of the missions that apparently other people got, and I got them in the wrong order (it seemed).

But it’s still the XCom experience (which I jumped into in Ironman mode, for that extra punch), and I’m really looking forward for another expansion or (please, please, please) a sequel (“Terror From the Deep”, anyone?)


Bought and finished the first episode of “Wolf Among Us”, and I loved it… For those that don’t know, “The Wolf Among Us” is yet another Telltale graphic adventure, based on some comic book (don’t know them, so I can’t say how close to the original they are). The visuals are great (really amazing), they took the formula (visually and narratively) from “The Walking Dead” and polished it further… Great writing, and if this was out 2 or 3 years ago, this would have been a breath of fresh air (the whole “mythical creatures are real” thing), but we’ve had a lot of TV shows on that lately, so that part is a bit old news… Still, it’s darker and grittier than most, with a very cool noir vibe to it.

The story revolves around “Wolf”, which is the famous “Big Bad Wolf” of myth that’s decided to make a change in his life, and acts as a sheriff of sorts for the Fables (mythical creatures of fantasy that crossed over somehow from fairtytales). The story is the usual noir-esque plot: a damsel in distress, whodunnit sctick…

Really good writing, though… I feel most of my decisions matter, which is pretty awesome! Open-mouthed smile


Also finished “Alien Breed: Impact”. This is a remake of the classic game by Team 17, which I played on the Amiga and loved!

The game is an homage to the sci-fi alien movies, in which the ship where we are the engineer crashes into another dead ship, filled with alien lifeforms…

The game features a third person control (similar actually to the one I’m using on “Chrome Hunter”), and it’s quite fun… It’s not brilliant, though, and the weakest part is actually the writing… You can almost see the ideas the writers had for character development and such, but for some reason they don’t come across, and the story is just filler for alien killing… Missions are also a bit “samey” – turn on reactor A, and to that you have to go to three switches somewhere, etc… It’s a bit contrived most of the time, and not enough focus on the alien infestation itself, in my opinion, but as I said, it’s fun…

There’s some good tension moments when you run out of bullets, etc, but that’s a thing of the past in the middle of the game, and the monster placement/appearance is a bit predictable (so the horror factor goes away).

Still, for a budget title, it captures most of the great things of the 90’s game (it’s done by the same company, or at least one with the same name).

Now playing the next title in the series (“Alien Breed: Assault”), it’s a good way to kill some hours!


Posted in General


XCOM: Enemy Within

25 Nov


Can’t… blog…. Playing….

That’s how good it is!

This is how DLC is done!

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The Last of Us

18 Nov


Last week I’ve finished “The Last of Us”… and (shocking surprise) it’s amazing!

First impact: the graphics… gorgeous rendering, very nice effects all around, the interplay of light and surfaces is amazing, a great work by Naughty Dog!

Secondly, the story is great… gone are the usual clichés, every single time you thought the story was going cliché, it subtly made a smooth turn that made complete sense (instead of the jarring plot twist that makes no sense whatsoever) and navigated to less-mainstream themes…

The characters are amazing, and Ellie is actually a character that instills a sense of protection, without being the normal overbearing entitled child present in too many games, TV shows and movies…

Joel is a more “common” character, but it’s well written and very believable.

When I started playing, I thought “ok, this is pretty and is well made, but why is everyone so in to it?!”… well, after 3 or 4 hours (the game is surprisingly big for a AAA game nowadays: I clocked in at 17 hours, just for the main campaign), I noticed that I actually cared about the characters… and I’m not a very "”lovey-dovey” guy, I don’t usually don’t get hooked on characters that much…

The only thing that detracts from the game (and it’s not really its fault, maybe it’s the medium’s fault) is the gameplay doesn’t shine as much as everything else… While it plays well, it’s secondary to the amazing story, and besides some key points (very good key points, I admit), it was just getting in the way of me getting my next “story fix”… The gameplay wasn’t simply as interesting as the story, which means that either the story was so good I wanted to focus on that (entirely possible), or the gameplay wasn’t that interesting, which might also be true – the stealth component seemed too random (sometimes the enemies would spot us through crates and walls, sometimes we’d be just next to them and they wouldn’t see us) which made the whole stealth experience a bit trial and error… The shooting was a bit hard and ammo was scarce (which is a good thing, it gives the game that feeling of post-apocalyptical shortage everywhere, and really poked the player to search around for stuff)…

So, sorry Mike Bithell, but “Thomas Was Alone” was just supplanted as my game of the year… it’s still amazing (and the gameplay is probably better), but this one is so nihilist that it speaks into my very soul! Smile

Good job, Naughty Dog, forget about Uncharted and go for this kind of titles all the way… Or do both, I don’t care! Smile

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Devil May Cry

11 Nov

2D Boxshot Wizard v1.1

Devil May Cry is a household name in games… It’s known for its over-the-top style, explosions, extensive combo system, and horror-based storyline. And the newest installment (DMC) does not break a winning formula!

The good part of this new game is that the basic formula is untouched: action oriented shooting, fast passed combat, very deep combo system… Just general fun to be had in the gameplay part.

The problem starts when the game starts: action in the beginning is scarce, being interrupted with exposure cutscenes that do little to add to the game (to the contrary, they detract from it, for reasons that I’ll explore later). And even when the cutscenes stop, the game drops into a “weak-enemy, weak-enemy, weak-enemy, strong-enemy” pattern that after a bit gets old.

The closest match on this approach would be God of War, but even that one made up for it with huge boss fights and more interesting deaths/enemy patterns.

Anyway, that’s not my main gripe with DMC… The characters are.

Dante was never a good character, very flat, almost unlikeable, and surrounded by a world so over-the-top that identification with the character was almost impossible… On this installment, the problem got a bit worse: the character is REALLY annoying… He seems like a stereotypical representation of a brooding, angsty teenager written by someone who did all his research from sitcoms on TV… The character is not believable from the start, and its growth happens in a way that makes you believe it even less!

Add this to the fact that the game doesn’t break cannon that much (even if it is a reboot), so there’s no surprises about Dante’s past that me as a player want to explore.!

All that’s left is four characters that are as archetypes as they can be, with terrible writing that seems straight out of a nerd kid’s diary, a power-fantasy in which he rebels against his bullies (personified by the demons in the game)…

Don’t get me wrong, the game is fun, and it has excellent moments (some plays with camera field of view, and environmental morphs are really good!), but the writing is so terrible at times, it makes me want to cringe in pain!

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Thomas Was Alone

20 Oct


Let me tell you about “Thomas Was Alone”… This was probably the best game I’ve played this whole year, and in some regards, in the last few years!

Yep, I’ll let that sink in…

First of all, I’ll flatly state that although I like indie games, I’m not much for artsy-ones (they feel pretentious and empty, like “The Path” and “Passage”), or the usual minimalist opus (to disguise the fact that they’re lacking in graphical skills)…

But, although TWA is a bit artsy and minimalistic, it’s the exact opposite of pretentious and the minimalism doesn’t seem to be there to hid the lack of graphical skills, but as an aesthetic choice.

But what makes the game so great, you might ask? Well, the game itself is very nice… You control rectangles with different abilities, sometimes more than one in a single level (you can swap between them). Some of them can jump higher, but are too tall to pass through certain places, another acts as a trampoline and so forth.

So, you got a nifty, very well designed platformer… but there’s hundreds of well designed platformers out there, what makes this one so special?

The writing and the narration… Mike Bithell does an extraordinary work in fleshing out rectangles, creating an emotional bond between them and the player that’s surprisingly strong… Someone should force David Cage play this and learn that you don’t need high polycounts or fancy shaders to get that illusive connection in place!

In fact, I haven’t felt such a strong connection to characters in games since I played “I Can Hold My Breath Forever”… There must be something in the “child-like innocence” both of these games display, while having good gameplay mechanics and just showing enough of the story that you add the rest mentally or wait for the conclusion to find out about.

Final note to the artistic side of the game… at first it looks very minimalistic, but everything in the game is really very cared for… the skewed levels, the way text blends in the scenario, etc…

So, definitely grab this one, it’s a real work of art… 10/10 

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Posted in Games, Indie