Outer Wilds: an exploration game to be surprised by

Outer Wilds title screen
Outer Wilds

Some games are made to be experienced from a place of total ignorance. They drop you into their world with almost no knowledge of what’s happening and just say “Off you go!” If they’re successful, every step on your journey offers a revelation that expands your understanding and reveals new avenues to explore.

Outer Wilds is a success from this perspective in that even the most basic description of the game spoils vital story points that are best discovered for yourself.

So, if you know literally nothing about the game, this review is as spolier-free as is humanly possible. I provide some backstory that you can learn or easily deduce in the first minute of the game, but that’s about it. I then talk about the pros and cons of gameplay without revealing the key mechanics. If you think it sounds like your sort of game, don’t read anything else – not even the two lines of blurb on the Steam or Epic Games stores. Just buy it blind and play it for yourself.

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Beneath a Steel Sky Review and Analysis

Beneath a Steel Sky PDCs
Beneath a Steel Sky PDCs

This was supposed to be an analysis of Beyond a Steel Sky, Revolution Software’s newly released sequel to their 1990s cyberpunk thriller Beneath a Steel Sky. But BeyASS is a buggy mess. And though it has now been patched enough that I could play it beginning to end, it’s not yet sufficiently fixed to warrant playing a second time or do a full analysis. I’ll wait for a few more patches come out.

In the meantime, I went back to BenASS to see how it compares. Is Beneath a Steel Sky really the classic it’s held up to be? I’ll be analysing its structure using four Puzzle Dependency Charts that map out the whole game.

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Xmas Matchup

Click to play Xmas Matchup

And so this is Christmas!

Another year, another Christmas game to enjoy. For 2019 it’s “Xmas Matchup“, a Match Three Blast style game.

Click on groups of matching symbols to clear them and to collect the stars shining overhead. Collect enough stars to reveal the hidden image and unlock the next level.

The trick is that there aren’t enough stars on the screen to win the level. You have to collect large groups of stars in a single click so you get bonus stars. As the levels get harder, you’ll need to select symbols carefully to create large areas of stars. Good luck with all 9 levels!

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Real Stars Skybox

Real Stars Skybox Plus

Note: Real Stars Skybox Plus is now available for $5 at the Unity Asset Store.

So, I’ve made a thing, and am very proud of that thing and am going to shout about it a bit! Actually, I’ve made two things.

The first thing I’ve made is a skybox of the celestial sphere. Skyboxes are 360 degree panoramic images used in computer games to easily create a distant background. Usually they’re pictures of pretty skies and distant mountains. I’ve made a 360 degree panorama of (almost) all the visible stars in the sky using real astronomical data.

I took a giant star catalogue, found the 5000 brightest, and used my favourite 3D modelling program (POV-Ray) to simulate their positions, colours, and brightness. With a lot of tweaking, I tried balance realism with the beauty of the stars. Finally, I added names to some of the stars and drew outlines of the constellations to help find your way around.

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The Medieval Puzzle Collection and homogeneous linear equations

The Medieval Puzzle Collection by Tim Dedopulos

The Medieval Puzzle Collection, A Fine and Perplexing Tome of Riddles, Enigmas and Conundrums, is one entry in a long list of Carlton published puzzle books by Tim Dedopulos. Similar titles include numerous Sherlock Holmes themed books, Tutankhamun’s Book of Puzzles and even A Game of Thrones Puzzle Quest.

I think this particular book, published in 2014, is a cheaper black-and-white reprint of the full colour The Medieval Puzzle Book from 2013. Suffice to say, Tim has churned out a lot of these books over the last 10 years, and there’s probably not a huge amount to tell between them.

Short version: I think this book is downright poor, though not quite as poor as The Great Global Treasure Hunt on Google Earth, also by Dedopulos. I don’t hate all his books – I quite enjoyed Sherlock Holmes’ Elementary Puzzles – but Medieval is both dull and badly edited. I’ll try to explain why, finishing with a mathematical foray into the world of homogeneous linear equations. Ready? Read on!

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Detective Di: Review and Analysis

Detective Di PDC
Detective Di with Puzzle Dependency Chart

Detective Di: The Silk Rose Murders is a Kickstarter-backed point-and-click adventure game. After reaching its funding target in March 2015, the game was finally released in May 2019.

Unusually for me, I picked up a copy almost immediately after release. It was on offer on Steam and looked interesting, with the promise of a detective adventure requiring the player to deduce the identity of the killer.

I didn’t get what I was promised, the deduction mechanic obviously being shaved down to almost nothing over the 5-year production cycle. But Detective Di is an otherwise well-polished game, with engaging story and characters, and a few interesting puzzles to while away a couple of long evenings. Overall: 3 out of 5.

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Puzzle Dependency Charts

The Dig PDC crop

Shame on me for failing to post anything for over a year. I’ve been working on some puzzles and ideas of my own, but have nothing to reveal yet. As part of that work, I’ve been expanding my knowledge of Puzzle Dependency Charts so will instead share some information about them, including two full charts for LucasArts flawed masterpiece, The Dig.

Puzzle Dependency Charts (or Graphs, or Diagrams) are an excellent tool for designing and refining interconnected puzzles. Online discussions usually focus on their use in the classic LucasArts adventure games since Ron Gilbert of Monkey Island fame developed them to help design his games. But they are not limited to computer games and would be helpful for designing physical Escape Rooms or any multi-stage puzzle.

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Elvenar and Guest Races

Elvenar header

Human or Elf in Elvenar

Every once in a while I try a new free-to-play, massively multiplayer online Flash game. You know, those games advertised by clickbait, starring Kate Upton’s cleavage. Games that are free to play, but offer endless opportunities to buy in-game currency to speed things along or get a fancy orange shield.

Many of these MMOs are completely interchangeable. They feature inconsequential, badly translated plots and throw in random mini-games to keep you occupied as you wait for your stamina to recover so you can click through another encounter. All in the hope that the incoherent story might, one day, come to an end. The sheer quantity of artwork some of these games contain is astounding, with thousands of weapons and individual pieces of armour available to buff your chosen warrior.

Once in a while, though, a game is interesting enough to capture my attention for a year or more. At the moment, that game is Elvenar by InnoGames. This is fitting since InnoGames’ Tribal Wars was my first MMO back in the early noughties.
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Unlock! Escape Games and Free Demos

Unlock box

Unlock! Mystery Adventures

I recently picked up a copy of Unlock! Mystery Adventures. So far I’ve only played the tutorial adventure, so don’t worry about spoilers or solutions in this post.

I’ve tried some real life Escape Rooms over the past few years, and they’re usually fun, though I was so disappointed with Breakout Manchester, that I couldn’t even be bothered to blog about the experience! But as we and our friends get to that age where young children start interfering with the adults’ playtime opportunities, organising a group outing gets harder.

Unlock!, Escape The Room, and the critically acclaimed Exit: The Game series offer the chance to try out the Escape Room phenomena in the comfort of your own home and are more suitable for smaller groups, or even solo play.
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The Bus Game app for Android

the bus game

the Bus Game

I’m delighted to report that I’ve just released The Bus Game as an Android app to the Google Play Store.

I first developed The Bus Game back in 2016 as a prototype for my nephew. You can read about its development here: The Bus Game.

There’s also a print and play version that you can test out here: The Bus Game: Print out and Play.

And, finally, you can get all the graphics, resources and code for the app from the Unity Asset Store for $5, here: The Bus Game – Asset Store.

I hope you have as much fun playing it as I did creating it. I’d love to receive some feedback and suggestions for improvements.

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