Every week we shine the spotlight on an exceptional XBLIG and the developers behind them in what we like to call the XBLIG Spotlight. This week we take a look at Charco Studios’ Spermatozoon; a time based puzzle game that isn’t nearly as naughty as the name might make you think. Check out the trailer below, our conversation with the developers behind the game, and as always, my perspective. As usual on CBR, reading has rewards as you may even get a chance to win a copy of the game. Add Spermatozoon to your download queue! First, the Spermatozoon trailer:
First, tell the readers a bit about yourself, who you are and how/why you decided to start getting involved in making games?
Hi, my name is Jose, I’m thirty four years old, and live in a very small town in the south of Spain. I’m a small business manager, and don’t typically have much time to develop games. Making games is my hobby, but it has not been possible until XNA came along. XNA is very productive; I tried to develop C++/Directx games but it forced me to spend too much time. Now with xnXNA and the Internet, it is much easier to make games.
Tell us about your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.
My first computer was an Amstrad CPC 6128. I played a lot with it and I discovered that I could develop basic programs. I made my first ascii game this way, Tetris. It took a lot of work, but I was very proud of what I did, so I tried to learn more about basic. My second computer was a 386, with the turbo pascal and the vga mode 13h. I made a nemesis clone and submarine shooter. I later choose to get an IT degree. I developed a ray tracer with some friends and my first 3d approach to a game; a virtual copy of my house that I could walk inside. With xna I have made a lot of small projects, but not one finished game until Spermatozoon.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration, what would it be?
It’s not a game but a game company… Blizzard.
The game has obviously been released as a XBLIG, but have you in the past, or do you currently have plans to work in any other platform? What made you decide to develop for XBLIG?
If I make something on another platform, I think it will be Spermatozoon for IOs.
How long did you spend on development? Can you explain, roughly, how the development process worked for you? What tools and programs did you work with?
I started the game in July, and I finished it in January, but that was mostly part-time development with three periods of hard work; July, November and Christmas. I only have used Visual Studio and Paint.Net. Most of the graphics were generated procedurally.
If you had to pick one thing that you would improve or simply do differently in regards the game’s development, what would it be?
I would have planned for the game to be easily ported to a mobile device.
Many gamers dream of starting to make their own games, and it is obviously easier than ever for them to do so. What advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to designer?
Making games is harder than it looks at first. Be ready to waste a lot of nights alone, hitting your head against the keyboard.
Have you found the XBLIG process to be a particularly easy or difficult one?
It’s an easier process. You have the tools, the knowledgeable resources, a big developer’s community. You only have to make an effort on your part.
XBLIG have had a mixed result so far. What is one aspect/idea/change you think would better solidify the platform as a contender in the gaming industry? What one thing do you think would improve the service as a whole, from designer to consumer?
There are so many so-called “games” that should never have been published. Maybe it’s not fair, but at the very least, community developers should be able to score them, and this score should influence the initial visibility of them.
What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not-too-distant future?
I’m working on game concepts, trying to look for something new or different. I’d like to show something as early as 2012.
Anything else you would like to say?
(Editor’s Note: Jose’s first language is not English, so parts of this interview have been edited for clarity.)
This week’s XBLIG Spotlight features a game with the word sperm in the title. That’s right, you didn’t misread the name. Spermatozoon is best described as a time-action puzzler, where you must shoot Spermatozoon past contraceptives and reach the Ovum. This is not going to be an easy review to write with all that snickering going on in the background…
Despite the outward appearance, there really isn’t anything sexual at all about Spermatozoon. Each of the 53 levels consists of a limited number of Spermatozoon that you must fire at just the right time in order to slip past rotating obstacles (cleverly called contraceptives) in order to reach the center. Charco Studios manages to do what most companies constantly attempt, but fail miserably at; apply sexual imagery/connotations to a non-sexual product that remains tasteful (think Honey Nut Cheerios being served by a mom in a somewhat low-cut shirt, now stop thinking about that, I’m in the middle of a review here). Ultimately, much like dating, Spermatozoon is a puzzle game where the right timing and a little bit of persistence is key to success.
The game’s visuals and soundtrack all have a very tranquil feel to them. The puzzle is just sort of floating in a vague sea of… something. It is hard to describe, but the game doesn’t offer much to look at, yet the screen never feels very empty. I suppose one could argue that there was an attempt to mimic an almost womb like atmosphere with the game, and it’d be a fairly hard point to dismiss. The Spermatozoon and Ovum have a simple white glow to them while the contraceptives standing between them are typically bright and fluorescent in color (again, the subtle imagery here really is spectacularly done). The soundtrack is simple, but compliments the visuals. In much the same way as the appearances, the game’s sound manages to never feel empty while not really having much. In short, the aesthetics of Spermatozoon all just say, “relax.” That is ’til a sperm makes it through and they all shout “Yeeehaw!” (No, I’m not kidding.)
Much of the gameplay follows a similar path; offering a mostly relaxing atmosphere. For most of the early puzzles you will have far more Spermatozoon than you need to make it through. The lack of a timer on many of the puzzles also makes it a bit of a waiting game; biding your time until the right line-up appears and you are able to sometimes beat a level with one shot. The contraceptives rotate around the ovum in a circle at the center of the screen, each layer moving at a varied speed. Being patient and waiting for “the money shot” (I couldn’t help myself) pays off. (You do not aim your shot, but rather have Spermatozoon placed around the circle that you fire one at a time.) Score is mostly given based on how many shots you take, but other than having a score for the sake of it, it doesn’t matter much. You can also break away parts of the contraceptives on most levels by firing Spermatozoon at them, allowing you to slowly chip away a path to the center. Some of the puzzles even required this; some prevent you from doing this at all. Some of the puzzles do add a time clock, and these are often the most difficult and challenging ones, since you have to combine a well-placed shot and speed. Luckily, you can speed up the puzzle’s rotating by holding down the right trigger.
Overall, the game has a solid “just one more” effect that you want in a puzzle game. The first ten or so are very easy and draw you in, and the more difficult puzzles are challenging but in a rewarding manner (although I hated level 23!). Other variants are occasionally added to make things more complex as you progress; such as layers around the ovum that your shots can pass through. But it causes them to slow down while passing that layer, requiring more careful timing. These various additions help to keep the gameplay fresh as you progress through the game’s many levels.
The game did have one major fault though that almost ruined the experience. The save system seems to be a tad glitchy at best. Like waking up next to someone after a wild bender, the game couldn’t quite recall what had happened the night before. that is to say, it lost my save after having played through the first half of the game. I experimented a bit after this, playing one or two of the early levels, exiting and returning to the game. The save again was not present until I hit “X” for “Select storage device” as the game suggested. After that, the first two levels re-appeared as unlocked, but this same technique did not work when I lost 20+ levels earlier, making it 1-1 for tracking saves. Nothing ruins a puzzle game like this quicker than having to replay half the game. This was really unfortunate, because other than a few levels being annoyingly difficult, the game’s execution was largely flawless. To have some a major glitch was disappointing on many levels. Undoubtedly, the game would of received a much better score had it not been for such a big flaw.
In short, Spermatozoon is a relaxing, fun and kind of cheeky puzzler. Timing is everything in this one. Well, timing and a bit of luck. The aesthetics are pleasing and it fully manages to not be as dumb or creepy as the name might imply. It is basic, simple, yet fun; a great “lay on the couch after work and unwind” type of game. It is really only diminished by one, unfortunately major flaw in its save system that is hard to overlook; a flaw that forced me to knock off more than a full point from its final score. If not for that, this would have been a phenomenal showing, rather than simply a good one. I still recommend it; Just play it all in one sitting or be prepared.
Final Rating: 7.8/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Approximate Time to Completion: ~4 Hours
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Charco Studios
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Literally doesn’t get cheaper.
Add Spermatozoon to your download queue!
We know how this works by now. Charco Studios has been kind enough to give us a couple extra download tokens (codes) so that we can give two of you a copy of Spermatozoon! You can gain up to three entries, please read the details on how to enter below:
First entry: Spermatozoon surprised me by being a quality title with a theme not known for quality. Tell us a game that surprised you by how good it was (and why you were surprised) and get your first entry!
Second entry: Follow us on twitter and send the following tweet:
@ClearanceBinRev is having a #contest and you could win the #XBLIG Spermatozoon! #Xbox, More Details: http://bit.ly/iQlM2p
Remember that you have to follow us; any winner we attempt to DM via Twitter who isn’t, automatically forfeits their win. If you enter via Twitter include your twitter name in your post below, winners who have their twitter listed will receive their codes immediately after winning.
Third Entry: Like our Facebook page and then simply like the post on our wall for this article. Simple as that. (Keep in mind the article may be lower on the Facebook page towards the end of the contest and it may take a minute or two to post on FB)
Contest will go until Wednesday at 8pm CST. A pool of all eligible entries will then be randomly selected from and the winners will be notified. CBR reserves the right to disqualify any entry we feel either violated the rules or spirit of the contest, including attempts at duplicate entries. Winner selected with no twitter name provided will be notified by email and have 24 hours to respond. We do not announce the names of contest winners, but do encourage them to post about their win.