Abduction Action! – Preview + Interview

A WDesm exclusive for XBoxHornet

The hits just keep on coming ’round these parts.  We managed to snag an exclusive interview with Kris Steele of Fun Infused Games about his upcoming release, Abduction Action! for XBLIG, and we also talk a little about his past release, Nasty, a very sweet-and-under-appreciated platformer.  Hang on tight kids, and enjoy the ride!

WD: To those unfamiliar with your upcoming game, can you explain Abduction Action!’s gameplay?

FI: Abduction Action! casts you as an aspiring UFO pilot visiting Earth for the first time and more than ready to cause a little havoc. You must use the tractor beam of your UFO to pickup Earthlings and other objects in order to complete a series of tasks given to you by your superiors. Tasks you must complete include things like abducting five cows, dropping rocks on angry jocks, or going toe-to-toe with a police helicopter.

While you can exclusively work through the Story Mode, the game also has a sort of Grand Theft Auto vibe, meaning that many gamers will probably have just as much fun tossing around Earthlings, dropping objects on them, etc. as they would completing the Story Mode missions.

WD: How many hours of gameplay should gamers be expecting?  Is there much replayability?

FI: I believe there is a lot of gameplay in Abduction Action!, more than enough to make the game well worth your 80 Microsoft Points. The normal game (story mode) features five levels with 6 to 10 tasks each. I expect it will take the average gamer several hours to master and complete each of these levels. There is also a Score Attack mode that gives you one life as you try and progress through all the game’s enemies and obtain the highest score.

Additionally I believe a lot of gamers will simply find enjoyment in starting any level and tossing some Earthlings around just for the fun of it.

WD: Your company, Fun Infused Games, has also released Nasty, a shooter/platformer for XBLIG.  How is Abduction Action! similar/different from Nasty, and what skills were transferable to the new game?

FI: Both games are 2D games and have some similar artistic stylings, but they don’t share much else after that. Nasty plays much more like a platformer with guns while Abduction Action! has you flying through the sky and forces you to be more creative to dispatch enemies and complete levels. Overall Abduction Action! gives you more freedom in what you can do. Nasty had a ton of levels (100) but the five levels in Abduction Action! are much larger and have a lot more to do in each.

WD: What first inspired you to create games, and what has inspired Abduction Action! and Nasty?

FI: At a very young age, I fell in love with gaming. I grew up playing lots of Commodore 64 games and later transitioned to the NES. I really enjoyed the NES / SNES / Genesis years and those style of games have been the ones that I have really wanted to make.

Nasty was largely inspired by Bubble Bobble and Contra… the game plays like you have the Contra characters stuck inside the levels of Bubble Bobble. I’ve always really enjoyed co-op games and feel that they’re underrepresented today, so creating a game that allowed this was also one of my goals.

With Abduction Action!, it started with the idea of having a game that involved Abducting Earthlings. I’ve always had an interest in UFOs and other unexplained phenomenon and thought this would be an interesting concept to explore.

WD: How long was the development time for Abduction Action!?

FI: It’s been about eight months in development now, ever since the day after I put Nasty up for review. It was my intention to have this released last December, but I expanded the initial concept from just abducting Earthlings to include many more varied tasks and put another month or so into just polishing the game after it was essentially completed. The game plays and looks a lot better due to the extra time I spent on it.

WD: Why are gamers going to get hooked on Abduction Action!?

FI: The core concept alone is different from anything else gamers have played and is very fun. The in-game characters also show a lot of personality, gamers will get a kick out of picking up Earthlings just to hear what they scream as you lift them up and drop them to their demise.

WD: Have you found the XNA/XBLIG coding experience enjoyable and worthwhile?  Why or why not?

FI: Coding in XNA has been great, really easy to get into and there are a lot of good tutorials/examples that can be found online to help out (along with a lot of great people in the community willing to lend a hand).

Financially my first game Nasty hasn’t done as well as I would have liked. I believe it’s a game people would really enjoy but I initially priced it too high and it has faded into obscurity in-part because of that. Regardless, I enjoyed making Nasty and learned a lot in the process, including some mistakes I hope to avoid for my second release.

WD: Nasty has received patches post-release, and your Nasty homepage even has a poll for which feature gamers most want to see Nasty get next update.  Do you intend to give the same long-term loving to Abduction Action! ?

FI: Yes I do. I want to give gamers the best game I can and listening to their feedback is the best way to do that. Nasty is a much better game now then when it was released because of changes that I have made based on feedback from gamers and I fully intend on using the same approach not just with Abduction Action! but also with releases after that.

I also feel improving my games is a good way to give back to gamers who purchased my games and to renew interest in previously released games that may otherwise be collecting dust.

WD: As a game dev, what do you think are the most effective tools for attracting and retaining fans?  With all the possible ways to focus attention (high quality presentation, invasive marketing, addictive gameplay, bug-free gameplay, etc), you must have to pick and choose favorites.

FI: The most important thing is to make good games. Gamers know what is fun and it doesn’t take fancy graphics or elaborate marketing plans have a fun game. The core concept of your game must be solid and enjoyable and heavily polished. It should be fun all around and it is important for it to be free of any buggy behavior, as that will quickly pull a gamer out of the reality the game creates.

WD: What is your opinion on the use of various ‘bonus’ features (online leaderboards, DLC ‘hidden’ in title patches, avatar support, badges/awards, unlockables, etc) in XBLIG games?  Do they significantly add to the game’s quality, or simply bog down development time and add more opportunities for things to go awry?

FI: As a gamer, I’m personally not all that interested in most of these features but as a game developer, I realize that many gamers are. With Xbox Live Indie Game titles, we’re at a bit of a disadvantage to Xbox Live Arcade games as we aren’t given the option of true leader boards, gamer scores, achievements, downloadable content, so we have to make due best we can (for instance using peer-to-peer methods to share high scores or create local ‘Awardment’ systems). Implementing these features can be a fair amount of work for what feels like only a marginal benefit, but if the style of your game fits, I think they can be important to include.

Avatars are a bit of a different story… Gamers seem to like them a lot and Xbox Live Indie Games are in a position to take advantage of them more-so than Xbox Live Arcade Games (shorter time to market, less risk in making the games means we’ve got more liberty to try new things with Avatars). I haven’t personally delved much into Avatar usage but it is something that I’ll be looking into for future games.

Thanks Kris!  I know that I’m certainly looking forward to some cow-throwing, and I can only wonder what you mean by the “Realistic UFO flight” comment on your website.  Thanks again to Fun Infused Games for taking the time to answer our questions, and keep tuning in for even more previews, interviews, reviews, and contests!

View a trailer of Abduction Action! here.

Blazin Balls Preview

A WDesm exclusive for XBoxHornet

Well, once again we’ve managed to snag an interview with an up-and-coming XBLIG all-star, so stay in your seats as we sit down with DrMistry of MStar Games to talk about their upcoming XBLIG release, Blazin Balls!  The company name might be familiar to you; MStar Games has already released Carrum and Space Pirates from Tomorrow, and it was only a month or so ago that we gave away a copy of Space Pirates from Tomorrow in one of our reviews.  So let’s find out what the good Doctor has in store for us today!

WD: MStar Games has already put out Space Pirates from Tomorrow, a game that received a ton of press talk-time, but only received average reviews from gamers, and Carrum, a more-favourably received and much smaller-in-scope game.  While you have posted a much more in-depth reflection on your website, what lessons have you taken away from both these games in making Blazin Balls?

DM: The biggest things I’ve learned are “do it properly first time” and “trust your testers”.  It’s all too easy to get totally consumed by your own private idea of what a game should be like, and that way madness lies because you can start saying “no that’s OK, I can forgive that ugly glitch because it means I get to shoot this really cool weapon” if you’re not careful.  Tester feedback is by far the best indication of exactly how you’re doing and it’s hard – heartbreaking even – when a tester says “look, this isn’t as good as it should be, go back and try again”.  I’m just learning that this isn’t a personal attack, it’s honest advice.  No-one can manage to do everything perfectly, but you can do a pretty good impression of someone who can do everything if you hunt out and listen to any and all feedback.  Feedback feedback feedback.  I still think Space Pirates is a good game, but it would have been a great game if I’d have swallowed my pride, waited another month before releasing and improved the control model and graphics.  A hard lesson, but a well-learned one now!  Looking back at Carrum I’d say it’s an OK game which is poorly presented, but some friends of mine get really angry with me when I say that.  The menus are horrible and the distribution is too big but it’s a very playable game and I’m really proud of the music which is something I work very hard on for all our games.  BB really is the synthesis of those experiences and the menus are the best we’ve done, the gameplay is the tightest we’ve done, and the music is the most “in keeping” with the game I’ve written.  The post-mortem for Space Pirates reads like a coroner’s report in which some tortured death is examined in exquisite, horrific detail and I’m pretty keen to avoid feeling that way again.  The best way to do that is to write a better game.

WD: Blazin Balls seems to be a complete 180 from the gameplay of Space Pirates from Tomorrow – what thought process brought you to this game?

Yea, I kind of chose it because it is just so stripped down.  The best indie games tend to focus on what they do best – The Impossible Game is a good example of that.  From a gamers point of view it appeals to me in, and I think this is why “retro” games never really stop being made.  The classic 8-bit genres keep getting revisited because people like simple, rewarding games.  As a programmer I wanted something short, sweet and simple to regain my self belief.  As I’ve said I am proud of Space Pirates but we took one hell of a beating over it.  My wife worked out the other day that we earned about one tenth of a cent per day of dev time and although making indie games is usually a labor of love, there are limits!  BB seemed ideal because of the simplicity of the idea.  Trials HD is basically a 3D remake of an old game called Kickstart on the Commodore 64 and it was a massive hit so I thought, I’ll have some of that!

WD: The trailer fairly clearly shows the basic gameplay for Blazin Balls – how complicated can we expect the gameplay to get / can we get a rundown on the intricacies of the game?

There are no intricacies!  No, that’s not entirely true – some of the levels are quite subtle.  You’ve really just got to get to the end of the level as fast as you can, collecting as many coins as you can.  That’s it.  When I started on the game I was trying to explain it to a friend over a drunken game of poker, and it hit me that when you try and explain a game like Tetris it kind of sound lame – you make complete rows out of these irregular falling blocks – but it’s one of the best games ever devised.  Everyone understands Tetris.  It’s the old maxim of “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.   Simple games are fun to play, fun to write, and are very well suited to the indie games channel and what gamers expect from it.
But the basic idea is that you have to steer your ball from the start to the end of each level without falling in to any holes as fast as you can, using the different coloured blocks on the level to your advantage where you can.  Some blocks make you bounce, some speed you up, some reverse your controls, and the faster your time the more you score.    More points mean more lives, and you’ll need them to complete the game!  The early levels are easy, but the later levels you have to learn.  That only takes a couple of runs through and you can start a new game on any level you’ve already completed.  Just score as many points as you can, like games used to be ;0)

WD: Speaking of the gameplay, what game(s) did you take inspiration from in designing Blazin Balls?

A couple of games.  Mainly a game called Trailblazer which was written for the Commodore 8-bit platforms in the mid 1980s.  There were other incarnations on other platforms (Fervour for the Acorn Electron, and quite a few variants on the Amiga and Atari ST).  It’s one of those games where, when people see the trailer they say “hey I remember that! What was it called…?”  Sometimes it’s like being in a covers band I guess, and I wish I could come up with something entirely new an unique, but this way of working did OK for Led Zeppelin so who am I to complain?

WD: Does Blazin Balls have a lot of replayability/bonus features, or is the emphasis more on a lighter, casual, pick-up-and-play game?

Light and unashamedly fluffy.  In the original design brief I had included unlockable ball designs, a huge soundtrack, more than 50 levels, and a whole load of complex graphic effects but it soon became apparent that those ideas were really pretty pointless.  The challenge presents it’s self in the core game play and that is where you should focus as a developer.  Carrum had a lot of unlockables and while it was nice, looking back I don’t think it made for a better game.  It’s not like there’s a lot of use for weapons in BB and testers just wanted more lives and longer levels so that’s what I gave them.  It’s not like this will be the last game I ever write and there are lots of avenues to explore later if there’s an appetite for the game.  We think the drive of beating your previous best is the best way to generate replay value.  If you have scope to add unlockables or whatever and that makes for a better game then go for it but I really wanted to focus on the guts of the game.

WD: What sort of gamer are you hoping to ‘hook’ with Blazin Balls?

That’s another question I’m just learning to ask myself.  It’s really for the puzzle fans I suppose, which is why we’ve billed it as a “racing puzzler” but it’s a bit more of a visceral experience than wordplay.  Just your average gamer looking for something a little different.  There’re a lot of big BIG games around at the moment, with huge worlds to explore and lots of weapons and lots of objectives.  BB is a remedy to that kind of overload.

WD: How long was the development cycle for Blazin Balls?

Ooh I’m going to say about a month of solid work, but I had some time off during the development.  It was like a day at the beach compared to Space Pirates, which more of a trek to the South Pole.  And I lost a couple of toes while doing it!

WD: Can we expect any sort of online leaderboards or connectivity in Blazin Balls?

No, we have no connectivity in this title.  For some games it just seems to be more trouble than it’s worth and I’m a little wary of adding potential bugs!  Network components are notoriously hard to code reliably and very hard to test in the XNA environment.

WD: Was Blazin Balls, being your third game on XBLIG, relatively easy to plan and put together, or did you run into any unique challenges?

It gets easier every time in terms of raw code, which in turn makes it easier to implement design choices rather than having to make compromises.  One challenge was getting the collision engine working both accurately and pleasantly, but I’m a physicist by trade so it wasn’t too bad.  The hardest part really was designing the levels and making them challenging but achievable.  That and ripping the controllers out of the hands of our local testers!

WD: As a more seasoned XBLIG developer, what do you think of the current state of XBLIG, the development of the XBLIG platform, and the future challenges of the service?

I think too much is made of “the service”.  The top 10 selling Indies last year did a lot better than many expected, but the “just bumping along” titles still did pretty badly.  There’s not a problem with the service, or the testing, or the framework but there are problems with most of the games – including ours.  That’s the problem we need to overcome as developers.  We should be putting our own houses in order before berating Microsoft for our games not selling.  It’s like blaming the general manager of the Indianapolis Raceway is you come last in a race.  Your car was crap!  Look at the sheer class of Your Doodles Are Bugged for example – no problems there, because it’s a great game which is perfect for the service.  Look at The Impossible Game.  Look at any of the Milkstone titles.  The poor Creator’s Club MVPs have been trying to tell us all this from the get-go and people are still blaming someone else for their own problems and shortcomings.  The biggest challenge we face is making games which are good enough for Microsoft to allow us access to achievements, LIVE leader boards, and eventually Natal.  We got Avatars and there are some good titles now – like Avatar Showdown – but we as individual devs or teams need to raise our game and make out case to gamers, reviewers, and to Microsoft.

WD: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming XBLIG/XNA developers?

You can’t really control if your game is going to be a hit – nobody can.  But you can decide if it’s going to flop.  Every glitch or bug you let through to release increases your chance of flopping.  Every bit of feedback you write of as coming from someone who “doesn’t understand the game” increases your chance of flopping.  Also, play your part and review other developers games because you’ll learn a lot and keep the system working.

Well, that’s enough jabbering to get you thinking about gamedev logic and get you psyched up about Blazin Balls!  Blazin Balls is expected to hit Peer Review early this week, and be available on XBLIG the second it clears that hurdle!

Learn more about MStar Games at their website.

Watch the trailer for Blazin Balls here.

Breath of Death VII Preview + Interview

A WDesm exclusive for XBoxHornet

Less than a week after our intensely awesome Flotilla preview, we’ve been lucky enough to find another XBLIG dev waiting in the wings to release their game, and Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games is here today to talk about Breath of Death VII, their upcoming ‘parody RPG.’  Read more about it, and then watch the trailer below!

WD: How did you get started in video game creation, and what XBLIG titles have you already released?

RB: As a teenager over 10 years ago, I started work on a RPG called Rainbow Despair (so named because I felt it followed the traditional Japanese RPG naming convention of having 2 words that had absolutely nothing to do with each other) using an RPG toolkit called Verge. Various things came up in my life and I never finished, but I always intended to go back and make a full fledged RPG. Flash forward many years. Microsoft announced XBox Live Indie Games and I knew this was my chance to pursue game making for real.
The first game I made for XBLIG was Molly the Were-Zompire, an e-book akin to the old Choose Your Own Adventure book series, however due to some last minute bugs, I didn’t actually release it first. While I was cleaning up the code and getting it ready to resubmit, I decided to write a second e-book called Epiphany in Spaaace! and that turned out to be the first game I actually released on XBLIG.

WD: How is Breath of Death VII similar to your previous games?  Were you able to work from previous code, or was it all from the ground up?

RB: Breath of Death VII stars a bunch of undead heroes so in that aspect, it’s very similar to Molly the Were-Zompire. It also has a heavy emphasis on humor and parody which echo my previous games. As far as gameplay goes, they’re completely different.
Molly the Were-Zompire was originally intended to be a full fledged RPG before I turned it into more of a novel so I had a bunch of half-finished RPG code from the early version that I was able to adapt for use in Breath of Death VII. A lot of the code for formatting and displaying text in textboxes I was able to use almost completely unchanged from my earlier games.

WD: What have you learnt to improve upon from your previous games?

RB: In the past, many of my designs for RPGs I’ve come up for games have been overly complicated, to the point where even I have a hard time figuring out how best to play them! Battles that take place on both the physical and astral plane simultaneously, battles that need to be fought in a certain order to obtain the correct power-up to beat the next battle, stuff like that. Ideas like this might sound good on paper, but when you actually prototype them, they end up being more difficult than enjoyable. With Breath of Death VII, we’ve really pushed towards making the game highly accessible to player right from the beginning. Easy to grasp, hard to master, that sort of idea.

WD: As shown in your trailer, Breath of Death VII definitely harkens back to the NES/SNES era of JRPGs, but are there any specific games that inspired you?  Are there any games that you couldn’t help but parodying?

RB: The RPG Guadia Quest in Retro Game Challenge was probably our biggest influence. Other than that, some of our favorite RPGs include Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior/Quest, Chrono Trigger, Lunar, and Shin Megami Tensei, so don’t be surprised to find references to any of those. Also, there will be references to a few non-RPGs as well, like the RE4 Merchant joke shown in the trailer.

WD: Likewise in your trailer, we are shown a few snippets of video game geek in-jokes.  Is the entire game parodical, or will non-geeks be able to get enjoyment from the humour?  Is the storyline serious?

RB: There will be a good bit of geek in-joke humor in the game, but not all of the humor will require previous knowledge of games to understand. As for the storyline, the overarching plot is serious, but the execution most definitely is not.

WD: What about the hardcore gamers, who couldn’t care if there’s a story or not?  Can they expect to dredge up hidden gear, invisible walls, and unstoppable secret bosses? Can you unlock hidden characters, merits, badges, or new game+?

RB: The game has some optional dungeons & enemies in it for the hardcore gamers. Also, after beating the game, the player will unlock a Score Attack Mode where random encounters are turned off (although they can still be initiated intentionally). In this mode, the lower your character LVs are when you beat bosses, the more points you gain. We felt this would be a good way to add extra depth for those gamers who really want to master the game.

WD: The combat, though familiar, seems to have a few quirks and twists in it: What makes Breath of Death VII memorable/enjoyable to play?

RB: Breath of Death VII uses the traditional turn-based RPG format that was popular in the 8-bit & 16-bit era, but there are a few additions. For example, there’s a combo system where you rack up combo points with each hit. High combo values result in enhanced powers on certain skills as well as additional MP regained at the close of battle. However, using certain skills (such as most healing abilities) or having a character die can result in the combo count resetting so that’s something that has to be taken into account.
Another change that we’re proud of is the LV-Up system. With each LV-Up, the character has to make a choice between two different enhancements (like new spells or stat boosts) depending on the character and their LV. It’s a very simple and easy to understand system, but provides a lot of depth.

WD: Regardless of playstyle though, all games must come to an end (unless it’s an MMO, I suppose).  Roughly how long is Breath of Death VII, and can we expect any replayability or branching experiences?

RB: We’re aiming for around 4-6 hours for a thorough playthrough, plus like I mentioned earlier, there will be at least 1 new mode unlocked after beating the game. The game is mostly linear, but there will be some optional stuff scattered throughout the game that the player can choose to do or skip.

WD: The graphics in the game are definitely old-school RPG, but the music also sounds cranked out through an SNES synthesizer – do you moonlight as a chiptunes composer?

RB: I love good chiptunes, but I didn’t actually write any of the music for Breath of Death VII. All of the music was licensed from various musicians on http://indiegamemusic.com.

WD: What was the most difficult part of completing Breath of Death VII?

RB: Well, the game isn’t quite finished yet, so maybe you should ask in a few weeks! So far, I’d definitely say the battle system – it’s a robust system that we’ll be able to modify for use in future games, but it took substantially longer to program than I expected. Also, getting a save/load system to work on the XBox 360 is a major pain.

WD: What advice do you have for other XNA / Indie game developers trying to find their own?

RB: First, I’d say just get started making something. All the great ideas in the world don’t do a whole lot of good if you don’t sit down and actually turn them into a game. Consider your abilities and make something that’s not beyond you, but will still push you to your limit. Then use that as a stepping stone for future games.
To use myself as an example, my first two XBox Live Indie Games are very simple technically, but the experience I gained making them gave me the foundation in programming necessary to make our current game. Not only that, but they attracted the attention of my current partner, William Stiernberg, without whom, I would never have been able to make this game (among other things, he’s responsible for the visuals & level design of Breath of Death VII).
Finally, I would recommend looking closely at the market before starting a project. Try to find a niche that’s not being served and fill it. Much as I like dual stick shmups, I don’t think I’d ever make one just because there’s so much competition in that arena right now – unless you’ve got the most amazing shmup ever (and maybe, even if you do), you’re just going to be overlooked.

WD: Breath of Death VII certainly sounds like a huge step forward for Zeboyd Games, but if it’s only a few weeks from finish, what can we expect next from your studio?  Care to spill the beans just a tad on where your mind is heading next?

RB: We have a few ideas that we’re tossing around but we haven’t decided for sure what our next game will be. At this point we’re primarily focused on making Breath of Death VII as good as possible and getting it finished and released. We hope everyone enjoys it when it comes out this April!

I know I will, thanks Zeboyd Games!

Learn more about Zeboyd Games here.

View the trailer here.

Orbital Battleship Previews – Flotilla Interview

A WDesm exclusive for XBoxHornet

Flotilla is game taking the PC indie gaming scene by storm: It has near-instantly gained a cult following for unique gameplay, thorough polish, and a supernatural receptiveness to bugs, tweaks and requests (since its PC launch on February 27th, 2010, it has already hit version 1.7 – that’s seven revisions in less than seven days!).

What’s it all about? Flotilla is a space exploration/combat game, featuring randomly-generated universes that give you a new experience with every playthrough. Your fleets move in a full 3D environment, letting you flank the enemy from all angles.

The game also supports splitscreen multiplayer. Join a buddy and explore the galaxy together. Or, play the Skirmish gamemode and blow up your buddy!

-Brendon Chung, BLENDO Games

Gamers worldwide are enthralled by the casual nature and tactical intensity, and BLENDO’s receptiveness to their player’s requests makes them a flavour-of-the-month, for sure.  But even if this PC game is so innovative and gobsmackingly awesome, what does it have to do with XBLIG?  Well, good news for all you gaming junkies out there that prefer a couch; Flotilla is currently worming its way through XBLIG approval, and will descend upon us all very, very soon.  I caught up with Brendon Chung to discuss the awesomeness of Flotilla.

WD – How long has BLENDO Games been around, and how many people are involved in BLENDO Games?
BC -I started Blendo Games in December 2008.  I do all the development myself, and have friends willing to endure my prototype playtesting.
WD – It seems that each and every game by BLENDO is incredibly unique – no two seem very much alike.  Is this intentional, have your interests changed, or do you just like to keep things fresh?
BC – It’s a fun challenge to try developing different genres.  I’m a big fan of developers that mix bits and pieces of different games together, so I try to dip my toes in as much different genres as possible.  I had never made a strategy game before, so it was a nice change of pace to make Flotilla.  I think there’s a certain joy in seeing someone work on something outside of their comfort zone.
WD –  Flotilla seems to be incredibly unique in terms of game design.  How was the gameplay of ‘Flotilla’ born?
BC – I made a 2D spaceship game a while ago, about turn-based fleet combat.  I never got around to finishing it, so it never got  a public release.  Some years later, I wanted to learn how to make a 3D game. So, I took that old 2D space game and expanded it to make Flotilla’s combat component.

From Original Prototype.....

...To Finished Product!

WD – Are there any games or videos that inspired you during development?  The deadly ‘serenity’ of watching combat choices unfold reminds me of Defcon, and the fleet-on-fleet battles could easily be at home in any number of space operas.
BC – I’m a sucker for submarine movies.  There’s always that balletic cat-and-mouse duel between subs – I love that.  I see the Flotilla ships as enormous submarines stalking through outer space.  Armed with huge hulking proton beams.

WD – Specifically in terms of artwork, what made you choose the graphics style you did?
BC – I’d love to say that the ships are beautifully stylized, but they’re more of a product of my limited 3D modeling skills.  As is, the simple flat-textured ships took quite a while to look decent.

It was nice to be able to stretch out and do some 2D artwork for the adventure portrait pictures.  My games are typically 3D, so it was nice to finally give my drawing tablet some work!

WD –  What about the music and sound effects?  What sort of background ambience can we expect in Flotilla?
BC – The adventure mode has music cues attached to all the different random encounters, so there’s quite a variety.  The combat mode features nice piano pieces from Chopin.
WD – Gameplay-wise, Flotilla seems to hit upon many loved buzzwords – multiplayer, randomly-generated content, and in-depth configurations.  With all of this variability, was it a nightmare-and-a-half to code it together?  What were some of the biggest challenges?
BC – The biggest problems were the rendering code (mostly because this was my first attempt at coding a 3D game) and the control scheme.
A simple move order required a tremendous amount of button presses.  I was very lucky to have people test out the early versions and give helpful feedback.  It’s nicely streamlined now, and I think it works pretty well.

Some of the space you can hope to explore

WD –  While the Windows version is already out (and attracting quite the cult Indie following for its creativity and uniqueness), the XBLIG is lagging behind just a bit.  Other than the obvious hurdle of being peer reviewed, are there any other content differences between the PC and Xbox version?
BC – The PC uses a mouse and keyboard, but other than that, the content between the two platforms are identical.

WD – The PC version has already received a few bugfixes since Flotilla’s launch – can Xbox users expect the same treatment?
BC – Yup, the Xbox version will also receive updates and fixes.

WD – Between multiplayer game modes and randomly-generated adventures, it definitely seems like Flotilla is going to be easy to get your money out of tenfold, but is there any plans for long-term support, bugfixes, or even DLC, or do you already have your eye on the next hurdle for BLENDO games?
BC – Flotilla has received several version updates since its release, and I intend on continuing that.  Beyond that, I have a couple of projects on the drawing board that I’m pretty excited about.

This still isn't as ridiculous as a "Psychic Dog Advisor"

WD – XBLIG has picked up a stigma as a ‘casual’ gaming repertoire, and some devs have expressed trouble trying to swim upstream from that label.  Do you think “Flotilla” can be classified as a casual game, or is it exclusively for the hardcore?
BC – I’d call Flotilla a light strategy game.  There’s certainly things in there for the hardcore crowd, like flanking the enemy and coordinating fleet maneuvers, but it’s all streamlined pretty well.
WD – What would be some words of encouragement to other Indie developers looking at using the XNA framework / releasing a game on XBLIG?
BC – The XNA framework is quite well done.  I think we’re all barely scratching the surface of what it’s capable of.  I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what cool things people make with it further down the road.

After answering my barrage of questions, Brendon had to get back to work (working on version 1.8 already, perhaps??), but he was kind enough to leave us with two other prototype screens, just to show how far the game has evolved.  After viewing the screens, take a stop by BLENDO Games and try out the PC demo, join their Messageboard, view the trailer on the XTube, or wait impatiently for the XBLIG release!

The prototype screenshots - The 3D upgrade looks so much better!

View the trailer here.

Clover developer interview


Interview supplied by www.xblaratings.com

For our second interview today we’ve got Deejay the Managing Director of Binary Tweed the creators of Xbox Live Community Game Clover. Clover is one of the most unique Community Games released so far and I thought everyone might be interested in how it came to be.

Question: How did the idea for Clover come about?

Deejay: There were several factors that all fed into the creation of Clover. Primarily when starting Binary Tweed, it was necessary to pick an initial project that made the most of the skills available. I do all the programming and I’ve never been terribly good with 3D maths, so a 2D game made most sense.

Funnily enough I was going through some old stuff at my parents’ house recently, and I stumbled across some doodles and sketches for Dizzy-style games that I must’ve made when I was about eight years old. I was a massive fan of the Dizzy games, so I suppose it’s been a life-long desire to make something in that vein.

When Xbox LIVE Community Games was first announced, it was clear that a lot of the games available initially were going to be twin-stick shooters. I knew that we couldn’t compete on fancy 3D graphics, so I decided to take the battle for sales somewhere I knew we could be strong – plot.

Question: Could you describe Clover for anyone who hasn’t seen it?

Deejay: That all depends on how old you are! If you’ve been gaming for 20 years, it’s like Magicland Dizzy; if you’ve been gaming 15 years it’s like a platform version of Monkey Island; if you’re younger than that, it’s a platform adventure game with lots of puzzles, and not much action.

Question: How large was the team that created Clover and how long did it take to develop?

Deejay: Most of the work was performed by myself and Jeanette Abrahamsen, who looked after all the artwork. Chris Chillingworth composed and recorded the music, Owen Price looked after sound effects, and Paul Alexander Thornton was a support artist.

Originally Clover was supposed to be finished by the end of February. Not only did the artwork take a lot longer, but after the very positive reaction to announcement we realised that the world was expecting! That combined with the unexpectedly smaller size of the XBLCG market meant we spent a good while longer on polish.

Question: When you first set out to make Clover was it always planned to be a platformer/puzzler?

Deejay: Absolutely. It’s a genre I know very well, is fairly straightforward programmatically, and allows us to convey a story better than many more modern styles.

If I’m honest, I’ve also got an ulterior motive. I’m secretly hoping that if Clover does well enough that Codemasters’ new management and Blitz Games will be able to sort the issues over the Dizzy IP and create a suitable remake.

Question: Clover has very unique watercolor graphical style. How did you decide to go with that style?

Deejay: The art style was decided upon partly for design reasons, and partly as another example of embracing our limitations. We knew we wanted to do something relatively unique and striking, that had to be 2D and enabled that ‘blue sky’ look of the games of yesteryear.

There’s been a fair amount of criticism over the character design. Whilst admittedly we could have done with more resource to put more work into animation, the simplistic and almost child-like characters are made that way to imply a certain amount of innocence. To back up the plot, we needed something to create a ‘bittersweet’ ambivalence, where we’re telling a not particularly cute story, but within a cute aesthetic environment.


Question: Looking back on Clover what are the things that you are most proud of?

Deejay: That it got finished. If there’s one thing The Jitsu Foundation has beaten into me over the years, it’s never give up. I never want to be that guy who said “Yeah, you know I said I was going to start that business? Well, we hit a problem and I couldn’t be bothered any more.”

Question: Was there anything you were hoping to get into Clover that did not make it?

Deejay: There aren’t any specific features that were omitted, but in an ideal world we would have spent an extra month or so making the tactile elements of the game more enjoyable. A common complaint is that it gets pretty tedious strolling from one side of the map to the other, so it would have been nice to be able to make that more enjoyable. We had plans for more ‘baddies’ and obstacles, but we simply ran out of time and money.

Question: Now that Clover has released are you planning another XNA game?

Deejay: I’ve got plans up my sleeve for future titles, and at present XBLCG still has the lowest barriers to market. However, the market really is disappointingly small, and depending on how Clover sells it might not be financially viable to continue. I’m also exploring opportunities to convert Clover to other platforms, but again this depends largely upon the financial performance on XBLCG.

Question: Can you give us some tips or hints for Clover?

Deejay: Read the dialogue. We had quite a few people in playtest complaining that they couldn’t figure anything out (normally after trying one and only one thing), only to discover said individuals either hadn’t talked to any of the characters, or had gone to the effort of talking to them, but hadn’t read the actual dialogue!

Oh, and remember that some items work merely by holding them at the right time.

Download a free demo of the game by clicking the badge below:

Classicard Developer interview

Read loads more interviews here.
Read XboxHornet interviews here.

Xbox Live Community Game Classicard has just had version 1.4 released on to the XboX Marketplace, so what better time for XboxHornet to put some questions to Rene Vinding about Classicard.

Classicard has a user score( at the time of writing) of 9/10 at XNA Ratings.

Click on the badge to download a free demo.
Note: The approval rating is how many people would recommend you try this game, not a review score.

First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, Arcane Labs and how you came to make a game for Xbox Live Community Games (XBLCG)?
My name is Rene and I have been programming demos, apps & games using various languages and for multiple platforms the last twenty three years. When I am not busy programming I enjoying playing a bid of beach volley or some badminton. Together with a very good friend I recently formed the company Arcane Labs with the goal of creating some really good and well supported casual games for the Xbox. The reason that we ended up making games for XBLCG is due to a unlikely chain of unrelated incidents. It all started when I got Guitar Hero 3 for the PC and it had quite a few annoying bugs in it the worst being some random slowdowns while playing the songs that made it nearly impossible to play well. So I got fed up with the PC version and went out and bought a Xbox360 so I could play the game without hiccups and then proceeded to get most of my friends hooked on the game which caused them to invest in xbox’es of their own :). Then a few months later I saw a announcement for the DBP2008 competition and as I already had a xbox I thought it might be fun to do something for that and a couple of days later I mentioned my idea to a old friend at work. He thought it could be a fun spare time project too and as both of us were used to working on low end platforms often without GPU’s the thought of having three CPU cores running at 3.2 GHz, a fast shader capable GPU and lots of memory was something that would allow us to go crazy and really have some fun. So about a month before the deadline we got the idea to create a game where you had to transport a puddle of fluid through a level as fast as possible, given that none of us had worked with fluid simulation, blender or XNA before that was quite a mouthful for a one month of spare time project. But in the end we had a playable prototype of the game Puddle. After a few weeks of well deserved rest we realized that it had been quite a while since we had that much fun on a project and therefore decided to start the work on our next game which we hoped that we could finish for the XBLCG launch. So we looked for a game type that could be done in relative short time span and which would serve as a good project to get some more experience with the XNA networking API’s. Since both of us quite enjoyed playing card games online with our friends and because the existing titles on the xbox were simple and required you to buy multiple games depending on what rules you would like to play with it became a easy choice and Classicard was born. The rest is history as they say 🙂

Do you play games yourself? What was the last game you played?
Yes I have played quite a lot of games over the years and some of them probably a bit too much 🙂 The ones I spend the most time on must have been a half life mod called Firearms where I played on the Danish national team in the nations cup and I was also quite into raiding in World of Warcraft at one point, which was damn fun but a huge time sink. Lately I have been playing Rock band 2 quite a lot, it’s a excellent party game when friends come by. The last game I played was Resident Evil 5 which has a nicely executed co-op mode.

Classicard is now into its fourth incarnation and has changed massively since it was first released. This means that most of the reviews are now out of date. Can you talk us through the changes and what XboxHornet readers can expect to find in Classicard today?
I would love to as version one was released to coincide with the XBLCG launch which we got a bit caught up in and it therefore had a bit less features than we desired. It contained the rulesets for hearts, spades and knockout whist with very few graphical effects. Since then we have been quite busy improving the experience and we have added a award system with 99 awards for the player to unlock. We added oh hell, Romanian whist and the fan favourite Euchre rule sets to the game. Each rule set was made customizable so you can tweak them to fit with your house rules and we improved the look and feel of the game quite a lot by adding new graphics and various particle system effects. Based on fan feedback we also added ‘a response time limit’ in multiplayer games, flexible zooming on the cards, in match player kicking and improved the indication of which player called the trump.
To celebrate the V1.4 release and to grow the online community we also decided to do a 50% rebate on the game for the next three months, so if anyone has been considering getting it now is the time 🙂

Classicard is scoring very we at XBLA Ratings and has one of the highest user review scores. It’s also one of the most recommended games at XBLCG.info. How does that feel?
It’s very nice to see and it really motivates us to continue working on the game to make it even better. In general we appreciate any feedback we get even if it’s bad because that is the only way for us to make the game even better. So if you have something that you feel is missing please let us know and it might appear in a update down the road 🙂

We get a lot of feedback at XboxHornet that Microsoft are not doing enough to support XBLCG, what more do you think they could be doing to create awareness for the service?
This is a very hard question to answer and it must be very hard for Microsoft as well to find a balance that doesn’t annoy the arcade developers. But in general I would like to see community games featured more prominently on the dashboard and it wouldn’t hurt if “all games” actually listed all games (though I don’t think that’s going to happen). But a small thing like having the community games show up on the players gamer cards would do a lot to make more people aware of them. Once people become aware of them it then becomes important to have some kind of rating system on the console to give the users a chance to find the quality titles since very few will be bothered to shift through 230 titles of very varying quality.

XBLCG sales have been slower to take off than many people had expected. With sites like XBLCG.info and XBLA Ratings now having user ratings and many XBLCG websites popping up on the net, what are your hopes for the future of the service?
Technology wise we hope that we will get access to leaderboards, achivements, and the live vision cam in the future. Beside that we really hope that more people will find and use the service and that the top titles will begin to see sales that approach at least the mid range of Arcade titles. Because currently the top is barely competing with the worst Arcade titles which is a real shame.

What are your plans for the future? Are you working on any other projects at the moment.
We have quite a few projects in the works at the moment. There is the 1.5 Classicard update that ought to bring avatars and a global ranking system to the game. Then there is a children/casual board game that is nearing completion and a puzzle game, so we are quite busy.

Thanks for taking the time to talk XboxHornet Rene.

Edit: We just have to point out that at 200 MS points Classicard is one of the most comprehensive titles available on XBLCG so go and download the free demo now and see what you think


BeatBlox – Xbox Live Community Games Developer Q&A


Written and supplied by Jigsaw hc
Monday, 06 April 2009 14:36
Continuing our series of developer interviews we have Aaron Ramsey the creator of Xbox Live Community Community Game BeatBlox. Mr. Ramsey thanks for taking time to answer some questions for us.

Question: How did the idea for BeatBlox come about?

Aaron Ramsey: I’m a long-time fan of music/rhythm games; Konami’s various Bemani games (beatmania IIDX, DrumMania, etc) have been a major part of my gaming catalog for several years now. In addition to typical music-based games, I’ve also enjoyed seeing various games experiment with integrating music with core elements of gameplay — Lumines, Rez, and so forth. I knew that I wanted to develop a game that integrated music into the gameplay, but as my first XNA project I wasn’t sure that I wanted to tackle a full-scale standard rhythm game. Besides that, I wanted to try a fusion of concepts that I felt hadn’t really been done before. And so, after sketching out a few different concepts, what I felt to be my most workable idea ended up being a rough outline for BeatBlox.

Question: Could you describe BeatBlox for anyone who hasn’t seen it?

Aaron Ramsey: BeatBlox is a puzzle game that fuses simple puzzle concepts with rhythm-based gameplay. The play area consists of a grid of colored tiles that you can move around at will. As the background track plays, Beat Blocks will appear in time with the music, and after a short while, will explode in time with the music as well. The goal is to create chains of like-colored blocks and attach them to Beat Blocks before they explode, with longer chains earning more points and restoring more of your life meter. While the basic gameplay concept could have been realized without the music element at all, I feel that making the music central to the player’s sensory experience contributes to the game feeling more satisfying than a standard puzzle game played by itself — much like Rez made its music-oriented gameplay feel more satisfying and engrossing than a standard rail shooter.

Question: How large was the team that created BeatBlox and how long did it take to develop?

Aaron Ramsey: The game concept and programming was done entirely by myself; the only assistance I received on the project was for some of the artwork and the music tracks. In total, I received assistance from three different graphic artists and six musicians, all either friends or friends-of-friends. The project was started in mid-January, and was basically completed by mid-March. I worked on the project every free evening and weekend during that span of time.

Question: When you first set out to make BeatBlox was it always planned to be a rhythm based puzzle game?

Aaron Ramsey: I knew that I wanted to create a game that fused rhythm-based gameplay with something else — I had a few different ideas, but in the end, a music-based puzzle game seemed like the most interesting to me. The fact that an attractive-looking puzzle game could be made entirely in 2D graphics was a nice bonus, which saved significant development effort.

Question: BeatBlox is a single player only game. Did you consider adding multiplayer modes?

Aaron Ramsey: I did, until relatively close to release. My major stumbling block was trying to figure out how the two (or more) players would interact with one another — in the puzzle game world, some sort of mechanic that allows players to muck up their opponents’ plans are a core part of the multiplayer experience. Many games implement “garbage blocks” or things of that nature to accomplish this. In my case, though, I had struggled to find an acceptable solution that would allow players to complicate things for each other, without changing the core gameplay experience — everything that I thought of either interfered with the basic “rhythm-based puzzle action” concept too severely, or simply didn’t seem like it would be any fun. I decided that if the multiplayer gameplay had nothing to differentiate if from the single-player experience (i.e. if it were simply a game of “who can earn the highest score”), then it wouldn’t be a worthwhile addition to the game. And so, ultimately, the multiplayer idea was dropped.

Question: Looking back on BeatBlox what are the things that you are most proud of?

Aaron Ramsey: At the beginning of the project, when I only had some key gameplay bullet points sketched out on paper, I had a lot of big concerns. Would the gameplay be easily abused and too easy to win once the player figured out some “trick”? Would the gameplay get repetitive too quickly? How would multiple difficulty levels be differentiated? How would the gameplay integrate with the music? Would it be fun at all? Despite all of these concerns, I managed to create a product that overcame all of them. Given that this was my first foray into the world of XNA (and, indeed, my first personal software project that has been distributed to such a large audience), I feel that not only was it a valuable learning experience, but it came out very well considering what I had going into it.

Question: Was there anything you were hoping to get into BeatBlox that did not make it?

Aaron Ramsey: The initial plans were to include seven songs instead of the current five; due to time constraints on the part of the music producers and graphic designers, however, that turned out to be infeasible. As mentioned earlier, I also was hoping to include a multiplier mode, but that proved to be a design challenge. I had also originally hoped to include more sound effects for each stage to fully complete the experience — for example, a cymbal sound each time a block in a chain exploded, or a bass hit whenever a chain ended — but in practice, I felt that they muddied up the sound too heavily and made it much more difficult to tell what the “real” musical track was doing, and was directly contradicting what I was trying to accomplish with the game.

Question: Now that BeatBlox has released are you planning another XNA game?

Aaron Ramsey: I’d like to start another project sometime, but since I’m using my XNA projects as educational tools for myself, the development cycle will likely be far longer on my next project, as there is still much of the XNA toolset that I have not yet delved into. At the very least, my next game will be in 3D as that is something that I managed to avoid touching during the development of BeatBlox 🙂

Question: Can you give us some tips or strategies for BeatBlox?

Aaron Ramsey: First, realize that the beat blocks can appear two different ways — in randomized locations, or in static locations. If you re-play a song multiple times, you will notice that at certain parts of the song, blocks will appear in the same place every time. This usually occurs during large build-ups, phrase endings, or climaxes within the song. You can use this knowledge to plan ahead and set up your chains to prepare for these blocks. In addition, remember that constructing a very small chain is better than no chain at all — if you have three beat blocks that are all about to explode, creating a 3-chain on each block will result in much less life loss than constructing a large chain on one block but neglecting the other two. You will earn fewer points, of course, but if you are struggling to clear a particular song, maintaining your life bar should be your first priority. Finally, if you would like a shortcut to unlock everything in the game fully, you can select “Enter Code” from the main menu (only on the full version), and enter Up, Up, Down, Down, LB, RB, LB, RB, B, A. (Fellow Konami fans will no doubt smile.) Press Start, and the game will be unlocked. I hope this helps!

Download a free demo of Beatblox here.