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.

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.

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


XboxHornet interview with Easy Golf course designer Shake N Baco

Other XboxHornet exclusive interviews;




Welcome to the first in a series of articles on XboxHornet, looking at the courses available in Easy Golf Course Architect. Today we will be looking at Desert Oasis designed by Nicholas (gamer tag Shake N Baco).
Desert Oasis comes with the latest update of Easy Golf, so if you haven’t got this course available, you need to re-download the game as community games do not have automatic updates.
Later in the series we will be looking at some of the courses available to download for free from the Easy Golf community, a feature that will keep you coming back to Easy Golf again and again.
Nicholas was kind enough to answer some questions for XboxHornet, first off we asked where he got the idea for the design of Desert Oasis?

“The reason why I wanted to create a Desert Theme course was because of the Mario Golf series to be honest. I loved the Mario Golf series throughout the years, and something they always had was a Desert Course. Desert Courses where something really challenging to do, but luckily thanks to some new improvements to the Easy Golf editor, it was a breeze to make. Personally, I wanted to create my course with a lot of sand dunes. I love the idea, of having to hit around these giant monstrosities of nature (Or over the dunes on the second par 5). I felt like it added a lot to the starting 6 courses, showing players you can do “theme” courses”
Having only dabbled so far with the course architect, we thought we would ask the expert if he had any tips for aspiring course designers?


“I think one of the biggest mistakes when using the course editor is making the greens. I notice many users create greens, and they are near impossible to putt on. I suggest setting a certain height marker, and place about 10-20 markers all around and throughout your green (All the same height of course). Now if you want to make a few hills, grab the existing markers and slightly change the elevation. After this test the green with several putts. Make sure you don’t roll all the way off the green, because that is no fun for anyone. Of course, everyone has their own way of doing things, but I like to put a lot of markers especially on my greens.
My second tip is: Be creative, have fun and design what you want.”
We would have to agree with Nicholas that making the putting too hard is no fun for anyone, we love the way that his courses challenge you to get to the green in regulation, then reward your effort with gettable putts. Gettable, but they have some very subtle inclines that can catch you out!
Our last question to Nicholas was how it came to be that his courses were included in the final version of Easy Golf?



“Let’s just say I was a dedicated fan, and it was my lucky day.
I was always a huge fan of Mario Golf, and other golf games, and something I always wanted to do was create my own courses. I had to settle for Sid Meier’s Sim Golf to satisfy this craving for the longest time. When community games came available, I quickly notice a golf game, and to my pleasant surprise it had an editor. Let’s just say, I played Sim Golf for several years, but I will be playing Easy Golf for even longer.”
So now let’s take a look at Desert Oasis and see what Nicholas has designed and how it plays.





As the name would suggest, sand, cacti, palm trees and the occasional watering hole are the order of the day.

Hole 1: Paradise

With this long par three, accuracy is the key. The small green is surrounded by sand and water and if you want to stay out of the drink pay close attention to the wind and make sure you hit the sweet spot in the hitting zone.

Hole 2: Hot Dog Leg Right

This par four is a dog leg right with massive dunes to the right of the tee. You can hit over these, but it is unlikely that it will be to your advantage. Head for the corner and you have a good line into the green, if you can cut some of the corner off by going over the end of the dune, you’ll have an easier shot in. The green has no rough round it, so don’t worry too much about missing it.

Hole 3: Hot Sun

A tough par four, if you are not accurate enough to hit the tiny patch of fairway on the left of the huge dune it’s going to be difficult to hit the green in regulation. You can take the right hand route, but this has a lot of palm trees to contend with. When you add to this the fact that the green is protected by sand and rough, getting par here is a good result.

Hole 4: Overheating

This Par five is a definite birdie opportunity, but first you have to avoid the two huge dunes with your tee shot (not easy). A little bit of fade will help and with a little luck you’ll have a long second shot into the green, although the fairway is loaded either side with palm trees so make sure you hit that sweet spot.

Hole 5: Toast is also Hot

As long as you don’t hit the well placed tree in the centre of the fairway on this par four, you’ll have a good line into the small green which is surrounded by sand, good luck staying out of it.

Hole 6: Deep Fried

This par four looks harder than it is – if you take a little power off and play safe by making sure you hit the fairway you should have an easier shot into the green.

Hole 7: Over the Dune

If you want to reach the green of this par five in three, you’ll have to make sure that you hit the fairway with your drive. You then have the choice of trying to hit it over the dune or onto the small patch of fairway on top of it. When you play your shot into the elevated green make sure that you hit the back of it to avoid rolling down onto the fairway.

Hole 8: Hole 8

To get to this par four green in regulation, make sure you hit the left hand side of the fairway, otherwise you’ll find yourself having to lay up or trying to take on the massive dune to get to the elevated green.

Hole 9:

With this very long par three be careful to take the wind into account if you want to stay on the wide but shallow green – some backspin may help too.

Overall impressions:

Desert Oasis is a course that despite its desert nature is very scenic thanks to the huge dunes and palm trees.

It’s a challenging course with not too many birdie opportunities, but with practice it’s very rewarding. We liked the fact that you have to make subtle use of fade to leave yourself in prime positions on some of the holes.

Desert Oasis gets the thumbs up from the XboxHornet blog and it is a course that we have found ourselves coming back to time and again.

Nicholas has two other courses on the full version of Easy Golf: Robot Retreat and White Mountain C.C., just look out for those designed by Shake N Baco.

Other Shake N Baco courses available to download via course sharing are Green Pines, Robot Dunes, Red Club, Joe Joe Heights, Apple Crest, Pro Open, Mountain View (Front & Back 9) and Sea Resort (Front & Back 9)

If anyone out there has a course that they would like to share with XboxHornet and the world please email us at:





To download a free demo of Easy Golf Course Architect directly to your Xbox click here;


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Interview with David Webb creator of Xbox Live game Hexothermic

You can read our exclusive interview with Stephen Bennett, creator of Poker Squares and Find Teddy here;


Hexothermic is a puzzle game that will blow you away! With 4 different game modes, awards and highscores, Hexothermic is fun for all the family! And it is only 200 MS points. This week we at XboxHornet were lucky enough to have a chance to ask David Webb, the developer, a few question about himself and his Xbox Live Community Game(XBLCG).


Hi David, thanks for talking to us. First off how did you get into making games?
I took A levels in maths and physics, and found out about games programming degrees at Huddersfield university. I have had a passion for gaming since a kid, so I decided to take a shot at it, and have been making games ever since.
Do you play games and what was the last game you played?
I’ve just been playing Dead space. Anyone wanting an example of creating a brilliant atmosphere, this is the game – I get so drawn in by the audio, lighting and set pieces. For fear, forget Resi 5 – this is what you want.

Why did you choose XBLCG to release your game on?

I created it for the dream build play competition and decided to polish it up and release it. It’s a really good place to get your work as a graduate noticed.

Have you made any other games?

No published games, but I’m close to completing my first XBLA title, Yo-Ho Kablammo. (Here is the link to it’s website);

Thanks for the heads up, it’s looking like a really promising game, I’ll look forward to trying it.

Hexothermic has been well received by the community, it has been called original, beautiful and amazing. How does that feel?

This feels great – there are a few titles out there that have really impressed me, and to be counted in one of the good games on the platform is brilliant.

Do you have any plans for Hexothermic in the future?

I am working on my final year at Huddersfield University, and for my dissertation I am working on Hexothermic for the Xbox and the next project I am currently working on – Hexothermic for the IPhone. The game has just been re-approved, with an updated version. The new version has a couple of new graphics, and bugs that have been found have been addressed.

That’s interesting as a few XBLCG developers are making games for both IPhone and Xbox. These platforms seem to be the new homes for independent games makers.

(If you already own the game, don’t forget to download the new updated version)






Are you working on any other Xbox projects? And can you share any details with us yet?
As I said earlier, Im working on an XBLA title, Yo-Ho Kablammo. This won a contract through the first dream build play competition. I can’t tell you too many details, but keep on the lookout for more information soon!
Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to make an XBLCG?
Don’t over stretch yourself, and realise that the best games are the polished games – The game is usually only 25% of the development, the rest is polish. Good UI and consideration of players navigation. Localisation is also a great way of opening up your game, and is fairly easy to do, there are lots of community people to help you out with these things! Use the best practises on the Creators site and follow as many as possible. And playtest a lot – feedback is so valuable.

Do you think that developers can make money out of Xbox Live Community Games?

We shall see come March! I hope so, because the wealth of talent deserves something for the work they put into some of these titles.

Finally has it been worth the effort making Hexothermic?

Yes, it is a great way to experience everything involved in making a complete game – a feat many developers don’t ever follow through with.Indeed it must be satisfying, most developers only get to program a small part of a game.

Thanks for answering some questions for XboxHornet readers, good luck with your games and keep us updated with what you are doing.


You can see user reviews and rate Hexothermic here;
You can download a demo of the game straight to your 360 from here;




Interview with Stephen Bennett creator of Xbox Live game Poker Squares


We had a chance to ask Stephen a few question about himself and his Xbox Live Community Game (XBLCG) Poker Squares.
First off how did you get into making games?
At school I also wanted to be an Architect and, here in the UK, I selected my A levels accordingly. However, at the same time I got my first computer, a dazzling Commodore Vic 20 with a whole 5K of RAM, and I was hooked. Luckily my A levels were fine for Computer Science, which I did at the University of Warwick. My next computer was the Atari ST (used by Mike Oldfield for sequencing on many of his early records!), and I wrote a few simple free games on that. But mainly my game writing was just for personal fun. With a full time job, travelling around the world, and a family and church life, I was left little time for this hobby.


Do you play games and what was the last game you played?
On the Xbox, my favourite game is Catan. I like the balance of the game. For most games it likely that 2 or 3 of the players can still win up to the last move. It also translates well to the Xbox from the board game, which I play with family and friends.

The last game I played was a play test of a new Xbox Live Community Game from sgngames.com, called “Slottso Party”. If you see me playing Texas Hold ‘em then that it is really my wife – she nicks my account to play her favourite game. (She is up to $1M on-line – not bad.)

Why did you choose XBLCG to release your game on?
I use Microsoft technologies at work, and so I was very interested when I read about their release of Game Studio. I know C# and .NET and I’d bought an Xbox 360 a few years ago so I knew what was possible. I gave it a try and quickly realised I could actually develop and release a game that millions a people around the world could, potentially, play. The attraction was irresistible.


Can you give us a brief description of what the game is about? Obviously it is a Poker game but it has a twist.
Sure. Poker Squares is a card game we have played as a family for a long time now. It was original a patience but works best as a competitive game, and I realised it would translate well to the Xbox.The game consists of placing 25 cards, dealt randomly, in a 5 by 5 grid. This gives 10 poker hands – 5 going across in the rows, and 5 coming down in the columns. The better the poker hands, the bigger the score. Of course, deciding where to place a card is tricky as one card participates in two hands (one across and one down). It is a game of chance, probabilities and balance. There is always the chance the next card will help towards a big scoring poker hand, but the probability is that it won’t, and you have to balance this against the score that your opponent is getting.

Each player gets dealt the same cards in the same order. So if you get a bigger score than your opponent, then you really have done better and can rightly boast about your superior skills at the game. But overstretch yourself and, unless you are really lucky, everything can go wrong.


Poker Squares has been well received by the community, it was on the top selling list for a while, how does that feel?
I feel quite proud that something I have worked on was well received. I’m not in this for the money, nor particularly for the recognition. It is really just a hobby in my spare time. But even so, it is great to get positive posts to an official Xbox Live forum. Fancy having an Xbox Live forum dedicated just to a game that you wrote?!


Do you have any plans for Poker Squares in the future?
Yes, as we speak I am taking Poker Squares apart and re-structuring it ready for a networked version, allowing any number up to 31 players to play together via Xbox Live. Part of the restructuring allows four players to be shown on the screen at the same time (the current game only allows two players). A consequence of this is that a four player local game will also then be possible.

It is likely I will release a four player local game first, to make sure that code is solid, while I work on the networked version. I will let people know if an update is available, as I don’t think someone who has bought a community game gets an automatic upgrade.


Are you working on any other Xbox projects? And can you share any details with us yet?
Funny you should ask that. I have another game in play test, which I hope will make it to release in the next couple of weeks. This time the game is for young children. It is called “Find Teddy”. A number of different teddies are shown on the screen (between 4 and 16, depending on the difficulty setting). Along side the teddies are a number of clues. Only one of the teddies will have all of the “attributes” shown in the clues. For example, one clue might show that the teddy is wearing a tie, and another clue might show it is holding a balloon.

It is a simple game of logic, which can help a young child learn how to tackle problems in a structured way, in a fun way of course. If the child finds the correct teddy at the first go, then an item is unlocked which they can then use to build their own teddy.

I’ve very pleased with the comments I have received from peer developers to date. Look out for “Find Teddy” on the Community Game section. It will be under the Family game genre.



Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to make an XBLCG?
Yes, go for it. It is immense fun.

My main tips are:

  • Take the advice from the experts on the community forums. Spend time (a lot of time) reading what they have to say.
  • Don’t rush your game out there. Make sure you put it through play test.
  • Take on-board any criticisms that come your way.


Do you think that developers can make money out of Xbox Live Community Games?
I’m sure they will get some money for their Community Games – but it still remains to be seen if anyone can “make money” on them. At the present I imagine it is very unlikely that compared to the time and effort required to design, develop and debug games and be part of the community (the latter takes considerable time) that the money received will equate to a decent living. I hope to be proven wrong. The whole community is waiting with baited breath to see the first sales figures that Microsoft release.


Has it been worth the effort making Poker Squares?
As a hobbyist – Definitely. It is a joy to program in the environment. I’ve have programmed many computer systems in my time, from Mainframes down to simple mobile device, and Visual Studio with Game Studio is up there with the best. I’d like to thank Microsoft (and I never thought I’d say this, coming from the Java world that I do J ) for supporting Community Games. I hope their policy of support continues.


Thanks for answering some questions for our readers, good luck with your games and keep us updated with what you are doing.


See the user reviews here;


Try Poker Squares for free. Download it straight to your XBOX 360 here: