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.

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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.

Soul – Ported to iPhone

Soul, an XBLIG game that we have previously reviewed on this site, has been ported to the iPhone for a mere $2.  We reviewed it rather favourably, so if you want to take your horror platformer on the road, you now have the option.

Alternatively, you can continue to grab the trial game for your xbox here.

Stay tuned for more XBLIG reviews this week, and with the submissions for Dream Build Play 2010 ending today, you can only expect the quality of XBLIG features to go up and up and up!

UNO Rush first impressions

 

UNO Rush is upon us, has the long wait been worth it. Announced a long time ago as having Avatar support, it was thought by many to be a NXE launch title, so it has been a long time coming.

First off the use of Avatars is really cool, in the lobby they get twitchy while waiting for players to join, which is not for too long as the game is already well populated. You can move their heads around. It’s just a shame you can’t clap the winner or make them move more.

Now for the game play. Anyone who has played UNO before should be able to pick this up fairly easily. It’s still worth playing the tutorial in single player mode though, as it is different enough from UNO to be a little confusing at the start. People new to UNO should be able to catch on pretty fast, I would definitely recommend you play locally for a while to get the hang of the game before jumping into ranked matches though.

The basic premise of UNO Rush is that rather than picking what card to put down, the one at the top of your hand is the card in play. For example if the centre card is red and you have a red card at the top of your hand it is automatically placed on the pile. If you have organised your other red cards after the top card they will be put down automatically. It is possible to get rid of your whole hand if you have arranged your cards correctly.

UNO Rush, lives up to it’s name. You’re constantly having to reorder your cards as the colours change. Getting ready to lay the next one down can be frantic. Because of this some people who liked to play UNO at a more sedate pace are going to struggle.

A great addition is the local multiplayer, after all this is what playing cards is about, being in the same room as your opponents, it works perfectly and it is a game that should get the whole family round the Xbox.

UNO Rush is a great addition to XBLA and is a sure-fire hit, see you online.

 

 

First screen shots of Rebel Racing 3D for Xbox 360

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We have just been contacted by Vander from Imersiva and I am happy to be able to bring you the first screen shots of Rebel Racing 3D. Not only that but you can also play a preview of the game online at;

 http://rebels.imersiva.com

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Rebel Racing 3D is going to be released on Xbox Live Community Games and Vander described it to us “It is a fast paced ships racing game over terrains. So you must make three laps before the opponents, but to gain speed you must fly at low altitudes. That is not easy, though. If you collide with terrain or enemies, your energy is decreased until you explode (and it happens fast).”.

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This is certainly a game that we’re looking forward to – the video below is of the game in action. Unfortunately the quality of the video is not great, but when you look at the screen shots and video I think you’ll agree that RR3D is looking like it could raise the bar for XBLCG.

Bowling X first look

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A realistic physics simulated bowling game with charming graphics, immersive controls and supportive sound effects. Multiplayer mode supports up to 8 players.

Not a lot to say about Bowling X really, it does what it says on the tin. Luckily it does it well, the graphic are good, the physics of the game work well and the controls are easy to get used to. I like the idea of the 8 player local game. I’m looking forward to getting some friends round and giving that a go.

See user reviews or write your own here;

http://www.xblaratings.com/component/content/article/67-sports-a-recreation/537-Bowling-X

Download the game straight to your 360 here;

http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-GB/games/catalog.aspx?d=7&r=-1&g=-1&sb=0&ot=0&mt=32&rl=0&p=1

 

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