Puzzle and Trivia game fans wanted #xbox, #xbla, #xblig

There is a new facebook group page for Puzzle and Trivia game fans.

Be sure to join up as there will be plenty of games given away there.

MotorHEAT – XBLIG review

A WDesm review for XBoxHornet

“Fantastic.  Simply Fantastic.”

Milkstone Studios has managed to hit upon that je ne sais quoi that can make a racing game so addictive.  MotorHEAT is a fantastic hybrid of adrenaline-fueled speed and simplistic gameplay that hooks you for the long (and fast) haul.

The gameplay is simple and straight-forward: You are in a start-of-the-art car, and you can drive really fast.  You drive at irresponsible speeds, wildly swerving through traffic, and the longer you can keep it up, the better score you get.  A ‘boost’ bar serves to make things even more ludicrous, and your boost bar can be recharged by narrowly missing a collision with another vehicle.

Extra speed and bonus points for nearly crashing? Yikes.

Points are scored based on your current multiplier, which slowly increases the longer you avoid a collision, and points-earning can be augmented by a variety of power-ups that spawn randomly – from the simple ‘bonus points’ or ‘bonus multiplier’ to the nearly-game-breaking temporary invincibility (hint: since collision detection is disabled under invincibility, you actually want to AIM for cars while holding down the boost button).  The gameplay starts off hectic, and as you start to swerve past and around the walls of cars, it becomes a desperate bid to move fast enough to finish the ‘level’ – the length of a lap – before the clock runs to zero.  Your ranking, always displayed in the bottom-left corner, is an automatically-updated connection to global leaderboards, telling you how far behind the next-best in the world.

With all of the ways that points and levels and scores are tallied, the game certainly encourages intense and reckless speeding, although I actually found the gameplay rather zen-like after a while.  No matter the visibility (which changes each level to include different times of day, as well as weather), you will always be able to make out those deadly brakelights or tantalizing power-ups, and that simple game mechanic never changes.  Milkstone Studios has found that perfect concoction of ‘easy to enjoy, fun to play, but difficult to master’, although  I might be cursing them later as I try to desperately claw past the 100,000,000-score supergiants already on the leaderboard.

Despite the game mechanics being relatively simple, meat was certainly added to the bones to ensure gamers got their money’s worth.  The game includes superficial car customization, which, while primarily for your own amusement, is reflected on your leaderboard runs, and the game includes a full set of badges/awards, seamlessly integrated into the gameplay in the same way a full retail title would.  Speaking of full retail titles…well, see if you can catch the reference to one in the badges.  Much like the game it alludes to, you’ll be working on that one for a while.  And early adopters will appreciate one badge in particular – complete a run in the top 5% of the global leaderboard.  The fewer players on the leaderboard, the easier that one should be.

Overall, I can’t really recommend MotorHEAT enough.  The game is a well polished example of the sort of game XBLIG needs more of, and if you pick it up soon enough, you’ll have a sweet chance at earning some awesome prizes in the Milkstone Studios Contest they currently have running.  I haven’t felt so enamoured with high speed collisions since I first played Burnout Paradise.  My wish list for this one is short: with awards, online leaderboards, and customization, Milkstone really tried to stack the game with everything, but why don’t we have a splitscreen co-op mode?

Game Score 9.5/10

Download a demo here.

Watch the trailer here.

Learn about the contest here.

MotorHEAT Score contest – XBLIG Contest

Milkstone Studios, developers of XBLIG games Wool and Little Racers, released MotorHEAT onto XBLIG on February 26th, and while we’re still too glued to it to write up the review (it’s coming soonish, I promise!), we had to tear ourselves away from it long enough to let you know about a contest Milkstone is currently running.

For those that buy & play the full version of MotorHEAT, you will be entered into a draw for MSPoints cards and XBLIG game codes.  The gimmick is that all profit that Milkstone makes during the contest cycles back into more prizes – if more people buy the game and play it, Milkstone buys more MSPoints cards to give away to the players.  As far as winning yourself an attentive audience, I can’t see a better way to run a contest, so hat’s off to you, Milkstone.  All of the details of the contest are on the Milkstone site here, but I’m really impressed at Milkstone’s interest in getting the community of gamers involved.  Any gold account that plays is eligible to win, and while skill plays a small part in how many entries you get, anyone could be that lucky somebody.  Try out the demo, fall in love, buy the game, win more games – it’s a cycle any indie gamer can get behind.

As for me?  Well, I guess I’ll see you on the global leaderboards!

Download the demo here.

Watch the trailer here.

Magical Cube – XBLIG Review

A WDesm review for XBoxHornet

“An Impossible Edition of Colour-Matching Puzzle Games”

Colour-matching puzzle games have come a long way from Columns – whether you look at the refined ultra-casual Bejeweled or the RPG-Lite of Puzzle Quest, the series has extreme appeal for gamers of any walk of life. FixedStarWorks has tried to tap into that huge market with Magical Cube, a gem-matching game with some lite RPG elements, and while the gameplay is solid and enjoyable, the difficulty level invites only the hardcore to stick around.

The storyline has you playing as a young magical witch, ready to prove.  My apologies for that, let me try again: The storyline is completely unimportant in a puzzle-game, and is completely forgettable.  As there is even less overarching interaction than, say, Puzzle Quest, the storyline might as well not exist.  That shouldn’t be taken as a slight against Magical Cube, however – there are tons of games where the storyline is unnecessary, and certainly, puzzle games (rivaled only perhaps by card games) would be those top genres.  So then, onto gameplay:

Gameplay is slightly different than other colour-matchers: Instead of flipping the location of two pieces, you instead shift an entire row (or column) left or right (or up/down), with edge pieces moving around to the other side of the board.  It’s a simple enough mechanic, and you’ll certainly get the hang of it quickly.  The trick arises in actual gameplay, when a myriad of abilities can nearly instantly spawn, and unless you’re ready for them, destroy you.

The game isn’t technically turn-based or timed – you could, hypothetically, play at whatever speed you wish.  The caveat, however, is that an enemy on the other side of the field is trying to kill you as fast as they can, and this demands that you work at breakneck speed.  While you are matching pieces, your overexcited schoolgirl will launch spells at the enemy, and the more chains you create, the more damage you do.  Power-ups can increase the amount of damage you do, which appear randomly and temporarily on the board, while other icons signify other dangers: Health Boosts are fantastic for you, but should you fail to collect one, the enemy gets the health instead; Locked Squares restrict motion on either the horizontal or vertical axis, demanding you really rethink your plan; Monsters appear on the map randomly – failure to get rid of the squares that the monsters reside upon gives your enemy power to use his spells on you.

I’d be lying if I said that the game was easy.  On top of this frantic pace, each monster has a special ability.  More than likely, the first ability that will drive you insane is from the third stage, where the icy terrain shifts the pieces one more space than you wanted, ruining any and all combos.  It isn’t impossible, but it certainly demands more lateral thinking than some of the other gem-matchers I’ve played.

Magical Cube certainly isn’t for everyone – it has a near vertical difficulty that will only appeal to the hardcore puzzle gamers, and the demo certainly isn’t indicative of the extreme difficulty the game can provide.  For those that appreciate a fair, if brutally unforgiving, puzzle game, you’ll have a blast testing your mettle, while unlocking various equippables for your character (each with small beneficial boosts like bonus HP), and mastering all the challenges that the game throws at you.   There’s no leaderboard function though, so your bragging rights will be all your own.

Game Score 8.5/10

Download a demo of the game here.

Watch the trailer here.

Colony Defense – XBLIG review

A Dominic Tarason review for XBoxHornet

“Colony Defense has some interesting ideas and gimmicks that set it apart from the most super-generic titles, but doesn’t really capitalize on any of them.”

I’ve played this game before. That statement works on multiple levels, too.

First of all, this is Tower Defense, pure and simple. Most of you know the drill already, from a thousand flash games and a hundred indie titles already. Nasty aliens are coming to wreck your stuff, and follow pre-defined paths across the level, hopefully getting cut down by your stationary defense turrets before they reach your base and eat/blow up/steal your stuff.

More recently, this game has a lot in common with the iPhone/iPod Touch game Star Defense, which takes the fundaments of TD gameplay and applies it to a spherical map. While it looks pretty, it actually only serves to hinder the players efficiency, forcing you to spin the little planetoid around to keep track of where enemies/bases are and zoom in/out to get a coherent view of the action – problems that Colony Defense adopts as well, sadly.

What sets Colony Defense apart from Star Defense is size and scale, primarily. The planetoids you’re trying to scrub clean of alien invaders are pretty huge, and often have complex networks of branching roads which means that enemies move in unpredictable directions sometimes. This means that the player has to focus their defenses around common roads or crossroads where multiple entry-points meet, rather than being free to pick and choose where objects go.

There’s a couple of additional interesting elements, including an orbital cannon that the player can fire at a small cost every few seconds, ideal for picking off a lucky enemy that dodged too much fire, and an experience system of sorts, letting you buy small, persistent perks (up to 5% off tower prices, up to 5% extra firepower on anti-ground turrets, etc) inbetween missions.

You get a lot of game for your buck here. The campaign mode is enormous, spanning over 30 levels, constantly increasing in complexity. You’re given more turret types every few missions, and new enemies are steadily introduced into the mix, each having their own particular strengths and weaknesses. Overall, it feels like this game is balanced for experienced TD players, though, as it’s very easy to misspend early on in a stage, and find your defenses woefully inadequate just a few minutes later down the road.

It feels like there’s largely one ideal ‘solution’ to each level, rather than giving each player leeway to pick and choose their own approach, like the best games in the genre. A more lenient difficulty curve, and a more flexible scoring system would have encouraged replays through seeking a higher score, rather than forcing it through failure.

All in all, this isn’t a bad game, but it’s also not a particularly good one either. Colony Defense has some interesting ideas and gimmicks that set it apart from the most super-generic titles, but doesn’t really capitalize on any of them.

It’s decent if you’re a particular fan of the genre, and you want something challenging, but it’s probably not worth it otherwise. You can get much better for less on XBL Indie Games (Nextwar is a particularly good TD title), or even for free on one of the countless flash game portals on the web.

Game Score 6/10

Download a demo here.

Watch a trailer here.

Ninja Bee iphone games for FREE

Press release

Free iPhone Games For St. Patrick’s Day

Scaireanna NinjaBee réir bhrí an fíor Lá Fhéile Pádraig

OREM, Utah – March 17, 2010 – Nothing says “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” like free games for your iPhone™, right? Maybe? Okay… so it’s just a blatant excuse for a sale. But as luck would have it, independent video games developer NinjaBee is making the most of the Irish holiday by giving away all of its games for iPhone and iPod touch for free!

“Why are we doing it? We just really like Irish people,” said Brent O’Fox, Art Director at NinjaBee. “And it’s not just the people; it’s the other stuff too. We’re big fans of corned beef, Lucky Charms, shamrocks, leprechauns and the color green. Oh, and Tom Cruise’s accent from Far and Away.”

For a short period of time NinjaBee’s three iPhone games, Kaloki Adventure, Kaloki Love and Kaloki War, will be available for free on the iTunes App Store. Together the three games contain the full content (including DLC) from NinjaBee’s Xbox LIVE® Arcade title, Outpost Kaloki X, which was among the original games released when the downloadable service’s debut in 2005.

“I trace the inspiration for these games back to my Irish roots,” said NinjaBee CFO Lane McKiriyama. “Why, when I was a kid back in Dublin it seemed like the only thing anyone ever talked about was growing up to become space station managers.”

So what does this mean for the average St. Patrick’s Day celebrant? They too can fulfill their Irish childhood dream of building up centers of commerce in deep space, falling in love with strange robot women and defending their customers from onslaughts of hostile attacking ships.

The free Kaloki space station tycoon games for iPhone can be found by clicking these links to the iTunes App Store.

Kaloki Adventure: http://linktoapp.com/kaloki+adventure

Kaloki Love: http://linktoapp.com/kaloki+love

Kaloki War: http://linktoapp.com/kaloki+war

The three apps regularly sell for $1.99, $0.99 and $1.99 USD respectively. Interested iPhone users should act quickly, or like those wee leprechauns, this opportunity will disappear.

Name that character – Little Boat

This is the latest in the name that character competitions.

Head on over to our Free Stuff forum for a chance to enter. You will need to be a member to see this forum.

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.