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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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.