Abduction Action! – Preview + Interview

A WDesm exclusive for XBoxHornet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View a trailer of Abduction Action! here.

Blazin Balls Preview

A WDesm exclusive for XBoxHornet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about MStar Games at their website.

Watch the trailer for Blazin Balls here.

Breath of Death VII Preview + Interview

A WDesm exclusive for XBoxHornet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know I will, thanks Zeboyd Games!

Learn more about Zeboyd Games here.

View the trailer here.

Orbital Battleship Previews – Flotilla Interview

A WDesm exclusive for XBoxHornet

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

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

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

-Brendon Chung, BLENDO Games

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

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

From Original Prototype.....

...To Finished Product!

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

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

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

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

Some of the space you can hope to explore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View the trailer here.


i-maed-a-gam3-w1th-z0mb1es1 box art

I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 by Ska Studios – Just 80 MS points

This games is creating quiet a buzz in XBLIG circles and for very good reason, if you haven’t heard of I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 yet, shame on you.

Ska Studios is the one man outfit responsible for the XBLA smash hit The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai. James Silva is the man behind the mask.

James is a bit of a legend after winning Microsoft’s 2007 Dream Build Play competition to get an XBLA contract for The Dishwasher and this is his third release on XBLIG. James is well known for his opinions on people releasing shabby games and apps onto the service and you get the feeling that I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1(IMAGWZ) is a bit of a dig at the guilty developers, but at the same time showing them how it should be done.

zombies 1

In fact I have heard it said that after the introduction of user ratings, IMAGWZ is the most important thing to appear on XBLIG because of the buzz it is creating and the new customers it is bringing to the service.

The game is a twin stick shooter that will appeal to a massive audience, not just fans of the genre. There are several reasons for this and strangely enough the music is one of them. The song that accompanies the game, just has to be heard, it is worth you dollar alone, I defy anyone not to laugh as they are playing. Not only that, but it’ll get into your head and you will find yourself humming it all day. I can see it getting a release on I Tunes.

The gameplay starts with zombies wandering in from the sides of the screen, you have a small gun to fend them off, but it is not long before you start to get the most glorious choice of over the top weapon power ups at your disposal. From Lazers to Rocket launchers, all killing the enemies with satisfying explosions and effects.

zombies 2<

As the game goes on, the background song changes like an epic rock track, moving from it’s quiet moments to trash metal then back to the original verse and the gameplay changes to match the mood of the song. In the different periods of the game I felt like there were influences of Geometry Wars, Asteroids and Centipede.

In the game you encounter a wide verity of enemies all fitting in well with the backgound music that definitely dictates the pace of the game.

I had a blast with IMAGWZ and still am.

There is a multiplayer mode and local leaderboard to keep you coming back for more, it is a shame there is not online play or online leaderbord, but this game does only cost $1 – 80 MS points.

So don’t bother trying the demo, buy the game, it deserves your $1. Or are you too tight to experience a piece of programming genius.

We give I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 5 joysticks – excellent 5 joysticks

Download the game and see other user reviews here.

Puzzle Pandemonium review

Review by Lollyblast

puzzle-pandemonium box art

Puzzle Pandemonium is a classic brick game in which you have to stop you area filling up with bricks. To do this you must match 3 blocks either horizontally or vertically by switching the block that they are next to. You can send extra bricks to opposing players by matching 4 or more bricks or forming chains. These bricks are unplayable until you make a match with a brick that is touching it which then turns the bricks into colours and makes them playable.

The controls are basic and easy to use. The background has flying shapes which get bigger and move towards the screen. It doesn’t draw your attention away from the game but makes it more interesting then a block colour background.

The music reminded me of the music in the Sims 2 when you build a house. It was light music very basic and doesn’t draw your attention away from the game, it blends in well.

The only faults I have with this game are that you can only switch blocks horizontally therefore making it difficult to get vertical matches, but anyone who has played Poker Smash will be familiar with the controls.

To change the difficulty level that you are playing in single player you have to go in to the options menu, this interrupts the flow of the game as you have to stop and start to change the difficulty levels, this became very tedious after a while.

puzzle pandimonium multiplayer

I would definitely recommend this game to be played in multiplayer mode rather than single as is more interesting playing against other people and the game has flows better because you are not changing the difficulty of the CPU all the time. Up to 4 people can play in Multiplayer mode and the added incentive of beating a friend lifts the game and is much more fun than the single player mode.

I give Puzzle Pandemonium 3 joystick 3 joysticks

Download a free trial of the game here.

The Collector review


The Collector from Aztec Games – Available on XBLIG

Compete for the highscore and unlock awards in fast paced and addictive game. Play with or against up to 3 other people or cpu opponents locally!

The basic premise of The Collector is that you have a mining cart on rails at the bottom of the screen and you collect the falling coloured buttons and off load them into the requisite delivery spot. This may sound simple and it is, but at the same time you have to avoid the falling rocks and also make sure you deliver your load to the correct spot otherwise you will be penalised. You are rewarded for consecutive collections of the same colour with multiplier bonuses.

OK my description may sound a little muddled, but watch the video and you will get the idea.

the collector

I found the single player mode to be ok and good for getting used to the game, but I did not find it that gripping and I was about to give up on the game. Then I thought I would give the multiplayer modes a go and all of a sudden I saw the game in a whole new light.
You can play one to four players co-operatively, in battle mode or in team play. The addition of CPU opponents means that you can enjoy the multiplayer games even when you are on your little lonesome.

In multiplayer you not only get to collect the coloured buttons, you also get to sabotage your buddies attempts to beat you by dumping bombs on their collecting bins, which is always great fun and an excellent addition. The multiplayer games really are good fun and the added competitive element is great. Who can resist the attraction of getting one over on your mates.

the collector awards

Aztec Games have made a comprehensive game that includes local leaderboards and awards in the game, something that many new games do not bother with.

So The Collector may be a simple game, but at 80 MS points the mulitiplayer modes makes this game worthy of your $1 and lift the game to an XboxHornet score of 4 joysticks – Good

You can see user reviews and download the game straight to your Xbox here.

Aztec Games MEGA prize give away

Closing date 21st August 2009

Aztec Games have announced a price drop for their Xbox Live Indie Game DoubleVision to just 240 Microsoft Points ($3) and to celebrate XboxHornet have teamed up with Aztec Games to give away nine, yes we said nine games.

the-collector tictactoe theamazingrumblinghypnodisc

There are three prize packs, each containing download game codes for The Collector, Tic Tac Toe and The Amazing Rumbling Hypno Disc.
Three lucky readers picked at random will win all three games, just for downloading the FREE trial version of DoubleVision and answering one simple question.

“Think you have good vision? Put it to the test! Spot the differences in the pictures. Arcade has you race the clock to get the top score. In freeplay you can relax by yourself or compete with a friend. Want something different? Try PuzzleJunk and put your mind to the test! There are over 150 different puzzles!!! There is something for everyone in this one!”

So if you want the chance to win three Xbox live Indie Games keep reading for details of how to enter the prize draw.

Not only that, but everyone gets two chances to enter the prize draw and be one of three lucky readers to win a three game prize pack.


Your first chance to win is to download the FREE trial version of DoubleVision from the Game Marketplace (click here to take you to the Game Marketplace), Xbox Live Indie Games section. Play the trial and then send the answer to a simple question to : xboxhornet@gmail.com only one entry per person.

Your second chance to win is to follow us on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/xboxhornet and retweet our message about this competition. Only one retweet entry per person. To retweet a message on twitter you need to copy our message and prefix it with RT @xboxhornet before sending.

The Question:

In DoubleVision is the Y button used for:

A – Moving the cursor
B – Using a Hint
C – Select/Click

Email your answer to xboxhornet@gmail.com and title the email Doublevision. Good luck.

Make sure you follow us at www.twitter.com/xboxhornet so that your retweet entry counts, non followers may not be able to receive their winning prize
Winners will be chosen at random.
Game codes may not work in regions that do not have Xbox Live Indie Games on their Xbox dashboard, there are no alternate prizes in these circumstances.
There are no alternative prizes if the game codes do not work on your Xbox.
Winners will be announced on this website.
Closing date for entries will be announced on this website.
Our decision is final and can not be appealed.