The Indie Gamer Chick Mailbag: April 21, 2014

I typically get a lot of questions on Twitter about random game stuff. Thoughts on the indie scene, on mainstream gaming, etc. I’m quickly learning that Twitter is a lousy place to answer any questions. It’s tough to explain complex opinions in 140 characters or less. So I figured I would start a mailbag feature. I announce it, and suddenly I go from getting questions every few minutes to getting no questions at all. Grumble. Well, a few guys did ask some stuff, so I’ll give the whole mailbag thing a try.

@LostScarf asks

Do you think Indie games would be more successful if they took the time to add Online Co-op, or it wouldn’t matter?

It depends on the game. Some titles really could have benefited from a more robust online experience. But there are roadblocks if you attempt it. On XBLIG, getting online working was overly difficult. Developers did not have access to Xbox Live when making games that would utilize Xbox Live. But even when you’re not developing for a system that actively seems to be trolling its own developers, optimizing an online co-op experience is extremely difficult. Especially if you give a shit about the emotional and psychological experience of your game. There’s almost no way to measure how effective your work is in those areas, especially if your concept involves two strangers working together. It’s a leap of faith.

Does it make a difference in a game’s sales? I’m not totally convinced. My favorite aspect of Terraria was playing it with Brian on two PS3s and two TVs. We also very much enjoyed sharing some of our extra plunder with my fans on Twitter. Hell, I met my best friend Bob that way. But, I was surprised to learn that most of the Terraria fans that follow me on Twitter never played it co-op at all. That’s not that uncommon with many indies that have an optional co-op mode. So I guess, unless a game is designed specifically with online co-op in mind, it won’t make a big enough difference that anyone should lose sleep over it.

@iilusionofchaos asks

If you could change one thing about your favorite game, what would it be?

My favorite game ever is WarioWare Inc.: Mega Microgame$ for Game Boy Advance. It just got re-released on Wii U’s Virtual Console. Easy answer here: I wish it had online leaderboards.

@TerrorSkwirl asks

Who/what do you think is the most well written character in recent memory?

Clem from Walking Dead. Her actions, speaking style, reactions to situations, and emotional state all feel like a real person. The strange thing is, there are a lot of secondary characters in the Walking Dead games that feel like lazy stereotypes, if not outright parodies. There’s just enough of those type of characters that you wouldn’t expect to see such an incredibly authentic character emerge. Clem is a real person in a real zombie apocalypse.

I’ll give a close second to Balloon from Doki-Doki Universe. Her undying love for protagonist QT3 was so moving and, again, authentic. Doki Doki was, as of yet, the only game I streamed my entire play-session on Twitch. I had some tough guys admit they were tearful as the ending between QT3 and Balloon played out. No violence. No cursing. No high-stakes. Just love and admiration between two friends, and it was more real than many of cinemas highest-paid actors are capable of delivering.

@Scott_A_Bennett asks

if you could only change one thing about the indie scene what would it be?

The perception that the community is too exclusive for newcomers to jump in. I think people expect the scene to be populated by anti-social, standoffish artsy types. They exist, but they’re very much the minority. The indie scene at large is so very welcoming and encouraging to newcomers. Hell, you don’t even have to be an active developer. I’ve never made a game, never will, and I have a site that, more often than not, doesn’t speak highly of the games I play. If the general perception of the indie scene were true, I would have been run out of town a week after I arrived. Instead, I’ve found an endless stream of new friends and fantastic relationships. And I’m certainly not alone in this type of experience with indies. That is the story that we need to make sure gets told. Unlike a lot of other things I wish would change, this one is very easily doable.

@Rabite890 asks

do you find the reports about the number of steam games that go unplayed/uninstalled to be as bad as some do?

Whenever I go grocery shopping, if I’m hungry when I go, you can bet the shopping cart is going to be overflowing full of all kinds of stuff I would normally not pick up. Then it will linger in our kitchen cabinets until it goes past the  expiration date.

That’s probably what happens with Steam, or hell, any platform when a sale hits. I have 217 PSN games on my PlayStation 3 and there’s at least 40 I’ve never booted up. I either got them with PlayStation Plus, or I bought them when they were on sale and just never got around to playing them. I do it on my Vita too, then the shitty, too small memory card fills up and I have to start deleting stuff. I can always redownload it any time, of course, but I probably won’t. It’s impulsive behavior from people with too much disposable income, but by no means indicative of any problem on the indie scene.

And finally, @Bonedwarf asks

I’ll give you a tough one. You can give 12 words of advice to all aspiring indie devs. What are they?

Nothing will go exactly as you envision, so be patient and humble.

(points at the screen and counts the words silently)

Damn, I’m good.

Well, I had fun doing this. If you guys had fun reading it, just send me a tweet with the hashtag #IGCMailbag and we’ll do it again. It will help keep the content on this site going when I’m post seizure and unable to get my game on.

Like my new logo? The gentleman who designed it, Kenneth Seward Jr., is for hire! Visit his site and check him out on Twitter. Reasonable rates, awesome work!

Still here? Cool. I have a new blog that will contain my non-gaming related ravings.

 

Tales from the Dev Side: XNA, XBLIG, and Me by Michael Neel

XNA, XBLIG, and Me (aka The Story of GameMarx)

by Michael C. Neel of GameMarx.com

Tales from the Dev SideIn November 2008, the same month Xbox Live Community Games launched, I organized a geek dinner.  I wanted to make sure there was some real geekery involved, so two days before the dinner I downloaded Microsoft’s XNA Game Studio.  Until that weekend I had never developed a game.

This is not to say I never thought about it.  I have been reading about game development since the early 90’s.  My favorite topic is implementation of artificial intelligence.  By 2008 I had read at least 10 books on game programming and installed the DirectX SDK on three separate occasions.  Generally the process was install DirectX, follow some basic tutorials, see the effort required to make an actual game, loose interest.

XNA was different.  In two days I went from knowing nothing to having a fully working Atari 2600 Combat clone.  I went to the geek dinner with more than just some example code, I had a working game.  I never got to share much code though.  Some people brought kids and the kids wanted to play the game non-stop.  They fully enjoyed this crude little game and got too loud shouting exclamations of fun for the other patrons.  A game that I made!  Granted I stole 100% of the gameplay but seeing the kids faces I was  hooked.  This is the drug that makes indie game developers, aka people willing to starve making something that will make them no money.

Around this time I remember looking at the games in Xbox Live Community Games (now Xbox Live Indie Games).  There was some weird junk like In The Pit (a game with no graphics) and sin(Surfing) (more tech demo than game).  There was also fun games like Weapon of Choice (Contra inspired shooter) and Blow (artistic physics puzzle game by yes, that David Flook).  It was a bizarre freak show of gaming that welcomed everyone to join it.  That has always been best thing about XBLIG, anyone can share their game.  To paraphrase the mis-attributed Voltaire quote, “I think your game is shit, but I’ll defend to the death your right to publish it.”

It would be a year before I could focus on game development again.  I had just launched CodeStock, and had CodeStock 2009 to plan.  I wasn’t completely passive however, in the between time I talked Dylan Wolf into forming FuncWorks with me.  Dylan is by far one of the best programmers I’ve known (also, not found of me linking that post).  We work well together, never clashing on egos.  Probably because he accommodates my ego and I don’t notice.  Shorty there after, acknowledging we need a graphic artist, we add my then girlfriend now wife Cicelie.

As CodeStock 2009 wrapped, we focused on game development (after a brief attempt at a t-shirt site for Cicelie).  With the experience of hosting the Chainsaw Buffett podcast I launched the Feel the Func podcast.  This turned out to be the smartest thing I did, though it was just a side project at the time.  I also did a really dumb thing, common among new game developers.  I made a teaser video for a game that four years later still is nowhere near done.

It doesn’t look like much, but as a developer I had created a model, animated that model (which is why the walk cycle sucks), rendered it in game, moved it with a controller, and blended the animation with user input (turning the torso).  I wish I had a video of Cicelie’s model moving (the mech screenshot at the end) because she did a much better job than I.

In the next few months we began to realize the size of scope required for ROCS.  My oldest daughter wanted a game she had been playing at school for her birthday called Rumis.  I suggested we pause on ROCS and create a game based on Rumis called IncaBlocks.  I also decided I was not under enough stress and signed a publishing contract for my first (and only) eBook the XNA 3D Primer.  Both were completed in the next three months.

I learned a lot in those three months.  First, I have no desire to be an author even though I enjoy writing.  Second, I suck at game design.

IncaBlocks flopped, and flopped hard.  Not even a dead cat bounce.  The best thing I can say about IncaBlocks is it wasn’t ROCS.  If I had taken my dream game and killed it with the mistakes I made on IncaBlocks I don’t think I could have recovered.  I had little emotional investment in IncaBlocks and it was easy to do a cold, clinical autopsy.  Final verdict?  The game is not fun and there is no awareness of XBLIG even within the Xbox community.

I wasn’t sure what to do about the first problem, but I had an idea on the second and GameMarx was born.  The idea was to create an XBLIG review site that treated indies as AAA games were treated.  This mean not just reviews and news, but also podcasts and videos plus a database of games.  Websites and podcasts I knew, but I had a lot to learn about video production.  One of these days I’ll dig out the very first episode of “The Show” that was scrapped and reshot, but man is it rough.

Reviews were serious business at GameMarx.  We create a set of standards and guidelines and followed it religiously.  The biggest rules we didn’t write down: the price of a game is never a factor, avoid the “angry reviewer” style, and a review is the personal view of the author, nothing more.  These rules required a lot of time and effort from a reviewer, but we still ended up writing a combined 99 reviews in the year we spent on written reviews.

There were only a handful of video reviews done.  I wish we had done more of these, but they took a lot of time to edit (I still need to finish editing Dylan’s video review of Aesop’s Garden).  Instead we created a segment on The Show to talk about new releases and recent reviews while playing the games.  This concept lead to GameMarx Trials where we played a game’s trial mode site unseen.  Far from a review (each episode starts off with “this is not a review” title card) these were much easier to produce quickly and get out while the games were still on the new release list.

As GameMarx grew it became clear that XBLIG websites had the same problem as the games – no awareness.  We were far from the only site covering XBLIG, and I decided to build a website of websites that would link us all together (webrings for those old like me).  I contacted all the sites I knew of, got permission, and also contacted Nick Gravelyn and Andy Dunn (aka the ZMan) about taking over the domain XboxIndies.  The site keeps a database of XBLIG, sales and chart performance, and also aggregates news and reviews from the participating sites.  We even made a small API for mobile app developers (check out XBLIG Companion).

In the news category we pretty much had our hands full covering Microsoft’s neglect of the service.  In 2010 Indie Games were moved into specialty shops behind avatar clothing.  I wrote numerous articles about the limitations of XBLIG imposed by Microsoft on pricing and features.  Frozen sales dataGame rating manipulationsDashboard freezes.

None of these articles got much mainstream attention.  So in 2011 when the XBLIG section was again buried, I took my growing video editing skills and created a video using Major Nelson’s own words against him.  This is GameMarx most popular non-boob video to date:

Didn’t make the cut, but there was a bit for the video where I tried to voice search for “Cthulhu Saves the World” and “Zeboyd Games” with no success.  (If you want to know the most viewed video including boobs you’ll have to find it yourself.)

At the end of 2011 we decided to step away from covering the games.  The site was growing, but it was clear to us the effort required was going to mean that’s all we did.  In 2011 we played every game released on XBLIG so before hanging it up we did the GameMarx 2011 XBLIG Game Awards.

What made it easy to leave was XboxIndies had a steady flow of content from other sites, and Indie Gamer Chick was here to stay.  While Cathy has a different style, and is dead wrong about review scores (no I’m not), she is getting attention for XBLIG developers and games.  I’m also 37 and she’s still in high school I think with the I-don’t-have-three-daughters kind of free time I don’t.  This means not only can she review many more games, but also has time to put together a project like the Indie Royale Indie Gamer Chick Bundle.

Leaving the review world meant we had a bunch of game codes we no longer had a right to use.  So we created the GameMarx Indie Mega-Pack Giveaway to unload the extra codes (with permission of course).  Several XBLIG developers contributed more codes and we ended up over 50 games to giveaway.  Voice actress Rina-chan lent her talents to the promo video.  We also ran a survey of the entries and collected some data on what gamers think about XBLIGs.

Getting back to development was a wonderful feeling.  I took an idea I had for a game called Captain Dubstep and made a goal of submitting it to Dream Build Play 2012.  At this point most of us XNA developers admitted XNA was dead from Microsoft’s point of view, so I created a site called “XNA’s Last Dance” and extended an invite to XNA developers to add their blogs and commit to entering what was the last Dream Build Play competition for XNA.  This site wasn’t a success in terms of traffic, but it had a since of community behind it and I’ll probably bring over the idea of the site into GameMarx later this year.

What happened to Captain Dubstep?  Well, the game wasn’t fun but we did manage to make the deadline.  We did a whole postmortem at GMX 2012 if you care about the gritty details, but let’s just say we had no scope defined so it was a train wreck of direction changes.

I looked at the screenshots and was like "What is he talking about? It doesn't look bad at all!" Then I watched the trailer, and was like "um, this looks like the worst thing ever created by man."

I looked at the screenshots and was like “What is he talking about? It doesn’t look bad at all!” Then I watched the trailer, and was like “um, this looks like the worst thing ever created by man.  Way worse than Ouya.”

I wish I could say the rest of 2012 was as productive.  We did launch a few open source XNA based projects including XTiled and XSpriter.  Most of the time though we spent in limbo, not sure of where to go after XNA.  We changed the podcast to “mike only” and tried our hands at Let’s Play videos.  I thought exploiting my daughters by making them play NES games on camera would be internet gold, but creating a viral video is harder than it looks.  It also has become clear that making Let’s Play videos takes more time than anything else we’ve done, and would kill any time for game dev.

In May of 2013 I participated in the Ludum Dare, and in a weekend created the game Quest.  For the first time I used Unity and I loved it (after a brief period of projecting my old XNA girlfriend on it).  Unity is not like XNA in that you will do more scripting than programming, but once you get the hang of the IDE you can be much faster.  The asset store is also a huge plus for a Unity developer – tons of art is a few bucks away.

Ludum Dare has a since of community I haven’t felt since the “good ol’e days” of XNA.  If you’re a game developer, go now and mark your calendar for the next completion date.  There are three full competitions a year and mini-LD competitions just about every month.  I cannot recommend this more.

So what’s next for GameMarx and the FuncWorks crew?  I’ve had plenty of time to think on this while recovering from having all teeth extracted due to extended radiotherapy I received ten years ago (fun FuncWorks fact: both Dylan and I are cancer survivors).  The podcast will return shortly and will stay developer focused (probably with more Unity talk).  If the content is useful to other developers I cannot say but hosting it has forced me to study deeper into game design that I would have on my own.

I want to continue Let’s Plays, but with a focus on Indies.  The indier the better.  I’d like to get to a point where I can regularly cover indies in GreenLight or Kickstater.  Yes, that means betas and prototypes.  I have no interest in the review side of things, I’ll leave that to Cathy and her growing staff (besides, she isn’t a fan of Kickstarter so I won’t have to worry about her page views crushing mine).  This doesn’t mean I will play anything, I’m only going to play a game if I find it interesting at some level.  And this doesn’t mean only positive comments – sending me your baby’s prototype means I can comment on how ugly it is even if it’s really smart.  Also it has been eating paint chips so you might wanna check on that.

I’m still kicking around game ideas for FuncWorks.  I want to get out another game or two in Unity before attempting anything like ROCS.

What about Microsoft?  Well Unity means I won’t be making any XBLIGs for the Xbox360.  The Xbox One?  Who knows, even Microsoft can’t figure out what the Xbox One will be for Indies and with no plans for Indies at launch I see no reason to make any plans myself.  If they get their act together and create a viable program I’ll look into it.  Keep in mind while they announced/reversed their self publishing stance this week the XBLIG dashboard was frozen.  Microsoft has yet to put indies on an equal playing field with publisher backed games in any of their stores.  Call me jaded, but I just spent the last five years waiting for them to deliver on the promise of “democratize game distribution” and will need to see proof before believing this time is real.

Last, a big thank you to the fans and community who have shared in our journey.  I’m still surprised and smile every time someone sends us an email!

The Perils and Pitfalls of Putting Together a Bundle

Back in April, as the gaming landscape was preparing for a next-gen level shakeup, I was only thinking about one thing: XBLIG is almost done.  I mean, there would be indies on Xbox One of course, but the community that I’ve come to know and love would change.  It might be better.  It might be worse.  But it would certainly not be the same.    I’ve thought about how my previous reviews would lose their relevance once those games were no longer available.  I’ve thought about the types of games the hundreds of developers I’ve come to know and befriend will create in the future.  Change is scary.  I’ve spent two years trying to be the best (if not, the loudest) advocate for Xbox Live Indie Games.

Tough Sell

Has my blog actually done anything?  Maybe, but not as much as I would have liked.  Some developers have credited positive reviews from me for causing a brief sales spike, but nothing significant.  On the flip side, I’ve had developers of games I absolutely cremated credit me with a bump in demo downloads.

LaserCat

LaserCat

But then I get down to the sad truth of the matter.  There are games on my Leaderboard that have sold under 1,000 copies.  Hell, there are games on it that have sold under 500 copies.  There are games on XBLIG where I am literally the only person that bought it.  I’ve played amazing games that sold so poorly that the developers became demoralized and quit.  Being Indie Gamer Chick has been the privilege of my life, but sometimes the tales of woe from developers can be downright heartbreaking.

With the sun setting on this generation, I wanted to try to make one last big push for Xbox Live Indie Games.  The community has come together in the past and done their best to promote the platform.  There has been three promotions called the Indie Games Uprising that tried to showcase the best new XBLIGs.  Unfortunately, the quality of those games was a mixed bag of some genuine gems to go with some unpolished, unfinished turds.  The last Uprising was particularly devastating.  Microsoft didn’t promote it until long after it had already ended, and when they finally did, the main game featured was Sententia.  A well-meaning title that was almost universally recognized as being one of the most abysmal games the platform had seen.  To have a game of its quality be the focus of an event designed to promote the best of XBLIGs only served to cement the unfair reputation XBLIG has of being nothing but low quality games that aren’t worth the average one dollar price tag.

I believed the reputation myself before I stated my blog.  From the time XBLIG launched until the time that I started Indie Gamer Chick, I bought two games for it.  Breath of Death VII was the first.  I Made a Game with Zombies in It was the second.  I enjoyed both, but attempts at finding more titles of their quality didn’t seem worth the effort.  Mostly, I found a lot of demos of stuff that felt like they were developed over the course of a week, devoid of passion, and aimed at entertaining nobody.  When I finally started my blog, it didn’t take me too long to find out that there are some really good games on the platform.  But the sheer number of awful games drowns out the good.

Beyond that, XBLIG also got a reputation of being nothing but clones of popular games, particularly Minecraft.  I’ve played the two most famous of those, Castleminer Z and FortressCraft.  I didn’t like them, but I wasn’t really interested in Minecraft either.  After playing them, I will say that they are quality games, if you’re into that sort of thing.  But there are also a lot of similar games on the platform that weren’t as well produced as those two.  At the same time, people would say things like “the top two Minecraft clones weren’t as good as Minecraft was.”  Well, of course not (though I’ve heard from some Minecraft fans that actually prefer the XBLIG clones).  But their popularity was directly tied to the fact that Minecraft wasn’t available on Xbox.  Unfortunately, having clones top the sales charts unfairly painted the platform to look like it was only good for clones.  Or if not clones, games featuring Avatars.  Regardless of the quality of those games (admittedly, most games centered around Avatars are horrid, but not all of them), most regular gamers don’t like Avatars to begin with, and that turned them off the platform.  Then you have non-gaming apps such as Rumble Massage, which is actually the #29 best-selling XBLIG of all-time as of this writing.  When there are thousands of titles on the platform and an app that turns your controller into a vibrating dildo has sold better than 99.999% of them, people are just not going to associate that platform with quality video games.

Screen 2

Smooth Operators

So that is the handicap that myself, along with dozens of other advocates of XBLIG, have dealt with.  I certainly wasn’t the first critic to focus on XBLIG.  I’m just the most successful.  But that success is only in comparison to other sites with an XBLIG focus.  Your average moderately popular indie gaming site does multiples of what I do on my best day.  It’s just plain hard to get gamers excited about good titles on Xbox Live Indie Games.  It carries too much baggage.  It’s also hard to get someone to take another look at something they’ve long since dismissed.  That’s just human nature.  In the case of XBLIG, most of what was wrong with it before is still problematic today, so anyone glancing would be likely to assume that nothing has changed.  And they’re right, because nothing really has changed.  That’s because there were very good games on the service all along.  You just had to look closely to find them.

I had two ideas for trying to get a new audience exposed to XBLIG before the new consoles launched.  The first was to do a bundle of PC ports for XBLIG.  The problem with that was the odds on being able to get one off the ground were probably slim.  Even good XBLIGs are a tough sell because of the stigma the brand carries.  The other option was to do a massive giveaway of the best XBLIGs over the course of a single day.  Well, you know how it played out.

Surprise!  We Like Your Idea!

I sent an email off to the guys at Indie Royale sheepishly explaining my idea for a bundle centered around Xbox Live Indie Games.  I couldn’t pitch them on the merits of sales potential, because there is no denying that the whole idea was a long shot at best.  Thus, I did exactly what I advise people not to do when seeking investments from venture capitalists, or crowd funding, or angel investors: I pitched to them from the heart.  I explained to them how the XBLIG/XNA community “adopted” me and what they’ve meant to my life.  I was frank about why XBLIG’s reputation was fair, but the fogging effect it created caused the majority of gamers to miss out on some of the best indies of this generation.  Finally, I basically said that these developers deserve a break, and that exposure on Indie Royale would not just benefit those with games in the bundle, but could open up the doors for greater recognition for the hundreds of talented developers whose games have sat unloved on XBLIG.

Little Racers STREET

Little Racers STREET

Graeme, one of the main guys at Indie Royale, did respond to me.  Which is awesome considering that I’m ultimately small potatoes on the indie scene.  Not only did he respond, but I had caught his interest.  We discussed the types of games I would include, and how we could set this apart from other bundles.  Then, things went quiet for a while.  So quiet that I was sure I got the blow off.  So, I turned my attention to my alternative plan: a huge giveaway of the best PC ports for XBLIG.  The idea was, the developers would have their games free for one day only: July 1, for Indie Gamer Chick’s Second Anniversary.  After lining up over a dozen top-notch games, many of which I had planned to include in the bundle (plus other games that would be discounted), I thought I had organized a pretty good little event.

Then I heard back from Graeme.  The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle was officially on.  I just had to round up the games.

I changed my underwear and started contacting developers.

Rounding up Games

Your typical bundle usually has five games.  The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle has eight.  The reason for that is simple: I wanted gamers to get the best value for their money as possible.  Many of these games sell for between $1 to $3 on Xbox Live right now, not to mention that some would have been featured on previous bundles.  But most importantly, I wanted people to see that there is a huge variety of very good games on the platform that they had been missing out on.

If I could have, I would have included every single developer who wanted in.  But that wasn’t an option.  I’ve made tons of friends who develop XBLIGs since starting my site.  I wish I could have included those I was closest with.  But the concept of the bundle was that it was supposed to represent the tippy-top of XBLIG quality.  After coming up with several variations, I ultimately decided to go off my leaderboard and pick the first eight games that were available in sequential order.

For those new to Indie Gamer Chick, the Leaderboard is a concept I adapted from BBC’s automotive show Top Gear.  The idea I had was I would rank every game that I enjoyed in the exact order I would prefer to play them.  The method is actually very simple.  Whenever a new game receives my Seal of Approval, I start at the bottom of my list and ask myself if I would rather play the new game or the old one.  If it’s the new one I prefer, I go up to the next game on the list.  I do this until I reach an old game that I prefer over the new one.  The new game is then placed below that title on the board.  It’s been a fun idea that works really well.  It’s interactive.  My readers get to debate placement.  It also gives developers something to aim for.  Just having it made the selection process for this bundle pretty easy.  Or so I thought.

Screen 4

Right off the bat, the #3 game on my site, We Are Cubes, was eliminated.  It has no PC port, and there wasn’t enough time to get one up and running.  The #2 ranked game, Gateways, was not available because the developer already had plans to be in an upcoming bundle.  #9, Bleed, was only recently listed on Steam and the timing wasn’t right, but I have no doubt they’ll be in a future bundle.  Games like Miner Dig Deep (#11) and Star Ninja (#13) also have no PC ports, while Cthulhu Saves the World (#12) has been in more bundles than I can count.  That was cool, because everything in my Top-25 I would proudly stand by as the cream of the XBLIG crop.

But this was a bundle that was about the XBLIGs.  So I considered putting some games that were well received by everyone but me in the bundle, with Apple Jack being the game that I felt would probably be the most well received.  The problem there was Apple Jack isn’t out on PC yet.  It will be soon, and for fans of punishers, you’ll probably like it a hell of a lot more than I did.  I thought about including the most popular game on XBLIG that I’m incapable of playing due to my epilepsy: Score Rush by Xona Games.  That wasn’t an option because they already had a bundle planned out.  Finally, I almost went completely nepotism corrupt and including Aeternum by Brooks Bishop, who is one of my better friends I’ve made through Indie Gamer Chick, not to mention the man who designed my mascot.  But that just plain wouldn’t have been right.  His game was well received by fans of Bullet Hells, but I absolutely hated it.  I get along with bullet hells about as well as I imagine Michael Vick will get along with Cerberus.

So my lineup was set.  And then I lost Escape Goat.  Unfortunately, the timing was wrong.  He wanted in, but he had already committed to other bundles and deals and had to pull out.  This was pretty devastating, because Escape Goat is the #1 ranked game on the Leaderboard.  I consider it to be the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made, and I’ve reviewed nearly 400 of them.  I also lost Chompy Chomp Chomp, the #5 game on my board, which I consider to be the best party game of this entire gaming generation, indie or otherwise.  I was counting on its inclusion because pure party games are quite rare in these kind of bundles, and I wanted it to set this bundle apart from the rest.  The developers at Utopian World of Sandwiches were besides themselves when they had to drop out.   They wanted in, but a miscommunication forced them out.  That sucks.  I still get a knot in my stomach thinking about it.  Chompy Chomp Chomp is a game that didn’t sell extremely well on XBLIG, but it’s worth your time.  Gather up your friends, because you’ll never have a better party for $1, I promise you.

So I went back to the list.  Again, many games were just not options based on being too recently featured in other bundles.  Penny Arcade Part 3 was out.  DLC Quest was out.  A couple of my favorite puzzlers, Pixel Blocked! and Aesop’s Garden had no PC ports.  Thankfully, the vastly overlooked SpyLeaks was available.  Finally, I went to Orbitron, one of my personal favorite games on XBLIG that, I admit, got a mixed-reception elsewhere.  Though to be frank, I’m disappointed that ArcadeCraft, which was created by Orbitron developers Firebase Industries, had no PC port.  This is thanks to its use of avatars as characters.  Yea, ArcadeCraft ranks two spots below Orbitron on the Leaderboard, but there’s no questioning that is has a larger appeal.  Seriously guys, get cracking on that PC port.  No XBLIG screams “this would be a PC megahit” quite like ArcadeCraft does.  (Note: according to the guys at Firebase, it likely will never come to PC.  I need to go have myself a cry now)

Orbitron: Revolution

Orbitron: Revolution

The eight games confirmed for real, I had one last thing to do.  I really did want to include as many developers as I could, but the problem was, the more games, the smaller the piece of the pie each would get.  Indie Royale had never had a bundle with eight separate developers.  The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle isn’t the largest in terms of total games, but it is the largest in terms of total developers.  It also complicates things more from legal and logistical points of view.  But I really wanted everyone who had earned my Seal of Approval and genuinely wanted in to have a shot at being in.  The only way to do that was to ask if they wanted to simply donate their games to the bundle.  A shit deal for them perhaps, but it was all I could do.

Guess what?  As always, the XBLIG community stepped up, and I had volunteers.  That mystery game?  I’m not even sure what it is, but it will come from one of those games, and it will be a game off my Leaderboard.  Incredible.  Those who did step up are artists.  They also have future projects that are coming very soon to both XBLIG and to PC, and they wanted to show that they’re here, they have talent, and you can trust that they can make good games.

Naming Your Bundle of Joy

When I started Indie Gamer Chick, it was totally on a whim.  My boyfriend (along with my parents, coworkers, and the ghost of Jacob Marley) all said I needed a hobby.  We were going through my Xbox hard drive and stumbled upon Breath of Death VII and I Made a Game With Zombies, the two XBLIGs I owned before starting my blog.  Brian, like many gamers, had honestly never heard of XBLIGs.  I had previously considered doing a movie related blog, but Brian suggested that I should do XBLIG reviews instead, since gaming was basically all I did with my free time.  The name came about after just a couple of minutes of brain storming.  I’m a fan of online movie reviews from sources like Red Letter Media and That Guy with the Glasses.  TGWTG included the Nostalgia Chick, whose reviews I had come to enjoy quite a bit.  So I thought, hey, Indie Gamer Chick.  Done and done.

The name is good and catchy, but I didn’t stop to think about the negative aspects of it.  Namely, the whole GURL GAMER thing.  Besides the very rare joke, I’ve never played up the girl card here.  It takes about five minutes worth of reading my blog to see that I’m not playing the “I’m quirky because I’m a girl and I play games” tit-shaking stereotype.  So while the name might land curiosity seekers, I would hope my writing and coverage of games that don’t typically get a lot of attention would be the draw of my site.  And for the most part, it is.  In two years, the amount of times someone ripped me for having “Chick” in my site’s name was minimum.  It was a non-factor, and I’m proud of that.

Chester

Chester

And then I attached a teaser to the bundle at the end of my review for Penny Arcade 4, and the response was overwhelmingly negative, but in silly ways.  Maybe a bit mean-spirited, but mostly the jokes you would expect.  Menstruation jokes.  Boob jokes.  Jokes about casual games that girls play, or games starring girls.  That didn’t bother me so much.  I mean, if I can’t take that shit (and obviously some people can’t, hence some recent controversies) I should crawl under my bed and never come out because that’s just how people talk.  It’s dumb.  It’s juvenile.  But I’m a critic who liberally uses dick and fart jokes, so I can’t say anything against low brow humor.

The problem is, for the name of a gaming blog, Indie Gamer Chick is perfect.  For the name of a bundle?  I’ll admit, it’s not so perfect.  First off, people unfamiliar with my site (which includes the whole world, give or take a couple thousand people) have no point of reference to why the bundle was called that.  None of the games feature girls as the protagonist.  Thus, the bundle might seem like Indie Royale was marketing directly to girls in a way that could be considered sexist.  This at a time when gender-related tensions in gaming are at an all time high.  Granted, their site and their press release make it clear who Indie Gamer Chick is (raises hand) and that I hand-selected the games.  Which is fine, if everyone reads it.  They didn’t.  The name “Indie Gamer Chick Bundle” appeared on Twitter and across message boards and people lost their shit over it.  For most of those people, their anger/outrage was defused when they found out the context of the name.  Others moved on to being pissed that my blog had the name “Chick” in it.  The rule I guess being that girls that play games are not allowed to say they are girls.  I’m not sure if the rule applies to other forms of entertainment.  I’ll ask Lady Gaga is she gets shit for her stage name.

The second part is the whole girl gamer thing carries with it the jokes that are such layups that even Kwame Brown couldn’t blow it.  “It’s Indie Gamer Chick so of course Bleed will be in the bundle.”  Not only does that not bother me, but I laughed.  I mean, they’re easy jokes for a reason.  Because more than one person thinks of it.  Not clever, but hey, funny.  And there was no actual malice behind them.  Yea, there were a few douchey comments, but the internet has a few douchey people.  You know what?  The internet is not made up mostly of assholes and misogynists.  I know this because I spent two years working with the XBLIG community, which is made up almost entirely of men and they treated me amazing.  By the way: making a random girl gamer joke doesn’t make a guy a misogynist or an asshole.  Not every joke has malice behind it.

Should the bundle have been called something else?  Maybe.  My friend Matt played the devil’s advocate role as we tossed around the merits and detriments of having the bundle carry my name.  He floated the idea that calling it the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle would take the attention away from the XBLIG concept.  He wasn’t totally wrong about that.  Of course, there was no name available that could hammer home that this was an XBLIG themed bundle.  Legally, we couldn’t even call it the Xbox Live Indie Game Bundle.  The alternative name considered was the XNA Showcase Bundle.  XNA is the free gaming development tool set provided by Microsoft upon which all XBLIGs (and some spectacular Xbox Live Arcade games such as Bastion) were built with.  XNA was recently discontinued by Microsoft, so having that name for the bundle as a final tribute made sense.  Better sense than my friend George Clingerman, who got XNA tattooed on his arm.  Though I believe he was merely pining to be Peter Moore’s heir at Microsoft when he did that.  Probably while drunk.

Of course, XNA doesn’t mean a whole lot to people outside the development community.  And, unlike indies, which will have some future on Xbox as a platform, XNA is done.  People will still continue to use it to create PC games, and tools such as MonoGame could potentially lead to some games for next-gen platforms being started on XNA.  But it won’t ever again be a major factor in indie development.

The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle was the name to go with.  I know it works at catching attention.  If I had to go back to July of 2011, the day I started the site, would I have called it something else?  Perhaps CathyPlaysIndies.com or something like that?  Again, maybe.  If I had known I would eventually end up doing one of these bundles, I probably would have come up with something less controversial.  I mean, who knew?  I figured nobody would read me.  But, I’m not ashamed of the name.  I’m proud that Indie Gamer Chick has caught on.  I’m proud that I am Indie Gamer Chick.  I never thought I would catch on enough to be the recipient of backlash.

And it’s not just me, but the guys at Indie Royale who are getting it.  Again, they’ve done everything they could to make it clear that the bundle was handpicked by me, but the name is all most people see, and they find the name sexist.  I’m getting a small minority of gamers upset by being yet another female gamer who has to call attention to her gender.  That was never my intention.  I just thought the name sounded cool.  It had a ring to it.  Now the name is getting me labeled as an anti-feminist.  It’s true that I don’t give a flying fuck about feminism.  It’s 2013, and despite the best efforts of some politicians, I don’t feel like a second class citizen, nor have I ever.  And yet, based purely on gender, I’m supposed to automatically side with people like Anita Sarkeesian.  Isn’t the whole idea that I must give a shit about it because I’m a girl in and of itself sexist?  So yea, I do regret that the name in the sense that it brings the gender debate (and all accompanying jokes) onto the table.  It’s totally fair, because it’s the name I chose.

SpyLeaks

SpyLeaks

I’ve always thought what most set me apart from other bloggers and critics was my age and inexperience.  I was about two weeks away from turning 22 when I started Indie Gamer Chick.  I didn’t grow up with an Atari 2600 or an NES or even the 16-bit platforms.  My first console was the original PlayStation.  My average reader tends to be about ten years older than me.  It’s having that totally different perspective that sets me apart.  This is the first time I’ve really talked about the gender issue, but I sort of have to.  Would I have gotten it regardless if I had named my blog Random Game Crap, which was seriously what I almost called it?  Probably a little, but not as much.  Thankfully, some of the people who were like “what the fuck is an Indie Gamer Chick” took the time to read my blog and realize that I’m not a stereotype.

And, of course, my review style sets me apart.  I’m certainly not the only critic who is known for being harsh.  It’s just that indies are typically spared from scorn.  I admit. I knew almost nothing about the indie scene before starting Indie Gamer Chick.  I had played indie games, mostly through promotions like Xbox’s Summer of Arcade, or various random PSN releases.  But, when I went to check on reviews for Xbox Live Indie Games, there were slim pickings.  And what little reviews I could find seemed like they were written by cheerleaders.  Absolutely nothing negative discussed about the game.  Just praise and positivity, as if the developer were a delicate flower who would wilt and die if anything resembling constructive feedback was spoken.  Yea, fuck that.  If I was going to do this thing, I would just say exactly what I thought.  And that’s what I did.

It’s exactly what developers want.  I mean, they want to get positive reviews, but they want to earn them.  They’re meaningless if they’re handed out like candy to trick-or-treaters.  Indie developers desire to improve, and the only way they can do that is through honest feedback.  And honest feedback is something they  couldn’t count on from friends or family or fellow developers.  They should have been able to count on it from critics, but the critics failed to actually criticize anything.  When the XBLIG community finally discovered my blog, they were briefly mortified by my review style.  But community leaders embraced me and my style.  Now, developers use my reviews to help them improve.  They aspire to be better.  To be what they use as a guidepost for improvement is pretty much the greatest thing I’ve ever accomplished.  It’s especially touching because they’re the ones with the real talent.  I’m just someone who plays games.  But they treat me special, and that feels amazing.

Let’s Do Launch

The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle launched yesterday.  The response across message boards was generally negative, I admit.  But, aside from a handful of people who just plain loath the idea of my name, most of the feedback is centered around game selection.  It’s not that the games are bad.  The consensus seems to be that these are good games.  It’s that there’s too many repeats from previous bundles, or that only one of the games (Dead Pixels) has Steam keys as an option.  These criticisms are absolutely fair and anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong.

Centering a bundle around XBLIGs doesn’t exactly give one the widest range of game selection.  There are a lot of solid titles, but stuff I felt worked as a proper showcase for the platform that was available and not completely over-bundled limited my choices.  Do I regret not getting Escape Goat?  Sure.  Am I ashamed that my bundle instead has SpyLeaks?  Absolutely not.  It’s a wonderful game.  I wouldn’t have settled for a selection that wasn’t representative of the best of what XBLIG has to offer.  I’m proud that I got to present these eight games to a community that might have overlooked them.

I do admit, not having Steam be an option for seven out of the eight games does suck.  Not having Mac as an option for any of the games sucks too.  Part of that is that games developed on XNA are tougher to transition to Mac, not to mention costly.  You have to remember, with the exception of Dead Pixels (which would qualify as a modest hit), none of these titles were best sellers, and getting the games on Mac could very well have been cost prohibitive.  As far as Steam, it again comes down to these games not having the biggest following, and the Greenlight process being slow.  Four of the games are going through Greenlight now, and if you enjoyed playing them, give them your vote please.  They’ve earned it.

Antipole

Antipole

So who was this bundle aimed at?  I really wanted this to reach gamers who ignored XBLIG, or long since dismissed it.  I wanted to show that this is what XBLIG was capable of.  One gentlemen offered the following feedback: “I haven’t heard of any of these games.”  He meant that as a negative.  I was thinking “wait, if you’ve never heard of them, isn’t this exactly the kind of bundle you should be looking at Indie Royale for?”  Most XBLIGs have no name recognition.  That doesn’t mean they have no value to you as a gamer.  If ever there was a platform that should have thrived on sleeper hits, it would be Xbox Live Indie Games.

I think the bundle is probably being better received in terms of sales than people expected from an XBLIG-themed bundle selected by a nobody critic.  Is it going to break sales records?  Probably not.  But is it succeeding at exposing a new group of gamers to XBLIG?  Thankfully, the answer to that is yes.  People are using my Leaderboard to discover some great games that flew under the radar.  That a wonderful market full of hidden gems was right there on their Xbox all along.  Even if it only creates a handful of new XBLIG fans, it’s still totally worth it.

It’s ironic that Microsoft announced their plans for self-publishing on Xbox One the same day that my bundle launched.  The same bundle I wanted to use to create new fans for my beloved XBLIG.  The term “better late than never” comes to mind.  That applies to new customers for XBLIG as well.  And even for those who think the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle stinks, I hope you will at least tip your hat to this development community, because they will factor into your future in gaming.  With their amount of talent, crossing paths with them will be unavoidable.  If you have an Xbox and you haven’t checked out the indie channel in quite some time, if not ever, I truly hope you fire it up.  You have no idea what you’ve been missing.  It’s not perfect, and many of its games downright suck.  But the good stuff?  The really good stuff?  It’s there, and when you find it, it will make your day.

The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle is available now at Indie Royale

Limbo

Probably spoilers in here.  Just a warning.

People are always asking me what I think of certain indie games that existed before I started Indie Gamer Chick.  The two most commonly asked about titles are Fez and Limbo.  I couldn’t finish Fez because of my epilepsy, so Limbo is the only one I’m really qualified to speak of.  But seriously, it’s like a daily thing.  “What did you think of Limbo?”  As if Limbo is the be-all, end-all of console-based indies.

I liked Limbo.  I really did.  I also feel the game is fairly overrated.  When you strip out of the visuals and bleakness, it’s just a good, but not great, platformer.  A trend I’ve noticed is that a lot of people only played through the early part of the game.  When you first enter Limbo, you can be left shell-shocked by the dark tone, spooky visuals, and the fact that one of the first things that happens is an awesome, intense encounter with a giant spider.  It perhaps gives the false impression that all those emotions will retain their impact through-out the game.  They don’t.  At least for me, I found myself desensitized to the whole concept not even half-way in.  Once Limbo started focusing more on twitchy-platforming instead of physics-based puzzles, I started finding myself almost bored.  It never fully becomes a chore, but once it starts becoming a platforming cliché, it does sort of burn out.

I filled in the blanks by pretending that the game starred Schroeder from The Peanuts.  Here he is, learning of Charlie Brown's final fate.

I filled in the blanks by pretending that the game starred Schroeder from The Peanuts. Here he is, learning of Charlie Brown’s final fate.

Also, it was hard to get worked up about the setting when the game was using the all-deflecting “it’s an art game” shield, which pretty much guaranteed an ending “left open to interpretation.”  Never been a fan of that.  Especially when the game was abstract to begin with.  So I guess the idea is the kid, or kids, are dead.  How they died or when or where or why is never explained.  Theories range from a car wreck to falling out of the tree house to being murdered.  I guess from a marketing point of view, it works, because at least people are talking about the game.  But I found the ending unsatisfying, because it offered no closure at all.  When you invest hours into a game hoping to get some kind of explanation for all the fucked up happenings and the payoff is more questions, it almost feels like the director himself didn’t really know where to go with it.  I’ll call this the “Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes Effect.”

Yea, sometimes the questions are more fun than the answers, but in the case of Limbo, you’re playing characters that have no characterization at all.  The boy has no back story, no dialog, no personality, no facial expressions, or anything else going for him.  The girl is no different.  You’re forced to fill in the blanks yourself, but most of the symbolism is in the background and can be easily missed on account of you playing the game.  Because the actual gameplay starts to dull towards the end, Limbo really doesn’t lend itself well to replaying to look for the clues that you missed.

Limbo’s ending. I apologize for comparing it to Burton’s Planet of the Apes. That’s a low-blow.

I don’t mean to be too negative here.  Sometimes Limbo is brilliantly designed from a gameplay perspective.  The bits with the spider early on are one of my all-time gaming highlights.  Unfortunately, Limbo pretty much shot its wad in the first twenty minutes.  Nothing that followed the sequence where you’re hopping in the spider’s cocoon came remotely close to the thrills and chills that section offered.  All that’s left is solid physics-based platforming that I almost wish was in a more cheerful setting, because too much dark shit can get exhausting.  But hey, dark is in right now.  Any product that aims to be joyful is setting itself up for failure.  If an indie game isn’t so bleak that you want to bury your face in your hands and cry, the developer must be mentally ill.  Or possibly not mentally ill enough.

boxartlgLimbo was developed by Playdead

IGC_Approved1200 Microsoft Points honest to God can’t believe they just ported this thing to iOS.  There is no fucking way this can be played well with fake virtual buttons in the making of this review.

Limbo is Chick Approved

Your Bright Futures

So I’m making the transition from an XBLIG-centered site to more sweeping coverage of indies across all platforms.  It’s kind of scary.  I’ve spent two years focusing on this little unsung platform that is Xbox Live Indie Games.  But I’m not the only one braving new waters.  Hundreds of Xbox Live Indie Game developers are exploring new development formats such as Unity or Monogame, with the intent of going multi-platform.  With both Sony and Nintendo aggressively courting indies, not to mention upstart Ouya and the existing (and thriving) PC indie community, there’s no shortage of places to go.  Well, so far Microsoft hasn’t said anything.  My theory is they’re in a medically-induced coma after sustaining life-threatening whiplash following the quick and reckless 180 they pulled.  Again, just a theory.  But if you see any Xbox guys wearing neck braces, just nod knowingly.

Anyway, with this move I’m making, which has me a little on the jittery side, I was curious how the development community that has supported me for the last two years is handling the transition.  What plans they have for the future, and what lessons they’ve learned from Xbox Live Indie Games that they’ll be applying to the future.  Here’s what they had to say.

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Tales from the Dev Side: Why Boardgames are a Great First Game by Sean Colombo

Why Boardgames are a Great First-Game

by Sean Colombo of BlueLine Game Studios

After Indie Gamer Chick said that our game, Hive, was the best game since Tetris (okay, I’m seriously over-exaggerating heavily paraphrasing here), she brought up that there seem to be a decent number of game developers starting out by making video versions of board games.

It was no accident that I chose to start with our first major offering being a board game. There are quite a few advantages of starting your game company with board games, and today I’m going to share some of them because it’s IGC’s anniversary and I’m an Indie Game Developer so I’m too cheap/skinflint to buy her team a real gift.

Faster to Market

Probably the single biggest obstacle that I’ve seen keeping people out of the game industry is that they can’t finish their game. We all love games and tend to have big visions (eyes) and finite amounts of time (stomaches). So it’s really a race to finish a game before we lose motivation or come up with a more distracting idea to pull us away.

Acknowledging this tendency, we should set ourselves up for success by choosing projects where the total amount of work is smaller. Starting with an existing engine (eg: Unity) or releasing a very simple game are good strategies. Similarly, you can cut down the scope of your game drastically by choosing something – such as board games – where thousands of hours of playtesting have already been done on the concept.

Many people forget to bake this into their time-estimates for the game, but the playtesting needed to make a game actually fun and with high replayability, is far trivial. For some examples, I was playing a paper-prototype of Chess: The Gathering around a year ago and I think Tim has been playing it every time I’ve seen him since then. It was a little awkward that one time during yoga class, but let’s just all be thankful that using Warrior Pose to summon pieces didn’t make it in the game. Similarly, I played Cannon Brawl about a year ago and the gameplay was what many would call “done”, but Pete and his testers kept at that thing and now there’s awesome new units that are like magic missiles and ba-bombs!

We certainly had to do a bunch of playtesting of our interface for Hive, but the literally-thousands of games of gameplay playtesting by John Yianni (the developer of the Hive board game), made it so that we could spend a decent chunk of time polishing visuals and AI while still being able to complete the game before we died of old age, went broke, gave up, etc..

screen4

Market Recognition

Additionally, when you’re starting out nobody knows/cares who you are. If you start with a board game, all of its fans already know what your game is about! On our very first blog post where we announced Hive, we almost immediately had a commenter (who was a complete stranger as far as I know) telling us that they were looking forward to it! That kind of instant fanbase doesn’t happen on its own.

This is probably the point where someone digs up that quote from one of the Team Meat guys that goes something like ‘if you have a good game, the internet will make sure everyone finds it’. Those meaty fellows are wrong. They make great games and I love them to itty bitty pieces, but they built up a following from about a decade of games prior to Super Meat Boy and even had a specific MB following from their flash game “Meat Boy”. If they didn’t have their presence built up, SMB would not have sold as well. This buildup is the same for many of the indies that we think of as overnight successes: Behemoth cranked on several Alien Hominid releases before the (mainstream) world learned their name from Castle Crashers, Rovio released around 35 games before they ‘launched’ (ba-dum-cha) Angry Birds, and Notch (Minecraft) has been making games since the mid-80s.

Are you still not convinced? Wow, you’re stubborn. Allow me to predict the future! Ian Stocker made Escape Goat which Indie Gamer Chick reviewed as the best XBLIG of all time (no joke) and currently reigns #1 as the king-goat of the Leaderboard. He’s also released Soul Caster I & II and is finishing up Escape Goat 2 with Waking Mars artist Randy O’Connor, at the time of this writing. My prediction: even though EG1 was critically acclaimed, the reputation-snowball is going to make EG2 sell more than twice as much as EG1. I’m so confident that if it doesn’t, I’ll give out all of my remaining free-codes to Coagulate on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Now that I’ve beaten this dead-horse back into stardust… we all agree that your sales suck until people know you. Here’s where boardgames come in: board game fans will buy your game without knowing who you are. Now, you won’t get all “board game fans” but fans of Hive didn’t need to hear of BlueLine Games before they bought our first game. After 100 repetitions of our splash-screen, now they’re fully borgified and will probably buy our next title, Khet 2.0, even if they haven’t played that specific board game.

Attainable IP

Other than the very mainstream board games whose rights have been bought up by Mattel and Hasbro, many board games creators are still willing to deal with indie developers. The board game industry itself is parallel to the video game industry in many ways and most of their developers are “indies”. One of the larger challenges in working with these developers is that most of them aren’t going to want to put an up-front financial investment in. You’ll have to be prepared to eat through your savings just to take the gamble at releasing another game to market that may or may not be successful. That’s just part of the job though.

In addition to indie IP, there are a ton of games that don’t even require a license. For example, BoardGameGeek lists of over 600 public domain board games. These come with their own challenges too, of course; every platform seems to have 3 versions of Chess, Checkers and Go within a week of launch.

Spectrangle360 was another Chick-Approved board game based on an existing property.

Spectrangle360 was another Chick-Approved board game based on an existing property.

Reusable Code

Board games have a lot of re-usable concepts in them. Players, pieces, boards, plies, AI based on Minimax, etc.. If you do it right, you can make your second game far more quickly than your first. We had hoped we could make our second game in half the time of the first. So far, it looks like Khet 2.0 will take one-quarter of the dev-time that Hive took.

One huge caveat here is that making reusable code is a huge difference from writing a general-purpose board-game engine. If you want to start your project by making the most universal, extensible board game engine in the world, then you’re almost certainly never going to finish your project (see the first section of this post!). However, as you create things you need, it’s fairly easy to plan ahead and make sure that anything general you’re writing (such as Minimax AI), is made in a reusable way.

Now, Step Off!

If you’re looking to make a game to break into the industry, board games can be a great way to start! However, if you try to knock off Hive or Khet, I may have to go all Dr. Karate on you!

But seriously, have fun making games and whatever game you decide to make – best of luck finishing it!
– Sean Colombo

If you like board games or indie game development, please follow our twitter @BlueLineGames, or our Facebook page to see behind the scenes!

H.i.v.e.

H.i.v.e. is a digital version of a moderately popular, award-winning tabletop game.  It’s also one of those rare Xbox Live Indie Games that is officially licensed.  You can think of H.i… you know what, fuck it, I’m not using the periods.  Think of Hive as a cross between chess and dominoes.  You’re given a collection of hexagonal tiles, each with its own movement properties.  One of the tiles is a queen bee.  You have to place the queen on the board within your first four turns.  Gameplay continues until one queen bee has been completely surrounded on all sides, whether the titles belong to you or your opponent.  In addition to the bee, there’s also ants, grasshoppers, spiders, and beetles.  Ants can move to any free space as long as there is a path to get to it.  Spiders must move three spaces at a time.  Beetles can walk over and cover other tiles.  And grasshoppers can only move by jumping over pieces.  If you want to read the full rules, you can click here.  You probably should too.  Our first game didn’t involve any rule reading, because Bryce thinks rules are for squares.  We didn’t know fuck all what we were doing, which explains why I lost to.. sorry Bryce.. a FUCKING MORON!

Of course, that doesn’t explain why I lost eight straight games to Brian immediately following that, but you shouldn’t dwell on that.  I certainly haven’t.  Sniffle.

Because there is no board, the camera sometimes has to pull pretty far back.  But, worry not, because all the tiles are distinctive and easy to recognize.

Because there is no board, the camera sometimes has to pull pretty far back. But, worry not, because all the tiles are easy to see and distinctive from each-other.

H.i.v.e. is a lot of fun.  I’ve never played the board game that it’s based on, but the interface created by BlueLine Games is well handled.  I’ve always questioned the existence of video-board games that only strive to recreate the exact experience of the corporeal version.  But actually, I think in the case of games like H.i.v.e., they serve a purpose of making complex games easier to learn.  It lays out for you exactly what moves are legal, what pieces can be moved, where they can be moved, etc.  It takes the edge off the learning curve to a huge degree.  But, it still is a no-frills video game version of a board game.  I firmly believe that the best video board game do things that only can be done in the realm of games, and that doesn’t apply to Hive.

Hive is also not without faults.  As of this writing, online play is unstable.  In thirty attempts at playing online, only eight games successfully connected.  If both players are able to make an opening move, the connection won’t drop, but that barely happens a quarter of the time.  The developers are aware of this issue, but I’m actually not grading against it.  I preferred playing locally against human opponents sitting right next to me.  You can play against the AI, which actually isn’t that bad as far as video game AI from a first-time developer goes.  Early on at this site, I played Avatar Chess, which had genius-level AI even on the easiest settings.  While the AI in Hive can lean towards the fierce side on medium, the easy setting is a good way to break into the game, but not so dumb that you’re embarrassed to play it.   I can’t tell you how good the hard mode is, because I didn’t really try it.  I had enough difficulty beating Brian, who isn’t exactly a rocket scientist.  Not that I’m obsessed with the fact that I couldn’t beat such a simpleton.  I’m not.  Really.  DAMN YOUR ACCUSING EYES, STOP LOOKING AT ME!!

So let it be said that Hive, a simple adaption of a cult board game, is the game that ended the Leaderboard’s losing streak.  Despite having no apparent talent for it, I had a great time playing it.  I even played a few rounds against my father, and it was very fun to bond over.  I mean, he wiped the floor with me too, but I still had fun in my failure.  I liked H.i.v.e. so much that I ordered the actual game off Amazon.  So while it doesn’t really need to exist as a video game, I’m happy it does.  And by the way, Brian can’t even remotely come close to beating me at chess, so obviously I’m better than him.  I think that’s how it works.

xboxboxartH.i.v.e. was developed by BlueLine Game Studios

IGC_Approved240 Microsoft Points have a boyfriend who noted that he routinely kicked my ass at Spectrangle too, the cocky fuckwad.

H.i.v.e. is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

A review copy of H.i.v.e. was provided to Indie Gamer Chick by BlueLine Game Studios.  The version played by Cathy was paid for by her with her own money.  The review copy was provided to a friend just to help test online functions.  That person had no feedback in this review.  Consult the Indie Gamer Chick FAQ for how this policy works.

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