Kobold’s Quest

Update: Kolbold’s Quest is now 80 Microsoft Points.  It makes my overall opinion of it lean slightly more positive.  With three willing friends, it might be worth a purchase.

There’s nothing more boring than listening to people drone on and on about how adorable their children are.  Maybe after having the little parasite live inside you for nine months you grow attached to it, but to me and most of the world it’s just a little machine that turns food into shit and vomit.  Oh yes, that’s so adorable.  And then they want to show you pictures and talk about how they just cut their first teeth.  Meanwhile, I’m thinking “so you’re excited that your soulless shit’n’puke machine now has a permanent weapon inside it’s mouth?”  It makes me thankful that I long ago learned the value of a good old-fashioned coat hanger.

Naturally my, ahem, dislike for babies should lead to me loving a game where they are killed and eaten by a monster thingie.  Unfortunately, Kobold’s Quest is mired in some pretty horrible design choices that slow down its progress to a greater degree than fetal alcohol syndrome.

Kobold’s Quest is a local-only multiplayer platformer where you have to kidnap a baby and return it to the start of each level.  You’re armed only with a single attack button and the ability to jump.  When you throw more than one player into the mix, you can jump off of each other to reach higher platforms.  In a way, it’s kind of like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, only more sterile and with less things to do.

Kobold’s Quest is flawed right from the get-go.  Despite being a platformer, the focus seems to be on stealth-based gameplay.  You can confront human enemies with an attack button, but their attacks are almost always faster and get the job done in one shot.  Thus you’re encouraged to be a sneak, waiting until they’re walking away from you before progressing forward.  As a result, the game just plain isn’t any fun.  The level design is always Dullsville and even if it’s populated by three other players, having to wait for enemies to walk away before you can inch forward kind of sucks.

It also doesn’t help that the collision detection is way off the mark.  Often you can stand on a completely different platform from an enemy and still get diced up when they swing their weapon at you.  If the enemy was using an 80 inch sword that would embarrass Cloud Strife, that would be fine.  But when it’s a little old lady brandishing a meat cleaver and you’re several feet above her on an entirely different staircase, it gets a bit annoying.  You also barely jump high enough to leap over baddies, and they can easily kill you midair.  There’s no radar so you can’t see where enemies are located, and some of them move very fast and wield some pretty huge swords, leading to tons of cheap deaths.  Plus, there are crows.  Crows are supposed to be creepy things associated with death and evilness.  Why are they so hell-bent on helping the humans save their babies?  Fuck if I know.

Despite the focus on multiplayer, Kobold’s Quest works better as a single player experience.  With three other players, things get too crowded, it slows the pace down even further, and the whole “race to be the one who feeds the baby to the monster” feels way out-of-place given that the enemies are still around and you have stand still and wait for them to go away.  Only now you can’t even attack them because you’re holding the baby.  So it’s a race where you are still expected to be slow.  It’s a really boneheaded design choice, but at this point I’m used to those.

When you’re by yourself, the game works better.  The guys I suckered into playing this with me were quickly losing their patience with the boring levels and cheap enemies.  When I was all alone, I kind of had a bit more fun.  Not enough to recommend Kobold’s Quest.  God no.  It’s a boring, poorly designed mess of a game, but the controls work and the theme really strikes a chord with me since I’m all in favor of mandatory abortions.

This cutscene is the reason why Kobold's Quest cost two dollars more than it should.

I think my biggest gripe is that they charged three bucks for this game.  Granted, their hands were forced because it comes in at a whopping 150MB and thus they had no choice but to charge 240MSP.  But why did it cost that much?  The graphics are nothing special, except for some really elaborate (and well done) cut scenes and tons of well done and often hilarious voice acting.  The question is, are those features worth an extra two bucks?  Not by a long shot.  And it always kind of irks me when a developer spends so much time dolling up the presentation in a way that contributes nothing to the game play, when they should have spent that time focusing on improving level design or making sure the collision detection actually worked.  Don’t get me wrong, somewhere in here is a great game, but SuckerFree Games took the entirely wrong approach when deciding what Kobold’s Quest would be, and as a result it’s about as appealing as Afterbirth flavored Pepsi.

Kobold’s Quest was developed by SuckerFree Games

240 Microsoft Points said Pepsi Afterbirth likely would still taste better than Red Bull in the making of this review.

Nate, whom I hear shaves his own butt every spring, also reviewed this over at Gear Fish

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

21 Responses to Kobold’s Quest

  1. Haven’t played this yet, so I cannot comment on it.

    But I often hear developers speak about “having” to charge $3 instead of $1 because of the 50 MB limit. This is just never a legitimate reason. You can always reduce the game size. The game’s executable and description data sizes are tiny. The only thing that uses real space is graphics and music. And both can be compressed to any size you wish. While it’s horrible to have to see graphics at low quality settings or music at bad quality settings, it’s still possible.

    With Duality ZF, before we were shooting for XBLA, the original price points were $2.50, $5, and $10, and we thought $5 was reasonable, so we were making a 150 MB game. Once we seen the $1 price emerge, and games were selling much better, we pondered over making the game under 50 MB to fit, so we tried it, and we did rather easily. Graphics can be compressed in many different ways, and sounds can often be supremely compressed with different formats without even noticing degradation. While we could tell the graphic quality had dropped, it wasn’t horrible.

    So I hold that the game size is never an excuse. It just takes a little more time, and if it can help your game sell 10x as many copies for only 1/3rd the price, then I suggest making it happen.

    • Starglider says:

      This sentiment is not correct. Compression to 50 Mb was possible for you because you had a relatively compact game and youhadn`t previously considered it; a lot of developers don’t. Some developers use the maximum possible compression from day one, just to fit into the 150 Mb limit. I have gone to the extent of writing custom image codecs to save another 20% over JPEG and using so much GPU procedural content generation the levels take 30 seconds to load, and my game still barely fits into 150 Mb

      • John our programmer replies:
        I don’t know what to say about that. He is missing the point.
        KQ, before I added in the animated WMV files, was around 30MB. We were well below the 50MB limit. You cannot add animated videos and be under 50MB without making them look like a YouTube video at 240p resolution. We playtested the game using still images and our number one complaint was that our story wasn’t animated, so we had to make a call on that.

      • Kairi Vice says:

        Just to throw my two cents in, as a consumer I don’t think your game is worth $3 when it’s mediocre compared to lots of games in that price range. $1 seems fair for a semi-fun platformer. The cut scenes were amusing but because of them the game cost $2 more than in should and I felt the need to comment on that.

      • Starglider says:

        John : that was their number one complaint? Honestly I’d be kind of disappointed with my playtesters if their main complaint was story presentation. Whether to use animation is a major production decision that frankly you are better qualified to make than your testers. Playtesters should be focusing on stuff like collision detection accuracy, difficulty curve, control issues etc.

        But yeah, I was responding to Jason’s advice to XBLIGs in general, FMV is a bit of a special case. Personally I’d rather have 100 panels of static and limited-animation art rather than a couple of video cutscenes, but of course that’s an artistic choice and certainly some titles benefit from FMV more than others.

      • Starglider, Duality ZF used maximum compression from the get go. We even made our own hack to allow xWMA format to compile without hanging Visual Studio (actually, XactBdl3.exe is what would hang): http://xona.com/2010/12/08b.html And further, we tested all of the possible music compression formats, each with tons of different compression settings, and did the same for the graphics (DXT helped a lot). We also have procedural content. We tried everything. The limitation on the number of songs, and their length, in Duality ZF is due to space limitations. This was an issue from day 1. And if we really wanted to cram in more, we could, since we’re not even using full advantage of the tile engine, which was made for the purposes of saving space. I’m not comparing my game to yours or others, I’m just saying that space issues was in our minds from the get go.

      • Starglider says:

        Jason, I admitt that I jumped to conclusions with my response, but your were essentially saying that any game experience can be crammed under 50 Mb and that anyone who doesn’t do so is lazy or incompetent.

      • Starglider, I wasn’t in any method saying that “any game experience can be crammed in 50 MB” — who would say such a thing? Nor did I call anyone “lazy or incompetent”.

        I said the game experience will suffer with more and more compression. My point was that the limit is not whether you can compress it more — you always can — but that you have to decide how far you want to go before it gets too low quality. If you reach that limit, then you have to be more creative or change the game. In this case, they were already 20 MB smaller than they needed to be, and added videos. That was the wrong choice. My point is you can get it under 50 MB if you have to — it just requires sacrifices at times. I would never say any game experience can fit. That’s just silly. But a $1 game can be made in some manner or another — and I said this type of creative solution requires more effort, acknowledging that it can be argued that this additional effort is worthy or not. I would not call someone lazy for not doing it. But I stand that you cannot use this as an excuse to being ‘forced’ into the $3 range. There are many options, that take time and effort — and some require more smarts, yes, but I didn’t go there; none of it is rocket science — to get under 50 MB, and they all don’t maintain the original.

        This reminds of me how artists are upset when their textures in AAA games get compressed too low, since their work is being ruined. But in the effort to reduce the number of GB’s used, it’s a decision that has to be made.

  2. @JasonADouchette
    If you have actually animated cut scenes and are not just using still images panning across the screen via your game engine, you can only compress so much without introducing graphical artifacts. Kobold’s Quest has 4 main story cut scenes and a lot of tiny cut scenes all using WMV. That’s where most of the memory consumption ended up. We could only do so much with compression and even making it a pixilated mess would result in it being over 50 megs, so we let it compress to whatever looked the best quality. We figured if it’s going be $3 no matter what we do, it might as well look nice. The only way around the size limitation would be to use sequential stills, which we do have a “lite” version using that method coming soon.

    Side note:
    We are also patching in online multiplayer as well as a new challenge mode into both versions.

    I will not share my opinion of this review here, everyone has a right to their opinion and we will consider your criticisms while we are creating our upcoming patch. Mainly I just wanted to stop the spread of file cap size misinformation. The only thing I will say about your review is that it’s best to attack the humans when their backs are turned, Y throws the baby re-enabling the Kobold’s ability to attack and humans will pick up the baby leaving them defenseless. We realized after reading other reviews, we did not make this clear enough and are remaking the 1st level to help make our game play mechanics easier to comprehend.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      Online multiplayer would have made a huge difference in getting the review done faster.

      And you can go ahead and moan about the negative review here if you wish. Or not. I just thought it was a game that had an identity crisis, lacking focus and refinement of design. The cut scenes were good, but they didn’t contribute to the gameplay and that’s all that I care about. I felt the game itself was a flawed concept.

    • I apologize for my commenting being all over the place. I believe the solution was not to use video, but to make your own sprite drawing engine for rendering the animations yourself. At this point, the size footprint would be the animation frames themselves, and could be drawn with a pixel shader to have the same effect you desired. This could be compressed like crazy, I believe.

      Although I agree that if you’re going with $3, then make use of it. However, it also means you need a $3 game with it. And on XBLIG, not many people are willing to spend $3 (even though it looks like a steal on Steam). Funny.

      P.S. It’s Doucette not Douchette.

    • oh god not a “lite” version. Look, if you do multiple releases they are supposed to be different games, not the same game stripped down so you get a second chance at new releases or to deal with bad decisions you made the first time you released a game. If you thought Kobold’s Quest should have been $1, you should have charged that much to begin with. If you want to make a separate level pack that’s cheaper for Kobold’s Quest that’s fine, but please don’t go spitting a “lite” version out.

  3. M 1 says:

    Now I’m trying to decide if I could get an XBLIG about abortions through peer review.

  4. I haven’t played the game yet, so I cannot comment on this particular game in question. I am just making general statements.

    If you’re choosing to have video in your game, then 50 MB is not attainable. This is a design decision: If the game is a $1 game, then you cannot have video. If you have video, you’re making a $3 game. In this case, it appears you were making a $1 game, so video is out of the question. If playtesters wanted animation, you didn’t have to use video to get it (in fact, you didn’t necessarily have to add it at all).

    You can compress images as much as you want — the only limit is how much you are willing to deal with the bad artifacts and/or slower creation from procedural content. But there are always possibilities. You could even reduce all the images to 1/4th their size and render pixelated art, to reduce all content to 25% size. I’m not saying this is desirable, it would likely ruin the art, but it’s possible. It’s even possible to split the game into two, and release only the first part for $1. 50 MB is quite a restriction — five songs could use it up entirely — but it is attainable if you have the time and effort (which you can argue none of us have). Some solutions require creativity. I can get Duality ZF with 10+ stages, each with a full stage background of non-repeated tiles, with a 3 minute song in each, plus more songs for menu, game over, start-up, etc, down to 50 MB with DXT and xWMA compression using different resolution imagery were you cannot notice.

    P.S. I hope you are using DXT and xWMA and compressing the final .CCGAME file… I would assume so, but it’s good to have the basics checked. 😉

  5. Kairi: I cannot reply to William A. McDonald’s post directly. There seems to be a limit on the depth of replies.

    William A. McDonald: Your programmer, John, confirms the game was 30 MB before adding movies. This is what I would have guessed, after having played the game. Thus, the game could be under 50 MB if you removed the video. And, while I’m unsure how much video the game has, it’s largely 2-color drawings with a texture, and not that much animation, which could be compressed highly and drawn with a pixel shader for the texturing effect you want. I bet you could get the same video output with a sprite-drawing routine, and a greatly reduced size. It depends on how many frames of animation you have drawn, but I believe this could be highly compressed.

    • Starglider says:

      That would probably work, most likely with better video quality than the general purpose video codec. However you need to think in terms of bits, pixels and shaders to come up with solutions like that, and most XBLIG developers just don’t have the graphics programming experience for it (in fact I think a majority of XBLIG developers don’t go further than drawing with SpriteBatch). Assuming they were prepared to invest the time to learn this stuff, wouldn’t you rather see that effort go into improving the main game (with visual effects or gameplay) rather than implementing an ad-hoc video codec for the cutscenes?

      • Aside from a texturing effect, it’s just simple sprite batch. The animation is all being done already in the video, so that just has to be redone in their own engine. They already have animation in the gameplay, so the concepts aren’t new to them. The only new thing would be a pixel shader for the texturing effect, but I mentioned that only in case someone pointed it out that this wouldn’t be standard for sprite batch — I’d argue it’s not needed at all. If they really wanted it, a single day crash course in pixel shaders could reveal how to do it, but I wouldn’t even recommend it. Just ignore it, and draw the sprites as you wish for them to appear in the animation. I doubt it was something they wanted, they likely just added it in because their video editor allowed it so easily. In any case, the pixel shader shouldn’t be the blocking point here; if anything, it’d be the tool they make to edit/display the animations that they make, but I am guessing these guys could handle that no problem. I’d like to see it actually! 🙂

  6. I only wish our newest game could be under the 50megs but it is a 3d environment with many models. I think the argument here is clearly stated that the game’s cutscenes or videos which people don’t feel contribute to gameplay should have been left out and sold at $1. My suggestion is if at all possible is to listen to the feedback and drop the material that doesn’t contribute to game play and do an update and drop the price. I don’t think you can drop price for 90 days. I do hope your game does well as I would love to see higher priced games succeed. I wish I would have platested your game but I missed that opportunity. What type of feedback did you get and did you implement any suggestions? I am curious how different that feedback is compared to real world feedback.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      I want to say, for the record, I have no problem with some XBLIGs being priced at more than 80 points. But the game’s content has to justify the higher price point. I don’t feel that Kobold’s Quest is worth $3. That’s a price I associate with a deeper experience than just generic side scrolling.

  7. POSTING NOTE: Kairi: I am not getting any notifications that posts are being made. I’ve posted here 3 or 4 times and each time I have to log in (I use Twitter) and authorize WordPress with Twitter each time (is this normal?). And I click to be informed with replies and with posts to the thread (both checkboxes clicked). Yet, my inbox and my spam folder have no notifications of any of the activity. I don’t know if this is something wrong I’m doing, or it’s WordPress’s fault, or if it’s the integration with my Twitter account failing, or what. Is anyone else getting notifications?

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