The Cusp: January 2012

The Cusp is a monthly highlighting of three Xbox Live Indie Games that came up just short of the leaderboard here at Indie Gamer Chick.

Welcome to the first installment of The Cusp!  For the last few months, Brian and I have kicked around the idea that there should be some “runner-up” list to complement the Leaderboard.  We implemented the first idea, that former Leaderboard games should receive recognition, and while this idea has worked, maybe it’s not enough.

So we came up with The Cusp.  Three games that will be featured over a 30 day period on the sidebar here, and a post explaining why they made it.  Or almost made it, depending on how you look at things.  In addition, The Cusp gives the developers of the selected games a chance to talk about their game and their plans for the future.

In the future, The Cusp will likely include monthly themes, like three games of the same genre or maybe even same developer.  The one thing every game featured on the Cusp will have in common is they are all good games that are worth your money.  If you missed them before, don’t miss out on them again.

For this opening month, we went with a variety pack.  Three games with absolutely nothing in common except the fact that they went overlooked, both at this site and on the marketplace as a whole.  I would also like to point out that the inclusion of a game by Bionic Thumbs has nothing to do with paying them back for trashing their recent game Plugemons: Part 1.  The Cusp has been in the works for a while and Starzzle was always one of the games that I had planned to include.

Dark Delve

Reviewed by the Chick on October 7, 2011

What went right?  I loved the awesome 1st person exploration of a dungeon loaded with traps and secrets.  The three extra side-quests played way better than the featured campaign.

What went wrong?  I had a tendency to swing and miss at enemies during the turn-based encounters.  The main campaign was kind of a snooze.  The artwork left a lot to be desired.  The narrative was kind of not there.

What does developer Checkmark Games have to say?

Your message was over 140 characters.  You’ll have to be more clever”

This message sits at the top of my screen as I exchange tweets.  Amazing how relevant this simple phrase is to developing a game on one’s own, though in this case, “Your game has too many features.  You’ll have to be more clever”.  Now that would make an interesting Visual Studio plugin…

I think more than anything, this has been my take away lesson from developing Dark Delve.  I learned how to be a bit cleverer.  My computer is a graveyard of half-finished games that perished through endless feature bloat.  With Dark Delve I learned how to cut features instead of adding them.  And cut I did, the final product is quite different from early prototypes.  In fact some of the defining features of Dark Delve (combat scoring, deeds, and challenges) emerged through attempts to simplify the design.

I did foolishly draw a line in the sand over the game’s Energy mechanic.  Having already cut so many features, I claimed “artistic vision” and left it in despite negative play tester feedback.  It turned out to be the most often criticized feature, so much so that the patch that is about to go live removes it from the game in all but Hard difficulty.

Having finished a major patch for Dark Delve (which is live now); I am working on a turn based fantasy strategy game inspired by Advanced Wars.  The game is called Shattered Throne, and the only reason it already has a title is because I have written this game numerous times over the last 5 years, though always running into some snag and scrapping the project.

Now armed with the confidence that comes from getting a game finished, I am hopeful it will finally come together.  This time however I hope to be able to afford to hire an actual artist…

LightFish

Reviewed by the Chick on November 4, 2011

What went right?  LightFish was probably one of the best 2D Qix clones I have ever played.  It combined stylish graphics with bold, effective level design.

What went wrong? Timing.  I had just finished playing the hugely underrated Cubixx HD on Playstation Network a few weeks before this came out.  Too much Qix in too short a time span probably cost this a spot on the leaderboard.  That and a few questionably design choices, like instant-kill lava that the game requires you to build directly next to.

What does developer Eclipse Games have to say?

Being such a small company, each project is like judgement day for us. If your next game fails completely, it’s more than likely that Eclipse is no more. And that’s where the real challenge starts, since you need to put all your soul in the game, to ensure that things really work out.

The reviews have been quite good with the game features we expected to be our unique selling points: Visual style, level design, music and accessibility. The main weakness of the game was known for us: It doesn’t take more than 4-5 hours to complete Lightfish if you’re a skilled player, but that’s directly related to our production capabilities. At the end of the day we’re just 3 guys working part-time and stealing hours from other jobs to get the game done. If the users like our games we really hope we can live out of our work in Eclipse in a future, but for the moment being we just can’t dedicate any more time. But if you think of the bright side, the fact that your users want more content is obviously because they liked the game, so you’ve done a good job!

Lightfish has performed above our wildest expectations, which means that passion and hard work does pay at the end. Also, our main goal for this project is still to explore different platforms and see how well we do in each one. We’re about to finish the iOS version, and more will come, so things are still moving.  Aside from porting the game to other platforms, we’re already considering our next moves. Maybe a new IP, maybe a contract, we’ll see. Stay tuned!

Starzzle

Reviewed by the Chick on July 8, 2011

What went right?  Starzzle took the increasingly common concept of the slide puzzle and made it interesting with a helper “block” and quirky characters.  Best of all, this is one of those rare puzzle games on XBLIG that actually did the difficulty curve correctly.

What went wrong?  A few annoying glitches in the presentation that do not effect gameplay really got on my nerves.  But it’s mostly about Starzzle being a game that would have been better on a portable gaming platform.

What does developer Bionic Thumbs have to say?  Please note, Bionic Thumbs is a Spanish producer and their English is a little rough.  You should still read it.

Since 6 years we (in our work) developed games for slot machines (yes, so amazing) for casinos and use our free time trying to do something different, something bigger, trying to get independence to create something really great. And then Distopia Studios borns, a completely independent indie studio (Avatar Street Basketball was the best seller and more “famous” game, Ectoplasmic Wars the worst; 8 developing hours against 6 months, a hard lesson learned there). Our chief hear about that success (more than 20000 units sold with ASB) and one year ago we created Bionic Thumbs, a spin-off from Distopia Studios, losing our independence but increasing our resources and the time we spend creating games.

And then our first game was released, before three months of work. Starzzle is a cute puzzle game where you have to take control on two opposite characters to  catch all the stars in order to get the best score (three stars). As simple as it sounds, as harder as you can’t imagine. Four worlds, 21 levels in each of them, more than 20 challenges. Pretty graphics, nice sound. WP7/iOs version available too. It is a good game, a very good game in my opinion. obviously starting in Bionic increases our quality, at least in terms of complexity and production values, but I always have thought It was a complete loss of time (doing Starzzles, not creating the company), so I knew even it was a good idea, even it has quality, that type of game will never be a best seller, because of its own nature: people don’t wants thinks like this, at least no in Xblig or WP7. People wants zombies, avatars, blood, nyan cats, stupid games, Minecraft clones… But it wasn’n my choice, as is said we loss our independence in some terms… until 3-4 months ago (just see at released games since then, sales increased 500%).


Anyway, we really want to do Starzzles (or Plugemons, although it fails, we do it with “real love”, even though the initial idea – mine – was very different and mucho more similar to “Cute things dying violently”… 8 months before) and we will continue doing similar thing in the future, even having the knowing that other games are much more popular (so we do other crappy games too, it’s a fact, just look at Zombies, Zombies Everywhere!, done in 6 hours and selling +2050 compared to Starzzle’s +1750 or Starzzle Season’s +60 – amazing again -) but we can’t do only “good games”, even being our dream. It’s impossible to survive with 4-6 months projects with no certain future for a small company. And there we are now, trying to survive, following the development of new casino games (this is what really give us the money and takes the 95% of our time), doing some trash-games (“MegaUp: Upload if you can!” says hello), trying to develop more Starzzles (this time commercial one, of course, just keeping the quality) and dreaming for a better future. Perhaps we do it in a week, or never. Who knows? It is a lottery, even if you have the best product in the world, it doesn’t matter.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

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