I’d like to start off by saying that I should’ve done one of these articles more recently, but between family holidays, busy working schedule and there just being a lot of games that have come out over the last month that I wanted to sit down and enjoy without worrying about a review deadline, I put it off.
For that I want to apologize to Nathan Fouts of MommysBestGames, developer of my favorite Xbox Indie Title Weapon of Choice. I was digging through my emails and I saw that he mentioned that the game had a price drop on the Indie Games service. I should’ve been on top of that, and would like to state again to anyone who happens to read this: If you haven’t bought Weapon of Choice off the Indie Games service, I highly recommend that you do so, or at the very least take the trial out for a spin. It was one of my favorite games of 2008. The game is cheaper now than ever before.
If you are a fan of Weapon of Choice like I am, than you’ll be even more excited to note that Nathan Fouts is working on two more titles that will be also be coming to the Indie Games service. Below are two videos highlighting these games. I’m not much of a classic shooter fan, but Grapple Buggy looks like it’ll rock.
Review of Brixx
Another member of the staff here at Diehard GameFAN, Adam, played through the game Brixx and wanted to share his thoughts on one of the newest board games to hit Xbox Indie Games. Here are his thoughts:
Adam: Brixx is a digital version of the game Othello. It is one player or two player. That’s it. There is only one board, which is done in a simple style and no other options to change the board design or the design of the game pieces. It’s a faithful adaptation of Othello, but again extremly simplistic. There are no challenges or anything to unlock. There are no multiple difficulty settings, or anything designed to keep a person interested in playing the game multiple times. All the developer did was take the board game Othello and make a very basic electronic version. Whether that is worth 80 points to you or not depends how much you love the game Othello. I’d suggest you save your points.
Matt: If you had to boil this review down to two words what would those words be?
Adam: It’s Othello.
Matt: If you had to write it as a Haiku?
A minute to learn
and a lifetime to master,
Matt: Thank you Adam!
Xbox Indie Games 2009 Year in Review
2009 was kind of a mixed year for the Indie Games service, though certainly a lot happened. Community Games became Indie Games. The pricing structure for the Indie Games developers was restructured to allow lower prices with the hopes that more $1 games would attract a larger audience. Developers were given tokens to give out so that they’re games could get reviewed instead of ignored by the vast majority of gaming press. Some memorable games were released to the service.
For every step forward however, it seems like the service is still stuck in first gear. Things have evolved on the service for the better, there’s no doubt about that. Still the service seems like it hasn’t reached the potential I thought it would when it launched. Back in 2008, I ran a week long feature about the service, excited by the prospect of cheaper independent games that would be released. The idea of the Community Games service seemed fantastic at the time. It would allow for small teams who might have some creative ideas to release these games and maybe even make a buck or two in the process. Perhaps the service would turn a few heads at the larger game publishers like Activision and show them that while they could churn out the same type of game over and over again that there were some great new ideas out there, and that people were able to take those ideas and create fun games without a million dollar budget.
That’s not what happened though. While there are some great Indie Games, the service was flooded by a ton of twin stick shooters, poorly designed rehashes of popular games, and applications that don’t seem to fit the platform they’re on. Screen savers for a game console? Some games showed that while there are some good game developers out there, it doesn’t mean they’re good graphic artists or animators. Other games had great art style but truly horrid gameplay.
What is worse to me though is the fact that the games that did come out that were good, like the above mentioned Weapon of Choice but also CarneyVale Showtime, ZP2K9, Johnny Platform Saves Christmas, Easy Golf, Supercow, Halfbrick: Echoes, etc. These were good games that didn’t sell as well as I would have hoped. The Johnny Platform games are among some of the best platform games on the system across Indie, Arcade and retail games. Some of the applications such as the infamous Fireplace application have outsold good games. This boggles my mind though it makes sense because of one important factor: Marketing.
The Indie Games developers usually have no budget to spare for marketing expenses and instead wholly rely on word of mouth to sell their games. Most video game web sites, especially some of the larger ones, have no coverage of Indie Games whatsoever. So when you rely on word of mouth but few places are talking about your game, it sort of makes it hard to get people to even realize that the game even exists. Generally when a website does put information about the Indie Games service, it is usually one of derision. Some of the crazy applications have received far more press than any one of the actual games. Rumble Massage and Fireplace are specific applications that are usually targeted.
Now I know it is not the job of a video game website to market Indie Games for these developers, yet it never ceases to amaze me how negative the larger websites are towards the service. While there is no responsibility to do so, shouldn’t all video game journalists be actively encouraging the independent market, even if only because they’re fans of gaming in general? Instead most articles are about bullshit applications or how the service is dying.
Of course the biggest failure of communicating with a potential audience lays at the feet of Microsoft itself. If Xbox Live promoted the Indie Games service as well as it promotes Doritos, or McDonalds, or well anything else. I’ve barely seen any mention of the Indie Games service on the Dashboard since the name change. It is like Microsoft wants their experiment to fail. With the iPhone the cheap, easy to download applications and games has turned into an industry on its own, one fully supported by Apple and even used to advertise their products. On the Xbox the independent, cheap, easy to download games are hidden behind several screens.
But hey, at least they have IGN Indie Game picks on the Dashboard to help promote the service, right? Oh wait, they are promoting their Indie Games service with a website which also recently deemed the service a failed venture. When the people who are supposed to be helping folks choose games to buy off of the service deem it a failure then how should any potential audience be expected to purchase anything from that service? Why is independent gaming on the PC celebrated while on a home console it’s mocked?
I spent a lot of time on the negatives just to show what needs to change in 2010. Microsoft NEEDS to get behind Indie Games better if it is ever to have a chance. There were a lot of positive signs from 2009. One of the strongest positives was the game I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1N IT!!!1 created by James Silva of The Dishwasher and ZP2K9 fame. He made a simple game with a fantastic song that spread by word of mouth across the net like lightning. With one 80 point game James Silva raked in more positive press for the Indie Games service than anything Microsoft has done so far. He also showed that there is a viable market that is willing to pay a dollar for something short, simple, and fun. I don’t consider I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1N IT!!!1 to be his best Indie game, that would be ZP2K9, but he single handedly proved that there was something to this Indie Games thing.
Another positive is the face that in the last year the Indie Games developers have been granted the ability to use Avatars in their games. The creator of Easy Golf created Avatar Golf, and I don’t need sales figures in front of me to guess which one of the two sold more. The fact is Microsoft added Avatars, and aside from a few Arcade games and clothing/prop options, they haven’t done much with them. People like Avatars though. Hell being able to use your Mii in a Wii game is a selling point in the same way. Indie Games has recently exploded with new Avatar games, like a homerun game, a racing game, a ragdoll physics game, snowball fighting, etc. Here is something Microsoft should promote more. Here are games that both promote Indie Games as well as Avatars. There are at least twice as many Indie Games that use Avatars as Arcade games, and most cost only 80 points. Put them all together in a category and throw that sucker front and center on the Dashboard.
The Indie Games service is far from a failure. In 2009 it took small steps forward. In 2010 I’d like to see Microsoft start getting behind this venture and push it to the potential that I saw in the service in 2008.
Following My Own Advice
I mention that video game journalist should support the Indie Games service in non-negative ways, so I should probably finish this up on a positive note that promotes an upcoming game. That game would be Raskulls, what appears to be a mixture of platform gaming, Mr. Driller style gameplay, and multiplayer racing. Sound crazy? Yes. This game is being worked on by Halfbrick Studios who have already released other quality Indie Games and I am confident that Raskulls will be another great game by the studio. Even in the press emails they send out you can sense the excitement these guys have for the game. Below is a video that shows some of the gameplay, and it looks like it’s going to be a wild game to me.