Saturday, October 31, 2009

Freqµency Review


Swine flu? No, I had a Borderlands addiction, apologies. Anyhow, I am back and had the pleasure of playing though Freqµency, a color-based robotic-themed platformer. To be honest, I am little wary of games that designate colors according to the Xbox controller buttons - but I am one of those people that starts to dislike things as they become more common - so don't mind me.

Freqµency follows a tried-and-true set up for a platformer that I tend to enjoy. That is, create a "home base' with important NPCs, and then send the player out on missions which upon completion loops back to the home base for progression of the story. Using this method, Freqµency creates a nice sense of accomplishment while also allowing for pacing and narrative. Similarly, as the player completes missions the robot character gains upgrades.

When it comes to the upgrades, I am torn. The game is built around color - both sapping objects (any object) of their color to gain it, and then expelling it in the form of fireballs/bullets. Exhausting all of your color goodness equals death, and getting hit by foes knocks down color too - so there is an ammo/life 'management' mechanic at hand. Trigger happiness will lead to death quickly. So for some, that will be a conflict of interest.

I do like the idea of sapping the world of it's colors to gain back power (there's something satisfying about peeling all of the color off a sedan, for example). But what didn't satisfy is that all of the colors act essentially the same - allowing the player to switch to the color and fire a blast of equal effect/power. Had each colored blast behaved differently and had pros/cons, it would help distinguish the colors as more than just an extension of the lifebar.

Something we all love - boss fights - are a welcome addition to Freqµency. They offer a good challenge while learning their patters and have some unique attacks that keep you on your toes. I won't spoil anything here, but the boss encounters also help drive the story. Speaking of which, the story won't win any awards, but as I always say - at least they gave us one to follow. I always feel like it's better to offer the players who enjoy some dialogue/story the option of immersing themselves in it. It doesn't have to be deep, complex, or entirely unique - it just has to give the player something to follow. I enjoyed some of the dialogue and could tell that the designers had fun with that element.

At 240 points, Freqµency is solid platforming experience with a hook worth checking out. Have a go at it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lazy Review #9

Three solid titles this time around, as I catch up on some recent releases.

Very Hungry Pumpkin (80MP)

I am very hungry for some pumpkin pie, but I'll just have to wait it out a couple more weeks, won't I. Very Hungry Pumpkin is a very nice-looking 3D rendered Halloween themed game. Honestly, it's usually pretty rare to see a holiday themed game with this much graphical polish and I have to say that I was quite pleasantly surprised.

The pleasing graphics are nicely accompanied by smooth animations, great overall art direction, and well-suited spooky (yet catchy!) music. The gameplay is pretty straightforward - the goal being to collect a 'full tank' of candy while avoiding the trick-or-treaters and before they snag they candy! Crazy kids! The trick-or-treaters move horizontally at variable speeds, and you can collect a time-stopper clock to catch your breath when things get hectic.

Despite the one level (that simply amps up the difficulty per round), the experience is tight enough to warrant a good amount of playthroughs. My only real complaint is that sometimes the on-screen items (candy counter, remaining live, clock) actually block some of the important play zone. But all-and-all this is an attractive game for the season, and at less than the cost of a jumbo candy bar. If you're having a Halloween party, you should put this up on the TV for entertainment.

Banana Split (240MP)
I didn't have a token for Banana Split, but from what I can tell this is a promising food-themed platformer starring a classy banana as the main character. I usually keep my ear to the ground, but I didn't see much in the way of promotion for this game so hopefully it's not slipping by everyone.

The art direction is charming and diverse, and the levels are generally well-designed. It has most of the 'same ol' platformer mechanics (avoid enemies, jump on their heads, etc) but delivers them in a fresh package. There also seems to be a light story involved about saving the friendly healthy foods from the bad unhealthy foods. This was fun because I was able to rescue an ally before the demo ended.

It also serves as a child-friendly platformer with a positive message and fun theme. I'd recommend that any platformer fans give this a try and consider the investment - especially if you have kids and they can get some fun out of it too.

Powa Valley (400MP)
Here's a cartoon side-view volleyball game with a good number of features for online play too. If you're into this type of game and multiplayer action, there's not many reasons that you won't like Powa Valley.

The cast of playable characters is colorful, with each character having a special ability to use out on the court (jump higher, power hit, confuse opponent, etc). In my humble opinion, some of these abilities seem slightly unbalanced - like the little fella who can create a windstorm got a point on me every time.

The graphics are quite nice, with bright backgrounds and simplified shapes/effects. The controls are precise once you get used to the characters. I also have to give props for the intelligent AI with three levels of difficulty - they are not pushovers! The only real drawback here is that it's a pretty standard "bop-the-ball-over-the-net" mechanic - and while done really well, it might not be for everyone at the 400MP price point. Defintely worth grabbing the demo (and maybe a friend too) for a try though.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lazy Review #8

Arkedo Series - 01 Jump! (240MP)

Here's a surprising little platformer that you might have missed. Some might incorrectly assume from afar that the graphics are really basic or amateur. But when you look closer and then actually play the game, it obvious that Jump! uses the pixelated look on purpose, but with an impressive amount of visual polish and care. I'd actually go out on a limb here and say this has some of the best art direction I've seen on XBLIG, and a good dose of effects that really add to the experience.

The gameplay is fairly straightforward and involves diffusing (or really just touching) bombs before the timer runs down then getting to the exit. The controls are tight/responsive and there are some additional gameplay elements that let you toss knives at enemies and so forth. And then it's the standard affair of avoid hazards and enemies.

There's not much to dislike here - it's just a good example of a game you can't judge to quickly because once you jump in you sort of realize that while it visually pays respect to the old arcade look, it's got a ton of extra power under the hood (I hate car analogies, but I was stumped). The only real issue I have is that the game is on the short side for the 240MP price and you don't really know how far the through the game you're getting. With no continues, it can be tough to budget your lives - and starting over from the beginning can be a little 'arrrrrggggg.' Have a go though.

A-maze!-ING (80 MP)

This is a basic game that sort of feels like a frantic open-level-style Frogger. You have to travel north quickly while navigating barriers (maze?) and avoid insta-kill from enemies that are traveling quickly left-to-right. That's about it - it's a little bare bones and the graphics aren't much to speak of honestly. You're also racing a clock which adds another level of intensity, but I couldn't decide if it was the good kind or bad kind of anxiety I was feeling.

The overall gameplay has potential, but it lacks visual polish and needs some additional features to create some greater depth and satisfaction. You'll be able to judge this one quickly by trying the demo.

Rad River Run (240 MP)

The first thing that struck me about this one one was the nice 3D graphics (see screenshot). The textures and models are rich and colorful and while the water performs a bit oddly (seems to flow in weird directions), it still looks impressive. It's nice to see a developer employ 3D on this platform, as it's quite rare.

The goal of the game is to navigate 'down' the river collecting beach balls that are worth varying amounts of points. You also need to avoid obstacles and the walls, which tend to ricochet you around in an unpleasing "boi-inggg" manner.

The concept is simple enough to be fun, and I can imagine it can get pretty competitive if you have someone to face off with - but where the game let me down was the controls. Because the game is based heavily on navigation, the awkward controls were hard to overcome. While I can understand it's probably quite difficult to mimic the natural movement of a craft in water, I have a feeling that testing would have revealed that players would struggle with the controls. They don't have to be realistic, just more responsive and manageable. Because there is a point penalty for bouncing off walls/obstacles, it can be a bit frustrating too - a little more polish on navigating the craft would make a world of difference.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dark Review


Dark is an interesting case for a reviewer. It's so successful in delivering on it's description ("a very dark, atmospheric puzzle-platformer"), that it becomes somewhat pointless to highlight, or be distracted by, little technical flaws. The reason why I believe players will enjoy Dark is because is offers a less-common, shadowy and atmospheric platforming experience for $1 (80MP). It's another great example of a wise and low investment for anyone looking to kill 30 minutes doing something very different from the mainstream gamer. So let's get digging.

My point is... you won't be playing Dark for the typical skill-based platforming action. In fact, you can't die - and there are no enemies. There are puzzle elements, but with no sense of urgency - and there is a "collect the sparkles" element, but with no real implications. Dark is a game that just wants you to play it so that you can be a part of it, not so that you can overcome it, master it, dominate it, or hone your skills on it. The first time I saw another moving creature, I wrongly assumed that it could hurt me. I had to laugh at how pre-programmed we are in the platformer genre - I was jumping on the other creature wondering if he need 3 hits to be killed or something. Nope. :)

So obviously, that "non-skill" or "non-action" approach doesn't really work if the game is cut from the same artistic mold as other platformers. But Dark will draw you in with atmosphere. Simplistic shapes, lots of lighting/shadows, a rather heavy dose of physics, and mellow ambient music create the sense that you're really just here to soak things in and take part in the experience. The only true goal is to progress and maybe to explore if you so choose. At the end of a hectic day (and a whole week without internet - oh the horror!) I actually found this simplistic approach to be calming and relaxing.

Dark is not a long game - clocking in around 30-40 minutes max. Again, it's like jumping in to another world for a quick relaxing adventure - which, now that I write it, realize that's pretty much what video games are all about. I actually thought that Dark got better as it went along - the first couple levels are pretty standard, and I actually hit a couple technical snags (got stuck in some physics, blocked from moving) in the earlier levels. But the last couple levels are more interesting, colorful and dynamic. All of the way through the last 10 minutes is a good time, including the credits.

A couple small gripes - first, the jumping was not as clean/natural as it should be. You can't jump from certain surfaces, which was frustrating at times. As first mentioned though, you're not really in any danger so the lack of polish on the movement/controls doesn't have the downside of frustrating and unfair deaths. Second, for a stylistic venture, I feel like the main character could have been better designed to have more personality. While the heavy lighting and shadow effects help mask that somewhat, the basic diamond shape with googly-eyes just didn't do much for me. A main character with a bit more depth (and maybe a handful of simple expressions) could have taken the immersion and character/player-connection up a notch.

Overall, I recommend this as a good value, not so much as a platformer - but just as an experience. A video can be seen on the dev's website here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making a Move

Hi all. Just a quick note to let you know that I've just made a big move which accounts for the lack of reviews recently. I have several juicy tokens waiting in my inbox and should have some more reviews up by the end of the week.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Slingstar Review


The term "wingman" has taken on a different meaning these days, but the original definition referred to pilots who would accompany others in dangerous flying campaigns. Well, in Slingstar, you control a ship with the most effective and crucial wingmen in history - they can kill anything. And yes, they also can help you pick up the ladies in a crowded bar when you've had 4 too many drinks and you can only communicate with facial expressions and hand signals.

Slingstar is a spaceship game with a 'hook' that involves flinging your wingmen around as your primary weapon. You don't have any guns, so you have to rely on this mechanic to clean up the bad guys. You're contained in one screen, and various enemies filter in from the edges - clean up the mess to advance to the next more difficult level. One hit, and bam you're dead.

I have to admit, I was skeptical of this concept. I've played other games with similar "fling" mechanics where I just didn't get much enjoyment out of mashing the joysticks around haphazardly, crossing my fingers that whatever I was twirling would go where I intended. There was no precision or skill really - it became blind navigation which tested my patience more than satisfied my need to explode things.

Well I cannot say that Slingstar removes this issue entirely, but it does it the best that I've seen it done. And it also does so many other things well that the total package became much more appealing. So you're still tasked with navigating your ship in such a way that your orbiting wingmen make contact with enemies. Like I said, this particular mechanic feels flawed by design simply because it's so highly random, but Slingstar makes it feel ..... pretty good.

With some practice, and if you gather some powerups, hitting enemies does get easier. You can exercise different tactics - such as zoom around quickly skimming by enemies to clip them with your wingmen. Or I also had some success by doing a back-and-forth motion that swung my wingmen around me in a wide forcefield like manner. It will depend on the enemies you're facing and how they like to kill you.
Remember how I said that Slignstar does so many other things right? Well it does - the graphics are simple but crisp and while enemies are mostly grouping of shapes, they move elegantly and offer different challenges (for example, see glowy octopus in screenshot). And the sounds are gorgeous - they interact with the gameplay/action and create a mellow/dark mood that suits the game nicely. It's casual in the sense that the only goal is to advance levels, and you have unlimited lives. There are some really nice (big) bosses to face off against, and cool explosion and firework effects built in.

So all and all, if you can find some novelty and enjoyment from swinging your wingmen around rather than firing off huge guns and missiles, then you'll definitely want to try Slignstar. This game is very nicely priced at 80MP ($1) so it's honestly worth that without question. It wouldn't be crazy to see it at the 240MP mark. So have a look, pull the trigger.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Special Feature Part 2: 5 More Reasons Why I Will Buy an XBLIG

Welcome to part two of this special feature. Here's five more reasons that lead to me buying an XBLIG.

6. A Unique Hook

This is a big one for me. The wonderful thing about indie games is that there's additional freedom to think outside of the norms - taking a chance (high risk, high reward) is okay, and it's often the undercurrent of indie genius that draws out new mainstream innovation. If I see a game that is bringing something new or eye-opening to the table, it catches my attention. BIG TIME. Even if it's not a total success, having some sort of hook may peak curiosity enough for me to grab for my wallet.

Another way to think about it is to consider a press release. If you write a press release for the game (and hopefully you are), are you telling the public something that will catch their attention? Or are you struggling to come up with anything? Hooks can come in all sorts of forms, but most games seem to falter or forget to really develop one that garners interest and buzz.

Light's End is a good example of a gameplay innovation hook. When I read about a little RPG that lets the player play as ANY character in the game...woh. What? I was hooked on learning more and knew I had to at least try it out. I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 had such a ridiculously awesome and catchy theme song, that people bought the game just to hear it. Hooks, my friends, hooks. Reel me in.

These are some of the more in-your-face examples, but even a less-obvious hook like "pirate-themed mix between an RTS and tower defense game" or "dual trigger racer" - well okay, you didn't knock me over, but you've got my interest. It sounds obvious, but do something noticeable, and you have a better chance of getting noticed. Often times the bigger the better.

7. Polish Baby, Polish

I remember when I first loaded up an XBLIG called Chalked, the title menu screen was so cool, stylish, and tight that I was stuck playing with the menu for a good minute. While the rest of the game didn't exactly follow suit, the level of style and polish on the title screen had me amped.

Polish is a broad concept and can apply to most aspects of the game (controls, art, interface, effects, bugs, etc). It's usually the well-polished game that was created with care/patience that stands apart from the competition. If I demo two Arkanoid style games but one carefully perfected the paddle movement to feel natural/responsive, heightened the visual/sound effects to feel explosive, along with a well-conceived theme/story - while the other just feels like "plink....plink....plink" guess which one will get my money?

Even the most forgiving and open-minded gamers are going to gravitate towards games that appear professional and polished. This doesn't mean games can't look or feel retro or campy - that's a matter of taste not polish. There are wonderful examples of successful games that use simple/old skool graphics combined with extremely refined gameplay (N+ comes to mind). If the style is consistent and attractive, like Fishing Girl, we gamers still nod approvingly.

Looking at the literal definition of "polish," you can jump from A to Z quite quickly. Is your game smooth? Is it shiny?

8. The Right Price

Talkin' bout money, yall. Keep in mind that as a consumer/gamer, I am not interested in the politics behind the MS pricing schemes and developer's sales strategies. I just want a game that feels like it's worth the asking price. I may not even know that a pricing structure exists, so it's not on my mind. The nice thing about Indie Games is that nothing costs more than $5, so for most consumers, that's a reasonable price point for a full-fledged game (key word, full-fledged).

At 80MP ($1), I am expecting a quick return on my investment - a burst of entertainment! The game might not have long lasting appeal, tons of features, or hours upon hours of gaming in store, but it needs to satisfy a thirst. It needs to do at least ONE thing, very right. That's why people classify this as an impulse buy price point, because it's doing something to snare a quick purchase. 80MP games can really benefit from a hook. Because Flash games of the same production level are often free, and because most screensaver/massage/slideshow apps are also $1, it's worth trying to do something to differentiate. A game that successfully delivers a game that offers immediate satisfaction will be a no-brainer at $1. You really only need to win me over on first impression.

At 240MP ($3), the game should no longer feel like a whimsical investment. As a gamer I am expecting at least a couple hours of gameplay and the feeling that the game was not made in a couple days - along with some features like leaderboards, multiple game-modes, difficulty modes, etc. This is a good price point for shooters and platformers and puzzlers that can deliver the feel of a full "start-to-finish" game even if it's on the smaller side.

400MP ($5) is still a low price to pay for a game, but because it's an Indie Game I am expecting something fairly impressive contextually. With many of the high-level (and excellent) Xbox Live Arcade games being priced at 800-1200MP, this is a price point where I'd expect to see the cream of the crop within XBLIGs. I am looking for a game that does something on the more professional level - potentially a larger graphical investment, a robust and long-lasting experience, voice-overs, slick animations, etc. If I can see that the time and money went in, I am more willing to shell it out.

There are lots of "ands, ifs, and buts" when it comes to the above, but those are some loose guidelines based on the thoughts that go through my head when I am deciding to purchase. If the game feels it's worth every penny of the price, and I'll get my investment back in "fun coins," you've got a sale.

9. The Right Timing

This can be a little bit tricky, but after dissecting some recent information, I realized that the timing of an XBLIG release is pretty key. If I am knee deep in the latest Call of Duty, and trying to squeeze it in before the new Bioshock comes out, chances are I am not testing out an experimental FPS on XBLIG.

In other words, try not to release your game when the gamer population (or Xbox'ers) are distracted. If you release the same week as another big AAA/XBLA game (and especially if it's in the same genre), you might be overshadowed. This is obviously tough because of the admission process for XBLIG, but if you can do some research on the competition, it might be worth planning to avoid months/weeks where you see them popping up. I'd actually consider Nov/Dec (the holiday release blitz) pretty dangerous territory, but I don't have numbers to back that up. I personally find myself hunting for games most around June/July/August...feels like there is a summer lull across TV and gaming.

On the positive side, I've read about success with timing a themed release around holidays/events. If you have a Halloween game (or even a spooky/zombie/ghost) game, why not try to release right before Fall? The TV and movie industry take full advantage of people "getting in the spirit" - why not gaming? Also consider worldly/current events - political games are a small niche that often release around election times. Olympic games during the...Olympic Games?

Timeliness can affect the buyer's mindset and availability, so give it a little thought.

10. The Demo Pulls Me In

Obviously the demo is a major element is what games I decide to buy. And considering how seriously the indie developer community takes "conversion rate" (demos downloaded divided by actual sales), it's worthwhile to think about the gamer's experience when they demo your game - what are they thinking and feeling?

Well, I usually get 8 minutes of play - sometimes it's restricted to certain portions of the game, or there is a cap on how far I can progress/play. I believe that's entirely fair, but let's look at some of the pitfalls.
  • Most of the game is playable without the need to purchase. The game is either so short or so simple (or progress is actually saved) - so that I never need to hand over my hard-earned dough. Eeep!
  • It takes so long to gear-up and play/understand the game that by the end of the demo I am more frustrated than thirsty for more. Sometimes I don't even grasp the controls or have time to look around for a tutorial - then the demo ends and I feel too confused to bother with more.
  • I never get to see some of the best features. If the game's progression curve is so slow that the demo only consists of the most basic uninteresting material, I'll miss out on some great reasons to buy. (this is also an "immersion" issue, but that's for a different post)
  • It's rare, but I've played demos where almost the entire game is locked which means I never even really get to see/play the game. I believe this might be because the game is so simple that 8 minutes would be too much in the developer's mind (see first bullet). Don't do this, regardless. It's a negative play experience and mostly frustrating.

So conversely, I'll follow through and purchase a game if a demo is engaging, tempting, and satisfying - while leaving me wanting a bigger taste. I've also seen demos make good use of splash pages and text that tell the player what else will be in store if they buy the full game. When done tastefully, this is very smart. It's a good way to combat the fact that the player might not see some of the best stuff. But if overdone, I start to find it abrasive and offputting.

The demo is a gamer's speed date with the your game, so make an impression. Think about the best features of the game, and make sure the player either experiences them, or knows about them before he/she is timed out.

I hope this was fun reading - let me know if you want to see more features like this in the poll above.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Special Feature Part 1: 5 Reasons Why I Will Buy an XBLIG

Here's something a little different. I am taking a short break with my reviews to try to give some perspective on my buying process (specific to XBLIGs). You ready?

I spend much time perusing, downloading, and reviewing these games. So I thought that my perspective as a gamer (with a taste for indie games!) might be useful. Two other reasons I might have a useful perspective - one, I am currently developing on XNA so I understand the process and model well. And two, I spend obnoxious amounts of time lurking on forums and blogs that discuss sales data on XBLIG, so I know the numbers.

Now of course, before the guy in the back raises his hand to point out the obvious, making a great game is the main reason anyone will buy a game. Make an amazing game, and word of mouth can work magic for you, but there's other controllable factors that can help too. And if no one ever tries your game in the first place, you're DOA.

Disclaimer: the tone is meant to come across as helpful and realistic, not judgemental or know-it-allish.

If your a gamer who reads this blog for reviews, maybe you can add some ideas or give feedback as well. If your a developer, share what you think worked or did not work for you.

1. I've Heard of It

If I have never heard a peep about your game, I'm already half way to a "pass." When it comes to the Xbox Live interface, it's easy for window shoppers to assume that if no one is talking about it or writing about it, then it's probably not that good. Even if that's not accurate and the game is decently rated, it's undoubtedly easier to shuffle past a game that's not ringing any bells. On the flipside if you've created a little name recognition, you've taken a big step towards getting that extra "let's see what this is."

Yes, this is also known as "do some marketing." I'd estimate that at least 70% of the XBLIGs put forth essentially zero marketing efforts. Dedicating some time here is key and if you don't, chances are you want have any "inbound" players coming to look for your game either. That's not smart, as you're relying on the random eyeballs passing through the XBLIG library. Why not go beyond that audience? Guide some traffic in your direction. I won't get into details, but there are many routes to explore and many great articles on how to do it right. At the very least, look at what other successful XBLIG devs are doing.

Semi-tangent: Sometimes the active developers who market their game can actually do everyone else a favor. Well-marketed games like the Halfbrick titles, Clover, Duality (still not even out yet), Weapon of Choice, Zombies, and Angry Barry (among others of course) are actually bringing more eyeballs to the XBLIG platform. If every developer made a similar effort and found new inroads to gamer communities , everyone would win.

2. The Box Art is Sexy

If I am sorting though the latest titles, or any collection of titles, I naturally gravitate towards attractive box art. It's the first (and often the only) thing that I see when perusing. I'd recommend putting some serious effort and thought into box art design. We all judge books by their covers, just admit it.

Things that turn me off are poor/amateur art, impossible to read text, abrasive colors, low rez images, cluttered space, or anything that indicates that effort was minimal. Why? Because it's only natural to assume that the rest of the game follows suit.

Box art should be clean, appealing, and tell viewers something about the game. Think about setting the tone, showing us the main character, giving an indication of the genre - these are all good moves. You want to capture the appropriate audience right? If you made a cool platformer, but platformer fans can't tell that there's a whole bunch of super sweet platforming to be chomped on, they will probably skim on by until they see something that looks like what they want.

I am making an RPG action game with an attractive female lead character - We're trying to give some indication of that with my box art. Feel free to let me know how we're doing. :) (plug one!) (Bonus points for anyone who can name the rap group with a rapper who went by "Plug One.")

3. The Title is Relevant

I like games that have intriguing and/or informative names - sounds obvious, but how many actually deliver? You can balance this against your box art of course, but the combined message you're sending out is absolutely crucial. If your game is named something ambiguous and I am left clueless about the type of game, you've lost me and your chances of snaring a trial download are that much less. If your title is utterly boring and generic, same deal - and even worse, chances are I'll never remember it even if I want to come back and check it out.

Use the title to convey a message and create interest. Sometimes this is easier than others - for example, the developer of a game like Avatar Drop (which has been well-received and popular) had the fairly easy job of telling gamers what the game was all about. "I get to drop my avatar? Sweeeet." Other games will have tougher go, but think about the genre you're in again, and consider words that suggest that genre. Weapon of Choice is clearly a shooting game with a focus on weaponry. Wordzy is most likely a word/puzzle game, etc etc. But be careful to go too far and hit the generic spike-trap - something like Ship Blaster or Block Jumper leaves gamers like me shaking our collective heads.

I investigate (and often buy) games that are named things that intrigue me and make me want to learn more and/or allude to a type of game that I know I usually enjoy. Keep that in mind when you are brainstorming about a game name.

4. The Screenshots Excite Me

So assuming the you've captured my interest in some way or I am feeling extra patient, I am now able to see four (only four!) screenshots of your game to learn a bit more. This is the next hurdle before I make the final leap and put the game/demo on my active download list.

First of all, use all four slots! Not doing so makes me suspicious, and just seems lazy. Pick dynamic shots. Show me some of the effects you've implemented, some of the flashier enemies, a unique feature - whatever you think stands out about your game. I don't want to see menus or title screens unless they are seriously amazing and convey professionalism/polish. What does make sense is showing dialogue systems at work, a slick looking inventory system, a skill tree, etc. Those count as features in my book. But I don't recommend using more than one shot like that.

Attractive gameplay shots are going to be king - show at least three of them, if not all four. I want to see what the gameplay looks like, it's that simple. Play to the game's strengths and appeal to your target audience.

5. I See Positive Press/Reviews

If I've read another gamer's opinion and it's generally positive or even just mildly interesting, I might very well play the role of sheep and follow in those footsteps. As a gamer, I spend time reading reviews, forums, and plenty of notable gaming webpages. If I see something that makes me go "hmmm" (more bonus points for naming the artist of "Things That Make You Go Hmmm."), I may find my way on to Xbox Live and locate your game.

It can be a comment on a YouTube video, a random post on a forum, a tweet, or a formal review. But if someone else liked it, I immediately begin to think that I might like it as well. And I won't know for sure unless I try it.

So this obviously relates heavily back to #1 - get the word out so that others can too. But the secondary point is that positive press can spread and influence others in a viral like manner. Sometimes this can lead to a lucky break in the form of a more high-profile review/coverage. You just never know who might pick up on some positive tidbit that someone wrote about your game. If you know a couple people who like your game, see if they will blurb it in their inter-stomping grounds. In the professional world, this is known and accepted as a "reference."

Come back for reasons 6 through 10 tomorrow.