Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Looking for Freelance Programmer (PAID)


Bryan (lead programmer) and I are looking for some part time help with Legend of Kilflame.  The position requirements and compensation are below, along with the current state of Legend of Kilflame.

Please send a note (formal resume not required) to cevo70@yahoo.com if you're interested.


Deep understanding of XNA and C# programming.
Experience working with 3D terrain, models/objects, and animations.
Responsible, reliable, and able to devote 5+ hours per week until the job is done.
Open to phone and online discussions regarding progress and direction.  "Kick-off" chat is required.
Recommended: Have a published or work-in-progress game on XBLIG, preferably 3D.


While much of the game is completed, we need help establishing a working 3D terrain/gameworld.  All assets are completed (models, rigging, animations, textures, etc).   You would work on creating a live test world with these assets, along with a "function-first" (basic, no frills) level editor.


Compensation would be based on set $500 milestones with earnings up to $3,000 (for success).  Further compensation models can be discussed.


Ophidian Wars: Legend of Kilflame is the second game from Small Cave Games.   It is the action-RPG sequel to Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey which is currently a top 20 platformer on XBLIG.  Legend of Kilflame is a more ambitious project, employing custom 3D characters/models and animations and a much larger gameworld.

We currently have much of the game completed, including the HUD/inventory system, combat engine, working animations, title screen and intro sequence, dialogue system, and more.  

We're excited to be releasing something unknown to the XBLIG platform and continuing our original IP.  We're looking for some equally passionate to lend an experienced hand with some of the 3D aspects of our game.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Opac's Journey GAME DESIGN Postmortem

Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey has been "on the shelves" for about 20 days now which in XBLIG terms actually makes it mature (arguably dead actually, maybe on life support).   The game definitely met our hopes/expectations but I am going to do a separate postmortem on the sales/marketing aspect (aimed more at devs). I wanted to have a look back at Opac's Journey purely as a game without the numbers muddying everything up.  

There's so much to consider, especially in hindsight, but I am going to try to keep this concise.


Box Art:   Throughout development and post-release, we heard almost nothing but good things about the shadowy Opac reaching upwards on the box cover.   This without a doubt helped it stand out and create interest.

Retro Look:  It's not quite the 8-bit look that seems to appeal to sizable subset of gamers, but Opac's Journey still has oldschool flavor.  For better/worse, immediate comparisons were drawn to "Metroidvania" style games - while this look was semi-intentional and that was a huge compliment, I wonder if it potentially created some false expectations of the gameplay.  Either way the combination of nice box art with retro screenshots/graphics was a big positive.

Music/Mood/Story:  The majority of feedback from players and reviews was that the moody tone backed by a narrative (and further backed by a much larger gameworld) was appealing and worth the extra effort, even if some didn't bother with it.

RPG Elements:  The same subset of gamers who value a story, also tend to love RPG elements.  While we probably didn't appeal as much to puzzle-platformer and action-platformer fans as much, we hit one out of the park for those who like exploratory-platformers.   The inclusion of upgrades and abilities (character progression) is time-consuming from a design and programming standpoint, but it was worth every second.

Controls: Outside of some complaints about the vertical size of the bounding box (which leads to "head-bonking" in tight spaces), we gathered that overall people were happy with the controls.  For me this is one of those categories in which "no feedback is good feedback" because that means the player noticed few-to-zero frustrations while moving around the world.   I've seen many other indie platformers fail on the first couple of jumps, and it's rare that the controls are perfect for everyone, so I feel as though we did well here.


It's not Metroid:  We saw tons of comparisons to one of my favorite games of all time, Metroid.   That's cool as shit.  The problem is, Metroid can never be dethroned (except maybe by Super Metroid) and getting held under the shadow of a timeless classic is never going to turn out well for the first time indie developer on a shoestring budget.  So in this respect we let some people down and gave reviewers a free hit.   "No combat?!" 

Borrrr-ing:  Related to the above point, players have expectations and if you don't meet them, some will dismiss the whole bag-o-donuts as a fail.   Those who like action-based platformers were quickly let down when a game which appears to be fierce on the surface, is actually more calm and exploratory.  This was probably a design oversight.  Opac appears too cool to not be kicking someone's buttocks, and the game has "Wars" in the title (that's the saga's name peoples!).   Also, while a good deal of content (upgrades, collectibles, puzzles, etc) is contained in the Journey, it would have bunch wise to include more in the first 5 minutes.  The game builds to a climax, and I fear some never made it there.

Game Name: "Who's Opac and what the heck is he?"  Good question, I made him up.  This little issue was something I was prepared for but had no intention of changing and remain stubborn on it.   The problem is, by naming our game something totally unknown/obscure, we failed to tap into any familiar veins.  No ninjas, no avatars, no farting, no massages, no aliens, no robots.  By unveiling a unique IP, we succeeded in peaking the interest of a [totally kickass] keen minority, but probably were overlooked by a general audience wondering why the title was so long and where the zombies were hiding.  Here's hoping for a long term investment.

Length:  We missed the mark somewhere here.  The game was about 60-90 minutes for most players which was intentional but something must be missing if that didn't sit right with reviewers.  It was too short for some, and too long for others who were taking their time (see "Ugly").  


No Saves:  Like a ten-ton boulder swinging into our groin region, we quickly learned that players sorely missed any sort of permanent save system.   Because this feedback hit so quickly and publicly, it seemed to snowball.  Checkpoints exist in the game, but you can't shut the game off and come back to where you left things.  Big issue, we found out.

This was a classic mistake of assuming your audience is just like you and knows what you know.   The fact is, for me, 60 minutes is a short gaming session for me, but not everyone.   Even more problematic was that while we knew the game was about an hour, players are never told this (that would be an odd thing to lead in with).  So players could be 55 minutes in and 5 minutes from winning, and have to go eat some grub - then come back and..."oh crap, screw this."  Lesson learned, big time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Switching Gears

With the release of Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey recently, it came to my attention that I could do the XNA community a better service by playtesting and peer reviewing. It's like reviewing, but helps developers make their games better and get them online.

There are a ton of other indie review sites out there (check sidebar for some) and quite frankly they were doing a better job than I was staying up to date and offering more features.

This blog is going to become space for company and industry relevant news and updates (and the Ophidian Wars dev blog will stay devoted to Opac's Journey and the upcoming Legend of Kilflame development).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Stop the Woodcutter! and Vampire Rage

And I'm back with a healthy Xbox. So back to highlighting some of the best games on XBLIG. This week we look at a notable tower defense game, and an enjoyable shmup.

Stop the Woodcutter! (240 MP)

If you like wood and furry animals, then have I got a game for you. That might not have come out correctly, but "Stop the Woodcutter!" (by Bidibidip) is a nicely done tower defense game where your small army of woodland critters takes down invading lumberjacks (and other anti-tree threats).

It's a lighthearted theme that works well for a tower defense style game. You use 'oxygen' (I might have used 'honey' if it were up to me) to summon animals such as bears, moles, bees, owls, and snails that offer different attacks and abilities. For example the skunk has a huge attack radius and launches stink bombs that can damage multiple enemies over time. The drawback is that they are bit inaccurate and come at a high oxygen cost.

One element I liked from the getgo was the easy control scheme. You can pull up radial menus that allow selection of the various critters (aka towers) - it's all quite intuitive - just rotate the joystick to select, then place them with the "A" button. There's also a ton of levels packed in, across several themes - so I'd estimate about 6-8 hours of fresh gameplay here easily.

The music is upbeat and the SFX get the job done. The levels are a fairly standard tile-based affair, while the cartoony characters and animations are fun.

One little critique I have is that some levels require trial and error to overcome. Until you see the pattern and types of enemies you're facing, you probably won't have a shot on the first try in some cases. Enemies that dig and fly can come in droves when you have essentially zero protection against them. That's a fairly standard element of the learning curve in tower defense games, but one I'd prefer to see a better, more creative solution to. Showing some sort of preview or hint of what the upcoming waves would consist of would be the obvious one.

So if you're looking to quench your latest thirst for tower defense, and don't mind hugging a tree or two, give this one a try. (240 MP)

Vampire Rage (80 MP)

Don't let the name fool you - Vampire Rage (by Tricktale) is a vertical-scrolling overhead shooter pew pew pew roar. Just picture a flying vampire instead of a ship, and you've got the basic idea. I appreciate the thematic twist though, and while not perfect, fans of the genre should agree that it's a nice addition to the XBLIG shmup collection.

So you know the dealio. Craploads of incoming enemies firing insane amounts of "bullets," creating a hellish weave-and-shoot gameplay core. The enemies are big and bold and the action is fast paced. My favorite gameplay element is that the character has a melee sword attack that can be used to deflect most bullets and damage nearby baddies. This creates some additional strategy because while using the sword you cannot fire your main attack - something you often can't afford.

Two other points worth mentioning - there's a light story that helps break up some of the bullet-dodging and there's a co-op mode that you can play with a friend. Nice. My only major gripe is one that I find with many shmups - it's sometimes really hard to see what's going on. There's so many large things on screen at one time that it can be aggravating when you seem to get killed by something you never saw because the bullet was nearly invisible among the other graphics. But maybe I am just getting old.

Anyhow - strong presentation and well-themed shooter - I'd suggest biting on it. Get it? Vampires...yeah.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Circle of Death

My third one. Fun times. I will get back on this horse as soon as they ship me a repaired one (or whatever they do behind the curtain). We're also about a week from 100% completion on Opac's Journey (thankfully I can play it on PC), so the focus is there anyhow.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Try It Or Die (3)

(week of March 21st, 2010)

Pretty strong week this past week - it's worth having a look at the recent releases. But here's two that I enjoyed the most:

Avatar Bumper Cars (80 MP)

Sometimes it can get annoying when a trend starts to peak and the bandwagon starts to get full. Yes I am talking about Avatar games - that's me, Debbie Downer. Avatar games seem to have natural appeal to those who value their avatars and like the big-headed cartoony look, so we've seen a flurry of them come out lately. And I get it, I do.

One other common theme is that the gameplay in avatar games is almost always very very basic. The avatar becomes the hook (and succulent bait), and the graphics, and then it's a matter of picking a simple theme and gameplay mechanic. So when an Avatar game works for me, it's usually because the simple gameplay mechanic is well-executed and enjoyable.

Breaking through the opening unintentional negativity, the reason I chose Avatar Bumper Cars this week is because the gameplay mechanic is smooth, works well within the cartoony world of avatars, but is actually not reliant on the avatars to be interesting. It's also not what I would call a "mini-game" (i.e. reaction game, timing game) - it's actually real time action with some strategy involved.

It's a 4-player local game if you have some peeps around, and players control their avatar's bumper car in a pretty small arena. The controls are simple forward-and-reverse, using the joystick to steer. Basically, the front of the car is strong while the sides and back are vulnerable - the idea being to ram your opponents (friends) in the side/back. Doing so enough will lower their "life bar" and eventually eject them out of the arena.

There's a good amount of hectic strategy as you maneuver to get the best angle on an opponent while at the same time trying to protect your weak spots. And that's what makes it fun. It could definitely benefit from some additional game types and arena choices, but the foundation is very strong. Enjoy!

Dysnomia (240 MP)

I'll say right off the bat that I was really impressed with the overall production value and professionalism of Dysnomia. From the box art, to the cut scenes, to the graphics and gameplay - this is all upper echelon for the XBLIG platform.

From a broader perspective, it's a somewhat conventional top-down shooter, yes - but with far more polish, features, and attention to detail then I am personally used to seeing on XBLIG. For that reason alone I would encourage you try the demo.

The experience is backed by a pretty engaging "stranded on an alien planet" story, with satisfying controls and high-action. Oh and wait, there's also big boss fights, lots of exploration across many level-types, and a well-conceived map feature that will actually prove helpful. I'm not done - how about two player local co-op, cool lighting effects, a great interface for mini-quests, and 5 distinct gun types?

The whole package is just very tight and my complaint list is mostly picky stuff. The enemies spawn randomly and constantly which I generally don't like because it tends to punish exploration and patience. You have to keep moving or else you just get stuck fighting the constant spawns. I didn't find the music anything-but-average and once in awhile I felt like the level design was a bit restrictive/claustrophobic. Again, that's me being picky.

At 240 MP I actually think this could be underpriced - easily could be a 400MP game. Go try it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Try It Or Die (2)

(week of March 14th 2010)

Here's my picks of the week.

Ninja Chop Review (240 MP)

Oh where to begin. Fine, sue me - I am giving this a shout out partially (just partially!) because it involves a busty female cartoon protagonist karate chopping milk bottles. It's entirely gratuitous and a little bit genius - come on, you know it.

I experienced 15-20 minutes of good fun here, often because I couldn't believe what I was seeing and was laughing my ass off. You play as the aforementioned busty Asian karate student and the goal of the game is to chop as many milk bottles (up to five) as you can in one swipe. Successful strikes cause the milk bottles to shower your character with "milk" and gain experience, which allows you to change into new unlockable clean outfits. Well, that is until you inevitably shower yourself with more milk ("oh jeez, more milk on my blouse?").

Ninja Chop does have some other things going for it. Visually it's quite pleasing with a mix of 2D and 3D graphics and attractive backgrounds that change according to the four seasons. You can change camera angles, there are some solid special effects, and the modest outfit customization helps with a feeling of progression. I have to point out that upon every single chop, the camera's second fast-paced shot zooms directly to the chest of the main character - wazzaam!!

That all said, the obvious pitfall is the shallow primary gameplay mechanic. Essentially all you do is time the press of a button according to a sliding bar, which is really something that we've all played before and is really considered more of a "mini-game." The better your timing, the more milk jugs that you chop. It's addicting, but far from innovative or impressive. It's probably not going to win everyone over. Good graphics aside, this gameplay probably calls for a lower price point.

I am just hoping this is the trend setter for a long run of fetish games. Latex, fuzzies, feet, asphyxiation? Bring it on.

Word Duelist Review (80 MP)

And now something completely different. It's nice to see a word/puzzle game with such care put into the artwork and atmosphere. And honestly that's exactly why Word Duelist is a standout title for me this week. The colorful characters and backdrop of a word-loving "university" offer up a more appealing setting than just jumping into your average word jumble or spelling game.

It's also the perfect setting for learning obviously, so it's worth noting the possible fun factor as an educational game for kids/teens.

The overall concept is heavily focused around a variety of word games - some familiar, some with new twists (15 in total). You challenge various opponents around campus (hence the "dueling") and try to best them. While I am not personally a big fan of word games, my interest was retained by traveling the campus, talking to some of the odd characters and unlocking new games.

It probably goes without saying that Word Duelist is best played with a human friend. I found that playing against the computer has some funny quirks. Because the computer opponents have the same letters/challenge you do, I was actually able to cheat a little by watching them work and stealing ideas, or one-upping them in order to win. For example, there is a game where the goal is to spell the longest word using a set of letters, I could watch the computer spelling it's answer then either make a word one letter longer or if I couldn't think of one, just copy the computer to make it a tie. Dirty, I know - but sort of an exploit that might be abused.

All and all though, the large variety of word games, educational elements, and nice presentation make this worth checking out - especially if you're a fan of the genre and have a spare buck sitting around.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Try It Or Die

Format change! As many people know, the sheer volume of XBLIGs is massive and unending. It's like a clown car. Well sometimes clowns are not funny, or flat out scary, or want to eat your face and that's why I'm here. I want to hook you up with the funny clowns and keep you away from rotten snaggle-toothed clowns that appear by your beside in the middle of the night wanting to "juggle" (massage apps). I can't play with all of the clowns, nor do I want to, but I can use my level head to navigate the clown army for you.

Long story short, each week I am awarding two games (new releases from that week) the "Try It Or Die" award. The award will go to two games that I think you need to try because they are standout titles - cream of the weekly crop.

(week of March 7th 2010)

Mega Monster Mania Review (80MP)

I nearly overlooked this one because like some of you I judge a book by it's box art (cover) and am not the most patient soul on the planet. Thankfully I stuck with it because this one grew on me. My first impression was, "this looks weird" and "my character is moving too fast." But that's mostly because we've been trained to expect certain traits within standard genres.

What I soon learned is that MMM has some very appealing features. First of all, it's co-op and who doesn't love some co-op dungeon crawling? I mean seriously. Also, there's tons of loot/treasure to find and upgrade your character with, boatloads of various enemies to fight, and once you get used to the fast movement, combat is pretty damn fun.

In other words, it's a much deeper game than it appears at first. And for 80MP ($1), any fans of the genre should get some entertainment from the looting/upgrading and quirky style/gameplay.

SoulCaster Review (240 MP)

SoulCaster is one of those games that will probably not make huge sales but will be well-received and generally overlooked by thousands of people who will never know it exists. That makes me sad, but to make myself feel better I eat cupcakes.

SoulCaster is one of those latenight "cool idea for a game" brainstorms that actually made it to a virtual shelf. It's a mash-up of genres that looks like Gauntlet, has elements of mobile tower defense, brings out nostalgia from Zelda 1, and follows some pretty standard but always enjoyable fantasy/RPG style story and characters. However you end up describing it, the fact is it works and the combined elements means it feels different.

Players control a character than collects soul orb type thingies that allow you place warrior allies on the map - sort of like you're carrying around your party. These immortal warriors will fight for you and have strengths/weaknesses that will govern how you use them and when. You set them up on the fly as enemies navigate towards you and can 'call' them back at any time. You can upgrade their abilities by collecting gold and visiting shops as you make your way though the lands collecting treasure and beating up baddies.

The graphics are retro (for better or worse - I like them) and the cost is 240 MP (about $2.50). Knowing a little about game development, and because the end product is solid, I think the price point is where it should be. It would certainly be an easy impulse buy at 80MP, but I like that not all devs are bending under the weight of the price pressure.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Your Doodles Are Bugged! Review


Here's how the thought process went for me. "Oh that's a stupid name for game." "Weird box art. What the hell is that thing?" "Wait that screenshot looks interesting." "Hmmm, haven't seen anything like this on XBLIG." "Only 80MP...." "Oh wait the developer has reached out to me! I like him more already!"

5 hours of playtime later, I finally turned the corner and realized what a beautiful little game this is. Actually, it's not "little" at all, but the bugs are tiny and the price tag is low, so it seems fitting. In terms of game hours and levels to conquer, this game is rather big.

Here's some things I liked right off the bat. The concept is clever. I believe that I can safely say that never before have you helped small bugs escape a "doodle" by drawing lines/structures with a pen. The humorous sound effects and zany plot/story are cutely captivating. The doodle artwork follows suit, offering a colorful and sometimes bizarre world to play in.

What took some time to grow on me was the primary game mechanic of drawing the lines to guide the bugs. In the beginning it felt a bit inaccurate and unpredictable as to how the bugs would respond to my drawings - in some cases a couple extra pixels of ink or a slightly steeper curve would have tragic unintended consequences for my bugs.

Thankfully, the tutorials helped shine some light on the best ways to guide the bugs and some patience/practice pays off well too. Simple tricks like drawing the path in reverse helps avoid the frantic process of trying to keep up with your bugs as they march happily to their doom. Imagining the path backwards, then opening the floodgates seems to be the better route. Should your plan fail, lessons learned, and you can easily restart the level.

By about level 5 or so you'll notice that the difficulty starts to amp up, and true puzzle lovers will get hooked to the challenge. Meanwhile, people with short tempers might find themselves throwing a controller. Adding to the strategy is the fact that your pen has finite ink, so budgeting that resource (and reclaiming ink off the page when you no longer need it) becomes absolutely necessary. In fact, it seems as though level 8 has already become a bit notorious as the "doodle that stumps." It took me over an hour, so I won't be on those leaderboards any time soon!

Some may find the gameplay pace a little slow or too challenging, but those people have endless numbers of zombies to kill elsewhere. :) I recommend this one for anyone looking for polished brainteaser in a wonderfully conceived artistic package.

Friday, February 5, 2010

It's Getting Better

Just a quick note to point out that there are finally some solid forums dedicated to XBLIG. Head over there to vote on your favorite games, uncover hidden gems, and talk indie. Much props to the folks who put this together - anyone who's ever tried running a forum knows it's not as easy you'd think! (XBLIG Forums!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mount Up

A quick break from reviews peoples. Some well-written articles by people I respect, deserve reading - so I am spreading the word.

1. The peeps at XNPlay offer more insight on the state of XBLIG.
2. Brandon Boyer of BoingBoing highlights some of the goods and bads.
3. GamerBytes (of Gamasutra creation) does some sales/success/failure analysis.

These articles dial in on the key issues and the things that developers need to be thinking about. You should read them. My initial knee-jerk after consuming them is to take action. While we can all cross our fingers for better games and better Microsoft support, we can can also put some effort in to uncovering hidden gems on the indie scene (gamers I am looking at you), and spreading the word/promoting the service better (developers I am looking at you).

One nice little page I am helping promote is this Facebook group for Indie Games which currently has 700 members. There is really no reason that word-of-mouth can't tap into all of our friends and fellow gamers to push this membership to the thousands. If you are on Facebook, join up and tell your friends. Indie Games on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lazy Review #11

Comin' at you with some more recommendations.

Twin Blades (240MP)

A quick look at the screenshot below will give you a good indication of the polished visuals in Twin Blades. So you get a good deal of eye candy. Namely, lush landscapes and a cartoony skirt-wearing scythe-wielding nun who hacks and guns down zombies.

I am honestly not sure you need much more to give this demo a whirl, but the gameplay is good enough to warrant a follow-through purchase. While I haven't done so myself yet (and I didn't receive a token, booooo), I am fairly certain that I can stand behind a recommendation.

It's a side-scrolling zombie hacker with what looks to be a fairly standard difficulty curve (more zombies, and tougher zombies) paralleled by ongoing weapon/power upgrades. It's a well-tested hook/progression that many of you have probably experienced in other games in the same genre. Twin Blades looks to be a cut above, and at a good price. Pimpin'.

The Impossible Game (80MP)

Ever been taunted by the title of a game? I kept passing this one over, but it started laughing at me so I snapped. Damn you, game.

Well, it also has great rating (gamer votes), and usually when a game only has shapes for graphics and a 4-star rating that means that something else was done very well. That is in fact the case, as The Impossible Game nails addictive simple gameplay while living up to it's name. For some, it may frustrate - but for those who can appreciate "practice makes perfect" you'll probably spend hours making your way through what I am calling, "the treadmill from hell."

Essentially, you control a small square that automatically "runs" through a gauntlet of traps. All you have to do is jump - sounds simple. NOT AT ALL. I was amazed at well the controls and trap design are laid out to create a challenge. Precision jumping and timing is crucial as the trap scroll towards you and multiple deaths are pretty much a given. Thankfully the punishment is low, and you can create your own checkpoints (limited number however) that allow you to spawn there after death.

I haven't beaten this one yet, and I a not sure I ever will. You up for it?

Colosseum: Hammerball (80MP)

I am glad to see Shortfuse back on the XBLIG map as I have always thought that the original Colosseum (now only 240MP, by the way) deserved much more attention. Hammerball is a sort of "light" version of the arena style fighter that offers a sporting variety of hockey.

Players control teams of hammer-wielding characters who can shoot, pass, and well...hammer a ball around the circular arena. The mechanics are similar to other sports games and it was easy to pick it up and figure out the basic controls. Plus you can still do some other attacks and maneuvers and I usually welcome a little violence.

And like it's predecessor, Hammerball uses cell shaded 3D graphics and the models/animations are some of the best you'll find on the platform. I'd recommend this one primarily as a multiplayer game as it's best experienced with/against a friend. At 80MP, it's an efficient use of a dollar.