Tuesday, 5 January 2010

I bought some Indie Games on XBOX Live (XNA Games)

I had some credits left over from buying Castle Crashers, so rather than wasting them on ports of 16bit arcade machines that aren't half as good as you remember, I decided to show love to some indie developers. All the games I bought were 80 "points" which is about £0.70 so probably about 1 dollar or 1 Euro. The developer gets about 70%, the rest going to the borg. There are games on for more than that, but they really aren't any better than the 80 point games, so what's the point. I also downloaded a load of demos to try different games out. There's no free on XBox live, so no "lite" versions like on iPhone. Just 4 minute demos, then you have to make your mind up and buy it, or not. All the games are made with XNA / C# which is all completely free, and very powerful for both 2D and 3D games, so well done Microsoft on that.

My overall impression was that the best games were really good, but there's a very steep drop off down to bad games, so most games aren't worth buying. Luckily there is a very good menu system for browsing by genre, top-rated, most-downloads, newest etc. Much better than iPhone appstore in this respect. Overall I would say the games are no more "professional" or polished from Flash games, and other than some 3D effects on effectively 2D game engines, there wasn't much you couldn't do in Flash. I'd say the quality on iPhone is probably higher, but this is due to big players like Sega and EA being involved - just wait 'til us Flashers get on the appstore and drag it's good names through the mud ;)

Last year I started building a game for this platform, but that was abandoned when I left Bloc. I'd love to get one finished and distributed over Xbox Live - but there are things to weigh-up here. Objectively there's not much to choose between the 2 platforms if you are making a game. On Flash you'll get amazing reach and faster development (for 2D at least). On Xbox Indie you'll get a better form factor (TV + sofa + 4 controllers + 4 buddies = lols) but a much smaller audience. Money wise Flash games sponsorships and ad-revenues aren't great, but then you're not going to sell that many Xbox games either, or iPhone games for that matter, so at the end of the day what you make is much more important than the platform you choose. With that in mind, here is my rundown of the games I bought, favourite first.
  1. Miner Dig Deep. Basic graphics, no enemies, you can't die - doesn't sound too exciting right? Well Miner Dig Deep is like crack-cocaine once you get into it. It's a gentle 2D mining platformer where you dig deeper and deeper into the group collecting minerals and selling them to buy better equipment. I thought I would hate this game, but it's probably my pick for Game of Year 2009. My grade: A+ or 5 /5.
  2. Gerbil Physics. A lovingly polished physics puzzle where you blast Gerbils around beautifully painted backgrounds using bombs. Just like you're average Flash Box2D physics game, but with a bit more polish. It leaves you wanting more levels, but that's just a mark of how much fun it is. My grade: A or 5/5
  3. Jonny Platform's Biscuit Romp - An old-school puzzle-platformer, with a decidedly British flavour (e.g. you jump on bourbon biscuits) that reminded me of the UK's Amiga/Atari ST indie scene. The puzzles and jumping action are just hard enough without going over. The graphics are generally pretty, apart from the main character, who looks (intentionally?) a bit rubbish. A- or (4/5)
  4. Ninja Bros. The slick and cool giant pixel art (think Canabalt etc) and a great premise, are slightly detracted by the fairly savage difficulty of this puzzle-platformer. You control 2, 3 or 4 ninjas simultaneously - the thumb-stick makes them all move at once, but each fire button makes a different one jump. They are each in a different room but levers in one room will open doors in another. It's a headf*** and also requires some lightning reflexes, so not really a casual game in any sense. After many attempts I finally cleared the "easy" and "normal" levels, but "Hard" is so far too challenging, so I doubt I'll ever unlock"nightmare". So really I'm only ever going to see half the content. B+ or (4/5);
  5. Junkyard Battle. A very promising 3D physics stacker, that turns out to be buggy and frustrating. The presentation and premise are both good, but some weird behaviour from the physics engine spoiled it for me. A physics engine is like a wild horse that needs to be tamed, or it will kick you in the face, as happens here, where objects slide up hills and other strange behaviour. The difficulty also ramps up way too quickly. This team should stick at it though and do another game, because there's potential here. C- or (2/5).
Sorry no time to add screenshots - just check the links out instead. Overall I'd say that if you have an Xbox and couple of bucks, check some of these out, or find you own gems on Xbox live. Or just play some free Flash games ;)