About Author: Nick Santangelo

Description
Nick has been a gamer since the 8-bit days and has been reporting on the games industry since 2011. He is not to be interrupted while questing his way through an RPG or desperately clinging to hope against all reason that his Philly sports teams will win any given game he may be watching. Find Nick Santangelo on Google+ and Twitter.

Posts by Nick Santangelo

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Is this concept art from NinjaBee’s next project?

NinjaBee Mech

While at PAX East last weekend XBLA Fans stopped by developer NinjaBee’s studio to take a look at Nutjitsu, which the studio told us entered Microsoft certification and should be releasing shortly. After our play session, the studio’s PR & Marketing Specialist Michael Purser had something else for us — a manila envelope full of photos he described as “recently declassified.”

Purser offered no further details in person and hasn’t responded to our email query asking what exactly we’re looking at in these photos. It’s likely that they are concept art from NinjaBee’s next game, especially considering that Nutjitsu for Xbox One is now content complete. The four photos, which you can view by clicking inside, contain imagery of what appear to be “top secret” plans for a mech; a scientist posing next to a giant fang in an airplane hangar; a Loch Ness Monster-type creature; and a World War II soldier aiming an artillery canon at a giant one-eyed beast.

We don’t know for certain what these Pacific Rim-esque pictures mean, but it’s possible NinjaBee is attempting to use the media to help it start a viral marketing campaign leading to the announcement of its next project.

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Nutjitsu submitted to Microsoft for certification

Nutjitsu Xbox One

Nutjitsu has been submitted to Microsoft to be run through the console holder’s certification process, developer NinjaBee informed XBLA Fans this weekend at the PAX East video game convention in Boston.

Although games sometimes run into issues during certification that cause them to be rejected and resubmitted once those issues are resolved by the developer, NinjaBee Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Michael Purser says he expects Nutjitsu to release shortly on Xbox. Purser added that the studio is targeting a $5 price point for the game.

XBLA Fans was able to go hands-on with the title at PAX East, playing four of its 15 stages. Taking control of a ninja squirrel, we were required to either spend a specific amount of time on highlighted parts of the map in a king-of-the-hill-styled mode; collect acorns and deposit them into a sack; or pick up five scrolls to achieve victory.

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Phil Spencer implies apps might come out from behind XBLG paywall

Xbox One Netflix

Microsoft’s Xbox team is aware that many gamers aren’t fans of its forcing Xbox One and 360 owners to pay $59.99 annually for Xbox Live Gold access in order to play games online and access apps like Netflix. It’s aware that rivals Sony and Nintendo don’t charge their customers an additional fee to access many of the same apps. And since many of these apps (Netflix, HBO Go, etc.) already charge users a subscription fee, that means Microsoft is the only console creator making its customers pay a second time to enjoy such apps.

That might be changing at some point. Maybe. Possibly.

Phil Spencer, who in March was promoted to lead the Xbox team, recently had an exchange with a Twitter user over the Xbox’s app paywall, reports Forbes. His words may be of interest to Xbox Live Gold’s detractors.

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Microsoft has plans for Xbox 360 emulation on Xbox One

Xbox One controller

Microsoft has plans in place to add one of the most-requested features missing from its next-gen Xbox One video game console — backwards compatibility. Responding to an audience member who asked if there were plans in place for Xbox 360 emulation on the Xbox One at Microsoft’s Build developer conference in San Francisco, the platform holder’s Partner Development Lead Frank Savage confirmed that such plans do indeed exist, reports Kotaku.

“There are [plans for Xbox 360 emulation on Xbox One], but we’re not done thinking them through yet, unfortunately,” Savage stated. “It turns out to be hard to emulate the PowerPC stuff on the X86 stuff. So there’s nothing to announce, but I would love to see it myself.”

When they launched this past November, neither Microsoft’s Xbox One nor Sony’s PlayStation 4 came equipped with backwards compatibility for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, their respective predecessors. The Xbox 360 was capable of playing select original Xbox games. Early PlayStation 3 models were capable of full PlayStation 2 backwards compatibility, while later versions of the console were only able to play digital PS2 games purchased on the PlayStation Store, not original disc-based versions of PS2 titles.

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The Behemoth helping other indies with funding, user experience & QA

The independent developer who brought XBLA gamers BattleBlock Theater, Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers has announced that, in addition to game development, it has two other ways it hopes will result in the best indie games possible making it “from conception to physical reality in the industry.” The Behemoth is now providing quality assurance and usability testing and what it describes as “no strings attached” funding for external indie developers.

Its testing lab, which the Sand Diego developer previously talked to XBLA Fans about at PAX East 2013, has been dubbed The Research Centaur and is said to staff testers with an average of six and a half years worth of experience in game testing. When he spoke of the testing center last year, The Behemoth President John Baez told us that it started as a purely internal department. Things went so swimmingly when testing BattleBlock Theater, though, that the developer decided to begin offering its testing services to external indie studios.

“I mean, one of the things we’ve done to kind of contribute to that [indie developer survivability] is we built a usability lab for Battleblock Theater, which has gone really, really well,” Baez said last year at PAX East. “It’s about a year old, and it’s only internal, and now we’ve opened it up. Well, there’s that and a QA department — very small, four people — but they’re very, very good at what they do. And now we’re beginning to open that up to other developers. So Bastion for all of iOS, we tested [it] and certified [it] to make sure that [Supergiant's] game was good.

“So we’re opening that up to independent developers as a resource so they don’t have to go — I mean it’s not any cheaper than going to a big, gigantic test firm — but you’ll get the absolute attention to detail.”

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Phil Spencer: ‘Xbox is a gaming brand’

Phil Spencer Xbox Boss

Following the announcement of his promotion to new Xbox boss, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer conducted a brief interview with Game Informer about his vision for the brand moving forward in which he continually stressed the importance of putting games first.

“My goal, first and foremost, is to make sure that everybody understands that Xbox is a gaming brand and it’s going to be gaming first,” Spencer told Game Informer. “That’s a leadership principle that I will bring to the program from day one. It’s not that it hasn’t been there in the past, but if you put the studio guy at the head, you kinda know what you’re going to get.”

Spencer headed up Microsoft Studios before taking over as the leader of all things Xbox. The brand took a huge hit in the eyes of the gaming public last year when its Xbox One reveal focused more on the next-gen console’s ability to play TV shows than to play video games. While Spencer said that performing multiple functions is necessary for any “incredible” electronic home entertainment product, he stressed again that games are priority one for the Xbox brand.

“We have always been, since the beginning, all about games at Xbox,” he said. “I want to make sure that shows up not only internally, but also externally.”

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Chris Charla says Upload will help indie games’ marketplace visibility

Chris Charla

It’s no secret: many developers who brought their games to Xbox Live Arcade last generation were put off by the process and Microsoft’s policies. Some even abandoned the platform as a result. It may have taken a few years and a lot of complaints, but word of the indie development community’s malcontent finally made it to Microsoft, and the platform holder decided to do something about it. That something is the ID@Xbox, for which 25 games were announced last week at GDC.

So what’s different this time around? Chris Charla, the program’s director, recently chatted with Digital Spy and answered that exact question. One of the biggest complaints about XBLA was its lack of visibility. Gamers who powered on their Xbox 360s and explored the dashboard weren’t finding most XBLA games. It wasn’t the gamers’ fault, though; Arcade games were buried deeper and deeper away in the increasingly convoluted Xbox 360 menu system nearly every time it was updated. Charla, reiterating previous statements Microsoft has made about ID@Xbox, explained how indie games are now easier to find on Xbox One.

“There’s not a separate section,” he told Digital Spy. “It’s just a game is a game is a game. Games that come through ID@Xbox will be right next to games from any other publisher.”

And since all games are just that, indie games will receive access to everything AAA games do on Xbox One: Kinect, SmartGlass, Upload, Twitch recording, achievements, etc. While Charla admitted that discoverability is a continuing problem for indie games on all distribution platforms, he believes that tearing down the walls that separated such games from big budget releases on Xbox 360 is paramount to solving the problem.

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Super Time Force’s release window has slipped further into the future

Super Time Force

The agents of Super Time Force‘s titular time-traveling force aren’t the only ones busy messing around with time. Capybara Games, the developer behind the upcoming XBLA and Xbox One action title, has moved the release timeline its targeting for the game to this summer, reports Polygon.

“It’s really tough to tell with Q&A and the certification process, but we’re really hoping for May or early June,” studio head Nathan Vella told Polygon this week at Game Developers Conference. “As soon as possible.”

In the game, players have the ability to call “Time Out” and rewind the action upon dying so that they can fight alongside previous versions of themselves in, as Capy’s website explains, “the good ol’ seconds of a few seconds ago, creating a veritable army of yous.” The ability to rewind and try again might be an attractive one to Capy Games, considering that it has had to change release plans for Super Time Force more than once.

Vella said last September that his game would “definitely” release in 2013. The studio president said at the time that the game was “feature-locked.” That was before an Xbox One version of Super Time Force was announced, though. The work necessary to make the next-gen iteration of the side-scroller a reality forced the release window for both versions back into “early 2014.”

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Pocketwatch’s next game is an RTS codenamed ‘Armada’ *updated*

Pocketwatch's Armada

Update: Following the publication of the original story below, Pocketwatch Games’ Andy Schatz responded to XBLA Fans’ requests for comment about working with Microsoft again. As he originally stated, Schatz hasn’t made any final platform decisions for Armada just yet.

“The deciding factor will be based on ho[w] closely we can interact with our fans and whether the platforms enable iterative development,” Schatz wrote in an email to XBLA Fans.

“We’ve been able to much better serve fans and interact with our community with the extremely easy process of rolling out updates through Steam,” he elucidated. “That’s not something I’ll be willing to give up for a game that may require constant balance changes and content additions!”

Gamers may remember that Microsoft was repeatedly lambasted by many in the independent game development community over the past few years due to its bug fix and game update policies. Those developers who complained were upset with issues surrounding costs, update sizes and certification processes and lead times. Some developers, like Uber Entertainment, went as far as to release subsequent games on platforms other than XBLA after feeling burned by Microsoft their first time releasing a digital game on Xbox 360.

Original Story: The next project from Pocketwatch Games, the two-man team behind 2013′s co-op heist title Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, is a real-time strategy game codenamed Armada. Pocketwatch’s Andy Schatz stated in a blog post that the success of Monaco, which sold more than 750,000 copies total despite only selling about 36,000 on XBLA as of last month, has put the studio in a position to create whatever it wants. What it wants is an RTS optimized for gamepad controls.

“With apologies to those devs who have tried, no one has ever made an RTS that played well on a dual analog gamepad. We’re gonna be the first to do it right,” Schatz promised. That does not, however, mean the game will be restricted to only a gamepad. Schatz goes on to write that playing Armada should be as enjoyable with dual analog as it is with a keyboard and mouse.

And there’s more to the game designer’s desire to create an RTS than just showing predecessors how it’s done with a controller. There’s his passion. Schatz has a love/hate relationship with the RTS genre and wants to put his own spin on it, which means designing a game in which “strategy is creative and complex and the micro is accessible and fun.”

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Microsoft: Improved Xbox One digital experience ‘on the roadmap’

Xbox One

Microsoft has apparently been listening to the chorus of press and gamer voices denouncing the current state of digital downloads on its next-gen Xbox One console. Xbox Community Manager Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb yesterday revealed in a Reddit thread discussing Titanfall digital download release times that his company plans to improve the situation — eventually.

“A better digital experience is on the roadmap.” wrote Hryb. “Preloads, unlock by time zone etc. are all things we want to roll out for Xbox One. Those features are simply not available yet.”

Some Xbox One owners residing in timezones running ahead of Pacific Standard Time have expressed their dismay at having to wait until the clock strikes midnight on the West Coast prior to being able to download Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall onto their consoles. The game will not be available digitally until the wee hours of the morning for many, while it can be purchased at brick and mortar retail stores at 12:01 am local time at participating midnight release stores throughout North America.

In addition, the Xbox One does not provide gamers with the option to pre-purchase and pre-download games to their consoles over Xbox Live, a feature that’s been made available for games on rival digital distribution platforms such as Steam, Origin and the PlayStation Network. Microsoft temporarily displayed a message on Titanfall‘s Xbox Games Store stating that the ability to pre-download would be made available for the game, but it removed the message shortly after and stated that it was posted in error.

Hryb stated in yesterday’s Reddit thread that there is currently no time frame available for when the Xbox One’s digital experience will be upgraded to include pre-downloading and other heavily requested features. He said that the public will learn more about the new digital experience “as soon as [Microsoft has] the proper story to tell.”

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