About Author: Nick Santangelo

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


Adam Orth wants to know what Adr1ft is worth

Adr1ft Video Game Preview for Xbox One

"This is Adam Orth, creator of Adr1ft," a PR man states matter-of-factly.

Orth is the game developer best known for causing a 2013 internet riot with his infamous #dealwithit tweet. Here at an AMC Loews theater in Boston the weekend of PAX East, he stands up in front of a handful of media members to talk briefly about his game. The whole scene feels pleasantly at odds with the commotion and excitement (real and feigned) back at the convention center I've just left. Orth is soft-spoken and unassuming, and aside from just showing the game, there is scarcely any attempt made to hype up the audience. None is needed, because when I pull on an Oculus Rift moments later, I am immediately impressed by Adr1ft.

The added immersion of the VR headset helps, to be sure. But Orth insists that his game was designed to captivate players with or without another reality strapped to their faces. Certainly some of the enveloping feeling of space's vastness is lost when the headset comes off. After it does, however, watching XBLA Fans' John Laster and Jill Randolph play on a regular old TV screen is still a treat. Spectating their non-VR play sessions makes me want to get back into this game that is somehow being built by the small team at Three One Zero.

Adr1ft doesn't seem like something that a diminutive indie developer could create in short order — but that's exactly what it is. After less than a year in development at Three One Zero, the game's Gravity-like take on space exploration mission turned disaster is moving. Floating aimlessly through the wreckage of a space station, I take in the little things, like a single leaf escaping from the station's garden as it collides softly with my helmet. Turning to watch this green speck drift away, I'm dumbstruck and a little frightened by the vast emptiness of space engulfing it. Turning again, I find myself confronted with a familiar, comforting image that I have to assume has left many real-world astronauts breathing a little easier: Earth.

Later, Orth will ask what we think this sort of experience is worth and what games we think it's in the same class with; he seems sincerely interested in knowing what value others place on his project. It's a degree of humbleness his many detractors from two years ago might not expect from him.

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Microsoft considered giving the original Xbox away for free

The Original Xbox

The original Xbox cost $299.99 when it went on sale in the United States in 2001. However, GamesIndustry.biz reports that if some at Microsoft had had their way, the console would have been significantly cheaper — as in $299.99 cheaper.

Oddworld Inhabitants' Lorne Lanning recently told GamesIndustry.biz that during the early days of the Xbox's development, some Microsoft employees suggested that the company give its inaugural games console away for free. "At the time, [Microsoft] thought that the core market was going to be casual," he said. "They were going to be the casual gamers' machine. Now, that's why they approached us because they said, 'We think you've got something that competes in that Mario space, and we think Mario's the thing to kill… We see that space. We want that audience. We love Oddworld, so why don't you get on this bandwagon? And we might give the box away.'"

His story was corroborated by Seamus Blackley, the console's co-creator. "In the early days of Xbox, especially before we had figured out how to get greenlit for the project as a pure game console, everybody and their brother who saw the new project starting tried to come in and say it should be free, say it should be forced to run Windows after some period of time," said Blackley.

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Should game developers let everyone stream every part of every game?

Xbox Twitch Streaming Pause Screen

Last month, XBLA Fans was streaming Resident Evil Revelations 2 on our Twitch channel when something unexpected happened: the feed abruptly cut to the pause screen pictured above. XBLA Fans' Michael Cheng hadn't stopped playing and was still attempting to actively broadcast gameplay, so we knew something external was affecting the stream.

That something was Capcom. The game's developer-slash-publisher, in an effort to minimize gamers' exposure to certain scenes that are critical to determining what ending players receive, blocks segments of Revelations 2 from being streamed via the Xbox Twitch app. Capcom kicks all Xbox Twitch streams to the pause screen during the final boss fight, cutscenes, credits and after-credits cutscene. Speaking with XBLA Fans, a representative for the company explained that it wants to "give players a pure and un-spoiled experience," so it "chose to disable the native capture so that video sharing during those segments was limited."

This got us thinking: how do other ID@Xbox game developers view Twitch streaming? Are they worried about potential gameplay or story segments being ruined for viewers? We asked a few developers if they had official Twitch policies and whether or not they felt streamers were helping their games to find larger audiences. Official stances on Twitch were a bit mixed, but everyone we talked to agreed that streaming could benefit them. One in particular, however, cautioned against giving streaming codes to anyone and everyone and noted that not all games companies need help from streamers.

Of streams and spoilers

Tales from the Borderlands

There is perhaps no ID@Xbox developer more well-known for story-driven experiences than Telltale Games. Unfortunately, the studio that popularized episodic game releases declined to comment directly on the issue. Telltale, however, did partner with The Nerdist to stream the entirety of the first Tales from the Borderlands episode a week ahead of its release last November. It also got together with voice actors Troy Baker and Laura Bailey to stream the second episode a few days after its release late last month. It remains to be seen whether or not Telltale will be so eager to stream the season's surely spoiler-filled final episode in full, but its past actions paint a picture of a studio that does not shy away from streaming spoilers.

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Adventures of Pip tells the story of gaming's art evolution

Adventures of Pip for Xbox One

Even if you've never played a video game before in your life, you won't have trouble deducing where not to go in Adventures of Pip. A series of floating skull and crossbones symbols hover above each of the platformer's bottomless pits. It's an unambiguous message from the developers conveyed through art.

Tic Toc Games CEO Shereef Morse didn't want to leave anything to guesswork. "It’s like, 'Hey guys, you don’t want to go down there, all right?'" he told XBLA Fans at PAX East last month. "We said, 'Why leave it to guessing, right?'"

Not unlike the studio's approach to visualizing the dangers of bottomless pits, its central gameplay mechanic is also a very on-the-nose artistic reference to something — art itself. Adventures of Pip tells the story of a one-pixel underdog named Pip who gains the ability to be rendered in more pixels as he quests towards defeating the evil Skeleton Queen. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it's meant to: Adventures of Pip is also the story of the games industry's art evolution and what game art has had to give up in order to evolve.

Adventures of Pip tells the story of gaming’s art evolution
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The idea for this metaphor began germinating around 13 years ago — even if Morse didn't realize it back then. In 2002 Morse was working as a production manager at WayForward Technologies, and he hired a promising young artist, Marc Gomez, fresh off an education at California Institute of the Arts. Gomez would go on create art for A Boy and His Blob, Contra 4 and Bloodrayne: Betrayal among others. The only thing those three games have in common with one another is that they share absolutely nothing in common, which is exactly the point. Years later, when Morse hired Gomez as his creative director at Tic Toc, it occurred to him that Gomez's art styles had frequently changed during his time at WayForward. So had the industry's at large.

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Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty (finally) coming to Xbox tomorrow

Oddworld New 'n' Tasty for Xbox One

Two and a half years after it was first announced for an Xbox platform, Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty will finally release tomorrow, March 27, publisher Oddworld Inhabitants, Inc. has announced. The game, which is a remake of 1997's Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, will cost $19.99 upon its release on Xbox One.

New 'n' Tasty's appearance on Xbox consoles has been a long time coming, as it was originally announced as an Xbox Live Arcade title back in 2012. Now it comes to Xbox One as part of the ID@Xbox program. The remake first released for PlayStation 4 and Vita in July of last year and on PC, Linux and Mac last month. Though New 'n' Tasty largely retains its progenitor's level designs, the remake features reworked gameplay and art in addition to an HD resolution.

It will be the first Xbox release for the Oddworld franchise since 2005's Stranger's Wrath, which itself had an HD remake announced for XBLA once upon a time. That remake also never released for the Xbox 360.

Tweet This: First Xbox release for the Oddworld franchise since 2005's Stranger's Wrath
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Despite arriving on Sony's PlayStation Network, the HD remaster of Stranger's Wrath was denied an XBLA release. At first, this was because it exceeded a 2GB file size limit that Microsoft reportedly at one time had in place for XBLA games. XBLA Fans eventually confirmed that this limit was either done away with or never existed in the first place. Still, despite talks with Microsoft and several other interested parties, the Xbox 360 version of Stranger's Wrath was never able to find a publisher.

Source: Oddworld Inhabitants, Inc.


Microsoft's purchase of Minecraft started with a tweet

Minecraft on Xbox One

The $2.5 billion deal that saw Minecraft change hands from creator Markus "Notch" Persson to Microsoft all started with a tweet, reports Forbes.

"Anyone want to buy my share of Mojang so I can move on with my life?" Persson tweeted in June of last year. "Getting hate for trying to do the right thing is not my gig."

Mojang CEO Carl Manneh read the tweet, and, by his estimation, the phone rang just 30 seconds later. A most interested party was on the line: Microsoft. The console holder and software giant wanted to know if Persson was serious. So did Manneh.

As it turned out, the Minecraft mastermind had written the tweet half-jokingly, but things quickly turned serious when Persson realized this was his chance to divorce himself from Minecraft. He had once sworn he would never sell out, but after years of dealing with caustic communications — sometimes in regards to content changes Persson wasn't even aware of, let alone responsible for — Persson had a change of heart.

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Rive preview: Triple threat

Rive Xbox One Preview

Rive is the second shooter I played at PAX that gave off a familiar vibe. But Two Tribes' side-scroller is more SHMUP than twin-stick shooter — the right stick aims but doesn't fire your primary weapon — and it reminds me of Star Fox 64, of all things. Studio co-founder Collin van Ginkel explained during XBLA Fans' demo time with his game that it's not exactly the comparison he had in mind, but that it's one he may just start making.

The reason for the comparison is that the Rive demo sees the players' ship transform from a space-faring craft to a land-traversal vehicle to a submersible. Anyone who's ever played Nintendo's arcade-y and fur-filled space shooter will remember this trio took the form of the Arwing ship, the Landmaster tank and the Blue Marine submersible in Star Fox 64. In Rive, however, you don't get three different vehicles. You get one vehicle that performs three different tasks.

The demo starts off with the player piloting a small ship that looks almost like a drill as you blast asteroids and missiles to pieces. After taking down what amounts to a simplistic version of the base from Contra, you head inside and your ship falls to the floor. Suddenly you're playing an action platformer. Just a few moments later you're suddenly plunging underwater. Bereft of the ability to shoot, your only choice here is slowly float downwards while steering out of the way of mines.

Around the same time, you pick up the ability to hack enemy computers and robots. This lets you activate switches to open the way forward, force enemy healing bots to switch allegiances and hitch a ride on enemy transporters.

The demo comes to a close after just about 10 minutes or so, concluding with a boss fight in which you're tasked with blasting a glowing red weak spot as the boss locks on before charging at you.

The final game is expected to hit Xbox One sometime and other platforms simultaneously later this year and will last considerably longer than 10 minutes. Two Tribes is promising a five-hour game with multiple missions, weapons and hacking abilities.


We Are Doomed preview: Playing with fire

We Are Doomed Xbox One Preview

It looks and plays a lot like Geometry Wars. This is the inescapable reality of We Are Doomed, an upcoming twin-stick shooter from one-man studio Vertex Pop. The world is colored with softer, pastel hues, and the enemies are tangible things instead of angular shapes. But anyone who has played Geo Wars will immediately grok what they're seeing and experiencing in We Are Doomed and will know exactly what to do. Creator Mobeen Fikree isn't shying away from the comparison.

"I don't mind," he told XBLA Fans earlier this month at PAX East. "I think Geometry Wars is a great game, and following in that lineage of Robotron, Smash TV, Geometry Wars and then, you know, this. I’m happy to be a part of that lineage. When people go, ‘Oh, it’s like Geometry Wars!’ I’m like, 'Yeah, it’s like Geometry Wars.'"

Until it's not.

The moment you use the right stick to open fire on the waves of space baddies swarming the screen it becomes clear how We Are Doomed diverges from the formula. Instead of blasting enemies with a never-ending stream of long-range laser fire, players instead must rely on a medium-range "overpowered laserbeam," as Vertex Pop's website describes it. In actuality, it doesn't come off like a laser at all. Instead, it looks and feels more like you're wielding a flamethrower with an infinite fuel supply. Nudging the stick farther in any direction will elongate the beam/flame, but it will never cause it to reach clear across the screen.

If you want to defeat the baddies — and you'll of course need to do so if you want to make any progress in the game — then you'll need to get a bit closer than you may be used to getting in other twin-stick shooters. "You have to dive into the action," explained Fikree. "You have to be close range if you want to zap baddies — you can’t sit in one corner of the map and shoot things all the way in the other corner."

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State of Decay contractors hid 'a ridiculous amount of genitalia' in game's background

State of Decay Year One Survival Edition for Xbox One

Announced all the way back in August of 2014, Undead Labs' State of Decay: Year One Edition is an up-ressed version of the 2013 zombie-survival game along with its Breakdown and Lifeline DLC. Undead has redone all of the game's textures and bumped up its resolution to 1080p for this remastered edition. And although parts of the environment still draw in as the player gets closer to them, that now occurs much farther into the distance than before.

While performing all of this work the studio discovered something that was as unexpected as it was crude. "Some of our contractors worked a ridiculous amount of genitalia into the background," Undead Labs Senior Designer Geoffrey Card told XBLA Fans at PAX East this past weekend.

Since Seattle-based Undead was a small indie studio with a vision for an open-world game, it needed to turn to outside help in order to complete development of the original State of Decay. Apparently, unbeknownst to Undead until recently, some of those hired guns secretly and liberally drew penises into the game's backgrounds. The phalluses were not visible in the original release due to its lower resolution and lower-quality textures, so they slipped through testing unnoticed and made their way into the final game.

When the enhanced resolution and texture quality brought the penises to Undead's attention the studio began working them out of the game. The genitalia is not visible in any publicly available version of the game.

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Microsoft says it's not afraid to experiment with ID@Xbox

ID@Xbox's Chris Charla Talks About Helping Indies

In a recently published feature, XBLA Fans explored multiplayer sports/platformer game #IDARB's path to release — for free. As part of our reporting for that piece we spoke with ID@Xbox Director Chris Charla about Microsoft's newfound willingness to give independent Xbox developers as many game codes as they want.

According to some Xbox Live Arcade developers XBLA Fans has interviewed over the years, the console holder wasn't always so forthcoming with game codes. It wasn't the only complaint developers had, either. While there was nothing quite like Xbox Live Arcade when the Xbox 360 first launched in November of 2005, the competition quickly caught on and, in some cases, surpassed the OG of indie game stores with arguably more developer-friendly offerings. Droves of high-profile XBLA developers spoke out against the platform and turned their affection toward Steam, mobile and/or the PlayStation Network in XBLA's twilight years.

Despite a growing public perception that Microsoft was sitting back and letting this happen while the PlayStation Network became the new place for indies to be on consoles, Charla told us that wasn't case. Redmond was listening for suggestions as to how it might iterate on XBLA and create a new indie environment with more modern solutions.

"When we started ID@Xbox, well, actually way before we started it, we went [on] a huge listening tour and talked (and listened) to more than fifty studios about what we were doing right and wrong in terms of how we were working with independent developers," recalled Charla. "ID@Xbox really grew directly out of those conversations. I think XBLA was rad, it was revolutionary, but I also think there was a period where the market changed and we needed to change with it. That’s really where ID@Xbox came from."

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