It's for The Behemoth's booth at PAX East and Prime conventions to draw large crowds of gamers willing to wait in line for the chance to step up and play BattleBlock Theater. At each PAX for the past few years there's always seemed to be an an amorphous throng of bodies awaiting their turn. As with anyone waiting in line, they could work together in groups of friends to navigate closer to a machine, or they could get a little more sassy and exploit someone else's momentary pause or inattentiveness to edge their way ever closer to playing a game that also lets you work with or take advantage of others.
Last month, 10,000 more gamers were presented with the option of cooperating with or causing trouble for fellow players in the BattleBlock Theater beta. It wasn't meant to be a free-for-all, however. Invitees received daily emails asking them to play certain game types on certain days. The Behemoth didn't just want to let more gamers play its game early; it wanted gamers to help it make a better BattleBlock Theater. So when XBLAFans caught up with The Behemoth President and co-founder John Baez and Level Designer Ryan Horn in Boston two weekends ago, I had to know: did gamers follow instructions? Or did they give in to a desire to have fun their own way at the expense of helping to better the experience for the masses who will play the game for the first time tomorrow?
"They were really good," said Horn of the beta testers' willingness to follow instructions. "I mean, we didn't expect 100 percent compliance — everybody's busy. For the most part, all of the beta participants, they wanted to help us make the game better, and that's what we got from them."
“I was a huge fan as a kid. I had the toys, watched the movies, memorized the soundtracks,” says Chris Frechette of Red Fly Studio, Lead Designer on the next chapter of the Turtles’ (TMNT) tale. He’s seated at the other end of a small demo room littered with consoles, peripherals and colorful cushions. To his right sits Shaun Norton, Public Relations Director at Sandbox Strategies, who invited XBLAFans to tour the forthcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows from Sandbox's West Coast office, tucked away in an unassuming San Francisco backstreet.
Everyone in the room is a professed Turtles fan – it’s a safe place. We reminisce about TMNT: the films, the comics, the action figures and the animated series. We chat while the big-screen TV loops a placeholder Turtles tune from the ‘90s, fueling the nostalgia-laced conversation. It’s here that we discuss why the has-been franchise is ready for another run, and why Out of the Shadows is more than just a license – it’s fate.
Xbox LIVE Arcade is a sort of safe haven for gamers who just want to enjoy their games. It's a place where microtransactional games are minimal, and rarely pay-and-pay-to-play. It's a place where pre-order bonuses do not exist, and one that doesn't artificially lengthen a game with pointless quests. Here we can play a game that's free of the adult content that feels so forced in retail titles. Here we can play without having political and religious agendas pushed on us. Here we can simply be gamers.
I love digital titles. I love that I don't have to clutter my cabinet with discs. I love that I can have access to them at any time, and that the stereotypical moocher friend can't borrow my digital games. I love how pick-up-and-play they are. I never feel forced to devote an hour or more to one play session. If I only have 10 minutes, I've got time for XBLA. It's freeing. Here's a list of problems that plague retail titles that remain (relatively) free from Xbox LIVE Arcade games.
If PAX East 2013 is remembered for anything, it will undoubtedly be the contagion that swept the showroom floor. It wasn't some handshake-induced strain that whipped through attendees and across the vast reaches of the internet. It was something far more potent: the long-dreamed resurrection of DuckTales and its infectious tune, spreading with airborne hums and whistles. By day’s end nowhere was safe, and among the eager mobs huddled around Capcom’s display booth hoping to catch a glimpse of their childhoods, it was ground zero.
When sounds of the infectious DuckTales Remastered theme song caught the ear of XBLAFans, we naturally investigated. We were intent on finding the culprit, daring to believe rumors of the nostalgic possibilities at the end of the line. What we found was Capcom Senior Product Marketing Manager Matt Dahlgren manning an arcade machine surrounded by toe-tapping onlookers and a flurry of questions.
“The whole game has been built from the ground up. They did start with the 8-bit version but everything’s been layered on top of it,” said Dahlgren, speaking of developer WayForward Technologies. “It has hand-drawn and animated sprites – the game looks like the cartoon.”
Somewhere in San Diego there exists a couple of buildings. They’re buildings with glass windows and a soft feeling, or so I've been told. They’re buildings that are “not too intimidating” when compared to other species in their particular building genus. At least, that's how The Behemoth President John Baez described them to me at the tail end of a roughly 32-minute interview that took place in Boston last weekend during PAX East. Baez and Level Designer Ryan Horn shared their thoughts on several topics: BattleBlock Theater, what the studio would like to see from the next-gen version of Xbox Live Arcade and the developer’s thoughts on working with Microsoft.
Yes, we managed to cover a lot of ground. This despite the fact that we were sitting comfortably in folding chairs set up in a largely unoccupied space behind the booth over which hung a large arrow bearing a single word: “Behold.” What precisely the attention of PAX attendees was being called to may not have been initially palpable to the first-timers among them, but then again, nor was it to the XBLAFans crew when Horn and Baez — the latter fielding an increasing percentage of the questions we asked the two men — began talking about video game prototypes.
Our attention, as it turned out, was being directed towards those two buildings. Or rather, what goes on inside their walls.
They’re not buildings in which the developer makes games, mind you. They are buildings in which the developer tests games to see if they work. Interestingly, one of the games that has been analyzed there isn't property of The Behemoth — it's property of fellow successful indie studio Supergiant Games. And at some point this summer, the iOS version of Bastion will lose the distinction of being the only game from another developer to be put through its paces by The Behemoth. The studio will begin using its pair of non-development buildings to investigate whether or not all manner of foreign games work in the manner that their designers intended them to, and whether or not that's the way they should work.
The Behemoth will task those working inside the friendlier-than-most-of-their-kind buildings with providing quality assurance (QA) and usability lab services to fellow independent game developers. One indie should help another indie. This type of help, however, will come with a price tag — and not a discounted one.
“To take what everybody loved about Sanctum and elevate it,” Reverb Publishing’s Ted Lange says, speaking to the motivation behind Coffee Stain Studios’ upcoming sequel. Lange is leaning comfortably in his chair, discussing Sanctum 2 with XBLAFans in a small white room on the second floor of a San Francisco gallery. As point man for the game, you would expect a flurry of information and glossy rhetoric about the many wonderful things that are in store. But Lange exhibits a calm enthusiasm, content to let the game speak for itself — which says quite a bit.
The original Sanctum released exclusively for PC and Mac markets, garnering praise for its innovative concoction of methodical tower defense and furious FPS elements and selling notably well for an independent venture. Though there were criticisms. Sanctum shipped with only three maps and a similarly restricted number of weapons. There were no connecting threads between each of the maps or explanations for these vibrantly glowing aliens in the first place. Who was this spunky redhead with an arsenal of future-tech? Why must she single-handedly stem the onslaught?