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."
Last week, you may have caught our five-part feature looking ahead at as many XBLA games and their Xbox One brethren as we could possibly cram into one week's worth of articles. If you missed it, go ahead and check it out right now. Start here.
All done with that? Great. Now you know what's coming. What you may not know, however, is which of those games you should be looking forward to the most. Don't worry — XBLA Fans has you covered. Read on to find out what upcoming XBLA and Xbox One games select members of our team are most looking forward to getting their hands on. Once you're done, let us know which ones you're most excited for in the comments section. We're asking you to read through our many thoughts on the big releases ahead, so we figure the least we can do in return is to read yours as well.
Ryan Thompson, Contributor — When Capcom first announced that it was releasing a modern Strider title, my first thought was to listen to a track by game composer Jake Kaufman entitled “Dracula Man X2 Alpha Turbo.” Kaufman was clearly having fun when he created the track, giving one potential answer to what the Castlevania franchise’s music would sound like if Capcom had developed it instead of Konami. With the imminent release of Strider on the 18th of February, Capcom is poised to give something of an official answer to the same question Kaufman must have asked himself — what would Castlevania be like if Capcom released it instead?
First of all, it would have the same level of polish as the best of Capcom’s 2D games, with controls that never fail, leaving players without excuses for failure in the tradition of both the original Strider for NES and the more famous Mega Man games. Second, it appears that, judging by the trailer, there would be more emphasis on combat and slightly less on exploration, though that might be just the frantic flow of activity in a short video speaking. Finally, as Kaufman hints in his tribute, this game would come with a soundtrack worthy of the rest of Capcom’s 2D oeuvre.
Xbox Live Arcade began its life on Microsoft's Xbox 360 simply enough. When eager gamers bought up Xbox 360s on launch day (November 22, 2005), they found a free copy of Hexic HD pre-loaded on their hard drives. Of course, it was another launch title that secured the platform's success. Bizarre's Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved both gave birth to the twin-stick shooter craze and demanded gamers take Xbox Live Arcade, which started in disc form back on the original Xbox, seriously as a digital games platform. Bizarre's side project paved the way for the enormous variety of retro revivals, HD remakes, original indie projects, major studio releases, free-to-play games and more that have come to call XBLA home in the years since.
Today, we're approximately one month away from the launch of the Xbox One, which will signal the end of XBLA as we have come to know it these past eight years. While Microsoft's Xbox line will continue to be home to myriad low-cost downloadable video games, the XBLA moniker will not make the transition to Xbox One. It's going down with the figurative (and literal) Xbox 360 boat. So what better time than now to count down the best XBLA games to ever grace the Xbox 360?
It wasn't easy, but our staff has sorted through all of the best XBLA releases over the years and picked the ones that we feel are the true standout stars of the platform. Check back with us throughout the week as we run down five of Xbox Live Arcade's top games every night. And don't forget to head to the comments to let us know how much you love (or hate) our picks.
(Editor's Note: Voting was conducted in early September. No games released post-Summer of Arcade 2013 were considered eligible.)
Nathan Bowring, Reporter — Minecraft’s impact on XBLA has been huge; it’s been beating sales records ever since its release, and it continues to top the Xbox Live activity charts. There’s just something magical about that simple, blocky world that’s hard to resist. Every new, randomly generated world is the start of a new adventure. In Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition, you’ll map out the landscape, explore deep caverns to collect precious diamonds, fight terrifying nocturnal monsters and build to your heart’s desire. The resources you collect may turn into your new house, or maybe you’ll turn them into weapons to fight the Ender Dragon. The only thing that limits the game is your imagination, with every new title update adding so many more possibilities.
Whoever coined the phrase, “Too much of a good thing,” likely never played a video game. Sure, mostly because the saying dates back to well before Pong ever pinged a virtual paddle, but in some small part because anyone that’s ever really connected to a great game knows the bittersweet sorrow of wrapping it up. Xbox Live Arcade is no stranger to great games — however you choose to define the word: fun, dense, deep, powerful – there’s something for everyone in our little digital corner of video games proper.
With that in mind, we take a look back at the heavy hitters, the ones that make you set down the controller upon completion and want to know more. XBLAFans’ Friday Top Five is back, bringing you the top five Xbox Live Arcade games (in no particular order) that require a sequel.
Meet Haris Orkin, writer and voice director behind the critically acclaimed Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. He assisted Techland on the first Juarez game back in '05, when he suggested the polish developer hire an American writer to get the dialogue right. He's been working with them ever since.
In a 'making of' documentary posted by Ubisoft, Orkin recounts the process behind how Gunslinger came to fruition. From the beginning when Techland didn't know if they needed a traditional story since this was a "downloadable game", through the process of developing Silas Greaves and presenting the tall tale history of the Wild West.
"They came to me with the idea of the entire game being narrated a la Bastion," Orkin recounts. "They told me they wanted narrative tricks in the game; that things in the game world would change depending on the narrators story. I thought that idea was pretty brilliant and mirrored exactly how the history of the West came to be written in the first place.”
To delve into that rich history of the Wild West, Techland wanted the larger-than life personas that cut out a living during the time. “They wanted the game to feature some of the most iconic Western legends and characters from the past," Orkin says. "Together we crafted a story based on that premise. The character would be someone who brushed against all those famous characters.”
It beckons, and you respond. What else would you do? It’s not as if an abundance of other options manifest themselves, really. Your surroundings tell you it will be dangerous to go alone without it, and “it” even goes so far as to articulate its desire to become your traveling companion.
You seem to have just missed some sort of a skirmish, and at least one person ended up dead during the fighting. Someone, presumably the killer, has conveniently left the enormous techno-sword that felled the recently deceased implanted firmly in the poor fellow’s torso. The transistor speaks; it beckons, and you respond. What else would you do?
You relieve its most recent victim of the burden of bearing it any longer, and Supergiant Games’ Transistor begins proper. Red — the beautiful, slender former songstress who was introduced a moment ago in a cut-scene colored as much by her fiery hair as by her heavenly singing — seems a strange choice to wield something so powerful, so…cumbersome. If appearances are to be trusted, Red’s but a delicate thing, not suited to wield such a large weapon. But wield it she does. She hefts the blade with two hands, letting its considerable girth drag behind her as if she were auditioning for the role of leading man in a JRPG from a bygone era.
Swinging the thing reveals that its weight matches its size. Red arcs the chatty transistor over her head and brings it crashing down in front of her with considerable effort. You feel its weight as she does so. It slows Red, restricting her to trotting at only a moderate pace around this futuristic world that is somehow simultaneously flooded with artificial light and dark and foreboding. Her attacks feel deliberate and powerful as they smash the robotic aggressors that spawn before her to bits.
The robots are part of something known as “the Process,” and they want it back. They want the transistor that was so negligently left behind earlier. The transistor has much to say, but its (his?) words are cryptic, leaving you with many questions. What is the Process? What is the transistor? Who is Red, for that matter? Do she and the transistor know each other?
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.