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."
Microsoft has announced that over 200 developers are working on titles for the Xbox One via its ID@Xbox initiative and has released the names of 65 of these developers that are joining the 32 developers they already announced back in December.
Some of the highlights in the list include The Behemoth, developers of the extremely popular Castle Crashers and BattleBlock Theater; Playdead, the developers of eerie XBLA title LIMBO; Ska Studios, the team behind the beautifully violent games Charlie Murder and The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile; Warhorse Studios, the developers behind the highly successful Kickstarter Kingdom Come: Deliverance; and Zoë Mode, the developers of Powerstar Golf.
Tomorrow at 10 am PDT, Microsoft will likely tell us all some things we already know. The Xbox creator will also tell us plenty that we don't already know. Some rumors will probably be proven true, others false. New games and features will be discussed and, in some cases, shown. Ultimately, the curtain is going to fall on Microsoft's event before the public hears everything it wants to hear. Microsoft is only going to tease us, with a more complete showing of all its console plans for the years ahead not coming until the console holder's traditional pre-E3 media briefing on June 10.
But tomorrow we will know something we don't know today. We'll know something about what direction Microsoft plans to steer the Xbox brand in over the course of the next generation. Sitting here right now, I can honestly say that I know nothing more than any other gamer who's followed the supposed leaks over the past few years knows about what we're going to see tomorrow. Rather than make educated guesses about what might be shown tomorrow and at E3, XBLAFans is following up last week's look at how developers feel about XBLA as it currently stands by having them speak about where they want to see it go in the next generation.
During PAX East this past March, we cornered six game developers and asked them one question: If you could change any one thing or add any one feature to the next-generation version of Xbox Live Arcade, what would it be?
Dead Space's Isaac Clarke once had to drill into his own eyeball in order to survive a ship infested with mutated freaks. Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad of Assassin's Creed fame was made to part with a portion of one of his fingers in order to join the Levantine Brotherhood of Assassins. Tomb Raider's Lara Croft once had the misfortune of falling onto a piece of sharpened rebar that pierced her midsection — and all she was trying to do was go for a nice little exploratory boat ride. And that's not even mentioning the myriad scores of locust soldiers that have found themselves on the wrong end of Marcus Fenix's trusty chainsaw or colossal boots over the years.
You don't hear any of them complaining about having to endure those, shall we way, slightly disagreeable circumstances, though, do you? That's because those mere flesh wounds were nothing when compared to the great tragedy of our time: working with a certain platform holder to release your independent studio's game on Xbox Live Arcade. I shudder at the very thought.
If you've followed Xbox Live Arcade over the past several years here and on other sites, then you already know of what I speak. There lives in Redmond, Washington a great beast, massive in size with glowing red-ringed eyes of fury. It is a devious creature hellbent on tricking those smaller than it into believing they're partners, only to turn on them in their hour of need, stomping down on their hopes and dreams harder than Fenix has brought down his boots on so many locust heads. Such disdain does this gluttonous monstrosity have for the smaller creatures roaming the forest of the game industry, that it is more than happy to sacrifice its own interests if it means snuffing out the light of those cowering under its great shadow.
So evil is this…Wait. Isn't this getting just a little out of hand? Is Microsoft really that terrible of a company? Does it truly care nothing for the needs of independent game developers? Is its thirst for video game console dominance so insatiable that it doesn't mind torpedoing its, um, pursuit of video game console dominance so long as it means making life miserable for independent game studios that, by developing games for its platform, are actively working to help it succeed with its, uh, video game console dominance? It is if you've listened to the little guys with big megaphones.
BattleBlock Theater was developed by The Behemoth and published by Microsoft Game Studios. It was released April 3, 2013 for 1200 MSP. A copy was provided for review purposes.
It's hard to believe it's been almost five years since the release of Castle Crashers, the side-scrolling brawler brainchild of The Behemoth that grew up to be an XBLA darling that still sits atop sales charts today. Needless to say, the next game made by The Behemoth would have big shoes to fill. Instead of playing it safe, The Behemoth dared to be unique with BattleBlock Theater. Not only did they dare to take on a whole new side-scrolling genre, they also dared to create one of the craziest premise in the history of gaming.
BattleBlock Theater puts you in the shoes of one of the hundreds of prisoners who, after a terrible boat crash, washed up on a mysterious island and were taken captive by giant cats. These cats love their theater, so they force their prisoners into deadly plays. The story mode revolves around platforming and puzzle solving, navigating death traps and fighting crazy animals. When you're tired of exploring the theater, you can dive into a host of multiplayer modes. BattleBlock Theater is a wonderful platformer not meant to be taken seriously, and made even better when you play with friends.
It's out now. For 1200 MSP, you can buy it and start playing it right away if you'd like. Funny thing about that, though — that should be old news. And it would be if The Behemoth had followed through with its plan to release BattleBlock Theater on XBLA back in 2010. Obviously, things didn't quite work out that way, with the beat-em-up platformer having only just released yesterday. What happened? How could the developer have been so confident about 2010 that it was ready to tell the world that was the year and then ultimately be unable to finish BattleBlock Theater until three more calendar years passed it by?
Level Designer Ryan Horn has an explanation: the game wasn't as fun as the team thought it was going to be. "I think we were hopeful about where the game was gonna be when we [planned] to release it," he tells XBLAFans while sitting down for an interview at last month's PAX East. "And then in between the time when we announced [the release window] and when we planned to release it at the time, we saw the game going in a direction that was fun, but we realized that we could take it in a slightly different direction that was going to be a lot more fun."
With Horn having said his piece, studio President and co-founder John Baez expounds upon why The Behemoth felt its game could reach a state in 2010 that was up to The Behemoth's considerably high standards of fun. Instead of going back to 2010, though, he looks a little deeper into his past. "The other component of [the delay] is that in our previous experience — I mean, Alien Hominid? Fifteen months, two consoles. Done out the door with an Xbox [version] following three months after that," he begins. "And then Castle, it’s like, ‘OK, bigger game, three years.’" The prevailing feeling around The Behemoth's San Diego office during the earlier development phase of Game #3, as BattleBlock was codenamed back then, was that it would not be as an ambitious of an undertaking as Castle Crashers.