Everyone that has ever played a game has at one point thought “Hey– I want to make a game, too!” For most people this is quickly forgotten, and they go back to playing World of Warcraft because they want a new sword or hat, or because even after fishing in Orgrimmar constantly since the day they implemented these damn achievements and they still can’t catch Ol’ Crafty and maybe today will be that lucky day but of course it isn’t… anyway, they don’t put any more effort into actually making a game. Some people go as far as buying a bunch of books like “Learn to Program in 30 Days,” and then spend a week really trying to learn how to make a game until the eventual realization that coding is boring as shit, and then they use the book as a makeshift hill for Warhammer miniatures battles.
Hard as it is for me to believe, some people actually do go forward with their idea and make their games. Sure, there are the Miyamotos out there who somehow turn this into a career and make games that actually get sold, but there are still thousands of hopefuls who just want to make their games with the hope that someone will play it and like it. This isn’t a new thing; I remember playing freeware games for years when the internet wasn’t something people just used as an everyday commodity, before everyone made everything into flash browser games. It’s sort of like how in 2000 everyone and their mom made some sort of internet humor site, and now all the smart ones have died out and their writers have grown up and moved onto successful enterprises.
But did you know Xbox Live has an indie games area? (There is a good chance you did, but I’m just trying to write an intro here so give me a break, okay?) There’s not a lot of fanfare for most of the games that come out for it, and there are a lot of games here—a lot. Everyday a new game or two (or three or four…) will show up with little to no notice. Unfortunately, a lot of these games are pure distilled misery. However, if you’re willing to sift through it, there are some games that are well worth the low price of 80 MS Points ($1 in earth money)… although even I ran out of patience to try many of them before deciding that my time was better spent not catching an electronic fish.
A handful of these independent developers for XNA decided that they were tired of being somewhat discounted just because their game was listed next to “Try not to Fart!” or “Interactive Advent Calendar!”, and so they’ve attempted to make an event—the Indie Games Winter Uprising, where 14 of their games will be pushed as the cream of the crop of the format. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear they’re getting a whole lot of support from Microsoft. There’s no mention of this promotion on the service at all, and even if you go to the indie games section, there’s not even a special category for the games included in this event. As my quarterly attempt to make OMGJeremy a little more current, I’ve decided to write a series of articles on the games so far (in the order released), with my impressions of them from the little bit of time I spent with each.
(All of the YouTube videos are the official ones from the creators websites)
Epic Dungeon – 80 MS Points ($1)
This was the first game to come out for this promotion, and I’m sort of unsure of why it was the choice to kick this thing off. There are more games on the schedule that make better first impressions – when I first started this game, my immediate reaction was to question my decision to even write these articles. Epic Dungeon is sort of clunky looking. It’s very fast. Monsters just run at you, and seem to spawn from out of nowhere. You attack by running into things, and the maps were small little floors with a ladder to the next level. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of depth to this thing. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last month playing Etrian Odyssey III on the DS (an incredible modern-day Wizardry clone), but I just assumed this would be a slower game, more like an Ultima clone– an assumption I made based on the few screenshots that I saw. This seemed more like chaos. I stopped playing it after my trial ran out and decided that I would write something on the Oddworld series instead.
An hour or so later, I decided to give it a second shot now that I knew exactly what sort of game I was playing. When you play this expecting a more involved Gauntlet – well, then this game looks completely different. It looks good, in fact. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an RPG, and if you are looking for that sort of thing you will probably lose interest like I did the first time. It’s Gauntlet with RPG elements. It’s Diablo, if Diablo was made on the Commodore-64. It’s the sort of game I would play endlessly if this was browser-based and worked in my office. The graphics, while simple, work well for keeping it fast and simple, and the levels are short enough that I can clear a floor in a minute or two.
“Removed by user” – thanks, guys.
There are 4 character classes, all shown above in their hideous character selection visage, but all of them roughly play the same (and thankfully everyone looks far better in the actual game after you make them). There’s a Berzerker, which is pretty much the standard fantasy barbarian– you know, hit thing hard, run at other thing, hit it hard, repeat. There’s a Shaman, which starts you with the ability to freeze nearby enemies and then do more damage to them. You could be a Tinkerer, which means you get an orb that flies around you shooting things (pet class!). Finally there’s the Gambler– who knows when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away, and when to run. Actually, the Gambler is a rogue that can poison, but there’s my Kenny Rogers reference for 2010. I was worried I wouldn’t get it in this year.
Once you pick your class, you start heading in a downwards direction through 50 levels of monster slaying. Along the way, as is standard Dungeons and Dragons fare, you will find weapons and armor, random potions and scrolls, and piles of gold that inexplicably fall on the ground after you kill a bat. There are also ? icons that show up occasionally, giving you a random encounter with things like “A flesh covered book is laying on the ground… it looks menacing, but it could also contain great power? Do you pick it up?” Then you get to pick from a glorified yes/no like “Leave it, it could be dangerous!” or “Sure, anything for more powers!” and sometimes you get a cool reward, which of course means other times it poisons you and leaves you near death. These are sort of neat because they remind me of old text game options, or Choose Your Own Adventure books.
I ended up buying this game — which is the first XNA Indie game that I’ve ever purchased. It’s a really short and simple time waster, it reminds me of the days when I’d play the Intellivision D&D games, but with the flavor of the Flights of Fantasy books I used to buy at the school book fairs. So far, I’ve managed to live long enough to get to the 13th floor with my rog– err… Gambler, and die horribly. It’s a pretty great way to kill 15 minute blocks, and if you somehow make a character that you get lucky with and get some great items, you can always save your progress and come back later. That said, this is a game you should be able to get through all the levels of in 60-90 minutes, which is a perfect length for a game like this.
Break Limit – 80 MS Points ($1)
Oh goody, a shooter. That’s not sarcasm, I love me some top-down shooter action, and there’s not too many of them around anymore. This is the sort of thing I expected to see– shooters are fairly easy to design (as far as gameplay– you’ve got move, and shoot), and they’re a proven game style that people will try. You don’t need a manual to try out a shooter. Move your ship with stick. Shoot with A. Maybe you have a second shot with B or something. And wham, just get in there and start shooting things. You’ll know if you like a shooter quickly enough.
Break Limit has what most shooters will need. You’re a ship, you shoot lasers or something and can find upgrades and different shots like a spread shot or a wider laser shot, and you essentially fly in a directed path shooting everything you can, and grabbing everything that looks remotely like a power-up for points, shield replenishment, or to build up your Break Limit gauge. The Break Limit gauge is what makes Break Limit stand out– and is probably the reason they named the game “Break Limit.”
The Break Limit feature allows you to turn your ship into a battering ram of pure energy, giving you the ability to smash into anything and everything, destroying it all and leaving you without a scratch on you. It’s like giving your ship retard strength. Of course, there is a catch, or else what would stop you from just staying a flaming ball of death and destruction? It runs out pretty fast, and if you manage to lose your power right in the middle of an asteroid, or immediately surrounded by walls that are crashing in on you– well, that’s a way to end your fun time real quick.
I didn’t buy this one (yet), although I have played the demo several times. I completed the first level (there are three in the full game), and each level has braching paths, so you could theoretically play the first level more than 10 different ways. I got through the full first level in 6 minutes, which is totally possible just playing the demo, and I really did enjoy it. This one is far prettier than Epic Dungeon, but other than trying for top scores, there’s no real point. I know that sounds sort of dumb — I mean, what’s the “point” of any arcade game other than topping a score table? But there’s no Boss fight, at least not in the level you can play for free. Not that all games need a boss, but it’s the sort of thing that 30 years of playing video games gets you used to.
Still, after playing this a few times, I’m pretty sure I’ll end up with this too… I’m interested in seeing what the other two levels look like.
Hypership Out of Control – 80 MS Points ($1)
Oh hey, another shooter! Like I said, I expected a lot of shooters, and looking at the past indie games, there doesn’t seem to be a short supply of them on the service, so I suppose I should be less disappointed that two games in a row are shooters. Turns out they are both different enough that I actually enjoyed trying both of them, and can keep them apart in my head even though I played them pretty much back-to-back.
Much like the previous game, this is a top-down shooter where you pretty much just move and shoot. What makes this one different is that the longer you stay alive, the faster you go. Faster, and faster, until you’re barely able to move around objects in time. There’s even a mode where acceleration never really stops, until it gets so fast that you are literally unable to see what is coming until you are smashed into a wall.
The most grabbing thing about this is that it supports 4 player simultaneous play, which in theory could be loads of fun. If we all have to go the same speed, I don’t understand how it would work, unless hitting something is immediate and permanent death of a player. I didn’t get a chance to try the multiplayer because all my friends are made-up or live far away from me, but it’s definitely something that I’d like to see in action.
There are 10 levels apparently, but the demo only lets you play 3 of them. I am on the fence between picking up this or Break Limit right now, and since they are each one whole dollar, I would assume that I will end up with both. On one hand, they’re similar enough that I could juse get one, but on the other hand — it’s $1. Even if I play it one night and never again, that’s a better use than anything else I could use that dollar for.
Ubergridder – 80 MS Points ($1)
This one grabbed me from the get-go. I like action-puzzlers in general, I love the game Qix, and Ubergridder is a lot like Qix-meets-Pac-Man. Qix, in case you have never played it, is a wonderful game where you basically keep cutting the edges off a rectangle, making the active space of the rectangle smaller and smaller, dodging enemies that fly around the “active” part of the rectangle and other enemies that will follow the border of the active area. Once you get the active area small enough (to like 20% of the original area), you go to the next level, where enemies are faster and more erratic. It’s a classic game, and unfortunately the Xbox Live version of Qix really doesn’t do the original justice. If you don’t know what Pac-Man is, then I’m not really sure why you are even reading anything on this site—possibly you are just really into tentacle rape or something.
Ubergridder is like Qix in that you cut into the original shape, and try and avoid enemies that follow the same paths you can take. The major difference is that you don’t get to cut into any pathway that you want, you instead follow a grid pattern, and once you complete all four lines around a section, that section is complete. Complete all sections, essentially tracing all the lines in the grid, and you win the board and go onto the next. The boards get harder and more fragmented, so that after the first level being a rectangle, there are holes in the maps that you have to work around. I also need to mention that this game is the best looking of the four so far, although it’s also the one that moves around the least.
As this was the one I was immediately interested in, it only makes sense that now it’s the one that I’m the least impressed with. It’s not that this is a bad game at all, it’s that it’s exactly what it looks like. I think most of the problem is the AI used for the enemies, and that you get an endless method to slow them down. If one of the monsters chasing you gets uncomfortably close, you just hit the button and drop a barrel in their path, allowing you to get away,and there doesn’t appear to be any limit on its use. That’s like if in Burgertime you had unlimited pepper, or if Pac-Man could just get his ghost-eating power at will. Sure, you might miss a button press, and I know I’ve gotten trapped between two of the monsters accidentally while playing this, but it just doesn’t seem to get any harder, and the reason games like this are fun is that the challenge level ramps up quickly. I’m willing to try this one again after a few more of these come out–maybe I’m just playing it wrong somehow… but I’m going to hold off on grabbing this one for now.
These are the games that are released so far (as of Tuesday 12/7) in the first week of the Uprising. The initial plan was to have all14 of these games release in the first week of December, but many of the games have hit a snag once they were sent for public testing. It’s a good sign that these developers decided to hold off and fix these games for release “in December” instead of just throwing them out to meet their original deadline. This sadly means that the makers of “Cthulu Saves the World” have more pride in their work than Bethesda (Fallout New Vegas / Elder Scrolls). Anywhere, here is a link for Week 2.
Looking ahead to the next few weeks, there’s another 10 games slotted for this thing, including what looks to be a 2d futuristic RPG, a straight-up Dragon Warrior / Final Fantasy I/II clone (this is a good thing), more shooters, and something described as Street Fighter-meets-Smash-Bros. I can’t wait to try them all out. Check back next wednesday for the next chapter, and if you have an Xbox, give some of these a try– at the very least it’s a free way to spend 15 minutes while you’re waiting for your pizza to arrive. Or maybe to break up some of the time you’ve spent sitting in Orgrimmar pretending you aren’t screaming inside because some other clown just got their Ol’ Crafty achievement within 20 seconds of showing up.
Not that I’m still bitter about that.
Author: Jeremy P
Jeremy P is a game-playing, film-watching workhorse from Baltimore. He wants to be left alone, but you can follow him on the Twitters. @DelishBoloney
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