Welcome to this weeks edition of the XBLIG Spotlight, a re-occurring segment on Clearance Bin Review where we put the focus on Xbox Live Indie Games and the developer’s that make them. This week I talk to the guy’s at Awesome Games Studio about their new game, Oozi: Earth Adventure Episode 1, a classic style side scrolling platformer where you play as Oozi, an alien stuck on a very weird, very green and not very welcoming planet. . Check out the trailer below, a short Q&A with Paul and my take on the game. Add Oozi: Earth Adventure to your download queue!
First, tell the readers a bit about yourself, who you are and how/why you decided to start getting involved in making games?
There were three people working on the game: Andrzej Pasinski (designer/artist), Marcin Draszczuk (programmer) and Artur Konczak (programmer). Andrzej and Marcin already had some experience in professional game development, but wanted to do something on their own. It’s much more fun when you can make the game the way you want rather than the way your boss tells you.
Tell us about Awesome Games Studio, your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.
Oozi is our first game as a team. Awesome Games Studio previously was run solely by Marcin and it released three Xbox Live Indie Games, including one pretty successful – Yet Another Zombie Defense. Andrzej and Artur started working on Oozi over two years ago, but Marcin joined them less than four months ago.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration for Oozi: Earth Adventure, what would it be?
There was no single title, we wanted to recall general feel of old school platformers. The most popular titles were Super Frog, Rayman, Earthworm Jim, and obviously Super Mario Bros.
Oozi: Earth Adventure has obviously been released as a XBLIG and PC, but have you in the past, or do you currently have plans to work in any other platform? What made you decide to develop for XBLIG?
Well, we haven’t released PC version yet – we’re going to do it when we have all four episodes ready and sell them as a single game. We believe that it’ll make it easier to get the game approved by big digital distribution services like Steam or D2D. We considered releasing for Windows Phone 7, but it seems that current volume of sales for non-LIVE titles is not enough to justify required effort.
We decided to start with XBLIG because Xbox is the only major console that allows you to release any game you want. You just need to pass technical requirements and avoid controversial content. Microsoft gives you access to a pretty big audience and really great tools for free. Entry fee for PS3 or Wii is much higher since you need to buy a pricey dev-kit and rent an office, otherwise it’s not possible to release a game for those platforms.
How long did you spend developing Oozi? Can you explain, roughly, how the development process worked for you? What tools and programs did you work with?
It took over two years, but none of us worked full time for the entire period. The development process was really difficult since we had to share it with our day jobs and other activities.
We initially used Torque Engine, but it turned out that it wasn’t that good as we expected. After some time we switched to XNA and created our own engine and tools since it allowed us to release the game on XBLIG as well as to remove any constrains that Torque imposed.
If you had to pick one thing that you would improve or simply do differently in regards to Oozi’s development what would it be?
We could have started development with XNA rather than with Torque. It took much time to rewrite everything and adjust the assets. Also the game was initially designed for PC-only release, so we had to redesign some stuff.
Many gamers dream of starting to make their own games, and it is obviously easier than ever for them to do so. What advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to designer?
First, try to get some experience as a programmer or an artist in the game industry. Even a half a year of professional experience will give you A LOT. Then try to make something simple. Pick a successful Flash game, improve it a bit and release it. Also remember that nearly every successful game requires at least two people working on it: a programmer and an artist. There are too many games that look terrible only because all the “art” was made by a programmer with no artistic skills. Nice visuals give you much higher chance of success.
Have you found the XBLIG process to be a particularly easy or difficult one?
It’s quite easy. Development in XNA is really fast, and Microsoft did great job at making game development approachable by novices. There are lots of code samples that you’re free to use in your game, as well as third party libraries that save a lot of time. Also the XNA forums are great source of knowledge, if you have a problem it’s quite likely that your question was already asked and answered, you just need to google it.
XBLIG have had a mixed result so far, what is one aspect/idea/change you think would better solidify the platform as a contender in the gaming industry? What one thing do you think would improve the service as a whole, from designer to consumer?
The biggest issue with Xbox Live Indie Games is that their reputation among gamers is very low. While there are true gems, they are overwhelmed by low quality titles released by hobbyists who don’t really care about sales. What Microsoft needs to do is to highlight good games and hide poor ones. Developers proposed a lot of solutions to this problem, e.g. to create “New & Highly Rated” list and make it default list that appears when you enter Indie Games section. Unfortunately, communication with Microsoft is really difficult and it seems that right now they’re focusing on Windows Phone 7 much more than on Xbox Live Indie Games.
However, they recently did one good thing: the Top Downloaded list is now actually based on sales, not on trial downloads. In the past Top Downloaded list was populated with low quality games that people were curious to check out (what is this game about?), but not likely to buy them. Now the Top Downloaded list looks much better and there are no more two-star games staying on top for a month. Hopefully this is going to slowly improve XBLIG’s reputation over time.
What is in the cards for Awesome Games Studio after Oozi?
Honestly, we haven’t thought about it yet. We still need to deliver three more episodes for XBLIG and release a PC version. When it’s done we’ll have to take a break and decide what to do next.
This edition of the XBLIG Spotlight features Awesome Games Studio’s colorful platformer Oozi: Earth Adventure Episode 1. Is this throwback to the days of the SNES and Sega Genesis all flash with no substance, or does it deliver a quality experience with a hint of nostalgia thrown in? Like a strange orange creature on a new green planet, venture forth to find out.
Oozi starts us with our lead character crashing his spaceship on a strange green planet that is full of colorful animals that seem deeply interested in taking him out. Over the course of the game you will make your way through colorful environments in an effort to reach your downed spaceship, finding gear and unlocking new abilities (as well as some new enemies and potential hazards to avoid) along the way. The game will instantly take anyone who ever owned an SNES back to the day when platformers were king, and most of your problems could be dealt with by jumping on an enemy’s head.
The first thing that will strike anyone booting up Oozi is undoubtedly the visual style of the game. Oozi: Earth Adventure looks exactly like you remember SNES games looking like, only it actually looks this good. This indie game isn’t being viewed through the filter of nostalgia and 15 years of heavy drinking that clouds our memory of how the game’s from our childhood really looked, and I simply can not use my oversized monkey brain well enough to adequately describe how much I enjoyed the game’s visual presentation. Not only is it bright, colorful and oozing with artistic style in its’ relative simplicity, it also has tons of charm and the obvious signs of a skilled labor of love. Little things, such as the enemy death animations, really show the effort put into art design. By the end of the game the only complaint I could honestly come up with in regards to Oozi’s visual style was that there were two enemies that had only a subtle difference, but one could be hurt and the other couldn’t. That’s it.
Continuing with the fantastic aesthetics was the game’s ambient soundtrack, which played perfectly with the game’s level design and overall feel. Your character is making his way through a strange alien world, and the music just has a subtle sense of wonder implied in it. Unfortunately though, beyond the game’s main soundtrack Oozi does have some audio issues. An odd “Let’s Go!” starts off the levels, and not only odd itself, it simply doesn’t fit the rest of the game. Additionally the end boss has some serious audio issues, the lack of music change to make it more dramatic and the lack of sound effects for the boss itself made the audio in the end battle a dud, a very unfortunate failing in the aesthetics of the game right at the very end. Beyond that though, you will enjoy the audio/visual side of this Earth adventure.
Of course though, a good-looking game means nothing if it doesn’t play well. Luckily that isn’t the case this time around. The controls in Oozi are very tight, to put it simply you will almost always jump to the spot you intend to jump to; removing the sometimes “cheap” feeling deaths that do plague some platformers. Playing through the main campaign is a fairly short, maybe around an hour, but overall enjoyable affair. The game introduces new elements, such as new enemies/hazards or new abilities, at almost the exact rate you may start to feel just a tinge of boredom with the game play. In that way, most additions to the game as you progress start to feel very organic and perfectly timed. The difficulty is overall pretty easy, but the later levels do get just a bit trickier and the game also offers two additional modes that you unlock as you progress. Arcade mode has you playing the game again, but with a timer, a 3 star scoring system and no check points. Challenge Mode also includes a timer element, and consists of trying to collect as many points without dieing in maps made specifically for the mode. These add significant replayability to the game, and are significantly more difficult; perfect for those who feel the main campaign was too easy. My only complaint about them was that starting over without all your abilities in the early challenge/arcade mode levels took some getting used to. Again the game shows its’ fine tuning though, in that the only real issue I found with gameplay was a spot where hitting a spike caused me to bounce in a way that forced me right back down onto the spikes resulting in death; ironically a complaint I made the night before about a level of the very first Sonic game. Other than that the only thing I would have to say is that this really is “Episode 1” in that the game doesn’t resolve the story at the end, and while I would of liked just a bit more resolution, it was hardly a deal breaker.
So in a nut shell? Oozi is a visually striking, finely tuned platformer with a lot of charm and that new nostalgia vibe to it. The additional modes add a significant layer of game play, and are likely to appeal to the more hardcore gamer, while the main campaign is a fun little diversion. The game does lack a bit in terms of story and excitement though, and many gamers are likely to find it a bit repetitive even as the new abilities and hazards are introduced. Ultimately, while the technical and artistic execution is fantastic, there are times where it feels lacking in the “fun to play” category, not enough to avoid it, just enough to notice from time to time. The end result is a fun game that looks great and you are likely to enjoy, but isn’t as fun as it feels like it could be at times; and for that it does give up a couple points in its final score.
Final Rating: 8/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Approximate Time to Completion: ~1 Hour for main campaign
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Awesome Games Studio
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Literally doesn’t get cheaper.
Add Oozi: Earth Adventure to your download queue!