Every week we shine the spotlight on an XBLIG and the developers behind them. This week we take a look at Six3six Studio’s Cecil Jenkins Notebook Adventures, a platformer so difficult it is being compared to Super Meat Boy! Check out an trailer video below, read my conversation with Aaron Klaser about the studio and the development of Notebook Adventures and then, as always, I give you my perspective on the game. Also, as usual on CBR, reading has rewards as you may even get a chance to win a copy of the game. Add Cecil Jenkins Notebook Adventures to your download queue! First, the Cecil Jenkins Notebook Adventure trailer:
First, tell the readers a bit about yourself, who you are and how/why you decided to start getting involved in making games?
My name is Aaron Klaser. I am the CEO of Six3six Studios. Me and John “Pip” Pipkin started Six3six 2 ½ years ago with the attempt to make iPhone games. At the time we know nothing about game design or programming, we will both just some college kids take graphics design classes. Im actually a bit older then Pip, I actually did 5 years in the Navy before starting college.
Tell us about your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.
When we started, we planned to make a digital version of pogs for the iPhone. But it took so long to figure out what we where doing we missed the boat with the App market and moved on to the UDK. Which is where we got the insireastion for an Extremely Story Driven FPS. That progect as is turned in to an actually AAA production so to gain some rep we started making some Indie games.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration, what would it be?
GoldenEye… Well it’s at least my favorite game. Zelda and Donkey Kong Country probable paved the way for my gaming career at a very young age.
The game has obviously been released as a XBLIG, 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?
We had an iPhone App call Ghetto Tracker that is no longer in the App Store. It was crime stats for the 50 largest city’s in the US. Then there is Cecil Jenkins: Notebook Adventures (80MP), which we are currently porting to the iPhone. Then, a game called Javelin Throw for the iPhone (free). Plus more stuff to come.
How long did you spend on development? Can you explain, roughly, how the development process worked for you? What tools and programs did you work with?
Cecil Jenkins was built on a 4 man crew in 1 month. We use as a game engine called Torque X which functions in parallel with Visual Studio.
If you had to pick one thing that you would improve or simply do differently in regards the game’s development what would it be?
Changer how our game plays. Cecil’s controls are a bit floaty, it was something over looked in testing because we all use the D-pad. Fortunately, we tightened this up for upcoming update.
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?
STUDY… Don’t expect to do it all yourself. Typically, a great programmer makes a poor artist and vice a versa. That’s not to say it can’t be done. A great place to start (for those with a Mac) is GameSalad. Is a no programming iPhone game engine that can really teach beginners the concepts of data flow.
Have you found the XBLIG process to be a particularly easy or difficult one?
It was fairly easy. Sales are much better then expected. The review process kinda sucks.
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 review process needs work. It has to be approved be by the community, BUT if you get failed it’s a mandatory 8 day wait before you are allowed to submit it again, even it took 5 minutes to fix the problem.
What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?
I’m working on a personnal project called Zombie Get Away for the iPhone which I will also make the XBLIG version of but it will be called “I also made a game with Zombies in it, but took away the gun”
We have a simultaneous movement 4 person battle game coming that has a very board game feel to it. This will be on XBLIG
and our big up coming title will be Pogs RPG. It uses traditional 2D level designs than a super unique battle system. We are hoping to get this one pushed to Arcade but if not expect to see it late this year on XBLIG.
Anything else you would like to say?
Thanks and be sure to add us on facebook.
This edition of the XBLIG Spotlight features Six3Six Studio’s Cecil Jenkins Notebook Adventures, an exceptionally difficult platformer that will have you avoiding spikes in a world drawn entirely on notebook paper. Does the interesting art style and challenging platforming elements make for a great time, or will you be reaching for the eraser?
When I was in sixth, maybe seventh grade, my friends and I used to draw what we called “Stick Figure Death Theatre” during free time or just really boring classes. Sometimes these were like comics in which we showed frame for frame the brutal death of some anonymous stick figure, and occasionally we would draw the elaborate and dangerous worlds they would have to get across in order to survive. I imagine that we were not the only kids to have done this, so I bring it up as a guide for what to expect of the art style of Notebook Adventures, because its’ unique style will undoubtedly be the first thing you notice.
For the most part this is used well, the simplicity and small bits of humor throughout make the game better for their inclusion, and overall I enjoyed the borderline sadistic teenage boy drawings on a piece of paper style. It just looked right, from the little things such as lines from one object going through the other to the writing that appeared to be hand written. The game’s style brings with it a lot of charm and of course makes it interesting to look at, although I wish they had done a bit more with it; namely the assets come down to spikes, ropes, locks and walls for level design with money and keys as far as pick-ups go. A little more variance would have been not only more interesting (some simply drawn fire or “alligator pits,” etc. would of helped sell the style), but potentially improved game play as well. The game’s style doesn’t suffer from their lacking, but I was a little disappointed that nothing much was added after the first couple of levels. For the most part though the levels were cleverly designed and infused with just enough sadistic humor to keep them interesting to play through. There is of course the other aesthetic complaint in regards to Notebook Adventures, and that is the repetitive nature of the music that also contains some audio glitches, such as popping noises and static (which wouldn’t be so bad except it starts to drive you crazy after a 30th attempt at a level), but currently a patch for the game that is awaiting review will add more tunes.
Now, how does the game play? I wouldn’t be the first to describe the difficulty of Notebook Adventures with a comparison to Super Meat Boy; there are a surprisingly large amount of levels, 42 I believe, and some will take dozens of attempts to complete. How difficult is Notebook Adventures? Well at the time of writing this there has been no confirmation of anyone having beat the game, a fact known since the first person to prove it will win $100 from the developer! Difficult games can certainly be fun, such as SMB, but so much of that enjoyment comes down to the game mechanics and how tight they are; and unfortunately Cecil Jenkins’ grade suffers most due simply to said mechanics. Ask any gamer familiar with the genre and they’ll all tell you more or less the same thing; it all comes down to jumping. As the levels progress and you are making trickier and trickier jumps, the ability to feel like you know exactly where you will jump and what you will do once you have jumped is essential. Too often Mr. Jenkins felt like he was running on Vaseline and the jump, which is pressure base (i.e. hold down A to jump higher) is very sensitive. With enough time you can get significantly better, but many gamers are likely to be discouraged by these slippery controls at the start. Using the D-pad does improve the playability, and the previously mentioned patch that is in the works should also improve this element of the game as well, but for the time being it is the game’s biggest issue.
Beyond that, the game does face several other issues many users may come across, such as some spikes seeming “overly sensitive” in terms of collision detection and others being able to walk into without harm. Notebook Adventures is also prone to poor frame rates and the occasional screen tear as well, the latter being simply annoying and the former on more than one occasion cost me a finish on a difficult level. There was a menu glitch, triggered by manually selecting to leave a level and return to the level select, where the highlighting cursor would move to the last level on its own but the actual cursor would still be on one of the earlier levels. Jumping from rope to rope is tricky, as you will sometimes grab one when you don’t mean to and other times fail to grab one for no discernible reason, but with practice it will become manageable. And less a technical fault, while I enjoyed most of the challenges presented in the level design, some of designs made the levels more difficult not by making a jump hard, but by making you jump blindly. In some cases no matter how many times you replayed a level it would simply come down to blind luck if you hit your target or not, and when this element was used I was quite simply not a fan.
For the most part though, Cecil Jenkins Notebook Adventures provides a challenging platformer in a unique art style. The game is admittedly sloppy, but ultimately surprisingly fun when it is working. You will curse the game at times, I will not sugar coat that fact, and there are times were you will become frustrated enough that you need to stop playing for a while, but with the exception of the last two levels, I can personally confirm that every level can be beaten with just the right jumps and timing; and the difficulty will make for a much longer play time than many XBLIGs, if you are determined to beat it. There is a price level were I would have to recommend against Cecil Jenkins, but for the low price of 80 points it is worth it.
Final Rating: 7/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Approximate Time to Completion: ~7 Hours
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Six3six
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Literally doesn’t get cheaper.
Add Cecil Jenkins Notebook Adventures to your download queue!
We know how this works by now. Six3six has been kind enough to give us three download tokens (codes) for Cecil Jenkins Notebook Adventures, and rather than horde them we’ve decided to give them to you. Yeah, we don’t know why either. We will be continuing the recent contest formats, with all three-entry methods!
First entry: Post on this XBLIG Spotlight and tell us the most difficult platformer you have ever played. That’s it!
Second entry: Follow us on twitter and send the following tweet:
@ClearanceBinRev is giving away the #XBLIG Cecil Jenkins Notebook Adventures! Details: http://bit.ly/jfBhKj
Remember that you have to follow us; any winner we attempt to DM via Twitter who isn’t, automatically forfeits their win. If you enter via Twitter include your twitter name in your post below, winners who have their twitter listed will receive their codes immediately after winning.
Third Entry: Like our Facebook page and then simply like the post on our wall for this article. Simple as that. (Keep in mind the article may be lower on the Facebook page towards the end of the contest and it may take a minute or two to post on FB) If you like the Facebook article please include your twitter name or name used to post a comment here.
Contest will go until Wednesday at 8pm CST. A pool of all eligible entries will then be randomly selected from and the winners will be notified. CBR reserves the right to disqualify any entry we feel either violated the rules or spirit of the contest, including attempts at duplicate entries. Winner selected with no twitter name provided will be notified by email and have 24 hours to respond. We do not announce winner names publicly.