Every week we shine the spotlight on an exceptional XBLIG, and the developers behind them, in what we like to call the XBLIG Spotlight. This week, we take a look at Turtle Toss Studios, a group of University of Utah undergrads who developed Minions! as homework (no really!). Minions! is a 3D… well everything really. Check out the trailer below, our conversation with the developers behind the game, and as always, my perspective. (You may also notice that our Q&A has been updated to include some of your suggestions! See what made the list below) As usual on CBR, reading has rewards as you may even get a chance to win a copy of the game. Add Minions! to your download queue!First, the trailer:
First, tell the readers a bit about yourself, who you are and how/why you decided to start getting involved in making games?
Turtle Toss Studio is made up of 10 University of Utah undergrad students. We created “Minions!” for our capstone class, which is a two semester senior project class. The class is part of the degree for the University’s EAE Program. (http://mgs.eae.utah.edu/)
Tell us about your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.
Most of the team has been working with the EAE program for most of their college career. Some are currently employed for video game development companies presently. Turtle Toss Studio was formed specifically for this project based on teams created in the class.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?
Defense of the Ancients – This game inspired the idea of having constantly-spawning “creeps” while using your playable character to influence the battle. DotA is usually played with a mouse and keyboard, and is limited to one or few maps. We wanted to expand the playability of the genre by introducing familiar shooter-style controls, and by adding a variety of objectives.
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?
Developing for the Xbox 360 using XNA was a requirement of the course. It was still a great choice of platform given the fact that our team is made up of students working to finish our undergraduate degree. Making an XBLIG through Microsoft is fairly simple and easy to start up compared to other options, allowingus to spend most of the time focusing specifically on development, which was important given how busy most of us were with other classes.
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?
The class was two semesters long, and started back in August 2010. The first month was used to decide three game ideas to create. Once narrowed down to these three ideas, full development started, which was probably around early October. Development continued until the end of the second semester, which concluded at the very end of April. The game was developed using XNA Game Studio 4.0 along with Visual Studio 2010. Production was coordinated using Scrumworks.
A game’s soundtrack can make or break a game, tell us how you selected yours. Did you produce in house, team up with a music producer or simply purchase royalty free music?
Our game soundtrack definitely helped make our game, not break it. Our music was created by two individuals, one being on our team who handled music, sound effects, and voice overs, and the other being a contact who helped in his free time.
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?
We spent too much time worrying about a level editor, and not enough time actually making levels. In general, tools are great for development, and I highly encourage anyone to make reusable, efficient tools, but make sure the time put into them is really worth the outcome.
How much do reviews, ratings and other feedback of your games affect the development process for future releases?
Game development is a constantly on-going learning process, and it seems that at the end of development, there are always areas we can go back and say “I could have done that better”. Hindsight is 20/20, and every criticism, whether positive or negative, always gives us another opinion that we wouldn’t have considered before. While I can’t say every single suggestion always gets considered, we do try to look for the logic behind every suggestion, and respond accordingly if it follows the direction of our goals.
How did you go about deciding on the name for your game and why did you end up with the title you have? Were there any rejected titles that didn’t make the cut?
We were pretty bad about coming up with a name. I guess the original project name, when created, was “Twinstick DotA”. From there, we switched it to “Creep Commando”, and the game stayed under that title for most of development. Towards the end, after discussion with the class, we decided that “Creep” is not a widely defined gaming term, and a lot of people might interpret its literal meaning, turning them off from playing the game. We decided we would call them “minions” instead of “creeps”. Some other game titles that didn’t make the cut were “Better Dead then Red”, “One Creep, Two Creep, Red Creep, Blue Creep”, “Blue Dawn”, and “My Minions and Me”. The title was reduced to “Minions” after we realized that “My Minions and Me” was just too silly, and wasn’t quite what we wanted. Finally, there are a few web-browser games named “Minions” on the internet, so for trademark reasons, we finished with “Minions!” as the name. Too much craziness for just a name, but I’m sure there are game developments out there with even crazier stories.
Tell us about your game’s virtual “box art.” Who designed it? Was there any specific inspiration or story behind the creation process?
Mike Bradley, the creative director for our team, designed the Box Art. The box art illustrates the very simple and dominant conflict in the game, which is reds vs. blues. We don’t provide back story on anything causing the events and missions in the game, but the recurring red vs. blue tradition in video games makes the player quickly understand who they are fighting against, without any need for “why”.
Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?
Play your games to the extreme. Always raise games to the hardest difficulties you can beat, and push yourself to try even harder difficulties. You will learn the true mechanics of each game, as each developer would like their players to learn. When you can pick apart game mechanics in the games you love to play, it will greatly improve your ability to design how mechanics should work in games you create.
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?
I’m sure experienced developers may have their concerns with Microsoft’s indie submission process, but for newcomers, such as ourselves, the App Hub has been a great community for start-up involvement. The community is very active and, in most cases, the developers genuinely want to help each other succeed.
What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?
I wish I could say that “Minions! 2” was on the way, but most of the team is too busy with jobs/school to commit that kind of time again. There will be plenty of more University of Utah EAE Capstone games, though. Keep a look out next May for next year’s indie games.
Anything else you would like to say?
Thanks for spending time to review our game!
So right out the door I know what you are likely thinking since I thought the same thing when I first saw a trailer for Minions!, “Oh great, a 3D XBLIG… This should be good. </ sarcasm>” Let’s face it, 3D games on the service have a horrible track record; they often look bad and play worse. Thankfully I was wrong about this one. Minions! isn’t a perfect game, but it may just change your mind about 3D XBLIG’s.
The most surprising feature of Minions! is, in full honesty, the fact that the 3D works. Visually it is simple, slightly reminiscent of Minecraft in terms of graphics (only slightly), and is colorful and clear. Character movement is a little clunky and the range of your weapons is not entirely obvious, but otherwise I enjoyed the visual style. This was ultimately because it was consistent; everything just had kind of a cartoon feel to it and it helped the game not get bogged down in the visuals (it didn’t try to pretend the graphics were better than they were). Additionally, Minions! has an awesome feature worth noting: you can play the game basically two different ways. You can play it as a top down twin-stick shooter, or switch the camera down into the action and play it like a third person shooter. I spent most of my time in the third person mode, but it was a great feature to have included into the game. Ultimately I have seen better looking games, and even better looking 3D games on the XBLIG service, but not one that managed to combine 3D with solid gameplay so well. While Minions! may not be the best looking game on the service, it is quite fun.
The game is a weird hybrid of several different game types: There are some basic RPG elements; kill enemies for experience to upgrade your character. It can be a twin-stick shooter if you want it to be (press Y), a third person shooter if you prefer that (press Y again). Minions! has tower defense moments (such as trying to take out a tank before it reaches your base by assisting your turrets), and it has horde/firefight moments where you fight off waves of enemy attackers. Additionally the game has some strategic aspects as you can create and modify three unique minions to deploy on the battlefield in addition to using your own army as back-up. It really is a lot all crammed into a little package.
I have to say that it works though. There are only a few missions, and it won’t take you too long to beat the first couple, but the last few are much more difficult. Making each level so varied made the game seem longer (in a good way) while also simultaneously increasing replay value for the sake of grinding your character’s stats to make the last levels easier. Basically, if you are going to replay six levels it is nice when all six have a different feel to them. Some levels do work better than others, such as the horde/firefight level, but overall each had something to offer.
The game can be frustratingly difficult in the later levels, especially if you have not upgraded much. Your armies are not particularly strong, leaving most of the work to you, so you better upgrade, and fast. Experience seems to come very easily for the first few levels but around level 6 it seemed to really slow down quick. This made some character grinding almost necessary, especially for the last level. Without fully upgraded shields and weapons you get whooped pretty quick. Overall though, if you explore and try different tactics you will manage to get through them sooner or later.
Weapon selection, as in literally selecting weapons was a bit cumbersome. Not so much for your main weapon but your secondary. The main uses the RB and LB bumpers to switch between available options while the secondary relies on the D-pad. Obviously the D-pad is problematic anytime it is used in a 360 game, but really the main fault here was that it was just difficult to keep fighting while switching your secondary. Simply using RB for main and LB for secondary would of likely been much smoother. Weapon selection, as in variety was solid. The typical video game weaponry is present: machine guns, rocket launchers, flame throwers, shot guns, etc. There are also melee weapons but overall the melee combat borders on useless. One thing I really would of liked would have been the ability to carry weapons from one level to another, or even better, customize your load-out. The carryover of gold from one level to another would of also been welcomed but I understand why it was left out.
Gold is used to purchase one of your minions (you unlock more minions with greater weaponry as you progress). As you may have already put together, you have three minions that you can customize, a low, middle and a high end. Each seems to have about the same degree of health and overall ability, they just get better weapons. Each one can also be set to either follow you (once you pick them up that is) or simply join the frontal assault with the other NPC’s. Each choice has issues, and the fact that it can’t be changed mid-mission was irritating. There were times where you needed the back up and times where you wanted them running into the fray and taking on the other army; the problem was that these were often both in the same level. Customizing the minions is also a minor mess. The only option is to clear all of the minions if you want to change even one of them. This then requires you to go through and than re-make each of the three minions again. It doesn’t take long to do this, but I have to wonder how hard it would have been to just make them individually updateable. The minions lend a hand, somewhat, but were heavily underutilized due to the inability to edit them mid-level and easily alter them individually.
When the last bullet has fired, the ultimate conclusion is that Minions! is fun. There is a surprisingly great deal of level variety in its relatively short selection of missions. The variety, combined with the ability and practical need to upgrade your character’s stats lend some replayability to the game; replayability you might actually make use of. The game does have some faults, or more poignantly, areas that don’t feel as natural to pick up as others, but overall shows a considerable level of polish. Visually it isn’t the best, but is enjoyable and fitting, and I can’t really make it clear how much I liked the camera swapping ability. At the end of the day Minnions feels a bit like a first-step project, but it certainly feels like a solid first step worth exploring. I can think of plenty of worse ways to spend a dollar.
Final Rating: 8.2/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Approximate Time to Completion: ~3 Hours
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Literally doesn’t get cheaper
Add Minions! to your download queue!
We know how this works by now. Turtle Toss Studios has been kind enough to give us a couple extra download tokens (codes) so that we can give two of you a copy of Minions! You can gain up to three entries, please read the details on how to enter below:
First entry: Minions! borrows from several game types and multiple genres, so we want you to tell us your favorite genre bender! That’s it! One entry down!
Second entry: Follow us on twitter and send the following tweet:
@ClearanceBinRev is having a #contest and you could win the #XBLIG Minions! #Xbox, More Details: http://bit.ly/iU48B6
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)
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 the names of contest winners, but do encourage them to post about their win.