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 Honor in Vengeance II; a spaceship fighter game (think Rouge Squadron). Check out the trailer below and as always, my perspective and an interview with the game’s lead developer. As usual on CBR, reading has rewards as you may even get a chance to win a copy of the game. Add Honor in Vengeance II 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?
My name is Michael Hicks. I’m an 18 year old kid who just graduated High School a few months ago and wants to pursue a career with video games. I’ve wanted to be a video game developer for a long time, my interest in it started as a very young kid; I would always hack open games with a GameShark or exploit odd glitches to try and see the games as a developer would. Though it may sound strange, it gave me a great feeling to do that! One thing led to another, and here I am.
Tell us about your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.
I have studied code all my life, but I programmed my first full game around the time I was in 7th grade. I programmed a handful of games around that time and worked my way up to my first 3D attempt, Honor in Vengeance, which was released right when I turned 18 earlier this year on XBLIG.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron played a HUGE influence on Honor in Vengeance II. I played that game all the time on my N64, so the game itself was a huge influence, but so was it’s development. In recent years I looked back at that game and read interviews with the team and they talked about their tight schedule and lack of resources. If you notice in that game, the enemy AI is very basic, but at the same time it’s such a blast to shoot down enemies! I wanted to try and replicate that with Honor in Vengeance, I wanted to “get back to basics” sort of speak and let the player have a fun time shooting down fighters and following the story.
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?
I would love to release on other platforms, but that’s not a huge priority at the moment. XNA was a huge influence on my programming, when it was announced I was extremely excited. I just love making games for the Xbox, I am a big console gamer so it’s such a pleasing experience. Despite a lot of people’s complaints, I feel like XBLIG is a great channel, and I want to contribute as much as I can to it for the next few years.
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?
I started working on the game back in February and it literally became my life. I personally put thousands upon thousands of hours working on the game, and that’s not even counting the rest of the team’s time! There were times where I’d stay up for two days straight in my room coding, I was extremely dedicated to game, but I also loved every minute of it.
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?
The soundtrack in this game was composed by myself and a gentlemen by the name of Jonny Martyr, who also created the gameplay SFX you hear in the game. A lot of thought went into the music, because in my mind at least, music is one of the most important parts of a video game. We wanted to be sure the songs were conveying the right feelings etc.
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?
Development wise, there was a major crunch time before this year’s Dream. Build. Play. competition; our modeler wasn’t able to finish texturing a handful of models… so I had to bring in another artist, Bruno Aste, at a last minute’s notice to help finish that up. There was no way I could have done all of that myself and finish the bulk of coding before the deadline, he was really a life saver. I wish I could have taken some steps earlier to prevent that panic.
How much do reviews, ratings and other feedback of your games affect the development process for future releases?
I extremely value what people have to say about the game, none of us are in this for stardom or money, we want to make games people enjoy. We really try to take in as much as we can from reviews, but on the flip side of that, you get such a diverse range of feedback that you have to learn to look at all of it as a whole. I try to take pieces of all the feedback and make a list of things to improve for the next game, while also taking into account things I personally would like to see added or improved etc.
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?
The name was a perfect fit to the storyline. We considered naming it Honor and Vengeance to avoid the unfortunate acronym (HIV), but I felt that didn’t relate to the story as much as Honor IN Vengeance. On top of that, I like to drop the acronym on message boards and read people’s reactions. That’s always a good laugh!
I designed the box art. Not sure how weird this is going to sound, but I had imagined the box art in my head from the very beginning. It was just a matter of me replicating it on the computer! The cover features a picture of Leo (the protagonist) flying towards Sky City, which is not only a big part in the story, but what is going on in that specific moment really helps give meaning to what the series is about.
Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?
I think the key to all of it is really loving what you do. Some could say I’ve wasted away some of my High School years by doing all of this, but I’ve loved every second of it. You have to be really passionate about games and be ready to devote some extreme time and effort to 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?
A lot of people would give you an essay on this, but the XBLIG channel has been nothing but a positive experience for me so far. It’s a great way for people to get their work published and played, and if you keep with it, it’ll help you to the next level. Am I making a killing off of my games? No, and not many people are. In that respect, I think it would be beneficial for Microsoft to put a little more advertising effort behind the channel and its quality titles. Some have called for a stricter quality assurance, but I’m not so sure I agree with that. The beauty of this channel is that anyone has the chance to put their work on it, that comes with good and bad. If I could make one change, I think I’d do something to showcase the quality titles each week, which from the looks of it, Microsoft is attempting to do with the recent dashboard promotion!
What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?
I’m hoping to get started on Honor in Vengeance III in a month or so, I’m thinking that will be out sometime next year. Can’t say exactly what the next game will be then, but I’ll definitely have more games coming.
Anything else you would like to say?
Thank you so much for giving me a chance to talk about the game.
If you have followed the site for a while than you may be fully aware that I have a soft spot for the space based flight games. Rogue Squadron was one of my absolute favorite games as a kid and I sometimes still whisper its’ name as I fall asleep dreaming of a new game in the series. To put it simply: I love space, I love ships that shoot lasers and I love shooting other ships that shoot lasers with my lasers till they go boom. So it is little surprise I jumped on Honor in Vengeance II when I first saw it on the XBLIG channel. That said, while it is one of my favorite genres, there are some very big shoes to fill.
The first thing you are going to probably notice when you boot up Honor in Vengeance II is that unlike most games to populate the service, there is actually a story here. I love reviewing XBLIG’s, and I have been fortunate to come across some real gems in the process, but the service is full of mostly games that are “arcade” in nature and it is simply refreshing to play a game that seeks to add a story to the mix. The voice acting is admittedly more voice and less acting, an unfortunate fact considering the dialogue carries the story, but even the fact that there was dialogue is always a welcome change on the service. There isn’t much to the story, and it gets a little convoluted over its’ short arc, but for the most part it works. That said, the game is very short. For all practical purposes there are only 2-3 levels, but they are solid levels.
Also unique on the XBLIG channel is a 3D game that doesn’t look horrible. While Honor in Vengeance is a far cry from stunning, it is probably the best 3D game I’ve played on the service so far. That is till you enter Sky City, which suddenly made the game look very old school, N64-esque, and not really in a good way (including large amounts of invisible walls). Outside of that though, the modeling work was well done. I do wish there had been more environments rather than essentially fighting above the clouds in the upper atmosphere the entire time. Even some terrain would have been nice, but obviously much more difficult for the developers. One minor issue is the game’s radar, which simply shows what direction you are pointing and doesn’t highlight objectives (or doesn’t highlight it very well).
In terms of controls, Honor in Vengeance works but it’s more in the way something held together with Duct Tape works. It isn’t that the controls are bad, it handles the simple functions well and is fairly easy to manage, they just feel limiting. Case and point, you cannot do a barrel roll. The ship just lacks real maneuverability that helps to make a dog fight really fun; and an “auto-reset” for when the ship is upside down would have been nice as well since you couldn’t do it manually. At times the ship would feel sluggish as well, as if it weren’t moving very fast or even at all; quickly solved by pressing down on boost but worth noting. Lastly, I would have appreciated a bit more clarity on the squad commands, it seemed there were just two (form up and go out on their own). Over all though it works and shooting tons of enemy ships can be fun.
Honor in Vengeance features three ship types to pilot and two difficulty levels to master (which won’t take too long to do). Once you pick a ship it is yours through the course of the game though, so pick wisely. You may want to try it on hard though as the enemy AI doesn’t put up any real fight on normal. Having the benefit of knowing the intent behind the development, I can say that they went a little too far in making the AI simple.
For the most part, Honor in Vengeance II is a fun little outing in a genre that simply does not get enough attention (or at least quality attention). While I would certainly love to see some improvements to the ship’s handling abilities, and to see the story, environments, and mission objectives expanded on for Honor in Vengeance III, there are certainly many worse ways you could spend a dollar on Xbox Live. There’s honor in this purchase.
Final Rating: 7.5/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Approximate Time to Completion: 1 hour
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Michael Arts
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1) – The PC version is currently PAY WHAT YOU WANT!
Recommend Purchase Price: Literally doesn’t get cheaper
Add Honor in Vengeance II to your download queue!
We’re back at it! Michael Arts has been kind enough to give us an extra download token (code) so that we can give one of you your very own space ship (in digital form)! You can gain up to three entries but one MUST be on this site, please read the details on how to enter below:
First entry: I think the space fighter game is a genre that doesn’t get enough attention, so I want to know what genre(s) you think deserve more attention! Tell us in the comments below and you have your first entry!
Second entry: Follow us on twitter and send the following tweet:
@ClearanceBinRev is giving away the #XBLIG Honor in Vengeance II! #Xbox, Find out how you could win by going to: http://bit.ly/otQBQ7
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.