XBLIG Spotlight: Venture: Diaries from the Battlegrounds


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 Venture: Diaries from the battlegrounds; a turn based strategy game.  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 Venture to your download queue! First, since the game doesn’t have an official trailer check out this gameplay video (uploaded unofficially on youtube):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maSaoyB6rMsa

First, tell the readers a bit about yourself, who you are and how/why you decided to start getting involved in making games?

I am Marc André Ueberall and I gathered a bunch of game enthusiasts to form BigBlackBlock Gamestudio. My passion for games aroused when I switched on my first computer for the very first time – a Commodore C16 – and strengthened while studying Computer Science at the University of Duisburg-Essen and Hagen in Germany.

Tell us about your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.

I started by programming games and demos for the Amiga 500 in the early 90’s and worked on several Quake 2 mods when moving to the PC in the mid and late 90’s. Besides the game development I also worked on tool sets for some major Open Source projects like the OgreRadiant editor to support the level editing using the Ogre3D engine. As soon as Microsoft released the very first version of XNA I started working on the initial version of the Elder.Core game engine which has been used in our title “{hi}rollerz”, a nominee of the Animago AWARD 2009. This engine and the technical features were the subjects of several articles I wrote for the professional German game development magazine makingGames. Today the Elder.Core engine is in version 4.0 and is equipped with a number of useful tools combined in the Elder.Studio.

If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?

One word: ZORK. Even though ZORK has not been an inspiration for Venture, it was one of the very first games I ever played. For all of you who don’t know ZORK: very old-school, no sound, command prompt, much of typing, great fun even today! ;)

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?

Yes, we have and we will. We are currently planning a project for the mobile platforms Android and iOS. To “conquer” new platforms was one of the motivations to use XNA and develop for XBLIG. It is a great possibility to work on Xbox titles without the need to buy a XD [Xbox Developer Kit]. But most important … we do believe in indie.

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 development process worked great and we had a great time working on Venture. We used Visual Studio 2010 Professional for coding, a 2D vector suite for character and map design, and a bunch of great programs and hardware I never heard of in a studio that I’d never been before for the soundtrack. ;) The most important tool was the FTP client because the graphics and soundtrack had been done off-site and had to be uploaded to our server. We had great support and many PR features from the Microsoft Tag Team because we have been the first game to use scannable tags, not only for marketing but also for gameplay reasons.

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?

We teamed up with Ingo Ramin, the genius behind Dreyklang. We had extremely productive conversations about the game, the music and how it should evolve. Everybody who is seeking a great musican … drop him a line at www.dreyklang.com.

 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? 

I think I would do the game in 3D as initially intentioned, but the XBLIG size restrictions prevented a 3D version. The characters created by Thijs Bremer looked so great in 3D.

How much do reviews, ratings and other feedback of your games affect the development process for future releases?

Reviews and ratings are important in the aftermath but they should not hinder you to do what you like.

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 tried to find a short and catchy title and thought that “Venture” would be a perfect fit for a strategy game and decided to use a subtitle which emphasis the time-wise development of the game when the player explores the different epochs. So we ended up with “Venture – Diaries From The Battlegrounds”. And yes, we rejected the title “Super Plush Bunnies”! ;)

Tell us about your game’s virtual “box art.”  Who designed it? Was there any specific inspiration or story behind the creation process?

The box art is a combination of the GUIs background and the logo. We tried to bring in the tactical aspect of the game by using the desk with maps, ink and last but not least a glass of wine as the background. For the whole development process the pirate Capt’n Jack Borrow was some sort of mascot because he was the very first character Thijs Bremer created. That he would be a part of the logo itself was more than evident.

Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?

As long as you have to do most of the work on your own: do your homework, learn math and get a serious knowledge of any high-level computer language (C++ or C#). Some people think that creating games is a process of “I take my idea, put it in left and the finished game appears on the right.” Working on smaller projects always helps to keep your motivation high because you are able to finish them. Do not start with the intention of creating the next high-end MMORGP. Always be nice to your clients, they are spending their money when buying your games

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?

First of all: Microsoft did a great job when they opened the doors for all those indie devs. Thanks a bunch. In general the commercial success of an XBLIG game is very unlikely because most developers do not have the ability, tools or connections to promote their game. There are many gamers on the Xbox – but also on other platforms – who do not know how cool indie games can be. Larger “official” marketing and PR would help XBLIG a lot.

What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?

A new one. ;) As mentioned before, we are currently working on a multi-platform game for mobile devices like Android and iOS.

Anything else you would like to say?

Thanks for providing such a great platform, noticing games other than AAA, supporting XBLIG and all of its hard working indie developers with smaller budgets. Thanks a bunch for giving us the chance to talk about our game and giving us the chance to create a connection between the little cover art on the marketplace and the individuals and their story behind it.

Add Venture to your download queue!

In last week’s segment we took a look at a game trying to fill the void left by a distinct lack of space flight-shooters for consoles this generation, this week the spotlight is on another genre typically underrepresented in console gaming; strategy.  Venture is a turn based strategy game where the focus is on strategically placing troops in an effort to conquer the game map one territory and one turn at a time.

There are undoubtedly parallels that can be made between Venture and Risk Factions.  For the most part I would say that as far as comparisons go, Venture could fair much worse.  Overall the game style is nearly identical, you and three bots start on a map with equal numbers of troops and territories and go from there.  Each round you get “reinforcements’ based on your territories, you can place them on any territory you own, then attack at your leisure.  Attacks must come from a neighboring territory and at the end of each round you can “fortify” territories by moving troops from one to a neighboring. In other words, if you have played than you have played Venture in terms of the general mechanics.

Ventures definitely lacks the polish and, let’s call it “flair” of Risk.  There are no fancy animations depicting the violence that befalls your troops (or the enemies).  Rather you spend the game looking at the map with simple sounds of explosions and basic animations simulate the combat.  While for the most part this works absolutely fine, I did often want to know exactly what happened when my ten troops seemed to be defeated by two, and so on.  While in Risk you get to see “the dice get rolled,” Venture simply selects the winners of an altercation without you being able to see how the outcome was achieved.  Most likely a very similar algorithm is being used to decide the winner, but not seeing it does make it seem… cheap at times.  Ten troops sometimes lost to only one or two in Risk Factions as well, but ultimately seeing that they lost because of better dice rolls just made it easier to take.

The game’s simpler visual style mostly works in its’ favor.  You spend much less time watching animations you really don’t need to watch but hate to skip at the same time, battles are over almost instantly and the game moves quicker as a result.  One aspect that does hurt it is that it is hard to tell when something on the map is for decoration or if it has strategic value, additionally it can be incredibly difficult to tell what territories you can attack from or be attacked by. Rule of thumb is that a dotted line is vulnerable, but sometimes it is hard to see if there is a dotted or solid line between two territories.  For the most part though I was able to get the hang of it.  Some of the maps are much more creative than others as well; unlike Risk the maps have far more variance, aesthetically at least.

Venture does sport a fair amount of maps with two game variants (one based on capturing capitals) and enough settings that can be tweaked to add a fair amount of life into the game.  A campaign mode, even with a simple story, would have been nice but the skirmish mode style still works well, and to be honest is the main focus of a game like this anyway.  Venture also keeps track of a respectable amount of stats as well as in-game achievements for completing certain task, which is a nice touch for completionist or those who just enjoy seeing how many troops they’ve beaten after several hours of playing.

Possibly the most important thing to say about the game though is that it is fun to play.  Matches can go incredibly quick or be rather drawn out as two colors go back and forth at length.  The game may be a little too quick to give out additional reinforcements as an early advantage, even a fairly modest one, can quickly lead to a blowout in a matter of minutes.  As is always the case though in a strategy game, they are usually their most entertaining when you are either dominating or you pull off an amazing comeback; much like I did in my second attempt at the game where I had rallied from a single corner of the map and worked my way back out.  Once you get the hang of Venture it becomes very easy to lose track of time, especially in the longer even matches.

Unfortunately though the game does suffer from a few technical glitches that make the simple but effect presentation and time-tested game mechanics a little less appealing.  Audio is the most prone to issue; even in the game’s menu the audio would suffer lag and become distorted (when I clicked on an option).  Often when multiple battles happened in a row the audio would become distorted and ugly as well.  This was a shame since the soundtrack was solid, making the distortion even more apparent.  The other main issue is the English proofreading.  A game with this solid of a presentation just simply shouldn’t have so many grammar errors.  It can kill the opinion of a game very quickly.  This is something I’ve come to expect to a degree with XBLIG’s, mostly due the fact that so many of the developers are from overseas.  That said though, and this is a tip for all developers (not just picking on BigBlackBlock Studios, sorry guys!), find a native English speaker volunteer to go over the text in your game if you plan to make it in English.  Most gamers won’t take the time to look up your studio and see that you’re German, French, Russian, etc., and will just assume it was laziness (Time to get off the soap box now).

Despite some technical flaws and a few random various faults (that don’t add up to much), Venture is an enjoyable experience.  If you loved Risk Factions for the game mechanics than you will almost certainly enjoy this simpler, but also significantly cheaper alternative.  Or if you were simply unsure and Risk’s 800-point price tag (or 400 points during the dozen or so times it has been on sale) just seemed too steep, this may also be the title for you to try it out on.  Venture does manage to justify a slightly higher price point than most XBLIG titles (240 MSP) by offering more gameplay in terms of time spent (or possibility for time spent) than most other XBLIG titles. It doesn’t hurt that that time will mostly be spent playing a relatively fun game either.  If you can’t have a good time with Venture you may just not be trying hard enough.

 

Final Rating: 7/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by BigBlackBlock Gamestudio
Current Price: 240 Microsoft Points ($3)
Recommend Purchase Price: It isn’t likely to go on sale
Add Venture to your download queue!

BigBlackBlock Gamestudio has been kind enough to give us 2 extra download tokens (codes) so that we can put two of you on the battlefield! 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:  We want to know what your favorite strategy game is!  Can be real-time, turn based, whatever, just 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 Venture! #Xbox, Find out how you could win by going to: http://bit.ly/qCNuzP

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.

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About Tristan Rendo

I've made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.