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 Raventhorne, a bite sized fantasy epic. This marks a first for the XBLIG Spotlight, as this is the 2nd time a game by Milkstone Studios has appeared in the column! Check out the trailer below and as always, my perspective and an interview with the developers behind the game (Author’s Note: I never read the response to the interview questions before writing my review to ensure that it remains unbiased). As usual on CBR, reading has rewards as you may even get a chance to win a copy of the game. Add Raventhorne to your download queue! First, check out the game’s trailer:
First, tell the readers a bit about yourself, who you are and how/why you decided to start getting involved in making games?
Milkstone Studios is currently formed by two people:
- Alejandro González, who performs mostly the programming, administrative & PR tasks.
- Miguel Herrero, who is in charge of graphic design, sound & music, tool development, and the website.
Both of us are working on this since 2009 as a hobby, but we switched jobs in 2011 and started doing this full-time.
We decided to start making videogames mainly because we loved games and computers since childhood, so everything is a natural consequence.
Tell us about your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.
We studied computer science and started programming games for our own amusement. Shortly after getting the degree, we had the luck to find work in a 3D software development company (not exactly games though), where we learned a lot.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?
We have a long background of playing videogames, so there’s a long list of games that have inspired us in a way or another. Proof of that is the Retro Game of the Week initiative we have in our Twitter account: We’ve posted almost 100 underdog retro games that we’ve played in our childhood.
As gamers, two games that had a lot of weight on our current style are Super Mario Bros 3 and Contra. Nowadays we play almost everything that comes out on Xbox 360. Recently we’ve played Call Of Duty: Black Ops & Gears Of War 3, but also playing single player experiences such as Alan Wake, Final Fantasy, etc
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 are considering porting our games to PC. There’s a new indie games distribution platform in development right now, IndieCity, that should fit our needs quite nicely, so we’re going to release some of our previous games on it and see how it goes.
We started development on XBLIG because we found development on it can be quite fast when compared to other platforms (I’d say about 50% faster).
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?
Raventhorne development took around 6 weeks of full time work. We usually start with a general gameplay idea and a theme, and write a design document from there. After that, we keep developing the game in “features-allowed” mode, where you can add additional features to improve gameplay. When we’re reaching completion and feel the game is ok, we switch to the “feature-freeze” mode, and focus on finishing and polishing everything, without adding new content.
This time we had a tight timeline, which we aren’t accostumed to, so results aren’t as great as they should be.
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?
Miguel Herrero is a music composer, so we usually compose our own soundtracks. (Download Raventhorne’s soundtrack for free HERE)
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?
Without the slightest doubt, variety and length. We’ve received lots of feedback about the lack of variety in enemies, their behaviors and combat situations, and also some complaints about the game length, which only takes 1-2 hours to complete.
We knew this beforehand, but due to time constraints we couldn’t do much to improve it.
How much do reviews, ratings and other feedback of your games affect the development process for future releases?
We like to improve our current and future products based on feedback, but it’s important to separate the users from the customers. We receive lots of complaints about our games, and also lots of praises and suggestions. Many times they’re directly opposite: Some people wants to add more of this while some others want to remove it. So it’s hard to keep the balance.
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?
For Raventhorne, we tried hard to get a name that was unique (at least in the videogame context), with strong Norse references, but English readable and with good pronunciation. It’s harder than it seems, most good names are already used, or they’re too long, or they sound dumb, etc.
I can’t remember the alternatives, but initially the project was codenamed Ragnarok.
Tell us about your game’s virtual “box art.” Who designed it? Was there any specific inspiration or story behind the creation process?
The game art, including box art, is designed by Juan Fernández, a friend of ours that helped us with this project. There’s an obvious inspiration in Norse culture and mythology, but there are few heroes that can use two weapons at the same time.
Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?
Just one: Start small. Your first project will take lots more time than you expect, so there’s a high chance you’ll quit if you don’t see some results soon.
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?
Two main changes:
1st, improve the Xbox dashboard. It’s not well suited to browse & search (because there’s no search option) over thousands of items. And Top downloads/Top ranked lists don’t change that often, so they’re of no use if you have tried those games already.
2nd, treat Indie games as games. They don’t show on your gamercard, they can’t be accessed via quick links, they don’t have achievements (even if they were 0 points), or leaderboards, they need you to be online to be able to play them, etc.
Hopefully, the next Xbox dashboard interface improves user experience when browsing Indie games. If it ends up being worse, we’re really screwed. I’m really scared about this, and we’re already looking for other platforms in case Microsoft breaks everything.
What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?
We’re currently working on a new Avatar Game, another classic remake, which should be released by next month. After that, we’ll probably spend some time porting our games to other platforms, and maybe make a sequel of our previous hit titles.
Anything else you would like to say?
Thank you for the interview, and thank you for your interest in us.
Milkstone studios really won me over with their simple but incredibly fun XBLIG “Infinity Danger” so when I saw that they were releasing Raventhorne as part of the Indie Games Summer Uprising I knew I would have to check it out. Raventhorne is a side scrolling 2D fantasy adventure set in a world somewhere between life and death, where you play as the Viking warrior Raventhorne. Recently shuffled loose the mortal coil, Raventhorne is seeking vengeance, and to fulfill his fate as a weapon of the gods in the epic battle known in Viking mythology as Ragnarok. He will do this in the typical Viking fashion, mostly by hitting things, a lot, with his sword.
First and foremost, and the aspect that anyone who glances at a screen shot is likely to notice, is that the game looks great. Milkstone has created a fantasy world that resembles a moving painting more often than not. While leaving room for improvement in terms of variety, the creatures you face (which mostly look like some sort of man-bear-gorillas), the environments and even Raventhorne himself look fantastic. The animation style is a bit odd, reminding me in a way of Adult Swim’s simple, almost like they were using paper cutouts animation style. Overall though the presentation is spot on, and the soundtrack/effects are all top notch. Again, other than a lack of variety to the game’s visuals, there isn’t much to nit-pick.
The game play itself is rather simple. The combat largely consist of spamming “X” for your basic attack or the occasional smack with a heavy attack (“Y”) mixed in as well. There isn’t a lot of depth to the combat; try to stab the monsters more than they stab you, but there are a few basic spells that can be cast, such as a lightning strike or healing. Raventhorne has three main status bars, health and magic which are pretty typical, and stamina, which refills quickly but is used for all of your attacks. Stamina is interesting because depending on your level and the type of stance you take (i.e. combat or defensive) you use this quicker. Once your stamina runs out Raventhorne will need a moment to catch his breath, which in the heat of a battle can be devastating. It was an interesting element to add to the game’s combat system. The other factors, health and magic, are recharged by picking up gems, casting spells or defeating enemies. Interestingly, experience can also be picked up in gem form, which was unique.
Outside of combat, the game typically involves running around a small area looking for a colored relic to destroy. Bashing these relics will remove the barrier of the same color that is blocking your path and allow you to proceed further. Most of the time of course the relics, and the path to them, will be filled with the occasional monster (or group of) looking to do whatever it is monsters do to dead Viking warriors. Probably the most surprising part of the core gameplay is that despite the relative simplicity of Raventhorne, the game can be pretty difficult at times. An important factor when death resets you at the beginning of a level (although your experienced gained is saved).
While not entirely fair, I often find myself thinking what aspect of an XBLIG would prevent it from becoming a full fledge XBLA. Often the answer is visuals, or audio, but occasionally it is the game’s depth and variety, as is the case with Raventhorne. Especially the variety. Like most XBLIG’s with an actual story, Raventhorne is pretty short, yet it still manages to get a little repetitive. This is mostly the result of the game consisting of running for a bit, fighting a batch of monsters, run some more, monsters again, etc. There just wasn’t much to make the last fifteen minutes feel significantly different than the first fifteen (and so-on). Also, not necessarily a negative, it should be noted that Raventhorne does end on a bit of a cliffhanger.
Overall, Raventhorne is a game best experienced for its’ impressive visuals, intriguing story (hang around after the credits), and enjoyable all-be-it simple game play. It may not be a Game of the Year contender, or even the XBLIG of the Year, but there is a well built fun experience wrapped up in a very pretty package. I found myself asking, “How does Milkstone find the time to keep making such solid games?” more than once during my time with Raventhorne, and I imagine I’ll wind up asking that again.
Final Rating: 7.8/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Milkstone Studios
Current Price: 240 Microsoft Points ($3)
Recommend Purchase Price: The game may get lowered after the Indie Game Uprising hype dies down, but $3 is still pretty cheap.
Add Raventhorne to your download queue!
Milkstone Studios has hooked us up with a download code for Raventhorne so that we can hook one of you up with a free copy of the game! You can gain up to three entries, please read the details on how to enter below:
First entry: Raventhorne is a bite sized fantasy epic, so in keeping with that theme tell us what your favorite fantasy game is! Whatever your answer, just tell us in the comments below and you have your first entry!
Second entry: Follow us on twitter and send the following tweet:
Another #contest? Yep, @ClearanceBinRev is giving away the #XBLIG Raventhorne! #Xbox Enter now by going to: http://bit.ly/qvRt80
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 Monday 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.