XBLIG Spotlight: Plague

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 Plague, a virus busting homage to an earlier generation of gaming. 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 Plague 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?

We started as a group of classmates in a Game Design program and decided we wanted to continue to make games together outside of school, so we started Contagious Games.

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

We made a few unreleased games both as individuals and together as classmates, but Plague is our first official game under Contagious Games. Our lead programmer made a somewhat successful Flash game called Reactance, and you can currently play it for free on Kongregate.com.

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

One game specifically that we pulled a lot of inspiration from was Metal Slug. But Contra gave us a lot of inspiration too, so it’s a toss up.

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 do have plans on making games for mobile markets as well as XBLIG. When we started planning Plague, we thought XBLIG would be the easiest market to get into, so we went with that.

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?

Plague took two and a half years to complete due to many unforseen circumstances. We’ve learned our lessons and won’t waste resources like that again. The development process started as a general idea that we threw around amongst ourselves until we were all satisfied with what it was shaping up to be. Then it was matter of divying out the workload until it all got done. We used XNA Game Studio using C# for the programming and Adobe Photoshop for the art.

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 were fortunate enough to know two music producers (Adrian Quarto and Nick Olson) who were willing to contribute music and sound effects for our game.

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? 

If we had to do it all over again, we let more people playtest the game before release. Having played Plague thousands of times throughout development, we became too experienced at it, and the difficulty ramping of the game suffered because of this.

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

We take all reviews seriously and work tirelessly to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes twice.

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 story revolves around a catastrophic computer virus, or computer plague. Originally, we wanted to give the title a more colloquial name, and for the first part of development is went by the name PL4GU3. Later on, we thought this could alienate some of our userbaser, so we changed it to Plague.

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

Plague’s box art was drawn and designed by one of our artists, Tomas Gomez. It was inspired by a popular game advertisement. It depicts a dark and desperate last stand with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

 

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

Our recommendation for would-be game developers is to gain a reasonable amount of experience making smaller games before working on a large project. Start off with simple concepts before moving on to that one big project that every aspiring developer has. You’ll learn what pitfalls to avoid during the initial projects, so your dream game won’t suffer.

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 think the best change XBLIG could make would be increased exposure. If the average gamer knew more about the channel, things would be better for everyone.

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

We have another game in development and it’s coming along smoothly. We expect it to be mostly completed within a month or two. Keep an eye out for it!

Anything else you would like to say?

Friend us on Facebook (if you want)! But mostly, we hope you enjoy Plague!

Add Plague to your download queue!

The world’s most outdated computer, armed with anti-virus software that is clearly also out of date, is the last computer standing.  A virus, known as The Plague, has infected every machine in the world, and the last chance at salvation rest in the digital hands of four less than top-notch heroes.  Plague takes you through their adventure as they scan the computer’s game files in hopes of irradiating The Plague from the machine.

Brought to us in a 2D, side scrolling perspective, Plague features four-player co-op (with drop in ability) over a surprisingly large amount of incredibly varied levels.  Set largely in the various themes and styles of classic 8-bit/16-bit franchises (including Mario among others), you must gun your way through hordes of enemies and a ton of bosses to fight off The Plague.  It may sound kind of simple, and maybe even a little over-played (“Yet another XBLIG designed to look like a classic game?”) but it works on many levels.

There is no denying that a lot of XBLIG’s do try to mimic the look of classic 2D side scrolling games (including last week’s XBLIG Spotlight – Parasitus: Ninja Zero), and most often it is simply to do so (or cash in on their popularity).  What is unique about Plague is that it actually offers a narrative based explanation for the look and style of the game; you are playing as anti-virus software attempting to scan game files on an old computer, it makes sense that it would look like it does.  It isn’t just a straight up rip-off either, nor does it simply borrow the “look” of these older games.  Some of the level design in Plague would definitely garner praise from developers of the NES generation; it is simple when it needs to be, complex when it should be and all around entertaining.  So many of the XBLIG’s that attempt to mimic the style get it right in the looks but offer straight, linear level design that does little to impress; Plague not only nails the visuals but offers superb level design.  This is much more of a homage to that generation rather than a clone.

Now, admittedly the game’s visuals look more modern than the game’s they are based on.  Graphics are crisp, clean and colorful and even though it may not be as authentic it is still quite pleasing.  Those old games look more pixilated than ever now that we have HD TV’s the size of a couch in our living rooms; sometimes getting updated is better than total authenticity.  Plague also packs more character and level variety than I have seen in really any XBLIG of its’ type to date.  You are likely to lose track of just how many different types of enemies there are, and almost every level does have something different to offer in terms of style.  Admittedly some of these themes are use far more (for example there are at least three levels clearly based off the Mario series), while some seem to be ideas that were not entirely carried out (one random level that is based on WWII).  Overall though, everything was done so well from level to level that it really feels like a stretch to complain.  It is the little touches that really help to sell the game, like the level where you are suddenly climbing through a series of tree branches or the start of the space level, which is based on the old arcade space shooters and has you walking in empty space (well empty besides the space ships firing at you). They just feel genuine.

Then there is the guns. So many guns.  There are guns that shoot asteroids, guns that shoot lasers, guns that shoot little lemmings that will destroy enemies, guns that turn enemies into lemmings that destroy enemies, guns that fire lasers, guns that are flame throwers, guns that fire black holes and guns that fire quickly, very quickly.  Hell, pretty much everything but a gun that fires guns (although I could of just missed it).  What’s more is that these guns are plentiful.  I mean they are everywhere, every couple of feet you are bound to find one.  If only health packs were so plentiful.

That leads me to probably my only real complaint about the game.  Even on easy it is incredibly difficult if you are playing solo.  Like, holy hell I just started this level and I’ve already died once, kind of difficult. Add to it that the game offers no significant notice that you have just lost a life meaning you sometimes don’t even realize it happened. When you have someone to co-op with, or preferably three others, the game’s difficulty evens out far more; but when playing the game on your own expect to be repeating levels, often.  Especially since many of the bosses have attacks that are near impossible to avoid, meaning if you get to the end with only one life left it’s a crapshoot whether or not you’ll make it.  Ironically, the bosses were all fairly easy, especially if you wind up facing one with a mostly full assault rifle or minigun.  One horribly frustrating moment though was when I beat a boss with just a sliver of life left, started towards the exit and an enemy I must have missed just before the boss flew onto the screen and killed me.  Just inches from salvation.  I took a break after that.

The difficulty itself isn’t the issue though, in fact it would be perfect if playing with two or more other players, but when on your own you simply get your ass whooped sometimes.  If easy were just a little easier, or the difficulty was a bit more conditional (based on the number of players) it would be a bit smoother.  The main thing that is unfortunate about it though is that it encourages players to not explore more of the level because you simply can’t afford to take a few more hits. That said, this would make a great party game if you’ve got the players (side note: like many games of this nature, your character choice doesn’t really make a difference).

One note for anyone reading with little kids arounds; the game definitely has some content not safe for kids.  It is minor, and pretty much all located at the beginning and end of levels, but some of the character dialogue is certainly stuff you wouldn’t want say… an eight year old to read.  I won’t give away the specific details, but just be warned.

Outside of the rather unexpected difficulty, Plague is a very well made and very enjoyable XBLIG.  It offers more variety in level design and enemies than any other XBLIG that I can recall.  Add to that, the game is simply fun to play and more than just varied, the level design is incredibly well done.  To put it simply; don’t be surprised if you find Plague more than a little contagious.

Final Rating: 9/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Contagious Games
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Doesn’t get any lower and worth every penny.
Add Plague to your download queue!

Contagious Games wants to help spread the disease so they have hooked us up with two download codes for Plague so that we can infect two 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:  Plague is made by Contagious Games and that got us thinking… we want to know what game you found to be the most contagious! (In other words, name a game that is addictive. Get it? Contagious, addictive, aren’t we clever?) 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:

Yet another #contest! @ClearanceBinRev is giving away 2 copies of the #XBLIG Plague! #Xbox Enter now at http://bit.ly/pp7cPc

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.

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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.