XBLIG Spotlight: Kobold’s Quest

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 Kobold’s Quest, a sidescroller throwback with a modern sense of humor. 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 Kobold’s Quest 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?

John: My name is John Norman and I am the lead programmer for Suckerfree Games.  I have been programming and making video games for a very long time now.  In fact, my 5th grade project on the water cycle was written in QBasic on an old DOS machine.  I started seriously working on making games when William told me of an awesome idea he had for a video game while we were attending college.  We decided to work on a video game together for college credit and it blossomed from there.

William: My name is William McDonald and I’m am the lead designer and project manager for SuckerFree Games.  In middle school and high school I worked on a few videogame projects and was a pretty active gamer.  The year I entered college, there weren’t any degrees in game design available, so my focus switched to my second interest video production.  Getting back into game design was something I always wanted to do, but lacked the opportunity to take it on seriously until I met John, who was interested in programming a video game for his senior project, but had no concrete ideas.  I showed him one of my cartoon scripts, Dungeons, it was a funny twelve episode series I wrote during an internship, after some discussion, we decided it was excellent material for a Golden Axe inspired retro brawler.

Having to deal with a tight school deadline, we had ourselves a crash course in game production.  We learned what worked, what didn’t work and had a typical experimental college experience.  After the semester was over we showed our project, got a lot of feedback and realized we made something that people seemed to genuinely enjoy.

After college we began working on this project more seriously, pouring all of our spare cash into it and essentially having no lives outside of the game’s creation.  Team members came and went, but we remained working on the project.

During one of the project’s lulls I had started designing a cute un-lockable game called, Kobold’s Quest.  As time went on John and I talked over the design and decided that it could easily be expanded into its own game, and believed it could be a quick three to five month distraction to have a fully finished and polished game released, using our preexisting code.  We were wrong, a year and two months later Kobold’s Quest shipped onto XBLI, but to us it was still quite an accomplishment.

Danielle: Danielle Dorsey, sort of a jack of all trades but in charge of nothing.  I am William’s writing partner for Dungeons and many other works.  I provide concept art for characters and levels. I do social networking and QA.  I try to keep the website and fans updated.  I basically do everything that needs to be done that William and John can’t or won’t do.  I got started because John and William wanted to develop Dungeons into a design document and since I co-wrote it William, he didn’t want to lose the flavor that I brought to the original script.  I also started out designing and animating the levels in Dungeons but I was slow and the work was not awesome.  I have a degree in video production and am an avid gamer.

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

John: The first game I can really remember making was an adventure game in QBasic/QuickBasic on an old DOS computer (I don’t remember which language I had used) sometime during elementary school.  I had been writing BASIC programs and DOS batch scripts ever since probably 3rd grade.  I don’t remember doing any sort of game developing until I started playing with a 2D MMO named Graal Online sometime around 1999-2000.  It had its own scripting language and level editing system so I spent a long time making my own levels and scripts.  That spawned many failed projects in Visual Basic and C++ along the years.  I eventually got into Call of Duty modding and created the RSD game type (reinforced search and destroy) for CoD 1 and 2.  Kobold’s Quest represents my first actually completed unique game project that was not a mod of an existing game.  It feels really good to have finally accomplished that.

William: Well, previously, I had worked on a variety of smaller games, ranging from text based adventure games to first person shooters.  Today I’d consider those projects my hobby during High School, but you know how younger kids think of their projects.  I thought I was making art, lol.  I worked on a few mods, back in the day with the build3d engine, but to be honest I hadn’t undertaken something this serious and monumental until I started working with John and Danielle.

Danielle: None.  This is my first rodeo.

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

John: This is difficult because I can’t really say I was affected by one game.  I play many games all across the genre spectrum and they all shape how I perceive games in general.  In fact, it is rare that I ever hate a game; I find enjoyment from many games that people just unabashedly detest.  If I have to choose, though, I would have to pick Graal Online as it was the first game I seriously modded.  That would be the turning point where I started to actively alter/develop games.

William: Night Trap.  Seriously, loved that game as a kid.  Please, don’t hit me.

Danielle: In general my first obsessive gaming experience was playing Maniac Mansion for the Commodore 64.  I didn’t have the manual which was necessary for certain codes so it was quite arduous.  Though I was first truly enraptured with a game the first time I played Princess Tomato.  The graphics were perfection and the game play was varied. I made maps and died dozens of times to discover a final monster’s attack pattern.  I market tested Princess Tomato along with Final Fantasy as an elementary school kid.   Nintendo had some amazing deal with Universal studios where they had a huge exhibit of future Nintendo games and a huge videogame playoff with prizes, like in the movie “The Wizard” with Fred Savage. It was heaven on earth. So I guess Princess Maniac or Tomato Mansion.

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?

William: We are in talks with a publisher to port Dungeons to PSN and Kobold’s Quest is going to have an eventual PC release.  We chose XBLIG because it was an opportunity to have access to console gamers.  We knew we could not compete directly with a AAA studio, but we thought that with enough hard work and creativity we could compete competently in the indie game marketplace.  Plus we were definitely in love with the whole ghee whiz our game is playing on an actual XBox 360 concept.

John: We currently have plans to deploy Kobold’s Quest on the PC.  When we first started work on Dungeons for our college project, XBLIG was new and exciting.  We looked around for engines we could use to develop our game on and saw that InstantAction (previously GarageGames, and now GarageGames again!) had developed an XNA engine called Torque X.  It was cheap so we decided to jump on that because we could target both XBLIG and PC if we completed our game.

Danielle: I’m still pushing for a Win7 phone port, I think we would make a killing.

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?

William:  The development of Kobold’s Quest started in parallel with the production of Dungeons back in 2009, but didn’t become our exclusive focus until May of 2010.  That’s when I received our first batch of tile sets and went about assembling the levels based on level sketches.  I used an open source program called, “Tile Map Editor” it was fairly straight forward and then either John or myself would go into the Torque X builder and lay out the appropriate bounding boxes.

During this time I was also contracting out work for our cut scenes, HUD and GUI, gathering sound effects.  This required me to sleep very irregular hours, working with people all across the globe.

John:  We ended up purchasing the Platformer Starter Kit (PSK) for Torque X and migrating over a lot of code from Dungeons.  This gave us a nice start on development and I started modifying the PSK and Torque X while William built the levels.  We went through a couple iterations with how the levels worked.  Since we used a tile-based background, William created the levels in Tiled Map Editor and I wrote a converter that converted the saved levels into Torque X tile map scene objects.  Everything was working fairly well until I added in camera zooming.  We discovered that floating point issues were causing lines to form between tiles.  We determined that we couldn’t use Torque X’s tile system to attain the quality that we wanted so we had to scratch that workflow and I had William just export the levels as large PNG files.  I cut them up into (usually) 2048×2048 textured chunks and placed and aligned them into the game as static background images. For image editing, I used Corel PaintShop Pro and Paint.NET.  For programming, I used Microsoft Visual C# 2010.

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?

William: By the time we got done acquiring the art assets needed to finish Kobold’s Quest, we had pretty much run out of money.  We were keeping everything moving, pay check to pay check, but with my hours being cut, it wasn’t enough to hire a composer.  We turned to

Kevin MacLeod’s incomputech.com and chose whatever music was the most appropriate for each level.  By some fluke, Landon Podbielski of www.wonthelp.info volunteered to score our cut scenes, which was both lucky and much appreciated.

On a side note, with Dungeons we’ve acquired the rights to use all three albums of JT Bruce’s subjectruin.net master pieces and have Luke Thomas aiding us with remixing the various tracks into loops.  So Dungeons should have a much more polished and unique sound.

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?

William: We would have had online multiplayer at launch.  The biggest complaint we’ve received, has been the lack of it, and it was always suppose to be there.  We were under a lot of pressure to get the game out of the gate, we were moving, broke and have a thousand other excuses, but upon reflection there really isn’t a valid excuse for it’s absence.  We are currently working as fast as we can to rectify this situation as well as adding a new save feature and a Challenge Mode as a way of saying “we’re sorry”.

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

John: We always look at valid and constructive criticism when developing our game.  In fact, our upcoming patch for Kobold’s Quest will introduce a challenge mode based on feedback we received.  Kobold’s Quest Lite will also be a special $1 version of KQ that removes the animated cut-scenes in favor of still storyboards for gamers uneasy about spending $3 on an XBLIG game.  We do really want to please people so we try hard to respond and take criticism into account.

William: We’ve taken almost every review seriously, heck the challenge mode and how it should work was a suggestion given to us directly from a critic!  So we are very open to criticism as long as it’s not, “I felt the game itself was a flawed concept,” as one critic told me directly.

While we did have a large amount of public game testing, we need to start hunting down more modern gamers.  The older gamers picked up the controller and seemed to “get it” right off the bat, but post released we saw other gamers not understanding, no many how many times they die, that they couldn’t attack a human head on or that the baby was throw able and could be used to distract the humans…  Many things we thought were obvious, are now revealed in hind sight to not be universally so.  Essentially we learned why there is so much hand holding in most modern games.

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?

 William: Well, it was originally called Gwendel’s Quest, a combination of the Grendel from Beowulf and my ex girlfriend Gwynn who currently has custody of my son.  This was an in-house joke, but when it came down to the “real name” we figured since the game sprites we were using were recycled Kobold’s from Dungeons who are described in the first level as the, “eater of babies, raper of house cats!” why not just call it Kobold’s Quest!  We liked how it sounded, so we went with it.  Though it should have been Kobolds’ Quest, since there is more than one Kobold, but that’s semantics.

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

William: Well the final poster piece was done by You April Amezquita, forest-sprite.deviantart.com, but before that we had about a dozen sketches and two different artists attempt to do it.  All paid of course.  We wanted it to communicate the fun multiplayer adventure and took a lot of feedback on the Microsoft XNA forums, before settling on the one we used.

Here is the evolution of our poster presented to you from oldest to newest:
http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a178/subofyourwill27/koboldsquest_poster2.jpg
http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a178/subofyourwill27/KoboldPosterFinal.png
http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a178/subofyourwill27/Sketch1.jpg
http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a178/subofyourwill27/Sketch2.jpg
http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a178/subofyourwill27/Sketch3.jpg
http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a178/subofyourwill27/Sketch4.jpg
http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a178/subofyourwill27/KoboldPoster1.jpg
http://suckerfreegames.com/images/home/koboldsquest_poster.jpg

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

John: Start small and think about modding an existing game.  It is so easy to get burnt out when dealing with mundane engine coding.  If you are a lone developer, always look at using existing engines.  I hear engines like Unity have come a long way in making it easy for novice developers to get started in producing their own stuff.

William:  Plan everything out, layout a design on paper, understand how it will work and know how to communicate that design efficiently.  Also understand exactly what art, sound, etc assets you need to have this happen, a very detailed breakdown is a must.  Once you decided that it’s ready for production, make sure you either have good friends you can count on and the finances to see it through to completion.  It’s always a good idea to start small and scale up, doing it the other way can be both painful and depressing.  Also if you’re working with volunteers it’s a good idea to keep the timeline short, because people will inevitably lose interest and burn out if there isn’t a paycheck in the foreseeable future.

Danielle: Like the people you are working with.  Have a solid idea how far you want to take your development.  By that I mean figure out how much money and time you are willing to invest.  Do you want to be a hobbyist or do you want to attempt to build an indie gaming empire?  Also its really important to not obsess on how situations, tasks and outcomes should be but rather deal with how they are.

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?

John: This is really difficult.  XBLIG is great in that it allows anybody the ability to develop and deploy their game on a major console.  Indie games were usually PC only affairs that had to be specifically sought out and downloaded, and would rarely get any sort of wide-spread release or appeal.  Microsoft has created a market that suddenly exposes indie games to millions of potential consumers.  Thinking about it, it is quite unprecedented in what they are doing.  There is a lot of freedom in XBLIG, which is also part of its failure.  The issue is that you get a lot of terrible games flooding the marketplace; games which you would normally find for free on some Geocities website or built in Flash.  I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but the reality is that before XBLIG, many of these games would be free, played briefly, and the creator would be congratulated for having the dedication for sticking through until the end.  That is the normal process for growth.  All developers have been there before, and that is okay.  XBLIG, however, doesn’t provide any abilities to filter out these games if you don’t have any interest in them.  This creates our current situation where gamers not interested in those types of games, but are too lazy to search for ones they may be interested in, just don’t bother with XBLIG anymore.

If I was in charge of the Xbox division at Microsoft, I would split XBLIG into two tiers, or even two different marketplaces.  I would lower the price of entry for the basic XBLIG tier and grow that as a community of burgeoning game developers; a place where novices can gather and share their work and experience.  The upper tier would cost more and have a stricter set of guidelines relating to gameplay and polish than what you currently have for XBLIG.  This tier would be for the experienced indie developers who don’t have the resources to get into XBLA.  This would, ideally, give exposure to the Indie developers who put a lot of time and money into their work while allowing the freedom that XBLIG gives to flourish.

The sad reality is that the lazy gamer isn’t really looking for “indie” games.  “Indie” is just a buzzword for him.  When he thinks of an “indie” game, he thinks of those polished, yet quirky and different upper tier games.  He logs into Steam, goes to the Indie section, and sees games like Limbo, Frozen Synapse, and Bastion.  He just doesn’t expect a game like Dossun World.  He doesn’t see indie games like you or I might and we have to face the reality of that.

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

William: Expect a Kobold’s Quest update this December enabling online multiplayer, a progressive save feature, a new Challenge mode and a new tutorial level.  We will also be doing a limited release alpha build of Dungeons.  It will be available to our fans, especially those who have been following our progress as a little thank you for their support.

Anything else you would like to say?

John: Many things happened during the course of development; some good and some bad.  In all, it was a really great experience and for all the other indie developers out there, I encourage you to work on and I look forward to playing your game.

Danielle: When it comes to our games they are labors of love.   We all have gotten burned out on these projects but we work through it because we love the concepts, the art strikes a cord, and we enjoy playing the game.  We have been accused of focusing too much on the visuals and cut-scenes, basically being too flashy.  But I always counter with why shouldn’t we?  We know we are not a AAA studio but it doesn’t mean we want to sacrifice on story or style.  I like games with plots and we make games we would want to play.

William: Long live Sega and the kingdoms of Atari, may they rest in peace.

Add Kobold’s Quest to your download queue!

You’ll probably never have as much eating babies as you will while playing Kobold’s Quest.  Questions regarding the boldness of that statement not withstanding, Kobold’s Quest is a deceptively simple old school side scrolling multiplayer adventure where you play as a Kobold and your goal is to steal babies for dinner.  You must dodge knights, skeletons with a thing for leather, giant angry birds and much more as you attempt to navigate the perilous levels to find your little bundle of joyous dinner.

Borrowing, stylistically, from the games of the 16-bit era, Kobold’s Quest looks in many ways like it was ported from a different generation of gaming, but the sense of humor is certainly a bit more up-to date and adult in nature.  Stealing babies for the purpose of a mid-evening snack aside, the game also has a fair share of witty banter in the forms of in-game audio tutorials delivered in a 40’s news serial manner, as well as references to things such as Pedobear.  Yeah, you read that right.  The game’s whole premise and attitude is silly and over the top, but in a good way.  The game’s visuals, for the most part, are great and the audio production and soundtrack is superb. Even the royalty free songs and done well, such as the most epic rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel” I’ve personally ever heard. The part that sticks out the most though is the animations between chapters, not only is it something almost never seen in an XBLIG, but they are exceptionally well done. The one complaint I would levy is that the game lacks variety in its’ levels.

Kobold’s Quest plays rather simply.  You must get from the start (left), to the baby (somewhere towards the right) and then return with it to the beginning of the level.  There are various ways to navigate most levels, such as going above or below enemies, that will increase your odds are surviving.  Each quest starts you with five lives; lives that are easily taken as any enemy can kill you with one hit.  The enemies mostly move back and forth on patrol, making the game a combination of quick reaction times and patience to efficiently navigate your way.  You can attack them, but your attack only stuns them momentarily and a frontal attack will almost always result in death.

Once you have navigated the level and located the baby, you must carry it all the way back to the beginning. In this way you must often “ration” your lives, being careful not to take too many risk on your way to the infant so as to make sure you have enough to get back.  You cannot attack while holding the baby, but humans will pick up infants left on the ground making them vulnerable.  You can also, at times, put the various enemies up against each other and take them out of the equation all together, which is one of the only ways to permanently take them out. This is all in addition to various traps and other hazards the levels are covered with.

If playing multiplayer, which is available for up to 4 players in local co-op (although the developers have stated an intent to patch in online multiplayer in the near future) you must deal with all this as well as the other players.  There is no difference between the characters other than color (to identify yourself on the screen), which is how it should be since you technically aren’t working together.  Multiplayer matches have the added push of basing a winner on which player is the one to ultimately return the baby to the hungry Kobold in charge.  Navigating the levels is already frantic, adding three other players all gunning to be the one to snatch the infant makes it insane.

It alls sounds relatively simple, and for the most part it is, but it is also surprisingly difficult.  The one hit kills are made even more damaging by the fact that the various enemies are often incredibly accurate.  You will rarely be in front of one and have them miss.  They are also relentless; especially the skeletons who are absolutely determined to chop you in half. In some of the later levels it seems that pretty much everything can and will kill you.  For the most part the difficulty is fun and challenging rather than maddening, it doesn’t ever really feel cheap; well except for the birds, screw you birds, one day I will control you all and then who will be laughing?

Kobold’s Quest is plagued with some minor issues though.  The game lacks a main menu, with starting the game to be the only real option.  Not a deal breaker but odd.  The menus that do exist, such as the pause menu and the continue menu are formatted in such a way that any non-wide screen TV’s will have significant portions cut off.  A lack of level select is also unfortunate.  Yes, many retro games didn’t have them but some improvements are a good thing and should be kept.  (There is a workaround to not having to start at the first level every game, using the D-pad and entering the following “cheat” at the title screen (↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A) will allow you to skip levels using the Left Bumper; plus it’s likely been a decade or so since you entered a cheat, so it’s about time to get back on that horse.)  The most notable issue though, and the only real issue in terms of gameplay is that often the game’s respawn times end up having you spawning just as the enemy that killed you has returned. A little frustrating to die twice in the same spot with little you could do about it.  To reiterate, none of these are game breakers, but do ultimately result in a slightly lower final score.

Kobold’s Quest is challenging and often frantic in all the right ways, offering some serious entertainment potential for yourself or as a party game.  The level design is solid, if not a bit repetitive, and the other production levels are exceptional.  Fantastic animations piece together the simple but fun gameplay and the game’s sense of humor helps to keep it from getting boring.  The game is fully worth the $3 the developers are asking, and the promise of patched in online multiplayer, a level save functionality and an additional mode of gameplay should make that decision even easier. Those still not sold on spending $3 on an XBLIG will soon have an option of a “lite” version of the game, which will only be a $1 but removes the excellent animations.  I know which way I’d go.

Final Rating: 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 SuckerFree Games
Current Price: 240 Microsoft Points ($3)
Recommend Purchase Price: Worth the asking price, but for those of us out there that ration Microsoft Points like canned food after the apocalypse, you could wait for the $1 lite version.
Add Kobold’s Quest to your download queue!

SuckerFree Games wants to help make sure no child is left uneaten so they have hooked us up with three download codes for the game so that we can in-turn reward three of you with a free copy! Plenty of baby eating fun to go around. You can gain up to three entries, please read the details on how to enter below:

First entry:  Kobold’s Quest surprised me with some pretty funny moments so we want to know what game most surprised you with its’ humor!  That’s it, 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:

The #contest continue! @ClearanceBinRev is giving away 3 copies of the #XBLIG Kobold’s Quest! Enter now at http://bit.ly/vZPqld

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.