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 Flowrider, a top-down arcade racer with boats. 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 Flowrider 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?
Hi, I’m Fritz, I’m the founder of Triple B Games and I’ve been making games for 16 years, 12 years in the established games industry and 4 years as an indie. I initially did Maths at University but couldn’t face being an accountant or an actuary. It took me a while to realize that Maths gave me a good foundation for programming and that I’d be able to use what I had learned to make games. I’ve always had a great love for games, stretching right back to when I had my first computer, a ZX Spectrum, so to have the chance to be involved in making games seemed like a dream come true. 16 years on I still love making games, still love playing games and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Tell us about your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.
I started as a programmer at Gremlin Graphics in Sheffield back in ’95. My first released game was Actua Soccer 2, I then went on to Acclaim and worked on Shadowman. Next I came up to Scotland to a developer called Visual Science who did a lot of work with EA and worked on F1 2001, F1 2002 and Harry Potter’s Quidditch World Cup amongst other titles. I also spent two years of my life working on a game (Velocity) that got canned (thanks Vivendi!). This contributed to my disillusionment with the established games industry, working on games with huge teams and massive budgets, spending all my time in meetings and not coding.
In 2007 I set up Triple B Games to allow me to concentrate on making smaller indie games. I decided to concentrate on XBLIG as I have always loved working on consoles. I love the power of the machine, I love the fact that if you are making console games you know what hardware setup the player has and what controller they will be using. My first title Fitba harked back to Sensi Soccer and Kick Off 2, games I had played and loved on the Amiga. This then lead to doing Inside Lacrosse’s College Lacrosse 2010, NLL 2010 and College Lacrosse 2011. I knew nothing about lacrosse when I started working on those games, but Carlo Sunseri had played Fitba and persuaded me that there was a huge gap in the market for a lacrosse game and that Fitba would provide a good foundation for the game. The lacrosse games have been a huge success on XBLIG and I’m very proud of what we’ve created there.
Last year I also released Zombiez 8 My Cookiez a cartoonified, twin stick zombie shooter in which zombies have evolved – they don’t want brains, they want your cookies. This is a game I’m very proud of – I think it looks great, plays great and sounds great but I made the mistake of putting it out at 400pts. Very soon it became apparent the price point was wrong but I had to wait 90 days to change the price by which time the game’s been forgotten about and buried. If you fancy playing a hidden XBLIG gem go check it out – it’s only 80 points now.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?
Rather than picking a specific game I’d like to pick an event. I went to GDC in 2007 and attended the Indie Games summit. Seeing people like Jonathan Blow, Jenova Chen, Greg Costikyan, Kyle Gabler and Simon Carless speak gave me the inspiration to go it alone and set up Triple B Games. They made me realize that you don’t need to have huge teams and budgets and that you can step outside the mainstream and go it alone.
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’d love to stay making games on XBLIG but it does need more support from Microsoft. XBLIG feels like it’s stagnating at the moment. It feels like it has no champion at Microsoft, that it’s an afterthought. If quality games are to thrive on this channel it needs reform to the ratings system – to me the only way the ratings system is going to work is if more people rate the games and to do that they need to be able to rate the game from within the game. Let us put up a prompt from in game where the player can rate the game – don’t make them have to revisit the game marketplace to rate it.
Other things that would provide a real boost to XBLIG developers would be support for official leaderboards, more territories supported and of course achievements.
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 on Flowrider at the beginning of April. The game was supported by the Abertay prototype fund (http://prototypefund.abertay.ac.uk/ ). This meant that I was able to bring in some hugely talented graduates and students to work on the game and an experienced artist to help guide the look of the game.
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 lucky enough to have Laurie Bell on the project and he wrote all the music and authored the sound effects and did a great job. I think the audio really complements and enhances the 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?
I think it would have been nice to have spent longer on the AI, it was left to the last moment a bit, and I think I panicked a bit and made the game a bit too easy in the first couple of tiers. One thing I have thought about adding in an update is the ability to go back and race the first tiers against the best AI, possibly earning a platinum medal for doing so.
How much do reviews, ratings and other feedback of your games affect the development process for future releases?
I think it’s always important to listen to what reviewers and players have to say about your game, and to learn from that. But you do always have to maintain your own vision for what the next game should be and how it should play.
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?
Flowrider’s been the name since the beginning of the project, we did briefly consider changing the name but decided to stick with it. The unique feature of the game is the fluid dynamics simulation that is going on as you race and the key to getting the best times is to read the flow and ride with it, so Flowrider seemed apt.
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 was the work of Abigail Cox, the aim was to create a cover that wouldn’t look out of place on XBLA and I think that the cover she came up with could happily sit in the XBLA channel.
Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?
I’d recommend starting small and getting something out in the public domain as soon as possible – people are very forgiving and understanding when it comes to playing games from beginners and you learn a huge amount from watching other people playing your game. XNA’s as good a place as any to start – there are some very good tutorials for getting the basics up and running.
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?
If I could only change one thing I think I would change the rating system – allow gamers to rate the game simply from within the game – press the guide button & there should be an option to enter your rating for the game. The more people that rate games, the ratings system will be less prone to abuse, the quality games will be easier to find and Microsoft could then feel prouder of the service and hopefully not be ashamed to promote XBLIG more in the dashboard.
What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?
If Flowrider is a success I’d love to revisit it and do an update, possibly add the platinum challenges, plus there are several levels that were cut to squeeze down to less than 50MB so an extra levels pack is a distinct possibility.
Anything else you would like to say?
I’d like to thank Clearance Bin Review for the support that you give XBLIG, it’s great to see a mainstream site giving coverage to XBLIG and helping gamers to find some of the great games that there are in the XBLIG channel.
Did you ever play Super Sprint or Super Off Road? Odds are if you were born after 1990 the top-down racer has been a rare phenomenon in your gaming life (there was TNT Racers somewhat recently but… let’s just ignore that), but for a while the top down racer dominated the arcade circuit. Often these games had steering wheels that were basically about as effective as driving through a blizzard in a Prius with bald tires and no brakes; turn any direction, even slightly, and the odds were your car was going to start to spin in that direction, mocking you with each rotation… Okay, so it wasn’t really that bad, in fact the top down racers of the bygone arcade era were actually quite a bit of fun for a quarter, or fifty cents at the snooty arcades. Flowrider, a water based arcade racer definitely brings back memories of these almost ancient games.
As you may have put together, Flowrider is a top down arcade racer, only this time around imprecise controls aren’t the reason you slide around the track; the track is water (or some form of liquid, not really sure). So for those keeping track at home, Flowrider is one part Super Sprint, one part Hydrothunder, oh and the visuals and soundtrack are totally Tron, baby (excuse the “baby” bit, that sentence just felt incomplete). That’s a lot of apparent influences packed into one little 80 Microsoft Point XBLIG. Most important of all though is that the game is well made and quite a bit of fun.
The basics of Flowrider are simple. Win. There are five tiers of races available, and all but one tier has five different racetracks. The tiers unlock as you perform better in the different races, with the ultimate goal to reach 100% completion in each of the five tiers (meaning all first place finishes). With each race you have the option of four different boats, with various stats that may or may not help you get first in that particular race. You can also select a color variant, but that mostly helps to keep track of which little boat is yours. The races vary from traditional three laps, less traditional four laps, or even just all out sprints to get from the beginning to the end of the course (the latter of which goes incredibly fast). Most races involve only three other boats, but several throw a total of six boats in for good measure.
Racing itself consist of moving your left analog stick in the direction you want to go. In many ways this replicates the steering wheel of the older arcade games; it is a little imprecise but also very fluid and dynamic once you get the hang of it. The only other button you need to concern yourself with is the right trigger, which is your boost. Boost recharges throughout the race, and it is incredibly necessary. Whether using it to make a sharp turn even sharper or to just tear away on a straightaway, you’ll lose without it. Also of great importance is your mini-map, which will help you navigate the turns that you are quickly approaching. Place third or better to get a medal in each race and move closer to having a 100 percent completion in that tier.
The tracks are well designed, with plenty of sharp turns that require skill and various little shortcuts that can shave seconds off of a race. Visually the entire game, but especially the tracks, has a strong Tron vibe to it. I would even go so far as to say that if Tron had boat races, it would have probably looked something like this. The design is fairly simple and straightforward, but there is just enough style to it that it becomes cool rather than just looking dated. One really nice touch was making the in-race HUD fade to semi-transparent whenever your boat was near it; ensuring that it didn’t interfere with your ability to drive. Also adding greatly to the atmosphere is the soundtrack, which really reminded me of the music from Tron: Legacy, which I bill as quite a compliment since Tron: Legacy’s soundtrack was created by Daft Punk.
There are a few downsides to Flowrider though: On at least one occasion the visuals got to the point of actually being distracting and making my head hurt, namely when the water suddenly became bright red during one race (trippy to say the least). It was an unpleasant lap. Boost also takes forever to charge and it seems to take a lot less time for your opponents. Despite having a boat that had a higher speed and boost rating, I would often just be left behind by other boats (read: the computer genuinely seemed to be a lot faster). If you didn’t take an early lead, or to put it another way, if you fell behind at all it was near impossible to catch back up between the speed and the short laps. The game also does lack some variety and depth. The occasional A to B race, rather than laps, helped to change the pace a bit but other than that it was the same thing over and over, and all the different boats were available immediately with no unlocks or upgrades to be had.
The bad stuff aside, the real reason you are probably going to want to take a look at Flowrider, and consequently convince a friend to spend a dollar on it as well, is the Multiplayer. Not only does Flowrider support split screen, it also has system link and Xbox Live online multiplayer to boot. Getting a couple of friends online for a few racers would undoubtedly be a good time, but don’t expect to find any results for a quick match; like most XBLIG’s there just isn’t enough people playing at any given time for that. If you can find a couple of friends not too cheap to drop a $1 on a game though, the potential for fun is certainly there.
Ultimately, Flowrider is a solid arcade racer with an enjoyable style. It never really “wows” but it never really disappoints either. At times I found myself “playing one more race” before getting another cup of coffee, putting pants on, etc., so it has some addictiveness built into it with the short but often intense races as well. I can’t say it is the best XBLIG arcade racer I’ve played, but it certainly isn’t the worst and it may just have the most interesting artistic style. Plus, it’s name sounds like a famousrapper (I should be awarded a medal for making it till the last paragraph without making a “FloRida” joke). In the end, simplicity is both the strength and weakness of Flowrider, offering solid and fun gameplay without a whole lot of depth or variance. Are you going to be blown away? Probably not, but is it worth a buck, totally.
Final Rating: 7.8/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Time to completion: Finishing all races, ~2 Hours (100% completion would take longer)
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Triple B Games
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Not getting any lower, cause it can’t! Get it, and then convince three friends to do the same.
Add Flowrider to your download queue!
Triple B Games wants to race you all, so they have hooked us up with two download codes for the game so that we can in-turn reward three of you with a free copy! You can gain up to three entries, please read the details on how to enter below:
First entry: Arcade racers have a long and proud history, so tell us what your favorite arcade racing game is! 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:
Another #contest! @ClearanceBinRev is giving away 2 copies of the #XBLIG Flowrider! Enter now at http://bit.ly/vTrdrI
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 always announce the names of contest winners, but do encourage them to post about their win.