We like to regularly 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 Volchaos, a retro styled platformer from the good people at Fun Infused (making their second appearance in the XBLIG Spotlight). 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). Don’t forget that you could win a copy of the game by entering our contest as well! Add Volchaos to your download queue! First, check out the game’s trailer:
First, tell the readers a bit about yourself: what is your history as a game developer, previous efforts, why you decided to start getting involved in making games?
I’ve always had a love for video games, drawing them out on paper at an early age and toying with various game development languages / applications over the years. In 2009 I releases my first game on Xbox Live Indie Games and have been developing games ever since.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?
While I played many games earlier in my life, it was Super Mario Brothers that really hooked me on gaming and showed me what was possible. In a way, that’s always the game that I’ve wanted to make myself.
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 have six releases on XBLIG, one on WP7, and one on iOS. In the future I will have more titles for iOS and PC.
I started developing for XBLIG because I already knew C# (the programming language used) and the XNA framework (used for XBLIG games) was easy to learn. Plus developing for a powerful console like the Xbox 360 is just plain cool.
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 on Volchaos took 10 months of part time work. I primarily use Visual Studio, Adobe Photoshop, Audactiy, and sfxr (sound effects) to help in my game development efforts.
My typical process is maintaining a comprehensive list of TODO items for my game and slowly working through them late into the night. It’s very informal and unstructured, but you can get away with that when you are primarily a one man team.
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?
I use a fellow named Liam Tarpey for the music in the majority of my games ( http://www.liamtarpeyband.com/ ). He does great work. Generally I have a basic idea (I’d like the music to be like the music of this game but different in X way) that I convey to him and he turns that into musical magic.
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?
Shorter development cycles. I always plan to do shorter cycles and then end up with games that go 5-6 months over.
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?
I was throwing out names I was considering on Twitter, trying to find something I liked. I got help from others, especially Scott Nichols (@Duckols) settling on the Volchaos name.
Most of the rejected names were things that revolved around Volcanos but were either too generic or otherwise take. I originally started the game as just Volcano and then tried to add to that title, stuff like Volcano Madness, Volcano Crazy, etc.
Tell us about your game’s virtual “box art.” Who designed it? Was there any specific inspiration or story behind the creation process?
I did the artwork for my box art for Volchaos, though I have hired out professional designers on some of my previous games. For Volchaos I wanted an action packed but true to gameplay depiction of the game. No real story, just adding the characters and title and adjusting so it looked good.
Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?
Jump in, get your feet wet. There are plenty of resources and helpful people online to help out. You’ll learn infinitely more by doing.
Also be prepared to fail. Few people’s first games are huge successes. Judge by games you’ve completed, things you’ve learned, more than financials. Few people succeed right away.
XBLIG have had a mixed result so far, what can make it better? What one thing do you think would improve the service as a whole, from designer to consumer?
Visibility is the big thing. XBLIG is buried more than ever with the latest Xbox Dash update. It’s become a non-viable marketplace for most developers looking to make a business of game development. Still a great place for learning but it’s more of a stepping stone to other things than somewhere you can expect to make your core business.
Better filtering, achievements, and leaderboards are other features that would make the service more enticing to consumers as well. Microsoft needs to take some serious steps if they want games and developers to take XBLIG seriously.
What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?
Volchaos will be coming to PC soon with online leaderboards, a level editor, and a framework for sharing user created levels.
I am working on a Hypership iOS update that adds new music, a new game mode, and some other tweaks.
We will continue working on World of Chalk for PC as well and will likely add on original iOS title to the mix soon too.
Anything else you would like to say?
Polk High football rules!
There are more than a few people who openly criticize the overabundance of pixel art games on the XBLIG marketplace; and the fact is that there are quite a few. Early on, many developers thought to cash in on the nostalgia factor and as a result hordes of games that were visually inspired by a past generation of gaming flooded the service, but very few games actually captured much of that 8-bit generation’s gameplay or feel. While in many ways Volchaos is a modern game with some modern ideas, it certainly does manage to capture the feeling of the long lost “floaty” platformers of the past.
The main concept behind Volchaos is to reach the flag at the end of the level before the lava rises too high and you die an agonizing pixilated death. Like many XBLIG’s, the concept is inherently simple, jump and run through a series of traps, pitfalls and enemies as quickly as you can. Jumping often has a “floating” feel to it, much like many classic platformers making for an often hectic, fast paced jump filled experience. Offering over forty levels, plus bonus expert levels and various awardaments (award + achievements = awardaments), Volchaos is certainly not light on content.
Most importantly when dealing with the overall design of a platformer, the forty some levels offer an impressive level of variety. The level design ranges from simple to superb, with several offering an incredibly difficult challenge. Some levels for example are about moving as quickly as possible with lava racing behind you, some are about timing with the lava barely playing a major role, and so on. Adding an extra level of difficulty is the presence of gems in every level. While not required to beat the level (for the sake of completing it and moving to the next level), collecting every gem in a level not only makes the level significantly more challenging, it unlocks an “expert level.”
Gamers who equate difficulty with fun could easily find themselves addicted to Volchaos quite quickly. There was a time where playing a video game was akin to attending an S&M meeting they were so painfully difficult. While Volchaos isn’t THAT bad in terms of difficulty (at least in terms of simply making it through the levels), it is no doubt more difficult than many gamers are used to. Think Super Meat Boy but with lava constantly rising below you and you will get an accurate impression of the more difficult levels in Volchaos. So if that’s what you’re into…
As already discussed, the game’s art style is based off of the 8-bit generation of games. Characters are slightly pixilated, animations are simple and there are plenty of bulging, shocked eyes. The game actually warrants comparisons to the TV series Code Monkeys in terms of how it looks. Volchaos also has a simple but wholly appropriate and fitting soundtrack; sounding a little more modern than a classic game would but still managing to maintain the same atmosphere. Obviously if you aren’t a fan of the retro style than Volchaos will fall flat for you, but if you grew up with these games (or have just found an appreciation for them after the fact) you can at least appreciate the look of the game. As an added bonus, Volchaos interrupts each level with a funny and offbeat single-frame comic style image to entertain.
If for some reason you don’t appreciate the soundtrack, I recommend the following song to replace it:
The game’s controls are a mixed bag though. As mentioned previously, the game revolves around jumping and this jump has a “floating” feel to it. This classic game mechanism may excite some old school gamers, but it is also equally (if not more) likely to alienate modern gamers. It is obvious that the game is designed to be this way, so it isn’t a case of poor design; rather it is a style choice, one that many gamers are bound to question. For those not familiar with this style, the most common sign you are playing a “floating” jump game is the constant and often frantic movement of the analog stick to try and “aim” your jump properly. Additionally, like a previous XBLIG platformer reviewed in this segment, it often seems as if you are jumping around on ice. Coupling these two aspects of the gameplay makes for a sometimes clumsy and frustrating experience as you regularly fall to your doom. Gamers will eventually adapt to the style, or most will anyway, but this is likely to be the deciding element of Volchaos that separates those who love the game and those who loathe it.
Ultimately, Volchaos is a game for gamers who adore the tougher, more pixilated games of the 8-bit era. If a game’s difficulty is directly related to the enjoyment you get out of it, or if you have a soft spot for “floaty” platformers, Volchaos will likely earn a spot in your collection. The opposite is true as well. Volchaos isn’t likely to make you fall in love with this type of game or this game style. Awkward as the controls can be at times, Volchaos does still sport an impressive amount of variety and superb level design with an enjoyable art style. Love it or hate it, odds are you’ll be in one camp or the other with Volchaos. If you fall into the “love it” category the game offers plenty of bang for the buck and will be a wise purchase.
Final Rating: 7.8/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Time to completion: N/A
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Fun Infused
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Not getting any lower, cause it can’t!
Why you should buy it: If retro difficulty = retro goodness to you.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: You were born sometime after 1992.
Add Volchaos to your download queue!
Fun Infused thinks you need more lava in your life, so they have hooked us up with a download code for the game so that we can in-turn reward one of you with a free copy! You can gain up to three entries, please read the details on how to enter below:
First entry: Volchaos is inspired by retro platformers and we want to know what your favorite is! So tell us in the comments below your favorite retro platformer! 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:
More #contest! @ClearanceBinRev is giving away the #XBLIG Volchaos! Enter now at http://bit.ly/zFDNGj
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.