XBLIG Spotlight: Orbitron Revolution

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 Orbitron Revolution, a highly polished XBLIG shooter. 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).  You can also enter for a chance to win a copy of the game! Add Orbitron Revolution 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?

My name is Matthew Leigh and I have been working in the Vancouver video game industry for nearly 16 years.

I had always wanted to make games since I was quite young and in the mid 90s I got a hold of a copy of 3DStudio 3.0 for DOS and started learning it from the manual. Back then if you simply knew how to use the software reasonably well you could get a job so I spent a year and a bit building up a portfolio and then applied at EA Canada and Radical Entertainment. Radical offered me a job and that was the beginning of my career.

Since that first gig, career highlights have been Homeworld: Cataclysm, The Bigs, and Dead Rising 2.

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

Inspiration was really down to other developers like Arkedo and Radiangames cranking out fun projects with quick turnarounds. Because I was used to making a game in two to three years the idea of a few months of development was really appealing.

Shmups have always been pretty dear to me and I’ve appreciated the amount of work on the art and design side that goes into them. I gave a bit of a thought about how to make a shoot em up that relied on very few but very visual elements and came up with the Ring concept as the anchor to the game. After that was determined everything else sort of fell into place.

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 open to working on any platform really.  XBLIG was chosen as a starting point because of the availability of great tools like Sunburn and the XNA framework.  That and we had a more or less guaranteed road to market. Other developers have had reasonable successes on it and at worst I thought it would be an outlet to show what Firebase could do.

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?

After settling on the idea of a sort of Ring based tower defense shmup I first spent about a month and a bit building and texturing 3d models for the core of the idea. Then I brought on the contractors to help turn it into an actual game. Having real world, semi interactive, visual representations of the what the game was going to be made everyone understand what needed to be done before they started so it sped up development quite a lot.

I used 3DStudio Max 2009 for all of the modeling work and Photoshop Elements to do all of the textures. Synapse Gaming’s Sunburn lighting and rendering engine was integral to building the game. As an artist/designer first and foremost I found working in it a breeze.

All in all I think the total development time on the game, compressed to 8 hour days at five days a week, was around 8 to 9 months and that includes the PC version. The true core of the game was almost completely playable and fun at around the 3 month mark.

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?

Chris Chudley of Audio Antics was chosen to do the soundtrack. He was my first choice out of a three studio shortlist I came up with.  I simply sent him an email to his website and did a inquiry into his availability and cost. Both fortunately, and unfortunately Bizarre Creations, where Chris had been working, had just been shuttered by Activision and he was suddenly available to take on the project. He was pretty enthusiastic about working on it which is always a pleasure.

We were all fans of his work on Project Gotham Racing, and especially the Geometry Wars games. I think I have personally put over 200 hours into Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, so if I wasn’t sick of hearing the music by then he was the best choice to go with.

If you pay attention to his tracks for Geo Wars’s Deadline mode and Orbitron’s Countdown mode you’ll notice the music changes every 30 seconds. This gives the player an idea of how much time is left without even looking at the clock. I love audio like this that serves the game’s design directly.

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? 

We released a substantial update to Orbitron: Revolution in early January and really that should have been the game that went onto XBLIG first. The December timeframe didn’t do us any favors so we probably should have held off.

Other than that, the UI and HUD for the game was originally created for 1280×720 resolution. Knowing later that we wanted to do a PC version I should have created 1920×1080 versions initially. I had to go back and recreate everything in September, 2011 to make this happen.

Extra Mode was never intended to be put into the game. I thought it might help sell the game by advertising that we added another mode since the build that was sent to Dream Build Play. In the end I don’t think it mattered so perhaps it was a bit of a waste of effort.

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?

Originally the game was titled Orbital but there were way too many possible legal problems with that and also there are already a boat load of games with that title.  We settled on Orbitron because it sounded like a classic arcade video game title. Three days before Dream Build Play 2011 we decided to add a subtitle just in case, and for about two minutes it was going to be called Orbitron: Combat Revolved.

 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 box art myself like the vast majority of the artwork for the game. Inspiration for it really came from the classic paintings that adorned other 8 and 16-bit games like Gradius, and Lifeforce.  I knew that a spaceship on a box is pretty well worn territory but I wanted an homage to those sorts of games.

 

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

A developer really needs to figure out the core of their game first, then figure out everything they think they will need to make it a reality. Because you are learning don’t try to make something too grand to start with. Making a game is as easy or as hard as you want to make it. I find the most difficult thing is keeping myself interested and excited in what is being built and not getting distracted by another idea or feeling like development is never going to end.

Other than this, partner up with someone reliable who has strengths that compliment yours and can serve as a sanity check for ideas.

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?

There are so many factors that contribute to how XBLIG is perceived and Microsoft, developers, and large game media are pretty much responsible for that. I think Microsoft really went into the concept of an indie or community game channel with the best intentions and spent a lot of money and effort building the infrastructure to make it happen.

Given the results of the vast majority of games on the service they began putting less and less effort on it which is unfortunate seeing as though they now have an amazing library of great small games that they could leverage. It is kind of the reverse thinking now that they have an abundance of games to sell. A bit more exposure on their side, which would cost them very little, could bring them a lot of revenue if they held up the best examples of what could be found on the service and push them.

On the dev side of the coin it is unfortunate that so many people rush games to market to try to make a very small amount of money and push other games down the line. This majority has made consumers expect low quality before they even go looking for a game there. Devs really have to shoulder the responsibility of market perception as it is their product filling the shelves.

Because of this quality issue, large game media outlets simply don’t want to cover or review anything that drops on to XBLIG. When a good game does appear it can’t get the press that it probably deserves. Usually what is covered by the big sites is bad news that further makes the service look even more unappealing. It has become a self fulfilling prophecy.

We were lucky and thankful that Orbitron: Revolution received the coverage it got, but in comparison to a retail release or even a PC only indie title it was fractional. Simply go to Metacritic or Game Rankings and search for reviews of XBLIG games.  Even the monster that is Fortresscraft has zero reviews listed. (Editors note: You, the readers, can recommend Metacritic to include sites such as Clearance Bin Review and Armless Octopus to help improve that!)

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

We have a few game concepts that we have been working on and people we have been talking with. We hope to show something new in the next few months. Other that that, we do have ideas for an Orbitron: Revolution sequel but I’m not sure it will see the light of day unless the PC version of the game does a lot better than the XBLIG version.

Anything else you would like to say?

Support indie games on the Xbox 360 and any platform. Tell your friends and others about the great games you have found and try to get people involved in elevating great games to where others can see them!

Add Orbitron Revolution to your download queue!

Orbitron Revolution puts players in charge of some good old-fashioned robot blasting outside of a circular space station in one of two available space fighters.  Offering a 2.5D experience (the game is viewed from the side but made up of 3D assets), you must blast your way through three-arcade style, high score seeking game modes for the best spot on the leaderboards.  The premise is exceptionally simple, and one that has been certainly used multiple times among many XBLIG’s, so does Orbitron Revolution have something that sets it apart from the rest?

This.

The answer is yes.  To say that Orbitron Revolution is the best looking XBLIG to date, or even just the best looking 3D XBLIG to date may be incorrect; but the challenge rest in finding one that looks better.  That’s one challenge though that won’t be easily completed and is likely a fool’s errand.   Orbitron Revolution completely destroys pre-conceived notions of what an XBLIG looks like, offering fantastic, highly polished visuals.  Adding to that, the game shows remarkable levels of polish in most every other aspect, from the game menu, to the sound effects, to the quality of voice acting/recording when making selections in the game.  Firebase Industries it seems has gone all John Hammond and spared no expense in the creation and refinement of Orbitron Revolution. Jumping the gun a bit, it is easy to say that you should check out Orbitron Revolution purely to see one of the best, if not the best-looking XBLIG out there.

As for the gameplay; Orbitron Revolution offers three main game modes.  Guardian, which has you defending the ring (space station) from robot attacks.  The goal is to see how long you can survive before sections A-D are destroyed by drill robots with the amount of enemy resistance increasing the longer you go. Countdown is a score based three-minute onslaught.  Basically, blast as many waves of robots as you can in a three-minute time period, shooting for the best high score possible.  Extra, which is unlocked by surviving for three minutes in Guardian mode, is a lot like Countdown only there are no set waves or time limit.  You simply go until you die, trying to rack up as high of a score as you can before death’s icy cold grip reaches out for you (in other words, you crash into a robot).  All three modes have their high points, and different goals to shoot for (surviving longer than last time, clearing more waves than last time, etc.) but somewhat ironically the Extra mode was probably the most enjoyable of the bunch.  Each mode is simple and results in a game that will typically last around three minutes, but is enjoyable enough that you won’t mind playing a couple of times in a row.

The game's replay mode (Countdown mode only) allows for different angles.

Combat is pretty straightforward.  Moving with the left stick and primarily firing with the A button, you can also use limited burst to quickly reach a new section of the ring or fire a power shot.  Both of those require the collecting of batteries for their use, which are dropped by destroyed enemies.  It takes what seems like forever to fill your battery gauge though, so often you are able to actually use something like the power shot is up to question.  There are also score multipliers as a reward for destroying large amounts of enemies in quick succession, all the way up to x100, but in several playthroughs I never topped x34.  The score multiplier quickly fades away, greatly encouraging somewhat reckless and continuous combat. This of course leads to your primary cause of death more often, crashing into robots.  The game does feature two different ships you can pilot as well, but what difference your selection makes was not readily apparent.

Pretty, but not sure what the difference is between them.

The game’s biggest “fault” for lack of better word, would probably be that it is somewhat light on content.  The three modes are certainly enjoyable but don’t offer a ton of variance and while not really a fault of the game, it is safe to say that a lack of multiplayer (even just couch based co-op) is likely a missed opportunity.  It would have been difficult to implement since the ship goes in a circle around ring and both ships wouldn’t always be able to be on the same screen, but the potential is certainly there.  Ultimately though, the only two factors that are likely to dissuade gamers from purchasing this XBLIG is the limited content and the price tag ($3).

In closing, I'd like to say, "pew pew!"

Orbitron Revolution is a simple concept arcade style, high score, shoot em’ up XBLIG in an incredibly well polished package.  The game’s fantastic presentation includes some of the best (if not the best) visuals that can be found in an XBLIG, and a level of production nearly unmatched on the service.  The three game modes are simple, and a little repetitive but offer a fun gaming experience in quick, action packed doses.  While Orbitron Revolution has trouble justifying the $3 price tag on content, it certainly makes a solid case with the presentation.  As a result, the decision to purchase or not purchase Orbitron Revolution will ultimately come down to whether or not you are the type of gamer who enjoys going for a high score.  While there are plenty of XBLIG’s like that, none offer the degree of polish that Orbitron Revolution does. Either way, it’s worth your time to check it out.

Final Rating: 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 byFirebase Industries.
Current Price: 80 MSP ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: The game has dropped to $1, just go buy it now.
Why you should buy it: You want a great looking, cheap, game for short burst of gaming.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: The big kid took your lunch money again.
Add Orbitron Revolution to your download queue!

 

Firebase Industries wants you to help fight the robot menace, 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:  There are so many games out there that focus on high score, whether it is about beating your friends, having the best score in the arcade or making it to the top of the worldwide leaderboard and we want to know what your favorite is!  That’s it, tell us your favorite score-based game, 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:

Yay #contest! @ClearanceBinRev is giving away the #XBLIG Orbitron Revolution! Enter now at http://bit.ly/Atjwvp

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.

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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.