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 FireFly Vegas, a vibrant twin stick shooter. Check out some gameplay video 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). Add FireFly Vegas to your download queue! First, check out some official game footage:
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?
The name of my ‘studio’ – RockMint was derived from, ‘Rock’ – providing a solid foundation and, ‘Mint’ – implying new and fresh, which I setup in Summer 2011. FireFly Vegas is the inaugural release for RockMint and the first game I’ve released publicly as a complete title, although I’ve been making games in some capacity since I was able to program in Basic on the Vic20 since the 80s, I played around with developing again on the Amiga platform several years later and when I discovered XNA/XBLIG a few years ago – it had an instant appeal and something I’ve been spending any spare time working on.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?
FireFly Vegas is a tribute in many ways to the first game I ever purchased in the 80s – ‘Omega Race’ on the Vic20. The game was simple, challenging but highly addictive and I became an instant fan of the shoot ‘em up genre. Reviews often compare FireFly Vegas to SuperStar Dust and Geometry Wars, there are some similarities especially with the visuals but also many differences in terms of the experience and resulting gameplay.
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?
As a user, the XBLIG service offers amazing value for money; As a hobbyist developer the cost of utilizing XNA and XBLIG Creators Club is low enough to make it affordable and worthwhile – if not only for the coolness factor of releasing a game on Xbox Live but for the support and interaction with the AppHub community. I’ll be releasing a PC version soon, currently reviewing which service to host the game and also reviewing release on Windows Phone 7 – to get FireFly Vegas available on the mobile market.
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 spent almost 2 years on development of FireFly Vegas, though this was really only when I had spare time on evenings and weekends. In terms of tools, for graphics I used primarily paint.net, video and audio was through using the Sony Media package and sound effects were from freesound.org. Support and advice from the AppHub community greatly helped as well.
I’m working on an update to specifically enhance playability, hopefully for release very soon, but some of the feature requests I’ve received from players they’d like incorporated which I’m investigating include: multiplayer, extra modes, reducing the difficulty and release on other platforms in particular PC. Any other suggestions or comments, drop me a mail firstname.lastname@example.org or @r0ckmint on twitter.
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 made the music in house myself, the reference to ‘Phatso Records’ was a tribute to the amount of weight I put on whilst making the game, – that is, spending considerable amounts of spare time developing the game rather than in the gym! I like to think the games music really makes it stand out and the overall sound design is quite unique and in line with FireFly Vegas’s genre and overall feel. I tried to incorporate the following brief in the making of the music dynamic, epic, uptempo, video game themed.
FireFly Vegas Title Soundtrack – Interstella Lovin by Phatso Records. http://youtu.be/E1entEJcppM
FireFly Vegas In Game Soundtrack – The FireFly Vegas Theme by Phatso Records. http://youtu.be/AOf86w-Yfq8
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 really enjoyed developing FireFly Vegas and wouldn’t change the dev process itself, it was a great experience, although I will be releasing an update soon based on some of the reviewers feedback. The one thing I would do differently would be to work with a team of people rather than cover all the different and very varied tasks myself – this was a massive undertaking. Working in a team also helps bring an alternate perspective and acts as a sounding board to test any ideas prior to implementation, sometimes it’s very easy to get over-familiar with your game and become unaware of the various nuances and gaming logic you’ve become used to over dev time, without realizing how challenging they are to a first time player.
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?
FireFly Vegas started off as something completely different and developed almost organically, it wasn’t preplanned in anyway. I initially created a game engine – RockMint Application Construction Engine (RACE) to provide a solid foundation for future game development projects, taking advantage of programming modules and specific gaming components for reuse. The original game I developed to help stress test the engine was called ‘Super Bouncin Benny Bee’ which was basically a simple twin stick shooter with a bumble bee – Benny, as the main character bouncing round the screen shooting various insects and collecting flowers. After almost 24 months of on-and-off spare time development this eventually became ‘FireFly’ and during final testing ‘Vegas’ was added to the title after a testers comment that it reminded them of a recent trip to the Strip.
Tell us about your game’s virtual “box art.” Who designed it? Was there any specific inspiration or story behind the creation process?
I enjoyed making the ‘box art’ and was pleased with the final result. The initial draft image was the first attempt after a few hours of work in paint.net, a great free tool to use for graphic images – I felt the image didn’t quite capture the excitement of the game and the central sprite images didn’t look quite right. After several days of further work and 30+ layers – I put together the second image, which captures the key particle explosion element of the game. It was designed to have the feel of a movie poster and boxart in general is important to get right, as in many cases as gamers are whizzing through the several thousand games on Xbox Live dash, nice boxart can be the main trigger and ‘face’ to decide whether to download the game.
Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?
Making games is not an easy process, even a game which appears to be simplistic can take considerably effort and a significant time investment. As a gamer its very easy to have a wish list of things you’d like to make you favorite game even better although implementing these may be far from simple, if possible at all. Making FireFly Vegas as a one-man band was a huge challenge from the coding, graphics to creating the music was a major investment, something I really enjoyed and learnt a lot from, but a big task nonetheless. I’d also suggest working in a team or bringing in specialists where appropriate so you can focus on developing the things you enjoy and areas you are good at. I would recommend developing Indie Games, it is challenging but from my experience the rewards really do compensate, provided you put the effort in.
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?
So most importantly gamers have to be able to find your game on any service/platform, so the new search function on Xbox Live can really help with this although added filters for categories and genres of games is a must. Indie games needs to be easily accessible, users simply won’t click 20 times across a menu system to access something – it really has to be in your face.
Online leaderboards would be the next big advancement, this would be a real big step forward, some XBLIG games have implemented a form of scoring system that shares leaderboards to each other’s XBOX but this is not in the true sense an online leaderboard but more of a good workaround based on the limitations.
Finally, having a central Achievements and Awards system in place, this topic has generated a lot of discussion in the community and although I can understand the reasons why a system would be challenging to implement, it would really help professionalize the platform.
What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?
I have a couple of announcements to make very soon. Firstly, I’ll be making a substantial price drop of FireFly Vegas from 240msp to 80 msp that’s a whooping saving and provides great value for gamers – something XBLIG has really helped facilitate. Secondly I’ll be releasing update 1.1 for FireFly Vegas, I’m still finalizing the changes but the focus will be on enhanced gameplay and duration. Finally I’m planning on releasing a platformer in the summer, title yet to be confirmed – so watch this space for further details!
Anything else you would like to say?
Games created by the Indie developer community provide a source of innovation, creativity and at times high risk ingenuity, rarely seen amongst the AAA releases. The diverse range of concepts and ideas incorporated into the indie scene are a demonstration of the wide ranging appeal of video games and the many genres which can contribute to its success. Combining visuals, audio and interactivity provides the ultimate form of artistic expression and the Indie developer scene is at the forefront of driving this movement forward!
Paul @r0ckmint | www.rockmint.com
Space, the final frontier. Full of geometric shapes in various vibrant colors and an arrow that shoots deadly lasers that would make even Neil deGrasse Tyson say, “Oh snap!” FireFly Vegas is a twin stick shooter set in space with a simple retro inspired art design (think Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved). This simple but vibrant and well-put together shooter will tease some of the senses (and possibly kill epileptics) as you seek out the high score.
As already stated, FireFly Vegas draws some immediate comparisons to Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. The art style that is largely defined by the bright colors and simple shapes as well as the basic gameplay feels born of the same inspiration; to take a retro concept and give it a lot of polish making it new again. The game basically consists of flying around a square map shooting shapes with various weapons in an orgy of colors that ultimately results in a high score (like all orgies do). For those who have been to Vegas, the comparison between the colors of the game and the signs of the strip are certainly comparable.
Four game modes help to keep things fresh: Clock, which is time based (but still limits lives) and survival which is based on lives alone make up the two main types of games. Both game types can also be played in Dynamic mode, in which you must use a thruster to move and the map spins rather than your ship. Dynamic is labeled as ‘Expert Mode’ and the label seems to be properly placed as it is much more difficult than the normal or “Retro” mode. There isn’t a ton of variance (and it seems odd to have Clock also limit lives) but they offer just enough to provide enough change to keep you interested.
In all modes the game contains a series of power-ups that make it much easier to stay alive. Power up number 4 (power-ups appear as boxed numbers) in particular brought the hurt on some neon shapes. Like most games of this type, if you pick up one you lose the other, but unlike some the power-ups seem to be endless. Often, if you happen to die after playing for several minutes, the lack of power-up on your next life will quickly spell doom once more. Also, much like Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, you do have a bomb at your disposal for when things get really out of control. Something that is bound to happen when the screen fills up with so many colors and shapes you can barely figure out where to shoot (and you’re shooting four directions anyway).
FireFly Vegas also sports a solid electronic based soundtrack. It is in some ways a little generic for the genre, but it is very well produced and if it is generic it is because the style fits these types of games and so it is used often. This is certainly true in FireFly Vegas where the music and the bright, often hectic colors seem to sync up well.
If you are really looking for a reason not to buy FireFly Vegas, you’ll probably find yourself looking at a couple key aspects of the game. The first is the fact that this XBLIG doesn’t really offer anything too ground breaking. The visuals and gameplay are similar to other popular games, which is fine, but what is a little harder to get over is the fact that it doesn’t do much to define itself separate from them. There also may be an issue with some of the enemy hit detection. The word “may” is used because things can get so hectic that it can really be hard to tell, but on multiple occasions it really did seem as if death came at the hands of empty space. Lastly, the game offers some variety but to many gamers, looking for more than something to kill 5-10 minutes on, FireFly Vegas is bound to be lacking. With really only two game modes offered in two variants each, you have options but you’ll probably want more. Of course, there is always the issue of whether or not you even like twin-stick shooters, but that goes without question.
At 240 Microsoft Points this would be a bit harder sell (the game’s current price), but once the game is lowered to 80 MSP (which it should be within a couple days of writing this article), it becomes easier to suggest. The gameplay is solid enough, offering up a classic style of game with a proven track record. Visually FireFly Vegas shines the most, offering a bright and vibrant light show to the beat of some quality produced techno. If you love games like Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, FireFly Vegas really is right up your alley; offering a similar and notably cheaper experience. FireFly Vegas will surely light up your Xbox, even if it doesn’t quite manage to light up your wallet.
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 by RockMint.
Current Price: 240 MSP ($3) but soon to be 80 MSP ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: 80 MSP ($1). Worth waiting a couple days to be honest.
Why you should buy it: Finally, an cathartic way to let loose your murderous rage brought on by shapes.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: You are epileptic. No seriously, you’ll probably die.
Add FireFly Vegas to your download queue!
RockMint wants you to light up your night with some twin stick action of your very own, so they have hooked us up with a couple of download codes for the game so that we can in-turn reward two of you with a free copy! You can gain up to three entries, please read the details on how to enter below:
First entry: Twin-stick shooters have certainly gained a lot of attention in the last few years and we want to know what your favorite is! Whether it’s Geometry Wars, Zombie Apocalypse or any of the countless others, we want to know. That’s it, tell us your favorite twin-stick shooter, 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 twin stick shooter #XBLIG FireFly Vegas! Enter now at http://wp.me/p1oOv5-1F8
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.