XBLIG Spotlight: Cell

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 2.0 Studios’ Cell, a casual pseudo puzzle game that takes place at a microscopic level.  Check out the trailer below, our conversation with the guys behind the game, and as always, my perspective.  As usual on CBR, reading has rewards as you may even get a chance to win a copy of the game. Add Cell to your download queue!First, the Cell trailer:


First, tell the readers a bit about yourself, who you are and how/why you decided to start getting involved in making games?

We are 2.0 studios, a small indie games studio based in Australia, that has been developing indie games full time since 2009.  Prior to that we were at Uni learning and proto-typing small projects in various teams. That is how we got that taste for being the creative and constructive force behind pulling an awesome idea into reality.

Of course there is the obligatory “we are hardcore gamers, and always have been hardcore gamers” statement to add.

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

Our very first effort at a title was “Project Alpha” way back in 2008/2009. It was the fist of wrath that introduced us to the difficulties and rewards of  true independent game development. Following that, we began work on Zombies 2.0, then Physics Lab. Each game had the goal of being a distributable product, and means of “on the fly education” that focused on one aspect of game development. This tactic has been highly successful. We encourage others to follow it.

With the earnings from this first generation of games, we upgraded hardware and moved to developing Blast, a multiplayer physics based steampunk puzzle game as well as our first 3D game. This was put on hiatus so that we could develop Cell. We have since moved to development on CraftWorld.

If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration, what would it be?

For us as a studio? It would be the legendary Dungeon Keeper II by Bullfrog. A moment’s silence please, as we remember them.

The inspiration for Cell? It would be the cellular stage of Spore. We wanted to boil down what made if fun to the lowest point possible. Cells, eating smaller cells in various environments.

The game has obviously been released as a XBLIG, but 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?

Cell originated on the WP7, as an expedition into new territory. Surprisingly, it played very well with a quick controller modification, so we put in the time to get it over onto the XBLIG properly and are quite proud of the result.

XBLIG is a secure, convenient and relatively straightforward distribution service. The XNA framework with the plethora of samples and libraries that go with it, make the whole “idea to something fun” process faster than any other platform currently available. The XNA community is also wonderfully helpful, and a huge pro-point for Xbox and XNA development.

Plus, everyone knows all the cool kids have Xboxs.

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?

Cell was made quite quickly for us. We succeeded with having the prototype within weeks, and the first final builds ready within a few months. Although quite a few times we cheated by working up into the wee hours of the morning. And caffeine. Lots of caffeine Add on the time it took to reach version 1.5, and put together versions on alternate platforms, and it is around 3 months’ worth of work.

We wanted the game to be have an upgrade path for your cell originally (like most 2.0 games) but we thought this would add too much time to development.

Our development environment consists of Visual Studio 2010 with plenty of plugins and three screens each. I’d also like to take a moment to recommend using a dark theme to any coders reading this, it’s so damned easy on the eyes. We have three WP7 devices to deploy to, one of which was a prize won by Cell from the Microsoft Developer vs Developer competition.

All of our games, even the early ones, are built from the always evolving Hazzah Engine. It is an in-house engine of our own design that grows with each game created with it.

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?

Private testing. We have used this tactic with CraftWorld, and it is amazing how quickly and efficiently issues are found and dealt with. Cell had around 4 patches on WP7 before it was carefully ported to the Xbox.

Many gamers dream of starting to make their own games, and it is obviously easier than ever for them to do so.  What advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to designer?

Learn to code.

Generally on small teams and in indie development there is no room for a “Game Designer” and normally the programmer takes the design lead, we have heard of small teams where the artist is the lead designer but this is very rare.

Many gamers fancy themselves having the sweetest most kickass game idea on Earth, but learning to code and writing itty bitty testing games is the iron fist of reality. A game designer is not someone who thinks up Warthog variations, and back-story for a chainsaw bayonet. A game designer is someone who can look at a goal and problem, then break it down into component parts and figure out how each interacts and runs in the whole. For example, how do you have an infinite sized world fit inside finite hardware?

C# and XNA are a great way to begin the learning process, but there are many others… Languages like LUA and Python can both be used for learning game development too, either way we encourage it!

Have you found the XBLIG process to be a particularly easy or difficult one?

The XBLIG system is a unique and easily accessible system backed up by a strong dedicated community. It is by no means easy to get a game for sale, but it is easy to get help. The fact it covers distribution, payment and even piracy makes it rather incredible.

But the huge human element is a double edged sword. Be helpful, fair and contribute and you will be left wondering why you are not paying these strangers. But the review process can be ruthless and thorough, which most often results in a better game.

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?

Microsoft hired testers as an additional processing stage.

The Windows Phone 7 system relies entirely upon this system, so feedback and failure information always comes in a standardized and clear format. Appending this system to the review system would catch many missed issues that sometimes make it through peer review.

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

Cell to be Available on PC via a new online store we are currently putting together. They can also expect barriers and gaps between AAA games and indie games to crumble, and to reduce as more advanced and agile technology becomes more affordable to us little guys.

As our tech that we use and our engine gets better you guys can expect better and bigger things coming from us in the future.

Anything else you would like to say?

The current game we are working on is CraftWorld. It is another XBLIG game, but will be released on WP7 and PC as well. At the time of this interview, it is in a private engine test having bugs found and crushed as we add more features.

It is a first person survival RPG, in the BlockWorld genre, and more information can be found at www.CraftWorldGame.com.

Thank you for your time, and interest in our little studio!


Add Cell to your download queue!

This edition of the XBLIG Spotlight would be more accurately described as a microscope, as we go x100 zoom for 2.0 Studios’ pseudo puzzle game, Cell.  Does this excursion into the microscopic cell eat cell world manage to offer tons of fun packed into a tiny slide or do we need some antibiotics to get rid of this infection?  Power on the microscopes, enter the clean room and prepare the slides, because we’re going to find out.

Defining just what type of game Cell is will probably be the most difficult part of writing this review.  The game certainly falls into the “casual” realm, with most of the levels providing no particularly deep challenge and no story to speak of.  Each level has you scooting around in an almost frictionless environment trying to absorb cells that are smaller than you so that you can get bigger and eat more cells ’till eventually you are big enough to eat everything on the map.   There are a few catches though; First is that you move by ejecting mass, meaning that every time you dart forward you get just a bit smaller. The other catch? Not every cell is going to just sit around and wait to be dinner, some are equally motivated to put you on the menu.  Sometimes the game consist of getting big quick enough to beat out these competing cells, other times it’s about carefully navigating a maze of giant cells in order to find enough prey.  That’s Cell in a petri dish.

The game’s simple visual style is nothing particularly amazing to write home about, but fitting.  Basically you are a round blog floating around with a bunch of other round blobs in a blackish square.  Competing cells are a light blue and prey cells are green with all cells having a red outline when they are too big to eat.  The music has a simple relaxed tone so that also helps to catch the “floating around” atmosphere.  Overall, Cell may fail to greatly impress with its aesthetics, but it certainly provides style that is appropriate to the game and is even satisfactory.

As I described earlier, the game’s premise is pretty straightforward.  Eat or be eaten.  The controls mirror the simplicity.  Point, press A to eject some mass and then head in that direction. Simple is as simple does.  It will take some time to manage the finesse required to perform precise maneuvers through a maze of giant cells that would like to make a snack of you, but the game’s difficulty curve leads you into the tough spots nicely.  2.0 Studios also threw you a bone for those particularly tough spots, using the left or right bumpers you can slow down or speed up time.  Slowing things downs makes tight maneuvers significantly easier, speeding things up makes for a more hectic and challenging game.  These mechanics don’t get used to a great extent, at least not in the “you’ll need them” sort of way. But some of the later levels would be borderline torture without the slowdown ability.  Learning to eject just enough mass to reach your target and still be big enough to eat it also takes some skill, especially for the blue ones that like to run away.  The combined result is a game that is ultimately very simple yet fun and addictive to play.

There are three game styles to pick from, each with 15 levels of cell eating action.  The first two, Virus and Growth, are mostly indistinguishable from each other.  Gravity, the third style, has the same gameplay as the other two, but the map revolves around a center “gravity cell.”  This mode doesn’t offer much in variance, but it was a nice change after playing the other 30 levels.  A bit more variation would have been welcomed, but the game’s length is just long enough to avoid being boring or too repetitive.

Ultimately Cell offers a solid all-around experience.  The word satisfactory comes to mind over and over in terms of visuals, soundtrack and gameplay.  While the game never really manages to cross the line into being exceptional, 2.0 Studios has managed to create a laid back casual offering that is often fun and occasionally challenging.  Cell is also available for Windows Phone 7 and I imagine that may be the best way to experience the game.  But for those of us without WP7 there is certainly nothing wrong with the experience as an XBLIG.  To sum it up, Cell is a solid casual gaming experience that offers a fun laid back atmosphere.

Final Rating 8/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Approximate Time to Completion: ~2 Hours
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by 2.0 Studios
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Literally doesn’t get cheaper.
Add Cell to your download queue!

We know how this works by now. 2.0 Studios has been kind enough to give a lot of download tokens (codes) so that we can give some of you a copy of Cell! We will be giving away 5 of them the old fashioned way, and maybe a few randomly over the next few days, so pay keep your eyes open! The more comments we get the more codes we will add to the pot, so tell your friends!  Please read the details on how to enter below:

First entry: Tell us what your favorite “casual” game is in the comments below.  Just like that, you’ve got yourself one entry.

Second entry: Follow us on twitter and send the following tweet:

@ClearanceBinRev keeps the contest going and is giving away 5 copies of the #XBLIG Cell! Details: http://bit.ly/mhsFDU

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 Wednesday at 8pm CST.  A pool of all eligible entries will then be randomly selected 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.


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.