XBLIG Spotlight: Video Wars


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 Video Wars; an RTS inspired by retro graphics.  Check out the trailer below and as always, my perspective and an interview with the game’s lead developer.  As usual on CBR, reading has rewards as you may even get a chance to win a copy of the game. Add Video Wars 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?

My name’s Charles, and I’ve been playing video games in one form or another since 1979.  I have a degree in computer science and professional experience in developing web applications, but I always wanted to make a game instead.  With the opportunities for independent development and publishing really evolving in the past few years, I decided to give it a shot.

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

I’ve made two games for XBLIG.  Comet! came out last year in July.  It’s a unique hybrid of puzzle and action elements with a sci-fi B-movie kind of vibe.  I was fortunate to work with a friend who has created game art professionally on that one, so I was really pleased with the overall look.  VideoWars was just released last month.  Prior to that I had only created games as school projects, several years ago.

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

VideoWars really grew out of a design challenge I posed myself – what would have happened if real-time strategy had been invented for an arcade machine in the mid-80’s?  What would that have looked like and played like?  So my inspirations came from that era.  There’s a strong element of Missile Command in it with the way it handles nuclear war.  Tron gave me some inspiration for the sparse maps and neon visuals.  These were things I grew up playing and still enjoy – I have Tron, Galaga, Tempest and Assault arcade machines in my garage.  From an RTS perspective, I always liked Chris Taylor’s work (Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander) in terms of design and Halo Wars for proving that you can do strategy on a console.

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 chose XBLIG because I really like the console, I’m a big fan of the LIVE service and because Microsoft just made it very easy to get started.  I had experience coding in Java so picking up C# was no problem.  There was very little investment required from me to get up and running.  I’m considering expanding into Android territory but haven’t started on that project yet.

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 worked on VideoWars for several months.  I had done several prototype games of various types but nothing really took off for me until I hit on the retro-RTS idea.  From there it took about 3 months to get it to initial playtesting and another 3 to build and shape it with feedback from the community.

My development process starts with a notebook and pencil.  I’m always coming up with new ideas for games so I just have to write everything down.  If something clicks, I start exploring specific design questions – how would the player control it, how would I architect it, what are the victory conditions, how do I create replayability – all of that stuff.  It helps to have some high-level goals in mind.  With VideoWars I kept in mind that I wanted ease of control because most console RTS games struggle with that. Giving the player enough control and strategic options while keeping it simple turned out to be the core challenge for design, and I’m really pleased with the final result.

At some point I start making prototypes and I try to plan out my development so that I have something running at the end of each coding session.  I’ll start with basic artwork and evolve that on days when I feel artistic.  I’ll add in sound and music later on to fit the feel of the evolving game.

I use Visual Studio for coding, Paint.Net and Corel Painter for art and ProTools for sound recording and editing.

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?

VideoWars has a very sparse soundtrack by design.  I wanted to evoke the feel of an arcade game so I found and purchased a loop of ambient arcade sounds that runs behind the game constantly.  I did want a little retro music in the game, so it has the battle beginning and ending themes which I wrote, recorded and edited myself.  Otherwise, I chose not to have music constantly running during gameplay because I wanted players to be able to use the audio cues to know what’s happening – each event has a specific sound to help you keep tabs on your opponent’s activities – and with the game’s pace I wanted these sounds to be front and center.

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? 

No doubt about this – I would have built in online play.  It is a challenging problem, especially for a solo developer, but it’s not as tough as it seemed when I first started making VideoWars.  On the other hand, the game probably wouldn’t be finished yet…

How much do reviews, ratings and other feedback of your games affect the development process for future releases?

I’ve been so pleased with the reviews for VideoWars.  The challenge that I see is that there is a definite difference between the feedback you get from reviewers and the feedback you get from the development community.  With VideoWars it was in regards to difficulty.  I lowered the A.I. difficulty three times while in playtesting because it was too difficult, but some reviewers felt the game was too easy when it was released.  I’m not sure how to bridge this gap with the limitations in place on how you can distribute playtest versions of the game, but I will be thinking about it.

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?

The original title was RetroWars but that was already taken by someone else on XBLIG (although it doesn’t seem to have been published) so I came up with the alternative.  It was meant to sound like something that would have been used in the 80’s, with a nod also to Halo Wars to suggest the strategy/war game elements.

Tell us about your game’s virtual “box art.”  Who designed it? Was there any specific inspiration or story behind the creation process?

I designed and created the box art.  It’s an obvious homage to classic NES box art.  Just another retro reference. (Author’s note: Video Wars is certainly up there in terms of one of my favorite virtual box art that I’ve come across.)

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

Start small.  Realize that indie games work best when there’s a clear, defined vision that you’re trying to bring to life.  Plan, plan and plan some more.  Nothing will frustrate you more on your first project than having to tear up and re-do everything because you didn’t think it through up front.  Know your limits.  If you aren’t an artist or musician, there are resources for that.  There are also ways to design around needing exceptional sound or visuals.  Your first game won’t look like Crysis, play like Portal or sell like Angry Birds, so come to terms with that and think about what success will look like and be realistic.

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?

XBLIG really is a mixed bag.  For every great hidden gem there are quite a few offerings that are embarrassingly bad.  There needs to be more recognition of the quality, well-designed (and by that I don’t mean just the prettiest) games on the service and more promotion to the “front pages” of LIVE so to speak.  More frequent contests, events, things of that nature.

Additionally, with Microsoft’s positioning of the console to the casual market it seems to me that simple, friendly games (or even kids’ games) could do well if more people knew about them.  People wouldn’t mind spending a buck on something that they could play with their kids – I have.  I’m not suggesting that the service “go casual”, I just think it’s something that hasn’t been fully explored.  There are some good alternatives to $40-$60 Kinect games hidden in the indie channel.

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

At some point, a follow-up to VideoWars with online play, expanded maps and more strategic options.  It will aim to have the same simplicity and fun-factor but to provide additional depth and replay value.  I’m also in the planning stages with a couple of other concepts so I’m not sure which one will win out to be the next project.  They all involve  online play in some fashion, so that is my next personal development hurdle.

Anything else you would like to say?

Thanks to everyone who gave VideoWars a try!  Hope you are having fun with it.

Add Video Wars to your download queue!

Video Wars is an XBLIG that is one part classic arcade, one part RTS and an all around good time.  Pitting two players, or one player vs. a computer AI, against each other on small, up close and personal type maps, the players compete for the limited space by bolstering their defenses and of course launching all out attacks.  While ultimately quite simple in design the game is also ultimately quite fun.

The aesthetics of Video Wars is all based off of the sounds and images of the classic arcade cabinets some of us grew up with.  There are plenty of pixels to spare.  From the main menu that reminds us of the classic “Insert Coin” screens that used to taunt us from the dark corners of poorly lit rooms with sticky floors and hard to identify smells, to even the subtle nuance of the sounds of a bustling arcade in the background (probably my favorite little touch to the game).  I’ve never met the man behind Baaad Dad Games personally but I instantly know that he has a fondness for the classic arcades of yore.

Beyond just reminding everyone of Space Invaders, the game looks great and has a sharp interface.  It may be inspired by the classics but it has certainly been upgraded.  The battle maps fit entirely on the screen, as well as your HUD with all the important information, but everything is surprisingly easy to take in.  No super hard to read menus, no units that are so small you can’t make them out, no hard to distinguish borders to the map, etc. So often in XBLIG’s the text and other aspects end up looking like the developer only tested them on their TV (or even worse, their monitor) with no idea of how they would look on other sets, but thankfully that isn’t the case here.  Face it; if you lose, it wasn’t the game’s fault.

In terms of gameplay Video Wars is fairly simple and straightforward.  You gain territory, highlighted by squares that are your color, by placing nodes. Each level starts you off with one node and the ability to add a couple more right away if you choose.  Each node expands your territory, allowing you more space to also place bunkers or capture bonuses on the map such as points or cash boost (basically the resource mining in Video Wars). Then you must defend your territory. Bunkers serve as your main line of defense against enemy troops, but nodes can also be upgraded to turrets, which will also fire on enemy units.  A turrets’ main use though is to shoot down incoming missiles by aiming the reticule and pressing “B.”    The more turrets you have the better chance you have of taking down the incoming missiles, or defending against a full out missile barrage. After enough time the missiles seem to be upgraded to nukes and do even more damage so this is incredibly important. You can repair your structures by highlighting the damage building with the reticule and pressing “Y,” even while it is being attacked.

Taking the fight to your opponent consist of two main forms of attack.  Missiles are your long-range weapons.  You can build basically as many as your resources allow and then fire them at any location on the map by placing the reticule on that square and pressing “X.” Obviously the more you fire at once the better the odds your opponent will fail to shoot them all down.  Basic missiles will fail to destroy a node but will wipe out bunkers and cause general mayhem.  Your main form of attack though is your unit.  Again, the limit to making them is your resources but unlike many RTS games you will not micro manage them. Once your units are ready (takes only a moment) you launch them from any one of your nodes by highlighting it and pressing “A” for each unit you want to launch.  The units then set out to launch their attack, typically towards whatever enemy structure is closest to the node you launched from.  You units will engage enemy units if they come across them, but once launched they are on a mission to destroy the enemy base so you must launch them carefully or risk wasting valuable resources.

The game is certainly enjoyable, but at times feels perhaps too simple.  Even just a little more depth and Video Wars has the potential to make the leap from a good XBLIG to a great XBLIG; I’m just not sure exactly where that depth should come from.  Perhaps multiple unit types, even just two or three would be enough, but I’m not sure.  Maybe even just making the computer AI a bit more intelligent (at least in the challenge mode), or not allowing structures to be so easily repaired mid-attack would add to the game’s challenge as well.  As it sits, taking on the computer AI is a relatively easy affair with the right strategy.  Obviously the game is meant to be played with a human opponent though (and it can get frantic), but with that only available locally, i.e. both players in the same room, more of a challenge from the computer would help to get a little more life out of Video Wars.

Ultimately though, Video Wars leaves you wanting more much in the same way a great comedian leaves you wishing he would tell one or two more jokes.  You are in no way dissatisfied with your experience, quite the opposite, but you still want more and hope there is more.  The simple yet engaging gameplay and classic art styles is a winning combination.  It’s time to do your duty and enlist in the Video Wars, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Final Rating: 8/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Baaad Dad Games
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Like grandma playing limbo, can’t go any lower
Add Video Wars to your download queue!

Baaad Dad Games has been kind enough to give us 3 extra download tokens (codes) so that three of you can go to war! You can gain up to three entries but one MUST be on this site, please read the details on how to enter below:

First entry:  Video Wars blends together classic arcade game style with basic real time strategy elements, so we want to know what your favorite classic RTS game is!  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:

Enter @ClearanceBinRev’s #contest for the #XBLIG Video Wars! #Xbox Find out how by going to: http://bit.ly/oXFFXe

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 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 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.