XBLIG Spotlight: Bloody Checkers

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 Bloody Checkers, most likely the biggest XBLIG in terms of scale yet released. Check out some gameplay video below and as always, my perspective and an interview with the developer behind the game, Kilroyfx (Author’s Note: I never read the response to the interview questions before writing my review to ensure that it remains unbiased).  Add Bloody Checkers to your download queue! First, check out some unofficial 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?

Well, I never really wrote a program or anything before….but I decided to start and learn C# and the whole XNA thing about 2 years ago.  I had a lot of free time after I lost my job so I spent almost a year learning how to code and model and animate stuff.  I stumbled on some really neat tricks along the way, and everything I tried just magically worked.  I know that sounds funny, but as a gamer I was pretty naïve and really didn’t know what I was getting into.  I just love games.

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

KingsField I and II inspired me a lot, also games like Oblivion, RDR, L4D2, GOW, I really like the big title games and the free roam 3D environments. But, checkers was not my favorite idea.  I chose BloodyCheckers because it was simple enough to pull off in a reasonable amount of time.

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?

XBLIG was the easiest for me, they supplied everything I needed for almost free. I really look up to the xbox360 architecture as a powerful gaming console…so it has been really fun to play my own game on it.  I do have plans to move the game to PC and see what that process is like.

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?

It took about 1 year of learning, then almost a whole year to get to my first playtest. Then I worked another 5 months to release my first version of the game. I used a free modeler, and gimp….and then I simply used Game Studio 2010 for all the coding. I had to be very organized and set deadline…you know all that boring stuff.  I think the toughest part is mostly motivation and emotion when it comes to producing an entire Indie Game from start to finish.  I met many developers who never finished their game….and that scared me.

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?

Royalty Free Music, all the way !!  You simply cannot do everything yourself, and luckily I found lots a great free music, although I did donate later.

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? 

Well, I will plan even better this time….really write out specific goals and try not to deviate.  Now I feel I can really make a game that is FUN  more than anything else, I don’t have to worry about how to make the game engine. Also, probably no more board games for a while….I plan to make games that are a little more trendy.

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 made sure that when I “Googled” it…. nothing else came up.   Actually I knew the title before I knew the game.  I like games that are bloody and medieval based….I originally was thinking of a British twist on the game of checkers.

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

The box art is a screen shot of the actual gameplay, I really believe in meeting a gamer’s expectations…..deliver exactly what you promise.  I looked at a lot of box art, and then decided to just use a screenshot in the end.

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

Hmmm, don’t give up !! You can solve all the obstacles that might get in your way.  Also, you need to constantly educate yourself….an idea alone will not cut it. I made a lot of practice games before BloodyCheckers.  I believe everything you need is on the internet, you need a little startup money and free time and you can do it.

XBLIG has 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?

Well, this experience is completely new to me….so I think XBLIG has been a wonderful experience.  The system works, I mean my game is on the xbox360 and all my friends can buy it and we can play together…so if the game is good enough more people will buy it right?

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

Another great Update, with improved physics and even more multiplayer gameplay features….It’s on its way right now !!

Anything else you would like to say?

Gamers who purchased the game have a chance to become a Dead Portrait inside the castle in which other players will have to face them in battle to progress through a specific section of the Castle”  25 randomly drawn winners will have a their name, photo, and a description of how/when they died placed somewhere in the castle.  Gamers can get a peak at the Submission Form and requirements here http://fs18.formsite.com/kilroyfx/form1/index.html

 Add Bloody Checkers to your download queue!

Bloody Checkers is a strange beast.  At its core, it is simply a checkers game, something that would be wholly unremarkable in that form.  The thing that sets Bloody Checkers apart is that this simple checkers game is wrapped up within an enormous castle crawling adventure game with some base RPG elements.  With so many nuances, hidden corners and dangers lurking within Bloody Checkers is by no means just a simple checkers game; instead it is one of the most robust XBLIG’s to date.

You start off outside of a castle with a locked door.  After a few quick moments you find a candle and a key to enter the castle.  You light your torch and begin your journey into a dark, unlit corridor full of shadow filled, twisting passages.  After turning your first corner you find a portrait of a deceased man, who challenges you to a game of checkers, which you accept.  The game of checkers is pretty straightforward outside of the ability to lay traps, which will net you more gold in your victory.  If you win, somewhere a gate is unlocked, if you lose you can run away with your tail between your legs or face him again.  This is Bloody Checkers’ gameplay in a nutshell, with various other dangers and items being discovered as you make your way through the enormous castle.  It may seem a tad odd, and it is, but what’s most odd is how well it works.

Four screens in one picture, now that's efficient.

The success of Bloody Checkers rest in two different forms, because ultimately this XBLIG is really two games in one.  There is the checkers side, which has an addictiveness to it brought by the surprisingly difficult challenge it often presents.  If you’ve only ever played checkers as a kid you are unlikely to realize the amount of strategy that can be implemented in order to defeat your opponent.  Combine that with the fact that some of the portraits offer a serious challenge to beat (triple jumping bastards), there is a real challenge and enjoyment in defeating your opponent.  The other half of the game is of course the dungeon crawling/castle exploring.  There are so many twists, turns and hidden little areas (not to mention various creatures) that you can spend hours just exploring.  Only the most dedicated gamers will find all the little secrets of the castle, made even more true by the fact that the developer, Killroy, has added to the adventure several times already in the form of free updates, or DLC, since the game’s launch.  There is also a multiplayer component to Bloody Checkers, but I did not have much time to check it out (though it is obvious you can play other players in checkers).  One thing of note though about it is that unlike most XBLIG’s, there were actually people playing online when I did take a quick look.  That alone makes it fairly unique on the service.

The game’s visual presentation is simple but at the same time one of the better-looking actual 3D XBLIG’s.  Running around in an FPS style, much of the game is based around the use of your candle, and it is obvious that some serious time has been put into it.  That may seem like an odd statement, but the lighting effects from the candle itself as well as the little touches (like the candle flickering when you run or wind rolls past) really add to the presentation.  It is just one of those little touches that fills Bloody Checkers that most XBLIG developers would likely cut corners on.  The game’s audio presentation is also fairly simple but it more than fits the bill.  In many ways the creeks and groans of the castle definitely adds a creepy vibe to exploring and while you might not be floored from the sounds of Bloody Checkers, it does the job of keeping you in the game.  It also helps that the game has a solid sense of humor as well, offering some truly funny moments as you make your way through the game (check out the thank you at some point), including the various causes of death for those pictured in the portraits.

There are some oddities in the game, mostly the lack of direction, which will scare off some gamers.  Bloody Checkers is, in many ways, about exploring the castle and it flies in the face of what most gamers expect these days; looking for a more linear experience.  This is compounded by a lack of accessible in game map to help gamers keep track of where they are, making it quite easy to get lost (damn catacombs…).   The game also lacks description sometimes, in that it doesn’t hold your hand much at all, forcing you to experiment with less than clear items and objectives.  Again, this is really a case of taste though; one that many gamers may have trouble getting into.

Essentially two games in one, both sides of this checker piece offer a challenging, fun and addictively good time.  No other XBLIG that offers anything in the way of a story (i.e., not an open world game) offers nearly as much game play, especially for the price.  After several hours in the game, it claimed I had completed roughly 25% of the game, but it certainly didn’t feel as if I had gotten even that far.  The developer clocks the game in at around 20 some hours to beat, and my experience would seem to confirm that estimate.  The game’s overall quality and playability would easily net it an 8.5 rating, but the sheer amount of game packed in makes for such an incredible value that it has to be considered in the final rating.  There is few, if any XBLIG’s that offer anything near as much gaming for your dollar. To put it simply, if every XBLIG, and the developers behind them, offered as much as Bloody Checkers does the service would be an entirely different animal. Ultimately, Bloody Checkers is a bloody good time and well worth every penny.

Final Rating: 9.5/10

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 Big Corporation.
Current Price: 80 MSP ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Shut up and give them your money!
Why you should buy it: It is probably the best value on Xbox Live.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: You have an unhealthy fear of checkers or castles.
Add Bloody Checkers to your download queue!


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.