Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Three Games

Ben Chandler's new short AGS game has been released: Awakener. As expected, it's a highly polished affair, with a pleasingly unusual ending. Well worth a look. I may have something XAGE-related to post on this in the near-future, so watch this space.

Another AGS game I (and a lot of other people) have been keeping an eye on is VinceTwelve's Resonance. Interestingly, he's used KickStarter in order to fund its entry to the IGF competition. So positive has been the response that he's actually been pledged over ten times the required amount.

As Resonance is being keenly followed by a lot of adventure game adificionados, this is entirely understandable. The XAGE project is still rather low-key, and will remain so until v1.0 and T4W hopefully begin to raise its profile. Seeing that people have pledged both $250 and $500 in order to be included as a character in Resonance only confirms that not only are people very excited about this game but they are also willing to part with large sums of money in order to feel involved in its construction.

My idea: A KickStarter project to allow a single individual to pay a reasonable sum (say, $500 to $1000) to have a short XAGE game created for or about them. Just as some people are crazy for adventure games, a whole lot more are crazy for their Xbox, investing a huge amount of time and money in their hobby. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that someone would be interested in funding some such ego project in order to see their idea or character come to life on their console of choice. It would also tie in nicely with an idea I have for an episodic adventure game on XBLIG, where with each release the episode's financial backer stars as the antagonist.

Finally, Pixel Man was released to XBLIG recently - something about it appeals to me on a very basic level. The tiny graphics, 8bit sounds, rainbow menus and absolutely minimalist gameplay stir some childhood yearning for the Sinclair Spectrum. I'd love to have a crack at making something similar. Maybe when things aren't so busy.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

XAGE on the iPhone?

The ZuneHD has been released in America. As it directly supports XNA there's a reasonably good chance XAGE will eventually target this. Portable XAGE gaming would be a terrific novelty, for me if no-one else.

That said, what is an even more tantalising prospect is that of iPhone support, due to the large, affluent user base and the recent success of the Monkey Island re-release. However, given XAGE is built using C#/XNA and iPhone uses Objective-C, there was never any real hope of the iPhone being supported.

Until now. The open-source XnaTouch project aims to help port Zune (XNA) games to the iPhone. They have a short video up showing an XNA game running on the iPhone simulator here. Of course, this is all miles away at the moment and would require an investment of several thousand pounds of new hardware, but it's yet another potential direction for the engine. I'll have to keep a close eye on XnaTouch to see just how feasible it is, but potentially there's the possibility of some ridiculously convoluted porting fun, e.g:

AGS game -> XAGE -> Publish to ZuneHD -> Port to iPhone (via Mac)

In the meantime I really ought to get the GUI customisation finished. Finally releasing The Fourth Wall to XBLIG will be a tremendous relief - conclusive proof that XAGE is not vapourware.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

AGS to XAGE: Pixel Hunt

There aren't many open source AGS games, but I discovered that by hacking away at the code I've been able to get Andrew 'SSH' MacCormack's Pixel Hunt updated to the current version of AGS (most likely breaking a whole bunch of things in the process - I'm no AGS expert). An up to date source code meant that it became the third AGS game to get the XAGE conversion treatment. Running under AGS vs XAGE:


As you can see above, I've finally started making some progress rewriting XAGE's GUI system as I want this completed before realeasing T4w. The AGS GUI Buttons are more or less displaying correctly on the screen, though they don't do much else at the moment. Notable differences:
  • Dynamic Cursor not yet implemented (top).
  • VerbCoint not yet implemented (sitting happily in the top left hand corner).
  • Pixel Car missing (centre, most likely a scripting inconsistency).
  • GUI Labels not yet implemented (bottom left, 'SSH Productions' etc).
  • New inventory system not yet implemented (bottom middle, white gfx card).
  • GUI Button Text not using correct colours (bottom right - not yet sure where to find this in AGS Editor) .
Disclaimer: There's the tiniest sliver of nepotism in this post as SSH runs the AGS Blog and occasionally says some rather nice things about the XAGE project. There was also a very positive plug on xnPlay a few weeks back. All PR help is appreciated! Likewise, any developers with AGS source code they don't mind sharing - please get in touch. The more I get my hands on the more the conversion process improves.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


As requested, here's a brief overview of how everything currently fits together in XAGE land:


The game code is all stored as xml. Unlike AGS, which compiles the scripts and slaps them onto the exe, the XAGE game code is never compiled. The XAGE executable loads them it merely deserializes (loads) the xml. The only variation to that is for a finished, published XAGE game, where the xml (along with all graphics, audio etc.) is zipped up to reduce filesize. Further size savings could have been made if I'd allowed for binary serialization, but there was some good reason I've not done this (probably unsupported in Silverlight - most things are).

Friday, 4 September 2009

Criticism of XBLIG

I should qualify this post by saying that XNA is a fantastic framework and Microsoft is a darling for colluding with the Indie/Homebrew development scene. Now, with that out of the way ...

1) There are way too many non-games on the service
As a consumer and a developer, the pointless screensavers and massage applications irritate me. They clog up the service and, in all honesty, have no place on a digitial distribution channel that has "games" in the title. Conversely, as a greedy developer with bills to pay, I've had a few half-decent ideas for non-games (some of which that, amazingly, don't involve making the controllers vibrate) that could potentially make a few pounds for very little effort. As a matter of principle I've not yet gone down that path, though principles do have a habit of dissolving when unemployment pokes you with his bony finger.

2) The ones that are games have dreadful names
Biology Battle, Zoomaroom, Revenge of the Ball, Memorania, Neon Paddles. Without wishing to pick on these in particular, they do all sound awfully dull, like a game you get after painstakingly spending twenty minutes copytyping code from a 'Learn Spectrum Basic' book circa 1985.

Many XBLIGs have quite utilitarian names. Tank Strike, for instance, is admirably concise and conjures up a fairly accurate representation of the gameplay. Unfortunately this also can enforce rather low expectations for the game itself, as all curiosity and mystique are swept away the instant you read the title. It's possible to take three random words and end up with a better name for a game than most titles already on the service. Look, I'll do it now: Kaiser Raul's Fishbowl. See? I'd buy that game in a second.

3) The Box Art is even worse
A similar proportion of existing XBLIGs are cursed with generic, boring, lazy boxart. Some are downright dreadful; a garish mess of unreadable text and primary colours. The box art is where you set out your stall for the majority of your customers, so to get this so spectacularly wrong is shameful.

4) And they're all the same, aren't they?
Of every ten games, I might download the trial for one or two. For my tastes, there are far too many generic puzzlers and platformers. They may have some minor innovation in their main gameplay mechanic, but I've yet to play one that has compelled me enough to purchase it (partly because I'm a miser but also because of the lack of achievements. In many ways the 360 has ruined playing games in that I now feel I need an arbitrary little number to justify the time spent - enjoyment alone is no longer enough). With a few notable exceptions there is very little focus on storytelling or character development. Hopefully XAGE will go some way to addressing this.

Postscript: Yes, The Fourth Wall isn't a fantastic name and the box art is deliberately rubbish, so it is conveniently exempt from 2 and 3.