Xbox Live is starting to look up; with well established Indie names making their way to the Xbox in the next year with Polytron’s ‘Fez,’ and Derek Yu’s ‘Spelunky,’ heading to the XBLA in 2010, and XBLIG starting to have actual, non-massage games, the Xbox is slowly becoming an Indie portal.
However, even with these fine names coming to XBL, there’s a few things I demand before I will consider XBL a true host to the Indie community.
First and Foremost: Roguelikes, and lucky me – not one, but two roguelikes are headed to XBLIG this winter.
ASCII Quest was born out of an epic goal, yet as an indie title, quickly ran into restraints. “We realized that the game would require way too many assets; [we were] really interested in making an RPG, but full graphical RPGs take a lot more work than we had time for at the moment,” explained president of Jade Vault Games, Daniel Hanson. “I found a couple online articles on roguelike development, and that inspired me to make a quick prototype. I had begun to notice that there were many people who were asking for a roguelike on Xbox LIVE Indie Games, and realized that there was a market for this kind of game.” Thus began ASCII Quest.
Obviously, aside from crossover pc users, a roguelike will be a new experience for many console players. To this end, ASCII Quest aims to be an “easy roguelike, one that anyone could pick up and play.” Rogue veterans need not worry however, for there are several difficulty levels. The hardest of these levels incorporates several extra features, or rather, it takes away a feature (saving) in leu of another (an online high-score list, the Hall of Heroes).
Although a roguelike might seem a simple project for first-time developers, developing one for the Xbox presented some issues. Hanson explains, “Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of implementing a roguelike on Xbox 360 is creating an approachable control scheme. PC roguelikes are fond of using most of the keys on the keyboard. Instead of having a universal action key, a separate key is used for each specific action (drinking potions, equipping weapons, and so on). Obviously, this isn’t very feasible when most people have only an Xbox controller. Even something as simple as movement is difficult to get right. Roguelikes are turn-based games, and movement occurs on a tile grid.” In answer, Hanson and his crew have opted for a ‘universal action button.’
“The left thumbstick or DPad is used to aim this cursor around the character. Then the player must press the ‘A’ button to confirm movement in that direction. This ensures that all movement is precise and in the direction that the player desires, which is important in a turn-based game. Movement is also used to perform many actions; to attack an enemy, simply bump into it. In fact, bumping into anything will perform the default action with that entity (open doors, talk to NPCs, and so forth). To pick up items or to walk up/down stairs, stand over it and press ‘A.’”
With the implementation of simplified controls, as well as multiple difficulty levels, ASCII Quest will hopefully be welcomed by players on XBLIG, RL veterans and newcomers alike, when it releases this December for 80MSP ($1US).
Dungeon Adventure‘s development was inspired by the developer’s first taste of the RL community. “I picked up Rogue on the iPhone by chance one day, and became completely addicted to it. Iâ€™ve been a longtime fan of RPGs and adventure games, but am always sad when I reach the end of a game since there usually isnâ€™t much more content once youâ€™ve completed the main story arc,” said UG.
Like Hanson of Jade Vault, UG understands that there are obvious reasons no one has put a RL on Xbox yet. “Roguelikes are usually regarded as niche games. But,” adds UG, “I think they have a very wide appeal.”
“Iâ€™m trying to bridge the gap between hardcore ASCII roguelikes and more casual gamers,” says UG. Dungeon Adventure incorporates several aspects that might make it a bit easier to pick up; the most noticeable is the option to use a graphical tileset rather than the standard ASCII characters. This graphical set doesn’t break the old-school feel of the game, but will definitely make it a bit easier on players eyes, especially for those newcomers who might never have seen a traditional roguelike before. There is even an option to use your XBL avatar as the player sprite, should you so desire it.
As for the issue of controls, UG has put a ton of time into making sure the player has several options concerning how they want to control the game. Besides the ‘standard’ method, using only a few of the buttons on an Xbox controller, UG has also incorporated the Xbox ChatPad as well as USB keyboards. “And Iâ€™ve spent a lot of time just playing the game with each input device to make sure the control scheme is comfortable and easy to use on all of them. This is something that I notice is lacking in a lot of games, especially in Indie games â€“ the developer adds buttons for new actions and features as they are made, and since they are playing the game throughout its development cycle itâ€™s very hard for them to realize that someone whoâ€™s never seen the game before may have a problem memorizing a wall of button prompts!”
“One of the most difficult things to get right was movement. Roguelikes demand precise, octo-directional, digital movement, which analog thumbsticks arenâ€™t suited to at all. That probably took an entire month alone just to perfect, but it was well worth it! There are two different control schemes, one where you move the thumbstick or DPad in the direction you want to go, and another that I call Sure-Move, where you use either the thumbstick or DPad to highlight the direction you want, and hit A to move. This is also why I highly recommend hooking up a ChatPad or USB keyboard when playing, since there is just no substitute for the tactile feel of a keyboard when moving around.”
Dungeon Adventure is set to arrive on XBLIG this winter.