Thursday, May 21, 2009

I like games

What XBOX Community Games Can Become

When I first heard about Microsoft’s plans to allow anyone to make games for the 360 I was very excited. I, like many others have dreamed about making video games since my first experience with them. Luckily I also have an interest in computing and when XNA 3.0 was released I had a rudimentary understanding of programming, and through copious use of the tutorials on the community site I was able to create my first game and release it onto the XBOX 360 YAY!! :)

Back in November 2008, I think the gaming community was holding their breath, waiting to see what this community games experiment would bring to the world of gaming. Sure, there are plenty of PC based gaming communities that function in a similar manner to the creators club, but none of them have the potential audience of the 360, or can recreate the playing conditions. Which usually involve relaxing on the sofa with friends and family.

I like the creators club, I really like the connect issue system for feedback. I am sorry if I abused it, but when I get an idea into my head, especially one concerning games and how they affect society, it’s all I can think about. I still believe that allowing for more gamers to take part in the playtesting process, and implementing quality controls on the games will have excellent results. I also have a lot of patience, which might not be completely apparent at the moment.

From my perspective, game development with XNA was fairly easy, there are still a lot of things I need to learn about, and 3D games development is a long way off for sure. But for someone who has never taken the time to understand how computers work and has simply just played the games their entire life it’s doubtful that they will be creating a game with XNA anytime soon.

You might be saying that XNA isn’t really meant to be an application that allows every gamer to make a game and then release it to the rest of the community. Perhaps, but every gamer has an idea for a game. It would be nice if there was an application that allowed them to create it. I don’t know what Microsoft’s plans are for the future of XNA, I hope they are for increasing the ease with which we can create games.

I think there definitely needs to be more community involvement in every aspect of the community games channel. I don’t think a small group of programmers can ever understand the whims of the masses. It seems like every day someone brings up an issue with the structure or processes involved with getting a community game onto the channel, and the issue is continuously disregarded. Usually the response is yes we know, that’s not how we do it. And then the thread is locked to further debate. Only to be restarted again the next day by someone else. It appears that this has been going on since November.

Here I will now outline the two simple suggestions that I have been pushing, perhaps too much in the last two months.

Let everyone with an Xbox live account playtest the games.

First the negatives

Most posts tend to describe piracy run amok, or the idea that since everyone can get our games for free, no one will ever buy them. There are millions of potential users of community games and I really doubt that all of them are going to become super playtesters overnight. Perhaps the detractors of this idea fear the currently small buying audience of community games, and the knowledge that its users are generally tech savvy, and would be more likely to join just to download all the games for free? I am a bit saddened by the state of our audience as well.

This will plunge the forums into such chaos that they might never be able to recover. This isn’t really mentioned as a possibility much, but it certainly is one.

I think that’s it for the negatives, please add some if you think there are any.

Now the positives

This would increase the community games userbase by orders of magnitude with future ramifications that are currently unpredictable. But since we want more people playing our games, the general feeling is that the future would be good.

Giving more people insight into what is involved with making a game, by contributing feedback during a games creation will surely get them more interested in making their own. This is what I thought the whole point of this experiment was.

It is sometimes easy to ignore the criticisms of one person, but when a large group of people all have the same issue with a certain feature of your game, you would be more likely to take that criticism into consideration when working on your game.

I am sure there are a lot more positives, please add some if you think of any.

The second suggestion is to put quality control checks into the peer review process.

First the negatives

I can’t think of any ;)

And the positives

Giving more power to the community regarding what games make it onto the channel will breed responsibility in the creators club members.

With an increase in quality, there will surely be an increase in the number of people who decide to check out the community games channel.

These two ideas, by themselves are fairly simple, but together they can drastically change the community games channel. Change it into something that everyone will enjoy and have fun with.

We understand that this article mentions nothing about implementing these two ideas. Implementation will actually be fairly easy, the problem is getting the XNA team to understand that the negatives posted above are not really negatives at all. Nothing that gets more community members involved in something peaceful and fun can ever be negative.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dice Game Contest $$$

1600 MS points were sent out!!

(amazon doesn't sell 800 point codes :)

Greetings! I am announcing a new contest for Ye Olde Dice Game.

The prize: 800 MS points :)

The rules: Send me a picture of your highest score from a single 1 player game of Ye Olde Dice Game. This contest starts now and ends May 31! So get rolling!

Place to send your photo: After you take a picture of your television screen with a high score, send the photo to with your total score in the subject line. Good luck.

There are two ways to obtain a copy of Ye Olde Dice Game that you can use to participate in the contest.

Download the free trial from the XBOX marketplace

Complete this short tutorial explaining how to become a trial member of the creators club and then Download Ye Olde Dice Game free of charge.
Tutorial and Link to Game File at bottom of page
(If you do complete that tutorial, please head over to the creators club forums and post if you think trial members should be able to playtest games in development!!)

The current Leader is: PlayingMantis37 with a score of 331

That's a pretty good score, you still have a few more days to beat it though! The prize could be yours!

I won't be entering the contest of course, but after PlayingMantis37 submitted his latest entry I just had to try and beat it of course :)

I will be posting regular updates about the current winning score in this post. So bookmark!!

If you have any questions about this contest please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rejoice! Ye Olde Dice Game is Here!

After much tribulations, my first XBOX community game is available on the marketplace. You can download the trial version, or purchase the full version here Ye Olde Dice Game

This game is a variation on the classic Yacht game that we all know and love. It features 4 way local multiplayer, so gather the family around the big old HDTV and start rolling!

The theme of this game was inspired by the medieval days of yore, from the art which is all out of the Book of Kells, to the excellent music which are acoustic guitar renditions of 14-17th century masterpieces performed by John Sayles. All the way down to the dice, which are from the early roman empire. Images of which were provided by Arjan Verweij.

I hope you enjoy this game! If you would like to play this game right now I have created a silverlight version that is playable in a web browser. Please note that the XBOX version is much better though. Ye Olde Dice on the Web

Also, you can rate my game on this site: XBCG Info
please do rate it if you have played it and liked it, I have a feeling that my game has garnered some votes, not from opinions on the quality of the gameplay, but from personal opinions of my character.

Alea iacta est

Orbyx - Mystic Orbs of Chaos

The Pachinko Game I have been waiting for.
(Disclaimer: I used to own an old style Pachinko Machine)

For fans of Pachinko and Peggle it needs no explanation. But in case you aren’t familiar, Orbyx involves you, a bunch of little balls that you get to shoot out of a cannon, and the rewards you get when your ball hits certain targets (pegs) on the gamescreen. Orbyx adds a breakout style paddle to the bottom of some levels which make the game just so much better.
There are a lot of other good variations in this game, moving pegs being one. Also you get to choose from four unlockable sorceress’s to play with, each with a unique spell. Spells include Multiball, Explosion, and Teleport. To cast the spell you must hit certain pegs shaped like letters to spell out the word MAGIC. Once you hit all the letters the spell is cast. Some levels can be quite difficult and you might be helped by picking the right sorceress for the situation.
There is a nice fantasy theme to this game and it is helped by a voiced introduction to the game from one of the sorceresses. Along the way through the Orbyx realm you might get some more advice from these sorceresses too. The game’s sound effects are very nice as well. I must admit, one of the reasons I play these games is for the audio feedback received when my balls hit the pegs. Orbyx delivers in this regard quite well!
I only had two small gripes with this game but they should not stop anyone from trying the game out. The fantasy theme could have easily lent itself to a more developed storyline. Maybe a future version could have some artistic cut scenes after each level to go along with the nice dialogue from the sorceresses.
I was also a little disappointed in the lack of widescreen support. Even though this game allows you to choose between 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios when you first start, the 16:9 choice just displays the main gamescreen in the center of your television with an artistic border on the sides. I would have liked the game to fill up my entire television.

If you can get past these small issues, and you really should, Orbyx will be a very fun and sometimes very challenging game.
So Shiny!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How about a nice game of dice?

A big problem with the community games channel is the lack of playtesters in the testing pool. You currently need to pay the 100 dollar entry fee into the creators club to log on and check out all the neat games being made by the community.

"But Darthy, I don't want to pay Microsoft 100 bucks just so I can test out some games!"

Hey! Guess what? You don't have to!!

By enrolling in a free 12 month trial membership to the creators club, you will gain the ability to play these games on your XBOX 360 :)

Here are a few links you should click on to do just that!
Description of the various membership levels in the creators club

Free 12-month trial membership from dream-build-play
(The easiest method)

Free 12-month trial membership from dreamspark

(requires cooperation from your school)

There are two pieces of free software that must be installed before you can deploy creators club games onto your XBOX 360. They are, Visual C# 2008 Express Edition, and XNA Game Studio 3.0. Download and install Both of these now, then come back to this posting for further instructions!!
Visual C# 2008 Express Edition (the green button)

XNA Game Studio 3.0 (link at bottom of page)

The next part can be a bit tricky, but have patience It will all be worth it!
These Instructions are taken from XNA Documentation

Step 1: Sign In to Xbox LIVE
Turn on your Xbox 360 console and sign in to Xbox LIVE.

Step 2: Download XNA Game Studio Connect

You must download XNA Game Studio Connect from Xbox LIVE Marketplace and install it on the Xbox 360 console. XNA Game Studio Connect is listed on Xbox LIVE Marketplace next to the XNA Creators Club Subscription, which may be found by selecting Game Marketplace, Community Games, Listed under X, for XNA Connect

Step 3: Connect Your XBOX 360 Console And Windows Based Computer

With your computer and console on the same subnet, follow these steps to set up a connection between your computer and your console.

Step 3A. On Your Xbox 360 Console, Generate a Connection Key:

  1. From the Xbox Dashboard, select the Games tab.

  2. From the item list, select Games Library, and click the A controller button.

  3. From the Games Library list, select My Games, and click A.

  4. Select XNA Game Studio Connect, and click A.

  5. Select Launch, and click A.
    The XNA Game Studio Connect screen appears.

  6. If the XNA Game Studio Connect screen displays a connection key, continue to step 3B.
    If the connection key does not appear, you can generate a new key by clicking the X controller button.

Step 3B. On Your Windows-Based Computer, Enter the Connection Key and Initiate the Connection

  1. From the Start menu, select Programs, select Microsoft XNA Game Studio 3.0, select XNA Game Studio Device Center, and then click the Add Device button.

  2. Enter a name for your Xbox 360 console.

  3. This name serves only to identify your Xbox 360 console to XNA Game Studio. The name does not need to correspond to any other computer or Xbox 360 name.

  4. Click Next.

  5. On the Xbox 360 display, enter the connection key displayed in XNA Game Studio Connect.
    The connection key might be somewhat hard to read on a standard television screen. Look at the guide below to help you distinguish between specific letters and numbers:
    • The number "1" has a small tick at its top left, whereas the capital letter "I" does not.
    • The number "8" does not have a straight side at the left, whereas the capital letter "B" does.
    • The number "3" has no straight side at the left, whereas the capital letter "B" does.
    • The number "0" and the capital letter "O" are so similar, XNA Game Studio Connect treats those characters as the same character. Therefore, the number "0" and the capital letter "O" are interchangeable.
    • If the connection key seems difficult to read, click X to generate a new connection key.

  6. Once you are sure that the two keys match, Click Next on the XNA Game Studio Devices dialog box.
    XNA Game Studio Device Center will test the connection with the Xbox 360 console.
    If the connection is successful, the XNA Game Studio Device Center on the Windows-based computer will display "Successfully connected to the Xbox 360 console." XNA Game Studio Connect on the Xbox 360 console will display "Waiting for computer connection" followed by the name you have chosen for your Xbox 360 console in the XNA Game Studio Device Center.
    If the XNA Game Studio Device Center fails to connect to the Xbox 360 console, click Try again to edit the connection key and try again. If the connection continues to fail, make a careful note of the error message displayed at the bottom of the XNA Game Studio Devices dialog box. This error message can help you or a technician diagnose the cause of the connection failure, if it did not result from mismatched keys. For more information about troubleshooting a failed connection, see Troubleshooting Xbox 360 Game Deployment.

  7. Click Finish.
    The name you gave to your Xbox 360 console will be listed in the XNA Game Studio Device Center. From now on, your computer and your console can connect to each other easily.

That wasn't so bad now was it :) The good news you can now easily deploy creators club games to your XBOX!! Just remember that you have to open XNA Game Studio Connect on your XBOX and Launch it before you install any game. Its found in your community games section.

Now, for the last piece of the puzzle. Since trial memberships don't allow access to the playtesting forums on the creators club site, Creators are going to have to make their games available over the web for trial members to play and hopefully provide some constructive feedback!

To get things started I've made my game available on windows skydrive.

Ye Olde Dice Game.ccgame

Just save it to your harddrive, and if you've followed the steps above, doubleclicking it should install it to your XBOX! It's that easy.

If you have a game that you want to make available, just upload it to skydrive or somewhere else and send me the link. We might have to make some more room here for all the feedback I hope!