There was once a time we now call the “Good Old Days.” In those days, instant classics spewed forth from every developer’s spicket at such a torrid pace that there was nary an excuse to ever emerge from your parents’ basement and absorb so much as a single UV ray.
Ah yes, they were glorious, those days, weren’t they? Every game was a masterpiece of innovation and craftsmanship, and there wasn’t a single rushed sequel or licensed shovelware release in sight. Replay values were always near infinite, color palettes were consistently varied and vibrant and every single game featured stellar multiplayer and single-player modes.
There’s just one problem with the Good Old Days – they weren’t really that perfect. Certainly it was exciting to grow up during the days of gaming’s so-called Golden Age – sometime between the late ‘70s and mid ‘90s, depending on whom you ask. Everything was new and exciting back then, but not everything was necessarily better. There were good games and bad, just like today. One thing that was almost universally true, though, is that every game was much harder than modern games are. But that doesn’t mean today’s developers should rush to emulate that difficulty – at least not without providing some conceits.
“Can it really be that easy?” is the question you’ll ask after completing Fenix Rage‘s first stage. It’s a stage with that most simplest of video game objectives: move the player-character from left to right and reach the end goal. Accomplishing as much takes only a few seconds, since there are no enemies present and the distance between start and finish could practically be measured between your thumb and forefinger. Still, developer Green Lava Studios managed to insert an optional side objective into the stage. It’s possible but not necessary to collect a cookie during this almost literal hop, skip and jump from beginning to end. You would have to go out of your way not to obtain the optional cookie in this first level, but it is optional all the same.
Collecting each level’s cookie and successfully reaching the end goal naturally becomes more challenging the deeper you get into the game. In fact, it was only a handful of stages later before I was dying multiple times in the pursuit of another tempting cookie. So it’s somewhere in the game’s opening Red Forest zone that you’ll get your answer to your question: no, Fenix Rage is most certainly not that easy.
Much has been said about the game’s meeting at the intersection of Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Meat Boy. And yes, Fenix is a diminutive blue creature that is not unlike Sega’s depiction of a hedgehog. He has a dash ability that gives him some of the speed for which Sonic is known, and successful navigation of the game’s 200+ levels — a few dozen of which I’ve completed — requires liberal use of it. That really doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the frequency at which you’ll be pulling the right trigger while simultaneously pressing the B button to perform a dash. As long as there is room to do so, it’s possible to dash (and jump) endlessly.
Some levels require you to abuse the maneuver in order to take linear horizontal routes to avoid certain death by touching electrical beams above and below you. Others have blocks of ice that can be melted due to the heat generated from the friction of moving at such rapid speeds. Others still send a giant, unstoppable enemy chasing after Fenix the moment you nudge him forward from the start point. At first you might think you’re dashing enough times to win this deadly race, but you’re not. Oh, you’re so not. If you’re not dashing seemingly as many times as is physically possible, you’re going to die.
In recent interviews with Edge and Eurogamer, the makers of Braid and Super Meat Boy expressed their frustration with developing for Xbox Live Arcade. As independent developers, taking on the heated business of console development on top of development costs is more stress than its worth, say the developers.
“The overhead cost of just developing for those consoles is insane,” explained Tommy Refenes from Team Meat. “It costs zero dollars to develop on Steam if you already have a computer. When you look at PlayStation and Xbox and Nintendo, you have to buy thousand dollar dev kits and pay for certification and pay for testing and pay for localisation – you have to do all these things and at the end of the day it’s like, ‘I could have developed for other platforms and it would’ve been easier.'”
On top of development costs, there are lawyers, fees and ambiguity to sort through that cause an equally overwhelming headache. Ed McMillen from Team Meat said that to bring his studio’s games to consoles, his team would need “some magical middleman who would just appear and do all of our business for us… We went in and found out what it was like to develop for a console and the reality is there’s no loyalty on either side and it’s a business. And when you step in to that business arena it goes from us making art and it turns into business.”
Speaking to VentureBeat, SpikySnail Games Studio founder, Niv Fisher, has commented about the struggles that indie developers encounter when marketing their games on XBLA.
In particular, the developer of XBLA game The Splatters claims that the marketplace has gotten “tougher in the last couple of years, with a few titles getting lots of promotion, exposure and sales, and the rest are getting hit pretty hard.”
Fisher argues that Microsoft can do much to address the issue, particularly with regard to the current dashboard. “I feel the current dashboard just doesn’t work well as a storefront, especially if you want to encourage discovery or diversity,” explains Fisher.
“Games are hard to find, there’s no friend-recommendation system, and lots of the store promotional space goes toward non-game applications – and now, also downloadable retail games. Sales are usually poorly promoted, and dashboard placement is sold and bartered with. Small developers like us have very little to offer here and are often left on their own.”
Look after the pennies, and the pounds (or dollars, euros, pesos or whatever) will take care of themselves. Or at least, that’s what our parents used to tell us, right?
That may be sensible where traditional currency is concerned, but it’s not a strategy that converts well into MSP. Waiting for sales and bargains may be the cheapest way of buying XBLA games – but what if the game you want never goes on sale? What if everyone else has moved on and you lose out on the best bit of a fantastic co-op game like Lara Croft: GOL or a community-focused game like Section 8: Prejudice? What if you think you’re buying something you want, but actually you just bought it because it was cheap and you end up wasting MSP anyway?