Xbox Live Indie Games

A 2D RETROSPECTIVE
Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) launched on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 platform on November 19, 2008* as Xbox Live Community Games, and eventually expanded into a library of more than 3,000 games. Games for the service were created using XNA Game Studio, which received periodic updates until the program reached its end of life in April 2014. The XBLIG marketplace continued to operate until it was taken down on October 7, 2017.

NOTABLE 2D ACTION GAMES ON XBOX LIVE INDIE GAMES

* Note: Numbers and dates in this article refer to those in the United States. The service was rolled out in some territories at later dates, and remained unavailable in some parts of the world. Additionally, not all games were available in all territories.



OVERVIEW
At the time of XBLIG’s inception, PC digital distribution platforms had yet to become prolific, Steam was a largely closed system, Apple's App Store had just launched, and mobile development was limited the kinds of games that could be created for touch-driven platforms. As such, for a time, Xbox Live Indie Games was one of the best ways for resource-constrained developers to get their products in front of players.

Aside from a low annual developer’s fee ($99), and a community-centered peer review process, there was little in the way of developers putting their games onto a home console and taking advantage of the Xbox 360 hardware... something that was unprecedented in the historically tightly-controlled console market. Certain limitations were placed on the developers, such as a maximum eight minute demo time (originally four minutes), a required network connection to launch games, and the inability to have official Achievements and leaderboards (although clever developers were able to create their own leaderboards). On the other hand, Microsoft did allow developers to create games using its avatar system (running contrary to Nintendo, which refused to let outside developers use their Mii characters) and create online multiplayer games.

The service launched with a tiered pricing structure, allowing developers to release games at 200, 400, or 800 Microsoft Points (MSP), which was equivalent to US $2.50, $5, and $10, with the limitation that games over 50MB could not be priced at the lowest tier. In August of 2009, the pricing structure changed, due in part to Xbox Live Arcade games and other digital releases appearing with greater frequency at the $10 price point. The new structure allowed for a minimum $1 price, as well as $3 and $5 tiers (80, 240, and 400 MSP), after which an increasing number of games were released with a $1 price tag. The 50MB limit for the lowest tier was increased to 150MB, and eventually the file size restriction was raised to 500MB for all tiers. Regardless of the price point, Microsoft retained 30% of the game’s revenue, with the remaining 70% going to the developer.

Hopes were high leading into the launch of the service, with representatives from Microsoft speculating that developers would not only be given a great venue in which to showcase their games, but could make a great deal of money in the process, “taking home more income from four months of sales than the average U.S. citizen earns in a full year.” However, post-release feedback from developers indicated that sales were generally modest.

After the launch of the service, Xbox Live Indie Games seemed to suffer something of an identity crisis, shifting locations around the Xbox 360 dashboard several times, often making it more difficult for consumers to locate these games. Indeed, many Xbox 360 owners never downloaded a single XBLIG title, and some remained unaware that the service even existed.

Throughout the years, there have been many notable games released on XBLIG, many of which were exclusive to the service. However, the low barriers for entry eventually caused the market to be saturated with a number of poor quality titles, making it difficult for players to find games worth playing, despite the introduction of a rating system. A number of independent news sites provided information and reviews for XBLIG releases, but these games were largely ignored by the mainstream press after the initial launch of the service.

Still, it was a wild ride while it lasted, and there were a handful of developers who made the service worthwhile, some of whom used this as a springboard toward a full-time career in game development. To that end, we’re taking a chronological look at the notable developers of 2D action games who found their place on Xbox Live Indie Games...



2008: A NEW FRONTIER
At the end of 2008, Xbox Live Indie Games launched, and Microsoft kicked things off with a press conference to showcase some of the games that would be available on the service.



Xbox Live Indie Games launched with a bang, courtesy of Mommy’s Best Games, headed by industry veteran (and co-founder of 8 Bit Horse) Nathan Fouts, whose previous credits included Postal 2 from Running With Scissors, as well as Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction and Resistance: Fall of Man from Insomniac Games.

Weapon of Choice was a launch title for Xbox Live Indie Games. This run and gun shooter features multiple playable characters that are unlocked as the player rescues them within levels. Each character comes equipped with his or her own unique weapon as they battle their way through hordes of aliens in a game that features branching paths and multiple endings. The game also introduces Death Brushing, whereby time slows down time when the player is in immediate danger. In 2015, the game was released on Steam.


The studio followed this up with Shoot 1UP, which launched on XBLIG in 2010 and had a Windows Mobile port in 2012. This game is a shmup where the player can earn dozens 1UPs that instantly join in on the action, allowing the player to control up to 30 ships at once, with additional powerups and 2P co-op that allow for up to 60 player-controlled ships onscreen at a time for maximum firepower. In 2015, the game was released on Steam.


Later in 2010, Mommy’s Best Games made their entry in the seldom-explored 2D mech combat genre with Explosionade, hearkening back to such titles as Cybernator and Metal Warriors. The game grants the player an unlimited supply of grenades and sends him through 40 arena-style combat areas, facing off against mechs, monsters, and bosses. In 2015, an enhanced version of the game was released on Steam.


In 2011, the studio released a game meant to highlight some of the shortcomings of the Xbox Live Indie Games service which, at the time, had been relocated to an obscurely-named section of the dashboard called “Game Type”. Mommy’s Best Games' horizontal caravan shmup – called Game Type – requires players to navigate a confusing dashboard before they are able to locate and play the actual game, and then do battle against subjects of the system’s annoying advertisements.


What came next: In 2011, Mommy’s Best Games took part in the development of the Serious Sam indie gaming series, headed by publisher Devolver Digital, as a means to promote the then-upcoming Serious Sam 3: BFE. This indie series included a mobile game called Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack from Be-Rad Entertainment, a turn-based RPG called Serious Sam: The Random Encounter from Vlambeer, and Serious Sam: Double D from Mommy’s Best Games, which offered a 2D take on the otherwise 3D series. While the game was initially released for the PC, an enhanced version of the game, called Serious Sam: Double D XXL, was released for Xbox Live Arcade in 2013, featuring 2P co-op, dozens of new weapons, and an upgrade system. These enhancements were later added to the PC version as well.





Another early explorer of the XBLIG frontier was Ishisoft, headed by Craig Forester. Ishisoft released Johnny Platform’s Biscuit Romp, a 65-level hop ‘n bop platformer that got its start as a Nintendo DS homebrew title… thus resulting in vertically oriented single-screen levels. Players must jump on enemies, avoid spikes and fire spouts, push boxes, roll biscuits (cookies in American English), and collect coffee. The studio followed this up with Johnny Platform Saves Christmas in 2009, taking Johnny’s running and jumping abilities into 100 new stages, adding a new horizontal roll technique that allows for tougher challenges, and a more traditional widescreen presentation.


Prior to working in the XBLIG world, Ishisoft released a game called Treasure Treasure Fortress Forage in 2008, a chunky low-res puzzle platformer that centered on the use of two playable characters, allowing for 2P local co-op, or single player via character swapping. Ishisoft released an enhanced port to Xbox Live Indie Games in 2010 called Treasure Treasure Fortress Forage: Extra Edition, featuring a higher resolution, greenscale Game Boy-style graphics, and dynamic splitscreen play. Players must use each character’s abilities to solve puzzles and assist each other in finding 21 treasure chests hidden around the environment.


Developer interview: We interviewed Craig Forrester to discuss some of the GameBoy titles that inspired him, how his education helped him in the development of his games, and his fascination with treasure chests:


During the course of these game releases, Craig Forrester worked professionally with other studios on various titles, and continued to participate in game jams. In 2011, he worked on a collaborative project called Upbot Goes Up for XBLIG. This is a puzzle game featuring a series of robots that can each move in a different direction (i.e., Upbot goes up, Downbot goes down, etc.). Craig also created some sprite art for Wadjet Eye Games’ adventure title Puzzle Bots, released in 2010.


What came next: Ishisoft went on to develop Leilani’s Island, a tropical platformer.





2009: THE WILD WILD WEST
After a few big indie hits – and an engaged reception from the press – numerous developers decided to test the waters themselves, many of them first-time developers.



Developer Smudged Cat Games, headed by David Johnston, is probably best known for The Adventures of Shuggy, a full-blown Xbox Live Arcade title that was released in 2011 after a lengthy development period (which began in 2007) and a problematic release when the game’s initial publisher was bought out and terminated their contract. The game is a puzzle platformer that focuses on a cartoony purple vampire that inherits a haunted mansion and must rid it of spirits by completing more than 100 challenging levels, featuring time travel, gravity rotation, and 2P co-op. Ultimately, the game was too late to market and was released with little fanfare, resulting in poor sales.


Smudged Cat did release some of the minigames that were originally planned for inclusion in The Adventures of Shuggy, both of which came to Xbox Live Indie Games. These became A Bomb’s Way, released in 2009, and The Tower: A Bomb’s Climb, released in 2010. A Bomb’s Way is modeled after the arcade classic Bomb Jack with its single screen environments and floaty jumps, but instead of collecting bombs before they explode, you control a bomb with a lit fuse who has to collect clocks to extend his fuse, and players can rotate levels at 90 degree angles to shift gravity.


In The Tower: A Bomb’s Climb, you do not have direct control over the bomb. Instead, you control the arc of its jump to avoid fire rising up from below. The game is meant to be played in multiplayer, with up to 4 players each controlling their own bombs, grabbing powerups, and attempting to quickly ascend the tower while causing their friends to fall into the fire below.


Also in 2010, Smudged Cat released Time Slip on XBLIG, a game that David originally created for the Playstation Net Yaroze way back in The Before Times of 1999. The game features a snail that is caught in a time loop. While the player is free to navigate the environment, the snail is sent back in time every 30 seconds. From there, you can continue traveling, but you must be aware that your 30-seconds-ago self is out there roaming around as well. You must avoid direct contact with your former self lest you cause a paradox, which ends the game.


In 2011, Smudged Cat released a wholly original title on XBLIG, called Growing Pains, a platformer featuring a character that cannot stop growing. David was inspired by his ever-growing pregnant wife and decided to make a game about scale, where you must use your relative size to your advantage to navigate the environment and avoid obstacles, all the while collecting rainbow keys to open the door and make your escape into the next room before you become too large to continue.


Smudged Cat further toyed with reality and scale in their 2012 XBLIG release Gateways, which focuses on a scientist who has invented a teleportation device. In addition to Portal-esque puzzle-solvery and tomfoolery, the professor can also create gateways of different sizes, allowing him to transport himself to another location as a larger or smaller version of his former self. And, to further break your gooey grey bits, he eventually gains the ability to manipulate time and gravity as well.


Smudged Cat went on to revisit the subject of scale with their XBLIG release Infinite Doodle in 2013, a drawing tool that allows users to zoom in and out as far as they like.


What came next: The studio released Adventures of Shuggy and Gateways on Steam in 2012, and released Growing Pains on Steam in 2014.





Developer Fun Infused Games, headed by Kris Steele, started things off big in 2009 with Nasty, a 100-level action game with single player and 2P local co-op throughout. Players run and jump through single screen environments that often wrap around on themselves, allowing players and enemies alike to run off one side of the screen and appear on the other, or fall down through the floor to emerge from the ceiling. In addition to 8-way fire, players can grab numerous powerups that include penetrating bullets, damage multipliers, increased jump height, and even a number of weapon upgrades, giving them better odds against enemies and bosses.


Developer interview: We interviewed Kris Steele to discuss Nasty, including his gaming influences, his development process, and his decisions regarding the art style and gameplay:


Fun Infused returned to XBLIG in the following year with a somewhat less ambitious game, Abduction Action, which features four levels of UFO-piloting action as you attempt to grab people and livestock while the military tries to shoot you down. An enhanced version of the game was later released on XBLIG as Abduction Action Plus, featuring improved artwork. In 2015, an enhanced version of this game was released on Steam.


Fun Infused continued to develop for Xbox Live Indie Games as their primary platform, releasing Hypership Out of Control in 2010 (which was also later enhanced and released as Hypership Still Out of Control in 2012), an old-school arcade-style action game that has you piloting a spaceship that can’t slow down. You must avoid obstacles while hurtling through space, and collect coins to build up your score multiplier. The game features numerous modes that alter the way you play the game, from a normal 3-lives mode, to a hardcore 1-life mode, to a super speed mode where your ship accelerates nonstop, and a mode called "coin down" where you must constantly collect coins to stay alive. In 2015, the game was released on Steam.


Fun Infused didn’t just create action games, however; in 2011, they released an avatar-based trivia game called Trivia or Die, which they followed up with Trivia or Die: Movie Edition in 2013. In 2011, they released Volchaos, a game where you collect gems while attempting to outrun ever-rising lava, which was brought to Steam in 2015. In 2012, they released 2D Voxel Madness, a game that mixes platforming and the contemporarily popular mining genre, minus the voxels… sort of. In 2013, they released a modern take on Atari’s classic arcade game Centipede with Bad Caterpillar, which was brought to Steam in 2016.






In 2009, established developer Arkedo – known for Nervous Brickdown and Big Bang Mini on the Nintendo DS – decided to start an interesting experiment, whereupon they would release a new game every month, each focusing on a simple gameplay concept. The experiment ended after only three games, but it drew some attention to XBLIG as a platform and showed promise for what could be done with limited resources. Collectively, these three games are known as the Arkedo Series. In 2012, the series was also released on Playstation 3 via PSN.


The first game, Arkedo Series 01 - Jump!, focuses on the jump mechanic, starting things out with some basic platforming and then ratcheting up the difficulty in a hurry. Players must seek out bombs in each level and make it to the exit before they detonate, while avoiding enemies and spikes. There are no save points and no continues, so players must complete the entire 30-level experience in one sitting, all the while grabbing coins to unlock more challenging levels.


Arkedo Series 02 - Swap! is a match 4 puzzle game that allows players to swap blocks horizontally and vertically, with bigger scores gained by achieving combos. Players can clear out large sections of blocks by lining up four lightning bolts and causing an explosion.


Arkedo Series 03 - Pixel! is the most ambitious of the series, and it’s the one that broke the original 1-month promise. This time around, the studio brought in the assistance of Pasta Games (Maestro! Jump in Music) instead of using the 2-man development process as was done in the previous games. The game is a platformer featuring a cat who runs around a variety of strange environments, avoiding dangers and hopping on enemies. This game focuses on pixels, not only as an aesthetic but as a gameplay concept, as players can zoom in on certain blocks and move around a pixel at a time in puzzle-based mini-games.


What came next: After Pixel, the studio left Xbox Live Indie Games in favor of other platforms. Pasta Games went on to put the pixelated cat into Pix’n Love Rush and Pix the Cat. Arkedo went on to release OMG: Our Manic Game, a bullet hell shmup for Windows Mobile in 2010, followed by a large-scale multiplatform title, Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit in 2012.


Hell Yeah was published by Sega and had a great deal of promise, featuring detailed visuals, a wry sense of humor, and a large cartoonish world with 100 unique monsters to seek out and destroy. There are some great moments in the game, and a good deal of fun to be had in short bursts, but the game suffers from some control issues and a general lack of novelty once the player has seen all of the QTE-induced finishing moves. Arkedo was built upon delivering beautiful games that explored a small number of mechanics that were enjoyable in small doses. With Hell Yeah, they extended this design philosophy to create an experience that is enjoyable for the first couple of hours, but ultimately becomes stale when spread out across a full-length game.


Having overextended itself, and failing to secure a new project after the release of Hell Yeah, the studio announced that it was shutting down. While no new games would be produced, the studio would work to release its last two remaining titles. In 2013, they released Poof vs. The Cursed Kitty to home computers, which places cutesy character designs into a mixture of platforming and tower defense gameplay. Following the closure of the studio, cofounder Aurelian Regard set out on his own, with his first new release being The Next Penelope, a combat racing game, which was well-received.






Bootdisk Revolution was quite prolific on Xbox Live Indie Games, releasing Frequency and Soaring Santa in 2009; Plucky’s 3D Adventure, The Impossible Avatar Getaway, Avatar Takedown, Avatars vs Zombies, and Avatar Mini-Putt Challenge in 2010; GrappleBoy in 2011; and Bleed in 2012. Bleed is notable as one of the earlier titles to release near-simultaneously on XBLIG and home computers, and it commanded the full $5 price tag on XBLIG to keep the pricing consistent across platforms. Bleed is a run and gun action game with a focus on combo-based aerial acrobatics and bullet time, and it features a purple-haired heroine working to take down all of the world’s former heroes who have become corrupt with power.


What came next: The studio would go on to bring several of their previous XBLIG titles to PC, and develop a new PC/Mac game entitled The Useful Dead. The studio followed up Bleed with Bleed 2 on Steam in 2017.






Kydos Studio started small in 2009 with a block-based puzzler for iOS called Block Challenge, and a basic volleyball game for XBLIG and iOS titled Powa Volley Classic. In 2010, they also had a music app/game on XBLIG called My Band that allowed players to make music using an Xbox 360 controller or compatible instruments. But 2010 also marked the release of Soul, one of the standout atmospheric action games on XBLIG. The game features a newly released soul as it rises out of the body of a dead patient in a hospital room, and it must make its way to heaven by passing through a number of grimy environments while avoiding toothy shadow creatures, traps, and touching the walls, each of which will destroy the soul instantly. The game was also released on iOS with tilt controls.


Kydos Studio also showcased a very promising-looking game called Lumi, which took home the top prize in Microsoft’s 2010 Dream Build Play competition. Lumi is a visually stunning title featuring a ball of light that can run, jump, slide, launch itself from cannons, and attract itself to floating points in the environment. Using positive or negative polarities, the ball of light can orbit red or blue gravity points and fling itself from one to the next. Unfortunately, the game is a bit unbalanced and features numerous sections where players must execute multiple precision jumps in a row with no way to recover from a bad launch.





2010: I’D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR
In August of 2009, Microsoft introduced the $1 minimum price for Xbox Live Indie Games, which initiated the XBLIG “race to the bottom”, with more and more budget releases hitting the service in 2010 and beyond. 2010 also marked the first year of the Indie Games Uprising, which occurred annually from 2010-2012 and showcased a number of notable indie games in a bid to attract additional media and player attention to the Xbox Live Indie Games channel.



Headed by Raymond Teo, Rayteoactive introduced Tobe to the gaming world with Tobe’s Vertical Adventure, which launched a series of games starring the character. The original game is a platformer that has Tobe – with an optional second player in local 2P co-op – descending into a critter-filled world packed with gems. Each stage takes place in two phases. In the first, Tobe descends while grabbing collectibles and rescuing animals, until he reaches the treasure chest at the bottom of the environment. Upon opening the chest, the place begins to crumble, and Tobe has a limited time to climb back up to the surface while the environment crumbles and changes around him, blocking off previously accessible paths and opening new ones.


Developer interview: We interviewed Raymond to discuss his gaming influences, his decisions regarding the art style and gameplay, and his overall development process. The interview was conducted by phone and the audio quality is a bit low, so be sure to enable captions when watching this video:


What came next: Raymond later renamed his company to Secret Base brought Tobe's Vertical Adventure to Steam 2011, as well as releasing a pair of Flash-based Tobe spinoffs titled Tobe’s Hookshot Escape and Tobe’s Great Escape, as well as an iOS game called Tobe & Friends Hookshot Escape. Secret base also developed Bitejacker, a game based on the Bytejacker indie review site/show.






Lethal Martini Games began their XBLIG life with MechFish in 2010, a horizontal shmup where the player controls a robotic fish that must blow up mechanical fish and sea mines, and must occasionally jump up out of the water to avoid obstacles.


The developer followed this up in 2011 with the unwieldly-named I Accidentally …In Space! Episode 1: “Hostile Hustle”, a game that mixes two genres: the platformer and the starfield shmup. Waves of enemies enter the playfield, and the protagonist must navigate platforms to climb higher and meet them, gaining point multipliers by pressing ever upward. Obstacles litter the platforming sections, so the player must be careful to avoid danger as he moves, but also be on the lookout for powerups that allow him to deliver bullety death to the hostile forces above him. While there was never an Episode 2, the developer did follow up the game with an enhanced version in 2012 simply titled Hostile Hustle.






WAM! Games released two games on XBLIG: a 3D version of peg solitaire called Pegzo, and Retrofit: Overload. Retrofit: Overload was planned as the first in a series of Retrofit games that would bring back gameplay from classic titles, updated with modern technology, but no other games were released in the series. Retrofit: Overload is a modern take on the Galaga formula, and was released two years after Namco Bandai’s Galaga Legions, which was also an modern take on the Galaga formula. The game holds closer to its Galaga roots than Legions, offering enemies that fly onto the screen in a line, with some taking their spot in the formation above, while others break off from the line to dive bomb the player. Every few levels, the player enters a challenge area where he must destroy choreographed waves of enemies with a point bonus awarded for destroying them all. In addition to the flashy graphics, a few new gameplay elements are introduced in the form of score multipliers, shields, bosses, and powerups that allow the player to add more ships to his fleet (rather than having them captured and rescued), adding extra firepower.






On XBLIG, Tricktale released PyroManic – Solo in 2009, Vampire Rage in 2010, and Diehard Dungeon in 2012. PyroManic - Solo is a twitch puzzler where players match the face buttons on the Xbox 360 controller to those of fruits and other objects falling from the top of the screen, wiping them out before they penetrate the shield. Destroying these objects builds up a meter that allows players to initiate a shield blast that wipes out multiple objects, or a “Gigga Beam” attack, which is a spinning rainbow-like beam that can destroy objects of any color. There are score items, point multipliers, and several powerups, including the ability to slow down time, a screen clearing bomb, and an instant fill for the Gigga Beam.


Vampire Rage is a vertical shmup featuring a vampire flying through four detailed worlds, blasting enemies, and dodging or deflecting swarms of pink bullets. Players can blast bullets in a spread or hold the button for stronger concentrated fire to take down tougher foes and bosses, at the cost of a slower movement speed. An advanced tactic involves deflecting enemy bullets, and deflecting a large number of them allows the player to create a bomb that does massive damage.


What came next: The developer went on to bring its roguelike dungeon crawler Diehard Dungeon to Steam in 2013.






CSR Studios (a.k.a. Can’t Strafe Right) got their start with Last Line of Defence and Break the Invaders in 2010, and Super Tank Run in 2011. Super Tank Run is an auto-scrolling game where players drive a tank down a 4-lane highway at high speeds, dodging obstacles in the roadway while attempting to grab coins. Coins speed up the tank a bit, making things more challenging, and the goal of the game is to make it as far as possible before running into something. Other game modes include a 60-second timed run, another that places enemy tanks on the road that must be dodged or destroyed, and another that has players launching the tank’s turret through the air and going for the longest distance. The game also features a controller-passing 8P mode.


Later in 2011, CSR released their belt-scrolling zombie shooter Dead Pixels: An 8-Bit Zombie Sim, which was popular enough to warrant a Steam release in 2012 and the development of a sequel. The game plays out like a River City Ransom-style beat-em-up, except the barfing punks are replaced with flesh-eating zombies, and fists are replaced with guns. The player scrolls slowly through 20 streets, blasting away at zombies with handguns, shotguns, machine guns, and explosives. Supplies are limited, so players must loot stores to secure additional ammo and better weapons, and find shops that allow weapons to be upgraded. You can also increase your hero’s basic stats, giving him more life, the strength to carry more items, and the ability to run more quickly. Zombies come in a number of varieties, from the standard slow lopers, to acid spitters, to fast runners.






MagicalTimeBean is known for two separate franchises – Soulcaster and Escape Goat – both of which got their start on Xbox Live Indie Games. Soulcaster came first in 2010, followed not long after by a sequel, and both games were later ported to home computers. In these games, the player takes on the role of a wizard who must make his way through a dangerous land. However, the wizard does not have any offensive abilities of his own, and rather must summon champions to protect him: a warrior, an archer, and an alchemist. Each of these characters has his or her own unique abilities, with the warrior striking with melee attacks, the archer targeting foes at a distance, and the alchemist tossing bombs over walls, and these abilities can be upgraded. The player does not have direct control over these characters, so he must strategically place them to take advantage of the environment, such as placing the warrior near narrow passages or placing the archer so that she can pick off enemies across a river.


Escape Goat was released on Xbox Live Indie Games in 2011, and was followed up with a home computer port in 2013 and a (non-XBLIG) sequel in 2014. These games star a purple goat who has been imprisoned for the crime of witchcraft, as well as a wall-climbing mouse that uses a magic hat for teleportation. The goat and his mouse companion must navigate a series of puzzle platforming environments and rescue a number of imprisoned sheep. The first game offers chunky single-screen environments with complex block movement and switch puzzles in a variety of themed areas, such as an electrically charged lab, a factory filled with conveyor belts and exploding powder kegs, and a quarry with spinning saw blades running up and down the walls.


What came next: The studio went on to develop Escape Goat 2, which features a higher resolution illustrative art style with advanced lighting effects. In addition to the magic hat, a cape lets the mouse teleport straight upward, swapping between the floor and ceiling, dashing across the room, and killing enemies on his own. The mouse can also grab a hammer that allows it to be transformed into a solid block, and a scepter that allows the goat to deploy multiple mouse copies in the environment. In addition to these changes, the game is about double the size of the original, featuring more than 100 levels, many of which may be selected in any order, just as in the first game.






Radiangames was one of the most prolific XBLIG developers, at least for a short time. Over the course of 2010 alone, the developer released JoyJoy, Crossfire, Inferno, Fluid, Fireball, and Crossfire 2, with Ballistic released in 2011. Since that time, the developer brought a number of these games to home computers, often with enhancements, as well as some iOS ports.



Radiangames’ first release was JoyJoy, a twin stick shooter that set itself apart from others on the market – such as Geometry Wars and I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1NIT!!!1 – by labeling itself as the “happy twin-stick shooter”. The game replaces the typical blacks and neons with desaturated primary and secondary colors and loads of graphical flourishes, giving it a unique aesthetic. Each of the available weapon drops offers strengths and weaknesses, such as powerful short-range weapons, wide weak sprays, and homing missiles that offer an advantage against distant enemies but are less useful up-close.


Crossfire is the studio’s take on Space Invaders, with enemy formations marching back and forth across the screen. The twist here is that the player’s ship can teleport from one side of the screen to the other, attacking the formation from both sides. This is used strategically to dodge projectiles and take down enemies that are shielded against attacks from one direction. Enemy ships can change directions as well, so the player must be wary of warping into the line of fire on the opposite side of the screen. The game features 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies, which the player can blast away with multi-shot weapon upgrades.


Later in the year, the studio released Crossfire 2, which has similar gameplay, but a greater focus on upgrades. Every couple of levels, the player enters a shop where he can spend points to upgrade the ship’s health, speed, power, firing rate, bullet spread, and the effects of its limited ammo secondary weapon. The sequel starts out faster than the first game and offers 60 new enemy waves. An enhanced version of these two games was released as Super Crossfire on PC, Mac, and iOS, with the upgrade system, 150 waves, and several new unlockables.


Inferno is one of the more robust games in the studio’s catalogue, offering the twin-stick shooting of JoyJoy with the exploration, gate keys, and enemy spawners found in Gauntlet. Players must blast their way through a number of abstract circular enemies and pivoting turrets. A shop system allows the player to purchase much-needed upgrades to deal with an ever-growing force of powerful enemies. Shops allow players to upgrade their weapons and ship speed, as well as purchase keys, screen-clearing bombs, and hovering options that supplement their firepower. This game was later released on other platforms as Inferno+, remixing the original 30 levels and adding 10 more, and also adding in a couple of new enemy types and bosses.


Fluid is a 30-level dot-eating game with power pellets, teleporters, and swarms of enemies. Fireball is an overhead arena-style game where you control a fireball to lure ice enemies together and destroy them with huge explosions. Ballistic, the final game in the game-a-month series, is another arena twin-stick shooter which adds in a shop system to let players customize their ship and weapons. Fireball and Ballistic also saw enhanced versions on other platforms.

What came next: Following this XBLIG series, Radiangames worked on developing computer and mobile ports of these titles, as well as new original mobile games in the form of Slydris and CRUSH, and a licensed title in the form of The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville. The studio went on to develop Inferno 2, which was released on Steam in 2015.






My Owl Software has two titles to its credit, having released Apple Jack in 2010 and Apple Jack 2 in 2012, both originating on Xbox Live Indie Games, and released together on PC as Apple Jack 1&2 in 2013. The Apple Jack games are inspired by the mechanics behind Super Mario Bros. 2 where players could pick up and toss enemies and objects. In the Apple Jack games, the player picks up pandas, washing machines, and other objects and hurls them into one another, destroying each of them in the process and leaving behind fruit. Destroying multiple enemies in succession increases a combo meter that spills even more fruit. In addition to the platforming challenges, many levels are puzzle-based, requiring players to ride enemies to bypass obstacles, fling color-coded enemies into one another, push blocks, and flip switches.






Magiko Gaming released a number of titles over the span of XBLIG, including Platformance: Castle Pain in 2010, and Bunker Buster, Platformance: Temple Death, and Who is God in 2011. Bunker Buster features a plane moving slowly across the screen, and the player is tasked with dropping bombs on enemy buildings and vehicles below, while avoiding friendlies. Bombs can also blow holes in the environment, and sometimes players must clear away obstructions to open a clear shot to the targets below. The game features 32 single-screen levels and six different kinds of aircraft, ranging from planes to helicopters to jetpack soldiers.


The Platformance games are unique in that they each feature a large single world, and the player can zoom the camera in and out to see an up-close view of the action, some of the surrounding area, or the entire game world. Things in the game world are going all the time, and hazards sometimes impact the player more than once, such as rising fireballs that the player must cross over multiple times, a river that transitions into a waterfall and then into an underwater area… or rows of birds that poop on him from above.


Throughout the games, a ghost constantly chases you, requiring that you stay on the move, and getting killed by the ghost means starting over from scratch. Both games were ported to Windows Mobile in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and both were released on PC in 2012.


What came next: The studio went on to develop Platformines, which was released on Steam in 2014 and published by Bandai Namco. The game mixes platforming with the then-burgeoning mining subgenre that sees players descending into a procedurally generated subterranean world to fight enemies and search for hidden treasures. Gathering resources if of primary importance as it allows you to increase your arsenal and press further into danger in pursuit of more valuable minerals.






Merge the Memory Bit Studios released several lo-fi games in 2010, including Block Puzzle’s Revenge, Run Rectangle! Jump! Shoot!, and Null Divide. Null Divide is an action-adventure title that features a ship traveling through nonlinear exploration-based environments. The game does have some simple quests that involve finding a key to open a particular door, but the more clever progression comes from locating powerups that increase your abilities and allow you to move into areas that you could not previously. Control is dual analogue, with one stick moving the ship and the other firing, allowing for an equal mix of action and exploration. The game also features several boss fights.


In 2011, the studio released Mute Crimson, an action platformer starring a ninja. The game is graphically very simple but has a robust set of mechanics, acting as a sort of study in platformer mechanics, with each level exploring different gameplay elements, including blowing wind, falling objects that act as platforms, chase sequences, conveyor belts, and complex gravity effects. The ninja can jump, double jump, slash enemies for 1-hit kills, climb vertical surfaces, and walk hand-over-hand in certain areas, while avoiding rows of spikes, arrow-shooting blocks, and huge lasers. The game also features a number of large boss creatures.


Developer interview: We interviewed Patrick Derosby, the one-man team behind Merge the Memory Bit Studios, who discusses the games that influenced him, what goes into designing a good action game, and how he settled on the game’s limited color palette and pixellated art style:


What came next: In 2013, the studio released an enhanced freeware version of Null Divide on home computers as Null Divide+. Following this, studio founder Patrick Derosby teamed up with artist and composer Thomas Smith to form Iced Lizard Games. Under this label, they revisited Mute Crimson with an enhanced version of the game entitled Mute Crimson+, offering greatly enhanced graphics, remixed level layouts and boss encounters, and an entirely new final area. The game was released on Steam in 2015.






Mediatonic entered the XBLIG marketplace with a port of their PSP-exclusive Playstation Mini game entitled Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess, featuring updated visuals and a high definition presentation. The game stars “The Duke”, a purplish vampire in a snappy outfit who somewhat resembles The Count from Sesame Street. The premise of the game is that The Duke hears a loud noise, finds his princess missing, and assumes that she has been kidnapped by other monsters. This begins a game-long killing spree as players ascend a vertical shaft in chase of some innocent monster as it attempts to flee The Duke’s misdirected wrath. The game features an interesting combo system where players try to avoid stepping on the same platform twice, and building this up allows players to unleash stronger attacks against the monsters.


What came next: The studio’s library consists largely of licensed mobile games. In 2013, they developed Foul Play, published by Devolver Digital for multiple platforms. Continuing with their colorful brand of humor, the game is a beat ‘em up that plays out as a theatrical performance, staged to tell the (exaggerated) tales of a great adventurer named Baron Dashforth. The studio is also known for their work on the bizarre Hatoful Boyfriend, a pigeon dating simulator.






DeRail Games put out a series of games starring Hug, a smiley emoticon. The “Hug Trilogy” consisted of Jump’n Bounce and Panic Attack – The Devil’s Favorite Game, which were both released in 2010, followed by CTG in 2011. The studio also released the unrelated game, Shock and Awe, later in 2011.


The games in the trilogy were loosely connected, with Jump’n Bounce starring Hug in a platforming environment where he can’t stop bouncing. Players must survive 50 spike-filled single-screen environments, with only a double jump and ground smash at their disposal. Panic Attack is speed-based and sees the player attempting to outrun descending sawblades and other obstacles. Touching striped platforms builds up a Turbo meter, allowing the player to unleash a bit of extra speed in a pinch.


CTG features an alley cat attempting to kill as many grannies as possible using four different types of weapons, and the yellow Hug-based emoticons now bounce around the environment breaking blocks and causing havoc.


Developer interview: We interviewed Truc Duong of DeRail Games and discussed the developer's gaming influences, the decisions regarding the art style and gameplay, and the overall development process:


What came next: In 2012, the studio released Shadow of the Game on PC, an RPG with a branching story featuring a game within a game that plays on MMO tropes.






Ron Bunce’s Dark Castle Software released only one game on XBLIG: Gravitron 360 (a.k.a. Gravitron X) in 2010, which was a port of Gravitron 2, released on PC in 2008. The games were follow-ups to Gravitron from 2008. Gravitron 360 centers around gravity-based spaceship shooting inspired by the likes of Gravitar, Thrust, and Oids. Players must manage their fuel levels while blasting enemies, stopping to pick up stranded scientists, refueling when possible, and destroying reactors to set off a chain reaction that destroys the entire planet… forcing players to get out as quickly as possible before being caught in the blast.






Before making their run at XBLIG, 8bits Fanatics released Takeshi no Chosenjo (a.k.a. Challenge from Kiyoshi), an extremely challenging platformer with elements that would appear in the developer’s later games; Kolkhoz2928, a platformer about a Russian robot farmer dodging enemies and harvesting crops to support the population boom of the year 2928; and Christmadius, a sidescroller starring Santa and Rudolph delivering presents and collecting love in return, with mild shmup elements.


8bits Fanatics released a pair of interesting games on XBLIG in the form of The Tempura of the Dead in 2010 and Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes in 2011. In a premise even more ludicrous than that of Bad Dudes, The Tempura of the Dead stars then-president Barack Obama (referred to as President Thompson in the game) teaming up a sword-wielding samurai to defeat hordes of zombies. Not only are you killing zombies, but by using “Tempura-Ryu Samurai Arts”, you can rescue their souls. What does that mean exactly? Well, if you decapitate a zombie, and then juggle its head long enough, the head will turn into tempura and the zombie’s soul will be freed. While the samurai uses a sword, the president has a machine gun, and each of them uses their weapons to juggle zombie heads. Transform enough zombie heads into tempura and you’ll go into “Tempura Fever”, instantly tempura-izing any zombie head with just a single hit until you let a zombie head hit the ground.


Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes is a bit more sane (although the game’s full title is actually Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes: The Temple of the Dead Mourns the Living), featuring an Indiana Jones-esque character exploring ancient tombs in search of treasure. Per conventions, there are booby-traps that stand in your way, including arrow-firing blocks, popup spikes, fireballs, rolling boulders, and even the occasional scorpion. Unlike many similar games, traps are absolutely everywhere, and part of the game’s humor is in killing you when you least expect it. In fact, the game not only has 1,000 spikes, it also gives you 1,000 lives… and you’ll be spending them quickly.


What came next: An enhanced version of Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes, titled simply 1001 Spikes, was released for multiple platforms in 2014 by Nicalis, which adds a storyline, tutorial area, and several multiplayer modes (and possibly just one more spike).






Last Guy Games released Curse of the Crescent Isle in 2010, and released Blue Beacon to XBLIG and Playstation Vita in 2014. Curse of the Crescent Isle focuses entirely on picking up enemies, and each enemy affects the environment in a different way. For instance, picking up a drill enemy allows the player to break certain blocks and ride safely across rows of spikes. Some enemies allow you to swap between walking along the floor and ceiling, ice enemies let you freeze water and other foes, and there’s even a ghost that causes other enemies to quadruple in size. Using enemies to defeat other enemies and navigate the environment leads to some interesting puzzle platforming solutions, and you’ll have to apply your enemy-tossing strategies to boss encounters as well.


Developer interview: We interviewed Adam Mowery of Last Guy Games, who speaks on his 8-bit gaming influences, his level design philosophy, and how he defines "fun" in games:


What came next: Adam released an enhanced version of Curse of the Crescent Isle to Steam in 2015, entitled Curse of the Crescent Isle DX, offering updated graphics and sound, and some tweaks to the physics.






In 2006, StarQuail Games released Sky Puppy on PC, a one-button game that lets players take to the skies with a puppy named Wilford who can fly through the air by flapping his ears, collecting doggie treats, riding air currents, and avoiding baddies and obstacles along the way. Wilford automatically walks back and forth while on the ground and the player can send him flying with use of the single button, and tap the button to hover. Players have a limited time to complete levels, with time bonuses for collecting treats, and time penalties for taking damage. Stages branch, allowing players to explore different levels on future attempts.


On XBLIG, StarQuail Games released Astroman in 2010 and Crystal Skies in 2012. Astroman stars an astronaut in a yellow space suit who has become stranded on a hostile world populated by cartoonishly cute (but still dangerous) enemies. He hops through environments, shoots enemies, upgrades his jump height and health meter, and eventually acquires a limited-use jetpack, supporting the game's metroidvania level designs. As you explore, you encounter parts for your damaged spaceship, allowing you to fly to new planets and access more levels.


What came next: In 2013, StarQuail Games released the first episode of Tiny Barbarian DX, published by Nicalis. The game follows the concepts established in Tiny Barbarian, a small freeware game developed by StarQuail cofounder Michael Sterns and released in 2011, and the game is built upon the Astroman engine. Tiny Barbarian DX was released episodically between 2013 and 2017 (with a big gap between the second episode in 2014 and the final two episodes in 2017) and arrived on numerous platforms. The game features the exploits of a barbarian as he travels through environments inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian series, smashing enemies and completing platforming challenges. Each episode features different environments, enemies, and rideable beasts.





2011: EVERYONE IN THE POOL
The platform opened even further as more developers got in on the action, and XBLIG remained a solid way for developers to get their games out in front of players.



The Dragon Divide studio released only one game during its lifespan: Alpha Squad. Released in 2011, the game stars the eponymous Alpha Squad, a group of four elite mercenaries who trek through a number of detailed environments blasting away at enemies in all directions with twin-stick controls. The game can be played alone or by up to four players in local or online co-op… something that was unusual on Xbox Live Indie Games. Weapons include the standard machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers, and flamethrowers, but also a few interesting armaments including the wave generator, Zeus rod, plasma rifle, singularity cannon, and even a nuke.


Developer interview: We interviewed Steve Flores of Dragon Divide, and discussed his development background, gaming influences, and the inspirations behind Alpha Squad. Steve also shares some insights about working with a contracted development team spread across nine countries around the world, and some of the challenges in implementing drop-in co-op on XBLIG:






Developer Jonas Andersson released several physics-based spaceship games on XBLIG, each continuing to refine the formula of the last: Superspace in 2009, Superspace 2 in 2010, and Spacecraft in 2010. Unlike many gravity-based spaceship games, Spacecraft features very little resource management, as players are given unlimited time and fuel with which to complete levels. Using weapons or the turbo ability does drain a fuel meter, but this meter refills over time. The one thing that does not refill is health, so players must complete level objectives while avoiding enemy bullets, rockets, and lasers, and they must avoid running into solid objects. Players grapple onto crates and carry them through the environment, and the crates are dropped if the player takes damage. The grappling hook can also be used to manipulate objects to open a path forward.






Awesome Games Studio released numerous XBLIG games from 2009-2016, including Duel: The Art of Combat, Get Your Girlfriend Into Games, Yet Another Zombie Defense and its sequel (taking advantage of a long-running XBLIG zombie game craze), I, Zombie (same), Avatar Fantasy RPG, and Flapping Avatars (taking advantage of the Flappy Bird clone craze).

Duel: The Art of Combat is a side-scrolling arena-based fighter with 3D environments shown from a 2D perspective. The player controls a snake that can be equipped with a number of weapons from a huge selectable arsenal, including shotguns, flamethrowers, machine guns, swords, dynamite, and an electricity gun, and players also have a grapple rope they can use to fling themselves around the environment. The game offers 1P against AI opponents, 2P versus, and a survival mode.


Get Your Girlfriend Into Games is a collection of minigames, once again using 3D assets in a 2D perspective. The five games include a Mahjong game, a Scrabble-like game (with a built-in dictionary), a memory game, a word unscrambling game, and a Simon Says-style game.


Yet Another Zombie Defense, later released on PC and Windows Phone 7 as Amazing Zombie Defense is a 3D twin-stick shooter with tower defense elements, and is presented from an isometric perspective. The player stands near a streetlamp as zombies move in from the shadows, and between waves, the player can buy more powerful weapons in the form of shotguns, machine guns, flamethrowers, lasers, and a Tesla coil, and he can also stack barricades to make it more difficult for zombies to reach him when the next wave begins.


The studio’s best known game is an episodic series entitled Oozi: Earth Adventure, with the first of four episodes arriving in 2011 and the last arriving in 2012. The game is a colorful platformer, with each episode set in a different themed environment with different enemies and new mechanics, and each culminating in a boss encounter. The game offers pretty standard platforming collectathon fare at a time when there weren’t many colorful 2D platformers on the market. These games were combined into a single release on Steam in 2013.


What came next: The studio ported several of their XBLIG games for release on Steam and began development on a new game entitled Badass Hero.






Prior to working in XBLIG, Swing Swing Submarine released several experimental Flash-based games, including Tuper Tario Tros., a mashup between Tetris and Super Mario Bros with Lakitu dropping Mario-style bricks in Tetronimo formations; Greek and Wicked, a game whose “GW” refers to its mashup of Game & Watch and God of War, presenting an LCD-style version of Kratos’ battle against the Hydra in the first level of the original game; and Meet Me at the Banana Disco, a game about trying to communicate over the noise of a nightclub.


Swing Swing Submarine originally released Blocks That Matter on XBLIG in 2011 and brought it to Steam later that year. Blocks That Matter is a puzzle platformer starring a tiny drilling robot called a Tetrobot that can drill through blocks and rearrange them to overcome various environmental challenges across 40 levels and 20 challenging bonus areas. Blocks are created from several different types of materials with different properties, such as sand blocks crumbling without support and wooden boxes susceptible to burning. Players may take advantage of these aspects to build bridges, set off chain reactions with TNT blocks, crush enemies, or reach hidden treasures.


What came next: The studio followed up the success of their first game with a spinoff entitled Tetrobot and Co. before releasing Seasons After Fall a gorgeous puzzle platformer featuring a fox who can change the seasons to solve environmental puzzles and access new areas.






RedCandy Games only developed one game for XBLIG, entitled TIC: Part 1. There never was a Part 2 on any platform. The game is beautiful by XBLIG standards and stars a robot named Tic who is tasked with saving a planet from EvilCorp, an… er, evil corporation bent drilling oil from every planet it finds. Tic has a drill arm and rides around on a single wheel like a unicycle, and rather than jumping, he uses his helicopter blade to fly around on a limited basis. The game starts with Tic zipping through fields of sunflowers, dodging enemies, and collecting acorns to power his propeller. There are several sky-based challenges where players must collect acorns to stay aloft, and players must occasionally drill down into underground areas to stop the machines that are draining the planet and polluting the air.


What came next: The studio went on to bring Tic to a new platform with the release of Tin Man Can on iOS in 2013. In this game, Tic gets sucked into a wormhole and must make it through a series of levels across four themed areas to find his way back home using his trademark unicycling and hovering abilities. The graphical style has changed but players will recognize the opening area featuring sunflower fields.






Frooty Game Studios released two games during its lifespan: Grand Theft Froot and Zombie Slaughter is Fun (capitalizing on the zombie game craze of the day). Grand Theft Froot is a pretty basic action-platformer but it features an interesting upgrade system where players can assign points to increase health, damage output, firing speed, and agility. This lets the player decide whether he would like to focus on killing enemies or increase his speed and jumping to become a more proficient platforming hero… although the game does require the player to spend some points on agility lest he get stuck later in the game.






DoubleDutch Games developed SpeedRunner HD for XBLIG in 2011, based on the developer’s Flash-based game entitled SpeedRunner, which garnered millions of plays in its first month of release and took its inspirations from the seminal auto-runner Canabalt. The HD version focuses on the mechanics that the developers found to be successful in the original release, asking players to find the fastest and most efficient way through environments by jumping, double jumping, wall jumping, sliding, and grappling to preserve momentum. Levels are designed to be completed in under 60 seconds and have numerous traps, including falling platforms, wind currents, low overhangs, and rows of spikes. Occasionally, the player must outrun a gigantic marauding robot that smashes its way through the level behind him. While the main game mode is built for a single player, the game also includes a competitive 4P multiplayer mode.


What came next: You may recognize SpeedRunner and SpeedRunner HD as the precursors to SpeedRunners, a game that entered Steam Early Access in 2013 under publisher tinyBuildGAMES, with its final release in 2016. The game became a popular multiplayer competitive speedrunning game mixing equal parts platforming prowess and griefing of other players in order to win, with lots of new gimmicks to disrupt competitors, such as being able to freeze another player in a block of ice.






Brilliant Blue-G only developed one game for XBLIG: Chester. The game is a stylish action platformer that allows players to swap between various art styles and unlock a number of playable characters, each with their own abilities. Some characters fall slowly and can make longer jumps, while others fire projectiles, and each character has a limited-use special attack, such creating a shield or slowing down time. Some of the characters and art styles mimic certain eras of gaming, such as the LCD-style visuals and a character that looks like Mr. Game & Watch, or the mustachioed fellow in overalls that shoot fireballs. The game was ported to PC in 2012.


What came next: In 2017, the studio released Chester One on Steam, a remastered version of the original game, with rebalanced gameplay and nearly twice the number of levels.






A few developers experimented with re-releasing their previous games onto the XBLIG platform. Colourfy Games originally released Ninjah on PC in 2007, and re-released the game on XBLIG in 2011. The game takes place across 50 single-screen levels and stars a ninja who can use a projectile-based weapon to hover in the air (there are no enemies) and a grapple rope to swing and pull himself toward platforms. Certain levels have color-coded platforms that change the color of the ninja, allowing him to then touch other walls and platforms of the same color and pass through corresponding color-coded gates, whereas touching any other color kills him instantly. Players must consider the physics of each move as they hover between platforms, swing wildly around the environment, and make precision moves to collect dots that open the door to the exit.






Wizorb, from Tribute Games, made its debut on Xbox Live Indie Games in 2011, followed closely by a PC release. The game mixes the gameplay of Arkanoid with traditional RPG trappings. The game stars a wizard who helps to rebuild a village destroyed by the evil Devil King. By breaking bricks, defeating enemies and bosses, and earning money in the process, the wizard can spend this money to rebuild homes and shops in town, and subsequently make purchases in newly-restored shops, such as restoratives and powerups that can be used in the brick breaking portion of the game. Players control a wand that moves back and forth along the bottom of the screen, bouncing a ball upward to break bricks, but instead of an abstract field, gameplay takes place in several traditional fantasy locales, such as villages, forests, mines, and castles. Players not only break bricks but must contend with enemies and defeat the boss at the end of each 12-level stretch. Players can also find keys to unlock doors to bonus areas to earn more money and powerups, and use magic spells to wipe out enemies or hard-to-reach bricks.


Developer interview: We interviewed Jonathan Lavigne, the head of Tribute Games, to discuss his 2D gaming influences and development process. This interview was conducted by email and can be found here.

What came next: In addition to releasing Wizorb on Steam, Tribute Games went on to use their trademark charming sprite art to create numerous games, including the Metal Slug-inspired Mercenary Kings, wave-based brawler Curses ‘n Chaos, and roguelike grappler Flinthook, and they even revisited Jonathan Lavigne’s GBC-style ninja actioner, Ninja Senki, with an updated release entitled Ninja Senki DX.






Ho-Hum Games’ released Avatar Rumble in 2011, Super Ninja Warrior Extreme and Guppy: Collects! 2 in 2012, and Avatar Stealth and Avatar Rumble 2 in 2013. Of these games, Super Ninja Warrior Extreme is the most notable, and one of the developers on the project was Ian Campbell of Bootdisk Revolution, developer of Bleed. The speed-based game sees a ninja navigating through 30 short levels and slashing a huge sword that kills enemies in a single hit… and the ninja is also killed in a single hit. The ninja can jump high and perform wall jumps and wall slides to move quickly around the level while dodging obstacles and slashing enemies into huge sprays of blood. The end of each level features a boss that takes two hits to destroy. The bosses aren’t exceptionally difficult, but getting killed returns you to the start of the level. The design encourages players to stay on the move and make quick and efficient attacks, with level completion times often falling under 30 seconds, and the entire game lasting around an hour in the hands of a skilled player. In 2015, Ian Campbell released a freeware PC version of the game on his website.





2012: GREENLIGHT AWAKENS
In August of 2012, Valve launched Steam Greenlight as a way for indie developers to get their games out to an even larger audience. While the service got off to a slow start, it quickly grew into the top platform for indie computer game releases.



Social Loner Studios developed several games for XBLIG: What The?! in 2009, I Suck At: Word Games and Storm in 2010, Bird Assassin in 2011, and Seal Team 12 in 2012. What The?! is an avatar-supported trivia game offering hundreds of trivia questions and four game modes. I Suck at: Word Games was released on XBLIG and was later ported to iOS in the form of Twisted Letters, and both feature the player stringing together words on a 5x5 grid, which the game recognizes with its built-in dictionary.


Storm is a Missile Command-esque game where the player controls a row of turrets along the bottom of the screen, but instead of blasting incoming missiles, he must push away falling “voids”. Bird Assassin is a sidescrolling shooter featuring an overweight redneck who is out to kill as many birds as possible (to avenge the death of his father), using a variety of overpowered weaponry, and even facing the occasional boss bird.


Seal Team 12 was initially released on PC in April, with the XBLIG release following a couple of weeks later. The game is a twin-stick shooter modeled after top-down arcade games like Ikari Warriors where one or two players march through jungles, fortresses, and enemy encampments shooting at anything that moves. Players start out with a machine gun that can be supplemented with several limited ammo weapons – and used simultaneously – including a shotgun, grenade launcher, rocket launcher, and flamethrower. Players can also make use of different kinds of explosives and commandeer enemy tanks for maximum destruction.


What came next: The studio brought Bird Assassin to PC and eventually to iOS, releasing a couple of other iOS games along the way, in the form of Twisted Letters and Dark Blitz.






In Do Better Games’ Pendulous, you control a clockwork ball that navigates challenging environments solely through the use of pendulum motion. Players can grab onto grapple points with an electrical beam and swing the orb back and forth to build up speed and launch from one grapple point to another through 14 steampunk levels (and harder variants of the same levels). Occasionally, the player must flip switches to open passages, let go of grapple points to drop to the ground and roll down slopes, get pushed along by metal pistons or blasts of steam, and avoid obstacles like electrified orbs and beams of electricity.


What came next: The studio ported the game to Windows Mobile in 2012, and then went on to create a physical game called Bring Your Own Book where players draw from a deck of prompts and then search through books to find the best phrase that satisfies the prompt under a time limit for potentially hilarious results as the phrases are taken out of their original context. Some prompt examples include finding the name of a candy bar, lyrics from a country western song, and advice for graduating seniors. Of course, in addition to the deck of prompts, you’ll need to bring your own book.







Super Soul released Compromised on XBLIG in 2012 and ported it to PC later the same year. The game is set in a dark wasteland of machinery that has come under attack from an invading virus that fills the world with red fungal infections. The game offers twin stick controls and occasionally locks players into arenas where they circle strafe waves of enemies. Levels see the player passing through long corridors, dodging environmental obstacles, and fighting small numbers of enemies in linear environments. Players face swarms of birdlike creatures, teleporting metallic orbs, gyroscopic ships, and gun turrets, along with four gigantic multi-phase bosses, which players must dispatch using machinegun fire, a regenerating supply of missiles and bombs, and a limited set of special attacks.




What came next: Super Soul continued to operate with consultancy, porting, and development assistance for other game developers. In 2014, the studio worked with Gun Media on the release of Speakeasy on PS4, a rock-paper-scissors 1:1 fighting game for two local players. The game is set in 1920’s America and features 1-hit kills where players must fake out opponents and occasionally race to complete QTE sequences.






Gimbal Lock Studios released only one game over the course of its lifespan: Go Gimbal Go. The game stars a purple ball named Gimbal on a mission to rescue the children of Rainbow Island from the evil King Commandroid. Gimbal does this by grinding along rails, with white rails allowing him to move a normal speed, and rainbow rails boosting him along quickly. He can flip onto the undersides of rails or jump away to dodge obstacles, and by reaching out his purple arm, he can grab onto other rails to transition between them or spin quickly around rainbow-colored pinwheels and fling himself away at high speed. The speedy gameplay and curved surfaces mean that the player has to be careful to avoid flinging Gimbal into danger or off the bottom of the screen, and he must do his best to rescue the children along the way.






Following the XBLIG tradition of releasing “Part 1” of a game and then never following it up, Nebula Game Studios released Ninja Exorcist: Episode 1 in 2012, and never released another game on any platform. Players take on the role of a ninja named Diago who fights his way through baddies and monsters on a quest to learn more of his mysterious past. The game features a combat system where the player can alternate between high, medium, and low attacks to string together 4-hit combos, which he can use to kill enemies outright or send them tumbling off platforms, and he has a couple of secondary projectile weapons as well (with additional slots that remain available, presumably to have been filled during Ninja Exorcist: Episode 2). The ninja is a bit clumsy when it comes to environmental navigation, and the game’s stealth elements are a bit haphazard, adding a number of rough edges to the overall experience, but there are some interesting ideas in play, including an RPG-style upgrade system, open level designs that reward exploration with additional weapons and permanent health upgrades, and a versatile grappling hook.






Halcyon Softworks contributed three games to XBLIG: Slick was released in 2012 and was followed shortly thereafter by a PC release, and Reflector and Super Sprint Commando Extreme were released in 2013. Slick is a platformer presented in greyscale, offering the player only directional controls and the ability to jump. There are 100 short but difficult levels, most of which are only slightly larger than the screen. Players begin with simple enemies and environments before graduating to tougher foes, flaming projectiles, and tiny platforms strung over bottomless pits. The game offers five worlds, with each world escalating in difficulty and introducing new mechanics, such as trampolines, quicksand, and falling platforms, along with new enemy types and tougher variants of existing ones.


What came next: The studio went on to become an Android app developer under the name Finger Candy.






Return to Adventure Mountain released one game on XBLIG, entitled City Tuesday. The game is presented in the style of infographic signs, such as those offering wordless safety warnings or usage instructions. When the game begins, the protagonist finds that time has stopped and he alone is able to move freely about, passing from one screen to the next and moving between levels via an escalator. When time resumes, the player is informed that bombs are about to detonate, and he has a limited time to track them down and dispose of them before he – and everyone else – is killed. The game has an odd sense of humor and lets the player interact with a number of NPC’s and objects as he attempts to pass through the city, access locked doors by discovering passcodes, and attempt to thwart terrorists from blowing everything up. Failing just makes the day reset without penalty, and you are left to make closer observations of the city’s activities, Majora’s Mask-style, to make a more successful follow-up attempt.


What came next: Studio head Chris Zukowski went on to develop mobile iOS games.






Team 2Bit released two games on XBLIG, the first of which was Washington’s Wig, and the second was Fist Puncher, which was also released on Steam a few weeks later. Fist Puncher is an urban brawler modeled after classic belt-scrolling beat ‘em ups that were all the rage in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The game stars Doctor Karate and friends bashing in the skulls of street thugs to take down the evil Milkman, and doing silly things along the way, like riding ostriches through a minefield, taking on people with shark heads, and even fighting a bunch of naked dudes on the beach (with tiny black censor bars covering their naughty bits). The game offers 4P offline co-op across 50+ levels and has a total of 15 playable characters, most of whom must be unlocked. Gameplay consists of the traditional punches, kicks, and special moves, along with a very high jump that’s a bit difficult to control. The game also features some RPG elements by allowing players to earn XP and level up, assigning points to increase various stats, and unlocking special attacks.


What came next: Following this, Team 2Bit Developed Reagan Gorbachev, a top-down shooter/slasher/stealth actioner that teams up the former world leaders to save the planet from nuclear destruction.





2013: ALSO ON STEAM
With Greenlight in full swing, and batches of indie games getting released 100 at a time, Steam was fast becoming the primary delivery mechanism for indie computer games. Sure, there were still games coming to XBLIG, but most of the good ones were headed toward Steam at the same time, further supported by indications from XBLIG developers that sales figures were much better on Steam.



Aqua Kitty, from Tikipod, was originally released as Aqua Kitty - Milk Mine Defender for Playstation Mobile on Vita in 2012, before an HD version was released on XBLIG, and the game was released on Steam in 2015. In the future, a world of cats experience a milk shortage and find vast untapped reserves of stuff beneath the ocean. They quickly begin a drilling operation… but there are many dangers beneath the deep, so a certain eyepatch-wearing kitty must defend the milk miners from attack. The game borrows heavily from Defender with a horizontal environment that wraps around the edges of the screen, and red submarines occasionally descend to abduct miners and carry them away, and these submarines are mixed in with other enemies.


What came next: Tikipod went on to develop Rock Boshers DX an arcade-inspired top-down shooter with 8-way shooting where you control Queen Victoria fighting to escape Mars and return home, with the player’s choice of NES-style or ZX Spectrum-style visuals.






Morgopolis Studios released Magicians & Looters on XBLIG in 2013 and on Steam in 2014. The game is a metroidvania with three playable characters who are all wizard apprentices. Each member of the trio must act on his or her own to fight through enemies and complete platforming challenges, and the player controls each character in turn until they are eventually reunited, allowing the player to swap between them. All of the characters are equally important to the completion of the game, with the player regularly needing to make use of their individual strengths to navigate the environment and take down enemies and bosses. Each character is also able to earn new abilities that allow him or her to reach new areas, per metroidvania conventions, which includes sliding under low overhangs, tossing fireballs, and even running straight up walls.





2014-2017: TUMBLEWEED
Microsoft released the Xbox One console at the end of 2013 with no XNA support, heralding the death of Xbox Live Indie Games. In April of 2014, support for XNA officially ended. Games continued to trickle onto XBLIG until the service was officially terminated on October 7, 2017, but the world had already moved on…




END OF AN ERA
Many of the most notable Xbox Live Indie Games have since arrived on other platforms, but others are lost to time, including some whose sales numbers measured only in the dozens. If you downloaded any of these games to your console, they are still available to play, presumably as long as Xbox 360 systems can still connect to Microsoft’s servers, but XBLIG games can no longer be purchased.

The Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace was a wild ride while it lasted, and it offered unique opportunities to developers at a time when companies weren’t really sure what to do with indie games (or if they even really wanted them). When the service launched in 2008, distribution of most video games required agreements with publishers, most console games were released exclusively on physical media, and Steam was not an open platform.

Microsoft created a bit of a monster with XBLIG, something they didn’t completely understand that developed a life of its own, but this was a precursor to the gigantic self-published indie game movement that exists across multiple platforms today. More importantly, it removed most of the barriers to developers getting their games directly into the hands of players, and it allowed some enterprising individuals to begin their careers in game development on their own terms.


FAREWELL
Here’s an insightful farewell to Xbox Live Indie Games from the 2017 IndieCade Festival, including guest speakers Nathan Fouts (Mommy’s Best Games) and Ian Stocker (MagicalTimeBean):



2 comments:

Unknown said...

Thanks for this article. Great info. I wish there was an XBLIG marketplace on the One.

AJ Johnson said...

I'm not sure if we'll ever get anything like this again on a major console.