Indie Focus – Tobe’s Vertical Adventure

A brand new series on TSA starts today.

If you’re not familiar with Xbox Live Indie Games, it’s a way for independent developers to get their latest stuff out to a wide audience for very little financial risk.  Some of the games on XBLIG are actually rather brilliant, including Tobe’s Vertical Adventure, the subject of our first Indie Focus, where we’ll be picking up with developers like RayTeoActive, the developer responsible for the wickedly retro but utterly gorgeous platformer that you really do need to try.

The game, available for just 240 Microsoft Points [buy here] is a real treat for 2D fans, with some fantastic animation, classic 8-bit stylings and a nicely done difficulty curve, but don’t just take my word for it – there’s a free demo too.  There’s even a two player co-op mode and the whole thing is obviously inspired by games of old – so I started by asking RayTeo what the inspiration was for Tobe’s Vertical Adventure.  “It’s funny how almost everyone mentions Spelunky when they first see it,” RayTeo tells us, “but Tobe’s Vertical Adventure was really inspired by the NES classic, Ice Climbers.”

“That’s where the vertical platforming and warping environment came from,” he continues, “and as I began to research for more ideas, I found myself constantly checking up classic 8/16 bit titles, and I decided to make the game a personal tribute to that era, and my childhood.”  A man after my own heart.  I ask him if the confidently old-school styling is something he’s particular proud of:  “Yep, I am deeply in love with the whole retro look,” he replies, “and the visual styling was very much influenced by Sonic. But I’m looking at different ways of presenting it in the future though.”

He follows with examples.  “Games like Fez, 3D Dot Game Heroes and 8bit Killer are all presenting pixel art in a new form, they all look amazing, and I’m sure there’s a lot more to explore here.”  The small team have even followed through on the art style with a gorgeous manual and a few stunning bits of art.  “The box art was originally a gift from my brother,” RayTeo explains, “but it looked so awesome I decided to go a head and make an instruction booklet to go along with it.  If a gamer doesn’t have a 360, this digital manual allows them to learn more about the game.”

Naturally, I was assuming the game would be flying off the virtual shelves, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  “It’s been 3 weeks since launch,” says RayTeo, “and the conversion rate is about 5% so far, selling about 350 copies… I’d assume that’s not too good.”   The developer puts forward a reason, though: “I think partly it’s due to the lack of analog stick control when it was first released, and by the time a patch was available, we were already off the front page.”  I asked RayTeo how it was going post-patch.  “We were getting 20% to 30% conversion rate, except there was no one else to download.”

I ask him whether he thinks Microsoft are doing enough to promote the service.  “XBLIG just went through some big changes early last year,” he replies, “adding a rating system, use of Avatars in games, price arrangement, etc. While all these did made XBLIG a better place for consumers and developers, I kinda felt like it didn’t help to attract that much more of an audience. My guess is that many Xbox 360 owners probably checked out the content when it first came out, didn’t like what they saw, left, and never returned. I think so, because I used to be one of them.”

“I hope they do something to get players to check out the games one more time. Once they do that, perhaps then they get to see the improvement, and come back more often.”  I’ve often wondered whether Microsoft would ever consider a compilation of Indie Games, and put the suggestion to RayTeo.  “Like a 100-in-1? Why not? I’d love to see that. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a retail disk. Maybe sell it like a XBLA game, except it’s a bunch of games from XBLIG. That’s probably a good way bring some attention to the XBLIG market.”

And in terms of other Indie Games out there? “Aside from obvious choices like “I Made a Game with Zombie In It”, I’d say “CarneyVale: Showtime” and “Armor Valley”,” says RayTeo.  “They are both made by Singapore based developers like myself, so there’s no reason not to support them!  But seriously, both of them are of pretty high quality. CarneyVale won Dream Build Play 2008, and Armor Valley won Excellence Audio Award from IGF China. But if it’s indie games in general, definitely check out Dungeons of Fayte and Rocketbirds Revolution!”

And, of course, the eternal question: would he develop for the PS3 if the system had a similar way of getting his games on the Store?  “I don’t think the platform is the main issue,” comes the reply. “Both consoles have their pros and cons, so it really depends on which is more suitable for the game I’m making, or which is more profitable.”  I’m saddened by the low sales for such a great game, so the last word is over to RayTeo: “If the controls were an issue for you before, do give it another shot, as the new patch might change your mind,” he says. “Please continue to support us, so we can send Tobe and Nana on more adventures!”

I couldn’t agree more.

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