Are Gamers Ready to FLOCK to Live? Are Indy games the next big thing?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Well, are they?

Microsoft seems to think so. Of course, Microsoft is always toting their "Unique User" count on Live, and their "Attach Rate" for games (the latter being a sort of download-to-purchase ratio). I've always taken issue with the way Microsoft boasts of their service, giving fractions and percentages as though indicative of some kind of greater power favoring their side of the console-war, the way Greek gods did in works attributed to Homer.

I've had a limited experience with the PlayStation Network, but I want that to change. As content goes, they've got some great games on there, but as for features and utility, there's nothing really stand-out-ish that bloggers or paid games journalists care to write about. XBox Live has group chat (a godsend for gamers!), a feature that changes the scope and ambition of gameplay altogether (Left 4 Dead, Chromehounds, and Gears of War particularly benefit). It's a combination of commonality and imagination that gets gamers to use this particular service over another. Most of my real-life friends play games on Live, anyway, and my friends who have a PS3 don't call me up and say, "Wanna hop online?"

This week, I'm excited for FLOCK, developed by Proper Games and published by Capcom for Live and Steam, set to be released (on the former) this Wednesday for 1200 Microsoft Points. I'm excited for it despite the lack of online play (there's local co-op, however). I'm also a little disappointed that online co-op isn't standard in any game that's co-op on Xbox 360. I'm disappointed, but I'm not terribly surprised. Capcom has been hit-and-miss with their online play for a very long time. Everytime I think of the shoddy lobby system in Street Fighter IV, I die a little. If only that game weren't so fucking awesome...

And Flock seems to be another quality game from Capcom, another great addition to the still burgeoning library of Live and Steam. In it, you use a flying saucer to guide an assortment of barnyard animals (almost Pikmin-esque) to the mothership, called--I'm not joking--the motherflocker.

I guess my question is this: Capcom, have you learned your lesson by now? Didn't the Resident Evil 5 "versus mode" debacle and a lack of tournament system in SFIV show you that this sort of corner-cutting wouldn't fly in the post-Halo 2 world? My advice to Proper Games is that they try to work with Capcom to make a "proper" co-op mode for Live. Whatever you do, don't release pay-for-play online co-op mode. Don't even suggest it as an option. No one will forgive you for that, and gamer memory is incredibly contentious. Don't go so far into the uterus of corporate whoredom that you start to see dollar signs in the innocent faces of sheep.

Anyway, in other news, I've been very much into independent games lately, so much that I scour the "community games" menus on Live daily, hoping for some unique, lasting sustenance. There are a few things on there worth your time, such as CarneyVale: Showtime, which is a sort of 2D-puzzle-acrobatics simulator. Check out the demo if you haven't. The game includes a full map editor and some interesting game mechanics to lengthen the lifespan. And although I feel that once you've acquired all the abilities the game offers, the game seems to slow by giving you too much of a good thing, it's easily on par with the likes of World of Goo. I also recommend, Loot, Steal, and Destroy if you're a fan of pirates (and who isn't!?), Colosseum for it's sltylish art and use of gladiators, and Puzzlegeddon which is a Puzzle Quest derivative with solid gameplay (and up to 6 players online).

Check out the CO-OP video coverage of IGF, the Independent Games Festival, complete with blueberries and bouncing sprites! I'm looking forward to pretty much everything I saw there (especially Blueberry Garden, an ambitious work by Erik Svedäng ), and hope that those games at least see the light of day on Steam, if not Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, where they would--undoubtedly--thrive.

I feel it necessary to post the video for Blueberry Garden. Here it is: