In memoriam: Xbox Live Indie Games
A tribute to the pioneering storefront that perplexed us all, with a list of games to check out before it's too late.
Xbox Live Indie Games, the Xbox 360 initiative for unrated, self-published, community-vetted indie games that launched way back in 2008, is facing imminent closure. It's assumed that Microsoft will be pulling the plug on Friday but in actuality it may survive another week, or another month, or until Chris Charla knocks out the plug while vaccuuming. In death as in life, Microsoft doesn't seem to be paying it much mind.
Of course, XBLIG has been functionally dead for years: they officially stopped releasing new games a year ago, they ended support for the XNA programming framework in 2013 and their official support network had been hobbled years prior. (Just ask any developer who tried to get paid.) Many would consider September's termination a mercy killing, if they consider it at all.
What, then, is the real cost of the service's closure? Most notably, it'll mean that over 3,000 independent video games will suddenly be unavailable to purchase or download, many of which can or will not be made playable in any other form. Yes, that includes many, many fart apps, Minecraft clones and poorly-rendered softcore porn advetures but it also includes a bevy of ambitious, exciting and endearingly earnest works that someone, somwhere holds dear that deserve to be maintained for the people who still care about them.
(Microsoft made overtures towards XBLIG preservation some two years ago but has yet to provide any details about how or when that might commence; enterprising individuals have already made their own plans.)
More broadly, the death of XBLIG is a sad reminder that the earnest novelty of playing a hobby-made game on a console is well and truly a thing of the past — sure, indies still exist but everything you're liable to play on a console nowadays has been vetted and tested to the hilt, and the idea that people would gleefully browse a digital storefront for the sheer thrill of seeing what's there is laughable nowadays.
XBLIG should be remembered for many things: the pioneering role it played in the democratization of commercial game development, the community it fostered for beginner and hobbyist developers, the opportunities it afforded the countless people who have since transitioned into full-time professional game development, but most of all, it should be remembered for being friggin' weird in a way consoles can't possibly ever be weird again.
Compiled below is a selection of ten XBLIG games that are interesting, unique and currently unavailable anywhere else; where possible, I've included a statement from the developers on the status of their respective games and any plans they might have to bring them to contemporary platforms. Many of these games may disappear forever any day now, so act fast!
一>◇ (Arrow Diamond) ($1, HITMARK BROS)
A side-scrolling god sim with digitized graphics from the esteemed gentleman who brought the world Survival Arts. Pluck beans, jerk off trees, wonder where your dollar went, it's the quintessential XBLIG experience.
Δ (DELTA) ($2.99, hermitgames)
Super Hexagon down a hallway, more or less. Intense, fast-paced, thumping music.
Status update from Matty V of hermitgames:
"Δ will be part of hermitgames LP on PS4. I've ported it and it's been improved with 1080p resolution, better AA, new stage graphics, improved particles, better effects, better post processing, higher quality audio. It will also have scoring and online scoreboards as well as PS4 trophies.
hermitgames LP will also include improved versions of Leave Home and qrth-phyl (both also on XBLIG) and some other smaller little extras. I really wanted to get it out before September when XBLIG closes but it will probably be January 2018 ish.
Before that qrth-phyl should be appearing on Steam for PC and have some improvements too over the current PC version."
Downtown SMASH Dodgeball! / ダウンタウン激凸ドッジボール！ ($4.99, Miracle Kidz!)
Downtown SMASH Dodgeball! looks like a Kunio dodgeball game because it is a Kunio dodgeball game — it was made by former Technos Japan staff who made very, very little effort to hide their lineage. This game was succeeded by an officially-licensed WiiWare sequel and as such, you shouldn't expect to see this exact game re-released ever again.
Tetris: The Grand Master developers Arika briefly flirted with making their own original falling-block puzzle series during one of their spats with The Tetris Company,taking influence from other puzzlers like Taito's Cleopatra Fortune series for something a little more score-focused. (The standard version contains three modes with varying systems, whereas the Light version contains only one mode designed for beginners.)
MADRISM / マドリズム ($1, TechArts Inc.)
Connect kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms via doorways and windows for maximum points — it's arcade-puzzle architecture. (The developer's other output consists entirely of virtual and physical masturbations aids, so don't expect a port.)
Philip Muwanga's Hexy Trench ($1, Miscevious Monkey Studios)
Multiplayer real-time strategy board game, think Pipe Dream with RTS elements. Fast-paced and easy to learn with plenty of content and customization.
Protect Me Knight / まもって騎士 ($2.99, Ancient Corp.)
Gauntlet meets brawler with a tiny smidge of tower defense and an authentic 8-bit aesthetic courtesy of Yuzo Koshiro and co. The game received a much-expanded sequel on 3DS called Gotta Protectors but the original remains an XBLIG exclusive.
Status update from Ancient Corp. director Makoto Wada:
"We released a 3DS game called Minna de Mamotte Kishi in 2014 (released as Gotta Protectors in North America). Originally, this was planned as a port of Protect me Knight with new elements but in order to increase replayability I began adding new systems and before you know it, I'd created an entirely new game.
Of course, both versions are distinct games with their own appealing features, and we'd love to port them both to new platforms including Nintendo Switch and Steam. However, Ancient is a small company with few employees, so rather than porting old titles, we'd prefer to focus on making new ones.
For that reason, it may be a while before Protect Me Knight is re-released, but I'd love to make it available again someday."
Qoccer ($1, Victor Ortega)
Turn-based 3v3 soccer that very loosely resembles billiards. Dead simple, lots of fun.
Tacticolor ($1, errcw)
Risk in real-time (in other words, better.)
Comment from developer Eric Woroshaw:
"The short answer is that Tacticolor and Fishing Girl are both no longer in development. I doubt they will appear on any other platforms unless some particularly enterprising developer picks up the open source bits and runs with it (which, of course, I'd wholeheartedly support). I also do not expect to revisit the concepts through any sequels or other derivatives. My development time is so limited these days, and I'm more interested in exploring new ideas with the few hours I can find."
The TEMPURA of the DEAD (11/9/2010, $4.99, 8bitfanatics)
Side-scrolling retro action from the makers of Aban Hawkins and the 1000 Spikes and its multi-platform remake, 1001 Spikes.