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NinjaBee Studios on Games for Holidays crossover

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Posted by: Ben PerLee

Back when Xbox Live Marketplace launched years ago, it's doubtful that many believed it would become the popular digital distribution service it is today. While Marketplace is great for getting fantastic digital titles and DLC, it has only recently become a place where you can get deals. Microsoft, with their Summer of Arcade, began introducing bargins and initiatives to appeal to gamers. With now weekly deals on XBLA titles and downloadable content, frugal consumers have more options than ever.

That's not the only initiative Microsoft has to get people to spend spend spend. Recently the company announced XBLA's Games for the Holidays, a three week release calendar with three special XBLA titles. Ninjabee Studios' A World of Keflings officially launched last week, with Halfbrick's Raskulls available on December 29, and Southend Interactive's ilomilo available on January 7. Some savvy gamers know you can get all three titles right now (Raskulls through a purchase menu in Keflings, and ilomilo has been available since earlier this month through Southend Interactive's demo available on their website, and on Windows Phone 7), and while there isn't a financial benefit to buying all three games, there is a rather neat gameplay addition: characters from each game will show up in the others.

We had a chat with Steve Taylor from NinjaBee Studios, the team behind A World of Keflings. He answered a few of our questions about this special event, and we've got them below.

GameZone: Can you describe for us A World of Keflings?

Steve Taylor: So if you've never played a Kingdom for Keflings, the core idea behind both games is that each game is a city building game, but place of the traditional disembodied floating hand, you actually have a role in the game, and you'll play a giant character and you interact with these small little kefling characters. The way it's different from many city building games is you've got direct personal interaction with the characters. What's amazing is that your giant character is represented by your avatar, and your avatar is represented within these two games more than I think any other game on the Xbox service.

GZ: How did Microsoft approach you guys about incorporating characters from Raskulls and ilomilo?

ST: Well the original connection came from our producer from Microsoft. We have a producer, and they are our direct personal “hero” within Microsoft, and he handles everything for us from the Microsoft side. He came to us, and said “I want to talk to you about this opportunity to do this cross-collaboration between these game.” Obviously the appealing thing for us about designing games and being designers and developers was this chance to use some really cool technology and explore these gameplay and game mechanic ideas. They had this whole vision about how things were going to be marketed, but we didn't really care [laughs]. What we cared about actually adding features to the game with these other games in a really interesting way. It was going to be a little technically challenging, but that is part of what appealed to me.

GZ: So what were some of the challenges that were specific to incorporating these other characters in your game?

ST: One of the challenges that was also one of the appealing things for us was that we had to use new technology we had never used before to detect that the player had played this other game. The solution that we settled on was detecting achievements, so if a players player playing my game has an achievement in Raskulls, for instance, and if they have an achievement, then that unlocks content in my game. The technology behind that was new, and was something that we had to explore and experiement with, and I have to say that that was something that was interesting about this experience.

GZ: So if someone has A World of Keflings, and then they buy Raskulls, what exactly will they be unlocking?

ST: In my game, what they are unlocking are some new buildings. In our game there is a place you can go to see all of the available blueprints you have, and one of the blueprints is for Raskulls, and one of the blueprints is for ilomilo. So if you have achievements in Raskulls, they it lets you build that building, and if you finish the building, out pops two Raskulls characters. If you have played Raskulls, then you'll know that the game is very character driven. Lots and lots of different characters, really interesting story, each one has a really distinctive look, and individually they fit the Raskull universe really well. You build that building in our game, and they'll walk around our world, and you can kick them around, destroy the building to make them go away. When we were talking about the project, we were talking about a lot of different possibilities, and ended up being excited about this approach. They are not a big complicated thing, and they get to come live in your world, and that was appealing to us.

GZ: Do you think this will be a cool opportunity for your development studio to do in the future, do you think this could be an interesting addition to future XBLA titles?

ST: We definitely hope so. We're seeing a little bit more cross-collaboration between games, already, never to this extent. Each of those games did at least a little bit of name dropping or hint dropping, from one game to another already, but we've never seen tot his extant the actual ties between games and actually unlocking content between them. We hope that it is the start of something, and as we talk to our producer at Microsoft, that it seems like that is a definite possibility. Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was very interesting. The collaboration effort was really cool, we got to work with these other teams we wouldn't have worked with otherwise, or wouldn't have had the chance to know otherwise. That was so positive and so interesting and so challenging and new and unique that we really had a positive experience that I would absolutely do it again.

GZ: So what was it like working with those other development studios?

ST: It was surprising, or maybe it should have been surprising, but everyone was really enthusiastic and positive about it from the start. Nobody was defensive about their IP or concerned about coming out “smelling sweeter” than anyone else, we all just wanted to work together to make something really cool. Everyone was really helpful, really casual, really friendly, even through the review process. We would put their content in our game, we would show them footage, they would give us feedback on it, we'd make changes, and then we would do the same thing with them. The initial stages were very collaborative, very open, and we all just kind of sat around and brainstormed through email and through phone calls about ideas. I mean, the original impetus for the project came from Microsoft, so their push was what started it, and then they acted as a central communication hub, making sure we were talking to each other, and keeping track of the whole project. However, the actual creative effort, the actual creating of content and connecting the games together was all on the developers, so it was really up to use to make decisions on that.

GZ: Will your character show up in the Windows Phone 7 version of ilomilo?

ST: No...there are no plans to do that right now, but who knows what will happen in the future. It is definitely just a 360 thing for right now.

GZ: Is there anything else you'd like to say?

ST: I am really really happy with how everything turned out. After we had done this original collaboration, and seen how things were going, everyone exchanged footage and screenshots about how everything was looking in the games, and the first time we had seen our keflings characters in ilomilo and Raskulls, we were floored by how fantastic looked and how well they created our characters. I got the same kind of reaction from the other developers after they saw their characters in other games. I really think the results are better than expected. The final outcome for everything was very positive, and thumbs up from them.

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