Xbox Live Indie Games still seems like a fever dream to me. I followed it a lot closer than most, and the output from the developers on the service was always surprising. Unlike the stream of games coming in through Steam Greenlight, XBLIG titles usually had a creative spark. They were rarely great games, but they were always interesting at the very least. However, one great game that did come out on the service is One Finger Death Punch, which has since spread to Steam and mobile and won over critics, fans, and game developers alike.
To commemorate XBLIG's impending doom, I spoke with OFDP developer Jonathan Flook about the service and the follow-up to Silver Dollar Game's big hit.
Links have been added in some places for context, and Jonathan's answers have been edited slightly for grammar.
TechRaptor: For those who aren't familiar, could you introduce yourself and your work?
Jonathan: My brother Dave and I started making indie games sometime around 2007 when Dave first heard about XNA. XNA was going to make the development process easier and we found that to be true for 2D development. It was a pleasure to work with XNA at the time. The first game we made was Blazing Birds on Xbox Live Arcade. From there we went on to make games on Xbox Live Indie Games when it launched in 2010, starting with Blow and ending with One Finger Death Punch. We called our company Silver Dollar Games.
Around 2012, we upset a couple folks and it’s important to note their frustrations as part of our story. Cathy was unamused as you can see by her article and more notably Ryan from his video here. We're glad to have made all the games we did and we're very thankful for the opportunity to do so.
TechRaptor: We were first introduced to your work through your output on Xbox Live Indie Games. What are your feelings on the end of the service this year and it's complete erasure next year?
Jonathan: Ultimately XBLIG would have been shut down with Xbox 360 online services one day. However, it’s a shame Microsoft had no interest in a similar service on Xbox One. It’s understandable if you know the history of XBLIG. Sales on Microsoft’s indie service are extremely low and virtually no game was profitable on the service when it first launched. Minecraft clones helped turn that around and kudos to all the developers who jumped on that idea before Microsoft could get Minecraft on the console. Avatars really helped sales on the service as well. They brought many new faces to the service I’m sure. In my opinion, Microsoft did little to support avatars and only a handful of XBLA games featured avatars, so that was a great opportunity for XBLIG developers and the consumers seemed to have serious interest in most indie games that featured avatars. And why not? Microsoft spent thousands of dollars making avatars. The opportunity to use those expensive assets for free is extremely valuable for a developer with no budget. It was a great tool but Dave and I never really jumped on that bandwagon.
Looking at Xbox One, avatars aren’t used in games, Minecraft is already on the console. The situation leaves little room for the old XBLIG to be successful on the current generation console. However, it’s too bad some new kind of service wasn’t created in XBLIG’s absence. A place where there’s no content curation beyond the user's decisions. [email protected] simply isn’t what XBLIG was and it never will be. That fact that any game was allowed on XBLIG was what made the service so special. They’re plenty of services where the content is curated by the company, XBLIG offered something different on a console in addition to a curated service (XBLA) and I thought that was very special. I will miss XBLIG very much but my brother and I have already said our goodbyes and have moved on.
TechRaptor: Silver Dollar Games released many peculiar releases on XBLIG before One Finger Death Punch became a hit. Could you elaborate on your strategy at the time? Will any of those games be archived past the end date of the XBLIG service?
Jonathan: At the time we were just trying to make games and explore little ideas. We made two larger games (Blazing Birds and Blow), and they simply weren’t as enjoyable to make. So we did what we wanted to do. It certainly wasn’t the most profitable direction to go in. That probably would have been doing a Minecraft clone or using Avatars. But that just wasn’t something we wanted to do at that time.
All our games on XBLIG will be gone from existence once the service shuts down. Those games were made in XNA which Microsoft discontinued a few years ago if I recall correctly. However, I would like to remake Try Not to Fart using Unity if the world would let us.
TechRaptor: Onto One Finger Death Punch, how long was that game in development? What were some of your inspirations in designing that game?
Jonathan: OFDP was in development for about 4 years. We got our inspiration from movies mostly. Drunken Master, Ip Man, The Man with the Iron Fist and most notably the last scene in The One where Jet Li is atop of a structure fighting off endless waves of enemies.
We’re working on a sequel to OFDP and this time our inspirations have a wider range of kung fu films which include The Matrix, Kill Bill, Bloodsport and a lot of John Woo action films. We want to make a more broad kung fu experience this time around.
TechRaptor: What is/was your involvement with the mobile version of One Finger Death Punch?
Jonathan: We met with Tangent, who are the developers of the mobile version, and gave them some advice on how to proceed with developing the mobile version. Ultimately they set out to make the game as they saw fit. They faced many obstacles and much of the feel of the original didn’t make it into the final product. Nevertheless, the team worked hard and they should be proud of their efforts. We ultimately had very little say in the final product.
However, we’re not a big fan of the monetization methods and we had no say on that matter. It’s highly unlikely the sequel will make it to mobile as it’s extremely complex and no mobile device would be able to run it. But in the odd chance it could be ported over I hope it could have a free version that functions as a trail and a one-time flat fee that unlocks the entire game. Like how you used to buy games.
TechRaptor: We've seen several games (like Kung Fury, Dead Island Retro Revenge, and Kyurinaga's Revenge) take great inspiration from One Finger Death Punch in the years since its release. What are your thoughts on One Finger Death Punch's mechanics finding their way into other productions?
Jonathan: We're glad to inspire others.
It’s a challenge to make these mechanics work because the devil is in the detail. A two button game sounds simple on the surface but the goal of OFDP was to add complexity to a modest two-button system. I have yet to really see that be implemented in other games.
We originally wanted to make a spiritual successor to OFDP that took place in a Spartan theme and featured more weapon combat. After nearly a year of development, we scrapped that idea and started over with OFDP2. We failed to make each button press feel impactful. “Every press matters” is important to the game. It’s what separates it from other action games. Until other developers focus on that key point I don’t think they’ll be able to really capture the essence of OFDP in their own games.
TechRaptor: What does the future hold for Silver Dollar Games?
Jonathan: We’ve been working on One Finger Death Punch 2 for some time now. It’s still over a year away from completion but it’s starting to take shape. We’re developing it using Unity so we should be able to release it on PC, Mac, PS4 and Xbox One if those platforms accept our game.
One of our biggest struggles is making sure it’s visually impressive. It’s very hard to get people not to judge a book by its cover, especially when the cover features stickmen.
Also, how can we impress people again? We don’t want people to say, “been there done that”. We must find a way to reinvent and push this game to its absolute limits.
We work every day towards a solution to these problems. Only time will tell if we’re successful or not.
We thank Jonathan for his time.
Are you a fan of One Finger Death Punch? How many XBLIGs did you play over the years? Will you miss the service when it is taken down later this year? Let us know in the comments below!