Not so long ago, Microsoft announced a tournament of sorts in which developers of the Xbox 360's XNA platform could compete to see which
cuisine game reigned supreme. Sneaking away from the GDC conferences for a few moments, I snagged some time with each of Microsoft's 5 winners. So how did I like them? Some sucked, some were alright and one...one I really dug.
I won't tease you with my favorite pick. In my humble opinion, Conquerator (no, it's not some new Gawker blog) was simply the most fun of the finalists. Essentially Risk on crack, you drop new troops anywhere on the board in a real time battle against your opponent. But the game is so fast, the mere seconds it takes for your troop stock to reach its destination feel like an eternity. As you send troops to attack adjacent territories to vanquish your enemy—only to see a new wave of troops appear slyly across the map—you wonder why we haven't seen this fast-paced bastardization of Risk yet.
Remember that herding game from Twilight Princess? This is similar. You are a dog that herds sheep against a time limit into a pen. iSheep's 3D design complete with controllable camera may indeed make it the most technically ambitious of the finalists, but I've just never been attracted to a vocation in herding (though Babe was an excellent film, nonetheless).
Specimen wasn't the most fun game of the five Dream-Build-Play winners, but it wins hands-down for simple ingenuity. You are a scientist trying to figure out the nature of three different organisms (represented by red, blue and green blobs). By attempting to breed the specimens (through placing them in close proximity with tweezers), there's a lot one can learn about these seemingly dull organisms (like which are girls, etc). I'm not sure that the game will set the world on fire, but it presents fascinating mechanic that just needs more exploration.
Hive, like Conquerator, is a real time map-control strategy title. But Hive simplifies the idea of the map and focuses more on balancing three types of bugs to expand your colony (defensive, attackers and harvesters) and pretty much letting the game play itself from there. Your bugs will go about their way while you coax them (via cursor) to fulfill the particular occupation you most need. The idea is actually a bit enjoyable in its unabashed celebration of lack of control, but were the game to become bigger, I think it'd only grow frustrating.
I'll admit it—I really phoned in my impressions with Orblast. Too impatient for the tutorial, I was a little lost while moving my marble-type-object through a dark maze to find power-ups and avoid the bigger, faster, meaner marble-type-objects that loved to kill me (apparently those enemies can be trained to do your bidding, but I missed this entirely). But what really limited my interest here was the generic tactile experience. When I roll a ball, I want it to feel like a ball (allowing me to, say, sense a real momentum). While none of the XNA games had that physics and animation polish we've all come to expect in Xbox LIVE Arcade or even Flash titles, this game is one that I thought suffered most from said lack.
Truth be told, however, these XNA titles are, maybe as a product of their more closed development nature, lacking in comparison to many of their Flash-based web counterparts.
Dream-Build-Play Finalists [Microsoft]