The Summer of Arcade

Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) primarily began as a video game download distribution service that was available primarily as a section of the Xbox Live Marketplace, Microsoft's digital distribution network for the Xbox 360. It focused upon smaller downloadable games from both major publishers and independent game developers, with titles that ranged from classic console and arcade video games to new and innovative games designed from the ground up specifically for the service.

The games found there range in price from between $5 and $20 (US) each, which makes the service the go-to point for economical games that also satisfy a gamer's needs for instant gratification -- you see a game you like, you buy it, download it, install it, and play it! It doesn't get simpler than that.

Over the course of the last few years the identity and the perceived value of the XBLA portion of the Xbox 360 dashboard interface has changed -- at first subtly, but over the past two years dramatically and, not surprisingly, has added value to the interface for most gamers that was something of a surprise for the service, which was never considered it to be a destination in itself.

One of the most visible examples of that change of perception is what has become an annual rite of summer -- specifically the Xbox LIVE Summer of Arcade Series -- a program that began as a simple but effective means for showcasing upcoming games by linking them together as part of a value-added program.

The 2011 Xbox LIVE Summer of Arcade

This year's Summer of Arcade picks up the torch and runs with it, including a full hand of awesome AAA grade games that are not simply high-quality titles, but represent games that the community has been eagerly awaiting.

Each of the games that are part of the program this year received the sort of development and promotion normally associated with core retail titles, and while they are mostly original titles, the final game in the program this year is a sequel to a game that was launched as part of another annual offering, the 2010 Xbox LIVE Block Party series.

The lineup for the 2011 Xbox Live Summer of Arcade promotion includes the following games:

Jul 20: Bastion (1200 Microsoft Points)

Jul 27: From Dust (1200 Microsoft Points)

Aug 03: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (1200 Microsoft Points)

Aug 10: Fruit Ninja Kinect (800 Microsoft Points)

Aug 17: Toy Soldiers: Cold War (1200 Microsoft Points)

As with the previous annual SoA offerings there is a bonus for buying all five Summer of Arcade titles -- a free copy of the XBLA title Crimson Alliance -- which gamers will be able to download after it is released on September 7th (or purchase for 1200 Microsoft Points if they do not buy all five SoA titles).

For the first time in the history of the program it includes Kinect-exclusive titles -- specifically Fruit Ninja Kinect -- so if you needed an excuse to finally go out and pick up the Kinect motion controller for your 360 here is the perfect reason!

About the Games

The games that make up this year's Summer of Arcade program include a pretty diverse selection of genres and types, so we thought we would take a closer look at them.

July 20: Bastion (1200 Microsoft Points)

Bastion is a beautifully executed Action/RPG game that demonstrates how much that a willing developer can accomplish when they invest time and effort. What they ended up with here is a game that is so stunning you can hardly believe it is a game.

A narrative driven adventure that features an innovative take on an old genre, you play the game as the protagonist 'The Kid' and, as your adventure starts, you have no notion of where you are, or what threats await.

Check out Gaming Update's Bastion Preview from our PAX East Coverage to learn more about this first title in the Summer of Arcade 2011 program -- and to prepare yourself for a world turned on its side!

July 27: From Dust (1200 Microsoft Points)

Designed by Eric Chahi and developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, From Dust is described as a 'spiritual heir' to Populous, a British game developed by Peter Molyneux and Bullfrog in 1989. First announced at E3 2010, its inclusion as one of the games in the Summer of Arcade program is a stroke of genious for the Elves at LIVE.

XBLA Summer of Arcade is the first chance that gamers will have to get their hands on this one, but if you are not an Xbox gamer have no fear -- later in the year it will release on both PlayStation 3 (via PSN) and on Windows PC (via Steam), so how about that?

August 03: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (1200 Microsoft Points)

In ITSP the player pilots an alien spaceship equipped with nine tools that are very useful as you flit through many different worlds, find new tools to add to your arsenal, and explore where no man has gone before...

When we previewed this at E3 we were expecting it to be a typical ship-based shooter, but it turned out to be anything but that. The visuals are stunning, there is a reason that the word "Twisted" is included in the title, and we are pretty sure that this game makes a great excuse to spend a week in Amsterdam, where we could add Space Cakes and Espresso to our gaming routine to add an element to game play that would be... Err... Psychedelic.

August 10: Fruit Ninja Kinect (800 Microsoft Points)

With FNK we have mixed emotions -- the E3 preview left us convinced that games like this one and, specifically, this game, are an excellent excuse to go out and buy a Kinect package if you do not already have one -- but because it is such an entertaining and fun title we kind of feel a little resentment about it, because gamers who do not have the Kinect will never get to play it, and that really is a shame.

You might not think that a game whose basic premise is the slicing of fruit would be all that interesting or fun -- but here is the exception to prove the rule -- as Fruit Ninja Kinect is not simply fun, but the addictive hard-to-put-down and the reason why we were late for work sort of fun! Don't just take our word for it -- hit Youtube and view some trailers, then get your own copy -- just don't blame us if you end up late for work, you hear me?

August 17: Toy Soldiers: Cold War (1200 Microsoft Points)

It should not be a surprise to hear us say that this is the XBLA game that we have all been eagerly anticipating for most of the past year, or ever since it was confirmed that it was under development. To understand why all you have to do is play the first game that established the series -- Toy Soldiers -- and hey, you HAVE played it, right? Because you literally missed out on an amazing game if you have not.

When we sat down with this at E3 we already had the worry that Signal would somehow alter the spirit of the game by including modern weapons and a more modern setting, but those were fruitless worries and we should have known better. They created the original after all, and so they naturally have their finger on the pulse of what defines the Toy Soldiers games, and Cold War not only faithfully follows the feel of the original, but expands it in ways that, while we are challenged to explain in words, feel completely awesome.

Yes, we went there. Completely Awesome.

A Retrospective Look at XBLA Game Promotions

The introduction of themed sales and promotional events was an element that helped to establish XBLA as a destination on the 360 desktop, and while the concept initially grew slowly, it has finally evolved into a regular part of the service -- which is a good thing for gamers, as when it is combined with the already well-established Deal o'the Week promotion, it provides a path towards savings in terms of bucks and better access to games we all want to play.

They say that the economic downturn did not impact the games industry with the same force that it effected other entertainment sectors, but that does not really bear out as true when you consider that one of the effects that it had was a massive shift towards game rentals and used game purchases over new games. Publishers like Electronic Arts were the first to feel the impact that it was actually having, and if you need proof that it was significant all that you have to do is look at the new license fees and code-based online content restrictions that publishers are adding to their games and you can see that there was a genuine impact.

For our readers who were not around when the promotions began, and strictly for entertainment purposes and to introduce you to games you may want to check out even if you are arriving late at the show, here is a review of the XBLA promotions of the past!

The XBLA House Party

Another promo introduced by Major Nelson -- and that will hopefully become an annual thing -- is the XBLA House Party. This one fills a nice gap in late Winter, and included an HD remake of Ubisoft's classic adventure, Beyond Good & Evil, and the formerly PC-exclusive dungeon crawler, Torchlight (a very addictive game).

The schedule for House Party was:

February 16: Hard Corps: Uprising (1200 Microsoft Points)

February 23: Bejeweled Blitz (800 Microsoft Points)

March 02: Beyond Good & Evil HD (800 Microsoft Points)

March 09: Torchlight (1200 Microsoft Points)

March 16: Full House Poker (800 Microsoft Points)

The pricing of Beyond Good & Evil for just $10 and Torchlight for a paltry $15 was not just a very reasonable amount to pay, it was exceptionally generous when you consider that they represent two of the best games to ever appear on XBLA.

Games for the Holidays 2010

As summer turned into fall and the Christmas season approached us way too fast, the gnomes over at Microsoft got together with the elves at LIVE and devised the annual Games for the Holidays offer, which included three titles that were, well, suffice it to say that whoever picked the three games for this one was pure freaking genius!

Forget for the moment that A World of Keflings was the single most desired and anticipated title for gamers into the whole Avatar scene, and then add in Raskulls and Ilimilo and what you end up with is a no-brainer, because there really was no possibility of choosing just one of those titles, you had to have them all.

December 22: A World of Keflings (800 Microsoft Points)

December 29: Raskulls (800 Microsoft Points)

January 05: Ilomilo (800 Microsoft Points)

When you examined the current catalog of XBLA games the lineup for this promotion was the perfect collection of social and cooperative games to share on the couch with friends and family over the holidays, no question about that.

The Holidays promo included a link between all of the games as a special feature -- an aspect of XBLA promotion programs that we have come to expect -- so that when you bought all three titles you unlocked extra characters within the games. Ilo and Doug were thus available as playable characters in Raskulls, and the Raskulls characters in Ilomilo and World of Keflings were also unlocked, and an undocumented glitch allowed us to gain early access to Raskulls by downloading World of Keflings on December 22nd and then accessing Raskulls through the in-game extras menu, and how cool was that?

The 2010 Game Feast Promotion

When Microsoft announced the Game Feast promotion -- four weeks of deals that ran from September 29th through October 20th -- gamers rightly presumed that it was really all about the launch of the upcoming and very anticipated release of Super Meat Boy, which was the final offering in the Feast.

The games that were part of this surprise promotion were:

September 29: Hydrophobia (1200 Microsoft Points)

October 6: Comic Jumper (1200 Microsoft Points)

October 13: Pinball FX 2 (Free -- Sort of)

October 20: Super Meat Boy (1200 Microsoft Points)

The remake of the popular flash game Super Meat Boy was also to be released on WiiWare and PC, but arrived on XBLA first because the XBLA Elves are backed by Ogres from the Microsoft legal gang who are really good at working with the Gnomes at Microsoft Game Studio to identify games they should go after... We are just saying.

The 3rd (2010) Summer of Arcade

The Summer of Arcade 2010 Promotion was the 3rd in the series, and featured five unique games which were released each week from July 21st through August 18th. The games that made up the program were:

July 21: Limbo (1200 Microsoft Points)

July 28: Hydro Thunder Hurricane (1200 Microsoft Points)

August 4: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (1200 Microsoft Points)

August 11: Monday Night Combat (1200 Microsoft Points)

August 18 Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (1200 Microsoft Points)

Following the tradition of previous years, the featured games were high-profile XBLA titles priced at just 1200 Microsoft Points each, and buying all five games earned gamers a 1200 Microsoft Point discount -- which amounted to 20% off the game costs. Purchasing 3 of the titles delivered a 400 Microsoft Point discount (or just 11% off), making it a buy-four-get-one-free proposition for gamers who bought the whole series.

Spring 2010 -- The Xbox LIVE Block Party

The new Block Party program offered gamers the option of purchasing the three titles, and then downloading the Game Room app to obtain a 400 Microsoft Point refund and a free month of Xbox Live Gold service -- which turned out to be available to all subscribers (including Silver-Level) in spite of the suggestion that it was Gold only.

The games included:

Mar 03: Toy Soldiers (1200 Microsoft Points)

Mar 10: Scrap Metal (1200 Microsoft Points)

Mar 17: Perfect Dark (800 Microsoft Points)

Mar 24: Game Room – Free download)*

* Xbox LIVE Game Room -- not a game so much as an interface to games, the Game Room served as the virtual reality representation of the classic 1980's coin-op arcade, an Avatar-aware space within your 360 that allowed you to customize it with the games you want (and which you had to purchase via the Game Room Catalog), decorate it from a collection of free objects, paid objects, and decorative objects that are acquired as a byproduct of earning Achievements.

The Block Party program was partly a vehicle created to introduce the Game Room program, so Microsoft included some added bonus content by rewarding gamers who purchased all three Block Party titles and then downloaded the free Game Room app by delivering 400 Microsoft Points back to their account on the service -- a bonus that basically amounted to a free Game Room game if that was what the gamer wanted. Xbox LIVE Gold Members also received an extra month to their Gold subscription free, a bonus that was obviously meant to encourage Silver-Level members to upgrade.

The 2nd (2009) Summer of Arcade

The second annual incarnation of what was destined to become a gamer-loved annual offering was introduced by Xbox LIVE Spokesman Major Nelson, who has a blog that covers all things Xbox and who enthusiastically announced the lineup only to have to issue a correction later, when the previously announced title Monkey Island Special Edition was dropped from the program.

The corrected lineup consisted of:

July 22: 'Splosion Man (800 Microsoft Points)

July 29: Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (1200 Microsoft Points)

August 05: TMNT: Turtles in Time Re-shelled (1200 Microsoft Points)

August 12: Trials HD (1200 Microsoft Points)

August 19: Shadow Complex (1200 Microsoft Points)

Considering the size and its status as a AAA title, many gamers were shocked that Shadow Complex was priced at the same level as games like the remake of 1992's Turtles in Time -- originally a stand-up coin-op arcade title (1991) that was ported to the Nintendo Super NES. Trials HD ended up being the surprise title for the program, quickly surpassing 2-million units in sales and demonstrating that there is still a special place in gamer hearts for the "don't try this at home" type of motorcycle stunt game that made Excitebike the game of the year for NES in 1985.

The Summer of Arcade

The first and, some say, the best XBLA promotion ever was the newly announced Summer of Arcade promotion. Of course nobody knew at the time that it was to establish an annual program offer, what they knew was that those crazy bastards at Microsoft set out a lineup of five very cool games and then added some pretty amazing prizes to the mix!

The five titles that established the annual program were:

July 30: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (800 Microsoft Points)

August 06: Braid (1200 Microsoft Points)

August 13: Bionic Commando: Rearmed (800 Microsoft Points)

August 20: Galaga Legions (800 Microsoft Points)

August 27: Castle Crashers (1200 Microsoft Points)

The 800 Microsoft Points price tag for most of the games was thought to be reasonable but the 1200 Microsoft Points tag on Braid and Castle Crashers generated a lot of heat, as most gamers thought that the higher price was not reasonable -- but that did not prevent then from buying them!

The first offering that established the annual program included a Sweepstakes that Microsoft never repeated -- which is a shame -- because it had some pretty awesome prizes attached to it, including:

Grand Prize: 100,000 Microsoft Points, a 12 Month Xbox LIVE Gold subscription, and an Xbox 360 Elite console. There was just one (1) Grand Prize awarded of course, as otherwise it would be the Grand Prizes... Or something...

Runner-Up Prizes: Two lucky bastards won 10,000 Microsoft Points and a 12 Month Xbox LIVE Gold subscription. Not as cool as scoring a new console, but pretty cool just the same.

Weekly Prizes: Each week of the event five gamers won a 4000 Microsoft Points card -- maybe not as sexy as the Grand Prize, but you cannot say no to free games, right?

One of the funny restrictions that were placed on the sweeps was the caveat that while you could participate in the program no matter where in the world you happened to be, if you were a gamer living in Korea you were not going to be able to get some Bionic Commando Rearmed love, because that game was not allowed to be sold there... No reason was given for why.

Posted: 30th Jun 2011 by CMBF