When Microsoft pulled the curtains back on their always-exciting Summer of Arcade lineup last week at E3, I wasn’t one bit surprised to see Wreckateer filling out the XBLA Kinect slot. I’ve already extolled its virtues in my PAX East preview, and that was just based on a few minutes with the game. Recently I had the opportunity to stop by Iron Galaxy and catch up with CEO Dave Lang on why everyone should be keeping an eye on this exciting new XBLA game.
While the core mechanics of Wreckateer are the same as at PAX East, a lot of polish has been applied on top of the already solid foundation. I was also able to hear the audio this time around, which it turns out is pretty good. The soundtrack is medieval and catchy without being overbearing, and the little audio cues for actions like grabbing the ballista are useful and well-implemented.
Iron Galaxy has also had a chance to beef up the cast of characters in the game. Wreckateer is focused on gameplay, so there isn’t much of a story, but your fellow wreckers and the king who hires you to destroy his goblin-infested castles serve as both a gameplay tutorial and a bit of light humor as you blast your way through the game.
Though Iron Galaxy has worked on some great games – You Don’t Know Jack, Kinect Adventures, and the upcoming mobile edition of Mrs ‘Splosion Man to name a few – this is their first original IP. At its core, the company has been a tech house, coming in to design systems and help finish games. They have the chops to make improvements to an engine, and they’ve done so here. Almost every Kinect game I’ve played has that moment of frustration where things don’t respond the way you expect them to or your reactions seem a little slower than they should. It dawned on me just now that this never happened to me in Wreckateer – everything works exactly how you think it should.
I was able to play through a couple hours of the game. By the time I had to stop it was hard to tear myself away, and that was even without all of my friends on the leaderboards for me to try over and over again to beat. Duty called though, so I sat down with Dave Lang to discuss the philosophies of Iron Galaxy and what makes Wreckateer tick.
One of the more interesting topics of conversation was Wreckateer‘s intended audience. When I mentioned seeing a small child playing Wreckateer at PAX and loving it, Lang laughed. As he says, he makes games that he wants to play, and he considers himself a serious gamer. The second the doors opened at PAX, all of the hardcore gamers immediately ran off to line up for Max Payne 3 and Borderlands 2, so the main audience between 10am and 1pm ended up being moms and kids. Come 1pm however, the hardcore crowd started showing up and they loved Wreckateer too.
It’s always interesting to see different developers’ philosophies on how achievements should be handled, but Lang gave me hands down the best response I have received during my Involved Fans tenure. Achievements are a big part of the culture at Iron Galaxy. A couple of times a year the whole crew picks a game. At 8pm, the whole company starts playing. Whoever has the most achievements by 8am gets lunch purchased for them by the person with the least achievements – provided the winner shows up for work the next day!
Iron Galaxy is therefore extremely conscious of what makes achievements worth chasing, and has taken care to craft goals that are interesting for the players to quest for. They’ve also done something I’ve never seen in a game before – the narrators react when you unlock an achievement. It’s a small touch, but hearing the game respond to your accomplishments took me back to Mortal Kombat‘s beloved “Toasty!” and made me wonder why this isn’t utilized more often.
Visiting Iron Galaxy not only got me even more excited about Wreckateer, it made me more hopeful about the state of Kinect in general. This year’s Summer of Arcade lineup is impressive, including fellow Chicago studio Robomodo’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD and the highly anticipated Dust: An Elysian Tale. I’ve played both of those games as well, but the game I’m most excited for is still Wreckateer. Download the demo when it hits the marketplace. Try it out. You may discover your favorite game of the summer.