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Review of the AppJudgement Review of Deadly Chambers

You guys, Anthony Carboni over at AppJudgement recently reviewed Battery Powered Games’ Deadly Chambers for Android devices.

WAIT, don’t click play yet!

The review isn’t favorable even though Anthony is giving it the 5 finger solute there.  In fact, considering all the positive reviews and comments we’ve gotten its surprising the level of which Anthony dislikes Deadly Chambers.  If only he knew how much time I spent watching Bytejacker and playing Free Indie Rapid Fire games instead of working on level designs, improving textures and character animations…  All the time I spent watching him with enjoyment and laughter, now replaced with a sour taste and sadness…  He really didn’t seem to like the game. Oh Anthony!!!  NOOOOOO!

We are really honored to be reviewed by AppJudgement, don’t get me wrong.  I’ve been watching them for over a year now and I’ve come to enjoy their productions and trust their reviewers (was hoping for Jackie to review to be honest, no offense Anthony).  I don’t know if Anthony, or the AppJudgement team got my requests for review, or if he found it as he stated (which would be awesome), but being noticed is a plus in and of itself.  Even after the review I still love you Anthony, and we are taking many of your thoughts to heart.  (WTF, ByteJacker biweekly, you suck!  I mean that in the most positive way!  I miss you.)

With that said, I have a few major contentions with his review.  First off, he sets the stage by saying “a little gaming action for my hardcore friends.”  Deadly Chambers was never intended as a “hardcore game”.  It was designed to be a casual shooter, to give you a few minutes of shoot-the-bad-guys fun, and was designed accordingly.  It is made for a phone device after all.  We did decide to support the more hardcore gamer types by adding a lot of unlockable guns, achievements and a tough “Deadly” difficulty of course, but the designed and intended average time to play a level is pretty quick once you get used to it.  Anthony reviewed Deadly Chambers as if it were intended for hardcore gamers so its no wonder he wasn’t satisfied.  Additionally, he was comparing it to iPhone games.  That isn’t a problem mind you, because its at least a more fair comparison than comparing it to Xbox360 or PS3 shooters and is appropriate, but it doesn’t really matter if you only have an Android Phone.  What he also failed to mention was the total lack of any quality 3D shooters available in the Android Market because he was comparing it to iPhone games.  If games like Deadly Chambers were easy to make, the market would be flooded with them.  Deadly Chambers is one of a kind, for better or worse.  It is not NOVA (ported to Android, and whose heard of it other than the hardcore), it is not Quake (this is an OLD PC game remember), and its not supposed to be!

Secondly, he never mentions the bosses.  The majority of the game design came in the form of boss fights.  From an angry Ogre  who can repel your attacks with a giant smiley face shield, a giant spider knight, a mechanized robot with Gatling gun arms whose pilot is its only week point, and a giant dragon that flies around shooting fire at you in a huge castle.  The game’s boss fights add much to the game as a whole and he never mentioned them.  In the game there are 5 enemy models and 6 boss models.  Sure, the room to room design isn’t the best and the AI of those monsters isn’t top notch, but he didn’t even mention the level bosses.  You shouldn’t say something like “enemy AI is simplistic and slow” and ignore the bosses, which he does.  (See how mad the Ogre is there, waving his wooden hammer!)

Other little things…

The levels are “bland and boxy” and the characters are “simple”.  This is so very true, and Anthony goes on later in his video to express the potential fragmentation problem related to this which is also exactly true.  To support the myriad of Android devices and OS versions, we were forced to aim lower than I, as the artist and partial designer, would like.  However, given that the game has 5 levels, 11 character models, 18 guns and a shit-ton of other images (that is artist talk for amazing Photoshop skillz), all jammed into a 7MB file, its f’ing impressive and I’m super studly for making that possible!   Add to that the fact that it runs on so many devices is a testament to the design.  We could have made a killer shooter if we target a few phones, Anthony is dead to rights about that, but we would have been ignoring a large portion of the Android audience.  Ultimately though, shouldn’t this sort of approach be praised instead of condoned.  Robert (Battery Powered Games owner, president, etc., etc.) was adamant about supporting older phones (older OSs, back to 1.6) and I eventually came around to his way of thinking (because he’s right).  Its too big a market to over look, especially at the date of our release.  I’m still sporting my G1 for crying out loud!  This also correlates tremendously to sales as well as recognition.

One of the major issues with the game is its controls.  I for one, have tested on a number of devices, and perhaps I’ve grown accustomed to its quirks, but it works well for me.  However, supporting so many devices causes a whole bunch of unfortunate problems too.  Problems that I wish were not there and cause us headaches and stars in the ratings (X10 and Moment for instance).   I wont really get into this because its a loosing battle and I’m half drunk, but part of the blame falls on the player, but most of the blame falls onto the Android hardware.  Don’t believe me?  Go to the Application Market and download the some of the Multitouch test apps (Multitouch Visibility Test and Multitouch Paint are a both good ones) and use them in a way you think controls should/could work and see what happens.  Here’s a video on the Nexus 1 and Droid just for reference.  The ultimate problem is that since the Nexus 1 and the Droid both support the same OS, but the touch interface behaves differently and you can’t really target a phone directly, you’re stuck deciding how to deal with the fallout (bad reviews because phone don’t work vs. trying to make it right for one device.)

What saddens me most is that I seriously doubt Anthony played much of the game and this is evident in the video.  There are hardly any achievement unlocks and no video past the third level.  Some of the complaints about simple models and levels are true, but once you get to the Castle or the Tower levels (levels 4 and 5) I think the levels are outstanding in comparison.  The models also get better.  I admit, this shooter isn’t the 3D Jesus we’re all hoping for, but its a step in the right direction.  With some actual, honest, unbiased and unrushed gameplay, I think its a solid game worth a look.  One worthy of more than the 10 minutes it takes to get to level 3.

Anthony also mentions the characters sliding and twisting awkwardly around the screen, which admittedly is very noticeable.  It’s also one of those things that I notice and you know where else this is noticable?  Fallout 3 and Fable 2, both of which have characters that when running around the environment don’t seem to be quite right.  I will admit I giggled a little at his reference to Dr. Chambers’ running animation looking like something like a puppet from Team America.  This was one of those things that I wanted to fix, but ultimately was good enough for what it was.  Not too bad for 8 keyframes really.  (Still bugs me deep in my core, but not enough to do something about apparently…)

In the end, we are being compared to NOVA and even Rage by AppJudgement, a reputable and respectable organization and I appreciate their time and effort in their review.  I respect Anthony and we are taking his, and every other reviewer, blog, fan or mutant out there who took the time to give us a chance, comments to heart.  In the end, you should watch Anthony’s review because he is good at what he does and I’m all sorts of jealous.  Sometimes I wish A-Train wasn’t dead… (Insert inside joke here… wait, I already did.)

Oh, and BTW, we’ve started working on our next game and its going to be awesome!

2 Responses to “Review of the AppJudgement Review of Deadly Chambers”

  1. Anthony says:

    Hi, Ryan! It's always good to see developers responding to criticism, especially with a thoughtful and balanced response.

    I certainly don't doubt the effort put into Deadly Chambers as a product, and I've got a lot of respect for anyone who attempts a high-end game on the Android platform. Both you and I acknowledge that you've got the deck stacked against you on this one. Fragmented hardware and software leave you in a pretty tough spot.

    The effort to support all of this is indeed herculean, and in the end I think the game suffered for it. Considering what will push the platform – and your company's rep as game developers – forward, I genuinely believe that a great game on just a few handsets goes far beyond a mediocre or poor game that's available to everyone. You can't be everything to everyone.

    By the same token, a 'casual' FPS is a pretty tough thing to pull off – none even come immediately to mind. The complex control and viewpoint of FPS games tend to eliminate them for the casual player right from the start. It sounds like you had a perceived audience type that was very different from the people who would actually be attracted to a game like Deadly Chambers.

    I should mention that I did indeed get to further levels – I play all the games I review on multiple handsets, and I get farther on some than others. The editors then pick and choose which footage best fits in the segment. I found the boss battles to be the high point of play, but I think that the attention paid to them should've been paid to all your standard enemy types.

    The bells and whistles of Deadly Chambers are great: I do love that there's a variety of weapons and that you went out of your way to try to support every possible handset you could. It's an instinct that comes from a very good place. It unfortunately seems that too large a portion of the game's development effort was put into those bells and whistles and not enough was placed into your core gameplay.

    I can tell you're a team of dedicated developers that really cares about the platform. I'm sure you're taking the lessons learned from Deadly Chambers and applying them to your next game. Let me know when it's done – I look forward to reviewing it. Android needs all the passionate developers it can get.

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