Ask anyone at Microsoft about the near extinction of Xbox Live Arcade as a platform and you'll hear one thing, "Games are games are games." Every title, regardless of release format and publisher will be in one pool, with the best rising to the surface. Twisted Pixel's Lococycle is likely to be the poster child for the new philosophy and infrastructure.
PAX already has an arcade-like atmosphere, which gives Lococycle a distinct advantage. It feels very much like a title that would be at home in the neighborhood hangout. Instead of popping in a quarter, though, we put on a headset and went for a ride.
Lococycle tells the story of Iris, a cutting edge motorcycle that is struck by lightning. After her Ben Franklin moment, Iris becomes sentient (not unlike Short Circuit's Johnny-5). After seeing a commercial for the Freedom motorcycle rally, she grabs her mechanic, Pablo, by the pantleg and makes for Scottsburg, Indiana.
Through the Florida Keys, snowy mountains, and even the Grand Canyon, Iris is pursued by her creators, Big Arms. The weapons manufacturer wants her back, sending the Robert Patrick-voiced Spike to retrieve her.
The racing is frantic, and Iris uses her guns and a variety of melee attacks to take out her pursuers. Building combos, which translate into currency, will allow players to upgrade Iris in a variety of ways, including using poor Pablo as a boomerang.
In the current environment, Lococycle would be one of only a small number of releases on Xbox Live in a given week. It will be a launch title on Xbox One, competing against boxed games at retail. Still, Twisted Pixel's studio director Michael Wilford believes the elimination of Xbox Live as a subgroup is worthwhile.
"It's just a nomenclature change," Wilford said. "The Xbox Live publishing group still exists for games like Lococycle and Killer Instinct. It's a good thing that the term is going away, though."
When Xbox Live first launched on the original Xbox, games were priced at $5 or $10. Over the course of the Xbox 360's life, prices increased dramatically, with $15 and $20 the norm for original titles that are far deeper than the platform originally supported. "It made it hard to justify $20 or even $30 games," Wilford said.
Since Twisted Pixel was acquired by Microsoft as the publisher's original digital intellectual property studio, the developer has been at the forefront of new initiatives. Microsoft's first digital bundle compiled Twisted Pixel's games, and putting Lococycle up against first- and third-party games on day one is a sign of confidence.
We asked Wilford about the competition in the new marketplace structure, and he pointed to Steam as an example of how well it can work. "The more like Steam we can make things the better," he said. "Steam's doing it right for sure."