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Spotlight On: MagicalTimeBean

Developer: MagicalTimeBean
Games Made: Soulcaster I & II, Escape Goat 

Today I would like to take a moment to shine a spotlight on an up and coming indie developer who has made some incredibly well crafted games in the past few years, and is bar none one of the best developers currently inhabiting the Xbox Live Indie Game Marketplace. If you’ve got a 360 and you haven’t tried either Escape Goat or the Soulcaster games, you’re really missing out on a couple of the absolute best experiences on the platform. In this article I’ll briefly go over the outstanding games that he’s made, then at the end there’s a Q&A where we get to hear from the man himself.

Soulcaster I & II
Platforms: Xbox Live Indie Game Marketplace, Windows
Read the Review 

First off, we have the uniquely designed Soulcaster games. If you had taken the original Gauntlet, then smashed it together with a tower defense game, this is likely the product that would be born. It tackles the idea of defensive “towers” in a new way that really helps maintain the feel of an action game. The strategy of positioning your “towers” is still there, but with smartly designed, ever-changing levels, the action moves at a much faster pace. The Soulcaster games do a great job of blending these two genres, and it’d be a shame for anyone to miss them.

They’ve been long time staples of the XBLIG Marketplace, but recently they were also released on Desura for all you Windows users out there.
[Edit: I was previously under the impression that these games had been released on Mac and Linux as well, but it turns out I was completely wrong. Sorry about that… I try to make sure I’m as accurate as possible about these things, but sometimes I just fail miserably. My apologies!]

Escape Goat
Platform: Xbox Live Indie Game Marketplace
Read the Review 

Next up we have Escape Goat, a brilliantly executed puzzle platformer. Gameplay-wise, it’s not going to change the face of platforming as we know it, but the execution is otherwise brilliant. The puzzles are all satisfyingly challenging, and the pacing is absolutely perfect. It starts off simple, then steadily ramps up the complexity as you progress, but it never got to a point where it was simply too frustratingly hard, nor did it ever feel like the levels were too easy. They hit that perfect balance where it’s just fun and rewarding to figure out. And you’ve got to love the actual scenario of the game: You play as a goat, who has been thrown in to a prison for practicing witchcraft, and as you try to find your way out you gain the assistance of a mouse who can use a teleporting hat. Yup, it’s as bizarre as it sounds, but the aesthetics of the levels combined with the unique premise created a world I was genuinely happy to be playing in. It was just a fun place to visit, and any fans of platformers would be shooting themselves in the foot by missing this.

Sadly it has yet to find it’s way to any PC platforms, but it is dirt cheap on the XBLIG Marketplace, so if you’ve got a spare dollar and access to it, do yourself a favor and buy it.

Thus far there are only three games released by Mr. Stocker (Ian Stocker is the sole member of MagicalTimeBean), but they are all fantastic games, and I’d say he’s been off to a pretty great start so far. If you’re not already keeping an eye on him, you should be. If you’re a twitter user, you can follow him at @MagicalTimeBean and stay tuned in to his progress as it happens.

As a final spotlight for MagicalTimeBean, I thought it’d be a good idea to throw out a few questions and let Ian speak for himself, to let people see what he has to say. The following is not an interview mind you, it is just a Q&A. I sent these questions to Mr. Stocker and he replied with his answers, so if you’re confused by the lack of a “back and forth,” that’s why. Anyhow, here we go, enjoy:

Indie Fortress:
Now that they’ve had some time on the PC market, how would you rate the initial success of the Soulcaster games on Desura compared to when they were released on Xbox Live?

Ian Stocker:
Since the bundle ended, sales on Desura have completely flatlined. Over the past week, I’ve sold about one copy a day of either game. One reason for this is that Indie Royale is the only marketing the PC version got, and I haven’t really taken the time to contact the PC indie game media about it.

Indie Fortress:
With the XBL Indie Market being the cluttered mess that it is, and services like XBLA and PSN having such high barriers for entry, are those markets starting to fade from your radar a bit?

Ian Stocker:
In the sense that they were everything to me before, and now they are sharing time with the PC platform, I suppose you can say they have faded somewhat. I will still release games on XBLIG and my games will continue to be very console-oriented in their design, since I prefer console games personally.

Indie Fortress:
In some ways Soulcaster feels like an Action RPG, and in others I feel the influence of Tower Defense, but the finished product really isn’t anything like either of those. Something I’ve been curious about for a long while is, where did you get the idea for Soulcaster?

Ian Stocker:
It started as an idea to make a Gauntlet style game where you play as all four heroes at once, with three being AI controlled. When I started prototyping this, it turned out to be more fun to have the allies stationary, like turrets in a tower defense game, so it kind of built up from there. I don’t think I would ever have come up with this idea if I had to write it down from scratch, I had to try out a lot of ideas and let the idea reveal itself to me through the prototyping process.

Indie Fortress:
The indie game scene has gone through a hell of a growth spurt these past few years, and we’ve seen some very unique, interesting titles popping up. What are your thoughts on the rising popularity of indie gaming, and what are some of your all-time favorite indie games to have been released?

Ian Stocker:
Some recent favorites of mine are Bastion XBLA and Hidden in Plain Sight XBLIG. I also tried a pre-release version of Waking Mars for iPad and it was a really fun, engrossing experience. I attribute the recent proliferation of indie games to new technologies like Unity and XNA, the explosion of low-cost, digital distribution like XBLIG, the App Store and Steam, and the economic downturn which has attracted customers to lower-cost games.

Indie Fortress:
What’s it like for you, being a solo indie developer? Is it difficult for you to tackle these projects on your own, and do you see yourself being able to do this for the foreseeable future?

Ian Stocker:
At times it is very difficult. There are advantages and disadvantages, but regardless, I don’t think I have any choice now that I’ve had a taste of making my own games. I find myself in one of two different modes: promotion and development. When I am developing something, I tend to disappear off the radar, email piles up, my Twitter feed goes dark… then I eventually emerge and go into community management mode. It’s nice for one thing to be a kind of break from the other. As much as I like being a solo developer, however, I don’t think humans are meant to work solo forever, and I feel more and more a draw towards finding someone to collaborate with.

Indie Fortress:
There are tons of indie developers out there designing for mobile devices, and I’m seeing games on the iOS platform getting more and more impressive all the time. How do you feel about the mobile platforms? Have you ever thought about creating something for these devices?

Ian Stocker:
I don’t play a lot of mobile games, so it’s not my platform of choice. My games would have to undergo some redesign, especially in their controls, to work well on a small touch screen, not to mention the code would have to be rewritten. In my list of projects for 2012, mobile is very far down there, so I may not get to it any time soon.

Indie Fortress:
Finally, did your games turn out how you envisioned them? I know that time and budget can often times lead to developers having to cut various ideas or mechanics from their games. Was there any content that you had to cut from your games that you really wish you hadn’t?

Ian Stocker:
Soulcaster turned out about 75% like how I envisioned it, but with very different mechanics. Escape Goat was hardly envisioned at all when I started it–I just wanted to make a single-screen puzzle platformer. The machinery, block stacking, mouse friend, goat protagonist–these were all things that just showed up during the development process. The making of Escape Goat was a lot like venturing into the wilderness without a map. It led to months on end where it seemed like I was making no progress, but I’m glad I stuck with it because I’m really proud of how it turned out.

I would like to once again thank Mr. Stocker of MagicalTimeBean, for taking the time to answer these questions. It was a pleasure hearing from you Ian!

And to everybody else, I hope this has given you something to think about! I know many of you haven’t even heard of these games before, but trust me, they’re worth checking out.

To receive updates on new posts, follow me at @IndieFortress on Twitter!

And don’t forget to keep an eye on Ian’s activities by following him at @MagicalTimeBean!

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