Founder and Design Director, Heart Shaped Games "We Are the Caretakers"
[AUDIO LOGO] LARRY HRYB: Hi, it's Larry Hryb, Xbox's Major Nelson. Welcome to 2023. Welcome to The Official Xbox Podcast. The whole gang is here. We got Jeff over there, on the left. Hi, Jeff.
JEFF: Hi, we're in a gang.
LARRY HRYB: Happy New Year, Jeffrey. And, Rebecca, over there, on the right. Now, Rebecca, you are back. You were traveling for a few weeks, you were moving. Of course, you joined us for the live show, but you're back.
REBECCA: Yeah, it's been a stressful month and a half, I've been ping-ponging around the West Coast, a lot, but I'm finally home, in the Bay. I had a really good time in Seattle, but I'm finally home and settled, and it's good to be back.
LARRY HRYB: And you know what makes it home?
LARRY HRYB: That little guy, behind you.
JEFF: All right.
REBECCA: I know.
JEFF: He's so little.
REBECCA: I know, Pumba is a California dog now, but he's still just as lazy, as ever. He basically just sleeps there, the whole time I'm working. But he's a very cute addition to my background, for on-camera calls.
LARRY HRYB: Because when you were living in New York, unfortunately, he wasn't living with you. He lived here, with a little bit, at the beginning, but then you sent him back home, right?
REBECCA: Yeah, he was not enjoying New York. And my parents love him, and they have a big backyard, so we sent him back to Seattle. And he had a good time. But he's definitely-- it hasn't been sunny so much, lately, but you might have heard, we've got this big storm going on in California, right now. But, overall, he doesn't like the rain, he doesn't like cold weather. So he's going to be very happy, to live here, I think.
LARRY HRYB: Well, welcome--
JEFF: 2 minutes, 35 seconds into the new year, weather has been brought up, on the podcast.
REBECCA: I know.
LARRY HRYB: It wasn't me, wasn't me.
REBECCA: It's fair. It's fair. Hey, it's crazy weather in California, right now, though.
JEFF: No, it's true. Stay safe. I have been hearing, from friends, yeah.
LARRY HRYB: But, anyway, it's great to have everybody back. Hopefully, everybody had a good new year. I know that I was playing a lot of games. I finished High on Life, which was a lot of fun.
LARRY HRYB: Jeff, I don't even think, you've started it, have you?
JEFF: No, I have, I'm on the second level. My brother came by this weekend, and he was like, you've haven't beaten this yet? And he was very--
REBECCA: I'm kind of, surprised.
JEFF: Well, I was traveling for-- basically, we did our live show. I was on a plane like--
LARRY HRYB: Less than 24 hours later.
REBECCA: Yeah, you had an awesome holiday.
JEFF: I did. So, basically, I was traveling, and it was like, we would do whatever, family stuff, during the day. And then at night, sun sets very early, it's cold, whatever. Streamed Persona 5, just on my laptop, for-- till 2:00 in the morning.
LARRY HRYB: I saw you playing a lot.
JEFF: And then, wake up and do it again. I think I clocked about 50 hours, on this vacation.
LARRY HRYB: [CHUCKLING]
JEFF: But it was all while-- I was jetlagged, anyway. I'm up, I'm playing Persona. Ah, it's so good. I've literally had the battle theme music in my head, nonstop. I wake up and I'm hearing the music.
LARRY HRYB: I feel bad. I should have that cued up, ready for you. That's your sh-- that's your--
REBECCA: Next time. Next time.
LARRY HRYB: Now, that's your walk-on music. Let me find it.
JEFF: Oh, that would be amazing. OK, all right. Well, we're doing it. But, yeah, that's most of what I got to play. And then, because I only had like my little work laptop, I was still able to play Vampire Survivors, which was great.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
JEFF: So on the flight, I had like, whatever was on TV. That's the only time I watched HBO specials, because they always have episodes 2, 3, and 4, of whatever, the most recent season is. They never put--
JEFF: --the 1 in. Like, why?
JEFF: Anyway, and then I had Vampire Survivors, and I was like, OK, that's 10. That's the next 10 hours of my life. And I wasn't complaining.
LARRY HRYB: Speaking of Vampire Survivors, have you played it yet, Rebecca? Because I know that on the live show, you were talking about it. And Jeff and I had spent the past three plus weeks, talking about it. Have you had a chance to play it yet?
REBECCA: No. You guys did talk about it a lot.
LARRY HRYB: Sorry.
REBECCA: No, but I've actually been playing [INAUDIBLE].
As if he hasn't heard it enough.
JEFF: Now you hear, what I hear. This is what I hear, all day long, 24 hours a day, in my head.
(SINGING) And sent to Brian Mulder's godfire.
JEFF: Oh, I swear, I go fight, all-out attack, right about here.
LARRY HRYB: OK.
JEFF: You're going to finish up.
LARRY HRYB: Enough, anyway--
JEFF: Great job, Panther.
LARRY HRYB: Sorry, Rebecca. I'll save that, Jeff, so I can pull that up on cue, much more quickly, next time.
REBECCA: There we go. Next time
JEFF: Yes, then we'll do the boss music. OK.
LARRY HRYB: We're talking about Vampire Survivors.
REBECCA: Yes. Sorry, no, I haven't played that one, but I should give it a shot. Do you guys think, I would like it?
LARRY HRYB: Yes.
JEFF: I think it's an entirely new genre. I remember when Roguelike first started.
LARRY HRYB: What would you call it?
JEFF: That's a really good question.
REBECCA: It's a Rogue or--
JEFF: Because, I guess, it was like Rogue Legacy. I mean, it's literally like named after. That's why, it's like, Rogue. And that was like, OK, this is interesting. But now, there are so many of those types of games, and we look at where it can go, like Hades. Or just think of a Battle Royale, where it--
LARRY HRYB: Right.
JEFF: --started with, I don't know. It was PUBG, the first one that I knew. And then, it just has gone from there, and it's just like, it's so well established. I feel like Vampire Survivors is that type of thing. Because it's such a stripped down thing, and yet, it-- I think, this is-- I want to see what other people do, other people build, on this type of limited combat, but where you're just evading, and seeing how long you can survive, and what kind of twists can happen on that. That's why, I think, it's resonated so well, with people, despite being like 8 or 16 type of graphics. Obviously, the amount of things on screen are something that your Sega Genesis, never could have done. It's just, it gets into your head. And, anyway, you just need the cat talk. Anyway, you got to play it.
REBECCA: It's pretty catchy.
JEFF: It is. And it's just, if you're going to listen to a track, for 100 hours, it better be. But, somehow, you don't get sick of that.
REBECCA: I think it's very Japanese.
JEFF: I think Larry's very into this, by the way.
LARRY HRYB: Well, it's interesting because most of the JRPGs have wailing guitar. And I haven't heard the wailing guitar yet.
REBECCA: Yeah, maybe.
JEFF: There's other tracks. Actually, the dungeon I'm in now, it's got some pretty wailing guitar.
(SINGING) --grooves, dirty words.
Now, if you get to this part of the song, you're not doing very well. Like, you should have wiped the floor with them by that point. You got put to sleep or something like that. Anyway, we'll stop there.
You were playing me off like I had won a game award, and I just wouldn't shut up.
LARRY HRYB: Thank you very much. Anyway, so Rebecca, what have you been playing over the holiday? We talked about I finished High on Life. And that was such a fun ride. That was a fun single player game to play on Game Pass, play over the holidays.
I know you've been moving, but have you had a chance to play?
REBECCA: Yeah, so when I've been in Seattle, I've been playing a lot of MARVEL SNAP--
LARRY HRYB: Right.
REBECCA: --kind of an unhealthy amount.
LARRY HRYB: Which you showed last time on the show.
REBECCA: Yeah, I got a new phone for Christmas. And so it just works better, and the battery lasts longer. And so I've been sitting here and playing the game.
It was even to the point where my mom was like, we're trying to have dinner, sitting and talking together. And she put down the phone. And I was like, OK.
LARRY HRYB: Oops.
REBECCA: So I still am really enjoying MARVEL SNAP. And then I also been playing High on Life when I've been back here in the Bay.
LARRY HRYB: How many of the weapons do you have?
REBECCA: Well, does the knife count?
LARRY HRYB: I guess so.
REBECCA: I just got, I think, Gus, the second gun. So I'm on to the third bounty mission. I have to say, I'm really enjoying how kind of simple High on Life is.
Like, I don't have to do a lot of work scavenging for resources or figuring out how to customize my gun, aside from just going to the pawn shop and picking up pieces. And I get a mission to go kill a bounty hunter--
LARRY HRYB: And that's what you're doing.
REBECCA: --I do it, and then I come back. And I'm like, you know what? I kind of miss this.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, it's kind of a straightforward, simplistic approach, right?
REBECCA: Right, and I really enjoy it. It still feels a triple-A game, in that the quality, and of course, the guns and the humor and the dialogue is really funny.
Like, I think I saw that people were talking about how you can kill a child in High on Life. Like, you can kill that really annoying kid, which I also did. And then I got the achievement for it.
LARRY HRYB: Yes!
JEFF: You get the achievement if you don't--
REBECCA: I was like, get out of my way.
JEFF: --I mean, or if you do.
JEFF: You have to.
JEFF: Well, then you go and you talk to the mom, right? And the mom was like, I understand. In fact, thank you, yes.
REBECCA: I know, I was laughing out loud for that part. I was like, I can't believe that this got into a game.
LARRY HRYB: And by the way, that's in the first hour-plus of the game, right? It's right off the bat.
REBECCA: Yeah, I was like, whew, I was not expecting this, so it's been pretty entertaining.
JEFF: The name of the achievement's very funny, too, as I recall.
JEFF: How much of Tammy and the T-Rex did you end up watching?
REBECCA: I think I've watched it all the way through, yeah.
LARRY HRYB: I need to do that. I haven't done that.
REBECCA: I mean, it's only a three-minute clip or something, right? Like, it's kind of short.
JEFF: Oh, no.
REBECCA: Isn't it?
JEFF: It's the whole movie, the whole movie.
LARRY HRYB: It's a major motion picture.
REBECCA: I thought that it was-- oh. Maybe I need to sit there longer and watch it.
JEFF: I think he said there's four different movies.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
JEFF: Like, when you go back, then what's his name is watching something else. And then you just keep watching it.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, as the story progresses, yes, Gus is watching a bunch of different things.
REBECCA: Oh, OK, I need to just stare at the TV on my TV then, next time.
LARRY HRYB: I don't know about you, Jeff or Rebecca, does he remind you of one of your old uncles sitting on the couch?
REBECCA: [LAUGHS] Yes--
REBECCA: --very much so.
LARRY HRYB: Ah, see?
REBECCA: Yeah, I'm surprised he's not sleeping one of the times you come home, right? Like, he's always awake, or not eating anything, either.
LARRY HRYB: Stay tuned.
LARRY HRYB: Anyway, well, I'm glad you're enjoying that. And again, it's available, High on Life, available.
If you're a little bit behind and you're just checking the podcast out, now go back and listen to the interview I did with Justin a couple weeks ago. Scroll back in your device. It's a couple of shows back. Actually, I think it may be the previous show, I don't know-- because he really talks about the game design, and what his vision is, and Game Pass. It was a really fun, fun interview.
LARRY HRYB: Jeff?
JEFF: I agree.
JEFF: There's nothing more to add to that. No, it's really cool. I think you should do more of those, the long form interview with some of the--
REBECCA: Yeah, one-off.
JEFF: --interesting people we get to work with, or who are producing really cool stuff.
LARRY HRYB: Which we interview 'em-- yeah, yeah, that's fair.
JEFF: But we try to jam it into 10 minutes to fit into the show. But I think it was really cool to stretch that out, put a clip in the show, but then put out the interview, separate it for people that really want to have that deep dive.
LARRY HRYB: I think I'll do that. Maybe for some interviews coming up, I'll find the opportunity to do that. And we'll figure it out.
But we're just going to experiment and try new things and see what people like, see what sticks, as they say.
JEFF: Is that what they say?
LARRY HRYB: They say.
REBECCA: That's what they say.
LARRY HRYB: Actually, you know what? Before we get into the news, Jeff and Rebecca--
REBECCA: Throw Larry a bone.
LARRY HRYB: --I wanted to talk a little-- I hear you guys-- I want to talk a little bit about-- and I've got my notes up here-- about what we're waiting for. Because here we are, we're at the front door of 2023. We just opened the door. We're just walking through.
What are you guys looking forward to? I mean, what we know about games that are released right now that have been announced-- we're not going to give any unreleased information now. This is all out there. But we've got a lot of games coming.
Jeff, I know you've got a list in front of you, right, that you're interested in?
JEFF: Yeah, I was just looking at a post. And all the games that have dates for this calendar year-- and it's mostly in the first six months. And just that, it just looks pretty incredible.
LARRY HRYB: Can you rattle some of them off for us?
JEFF: Sure. Well, Persona 4 Golden and--
LARRY HRYB: Oh, god.
JEFF: --it's going to be coming out--
REBECCA: Oh, yeah.
JEFF: --in just a couple of weeks, coming to Game Pass.
LARRY HRYB: Do I need to bring it up again?
JEFF: No, it's different. They have different songs. It's completely different in that one. Something I was just thinking about is Age of Empires II is coming to console really soon.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JEFF: And that's something that we're starting to work on.
LARRY HRYB: They announced that on the Age of Empires--
JEFF: And I got to test that out--
LARRY HRYB: --25th anniversary.
JEFF: Yeah, back in September, October.
LARRY HRYB: September--
REBECCA: Yeah, the fall.
JEFF: I'm just looking at this list-- the Dead Space remake, I've been hearing really good things. I was listening to What's Good Games over the break, and they were looking forward to their games, their favorite games, or most looked forward to games of the year. And so they're remaking that game. And Isaac talks now, and making it more modern is something really cool.
I will say something, and this is not going to surprise anyone, but February 21, I may just call in sick.
LARRY HRYB: Because?
JEFF: Like a Dragon-- Ishin! is coming out.
LARRY HRYB: Oh, my, is that a Yakuza game?
JEFF: Well, now, they're calling them Like a Dragon.
LARRY HRYB: Are they trying to distance themselves from the criminal organization-- the alleged criminal organization?
JEFF: Hardly. I think that the name in-- it was like R-G-G-U. It stands for something that I cannot pronounce. And I don't want to butcher the Japanese.
But that meant "like a dragon." I think it was just in the West, it was referred to as Yakuza. So now, it's going consistently with that name, Like a Dragon.
Anyway, Ishin! Was announced when they had all of their announcements last year. It's the first one to come out. And it's a remake of one that takes place in late 1800s Japan. So that just looks really cool.
LARRY HRYB: Feudal?
JEFF: I don't know if that was the feudal era. I don't know if that was the Meiji Restoration. I'd really have to look it up--
LARRY HRYB: OK, don't hold us to that, folks.
JEFF: --it fits in there. But it was a period of time where Japan had briefly opened up to the West. And so things were changing pretty rapidly. Anyway, it seems a really interesting period of time to explore.
And of course, what they did is they took all the main characters from the Yakuza series and put them into-- inhabiting different characters, but from that era, as if they existed back then.
REBECCA: That's pretty cool. I like that.
JEFF: I think so. I think so.
LARRY HRYB: Would you call that a mashup?
JEFF: Continuing down the list--
LARRY HRYB: I don't know if that's a mashup, per se.
JEFF: Sometimes you would have episodes of shows where, like, what if they went back in time, and they were playing different roles like that, or a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror. It's almost kind of like that. So you see familiar faces, but they're not necessarily the same people-- or are they? I don't even know. That's why I'm going to play it February 21.
REBECCA: Yeah, it sounds cool.
JEFF: Star Wars-- Jedi Survivor, March 17.
LARRY HRYB: [MIMICS LIGHT SABER NOISES]
JEFF: I mean, that's looking very good, from the things that we've seen. Actually March in general, Wo Long-- Fallen Destiny starts off the month. Then Resident Evil 4 towards the end of the month, March 24, that remake looks just phenomenal. And you know I'm going to be all over that.
Dead Island 2-- Dead Island 2 is going to be finally coming out. And that's in April.
LARRY HRYB: We had a friend that used to work on that series. Is he still working on that series?
JEFF: Oh, no, I know he's no longer working there.
LARRY HRYB: OK.
JEFF: That was a long time ago.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, that was. I just dated myself.
JEFF: He launched the first one. Yeah, yeah, quite a bit. Legend of Zelda-- Tears of the Kingdom. Like, we're fans of games. That's coming out in May. Street Fighter 6, Diablo IV in June-- I mean, there's so many things.
And of course, I'm just mentioning things that have a set release date where there's literally a calendar date. I can't wait to play Redfall. That's one that I'm just super hyped for.
JEFF: And we have many other things I know we'll be talking about this year.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JEFF: Not even remotely close to an exhaustive list, but those are some of the things that are really jumping out at me for the next six months that I'm just so excited to play.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, I remember you and I and Rebecca, we were all talking last year about how, yeah, we got great games in 2022, but 2023-- and now, we're here. And to hear Jeff-- well, you just said just this list, which is a great list, but I'm sure there's even more because there's always surprises.
JEFF: Oh, yeah, yeah, not even remotely-- yeah, go on.
REBECCA: Yeah, I'm looking forward to hearing more about Starfield at some point.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JEFF: And then also, Jeff mentioned Redfall. I think that one looks really cool. I definitely want to try it out. It feels a really good multiplayer game, so we can try it on the podcast together.
LARRY HRYB: I'm actually really excited about that because it takes place in a fictitious New England island. And I spent a lot of time--
REBECCA: Oh, yeah.
LARRY HRYB: --I grew up in New England. And I spent a lot of time on--
REBECCA: In real ones.
LARRY HRYB: --different islands. So I'm interested to see what they've connected and what the essence-- because even just from the gameplay I've seen, I'm like, yep, that's it.
JEFF: Well, previous arcade games-- like when we think of Dishonored, we think of-- they didn't take place in more real world situations.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
JEFF: It was either--
LARRY HRYB: They're more fantasy.
REBECCA: --and fantasy spin-off--
JEFF: Exactly, so they'll have the opportunity to skewer or-- their take on New England, as you say. And that could be really interesting. I'm curious to see what they say.
LARRY HRYB: I mean, if there's not a Dunkin' Donuts in there, or-- as fans of this show remember coffee milk--
LARRY HRYB: --oh, I don't know.
REBECCA: Coffee milk?
LARRY HRYB: You didn't listen to the show when you were gone, did ya?
JEFF: You missed out. You missed out on a lot.
LARRY HRYB: We'll talk about that--
REBECCA: I've been busy.
LARRY HRYB: --off the air.
REBECCA: Let's see, a couple of others, too-- I saw some footage from Hogwarts Legacy. And surprisingly, I grew up in the--
LARRY HRYB: The Harry Potter era?
REBECCA: --era, but I don't think I've ever played a Harry Potter video game. But it actually looks really cool. I saw some good footage of them doing-- what's it called? Is it horde mode where you get the waves of varying difficulties, and you--
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, we can call it horde mode.
REBECCA: --try to last as long as you can? Yeah, I saw some kind of horde mode footage where you're using a wand, and you're casting spells, and you're fighting against-- I think it's the dwarves, the guys who guard Gringotts. And then there's different Death Eaters that come in, and you're fighting them. And so it looks pretty cool.
And then the other one I was curious about is, if you guys are looking forward to Assassin's Creed Mirage, I only played a little bit of the Assassin's Creed games. And it was a long time ago. But Mirage looks really cool. Like, it's a very cool setting.
JEFF: So the last three Assassin's Creeds, of which I've played them all the way through--
LARRY HRYB: 15 years Assassin's Creed's been around.
JEFF: Yeah, and it was 2007, so yeah, this will be 16. They became really sprawling open world RPGs, which is great. Had a tremendous amount of fun. I played each one of the last three for over 100 hours each.
But the original several Assassin's Creed games were more focused, literally on assassination and finding your way in--
LARRY HRYB: And stealth, yeah.
JEFF: --and sneaking, and less about leveling up and things like that. Now, it does seem like Mirage is more focused on that core, original Assassin's Creed experience. And so it'll be interesting to go back to that, but through a more modern lens.
Like you said, it's not going to play like AC1 in 2007. It's going to play a modern game. So I'm really curious to see that.
And of course, there are still going to be those sprawling RPG-type assassins as well. So really, why not both?
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, I'm looking at the description here. And people are calling-- it's going to be a smaller and more, quote, "traditional" Assassin's Creed game. So it's interesting to see--
REBECCA: I like that.
LARRY HRYB: --how Mirage is just going to go back to its roots and see-- because what we've noticed is, anybody that's been playing games for as long as all of us have, and I'm sure many of the listeners and viewers, is you can see the evolution of gameplay, in terms of over the years. 10 years ago, battle royale wasn't a thing. Now, it is.
So it's interesting to see how the open world-- they're not going to close the world off. I don't think that's fair. I think to your point, Jeff, they're just going to go back to the basics--
REBECCA: It's more focused.
LARRY HRYB: --yeah, of what the game was about.
JEFF: Yeah, definitely a good callout.
LARRY HRYB: Anyway, so that's kind of what we're waiting for in 2023. Jeff, we got some news to click off here. I don't know if you've got your news--
LARRY HRYB: --I don't have any news desk music, but--
JEFF: Well, look, the first week in January, generally one of the slowest weeks of the year. But we did have a stealth drop of a game that I think Larry, it might be really up your alley, which is Stranded Deep.
LARRY HRYB: Yep.
JEFF: So in the aftermath of a mysterious plane crash, you are stranded in the Pacific Ocean. And alone or with a friend, you do what you can to survive. You build things, you craft.
You look at the image, and it's like there's sharks in the water, and you're surviving the elements. And could you survive in that Lost-esque experience?
LARRY HRYB: A little Castaway action, it feels.
JEFF: Yeah, Castaway probably a little more right on. So it definitely seems like something you might be into, with the diving. I see the picture of the person fighting, and there's the shark--
LARRY HRYB: I don't fight sharks.
JEFF: --that just scares the hell out of me. I won't go into the water for that reason. I just don't like open water.
LARRY HRYB: Rebecca, I don't remember, are you a scuba diver? I know Jeff is not.
REBECCA: I've gone scuba diving a couple of times, yeah.
LARRY HRYB: Have you ever gone diving and encountered sharks?
REBECCA: No, that is a huge nightmare.
LARRY HRYB: I have done that. And it's a horrifying experience because Jeff, to your point, I love underwater. And I love underwater animals and-- anyway, I remember seeing the shark for the first time.
And I was like, oh, that's really cool, a shark. And then this complete wave of panic came over me because I realized there's no glass between us. I'm not in an aquarium. I am in its element. And I am now on its terms to whatever it wants to do. And the sea may have been yellow that day, my friend.
JEFF: I don't even like dealing with the sharks in Sea of Thieves. Even that is-- I just don't--
REBECCA: Stressful, yeah.
JEFF: Yes, I don't like being in the water in real life, in games, anything. But this is your thing.
LARRY HRYB: Looking forward to that.
JEFF: It's on Game Pass. No, it's there now, so get after it. Also, it's CES this week.
LARRY HRYB: Consumer Electronics Show-- I haven't been in years.
JEFF: And you haven't been in years because CES has not really been a gaming show in a really long time, at least a decade, probably, since you really would see major gaming announcements. There was a time when it was a really big gaming show.
What it is now that gets me excited is, what am I going to be playing these games on? And so we have actually a breakdown on microsoft.com, there's a CES page about all these gaming PCs. We're actually going to have, by the time you hear this, a post on Wire as well of what ASUS and Acer and Razer and all of these different manufacturers are putting together.
And basically, the NVIDIA 40 Series RTX are coming out now. And I think starting next month, you'll be able to start getting laptops with a 4000-level-- a 4060, 70, 80, you name it GPU in there. And that's just amazing to me what you're able to do, how powerful these are, and being able to take them on the road. I have severe gaming PC envy now because--
LARRY HRYB: FOMO?
JEFF: --the PC I'm on right now, it's great. It's powerful, plays just about everything. It's a 2080 Super. This thing is two generations old now. There's going to be laptops out there next month that could blow it away.
LARRY HRYB: Over the holiday, I got a couple of new gaming PCs.
JEFF: A couple?
JEFF: What do you, you just collect--
REBECCA: I know, right?
JEFF: --all five?
LARRY HRYB: Well, when you don't know whether you're going to go Intel and AMD, you go both. If you don't know if you're going to go Radeon or NVIDIA, you go both. Anyway, I've been dabbling in that.
JEFF: The idea-- OK, all right. So you just got 'em? You just went for it?
LARRY HRYB: Anyway--
JEFF: Are you just testing them out?
LARRY HRYB: --I'll talk about those on a future show. I don't want to plug up your news section.
JEFF: No, no, so that's the main thing. So really just seeing that-- Razer announced a handheld that is--
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, I'll have hands on with that in the coming weeks.
LARRY HRYB: The one that they had reserved for me is actually at CES right now. They're using it for demos.
REBECCA: Oh, funny.
LARRY HRYB: So they're going to get one for me. So stay tuned on that.
JEFF: So we've seen some handheld streaming devices that are built on, I believe, Android architecture, where you can stream games from Game Pass, through Xbox Cloud Gaming. This one has 5G built into it, so you won't have to be tethered to Wi-Fi.
Like I said, I was on the road. And even with really low bandwidth--
[ELECTRIC GUITAR MUSIC]
This is a boss battle right here, Larry. This is where it gets tough, you know? And I'm a true believer.
And it was just awesome to log on, see my friends list, and just be playing no matter where I was at, even, again, with some pretty subpar-- we're talking 15 megs down-- no problem.
LARRY HRYB: It's interesting, though, you actually texted me because you were at a few hotels as you were traveling. One of the hotels, the Wi-Fi did not play well with your gaming, right?
JEFF: Well, one of them, I think they had set up a firewall. And I found this out when I was trying to watch a soccer match. And I ended up-- there are ways. There are ways.
REBECCA: There are ways.
LARRY HRYB: Where there's a will, there's a way, usually.
JEFF: Yes, I just had to think outside the box a bit.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JEFF: So again, relatively slow week for news. Obviously, it'll pick up as time goes by, when you see all the games that are coming out, the ones we know about, the ones we may not. It'll be fun, but I'm kind of enjoying a bit of a slower week this week, and get to continue playing the games that are in my prodigious backlog--
LARRY HRYB: Speaking of games, one of the games that's out is We Are the Caretakers. And I was able to get an interview with that. I don't know, Rebecca, if you can bring us into that interview. It was a fun time because I was able to catch up with an old friend.
REBECCA: Yeah, so Scott Brodie from We Are The Caretakers, had a chat with Larry. And as a reminder, that game is out today. So let's check out the interview.
LARRY HRYB: We Are The Caretakers is now available on Xbox. Very excited to have that game on the platform. Joining me today is Scott Brodie, who not only is he behind the game, but also, Scott, you and I used to work together, right?
SCOTT BRODIE: That's right. Thanks for having me on. Yeah, we used to work together quite some time ago. I think it was almost 12 years ago.
I used to be on the Xbox Live Arcade producer team. And so I worked on a ton of indie games there, as well as an original title called Aegis Wing, if many of you know about that, yeah.
LARRY HRYB: Tell us about it because it's interesting, because you were at the beginning of the dawn of Xbox Live Arcade. And as we look in the rearview mirror, 10, 12-plus years ago, it was so new then. I remember some people had to get a disk because they didn't have the bits installed.
But you started digitally delivering games. Certainly, Steam had done it for a few years. But this was one of the first times that consoles had done it, right?
SCOTT BRODIE: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it was one of the reasons I wanted to come to Microsoft, was I was just passionate about getting these casual games and then indie games on a console, which was a new concept back then. And so it was really fun to be a part of that genesis of getting smaller, but diverse, different types of gameplay on the console.
And got to work with a lot of really cool people along the way. And I think it's had a nice little mark on Xbox long term, about the types of content that can be on the platform, and the types of games that got made.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, and then of course, now, you have your own studio, Heart Shaped Games. You guys are based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, here in the United States. Tell us a little bit about your history after you left Xbox and your journey to Heart Shaped Games.
SCOTT BRODIE: Yeah, so honestly, from my work at Microsoft, I just got the itch to do it myself, just talking with all these indie developers and having a background in development. So I started small with a couple of games where we were working with two to three people.
But fast forward to now, and We Are The Caretakers has been a four and a half year development cycle. And we've had a team of as big as 12 people working on it. So it's been a great journey to build a company, and build to a point where I could make something a little bit more substantial.
LARRY HRYB: So We Are The Caretakers is out now, today, as the podcast is being posted. Tell us a little bit, what is the game about? I've got some B-roll here, so I'm going to go ahead and roll that.
But talk us through a little bit about what we can expect with the game.
SCOTT BRODIE: Yeah, absolutely. So I've been calling it a grand strategy JRPG. And it's kind of a mix of a whole bunch of different genres and ideas. But the idea is that you are The Caretakers, which is this faction trying to protect their civilization from poachers and outside forces trying to take down their society, as well as these giant fictional but endangered creatures in this world.
And so as you can see in the B-roll here, you have this headquarters where you can organize hundreds of characters into different squads. So it's a JRPG, but instead of having just a single party, you actually can have up to nine. And you can deploy them out onto the field to try to find enemies, poachers, animals, et cetera.
And then once two of these kind of groups get together-- so one of your teams and one of the poacher teams get together, it goes into a turn-based combat system that is pretty fun. So it's a blend of a lot of ideas. But it's based around this idea of protecting animals.
And it's really inspired by kind of real world animal conservation as well. But we took it far, and added aliens and a sci-fi theme to make it exciting. But fundamentally, at its core, there's a real world kind of inspiration there.
LARRY HRYB: And it's interesting you talk about the animal conservation because there's actually-- that's in the game itself. But you actually translated that in the real world because you're making some donations to the conservation work from the title. Is that accurate?
SCOTT BRODIE: Yeah, so we actually had a chance to meet some of the rangers and scientists in the field to do research for the game. But we were really inspired by the work they did and saw the need that they had. And so we wanted to try to do our part.
And so we're giving 10% of net revenue to Wildlife Conservation Network. And they have a specific program, the Rhino Recovery Fund, which is about protecting rhinos, which our fictional animal is loosely based off of a rhino in the game.
So we felt passionate about that cause. And we're happy to have made this cool game that could both bring awareness to what's going on as well as real world impact with some funds, hopefully.
LARRY HRYB: One of the things, when we look at RPGs and JRPGs, and you and I kind of talked about this off the air, is it's a genre that can be challenging for the controller. So tell us a little bit about what your team has done, and learnings, and what you looked out there, other people are doing now that you're like, this is what we need to do. And we're seeing some of the turn-based here, right?
SCOTT BRODIE: Yeah, so because we have these different strategic layers, we almost had to create three different controller implementations for the different types of game. And we definitely iterated on that a lot.
In the turn-based portion of the game, you have your kind of traditional select your abilities and then choose your target interface, which works well enough. We also have an auto battle feature to it, which I think not only speeds up gameplay, but just makes it a bit more user friendly for folks who really want to interact more with the narrative or just the high-level, strategic layers.
But I think in terms of controls, where we spent the most time was in the RTS field. And I think we came up with a pretty good implementation where you kind of select anything that's at the center of the camera, and are able to interact there.
And the other thing that we did was, you can pause the game at any time. So you can actually pause and then give your commands while the game is paused. So it's not a twitchy RTS at all.
It's really about thinking about where we need to go and what to do, and not how fast you can do it. So I think those choices led to a good experience on the console.
LARRY HRYB: You mentioned JRPGs, and of course, Xbox has a history with JRPGs. And there's a lot of people that really love them. You've been in the games industry. You worked here at Xbox. You're making your own.
People hear JRPG-- and I love backing up a little bit and saying, hey-- and asking experts like yourself, what does that mean to somebody who keeps hearing that term and maybe knows what it means? It's a Japanese-- how would you explain that style to somebody who's new to the genre?
SCOTT BRODIE: Yeah, I think the distinction is obviously just inspired by the classic Japanese RPGs from SquareSoft and those types of things. And we're definitely inspired by those games. But I think fundamentally that there is a narrative component throughout, as well as party building. And so I think our game focuses on that.
We have a really amazing narrative written by Xalavier Nelson, Jr., who has made a number of other Xbox games and has just won awards for narrative. So we really leaned into his skill set and let him go wild with the story.
And then our game is really about that character collection, upgrading, and party formation. And we've taken that to the extreme with having hundreds of characters and multiple parties. And so I think that's at least the parts of JRPGs that we took inspiration from in our game.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, and you can see here, we're seeing a little bit of the battlefields in terms of you're zoomed out, and some of the narrative, and how you guys wrapped the narrative around this zoomed-out view, and what you can do there, and seeing the gameplay go. Can you give us a little bit of some get started tips here for folks that are just downloading and checking out the game?
SCOTT BRODIE: Yeah, I think the first thing is just understand it is narrative-driven. So be ready to engage with the story because I think you'll have a lot more fun when you try to think about the mystery at the core of the game, of who are these poachers, who are these aliens, what do they care about the animals.
And then I do think making sure to use that pause feature I talked about because it could feel overwhelming at first, you kind of look at the map. But when you pause, and take your time, and set your commands, I think you'll have more fun.
And then lastly, just spend time inspecting the different characters because there's 30 different job classes. And so thinking about how to outfit them and how to combine them in your parties is a lot of fun. And so making sure to engage with that, I think will make sure that you get all of the fun that's to be had.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, it looks a lot of fun. Of course, you can download it right now. We Are The Caretakers available today as the podcast goes up. It's available on Steam and Xbox.
Scott Brodie, former member of Team Xbox here, worked on Arcade. It's so great to see you again. And I wish you success in your games. And I'm looking forward to seeing what more Heart Shaped Games has in store.
SCOTT BRODIE: Thanks so much for having me on, Larry. And thank you for everything you do for the community. You're such a good ambassador for games, and having small developers like myself on here. So just thanks so much.
JEFF: Scott Brodie, We Are The Caretakers, available now. I was reading about it. A lot of good things were in the sentence. "We Are The Caretakers is an Afrofuturist sci-fi squad management RPG," dot, dot, dot, dot, "blending inspirations from Ogre Battle, XCOM, Darkest Dungeon, Black Panther, and Northguard." That's a lot of good stuff--
LARRY HRYB: It's quite a stew, isn't it?
JEFF: And you know what?
LARRY HRYB: Or let's call it a hot pot, shall we?
JEFF: I like a good stew. We could do that, too. Yeah, a lot of exciting things there, so planning on checking that out during my rare downtime in-between--
LARRY HRYB: Well, now that World Cup's over, you have no soccer to scream at the TV about.
JEFF: The Premier League--
REBECCA: Aw, shame.
JEFF: --started right back up, immediately.
LARRY HRYB: Fair.
JEFF: So there's plenty. Yesterday at this time--
LARRY HRYB: Arsenal, please wait until Jeff is in his seat before you score.
JEFF: Wow, you follow me on Twitter, Larry. Yeah, still 20 matches to go this season, so plenty more, plenty more.
LARRY HRYB: All right, what else you got over there, Jeff or Rebecca, before we wrap up and let folks go?
REBECCA: Just a few good shows to check out, too, that I watched over the holiday break. So Chainsaw Man came out in the last few months, I think.
And at first, it didn't really grip me. I feel like there are a lot of anime tropes that are present in the beginning. It's like, ah, it's a squad of four.
There's one girl. There's one guy who's really quiet, et cetera, one guy who's really thirsty for women. But it got really good as the show went on. And so I would definitely recommend checking it out.
Me and the family also watched Oni-- Tale of the Thunder God on Netflix, which-- I heard that it was folks from Pixar who left and formed their own animation studio. The animation's really good. The story's pretty simple, but I really like it. It's super cute. So yeah, just a couple of things for people to check out.
LARRY HRYB: All right, that's good to know.
REBECCA: Oh, and White Lotus, White Lotus, season two. Very, very good.
JEFF: This happened on the flight-- they had White Lotus-- and it started at episode two.
REBECCA: I know, I was thinking about that.
JEFF: Like, [SIGHS] I've got to get to that. Anyway.
REBECCA: Yeah, really teasing you there. At least do episode 1, 2, 3 or something, you know?
LARRY HRYB: Hey, internet, let us know in the YouTube comments, why would they not show episode one? There has to be a licensing issue. I can't imagine.
JEFF: Yeah, yeah, it has to. I'm sure there's a mundane, lawyer-infused reason why they can't do it. It is what it is, but it was no less frustrating.
LARRY HRYB: All right.
LARRY HRYB: All right, gang, well, we're going to wrap up here. Rebecca, will you join us next week?
REBECCA: Yeah, I'll see you guys same time, same place.
LARRY HRYB: More importantly, will Pumba join us next week?
REBECCA: He will definitely be there same time--
LARRY HRYB: There he is.
REBECCA: --same place.
LARRY HRYB: OK. All right, Jeff, you'll be back with us. As Jeff said, it's kind of quiet this week. But things are going to start ramping up with all the releases and so forth. So we're going to be getting at it, as they say.
JEFF: They say it.
LARRY HRYB: They say it.
JEFF: We'll do it.
REBECCA: That's what they say.
LARRY HRYB: All right, gang, we'll see you guys next week. Thanks for downloading. Have a great-- thanks for joining us. Happy 2023, and we'll see you next week. Bye-bye, everybody.